Calderon Gone

Sad news with the death of Ivan Calderon, who was murdered Saturday in what sounds like a gangland-style killing. Calderon had his ups and downs, but was the best player on his team in 1987 (when he batted .293 and smacked 28 home runs for the White Sox) and 1991 (when he batted .300 and stole 31 bases for the Expos). His career was derailed by injuries at the age of 30 (or so), and he last appeared in the majors at age 31 in 1993.
Calderon, on why he preferred playing in Montreal: “The games go quicker, and you can get back to the clubhouse and eat.”

Split Deck of Cards

Was there a team in baseball with more dramatic platoon splits up and down the lineup in 2003 than Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals? I doubt it. You’d be sorely tempted to throw nothing but lefthanders against the Redbirds if you saw these splits:

Avg vs RHP Slg vs RHP OBP vs RHP PLAYER Avg vs LHP Slg vs LHP OBP vs LHP
.292 .631 .405 Jim Edmonds .225 .577 .320
.306 .534 .390 JD Drew .218 .418 .306
.281 .446 .358 Tino Martinez .235 .346 .323
.271 .414 .326 Fernando Vina .163 .245 .236
.290 .378 .358 Orlando Palmeiro .182 .200 .224

But then, you’d want to re-consider when you look at the other side of the ledger:

Avg vs RHP Slg vs RHP OBP vs RHP PLAYER Avg vs LHP Slg vs LHP OBP vs LHP
.350 .646 .434 Albert Pujols .387 .732 .458
.316 .434 .364 Edgar Renteria .391 .670 .503
.287 .516 .370 Scott Rolen .283 .575 .427
.226 .320 .302 Mike Matheny .340 .480 .384
.238 .351 .295 Eduardo Perez .353 .667 .459
.267 .379 .306 Bo Hart .300 .433 .344

If the Cards think they are ‘solving’ a problem with lefthanded pitching by dumping Drew and Tino, they may be mistaken; those guys were actually doing a good job of inducing teams to throw lefthanders at the rest of the lineup. It’s harder to project what this means going forward, since some of these splits (e.g., Renteria and Matheny) are unlikely to remain as dramatic in the future.

It’s Not Just The Defense

Josh Heit, trying to find a silver lining in Aaron Heilman’s disastrous debut season, looks at David Pinto’s new defensive metrics and suggests of Heilman:

The conventional wisdom is that he sucks and needs to go back to AAA. However, he did lose 8.6 outs (137 expected) to his defense (I�d probably blame, in order: Roger Cedeno, Robbie Alomar, and Joe McEwing. The Mets do keep showing up near the bottom of David�s studies, if you look at some of the other data sets). He may have just suffered a string of bad defense.

I’d like to believe that’s the core of the problem too, but . . . well, I don’t doubt that Josh is right that Heilman suffered from bad defense (although it’s a bit unfair to blame Alomar, given that he was traded on July 1 and Heilman threw most of his innings after that). But Heilman’s problems ran a good deal deeper than defense. The real problem is that Heilman allowed 41 walks and 13 home runs in 65.1 innings of work, an unsustainable rate (5.65 walks and 1.8 HR/9 innings, if you’re keeping score at home).
On the other hand, Heilman struck out just over 7 men per 9 innings, so he must have been fooling someone. I thought I’d take a look, via Aaron Haspel’s search engine, to see how many other pitchers have had a season like Heilman’s and see if (1) any of them managed to pitch effectively despite the walks and dingers or (2) any of them ever developed into good pitchers. I ran the search for pitchers who issued 40 or more walks and allowed 10 or more homers in a season of less than 70 innings.
Unsurprisingly, the results were ugly. Only 5 of the 17 pitchers had ERAs below 5.60, and only one (Bill Scherrer at 4.36 in 1985) had an ERA below 4.70. Let’s review the list, from best ERA to worst:
1. Bill Scherrer, age 27. 1-3 with a 5.98 ERA the rest of his career, all in relief.
2. Brian Oelkers, age 25. Never pitched in the majors again.
3. Dave Campbell, age 26. Never pitched in the majors again; went into broadcasting.
4. Bob Gibson, age 27. No, not that Bob Gibson. 6-7 with 11 saves and a 3.90 ERA the following year in 92.1 innings, but basically washed out of the majors after that.
5. Jose Mesa, age 33. Mesa got worse the following year (5.36 ERA) before recovering to save 97 games with an ERA of 2.76 his first two years in Philadelphia. Has to be considered a modest success.
6. Mike Mohler, age 24. Had a little success in the majors, with a decent year and a half as a middle reliever at ages 26-27 after being returned to the minors. Career high in wins: 6. Career record: 14-27, 4.99 ERA.
7. Steve Barr, age 24. Never pitched in the majors again.
8. Matt Karchner, age 29. Notched 15 saves and a 2.91 ERA the following year, then regressed and appears to have left the game after three seasons of struggles.
9. Doug Bochtler, age 27. Pitched just 21 more innings in the majors.
10. George Susce, age 24. Susce pitched in Fenway in the late 50s, a tough place to pitch. Had a 3.67 ERA his first year away from the Fens, but wound up with a short, unsuccessful career.
11. Dave Boswell, age 25. A 20-game winner the previous year, Boswell threw just 29 more major league innings. I believe he had injuries.
12. Jon Garland, age 20. The youngest of the bunch and still a work in progress; Garland managed a 3.69 ERA in 117 innings the following year and has been just below a league-average starter since then.
13. Heath Murray, age 28. Has pitched just 12 major league innings since.
14. Clint Hartung, age 27. Never pitched again and was converted to an outfielder.
15. Bob Welch, age 37. Retired immediately thereafter.
16. Dick Starr, age 30. Never pitched in the majors again.
17. Roy Halladay, age 23. Had a 10.64 ERA in 2000, arguably the worst season a pitcher ever had in that many innings. Was returned to the low minors but returned a completely reworked pitcher the following year (2001), with a much higher strikeout rate. Won 19 games in 2002 and AL Cy Young in 2003.
This is a fairly grim list, although not completely hopeless. Heilman’s 24 and had no prior major league success, so the best comps include some of the most successful ones, like Garland and Halladay, but still includes plenty of disasters. Of course, Halladay’s stuff was electric before his blowout in 2000, and Garland also has physical gifts that Heilman lacks. Heilman also struck out more batters than any of these guys but Gibson, although the higher-K members of the group aren’t a hopeful bunch.
Heilman was just plain bad in 2003, defense or no defense, and history suggests only an outside chance that he’ll ever be an effective major league pitcher.

Low Status

So, according to Bob Raissman, Brian Cashman’s office is set up so people have to walk through it on the way to the men’s room?
Real morale-builder, that Steinbrenner. Of course, Page Two reminds us that there are many worse jobs than Cashman’s; this job description was particularly unappealing:

In the track-and-field world, there are certain young men who are summoned to perform a peculiar task. Prior to a sprint, the starting blocks must be held in place. The job consists of sitting on the ground, placing a foot behind each block, and gently applying pressure. The hazards may be few, but they are specific. Should one allow the blocks to slip, wobble or (gasp) make a distracting noise, it could lead to a false start, or even disqualification.
Bear in mind, this is the world of the sprinter � perhaps the most tightly wound, highly insecure of all competitive athletes. Should something go wrong, and that athlete is disqualified, you think part of his ire won’t rain down on the poor youngster crouching in paralyzed fear behind the starting line?
The other hazard is one of proximity. A sprint is nothing more than an extended explosion. When hamstring muscles flex, quadriceps tighten and glutes tense, a certain unplanned action may take place. And when there’s an explosion � of the flatulent variety � there are surely better places to be. Such are the hazards of a job where one man’s ass is only inches from another man’s face.

BASEBALL/ Ruben the Cat

Kevin Drum linked last Friday to a page on the White House site about India, the Bushes’ cat. I, too, had been unaware that the Bush family had a cat, but more amusing is this tidbit:
Named for former Texas Ranger baseball player, Ruben Sierra, who was called “El Indio”
Just cracked me up that the President of the United States has a cat named after Ruben Sierra.

Union Don’ts, Part II

Brian Gunn at Redbird Nation points us to this statement by Harvard Law prof Paul Weiler – a labor law expert who teaches a seminar on sports law at HLS and had written a textbook on the subject – on the A-Rod mess:
It’s a basic feature of collective bargaining that’s to stop the bosses from insisting that one of the workers take less money in order to keep a job, . . . The difference is, he’s not a nurse making $22,000 a year, he’s making 22 million bucks a year. But it is that basic principle that they want to adhere to.
Professor Weiler either misses several key points or at least is quoted in a way that obscures them; the difference here is a lot more significant than the money:
1. Unlike your typical employee working under a collective bargaining agreement, A-Rod has a guaranteed contract. Thus, the Rangers may threaten his ability to keep his job, but they can’t take away his $25 million salary.
2. A-Rod didn’t agree to less money to keep his job; he agreed to it to take a better job, with a winning team in a big market.
If accepting less money to play for a winner was good enough for Michael Jordan, why can’t Rodriguez be allowed to do the same thing? Frankly, the idea that this will lead teams to screw their players out of contracts isn’t persuasive; few teams can afford to just punitively bench a guy who is a good player making millions a year, and if they cut him, he can sign elsewhere and keep the money. The parade of horribles presented by the union just bears no relationship to the real world of Major League Baseball.
The owners have been in the wrong on many occasions in baseball, but this isn’t one of them.

Union Don’ts

So, the Player’s Union has (for now) killed the Red Sox’ deal for A-Rod because they refuse to let a player renegotiate his contract for less money than he signed for. There’s apparently a rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement on this (David Pinto has more; start here and scroll down).
Leaving aside the language of the rule, I think the Players’ Union’s position is stupid and bad for the players. First, if the goal of the union is to get big contracts for the players, this is an incredibly stupid way to go about it. Look at this from the perspective of the Rangers: one of the biggest fears owners have in signing big contracts is that the team’s needs will change and they won’t ever be able to get rid of the guy. By telling the Rangers they can’t trade A-Rod if the deal is contingent on a restructuring he himself accepts, you are forcing them to keep stewing in their own juices with a player they’d rather trade, and all because Tom Hicks signed A-Rod to a big contract. Think: what effect will this have on Hicks’ willingness, or the willingness of other owners, to sign such megabucks deals in the future?
If I’m the union, I want to do everything I can to make teams think of top-of-the-market free agent contracts as the thing to have. Every team wishes they’d signed Barry Bonds or Greg Maddux in 1993, or Reggie in 1977.
A-Rod is — other than the aging Bonds — the best player in baseball today. He just won an MVP Award; the year before, he set the all-time single-season home run record for a shortstop. He’s stayed healthy, busted his butt for the Rangers and done everything you could ask him to. And yet, as things stand today, most teams are thanking their lucky stars they didn’t sign A-Rod; the owners think of his contract as a disaster for the Rangers. The Boston deal could change that, and help show that a player with the game’s biggest price tag can be part of a positive story; keeping Rodriguez bolted in place will just underline the folly of the contract, and deepen the resolve of individual owners – even without collusion – never to give anybody that kind of money again. Why on earth would the union want to do that?
Joe Sheehan argues that critics of the union’s position are using a double standard:

There’s a reason why Tom Hicks and John Henry have the net worths that they do, and I’d imagine that both would laugh you out of the room if you ever suggested that there were touchy-feely reasons for leaving forty million bucks on the table. Why they get to be businessmen, while Alex Rodriguez gets held to a different standard, passes understanding.

Gene Orza from the Players Union makes a similar point in an email to David Pinto:

Why should A-Rod be held to a different standard then the owners with whom he’s negotiating? He’s being asked to forfeit something like 50 million dollars; you think Tom Hicks and John Henry got to where they are today by walking away from that kind of money?
A-Rod shouldn’t be allowed to tear up his contract in the same way that Tom Hicks shouldn’t be allowed to.

These guys are the ones with a double standard. Isn’t Hicks allowed to tear up the contract if A-Rod holds out for more money? Is Orza really saying that if a player wants to renegotiate — or just wants to sign a long-term deal before his current contract is up — the owners have to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t tear up the contract and give you more money, come back when you’ve played out the end of the deal”? If that’s the rule, it’s news to me. In fact, owners do this every day. A-Rod just wants the same rights that Tom Hicks has: the right to put more of his own money on the table if that’s what it takes to win. Shame on the union for telling him otherwise.

Um, We Got Him, Too

Aaron Gleeman has the rundown on why Mike Cameron should hit a little better at Shea than he did at Safeco, where he had just horrendous home/road splits. I have mixed feelings about the Cameron move, since I generally believe in the notion that a rebuilding team should focus its energies on rebuilding, and signing a 31-year-old outfielder whose primary asset is his legs seems a little too Vince Coleman-ish to me. Then again, like Matsui (at least by reputation), Cameron is a spectacular defensive player and not terribly overpriced; this is more like the acquisition of Cliff Floyd than like the catastrophic acquisitions of Mo Vaughn and Tom Glavine. He’ll definitely help in the short run, and in particular the Cameron/Matsui/Reyes combination up the middle should do wonders for the Mets’ pitching staff. On the downside, Cameron’s low batting average and high strikeouts will make him a prime target for the boo birds when the team inevitably slides well below .500.
Also of note: Cameron’s steals dropped off to 17 last year from 34 and 31 the prior two years, and steals are something that usually doesn’t come back. Despite their speed, neither Cameron nor Matsui should be expected to run much. But the team will look far different on the basepaths than in the era of Olerud, Ventura, Zeile, and Vaughn.
Further on the downside is this: Cameron’s comps at baseball-reference.com are as follows:

Similar Batters through Age 30
Ruppert Jones (946)
Dave Henderson (939)
Tom Tresh (938)
Tommie Agee (936)
Cory Snyder (934)
Dwayne Murphy (930)
Johnny Briggs (929)
Darrell Evans (928)
Larry Hisle (926)
Ray Lankford (921)

This list is worrisomely similar to the one I noted at the time for Matt Lawton when he arrived in NY; everyone on the list but Evans (who’s not really a similar player) and Lankford was washed up or close to it by age 31.
I’m much more opposed to the Mets’ rumored interest in Brian Jordan, who’s exactly the type of player that got them where they are today, and who would seal off the outfield; I’d much rather start the season with an opening to audition young players alongside Cameron and Floyd than with a set-in-stone veteran lineup.
Or, of course, Vladimir Guerrero; the great ones, when still young, are always worth it. If the Mets signed Guerrero, it would overnight begin to make sense to gear up to win now.

From The Department of, “They Never Learn”

Hey, Phillies phans: if you liked Jose Mesa and Ricky Bottalico, you’ll love Roberto Hernandez! This about says it all:

Hernandez, 39, will serve as a middle innings reliever with the Phillies. With Atlanta last season, Hernandez went 5-3 with a 4.35 ERA in 66 games. He allowed 104 base runners in 60 innings, while striking out 45.

(On the upside, at least they’re only giving him a 1-year, $750,000 deal, so maybe Ed Wade has learned a little something).

Carl Everett?

I mean . . . Carl Everett?
Then again, since Major League Baseball owns the Expos, I guess they figure they can recapture most of his salary in fines . . .
So, Guerrero is gone, to where yet we don’t know. Vazquez is gone. Even Michael Barrett is gone, to Oakland . . . the Expos still have a few young guys who can play some ball (Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro), but overall, this team is a disgrace. At least a contraction draft would have assured a fair distribution of the Expos’ players.
Last month, MLB.com asked the rhetorical question, “How much does Frank Robinson love managing?” I guess we’re going to find out.

KazMat’s Record

This Baseball Prospectus analysis from two years ago is still the only thing I’ve seen trying to give a systematic review of significant Japanese hitters and how their numbers would translate in the U.S. Clay Davenport estimates Kazuo Matsui’s 1997-2001 numbers as averaging out to .283/.543/.374 with 41 homers, 79 walks, and 119 strikeouts (interestingly, KazMat doesn’t steal bases despite a reputation for blinding speed).
Davenport’s translations seem to overproject Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, specifically their home run power (Tsuyoshi Shinjo comes in closer to his Japanese numbers). I’d expect the same from the new Matsui – maybe a .280 hitter with 20 homers instead of 40, especially at Shea.

The Great Dodger

Since I noted this for Andy Pettitte, let’s check in on the record Kevin Brown left behind in LA: not so shabby, for all the griping about his contract. Yes, Brown lost 2002 and half of 2001 to injuries, a risk everyone knew the Dodgers were taking when they signed a 34-year-old pitcher to a 7-year contract. But consider his place on the club’s all-time list: Brown leaves LA with a 2.83 ERA, just shy of the top 10 in Dodger history; his .644 winning percentage ranks him 9th in club history. In fewest baserunners/inning, even pitching in a more hitter-friendly Dodger Stadium than in years past and in as great a hitter’s era as the National League has seen since the Depression, Brown ranks first at 9.90 (a 1.1 WHIP, for you rotoheads), ahead of Koufax and Drysdale and Sutton and Dazzy Vance and Rube Marquard. Then, go down to ERA+ (ERA adjusted for league and park context), and Brown’s first again, by a long shot, at 149 (49% better than the league) to 132 for Ron Perranoski and 131 for Koufax, with Andy Messersmith and Vance close behind.
Yes, it’s tough to compare 872.2 innings of Brown to 2324.1 of Koufax, 2757.2 of Vance, 3432 of Drysdale or 3816.1 of Sutton. But that’s not the point. The point is, when you even have to explain why a guy wasn’t the best pitcher you ever had on a franchise over a century old, it’s hard to say he didn’t live up to his end of the bargain.

Thought For The Day #2

The Dodgers better hurry up and finalize the sale of the team. Sure, you can argue some sense for letting Quantrill walk, or cutting loose Kevin Brown, and it undoubtedly made sense to get rid of Brian Jordan and Andy Ashby. But the overall impression is a team desperate to dump salary, afraid to take it on (I still thought they should have jumped at Manny Ramirez, and they may miss a chance to bid on Nomar as well), and generally frozen in place, probably until some time in January or later. Not good news, if you expect this team to contend in what should still be a competitive division next year.

Yankee Go Home

Unlike Dr. Manhattan and Michele, I’m not a Yankee fan and (for the most part) have no problem discussing Andy Pettitte’s departure rationally. Then again, I’ve been pretty well swamped at work lately, so I don’t have the luxury of time to go in depth here . . .
1. This is the first time I can ever really remember the Yankees going through what every other team’s fans have suffered through repeatedly, a significant player walking away despite the team’s ardent efforts to keep him (they didn’t really bust a gut trying to keep Wetteland). Granted, the “going home” aspect makes this more like John Olerud’s departure from Queens . . . which I still maintain was the beginning of the end for the Mets.
2. Although baseball-reference.com identifies the most-similar pitcher through age 31 as Mike Mussina, I think the best comps for Pettitte are Chuck Finley and Tom Glavine, both of whom pitched effectively well into their thirties. I suspect that Pettitte might have arm trouble, but that’s an irrational superstition on my part that has trouble thinking the Yankees really, truly wanted to keep him. In fact, Pettitte cut his walks dramatically (and apparently permanently) when they expanded the height of the strike zone in 2001, and he set a career high in Ks in 2003, so his numbers show no sign of slowing down.
3. On the other hand, I won’t exactly be signing him up for an NL rotisserie team now that he’s in Minute Maid Field.
4. Bringing in Kevin Brown, as rumored, is a mixed bag. Brown was actually a good deal better than Pettitte this season — he even pitched more innings and struck out more batters, besides having a 2.39 ERA — and has a decent chance to be better next year. But he’s a bigger durability question, expensive as sin and not a good investment for that seventh year of his contract in 2005. You get Brown this year, you’ll need to be going out for more pitching help next year as well. (On the other hand, I’d rather be the guy who replaces Pettitte with Brown than the guy who replaces Brown with Jeff Weaver).
Greg Maddux is still useful if he’s cheap, but he won’t be cheap and he’s unlikely to get any better than he was this season. If I’m the Yanks, I’d rather try to see if Randy Johnson’s available (More on the goings on in Arizona when I’ve got time to blog again).
5. Pettitte’s 149 wins rank him 9th on the Yankees’ all-time list, but his .656 winning percentage doesn’t make the top 10.
6. This season’s outstanding performances in the playoffs give Pettitte a solid career record in the postseason with the Yankees, albeit not an outstanding one:

Career W-L IP ERA H/9 BB/9 K/9
ALDS/ALCS 10-4 126.2 4.12 9.17 2.42 5.40
World Series 3-4 60 3.90 9.90 2.70 6.30
Postseason 13-8 186.2 4.05 9.40 2.51 5.69

JV

For Yankee fans wondering what you’re getting in your new starting pitcher, consider this comparison for the years 2001-2003:

Pitcher IP/Year ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 ERA+
Mike Mussina 219.2 3.52 8.22 0.93 1.78 8.07 127
Javier Vazquez 228.1 3.52 8.39 1.05 1.97 8.26 131

Answer: if you’re not getting Mike Mussina, you’re getting as close a facsimile as you could possibly ask for without violating Mussina’s copyright, except 8 years younger and — for now at least — a whole lot cheaper. In fact, the ERA+ and Innings Pitched figures suggest he may actually have been more valuable the past three years. Like Moose, his main problem is the gopher ball. Will he win in New York? Well . . .
ERA of NL starting pitchers in 2003: 4.41
ERA of AL starting pitchers in 2003: 4.66
Difference: 5.67%
Vazquez 2003 ERA + 5.67% = 3.42
Clemens/Pettitte/Wells/Mussina 2003 ERA: 3.84
Clemens/Pettitte/Wells/Mussina 2003 W-L: 70-32
Yeah, I think he can win a few games with the support the Yankees can give him. Vazquez’ health is a bit of a question mark — as with any pitcher, really — but unless Nick Johnson can put together a full, healthy season some day, he’s a steal.

The Other Shoes

You know, this is just top-of-my-head speculation here, but shipping Curt Schilling to Boston is a pretty clear indication that the Diamondbacks have finally switched gears from “win now at any cost” to getting rid of at least one aging, high-priced vet who would have helped the team in the short run . . . one sign of a good organization is the ability to recognize when the window of opportunity to win has shut, and the ability to drop the pretense and squeeze maximum future value out of the remaining aging talent on the roster. In Arizona’s case, of course, there are some big ones: Randy Johnson is 40, Luis Gonzalez is 36, Steve Finley is 39, and all three still have value. (This is on top of recent departures like Tony Womack, 34, and Mark Grace, 40).
The Arizona Republic has more, although it doesn’t sound as if a youth movement is in the offing. The paranoid side of me wonders if pursuing Johnson would be Steinbrenner’s next move to counter the Schilling signing; it might actually make some sense, if you think that Johnson could fill Clemens’ slot, but I’m not sure the Yanks would want to part with the young talent needed to make the deal if they’re still shopping for outfield help.

Case Not Closed

David Pinto takes on the Elias Sports Bureau’s statistics supporting Buster Olney’s argument on ESPN.com that teams that make productive use of outs (generally through the deployment of one-run strategies — bunts — and other methods of emphasizing moving baserunners at the expense of hitting away) tend to gain a significant advantage in the postseason. Leaving aside Pinto’s account of the institutional politics at play here, let’s look at Olney’s core statistical argument, in which he leads off by arguing that the Marlins
dominated the Yanks, 9-5, in productive outs — in keeping with a longstanding post-season trend.
This is the Productive Out, as defined and developed by ESPN The Magazine and the Elias Sports Bureau: when a fly ball, grounder or bunt advances a runner with nobody out; when a pitcher bunts to advance a runner with one out (maximizing the effectiveness of the pitcher’s at-bat), or when a grounder or fly ball scores a run with one out.
There have been 142 post-season series since 1969. In 130, one team or another has had an advantage in Productive Outs — and in 62.3 percent of those 130 series, the team with the advantage in Productive Outs has prevailed. Factor in the 12 series in which opposing teams have tied in Productive Outs, and it can be said that teams with a deficit in POs have won 34.5 percent of post-season series.

* * *
[By contrast, t]he Athletics have failed to advance beyond the Division Series in the last four years, and it’s probably not a coincidence that they have never won the battle of Productive Outs. In 19 games over those four series, their opponents have produced 23 PO’s, Oakland 15.
Base on balls are a fundamental piece of the Athletics’ offensive philosophy, but statistically, they have shown to have slightly less significance than Productive Outs in the post-season. Teams that have had the advantage in walks have won 60 percent of the time. (Teams with an advantage in singles have won 63.8 percent of the series, and teams with an advantage in home runs have won 70.4 percent – which makes sense, as Steve Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau noted, because it is the one offensive result in which a run is assured).

David raises two initial objections to Elias’ definition of the Productive Out, which he suspects is “rigged” to generate a favorable result:
[I]f you move a runner into scoring position with two outs, doesn’t that count for something? And besides, didn’t Pete Palmer show 20 years ago that trading an out for a base always decreases run potential?
Well, yes, and yes, although on the second point I’m at least open to persuasion that the dynamics of regular season baseball are in some way materially altered by the characteristics of postseason play, in which a higher quality of pitching figures disproportionately (such as, as I’ve noted before, Mariano Rivera averaging over 150 innings pitched in relief per 162 games). But the problems with the definition run quite a bit deeper than David has addressed in his initial post on this issue. If your thesis is that teams should try to make productive outs, shouldn’t you be measuring the number of times they try to do this, rather than the number of times they succeed? Otherwise, it’s like measuring steals but not caught stealings. (Of course, I realize that such a study might be impossible, but recognizing that you’ve loaded the question by only looking at successful baserunner movement is the first step to recognizing the flaws in this measurement).
Or worse: you’re mistaking a strategy for what could just as easily be a by-product of having a lot of baserunners. I wonder what that 62.3 percent figure drops to when instead of raw totals you compare each team’s ratio of productivity, by dividing Productive Outs (or even Productive Outs +Stolen Bases) by the number of times that each team has a runner or runners in position to qualify for making such an out. I strongly suspect that teams that get more runners on base with none or one out are more likely to win anyway, regardless of what they do to move them along. Notice that the 62.3 percent figure is just above the number for walks and just below the number for singles; if you simply looked at times on base, I’d bet the number would be over 65%.
To illustrate more graphically: I’d be willing to bet that, overall, the team that leaves more runners on base is more likely than not to win a postseason series, because of the fact that teams that get a lot of baserunners are usually the teams that lead the league in men left on base. I actually ran a quick check on this, although it was difficult because the only source I could find was an old STATS Sourcebook that listed LOB by each game, so I just picked a random sample of 25 modern World Serieses (1969-1993) running somewhat parallel with the Elias study. It’s hard to say the results were a resounding success in making my point here — or that the sampling was large enough to be representative — but the team that left more runners on base in the series won 13 times and lost 12 (interestingly, 3 of the teams to win the series with fewer men left on base were the 1972, 1973 & 1974 A’s; make of that what you will).
Now, leaving runners stranded on base is unquestionably a bad thing, and more to the point, it runs precisely counter to the whole point of making Productive Outs. But the fact that, at least in a small sampling, the team leaving more runners on base was actually successful more often than not at least suggests that both moving and failing to move baserunners, as an indicator of success, is simply a symptom of having more baserunners in the first place.
If Olney wants to show that the study he relied on wasn’t skewed but was really a meaningful measurement, he can always come back with a comparison to the success rate for the team that gets more men on base — a number that is conspicuous by its absence from his article. Like I said, I really am open to persuasion that moving baserunners takes on added importance in the postseason; absent statistical evidence, my gut tells me it does. But the proof, as of now, just isn’t there.

A Lefty Moves On

Too busy to blog this morning — I was late at the office last night and never got around to wrapping up my analysis of the Aleto opinion, which will have to wait until after Thanksgiving — but I couldn’t let the day pass without saying a word or two about Warren Spahn, who died yesterday at age 82. You probably know the details, but the key facts about Spahn:
*You can draw the line for “modern” baseball in a number of places, but for pitching records the clearest dividing line is the arrival of the lively ball in 1920, which required pitchers to bear down against every hitter or risk allowing a home run. Since 1920, Steve Carlton is second all time in wins with 329; Spahn is first, 34 wins ahead of him at 363. And unlike the stars of the 1960s-70s, only one season of Spahn’s prime (1963) overlapped with a pitcher-dominated era.
*Winningest lefthander in baseball history.
*Served his country with honor and distinction in World War II:
In 1943, Spahn went into the Army. He served in Europe, where he was wounded, decorated for bravery with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart and was awarded a battlefield commission. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge and in the battle for the bridge at Remagen, Germany, where many men in his company were lost.
*Spahn’s military service had the added result that he didn’t win a game until age 25. Perhaps that helped him — his arm didn’t get worked hard until he was old enough to handle it — but it’s just as possible that he would have won 380-390 games if he hadn’t served (much like Grover Alexander, who would have won 400 if he hadn’t taken a year away at the pinnacle of his career to go to the front in World War I).
*Won 20 games a staggering 13 times.
*Loved the game so much he went back to the minor leagues for a few years after being cut by the Mets and Giants at age 44.
Now, to be fair, Spahn had a few advantages in his major league career; he pitched in pitcher’s parks most of his career, and almost always had outstanding offenses behind him, led by Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. Baseball-reference.com doesn’t list his context-adjusted career ERA in the top hundred. But then, between 1946 and 1963, his “ERA+” rates as better than the league by 10% or more 16 times in 18 years, and in all but two of those years he threw at least 257 innings (and the offseasons were one of 245 and the 1946 season, when he wasn’t yet an established starter). He faced 1000 batters in a season 17 years in a row. That kind of consistency in a starting pitcher is one of baseball’s rarest gifts in any era.
Rob Neyer has more.

Making a Schilling

Well, so much for the slow news week . . . one of the problems of writing for a long-running television show, or a series of books or films — this problem is particularly acute for soap operas — is what you might call “drama fatigue”: the difficulty of getting the audience to emotionally invest itself once again in some crisis of the characters, after the viewers/readers have been through the wringer so many times with the same characters and/or similar plotlines. The TV show ER has had to work incredibly hard to sustain this kind of tension; JK Rowling has excelled at recreating it anew in each of the Harry Potter books, at each stage escalating both Harry’s social humiliations and his peril.
After a while, you start to run out of room to stretch out the tension. Madonna, for example, has reached a similar point with regard to being shocking; she’s running out of new tricks. Every saga that depends on new and more stunning revelations eventually comes to and end.
Except the Red Sox. Just when Sox fans thought they couldn’t come any closer to victory, couldn’t taste any bitterer defeat, wouldn’t again fall into the trap of hoping and believing, along comes a 3-run lead against the Yankees in a 7-game series, with Pedro in command . . .
And after that, the cries went up anew: we will never believe again. We won’t have our hearts broken again. How, you might ask, does one tug at those heartstrings again? How do you shock, again?
Trade for Curt Schilling. There’s nothing but good in this move. It’s raising the ante, calling Steinbrenner’s bluff, and attacking the Sox’ perennial weak spot, depth in the starting rotation. (And the early ESPN report on this deal, assuming it pans out, also explains why Peter Gammons gets the big bucks).
And somewhere in this favored land, the Mudville fans are dreaming once again . . .

Kotsay in Oakland

I try to read Will Carroll’s columns at Baseball Prospectus when I can; Carroll does a great job reporting on and analyzing injuries, and there’s really nobody else out there who compares to his work in this area. Carroll alone is probably worth the subscription price. Anyway, Carroll’s fairly optimistic about Mark Kotsay’s ability to recover from the back trouble that ruined his 2003 season. The addition of Kotsay, the poor man’s Trot Nixon, suggests to me that the A’s are continuing their recent trend of moving towards valuing defense and away from their earlier emphasis on high-OPS players as the likely candidates for bargain shopping. But throwing Ramon Hernandez into the deal does suggest to me that the A’s are up to something else and looking to clear roster space.
I’m less enthused about them dealing Ted Lillly for Bobby Kielty, but more on that later.

Wagner and Millwood Revisited

Tom at Shallow Center took issue with my analysis of the Billy Wagner trade, in which I argued that “Wagner has to help [the Phillies’] bullpen, but the victory will be Pyhrric if they can’t re-sign Millwood.” His point:
Millwood was exactly the stud we hoped he’d be in the season’s first half, even mixing in a no-no to boot, but fell apart in the latter half of the year. Scott Boras, his agent, will shop him hard, and probably will land him somewhere, at a huge cost — that’s what Boras does, after all. Millwood’s new team then will cross their fingers and pray that he’s a legit No. 1. Millwood never was that kind of guy with the Braves, and he wasn’t one with the Phils. He’s a good pitcher, but until he shows me a Maddux/Schilling/Clemens level of domination, I don’t think he should be paid as such.
That’s a fair argument, and I agree completely with Tom’s drumbeat in favor of bringing back Curt Schilling instead of Millwood. I still think Millwood’s a solid pitcher, assuming he’s healthy, and thus a good investment in the abstract, but I can understand the frustration of Phillies fans for his reversal of his usual pattern in falling apart in the second half this season, and the fact that Millwood is useful doesn’t mean you bring him back if he’s asking for an unreasonable pay raise. My point is a more basic one: if you don’t re-sign Millwood and don’t replace him with a comparable starter or one who’s an upgrade, such as Schilling, then spending the money to shore up the bullpen instead by the addition of the highly-paid Wagner is no substitute, and in fact is a bad idea if it means you passed on keeping that money available to spend on starting pitching.

RIP Ken Brett

Ken Brett, George’s older brother who was known as a good hitting pitcher (George called him �the best athlete in the family,�), has died; Brett was only 55 and had suffered from a lengthy battle with a brain tumor. Brett is only the latest member of the Royals teams from the George Brett era to pass on at a relatively young age: Dick Howser and Dan Quisenberry also died of brain tumors, Darrell Porter died suddenly last summer, Al Cowens died last April, Tony Solaita was shot to death in 1990, and Vada Pinson died in 1995. (Aurelio Lopez, who pitched briefly for the Royals in 1974, was also killed in a car accident in 1992).

NL MVP

Honestly, I don’t have a strong opinion on the NL MVP race, and given my intense dislike for Barry Bonds, it’s probably not wise to get in an argument about the issue. My sense is that if you just look at the numbers without context, Pujols should have had the award, because the difference in playing time makes up for Bonds’ advantage in productivity (i.e., his astronomical OBP). But Bonds’ missed time included a bunch of time following his father’s death, and he could afford to take those days off in part because he had contributed so heavily to the Giants having a big lead. I can’t really fault the voters for giving Bonds a break on that score.

AL MVP

It should come as no surprise to long-time readers that I’m very happy to see Alex Rodriguez finally win the AL MVP award, for which he’s been a serious contender nearly every year since he became an everyday player in 1996, and which he has basically been robbed of on more than one occasion.
To my mind, there were only three serious candidates: Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Carlos Delgado. Nobody else was in their league offensively. Look at the AL rankings, starting with Win Shares (which includes defense) and some of the Baseball Prospectus offensive rankings and VORP, BP’s overall (defense-included) ranking, as well as Runs Created and per 27 outs and some of the key counting stats:

Player WS EqA EqR RARP VORP RC RC/27 AVG SLG OBP OPS HR R RBI TB
A-Rod 1 3 3 1 1 2 4 20 1 8 3 1 1 2 2
Delgado 2 2 1 3 3 1 1 15 2 2 1 2 4 1 7
Manny 7 1 2 2 4 3 2 2 4 1 2 7 4 14 8

Bear in mind that the Win Shares and BP stats are park-adjusted, while RC and RC/27 aren’t. When you take account of the fact that the numbers race was so close even on the offensive end between A-Rod, a mediocre defensive first baseman on a non-contending team and a poor-fielding left fielder who was benched in the middle of the pennant race, it becomes clear that Rodriguez properly got the benefit of the doubt even before you consider his near-misses in the past.

Piazza on the Block?

Rumors and counterrumours are swirling about Mike Piazza possibly requesting a trade and/or announcing himself willing to accept a trade (not exactly the same thing but with the same likely outcome). Will it happen? Who knows?
Emotionally, I’d be sad to see him go; Piazza’s a gutty guy, he’s bonded with the fans, he can still hit and he’s still fun to watch. Unlike some proponents of dealing Piazza, I don’t see the need to run the guy down just to sell some newspapers promote a trade. But dealing Piazza to an AL team where he could split between catching and DHing instead of playing first base would be the right move for everyone. He may be more valuable remaining available to catch 80-90 games a year than as just another slugging first baseman; who knows, even his throwing arm may bounce back a bit if he cuts back on the time behind the plate. Dealing Piazza would free up salary, get yet another aging vet out of town, and possibly bring back some talent in exchange for a guy who’s still a very dangerous hitter.
Of course, trading Piazza makes all sorts of sense in the abstract, and it’s fun to theorize that you could deal him to make salary space for Alex Rodriguez, who seems born to play for the Mets. Personally, I’m not adverse to parting with Jose Reyes to get A-Rod; Reyes may be young and on the way up, but if you’re looking at contending in 2005-2007, what’s the likelihood that Reyes will be better at that point than A-Rod? A rebuilding team generally doesn’t trade hot prospects for stars in their primes — but superstars are another story. Remember, A-Rod still won’t be 29 until late July, and he’s slugged .600 or better four years in a row. I have high hopes for Reyes, but given his injury history, my bet is that Rodriguez at 35 will still be better than Reyes at 27.
All that said, the only team that seems to have much interest is the Baltimore Imbeciles, who operate under the perpetual delusion that they are a contending team despite the following facts:
*Even in the rebuilding year of 2003, they gave more than 1400 at bats to players 33 or older.
*Of the six players with 12 or more Win Shares on the 2003 O’s, two (Jeff Conine and Sidney Ponson) are no longer with the team, and Melvin Mora’s 31 and batted .233 the only time he ever got 500 at bats. That leaves Luis Matos, Brian Roberts, and Jay Gibbons — solid role players all, but hardly the core of the 1993 Indians.
*The Red Sox won 95 games this season and finished second in Baltimore’s division. This ain’t the AL Central here.
If Lee Mazzilli is worth even a cent of the money he’s being paid by his new employers, he’ll tell them to let somebody within spitting distance of contention take a flier on Piazza.
But so far, I haven’t seen any sign that any such team will. So I’m not getting too exercised yet over the rumors.

Cy Gagne

As I explained last month, my usual suspicion of giving the Cy Young Award to a reliever is ameliorated by the relatively high workload of Eric Gagne (77 games, 82.1 IP — Gagne appeared in nearly half the Dodgers’ games, including 65 of their 85 victories) and by the low workloads of the leading NL starters, Mark Prior (30 starts, 211.1 IP), Jason Schmidt (29 starts, 207.2 IP), and Kevin Brown (32 starts, 211 IP). (Livan Hernandez pitched more but wasn’t as effective). And once you put Gagne on the table at all, his performance level was just so dominating in so many high-leverage situations that you have to give him the award. Consider: with the Dodgers locked in a tight wild card race, Gagne allowed a home run to Vladimir Guerrero on August 20 and this was the only run he allowed after the All-Star Break: 37 IP, 14 hits, 9 walks, 61 strikeouts and an 0.24 ERA. If you can’t give a man an award for that, when can you?

Wagner Deal

I’ve been mostly out of blog here the past week due to an exceptionally busy stretch at work; I’ll be busy again this week, but it’s not clear yet if things will ease up enough for at least a little blogging. It hasn’t been a particularly newsworthy baseball week other than the Billy Wagner deal. While it’s always sad to see a guy like Wagner leaving a team he’s been through so much with, he has (like most non-Rivera closers) also had enough bad experiences (in Wagner’s case, in the Divisional Series) over the years to wear out his welcome with at least some Astros fans.
It’s really impossible to evaluate the deal until we see what both teams do the rest of the offseason. If the Astros use the money to shore up their starting rotation (they’re rumored in some sources to be hot and heavy after Andy Pettitte, although Peter Gammons says otherwise), it may be a good deal; Dotel and Brad Lidge can clearly take the slack in the bullpen. As for the Phils, Wagner has to help their bullpen, but the victory will be Pyhrric if they can’t re-sign Millwood.

Manny Roulette

I’m fascinated by the Red Sox decision to put Manny Ramirez on waivers, thus allowing any major league team to claim him, provided they pony up the 5-year $100 million price tag remaining on his contract. The move has been widely interpreted as a dare to the Yankees to take on Ramirez, and the Boston Herald reports that that’s where Manny would like to land.
There are three obvious points:
1. Manny is the best hitter in the American League, as one can see from a variety of available evidence; he was second the AL in OPS in 2003 and in 2002, and led the AL in Equivalent Average (EqA, the Baseball Prospectus offensive metric) in 2003 and in 2002. As a general rule, you don’t give up players like that lightly when you are a contending team, as the Red Sox indisputably are.
2. Manny’s a bit of a dog and a bit of a hot dog, and alienated a lot of people this season. There are some people who would like to get rid of him for that alone, plus he’s not a real good fielder or baserunner, and tends to be injury prone.
3. As a general rule, very few players are worth $20 million a year for five years, given the cost of available alternatives, and still fewer who are turning 32 next season. Assuming that the Red Sox have a reasonably fixed budget, that’s money that could be spread around to pay for a lot of players.
The trick, though, is not to make any one of these points a knee-jerk reaction (“Manny’s great, you can’t let him go!” “He’s a bum anyways!”).
So, do you let Manny walk? I figure the Yanks won’t get him, actually; teams with lesser records get first call, and among other teams, he fits too well with the hitting-desperate Dodgers, who just yesterday cut Brian Jordan and Andy Ashby to clear some major salary space. Manny would slide right into the role vacated by Gary Sheffield in LA.
Personally, while I can see the overall logic, my take is that if you’re trying to win now, you need to put the extra money into improving other parts of the team right away; the problem us that because there’s really no weak spots in the lineup to add offense back to make up for losing Ramirez (unless you expect the Sox to bag Vladimir Guerrero, who’s the only remotely available player who’d be an upgrade), the move only makes sense if (1) you’re going to turn around and use the cash to shore up the starting rotation or (2) you’re actually trying to save money instead of trying to win.
Shoring up the rotation, though, isn’t as easy as it sounds; pitching is hard to come by even when you have the money to spend. There are only seven free agents who might give the Sox some real bang in the rotation:
Bartolo Colon
Andy Pettitte
Roger Clemens
Keith Foulke
Greg Maddux
Kevin Millwood
Esteban Loaiza
Of those, Clemens remains most likely to retire; the Yankees will not allow themselves to be outspent by Boston on Pettitte; Maddux is old and not all that durable; Foulke, while an outstanding closer who probably has the stuff to be a starter, is nonetheless an unproven commodity as a starter; and Loaiza has a long record of mediocrity behind his one year of big success (in which he threw about a fifth of his innings against the Tigers). That would leave the Sox with just two genuine places to spend the money — Colon and Millwood. This is problematic as well: first, those guys would know they can drive a hard bargain; the Phillies in particular will likely make a big push to re-sign Millwood; and Colon’s conditioning doesn’t exactly suggest he’d be a better long-term investment than Manny. (The possibility of a swap of Ramirez for former Red Sox pitching prospect Curt Schilling is more intriguing).
Besides, there may be cheaper ways to help the rotation. I still think you can get part of the way by investing some patience in Kim and Fossum, although it may be that Kim needs another change of scenery (I’ll be very happy with Jim Duquette if he starts next season with both Kim and Foulke at Shea Stadium, but that’s another story). Yes, $100 million’s a BIG CONTRACT — but I don’t see where the Sox wind up coming out ahead on replacing Ramirez.

BASEBALL/ Deacon Phillippe

I see that Reese Witherspoon had a baby boy, and named him “Deacon.” Now, given that her husband is actor Ryan Phillippe, this would make the boy Deacon Phillippe. Well, since Deacon isn’t exactly a common first name these days, that set me a-thinkin’: is he named after the six-time twenty-game winner (born Charles Louis Phillippi) who pitched for Honus Wagner’s Pirates in the early part of the century, won 3 games in the inaugural World Series, never had a losing season and finished his career with an admirable 189-109 record and a 2.59 ERA despite not arriving in the major leagues until age 27? Is Ryan Phillippe a relative (the original Deacon died in 1952), or perhaps a baseball fanatic? Or was there some other origin to the original Deacon’s nickname (a literary reference I’m missing here?) that the new baby shares in common?

The Facts Do Not Conform To The Theory

Aaron Gleeman on Derek Jeter’s vaunted reputation as “Mr. Clutch” in the postseason:
The situations one would want to look at in trying to determine the Clutchness of a player would seem to me to be the following:
– Runners in scoring position
– Runners in scoring position with two outs
– Close and late
The first two are self-explanatory. “Close and late” is defined as “results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck.”
In other words, how does someone do when the game is on the line? When the going gets tough and the tough get going. When the s— hits the fan. When the men are separated from the boys. When (insert your own cliche here).
Here are Derek Jeter’s post-season numbers
[batting/OBP/slugging] in those situations from 2000-2003, combined…
Runners in scoring position: .214/.421/.357
Runners in scoring position with two outs: .188/.381/.375
Close and late: .176/.263/.323

(emphasis added).

Okrent

As The Mad Hibernian notes below, Dan Okrent is taking over as ombusdman at the New York Times; ScrappleFace had a great comment on this.
Besides rotisserie baseball, Okrent should be revered by baseball fans everywhere for an even more important discovery: he’s the man who discovered Bill James and introduced him to a mass audience, over some resistance from traditional journalists and “fact-checkers” who just assumed that James’ opinions and analyses could not be correct because they conflicted with conventional wisdom. Dr. Manhattan saw the significance for the Times of James’ challenge to conventional wisdom back in July: “This story has additional resonance in light of the Jayson Blair scandals.”
Yes, it does. Okrent will need that same iconoclastic streak if he wants to make a dent in the way the NYT peddles conventional wisdom today.

Moral Victory

One of the more tiresome arguments we often hear trotted out by Yankee partisans whenever they face the Red Sox is that the rivalry is one-sided; to Yankee fans, the Sox are just another foe to roll over, and the only wins that matter are championships.
The reaction of many Yankee fans to the team’s World Series defeat this year gives the lie to this; as the New York Daily News reports, many Yankee fans are looking back at the defeat of the BoSox in the ALCS as a moral victory:
Like many of the five dozen or so fans who gathered outside Yankee Stadium to give thanks and perhaps snag an autograph from a favorite player, Boaz found a silver lining in the season – at least they beat Boston.
“They could never have lived that one down,” said Boaz, an unemployed market researcher from the Bronx.
“To knock our archenemies out of the World Series and keep the curse alive meant more to me than beating the Marlins,” crowed Tony Apuzzi, 37, a New Rochelle schoolteacher.

And, of course, some Yankee fans reacted with a tried and true strategy:
The crowd was at one point taunted by a small group of neighborhood kids who had discovered a novel way of dealing with defeat – switching sides. They proved their newfound allegiance by chanting “Let’s Go Marlins” at the Yankee fans.
“The Yankees, man, forget them,” said a disgusted Ricky Nigagliono, 13. “How can they let another team win on their home field?”
“The Marlins, they’re nice,” said Roger Reyes, 12. “The Yankees, they got old people, that’s why they’re wiped out.”

Ouch.

Drafting The Kids

One thing I laughed at last night was Harold Reynolds saying that the Marlins’ success disproved the idea that you shouldn’t draft high school pitchers (gee, who do you think he was talking about?), given that Josh Beckett, Brad Penny and Dontrelle Willis were all drafted out of high school. Of course, this might be a more salient critique if the Marlins had actually drafted all three of these guys, but instead they got Willis in the Matt Clement trade and Penny in the Matt Mantei deal. Nobody ever said picking up prospects who had already had some minor league success was unusually risky just because they had been drafted out of high school.
No, for once I think Phil Rogers is right: you can’t really draw any broad lessons from the Marlins. A few small lessons, perhaps — I may take a look at some of those — but the bottom line is that this was a pretty good team that got hot and got lucky at just the right time.

The Cavalry Never Came

Well, this time the cavalry didn’t come. Flamethrowing ace on the mound, a 2-run lead, 5 outs away from the championship — you were thinking, as I was, “here we go again.” The comeback begins. But this time, that’s how it ended. In fact, Josh Beckett threw just 11 more pitches after getting to the talismanic “5 outs” mark, getting a GIDP from Nick Johnson, flies to what’s left of Death Valley in left from Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui, and a weak grounder from Jorge Posada.
Beckett also, in the process, saved the idea of the complete game. After watching Mark Prior and Pedro Martinez — arguably the best pitcher in each league this season — wilt in the heat of defending a 3-run lead in the 8th inning, managers everywhere had to be revising even further downward their willingness to let their hoss finish what he started. Tonight, pitching on 3 days’ rest, Beckett finished the job. Not bad for a guy whose career record stood at 9-11 with a 3.69 ERA entering the All-Star Break this season. My hat is off to Jack McKeon; he was right on the call for Beckett on 3 days’ rest, and I was wrong.
Did the Yankees choke, in losing such a hard-fought series to an opponent over whom they were favored? I explored this question at length two years ago:
It really all depends how you look at the postseason. There are those, like me, who believe that baseball games are basically determined by four things: (1) talent, including not just physical talent and skill but the collection of abilities ranging from concentration to judgment of the strike zone and on the basepaths that separate good players from bad ones; (2) strategy; (3) matchups, i.e. the fact that the righthanded-swinging 1953 Dodgers would fare much better against Randy Johnson than would the 1927 Yankees; and (4) timing or luck, which may or may not be the same thing. The first is paramount over the long regular season, provided that the strategy isn’t so totally awful that a team squanders its ability to put the best talent on the field. In the postseason, though, the other three factors loom much larger because the games are closer, they’re head-to-head rather than against a cross-section of the league, and with fewer games a single blunder can turn the tide.
* * *
But there are also those, most prominently among pro-Yankees sportswriters, who view the postseason as a sort of mythical proving ground where true champs are separated from “phony” stars who don’t really “have what it takes” . . . Thus, winning in the postseason becomes proof of a form of moral superiority, or is seen as somehow revealing who is truly the better team. The media loved, for example, revelling in how the Mariners’ 116 wins “don’t mean anything now” once they lost to the Yankees — as if the entire regular season was an illusion and in 6 games the shadows had now been cast off to reveal, with Platonic insight, the actual form of the best team in the American League. We heard variations on this line for three years, but the problem with the argument is that it provides no room for the best team to lose – if you lose, by definition, you are no longer “a champion.”
Did they choke? Sometimes you put your best pitcher on the mound, and he gets beat. Happens to everybody. Except the Yankees, we were told. We were told wrong.

(On a personal note, my predictions for the postseason wound up 4-3, but one thing I called before the NLCS: “Great matchup of young arms, with Josh Beckett and Kerry Wood making The Leap and Prior already there.”)

Wells Falls Down On The Job

Two questions about the Yankees’ Game 5 fiasco:
*If David Wells knew before the game that his back felt bad, why didn’t he tell Torre to have somebody up in the bullpen just in case? Why did Contreras apparently come in without being properly warmed up?
*Isn’t it possible that Wells’ back tightening up had something to do with the fact that his last start was on one day of rest, awfully short rest for an aging pitcher who’s already not the picture of fitness?

Beckett’s Charge

I have to agree with David Pinto, who crunches some hypothetical numbers on the topic, that starting Josh Beckett on 3 days’ rest in Game Six would be a necessary evil if thge Marlins’ backs were against the wall (although recall that the Red Sox didn’t do that with Pedro in the ALCS even when it meant starting John “Line Drive” Burkett), but starting him with a 3-2 series lead is just not a good idea and reeks of Bobby Cox-style foot-shooting. In fact, I’d say that while it looks like he’s going for the jugular, Jack McKeon is really managing scared, afraid to keep his ace in the hole for Game Seven. I’m not even 100% sure that I buy McKeon’s core assumption here — that Carl Pavano is so much better than Mark Redman that it’s worth throwing both Pavano and Beckett on short rest, although Redman wasn’t the same pitcher in August and September as he’d been at the beginning of the season.

“Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the house in blackjack.”

Bill Simmons has some choice words from the oppressed and traumatized denizens of Red Sox Nation, who are pining for regime change (hint: Bobby Valentine’s available):
While watching the NFL, my wife once asked me, “Which guy is the quarterback?” She literally knows nothing about sports. Yet last night after the Bernie Williams hit in the eighth, she kept asking, “How come that guy is still pitching?”
* * *
The Ethiopian guy who collects the money looks awful. Like he hasn’t slept in days. I ask him if he’s doing OK. He says, “I have never felt so awful. Not even when my own father died … my own father. I have only been in this city for a few years, so I’m new to this. I don’t know how you people do this. In my neighborhood are lots of college kids from New York, and they were cheering after the game ended. I am a peaceful man … a PEACEFUL man I tell you … but I swear to you I went outside looking to fight some Yankee fans … just awful.”

I Think Baseball Is Trying To Kill Us

I really, after rooting my guts out against both of these teams, didn’t think there was any way I’d get emotionally involved in this World Series, and although I’ve been in a Yankee-hating rut I managed to skim by Games 1-3 without doing so. But tonight (like Aaron after Game 1) it was all there again: Clemens, a big comeback, an extra-inning marathon, the specter of Mariano, a walk-off homer. Man, I’m exhausted.
I’ve been skeptical of the Marlins’ ability to stay with the Yankees, and they needed this game to make this a series; now we’ve got one, and it will head back to the Bronx to end it all.
A handful of thoughts during the game:
I liked Derrek Lee’s attempt to fake the pickoff throw getting away in the first inning — he did this spin move where he looked like the ball had been overthrown — but Soriano wouldn’t bite. . . Bottom 1, they’re getting sappy about Clemens already. But this might not be his last appearance; presumably he’ll be ready to relieve in Game 7 (on 3 days rest) if it goes that far, and maybe Game 6 as well. . . . the Thundersticks are back! . . . that kid who caught Cabrera’s homer looked pretty psyched . . . Clemens looked early like he had nothing; I was ecstatic when I saw Weaver get up in the first . . . they showed the list of guys who had 4 or more World Series wins and were undefeated, and except for Jack Coombs they were all Yankees . . . Bernie slapped the first pitch of the second for a single so effortlessly you’d think he was hitting off a tee . . . they keep comparing Clemens going out while still effective to Koufax or Jim Brown, but that’s ridiculous; those guys were young and still the best in the game. They mentioned Elway, who’s a better comp . . . I have to say, Clemens really isn’t a bad hitter for a guy who rarely swings a bat . . . Carl Pavano showed tonight what the Expos saw when they traded Pedro for him and Tony Armas . . . yup, Urbina’s still got the Red Sox thing going . . . top of 10, Buck & McCarver talked about Jeter swinging for the fences with two outs, but it looks like Chad Fox had the same thought since he went way up and in on the first pitch . . . they mentioned Giambi having just 5 RBI in the postseason, but he deserves plenty of the credit for winning Game 7 against the Sox for those two homers; they’ve been a bit overshadowed . . . it’s still wierd to see people dripping sweat and fans in tank tops for October baseball . . . I thought for sure Cabrera would end the game in the bottom of the tenth . . . I agreed with McCarver that it was crazy to walk the bases loaded and then bring in Looper cold with no margin for error, but he sure made McKeon look good . . . not to cast aspersions on the guy, but Weaver looks stoned; it’s just the overall look, with the narrow eyes, the pasty complexion, the scruffy hair and the cap pulled down too far . . . now, both Alex Gonzalezes are heroes in Florida.

BASEBALL/ Auto-Response

Eugene Volokh complains that he got the following non-response from ESPN.com to his email about Gregg Easterbrook’s firing:
From: ESPN Support
To: volokh@mail.law.ucla.edu
Subject: Re: Other
Hi Eugene,
Thank you for contacting us.
We appreciate your interest, but that is currently not a feature on ESPN.com.
Regards,
Patty
ESPN.com
https://espn.go.com/

He then notes that other readers got the response I got:
Date: Tue, 21 Oct 2003 08:54:13 -0700
To:
Subject: Re: NFL
From: ESPN Support
Hi,
Thank you for contacting us.
We appreciate your comments and are considering your opinion. We will
forward your comments along to the appropriate department for review.
Regards,
Jesse
ESPN.com
https://espn.go.com/

It appears that Volokh’s problem was that he selected”Other” rather than “NFL” in the drop-down subject menu on ESPN’s contact page.
Meanwhile, Ralph Wiley throws out the ceremonial first race card in ESPN.com’s post-Limbaugh/post-Easterbrook era:
Dub’s theory on baseball curses is that everybody sort of avoids what he calls the truth about them; teams that were — or are — historically dismissive and smugly cruel about its black folks — those are the teams that stay cursed. . . . Maybe one day the Cubs and the Red Sox will get out of historical denial, ante up and kick in, pay off whatever their psychic debt is, and move on.
Um, a little history? Since the breaking of the color barrier, six all-white teams have won the World Series:
1947 Yankees
1949 Yankees
1950 Yankees
1951 Yankees
1952 Yankees
1953 Yankees
The Yanks waited nine years to integrate — longer than the Cubs but not as long as the Cardinals (three World Championships since 1947), and when they finally brought in Elston Howard, Casey Stengel reportedly watched him in spring training and remarked, “they had to go and get me the only n_____r in the world who can’t run.” But that history’s lost on Wiley and his race-is-everything meme. (Wiley also throws in a shot about the Marlins playing “non-sabermatrician style,” but I’ll leave that for another day).

Another Reason to Hate The Yankees

Now, I’ve got a number of reasons to hate the Yankees and to lose a good deal of the fun of watching baseball when it’s a series between the Yanks and an overmatched opponent, as it appears we’re seeing now. Those reasons go back to my grammar school days as a lone Mets fan in the late 70s and early 80s, getting backed over by more than a few Yankee bandwagons.
One of the most common reasons for disliking the Yanks got some concrete affirmance yesterday with the release of Major League Baseball’s final salary figures, showing that the Yankees spent $164 million on their major league payroll this season, compared to $119 million for the next-highest team (the woeful Mets), $106 million for the next-highest playoff team (the Red Sox), and $54 million for the Marlins. Even relatively wealthy clubs like the Braves ($95 million) and Cubs ($83 million) were left in the dust.
Let’s put that in percentage terms:
Outspent the #2 team by 37.8%
Outspent the Red Sox by 54.7%
Outspent the Braves by 72.6%
Outspent the Cubs by 97.5%
Outspent the Twins by 287.7%
Outspent the Marlins by 303.7%
Outspent the A’s by 328%

Plus, the Yankee payroll was even higher (projected at $180 million) in mid-July, before they traded Armando Benitez for Jeff Nelson.
That’s just orders of magnitude beyond anybody else in the game, outspending even the #2 team by more than a third. Try starting a rotisserie league some time with an extra $100 on your budget and see how hard it is to win. And the stated payroll ignores a bunch of other factors: certain payments to ex-players; payments to bonus-baby minor leaguers; $5 million for Joe Torre; more money for player scouting, advance scouting (you hear so much in the postseason about the Yankees’ vaunted advance scouts), etc. The real gap is considerably larger.
As Doug Pappas of the Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) estimated (even using the lower figure of $149 million from the Yankees’ season-opening payroll), the Yankees were by no means the smartest or most efficient team in the game in spending their money to produce winning baseball, in terms of marginal dollars (above the minimum payroll) per marginal win (above the record you’d expect from a replacement level team); they just had a whole lot more to throw around.
Here’s the problem: like most fans, I tend to like to look at the game through the eyes of a general manager or manager, and ask myself, if I were running the show, what would I do? Who would I trade, who would I keep? That’s the stuff of Hot Stove League intrigue and second-guessing (and first-guessing) that makes the game fun and worth the investment of time in crunching stats and the like to really understand why teams win and lose.
But when you look at the winning teams and ask yourself what they are doing right, you come to a cold realization: no matter what he does, the general manager of your favorite team can’t emulate the Yankees or duplicate their success. Nobody else has Brian Cashman’s budget. Could other GMs do what Cahsman does; could other managers do what Torre does? We can’t find out, because they won’t get the chance unless they get hired by the Yankees, and then they won’t have competition from an equal.
There are usually two related counter-arguments to this. One is to say that Mets and Red Sox fans can’t talk, since our teams are among the best-funded and in any event, look how poorly the Mets spent the money they did have this year. Fair enough, but (1) as you can see, even the Mets still aren’t in the Yankees’ neighborhood, (2) as Pappas points out, even with the Yankees having made some good decisions with their farm system and the like, they have also spent plenty of money unwisely, but can afford mistakes others can’t, and (3) the issue isn’t how good a particular rival is, but whether they could ever compete on an equal footing with the Yankees.
In fact, the Yankees almost certainly could and would spend even more money if pushed to do so. When the Yankees go after a free agent, do they get him? Nearly always; I can hardly remember one they really wanted and didn’t get. When a Yankee’s contract is up, do they run the risk of losing him, as happens to every other team? Other than Tino Martinez, who they let go to pursue Giambi, the last major free agent loss before this season was John Wetteland, and even then the Yanks didn’t expend a lot of energy to keep him, given that Rivera was ready to move up (in fairness, the Yanks did let Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza go this year, but replaced them with other expensive middle relievers).
The second objection is the Baseball Prospectus line, which is to argue that Steinbrenner is making a return on his investment and other teams could afford to spend more as well. First of all, it’s obviously not true that everyone else can afford to spend money like the Yankees, or it would be likely that at least someone else would try to do so. Second, since when is the fun in the game asking yourself, “if I were a billionaire owner, how much money would I spend on the team, given market size and the eslasticity of demand for tickets and premium cable TV”? That’s a long way from why most of us fell in love with the game as kids.

Loria

Things you maybe didn’t know about Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria: in 1968 he wrote a book drawing life lessons from the Peanuts comic strip. You can see the book jacket here. I actually own the book second-hand and have read it, although I can’t seem to locate my copy at the moment. It’s typical of the genre, philosophical but not deeply so, and painfully earnest in its approach; you would probably only enjoy reading it if you’re a serious Peanuts afficionado, as I was at one time (as a kid I read nearly all the strips going back to 1952 as well as a biography of Charles Schultz). Of course, I also found it a bit amusing for the time-capsule nature of a book commenting on life in 1968.

Yankees in Four

Yes, I’m going out on a limb here, and yes, I may be reacting emotionally. But where the postseason is concerned, gut-level predictions are often as effective as more rational ones. My predictions for who would win the postseason serieses are 3 for 5 so far, missing only the two Cubs serieses.
The template here is 1999: the Yankees defeated the Red Sox and went on to face the mighty Braves, who had triumphed in an epic and exhausting six-game series with the Mets. Great things were expected of that series, but it was a massive anticlimax, with the Braves rolling over and playing dead for the Yanks. The only reservation I have here about a similar prediction is the fact that the Yankees have to start Wells on very short rest in Game One. But I fully expect the Marlins, after all the hype and exceitement, to be flat against the Hated Yankees.

Your Marlins Fans

Dave Barry has the scoop on Marlins fans:
I’m a huge Marlins fan. I’ve been following this plucky team ever since they beat the San Francisco Giants, which was, what, nearly a week ago. I live and die by this team! When they win, I drink champagne and dance all night. This is also what I do when they lose, because there is no point in wasting champagne. But I dance in a more subdued manner.
(Hat tip to Baseball News Blog).
Of course, this is unfair; Marlins fans are very devoted to players like Dan Marino and (what’s that you say? Oh.) . . . seriously, ownership has treated Marlins fans with poorly disguised contempt, yet twice in seven seasons, they’ve been treated to a World Series. It hardly seems fair either way, and it’s no poor reflection on Miami fans if they’ve been bandwagon-jumpers, and tentative ones at that. But really, there were other fans who deserved this more.