The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, January 28, 2005


I'll Tell You About the Damn Yankees

Visitors who come to this space expecting me to write about the Yankees may have noticed that I've had precious little to say about the pinstriped team lately. Part of it has been my absorption in several Baseball Prospectus-related projects, including taking up the Dodger beat for my Prospectus Triple Play -- a task that's done a lot to refocus me on my true favorite team. Part of it has been to turn my attention to projects that don't involve one specific team, like DIPS.

But another part of it is that I'm sick of this $200 million team before they've even played a game. Let me count the ways:

• I'm sick of thinking about how they could have saved themselves millions of dollars and averted a lot of risk by simply picking up Jon Lieber's $8 million option and calling it a day. The Lieber decision set off a whole winter of reactionary signings and dominoed into the team's inability to compete for the services of Carlos Beltran. For want of a nail...

• I'm sick of pondering in which backwater they're going to bury Kevin Brown's body, and what percentage of his $15 million salary the Yanks will be paying. I'm sick of the inevitable articles that some hacks will write every time the Yankees hit town: "How rich are these Yankees compared to our beloved Midwestern City Scrappers? Why, they're paying more for Kevin Brown to pitch for the North Ogdenville Greasetrappers than the Scrappers are paying for three-fifths of their rotation, and that writeoff could cover the first two years of the well-deserved long-term deal our ace..."

• I'm sick of noticing that I'm just about the only analyst who supported the Jaret Wright signing. BP's Joe Sheehan has already assumed the crash position by comparing him to Willie Blair circa '98, which is pretty uncharitable, and the words "Ed Whitson" have been muttered elsewhere. Yes, the contract is based on one good season, and yes, his durability could be an issue, but this is a pitcher who posted the second-lowest DIPS ERA of any free-agent starter and looks to have taken a major step forward.

• I'm sick of reminding myself that the Yankees did everything by the DIPS book last winter in getting Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown, and that didn't work out so hot.

• I'm sick of hearing about Randy Johnson telling the cameraman to talk to the hand on his first day as a Yankee. If that's the worst thing that happens to him here, he'll be fine.

• I'm sick of the failure to find a lefthanded stopper for the bullpen, and sorry to see Mike Stanton, who served so nobly in the past, miscast in a role that he won't able to carry. This one's going to end in tears.

• I'm sick of being told how much better off the Yankees were with Tino Martinez than they are with Jason Giambi, and that they should have never let beloved Tino leave because gosh darn it, he's a team guy, and this team doesn't have the team guy thing like the Yanks did when Buster Olney's heroes roamed the House That Ruth Built, and that now that Tino's back he's going to show these new Yankees how to win and zzzzz....

• I'm sick of reading about Jason Giambi's health and his intake of everything from fluids to solid food to distilled spirits to antibiotics to steroids to humble pie. I really would like to get through the entire season without contemplating the big galoot's alimentry canal, ok? I'm not particularly optimistic about his chances to regain his lost superstardom, but looking at this bereft offense, I'll take the .249/.386/.472 (26.5 VORP) PECOTA has him pegged for and assume he'll get more than the 307 at-bats it projects.

• I'm sick of watching Bernie Williams' sad decline in centerfield and the team's refusal to do anything substantial about it. Williams is 32 runs below average defensively over the past three years according to BP's metrics, and by slugging a combined .424 over the past two seasons, can no longer make up for it with his bat.

• I'm sick of Tony Womack and his career .319 OBP. Hell, I was sick of Tony Womack before he got here, simply because I grew up having to watch a million speedy second basemen with no concept of how to take a walk drag down offenses all the time. I was lucky in that I had a deluxe model of the era in Davey Lopes, who could walk, hit for some power, and steal bases with a deadly efficiency. I've got a pretty good idea that Lopes, in his age 60 season, could still put up a .350 OBP and go 20/25 on the basepaths. I'm sick of the fact that the Yanks signed Womack when they could have had a comparable player who's five years younger for half the price in Miguel Cairo.

• I'm sick of learning about the Yankees signing has-beens like Doug Glanville and Rey Sanchez and never-weres like Damian Rolls to compete for jobs at the fringe of their 25-man roster. I'm sick of contemplating a bench that with Glanville (34 years old, 2004 OBP of .244), Sanchez (37, .281), Ruben Sierra (39, .296), John Flaherty (37, .286), and Bubba Crosby (28, .196) is both incredibly old and lacking a single player who put up a .300 OBP last year. Glanville last broke the New Mendoza Line in 2000, Flaherty in 1999. The team's thinking here is a direct affront to everything we've learned about winning baseball over the last quarter century.

• I'm sick of ranting about the Yankees' player development woes. A couple days ago I quipped via the BP internal mailing list, "That's an impressive new take on the concept of 'farm system' the Yanks have going -- find the freshest corpse available, exhume it, and fit it for pinstripes." Steve Goldman, bless his heart, liked the line so much he quoted me in the day's Pinstriped Blog.

• I'm sick of Yankee fans pleading to see rookie Robinson Cano get a shot at the second base job. Kids, he's just not good enough; PECOTA has him forecast for .255/.298/.389 (7.0 VORP) and below average defensively. I'm sick of the fact that this might be the best the decrepit Yankee farm system can do right now, except for the fact that staring him in the face they've also got a more-than-ready Andy Phillips, who while he'll be 28, projects to hit .263/.326/.456 (10.4 VORP) and can play all three corner infield positions. In a better world, Phillips would break camp with the Yankees while one of those septuagenarians is appropriately reburied.

• I'm sick of envisioning new ways for Curt Schilling to die; the latest has me dreaming of watching him choke to death on the bloody sock while Alex Rodriguez bashes his skull into a gooey muck with his man-purse (and I'm sick of hunting for a link to that sissy-slap/purse image after it's been shown to me a dozen times this winter).

• I'm sick of the fact that after holding the line on exorbitant ticket prices over the past few years and setting team records for attendance, the Yanks have passed on their contractual ineptitude to their customers, bumping up the prices of their tickets so much that I'm paying 20% more per game in my partial season-ticket plan than I did last year. The refund I was due for my postseason ticket desposit simply disappeared into the new charge, and I didn't even get the satisfaction of a Yankee World Series appearance.

• I'm especially sick of the lack of vision and imagination being shown by the front office. At a time when the hallowed franchise is four years removed from its last World Championship, they appear to be accelerating in the opposite direction at alarming speed. I'm not going to pin this all on the increasingly marginalized Brian Cashman; it seems pretty clear that the shots are being called from higher up. Any day now I expect Randy Levine to call a press conference just to tell us that the team is completely out of ideas. As in...
Yankee Spokesperson: "On behalf of the New York Yankees, I have the obligation to announce that our storehouse of brainpower has been exhausted by all of this dynasty-keeping we're expected to do. Ladies and gentlemen, we're completely out of ideas [digs finger in ear, looks around the room solemnly, then examines finger pulled from ear] Yep. That's it, we're tapped. You can all go home now. Questions?"
And finally, I'm sick of temperatures in the single digits and low teens, and the increasingly graying snow still piled on New York City's curbs. I want to see players bathed in sunlight as they run around on green grass wearing their batting-practice jerseys and tossing the ball lackadaisically. I want the next three weeks before Pitchers and Catchers to pass overnight so we can get on with a baseball season that will inevitably take more twists and turns than we can possibly predict. Bring it on.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Dodgers and Giants and Twins (Oh My!)

It's that time of the month again. My latest Prospectus Triple Play is up on BP today, and it's free. As usual it's a bit heavier on the Dodger analysis than on the others, but then again, they've been one of the busiest teams this offseason, and the statheads can't get enough of Paul DePodesta. For the other two clubs, I spent a bit more time cracking wise while taking note of Eric Munson being signed to a minor-league deal, Pedro Feliz being overpaid, and the dark, unseemly world of the most hated man in baseball, A.J. Pierzynski.

A late note about new Giants rightfielder Moises Alou. Prior to publication, I couldn't find the actual breakdown of his contract, which was reported as a two-year, $13.25 million deal with incentives and a player option for 2006. Just after the article went up, Fogball's Tom Gorman gave me a pointer to the one source that actually broke the deal down, Joe Roderick of the Contra Costa Times. Basically, Alou's base salary for '05 is $7.25 million, but some of it's deferred ($1 million to '06, $1.5 million to '07). His player option for '06 is for $6 million, but the Giants would pay $2 million of that chunk in '08.

Personally, I think Giants GM Brian Sabean should skip the creative financing if it means spending money on the likes of Mike Matheny, Omar Vizquel, and Grandma Moises, but then again, I actually get paid to write about their follies once in awhile, and I still get to root against them. So go get 'em, Sabes. You can borrow my brother's calculator to compute the compound interest if you need it.


Real Loss, 2005 Version

What is it with bloggers and fire? A little over a year ago, Christian Ruzich of lost his entire home in one of those California wildfires. A couple of nights ago the apartment of Larry Mahnken of The Hardball Times and Replacement Level Yankees Weblog burned down. Larry was unhurt, but he lost everything beyond the clothes he was wearing, and he had no insurance. He's currently living with his sister and displaying his gallows humor via Baseball Think Factory.

It was only a few days ago that Larry and I were communicating about DIPS 2004; he's been a huge ally in that project over the past couple of years. The two of us have never met, but we've corresponded with reasonable frequency, and we're on the same side of many battles, whether it's rooting for the Yankees, railing against Productive Outs, or spreading the DIPS gospel. He's a good guy.

Back when the bad news befell Ruz, I tried to spend a few moments in his shoes; only then could I even begin to comprehend the magnitude of his loss. Since I don't have anything more coherent to add about Larry, I'll rerun an applicable bit of what I wrote:
Me, I'm a fairly stuff-heavy guy. Books, music, computer gear, artwork, memorabilia, photos, clothing -- I've crammed my tiny Manhattan apartment with enough of that stuff to fill a place four times the size, and somehow I convinced my girlfriend to shoehorn herself and her belongings alongside of me. Our (ok, my) unholy but rather well-organized (cough) collection of objects is testament to thousands of individual decisions, and I can't, under my present circumstances, imagine living without some of this crap. Sure, it's not 1987 now, but who knows when somebody will refer to a Bill James article in the '87 Abstract?

I'm babbling about myself, but that's because I don't really know what to say... I can only begin to fathom his loss, hope that no one he loves was injured or worse in the fire, and wish him the best of luck in putting the pieces back together... Who can replace the memories that one's possessions hold? To say nothing of the possibility that he may have lost a good chunk of everything he's ever written if he had a computer there (from now on, I'm storing some backup disks offsite).
It would be a really nice gesture to stop by the RLYW and make a small PayPal donation to help Larry out. We can't replace everything he lost, but we can let him know that we're thinking about him, and maybe do enough to buy the guy a little something that reminds him of that.

Larry, if you're reading this, hang in there.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


"No, You're Out of Order"

In response to Tuesday's piece about the Dodgers, reader Andy Vogel piped up in the comments to call me on the following statement about Cesar Izturis: "batting him first or second, as Dodger manager Jim Tracy did all year, is a pretty awful idea." Quite reasonably, Vogel asked the following:
How do you square this statement with data suggesting that batting order doesn't make much of a difference in team scoring? Is it just the extra at bats for Izturis you want to avoid, or is there something more to it? I'm not saying Izturis should bat leadoff, but I'm interested in your take.
My quick response was that it's still a bad idea to throw outs away when it's not necessary. Dropping a player one spot in the lineup takes away about 20 plate appearances over the course of a season. Dropping a guy from 1-2 to 7-8 means eliminating about 120 PA. Those 120 PA get redistributed to guys who are, in all likelihood better hitters than the one dropped, especially when we're talking about a guy with a career OBP below .300. It's not a huge amount but it does add up, especially in a low-run environment like the Dodgers typically play in.

Ignoring the fact that complicated research has been done on this problem, I decided to take a quick stab at modeling this via my spreadsheet. I grabbed the Dodgers' 2004 splits by batting position (1-9) from For convenience's sake, I gave these positions names based on which player hit there the most or whose stat line they most closely resembled on the team, more or less. Here's what the Dodgers had:

1 Cesar .276 .333 .394
2 Jason .291 .349 .466
3 Milton .255 .335 .421
4 Adrian .306 .384 .563
5 Shawn .296 .355 .492
6 Juan .245 .304 .409
7 Alex .248 .311 .427
8 Dave .191 .284 .297
9 Pitch .178 .219 .258
Yeeech. In firing off my first response to Andy, I neglected to consider just how bad the Dodger hitting was at various spots in the lineup. The #8 spot, much of it taken up by light-hitting catchers Dave Ross and Brent Mayne, was far worse than "Cesar" in the leadoff and "Juan" (Encarnacion) in the #6 spot. Of course, there's the automatic out in the pitcher's spot, which will stay at #9 because neither Jim Tracy nor I resemble Tony LaRussa.

I then set about creating a new batting order using the same nine "players." Each batting slot's rate stats (AVG/OBP/SLG) and per-plate-appearance frequency of events were held constant, but the totals were scaled up or down based on the proportion of plate appearances between old and new lineup positions. That done, I added up the team's totals and used a linear run estimator (a simple version of Bill James' Runs Created) and compared the new lineup to the old one. I lacked hit-by-pitch and sacrifice data, but that stuff tends to come out in the wash anyway.

Here is the new lineup:
1 Jason  .291  .349  .466

2 Milton .255 .335 .421
3 Adrian .306 .384 .563
4 Shawn .296 .355 .492
5 Alex .248 .311 .427
6 Cesar .276 .333 .394
7 Juan .245 .304 .409
8 Dave .191 .284 .297
9 Pitch .178 .219 .258
I simply dropped Cesar down to #6, moved Juan down to #7, and then shifted everybody up to the next available slot -- not an incredibly scientific method, but hardly as disconnected from reality as a lineup that leads off with the top two sluggers. Then again, batting the keystone duo of Alex and Cesar fifth and sixth is no great shakes either.

Adding it all up, this "team" has almost exactly the same totals -- three more homers, most notably -- and saves themselves literally a couple of outs. For my trouble, they gain a quarter of a point of OBP and one-and-a-third points of SLG. By the Runs Created formula all of this adds up to the whopping total of...

2.09 runs.

That's it. Two measly, stinkin' runs. I tried more complicated run-estimation formulas -- a technical Bill James as well as Extrapolated Runs, neither of them exacly appropriate because of the missing data -- and the most I added was another 0.2 runs. Of course, the gains would be more if you buried "Juan" in the landfill of some coastal state -- wait, the Dodgers actually tried that one -- and found a catching tandem that could hit. That move alone could easily gain you ten times the number of runs my suggested lineup adjustment might reap.

The bottom line is that it's far more important to have the right players out there than to spend a lot of time worrying about their optimal order. That said, if better options than a leadoff hitter with a career OBP below .300 exist, they should be taken, because that's more times your top hitters come up with men on base. It's still elementary.

I would be remiss if having gotten such a meager return on my inquiry didn't mention more rigorous studies which tried a lot harder, only to come up with essentially the same answer. In The Numbers Game, Alan Schwarz recounts valiant attempts by proto-sabermetricians Earnshaw Cook (whose estimate yielded a whopping 11-run difference) and Art Peterson (whose FORTRAN game simulations yielded "negligible" differences).

More recently Mark Pankin took a swing at the problem using a mathematical concept called a Markov Chain model coupled with some strong baseball reasoning ["1) Getting on base is everything. To much lesser extent, home run hitters should not lead off. Stolen base ability is irrelevant"]. The maximum improvement he found was a total of 16 runs, with most of the teams within 10 runs, about one full win. Nothing to sneeze at if it's the difference between golf and baseball in October, but otherwise small potatoes.

So there you have it. The next time I'm tempted to rail about batting order, I'll hold my tongue, or kvetch about why the Yankees even signed Tony Womack in the first place, let alone allowed Joe Torre to put him at the top of the... wow, I'm feeling queasy already.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Tweaks for Geeks

This one is for the technically-minded... Even those of you who frequent this site might have missed the tweaks I finally got around to dealing with on Tuesday. The biggest thing is that the home page to this site is now to enable my RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed to display snippets of my most recent blog entries. There's a redirect script for those who simply type "" but if you're intent on coming through the front door, it wouldn't hurt to update your bookmarks.

The short version fo all of this mayhem is that the third-party solution I had in place to display my RSS feed decided to go "pro". Lacking the will to pay $10/month for what I once got for free, I set about banging my head against the wall for a few weeks until I came across an excellent tutorial which walked me through almost exactly what I needed to do, using a piece of software called Magpie. See, there are legions of ways to generate an RSS or XML feed (most blogs have them as built-in options) but precious few means of parsing said feeds -- that is, bringing them into other HTML pages converted into readable English rather than coded gobbledygook. I have to thank Ashley Bennett for his patience and guidance with the aforementioned tutorial.

The upshot is that now when you visit my home page, you should be able to see the most recent blog entries at a glance, without any lagtime. Elsewhere on the site, I renamed the dorkiest department to "Field Trips" and made a few other tweaks here and there. Don't sweat it if you don't notice...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


L.A., Observed

My recent chat with Jon Weisman caught the attention of the L.A. Observed blog, which is focused mainly on "[m]edia, culture, books and the politics of Los Angeles and California". In particular, our discussion of L.A. Times writers Bill Plaschke and T.J. Simers seems to have whetted the Observed's appetite for more. Cool.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers generated more headscratch-inducing headlines on Monday with their three-year, $9.9 million contract to shortstop Cesar Izturis. In the discussion following our Big Blue Bull Session, I had noted a couple of things about Izturis:

• He'll be 25 this year, he took a great leap forward as far as his hitting goes last year, and is still at an age where he might continue to improve in that department. Using Baseball Prospectus' numbers, he went from being an average of 10 runs under replacement over the previous two years to 18 runs above last year -- a huge turnaround. While he might regress a bit, he also might continue to improve given his age.

• From a defensive standpoint, BP's numbers put him at +1 run last year, +11 the year before, and -8 the year before that. Those numbers seem a little low given the perception of him as a Gold Glove-worthy defensive whiz. The Ultimate Zone Rating numbers, which are based on play-by-play data, put him at +5 in 2000-2003 (of which he played about 2 seasons total) -- again solid but not sterling. Unfortunately, UZR numbers for 2004 aren't publicly available because their creator, Mitchel Lichtman, has granted his employers, the Cardinals, exclusive access to them, but per Moneyball, it's likely that Dodger GM DePodesta has similar numbers to UZR that tell him a similar thing.

I then stuck my foot in my mouth by declaring that this slightly below-average hitter and slightly above-average defender was still relatively affordable and not arbitration eligible yet, and I was clearly dead wrong on that last note, as this contract is a product of DePodesta avoiding arbitration and adding cost certainty. D'oh!

I don't think it's a great contract by any stretch of the imagination, but it does cover the shortstop's age 25-27 years, which are likely to be his best from a hitting standpoint, and from a market standpoint, it can be argued that he's a bargain when the following contracts are considered:
                 WARP  Age   Contract

Orlando Cabrera 3.2 30 4/$32 mil ANA
Cristian Guzman 5.7 27 4/$16 mil WAS
David Eckstein 4.2 30 3/$10.25 mil STL
Edgar Renteria 3.7 29 4/$40 mil BOS
Jose Valentin 5.0 35 1/$3.5 mil LOS
Omar Vizquel 6.3 38 3/$12.25 mil SFO
Cesar Izturis 5.5 25 3/$9.9 mil LOS
WARP is Wins Above Replacement Player, a stat that takes into account both offense and defense and is normalized for park, league, and era -- in other words, the playing field has been leveled. Izturis is the youngest of these players, the only one, with the possible exception of Guzman, who's not past his statistical peak age (25-29), and he's also the cheapest on this list. The two most expensive players here, Renteria and Cabrera, had off years but were still rewarded with contracts only slightly more reasonable than the Derek Lowe pact. In that market, Izturis doesn't look like the worst idea in the world.

That said, this is a guy with a .293 career OBP (.330 last year), some speed (25/34 steals last year) and no power (career SLG of .342, with a .381 last year). Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA forecasting system puts his 2005 weighted mean projection at .261/.304/.353, with a zero percent chance of breakout (improving his per-plate appearance productivity, in Equivalent Runs, by 20% above his three-year baseline) and only a 9.9 percent chance of improvement. In other words, we may well have seen the best of what he has to offer with the stick.

Furthermore, batting him first or second, as Dodger manager Jim Tracy did all year, is a pretty awful idea -- about as bad as Tracy, who often used catcher Paul Lo Duca in that role a few years back, is capable of mustering. He and DePodesta should know better. Still, the Dodgers outperformed their Pythagorean projection by 3.4 games and beat their second-order win projection (which examines the team's performance based on run elements) by 5.8, so it's tough to argue that the strategy truly hampered them.

It seems clear that this move -- locking up the team's defensive anchor -- has a lot to do with the decision to invest heavily in groundball pitchers such as Odalis Perez (career G/F of 1.68) and the extreme wormkiller Lowe (career G/F of 3.34), a controversial move that at best appears to have the Dodgers overpaying 2-3 times what they should for something resembling a League-Average Inning Muncher (LAIM). But as tied together as the two players' fates are, it's likely that the Izturis signing will be hailed by the same L.A. media that's unwilling to cut DePodesta some slack for his other moves. Funny how that works.


Taking Another DIPS

Here we go again... for the third year in a row, I am presenting Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS) via this website. DIPS was invented by an analyst named Voros McCracken, whose studies of pitching statistics suggest that major league pitchers do not differ greatly on their ability to prevent hits on balls in play. The rate at which a pitcher allows hits on balls in play has more to do with defense and luck than to his own skill, and can vary greatly from year to year.

This rather counterintuitive way of looking at pitching statistics has its advantages. The chief one is that it's been shown that we can do a better job of evaluating a pitcher's future performance by concentrating on the defense-independent things he does -- strike batters out, walk them, plunk them, and give up homers -- than we can by considering the effects of the defense playing behind him. The vehicle for this is the DIPS ERA (or dERA), which has been shown to correlate better with the following season's ERA than that pitcher's actual ERA.

If you've followed this site for the past couple of years, you've heard all of this before. DIPS has generated no shortage of controversy, but the work that's been done in its wake does far more to validate McCracken's central finding than to discredit it. It should be noted that McCracken is not saying major league pitchers do not control their ability to prevent hits on balls in play, just that they have less control than was assumed in a darker age.

The DIPS 2.0 system is a little long in the tooth, having been used for four years now as McCracken, who currently works as a consultant for the Boston Red Sox, is no longer updating it. Nonetheless, it's handy and straightforward enough (if not exactly simple) to merit keeping it in circulation. My annual preparation of the numbers is a project that yields equal parts awed fascination and spreadsheet-induced blindness at each stage. At some measure, the blissful tedium involved in their preparation tickles my opiate receptors; in the dead of winter, staring at spreadsheets of endless reams of baseball stats late at night is still pretty damn fun and addictive.

And I'm a pretty big geek, but what the hell -- this stuff is useful. So have at it.

As an aside, a few links pertaining to McCracken's work are temporarily being hosted on my site because they were lost in the server move from Baseball Primer to Baseball Think Factory. While I have McCracken's permission to do so and none of them will be mistaken for my own work, I am hopeful they will be restored to their rightful place in due time. DIPS is groundbreaking work that deserves better than to be lost in some "404 Not Found" shuffle.

Saturday, January 15, 2005


Big Blue Bull Session

The Dodgers have been generating plenty of headlines this offseason, with GM Paul DePodesta completing a decisive overhaul of the roster he inherited upon taking the helm last February. He's generated no small amount of controversy in the process. Even after the Dodgers won the NL West for the first time since 1995 and earned their first playoff victory since the clincher of the '88 World Series, DePodesta still endures flak for a midsummer trade which sent popular catcher Paul Lo Duca to the Florida Marlins. The young GM came under heavy fire again just before Christmas when he withdrew the Dodgers from a three-way, ten-player deal which would have brought the team Javier Vazquez, sent Shawn Green to the Diamondbacks and Randy Johnson from the Snakes to the Yankees. This past week, he finally finished the Green trade and signed Derek Lowe to a four-year contract that had everybody scratching their heads.

Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts has done a thorough and entertaining job in keeping on top of the team's moves. Like many stat-savvy fans, he's in DePodesta's corner, but not every Dodger fan who passes through his site agrees with him, and neither do many of the writers covering the team. Jon and I have been planning to get together to chat at length about the Dodgers' offseason plans since the team was eliminated from the playoffs last October. In the meantime, we actually got to meet in person at the winter meetings, which made our long-overdue chat on Thursday night feel like two old friends sitting down to gab; we went on (and off) for about as long as it takes to play a real game these days.

Part One of the chat is up at Jon's blog. Part Two follows below.

• • •

Jon: I hear it. But 62 HR since August 1, 2003. When does the guy [Adrian Beltre] get some credit for being more than a flash in the pan?

Jay: When he puts up at least a pair of solid seasons back-to-back for the first time in this millennium.

Jon: I'd have gambled that he will.

But what this illustrates, I guess, is that DePodesta had a case for letting Beltre go, and that he has replaced him rather effectively in the cleanup spot, if not at his position.

Jay: Look, Beltre had a fantastic season and was a wonderful force to watch for the past eight months of Dodger baseball, but those kinds of performance gains are unsustainable. Guys just don't do that, and if you look at the class of them that do, you've got Brady Anderson waving at you from a lonely corner of a bare room.

Jon: Anderson was 32 when he had his big year.

Jay: And he may have had some "help". Nobody knows nothing, but nobody ever spiked to 50 HR from 16 before either.

Despite what I've said, I think it would have been worth a reasonable gamble to sign Beltre, but yes, DePodesta has replaced his profile offensively. I see Drew as capable of putting up Sheffield numbers in Chavez Ravine of the .300/.400/.500 variety; maybe a bit lower on average, but easily with the walks and power. And his track record is much more sustainable.

Jon: Well again, even if Beltre regresses, you're still looking at probably more HR than Drew might hit, and at 3B.

Jay: But I don't think it's simply a HR-for-HR comparison with Drew; there are a lot of walks there instead of outs - the guy walked 118 times last year.

Jon: Yes, of course Drew's walks matter.

Segue to Hee Seop Choi?

You should hear the conversations I have with my Dad about him. Cannot convince him to look beyond the infamous 62 AB with the Dodgers and the fact he was traded twice. Choi is the same age as Beltre and, batting in the No. 7 slot, I expect will more than justify DePodesta's faith if given the chance.

Jay: There's a Baseball Prospectus mantra, I can't recall whether it's credited to Keith Woolner or Rany Jazayerli or one of the other heavy hitters, but it goes something along the lines of in 100 at-bats, anything can happen. And it's bloody well true, enough to move the masses to take up their pitchforks and torches.

It's ridiculous to judge a player, particularly a young, promising player for whom you've traded, on 62 AB. If I can point to a failing of Jim Tracy's over the past three years, it's not giving Choi a chance to get comfortable. The guy wouldn't be in the majors if all he could muster in any given 62-AB stretch was eight hits, and the evidence that he can do more abounds.

Jon: In defense of Tracy, as I said before, DePodesta gave him five people to play in those four slots, and all four were hitting decently. Green was playing his best ball in two years. Finley was hot in August. Bradley and Jayson Werth were decent in spots. The key for Tracy will be to not panic this year.

Jay: In the short term, you're right, and Tracy was right to play the four hottest guys out of five. They won, so the end can be seen as justifying the means.

From a broader organizational perspective, his evaluation was shortsighted because, as I've said before, in 62 AB anything can happen. Who's to say that playing Choi beyond those 62 wouldn't have brought him back in line with his previous production or his projections? The odds are certainly in his favor.

If it did nothing else, Tracy's move drained the paper value of a player the Dodgers had invested a good deal in, and that's not such a hot thing for a manager to do on a regular basis. That it was in the fire of a pennant race, and that his other options panned out, is enough to cut some slack. But I'd hate to see it become a habit.

Jon: I wouldn't necessarily expect it to.

Jay: I was a bit distraught to see how hard it was for Tracy and DePo to agree to a deal, by the way.

Jon: You mean in general, in how it would affect things going forward, or because you felt Tracy was being slighted?

Jay: Both. Tracy seems to be, if not the ideal manager for DePodesta to work with, than pretty damn close. There's no reason for the situation to take up a month's worth of media cycles or whatever over something that probably amounts to a half-million dollars here and there.

I appreciate that the team can operate on a budget, but they were second in MLB to the Yankees in attendance, they play in the No. 2 market, they need to cut the broke hobo act before it really screws them.

Jon: Frankly, things seem a little schizophrenic with the money spending. McCourt clearly wants to make some money, so frankly it won't matter how good their income is - he's gonna want to pocket some. But how do you explain approving the Lowetract, unless it's, as some suspect, his desire to bring Boston's glory to Los Angeles?

Jay: I can't explain the contract beyond a point that says Lowe was worth about three years/$18-21 at the outer reaches.

But try this on: to a guy from Boston who's hungry for his team to make a quick splash like the Henry/Epstein model did, Lowe's postseason performances in closing out the three series were worth about $1 million a year apiece and an extra year over the life of his forthcoming contract. Take them away, and you've got 3/$24 million, the same as many others have gotten this winter. And of which Lowe, by moving parks, might stand to be in line with that... if you're an optimist.

That plus the guy seems to have a strong track record healthwise throughout an otherwise schizoid career.

Jon: You got any DIPS (defense-independent pitching statistics) to add to the discussion?

Jay: As a matter of fact I spent the better part of this afternoon with my DIPS spreadsheet.

Lowe is at a 4.40 DIPS ERA (which has been shown to correlate better to the following season's ERA than the actual ERA does), a run lower than he put up last season. Adjusting for park effects, that puts him in the low 4s in Dodger Stadium, which brings us back to the notion of Jeff Weaver territory. Worth maybe half of what Lowe's going to be pad.

Jon: Park effects perhaps being mitigated in general by the decreased foul territory in Dodger Stadium, though perhaps Lowe, as a ground-ball pitcher, will still benefit more than others.

Jay: Yes.

Jon: How about the rest of the rotation?

Jay: I think if you had to boil down the success of the season, yea or nay, onto one Dodger, it would be Brad Penny.

[True story: Jon's IM crashes. After reboot:]

Jay: Was that milk coming through the nose?:-)

Jon: No, actually, that kinda makes sense. If slightly unnerving.

Jay: Don't use the word “nerve” anywhere near him, please.

Jon: Zing!

Jay: If he's healthy, that's an extra 150 league-average-plus innings at the top of the rotation. if he's not, we watch Jackson, Dessens, or Alvarez get bombed or break down.

Jon: I will say, once you put the dollars spent aside, I'm happier now with the depth in the rotation.

Jay: Yes, it's deeper and that's good. But a true No. 1 would be welcome at the expense of a bit of depth; after all, that No. 5 won't be starting in October, it'll be the No. 11 twice.

Jon: Well, Penny or Perez will probably have to pitch like a true No. 1 for them to make October.

Jay: Given the strength of the NL West? I'm not so sure about that. Solidly above average and healthy would be sufficient.

Jon: Okay, mid-October then. Jake Peavy, I think, will be the division's best pitcher, though. Padres may need to be reckoned with, along with the goin'-for-broke Giants.

Jay: The Padres and Peavy, yes, though I think losing David Wells hurts them considerably. The Giants? I don't want anything I say on this to jump up and bite me in the ass in September, so I'll avoid the easy potshot. But they're so full of old ballplayers and so threadbare in the system (hitting-wise) that it's almost impossible to see how they can realistically survive to contend.

Jon: I'm gonna have to wrap up soon, but give me your thoughts on Jeff Kent, Jose Valentin and Antonio Perez. I like the Kent signing, think Valentin is okay as a platoon player, and am having hopefully not naive hopes that Perez is a player.

Jay: I agree with you on the assessment of all three players there. It's tough to go wrong on the two-year Kent deal especially if his defensive indicators (Ultimate Zone Rating and Fielding Runs Above Average) show that he's a better player than most give him credit for. Valentin has his uses but he'd better get off to a good enough start to keep that average above .200 (with his usual good amount of productivity on top of that) or it's going to get ugly. Perez on paper looks like a guy who can have his uses, if not actually be a star. I like the idea that he might platoon with Valentin (career OPS vs. lefties: .583, vs. righties: .826)

What I really like is that there's a lot of versatility all the way around the infield. Kent can play all three corners, Valentin can move to short, Perez can play second or third, they're at least somewhat covered in the event of an injury or something.

Jon: I like the versatility, although Kent hasn't played third since 1996 or so, so I don't want to see him there.

Jay: Not in any reasonable hurry, no, but it's one of those things that is always nice to have from the manager's point of view. Maybe there's a few times a year it will make sense in the context of a bigger situation that will make everybody look smart - late-inning double-switch or something. Or a deadline deal like last year.

Jon: Anyway, I think they have a competitive team, despite all the changes. They have only three commitments beyond 2006, I think, in Perez, Lowe and Drew (although DePodesta keeps talking about instability now for stability later). They have a flexible roster, and they have a little ability for midseason improvements. I think, if nothing else, the gloom and doom brigade might not get to moan so much once the season starts. Although it wouldn't hurt if Dave Ross hit like it was 2003.

Jay: Agreed. The flexibility, both short term and longer term, is the underlying feature of this organization right now. They're supple if not especially strong in any one area, and I think they'll hold up quite well.

That said, I think this is the beginning of better things to come. The Dodgers have four guys on Baseball Prospectus' top 50 prospects, and another couple of honorable mentions - that's great representation there. The system is going to bear fruit, they'll be able to replace some of these middle-of-the-road guys with cheaper alternatives, and they'll have the room to make big moves here and there.

Jon: Okay. We talked for a long time and could keep talking more, but that's gonna have to do it for now. I pity the fools who read this far when we publish.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Beer and Tacos: The Saga Continues

A couple of years back, Baseball Prospectus' Dayn Perry took a look at the post-Moneyball backlash that pitted traditional scouting against performance analysis and coined a metaphor for the ages. "Should you run an organization with scouts or statistics?" asked Dayn, before providing the solution himself. "My answer is the same it would be if someone asked me: 'Beer or tacos?' Both, you fool. Why construct an either-or scenario where none need exist?"

But despite Dayn's wisdom and the abilities of most intelligent people to reconcile multiple inputs, tensions between these two views persist. Those tensions are exacerbated in part by the hacktastic reactionaries who populate all too many of the nation's sports pages, hurling epithets like "Google Boy" at Paul DePodesta as if some Luddite brand of senile dementia were the day's blue plate special.

Intelligent debate on the topic is rare, which is why you should read this Baseball America transcript of a Winter Meetings roundtable between two top scouts and two top analysts, moderated by Alan Schwarz. The scouts are represented by Gary Hughes, assistant GM of the Cubs, and Eddie Bane, scouting director of the Anahiem Angels of Assville, California*, while the statheads are ably represented by Gary Huckabay of Baseball Prospectus (and now a consultant for the Oakland A's) and Voros McCracken, a Red Sox consultant best known for birthing the Defense Independent Pitching Statistic concept. Schwarz is a senior writer for BA, a columnist for the New York Times and ESPN, and the author of The Numbers Game, a book on the history of baseball statistics that includes nods to BP, the Moneyball A's, and McCracken -- making him an eminently qualified go-between.

Cherrypicking a choice quote from each of them so that you can sample the flavor:
GARY HUCKABAY: I think it’s important to understand that a lot of people have overclaimed what you can do by statistical analysis. It’s a tool. A car is a tool as well—you can use it to drive to the store, or you can use it to drive into a tree. I think there’s more of a dichotomy between good statistical analysis and bad statistical analysis. But all the information you can get your hands on—as long as you understand what it’s good for, and what its quality is—is always a good thing. We’re all after the same thing here: We’re out to build a great baseball team. As long as you have X number of pieces of information, whether it’s performance data—a term I prefer to use rather than statistics, because these things are records of what happened on the field—and then also, if you’ve got people who have tremendous insight who are well trained, they know how to scout a guy, give me that information too. I want both of it. What I don’t want is someone going, “I want this guy because he had 120 RBIs.”

VOROS McCRACKEN: Certainly, we in Boston are not antagonistic to the concepts in “Moneyball” either. Obviously they hired me as a consultant. When they promoted Theo, basically the idea was he was going to try to meld the two approaches and get them to where they were not only getting along, but are complementing one another. The stats can help the scouts zero in on the guys they should be zeroing in on. And the scouts, once the stats are sorting things through, can tell you who exactly are the best guys to go after. The success of that can obviously be overblown because a World Series championship is a big thing, big news. How much it had to do with stats, how much it had to do with improved scouting . . . I think the point is that Boston has at least tried to reconcile the two positions.

GARY HUGHES: It seems like the teams that are so-called Moneyball teams -- I’m not going to get into names of individual people or teams -- those teams seem to really lack communication skills within their organization. They don’t talk to each other. They talk within their little comfortable niche of people, and the rest of the organization has no idea what’s going on. That seems to be by design. And guys are leaving baseball—just walking away—rather than work with people who just aren’t going to listen to them.

EDDIE BANE: I will have read this (statistics) stuff before I go into the ballpark. But I'm going to evaluate him myself as a scout -- just as a scout -- and I'm going to call Pat Gillick, if he had him in Toronto or Seattle in the past, and go, "Tell me about him." I'm going to get information from the press box. I'm going to work other scouts over. I'm going to know everything I can about this guy. "Yeah, I heard his elbow was hurting him." "No, it wasn't his elbow, he pulled a hamstring." "He had a drinking problem in the past." I'm going to have the DIPS information already. I mean, this stuff if fabulous. But I've got to have the other stuff too -- the intangibles.
Them's good eats. Bane pops up in another venue this week. Rich's Weekend Baseball Beat features an article in which Rich Lederer discusses the Angels' standoff with first-round draft pick Jered Weaver, picking up on a statement in the roundtable where Bane dismisses the notion of comparing Weaver's stats to those of Mark Prior:
I’m in the middle of a negotiation right now (with Jered Weaver) where a guy wants to compare our first-round pick’s stats to Mark Prior’s. And to me, there’s no correlation whatsoever.
Lederer runs the two pitchers' stats -- they're two of the top hurlers in NCAA history, by the way -- accounts for park adjustments and makes note of schedule difficulty, and replies:
Like it or not, Eddie, Weaver’s and Prior’s numbers can be adjusted and compared quite easily. This point, in fact, is one of the major issues separating the stats vs. the scouts debate. A lot of the scouts simply don’t want to believe the numbers because doing so dilutes the value of their worth (or so they think)

... I’m sorry, but it is simply disingenuous to say that there is “no correlation whatsoever” between Weaver’s and Prior’s stats. Bane knows the stats are incredibly similar so he is trying to play a little three-card monte on the public by proclaiming that they aren’t akin to one another.
This isn't the first time Lederer has tweaked someone about the Weaver situation. Recall that during the Winter Meetings he threw Weaver's agent, Scott Boras, a curveball as the agent was holding court in the hotel lobby and offering hardline answers to softball questions about his free-agent clientele. Here he's lobbying for the Angels to shut up and sign the young pitcher:
Boras is believed to be asking for a deal similar to the five-year, $10.5 million contract Prior signed with the Chicago Cubs in August 2001. Given their comparable stats and competition, is that so unreasonable?

The whole thing is really quite silly when you think about the fact that Jered’s brother Jeff is scheduled to earn $9.25 million in 2005. I know Jeff is a more proven pitcher at the big-league level, but who would you rather have for about the same amount of money -- Jered Weaver for the next five years or Jeff Weaver for one year?
Having spent the past two-and-a-half seasons with Weaver on the staffs of my two rooting interests, I'll give up the washer and dryer for what's behind Door #2.

On the topic of Lederer, a pair of congratulations are in order: he's ESPN columnist Rob Neyer's "Link of the Month," and a column of his on Jim Edmonds, co-written with Brian Gunn of Redbird Nation, was chosen by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 10 sports columns of 2004 (the only one to come from a blog). Congrats, Rich!

Back to Perry, I had a chance to bend elbows with him last weekend as he passed through New York City. Alex Belth, Alex Ciepley, Dayn, his romantic interest Leanne, my gal Andra and I all trekked out to Queens to visit our favorite authentic Thai restaurant Sripraphai (of which Alex B. wrote so glowingly after our first journey there several weeks ago). It wasn't beer and tacos -- though we had plenty of the former as the night went on -- but it was good food and good times. Fans of Perry's work will be pleased to note that he's got a book forthcoming as well as contributions to the Baseball Prospectus annual and the still-unnamed BP Red Sox project discussed a few days back.

• • •

* We're going to have some fun with those silly Angels, kids. I don't really have a dog in this hunt between the faceless, Disney-driven hell of Anaheim and a baseball owner insistent on insulting everybody's intelligence. But as I've never cottoned to either the New York Giants of East Rutherford or the New York Jets of East Rutherford, I'll concede my sympathy to the unrepresented taxpayers who foot the stadium bills. Besides, Angels owner has made a much more immediate and correctible mistake and deserves to have as much scorn and ridicule heaped upon his actions until the right thing is done. So today it's the Anahem Angels of Assville, CA, tomorrow it may well be the Los Angeles Angels of "Screw You, Anaheim," and the day after that the Angels of Arte Moreno's Ass. Consider yourself forewarned that I'm just going to beat this ugly with the ugly stick for my own amusement. Feel free to offer your suggestions; good taste is hardly a prerequisite.

• • •

Speaking of McCracken and DIPS, several people have emailed to inquire about whether I'll be publishing this year's stats. Indeed I will, hopefully some time over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I've updated several links on last year's page to compensate for the trainwreck induced by Baseball Primer's relaunch as Baseball Think Factory. If anybody can help fill in more of the missing links, please email me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Radio Radio

It's a banner day for me at Baseball Prospectus Radio -- literally. The new BPR banner which I designed late last year has finally been put in place, and two recent episodes of the show with spots by yours truly are archived for your listening pleasure.

The first episode dates back to December 16, just after the Winter Meetings in Anaheim. I discussed the atmosphere of the meetings, the Dodger moves that took place around that time (such as the signing of Jeff Kent and the rumors about Adrian Beltre and Tim Hudson), and the Yankee moves (such as the Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright signings) as well. My spot starts around 19:50 and runs about 10 minutes; also on the episode are Rich Lederer and Neil DeMause.

The second spot was recorded last Thursday and was focused on the Hall of Fame voting results -- the election of Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg, the failures of the writers to recognize the brilliance of Bert Blyleven and Rich Gossage, the guys at the bottom of the ballot, and, off the topic of the Hall, the pending Carlos Beltran and Randy Johnson deals. I've got the leadoff spot on this one, 2:45 into the episode, and my conversation with host Will Carroll runs nearly eight minutes, with writer Kevin Czerwinski and Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz following me on the air.

Other than a few too many "uhhs" and "you know's" here and there, I'm pretty happy with both performances. I kept things moving reasonably well and didn't commit any major gaffes or trip over my words too badly. It's a lot easier to go one-on-one with Will than occasionally struggling to get a word in edgewise during the roundtables I've done. Set your browser and your MP3 player to Baseball Prospectus Radio to check the episodes out.

Friday, January 07, 2005


PB and Jay

All right, Yankee fans and readers of quality baseball writing on this here web-o-ma-phone, you've got a nice little addition to your reading list to celebrate. Steven Goldman, who writes the essential Pinstriped Bible column for the YES website, has added a new little widget, the Pinstriped Blog.

Goldman is -- and I say this with as little hyperbole as I can muster, even with the fact that I count him as a personal friend -- quite possibly the best baseball writer in the country, at least among those who have sprung forth in the era of the Internet. No partisan hack or house organist, he's been able to carve out a niche writing a column that takes an objective eye to the Yanks, and done so on George Steinbrenner's nickel. As he consistently reminds irate Yankees fans whose butts chafe at his criticisms of sacred Yankee cows such as Derek and Tino and hoary baseball myths like the importance of RBIs and pitcher Wins in player evaluation, the PB is an argument about winning baseball. Those of you who come here to enjoy smart commentary, whatever your rooting interests, have much to gain not only by making the PB a weekly stop, but by getting a daily dose via his blog.

I bring this to light not only to celebrate its presence but also to shed a little light on what's been going on in my life over the past month. Goldman, who is also an author of Baseball Prospectus, has been tapped by the BP übermenches to head up a new project:
I've been editing a new book from the Baseball Prospectus about (forgive me, Yankees fans) how the Boston Red Sox went about breaking their so-called curse and winning the World Series. We talk about where they got smart, where they got lucky, and of course we detail every one of their confrontations with the Yankees in 2004. Among other topics, we explore why the Yankees have been so successful against Pedro Martinez, why the Red Sox seem to have the key to Mariano Rivera, and how the recipe for future confrontations between these two superpowers will require the Red Sox to emulate aspects of Yankees' methodology, loathe as they might be to admit it. That will be out this spring.
Yes, the bearded YES-man is editing a book on the Red Sox, and if that isn't enough, I'm part of the project as well. That Pedro Martinez chapter he referenced is mine, and I spent a good part of December working on it, mining data via Retrosheet, going over my own blog entries about his two late-September starts against them, watching parts of those performances via, and bemusedly reviewing his history of outrageous Yankee-themed quotations about drilling the Bambino in the ass and calling the Yankees his daddy.

With much of BP's core staff tied up with their annual player guide, late in the game I agreed to do another chapter upon returning to NYC following the holidays, this on David Ortiz, whose career I knew much less about than Martinez's frustrated legacy against the Bronx Bombers. Regarding Cookie Monster (or Papi), Steve brought a quote of his that he referenced today to my attention for inclusion in that chapter:
"Something in my swing was not right in Minnesota," Ortiz told the Boston Globe. "I could never hit for power. Whenever I took a big swing, they'd say to me, 'Hey, hey, what are you doing?' So I said, 'You want me to hit like a little bitch, then I will.'"
Hehehe... even though the project concerns the championship victory of the team I loathe and the worst collapse in baseball history of the team I spend the most time covering, I'm incredibly grateful and excited to be part of it. It's a great story, one of the best in baseball history, and as a writer I'd be a damn fool not to put aside my own rooting interests to participate in its telling with a group of writers I admire (and earning a little scratch in the process). Not to worry, Sox fans, among BP's ranks there are plenty of folks on both sides of the aisle to insure a balanced book, and that includes editor Goldman.

That I drew a chapter in which the Yanks won most of the battles made it a little easier to swallow, as did the breaking news of Martinez's departure for Flushing Meadows. In that context, I really warmed up to Pedro, viewing the performances and antics of his Sox career in the past tense and reconstructing his season through the point of view of the chapter. Pedro the dominant pitcher of 1999-2000 bored me. Pedro of 2001-2002 just pissed me off. But the fallible Pedro of 2003-2004 is one of the more fascinating baseball characters of our lifetime, and a reminder why there's little need for fiction in baseball: the real thing provides better drama than we can possibly dream up. Red Smith had a point.

At one point during my stay in Salt Lake City, when the deadline was bearing down on me and the Cabernet from my dad's wine cellar had been especially good, I drifted off into one of those beautiful half-slumbers that I could recall later. In my dream-state, I was driving a car down a desert highway, and Pedro was riding shotgun, laughing bemusedly through his half-lidded expression as we talked about his battles with the Yankees on the field and in the media. The message, I guess, is that now that he's no longer a Red Sock, I'm free to appreciate him that much more, and I certainly do. And in a strange way, the dream and the writing brought me a kind of closure with the whole Sox win/Yanks lose angle of the past postseason. I can live with it now; the last tantrum has been thrown, the last hat stomped.

Anyway, I've probably spilled more beans about the project (not to mention my own psyche) than I should have, so I'll cut off the topic and turn my attention to Cookie Monster. Pinstriped Blog: go read now. BP Sox book: buy this spring. You have your homework.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


Clearing the Bases - Eat and Run Edition

A hail of bullets to give you folks a reading list while I plow ahead with an unexpected deadline (another BP thing) and scarf down some lunch, and then I'm back to work...

• The Hall of Fame voting results were announced on Tuesday, with two men getting enough votes for enshrinement: Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg. Boggs got 91.86 percent, and I swear that it feels like the other 8.14 percent all wrote articles to advertise their ignorance. Hey, when a .415 career OBP, the most times on base for eight consecutive years, and a higher WARP than the AL MVP six years in a row DOESN'T equal some measure of dominance that even a non-stathead could trip over on the way to finding his ass with a map and compass, I'll eat Tracy Ringolsby's hat.

Sandberg eked out the election by a mere six votes, but as I've argued before, he's a deserving candidate nonetheless. I had high hopes for Rich Gossage; Baseball Think Factory had a tally of published ballots showing that 43 of the 48 named him, a strong showing in what amounted to an exit poll. Alas, it was not to be, but Gossage did garner 55.2 percent, a 14.5 percent gain from the 2004 ballot, the second-biggest jump of any candidate (Sandberg's 15.0 percent leap was the biggest). In doing so, the Goose crossed the magic 50 percent rubicon, where every candidate save ol' Gil Hodges and four guys currently on the ballot -- Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, and Andre Dawson being the other three -- has eventually been elected. Sutter polled at 66.7 percent, a significantly higher tally than Gossage, which is just wrong in my opinion.

Even more dismaying were the showings of Bert Blyleven (40.9 percent) and Alan Trammell (16.9 percent), both of whom I've argued are worthy. Trammell is a comparable candidate to Sandberg, and frankly, the Hall is a joke without Blyleven, who's probably one of the top 20 pitchers of all time. Fifth overall in strikeouts, 60 shutouts, and a near-unanimous reputation among players for having the best curveball in the game -- there's your dominance. and if that' s not enough, he had the two World Series rings as well.

I guess it's back to the drawing board for guys like Rich Lederer and myself, not to mention all of the other analysts who make intelligent cases for some of these deserving but unrewarded players. Joe Sheehan argues that it's time to expand the voting pool to "acknowledge the breadth of baseball knowledge in the 21st century," and I couldn't agree more.

• I just did a quick spot on the Hall results with Will Carroll for this week's Baseball Prospectus Radio. With any luck it will find its way online. Meanwhile BP's Nate Silver offers some amusing criticsm of my Jaffe WARP Score system in his piece today:
Truth be told, as much as I like Jay's work, I also think there is something to be said for gut-feel. A metric like JAWS tells you a lot about a guy's value, but it doesn't tell you quite as much about the shape of his career. JAWS applies what I would call the sausage method for assessing player value: you mush everything together into a nice, cylindrical package, add appropriate seasoning, and come out with what is hoped to be a tasty product. JAWS is, indeed, a very tasty sausage, and it's a heck of a lot more worthwhile than the spoiled cold cuts that most of the press is munching on. But it's still a sausage.
Hehhehe, fair 'nuf. At least it's not chopped liver...

• The Yanks not in on Carlos Beltran? Hey, I've been arguing for months that their payroll isn't unlimited, a sentiment that met with a fair amount of guffaws at the time, even from other Yankee fans. The heft of the pending Randy Johnson extension (two years, $32 million we're being told) and the ridiculous shower of coins bestowed on Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano have stretched the team's budget to the point where the Beltran contract won't fit.

Richard Sandomir of the New York Times has a look at the Yankees' financial situation and speculates that they may not be making any money. I know most Yankee haters will weep at that notion.

I see the Yanks' lack of action in the Beltran sweepstakes as a sign that they're pretty sure they won't be able to get any relief on the Jason Giambi contract (which still has over $80 million to go) and that they expect to eat just about all of Kevin Brown's $15 million as well. The recent report (damned if I can find that link) that Brown took the ball in Game Seven of the ALCS despite Joe Torre's admonishments not to do so if he wasn't physically up to it are likely the last nail in his coffin as far as any future in the Bronx is concerned.

• The new Dodger beat reporter, Steve Henson -- whom I met in Anaheim -- has an interesting piece on GM Paul DePodesta, who's been savaged endlessly by some of the dodger faithful ever since his controversial trade of Paul Lo Duca this summer. But DePodesta takes it all in stride, according to Henson:
Oftentimes the easy decision and comfortable decision is not the right one," DePodesta said. "You can come under an awful lot of criticism, especially in such a public role as this one. You have to stick to what you truly believe is right and at the end of the day hopefully you will be rewarded by the team's performance."

Sending off a good many architects of last season's National League West title team — Adrian Beltre, Shawn Green, Steve Finley, Jose Lima and Alex Cora — was part of the plan.
Thanks to Dodger Thinker Jon Weisman for bringing this article to my attention.

• Speaking of the Dodgers and thanks, a relatively new blog called The Fourth Outfielder has come to my attention recently, and it's said some nice things about me, so I'll tip my cap and return the favor. Tom Meagher has had some excellent analyses of the team lately, takes of the kind that are far off the beaten path. Here he checks in on the team's 40-man roster situation with an eye towards next year's Rule 5 Draft (that's thinking ahead). And his latest article questions some thoughts I put forth the other day on the team's preference towards ground-ball pitchers. Tom's got a load of data that it'll take me some time to digest, but it's definitely worth a look.

• Thanks to my new Prospectus Triple Play beat, I've spent a lot of time following the San Francisco Giants this offseason, and I've been corresponding frequently with Fogball blogger Tom Gorman, who's been an invaluable resource in the process. Tom took an excellent swing at analyzing the Giants' madness this offseason as they've stocked up on players well past their sell dates such as 34-year-old catcher Mike Matheny, soon-to-be 38-year-old shortstop Omar Vizquel, and 38-year old outfielder Moises Alou. As Tom notes, the Giants outfield's combined age -- with Marquis Grisson in center and Mr. Bigstuff in left -- is a creaky 116 years old. I suggested to Tom that the trainers put bedpans in the outfield gaps just in case, a joke that found its way into the article. (Yeah, I'll be here all week, two shows a night. Try the veal...)

Monday, January 03, 2005


Back on the Grid

First off, a belated but nonetheless heartfelt Happy New Year to all of my readers. I returned from Milwaukee last night after being more or less at the center of attention for the past few days, with a birthday dinner, a bachelor party, and an engagement party broken up only by New Years' Eve and lots of wedding-related projects, none of which left me much time to think about baseball, let alone write.

Not that I had any idea what the hell was going on anyway. As wonderful and attentive as my future in-laws may be, they're practically off the grid as far as what I do is concerned -- no home computer, no cable TV, not even home delivery of a newspaper; do people still live like this? So I was about a day late in finding out that the Yankees and Diamondbacks had sifted through the ashes of the 10-player blockbuster which collapsed upon the Dodgers' withdrawal to reach an agreement on a deal that will put Randy Johnson in the tallest set of pinstripes ever. The Yanks will give up pitchers Javier Vazquez and Brad Halsey, as well as catching prospect Dioner Navarro, and about $9 million in exchange for Johnson. The Dodgers have similarly salvaged their own corner of the deal, agreeing to send outfielder Shawn Green and $8 million (half of Green's 2004 salary) to Arizona in exchange for Navarro and a pitching prospect (perhaps Halsey), assuming the previous deal goes through. If the Johnson deal should fall through (and with physicals and the negotiation of an extension for the Unit, who knows), the Dodgers would receive either another catching prospect, either Koyie Hill (sent to the desert in the Steve Finley deal) or Chris Snyder.

Where to begin with all of this? My circuits tend to overload anytime the Yankees and the Dodgers are involved in the same deal. I touched base on this one a couple of weeks back, spent a fair bit of time outlining the Dodger angle in my recent Prospectus Triple Play, and already had to scrap one lengthy post that expired like a carton of unsold milk. So I'll keep this brief, fast-forwarding through the drama that had Yankee Hatchet Man/President Randy Levine (I swear that's his true job title) and an unnamed Arizona executive (likely GM Joe Garagiola Jr.) ripping Dodger GM Paul DePodesta for "reneging" on their previous agreement, and then resident ESPN yenta Peter Gammons spinning the story back in the Dodgers' direction, pulling out because of their "respect" for Javy Vazquez's family values. Whatever.

In the initial ménàge à trois, the Yanks would have given up third base prospect Eric Duncan instead of Halsey, and received Dodger pitcher Kaz Ishii and $3 million. So for a net of $12 million cash flowing westward and the loss of a marginally promising lefty, they get to keep Duncan, the team's top prospect according to Baseball America, and they don't have to figure out what to do with Ishii, whom they would have either made $2 million for his enigmatic and erratic contributions (perhaps at the expense of, say, Tanyon Sturtze) or been traded elsewhere. Duncan's 20 years old and might see Double-A this year; his weighted mean PECOTA projection (via Baseball Prospectus) is at .241/.311/.410, so he's still a ways away from being a productive major-leaguer. While it's great that the Yanks get Johnson to capstone their remade rotation, the cost of keeping Duncan -- who now becomes their primary midsummer bargaining chip if they need one -- is a steep one.

In the supermegablockbuster, the Dodgers would have given up starters Ishii and Brad Penny and reliever Yhency Brazoban as well as Green, while they would have received Duncan, Navarro, Vazquez, and Arizona reliever Mike Koplove. Vazquez would have been a pricey upgrade on Penny, had the Dodgers actually kept him, something not at all clear given the flurry of rumors regarding a subsequent deal to the White Sox. Javy's got a higher upside and he's likely healthier than Penny, who was limited to 11.2 innings by a nerve injury after being acquired in the Paul Lo Duca trade. But as a flyball pitcher (0.85 g/f ratio last year), he likely wouldn't have benefitted much from Dodger Stadium, especially in its radically reconfigured state. The rumblings that he could have been unhappy enough to demand a trade next year (as is his right as a player traded in the middle of a multiyear deal) and perhaps opt out of the final two years and $25 million of his contract (his right if the demand was not fulfilled) were enough to make him too hot for the Dodgers to handle.

Meanwhile, keeping Brazoban is a nice little victory, though the sidearming, groundball-inducing Koplove would have had his uses for L.A. Navarro is clearly the lesser of the two prospects from the Yanks' chain. He's closer to major-league ready than Duncan, and the Dodgers do have a hole at catcher that you could drive a truck through if you don't mind running over a pair of guys who couldn't even make it across the Mendoza Line last year (and you shouldn't). But I see a lot more Einar Diaz (who's about his size) than Victor Martinez (one of his 2005 PECOTA comparables, I'm told, on a .249/.307/.371 projection) in Navarro, and that's not a compliment. But he's got youth in his favor, and he's still a significantly better prospect than either of the other two catchers the Snakes might substitute in the deal.

In the rotation, keeping Ishii is a necessary step when your five-man rotation is otherwise Penny, Jeff Weaver, prospect Edwin Jackson, and swingmen Wilson Alvarez (fragile lefty) and Elmer Dessens (nondescript righty named Elmer, for crying out loud). Shedding Green's salary is a plus for the Dodgers if they spend the money on pitching (Derek Lowe, a groundballer with a strong postseason resume but a whopping 5.42 ERA last regular season, is their reputed target) and can put some faith in the relatively economical and still-promising Hee Seop Choi at first base. Otherwise, they're just jettisoning one of their more productive (if expensive) hitters and another significant chunk of change in favor of a couple of prospects whose value has been significantly inflated by a grand tradition of pinstriped puffery.

So it's not at all clear that either the Dodgers or the Yankees have improved their lot over the deal which fell through nearly two weeks ago. The Yanks get a difference-maker in Johnson, but they've yet again put their eggs in the basket of a very old hen (Roger Clemens, David Wells, Kevin Brown...). They get to keep their prize in Duncan, but at the cost of eating a lot more of Vazquez's contract. The Dodgers eliminate some risk in their rotation, but still leave it looking nothing like that of a playoff contender, and the Navarro/Green angle is a salary dump that makes it look as though they, not the Diamondbacks, are the ones already playing for 2006.

But just as the three-team deal required a mountain of paperwork before it could be officially consummated, so do these two deals promise to keep the fax machines busy in New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and wherever Bud's toupée currently rests. In this never-ending epic saga of perpetual infinity (like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), it's likely we haven't seen the last twist or turn, nor have we read about the last hand being wrung. Stay tuned.

• • •

Meanwhile in Yankeeville, the Bronx Bombers have lived up to their recidivist ways by re-signing Tino Martinez to a one-year, $3 million deal. The 37-year-old first baseman, who played for five pennant-winning Yankees teams from 1996-2001, always left me considerably more lukewarm than the dyed-in-the-wool Yankees fans thanks to his incredible shrinking OPS. But he enjoyed a reasonably productive season in Tropicana oblivion (.262/.362/.461, good for a .280 EQA, his highest since 1998), he's still good with the leather (six runs above average per 100 games, according to BP), and he gets the decaying corpses of Tony Clark and John Olerud off of the Bronx doorstep, so things could be worse, unless Jason Giambi replicates his 2004 form. In which case it will be one uncomfy and expensive summer in Yankee Stadium, and all the veteran herbs and spices which Tino brings to the Yankee clubhouse will be a poor substitute for his limitations.

• • •

On a more positive and personal note, I'd like to thank everyone who made 2004 such a great year for me, both at this venue and at Baseball Prospectus, where every passing month finds another couple of my toes wedged in the door ("You want a toe? I can get you a toe..."). I'm not going to do the roll-call like I've done in prior years, but suffice it to say that I know who you are even if you don't, and I won't forget that as we continue on this journey.

As I round the corner and head towards the fourth anniversary of my starting this site, it's been a great ride, one that's taken me to some wonderfully unexpected places, and the new year promises to be every bit as rewarding and exciting. Much of that excitement -- opportunities to write in other venues, not to mention my impending nuptials (not until May) and travels -- may keep me from writing here as much as I'd like to, but one way or another, I'll be around, and I hope you'll stick around as well. Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy 2005.


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