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.
Friday, January 30, 2004
Frank McCourt's controversial bid to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers came to an end Thursday when the sale of the ballclub was unanimously approved
by the other 29 (oops, 28
) team owners. I've said
all I could say
about this issue
, mustered perhaps more passion for the franchise than I have been able to in the seven seasons of my exile from Dodger fandom. After glimpsing a faint hope
that the right owner could rescue the franchise from the despair and disrepair of the News Corp. era, restoring the luster to all things Dodger, I now feel that the franchise is only going to be dragged further down the road to bland mediocrity, or worse.
McCourt's very presence, particularly via the potential abandonment
of Dodger Stadium or hanging of a corporate moniker upon it, poses no less a threat than the utter rape of the once-visionary franchise. How long before the Dodgers become a ramshackle squad of faceless ballplayers wearing head-to-toe teal uniforms in a domed mallpark? The time just drew a lot closer.
For what it's worth, the new Dodger owner claimed yesterday
that the former was not an option:
"We have no plans to do anything but play baseball in Dodger Stadium."
Asked if that is his way of dispelling rumors that McCourt is scheming to build a new Dodgerplex downtown, he said, "Yes, it is."
Asked again later, McCourt said he had "zero intentions" to condemn baseball's best ballpark and the city's social Stonehenge.
However, the stadium name may be in play:
...McCourt does not work for the Historical Preservation Society. He seemed quite open to the idea of selling the naming rights to Dodger Stadium.
You know what? That's not so bad. Officially it can be known as Cadillac Stadium or Arco Stadium or even Preparation H Stadium. None of us will ever call it that, and McCourt will get the money to reduce his debt.
I'm going to have to agree to disagree on that front. Dodger Stadium, like Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and scant few others, holds a special (dare I say sacred?) spot in the minds of fans, names and places attached to great events in baseball's rich history. Who besides some purple-and-tealed yahoo is going to recount the glorious moments of Randy Johnson in Bank One Ballpark? And while I'm yapping about NL West ballparks, I'll ask the Giants fans what they're going to do now that Barry Bonds is no longer hitting homers in Pac Bell
? Dodger Stadium remains a bastion of purity in that department, and sacrificing that is like auctioning your virgin daughter to the highest bidder -- icky to the n
McCourt made more noises yesterday designed to appease the skeptics -- employee continuity, a new TV deal which will air every single game, and "a payroll of '$100-million-plus' and 'in the top quartile' of the 30 major-league clubs," according to the aforementioned article in the Orange County Register
. But you can color me less than reassured, because I know the folks in his hometown of Boston can talk all day about the man's promises, promises. The Dodgers are already hamstrung by a winter of inactivity, and once that failure starts to manifest itself on the field, the changes will come -- a new front office (which won't feature Billy Beane), a new sense of (cough, cough) fiscal responsibility and lower payrolls... hell, with a couple of years of sub-3 million attendance, a cry for a new ballpark in spite of yesterday's soundbites.
Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman, who has done a fantastic job of covering the sale and who's about 3000 miles closer to the pulse than I am, has his Spidey-sense
Frank McCourt makes me feel powerless.
He could be the next great disaster for the Dodgers. Or, he could be a hidden treasure of, well, adequacy.
But how disturbing is it that after Thursday's press conference to discuss his purchase of the team, there is nothing that actually inspires confidence? Every potential positive statement made by or about McCourt had to be qualified.
Whatever the future holds, good or bad ... today, the Dodgers really seem to belong to someone else. Maybe this feeling will go away, but they don't feel like the city's team right now. They don't feel like our team.
Literally, they never were ours, but figuratively, they were. Not today.
Consider this: throughout the entire day, I didn't find a note of celebration that the News Corp. (majority) ownership of the Dodgers was over. Can you believe this? A few months ago, the city of Los Angeles would have held a bonfire of revelry at Fox's departure. Today, there's just uncertainty.
Weisman elaborates that feelling by picking apart several statements made yesterday by various principals and pundits. But he also offers a glimmer of hope going forward: "This is a whole new chapter. McCourt's actions are the key. Does he know right from wrong? Does he know good from bad? No matter how many misgivings have built up to this point, I don't think there's a Dodger fan in town who won't come to like McCourt if he can do the job."
That's a pretty big if, from where I sit.
Thursday, January 29, 2004
Somewhere Red Sox Nation is cackling maniacally over their voodoo dolls, because the big news here in New York is that Yankee third baseman Aaron Boone may miss the season
due to a knee injury which could be a torn ACL. Even Yankee fans who remember Boone's World Series struggles were less than heartbroken; as my pal Nick wrote, "It says something about my perception of Boone's value (rather than his actual value), that I'm not too bummed about this."
Though Boone was projected as the #9 hitter and is arguably the weakest link in the Yankee offensive chain, Yankee fans ought to think twice before unleashing such glee. Boone doesn't get on base particularly well (.327 last year, .332 career), but his power, speed, and defense are all enough to make him an above-average third baseman. Only seven third-sackers ranked higher in Baseball Prospectus' Runs Above Replacement Position
than Boone, and taking defense into account, Boone ranked fourth among third basemen in Wins Above Replacement Player:
Scott Rolen 57.5 8.4
Bill Mueller 55.6 7.8
Eric Chavez 44.6 8.9
Mike Lowell 41.7 6.0
Corey Koskie 39.7 6.4
Hank Blalock 38.1 5.3
Morgan Ensberg 32.2 5.6
Aaron Boone 28.9 6.9
Adding insult to the injury is that Boone admitted to suffering it while playing basketball, an activity which Yankee GM Brian Cashman pointed out was strictly verboten
: "Concerning his contract, I can confirm that there are certain prohibited activities which include basketball." Because he was hurt while chasing his hoop dreams, the Yankees are within their legal rights to terminate his one-year, $5.75 million contract with 30 days of termination pay, a situation which former Yankee staff counsel Andrew Baharlias
discusses over at Baseball Prospectus:
In a fairy tale world of grand rewards for moral behavior, Boone would get credit for admitting his error without having fabricated some Jeff Kent-style story in which he tore up his knee after slipping off the top of Roger Clemens' Hummer while polishing the foghorn. Unfortunately, New York is the place where contract language trumps contrition every time out; truth is no defense when you've signed on the dotted line.
When Boone signed his contract... it contained language that would have prevented him from performing certain activities during and after the season. That language is the team's "out" of a guaranteed deal. It is very comprehensive legalese which allows the team to convert a guaranteed contract into one which is non-guaranteed. All guaranteed contracts contain a section that discusses the guarantee to pay and termination rights for the team. In fact, this aspect of a player's contract is usually what is fought over the most between agents and general managers after the "agreement in principle" is first struck.
... Following this paragraph, one might expect to find approximately three to five pages of gobbledygook that, "relieve[s]...the foregoing guarantee." In other words, the next set of paragraphs contains specific rules, prohibitions and events which, if they occur, trigger an option for the team to convert the guaranteed contract into a non-guaranteed contract. Examples of these events, rules and prohibitions are: getting injured while playing any sport other than baseball; the commission of a felony; riding a motorcycle; bad LASIK surgery; bowling; frying a turkey on any day other than Thanksgiving; and lots of other stuff that annoying lawyers like me can think up. The sheer exhaustiveness of these lists can lead to odd situations when one player is granted an exception and another isn't. In the 1980s, George Brett was contractually forbidden to do anything more vigorous than sit in a rocking chair, while his teammate Bo Jackson was permitted to play pro football.
Baharlias points out that one option the Yankees have is to release Boone and then re-sign him to "an incentive-laden Jon Lieber-style deal in which the Yankees pay him to stand by in case they still haven't found a long-term solution at the position by 2005."
All of that is well and good for George Steinbrenner's checkbook, but with the Yankees, money isn't generally the problem. Boone's absence leaves a gaping void due to the Yankees' lack of organizational depth at third base. On the major-league roster, futilitymen Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo would make one pine for the heyday of Clay Bellinger
, Erick Almonte has almost no experience at the hot corner, and a move of Derek Jeter to third base -- pined for by a faction of Yankee fans aware of #2's defensive shortcomings -- has slightly less chance of happening than a Joe Lieberman sweep of next week's Democratic primaries.
Elsewhere in the Yankees' system, future quarterback Drew Henson's been practically laughed out of the room
("He's not even being considered," said one club official), while AA third baseman Brian Myrow, who hit an eye-opening .306/.447/.525 at Trenton, isn't getting much love either. That's because Myrow's a 27-year-old non-prospect whose glovework at third is reportedly
somewhere south of the Hobson Line
. To his credit, newcomer Gary Sheffield, who last manned the third sack in 1993, threw his glove
in the ring but was politely rebuffed.
A quick look over the barren hot corner landscape ought to turn a Yankee fan's stomach further. Other teams' reclamation projects such as Jose Hernandez (L.A.), Fernando Tatis (Tampa), Tony Batista (Montreal), Jeff Cirillo (San Diego) dot the landscape, along with high-end options such as free agents-to-be Corey Koskie (Minnesota), Troy Glaus (Anaheim) and Eric Chavez (Oakland). About the latter, A's GM Billy Beane momentarily salivated about swooping in for a kill before claiming, "There's no one this side of Mickey Mantle we'd consider trading Eric Chavez for. He's more valuable than anything we could get in return." As Jim Bouton would say, "Yeah, surrrrrrrrrrre." Be that as it may, the Yanks have almost nothing to offer in the way of prospects to land an attractive player. Where have you gone, Brandon Claussen? Oh, right
Another name receiving mention is last year's model, Robin Ventura, whose bat speed slowed so much that he was shipped out of here and replaced Boone in the first place. Also in that class of flatliners is another ex-Yankee, Todd Zeile, who was ungracious
in his dismissal of the organization as he returned to the other New York team: "I have no desire to play again for that organization." Trust me Todd, the feeling is mutual.
The Yanks did make one move in the past couple of days since announcing Boone's injury, signing 33-year-old Tyler Houston
to a minor-league deal. Houston has a bit of pop in his lefty bat and has hit .285/.331/.442 against righties over the past three years , but his fielding is suspect (BPro's numbers show him at nine runs below average per 100 games), and he was involved in a high-profile dustup
with Phillies red-assed manager Larry Bowa last year which led to his release and to Bowa terming him a "loser." It takes one to know one. For all of the controversy surrounding him, Houston is actually a useful bench player, good at pinch-hitting (13-for-29 last year) and able to serve as a 3rd string catcher (where he's played 174 games in the bigs).
Clifford's Big Red Blog
has had strong coverage of the Yanks' other third base options, including potential trade targets Edgardo Alfonzo and Adrian Beltre, pipe dreams such as Pudge Rodriguez (who has indicated in the past that he may eventually shift positions), and the assorted flotsam and jetsam which may wash ashore. But here's a tip: if luring Mike Bordick out of retirement is an option worth discussing, then the Yanks are better off doing what BPro's Derek Zumsteg
suggests: "Hire biotech firms to inject Graig Nettles ("Best Yankee Third Baseman Ever for Duration of His YES Network Deal") with experimental revitalizing serums and see how long before side effects catch up to him in spectacular fashion." Short of a trade for Alex Rodriguez (which New York Times
columnist George Vescey
touts today), that's the best idea yet.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Alex Ciepley is unique among baseball bloggers -- to the best of my knowledge he's the only openly gay one around. The Brooklyn-dwelling Ciepley keeps a blog called ball talk
that focuses primarily on the Chicago Cubs, and not in a "Sammy Sosa is soooo dreamy" kind of way. As passionate and articulate a fan as the next blogger, Ciepley's recent posts have ben focused on stathead concepts like VORP, SNWRP, and PECOTA. I had the pleasure of meeting him recently, and he's as starved for hot-stove banter as the next fan.
But Alex is well aware that there's a chunk of turf that he can call his own, and last night he sent out an email: "I feel its been too long since I've actually written anything in my baseball blog that has much to do with gay issues, so I've rectified the situation with my look at the top 10 gay icons in baseball. Some people may be horrified, some may be uninterested, but hopefully it'll be worth a chuckle or two."
True to his word, the Top 10 Gay Icons
article is a howl, as Ciepley rounds up many of the usual suspects (the ones not-so-wittily lampooned by anonymous posters at a certain website) and offers his commentary. Some of it is tart and catty; on Mike Piazza (who I've always held doesn't exhibit enough good taste to be gay), Alex writes: "Some might say the lady doth protest too much...," and on Roberto Alomar: "Alomar had a wee mustache in his youth, and later sported full-on beards, most notably tennis star Mary Pierce." Ouch.
But much of Ciepley's commentary is more incisive. About Billy Bean
, author Going the Other Way
, he writes:
No OBP-obsessed assistants. No Moneyball props. And no "e" in that last name. Baseball's other Billy B. spent his career in the closet, even playing in a game immediately following his first lover's death because he was too scared to ask for leave. Bean wasn't going to go through that again, and left a mediocre career in baseball to live with his boyfriend in Miami. He's the current Dean of Out Gay Professional Baseball Players. Not that he has any competition, being the only out player alive.
Ciepley also covers former NL umpire Dave Pallone, who came out in an autobiography in 1990, and Glenn Burke, a Dodgers and A's outfielder credited with inventing the high five and with being the first former player to acknowledge his homosexuality (alas, Burke died of AIDS in 1995). Pinups such as Brady Anderson and Gabe Kapler are also here; be advised that the linked Kapler picture isn't for the faint of heart.
Not on Ciepley's list: Cleveland Indians prospect Kazuhito Tadano, who reportedly appeared in a gay porn movie
while in college three years ago -- "a one-time mistake." Bronx Banter's Alex Belth covers that strange tale
as well as some more general commentary from other writers about the inevitability of an openly gay ballplayer. Meanwhile, a reader of Belth's offered this Bottom 10 Gay Icon
list, which features unsexy guys such as Yogi Berra, Don Zimmer and Greg Luzinski, along with notorious homophobes Chad Curtis and John Rocker. To that dubious company, I'll nominate another loudmouthed bigot, Todd Jones
, whose 7.08 ERA could pass for his IQ.
I think there's a pretty good chance we'll see an openly gay active ballplayer in the next few years, though I doubt it will be from Ciepley's Top 10. When it comes about, it will likely be a fiasco at first, and the guy will need a skin as thick and a courage as great as Jackie Robinson's, but he'll also have a lot of support behind him, especially in the media, and that will be key. I look forward to that day.
Monday, January 26, 2004
The complete Defense Independent Pitching Statistics for 2003 are now available at the link above. I didn't invent DIPS (Voros McCracken did), I haven't improved it (except by using actual Batters Faced Pitching instead of estimating, as Voros did a few years ago), and I'm not here to spend time defending it (I'll leave that to the discussion boards). But I've done the heavy lifting of the data (thanks to a spreadsheet from Baseball Graphs
), and the formatting as well, and that gruntwork is my small contribution to the field.
Along with the data, I have provided several new links in my brief introduction, including articles by Tom Tippett of Diamond Mind Baseball
, discussions on Baseball Primer's Primate Studies
, a very good DIPS article index by James Fraser
, and a way-cool worksheet by Larry Mahnken of Replacement Level Yankees Weblog
Since publishing the article last night, I've gone back and done some correlation testing to compare with McCracken's results, and significantly revised the article to reflect that.
Sunday, January 25, 2004
My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard
Aside from commentary on my recent Baseball Prospectus work, the most common subject of my reader email these day is Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS). As in, when is DIPS 2003 coming? Where is DIPS 2003? Are you publishing DIPS 2003? Why haven't you published DIPS 2003?
I'm pleased to announce that after focusing my attention elsewhere for several weeks, DIPS 2003 will be up sometime in the next few days [update: it will be up Monday afternoon
]. The figgerin' has been done, and now it's just a matter of formatting and writing. Not that those are easy tasks, but they're at least more familiar and enjoyable ones than the less glamorous aspects of Excel spreadsheeting. Who wants to figure customized park HR factors and replacement-level ERAs for the 60 or so guys who pitched for two or more teams?
Insert sound of crickets chirping.
Exactly. Now, back to sorting my spreadsheet...
Thursday, January 22, 2004
A Little Help
Reader Rob McMillan sent me a couple of emails pertaining to Frank McCourt's pursuit of the Dodgers and called my attention to a handy timeline
he's put together, with links to relevant articles about the deal. In his first email, Rob was pleasanttly pessimistic about the deal going through:
The "increasing support" for the McCourt bid mentioned in the Times article shouldn't suprise anyone. Baseball has to cover its collective ass, and McCourt is a litigious sumbitch. So they go through the motions and let the clock tick, all the while spouting positive platitudes to the press. If Bud really wanted to ram this through -- or thought he could -- it would have been done by now. As it stands, McCourt has missed three vote opportunities. Game over, McCheap.
Less than 24 hours later, Rob's whistling a different tune:
The Los Angeles Times today reports on the final nail in the Dodgers' coffin: the first meaningful restructuring of the McCourt deal. News Corp will retain a miniscule amount of equity in the team, but just enough to tip the scales in favor of McCourt. It is frankly a fig leaf; McCourt should have been laughed out of this purchase by baseball, but thanks to Fox ownership, this bad deal is now likely to go through.
For what it's worth, I have a timeline of events of this catastrophe. I don't get why Peter Gammons or any of the other east coast -- er, did I say that? I meant "national" -- sports press isn't picking up on this and condemning it the strongest possible terms. Or is it that bad ownership is a cliché?
From the sound of the aforementioned article by Ross Newhan, the corner on the deal has been turned:
The sale of the Dodgers to Boston real estate developer Frank McCourt moved closer to completion Wednesday when News Corp. agreed to retain a minority ownership position, putting McCourt closer to compliance with the industry's debt service rule by reducing the amount of money he is borrowing in his highly leveraged, $430-million proposal.
The restructured arrangement — which requires that McCourt find a Los Angeles-area investor to buy out News Corp.'s equity share within a period of 12 to 24 months — moved closer to being finalized during another long meeting between McCourt and his wife, Jamie, and representatives of News Corp. and Major League Baseball in New York.
Multiple sources said they expected Commissioner Bud Selig to schedule a conference call vote of major league owners for early next week, which would be ahead of the Jan. 31 deadline in the initial contract between McCourt and News Corp.
As to Rob's query about the sports press, I'm surprised the Boston-linked Gammons hasn't piped up about Boston real estate developer McCourt, who isn't exactly loved around those parts. But not everybody in Boston's been quiet. Boston Globe
business columnist Steve Bailey offered some harsh satire
The McCourt Appeal is designed to help our parking lot attendant realize his dream of owning a major league team -- only not here. We've seen enough; it's someone else's turn. Can't L.A., the land of the car, use some parking lots? Send those donations to the Frank McCourt Appeal, c/o The Downtown Column, The Boston Globe, Boston, MA 02107. Give till it hurts.
Few in this town have talked the talk more and walked the walk less. McCourt is strong on vision. Doing is his problem. Cooperative is not a word often associated with the man. For years he has presented countless slide shows with his vision of the New Boston on the other side of the Fort Point Channel. No other plan was ever grand enough for McCourt. He was going to buy the Red Sox. He was going to build a new Fenway on the waterfront. Instead, 25 years after McCourt bought his South Boston land from a bankrupt Penn Central, what we have down there is acres of parking lots.
Well, those gloves are off. But for whatever it's worth, my assumption is that major sportswriters such as Gammons are afraid to bite the hand that feeds. Criticism of a potential ownership bid might threaten the inside access they're so dependent upon. Gammo, for one, is not
a journalist, he's a gossip columnist. A good one, to be sure, but he gave up hard news reporting a looooong time ago, and his hyperventilating run-on sentences should not be confused with journalism.
• • •
Avkash Patel of The Raindrops
won himself a Futility Infielder coffee mug
from my CafePress store
for providing a link to a published article
which mentioned the amount of revenue sharing money the Milwaukee Brewers received in 2003. From a November 22 article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Revenue sharing from Major League Baseball has increased. In 1999, the team received $8.1 million in revenue from baseball. By 2002, the team got $9.1 million. The Brewers received $15 million in revenue sharing this past season, a direct result of the game's new collective-bargaining agreement with its players. According to the Brewers' own forecasts, the team expects to receive $20.7 million in 2004 and $22.5 million in 2005, although the final figures will be dependent on the revenue other clubs produce.
I'll say it again: it's amazing how buried this information is relative to the widely-reported news about the Yankees' revenue sharing payment, and it's yet one more data point illustrating Bud Selig's impartial (cough, cough, hack, yack) position as commissioner.
Speaking of Bud on the Milwaukee front, Pinstriped Bible-thumper Steven Goldman had this gem in his latest column
The more important point to be made about new ownership for the Brewers is that it's about time. Perpetually failing franchises are always a combination of transient and constant factors. The general managers, managers and players are transient. Ownership is permanent. The Brewers may be handicapped by the smallest media market this side of Bob the Luddite's TV-Free Freehold of Monticello, Mississippi, but we have seen other teams, such as the Oakland A's and the Minnesota Twins, succeed at being small-market without being small-minded.
Not so with the Brewers. No one forced Jeffrey Hammonds on the Seligs at gunpoint. There was no popular campaign for Eric Young, no contract on anyone's life that forced the franchise to pretend Alex Sanchez was a good player. The same goes for Marquis Grissom, Charlie Hayes, Henry Blanco, and onwards. A team can win, at least on a one-year-at-a-time basis, on a strict budget as long as it understands it has no margin for foolish errors. Signing a player, playing a player, without asking, "What will this guy DO to help us win?" invites disaster.
The Selig organization again and again failed to get good answers for that question.
Some well-deserved blows, but it's worth noting that these days, ownership is not quite as permanent as Selig's 34-year stranglehold of the Brewers wouid have you believe. And the reason for that is the very same rug-wearing rapscallion. As I've written before
, there's a tax law called the five-year depreciation which explains a lot of ownership turnover:
The five-year rule allows half of a franchise's purchase price to be allocated to player contracts and depreciated over that span, creating an artificial loss which reduces the owner's tax liability. So if I buy the Dodgers from Fox for $400 million, I can write off $200 million of that, which is $40 mil a year. When five years are up, I, just like other owners, particularly the corporate ones, bail on the Dodgers and find a new tax shelter. See: Disney's Anaheim Angels, anything Jeffrey Loria has touched, and the entire history of the Florida Marlins (Huizenga to Henry to Loria, Oh Shit!).
Incidentally, the guy who came up with this grand scheme is the same guy wearing the ugly toupée. From a CNN/SI piece last spring:
This legal rule was actually generated by a major tax law victory won by Bud Selig in his former baseball role, as a new owner when Selig bought the Seattle Pilots for $11 million in 1969 and moved them to his hometown of Milwaukee,'' says [Harvard law professor Paul] Weiler, author of Leveling the Playing Field. "It was a terrible legal verdict that was won by a guy 30 years ago in a different world.
I'm dizzy from quoting myself quoting an article which quotes a professor, but it's worth noting that the five-year rule is one reason Bud is so revered among owners, especially new-breed ones, and it will stand as one of his lasting legacies to the game. Hey, those IRS guys like their box seats just fine.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Speaking of the commissioner
, I took some pretty good shots at Bud Selig
myself last week over an item buried in the L.A. Times'
coverage of the Vlad Guerrero signing. My interpretation of Bill Shaikin's article
was that Selig had effectively blackmailed would-be Dodger owner Frank McCourt out of signing Guerrero in exchange for the commissioner's blessing regarding the Dodgers' sale. With the help of Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts
, I made a big stink which generated a fair amount of discussion on a few sites, including Baseball Primer
. The general consensus was not quite the outrage I had hoped for, with the most common reaction along the lines of, "Well, duh, McCourt doesn't have the money to buy the team anyway," which was right in line with Weisman's original interpretation of the Shaikin article.
My point was that Selig has the power to frame any interpretation of McCourt's financing and cue the approval process -- "I think this checks out, boys," or "I think it's a bit shaky, fellas." As such, his interest isn't in McCourt's financing, but in his fealty.
McCourt's bid is most definitely underfinanced; I've now done enough homework to see that more clearly. But taken from any angle, the conduct of all involved is problematic. A non-owner calling the shots for a team he may not be able to buy BEFORE he actually takes over is bad, a commissioner telling teams who they can and can't sign is bad, and a commissioner attaching his seal of approval for a sale based on loyalty is bad as well. I don't want any of that, whether it's a team I'm rooting for or not.
I will concede that if the speculation is true that McCourt, a Boston real estate developer, is interested in buying the Dodgers so that he can build a downtown ballpark, raze Dodger Stadium and develop the Chavez Ravine land for his own devices, then there is no action on the part of Bud Selig, the United States military, or organized criminals (even disorganized ones) that I will not condone to prevent that from happening. Smite him and his seed from the earth if he so much as lifts a finger to harm that ballpark; I promise not to say, "boo."
For all of the badness in this bidness, the scrutiny has turned back to McCourt's flawed quest to buy the Dodgers. Weisman linked this lengthy L.A. Daily News article
by Rich Hammond which is pretty damning:
Frank McCourt might win Major League Baseball's approval to buy the Dodgers by the end of the month, but his limited financial resources have raised significant concern among Southern California sports executives and has led local businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad to put forth what is believed to be a more attractive backup plan.
A McCourt ownership likely would lead to a lower team payroll and increased ticket prices, according to three sources involved in top-level, day-to-day operations of professional teams in Southern California.
The sources and experts in sports finance said the Boston developer is borrowing heavily to buy the Dodgers -- a franchise insiders say is losing $40 million a year -- because he has failed to find suitable partners for a $430 million deal that taxes his own resources.
Broad's proposal wouldn't require partners, and reportedly he would ask current owner News Corp. for a small loan, which presents a stark contrast to McCourt's highly leveraged bid.
The article then goes on to several responses to the McCourt bid. An unnamed source gives McCourt three years before realizing he had to sell the team, while USC professor and sports consultant David Carter offers a disturbing analogy: "It's like a high school kid who convinces his dad to buy him a car. He gets the car, but then he realizes he can't afford to buy the gas. I think Dodger fans should be concerned that, in this case, they're going to be the ones buying the gas."
The aforementioned Broad deal is interesting. He has local ties, along with a reputation for grand ventures and grandiose schemes, and he's apparently willing to bring former owner Peter O'Malley
back to run the team. While McCourt has a January 31 deadline on exclusive negotiating rights to buy the team, the knowledge that another, better-financed suitor may be waiting in the wings, prepared to offer the same amount as McCourt, perhaps the Fox Group and the other owners might be less likely to ramrod this one through.
A high-ranking baseball official told the L.A. Times
that the owners are aware of Broad and "it stands to reason he could move through the approval process very quickly if it came to that." But Ross Newhan of the Times
that MLB president/COO Bob DuPuy thinks the McCourt deal can be done on time:
Bob DuPuy also said that despite issues that pertained to baseball's complex and important debt-service rule in McCourt's $430-million proposal, he still thought that the sale could be completed before Jan. 31, the deadline in the agreement involving McCourt, the Boston real estate developer, and News Corp., the Dodger owner.
"As to what significance the development with Eli Broad has is a question for News Corp.," DuPuy said. "As for baseball, we have no reaction in the sense that News Corp. has asked us to process the McCourt application and that's what we're attempting to do. I think both the buyer and seller want it done and that's what we're trying to do."
Newhan's piece is all over the map ("Ross Newhan Is Playing Ping-Pong With My Brain," writes Weisman
Selig seldom puts an issue up for a vote unless he knows the outcome, which in most cases is to rubber-stamp his desires.
This case, however, is tougher to read.
Whether Selig is determined to have McCourt approved as a favor to News Corp. because of its national and regional TV contracts with baseball or whether he would let owners reject the sale, feeling that he could tell News Corp. that he had done everything he could, isn't clear.
He has insisted that the debt-service rule must be fastidiously and aggressively applied and that the Dodger situation has to be resolved quickly to restore stability to one of baseball's flagship franchises.
Although Broad's emergence has provided baseball with a viable alternative -- a person who is highly respected in the community and requires no credit check -- the timing of his letter, coming late in the process, has almost seemed to increase support for McCourt.
On Monday, a high-ranking baseball official said McCourt was being "prejudged unfairly" by Los Angeles media, which has raised questions about his leveraged proposal and operating resources if approved.
Rubber stamps, debt-service rules, and a media-induced backlash (implicating the Times
) that may work in McCourt's favor? I'm not sure which is spinning more, my head or Newhan's story. But I don't think there's a Dodger fan out there who can like the way this is unfolding. Right now the best thing we can hope for is the clock running out on this sickly bid.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Baseball fans and Wisconsinites had reason to rejoice last Friday, when Wendy Selig-Prieb announced
that the Milwaukee Brewers are being put up for sale. The longest-tenured ownership in major league baseball is on its way out, providing a glimmer of hope for a team which has suffered eleven straight losing seasons and a 21-year postseason drought. Not only does the franchise have a chance at a fresh start via a new ownership, the sale will remove commissioner Bud Selig's blatant conflict of interest -- namely his 26 percent stake in the franchise, which was placed in a trust in 1998.
The Brewers have had a rough winter
. Just after season's end, team president/CEO Ulice Payne was forced out by the board of directors when he publicly objected to their plans to cut payroll by 25 percent. Legislators reacted
to the bad publicity the move generated by saying that the Brewers had reneged on their pledge to field a competitive team in exchange for $400 million of taxpayer funds to build Miller Park, and have pushed for a state audit
of the team. Meanwhile, star attraction Richie Sexson was traded to Arizona in a nine-player deal
that brought unimpressive returns.
The basic details of the Brewers' situation are gory enough without peeking into the books: $110 million in debt, $44 million in new money poured into the franchise during the past six years, a 40 percent drop in attendance since Miller Park opened, one of the league's smallest payrolls coupled with the biggest slice of the revenue-sharing pie, and two consecutive last-place finishes. Every detail screams the same conclusion: this team is bankrupt of good ideas and needs a change, starting at the top.
That's been the case ever since 1992, when Selig led the palace coup which dumped commissioner Fay Vincent and himself became acting commissioner. Not coincidentally, that was the last season the Brewers finished above .500, and in the six years Selig kept the "acting" role, he showed far more interest in backroom politics and battles with the players' association than he did with putting a winning product on the field. His sole accomplishment with the Brewers since ascending to the dubious throne was completing the stadium deal which resulted in Miller Park, a $400 million boondoggle with a busted roof. Nevertheless, it's that park's 30-year lease which will keep the Brewers in Milwaukee after they're sold.
As acting commissioner, Selig's shining accomplishments included presiding over a 272-day player strike, canceling the 1994 World Series, and instituting the three-division league, the wild card, and interleague play. That stellar record of achievement enabled him to become full-time commissioner in 1998, while his interest in the ballclub was placed in a trust. While he's clearly spent more time waging his disinformation war on the baseball world as full-time commissioner, it's impossible to believe that Bud's role in the Brewers has entirely ceased. The words of his henchman, MLB president and COO Bob DuPuy, don't even ring true: "Bud has been scrupulous in avoiding any appearance of either favoring or being involved with the operation of the Brewers." Not when Selig has invested $13.2 million
in the ballclub over the past "five or six" years (nobody, not even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
, seems concerned with determining the temporal accuracy there; that vagueness has been a staple of every Brewers-related financial report this winter). Not with his daughter assuming the team president and CEO titles and then stepping down from those roles after 2002 to stay on as chairwoman of the board, from which perch she keyed Payne's ouster. Not when one potential investor was told
last year that "board members did not want to accept outside investment that threatened Selig's control of the team, albeit through a trust."
And not with the Brewers somehow receiving the largest chunk of revenue sharing money of any team, a fact which remains obscured and underreported. On that note, here's a challenge: the first person to send me a link to a published report of the Brewers's actual (not projected) revenue sharing money for 2003 wins a Futility Infielder coffee mug.
that the Yankees made the largest revenue sharing payout in 2003 was widely reported, but nowhere did anything say which teams will be on the receiving end, or how much money they will get. It's good to be the king, because you can sweep that kind of news right under the rug.
Art Thiel of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer lays some good lumber
on Selig over his ethical issues. Starting from the viewpoint that Pete Rose doesn't understand why his actions have worked against the best interests of the game, Thiel essentially asks, "Et tu, Bud?":
Having said that, it is nevertheless difficult not to feel a twinge of empathy for the pug following news late last week that the Milwaukee Brewers were put up for sale by Bud Selig, who not only has owned the team since he hijacked the Pilots from Seattle in 1970, but, as commissioner since 1992, has been Rose's opponent to reinstatement.
In Selig's statement regarding the sale, he said in part, " ... While I have played no role in the administration of the Brewers, putting my ownership share in trust in 1998, I am convinced and have been for many years that it is in the best interests of the game" to sell.
Really? If my math is right, that means it took two years less for Selig to realize he was compromising the game than it took Rose.
On behalf of a grateful America, Mr. Commissioner, I salute you for your rapid response and, in demonstrating you have at least 14 percent more integrity than Rose, we hope you bring the same high standards to the search for weapons of mass destruction in the greater Milwaukee area.
Selig didn't describe the bolt of enlightenment that moved him to cop to the obvious -- that the embarrassing conflict of interest between his jobs never should have been allowed to happen.
All we know is that the motivation couldn't have been conscience, because if that had ever been a threat in his life, he never would have stolen the Pilots.
"Stolen" is such an ugly word. Selig was part of a group that in 1970 purchased the floundering Seattle Pilots for $10.8 million. The Pilots had gone bankrupt during the spring training prior to their second season; barely a week before the season, the team hastily moved to Milwaukee, with a new name and logo sewn directly onto their old uniforms. Legend
has it that the van containing the Pilots' equipment left Arizona spring training and parked in Utah, waiting for instructions on which city the ballclub would call home.
Thiel points to the sorry state of the Montreal Expos, the Red Sox-Marlins-Expos ownership shuffle, and the contraction debacle as just some of the ethical lapses on Selig's watch. About the latter:
If indeed contraction were ever viable, a strong candidate today would be a team that has had 11 consecutive losing seasons, a claimed debt load of $110 million, a disenchanted fan base and a lease that is ironclad. Instead, Selig will now attempt to sell the Brewers in one of baseball's smallest, least affluent markets.
It might be tempting to suggest he is about to be hoist with his own petard. But Selig invested only $300,000 of his own money to buy the Pilots in 1970, and should the Brewers sell for, say, the $180 million price last year of the Angels, his share would be almost $47 million, less the $13 million he is said to have invested in operations.
So, presuming he can find a buyer, he will emerge nicely. It will be hard to say the same for baseball during his tenure as commissioner.
It's open season on Bad Rug Bud. And while I'd prefer if he confined his incompetence to one franchise rather than spreading it out over 30, I know that the good people of Milwaukee have been looking forward to the day Selig sells the team for a long time.
Thanks to Stephen Nelson of Mariners Wheelhouse for clueing me into the Thiel article ahead of the curve.
Friday, January 16, 2004
Whitey Ford Sings the Blues
On the heels of my dustup
with some hired goons, two of my loyal readers added some input regarding my Whitey Ford comments which is worth addressing. Studes
, a.k.a Dave Studenmund of the fine Baseball Graphs
site, mentioned some information in Bill James' Baseball Managers
book in which the bearded one stated that Casey Stengel used Whitey more frequently against good opponents, while Johnny C
mentioned a Rob Neyer comment about the AL's dearth of black players during the Yankees' heyday (1949-1964).
I'm a big fan of the James Managers
book; I enjoy it more than the New Bill James Historical Abstract
. The part to which Studes refers is on page 192; essentially it says that during the Stengel years (1953-1960 in Ford's case), Whitey had a lot more decisions against the good teams in the AL (usually Chicago and Cleveland) than the bad ones, and that his winning percentage during that time, already a stellar .681, should have been higher if the distribution of opponents was more proportional. He is almost certainly onto something there, even if he overemphasizes the pitcher's Won-Loss record rather than his outstanding ERAs (something James still tends to do).
In the Neyer piece
to which Johnny C. refers, Rob is pointing out similar effects but in the opposite direction on the careers of Lefty Grove (who faced the Yankees less frequently than expected) and Warren Spahn (same, except it's the Dodgers). He doesn't refer to Ford; rather it's a more general quote about the Yankees: "I did know that when the Yankees were running roughshod over the American League from 1949 through 1964, a great majority of the great black players were in the National League, which perhaps should give us pause when considering the true greatness of those Yankees."
Recall that the Yanks didn't get a black player until Elston Howard in 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson, and Howard was the first black AL MVP in 1963, by which time Jackie, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson and Maury Wills had combined to win eleven
NL MVP awards. Exactly as Rob said it, a great majority of great black players were in the NL. For what it's worth, the two teams Ford faced most often had, in Minnie Minoso (White Sox) and Larry Doby (Indians), two of the top black stars in the league during the time. But I suspect that the two effects my readers pointed out, both involving the levels of competition Whitey faced, essentially cancel each other out.
Actually, there's a way we can look even more closely at this. The Davenport system upon which I based my Hall study contains three formulas for Wins Above Replacement. WARP1 is adjusted for a single season
, while WARP3 is adjusted for all time
, using the level of competition as one of its factors (park effects, league scoring levels and schedule length are others). A bit of what "comes out in the wash" historically can be seen in the way the two totals compare. For Whitey's career
(1950, 1953-1967), he's got 98.7 WARP1 and 95.5 WARP3, meaning his contributions are devalued about 3.3 percent historically over the course of his career. A Hall contemporary whose career is essentially contiguous, Robin Roberts
(1948-1966), spent all but three years in the NL; his WARP1 and WARP3 totals are 129.3 and 129.5, meaning his contributions are undervalued by 0.2 percent. If that's not convincing enough, I recalculated using only the seasons for which they exactly overlap and were in opposite leagues, and -- allowing for the fact that we may be losing a bit with rounding, since I'm just pulling numbers off of the page rather than going from Clay Davenport's database -- Ford is "overvalued" by 3.0 percent while Roberts is "undervalued" by 1.6 percent. Neither of these are uncommon; I suspect if you look at the Hall of Famers, you'd find the 20th century ones are mostly within 5% one way or another, with the 19th century ones and the ones from the more extreme eras of baseball history, scoring-wise -- the late '30s and early '60s -- changing the most.
I should stress that I am not, by my assertions, trying to take away from Ford's accomplishments. The man was a fantastic pitcher who accomplished a hell of a lot, and the Davenport system doesn't even attempt to account for some of those accomplishments -- the World Series stuff, his performance against key opponents, his hardware, etc. It's a macro system, not a micro system, and I'm trying to use it to value groups of seasons in a manner that Bill James does with Win Shares. The reasons I turned to this are that I think Win Shares makes a few pretty big E-6's, such as when it comes to the concept of replacement level or the reliance on pitcher W-L and S totals to measure their value.
Based on my system (which itself is based on Clay's system), Whitey is quantifiably a few hairs below the average Hall of Famer. Not enough that we should take up a petition to vote him out -- I can point to at least 15 guys who we should -- and it doesn't mean he wasn't a great ballplayer. But even if I had defined peak a bit differently -- say, for five best overall seasons rather than consecutive -- he would still probably come out below average, because he simply never achieved the single-season levels that a lot of other HOFers did. That said, were he a player currently on the ballot, I would see that he's close to average, consider his success in postseason play, and write him down without hesitation.
Looking at it from a more traditional angle, Whitey won 20 games or more only twice. I guarantee you THAT is below average for a Hall of Fame pitcher, especially one pitching in the era he did. Does it matter? Not much in the grand scheme of things, but by the "system" I just devised to suit this example, I can say, "He's below average for a Hall of Fame pitcher."
Well, that's a pretty crappy system right there, but I hope that the one I built to answer the questions I had about the 2004 ballot is at least a bit better -- certainly a lot more thought and time went into it. If one of the measurements it takes tells us Whitey comes up a little below average, does that mean the system is useless? I hope not. I've given a very qualified answer within a certain context, and the statement, taken away from its context, might look foolish. But within the context, it's a statistical fact, at least until Clay's system takes its next step forward and we can look again.
People are extremely resistant to accept new statistical systems when they tell us things which contradict what we think we know. Look at the case to be made against Derek Jeter's fielding via any one of several advanced measures, and at how resistant a certain segment of Yankee fans and mainstream baseball people are to accepting something which is by now as statistically obvious as the nose on Joe Torre's face. Look at the ridiculous scrums and bench-clearing brawls which plague baseball discussion sites across the Internet. People get very defensive about this stuff. I don't blame them, but I've come around to the other side on a lot of what I held dear, even with regards to the Hall of Fame ballot; in the past I've voted for Tommy John, Jack Morris, and Andre Dawson. Given the research I've done, I don't think I'd vote for any of them again, unless somebody can show me a better system which says I should do otherwise.
* * *
In more things Prospectus-related, I was interviewed on Wednesday by Will Carroll for Baseball Prospectus Radio
, a syndicated program which probably isn't available in your market but which you can hear over the Internet. Will and I talked for about eight minutes, mostly on the subject of my Hall of Fame pieces and then a bit on the Yankees. The spot will air on Saturday, and though you'll probably be sleeping while it airs, rest assured that I'll link to it once it's added to the archives.
Still on the Prospectus topic, B-Pro's Joe Sheehan was interviewed by Rich Lederer
last weekend, while over on Baseball Interactive (a site where I sometimes contribute), Gary Huckabay was interviewed by John Strubel
. Both are lengthy interviews which do a good job of getting the Pros -- two of the top analysts in the field -- to talk a bit more about their company's philosophies, its history and its direction. Good stuff.
* * *
A few more random thoughts which might have become columns if I had fewer things on my plate:
* Yankee fans
whining about Roger Clemens' departure or branding him a traitor
should get a friggin' life. We all knew what we were getting when he arrived in the Bronx, and we shouldn't be surprised that a) he prefers living in Texas; and b) he still wants to pitch. The Rocket was a free agent, the circumstances for his return didn't exist at the time the Yanks had an option to persuade him to do so; and anyway, he'd accomplished everything he wanted to here. He owed the Yankees nothing, they owed him nothing, and the circumstances of his tenure in Houston are much different than they would have been here. To paraphrase Simpsons
' bartender Moe Szyslak
, I'm a well-wisher in that I don't wish him any specific harm.
* Pete Rose spent 14 years deceiving the American public, not to mention himself, when it came to gambling on the game of baseball. Here's a suggestion: he can only be reinstated after 14 years of penance. Being banned from the game while carrying out a lie DOES NOT count as penance. Maybe if he pledged to do something along those lines, writers and peers wouldn't be tripping over each other to back away from him more quickly. Chickens -> home -> roost.
* This story
, which has nothing to do with baseball, is amazing and touching. This one
, with photos
, is hilariously bizarre. With friends like those...
Thursday, January 15, 2004
The Dangeous World of Sabermetrics
"Blame me if you must, but don't ever speak ill of the Program! The Program is rock solid! The Program is sound!"
-- Homer J. Simpson
My pal and frequent sparring partner in baseball arguments -- I'll call him Nick because he hates Nicholas, Nikolai and Nickypoo -- took exception to one of my assertions in yesterday's BP piece
on Hall of Fame pitchers, and I thought our back-and-forth on the topic would provide an interesting glimpse into the idea behind what I've done.
With the Hall's honor sullied by several bad decisions, mostly at the hands of the now-reconstituted Veterans' Committee, the stated purpose of my mission was to produce a system by which we could evaluate the existing standards of the Hall using advanced performance metrics. We would then apply those standards to the candidates on the ballot, and those above average
, the ones who would raise the standards of the Hall, would get the vote on our quasi-ballot. Over the course of two articles and some 10,000 words, I came up with four hitters and four pitchers that did so.
As I did for the hitters, I used BP's Davenport Cards
to quantify the average Hall of Fame pitcher in the currencies the Davenport uses, Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP, in this case version 3, which is for use in cross-era comparisons), Pitching Runs Above Replacement (PRAR) and Pitching Runs Above Average (PRAA). I filled in a spreadsheet with each pitcher's career totals, and I also calculated their five-year WARP3 peak (PEAK) and came up with a weighted score (WPWT) that's just an average of the peak and career totals. Basically, we're crediting a player's best seasons twice so that the greatest ones float to the top, and the good ones who just stuck around forever are placed appropriately. What I came up with was a line which showed the average Hall of Fame pitcher's credentials in these advanced statistical categories:
PRAA PRAR WARP3 PEAK WPWT
AVG HOF SP 239 1002 97.0 44.9 70.9
Okay, that doesn't mean much sitting by itself, but it will soon. Iin a comment on Jack Morris, whose candidacy I once supported, I made the following comment: "Davenport-wise, Morris would be a below-average Hall of Famer, one who's in the same cluster as the elected [Whitey] Ford and [Jim] Bunning, as well as candidates [Dennis] Martinez and [Jimmy] Key."
Nick, a consummate Yankees fan, took issue with this perceived slight of ol' Whitey and wrote to ask whether I'd like a knuckle sandwich. He also asked, "How could a guy with a career ERA+ of 132 be in the same ballpark as a pitcher with a 106 career ERA+. Ford a below average Hall of Famer?"
That's a very good question, and to answer it, here's another chart showing the five pitchers' lines, along with that average again.
PRAA PRAR WARP3 PEAK WPWT
AVG HOF SP 239 1002 97.0 44.9 70.9
Ford 238 994 95.5 36.5 66.0
Martinez 38 939 94.5 34.7 64.6
Morris 27 916 90.2 38.8 64.5
Bunning 161 1020 86.8 39.3 63.1
Key 195 817 87.4 37.7 62.6
In every category above, Ford is below the average -- microscopically so in the two run-total categories, and within a few whisker on career value, but substantially below in terms of his peak -- nearly two wins above replacement a year. I made a comment in the piece:
Whitey's usage patterns were greatly affected by pitching for the Yankees, who would often shut him down in September to keep him from racking up gaudy win totals (lest they have to pay him more) and to preserve his arm for the World Series, where he was the master, holding many important Series pitching records.
So how could Morris be so close to Ford despite an ERA+ that's 25 percent worse relative to the league? The system emphasizes wins above REPLACEMENT level, which means AVERAGE has some value, and lots of innings at average has a good amount of value. Morris pitched about 700 more innings than Ford, which boosts his career above replacement upward, though it's not quite as high as the Chairman.
This didn't satisfy Nick too much, and about an hour later, two burly men arrived at my door, bearing lead pipes and brass knuckles and offering to "show me how it all adds up." I managed to fend them off long enough to craft this answer:
The Davenport system is designed to isolate the player's individual contributions from his team, making all kinds of adjustments. It adjusts for the level of offensive support a player received (by discarding the pitcher's actual W-L record), the quality of defense (neutralizing the effects of balls in play behind him), his park (which in Whitey's case was built to favor lefties), his era (which for Ford was low scoring, with high totals of innings pitched commonplace), and the extra-curricular things which boost his credentials (World Series rings, Cy Young awards, etc.). Within that context, a slightly larger chunk of what Whitey accomplished was due to his pinstriped teammates, relative to the ways other Hall of Famers were helped by their teammates.
The system sees Whitey's best seasons as worth 7 to 9 Wins Above Replacement. That's good, but it's low for a Hall of Famer -- 10's are superstar seasons, and Whitey never had one of those (which is highly unusual for a Hall of Famer), let alone multiples within a five-year span -- which would have boosted his peak score.
I am not saying that my method is the only means of evaluating a Hall of Famer, or even the best method of ranking Hall of Famers, just that it's a very worthwhile one for leveling the playing field so as to more clearly debate the merits of potential Hall of Famers.
Rocco Knuckles and Bobby Leadfingers (they told me their names) were suitably impressed, letting me off with a few firm punches in the solar plexus while shouting stuff like, "That's for disparaging the all-time leader in winning percentage for a lefty!" and "That's for saying Whitey's below average!" and "Pinstripe this!" The last thing I remember before passing out was a blow to the face accompanied by the phrase, "Count da rings, baby!"
The moral of the story: It's a dangerous business trying to get people to look at baseball statistics a new way.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
My second piece
for Baseball Prospectus is up, this one analyzing the pitchers on the 2004 Hall of Fame ballot. It's another epic -- I had 15 pitchers to evaluate, after all -- and this time it's part of the site's premium content, so you need to be a subscriber to read it. Which ought to be reason enough to shell out if you haven't already, right? Here's the intro:
The Baseball Writers of America's standards on what constitute a Hall of Fame pitcher are in a curious spot now, both when it comes to starters and relievers. Spoiled by a group of contemporaries who won 300 games from the mid-'60s to the mid-'80s (Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, Phil Niekro), the writers haven't elected a non-300-winning starter since Fergie Jenkins in 1991. That Perry, Sutton and Niekro took a combined 13 ballots to reach the Hall while Ryan waltzed in on his first ballot with the all-time highest percentage of votes is even more puzzling. Apparently what impresses the BBWAA can be summarized as "Just Wins, Baby" -- which is bad news for every active pitcher this side of Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux.
Of the 59 enshrined pitchers with major-league experience, only two of them -- Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers -- are in Cooperstown for what they accomplished as relievers. While the standards for starters are somewhat easy to discern (if lately a bit unrealistic), the growing number of quality relievers on the ballot, the continuous evolution of the relief role, and the paucity of standards to measure them by present some interesting challenges to voters.
If there's an area in which performance analysis has struggled mightily against mainstream baseball thought, it's in hammering home the concept that the pitcher doesn't have as much control over the outcome of ballgames -- as reflected in his Won-Loss totals -- or even individual at-bats -- hits on balls
in play -- as he's generally given credit for. Good run support and good defense can make big winners of mediocre pitchers on good teams, and .500 pitchers of good hurlers on mediocre teams. As such, it's important to examine the things over which a pitcher has control and account for those he does not. Once again, the Davenport system rides to the rescue.
A hint: the system found four pitchers worthy of a vote -- and not the four you'd expect. No, no, no, not Bob Tewksbury. And alas, not my personal favorite, Fernando Valenzuela.
My jaw still aches from smiling over my BP debut
last week, and I'm still answering emails related to it. Again, I'm thrilled to have my work in such hallowed company.
Monday, January 12, 2004
An L.A. Times article
by Bill Shaikin about the Angels' surprising signing of Vlad Guerrero buried this quote fairly deep:
With major league owners scheduled to vote this month on whether to approve the bid of would-be Dodger buyer Frank McCourt, a source said Sunday that McCourt asked Commissioner Bud Selig whether some owners might vote against him if he spent freely to acquire Guerrero yet presented a financing package heavily dependent on loans. Selig offered no assurances, the source said, and McCourt sent word to General Manager Dan Evans to cease talks with Guerrero.
My man on the L.A. beat, Jon Weisman, has been pleading for weeks to put Guerrero in Dodger blue, and he writes
that the deal casts aspersions on McCourt's ability to afford the team: "[W]e're supposed to believe or accept that, amid a market correction for player salaries, Vladimir Guerrero's is the one that would drive McCourt out of business?... If McCourt can't afford to sign Guerrero with the Dodger payroll already on the Atkins diet, he can't afford to buy the Dodgers. Period."
While I share Jon's concern that the team may be bought by an owner who won't spend the appropriate money to make the Dodgers competitive, I see a far more ominous cloud over this. Namely, that Selig effectively blackmailed McCourt out of pursuing Vlad in exchange for his blessing regarding the Dodger sale -- we all know that behind the scenes, Bud can orchestrate the other owners' yea or nay on this.
I want to see sombody investigate this as further evidence of collusion or at least a foul Seligulan shenanigan. As per our ongoing community-wide discussion on the growing influence of non-mainstream baseball writers, I think we can do our part in building a fire that will make Bud sweat this one.
Sunday, January 11, 2004
Coming Up Roses
I'm hard at work on my Hall stuff and having Internet connection problems today (my girlfriend made me a sign to post on my monitor that reads: "DANGER X WARNING! DO NOT WRITE IN BLOGGER," with the X a skull and crossbones), but I decided to take a moment to respond to a Rose-related comment to my previous piece left by a reader named Joe. He writes:
I understand the concept behind WARP/RCAP/Win Shares/random advanced metric.
However, if you ignore the fact that Pete has 4000+ hits, is he really a Hall of Famer?
I mean, all of his rate stats are pretty ordinary:
1. The guy spent most of his career as a corner outfielder/firstbaseman (2266 games compared to 1262 @ 2B or 3B), yet managed a SLG only 10 points higher than the adjusted league average.
2. His SLG is the lowest among all players with 3000 hits by 20 full points.
3. Rose and Brock are the only members of the 3000 Hit Club that have an OBP under .400 and a SLG under .425, and we all know Lou's claim to fame.
4. Of all members in the 3000-Hit-Club, Pete ranks only #15 in OBP. The seven men with worse OBPs? They have averaged 336 HR, compared to Rose's 160. Hank Aaron is tied with Rose's OBP, and has 755 HR (those 755 were not included in that 336 average).
5. Pete has fewer SB than every man in that group, other than Ripken. Those seven men have averaged 326 SB with a 74% success rate, compared to Pete's 198 and 57%.
6. We're all aware that his AVG is "only" .303 -- in the bottom half of the 3K Hit Club.
7. Despite routinely being among league leaders in games played, AB, and plate appearances, Pete had more than 100 walks in a season only once, and more than 90 walks in a season only once more.
Pete holds the career records of hits, games, and at bats. Those are records that he will likely hold for years to come. He deserves those records: anyone who plays for 24 seasons should get appropriate credit.
I've run him through the Keltner List, and I think you'd be surprised at how poorly he fared. You can run him yourself, or I can e-mail you my results.
Simply, Pete Rose is NOT one of the greatest players to ever play the game. And isn't that what the Hall of Fame is for?
Nitpicking Rose's qualifications within the 3,000 hit club won't convince me of anything. Nobody achieves that level without being very, very good. Who cares about stolen bases in that company? He beat the pants off of Eddie Murray there, but so what?
I think the larger issue is your underestimation of Pete's ability to get on base. He was 44 points above the adjusted league average for his epic career. In a 17-season span, he led the league in the number of times on base nine times, was second five other times, and the three other years finished fourth, sixth, and ninth. Put together, that has a HUGE amount of value. And despite the low slugging percentage, he was 19 points above adjusted league average for his career. To expand a bit more...
(By the way, I'm not sure what your source on league-adjusted figures is; mine's Baseball-Reference
, which I prefer because I can't use the SBE and because it's freely available.)
Pete was not a power hitter, but he was a FANTASTIC leadoff hitter. In the Retrosheet era, which covers his career from '69 and thus leaves out four great seasons of his (which would only enhance those numbers if he were leading off then, but I don't know for sure that he was) but includes all of his decline phase, he posted a .386 OBP/.424 SG. He did this despite playing many years in a time period which included some of the lowest levels of offense in modern baseball history. Who led the league in OBP in the Year of the Pitcher? Pete. Who was the leadoff hitter for the Big Red Machine, when they were scoring 25% more runs than the league average? It wasn't Joe Morgan.
Despite the period, his rate stats are NOT ordinary. To turn our attention away from the BP suite of numbers, check his OPS+. For his career he has an OPS+ of 118, and he had a 12-year prime ('65-'76) which was even higher: 116 or better every single year in that span, better than 125 in nine of those 12, better than 130 in six of those. There is no doubt he was a big benefit to his offenses during that run; they led the league in scoring five times and were second in three of those years. What's the object of baseball? Scoring runs. Check his place on the all-time runs scored list: fifth all time, behind Rickey, Ty, Hank and the Babe, and ahead of Willie, Cap, the Man, Barry, and the Iron Horse. That is select company, my friend, and you don't get there without being great.
And that's a hell of a long prime; I'd have to study it more deeply, but I'll bet you there aren't more than a dozen people in baseball history who maintained such a high level for so long. Nine wins above replacement a year for 12 years is a hell of a building block to have for a team. Is it any wonder the man was part of so many winning teams? Add to this a defensive versatility which allowed his managers to shift him around the diamond in order to accomodate the needs of his teams, and you've got a great asset to any ballclub.
Rose's career overlapped with a number of fantastic ballplayers whose careers may have overshadowed his; Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan, and Mike Schmidt come to mind among NL players. And those guys were probably better than him. But I think if you examine Rose's standing using methods that incorporate a player's value including defense (WARP, Win Shares, any others?), you'll find he still comes out among the all-time greats, unequivocally good enough for the Hall of Fame. Smelling like a Rose, so to speak.
Friday, January 09, 2004
Oh, What the Hall
First off, thank you to everybody for the overwhelmingly positive response I received to my Baseball Prospectus debut
. The recognition of the long hours I put into that piece and the encouragement I've received for doing so have made it a very gratifying experience, one I hope I can repeat with my follow-up article on pitchers, which, though the vote has passed, should run next week.
In light of that, I'll avoid addressing the pitchers' portion of the vote here. On the hitters' front, the research for my article led me to the conclusion that four were worthy of a vote, all of them infielders: first baseman Keith Hernandez, second baseman Ryne Sandberg, shortstop Alan Trammell, and everywhereman Paul Molitor, who played more games at third than anywhere besides DH. As you've heard, only Molitor
got in, and the results for the other three were a mixed bag:
• Hernandez, whose main strength as a candidate comes from his outstanding fielding, actually dropped off the ballot by receiving only 4.3% of the vote. This is just further confirmation of the observation I set forth that the first basemen in the Hall of fame aren't there for their glovework. I'll admit that I have very little emotional attachment to Hernandez -- he always left me even colder than Don Mattingly, to the point that I even dissed him in a dream once. But I'm sorry to see him fall off the ballot, because I think he's a player whose career really holds up under the scrutiny of advanced metrics such as the Davenport statistics.
• Sandberg received 61.1% of the vote, up from 49% a year ago. I'm still mystified that he's not already in, as the man is easily one of the top 10 ever to play second base. His surge in votes is encouraging, and my guess is that he's at most two years away from being elected.
• Trammell's 13.8% showing, on the other hand, is distressing. He's well above the standards of the Hall's shortstops, which are diluted by some players (Travis Jackson, Rabbit Maranville, Dave Bancroft) who really don't stack up all that well as fielders OR as hitters. But he's getting nowhere in the voting.
Of the outfielders, the best candidates were the four contemporaries whom I grew up watching: Andre Dawson, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy, and Jim Rice. The system I devised showed all of them as falling short of the Hall of Fame standards for outfielders, with Dawson being the closest. He polled 50%, the same as last year, while Rice -- the least impressive of the four by my measures -- polled 54.5%, a slight increase from last year. Parker at 10.5% and Murphy at 8.5% are fading quickly, which is a surprise given how close the four really are in qualifications.
None of the other hitters debuting on the ballot got the 5% necessary to remain there. That's a bit of a surprise as far as Joe Carter is concerned -- those high RBI totals sure did impress writers while he was active -- but I'll take it as a positive sign that the voters realized how unimpressive his .306 career on-base percentage really is.
• • •
To touch briefly on Pete Rose (must I?), the backlash is in full effect. Peter Gammons is leading the charge with an article
that's among his better recent efforts (I've held for a long time that despite his connections inside the game, the man is an extremely
lazy writer who appears to have little respect for the craft of assembling words into coherent, punctuated sentences -- he's anything but an Angell). Gammons writes:
I have always maintained that if Bud Selig decreed Pete Rose eligible for the Hall of Fame pending the vote of the Baseball Writers Association, I would vote for him as a player. Now I hear Bud is going to issue a two-year probation and make Rose eligible only by the vote of the veterans' committee. Fine. Because these last two days have made me rethink my initial decision to vote for him.
First, in betting on baseball as manager -- a position that demands standards higher than those for players -- Rose demonstrated a complete lack of respect or caring for the game.
...This is a man who admitted something in a forum in which he can make money. He has no remorse, no respect for anything but his next bet. Rose is perhaps the lowest figure in baseball in my 32 years of covering the sport.
Ouch. Anyway, as a canary in a coalmine, Gammons puts forth an opinion which suggests that Rose may be better off NOT subjecting his half-assedly contrite self to the whims of the BBWAA voters. Meanwhile, ESPN colleague Jayson Stark has a lengthy post-mortem
on the way Rose has handled his admission and how it's been perceived by fans, writers and the commissioner:
Yes, it sure smells like trouble on the best-seller list for the Hit King these days. "My Prison Without Bars," may be turning into the most talked-about book in America. But there are growing indications that good capitalism and good reinstatement strategy might not necessarily go hand in hand.
Asked this week if Rose's book could put his seemingly inevitable track toward reinstatement in jeopardy, one source who has been involved in Rose's reinstatement negotiations replied: "Absolutely."
"If you're asking me where this is headed," the source said, "I'd say he's going to end up worse off than he was a month ago."
Double ouch. Stark goes on to enumerate the ways the past week has damaged Rose's goal of being reinstated, concluding that it will probably take the better part of a year before Selig reaches a decision.
Having watched last night's much-hyped prime-time interview, I'll say that Rose comes off more sympathetically than all of the buildup had led me to believe. No, he's clearly not wired to be emotional in a way which would have pleased those who hoped for more visible remorse. But his statement at the end of the interview is the best thing he said, and he ought to tattoo it on his forehead in reverse so that he reminds himself of those words every time he looks in the mirror:
If the commisioner would ever give me a second chance, there's no way I can let him down. I owe baseball. Baseball doesn't owe me a damn thing. I owe baseball. And the only way I can make my peace with baseball is taking this negative, somehow, and making it into a positive. That's the only way I can do it.
Fair enough. But unless he's planning on donating his million-dollar salary to charity, I don't think Rose managing a major-league ball club is an adequate way of paying baseball back. In my eyes, to gain re-entry, he would need both to abide by the terms of a strict probation (not even the faintest whiff of gambling) and perform some great amount of community service devoted to raising awareness of the dangers of gambling and the reasons it's expressly forbidden for ballplayers and managers. Once he's done that for a couple of years, I'd allow him be a hitting instructor somewhere below the major-league level, or maybe a manager in the low minors, where the outcomes of ballgames aren't of any interest to gamblers ("Put a dime on Rancho Cucamonga
and another on the Warthogs
for me," doesn't really seem likely). Let Rose show his love for the game in backwaters far from the action and the spotlight.
As for Rose the player, one reader of my BP piece wrote in to ask how Rose measured up with respect to the Hall of Fame standards I set forth:
Enjoyed your work regarding the incoming HOF class and the guys on the outside looking in. Any chance you could do something similar for The Gambler (no, not Kenny Rogers)? I think it would interesting to get away from all the hoopla surrounding his moral and ethical issues and evaluate his candidacy using this new viewpoint.
This was my reply:
Regarding Rose, it's pretty open and shut from this standpoint. Anywhere you put him, positionally speaking, he would be a top-tier Hall of Famer, with a career WARP3 of 153.6, peak of 46.8, and a weighted score of 100.2, which is good for 20th all time among hitters.
From 1965-1976 Rose played at a very high level of 9 WARP a year, which is a remarkable run, even moreso for its consistency. The rest of his career is extremely ordinary, but that run is good enough for the Hall in and of itself.
I have to admit, Rose comes out looking much better by that method than I expected, probably because for most of the portion of his career which I can remember, he was a singles-hitting journeyman who couldn't carry his position offensively. But clearly, he was a hell of a ballplayer for a long while before that. Here's a sentiment you don't hear every day: Rose's induction would RAISE the standards of the Hall of Fame -- from a statistical standpoint, at least.
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
I'm elated to announce that I've been elected to the... no, wait a minute, wrong speech. I'm elated to announce my debut on Baseball Prospectus with this piece
on the Hall of Fame today. Not only does it place a piece of my work in the company of some of the game's elite analysts, it marks the first time I've gotten paid for writing about baseball. How cool is that? I'm a little giddy, but this has been in the works for several weeks, and I'm pleased not only that it's come to fruition, but that I managed not to jinx things along the way.
While Baseball Prospectus is a premium site, my piece -- which analyzes the hitters on the 2004 Hall of Fame ballot from the standpoint of the advanced metrics found on BP's Davenport Translated Player Cards
-- is a freebie, so you can head on over and check it out. I have a follow-up piece on the pitchers in the works; it couldn't beat the announcement of the voting results, alas, but I hope that it will remain relevant.
Furthermore, I hope that this is just the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with BP (and no, it won't mean the end of things here, I promise). In a recent interview, Will Carroll described his own elevation to the ranks
by saying, "BP is the Yankees of baseball writing and I'm proud to wear pinstripes." Well, me too, even if I've only been recalled from Columbus for a handful of at-bats and have yet to win a starting spot.
Now if you'll excuse me, the solid gold Porsche that I've received in payment is about to get a parking ticket...
You Gotta Believe
The game of baseball lost one of its more endearing personalities yesterday when Tug McGraw died of brain cancer at age 59. I have fond memories of Tug as a Phillie, the ace reliever for the loyal opposition to my Dodgers in the late '70s and early '80s. I enjoyed pulling for the Phils in the 1980 postseason; McGraw's triumphant, arms-up celebration after striking out Willie Wilson to win the World Series is one I and every baseball-loving kid my age re-enacted countless times in our own yards and imaginations. Now, like his opposite number in that Series, the Royals' zany reliever Dan Quisenberry, McGraw's been taken from us too soon.
In 1969, McGraw was part of the amazin' crop of young Mets pitchers -- along with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan -- who helped to turn the game's laughingstock into a World Champion. Perhaps most famously, he coined the rallying cry, "You gotta believe," which inspired the pennant-winning 1973 Mets. On August 20 of that season, the team stood at 55-67, in last place and 7 games out of first in a tightly-bunched NL East. Over the next six weeks, McGraw
reeled off 5 wins and 12 saves while allowing only four runs in 41 innings. At 82-79, the Mets won their division by 1.5 games, upset the heavily-favored Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS, and lost a seven-game World Series to the defending-champion Oakland A's.
McGraw went on to pitch ten years for the Phillies, a span during which they won six division titles, two pennants, and their only championship in franchise history. As the man attached to the team's defining moment, McGraw is being mourned as royalty
today, his passing front page news in the Philadelphia Inquirier
, with about a dozen features attached to the story. Dave Anderson
of the New York Times
has some fond memories of McGraw's time in New York, while Frank Litsky
has the Times
obituary, which includes some touching words from the late, great Red Smith: "He is a beautiful guy, a sensitive, emotional, demonstrative, genuine, outgoing, affectionate, exuberant, sad and sometimes irresponsible human being... left-handed and lighthearted and not necessarily more predictable than the screwball he throws, but he is no dummy."
McGraw was one of the game's eminently quotable players, coming up with some beauties:
• On the difference between natural and artificial playing surfaces: "I don't know, I never smoked Astroturf."
• On his physique: "I have no trouble with the twelve inches between my elbow and my palm. It's the seven inches between my ears that's bent."
• On signing a new contract: "Ninety percent I'll spend on good times, women and Irish Whiskey. The other ten percent I'll probably waste."
• On pressure: "Ten million years from now, when then sun burns out and the Earth is just a frozen iceball hurtling through space, nobody's going to care whether or not I got this guy out."
• His fastballs, which he named: the Peggy Lee (which had batters asking "Is that all there is?"), the Bo Derek ("the one with a nice little tail on it"), the John Jameson (straight as Irish whiskey), the Cutty Sark (it sailed), and the Titanic (it sank).
It's rare when a sports figure can be recalled with affection by fans in two cities with such a heated rivalry. But today we all agree on something: Tug McGraw was a rare individual.
Monday, January 05, 2004
As the baseball world prepares for the announcement of the Hall of Fame Class of 2004, one very high profile ex-player has begun laying the groundwork for his own election in 2005. Pete Rose has published a book in which he admits to gambling
on Cincinnati Reds games while managing the team in 1987 and 1988, actions he's vehemently denied since his lifetime ban from baseball 15 years ago. On Thursday evening, a prime-time interview
with Rose will air on ABC.
It's not hard to view Rose's actions with skepticism. He wants commissioner Bud Selig to reinstate him, both so that he can be eligible for the Hall of Fame and so that he can work in baseball again. Time is running out on his window of opportunity
to gain election to the Hall via the Baseball Writers of America ballot. And, last but not least, he never met a money-making opportunity he didn't like.
Recall that back in August, Baseball Prospectus writers Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg broke a story
that Major League Baseball would reinstate Rose, setting off a distasteful chain of events
which led to them being bashed by MLB blowhards and so-called legitimate news outfits embarrassed at being scooped.
It's important to note that the two main points of BP's report -- Rose's reinstatement by Major League Baseball, and the lack of a need for him to admit wrongdoing for that to happen -- haven't proven to be true yet. On the contrary, Rose HAS admitted wrongdoing, MLB has yet to reinstate him, and if Bad Rug Bud and His Butt-Ugly Thugs perceive too strong a backlash over Rose's admission, such reinstatement may not take place.
What isn't clear yet is whether BP's scoop changed the story itself, the actions of the principals involved. Did Bud feel the backlash and require this admission? Did Pete decide that this was a golden opportunity to make a buck? Expect both camps to say whatever is politically expedient; I'm not sure we've ever heard the truth on the matter from either Bud or Pete, and I've got better things to do than wait for hell to freeze over.
I'm going to put aside my cynicism about Rose (who "in his interview with Primetime... says he bet without knowing how drastic the penalties would be," despite the warning posted in every major league baseball clubhouse) and the manufactured sincerity of this media event for the moment to call bullshit.... no, I mean, to call your attention to a unique angle
from Alex Belth.
When we were down in New Orleans, Alex and I had an interesting discussion about the Rose situation and about the growing influence of nontraditional, Internet-based outlets for baseball coverage. Today he's got a stellar piece relating our outsider experience in New Orleans to the topsy-turvy world of the Rose scoop, including some choice quotes from Carroll about the obstacles of an outsider taking on an inside story. Meanwhile, Zumsteg has his own brief take
on the latest news at his USS Mariner blog.
Are Carroll and Zumsteg vindicated yet? No, and they'll be the first to tell you that. But you can bet that they will come out smelling better than the (S)Hit King when this story's final chapter is written.
Saturday, January 03, 2004
With results of the 2004 Baseball Writers of America voting
to be announced on Tuesday, the Hall of Fame is on everybody's lips. Writers everywhere -- those with ballots real and imagined -- have been posting their votes online. Alex Ciepley
has an accurate take on the situation -- and some good picks -- at his Ball Talk blog.
In the past
, I've done lengthy rundowns of the ballot in preparation for the results, and you can rest assured that I'm doing the same this year, but with a new wrinkle. I don't want to jinx anything, so I won't say much more than that my picks will be up early in the coming week... somewhere.
The hot-button candidate in the online baseball community is Bert Blyleven, who won 287 games in the big leagues and is #5 on the all-time strikeout list. Blyeleven hasn't gotten much love
from Hall of Fame voters in his first six years on the ballot, failing to top 30 percent when 75 percent is the required number to achieve enshrinement. But the consensus among many who have studied the issue beyond simple wins and losses is that he belongs in the Hall. Rich Lederer has an excellent summary
of the statistical case to be made for Blyleven, and he's even taken that a step further
by emailing two Hall of Fame voters, Bill Conlin and Jeff Peek. The responses he got were very enlightening. Conlin, a Philadelphia Daily News
sportswriter who's known nationally for his girth and his belligerence more than his intellect, dismissed Rich's work as "cybergeek stuff," while Peek, who writes for the Traverse City [Michigan] Record-Eagle
, admitted that in his first-ever Hall ballot, he blew it on Blyleven.
I've remarked among friends a number of times that the Hall of Fame is an area where statheads might make a meaningful difference in convincing voters to re-examine their previously held assumptions about certain players. Rich's work is proof that occasionally, somebody might listen. From another precinct, Aaron Gleeman
points to a recent article
by Sporting News
writer Ken Rosenthal, in which he refers to park-adjusted figures on Baseball-Reference
as helping to sway him in Blyleven's favor.
at Baseball Primer show that Blyleven hasn't gained much support, but he'll still have eight more years on the ballot after this one, and there's hope that the BBWAA voters might be swayed sooner or later. After all, not all of those ballot-hogs can live forever.
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