The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Monday, May 03, 2010


Move along to my new home

The new blog is here, and the details on what's going on are here.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Friday's Child - Front Row Edition

So this past Sunday I got up to Yankee Stadium for my first game of the season, where my friend Julie and I watched Dandy Andy Pettitte and the Yankees subdue the Rangers, 5-2. Given last year's ugly ticket drama, I'm pleased to report that we've moved up in the world.

Last year, we were about four rows from Newark up in section 413 just beyond the infield down the right field line:

This year, we're in the front row of section 422, much closer to the plate:

These are much more comparable to our seats in the old stadium, albeit an estimated 30 feet back and 30 feet higher:

Best of all, the seats are just $25 a pop on our plan, up a reasonable $5 from last year and still less than half of what we paid in 2008. That's a huge win, and while it doesn't completely replace the bitter taste in my mouth over the way we were treated last winter, it's only fair to acknowledge that things have improved, and that my friends and I are happier for it.

• • •

Gathering the week's work at Baseball Prospectus:

• On Wednesday I wrote about the Red Sox on the heels of their five-game losing streak, which they shook off even as I was finishing the thing. The biggest deal about their situation isn't their pitching or their defense, it's David Ortiz:
Most of the handwringing regarding the Sox's slow start boils down to concern about Ortiz, who's in the final year of a four-year, $52 million deal. It took just two games and seven futile at-bats before the calls for his benching began, and at this writing he's now 6-for-41 with 17 strikeouts and zero homers; last night he was pulled in favor of Mike Lowell to face lefty Darren Oliver with two on and two out in the seventh inning, the Sox down by two. That the 34-year-old slugger is in decline isn't exactly up for debate:


2007 .332 .445 .621 .341 7.2
2008 .264 .369 .507 .292 2.5
2009 .238 .332 .462 .266 0.5
As bad as that progression looks, the last line conceals the drastic split between the first couple months of his season (.185/.284/.287 with a lone homer in 208 PA through May 31), and the rest (.264/.356/.548 with 27 homers in 419 PA). Which isn't to say that it's only a matter of time before Ortiz's 2007 form comes around again; two years of wrist woes as well as the general aging process applied to a bulky sloth with a history of knee problems should see to that. PECOTA isn't entirely down on Ortiz, forecasting a .274/.368/.514 weighted mean projection, but even so, those aren't the numbers of a lineup centerpiece anymore.

Still, some of this has a whiff of confirmation bias. Ortiz is a notoriously slow starter who owns a .257./345/.502 line in 1030 March and April plate appearances for his career, and a .286/.382/.551 line in the other 5067 PA — 86 points of OPS higher. He has had some good Aprils, but not since 2007; his last two came in at a combined .205/.292/.342, compared to .261/.362/.516 otherwise over a span where AL designated hitters combined to bat .255/.338/.439. His overall mark in that span (.250/.348/.482) is still better than the league-average DH, even after adjusting for park.

The real issue isn't his slow starts so much as it's his performance against lefties:

-——-————vs RHP—————-—- -——-————vs LHP—————-—

'03-'04 836 .320 .408 .663 342 .237 .295 .449
'05-'07 1386 .311 .439 .663 680 .296 .375 .539
'08-'10 841 .259 .361 .498 319 .212 .299 .414
Always fun to see Boston down, but I don't think they're going to stay down for long — there's too much talent and too many resources there, though the catching situation is also a concern given that Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek have only thrown out about 11 percent of base thieves over the past year-plus; the Rangers ran riot on V-Mart, stealing nine bases on Tuesday night.

• The NL Hit List features Chickens for Checkups and endless dry-humping (the term for what the Mets' idiot savant manager Jerry Manuel did by warming up closer Francisco Rodriguez nine times during the team's 20-inning win on Saturday).

• If you follow my Twitter stream, you've already heard my blue-streaked mea culpa regarding Phil Hughes' no-hit bid on Wednesday night. The sanitized version is as follows. I was out with my friend Nick at Beauty Bar in the East Village, preparing to call it a night after a few beers, when I checked the Yanks-A's score on my iPhone. I saw that through seven innings, Hughes had a no-hitter going, so we bolted out of the bar (which doesn't have a television) in search of one that did. We passed a sports bar with a big Yankee logo, but every TV we could see in there had basketball or nature shows on, so we peered into the next bar down Second Avenue. By the time we'd sat down with our beers, I realized it was a Red Sox-flavored bar, the notorious Professor Thom's, which everybody in the Twitscape seemed aware of but me. One pitch later, Hughes' no-no was no mo'. From the AL Hit List , which is topped by the Bronx Bombers:
[#1 Yankees] Philthy: Phil Hughes becomes the second Yankees pitcher this season to take a no-hitter into the eighth, but he's jinxed by a bum who stumbles into the wrong bar, fails to locate a comebacker, and settles for a 7 1 1 1 2 10 line. At least he emerges in one piece, unlike his last no-hit bid three (!) years ago. The Yanks' rotation is firing on nearly every cylinder, though Javy Vazquez's 8.27 ERA is nearly as high as the other four pitchers' marks added together (8.91). Meanwhile, the team's equivalent of Halley's Comet comes around, as they pull off their first triple play in 42 years.
In addition to being Philthy, the Hit List is Trembley, Slowey, Javy, Brantley and totally Lackey. Also Smoaky.

• One final note: on May 1, Blogger will stop FTP publishing, the means by which this blog is published so as to reside on the same server as the rest of my site while emulating its look and feel. I am investigating a move to the WordPress platform, and at some point am going to need to provide some instructions (a new URL, likely) as to how to find FI. If for some reason this blog is offline for any length of time, know that it will be back soon enough and that I'll see you on the other side.

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 19, 2010


Ballgame Barbie She Ain't: Emma Span's 90% of the Game is Half Mental

What happens when a baseball outsider lands what seemed to be the job of her (yes, her) dreams, covering the two New York baseball teams as a beat reporter? What happens when that job is just as suddenly yanked away when her publisher goes through yet another regime change? Having crossed the line into professionalism, can she go back to enjoying the game as a fan? Those are a few of the big questions at the center of Emma Span's new book, 90% of the Game is Half Mental, a quasi-memoir which serves as an engaging meditation on the nature of fandom in this media-saturated age — and more importantly, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable debut.

A native of suburban New Jersey who grew up a Yankees fan and came of age early in the Torre dynasty, Emma's currently a regular Bronx Banter contributor as well as the occasional keeper of her own well-named blog, Eephus Pitch (disclosure: I have been known to quaff the odd beer and/or attend the occasional ballgame with Ms. Span and am pleased to report she is delightful company for either endeavor. Also, I am partial to books which borrow their titles from Yogi Berra aphorisms).

As with most fans, male or female, working inside the game was hardly her first calling. As her story goes, after majoring in film studies at Yale, Emma faced the harsh reality of a liberal arts education that could take her only so far, in this case to a dead-end job writing blurbs for dubious direct-to-video titles like Titaboobs Paradise and Stanley the Stinkbug Goes to Camp. Her adventures inside the game began when she caught a break and had the opportunity to cover the 2006 Mets' playoff run for the Village Voice, a venerable alternative weekly rarely known for its sports coverage even as it's gone more mainstream (though Allen Barra heyday for Jockbeat was notably worthwhile). Her run at the Voice was brief — she was laid off after returning from a two-week trip to Florida to cover spring training the following year — but nonetheless long enough to confront the necessity of cultivating a sense of professional detachment from her rooting interests. Along the way she gathered some keen and often hilarious insights into working behind the scenes. Particularly notable is her jaundiced take on Shea Stadium and her introduction to the locker room etiquette of being a female sportswriter — segments of which put a recent Varsity Letters audience in stitches:
I don't really want to pile on Shea, because there's a long line. I heard at least seven or eight different sportswriters experess their eagerness to be the one pushing the plunger when demolition day finally came. (They were all disappointed, as Shea was reduced to rubble slowly and in pieces). But also because, in this age of cookie-cuter nostalgia-fest stadiums, I grudgingly admired Shea's unique ugliness. The place had character — sort of a disagreeable character, but character — and that ought to be worth something. It was a reminder of changing times; Shea was completed less than fifty years ago, in 1964, yet it is now impossible to imagine a scenario in which anyone could look at those blueprints and think, Good idea.

... On my first day I'd been in the clubhouse less than an hour when Pedro Martinez walked in and started changing by his locker. I wanted to go over and talk to him — ask him a question if I could get up the nerve, or at least listen in to a group session. But I figured I would wait until he got some pants on. It seemed lie the polite thing to do, probably the course of action Emily Post would suggest.

I shifted my weight from one leg to the other and fiddled with my pen; Pedro gave interviews cheerfully and joked with his teammates in Spanish. I glanced over super-briefly, so as not to get too good a look at anything, every few minutes. Pedro really not in a hurry to put on his pants, reads an exasperated scrawl in my notebook from a good twenty minutes later, really underlined three times. Eventually he wandered into the trainer's room, pants still nowhere in evidence.
After being laid off, Emma turned her energy towards a book project covering the Yankees' and Mets' 2007 seasons in the hope that they would culminate in a Subway Series. Her travels took her well beyond New York, most notably to Milwaukee in the hopes of witnessing Tom Glavine's 300th win as well as the famous sausage race (a topic on which I can claim expertise), and to Taiwan to investigate the state of its professional baseball league as well as the iconic status of Chien-Ming Wang, and the accompanying rabidity of the Yankees' following. Alas, while the Bronx Bombers made the playoffs for the umpteenth straight time (only to eventually be doused by a swarm of midges), the Mets' campaign ended when Glavine crashed and burned on the season's final day.

Emma's plans for that book evolved into 90%, and while the effort to repurpose her tales into a first-person case study on the nature of fandom could have just as easily gone down in flames as that fateful Glavine start, it doesn't. She's a sharp, quick-witted observer with a facility for extrapolating from her own experiences into a more general contemplation of the silly and serious investments we make as fans, often with engaging amounts of self-deprecating humor. She's clear-eyed about the Yankees' excesses, sympathetic to the Mets' inferiority complex, and willing to play both sides of the fence even at the risk of committing baseball polyandry.

As a woman writing about a game played — and largely covered, and followed — by men (or perhaps more accurately, overgrown boys), Emma inevitably confronts the gender divide at several turns, but her light touch ensures that the topic hardly wears out its welcome. Nowhere does she wind up needing to apologize for any deficit of understanding on account of her femininity; she doesn't cower in fear of scorecards or Baseball Prospectus' advanced metrics, nor does she turn into Ballgame Barbie, more concerned with fashion sense and celebrity gossip than batting orders. Yet she doesn't strain to be one of the boys, either. Instead she simply turns her unique perspective into an asset, emerging with a work that's tough to put down until you've sailed through its 166 pages. Male or female, if you've had the chance to read her work at Bronx Banter, the Voice, or her own site, you know this already. If not, you're in for a treat.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 16, 2010


From the Streets of Baltimore to the Sofas of Brooklyn

A bit groggy here after a long week which began with a fun ballpark trip to a Baseball Prospectus event in Baltimore — one which included Orioles president Andy MacPhail, six BP authors, and XM Radio hosts Mike Ferrin and Grant Paulsen — and was capped by having stayed up past 2:00 AM on each of the past two nights watching the Dodgers and Diamondbacks battle into extra innings — a combined eight hours and 39 minutes digested via TiVo, both times after taking in Yankees games and other baseball earlier in the day.

I've been fairly busy on the content front as well. Don't tell anyone I told you, but the forthcoming BP site facelift features a new author page where you can see my latest work at a glance and/or grab an RSS feed (consider this a beta version, with no warranty implied). Onto the highlight reel:

"Disastropiece Theater" examines the Astros' 0-7 start (which ran to 0-8) and the fates of teams that started similarly badly:
Houston, we have a problem. On Monday, the Astros lost 5-0 to the Cardinals, running their 2010 record to 0-7 and marking the third time in this young season that they've been shut out by an opponent. To date the Astros have been outscored 42-13 — by an average of 4.1 runs per game — which comes out to a Pythagenpat winning percentage of .114.

As bad as those numbers look, this doesn't seem terribly remarkable at first glance, particularly given that last year's Astros opened at 1-6 while being outscored 43-16 and shut out twice. Without digging through our archives, I'd guess that I deployed the time-honored (if slightly misremembered) Apollo 13 reference in response to that mess as well. Meanwhile, last year's Nationals got off to an 0-7 start, and the year before that, it was the Tigers plunging to an 0-7 start for the third time in seven years. Happens every spring, right?

Actually, no. Since 1901, just 25 teams have started 0-7, only five of whom have been outscored by wider margins than the current Astros; two more were outscored by the same margin... Interestingly, it's the 1988 Orioles with the worst run differential after seven games; they're the ones who went on to lose a mind-boggling 21 consecutive games to start the year, far outdistancing the 1997 Cubs (0-14), the 1904 Senators and the 1920 Tigers (both 0-13, though the Senators actually tied their second game).

So the Astros have their work cut out for themselves if they really want to make history. Nonetheless, this is not a good list to be on. None of the previous 24 teams which started 0-7 made the postseason, and only two, the 1980 Braves and the 1983 Astros, even cracked .500 for the year. As a group, these teams compiled a combined .380 winning percentage for their seasons, essentially the equivalent of a 62-100 season.
Beyond that, there's an analysis of the problems specific to the 'Stros, namely their offense, their general manager and their owner. There but for the grace of God...

• As the Astros ran their record to 0-8, I wondered (via a Prospectus One-Hopper - those are free, by the way) how many managers had run into similar fates as new Houston skipper Brad Mills. One of the three I was able to find was mighty familiar:
Moose Stubing, 1988 Angels, 0-8
This one's close to my heart. Lawrence George "Moose" Stubing was a Bronx-born minor league masher in the 1950s and 1960s in the Pirates, Giants, Cardinals and Angels chains. In a minor league career of 1419 games, he hit .283 and slugged .474 with 192 homers, mostly at the Double-A level, with his best seasons coming in El Paso (.316/.454/.613 with 35 homers and 120 RBI in 1964 as a 25-year-old). He hit just .212/.321/.357 in 148 games at Triple-A, and went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in his cup of coffee with the 1967 California Angels. After playing, Stubing joined the Angels' organization, serving as a scout and minor league manager from 1971 through 1985. During that tenure he spent two years (1980-1981) managing the Angels' Triple-A affiliate in my hometown, Salt Lake City. An amiable lug, he'd show up in the offseason refereeing NCAA basketball games in the Western Athletic Conference and later the PAC-10, generally drawing cheers from the crowd, a rarity for just about any ref. Stubing went on to spend six seasons (1985-1990) as the Angels' third base coach, taking time out to assume interim manager duties at the end of 1988, after Cookie Rojas had been fired with a 75-79 record. He went 0-8 and was replaced over the winter by Doug Rader, never to get another chance to manage in the majors, thus becoming the first player ever to carry 0-fers as both a player and a manager. Stubing was still in baseball as of last year, serving as a special assistant to the general manager for the Nationals, but was relieved of his duties at the end of the year.
Somewhere I have a copy of the Referee magazine with Stubing on the cover, holding a pint of beer:

National and American League flavors for the Hit List. Speaking of the two teams I've spent the wee hours with:
[#5 Diamondbacks] So Much For the New Guys: With Brandon Webb nowhere in sight, a big part of the Diamondbacks' bid for relevance hinges on Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy, both acquired in the Granderson blockbuster. So far, so-so; the two have been cuffed for a combined 6.75 ERA in four starts despite an 18/6 K/BB ratio in 21.2 frames. The Snakes are 2-2 in those games despite not getting a quality start, though Jackson's second turn is mitigated by his hitting a two-run homer amid a 13-run fourth-inning outburst.

[#7 Dodgers] Staff of the Undead: Given the choice for an opening day assignment between Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, Joe Torre opts for — wait for it — Vicente Padilla, who pitches as though suffering from a gunshot wound (4.1 6 7 7 3 2). He's not the only retread on this pitching staff, either; Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz and Jeff Weaver have allowed 10 runs in 12.1 innings over 15 appearances thus far, with an 8/9 K/BB ratio. At least Torre deserves props for anointing knuckleballer Charlie Haeger his fifth starter; he whiffs 12 in his first turn, albeit in a losing cause, and even adds an inning of scoreless relief.
As for the two usual suspects in the AL:
[#2 Yankees] The defending champions rack up road series wins in Boston and Tampa Bay before returning home to ring in a celebration which includes a classy tribute to the departed World Series MVP, Hideki Matsui (now the Los Angeles Godzilla of Anaheim). New arrivals Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson fare well, but Javy Vazquez isn't feeling the love; he's booed in the Bronx, perhaps because his ERA in pinstripes dating back to the 2004 All-Star break now stands at 7.52 (101.2 innings including postseason).

[#9 Red Sox] Big Papi, Big Problems: Despite coming from behind to win on opening night, the Sox drop their season-opening series to the Yankees in Fenway, then play the patsies as the Twins open Target Field as well. Amid their slow start, concerns mount regarding David Ortiz, who starts 4-for-26 with no homers and 13 strikeouts, including two or more in five straight games. Colorful in expressing his frustration, Ortiz is at least somewhat vulnerable given the presence of Mike Lowell on the bench. PECOTA isn't terribly concerned, forecasting a .274/.368/.514 weighted mean (a .290 True Average) for the 34-year-old slugger, but Jay-Z has beef.
• And finally, there's the One-Hoppers version of my Jackie Robinson Day missive, which includes an addendum regarding every player wearing number 42, as gleaned from the great Vin Scully, whose Jackie Day broadcasts are worth the price of the Extra Innings package alone:
Watching Thursday night's Dodger game, I heard Vin Scully re-tell a story — told by Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine first in his book What I Learned from Jackie Robinson and then to the New York Times' Dave Anderson here — in which the Dodgers played a game in Cincinnati after Robinson had received a death threat. Police sharpshooters covered the ballpark, making for a tense situation. At a team meeting, outfielder Gene Hermanski offered a suggestion for the Dodgers manager (in the book, it's Burt Shotton, in 1947, in the Times it's Charlie Dressen in 1951; Hermanski was on the team until June 15 of the latter year, but the date of the former is more plausible given the initial tension). "Hey, Skip, I’ve got an idea," said Hermanski. "If we all wore 42 out there, they won’t know who to shoot." The question introduced a bit of levity which helped ratchet down the tension; everybody, including Robinson, laughed. Read in light of that story, the act of every player wearing the number becomes one not just of unity but defiance.
Scully also re-told his Ice Skating with Jackie story, which was preserved for posterity last year in the must-bookmark Sons of Steve Garvey Vin Scully Repository. This one on racism, Bill Veeck, and the flight of major league spring training facilities to Arizona is rather appropriate given the Jackie Robinson theme as well.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, April 15, 2010


MLB Should Step Up to the Plate on Jackie Robinson Day

Today marks the 63rd anniversary of one of the great days in American history, the day that Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier by taking the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It's a day to pause a moment and reflect upon Robinson's immeasurable courage in battling racism, and the impact his bold success had on this country. From the integration of the military to the Civil Rights movement to the election of Barack Obama to the United States presidency, Robinson's arrival in the major leagues forced America to live up to its ideals of equality, and his actions changed the course of this country's history in ways that continue to be felt.

Given that it was a gorgeous day today in Brooklyn, I decked myself out in my Brooklyn Dodgers cap and Mitchell and Ness hoodie and took time out from my work to make a five-minute walk to a plaque at 215 Montague Street, the location of the Dodgers' old headquarters, where Branch Rickey signed Robinson to his first contract in 1945:

MLB tries to make a big to-do about Jackie Robinson Day. For starters, there's commissioner Bud Selig's reductio ad absurdum which mandates that every player wear number 42 in Robinson's honor. It's a gesture that's supposed to express the unity of all players in uniform regardless of color or background, and in a way it does. Nonetheless, it's also rather silly. How many announcers does it take to quip, "You can't tell the players even with a scorecard today?" before the whole thing turns into a joke?

More troubling than that is the fact that MLB scarcely puts its money where its mouth is regarding the day. In an industry whose revenues are around $6 billion (going by the latest Forbes figures), today's Barry Bloom piece on trumpets the following:
Two years ago, MLB made a major $1.2 million commitment to the Robinson Foundation over a four-year period to fund scholarships in the name of each of the 30 clubs. Each year, $300,000 is invested, representing 30 scholorships [sic] worth $10,000.

Derek Jeter, the Yankees captain and all-time hits leader, donates a scholarship in perpetuity at the $250,000 level. He remains the only Major League player that endows a Robinson scholarship.

DuPuy said that MLB's contribution has no time limit and will go beyond the current term of agreement.
I'm sorry, but $1.2 million? That doesn't even buy you a futility infielder these days, and $300,000 isn't even the major league minimum salary anymore. Hell, one benevolent superstar's own foundation nearly equals the entire MLB contribution!

While the money is certainly important to the people who receive it, that's still the equivalent of pocket change left on the nightstand as opposed to a truly meaningful contribution. If baseball really wanted to make an impact in Robinson's name, whether via the Robinson Foundation, the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities initiative, which combats the shrinking participation in the game by African Americans, or other worthy organizations, it would donate a single day's gate receipts instead of contributing such a token amount.

According to the annual Team Marketing Report, the average non-premium ticket price this year is $26.74. Multiply that by the 2009 average attendance of 30,323 per game times 15 home games around the majors and you've got about $12.2 million to spread around, roughly 40 times the amount MLB is trumpeting about contributing annually. Sure, weekday attendance might actually make for smaller per-game attendance, but we haven't even included premium ticket prices in the equation. In any event, we're talking about a substantially larger amount of money being spread around to honor baseball's most important contribution this country's history.

Come on, Bud, step up to the plate.

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Lost and Found Radio

I know I tweeted about this, but I forgot to post it here. Last Friday, Steven Goldman and I paid a visit to the WNYC studio in Tribeca and sat down for a 15-minute segment on "The Brian Lehrer Show." WNYC, for those not in the know, is a member station of National Public Radio and the largest public radio station in the US, while Lehrer is an award-winning host.

Ours was a fun conversation, one that included listener call-ins as well as a chat with the host. The result is here.

Labels: ,

Friday, April 09, 2010


The Swindle Continues: Malcolm McLaren (1946-2010)

Malcolm McClaren, the Svengali behind the Sex Pistols, passed away on Thursday at the age of 64. McLaren's audacious promotion helped turn the Pistols into Public Enemy Number One in England during 1976, and he certainly bears a good deal of responsibility for popularizing punk as a fashion statement via his London boutique, SEX.

But anyone who thinks McLaren was the inventor of punk as a musical style ought to check out what bands like the Stooges, the New York Dolls, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and the Ramones and others were doing before he came along (he ruined the Dolls, actually), to say nothing of countless Sixties garage bands anthologized on the Nuggets, and Pebbles series of compilations. And anyone who thinks that McLaren was the real brains behind the Sex Pistols would do well to check out Julien Temple's incredible documentary, The Filth and the Fury.

The movie acts as a counter to Temple's 1978 mockumentary, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, which tells the story of the Pistols from McLaren's point of view. Watching the documentary, it's abundantly clear that John Lydon (a/k/a Johnny Rotten, the Pistols' lead singer) was nobody's fool, and more than two decades after the fact (the movie was released in 2000), the venom he reserves for McClaren rivals that with which he delivered such memorably antisocial statements like, "I am an antichrist!" and "God save the queen, the fascist regime!" Just as it's the players who deserve the credit for winning a ballgame or a World Series, it's the Sex Pistols themselves who deserve the credit as a band who could peel paint off the walls. They were a fucking force. "This band wasn't about making people happy," recalls Lydon. "It was attack. Attack, attack, attack."

To the assertion that it was McLaren that created the Rotten persona, Lydon replied:
You don't create me. I am me. There is a difference... There was never a relationship with the manager, for me, other than he would always try to steal my ideas and claim them to be his own. I had to accept that he was the manager, because he was their manager before I joined the band.
Here's the first of 11 segments of the movie, sliced and diced via YouTube:

Here's the band performing "God Save the Queen":

Here's their infamous BBC interview with Bill Grundy, from which the ensuing tabloid coverage gave the doc its name:

Of course, there are two sides to every story. The Guardian offers a rather balanced take on McLaren's relationship with the Pistols:
He was a nonpareil orchestrator of outrage during their early career, but proved incapable of dealing with its consequences. McLaren knew exactly what buttons to press, but seemed to have no idea what to do once he'd pressed them: fatally so in the case of Sid Vicious, who was only too willing to play the monster role that McLaren wrote for him right up to a suitably grim conclusion.

...It wasn't until after the band split up that McLaren attempted to reassert his authority over the Sex Pistols: rewriting their story in the film The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle as a masterplan he had controlled all along, the band merely his stooges. It wasn't a terribly convincing argument, nor was it a terribly good film.

Understandably outraged, Johnny Rotten has spent the subsequent years airbrushing McLaren from the Sex Pistols story, pointing out that the music had nothing to do with him, reinventing the band as autodidacts who would have been even more successful without his interference.

But that seems reductive too: without McLaren's ideas, his art-school grounding in Situationism, without the clothes he and Vivienne Westwood designed for them, the Sex Pistols wouldn't have been the same band, nor would they have had the same impact. Neither party would ever admit it, but they needed each other.

Still, if nothing else, the ongoing argument meant Malcolm McLaren remained a controversial figure up to his death, and will remain a controversial figure beyond it – which is presumably just what he wanted.
Even Lydon had a few kind words for the manager as he shuffled off this mortal coil: "For me Malc was always entertaining, and I hope you remember that. Above all else he was an entertainer and I will miss him, and so should you."

Labels: ,


The Train to Cooperstown

Keyed by Tim Kurkjian's observation that there are no currently active starting pitchers who are locks for Cooperstown, today's Prospectus Hit and Run is devoted to examining which active pitchers have the best shot, using both JAWS and more traditional credentials. Before digging into the names, consider the following:
The Baseball Writers Association of America voters haven't elected a starter with less than 300 wins since Fergie Jenkins in 1991, and with Randy Johnson's retirement, just four active pitchers are within even 100 wins of that magic number, led by 47-year-old Jamie Moyer, who's coming off a 4.94 ERA and has just one All-Star appearance to his credit. Don't wait up.

Wins shouldn't constitute the be-all and end-all of a pitcher's Hall of Fame case, anyway. As rising strikeout and walk rates (not to mention offensive levels) have elevated pitch counts over the past 40 years, teams have grown more protective of hurlers, with managers moving to five-man rotations and building increasingly specialized bullpens which make complete games a thing of the past, and starter Ws increasingly rare. Between those trends and the sabermetrically-driven awareness of what outcomes pitchers actually control, it's clear that the win is less the product of individual brilliance or intestinal fortitude on a given day than the confluence of ample support from offense, defense, and bullpen.
As i wrote last summer in a piece on potential 300 game winners, "In 1972, the year before the designated hitter's introduction, starters completed games 27.1 percent of the time, collected decisions 78.5 percent of the time, and lasted an average of 6.7 innings in their starts. In contrast, last year [2009] they went the distance 2.8 percent the time, collected decisions 69 percent of the time, and averaged 5.8 innings."

For the piece, I wound up dividing 13 pitchers into three categories, Best Best, Mid-Range Candidates and Long-Range Candidates (the ESPN TMI blog entry for which the piece was originally intended covers only eight pitchers). Among the first category, I took issue with Kurkjian's arbitrary decision to exclude Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, neither of whom are on rosters currently (the latter is doing broadcasts for TBS) but both of whom may well attempt midseason returns, as Martinez did last year with the Phillies. Those two have very strong cases, as do the top two relievers on the all-time saves list, Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera.

As it turns out, there was one Yankee in each category, so that's where we'll excerpt:
Best Bets
Mariano Rivera (71-52, 527 saves, 2.25 ERA, 82.6 career WARP/52.0 Peak WARP/67.3 JAWS)
Arguably the greatest closer ever, superior to the five enshrined relievers (Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, and Goose Gossage), Rivera ranks second all-time in saves, and first with 74.5 WXRL, our reliever win expectancy stat. He's also got a case as the greatest post-season performer, having compiled an astounding 0.74 ERA in 133 1/3 innings for five world championship teams, winding up the last man standing on the mound in a record four World Series. He's also got the highest Career, Peak and JAWS scores of any active pitcher, 9.5 JAWS points above the average Hall pitcher, starter or reliever.

Mid-Range Candidates
CC Sabathia (136-81, 3.63 ERA, 37.6/32.6/35.1)
Sure, the big man is a freak of nature for whom doom and gloom is predicted given his workload (210 innings per year over his first nine seasons) and physique. His JAWS numbers aren't yet much to write home about because he wasn't an elite run preventer earlier in his career, but he's improved markedly over the past few years, his win total through his age-28 season tops several post-war Hall of Famers, and he'll be backed by an offensive dynamo for the foreseeable future.

Long-Range Candidates
Andy Pettitte (229-135, 3.90 ERA, 44.7/30.0/37.4)
Pettitte's win total ranks behind only that of Moyer among active pitchers, and he's got five World Series rings and an outstanding post-season resume (18-9, 3.90 ERA in 249 innings) to his credit; recall that he won the clincher in each round of the postseason last year. He'll need an extremely generous amount of credit for his October work to reach Cooperstown, because as impressive as his win total may be, the 38-year-old is running out of time to reach 300. Furthermore, his run prevention woes really suppress his value; he's been worth just 9.1 WARP over the past four years via a 57-44, 4.24 ERA showing across 828 1/3 innings.
Pettitte's more correctly termed a longshot than a long-range candidate, since other pitchers covered in that class included Tim Lincecum and Felix Hernandez. I'm surprised how often his name comes up in Hall of Fame conversations, at least within the New York media . It ain't happenin', folks, nor should it. Which isn't to say he hasn't been a fine pitcher and a personal favorite; accompanied by his trademark glare from beneath that cap brim pulled so low, last fall's work certainly reinforced that notion.

Labels: , ,


Predictions and Projections

Happy belated Opening Day! The season is underway, of course, and I've been particularly busy finishing up the Fantasy Baseball Index Spring Update series, drafting a fantasy team of my own to compete in the True Blue LA league, and trying to keep my head above water at Baseball Prospectus.

For starters, here's my entry in the BP staff's Preseason Predictions. Now, with the caveat that I don't think these mean terribly much, nor am I terribly good at them, I've got the Rays, Twins and Rangers winning their respective AL divisions, with the Yankees as the Wild Card, meaning I've predicted that the Red Sox will be the team on the outside looking in — hey, somebody's gotta stay home. And yes, I did intentionally leave fifth place in the AL Central blank, reserving sixth for the Royals. As for the NL, I've essentially predicted a repeat of last year's postseason slate, with the Phillies, Cardinals and Dodgers joined by the Wild Card-winning Rockies.

Here are my award predictions:

AL MVP: 1. Evan Longoria 2. Joe Mauer 3. Mark Teixeira
AL Cy Young: 1. Felix Hernandez 2. CC Sabathia 3. Justin Verlander
AL Rookie of the Year: 1. Brian Matusz 2. Neftali Feliz 3. Austin Jackson

NL MVP: 1. Chase Utley 2. Albert Pujols 3. Troy Tulowitzki
NL Cy Young: 1. Roy Halladay 2. Clayton Kershaw 3. Tim Lincecum
NL Rookie of the Year: 1. Jason Heyward 2. Stephen Strasburg 3. Aroldis Chapman

AL East, NL West and NL MVP aside, my picks matched the consensus at BP, probably the first time that's all happened.

Meanwhile, this year I've decided to split up the weekly Prospectus Hit List into AL and NL versions. The preseason versions of each went up late last week. The NL version is here, and the AL version is here, topped by the three beasts of the AL East:
#1 Red Sox
Defensive Posturing? New England worrywarts may fret about a lack of offense straight out of some Borgesian nightmare. Indeed, the winter's key arrivals—John Lackey, Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro, Mike Cameron—tilt more towards run prevention, bolstering the rotation both directly and with a renewed commitment to defense borne of last year's sorry 28th-place ranking in Defensive Efficiency. As for the offense, relax chowdaheads, we've got the Sox projected for a True Average of .270 (second-best in the majors), not to mention the top record in all of baseball. (847 RS, 696 RA)

#2 Rays
Rays-ed Hopes: The darlings of 2008 got a harsh lesson in come-back-to-earthiness last year, but this team is so stacked it should carry an NSFW tag. The addition of Wade Davis to the rotation, the continued development of David Price and a bounceback from B.J. Upton all add to the upside achievable by this talented corps, headed by MVP candidate Evan Longoria and the lineup's Swiss Army knife, Ben Zobrist, and backed by an organizational depth which is simply unrivaled. (820 RS, 705 RA)

#3 Yankees
No rest for the World Champions. Despite their efforts to get younger—punting Johnny Damon and Hideki Matusi for Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson—their success still hinges upon whether Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera can continue defying the aging process, not to mention whether Alex Rodriguez's hip remains intact. PECOTA sees the Yanks having their hands full battling the younger Rays and deeper Red Sox, and that's without accounting for their efforts to ward off the inevitable distractions surrounding The Jobacalypse. (859 RS, 749 RA)
Though I split the two leagues, I also posted a combined Hit List ranking, using a league adjustment factor to correct for the AL's recent interleague superiority. Those rankings look pretty askew, with only one NL team in the top eight, and only one AL team in the bottom 10:
Rk   Tm          HLF
1 Red Sox .622
2 Rays .591
3 Yankees .590
4 Phillies .537
5 Rangers .536
6 Mariners .534
7 Athletics .534
8 Twins .526
9 Cardinals .526
10 Tigers .512
11 Indians .512
12 Rockies .512
13 White Sox .512
14 Braves .511
15 Orioles .502
16 Angels .501
17 Royals .495
18 Dodgers .490
19 Giants .483
20 D'backs .482
21 Marlins .469
22 Astros .465
23 Cubs .462
24 Mets .462
25 Blue Jays .460
26 Brewers .456
27 Reds .456
28 Nationals .433
29 Padres .425
30 Pirates .402
The Dodgers below the Royals and Orioles? As I wrote in the One-Hopper entry, I've got a hard time accepting that. Soon enough we'll have enough real results to put the projections aside, but for the moment, it's something to chew on.

Back later with more...

Labels: ,


June 2001   July 2001   August 2001   September 2001   October 2001   November 2001   December 2001   January 2002   February 2002   March 2002   April 2002   May 2002   June 2002   July 2002   August 2002   September 2002   October 2002   November 2002   December 2002   January 2003   February 2003   March 2003   April 2003   May 2003   June 2003   July 2003   August 2003   September 2003   October 2003   November 2003   December 2003   January 2004   February 2004   March 2004   April 2004   May 2004   June 2004   July 2004   August 2004   September 2004   October 2004   November 2004   December 2004   January 2005   February 2005   March 2005   April 2005   May 2005   June 2005   July 2005   August 2005   September 2005   October 2005   November 2005   December 2005   January 2006   February 2006   March 2006   April 2006   May 2006   June 2006   July 2006   August 2006   September 2006   October 2006   November 2006   December 2006   January 2007   February 2007   March 2007   April 2007   May 2007   June 2007   July 2007   August 2007   September 2007   October 2007   November 2007   December 2007   January 2008   February 2008   March 2008   April 2008   May 2008   June 2008   July 2008   August 2008   September 2008   October 2008   November 2008   December 2008   January 2009   February 2009   March 2009   April 2009   May 2009   June 2009   July 2009   August 2009   September 2009   October 2009   November 2009   December 2009   January 2010   February 2010   March 2010   April 2010   May 2010  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]