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, April 30, 2004


Bumming Around Brooklyn

On Thursday I took Baseball Prospectus/Pinstriped Bible author Steven Goldman up on an offer to trek to the Brooklyn Public Library in search of photos to augment his forthcoming biography of Casey Stengel, Forging Genius (due in October from Brassey's). Focused as the book is on Casey’s career before he made routine work of winning pennants as Yankee manager, Steven was looking for photos of Stengel’s time with the Dodgers either as a player (1912-17) or a sub-.500 manager (1934-36) -- Dem Bums, indeed. He'd been led to believe the library had stacks and stacks of old Dodger photos on file, and anticipating both the need for assistance and my own glee at sifting through such arcana, he invited me along.

Also accompanying him was Andrew Baharlias, the former staff counsel of the Yankees (1997-2002), whom you may recognize from a few articles on Baseball Prospectus, most recently one on what he termed the Yankees Defensive Employee Retention Program. Through some miraculous luck on a three-train odyssey, I arrived at the library on time, only to find that Steven and Andrew were two rivers away, still stuck in traffic entering the Holland Tunnel on the Jersey side. I took the opportunity to avail myself of some mediocre Chinese food while soaking up the gorgeous sunshine on the fringe of Prospect Park, checking out the war memorials at Grand Army Plaza as I awaited their arrival. Hey, it beats working.

Once they arrived, it quickly became apparent that the three of us were swatting flies with a sledgehammer. The librarian handed Steven only about a dozen manila folders, many containing only one or two photos, a stack hardly as thick as a dime-store novel. Even after poring over the binder listing every potential folder, we came up with only about two dozen files which seemed relevant. Donning white cloth gloves so as not to mar the photos with our fingerprints, we spent about an hour carefully examining each shot, reading captions on the back and laughing at some of the more outrageous pictures: Dodger manager Wilbert Robinson, "Uncle Robbie," riding a bicycle, Giant manager John McGraw and his wife, who looked exactly like him (not a compliment), a young Yogi Berra with a basketball, a great shot of some not-so-tough-looking Brooklyn schoolkids burning Casey in effigy during the 1952 World Series, one holding up a sign that said "Casey Stinky Stengel." Hoodlums!

Steven rejected many photos for being outside the time period, several with players wearing the wrong uniforms (Van Lingle Mungo as a Giant just doesn't cut it). In all we only came up with about seven as relevant to the book: Dazzy Vance, the great Brooklyn hurler of the Twenties, the aforementioned Uncle Robbie bike shot, a good one of Yankee manager Joe McCarthy with owner Edward Barrow and another of Barrow with Larry McPhail and George Weiss, a shot of Max Carey and Bill Terry, and so on. Hardly the bonanza we'd envisioned. Still, it was a fun exercise, perhaps moreso for me since I didn't have to cross state lines, nor did I have anything at stake other than an opportunity to pick Steven's brain a bit and hear a few of Andrew's war stories from his time with the Yanks.

Since the photos in question, mostly from the defunct Brooklyn Eagle, aren't online, for today’s Lunchtime Link, I'll leave you with a shot that is. It's one of my all-time favorite baseball photos from another source, the Library of Congress: Casey as a Dodger circa 1915, wearing a pinstriped uniform and sunglasses, looking like one cool mofo standing in the Ebbets Field outfield (the shot was also recently used in the SABR publication Deadball Stars of the National League). Casey's mouth is open like he’s carrying on some long monologue in Stengelese, and if you’re like me you'd willingly shell out a pretty penny to hear those thoughts.

Thursday, April 29, 2004


Big Apple Bunch

The Big Apple Baseballist outing to Yankee Stadium was a success, both for the eleven of us who attended the game and for the home team, who beat the A's 5-1 behind Jose Contreras' surprisingly decent performance. Representing were bloggers Alex Belth, Alex Ciepley, Cliff Corcoran, Avkash Patel, and Jason Wojciechowski, as well as Justin Poon, Geoff Silver, Nick Stone, Ameer Youssef, my girlfriend Andra, and myself. We sat way up high -- Row U, two from the top -- but as we were about halfway between home plate and third base, we still had a pretty decent view. Hey, what do you expect for $5 (or $9 once TicketRapist takes their cut)? Some people swear by (and in) the Yankee Stadium bleachers; me, I'm an upper deck guy -- I love the birds's eye view of the field, though I almost always sit in the lower portion (Tier Boxes) instead of the nosebleeds. Geoff, who worked for the Cincinnati Reds for four years and is currently pursuing another job in baseball, said it was the worst seat he'd had in years, but he had obvious fun talking everybody's ears off, and I think everybody else enjoyed the game as well. Alex C. got to play with his new cell phone, which has a little camera built in, providing a few mementos of our night: our view from the top, myself and Justin, Alex B., Nick and Cliff.

For the first time since early 2000, I didn't keep score at a Yanks game, preferring instead to mingle within the group. Both Belth and Corcoran kept score, though I teased Alex when I looked down and saw him missing about three innings worth of the A's hitting. The horrific "security" at the Stadium cost us a good bite of the first frame, as the Yanks did most of their damage while we were settling into our seats. They put together a three-run rally on the strength of three singles, two walks, and a sac fly, keeping the line moving in the Nine-Eight Style.

But the big story on the night was Contreras. After three disastrous starts, the Cuban -- well shepherded by Jorge Posada -- earned his first win of the season. He scattered four hits in six innings, made one mistake that highly-touted A's shortstop Bobby Crosby hit over the leftfield wall, and only dawdled a couple of times. As Sam Borden of the New York Daily News put it:
There were hairy moments, but this time Contreras worked around them instead of buckling under. Last night's third inning had the potential to become like the third inning 11 days ago, when Contreras imploded despite holding a six-run lead, but something was different this time.

After Bobby Crosby led off the frame with his third homer of the season, Contreras steeled himself - and got a little help from his fielders, too. With two outs and two men on, Eric Chavez smoked a line drive that Jason Giambi said he didn't see "until it was behind me." Still, the first baseman flopped to his right and snagged it, saving at least one run and getting Contreras out of his biggest jam of the night.
Giambi's gem was all the more surprising given the low regard with which his defense is held, but that was a play that would have made a Gold Glover proud. Big G later stroked a solo home run, as did Posada, who retook the AL lead with 8. Derek Jeter continued his struggles, falling to 0-for-32, although he reached on an error and drew a walk. With the early lead, the crowd got behind Jeter every trip to the plate, forty thousand fans chanting his name and rooting like hell for a hit. Alas, he didn't even get the ball out of the infield. The rumors are starting to build that his hands are hurting, though he refuses to admit that's the case. Next up on his epic futility streak is Joe McEwing's 0-for-33 in 2002; company like that is not good to keep

The only other downer on the night was the news about Bernie Williams, who tweaked his surgically repaired knee the night before, and who's had plenty of chances to remind us his shoulders aren't in such great shape either. I've seen his future, and it includes lots of DH time; Bernie's days as a Gold Glove winner are over. Speaking of bad news and shoulders, Travis Lee is headed to Dr. James Andrews and will likely have surgery. All of this means that Tony Clark, rehabbing Kenny Lofton, and Bubba Crosby -- who's on a slide of his own lately, having gotten only one hit since his big day a couple of weeks ago (did I tell you?) -- will be sticking around for the foreseeable future. Jorge DePaula having gone under the knife, the Yankee system is notoriously bereft of tradeable talent, with catcher Dioner Navarro the plum of the system, though GM Brian Cashman has been talking up the likes of AA pitchers Sean Henn and Chien-Ming Wang and Class A closer Edwardo Sierra. Get used to this team, as it will likely be awhile before the Yanks can add another name that doesn't make fans scratch their heads and go "He's still alive?" But if they keep playing like they're supposed to, it won't matter so much.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004


On the Good Foot

The Yankees shook themselves out of their four-game funk with a six-run rally in the eighth inning on Tuesday night against the Oakland A'S, coming from behind to win 10-8. Ruben Sierra delivered a pinch-hit two-run double that hit the chalk of the leftfield foul line, exactly the kind of break the Yanks have been starved for lately -- though they certainly had their share in the inning, with Gary Sheffield getting a key infield single. The team was all smiles afterwards, looking as though the weight of the world had been lifted from their shoulders. Even surly Mike Mussina, who barely managed to avoid going 1-5, was upbeat.

Because Andra was TiVoing her teen dramas, I listened to the game via the web starting in the fifth. By the time the bottom of the eighth arrived, announcer John Stirling (he of the infamous, annoying "Thhhhhhhheeeeeeeee Yankees win! The Yankees win!" call) had all but buried the team, saying that there was no way the Yanks were going to pull this one out after blowing a 4-1 lead and then falling behind 8-4 on a series of bad breaks and defensive miscues. I never did get a chance to hear him eat those words, as midway through the rally, Andra's show ended and I switched over to YES just in time to see Sierra's at-bat.

Despite the win and the ten-run outburst, Derek Jeter continued his slump, falling to 0-for-28. But he received plenty of respect last night in the form of a hearty ovation from the fans in the seventh inning and in an intentional walk from Ricardo Rincon just after Sierra's double. Think about that for a moment: the guy's hitting .169 and carrying the league's longest 0-fer (and the longest Yankee slide since Tin.000 Martinez went 0-for-28 in 2000), yet with two runners in scoring position, first base open and one out, the A's elected to give him a free pass to set up the double play rather than give him a shot at breaking the game open with what surely would have been a dramatic hit. It may just have been sound baseball strategy, but it was also an acknowledgement that sooner or later, Jeter's going to get a hit that will make him look just as clutch as he always was, and he'll be back in the good graces of the Yankee Stadium throngs.

I'm headed to tonight's game in the company of several other bloggers in the form of my Big Apple Baseballists posse. While I wish the weather was a bit warmer and I already dread watching Jose Contreras fiddle around, it feels a whole lot better to head to the ballpark with the Yanks back on the good foot.

* * *

Lunchtime Link: Most of you who read me regularly know that I'm not always able to post on a daily basis, in part because I hold myself to a high standard -- If I can't write at least four or five paragraphs on a topic, whether it's original or an article I read elsewhere, I generally don't bother. But as a way of rewarding my daily readers for stopping by, on days where I might not post something longer I'm going to make every effort to give you a quick hit relatively early, something to read at lunchtime or print out for your commute home. I won't be able to offer as much commentary as I usually do, but at least I can point you in the right direction for something I found of interest.

Today's link is from The Hardball Times: Steve Treder's piece on the West Texas-New Mexico League of 1937-1955. Treder dug out his old Spalding Baseball Guides and Sporting News Baseball Guides to take readers on a tour of this obscure league, where high altitudes in places such as Albuquerque made for a hitter's heaven and a pitcher's hell -- we're talking league batting averages above .300 and runs per game topping 7.0 per team. Amid this museum of the statistically absurd, Treder points out a pitcher with a 15-13 record and a 9.21 ERA and an oufielder named Bob Crues who in 1948 hit .404/.491/.848 with 69 homers and 254 RBI in only 140 games. Crues' team, the Amarillo Gold Sox, scored a whopping 1267 runs that year and hit .323 with 214 homers. Suffice it to say that if you like to ogle eye-popping stats, check out Treder's entertaining, well-researched piece.

Monday, April 26, 2004



If you're a Yankee fan, the funk is everywhere today, and I don't mean in the good, George Clintonian sense. It's on every back page tabloid, every local newscast, and the look of every interlocking NY-wearing fan. Gray skies and rain in the city, combined with an off day, leave little to think about but the severe beatdown administered by the Red Sox. Behind a fairly vintage-looking -- in result, if not speed of fastball -- Pedro Martinez, Boston took the third game from the Yanks on Sunday, completing their sweep of the weekend series and extending their advantage to 6-1 thus far this year. Javier Vazquez gave a noble effort on three days' rest, but one hanging mistake to Manny Ramirez cost him the ballgame, 2-0. The Yanks scored four measly, stinkin' runs the entire series, two of them merely window dressing on a game that had long been decided.

With apologies to the ASPCA, Yankee GM Brian Cashman summed it up best for Lawrence Rocca of the Newark Star Ledger:
"I'm going to go home, kiss my wife, hug my kids," Cashman said, "and kick the (blank) out of my dog."
Even Derek Jeter got booed, and with that 0-for-25, it's understandable. Red Sox fans and even local writers such as George Vescey get it wrong if they think that Yankee fans are spoiled, short of memory and quick to turn. Jeter is the Yankee captain, carrying a $189 million contract, and when Yankee fans boo him, they're not booing the clutch shortstop of six World Series teams so much as releasing their pent-up frustration at the lousy play of this overpriced team and reminding, in the words of a man from nowhere near New York City, "Nobody Slides, My Friend." We know the Yankees will do better, but polite applause and encouragement won't tide us over until then. New York City -- and the Yankees -- ain't for the fragile or the faint of heart. Fuck that weak shit.

Bless his intangibles, Jeter knows this as well as anybody else, which is why he didn't give anything but his usual pat, bland answers when questioned about the booing on Friday:
"I don't blame them," Jeter said flatly... "We would have booed ourselves tonight, too. It's hard to imagine being worse than we were tonight. Put me at the front of that list."
A civic crisis might have erupted if Sox fans had treated Nomar similarly -- Pedro would have demanded a trade -- but in Da Bronx, it comes with the territory. If our hometown heroes can't get over a case of the April boo birds, then they won't be worth a tinker's damn when the chips are down in October.

Which isn't to say any Yankee fan should walk around miserable, looking to bust the nearest Sox fan in the chops when he taunts you over the weekend's results. Smile, play nice, adjust your imaginary monocle and tell him something like, "Your Beantown side surely got the best of us in this exhibition, old chap, but when the real games start, our Bronx nine shall top you." In the grand scheme of things, both the season and the all-time rivalry, this weekend's sweep quantifies as small tater tots. As a wise man said back in 1978: "It doesn't matter where you are when the leaves are on the trees, it matters where you are when the leaves are on the ground."

Better days lay ahead, but if you want to revel in the past, check out Cecilia Tan's list of The 50 Greatest Yankee Games of all time -- she's working on a book, due out next February, and she's left one slot open to be decided via a readers poll (I'm going to suggest nine in the ninth from '98). Who knows? By this October the next Aaron Boone may make that last slot a moot point.

Sunday, April 25, 2004


Slow Death on a Saturday Afternoon

I spent four and a half hours at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, four and a half tense, exciting, but ultimately depressing hours watching the Yanks fall to the Red Sox yet again in a 12-inning, 3-2 affair. The Yankees have now lost five out of six to the Sox and stand at 8-10 today, when they will try to salvage some dignity by sending Javier Vazquez on three days rest to face Pedro Martinez. Gulp.

Having missed the brunt of their 11-2 humiliation the night before, I was optimistic the Yanks might shake out of their funk behind Kevin Brown. Perhaps it was the crystal-clear day and the sight of 55,000 people wearing their war paint and plenty of red-and-bllue 1918 regalia -- nouveau couture for tauting the Sox faithful. But all I had to do was look over the Yankee lineup, with four out of nine hitters -- Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Travis Lee and Enrique Wilson -- stationed below the Mendoza Line, to rid myself of that optimism. This is a team in the throes of a dreadful slump, looking every bit the overpriced, over-the-hill, uninspired, fragile worst case scenario that an analyst could conjure in March. They're not hitting, the rotation outside of Brown and Vazquez has been a disaster, and suddenly a scuffle for the Wild Card seems like a very real possibility.

Facing the Sox for the second time in six days. Brown started out as shaky as can be, walking the first two batters of the game. He knocked Manny Ramirez in the dirt as the crowd showered him with epithets, but the Boston slugger got even by swatting a sacrifice fly to put the Sox on the board first. Brown's problems in the second were even more of his own making. A sharp comebacker off of the bat of Kevin Millar prompted the pitcher to hurry his thrown to first, but the ball went well over Travis Lee's head and into the stands. Then Mark Bellhorn grounded to Lee, who underhanded the ball to Brown as he reached first; he dropped the ball for his second error in as many batters. He plunked Gabe Kapler to load the bases with nobody out, and suddenly this must have seemed like a bad dream for the gritty hurler. Pokey Reese stroked a sac fly, but Brown escaped the inning with further damage. Still, he walked a tightrope. David Ortiz led off the third with a double into the left-centerfield gap, and with one out Jason Varitek walked. But Alex Rodriguez backhanded a hard Millar smash down the thrid-base line, saving at least one run and drawing a hearty ovation from the crowd.

Meanwhile, the Yanks couldn't touch Sox starter Bronson Arroyo. He walked Derek Jeter to lead off the game, but DJ was immediately erased on a strike out/throw out double play. When A-Rod topped a dribbler back to Arroyo, the crowd booed intensely. In the second Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield both took called strike three. It was going to be that kind of day.

After Brown put together his first 1-2-3 inning in the thrid, A-Rod pumped some life into the frustrated Yankee crowd with a solo homer to left. That was the sole hit the Yanks got through Arroyo's first six innings, and the score held 2-1 as Brown retired ten out of eleven batters. But he was doing so in an uncharacteristic manner. Fourteen times out of the 31 batters he faced, Brown started off with ball one, not exactly a recipe for success. Five times in his seven innings, the leadoff batter got on base. He induced ten flyouts against ten grounders, unusual for a pitcher with a career groundball/flyball ratio of 2.74, and not until Ortiz struck out in the seventh did he record a single strikeout. Even more amazingly, until that Ortiz at-bat not a single Sox hitter swung and missed against Brown all afternoon. He could hardly have made it tougher on himself, but he nonetheless did an admirable job of keeping the Yanks in the game on a day which he had very little going for him.

Arroyo began the seventh facing A-Rod, who again couldn't get the ball out of the infield as he topped a slow roller to Bill Mueller at third. In a move that must have had the entire front office cringing but nevertheless delighted the crowd, A-Rod belly-flopped into first base in a cloud of dust: SAFE! Giambi singled through the two dozen fielders clogging the right side of the infield, and A-Rod took third when Millar bobbled the ball. Sheffield tied the score with a single, and the crowd became jovial for the first time on the day.

That spelled the end of Arroyo's day, and Scott Williamson came on in relief. An infield grounder by Jorge Posada -- practically the only Yankee batter with a pulse but nevertheless stuck in the six slot -- sent the runners to second and third. Williamson then intentionally walked Lee to face Bernie Williams, in such a dreadful 1-for-April slump that he and his sub-Mendoza average were hitting eighth. With the bases loaded and one out, the crowd rose to its feet at the sight of the man who has delivered so many huge hits over the years. But number 51 is growing old before our very eyes; he grounded meekly into a 4--6-3 double play to snuff the rally.

Tom Gordon blew away the Sox in the eighth by striking out the side, but got into trouble when he walked Kapler to start the ninth. Surprisingly for the sabermetrically inclined Sox, Reese sacrificed him over to second, but Gordon shut the door by retiring Johnny Damon on a grounder and then getting Mueller to pop up to Jeter. The sac bunt theme reared its ugly head in the bottom of the inning when A-Rod walked against Alan Embree and Bubba Crosby, who'd pinch-run for Giambi in the seventh, got knocked over trying to bunt two high fastballs, both of which popped foul. Crosby nevertheless lay down as perfect an 0-2 bunt as you'd ever care to see, which is to say that it beat striking out, but ultimately didn't help much. One out later, Embree walked Posada intentionally to face Lee, who grounded out to end the threat.

Mariano Rivera came on in the tenth and the Sox again got a runner into scoring position. Ramirez singled, was erased in a forceout, and then Jason Varitek got picked off of first. But Lee's throw to the second base bag went wide left, and Varitek was safe. Fortunately, Millar popped out to Posada to end the inning.

Against Sox relief ace Keith Foulke, the Yanks returned to the infernal sac bunt strategy in the tenth. Ortiz misplayed Bernie's leadoff grounder for an error and then Miguel Cairo, in for Enrique Wilson, moved Williams over. After Jeter grounded out, Matsui walked, and then A-Rod was intentionally walked to load the bases and get to Crosby. Yankee manager Joe Torre countered by calling upon the undead Ruben Sierra (when your OPS is around .400, the zombies have clearly taken over); he could manage only an inning-ending infield grounder.

Rivera loaded the bases in the elevenh with one out but to no ultimate harm, but the Sox finally put over a run in the twelfth off of Paul Quantrill. Manny greeted him with a double off of the right-center wall that appeared to befuddle both Bernie (who looks completely lost on defense these days) and Sheffield. Varitek moved Ramirez over on a grounder. Quantrill hit Millar, and then Bellhorn lofted one into the left-center gap. Bernie made a nice reaching grab, but his weak arm was no match and the Sox third run scored -- all three on sac flies. It turns out that Boston went 0-for-19 on the day with runners in scoring position, the worst such clutch failure in 27 years. It was still too much for the Yanks, who couldn't even get a runner on against Mike Timlin in the twelfth and fell to the Sox yet again.

The team is now hitting .221/.332/.377. Jeter is 1 for his last 26, hitting a meek .184/.262/.224. Williams is .179/.303/.214. Torre continues to write Wilson's name in the lineup despite a .394 OPS and the fact that Cairo has 4 RBI in his 10 plate appearances, two more than Wilson has in 49. the best hitter on the team, Posada, is stuck batting sixth despite a .745 slugging percentage, a share of the league lead in homers and second in the league in RBI. The next four days find the Yanks facing Pedro and then the big three of the Oakland A's, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. The Yanks are 3.5 games out for the first time in nearly two years, and it may well get worse before it gets better. Enjoy it while you can, Yankee haters.

Thursday, April 22, 2004


Hammerin' Hank's Home Cookin'

A funny thing happened on the way to my blog. What had started out on Sunday morning as an email to Dayn Perry in appreciation for last week's Baseball Prospectus article on Hank Aaron turned into a quick and dirty research project. That in turn grew to a multi-spreadsheet undertaking and then into an overlong, caffeine-fueled blog entry. On a whim, I decided to run it by the BP editors before publishing it myself, braced for a quick but polite "no thanks." But the editors liked it, and within the hour I was revising the piece for publication on Prospectus. To paraphrase the great Eddie Izzard on the discovery of the Heimlich Maneuver, the way it all came together was like, "A fist, a hand, hoocha hoocha hoocha... lobster!" (If you don't know what I'm talking about you really need to watch Dress to Kill.)

Perry's article was an affectionate if belated tribute to Aaron, the 30th anniversary of whose 715th home run was on April 8. Noting Barry Bonds' progress up the all-time home run charts, Dayn began with a sentiment which I share: "With all due kudos to Barry Bonds for passing Willie Mays on the all-time home run leaderboard, I'm hoping his efforts to fell Hank Aaron's mark of 755 come to grief." Perry's desire has less to do with a dislike of Bonds for his arrogance or for any taint of BALCO-related mischief. It's based squarely on his admiration for Aaron and the obstacles which he overcame; a southerner himself, Perry's acutely aware of what he calls the region's "crueler natures."

He reminds readers that Aaron started in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns, encountering segregation and racism at several turns, including an ugly incident where a D.C. diner destroyed the plates which the players had eaten off rather than serve food on them to their white clientele. As a 19-year-old, Aaron broke the color line of the South Atlantic (Sally) League and would have done so in the Southern League as well when he got a break, literally. Bobby Thomson (yes, that one) fractured his leg, giving Aaron an opening on the Milwaukee Braves at the tender age of 20. Seven years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line, Aaron was the last Negro Leaguer to make it to the majors.

Perry notes that Aaron's superficially declining stats in 1968 (the Year of the Pitcher) led him to consider retirement, but that historian Lee Allen reminded him of the milestones which lay ahead. Two years later, Aaron became the first black player to cross the 3,000 hit threshold, two months ahead of Willie Mays. By then Aaron was chasing 600 homers and climbing into some rarefied air among the top power hitters of all time.

It's Aaron's late-career heroics where I stepped into the picture. Intending to make a point about how Hammerin' Hank's homer totals were boosted by Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a/k/a "the Launching Pad," I dug out my old Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (the '87 version) which contains home and road HR splits for a select group of players, and jotted some numbers down; lo and behold, during his Atlanta tenure, Aaron had hit 192 homers at home and 145 on the road. A big boost, to be sure, but then I began wondering how other top sluggers, particularly the Bambino, compared. Here's the home-road breakdown for the Top 20 homer hitters of all time as of April 20 (asterisks denote an active players):
Rk   Player             HR   HHR   RHR

1 Hank Aaron 755 385 370
2 Babe Ruth 714 347 367
3 Barry Bonds* 667 327 340
4 Willie Mays 660 335 325
5 Frank Robinson 586 321 265
6 Mark McGwire 583 285 298
7 Harmon Killebrew 573 291 282
8 Reggie Jackson 563 280 283
9 Mike Schmidt 548 265 283
10 Sammy Sosa* 543 292 251
11 Mickey Mantle 536 266 270
12 Jimmie Foxx 534 299 235
13 Rafael Palmeiro* 529 288 241
14T Willie McCovey 521 264 257
14T Ted Williams 521 248 273
16T Ernie Banks 512 290 222
16T Eddie Mathews 512 237 275
18 Mel Ott 511 323 188
19 Eddie Murray 504 248 256
20 Lou Gehrig 493 251 242
Who knew Babe Ruth hit more homers on the road than at home? I surely did not. As you might expect, there's plenty of fun to be had with these numbers. That fun, accompanied by several other charts, is part of my BP article, which is a freebie this time (so I'll hear no whining about how broke you are this week). Check it out, and post your comments here if you have any.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004


Throw Back

Very little of the baseball I saw this weekend -- watching the Yanks' lackluster showing in Boston or attending Sunday's latest Met debacle as they were swept by the Pirates -- was any good for the home team. But none of that meant anything to me compared to my own good news. To accompany a gorgeous weekend with sunshine and weather in the 70s, I did something I haven't done in over ten months: I broke out my mitt and played catch.

It was the middle of last June when a moment of idiotic swimming pool-related horseplay -- never ever dive onto a flotation mat in the middle of a pool, kids -- left me clutching my right shoulder and writhing in agony. As I'd hit the mat, my arm had slipped laterally, pinning my elbow in the vicinity of my sternum while I felt a sickening pop in my shoulder. Hours later, in an attempt to gauge just how badly off I was, I tried throwing a baseball to Andra, only to find I couldn't push the ball more than about 20 feet. Throwing like a girl would have been an improvement; my shoulder felt as though the wind had been knocked out of it. Not good at all.

A belligerent primary care physician, travel, and my own optimism delayed a proper diagnosis on my injury until I went to see an orthopedic surgeon in the middle of July. To make a long story short, I had torn my labrum, the ring of cartilage that holds the shoulder in its socket. Three months of physical therapy failed to alleviate the problem and cost me a lot of sleep (waking up several times a night to avoid certain positions), and so last November I underwent arthroscopic surgery; in fact, it was five months ago Monday. I spent a full month wearing a sling, then began physical therapy. At first I struggled to lift even two- and three-pound weights, feeling estranged from my own muscles and wondering if I had reinjured myself in my rehab. Progress was agonizingly slow; during one exercise my therapist had to remind me of the proper mechanics about two-thirds of the time. But I had been told it would be six months before I could return to a full level of activity, and I was being paced accordingly.

As the therapy went on I got to do some ball-related exercises in addition to the weightlifting. Mostly it was stuff like throwing a weighted ball into a diagonally-positioned trampoline six feet away, then letting it bounce back into my hand while cushioning the impact, or bouncing that ball above a door frame with the same purpose. But as baseball season approached and my shoulder continued to heal, I began practicing my throwing motion on my own time. In one of my desk drawers I rediscovered an old foam ball, roughly two thirds the size of a baseball, a replica of a globe dating to my time designing for the World Almanac Group. When nobody else was around, I began tossing that ball off of the walls in my apartment, once in awhile sort of letting loose and hearing it smack the wall with a satsifying thunk. Watching games, I would take a baseball -- the forbidden fruit -- out of my closet and either practice my grip or just spin the it in my hands. I felt like a kid on a rainy day, bummed that I couldn't just go outside to do exactly what I yearned to do.

Finally, about ten days ago I asked my therapist if it would be OK for me to play some catch; he cleared me with the caveat that I shouldn't throw very far. With last weekend cold and drab, I decided to wait for a nicer day, and this sunny Saturday felt divinely delivered. My pal Nick and I took our mitts to nearby Tompkins Square Park and tossed the ball around at about 20 paces for about fifteen minutes. While I had no trouble throwing it that distance, I quickly became self-conscious of my mechanics, noticing when I was occasionally wrist-snapping the ball back to Nick or stopping a short of a total follow-through. I spent a lot of time watching my feet, making sure to throw off of my left foot rather than resorting to my old flat-footed infielder peg.

I took a break as Andra, who'd wandered over to the park without her mitt, took over mine and continued tossing the ball with Nick. She can hold her own; no throwing like a girl for her. After she threw for about 10 minutes, I reclaimed my mitt and resumed tossing the ball. I was beginning to feel some stiffness below my shoulder blade, but enjoying myself too much to stop; Dusty Baker would have been proud. I'd be lying if I said that the inside of my shoulder joint feels the same as it did pre-mischief or pre-surgery, or that it's anywhere close to normal yet. But two days after throwing I'm happy to report that my body felt no worse than it does after any of my PT workouts, and my soul feels a whole lot better now that I can pick up my mitt and throw the ball any damn time I want.

* * *

The Yankees' soul, on the other hand, was MIA this weekend in Boston as they lost three out of four games to the Red Sox to drop below .500 (6-7). Alex Rodriguez had a weekend from hell, getting a deserved earful from Sox fans while going 0-for-16 until he finally singled in the ninth inning of Monday's game. Too little, too late. A-Rod is parked well below the Mendoza Line, hitting an anemic .160/.263/.280, but he's not alone in his futility; the team as a whole is hitting .217/.334/.381 and scoring 4.3 runs a game. So much for scoring 1000 runs. Aside from Jorge Posada's .256/.375/.692 line, the only positive to point to for the Yankee hitters is that they're drawing walks, one for every 6.4 at bats, 66 in all.

The team's starting pitching, aside from Kevin Brown, is a bit more worrisome, posting a 5.06 ERA so far. Brown wasn't as sharp on Monday as against Tampa Bay, but then three outings against a perennial doormat might lull one into a false sense of security. Javier Vazquez, after dazzling in his Yankee debut, got knocked around on Friday night, though the Yankee defense didn't do him any favors either. Mike Mussina continues to sputter, with a 7.52 ERA and a 1-3 record after four starts; some of his velocity has gone missing, likely due to the Yanks' abbreviated time in Florida rather than any injury. Jose Contreras is even worse, with a 9.39 ERA and only 7.2 innings in his two starts. Staked to a 7-1 lead on Sunday, Contreras couldn't even show Joe Torre enough to get himself out of a jam in the third inning. As if that wasn't bad enough, substitute fifth starter Jorge De Paula was placed on the DL with what's been called a "sprained elbow" and is headed to visit Dr. James Andrews. More than likely, that spells Tommy John surgery and a lost season. Rookie Alex Graman will make his major league debut on Tuesday starting against the Chicago White Sox, and assuming he keeps his head above water, would draw another start against the Red Sox next weekend. Gulp.

The brightest spot at this point has been the revamped bullpen, which has posted a 3.38 ERA thus far. Take away Felix Heredia -- please -- and that drops to 2.10 (Heredia was placed on the DL this weekend). Mariano Rivera's been his cool self, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, and Gabe White have combined for 20 appearances in 13 games, and even Donovan Osborne, who did mop-up duty on Saturday, has been getting hitters out. Monday was not a good day for that troupe, however, as they allowed Brown's fourth and tying run to come around from first and then gave up the winning run in the eighth. It happens.

What should make the Yanks kick themselves (or give Boston fans hope) is that the Sox did this all without Nomar Garciaparra, Trot Nixon, or Pedro Martinez, and with a leadoff hitter who looks like he escaped from Lynyrd Skynyrd. Monday's lineup featured David McCarty batting sixth and playing first base, Cesar Crespo batting seventh and playing second, and number nine hitter Pokey Reese getting two hits and scoring the aforementioned tying run. Eeuch. Sooner or later the Sox are going to get reinforcements and they'll be even tougher to beat than they were this weekend.

But nobody in Yankeeland should press any panic buttons yet. Fifteen or 20 years ago, the Yanks' 6-7 start and key early-season loss to the Sox would have spilled managerial blood, but with George Steinbrenner having just extended Joe Torre's contract for three years, that possibility seems remote. Torre and company will remain calm, A-Rod and the rest of the Yankee hitters will come around, as will the pitching staff. Here's a rule of thumb: if the IRS hasn't processed your tax return yet, it's too early to worry.

Saturday, April 17, 2004


The Naked Truth

Reader Chris G. passed along a funny article about itinerant reliever Todd Jones, now with the Cincinnati Reds. Recall that Jones' most notable accomplishment last season -- besides drawing a $3 million paycheck for 68.2 innings of 7.08 ERA ball -- was (to paraphrase Jim Bouton) revealing himself to be as smart as his ERA. Commenting on the Broadway show Take Me Out, the reliever gained notoriety last April for shooting his mouth off about the possibility of an openly gay ballplayer in the majors:
"I wouldn't want a gay guy being around me," Todd Jones told [the Denver Post]. "It's got nothing to do with me being scared. That's the problem: All these people say he's got all these rights. Yeah, he's got rights or whatever, but he shouldn't walk around proud. It's like he's rubbing it in our face. 'See me, Hear me roar.' We're not trying to be close-minded, but then again, why be confrontational when you don't really have to be?"

...Jones also said in the story that the player better be good "Because if (the team) thinks for one minute he's disrupting the clubhouse -- if he doesn't hit 50 homers or win 20 games -- they're not going to put up with that."
After his homophobic comments made John Rocker-style headlines, Jones issued a half-assed apology but didn't back off his remarks. Released a couple of months later after posting an 8.24 ERA, he bounced from the Rockies to the Red Sox and continued to struggle. This spring, he went to camp with the Devil Rays but was released late in March and subsequently caught on with the Reds.

He must be more comfortable around his new teammates, because this Hal McCoy article in the Dayton Daily News reveals... well, everything:
There are a million stories in The Naked Clubhouse, with Todd Jones behind most of them...

The sound of a baseball thwacking into gloves echoed from the hallway leading to the showers in the Citizens Bank Park visitors clubhouse Wednesday afternoon.

Cincinnati Reds first baseman Sean Casey peered around a corner, spotted what was going on, then said, "Get my camera. I have to take a shot of this."

The naked truth: It was relief pitchers Jones and Brian Reith. Playing catch in a shower hall
was strange enough, but Jones and Reith were as naked as the day they were born, except for baseball gloves.

"Just getting our work in," said Jones, clearly the team's bullpen stand-up and sit-down comedian.

...Jones, a veteran who has had success in the bullpen as a closer and a set-up guy, is the type of personality a young team needs, a guy who makes everybody laugh.
Insert punchline here:

A) The reliever is turning the other cheek
B) He's turning over a new fig leaf
C) Those in glass houses shouldn't throw naked
D) Nothing wrong with two men being naked in the clubhouse shower so long as they're "working," but the moment they start "rubbing it in" faces, it becomes a problem

Reader Chris takes Jones to task, writing, "I'm glad Jones isn't 'gay.' If he was, he'd actually have to perform (i.e. 'hit 50 homers or win 20 games'). Since he's obviously 'heterosexual,' his nude cavorting isn't 'disrupting the clubhouse' and guys will 'put up with that.'" But I'm inclined to laugh this one off, hoping that Jones has gained some enlightenment and that the next time the reliever shoots his mouth off, somebody's got incriminating photos of The Infamous Todd Jones Shower Scene.

* * *

Elsewhere in this major-league version of News of the Weird, Jon Weisman provided an update to earlier reports about former Dodger and Yankee outfielder Raul Mondesi's woes. Back in 1998, Mondesi was sued by former futility infielder Mario Guerrero, who claims that he was promised one percent -- now roughly $640,000 -- of Raul's future earnings for helping him improve his baseball skills. In February, a Dominican court ruled in Guerrero's favor, and Mondesi subsequently appealed the ruling. But the court ordered his bank account frozen, and his current employer, the Pittsburgh Pirates, has decided to withhold his pay until the dispute is resolved.

Said Mondesi: "I have no agreement with Guerrero, and he never taught me anything. I'm not going to give him a cent of my money." The stubborn Mondy may be onto something, as he's spent his entire career showing that apart from his great natural talents, he's unwilling to learn how to control the strike zone, how to stay in shape, or how to win friends and influence people. After earning $44.5 million over the past five seasons, he's currently playing for a paltry $1.15 million in Pittsburgh. While acknowledging the ridiculous interpretation of the court's ruling regarding his frozen assets, I'm just hoping that Raul stuffed some of those millions under his mattress.

In all seriousness, Weisman's got an interesting email from Dominican baseball writer and broadcaster Carlos Lugo, who's covered the country's Winter League for Baseball Prospectus. As Lugo wrote:
What's in the background of this (not specifically in this case in particular but in general) I think is more interesting. Our country is transformed into a baseball player factory or some sort of assembly line. Everywhere you can see young kids playing ball, and the sad part is that they're not exactly playing for the fun of it (as I did and as you did) but trying to become professional baseball players.

As a consequence, an informal industry has arisen around the MLB teams academies and operations. The lack of a more formal or structured development chain - like school or little leagues in the U.S. - resulted in some kind of "informal development chain" that started in disorganized little league teams, where the "coach" gave the basic training to the kids until they approached 15 to 17 years of age, an age when they show if they're signable...

These "coaches" are the first ones looking for some sort of "return on investment," and what they're doing lately is signing some sort of formal contract where they get the player to share one fraction of their signing bonuses, or, if they're as wise and lucky as Guerrero, hit the jackpot with a guy that eventually make it to the big leagues and becomes a regular player.
Lugo also told Weisman that in Mondesi's case, such a formal contract actually exists, which explains why Mondy's been getting his fat ass kicked in court. Lugo's comments are worth checking out, as there are some fascinating and serious issues lying below the superficial schadenfreude I feel towards a player who's pissed me off to no end while playing for the two teams whose caps I wear.

Thursday, April 15, 2004


Turning Three

Though the "official" date passed last Friday and I've mentioned it just about everywhere else on this site, I haven't posted the news to this blog yet: the Futility Infielder is now three years old.

It's hard to believe time has passed so quickly. Though it doesn't feel quite like yesterday when I registered this domain, it's as fresh in my memory as last week. What's even harder to believe is that I'm still at it. When I started the site, never in my nine years since graduating college had I developed the discipline to write regularly. Three years later, I've got hundreds of readers a day, occasionally I get paid for my work, and I can claim a whole network of friends and allies across the globe, many of whom have become a real part of my life here in New York City.

Of course, I never envisioned the blogging medium would take off to the extent that it did. I began building my site in April of 2001, putting it up piece by piece -- mostly a few profiles, game reports, and other essays. The blog didn't go live until mid-June with this post. I did some research recently and checked out some of my "old" peers, finding only one -- Baseball News Blog -- with archives that went back before that (all the way to February). Christian Ruzich (The Cub Reporter) came to the blogging scene right after I did, though I believe he'd been doing a baseball site prior to the blog, and John Bonnes (Twins Geek) another month later. Visiting the great Internet Wayback Machine, I looked up Baseball News Blog, which had archived a page from May 16 of that year. This is what it lists under weblogs:
Clutch Hits [Baseball Primer]
Sean Forman's Blog [Baseball Primer]
Don Malcolm's Blog [Baseball Primer]
Al's Baseball Tidbits [Baseball Primer]
SurfJones Baseball [SportsJones site, now defunct]
Hot Stove Diner [a group site which took forever to load but had a great banner, now gone]
On Base [Ben Matasar, who went on to form Baseball Junkie with Ryan Wilkins]
Around Baseball - ?
Astroday (Astros) - ?
Dye-O-Meter (Royals) [not really a blog, by the look of it]
Curse of etc. (Red Sox) [Bambino's Curse, still functional]
Bookworm's Blog (Yankees) [not really baseball-focused but still functional at new site]
By the end of June, here's the list:
Clutch Hits
Sean's Outside the Box
Hot Stove Diner
On Base
Futility Infielder
Rob & Rany on the Royals [Neyer and Jazayerli's site, which went defunct and then revived]
Curse of the Bambino
The Other Side [Mets; still around, but not really baseball]
Cub Rants [still active]
The Cub Reporter [thriving]
News and Views [White Sox, one of the better ones for awhile, now defunct]
Braves Journal [still kickin']
ExposNET News [goes back to '97 in some form or another but not necessarily a blog]
Detroit Tiger Weblog [can you blame them for giving up?]
News from a Fan (LA) [a woman, Sarah Morris, who ended up getting hired by MLB]
Now so many blogs exist that nobody could possibly list them all, let alone visit each one on a regular basis. I find myself forgetting where I read stuff all the time, and I know it's not just early senility setting in -- it's a whole new ballgame for writing about baseball.

On the occasion of the site's third birthday, I've completed a piece I'd been meaning to do for years, a profile of Luis Sojo for my Wall of Fame. I had a blast doing the research, digging through Retrosheet and taking advantage of my SABR membership, which includes access to the New York Times archive via Proquest (worth the SABR price all by itself) and scouring the web for more information. I found myself reading articles that I remember emailing to friends and tripping down memory lane. Here is my intro to the piece, which I'm convinced might be the most detailed overview of Sojo's career:
NOW IT CAN BE TOLD: this website wouldn't exist if not for the heroics of Luis Sojo, role player-turned-World-Series-hero. At a time when this Internet outpost was nothing more than a twinkle in my eye, Sojo's October 2000 performance provided an unlikely source of inspiration: if a frumpy but amiable futility infielder could drive in the winning run of a World Series, then perhaps the rest of us could hope to transcend our limitations as well. Though I've mentioned Sojo dozens of times in my blog and other writings, his spot on my Wall of Fame is long overdue. On the occasion of celebrating this site's third birthday, it seems only fitting to explain Sojo's place in the FI pantheon and to formally recognize his 2001 Futility Infielder of the Year award.
Anyway, I want to thank everybody -- family, friends, fellow bloggers, writers and readers -- who has helped me with advice, encouraged me to keep going, or just showed up to read what I have to say day after day. Maintaining this site for the past three years has changed my life in ways I never imagined it would, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


'Cito Sighting

Recently a friend and I were wondering aloud as to the whereabouts of Adrian "El Duquecito" Hernandez, a Cuban defector who spent the last four seasons collecting a cool million per year while pitching his way to a thorough tour of the Yankees' minor-league outposts. Despite his major-league contract, Hernandez had bungled what slim chances he had with the parent club, notably begging out of a 2001 start with a fever, prompting Roger Clemens to pitch on short rest against the Tigers (he beat them). From there Hernandez was ticketed to oblivion, rarely even drawing a mention as potential bullpen fodder or trade bait, let alone a fifth starter role. His brief major league line with the yanks was an 0-4 record in 28 innings of 5.46 ERA ball, which comes out to a million dollars per major league loss. George Steinbrenner has spent better money.

The 29-year-old Hernandez didn't pitch horribly in a swingman role last year at AAA Columbus, going 8-5 with a 3.21 ERA and 103 Ks in 101.2 innings. Not seeing him in camp this year with the Yanks, I thought the worst -- Luca Brazi, Jimmy Hoffa, Jeff Cirillo (you say he's not dead? With that .205/.284/.271 I beg to differ). But it turns out Duquecito's alive and... if not well, at least drawing a major-league paycheck. In a move so minor that it probably escaped Brian Cashman's notice, Hernandez signed a minor-league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers last December, and made the team out of spring training.

He may not stick around for very long, however; he's been lit both times he's pitched, allowing two runs in two innings against the Astros and five runs in one inning against the Cardinals, including a 3-run homer to Scott Rolen and a big L next to his name. That's a 21.00 ERA, about four times worse than Brooks Kieschnick (5.40), and even worse than another former blink-and-you-missed-it Yankee in the Brewer pen, Ben Ford (17.18). Then again, on a team with a 6.17 ERA a week into the season, nobody should be pointing any fingers at these guys. Just tell them to rent, not buy.

* * *

I just got through singing the praises of Steven Goldman, but he's been slaying me lately with his newest BP column. In "Teams: A Critical Guide," the bearded one periodically assigns letter grades and hilarious, pithy comments to each franchise in a style that recalls Village Voice rock critic Robert Christgau. As somebody who can take half an hour to get through one of Chris Kahrl's Transaction Analyses because I'm so busy emailing the best lines to my friends, I'm in hog heaven with Goldman's stuff. Just a few samples:
ANAHEIM ANGELS: Darin Erstad OPS Watch: .433 at this writing. Acknowledging that Adam Kennedy is no Ryne Sandberg, and maybe no Tony Cuccinello, there is no reason he has to be hidden at the bottom of the batting order like the product of some illicit affair between second cousins while Erstad is allowed to waive proudly in the breeze like a nudist hogtied to the yardarm of the HMS Victory...

FLORIDA MARLINS: ...The bench is another matter, with Lenny Harris, Mike Mordecai, Damion Easley, and Abraham Nunez. "This is one of the strongest benches they have ever had," said Harris. Lenny was referring to the literal plank of wood on which he and his comrades sit, because it takes a mighty strong piece of wood to support that much dead weight...

NEW YORK METS: A visit to Kabala Koala, the Mystical Jewish Marsupial, reveals that Tom Glavine will have difficulty sustaining a low ERA on two strikeouts per nine innings, Cliff Floyd will continue to get hurt as often as the sun rises, and Shea Stadium will continue to be the ugliest ballpark in the majors long after the Jets' West Side stadium plan has died an ignominious death. KK also predicts six more weeks of winter. We're still working some bugs out of the program...
There's an even better one about the Orioles and David Segui which is too long to rerun here. Alas, it's a premium piece, which means that like my good friend Mr. T, I pity the fool that doesn't subscribe.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004


Feed Me

If you came to this blog via my home page, you might have noticed a change: thanks to the wonders of Really Simple Syndication (RSS), I'm now able to bring in headlines and intros from my recent blog entries, which is what I was asking about a couple weeks ago. What I needed was to get ahold of something called an RSS Parser, such as the one here.

This is something I've been wanting to do for awhile. Unfortunately, not everything works quite as planned; as I write this my most recent entry still hasn't shown up on the home page or on some (but not all) of the other places my blog is syndicated (such as even though it's in the feed. I'm still hopeful this feature is going to improve the site, but like everything else technical, there will be bugs along the way. I still think that RSS has the potential to be one of the best developments in the baseball blogosphere.


Hubba Bubba

I've gotten my feet wet -- literally -- with the 2004 season, having paid visits to both New York City stadiums since I last posted. Come to think of it, paid is the wrong word, as I was treated to both games. Friday's game found me at Yankee Stadium, courtesy of a client of mine who was in town on business. Unfortunately said client (whom I'll call Bob for reasons that will become clear), in an effort to procure good seats, purchased a pair of counterfeit tickets from an scalper, and the fakes were confiscated by the geezers at the gate without a second thought. Not a good start. Duly chastened, we went and procured some real tickets from the appropriate channel, somewhat sheepishly entering via a different gate.

The Yanks got off to a good start, taking a 1-0 lead on Sox starter Jon Garland in the second inning. Gary Sheffield led off, lacing a double down the leftifield line, and Hideki Matsui followed with a broken-bat single up the middle. But the Yankee offense, still sputtering since their return from Japan, remained in neutral. Sheffield left two men on in the third, and in the fourth, Garland escaped a four-walk inning without giving up a run or being given the hook by manager Ozzie Guillen (Matsui got picked off of second with nobody out).

Up to that point, Yank starter Jose Contreras had been solid but unspectacular, but he unraveled in the fifth. Timo Perez led off with a single and then stole second on the first pitch to number nine hitter Miguel Olivo (whose first big league home run I witnessed on on a rainy September day in 2002). Contreras immediately followed with a wild pitch to send Perez to third, and then walked Olivo without throwing a strike. Ugh. Olivo -- a catcher -- then stole second on Supposedly Defense-Minded Backup John Flaherty. After escaping from a 1-2 count, Willie Harris brough Perez home with a sacrifice fly to tie the score, and then Jose Valentin walked on five pitches. I groaned and turned to Bob, telling him that Contreras was courting disaster, and that sooner or later one pitch was going to cost him dearly. The next batter, Magglio Ordonez, made me look pretty smart by smacking a three-run homer into the leftfield net, 4-1 Sox. An analytical pyrrhic victory if there ever was one.

Garland led off the fifth by walking Alex Rodriguez, and for a moment it seemed as though the Yanks would come right back. But they couldn't get the ball out of the infield, and the inning ended with Sheffield hitting into a double play. Meanwhile, the Sox picked up where they left off. Joe Crede drilled a one-out solo homer, spelling the end of Conteras' day, and then lefty Felix Heredia broke out the gasoline. He walked Perez on four pitches and then yielded a double to Olivo which put runners on second and third. Harris grounded one to Derek Jeter, who hurried a throw home trying to get Perez. The throw was off the mark -- wide to the first base side -- and Flaherty couldn't hold on to it, so both runs scored. This prompted a verbal melee among the fans next to us over the semantic details of whether it had been "a shitty play" with a bad result or just "a fucking stupid play" in the first place. Plenty of insults were exchanged, and tension filled the air as the Yanks' day slipped away. 7-1 Sox.

Heredia then walked Valentin and was mercifully given the hook by Torre. Paul Quantrill came on and yielded a first-pitch single to Ordonez. Bernie Williams' reacted strangely to the hit; I'm not sure if he never saw the ball due to the late-afternoon light or whether his shoulder is in such dire condition that he didn't want to make a throw, but with the ball about six feet from him, Sheffield had to come over and hurl it back to the infield while Valentin came all the way around to score. @#%$^*! With all four runs were charged to Heredia's room without the benefit of a single out,I was sure I could hear Brian Cashman pick up his telephone to start working the lines for a lefty reliever.

The sole bright spot for the Yanks came in the ninth inning with the score still 9-1. Facing Japanese import Shingo Takatsu (making his major-league debut after 13 years playing in Japan), rookie Bubba Crosby, who'd replaced Bernie in the top of the inning, stepped up for his first at-bat as a Yankee. To the delight of the crowd, he smacked a two-run homer over the rightfield wall, his first ever in the big leagues.

Crosby gave the Yankee fans even more to cheer about on Sunday when manager Joe Torre started him in centerfield in place of the gimpy Kenny Lofton. The kid had several great plays in center, including a catch made where he crashed into a wall, and he smoked a three-run homer off of the face of the rightfield upper deck to propel the Yanks to a 5-4 win and a split of their four-game series. The victory marked the 200th career win for starter Mike Mussina, who had struggled his two previous outings and had taken a total of five-starts to surpass the milestone. Rightfully so after Mussina's recent ugly American act, it was the gritty Crosby who was the toast of the town in the Monday papers. More on him in a moment.

Monday found me at Shea Stadium for the Mets home opener, courtesy of my friend Lillie, a former co-worker who's taken me to a ton of games over the years. Amid a light drizzle, the Mets took it to the Atlanta Braves by scoring runs in the first five innings, ten in all. To the fans' satisfaction, the first seven came against former Met Mike Hampton, who spurned the team's offer following the 2000 Subway Series to sign a huge deal with the Colorado Rockies, making all kinds of noise about lifestyle. It was a slap in the collective face of New Yorkers, and they showered him with boos and epithets to accompany the rain as he departed. Hampton's ERA since leaving the Mets: 5.28. How are those Colorado schools working out for your kids, Mike?

The Mets rolled to their lead behind a makeshift lineup. With Mike Piazza, Jose Reyes, Karim Garcia and Cliff Floyd all sidelined (the latter placed on the DL yet again), the 2-3-4 hitters in the lineup were Ricky Gutierrez, Shane Spencer, and Todd Zeile. By the fourth inning, Zeile had three hits, and Spencer got his second in the fifth inning. Making his Shea debut was Mike Cameron, who had an RBI single in the first and an RBI double in the fourth, also running down several fly balls in centerfield, an unusual sight for Mets fans used to the wanderings of Roger Cedeno and Timo Perez.

Steve Trachsel pitched six strong (and relatively fast, for him at least) innings, driving in a pair of runs himself, one on a double down the line in the second. The rain continued to fall and my interest began to wane even as the Braves (who were without both Chipper Jones and Rafael Furcal) came back with six runs in the late innings; I split after Atlanta catcher Johnny Estrada stroked a three-run homer off of Grant Roberts. Even with the rain, it was a fun day at the ballpark, and it was nice to see Mets fans have somthing to cheer about.

* * *

On the heels of a great spring in which he surprised everybody by making the roster, Crosby's two-game splash has Yankee fans abuzz. It's not hard to see why; on a superstar-laden $180 million team with a moribund offense, he's the humble, aw-shucks rookie making the minimum and providing the unexpected boost, giving the fans somebody new to root for. But Bubba and the Yankee fans should savor the moment, because it may not get any better than this.

It's tempting to tell the already limping, already disgruntled Kenny Lofton, "Park cars, bitch," while Crosby takes over centerfield, but the fact is that Bubba is playing above his head. With the exception of last year's stats, which are aided by the thin air of Las Vegas (which inflates runs by about 5 percent), Crosby's minor league numbers aren't so hot: .268/.343/.380 in A ball, .290/.354/.414 in AA, and the Vegas-boosted .304/.352/.502 in two half-seasons there. Baseball Prospectus has been quite critical of him, and didn't even include him in either of the past two years' books which is a pretty serious dis -- though for '04 it's also a commentary on how unlikely it was for ANY rookie to crack the Yankee roster. Here's a sampling of what past BP books have said about him:
2000: Crosby, the Dodgers’ 1998 #1 pick out of Rice, hasn’t adjusted to professional baseball. He illustrates the problems with drafting college players in the middle or at the left end of the defensive spectrum: if they don’t hit, they’re completely useless. It’s better to draft collegians from the right end of the spectrum. It’s better still to eschew college hitters entirely and draft college pitchers and high school position players. Crosby has about six weeks to save his career.

2001: Here's a test of the Arizona Fall League's power to save a career. Bubba Crosby hadn't hit worth spit since being drafted in the first round in 1998. In the AFL, he hit .340 with some power, so he's back on the prospect track. Still, he's one-dimensional; there's not much chance of him ever contributing to the Dodgers.

2002: Highly touted coming out of Rice, Crosby hasn't adjusted to pro ball as well as the Dodgers hoped he would. His bat speed has really disappointed scouts. Crosby was pretty much an average hitter in the Southern League this year, and he'll begin his age-25 season in Triple-A. In reality, he's probably a better option for center field in Dodger Stadium than Grissom and Goodwin are. If he hits at all early in the season, look for him to get a shot with the big club.
Crosby's shot to this point has been in 12 at-bats with the Dodgers last year prior to coming to the Yanks as part of the Robin Ventura deal. BP's PECOTA system has his weighted mean forecast at an unremarkable .258/.309/.411 in about 250 PA, which comes out to an EQA of .248 -- solidly below average. His defense is good; the system puts him at +3 runs, which means that he's not a bad option as a fifth outfielder, especially on a old team with more than its share of defensive question marks. Here's hoping he sticks around, as he may help the Yanks win a game here and there. But he's going to have to produce AND get some breaks (and bruises and strains and tears) in order to do so, and this weekend to the contrary, that's still not a given.

* * *

Commenting on the Philadelphia Phillies' 1-5 start, fellow Larry Bowa-hater Nick Stone sent me an email with the subject line "Bowa on the Barbecue" and wrote: "I have only one question: Spice rub or chipotle sauce?" Cracked me up...

* * *

The Twin Cities' Pioneer Press had an enjoyable article by columnist Charley Walters, who had a cup of coffee with the 1969 Minnesota Twins. Much of the self-deprecating piece revolves around Billy Martin, then the Twins' manager (yes kids, Martin did manage -- and win -- before becoming George Steinbrenner's personal yo-yo); after he made his big-league debut, Walters was rousted out of bed by Martin at 3 A.M. for the purpose of drinking. If that's not a welcome to the big leagues, I don't know what is.

Thursday, April 08, 2004


Carlos Gomez a/k/a Chad Bradford Wannabe: Moneyball Writ Small

Sometime last fall, I began noticing a poster on Baseball Primer who used the pseudonym "Chad Bradford Wannabe." The name spoke volumes; through his occasional posts, I gradually learned that he was a sidearm-throwing minor-league pitcher in the independent Northeast League, and a student of the game who had taken Moneyball to heart. In November, we crossed paths for the first time when he solicited advice for gauging the level of Northeast League competition. He'd already done what I suggested -- email the guys at Baseball Prospectus -- which impressed me enough that I told him, "A cybersavvy submariner who's hip to EqA, Primer and Prospectus can play for my team any day."

Since then, I've kept intermittent tabs on CBW as he's discussed various aspects of the game on Primer, intrigued by the fact that amid all of the Curt Schilling-Sons of Sam Horn hype, here was another ballplayer, albeit a semi-anonymous, unheralded one, who was interacting with fans via the Internet. My wheels started turning; I sensed a story. Drawing upon various posts of his, I began piecing together his identity, only to find that he'd already revealed himself as Carlos Gomez, late of the Allentown Ambassadors of the Northeast League.

But the Primer thread where he'd unmasked himself revealed even more. While playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, a teammate of Gomez told him of a study done by pitching coach Dave Duncan on first-pitch strikes, namely that at the major-league level, only 8% of them result in base hits. Gomez confirmed this with some research of his own, and posted his work to Primer, sparking an intriguing exchange. Even more intriguing was his declaration that he had put this data to work for him on the mound, combining it with what he knew as the inherent advantage of being a sidearming reliever -- the desire of batters who've been facing overhand pitching all game long to take his first pitch in order to adjust -- to stay ahead of hitters.

After reading this, I was determined to interview Gomez, but didn't have an email address to contact him. Attempting to be discreet in my intentions, I made a few open pleas on Primer for him to contact me, which he did about a week later. We finally chatted a few weeks ago, our conversation running nearly an hour. Gomez is an engaging interview subject who loves to talk about where he's been and what he's learned, and who has a sense of humor about the ups and downs he's experienced in the game. He's a ballplayer, but he's a fan as well, one who'd likely be right at home in the blogosphere if he weren't playing.

For that matter, it's just short of a miracle that he is playing. Gomez had arm trouble during his Puerto Rican high school career and became an off-speed pitcher, then developed Rick Ankiel-style control problems in college at Purdue. One look at his college stats (a 9.26 ERA) and you wouldn't give him any shot at pro ball. But while waiting to put his engineering degree to work, Gomez began sidearming, put his control woes behind him, and pitched his way into a pair of indie-league contracts. Last year he led his Allentown team with 36 appearances, posting a 3.23 ERA in 47.1 innings. He's still a long way from the big leagues, but it's not hard to imagine that with another good season, the 26-year-old could garner a contract with an affiliated team and get a real shot to move up the chain.

I'm pleased to announce that our interview has been published today as a Baseball Prospectus Q & A, my third piece for BP. It's a premium piece, meaning that you have to have a subscription to read it. I'll excerpt my intro:
Carlos Gomez is a work in progress. At 26 years old, the Puerto Rico native has only 60 innings of professional ball under his belt in baseball backwaters such as Canton, Ohio and Allentown, Pa. With a high school career hampered by injury and a college career marred by ineffectiveness and then a bout of "Ankielitis," envisioning any kind of professional career at all for Gomez seemed a stretch. But persistence and a willingness to experiment have allowed Gomez to cast off his pitching woes and remake himself as a sidearming reliever, and intellectual curiosity has spurred him to incorporate objective research into his pitching approach. His is the story of Moneyball writ small, one player searching for any advantage he can get in order to rise through the professional ranks.

Traveling under the handle "Chad Bradford Wannabe," Gomez began posting to Baseball Primer last fall. Our first encounter found him searching for a way to gauge the level of his independent-league competition using Equivalent Average, a query which brought him to the attention of Baseball Prospectus' writers. Since then, he's become a popular member of the online baseball community, chiming in several times this past off-season on his experiences playing winter ball, his own research, and his evolving approach to the game. Gomez is slated to pitch for the New Jersey Jackals of the Northeast League this year.
It's a long piece even by BP Q & A standards, but so far as I can tell, only one of our exchanges got cut. Though it wasn't really a question, it captured the tenor of the interview rather well, so I'll include it here as an outtake:
BP: A lot of the Prospectus writing and the performance analysis stuff is geared towards the fans and towards front office guys. It's fascinating to hear about a player who's taking that stuff back out there on the mound. Going back to the whole Moneyball thing and the similarity with Chad Bradford, you are a guy who is taking whatever is going to give you an edge, whether it's changing your arm angle or consuming research and applying it to your situation.

Gomez: I have a big smile on my face right now, Jay, because you nailed it. It's whatever it takes to get outs, it really is.
I'll be keeping tabs on Gomez as the year goes on, and hopefully will even make the trek out to Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, New Jersey to watch him pitch, assuming some astute GM hasn't snapped him up already.

Update: Both the interview and this entry were Clutch Hits on Baseball Primer. Here's the discussion thread.



Clip and Save

During the aftermath of a recent Baseball Prospectus Bookstore Pizza feed, Steven Goldman and I had a good laugh, rolling our eyes as we discussed a recent Selena Roberts New York Times piece that had drawn my ire and gained some infamy in the circles we travel. Goldman told me he was itching to write his own take not only on the Roberts piece but on the anti-intellectual post-Moneyball backlash in general. With the latest (free) installment of his BP column "You Could Look It Up," he's delivered the goods in style.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're aware that Michael Lewis' Moneyball was lauded in many circles, transcending its status as a baseball book to influence not just other sports but the broader culture, particularly the business world, as well. The most negative reaction, as Lewis reminded us recently, was from "The Club," which he defined as "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 historically-minded Goldman starts by comparing the reactionary strain of Moneyball responses (de rigueur among Club members) to similarly-toned dismissals of other baseball innovations -- night games, the farm system, radio broadcasts, integration, western expansion, free agency -- and notes, as others have, that many of the book's critics, such as Joe Morgan, clearly didn't read it. But it's the reaction of those who did read it upon which he focuses:
Many of those critics who actually read the book -- or seem to have read it -- have frothed as if they were members of some baseball version of HUAC [House Un-American Activities Committee] circa 1950. The book has given birth to a retrograde, reactionary movement, all of it provoked by its important but less than revolutionary point: In a money-scarce environment, a business must maximize its chances. A good way to do this is to improve your intelligence-gathering operation, then start looking for opportunities the well-heeled operations might have missed.

Moneyball is not Thomas Paine's Common Sense, inciting a people to rebellion. It isn't Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin or Charles Darwin's Origin of Species; yet we have our own counterrevolution promoted by the establishment.
It's amazing to me how many people missed the major point of Moneyball -- it's not so much about some Billy Beane-led tyranny of numbers at the expense of all subjectivity, it's about using the best information available to gain a competitive advantage and exploit inefficiencies in the market.

Goldman turns his his attention to the infamous Roberts article, siezing upon her dismissal of the Society of American Baseball Research [sic] as "the No-Life Institute." "Anti-intellectualism is the last P.C. prejudice, " he notes, "certainly the Times would not allow one of its writers to refer to 'The Urban League (aka The No-Whites Institute)' -- and it's an easy way of mocking an idea without really addressing it." While Roberts isn't alone in her empty mockery, as an irregular on the baseball beat (no Club membership for her), she's hardly the one with much at stake. But as part of the mainstream press whose so-called expertise and position of privelege are threatened by statheads telling them that everything they know about baseball is wrong, she's near the root of that anti-intellectual sentiment.

Like any good analyst, Goldman recognizes that stats are tools and he takes great care to remind us that they aren't the entire story; subjective observation is still a necessary component. Turning his wayback machine to 1934, he compares the two competing points of view (performance analysis and scouting, or as Dayn Perry famously put it, beer and tacos) regarding 20-year-old San Francisco Seal Joe DiMaggio. While suffering from a knee injury, Joe D. was nonetheless tearing the cover off the ball when the scouts came around. Only by combining the two views could a team -- the Yankees -- justify signing the future Clipper.

The latter part of the article is where Goldman really shines. Shifting gears, he writes:
Unfortunately, the reaction has put many baseball writers in the untenable position of denying facts that are probably true. The vastly overstated Beane/Moneyball/sabermetric bias against scouting is a red herring, as is the macho derision of sabermetricians. The truth is, while statistics provide the evidence for most of the new theories of the game, most of the ideas advocated by the so-called statheads can be explained by plain old common sense.
Hearkening back to an earlier Pinstriped Bible piece, he revisits some of the lessons he's learned in his 20 years of watching baseball, breaking down a great deal of sabermetric wisdom into simple numbers and concepts without relying on the alphabet soup of advanced statistical analysis. Among the nuggets which he explains:
* It's how often a player reaches base that's important, not batting average, not RBI.
* Remember league and position averages: numbers have meaning only in context.
* The main function of the batting order is to distribute plate appearances.
* A strikeout is just another out.
* The 27 outs of a ballgame are precious. Managers should not give them away lightly.
None of this is new, but Goldman's ability to simplify this stuff without condescending and remain entertaining all the while is reminiscent of a pretty fair country writer named Bill James. In fact, his laundry list reminds me of the points from the Other Bearded One's valedictory "Breaking the Wand" essay in the 1988 Baseball Abstract. Whether it's to send to your local representative of the hackocracy along with a "Dear Jackass" letter or to introduce your skeptical pal to a whole new way of looking at baseball, this is an article you'll want to clip and save.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004


Prediction Pain

My first glimpse of the 2004 season's stateside edition was a memorable one. Flipping back and forth between ESPN2's coverage of Monday night's Giants-Astros matchup and the pregame for the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Game, I caught Houston manager Jimy Williams waddling to the mound to confer with starter Roy Oswalt. The 'Stros held a 4-1 lead, but with one out in the eighth and runners on first and second, that three-run lead looked all too precarious as Barry Bonds stepped into the box.

Williams conversed with Oswalt at length, drawing a complaint from ESPN's Rick Sutcliffe, who suggested that the pitcher would stiffen up the longer the manager deliberated. In the end, Williams stuck with his starter, and the move backfired. Bonds lined Oswalt's first pitch over the rightfield wall for a three-run homer, tying the game and moving him within one dinger of godfather Willie Mays' 660 homers. I was hardly joyful -- I'd rather see the Giants lose than just about any other team, and I'm no Bonds fan -- but I had to admire the emphatic point which the slugger had made.

As for the Astros, I've drastically overestimated them during the Jimy Williams era. My preseason predictions have had them winning the NL Central in both 2002 and 2003, even taking the pennant in '02. I'd always held that Williams got a raw deal in Boston, and that Larry Dierker, who won four NL Central titles in five seasons but never won a postseason matchup, got jobbed even worse. Perhaps my prognostications represented too much wishcasting, but after seeing Williams last night and reviewing my performance, I've decided that I won't get fooled again. Houston underperformed their Pythagorean projection by seven games last season and by three the year before, and while the front office bears a good amount of responsibility for saddling the team with the likes of Brad Ausmus and Jose Vizcaino, it was Williams' Geoff Blum fetish (449 PA to a .262/.295/.379 hitter) as much as anything else that cost them the NL Central -- lost by one game to the Cubs -- last year. Eugh. So regardless of the presence of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, you won't catch me predicting the Astros to win anything this season.

Having pondered my Williams fetish, in the interest of fair disclosure I decided that before I offer my obligatory set of predictions for the 2004 season, I would reexamine my track record to see how well I've done. I've compared my predictions to the final standings for 2002 and 2003 using a formula based on an old Bill James method of calculating how well two lists agree. In a five-team division, the top team gets five points for my predicted finish, the second-place team four, the third place three, and so on. The actual finishers are awarded points in the same manner. The two numbers for each team are multiplied, yielding five products, which are added together and divided by a possible (5 x 5) + (4 x 4) + (3 x 3) + (2 x 2) + (1 x 1) = 55 points. For six-team divisions you've got a 6 x 6 factor, for a four-team division the maximum is 4 x 4. The idea is that predicting the team at the top is worth significantly more than predicting the team at the bottom.

Since this crude method tends to yield figures in the 90% percent range, I decided to add bonus points for my naming the correct playoff teams, or rather to penalize myself for NOT naming the correct ones. I went with 15 points for each correct division winner and Wild Card winner, and awarded 10 points if one of my division picks ended up with the Wild Card or vice versa. I then compared my performance with one derived as if last year's standings and Wild Card were the prediction for the following year. I'm not trying to trumpet my expertise, just establish a baseline for my own performance so that I can review it in the future, though I invite any other bloggers who've been publishing in a similar manner to add up their own scores.

My 2002 Predictions
AL East: Yanks, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Orioles = 54/55 points
AL Central: Twins, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Royals = 54/55
AL West: Mariners, A's, Angels, Rangers = 27/31
Wild Card: A's
AL subtotal: 135/141 Playoff teams: 40/60
AL total: 175/201 = 87.1% AL baseline: 158/201 = 78.6%

NL East: Braves, Mets, Marlins, Phillies, Expos = 45/55
NL Central: Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Pirates = 85/91
NL West: Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rockies = 50/55
Wild Card: Mets
NL subtotal: 180/201 Playoff teams: 30/60
NL total: 210/261 = 80.5% NL baseline: 230/261 = 88.1%

ML total = 385/462 = 83.3% ML baseline = 388/462 = 84.0%

AL East: Yanks, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Devil Rays = 55/55
AL Central: Twins, White Sox, Indians, Royals, Tigers = 54/55
AL West: A's, Angels, Mariners, Rangers = 29/31
Wild Card: Red Sox
AL subtotal: 138/141 Playoff Teams: 60/60
AL total score: 198/201 = 98.5% AL baseline 183/201 = 91.0%

NL East: Phillies, Braves, Expos, Mets, Marlins = 47/55
NL Central: Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Pirates, Brewers = 87/91
NL West: Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Rockies, Padres = 51/55
Wild Cards: Dodgers
NL subtotal: 185/201 Playoff teams: 0/60
NL total score: 185/261 = 70.9% NL baseline score = 207/261 = 79.3%

ML total: 383/462 = 82.9% ML baseline: 390/462 = 84.4%

Two-year totals
AL: 92.8% (baseline 84.8%)
NL: 75.7% (baseline 83.7%)
ML: 83.1% (baseline 84.1%)

Clearly I'm far better at predicting the AL than the NL, which is what you might expect given that 80-90 percent of the games I watch are in the Junior Circuit. Overall, I'm just a hair below the baseline, thanks to that lousy NL performance and the fact that there's far more room to get in trouble in the with the six-team Central Division. From the looks of things, at times my NL projections are just that -- me projecting my desired outcomes onto the teams, rather than predicting what will happen.

With all of that baggage in mind, I offer you my 2004 predictions:

AL East: Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Devil Rays.
The more things change, the more they stay the same; I see this division finishing in the same order for the seventh straight year. Both the Red Sox and the Yanks have made a lot of offseason noise, and both start the regular season with injury-related question marks here and there. I see the Sox problems -- Nomar, Pedro -- as potentially more devastating than the Yanks'. And while the 3-4-5 of A-Rod, Giambi, and Sheffield is going to cause pitchers a lot of pain this year, don't be too shocked when many of last year's surprising Boston hitters return to earth. The Jays and O's will both be tougher than in past years, but not enough so to topple what at this point feels like the natural order of things. Still, this will turn out to be one mother of a division. Oh, and you can take this to the bank: Lou Piniella will get mad at a pitcher at some point.

AL Central: Twins, Royals, White Sox, Indians, Tigers.
I'm quite tempted to pick last year's surprising Royals to win this division over the Twins, who haven't been so constructive in their moves. That glut of young outfielders and corner hitters turned into... resigning Shannon Stewart while letting Latroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado walk? Eeek. In the end I still think the talent that Minnesota has on hand is better than that of KC, and the pitching, particularly with Johan Santana in the rotation for a full season, will separate the teams. This division sure won't fall to the White Sox, with Ozzie Guillen's head set to explode by Memorial Day when those first-inning sac bunts stop paying off. Cleveland is still a couple of years away from having an impact in this division, while Detroit will bear some resemblance to a major-league club by losing only 100-110 games instead of pushing the 120 envelope.

AL West: Angels, A's, Mariners, Rangers.
I've scratched my head several times wondering whether the A's have improved enough to withstand the much-improved Angels. While I'm tempted to just trust that Billy Beane knows what he's doing, I see question marks from Mark Mulder and Rich Harden that could really hamper the team, and I'm less than certain Arthur Rhodes can keep the closer job to which he's been annointed. On the other hand, I'm interested to see if the much-heralded Bobby Crosby was worth letting Miguel Tejada walk, and whether Bobby Kielty, long a favorite, can overcome a rough season and hit like the one in the catalog. And the world will be a better place if we can hear the name Scutaro over and over again. In the end, I'm more impressed by the Angels' addition of Vlad Guerrero, Bartolo Colon and to a lesser extent Jose Guillen and Kelvim Escobar, the latter of whom dearly needed a change of scenery. I don't like the decision to move their best defensive outfielder, Darin Erstad, to first base and watch Garrett "The Gazelle" Anderson roam center, but I'm not convinced it will hold up for very long either, so I'm picking the Angels. In Seattle the Bavasi regime already has fans pining for the heady days of Stand Pat Gillick, and the likes of Raul Ibanez and Rich Aurilia will remind the rest of us that signing mediocre free agents on the dark side of 30 is a losing game. Pitching will keep the M's respectable, but not enough so to win out. Texas finished last with A-Rod, it will finish last without him even less impressively than before.

NL East: Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Expos, Mets
With Greg Maddux gone, the Braves' pitching staff enters a whole new era; Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, and John Thomson will hardly be confused with Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz in their prime. Thse Braves will give up runs, and with the losses of big bats such as Javy Lopez and Gary Sheffield, they'll have a tougher time scoring them as well. Among the regulars, only Chipper Jones, J.D. Drew and Marcus Giles even project OBPs above .350, and if Drew gets 400 at-bats Atlanta should consider themselves lucky. It still won't be enough; the amazing run of success ends here. The single biggest obstacle the Phils face besides injuries is manager Larry Bowa; they're solid at just about every position and have a strong bench which can make the questions of whether Pat Burrell and David Bell bounce back easier to stomach. I'd put my nickel on Philly and double it when they ax the red-ass. Despite the full-season presences of Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett, and Miguel Cabrera, Marlins will remind us that last year's championship was the kind of thing that comes to southern Florida only once every six or seven years. Ivan Rodriguez and Derek Lee represent a lot of high-grade offense to replace, and they simply haven't done so. Despite the loss of Vladimir Guerrero, the Expos have enough talent to put up a lot of runs, with a strong foundation of Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro, Brad Wilkerson, and Carl Everett, and Tony Batista and Orlando Cabrera are plus hitters for their positons as well. Where they'll have trouble is in the rotation, where Livan Hernandez and Tomo Okha can no longer hide behind departed ace Javier Vazquez. Expect lots of gopher balls, especially in Puerto Rico, and don't look for any love from the cartel when in-season upgrades might actually help. The Mets will make people pine for the days when there were two major league teams in New York.

NL Central: Cubs, Astros, Cardinals, Pirates, Reds, Brewers
While I'm a bit less emphatic with Mark Prior sidelined, I still see the Cubs' improved pitching -- upgrading Maddux over Shawn Estes and adding LaTroy Hawkins -- as separating them from the pack, Dusty Baker be damned. Aside from what I've already said about the Astros, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio have, like most of us, gotten older. Pettitte and Clemens may improve the already-strong rotation, but Jimy will find a way to give those gains back by wasting more at-bats on offensive ciphers to be named later. The Cardinals will be competitive with Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, and Edgar Renteria in the lineup, but they don't have the pitching to run with the big boys here, especially if Woody Williams' arm falls off. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee will continue to play their too-poor-to-compete cards until the fans build them new ballparks, which... wait, they already did that. Well, they're really screwed now.

NL West: Padres, Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies
Somebody has to win this division, right? Tempted though I am to wishcast the Dodgers into first place, I've restrained myself from doing so, with the caveat that since it will only take about 85-88 games to win this division, this one will probably go down to the wire. The Padres have done some interesting upgrading since late last year, adding Brian Giles, Ramon Hernandez, and David Wells, so what the hell, I'll put my nickel on them. The Dodgers have improved slightly since Paul DePodesta took over the helm; the Milton Bradley deal, while it may bite them in the ass down the road, give the team a needed shot of offense. But unless Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora morph into productive hitters (hold on, I haven't stopped laughing) or Adrian Beltre lives up to that long-lost promise (no, really), these guys ain't going nowhere. On the other hand, the right late-season deal could give any team in the division the edge, and the Dodgers have a lot of minor-league talent to offer. Besides Barry Bonds, the Giants don't scare anybody, except their own medical staff. Even if Jason Schmidt is healthy they won't have enough pitching. And that outfield... Michael Tucker? Marquis Grissom? Jeffrey Hammonds? Dustan Mohr? Elsewhere, the Diamondback will continue to age less than gracefully, and the Rockies will score some runs while allowing even more.

Wild Cards: Boston, Houston (yeah, I know... old habits die hard)

AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez
AL Cy Young: Javier Vazquez
Al Rookie of the Year: Bobby Crosby

NL MVP: Albert Pujols
NL Cy Young: Kerry Wood (unless Mark Prior gets healthy quickly)
NL Rookie of the Year: Edwin Jackson

First manager fired: Larry Bowa


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