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.

Sunday, September 02, 2001


Catching Up

As I was in the sticks for most of the week, I wanted to point out several interesting articles that I've come across since my return. Sorry if they're old news to anyone...

* Rob Neyer ran a comparison that I've been meaning to run for awhile, that between Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina. Clemens is getting a lot of support as a Cy Young candidate based upon his gaudy 17-1 record (he beat Boston on Friday to improve to 18-1, but we'll leave that aside for the moment so I can use the same data as Neyer), while Mussina has been tagged as a disappointment with a 13-11 record. But their peripheral stats are very similar:
         IP    H    BB    K     ERA     BR/9     K/9     K/W

Clemens 182 170 56 176 3.56 11.17 8.70 3.14
Mussina 188 181 38 169 3.55 10.48 8.09 4.44
Mussina's strikeout-to-walk and baserunners-per-nine-innings ratios are actually significantly better than Clemens'. The difference in their records is basically due to run support; The Yankees are scoring 7.2 runs per game for the Rocket and a meager 4.3 for the Moose. Using our old friend the Pythagorean Theorem to predict winning percentages based on the scoring rates (we'll use their RAs--including unearned runs, because they can determine W's and L's just like any others--rather than ERAs: Clemens, 3.86; Mussina, 3.84), the expected records we come up with (based on the same number of decisions) are these: Clemens, 14-4; Mussina, 14-10. Clemens's actual record is 3 wins better than his projected record, Musina's is 1 game worse. The difference isn't quite as dramatic as the writers praising Rocket or ripping Mussina would have you believe. Run support isn't everything, but it does skew their records a bit.

* The Danny Almonte situation is a real downer. Not only was the kid too old to be eligible for Little League, but he hasn't been in school since coming to the U.S. 18 months ago, and he and his father have also been in the country illegally. He's probably also got some major surgery ahead of him thanks to learning to throw curveballs at such a young age. Meanwhile the league's sponsor, Rolando Paulino, was found to have committed similar illegalities in Latin American Little League. Undercurrents of racism--would a white team have been investigated or vilified in the way this Latino team has?--further cloud the situation. Even with the truth revealed, nobody wins here.

Meanwhile, in today's New York Times Sports section, resident contrarian Robert Lipsyte writes of his own son's experience in Little League--or rather, lack of experience. The senior Lipsyte, concerned by the messages sent by son Sam's coach, pulled Sam from the program, but now wonders if he did the right thing: "My absolute uncertainty about this has always restrained my usual judgmentalism when it comes to parents who try to hoist their children up on their shoulders, over the fence, onto greener pastures." Lipsyte refuses to condemn the guilty parties but does address some of the ramifications of their behavior. Finally, he goes back to the source to get his son's perspective on whether he missed participating in Little League. An interesting take on an ugly situation.

[A bit of disclosure here: Sam Lipsyte and I went to school together at Brown University, and I used to write about his punk rock band, the legendary Dungbeetle. He's now an accomplished writer with an excellent book of short stories under his belt and a novel on the way.]

* With the emergence of Sammy Sosa into the National League home run race, everybody seems to be piling on Barry Bonds--teammates like last year's MVP Jeff Kent, self-important blowhards like Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly, and more neutral observers. And I'm less than innocent, though that charge extends more to my day-to-day conversations about him than my writing. Bonds is having an awesome season--his OPS would rate the 3rd best of all time--but many writers consider Sosa or Luis Gonzalez more worthy of the MVP award--as if Bonds weren't equally important to his own team's playoff chances.

Thomas Boswell wonders if we're headed for another 61*--that is, a situation like in 1961 where the public is clearly rooting for one outgoing, charismatic player to break the home run record (Mickey Mantle in that case) and against his dour, aloof competitor (Roger Maris). Boswell wonders about how the treatment Bobby Bonds (Barry's father)received in baseball has shaped his son. Bobby Bonds accumulated 332 career HR, 461 SB, and three Gold Gloves during his 14 year playing career. He also switched teams eight times in his last eight seasons, when young Barry was between the ages of 10 and 17--a situation that probably put a chip on the son's shoulder. "A sense that, to be a Bonds in baseball was to be misunderstood, underappreciated and almost persecuted at times," as Boswell writes.

It's a plausible take on the situation, and to some degree, perhaps it mitigates Barry Bonds' aloofness. But damn it, the man is being paid millions upon millions of dollars to play a kids' game. If he can't find some way to enjoy that and give something of himself back... well, I'll save my tears for somebody else. Besides, I'll be rooting against the Giants long into the afterlife. The longer he and fellow "clubhouse cancer" Jeff Kent preserve their fragile equilibrium of unhappiness, the better it is for the Dodgers and every other NL team I'd rather see make the playoffs.

* The Yankees finally took a step to shore up the void at third base created by Scott Brosius' hairline fracture. They've been using a trio of futility infielders--Clay Bellinger, Enrique Wilson, and Luis Sojo, all of whom have lived up to their reputations as good bench players--so long as they remain mostly on the bench. On Friday they acquired Randy Velarde from the Texas Rangers for two players to be named later. Velarde's arrival means that three Yankees who just missed out on the Torre Dynasty have returned to the fold--Gerald Williams (traded in mid-'96 for Graeme Lloyd, among others) and Sterling Hitchcock (to Seattle for Jeff Nelson and Tino Martinez after the '95 season) being the others. Who's next--Tony Fernandez? Mike Stanley? Danny Freakin' Tartabull? Heat-packin', coke-snortin' Steve Howe (hey, he is a lefty...)? Lord help me, if Buck Showalter shows up in pinstripes again I'm turning in my Yankee cap.

* For my money, Tommy John should be in the Hall of Fame. Not just for the 26 seasons he spent in the bigs, or the 288 wins (plus six more in the postseason, where he had a 2.65 ERA in 14 games), or the four-year span in which he went 80-35 and pitched in three World Series. It's also for his medical legacy--John was the first pitcher to undergo a radical reconstructive surgery by Dr. Frank Jobe, in which tendons from his right hand were transplanted into his left elbow. The surgery has become so common, yet so successful that it bears his name--Tommy John Surgery. This piece recounts the history of John's surgery as well as that of several other pitchers who've undergone the knife.

* Al Martin, who led the league in bigamy last year, recently got caught in another delusion. Al recounted how, while playing football at USC, he tackled Michigan's Leroy Hoard during a game against Michigan in 1986. Only a couple of holes were poked in the story: Michigan and USC didn't play in 1986, and Martin not only never played at USC, but never even enrolled there. I'm not sure whether this would be funny if it weren't so sad, or sad if it weren't so funny. Either way, the guy needs some counselling--maybe a stint in Vietnam under Tim Johnson will help.

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