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.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Clearing the Bases -- Crossing the Lines edition

Last week's Prospectus Hit List generated a larger and more contentious batch of reader mail than usual, with the relative rankings of the Oakland A's and Anaheim Angels of Whereversville a particular flashpoint for some readers. Rather than take a defensive attitude towards the criticism, I've used the opportunity as a means to explain the methodology behind the Hit List in more detail, first in a blog entry for this site and now in a more formal article to accompany this week's list.

Much of the mail came from Angels fans who accused me a BP of bias towards the A's, a charge not to be taken lightly. It's certainly true that BP has benefitted from the attention paid to the A's front office for their use of sabermetrics in building their ballclubs. The smash hit Moneyball drastically expanded the market for such analysis, no doubt raising BP's profile and and ultimately generating more subscriptions. A's GM Billy Beane and Moneyball author Michael Lewis have both endorsed BP on the covers of the 2004 and 2005 annuals, and a BP alumnus, Gary Huckabay, now consults for the A's. Furthermore, BP's writers have picked the A's to win the AL West in 2000 (eight out of 11 first place votes), 2001 (13 out of 13), 2002 (nine out of 13), 2003 (13 out of 13), 2004 (10 out of 12) and 2005 (seven out of 12; in my first year being polled, I was among the four who picked the Angels). They/we have been right three out of five times so far, and in the other two, the A's garnered the Wild Card in 2001, and fell short of the division by a game last year. Of course, they're right in the hunt this year as well. That's not too shabby a record, either for the A's or for BP, considering how out of vogue the team was a few years ago.

That said, as I wrote in the article:
I'm somewhat bemused by the fact that readers think there's some bias built into BP's brand of analysis to favor the A's over the Angels. While it's true that the two teams' offenses are built along different models and that the A's follow one that's more in line with a sabermetric analysis, if you read what we've written over the years, you'll see that we have no shortage of respect for the latter as a team, particularly in the way the Angels run their bullpen and their farm system. We don't sit around trying to find measures that say, "Hey, we need to find a way to make the A's come out on top, or at least better than the Angels." As Bill James defined it, sabermetrics is the search for objective truth about baseball, and we hold to that standard. If we kept putting our thumbs on the scales every time the A's--or the Red Sox, or another saber-friendly team--came up, our analysis wouldn't have much value.
Look, there's a reason the A's and BP both favor the sabermetric approach: it's a route to building a better ballclub, particularly when 90% of teams--and that percentage is much, much less now than it was a few years ago--aren't using it. Entire books have been written on the subject, so I won't belabor the point any further than that., except to say that nobody within the A's or BP signed Orlando Cabrera, he of the .315 career OBP, to a four-year, $32 million deal, nor do they keep writing Darin Erstand and his .371 SLG into the lineup at first base every day.

Turning to this week's list, the A's rebounded from last week's 1-5 showing to go 5-1, drubbing their opponents by a combined score of 47-14 and securing the #2 spot on the list. The Angels, perhaps exhausted by so many readers arguing on their behalf, went 2-4 and were outscored 29-22, falling three notches to #8 and thus earning themselves this week's Golden Anvil award. The Hit List Factor gap beween the two teams, just .0027 last week, is now about 10 times that, .0254. And of course, the A's now find themselves atop the Al West.

Elsewhere, the Yankees earned this week's Platinum Pole Vault award, swapping places with the Angels to move to #5. As noted in their entry, GM Brian Cashman pulled a minor coup over the weekend by acquiring outfielder Matt Lawton from the Chicago Cubs for an A-ball pitcher named Justin Berg. Lawton (.266/.366/.408 on the year) immediately strenghtens a bench populated by the likes of John Flaherty, Bubba Crosby, Tony Womack and Felix Escalona, four players with a combined -20.0 VORP and little chance of hitting water if falling out of a boat. Unlike those stiffs, he gets on base; his current season is pretty much right on his career number of .369. He's got a bit of pop, too, as he showed last night, homering against the Seattle Mariners. Reports today indicate that the Yanks will further strengthen their bench by adding Red Sox castoff Mark Bellhorn, who endured a dismal .216/.331/.360 season before being designated for assignment but was one of the Sox key players last year, hitting .264/.373/.444 and getting some huge hits in the postseason. He'll likely take up some at-bats against lefties while slumping Robinson Cano sits, and with at least some experience at every position besides catcher, he gives Joe Torre some other options as well. With Alex Rodriguez reportedly nursing a groin injury, some spot work at third base would appear to be a likely scenario as well.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are still mired at #24, and I, for one, have given up hope. Last week's ugly war of words between Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent was disheartening; whether Bradley was right or wrong about Kent's ability to deal with black players, going to the press with a clubhouse problem and playing the race card is a nuclear option which illustrates a startling lack of judgement and guarantees nothing but misery. I don't look on Bradley's season-ending torn patellar tendon as any sort of schadenfreude; I've been in his corner through every controversy during his entire Dodger career. Fellow Dodger fan and Dodger Thoughts blogger Jon Weisman wrote some words about the situation which I agree with:
The Dodgers will need to make a baseball decision about Bradley, not a therapeutic one. But - and I'll apologize in advance for being soft on this one - if Bradley does leave, I'll be disappointed for non-baseball reasons. For all his problems, I have found Bradley's story so compelling ever since he became a Dodger, I don't want to see it play out somewhere else. I want to see the third act here. Not to gawk, but because I think there's value in the resolution. For all the talk about how difficult Bradley's presence has been in the Dodger clubhouse, I think that the team would become stronger, more cohesive, if they see this through. I think we'd all learn something.

And I know many have lost patience with him, and I don't begrudge that. But I'm still rooting for him. His emotions may not all be pleasant ones, but I just feel his struggle. I can't justify it beyond that; I can't be rational about it.
Having gone thermonuclear, Bradley has set off much soul-searching among the Dodger higher-ups. As an arbitration-eligible player who's going to be dealing with injury and rehabilitation to go along with his growing list of off-the-field woes -- new reports of multiple domestic violence incidents have surfaced in The Daily Breeze, a Redondo Beach newspaper -- he has now given the team every reason to non-tender him rather than sign him to a multi-year deal. He's played his last game in Dodger blue, cost himself millions of dollars, and lost the support of many who've stuck with him through the ups and downs, myself included. Sad but true.

None of which is to exonerate Kent, by the way. On the field, the Dodger second baseman is all business, and despite the reports of his locker-room detachment, the 37-year-old potential Hall of Famer has a right to "police the clubhouse" as he termed it. But pressing the sensitive Bradley's buttons in the manner he reportedly did serves little productive purpose, either. You've got to pick your battles, and a lost RBI in an 11-6 win isn't worth the trouble.

The Dodgers are now 11 games under .500 at 60-71, yet they're only 4.5 behind the Padres in the standings, tied with the even more execrable Diamondbacks (who rank #28 on the Hit List thanks to being outscored by a whopping 151 runs, compared to 63 for the Dodgers). They're tantalizingly close, but so inept and broken down I'm not sure I even want to see them win only to be crushed again by the Cardinals in the playoffs. From an emotional standpoint I've pulled the plug, and my continued attention to them is as much for professional reasons as any others.

• • •

As the Bradley controversy escalated last week, one of my BP colleagues noted internally the difficulty of writing about racial issues without either resorting to platitudes or being branded a racist. It's a sensitive area even when taken to the baseball arena to address Milton Bradley's mid-tirade observation that less than nine percent of players are African-American. But it's not an impossible one, as I was reminded last night when reading Howard Bryant's fine history of the post-strike epoch,Juicing the Game. Some 340 pages into the book, I reached Bryant's chapter on Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield (recently excerpted in two parts by Bronx Banter). Bryant himself is African-American, and his first book was Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, so he's well-versed in writing about the topic of race, and he brings to the Bonds discussion a unique and valuable perspective. Bryant notes Bonds' connections to the game's elite black players:
A unique figure in the history of the game, Bonds was third-generation black baseball royalty. His father was Bobby Bonds, who combined exceptional speed and power to become one of the most gifted five-tool players of the 1970s. With the Giants from 1968 to 1972, Bobby Bonds was mentored by his legendary teammate Willie Mays, who in turn became young Barry's godfather. Growing up in Riverside, Bobby Bonds was a childhood friend of Dusty Baker. Baker's father coached young Bobby through Little League. Like Bonds with Mays on the Giants, Dusty Baker, as a young outfielder with the Atlanta Braves, was mentored by the great Hank Aaron. As contemporaries of Jackie Robinson, Mays and Aaron were two of the most prominent forefathers of integrated baseball. As a child, Barry Bonds learned baseball directly from his father, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron. No black player of Bonds's generation would own such a personal connection to the roots of the integrated era, nor would any of his contemporaries be more closely linked to the major league black experience.

Not only did Barry Bonds grow up in the game of baseball, but his experience was not unlike that of a privileged member of a political dynasty. When Bobby Bonds played for the Yankees in 1975, Billy Martin, then the manager, would constantly have to run the eleven-year-old Barry off of the field during batting practice. Years later, after Bonds signed a record-breaking contract to join the San Francisco Giants, his on-field performance would help Dusty Baker become the most influential and successful African American manager in baseball history. Baker would be Bonds' manager for his first ten years with the Giants. Baker's hitting coach for the first four of those years would be Bobby Bonds.

...As a major leaguer, [Barry] Bonds's battles with the press were legendary. He had inherited from his father a suspicion of the writers that was tied to a large degree to race. During his playing days, Bobby Bonds suffered through a difficult relationship with the writers and team executives, and he often warned his son to be cautious of the press. There would always be a distance between the players and the writers, he would say. Part of it is inevitable; it is your job to play, and their job to judge. But while the writers should be treated with respect first, Bobby Bonds believed, very few could be trusted.

To Bobby Bonds, what made the relationship especially volatile was the element of race. The overwhelming majority of the writers were white, and very few seemed willing to take the time to understand the special circumstances that existed for black players. In a sense, the relationship was no different than the black-white relationships that existed in the society at large. There was a certain unfairness to it, but that made it no less true: Whites could live their entire lives and never know or care to know anyone black. Yet it was impossible for a black person to be successful in America without knowing how to deal with whites and navigate the white world. As a result, there was a critical imbalance to the way white reporters would interpret the actions and personalities of black players that made it a virtual certainty that the black athlete would be portrayed inaccurately, if not unfairly. There was, especially when Bobby Bonds played, a type of conduct white reporters expected from black athletes. As much as the black player who was generally outgoing would receive fairly favorable coverage, the black player who showed any type of independence or intensity was met with an almost open hostility from the white press corps. There were a few reporters who would take the time to be fair, but most would not, and because they were the primary liaison between the player and the public (not to mention their connections to the upper reaches of club management), the writers could make life very difficult for a black player.
Barry Bonds' penchant for seeing his career as an opportunity to revisit the battles his father fought has been discussed before in several places. But Bryant brings a new perspective to the equation. As a black writer himself, particularly one covering the Red Sox, no doubt he's found himself in the same shoes as the Bonds duo, needing to understand racial dynamics with a depth his white colleagues may not have had to. Here, that plays to his advantage.
It was a mistake to view Bonds' obdurate demeanor as a sign that he had not been profoundly affected by a society that was clearly racist and whose racism inflicted considerable damage on people whom Barry Bonds loved. He did not advertise his hungers, for there certainly would be no advantage in it for him, but Bonds sought redress through his play. There would come a time when he would have a chance to avenge the slights, both small and large, that contributed to his father's alcoholism and bitterness. To Monte Poole, when it became clear that he had an opportunity to reach the elite milestones in the game, Bonds began to sharpen his focus. His evolving black conscience paralleled his rising place in the game. He did not want to break Hank Aaron's record, he said. What he wanted to do, he once told Poole, was to erase the white men who played in the segregated era from the top of the record books. They were leaders because they were great players, but only in part, Bonds believed. The other reason was that they did not have to compete against a significant part of the baseball-playing population. It was not lost on him that the great black players of the Negro Leagues were cheated out of their moment in history by racism, and that many white players became legends at their expense. It was also not lost on him that despite his incredible natural talents, he, too would have been denied the opportunity to compete against the white players who would become icons had he been born in the segregated era. He was fueled to a large degree by addressing this historical racial slight.

...Bonds went through the decade consistently dominant, amassing staggering numbers, yet paying a price for his freedom. For despite his brilliance, something remarkable happened: The game started having fun without him. The best player in the game was not its most celebrated. Bonds may have been the best player in the National League, but he nevertheless seemed to be diminished by the home run fiesta that took place in the poststrike years. While Bonds smoldered, the story was Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. To Jon Heyman, watching Sosa and McGwire led Bonds to a fateful choice to transform himself into an incredible hulk of a baseball player, which led him eventually to use steroids. "I think he got mad when he saw lesser players like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa getting all the attention, and he said to himself, 'Let's level the playing field,'" Heyman said. "And when he leveled the playing field realized he was two times better than everyone else. He literally became twice as good as anyone else playing baseball."
With a great deal of skill, tact, even-handedness and historical perspective, Bryant provides a fascinating level of insight into Bonds and his link with the steroids scandal. It's just one more reason I can't recommend this book enough.

• • •

Last week when I noted that I wasn't the only BP writer to be tapped by Salon to pinch-hit for King Kaufman, I missed one detail. Namely, that this piece by Chris Karhl carried the following byline: "Christina Kahrl is a sportswriter who lives in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. She writes the column 'Transaction Analysis' at" For those of you doing a double-take, yes, Chris has been living as a woman since 2003. I met her at a BP Pizza Feed in March 2004, itself significant because it marked her first public appearance under the BP banner in her new identity.

But the Salon piece marked the first time she'd written under her female name, a fact that led to a nice profile of her situation in the Washington CityPaper:
Kahrl... adds that her heart's been warmed by the utter nonreaction she's gotten from baseball and baseball-journalism folks since converting to womanhood. At insider baseball events she's hosted at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, and at her alma mater, the University of Chicago, all the focus has been on her knowledge of the game, even from those who knew Chris Kahrl back in the day.

"Nobody has batted an eye," says Kahrl. "Everybody has been great and supportive, from friends and family and colleagues to everybody with the White Sox to the University of Chicago alumni. A reader said, 'I had no idea that Chris was short for Christina.' And I was like, 'Yeah, that's what it's short for.' But that's it. So whatever people might be saying about the rising tide of conservatism in America today, from my experience, we're also in a place now, a better place and a better society, than we were 50 years go. I'm certainly happy. Again, this isn't something I broadly advertise, because it's a secondary issue. Yes, it's proof that life is interesting, but it doesn't change the fact that I love baseball. I still love the game."

Kahrl's love of baseball comes through in each installment of her Prospectus column, Transaction Analysis, and whenever she even talks about the game. There is no way to exaggerate how well Kahrl knows the names and numbers of baseball and how good she is at cramming that knowledge into her writing and conversation.When talking about the Oakland A's, the first team Kahrl fell for as a kid growing up in Northern California in the '70s, she uses "the Chris Codiroli years" as a punch line. (Codiroli was a right-handed pitcher who put up a 38-47 record with the A's, Indians, and Royals from 1982 to 1990. But everybody knows that.)
Kahrl's column was itself the hook that got me reading BP on a regular basis; my email archives are filled with great lines I've clipped and sent to friends as they've generated laughs while providing spot-on analysis. Prior to meeting her in 2004, I had been briefed on her situation, but I had no idea what to expect. I'm pleased to note that we hit it off instantly and have since hosted each other on trips to our respective cities. Male or female, her love for the game is the same, and she remains one of the best baseball writers in the country, and has proven herself to be a great friend and ally as well.

The CityPaper article has garnered her some positive attention, with Editor & Publisher, Romanesko, and the Huffington Post all picking up the story and... well, I don't want to jinx anything else, but suffice it to say there may be some exciting opportunities opening up for her. Kudos to Christina!

Friday, August 26, 2005


Bat Boy Book Excerpt

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a book I'd been reading, Matthew McGough's Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming of Age with the New York Yankees. I first encountered McGough's story in the New York Times a couple of years ago. In that article, he described his first day as a Yankee batboy in 1992, during which he received quite a rookie hazing: Yankee captain Don Mattingly sent McGough on a fool's errand of finding a left-handed bat stretcher, making for a hilarious tale.

Published by Doubleday earlier this year, Bat Boy is an a lighthearted, entertaining memoir of life in the dugout and the bowels of Yankee Stadium, circa 1992-1993, and thanks to the cooperation of McGough, I'm pleased to offer an excerpt of one of the book's chapters here. The second half of the chapter is available by emailing the author via the link provided at the end of Part I. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Hall Calls

Yesterday evening my pal Alex Belth sent an email asking my opinions about the Hall of Fame credentials of several active pitchers:
Got a question I thought you might have some thoughts about. I figure that Maddux, Johnson, Pedro and Clemens are sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famers. And I also figure that Glavine and Mariano will get there too.

1. Do you think T. Hoffman will?

2. Of the remaining starters with a legitimate shot now how would you rank the following pitchers: Mussina, Boomer Wells, Smoltz, Schilling and K. Brown (and is there anyone else I'm missing?).
In the midst of the Yankees' drubbing by Toronto, it seemed a better use of my time to research for a more definitive answer than a quick off the cuff response, so I broke out my JAWS gear. First off, I have to commend Alex for correctly identifying the top nine active starting pitchers according to the system; he almost certainly did so without scouring their Baseball Prospectus figures, but he didn't miss one. Here are the nine, updated through yesterday (so leaving aside Mussina's drubbing at the hands of the Blue Jays), along with some average JAWS scores for Hall of Fame pitchers:
                 Age   PRAA  PRAR   WARP3   PEAK   JAWS
Roger Clemens 42 637 1787 187.5 53.9 120.7
Greg Maddux 39 471 1535 159.3 57.5 108.4
Randy Johnson 41 442 1336 130.7 49.9 90.3
Tom Glavine 39 290 1255 125.2 42.0 83.6
Pedro Martinez 33 417 1036 106.2 56.2 81.2
Mike Mussina 36 304 1084 112.2 43.0 77.6
Kevin Brown 40 279 1084 107.4 45.7 76.6
John Smoltz 38 295 1019 102.0 38.2 70.1
Curt Schilling 38 301 1020 94.0 42.9 68.5
David Wells 42 142 957 94.0 33.2 63.6

Avg HOF Pitcher 205 964 95.1 43.1 69.4
BBWAA HOF Pitcher 260 1174 114.9 46.9 80.9
VC HOF Pitcher 137 705 70.7 39.6 55.1
The listed ages are as of July 1, which is the convention in dealing with baseball databases. Clemens just turned 43, but we're not too concerned about that here; he's a freak who could likely pitch another five years at some level of effectiveness, but not all of thes guys has so much in the tank. PRAA and PRAR are Pitching Runs Above Average and Above Replacement, respectively; the two give a good secondary measure of peak and career value. WARP3 is a player's career Wins Above Replacement Player total, adjusted for all-time, PEAK is his best five-consecutive year stretch, and JAWS is the average of those two numbers. The PEAK score skips over injury years in which a player misses more than 1/3 of a season; Pedro gets a mulligan for 2001, and Schilling, whose peak runs from 2000-2004, would get one for this year if his 2006 is better than his 2000 score of 7.2.

The numbers for the average scores are slightly out of date, as the WARP system has been recalibrated and will likely be recalibrated yet again this winter. I'm changing the way I handle it, but there's no sense digging in until Clay Davenport updates the system. A JAWS score of 69.4 is the average among all Hall pitchers, but as I discovered in evaluating the Veterans Committee ballot, that conceals a huge difference between those elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America (an average score of 80.9) and by the Vet Committee (55.1).

Assuming Schilling doesn't fall victim to the voodoo curses I place on him daily -- I can't take credit for the ankle, I want the fat bastard to REALLY suffer -- he'll surpass the overall average score, leaving Wells as the only pitcher below that bar. My guess as to how they'll rank in the final analysis once they're all done (taking age and health into account):
----------BBWAA Average
----------Overall Average
I'm banking Martinez and Mussina will surpass Glavine, who at 39 is striking out 3.87 hitters per nine innings, a rather unsustainable rate. Brown is done, and Smoltz likely doesn't have another 22 WARP in him (needed to add 11 JAWS points to top the higher average). Of course, none of this takes into account awards or postseason performance. I'd imagine Smoltz, who won a Cy Young award and a World Series ring, and Schilling, who has two World Series rings, have enough hardware to get the call from the writers, Brown, with one ring and no Cys, does not. Mussina might get his candidacy downgraded over the fact that in all likelihood he'll have neither a ring (you'd have to be naive to assume otherwise at this juncture) nor a Cy to show for his effort.

Turning to the relievers, for reasons I explain here, I use a standard that's 70% of the Hall Starter average, so figure a JAWS of 48.6 to be the overall bar, 56.6 to match up to the writers' standard. Mariano Rivera's JAWS is 73.5/36.5/55.0, which is pretty close to the higher standard, and should surpass that with another season. Given his postseason success and the deserved admiration the press has for him, he is as close to a mortal lock for the Hall as Roger Clemens, in my opinion.

Trevor Hoffman comes in at 65.3/34.1/49.7. I'd say he has a case for induction, but the reality is that it's nowhere near as good as those of Goose Gossage (84.0/34.9/59.5) and Lee Smith (79.6/32.7/56.2), and since the voters haven't figured out what to do with relievers yet, he'll stand in the equivalent of a Moscow bread line. By that same token, Smoltz will get a bit of a boost as kind of a Dennis Eckersley Jr. when writers try to account for his four seasons in the bullpen. The fact that he's made a successful return to starting only adds to the uniqueness of his career path, and as in the case of Eck, uniqueness is often a good thing where voters are concerned.

Anyway, it's fun stuff to think about who will make the Hall of Fame; I always enjoy taking a look.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Kiss My Pythagoras

After a week's hiatus so that I could complete my recent articles for the New York Sun and Salon, I'm back with a new Prospectus Hit List. The Cardinals sit at #1 for the ninth week in a row (zzzz), but the White Sox, who spent eight weeks at #2, have fallen to sixth on the heels of a 1-5 week. The Red Sox have taken over the #2 slot, followed by the A's, the Indians, and the Angels. The Yankees are currently eighth, while the Dodgers are 24th.

Five months into doing the Hit List, I've found that many readers still don't understand what the rankings are about, thinking they reflect my biases or those of Baseball Prospectus. The most frequent piece of mail I get regarding the Hit List is something along the lines of "How can the Sludgebeasts rise in the rankings this week if they lost most of their games? Your bias towards sabermetrically-inclined teams is showing, bitch."

The answer I should offer, but usually don't, is "Kiss my Pythagoras."

The single most important tenet of sabermetrics, for my money, is that there's a predictable relationship between a team's winning percentage and the number of runs it scores and allows. Bill James first codified this in his original Pythagorean formula: win% = (RS^2)/(RS^2 + RA^2), where RS and RA are runs scored and runs allowed, and G is games. Studies by BP's Clay Davenport have shown that not only is the Pythagorean a good predictor of a team's winning percentage after the fact (how many should team X have won), it's a better predictor of future winning percentage than the team's actual winning percentage.

The Hit List builds on this in creating our version of the power rankings. There's no subjectivity involved; the rankings are computed by equally weighting actual, first-, second- and third-order winning percentages for the season to date as calculated in BP's Adjusted Standings (a Davenport invention). Actual winning percentage is obvious enough, the percentage of games a team wins. The other three are calculated using the Pythagenpat method, a close relative of Bill James' original Pythagorean formula where win% = (RS^X)/(RS^X+ RA^X), where X = (RS+RA)/G)^.285. First-order winning percentage is computed using actual runs scored and allowed. Second-order winning percentage uses equivalent runs scored and allowed, based on run elements (hits, walks, total bases, etc.) and the scoring environment (park and league adjustments). Third-order winning percentage adjusts for the quality of the opponent's hitting and pitching.

By using the four different percentages, we're correcting for teams that over- or underperform relative to how many runs they've scored and allowed, how many runs they should have scored/allowed given the number and type of hits, walks and other events, their ballpark environment, and the quality of competition. There's nothing written in stone about this formula, but neither is there any hidden agenda. It's simply a way of looking at the question, "How good is each team?" and using a few related but slightly different objective measures to answer that question.

Now, with regards to this week's rankings, I caught some flack from a few readers regarding the A's coming in at #3, rising a notch despite a 1-5 record. But the A's weren't the only high-ranked team to have a bad week. The White Sox had a much worse week, and those of the Angels and Braves, the two teams directly below the A's last week, were nothing to write home about. Here are the run totals of the four teams:
           W-L   RS   RA
A's 1-5 17 24
Angels 3-4 30 27
Braves 2-4 33 36
White Sox 1-5 14 28
The A's, despite losing, at least did a relatively good job of preventing runs, which tends to have a positive effect on those Pythagorean calculations. The Angels actually allowed fewer runs per game, and they've got a better raw run differential this year than the A's, but once all of the adjustments are thrown in, the A's still come out ahead this week.

But not by much. In fact the A's, Indians, and Angels are separated by .0027, with Hit List Factors (the unpublished average of those four winning percentages) of .5660, .5656, and .5633, respectively. That's about 1/3 of a win this far into the season; another run here or there would have likely jumbled those rankings.

Anyway, enough about the nuts and bolts of the equation. This morning just before the Hit List went up, I tacked on a happy birthday wish to the Braves' Julio Franco, who turns 47 today. He's hitting a robust .299/.359/.503 with nine homers - his most since 1996, when he was an old man at 38 -- and outproducing players who were still in diapers when he broke into the big leagues. If that doesn't make you feel like a lazy slob of an underachiever, you're one up on me.

Thursday, August 18, 2005



A month ago, Salon Sports Daily columnist King Kaufman invited me to pinch-hit for him during his upcoming paternity leave, one of a select group of writers that includes Bat-Girl and Chris Kahrl. I'm pleased to announce that my turn at-bat has come today with a piece on steroids and home runs, checking in on the current rate at which balls are flying out of the park and their relation to the ongoing scandal. I'm particularly excited to put my writing in a new venue, and chuckling at the irony that in the same week, I've been published in both a conservative New York City newspaper and a a liberal San Francisco-based politics and culture website. Righty, lefty, I've got both sides of the plate covered. A special welcome to readers coming here via my article.

The piece was long in the making. Initially I submitted a numbers-laden draft that relied heavily on data I compiled for my chapter in Will Carroll's The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball's Drug Problems. Before the editors could get back to me, the Rafael Palmeiro news broke, giving the topic considerably more weight and all of us covering it plenty to write about. Last Thursday I was literally two minutes away from publishing another epic-length blog entry on the topic when editor Kevin Berger called, and he liked my point of entry -- the rampant swirl of rumors that MLB was sitting on an untold number of additional positive tests -- enough that I repurposed much of what I wrote there for this piece.

In our conversation, I took Kevin through a wide range of steroid-related topics, from the statistical research I'd done for Carroll's book to the history of the owners' battle with the players' union to my recent reading of Howard Bryant's fine history of the post-strike epoch, Juicing the Game. Kevin suggested a piece in the neighborhood of 800 words, but he had filled me with so many ideas that my initial submission more than doubled that length. To his credit and my relief, he willingly rode out the longer piece, and for once I didn't have to fret about what got left on the cutting-room floor.

My basic statistical finding is that while home runs are down this year by 7.4 percent, we're still seeing them at rates similar to the recent past, and it's tough to connect the drop with new and improved steroid testing; after all, we had testing last year and homers actually rose.:
With roughly the same number of positives as last year -- a group that makes up less than 1 percent of those tested -- it's tough to point to testing and its penalties as solely responsible for the drop in home runs. A few other reasons for the decline stick out. It's easy to point to the absence of Bonds, who from 2000 to 2004 homered with a frequency more than four times the league average. Bonds has sat out the season with a knee injury, likely sending some 40-plus homers missing. More important, the return of baseball to the nation's capital via the former Montreal Expos has not only introduced RFK Stadium -- the most pitcher-friendly, homer-suppressing park in the majors -- but also taken away a more favorable environment by removing Olympic Stadium and its shotgun-wedded bandbox of a bride, San Juan, Puerto Rico's Hiram Bithorn Stadium, where the Expos played 22 games apiece in 2003 and 2004. Thus far this season, the number of homers in RFK is 36 percent lower than in other major-league parks. If we exclude the home games of the Nats and Expos in our year-to-year comparisons, homers have fallen just 6.5 percent.

Because ballparks generally take a few years for their full effects to reveal themselves, due to weather patterns and other sample-size issues, a more responsible approach to comparing recent homer rates can be taken in controlling for the parks where we have less than three full seasons of data to draw upon. Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, Cincinnati's Great American Park, and San Diego's PetCo Park all opened in the past three years, while Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium moved the fences back considerably prior to 2004. All have shown themselves to lean toward the extremes at either end when it comes to homers. Citizens and GAP are very conducive to the long ball, while PetCo and the reconfigured Kauffman are quite suppressant. Removing those as well as the Nats and Expos, we see a 5.6 percent drop in homers per game from 2004 to 2005.

By themselves, new ballparks can't explain the decrease any more than they could explain the rise, but it's clear they've been a contributing factor in the variations. So, it's tough to credit drug testing for the drop when, using the same controls, homers increased by 1.7 percent from 2003 to 2004, despite an 86 percent decrease in the number of positive tests.
Controlling for new ballparks appears to account for about one-quarter of the recent drop, as well as more than two-thirds of last year's rise (on a per-game basis, homers went up 4.77 percent overall). This backs up my assertion that neither steroids nor ballparks alone can account for the rise we saw in homers during the 1994-2004 period, a stretch in which nine of the top 10 single-season home run per game rates were produced.

Anyway, the article is free; you just have to click through an ad on your way to it. I'm deeply indebted to Kaufman for inviting me to contribute to Salon, and to Berger for patiently sticking with me as the piece became more all-encompassing. I'm proud to add something substantial to the discussion of steroids' impact on the game.

What follows is the original blog entry which keyed that piece. A week after I wrote it, I think it holds up well enough -- and provides enough links that the Salon article omitted -- to justify running it belatedly.

• • •

Welcome to Purgatory

In the wake of the Rafael Palmeiro steroid revelations, these are dark days for baseball; yes, darker than even the Whitey Ford pretzel-pelting incident. The days since the Palmeiro disclosure have been filled with the thrum of rumors about the next steroid-related domino to fall, more big names in the pipeline for a suspension. Suddenly, every player is under suspicion, no accomplishment escapes our cynical speculation, and the presumption of innocence is out the window.

Almost exactly a month ago at Yankee Stadium, I was sitting in front of some random yahoo who opined to anyone within earshot that Jason Giambi -- who had reeled off four homers in three games en route to a 14 homer month -- was back on steroids. "Guy couldn't hit and they wanted to send him down. He figures he's going to either get cut or get caught and he'd rather go out in a blaze of glory, so he starts juicing again," claimed the yahoo. The comment was easy to dismiss, a conspiracy theorist ranting about grassy knolls and lone gunmen.

A month later, that accusation doesn't sound so farfetched, with Giambi's .355/.524/.974 July having garnered him the American League Player of the Month honors just as Palmeiro -- like Giambi, a player implicated in Jose Canseco's The Juice as one to whom the anabolic apostle spread his hypodermic gospel -- went up the river. Even as Giambi's innocence was being pre-emptively asserted, a hoax made the rounds, with a man identifying himself as Yankee president Randy Levine's assistant calling local and national media outlets claiming that the slugger had tested positive.

Unfortunately, it's not an unreasonable suspicion. As ESPN's Buster Olney reminded, Giambi's comeback might be fueled by Human Growth Hormone, which according to the leaked BALCO testimony, he had used before:
Is there steroid speculation about Giambi throughout baseball? Sure there is, and there always will be, because of the leaked grand jury testimony printed last winter in the San Francisco Chronicle. That said, he has passed all of his steroid tests. We also know that if any player wanted to find a way around the testing system, they could use human growth hormone.
Recall that HGH won't show up in a urine test; it's a naturally occurring substance in the body, it requires a blood test for detection and as such, it's beyond the reach of the current program. Even the blood test is unreliable. As Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll reported back in December:
HGH, in forms like Seristim and Nutropin, are created by advanced genetic techniques and are chemically indistinguishable from naturally occurring hormones. Dr. Lewis Black told me in his BP Radio interview that tests for HGH are difficult and that instead of looking for a drug, as is normal testing procedure, testers are likely actually looking for metabolic byproducts. HGH testing was said to have had its first run last summer in Athens, but according to sources, the test is dubious at best. There were no positive tests. One source told me that "there's a primitive test, but it'd get beat in court. It's a good first step and a nice scare tactic. They're keeping the samples in hopes that the test gets more reliable, more sensitive."
Giambi now finds himself in a no-win situation, but such is his burden since BALCO. His accomplishments will forever be tainted, even with a thousand clean whiz quizzes. He can't be caught, nor can he be proven innocent.

All of which makes it tough to digest the recent spate of articles suggesting Giambi's big month is some sort of triumph, vindication, or redemption, such as this piece from Newsday's Bob Herzog: "The award is a vindication of sorts for Giambi, who was written off by members of the media, fans and even his own organization, which wanted to send him to the minors in May." Or this from Sunday's New York Times's Tyler Kepner:
Unlike the other prominent players linked to baseball's steroid scandal, it is Giambi who has emerged as the game's most redemptive story. Barry Bonds has been injured all season. The retired Mark McGwire, Giambi's mentor, broke down in tears before Congress in March. Sammy Sosa is a shadow of himself. Rafael Palmeiro, who pointed his finger at Congress and swore he had always been clean, was suspended this week for failing a drug test.

...Giambi is proof, perhaps, that a player can stop using steroids and regain his old aura. But he does not frame his redemptive season in those terms. To Giambi, his story is about overcoming the tumor that all but incapacitated him last summer. If he were tempted to use steroids now, he said, he would be a fool to give in. "Trust me, there is no way, no possible way," Giambi said this week, over two revealing interviews about his comeback. "I've gotten to this point because I'm healthy. There's no chance I'm going to take a chance on doing anything. There's no way."

But Giambi, who has been tested this season, told the news media before the 2004 season that he had never taken steroids. It was later reported that he had said the opposite a few months earlier, before the grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.
While I've held firmly to my belief in due process and the presumption of innocence with regards to the various developments in the steroids story, I'm having a hard time maintaining that stance these days. As a Yankees fan, it's a real conflict to root for Giambi even without the current allegations, and I've taken little pleasure in his resurgence even before the latest rumors made their way into the mainstream. I've had to practice keeping my enthusiasm in check no matter how clutch his hits get, and as his role in the their offense becomes more prominent, rooting for the entire team becomes that much less fun. It's not just Giambi who's in purgatory for his transgressions, it's all of us who love the game. This is the true legacy of the steroid scandal.

Giambi isn't the only one under the microscope right now. One of the trashiest pieces of writing to emerge in the wake of Palmeirogate is this from Oakland Tribune columnist Monte Poole on the occasion of Roger Clemens' 43rd birthday:
With Barry Bonds absent, Sammy Sosa irrelevant and Rafael Palmeiro disgraced, the duty of carrying the banner for old ballplayers who stretch the limits of human possibility falls to Roger Clemens.

Why not leave it to the oldest? Clemens turned 43 last week and continues to pitch at an incredibly high level. Houston's ace, who won his 339th game Sunday, an 8-1 win over the San Francisco Giants at China Basin, is the only oldster in line to receive honors this season.

More to the point, Clemens is the only one of the four whose age-defying productivity, even in the age of performance-enhancing substances, generally is credited to the American work ethic.


So it is his willingness to work that has made Clemens, at his age, the most unhittable pitcher in baseball. He leads the majors in ERA by nearly a run per game, and opponents were batting a majors-low .188 before Sunday... Yet the explanation for Clemens' numbers is as simple as his dedication?


Don't get it twisted; there are plenty of skeptics who look askance at Clemens' intriguing ability to perform so well. There are snickers. And muted suspicions, some of which actually get whispered.

... There is, so far, not a hint of taint staining baseball's grandest old man.

Got it? "Not a hint of taint" except "snickers" and "whispered suspicions" which, golly, happen to have made into print via this here column full of one-sentence, innuendo-laden paragraphs written by a "skeptic" who's looking askance. Hmmmm.

Meanwhile, the rumor mill continues to grind. Carroll wrote in Monday's Under the Knife column:
The scariest thing is that it doesn’t look like we’re done with this, the debate or the suspensions. Multiple sources in baseball have confirmed to me that there are ongoing appeals and/or grievances, portending future suspensions. It’s unclear how long this process takes, though indications from both the Palmeiro and Ryan Franklin cases give a two to three month timeline from test to suspension. Yes, this means that there are players out there on fields now, perhaps affecting pennant races, leading categories, or heading towards winning awards, that are facing suspensions at some point. It’s also possible that some of these procedures might not be finished during this season. This isn’t about naming names or questioning the necessary due process. This is about the fact that public perception of this is going to be poor. Baseball is getting pummeled by this, by the press, by Congress, and by the public, all despite the fact that there’s plenty of performance-enhanced athletes making headlines this weekend in other sports. When asked for comment, the MLBPA declined due to confidentiality concerns, while MLB had not return our calls as of press time.
On Wednesday, Carroll followed up:
The story continues, however, with Congress jumping in again. As Palmeiro waits to see what one committee does with the information released to them, another is sending letters to MLB. The letter includes eight questions that would clear things up -- for someone not paying attention. The answers are pretty well known for six of the eight questions, if not specifically then generally. The interesting stuff will come if, as some rumors are now saying, that Palmeiro is ready to play the part of Joe Valachi. Yes, there are rampant rumors going through clubhouses and press boxes across baseball, and yes, there’s another name coming soon. Names don’t solve problems.
The speculation about the next shoe to drop has reached such a crescendo that late on Wednesday, Major League Baseball and the Players' Association issued a joint statement about them:
Faced with a swell that was becoming a storm, Major League Baseball and the players' union took what they called an "unusual step" -- the sides issued a joint statement Wednesday, with hopes it would quash the rampant speculation.

"Reports of large numbers of positive tests currently unreported are totally false. Reports of big-name players having the reporting of their test results delayed are totally false," it said.

"All drug-testing results are processed in precisely the same manner, and without regard to the identity of any player or to the volume of positives at any given time. These media reports and rumors are totally, and completely inaccurate, and do not deserve further comment," it said.

The statement was issued by Rob Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations in the commissioner's office, and Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the union.

On Tuesday, commissioner Bud Selig said a young player -- as in, not a star -- was currently in the steroids system. Once a player is informed he has tested positive, he can appeal before any penalties are announced.
It would be a relief if baseball fans could hang our hats on "totally false," but unfortunately, MLB's denial is worth as much as a pinch-hitting at-bat from Enrique Wilson (offer void if you're Joe Torre). You don't have to be a member of Congress to believe that we're far past the stage of being able to take anything from either the union or the league at face value when it comes to steroids. They're in purgatory, along with you, me and nearly every major league player, and we all figure to be here awhile.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Brave New World

I've spent a good portion of the last couple of weeks thinking about the Atlanta Braves, who now sit in first place atop the NL East, just as they have for the better part of the last 15 seasons. They're winning again, but in a way few people expected. With as many as 10 rookies on their roster at any given time, the Braves have been reaping the rewards of a deep farm system, patching through sizable holes created by injuries and trading surplus talent for off-brand pitchers suitable for legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone to work his magic upon. This might be the best work yet by GM John Schuerholz, manager Bobby Cox, and Mazzone, the triumvirate behind the team's run since 1991.

Last week, Baseball Prospectus published my study of the Braves' track record in trading prospects, today comes my piece in the New York Sun about this year's rookie class, most notably Jeff Francoeur, the 21-year-old sensation who's hitting .382/.394/.745 with nine home runs through his first 28 games (including one in his debut) and has already reeled off an 11-game hitting streak, helping the team to snatch first place from the Washington Nationals. Francoeur was BP's 27th-ranked prospect in our annual Top 50 Prospect list, celebrated for his ample power and excellent defense but downgraded slightly for a lack of plate discipline. True to form, he has yet to draw a walk, but nobody's complaining. Instead, they're comparing his "hack and whack" approach to that of Vladimir Guerrero, the reigning AL MVP. Francoeur strikes out considerably more than Vlad the Impaler -- 76 in 84 games at Mississippi, 19 in 28 games in Atlanta, compared to 36 in 97 games for the Angels' slugger -- but it's tough to argue with the results. After a little over a month of play, his Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) now stands at 19.2 runs, second among NL rookies and fifth among Braves hitters. You might as well hand him the hardware right now.

According to VORP, the Braves are getting more production from their rookies than any other team besides Oakland (the Sun cut the chart, but I'm not about to let my data-mining go to waste):
Team  Rook Hit        Rook Pit         Total Rook
OAK 35.0 14.8% 56.5 23.2% 91.5
ATL 43.5 35.1% 22.9 17.4% 66.4
TOR 31.9 15.1% 29.0 17.0% 60.9
COL 49.8 45.2% -9.2 25.6% 40.6
TBA 34.4 15.0% 4.4 26.5% 38.8
MIN 3.9 9.6% 33.4 11.4% 37.3
PIT 23.4 21.3% 12.2 7.3% 35.6
SEA 10.4 20.4% 19.0 8.0% 29.4
ANA 8.7 9.7% 18.7 14.2% 27.4
MIL 19.2 13.3% 5.5 6.2% 24.7
NYN 10.8 3.7% 12.8 8.3% 23.6
SFN 10.2 17.0% 12.7 12.1% 22.9
WAS 12.6 8.3% 4.7 6.2% 17.3
CHN 9.9 6.5% 7.2 19.4% 17.1
CHA 19.9 13.0% -3.0 3.7% 16.9
PHI 8.0 4.6% 5.7 8.8% 13.7
NYA 7.6 10.2% 4.5 12.9% 12.1
KCA 0.7 14.5% 11.1 22.1% 11.8
DET -0.8 2.2% 11.3 5.1% 10.5
BAL -0.6 2.2% 8.4 7.8% 7.8
CLE 0.6 0.9% 7.1 2.1% 7.7
TEX 0.2 1.4% 2.9 22.9% 3.1
SDN -2.8 1.3% 5.5 12.0% 2.7
ARI -4.2 10.1% 5.8 28.7% 1.6
SLN -4.5 6.3% 3.1 8.4% -1.4
CIN -6.4 3.4% 1.8 15.4% -4.6
BOS -3.4 0.6% -4.1 1.4% -7.5
HOU -5.9 22.6% -6.0 20.0% -11.9
LAN -3.5 18.5% -9.8 20.1% -13.3
FLO -4.5 4.3% -12.1 7.6% -16.6
%PA and %IP are the percentages of the team's total plate appearances or innings pitched used by rookies. All told, the average team is getting 18.9 runs above replacement from their rookies. If you're looking for a reason the A's have been kicking ass instead of rolling over as the Beane-haters expected them to, look no further.

For the most part, the rookies, even those of the Braves, are producing at rates below other players, which stands to reason because many of them define the replacement level concept. Across the 30 teams, rookie hitters have produced 5.6 percent of the total hitting VORP in 11.5 percent of the total plate appearances, while rookie pitchers have produced 7.1 percent of the total pitching VORP in 13.4 percent of the total innings. Rookie Braves hitters have produced 29.7 percent of the team's hitting VORP in 35.1 percent of the PAs, while for rookie Braves pitchers, its 11.9 percent of the VORP in 17.4 percent of the innings. That's a significantly better yield.

Even at less-than-efficient yields, the young Braves' contributions have come in handy. From the article:
Into the breach stepped a handful of homegrown rookies, who have improbably led the team to a 32-18 record since June 16. In the outfield, Ryan Langerhans and Kelly Johnson have combined to hit 240 BA/.327 OBA/.398 SLG- hardly earthshaking, but still better than the lifeless .231/.283/.345 combined performance of [Raul] Mondesi and [Brian] Jordan. At third base, Wilson Betemit has hit .296/.355/.451 in place of [Chipper] Jones, who has missed 50 games with injuries. Catcher Brian McCann, recalled when backup Eddie Perez went on the DL, has hit .280/.350/.419, and with starter Johnny Estrada now sidelined by a cervical strain, he's the new regular. Kyle Davies has put up a 4.56 ERA in 14 starts, proving himself a reasonable stopgap for a desperate team. John Foster and Blaine Boyer have provided solid middle relief, allowing the bullpen to be reshuffled to cover for [Danny] Kolb's woes.
The rotation's injuries -- to Mike Hampton, Tim Hudson, and John Thomson -- are part of the reason the team ranks fourth in salary lost to the DL, $15.6 million through last Friday, 18.4% of the team's payroll (the Giants, with Sir Douchealot sidelined, lead at $27.2 million, the Dodgers are second at $25.1 mil, the Yanks fifth at $15.4 mil). They're only 24th in days lost to the DL, with 408 (the Nationals and Mariners have both lost over 1100), so it's really been a matter of losing quality over quantity. Thanks to BP's Mike Groopman for supplying the data, which (sigh) also got left on the cutting room floor of the Sun piece.

And so long as I'm giving y'all a bonus disc of outtakes, here's how the current Braves crop stacks up against their past classes of rookies during their post-1990 run:
Year    hVORP  pVorp  Total  Top Rookie (VORP)
2005 42.3 23.9 66.2 Jeffrey Francoeur, RF (19.2)
1999 11.2 45.9 57.1 John Rocker, P (26.0)
1994 45.9 0.8 46.7 Ryan Klesko, LF (22.1)
1997 20.6 24.8 45.5 Tony Graffanino, 2B(11.5)
2002 -10.3 50.9 40.6 Damian Moss, P (28.1)
1998 -3.4 41.6 38.1 Kerry Ligtenberg, P (21.4)
1993 6.5 30.1 36.7 Greg McMichael, P (32.6)
1995 23.6 12.3 35.9 Chipper Jones, 3B (28.0)
2001 16.7 16.5 33.2 Jason Marquis, P (20.2)
1996 1.6 26.4 28.0 Terrell Wade, P (16.8)
2004 21.9 1.3 23.3 Adam Laroche, 1B (19.1)
2003 0.5 21.4 21.9 Horacio Ramirez, P (21.5)
2000 21.6 -1.4 20.2 Rafael Furcal, SS (37.0)
1992 -1.4 13.4 12.0 David Nied, P (9.4)
1991 11.3 -0.8 10.6 Brian Hunter, 1B (8.8)
The scary thing about that list is that not only is Francoeur going to pad that number considerably but that it includes a negligible contribution from BP's #1 top prospect, Andy Marte, who figures to take over the third base job sooner or later. The Braves are well-stocked for the future.

Even the prospects they've traded have helped the team:
Three such trades in which Schuerholz gave up unproven talent have been crucial to patching this year's staff. Last spring, Chris Reitsma was acquired from the Reds for two pitchers, and after a year of middle relief, he's taken over the closer role from Kolb. This spring, the Braves sent second baseman Nick Green to Tampa Bay for Jorge Sosa, who had yielded a 5.14 ERA in three seasons of Devil Ray purgatory. He started the year in the bullpen, where he was issuing more walks than strikeouts. But since being forced into the rotation, Sosa has been more than solid, allowing a 2.77 ERA in 12 starts while posting a passable 1.81 K/BB ratio. And at an otherwise quiet trading deadline, Schuerholz pulled off one of the few notable deals, sending rookie pitcher Roman Colon and minor-leaguer Zach Miner to acquire hard-throwing setup man - and likely future closer - Kyle Farnsworth from the Tigers.
It's actually been something of a rocky ride with Reitsma (3.56 ERA, 6 blown saves out of 21) but the larger point stands. If you want an organization that knows how to reap the rewards of its farm system, look no further than the Braves.


Sunday, August 14, 2005



If you're in the demographic that has more than a passing familiarity with this site and its proprietor's damaged sense of humor and jaundiced view of the world, then you're no doubt familiar with The Simpsons, hands down the greatest TV show in the history of, well, history (hey, that's a perfectly cromulant claim!). For the past 16 years, the show has proven to be a lingua franca for any clique worth being a part of among people our age (broadly defined as between 20 and 40 currently, though take no offense if you're hip to it beyond those age groups). In the days before TiVo and our domestic pairings-off, we came together every week, dashing madly into the TV room in time for the show just as the characters do in the title sequence. We've seen every episode enough times to remember all of the good lines and know that like the Bible, there's an applicable Simpsons reference for every occasion.

That goes for baseball as well. I don't know how many Simpsons references I've made on this site or over at BP, but scarcely a week goes by without me combing the pages of The Simpsons Archive or elsewhere for just the right touch, the perfect link. To wit:

• Meaningless pregame ceremony? Must be a presentation of the Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.

• 2002 All Star Game? "And ties? You bet!"

• The Pittsburgh Pirates? "Arrrrrrrgh." I've lost count of how many Prospectus Hit List comments make that joke.

• Kirk Rueter's got gout? Cue Troy McClure's acting credits, my all-time favorite Simpsons-related link.

• Long story from crotchety oldtimer? "We wore an onion on our belt, which was the style at the time."

• Fidgety micromanager? "Sound's you're working for your car. Simplify, man!"

• The fickle fate of the average ballplayer? One day you're on top of the world, the next day "you're thawing hot dogs in a gas station sink."

And so on. To say nothing of great baseball-themed episodes of the show -- the classic softball episode, the Whitey Ford pretzel-pelting incident, the Mark McGwire cameo... somewhere I just read that Randy Johnson will be making a guest appearance this coming season. Even a minor league franchise got in on the joke, when the PCL's Calgary Cannons moved to Albuquerque (where the venerable Dukes had left town a few years ago), the team was renamed the Isotopes based on an episode where Springfield's ballclub nearly moved there, only to have the plot foiled by Homer.

Which brings me to The Definitive MLB - Simpson's Analogy List, in which Dan McCarthy of Barstool Sports, a Boston newspaper, compares each major-league team to a Simpsons character, from the famous family to the town's recurring characters. I'll limit myself to a small selection of favorites here:
New York Yankees - C. Montgomery Burns - Driven to success by an almost unimaginable wealth of resources, which they use to ruthlessly crush their enemies, although typically not by the most efficient means possible (blocking out the sun, Bernie Williams). Seemingly unaware of the (obvious) reasons why they are hated. They seem to have been a key actor in pretty much everything important that happened before 1970.

Oakland A's - Bart Simpson - Reliable bad-boy winners who march to the beat of their own drum. Locked in a constant struggle against the overbearing establishment. Every time you think they're going to get what's coming to them, they weasel out of it and surprise you again.

Cincinnati Reds - Principal Seymour Skinner - Spent much of their existence under the hand of a domineering, insane woman who was impossible to please (Agnes Skinner, Marge Schott). Possessors of a dirty little secret that they would rather sweep under the rug (Skinner's true identity of Armand Tamzarian, Pete Rose). Their lives were given meaning in the '70s (Vietnam, the Big Red Machine) but now all they have to escape the monotony of their everyday existence is the flashbacks.

Los Angeles Dodgers - Disco Stu - Overconfident and forever predicting the return of their glory days. Brought up by devoted fans more often than is probably reasonable, considering their sporadic appearances. Haven't been relevant since the '80s.

Atlanta Braves - Ned Flanders - The very definition of "traditional," "white-bread," and "boring." Quietly keeping their affairs in perfect order, but they always end up as the butt of the joke. Spurred to success by a horde of Bible-thumpers. Made a living out of left-handedness in the '90s.
That still leaves you 25 to discover yourself. In the words of C. Montgomery Burns, "Exxxxcellent."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Back to Back, Jack

Written and delivered less than 24 hours after "The Claussen Pickle Revisited", this week's Prospectus Hit List is up at BP. This week's edition features lots of stuff about rookies, for some reason; this late in the year, some pretty good ones, such as Oakland's Dan Johnson and the White Sox's Tadahito Iguchi, are playing big roles for contenders, while some teams such as the Pirates are simply more interesting now that they've abandoned their Tike Redmans and Kip Wellses in favor of the Chris Duffys and Zach Dukes.

There's been precious little movement on the list, so little that I didn't even award the Golden Anvil or Platinum Pole Vault awards, for teams that move up and down the most. The Orioles dropped down three, so consider them the winners of the former. It would take too close an examination to determine the latter, as several teams went up or down two spots. The Cardinals are still first, followed by the White Sox, with the A's having shot up to third and nipping at the Sox's heels. The Yanks are eighth, the Dodgers 24th, and I was probably as harsh on the latter for Jim Tracy's handling of Hee Seop Choi as I was on any team on the list.

Finally, I want to thank everybody for the positive response to the Claussen piece; it generated more email than just about any BP article I've written, and while a good number of those emails came from people who told me I forgot Odalis Perez or Jason Marquis without reading the qualifications for the study (both had too many innings to qualify), there were some intelligent responses mixed in there as well.

Off to tonight's White Sox-Yanks tilt, and thank the good Lord I never have to root for Jose Contreras again. I promise not to leave early this time.

Monday, August 08, 2005


Revisiting the Claussen Pickle

Just over a year ago, I examined the track record of the Yankees' front office when it came to dealing unproven talent. That Baseball Prospectus piece, "The Claussen Pickle: An Analysis of Traded Yankee Prospects 1994-2004," remains a personal favorite, not only because it represented a huge amount of research and a novel approach to a familiar question, but also because just a few hours after it was published, I got engaged.

Now a happily married man, I've had a hard time pulling off major research pieces during the season, a situation owing more to my regular gig writing the Prospectus Hit List every week than to my marital obligations. Thanks in part to the help of my research assistant, Peter Quadrino, I've finally finished a piece that's been on the back burner for awhile. It's a look at the Atlanta Braves' track record in trading prospects during GM John Schuerholz's tenure (since October 1990), using the same methodology as the Yankee piece.

The surprise, to me, is that the Braves have been even more successful at such deals than the Yanks, and over a longer period of time. Of the 70 qualifying players the Yanks dealt -- players who had fewer than 502 career major-league plate appearances or 162 career major-league innings pitched, arbitrary cutoffs representing a single-season of qualifying for the batting or ERA crowns -- only 10 had reached 10.0 WARP3, a level I called a "career of consequence." At best, another seven from that group had legitimate shots to reach that level, for a ceiling of about 24 percent of those prospects panning out.

From the Braves pool of 80 players, just six have reached the "career of consequence" level, with Jason Schmidt (40.4 WARP3) and Jermaine Dye (34.2) far ahead of the pack. At best, that number might double, a 15 percent ceiling. Even that number is dependent on several pitchers making good, and as it's been said before, There's No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. As I wrote in the article, John Schuerholz should sleep well at night knowing he hasn't let too many useful prospects get away.

Late note: reader Mac Thomason, who runs the venerable Braves Journal site (which dates back to 1998!), pointed out that I made one omission. I left off Merkin Valdez, who was traded by the Braves to the Giants along with Damian Moss for Russ Ortiz in December 2002. Valdez has put up a 3.57 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 2.2 K/BB, 0.5 HR/9, .315 BABIP in Norwich, the Giants' Double-A affiliate. He definitely fits among the more legitimate prospects they've given up, but even with that "Giant" error, that does little to change the conclusion of the article.

Late note #2: in the article I wrote that the Brewers are working on converting Jose Cappelan to the bullpen, having moved him there in June. Reader N.J. was kind enoough to obtain some splits regarding the move. He writes, "Posting a 4-2 record with a 5.16 ERA in 12 starts, Capellan went into relief during mid-June and has responded with 27 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. He has five saves, a 1-1 record, and a 1.32 ERA in 19 appearances." Thanks, N.J.!

Late note #3: it looks as though I also missed Chris Spurling, who qualified for both the Yankee and Brave version of the articles, traded by the former for Luis Sojo in 2000 and by the latter in 2003 after being chosen in the Rule Five draft earier in the winter. Spurling now pitches for the Tigers, with a 3.76 ERA in 40.2 innings this year, and a career WARP3 of 2.9 over his two years.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Clearing the Bases, Artificial Wood Edition

We have much to discuss...

• In a day that centered around the discussions of substances, it was refreshing to see the triumph of substance on at least one TV show. I stayed up late to watch Will Carroll and Alan Schwarz (of ESPN, Baseball America and The New York Times) appear on CNBC's The Big Idea with Donny Deustch, talking to the host about the Rafael Palmeiro revelations. Both writers did an excellent job of standing up to Deustch's tabloid-driven sensibilities, making intelligent, complex points in a clear, coherent manner.

Carroll addressed wild-ass allegations made by Jose Canseco about the length of time a steroid metabolite can stay in one's system, and about the chain of custody in the testing procedure, two technical areas that he covered well in The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball's Drug Problems. He hammered at Palmeiro for not revealing what substance he tested positive for (this was recorded in the afternoon and while he'd certainly heard the rumors that the drug was stanzolol/Winstrol, that leaked information wasn't published until late last night). He called for tough questions directed at commissioner Bud Selig and MLB Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr over the delayed timing of the announcement. He was good.

Schwarz was even better, getting off the show's best soundbite. Deutsch, who'd had Canseco on the night before (seen in a tank top showing his greased-up, tattoo-covered shoulders to rather unappetizing effect), tried to assert that his being right about Palmeiro gave complete credibility to the entire book was right, a notion Schwarz dismissed very fluidly: "I think it's extraordinarily dangerous to suddenly decide that Jose Canseco is a prophet to whom we all should listen. The guy is a narcissistic goon who insists on claiming as if he knows everything about this subject."

Score one for the smart guys.

• If the New York Times revelation that the substance Palmeiro tested positive for is true, the slugger is screwed. Stanzolol, better known by its brand name as Winstrol, does not come in any dietary supplement that might have just slipped into Palmeiro's medicine cabinet by mistake. It's a popular anabolic steroid, and a heavy hitter in the pharmaceutical lineup. The identity of the substance was leaked to the Times:
The person who said that Palmeiro tested positive for stanozolol did not want to be identified because the testing policy prohibits anyone in baseball from disclosing information about test results without authorization.

...Palmeiro said Monday that he had never intentionally taken steroids, but stanozolol does not come in dietary supplements and is among the most popular steroids on the market. It can be ingested or injected and usually remains in a person's system for at least a month.

"It's a mildly strong to strong steroid," said Dr. Gary Wadler, a professor at New York University who is an expert in sports doping. "Potent is the word I would use."

...In 2003 and 2004, Major League Baseball reported 128 positive steroid tests, including 74 for the steroid nandrolone (known commercially as Deca-Durabolin) and 37 for stanozolol. But last year, only one positive test was for nandrolone and 11 positive tests were for stanozolol, an indication of a changing trend.

Dr. Harrison G. Pope, a Harvard professor, psychiatrist and steroids expert, said nandrolone is detectable in the body for a much longer period than stanozolol. Nandrolone also was common in dietary supplements before it was added to the list of controlled substances in 2005.
If that 128 number has you scratching your head, it's because several of the players who tested positive -- 96 in 2003, 12 last year -- tested positive for more than one substance, a term known as stacking. According to Carroll, "Stacking Deca and Winny is pretty common." Deca/nandrolone is also the steroid most commonly associated with "false positive" tests due to the widespread use of a metabolite. Winstrol/stanzolol is less easily challenged because it's not in any supplement. In an email, Carroll described the substance:
Winstrol's a seriously potent anabolic steroid that's been around for decades. It's probably the second most commonly used steroid in baseball, after deca, due to its short transit through the body. It is short-acting, so must be taken daily. It can be injected or taken orally, in depot form. Winstrol has similar efficacy to deca without the side effects of gynecomastia (growing breasts on a man) and "juice bloat." I won't bore you with the 5-alpha reductase or methylization profiles, so let's just say it's effective, it's potent, and that it's used mostly for "cutting" -- getting ripped and recovering -- than it is for bulking.
In today's edition of "Under the Knife," Carroll elaborates further:
This is the same steroid that Jose Canseco said he used on Palmeiro in his book. There are few products that could cause a cross-indication of Winstrol in the system, putting more of a burden on Palmeiro's defense that he doesn't know how it got into his system. Sources tell me that further developments in the case should come public in the next 48 hours. For those of you that have jokingly asked me about the use of Viagra by bodybuilders, don't laugh. Viagra is a nitric oxide enhancer and some advanced researchers in the anabolics field have discussed the use of Viagra in muscle recovery.
Elsewhere, Wadler told Newsday if the substance was stanzolol, then Palmeiro's explanation didn't wash:
"If it's stanozolol, this was a deliberate act... The likelihood of sabotage is remote and improbable, and to suggest as much would be to send people on a wild-goose chase."
Palmeiro has thus far refused to confirm the identity of the drug, citing confidentiality rules. But as ESPN's Buster Olney points out, those rules are built in to protect him, meaning that Selig or the Players' Association can't talk about his case, though he can. That he won't is a sign that his explanations about "cross-contamination," his usage, and his intentions won't stand up to harsh scrutiny. He is up shit creek until he comes clean.

• In other steroid news, MLB disclosed that Seattle Mariners pitcher Ryan Franklin had tested positive for a banned substance and would be suspended the requisite 10 days, the eighth player caught under MLB's new policy. Though the timing on the heels of the Palmeiro revelation was odd, Franklin's case got much less coverage. Like the first six players caught, he's a marginal major leaguer rather than a star; thus far this year he's 6-11 with a 4.61 ERA, and nobody's ever going to have to fret over whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame despite his transgressions.

Like Palmeiro, Franklin won't reveal what he tested positive for, though he vehemently denies using any substance. He claims he was tested in May, first turning up a positive, and then a negative on a second test three weeks later. He claims that the reversal indicates a flaw in the testing procedure, but given what we know about how quickly some drugs pass through the system, that's not necessarily the case.

Also like Palmeiro, Franklin's case was heard by an arbitration panel, meaning at least one member of a four-person panel (MLB executive VP Rob Manfred, MLBPA lawyer Gene Orza, and one doctor from each side) initially found "reasonable basis" for a challenge, though in the end, his appeal was denied by MLB arbitrator Shyam Das. The back-to-back nature of the announcements and the fact that both went to arbitration hints that the hearings were the cause for delay in revealing the positive tests. Like appeals for any other suspension, these things don't always happen in the fastest fashion, generally requiring the presence of all parties to take place.

Still, especially with regards to the Palmeiro case, the timing issue is troubling. The Baltimore Sun reports that Palmeiro tested positive in May, appealed in June, and then had to await the decision, which wasn't signed off by Das until Monday. Only certain representatives of MLB and the MLBPA knew about the results prior to Monday's announcement. The Orioles organization apparently didn't learn of the positive test until Friday.

• If you're looking for some perspective as to how we've reached this crazy point regarding steroids, there's a new book out that should be at the top of your list: Howard Bryant's Juicing the Game, which hit the shelves last month. Bronx Banter's Alex Belth reviews the book at length, calling it a logical successor to John Helyar's classic history of baseball's labor-management wars, Lords of the Realm (a book I can't recommend highly enough). Helyar's book ends amid the 1994 strike, which is where Bryant picks up the baton. Belth describes the book as insider's history of the professional game since Fay Vincent was commissioner. It features a huge cast of characters and explores how and why the current Offensive Age, the Steroids Era came to be. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the book is that Bryant does not attempt to simplify a complicated situation. The bottom line may not be complex (mo money, mo problems), but Bryant doesn't lay the blame on one thing in particular -- instead, the entire game is complicit...
While Belth's review is informative, I'm obliged to give him a little tweak for not disclosing that his partner in Bronx Banter crime, Cliff Corcoran, was the book's editor (both Cliff and Alex are great friends of mine as well, so caveat emptor). Nonetheless, Belth, who took Bryant's writing style to task in discussing his first book, Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, has fewer complaints about the style here, saying that the story was told with "great precision and focus," important in a book that's 400+ pages. Having cracked open my copy of Juicing the Game last night, I concur -- I couldn't put it down until about 2 AM. Ignore it at your peril.

Juicing the Game's arrival and immediate relevance has caused me to put aside another book I've been reading, Matthew McGough's Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming of Age with the New York Yankees. Remember the story from the New York Times a couple of years ago where a bat boy described being sent on fool's errand of finding a left-handed bat stretcher by Don Mattingly on his first day on the job? That's McGough's story, and from what I've read in the book, he's got an entertaining inside glimpse at life in the dugout and the bowels of Yankee Stadium, circa 1992-1993. It's a lighthearted memoir that I hope to get back to soon, and once I do I'm planning to catch up with McGough for a little Q&A or something.

• In non-steroid-related news, the latest version of my Prospectus Hit List went up as usual on Tuesday, jam-packed with trade deadline analysis and references to Shakespeare, Faulkner, Coleridge and Stengel. The Cardinals are still #1, the Yankees are sixth, and the Dodgers have fallen to #25. Ouch.

• When we would watch ballgames together, my late grandfather (who was once offered a professional baseball contract) always rolled his eyes when a pitching coach or manager would visit the mound to discuss... whatever it was they were discussing. "Tommy Lasorda's asking him if he heard the one about the Irishman. My aching back..." was a familiar refrain.

A recent Seattle Times article by Larry Stone, "10 great moments in 'chatting' history," offers a handful of hilarious anecdotes about those discussions. Speaking of Stengel, my favorite concerns the Old Perfesser in his twilight years with the Mets:
Casey Stengel was a purveyor of memorable mound quotes. One time, Tug McGraw begged Stengel to let him stay in a Mets game.

"Let me pitch to one more man," McGraw said. "I struck him out the last time I faced him."

Replied Stengel: "Yeah, but the last time you faced him was this same inning."

Another time, in a game against San Francisco, Stengel went out to talk to Mets pitcher Larry Bearnarth with two on, no outs and future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda at the plate.

"Tra-la-la," was all that Stengel said before walking off, leaving a puzzled Bearnarth. On his next pitch, Cepeda grounded into a triple play to end the inning. Bearnarth couldn't wait to ask Stengel what "Tra-la-la" meant.

"Tra-la-la, triple play," replied Stengel.
Don't miss it, especially if you need a laugh during these dark days for baseball.

• Yes, I was at Saturday's Yankee game. I left early, when he score was 7-3, and thus missed their dramatic comeback. I was by myself and had sat through the bullpen blowing the 3-1 lead that Shawn Chacon had left them with in his pinstriped debut. As soon as I heard Bob Sheppard intone, "Now pitching for the Yankees, Wayne Franklin..." I was out of there. In the words of South Park's Eric Cartman, "Screw you guys, I'm going home."

I've got almost an entire writeup of the game done, but deadlines and events have conspired to shift it to the back burner. It'll have to wait until things slow down. Tra-la-la...


Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Egg, Meet Face

Monday morning brought shocking news that Rafael Palmeiro, who recently celebrated his 3,000th hit, became the first high-profile player to test positive for a banned substance under Major League Baseball's new testing policy. As such, he's been suspended for 10 days as a first offender, just like the six relative no-name major leaguers who flunked their whiz quizzes earlier this year. But the cost for Palmeiro is likely to be much, much greater.

Implicated by Jose Canseco's book and called upon to testify before Congress, Palmeiro has always vehemently denied using steroids. Accompanied with a finger-wag, his opening statement at the March 18 hearings began, "Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never." In his carefully worded comments on Monday, his story had shifted:
"When I testified in front of Congress, I know that I was testifying under oath and I told the truth," he said during a telephone conference call Monday. "Today I am telling the truth again that I did not do this intentionally or knowingly."
In the distance from "never" to "not knowingly," Palmeiro implied that the banned substance he'd been nailed for had come from an over-the-counter supplement, but his denial rang hollow. Salon's King Kaufman, for one, wasn't buying:
Even if Palmeiro's denial is legitimate and he got caught unknowingly using a banned substance in some over-the-counter supplement, you have to either admire the nerve or wonder at the chuckleheadedness of a guy who would wag his finger at Congress, knowing he'd be tested at some point, and then not double-, triple- and quadruple-check the ingredients in anything he put in his body.
The revelation of Palmeiro's guilt also brings to mind a quote of his that becomes much more telling in hindsight: "In my opinion, everyone that plays baseball in this era has been tainted... Not just the people that he has named in the book, I think this whole era over the last 10, 15 or 20 years has been tainted. Regardless of whether you did or you didn't do anything, this whole era will have that label." When Palmeiro said that, he had to know he was talking about himself, whether or not he could have foreseen being caught. Rereading those words four months later, there's a sadness and resignation there, rather than the hubris of one who believes he can beat the system.

Within Baseball Prospectus, the Palmeiro news set off a five-alarm fire for Will Carroll, who'd already spent the weekend working overtime to update a wonderfully entertaining clearinghouse for trade deadline rumors called "Will's Mill." Carroll assembled a quick FAQ for a special version of his regular "Under the Knife" column, and since I'd just gone on Baseball Prospectus Radio to analyze Palmeiro's Hall of Fame case in the wake of his 3,000th hit, he called upon me to field that question.
What does this do to his Hall of Fame chances?

It gives voters skeptical about his credentials an easy excuse not to vote for him. Palmeiro's already a target for a number of reasons. He's never led the league in any major category nor won an MVP or a championship. He's played his entire career in hitter's parks (Wrigley Field, Arlington Stadium, the Ballpark at Arlington, and Camden Yards) that have certainly inflated his numbers. He's a shining example of a player whose consistency obscures his peak value. And now he's got a steroid rap.

Even with the inflated totals, Palmeiro measures up well against Hall of Famers once his stats are normalized; using the Jaffe WARP Score system (a.k.a. JAWS), he would rank fourth among Hall first basemen, behind only Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Eddie Murray. Among active and recently retired hitters, only Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken, and Rickey Henderson rank ahead of him. Those are rock-solid credentials. The only two players with similar or better JAWS scores who aren't in the Hall are Pete Rose, who's ineligible, and Bert Blyleven, who's been jobbed for having a resume similarly favoring consistency over peak (at least in perception).

Palmeiro has almost certainly put himself in the unenviable position of being the first bona fide Hall candidate with a positive test on his resume. He'll likely be made an example of, at least in the early voting. He might have an easier time once the voters admit players linked to the steroids scandal but without so much (or any) hard evidence in their dossiers, such as Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa. But his wait for Cooperstown just got several years longer.
If some of that sounds familiar, it's because I cribbed it from my recent blog entry on Palmeiro. I did err on one point in my answer: Arlington Stadium, where Palmeiro played from 1989 through 1993, was something of a pitchers' park; in those five years, the Park Factor for runs (according to Baseball-Reference's numbers), averages out to 98.4, meaning it depressed scoring slightly. D'oh!

One way or another, I'm saddened but not entirely surprised at the whole mess, and I've been trying to gauge my own emotional reaction to Monday's news, given my recent high-profile support for Palmeiro. I don't regret having supported his candidacy, because I've been adamant about due process and the presumption of innocence when it comes to steroids. Before yesterday, the best available evidence we had on Palmeiro was the confession of an attention-hungry house-arrested snitch motivated by money; today we have the fact that he failed the test, and a handful of questions. How that changes my own opinion about his Hall case is too early to tell, but right now, I'd withhold my vote until more evidence comes in. I think the five years Palmeiro will have to wait before coming up for election will be agonizing for him, but I also think they'll lend us a perspective on this era that we lack now. Will he be one of the few examples of stars who've been busted, or will we be so jaded by then that we merely roll our eyes at the latest revelation?

Still, I'm saddened because Palmeiro's positive test takes the shine off of some major accomplishments that were still being celebrated; the Associated Press account of Monday's Orioles game leads with the observation that a 20-foot sign saying "CONGRATULATIONS RAFFY! 3000." still hangs on the warehouse beyond Camden Yards' rightfield wall. It's likely that MLB had his tainted sample in hand even as they bought a full page newspaper ad congratulating his accomplishment; according to one source I talked to, the test had to have been done before June. If that's the case, Bud Selig is going to be subject to even more ridicule for failing to control the problem (not that he could), and he'll have a lot of explaining to do regarding a potential cover-up. Awkward!

I'm saddened as well because of Palmeiro's hollow denial. Palmeiro's hiding behind the same excuse as many of the half-dozen scrubs who've tested positive, but it's tough to believe he could have been careless and blameless in taking what he took. Half-measures when it comes to accountability don't play well; he'll never be able to put this behind him until he takes responsibility. Jason Giambi may be celebrated in Yankee Stadium for his recent homer binge, but he's still getting killed in the media -- but that's a topic worthy of a separate article.

Fnally, I'm saddened because the weight of Palmeiro's statistical profile is there; I'd even done some research and proposed a Prospectus article on the power spikes of the players Canseco accused before deciding that I didn't want to be party to a statistical witch hunt.

BP reader Diane F, who keeps a blog called Diamonds Are For Humor, notes the connection between Palmeiro's spike and Canseco's arrival in Texas on September 4, 1992. Reformatting it according to the Futility Infielder Manual of Style and Suave Sophistication for the Display of Statitstics, we have:
            AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS  AB/HR 
1986-91 .302 .360 .462 .822 36.47
1992* .261 .343 .407 .750 34.73 (pre Canseco's arrival on 9/4)
1992-1993 .283 .350 .500 .850 19.22 (with Canseco, 9/4/92-6/23/93)
1993-2005 .286 .379 .545 .924 14.94
All of which brings me to the point of dredging up my own research into the matter, dating from back in those crazy days of March between the Canseco book's release and the hearings, a period in which I even got to go on cable TV to discuss the steroid issue. Will Carroll had written a piece for the YES Network's website (home of Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Bible) in which he analyzed some of Canseco's claims and took a look at the year-by-year aging patterns of Palmeiro and fellow Texas teammates Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez, both of whom were also implicated in Jose's tell-all. I took issue with what Will called "no significant change" in Palmeiro's statistical profile, writing the following in an email to BP's internal mailing list:
Raffy came into the season with a career line of .296/.351/.440 and put up that nice .322/.389/.532 line in his age-26 season. I think that if we somehow retro-PECOTA'ed him to that point, we'd find that performance would be above his 75th percentile (I'm guessing here, but it doesn't matter exactly where) -- possible, especially given that he was still young enough to be on the upside of the growth curve, but perhaps not so likely. Still, those kinds of things happen, whether they're fluke seasons or real growth. FWIW, his park HR factor that year was 97, so it wasn't like he suddenly got help there.

But for him to chain together the sequence of seasons he's had beyond '92, to pull off what essentially comes out to one of the greatest sustained HR binges in history (how many people pulled off 456 HR in 12 years? Less than 10, I'll wager, and invite somebody with da mad data skillz to count them for me) as he's aged into his late 30s, that would have to show up as extremely unlikely by any forecasting measure. I mean, even if you re-PECOTA'ed him after each of those seasons, as his baseline moved up, you'd find him consistently exceeding his weighted mean projections as he aged (the same would hold true for Bonds, of course). Beating those projections like a rented Rockies staff until you've got a guy who's #10 on the all-time HR list. Whether that's due to the needle or to the Viagra or to voodoo, that would have appeared extremely unlikely, yet it happened.
I don't recall if I ever got that list of 456+ homer hitters (anybody with the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia who can bang out that query, please email it to me), but I did do some crunching of Palmeiro's numbers. I compared his homer rate to that of the league on a per plate appearance basis (AB + BB), adjusted for park, and indexed it to the league, such that an HR+ of 150 means a rate 50 percent better than league average (like ERA+):
Year  Park        Raffy  League HR PF   HR+
1986 Wrigley 3.9% 2.1% 91.2 203
1987 Wrigley 5.8% 2.5% 123.9 187
1988 Wrigley 1.3% 1.8% 127.0 57
1989 Arlington 1.3% 2.0% 119.7 53
1990 Arlington 2.2% 2.1% 94.2 110
1991 Arlington 3.7% 2.3% 96.9 168
1992 Arlington 3.2% 2.1% 101.6 152
1993 Arlington 5.5% 2.4% 71.5 318
1994 Camden Yds 4.7% 2.9% 121.3 133
1995 Camden Yds 6.3% 2.8% 118.4 191
1996 Camden Yds 5.4% 3.1% 96.9 179
1997 Camden Yds 5.6% 2.9% 122.6 158
1998 Camden Yds 6.2% 2.9% 102.3 208
1999 Bpk Arling 7.1% 3.0% 103.2 226
2000 Bpk Arling 5.8% 3.1% 123.4 153
2001 Bpk Arling 6.7% 2.9% 95.3 240
2002 Bpk Arling 6.6% 2.9% 134.8 170
2003 Bpk Arling 5.9% 2.9% 119.6 169
2004 Camden Yds 3.6% 3.0% 104.6 114

86-92 2.7% 2.1% 106.0 117.3
93-04 5.8% 2.9% 107.1 186.5
So we've got a big spike from Palmeiro relative to the league, even as we entered an era when homers rose by about 40 percent. The biggest jump coincides with Canseco's arrival in the last year of Arlington Stadium, and after that Palmeiro hit homers at nearly twice the adjusted league average rate. Hmmmmm.

I had intended to get similar numbers on other players implicated by Canseco's book, but after some prepwork, I decided I was in no mood to use my meager spreadsheet powers to add fuel to the fire and never followed up. Though I've got a few other projects on the burner, it looks as though I ought to return to that data.

Once again, it's clear that the steroid controversy isn't going away. Palmeiro holds the distinction of being the highest profile player to test positive, but don't be surprised if more shoes continue to drop and he becomes just one of many.



June 2001   July 2001   August 2001   September 2001   October 2001   November 2001   December 2001   January 2002   February 2002   March 2002   April 2002   May 2002   June 2002   July 2002   August 2002   September 2002   October 2002   November 2002   December 2002   January 2003   February 2003   March 2003   April 2003   May 2003   June 2003   July 2003   August 2003   September 2003   October 2003   November 2003   December 2003   January 2004   February 2004   March 2004   April 2004   May 2004   June 2004   July 2004   August 2004   September 2004   October 2004   November 2004   December 2004   January 2005   February 2005   March 2005   April 2005   May 2005   June 2005   July 2005   August 2005   September 2005   October 2005   November 2005   December 2005   January 2006   February 2006   March 2006   April 2006   May 2006   June 2006   July 2006   August 2006   September 2006   October 2006   November 2006   December 2006   January 2007   February 2007   March 2007   April 2007   May 2007   June 2007   July 2007   August 2007   September 2007   October 2007   November 2007   December 2007   January 2008   February 2008   March 2008   April 2008   May 2008   June 2008   July 2008   August 2008   September 2008   October 2008   November 2008   December 2008   January 2009   February 2009   March 2009   April 2009   May 2009   June 2009   July 2009   August 2009   September 2009   October 2009   November 2009   December 2009   January 2010   February 2010   March 2010   April 2010   May 2010  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]