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, May 30, 2004


Helping the Author: Two Tales

My travels have delayed these two pieces, each long enough to be one of my normal blog entries. Since they share something in common -- writer pals of mine working on their first books -- and since I'm not sure when I'll next be online (I'm currently in Austin, Texas for a wedding), I've combined them into one longer piece.

Part I: The Fruits of My Labrum
OK, I'll admit it. My shoulder injury -- a torn labrum suffered last June in a swimming pool mishap and arthroscopic surgery in November -- was little more than an excuse to milk sympathy and gain fodder and publicity for this column while taking a walk on the wild side of the health care system. A dabble in shoulder injury chic, if you will.

That's not really true, of course, but if I've learned anything over the past year, it's that a labrum tear is baseball's most devastating injury, a virtual death sentence for pitchers in an age where rotator cuff (shoulder) and ulnar collateral ligament (elbow) surgeries are routine, their recoveries predictable. As Baseball Prospectus injury expert Will Carroll summarizes in a recent Slate article (amusingly titled "Labrum, It Nearly Killed Him"):
The leading minds in baseball medicine are flummoxed by the labrum. Doctors can't agree on how to detect a tear, don't know the best way to fix one, and aren't sure why, almost without fail, a torn labrum will destroy a pitcher's career.
The numbers don't lie. Carroll contrasts leading orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews' estimate that 85 percent of pitchers fully recover from ulnar collateral ligament replacment, a/k/a Tommy John surgery, with this bleak assessment:
[I]f pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they'd be destroyed. Of the 36 major-league hurlers diagnosed with labrum tears in the last five years, only midlevel reliever Rocky Biddle has returned to his previous level. Think about that when your favorite pitcher comes down with labrum trouble: He has a 3 percent chance of becoming Rocky Biddle.
Ouch. For those unfamiliar with shoulder anatomy -- and if you're a baseball fan, you might as well learn your way around this crucial joint -- Carroll explains that the labrum, located between the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) and the glenoid fossa (the socket where it attaches) functions as both a shock absorber and as part of the joint's connective structure. The most common labrum injury is a SLAP tear (superior lesion, anterior to posterior), which is what I suffered -- a tear in the tissue from front to back, disrupting normal overhand motion with a slight click or pop. It's a relatively subtle injury in that it's not terribly painful or debilitating unless you're exerting at a moderate level. My own experience felt like my shoulder had somehow had the wind knocked out of it, and I was unable to summon much force when it came to exercise.

The labrum's position between the shoulder bones makes injury to it difficult to detect even with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and multiple orthopedists might disagree on the same MRI. The current state of the art in repairing the damage is an arthroscopic procedure to reattach the labrum to the scapula by inserting plastic anchors for the sutures; in my case two were required, each leaving a scar about 1 cm in diameter.

Carroll runs down a few recent high-profile pitchers whose careers have been derailed by labral tears:

• Giants closer Robb Nen, one of the game's hardest throwers, has undergone three surgeries in 18 months and hasn't pitched since 2002.

• White Sox starter Mike Sirotka was traded to Toronto for David Wells in 2000 before his torn labrum was discovered. He hasn't thrown a pitch in the majors since.

• 6-foot-10 Seattle Mariners prospect Ryan Anderson, known as "The Space Needle," has missed all of 2001, 2002, 2003 and this year. Fellow Mariner pitcher Gil Meche missed 2001 due to labrum ailments and couldn't pitch well enough to make the big club in '02. His 15 wins in '03 made for a minor success story, but the attached 4.59 ERA isn't worth all that much in the Safeco environs. And it gets worse: thus far he's 1-5 with a 6.96 ERA this year and showing some ominous signs. Wrote Carroll recently:
The labrum curse may be biting Gil Meche. His continued ineffectiveness in the Mariners rotation is pushing him to the bullpen, but there are open questions about his shoulder's health. Not only is his stamina down, there have been reports of him wincing after pitches and altering his mechanics in ways that indicate some shoulder pain or weakness. I'm unsure how Meche will adjust to the pen as well, making him risky in multiple ways.
Not good. Position players, of course, aren't exempt from the dreaded injury. Troy Glaus, the Angels fine third baseman, missed much of last season with a tear but elected not to have surgery. After a hot start in which he was leading the league in homers with 11, Glaus reinjured the shoulder and finally went under the knife in the past week. He's almost certainly done for the year. Dodger outfielder Shawn Green's power outage last season was due to a severely torn labrum; his offseason surgery was more drastic, requiring the removal rather than repair of the cartilage, resulting in an unappetizing bone-on-bone scenario which Carroll covered last fall.

As Carroll explained to me last fall, another problem besides detecting the injury is the lack of an established rehabilitation protocol. Whereas Tommy John surgery timetables have become quite predictable (one year, with new-wave techniques pioneered by Yankee secret weapon Mark Littlefield cutting that time down to ten months), and rotator cuff surgery is, if not nearly as successful, at least somewhat moreso than its shoulder counterpart, there's no model of success for a baseball player to emulate. My own rehab consisted of a month wearing a sling and then four months of arduous physical therapy; only recently have I taken up my mitt again to chuck the ol' horsehide around, and though my comfort zone is increasing with each game of catch, I'm not sure I could break glass with my tosses yet.

If there's been a silver lining to my torn shoulder lining, it's that the work I put into writing about it impressed Carroll so much that he included it in his excellent new book, Saving the Pitcher. The recently-published volume combines vital, well-researched information about the anatomy and mechanics of throwing a ball with cutting-edge expert advice on how to treat -- and more importantly prevent -- injuries to the most fragile segment of the baseball population. The fruits of my labrum (sorry, I've been waiting six months to use that line), an adaptation of my November 11 entry, take up pages 49-51 of STP. Carroll also told me that Dr. Andrews -- the leading surgeon in sports medicine -- was quite impressed with my writing on the topic. All of this somewhat dampens the blow that my injury caused, but I still wouldn't recommend it as anything more than a painful learning experience.

• • •

Part II: Chasing Casey
Carroll isn't the only author I've had the opportunity to assist recently. This past weekend I headed up to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the company of Steven Goldman, who writes both for Baseball Prospectus and YES (the oft-referenced "Pinstriped Bible") to assist with some photo research he was doing for his forthcoming book about Casey Stengel, Forging Genius (due this fall). I'd already taken a trip to the Brooklyn Public Library in the service of the project with Goldman, and while the returns on that investment weren't so high, the chance to bond with a writer whose work I greatly admire was unsurpassed, and so I willingly volunteered for the whirlwind roadtrip to Cooperstown.

We departed on Sunday evening, cruising to upstate New York in about four-and-a-half hours. Our baseball chatter in the car was virtually nonstop, alternating a discussion of current affairs (centering around the Yankees) with Goldman's narration of an annotated Cliff Notes version of his book. Tough to beat that.

Forging Genius focuses on Stengel's "wilderness years" managing the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves, with minor-league stints at the helm of the Toledo Mud Hens, Milwaukee Brewers, and Oakland Oaks before he assumed the Yankee job in 1949. Winning seven World Championships and ten pennants in 12 years gave Stengel a reputation for genius, but Goldman's thesis is that the traits and tactics which brought him success in pinstripes were present during his earlier stops. His preference for platooning, for example, dated all the way back to his playing career, when Giants manager John McGraw (who pioneered the strategy) limited outfielder Stengel's role to hitting against righties, resulting in two excellent seasons near the end of his playing career. In his first two major-league managerial stops, Stengel's teams finished in the second division for eight years in a row, as he was primarily hampered by skinflint ownership which couldn't provide the quality and depth of his later Yankee teams.

Which isn't to say that those teams weren't interesting; on the contrary, Goldman has done exhaustive research into the stories of the clubs and their players and other attached personalities. As I've gotten to know Steve, I've been impressed to find that he's as good recounting decades-old tales of both obscure and famous incidents with as much wit and verve in person as he does in print via his weekly "Bibles" and epic BP "You Could Look It Up" columns. My favorite yarn about Casey (if I'm recalling it correctly) involved his dual role as the Mud Hens' manager and president; when he needed to get out of his contract to take the Braves' job, manager Stengel wrote a letter to president Stengel, asking to be freed from his contract, and president Stengel wrote back, granting him release. Baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis wasn't happy about this stunt, but then happiness and the judge didn't belong in the same sentence anyway, and he was apparently powerless to stop the wily Stengel.

Having finished the book's writing, Goldman is now looking for photos to augment it, and for this he desired a second pair of hands and eyes to help him root through the Hall of Fame's archives. We nestled into the Hall's library shortly after the building opened on Monday morning and donned white cotton gloves to leaf through five bins -- office-box-sized crates -- full of photos. I pre-screened folders devoted some of the book's characters, magically named obscurities (to our generation, at least) such as Van Lingle Mungo and Frenchy Bordagary, along with legends such as McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, and Billy Martin. Steve would make the final selections for one or two photos of each one, usually a head shot and an action shot, or perhaps a group shot of a couple of the book's more central characters. Often he'd regale me with an anecdote about the player. One of the more memorable ones was outfielder Len Koenecke, who attacked a pilot (or made improper advances towards him) mid-flight and was killed when the co-pilot struck him in the head with a fire extinguisher. Creepy... For each photo, I'd dutifully record the information and reference number, then photocopy it, absorbing the mundane tasks so as to allow Goldman to focus on the bigger picture(s).

Steve insisted on seeing each and every photo in the Stengel file -- a bin unto itself -- and I viewed most of those as well. Having seen several hundred examples, I can safely conclude that in addition to being a sportswriter's best friend due to his quotabilty, Stengel was also a photographer's favorite as well, his rubbery face full of expression in virtually every shot.

After about five or so hours of this -- in which we tabbed over 50 photos for a book which will likely contain about 20 -- Goldman then paged through the Hall's clipping file on Stengel, photocopies of newspaper and magazine articles, jotting down notes to augment some of the book's tales. While I wandered throughout the rest of the building, he put only a minor dent in the bin before the library closed at 5 PM, but he said he'd gleaned enough choice quotes to include in his tale to make the exercise worthwhile.

A word about the Hall of Fame: if you're planning on visiting this summer, I strongly advise you to think again. Those looking for the complete picture of the game's history are in for bitter disappointment if they're trekking to upstate New York for this sole purpose. With the exception of the bronze plaques and the writers and broadcasters' wing, the entirety of the Hall's first floor, containing the game's most ancient relics, is closed due to construction, as is much of the rest of the museum, which won't reopen until June 2005.

But a great selection of those artifacts can currently be found in the Hall's traveling road show, the "Baseball as America" exhibit which is now in Washington, DC (here's my review of the show from when it was in New York in 2002). While the Hall's current state is a bit unfortunate, the construction should give the museum a much-needed facelift. I found the Hall I visited in 2000 still somewhat mired in the Doubleday myth -- the reason for the Cooperstown site, after all -- which has been thoroughly debunked by the game's historians. "Baseball as America" reflects a more critical, historically accurate take on the national pastime, and if you're looking for an alternative to the Cooperstown parade I've just rained on, hit DC for your baseball fix.

Back to my trip, though a lot of what I did was mundane, it was a pleasure to accompany Goldman through this tour of the Hall's archives, to come off the bench and provide a small amount of assistance for what I expect will be a great book. If that isn't in a Futility Infielder's job description, then I don't know what is.

But my motives weren't entirely selfless. Someday I hope to be in the enviable position Goldman is in, looking to put the finishing touches on a baseball book I can call my own. That day is likely at least a couple of years away, but having learned a few of the ropes from one of my peers, I'll be that much better equipped when my moment arrives.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


More on Pappas

Not that I wish to keep the mood around here so melancholy, but having spent most of the last couple days away from my computer, I wanted to pass along a few more links on Doug Pappas -- both from people who knew him personally and those who only knew his work -- before I get back to the business of whatever the heck it I that I do...

• A letter from Evelyn Begley, president of my local SABR chapter had, among other things, some grateful words from Doug's mother Carolyn and the report that there's a movement afoot to compile his work into a book which would be one of the next SABR publications. For his work to reach beyond the Internet -- and as great as the medium is, we have hundreds of years of human history which tell us that the book is an enduring format -- would be a fitting triumph.

• reported Pappas' passing both as a news story and via a unique tribute from Rob Neyer, who ran down a sample of the stories which Pappas brought to light in his blog -- doctors paying teams for the right to treat them, a Minnesota columnist blaming the state legislature for the loss of some expensive but ultimately replaceable players, some bullSelig about advertising on uniforms, more bullSelig about the length of his term as commissioner, etc. -- and then wrote:
Doug Pappas might be the best thing that ever happened to the Internet. If you're not familiar with Pappas' work, you probably think I'm exaggerating. I'm not.

Without Doug Pappas, neither I nor many thousands of other interested parties would know anything about those stories listed above, because it was Doug who brought them to us in his blog, where he posted new entries almost every day.

...With his intelligence, his energy, his talent, and especially his b.s. detector (always set on HIGH), Doug established a standard that few among us can hope to even approach.
• Salon's King Kaufman took Pappas' story into the mainstream as well:
You may not have heard of Pappas, but if you're a thinking baseball fan you've no doubt felt his influence. He was a Manhattan lawyer by trade, but his passion was writing about the business of baseball. No one I've ever read has a more thorough understanding of how baseball economics work, and no one, anywhere, was a more fierce enemy of commissioner Bud Selig.

...Pappas was an ace at showing how Selig & Co.'s various arguments about competitive balance, revenue sharing, contraction, the need for a salary cap and new publicly financed stadiums, and other issues were either a pack of lies or the result of a complete misunderstanding of economics. (Draw your own conclusions.)

...I would argue that if you haven't read Pappas' eight-part series "The Numbers," written from December 2001 through April 2002 as the last labor negotiation began to heat up, then you have no business discussing the business of baseball. You're simply uninformed.

Those of us who love baseball had a watchdog in Pappas, someone to let us know about the damage being done to the game by those running it. I hope someone with anything like his smarts, insight and writing ability can take over that role, but that's asking a lot. He'll be sorely missed.
• Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan hit home with his eloquent tribute:
[O]f all the people I have worked with, I am most proud to have been able to work with Doug Pappas. His efforts to get at the truth of baseball's economic, labor and public policy issues were ceaseless, their impact lasting. That we were able to get Doug to write for Baseball Prospectus, that I was able to call him a colleague, is one of the most rewarding elements of my career.

It wasn't just the caliber of his work, which of course was high. It was that he had the courage to stand up and say, "They're lying. This is the truth," and back it up with so much evidence that he could not be ignored. Doug had a permanent effect on the way baseball's off-field issues are covered. He made it right -- no, he made it mandatory -- to question the claims of baseball's authorities, and he did it in the face of opposition from some powerful people. When called on the carpet by Bud Selig, Doug calmly presented the facts and refused to be intimidated.

Those who knew Doug remain in mourning, stunned at the loss of a friend at such a young age. A glance around the baseball community on the Web reveals the breadth of his impact, and the loss felt by so many people who perhaps only knew Doug through his writing.

We're going to have to get past that, and when we do, we have to do the only thing we can do for Doug: carry on his work. Instead of one strong voice braying the truth about the business of baseball, let there be dozens. Instead of one Web site, let there be hundreds. Let's let the high example Doug Pappas set be the minimum standard we set for our work, so that skepticism about the game's business side isn't just warranted, but expected. Let's make it so that Doug's legacy isn't just the work he did, but the work yet to be done by the people who read him and learned from him.
• BP's Steven Goldman, with whom just I spent an enjoyable 24-hour roadtrip to Cooperstown (more on that next time) in which his name came up many a time:
Baseball, by which I mean baseball, lowercase b, has lost a penetrating mind of great discernment, a gadfly who would not be dissuaded from his job as he saw it even when the Commissioner himself phoned to tell him to cut it out. His muckraking will be missed. He will be missed. Peace be with him.
• Steve Treder's posting on Baseball Primer summed up why Pappas was so necessary:
I fault the press for being willfully blind and/or silent on the subject. They have no excuse. If the sportswriters get a pass -- they don't have the training or background to knowledgably cover economic issues, or that isn't what sports section readers want to read about -- then business page editors, and/or straight news editors get no pass at all. When taxpayers foot the bill for a pro sports stadium, it's business news and it's straight news. When MLB testifies to Congress about their supposed need for an anti-trust exemption, it's business news and it's straight news.

Bravo to Forbes magazine for putting the lie to MLB's financial claims. Boo to just about everyone else in the media for blatantly ignoring the issue.
• Tim Marchman at the New Partisan:
He wasn't the first to point out that the owners were liars, but he was the first writer to expose their falsehoods in clinical detail and in real time. Using their own numbers, he showed lies about specific details, like the percentage of the game's revenue going to players,and about large ideas, like the supposed inability of small-market teams to compete.

Pappas detailed the reasons why stadiums are foolish investments for cities, and showed how teams use such tricks as paper tax losses and the sale of their broadcasting rights to parent media companies to systematically understate profits in their attempts to get on the public dole. Parsing the language of the last collective bargaining agreement,he made clear how its luxury tax and revenue-sharing schemes were meant not to help struggling teams but to restrain the Yankees and drive down the high end of player salaries.

...Pappas provided a moral context for journalists to follow, and was not shy about holding them to it. What he understood was that if baseball is really the American game, the way in which it is run and the way in which it is covered tell us a great deal about our national character.
Amen to all of the above.

Saturday, May 22, 2004


Doug Pappas, RIP

The world of baseball lost a giant of a writer and its foremost expert on financial matters on Friday when Doug Pappas passed away while vacationing in Texas' Big Bend National Park. The cause was heat prostration. He was 43 and is survived by his mother, Carolyn Pappas.

As the chairman of the SABR Business of Baseball Committee and a writer on economic matters for Baseball Prospectus and his own site, Doug's Business of Baseball Weblog, Pappas combined eloquence, passion, humor, intelligence, outrage, diligence, righteousness, and about twelve other virtues into his writing, making the seemingly mundane stuff of balance sheets, labor relations, contraction and Collective Bargaining Agreements as compelling to read as last night's box score. He was Bud Selig's worst nightmare, an astute investigator who understood exactly how to cut through the smokescreens and lies perpetrated by the game's commissioner and his flunkies. As Selig's sworn enemy, his blog had -- still has -- a countdown to the end of Bud's term. Once, he even got to go mano à mano with the Bad Rug, having spooked the commissioner with his dogged pursuit of the truth about MLB's finances.

Doug Pappas would have made a great commissioner himself.

I didn't know him personally, having missed the opportunity to connect with him at a few local BP Pizza Feeds (he was a Manhattan lawyer specializing in civil and commercial litigiation, according to his SABR obituary). He certainly wasn't lacking for people to chat with at those affairs, and somehow I just ran out of time before getting to shake his hand and tell him what a great admirer of his work I am. I feel a bit small for not doing that, but I take great solace in the fact that like many others, I knew a part of him through his writing. I'm a better informed writer because of him, and if you can find any baseball blogger who wouldn't say the same, chances are you're wasting your time reading that person.

Pappas' "The Numbers" series for BP in 2002 was the most comprehensive dissection of Major League Baseball's finances to be found, and remains absolutely essential reading for any fan of the game old enough to buy a ticket. Anyone who read him during the buildup to the narrowly-averted strike at the end of that summer came away a more intelligent fan, one capable of refuting the bullshit fed to him or her on a daily basis by Bud and by the lazy reporters who put his words in their morning papers without ever questioning them. Pappas' analysis of a team's economic and on-field efficiency, measuring marginal dollars per marginal win, was cited by author Michael Lewis in Moneyball, and it cuts to the core of what Lewis strove to illustrate about the Oakland A's:
A leading independent authority on baseball finance, a Manhattan lawyer named Doug Pappas, pointed out a quantifiable distinction between Oakland and the rest of baseball. The least you could spend on a 25-man team, if everyone was paid the minimum salary, was $5 million, plus $2 million more for players on the disabled list and the remainder of the 40-man roster. The huge role of luck in any baseball game, and the relatively small difference in ability between most major leaguers and the rookies who might work for the minimum wage, meant that the fewest games a minimum-wage baseball team would win during a 162-game season was something like 49. The Pappas measure of financial efficiency was this: How many dollars over the minimum $7 million does each team pay for each win over its 49th? How many marginal dollars does a team spend for each marginal win? Over the past three years Oakland has paid about half a million dollars per win. The only other team in six figures has been the Minnesota Twins, at $675,000 per win. The most profligate rich franchises--the Baltimore Orioles, for instance, or the Texas Rangers--have paid nearly $3 million for each win, or more than six times what Oakland paid. Oakland seemed to be playing a different game from everyone else.
In other words, the man played a crucial role in influencing the most popular baseball book since Ball Four. That's worth something.

Pappas could be over the top; a recent recent blog entry covering Ralph Nader's high-profile objection to ads on uniforms included a response that Nader could "best serve his stated causes by blowing his brains out with a shotgun," but in typical Pappas fashion, he broke down Nader's open letter to Bud Selig with typical smarts and style. An ugly debate with former major leaguer Mike Colbern over a pension suit (in which he was accused, of all things, of being a shill for MLB's attorneys) disarmed Colbern's emotional and irrational responses by cutting to the factual chase, citing judicial precedents and doing the kind of homework that made him the great writer he was.

Like many others, my heart is heavy due to his loss even though I never met him, and I can only imagine how much more it must ache for those closest to him. My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends, as well as his colleagues over at Baseball Prospectus. The Baseball Primer thread devoted to his death contains a small sampling of the high regard with which his work was held; drop by there or post a comment at his blog to pay tribute if you feel like it, and if you need a smile in these dark hours, check out the wonderful photos and artifacts of Americana Doug unearthed for his Roadside Photos site.

On some level, all writers hope that someone might read their words long after they've passed from their time on this rock. For myself, this was one of the reasons I began building my site a few months after my grandfather -- a great baseball fan who saw Ruth and Gehrig and who claimed that seeing Babe Herman hit on the head by a fly ball was what made him a Dodger fan -- passed away; someday, I hope my grandchildren and their grandchildren are interested enough to read about what I saw that made me love this game.

In Doug's case, there's no doubt his writing will live on. So long as men are paid to play baseball, it will have relevance. May he rest in peace.

Friday, May 21, 2004


DaVanon and On: A Cross-Generational Tale From the Replacement Level

I watched most of the two Yankees-Angels series over the past couple ofweeks, and though the Yanks took four out of six, Anaheim certainly played them tough. Most memorably ,the two teams split a pair of series-opening extra-inning thrillers, and both Angel wins have come on the nights when the Yanks' personal rent-a-bitch, Aaron Sele (something like 5-15 lifetime against them coming in), faced Javier Vazquez.

On a team that's been missing Garrett Anderson (who was finally diagnosed with a form of arthritis that certainly doesn't bode well for that huge contract he recently signed), Darin Erstad (in an Office Space sense), Tim Salmon, and now Troy Glaus, one of the guys who's really stood out for the Halos is outfielder Jeff DaVanon. On the season, DaVanon's hitting .299/.398/.448, but he's been an even tougher out against the Yanks, .348/.444/.435 with 5 runs scored in 27 plate appearances. He killed them last year as well (.364/.417/.636 with a homer in 12 PA) on his way to a .282/.360/.445 season with 12 homers and 17 steals in 382 PA. This guy is a pest. He's listed as 6', but on a team with David Eckstein and Chone Figgins, he too looks like a member of the junior varsity thanks to his crouched batting stance. But with those kind of numbers, he's certainly earned his wings.

When he burst on the scene last year, I instantly recognized the DaVanon name; his father, Jerry DaVanon, was a card-carrying futility infielder in the 1970s. Digging into both players' pasts, I found an interesting parallel: neither of them had a decent big-league season until around age 30, but both seemed to turn a corner at that point.

Jerry DaVanon was a first round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1966 out of Westmount College in Santa Barbara, California. Chosen by the San Diego Padres in the '68 expansion draft, he got his first taste of action early in 1969, playing second base for the Pads. In his short time in San Diego, he didn't hit, and I mean REALLY didn't hit: .136/.177/.163 in 62 plate appearances, with only one double among his 8 hits, and 0-for-3 in stealing bases. The Padres had seen enough, and shipped him back to St. Louis for two guys you've never heard of, including the most excellently named Sonny Ruberto. Finally getting a shot with the Cards, he didn't do too badly -- .300/.391/.450. But he saw only 11 games with the big club in St. Louis the next season, and at the end of the year was shipped off to the Baltimore Orioles for the legendary Moe Drabowski.

The 1971 Orioles were Earl Weaver's third straight pennant-winner, notching 101 victories but losing a seven-game World Series to Roberto Clemente and the Pittsburgh Pirates. DaVanon was the team's top infield reserve, but with Davey Johnson, Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger (who put up a respectable .365 OBP that year) all playing 140-150 games, he only saw action in 38 contests, hitting .235/.340/296 in 94 PA, and didn't appear in the postseason. He didn't make the big-league squad the next year, was shipped to the Angels in June for Roger Repoz, and apparently spent the entire year in the minors (for which I don't have stats). He did see time with the Angels in '73, appearing in 41 games but getting only 52 trips to the plate, hitting .245/.288/.306. The Cardinals reacquired him at the end of the season and he saw action with them in 1974 but went only 6-for-40 in 30 games.

The winter of 1975 was an active one in the transaction column for DaVanon, as he passed through the hands of four teams in three months, from the Cardinals to the Tigers and then to the Indians before being finally being purchased by the Houston Astros in early April. Again seeing limited time (mired behind another futilityman, Larry Milbourne), DaVanon actually hit pretty well in a relatively inhospitable environment: .278 /.386/.392 in 114 PA and an impressive 16-to-7 walk-to-strikeout ratio. At this point, Davanon had played in parts of six major-league seasons for five different teams without ever reaching 100 at-bats, which has to be a record of sorts, and maxed out at 41 games played. In 1976, the Astros finally increased DaVanon's playing time; he appeared in 61 games, crossed the magic 100 at-bat threshold, and was a sparkplug, hitting .290/.408 /.402 on a team in which no regular posted an OBP higher than .375.

And then just like that, he was gone. DaVanon was traded to the Cardinals (his third re-acquisition by them) in the same deal which exiled Houston's former ace and future manager, Larry Dierker. He went 0-for-8 in nine games, was released in May, and never again played in the big leagues, done at 31. In parts of eight seasons he only got 574 plate appearances -- about one year's worth - hitting .234/.331/.315 with 3 homers but drawing 68 walks.

How far over his head had DaVanon played in Houston? Here's a quick look at his OPS+ numbers, which compare his combined OBP and SLG to the park-adjusted league average:
       PA   OPS+

1969 108 54
1970 20 -1
1971 94 83
1973 52 74
1974 47 23
1975 114 124
1976 130 141
1977 9 -67
TOT 574 86
Basically, he was a solidly below-average hitter except for those two years in Houston, when he turned into a rainbow-covered on-base machine. Why did he do so well? Why did he disappear so suddenly? I really don't know. Such are the random mysteries of the futility infielder -- usually he's got "retirement" thrust upon him in the form of a pink slip, a departure without ceremony. In DaVanon's case, the Cardinals' depth may have had something to do with it; at various times in the 1977 season they had Don Kessinger, Ken Oberkfel, Mike Phillips and Joel Youngblood off the bench and Mike Tyson (no, not that one), Ken Reitz and a 21-year-old Garry Templeton in the starting lineup.

That's about all I can find out on DaVanon the elder. DaVanon the younger appears to have a lot more natural ability than his father. Interestingly, he's a switch hitter, as are the sons of other former major leaguers such as Scott Spiezio and Jose Cruz, Jr. After playing for three years at San Diego State University, DaVanon was drafted by the Oakland A's in the 26th round. He languished in the A's system despite hitting well: .272/.387/.376 for four different A-ball teams over four seasons, and then .342/.425/.567 at AA Midland, where he made the league's All-Star Team (as he had in the California League the year before). Even though he was already 25, you'd think Billy Beane might have noticed this bargain basement batter, but apparently not.

DaVanon finally caught a break when the A's included him in the '99 trading-deadline deal which sent Randy Velarde to Oakland, and after tearing up AAA pitching at Edmonton (.326/.416/.568), he got his first cup of coffee with the Angels, going 4-for-20 with a triple and a homer. He missed all of 2000 with an injury (what kind I don't know), but returned to the Pacific Coast League in 2001, tearing up pitching at Salt Lake City (.313/.390/.566) and earning another stint with the Angels. Unfortunately, he hit only .193/.280/.409 in 100 PA, though he did stroke 5 homers. He got a shorter stay in the bigs during the Angels' World Championship season in '02, getting only 5 hits, four of which were for extra bases.

Going into the 2003 season, DaVanon looked like a classic AAAA player, a Ken Phelps All-Star type who was 29 years old, sporting a sub-Mendoza .188/.265/.406 career line in about 150 big-league plate appearances, and trying to earn a roster spot on the defending World Champions. But Darin Erstad's hamstring injury and Tim Salmon's infirmity opened up playing time in the Angel outfield, and as mentioned before, he had an impressive season on a lackluster team. He had an incredible three days in early June, back-to-back-to-back two-homer games (two of those in the Expos Puerto Rico bandbox) and a total of 10 hits and 10 RBI, and had about a two-month string where his batting average never fell below .329.

Still, Baseball Prospectus was relatively unimpressed by his performance. Here's what they had to say in BP 2004:
DaVanon is a useful fourth outfielder who had to play a bit too much last year. His performance did validate the decision to non-tender Orlando Palmeiro, who'd played a similar role with the angels from 1999-2002. The power numbers he displayed in '03 were out of line, and mostly reflect three days in June in which he turned into Jim Thome in the bandbox of San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium. given his age, even projecting a Stan Javier future is optimistic.
BP's weighted mean PECOTA projection for him this year is a measly .247/.328/.410 line and a .253 EQA in about 370 PA -- this after an excellent .293 EQA last year, pretty decent for a guy who supposedly got too much exposure. I gather that the main reason for the pessimistic projection is his age; relatively unproven fourth outfielder types rarely show so much improvement after 30. But thus far, he's picked up where he left off, and with Erstad down again, it looks as though our man DaVanon will continue to be a part of the Angels' lineup. I, for one, am pulling for him. Except when he plays the Yanks, of course.

Thursday, May 20, 2004


Lunchtime Link: Holy DIPS!

Satan, check your thermostat. At a time when my regard for ESPN's empire couldn't be any lower, Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll called my attention to the fact that that ESPN's Sortable Stats now include pitchers' DIPS ERA (or dERA as it's sometimes called), as well as a stat called DIP% which expresses the ratio of DIPS ERA to actual ERA. Here's the DIPS ERA entry in their Stats Glossary:
A pitcher's ERA, independent of the defense behind him. This formula, based on essays by Voros McCracken, assumes that all pitchers have consistent BIPA (See Above), and adjusts accordingly. The DIPS ratios on ESPN use the DIPS 2.0 formula, are not park-adjusted, and do not adjust for knuckleball pitchers.
No link to the 2.0 formula is provided, but nonetheless, this is verrrrry interesting and useful. Among the other sabermetric stats listed are BIPA (Balls in Play Average, or what I've been calling Batting Average on Balls In Play -- BABIP) and Component ERA (ERC) which is an estimated ERA based on hits and walks allowed rather than runs but as Voros showed, wasn't as useful from a predictive standpoint.

Current leaders in DIPS ERA among qualifiers:
Pitcher         dERA

Randy Johnson 2.53
Ben Sheets 2.75
Roger Clemens 2.83
Curt Schiling 2.84
Carlos Zambrano 2.89
Jake Peavy 2.91
Matt Clement 3.05
Oliver Perez 3.09
Josh Beckett 3.20
Roy Oswalt 3.27
Dark thought: ESPN is stealing the stats from Larry Mahnken's Daily DIPS Report like they were (allegedly) pirating minor-league scores and statistics from The Sports Network. I might believe it if they were actually park-adjusted -- or if Larry's report were still up, which it appears not to be at the moment (I know he recently found an error and was planning to iron it out).

Anyway, this is very cool. One small step for sabermetrics, one giant leap for Jay's time spent doing other things in the offseason...

Tuesday, May 18, 2004


Lunchtime Link: Yankee Win Shares

Thanks to Studes of the great Baseball Graphs site, The Hardball Times has its first Win Shares reports of the seasons. I decided to take a quick breeze through the Yankees, foregoing the rounding which Bill James mandates in the Win Shares book, because at this early stage in the season the difference between, say, 1.5 and 2.4 shares is pretty substantial. Rank refers to same position in the AL, with all outfielders lumped together, and the total win shares unrounded:

Posada C 5.8 0.2 6.0 2
Giambi 1B 5.9 0.0 5.9 1
Clark 1B 1.6 0.0 1.6 12T
Cairo 2B 1.4 0.5 1.9 10
Wilson 2B 0.0 0.6 0.6 16
Jeter SS 0.0 1.8 1.8 10T
Rodriguez 3B 3.2 2.6 5.8 3
Matsui OF 4.1 0.9 5.0 13
Williams OF 1.0 0.6 1.6 39
Lofton OF 1.1 0.6 1.7 37T
Sheffield OF 3.3 1.0 4.3 18T
Crosby OF 1.5 0.3 1.8 36
Sierra OF 2.6 0.0 2.6 29
The most glaring thing to note about the numbers above is the big zero in Derek Jeter's offensive contribution, but then his .195/.251/.277 line is easy to confuse with another offensive cipher, second baseman Enfeebled Wilson. Miguel Cairo, who thankfully seems to have stolen the second base job from Wilson, has been more valuable than Jeter, Bernie Williams, or Kenny Lofton, with the latter two outproduced by the exiled Bubba Crosby thus far. On the positive side, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi, and Alex Rodriguez have all been near the top of their respective positions. Rodriguez leads AL third basemen in defensive win shares by a wide margin, over a full win share ahead of Texas' Hank Blalock, lending further credence to the early Gold Glove hype. In fact A-Rod leads all AL players in defensive win shares. Hideki Matsui, who thus far has put up a .277/.387/.454 line with 23 walks in 155 plate appearances, has been more than solid. The rest of the Yankee lineup has been in the nether regions of their respective positions thus far, though if you lump the centerfielders and DH candidates together you get 9.3 win shares over two positions, or somewhere between the values of Matsui and Sheffield at each one -- credible contributions thanks to Ruben Sierra and Tony Clark.

Over to the pitching... but before I do it's important to note, as the THT article does, "Ace relievers will receive credit for more Win Shares per inning pitched than a starting pitcher will. That's because the innings an ace reliever pitches (late and close) are more important than most of those pitched by a starter."

Brown SP 4.3
Vazquez SP 2.8
Mussina SP 2.0
Lieber SP 1.0
Contreras SP 0.0
Rivera RP 4.1
Gordon RP 3.2
Quantrill RP 2.5
White RP 1.3
Prinz RP 0.6
Osborne RP 0.3
DePaula RP 0.2
Kevin Brown has been the most valuable starter on the staff by far, and the bullpen, led by Mariano Rivera, Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill, has produced more win shares than the rotation. Fifth starter Jose Contreras has been baking donuts, though he's apparently ready to rejoin the rotation, which is okay when the alternative is Tanyon Sturtze (Donovan Osborne having been mercifully designated for assignment). Also putting up zero shares have been Felix Heredia, Scott Proctor, and Alex Graman, while backup catcher John Flaherty is the only zero-producing position player with any significant time.

With Sturtze, Cairo, and Flaherty on the roster, these Yanks are starting to wear the Tampa connection on their sleeves. I mean, don't their scouts ever leave the state of Florida? Just once I'd like to see them turn some west coast team's trash into role-player treasure instead of either exhuming washed-up Devil Rays or else dredging the banks of Mississippi River for undecomposed ex-Cardinals from Torre's time there (see Osborne as well as such past luminaries as Todd Zeile, Allen Watson, and Tony Fossas). Alas, that's a rant for another day.

But Sturtze is worth a rant all by himself. This is a 34-year-old righty pitcher whose stat line shows a 5.20 ERA and an 88 ERA+ in over 600 major-league innings. He doesn't strike out batters (5.3 per 9 innings), his control is lousy (1.4 K/W ratio), and he gives up plenty of homers (1.3 per 9). Last year he went 7-6 with a 5.94 ERA in Toronto, which must have felt like heaven after his 4-18, 5.18 ERA death march in Tampa in 2002. This guy, quite frankly, can't pitch for shit, and it's baffling that Brian Cashman even wasted his long-distance minutes prying him loose from the Dodgers for "future considerations," which is a nice way of saying, "Assuming he pitches up to his true talent level, you owe me nothing but the first round at the bar, big Bri."

Sunday, May 16, 2004


Watching Way Out West

For the first six weeks of the baseball season, I was living in Dodger denial. But Alex Cora got my attention on Wednesday night. If you haven't watched the Dodger shortstop's epic at-bat from May 12, head over to to do so. Cora battled Chicago Cubs pitcher Matt "Pubic Beard" Clement for 18 pitches, fouling off 14 straight before launching a home run over rightfielder Sammy Sosa. It was only the light-hitting (.241/.301/.344 career) Dodger shortstop's second home run of the season, but as Jon Weisman reminds us, it really was something to get excited about, with the Chavez Ravine crowd roaring after every foul ball.

Cora hasn't been quite the cipher he usually is thus far this season; he's now hitting .284/.370/.421 in 109 plate appearances, which is pretty damn useful coming from a middle infielder, particularly one playing half the time in Dodger Stadium for an offensively challenged team. At 22-13 and atop the NL West, the Dodgers have been one of the season's biggest surprises thus far, and the only reasons I haven't written about them are that I neither wanted to jinx what was happening out in Chavez Ravine nor get my expectations up too early. But now that we're in the middle of May, and even though they're riding a three-game losing streak entering Sunday, I officially have Hope for them. To paraphrase a line from the most tired rock song since the dawn of time, we haven't had that sprit here since nineteen

Superficially, it's no mystery as to how the Dodgers are doing it; they're actually hitting the ball and scoring runs, even while their pitching hasn't been nearly as stingy (last year's team had the fewest combined runs scored and runs allowed compared to the league average of any major league team ever): Here's a comparison between the two teams, including their Pythagorean and actual winning percentages:
       AVG   OBP   SLG  RS/G  RA/G   PYWP   WP

2003 .243 .303 .368 3.54 3.43 .515 .525
2004 .271 .329 .427 4.66 4.11 .556 .629
The offense has added about 30 points of batting average and about 30 points of isolated power (SLG - AVG), increasing their slugging percentage by about 60 points and adding over a run per game to the scoreboard. As a team, the Dodgers are scoring 32% more runs than last year, even while allowing 20% more. But they're far outstripping their expected (Pythagorean) winning percentage, adding to manager Jim Tracy's smoke-and-mirrors legend. The biggest reason for that magic is that the team won its first ten one-run games (they lost to the Reds 2-1 on Friday to end that string), one short of the 1972 New York Mets' record for consecutive one-run wins at the start of the season.

Viewed from afar, an offhand assumption would be that the addition of centerfielder Milton Bradley and the return to form of a healthy Shawn Green are what's powering the O. But neither of those two is exactly tearing the cover off of the ball. Bradley's at .254/.324/.444, while Green is at .236/.345/.465. Instead, the Dodgers' most valuable hitter has been Adrian Beltre, who's finally delivering on some of that much-heralded promise by hitting .357/.366/.629 with 10 homers. Even though he's a free-agent of his contract, you can't call this his walk year, as he's gotten just TWO bases on balls thus far, a curious anomaly even for such a notorious free swinger (one walk for every 13.6 plate appearances in his major-league career). On the other side of the free-swinging coin, catcher Paul Lo Duca has accompanied an eye-popping line (.369/.410/.467) by only striking out three times in 134 plate appearances. In keeping with the up-the middle strength, perennial HACKING MASS All-Star Cesar Izturis has joined Cora by doing a remarkable imitation of a semi-useful hitter -- .281/.319/.363, which is positively Ruthian by his career .246/.270/.319 standards.

To examine the Dodger hitters' performance a bit more closely, I decided to compare they've done over the course of the season with Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA weighted mean projections for all Dodgers with over 100 plate appearances. Just for kicks, I've tacked on each player's 90th percentile (pipe dream) and 10th percentile (pulse-free undead) projections for EQA, which normalizes the player's park- and league-adjusted OBP and SLG into a batting average scale number where .260 is average and .300 is outstanding.
             ----- ACTUAL -----    --- PECOTA WM ----

Beltre .357 .366 .629 .332 .259 .312 .447 .265 .291 .234
Lo Duca .369 .410 .467 .309 .271 .331 .400 .262 .286 .223
Roberts .265 .382 .386 .309 .257 .326 .334 .248 .281 .196
Green .236 .345 .465 .284 .286 .369 .529 .309 .337 .276
Cora .284 .370 .429 .285 .252 .311 .361 .242 .266 .202
Bradley .254 .324 .444 .265 .265 .350 .418 .284 .310 .251
Izturis .281 .319 .363 .248 .247 .281 .328 .219 .244 .189
Encarnacion .231 .265 .408 .233 .263 .318 .447 .269 .294 .238
Five of the players (Beltre, Lo Duca, Roberts, Cora, and Izturis) are outstripping even the rosiest projections thus far, while two of them (Green and Encarnacion) are very close to their worst nightmares, and a third (Bradley) is well below expectations. Green and Bradley represent the only two players of the above bunch who projected as significantly above average (that is, with an EQA better than .260) coming into the season. Overall the team has put up a .269 EQA, compared to 2003's dead stinking last in the NL mark of .244.

I was under the impression that manager Jim Tracy was making an effort to limit Lo Duca's time behind the plate so that the catcher doesn't suffer the same kind of late-season burnout as he has in the past -- .323/.380/.489 before the All-Star break over the past three seasons, .252/.306/.374 after the break. But Lo Duca has started 27 out of the team's first 35 games (77%), a pace which would put him at 125 games on the season, right around last year's level. It hasn't helped that capable backup Dave Ross is off to a slow start at .152/.171/.364. A couple of other situations that bear watchign are Dave Roberts' injury and Shawn Green's position. Roberts went on the DL with a hamstring problem on May 8; his presence in the lineup would allow the team to forego their most disappointing hitter, Juan Encarnacion in favor of a Roberts-Bradley-Green trio... if only they could find a suitably warm body to fill in for Green at first base. Robin Ventura with a .653 OPS in 34 at bats, has apparently passed his sell date, and it's doubtful 20-year-old hot prospect James Loney will be ready for The Show this eason. If I'm Jim Tracy, I'd give hot-hitting utilityman Jose Hernandez (.356/.420/.667 in 50 PA) a shot until his bat grows cold, spot Lo Duca there instead of in the outfield on days when he's not catching, and hope that DePodesta can pry somebody useful loose from another team (paging Justin Morneau...).

Turning to the pitching, as mentioned before, it hasn't been up to the high standards the Dodgers set last season, but it's been an interesting mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Overall, the starters have put up a very unspectacular 4.59 ERA, while the bullpen has posted a stellar 2.62 mark:
          IP   ERA  WMERA    90     10

Nomo 40 7.14 4.13 2.99 5.53
Weaver 45 4.84 4.10 3.09 5.31
Perez 53 3.59 3.60 2.59 4.98
Ishii 42 3.83 5.17 3.11 7.30
Alvarez 31 1.15 3.83 2.40 5.46
Lima 25 6.12 6.77 4.17 10.12

Gagne 16 1.69 2.32 0.34 3.88
Mota 20 1.37 3.30 2.15 6.16
Dreifort 17 3.71 3.79 2.36 5.37
Sanchez 17 2.70 5.64 3.22 9.55
Coming into the season, the Dodgers projected to have three solid starters based on their weighted mean ERA projections, four if they'd actually put last year's injury comeback surprise, Wilson Alvarez, in the loop from the get-go. But the contributions they've gotten thus far have been all over the map. Putative ace Nomo has been Hideous, particularly in his last start, when the Cubs bombed him for six runs in 1.1 innings. He's lost three straight decisions after being an improbable 3-1 despite a 6.55 ERA in his first four starts. Nomo's always been an extreme hit-or-miss type of pitcher in that when he's good, he's great and when he's bad, he's awful. Coming off of October shoulder surgery, his velocity is down and his ERA is in airplane territory, which should cause some concern. Odalis Perez has been dead-on with his projected performance. Alvarez hasn't allowed an earned run in two starts since returning to the rotation nine days ago, when he replaced Jose Lima, whose PECOTA projections are as certifiably insane as the pitcher himself (at least he found a new way to contribute). Jeff Weaver hasn't been very good, but the move out of pinstripes has at least stopped the hemorrhaging. Kaz Ishii has a tidy ERA, but he's walked 27 men in 42.1 innings, compared to only 18 strikeouts, a recipe for disaster if there ever was one. Take away his shutout of the anemic Giants , and he's got a 4.86 ERA. In his most recent start, he lasted only four innings, allowing one hit but walking SEVEN.

In the bullpen, Eric Gagne has continued the dominance which earned him lst year's NL Cy Young award and has now converted 73 consecutive save opportunities. Setup man Guillermo Mota has been extremely good as well. Alvarez was extremely good (2.16 ERA in 16.2 innings) out of the pen, and Lima (4.50 in 12 innings) has been useful. Rookie Duaner Sanchez, who had only 18 innings of major-league experience over three cup-of-coffee seasons, has been very good, striking out nearly a man per inning. But the most pleasant surprise has been the contribution of Darren Dreifort, earning $11.4 million in the fourth year of a massive 5-year, $55 million contract. After making only 26 starts and pitching 155 below-average innings in the first three years of that albatross of a contract, the Dodgers have sensibly shifted the fragile Dreifort to the pen, making him the most expensive setup man in history but a reliable contributor thus far. Looking at Baseball Prospectus' Reliever Run Expectation charts, the Dodger relievers are tied for second in the majors, having allowed 21.3 runs less than expected based on the base-out situations they've inherited. With the exception of Brad Falkenborg, who's pitched only 6.2 innings, every member of the pen is on the positive side of the ledger, headed by Gagne (6.0), Mota (5.0), Alvarez (4.5) and Sanchez (3.6).

The Dodgers' outperformance of their Pythagorean projection, success in one-run games, and off-the-charts boost from some of the hitters all suggest that they may return to earth before too long, and indeed, the current losing streak may represent the beginning of the elevator ride down. But in a weak division, with last year's champs reeling, the Dodgers actually have a fighting chance, particularly if a pair of highly touted rookies deliver on their promise. Twenty-year-old starter Edwin Jackson, who went 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 22 late-season innings last year, has needed some seasoning at Las Vegas, but even his his 10th percentile PECOTA projection of a 4.17 ERA looks mighty tasty next to the likes of Nomo and Weaver, and he may be back in the majors by mid-summer. If new GM Paul DePodesta can provide the kind of in-season upgrades that helped make his mentor in Oakland famous, this team has a real shot at going to the postseason for the first time since 1996. With my package, I'll be keeping an eye on them.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004


Hardly a Washout

I haven't had much luck on my trips to the ballpark the past two weeks. My trek to last Wendesday's Mets-Giants game was cut short by a rain delay-induced exodus, though I did get to see an historic Mike Piazza home run before departing in the fifth. Tuesday night's trip to Yankee Stadium was even shorter and more rain-soaked, and I wasn't around to see the Yanks rally back from a 3-0 defecit to beat the Angels in ten innings.

Originally, I'd planned to go to the game with Alex Belth, who joined my ticket group this past winter. Alex had been single-minded in his pursuit of a ticket to an early-season Angels game, primarily because he wanted to see Vladimir Guerrero in his new halo, or something. But the day before the game Alex had to bail; it seems I'm not the only one who's been burning the candle at both ends. So I substituted my old college friend Ben, who took my girlfriend to Game Seven last year (it's at the point where Yankee fans don't even need to detail which Game Seven they're tallking about anymore).

When I left work from Brooklyn, I figured that the edge would come off of the muggy mid-80s temperatures which had kept my brow damp all day long. The A/C at the place I'm currently freelancing has been decidedly below the Mendoza Line, and all day long I'd stolen glances at the cement floor, yearning for a cool nap underneath my desk. I imagined the warm day would make for a pleasant night at the ballpark. But I was a little unnerved when a pair of guys in obviously rain-drenched t-shirts got on the 4 train at Grand Central, hoping it was just a brief cloudburst. By the time I got to Yankee Stadium, things appeared to have righted themselves, though Ben confirmed the shower, which struck just before he boarded the same 4 train in midtown.

We settled into our seats in the tier box section of the upper deck, just to the third-base side of home plate, buzzing about the night's Yankee starter, Kevin Brown. We found our seats next to a father with two kids, an eight-year-old on the aisle and a six-year-old immediately on my left. This stressed me out a bit, as I'm not the most kid-friendly gentleman with whom to watch a ballgame. "What's the over/under on which inning I piss this kid's dad off by shouting 'fuck'?" I asked Ben. "No shit, he said, shaking his head. "I've got the mouth of a fuckin' sailor." We had a good laugh over that one as he spotted the Beck's beer man and procured us a round.

We soon needed it. Brown struck out Eckstein, a difficult thing to do, to lead off. Chone Figgins then hit a blooper which must have landed about six inches in front of centerfielder Kenny Lofton, who refused to dive. I was about to yell at Lofton to take up his oft-threatened career as a valet, but thinking of my surroundings, ended up muttering "Go park some fucking cars, man," into my beer. Vlad the Impaler then roped Brown's first pitch into the left-center gap, which not only scored the speedy Figgins but could probably have sent him around home and back to first on the play. Two pitches later, Troy Glaus golfed a shot into the rightfield bleachers, his league-leading 11th of the year, and suddenly the Yanks were down 3-0.

The father to my left had sent his elder son on a mission to buy a program with a scorecard for the younger one. "He'll help us catch up," he told the younger one, nodding to me. "You'll help me catch up," lisped the six-year-old through missing front teeth s he looked up at me. I gazed down at my beer, puzzled, imagingn the kid drinking one as well -- until I remembered that it was my scorekeeping he was talking about. "Sure, sure, kid."

As the dad reminded the kid of the nuances of of a relatively simple scoring method, I though back to the first time I tried to score a game -- Game One of the 1978 World Series between the Dodgers and the Yanks. I was eight years old, and my parents left my brother and me alone for the evening, parking us in front of the TV. "Do you know how to keep a box score?" my dad had asked. "It's a way of writing down what happened in the game." Rushed for time, he didn't get to explain further, so I dutifully wrote down event by event for a few innings ("Dusty Baker homered!") before my attention span got the better of me. When he got home later, he looked over my work, then showed me a system of lines, dots, shading and numbered fielders that I still take to the ballpark every time.

The Anaheim third had a couple of adventurous plays for novice scorers. Figgins squirted a double down the leftfield line and then took third on Vlad's fly to centerfield (8, but no SF, kid). Glaus grounded to second, but Miguel Cairo threw home, nailing Figgins at the plate (FC 4-2). On what might have been a busted hit-and-run, Glaus then tried to steal and Posada gunned him down (CS 2-6). Just as he had for every other half-inning, the kid turned to me and asked, "How many hits in that inning? How many runs?" I tried to explain that he could just look at the scoreboard, but after about the third time I realized that concept still eluded the tyke.

The Yanks got two back in the third. With one out, Anaheim starter Kelvim Escobar walked Cairo. "Walking the number nine hitter is a bad idea in this lineup," I declared to everyone within earshot, and soon enough I was proven right. Lofton drew a walk and then Derek Jeter doubled to the base of the centerfield wall, scoring Cairo. Alex Rodriguez slapped a sharp single through the left side, and Lofton came home, cutting the score to 3-2.

In the top of the fourth, the rain began pelting us. Ben was in shorts and a t-shirt and didn't seem to mind, while I had a jacket -- the wrong jacket, a custom-made corduroy and leather badass jacket that I didn't want to see soaked. Neither did I wish to douse my iPod or my scorebook, so we trekked down and around to take cover in the Loge level. At that point Ben went on a tirade about the covered environment. "If I had to watch games from the loge, I don't even think I'd come to the ballpark," he said, "Upper deck is where it's at." I nodded in agreement. We settled near the rightfield foul pole and talked NBA playoffs during the delay; with my Utah Jazz having missed the postseason for the first time in nearly 20 years, I haven't even seen a whole game, but the local angle with Pistons coach Larry Brown's feeble attempts to browbeat the New Jersey Nets young coach, Lawrence Frank, had piqued my interest.

Within a half-hour, play had resumed. The Angels had put a man on third as the rain had started via a Jeff DaVanon double and a fly ball. Bengie Molina lofted a long fly to right-center which Lofton ran down, but the ball was deep enough to score DaVanon, 4-2. Shane Halter struck out to end the inning, and before the next frame could start, the rain retuned. Ben and I wandered out to the concourse and stood around for about 20 minutes as I explained that if the game went less than five innings, none of it counted. "None of it? Wow. The homers?" Washed away. The idea seemed to blow his mind. "I did not know that." Finally, we pulled the plug and piled onto a crowded 4 train full of wet fans.

As it turned out, play resumed after a 1 hour, 48 minute delay and the game, the remainder of which I caught on TV, turned into a classic. The Yanks tied the score 4-4 in the fifth on a Cairo single, a Lofton triple, and an A-Rod single. The Angels retook the lead in the next half-inning when Vlad crushed a pitch to right-center off of Brown, who had strangely waited out both rain delays to stay on the mound. The Bombers took a 6-5 lead in the eighth off of their nemesis from the 2002 postseason, Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez, as Derek Jeter stroked an RBI single and then A-Rod reached on a two-out error, scoring Lofton.

Mariano Rivera came on in the ninth for the Yanks and you could just see it all wrapped up in a neat little package, another great comeback topped off by Mo dropping the hammer. But not on this night. With one out, Rivera yielded a hit to rookie Angel first baseman Casey Kotchman, his first in the bigs. Kotchman went off for a pinch-runner as the Yanks retrieved the ball, Jorge Posada flipping it to him as he crossed the foul line. Molina, the light-hitting catcher, was the next hitter, and he shocked everybody by slamming a two-run homer over the rightfield wall. Rivera could be seen mouthing, "Oh my God!" as he watched the ball and the Yankee lead disappear -- his first blown save since last August, a 27-save streak.

But the Yanks would not die. With one out, Jorge Posada singled off of Troy Percival and then yielded to pinch-runner Homer Bush, who promptly stole second. Hideki Matsui walked and then Ruben Sierra, a man with more than his share of clutch hits in this young season, drove Bush home by lining a single up the middle. The Yanks won it in the tenth as Gary Sheffield doubled home A-Rod, topping off a wet, wild, and wacky night of baseball which ended nearly six-and-a-half hours after it began.

Am I sorry I left in the face of this classic? Hell no. Call me jaded, but after being hot and sweaty all day long and then soaked at the park, curling up on the couch wearing dry clothes, beer in hand and A/C on full blast in front of this epic was exactly where I wanted to be last night. Since the Yankees are going to let us exchange our tickets for another (lesser) game, it's a really a no-lose situation. Just like the Yanks themselves these days.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004


Pardon the Dust

As you may have noticed from the comments or the home page, things are a little different around here today. Blogger rolled out a new system as I was trying to post my Productive Outs follow-up late last night, and in a case of late-night early-adoption blues, I tried to see what would happen.

The good things: many of Blogger's features now behave in a similar fashion to Movable Type blogs; individual pages are built for each post and include comments built in instead of as a third-party extension. The permalink system is now based on the article title instead of a long string of numbers, which might be easier to remember if...

The bad things: .. there wasn't some glitch which had elminated a directory level in some of my posts. So if you see a link that goes:

as on the home page's blog box and you get a "not found," the proper structure is:

Another bad thing is that unlike the third-party comment systems, or MT's built-in one, this one has no field for either an email address or a home page link. I encourage those of you commenting (and I wish there were more of you) to include either one or the other, because I always take comments from those who stand behind them with their "identity" much more seriously than semi-anonymous ones.

Anyway, enough for now. Please feel free to email me if you're having trouble with any part of the new system, and otherwise, enjoy!


Productive Outs, Revisited

The day after I visited the Productive Outs issue, Larry Mahnken published his own debunking of this nouveau statistic at The Hardball Times. Mahnken did a good bit of research on the issue; most importantly, he highlighted the fact that ESPN's Buster Olney didn't even define the stat correctly, something which everybody else (myself included) missed.

Mahnken's piece starts by taking issue with the way Olney presented his figures in the article, and he gets in several good points along the way:
Olney provides very little data, period, and what data he does provide is presented in a manner which will make the non-skeptical reader believe it supports him. The rate of productive outs is given for only 12 teams this season, the top six and bottom six. The top includes some teams that have surprised thus far, the bottom includes teams that have disappointed. The implication being that making or not making productive outs is the cause of their success or failure.

The only "Productive Out Percentage" numbers given for past years are the POP numbers for the Florida Marlins and Anaheim Angels last season, both of whom ranked in the top five. The implication is, of course, that making productive outs is the reason these teams won the last two World Series (over teams that currently rank in the bottom five).

Ignored is the fact that Florida's POP during the regular season last year is not particularly relevant to their postseason success, and that Anaheim's POP last season, when they finished 77-85, is not even close to being relevant to their postseason success in 2002.

It's clear that Olney did very little research for his article, and what research he did do was data mining, trying to find stats that supported his claims.

Because the data is compiled by the Elias "You'll Know What We Want You To Know" Sports Bureau, productive out data is impossible to find, making an independent study of regular season productive outs almost impossible. However, for the sake of discovering and spreading truth, rather than dogma, I did an independent study of the past two postseasons using the game logs available at Retrosheet. The study was long and tedious, but I believe the results were worth it.
Recall that in Olney's recent article, he defined Productive Outs as when:

* A baserunner advances with the first out of an inning.
* A pitcher sacrifices with one out.
* A baserunner is driven home with the second out of an inning.

Productive Out Percentage was described as "productive outs divided by the total number of outs." But as Mahnken points out, this is incorrect. The numbers offered for POP aren't based on dividing by total outs, nor on dividing by productive out situations. Rather, it's productive outs divided by outs made in productive out opportunities. Commented Mahnken at the newly reconstituded Baseball Primer: "As for dividing by outs in opportunities, it's the only way the stat is similar to what Olney listed. If you divide it by all outs, then the Marlins had something like a .090 POP last postseason."

Bless the patient soul that sits somewhere under Mahnken's Yankee cap, because Larry and I swapped emails three times before the sublety of the difference between "productive out situations" and "outs made in productive out situations" finally sunk into my thick skull. Using the aforementioned definitions of a productive out as p1, p2, and p3, here is the formula, along with a very similar one to which Mahnken refers in his article, the rate of productive outs (RPO). Larry did an excellent job of spelling out the difference between the two, so I'll quote his email:
POP = [productive out (p1+p2+p3)]/[outs in productive out situations]

RPO = [productive out (p1+p2+p3)]/[productive out situations (p1+p2+p3)]

If there's a runner on base with no out, that's a productive out situation. If the batter makes an out and the runner doesn't advance, his POP is .000. If he makes an out and the runner advances, his POP is 1.000. If he doesn't make an out, his POP is .---, because he made no outs.

If the batter has ten productive out situations and makes four outs, two of them productive, his POP is .500 [2/4] , his RPO is .200 [2/10].
It should be pointed out that the hypothetical batter above would have a .600 OBP in those productive out situations, at which point no respectable analyst alive would give a rat's ass about his Productive Out Percentage. But the difference in the formula is important. It's the anwswer to the question, "When this guy makes an out, how often is it a productive out?" but not, "How often does this guy make a productive out in a situation which a productive out can be made?" Those are two different numbers. Looking at it back in plain English, I can see why the definition would be prefereable to that of RPO, but the latter is the formula I'd assumed was being talked about when I first read the article. That Olney and whoever's editing him at ESPN couldn't even bother to define it correctly still galls me; that I didn't check it more closely for myself galls me only a bit less.

In the Hardball Times article, Mahnken goes on to point out that while eventual champs Anaheim and Florida did well in POP in the postseasons in which they won, both ranked third among the eight playoff teams in their respective campaigns. Many teams with higher postseason POPs went home earlier than the champs. A much better indicator of team success for the past two postseasons (72 games in all) that Mahnken found was on-base percentage in productive out situations (in other words, getting a hit or a walk instead of making a productive out). OBP in those situations had a .750 correlation with winning percentage, compared to .463 for POP and .283 for RPO.

Furthermore, the overall correlation of POP to winning percentage in the postseason sample was very low compared to more familiar overall indicators (that is, not just in productive out situations):
OBP: .841

SLG: .855
OPS: .874
POP: .463
In the words of Eric Cartman, "Dude, that is f---ing weak."

Mahnken concludes his article by trying to point out the fallacy of some offhand comments that Yankee announcers Jim Kaat and Paul O'Neill had been making about the current Yankee team. Olney wrote:
As club broadcasters Jim Kaat and Paul O'Neill noted last weekend, the team's offense is built much differently than in the championship years; in those seasons, the Yankees advanced runners, put runners in motion, bunted occasionally. While they didn't always have an overpowering offense -- the notable exception being the 125-win season of 1998 -- they had an efficient offense that provided the team's typically strong pitching enough runs to win.
Over the past two postseasons (one first-round loss, one trip to the World Series) the Yanks had a POP of .310, while the 1998-2000 teams (all of which featured O'Neill and ended in dogpiles on the pitcher's mound) their postseason POP was .268. While at first glance this seems worthy of a smirk at Kaat, O'Neill and Olney's expense, Mahnken himself already reminded us that postseason POPs weren't especially relevant to regular-season POPs; in this case, the trio has been harping on some heretofore unreported high regular-season POPs of the Yankee teams of yesteryear and comparing them to the current Yankee lineup, and we've only got a tiny, now-outdated sample of this year's model to go on. Hey ESPN, when are you going to update that chart now that the Yanks have started winning?

As tempting as it is to declare total victory over Olney's ignorant piece, the sample size issue is still something of a fly in the ointment. Seventy-two postseason games is less than half of one team's full-season schedule. A full season's worth of data for thirty teams would yield much more substantial (if not necessarily more conclusive) results, as would a full study which included the 142 playoff series since 1969 (the sample of which was the basis of Olney's postseason postmortem last November). As somebody who's basked in the raibow of tedium when it comes to baseball research, I can tell you taht Mahnken has done an admirable job of slogging through the play-by-play results thus far, but a larger-scale approach is needed to debunk the stat further.

Onto some other points I'd like to make on the issue...

One of the more interesting criticisms I received, both here and at Primer comes from one Nod Narb, who wrote:
Lots of well deserved criticism here. I agree with it all. However, I can't help but think that you haven't looked at Wilkins' BP study with the same critical eye. I know a number of studies just like Wilkins' have shown that Ks aren't detrimental to run scoring, but it's a flawed analysis. Not to get into it too much here, but you can't look at post-hoc outcomes, you also need to consider the other possibilities of balls in play. While a ball in play may lead to a double play, it may just turn into a regular out, it may fall in for a hit, or it may be booted...

If you're going to be so critical of articles by people who oppose sabermetrics, at least treat sabermetric articles with the same critical perspective.
First of all, I chose to focus on what the writer refers to as "post-hoc outcomes" rather than a more game-theory oriented approach because my interest in the stat was whether it had any predictive value on a large scale with regards to scoring runs, not on a micro level trying to divine what the batter's intent may have been. I chose Wilkins' study on strikeouts primarily because of its immediate accessibility rather than its air-tightness. I don't have the data facility to replicate the BP study, but they do this kind of stuff routinely and have staked a small empire on their ability to do so accurately. I won't give them a free pass, but given the scrutiny which the group's work receives internally, I have less reason to doubt that they've erred on the level of Olney's incorrect definition.

Regardless, looking at the post-hoc correlation of strikeouts to runs scored is only one way of looking at the matter. Another way of looking at it is to compare the value of a strikeout to that of a non-strikeout. For that I've turned to Tangotiger's estimable work on run estimation (the "How Runs are Really Created" series), which is a bit tricky to find given Baseball Primer's transitional dust -- it's in the Google cache, minus the graphics. In the first installment, Tangotiger's computation based on Retrosheet data from 1974-1990 puts the marginal value of a strikeout at -.269 runs, that of any out at -.265 runs -- not a huge difference, but a slight disadvantage to strikeouts if we're trying to predict the total number of runs. Across the broad range of 24 base-out combinations, a strikeout does slightly lower your run expectancy. Grounding into a double-play, of course is much more detrimental; in the comments section of that article, Tangotiger notes that the value of a GIDP is "about -.45 runs". Why the inexactitude given his propensity for precision, I'm not sure.

Elsewhere within that article is a chart which has some additional relevance to the situation at hand. As Earl Weaver's Fifth Law goes: "If you play for one run, that's all you'll get." Using the run expectancy matrix in my last piece, I showed the total number of runs expected in particular base-out situations such as moving a runner from first to second with the first out goes down. But the chance of scoring a single run, according to the data supplied by Tangotiger, actually increases:
Chance of scoring, from each base/out state

0 outs 1 out 2 outs
1B .38 .25 .12
2B .61 .41 .21
3B .86 .68 .29
So the runner who moves from first to second with the first out has a slightly higher chance of scoring (41% as opposed to 38%), even while the total run expectancy for the inning drops from .953 runs to .725. The runner moving from second to third on the first out has increased his chance of scoring to 68% from 61% even while the total run expectancy for the inning goes from 1.189 to 0.983. Note that moving a runner from second to third with the second out drastically decreases his chance of scoring, from 41% to 29%. Still, as there are times when a one-run strategy may be preferable -- to tie or win a game in the bottom of the ninth, or perhaps to get an early run on the board against a stingy pitcher -- advancing the runner with the first out will increase his chances of scoring. One run you want, one run you may get.

Somewhere Earl Weaver is smiling.

Friday, May 07, 2004


Lunchtime Link: Rapidly Aging Ranger Danger

First off, thanks to everyone who came by to read my recent Flat Earth Society post, and especially to the other bloggers out there who linked to and wrote about it. As far as I can tell, you all helped set a sitewide record for number of visitors on Wednesday. I've got a few points and links to add on the topic of Productive Outs which I will get to sometime this weekend.

Today's Lunchtime Link (yeah, it's a bit late) comes via a free Baseball Prospectus article from the other day which I only just got to read (still buried under an avalanche of work). Back in February when Alex Rodriguez was traded, one of the interesting side notes was that Alfonso Soriano's age was adjusted from 26 to 28, a piece of information of which the Rangers were apparently aware. Hurriedly, I dashed off an email to BP's Nate Silver to ask whether he'd rerun Sori's PECOTA projection, but at that point he hadn't. Apparently it was a popular demand, and after rearranging his sock drawer and cleaning out the rain gutters, he's finally gotten around to it. Here are Sori's weighted mean projections for 2004 compared:
          AB    BA   OBP   SLG   EqA   VORP

Age 26 631 .305 .354 .550 .297 56.8
Age 28 625 .299 .345 .537 .292 52.1
The 4.7 run difference comes out to about half a win -- not an earth-shaking amount by any means. Silver also points out that Sori's breakout rate -- the chance that he would improve significantly -- dropped from 14% to 8%. "It's a little bit less likely now that Soriano is going to emerge as the true, Sosaesque slugger that some people have confused him with," he writes. Keep in mind that the above projection is park-neutral; moving from Yankee Stadium to The Hitter's Paradise at Arlington will inflate his stats a fair amount [oops, it turns out I was wrong. According to Nate, both projections were based on him as a Ranger.]

Silver goes on to point out that the age range which Soriano finds himself is not only the peak of the typical player's career but also the flattest part of the curve, when his value is changing the least from year to year. It's down the road where the difference in Soriano's forecast is felt -- 1.2 Wins Above Replacement four years from now; again, not a huge difference. Cumulatively, his next five years (2004-2008) project at about three wins lower than before, 19.5 Wins Above, down from 22.4.

The real difference can be seen in looking at his PECOTA comparables -- his "old" Top Five (which is to say his younger one) had Ernie Banks, Sammy Sosa, and Andre Dawson along with Juan Samuel and George Bell; the new one has... Kelly Gruber? Samuel and Raul Mondesi both make that chart as well. Notes Nate, "It is fair to say that the age change radically reduces the chances that Soriano will put together a Hall of Fame-type career." Not that Cooperstown had started engraving his plaque.

Does this matter for the Rangers? Silver doesn't think so. Sori will be a free agent after 2006, when the really big money hits the table. He'll be only thirty then, but it's likely other factors -- the market situation, the teams interested, his recent performance -- will have more bearing than the fact that he's aged so rapidly. What remains to be seen is how rapidly Rangers fans age from watching him swing at pitches in the dirt. Thus far, Sori's off to a slow start despite the Rangers' fast one. Here's a quick comp between him and his trade counterpart:
        AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS   EQA  HR  RBI

Sori .304 .344 .446 .791 .273 4 19
A-Rod .266 .360 .477 .837 .290 6 12
Thus far Soriano's been downright useless on the road: 12-for-47 with 3 doubles, no homers, and a .319 SLG. Reverse Coors Effect or small sample size? I'm guessing the latter, but that will really cause the Rangers some problems if their new slugger has developed bad hitting habits in his short time at Arlington.

* * * has a couple of links pertaining to me, including a photo of my abbreviated night out at Shea Stadium on Wednesday. In the company of Alex B., Alex C., and Mets ticket office employee Josh O., I caught the first 4 1/2 innings of the Mets and the Giants, missing Barry Bonds due to his illness but seeing Mike Piazza wallop his 352nd homer as a catcher, breaking Carlton Fisk's all-time record and drawing a huge ovation from a sparse crowd. We left when the Mets grounds crew broke out the tarp, which was just as well; it's been a frazzling week for me and I certainly didn't mind getting home in time to catch that night's handy Yankee comeback. A's closer Arthur Rhodes must have a tattoo on his butt that says, "Property of the New York Yankees"; his career ERA against the Bombers is 6.75 in 77.1 innings, including some biiiiig hits (14 homers), most notably David Justice's pennant-winning dinger in the 2000 ALCS.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004


The Flat Earth Society

The Moneyball Backlash is in full effect these days, with no shortage of announcers and writers jumping on the anti-sabermetric bandwagon. Locally, even esteemed Yankee announcer Jim Kaat spent a good time bashing Michael Lewis' and the use of statistical analysis during the Yanks-Red Sox series, and he's been at it a few times since then, making YES telecasts just that much less enjoyable (the quality of the Yanks' play notwithstanding). When I tune in I expect Michael Kay to blow hard, but hearing Kaat head for the dark side is quite dismaying.

The other night ESPN Baseball Tonight's Harold Reynolds unleashed an anti-on-base percentage rant that was so bitter, I had to TiVo it so that I could drag his ignorant screed out into the harsh light of day. No, I don't expect any better from him or ESPN these days, but still, somebody ought to whack Reynolds upside the head with a fungo bat. To set up the context, Reynolds' rant occrued towards the end of the show. Chris Berman had just displayed a chart of the AL On Base Percentage leaders:
Frank Thomas  CHI  .494

Ron Belliard CLE .481
Lew Ford MIN .473
Jason Giambi NYY .453
Melvin Mora BAL .442
Berman then asked his fellow Baseball Tonight panelists, "Should we care about that stat?" This was apparently a setup for the show's "3 Up, 3 Down segment," so it was more or less written beforehand. Here is Reynolds' response, transcribed to the best of my ability. You're really missing his squeaky inflection and condescending tone -- his fractured style is more or less captured, however:
I think it's overrated. I don't think it indicates how the game is played at all. There are certain roles -- guys that get their man over in certain situations -- you're not going to get an on-base percentage for that. I think it takes away from the game. And the other thing is a lot of the guys with high on base percentages, they just clog the bases. Talk about Frank Thomas.

Corey Paterson -- these are guy who have bad on-base percentages right now -- .309 [OBP]. This guy is going to score runs for you. On this list I've got Corey Patterson, I've got Jimmy Rollins, and I have Derek Jeter.

Jimmy Rollins last year had a .320 on-base percentage scored 85 runs. He hit 8 home runs. Take away those home runs, he was on base 211 times and he scored 77 times. That ain't no .500 on-base percentatge, but he's scoring a heck of a lot of runs.

Derek Jeter ,well we know, .259 [OBP], we know his at batting average struggle and all that. He scores 33 percent of the time he's on base and that will change as the season goes on because he's going to be on base. Guys that don't clog the bases are going to go base to base.

Now I have a problem with everybody saying, oh this is such a great stat. Jason Giambi, if he hits the ball out of the ballpark, that's great. But if he's on first base, he ain't scoring on the gapper, its taking two hits to score him. To me that's the difference in the game today. Everybody's saying on-base percentage is the greatest thing ever. Jason Varitek, this guy last year, he scored 63 runs. All right? That's great, he had almost a .400 on-base percentage. He scored 63 runs! I mean, I don't get it. I just don't get it.

Then Frank Thomas, we talked about the Big Hurt. .494 OBP, .489 last year, he doesn't extend the plate that much. 216 times he's on base last year, he scored 45 runs. He's scoring one out of five times he's on base. I think we're getting carried away with this on-base percentage thing, because it doesn't tell the true story of a full game. I'm not going to pitch to Frank Thomas in a situation when I know I got a base open and he's not going to score on a gapper. I don't want him hitting the ball out of the ballpark. It changes the way the game is played. I think we're taking numbers and we're forgetting all the things that go in to making baseball what it really is.
Whew! Holding up Corey Patterson and Jimmy Rollins as "guys who are going to score some runs" while disdaining the likes of Jason Giambi, Frank Thomas, and Jason Varitek is really something coming from a man with a career .327 OBP and 21 homers. Reynolds seems to think scoring runs has nothing to do with where in the batting order you are and who's hitting behind you in the lineup, and he doesn't have much use for those lousy runs scored by big slow guys who can hit the ball over the fences.

Here's a chart of the players in question. TOB is Times on Base, which is H + BB + HBP - HR. R - HR is the number of times a guy scored besides his own homers, and %R is the frequency with which he did so. HR and R are added for some sorely needed perspective.
           PA    OBP  Out  TOB  R-HR   %R    HR    R

Rollins 689 .320 491 211 77 36.4 8 85
Patterson 347 .329 243 101 36 35.6 10 49
Jeter 542 .393 345 202 77 38.1 13 87

Thomas 662 .390 415 216 45 20.8 42 87
Giambi 690 .412 416 243 56 23.0 41 97
Varitek 521 .351 352 181 38 21.0 25 63
The "score some runs guys" scored a bit over one in three times they got on base, while the "clog the basepaths guys" only did so about one in five -- a decent point worth making, to cut Reynolds some slack. The BUT in that statement is bigger than Jennifer Lopez's derriere, however. First off, Reynolds completely dismisses the value of a home run -- that's a run in the bank, while a runner on base is merely a potential run. The cloggers outhomered the scorers by a margin of 108 to 31, about 26 homers per player, to say nothing of the benefits of driving in other runs. Second, even with Jeter missing a month of the season and Patterson missing about half, the "score some runs" guys used up many more outs than the cloggers, 1259 to 1183 -- about one game's worth of outs per player -- and they scored 26 fewer runs overall. The scorers are helped immensely by Jeter, who really is an OBP machine compared to the other two. Compare Jeter and Rollins, who scored the exact same number of runs without homers. Rollins used up 146 more outs and only got on base nine more times than Jeter. Harold, HOW IN THE HELL DOES THAT HELP AN OFFENSE?

The answer is that it doesn't. Yet still some persist in similar lines of reasoning.

Last week ESPN's Buster Olney reintroduced a "stat" called the Productive Out Percentage which he introduced last fall. According to the article, a productive out is defined as either:

1) a baserunner advancing with the first out of an inning
2) a pitcher sacrificing with one out;
3) a baserunner driven home with the second out of an inning

Productive Out Percentage is the percentage of productive outs divided by the total number of outs. Writes Olney:
... Boston plays the "Moneyball" style -- never bunt, don't take chances on the bases, sit back and let your hitters hack away and do the work regardless of the game situation, regardless of the identity of the opposing pitcher. Other teams -- the Anaheim Angels and the Florida Marlins, most notably -- prefer to use their outs productively, by bunting, employing the hit-and-run; they put runners in motion and emphasize aggressive base-running as part of a larger strategy to put pressure on the opposing pitcher and the defense behind him. will be interesting to see if, eventually, this passive-aggressive approach hurts Boston, especially with the shift in the team's makeup. The Red Sox nearly bashed their way to the World Series last year, but they improved their pitching for 2004, shed Todd Walker, added light-hitting glove whiz Pokey Reese, and have been playing without injured Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon, whose rehabilitations are being closely monitored.

... The Marlins and Angels have fully diverse offenses: some excellent power hitters, an essential element; some patient hitters who draw walks, also crucial; they have hitters who make contact, advance runners efficiently; and they run the bases.

The offenses of the Red Sox and Athletics, on the other hand, are effectively two-dimensional, eschewing the productive out within their philosophy. Boston has one sacrifice bunt, Oakland zero, and through games of April 26, the Red Sox rank next-to-last in productive out percentage -- a statistic developed by the Elias Sports Bureau and ESPN -- at .200; Oakland is last, at .137.

Productive out percentage is the ratio of productive outs -- generally, advancing runners with the first out in an inning, or driving home a run with the second out. Last season, Anaheim ranked fourth overall in this statistic, at .347, the Marlins fifth, at .334. Juan Pierre ranked third among individual players, with a POP of .545.
Accompanying this is an Elias-generated list of the top six and bottom six teams in POP through April 26:
1. Detroit Tigers .430
2. Arizona Diamondbacks .417
3. Pittsburgh Pirates .417
4. San Diego Padres .400
5. Texas Rangers .365
6. Houston Astros .349

25. Seattle Mariners .229
26. San Francisco Giants .226
27. Cincinnati Reds .225
28. New York Yankees .210
29. Boston Red Sox .200
30. Oakland Athletics .137
Are the alarm bells sounding yet? They should be. Trumpeting a stat in which the Tigers lead the majors after four weeks is just silly, potential 25-game improvement or not. In all likelihood the three lowest-ranked teams in this stat are going to the playoffs, while the three highest-ranked will be making tee times by August. Furthermore, what of the other 18 teams? It would be helpful to know, for example, how well the division-contending teams are doing, even at this early juncture. It would be even more helpfpul to have a full season's data, or several full seasons of data to look at so that we can better evalulate the veracity of the stat. Why we don't have that, here or anywhere else, is a topic to which I'll return later.

One big problem with the productive out concept is that trading a base for an out is not, on the whole, a good payoff. Looking at a run expectancy matrix such as this one, which was compiled by TangoTiger based on 1999-2002 data, we have (reading across is the number of outs, down is the baserunner situation):
          0     1      2

0 0.555 0.297 0.117
1 0.953 0.573 0.251
2 1.189 0.725 0.344
3 1.482 0.983 0.387
1+2 1.573 0.971 0.466
1+3 1.904 1.243 0.538
2+3 2.052 1.467 0.634
1+2+3 2.417 1.650 0.815
The expected yield of a runner on first with no outs is 0.953 runs. Use up an out to move him to second and the expectancy drops to 0.725 runs, a loss of 0.228 runs. The expected yield of a runner on second with no outs is 1.189, use up an out to move him to third and that drops to 0.983, another 0.206 runs lost. And so on.

But that's only one part of the matter at hand. Proponents of the productive out tend to decree the walk-wait-wallop model of offense in part because strikeouts don't advance baserunners, which is certainly true. But strikeouts also prevent even more detrimental events such as double-play grounders,. It's been shown -- most recently by Ryan Wilkins at Baseball Prospectus -- that far from the conventional wisdom that batter strikeouts are worse than other outs, they have a slight positive correlation with measures of offensive performance such as OPS and Marginal Lineup Value Rate which correlate well with scoring runs.

Olney's introduction of the POP stat came during his postmortem of the World Series, when he pointed to Aaron Boone's at bat in the 11th inning of Game Four, with the bases loaded and one out, when Boone struck out. Olney pointed out the so-called significance of productive outs:
There have been 142 post-season series since 1969. In 130, one team or another has had an advantage in Productive Outs -- and in 62.3 percent of those 130 series, the team with the advantage in Productive Outs has prevailed. Factor in the 12 series in which opposing teams have tied in Productive Outs, and it can be said that teams with a deficit in POs have won 34.5 percent of post-season series.
The problem is that even in considering the results of a short series, Productive Outs is an unproductive indicator relative to other statistics. A man named Mitchell Below writing a now-defunct blog called Tribescribe did a handy little study of those 142 series, the results of which are here:
Adv.  Winner  Loser   Neither

R 78.9% 17.6% 3.5%
HR 61.3% 26.1% 12.7%
PA* 57.7% 33.1% 9.2%
PO 57.0% 34.5% 8.5%
BB 56.3% 35.9% 7.7%
Productive Out advantage predicted the winner in 57% of postseason series (62.3% if you exclude the no-decisions as Olney did above), a rate exceeded by advantages in plate appearances (for these purposes simply at bats + walks), homers, and runs. In other words, thanks for nothing. Yes, there are certainly times where a productive out comes in handy, and the Yanks might have had themselves World Championship number 27 if Boone had been able to provide one. But such anecdotal evidence isn't what holds water in this battle. The real question is do productive outs correlate with scoring runs, or don't they?

I don't have an answer for that, as I lack the facility to process play-by-play data -- it will take a Keith Woolner, a Tangotiger, an MGL to answer that question. But all of this brings me back to what I was talking about above with regards to the incomplete reporting of the team POPs in Olney's article. If this stat is so damned important, then why isn't it being calculated on a daily basis? The answer may lie with the players involved.

The Elias Bureau has a very colorful history in its proprietary dealing with statistics; if you've ever read any Bill James, you know that Elias' obstinance is what led to the founding of STATS Inc. and James' alliance with it. Back when the first Olney article was published, Baseball Musings' David Pinto, who used to work for STATS, had this to say about POP:
This is Elias playing politics. The Elias Sports Bureau cannot survive without the support of the leagues. What they see is themselves being made irrelevant by the likes of Billy Beane and Theo Epstein, who look to non-Elias people for information. If I'm an owner, I have to start asking why MLB is paying the Hirdts big money to keep stats, when others can do it as well and cheaper. So Elias has decided to appeal to all those GMs who think Beane is wrong.
Pinto, who now works for a company called Baseball Info Solutions along with other STATS vets, has been critical in the past of Elias for being more interested in peddling trivia than in educating fans or media clients about the game. And I'm afraid that short of a usable, testable statistic to add to our arsenal, that's just what we have here: trivia. I'm not saying that productive outs here and there aren't important or that they won't win you a game, but creating a stat which one columnist occasionally pulls out of his ass to selectively support his arguments is irresponsible at best and intellectually dishonest at worst.

That's the battle sabermetrics faces these days. Grinding persuasion won't work on some people, while others see the use of statisics as a license to selectively pull numbers out of the air without regard to their foundation. For every convert that Moneyball made, there's a guy with a career .397 OBP who's joined the Flat Earth Society and declared that chemistry is what matters, and another who declares that really, it's what guys hit on alternate Tuesdays when they've got the platoon advantage in a road game.

Back to Jim Kaat, Larry Mahnken had some good lines the other day, which I'll close with because they really sum this whole mess up quite well:
Listening once again to Jim Kaat spout more half-assed comments about how the game is supposed to be played, I'm starting to come to that realization I suppose all people come to as they get older, that you can't change the minds of the previous generation, you have to win over the minds of the next one. I should let Kaat and Kay's foolishness roll off my back a little, and focus more on presenting information to the casual observer of sabermetrics in a way that might be more appealing. Let the media and fanboys fawn over Derek Jeter's defense; we can't change their minds, it's the unbiased who we have to educate.
Amen to that.

Postscript: BP's Derek Zumsteg has been beating POP like a rented bat-boy over at his USS Mariner blog. Rather than making this article even longer by attempting to incorporate his take, I highly recommend you read what he has to say as well.

Post-Postcript: One more thing. After the commercial break following Reynolds' rant, BBTN went to a quick segment on Rickey Henderson, who signed with the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League again. The irony is killing me; somehow, I think it went right over Reynolds' head.


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