Turning Over A New Leaf

As I’ve done in the past, I’m creating brand-new categories for the new year. You’ll now go to Baseball 2005 for new baseball entries, Politics 2005 for new politics entries, War 2005 for new war entries, and Law 2005 for new law entries (the Law category hadn’t needed an overhaul last year). I’ll shortly be updating the link to baseball-only posts at the top of the page as well to send you to Baseball 2005.
Happy New Year!

Check, Please

David Pinto notes the $85 million bill the Yankees have to cough up between the luxury tax ($25 million) and revenue sharing ($60 million). Ouch. Still, considering their free agent and Big Unit pursuits this offseason, it’s hard to say that’s put a crimp in the Yankees’ budget. But you have to wonder how many more Giambi-sized mistakes they can eat before the team’s behavior is affected (assuming they can’t get out of contracts, as they may with Giambi).

Armers’ Market

Perhaps the most striking feature of this baseball offseason, coming during an era when effective starting pitching would seem to be in short supply, is the large number of starting pitchers with substantial track records – many of them quite successful in recent years – who have gone on the market. I’m probably missing someone here, but I count 30 starters – 20% of the starting jobs in the big leagues, and more than that as a proportion of guys with any kind of major league track record – who have either been traded or been free agents this off season (this is counting free agents who re-signed or, like Roger Clemens, are now committed to one team, as well as guys in the Randy Johnson deal who were publicly traded before the deal fell through). Of course, with so many pitchers available, it behooves buyers in this market not to overpay out of a concern for scarcity. To make sense of the available options, it’s therefore useful to look at them as a group.
In the past, I’ve found “established performance levels” to be a useful way to organize information about a player’s record, including my continuing “Established Win Shares Levels” studies. In that spirit, here are the established performance levels, Win Shares included, for those 30 pitchers, ranked by ERA+ (which I computed as a weighted average); I listed “U” next to the team for guys who are still unclaimed:

Age Pitcher Team W L ERA G GS IP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 ERA+ EWSL
41 RJohnson AZ 14 11 2.85 29 29 204 7.19 0.82 1.89 10.69 164 19
33 PMartinez NYM 16 7 3.12 31 31 203.2 7.49 0.77 2.33 9.81 163 18
29 THudson ATL 14 7 3.12 31 31 213.2 8.51 0.51 2.22 5.51 147 20
42 RClemens HOU 17 6 3.50 32 32 207.1 7.79 0.80 3.01 8.86 127 17
32 BRadke MIN 12 8 3.97 32 32 200 9.71 1.09 1.16 5.48 120 15
39 ALeiter FLA 12 9 3.53 31 31 180.2 7.97 0.84 4.55 6.65 120 11
27 MMulder STL 17 8 3.89 30 30 209.1 8.68 0.90 2.75 5.99 120 16
28 WMiller U 11 9 3.71 23 23 133.2 8.01 0.91 3.90 7.71 119 9
28 JVazquez NYY 13 11 4.13 33 33 214 8.58 1.28 2.40 7.78 117 16
29 CPavano NYY 14 10 3.68 33 30 200.2 9.10 0.78 2.17 5.79 116 14
29 JaWright NYY 9 6 4.29 34 17 114.2 9.10 0.71 3.80 7.70 116 7
28 OdPerez U 10 9 3.61 31 31 196.2 8.42 1.18 2.00 6.26 115 11
30 MClement BOS 11 12 3.82 31 31 191.2 7.55 1.02 3.71 8.82 114 11
27 BPenny LA 11 10 3.76 27 27 158.1 8.79 0.91 2.81 6.65 111 9
32 DLowe U 16 10 4.57 33 33 195.1 9.75 0.70 3.11 5.08 110 11
42 DWells BOS 14 8 3.88 31 31 203 9.63 1.02 1.07 4.75 109 12
38 WWilliams SD 13 8 3.91 30 29 185.1 8.93 0.89 2.50 6.28 108 10
31 RuOrtiz AZ 17 9 3.94 34 34 208.1 8.17 0.85 4.56 6.22 106 13
34 EDessens LA 5 7 4.42 41 20 140.2 10.31 1.21 2.73 5.74 105 7
35 JLieber PHI 8 5 4.21 17 17 111.2 10.77 1.01 0.89 5.28 105 7
31 MRedman PIT 12 12 4.26 31 31 192.2 9.41 1.02 2.93 5.58 103 10
30 GRusch CHC 5 8 4.65 32 20 140.2 10.13 0.87 2.83 6.36 101 6
30 MMorris STL 14 9 4.20 30 30 193.1 8.94 1.25 2.40 6.24 100 9
32 RaOrtiz CIN 10 9 4.57 33 23 160.1 9.58 1.40 2.88 5.58 98 8
29 EMilton U 10 5 4.68 23 23 134.2 8.81 1.75 2.86 6.88 95 6
30 KBenson NYM 9 10 4.52 26 26 156.2 9.69 0.87 2.92 5.90 94 6
31 KIshii LA 12 8 4.38 29 29 160.2 8.03 1.07 5.62 6.72 93 6
32 PWilson CIN 9 8 4.55 29 29 179.1 9.84 1.30 2.98 5.42 92 7
33 CLidle PHI 11 13 5.01 33 32 201.2 9.63 1.09 2.54 5.30 89 7
31 IValdez U 11 9 5.20 30 28 156 10.54 1.64 2.42 3.82 86 5

Of course, this chart is just past performance; it doesn’t show the severe injury risks associated with a large number of these guys, most notably Pedro and Brad Penny . . . Just a few more quick thoughts for now:
*You can clearly see that the Mets overpayed for Kris Benson. While I’m not a fan of Benson, I wasn’t opposed to re-signing him, which seemed like a necessary move to avoid opening a hole in the rotation. But it’s now clear that there were many other available alternatives of comparable quality, and the Mets should have relied on that to avoid overpaying and, if necessary, sign or trade for someone else.
*The difficulty of sustaining a serious workload in this day and age is apparent from the fact that only Hudson and Vazquez have been able to establish a level of 210 or more innings over the last three-year period.
*Context matters: Carl Pavano’s numbers look better than those of Vazquez because he was pitching in a friendlier evironment last year. Derek Lowe’s ERAs are actually better than those of David Wells, when you adjust for Fenway.
*Matt Clement is indeed a useful pitcher, and his power would have made him especially valuable to the Mets, but the guy does have weaknesses (mainly walks) that will be exposed at Fenway.
*I continue to think that Billy Beane will be vindicated in his decision to deal Mark Mulder now rather than later as far as Mulder’s declining performance and uncertain health/durability is concerned – but that doesn’t justify the trade, because it doesn’t look like Beane got enough value in return. Good strategy, bad tactics. The same applies to a lesser extent to the Hudson deal.
*Matt Morris’ performance no longer lives up to his reputation.
*Somebody could still really make a quiet impact on their rotation by snagging both Odalis Perez and Wade Miller.

Keep Me In The Briar Patch!

So, after all the speculation about Javier Vazquez not being able to pitch in New York, Vazquez apparently scuttles the Randy Johnson deal by refusing to report to the Dodgers for a physical. Of course, it could be that he or the Yankees have something to hide about his physical condition, and it could be that Vazquez is trying to squeeze some extra money out of the deal. But for now, he seems to have decided that he’d rather try to make it here, and prove he could make it a-ny-where . . .

On and Off in Houston

Two of the Astros rotation slots remain up in the air: Wade Miller is leaving town, but Roger Clemens has accepted arbitration, meaning that if he comes back again it will be as an Astro.
Miller’s a good pitcher who’s been scarred by injuries and Minute Maid Field; if he’s healthy, he’d be a great pickup for someone.
Clemens can certainly still pitch, so it’s more a matter of motivation. If he does return, Clemens – the winningest righthander since Grover Alexander – could become only the second pitcher (after Warren Spahn) to break 330 career wins in the post-1920 lively ball era.

Chavez vs. Bonds

The Baseball Savant gets carried away with Eric Chavez, comparing his numbers through age 26 to Barry Bonds:

The only real difference between the two at this point is that Bonds was showing a greater degree of plate discipline at this early stage than is Chavez. On the other hand, Chavez is showing much more power than Bonds at this point.

Link via Pinto. Of course, Bonds through age 26 had won back-to-back MVP awards; Chavez has never placed in the top 10 in the balloting. That’s because the offensive context Chavez plays in is radically different; for example, the rough measure of OPS+ shows Chavez at 131, 122, 132 and 132 the past four years, compared to 147, 125, 170 and 161 for Bonds.
Even if you ignore context, though, the comparison doesn’t hold. Chavez missed 37 games to injury last season, something that didn’t happen to Bonds until he was 34. And the comparison totally overlooks a factor of great significance in projecting player development: speed. Chavez has stolen 14 bases and grounded into 35 double plays the past two years, compared to 97 steals and 16 GIDP for Bonds at the same age. (As to the plate discipline, Chavez has drawn 90+ walks once; Bonds had done it three years running). Even with just the raw numbers, you could see several reasons why Chavez’ future as a hitter – even ignoring the post-2000 Bonds surge, which is entirely without precedent – shouldn’t be compared to Barry Bonds.

The Saga Continues�

Some new developments in the D.C. stadium saga:

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp have reached an agreement tonight on the terms of a baseball stadium financing package that they believe likely will satisfy Major League Baseball by guaranteeing construction of a future home for the Washington Nationals, aides said�
Details are still emerging about the new agreement between Cropp and Williams, but the full 13-member council will be asked to vote on an amended plan today�

Hopefully, they have better options on the table than just this.

Some Things Never Change

Aaron Gleeman on Luis Rivas:

The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, La Velle E. Neal III, wrote an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune over the weekend that carried the headline: “Team worries Rivas has become stale.”
As you can imagine, I got a nice chuckle out of that one. I also wondered about someone like Luis Rivas becoming “stale.” I mean, if you have a bucket of, say, feces, and you leave it out for a week, does it become something worse than a bucket of feces? Does it become “rancid feces” or something? And how big of a bucket would you need to fit Rivas into it, exactly?

Unit Adhesion

Well, you knew Steinbrenner had to do something to top Pedro coming to Shea, and there was only one pitcher out there (well, other than bringing back Clemens) who fit the bill. Just wait for the first time Pedro and Randy Johnson square off in the regular season . . . although Joe Torre traditionally tries to duck the head-to-head matchups of aces.
Short term – over the next two seasons, maybe three – this deal is a bonanza for the Yankees, who give up the struggling Javier Vazquez and bring in the dominating Johnson plus, apparently, as of the latest report, Kaz Ishii, who can also be potentially useful. I’ll have to digest the broader pitcure for the Yankee pitching staff later, but the minimal changes to the everyday lineup, combined with the addition of Johnson, Ishii, Pavano, Wright, Stanton and Rodriguez leaves no doubt where the Yanks felt they needed to improve.
If Vazquez isn’t nursing an undisclosed injury – a very real possibility- I envy the Dodgers getting him out of the Bronx, where Torre had lost confidence in him, and into Dodger Stadium, although the Daily News suggested this morning that he could be headed to the White Sox . . . of course, the deal is still cotngent on Brad Penny passing a physical with Arizona, among other things (think the D-Backs ever thought when they traded Penny for Matt Mantei that they’d need to part with the Big Unit to get him back?)
The rationale for dumping Johnson and bringing in Penny makes sense for Arizona, and Shawn Green is still young enough, but Green’s injuries and high salary obviously make him a less than ideal return on Johnson.
More to follow on all this, as well as Tim Hudson to the Braves, Beltre to the Mariners, and Renteria and Clement to the Red Sox . . . the moves are just coming too fast to make sense of them all.

Pray They Don�t Alter It Any Further

The D.C. Council has pretty much rewritten the city�s agreement with Major League Baseball, leaving the future of the former Montreal Expos once again in doubt.
I�m sympathetic to the argument that D.C. taxpayers shouldn�t get stuck with the whole tab for a new stadium, but the City Council should honor the city�s original agreement with MLB. Doing otherwise only gives baseball an excuse to look elsewhere for a less inept city government that won�t renege on its deals.
UPDATE: David Pinto has a different take, which I agree with in principle, except to say that, if D.C. wanted to draw a line about demanding private financing, the time to do that was when it first made a deal. With baseball already committed to moving and renaming the team and local baseball fans prepared to support it, I think it�s wrong to reverse course like this. Hopefully, an owner or investor will ride in to pony up the money, but the track record of D.C.�s local government can�t be much of an incentive.
SECOND UPDATE (from the Crank): I like the image of Bud Selig as Lando . . . Eric McErlain has been all over this story, and has links aplenty here.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Chris Lawrence makes a valid point.

Grand Slam Trivia

A reader emailed me this question:

“Who is the only player to hit an Inside the Park Grand Slam pinch hit Home Run and have it be the only Home run of his career?”

Well, I didn’t know the answer, and haven’t yet been able to verify that it happened that way (maybe someone can confirm this in the comments). But assuming that there is, in fact, precisely one such player, I think I found the answer.
This link lists the 12 major leaguers to hit both a pinch hit grand slam and an inside the park grand slam in their careers:

Randy Winn is the 12th major-leaguer, third in the past 50 years, to hit an inside-the-park grand slam (Oct. 3, 1999) and a pinch-hit grand slam (April 4). The others, according to SABR home run analyst David Vincent: Mike O’Neill, Beals Becker, Cy Williams, Marty Kavanagh, Rogers Hornsby, Harvey Hendrick, Les Bell, Hack Wilson, Pete Milne, Tim McCarver and Cesar Cedeno.

(A purportedly complete list of inside the park grand slams is here).
Of the 12, precisely one player had just one career home run: Pete Milne of the 1949 New York Giants. Milne batted 29 times in 31 games for the Giants that year while making just one appearance in the field, so it stands to reason that he was used mostly as a pinch hitter. (The list above identifies the date of his grand slam as April 27, 1949, a game the Giants won 11-8 over the hated Dodgers, so it’s not surprising that it won him a job as a pinch hitter). So that appears to be the answer.

San Pedro de Shea

As you can tell from my commentary the past few days, I have decidedly mixed feelings about the Mets’ signing of Pedro Martinez to a four-year, $50 million contract. Some thoughts, some original, some not, in no particular order:
1. Four years is obviously too much guaranteed time for a guy with Pedro’s injury history. On the other hand, the cost of the deal is money ($50 million), players (the draft picks the Mets give up) and opportunity cost (the innings Pedro takes away from other players). Given that Pedro seems unlikely to reach the point where he’s pitching a lot of innings but pitching ineffectively, an extra year only costs the Mets one of those, the money. On the other hand, you can hardly blame the Red Sox for deciding that this was crazy money.
2. In the same vein: finding good young hitters is not that hard; finding good young pitchers these days – guys who can consistently take 30 turns in the rotation with a better-than-league ERA – is next to impossible. And Barry Bonds notwithstanding, in general, hitters decline much more predictably with age than do pitchers. And, a starting pitcher usually does much less to block the progress of good young arms, since few teams are so glutted with pitching that they can’t quickly find room for a good youngster. All of which are a way of explaining why, as a general matter, I’m more willing to see even a rebuilding team take on an expensive starting pitcher in his 30s, as compared to a Sammy Sosa-type declining slugger.
3. Pedro is, as I discussed yesterday, a pitcher of historic levels of greatness. If you are going to gamble, better to gamble on a guy who’s an inner-circle Hall of Famer than on . . . well, on Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano, for example. Given his track record, I view Pedro as much more of a proven commodity, and not a significantly greater injury risk, than Carl Pavano or Jaret Wright, both headed to the Bronx after precisely one year of being healthy and effective. (Of course, all pitchers are greater injury risks than almost all everyday players).
On the durability front, well, Pedro is replacing Al Leiter, who is six years older and was never an iron man himself. Leiter, working for an average salary the past 3-4 years of about $2 million per year less than Pedro will make, averaged 194 innings a year in his seven seasons at Shea, only once throwing more than 210 (Pedro threw 217 last year, but with diminished effectiveness compared to 2001-03). If we get about the same from Pedro, I’ll be happy. I don’t expect 230 innings.
4. Shea is a great place for a power pitcher, especially with Mike Cameron in center field, and facing a pitcher instead of some Frank Thomas/Edgar Martinez type DH every nine hitters is a great way to cut down the number of stressful pitches thrown. Both of which are a way of saying that Pedro may wind up being more valuable with the Mets than he would have been with the Red Sox. Bringing a power pitcher to Shea is like bringing a power hitter to Wrigley (see, Dawson, Andre; Alou, Moises).
5. Of course, none of this should be viewed as a substitute for the long-term strategy the Mets need to develop young talent. But frankly, I’m not about to hold my breath waiting for that to happen. Given the existing strategy of trying to half-rebuild while continuing to prop up the team with veterans, Pedro is a decent fit in that context.
6. I know the market has changed a lot, but $50 million really doesn’t look like an extraordinary amount of money compared to past contracts given to Mike Hampton, Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort, Kevin Appier, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, Chan Ho Park . . . yeah, there’s a lot of bad decisions there, but this isn’t a Mo Vaughn style 7-year $100-mil-plus millstone here; it’s basically one Kris Benson plus one Kaz Matsui. If this deal deters the Mets from two more middle-market contracts like those, where’s the harm?
7. Just for a little perspective, if you look at the most similar pitchers at the same age, Pedro is around the same age at which Tom Seaver went to the Reds, Roger Clemens to the Blue Jays, Mussina to the Yankees, and Lefty Grove to the Red Sox. Most of the guys on that list had their ups and downs in their mid-30s, but in general they had some real high points as well. Of course, physically, Martinez resembles Mussina, Grove, Greg Maddux, Whitey Ford or Juan Marichal much more than he does Seaver or Clemens. On a more sobering note, Pedro is also about the same age Frank Viola and Bret Saberhagen were when they left the Mets.
8. Can we finally have a no-hitter now, please?
9. Dan Lewis asks Five Questions:
1) Will this guy improve the team next year?
2) Does the move cost us too much in players?
3) What would our plan have been if we didn�t make this move, and is the gain signficant?
4) What is the effect of the deal if it goes badly?
5) If the deal goes awry, how will we fix it?

Go see his answers; I do think there’s a missing factor here: the deal has upside. Although I don’t regard it as the most likely possibility, it’s certainly one of the plausible scenarios to get 800 innings, 800 strikeouts and an ERA below 3.00 from Pedro over the next four years. Given the scarcity of highly effective pitchers these days, that would be worth more than $12 million a year, in my view. (A return to something close to vintage Pedro, which is not going to happen, would be worth much more). That’s one thing that distinguishes this from the contracts that a lot of mid-30s hitters get, where you are paying them a salary equal to the best value they are likely to give you. Hey, you win in baseball by taking risks. This deal is a big risk, but then Vladimir Guerrero last year was a big risk too. This is one that could pay off. Better that than give out more $25 million contracts to guys who are a safe bet to turn in a 4.25 ERA.

The Very Best

Long-time readers will recall my Translated Pitcher Records project from four years ago. Hopefully, I’ll get back to that one some day. But a simpler way of comparing the very best pitchers over time is ERA+, baseballreference.com’s comparison of a pitcher’s career ERA to a park-context-adjusted league average. There are two problems, however, with the baseballreference.com leaderboard: it has a very low innings pitched threshold, and thus is loaded at the top with relief pitchers; and, unlike my Translated Records, it isn’t translated back into a recognizable ERA benchmark.
So I thought I’d do both; I separated out the pitchers by groupings of innings pitched, and translated their ERAs back into a uniform context of a league ERA of 4.50, which is around midway between the NL and AL ERAs in 2004:
3000 Career Innings or More

# Pitcher ERA IP
1 Lefty Grove 3.04 3940.2
2 Walter Johnson 3.08 5914.2
3 Randy Johnson 3.13 3368
4 Roger Clemens 3.19 4493
5 Greg Maddux 3.19 4181.1
6 Kid Nichols 3.24 5056.1
7 Three Finger Brown 3.26 3172.1
8 Cy Young 3.26 7354.2
9 Grover Alexander 3.33 5190
10 Christy Mathewson 3.33 4780.2
11 John Clarkson 3.36 4536.1
12 Whitey Ford 3.41 3170.1
13 Kevin Brown 3.46 3183
14 Carl Hubbell 3.46 3590.1
15 Amos Rusie 3.46 3769.2

You can see why I stick to the view that Walter Johnson was the greatest of all pitchers, as he stands second only to Lefty Grove here, and in 40% more innings. This list is dominated by pre-1920 and active pitchers, other than Grove and Ford. While I knew he was on the edge of making a Hall of Fame case, I was as surprised as anyone to see Kevin Brown on a list this elite. And this is also further confirmation of precisely how great Kid Nichols was, and why he really gets a raw deal when the great pitchers of old are being ranked.
2000-3000 Career Innings
This second list is guys who have had fairly substantial careers but not a full, 15-years-at-200-innings career:

# Pitcher ERA IP
1 Pedro Martinez 2.69 2296
2 Hoyt Wilhelm 3.08 2254.1
3 Ed Walsh 3.10 2964.1
4 Addie Joss 3.17 2327
5 Al Spalding 3.17 2890.2
6 Rube Waddell 3.36 2961.1
7 Noodles Hahn 3.41 2029.1
8 Sandy Koufax 3.44 2324.1
9 Curt Schilling 3.44 2812.2
10 Hal Newhouser 3.46 2993

You can see here why, for all my mixed feelings about the warning signs and the Mets overpaying, I’m still excited about the possibility of Pedro coming to Shea: he’s been head and shoulders above anybody else who’s ever pitched, he’s still just 33, and a guy that good is worth a gamble. . . Noodles Hahn? Yeah, I’m not too sure about that one either, but Hahn’s the classic forgotten type of pitcher, a guy whose big years came with the turn-of-the-century Reds, a dismal franchise in a quiet period in the game’s history. . . Curt Schilling is close to qualifying for the next list up, although he’s also close to dropping off the bottom if he finishes with a few bad seasons.
The rest of the guys in the under-2000 IP bin fall into three groups: relievers, starting with Dan Quisenberry at 3.08 and including John Franco, Bruce Sutter, John Hiller, Lee Smith, Kent Tekulve, and Doug Jones; very-short-career starters, from Smoky Joe Wood at 3.08 down through Jim Devlin (who was banned from baseball for throwing the 1877 pennant race), Harry Brecheen, Spud Chandler, and Dizzy Dean; and one active starter, Tim Hudson at 3.26.

Following The Glavine Trail

Well, this would put the Mets one Mike Mussina acquisition from ensuring that no active pitcher wins 300 games . . .The fourth year for Pedro strikes me as the one year too many. I’m more encouraged by the fact that they’re pursuing Delgado and Sexson, especially now that they wouldn’t need to surrender draft choices to get Delgado (I’d rather have Sexson, although he may be close to signing with Seattle).
UPDATE: At least the Mets aren’t doing anything nearly as stupid as trading Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik. The mind staggers at that one.
SECOND UPDATE: It certainly looks like this is happening, given Larry Lucchino’s email referring to Pedro’s Red Sox tenure in the past tense.

Hudson Crossing

Another era is ending in Oakland, just as the first Beane Era ended with the departure of Matt Stairs, Ben Grieve, John Jaha, and Jason Giambi. It seems increasingly likely now that Tim Hudson will be traded in accordance with his demand for a new contract by March 1, bringing the era of the Big Three starters to a close.
Hudson, of course, is one of baseball’s true elite pitchers, has been since he arrived in the majors in the last century. He’s been durable – 2004 was the first time he missed significant time to injury – and unbeatable, 92-39 in his Oakland career.
Of course, I’ve long been a devotee of Bill James’ belief that one thing you have to watch in evaluating pitchers is their strikeout rates; a dropping rate is both a signal (diminishing effectiveness) and has a direct effect on performance, increasing the number of balls in play that can potentially become hits. On the other hand, there are ways for a pitcher to compensate for a loss of strikeouts, at least temporarily, mostly by throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park.
Tim Hudson in recent years has been one of the most extreme examples of those coping mechanisms you will ever see. Let’s look at his season-by-season rates in a number of categories:

Year K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB/FB GDP/9 SB/9 SB%
1999 8.71 4.09 0.53 2.27 0.92 0.92 73.7
2000 7.52 3.65 1.07 2.02 0.71 1.07 88.9
2001 6.93 2.72 0.77 2.26 0.69 0.92 77.4
2002 5.74 2.34 0.72 2.03 1.32 0.19 38.5
2003 6.08 2.29 0.56 2.26 0.86 0.26 53.8
2004 4.91 2.10 0.38 2.53 1.10 0.38 66.7

It’s not an unbroken chain in every category, but the overall pattern is crystal clear: a broad-based improvement in every other aspect of Hudson’s game but strikeouts since 1999. You have to admire Hudson’s determined adaptability, relentlessly cutting walks and home runs, getting more ground balls, and revolutionizing his ability to set up the double play by eliminating his vulnerability to the stolen base almost overnight in 2002. He’s even made just 3 errors the past three years compared to 10 the prior three.
That’s the good news. The bad news is, his strikeout rate has been sinking like a stone, and Hudson has all but run out of room to squeeze further improvements out of the rest of his game to compensate. Lefthanders are particularly catching up to him, batting .298/.422/.352 against Hudson in 2004.
It’s very possible that the smart, gifted and driven 29-year-old ace will come up with new ways to trick batters and reverse the downward trend in his strikeout rate, keeping him at the elite level to which he’s grown accustomed. But any team forking over big bucks and top prospects to get him should understand that, if he doesn’t, Hudson’s days as one of the league’s elite may be numbered.
UPDATE: I recognize, of course, that Hudson’s alarmingly low 2004 K rate may have been a function of pitching through injuries. The downward trend is still worrisome.

The Winners

One quick thought on the Yankees’ acquisition of Tony Womack (no relation to Dooley). Yes, he’s had a big hit or two, but for his career, the 35-year-old Womack has played in 38 of his teams’ 39 games in the postseason; here’s his postseason career record projected out to a full 162-game season:

158 648 137 25 8 0 79 25 29 104 17 12 .212 .276 .250

Come to think of it, let’s check out Jaret Wright’s career postseason record; Wright has made 15 appearances in 27 postseason games played by his teams:

18 27 7.24 90 54 306 336 198 282 9.88 5.82 8.29

Well, OK, Wright’s numbers – which include a 15.63 career postseason ERA against the Red Sox – are spread over almost two different careers in Cleveland and Atlanta, and the postseason does wacky things to pitcher workloads. Still, if you believe in the Yankee postseason magic, these guys haven’t had it in the past.

Perspective on Schilling

I was looking over Curt Schilling’s career, and two thoughts come to mind:
1. One of the great underrated terrible trades in recent baseball history is the Astros’ decision, on April 2, 1992, to trade Schilling straight up for Jason Grimsley. Schilling and Grimsley were both young pitchers trying to establish themselves at this point – Grimsley was 24, Schilling 25 – and both had followed some success as rookies in 1990 (a 3.30 ERA in 57.1 IP as a starter for Grimsley, a 2.54 ERA in 46 IP as a reliever for Schilling) with struggles in 1991 (1-7 with a 4.87 ERA in 61 IP as a starter for Grimsley, a 3.81 ERA in 75.2 IP as a reliever for Schilling). But it should have been obvious at the time not only that Schilling threw harder but that he was closer to breaking through: 103 K and 58 walks for Schilling in 121.2 IP over the previous two years – including 71 K in 75.2 IP in 1991 – compared to an abysmal record of 83 K to 84 walks for Grimsley (and 16 wild pitches) in 118.1 IP. And the results were immediate and dramatic: Schilling posted a 2.35 ERA in 226.1 IP in 1992 for the Phillies – 4th best in the NL – and would pitch a shutout in the World Series by the end of 1993, while Grimsley never pitched a game in an Astros uniform and was released a year later.
It’s not clear to me, years later, what Houston was thinking; with Pete Harnisch, Darryl Kile, and Butch Henry, Houston had no shortage of young starters, and Schilling had started in the minors. Perhaps Grimsley had options left and Schilling didn’t (after all, the deal was April 2)? Either way, the Astros don’t get nearly enough grief for this one in the annals of catastrophically bad trades.
2. If there’s one guy whose career path Schilling’s resembles, strangely enough, it’s Tommy John, and not only because both of them were pioneers in bionic baseball. Through age 33, due to a variety of injuries and misfortunes (including lousy support from their teams) over the years, both Schilling and John had a lot of good baseball behind them and not much to show in the win column: Schilling had 110 lifetime wins at the end of 2000 (when he went 11-12), following his mid-season arrival in Arizona, despite a league-average-or-better ERA 9 times in 11 years; John had 134 wins after his first post-surgery season, in 1976, when he went 10-10, despite a league-average-or-better ERA 11 years in a row. Each had seemingly given his arm in the service of a dismal franchise – Schilling throwing 254.1 and 268.2 IP in 1997-98 with the Phillies, John 269.1 IP in 1970 with the White Sox.
Then, each suddenly reeled off three 20-win seasons in four years, and went to the postseason with two different teams, Schilling the D-Backs and Red Sox and John the Dodgers and Yankees.
Of course, the parallels aren’t perfect. Schilling is most unlikely to match John’s durability (pitching to age 46) or win total of 288 (John through age 37 was up to 214 wins, while Schilling now stands at 184). On the other hand, Schilling’s teams haven’t failed in the postseason as John’s did in 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1982 – despite solid efforts from John (a 2.65 career postseason ERA), and Schilling had been the difference for both Arizona and Boston. And John couldn’t quite match Schilling’s level of dominance – from age 34 to 37, John went 80-35, Schilling 74-28, and John’s career winning percentage through age 37 stood at .586 compared to .599 for Schilling (this before John went 23-20 over the next two years pitching mostly for division-winning teams). To say nothing of the fact that Schilling is an overpowering strikeout pitcher who alreadly has 500 more strikeouts than John did in nearly 2000 more career innings.
As you can see, though, the parallels are actually fairly strong, a factor to consider down the road in evaluating both pitchers’ Hall of Fame cases.

Tale of the Tape Measure

SI.com writer Peter McEntegart repeats a slightly different variation of a stat I saw Peter Gammons citing the other day:

The most astounding number to come out of the Barry Bonds steroid controversy is not that 93 percent of the 40,000-plus voters on a SI.com poll don’t believe Bonds’ claim that he was unaware he took steroids. The more intriguing number comes from Stats Inc., which reports that Bonds had never hit a home run longer than 450 feet before the 2000 season, when he turned 36. Since then, he’s hit at least 21 homers of 450 feet or farther.

Here is Gammons� version:

WFAN’s Christopher Russo interviewed a home run distance expert who claimed that prior to 2000, Bonds hit three homers longer than 450 feet; in the last five years, he has hit 26.

Either way�well�it seems like telling circumstantial evidence.

The Bonds Defense

Poliblogger passes on this Barry Bonds quote:

Bonds said he never paid Anderson for drugs or supplements but did give the trainer $15,000 in cash in 2003 for weight training and a $20,000 bonus after his 73-homer season.
Bonds said that Anderson had so little money that he �lives in his car half the time.� Asked by a juror why he didn�t buy �a mansion� for his trainer, Bonds answered: �One, I�m black, and I�m keeping my money. And there�s not too many rich black people in this world. There�s more wealthy Asian people and Caucasian and white. And I ain�t giving my money up.�

and asks the relevant question:

Why in the world would a multi-million dollar athlete at the pinnacle of his career employ a trainer who was semi-homeless? I will grant that Bonds didn�t need to buy the guy a house, but you are letting a guy who �lives in his car half the time� to use unknown substances on your body?

So, Bonds now says he took what Anderson gave him but didn’t ask what it was. Are you kidding me? Here you’ve got a guy walking around with the Scarlet “S” tattooed on his head, he knows he’s taking a variety of supposedly unidentified substances . . . Absolutely everyone who followed baseball the past five years either (1) thought Bonds was using the stuff or at least (2) was aware of the charges. You thought Bonds was on steroids. I thought Bonds was on steroids. But it never even occurred to Barry Bonds himself that he should look into the stuff he was taking? If so, he was the only guy in the game who wasn’t thinking it. He has to know it won’t pass the smell test.

BASEBALL/ Big Daddy Hits Back

Speaking of the media and ballplayers’ personal lives, remember the story about Cecil Fielder’s gambling problem? Well, now Fielder has sued the Detroit News for libel:

The libel suit, filed Nov. 23 in Wayne County Circuit Court, accuses the Detroit Newspaper Agency and reporter Fred Girard of defaming and slandering the three-time All Star by reporting that he was “in hiding,” “not in contact with his family,” not supporting his daughter financially, and had an “unstoppable gambling compulsion,” according to the suit.


Fielder’s lawyers said the stories exaggerated the gambling and reported incorrect information.
In a follow up story Oct. 21, Fielder told the News he planned to repay his debts, saying: “I’m going to be a man about it. I’m going to take care of all my responsibilities.”

From the story reported on ESPN, it doesn’t sound as if Fielder is disputing many of the key allegations against him – that he gambled away millions of dollars and had lost his Florida mansion as a result of inability to pay gambling debts – and is instead attacking charges that are harder to pin down, like the extent to which he was “in hiding” or in contact with his family. Those are facts as to which it will be hard to show that the News recklessly disregarded the truth if they relied on what somebody told them or on the fact that they couldn’t find him, and Fielder will have a tough time proving $25 million in damages if the thrust of the story – massive gambling debts, loss of his house – is true.

Smear Job

I thought what the NY Daily News did to Jason Giambi on Sunday was just reprehensible. Giambi has a lot of well-deserved grief coming over his use of illegal and against-the-rules steroids and his lies to cover up that use. But the Daily News splashed a huge story across the back page about Giambi’s love of Vegas nightlife:

The release of his grand jury testimony, which labels him as both a steroid user and a liar, not only makes Giambi the worst kind of bum as far as New York is concerned. It makes his somewhat reckless personal life, until now something of an open secret in baseball circles, fair game for public consumption.

Um, why would that be? What does Vegas have to do with whether the guy cheated and – the question of the hour – how seriously we should take that cheating? And what do you mean, “reckless”? Drugs? Sex? Gambling? Something else entirely? The News never precisely says, burying us instead in innuendo and a bunch of truisms about Sin City:

Continue reading Smear Job

Legalize It?

In a post about Pete Rose and Barry Bonds, David Pinto has some provocative thoughts about steroid use and baseball, basically asking why is it wrong:

I want to throw out a hypothetical here. What if a surgeon invented a way to make you stronger with muscle implants? We already harvest hearts and lungs and corneas and livers for transplant. What if there was a way to graft more muscle onto your thighs? Is it different than laser surgery on your eyes so you see as well as Ted Williams? Is it different than getting a new arm through surgery to repair a blown tendon? Hypothetically, the effect would be the same as steroids; a stronger body hitting the ball farther. Would this be okay? Where do we draw the line and why do steroids seem to cross it?
We want to watch big guys hit home runs. That sells baseball. That helps our teams win. That’s exciting. Why do we care so much about how they sculpt their bodies to become those hitters?
After all, we don’t see to care so much about actors and actresses having plastic surgery. We go see them in movies because they look good, and when they stop being beautiful, we stop watching. Should there be a rule that only “natural” actors be allowed to make movies? Should Hollywood ban everyone who gets a face lift or tummy tuck?
Of course not. Becuase these people are hurting no one but themselves. And the same is true of baseball players.

It�s a very good question, the fundamental kind people too rarely ask. Like in international relations, why is it wrong for countries like Iraq and Iran to pursue nuclear weapons? Asking such questions doesn�t necessarily mean that you will come to a different conclusion, but it does help prevent you from blindly following conventional wisdom. In terms of steroids, there are several reasons why they should be banned and why their usage should be proscribed. Here are just a few�

Continue reading Legalize It?

Spilling The Juice

No time to blog this morning, but I’ll point you to Jeff Quinton, who picks up the NY Daily News report on Jason Giambi admitting to the BALCO grand jury that he used steroids and human growth hormone. Of course, if this story gets confirmed in the public eye – not that anybody’d be all that surprised – it would reduce Giambi’s vulnerability to blackmail by the Yankees.
Of course, the Yankees also have their hands full with not paying their taxes rent . . .
UPDATE: Fixed the reference above. Also, note that Jeremy Giambi also admitted using steroids, which is unsurprising in light of his brother’s admission:

Jeremy Giambi’s testimony mirrored his brother’s — right down to Anderson’s notifying him that he had tested positive for the steroid Deca Durabolin. Jeremy Giambi described to the grand jury how he had injected human growth hormone and testosterone he received from the trainer before the start of the 2003 season, when he played for the Boston Red Sox.
The younger Giambi testified that he knew testosterone was a steroid but that Anderson had described “the clear” and “the cream” only as undetectable “alternatives to steroids.”
“For all I knew, it could have been baby lotion,” Jeremy Giambi told the grand jury.
Jeremy Giambi, 30, also told the grand jury that he had taken several different-colored pills provided by Anderson even though he didn’t know what they were.
Nedrow asked Jeremy Giambi why he trusted Anderson.
“I don’t know, I guess — I mean, you’re right,” Jeremy Giambi testified. “I probably shouldn’t have trusted the guy. But I just felt like, you know, what he had done for Barry [Bonds] and, you know, I didn’t think the guy would send me something that was, you know, Drano or something, you know, I mean, I hope he wouldn’t.”

Be Careful Who You Wish For

The Giants have to be planning on drifting gradually to a safe distance from the pennant race as the Marlins did this season if they are looking to entrust their closer job to Armando Benitez. As the AP item notes:

[W]hile Benitez has been one of the game’s top closers in the regular season with 244 saves in 283 chances – the fourth best percentage all-time — his postseason history is spotty. He has blown six of 10 postseason save opportunities — a major league record . . .

Yeah, and that doesn’t count meaningful regular season games in pennant races. Brian Sabean is falling back on the “everybody blows games” defense:

“He’s 32-years old and has learned a lot from his experience,” Sabean said, adding that in this postseason “people with greater reputations proved they’re fallible.”

Charley Steiner Gets Traded To Melrose Place

Well, not quite, but the erstwhile Yankee radio man and SportsCenter anchor is off to Chavez Ravine, where he’ll replace Ross Porter and share a booth with Rick Monday for Dodger broadcasts; they will alternate with Vin Scully, who works alone. From MLB’s report:

Steiner, a New York native, said the first game he heard on a big Zenith radio at the age of 6 had Scully calling the Brooklyn Dodgers from Ebbets Field.

Link via Bookworm, who speculates that beat reporter Suzyn Waldman may take Steiner’s place in the booth; I’m fairly certain she’d be the first woman to broadcast games on a regular basis for a New York baseball team.

San Pedro de Flushing?

The Daily News claims that the Mets have offered Pedro Martinez a three-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $37-39 million (about $12-13 million per year), and are contemplating a fourth year guaranteed. While I’m not a fan of the overall strategy of committing more money to expensive stars in their thirties, Pedro is at least a sufficiently high-quality starter – a rare enough thing these days – that it would not be a terrible move, although adding a fourth year guaranteed, with Pedro’s health and durability concerns, would be a Very Bad Idea. That fourth year is only worth it if you are – unlike the Mets – willing to risk writing off an extra season of salary to get over the top in the short run.
Anyway, amidst all the gnashing of teeth about Pedro’s decline, a little perspective is in order:

13 10 3.70 33 33 4 216.2 189 19 70 222
19 7 2.89 33 33 2 233.2 188 26 67 251
16 9 3.90 33 33 1 217 193 26 61 227

That’s Pedro in 1996, 1998, and 2004; as you can see, Pedro’s performance this season wasn’t greatly out of line with seasons he had in his mid-20s. Yes, we’ll never see the Pedro of 1999-2000 again (in our lifetimes, we may never see any pitcher that dominating again), and yes, he’s lost some gas off his fastball, but the numbers say there’s still plenty of gas in Pedro’s tank if he can stay healthy.


For reasons that are unclear to me, I got a free sample issue in the mail of “At The Yard,” a magazine following the minor leagues. What caught my attention was an article on how Dwight Eisenhower apparently told reporters in 1945 that he had played minor league ball under an assumed name (“Wilson”) in 1909 when he was 19. Grantland Rice reported that Ike played center field in the Central Kansas League (presumably a fairly low-level minor league), batting .288, scoring 43 runs and stealing 20 bases in a season of a little over 200 at bats. (Here’s what little else I could find on this online).
(A side note: am I the only one who thinks Grover Alexander, a Nebraskan who was three years older than the Kansan Eisenhower also entered pro ball in 1909, bore a striking resemblance to Ike?)
Anyway, as the article (not available online, so far as I can tell) points out, Eisenhower abruptly stopped talking about his pro baseball career after that, and with good reason: he played football and baseball at West Point, which he entered in 1911, and to do so he would have had to sign an NCAA eligibility card stating that he had not played professional sports – and if he signed that card falsely, it would be a violation of West Point’s honor code, something Ike would not want to admit to once he was embarked on a career in politics. In today’s atmosphere, of course, it’s unlikely he would have gotten away with this without someone digging this up.
But if there’s some enterprising SABR type out there who would like to dig up the old minor league box scores, this sounds like a fun project to look into.

Boggs and Who?

Wade Boggs leads the new nominees on the Hall of Fame ballot, but while a few of the other new candidates, like Darryl Strawberry, Chili Davis and Willie McGee put together pieces of a Hall of Fame case, nobody else new is a serious candidate, whereas Boggs should and will skate in with little or no debate. I think my favorite Wade Boggs fact is in 1987 when he somehow must have sensed that the ball was livelier, and he announced in spring training that he was going to try to his more home runs. As it turned out, homers were up around the league, and Boggs hit 24 of them (up from a career high of 8; he would hit double figures only once more, with 11 in 1994).
Anyway, there’s the usual lively debate about who else goes in; you can go here for a link-filled roundup of my past writings on the returning candidates, and why the only ones I would support are Bert Blyleven, Goose Gossage and Ryne Sandberg (although I may return at some point for a closer look at Sandberg and Alan Trammell).

Age and Established Win Shares

One of my major projects of late has been plugging the 2004 Win Shares data from the Hardball Times into a series of spreadsheets to (1) analyze the usefulness of my Established Win Shares Levels figures from earlier this year and (2) run similar EWSL numbers for 2005. EWSL is explained here; in a nutshell, it’s an application to Win Shares of Established Performance Levels, which take a weighted measurement of a player’s accomplishments in a given category over the prior three years. I ran an EWSL analysis of each team starting here, listing 23 players (13 non-pitchers and 10 pitchers).
As I’ve said before, EWSL is just a compilation of the past, not a projection of the future, although past performance is always a useful thing to have in projecting a ballplayer’s future. Anyway, one issue with EWSL, especially on a team level, is that it tends to overrate older players and underrate younger ones by relying on established track records.
That, we already knew. But by how much? I had used a number of adjustments to deal with this issue, and I’ll return to those later, but first I wanted to take a look at how the unadjusted EWSL fared as a predictor. So I broke down by age each of the 678 players I had listed to compare their unadjusted EWSL entering 2004 to their 2004 Win Shares, and grouped the results by age. The Average EWSL and Average 2004 Win Shares columns are rounded off; the % column shows the total 2004 Win Shares for that age group (un-rounded) divided by the total EWSL (also un-rounded), with 1.00 meaning the group matched its EWSL, numbers above 1.00 showing an increase and below 1.00 showing a decrease. I grouped the 20-21 and over-40 groups because they were so small (20 was just Edwin Jackson, who never did get a shot in 2004).

Age # Avg EWSL Avg 2004 WS +/- %
20-21 6 3 7 +4 2.77
22 13 4 11 +7 3.15
23 11 6 10 +4 1.61
24 26 6 10 +4 1.76
25 39 6 10 +4 1.64
26 70 7 8 +1 1.22
27 60 8 9 +1 1.19
28 60 9 11 +2 1.26
29 49 9 8 -1 0.89
30 62 10 10 0 0.96
31 51 9 8 -1 0.89
32 53 10 9 -1 0.91
33 41 10 7 -3 0.71
34 34 8 7 -1 0.87
35 21 14 7 -7 0.52
36 26 10 9 -1 0.84
37 19 11 9 -2 0.81
38 17 9 8 -1 0.86
39 11 13 11 -2 0.84
40+ 9 11 11 0 1.00

Although the overall aging pattern is hardly a surprise, I was struck by how vividly the pattern came out even over a relatively small sample size. (The breakdowns of numbers of players by age is interesting in its own right). The 40+ crowd, of course, was dominated by Clemens and Randy Johnson, which is what throws that off. Since Established Performance Levels acts as something of a multiplier of inexperience, it’s not surprising to see the average player doubling or tripling his past track record at a very young age, when many in the group are rookies, and that time-lag may also contribute to why the break point for decline starts at 29 rather than 28. I was also struck by the overall stability of the numbers, as there was relatively little variance in the 2004 quality of production over age groups, although of course the mid-30s crowd did underperform the mid-20s crowd even though the mid-20s contingent included a much larger number of marginal players who won’t last past 30.
The wipeout of the 35-year-olds was especially gruesome, and can be attributed partly to having a small sample and the highest starting point in the range. But there were more than just a few disasters in that group: Tim Salmon (down from 18 to 2), Bret Boone (29 to 9), Shigetoshi Hasegawa (10 to 3), John Olerud (20 to 10 – the Mariners had way too many of these guys), Mike Mussina (18 to 10), Paul Quantrill (10 to 6), Pat Hentgen (6 to 0), Fernando Vina (12 to 1), Sammy Sosa (27 to 14), and most egregiously of all, Hideo Nomo (15 to -6).
Anyway, there’s more work still to be done, but clearly to be useful as a predictive tool EWSL needs to be adjusted for age in some fashion.

Kendall Gets Beaned

What’s interesting about the A’s apparently acquiring Jason Kendall for Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes is not the Pirates’ end of the deal, which involves getting some face-saving pitching help while getting out from under Kendall’s oversized contract, but rather the A’s being willing to take on salary to get a catcher (replacing the departing Damian Miller) who gets on base. For all the notoriety of the A’s OBP obsession, the team had in recent years been losing ground in that department. Kendall helps turn around that trend (which had gotten a bit better this season).
Good deal for Oakland, in spite of Kendall’s cost, age and lack of power.

Radke on the Block

I wonder whether it would be worthwhile for the Mets to take a look at Brad Radke, although it sounds like his asking price is fairly steep. (Then again, I loved this line: “Radke has said he wants only a two-year deal, but Simon [his agent] said that wouldn’t necessarily be the length he proposes.” Yeah, the agent will have a lot of credibility on that score.)
On the plus side, Radke’s an extreme fly ball pitcher who would profit from pitching at Shea in front of Mike Cameron. And I’m less concerned about signing a free agent pitcher in his 30s as opposed to hitters, given (1) that you need a lot of innings on a pitching staff, so there’s less sense that old guys are blocking the development of youngsters, and (2) age is less of a straight-line predictor of career path for pitchers (pitchers in their 20s are a crapshoot anyway). On the other hand, the Mets do need to keep cash free to develop the everyday lineup, and Radke is a guy who gives up a lot of hits.

Rivera for Guillen

I have to say the Angels got the better end of the deal that sent Jose Guillen to the Washington Nationals for Juan Rivera and prospect Macier Izturis (younger brother of Cesar Izturis). I don’t know much about Izturis, but Guillen and Rivera are both the same general type of player – relatively free-swinging right-handed sluggers with a good arm – but Rivera is two years younger, makes a fraction of the money, and doesn’t come with Guillen’s clubhouse headaches. And Rivera finished with a flourish last year; in his first extended action as an everyday player, he batted .358/.526/418 after the All-Star Break. Given that Guillen himself has only been a productive regular for two seasons, I’d rather have Rivera even before you factor in the money, let alone when you toss in a 24-year-old shortstop who batted .338 in AAA last year.

Pavano With Caution

Nobody doubts that Carl Pavano is a talented pitcher, but I’ve been hearing people talk about Pavano as if he was a potential substitute for Pedro Martinez in Boston or Javier Vazquez or Kevin Brown in New York. Hold on there, people. Pavano may be just coming into his own, or he may be just coming off a career year. Either way, I don’t see a #1 starter.
First off, there’s his lack of a track record; Pavano’s thrown 100 innings in a season 5 times, and 2004 is the first time he’s been better than a league-average pitcher. Then there’s the core of the problem: strikeouts. 28-year-old pitchers who don’t get a lot of strikeouts do not, in general, become stars. And look at Pavano’s K per 9 innings the last four years: 7.59, 6.09, 5.96, 5.63. Certainly not forward progress.
This is not to say that Pavano is doomed as an effective pitcher, or even that it’s impossible that he will follow the footsteps of Kevin Brown and Mike Scott and similar pitchers who bucked the trend of history by becoming big strikeout pitchers in their 30s. After all, he had a fine year in 2004 by slicing his walks to less than 2 per 9 innings and avoiding the home run ball, both critical skills. But the odds on the latter are not strong. Consider the ten men identified by Baseball-Reference.com as the most-similar pitchers to Pavano through age 28:

Oil Can Boyd (980)
Dustin Hermanson (973)
Charles Nagy (970)
Luis Leal (969)
Bill Wegman (969)
Art Mahaffey (969)
Todd Stottlemyre (966)
Jim Lonborg (966)
Aaron Sele (962)
Frank Castillo (960)

As you can see, the similarity scores are fairly high – and these guys averaged 41 career wins after age 28. Nagy and Wegman both had their best years at 29, and Stottlemyre had a big strikeout year at 30, but not one of these guys was really on his way up entering his thirties.
I’d put Pavano on the level with Jon Lieber and Brad Radke, both similar pitchers in some ways, although Radke in particular is homer-prone. But Pedro Martinez, who’s four years older and with a lot of mileage on his arm, still struck out 9.41 men per 9 innings in 2004 with only a slightly higher walk rate than Pavano. There’s no comparison.


I can’t say I’m ecstatic about seeing Kris Benson in a Mets uniform for another three years, but re-signing him was clearly a necessity once the team let Al Leiter go. The real proof in the pudding on the acquisitions of Benson and Victor Zambrano will come next year (although the costs will take longer to weigh as we watch the development of Scott Kazmir and the other prospects in the deals). Benson should, if healthy, be at least about a league-average pitcher, which isn’t nothing.
Of course, yet again, all of this is just window dressing if Mets management still thinks that the club’s problems can be rectified by the elderly and expensive likes of Sammy Sosa.

Friday Roundup 11/19/04

*The Tigers sign Troy Percival for 2 years, $12 million. Yes, it’s just a 2-year deal, but that’s elite closer money, and Percival’s just not worth it anymore.
*Thank you Mike Cameron? Baseball Prospectus’ latest stab at team defensive stats (subscription only) lists the Mets as #4 in the majors for 2004.
*How did I miss this one when it happened? From September, Mike’s Baseball Rants has some fun with John Kruk calling Chone Figgins – Chone Figgins – “the most valuable player in the game today.”

M V Vlad

If you look at the Win Shares numbers from the Hardball Times, you can see that the AL MVP race was, for all intents and purposes, a dead heat between the top five candidates, each of whom was worth approximately 10 wins to his team:

Player Win Shares
Gary Sheffield 31
Alex Rodriguez 30
Hideki Matsui 30
Miguel Tejada 30
Vladimir Guerrero 29

In a race like that, the more intangible factors – that Guerrero’s team was unusually dependent on him (unlike the big Yankee sluggers, who could feed off each other) and that he closed with a bang to push the Angels over the top in the AL West in September, are good reason to give Guerrero the benefit of the doubt. Specifically, in 12 September-October games against Oakland and Texas, Guerrero scored 13 runs, drove in 14, hit 8 home runs, and batted .478/1.087/.547. Interestingly, the “Win Shares Above Average” figures – comparing each player to an average player with similar playing time – give a slightly different picture:

Player WSAA
Gary Sheffield 15
Johan Santana 15
Alex Rodriguez 12
Hideki Matsui 12
Miguel Tejada 12
Vladimir Guerrero 12
David Ortiz 12
Manny Ramirez 11
Travis Hafner 11
Erubiel Durazo 10

This would seem to support breaking Sheffield away from the pack a bit, especially since I’m not sure that WSAA is a valid basis for a straight-line comparison of a starting pitcher to an everyday player. It’s still close enough that I’d give Guerrero the benefit of the doubt, though. I’m particularly suspicious that WSAA seems to favor players with little or no defensive value. For what it’s worth, the Baseball Prospectus (subscription only) rates Guerrero #1 in the AL by a fairly decisive margin by its “VORP” (Value Over Replacement Level) rating for position players:

Player VORP
Vladimir Guerrero 93.2
Melvin Mora 79.3
Ichiro Suzuki 79.2
Miguel Tejada 79.1
Travis Hafner 74.1
David Ortiz 73.1
Carlos Guillen 71.3
Manny Ramirez 70.0

I’m not sure I understand VORP, one of BP’s famously intricate measurements, well enough to figure out (1) why Vlad takes such a leap forward by its calculations or (2) why all the Yankees take such a beating (the big three all clock in below 65, with Matsui down around 55). One thing Guerrero did very well this year was slash his usually high number of caught stealings (3 in 18 attempts, compared to an average of 13 in 37 attempts the prior four years); he also grounded into 19 DPs, down a bit on a per-at-bat level from prior years, by cutting his ground ball/fly ball ratio to a career low. These are little things, but the caught stealings in particular had been a quiet drag on Guerrero’s production in the past, and Mike Scioscia should get some credit if he’s the one who convinced Guerrero to run less.
Another random note: Guerrero’s patience at the plate did not fall off as dramatically as it might have appeared; his intentional walks dropped to 14 from an average of 25 a year his last four years in Montreal, but his rate of unintentional walks/at bats was 6.2%, as compared to 7.5% those prior four years.

Closing the Chapter

Sad but encouraging news yesterday, as the Mets let Al Leiter go after a desultory attempt to re-sign him on the cheap. Leiter will be remembered well by Mets fans not only for quality pitching but also for being an all-around gritty, emotional guy who took his job seriously, bonded with the fans and was always accessible to the media. No game he pitched was bigger or better than the utterly dominating 2-hit shutout he threw at the Reds in a 1-game playoff for the Wild Card in 1999.
On the other hand, the team needs a new direction, and tossing overboard a 39-year-old who’s been known to meddle in the GM’s business is a must. Leiter was still very effective this season, but his durability is questionable – he’s thrown less than 190 innings three of the last four years – and he’s playing an unsustainable game by nibbling around the corners, walking more batters and striking out fewer:

Year BB/9 K/9 K/BB
2000 3.29 8.65 2.63
2001 2.21 6.82 3.09
2002 3.04 7.58 2.49
2003 4.68 6.92 1.48
2004 5.03 6.06 1.21

It’s to Leiter’s credit that he’s managed the guile and guts to stay effective against such an evident pattern of declining ability, but he can’t keep it up much longer. Let the Yankees have him back.

New Year, Same MVP

I can remember, back in the 1980s, when there used to be exciting and interesting arguments over the NL MVP Award – arguments about Gary Carter and Dale Murphy and Mike Schmidt and Pedro Guerrero and Andre Dawson and Ozzie Smith . . . these days, it’s just the same old thing every year – Bonds, Bonds, Bonds. There really wasn’t a way to deny him the award this season, not with an OBP over .600.

Blog ‘Em and Leave ‘Em

Jon Weisman has a great piece up on the longetivity and replaceability of baseball bloggers in light of the departures of Brian Gunn and Edward Cossette and the death of Doug Pappas. (Link via Pinto). Two thoughts:
1. At least bloggers go away when (and sometimes before) they run out of things to say; by contrast, professional sportswriting is chock full of people who repeat themselves endlessly and have lost the love of what they do, but keep going paycheck to paycheck.
2. My own focus on a variety of topics is what keeps me going here, in my fifth year doing this; I can always put down baseball for politics, politics for baseball, or go write about law or pop culture or just anything. It’s liberating and helps alleviate the need to say something fresh about the same topic every day.

Around the Horn 11/11/04

I haven’t done a trip around the baseball blogosphere in a while; here we go:
*Brian Gunn hangs up his cleats at Redbird Nation. The Holy Cross sportswriting contingent loses one of its best, as Brian becomes yet another blogger to decide that blogging is just too all-consuming. It’s a shame; the only problem with Brian’s site was that, like Aaron Gleeman’s writings, there were never enough hours in the day to read it all if you were reading other sites as well. Let’s hope we see him back in print soon, but in the meantime, good luck.
*USS Mariner has a good rundown of dates to keep in mind this offseason, starting with today’s opening of teams’ ability to initiate formal talks with other teams’ free agents.
*Mac Thomason on the Braves’ free agents:

[J.D.] Drew was the Braves’ best hitter this year, finding his health and having a career year in Atlanta. And it’s his home state. Some players would take less to stay at home where they’ve found success. These players do not have Scott Boras as an agent. Drew will want an eight-figure salary and a long-term contract, one I find it unlikely that the Braves would give. . . . There’s still the question of his health, which might drive the price down. But the market is thin in outfielders this year, and it seems likely to me that someone will indeed give Drew a long-term deal for more than $10 million a season. And that it won’t be the Braves. . . .

*Speaking of Gleeman, lest I be accused again of ducking the issue, I send you to Aaron’s explanation of why Derek Jeter – who was improved with the glove this year – did not deserve the Gold Glove.
*Jay Jaffe studies the Yankees’ most recent cost-cutting moves, from declining options on Jon Lieber and Paul Quantrill to letting Fred Hickman (!) go, and concludes that the Yankees do, in fact, have limits to how much money they will spend. Me, I’ll believe it when I see it. I think of the bumper sticker slogan used by supporters of New Jersey Senate candidate Bob Franks in 2000 against multi-millionaire Jon Corzine’s self-financed campaign: “Make him spend it all, Bob.” Make him spend it all, Omar and Theo and the rest. At the moment, however, it looks like a familiar process is starting whereby other teams are already getting scared off from bidding against the Yankees for Carlos Beltran while Yankee players woo him.
*Participate in Tangotiger’s fan scouting survey of your home team!
*Jon Weisman discusses a Mike Piazza for Shawn Green rumor, which sounds like a really bad idea for the Mets; Green’s not that young, plenty expensive, and appears to be damaged goods (he had a very disppointing 2004), and at that point you might as well just stick with the one who can get behind the plate. I can see why the Dodgers are desperate for catching help, though.
*I’m way late in linking to Wizbang, which sends you to the sad tale of how gambling wrecked Cecil Fielder. By the way, I’ve seen Fielder’s house in Florida, and it is indeed gigantic; it’s a sign of the guy’s foolishness that he managed to lose the house, when part of the reason why rich people buy big mansions in Florida is because of legal protections against losing your house there if you file for bankruptcy.
*Finally, Will Carroll notes an irony for baseball-and-politics bloggers:

[Ever notice that] everyone says �get back to baseball� to me when we get �too� political, but that we get insanely long participative threads when we talk about anything except baseball?
Or is it just that everyone nods their head and says �Oh, dead on!� when I write about baseball?

Actually, the irony is this: most of the major baseball bloggers agree on the basic ideas they are promoting, there’s a lot of agreement and civility among baseball bloggers, in contrast to the acrimony and the adversarial nature of political blogs. But one side effect of that is that it sometimes seems that baseball bloggers (other than David Pinto) don’t link to each other enough precisely because we’re not attacking each other. And I say that being as guilty of that as anybody.