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.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002


A Splash of Colon?

My eyes were too numb at the end of my previous piece to tack on an analysis of Expos pitcher Bartolo Colon, whose numbers I ran because he's been the subject of trade rumors here and there. Given that the New York Post has twice in the past week floated rumors about the Yanks acquiring Colon, he merits a further look.

Bartolo Colon is a big righthander who's gotten downright beefy; between his Baseball-Reference debut profile and his current ESPN one he's chunked up 50 pounds. He's also aged rapidly, one of dozens of Latin American players whose birthates were "adjusted" this past spring. Colon added two years, making him 30 in May.

Until last June, Colon was the ace of the Cleveland Indians. Off to a 10-4, 2.55 ERA start, he finally looked to be living up to his dazzling potential. But his trade signaled a sad recognition that after nearly a decade as the big dog in the AL Central, the Indians were no longer contenders. What a suprise for Colon, then, that being traded to a contender meant shipping out to Montreal. Though the team never gained enough momentum to threaten for a playofff spot, Colon continued to pitch well and pulled off the rare feat of winning 20 games split between two leagues.

The win total was his highest, and his ERA his best by 0.78 runs. But as good as that season was, his stats may present some signs for concern. For one thing, Colon's strikeout level was down considerably:
       IP    K    K/9   K/W

1998 204 158 6.97 2.00
1999 205 161 7.07 2.12
2000 188 212 10.15 2.16
2001 222 201 8.15 2.23
2002 233 149 5.75 2.13
car 1147 947 7.43 2.07
Whoa. His K rate deteriorated by over 40% in a two-year span, yet Colon not only kept winning, his performance with regards to preventing runs actually improved. What gives? If you've learned anything by my efforts over the past week or so, you know where I'm headed: DIPS and balls in play.

1998 .303
1999 .273
2000 .301
2001 .309
2002 .274 (.267 CLE, .281 MON)
car .293
The vaunted Indians defense certainly wasn't doing him many favors the past few years, a trend which dramatically reversed in the first half of 2002 (so much for Roberto Alomar, eh?). Colon's Defense-Independent ERA (or dERA) overall was a respectable but not dazzling 3.92.

The biggest problem of Colon's own making (besides his waistline, perhaps) has been his walk rate. His ratio of strikeouts to walks has remained remarkably consistent over the years, even though his K rate has fluctuated dramatically. At his strikeout peak, he was walking 4.69 batters per 9 innings, which is Too Damn Many. Last season, he lowered that below 3 per 9 for the first time in his career, contributing to his positive results.

The Post reports that the Yanks have talked with the Expos about swapping Colon for DH/1B Nick Johnson and another player (outfielder Juan Rivera has been mentioned). The righthander is signed through next season; the Post reports that he'll make $8.25 million, while the Baseball Contracts Page lists his salary at $6 mil, a total which jibes with other reports. Given that the Post can't even be bothered to correct Colon's age (still reporting he's 27) and the fact that it is after all, THE POST, all of this should be taken with a shakerful of salt. New York's other tabloid, the Daily News, reports that Colon isn't even on the market, as the Expos have yet to receive a budget from the commissioner's office (recall that the Expos are owned by the other 29 teams). GM Omar Minaya believes he's got a contender on his hands and is in no hurry to conduct a fire sale.

Should the Yankees acquire Colon, it would almost certainly spell the end of Roger Clemens' tenure in pinstripes. The rotation would get younger and the short-term contract savings for the rotation would be significant. At his best, Colon's as unhittable as any pitcher in either league. But the costs would affect them in other ways. Dealing prospects Johnson and Rivera would deprive the Yankees of some affordable young talent, and in Johnson's case, perhaps a future star. It would increase the likelihood that they'd sign another hitter, as the DH slot would then be open. Trading Rivera leaves no internal candidates to replace corner outfield busts Rondell White or Raul Mondesi other than Shane Spencer, whose window of opportunity as a starter has long since closed.

Not to mention the fact that the warning signs are there on Colon. I didn't see him pitch last season, so I have no idea whether he's lost some gas off his high-90s fastball, but that dropping strikeout rate should be cause for genuine alarm. His conditioning doesn't exactly inspire confidence either. In short, this is a far cry from what Roger Clemens brings to the table, damn the cost and the age difference. This looks like anything but a super savings for the Yanks.

• • • • •

I'd like to pass on my best Thanksgiving wishes to all of my readers and fellow bloggers. I have a lot to thankful for, starting with a wonderful family, great friends, a lovely girlfriend, good health, and a job I enjoy on most days. Sometime before the mashed potatoes hit the plate, I urge you to take a moment and count your blessings during this holiday season. Happy Turkey, everybody!

Tuesday, November 26, 2002


Remaking the Yankees for 2003, Part III: Filling the Rotation

In my last installment, I broke down the performance of the Yankees' 2002 pitching rotation, using traditional stats, rate stats and DIPS to gain different perspectives on their starters' performance. This time we'll see how the team's options stack up for 2003.

Having spent all of last season with a surplus of starters, the Yanks have enough parts at hand to construct an excellent (though not dazzling) rotation. They hold contracts on three of last season's starters: Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, and David Wells, plus Jeff Weaver, whom they acquired last summer with the intent to include him in this year's rotation. Where they go from this point is the real question.

Roger Clemens is a free agent, likely to be expensive (upwards of $10 million per season). Orlando Hernandez is arbitration-eligible but likely less expensive ($6-7 million per season). Sterling Hitchcock, under contract for $6 million, is being shopped to reduce payroll, his performance in pinstripes too shaky to merit consideration for a starting spot. If the Yankees are serious about cutting costs, they could let Clemens walk and keep El Duque. They could sign Clemens and trade El Duque, who could fetch a solid bat to cover third base or a corner outfield spot in a trade. They may NEED to include El Duque in a package in order to clear Hitchcock's or outfielder Raul Mondesi's salary from the books.

In a slow free-agent market, Clemens has yet to receive serious attention from any team, including from the Yankees. While Texas and Boston have been mentioned as possible destinations, neither team has shown more than lukewarm interest, let alone made an offer. National League teams touted as potential suitors by Bob Klapisch (the Astros and the Mets) seem even less inclined to entice Clemens to leave the AL.

The most actively courted free-agent pitcher this offseason has been Tom Glavine, with the Mets, Phillies and Braves all making offers. With Greg Maddux seen as more likely to re-sign with Atlanta, Glavine at first glance looks like the prize of the class, coming off an 18-11, 2.96 ERA season. But he may not be all that he's cracked up to be.

As I did with the Yankee staff, I took a look at the stats for 14 starters listed among ESPN's Top 50 Free Agents. The only one on that list whom I didn't include was Jon Lieber, who will be coming back from Tommy John surgery and thus unavailable until late in the season. This selection includes some obvious no-gos for the Big Apple, such as Kenny Rogers (been there, done that) and Shawn Estes (flushed out of Flushing), but it gives a more complete picture of just what the market is. I also included a few names tossed around in this winter's trade winds (one who's already changed addresses) and the two big-named Yanks currently without contracts. Here they are:

Clemens 40 13 6 180.0 4.35 9.60 1.31 3.05 0.90 768 .316 3.34
Finley 40 11 15 190.7 4.15 8.21 1.37 2.23 0.61 809 .313 3.43
Maddux 37 16 6 199.3 2.62 5.33 1.20 2.62 0.63 820 .282 3.59
Williams 36 9 4 103.3 2.53 6.62 1.05 3.04 0.87 412 .249 3.77
Hernandez 37 8 5 146.0 3.64 6.97 1.14 3.14 1.05 606 .264 3.91
Colon 30 20 8 233.3 2.93 5.75 1.24 2.13 0.77 966 .274 3.92 (not FA)
Moyer 40 13 8 230.7 3.32 5.74 1.08 2.94 1.09 931 .244 4.34
Trachsel 32 11 11 173.7 3.37 5.44 1.38 1.52 0.83 741 .279 4.34
Haynes 30 15 10 196.7 4.12 5.77 1.48 1.56 0.96 852 .304 4.35
Glavine 37 18 11 224.7 2.96 5.09 1.28 1.63 0.84 936 .269 4.39
Byrd 32 17 11 228.3 3.90 5.08 1.15 3.39 1.42 935 .259 4.39
Rogers 38 13 8 210.7 3.84 4.57 1.34 1.53 0.90 892 .278 4.48
Estes 30 5 12 160.7 5.10 6.11 1.58 1.31 0.73 713 .317 4.48
Daal 31 11 9 161.3 3.90 5.86 1.21 1.94 1.12 668 .252 4.54
Valdes 29 8 12 196.0 4.18 4.68 1.23 2.17 1.19 818 .265 4.57
Neagle 32 8 11 164.3 5.26 6.08 1.42 1.76 1.42 724 .280 4.72 (not FA)
Helling 32 10 12 175.7 4.51 6.15 1.30 2.50 1.59 751 .273 4.82
Hampton 30 7 15 178.7 6.15 3.73 1.79 0.81 1.21 838 .318 5.38 (not FA)
Person 33 4 5 87.7 5.44 6.26 1.48 1.20 1.33 388 .256 5.58
I sorted these pitchers not by wins or by ERA but by our new friend, Defense Independent ERA (dERA). As I discussed last time, dERA is a better predictor of next season's ERA than the ERA itself. Because it assumes that the results on balls in play will even out over time, it places a premium on the outcomes controlled by the pitcher's skill -- strikeouts, walks, and homers. The pitchers whose dERAs are the lowest are the ones with a combination of good strikeout rates (K/9), good control (K/W), and low homer rates (HR/9). That's a veritable shopping list for a quality pitcher right there.

Notice that the BABIP figures are all over the place. Roger Clemens, Chuck Finley, Shawn Estes and Mike Hampton are within five points of each other, giving up hits like crazy, though with diverging results. Meanwhile, Robert Person, Omar Daal, Ismael Valdes, Paul Byrd, Woody Williams and Jamie Moyer are at the other end of the spectrum, giving up very few hits on balls in play, yet failing in their quests for world domination. That figure doesn't tell you much about the quality of the pitcher.

What strikes me as most interesting about the pitchers on this list are the low strikeout rates. Strikeout rates themselves are good indicators of a pitcher's future success, and if that's the case, we won't be seeing a hell of a lot of future success from this bunch. The AL average was 6.26 strikeouts per nine innings last season, while the NL was higher, 6.77, making the major league average 6.53. Only THREE of the 19 pitchers listed above have rates above their league average (or the ML average, in the case of those who split their time between leagues), and two of those are Yankees (or not, perhaps). Only eight of the 19 are with 0.5 of the ML average. Hardly a bumper crop of free agents.

Back to Glavine. The venerable Braves southpaw had an impressive season based on his won-loss record and ERA. But any team thinking along the lines of a 4-year/$44 million contract for the 37-year-old pitcher ought to think again. DIPS doesn't paint a rosy picture of his season; Glavine's dERA is a mere 4.39. A low strikeout rate (just over 5 per 9 innings), unimpressive control (1.63 K/W, well below the league average of 1.93), and a relatively lucky .269 average on balls in play do not herald another Cy Young either. It is worth noting that Glavine has succeeded with records like these before; in fact, he's made a career out of it, but you'd be hard pressed to find too many others who get away with this combination. His BABIP in 16 major-league seasons is .278, which is a bit lower than we might otherwise expect. It compares favorably to a few other semi-randomly selected pitchers whose career BABIPs I took a few moments to calculate. Four of these guys come from the free-agent list, two you know already, and the other two are a couple of guys who stuck around the game for only a quarter of a century :
Glavine   .278

Maddux .279
John .284
Clemens .286
RJohnson .291
Morgan .291
Finley .297
Not a hell of a difference in a stat where Mike Morgan can match Randy Johnson over the course of a long career. On a typical workhorse season of 500 balls in play, ten points in batting average (.010) comes out to be five hits, five hits that stayed in the yard. Big deal.

What does this all mean for the Yanks? Before spending a week building my spreadsheet, my gut feeling was that they had several other viable free-agent options besides Clemens, including the marquee Atlantans. If you're going to shell out big bucks, I reasoned, why not go a few years younger and chase Glavine or Maddux? But looking at this, it's clear that even at age 40, the Rocket is still at the head of the class. He's MILES beyond these other pitchers with his strikeout rate, and he's still got great control. His 4.35 ERA last season is more a product of lousy luck than a decline in his ability. As much as we can trust projections of any pitcher, Clemens projects very well.

What Clemens does lack, increasingly, is stamina. He hasn't completed a game since 2000, and he no longer eats innings the way a #1 starter, even an aged power-pitching one, should -- I mean, a #1 supposed to be the guy who gives the bullpen a night off, right? Ten times in his 29 starts, Clemens didn't make it past 5 innings, and only three times did he make it through 8 innings. A couple of times leaving games due to being hit by a batted ball here, a few twinges there, and an annual trip to the DL with a nagging lower-body injury don't paint a picture of a rough, tough take-no-guff cowboy (guff?). They show an aging athlete whose body doesn't spring back the way it used to, who may not be able to carry the burden of being Numero Uno.

Much has been made by some local writers of the value of having Clemens chase his 300th victory (he's at 293) while still in a Yankee uniform. Given that the Yanks haven't had any problem selling tickets recently (they set their all-time attendance record in 2002, with 3,465,807), this is highly overrated. It's certainly not worth paying a premium for, given that Rocket isn't exactly inclined towards sentimentality over the matter; after all, he could have taken his $10.3 million "buyout" as a contract for next season.

What it likely comes down to for the Yanks is whether they're willing to commit something like 2 years/$20 million on a pitcher who is -- six years too late to save Dan Duquette -- heading into the twilight of his career. That still makes more sense than spending for four years worth of Glavine, absolutely. But does it make as much sense as letting him walk and completing the rotation with El Duque, who fares pretty well in the comparison above and who might cost them 2 years/$12 million as their fifth starter?

If Mike Mussina had dominated in 2002 the way he did in 2001, if Andy Pettitte had put together a full season at the level he's shown tantalizing glimpses of over the past couple, maybe even if David Wells hadn't thrown the Yankee org's dental insurance rates out of whack (anybody think Steinbrenner's petty raid on his employees' dental plan was completely random spite?), I think the Yankees would consider the top of their rotation complete and make do without Clemens, unless he came cheap. But I don't think they have the courage to do that right now, not when coupled with the way they've jerked Hernandez around (and vice versa) over the past several seasons. Signing Rocket will make lowering their payroll costs harder, and it won't win them any points for creativity, but it's not the most horrible baseball decision in the world.

Monday, November 25, 2002


Defending My Crown

After vigorous consultation with my staff of trained monkeys, I've submitted my picks for Baseball Primer's Second Annual Free-Agent Fiesta in order to defend my title as the Best Pickinest Free-Agent Guesser of the Internet. The monkeys have been been busy, tirelessly working the phones with baseball's front-office people and blackmailing Peter Gammons with incriminating photos of him employing his Burroughsian cut-up method of sentence construction. This list would not be possible without their hard work:

Jim Thome -- CLE
Greg Maddux -- ATL
Jeff Kent -- LA
Tom Glavine -- ATL
Ivan Rodriguez -- CHC
Roger Clemens -- NYY
Cliff Floyd -- BOS
John Olerud -- SEA
Jamie Moyer -- PHI
Steve Finley -- TEX
Paul Byrd -- CHC
Edgardo Alfonzo -- SFG
Frank Thomas -- BAL
Woody Williams -- HOU
David Justice -- retirement
Bill Mueller -- SFG
Ramiro Mendoza -- PHI
Tom Gordon -- TEX
Todd Hollandsworth -- ATL
Omar Daal -- DET

Disclaimer: this list is for entertainment purposes only and is not intended for use by general managers, player agents, or professional gamblers. Improper use may cause irritation if taken literally. If a rash of stupid free-agent signings occurs, consult J.P. Ricciardi for instructions on how to dump salary.

Saturday, November 23, 2002


Nice Move, DIPShit

I went back to playing around with the pitching spreadsheet I used to calculate my DIPS numbers referred to in the article below, and discovered that I made an error in calculating the Yankee park factor. Basically, I transposed two digits for the Yankee home at-bat total, which should have been 2907 instead of 2097. Needless to say, those missing 810 ABs change things a bit. In this case they take the Yankee Stadium Park HR Factor from 1.054 to 0.968, and slightly lower the Yankee starters' DIPS ERAs by a few points. So I'll rerun that last chart:
             ERA   dERA   BABIP

Pettitte 3.27 3.28 .317
Clemens 4.35 3.34 .316
Mussina 4.05 3.73 .290
Hitchcock 5.49 3.81 .373
Wells 3.75 3.87 .284
Hernandez 3.64 3.91 .264
Weaver 4.04 4.11 .283 (NY only)
Weaver 3.52 3.81 .280 (TOT)
Yankees 3.87 3.71 .293
League 4.46 4.46 .290
The change is most apparent in the more homer-prone Yankee pitchers; Mussina, Weaver, and Hernandez all lower their dERA by more than a tenth of a run. And the team's dERA goes down to 3.71, compared to their 3.87 ERA, showing a bit more clearly how the below-average Yankee defense against balls in play cost the team a few runs here and there. Also note that I calculated full-season dERA for Weaver because I finally got around to calculating the Comerica Park HR Factor.

These new figures don't alter any of the other observations I made, but I might as well add a few other notes about the process, while I'm revisiting the calculations:

1. Team stats for the Yanks were taken from League stats were taken from and, with the latter figures used in case of any discrepancy.

2. I used actual Batters Faced Pitching numbers from those sources, rather than estimating as Voros McCracken does in his step-by-step instructions.

3. When I calculated the Yankee team DIPS, I adjusted for lefties by multiplying the LH correction factor by the percentage of innings pitched by Yank southpaws. This wasn't explicit in Voros' instructions, but it seems like the correct approach.

4. When I calculated the "League" DIPS for that chart, I DID NOT make any adjustment for lefthanded pitchers or knuckleballers, or for park factors (which would probably end up being close to 1, but not exactly so, depending upon the AL/NL balance of homers in interleague games) Thus, that number is probably off by a few points.

5. Voros' method for computing the Park Factor, which he graciously walked me through via email and has given me permission to pass along:
Here's a simple method using Home Runs per AB-SO:

HAB = Home at bats
RAB = Road at bats
HSO = Home Strikeouts
RSO = Road Strikeouts
HHR = Home Home Runs
RHR = Road Home Runs
AB = Total At Bats
SO = Total Strike Outs
HR = Total Home Runs.

The first thing you do is calculate the "actual" rate of

Actual Rate = HR/(AB-SO).

This is the rate to compare to, and how you'll get the factor. After you get that, and let's say it is .041, you now make the more complicated calculation:

Note: For NL and AL teams there is a difference. The below will be for AL teams. For NL teams change the "7"s to "8"s and the "13"s to "15"s. The reason is that what you're doing is estimating what the stats would be if the Yankees played 1/14 th of their games in Yankee Stadium instead of 1/2 (or 1/14 divided by 1/2 equals 1/7):

Adjusted Rate = ((HHR*(1/7))+(RHR*(13/7)))/(((HAB-HSO)*(1/7))+((RAB-RSO)*(13/7)))

Now you'll get a number like the simple calculation above but different. Let's say it is .043

The rest is easy. If you want to adjust numbers from Yankee Stadium to a neutral park then:

Park Factor = Adjusted Rate/Actual Rate

In this case it would be .043/.041 = 1.0488.

So if you have a pitcher whose rate of HR/(BFP-HP-BB-SO) is .025 you multiply .025 by 1.0488 for his Park Neutral rate or:

1.0488 * .025 = .0262
I'm working on calculating DIPS numbers for some of the select free-agent starters as well as other names that have popped up in Yankee trade talks. Anybody with a line on an easy way to gather home and road splits for AB, HR, and SO (all needed to calculate Park Factors) or the willingness to do so themselves, drop me a line.

Friday, November 22, 2002


Free-Agent Fiesta

Baseball Primer is holding its second-annual Free-Agent Fiesta. The object is to guess the destinations of 20 free agents:

Jim Thome
Greg Maddux
Jeff Kent
Tom Glavine
Ivan Rodriguez
Roger Clemens
Cliff Floyd
John Olerud
Jamie Moyer
Steve Finley
Paul Byrd
Edgardo Alfonzo
Frank Thomas
Woody Williams
David Justice
Bill Mueller
Ramiro Mendoza
Tom Gordon
Todd Hollandsworth
Omar Daal

As the defending champion (I "predicted" 9 out of 23 correctly), I fully intend to complete my entry by next Wednesday's deadline, and probably sooner. I'll post my entry here when I do.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002


Remaking the Yankees for 2003, Part II: Assessing the Rotation

The 2002 Yankees were a shining example of the axiom, "You can't have too much pitching." With the luxury to spend (and spend, and spend), the Yanks ensured themselves a starting rotation that remained among the game's elite, while having the depth to withstand injuries that might have crippled another staff. Though it was often remarked throughout the season that the Yanks was no longer winning on the strength of their pitching (a perception due in part to Roger Clemens' and Mike Mussina's relatively sub-standard performances), in truth the staff turned in its best performance since 1999, relative to the league. Here's a chart showing the Yanks' ERA relative to the AL during the Torre era:
        NYY   AL     rel

2002 3.87 4.46 -0.59
2001 4.02 4.47 -0.45
2000 4.76 4.91 -0.15
1999 4.13 5.18 -1.05
1998 3.82 4.65 -0.83
1997 3.84 4.57 -0.73
1996 4.65 5.00 -0.35
The Yanks were fourth in the league in ERA, and led the league in strikeouts and fewest walks.

The team entered spring training with a logjam of seven starters and ended it in similar fashion, needing every one of them along the way. Roger Clemens served his annual stint on the DL, injuries to mainstays Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez caused both to miss about 1/3 of the season, and Sterling Hitchcock pitched poorly even when healthy. These circumstances made George Steinbrenner's hamburgling David Wells away from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the last moment look like a stroke of sheer genius. Wells led the team in wins (19) and was second in innings pitched, and while his surgically repaired back was balky at times (particularly in cold weather and whenever he had to retake the mound after a lengthy Yankee rally), he missed only one start all season.

It's difficult to laud the Yankee rotation's performance, however, without recalling its unseemly demise. The Anaheim Angels beat the vaunted Yankee starters mercilessly in the Division Series, to the tune of a 10.38 ERA and 32 hits in 17.1 innings (a mere 4.1 per start). Yankee pitching had spent September feasting on lesser teams (19-8, 3.07 ERA during the month, with no opponents over .500 after September 4), perhaps lulling them into a false sense of security. But against the Angels they looked old and vulnerable. A bad week, or a portent of deeper problems? Let us take a closer look.

Having picked up Andy Pettitte's option last Friday, the Yanks currently have four starters -- Pettitte, Mussina, Wells, and Jeff Weaver -- under contract, five if you count Sterling Hitchcock and his 37 MPH fastball. Roger Clemens is a free agent, and Orlando Hernandez is arbitration-eligible. Below is a chart showing their performances during 2002, along with their 2003 ages and contract amounts (in millions, including signing bonuses but not incentive bonuses):
           Age  Cont   W  L   IP     ERA   K/9  K/W   WHIP  HR/9   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS

Mussina 34 12.0 18 10 215.7 4.05 7.60 3.79 1.19 1.13 .253 .295 .413 .708
Wells 40 3.0 19 7 206.3 3.75 5.98 3.04 1.24 0.92 .259 .298 .406 .704
Clemens 40 FA 13 6 180.0 4.35 9.60 3.05 1.31 0.90 .250 .315 .397 .712
Hernandez 37 ARB 8 5 146.0 3.64 6.97 3.14 1.14 1.05 .236 .289 .378 .666
Pettitte 31 11.5 13 5 134.7 3.27 6.15 2.88 1.31 0.40 .272 .316 .365 .681
Weaver NY 26 4.1 5 3 78.0 4.04 6.58 3.80 1.23 1.38 .260 .299 .437 .736
Weaver TOT 11 11 199.7 3.52 5.95 2.75 1.21 0.72 .250 .300 .383 .683
Hitchcock 32 6.0 1 2 39.3 5.49 7.09 2.07 1.83 0.92 .326 .378 .457 .835
Unlike last season, when Mussina, Clemens, and Pettitte significantly outperformed the back end of the rotation, this is a MUCH stronger group across the board, with the exception of Hitchcock (whom I'll exclude from the next several generalizations because he stunk). Everybody except Clemens was at least 0.42 runs below the league ERA, and Clemens was at least below league average. Everybody had much better-than-average control (the league average K/W ratio was 1.92), prevented baserunners at a better-than-average clip (league average WHIP -- walks plus hits per inning -- was 1.38), had average-to-good strikeout rates, and -- except for Mussina and the pinstriped Weaver -- stayed away from the long ball (league average 1.10 per 9 innings).

A few notes on these performances:

• Though his ERA was high (for reasons we'll get to in a moment), Clemens' high strikeout rate and excellent control indicate that he's still a force to be reckoned with, if no longer a Cy Young candidate (and let's face it, Mussina should have won last year's award anyway). He was up and down through 2002, never putting together two good months in a row; here are his ERAs by month in sequence: 4.62, 2.98. 5.04, 2.70, 6.10, 3.86.

• Coming off of a season in which he should have won the Cy Young Award, Mussina had a much worse year, disguised by better run support. His ERA rose by 0.9 runs, but his run support rose by about double that, and his W-L record was almost identical. But his strikeout rate fell 0.8 per 9 innings, and his home run rate rose by over 40 percent. Additionally, his slugging percentage allowed with men on base rose by over 100 points. Had it not been for a late-season surge against some of the league's weaker teams, his stats would look even worse.

• Once he recovered from his early-season elbow troubles, Pettitte picked up where he left off in 2001 and was the team's most consistent starter. In the second half, he was 11-2 with a 2.70 ERA, 6.61 K/9, 4.18 K/W and averaged almost 7 innings per start. His home run rate was miniscule; he allowed only 6 all season. Pettitte is a classic Tommy John family pitcher, meaning he gives up lots of hits but survives because he gets good double-play support, controls the running game, and allows few walks or homers. He fell back to his career norm in strikeout rate after spiking in 2001, but his second-half performance gives some reason for optimism that it will climb yet again.

• Wells' W-L record was propped up by stellar run support (7.46 per game); as I mentioned above, this may actually have caused him problems. He still ate innings like a horse, a good sign for his health, and he made more in incentive bonuses than he did in base salary. His strikeout rate has been slowly dropping for the last several years, and his pinpoint control isn't what it once was (no more 5+ K/W ratios).

• Weaver is eight months younger but considerably more polished than the man he was traded for, Ted Lilly, with four full seasons under his belt. His low home run rate in Detroit was no doubt helped by spacious Comerica Park, and he gave up a flurry upon coming to New York. But he settled down and adjusted admirably to his role as the swingman (4-2, 1.94 ERA in 51 innings -- seven relief appearances and four starts -- in August and Septmeber), biding his time for his big shot in the rotation this coming season. Allowed only one stolen base in 199.2 innings -- is this a misprint?

• Though his season was once again interrupted by injury and shadowed by communication problems with the Yankee brass, Hernandez rebounded solidly from a disappointing 2001. I've said before that I felt he got a raw deal with regards to the postseason rotation. Ironically enough he ended up pitching more innings than any Yankee starter in the Division series, and -- those two solo homers notwithstanding -- better than any of them. Joe Torre should have listened.

One area of the staff's performance is worth a closer look: balls in play. The cutting edge of sabermetric thought with regards to pitching is that major-league pitchers do not differ greatly in their ability to prevent hits on balls hit into play (that is, anything that's not a home run, a strikeout, a walk or a hit-by-pitch). The rate at which a pitcher allows hits on balls in play is due more to the defense playing behind him than to his own skill, and can vary greatly from year to year; it does not correlate well from one year to another, the way a statistic influenced by a player's ability should.

This is counterintuitve and somewhat controversial, but a man named Voros McCracken has demonstrated this phenomenon and developed a set of tools called Defense Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS) around it. DIPS takes the elements of a pitcher's record that are not affected by the defense -- walks, strikeouts, hit-by-pitches, homers -- and places them in a neutral context for park, league and defense. The result is a DIPS ERA; that is, an ERA based on defense-independent pitching performance. An important thing about this DIPS ERA (dERA), McCracken found, is that it correlates better with the following season's ERA than the pitcher's actual ERA does. What this is saying, essentially, is that if we control for the results of balls in play, we've got a better indication of what to expect from each pitcher the following season than his actual ERA. I'll leave the proof to McCracken, whose writings on the subject are very detailed but worth your time.

McCracken has published DIPS numbers for all pitchers in each of the past three seasons, 1999-2001. However, he hasn't done so for 2002 and will be unable to himself (for reasons he can't disclose yet, wink wink). But he's outlined his step-by-step calculation methods very clearly, and he was kind enough to walk me through the one area he wasn't explicit about -- park-adjustment for home run rate -- via a couple of emails. So I took it upon myself to create a spreadsheet which would calculate DIPS numbers for the Yankee starters. Here they are, along with their actual ERAs (again) and the batting average allowed against balls in play (these are revised numbers made after an error in my spreadsheet was discovered a few days after initial publication):
             ERA   dERA   BABIP

Pettitte 3.27 3.28 .317
Clemens 4.35 3.34 .316
Mussina 4.05 3.73 .290
Hitchcock 5.49 3.81 .373
Wells 3.75 3.87 .284
Hernandez 3.64 3.91 .264
Weaver 4.04 4.11 .283 (NY only)
Weaver 3.52 3.81 .280 (TOT)
Yankees 3.87 3.71 .293
League 4.46 4.46 .290
If your eyes haven't glazed over from looking at all these stats, this is what you might take from the above charts:

• The Yankees as a team were slightly below average when it came to converting balls in play into outs, something I've touched on before; the inverse of batting average on balls in play is a team's Defensive Efficiency Rating. The team's dERA reflects this, as it's a few points lower than its actual ERA.

• The two pitchers who pitched the most innings for the Yanks had their BABIP rates closest to that of the team's rate. The two pitchers who missed about 1/3 of the season were about 25 points off in either direction. and the one who pitched the fewest was waaaaay off. This reflects McCracken's observation that BABIP tends to even out over time.

• Clemens pitched considerably better than his 4.35 ERA would indicate, and didn't get much support from the Yankee defense or Lady Luck when it came to balls in play.

• Pettitte didn't get much help either, but it didn't seem to hurt him, probably because he was able to avoid the long ball; note that in the first chart, he allowed the lowest slugging percentage of all Yankee starters and had a home rate less than half that of all others except Weaver.

• Hernandez was helped the most by the Yankee defense and Lady Luck, but even given normal support, his performance wouldn't be out of line at the back of the rotation with Wells.

• Hitchcock was particularly hurt by defense and luck. Now, this is where my own faith in DIPS is tested, because watching Hitchcock pitch at times in 2002 felt like watching batting practice -- he wasn't just hit, he was hit HARD. But the theory behind DIPS says that this represents a shortcoming of the Yankee defense and/or the small sample size of Hitchcock's opportunties. It is true that 39.1 innings isn't a lot to base sweeping conclusions on.

Whew! Give a monkey a spreadsheet and he'll throw a lot of numbers at you. I've spent a lot of time taking the Yankee rotation apart here; in my next installment, I'll put it back together.

Thursday, November 14, 2002


Remaking the Yankees for 2003, Part I: The Money

Last winter, I wrote a series of articles examining the offseason personnel choices facing the Yankees. The series was fun to write, well-received, and it helped put me on the map in the world of baseball blogs; to this day, I think it stands as some of my best work. So it's with great pleasure that I begin a new set of articles, to unfold over the next few weeks, devoted to the Yanks' offseason plans.

When I began writing last year's series, the Yanks were coming off of a stunning defeat in Game Seven of the World Series. They had been a mere three outs from their fourth consecutive World Championship and fifth in six years when the wheels finally came off in that Arizona mallpark.That lengthy championship run, fuelled by some incredibly timely October play, had painted over many of the cracks in the team's aging foundation; simply put, it's tough to break up a winning team. But when several of those foundation players became free agents and the Yanks had no championship team to preserve, they were presented with a grand opportunity to remake themselves. As I wrote at the time:
This year's team, as close as they came to winning a World Championship, was a rebuilding effort waiting to happen, with Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius, and Chuck Knoblauch all in the final year of their contracts. Those four players, despite their accomplishments, their popularity, and their big-game experience, were drags on the Yankee offense last season. Now that they've scattered to the four winds (O'Neill retired immediately after the World Series, Brosius on Monday [November 26]), the Yanks are left with holes to fill and money to spend.
And the Yankees spent. They bought a new cornerstone for their offense in Jason Giambi, signing him to a 7-year/$120 million contract. They filled in their leftfield gap with Rondell White, signing him for 2 years/$10 million. They rounded out their rotation by signing a fifth starter in Sterling Hitchcock at 2 years/$12 million, and then a SIXTH starter in David Wells for 2 years/$7 mil. They shored up their bullpen by signing setup man Steve Karsay for 4 years/$22.25 mil.

As if to prove that money grew on trees, they rewarded their catcher, Jorge Posada, with a 5-year/$51 million pact. This after having spent the previous winner locking up Derek Jeter (10 years/$189 mil) and Mariano Rivera (4/$39.99 mil), not to mention Andy Pettitte (3/$25.5 mil), Drew Henson (6/$17 mil) and their free-agent marquee signing, Mike Mussina (6/$88.5 mil).

The result was not only the highest payroll in baseball in 2002, but the highest by a wide margin. The Yanks' Opening Day payroll was $125,928,583, $17.5 million more than the second-highest, the Boston Red Sox. They added to that significantly during the season, acquiring Raul Mondesi and Jeff Weaver, and pushed their payroll over $135 million. They even paid out the largest performance bonus for any player, $4 million to David Wells for making 30 starts.

But regardless of the cost, it didn't add up to another Yankee World Championship. And with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place -- one specifically aimed at curbing the Yanks' spending via a competitive-balance tax and revenue sharing -- money in the Bronx no longer grows on trees. Brian Cashman has been given explicit orders to trim payroll. In last year's "Remaking the Yankees" series, I avoided addressing the fiscal consequences of the team's needs until the final installment. But given Cashman's current marching orders, it seems only fitting we examine it at the outset this time around.

In 2003, the Yanks (and any other team) will pay a 17.5% tax on all salary above $117 million. It should be noted that for those purposes, "salary" includes the average annual contract value of all players on the 40-man roster, plus $7.7 million in benefit costs. This is an important distinction; it penalizes the Yanks for those hefty long-term contracts, which were structured to permit the team near-term flexibility while taking advantage of the long-term revenue increase that YES will presumably bring. Thus Jason Giambi costs the Yanks $17.1 million for tax purposes, even though his 2003 salary (including signing bonus) is "only" $13 million. Ouch.

By my calculations, based on the information at the MLB Contracts Page, the Yanks have $114.1 million committed to 15 players in 2003. This includes signing bonuses but not performance clauses, and includes Andy Pettitte (who's got an $11.5 million team option which the Yanks must decide whether to exercise by Friday) but not Roger Clemens (whose $10.3 million buyout made him a free agent). They have eight free agents (including Clemens but not Pettitte), and at least five other significant players whose salaries are yet to be determined. Here is a chart (all salary costs in millions of dollars):

Base + Bonus
Jeter 14.0 + 2.0
Giambi 9.0 + 4.0
Mussina 10.0 + 2.0
BWilliams 12.0
Pettitte 11.5
Rivera 8.5 + 2.0
Mondesi 7.0
Posada 5.0 + 2.0
Hitchcock 6.0
White 5.0
Weaver 4.1
Karsay 4.0
Wells 3.0
Henson 2.0
AHernandez 1.0

Arias FA
Clemens FA
Coomer FA
Mendoza FA
Stanton FA
Vander Wal FA
Ventura FA
Widger FA

OHernandez ARB
Spencer ARB
Wilson ARB
Soriano < 3 y.e.
Johnson < 3 y.e.
Choate < 3 y.e.
Alfonso Soriano, Nick Johnson, and Randy Choate, because they have less than three years of major league experience, aren't yet eligible for arbitration; the Yanks can renew their contracts unilaterally. Orlando Hernandez, Shane Spencer, and Enrique Wilson, with between three and six years of major league experience, are without contracts but not eligible for free agency unless the Yanks decline to offer them arbitration. Between those six, the Yanks figure to add another $10-12 million to their payroll, assuming they sign Soriano to a longer deal and exercise their rights on El Duque. That puts them at around $125 million without a starting third baseman, two of their three setup men, and any kind of bench, to say nothing of the remainder of the 25- and 40-man rosters or considering the average annual value of these contracts. To keep payroll down, they're going to have to get creative. Already, the Yanks have discussed moving White, Hitchcock, and Mondesi -- $18 million worth of mostly dead wood -- with other teams. They've made noises about trading Pettitte and even Posada, and letting mainstays such as Clemens, Stanton, and Mendoza walk. Clearly, this is not business as usual in the Bronx.

I'll begin examining the Yankees position by position needs and options in the next installment, hopefully this weekend. Starting it off? Starting pitching, of course.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002


Keep Those Bloggies Rollin'

I've added a new feature to this page, a blogroll, courtesy of At left, below the not-so-Recent Updates section is a list of links to other baseball-related sites, mostly weblogs. I've still got my Links page, which is much more extensive and contains short descriptions of each site (the applicable descriptions pop up in balloons if you hold your mouse over the links at left, which is kinda neat). I had to abbreviate some of the names on my list due to the narrow column width; when Futility Infielder 2.0 rolls out this winter, that will be taken care of.

The nice thing about this blogroll feature (which I'm calling The Roster) is that, like the blog itself, I can update it instantly from any computer. I got the idea from Dan Lewis' blog, which is among the featured links, of course. It's still a work-in-progress, but it's a handy little device. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 12, 2002


Hello to Some New Baseball Ideas

"Any time a billionaire asks you for my phone number, go ahead and give it to him. I'll sort things out later." Those were the words of sabermetrician Bill James to ESPN's Rob Neyer after being informed that his protegé had passed his contact number to John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox. Last week, Neyer found himself with quite a scoop when he reported that his mentor will join the Sox front office as a senior advisor. James will officially be introduced by the team on November 15.

Bill James being hired by the Sox is another sign of the foothold that sabermetrics has gained in baseball's front offices. Make that a toehold -- after all, James has been influencing the game for 20 years from the outside with his revelatory takes on statistics, while most "baseball men" resisted what he had to say. Statheads can fondly point to Oakland GM Billy Beane and Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi in part because there simply aren't that many sabermetrically-inclined baseball execs. Which isn't to say that they're completely alone or unprecedented. Neyer offers up a rough history of sabermetrics in the front office, starting with the work of Branch Rickey and statistician Allen Roth (Rickey's proto-sabermetric essay for Life magazine in 1954, "Goodby to Some Old Baseball Ideas" introduced On Base Percentage and Isolated Power as meaningful statistics, and pointed to the predictive power of run differential with regard to a team's success; Roth, employed by Rickey when he ran the Brooklyn Dodgers, pioneered the tracking of situational statistics, or splits).

Among those Neyer writes about in his sidebar are James' peer Craig Wright, author of The Diamond Appraised, who worked for the Texas Rangers; Eric Walker, who worked for the Giants and A's in the '80s and now runs a baseball analysis site called High Boskage House; Eddie Epstein, who worked for the Orioles and Padres and more recently co-authored Baseball Dynasties with Neyer; Mike Gimbel, who worked for GM Dan Duquette in both Montreal and Boston, and about whom Neyer wrote one cautionary tale of a sidebar, and Keith Law, who last season left Baseball Prospectus to work for Ricciardi in Toronto.

Even James himself has worked within baseball before, or at least skirted its perimeter. In the '80s he worked in salary arbitration cases representing players, and he worked as a consultant for his beloved Kansas City Royals in the late '90s. His relationship with the Royals bore little fruit, however, and the typically small-minded team never found a way to bring him fully into the fold. Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski writes that the team's attraction to catcher Brent Mayne is what finally broke him:
Mayne is a fine fellow. But he's also a 34-year-old catcher who hit .236 with no power, ran like he was a mime fighting the wind, guided the Royals pitchers to the second-worst ERA in baseball and got paid $2.5 million.

This year, the financially strapped Royals will pay him $2.75 million.

Meanwhile, catcher A.J. Hinch, who hit .298 the last two months of the season, banged the ball with significantly more power than Mayne and had a much better record behind the plate -- plus, he's a bright, loyal team player who got paid $250,000 -- was cut during the off-season.

And that's when James threw his hands up in the air. It's not that he thinks Hinch is Johnny Bench or that he blames Mayne for the Royals' downfall. It's not that this was the dumbest thing the Royals have done, or even in the top 100.

No, it's just another spectacularly illogical move by a team that has become the new sports leader in spectacularly illogical moves. This is just the move that finally pushed Bill over the cliff.
The news that James was hired by the Red Sox was greeted with particular elation among Sox fans at Baseball Primer, as readers threatened public drunkenness and all but fit their Beantown team for World Series rings. But how much impact will he really have? Assistant GM Theo Epstein stressed that James' role would be significant but limited, telling the Boston Globe, "Bill James will represent one voice in a chorus that includes all our major league scouts, the GM, the assistant GM, and our manager. We've added an important voice but by no means is his voice going to shout over everybody else's.'' Epstein was more specfic in discussing James' potential role with Neyer:
I think he's going to be most valuable in the areas where we do a good job of keeping him up to speed with current information. For instance, we might point out to him that there is a certain opportunity for a trade, or a certain way we can use a player. Then he comes back with an initial reaction based on a quick study. Next, we might play the devil's advocate by giving a traditional baseball response to his commentary, or asking if there's a general rule that we can take from this conclusion. And then he goes off and does a tremendous amount of research, after which we may end up with something very useful that we didn't know before.
Over on Baseball Primer, Charles Saeger, who's done some extensive work in defensive analysis which runs parallel to James' recent work, put himself in the man's shoes. His hypothetical agenda: steering the Sox away from poor gambles, ridding them of bad prospects ("pitchers who strike out 4 men a game, the outfielder who walks 16 times a year in AA, the player who had a good year at A ball at age 23 and the scouts are gaga about"), and using "sabermetric darlings" to fill minor holes ("The Bill James Red Sox would stress walks and knuckleball pitchers for these guys. They might take a chance on a pitcher who had many hits allowed the last year but whose other stats are okeh, or a player who hit poorly in 136 major league at bats but who had hit well in AAA for many years."). Solid suggestions not out of line with Epstein's remarks.

Myself, I have mixed feelings about James' hiring that hearken back to the way I felt back in the early '90s when Nirvana and other indie-rock bands broke through to the mainstream and became household names. If every front office takes on a sabermetrician, then a sabermetric approach may effectively be neutralized. It won't be a competitive advantage for a team to horde high-OBP players (for example), and we may well be left with too many teams which emulate Oakland's occasionally less-than-scintillating wait-walk-wallop brand of baseball. And we statheads won't have sabermetric illiterati such as Allard "Lets Sign Donnie Sadler" Baird and Randy "Let's Trade for Brad Ausmus" Smith to ridicule, no Bob "Bunt 'Em Over Unless It Breaks Up a Perfect Game" Brenly or Tony "Twelve-Man Bullpen" La Russa to second-guess. If a perfect world leaves us without any targets for our barbs, then it's not a very perfect world, is it?

Given the glacial speed and lack of foresight with which "baseball men" move -- we're in the Age of Selig, after all -- I'm not too worried. James may bring some new thinking to the Red Sox which, in time, could give the team a leg up. Along with the impressive signs Ricciardi's Jays are showing, that may make for a more competitive AL East. God forbid the Sox actually win anything, it might bring James a smidgen more credit than he's gotten from the general public ("Can Bill James Lift the Curse of the Bambino?"). But if he's not the GM or the manager, he's not going to be the lightning rod for the Sox success or failure (and neither is Billy Beane, apparently), particularly if he heeds the painful lessons of Mike Gimbel and avoids shooting his mouth off.

I do think sabermetrics has more to give the game than just a competitive advantage to the Sox, the A's and the Jays and anybody else who's on board (Brian Cashman and the Yankees organization have been ahead of the curve with their recognition of the importance of OBP, among other things, but they don't pay quite the lip service to it than the aforementioned orgs do). I think that an understanding of the major tenets of James' work (for example) is THE key for teams to hold down payroll costs, as they gain a better understanding of the market for replaceable talent and avoid paying past-prime ballplayers huge, franchise-crippling salaries. If that contributes to a healthier, more stable pastime, I'm for it.

Sunday, November 10, 2002


Willie's Time?

Willie Randolph is having another tough winter. The former Yankee star and current third base coach has interviewed for five managerial openings since the season ended, and thus far he's 0-for-5. The Brewers, Devil Rays, Mariners, Mets, and Tigers have all passed over Randolph, sometimes for more experienced candidates (Lou Piniella, Art Howe), sometimes for names more familiar to the local fan base (Alan Trammell, Ned Yost).

Sadly, it's a familiar story for Randolph, who's been interviewing for jobs for the past three offseasons in Milwaukee, Minnesota, Colorado, Philadelphia, L.A., and Cincinnati. The Reds actually offered him their job two years ago, but Randolph turned them down, not only because the salary offered was less than his annual World Series share, but also because the Reds wouldn't let him choose his own coaching staff. Bob Boone eventually got that job and still has it, but some of the other jobs which Randolph didn't get have since turned over. Buddy Bell came and went in Colorado. So did Davey Lopes in Milwaukee. Larry Bowa is a ticking time bomb in Philly.

Unlike many other managerial candidates, Randolph has never piloted in the minors or the majors. He's never even managed in the Arizona Fall League, on account of the Yanks' annual postseason runs. But as shown by the 0-fer track record of Chris Chambliss, who has coached for several teams including the Yanks AND managed successfully in the minors, a prospective employer can almost always find a reason to stay within the old-boy network of managerial retreads. Among the initial list of candidates for the Mariners job is a Who's Who of mediocre (and white) managers: Buddy Bell, Lee Elia, Terry Francona, Tony Muser, and Jim Riggleman. That sorry-assed quintet's combined record: 1670-2154, a .437 winning percentage (equivalent to 23.6 71-91 seasons), zero playoff appearances, three seasons above .500, one season with over 90 wins, nine with over 90 losses (including Bell's 109 with Detroit in 1996), and one of the most famous tirades in modern managerial history. At last report, Bell and Riggleman, but not Randolph, were still in the running for that seat, while Elia, Francona, and Muser had accepted coaching jobs with other organizations.

One way or another, whatever formula Willie's using doesn't appear to be selling. His rejection of the Reds job may have backfired, causing other organizations to shy away from him. Or it may have convinced him, falsely, that teams ARE willing to hire him, and it's just a matter of a favorable situation laying itself at his feet. But several writers, including NY Daily News' Bill Madden have suggested that Randolph's lack of experience is a real stumbling block: Writes Madden:
This is what one GM said about Randolph: "It would be very hard for me to hire a manager who has never managed anywhere. For one thing, my owner would ask me: 'Can he run a clubhouse?' 'Does he know how to manage a pitching staff?' In Randolph's case, I can't answer those questions because there's no track record. Even Randolph can't answer those questions."
Randolph isn't completely out of options yet. With Dusty Baker leaving, the Giants' managerial seat is vacant, with no obvious successor in sight. Additionally, Dan Graziano of the Newark Star-Ledger has speculated that if Frank Robinson steps down as manager of the Monteal Expos, the commissioner's office could consider Randolph for that post.

But there's an even closer and more surefire option at Randolph's feet. Luis Sojo told the Yankees this week that he will not return as manager of their AA farm team, the Norwich Navigators, with whom he stepped in midway through the season and won the league championship. The status of Stump Merrill, who started the season in Norwich and moved up to AAA Columbus when Brian Butterfield was fired, is also in question, according to Brian Cashman. If Randolph is serious about managing in the majors, and if he continues to get shut out this winter, he should bite the bullet and toss his hat in the ring for one of those positions. After nine years of coaching for the Yanks, going down to the minors would put Willie in a lifestyle to which he's unaccustomed. But it's a golden opportunity knocking at his door. And as Randolph has probably figured out by now, opportunity doesn't knock every day.

Friday, November 08, 2002


Fattening Up

Out of town last weekend for a wedding, and my are parents in town all this week. It's hard to compose a coherent post on a full stomach and two or three glasses of wine (moral: ya gotta stay hungry and not quite as drunk in this racket, kid). My takes on Bill James and Willie Randolph will have to wait a few more days. Thanks for checking in...

Wednesday, November 06, 2002


Don't Grieve for Him

On Monday, the Rookie of the Year Awards were announced, and the winners were no big surprise to anybody who's kept up with online voting results such as the Internet Baseball Awards and the Baseball Primer Staff contributor picks. Both of those matched the rather decisive results of the baseball writers' votes.

As a quick perusal of the list of past winners will tell you, the Rookie of the Year Award isn't a particularly good predictor on which players will continue to develop into stars. Over the last 25 seasons (from 1978 on) and not including last year's Ichiro-mania, only three ROY winners have gone on to win an MVP award (Jeff Bagwell, Jose Canseco, and Cal Ripken Jr.), and three a Cy Young (Rick Sutcliffe, Fernando Valenzuela, and Dwight Gooden). The most recent winner to be inducted into the Hall of Fame was 1972 AL ROY Carlton Fisk, though 1977 AL winner Eddie Murray should join him soon, to be followed by Ripken and 1987 AL winner Mark McGwire in the next few years.

But plenty of washouts litter the list. Pat Listach, Bob Hamelin, Joe Charboneau, John Castino, Butch Metzger and Mark Fidrych were all done within five years of winning the award, and only the last two had the excuse of being pitchers. The colorful Charboneau didn't even manage 200 plate appearances over the rest of his career.

While not quite falling off the face of the earth like that bunch, one recent winner who seems to be traveling the road to oblivion is Ben Grieve, who won the AL award as an Oakland A in 1998 and looked for all the world to have a bright future. Here are his numbers for that rookie season and the ones since:

1998 22 18 89 .288 .386 .458 844 18
1999 23 28 86 .265 .358 .481 840 17
2000 24 27 104 .279 .359 .487 845 32
2001 25 11 72 .264 .372 .387 760 13
2002 26 19 64 .251 .353 .432 784 15
Grieve put together three solid years in Oakland, but two statistical facets stuck out. One, he didn't seem to be improving his fine rookie season, merely maintaining that level of play. The ups and downs in batting average belied an extremely consistent OPS. However, his penchant for grounding into double plays set off alarm bells by his third season. David Levins of the A's-themed Elephants in Oakland blog writes about Grieve from the green-and-gold perspective:
With the A's Grieve was very patient at the plate and made decent contact. Skills that are rarely as well developed as young as Grieve was. Problems arouse when Grieve made contact and ground into so many double plays. Grieve failed to grasp the ability to foul off pitches rather than put them in play... Grieve killed so many rallies that the Chicago police were attempting to requisition him for riot patrol.
As Levens writes, Grieve's ascendence had been highly symbolic for the A's organization: "The A's pushed Grieve's star from the beginning because he was the beacon. The A's were announcing their awakening form the mid 1990's funk that saw their entire organization re-worked." But as his performance levelled off, Grieve apparently developed problems in the clubhouse and with A's management, earning a reputation as an uncoachable prima donna. "[W]ith Grieve in Oakland there were a slew of left-handed hitters offering help and suggestions," writes Levens. "Instead of being professional and admitting he needed to adjust he went with his ego."

Chock full of corner outfield prospects but in need of a leadoff hitter, A's GM Billy Beane packaged Grieve off to Tampa Bay as part of a three-way deal which brought Johnny Damon, Cory Lidle, and Mark Ellis in return -- a deal which continued to pay dividends as Lidle contributed to playoff runs the last two years and Ellis emerged from a crowded pack to become the team's starting second baseman last season.

Meanwhile, Grieve's two years in Tampa Bay have been considerably less productive. His On Base Percentage has remained relatively consistent, but his Slugging Percentage dropped precipitously, as did his counting stats and his average. In what should, statistically speaking, be the prime of his career -- his Age 27 season -- he's entering his contract year. But his star has fallen considerably. Three things could happen this season: he could improve his play under a new manager (Lou Piniella), he could entice another team with his relatively low salary ($4 million) and potential productivity (Levens mentions the Mets and the Blue Jays, both featuring A's alums in prominent management positions), or he could continue his downward spiral in baseball's backwater. Ah, sweet mystery of youth.


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