The Futility Infielder

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

Sunday, December 29, 2002


Buy George!

Like a father hinting his children that he didn't need ANOTHER tie this Christmas, Joe Torre recently spoke out in favor of the Yanks paring their crowded rotation. But Torre finds himself now swimming in plaids and (pin)stripes, as the Yanks have purchased yet another expensive accessory to add to his collection: Cuban defector Jose Contreras agreed to a 4-year/$32 million contract last week.

The move leaves the Yanks with six starters under contract, one slated for arbitration, and one on the verge of re-signing. It's also left the Yankees' chief rivals in the AL East and in the Contreras pursuit, the Boston Red Sox, bawling like babies. Sox president Larry Lucchino called the Yankees signing "ludicrous," adding this tart assessment: " The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America."

On the surface, Lucchino's sour-grapes whines might hint at an organization that's reeling. The Sox have bypassed, either by choice or necessity, several big-name free-agents this winter, including Jim Thome, Jeff Kent, Tom Glavine, Edgardo Alfonzo, and their own Cliff Floyd. Their "marquee" signings are bullpen fodder with names like Timlin, Embree, Fox, and perhaps Ramiro Mendoza. A Sox-hater might imagine them muttering who they have to **** to get a star to sign with them. They were reportedly ready to match the Yanks dollar-for-dollar and year-for-year on Contreras, and even made subtle overtures such as hiring former Cuban pitching star Euclides Rojas as bullpen coach and using Cuban legend Luis Tiant as a recruiter. But in the end, the Yanks' allure (and perhaps King George's do-or-die mandate to his front-office troops) won out, and Contreras will wear pinstripes.

Is this a sign that Boston's boy-wonder GM Theo Epstein doesn't carry the clout to close a deal? It's tempting to bash away, but also misguided. Lucchino's embarrasing conduct aside, the Sox are working to position themselves among the more enlightened organizations in the game, hiring sabermetric guru Bill James as an advisor, promoting the savvy Epstein despite his youth, and from owner John Henry on down, talking the kind of clear-headed, analytical talk that makes statheads dewy. They've also exhibited a very definite plan this off-season, and have stuck to it thus far. In the face of insurance companies' unwillingness to back contracts of over three years, the Sox have shied away from long-term deals, which helps not only by keeping payroll down but by avoiding contracts which will becoming albatrosses down the road.

As for the petulance of Lucchino, let's remember a couple of things. First off, the Red Sox were one of twenty-nine teams to ratify the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (the Yankees were the lone dissenter). That CBA includes a mechanism to penalize spend-happy teams in the form of a luxury tax to be phased in over the course of four years. In 2003, payroll over a threshold of $117 million will be taxed at a rate of 17.5 percent; the Yanks current $158 million payroll would mean a tax of $7.2 million. In 2004, the threshold will rise, and the tax will be steeper (22.5 percent, with 30 percent for repeat offenders), and so on. So the corrective mechanism is in place with or without the scolding of schoolmarm Lucchino. The method to King George's madness, if there is one, is that beyond 2003, the Yanks only have Mussina, Contreras, and Weaver signed from among their starters.

Which still doesn't explain what the hell they're doing right now. With a deal to Roger Clemens reportedly imminent, the Yanks will have Clemens, Contreras, Orlando Hernandez, Sterling Hitchcock, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Jeff Weaver, and David Wells on their roster. Figure El Duque is as good as gone, because twenty-nine other teams view him as a front-line starter and hey, how many Cuban defectors does a rotation need? Figure Hitchcock will be moved with the Yanks eating most of the salary, because in the end, even saving $2 million will seem attractive to Brian Cashman and company. That still leaves a surplus, and unlike the last offseason, everybody in this puzzle looks to be pretty healthy. Here are a few options:

Peddle Pettitte? The Phillies had been interested early in the offseason, but the addition of Kevin Millwood for a sack of doorknobs has quelled that need. Still, Dandy Andy may be moved if the Yanks can't sign him to a longer deal whose average salary is lower than his current one. Given the Yankee brass' attachment to Pettitte, not a likely possiblity and not a happy day in the Bronx if it happens, but a viable alternative.

Move Moose? No Yankee official or mainstream publication has even uttered those words, but given the long-term money they've got tied up in him and Mussina's erratic performance last season, the thought should cross somebody's mind. Undoubtedly, the Yanks would have to eat a good chunk of that contract, since few other teams could afford him, and they'd have to admit they erred just two winters ago when they made him their marquee pickup. Not bloody likely.

Wait on Weaver? At $4 million, he'd be a bargain in the rotation but an expensive playmate for Steve Karsay down in the bullpen -- more expensive than Mendoza, who he'd essentially replace. A waste of talent and relatively inexpensive youth, but not beyond the pale.

Resist Rocket? The Yanks clearly don't need him at this juncture, just as they didn't need Wells last winter with their rotation seemingly set. But Steinbrenner's sentiment is carrying the day, despite his edict to cut costs. These 40-year-old warhorses are luxuries, and George stands to pay a luxury tax for the privelege of stabling them.

What the Contreras signing does, more likely than not, is get the Yankee front office off the hook in their quest to cut payroll. They've got their work cut out for them just trying to move dead-weight contracts such as Hitchcock, Raul Mondesi, and Rondell White, without Uncle Georgie lavishing Cuban cigars and other expensive imports on them. Any forward progress in reducing payroll will now be a bonus. And given the king's ransom other rotation alternatives looked to cost the Yanks -- cheap talent with bright futures in the form of Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera -- this is still a preferable alternative. It's only money, and if Steinbrenner wants to spend it, by George, let Larry cry a river about that.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002


Happy Birthday to Me, Rickey Henderson, and 64 Other Ballplayers

It's my 33rd birthday today. Given the timing and my resolve never to work on my birthday, I'm simply re-running the column I did last year. Happy holidays to everybody celebrating something today, and enjoy the following encore presentation...

December 25 marks a holiday for most of this country and probably, for most of my readership--if so, my sincere wishes for a happy holiday to you. For me the day is somewhat more paradoxical: I'm Jewish and thus don't celebrate Christmas, which is fine by me because I'm none too fond of that red and green color scheme. It also happens to be my birthday, number 32 to be exact.

I'll spare you the tales about how this combination of circumstances influenced my psyche while growing up (long story short: people forgetting birthday bad, never having to work or go to school on birthday good) and, as usual, move onto the baseball angle in all of this. lists 65 players as being born on December 25, including Hall-of-Famers Pud Galvin and Nellie Fox, and future Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson. Henderson is undoubtedly the best major-leaguer born on this day, but then again, he'd be the best major-leaguer born on any one of over three hundred other days, too.

Given that there are 253 members of the Hall of Fame (including executives), having two or three HOFers born on any single date is an above-average representation. Still, having spent some time looking over the resumes of the 65 ballplayers with December 25 birthdays, I can't make any claims for the All Xmas Team I've assembled. They're exceedingly long on futility infielders and backup catchers, short on outfielders, first basemen, and power hitters in general. Their pitching is pretty solid, though they don't really have a closer.
Pos  Name (Years)                 AVG   OBP   SLG   HR

C Quincy Trouppe (1952) .100 .182 .100 0
1B Walter Holke (1914-1925) .287 .318 .363 24
2B Nellie Fox (1947-1965) .288 .348 .363 35
3B Gene Robertson (1919-1930) .280 .344 .373 20
SS Manny Trillo (1973-1989) .263 .316 .345 61
LF Jo-Jo Moore (1930-1941) .298 .344 .408 79
CF Rickey Henderson (1979-) .279 .402 .419 295
RF Ben Chapman (1930-1946) .302 .383 .440 90

C Gene Lamont (1970-1975) .233 .278 .371 4
IF Tom O'Malley (1982-1990) .256 .329 .340 13
IF Joe Quinn (1884-1901) .261 .302 .327 29
IF Bill Akers (1929-1932) .261 .349 .404 11
OF Red Barnes (1927-1930) .269 .347 .404 8
OF Gerry Davis (1983-1985) .301 .370 .397 0
PH Wallace Johnson (1981-1990) .255 .316 .332 5

Pos Name (Years) W L S ERA
SP Pud Galvin (1875-1892) 364 310 2 2.86
SP Ned Garver (1948-1961) 129 157 12 3.73
SP Ted Lewis (1896-1901) 94 64 4 3.53
SP Charlie Lea (1980-1988) 62 48 0 3.54
SP George Haddock (1888-1894) 95 87 2 4.07
RP Al Jackson (1959-1969) 67 99 10 3.98
RP Lloyd Brown (1928-1940) 91 105 21 4.20
RP Eric Hiljus (1999-) 8 3 0 4.72
RP Charlie Beamon (1956-1958) 3 3 0 3.91
CL Jack Hamilton (1962-1969) 32 40 20 4.53
A few words about the selections:

* Quincy Trouppe spent twenty-two years in the Negro Leagues before receiving a 10-at-bat cup of coffee with the Cleveland Indians in 1952, at age 39. He was a fine player in his day, making All-Star teams everywhere he went and accumulating a lifetime Negro League Average of .311. He also won a Negro League championship as player-manager of the Cleveland Buckeyes. Bill James rates him the #7 catcher of the Negro Leagues in the New Historical Baseball Abstract. One more interesting note about him: during the height of World War II, he had trouble securing a passport to play in the Mexican League. The league's president intervened, and made arrangements for Trouppe's services in exchange for those of 80,000 Mexican workers. You could look it up.

* Manny Trillo played most of his career as a second baseman, and a slick-fielding one at that, winning three Gold Gloves and setting a record for consecutive errorless games. But Nellie Fox also won three Gold Gloves at 2B, so I took the liberty of moving Trillo to SS (where he had limited experience). I'm sure he and Nellie would have made a fine double-play combo. Trillo is the only Christmas-born ballplayer whose real name is Jesus.

* Jo-Jo Moore and Ben Chapman both crack Bill James' Top 100 lists by postion. Moore ranks 77th among LFs, Chapman 55th among CFs (I put him in right because he played a good portion of his career there). Chapman was, by all accounts, an aggressive ballplayer who fought a lot. He stole as many as 61 bases, and had some power as well. He later managed the Philadelphia Phillies for parts of four seasons and is most noted for baiting the rookie Jackie Robinson with racial epithets. Schmuck. We'll let Trouppe manage this squad, just to rub it in Chapman's face.

* Red Barnes--don't you love that name? Gerry Davis did pretty well in 73 ABs for the Padres, but missed out on their glory year of 1984. There's now an umpire with the same name, but I can't figure out if its the same guy.

* Wallace Johnson was a pretty good pinch-hitter whose claim to fame was the hit that put the Montreal Expos in their first (and only) postseason in 1981. He's now a coach with the Chicago White Sox.

* Three of the pitchers on this team made their names in the 19th century, when pitching and pitching stats were much different. Galvin had back-to-back 46-win seasons in 1883 and 1884, making over 70 starts each year. He won 20 games or more ten times, and lost 20 games or more 10 times as well. George Haddock went from 9-26 in 1890 for Buffalo of the Players League to 34-11 with Boston of the American Association the following year. Ted Lewis won 47 games over two seasons for the Boston Beaneaters in 1896-1897.

* Ned Garver was a hard-luck pitcher who managed to go 20-12 for a St. Louis Browns team that went 52-102 in 1951. This performance so impressed MVP voters in the AL that he finished second to Yogi Berra.

* Speaking of pitching for lousy teams... at 8-20 with a 4.40 ERA, Al Jackson could have easily been mistaken for the ace of the 1962 Mets (though Roger Craig had an equal claim). Jackson managed to lose 88 games in a 5-year span, four of those with the Mets. He's spent several years as a pitching coach, and I believe was recently hired somewhere.

One more thing I discovered: The first Christmas-born ballplayer, Nat Jewett (who I'm guessing didn't celebrate either), was a member of the 1872 Brooklyn Eckfords of the National Association, who went 3-26 for the season. Sweeeet. You learn something new every day, even on your birthday...

Tuesday, December 24, 2002


Dodger Dogs

I've been too busy, and perhaps too restrained, to celebrate the end of the Eric Karros era in Los Angeles. Karros, along with Mark Grudzielanek, was traded on December 5 to the Chicago Cubs for Todd Hundley. The fact that Hundley's been a disaster for four of the past five seasons notwithstanding, this is a long overdue move for the Dodgers. Karros's subpar production did as much to cost the Dodgers a shot at the playoffs in each of the past two seasons as all of their major pitching injuries -- Kevin Brown, Andy Ashby, Darren Dreifort, Kevin Brown, Kazuhiro Ishii, Kevin Brown, and that guy with a goatee and a $105 million contract who keeps getting hurt -- combined. Here are his stats for the past two seasons:
             PA    OBP    SLG    OPS    EQA   RARP

Karros 02 573 .323 .399 .722 .262 6
Karros 01 485 .303 .388 .691 .247 -5
Basically, Karros was about dead even with a replacement level first baseman, the kind of guy who you can acquire for a suitcase full of laundry or a swatchbook of shag carpet samples. He put up these stats while costing the Dodgers over $14 million in that timespan, playing hurt, being a team player, a veteran presence, a steady influence, and a complete waste of a lineup spot.

Karros spent twelve seasons with the Dodgers, twelve seasons in which the team won exactly zero playoff games. While it isn't fair to hold him personally responsible for the entirety of that goose egg, he's been far less productive than meets the eye. His supporters can point to the five 30 HR/100 RBI seasons put up in a tough hitter's park, but I'll point right back at that anemic career .325 OBP and .457 SLG. He basically had a nice five year run (1995-1999), and has been living off that for too damn long. His colorless mediocrity exemplifies why I lost interest in the Dodgers. True, the front office bears the responsibility for keeping him around and overpaying for his presence long past his prime, and Jim Tracy continued to write him in the lineup card right up to the bitter end (though the word from the L.A. Times is that both Karros and Grudz frequently clashed with Tracy).

Upon Karros' departure, Dodger fans rightly hoped that the team could use some of the money freed up by the trade to make a run at a big-name free-agent to play first base, such as Jeff Kent or Cliff Floyd. They never seriously pursued Kent, and ended up losing out to the Mets on Floyd, but on Friday, the Dodgers announced that they had reached an agreement with the Crime Dog, Fred McGriff. Terms were not disclosed, but the contract is believed to be only $3.75 million for one year.

Here are McGriff's stats over the past two seasons:
             PA    OBP    SLG    OPS    EQA   RARP

McGriff 02 595 .353 .505 .858 .295 29
McGriff 01 586 .386 .544 .930 .315 41
The Dog has been about 35 runs a season better with the stick than Karros, although several people over at Baseball Primer point out that McGriff's glovework is, to put it politely, lacking: "The Tribune Co. could have saved millions by foregoing McGriff's paychecks and just rolling wads of money slightly to his left or right." Ouch! Baseball Prospectus' Fielding Runs numbers (via their player cards) show Karros as gaining back about 60% of the difference over the past two years via his fielding:
             FRAR (Fielding Runs Above Replacement)

Karros 02 32
Karros 01 21
McGriff 02 3
McGriff 01 3
I'd be lying if I said I had as good a grasp on BP's fielding stats as I do their batting and pitching stats, but those are their numbers, and it's true that fielding does count in this consideration. Adding it all up, over the past two years, McGriff is 76 runs above replacement level, Karros 54 -- a difference of about 2 wins in the standings.

Even though he's a 39-year-old stopgap solution for the Dodgers, and even though I've railed against him in the past, I think McGriff represents a significant upgrade for the boys in blue when it all shakes down. A .350 OBP/.500 SLG season at that low price, combined with the highlight film of the Crime Dog pursuing his 500th HR (he's at 478) will be a net positive, so long as Jim Tracy gives the Dog the day off against lefties; he managed only a .620 OPS against them last season (compared to .926 against righties). Good move for the Dodgers.

• • • • •

Speaking of the Dodgers, I've got a couple other related links to pass on. First up is Dodger Blues, a hilarious, vitriolic site which celebrates "the futility, disappointment, and humor of the Los Angeles Dodgers." The site starts with a clock which calculates the elapsed time since "the last great Dodger moment" (Kirk Gibson's home run), and offers features such as the Asshole of the Moment (currently Todd Hundley), the Crappy Brother (which points out how the Dodgers are suckers for the Chris Gwynns, Wilton Guerreros, and Mike Madduxes of the world), and a list of Greatest Dodger Moments which features the Don Sutton-Steve Garvey brawl, Carlos Perez's attack on a water cooler, GM Kevin Malone challenging a fan to fight, and various other meltdowns. If I weren't such an East Coast Yankee-rooting sellout, this is what my Dodger fandom might have become.

Next up is an assessment of Fernando Valenzuela's Hall of Fame worthiness. Baseball Primer's resident Dodger fan Eric Enders tackles the issue via the Keltner List, a 15-part examination of a player's qualifications and contributions. The Keltner List, developed by Bill James, asks relevant questions about each player such as as "Was he the best player in baseball at his position?" and "Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?" and "What impact did the player have on baseball history?" While Valenzuela's numbers come up short (173 wins doesn't take you to Cooperstown these days, nor should it), Enders does point out how many of the intangibles work in his favor, including this one:
Valenzuela had more impact on baseball history than any other player currently on the ballot. In 1982, when the average major league baseball game was attended by 20,766 fans, the games in which Fernando pitched drew an average of 43,312. That is as big an impact as any player has ever had on attendance, with the possible exception of Babe Ruth.
Fernando is one of my all-time favorites, and I truly wish he did have a spot waiting for him in Cooperstown. But his uniqueness and longevity (he's still pitching professionally in the Mexican Winter League at age 41) ensure that he'll be remembered in the annals of baseball as long as any Hall of Famer. Fernandomania lives on!

Saturday, December 21, 2002


Brave New World

After the roughest couple of work weeks I've had in a long, long time, I've escaped from New York to the relative solitude of my parents house in Salt Lake City. I haven't had much time to write lately, so I'll be trying to catch up on several hot stove-related matters in the next few days.

Perhaps the most shocking move this week was the trade which sent Braves pitcher Kevin Millwood, an 18-game winner in 2002, to division rival Philadelphia for Johnny Estrada, a catcher who spent most of the season in AAA. It's difficult, if not impossible, to believe that Braves GM John Schuerholz couldn't get more for Millwood than a 26-year-old backup catcher who went .279/.322/.417 in Scranton-Wilks Barre after spending a year filling in for the injured Mike Lieberthal in Philly. But that's Schuerholz's story, and he's sticking to it. According to Schuerholz, this was a decision dicated by economics. With Greg Maddux accepting arbitration, and Millwood slated to get a big raise from his $3.9 million salary via arbitration as well, the AOL bean-counters apparently felt that the Braves couldn't afford both, even with Tom Glavine departing.

How that translates into trading your #2 starter to your division rival is beyond me. Earlier in the week, the New York Post had speculated that Millwood might be an attractive option for the Yanks, and a good trade fit given the Braves' gaping first-base hole, which could have been ably filled by Nick Johnson. Obviously that didn't come to pass; the Yanks may still have their doubts about trading Johnson, but this clearly would have been a more valuable deal than the king's ransom Montreal is asking for Bartolo Colon or Javier Vasquez.

As for Atlanta, they've now turned over 3/5 of their rotation this offseason. But have they improved? Here's a look at the Braves' front four in 2002; the last two columns are their 2002 and 2003 salaries (including rather steep arbitration projections for Maddux and Milwood):
           W  L    IP    ERA   K/9  WHIP   K/W  HR/9  BABIP  dERA   $02    $03(pro)

Maddux 16 6 199.1 2.62 5.33 1.20 2.62 0.63 .282 3.59 13.1 -> 18.0
Glavine 18 11 224.2 2.96 5.09 1.28 1.63 0.84 .269 4.39 8.6 -> 11.0
Millwood 18 8 217.0 3.24 7.38 1.16 2.74 0.66 .271 3.42 3.9 -> 10.0
Moss 12 6 179.0 3.42 5.58 1.28 1.25 1.01 .232 4.97 0.2 -> 0.2
Total 64 31 820.0 3.05 5.86 1.23 1.93 0.78 .265 4.05 25.8 -> 39.2
The Braves as a whole had a very efficient defense; their .730 Defensive Efficiency Rating was the second-best in the NL, 18 points above the league average. This means that they allowed a meager .270 average on balls in play, which kept their 2002 ERAs down. But note that these pitchers didn't have especially good strikeout rates or control; they don't project especially well using Defense-Independent ERA (dERA). And these four pitchers look to cost about 50% more than they did last season.

Here's the retooled foursome, with free-agent addition Paul Byrd and trade acquisitions Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz:
           W  L    IP    ERA   K/9  WHIP   K/W  HR/9  BABIP  dERA   $03

Maddux 16 6 199.1 2.62 5.33 1.20 2.62 0.63 .282 3.59 18.0
Ortiz 14 10 214.1 3.61 5.75 1.33 1.46 0.63 .266 4.39 4.4
Byrd 17 11 228.1 3.90 5.08 1.15 3.39 1.42 .259 4.39 3.0
Hampton 7 15 178.2 6.15 3.73 1.79 0.81 1.21 .318 5.38 2.0
Total 54 42 820.2 4.00 5.02 1.35 1.71 0.98 .280 4.42 27.4
If the first foursome didn't project well, this one looks even worse. Hampton was a walking disaster area in Colorado, and God only knows whether he can get sorted out again. Byrd is a gopher-prone, low-strikeout pitcher who did surprisingly well in Kansas City, but he's never put two good seasons together back-to-back. Ortiz walks too damn many guys, doesn't strikeout enough, and furthermore, has his stats camouflaged by the best pitcher's park in the game; his ERA at Pac Bell over the past three seasons is 3.32, while on the road it's 4.48. Yargh.

This new, less-fearsome foursome will cost about the same as last season's foursome did, depending upon how Maddux does in arbitration. A lot of that is due to the smoke-and-mirrors of the Hampton deal, which has the Florida Marlins picking up most of Mikey Moustache's salary for the next three seasons. Byrd's contract is backloaded, with a $7 million player option for '04. Ortiz has a $5.7 million team option for '04. His current salary also includes a bonus incentive based on innings pitched which kicks in at 195; he's averaged 209 over the past four seasons, so he may cost a bit more than indicated here.

Over on Braves Journal, readers are calling for Schuerholz's head. But my longtime reader Trevise suggests in a comment to my previous post that this rotation remake has more to do with the corporate mentality behind the Braves than it does with Schuerholz:
This is also why I say that "No Corporate Ownership" is one of the few things that MLB should follow the NFL's lead on. Sure, Schuerholtz has made his share of mistakes but he doesn't make an egregious trade such as this then go to a press conference and make the statements he did, if he wasn't forced into it by someone in a "non-baseball" position.
While it's obvious that non-baseball factors were involved in this decision, that doesn't mean we should let Schuerholz off the hook for the baseball decisions which painted him into this corner. Not signing Glavine was a smart move given his asking price and his projections, and taking a flier on Hampton at that price wasn't the worst idea ever. But going out and picking up a couple of underwhelming mid-rotation guys who don't project particularly well and who cost a significant chunk of change BEFORE getting caught with his pants down on the Maddux decision, and THEN being forced into the Millwood one doesn't speak well for Schuerholz. He could have passed on Byrd and Ortiz until he knew what Maddux was doing, and figured that the loss of Glavine's salary was Millwood's gain. That would have left him with Maddux, Millwood, Hampton, and Moss as his front four, at around $30 million. A bit more expensive than the Braves were willing to go, but not so much that they couldn't make up the difference in other areas. This team, after all, paid $3 million to Vinny Castilla to put up a robust .616 OPS (exactly the same as Rey Ordoñez), and they're on the hook for $4.5 mil to him for 2003. John Schuerholz can whine all he wants about how baseball's economics stink, but irresponsibility like that buys no sympathy here.

Braves fans better hope Leo Mazzone can work a few more miracles along the lines of John Burkett and Chris Hammond, or there's going to be a new sheriff in town in the NL East.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002


Severe Exposure

The Yankees, like everybody else, spent the better part of this past weekend's winter meetings in Nashville playing Let's Make a Deal with Montreal Expos GM Omar Minaya. Charged by the commissioner's office with decreasing the Expos payroll by about $15 million, Minaya figures to unload at least one of his talented studs such as outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, second baseman Jose Vidro, or pitchers Bartolo Colón and Javier Vazquez. Everybody and their mother (except my own) seems to have just the plan to help Minaya do so, often with their own beat team's interests at heart. Pinstriped pundits, Mets scribes, Sox sleuths, everybody wants in, with sometimes terrifying results ("Hard-working Epstein Has a Nose for Colon" reads one unforgettable headline).

Though it's tantalizing to envision Vlad the Impaler wearing pinstripes and patrolling rightfield in the House That Ruth Built, the Yanks' interest in this dubious sell-off gravitates around the two starting pitchers, Colón and Vazquez. Initally, their focus had been primarily in the former, a beefy 29-year old righthander whose merits I discussed a couple of weeks ago. But the latter has been drawing some favorable attention too. Vazquez is 26, in better shape, and -- a key for the Yanks -- less expensive than Colón. While the former will make $8.25 million and then become a free agent, the latter will get a raise from his $4.725 million salary via arbitration.

Here's a quick comparison of the two Expo starters in 2002:
         W  L   IP     ERA  K/9   WHIP  K/W   HR/9  BABIP  dERA

Colon 20 8 233.1 2.93 5.75 1.24 2.13 0.77 .274 3.92
Vazquez 10 13 230.2 3.90 6.98 1.27 3.65 1.09 .302 3.78
Superficially, Colón looks like the better pitcher, with that nice round 20-win season and an ERA a run lower. But as I pointed out before, the rotund one's strikeout rate fell off the table in 2002 (down 2.4 per 9 from his previous season average), and he was fairly lucky on balls in play as well. Vazquez , though he's more prone to the gopher ball, has a markedly higher strikeout rate, and much better control. Much of the difference in their ERAs comes on balls in play; the Expos defense helped Colón (.281 for the Canadian bacon slice of his season) much more than Vazquez at .302. The difference comes out in the wash of their Defense Independent ERAs, with Vazquez holding a slight edge.

Minaya knows he's got hot commodities on his hands, so he's been working to drive the price on them even higher; reports are that he's playing the Yanks' interest against that of the Red Sox. The asking price for Colón is now absurdly high for the Yanks: Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, Orlando Hernandez AND the money to cover El Duque's salary next season (perhaps $5 million). The toll from the Sox is third baseman Shea Hillenbrand and lefty Casey Fossum for Colon and third baseman Fernando Tatis, a poison pill with his $6.25 million salary, reduced productivity, and reportedly poor attitude.

Even if the Yanks were to give in to the Expos demands, El Duque's salary would still count against Brian Cashman's payroll. Effectively, they'd be paying perhaps $13 million for Colon's spot in the rotation, hardly a bargain, and they'd be giving up two of their least expensive and most promising young hitters. If they can get Vazquez at a cheaper price, the deal might be worth pursuing; otherwise, this is too rich for the Yankees' blood.

• • • • •

The most interesting deal which went down in Nashville was a four-way trade in which Baseball Primer posterboy (or was it Baseball Prospectus centerfold?) Erubiel Durazo was finally sprung from the shackles of his oppressors in the Arizona desert. Statheads have taken "Free Erubiel Durazo!" as their rallying cry ever since the Mexico native posted a .403 average at Double-A El Paso and .407 at Triple-A Tucson in 1999, his first year in the D-backs chain. Durazo has posted a career .918 OPS over the past four seasons. But, owing to injuries and the density of Bob Brenly's skull, he'd managed only 900 plate appearances over that span. Eager to see the lefty slugger flourish in a more favorable environment, the geeks have pined for the day when a sabermetrically-inclined GM could rescue him before he passed his prime.

With this weekend's trade, the 28-year old will finally get his shot, and in the friendliest home for his type: Billy Beane's Oakland A's. Beane admitted that acquiring Durazo had become something of a quest: "This has been a three-year odyssey for me. This is probably the most aggressively I've ever pursued a player. I think I might have come pretty close to breaking the tampering rules on this one." Elsewhere, he even referred to Durazo as his Holy Grail, apparently with apologies to Monty Python.

The knocks against Durazo are his injuries (about which Beane even rationalized, "If he didn't spend that time on the DL, we probably never would have gotten him because he would have hit 45 home runs."), his defense (including an alleged refusal to play rightfield during last year's playoffs), and his trouble with lefties (career .577 OPS in about 150 PA). But the A's will gladly find a spot for him, making him their full-time DH and only occasional first baseman, and probably find him a platoon partner as well. But here's his career line against righties, about a season's worth of PAs: .293 AVG, 42 HR, 133 RBI, .403 OBP/.563 SLG/.966 OPS. Yeah, I could find a spot in my lineup for that guy, too.

Friday, December 13, 2002


A Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell Like...

I've filed my position paper on the potential reinstatement of Pete Rose. It's only the integrity of the game that we're talking, and I'm completely, stultifyingly, drooling-in-my-beer bored by the whole "controversy". I will say the news that Bud Selig actually met with Rose makes it the most proactive thing Bad Rug Bud has done since he started laying out his pants the night before, but then that's not setting the bar very high.

To the extent that I care, I'm fine with a limited reinstatement of Rose provided he comes clean about his gambling -- and by coming clean he addresses the nuts and bolts of the accusations against him rather than issuing a blanket apology -- completes an extensive treatment program for his gambling problem, passes through a probation period of five years, and never is allowed to work as a GM, manager, or coach for a major-league team (ceremonial executive, roving hitting instructor, and haircut consultant are all fine by me). Five years of absolutely sparkling citizenship later, make him eligible for election to the Hall of Fame. Mention the ban on the plaque. And then seal him in a tomb with John Dowd, Fay Vincent, and Selig for eternity.

John Perricone of Only Baseball Matters has made his site into a forum on the issue. If you're not getting enough of the mainstream coverage, check it out; he's got some links and exchanges there that you might find interesting.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002


Remaking the Yankees for 2003, Part VI: Rebuilding the Bullpen

The 2-year/$4.6 million contract which the Yankees offered Mike Stanton as a 15-minute-long ultimatum last weekend was also offered to two other free-agent lefty relievers. Stanton was so insulted by the Yanks' manner that he didn't even bother to reject it.

But one man's trash is another man's treasure. Chris Hammond, a soon-to-be 37-year-old lefty who pitched for the Braves last season, accepted the deal. On Monday, he signed what is now a $4.8 million contract which includes a $3 million club option or a $200,000 buyout for the third year. For Hammond, this is just another chapter in a fairy-tale comeback not too far removed from The Rookie. After spending parts of nine seasons in the big leagues, Hammond left baseball in 1998 after he had elbow surgery and his wife developed complications during pregnancy. He spent two years fishing on his 220-acre property in rural Alabama, then a year split between the Indians' and Braves' AAA teams. Last season he returned to the majors with a vengeance, allowing only eight unearned runs in 76 innings -- a microscopic 0.95 ERA , and only the third man in baseball history to post an ERA below 1.00 in over 70 innings. Amazingly, Hammond didn't allow an earned run after June 28, and gave up only one home run all season. Talk about fairy tales.

But Hammond comes to the Yankees with his share of questions: Can he continue to fool hitters as he did last year, with his high-80s fastball and changeup combo? Can he remain healthy? Can he adjust to a new league? Can he adjust to being the top lefty in the pen? Last year he had Mike Remlinger alongside him; as one advance scout pointed out: "They used him very well. There were two left-handers Bobby Cox could go to, and it wasn't like anybody got burned out. If one of them got up, he usually got into the game."

Okay, that's enough drama and human interest, it's time to roll up our sleeves and squish around in the numbers to see how Stanton, Mendoza, and Hammond measure up, and who some of the alternatives are to fill the Yanks' other bullpen openings. I've broken the following barrage of numbers into three clusters: 2002 Yankees, free-agent lefties, and free-agent righties. Once again, I'm listing the pitchers in order of their Defense-Independent ERA (dERA). Since relievers don't throw very many innings, their rates on hits per ball in play are all over the map, which can have a dramatic effect on their ERAs. This makes for gawk-worthy numbers like Hammond's 0.95 ERA (coupled to a .242 BABIP), but isn't so useful for projecting a pitcher's future performance. dERA tells you what his ERA would look like if and when his luck evened out.
	             	 G 	W	L	  IP	   ERA 	  K/9	 WHIP	 K/W	  HR/9	 BABIP dERA 	SV/OP	

Rivera 33 45 1 4 46.0 2.74 8.02 1.00 3.73 0.59 .246 2.97 28/32
Karsay 31 78 6 4 88.3 3.26 6.62 1.32 2.17 0.71 .291 3.35 12/16
Mendoza 31 62 8 4 91.7 3.44 5.99 1.29 3.81 0.79 .306 3.50 4/8
Stanton 36* 79 7 1 78.0 3.00 5.08 1.29 1.57 0.46 .278 3.83 6/9
Hammond 37* 63 7 2 76.0 0.95 7.46 1.11 2.03 0.12 .242 2.77 0/2
Remlinger 37* 73 7 3 68.0 1.99 9.13 1.12 2.46 0.40 .259 2.97 0/5
GWhite 31* 62 6 1 54.3 2.98 6.79 1.09 4.10 0.50 .282 2.97 0/1
Guthrie 37* 68 5 3 48.0 2.44 8.25 1.13 2.32 0.56 .260 3.24 1/2
Lloyd 36* 66 4 5 57.0 5.21 5.84 1.51 1.95 0.95 .323 4.22 5/8
Heredia 28* 53 1 2 52.3 3.61 5.33 1.47 1.19 0.86 .274 4.70 0/2
Borbon 35* 72 4 4 50.3 5.36 8.94 1.55 2.00 1.79 .293 5.04 1/5
Gordon 35 34 1 3 42.7 3.37 10.12 1.36 3.00 0.63 .345 2.82 0/0
Lopez 31 34 1 4 55.7 4.37 6.31 1.51 2.17 0.16 .353 2.99 0/0
Reed 37 64 2 5 67.0 2.01 6.72 1.04 3.57 0.27 .277 3.02 1/4
Urbina 29 61 1 6 60.0 3.00 10.65 1.07 3.55 1.20 .252 3.33 40/46
RWhite 34 61 5 7 62.7 4.31 5.89 1.32 1.95 0.57 .294 3.49 0/1
Hernandez 38 53 1 3 52.0 4.33 6.75 1.42 3.25 1.04 .335 3.71 26/33
Acevedo 33 65 1 5 74.7 2.65 5.18 1.22 1.87 0.48 .268 3.90 28/35
Adams 30 46 7 9 136.7 4.35 6.32 1.39 1.66 0.59 .290 3.91 0/1
Fetters 38 65 3 3 55.0 4.09 8.67 1.64 1.43 0.65 .316 4.07 0/2
Jackson 38 58 2 3 55.0 3.27 4.75 1.31 2.23 0.82 .298 4.22 0/2
Timlin 37 72 4 6 96.7 2.98 4.66 0.92 3.57 1.40 .205 4.71 0/4
Veres 36 71 5 8 82.7 3.48 7.40 1.28 1.74 1.31 .244 4.76 4/8
The number after each pitcher is his 2003 age (as of July 1); the asterisk is the common shorthand for lefties (who are ageless anyway). You probably won't recognize all the names in the second and third groupings; this motley assortment includes several old war-horses, along with guys who have toiled for years in relative anonymity. So here they are on a first-name basis: Chris Hammond (who I keep calling Darrell, as in Saturday Night Live's master impersonator), Mike Remlinger, Gabe White, Mark Guthrie (the third pitcher who the Yanks offered their 15-minute window), Graeme Lloyd (the big dingo who spent 1996-98 with the Yanks), Felix Heredia, and Pedro Borbon (who I swear I've been watching since I was eight years old), Tom "Flash" Gordon, Albie Lopez, Steve Reed, Ugueth Urbina, Rick White, Roberto Hernandez, Juan Acevedo, Terry Adams, Mike Fetters, Mike Jackson (not the entertainer), Mike Timlin (where's Mike Trombley when you need him?), and Dave Veres. Remilinger is no longer on the market, having signed with the Cubs, Adams was offered arbitration by Philadelphia, and Gabe White isn't actually a free-agent; he was discussed last month in a potential trade with the Cincinnati Reds for Sterling Hitchcock.

Turning our attention to the lefties first, Hammond's season looks considerably more realistic through the lens of dERA, though still pretty impressive. Based on the higher strikeout rate and the sheer level of experience, I'd rather have Remlinger at that cost, or even Stanton for that matter. Guthrie looks pretty good too, though that's the first time since 1998 that he's posted an ERA below 4.47, and it's not a lot of innings. Stanton's season doesn't look quite so impressive taken with these others; that low K rate will eat your dERA alive. Gabe White is intriguing; relatively young, well balanced across the board (now that he's out of Colorado), with great control. If the Yankees have any way of resurrecting a deal which involves Hitchcock going and White coming, they would be wise to consider it, even if it means giving up a prospect as well.

Over to the righties, where the picture's more inconclusive. We've got some closers looking for work (Urbina, Acevedo, Hernandez), some failed starters (Lopez, Adams), some guys coming off of injury (Gordon), and some guys that never seem to go away (the Mikes). The Yanks tried to get Urbina in 2001 but rejected him due to concerns about his elbow; he clearly showed he could pitch (though listen to a Red Sox fan and he'll bitch about him) but he won't come cheap. Gordon hasn't thrown more than 45 innings in a season since 1998; in the meantime he's undergone Tommy John surgery and last year missed half a season with a torn shoulder muscle. If he's healthy, he could command closer money as well, and at the very least, he'll get above $3 million per season, territory the Yanks clearly don't want to go.

One name which stands out on the list is that of Steve Reed, who's got a nasty sidearm delivery which throws batters off. Reed's control is excellent, he strikes people out with a wicked slider, and doesn't yield many homers. He excels with runners on base -- last year he allowed a .443 OPS in 112 AB with runners on (over 3 seasons it's still a measly .604 OPS in 207 AB). Coming out of the Yankee pen, he'd give hitters a much different look than any other pitcher. Reed is well-travelled, having pitched for four teams over the past two seasons; ironically, he was traded along with Karsay from Cleveland to Atlanta in the John Rocker deal (no, I'm not going to run that raging asshole's numbers even though he's looking for work; he sure as hell ain't find it in da Bronx). Reed should come pretty cheap; he made "only" $500,000 last year. He would be a bargain at twice the price; the Yanks should jump at the chance to sign him.

Another one who might spark some interest is Adams, who split last season between the rotation and the bullpen, is somewhat intriguting as a direct analogue to Mendoza (his groundball-to-flyball ratio is even more extreme, 2.7-to-1). Like Mendoza, Adams may be better suited to the bullpen (he posted a 2.38 ERA there in 27 appearances) even though he'd prefer to start. He made $2.7 million last season and looks to be headed in that direction with Philadelphia, so he's probably out of the question one way or another.

Other options exist besides the current free-agents, of course. As Peter Gammons reports, there are plenty of players who will become free-agents on non-tender day, December 20. This means that if their current teams don't offer them contracts, they'll be free agents as well, and probably considerably cheaper. Recognizable pitchers who Gammons lists include Rolando Arrojo, Antonio (Six-Finger) Alfonseca, and John Halama, though more are sure to follow.

The Yankees, in this season of belt-tightening, might do well to find a reliever from within their organization. Last year, Adrian Hernandez, the Cuban defector who's such an El Duque protege that he's called "El Duquecito," just missed making the team out of spring training. He was sent down to Columbus to pitch rather than languish at the back of the bullpen, and was bombed in the only two appearances he made with the Yanks when called up. At first glance, his record in AAA may not look too pretty (6-7, 5.25 ERA in 20 starts), but a closer read reveals a few things. His strikeout rate was almost exactly 1 per inning (8.95 per 9), his control was decent (2.42 K/W), although those walks do add up (3.70 per 9), his homer rate adequate (0.73 per 9). He allowed a steep .334 BABIP, but let's remember, this was for a team that finished 24 games below .500, a team featured Drew Henson making 35 errors at third base and Erick Almonte making another 18 in 63 games at shortstop. Defense was not those kids' forte. El Duquecito also pitched well in the Arizona Fall League (2.38 ERA in 22 2/3 innings, with 28 strikeouts and 10 walks). He's 28 years old and signed for $1 million next season. The time is now to give him a shot at the back of the pen to see if the Yanks' relatively meager investment ($4 mil over 4 years) can pay off. He may yet turn out to be a better pitcher than Mendoza.

Another name from within the Yankee organization that's been mentioned is that of Jason Anderson. The 23-year-old righty Anderson went all the way from high-A Tampa to AAA Columbus in only his second professional season, and amassed an impressive record along the way. In 54 games (all but three in relief), he went 10-3 with a 2.91 ERA and 10 saves. More importantly, he struck out men (8.26 per 9), showed great control (3.73 K/W), and had a decent homer rate (0.70 per 9), and he did it all on a reasonable .284 BABIP. The website Top Prospect Alert has him tagged as a sleeper reliever for next season, reporting that he's got a fastball in the 95-96 range, plus a slider which "is still inconsistent, but it has the makings of a pitch that will be devastating to right-handed hitters." The site compares him to a Felix Rodriguez and Guillermo Mota, and if that's the case, he at least deserves a look.

A more familiar name to Yankee fans and foes who may figure in their bullpen plans is lefty Randy Choate. Choate's spent parts of the past three seasons riding the Columbus shuttle; he was up and (mostly) down four times in 2002 alone. At the major-league level, Choate's always struggled with his control (1.28 K/W ratio), though his strikeout rate is respectable (6.57 K/9). He was a mess last season, walking 15 in 22.1 innings and posting a 6.04 ERA. He's hell on lefties, but his control deserts him against righties (career stats below):
         AB  BB   K   OPS

Right 179 31 19 .758
Left 137 19 45 .537
The Yanks haven't given up on him yet. He sparkled in Columbus (1.72 ERA and 32 K in 36.2 innings), and reportedly impressed the Yankee brass by improving the control of his slider. If he can find the plate in spring training, bet on him to be the second lefty in the pen.

Boiling it all down, the Yanks are going to have to be both creative and lucky if they want to match the caliber of their recent bullpens (2001 excepted; you can keep that one). They can still claim to have one of the best closers in the game in Mariano Rivera. With his winter break started a bit early this year, the Yanks can hope that the extra rest helps his body heal, and that his availability won't be restricted. Steve Karsay is an excellent setup man who also gives the team some insurance as a closer. Chris Hammond has some very big shoes to fill, and some very big questions to answer. Choate figures to work his way back into the situational lefty role, leaving open the identity of what would presumably be another righty. By my count, the Yanks have a couple of decent though inexperienced candidates in house, and could get an experienced and reasonably good one for $1-2 million; my vote is for Steve Reed.

How much money is this bullpen actually going to save the Yankees? Here are three configurations of the pen, assuming six relievers apiece (one on the DL or in Columbus), with salaries in millions of dollars and bonuses included:
     2002              2003-not            2003-?

Rivera 9.5 Rivera 10.5 Rivera 10.5
Karsay 7.0 Karsay 4.0 Karsay 4.0
Stanton 2.6 Stanton 3.5 Hammond 2.3
Mendoza 2.6 Mendoza 3.0 ?Reed? 1.0
Weaver 4.1 Hitchock 6.0 Choate 0.3
Hitchcock 5.0 AHerndz 1.0 AHerndz 1.0
AHerndz 1.0
$31.8m $28.0m $19.1m
The one big assumption here is that the Yanks will be able to clear Sterling Hitchock's salary, which is right now looking pretty much like a fantasy. If they're stuck with it, the Yanks will still save themselves about $7 million on the bullpen alone, though most of that savings is by getting past Karsay's signing bonus and counting Weaver as a starter. With the best of luck, the Yanks may find themselves able to save about $12.6 million, a significant amount of money. Whether it will come back to cost them in other ways in 2003 remains to be seen.


This IS the Hot Stove

Had to put off finishing my bullpen piece last night because I was too busy deciding whether or not I would bring my letter of resignation to work today. No joke. The bullpen piece should be done tonight, and yes, for the moment I'm still employed.

The above link is to the MLB Trade Rumors page on a website called Pro Sports Daily, and it promises "Daily links to MLB trade rumors from every major newspaper in America." And man, it delivers. There's a page of links to rumors for each and every team from around the country, plus a page for links to news articles on each team -- which is kind of confusing, as there's lots of crossover between the two categories.

And sweet Jesus, you can find out some pretty harebrained plans. According to the New York Post, the Yanks are pursuing Todd Zeile as their potential DH and trading Nick Johnson to Montreal in a deal for Bartolo Colon or Javier Vasquez, another Montreal starter (I'll do a quick writeup on him in the next day or two). I can already hear my friend Nick howling over that one halfway across Manhattan.

Another Yankee rumor: according to the Denver Post, the Yanks are close to signing Chris Gomez to a $1 million contract as a (f)utility infielder. Gomez doesn't suck; he has a bit of pop (31 2B, 10 HR and a .410 SLG), plus he's a good glove man. Signing him is a fine idea if it means we get to watch the Yankees cut open Enrique Wilson's skull and remove all three of the marbles rolling around in there...

Tuesday, December 10, 2002


Remaking the Yankees for 2003, Part V: Gutting the Bullpen

Anyone doubting the Yankees' sincerity about cutting salaries this offseason need look no further than Saturday's grim tally for proof. Faced with the deadline to offer arbitration to their free agents, the Yanks dropped the axe on two long-standing members of their bullpen, parting ways with Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza.

The bullpen has been one of the more celebrated aspects of Joe Torre's tenure. It is perhaps fittingly ironic that the team's level of success and exposure made stars out of even its workaday relievers. Torre not taking Jeff Nelson to an All-Star Game created a flap that eventually cost him one of his trustiest setup men. Torre taking Mike Stanton to an All-Star Game may have cost him another. A bullpen full of celebrities, the Yankees have decided, is a luxury they can't afford.

Permit me to recap a drama I've been through before in greater detail. When Torre bypassed him for the AL All-Star team in 2000, Nelson threw a tantrum. He squawked and seethed for the rest of the season (during which he did plenty to help them win), and then left as a free agent for Seattle. The Yanks didn't adequately replace him in 2001; while Mendoza picked up a good deal of the slack, the Yanks had no depth, and Torre trusted only three relievers in the end (Mariano Rivera, Stanton, and Mendoza). That those three relievers were able to help bring the Yanks within one inning of their fourth straight World Championship says a lot for them.

Eager to finally rectify the loss of Nelson, the Yanks grossly overspent on his replacement last winter, signing Steve Karsay to a 4-year, $22.25 million contract. Karsay pitched like the one in the catalog, but that large contract looms as a prelude to this year's mayhem. Had the Yanks spent more sensibly, they may have been able to afford at least one of the departing duo; had they spent even more sensibly, they may have avoided creating a boom market for setup men.

Mike Stanton spent six seasons as the lefty half of whatever 1-2 setup punch the Yanks were throwing. During that tenure he averaged 71 appearances and a 3.67 ERA in the regular season, and set all-time marks for the lowest ERA by a lefty reliever in both World Series (1.54) and postseason (2.10) history. He's hasn't shied from that postseason either -- the man's been there EVERY SINGLE YEAR since 1991, the '94 strike excepted.

The story that's emerged about Stanton's departure is troubling. The Yanks apparently offered Stanton and two free-agent lefty relievers a take-it-or-leave-it 2-year/$4.6 million contract -- and gave each man 15 minutes to accept or reject it. What kind of way is that to do business? Bush-league bullshit like that wouldn't have seemed out of place during George Steinbrenner's more meddlesome pre-suspension days. Whatever his merits or faults as a reliever, Stanton was a model of integrity and accountability for the Yanks. He set a strong example by never shying from reporters in the face of his own letdowns, and by taking the Boss' tabloid criticism in stride. As the Yankee player representative, he spent all summer long defending Boss Steinbrenner and the Yankee payroll. His treatment by the Yankees in this matter is downight disgraceful.

For all of that, and for all of the good things that can be said about Stanton, his performance showed signs of slipping in 2002. His strikeout rate plummeted, from 8.74 per 9 innings in 2001 (and 8.87 for his first five years as a Yank) down to 5.08. During the second half of the season, he posted a 4.08 ERA (whopping, isn't it?) and struggled with his control (only a 1.08 K/W ratio). And despite his October resume, he's been touched over the past two postseasons for a 5.14 ERA in 14 innings. After making $2.6 million this past season and $7.35 over the past three, he was reportedly seeking a contract along the lines of Braves reliever Mike Remlinger's new contract with the Cubs: 3 years/$10.65 million. Hardly loose change, but still about 35 percent less than Karsay annually.

The Yanks' parting with Mendoza is puzzling as well, but then their handling of Mendoza has always been suspect. They never let him grow into the mid-rotation starter he'll likely become elsewhere (though his 4.94 ERA in that role should come as a warning), and they babied him in the bullpen, with Torre reluctant to use him two days in a row. They always seemed to be saving him for a rainy day that was two seasons away, when they might need him to assume the role of setup man, third starter, or the arm they could deal for a big bat. Instead, they get nothing for a jack-of-all-trades who could eat innings in middle relief, wriggle out of a jam with a one-pitch double-play, spot start or close.

The case against Mendoza starts with him being injury-prone; he's done stints on the DL in each of the last three seasons, missing a good portion of 2000. The word is that the Yanks think he could have worked harder on his conditioning. Seeing as how Stanton has been a vigorous adherent to Roger Clemens' strict workout regimen, and it didn't save his job, that particular beef about Mendoza strikes me as bull. More tangibly, while his control is generally good, his strikeout rate has never been all that high (5.99 last season, 5.34 for his career), and his extreme groundball tendencies (a 2-to-1 grounder to flyball ratio) put a lot of pressure on the shaky Yankee infield. It sure looked purdy when he got them double-plays, though...

The double-whammy of losing Stanton and Mendoza raises the question of just who the Yanks WILL have in the bullpen come 2003. I'm going to save that for my next installment, which should follow tomorrow.

Thursday, December 05, 2002


The Revolution Was Televised by Roone Arledge

If you're a fan of televised sports -- hell, if you own a TV set -- you owe it to yourself to note the passing of TV executive Roone Arledge, who died on Thursday. Arledge was a visionary who revolutionized the televising of sports, most notably by bringing it into weekday prime time, ushering in the era of sports as big business. He created "ABC's Wide World of Sports," as elementary to the American sporting lexicon as the tagline he coined: "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." He produced 10 Olympics, including some of the most controversial Olympic moments such as the fist-raising salute by athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 and the disruption of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich by Arab terrorists who took hostage and murdered 11 Israeli athletes.

But the creation he'll be most remembered for in the sporting world is "Monday Night Football." MNF brought sports into prime-time TV on a weekly basis and introduced innovations such as instant replays, slow motion and freeze frames, on-field mikes, hand-held cameras and sophisticated graphics, innovations which we now take for granted. But beyond his technical advances came the real story, which was Arledge's grasp on the power of providing the game -- any game -- with a narrative structure. From his New York Times obituary, which runs an astounding five pages on the web:
One of the signature touches that Mr. Arledge brought to the programs he later produced he learned in these courses: the importance of narrative and the role of the hero. Years later, ABC announcers were taught to emphasize what Mr. Arledge called the ``story line'' of whatever game they were covering and to focus on a star whose personal story could transcend the outcome of the events itself. The ``up close and personal'' biography of an athlete, which ABC's Olympic coverage invented to introduce viewers to obscure foreign athletes, became the template for personalizing the stories of stars in every sport.
Another important facet of Arledge's legacy is infusing the role of the sports announcer with the expectation of journalistic integrity; under him, announcers were no longer subject to league approval and beholden to their control. That journalistic impulse became a foundation for his handling the Munich crisis, as ABC Sports oversaw 17 hours of coverage.

Arledge eventually went from being president of ABC Sports to being president of ABC News, where he made his mark with extensive late-night coverage of the Iran hostage crisis (creating the show "Nightline" in the process), and built up the network's news division into a powerhouse with shows such as "20/20" and "World News Tonight". In short, he was one of the major players of the late 20th century; Life magazine cited him as one of its 100 most important Americans of the 20th century in 1990.

Not that the developments he spearheaded have been entirely for good. In truth, many of them turned out to be Pandora's Boxes. His prime-time sports strategy "opened the door to the entire era of sports as big business," noted his protege Dick Ebersol. "All of the money the athletes are making, all the big money in sports, none of that would be happening if not for Roone,'' said Ebersol. As Arledge himself put it early on, "In short, we are going to add show business to sports!'' Those who rail at the loss of daytime World Series games or bemoan the presence 24-hour news and sports networks, who blanch at the astronomical salaries of athletes or stifle the urge to vomit during an up-close-and-personal profile, might be justified in aiming a certain amount of blame on Arledge's "innovations."

But that's not the point. Arledge didn't just revolutionize television, he televised a revolution in which the power of the medium became the real story. His ideas and innovations were often TOO powerful in the wrong hands, done to mind-numbing excess or filled with tabloid squalor by those with lower standards. That's not his fault. He was a man with the vision and integrity to do it the right way.


Remaking the Yankees for 2003, Part IV: Third Base

I've been focusing on pitching and money thus far in this series. But for this article, I thought I'd jump ahead to third base, since the reports are that the Yankees are close to a deal, and I wanted to get my two cents in first.

Last winter, the Yankees acquired Robin Ventura from the Mets to replace third baseman Scott Brosius, who retired rather than test free agency. At the time, the Yanks hoped that Ventura could provide a one-year stopgap and that prospect and former University of Michigan star quarterback Drew Henson would be ready to take over the hot corner for 2003.

Plagued by injuries, Ventura had suffered two consecutive down seasons as a Met in 2000 and 2001, struggling monumentally at times. But even during those lean years, his reliable strike-zone judgement, decent power and solid defense yielded a value far beyond his .230ish batting averages. A value, in fact, not dissimilar to that which Brosius provided at his PEAK. Held against those already not-so-lofty standards, Ventura looked to be a good bet to improve with a change of scenery. Overexposed in the middle of the Mets' thin lineup, he was unable to provide the bulk of the power alongside Mike Piazza. But with the Yanks, Ventura would be further down in the order, behind guys who got on base AND provided power.

Ventura ended up being almost everything the Yankees could have dreamed. He got off to a hot start, racking up RBIs by the bushel and making the All-Star team for only the second time in his career. With 19 homers and 62 RBI at the break, he'd essentially equalled his power numbers for 2001 (21/61); in addition he was hitting .263 AVG/.367 OBP/.511 SLG/.867 OPS. He swooned a bit late in the season (only 8 HR and 31 RBI in the 2nd half), but made it through the season healthy, and hit impressively during the Yanks' brief playoff appearance. In addition, he was a class act all the way; Joe Torre and several of his teammates spoke of his positive effect in the clubhouse. His defense did appear shaky at times; he tied for the league lead in errors for third basemen, but other metrics, such as Davenport's Fielding Runs placed him as being just slightly off his more recent Gold Glove seasons, and better than some of his early ones (more on that subject another time).

All in all, a not-too-shabby season. Had Henson progressed to the level forecasted, the Yankees' plan would have been perfect. But as has been reported elsewhere at length, Henson struggled both during the regular season and in the Arizona Fall League. At AAA Columbus, Henson hit .240/.301/.435, with 18 HR and 55 RBI. Distressingly, he struck out 151 times in 471 ABs, and he also made 35 errors in the field. In Arizona, after several articles touted his sub-Mendoza Line average, he finished at .211/.304/.401 with 6 HR, 23 RBI, and 11 errors in 41 games. Gulp. Henson, who will be 23 in February, will need at least another season in AAA; according to his AFL manager Tommy John, he's about a thousand at-bats behind where a ballplayer his age should be.

What's fortunate for the Yankees is that $9.8 million of Henson's $17 million contract isn't due until 2005-2006, by which time he will likely have gotten the picture that a lucrative NFL career is passing him by. He may well have reconsidered his options by then; my guess is at this time next year, we will all (Drew included) know enough to see whether he should return to the huddle.

Ventura made $8.25 million last year, and with the Yanks in cost-cutting mode this offseason, they made it immediately clear they wouldn't be offering up that kind of scratch. At the same time, they once again have a hole at third base with their phenom "a year away." Besides Ventura, who are their options? Here's a brief rundown from ESPN's Top Fifty Free Agents list, with a few other names from the trade winds thrown in for good measure:
            Age   PA   HR   BI   OBP   SLG   OPS   EqA  RARP

Alfonzo 29 557 16 56 .391 .459 .851 .307 42.9
Lowell 29 665 24 92 .346 .471 .816 .285 36.8
Ventura 35 553 27 93 .368 .458 .826 .295 36.7
JHernandez 33 581 24 73 .356 .478 .834 .285 35.3
Bell 30 615 20 73 .333 .429 .762 .273 26.2
Randa 33 604 11 80 .341 .426 .768 .268 20.0
Mueller 32 417 7 38 .350 .393 .743 .270 15.3
Zeile 37 568 18 87 .353 .425 .778 .257 12.6
Tatis 28 424 15 55 .303 .399 .702 .244 3.4
Most of these abbreviations you should know. Age is as of 7/1/2003 (July 1 is the conventional statistical cutoff for determining player age in a given season). EqA and RARP are from Baseball Prospectus' methods of offense measurement; the former is like OPS boiled down to a batting average scale after adjusting for league offense levels and park effects (.260 is defined as average), while the latter is runs above a replacement-level third-baseman. I've ranked them according to RARP.

The non-free agents in this list are:
• Mike Lowell, once a Yankee prospect before being traded to the Florida Marlins. Signed for $3.7 million next season. Discussed by the Yanks early on, but the Marlins are apparently not looking to trade him.
• Joe Randa of the Kansas City Royals, signed for $4.5 million next season. The ballplayer closest to my exact date of birth, which means neither of us is ever going to see an eight-figure contract.
• Fernando Tatis of the Montreal Expos. Salary next season $6 million. Wallowing in Montreal for the past two seasons, Tatis has been discussed as ballast in various configurations of a Bartolo Colon trade.
• David Bell, formerly of the San Francisco Giants, not to mention the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals. Bell signed with the Philadelphia Phillies last week to the tune of 4 years/$17 million. The Yanks made some noise about him, so it's a relief to see another team suckered by a career year featuring a .333 OBP.

The other free agents come with their warnings as well:
• The Mets' Edgardo Alfonzo has had back problems, though in three of the past four seasons he's hit above .300 with an .850 OPS. At his best, he's the pick of the litter here, but he's missed over 70 games the past two seasons. He's also widely rumored to be older than his listed age. Alfonzo can play second base as well as third, which could intrigue the Yanks as an option for moving Alfonso Soriano to the outfield down the road. But 'Zo's been seeking a 4-year contract, and the Yanks haven't been willing to commit. At the very least, he'll make about $7-8 million next season via arbitration, which looks too rich for the Yanks' taste.
• Bill Mueller came off of knee surgery last season and didn't contribute much after being a late-season re-acquisition by the Giants. Might have a job there now that Bell has departed.
• Todd Zeile racked up his numbers in the rareified air of Colorado, something EqA sees right through. His best days are clearly behind him.
• Jose Hernandez isn't really a third baseman anymore; he made the NL All-Star team at shortstop last season, and made headlines late in the year when Brewers manager Jerry Royster sat him to prevent him breaking the major league record for strikeouts in a season. The Yanks have never showed interest in him, but he would offer about the same production as Ventura at an even cheaper price. Not to mention the possibility of versatility down the road should they broach the subject of shifting Derek Jeter to another position. But it ain't gonna happen.

Ventura is certainly near the top of this list in terms of productivity. And in a convenient coincidence for the Yankees, he's apparently willing to come cheap; the word in the New York Times is that he's taking a physical preliminary to completing a $5 million deal. Ladies and gentlemen, it's not often that a player comes to a team, improves his performance and theirs, and is willing not only to take a 40% pay cut but to move out of the way when the time comes. It takes a class act to see the big picture on those terms: Robin Ventura, the consummate professional.

Once again, I find myself advocating what is hardly a radical move for the Yanks. But at a steep discount and with the flexibiltiy he provides their long-term picture, Ventura's signing is the closest thing to a no-brainer they'll get this offseason.

Monday, December 02, 2002


Sweet Colón

I didn't get a chance to work this into my piece on Bartolo Colón, but it's worth a note now that I've done my homework. Of all the ballgames I've attended, Colón came the closest to throwing a no-hitter. On September 18, 2000, he pitched 7 1/3 hitless innings against the Yanks for Cleveland, allowing only a meager single to Luis Polonia and snapping Roger Clemens' 16-start unbeaten streak. He went the distance, striking out 13 (every batter in the Yankee lineup except Polonia) and walking one -- among the most dominating performances I've ever witnessed. Of course, it helped his cause that the Yanks were in the midst of an historic, wretched 3-15 slide to close out the 2000 season. I never got to the point of actually pulling for him, but had he taken the no-no into the 9th, I would have gladly put away my Yankee cap for the day.

The link above is to the game story, this one is to the box score.

Sunday, December 01, 2002


The New Phonebooks Are Here!

If you're a baseball stat freak like me, your world just became a little more complete this weekend:, the online encyclopedia of baseball statistics, has added stats for 2002 to its database. Wo-hoo! Player stats, team stats, league stats, postseasons, award winners, league leaders, career leaders, similarity scores, birthday finders and a million other things, all crosslinked every which way but Luis in what may be the most perfectly conceived reference website mankind has ever seen.

The disclaimer I'm obliged to insert here is that I designed the site's banner, but you knew that already. My praise for B-R is heartfelt. Because if it wasn't for its accessibility and ease of its use, I could have spent the last two years of my life doing something productive like watching more television or calculating my portfolio losses in Quicken. Instead I've clicked through page after page of stats, finding interesting things to write about and argue over. And if, hypothetically speaking, I've needed to tabulate how many pitchers on the 1978 Dodgers staff won more than 150 games in the big leagues during a quick coffee break, at least I've had the means to do so efficiently. Or would have, if the occasion had arisen, I mean. Cough, cough...

B-Ref is a user-supported website, and as such, it raises money to cover its by selling sponsorship to individual pages, which run from $5/year for the least visited to $395/month for the busiest. I sponsor several pages myself; it's a fun way for me to publicize this site and to "collect" the pages of some of my favorite players and personalities.

Since the new pages (2002 teams and rookies who debuted during the season) don't have an established traffic rate to set their price, the site's founder, Sean Forman, is auctioning them off via eBay, starting at $10. What better Hanukkah or Christmas gift is there for a loved one than sponsoring Esix Snead's or Coco Crisp's page?

Of course, plenty of older players and teams are still without sponsors. For only pennies a day, you can feed the starving page of Marvin Lane. And if anybody can get me out of this blog entry without making a Sally Struthers joke, I just might sponsor a page for you.


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