The Futility Infielder

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

Thursday, July 31, 2003


Chairs Thrown, Presses Stopped

In a flurry of activity as the 4 PM trading deadline approached, the Yanks pulled the trigger on three deals Thursday. The previously discussed trade with the Cincinnati Reds became two separate deals, with third baseman Aaron Boone coming to the Yanks for minor-league pitchers Brandon Claussen and Charlie Manning and cash, and reliever Gabe White (currently on the DL with a groin situation) going for a Player To Be Named Later. In the third deal, the Yanks sent third baseman Robin Ventura to the Dodgers for two minor leaguers, outfielder Bubba Crosby and pitcher Scott Proctor.

I'm thoroughly disappointed in GM Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankee braintrust right now, not for failing to improve the team ever-so-incrementally, but for giving up such a potentially large part of their future for so little. Boone is a solid, inexpensive but replaceable player on the wrong side of 30, yet still not old enough to shave or be a free agent. He's got pop, but not much control of the strike zone; his .339 OBP would be the second-best of his career. Robin Ventura could pull that off while hitting .097. Boone is versatile in the field, able to play second or even the occasional shortstop, but it's debatable whether he's actually a better fielder than the creaky Ventura. Here's a quick comparison between the two 3Bs:
          AVG   OBP   SLG  OPS  HR  BI  SB

Boone .273 .339 .469 808 18 65 15
Ventura .251 .344 .392 736 9 42 0
Ventura's been suffering through a serious power outage this season, last homering on June 8 and shedding about 100 OPS points since then. It's entirely possible he's cooked, and if so, the Yanks would have needed more than Enrique Wilson and the bloated corpse of Todd Zeile at the hot corner as insurance. But it's too bad they have to replace one of their most likeable players with the less-talented son of one of the most annoying managers of the 21st century.

White has been on the Yanks' wish list for a long time, with previous talks centering around the forgotten man in their pen, Sterling Hitchcock. The 31-year-old lefty is 3-0 with a 3.93 ERA in 34.1 innings this year, but he's been on the DL since June 20 and has suffered multiple setbacks in rehab. Here's what the Cincinnati Post said on Wednesday: "Reliever Gabe White was supposed to make a rehab appearance Sunday in Louisville, but lingering soreness in his left groin from bullpen sessions Friday and Saturday prevented that appearance. The Reds haven't set a date for White's next attempt at a rehab outing." Ugh. White's great against lefties, holding them to a 631 OPS this season, but he's been getting tattooed by righties to the tune of a 905 OPS -- and he's faced righties 57% of the time this season. See what I meant about Bob Boone? On the other hand, prior to this season, White had been pretty respectable against the other side, holding them to a 717 OPS from 2000-2002, compared to 661 against righties. When he's healthy, he'll be more useful than Hitchcock, but so would an inanimate carbon rod.

The real blow here is the loss of Claussen, a 24-year-old lefty coming back from Tommy John surgery better than ever. He was previously thought to be "untouchable" in trade talks and considered a good candidate to make the Yanks next season, perhaps even as a starter. At this point there's a good case that the Yanks could have done better by trading Jeff Weaver and inserting the kid into the rotation. But that kind of creative risk-taking is anathema to the Yanks, who prefer to bury their big-name mistakes under piles of cash.

On the other hand, the prospects the Yanks have traded away in the past few years haven't really amounted to much, despite all of the hand-wringing (some of it by yours truly). D'Angelo Jiminez, Willy Mo Pena, Jackson Melian, Ted Lilly, Ed Yarnall, Jake Westbrook, Zach Day, Jason Arnold, John Ford-Griffin... none of these guys has come back to bite the Yanks in the ass, though Day got off to a great start this season for Les Expos, and Jiminez has had his moments. Maybe the Yanks do have some insight into the minor-leaguers who can help them after all? But then, why Claussen for Boone when he might have netted them a Giles or a Gonzalez? Call this an article for another day.

Meanwhile, here are Claussen's minor-league numbers, along with those of the other minor-league pitchers involved in these deals:
          W-L   IP   K/9  K/W   ERA

Claussen 4-1 80.2 7.3 3.1 2.78 (AAA Columbus and A Tampa)
Manning 2-6 77.1 6.9 1.2 5.12 (AA Trenton and A Tampa)
Proctor 5-4 56.1 8.0 3.0 2.58 (AA Las Vegas and AA Jacksonville)
Proctor is a 26-year-old righty who's spent all of this season pitching in relief after some success as a starter at Jacksonville last year (7-9, 3.51 ERA, 131 K in 133.1 innings) ands split between Jax and Vero Beach the year before (10-7, 3.08 ERA, 127 K in 140.1 innings). Manning is a 24-year old lefty who got bombed in AA as a starter and reliever (6.26 ERA in 46 IP), and has since been sent back to Tampa, where's he's been having some success. He split last season between Tampa and Norwich, going 10-6 with a 3.37 ERA and 146 K in 163 innings. Those two pitchers essentially cancel each other out, with the departed Manning's age advantage offset by the arriving Proctor's ability to pitch well in the high run environment of Las Vegas (5.25 runs per team per game).

That same high-offense environment has been pumping up the 27-year-old Crosby's stats. The lefty-hitting centerfielder was a non-prospect coming into this season (.261/.311/.394 split between AA and AAA in 2002), but he's hit .361/.410/.635 with 12 HR and 57 RBI in about 300 plate appearances in Vegas, leading the Pacific Coast League in batting average and slugging. He walks once every 11.1 ABs, and strikes out about twice for every walk, and he's got a bit of speed, stealing 8 bases this season without being caught. He's done two stints with the Dodgers, going 1-for-12 thus far. On the offensively-challenged and injury-riddled Dodgers it made sense to give him more of a shot, but since he's not the answer to the Yankees' rightfield problem (hell, he ain't even Bubba Trammell), they'll probably mothball him in AAA until September unless disaster strikes. Columbus, meet Bubba Crosby.

Four hours, two scrapped drafts, several phone calls and emails and one throbbing fist later (I punched my desk), I need some oxygen. And maybe a new chair.

• • •

The Yanks haven't been the only busy team in the AL East arms race over the past several days. The Boston Red Sox have -- if you believe the hype -- trumped the Yanks, first by adding lefty specialist Scott Sauerbeck (from the Pirates) and then reliever Scott Williamson (Reds) and starter Jeff Suppan (Pirates). The Yanks were in on discussions for Sauerbeck, and their settling for Jesse Orosco while the Sox got the goods from the Bucs was treated as heralding the Second Coming by Red Sox Nation. Take two out of three from the Yanks in Fenway, and suddenly you can't get their heads to fit through the door.

Stocked with Scotts, the Sox didn't get off scot-free in all of this. They surrendered top prospect Freddy Sanchez (AAA 2B), to the Pirates in the Suppan deal. But they didn't give up much else, a couple of minor-league pitchers. Williamson is the most important acquisition of the three; he can set up Byung-Hyun Kim, he can start, or he can close, allowing the Sox to start Kim. Or he can be part of that nebulous "closer by committee" concept the Sox tried to implement earlier in the year, with hilariously disastrous results. Aaron Gleeman has a good look at the remade Sox pen.


If This Happens, I'm Throwing Chairs

With today's non-waiver trading deadline set for 4 PM EST, it's likely that the Yankees still have a major trade up their sleeves. Unfortunately, there's a rumor going round about a deal which has me not just cringing, but angry. The Yanks are believed to be interested in Cincinnati Reds third baseman Aaron Boone, whose father, Bob, was fired as manager of the Reds earlier this week. Boone, as one might expect, has asked to be traded and the Yanks, along with the Dodgers, are in the mix, according to ESPN:
New York's offer is minor league left-hander Brandon Claussen and more than $3M for Boone and Gabe White. The Dodgers are offering cash and minor league prospects.
The Yanks have long coveted White, a lefty reliever with a 3.93 ERA who's currently on the DL with a groin pull. But all season long they've rebuffed any attempts to include Claussen, their top pitching prospect, in any deal. Recall that Claussen made his major-league debut on June 28 against the Mets and pitched brilliantly, then returned to the minors. He's clearly ready for the bigs, and a sensible Yankees organization should have him pencilled in for next year's rotation. To include him in a trade for a big bat (Brian Giles, Vladimir Guerrero, Juan Gonzalez) would be understandable, though disheartening. But to give up Claussen for a middle reliever and a servicable but hardly stellar third baseman (Boone's hitting .273/.339/.469 with 18 HR) would be a crime. The upper Yankee farm system is nearly bone-dry as it is, and trading Claussen would leave Erick Almonte and Juan Rivera as the Yanks top prospects, a chilling thought.

Boone is 30 years old, currently making $3.7 million and not eligible for free-agency until after next season. Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Runs stats show Boone as the 9th most productive 3B, 19.3 runs above a replacement-level 3B and about 8 runs better than Robin Ventura. With Ventura (.213/.305/.287 in June and July) clearly showing signs of decline, an upgrade at the hot corner is on the Yankee wish list, but it's a secondary concern given the patchwork nature of their current rightfield setup.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is reporting this deal as an inevitability:
So it was for the Mariners, who went from back in the pack to perhaps co-favorites with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the quest to land Cincinnati third baseman Aaron Boone, the brother of Mariners second baseman Bret Boone.

Then the Yankees stepped in and apparently stole the player the Mariners most wanted. In place was a deal that would send left-handed starter Brandon Claussen, a top Yankees prospect, to the Reds along with $3 million in exchange for Boone and left-hander Gabe White.

The finalized deal wasn't announced, but it appears the Mariners will have to look elsewhere for help.
What's next, trading Nick Johnson to the Tigers for the undead Bobby Higginson to plug that right-field hole? If you're a Yankee fan, cross your fingers that reports of this trade are greatly exaggerated.

• • •

Update: chairs thrown. More to come shortly...

Wednesday, July 30, 2003


Subtraction Action

With the trade deadline approaching, the Yanks pulled a significant deal on Tuesday. But instead of adding another bat to their already formidable lineup, as some have been expecting, they subtracted one, trading rightfielder Raul Mondesi and their favorite reserve, Cold Cash ($2 million), to the Arizona Diamondbacks. "The Buffalo" has been banished to the desert in the company of Snakes. They received three players in return, outfielder David Dellucci, reliever Brett Prinz, and catcher Jon-Mark Sprowl. This translates, roughly speaking, into receiving a turnip, a rutabega, and a kumquat in exchange for one of their bigger headaches. Yes, it's nice to cure that throbbing pain behind the temples, but how are you going to cook with that stuff?

Mondesi's trade was triggered by an act of insubordination: the moody outfielder left the team after being pinch-hit for in Sunday night's ballgame against the Red Sox. GM Brian Cashman made no effort to hide the organization's displeasure. "He decided to shut it down," Cashman told the New York Times. "He showered and left before the game ended. He left the clubhouse and took off. That motivated me and Joe Torre to make a change."

Thus ends another chapter in the strange career of the "32"-year-old Mondesi. A legitimate five-tool player with power, speed, and a cannon for an arm, Mondy's always been hampered by his ten-cent head. His poor discipline at the plate (a .331 OBP and one walk per 12.4 at-bats) has rivaled his poor discipline in front of the fridge; he's added about 30 pounds over the course of his career and avoided off-season conditioning like the plague. He posted 30 homer/30 steal seasons with the Dodgers in his youth before his lackadaisical play and failure to blossom ran him out of the country. Traded to Toronto for Shawn Green after the '99 season, he became the poster-boy for the Jays' ailments: overpriced, underproductive, and with a bad attitute to boot. Meanwhile, Green became a superstar in the City of Angels. After two and a half seasons of disappointment, the Jays dumped Mondesi on the Yanks, agreeing to pay a hefty portion of his salary ($6 million of his $13 million this year). He managed only a 745 OPS for the Yanks in 2002, though he did shore up rightfield defensively and gave Yankee Stadium PA Bob Sheppard a regular opportunity for virtuosity every time he came to bat: "Rauuuuuuuuuuuuuul MON-desi!"

Shopped by the Yanks last winter, Mondesi finally channelled some energy into working out. He came to spring training looking lean and mean, impressing George Steinbrenner enough that the Yanks took him off the market. The results showed; Mondesi had a good spring and then put up a white-hot April. The hot start helped the Yanks overcome the loss of Derek Jeter and the slow start of Jason Giambi as they charged out to an 18-3 start. But since then, he'd gone into a funk:
                 AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS  HR  BI

March/April .347 .409 .683 1092 8 18
May/June/July .223 .299 .381 680 8 36
One of the knocks on Mondesi has always been that even with his 30-homer power, he's never driven in 100 runs (he topped out at 99 in '99). His splits reveal the reason, at least as far as this season goes: a .151 average and 526 OPS with runners in scoring position. Eeeuch. And as thrilling as it's been to watch baserunners scamper backwards as they cower in fear when Mondesi cocks that right arm, his defense is overrated. Baseball Prospectus' numbers show Mondy as a below-average fielder for the past five seasons.

Dellucci is a lefty hitter who lacks power (career .429 SLG, but only .382 this year) but who has just enough plate discipline (career .341 OBP and a walk every 10 ABs) to convince you that he's a worthy bench player. He's a strict platoon playeer; his numbers are weighted down by infrequent appearances against lefties (2-for-24 this year). Take those away and his career numbers against righties look a bit more respectable: .281/.356/.442. That could help a ballclub.

The Yanks already have another lefty in their odd assortment of rightfielders, Karim "Abdul" Garcia. Acquired from the Cleveland Indians on June 25, Garcia's been hot in his limited action, putting up a .943 OPS in 48 at-bats and showing signs that his late-season run in 2002 (16 HRs, 52 RBI and a .299/.317/.584 line after August 6) was not a fluke. But he's got no plate discipline to speak of (4-to-1 K/W ratio and one walk every 20 AB). Switch-hitter Ruben Sierra could see time against lefties, but rightfield might be a defensive stretch for his fielding "talents." Expect the Yanks to continue shopping here.

Prinz pitched 41 respectable innings with a 2.63 ERA and 9 saves for the 2001 World Champion Diamondbacks, though he missed the postseason due to shoulder tendinitis. But the 26-year-old righty struggled in 2002 (9.45 ERA in 13.1 innings) and has spent nearly all of the past two seasons in the minors. He saved 18 games at Tuscon last year, but has struggled with groin problems and thrown only 16 innings in four stops throughout the D-Backs organization. At best he's Al Reyes-level insurance with a bit more promiise; he may get a shot at the back of the Yanks' pen should somebody else falter or more likely, come up lame. Sprowl is a promising 23-year-old lefty-hitting catcher out of a Billy Beane fantasy: he's currently hitting .296/.402/.421 in the Class A Midwest League. On the other hand, Baseball America isn't so high on Sprowl, noting that he's repeating A-ball this year and that his defense is pretty bad (as for the age discrepancy, he turns 23 on Friday).

Upon further evaluation, the Yanks didn't do too badly in trading Mondesi. No, they didn't add Brian Giles, Vladimir Guerrero, or Juan Gonzalez, but they snagged a useful role player and two guys who could help the team down the road. Brian Cashman's done worse, and so have a lot of other GMs.

• • •

I updated his latest links in the article below, but it should be noted that Alex Belth's Bronx Banter has a new home on Cub Reporter Christian Ruzich's site. The new addy is

Monday, July 28, 2003


Book Banter & Bad Bullpens

Alex Belth (who's now at a new address) has a fantastic interview with Moneyball author Michael Lewis up at Bronx Banter. Here are a couple of my favorite exchanges:
BB: For a lot of the super stat nerds, this book is like the Torah. It’s had a real impact.

ML: It’s funny. I could understand as I was writing it, that would be somewhat unsatisfying to a hardcore stats nerd because all he wants in the statistical secrets of the Oakland A’s, and he wants them in a cold-blooded fashion. He doesn’t want a story. The truth is, I wasn’t ever going to get all of the secrets. I got some of the secrets, probably the most important ones, but there is still stuff I didn’t get. The other thing the stats geek wants me to do is dismantle whatever fallacies they might have. And I had no interest in doing that. I just wanted to give the reader a view of what they were doing. I didn’t want to say, ‘It makes no sense that on base percentage is three times better than slugging percentage…’ I didn’t have any particular interest in sifting through the minutia of the A’s statistical arguments. I thought the big point, is that they are even making them. If they are wrong, and it’s really only two-and-a-half times slugging, then who really gives a shit? I mean I give a shit sort of, but not really. The point is, the A’s are thinking rationally and analytically about it. We can argue about the finer details, but I didn’t care to do that. I knew when I was writing it that there would be a feeling with the hardcore baseball fan that they were being lead to the alter. It would miss the point too heavily to focus on just those arguments. These are people that basically embrace the same worldview, and they are arguing amongst themselves, in a language they can understand.


BB: Why didn’t Billy Beane take the Boston job?

ML: In the book I don’t explain why he didn’t go; I explain why he even entertained it in the first place. He wanted the validation. Why he didn’t go? I think his daughter had a lot to do with it. I think that he almost breaks out in hives when he’s in an east coast city. I mean, he doesn’t own a suit. Being in a more corporate, conservative, or business-like environment makes him uncomfortable. I think that the Red Sox job is actually a really shitty job right now. Because you’ve got this organization that looks to the fans and the media like, ‘Oh, we could win a World Series this year,’ but in fact, the minor league system’s bankrupt. Four of your stars’ contracts are coming up after next season. To do it right, what they need to do is rebuild. Not to max out right away at the major league level, but actually take a longer view. And that is such a bad environment to try and take a longer view because everybody wants it now.
Elsewhere, Lewis addresses the possiblity of a Moneyball movie (don't hold your breath), discusses some of what was left on the cutting-room floor, and skewers Joe Morgan for ignorantly spreading the false impression that Billy Beane wrote Moneyball.

Fans of the book will be pleased to note that Lewis plans a sequel -- in six years, when the A's draft choices profiled in the book (Nick Swisher, Jeremy Brown, et al) have reached the majors or busted. "I am following them through the minor leagues," says Lewis, "Traveling on the buses with them and all that other stuff."

For those of you who missed it, Belth's audio interview with Foul Ball author Jim Bouton is still up on the Baseball Prospectus Radio site. It's a freebie, so check it out while you still can.

• • •

The Yanks dropped the second and third games to the Red Sox in frustrating fashion over the weekend. On Saturday they clawed their way back from being down 4-0, tying the ballgame in the 8th inning. But new acquisition Armando Benitez lived up to the one in the catalog, giving up the winning run in the 9th inning. Sunday night was even more disheartening. Jeff Weaver, perhaps pitching for his pinstriped life, tossed six marvelous innings of two-hit shutout ball, staking the Yanks to a 3-0 lead. But Weaver unravelled in the 7th, walking a batter and hitting another. Enter Chris Hammond, who served up a 3-run homer to Jason Varitek, then a solo shot to Johnny Damon, pissing away Weaver's gem. Benitez and fellow recent acquisition Jesse Orosco continued the bloodletting, yielding two more runs.

Once again, Torre's management of the bullpen cost the Yanks the game. Instead of givng their shaky relievers a fresh start at the top of an inning, he waited until the Sox had a budding rally. And because he'd been relying on his shiny new additions, his mainstays had fallen into disuse. Hammond hadn't pitched in a week and had only 2.1 innings over the last 10 days and only 4.2 for all of July. Osuna spent the first half of the month on the DL, and had only pitched 2.2 innings since returning prior to last night. Way to keep everybody fresh, Joe.

The AL East flag is going to come down to which of the two teams bullpens sucks less, which skipper can minimize the mismanagment there, and which shaky acquisitions come through in the big moments. The Yankee bullpen has a 4.07 ERA this season, dead even with their starters. The Sox pen has a 5.05 ERA, 0.73 runs worse than their starters. Baseball Prospectus' Reliever Report shows the Yanks just about average, with -0.5 Adjusted Runs Prevented,16th in the majors. The Sox are at -30.7 ARP, tied for 28th in the majors. This one should turn out in the Yanks' favor, but as this weekend showed, anything can happen when Benitez comes into the ballgame, and the same goes for Byung-Hyun Kim.

The New York Times' William Rhoden has an amusing take on the Sox-Yanks rivalry, comparing the two teams to Warner Bros.' Roadrunner-Wile E. Coyote cartoons: "Will Boston be mashed by safes and crushed by boulders, blown up by its own dynamite, flattened by trains it never saw? Will the Red Sox continue to buy defective material from the Acme Corporation?"

Last I checked, the Roadrunner was undefeated in head-to-head competition against the Coyote. The Yanks can't live up to that lofty standard, but they might still elude the Sox yet again.

Saturday, July 26, 2003


A Whole New Thang, Part II

Julien Headley was kind enough to respond to the three questions I posed about the statistical system he's put forth at his weblog and which I just wrote about. He sent me a couple of very nice emails ("you did a better write-up of my system than i did!") from which I've extracted his responses, pairing them up with my original questions. Again, I've taken the liberty of capitalizing any statistical abbreviations.

Where is the evidence that those numbers WAL, CON, and POW have meaning in small sample sizes, that, as you say "walks, strikeouts, and home runs quickly normalize to a level representative of players' abilities"?
the evidence right now is at the level of "strong suspicion". what happened was i started paying attention to these numbers over the past few years in an attempt to predict performance for my fantasy team. what i noticed was that after about 100 AB for WAL & CON, 300 AB for POW, the numbers don't change.

i need to build a database. once that happens i'll have rigorous answers to all kinds of things. the problem right now is i don't have a computer! i've been blogging mostly at a university computer lab or at friends' houses.
Those "major-league averages" for referred for WAL, CON, and POW -- do they refer to 2003, the last few years, or a longer-range time period?
major league averages came from 2002 data. i should note that on the site.
As far as the predictive value of this suite, can we see some comparisons based on prior seasons to see where these formulae worked and where they did not?
yes. that and more. all kinds of things will follow from the building of the database. for example, it's clear that there are players who consistently outperform their predicted average. all who do are slap-and-run speedsters. i've got ideas for a speed factor that i think will correct the predictions for speedsters. also i plan to tighten POW up a little bit, using recent years to dampen the variance. and i want to do a historical study to see at what age each each of the various skills peaks. right now it seems that CON peaks early, around 23, POW peaks around 28 (although some players (bonds) can still increase at late ages. typically they are power/speed types (like bonds)), and WAL increases throughout the career. with that data it will be possible to determine a player's future career path with quite a bit of precision.
So now we have considerably more insight into Julien's system, if not more evidence that he's correct. Though Julien's got confidence in the prospective uses of his system, he also understands that he's got a ways to go, and that his database (not to mention a computer of his own) is the key. "i had been thinking that the building of the database and the analysis of data would have to wait til the offseason. now i'm going to make it my #1 priority," he writes. Elsewhere, he adds, "i really want to make this system as good as it can be, so peer review is vital."

Good answers. Cheers to Julien for opening my eyes to a new way of looking at baseball stats, and for being forthright with the shortcomings of his system. Again, keep an eye on this kid, because he's onto something.


Bombers in Beantown

Travelling to Northampton, Massachusettts, I missed nearly all of last night's Yanks-Sox ballgame. All except for the final nail-biting out, that is. Perfect timing to catch Mariano Rivera inducing Jeremy Giambi to line out softly to Alfonso Soriano with two men on, behind in the count 3-1.

Anyway, from the sound of it, the game was a genuine classic, with the Yanks clawing for runs off of a whiny Pedro Martinez, the fat man gutting out a backache, bullpen drama on both sides, and my least favorite futilityman, Enrique Wilson, coming up a hero by starting two rallies and scoring the winning run. The chubby little guy wins a free pass from me for awhile.

Bronx Banter's Alex Belth has a great blow-by-blow account of the ballgame, capturing the entire rollercoaster ride. Worth reading even if you saw the whole thing and especially so if you didn't.

Friday, July 25, 2003


Clearing the Bases

Several things to note before I skip town for another Northampton jaunt...

• The Yanks and the Red Sox kick off a three-game series in Fenway starting tonight. Pedro vs. the Fat Man, with Nick Johnson rejoining the Yanks from an epic stay on the DL. The Yanks are up by 2.5 games and hold a 6-4 edge in the season series, with nine more contests still to come. Saturday is Moose vs. Burkett, and Sunday is Lowe vs. Weaver. The Sox dodge a bit of a bullet by missing Andy Pettitte, whose start was pushed back by rain; Pettitte owns the Sox (12-4, 2.47 ERA in his career) and beat them July 6. On the other hand, the Sox don't get a chance to face Roger Clemens in this series; they've pounded him for 17 runs in 17 innings this year, bad enough to raise the Rocket's ERA 0.72 runs all by their damn selves.

• Speaking of the Sox, I found a link to this blog in an unlikely place: a weblog called Out of Left Field, written by a guy named Ed Kubosiak for, the online entity of a paper called The Republican. Ed's included me in a list of his favorite blogs. Who says we can't all get along?

• ESPN's resident Yankee-hater, Jim Caple, often lays on satire so thick that it defuses his sense of humor. But he's got a genuinely hilarious piece on Page 2 right now, a timeline "celebrating" the 100th anniversary of the New York Yankees. Among my favorite entries:
April-Sept. 1920: Ruth hits 54 home runs to shatter the single-season record and earn two dozen nicknames, including the Bambino, The Sultan of Swat, the Consigliore of Crunch, the Lieutenant Governor of Lumber, the Chief Operating Officer of Bash, the Senior Vice-President in Charge of Purchasing and Slugging Percentage, the Right Honorable Ensign of Clout and the Notary Public of Horsehide.

May 30, 1939: Lou Gehrig ends his playing streak at 2,130 games, and Mayo Clinic doctors deliver the most obvious diagnosis in medical history, telling him that he has Lou Gehrig's Disease. It is only one of the many ailments named in honor of a Yankees superstar. Others include Epstein-Berra Syndrome, Non-Knoblauch's Lymphoma and of course, Mickey Pox.

January 14, 1954: [Joe] DiMaggio marries Marilyn Monroe and, upon consummating the marriage, delivers the most famous line in baseball history: "Tonight, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Oct. 5, 1951: Mickey Mantle suffers the first of several debilitating knee injuries in Game 2 of the World Series when he trips over his empties.
See what I mean?

• Thursday was the 20th anniversary of one of the game's most surreal moments, The Pine Tar Incident, when the Yankees protested a go-ahead homer hit by Brett off of Goose Gossage because of the amount of sticky stuff on his bat. When Yankee manager Billy Martin brought Brett's bat to the attention of home plate umpire Tim McClelland, the ump ruled Brett out, nullifying the homer and ending the top of the ninth and thus the ballgame. But AL President Lee MacPhail overturned McClelland's decision, and the final four outs of the game were replayed on August 18, 1983. Martin made a farce of the continued game, using pitcher Ron Guidry in centerfield and lefty first baseman Don Mattingly at second, as a sparse 1,245 fans looked on.

Reflecting on the event, Brett admitted that the bat with which he stroked his 3,000th hit actually had more pine tar on it than the famous one residing in Cooperstown. It's also amusing to note that Brett's kids refer to the tape of their father charging out of the dugout as "the crazy-man video."

• In the latest Pinstriped Bible, Steven Goldman has a lengthy recounting of the Pine Tar Incident as well as discussion of some deadly deadline deals involving relief pitchers -- with the infamous Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell trade as its starting point. Meanwhile, a trio of Baseball Prospectus writers take a look at several more infamous deadline deals from the 1988-1993 period over at ESPN. One thing that's surprising is how many of these names still pop up; Bagwell, Fred McGriff, David Cone, Jeff Kent, Ruben Sierra, Rickey Henderson, and Curt Schilling have all seen action this year.

• The excellent Mudville Magazine has a lengthy piece devoted to the Baseball Reliquary, a grass-roots museum and shrine devoted to the more esoteric corners and characters of the game (if this sounds familiar, it's because I've written about the Reliquary before). The article covers the Reliquary's mission, highlighting some of the relics in its collection (melted vinyl from the White Sox infamous "Disco Demolition" night, a half-eaten hot dog supposedly belonging to Babe Ruth, pinch-hitting midget Eddie Gaedel's jockstrap), as well as reactions from some of the inductees into the Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals ("The People's Hall of Fame," as 2001 inductee Jim Bouton termed it).

This year's inductees were one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott, female Northern League pitcher Ila Borders, and labor leader Marvin Miller. Past inductees include Curt Flood, Dock Ellis, Bill Veeck, Satchel Paige, Minnie Minoso, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Moe Berg, and Pam Postema. If you don't know who some of these folks are, read about them via the Reliquary's site. As for me, I'm going to pony up the $25 membership fee so I can vote in next year's election. Off the top of my head, Bill James, Roger Angell, Elliot Asinof, Buck O'Neil, and Mario Mendoza would be worthy additions to the Shrine.

• I received a nice email from a Seattle resident named Matt Smith concerning an old entry I wrote about ambidextrous Tony Mullane and other switch-pitchers. Here is what Matt, an 24-year-old pickup player:
I enjoyed your article at I am a switch pitcher, I reside in Seattle but am originally from Detroit. I just felt obligated to write to you and tell you about my ability to throw with both arms. I have a 78MPH fastball with my right arm (which is the arm i consider the more dominant one) A 76MPH fastball with my left. A sharp breaking curve with my right and a moderate curve with my left. I hope to one day wear a Detroit Tigers uniform and stand on the mound at Comerica Park and show my stuff to the league's best. Hey, a guy can dream can't he? Maybe we can play catch someday?
Matt, I'll bet you could crack the Tigers staff right now. Anytime you want to bring your gloves to New York City, I'm game for some catch.


A Whole New Thang?

Most of us who start baseball blogs simply want to offer our opinions and responses to the issues of the day as well as our takes on what our favorite teams are doing. But Julien Headley, the author of Julien's Baseball Blog, is offering a new twist: the development of a statistical system that, if it does as it claims, might be to hitters what DIPS is to pitchers.

It's not easy to follow the development of a formula or system in a blog, where the oldest posts are at the bottom of an archived page, the newest stuff is piled on top, and the definitive initial presentation (à la Voros McCracken's unveiling of DIPS or Tangotiger's Base Runs) has yet to be written. Perhaps all of this is premature. But it's extremely intriguing, so I've spent some time sifting through what Julien has to say, not only so that I can understand it, but also in the hope of bringing his work to a wider audience which may offer him some suggestions or poke holes in his theory. This isn't meant as a shot at Julien, but rather an attempt to steer his work towards the kind of peer review which any work of sabermetric value needs. See Baseball Primer for a myriad of examples.

Here is a portion of Julien first post, from about a month ago. Since the writer seems to have come from the e.e. cummings school of capitalization, I've taken the liberty thoughout this article of capitalizing common statistical abbreviations such as OBP and SLG to make things more legible:
what do hitters like to do? get on base and move runners over (this is the starting point for this blog). the former is adequately measured by OBP, the latter by SLG. the thing is, both include a substantial ball-in-play component. balls in play are highly random. therefore, it takes a long time before the statistics have meaning (at least a whole season).

the idea here is to find meaning in smaller sample sizes. in contrast to balls in play, walks, strikeouts, and home runs quickly normalize to a level representative of players' abilities. thus our three stats, based on walks, strikeouts, and power.

basically we took the batting average out of OBP and SLG. OBP without batting average gives you walk percentage. SLG minus average is isolated power, a similar idea to our power percentage.

wait a minute isn't batting average important? yes, but we can interpolate it based on contact and power. this is where contact percentage comes in. you see, there are two aspects to hitting for average: making contact, and hitting the ball hard. these things are measured by CON and POW. thus, if you know these numbers, you can predict what the player's average should be, given a significant sample size.

here's the cool thing: you can use the same numbers for pitchers. this time you want the numbers to be low. walk percentage measures control, contact percentage measures strikeouts, and power percentage measures the ability to keep the ball in the park.

baserunning and fielding are important aspects that are not taken into account by our method. they will be added to the discussion.
Walks, strikeouts, and power -- if this all sounds familiar, it's because these categories almost exactly match the holy trinity of defense-independent outcomes on which DIPS focuses. "Balls in play are highly random" -- more DIPS. Julien's well aware of this.

Here are the formulae for Julien's three stats on the hitters side (I'm going to ignore pitchers for now, though Julien certainly hasn't):
WAL = (BB + HBP) / (AB + BB + HBP)

CON = (AB - K) / (AB)

POW = .273 + .285 * (TB - H) / (AB - K)
WAL is walks per plate appearance, CON is contact per at-bat, and POW is a predictor for hits per contact. According to Julien, the major league averages of WAL, CON, and POW are .100, .800, and .330, respectively. It should be noted in the short time that Julien's been running his blog that the POW concept has undergone some change; this stuff is still a work in progress. In his initial statement it was a power percentage, (TB - H) / (AB - K), which translated into extra bases per contact at-bat. But then Julien did some regressions and discovered that hits on contact is easily predicted by that old POW in a linear formula. He revised POW to the new normalized POW, and now claims that this suite can predict AVG, OBP, and SLG in the following manner:

OBP = WAL + (1-WAL) * CON * POW
ISO is short for isolated power, a stat Bill James introduced in his Baseball Abstracts in the early '80s. It's extra bases per at bat; the formula is (TB - H) / AB. Again, according to Julien:
the numbers [WAL, CON, and POW] also have the advantage that they have meaning in small sample sizes. thus they can be used to predict the results of larger sample sizes. for example, over time batting average converges to CON*POW. that means after 30--40 games you can use CON*POW to see how well someone has actually been playing, and how lucky or unlucky he's been...

the numbers work for batters and pitchers. batters want them to be high; pitchers want them to be low. everyone can now be easily compared. major league average = .100 .800 .330.
These are bold statements to make, and I'm not going to be the one to tell you definitively that they work or they don't. Much as I love baseball statistics, and know which ones are important, that doesn't make me an expert on correlations, standard deviations, regressions, significance and the other stuff which makes a new-fangled stat such as DIPS or POW statistically valid. For Julien's work to gain acceptance in the sabermetric community, he'll need to give interested readers a deeper look into the method of his madness.

I'll open with a few questions of my own, which I hope Julien will answer:

• Where is the evidence that those numbers WAL, CON, and POW have meaning in small sample sizes, that, as you say "walks, strikeouts, and home runs quickly normalize to a level representative of players' abilities"?

• Those "major-league averages" for referred for WAL, CON, and POW -- do they refer to 2003, the last few years, or a longer-range time period?

• As far as the predictive value of this suite, can we see some comparisons based on prior seasons to see where these formulae worked and where they did not?

Julien's taken the time to run the numbers on everybody who's gotten a significant amount of playing time this year, as well as some lists of the best, luckiest and unluckiest hitters and pitchers. Check it out, and keep an eye on this guy's stuff. I'll be back with another look soon.

Thursday, July 24, 2003


Return of the Bulldog

If there's one subject of this site which I've been truly lazy in dealing with, it's books. I'm a voracious reader, and in addition to whatever else I've got going, there's always a baseball book that I'm currently reading -- new, old, or a revisited classic. I buy at least a dozen a year; alas, it seems as though I rarely get around to reviewing any of these for this blog.

Well over a year ago, I received a free book (which shall remain nameless) from a small publisher. It was extremely well-researched, but poorly written, and in dire need of a strong editor. On top of that the design was abysmal, right down to the garish cover art. In short, aside from the raw details it conveyed, it offended just about every sensibility I have when it comes to a baseball book. Not being in the mood to make an enemy -- I do just fine at that without reviewing anything -- I never did a writeup for the book.

Not that there's any guarantee I would have finished it had I started. I tend to dig myself a hole when it comes to book writeups, one I'm often unable to climb out of. When I scooped up a copy of The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract in November 2001, I churned out about 4,000 words grappling with it, 4,000 words that stayed on my back burner so long they were charred beyond recognition. I've still got a half-finished Moneyball review rattling around on my iBook like a grizzled AAA slugger in search of a major-league roster spot.

I've resolved to change my ways in this area, even if it just means a few paragraphs here and there -- at least they'll be a few timely paragraphs. I already wrote a few words about it last month prior to reading it, but what follows here is my take on Jim Bouton's Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark.

• • •

Foul Ball is not a sequel to Ball Four. Those who come to Jim Bouton's new book expecting a lighthearted story sprinkled with scandalously entertaining anecdotes about Whitey and the Mick or choice quotes along the lines of "Let's pound that old Budweiser!" will be disappointed. Foul Ball isn't even a baseball book, really. It's the story of an underdog fighting for a cause. This (Bull)dog discovers not only that the deck is stacked against him, but that he's stumbled into the midst of a silent war.

In the summer of 2000, the owner of the Pittsfield (Massachusetts) entry in the New York-Penn League announced that after the 2001 season he would move his team -- the city of Troy, New York had agreed to build him a stadium. Shortly afterwards, Pittsfield's only daily newspaper, the Berkshire Eagle, began pushing for a new stadium of their own to replace Wahconah Park, the oldest minor-league ballpark in the country. This new ballpark would be built on land owned by the Eagle, at taxpayer expense, of course, and despite the fact that the city now had no team.

The citizens of Pittsfield weren't buying. They resisted the efforts of the Berskshire Sports & Entertainment group (BS&E) formed to ramrod the stadium through. The BS&E bullied area residents with a "no stadium, no team" mantra, presenting their plan as if no alternatives existed and promising that the stadium would trigger "economic devlopment."

Enter Bouton, a resident of North Egremont, a nearby Berkshires town, and not one to suffer such bull and bullying gladly. Taking his cue from the locals' sentiment, Bouton siezed on the idea of restoring Wahconah Park and providing a team to play there. Joining forces with an investment banking friend (the amicably named Chip Elitzer) and an experienced minor-league franchise owner, Eric Margenau, Bouton put forth a proposal to save the park and baseball in Pittsfield as well.

The essence of his proposal was to provide 100% private financing to restore Wahconah, purchasing a team in either the Northern League or the Atlantic League (both independent leagues) and selling 51% of the team as stock to local owners, giving the city a ballclub that could not be moved and reversing "America's newest hostage crisis" -- the disturbing trend of franchises holding their cities hostage over new taxpayer-funded stadiums. Bouton could have called it the Field of Dreams Corollary: "If you don't build it, we will go."

Bouton and Elitzer took their cause to the people, building a grass-roots following in Pittsfield -- one so strong that the new stadium proponents (the Eagle, the City Council, the Parks Commission, and the Mayor) refused to hold public hearings on their proposal, preferring back-room dealings, editorial-page innuendo, outright lies, and a mayor who confided that "the fix is in." A succession of the mayor's flunkies made their own plays to bring franchises to Pittsfield, all with the goal of using Wahconah only as a stepping stone to a new ballpark.

As you can probably tell, this isn't a warm-and-fuzzy feel-good story. If conflict is the essence of a good tale, this one has it in spades. Nearly every day (the book is written in diary form) features some clash with a figure of authority who's trying to thwart the "Wahconah Yes" plan. Seldom does one hear a tale of public officials acting with such "naked disregard for the public good" (Elitzer's term) on such a consistent basis. At one point, Bouton wearily summarized his campaign's position:
The mayor says, "the fix is in." The City Council president says he's getting "an unbelievable amount of shit" from new-stadium councilors "and others." A mayoral candidate says state officials told him "the city was lying about not having to put up money." A state senator says he "knows" decisions are being made at a bar. And the Parks chairman is going around telling people we're "out" before the Commission has voted.
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Even worse than the above might imply. As Bouton persisted, he unravelled a tale much larger than a simple story about a ballpark. At some point he reallized he's stumbled into the midst of a silent war between the people of Pittsfield and their small-minded "leaders," a morally bankrupt power elite that literally sold Pittsfield down the Housatonic River when General Electric was discovered to have contaminated the local waters with carcinogenic PCBs.

Bouton's intrepid pursuit of the GE trail carried deep ramifications. Bouton terminated his contract with PublicAffairs, the book's initial publisher, after a top GE lawyer invested in the company and subsequently demanded removal of certain passages. Of course, this battle only provided more fodder for the Bulldog, by then revelling in his refashioned role as an knuckleballing iconoclast.

With the thirtieth anniversary of Ball Four, its republication with a new epilogue, and its placement as the sole sports book on the New York Public Library's Books of the Century List, Bouton has reportedly closed the book on that chapter of his life. No longer rehashing familiar tales of his playing days to get his point across, the author has done an admirable job of adapting his style and format to suit his more grown-up exploits. In a story that's alternately amusing, maddening and gut-wrenching, Foul Ball marks a welcome return for a legendary voice. Go, Bulldog, go!

Wednesday, July 23, 2003


The James Gang

Two lengthy articles about Bill James are online, both worth checking out, especially if your home team is getting rained out. The first is from the July 14-21 issue of the New Yorker. After introducing his subject and recapping his history, writer Ben McGrath quickly gets to the crux of the Jamesian view of baseball:
... James treated his readers to an egghead’s theory of winning baseball, in which outs—the only finite resource—are to be avoided at all costs, and walks (which are outproof) are considered more than just acceptable. Walks are admirable, and on-base percentage, not batting average, is the bedrock of a productive offense.

Baseball insiders—people who played and coached baseball every day—had a tendency to view outs as a necessary by-product of scoring runs. Experience showed them that a sacrifice bunt, properly executed, could lead to a game-tying base hit. They could see it right in front of them. They also remembered instances when the count was three-and-oh and a wanna-be hero, rather than take the walk, delivered a bloop single on a junk pitch, driving the go-ahead run home from second. What they couldn’t see from the dugout—but what James tended to “see” without watching at all, from the boiler room, even—were the things that didn’t happen, or that might have happened, but for the bunt, or for the lunge at a pitch outside the strike zone: the rallies that could put the game out of reach if you’d let the batters hit away instead of handing your opponents an out in the service of a lone score; the batters who accepted a walk, and then came around themselves to score, without risking the lazy fly out that was perhaps five times as likely as the lucky Texas leaguer.
Turning its focus to the enlightened regime of the Boston Red Sox (led by owner John Henry and GM Theo Epstein) that hired James for their front office, McGrath's piece offers a rare nuts-and-bolts view of James' job. According to the article, James files a quarterly report, "like a mini-Abstract, with a controlled circulation." The first 86-page report "demonstrat[ed] a 'very striking phenomenon'... in which Red Sox teams, thanks to the asymmetries of Fenway Park, have historically tended to succeed in relation to the number of left-handed batters in their lineup. (The more the better—contrary to popular belief, which holds that the Green Monster, an oversized wall barely three hundred feet down the left-field line, makes Fenway a righty’s delight.)" What stathead wouldn't love to get his hands on that?

The piece turns its focus to the Sox' notorious "closer-by-committee" experiment (derived from James' own writing) and the hysteria with which fans and writers greeted its early failure. In response, the author finds James sifting through some bullpen options (namely Bruce Chen and Rudy Seanez, neither of whom solved the Sox pen problems):
“We don’t have anything which suggests that one of these pitchers is going to break loose in Fenway,” he continued. “However, nonetheless it is true that in every baseball season you can identify forty pitchers who were pitching ineffectively, changed teams, and started pitching effectively.” James hopes to identify the conditions that may forecast such improvement in the future, and, for this and other studies, he has compiled a database—“a massive file, which I will send to the Red Sox with my next report, which has everybody in the major leagues, how hard they throw, what pitches they throw, and certain other information about them.”
Later on, the writer also notes James' son Isaac catching his father stuffing the All-Star ballot box for the Sox. Even Bill James can't be objective all the time.

The second piece on James is in The Pitch, Kansas City's alternative weekly, and takes things from the angle of a Royals fan. Against the backdrop of a doubleheader in K.C. in which James amusingly engages in wordplay involving the players' names, the article offers yet another lengthy history of the writer -- a well-worn tale by this time, given how much press the man has gotten since his November hiring.

But the piece soon shifts to a local angle, moving onto James' most famous disciple (and fellow Kansan) ESPN's Rob Neyer before discussing the wealth of analytical talent the home team has missed out on. On the positive side, apparently the Royals are finally getting the picture, relying more on statistical anaysis than in the past thanks to a new-found interest in walks by K.C.'s manager of baseball operations, Jin Wong.

A quick check of the team's batting stats reveals otherwise, at least at the major-league level; the team is walking once every 11.5 ABs this season, compared to once ever 10.6 last year. Among regulars, only Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltran are walking more than once every 10 ABs. The Royals rank 9th in a 14-team league in walks. Hmmmmm...

Still, the Pitch piece is another engaging look at the master, from a different angle than is usually offered. As the years go by, it will be interesting to see how James fares with the Sox, and whether the Royals make a play to woo back the great baseball mind they let slip out of their own backyard.

Sunday, July 20, 2003


First Times, Old Times, Good Times

One of the reasons we fans watch so much baseball is the chance to see something we've never seen before -- a triple play, an odd scoring decision, an unlikely home run. Saturday's ballgame at Yankee Stadium featured a previously uncharted event for me, and probably for the other 54,980 people in attendance as well: a three-run single, courtesy of Jason Giambi.

Entering the fifth inning, the Yanks trailed the Cleveland Indians 4-2. They had loaded the bases with no outs against Cleveland starter C.C. Sabathia, but futilityman Enrique Wilson grounded into a 5-2-3 double-play, leaving runners on second and third. After falling behind 0-2, Alfonso Soriano then worked a walk to reload the bases, and Derek Jeter followed with a sharp RBI single to trim the Indians' lead. Giambi, who's been on a tear lately (something like 19 homers and 46 RBI in his last 50 games), worked the count to 3-2. With two outs and two strikes, and with Sabathia's pace having slowed to a crawl, the runners took off before the pitch -- and not just a little bit. John Flaherty, on third base, crept halfway home, Soriano was well on his way to third, and Jeter, in a full sprint, had reached second by the time Sabathia delivered the ball. Giambi fouled off two pitches as the runners repeated this intimidating dance, but the Indians did nothing to counter it. Finally on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Giambi stroked a sharp single up the middle. By the time centerfielder Milton Bradley's throw reached home, Jeter had already slid across the plate, clearing the bases and giving the Yanks a 6-4 lead. Incredible.

The Yanks had jumped out to an immediate lead in the ballgame, with Alfonso Soriano lining a homer to leftfield on Sabathia's fourth pitch of the day. The blow was Soriano's ninth leadoff homer of the year, tying the single-season Yankee record held by Rickey Henderson. Raul Mondesi lashed a solo shot in the second inning, to left as well.

David Wells started off dominating the Indians, striking out four of the first seven hitters, including the side in the second. But the Indians came back in the third. With two on, two out, and a 2-2 count to Jody Gerut, Wells left a curveball in the middle of the plate, and Gerut launched a three-run homer to right while the crowd groaned. Five pitches later, Bradley followed with a solo blast to right, giving the Indians a 4-2 lead.

But Wells gutted this one out. Though most of the eight hits against him were hard, he helped himself with a couple of pickoffs, Enrique Wilson made a pair of sparkling plays, including the start of a 5-4-3 DP, and Raul Mondesi, battling the sun, shagged every fly ball that came his way (six in Wells' seven innings). And as has become his trademark, Wells walked nobody -- he's now allowed only six in 134 innings.

That's like two outings worth of walks for newly acquired Armando Benitez , who came on in the eighth and immediately made things interesting. Benitez walked the Indians' #9 hitter Jhonny Peralta in a 10-pitch at-bat. Todd Zeile bailed him out by turning a nifty 3-6-3 DP, but the pitcher couldn't deal with all this help. He gave up a single to Casey Blake and then a four-pitch walk to Gerut, at which point Joe Torre had seen enough. Mariano Rivera came on to retire Bradley on his first pitch -- another fly ball to Mondesi. Bolstered by another run in the bottom of the ieghth, Mo worked a perfect ninth, striking out two and nailing down the win.

Prior to the game, the Yanks held their annual Old-Timers' Day. With player introductions that lasted nearly as long as the game itself, the two squads of former Yankees (both wearing pinstripes) nevertheless squeezed in a 3 1/2 inning game, with Gene Michael's Bombers topping Clete Boyer's Pinstripes 4-1. On hand were five Yankee Hall of Famers: Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Dave Winfield, and, of course, Reggie Jackson. On paper, the Bombers had the better squad, with a Don Mattingly-Jackson-Winfield heart of the order (compared to Cliff Johnson-Mike Pagliarulo-Mike Hegan? You gotta be kidding...). Mattingly drew the biggest cheers of the day, but Jackson provided the best moment, with an inside-the-park homer that drew more resemblance from a Little League hit than from any of Jackson's 563 big-league blasts. Reggie's shot sailed over the head of centerfielder Duke Sims, who butchered things once he reached the ball. Jackson, stopping at third, reaccelerated and sailed home. The crowd ate all of this up, chanting "Reg-gie! Reg-gie!" as they gave him a standing ovation.

The Bombers scored had scored three runs in the prior inning, on a somewhat contrived matchup. Mike Torrez, who had already pitched for the Bombers, came on for the Pinstripes to face Bucky Dent with the bases loaded as the Jumbotron showed Dent's famous 1978 blast. Dent poked a scorcher down the third-base line to score two runs, and then Michael, the Stick himself, drove in one more.

Rules were something of an afterthought in this game, with each team shuttling pitchers in and out every third of an inning and taking multiple turns (I know, because I was probably the only idiot in the ballpark trying to keep score). Besides the Torrez-Dent contrivance, the most intriguing matchup was Jim Bouton retiring Reggie in the first with two men on base, though the Bulldog slipped on his way to the bag. Also of note was former Yankee reliever Ryne Duren making a cameo appearance. The coke-bottle-lensed pitcher came in to throw his trademark warmup toss to the backstop, much to the delight of the crowd, before yielding the mound to Stan Bahnsen.

The game featured several Torre-era Yanks, including Luis Sojo (who drove in the Stripes' only run), Wade Boggs, and Jim Leyritz (who's looking for a return to the majors. Also playing were three of Torre's coaches: Lee Mazzilli, Mel Stottlemyre, and Willie Randolph, who made several shining plays at second base. The guy can still pick it.

Friday, July 18, 2003


Time to Take Out the Trash

You know it's bad when they start devoting Top Ten lists to your exploits. Take this ESPN list of Armando Benitez's worst meltdowns (four of them against the Yanks, including #1). Or this David Letterman rendering of Randall Simon's potential excuses.

Back to Benitez for a moment. Lawrence Rocca of the Newark Star-Ledger has a piece reporting a conversation between former Mets manager Bobby Valentine and current Yankee GM Brian Cashman. Valentine, according to Rocca, lays most of the blame for Benitez's lack of acceptance in the Met clubhouse on the man he displaced as closer, reliever John Franco. Apparently the tough-talking son of a Brooklyn garbageman dished out more than his share of trash regarding his teammate:
According to people familiar with the conversation, Valentine told Cashman that Benitez's biggest problem with the Mets could be summed up in two words: John Franco.

It was Franco, bitter over being replaced as closer by Benitez, who led the back-stabbing of the sensitive pitcher in the Mets' fractured clubhouse, Valentine told Cashman.

It was Franco, the team captain, who leaked the embarrassing anecdotes about Benitez to the press that fueled the scornful fans.

It was Franco, Valentine told Cashman, who made Benitez the miserable and lonely figure he would become by the end of his tenure with the team.
Not that Valentine's mouth has ever made him an upstanding model when it comes to press relations, but there's plenty here that rings true. Having recently read Bob Klapisch and John Harper's account of the dismal 1992 Mets, The Worst Team Money Could Buy, it comes as no great surprise to hear about Franco's sabotage. Indeed, that entire book is a lesson in the ways "off the record" conversations with beat reporters fan the flames of discontent in a clubhouse. Franco was certainly a part of the action there, and his opinions carried a lot of clout -- he's the one who called for the press boycott in the spring of '92 over the reporting of various Mets' sexual escapades. Considering he was team captain and the man most affected by Benitez's arrival, it's apparent that he had an axe to grind in the situation, and the forum to do so.

This doesn't diminish Benitez's failures, but it certainly sheds some light on the ones which came with the Mets. Suddenly, those recent "anonymous" quotes regarding the need for Benitez to leave make much more sense. Who wouldn't be distracted by back-stabbing teammates?

Not that those left behind can do any better; a headline from today's New York Times: "Franco Picks Up Right Where Benitez Left Off." Touché, trashman.

• • •

For whatever it's worth, both Benitez and Franco have refuted Rocca's article, with the New York Daily News reporting the following:
"He did great," added Franco, Benitez's predecessor and potential successor as Mets closer. "He's a human being. He may have blown some games for us - the World Series and playoffs and big games - but everyone has done it. It's just that he's under the spotlight."
With friends like that, who needs enemies? Benitez still throws smoke, but at this stage of his career, all Franco does is blow smoke.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003


Missing It? Not Exactly

Among the things I missed on my extended vacation was the naming of the All-Star teams and the annual flurry of debate which surrounds them. In my brief airport surfing session, as I checked the announced teams, I had a chance to smile at Paul Lo Duca finally making the game, raise my eyebrows at Hideki Matsui starting in centerfield for the AL, and wonder whether Melvin Mora was the first father of quintuplets ever to make the team. But I had neither the time nor the patience to contribute my two cents to the debates, nor to compile my own versions of the All-Star teams.

For that matter, I missed the All-Star Game itself. Last year I was in Milwaukee, gorging on the ASG's surrounding festivities -- the Fan Fest, the Home Run Derby, the Futures Game, the Celebrity Softball Game, and even a chance run-in with Bud Selig -- like a man with an unlimited supply of bratwurst (too close to the truth, alas). But the resulting tie game and all of the bellyaches it caused drained most of my enthusiasm for this year's contest, even moreso with MLB staking home-field advantage in the World Series and Fox serving up a ham-fisted "This Time It Counts" campaign to go along.

So , to borrow a line from Office Space, I wouldn't say I missed this year's game. Rather, I chose an alternate form of baseball entertainment -- though to be honest, when I bought the tickets three months ago, I had no idea the game conflicted with the ASG. Anyway, five friends and I ferried to Staten Island to watch an installment of the Class-A version of the Yankees-Mets crosstown rivalry, as the Brooklyn Cyclones battled the Staten Island Yanks. The Staten Island ballpark, officially Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George, is a 25-minute free ferry ride from Manhattan. The park's outfield opens up to reveal Upper Bay and the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan -- as unique a vantage point as any professional stadium in America, even with the loss of the skyline's two most prominent buildings.

The Cyclones have owned the Baby Bombers this season; they entered the game having beaten the Bombers six straight times and with an 11.5 game edge in the McNamara division of the New York-Penn League. The game itself, however, was a nip-and-tuck affair. The Cyclones scored two runs in the top of the first inning, but the Yanks tied it up in the second and took the lead, 3-2, in the fourth. The 'Clones scored three in the sixth, but the Baby Bombers clawed back with a run in the eighth to make it 5-4.

The bottom of the ninth was a wild affair. A leadoff single by one Horace Lawrence was followed by a poor sacrifice bunt by Alexander Santa (who did not deliver) which led to a force at second. Then the Bombers centerfielder, 18-year-old Melky Cabrera, stroked his fifth hit of the ballgame, putting runners on first and second. The next batter, Adam Shorts, popped a foul ball down the first base line. Cyclones first baseman Ian Bladergroen, made an over-the-shoudler catch on the run, and the runners tagged. Bladergroen (isn't that what happens in a long bathroom line?) threw the ball to the shortstop ahead of Cabrera, who stopped in his tracks and began retreating to the uncovered first base. Meanwhile, Santa rounded third and headed for home, as the shortstop finally came to his senses and threw a perfect peg to catcher Yunir Garcia, who held the ball in a collision at the plate. The Yanks lost, but nobody left feeling as if they'd gotten anything less than their money's worth on that one.

• • •

The All-Star Break provides an opportunity for trade winds to swirl, and nowhere are they swirling more than here in New York City. The hot rumor, by now nothing less than a painful inevitibility, is that the Yankees will acquire beleaguered Met closer Armando Benitez for reliever Jason Anderson and a couple of prospects, with the Yanks also letting the Mets off the hook by paying the rest of Benitez's contract this season (approximately $3 million).

This, to borrow another line from Office Space, is a fuck.

No player in the history of the Yankee and Met franchises has been reviled simultaneously by both teams' fans the way Benitez is. Mets fans hate him for blowing leads in their biggest games, such as Game 6 of the 199 NLCS against Atlanta, Game One of the 2000 World Series against the Yanks, two crucial gamed against the Braves during the 2001 stretch run, not to mention a bushelful earlier this season, including a four-walk affair against the Yanks on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Yank fans' hatred of Benitez goes back to 1998, when he drilled Tino Martinez in the back with a fastball, inciting a surreal bench-clearing brawl. The fact that Benitez has imploded against the Yanks in key situations doesn't exactly raise his stock in their eyes either. No, we like him enough right where he is.

In giving up Anderson, the Yanks are cutting the cord on the first promising pitcher they've produced since Ramiro Mendoza in 1996 (except for Ted Lilly, perhaps). He's only gotten 20.2 innings of big league experience under his belt in 22 appearances this season (a 4.79 ERA), and he was roughed up twice last weekend against the Red Sox, but the 24-year old is a Live Arm who's already as capable as anybody else at the back end of the Yankee pen. If Joe Torre and the rest of the Yankee organization could have cured their addiction to Proven Veterans in the pen (see Acevedo, Juan and Miceli, Dan), they might have found themselves with a weapon eventually capable of filling Jeff Nelson's big, floppy shoes.

But that, as we've been reminded all too many times, isn't the Yankee Way, not with George Steinbrenner's deep pockets and win-now mentality. Never mind the fact that virtually the entire fan base would rather see Benitez implode than watch him help the Yanks win, or that the Yankees' upper farm system is the laughingstock of the game beyond Anderson, Brandon Claussen and a couple of others not named Henson, Almonte, or Rivera. The Yanks are about to take their meager harvest and turn it into the most bitter fruit of all.

• • •

That sushi dinner I wagered on the Minnesota Twins now stinks of rotten fish. The Twins, losers of eight straight and 12 out of 13 going into the All-Star break now find themselves in third place in the AL Central, 7.5 games behind the Kansas City Royals, a half-game behind the Chicago White Sox, and five games below .500. Is it time to start crying wasabi tears?

The Twins are simultaneously blessed and cursed with a plethora of corner position hitters, with manager Ron Gardenhire showing a frustrating unwillingness to commit too strongly to any of the youngsters. Most maddening has been his treatment of outfielder Bobby Kielty, a switch-hitter whose defense is good enough to play centerfield without being laughed out of the ballpark. A rookie last year, 25-year-old Kielty put up an 890 OPS in 348 plate appearances, showing both power (.484 SLG) and a keen batting eye (.405 OBP). But Gardenhire, operating on the theory that this weapon was too important to have in the starting lineup, kept Kielty shackled to the bench in the postseason, limiting him to seven at-bats in seven games.

Thus began a "Free Bobby Kielty" campaign which finally seemed to pay off early this season. Kielty started the year hot, posting a 1013 OPS in April and finally becoming a daily concern in the Twins lineup. A pulled rib-cage muscle slowed him in May, however, and his production has fallen off precipitously: a 771 OPS in May, a meager 634 in June, and a paltry 670 thus far in July.

On Wednesday, the Twins made Kielty something of a scapegoat, shipping him to the Toronto Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart and a player to be named later. In and of itself, trading Kielty in the face of such a redundancy of talent (Michael Cuddyer, Dustin Mohr, Lew Ford, Justin Morneau, Matt LeCroy, Todd Sears, and Michael Restovich) isn't indefensible. But adding another corner outfielder, even a useful (if somewhat overrated one) to the stockpile while ignoring the Twins' needs in the middle infield and in the starting rotation is borderline criminal. Further, this is a lousy deal from the cost-conscious Twins' perspective. Kielty makes only $325,000 and still has 3 years to go before free agency. Stewart, on the other hand, is making over $6 million this season and will be a free agent at season's end.

Even before the trade Rob Neyer chimed in on the topic of the Twins squandering their talent surplus. Now, we can expect plenty of outrage from the online Twins community, especially Mr. Bonnes and Mr. Gleeman.

Meanwhile, those of you who've ponied up the dough ought to read Steven Goldman's piece on the Twins at Baseball Prospectus Premium. Goldman, who pens the much-revered Pinstriped Bible for, compares the Twins org's handling of their talent to that of the Casey Stengel-era Yankees. As Goldman points out, the Stengel era was marked by two distinct phases, with opposing tentendcies. In the first (1949-54), the Yanks did a good job of analyzing their youngsters, giving them shots at limited roles in which they could be productive, then gradually expanding those roles. In the second, the Yanks jerked the youngsters around, disappointed in them for what they were not. Goldman finds the Twins at this pivotal point, with tons of talent at their disposal and and wonders which way they'll swing. Good stuff.

Monday, July 14, 2003


A Few Things I Missed

I'm back from my two-week vacation in the Bay Area and Alaska. Both stages of my trip were great, with the former giving me an opportunity to reconnect with some old school chums and the latter netting me some 15 pounds of red salmon as a take-home, not to mention a boatload of hilarious fish stories (none, thankfully, related to the Florida Marlins).

I've been more or less off the grid as far as baseball is concerned, except for a few stray sports sections here and there and an hour spent surfing in the San Francisco airport last Monday during a six-hour (ugh) stay there. Most of this will come as old news to you, but here are some of the happenings and writings -- good, bad, or ugly -- that have impressed me as I've tried to catch up:

• With a .276 AVG/.303 OPB/.418 SLG, it's tempting to say that Pittsburgh Pirates starting first baseman Randall Simon can't even get arrested. But Simon proved that to the contrary in Milwaukee on July 9, showing that he'll swing at anything that moves. Simon clubbed the Italian Sausage mascot during the Brewers' famous sausage race, resulting in not one but two mascots falling down (the gal in the Hot Dog costume was the other victim). Though the swing was in jest, Simon was arrested and booked for misdemeanor battery. Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges, and Simon was left off with a $432 fine for disorderly conduct. The woman wearing the Italian sausage costume, 19 year old Mandy Block, was treated for scraped knees but didn't take too much offense, settling for an apology along with the bat Simon used. MLB said they never sausage terrible behavior, and relished handing out a 3-game suspension along with a $2,000 fine for Simon's hot-dogging. What a weiner.

• In the same sausage-marred game, relief pitcher/outfielder Brooks Kieschnick recorded his first major-league win. Kieschnick entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the 11th inning, hitting a single. He then took over the pitching duties, tossing a scoreless inning before the Brewers scored a run in the 12th.

The Kieschnick experience is working out reasonably well for the Brewers. As a pitcher, he's tossed 31 innings in 23 games, with a 4.35 ERA and a 1-1 record. He's shown good control, walking only 5 and striking out 18 (3.6 K/W, 5.2 K/9). As a hitter he's been even better, hiting .333/.362/.622 (984 OPS) with 4 homers in 45 at-bats. He's 7-for-15 as a pinch-hitter, with an 1162 OPS. The Brewers are having another rough season in the cellar of the NL Central 37-56, .398 winning percentage), but their 25th man isn't the problem.

• Finally, there's a real Pride of the Yankees. Curtis Pride, best known for making the majors ten years ago despite being almost totally deaf, joined the Yanks on July 4. Of course, that's the anniversary of Lou Gehrig's famous farewell speech. In a story too perfect for fiction, Pride homered in his first game as a Yankee on July 6. In front of a packed house of 55,000, Pride drew a curtain call he couldn't even hear, but whose vibrations he could feel. The blow helped the Yanks beat the Red Sox, 7-1, and to turn around a tense series complete with with trash talk and purpose pitches.

The 34-year-old Pride has played in parts of seven seasons in the bigs prior to this stay with the Yanks, hitting .256/.335/.414 in just over 700 at-bats. His best season came in 1996 for the Tigers, where he hit .300/.372/.513 with 10 homers and stole 11 bases. Prior to joining the Yanks, he hadn't played in the majors since 2001.

When Pride came up in 1993, the bigs hadn't seen a deaf player in 50 years. Baseball Primer's Bruce Markusen, who also works for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, has a history of the handful of deaf players who've played in the majors, starting with Dummy Hoy, who popped up on an old scorecard I investigated recently. Hoy is often credited as the reason umpires adopted hand signals for safe, out, and strike calls, which would make for a nice little niche in baseball history. Alas, according to Markusen, it's not quite so clear-cut; the signals his third-base coach gave Hoy may have inspired their usage by umps.

• Speaking of substitute Yankee outfielders, Karim Garcia continues to do his David Justice impersonation since donning pinstripes. Since joining the Yanks, he's hit .349/.364/.581 with 3 HR in 43 AB while the team has gone 10-6. While he just suffered through a hitless week, Garcia's play since joining the Yanks has given them a nice little lift and added some sorely-needed depth.

• But the sweetest music of all for Yankee fans is the return of centerfielder Bernie Williams, who missed 42 games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. In his first game back last Wednesday, Williams broke an 0-for-23 skid with a single and drove in two runs.

Williams, who moonlights as an avid musician, will release his first CD, The Journey Within, on GRP Records on Tuesday. The New York Times describes Williams' music as "Latin-flavored jazz with a tinge of soul." That may not be your cup of tea, but then again, Paul McCartney's not your biggest fan.

• In considerably less melodic news, Dusty Baker apparently left his brain in San Francisco. The Chicago Cubs manager shot his mouth off on July 5 with a wacko racist theory which would have gotten a white man fired had he uttered it:
You don't find too many brothers in New Hampshire and Maine and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right? We were brought over here for the heat, right? Isn't that history? Weren't we brought over because we could take the heat?

Your skin color is more conducive to the heat than it is to the light-skinned people, right? You don't see brothers running around burnt and stuff, running around with white stuff on their ears and nose and stuff.
Ugh. Anybody else think Dusty's spent too long baking his brains in the sun? Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey lets Baker off fairly gently, pointing out the scientific basis of Dr. Baker's theory is less than sound.
According to a study by Dr. Robert S. Helman of New York Medical College, "heatstroke affects all races equally. However, because of differences in social advantages, the annual death rate because of environmental conditions is more than three times higher in blacks than in whites."

Another study by the Borden Institute, which researches medical issues in the military, states: "It has been suggested that as a group, blacks are less heat-tolerant than whites. This is certainly supported by U.S. Army medical reports."

I don't want to make any more out of this than what it is—a man talking out loud without checking his facts first. Baker isn't saying the solution to the Cubs' difficulties is more people of color and fewer people of pastiness. He's saying what a lot of people take on faith, that blacks are better suited for work in warm weather than whites are. He just happens to be wrong.
Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News questions Dusty's history lesson ("Yo, Dusty, do you think more slaves died in the summer heat of the Southeastern states or in the raging influenza epidemics of the winters?") and serves up a few historical parallels for comments of Baker's ilk: Dodger GM Al Campanis, football prognosticator Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, and John Rocker. Not exactly good company to be in.

• The Mets divested themselves of one of the most disappointing players in recent memory, Roberto Alomar, trading him to the Chicago White Sox for three minor-leaguers. It certainly doesn't look like new GM Jim Duquette got very much for the second baseman except the privelege of paying his salary while the Mets rid themselves of a major disappointment. Then again, I can think of people I've worked with whom I would have paid $3.75 million to see leave, if only I had that kind of change lying around. And an interested buyer, of course.

The pick of the crap, I mean crop, of prospects the Mets received is pitcher Royce Ring. Around the Majors' Lee Sinins had this to say about Ring:
Ring, 22, was the Whitesox 1st round pick in 2002. He was ranked as the team's #10 prospect by Baseball America and was given a B grade by John Sickels. After having a 3.91 ERA in 21 games in A ball in 2002 (plus 5 shutout innings in Rookie ball), the reliever is off to a 2.52 ERA start in 36 games in AA in 2003.
Meanwhile, the dismantling of the Mets jugger-naught continues. On Monday they traded outfielder Jeromy Burnitz to the Dodgers for three promising prospects, and reportedly the Dodgers will even pick up some of the outfielder's $11.5 million salary. Burnitz alone won't be enough to help the Dodgers' woeful offense, which is now smarting from a season-ending knee injury to Brian Jordan, a second stint on the DL from the Crime Dog, Fred McGriff, and an all-around craptacular season from Shawn Green. But even with all that and the Dodgers having lost 15 of 20, Jim Tracy -- with the help of the nearest hardware store and a deep pitching staff -- will probably still cobble together something resembling a wild-card contender.

There's plenty more of this stuff, but at the risk of drowning my readership in old news, I'm just going to have to accept that I missed the better part of two weeks baseball and move on...

Tuesday, July 01, 2003


Gone Fishin'

Well, folks, I'm off for the trip which is the centerpiece of my summer. Six days in the San Francisco area visiting several old friends and capped by my pal Joel's wedding, followed by six more in Alaska, with my newly-retired father on a guided fishing trip in the Katmai National Park. I may get a chance or two to post here, but most likely, things will be pretty quiet until I get back on July 13.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other great blogs to read, of course. My usual suspects include Alex Belth's Bronx Banter, which has an interview with Jim Bouton on tap, Mike's Baseball Rants, for all of your Joe Morgan-bashing needs, The Cub Reporter, just back from a European vacation, Elephants in Oakland, Dodger Thoughts, Twins Geek, Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, and a whole lot more. You'll still feel the immense void left by my absence, but I'm sure you can survive on this thin gruel of sites. If you need more, check out Baseball Primer, The Baseball News Blog, or

I'd like to call your attention to a new blog, Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT. Rich's first piece is on the American League's newest freak of nature, Devil Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli. Rich looks at Rocco's hot start, his lack of plate discipline, and some historical parallels for the pride of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Good stuff.


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