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, July 30, 2001
I couldn't resist posting this editorial cartoon. It appeared in the New York Times Op-Ed page on July 14, the same week it was reported that a librarian at NYU had discovered
two references to the game of "base ball" in an 1823 newspaper. The cartoon is by Barry Blitt, and I assume the copyright is held by the New York Times or Blitt, or some agent thereof--basically, somebody besides me (so please don't sue).
In the wake of my little pot-shot at Ken Griffey, Jr. during my house-cleaning column (I admit it, I do love to kick whiny superstars when they're down), I wanted to examine one aspect of Griffey's career a little more closely. In his Seattle days, Griffey was touted as the player who could break Hank Aaron's career record of 755 home runs. But his stock has fallen in that department, just as it has with regards to his once-sunny disposition (I should point out before I move on that Griffey is still a fantastic ballplayer when healthy, and I admire his skills if not his demeanor).
In one of his early Baseball Abstracts, Bill James introduced a formula
which he referred to as "the Favorite Toy," but which now travels under the more dignified name of the Career Assessment forumla. Based on a player's age and established level of production, James could estimate a player's chances of achieving various career milestones or breaking records. The Toy is useful as a radar screen showing which players have a shot at which achievements, but it ain't the most scientific formula in the world--that's why he called it a toy, after all.
Anyway, using James's formula to calculate Griffey's chance of reaching 756 HRs, we can trace the arc of his career. And I'm happy to report that somebody already has. A bold soul named Ron Smith has a page
where he has done Favorite Toy projections for the various milestones and records; the figures below are based on his calculations (with a few exceptions which I'll explain afterwards). This is the progression of Griffey's chances:
Year Age HR (career) Prob.
1993 23.6 45 (132) 3.0%
1994 24.6 40 (172) 8.8
1995 25.6 17 (189) ---
1996 26.6 49 (238) 8.2
1997 27.6 56 (294) 23.4
1998 28.6 56 (350) 40.4
1999 29.6 48 (398) 40.0
2000 30.6 40 (438) 31.2
2001a 31.6 8 (446) ---
2001b 31.6 30 (468) 15.6
The last two projections are mine. They show a) where Griffey would be if he took his ball and went home, as he threatened to do this weekend, and b) if we assume that he will suddenly catch fire and hit 22 HR in his next 58 games (a 61 HR pace for a full season), leaving him with 30 on the year.
Since the established level in the formula is a weighted average of his output the last three seasons (3-2-1), a season without significant progress can cause a probablity to drop off the charts. That's what happened in 1995, when injuries limited Junior to 17 HR, and that's what would happen if he packed it in today. And while I do think Griffey's chances are better than 15% (assuming he was just having a bad hair day and the hammy heals during the offseason), the formula does not. Even two seasons in a row (plus the rest of this one) at his career level (42 HR per 162 games) will only bring his chances up to 18%. But a third--which would clear this season's aberation from the formula--would rachet him back to 37%. At which point he would be 35 and still in need of 189 HRs. Clearly, it would behoove him to get hot soon.
By the next time Smith runs his numbers, Griffey won't even be the leading candidate anymore. That honor will belong to Sammy Sosa, who was at 29.8% after 2000. At 35 HRs and counting, Slammin' Sammy is right on target for his established level of 57 HRs. If he hits that many, his estimate climbs to 33.6%.
But those rooting for surly second-generation superstars need not fear, for Barry Bonds is on his way. Though he's never cracked Smith's list (which shows all of the players since 1980 who had a probability greater than zero) before this season, if he reaches 70 HRs, he'll be on the map at 25.7%. Heck, Griffey may fall behind Alex Rodriguez (12.5% entering this season), too. Ain't it a bitch being Ken Griffey, Jr.?
Yes, it probably is. Breaking Hank Aaron's home run record is not the be-all and end-all of what makes a great player. Junior, who received death threats as a byproduct of his trade demands, probably doesn't need the added attention of a challenge at the record. And he's not even close enough to merit that kind of scrutiny. So I will try to muster some sympathy for the man, and hopefully get back to enjoying the talents that made him so engaging in the first place. At least until the next time he starts whining.
Sunday, July 29, 2001
Having traveled the past two weekends and been bogged down with work in between, I haven't had as much time to keep up with my web log. But I wanted to jot down a few thoughts on some recent trades and other baseball news before it becomes too old. So consider this something of a house-cleaning.
Fred McGriff to Chicago:
Finally! Apparently two weeks of reality therapy was enough for McGriff to realize that finishing his career in Tampa Bay was not an option. Chicago gets a significant upgrade at first base, where Matt Stairs, Ron Coomer, and Julio Zuleta have been underwhelming. Stairs' numbers there aren't horrid, but Don Baylor sat him against lefties, leaving two guys who couldn't find the Mendoza line with a map and compass (all stats as 1B only):
PA AVG HR RBI OBP SLG
Stairs 257 .265 10 39 .385 .475
Coomer 66 .197 1 5 .254 .279
Zuleta 91 .190 3 11 .266 .310
Total 414 .236 14 55 .338 .404
McGriff 306 .332 17 53 .400 .565
The deal was finally announced with the Devil Rays receiving Manny Aybar and a player to be named later, most likely AAA shortstop Jason Smith, who is on the DL right now but is nothing special when he's not (.233 AVG/.271 OBP/.367 SLG). I'm still surprised Tampa Bay GM Chuck LaMar couldn't extract more from one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. Wait, I take that back--I'm not surprised at all, given how poorly
the Rays have fared with LaMar at the helm.
Jermaine Dye to Oakland:
I'm not sure which is more impressive--the bold move Oakland made by trading two prospects to get Dye, or the way Royals GM Allard Baird was fleeced by A's GM Billy Beane and Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd. As Gary Huckaby
said over on Baseball Prospectus, "Should the Royals even pay to have a phone system? They'd be better off without one. Why doesn't Baird just send a kidney to Beane?"
First, the A's: they have no chance to catch the Mariners in the AL West race, but they're only five games behind Minnesota in the Wild Card race. It's like a poker game; Billy Beane tosses a couple of chips into the pot, selects a couple of new cards, and emphatically declares his team "in." Dye is in the midst of a sub-par year, but the previous two seasons he's been a stud, averaging .308/30/119. He's locked up through next season, contract-wise. The deal means Jason Giambi is staying put, at least until the end of the year, but it's questionable whether it gives them a better shot at re-signing him. After all, Damon's $7.1 million will come off the books (given his free-agency), but Dye, who's eligible for arbitration, figures to at least double his $3.8 million salary. Giambi passed up Oakland's offer of $90 million over 6 years due to the lack of a no-trade clause; his price will only go up as the season progresses, meaning the A's certainly won't be able to keep everybody. Still, they're a smart organization with a trio of excellent young pitchers in Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder--they'll find a way to remain competitive.
The Royals: I don't think there's anybody besides Baird who can put a positive spin on this one. All Baird has to show for one of his best players is an overpaid glove-man, Neifi Perez, to add to a growing collection that includes Rey Sanchez. Now the talk is that Sanchez will be dealt to the Atlanta Braves, who are looking for a shortstop since Rafael Furcal went down for the season. Thus the Royals would get younger and less expensive, but no less slick-fielding at short. But if they think Perez will hit significantly better than Sanchez, they are in for a rude awakening:
PA AVG HR RBI OBP SLG
Turk Wendell to Philadelphia:
Perez (Coors '98-01) 1293 .315 28 167 .341 .474
Perez (Away '98-01) 1126 .248 10 115 .288 .340
Sanchez (career) 3970 .276 12 291 .314 .341
No analysis to offer here, just a fond farewell to one of the city's most eccentrically entertaining players. I'll miss ol' 99 and his bizarre collection of habits and superstitions: jumping over the foul lines, brushing his teeth between innings, wearing the teeth of animals he's hunted, nearly freezing to death
hunting those animals, signing contracts where all of the numbers are a penny short, to keep the figures at $.99, giving up game-ending home runs
... So long, Turk.
Ken Griffey Jr. Whines, Again:
So what else is new? It's gratifying to watch Griffey wallow miserably in the bed which he's made for himself. He whines because he wants to leave Seattle to play closer to home. He whines because he finally gets to choose his city, only to find his salary severely hampers the team's ability to field a competitive team (it doesn't help that he signs with a mid-market club which throws around nickels like they're manhole covers). He whines because they attempt to break up that team of underpaid underachievers and retool. He probably whines when he does long division and gets a remainder. Grrrr...
Deion Sanders Pulls A Rare Double:
On Friday, Neon Deion officially retired from football. On Saturday, he was released by the AAA Syracuse Sky Chiefs (Toronto affiliate), the second team to drop him this season during his so-called comeback, during which he proved that he couldn't hit sand
if he fell off a camel. Next up, we'll strap him to a rocket and shoot him straight into the sun. So long, sucker.
Thursday, July 26, 2001
I'm back from Milwaukee, where I enjoyed a wonderful weekend OD'ing on baseball, pork products, humidity, and the hospitality of the Hardt family, my hosts. Aside from my visit to Miller Park (which I'll report on soon), the highlight of my trip came on Sunday afternoon, when I paid a visit to the batting cages at Hegan's Field of Dreams
, only a few blocks from the Hardt house. Mike Hegan
, the proprietor, is a former major-leaguer who played most of his career in Milwaukee; the arcade-style Field of Dreams included an exhibit of his Brewers and A's uniforms (he was a member of the 1972 World Champions), and a blowup of his Seattle Pilots baseball card, as well as several batting cages.
I don't recall the details of the last time I stepped into a batting cage, but I do remember feeling somewhat humiliated. Several foul tips, some stingers off the hands, and very few solid whacks. That was around ten years ago, and since then, my only swings have come with a whiffle-ball bat playing Home Run Derby in a Northampton back yard. So I was somewhat nervous about not only taking a trip to Hegan's, but doing so in the company of my girlfriend Andra, her older brother Aaron, and her parents, Aaron Sr. and Aune (pronounced "aw-nee"). They've championed this web site since its inception, but there's a reason I call it The Futility Infielder
--I was never exactly a wiz with the bat.
As it was, I had a blast in what turned into quite the family outing. All of us, including the ladies, took our turns in the cage (Andra had played softball in her youth, with Aune as her coach; they won three straight Rainbow Softball League titles in Milwaukee). Each round of 14 balls cost $1.25, and each ball--a durable dimpled plastic, like an oversize golf ball--was fired from a distance of about 40 feet. We started on slow-pitch softballs, mashing them around to build our confidence. Our success on the slow baseballs (40 MPH, according to an employee) steeled us to try a round on the medium pitch (50 MPH), with slightly less respectable results.
I felt quite a rush each time I stepped into the batter's box. Settling into a compact crouch stance (think Chuck Knoblauch) I found myself doing my Stargell windmill, just like in Little League, only faster, in time with the rhythm of the machines. Combined with the sweltering heat (it had to be almost 90 degrees in time), I soon found myself drenched with sweat. But I didn't mind, as I connected with pitch after pitch, whiffing only occasionally, lashing some very satisfactory liners into the nettings of the cages, and hamming it up by menacingly pointing my bat at the pitching machine when it issued the obligatory brush-back pitches (two per round, letter-high and inside).
After we'd finished the medium pitch round, Aune admitted that she wanted to try the very fast machine (80 MPH). Ever the inquiring mind (not to mention quite the trooper), she explained, "I want to gain an appreciation for how fast that ball is going and how hard it is to hit when I see the games." So she, Aaron, and I shuttled in and out of the fast-pitch cage like kamikaze pinch-hitters. Facing four pitches apiece, none of us managed so much as a foul tip. Each time, the ball hit the net's protective padding with a loud "thwack" that reminded me of an unsuspecting bug splattering on the windshield of a speeding car. The close distance, poor lighting, and lack of visual cues had something to do with it--at that speed and distance, you practically need to start your swing before you actually see the ball. Not exactly a recipe for success, but a good reminder of the distance between a weekend warrior and a major league hitter.
I took one more turn on the slow baseball machine after my four-pitch ordeal, satisfied that I'd at least found some level at which I felt competent at swinging the bat. I don't expect my agent will get any phone calls from clubs seeking an extra right-handed bat for the stretch run (no, Chuck LaMar, I don't know the way to Tampa Bay
), but I'm glad I got at least a small taste of just how difficult it is to hit a baseball again. At roughly $5 per hour per person, it's cheap entertainment, a moderate amount of exercise, a serious jolt of adrenaline, and a hell of a good time.
Wednesday, July 25, 2001
David Cone continues his unlikely resurgence in a Red Sox uniform. He won his sixth straight decision for the Sox last night, allowing 3 runs in 6 1/3 innings as they beat Toronto 6-4. Dating back to June 3, the Sox have won Cone's last ten starts. Cone has been especially effective since Pedro Martinez went down with a rotator cuff strain, going 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA in 29 innings since Pedro's demise.
Cone's resurgence isn't the only reason the Sox pitching
has them hanging tough in the AL East race. Hideo Nomo's gone 4-0 over the past month, with a 3.52 ERA, and Rolando Arrojo has pitched well, posting a 1.64 ERA in 22 innings (1-1). But Tim Wakefield (1-3, 7.17), and Tomokazu Ohka (0-3, 11.25) have undone their good work, enabling the Yankees to overtake the Sox.
A deeper look into Cone's numbers makes one wonder how long his performance can continue. He's averaging only 5 1/3 innings per start, upping that to a whopping 5 2/3 over the course of the streak. His 4.24 ERA is almost half a run higher than the team's ERA (3.76), and his WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) is a mediocre 1.50.
More clues can be found in examining his reverse batting record
--that is, the cumulative batting statistics of those who faced him. Opponents are hitting .277 off of him, with 13 home runs (1.72 per 9 innings) and an OPS around 800. They've created about 45 runs, using Bill James' formula
(ten more than Cone has actually allowed), posting a .595 Offensive Winning Percentage.
So how is he doing it? For one thing, he's been getting good run support, 5.3 runs per game. For another, he's been striking out lots of batters, 7.3 per 9 innings pitched. And though his low innings count means he's not exactly doing the Sox's overworked bullpen any favors, he does at least afford them a measure of predictablity--he's been over 5 innings in every start of the streak, and it's not as if he's taking anybody by surprise when they pull him in the sixth inning. For Cone's part, he attributes improved breaking pitches to his return--something that was sorely missing from his arsenal last season.
I wouldn't bet the farm on him just yet. Given these tendencies, there's a pretty solid chance Cone's performance will decline between now and the end of the season. And who knows how long his luck with the bullpen will last? Or how long the rest of the staff will hold up? They've reattached body parts in so many ways that they could run testimonial ads on thistothat.com
It is with no small dose of mixed emotion that I watch him succeed. Cone was a favorite of mine
in New York, and he's shown the kind of heart, guile, and poise which so endeared him to Yankees fans, only this time wearing an enemy uniform. After he suffered through such a monumentally disastrous season with the Yankees (4-14, 6.91 ERA), it's nice to see him catch a break here and there. I'm not rooting for him with the same zeal I rooted for a departed David Wells. But I'd love to see him reach 200 wins and give himself a shot--however long--at the Hall of Fame. So if anybody's going to help keep the Sox afloat, it might as well be David Cone.
Friday, July 20, 2001
On the Road Again
Having worked hard over the past two days to make this site's transition to a new host as seamless as possible, I'll now be giving things a rest for a few days as I head to Milwaukee for the weekend. I'll be paying a visit to the brand-new Miller Park, for a game between the Brewers and the Dodgers. This will be the first time I've been to Milwaukee, and the first time I've ever been to a regular-season Dodgers game (my ultimate goal being to hang with Brewers manager Davey Lopes, a favorite of my youthful Dodger-fan days). I may get a chance to post something this weekend if I get access to a computer. In any case, I'll have a full report when I return...
Helping the Rookie
Thanks to the patient instruction of Baseball-reference.com
's Sean Forman, I've added a handy little feature to this web log. Each entry (such as this one) now has its own unique URL (visible by clicking the blue "Link" at the end of each entry), allowing anybody to link directly to that entry, rather than just the page on which the entry appears. So when I reference some article I wrote two weeks ago about Izzy Alcantara, I can send you there with a link like this
. Cool! I've republished the archives so that they all include this feature. Thanks once again, Sean!
Thursday, July 19, 2001
The domain www.futilityinfielder.com
has been transferred to its new hosting service. I believe all of the links should be working at the new site; please let me know if you find any which are not. Please note that this web log is now at a new address: http://www.futilityinfielder.com/blog/blog.html
I am very excited to begin the next phase of The Futility Infielder. Thanks for stopping by...
Wednesday, July 18, 2001
I wanted to revisit the Fred McGriff situation (see below, July 11). But I've been too busy, and the fires have died down with the Crime Dog's refusal to waive his no-trade clause. With enough bytes already spilled (somewhat heatedly)
on the Web about this, I decided to put a sock in it. I'm not a Cubs fan, but I'm disappointed that the trade didn't go through, as it seemed like a good opportunity for the Cubs to shore up a weakness and for the Dog to find a loving home. But the deal's off, for now.
I admit it, I get a charge out of these kinds of trades, no matter who I'm rooting for. They interesting to watch, because they're like a double-or-nothing challenge set to a dramatic arc. The cast is familiar: the savvy veteran looking for one more shot at a ring; the contending team still a piece away from completing the puzzle; the prospect, tantalizing in his promise, not ready to help the big club this year but prepared to haunt them for the rest of his career. Here are a few memorable ones, right off the top of my head, not all of them fitting the mold above, but most having an impact on at least one pennant race, if not several:
Houston sends P Don Sutton to Milwaukee for P Frank DiPino, P Mike Madden, and OF Kevin Bass. Sutton goes 4-1 down the stretch, beating Jim Palmer on the final day of the season and leading the Brew Crew to their only World Series. Bass is the best of the bunch on the other end, a key player on the 'Stros oh-so-close 1986 team, thoguh DiPino develops into a solid closer, for awhile at least.
Detroit sends P John Smoltz to Atlanta for P Doyle Alexander. Alexander goes 9-0 down the stretch as the Tigers win the AL East; Smoltz wins a Cy Young Award and becomes a member of the best trio of starters in recent memory.
Los Angeles sends 3B Pedro Guerrero to St. Louis for P John Tudor. The Dodgers win an unlikely World Series without my favorite player; Tudor was adequate at best, and wasn't effective until returning to St. Louis.
New York Yankees send OF Rickey Henderson to Oakland for P Eric Plunk, P Greg Cadaret, and OF Luis Polonia. The A's win a World Series and reach another with the game's greatest leadoff man, who has an unreal postseason (.441 AVG, .448 OBP, .941 SLG, 11 SB). The other three enjoy undistinguished but lengthy careers.
Boston sends 1B Jeff Bagwell to Houston for P Larry Andersen. Boston wins the AL East., though Andersen's impact is minimal (0-0, 1 Save); Bagwell becomes one of the best players in the game, hitting 300+ HR and leading Houston to 3 consecutive playoff appearances.
New York Mets send P David Cone to Toronto for 2B Jeff Kent and OF Ryan Thompson. Cone wins his first ring as a Blue Jay and starts his odyssey as a mercenary; the Mets fumble future MVP Kent along to Cleveland for a fat Carlos Baerga, and Thompson starts his tour of oblivion.
Oakland sends OF Rickey Henderson to Toronto for P Steve Karsay and OF Jose Herrera. Henderson wins another ring, though he only hits .215. Karsay battles arm injuries for years before emerging as a first-rate reliever in Cleveland.
Toronto Blue Jays send P David Cone to the Yankees for P Marty Janzen and two other pitchers. Janzen wins six games over the next two years; Cone wins six postseason games and four World Series rings with the Yankees.
Seattle sends P Randy Johnson to Houston for P Freddy Garcia and P John Halama. Johnson reels off a 10-1 record and becomes the ace of the NL Central champs; Garcia and Halama combine for 51 victories over the next two seasons, bolstering the Seattle rotation. Garcia is 11-1 for the runaway Mariners this season and was the winning pitcher of this year's All-Star Game.
San Diego sends C Jim Leyritz to Ney York Yankees for P Geraldo Padua. Leyritz struggles for the Yanks (.227, 0 HR, 5 RBI) but hits the last home run of the 1900s in Game 4 of the World Series, proving that he's still the King of the postseason; Padua has yet to surface.
New York Yankees send OF Rickey Ledee & P Jake Westbrook to Cleveland for David Justice. Justice revives the struggling Yankee offense, leading them to their third straight championship. Ledee is traded to Texas where he continues to rot, Westbrook only now is emerging as a solid pitcher.
By all accounts they Cubs' package to the Devil Rays was less than stellar; one report included middling middle reliever Manny Aybar and a AAA shortstop hitting .236 with a 630 OPS. If that's the case, GM Chuck Lamar, a man whom I wouldn't hire to manage my sock drawer, got off lucky. He'd be well served to do his homework and find some bodies that can help him in the event McGriff does agree to waive his no-trade before the deadline.
Only a shrieking teenybopper in a navy blue number 2 T-shirt could be oblivious to the decline in Derek Jeter's offensive and defensive abilities over the past two seasons. With four World Series rings in five years, and with a nine-year, $189 million contract under his belt, he's set to be a Yankee for life, complete with a plaque in Monument Park. But at the ripe old age of 27, an age when most ballplayers are reaching their prime, the evidence shows that Jeter has fallen way off his peak. By some standards, he's dropped like a tech stock.
Two articles in recent days explore this disturbing trend. The Village Voice's Allen St. John, a staple of the alt-weekly's fine Jockbeat section, finds Jeter
"marooned on a plateau, a promise of greatness leveled off to a guarantee of solidly-above-averageness." Of Jeter's high-water mark, the 1999 season (an awesome .349/24/102, 989 OPS), St. John writes, "I can only imagine what it was like watching DiMaggio in 1941, and I imagine it was like watching Derek Jeter in 1999." Indeed Jeter was a thing of beauty that season, reaching base in the first 53 games and keeping his average around .350 almost wire-to-wire. At that time, he was arguably the equal of Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, the other two members of his heralded peer group at shortstop.
But while A-Rod and No-Mah have continued to advance toward the stratosphere, offensively speaking, Jeter has tailed off. His .339 average last year concealed steeper declines in both his On Base and Slugging Percentages, making him a significantly less productive hitter. As discussed in this column awhile back (June 20)
, SLG*OBP is a much better yardstick to measure the combination of the two statistics than OPS; it correlates, roughly, to runs created per at bat. Based on this, Jeter's run-producing abilities have fallen off by about one-third since '99:
AVG OBP SLG SL*OB
1996 .314 .370 .430 .159
1997 .291 . 370 .405 .150
1998 .324 .384 .481 .185
1999 .349 .437 .552 .241
2000 .339 .416 .481 .200
2001 .295 .376 .431 .162
Over at Baseball Prospectus, Gary Huckaby
weighs in on Jeter's declining defense, a sore spot about which Jeter's most ardent boosters have been, well, defensive. The highlight films of Jeter making those long, suspended-in-the-air throws from deep in the hole continue to resonate, but the fact is, Jeter isn't making those plays, nor many others, like he used to. In a 14-team league, he ranks 15th among shortstops in Range Factor (total chances per game), Fielding Percentage, and Zone Rating (percentage of balls successfully fielded when hit in his "zone"), and he's second in Errors. Huckaby, using a more complicated metric called Adjusted Fielding Range, illustrates how Jeter has declined relative to his earlier abilities and to league averages, placing him in the bottom tenth percentile of all major league shortstops defensively. In all, not a pretty picture.
The reasons for Jeter's decline are unclear. Nagging injuries to his shoulder and quadriceps may be a factor this season, as may the lack of success of Jeter's neighbors in the batting order, Chuck Knoblauch and Paul O'Neill (since dropped from the #3 spot in favor of Bernie Williams). The weight of expectations that comes with his huge contract, and his sister's bout with Hodgkins Disease may also have affected him. Jeter's not one to make excuses, but something clearly isn't quite right.
Jeter is still an excellent ballplayer who can play on my team every day, and given his standing with the Yankee brass and their fans, he figures to for most of the next decade. But his ability to fulfill the promise of his 1999 season is now squarely in doubt. Still, with only five seasons under his belt, there's a pretty strong chance that, as somebody posting under the handle "dzop" pointed out over on Baseball Primer
, his 1999 and 2001 seasons represent the good and bad fluctuations of a high peak offensively. He may never bring DiMaggio to mind again, but a career somewhere between Cal Ripken and Barry Larkin is hardly out of the question.
I'm going to go out on a limb (can you hear me, Joe Torre?) and suggest that the Yankees start adjusting to the new Derek Jeter while shoring up a weakness of their own. The anticipated 30-homer power spike predicted by his '99 numbers hasn't materialized yet (though it may well come around eventually), but Jeter's high On-Base Percentage, speed, and baserunning smarts make him an ideal leadoff man. He's fared amazingly well there in limited duty (.372 AVG/.465 OBP/.471 SLG in 146 plate appearances from 1998-2001). Move him to #1, put Scott Brosius in his old #2 slot, and the Yankees will start to look like championship material again. Trust me, Joe.
Saturday, July 14, 2001
I'm on the road this weekend, spending a couple days up in sunny Northampton, Massachusetts, at my friend Nick's mother and stepfather's place. Interestingly enough, Nick's stepfather is the great-grandson of Harry M. Stevens, the famed sports concessionaire. Stevens occupies a prominent place in the creation of the baseball experience. He is credited with introducing both hot dogs and scorecards to the sporting public, and built an empire around these staples.
There are a few pieces of Stevens-related memorabilia hanging in a hallway here. There's a bio of "Score Card Harry" from the New York Clipper, dated June 27, 1896. It details the growth of Stevens' operation, beginning in Columbus of the Ohio State League, in 1887, and continuing through his gaining the right to sell scorecards at the Polo Grounds in 1895. Also on the wall is the cover of one of those 1895 scorecards for the New York Base Ball Club (the Giants), featuring a full-color illustration of a ballfield from the first base side. A spectator with top hat, moustache, and cigar is in the foreground.
The item which has caught my fascination for the better part of this afternoon is an even older scorecard. This one is a 2-color card from 1892, the offical score card of the Washington Base Ball Club (the Senators). It features a photo of Boston catcher and future Hall of Famer Mike "King" Kelly on the cover, and the scorecard is unfolded into four panels. On the front side are ads for sporting goods, alcohol, and tobacco. The back is also visible thorugh a cutout on the other side of the frame. The lineups for a game between the Senators and the Cleveland Spiders are printed. Here they are (I used Baseball-reference.com to fill in the first names):
Paul Radford, 3B
Tommy Dowd, 2B
Dummy Hoy, CF
Henry Larkin, 1B
Jocko Milligan, C
Charlie Duffee, LF
Danny Richardson, SS
Frank Killen, P
Patsy Donovan, RF
Cupid Childs, 2B
Jake Virtue, 1B
George Davis, 3B
Ed McKean, SS
Jimmy McAleer, CF
Jesse Burkett, LF
Jack O'Connor, RF
Chief Zimmer, C
George Rettger, P and Cy Young, P (both listed)
The Washington lineup isn't much, befitting a team which went 58-93 and finished 10th out of 12 teams. The most recognizable name is that of Dummy Hoy, a 5'4", 148 lb deaf-mute outfielder who, according to the Baseball Online Library
, was the reason umpires adopted hand signals for safe, out, and strike calls. Hoy went on to rack up over 2000 hits, played in four major leagues (NL, AL, Players League, and the American Association), and lived to the ripe old age of 99. He even got to throw out the first pitch of a World Series game in 1961, the year of his death. The only other Senator I recognize, but who wasn't in the lineup that day, is Deacon McGuire, a catcher who played in 26 seasons. McGuire's last appearance in the bigs is one for the annals; in 1912, when he was 48 years old, he was part of a one-game makeshift team fielded by the Detroit Tigers. The regular Tigers were on strike in support of a suspended Ty Cobb, and the replacements were pounded 24-2 by the Philadelphia A's.
The Cleveland lineup is much better; they went 93-56, and finished second in the NL. Cy Young you know about (511 wins, and an award named after him, for you rookies out there). George Davis was in the second year of a Hall of Fame career which included over 2600 hits. Jesse Burkett was even better than Davis, hitting over .400 three times (the only other man to do that that Cobb fella). Burkett, known as "the Crab" for his cheerful disposition
, ran off a seven-year span in which his hit totals ranged from 198 to 240, and he finished with 2850 for his Hall of Fame career.
The Spiders' lineup was incredibly stable. Only two bench players saw any action, and of the seven pitchers, two appeared in only one game and another (the aforementioned Rettger) in five. Young pitched in 53 games, completing 48 out of 49, going 36-12 with a 1.93 ERA. They just don't make 'em like that anymore.
Returning to the scorecard, the back has several alcohol ads, including one for Faust Beer, "the Healthiest and Finest Drink you can offer your friend," brewed by Anheuser Busch, and Pabst Milwaukee Beer, which "leads them all, and everybody uses it." For those who use too much of it, there are ads for the Silver Ash Institue for the Cures of Alcohol and Opium Habits, and the Blackstone Gold Cure Institute for the Cure of Liquor, Opium, and Morphine Habits. I don't know about you, but I'm picturing an opium den under the bleachers of Boundary Field, where the Nats played.
The scorecard itself is only partially filled out, listing what appears to be a line score for each team; if this is to be believed, the Senators scored 11 runs in the first inning, added two in the sixth, and five in the seventh (I'm a bit skeptical). The Spiders apparently managed only one in the sixth and three in the seventh, making the final score 18-4. Another possiblity is that the scores are cumulative, and that the 11 in the first is actually a tally of two, in which case the final would have been 5-3. The inning-by-inning boxes aren't filled in, but there are some dots in totals columns (AB, R, 1B, TB, SH, PO, A, E) which reveal that whoever was scoring lost interest fairly early (two players have three at bats, the rest one or two).
Anyway... Stuart Rose, Stevens' great-grandson, obtained the scorecards and other items at an auction
after the business (which was passed down to Stevens' sons upon Harry Stevens' death in 1934) was sold. Stuart was kind enough to break out the auction catalog, which includes some amazing reproductions of the types of memorabilia more likely to wind up in a Sotheby's auction than an eBay one:
• the cover of the program from Opening Day at Yankee Stadium (April 18, 1923)
• an autographed photo of Babe Ruth hitting his 60th home run (!!!), inscribed "To my second Dad, Harry M. Stevens, from Babe Ruth, Dec. 25th, 1927"
• a photo of a giant hot dog which reads:
50 Years Old
• the cover of the first Mets program, from 1962, featuring a diapered baby
Look How He's Grown
Golden Jubilee Testimonial Dinner to the Stevens Boys
on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Hot Dog
by the New York Baseball Writers.
Hotel Commodore, Jan. 14, 1941.
• the cover of the program for the first Ali-Frazier heavyweight championship fight, featuring a garish Leroy Niemann painting, at Madison Square Garden, dated March 8, 1971.
It's that scorecard that blows me away though, the way a 109-year old piece of paper, a cryptic telegram from the past, revealed some of its secrets, but kept others for itself (what was the date? how did those runs score? was the scorer a busy Harry M. Stevens himself?). All in all, an extremely compelling collection of items, and a thoroughly fascinating way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. Thanks again to Stuart Rose, his wife Wally, and my pal Nick Stone for their hospitality and for giving me the opportunity to rummage through their memorabilia.
Thursday, July 12, 2001
The biggest news over the All-Star break not related to the pageant itself was a rumored deal between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays which would send first baseman Fred McGriff to Chicago in exchange for prospects. On the surface, this appears to be a no-brainer: the opportunity to go from a last place team to a first place team. Not just any last-place team, either--one so awful it has a realistic shot
at being the worst team in modern-day major league history.
The Cubs are surprising contenders, and they've probably been playing a little over their heads. By their own admission, they're a bat short--Ron Coomer and Matt Stairs may be swell guys to have in the clubhouse
, but neither of them can offer the protection in the batting order that Sammy Sosa needs. McGriff, on the other hand, carries a big stick (432 career home runs) and has enjoyed a resurgence this year despite his putrid surroundings--.330, 15 HR, 53 RBI, 940 OPS for a team dead stinking last in the AL in runs scored. He's no stranger to the postseason, having played in two World Series with the Atlanta Braves and racking up a solid .303 with 10 HR in his October experience. He's an obvious solution to the Cubs' needs.
From the Devil Rays' standpoint, this deal makes sense as well. McGriff is in the final year of a $6.5 million contract, and any opportunity to rebuild the wretched Rays and shed salary at the same time is golden. But the hitch is that McGriff has a no-trade contract, and the reports out of Chicago and Tampa today are that the Crime Dog will invoke his right to remain in Tampa Bay. His reasons are understandable: "I have a wife and two kids I have to think about," McGriff told the St. Petersburg Times. "I'm tired of traveling."
The rub is that McGriff is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate based on his numbers right now. At 432 home runs, he's nearing the magical Dave Kingman Line (442 HR), above which every single hitter except for the still-active Jose Canseco has made the Hall. Canseco passed Kingman last season, and will probably bear the new standard for being on the outside looking in.
Bill James developed something called the Hall of Fame Monitor
. It's a system to analyze the likelihood a player will make the Hall, rewarding the types of accomplishments voters tend to look for. Each season of batting over .300 is worth 2.5 points, each season over 30 HR is worth 3 points, having 500 HR is worth 20 points, and so on. A score of 100 indicates a high likelihood of making it in. It's far from perfect, but it's a very good system and a fun toy to boot.
Baseball-Reference.com includes each player's HOF Monitor score on its player statistic pages. McGriff currently scores an 85, and would receive another 8.5 points if he has a second half similar to his first. Not quite there yet, but very close (for purposes of comparison, Jose Canseco is at 103. The leaderboard is here
.) Another season like this one might be enough to put him over the line, and a couple more years, with him passing 500 HR, would probably seal the deal.
But it shouldn't. If McGriff rejects this trade, it will show that he no longer cares about playing on a winning team. Despite the Devil Rays' misery, the Crime Dog is comfortable there and apparently content to play out the string, padding his career totals while miles away from even the faintest whiff of a hint of a trace of a pennant race. Passing up this opportunity to play for a winner while he's still got plenty of gas in the tank should spell it out--there are a hundred players, including several of his teammates, who would leap at the opportunity he's been presented with, no matter how tenuous their shot at a championship (we ARE talking about the Cubs here).
If the Crime Dog chooses not to go to the Windy City, let that be a mark against his name. It doesn't invalidate what he's already accomplished on the diamond, it doesn't make him a terrible person; McGriff's always been a classy player, a credit to the game. But it should cast a pall on whatever numbers he piles up from here on out, because numbers are all he's really playing for.
The sun doesn't always shine on the same dog's ass, as the old proverb goes. But it's the dog's own fault if he doesn't find a new spot to keep warm.
Wednesday, July 11, 2001
Here's something so cool and handy that I just can't stop playing with it. Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference.com
, the amazing online baseball encyclopedia, has written a bookmarklet to use with his site, allowing you to look up any player in the BR database from anywhere on the web.
There are other kinds of bookmarklets, and hundreds of them available for the taking at the Bookmarklets
web site. I pulled a search-engine
one, which lets you either highlight text or else enter your search string before going to the page, and a dictionary one which is pretty handy. But the BR.com Search one is the type of tool/toy I've been dreaming of for a long, long time.
Statheads everywhere already had reason to bow before Sean for his awesome site, which is fast, easy to use, chock-full of a million different types of useful baseball data, and the greatest thing since sliced bread. Now they have another reason. Thank you, Sean!
Site Admin Notes
I'm extremely pleased with the response this site has gotten so far. Between the home page and this web log I've gotten well over 500 hits in the past two weeks--not a huge amount, but definitely enough to confirm that my site is quickly finding a nice little niche in the online baseball world. Thank you to everybody who has helped pass the word along, and a special thanks to those who have listed my site among their links.
I've redesigned the home page to highlight the most current content. I'm quite pleased with it. Check it out.
I have been extremely frustrated
with the level of service I've received from NameZero, who administer my domain name. Particularly with regards to my email account--several people have reported their replies bouncing back. If that happens, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Apologies to anyone who has sent a message and then given up when it bounced.
I will be switching the site to a new host in the very near future and hopefully the email problems will go away. More importantly, all of the site's departments will have "www.futilityinfielder.com" prefixes. I'll have a few more tools at my disposal, and will be able to do things like email forms and perhaps even set up a discussion area.
Anyway, thank you for your support and keep checking back!
Tuesday, July 10, 2001
Amid all of the controversy surrounding the selection of the All-Star team, I meant to get around to putting together my own version of the squads. But I've been to two ballgames in the past three days and thus unable to set this down for posterity's sake. Better late than never, here it is, with a few caveats:
• I didn't consider injured (Pedro) or "injured" players for selection
• Even with that in mind, I kept to the requirement of representing every team no matter how putrid (that is, I had to choose replacements for Tampa Bay and the Mets)
• I stuck to true position for my starting outfielders
• I kicked Cal Ripken upstairs to Honorary Captain/Pinch Hitter to match Tony Gwynn for the sentimental folks out there.
Honorary Captain: Cal Ripken
STARTERS: C Ivan Rodriguez; 1B Jason Giambi; 2B Brett Boone; 3B Troy Glaus; SS Alex Rodriguez; LF Manny Ramirez; CF Bernie Williams; RF Ichiro Suzuki; DH Edgar Martinez; SP Roger Clemens
BULLPEN: Freddy Garcia, Tim Hudson, Andy Pettitte, Brad Radke, Keith Foulke, Jeff Nelson, Troy Percival, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Mike Stanton
BENCH: C Jorge Posada, Robert Fick (need somebody from Detroit, and he beats out Clark & Higginson); 1B Jim Thome, Mike Sweeney, Fred McGriff; 2B Roberto Alomar; 3B Jose Valentin (gotta put him somewhere); SS Christian Guzman; OF Shannon Stewart, Juan Gonzalez, Matt Lawton.
Honorary Captain: Tony Gwynn
STARTERS: C Paul LoDuca; 1B Ryan Klesko (1094 OPS Away more impressive than Helton's 1239 OPS at Coors); 2B Jeff Kent; 3B Larry Jones; SS Rich Aurilia; LF Barry Bonds; CF Jim Edmonds; RF Sammy Sosa; DH Luis Gonzalez; SP Randy Johnson
BULLPEN: Jon Lieber, Greg Maddux, Wade Miller, Matt Morris, Chan Ho Park, Ben Sheets, Antonio Alfonseca, Robb Nen, Billy Wagner, David Weathers.
BENCH: C Mike Piazza; 1B Todd Helton, Sean Casey; 2B Craig Biggio; 3B Albert Pujols; SS Jimmy Rollins; OF Lance Berkman, Cliff Floyd, Brian Giles, Vladimir Guerrero.
It's not one of humanity's more noble traits, but schadenfreude
certainly has its place in a pennant race. And when it comes to rooting against a team, clubhouse dissension is almost as much fun to watch as a prolonged slump on the field.
So it is with the Red Sox, especially when it comes to Carl Everett, who has an ass as red as... well, his socks. Everett has been sidelined by a knee injury for almost three weeks, joining a crowded infirmary which includes Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, and about twenty different reclamation projects from the Sox pitching staff. Boston has slumped since Everett went down, and has been overtaken in the AL East race by the streaking Yankees.
In true panic-button fashion, the Sox players have begun to speak to each other through the media. Outfielder Trot Nixon told the Boston Globe that Everett needed to work harder at rehabilitating his knee. "We need Carl in the lineup," Nixon was quoted as saying. "We're doing well since he's been hurt, but if something is wrong, we've got to find out what the problem is. Waiting around and not rehabbing or anything isn't helping our ball club and isn't helping Carl at all... You've got to want to get back on the field."
Everett responded by taking the high road, telling the Globe that they should apologize to Trot for "trying to make [Nixon] look like a bad guy." But good ol' Carl, not happy unless he's not happy, then lashed out at reporters. "...So what you all need to do is take your old Boston same old (expletive) out the door. There ain't no controversy here. It's just you all starting the same (expletive). Goodbye. Toodle-oo."
In a bizarre twist, Nixon responded by saying that he was quoted accurately and felt no apology was necessary. Meaning, I suppose, that he was either trying to publicly cast Everett as a malingerer or else simply trying to get a rise out of him. So now I'm waiting, like the rest of the world, for Carl Everett to fire his next salvo or perhaps land Trot on the DL with a folding-chair-induced headache.
Yes, friends, it's a dirty job, to hope that an enemy team can preserve its fragile equilibrium of unhappiness long enough to fall further behind in the race. And, to paraphrase one of my favorite movie lines, I deserve all of the dirty pleasure I get out of it.
Monday, July 09, 2001
First Caller Wins!
Tonight I will be headed to Coney Island to see the Brooklyn Cyclones
with a bunch of friends (the Official Futility Infielder Focus Group, more or less). As it stands, we have an extra ticket. Anyone in the New York City area who feels like checking out this brand-new stadium and can make it to the ballpark by 7 PM can claim the ticket by emailing me at email@example.com
Saturday, July 07, 2001
Ladies and gentlemen, here are the cumulative lines of two pitchers:
G IP H R ER BB SO HR W L S BS ERA WHIP
35 39.2 19 5 3 6 41 1 1 2 26 2 0.69 0.64
5 6.2 13 12 11 2 8 3 1 2 2 1 14.85 2.25
The pitcher on the top line is regarded as perhaps the best closer in the game, dominant and nearly infallible. The pitcher on the bottom is a guy I wouldn't hire to paint my bullpen, let alone anchor it. His line looks like the second coming of circa-1997-98 Norm Charlton
, arsonist extraordinaire.
Both lines belong to the same man: Mariano Rivera, the Yankees closer. That five-game sample consists of the five games I've seen him pitch in person at Yankee Stadium this season. Today, he coughed up three runs to the Mets in the 10th inning, the only runs of the ballgame. But that wasn't even his worst outing I've seen--that honor belongs to his May 13 appearance against Baltimore, where he allowed five runs and took a loss. Even in the game he won, June 4 against Boston, he surrendered a two-run home run to Manny Ramirez, blowing the save before vulturing the win. (The other two games, for anyone interested, are April 28 against Oakland, where he gave up a two run homer to Olmedo Saenz to keep things interesting, and June 2 against Cleveland, where he pitched a scoreless five-out save.)
Mariano has allowed three of his four home runs, and given up 12 of his 17 runs in a sample size thar represents 14% of his workload for the season. What in the name of Bobby Ayala
is going on?
There are two easy explanations:
1. small sample size
2. Mariano is a vampire
The first explanation is the obvious one. I've watched Mariano get the job done countless times on TV and in person over the past five seasons; he's one of the best closers in history. If he normally pitched like he has when I've been in the ballpark this year, he'd be in another line of work by now, and I would have found a better value for my entertainment dollar by gambling on cockfights.
The five games are a not-quite-random sample; I chose them as (mostly) quality opponents based on their 2000 records. Three of the five are under .500 right now. But collectively, they're at .511, slightly above the .498 winning percentage of all non-Yankees teams in the major leagues this year.
The second explanation... I'm kidding, but only to a degree. While he may not be Dracula's cousin, apparently Mariano's powers are diminished by sunlight. Four of the five times I've seen him this season have been day games. His ERA in all day games this year is 4.29, versus 1.42 at night. This isn't a new trend, either. Here's a chart:
ERA(n) IP(n) ERA(d) IP(d)
2001 1.42 25.1 4.29 21.0
1998-2001 1.79 161.0 3.70 80.1
Holy Heathcliff Slocumb! It's like the difference between... well, between night and day! Mariano has been nowhere near as effective during day games, though he's still getting the job done, converting 86% of his save opportunities while the sun's up, against 91% past sundown. Still, this is a disturbing trend whose underlying causes I can only speculate about: Is he simply a night person? Does he have trouble in hot weather? Is his repertoire easier to hit in daylight? Hell if I know--I sure can't hit him. I couldn't hit sand if I fell off a camel, but that's a whole other story
A postscript: by the time I arrived home from the game and started writing this, the Yanks had announced that Rivera, suffering from an inflammation of his right ankle
, will miss the All-Star Game on Tuesday. Joe Torre has named former Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson to the team, righting at least one wrong with his pinstripe-heavy roster (see below) albeit in a very unsettling way.
Thursday, July 05, 2001
The news that Joe Torre selected seven of his own players to the All-Star Game roster had even this Yankees fan cringing. Taken on their own merits, each of the selections is defensible to some degree:
• Roger Clemens leads the league in wins and is second in Ks
• Andy Pettite is outpitching his 19-win form of last season
• Mike Stanton has been the unsung hero of the pitching staff
• Mariano Rivera is again indomitable, unless he's facing Manny Ramirez
• Jorge Posada is the best offensive catcher in the league
• Bernie Williams tore up June (.450) and has overcome the death of his father to tear his way back to his rightful place above .320
• Derek Jeter... well, the little girls shriek when he comes to the plate. Oh, and he was the All-Star Game MVP last year. Plus he was the MVP of the World Series... that counts for something, right?
Added up, this is a bit excessive, especially coming from a manager not known for excess. Torre made waves when he first selected a middle reliever, Jeff Zimmerman, to the All-Star team in 1999. He made waves last year when he bypassed the Yanks' own Jeff Nelson, whose work had held the bullpen together during the first half. Nelson got into a public war of words with Torre and departed as a free agent for Seattle--where he again has been a deserving candidate. It would have been nice to see Torre take the olive-branch-bearing high road, but he passed up Nelson in favor of his former partner in crime, Stanton.
It's a no-win situation. One would think Torre wouldn't mind giving a three-day break to two relievers (Stanton and Rivera) who have totalled 80 appearances thus far. But last week Torre gently twisted Clemens' arm when Clemens indicated he wouldn't mind a vacation rather than a trip to Seattle. Roger is the presumptive starter--unless of course, the Yanks use him in relief during the weekend series with the Mets (a role Clemens hasn't pitched in since his rookie season, but which Yankee Pitching Coach Mel Stottlemyre blew smoke about
the other day).
There's always going to be controversy when it comes to All-Star rosters, starting with the fans' choices. This year, four Mariners were voted in as starters by the fans: Brett Boone, Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, and Ichiro Suzuki. A fifth, third baseman David Bell, was edged out by Cal Ripken. Not that Ripken is playing especialy better than Bell, just that one is a legend on his last lap around the league, the other a good glove man who benefitted from the overzealousness of the hometown fans.
Which is their prerogative, I might add. I'm not a big booster of the All-Star balloting process, but it's a mechanism that does take the Will of the People into account, a rarity in this sport. The game is an exhibition, which means, by definition, that it's for the fans. So if the fans want to see David Bell, who am I to stop them?
The manager's role in selecting the reserves is supposed to balance out the process, but with seven Yanks, the roster looks anything but balanced. Even with the requirement to select at least one member to represent each team in the league--which is how we get Detroit's Tony Clark and the Godforsaken Devil Rays' Greg Vaughn instead of other worthy candidates--Torre could have and should have done better in selecting his squad.
As if there weren't enough Yankees already going, add Luis Sojo to this edition of Pinstriped in Seattle. That's right, Luis Sojo, futility infielder extraordinaire. No, Torre didn't grant him a roster spot. Sojo, popular from his playing days in Seattle, will perform at a charity concert. "Luis Sojo y su Orquesta" features the Man of Leather singing and playing the timbales
. Roll over Tito Puente, and tell Joe Torre the news.
Along with the video of Pirates manager Lloyd McClendenon stealing first base
over a disputed play, this is one of the funniest clips of the year. Red Sox farmhand Izzy Alcantara, believing he was being thrown at, kicked the opposing catcher in the mask and then charged the mound before being subdued.
Alcantara was fined an undisclosed amount and given a six-game vacation for his troubles. He's a strange case. Right now he's 28 and tearing up AAA (.344, 26 HRs, 1115 OPS); you'd think the Red Sox could use his bat, given all of their injuries.
But Alcantara is the pawn in the eternal chess match between Red Sox Manager Jimy Williams and GM Dan Duquette. He's forever in Williams' doghouse for one memorable day last summer when he made an error, loafed after several balls in right field, and got picked off base. The guy played so lazily that one expected Carlton Fisk to grab the next flight in for the express purpose of kicking his ass for not playing baseball the right way
After that incident, Williams wanted him out. Duquette wouldn't oblige--Izzy was out of options and couldn't be sent down without the risk of losing him. Perhaps Duqette hoped to corner the market on 27-year-old righties who could shred AAA pitching but wouldn't hustle once they made the bigs. He ordered Williams to play Izzy, who got only 48 plate appearances in three months, but hit well when he got the chance (.289, 4 HR, 911 OPS).
Izzy was released at the end of last season but has found his way back to Pawtucket to rot on the vine. This incident probably didn't help his cause any. Given that he hadn't already been called up with all of Boston's injuries, I get the sense that Williams would rather lose without this guy than win with him. I'm tempted to say I don't blame him, but then again, I may be biased.
Wednesday, July 04, 2001
With the exception of the Mike Piazza trade, no move the Dodgers have made in the Fox era was dumber than signing Darren Dreifort to a five-year $55 million contract. Dreifort, a 29-year old righthander, has always been long on potential but short on accomplishment. He's got good stuff, and he's a great athlete--he DH'ed in college when he wasn't pitching, and now has 6 major league HRs. But his career high in wins is 13, and his record
of 43-52 with a 4.38 ERA (in a pitchers' park, no less) is astounding in its mediocrity.
But with the market for pitching being what it is these days, Dreifort, with the aid of superagent Scott Boras, was able to rob the Dodgers blind. And now it's officially robbery: yesterday it was revealed that he will require reconstructive surgery on his elbow--that's Tommy John surgery, the Big One--for the second time. No pitcher has ever come back successfully from a second Tommy John surgery.
Long-term contracts for pitchers are a sucker's bet. But the Dodgers aren't exactly frugal with their short-term contracts for pitchers either. This is what they're paying for:
Darren Dreifort: 94.2 IP, 4-7, 5.13 ERA $9.4 mil (5 yr/$55 mil), Tommy John surgery
Andy Ashby: 11.2 IP, 2-0, 3.86 ERA $6.0 mil (3 yr/$22.5 mil), elbow surgery
Carlos Perez: 0 IP, --- -------- $7.5 mil (2 yr/$15.6 mil), one pending assault charge
That's $22 million for six wins this season! Looking at it another way, they've committed $93 million for 10 pitcher-seasons and are looking at a return along these lines:
• one horrible year from Perez, and one washout (an improvement unless you like footage of water-coolers being attacked with baseball bats)
• six wins in a half-season worth of Dreifort & Ashby
• at least 2 seasons of missed time due to injury
• another season worth of rehab/kid-gloves treatment between the injured duo.
This leaves a BEST CASE SCENARIO of four-and-a-half pitcher-seasons to get a return on that $93 mil--Kevin Brown money for pitchers who, even on their best day, will never be close to Kevin Brown or any other top-flight pitcher.
And people wonder why I gave up rooting for the Dodgers...
Tuesday, July 03, 2001
The Yanks' recent acquisition of Mark Wohlers has had me thinking a lot about the handful of players who have suffered similar throwing problems. Both Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch were second basemen on my favorite teams during their miseries, and as a fan I suffered right along with them. I never particularly cared for Wohlers, but Rick Ankiel certainly drew my attention with his meltdown last fall.
This article on Ankiel, written by Pat Jordan, appeared in the New York Times Magazine back in February. In examining Ankiel's plight, Jordan makes reference to several other pitchers who suffered similar fates and offers his own insights into Ankiel's problems. While his explanations seem like elementary psychology ("Pitchers who forget how to pitch seem to fear not failure but success. They don't want to face the pressure of the expectations of their success...") they are hard-won: Jordan went through a similar nightmare as a young pitcher, back in 1961. "I forgot how to pitch," Jordan tells Ankiel, "I've been thinking about it ever since."
Prior to reading this piece, I knew Jordan only as another name on a crowded bookstore shelf. But this story sticks in my mind. It's a haunting tale, like a ghost story whose narrator is speaking from beyond the grave, a victim of the same fate. This past weekend, with Wohlers, Ankiel, and Knoblauch fresh in my mind, I came across A False Spring
, Jordan's book about his own ordeal. I'll report more about it when I finish reading it.
Monday, July 02, 2001
The Rally Monkey
is a strange phenomenon. On the one hand, monkeys are always funny (that's my number 1 rule of comedy). On the other hand, when a team's mascot becomes more important than the product on the field, something is amiss. Oh, wait--you said the team was owned by Disney? Well, that explains everything, including the Mickey Mouse brand of baseball the Anaheim Angels have been playing lately.
Angels players apparently griped that the Rally Monkey was overhyped, so when the monkey failed to materialize in the midst of a potential rally, young fans were disappointed. A few days later, when the club celebrated the Monkey's first birthday with promotional clips every half-inning (!), the players promptly got thumped, and pitcher Jarrod Washburn blamed the circus surrounding their lower primate. The team responded by suggesting Washburn go tell it to the Bobble-Head Doll.
Note to Washburn: To catch the Mariners, you're going to need a Rally Monkey the size of King Kong.
Sunday, July 01, 2001
Continuing to bolster their bullpen, the Yankees acquired Mark Wohlers from the Cincinnati Reds. Isn't this:
• the same Mark Wohlers who was at the wrong end of the biggest hit of the Joe Torre era, a three-run shot by Jim Leyritz in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series?
• the same Mark Wohlers who saved 97 games over a three-year span for the Atlanta Braves before experiencing a spooky inability to find the plate?
• the same Mark Wohlers who then spent two years in baseball oblivion, with a 10.71 ERA over 21 innings at the major-league level and almost two walks per inning?
• the same Mark Wohlers who while working himself back into a major-league pitcher blew out his elbow, then rehabilitated himself into a serviceable enough middle reliever to be sought after by the three-time defending World Champions?
Pennant races make for strange bedfellows. So it isn't that surprising that the latest addition to the Yanks roster is so linked to their past. In baseball, as writer Roger Angell has observed, everything connects to everything else. Wohlers's arrival in pinstripes coincides with a time where the Yankees are shopping Chuck Knoblauch. Knoblauch is one player on a short list (Steve Blass, Steve Sax, Mackey Sasser, and Rick Ankiel come to mind) whose first-hand experience with throwing difficulties is in the same league as Wohlers'. Both players were struck by anxiety disorders while at the top of their games, and both have required considerable readjustments in their roles to salvage promising major-league careers. Both are easy targets, whether in hecklers' crosshairs or soft-focus human-interest pages.
Knoblauch has stood in the fire of the New York media, not always gracefully, but he has worked his way back to being judged on the whole of his game. Unfortunately for Chuck, right now the whole of his game is not pretty--a 39-for-206 (.189) slump has left the Yankee offense without their familiar table-setter. For the moment, Knoblauch is fighting for at-bats among an increasingly crowded outfield and fending off trade rumors.
Wohlers seems prepared to stand in the fire as well, saying he would answer all questions about the Leyritz homer and his control probems, and then hopefully move on to doing his job in the Yankee bullpen. His numbers in Cincinnati (3-1, 3.94 ERA, a K/W ratio of 3:1) show that he's capable of contributing. But the tabloid vultures will be circling overhead for at least a little while, and the Bleacher Creatures will be poised for a shower of Bronx cheers should he falter. Say it ain't so, Joe Torre!
But this isn't the same Mark Wohlers. After the nightmare that he has lived through and emerged from, pitching in a pennant race ought to be no big thing.
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