The Futility Infielder

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

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Clearing the Bases -- Book Season Edition

Back when I attended the Winter Meetings in New Orleans two years ago, I met a handful of Baseball Prospectus writers, nearly all of whom shook their heads, rolled their eyes, and used the term "book season" when describing their general maladies. Now I understand a bit better. I'm up to my rolled eyeballs in my Baseball Prospectus 2006 player comments, with a deadline looming for my first team on Monday and an even more imposing one -- for the other team, which I haven't started, and know less about -- the following Monday. It doesn't help that I'm writing about 50 percent more than I probably need to (Jaffe going over length? Go figure...). I also did a bit of pinch-hitting for the as-yet-unnamed BP book from Basic Books, writing about two-dozen glossary entries for such sabermetric concepts as the defensive spectrum, support-neutral pitching stats, and run expectancy tables. I'm pysched for that book, which will be hitting the shelves in the spring, along with BP06.

Amid this chaos, I've had the opportunity to catch up with a couple of fellow BPers and other baseball buddies in the past few days. Christina Kahrl came through town and offered some sage advice on my BP06 work (she's the co-editor) and an excuse to roust Alex Belth, Alex Ciepley, Cliff Corcoran and Nick Stone for a dinner of comfort food at Chat-N-Chew. We spent a good deal of time talking about the free-agent market, particularly as it pertains to the Yankees, as well as the recent general manager-related drama. And at one point I caught Chris and Alex C. sneaking off to dissect disappointing Cub prospects; I mean, how else does Amaury Telemaco come up in polite conversation?

Later, Chris and I were discussing the demise of the Astros in the World Series. That night I had a strange dream, for part of which I was administering a stern lecture to Astros manager Phil Garner about publicly trashing his players. I was livid, nearly worked up to the point of tears in the dream. Garner, for his part, was severely chastened and admitted he was in the wrong (take heart, Lisa Gray). It wasn't the strangest or most elaborate baseball-related dream I've had, even involving a manager, but it belongs in the pile.

Saturday night found me catching a late drink with BP's Nate Silver after finishing a very rough draft of my first set of player comments. Nate told me about some of the changes to PECOTA, the performance forecasting system that he designed that forms the backbone of the annual book. Lo and behold, Nate and PECOTA are in today's New York Times, in Alan Schwarz's excellent "Keeping Score" column. Check it out, and don't miss the accompanying graphic.

Also in the Sunday Times is a pretty decent Murray Chass take on Rafael Palmeiro's clearance of perjury charges:
After he learned he had tested positive for stanozolol, a serious steroid, Palmeiro said he could only speculate that a vial of vitamin B12 he got from Miguel Tejada, the Orioles shortstop, had been contaminated with it.

Getting into this area, though, Palmeiro's defense begins to raise questions. For one thing, Canseco wrote in his book that Palmeiro and other players had used stanozolol.

For another, Tejada and two other, unidentified Orioles players, all of whom acknowledged taking B12 shots from Tejada's supply, produced negative tests. Additional vials of B12 that Tejada provided upon request were also clean.

Those three players, of course, could have used tainted B12 shots and not had the substance in their systems when they were tested. If he had steroids-tainted B12 liquid and knew it, Tejada could have supplied different, clean B12 liquid for testing.

But the question remains: If it wasn't the B12 shot, which not even the union believes it was, how did Palmeiro have stanozolol in his system? By immaculate ingestion?

That is the sticking point one has to get past to believe that Palmeiro didn't knowingly use steroids. Palmeiro's test in 2003 was negative, according to the report (2004's results were gone), as was a test Palmeiro took on May 27 - 23 days after the date of the positive test but two weeks before he was notified he had tested positive.
Of course, Chass may have simply taken his medication before he wrote that one; clearly that was lacking when he concluded that the Dodgers hiring Nationals GM Jim Bowden (whose first two moves for the Nats consisted of $23 million worth of contracts for Cristian Guzman and Vinny Castilla, two players who combined for a grisly 4.4 VORP in 2005) would be a "smart move." Yikes. Suffice it to say that it made my day to find out that Bowden wasn't interested in the Dodger job but was slated to interview for the Red Sox GM opening. As Nick quipped, "Talk about consolidating your schadenfruede into one low monthly payment."

As for the Dodger vacancy, I'm rooting for assistant GM Kim Ng to get the job. Not only would she be the first woman (not to mention the first Asian-American) to hold the job in major professional sports, but she's got a very solid resume that includes work with the White Sox, the Yankees (where she became the first female aGM) and the American League, and a great reputation among her peers. She knows the Dodger system, particularly the bumper crop of prospects slated to arrive over the next couple of years, and she's well suited to continue the groundwork laid by her predecessors, Dan Evans and Paul DePodesta, both of whom got the rawest of deals from new owner Frank McCourt (as an upside, maybe the likes of Bill Plaschke and T. J. Simers, assclown L.A. Times columnists who virulently attacked DePodesta from day one, might pull a Bill Singer in trashing her, embarrassing themselves out of a job).

Of course, there are very solid reasons for Ng not to even want the job. The Dodgers have been in chaos since McCourt purchased the team almost two years ago. Failing to invest appropriate capital in the team, firing a GM two years into a five-year plan, firing that GM three weeks after he let the manager go, generally letting the mainstream L.A. media bully him around, giving the impression that Special Advisor Tommy Lasorda is the puppetmaster, making shell-shocked fans yearn for the carefree, spendaholic days of the Fox regime... ugh. Ng "would be set up to fail," argues J.A. Andade of the L.A. Times, continuing:
Then it would be impossible for her to land another GM job. As hard as it would be for a team to sell a female general manager to its fans, imagine trying to sell them on a woman with a losing record. And the problem with being first is, Ng would represent every woman who hoped to follow her.

Chavez Ravine has been such a bad place for general managers over the last eight years that even male GMs can't overcome the stigma. Of the four men who have held the position since Fred Claire got the boot in 1998, none has landed a similar job with another team.

The situation is as bleak as it has been in a while. We don't know how closer Eric Gagne and shortstop Cesar Izturis will recover from their surgeries. We don't know whom the Dodgers will get to replace Milton Bradley. There are questions at the corner infield positions. There are payroll restrictions and few tradable assets. The one strength, a solid farm system, might not kick in soon enough to benefit her.

...Unfortunately, because somebody has to be first, these are some of the issues Ng, 36, would face in addition to representing a new era in baseball.

Her qualifications can't be questioned. She went to a top-notch school, the University of Chicago. She has worked for the White Sox under Ron Schueler and Dan Evans, the Yankees under Brian Cashman and the Dodgers under Evans again in an era that's starting to look like the good old days. She has helped negotiate contracts with the likes of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

If stat-geek boys who didn't play the game or drive rental cars from minor league town to minor league town can grow up to be general managers, why can't girls do it?
That said, I think Ng's hiring would be the silver lining within the dark cloud hanging over the Dodgers. It would be very tough for McCourt, having annointed her, to give her anything but a fair shake, and if he didn't... well, blood may not run through the streets of L.A, but red caps may. The Dodgers have already ceded the city of angels to, well, the Angels (Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman has an excellent compare-and-contrast piece in his Baseball Prospectus debut). With the wrong decisions this winter, it may be quite awhile before they can earn it back.

Anyway, gotta stop this ramble to polish up those player comments. Hopefully I'll get my head back above the Mendoza Line before too long...

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