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.

Saturday, November 29, 2003


Notes from a Lefty

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to everybody; I hope your Turkey Day was as good as mine. Andra and I hosted Thanksgiving dinner in our small East Village apartment, with her mother visiting us from Milwaukee and my brother and his girlfriend joining us as well. Andra did a superb job on the bird and all the trimmings, my bro chose well with the wine, and we've got a fridge full of leftovers. Yet another reason to be thankful.

Progress with my surgically repaired right shoulder has been slow. I'm still wearing a sling 97% of the time, taking it off only for showers and clothing changes. This means most of my typing is being done left- (and one-) handed. Not only has this slowed the speed with which I can record my thoughts in writing, it's apparently slowed the formation of those thoughts. I feel like I'm pedaling a bicycle with one leg, hence the scarcity of work being done for this space.

I am making forward progress on something, however. My hunt-and-peck style is suitable for manipulating a spreadsheet, so I have begun culling the data necessary to create Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS) for 2003. It will be awhile before I can present full data here, but my hope is to have at least some of it to offer for my upcoming analysis of the Yankees' options for starting pitchers.

So while you're waiting for my arm to grow back, check out what Alex Belth has to say about the Curt Schilling deal, read Rich Lederer's fascinating interview with Will Carroll, start arguing at Baseball Primer or on your local barstool over which of these men should be elected to the Hall of Fame, or check out some of the other usual suspects listed at left.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003


Our Story So Far

It's been 31 days since the Yankees lost the World Series to the Florida Marlins, which means it's been 30 days since armchair GMs started tripping over each other to offer blueprints for fixing the numerous glaring weaknesses of a team which won 101 regular-season games and its sixth pennant in eight years. The past month has seen pundits posit the pinstripes as the perfect prescription for every marquee free agent this side of Pudge Rodriguez. They've plotted trades for big names such as Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Curt Schilling, Carlos Beltran, and Javier Vasquez, among others. They've expected George Steinbrenner to pound a panic button which would jettison Alfonso Soriano to the far reaches of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion League for his meager postseason performance, coax Roger Clemens out of retirement, trade Nick Johnson for a mouthy, over-the-hill former ace who's an armchair GM himself, and claim Manny Ramirez's $100 million contract and ten-cent head off of waivers from the Boston Red Sox.

Yet despite all of the ink spilled in this rush to remake the Yanks, none of this has happened. Surprise! What's next -- an article from Peter Gammons entitled "Pitching Comes First for Yankees"? Too late. Sorting out the fly shit from the pepper -- to borrow a phrase from my father -- when it comes to the Yanks' offseason plans has been a tedious task, one that I've pretty much avoided except in private conversation. After all, most of these deals don't even pass the crack pipe test ("If you were a GM who'd been smoking crack for a week, would you make this trade?"), let alone merit a blow-by-blow evaluation.

For once, the team with the game's biggest payroll seems determined not to set the market. That's likely an impossiblity, given that the Yanks can always outbid their opponents, and that they may be the only team capable of making a multi-free-agent splash. But like every other team, they seem determined to wait for the secondary free-agent market (based on non-tendered players as of December 20) to present cheaper alternatives and perhaps bring down the asking price of the non blue-chip free agents.

Let us review where the Yanks stand. The Yankees have eleven players under contract for 2004, in commitments that total nearly $100 million. Believe it or not, they have even more money tied up in 2005, and nearly $400 million committed over the next six years. Here are their long-term commitments, with all figures in millions, via the MLB Contracts Page. These numbers have been calculated to include prorated signing bonuses; year-by-year team totals include buyouts but not team options:
2004: Jeter $18, Mussina $14, Williams $12, Giambi $10, Posada $9, Contreras $9, Rivera $8.89, Matsui $7, Weaver $6.25, Karsay $5, Lieber $2.45. Total: $99.59 million

2005: Jeter $19, Mussina $17, Williams $12, Posada $12, Giambi $11, Weaver $9.25, Contreras $8, Matsui $8, Lieber $8 team option/$0.25 buyout, Karsay $5. Total: $101.5 million

2006: Jeter $20, Giambi $18, Mussina $17, Williams $15/$3.5, Posada $13.5, Contreras $9, Karsay $6.5/$1.25. Total: $82.25 million

2007: Jeter $21, Giambi $21, Mussina $17/$1.5, Posada $12/$4. Total: $47.5 million

2008: Jeter $21, Giambi $21. Total: $42 million

2009: Jeter $21, Giambi $22/$5. Total: 26 million
Whew. For better or worse, the Yanks are locked in on several players; due to their large, backloaded contracts, Giambi and Jeter would almost certainly sail through waivers just as Manny did. These commitments make a wholesale housecleaning impossible, requiring the Yanks to patch up their foundation and improve incrementally. Fortunately, a housecleaning is not what the Yanks require, and unlike most other teams, they've got the money to pay salaries other teams can only bitch about.

As it stands right now, the 2004 Yanks face two fundamental problems:

1) The rotation may be facing its biggest overhaul of the Joe Torre era.
2) The team's up-the-middle core, second baseman Alfonso Soriano, shortstop Derek Jeter, and centerfielder Bernie Williams, is bordering on defensive inadequacy for a ballclub with championship aspirations.

I'll explore both of these problems in greater depth in next couple of weeks. For now, here's a quick glimpse at a few of the free-agent situations they're facing:

• They're not getting Curt Schilling for their starting rotation. A couple of weeks ago, the word was that George Steinbrenner was set on Schilling as Roger Clemens' replacement in the Yankee rotation. But the Diamondbacks appeared to overplay their hand. According to a report from ESPN's Jayson Stark (who is apparently Schilling's personal mouthpiece, judging by his three columns in ten days devoted to the pitcher's Hamlet-like deliberations): "Arizona asked for Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano and a prospect. And the Yankees were expected to assume not just Schilling's $12-million salary for next year, but also more than $16 million in deferrals. And take back either Matt Mantei or Junior Spivey." One can only hope Brian Cashman didn't break a rib laughing at that one.

Since that rebuke, the Red Sox have put together a trade for Schilling, one in which they'd give up pitcher Casey Fossum and three prospects -- in other words, no proven talent. But that deal is contingent on Schilling waiving his no-trade clause, presumably to sign a two- or three-year contract extension which would enable him to end his career in Beantown. Until he decides to lobby for another trade, that is. And only if the team hires his pal Terry Francona as manager, a move the Boston Globe reports is in the pipeline.

Of course, the New York-area papers are ready to paint Schilling-to-Boston as another crisis which will have Steinbrenner screaming for vengeance. Please. The Yanks didn't get to where they are by going off half-cocked every time some tabloid spelled out a Sox deal. If you're a Yanks fan, count yourself lucky they didn't give up either Soriano or Johnson in a Schilling deal, and that he'll soon be somebody else's headache.

Steven Goldman, who writes the "Pinstriped Bible" column for YES, had an enlightening take on the Yankee angle to this deal:
The two Yankees young enough not to have fought in the War of 1812 are safe, at least until Boston resolves Curt Schilling's contract demands. Given the lesser package Arizona seems to have accepted -- three pitchers of unsettled destiny plus an outfielder who slugged .295 in the Sally League, Arizona's demand for Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson can be viewed as an opening gambit, a bluff. It also serves as an epitaph for the Yankees farm system.

The Yankees currently do not have sufficiently exciting prospects to put together a package of nearly-ready talent. If you're thinking of trading with the Yankees and you don't want expensive veterans or fringe-y youngsters, Johnson and Soriano are really the only items of interest left on the menu.
While that may be true, there are still other reasons to like Schilling in a Red Sox uniform from the Yankee point of view. One is that it would appear to limit Boston's long-term spending options. They already made a desperate move to free themselves from Manny Ramirez's contract, and they're in the final year of Nomar Garciaparra's and Pedro Martinez's deals. Handing out $25-40 million in extensions to the new kid in town isn't likely to be a hit with those two, and it's also unclear whether Boston would assume responsiblity for the deferred money. Additionally, signing him would likely eliminate the Sox as one of Andy Pettitte's suitors.

Steinbrenner's admiration to the contrary, Curt Schilling is not Roger Clemens. He's a pitcher who's had two excellent seasons and several good ones over the course of his career, but he's never won a Cy Young award, let alone six, and he's got a ways to go to win 200 games. He's a flyball pitcher, not particularly well suited to Fenway Park, where he hasn't done too well historically (career 6.04 ERA in 25.1 innings). On the other hand, he's still a fine pitcher who strikes out more than 10 men per nine innings and has pinpoint control, allowing less than two walks per nine in each of the past four seasons. Though he spent a bit of time on the DL last season, that time was due to an appendectomy and a broken hand, not shoulder or elbow trouble. But as the Yanks found out in the World Series, old pitchers have a nasty habit of breaking down at inopportune times. Let Schilling break down on somebody else's watch.

• They're not getting Vladimir Guerrero as their rightfielder. The 27-year-old is, as ESPN's Jerry Crasnick puts it, "The only player young, talented and accomplished enough to set the standard for free agents this winter." But Vlad picked the wrong year to become a free man, or at least the wrong strategy to pursue. The market is slow, and teams aren't inclined to give out the large, long-term contracts that they tossed around so freely in the past (see Ramirez, Manny).

Yankee GM Brian Cashman has shown little interest; his long-term payroll obligations are too high to justify signing Vlad to a multi-year deal. As he told Crasnick: "He's a 27-year-old premier free-agent outfielder, and I've got a lot of guys on very large contracts. Not that we're not interested in Vladimir Guerrero, but our current commitments negate us from being a player on him."

Fair enough. As the New York Daily News' Anthony McCarren points out, it's possible that Cashman is just being a savvy negotiator (imagine that!): "[M]aybe the Yankees are positioning themselves for a late run if Guerrero doesn't get what he wants elsewhere."

• The Yanks appear to prefer Gary Sheffield as their rightfielder. Unlike Guerrero, the 35-year-old Sheffield is in no position to demand a deal longer than three years. A few days ago, Sheff's uncle Dwight Gooden floated the rumor that his nephew was poised to sign with the Yanks, something along the lines of $35-40 million over three years. That's not an unreasonable amount of dough for a guy who's averaged 35 homers, 105 RBI and an OPS in the neighborhood of 1.000 over the past 5 years, even if he does lead the league in headaches. Sheffield appears to like the Yanks as well.

But it's not a done deal -- Sheffield lawyer/contract consultant (he fired agent Scott Boras this year) is still giving the standard "We're talking to many teams" spiel, and the Braves, his team of the past two seasons, are still in the picture. The money from either team may not be as high as Sheffield desires. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Yanks are preparing a 2-year, $22 million offer, while the Braves are offering about $10 million a year for two or three years -- this despite the fact that Sheffield made $11 million this past season.

Expect plenty of bitching before this one comes to pass.

Sunday, November 23, 2003


Another Rich Interview

Rich's Weekend Baseball Beat continues its fine interview series this weekend, checking in with David Pinto of the prolific Baseball Musings blog. What's most interesting about Pinto is that he has a lot more professional experience around baseball than most bloggers. He built software for Stats, Inc., working with Bill James and John Dewan and helping to develop the Zone Rating system. He worked as the head of research for ESPN's Baseball Tonight TV show, creating graphics and putting numbers at the fingertips of the show's hosts. He numbers Peter Gammons and Rob Neyer among his friends. Recently his name even came up in connection with an opening for a stat analysit in the New York Mets front office, though the job apparently went to somebody else. Rich Lederer touches bases with Pinto on all of these topics in his interview.

In addition to his short takes on the news of the day, Pinto has been working on a much larger and more complex project related to defensive statistics which he calls "Probabilistic Model of Range". Here's how he describes his work to Lederer:
Range is the Holy Grail of baseball stats. We all have a feeling for what range represents, but it's really difficult to pin down with a number. Plays per game, plays per nine innings, and zone ratings were all attempts at measuring range, and they all have their flaws. UZR was the first probabilistic model that I know of. It looked at the probability of making a play in a particular zone (area) on the field. Mine is similar to that, although I eliminate the idea of a zone.

Basically, there is a probability distribution of balls put into play. The normal position of fielders should be where those probabilities are densest; in other words, the shortstop should stand where the most ground balls are hit in his area of responsibility. Ground balls hit in the densest region should be easier to field because that's where the SS is usually standing. So if you field a ball there it's no big deal, everyone does that. But as you move left or right from the region of highest density, the balls are more likely to get through for hits. So a SS who consistently fields those balls well should get more credit than someone who doesn't. So the probabilistic model of range tries to model these probabilities and assign them to fielders based on where balls are hit.
For the uninitiated, UZR stands for Ultimate Zone Rating, a system by Mitchell Lichtman which examines defense using play-by-play data including the location and speed of batted balls. Basically, what both Lichtman's and Pinto's systems are asking is, What is the probability of a batted ball becoming an out, given the parameters (direction, how hard, and type) of that batted ball? From Pinto's blog:
I've used the STATS, Inc. database to obtain three parameters for each ball; its direction (a slice of pie fanning out from home plate), its batted type (ground, fly, line, bunt or pop) and how hard the ball was hit (soft, medium or hard). I then did a maximum likelihood estimate of the probability of an out given those three parameters for each of the nine fielders.
In a follow-up post, Pinto explains the difference between the two systems. Ultimately, work such as this will give us a better understanding of just how much influence a pitcher has in influencing the outcome of a ball in play, expanding upon the work of DIPS inventor Voros McCracken.

Pinto is definitely a prominent figure in the world of baseball blogging, one who's clearly got the skills to be employed inside the game. Catch up with him before some team entices him to put his number-crunching skills to work for them.

Friday, November 21, 2003


Post Op Posting

I'm pleased to report that my surgery on Wednesday went well. In an operation that lasted about an hour, my surgeon made four small incisions and put in two anchors to repair my torn labrum. He said the surgery went "perfectly" and that there was no damage in my rotator cuff.

I've been convalescing in relative comfort at home, thanks to my girlfriend, who's been a great nurse throughout. I'm unable to do much of anything with my right arm, which is immobilized in a sling, so it's been a difficult process to eat, and my typing has devolved into the hunt-and-peck stages. So I'm going to sit back and relax for another couple of days before trying to resume my regular blogging here. Thanks again to everybody who's sent along their best wishes. It's nice to know I've got friends out there. I'll be back in the lineup soon.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003


Under the Knife

Wednesday is my labrum surgery, and as you can guess I'm a bit anxious. But after all of the homework I've done, the consensus of people I've talked to -- doctors, physcial therapists, family -- is virtually unanimous; this needs to be done. I spoke to my doctor today and he reassured me about the procedure, which will likely take 45-90 minutes depending on whether they find damage in my rotator cuff as well. Inquiring GMs are standing by, trying to gauge whether to offer me an NRI to go with my MRI.

Thanks to everybody who's called or written over the past several days to wish me the best. My surgery will be sometime Wednesday morning, and I'll be home by the afternoon. I should be back in my usual chair in a couple of days, when we'll see how well I can blog with my left hand and a few painkillers.


Can the Great Stadium Swindle Continue?

Neil deMause's book Field of Schemes (co-written with Joanna Cagan) has been in my reading pile for quite a while, and I thought of him a couple times over the past few days while reading and writing about the Milwaukee mess. The book's subtitle, "How the great stadium swindle turns public money into private profit," serves to remind that the people of Milwaukee are not alone in being bilked by club owners.

There must be something in the air, because today deMause has an excellent free article at Baseball Prospectus called "The Stadium Game." The piece examines the boom which has seen 19 new stadiums built in 18 years, counting the new ballparks in San Diego and Philadelphia slated to open next spring. According to deMause, these new parks have cost taxpayers around $5 billion, On the boom, he writes:
The start of the new-stadium craze is easy to pinpoint. In 1989, SkyDome demonstrated that a retractable roof was technically feasible (if pricey--the SkyDome lid drove its total cost over $600 million in Canadollars), while introducing baseball's first full-scale food court, complete with baseball's first seven-dollar hot dogs. It also shattered attendance records: the Jays are still the only team other than the Rockies in their Mile High days to sell more than four million tickets in one season, demonstrating that fans would turn out just to take a gander at a new building (though the two titles won by the Jays in SkyDome's first five years helped some, too). When two years later Camden Yards inaugurated the "retro" craze, single-handedly sweeping HOK's old concrete-bowl blueprints into history's dustbin, it set off a feeding frenzy among teams to be the next kid on the block with a shiny new toy.

The result has transformed baseball. On the field, the new home run-friendly parks have helped create the surge in offense that typifies Selig-era baseball, while turning such traditional homer havens as Wrigley Field into relative pitcher's parks. In the stands, the layers of luxury seating that are de rigeur in modern facilities have made the cheap seat with a good view a thing of the past, as nearly every new park has featured upper decks more distant from the field than the old buildings they replaced. The new parks raised demand for tickets, and owners have taken full advantage--new parks have seen average ticket price as much as double in a single off-season.
DeMause examines the remaining candidates for new parks, rating them from contenders to long shots. The most obvious contender is the World Champion Florida Marlins, about whom he writes:
Though Marlins execs have never stopped griping about the unsuitability of Pro Player Stadium for baseball... the team's real problem is the albatross of a lease that Huizenga designed as a way to siphon off funds from the team while crying poverty. (Economist Andrew Zimbalist estimated that in the 1997 championship year, it enabled the former garbage-hauling king to turn a $14 million profit into a $34 million paper loss.) What really needs to happen, says Zimbalist, is "Huizenga ought to renegotiate the lease. If he doesn't, they'll probably get a new stadium, and he won't get any money out of it. Pro Player is a decent stadium, and with a decent lease, that place can work."
DeMause also notes that we're unlikely to see another privately-financed stadium like San Francisco's Pac Bell any time soon:
Pac Bell Park became the only privately funded ballpark of the last four decades for a reason: It was built in a city with the world's highest concentration of dot-com tycoons, at precisely the moment when they were flush enough to be hit up for the long-term seat licenses that laid the foundation for the new park...

The dodgy prospects of even an unmitigated success like Pac Bell--one estimate by Sports Business News projected that the team needs to sell 30,000 tickets a night for the next 20 years just to break even on its stadium debt--points to the dirty little secret of the stadium boom: On their own, they don't make money. Though team owners have been enriched by their new digs, it's not from the new luxury-box and concessions revenues, which wouldn't even pay debt service on all the steel and concrete. The only money to be made in new stadiums is by subsidizing team profits with the public purse.
That doesn't exactly paint a pretty picture for going the Pac Bell route -- not that Bad Rug Bud is about to let another team try. But with no stadium currently under construction for the first time since 1985 (when the Toronto Skydome broke ground), let's hope that the taxpayers in these candidate cities take a long, hard look at the disasters that have taken place in Milwaukee, Detroit, et al before falling into similar traps.


When Bad Clubs Enter New Parks

With the Brewers Payne-ful situation lurching towards a conculsion, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an article examinning a situation Milwaukee fans are all too familiar with: when bad ballclubs enter new ballparks. The consistency of this trend is alarming:
The lessons learned in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Cincinnati in recent years have been harsh, bringing a sobering dose of reality to franchises counting on new ballparks and ramped-up payrolls to result in tremendous success, on and off the field. All four ballclubs now are in disarray, financially and competitively.

"When you look at it, all four general managers - Dean Taylor (Milwaukee), Jim Bowden (Cincinnati), Cam Bonifay (Pittsburgh) and Randy Smith (Detroit) - were fired," said Doug Melvin, who replaced Taylor last year.

"All of them tried to go into new ballparks with higher payrolls and thought it would make a difference. That's out the window now. Clubs like San Diego and Philadelphia have to be a little wary about that."
Haudricort rattles off lots of numbers pertaining to the Unfab Four, as he calls them. Rather than regurgitate those numbers, I thought it would be helpful to assemble them into a simple chart, but then I took it a notch further by plugging it into a spreadsheet. Because Haudricort's payroll data had some gaps and inconsistencies, I tossed it aside, instead opting to use the handy USA Today Baseball Salary Database. That database uses opening day roster figures (not my favorite measure) but actual salaries and prorated bonuses (as opposed to average salaries plucked from multi-year contracts which may be heavily backloaded -- a big plus). Looking at the four teams, the trend becomes very visible (payroll and attendance in millions):
              old0     new1     new2    new3     new4

Detroit 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
payroll $35.0 $61.7 $49.4 $55.0 $49.2
attendance 2.03 2.44 1.92 1.50 1.36
wins 69 79 66 55 43
losses 92 83 96 106 119

Milwaukee 2000 2001 2002 2003
payroll $35.8 $45.1 $50.3 $40.6
attendance 1.57 2.81 1.97 1.70
wins 73 68 56 66
losses 89 94 106 96

Pittsburgh 2000 2001 2002 2003
payroll $29.6 $57.8 $42.3 $54.8
attendance 1.75 2.46 1.78 1.64
wins 69 62 72 75
losses 93 100 89 87

Cincinnati 2002 2003
payroll $45.1 $59.4
attendance 1.86 2.36
wins 78 69
losses 84 93

Average 4 tms 4 tms 3 tms 3 tms 1 tm yrs 2-4
payroll $36.4 $56.0 $47.3 $50.1 $49.2 $48.8
attendance 1.80 2.52 1.89 1.61 1.36 1.70
wins 72.3 69.5 64.7 65.3 43 61.9
losses 89.5 92.5 97.0 96.3 119 99.9
Make no mistake, whether we look at the "before" or the "after," these are bad ballclubs. There's not a single winning season in the fifteen under examination, and the teams' aggregate winning percentage in this chart is .412, equiavalent to a godawful 67-95 record (or rather, fifteen of them).

Looking at the Average section, here we can see that the typical team, entertaining delusions of grandeur, boosted its payroll by a whopping 54 percent upon moving to a new park. Its attendance shot up almost as dramatically, 40 percent upon moving, but on that new field, the team was actually three games worse. The second year in the new park, the team slashed payroll by 16%, and lost big -- another five games on the field, and 25% of its attendance. In year three, payroll was increased ever so slightly, but the on-field product stagnated and attendance sagged another 15%. Year four was downright biblical for the one team that's gotten so far; next year's Brewers and Pirates should beware.

Granted, it's a small sample, but what's perhaps most alarming and depressing about all of this is that once the novelty wears off, these teams look to be worse off than before. Comparing the average of the years 2-4 to the final year in an old park, we see a payroll that's 34 percent higher, attendance that's 6 percent lower, and a team that's ten games worse. Even throwing out last year's Tigers, average team is seven games worse off than before in years 2-3.

What all of this underscores is that, far from Cleveland Indians model and the rhetoric of Bud Selig and various owners, a new ballpark is anything but a panacea for a mediocre team hoping to become competitive. Once the honeymoon's over, disappointment in the team's onfield performance can generate a backlash in the fan base that footed the bill for the new venue, exacerbating a cycle of misery and making it even harder for a team to improve enough to contend. Far from being a model for success, this is a recipe for failure.

Sunday, November 16, 2003


Clearing the Bases

Call this a remix of what I put online earlier this evening...

Grab the Money: Superdupestar Barry Bonds pulled a puzzling move the other day by announcing that he was pulling out of the Major League Baseball Players Association group licensing agreement. The move is a first in Players Association history but not unprecedented in the world of sports; Michael Jordan pulled a similar stunt. The agreement covers money each player earns through the sale of licensed merchandise such as jerseys, cards, and video games, and means that Barry's name and likeness won't be used as part of those products unless and until Bonds negotiates a separate deal with each company producing the product. That means you or your kids won't play Barry Bonds on a Playstation 2 game, or flip through a pack of cards in search of a Bonds one until Barry gets more money for going it alone.

Damn. Just when I thought I had come around on my opinion of Bonds, he pulled the rug right out from under me. There's no way of spinning this as anything other than a purely selfish move, a cash grab out of naked greed. Is it within his legal rights to take this action? Yes. But licensing money is a slice of the pie by which all major leaguers are created essentially equal, with their payments based solely on service time (see below), not on star power. Unlike the 25th guy on the Tampa Bay bench, Barry's already got an astronomical salary ($16 mil in 2004) and endorsement opportunities galore in which he can reap the benefits of his prowess.

The MLBPA is the strongest union in the world for a reason -- its stars stay in line with the rank and file, increasing all of their bargaining power. For Barry to do this sets an ugly precedent; if Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and a few more eight-figure guys forego the licensing agreement, suddenly the Melvin Moras of the world are going to be out a significant chunk of change.

As for the dollars involved here, I don't have a full grasp on them. Judging from the scarcity of information on the Internet, just how much the MLBPA makes in licensing money appears to be a closely guarded secret (the only source I could find was in a book costing $1,095 -- thanks, I'll wait for a used copy to show up at the Strand). According to a USA Today piece on Topps baseball cards from 2001:
Each big-league player receives a $500 check from Topps in addition to the licensing royalties the company pays the Major League Baseball Players' Association. (Licensing revenue is the major source of revenue for the MLBPA). The union gives each player one check for all licensing rights, from cards to videos to T-shirts. The amount is on a scale, based of years of major-league service, but the MLBPA doesn't disclose the figures.
Five hundred dollars isn't much, but remember that's just one of a multitude of products which the MLBPA licenses. The impact on the players is one thing, and while it won't prevent the aforementioned Mr. Mora from feeding his quintuplets, it's just a jerk-assed thing to do.

But the message this sends to fans is even more jerk-assed. Bonds is saying in effect, "Hey, I'm too good for you to be able to buy my cards and jerseys the way you buy those of everybody else. You fans should have to pay more for Barry Bonds than you do for somebody else." That brand of arrogance has prevented many fans from taking to Bonds as he's scaled unprecedented heights of individual performance the past few years. An extra $20 or $50 for a Bonds jersey may seem like chump change to Barry. But it just proves he's the chump.

• • •

Hide the Money: Doug Pappas, the foremost authority on the game's finances, has been covering the developing Brewers' situation in his Business of Baseball weblog. On Friday, in response to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article which stated that in addition to cuts for 2004, the Brewers payroll was going to be reduced through 2006, Doug did some figuring. His estimate reveals a considerable gap between what the Brewers can expect to take in and what their reported operating budgets are:
[T]he report says that the Brewers' baseball operations budget -- not just major league player salaries, but the cost of benefits, coaches, trainers, managers, and the entire minor league system, including signing bonuses for draftees -- will be $60.58 million in 2004, $60.5 million in 2005 and $61.4 million in 2006. For a club in a new ballpark that expects to receive $15 million from the revenue sharing pool this year and more in the future, that's ridiculously low.

The Brewers say they're paying $8 million/year in debt service. Adding that to the baseball operations budget brings the club's expenses up to about $70 million/year. While the Brewers haven't released revenue figures, MLB's 2001 financial disclosures provide a basis for some reasonable estimates. The Brewers probably receive:

• $15 million/year (and rising) from the revenue sharing pool
• $25 million/year (and rising) from national revenues
• $6 million/year from local radio and TV
• $50 million/year from gate receipts and other stadium-related revenues. The $50 million figure represents a 40% decline in these revenues since 2001, the Brewers' first year at Miller Park, when they took in $83 million from these sources.

These conservative estimates bring the Brewers' revenues up to $96 million/year. If they spend $70 million/year on baseball operations and debt service combined, that leaves $26 million for other expenses. Where is all that money going?
Those 2001 financial disclosures are the ones Doug thoroughly explored in his award-winning eight-part series, "The Numbers," and they are essential reading for anyone who wishes to grapple with baseball's finances and the sleight-of-hand which they reveal. So if Doug says there's $26 million missing and somebody else (even --especially -- a Selig) tells you "that ain't so," ask them to get out their spreadsheets and run through the figures for you.

And speaking of Bad Rug Bud, another J-S piece reveals that while he's the commissioner of baseball and his ownership stake is in a trust, Bud has put $13.2 million of his own money into the team "over the past five or six years." Hmmmm, doesn't the supposedly neutral commissioner putting millions of dollars into a team suggest a conflict of interest?

Not according to Bob Dupuy, MLB's CEO and president: "In my opinion and the opinion of the clubs, I think Bud has been scrupulous in avoiding any appearance of either favoring or being involved with the operation of the Brewers." Well, case closed, right? Dupuy did elaborate: "The only thing that he has a right to be consulted on is putting up money. He has a right to say he'll invest or not invest when they make capital calls."

So then, Bud the Owner can put his money behind a scheme which Bud the Commissioner (different guy, see?) has helped to create and enforce, such as a revenue-sharing setup which brings the Brewers the most money out of any team in the league and which will cover at least half of its payroll next year. That is rich, and I don't mean Sexson. Kids, if that ain't a conflict of interest, I don't know what is.

• • •

Où est le Boof? The reasons behind it are a story for another day, but the winter GM meetings in Arizona wrapped up after a week with only a single deal going down. In the lone trade, the Minnesota Twins traded All-Star catcher A.J Pierzynski to the San Franscisco Giants for reliever Joe Nathan and two minor-league hurlers (repeat after me: There's No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect). One of those minor-leaguers -- Boof Bonser -- caught my attention not just because of his improbable name (which is almost as good as the just-released Stubby Clapp) but also because he's got a blog named after him which is devoted to his now-former team. Here's what the site had to say on Friday:
And, thanks for the concern, but the name of the blog didn't convey any sort of special attachment to the goofy-named ex-Grizzly. It's a play on "Waiting for Godot", a play where the protagonists wait for someone who never shows up, and my snarky way of saying we shouldn't hold our breath waiting for a Giants prospect. My biggest fear was that the guy was going to make the Giants roster, because then I'd really be screwed and have to consider a name change. "Waiting for Merkin" was a possibility, though that would sound like a blog for some freaky fetish site. Not because that's a problem in and of itself, but because it would just get lumped in with already established sites like, "Waiting for a Bullwhip and an Apology".
Oooookay. Anyway, Bonser just turned 22 in October and he got his first taste of AAA at season's end, going 1-2 with a 3.13 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 23 innings. At AA, he was 7-10 with a 4.00 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 135 innings, numbers which are a bit less impressive when you consider that he allowed 20 unearned runs to go with the 60 earned ones.

The Giants have now traded a considerable amount of pitching over the past year: Livan Hernandez, Russ Ortiz, Damien Moss (who they got from Atlanta as part of the Ortiz deal), Kurt Ainsworth (who went with Moss to Baltimore for Sidney Ponson), and Boof. They also lost rookie pitcher Jesse Foppert to Tommy John surgery in September, and ace Jason Schmidt underwent minor elbow surgery (not TJ) following the season. I'm not sure where the Giants plan on getting their innings from next year beyond Schmidt and Kirk Reuter and don't particularly care. But wow, that's a lot of turnover.

Beyond noting that Twins Geek John Bonnes is very psyched to have a boy named Boof to cheer for, I'll let somebody else take a crack at analyzing this deal. The Transaction Guy -- Cub Reporter Christian Ruzich in a new role -- has to say:
The Giants get trash-talking AJ, a good-hitting and solid-defending catcher, marking the end of the Benito Santiago era. AJ is arbitration eligible and should make between $2-3M, assuming the Giants don't sign him to a long-term deal. He'll be 27 next year, theoretically just hitting the prime of a career that's already seen him put up three years of increasing OBP (last year: .360). They give up a pitcher who hit his stride as a reliever this year after a few frustrating, and injury-filled, years as a starter, and two minor-league pitchers who might turn out to be something special.

The Twins open a spot for The Natural, Joe Mauer, who tore up the AFL this spring [sic -- it's the Arizona Fall League] and may be ready to take on the role of starter at the tender age of 20. If his arm is healed, Nathan can start or relieve, though I imagine he'll slide into the role soon to be vacated by LaTroy Hawkins. Bonser and Liriano are probably a few years away from being major league starters, but they are nice pickups for the Twins.
At the tender age of 20 Mauer hit .341/.400/.453 in half a season at AA after going .335/.395/.412 in high A. But despite those numbers and the optimism folks such as Ruz are expressing, I think Mauer, the overall #1 pick in the 2001 draft, is probably a year away from a full-time job in the Show. At the very least, the Twins will need a veteran caddie along with Mauer, with Matt LeCroy able to play behind the plate as well. But with that kind of depth and a mandate to keep their payrolll at the same level, it did make more sense for the Twins to deal A.J. and try to keep one of their stellar relievers (LaTroy Hawkins or Eddie Guardado) instead of losing them both.

• • •

Bronx Bonds on the Beat: In the second installment of his interview series, Rich Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball Beat catches up with Bronx Banter's Alex Belth. The conversation runs from Alex's girlfriend ("I've always viewed sports and girlfriends like church and state. They have to co-exist but I never try to mix them") to his film career (a post-production assistant on Ken Burns' "Baseball" series, plus he worked for the Coen Brothers on The Big Lebowski) to his celebrity encounters and interviews (from Marvin Miller and Buck O'Neill to Michael Lewis and Rob Neyer) to his to his work on a book about Curt Flood to his favorite Yankees.

But the most revealing part of the interview comes when Alex talks about his often-stormy relationship with his father and how they've managed to connect through baseball:
But from the start, I remember, if not exactly fighting with my dad, then at least some sense of friction that I rooted for the Yankees. I don't know that it was my first baseball memory, but as far back as I can remember my father railed against George Steinbrenner's boorishness, his arrogance. Steinbrenner was a bully, and an out-of-town bully to boot. Dad didn't care much for Billy Martin either. The truth is, as much as my dad despised George and Billy, he possessed similar character traits. At that point, my dad was drinking heavily and his alcoholism cost him his career in the TV business as well as his marriage. He was manipulative and a bully, too. I wasn't aware of that stuff at the time, but I did know that the one Yankee my old man did hold in some regard was Reggie Jackson. He appreciated Reggie's showmanship, not to mention the fact that he was intelligent and well spoken. So I think the fact that I could connect just a little bit with my dad through Reggie made me care even more about Jackson.
Alex exposes some raw, powerful stuff in that interview, and then he delves further into the topic of fathers and sons at his own blog today, even bringing up the aforementioned Bonds piece I wrote about earlier.

It's almost eerie to read about the Reggie link in Alex's relationship with his father; it's a much darker reflection of the special place Reggie holds in my own baseball bond with my father. From the time I came to understand the game on a professional level, Reggie provided a frame of reference between us. He was the superduperstar then, and while we were unencumbered by an obligation to root for his team, my dad and I were as fascinated by his mythology and his loquaciousness as we were of his talent. He was larger than life, but in a happier way, perhaps, than he was in Alex's world.

Friday, November 14, 2003


Rooked, Again

An ugly situation is brewing in Milwaukee. Brewers team president/CEO Ulice Payne is apparently being forced out after one season by the team's board of directors, who have also decided to slash the player payroll by 25 percent, a move which will make the club an even tougher sell to a skeptical fan base. And it gets worse.

Following the worst season in franchise history in 2002 (yes, even worse than the Seattle Pilots which a certain used-car salesman hijacked), team president/CEO Wendy Selig-Prieb, daughter of you-know-who, relinquished her title. The moribund team brought in the charismatic Payne -- at a price of $7.5 million for five years -- just over a year ago to inject some hope and chart a new, less Selig-addled course. He chose a new regime in GM Doug Melvin and manager Ned Yost, and with nowhere to go but up, the ballclub improved by 12 games (to 68-94), at one point reeling off 10 straight wins.

Now the Brewers board of directors (chaired by the very same Selig-Prieb) has apparently told Payne that the team needs to cut their payroll from $40 million down to $30 million for next season, a move which will almost surely require the team to shed its two All-Stars, first baseman Richie Sexson and outfielder Geoff Jenkins, who will both make over $8 million. Payne doesn't like the message that's sending to the fans, who have already waited through eleven consecutive losing seasons. The board apparently doesn't like Payne, releasing the public statement about the team's budget cut without his knowledge. Payne's been reduced to no-comments such as "I am in discussions about my situation."

Legislators apparently don't like the message any more than Payne, and are turning up the heat on the ballclub. As it sought its $400 million taxpayer-funded stadium (Miller Park), the team had pledged to "create an economic structure so that the Brewers have the financial resources to consistently field competitive teams, which will maximize attendance and the economic benefits to the city, county and state." State Assembly Speaker John Gard sees the team's current actions as reneging on that pledge: "The taxpayers of this state have made a multimillion-dollar investment in this baseball team and taken the club's decisions on faith. This week's revelations of a 'fire sale' at the ballclub have shaken this faith, and it is time for us to actually be given a look at the books and review how the team is managing its finances." Unfortunately, that's little more than political posturing, because the Brewers are a private entity and can't be compelled to turn over the books for perusal.

So here you have a team that hasn't seen a .500 season since the first Bush presidency. They have a $400 million state-of-the-art boondoggle (with a busted roof, to boot), a 40% decline in attendance since said boondoggle opened, and $110 million in debt. Neither the $24 million in new money which investors have poured into the club over the past two years nor the revenue-sharing windfall they reap annually seem to be earmarked for improving the product on the field (hmmmmm), so -- shocker of shockers -- they've decided to go into a rebuilding mode by cutting salary, a move which will likely cost the team its top gate attractions.

As often happens when I come across such an absurd spiral of misery, a Simpsons quote springs to mind. In this case, it's from the Scorpio episode, where Bart's sent to a remedial class after the family moves:
Let me get this straight. We're behind the rest of our class and we're going to catch up to them by going slower than they are? [making "crazy" gesture] Cuckoo.
That about describes it. What's even worse for the Brewers (wait, it gets worse?) is that these revelations have reduced any leverage the team had going into the winter with regards to moving Sexson, Jenkins, or any other commodity they might actually have. Any GM that picks up a newspaper knows the Brewers are desperate, so getting value for their stars will be even more difficult for Melvin.

With the Florida Marlins now holding a World Series trophy and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays clinging to a bit of promise with their home-grown talent and an experienced manager, the Brewers are officially the worst franchise the sport has to offer. Except for Detroit, if they're still considered major-league. It's a wonder the good people of Milwaukee don't torch Miller Park and lynch the Seligs.

What has to be the most embarrassing thing about all of this for Brewers supporters is that the man synonymous with Milwaukee baseball, commissioner and owner-in-exile Bud Selig, has been whistling a tune about making the Brewers competitive for a long time. His song included the part about needing a new, publicly-funded stadium to be competitive, which the taxpayers gave him. His song included the part about needing greater revenue sharing for his small-market team to be competitive, which the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement gave him. Bud got his Brewers both of those things, but the fans don't have jack shit to show for it in the form of a more competitive ballclub, nor will they in the foreseeable future. Can you blame them for staying away in droves? And where the hell is the money going, anyway?

The headline to the articles concerning the CEO/president's ouster say things like "Payne May Be Done at Brewers." But when it comes to the Brewers, there's nothing going on but pain.

Thursday, November 13, 2003



In the AL Rookie of the Year voting, I cast my own ballot for K.C. shortstop Angel Berroa at the Internet Baseball Awards and had Hideki Matsui second. In a narrow vote, the Baseball Writers Association of America came to the same conclusion. But the way they arrived at that result rankled some, including Matsui's ever-voluble employer, and for once George has a point: the two writers who left Matsui entirely off their ballots did so for misguided reasons, as a protest to the rules which made the Japanese League veteran elibigle. One of them, Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, issued a self-righteous missive in which he compared himself to "whipping boys Joe Torre, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Don Zimmer, Mel Stottlemyre and Dave Winfield" for being on the receiving end of Steinbrenner's ire. Uh-huh, he's a martyr just like Yogi. How could he have left Dick Howser off the list?

ESPN columnist and resident Royals fan Rob Neyer was upset by the way Berroa won as well. He offered the best summation of the situation:
As you might have heard, two voters didn't list Matsui on their ballots at all; not first, nor second, nor even third. Both voters have publicly stated that they didn't consider Matsui because of his extensive experience in Japan.

I hesitate to criticize my colleagues, but these guys -- the Worcester Telegram & Gazette's Bill Ballou and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Jim Souhan -- couldn't be bigger clowns if they wore red noses and big floppy shoes.

1. Matsui is, according to the rules, a rookie.
2. The rules instruct the voter to vote for the best rookies.

Case closed. If a voter thinks the rules don't make sense, he has two viable options: he can refuse the ballot in the first place, or he can accept the ballot but decline to return it. Either of these actions would make the point, and might lead to a change in the rules. Heroic even, in a very small way.

But no. Instead, Ballou and Souhan want to have it both ways. The writers love to vote, because it's as close to playing God as they'll ever get. So they vote and they protest, except the protest rings hollow, since it's accompanied not by sacrifice, but by whining.
Reviewing the two candidates myself, once you get past Matsui's gaudy but misleading RBI total (103) they look pretty even. Shortstop Berroa had almost exactly the same OPS that leftfielder Matsui had (.789 and .788, respectively). Baseball Prospectus has Berroa at 27 runs above a replacement-level shortstop and Matsui at 23.6 runs above a replacement level leftfielder, again comparable totals. But Win Shares, which takes defense into account, shows a wider gap between the two. Matsui comes in at 19, good for 35th in the AL. Berroa comes in at 16, 61st in the league. In retrospect, that probably should have been enough to sway my vote the other direction.

But oh well, I could say the same about the NL Rookie of the Year, which not only saw Dontrelle Willis beat out the more worthy (according to Win Shares) Brandon Webb, but saw the best-hitting rookie, Brewer Scott Podsednik get jobbed as well. Podsednik racked up 22 Win Shares, while Webb garnered 17 and Willis 14. I do think Willis' impact on the Marlins turnaround was worth something, as was the Fernandomania-style buzz he generated in attendance, so I won't lose a whole lot of sleep over that one.

For what little it's worth, while I've previously had cold feet about Japanese Leaguers being eligible for the Rookie of the Year, I've come around on it. More than ever after watching Matsui, it seems clear to me that the jump between Japan and the majors is a bigger one than most people realize. The combination of larger ballparks, stronger competetion, and a cultural gap as wide as the Pacific Ocean makes the transition for a Japanese Leaguer anything but automatic, so if they're new to the majors, they ought to be eligible for the award.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003


Ode to the Score Bard

The blogsphere's A-Rod of verse
Saw his mood take a turn for the worse.
But showed he was able,
Built a Periodic Table
Of Bloggers
, an impressive first.

Yikes. If the Score Bard is the Alex Rodriguez of baseball-related poetry, I'm its Enrique Wilson, so I'll hereby make a solemn pledge not to bust any more rhymes here until the Beastie Boys accept my job application. The enigmatic Bard's muse has apparently been spending time south of the Mendoza Line, so in an attempt to shake things up, he created the Periodic Table of Bloggers, a color-coded page of links mimicking that Periodic Table of the Elements which taunted you throughout high school chemistry. The table was under wraps, but somehow Instapundit got wind of it, forcing the poor Bard to stay up late to finish the page.

I'm flattered to find myself included in the baseball section. My chemical symbol is Fr, for Francium, a "vanishingly rare" radioactive metal which has never been isolated in its pure form. I'm not sure whether the Bard is trying to say I'm tough to pin down, dangerous even in small doses, or completely useless, but as Bill Veeck said, "There's no such thing as bad publicity as long as they spell your name right."

Check out the table, and while you're there, marvel at the Bard's Primey-worthy poetry.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003


Bum (with a Bad) Shoulder

I try not to burden my friends, so I've only hinted at it a couple of times in this space, but yours truly has been playing hurt since mid-June. In a horseplay-related swimming pool accident -- exactly the kind your mother warned you about -- I injured my right shoulder. Hanging out at my pal Nick's parents' place in Northampton, MA, I agreed, in my infinite wisdom, to some competitive tomfoolery which involved me diving onto a flotation mat. Genius. My hands instinctively went out to cushion my landing, but my right hand slipped and slid sideways across the mat, pinning my elbow in the vicinity of my sternum and sending a sickening jolt of pain through my shoulder.

The short version is that I tore my labrum, and after three months of physical therapy that haven't solved the problem, I'm slated to undergo arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday, November 19 to repair the damage. I've spent the last two weeks shuttling back and forth between doctors and labs, getting all of my ducks in a row in preparation for this. I've been stuck with needles so many times feel like a human pincushion, but I guess that's good practice for what will happen next week.

The labrum is a ring of fibrous cartilege that surrounds the end of the scapula (the shoulder blade) and holds the head of the humerus (the upper arm bone) as a ball-and-socket joint. My magnetic resonance scans (MRI), which weren't done until about a month after the injury, showed that I sustained a common type of tear called a SLAP tear. In addition to being something I'm tempted to do to myself every time I explain my injury, SLAP stands for Superior Labral Anterior Posterior. Basically, the lining of my shoulder joint was torn front to back.

Following the diagnosis by my orthopedic surgeon, I went through three months of physical therapy, which did help some in alleviating the impingement syndrome from which I suffered. But even now, my shoulder is still unstable, I've been unable to return to anything approaching my normal regimen of lifting weights, and many of my daily activities, such as opening windows and doors or holding onto a railing on the subway, cause me pain. I wake up several times each night to reposition my arm. I haven't thrown a baseball since a couple of hours after sustaining the injury, which I attempted for diagnostic purposes, finding that even flipping the ball twenty feet was a chore. Basically, my shoulder's felt as though it had the wind knocked out of it, and though I can't point to a single specific area that's sore, getting through a day pain-free is like trying to cover for an unfilled cavity -- sooner or later I do something to remind myself just how much I hurt.

My doctors and every other reliable source of information I've consulted have been pretty unanimous that at this stage the shoulder isn't going to get any better by itself, and that the surgery, which is 85-95% successful, is about as minimal as it gets. Basically, I'll be put out via general anesthesia and given a nerve block via a shot to my neck (mmmmm). Three incisions about a centimeter in diameter will be made in my shoulder, one in the back and two in the front. Using an arthroscope, a narrow fiber optic instrument with a camera, they'll peek into the joint through the incisions. They'll check my rotator cuff, which by most indications is probably normal, and reattach my labrum to the scapula via suture anchors. This kind of surgery is an outpatient procedure, so I'll be going home the same day, and after a few days of convalescing, I should be able to work the following week.

It's the rehab which is a bitch. To give my shoulder time to heal, I can't do much of anything for the first four weeks beyond the simple things -- feeding myself, typing, and some light range-of-motion stuff. So long, ski season. After that I'm looking at about 4.5 to 6 months before I can resume full activity, including breaking out my mitt to toss the ol' horsehide around. That feels like an eternity right now, but it's a better outlook than chronic pain and a throwing motion my girlfriend wouldn't sign for (she can zing it).

It's a good thing my baseball career is limited to the occasional game of catch or a rare turn in the batting cage, because a torn labrum is something no ballplayer wants to mess with. To find out why, I turned to medhead extraordinaire Will Carroll, who writes the Under the Knife column for Baseball Prospectus. Will and his father, orthopedic surgeon Dr. William Carroll, wrote a big piece on injuries, "The Medhead Manifesto," in the Baseball Prospectus 2003 book, including half a page on SLAP lesions, which are one of the "big five" injuries that cause nearly fifty percent of all lost playing time. Here's what the Carrolls have to say:
The SLAP Lesion (Superior Labrum Anterior Posterior) is an overuse syndrome injury commonly associated with overhead activities, such as the throwing motion in baseball. Technically, the anatomical structure that makes the SLAP lesion possible is the origin of the tendon of the long head of the biceps muscle and the way it hooks over the head of the humerus (the bone of the upper arm that makes up part of the shoulder joint). If the arm is forcibly bent inward at the shoulder as it is in the throwing motion, the humerus acts as a lever and tears the biceps tendon and the labrum. The lining of the shoulder joint from the glenoid cavity is torn in a front-to-back fashion, hence the name SLAP -- the superior aspect of the labrum is torn from anterior to posterior.

Usually the signs and symptoms involve the athlete either complaining of pain or instability in the shoulder while throwing. This condition worsens when the athlete puts his arm into the "cocked position" ready to throw. Some athletes with this condition may experience pain while doing overhead weight lifting and some have reported actually hearing a clicking sound in the shoulder when attempting to throw.

Unfortunately this condition is seldom discovered until the damage to the labrum is already done. Athletic trainers and physicians utilize a clinical test called the shoulder impingement test to clinically identify this condition. The test is performed by stabilizing the rear of the athlete's shoulder, extending his elbow and passively forward flexing the arm. If the test is positive for a SLAP lesion, the athlete will experience pain near the end of the range of motion. If this test is positive, usually an MRI will be done to confirm the diagnosis.

If the damage to the labrum is not significant, withholding the athlete from activity and prescribing anti-inflammatory medications may treat the condition. Stretching and stabilization exercises can be utilized under supervision when the pain lessens. It is extremely important that the athlete not return to sports-specific activity (such as throwing) until the pain has entirely disappeared.

If the labrum is significantly torn, the only viable treatment for someone who wants to continue to be active in the sport is a surgery in which the surgeon arthroscopically reattaches the torn labrum. After the surgery it is very important that the athlete undergoes supervised rehabilitation designed to both strengthen the shoulder muscles and gain flexibility in the joint. Unlike the generally more positive outcomes that result from Tommy John surgery, only a small percentage of players of those that suffer significant labral tears are able to successfully return to anywhere near their previous level of performance. Most often, players that are able to come back lose significant velocity, are forced to alter their mechanics, creating further injury risk, and often retear the labrum. Recent cases such as Mike Sirotka and Mariners prospect Ryan Anderson come to mind as typical.
Yeeech. That's two players who haven't thrown competitively since the 2000 season -- not exactly good company.

Will was kind enough to grant me some time to talk further about torn labrums. Basically the injury is a more drastic one for a ballplayer than a rotator cuff tear or an ulnar collateral rupture (which requires Tommy John surgery) because it's harder to detect and because there's no good rehabilitation protocol. Sports medicine has made many advances in treating other injuries thanks to the advent of the MRI, but in Will's opinion, it will probably be another 10 years before labrum rehab becomes routine in baseball. He points to Dodger rightfielder Shawn Green's surgery as a worst-case scenario -- Green's labrum was torn too severely to repair, so the damaged cartilege was removed, and he's got some bone-on-bone in the shoulder. Somehow, after talking about that, a best-case scenario didn't come up, but Will did reassure me that my surgery will likely be "as minimal as it goes."

So for once I'm sitting here thinking that I'm glad I don't have to hit big league pitching or keep my fastball in the mid-90s to put food on the table. This isn't going to be a joyride, but with my doctors I feel as though I'm in good hands. I'll be up and around in a few days after surgery, probably milking the experience for another column or two here. In a few weeks I'll be hoisting beers with Will and Alex Belth during baseball's Winter Meetings in New Orleans. Don't worry, I'll be hoisting with my left hand.

• • •

Christian Ruzich is back online, and one of the things he's done is set up a live Pitchers and Catchers countdown. At last notice, there were 95 days, 21 hours, 41 minutes and 36 seconds until the big event.

Sunday, November 09, 2003


War of Attrition

Will Carroll keyed me in to some interesting work being done by a guy named Avkash Patel at his blog, the raindrops. Inspired by a line from Billy Beane in Moneyball ("Baseball is a game of attrition, and what's being attrited are pitchers' arms."), Patel took a look at a stat he's calling Attrition Rate (AtR) which involves pitches per plate apperances and on-base percentage.

The theory behind this is that a long at-bat which works the count has value, even if it results in an out, because it tires the pitcher. And even more valulable at tiring a pitcher is a batter's success in avoiding outs -- on-base percentage. So what Patel came up with is a way to combine these two skills and express them in a meaningful number. Patel figured pitches per out made (#Pitches / [(AB - H) + CS + SF + SH + GDP]) and then multiplied by 18, giving us a figure that tells us how many pitches it would take a pitcher to get through six innings (18 outs); in other words, to make a Quality Start. The median of Patel's four-year sample was 98.63 -- just about 100 pitches, a handy context any stat-minded fan can understand. Here 's the top ten for 2003:
147.65 B. Bonds, SF

126.58 N. Johnson, NYY
126.17 J. Giambi, NYY
126.09 T. Helton, Col
124.56 E. Martinez, Sea
124.46 B. Abreu, Phi
122.75 M. Mora, Bal
122.49 F. Thomas, CWS
122.04 C. Delgado, Tor
121.60 B. Wilkerson, Mon
Those are some damn good hitters, even though a couple of the names (Mora, Wilkerson) are unlikely. What this says is that it would take a pitcher nearly 150 pitches to get through 6 innings of facing Barry Bonds (of course, he'd have allowed 10 runs by then, based on his Runs Created per 27 Outs). The next two hittes on the list are no slouches either; they form the DH/1B combo for the AL champions. Statheads now have yet another reason to drool over Nick Johnson, and the rest of the world should be remnded that even in a down season, Jason Giambi is still a terrific hitter. For what it's worth, Giambi's RC27 of 7.92 was still 12th in the majors, and he was in the top 10 in Equivalent Average and Runs Above Replacement Level.

Here are the bottom 10, the most hacktastic players in the majors this past year:
82.12 K. Harvey, KC

81.46 R. Sanchez, Sea/NYM
81.08 A. Sanchez, Det/Mil
80.38 V. Castilla, Atl
79.81 B. Molina, Ana
79.73 R. Santiago, Det
79.67 R. Simon, ChC/Pit
77.75 B. Phillips, Cle
77.63 C. Izturis, LA
74.61 D. Cruz, Bal
Yargggh. Anybody who's played Hacking Mass will recognize a lot of those names; I had three of them (Castilla, Itzuris and Rey Sanchez) on my HM team, and the latter two were HM All-Stars. Suffice it to say that none of those guys are ever going to make much money for their stickwork. But what's surprising is that Nomar Garciaparra is 14th from the bottom at 83.07. Nomar's OBP in 203 was only .345 (25 points off of his career .370 mark), and he doesn't see many pitches. Which isn't to say that he's not valuable, just that this is a dimension of his game in which he falls short.

Cherrypicking the Yankees from the list and adding one of their notable postseason players who didn't have enough PA to make Patel's list:
126.58 N. Johnson

126.17 J. Giambi
113.74 J. Posada
105.29 D. Jeter
104.01 R. Ventura (NYY/LA)
102.72 B. Williams
98.42 H. Matsui
96.62 R. Mondesi (NYY/Ari)
93.41 A. Soriano
91.89 A. Boone (NYY/Cin -- 87.17 with Yanks)
84.78 K. Garcia (NYY/Cle -- 94.02 with Yanks)
Well, there's one more indictment of two players (Sori and Boone) who caused Yankee fans to tear their hair out in October. Even the pinstriped version of Karim Garcia had more success in tiring pitchers out than Sori. More on this topic another time.

What's most exciting about Patel's work (which builds on work done by B-Pro's Keith Woolner and's Cory Schwartz) is that it successfully quantifies one of the relatively intangible qualities we try to grasp. To use an example from my own recent baseball-watching past, consider Chuck Knoblauch during his first two seasons at the top of the order for the Yanks. Knoblauch was such a pest that I used to call him the Lil' Bastard, and I termed his skill at working the count to get on base the Lil' Bastard Instant Rally Kit. He was a huge factor in setting the tone for that Yankee lineup, seeing lots of pitches and wearing out starters so the Yanks could feast on the creamy nougat of the opposition's middle relief. Knoblauch's OBP in 1998 was .361, solid but not nearly as spectacular as the .424 and .448 he'd put up in 1995 and '96, or even his .390 in '97. He rebounded in 1999, with a .393, though it was downhill after that. Here's a simple chart for those years with his Attrition Rates (ATR) and his OBPs:
       OBP   ATR

1995 .424 112.78
1996 .448 129.64
1997 .390 113.82
1998 .361 108.87
1999 .393 111.11
The numbers show that with the exception of 1996 (when he posted an awesome .965 OPS) Knoblauch was pretty much the same pesky hitter all along, though his results varied a lot more than his approach. Damn, I miss the Lil' Bastard.

Anyway, I think Patel's done some fantastic work here just by bringing this simple, intuitive and elegant new tool to light. It will be interesting to see whether others pick up on it and how it gets used -- if I were a manager or a GM, I could see it informing my lineup choices, especially at the top of the order. Joe Torre, are you listening?


We Got the Beat

Rich Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball Beat has started a series in which he's interviewing "the game's best analysts and bloggers." His first interview is with Lee Sinins, creator of the Sabermetric Encyclopedia and the invaluable Around the Majors mailing list, which he uses to promote the Encyclopedia (which alas has no Mac version, so I can't use it).

I find Lee to be a bit of a curmudgeon -- his view on no-hitters is about as joyless and insufferable as it gets, and he termed the Wild Card Florida Marlins winning the pennant "a national disgrace." Nonetheless, I respect the fact that his opinions often run against the grain -- his take on "league average" versus "replacement level" is an enlightening one, for example. And I consider the work that he does on a daily basis -- sifting through the headlines for baseball news and rumors, which he fortifies with his own commentary and statistical perspective -- as essential as my morning cup of coffee. Countless times a single line in one of Lee's emails has turned into a full-blown piece here. Suffice it to say that Lee's a heavy hitter in the world of online baseball blogging, and he deserves a lot of respect for his labors.

In the interview, Rich asks Lee lots of questions about the specifics of his work and draws out the fan we readers rarely get to see; two years into receiving his mailings, I was surprised to find out Lee's actualy a Yankees fan. Sinins also gets to voice his opinons on several players past and present, such as the one he'd chose to start the seventh game of a World Series (Pedro). Good stuff, and I'm pleased to announce that Rich has tapped me to be one of the interviewees in this series sometime in the next month or two.

Thursday, November 06, 2003


Let It Bleed

After finishing Jane Leavy's bio on Sandy Koufax within seven days of the baseball season's end, I'm now tearing through Pat Jordan's A Nice Tuesday. Twice this week, I've had my nose so deep into that book that I've gotten on subway trains traveling the wrong direction. I can recall doing that only twice in my nearly nine years in Manhattan, and now 150 pages of Jordan have doubled that total (though a new work venue is partially responsible). It's a fantastic book thus far; Jordan's devotion to and comparison of the processes of pitching and writing resonates with me. I've got a similar theory up my sleeve which relates graphic design and pitching, and I was lucky enough to present my theory to Jim Bouton when I met him three years ago. That's a story for another day, one I'm itching to get to.

Alex Belth appears to be spending his offseason much as I am, rummaging thorugh some dusty old classics in his library of baseball books. Today he put up a couple of excerpts from Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Red Smith in Jerome Holtzman's No Cheering in the Press Box. The quotes reminded me of perhaps my favorite quote about writing of all time, also by Smith, "The Shakespeare of the Press Box":
"Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed."
The beauty of that quote is that it contains a duality with which any writer can identify. Sometimes writing comes so easily, so naturally it's like a heartbeat, something you don't have to think about -- it just happens. Words flow from your brain to your fingertips to the page as if driven directly by your pulse. And sometimes writing is much harder -- messy, even, requiring a brazen courage to inflict pain on yourself before you can connect with the deeper and more elemental truth of what you're communicating.

Rereading the piece on Don Mattingly that I wrote yesterday, I'm frustrated by my own efforts. Not because I want to take back anything that I've written but because the story itself, my evolution from Yankee-hating Dodger fan to Yankee-rooting Dodger fan, is so much bigger than a blog entry. For all of the writing I've done here over the past two years, it's a story I've never gotten down to my satisfaction. But it's one I've been yearning to expand upon, especially since spending the better part of a week in the woods while reading Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer.

The irony is that I've been trying to nail the topic since even before I started this site. The genesis of this unholy mess is a continuing education class in "Personal Journalism" I took at The New School in the fall of 1998. One of the pieces I wrote for that class, "Confessions of a Yankee Fan," was not only my first attempt to grapple with the internal and external conflicts that this evolution produced but also the first formal piece I'd ever written about baseball. Several times, I've entertained and discarded the idea of putting that article up on this site; it's awkward in spots, dated, and a bit embarrasing -- like pictures from a high-school yearbook. Who wants that on display?

But reading that five-year-old piece tonight for the first time in a couple of years, I've softened my view of its flaws, enough so to carve out a space for it here. The topic is still one I want to revisit in a longer form, but this tells the basic story well enough to keep me from having to reinvent the wheel. With my writing skills much rawer than they are now, I know that I bled all over the pages of that piece, sweating every word choice, polishing every sentence until I felt confident enough to present the piece to my teacher, my class, and the same handful of friends who've been been my partners in Yankee-rooting crime along the way. There are a few hanging curveballs in there, phrases I'd like to have back before they get hammered 400 feet. But this is a part of my story, and I'm proud to include it here.

• • •

This afternoon I received a nice phone call from Christian Ruzich. We'd never actually spoken before, but he called to thank me for the column I wrote earlier this week and to assure me that he's doing about as well as could be expected under the circumstances; mostly he's thankful that he, his wife, and his pets are safe. Ruz told me that he's truly been touched by the outpouring of support he's received from people in this online community, people who for the most part he'd never met before. But like Alex put it, that support is just a reflection of what a good guy he is, and what his work and his presence in this here blogosphere means to us.

Ruz told me he'd sold off about 3/4 of his library of baseball books before moving to his now-destroyed home, and joked about losing a CD collection that took him 15 years to build. Thinking of that sends chills down my spine as I stare at my two carousels of CDs so large that my girlfriend refers to them as the twin towers. But I guess that's the point -- no pun intended, it hits home pretty quickly what Ruz must be going through.


Your Ticket to Hell

My friend Issa sent this site along. You can type in anything and it's instantly generated on a church sign. The first non-obscene possibility that popped into my head was a joke about the Alou brothers.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003


Dissing the Don

The Yankees introduced their new hitting coach on Tuesday, a man who needed no introduction as far as most of the team's fans were concerned: former first baseman Don Mattingly. The Yankee front office had been nudging him to join Joe Torre's staff for a few years, but Mattingly, who retired to his Indiana farm after the 1995 season, wanted to spend time with his three growing sons. With hitting coach Rick Down the designated scapegoat for the Yanks' failure to win the World Series, and Mattingly's family urging him to return to pinstripes, all the cards fell into place to unretire No. 23. Voilà -- the prodigal son has returned.

Pardon me for not getting giddy. Mattingly is The Man as far as nearly every Yank fan of my generation is concerned, revered as "Donnie Baseball" and touted as being worthy of the Hall of Fame, but I just don't feel the same way about him. Part of it is that cheesy porn-star moustache (now gone, thankfully), and part of it's the way his boosters insist his meager credentials are worthy of Cooperstown. But the real reason for that differerence is what separates me from most of your garden-variety Yankee fans: from the time I began following baseball (1977) through Mattingly's final season, I hated the Pinstripes with a passion.

I'm a third-generation Dodger fan, scion of a legacy that began when my grandfather saw Babe Herman get hit on the head with a fly ball. My understanding of big-league baseball evolved around the Dodger-Yankee rivalry of the '77 and '78 Fall Classics, and while I could admire the pizzaz of Reggie Jackson, the acrobatics of Graig Nettles, or the grit of Thurman Munson, I was expressly forbidden to cheer for the Yanks under my father's roof. The Yankees were evil, while the Dodgers, the team that broke organized baseball's color barrier, the team that once had a Jewish ace, were the good guys. Those World Series teams were easy for a neophyte to latch onto: the Longest-Running Infield (Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey), Dusty Baker and own Reggie (Smith) and a voluble manager who elevated team loyalty to the level of religion, or at least physiological abnormality ("I bleed Dodger blue").

For a kid growing up rooting for the Dodgers, the years that followed those first two World Series were a mix of extreme highs, agonizing near misses, and ho-hum mediocrity. Fernando Valenzuela brought a World Championship and a measure of revenge in beating the Yanks in 1981, Kirk Gibson and the Stunt Men brought an even more unlikely one in 1988. The team was eliminated on the last day of the season in 1980 (losing a one-game playoff to the Houston Astros) and 1982 (curse you, Joe Morgan!), but won division titles in 1983 and 1985 before losing in the LCS.

The Yanks should have been so lucky. Instead, triggered by owner George Steinbrenner's free-spending ways and a tendency to trade their best prospects for over-the-hill veterans, they entered a New Dark Age, going 13 years without making the postseason and even falling into the AL East cellar. Those were good times for a Yankee hater.

That New Dark Age coincided almost exactly with the career of Mattingly. He got a brief cup of coffee on a sub-.500 1982 team, was a part-timer on a decent '83 squad, and then ran off four monster years for teams that could finish no higher than second. He garnered an MVP award in 1985, when he hit .324/.371/.567 with 35 homers and 145 RBI, and had two more top-five finishes in the balloting during that span. But his performance started to slide, and his next two seasons ('88 and '89) were merely very good as opposed to great. After that, back troubles got the better of him; from 1990 until the end of his career, Mattingly was a mediocre hitter. His teams were just as bad, falling as far as 95 losses in 1990.

The Yankee fortunes began improving during manager Buck Showalter's second season in 1993. They had the best record in baseball when a strike ended the 1994 season, and they finally returned to the postseason in in 1995, dragging the shell of Mattingly's former self all the way. At the tender age of 34, Donnie Baseball hit only .288/.341/.413 with 7 homers and 49 RBI as the team's regular first baseman that season. But in that thrilling AL Division Series against the Seattle Mariners, Mattingly crushed a lot: .417/.440/.708. He never won a World Series or even played on a team that won a postseason series, but that brief taste of October baseball provided some solace for the Yankee fans who'd watched his sad decline.

I moved to New York City in February 1995, still a Yankee hater who spent most of my energy rooting for the Dodgers. I spent that 1995 ALDS pulling for the Mariners, jeering Mattingly in front of my TV set. To this day the hair on the back of my neck rises when I recall the cameras panning to the Seattle bullpen as one of the announcers excitedly exclaimed, "The Big Unit is getting loose!" It wasn't until the following summer when the Yanks caught my attention in a different light. As I wrote awhile back:
In 1996, my second baseball season in New York City, I read the sports pages daily, waiting for George Steinbrenner, his new manager Joe Torre, or one of the players to spark a controversy worthy of the Bronx Zoo's legacy, whereupon the team would implode. Remarkably, it never happened. I had no great affection for [David] Cone at this point in his career, but his seven innings of no-hit ball in his post-aneurysm comeback on September 2 -- and his willingness to call it a day at that point -- exemplified these new Yankees: they had perspective. My Dodgers were still a factor in the National League at that point, but in my disgust with their meek showing down the stretch (a choke in the season's final week relegating them to the Wild Card, then a quick cha-cha-cha out of the postseason entirely), it seemed automatic to turn my attentions to the Bronx side. The rest, as they say, is history.
My allegiance to the Dodgers had eroded gradually via the retirement of Tommy Lasorda, the aforementioned foldup in '96, an even worse one which cost them a trip to the postseason in 1997, and a headlong plunge into the clueless oblivion of the Fox era. In 1998, I started participating in a partial season ticket plan for Yankee games, was treated to the best team I've ever seen, and damn near forgot about that gal Sally Ann I left behind on the farm. I still root for the Dodgers, and if the two teams should ever meet in a World Series there's no doubt which hat I'd wear, but it's tough to follow a team three time zones away when there's so much fun to be had close at hand.

But there's Mattingly, parked on the wrong side of a line which separates "my" Yankees from the ones I grew up hating. It's not his fault for getting old before his time and missing out on the championship run that followed his retirement, but it's something more than a coincidence that when the Yankees replaced him with a first baseman that could produce numbers appropriate to the position, they rose to the top of the heap.

I've largely embraced that cast of Bronx Zoo characters which beat my Dodgers, but that doesn't mean I've gone back to revise my allegiances across the board. I still get Bummed when I read about the Yanks triumphing over Brooklyn in the 1940s and '50s, still gloat a little at the smugness of the Yankee brass as the empire fell following the 1964 World Series, still flinch when I see Bucky Dent's home run off of Mike Torrez (yes Virginia, I was pulling for the Red Sox in that one, but the virus didn't take), and still throw objects at the TV when I watch Nettles smother another line drive with men on base in Game Three of the '78 Series.

Not that any of this was a military secret -- it's been quite well documented in these pages -- but I've fully copped to being an interloper in the House That Ruth Built, a bandwagoneer on the Joe Torre Championship Express. I don't deny my past while I plumb its depths on a regular basis, and that means I can't get too excited about Don Mattingly, Hitting Coach. I know he's a legend around here, and I do think he's got a shot at a good second career with this team. But when the next goat that needs 'scaping is Donnie Baseball, you'll have to forgive me if a little smirk crosses my lips.

If you want a different take on the Mattingly news, Alex Belth has some analysis and the perspective of a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee fan.

Monday, November 03, 2003


Real Loss

Christian Ruzich, who's been a good pal to a bunch of us in the world of baseball blogs, took a real hard one in the loss column this week. And I don't mean a ballgame, so I'll dispense with further metaphors along those lines and any mention of the his favorite team's dramatic postseason misfortunes. Ruzich, who runs The Cub Reporter and hosts several other sites, is a resident of Cuyamaca, California, a tiny town 40 miles southwest of San Diego. A week ago, that town was evacuated because of the wildfires raging in California, and the blaze -- the Cedar Fire, largest in California history in terms of acreage -- ended up destroying about 90% of the town, and all but 25 out of Cuyamaca's 145 homes.

Christian was several thousand miles away as this all happened, vacationing in Paris. On Friday his father, who was with him in Paris and who also lives in Cuyamaca, returned to the town and confirmed their worst fears: both of their houses were destroyed. The "good news" in this realm is Christian's truck and car were unharmed. Most importantly, Christian, his wife, and his dogs were unharmed.

Imagine losing all of your worldly possessions except for whatever you may have haphazardly thrown in a suitcase two weeks ago. For your mind not to reel at that concept constitutes proof that you've already joined a monastery and renounced all trappings of the material world, in which case what the hell are you doing here?

Me, I'm a fairly stuff-heavy guy. Books, music, computer gear, artwork, memorabilia, photos, clothing -- I've crammed my tiny Manhattan apartment with enough of that stuff to fill a place four times the size, and somehow I convinced my girlfriend to shoehorn herself and her belongings alongside of me. Our (ok, my) unholy but rather well-organized (cough) collection of objects is testament to thousands of individual decisions that I can't, under my present circumstances, imagine living without some of this crap. Sure, it's not 1987 now, but who knows when somebody will refer to a Bill James article in the '87 Abstract?

I'm babbling about myself, but that's because I don't really know what to say about Christian. I can only begin to fathom his loss, hope that no one he loves was injured or worse in the fire, and wish him the best of luck in putting the pieces back together. I would hope and suspect that he's got homeowner's insurance, which will cover the bulk of this financially, but with a deductible that's some percentage of a mortgage, that's still a big financial hit. Who can replace the memories that one's possessions hold? To say nothing of the possibility that he may have lost a good chunk of everything he's ever written if he had a computer there (from now on, I'm storing some backup disks offsite).

Over the past two years, Ruz's site has meant a lot to me -- that little Pitchers and Catchers countdown he had going in the upper left corner last winter did more to keep me sane than all the Peter Gammons columns in the world, and the rest of the site is pretty kick-ass as well. Furthermore, Christian's support has meant a lot to this site; he's plugged my column plenty of times, and his technical facility in the vagaries of RSS helped me to expand my audience considerably. Along with countless other bloggers out there, I owe him some thanks, and my heart goes out to him and his family during this difficult time.

Ruz already has a means of accepting donations to support his weblog via PayPal. If you're reading this, I ask you to consider digging a little something out of your wallet. It's not going to bring his home or his possessions back, but it will remind him that he's got a lot of people pulling for him, and taken altogether, the money might be enough to replace an item that really meant something to him.


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