The Futility Infielder
A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe
I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.
Sunday, February 29, 2004
Along with Alex Belth, Larry Mahnken, Cliff Corcoran, Doug Pappas, and a few other names you might recognize, I'm featured in a newspaper article in The Journal News
, a suburban New York newspaper covering Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties. Peter Abraham interviewed 27 New York-area bloggers via an email questionnaire, followed a few up by phone, and wrote a lengthy piece
on the impact of baseball bloggers: "A Growing Sports Voice."
Abraham paints a picture of a booming underground that still hasn't peaked, with blogs springing up and then disappearing with regularity. I don't know about the latter part, but I will say that an astounding increase seems to have taken place over the past winter. The writer goes on to cite a media studies expert who compares the boom to desktop publishing. That observation carries personal resonance; it's an area where my computer savvy allowed me to overcome a lack of training and move onto bigger and better things, as I became a graphic designer without benefit of an art-school background. Viva Apple!
The article starts with Belth and his fine blog, mentioning his interviews with famous personalities such as Buck O'Neill, Roger Angell, and Ken Burns, and it then turns to yours truly:
Belth and many other bloggers were first inspired by Aaron Gleeman, Jay Jaffe and David Pinto, the Willie, Mickey and the Duke of this fledgling genre. They were among the first and are now three of the best-read bloggers.
Jaffe, 34, started "Futility Infielder" three years ago. Once primarily a Yankees blog, he has branched out to cover all baseball.
"I developed a penchant for lengthy lunchtime e-mails involving stat-based baseball arguments. My friends invited me to leave them alone and start a blog," he said via e-mail. "The rest is history. I don't watch very much TV, besides ballgames, or see many movies since I started doing this. I've always got a couple of ideas I'm working on, even if only in my head, to the point where it's become like the music of my mind."
Jaffe and many other bloggers rely heavily on the study of baseball statistics -- known as sabermetrics -- to make their impassioned points. It's a natural mix of their love of baseball and technology.
The Mick of the genre? Wow, that's flattering, although I'm quite sure I don't get nearly as much traffic as Gleeman or Pinto (not that it keeps me awake at nights) or imbibe as much as Mantle. I'll mildly dispute the second paragraph, too, as I've always striven to straddle the line of covering the Yanks but not being limited to them. I can even quibble with Abraham's description of sabermetrics, preferring to rely on Bill James' classic definiton: "the search for objective knowledge about baseball." But hey, it's great to be mentioned, and any publicity is good publicity so long as you spell my name right. So thanks to Pete Abraham for including me in this piece, and welcome to any of you who are visiting this page for the first time because of it.
Any of you coming to this page via your Sunday paper who would be willing to send the page on which the article resides, please drop me an email
A few weeks back when I participated in the Yankees roundtable
on Baseball Prospectus Radio, I commented that despite their upgrades this winter, the Yanks are now so heavily invested in ballplayers who are 30 to 35 or even older that any one or two injuries could cause them trouble given their lack of depth. Joe Sheehan made his prescient comment
about the Yanks' ability to assume contracts -- and man, was he right when it came to the A-Rod trade -- but the rest of the panel shared my view.
As did the host, Will Carroll, who doubles as BP's injury expert. Just as he did last year, Carroll is previewing every ballclub in a Team Health Report which shows the level of injury risk for their starting nine, rotation, and closer. Players are assigned the colors of traffic lights which represent an underlying quantification of injury risk. As to what that quantification is based on, Will had this to say:
Like PECOTA, it's a black box in the sense that I don't let it out. FAR less math involved. It's a weighted system of twelve factors starting with position, age, and injury history, but also things like body mass, PECOTA attrition/drop rate, playing time, team's overall health rating, speed of recovery, and a few others, including a couple that are very subjective.
Just to put it in plain English, the "PECOTA attrition/drop rate" to which Will refers is BP's forecast of the chance that the player will either decrease his productivity by 20 percent or more (collapse), or decrease his plate appearances by 50 percent or more due either to injury or poor performance (attrition).
Not all of the Health Reports are in the Premium category, and it so happens that the Yanks THR
is a freebie. Will starts this one off by quoting a friend of his who says that everything in the world can be summed up in three words, and while he uses "Good. Expensive. Fragile." to describe the 2004 Yanks, the first three which came to my mind upon viewing the forecast were, "Too many colors." I tossed a few colorful words of my own in there, as you can imagine.
Only four Yankees out of the 15 Will graded get the green light: Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Enrique Wilson (who may not even be the regular second baseman) and Mike Mussina. Eight receive a yellow light, and three -- Jason Giambi, Bernie Williams, and Kevin Brown -- turn up in the red-light district. No sooner was I reading the THR (a day late) than Alex Belth
floated an email saying Williams was undergoing an appendectomy
and would miss Opening Day. Ugh.
Carroll offered to field my questions on the Yanks' report, and so I jotted down a handful and fired them off to him. What follows is our exchange.
FI: How much of the fact that Jason Giambi was red and Kenny Lofton was yellow is based on the two of them playing the field?
WC: It was a factor, but taking them out wouldn't have changed either significantly. Giambi would be in on age and the lack of comparable successes (at least in the long term) for his knee injury. Lofton was in the middle of the yellow range -- speed players tend to age poorly unless they refer to themselves in the third person.
FI: The news pre-op seemed more likely that Williams would be in center and Giambi would be DHing; does that change anything?
WC: Williams was actually on the cusp of yellow/red and I certainly can't predict appendectomies. Williams is both older, figures to play some in the field -- by design or by default when if Lofton gets injured, and has such a multitude of injuries in his file that it's almost impossible that one of these wouldn't jump up and bite him. Arthritic shoulders, bad knees, reduced speed, and DH doesn't necessarily help. Edgar Martinez has to go through a pretty elaborate stretching regimen before every at bat; Bernie might not make that adjustment.
FI: Good points when you think about those 35-year-old hammies. What color lights would Travis Lee, who they recently signed, and Tony Clark receive?
WC: Lee and Clark are both green. Neither have major recent histories and neither figures to get enough playing time to hurt themselves. 1B is the safest position on the field.
FI: How wide a variation in the eight yellows is there, and if you were able to give some of them plus (closer to green) or minus (closer to red), who would get what?
WC: Internally, there's quite a variation. Lofton is higher, Jeter is medium (thought I'm not terribly worried about him. I'll worry more if I start seeing him dive more knowing that his SS job is under scrutiny) and Sheff is pretty low. Sheffield was one of the more interesting players to research so far. No one believes his hand wasn't broken in the Cubs series. [Sheffield was just 2-for-14 with 1 RBI in the Braves' first-round loss to Chicago.]
FI: What's Kevin Brown's bigger risk, arm or back?
WC: Back, but you have to look at the entire kinetic chain. If he favors his back, he'll put more stress on his arm. I just can't see Brown going 200 innings, but he did it last year. The one thing I can't factor in is someone's pain tolerance.
FI: You didn't really elaborate on Jose Contreras' yellow -- what can you say about him? Is it based on the uncertainty of his age?
WC: No, I use the same data as PECOTA on age. Contreras only has one year in his injury history and that's the part that's uncertain. The biggest negative for him was the expected jump in innings. That's a challenge for anyone.
FI: Steve Karsay's shoulder problems last year were blamed on tendinitis, but now we're hearing that he had rotator cuff surgery. Did the Yankees conceal that? How serious was his tear?
WC: Conceal? No, but they had no reason to tell anyone. If Tom Gordon's agent knew about that, would his price have gone up? Tendinitis and cuff problems are often related. It would take a whole section of a book to explain that -- but luckily that book, Saving The Pitcher
, is coming out in April!
FI: Let the record show that I added the shameless linking to Will's innocent plug of his book. Anyway, what about the rest of the Yanks' pen -- Gordon, Quantrill, Heredia, and White? Any glaring risks there?
WC: Gordon's always a risk, but used properly, he'll be fine. The rest don't figure to be major risks for anything "preventable." That word -- preventable -- is a tough one. Bernie gives us a perfect example for just how unpredictable injuries are. Any pitcher can get overused or take a ball off their head and pow -- in an instant the whole rotation or pen has changed. Where the Yankees -- and you touched on this in the intro -- are harder to figure is in how they'll deal with an injury. There's not much in Columbus, but Cashman's just as likely to go get someone from another team as he is to get someone from Triple-A.
FI: Tell that to Aaron Boone
Friday, February 27, 2004
Chew on this for a moment: in the 71 years they've been playing the All-Star game, a total of five Yankee catchers have made the team 46 times, or 65 percent of the time. Jorge Posada, with four All-Star appearances, is just the latest in the line of those who've donned the tools of intelligence in the House That Ruth Built.
In part because I'd stumped for him here
as the AL MVP, Alex Belth invited me to contribute a piece on Posada for his week-long Yankee preview, which has included guests Steven Goldman, Rich Lederer, Ben Jacobs, and Cliff Corcoran. In my profile
, I recount his history, take a look at how he fits into the Yankees, both currently and historically, where he places among his contemporaries, and whether he will one day rank among the all-time greats. For my rankings, I drew on the same methodology as I did for my Hall of Fame ballot pieces
on Baseball Prospectus last month; recall that no catchers were on the 2004 ballot, so unless you've done the work yourself, most of this data will be new to you.
Anyway, it was an honor to contribute to the series, and I hope you all enjoy the piece.
Thursday, February 26, 2004
Moneyball II: Vitriolic Boogaloo
Lunchtime brought a surprise in my mailbox on Thursday: the latest issue of Sports Illustrated
, with a seven-page Moneyball
follow-up from author Michael Lewis that's worth the cover price on the newstand (y'know, off-line
). Those expecting an epilogue tracking the progress of Scott Hatteberg, Chad Bradford, Jeremy Brown or Nick Swisher will be disappointed; nary a mention do they receive here. Instead Lewis focuses on the reaction the book provoked from the baseball establishment and its guardian, the mainstream sports press. His tone is blistering when describing both, and he pulls no punches, countering some of the more egregious and idiotic attacks on the book from the likes of Joe Morgan, Tracy Ringolsby, Richard Griffin, and Pat Gillick.
Lewis 's view of baseball front offices is the Peter Principle
The game itself is a ruthless competition. Unless you're very good at it you don't survive in it. But in the space just off the field of play there really is no level of incompetence that won't be tolerated.
There are many reasons for this, but the big one is that baseball is structured less as a business than as a social club. The Club includes not only the people in the front office who operate the team but also, in a kind of women's auxiliary, many of the writers and broadcasters who follow the game and purport to explain it. The Club is exclusive, but the criteria for admission and retention are nebulous. There are many ways to embarrass the Club, but being bad at your job isn't one of them.
...Club insiders have a remarkable talent for hanging around -- scouting, opining on the game -- until some other high-level job opens up. There are no real standards, because no one wants to put too fine a point on the question: What qualifies these people for these jobs? Taking into account any quality other than Clubability would make everyone's membership a little less secure.
Gloves off, baby! Lewis goes on to retrace the background of his story, how he came to write about the Oakland A's front office, GM Billy Beane, and the rethinking of baseball in general, pointing out that the A's and Beane really didn't pay him too much mind at the time:
As far as they knew, I wasn't even writing a book about the Oakland A's. I was writing a book about the collision of reason and conventional baseball wisdom. (They weren't the only ones whose eyes glazed over when I tired to explain what I was up to.)
The irony is that once the book was out, Beane, not Lewis, became the lightning rod for criticism. The author points out that twice in ESPN.com chats, Morgan attacked the book, both times laboring under the mistaken notion that Beane himself had penned the book. From his second chat
: "I wouldn't be Billy Beane first of all. I wouldn't write the book Moneyball
!" Writes Lewis, "It was in a perverse way, an author's dream: The people most upset about my book were the ones unable to divine that I had written it... the people most certain they had nothing to learn from the book were in the front offices of other major-league teams." Meanwhile, the literate world sat up and took notice; the book was a hit, and its memes took hold as teams from other sports, Fortune 500 companies, and amateur baseball programs adapted its lessons, reappraising the terrain on which their assumptions rested.
Lewis goes on to examine the progress of the Toronto Blue Jays, who hired former Beane sideman J.P. Ricciardi as their GM in late 2001, cut the payroll 40 percent, and turned the team's fortunes around -- but in doing so drew the ire of Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber at the Toronto Star
. In a classic ignorance of the concept of sample size, Geoff Baker attacked Ricciardi's moves
as racially motivated. The public took Baker to task for what the National Post
called "a smear job," and Jays' players such as Carlos Delgado came to the organization's defense. Hey, you'd be glad to get rid of Raul Mondesi, too.
Meanwhile, the Star
's Richard Griffin, a frequent target on Baseball Primer
, showed his misunderstanding of baseball history: "... Ricciardi along with Billy Beane and other new-wavers believe in building offense through patience at the plate and taking no chances on the bases. That's pre-WWII style of play. Under those criteria, Jackie Robinson could not have played in the majors." Ugh. Never mind that Robinson's high on-base percentage, plate discipline, power and undervaluing in the eyes of the pre-integration Club would have made him a prime target for Beane and his disciples. As Lewis writes, "One way of looking at the revolution in baseball management is as a search for the new Jackie Robinsons: players who, for one irrational reason or another, often because of their appearance, have been maligned and underestimated by the market."
The lesson Lewis takes from the Moneyball
aftermath is that "if you look long enough for an argument against reason, you will find it." It's a bittersweet coda, and while the article is satisfying from a folding-metal-chair-swinging standpoint (the Ringolsby stuff
is a great below-the-belt-buckle swing), one can't help but wish Lewis had followed up some of the more positive angles of the book, such as the increased popularity of the stathead approach among fans and writers, or the progress of the seven
first-rounders the A's drafted in 2002. In the interest of doing just that, I pulled some quick stats together:
Hitter-'03 age Team-Level PA AVG OBP SLG HR
Jeremy Brown-23 Midland-AA 378 .275 .388 .391 5
Nick Swisher-22 Modesto-A+ 237 .296 .418 .550 10
Midland-AA 336 .230 .324 .380 5
Mark Teahen-22 Modesto-A+ 530 .283 .377 .380 3
John Mccurdy-22 Kane County-A 571 .274 .331 .365 4
Pitcher-'03 age Team-Level IP ERA K/9 K/W
Ben Fritz-22 Modesto-A+ 77 4.91 9.0 2.3
Steve Obenchain-22 Modesto-A+ 44 5.15 3.9 1.0
Kane County-A 49 2.57 5.5 2.3
Joe Blanton-22 Midland-AA 36 1.26 7.6 4.3
Kane County-A 133 2.57 9.7 7.6
Without delving too deeply, that doesn't look too bad for seven guys with two years' experience in pro ball. All of them have progressed past the rookie and low-A levels, four of them spent time in high-A, and three of them reached AA. Swisher struggled at Midland and Obenchain at Modesto, but only McCurdy's performance in Kane County looks like a disappointment at this stage. All of the other hitters have shown the appropriate plate discipline and strike zone judgment, though Swisher seems to be the only one whose power is developing. Time and Billy Beane are still on their side.
But that's not to say the establishment can't look at that tall glass as half-empty. Discussing the Dodgers' hiring of Paul DePodesta, Baseball America
writer Jim Callis takes the A's draft to task by comparing it to the Dodgers' recent track record:
DePodesta comes from Oakland, where he was the top assistant to Billy Beane, who presides over the draft with a heavier hand than most GMs. In the last two years, the Athletics have had 28 picks in the first 10 rounds and spent all of them on college players. They haven't selected a high schooler before the 19th round.
[Dodger scouting director Logan] White, an Orioles crosschecker before coming to Los Angeles in December 2001, was allowed a free rein with the draft by former Dodgers GM Dan Evans. In his first two drafts for the club, he has had 22 choices in the first 10 rounds and used 16 of them on high school players. White hasn't tabbed a four-year college player before the seventh round.
...Based on the initial returns from their clubs' 2002 and 2003 drafts, DePodesta could learn a lot from White. No one wrote a fawning best-seller about how the Dodgers built their team and revolutionized the draft, but they have outdrafted the A's the last two years.
Before anyone points out the first half of the word "Moneyball," consider that Oakland spent roughly $14 million on those two drafts, compared to $11 million for Los Angeles.
Never mind the fact that two years is an awfully short time frame to exalt or dismiss a draft class, or that the Dodger had considerably more money to spend on scouting these players, or that the A's seven first-rounders (due to compensation picks for lost free agents) were able to command signing money that was, if not overwhelming, then at least better than most lower-round players. The old guard's ways must be defended! Did anyone bother to ask how much money the Dodgers spent on scouting those players? My guess is that the difference is more than made up for in the bottom line. But this is still an apples-to-oranges comparison. The A's strategy is a reaction to their limited resources, and the Dodgers' strategy reflects the breadth of theirs; they can afford risks the A's are unwilling to take.
While he does go on to show that DePodesta and White share some common ground in their analytical nature and are apparently off to a good start in their relationship, he cites a Baseball America study he did
showing "that high school picks yield a higher percentage of above-average big league regulars and stars than college choices." What he doesn't mention is that for the time frame of the study (1990-1997), a slightly higher percentage college players reached "regular or better status" overall (8.8 percent to 8.4), and significantly more high school players were complete flops, never even making the majors for a cup of coffee (71.8 percent to 61.1). And if one focuses on the upper rounds, the college edge becomes more clear: 18.1 percent of the 326 college players in rounds 1-3 reached "regular or better" status, while 14.5 percent of the 379 high-schoolers did so (junior college players did badly across the board, but since BA separates them out, I am as well). Overall for the ten rounds studied, the ratio of flops to regular-plusses is 8.5:1 for high-schoolers, 6.9:1 for college players. In that light, the A's strategy of minimizing their risk and maximizing their yield makes perfect sense.
Back to Lewis, I certainly wouldn't put it past such a shrewd observer to be taking good notes on all of this. For all that I know, he's planning a sequel. The Ricciardi and DePodesta regimes, as well as that of Theo Epstein in Boston, should provide ample material once a longer view can be taken. But like those A's draftees, that will have to wait for another day.
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Baseball Musings caught my eye with a brief entry
on Expos pitching prospect Chad Bentz, a walking human-interest story in the Jim Abbott
traditon: Bentz was born with fingers only on one hand and has had some success in professional baseball. This winter he made the team's 40-man roster, and he's in camp fighting for the second lefty spot out of the bullpen, up against former Yankee yo-yo Randy Choate, who was traded with Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera for Javier Vazquez.
The reason I bring this up is that I saw Bentz pitch
two and a half years ago for the Vermont Expos against the Brooklyn Cyclones. He was impressive, sliding his glove off onto his non-throwing "hand" after retrieving the ball, then replacing it after delivering the pitch so effortlessly that you barely notice. The Cyclones could barely touch him on the night I watched, though he left the game with a lower back strain. Last year at AA Harrisburg
of the Eastern League, Bentz was 1-4 with a 2.55 ERA and 16 saves in 84.2 innings. He's got some minor control issues, walking 39 men to his 56 strikeouts (6.0 per 9 IP), but he got by somehow, allowing only a .260 average on balls in play. Regarding his impediment, Bentz told the Winnipeg Sun
"I don't consider it a handicap," said Bentz. "If I did, I would get a parking sticker.
"It doesn't prevent me from doing anything. I call it a birthmark. I think it would be boring to catch normally, without switching the glove, but I'm sure it's not normal for anyone else."
In addition to his Abbott-like distinction, Bentz is also trying to become the second Alaska-raised player in the majors. This Juneau Empire piece
adds a hometown touch to the Bentz story for those interested.
Though he's been hampered by a nerve injury
in his foot, one that wasn't properly repaired until the second surgery and shortened his first two pro seasons, Bentz has fared pretty well overall. In his three years of organized ball, he's got a 3.36 ERA in 150 innings with 128 strikeouts (7.7 per 9 IP) against 64 walks. He's reportedly got a 93 MPH fastball and a developing curve and changeup. My guess is that he needs a year in AAA but if he can get ahead of the hitters regularly and cut down his walks, he has a decent shot at the bigs eventually. I'll be pulling for him.
* * *
Those of you wondering about my sparse output lately can look forward to my contributions to a couple of Yankee-related previews over at Alex Belth's Bronx Banter
blog. One is a lengthy profile of Jorge Posada that should run Thursday or Friday; pieces by Steven Goldman (Jason Giambi), Ben Jacobs (Mike Mussina) and Alex and Rich Lederer (Derek Jeter and Bernie Wiliams) have already run and are worth checking out for their quality and variety. Another is a roundtable with various bloggers and writers about the Yankees in general, for which I filled out a long questionnaire. I'll be elaborating on my own takes on the topics discussed there once the roundtable has run.
Monday, February 23, 2004
Rich Lederer has kept the hot stove burning this winter at his Weekend Baseball Beat
blog by conducting an entertaining series of interviews which has included Baseball Prospectus writers Will Carroll and Joe Sheehan, prominent bloggers Alex Belth, Mike Carminati, Aaron Gleeeman, and David Pinto, and Around the Majors mailing list domo Lee Sinins. To that esteemed group of what should be familiar names, Rich has added another one you'll recognize: mine. I'm honored to be Rich's first interview subject
at his new all-baseball.com location.
In the interview (conducted via email), Rich let me fill in the blanks for those who want to know more about the Futility Infielder, from the origin of the site's name to my all-time post-1969 team to just what the hell "The Big Book of Bitter Defeats" means. He gave me enough rope to hang myself several times over when it came to the recent Sons of Sam Horn dust-up, my views on the baseball blogosphere, and the tangled history of my rooting interests. The interview was a blast to do, and I hope it makes for as enjoyable reading for you as the rest of the series has for me.
Friday, February 20, 2004
Tim Marchman was one of the many smart people I met at the Winter Meetings
in New Orleans and spent hours with hanging out and talking baseball. For those unfamiliar, Marchman writes about baseball in a weekly column for the New York Sun
, which is subscription-based in the online realm. He's one of the sharpest knives in the drawer when it comes to discussing off-the-field topics such as game's labor situation and economics
, and can talk your ear off about Marvin Miller. If you don't mind a few days' delay, his writing is now available for free at a politics-and-culture site called The New Partisan
. Add this man to your roster of frequent reads.
In the wake of the Alex Rodriguez trade, Marchman's February 17th
piece for the Sun
calls for another baseball team in the New York market, a common plea from Brooklynites who still feel the nearly half-century-old sting of abandonment. But his motive is based on economics, not nostalgia. Examining the three two-team markets in major-league baseball, he shows how far ahead New York is of Chicago and Los Angeles based on a combination of population, fan interest, and income:
According to the most recent census, the New York metropolitan area is 21,199,865 strong. The figure for Los Angeles is 16,373,645; for Chicago, 9,157,540.
According to a survey performed by Scarborough Research for MLB, 21% of New Yorkers who describe themselves as "very interested" in major-league baseball, as compared with 15% of Los Angelinos and 13% of Chicagoans. According to the most recent figures I was able to find (they're from 1999), per capita income in the New York metropolitan area is $38,539. The figure is $28,050 for Los Angeles and $33,857 for Chicago.
With these numbers it's easy to make a very crude estimate of the potential dollars each team has access to: Figure the number of avid fans in each city, and multiply it by per-capita income... [T]he total income of avid baseball fans in Chicago is around $40 billion. The total income of avid baseball fans in Los Angeles is around $69 billion. The total income of avid baseball fans in New York is around $172 billion. This means, then, that the Yankees and Mets inhabit a fiscal universe where they are, theoretically, drawing from a resource pool of around $85 billion apiece -- more than four times that available to the two teams in the massive city of Chicago.
Adding a third team to the New York market would reduce the resource pool to $57 billion per team, still an advantage over the other two big cities and hell-and-gone ahead of the rest of MLB, of course. Obvious remedies such as moving the Expos to Brooklyn -- "nothing more than a recognition that there is significantly more demand than supply for baseball in New York, and a correction of that situation," says Marchman -- would be beyond the power of the Yankees and Mets to prevent if the other 28 teams wanted to make that hapen, since the Big Apple teams could only file an anti-trust suit. As we have been constantly reminded every time baseball's labor situation is addressed, MLB enjoys an archaic anti-trust exemption.
Summing it up, Marchman harshly criticizes the non-Yankee teams for their approach when it comes to the luxury tax: "I think that by expressly jury-rigging the most recent collective bargaining agreement against the Yankees, Major League Baseball and the other 29 clubs have lost all moral right to complain about Yankee spending." That sentiment was echoed the other day by none other than the Big Boss Man
himself when Red Sox owner John Henry put one in his wheelhouse.
A former limited partner of George Steinbrenner's (which brings to mind one of the all-time great quotes
), Henry was allowed to hold his 1% share of the Yankees even as he owned the Florida Marlins, and turned a handsome profit in the millions for finally selling them when he bought the Sox. After the Rodriguez-to-NY deal closed, Henry conveniently saw the light
and proclaimed that the Yankees needed to be dealt with. According to the A.P. report, "Henry, whose team failed to obtain Rodriguez from Texas in December, said in an e-mail response to reporters Wednesday that he is changing his mind on whether the sport needs a salary cap 'to deal with a team that has gone so insanely far beyond the resources of all the other teams.'" Apparently, taking on A-Rod's contract is all a matter of whose ox is being gored, and if he couldn't justify the finances of it, nobody else should be able to either.
Predictably, the so-called Evil Emperor struck back as only he could:
We understand that John Henry must be embarrassed, frustrated and disappointed by his failure in this transaction," Steinbrenner said. "Unlike the Yankees, he chose not to go the extra distance for his fans in Boston. It is understandable, but wrong that he would try to deflect the accountability for his mistakes on to others and to a system for which he voted in favor. It is time to get on with life and forget the sour grapes."
Bud Selig put the zipper on both owners for further comment before Henry could offer up another sour glass of whine. But for those of us watching the fray, it's just another round of a good, old-fashioned grudge match scored to the Yankees. Bambino's Curse blogger Edward Cossette referred to
the exchange as an "NYC Smackdown" and called Steinbrenner's response "one of the best retorts I've heard in a long time." He also pointed to David Pinto's tart assessment
: "Oh boo-hoo. Cowboy up the money, John. Or stop whining and use your sabermetic brilliance to beat this team with a cheaper payroll." Pinto's readers see Henry's response as just part of the payback he owes Budzilla for the Boston bag job
. My man Alex Belth calls Henry's words "Bringing A Knife to a Gun Fight"
and runs down the writers' reactions in two cities. Fun stuff.
Back to Marchman, who's surely clipped this exchange for his files as he works on a book about Selig. In addition to his own writing, he's also an editor at Ivan R. Dee Publisher
, a name I'll be dropping here in the future because they're publishing books by both Will Carroll and Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus. I've been granted the honor of previewing and commenting on Will's manuscript for Saving the Pitcher
, a task I look forward to undertaking. I'm even in the book -- Will liked my piece on my torn labrum
so much that he asked permission to use it, and reported that Dr. Jim Andrews, perhaps the top name sports medicine, really enjoyed my contribution. Wow.
Speaking of the shoulder, yesterday was the three-month mark since surgery, and my physical therapist opined that my shoulder mechanics were "at 95%" and now it's more a matter of slowly building strength. The corner's been turned, so tell Brian Cashman I may be able to get some innings in Columbus by mid-summer in time for the stretch run.
* * *
Speaking of Nate Silver, whose PECOTA system
is the foundation of BP's performance predictions, I emailed him Wednesday to ask if, in the wake of the news
that Alfonso Soriano lied about his age, he'd had a chance to re-run Sori's numbers. Sori aged from 26 to 28, and since the statistical peak age of a ballplayer is 27, that has a great effect effect on the long-term outlook of this trade; he'll be 30 when it's time to sign his big contract instead of 28, so whoever signs him will likely overpay for the downside of his career. But short-term, according to Nate (who hadn't rerun the prediction yet), it won't make much difference. The 26-28 years are the flat part of the age curve, and there's considerably less variation in the prediction than if he jumped from 22 to 24 or from 33 to 35.
Sori's original weighted mean forecast called for a normalized .295/.349/.533 line, which isn't too shabby (for purposes of comparison, A-Rod's forecast is .299/.398/.604), but now the question becomes whether he's too old to show such improvement in his plate discipline. Optimists point to free swinger Sammy Sosa's latter-day improvement which has coupled with his amazing power run, but he's the exception, not the rule.
One more angle on Soriano-for-Rodriguez worth mentioning is that the two players' stats were dramatically influenced by their home parks. Arlington is a favorable environment for hitters, while Yankee Stadium plays as a pitchers' park, especially for a righty such as Sori. Here's their home-and-away splits over the last three years, conveniently the tenure of both Soriano's stay in the Bronx and Rodriguez's stint in the Lone Star State:
.268/.305/.466 with 40 HR at home
.305/.346/.543 with 55 HR on the road
.333/.416/.666 with 86 HR at home
.278/.375/.564 with 70 HR on the road
Hold the phone, Mabel. Sori's three-year road OPS (.889) is really not that far off from A-Rod's (.939). Rodriguez is still the superior player, of course, but if you can stand next to him and not look ridiculous, that's saying something. For all of the bluster around this deal, what remains to be seen is whether the ratio of the expensive A-Rod's marginal value to marginal contract dollars (box office dollars
is another story) is significantly better than that of Soriano, who will likely be making less than half the dinero of A-Rod come his next contract. Years from now, that will be a fascinating analysis to undertake.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
If you want to see a fine example of a top-notch blogger taking an old-school newspaper hack to the woodshed, check out Aaron Gleeman's dismantling
of L.A. Times
hack Bill Plaschke's anti-DePodesta screed
*. Plaschke attacks the new Dodger GM for his youthful appearance instead of his advanced ideas (for which he subsitutes derisive terms which reference ten-year old computers -- floppy disk?), drags out age jokes which are older and no more witty than the hot dogs he mentions, and misses the boat entirely when he brings Branch Rickey into the equation. He fails to recognize that long before Billy Beane was a twinkle in his mother's eye, Rickey was the proto-sabermetric GM; the Life Magazine
article "Goodbye to Some Old Baseball Ideas"
is a touchstone which I've discussed
before, and it should be required reading to anybody who thinks that Moneyball
or even Bill James materialized out of thin air. Gleeman picks up on this, discusses the Rickey article at length, and then tears Plaschke's lazy, ignorant diatribe apart.
As for Plaschke, it doesn't help his case any that he writes in what I call "autohack mode," the tendency of a certain segment of the sports punditocracy to rely almost solely on single-sentence paragraphs as a method for proclaiming that one's thoughts are so weighty and complex that they require extra space to be absorbed.
It's the mark of a lazy, condescending writer.
I know Plaschke's editors, and sports-page editors in general are at least partly to blame for the proliferation of that style, but really, I don't want to hear the Lupicas of the world railing about how entire college basketball teams can't read and write when from the looks of their Sunday columns, neither can they
. Somebody please shoot me if I ever make that a habit.
*the pinch hinter reminds you that bselig/bselig will work there.
Those of you wishing to get a vicarious glimpse into the lives of the unsavory characters who populate my tales of sitting on barstools and arguing about baseball and politics can get a dose of the latter at Moving the Goalposts
, a brand-new, political-themed blog (with a hideous color scheme that will be fixed soon). MtG is an evolution of a de facto
mailing list of political and humorous stuff we kick around daily. And just as my friends encouraged me three years ago leave them the hell alone and start a blog, so did I when it came to this venture. We bat from the left side of the plate, some even further left than others. Caveat emptor.
It won't take a detective to figure out the valued member of my organization to whom I've delegated the authority to post occasional opinions and take the Movable Type system for a test-drive. But suffice it to say that the separation between what goes on at that blog and what goes on here shall be as rigid as the division of church and state (unless it's a Republican-controlled state, that is...). Unless there's a damn good reason otherwise, what's on there stays there, period. I got into writing about baseball to get out of writing about politics -- you've seen how ugly I get when I write angry -- and unless it's particularly relevant to our discussion, I have no wish to broach that subject here, the preceding potshot aside. So check it out if you dare, avoid it like the plague it if its going to raise your blood pressure, and remember, it's much more fun to argue about baseball.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
New York Nine
Nine years ago today, with the help of two friends, I loaded all of my belongings into a U-Haul and left Providence, Rhode Island. I had lived there for six years, including college and developed quite a fondness for the city, but having outgrown my job while watching my peers leave town, I could feel in my bones that it was time to move.
Driving by myself, some four hours later I reached the Triboro Bridge and screwed up a lane change so that I ended up having to re-cross the bridge and pay the toll a second time. The rube was out six bucks before he even hit town. Finally taking the correct exit, I got off on 125th Street, found Second Avenue, and carefully drove 111 blocks south, stoplight by stoplight, my thumbs pounding on the U-Haul's steering wheel to the music on the boombox as I rode the brake all the way down Second.
I treated the friends who helped me unpack the truck to dinner that night at El Sombrero, a Ludlow Street restaurant with the greasiest hot-plate Mexican food you could possibly hope to find. I lost count of how many pitchers of frozen margaritas I paid for, went home and carved out a space to lay my futon, and fell into a deep, tequila-aided slumber.
Somewhat bewildered, I awoke the next morning to see the boxes and furniture strewn randomly around my room. Seven stories up, from where I lay I could see the Empire State Building and the Chrysler standing tall against the blue Manhattan sky. I've never forgotten that view or the excitement I felt that morning, and I've never looked back.
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
A Hail of Bullets
It's a busy week for me, with little piles of work to get done before the weekend (when I'm headed out of town) starting to mount. So I'm just going to shoot first and ask questions later, producing a hail of bullet points (or asterisks, as the case may be)...
* The events of the past couple of days have been instructive in measuring my relative loyalties to the Dodgers and the Yankees. While the A-Rod deal certainly quickened my pulse and put a smile on my face, the Dodgers' announcement
that Paul DePodesta will be their new GM had me turning cartwheels. As maligned as McCourt has been during his pursuit and takeover of the Dodgers, this bold step shows that he's open to making some real and important changes in the organization. His handing over the reins to an unproven GM may cause some traditionalists to blanch, but given the high regard with which DePodesta is held, it will likely be only a short matter of time before he starts making his presence felt. As good as DePodesta -- the brains behind Billy Beane, some say -- has been with the limited resources of the Oakland A's, I think he'll do quite well with a bit more money and other resources at his disposal.
ESPN's Rob Neyer
discusses some of the changes DePodesta might undertake, with a special emphasis on scouting:
The scouting department is likely going to suffer the greatest degree of turnover, because those are typically the people most resistant to change. But eventually DePodesta will have to transform the entire organization, just as Billy Beane did in Oakland and Ricciardi did in Toronto. Everybody has to be looking at the same sheet of music, but when you've been in the game for a while you tend to play your own tune no matter what the conductor's telling you. (That said, DePodesta's got more people to worry about and more tradition to consider, plus he's got a lot more money to play around with, so he might wind up giving a free pass, at least temporarily, to some of the marginal contributors.)
Neyer points out that the CSFB Thought Leader Forum
site to which I linked the other day
has removed DePodesta's excellent presentation, probably because his new employer is worried about DePo giving away his secrets (um, Frank, many of them are readily available in Moneyball
). The Google cache, handy for dumpster-diving in cases like these, is already empty as well (though it still holds a similar DePo-sition here
-- props to Old Fishinghat
). If anybody saved the contents of the CSFB link, I would be greatly appreciative of an email.
Meanwhile, outgoing GM Dan Evans, who really deserved better, has handled his dismissal in a dignified manager. A frequenter of the team's MLB message board, he passed on an open letter
to Dodger fans which echoes what he's said elsewhere
. Most notable is his perspective on how the team's ownership situation will affect the on-the-field product in 2004:
Everyone in our baseball decision-making group, including Bob Daly and Bob Graziano, knew that we needed to use the increased flexibility obtained in the Kevin Brown trade to the Yankees to improve our offense, and there is no question that we would have accomplished our goal of acquiring a prolific offensive player in his prime -- without giving up any of our prospects -- had it not been for the circumstances surrounding the ownership transition.
We always took into account the best interests of the Dodgers, both short and long-term, whenever we made a baseball decision. The fans and the organization deserved that. I knew it was our responsibility to make the unpopular decisions which were actually in the best long-term interests of the Dodgers.
It doesn't take too much reading between the lines to see the likes of Vladimir Guerrero in that first paragraph. After all, Nomar Garciaparra or Magglio Ordonez would have cost prospects. (Sigh)...
While I look forward to seeing what DePodesta does as he takes over -- I'm guessing trade of Paul LoDuca and Adrian Beltre and the move of Shawn Green to first base -- I think 2004 has been punted, except for a shot at the Wild Card, and that the Dodgers' moves will be ones that have more to do with the future beyond this season. Elephants in Oakland
had a look last week at how DePodesta might use his familiarity with the A's organization to plug some of the holes his new team has. Nothing will shake the earth there, but it might beat watching Joe Thurston wash out.
* Hot on the heels of the Rodriguez deal's approval came a report
on WABC-TV that Greg Maddux had agreed to sign with the Yankees. But before baseball fans of the nation start rioting in the streets over Yankee greed and Cubs fans crawl out onto the window ledge to contemplate the unthinkable, consider the following: Scott Boras is Maddux's agent, and this is what he does for a living.
Yankee GM Brian Cashman has denied interest in Maddux, and while that's usually the smoke around the fire, I believe him here. Scott Boras is A-Rod's agent and soon-to-be-Yankee Travis Lee's agent as well as Maddux's, and he's in the business of drumming up interest in his clients, whether that interest is real or perceived. Having spent plenty of time talking to B-Cash on the cellular this weekend, he can create the illusion that some of that discussion was about his high-profile unsigned client. Maddux has been said to be nearing an agreement with the Cubs, but the spectre of Yankee money -- something every agent, particularly Boras, strives to bring into every deal, by the way -- is a surefire way to twist the Cubs' collective nipple into finding another few million in the budget to accommodate the World's Smartest Pitcher. The Cubs have reportedly
increased their offer to Maddux to $15 million for two years, but I expect them to raise once more to be sure that they can top Boras' late bluff.
* The baseball world lost one of its most important writers this week, when Lawrence Ritter, author of The Glory of Their Times
, passed away
on Sunday at the age of 81. First published in 1966, Glory has a pretty decent claim on the title of Best Baseball Book Ever, and if that doesn't move you to doff your lid for a moment in tribute, it bloody well ought to. Ritter didn't get to talk to Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson or Cy Young, but if this book were a ballplayer, it would belong in the select company of those men.
Concerned following Cobb's death in 1961 that stories of baseball's early days were slipping away with each dying ballplayer, Ritter embarked on a five-year, 75,000 mile journey, beating the bushes and thumbing through phone directories to track down old players. Armed with a reel-to-reel tape recorder, he sat for hours listening to the tales of the old-timers, whose ranks included Rube Marquard, Sam Crawford, Fred Snodgrass, Joe Wood, and Paul Waner. Twenty-two players' reminiscences filled the original edition, and another four players' tales were added to an expanded addition in 1984. Because of Ritter's efforts, seminal stories of baseball's dusty past live forever in the retellings of those who saw them first-hand. You owe yourself a copy of this book if you don't own one already.
I haven't read mine since high school, but thinking about Ritter the past couple of days prompted me to pull it down off the shelf and peruse its pages, and now I can't put it down. I chose first to read the Babe Herman chapter (one of the '84 additions) because of the special place
he holds in my family's history, and was instantly giggling over some of his tales, including the three-men-on-third triple, the one
where the third base coach confides that he can't see the ball caroming around the outfield because he's too vain to wear glasses on the field, and the one where Uncle Robbie (Dodger manager Wilbert Robinson) decides his catcher on the ease of spelling his name. Hilarious stuff.
Turning to Fred Snodgrass's chapter, I read about the strange "career" of Charles Victory Faust, something of a mascot for the John McGraw Giants. Faust showed up one day in 1911 and told McGraw that a fortune-teller said if he joined the Giants, they would win the pennant. The superstitious McGraw humored him, let him don a uniform and warm up every day, and even covered his expenses on road trips, though Faust didn't actually get to pitch and wasn't under contract. With him in this capacity, the Giants won the 1911, 1912, and 1913 pennants, and in that final year he appeared in a big-league ballgame, pitching a scoreless inning before dying the following winter of an illness, which foretold the Giants' broken string of pennant.
At least that was Snodgrass' version -- the record
shows Faust pitched in two games for two innings and one run, all in 1911, and dying in June 1915, but then that's oral history for you. And the occasional blurry fact to the contrary, The Glory of Their Times
is the best oral history the game has ever produced.
The New York Times'
George Vescey has a poignant take
on the writer's final day, in which he heard about the A-Rod trade and, unable to speak, rendered his verdict: two thumbs up.
Monday, February 16, 2004
Towards the end of a recent Baseball Prospectus Radio roundtable
in which I participated, BP's Joe Sheehan made a comment that came ringing back to my ears on Saturday:
The willingness the Yankees have to assume contracts is such a huge advantage over just about every other team in baseball that any hole that develops, they can probably fill. It actually doesn't matter. If George Steinbrenner decides he wants to go out and assume a contract, he can fill a hole, even if Jeter goes down, Soriano, Posada, the Lofton/Williams platoon in centerfield. I honestly think that we may be seeing a perpetual success machine... I now realize money simply isn't going to be an object. With so many teams willing to give up contracts regardless of the talent they get back, the Yankees are in a great position.
Less than two weeks after Joe said that, the Yankees are taking on
the biggest contract in professional sports history, that of Alex Rodriguez, who will switch positions and play third base. All it will cost them is one star player, Alfonso Soriano, and a player to be named later, likely an unspectacular minor league pitcher, the withered fruit of a relatively barren farm system. And when it's all said and done, the Yankees will have paid less for the last seven years of A-Rod's contract than the Rangers did for the first three. All while the Red Sox, who spent weeks trying to acquire him this winter, tantalizing their fans, look on.
After working my jaw back into its hinge, where do I start talking about this deal?
If ever a deal showed that trades in professional sports have more to do with exchanging payroll obligations than they do with swapping talent, it's this one. Sheehan was right: the Yanks' willingness and ability to take on contracts separate them from the pack. While it's not a mismatch on the talent front -- clear edge to the Rangers, but not by as much as you'd think -- this deal is a mismatch on the salary front: the Rangers owed $179 million (out of $252 mil overall) over seven years; Soriano is due $5.4 million on a one-year deal and has two more years prior to free agency.
The mismatch is in the money. Or maybe it's the brains behind that money. Texas GM John Hart spun the deal
by saying "It's about flexibility. We're trading the best player in the game and we're getting tremendous financial flexibility." What the Rangers are getting is the flexibility to droop their tails even further between their legs while paying $67 million to watch their mistake of a blockbuster signing play ball for a team that probably didn't need the extra help. That's over one third of the contract's remaining value.
For the Rangers', you know, flexibility, the Yanks make out like bandits. Here is the annual salary breakdown between the two teams, in millions:
2004 3 15
2005 6 15
2006 6 15
2007 7 16
2008 8 16
2009 7 17
2010 6 18
The Yanks end up paying less money -- 40 percent of the total contract, an average of $16 million a year -- for seven years of A-Rod than the Rangers will for three. The Rangers' cost: $46.7 million per year in uniform, a Texas-sized sum in the annals of the sport's financial history.
What's more, the highest paid player in the history of sports won't even be the highest-paid player on his own team for another six years. Here's a comparison of the major Yankee contracts, including Jeter, Jason Giambi, and Mike Mussina, their biggest other commitments (* denotes club option):
AR DJ JG MM
2004 15 18 10 14
2005 15 19 11 17
2006 15 20 18 17
2007 16 21 21 17*
2008 16 21 21
2009 17 21 22*
That comes out to a maximum of $70 million for just four players on the 2006 payroll, and $75 million on the 2007 if they pick up Moose's option. As my late grandfather would say, "My aching back."
In terms of what this means for the 2004 Yankee payroll, it isn't much. Soriano's $5.4 million comes off of the books, and you can rest assured Aaron Boone isn't getting his $5.75 million anymore; the Yanks will probably pay him the $900,000 or so they owe him plus a pair of mylar balloons that say "Get Well Soon!" and "Thanks for the Memories!" That alone will raise their payroll about $4.75 million, and probably even less assuming that Tyler Houston's 900K minor-league deal won't pan out, and while you're at it cross Drew Henson's $2.2 mil off of the list. That's down to a less than $2 million dollar increase. But it does push the total dollars of Yankee contract commitments to around $650 million
Onto the talent portion of our competition...
At the Plate:
If one only looked at their triple crown stats, this deal would look like something of a wash, a powerful and speedy leadoff hitter being traded for a powerful middle-of-the-order bopper who's pretty nimble as well. But once you peek under the hood, the differences are apparent. Soriano is pretty decent man with the stick, thought he's got some serious holes in his game, primarily in his inability to draw a walk and a fatal lust for low-and-away. A-Rod? Well, hitters don't get much better than him, period.
AVG .290 .298
HR 38 47
RBI 91 118
SB 35 17
OBP .338 .396
SLG .525 .600
OPS+ 128 148
EQA .296 .325
RARP 55 78
The difference between the two is substantial but not staggering; A-Rod is worth about two more wins with the wood than Sori. Looking at the WARP numbers (which include fielding), he had 11.6 WARP1 last year to Sori's 9.2. That's "two and a half wins" to you and me.
Soriano's visible weaknesses at the plate and in the field made for easy scapegoats as the Yanks lost the World Series last year. Joe Torre's inability to resist the temptation to bat him leadoff exposed his flaws all the more, since he couldn't get on base enough to suit the needs of a would-be offensive juggernaut, and by the end of the World Series, that had all placed a ridiculously unfair amount of pressure on a talented if slightly limited player.
Though occasionally the most frustrating, Soriano was the most exciting, electric Yankee to watch over the past two years, and he may well go on to hit 500 home runs and steal 500 bases in the major leagues. Bless him if he does, because he's a fantastic talent, and a good, likeable kid to boot. He deserves to go someplace where he'll be appreciated for what he is rather than scrutinized and scorned for what he isn't. Godspeed you, Alfonso Soriano.
In the Field:
Rodriguez's offer to move to third base is the politically correct one, but from coast to coast, it's got statheads snickering in unison. The joke is that Jeter is possibly the worst defensive shortstop in the game, while A-Rod is very good, if not one of the best. Looking at some of the more new-fangled defensive measures:
BP -22 5 Baseball Prospectus Fielding Runs Above Average
UZR -31 11 Ultimate Zone Rating runs above avg.
(including arm) 4-yr. weighted
WS 1.3 4.7 Defensive Win Shares per 1000 innings
I won't take the time to explain the methods behind those measures right now, but they're all a hell of a lot more advanced than Fielding Percentage, Range Factor, and Zone Rating, they all have a lot of good thought behind them that's far beyond the simple stuff, and they all say the same thing: Jeter's D stinks like a hyena carcass rotting in the desert sun, while A-Rod's pretty good.
The even more politically correct thing would be for Jeter, the captain of the Yankees, to take one for the team and realize he
should be switching positions. While the man is as uncontroversial, well-mannered and team-oriented as anybody in the game, that simply isn't going to happen in 2004. Jeter's pride has its limits, and his past overall performance, role as captain, and lack of time to consider a move buy ought to buy him one year of this arrangement with little griping. Given a full season and a winter to think about it, the situation might change, but hey -- so might the Yankee willingness to send Derek to... well, let's not go there just yet.
The real question for the coming season is what the Yankees do with the hole at second base. While somewhere there's a Yankee fan throwing up his hands in despair like he really does care, it isn't going to matter much. They could run third base coach Luis Sojo, stunt double Enrique Wilson, futilityman Miguel Cairo, or even yours truly out there every day and still win 95-100 games. It wouldn't surprise me to see them give forgotten prospect Erick Almonte a taste of second, but this being the Yankees, they'll probably up the ante and pick up somebody with a little more upside, at least with the leather. Might as well get one glove man in there to field those ground balls.
One option, depending on the results of Boone's surgery and subsequent rehab is to scuttle through the first several months of the season with Your Name Here and then have Boone, who played 19 games at second last year, take over the job when healthy enough. From the standpoint of offense, this might be the best option. Defensively, not so much.
The Red Sox hopes were crushed last fall by one swing of Aaron Boone's bat. They labored for weeks trying to get Rodriguez in a deal for Manny Ramirez. Because of several factors, the deal fell through. Later Boone tore up his knee and Red Sox Nation uttered a collective Nelson-esque "ha-ha" as the Yanks sifted through the Enrique Wilsons, Tyler Houstons, and Mike Lambs of the world, looking for a third baseman that could take them up to the trading deadline. Boone's injury turned out to be the Sox worst Bucky F-ing Dent nightmare once Rodriguez told the Yanks he'd be willing to play third base.
That the deal went down so fast goes to show that being Bud Selig's Public Enemy #1 has its advantages. The spin on the Red Sox foiled A-Rod deal was that the Players' Association wouldn't agree to the way Rodriguez's contract was restructured. But it doesn't take a genius to read between the lines and see that while there were ways of restructuring the contract that met MLBPA's rules, that restructuring would have put the Sox over the luxury tax threshold this year, joining only those big bad bullies from the Bronx. Since Bud had hand-picked the John Henry-Tom Werner-Larry Lucchino ownership group, they were essentially bound by his wishes to stay in line while the so-called Evil Empire broke the bank.
Even More Irony:
The deal happened so quickly that the cottage industry of pundits who placed their round-the-clock reportage at the center of the affair were nowhere to be found this time around. Can a blockbuster deal happen without Peter Gammons telling us about it ten times a day? The answer is a resounding "Yes!"
The second base hole left behind by Soriano notwithstanding, there's simply no way of looking at this as anything but a clear and solid win for the Yanks. Faced with a lineup with several question marks from the age/injury standpoint, this trade goes a long way to improve their long-term outlook, giving them at least one star player who's not on the wrong side of 30 yet. Rodriguez is 28, about 13 months younger than Jeter, who's got considerably more question marks attached to his name already.
They're getting a good if not equivalent player in Soriano, but the Rangers are the big losers here. Tom Hicks has shown that hubris is a quarter-billion dollar industry these days. The Red Sox chalk up an "L" as well, as this deal instantly overshadows the legitimate improvements the Red Sox made this offseason (Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke and, um... Pokey Reese?) while giving both their brass and their fan base an uneasy feeling of what might have been in the sport's most heated rivalry. The Mets, who passed up a chance to sign A-Rod three years ago, are forever in the loss column on this one. The Dodgers, who under better ownership would have known a marquee attraction when they saw one, missed the boat as well.
It will be a matter of no small debate in the papers and online as to whether the other 25 major league teams lost here as well. Hands will wring. But one thing is clear: the way the last Collective Bargaining Agreement targeted the Yankees with its luxury tax has done more to exacerbate the so-called problem than it has to solve it. Winning ballclubs make money, especially when they want to win even more. Bud, who knows less about building a winning ballclub than the Butcher of Baghdad, did everything he could to alienate Steinbrenner and the Yanks during the construction of that CBA. He'll offer even more reactionary ideas the next time around -- a 50% Pinstripe tax, perhaps. The other owners might want to think twice about listening to him.
Sunday, February 15, 2004
Three more excellent blogs are now under Christian Ruzich's all-baseball.com roof:
* Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts is now at www.all-baseball.com/dodgerthoughts
or simply www.dodgerthoughts.com
* Bryan Smith's Wait Till Next Year is now at www.all-baseball.com/nextyear
* Peter White's Mariner Musings is now at www.all-baseball.com/marinermusings
All three are making the switch from Blogger-driven Blogspot domains to Movable Type software, which means you can now leave comments behind. Along with Ruz
, Alex Belth
, Will Carroll
and Mike Carminati
, that's a pretty nice lineup of bloggers. Best of luck to everybody in their new digs.
Saturday, February 14, 2004
's Ken Davidoff and John Heyman are reporting that the Yanks are talking to the Texas Rangers about a deal which would bring in Alex Rodriguez to play third base in exchange for Alfonso Soriano, Jose Contreras, and catching prospect Dioner Navarro.
Holy chicken molé. I'm not going to get too worked up over this, or spend too much time analyzing it right now. The folly of defensively superior A-Rod playing third next to Jeter is pretty laughable, but so is the way this deal would slap the Red Sox right in the face.
I just hope this doesn't turn into a three-ring circus with hourly updates, the way Peter Gammons and company turned the last A-Rod rumor into a cottage industry with himself at the center.
is now saying
that the deal has been agreed to in principle, and that it will only involve Soriano and a minor-league pitcher. Some of A-Rod's money will be deferred, and the Rangers will be picking up some of the remaining $189 mil on Rodriguez's contract as well. Minor technical details need to be be hammered out, and the guy at the other end of my red phone tells me the deal will be announced on Tuesday.
Since there aren't any minor-league pitchers that the Yanks have who are anywhere near ready to contribute, and since it won't cost them any major league pitching at all, it's really hard to see this, if it goes down, as anything but an incredible coup by the Yanks. All the more so if it happens this quickly -- the fewer news cycles we have to endure where this is the top story, the better for everybody involved.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitchers and catchers have begun reporting for Spring Training. There's a punchline to be had in there, but I really don't care.
Forget what the groundhog told you twelve days ago. Ladies and gentlemen, we've made it through another winter. WOOOOOOHOOOOOOOO!
Friday, February 13, 2004
On the Good Foot with the DePo Dodgers?
I was relentlessly critical
of new Dodger owner Frank McCourt in his underfinanced but nonetheless successful pursuit to purchase the team
. He didn't win too many points immediately afterwards for his treatment of GM Dan Evans
, a man who's done a respectable job
under the most trying of circumstances, yet is being given an invitation to leave. But if it's the new owner's prerogative to do things his way, then McCourt's first major decision looks like a bold and creative one, at least if the early reports
are correct. According to ESPN's Peter Gammons, the Dodgers are going to tap Oakland A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta, Billy Beane's right-hand man for the past five years, as Evans' replacement.
Evans deserves better. Saddled with some ungodly contracts attached to physically unsound players -- thank you, Kevin Malone -- he handled the situation responsibly, resisting the temptation to throw good money after bad, helping to rebuild the farm system, and protecting the team's plum prospects
in the face of considerable temptation to trade them for some lumber. All while assembling the league's best pitching staff, mind you.
Meanwhile, DePodesta is considered perhaps the top GM prospect in the game. A 31-year-old Harvard grad, he developed some serious analytical tools, as detailed in the smash hit Moneyball
, which have keyed the A's rise to success on a shoestring budget. Whether he has the other skills -- particularly the ability to run an organization and to make deals with other GMs -- remains to be seen. But from the looks of this lengthy (and very corporate-speak) presentation
, he certainly brings a thorough and well-crafted organizational philosophy to the table.
have spun DePodesta's hiring as all but a done deal. But McCourt seems to be backing away to interview other candidates. Since one of those candidates is Phillies assistant GM Ruben Amaro, Jr., this may be simply a CYA move to interview at least one minority candidate and avoid drawing the Wrath of Bud. Not that Amaro isn't legit; he's been highly touted as a GM prospect for a few years. But the opportunitiy to nab DePodesta, whose strategies and experience mesh well with the Dodgers' needs as they begin the McCourt era, should not be passed up.
DePodesta's familiarity with building a winning ballclub on the cheap will be a necessity if he takes over the suddenly cash-conscious Dodgers. There are several areas in which he can applying some lessons from the Oakland model and some sound sabermetric principles to reap some serious benefits for the Dodgers. If any team needs to be hit by the sabermetric 2" x 4", it's the one in Chavez Ravine.
First and perhaps foremost, the Dodgers need to develop a thorough understanding of park effects and the way they distort performance. Dayn Perry of Baseball Prospectus did a thoughtful piece
last summer which shed some light on the team's inability to develop hitters:
In fact, for much of their history, they've been less offensive than a Billy Graham knock-knock joke. The Dodgers haven't finished in the top five in the NL in runs scored since 1991, and they've led the senior circuit in runs scored exactly twice since moving to Los Angeles prior to the 1958 season. Additionally, they've been one of the worst organizations in baseball in terms of identifying and developing hitters. The lineage of highly productive, homegrown Dodger hitters runs from Mike Piazza (himself a nepotistic afterthought when tapped in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft) to...Pedro Guerrero? If I'm in a charitable mood I'll throw in the merely decent Raul Mondesi and the so-far-so-good Paul Lo Duca, but you get the idea.
So why is that? Part of it is the "Dodger Way" -- an emphasis on pitching, often to the detriment of the offense -- but part of it may be the developmental environment in which their young hitters toil. I'm talking park effects.
It's not exactly breaking news that the hitting clime at the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate (now Las Vegas, previously Albuquerque) stands in sharp contrast to that of Dodger Stadium, arguably the toughest park for hitters in the majors.
Dayn goes on to crunch some numbers which show that in terms of park effects, the Dodgers had the second-largest difference between their major league ballpark, which favors pitchers in the extreme, and their full-season minor league affiliates. Regarding this, over the winter I've had several discussions with B-Pro's Ryan Wilkins, who wrote the Dodger chapter in the forthcoming book
, about this phenomenon, and he said that farm director Bill Bavasi, now the Mariners' GM, hadn't even considered it
. As far as I'm concerned, this is like your sexually active teenage daughter saying she hasn't even considered the idea of contraception -- it's dangerously ignorant on multiple levels. In light of Perry's study and Wilkins' anecdote, the Dodgers' failure to develop hitters becomes more clear. Failing to understand the terrain on which they reside, the expectations they place on their minor league hitters are unreasonable, and when a player like second baseman Joe Thurston doesn't pan out, they're left in a fall-back position.
Hand in hand with understanding the environment in which they're producing hitters, of course, comes identifying good young hitters in the first place. Here's another area the Oakland philosophy can help, both in the application of sabermetric principles -- getting down with OBP and searching for hitters who can control the strike zone, using performance analysis as a tool to aid this -- and in shifting the organization's emphasis from drafting high-school players (particularly pitchers) and infatuation with the tools/scouting side of things. As broached in Moneyball
, those two concepts are united by the fact that it's much easier to analyze performance on a college level than it is a high school one, due to the longer seasons, the greater amount of data available, and a more even caliber of competition. From what I recall in Moneyball
(which I don't have in front of me, having lent it out), DePodesta was the one in charge of the organization's analysis of college ballplayers in the first place. Check.
The Dodgers have largely emphasized high school rather than college players in drafting; both of Evans' first-round picks were high schoolers. In John Sickels' look at the Dodgers' top prospects
on ESPN.com, of the 17 he profiles, only four played college ball, three of them in community college. All seven of the pitchers listed are high schoolers, and while Edwin Jackson and Gregg Miller are thought of as among the top prospects in the game, young pitchers will break your heart more often than not, and the Dodgers will be lucky if a few of the ones listed survive to contribute on a major-league level.
But looking over the team's #1 d(r)aft picks from the past 14 years, high school prospects are only part of the problem:
2003 Chad Billingsley, RHP, HS
2002 James Loney, 1B, HS
2001 (lost due to signing Andy Ashby)
2000 Ben Diggins, RHP, Arizona U.
1999 (lost due to ??)
1998 Bubba Crosby, CF, Rice U.
1997 Glenn Davis, 1B, Vanderbilt U.
1996 Damian Rolls, 3B, HS
1995 David Yocum, LHP, Florida State U.
1994 Paul Konerko, C, HS
1993 Darren Dreifort, RHP, Wichita St. U.
1992 (lost due to ??)
1991 (lost due to ??)
1990 Ronnie Walden, LHP, HS
That's five high schoolers, five collegiates, and four zeroes, one even bigger because it's attached to Andy Ashby. While scanning these top picks constitutes a pretty superficial analysis, the above is a pretty abysmal record unless Loney and Billingsley pan out. Only three of these players -- Dreifort, Konerko, and Rolls -- have had any significant major league career, and that's being generous in Rolls' case. More importantly, only one of these players has had any impact with the Dodgers, and that one, Dreifort, has been the bane of their existence ever since signing a five-year, $55 million contract that's so far seen them spend $31 million for eight wins and 155 innings of below-average pitching. That absurd contract mistake shouldn't fall directly on the shoulders of those who drafted him, but Dreifort has an ERA+ of 95 over the course of his career, and that's nothing to write home about for an overall #2 pick or the organization which picked him.
The bottom line is that even if the Dodgers have done a very good job of drafting lately, they need to get themselves on some fundamentally solid footing as they move forward, and DePodesta's emphasis on drafting college players and understanding what to look for in them would be a big boost.
Another feature from the Oakland model which the Dodgers would do well to emulate is not overpaying for replaceable talent. The Dodgers recently avoided arbitration with third baseman Adrian Beltre, who will turn 25 in April, by signing him to a $5 million contract. Beltre's a combined 7.8 Wins Above Replacement (WARP1) over the past three years, pretty measly, and by most sabermetric measure he's a below-average hitter and fielder. Meanwhile, as Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman
pointed out, that money is only $400,000 less than the Yankees are paying Alfonso Soriano (who, to be fair, has less service time). Soriano is 21.7 Wins Above Replacement over the past three years. At this point in their careers, Soriano is a superstar with some flaws in his game, while Beltre's a flawed player with what many once believed was superstar potential -- and their prices are a wash. A cash-conscious team has no business paying $5 mil to a disappointing cipher like Beltre, and that move must be considered a black mark against Evans' name this winter. The DePo Dodgers would likely avoid those kinds of mistakes.
DePodesta would be an ideal GM choice for an organization that's desperately in need of change and facing some unique challenges -- particularly tight purse strings -- in the immediate future. McCourt's hiring of DePo would send a clear message that these aren't the Fox Dodgers, nor are they the latter-day O'Malley ones. There's plenty not to like about the McCourt sale, but if it drags this franchise kicking and screaming into the 21st century, then it won't all be for naught. And if DePodesta can apply what he's learned in Oakland, the Dodgers might actually have a chance to build something special and to instill hopes in the hearts of their fans once more.
Thursday, February 12, 2004
While most of the world was sleeping, my second appearance on Baseball Prospectus Radio aired last Saturday morning. Host Will Carroll had me on for the second time in a month, this time as part of a Yankee-themed roundtable which also featured Prospectus' Joe Sheehan, Bronx Banter's Alex Belth, and Pinstriped Bible's Steven Goldman. The results have yet to be posted at the BPR site
but Will has cleared me to upload the files here for your listening pleasure (these files are copyright 2003 Prospectus Entertainment Ventures/Pilgrim Communications and may not be redistributed -- right, Will?)
Broken into two MP3s that are about 4.5 MB apiece, the roundtable is about 19 minutes long:
Part 1 Part 2
The four shared some thoughts on the Yanks for the coming season and ruminated on the nature of success and failure in the Bronx. Particularly up for discussion was the popularity of Derek Jeter. The show came out well, and from my standpoint, it was a blast to do. But listening to my own performance, I can charitably give myself only a B- grade. The weakest link on a strong panel, at least on this particular day.
Content-wise, my only regret was not having a better example of a harsh back page tabloid headline, and I think I handled the last question, about the Yanks' aging lineup, the best (though I think Joe had some good points about Yankee money bailing them out if the roof caves in). But my form left something to be desired. I can't help but think that I sound rushed and nervous every time the mic comes around -- full of flubs, sputters, and excessive giggling (eek, everything but a Howard Dean shriek). You can hear the wheels spinning as I try to get a handle on the questions. Maybe it was the awkwardness of the conference call format or my inability to anticipate the questions, maybe it was that I didn't have notes in front of me like I did for my BPR debut on the Hall of Fame articles (sadly lost to the ether, but let me tell you I was perfect
), maybe it was just the radio equivalent of a bad hair day. I wasn't relaxed and in the zone like I was the first time we did it, I was literally pacing around my apartment.
Oh well. Long season, pants one leg at a time, stay within myself and throw strikes... it was still fun as hell. For what it's worth, BPR host Will Carroll gave me a B+, chalking any difficuties up to the roundtable format. And Alex said he thought I sounded fine but that he stumbled over his own words. So maybe we're just being overly self-critical... you be the judge.
• • •
I've been having some real techinical diffficulties with my home connection over the past week, resulting in about 50% downtime since my little headhunting experiment last Friday. As a result, I've been taking it mobile with the laptop about once a day. So if my productivity is low here and my email response time lags, now you know why.
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Clearing the Bases
One final thanks to everybody with whom I've buried the hatchet over the past weekend. The folding metal chair riot is over, we're all a little wiser now for our past foolishness, and we've moved on. Now to some more lighthearted stuff...
* One of the nicest things that's happened to me over the past year with relation to this site is that I've made a few face-to-face friends in my vicinity. Alex Belth
was the first, and Greg Spira
and I have hung out a few times as well. Now the past weeks have brought a couple more. Last Thursday, I had dinner with Alex Ciepley of ball talk
at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown. Alex and I had met once before -- I rousted him into an all-too-brief burgers-and-beers gathering with Alex B., Greg, and my pal Nick a couple weeks back, but this was just two guys chattering nonstop about the Cubs, the Yankees, DIPS, PECOTA, the postseason, and the offseason, you name it. Eventually the discussion turned to Alex's bold Baseball's Top 10 Gay Icons
piece of a couple weeks ago, and he said the response had been overwhelmingly positive, which was very refreshing to hear -- hell, I got flamed for writing about Todd Jones' league-leading homophobia last summer.
Alex sent me a pretty funny email the other day, following Will Carroll's expression of support
for my opening salvo in this past (lost) weekend's cyberbrawl. Will, who's been a helpful source of knowledge as I've gone through my shoulder surgery and rehab, wrote about me, "He may only have one arm, but he comes out swinging. I don't think I'm the only one that's got his back." Alex saw this and wrote me:
so i'm sitting here at my computer friday evening, thinking, "my god! am i the most clueless person ever? have i really spent two evenings with this guy and never noticed he had a FAKE ARM???"
embarrassed as all hell, of course, i wrote will for more information: he informed me of the running joke regarding your labrum surgery, much to my relief.
i seriously had thought i was going insane...
In the midst of all thiis weekend's tension, that had me ROTFLMFAO, as they say. Speaking of the shoulder, after a brief but scary setback caused by overly aggressive/ambitious physical therapy, it's been responding very well to a more moderate program, and while the light at the end of the tunnel is still a couple of months away, at least I can now see it. The key with the recovery is getting the muscles at the back of the shoulder to pull the scapula down so that the socket opens up and the arm moves correctly without impingement. When those muscles haven't been working right for about nine months, it's a bitch to re-teach them. Mine have finally been getting the education they so sorely needed.
* On the subject of meeting up, recently I discovered that I have a reader in my own building
. Ameer's his name, and he saw a piece of outgoing mail I had left on the doorman's counter, paperwork headed to Baseball Prospectus, and realized that I was the same guy whose blog he reads and who had just written the BP articles. We've emailed back and forth, and on Monday night finally got together for industrial-strength pints at the German beer hall down the block. He's an A's fan with a very Moneyball
/stathead take on the game, so we were right at home chatting about Billy Beane, Scott Hatteberg, the Big Three, the blog scene, and that insane Peter Gammons gossip report
from Boston Dirt Dogs which I came across during Quotegate. Of course, we had some good laughs about that whole mess too. Very cool to find more likeminded folks in the neighborhood; now that I'm a minor celeb in my own building, my head can barely fit through the door.
* Long missing in action, Giants fan and Barry Bonds' personal statistician John Perricone has launched his redesigned Only Baseball Matters
website. He's already got his gloves off, excoriating Jints GM Brian Sabean for overpaying some Grade-D roster filler while passing up a chance to sign Vladimir Guerrero. And speaking of Giants blogs and torn labrums, check out Fog Ball's Tom Gorman's take on reliever Robb Nen.
Tom's a certified Emergency Medical Technician, and he knows his way around the old wing. Nen's had three surgeries to repair a torn rotator cuff and a torn labrum. The former's in pretty serious shape (40% torn or more) but from my understanding of the latter, Giants fans shouldn't get their hopes up about the guy ever being a productive pitcher again.
* Baseball Outsider
got my attention with a snazzy-looking site. Time will tell about their takes on baseball. I'm going to have to disagree with Brandon Rosage
's view of the Dodger sale, which was written a couple weeks ago:
And besides their beautiful gem of a ballpark in Chavez Ravine, I haven?t been able to get past one simple thing: the Dodgers are owned by Rupert Murdoch; a man that is perhaps more evil than George Steinbrenner, Al Davis and Carson Daly combined.
The biggest thing the Dodgers have going for them right now, besides Gagne and Dodger Dogs, is the pending sale of the team to Boston real estate developer Frank McCourt. MLB Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy said the baseball owners group will likely vote on the sale Thursday.
Is there an emoticon for "cringe"? Not once in the article is McCourt's shoddy cash-flow situation acknowledged, and for that matter, neither is Shawn Green's injury when discussing his relatively woeful '03 production or chances of rebounding. I won't even get into Rosage's pinning the Dodgers' hopes on Paul LoDuca jacking 20 homers and a .450 slugging percentage or Juan Encarnacion suddenly learning to get on base. Rookie mistakes, let's hope. He's just one of four columnists, however, and the site is chock full of features (somewhat confusingly so), so check them out and make your own call.
• Speaking of the Dodgers, I once held that you haven't lived on the edge until you've gone through a pennant race with Jose Offerman as your regular shortstop. Back in the abbreviated 1995 season, Offerman made 35 errors and fielded .932 as the Dodgers narrowly won the NL West (and if you think those numbers are bad, check out his BPro card
). Offerman, who left the majors in a nasty huff in 2002, spent 2003 in the independent Atlantic League and just resurfaced in a minor-league deal with the Twins. The Sports Retort
touches all the bases of his career and has a first-hand perspective on the torment Offerman has caused Dodger and Red Sox fans. It's Awfulman.
Sunday, February 08, 2004
Final Thoughts on Beating a Hornet's Nest with a Baseball Bat
Sons of Sam Horn moderator Eric/Lanternjaw has apologized
to David Pinto of Baseball Musings over the "unethical" charges in the comments to the original Schilling/Neyer thread. I don't agree with everything else he has to say within his series of posts there, but I'm glad to see that he apologized because really, I've got better things to do than continue an angry debate. No more bacon fat will be thrown on this particular fire by me, so if you're waiting for another snappy comeback from Red Sox Nation's Public Enemy #211,918, I'm sorry to disappoint you.
From where I sit, the root of all of this is a simple turf war, and it comes from a clash of two cultures. The Sons of Sam Horn is a members-only, moderator-driven site in which the great majority of the people use pseudonyms rather than their real names and expect a what's-said-here-stays-here manner of dealing with their content, despite the fact that it's publicly viewable to members and non-members alike. The blogosphere as typified by Baseball Musings
, Bronx Banter
, this site and the great majority of the ones linked at left is full of public sites run by individuals who use their real names, whose content is interconnected, and where properly-attributed direct quotation is not just the norm, it is encouraged as a means of discourse and cross-promotion of sites.
Both models are common on the Internet, and which one appeals to you is generally a matter of taste, not which hat you're wearing. Nobody has to choose one or the other any more than they should have to choose beer or tacos
, stats or scouting. I honestly don't have a problem with the SoSH model, though it's not my particular cup of tea. I'd rather wade through a dozen blogs a day and even the Ackbar-and-Piazza-laden posts at Baseball Primer
in search of interesting and intelligent baseball conversation, because I don't particularly care if somebody goes off-topic and takes a discussion in an entirely different direction. By this I don't mean to imply that there's not interesting or intelligent baseball conversation at SoSH; there's plenty of that there, and if I'm going to apolgize for anything in this whole fray, it's for suggesting that I would rather see SoSH destroyed or closed to public viewing. So on that matter, I am sorry.
When the two cultures clash, the results are, as we've seen, quite ugly. It's much easier to go on the offensive when you don't have a name, an email address, and a body of work to stand behind, but then that's what happens when one starts lobbing rotten eggs at an army spoiling for a fight, and I honestly expected even less courtesy in this one than I've received. The Red Sox Nationalists who've posted their comments here and elsewhere have likely decided that I'm an idiot, a bandwagoneer, and the anti-christ rolled into one. To attempt to convince them otherwise would be utter futility, the opposite of "preaching to the choir." They're predisposed to dislike what I have to say, whether or not I'm attacking them, and now that I've said what I've said, I'm beyond redemption in their eyes.
None of that has prevented me from sleeping either of the past two nights.
But as I've said, I don't have much interest in carrying this debate further, as the merits of it are too colored by partisanship on both sides. Writing angry isn't fun, which is why I turned to baseball from politics in the first place. Other elements of my body of work -- statistical analysis
, news analysis
, original research
, first-person perspective
, etc. -- have (I hope) far more to contribute to the broad spectrum of freely-available baseball content on the Internet than my Howard Beale
side does. So I'm going to move on back to writing about the things I enjoy; those of you who want to accompany me on that journey are welcome to do so, and those of you spoiling for a continued fight are encouraged to look elsewhere.
Just for the record, I do hope that Curt Schilling continues to patronize SoSH, that the results remain in public view, and that some kind of balance between respecting his wishes and remaining true to the spirit of the medium can be struck. Regardless of who we're rooting for, I hope that some bridge across these two disparate but equally passionate cultures can be built, and that everybody can act in good faith from here on. You will get nothing less from me on that front.
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