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.
Thursday, October 31, 2002
The New York Times reports that the Yankees may be willing to trade catcher Jorge Posada in an effort to lower payroll. Despite being the top-hitting catcher
in the American League in 2002, Posada is potentially expendable. Of the five players the Yanks have signed to weighty long-term contracts (Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, Mike Mussina and Bernie Williams are the others), Hip Hip Jorge is the only one without a no-trade clause. With a substantial payroll tax headed the Yanks' way (courtesy of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement), dealing Posada is one very obvious opportunity to cut costs.
Yankee GM Brian Cashman downplays the Posada trade rumors: "I'm certainly open to listening, but if someone wants to inquire about him, they'd better come with frankincense and myrrh and make me an offer I can't refuse. He's obviously one of the best at his position in the game. Is it realistic that we'd end up trading him? No. If he ever is moved, it would be at a steep price."
Posada brings many positives to the table; he's a switch-hitter with a high on-base percentage (.370 last season) and plenty of power (.468 slugging percentage, 40 doubles and 20 homers). He's also very durable, averaging 144 games a year over the last three seasons. But he's 31 years old, and like the other homegrown Yankees who man their up-the-middle positions, he's sub-par defensively
. Though he cut back dramatically on the number of passed balls he allowed in 2002 (7, down from 18 in 2001), Posada led the league in errors and threw out only 29% of attempted steals (11th in the league).
Posada is entering the second year of a five-year, $51 million contract--an absurdly large deal to give an over-30 catcher. I wrote about Posada's contract
back in February, noting that of the 10 most similar catchers (using Bill James' Similarity Scores), none had any kind of productive year beyond age 29. But those comps lacked the durability of Posada as well as his high walk rate (something Similarity Scores don't measure directly
). It's also worth noting that Posada converted to catcher in the minors and thus may not have as much mileage on him as a typical 31-year old backstop.
Is now the right time to trade him? The Yankee organization is thin at the position. Chris Widger and Albert Castillo backed up Posada in 2002, combining for a meager .238 AVG/.252 OBP/.317 SLG in 107 plate appearances. Top catching prospect David Parrish (son of eight-time All-Star Lance Parrish
, who caught 19 seasons in the bigs) isn't ready, hitting only .238/.328/.322 at AA Norwich. ESPN's John Sickels had this to say
about him in May:
New York's first pick in the 2000 draft, Parrish was a successful college player at Michigan, compared to his father Lance both offensively and defensively. He didn't play well in '01, but shows signs of having turned things around this year, hitting .293 with solid strike zone judgment in the early going at Double-A Norwich. He doesn't have as much raw power as his father did, and it seems unlikely that he'll emerge as a star. But he has potentially solid skills across the board.
But Sickels left Parrish off of his most recent
list of top catching prospects. So if the Yanks do trade Posada, they'd basically start from scratch in finding a full-time catcher.
While he's productive now, the day when Posada's contract becomes a burden to the Yankees will likely arrive. At that point his bat might still have some value, but given the occupation of first base and DH slots by Jason Giambi and Nick Johnson, Posada may have nowhere to play in pinstripes. I'd hate to see the Yanks trade Hip Hip Jorge, but Branch Rickey's sage advice about trading a player a year too early rather than a year too late should weigh heavily on Cashman's mind.
• • • • •
"You know as well as I do that Seasonal Affective Disorder is just a fancy name for the end of the baseball season. "--Brad Zellar, Twin Cities CityPages.com
Rest assured that season's end doesn't mean I'll be mothballing this site. Unlike some of my colleagues in the bloggerverse, I don't really give a damn about football, at least not enough to write home about it (you were expecting maybe the Futility Lineman?). It's baseball all year long at the Futility Infielder, and I'll crank up the hot stove to keep warm. In the tradition of my successful series of "Remaking the Yankees"
articles last winter, I'll be taking a closer look at the team's roster needs and options in the next month or so. Plus I have plenty of catching up to do around here -- a minor facelift for the site, along with game reports, Wall of Fame inductions, book reviews, and the long-threatened Futility Infielder of the Year award.
Ever since the rousing ovation Pete Rose received at the World Series last week (during that godawful Memorable Moments ceremony, itself a new high in lows), writers have been weighing in on both sides of the Rose reinstatement/Hall of Fame issue. I don't have much time or energy to tackle the arguments with any depth; "No apology? No reinstatement, no Hall," sums up my position quite succinctly. But if you're eager for vigorous debate on both sides of the issue, John Perricone of Only Baseball Matters
hosts a couple of guest columnists from around the online baseball community this week.
Now don't even get me started regarding the blight on the face of baseball that was the Memorable Moments campaign. Suffice it to say that any list purporting to cover the game's top highlights yet excluding the dramatic home runs of Bobby Thomson, Bill Mazeroski and Carlton Fisk has exactly as much value as a $3 bill. MasterCard's Memorable Moments program: worthless.
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
If he'd lived to see it, Gene Autry would have declared himself Back in the Saddle Again
. After 41 years and from beyond the grave, the Cowboy got the Monkey off his back on Sunday night. Mike Scioscia's Lackeys did their bidding quite well (even his Molinas didn't do too badly), and the Angels are World Champions, beating the the Giants 4-1 in Game Seven.
While not a classic on the order of 1991 or even last year, this was a memorable World Series, filled with some strange and often surreal moments. Sunday night's most bizarre image was that of a blonde female Angels fan reaching down to "whack" Giants outfielder Reggie Sanders with her ThunderStix as Sanders retrieved Garret Anderson's bases-clearing double. While hailing this as the probable death (and with good cause
) of the Big Inflatable Dildo era in sports souvenirs, let's give thanks for those other slices of weirdness which will forever earmark this series:
• J.T. Snow falling on his can in pursuit of a foul ball and then rising to retrieve it in Game One
• J.T. Snow scooping up young Darren Baker as he crossed home plate in Game Five
• J.T. Snow batting .407 in a World Series on Earth, played by Humans
• Bengie Molina getting on base five straight times in one game -- twice via intentional walk -- in Game Three
• Shawon Dunston hitting a home run in Game Six that for a few innings looked as if it might stand up as the Series-winner
• Jay Witasick reliving last year's i-can't-get-anybody-out-and-I-haven't-even-registered-for-this-class-which-I'm-failing-and-the-test-is-today nightmare all over again
• Barry Bonds dribbing two consecutive hits like basketballs out in left field during the fateful Game Six
Of course, plenty of conventional memories, both spectacular and prosaic, will endure as well:
• Bonds hitting a towering home run seemingly every time the Angels dared pitch to him
• Bonds un-Velcro-ing his ridiculous body armor after taking yet another walk
• Benito Santiago corkscrewing himself into the ground on every swing
• Dusty Baker chewing a toothpick nervously
• Pint-sized David Eckstein sprinting to first after a walk
• Baby-faced Francisco Rodriguez dropping a succession of nasty sliders on Giants hitters
• Troy Percival and the other near-sighted, self-described dirtbags of the Angels bullpen squinting in for the sign from the catcher
• Darin Erstad laying out for a spectacular grab in centerfield
• Tim Salmon's pair of homers in Game Two, the second capping a wild and woolly 11-10 win
• Scott Spiezio's just-over-the-wall 3-run homer in Game Six, keying one of the most dramatic comebacks in Series history
In the end, I'm certainly happy that the Angels won. Their brand of baseball has made for consistently engaging viewing over the past few weeks, a bare minimum of hair-loss, and some food for thought
in the world of sabermetrics. I may never find myself rooting for them again, but I've enjoyed this ride with Ecks and Erstad, Kennedy and K-Rod, Troy and Troy, Donnelly and Weber, the Salmon and the Sandfrog, Soc and Hatch. On the other hand, if I never again have to pull for Kevin Appier while poring over his pock-marked neck or hearing about his camels, it will be too soon.
On the other side, while I'm gleeful that the Giants lost (roll over Durocher, and tell Dusty Baker the news: "The Giants Lose The Series! The Giants Lose the Series!" ), I don't envy their fans. The second-guessing of Baker which will inevitably ensue may pale in comparison to the second-guessing of Baker and owner Peter Magowan if they part ways this offseason. In the meantime, the concerned parties can ponder Baker's use of the bullpen in Game Six, staying too long with Livan in Game Seven, pinch-hitting Goodwin for Sanders -- hell, the entire bench for the entire postseason, period. Better your problem than mine, pal.
Game Seven was a fitting conclusion to a fine season of baseball, Bud Selig's best efforts to destroy the sport notwithstanding. Congratulations to the Angels, their organization, and their fans. And by my watch, there's only about 110 days until Pitchers and Catchers. Are we there yet?
Sunday, October 27, 2002
If they're going to play a World Series where your team isn't involved, it may as well be an entertaining one of the seven-game variety. This year's Series has lived up to that wish, right down to a shocking late-inning jaws-of-defeat reversal in Game Six by the Anaheim Angels. Now we're left with one game in the baseball season, with all the well-marbled cliches on the table. If you're a fan of the game, you can't ask for much more, period. Well, besides less Tim McCarver and a quicker game and fewer of those enlarged-pore closeups, and a pitching duel, or at least a couple of staffs that don't look gassed...
By the seventh inning of last night's game, I had pretty much given up on the Angels, resorting to mocking their dorky, feeble, "Yes We Can" slogan right up until Scott Spezio's three-run homer landed in the rightfield seats. "If they're not going to entertain me by winning this, I'm free to start hating them," I told my fellow viewers. Fortunately I didn't have to make good on a threat to vomit on myself in the event of a Giants win (I'm withdrawing that threat tonight).
Despite my grouchy resignation, I knew better than to give up. With Shawon Dunston's home run threatening to stand up as the Series-winning hit, we were obviously on the wrong side of the looking glass. Sooner or later reality was bound to return in the form of the Rally Monkey, whose cult I have now joined. That mojo WORKS.
The play from last night that will endure in my memory was pinch-runner Chone Figgins taking third on Barry Bonds. That aggressiveness -- a hallmark of these Angels -- pressured the best player in the world into bare-handing and ultimately bobbling Garret Anderson's bloop single. The result keyed Dusty Baker to bring in closer Robb Nen early, and set up Glaus's game-winning double four pitches later. It also served to reminded us that Bonds is at least partially human, as he further proved when he bobbled Glaus' double.
Call him 1/3 Human and 2/3 Remorseless Hitting Machine. And consider the Angels lucky that Bonds didn't get a chance to atone for his mistakes, because there's still that air of inevitablity about him. Face it, he's GOING to hit a home run in this game tonight; the key for the Angels is damage control.
It certainly doesn't help that Anaheim is scrapping for pitchers. John Lackey will start on three days rest, taking the place of the injured Ramon Ortiz. Lackey already started Game Four on short rest, having been called upon in relief of Kevin Appier in Game Two; he ran out of gas in the fifth and allowed a 3-spot. K-Rod went a long 2 2/3 yesterday (and Bonds went long off of him). Ben Weber is toast. Don't even look at Appier or Washburn at this point, because it's just plain ugly to contemplate either getting lit again.
Against that, the Giants offer Livan Hernandez, who himself was lit up in Game Three. His sudden descent from Clutch Pitching God to Fat Hittable Slug was surprising (except perhaps to Giants fans), but it's not why I'm revising my prediction from my previously stated Giants in Seven
. Ortiz's absence as starter (due to tendonitis in the wrist, reportedly), is reason enough for a reappraisal, but the real dealn is that Monkey business. I've seen too much over the past few weeks not to believe in it for one more day.
Saturday, October 26, 2002
Back in elementary school, a teacher once told me that the surest way to get somebody to think of something was to tell them explicitly NOT to think about it. An order not to think about elephants produces nothing but deep thoughts about those pachyderms. So it's been with Bud Selig's edict prohibiting teams from making any managerial announcements during the World Series. Selig's reasoning was that such news would detract from the action on the field, lest four and a half hours per night of whooshes, clangs, thundersticks and McCarver-blather fail to remind us that there's a ballgame going on. But if anything, Selig's pronouncement only heightened the intensity of media speculation over the current round of managerial musical chairs, and revealed more leaks in baseball's front offices than a 99 Cent Store Life Raft.
In the catbird seat is Dusty Baker, who now stands one win away from validating a widely held opinion that he's the best manager in the game with a World Series trophy. That Baker may turn around and whisper the immortal words of Johnny Paycheck ("Take this job and shove it!") to Giants owner Peter Magowan only adds to the drama, not to mention the media feeding frenzy. Recent reports have Baker bound for Seattle, Chicago
, and, in a fanciful bit of speculation by ESPN's Ray Ratto
, across the Bay to Oakland.
Seattle's doors are open because Lou Piniella, with one more year on his contract, yet no apparent desire to remain in the Emerald City, requested the opportunity to work closer to his Tampa home. The Mariners management, while offering to free Piniella, took his closer-to-home request at face value, and allowed the Devil Rays to negotiate compensation -- said to be All-Star outfielder Randy Winn -- in the event Piniella agreed to a contract. But the M's played hardball when it came to Piniella possibly returning to New York to manage the Mets; no compensation could be agreed upon between the two teams, thus preventing the Mets from even interviewing Piniella. Though they're fairly bereft of high-level prospects that might entice Seattle, the more likely story is that Mariner management simply gave Sweet Lou a sour kiss-off. Sour to the tune of $13 million over 4 years
to manage in his own backyard a team that's never won 70 games in a season. It's worth remembering, of course, that Piniella's the manager who turned the Mariners around after a decade and a half of post-expansion futility.
As for Oakland, their bench is now officially vacant. They willingly let Howe go to the Mets because, as Ratto writes, "after helping drag the Athletics out of Contraction Row... general manager Billy Beane saw less in Howe than the American League standings did. Now that's
perverse." Howe had been on the hot seat in each of the past three seasons, in part because he demonstrated more resistance to Beane-ball than the GM (and perhaps the owner) preferred. Slow starts by the A's in each of the past two seasons didn't help. But most damning in his critics' eyes was his inability to win the big one -- literally. Merely one game away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs in each of the past three years, the A's went 0-6 as they failed to close out the Yankees (twice) and the Twins.
Not to be forgotten is that Billy Beane has been sitting on the hottest managerial prospect in the game for some time now; this past spring, Beane denied the Red Sox permission to interview bench coach Ken Macha for Joe Kerrigan's job. With Macha making the rounds as a candidate, reportedly even offered the Milwaukee Brewers job, and still in the running for the Cubs slot (and perhaps the Mariners one as well), Beane likely felt that he couldn't afford to lose the man he preferred to his sitting (duck) manager.
As for the Dusty-cross-the-Bay, it's highly unlikely, which didn't prevent Ratto from floating the thought balloon:
While the A's might not seem all that keen on paying a new manager four times what they paid only grudgingly to the old guy, it's still a fascinating thought that begs the question: How much is it worth to you to stick your finger in another guy's eye up to the second knuckle?
Understand here that Schott and San Francisco owner Peter Magowan regard each other with the same mutual feeling one normally finds with firemen and arsonists. The most charitable way to put it is that each man dreams nightly of driving the other into the sea.
But would Steve Schott make Peter Magowan a fool for $4 million?
Ratto's conclusion is that such a scenario is no more perverse than anything else in this saga. But cross-bay animosity is one thing; cold, hard cash is another, and the Cubs may be the team willing to dig the deepest for Baker. Aside from the 1-2 punch of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, and a pile of that green stuff, it's hard to see what Chicago has that SF doesn't. Though it's in its infancy, Pac Bell rivals Wrigley Field as one of the game's great ballparks, Barry Bonds has it all over Sammy Sosa, and it's been 57 years since the Cubs went to a World Series and 94 since they won one. Dusty's a stubborn man, but that stubborn?
Meanwhile, the reception of the Mets new manager (not officially, of course) by the New York media is an unjustly cold one. "Settled for"
seems to be the preferred choice of words, and by them you'd think that Howe couldn't manage his way out of a paper bag. Never mind the fact that Howe racked up 298 wins over the past three years piloting a ballclub with one of the game's lowest payrolls -- one that finished ahead of Piniella's team twice. Or that the last manager to be dubiously received in this town, "Clueless Joe" Torre, has done rather well for himself and his employer. That parallel wasn't lost on Roberto Alomar
, who told the New York Post, "It reminds me of '96 when the Yankees got Joe Torre and everyone was hammering him. What did they do? They ended up winning a world championship."
Howe's laid-back style is 180 degrees from that of his predecessor, Bobby Valentine, which may be exactlyt what the Mets need after tuning out Bobby V's often-grating words. Not that Valentine should have been the sole scapegoat for the Mets lousy season; general manager Steve Phillips' acquisitions of too many expensive and over-the-hill players (while gutting an already thin farm system) sealed their fate early. The player also carry their fair share of the blame; when geniuses like Mo Vaughn and Roger Cedeno admit late in the season that they actually need to keep themselves in shape, one has to wonder how they've survived all these years.
Howe made his reputation in Oakland working with a young, bargain-basement team. While the Mets don't have much in the way of youngsters (or bargains), that reputation might be inaccurate -- young players such as Terrence Long and Ramon Hernandez stagnated in their development, while Carlos Pena washed out early and was shipped off to Detroit. On the other hand, the trio of great young pitchers Howe had in Oakland flourished on his watch; it remains to be seen whether Howe will be able to import
pitching coach (and New Jersey native) Rick Peterson. And Howe seemed to do just fine with the veterans; to my recollection, Kenny Rogers was the only player to ask out of Oakland recently, and several A's vets, including Jason Giambi and Matt Stairs, went to bat for Howe against management when the skipper's job was on the line.
As for the pressure of New York, Howe ought to be able to handle it after hanging tough in the A's job despite the whispers and the weight of expectation. Not to sound too Peter Gammons-y, but Howe has shown character during his time as manager. He's even-tempered, classy, and he doesn't rip his players in the press. He's no Bobby V. It's revealing that the Mets gave Howe a four-year contract, providing him with more security than the GM. Phillips' job is justifiably on the line, and faced with a roster of cumbersome contracts, he may have to take a page from Billy Beane's playbook and find some bargains to patch the holes. Whether he's willing to do so remains to be seen.
With only two games and one weekend left in the baseball season, this saga will probably simplify itself come Monday, when the music stops and Piniella and Howe are introduced. By then we may know who else has found a seat. Willie Randolph? Bob Melvin? Billy Martin? Casey Stengel?
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
Jay Witasick is really making a name for himself in October baseball. Unfortunately for Witasick, that name is synonymous with futility. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times calls him
"baseball's St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes." Ouch.
Tuesday night only added to Witasick's sorry legacy. Summoned in relief of Livan Hernandez in the fourth inning with the score 5-1 Angels, Witasick surrendered three hits and a walk in only 1/3 of an inning, allowing two runs plus an inherited runner to score. Adding injury to insult, he even took a run-scoring line drive off his pitching arm, whereupon Giants manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Dave Righetti conferred, found him not sufficiently injured to remove, and sentenced him to further beating. More insult: an RBI single by Bengie Molina. The only batter he retired was the Angels pitcher, Ramon Ortiz, who struck out looking.
Witasick, you may recall, built his legend last fall with the Yankees. He pitched in three games in the 2001 postseason, giving up runs in each. All three were losses, the last two complete drubbings, 14-3 and 15-2. Witasick didn't just mop up those games, he doused them with kerosene. In his World Series appearance, following Andy Pettitte in Game Six but supplying no relief, he allowed 9 runs (8 earned) in 1 1/3 innings, taking a 4-0 game to an absurd 13-0. His stats for that postseason: 5 innings pitched, 17 hits, 12 earned runs, and a 21.60 ERA. Turn off the ugly.
The Times' Murray Chass points out, in a separate article
, that after last night Witasick has now faced 20 batters in his two World Series appearances, with 16 reaching base and 11 scoring. Ugly would be an improvement.
Witasick wasn't nearly so much of a lost cause for the Giants during the season. In 68.1 innings, he posted a 2.37 ERA, allowed only a .234 average, and struck out 54 batters. Of course, Dusty Baker was smart enough to keep him out of games where much was at stake; Witasick's line for the season was 1-0 with 0 saves and only 4 holds (a dumb statistic, but considering he got a hold for his one batter-one walk performance in Game Two
, a telling one). One could sense Baker's regard for Witasick as cannon fodder last night, ordering him through the ol' up-down-up-down-up in the bullpen before bringing him in. No, it isn't bad enough to be Witasick time yet, one imagines Dusty saying to himself.
Of course, these Angels have been slapping the ball around enough to make several of the Giants pitchers look silly. Witasick can take a seat alongside Hernandez, Russ Ortiz, Felix Rodriguez, and the pitching staffs of the Minnesota Twins, the New York Yankees, and several others in the American League in that regard.
Tuesday, October 22, 2002
It certainly appears there's something to my assertion that Angels phenom Francisco Rodriguez, now known as K-Rod, may indeed be the real Rally Monkey. During Sunday night's epic slugfest, the Halos scored three more runs to back his three dazzling innings, coming from behind 9-8 to beat the Giants, 11-10. The Angels have now scored 26 runs to back K-Rod's 13 postseason frames, enabling him to garner five wins in October.
Even the Angels are bying into it. Says fellow reliever Ben Weber
, "I don't think Frankie is just lucky to be in there when our offense comes alive. Seeing him come in and do what he does to teams has a way of firing everybody up. I don't think it's a coincidence they hit for him."
Practically every sports section in America has at least one article on K-Rod today. In the Daily News, they're even giving Brian Cashman heat for not signing
him. According to the Yankee GM, the Angels outbid the Yanks, who weren't willing to give the young Venezuelan the $950,000 bonus that the Halos offered. Who said George wins every bid?
Rodriguez is hardly the first unheralded player to surprise everybody in the postseason. ESPN's Jim Baker weighs in with a Baker's Dozen
of October surprises, including Dusty Rhodes, Gene Tenace, Brian Doyle, Buddy Biancalana, Kurt Bevacqua, and current Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, who hit .368 with 2 HR and 5 RBI against the A's in 1988. Number 13 on the list (which requires a subscription to ESPN Insider) is Dr. Bobby Brown
, who never found a full-time job as a big-league player but did go on to become President of the American League. Notably absent from the list is Howard Ehmke
, the surprise starter for Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's against the Chicago Cubs in 1929. Ehmke, at the tail end of his career, struck out a Series record 13 Cubs, but never won another game in the big leagues.
• • • • •
Given how much I've enjoyed the first two games of this World Series, I don't want to nitpick too much. But in Game One, Mike Scioscia made a move that's still driving me crazy. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Angels trailed 4-3, facing Giants righty Tim Worrell. With two outs, Worrell walked first baseman Scott Spiezio. Scioscia sent in designated pinch-runner Chone Figgins (I love that name) to run for Spiezio, and with weak-hitting catcher Bengie Molina (596 OPS) due up next, the decision to pinch-hit for him was a no-brainer.
It was Scioscia's choice of pinch-hitters that bothered me. He had only one left-handed batter on his bench, Orlando Palmeiro, and three righties, Alex Ochoa, Shawn Wooten, and Jose Molina. With his 626 OPS, Molina bears a bit too much family resemblance to his brother, and he was slated to enter the game as catcher anyway, so we won't consider him among Scioscia's options:
REG SEASON POST RUNNER ON vs. RHP
OBP SLG OBP SLG OBP SLG OBP SLG
Palmeiro .368 .354 .000 .000 .377 .367 .348 .341
Ochoa .361 .404 .000 .000 .331 .270 .361 .416
Wooten .331 .442 .471 .647 .368 .481 .333 .429
Scioscia played the straight platoon, choosing Palmeiro, despite the fact that he doesn't even hit righties as well as the other two (689 OPS vs 777 for Ochoa and 752 for Wooten). Palmeiro's virtue is that he can take a walk, but he's got almost zero pop in his bat (3 major-league homers in over 1600 plate appearances). With two outs and a man on first, a single or walk would have kept the inning going, which is certainly nice. Wooten, on the other hand, offers a reasonable amount of thunder and a chance to drive in Figgins; he's been swinging the bat very well during the postseason, not to mention relatively frequently (17 at bats, while the while the other two have seven between them). Since Scioscia ended up putting Wooten in the ballgame as the defensive replacement for Spiezio, why the hell didn't he just let him swing the stick as well?
Scioscia's preference for Palmeiro (who ultimately popped out foul to third base) in that situation may have been tied to keeping the inning alive for Adam Kennedy, who's swinging the bat well enough to be called the most feared #9 hitter in baseball. But I still think the Angles best option was taking a shot at a big hit by the Man from Moose Jaw
Saturday, October 19, 2002
On the day of the first game of the World Series, I spent part of my morning working on my healthy Giants hatred. I watched a well-made HBO documentary called "The Shot Heard 'Round The World"
, about the 1951 pennant race which climaxed with Bobby Thomson's home run. The hour-long doc was interesting for its variety of footage (some of it color), its lengthy interviews with the two principals of the event, Thomson and Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca, and for incorporating the relatively recent revelations about the Giants' system of stealing signs
. Without those revelations, which came to light via Giants bullpen catcher Sal Yvars last year, this is a tale I know all too well. But watching Thomson squirm in his seat as he denied being tipped off about the fateful pitch made for some entertaining viewing.
Mind you, I don't necessarily believe that Thomson *was* tipped off, but on the other hand, what the hell was he doing swinging at an 0-1 fastball that was high and inside? There's no question in my mind that the Giants' sign-stealing did help them, at least enough to aid the stretch drive which force the tie and necessitated that playoff series. Rob Neyer
had a good column about the Giants' sign-stealing when it broke as news in early 2001, pointing out (thanks to statistics supplied by Dave Smith of Retrosheet
, who appears in the documentary) that the Giants' hitting performance at home actually worsened after the sign-stealing started. In the doc, Smith points out that only three Giants hitters improved at home after the sign-stealing started, but that one of them was Thomson. That doesn't lessen his achievement, in my mind--he still had to hit the damn ball, and I've always shared the view as it pertains to baseball
that it ain't cheating if you don't get caught. But it doesn't endear me to the Giants, either.
Other than that loathing, and my general appreciation for the World Series, I don't have a lot to latch onto in this matchup. I'm rooting for the Angels primarily because of who they aren't, and secondarily because of the impressive way they demolished everything in their path to the Series. Their contact-hitting philosopy is a different approach from what we've seen the past few years, and it seems to make solid but otherwise innocuous hitters into dangerous pests. Their two 10-hit innings--something done only one other time
in postseason baseball history--have magnified their stature as a rally-making machine.
And speaking of rally-making, I have a sneaking suspicion that rookie pitcher Francisco Rodriguez is the real Rally Monkey. Not only have his first four major-league wins have all come in the postseason, but the Angels have scored an astounding 23 runs while he's occupied the pitcher's spot, including those two 10-hit innings. Meanwhile, Rodriguez has made hitters look foolish; scouts have compared him to a young Mariano Rivera with his nasty stuff. I look at Rodriguez and, despite a notable lack of girth. I see Fernando Valenzuela circa 1980. Valenzuela came up as a 19-year old in mid-September and became the secret weapon out of the Dodger bullpen as they came down the stretch, tossing 17.2 scoreless innings in the last two weeks of the season--his first two weeks in the bigs. Had Tommy Lasorda the courage to hand him the ball for their one-game playoff against the Houston Astros instead of free-agent failure Dave Goltz, they may well have won the NL West that year.
That digression brings me to the angle which interests me most about this World Series. Namely, both managers were key players on the Dodger teams I rooted for in my youth and teammates for four seasons, including their 1981 World Championship. Baker played eight of his 19 big league seasons for the Dodgers, and was their starting leftfielder for four division and three pennant winners. He also played on two All-Star teams during his Dodger tenure. After a miserable debut season in LA in 1976 (4 HR and a 605 OPS in 421 PA), Baker rebounded to become one of their record-setting quartet of 30-homer hitters in 1977, and was the MVP of the 1977 LCS against the Phillies. But on a team with Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Reggie Smith, and Davey Lopes, Dusty was a secondary weapon who often hit sixth and rarely had to carry the offense.
Baker had something of an acrimonious parting from the Dodgers. They tried to trade him to Oakland during the 1983 winter meetings, but as a 10-and-5 man, Baker vetoed the trade. The Dodgers unceremoniously waived him shortly afterwards, and he was signed by the Giants, the only season he ever played for the team he currently manages. Baker then found his way to the A's for the final two years of his career. I actually got his autograph in spring training 1986 in Arizona while he was with the A's, as well as a pretty decent photo of him, taken as I called out "Hey, Dusty!"
Mike Scioscia was one of only two regulars who played on both Dodger World Championship teams of the Eighties (the other being Steve Sax). A catcher for whom the term "solidly built" was an understatement, Scioscia's primary asset was his defense; simply put, he blocked the plate like no other player. Most famously, in 1985 he was knocked unconscious in a collision with the Cardinals' Jack Clark, but held onto the ball. Offensively, Scioscia biggest asset was a keen batting eye--he walked almost twice as often as he struck out, and had a lifetime OBP of .344. He didn't have much power (68 career homers over 13 seasons). But he'll always have a spot in the hearts of Dodger fans for the ninth-inning, game-tying home run he hit off of Dwight Gooden in Game Four of the 1988 NLCS--the game in which Orel Hershiser, who'd pitched the night before, came out of the bullpen in the 12th inning to get the save. In the annals of great Dodger homers of my era, Scioscia's bomb sits behind only Kirk Gibson's pinch-hit miracle in the 1988 World Series and Rick Monday's 9th inning homer in the 1981 NLCS which sunk Les Expos. On the Angels, Scioscia's bench includes two other players from that 1988 championship, hittting coach Mickey Hatcher and first base coach Alfredo Griffin.
Baker and Scioscia are the fourth set of former teammates to oppose each other as World Series managers, and the first to have played on a Series winner together. Tommy Lasorda, who's got a quote for all occasions, has weighed in
, saying that he told both that they would become big-league managers. No word on which of his proteges he's pulling for to win the World Series, but if he's anything like me, he can't find it in him to pull for those hated Giants.
• • • • •
Oh, you want a prediction? Mine haven't fared so well this postseason, and neither have my rooting interests. If the Series is short, I'd say it favors the Angels. But unless Scioscia brings back Washburn to start Game Four, a Game Seven matchup would feature the excitable Ramon Ortiz against cucumber-cool Livan Hernandez. If I've learned anything over the past five years, it's never bet against los dos Hernandez in October. I wouldn't mind being wrong (hey, being wrong seems to be what I do whenever I make one of these whack-ass predictions), but I'm saying Giants in seven.
Thursday, October 17, 2002
Keith Olbermann's gig as a columnist at Salon hasn't been much to write home about -- like the rest of his career since leaving ESPN, actually. Last week he penned a shit-stirring piece
about Buck Showalter's turbulent history with the Yankees. In it, he posited that an enraged George Steinbrenner, fresh off his team's first-round playoff defeat, might be poised to bring Showalter in as GM, Executive Vice President, or perhaps field manager.
Olbemann's piece was weak and misinformed, far removed from the pulse of the Yankees. Showing exactly how in tune he was with the story, Showalter was hired to manage the Texas Rangers two days later. Close one, Keith. It was almost as if the former ESPN anchor were yearning for his old beat, a simpler day when the Yanks hadn't rediscovered their winning formula, and controversy in the Bronx was as easy to find as the Boss himself.
Wrote Olbermann, "Remember, at all times, that George Steinbrenner is not the kind of man to sit around and act rationally when a situation calls for panic." That description may have suited the Steinbrenner of old to a T, but it hardly does today, except in the imaginations of Yankee-haters. King George may be make his execs' Octobers a living hell; Brian Cashman has likely scrubbed every toilet in Tampa by now. But the Yanks didn't get to the point where losing in the first round is unacceptable by shooting themselves in the foot at every opportunity. Their braintrust's patience and vision, not to mention George's deep pockets, ensure that they'll be back without dramatic bloodletting.
this week may turn out no more accurate than his Showalter piece, but it's considerably more entertaining and historically credible. Writing about Giants manager Dusty Baker and his battles with owner Peter Magowan, Olbermann invokes the strange and sad tale of Johnny Keane.
The Keane saga a fascinating one of Machiavellian managerial machinations. Books have been written on the subject, most notably David Halberstam's October 1964
and a lengthy, entertaining chapter in Bill Veeck's The Hustler's Handbook
(a shorter version of Veeck's piece appears in an obscure but wonderful Jim Bouton-edited anthology on managers, "I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad"
). For those unfamiliar with the story, Keane was the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964. As the Cards plodded along in the second division into August, a front-office coup led by Branch Rickey (then an advisor to owner Gussie Busch) ousted GM Bing Devine, who had hired Keane. Behind the scenes, the Cards made arrangements to replace Keane with Leo Durocher in 1965. The front office had written that year's team off. But suddenly, spurred by Lou Brock (Devine's last acquisition), the Redbirds got red-hot, and took the pennant while the Philadelphia Phillies collapsed.
Suddenly amazed at their own good fortune, the Cardinals made overtures to retain Keane, but he put them off until after the World Series. In a classic, the Cards suprised the Yanks in seven games. Just as they prepared to announce a new contract for their manager, Keane shocked the Cardinals by resigning -- to take a job managing the Yanks! Having spent the summer stumbling along under their own manager, Yogi Berra -- if spending weeks in third place, 15 games over .500 can be considered stumbling -- the Yankees had contacted Keane late in the season when both teams' fates appeared sealed, their field generals privately scapegoated. Quite a surprise then (not to mention an embarrassment to the brass of both ballclubs) to find them matched up in the Fall Classic.
Anyway, back to Olbermann, who speculates that though Dusty Baker has finally taken his team to the World Series, he may be bound for greener pastures. More specifically, the greener pastures of Safeco Field in Seattle, where Lou Piniella will kick hats and hurl bases
no more. Writes Olbermann, referring to sources close to Baker, "[T]he Seattle Mariners would never have put their current manager Lou Piniella up for sale so quickly if they had not already exchanged yearning, knowing winks with his successor, and that -- unofficially and within the parameters of contractual monogamy -- those kisses were blown to, and by, Baker."
Baker's contract status is no secret, of course. A three-time Manager of the Year, Baker has long been regarded as one of the game's top leaders, more for his ability to connect with players than for his strategic acumen. Earlier this postseason, his name was linked with the New York Mets' managerial opening, a position for which Piniella now seems to be the candidate du jour.
Olbermann offers not only Keane but also Dick Williams (who quit the World Champion A's in 1973, ostensibly bound for the Yanks until Charlie O. Finley intervened) as cautionary tales for Baker. The former was canned 20 games into his second season -- the Yankees' long Dark Age had begun -- and dead of a heart attack the next year. The latter merely had to settle for managing the California Angels at the nadir (at least until he was arresed for indecent exposure
a couple years ago) of his distinguished career
. As Olbermann, not to mention Veeck (who titled his chapter "Which of Us Took the Greater Fall?") seem to be telling us, fate has a knack of making sure nobody wins in these dramas (except the 1974 A's
, I suppose).
Olbermann goes on to catalog the litany of misery the Angels have endured; the smell of death's around them, in car crashes and gunshots. In addition to Donnie Moore, the one I remember vividly is Lyman Bostock
, an star outfielder shot to death in late September 1978. Bostock was the first athlete I recall dying in mid-season (Thurman Munson followed less than a year later); at nine years old, I remember staring numbly at his baseball card, trying to comprehend the poor man's fate. "Was he wearing his uniform when he was shot?" seemed to be the most I could muster.
Suffice it to say, I enjoyed Olbermann's article, but I sincerely hope that Dusty and the Angels fare better than his unsettling examples.
One more thing: for taking four franchises into the postseason and three to the World Series (two winners), Dick Williams should be in the Hall of Fame.
Wednesday, October 16, 2002
Five words that strike an icy dagger to the heart. Five words that--in a particular cadence, repeated with a maniacal enthusiasm--describe what might rank as the game's signature moment. Five words that never fail to turn my stomach, though that signature moment happened 18 years before I was born, and though my faith in the Dodgers has waned in the face of geographic convenience.
Five words that I've only had to hear referring to the present tense once before this week. Five words that every Giants fan shouted aloud after Kenny Lofton blooped Steve Kline's pitch over second base on Monday night. Five words I could do without hearing again for a long time. It's been 48 years since the Giants last won the World Series, but that buys no sympathy here. Or in Boston, or in Cleveland, or on the North Side of Chicago, I'll bet. Not that the Giants fans spend a lot of time bemoaning that drought, or developing an entire catalog of neuroses around it. I can respect that, at least.
Giants fan "Ponderous"
John Perricone of Only Baseball Matters is in a festive mood thanks to the Giants' berth in the Series, even going so far as to paint his weblog those lovely (cough, cough) team colors. He's got a little analysis
of the two teams' offenses up today which is worth a mention. One thing John keys upon is the Angels ability to avoid strikeouts:
By being so tough to strikeout, the Angels really work over a pitcher and a team. They not only eat up a huge number of pitches, fouling off one after another; but they also put a lot of pressure on their opponents defense, because invariably they put the ball in play; often-times on a flair or a bloop or some other demoralizing, exhausting, frustrating way. Finishing off these hitters has undone two terrific rotations, and it's the main reason they are in the World Series. It's how they were able to put together those two innings of mayhem... Angels have hit an astonishing .310/.310/.552 with an 0-2 count in these playoffs. This is the key to their offensive success, and I believe it is the key to this series. Can they continue to produce in such obviously difficult counts."
John sees the Angels coming back to earth offensively, their breaks evening out to give the Giants a good shot.
I'll weigh in with my own take on the Series tomorrow, as I literally don't have the stomach to do so today. I'm under the weather, and the weather in NYC is miserable.
Monday, October 14, 2002
It took me exactly a week, but I've found a silver lining to these pinstripe-free playoffs. The ability to leap from a burning bandwagon just before it careens off the cliff may not be one of man's more noble traits. But it sure comes in handy these days.
I'm referring not to the Minnesota Twins, whose charmed season ended in a rather brutal massacre at the hands of the Anaheim Angels on Sunday. The Little Engine that Could Embarrass Bud and Carl simply ran out of steam, its bullpen imploding not once but twice in shocking fashion on consecutive days. I pulled for the Twins against the Angels--not enough to paint my face, but enough to feel a twinge of pain as their season slipped away one base hit after another. Their falling apart bore a striking resemblance to the rallies which buried the Yankees last week.
I didn't desert the Twins, to whom I'll return below. But Sunday night I formally ejected myself from the flaming chassis of the St. Louis Cardinals. Not that I'd jumped ON their bandwagon, exactly. Given that I'd sooner attack the headstone of Johnny Roseboro's grave with a baseball bat than root for the Giants, I found myself with a sudden stake in the Cardinals' fate. Now I'd just as soon drive that stake into their hearts myself. Despite a handful of engaging, gritty good-to-great ballplayers and an emotional back story, the Cardinals can officially rot.
The Cards' undoing in this series is primarily at the hands of manager Tony La Russa, who hamstrung his team in choosing his roster. Keeping the injured Scott Rolen active on the hopes that he might be available by Game Three or Game Five or whatever is one matter. Devoting two roster spots to non-hitting catchers named Mike is another, though in fairness the usually overmatched Matheny (630 OPS) has been solid with the bat lately. But carrying a dozen pitchers
--an amount that sets off alarm bells in right-thinking adults for the number of mid-inning pitching changes it heralds, not to mention the number of eggs tossed into one basket it resembles--is a colossal blunder.
And failing to take advantage of the depth that creates (however dubiously) is a hanging offense. In Game One, La Russa allowed starter Matt Morris to languish long after he'd shown he lacked his best stuff. Down 5-1 after 2 innings, the Genius (in the Wile E. Coyote
sense, apparently) kept Morris in for 2 1/3 more as the Giants tacked on two more runs en route to a 9-6 victory. On Sunday night, La Russa left in reliever Rick White into his third inning, long enough to face Benito Santiago a second time. Nearly corkscrewing himself into the ground, Santiago made contact with White's 41st pitch, sending it over the leftfield wall for a two-run game-breaking homer.
So when in the hell was La Russa plannng on using the other 17 men in his bullpen? Honestly, if he can't be bothered to find a way to work this idiotic choice to his advantage, then I shouldn't waste my breath worrying about whether the Cardinals can win one for the late Jack Buck or Little Timmy Kile
I've got other misgivings about the Cards, mind you. Second baseman Fernando Viña is apparently more fastidious about facial hair than fielding or baserunning. First baseman Tino Martinez specializes in fighting off 0-2 pitch after 0-2 pitch until he can find the right one to pop up into shallow right center, for which he's sorely missed in Da Bronx. He's also adept enough at bunting to try once every six years
, and hey, a fielder's choice is as good as a walk, right? God forbid La Russa should find a better option at first base than his 1-for-22 glove man.
And heaven help us if he gives the Giants any more ammo with his ninnying in the press either. Whether it's dispensing hitting advice
to Barry Bonds or whining about Kenny Lofton, he's got me rooting for Dusty Baker to break out a can of Whoop Ass
the next time the two are toe-to-toe. Screw the Cardinals, I refuse to suffer them another inning. I'll watch the remaining postseason in the hopes that the Giants lose, because I'd sooner have my fingernails pulled off and raked down a blackboard while Joe Morgan and Bobby Thomson conduct a symposium on Dodger-killing home runs than see them win.
But I don't care who offs them. Pass me my Mouseketeer ears and my stuffed Rally Monkey and my inflatable red dildoes. Go Angels!
• • • • •
Whew, enough bile for one week. Now, back to the Twins. Despite Baseball Prospectus' Chris Kahrl's rather prescient forecast for doom
at the outset of the series, Joe Mays was not their undoing. Saddled with a shaky rotation, any manager offered two keep-'em-in-the-game starts from a guy who'd gone 4-8 (5.38 ERA) during the season would have gladly taken that. Of course, when your relievers can't find the plate, it doesn't matter much anyway.
What drove me crazy about the Twins was manager Ron Gardenhire's limiting outfielder Bobby Kielty to pinch-hitting duties. Kielty is a switch-hitter with a .405 OBP this season. He's good enough with the leather to be a backup centerfielder, and he kills righties (912 OPS). I know these things because he was on my fantasy team, the second-place Mendoza Line Drivers
of the Homer Bush League IV
. Gardenhire gave at bats to Mike Cuddyer and Dustan Mohr, two decent players with nowhere near the offensive capabilities of Kielty at this juncture. It was telling that Gardenhire sent Kielty to the plate for the Twins' most important at bat of the season--bases loaded, one out, down by a run in the seventh inning of potentially their final game, facing The Kid
(Kielty walked, forcing in the tying run). But it was just as telling that Gardenhire hadn't found him a way to get four or five chances per game given the wealth of his talents and some of his teammates' weaknesses (e.g., Jaque Jones against lefies, or walk-phobic David Ortiz).
Still, Gardenhire and the Twins have nothing to hang their heads about. For them to survive long enough to play this season was a moral victory. For them to thrive long enough to win a playoff series and provide their long-suffering fans with a reason to wave their Homer Hankies was an even bigger one. With several budding stars, strong prospects, and a talented young manager, they have a bright future. My hat is off to them for a great season.
• • • • •
the Giants beat the Cardinals 2-1 to advance to the World Series. New York has its Subway Series, will Californians call theirs the Battle of the Big Inflatable Dildoes?
• • • • •
I did find one thing to like about the Giants. Benito Santiago's success reminded me of an obscure song by the acerbic Chicago post-punk band Big Black
. Dedicated to fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, the song "Il Duce"
has as its refrain, "I am Benito, and I like my job." It's given me great amusement to utter those words every time he steps to the plate. Simple pleasures, man.
Saturday, October 12, 2002
Aaron Haspel, who writes a blog called God of the Machine, called my attention to a nice little statistical search feature
he's programmed. Through his page, one can make customized queries against the historical database of baseball statistics. That is, you can define searches for players with (more than/less than/equal to/between) a number in a given category (either career or in a season).
Want to see the season stats of all the players who hit 50 or more homers in a season? Here you go
. Ever wonder how many players have appeared in over 1000 games and hit fewer than 5 homers? They're all here
. Guys who got 200 hits in a season during the Fifties? Got 'em
. Hitting stats for all of the guys named Mendoza? No problemo.
It's a nice little toy, though it has its limitations. You can only call upon a player's raw totals in each category; while you can find pitchers with 100 wins and a winning percentage over .650
, or hitters with 40 doubles and 40 homers in the same season
, you can't do the same for pitchers with 200 decisions (wins plus losses), or batters with 100 extra-base hits (doubles plus triples plus homers). Being able to call upon such sums (plate appearances and OPS are others that would come in handy) would make this a more useful tool. But that's a minor quibble.
I understand that the proprietary Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia
can handle queries of the same sort (not to mention more powerful ones), but I have no first-hand experience with that product, nor am I likely to get any in the near future. I'm a graphic designer, and in my industry, it's all Mac, all the time. The SBE has no Mac version, nor is there ever likely to be one, as programmer Lee Sinins has written his encyclopedia in the Windows-only language Visual Basic.
Of course, the SBE isn't online, and Aaron's database is. I wouldn't be surprised if Sean Forman of the awesome Baseball-Reference.com
is developing something like this, but for the time being, Haspel's got himself a pretty good little niche in the world of baseball statistics. Great work, Aaron.
Thursday, October 10, 2002
One Man's Ballot
It was difficult to foresee at the time. But from this vantage point ten days into the postseason, my hand-wringing over my Internet Baseball Awards
ballot AL MVP choice was unmerited. Had I been able to predict that both the Yankees and the A's seasons would come to a screeching halt in the first week of the playoffs, and that my top four candidates would have been equally available for a tee time, I would have voted differently. Scratch that--I would have gone to Vegas to clean up on my foresight, and THEN I would have voted differently.
At the end of the day, the answer to the question, "Who is the Most Valuable Player in the league?" depends less upon a player's accomplishments than it does on what we want the answer to be. Tell me who you want to pick, and I'll give you the argument to justify it. Best player in the league, having a monster season? Alex Rodriguez is an easy choice. Most surprising breakout season? Alfonso Soriano wins that, hands down. Clutch player when his team needed it the most? Nobody but Miguel Tejada. Most efficient and devastating hitter on a winning team? Jason Giambi is the man.
I agonized over my AL MVP choice for days leading up to my vote. I honestly couldn't justify putting A-Rod first on my ballot, given his distance from any semblance of a hint of a whiff of a pennant race. That said, each of my other top candidates had some tragic flaw as well; Giambi's defense, Soriano's plate discipline, and Tejada's lower numbers compared to the other three. And as my brother pointed out, only A-Rod's flaw was due to somebody besides himself. Still, probably because I felt Giambi got jobbed last year, and perhaps because I predicted
him to win the award at the outset of the season, I put him first on my ballot. Knowing what I know now, I would have gone with A-Rod, though I still think Big G is defensible choice. Here's my complete ballot, with a mixture of candidates from those four criteria:
1: Jason Giambi; 2: Alex Rodriguez; 3: Alfonso Soriano; 4: Miguel Tejada; 5: Jim Thome; 6: Bernie Williams; 7: Manny Ramirez; 8: Torii Hunter; 9: Eric Chavez; 10: Garret Anderson.
By contrast, my NL MVP selection was a no-brainer. Barry Bonds had the numbers (boy, did he have the numbers), the successful team, and the clutch performance arguments all working in his favor. Vlad the Impaler's near 40-40 season elevated him to second on my ballot. My preseason pick, Sammy Sosa, was in the hunt for second until injury and a bad September derailed him:
1: Barry Bonds; 2: Vlad Guerrero; 3: Jim Edmonds; 4: Jeff Kent; 5: Sammy Sosa; 6: Albert Pujols; 7: Chipper Jones; 8: Shawn Green; 9: Lance Berkman 10: Eric Gagne.
The AL Cy Young award was a close 3-way race. I chose Zito based on his durability (five more starts and 30 more innigs than Pedro) and (to a much lesser degree) on the latter's double-barrel hissy-fit
down the stretch. Two pitchers whose durability I disparaged earlier in the season, Derek Lowe and Jarrod Washburn, wound up placing in my top five. My preseason pick, Tim Hudson, wound up sixth on my pre-ballot ranking (the IBA ballot had only five spots):
AL Cy Young
1: Barry Zito; 2: Pedro Martinez; 3: Derek Lowe; 4: Roy Halladay; 5: Jarrod Washburn.
The NL Cy Young became more clear-cut down the stretch, as Randy Johnson rose to the occasion while teammate Curt Schilling faltered. I'm simply amazed at how well Johnson has aged. My preseason pick, Roy Oswalt, was no disgrace, winning 19 games and finishing 5th in ERA, all in all good enough for third on my ballot:
NL Cy Young
1: Randy Johnson; 2: Curt Schilling; 3: Roy Oswalt; 4: Odalis Perez; 5: Tom Glavine.
I flip-flopped my AL Rookie of the Year candidates in researching my vote, reasoning that it's much harder to win 15 games with good peripherals in front of the hapless Baltimore Orioles than to hit and field well every day in Toronto. My preseason pick, Hank Blalock, struggled out of the gate and then spent most of his season on the farm:
AL Rookie of the Year
1: Rodrigo Lopez; 2: Eric Hinske; 3: Bobby Kielty.
Degree of difficulty was the deciding factor in the NL Rookie race as well. It's a lot easier to learn to pitch in the bigs when you've got Glavine, Maddux, and Leo Mazzone available for tutorials than when you're stuck at 5,280 feet above sea level with Mike Hampton as your co-pilot. Jennings' initials and good bat helped give him the edge as well. Sean Burroughs, who I picked preseason, added injury to the insult of suffering a similar fate to Blalock:
NL Rookie of the Year
1: Jason Jennings; 2: Damian Moss; 3: Austin Kearns.
Neither of my Manager of the Year choices should come as a surprise, given my recently-stirred Dodger roots. The AL ones look particularly sharp this week:
AL Manager of the Year
1. Mike Scioscia; 2: Ron Gardenhire; 3. Art Howe.
NL Manager of the Year
1: Jim Tracy; 2: Tony La Russa; 3: Dusty Baker.
• • • • •
While I'm on the subject, I'll revisit a few more random dumb-ass preseason predictions
I made... Tony Muser didn't make it out of April, but he was not the first manager fired; that honor went to Phil Garner, with Davey Lopes and Buddy Bell at his heels. Scott Rolen was not the first superstar traded; Bartolo Colon beat him by over a month (did I forget others?). Barry Bonds finished with "only" 46 homers, not the 64 I predicted (at least I got the digits right). I was correct that he wouldn't beat out Sammy Sosa, who fell short of my targeted 66 with "only" 49 but still led the league (ahem). And finally, Rondell White stayed healthy enough to beat my predicted 112 games (he played in 126), but with a 666 OPS, he had a pretty hellish season nonetheless.
Wednesday, October 09, 2002
Nobody wants to hear the whining of Yankee fans this week. Goliath has fallen, and the rest of the baseball world couldn't be happier. The local papers have already dispensed with the post-mortems and moved on to filling out Uncle George's Christmas shopping list
. I've decided to resist my temptation to remake the Yankees until after the World Series, because emotions are still running high
all around, and more importantly, because we've still got a few weeks of good plot lines and (hopefully) great baseball ahead.
Each of the remaining four teams offers a compelling reason to root for it. And there's ample seating on their bandwagon:
• The Minnesota Twins, who staved off contraction over the winter. The Twins have a young, likeable team, a closer named "Everyday Eddie," and a self-described "futility infielder"
as manager. The sight of Homer Hankies waving in the Hefty Bag is sure to stir memories of Hrbie and Kirby and Black Jack Morris. Plus, imagine the awkward looks Bud Selig and Carl Pohlad would have on their faces at the Series trophy presentation if they won. Check in with the Twins Geek
or Aaron's Baseball Blog
for wholesome Twinkie goodness.
• The Anaheim Angels, fresh off of schooling the Yanks and winning their first postseason series ever. The Angels feature strong starting pitching, gas-throwing relievers, a pesky Lil' Bastard in David Eckstein, and stellar defensive play, plus a coaching staff chock-full of those miracle 1988 L.A. Dodgers. They've also got a rather, um, unique primate for a mascot. I don't know of any Angel-specific blogs, but "Shredder" Seitz and other Anaheim fans can be found all over Baseball Primer's game-by-game blogs in Clutch Hits
• The St. Louis Cardinals, who overcame the tragic death of pitcher Darryl Kile, not to mention the passing of iconic announcer Jack Buck, this season, but who now stand to bring a measure of joy to a great baseball town. They feature human highlight film Jim Edmonds in centerfield, one of the league's most devastating hitters in Albert Pujols, and the league's best shortstop, the clutch Edgar Renteria. Bleed Cardinal Red
and Charlie at America's Pastime
have you covered. Notice that Charlie's put a strike
through my site upon the Yanks' elimination on his October 7 entry. Reminds me of the Homicide: Life on the Streets
episode in 1997 where "Torre" and "Rivera" were listed as victims on The Board
• The San Francisco Giants, featuring the best hitter on the planet as he's finally put his reputation for postseason misery behind him. The Giants are led by the highly regarded (and nearly departed?) Dusty Baker, who pulls rabbits out of his hat with this pitching staff of no-stars. They're owned by Peter Magowan, the only owner who DIDN'T bilk his taxpayers in building a new stadium. John Perricone of Only Baseball Matters
will hook you up.
On the other hand, one can easily at least a solid reason to root against each of those teams. The Angels are owned by the Mouse, never anyone's favorite corporation. The Twins are owned by a rat willing to accept a payoff to have his own team whacked. The Giants are still the Giants, and Barry's not huggable no matter how many homers he hits. The Cardinals... well, that Tony LaRussa egghead thinks he's pretty smart, doesn't he?
I haven't figured out just which bandwagon I'll climb aboard for the next few weeks. Given that three of my four first-round predictions went down, fans of those remaining teams might hope that I don't jinx them with the pledging of my temporary allegiance. I'm leaning toward the Twins, followed by the Angels, with either of them over the Cardinals.
Still, I can't deny I've got a bit of an empty feeling right now. Unused LCS and World Series tickets protrude from under the front of my TV, taunting me as they tout a matchup I DON'T get to watch. But that's not the problem. It's that the crisp fall weather--jacket season--has arrived in New York City, and for the first time since 1997, there's no baseball buzz in the air to accompany it. No Yanks caps, no Mets jerseys, nobody reliving last night's ballgame on the subway or in the elevator, or stumbling into a random bar in a strange neighborhood to ask, "What's the score?" No us-against-the-rest-of-the-world cameraderie, no my-team-can-whup-your-team enmity. No swagger, no drama. No pull-out sections in the morning paper, no mystique and aura showing up after midnight. No electricity.
And for the rest of the baseball world, no clear villain. Mets fan Dan Lewis writes in his Sports Blog
that he's sorry the Yankees lost: "I really enjoyed rooting against the Yanks last year, and that made game 7 all the more enjoyable. Now, there's no suspense." Lewis breaks down the anti-Yank sentiment for those still mourning the Bombed Bronxers: "[T]hose Yankee haters out there are sorry your team lost, not because we won't have the Yanks around to hate, but because we know that losing sucks. And for purely selfish reasons, we'd rather see you lose in Game 7 of the World Series to a bloop walk-off base hit."
Ouch. No love...
Tuesday, October 08, 2002
Salon's King Kaufman has an interesting piece where he suggests that the San Francisco Giants would be better off if they batted Barry Bonds leadoff. When this article appeared the other day, my friend Nick asked me for my take on it. I gave him my best five-minute lunch-hour assessment (short answer: bat Bonds second to increase his PAs but give him somebody to clean up after), then packaged the quandary over to Giants fan John Perricone of the weblog Only Baseball Matters
for an article to be named later. John ran my response and took a quick stab
at the question himself (short answer: where he bats in the order will have only a marginal effect on his production; only batting him behind himself would make much difference). Since then, I've decided to go back and take a closer look at Kaufman's piece.
Kaufman is an entertaining and provocative writer whose work I generally enjoy, but he's not exactly known for his number-crunching. He presents a basic premise which makes sense: batting Barry leadoff would maximize the number of plate appearances the peerless slugger would get. But the writer makes some serious errors in his analysis, and it ultimately falls apart.
Kaufman starts with the assertion that the opposing strategy of pitching around Bonds has rendered him less valuable when it comes to driving in runners:
Because opponents flatly refuse to pitch to Bonds with runners on base, his value as an RBI man is severely limited. But: He's on base all the freakin' time! Nobody's ever been on base as often Nobody's been close. The more good hitters there are behind Bonds, the more likely the Giants will make the other team pay for walking him. With nothing but mediocre hitters behind Bonds -- Benito Santiago, Reggie Sanders, J.T. Snow and David Bell usually hit behind him--opponents walk him, and the strategy works.
First problem: the Giants hitters are not actually that mediocre. For one thing, their batting statistics are depressed by Pac Bell, which greatly favors pitchers, and so their raw numbers look worse than they are. Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average (EqA)
, a park- and context-neutral measure of offensive performance placed on a scale on par with batting average (with .260 defined as the major league average), shows the Giants with the best EqA in baseball, at .283. This is largely due to Bonds and Kent, of course, but Santiago, Bell, and Sanders--not to mention leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton, are all between .270 and .280. Shortstop Rich Aurilia and first baseman Snow are a few points on either side of .260, but by and large the oars are pulling in the right direction.
Kaufman then points to Dusty Baker's flip-flopping Bonds and Jeff Kent in the batting order and Barry's subsequent decrease in his rate of scoring runs when hitting behind Kent:
When Bonds was hitting third, ahead of the dangerous Jeff Kent, he scored 30.3 percent of the time he was a baserunner. (That is, 30.3 percent of the time that he reached base but didn't hit a home run.) After Giants manager Dusty Baker switched Bonds and Kent in the order, Bonds scored 16.4 percent of the time that he was on base, an astonishing, pathetic figure
...What's really amazing about Baker's misuse of Bonds is that he actually got some praise in late June when he switched him in the order with Kent, who had hit fourth for most of the previous five and a half years. The change helped Kent's production, for the obvious reason that he got better pitches while hitting in front of Bonds. But that improvement for Kent wasn't nearly enough to offset the neutralization of the game's best hitter.
Kaufman then gives us some figures for Bonds pertaining to the switch which I will more clearly present in a chart:
G R BI AVG OBP
Pre (#3) 71 69 50 .354 .574
Post (#4) 72 48 60 .385 .588
If that's a downturn, I don't see it. Bonds' R + RBI (two team-dependent stats) went down by 11 in the second span, but his OBP was higher, so he was using fewer outs--something Kaufman never bothers to consider. More importantly, he never offers comparable breakdowns for Mr. Wheelie, despite his assertion that Kent's increase didn't offset Bonds' decline.
So I took a look at their ESPN splits
batting in the two positions; the numbers don'texactly jibe with Kaufman's incompletely-presented figures, and taken together they tell a more revealing story:
PA R BI AVG OBP SLG
Bonds (#3) 340 71 64 .377 .591 .861
Kent (#4) 374 50 53 .297 .354 .484
Kent (#3) 304 52 55 .333 .387 667
Bonds(#4) 256 46 46 .365 .571 .730
Bonds-Kent 716 121 117 .329 .466 .633 1099 OPS
Kent-Bonds 573 98 101 .346 .473 .691 1164 OPS
Contrary to Kaufman's assertion, the 1-2 punch of these fine sluggers was actually more effective with Kent hitting before Bonds. Their OBP was seven points higher, their SLG was 58 points higher, and their rate of (R + RBI)/PA was higher as well (.522 to .472). Their counting totals were down in the second permutation because the two players missed about 30 games between them, with whoever played presumably taking the #3 slot while the other was absent from the lineup.
Kaufman also attempts to figure out how many runs Barry would have scored had he batted leadoff. To do this, he takes regular leadoff-hitter Lofton's rate of scoring and applies it to the number of times Bonds was on base: "If he scored at Lofton's 39.1 percent rate, he'd have tallied 167 runs this year, 50 more than his actual number."
Which is a horrible assumption. Lofton's scoring rate was dependent in no small part on having Bonds to drive him in. The ability to drive runners in is roughly represented by slugging percentage, and nobody hitting behind Bonds can touch his .799 this year. Suffice it to say that Bonds wouldn't match that 39.1 percent scoring rate without unprecedented work in the field of cloning. Furthermore, that's not 50 runs Bonds is adding to the Giants total, that's 50 runs he'd be scoring instead of some other player (leaving aside for the moment the fact that there's no way in hell it's 50 runs).
While Kaufman's idea is intriguing, his reasoning is faulty and his methods of calculating the effect are irredeemably flawed. By relying solely on counting stats, he misses the story being told by the rate stats--that Kent-Bonds was actually more productive than Bonds-Kent on a per-plate-appearance basis. And by compounding his calculations with further incorrect assumptions, his argument falls apart. It may make sense to bat Bonds leadoff, but Kaufman's not the one to prove it.
Sunday, October 06, 2002
The sun arose Sunday morning and the earth continued to turn, but baseball's postseason will roll on without the New York Yankees. While this may violate what Yankee fans may feel is the natural order of things--not since 1995 has the team ended its season this early--the Yanks were emphatically spanked by the Anaheim Angels and ushered out of the playofffs yesterday, three games to one. The kings of the past several postseasons are dead.
For the third game in a row, the Angels came from behind, taking advantage of a porous and mistake-prone Yankee defense. They strung together an epic 8-run rally that bore a familiar resemblance to past pinstriped teams. Give a championship-caliber ballclub an extra out, as the Yanks did in the third inning and again in the fifth, and they will smell the blood in the water.
The Angels, who from manager Mike Scioscia on down deserve a huge amount of credit for doing what no AL team has done since 1997, were certainly helped by the fact that the Yanks didn't play up to their potential. Their hallowed starting pitching failed miserably, with all four starters allowing at least four runs and none of them getting out of the sixth inning. The staff ERA was an astronomical 8.21, and the Angels set a Division Series record with their .376 batting average. Defense was a factor as well; the Yanks allowed a .367 average on balls in play (an anemic .633 DER; see below
) while the Angels held the Yanks to a .292 average on balls in play (.708 DER).
That eight-run inning put the Yanks down 9-2, but even mortally wounded, they battled back, twice coming within one batter of bringing the tying run to the plate. Fox tastelessly tried to unleash the ghosts of a past Angels collapse, showing haunting footage of the late Donnie Moore's 1986 playofff disaster (a disconsolate Moore, who gave up a Game FIve-winning homer to Dave Henderson when the Angels were one strike away from winning their first postseason series, committed suicide
a few years later). The Yanks, for their part, were much more gracious in defeat--no Patrick Ewing "I still think we're the better team" defiance, no excuses offered. "We just got beat by the better team," said starting pitcher David Wells. Said pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre: "This four-game stretch is the best anybody has attacked our pitching in the seven years I've been here."
Even George Steinbrenner mustered an uncharacteristic bit of grace in defeat. "If we had to lose to somebody, I'm happy for Gene and the Disney people," admitted the Boss, referring to the late Gene Autry, who owned the Angels for decades without them winning a single playoff series. "For Gene's memory, it was a great day. He was always the nicest man I ever knew in baseball."
But just as surely, the Boss cannot be a happy man, not with the league's highest-paid team now free to schedule tee times in early October. Heads will likely roll, and the roster will be retooled yet again (New York Daily News gets the early jump
on potential changes in the Yankee makeup; I'll have all winter to write about my views on the matter).
The Yankee brass and players are accustomed to winning it all; Derek Jeter termed this season a failure
, and while it may sound harsh, the lingering image
for Yankee fans is Darren Erstad's fifth-inning blooper falling between centerfielder Bernie Williams and a forlorn Alfonso Soriano--he of the spectacular near 40-40 season. For all of the individual accolades and milestones the Yankee players received, none matters so much as the big prize at the end of the season.
For Yankee fans, October will feel much more empty without our familiar pinstriped warriors. But this loss won't be mourned the way last year's Game Seven defeat was. That team, with a nucleus that had seen five World Series in six years, meant so much to the city in the wake of September 11, and came so close to winning it despite being more or less outplayed (but not outmanaged). While the losing hurt, most New Yorkers felt damn proud to have them representing the city. This year's team, with several newcomers, clearly couldn't muster the postseason magic of years past, and simply got their asses handed to them on a platter. Losing stings if you're a Yankee fan today, but most of us are still pretty confident we'll live to see the team get another shot or two in our lifetimes.
The last time the Yanks found themselves in a similar position, in October 1997, I passed an East Village bar with a chalkboard in the window that said "Only 107 Days Until Pitchers and Catchers. Go Yankees!" That spirit was enough to carry me and many other Yankee fans through the winter months, and we were rewarded with the finest ballclub most of us had ever seen. So I'll shed no tears for this year's Yankees. Instead, I'll sit back and watch the remainder of this year's playoffs, rooting for whichever AL team emerges from what promises to be an entertaining scrum, and start counting the days until pitchers and catchers report as soon as the final out of the World Series is recorded.
The postseason kings are dead, long live the postseason kings.
Saturday, October 05, 2002
Another Friggin' Thing
One other note on the Yankees-Angels series: Anybody who's watched any amount of baseball this season has had to listen to the likes of Tim McCarver, Joe Morgan, and the YES crew lauding the Yankee defense, particularly Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano, in the face of all available statistical evidence.
This series--particularly if the Yankees lose--ought to clear that misconception up. The Yankee D has been abysmal, with several ground balls rolling right under the gloves of the Yanks' otherwise-vaunted keystone combo (as I write this, Alfonso Soriano just muffed a potential double-play grounder to allow the tying run in the third inning of Game Four). The Angels defense, on the other hand, has been consistently solid, and exceptional behind Jared Washburn (6 double plays in 10 innings thus far).
The diffference in the two defenses can be seen via the two teams' Defensive Efficiency Rating
, which measure how often a team turns a batted ball into an out. The Angels led the majors with a .731 rating, meaning that batters hit .269 on balls in play against them. The Yanks' DER was only .708, eighth in the AL and two points below the league average. This means that batters hit .292 on balls in play against them, a 23-point difference. Through the first three games, the difference between the two teams is staggering: the Angels DER is .767 (meaning a .233 batting average on balls in play against them), the Yankees' is .670 (a .330 average). Needless to say, that's an astounding difference that goes a looooooong way towards explaining why the Angels have the upper hand in this series thus far.
Ugh. I'm going to pass on a lengthy dissection of the Yankees two losses to the Angels in the Division Series because I simply don't have the time or the stomach for it. But the short version is that Joe Torre screwed up in handling his bullepn last night.
I practically screamed myself hoarse at the TV wondering alound in colorful language why the hell Joe Torre left Mike Stanton in the game in the seventh inning. A one-run lead, with two on, one out, and pinch-hitter Shawn Wooten (a slow-footed righty) at the plate would seem like a situation tailor-made for ground-ball specialist Ramiro Mendoza. But Torre left Stanton in, and though he retired Wooten, Scott Spiezio laced a game-tying single. Inexplicably Stanton stayed in to start the eighth, allowing a leadoff double to Adam Kennedy, a sacrifice bunt, and another double to Darren Erstad. Steve Karsay didn't improve matters by allowing a homer to Tim Salmon, the first batter he faced after Torre finally gave Stanton the hook. But by then the opportunity for a bailout had passed, and Mendoza never got into the game.
On the other hand, Mike Scioscia's handling of his bullpen was fantastic, particularly his use of rookie Francisco Rodriguez. The 20-year old had blown hitters away in a late-season cup of coffee (13 Ks in 5.2 innings!) after striking out 120 in 83.1 minor-league innings, but it took guts for Scioscia to include him on the postseason roster over the more experienced Al Levine and Dennis Cook. But with the element of surprise to accompany his stuff, he's become the Angels' secret weapon, baffling the Yankee hitters.
The equation right now is simple: if the Yankees don't get a well-pitched game out of David Wells today, their season is over. Wells has a great postseason track record (8-1, 2.74 ERA), but he hasn't pitched well against the Angels (6.52 ERA in two starts this season, totalling 9.2 innings), at Edison Field (7.88 ERA in 16 innings over the past 4 seasons), or in the daytime (1-3, 7.15 ERA this season). Furthermore, he's struggled against some of the Angels big hitters, including Garret Anderson (.382), Troy Glaus (.333) and Darin Erstad (.300).
But if there's one Yankee pitcher I'd like on the mound today, it's Wells. So long as his back is healthy, nothing fazes him, and he's always come up big with the money on the table. Right now there's about $130 million of Yankee payroll sitting there, and it doesn't get any bigger than that.
Wednesday, October 02, 2002
More Links Than Winks
On Tuesday night I attended an early-evening birthday party for a friend, pre-empting my ALDS Game One viewing plans. Fortunately, I had the miracle of TiVo
at my disposal, enabling me to time-shift my viewing seamlessly. All told, I saved myself well over an hour's worth of commercials, pitching changes, pregnant pauses, and McCarver/Buck blathering. The result felt like missing out on a hangover. Suffice it to say that I not only heartily endorse TiVo, I recommend that any serious baseball fan who expects to lead a life beyond the couch in October purchase one.
My TiVo-ing, combined with a bit of watching the late late Cardinals-Diamondbacks game, made for a very late night, so I 'm going to clear the bases on a bunch of stuff and get some sleep tonight, rather than write about the Yanks game in depth...
• ...except to say that in one inning, Mike Scioscia may have undone all of the good press that he's generated thus far this season. The Angels manager (who will likely get my vote as AL Manager of the Year over at the Internet Baseball Awards
if I'm strict about considering only regular-season performance), will be second-guessed until the cows come home for his decision not to bring in closer Troy Percival to put out the Yankee rally in the eighth inning. Scioscia brought in lefty Scott Schoenweis (his only southpaw in the pen, which should set off some alarms as the Halos go to battle with the Yanks) to face Jason Giambi with two on and two out in the eighth inning, rather than Percival. The G Man was 5 for 20 in his career against Schoeneweiss, including 2-for-3 this year, while Percival was 0-for-5 with 5 K's against him this season. Giambi's game-tying hit may have been something of a fluke as it richocheted off of Scott Spiezio's glove, but Scioscia stil had the option to go to his hoss before the barn burned down. Instead he brought in Brendan Donnelly, of whom Bernie Williams made short work with a long ball.
With the game on the line, obviously Percival should have been in there rather than being saved for the save situation in the 9th inning. As Around the Majors
reporter Lee Sinins writes, "When the game's on the line and you're managing for the sake of a manager manipulated stat, rather than the victory, you deserve to lose."
• Speaking of cows coming home and barns burning down... no, I was never raised on a farm. Just a big fan of Keith Jackson.
• How about Alfonso Soriano, he of the meager 23 walks this season, laying off of Ben Weber's sliders once he'd fallen to 0-2 with 2 outs in the eighth? Sori's walk absolutely turned the game around. And man, isn't Weber one scary lookin' dude
? His in-game demeanor and jerky pitching motion combines John Rocker, Ted Kaczynski
, and a hari-kiri
• From Baseball Primer's thread on Game One:
"Posted 11:44 p.m., October 1, 2002 (#212) - Mystique and Aura
Told you we were showing up."
• The Internet Baseball Awards voting ends Friday. I'm trying to build up enough resistance to the peer pressure
to vote for Alex Rodriguez as AL MVP. That's a column for another day, one when the Yanks arent' playing. Bull Magazine's Craig Calcaterra has an excellent piece
on the contradictory criteria which the Baseball Writers of America invoke when voting for the MVP. Of closers, Calcaterra writes: "Rule #7: Disregard Rule #5 if the pitcher in question is able to hold a three-run lead in the ninth inning of every third game or so. If he can do this, he is magically transformed into a "closer" and is rewarded with his very own statistic, the save. Do not, under any circumstances, keep in mind that saves are just a measure of opportunity, and that some relievers routinely hold one-run leads in the seventh or eighth innings. These relievers have no special stat like saves, and therefore must be worthless. This rule explains Dennis Eckersley in 1992, Willie Hernandez in 1984, and Rollie Fingers in 1981."
• NY Daily News' Vic Ziegel
on Game One of the Twins-A's series: "OAKLAND - Minnesota 7, Oakland 5, Skill 0, and congratulations to the decision-makers who determine the TV playoff schedule. They did the right thing keeping this afternoon game, this series, away from prime time."
• ESPN's Jim Caple
reports that the Twins' early-game gaffes started with their trip to the ballpark, as several players, along with GM Terry Ryan got lost when they took the wrong train. Writes Caple:
Everyone knew the Twins were inexperienced but few realized that extended to public transportation.
"We've had guys go to the Astrodome even though the Astros don't play there anymore. We've had guys go to Shea Stadium when we played the Yankees," first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said. "You just realize we're not the brightest group of players. But when you're with the general manager, you figure you ought to be in good hands."
• The Twins Geek
offers his unique perspective on Game One, including the part where he was joined by his Australian friend (and baseball neophyte) Dave:
Dave: Joe Morgan had a baseball career of some kind?
Me: Well, he was the greatest second baseman that ever lived.
Dave: Oh. [pause] But that's debatable, right?
• Great though he was as a player, Joe Morgan is an entirely different league as a commentator, especially when it comes to his online chat sessions. Mike of Mike's Baseball Rants
does a brilliant and hilarious job of tackling Joe's ridiculous and often contradictory answers posed in the chat:
Joe is in actuality just an adherent to Reductio ad Absurdum. Reductio ad Absurdum is, of course, is a means to prove a given point by taking its reverse to an absurd conclusion. C’mon you use it everyday. Remember when you first said, “If Miguel Tejada is the MVP, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.” Well, start developing an appetite for bananas and flinging fecal matter.
The only reason that Joe is juxtaposing brilliant insights with inane tripe is to demonstrate to us mere mortals all the more the sagaciousness of said insight. The more he proffers preposterous pap, Batman, the more intelligent he really is. It’s sheer brilliance. By espousing a baseball philosophy awash in ancient, hackneyed saws, he is actually trying to rid the baseball discussion once and for all of all such tripe. You are a brave man of conviction, Joe Morgan. And we salute you along with those about to rock (Fire!).
• The Mets' season was a trainwreck wrapped in a disaster, buried under a shitpile of bad contracts
. Proving that shit does indeed run downhill, they made manager Bobby Valentine the scapegoat
for their miserable season, conveniently avoiding the fact that it was General Manger Steve Phillips who traded for Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, and Roberto Alomar, and signed Roger Cedeño and Rey .000rdoñez to cumbersome contracts. Not that Valentine didn't contribute to his own demise, but by firing him, the Mets clearly did him a favor. They extricated him from an overpaid, underachieving, over-the-hill ballclub that had lost respect for him and seemed unwilling to take his input at any level. My hunch is that they'll be wallowing in the damage Steve Phillips has done long after Bobby V. has moved onto his next job (Texas, again?). And it'll be awhile before they're an interesting ballclub again.
• The Mets' managerial vacancy means it's speculatin' season
in the Big Apple, with plenty of Yankee- and Met-related names surfacing as candidates: Lou Piniella, Buck Showalter, Chris Chambliss, current Yankee coaches Lee Mazzilli and Willie Randolph, as well as current Giants manager Dusty Baker. I'd love to see Randolph get a shot and wouldn't be surprised if Maz get it. But I won't complain too loudly if Sweet Lou finds his way back to NYC to give George Steinbrenner a bit more competion for headlines.
• Speaking of Yankee coaches, my pal Nick will sleep better at night knowing that Mel Stottlemyre and Don Zimmer have decided not to retire
and will return to the Yankee coaching staff next season.
• Speaking of managerial firings, Brewers manager Jerry Royster got his just desserts
. I've already filed my position paper
regarding Royster's role in the Jose Hernandez strikeout fiasco, but I also think that Hernandez deserves some of the blame. If he'd gone to Royster and said words to the effect of "Hey skip, thanks for watching my back with the fans, but I'm man enough to handle this by showing up and playing ball the way I have been all season," the situation would probably have been defused. I doubt Royster would have been so protective without Hernandez's complicity. Perceptive Brewers fan Harvey's Wallbanger had a good prescription
for the Brewers over at Baseball Primer: "... if any team needed Leo Durocher with a permanent hangover as manager this is the squad. They made indifference an art form... I rarely encourage the General Sherman modus operandi but if there was ever a time to just burn it all to the ground and rebuild with the remaining rubble this is it."
• Following up his fascinating interview
with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, Baseball Prospectus' Jonah Keri has a great Q & A
with Tommy John, who's now a Double A pitching coach. John has some interesting, unorthodox views on arm care, and advocates pitchers throwing every day:
[W]hen I had the surgery, I was forced into throwing every day to rebuild my arm strength. All of a sudden, my arm felt better than it had in its life. I'm not talking about throwing five minutes. I would warm up in the bullpen for 10 or 15 minutes, 15, 20 minutes of BP, then 10, 15 minutes more back in the bullpen, six days a week. On days where I wasn't throwing batting practice, I'd throw off a mound a half hour to an hour... It's hard for people to buy into the fact that throwing will strengthen your arm. A lot of them think rest will strengthen it. It won't. It might make it feel better but it won't strengthen it.
Here's hoping Keri continues what could well turn out to be a fascinating series by interviewing other pitching iconoclasts such as Dr. Mike Marshall
(he of the 106 appearances in 1974) and the legendary Johnny Sain
• If ESPN "analyst" Rick Sutcliffe is good for anything besides sucking up all of the oxygen in the room, it's picking up when a pitcher is tipping his pitches. In last year's World Series it was Andy Pettitte, in the recent Dodgers-Giants series it was Jay Witasick, and now it's Curt Schilling
. Will Sutcliffe's observations be enough to alter the course of the Cards-Snakes series? Tune in for the next episode of "As The Curve Turns".
• [4 hours and 20 minutes into Wednesday night's ballgame
]: I'm ready for Raul Mondesi to retire
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