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.

Thursday, July 29, 2004


The Claussen Pickle

Not that I want to wipe this contest off the top of the page, but I've got an article up at Baseball Prospectus related to the Yankees and the trading deadline. It's my fifth Prospectus piece, a lengthy (and I mean lengthy) analysis of the prospects the Yankees have traded over the past decade, using BP's Wins Above Replacement measure as the currency.

I analyzed 76 trades over the stretch from the end of the 1993 season to Opening Day 2004 and focused on the deals in which the Yanks gave up "unproven talent," players who had less than 502 career plate appearances or 162 innings pitched (those numbers are equivalent to a qualifying for the batting or ERA crowns). No, Nick Johnson (P35 PA) and Ted Lilly (229 IP) don't qualify, nor does Rickey Ledee (587 PA). That left me 70 players to analyze, spread out from the majors to the minors to the Mexican leagues to sheer oblivion. I wasn't concerned so much with who they got in return or whether they "won" a trade. Rather, in thinking about last year's Brandon Claussen deal and other deadline moves, I wondered how good the players they traded went on to become.

The moral of the story is that the Yanks have done pretty well based on who they traded. You'll have to read the article to find out the details. It's a freebie, so please check it out.


Now THAT's A Brawl! Plus Other Morning Notes and a Contest

The world of baseball blogs doesn't have very many women, but quality helps to make up for quantity. Batgirl, a Minnesota Twins fan, has a VERY unique way of getting her points across -- Lego re-enactments. You absolutely have to check out her latest one. Thanks to for the tip.

I should have some big news here either today or tomorrow, and by that I don't mean Jose Contreras to the Marlins in a 3-way deal for Randy Johnson. I honestly don't think the Big Unit is going anywhere, and I'm more pissed that he nixed a deal to the Dodgers than the likelihood that the Yanks and Snakes don't match up well enough to pull off a deal (these guys must be rolling on the floor laughing about this headline).

But I wouldn't be too surprised if Brian Cashman has something else up his sleeve. Suffice it to say that by now, I don't think I'm the only one calling for random distribution of Felix Heredia's vital organs ( will get you in there). Cashman's ability to keep his mouth shut at the right time is what got the A-Rod deal done, and while whatever he does here won't have nearly that impact, he's got enough chips (Kenny Lofton, Scott Proctor, and Dioner Navarro come to mind) to pull off something small but perhaps vital to improving the team's fortunes.

Just to indulge in my wild-ass crystal-ball polishing for a moment, names swirling around either in the news or inside my head that make varying degrees of sense include out-of-favor spot lefties like Ricardo Rincon, Buddy Groom, or Tom Martin, erratic, expensive starter Kevin Millwood, swingman Ramon Ortiz, starter Jason Johnson (if only so the Times editors can yuk it up with "Yanks Grab Somebody Else's Johnson"), and ancient Mariner Jamie Moyer.

So here's an idea: drop your best sleeper pick for a Yankee deadline acquisition into the comment window. The best one that turns out to be true (my judgement) wins a spiffy piece of Futility Infielder merchandise, either a mug or a t-shirt (your choice). Those of you who are Baseball Prospectus subscribers might want to bone up on the art of rumor-mongering with this Jim Baker piece. Let's hear whatcha got, folks.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


Mind the Gap

Rather than belabor the finale of the Yankees-Red Sox series -- let's just say that Jose Contreras should never, ever be let near that lineup -- I wanted to take a quick look at what's separating the two teams. Over at Bronx Banter, my old sparring partner Sully, who runs a blog called The House That Dewey Built noted the following, which I've reformatted to fit here (the extra O is for opponent's):
        OPB   SLG   OOBP  OSLG

Sox .358 .470 .326 .407
Yanks .352 .456 .321 .431
Accompanying this, Sully asked, "Is there a better strategy for winning baseball games than hitting for more power and getting on base more often than your opponent?" Elsewhere he asked:
What do you all make of BP's adjusted standings, pythag and the like? As a Sox fan, it's little consolation to me that the Sox are better than the Yanks in this respect but it does provide conviction in my belief that the Sox are at the very least the Yanks' equal. I am interested in sober thoughts here. Not "all that matters are wins and losses baby".
I offered Sully some quick answers, which I may as well expand upon here because I'm not going back to dwell on that ugly mess of a game (though I'm ready for somebody to carve up Felix Heredia for organ donation). First, let's look at a portion of the Baseball Prospectus Adjusted Standings (through Sunday) to which he referred:
Team       W   L   RS   RA   W1   L1    EQR EQRA   W2   L2    D1   D2  

Red_Sox 54 44 548 479 55.5 42.5 577 444 61.4 36.6 -1.5 -7.4
Yankees 61 36 541 478 54.4 42.6 531 456 55.7 41.3 6.6 5.3
The first four columns are the two teams' actual wins, losses, runs scored, and runs allowed. Using BP's Pythagenport formula, a modification of Bill James' Pythagorean formula which takes into account the run environment (the total number of runs per game), the Sox, based on their runs scored and allowed, could be expected to have a record that's 1.5 games better than their current one. The Yankees, on the other hand, could be expected to have a record that's 6.6 games worse than their current record -- an eight game swing, the same gap as that in the loss column.

Looking at the next set of numbers, we find the Equivalent Runs produced by the team -- a team's total offensive production, adjusted for park and league environment - and the number of Equivalent Runs allowed as well. These numbers measure how the components of runs -- the hits, the walks, the steals, the outs -- should add up on both sides of the ball. The Red Sox could be expected to outscore their opponents by 133 runs, though they've actually outscored them by only 69 -- a huge swing of 7.4 games to the negative. The Yankees, on the other hand, could have been expected to outscore opponents by 75 runs, and in fact, they've only done so by 63. They've outdone that projection by 5.3 games, another huge gap.

I said it after the Yankee sweep at the beginning of the month and I'll say it again -- despite the large gap in the standings, the run differentials show that these two teams are pretty close, and that kind of stuff has a way of evening out over the course of a season. The larger the sample size, the more closely a team's record will resemble its Pythagorean record, and the more closely its projected runs will resemble its actual runs. The things that often cause over- and underperformance relative to the Pythagorean are things like records in one-run games, a large number of blowouts, and particularly clutch (or unclutch) performances. Timing is everything.

Just taking a quick glance at the two teams' records in one-run games, the Yanks were 17-11 through Sunday, while the Sox were 7-10. How about that for an easy answer? Flipping through the two teams' batting stats, check out their performance in the "Close and Late" split, situations when the game is in the 7th inning or later and the hitter's team is ahead by one run, tied, or with the potential tying run on base, at bat or on deck.
       AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS  SL*OB

Yanks .292 .381 .481 .862 .183
Opp .232 .290 .361 .650 .105

Sox .281 .355 .449 .804 .159
Opp .236 .312 .395 .707 .123
How do you like them apples? While close and late is not the be-all and end-all of clutch stats -- hitting with runners in scoring position or with two outs and runners in scoring position are just as important, if not moreso, and just as elusive to trend-tracking -- this performance nonetheless does explain a bit of the spread between those two teams. The Yankees have a higher OPS than their opponents in those situations by over 200 points, while the Sox are about 100 points better than their opponents. That last column is SLG times OBP, which is a pretty good thumbnail measure for runs created per at-bat, not to mention old, old favorite of mine. The Yankees are 75 percent more productive per at-bat than their opponents in those situations, while the Sox are about 29 percent more productive than their opponents. Yankee hitters are about 10 percent more productive than Sox hitters in those situations, and Yankee pitchers are about 15 percent more productive (or their opponents' hitters less productive) than Sox pitchers in those situations.

Check out some of those Yankee OPS numbers in that situation:
           OPS  PA

Giambi 1.098 39
Posada 1.095 51
Matsui 1.059 56
Cairo 1.026 29
Jeter .982 53
Sierra .955 36
Lofton .900 25
Sheffield .813 59
Rodriguez .736 58
Williams .576 58
Clark .557 32
With small sample sizes duly noted, that's still a whole lot of clutch goodness on one end, not to mention Mariano Rivera -- two consecutive blown saves after Monday night notwithstanding -- on the other. Some Sox numbers for comparison:
               OPS  PA

Garciaparra 1.115 18
Kapler 1.060 20
Damon 1.012 50
McCarty .995 29
Youklis .911 23
Ramirez, .897 55
Ortiz .890 54
Bellhorn .749 52
Mueller .734 35
Nixon .627 17
Varitek .617 52
Millar .576 43
Some good ones, but more clunkers than the Yanks. Add it all up and you can say that at least in this situation, the Yanks have been more clutch than the Sox this year. But be forewarned: clutch hitting is a statistical Sasquach, a mythical beast ofted hunted but never subdued, only found in retrospect. Clutch hits exist, consistent clutch hitters simply do not, no matter how many times your drunk-assed buddy on the barstool high-fives you as he talks about what a money player Ol' Googly-Eye Jackson is. Just because certain Yanks have hit well in 40 or 50 trips to the plate in certain situations doesn't mean they'll continue to do so; in fact it's more likely that those numbers will come to more closely resemble the rest of their stats. And whether or not the team in Boston is actually gunning for the AL East flag or merely trying to assure itself of the Wild Card, don't be surprised when the race tightens.

That is, unless the Yankees throw Felix Heredia's intestines to the wolves after finding another competent reliever, in which case the Bombers ought to run away with it all.

Sunday, July 25, 2004


So Much To Say, So Little Time

There's plenty to be said about the last four Yankees games, all of which I've watched. I've got a bunch of other projects in motion, some social engagements, and a fairly pressing need to clear the decks, so I'm just to roll through these with more brevity (late note: riiiiiight) than I'd otherwise prefer lest I miss a chance to jot down a few thoughts. C'est la vie -- I wouldn't trade what I have going on right now for anything but a front-line starting pitcher for the Yanks or a power-hitting first baseman for the Dodgers (or is that the other way around?)

• Andra and I attended Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays. At the outset I explained to her that Jays' starter Pat Hentgen used to be a good pitcher, winning the Cy Young award back in 1996, but that he was hardly the same anymore. In the back of my mind, I recalled an email exchange with a certain member of the Toronto front office (you smart kids can connect the dots) about Hentgen in January. My correspondant had noted that while Hentgen's Defense-Independent Pitching Stats weren't so hot [a 5.07 dERA], the Jays had been impressed with his second-half performance last year [he went 6-3 with a 3.10 ERA for the Orioles] coming off of Tommy John surgery, his velocity had returned, his breaking ball was very good, and Toronto was taking little risk on his one-year contract. I just nodded to myself, figuring that either my correspondent either had a bit of wishful thinking going on or else was duty-bound to defend his team's decision.

Anyway, the Yankees didn't just knock Hentgen off the mound on Wednesday, they knocked him into retirement. In retrospect, it wasn't at all surprising, because the guy had absolutely nuthin'. While the struggling Jays' pitcher escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the first unscathed, he found trouble again in the second, loading the bases with no out. Bernie Williams broke a grisly 2-for-41 slump with a single up the middle, and the Yanks kept the line moving, batting around to put up a five-spot, climaxed by Jorge Posada's two-run single. All of this with Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi sitting, the former with a small, nondisplaced fracture in his hand sustained the day before and the latter having undergone a battery of tests related to his still-sapped strength following that recent parasitic infestation (eeeugh).

In the top of the third, Yankee starter Javier Vazquez, who has not been sharp for the past month (a 7.06 ERA in his previous four starts) found trouble of his own, giving up two runs, ignominiously issuing a bases-loaded walk to backup catcher Greg Zaun. That Zaun, a career .375 slugger was batting in the fifth slot speaks volumes about the Jays' disappointing season.

The Bronx Bombers kept shelling Hentgen. Bernie delivered another RBI single in the bottom of the inning, and a Miguel Cairo infield single chased the Toronto starter, leaving two men on. Reliever Bob File came in to face Gary Sheffield, who's been swinging a hot bat lately despite bursitis in his left shoulder. Shef had delivered a game-winning two-run homer the day before, the 397th of his career. His shot had immediately followed Jeter getting hit by a pitch, just one more example of how he's been the big bat in the Bomber lineup, exacting vengeance and wreaking havoc on opposing pitchers. As File warmed up, I caught Andra up with this news, reminding her that at the outset of the season I'd said repeatedly to anyone within earshot, "Personal feelings about the man aside, there's no ballplayer I'd rather watch hit than Gary Sheffield."

Shef stepped into the box, wagging his bat with his usual menace. He turrned on File's first pitch, crushing it into the leftfield stands for a towering three-run homer that made the score 9-2. One of these days, I'm going to have to devote a whole piece to Shef. You take Barry, I'll take Gary.

Each team scored one more run before the game was out, with the Yanks' coming on Enrique Wilson lining a shot down the rightfield line, a perfect illustration that even a blind chicken finds a kernal of corn now and again, especially when a lousy middle reliever is the one scattering it. The only other event of note came in the seventh inning, when Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado stepped to the plate. A knucklehead in a Yankee road jersey one section over stood up and started berating Delgado with lines like "Go back to the Dominican Republic!" and "Get out of my country!" It took me a moment to piece together what he was saying -- Delgado has been the only major-leaguer to speak out regarding the U.S. war against Iraq. As I put two and two together, my blood began to boil, not only because of my own feelings on the matter, but also because the xenophobe in the stands couldn't even get Delgado's country right -- he's Puerto Rican, making him a U.S. citizen. Delgado's got a history of speaking his mind, having protested the U.S. Navy's history of testing weapons on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, stepping up with money and his good name to back the cause. When I turned and shouted at the knucklehead to sit his ass down, I was heartened by the fact that more people around me were directing their disapproval at him than they were at Delgado; the tough-looking guy a couple rows behind me responding by yelling, "Hey, you get out of my stadium!" Within a minute, said knucklehead, obviously inebriated, was being escorted out by his own friends.

Delgado was conspicuously absent from the field during "God Bless America," having been removed from the ballgame by manager Carlos Tosca and thus excuse from the rote display of patriotism during the seventh-inning stretch. The local media took note of the whole thing, of course, noting that while "God Bless America" is only played intermittently around the rest of the league, it's rammed down the throats of Yankee Stadium denizens every single game.

• I missed Thursday afternoon's ballgame because I was at work, but I watched parts of it during YES Network's encore presentation Friday morning. With the Yankee starting rotation in tatters, the rejuvenated Orlando Hernandez twirled an absolute gem. With his knee-high socks and his cap brim low, El Duque was the nationwide badass of old, baffling the Jays' hitters, pitching seven shutout innings and striking out ten while scattering a mere four singles and one walk. But the crafty 38-year-old Cuban was matching zeroes with former Yankee Ted Lilly, who was slightly less dominant but no less effective through 6.2 innings before giving way to the Toronto bullpen. The game stayed scoreless into the bottom of the ninth. Vinny (The Incredible) Chulk impressively struck out Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez, but Ruben Sierra lofted a 2-1 fastball over the fence for a 1-0 victory, only the second time in Yankee history a 1-0 game had ended in such a way, and the first time in 15 years that the 39-year-old Sierra had hit a walk-off homer -- or as we prefer to call them around here, a Get Off My Property Home Run. Sierra's reemergence has been one of the more heartening sidebars to the Yanks' season, as the once-promising-but-petulant slugger has exhibited nothing but class and maturity while providing a big bat off the bench and in the DH slot.

• Volumes could be written about Friday night's battle between the Yankees and Red Sox in Fenway Park. With the Yanks having sent the Sox reeling by sweeping them at the turn of the month -- capped by that incredible 13-inning affair in which Jeter dove into the stands at full speed -- the two teams entered the series nine games apart in the loss column, with the Sox more focused on maintaining the AL Wildcard than fighting for the division crown. The Yanks struck first against Bosox blowhard Curt Schilling with a Sheffield homer over the Green Monster, but the Sox roared back against shaky Yankee starter Jon Lieber, putting up three runs in the second, capped by Bill Mueller's two-run homer.

Boston extended its lead to 4-1 with a homer by Kevin Millar in the fourth, the YES announcers noting that the "Cowboy Up!" sloganeer had failed to walk the walk this season until breaking out earlier in the week. I had swapped emails with my friend Nick regarding Millar, the context of which was a rumor that Boston would trade for Houston centerfielder Carlos Beltran, recently acquired from the Kansas City Royals before the Astros went in the tank. I explained my understanding that with Johnny Damon enjoying a fine season, the Sox would put Beltran in right, with Trot Nixon and Manny Ramirez sharing left and DH, David Ortiz taking over first base and Millar being sent to the little girls' room with all of the other .380-slugging first basemen. I would soon be eating that crow.

The Yankees clawed for a run in the fifth, knocking Schilling out of his groove with a bunch of singles and a walk; Schill needed 25 pitches to get out of the innings. But the Yanks delivered an even harsher blow in the sixth. A-Rod reached on an infield single and then Giambi, who hasn't had a base hit since July 11, worked a walk off of the Boston pitcher with an epic ten-pitch at-bat. Posada won an eight-pitch affair with an RBI single up the middle. Hideki Matsui grounded into a fielder's choice which sent Giambi to third. Joe Torre, sensing he had Schilling on the ropes -- he'd already thrown another 26 pitches in the inning -- sent up Sierra to pinch-hit for Enrique Wilson. Five pitches later, Sierra chopped a pitch that a charging Millar fielded halfway between first and home. Giambi had gotten a good enough jump that he was already mid-slide by the time the Boston first baseman found the handle; in his hesitation he missed an opportunity to tag Sierra as he passed by, and when he turned to throw to first base, nobody was there. All hands were safe, and the score was now tied at 4. Immediately following that, Kenny Lofton smoked an RBI double down the rightfield line just under Millar's glove, giving the Yanks the lead. That spelled the end for Schilling, and Mike Timlin came on in relief. But Bernie Williams further tormented Millar by lacing another double down the rightfield line, scoring two runs, both charged to Schilling's room. Chalk up another five-spot for the Yanks.

The long inning had made Torre's decision to pull the shaky Lieber academic, and Paul Quantrill cameon in relief. Quantrill quickly gave up a solo Monster shot to a penitent Millar, trimming the lead to two. He coughed up another run in the seventh on a Johnny Damon single and a Jason Varitek double. In came spot lefty Felix Heredia; calling him a one-out guy is overly charitable, as Heredia had already failed at the simple task of retiring a single batter five times this year. He took that total to six by walking David Ortiz. But Tom Gordon came in and induced a double-play grounder from Manny Ramirez. He plunked Nomar Garciaparra in the back of the shoulder -- unintentionally, it appeared, but who knows? -- but retired Trot Nixon on a flyout to end the threat with the Yanks clinging to a 7-6 lead. But Gordon's magic wore off as Millar led off the eighth with his third homer of the game, another no-doubt Monster shot that tied the game. Gulp.

Boston closer Keith Foulke came on in the ninth inning and got Jeter -- back in the lineup after a mere day's rest -- to fly out, but Sheffield hammered a double high off of the massive leftfield wall and then A-Rod drove him home with a single to left, helping to erase memories of his miserable Fenway series back in April. Mariano Rivera nailed the game down in the bottom of the ninth, and with the victory came the murmurs that the Sox, now ten games back in the loss column and 37-38 over their past 75 games, were D.O.A. Alas, I missed the game's money shot -- Curt Schilling sobbing in the dugout alone following the final out. Oh well. So long as he's unhappy, I'm that much happier.

• Further suspicions that the Sox had flatlined came in the early innings of Saturday's game, the start of which was postponed for over an hour by rain. The Yanks scored two runs off of Bronson Arroyo in the second inning and had just added a third in the third when A-Rod stepped into the box. The young Sox hurler had already hit 12 men in 89.1 innings, the highest rate in the league, when he plunked Rodriguez on the elbow on a 1-1 pitch. Livid, the Yankee third baseman barked some choice four-letter words at Arroyo before Sox catcher Jason Varitek got in his face. A-Rod told Varitek to come on, and the Sox catcher, still wearing his mask, decked him in the face. From the look of the replays (which were of course repeated ad nauseum, with Fox annnouncers Tim McCarver and Joe Buck bloviating all manner of macho bullshit), it appears as though A-Rod got Varitek in a headlock and delivered a few choice blows himself as both benches emptied. Yankee starter Tanyon Sturtze joined the fray, battling a tag-team of reserve Sox outfielder/bodybuilding prettyboy Gabe Kapler and already-suspended behemoth David Ortiz, emerging with blood trickling from his left ear.

It took several minutes for the umpires to restore order while Fox cut to a clip of the two teams' May 20, 1976 fight at home plate following a collision between Lou Piniella and Carlton Fisk, the one in whch Sox pitcher Bill (Spaceman) Lee got his collarbone broken by Graig Nettles. Varitek comically resumed his position behind the plate before umpire Bruce Froemming told him to take a hike, and he got a massive ovation from the Fenway faithful upon exiting. Rodriguez was ejected as well, as were Kapler and Kenny Lofton, who was nowhere near any of the fray, at least as seen on TV. As the rest of the inning ended without further incident, speculation abounded as to whether Sturtze, clearly ready for war, would continue, and how soon before he would retaliate. The Fox idiots went so far as to wonder how it would look if Torre had another pitcher warming up while Sturtze drilled somebody, anticipating his own ejection.

Patched up with some goop over his ear gash, Sturtze did indeed return to the mound, his adrenaline obviously pumping. He gave up a single to Millar and a double to Bill Mueller, and then Millar scored on a Mark Bellhorn grounder. Another infield grounder scored Mueller, and the Sox had cut the lead to 3-2. Sturtze left after that inning, with reports that the Yankee pitcher had sustained a bruised pinky on his right (pitching) hand. Owie! Rookie Juan Padilla, incongruously wearing sunglasses on an overcast day, came on in relief and immediately shifted the game to a new kind of ugliness -- bad relief pitching. The two teams had called upon a combined total of seven relief pitchers in Friday night's emotional rollercoaster, most of them doing little besides pouring gasoline on the fire. With the Yanks forced to go to their pen early, they could only hope for the best while expecting the worst. And it was the worst they got. Padilla walked Ortiz, gave up a double to Manny, and allowed three straight singles to score two runs and load the bases with nobody out. He got lucky when he reacted quickly to a comebacker from Mueller, throwing home to begin a snappy 1-2-3 double play and then escaping on a Bellhorn lineout. But the Sox had taken a 4-3 lead.

The Yanks finally struck back in the sixth, still facing Arroyo. Wilson, who'd replaced Rodriguez in the batting order, reached on an infield single, and then Posada doubled. Matsui followed with a two-run double to rightfield to retake the lead. Arroyo got the next two hitters, but Miguel Cairo slapped a single up the middle to score Matsui. Bernie singled, ending Arroyo's afternoon. Curtis Leskanic walked both Jeter and Sheffield, forcing a run home. Wilson, likely setting a personal record with two positive events in the same inning, singled home two runs, and then Leskanic walked Posada as well. Mark Malaska came out of the bullpen to restore some order, striking out Matsui to cap the Yankee rally at six runs -- the third time in four days the Yanks had put up five or more in a single inning.

With the game now 9-4, it looked like a laugher in the Yankees favor, the Bronx Bombers finally stepping on the Sox's collective neck. But Padilla remained in the ballgame, quickly allowing the first two hitters to reach. Joe Torre replaced the rookie mid-count with Quantrill, who yielded a single to Millar to load the bases. On each of the next three hitters, Quantrill yielded a run, with the best result being a sac fly to Mueller. He struck out catcher Doug Mirabelli, who'd replaced Varitek, and then Torre called upon Heredia to do more damage. The Lefthanded No-Out Guy (LNOGY isn't as catchy an acronym as LOOGY, is it?) gave up walks to both Ortiz and Ramirez, allowing a run to cut the lead to 9-8. But rookie Scott Proctor saved the Yanks' bacon by coming on to blow away Nomar with some high-90s heat. Still, by the time the dust settled, the two teams had scored ten runs in an inning that lasted over an hour.

Ruben Sierra looked to set things right for the Yanks by homering over the Monster on Malaksa's third pitch of the next inning, and the Yanks then loaded the bases on three consecutive Boston errors, the hometown team looking something like the Bad News Bears. Alan Embree forced Tony Clark at home on a play that echoed the Yanks 1-2-3 DP, but Boston couldn't finish the job, leaving Embree to strike out Sheffield on three pitches (how often does that happen?) and then retire WIlson.

Proctor continued his impressive pitching until he gave up a two-out single in the eighth inning, whereupon Torre called upon Mo to get Manny (where was Jack?), which he did on a first-pitch fly ball. By this time it was ten minutes to eight, and Andra and I shut off the TV to head over to Nick's for a dinner party. The league's best reliever on the mound with a two-run lead against a team they were 9.5 games ahead of in the standings? No reason for the dinner bell to go unanswered.

And it was just as well. My pals and I have a saying: "At this point, if the Yankees aren't going to win this game, I don't want to watch." So we were spared the fiasco of the ninth. I was shocked when I got to Nick's that he didn't have the game on, but he'd been out all afternoon and was so wrapped up preparing an authentic taco fiesta that he hadn't even bothered. We turned on the TV just in time to see somebody -- Mueller it turns out -- being mobbed at home plate by his Sox teammates as the Fenway crowd went wild. We cursed, immediately turned off the TV, gnashed our teeth a few times while uttering a few more choice words, cracked open a round of beers, reminded ourselves that this wasn't Aaron Boone, and commenced partying. The Sox may have won, and the Sunday papers would be full of their rhetoric and the blow-by-blow descriptions, but we had better things to do than suffer.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


Two Dodger Thoughts

Happy two-year anniversary to Jon Weisman's great Dodger Thoughts blog, my hands-down favorite for news about the goings-on in Chavez Ravine. Jon's intrepid coverage of the Dodgers has been exactly what I needed to bridge the 3,000 mile gap -- not to mention the cynicism and alienation -- between my current station in life and the team I grew up rooting for.

With the Dodgers in the midst of a hot streak (winning 14 out of 15 and going up 2.5 games in the NL West) Jon invited me and several other bloggers, not all of us Dodger fans, to contribute a quick take on the team. Here's what I wrote:
Last week I decided to check in on the Dodgers on for the first time in a few weeks. It was the inning where Green hit the grand slam, the kind of thing that makes you believe that just maybe they can win something. Of course, with Jim Tracy, I always think they can find a way to be in it. Smoke, mirrors, duct tape around Adrian Beltre's ankle and the arms of the starting rotation, perhaps some voodoo dolls - one of these days Tracy's skill at getting the most out of this motley collection will pay off, and the Dodgers will return to their rightful place atop the NL West. I'm beginning to think that this is the year.
I'm a little scared to dig much deeper into the Dodgers with analysis right now, because the last time I did, they turned a mini-slump into a real slide. Even with this, I opened my big yap and they lost to the Rockies last night, so for now, I'll just keep this brief. Check out the wide range of amusing and thoughtful responses at Dodger Thoughts.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


The Numbers Man

At a recent Baseball Prospectus Bookstore gathering, Alex Belth recently helped me fight off a case of class clownism by showing me an advance copy of The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics by Alan Schwarz, who writes for ESPN, Baseball America and the New York Times. Two minutes of thumbing through it, I could barely bring myself to return the book.

Hotly anticipating its publication, I jumped through the necessary hoops to score a review copy, and I've had my nose buried in The Numbers Game since it arrived on Friday. Suffice it to say that if you have any interest in the history of baseball statistics, from the development of the box score to the onslaught of Internet-based live stat feeds and splits to the entry of performance analysis into front offices, this is a book for you. Take this as a fine companion to Moneyball.

My man Alex Belth recently published a superb interview he did with Schwarz last month. Here's an excerpt which captures some of the flavor of the exchange:
BB: How long have you had the idea to do a book?

AS: The idea for this project started about three years ago. Harvard Magazine asked me to profile a professor in their statistics department named Carl Morris. It's possible that your readers have since heard of him because he dabbled in baseball statistics. He had a lot of fun with baseball statistics and had lots of little ideas, and even big ideas about baseball statistics. So they thought it would be a fun profile. I went up and met professor Morris, up in Harvard Square. And I'm in a bagel shop, just talking with him about his ideas. And he told me about a method of looking at the game that I had never heard of. It's called the base-out matrix, where you look to see how many runs are scored in each of the twenty-four possible situations. There are three different out possibilities, zero, one or two outs. And then there are eight different configurations of bases empty, man on first, man on second, man on third, etc. So there are twenty-four different states. And if say, and this is off the top of my head, .57 runs are scored with a man on first and one out, and an average of .68 runs are scored with a man on second and two out, well then you know that the person who got a guy from first to second while making an out -- say getting the ground ball and moving him over from the right side, or whatever it may have been -- added on average .11 runs. It's just a way of looking at the Markovian states of the game. And I was like, "Wow, that's cool. I've never really looked at it that way." And professor Morris went out of his way to tell me that this was not his idea. This had been done for the first time by a man named George Lindsey in the 1950s. I had no idea anyone cared about this stuff back then. I had always thought that sabermetrics had begun pretty much with Bill James and computers. George Lindsey? Who is this George Lindsey guy? Well, I went and tried to read about this Lindsey person and his name wasn't anywhere. You couldn't find anything on George Lindsey. The more I talked with professor Morris, he gave me more names -- Earnshaw Cook was one -- the more I realized I didn't know anything about the history of baseball statistics -- before Bill James, I knew nothing. Given that I'm supposed to be a well-informed baseball guy, I wanted to read a book about this. There wasn’t any. So I had to write it. I wrote it because it didn't exist. And was happy to find that there was as much great material and history as I hoped there would be. It was absolutely amazing how deep and rich the history of people's obsession with statistics is. It's been a part of the game since Alexander Cartwright. It was very reassuring to know that the mania I share with so many has been descended from a long line of others. Lindsey wanted to know how often a guy scores from second base on a single, so you know what he did? He scored 1,700 games over ten years to figure it out. That's insane. It's wonderful, it's inspiring, it's disturbing, it's enlightening -- and it's worthy of a book.
Indeed it is, and I'll have a review of it sometime soon (I must admit I'm a bit surprised that Schwarz has never heard of a base-out matrix, but I'll save that for later). Alex also has an enjoyable, rambling interview with injury expert and author Will Carroll, discussing the long and winding road to his unique niche and the publication of his book, Saving the Pitcher. As the Beastie Boys say, "Ch-check it out!"

Monday, July 19, 2004


Rocket Redux

The other day I emailed Salon sports columnist King Kaufman regarding his article on Roger Clemens and then wrote a whole blog entry around that email. Kaufman was not only kind enough to send me a reply, he also excerpted some of what I had to say while surveying the range of responses in his column today. Additionally, he included a link to "the excellent Futility Infielder site." Very cool. A special welcome to those of you who've come here via that link.

Here's the portion of today's column which refers to me, not all of which was included in what I published the other day:
Jay Jaffe: While I don't consider myself much of a Roger Clemens fan -- I've screamed myself hoarse at him on more than one occasion -- I do feel compelled to defend him against your charges of him coming up short in big games.

First of all, Bud's Game 7 gambit to the contrary, Tuesday's exhibition does not count as a big game despite the eyeballs and the fact that ex-presidents and heavyweight champions were on hand. I don't take it seriously, you don't take it seriously, and most importantly, the players don't take it seriously. It's a great opportunity to market the game, a moneymaker for the network and its sponsors, and an exhibit for fans, nothing more. Throw it out the window as far as the Rocket was concerned.

Second, while Clemens had a reputation for big-game disaster in Boston, he did a considerable job of shedding that tag in New York: 7-4 with a 3.21 ERA in his pinstriped postseasons, including 3-0, 1.50 ERA in five World Series starts. Yes, there are a few meltdowns in there, but there are also some stellar performances.

Note: Jaffe is the author of the excellent Futility Infielder site.

King replies: The All-Star Game is an exhibition not to be taken seriously, but that doesn't mean Clemens didn't consider it a big game, in the sense of wanting very badly to do well. It was his night, his coronation. Anyone would want very badly to do well on a night when he's the center of attention. It's a challenge similar to any other big game, even though it doesn't count in the standings. It was an occasion to be risen to, and Clemens didn't rise.

And while I stand by my assessment of Clemens as underperforming in the postseason and in big games generally given his greatness overall, you're right that he has, indeed, had some great performances in the postseason.
I'm still not sure I agree with Kaufman's on the first part, but in retrospect I think that we both make the mistake of trying to get inside the Rocket's head, total conjecture rather than sound analysis from either of us. Keeping in mind the second part, here's the meat of what he sent me via email this weekend:
Certainly it's selective memory for me to talk about his meltdowns and punkouts without talking about his successes, but the reverse is selective too. Put it all together and you have 26 starts. That's damn near a season's worth. Fair enough we can't expect Clemens to put up Gibson's numbers, mostly because he had so many more opportunities. But Clemens is arguably the greatest pitcher of all time. How about Koufax numbers? Seaver? Hubbell? These are the people around him in the NBJHA [New Bill James Historical Abstract, an awkward acronym but one worth remembering] rankings, and James wrote that Clemens maybe should be higher.

I don't think it's unfair to say that Clemens has been less than Clemens-like in the postseason, beyond just the stiffer competition. And there's enough data there that it's not an unfair way to assess him, as it is with most people, including Willie Mays, who played 25 postseason games, or Barry Bonds, who had played 27 before he started playing well.
Good points on both counts, though I'll Clemens' overall postseason record (8-6, 3.47 ERA) is nothing to be ashamed of, particularly when one considers what he did with the Yanks (7-4 with a 3.21 ERA) and his overall World Series line (3-0, 1.90 ERA in 47.1 innings), not to mention that all of this took place in a much higher scoring era than, say, Gibson.

I did a bit of figgerin' regarding that World Series record as compared to Gibson's (7-2, 1.89 ERA in 81 innings). It may not be a strictly kosher comparison, but I figured the two pitchers' ERA+ numbers (the ratio of their ERA to the park-adjusted league ERA, expressed on a scale with 100 as average and over 100 as better than average; a 120 ERA+ translates as 20 percent better than average) for the World Series as if they were done in the regular season. That is, Gibson's 1968 World Series ERA is compared to the park-adjusted league average for the regular season, in this case 2.90. Gibby's World Series ERA for that season was 1.67, so his ERA+ was (2.90/1.67) * 100 = 174.

My back-of-the-envelope calculations put Gibson's overall World Series ERA+ at 176, considerably better than his regular season ERA+ of 127, which wasn't too shabby to begin with. But Clemens, who had posted a 140 regular season ERA+, comes in at a whopping 237 for his Series starts. His overall postseason ERA+ is "only" 129, so if you want to argue that he wasn't quite as good, you've got that number on your side.

Here's how Clemens fits in among the pitchers with the most postseason innings (a category in which Clemens ranks fifth, with Gibson further down than the rankings at go). While many of these pitchers are boosted by the two- and three-tiered playoff systems in terms of their total number of innings, just about all of them have been hailed as clutch postseason performers at one time or another.
Pitcher         PSIP   PSERA  PSERA+  RSERA+

Orel Hershiser 132.0 2.59 158 112
John Smoltz 194.7 2.77 149 124
Jim Palmer 124.3 2.61 139 125
Whitey Ford 146.0 2.71 136 132
Dave Stewart 133.0 2.84 135 100
Greg Maddux 190.0 3.22 132 143
Roger Clemens 155.7 3.47 129 140
Tom Glavine 194.0 3.71 121 121
Andy Pettitte 186.7 4.05 115 117
Catfish Hunter 132.3 3.26 103 104
Seventh out of ten, not a stellar showing, and a tie with Maddux for the biggest shortfall (postseason ERA+ minus regular season ERA+) among these pitchers. Still, his performance isn't all that different from that of Whitey Ford, who's in fourth place. But with this data on the table, it's tough to refute Kaufman's assessment ("...less than Clemens-like in the postseason, beyond just the stiffer competition. And there's enough data there that it's not an unfair way to assess him..."). I still hold that Yankee fans have nothing to bitch about regarding Clemens' postseason performance, but insofar as the overall argument goes, it looks as though I must bow to the King on this one.

Sunday, July 18, 2004


Tiger Roll

Stick a pair of chopsticks in me, because I'm done. We're just past mid-July, and I may as well concede this year's sushi bet to my pal Nick. Every so often, the two of us take up an impulsive sports-related wager, the prize being a sushi dinner at the East Village standby, Sandobe (or its sister restaurant, Jeoladdo). One year it was whether Bobby Valentine or Ray Miller would get fired first (I had Valentine and lost, but gained a new respect for the Mets' manager), once it was whether the New York Jets could come back in the AFC Championship (I enjoyed spearing that tuna), and last year it was the Minnesota Twins versus the rest of the AL Central (yum).

This year, in my preseason column, I predicted that the Detroit Tigers, who lost a near-record 119 games last season, would "bear some resemblance to a major-league club by losing only 100-110 games instead of pushing the 120 envelope." Nick shot back an email saying, "I'll bet you sushi dinner they don't lose 95," to which I responded, "You're taking the under at 95? Roll over, Lou Whitaker, and tell Alan Trammell to pass me the wasabe."

Nick emailed the next day to note that the Tigers had run their record to 4-0, but at the time I was still confident. But a half-season later, having gotten a good look at the team as they've battled the Yankees, I'm as cooked as a piece of eel atop of a tiny bed of rice. On Friday night, the Tigers matched last year's win total of 43 at the Yankees' expense, with Mike Maroth, who lost 21 of those 119 games, twirling a one-hitter. On Sunday they surpassed that total with a 4-2 win over the Bombers and a 4-3 season series win. In doing so, they bested the 1962 Philadelphia Phillies record of 106 games to reach their previous season's win total by a whopping 16 games. Through Sunday, the Tigers stand at 44-46.

The biggest reason for Detroit's resurgence is catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who signed with the team as a free-agent after leading the Florida Marlins to the World Championship. In addition to hitting .367/.409/.559 and leading the league in batting average, Rodriguez has obviously connected with Detroit's young pitchers and helped some of them improve dramatically:
               ----PRE-2004----   -----2004-----

J. Bonderman 6-19 5.56 6.0 6-7 5.97 7.9
Jason Johnson 36-58 4.91 5.8 7-7 4.24 5.9
Mike Maroth 15-31 5.23 4.1 6-7 4.65 4.5
Nate Robertson 1-3 6.45 6.1 8-4 4.11 8.1
As a whole, the Tigers have a 4.89 ERA with 6.4 K/9, compared to last year's 5.30 ERA and 4.8 K/9. But pitching is only part of the improvement; here's how the scoring on both sides of the ball has changed:
   2003  RS/G  2004  RA/G   NET

RS 591 3.65 478 5.31 +1.66
RA 928 5.73 464 5.16 +0.57
As positive as the boost on the mound has been, on a per-game basis, the offense's improvement is nearly three times that margin, a 2.2 run per game swing. It's enough to put the Tigers within hailing distance of .500, a remarkable achievement. In addition to Rodriguez's addition, trade acquisitions Carlos Guillen (.322/.386/.553) and Rondell White (.275/.345/.459) have been big steps up, and the Tigers have gotten a real boost from a pair of players' -- call them the I-sores -- whose contributions were below replacement level last year. Catcher Brandon Inge was three runs below replacement level (RARP) with a .216 EQA (a nasty .206/.265/.339 line), while second baseman Omar Infante was six runs below with an even more anemic .199 EQA (.222/.278/.258). This year, Inge -- who has moved out of the catcher's slot and become a utilityman of sorts, playing third base and all three outfield spots -- is hitting for a .297 EQA (.297/.365/.480) and is 12.8 runs above replacement, not to mention eight miles higher than even his most optimistic PECOTA projection (90th percentile: .240/.353/.388 for a .277 EQA). Infante is at a .284 EQA (.274/.342/.465) and 14.2 RARP and a few steps above his 90th percentile PECOTA (.240/.353/.388 for a .273 EQA). Throw in the upgrade at shortstop from Ramon Santiago (.225/.292/.294 for a sickly .217 EQA and -5 RARP) to Guillen (.322 EQA and 40.4 RARP) and that's a swing of about 80 runs -- around eight games -- with the bat right there, in only half a season!

It's a stretch to think the Tigers, who entered Sunday only 5.5 games out of first place in the AL Central, can take the division, as they'll have to outdo not only the Middling, er, Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox but also the Cleveland Indians. Still, nobody, not even Tigers manager Trammell nor GM Dave Dombrowski, could have foreseen how short the road to respectability would be. Whether that road can be sustained over the rest of the season and beyond is the next question they'll need to answer, with fellow Centralmates the Kansas City Royals (83-79 last year after eight straight losing seasons, but currently 22 games below .500) as the cautionary tale. But they've given the Yankees all they could handle in their matchups this month, and they deserve a hell of a lot of credit for that.

The Tigers aren't the only team who has turned it around in 2004, of course. The Milwaukee Brewers, winners of only 190 games over the past three seasons, currently stand at 46-43, and they're looking up at the Cincinnati Reds (48-43), who won only 69 games last year. The Indians (44-46) are coming off a 68-win year. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays (43-47) are showing serious signs of breaking out of the 90+ loss ghetto for the first time in franchise history. The Texas Rangers (51-37) find themselves atop the AL West after averaging 72 wins over the past four years, and the San Diego Padres (49-41) are in contention in the NL West after five straight losing seasons, including recent 66-96 and 64-98 campaigns. Add it all up and you'll see a lot of writers throwing around terms like parity and competitive balance as if Bad Rug Bud had planted a bug in their ears. Selig himself is proclaiming victory for the results of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement.

For a good long time, folks at Baseball Prospectus such as Joe Sheehan and the late Doug Pappas have been battling to show that baseball's competitive balance problem has more to do with the media buying what Selig was selling, lock, stock and barrel, than with what's actually been going on down on the field. Using this past July 9 as the control, Sheehan measured how many teams were "competitive," which is to say within six games of a playoff spot on that date. Here's what he found:
Year     Teams     Competitive Teams

2004 30 20
2003 30 19
2002 30 13
2001 30 13
2000 30 19
1999 30 17
1998 30 11
1997 28 17
1996 28 15
1995* 28 19
1994 28 11

*not representative, as the season started three weeks late
That's a 54% "competitive rate" over the past 11 years, with 2003-04 representing the data's two-year peak. Sheehan notes that the low points tend to be either years when one team (such as the '98 Yankees or the 2001 Mariners) runs away from the pack or years when the CBA is up for negotiation (1994, 2002) and the poorer clubs may have some disincentive to use their own resources to improve. Going back to the 1980s, he notes that while the extremes in the number of "competitive teams" are greater, from 8 to 17 (out of 26),
...the shape of the data is basically the same, with a slightly lower average. In other words, baseball seasons aren't much less competitive today than they were in the 1980s... Baseball's competitive balance is the same today as it was before the latest rules changes went into effect. The effect of the confiscatory revenue sharing and payroll taxes isn't to cause change on the field, but to shift money from players and the industry's highest-revenue teams to those in the third quartile of revenue. The line being drawn from the current CBA to the baseball we see today is a shaky one.
Shaky or not, Selig will doubtless continue to take credit for solving baseball's problems while imposing upon us for awhile longer. But as the Royals remind us, one season does not a turnaround make, and while the hosannas start to pour in, we should continue to be mindful of the crimes which Selig has wrought. In his "Open Letter to Commissioner Selig", BP's Dayn Perry notes some of them, including perjury before Congress, scamming the public with regards to new ballparks, threatening contraction of two ballclubs as quid pro quos to his friends, and questioning the integrity of anybody who dares counter his spurious claims with hard data. There may be something to Selig's changes -- I'd prefer to look at a sample size larger than two seasons before deciding -- but that one facet is no reason to let him off the hook.

But don't get me wrong. While I greatly enjoy watching the Yankees win, I'm equally excited that the long-suffering people in Detroit, Milwaukee, San Diego and other cities can get just as excited about their ballclubs. One way or another, that's always good for the game, even if it means some else eating the occasional Tiger Roll at my expense.

Thursday, July 15, 2004


Launchpad Explosions and Other Rocket Rides

So as I was saying before, I trekked out to East Brunswick, New Jersey to watch the All-Star Game at Steve Goldman's pad, joining Will Carroll and Cliff Corcoran as well as Steve's lovely wife Stephanie and adorable four-year-old daughter Sarah (apologies on the spellings of those fine ladies' names, o pinstriped host). We had barely marshalled together an order for Chinese food, endured an American Idol National Anthem (it's a one-minute song, fer crissakes, not an opera), and watched Muhammad Ali juke with Derek Jeter when the American League decided to skip the ballgame and hold batting practice at Roger Clemens' expense.

Ichiro (no longer Ichiro! as we're pretty damn bored by him now) led off with a double into the rightfield corner that just missed going out. Then Ivan Rodriguez (who never should have been called Pudge so long as Carlton Fisk is still breathing) tripled to nearly the same spot, missing a homer by a mere couple of inches. After a Vlad Guerrero groundout came a long homer to Manny Ramirez, last seen threatening to charge the mound when Clemens threw him an eye-high fastball over the plate in Game Three of the ALCS. Clemens struck out Alex Rodriguez and looked to be out of the inning when Jason Giambi grounded to second baseman Jeff Kent. Mr. Porno Moustache couldn't backhand the ball cleanly, and Wormy G was safe. Derek Jeter singled to right, with Giambi legging it from first to third, something he probably won't do five times this year. Alfonso Soriano followed with a monster two-run homer to left field to make the score 6-0.

Having not seen Clemens pitch in an Astro uniform, I must say it was quite disorienting. I half-expected Mel Stottlemyre and eventually Joe Torre to head to the mound to calm the Rocket, even though Clemens was pitching against them. At some point, I swear I saw Torre pass from from glare to relief, as if to say, "Wait, this is somebody else's problem now." Still, it was weird to watch Jeter, Giambi, and especially Soriano do damage to their former teammate.

We wizened baseball experts sat around pondering the Rocket's launchpad explosion, the Yankee fans among us conveniently avoiding any mention of Game Four of last year's World Series. Clemens, still wiping his brow from a narrow, wee-hours escape from a dubious end, was again pitching for what the world though would be the final time. He allowed three first-inning runs and nearly had to depart in another walk of shame, but gritted his way through six more innings while holding the Marlins at bay. That noble salvage job would have made for a fitting epitaph if Clemens had made good on his promise to retire; we should all be so lucky to have our final actions read "7 8 3 3 0 5 ND" in a World Series game.

With that six-run inning, the All-Star Game quickly turned into a moot point, and we were treated to the amusing antics of young Sarah, who regaled us with the theme from Spiderman (the kid knows all the words) and her mastery of the somersault while generously sharing her various toys and books with us. Oh, sure, we were distracted enough by the game to take in the views from those embedded cameras -- "Check out that hip rotation!" marvelled our expert pitching mechanic. But we spent just as much time rummaging through baseball encyclopedias trying to determine whether Spud Chandler or Snuffy Stirnweiss was the 1943 MVP, recounting the follow-through of Goose Gossage, learning about Dr. Mike Marshall's rather obnoxious mastery of the Krebs cycle, lamenting constantly injured pitchers ("Dennis Leonard ought to be coming off of the DL any day now...") and nitpicking the failures of Walter Alston in the eyes of Leo Durocher. Fun stuff to talk bout during a suspense-free exhibition.

On the subject of Clemens, Salon's King Kaufman had a piece on Wednesday noting the Rocket's big-game shortcomings:
And listen, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Roger Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, maybe the greatest, but he's also a first-class punk. He has a way of coming up spectacularly small at the biggest moments, dating all the way back to his stupidly getting himself thrown out of a playoff game in 1990. (He shouldn't have been thrown out, but he also shouldn't have put himself in position to be thrown out.)

And maybe even dating beyond that, depending on whose story you believe about why he came out after seven innings of Game 6 in the 1986 World Series. John McNamara, then the Red Sox manager, has always claimed that Clemens asked out because of a blister. Clemens, who is more believable in this argument, has maintained he was yanked for a pinch hitter.

...In 26 postseason starts, Clemens is 8-6 with an earned-run average of 3.47. In the regular season, he's averaged a 13-7 record and a 3.18 ERA per 26 starts, which is about three-fourths of a season's worth. And that includes his lousy late Boston period in the mid-'90s. Of course it's tougher to pitch in the postseason, where all opponents are good teams, but we're talking about arguably the greatest pitcher of all time. For someone who could have been expected to put up Bob Gibson numbers in October, 8-6 with a 3.47 doesn't cut it.
It seems everybody in the latte set is taking their potshots at Clemens lately. The other day came this Slate piece from a snivelling Sox fan named Seth Stevenson, whose open letter to Clemens begins:
Dear Roger Clemens,

Let me offer my hearty congratulations on starting the All-Star Game. Wow, that is really terrific. I'd like to note, however, that I hate you.

Also: You are fat. They say you've got this hard-core training regimen, with calisthenics and whatnot. I'm not seeing it. You're wicked fat.

Oh, perhaps that was uncalled for. You know what else was uncalled for? Sucking, every time it mattered. You ruined my childhood, fatty. Because the trauma you put me through as a young, impressionable Red Sox fan has stunted my emotional growth, I revert to a juvenile mind-set whenever I see you. Like repeatedly calling you fat.
That one may as well have come from a Saturday Night Live skit starring resident Sox whiner Seth Myers, whose shtik just cracks me up.

The Clemens big-game flop trope is a well-worn one from a Sox fans' standpoint, and if you're a Yankee fan whose memory only goes back to the last two starts of the 2003 postseason, you might even share that view. You'd be right, but only in a half-assed way. The truth is that Clemens, like, Andy Pettitte, has pitched enough October innings to provide us with a glimpse of his full range of outcomes, from Clutch Jesus in Pinstripes to Uncle Crispy in the Burn Unit. Lest we forget that Pettitte, still smarting from the memory of that 0-2 ,10.00 ERA World Series performance in 2001 -- in which he was reputedly tipping his pitches -- spent last October pissing icewater (3-1, 2.10 ERA in 5 starts), then coolly took off his pinstripes for the last time, setting in motion the chain of events which took Clemens to the All-Star Game in the first place. Give a great pitcher enough starts and he'll do just about everything, and our tendency to confuse clutch performance with character traits makes that a bit messy. As Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan put it:
It's much more enjoyable to extrapolate a certain moral superiority from on-field success, to attribute that game-winning double to your heart and desire, rather than to your fast-twitch muscles and hitting the fastball at just the right angle to push it past the diving center fielder. It's this need to turn physics and physicality into a statement about the character of people--to stick labels on them based on their day at work and the bounce of a ball--that is the most damning thing about the myth of clutch.
Yankee fans should have no beef with Clemens' performance in the postseason, and neither should Kaufman. I sent him an email which I'll excerpt here while adding a few hyperlinks:
While I don't consider myself much of a Roger Clemens fan -- I've screamed myself hoarse at him on more than one occasion -- I do feel compelled to defend him against your charges of him coming up short in big games... while Clemens had a reputation for big-game disaster in Boston, he did a considerable job of shedding that tag in New York: 7-4 with a 3.21 ERA in his pinstriped postseasons, including 3-0, 1.50 ERA in five World Series starts. Yes, there are a few meltdowns in there, but there are also some stellar performances:

* Given the chance to earn his first World Series ring in '99, he rebounded from a humiliation in Boston -- the team's only loss of the postseason -- and went 7.2 innings with 1 run allowed in Game Four to ensure a sweep over Atlanta.

* After getting shelled in the 2000 ALDS, he emphatically rammed the bat up the Mariners' collective asses (hey, there's no way to put it politely; just ask Alex Rodriguez, who went sprawling) with a 1-hit, 15-K performance in the ALCS and in the Series blew the Mets away as well with an 8-inning, 2-hit, 9-K game that's remembered for less flattering reasons.

* In 2001, with the Yanks down 2-0 in the Series -- a must-win -- he beat the Snakes by combining on a 3-hitter, then pitched 6.1 innings of 1-run, 10-K ball in Game Seven, leaving with the score tied.

* As all hell broke loose in that ALCS Game Three brouhaha last year, Clemens kept his cool like a little Fonzie, pitching 6 strong innings of 2-run ball, letting the Sox wear themselves out with emotional outbursts such as Pedro's whinefest and Manny's charging the mound. The Yanks won the tense 4-3 game.

* He even gutted out that ugly 3-run first inning in last year's Game Four to last seven frames without giving up another run; the Yanks did tie the score only to lose in 12. At the time that looked as though it might be the last game of Clemens' storied career; it would have been a much more honorable ending than the great majority of players' -- even great ones' -- careers.

You compare Clemens' postseason record to Bob Gibson's and it appears to come up a bit short. That's like saying Willie Mays couldn't hold a candle to Babe Ruth, as Gibson is only the single best postseason pitcher ever in many peoples' eyes. Clemens managed a 1.90 ERA in his seven Series starts, not too shabby next to Gibson's 1.89 ERA in his nine Series starts. When one considers how much higher scoring Clemens' era is than Gibson's, that's a bit more impressive, as is the fact that he was doing this at the time he was pushing 40, while Gibson was still in his early 30s prime. No, he didn't last as many innings as Gibby, but then Gibby didn't have Mariano Rivera to hand the ball to, either.

You seem to look at Clemens and remember only the failures, and yes, there are many, as there will be when you scan a player's 21-year career. I look at Clemens and while I feel no personal affinity for him, I recognize that while the man occasionally let his emotions get the better of him in key moments, he took his punches and got off the mat, ready to come back even stronger the next time. That doesn't make him the best pitcher ever. It doesn't even make him immortal. It makes him human, and we should be so lucky as to see that in all of our superstars.
I look forward to seeing if Kaufman responds. Much as I often thought of Clemens as a punk myself during his tenure in pinstripes, I'm prejudiced by the fact that I was at that '99 clincher. Good fortune found me in the ballpark with a team given the chance to clinch a championship, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Clemens didn't let me down. It may be twisting the knife in Sox fans' backs, but I'll say that nothing will ever take the memory of the ovation Clemens received when he departed. Yankee Stadium shook, and it didn't stop shaking for the hour and a half. You don't forget a thing like that, and you tip your cap to the men who made it possible, the Rocket included.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


One Man's All-Star Teams, 2004 Edition

Just back from a Midtown lunch with Will Carroll (in town for an appearance this morning on ESPN's Cold Pizza) and my NY crew -- Alex Belth, Alex Ciepley, Cliff Corcoran and Steven Goldman, a heady ninety minutes of baseball chatter that I wish I could do every day. The biggest topic of conversation was a potential Randy Johnson trade, now that the Big Unit has said he'd consider waiving his no-trade clause. Will, who gets better inside dope than anybody I know, puts the odds at about 50/50, but says he's not likely to come east, ruling out either Boston or New York, not that the two teams have anything to offer except that perennially disappointing prospect, Jack Shit. Besides trades, the other big topic of conversation was announcers, with Alex C. and Will going on about various Cubs personalities including Ron Santo and the late Harry Caray, and Will impressing us by producing the phone number of the Phillies' gravel-voiced god of the mic, Harry Kalas.

As I've been immersed in my own obsessive projects, I haven't left myself much time to write much about the All-Star teams. Here are the selections I would make for the two leagues, with the starters in bold and some piddling commentary after each position that would have been more detailed if I had the time. I've filled the 32-man rosters, I've represented each team, and for the most part I've blown off injured players in favor of the able-bodied. I tend towards the "reward the flukes" end of the spectrum rather than the "established stars in a slump" end, which will make for a few double-takes, but whether it's injury, age-related decline or sheer crapitude, there's no way in hell some of the voted starters deserve to be within 100 miles of tonight's festivities.

American League
C: Ivan Rodriguez, DET, Jorge Posada, NYY, Victor Martinez, CLE. Helluva season so far from Pudge, not only individually but as part of a much-improved Tigers team. Impressive sophomore campaign from Martinez. Posada hasn't been quite the same since breaking his nose but his OPS is still 64 points better than Baltimore's Javy Lopez despite having an average that's 46 points lower. It's the walks, stupid.

1B: Paul Konerko, CHW, Mark Teixera, TEX, Ken Harvey, KC. A real crapfest in the league thanks to injuries to Jason Giambi and Carlos Delgado and the passage into the undead of both John Olerud and Rafael Palmeiro. When Ken Harvey and Tino Martinez start floating to the top, it's time to change the water in the tank. Harvey's the KC charity case representative, post-Beltran.

2B: Ronnie Belliard, CLE, Juan Uribe, CHW. Another position suffering from poor first halves of its brightest lights -- Alfonso Soriano and Bret Boone. Sori's .796 OPS is unacceptable in that hitter's park. Mark Bellhorn could just as easily be in the mix here.

SS: Carlos Guillen, DET, Michael Young, TEX, Miguel Tejada, BAL. No trinity this year -- Derek and Nomar get to lick their various wounds. Guillen is making Seattle look very, very stupid for trading him, Young's done an admirable job filling A-Rod's shoes in Texas, and Tejada's signing is one of the few things that's gone right in Baltimore.

3B: Alex Rodriguez, NYY, Melvin Mora, BAL, Chone Figgins, ANA. A deep position thanks to some shifts. A-Rod's been a bit light in the clutch (.220/.310/.451 with RISP), but his overall productivity is nothing to complain about. Mora picked up right where he left off during his injury-riddled '03 before getting hurt yet again, and Figgins, with his 13 triples and 20 steals, has flat-out been one of the most exciting players in the league. Hank Blalock would make a worthy choice somewhere as well, but I need Melvin to fufull the Oriole quotient.

LF: Manny Ramirez, BOS, Hideki Matsui, NYY, Lew Ford, MIN. Manny's the best hitter in the AL. Matsui is starting to look like the guy in the catalog. Ford is one of the few examples where the Twins haven't squandered their immense logjam of corner infield and outfield talent.

CF: Johnny Damon, BOS, Vernon Wells, TOR. Beltran would merit the starting slot if he were still in KC, but caveman Damon's having a great season so far (.321/.401/.488).

RF: Vlad Guerrero, ANA, Gary Sheffield, NYY, Jose Cruz, TAM. No Ichiro here. Vlad and Sheff have been all that and a bag of chips for the teams who signed them as free agents. Cruz's low BA disguises his merits, and we need somebody from Tampa, their march to respectability notwithstanding.

P: Mark Mulder, OAK, Curt Schilling, BOS, C.C. Sabathia, CLE, Javier Vazquez, NYY, Johann Santana, MIN, Brad Radke, MIN, Fredddie Garcia, CHW, Mariano Rivera, NYY, Francisco Cordero, TEX, Joe Nathan, MIN, Eddie Guardado, SEA. I'd have given the starting nod to injured teammate Tim Hudson, but Mulder's had a fine first half as well.

National League
C: Johnny Estrada, ATL, Paul Lo Duca, LA, Michael Barrett, CHC. Guess that Kevin Millwood trade wasn't too bad after all.

1B: Jim Thome, PHI, Albert Pujols, STL, Todd Helton, COL. Unlike the AL, a very deep position, with Sean Casey and Lyle Overbay also justifiable choices.

2B: Mark Loretta, SD, Jeff Kent, HOU. How about ex-Brewers starting at second for both teams? Mr. Porno Moustache gets the nod over Todd Walker and Jose Vidro.

SS: Jack Wilson, Pit, Rafael Furcal, ATL. In which a Pirate with a .622 OPS in his first three years gets the nod despite drawing only 11 walks; his .855 OPS is still 50 points higher than any shortstop outside of Colorado. Furcal gets to represent the old guard because Edgar Renteria's had an off year.

3B: Scott Rolen, STL, Mike Lowell, FLA, Adrian Beltre, LA. Beltre's emergence makes this a deep position, with Aramis Ramirez playing well and David Bell, Ty Wigginton and even Vinny Castilla shoing signs of life.

LF: Barry Bonds, SF, Lance Berkman, HOU, Adam Dunn, CIN. I've always liked Berkman, and it's nice to see Dunn turn it around. Still, the asshole gets the starting nod.

CF: Jim Edmonds, STL, Steve Finley, ARI, Carlos Beltran, HOU. The silver lining to Griffey's injury -- and no, I don't wish the man any ill will -- is that Beltran's asterisk-riddled selection is now a moot point.

RF: Bobby Abreu, PHI, J.D. Drew, ATL, Miguel Cabrera, FLA. Abreu is criminally underrated. Drew is surprisingly healthy. Miguel Cabrera is going to be a very good player for a long time. Craig Wilson just missed a spot here.

P: Roger Clemens, HOU, Ben Sheets, MIL, Jason Schmidt, SF, Randy Johnson, ARI, Tom Glavine, NYM, Carlos Zambrano, CHC, Livan Hernandez, MON, Eric Gagne, LA, Danny Kolb, MIL, Armando Benitez, FLA. It's tough not to give Rocket the nod to start. Though I hate the Giants, it's great to see Schmidt recover, and I'm very happy to see Sheets become the ace he was slated to be, helping MIlwaukee to be the surprise team of the first half.

I'm out the door to catch a bus to East friggin' Brunswick to watch the game chez Goldman with Will and Cliff. There aren't many people I'd go to Jersey for, but if you get enough of them in the same room, I'm there.

Sunday, July 11, 2004


These Guys Go To Eleven

In Sunday's New York Times, William Rhoden notes the rumors swirling along the Northeast Corridor regarding the possibility of two sure-thing Hall of Fame aces, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, being injected into baseball's hottest rivarly. While the Yankees and the Red Sox represent two of the AL's strongest teams, neither has a bulletproof rotation, and both are looking for reinforcements to add to their hefty payrolls and battered pitching staffs.

The other day I noted the Value Over Replacement Player for the Yankee rotation; here's the Sox, for comparison:
Pitcher         VORP

Curt Schilling 40.4
Pedro Martinez 30.1
Tim Wakefield 13.7
Derek Lowe -14.5
Bronson Arroyo -3.0
TOTAL 66.7
The Yankee quintet raised their VORP to 57.9 over the past couple of days, thanks mostly to Jon Lieber, but that's still about a game worse than Boston's starters.

Still, the idea that either Johnson or Clemens -- two of the four members of the 4,000 strikeout club, owning ELEVEN Cy Young awards between them -- would be traded to either of the two teams is a longshot, thanks to the presence of no-trade clauses in the pitchers' contracts, their professed desires to finish their careers in the uniforms they're currently wearing, and the dearth of blue-chip prospects in the two teams' systems. Nevertheless, one can mix and match the two aces and the two teams and salivate at the story lines. Operas have been written about less.

Clemens to New York
After "retiring" following an emotional extended farewell which not only ran through the most recent postseason but barely missed coming to an end in the most ignominious way -- at the hands of his former team in an elimination game -- the Rocket shocked the baseball world by resuming his career in Houston. Joining fellow Yankee exile Andy Pettitte, Clemens entered the senior circuit for the first time in his 21-year major league career and immediately made an impact, wining his first seven starts to the tune of a 1.99 ERA, running his record to 9-0, and carrying a 10-3, 2.62 ERA line with 121 strikeouts in 116.2 innings into the All-Star break. He'll start for the NL on Tuesday night, and he's earned it.

Coming into the season, the Astros were co-favorites in the NL Central based on Clemens' and Pettite's arrivals, and they held first place until a swoon late in May sent them reeling. They've gone 20-28 and despite trading for Carlos Beltran on June 24, entering Sunday a mere game over .500, 10.5 in back of the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals. Speculation abounds that the 'Stros not only will flip Beltran but might also consider moving Clemens, notions that both ESPN's Jayson Stark and Rob Neyer dismiss. The reason? Houston's still within reach of the NL Wild Card, only 3.5 games behind the San Francisco Giants as of Sunday. Of course, seven other teams are between the Astros and the Giants, so they shouldn't exactly start printing tickets yet.

While the Yankee organization has greeted the Rocket's resurfacing in Houston with mixed emotions, right now he's as dominant as he ever was in pinstripes. He's clearly got something left in the tank, he's outperforming every single Yankee starter, and he may finally have figured out the need to balance the rigorous workout regime he puts his 41-year-old body through with the physical demands of starting every fifth day. The man won two rings and helped the team to four World Series, going 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in five starts. As awkward as a reunion would be, it's a safe bet the Yanks would welcome him back with open arms if the opportunity presented itself.

Clemens to Boston
If a pinstriped reunion would be awkward for Clemens, a return to Boston would be downright surreal in a cats-mating-with-dogs way. Clemens built his legend pitching thirteen seasons for the Red Sox, going 192-111 with a 2.97 ERA, 2,590 strikeouts and 38 shutouts. He won 20 or more games three times in Boston, garnered the first three of his Cy Youngs along with an MVP award, led the league in ERA four times, and left Game Six of the 1986 World Series with the Sox six outs away from their first championship in 68 years. But Boston's failure to win that Series, along with the Rocket's injury-aided descent into a perceived mediocrity (a 40-39 record despite a 131 ERA+ over his last four years), came to define Clemens' tenure with the Sox. General Manager Dan Duquette allowed Clemens to leave after the '96 season, declaring the pitcher to be in "the twilight of his career".

Within a year, the Boston exec had egg on his face, as Clemens won a Cy Young in Toronto, and then another. A trade to the Yankees allowed him to hitch his star to a contender, and the Rocket won the title that had long eluded him, notching the clinching victory in the '99 World Series and sending Red Sox Nation into paroxysms of jealousy and rage.

Four World Series and five years in pinstripes, not to mention his stated desire to go into the Hall as a Yankee pretty much guarantee that the rift between Clemens and the Sox will never heal. But the cognitive dissonance induced by a Clemens return via trade would be worth the price of admission for Yankee fans who bask in their foes' misery. Hey Sox fans, how badly do you want to win? Badly enough to take back the man you've called a traitor and worse for the past several years while jeering yourselves hoarse? Mwah-ha-ha...

Johnson to Boston
Nobody beats the Yankees like Randy Johnson beats the Yankees. While the Big Unit is only 6-8 with 4.23 ERA against them over the course of his regular-season career, he's 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 27.1 innings facing them in two postseason series. But as dominant as those statistics are, they only hint at the drama behind them.

In 1995, the Mariners ended the regular season tied with the California Angels atop the AL West. In the tiebreaker, Johnson tossed a three-hitter, but his start meant he couldn't pitch against the Yankees in the AL Divisonal Series until Game Three. He won that one, but the thrilling series came down to the fifth game. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the M's pushed two runs over on an exhausted David Cone, tying the score, and the Big Unit came out of the bullpen on one day's rest to hold the Yanks. Pitching on fumes, Johnson went three innings and struck out six, but allowed the go-ahead run in the top of the eleventh. He was rescued when Edgar Martinez smacked a two-run double off of Jack McDowell, sending the Yankees down in defeat.

Six years later, Johnson, pitching for the Diamondbacks, returned to haunt the Yanks in the 2001 World Series. He posted a three-hit shutout in Game Two, then beat them again in a 15-2 Game Six rout. The next night, two outs after Curt Schilling allowed a go-ahead solo homer to Alfonso Soriano in the eighth inning of Game Seven, Johnson came on in relief to limit the damage. The Yankees got to within two outs of their fourth straight World Championship before the Snakes rallied to score a pair in the bottom of the ninth off of indomitable closer Mariano Rivera, giving Johnson another improbable victory in relief over the Bombers.

Two heroic performances to help slay the big bad Yankees are more than enough reason for the Red Sox to go chasing the 40-year-old lefty. A reunion with Schilling in Boston -- the 2001 World Series co-MVPs -- might seem to be icing on the cake. But the duo's relationship isn't quite so cozy, at least according to a New York Times Magazine article by Pat Jordan from a few years back. It's no longer available for free online, but here's an excerpt:
"When he pitches I believe there's a lot of unhealthy anger there, but it's what makes him what he is," Schilling says. "We're friends. We'll remain friends forever. We golf together, go out together, our wives and kids get together."

Schilling's "friendship" with Johnson is something of an obsession. He needs it for some reason. Possibly, he is just trying to give Johnson a blessing, the friendship of a gregarious and charitable man (the public's perception) toward a misanthrope (also the public's perception). Schilling sees it as his duty to bring Johnson out of himself, to bring him up on the stage under the spotlight that Schilling himself loves, whether or not Johnson loves it.

Johnson plays down their friendship. He doesn't like being photographed with Schilling, especially those fabricated shots that show two men laughing and tussling in a jocky manner on the golf course. It offends his sense of propriety. ("Their friendship is just for the media," says Jerry Colangelo, managing general partner of the Diamondbacks.) When Johnson talks about Schilling, you can detect a hint of disdain.

"I appreciated what Schilling is doing this year,'' Johnson says, "because I wanted him to do it again, not just one year. The level of excellence is measured over time. It's nice to see him continue to get better. I appreciate it because it's what I strived to do the last eight years."

A few days earlier, a local writer, Pedro Gomez, went on TV to declare that the Schilling-Johnson friendship was merely cosmetic. This incensed Schilling. "Gomez is the worst in his profession," Schilling says. His anger at Gomez goes back to last year's World Series, when Gomez called Schilling "a con man" in a column.
Friends or not, the duo of Johnson and Schilling, while boosting the team's chances this year, would also give the Sox some insurance against a potential departure by Pedro Martinez, who's a free agent at the end of the year and a fragile, risky, expensive one at that. That Boston and Arizona connected on the Schilling deal may work in their favor; that Casey Fossum -- the only one of the four players the Snakes received who is in the majors -- is 2-7 with a 5.55 ERA may cause the Snakes to think again about letting Theo Epstein burn them.

Johnson to New York
If Yankee owner George Steinbrenner knows anything, it's that if you can't beat somebody, you should trade for him. He's been openly pursuing Johnson for the past few weeks, so vocally that the commissioner's office is reviewing his remarks to decide whether a fine for tampering should be levied.

It may not matter. Johnson, who signed a 2-year, $33 million extension before the season, has a no-trade clause, the bad fashion sense to desire finishing his career in that godawful purple and teal combo, and a justifiable impatience with any writer who wastes his time speculating about whether he'd waive his no-trade clause to come to New York. Additionally, there's enough bad blood between the Yanks and Diamondbacks that a deal might be hampered. First came David Wells reneging over a verbal contract agreement with Arizona to sign with the Yanks. Then over this past winter, when the Yankees pursued Curt Schilling, Arizona demanded a package including Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson. Neither player is still in pinstripes, and the Yanks have nobody nearly so young and desirable to offer for a pitcher who's even better than Schilling. About the only think working in the Yanks' favor towards this deal is that they could take second baseman Roberto Alomar off of Arizona's hands as well.

In the end, the rumors of Johnson/Clemens to Boston/New York have more to do with East Coast media blather and wishful thinking from fans who feel a sense of entitlement to this great rivarly than they do substantial possibilities for the midsummer swap meet. But it sure is fun to think about the various scenarios. The rest of the baseball world may cringe, but why shouldn't we have all the fun? Mwa-ha-ha...

Friday, July 09, 2004


Mind-Blowing Stat of the Day

From a study I'm doing involving Yankee prospects who were traded:
Pitcher         VORP

Jake Westbrook 27.1
Ted Lilly 20.9
Zach Day 17.6
Eric Milton 11.3
Tony Armas, Jr. 3.9
TOTAL 80.8

Pitcher VORP
Javier Vazquez 27.8
Kevin Brown 15.5
Jon Lieber 6.3
Mike Mussina 4.9
Jose Contreras -0.7
TOTAL 53.8
VORP is Value Over Replacement Level, in runs. You don't even want to see how bad this looks if I included Roger Clemens...

Thursday, July 08, 2004


Less Is...

This entry is about a player with the following line:
 G   AB  H  2B 3B HR  R  RBI  BB  SO  SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG

162 603 199 35 1 27 128 91 84 116 13 8 .330 .424 .526
A pretty special player, eh? Let's put him in there with a few 2003 stat lines of some randomly-chosen stars:
         AB  H  2B 3B HR  R  RBI  BB  SO  SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG

Mr. X 603 199 35 1 27 128 91 84 116 13 8 .330 .424 .526
Ordonez 606 192 46 3 29 95 99 57 73 9 5 .317 .380 .546
Pujols 591 212 51 1 43 137 124 79 65 5 1 .359 .439 .667
A-Rod 607 181 30 6 47 124 118 87 126 17 3 .298 .396 .600
Rolen 559 160 49 1 28 98 104 82 104 13 3 .286 .382 .528
Soriano 682 198 36 5 38 114 91 38 130 35 8 .290 .338 .525
Okay, based on that one season, he's not the best hitter in that group, but he's certainly not the worst, either. Those stats can sit next to the big boys at the dinner table; he's got power, he's got a good batting eye, and he's even got a bit of speed if not necessarily the best judgement on the basepaths. His line looks especially good next to Scott Rolen, who's having an MVP-caliber season in the NL this year. Yet this player languishes in the relative obscurity of a last-place ballclub. His team spent top dollar for some free-agent hitters in the offseason, but he's outhitting them, and the club has actually fallen one spot in the standings.

There's a catch to that player's line. Those are true stats, but they've actually been assembled over two seasons due to injuries. That line consists of the last 162 games played by Melvin Mora of the Baltimore Orioles, who went on the disabled list on Monday with a hamstring injury and a sprained ligament in his left foot. He's played 66 games this year, hitting .347/.433/.556 with 12 homers, 60 runs scored, and 43 RBI. A litany of injuries, including being hit in the face by a pitch and tearing a knee ligament, limited him to 96 games last year, during which he hit .317/.418/.503 with 15 homers, made the AL All-Star team, and topped the league in batting for a good spell. He won the Futility Infielder of the Year award, too. When I wrote up that profile, I wondered what his stats would look like if he'd played a full season, and while I'd been tracking him, I was quite shocked to find how, um, timely, his injury was.

At the time those 2003 numbers looked like a pretty big fluke from a versatile 31-year-old who'd never topped a .750 OPS in a season, but Mora has picked up right where he left off this year. And while both Miguel Tejada (.314/.362/.511) and Javy Lopez (.319/.370/.481) have hit better than their career levels, it's Mora who leads the team in On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. Signed to a 3-year, $10.5 million contract in the offseason, he's also had to deal with converting to third base, a position at which he'd played only seven games in his major-league career. It's been a rocky transition, 15 errors in 64 games, a .919 Fielding Percentage (lowest of the 24 regular 3B), a .699 Zone Rating (22nd) and a 2.71 Range Factor (10th). Yet he's third among AL 3B in Win Shares, behind only Alex Rodriguez and Hank Blalock, though injuries to Eric Chavez and Troy Glaus have thinned the ranks a bit. At his salary, he's a bargain.

But the Orioles are struggling. They're 36-46, in fifth place behind not only the Yankees and Red Sox but also the Blue Jays and, yes, the Devil Rays, who stand 42-41 in third place at this writing. According to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, owner Peter Angelos is losing patience, though most O fans have long ago lost patience with him. Angelos, according to Crasnick, might even fire first-year manager Lee Mazzilli if things don't improve. Though Lopez and Tejada have performed well, two other free agent signings, Rafael Palmeiro (.242/.353/.405) and Sidney Ponson (3-12, 6.29 ERA) have been big busts, and the starting rotation has put up a combined 5.56 ERA.

One bright spot for the O's lately has been the play of the man who's spelling Mora, 30-year-old journeyman David Newhan, who's hitting .405/457/.662 with 4 HR in 81 plate appearances. Coming into the season, Newhan hadn't played in the bigs since 2001, and in parts of three seasons, had never drawn 50 PA, hitting a sub-Mendozoid .163/.247/.302 in 97 PA. Now he's got the pundits invoking Wally Pipp when they discuss the job he's done in Mora's absence. No matter. While Mora should return "good as new" according to Baseball Prospectus injury expert Will Carroll, the O's might be well served to ride those two hot bats and return Melvin to the outfield to replace the woeful and injured rightfielder Jay Gibbons (.223/.290/.345), or the woeful but healthy Larry Bigbie (.263/.327/.393) or Luis Matos (.239/.290/.359).

Anyway, here's wishing Melvin a speedy recovery so he can get back to terrorizing AL pitching as he has for the last season-and-a-half and showing the rest of the baseball world what a fine player he's become.

Monday, July 05, 2004


Tales from the Replacement Level: Yankees at Second Base

When the Yankees went into the season, the one position their mighty lineup lacked an All-Star-caliber player was second base. Aaron Boone's basketball misadventures provoked the Soriano-for-Rodriguez trade, shifting the most glaring Yankee offensive weakness to the middle of the diamond. But despite expectations that George Steinbrenner would throw more cash at the problem to round out his set of All-Stars, the Yanks entered the season with two players who could charitably be described as futility infielders sharing the job at second, Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo.

Despite some superficial similarities -- they're within a year of each other in age (Cairo is actually younger, thanks to Wilson being caught red-handed in the age-gate scandal a couple winters ago) and an inch in height -- Cairo was the far more established player coming in. Wilson entered the season with a .253/.296/.358 in parts of seven major league seasons, accumulating 1250 plate appearances but only once playing anywhere close to regularly. Cairo put up a .269/.317/.361 line in 2225 PA over eight major-league seasons, including three years as the regular second-baseman of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Since departing Tampa after the 2000 season, he's bounced around the league and the diamond, playing six different defensive positions for three teams including the Yanks.

Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system had Wilson's weighted mean projection of .238/.287/.351, a mere 1.3 runs above replacement level (VORP), while Cairo's weighted mean projection of .263/.315/.400 put him at 6.1 VORP -- a half-win gap between the two. Wilson's been his usual craptacular self with the bat thus far, putting up a .210/ .253/.336 line -- a .589 OPS -- despite a comparatively Ruthian two-week stretch which saw him go 14-for-50 with a double, five homers, and 16 RBI. Take those numbers away and you've got a guy who's hitting .172/.221/.193, numbers that would embarrass even a blind, one-legged, octagenarian lady stepping into the batter's box with a pair of knitting needles.

Cairo, on the other hand, has been a sparkplug who's shown a surprising amount of power for a number-nine hitter, racking up a .312/.368/.461 line for an .829 OPS, about 140 points higher than his career rate and 240 points higher than Wilson. He's 8-for-13 with two doubles and a triple in his last four games for a cool 1.590 OPS and is currently hitting 13.2 runs above replacement level, while Wilson is 4.0 below -- a 17.2 run difference, nearly two games. By comparison, Jason Giambi's VORP is only 13.8 and the DH/1B "platoon" of Ruben Sierra and Tony Clark are a combined 14.6. In other words, Cairo has held his own among Yankee regulars or near-regulars with the stick. Defensively, Wilson and Cairo have combined for 3.0 Fielding Win Shares, trailing only Chicago, Tampa, Oakland in the AL.

Will it be enough for Miggy to keep his job beyond the July 31 trading deadline? It's tough to say. Spring training found the blogosphere full of such something-for-nothing pipe dreams as Jose Vidro and Ray Durham. Recent rumors have Seattle's Bret Boone -- Aaron's older brother -- as a possible option. With the M's 16 games below .500 and 14 out of first in the AL West, they've all but flushed this season, and Boone has been "leading" the way by "hitting" a woeful .232/.299/.389 with 11 homers, after three monstrous seasons in which he's averaged over 30 homers and 120 RBI. He's making $8 million in the final year of his contract, and there's no way in hell the Mariners or any team is likely to pick up the 35-year-old's $9 million option. But the Yanks don't have a great deal to offer in a trade, and with Kevin Brown on the DL and Jose Contreras and Jon Lieber struggling, insurance for the starting rotation may cost the Yanks the closest things they have to blue-chip prospects.

On the starter front, Boss Steinbrenner is currently engaged in a flirtation with the Diamondbacks over ace Randy Johnson, but the Big Unit has all but sworn a blood oath that he'll never pitch for the Yanks, so that's quite unlikely. However, if a deal were consummated, it wouldn't be a stretch to see Roberto Alomar included as a throw-in. Signed by the Snakes for less than $1 million at the start of the season, Alomar put up only a .262/.333/.385 line with one homer before breaking his hand in late April, and he's since lost his job to rookie Scott Hairston. I'm not advocating him as the answer to the Yanks' middle-of-the-diamond name-recognition problem, but he does fit the profile.

Speaking of the Hairston family, brother Jerry, another second baseman, is battling for playing time on the Baltimore Orioles while hitting .310/.385/.399 and stealing 11 bases in limited use, and is rumored to be available. He's also been seeing time at third base, the corner outfield spots and even DH (bad idea there, Lee Mazzilli), making him a handy bench player to have around. But is he better than Cairo? His career line of .259/.331/.369, coupled with his base-stealing ability and his younger age (he's 28) indicate that he would be an incremental improvement; he projects at 16.8 runs above replacement via PECOTA, about a full game better than Cairo. That's hardly a shining reason for the Yanks to spend resources for such a minor gain.

Another name that may surface is one that might be familiar to Yankee fans: D'Angelo Jimenez, the now-26-year-old second baseman of the Cincinnati Reds who was traded by the Yanks during the 2001 season. At one point, the former prospect seemed a better bet for big-league success than Alfonso Soriano, hitting .327/.392/.492 in Columbus (AAA) as a 21-year-old in 1999 and being named the International League's All-Star shortstop. By comparison, that season Soriano hit .305/.363/.501 as a 23-year-old in Norwich (AA) and was overmatched in a month at Columbus (.183/.225/.341). Jimenez looked to have a shot at making the 2000 Yanks but he sustained a broken neck in a car accident in the Dominican Republic that January, setting back his progress considerably. He still looked shaky in 2001 when the Yankees, desperate for relief help, traded him to the Padres for Jay Witasick. Midsummer trades have since become an annual ritual, and after passing through the hands of the Chicago White Sox, he's now in Cincy with a .260/.364/.388 line on the year, right around his .267/.350/.384 career mark. Jimenez has a bit of a bum rap following him around -- "perceived as lazy" says Baseball Prospectus 2004, but after a slow start, he's come around (.309/.407/.412 in June) and it's possible the Reds might want to cash him in while his value is ascending. PECOTA puts him at a weighted mean of .271/.349/.404 with 18.0 VORP. That's not more than a hair ahead of Hairston, but as Aaron Boone, Gabe White, Drew Henson and others might attest, these two teams have been known to swing midsummer deals, so this could happen, especially if the Reds start to fall off of the NL Central pace. Then again, they're 7 over .500 and 5 out of first, so punting may be a ways away.

In short, while upgrade options may exist for the Yanks at second base, they've got far bigger concerns in the pitching department, both in the rotation and in the overworked bullpen. Unless they can get something for virtually nothing, they've probably got enough to stand pat at second base, at least until they sort out their more pressing needs.


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