The Futility Infielder

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

Friday, December 23, 2005


The Mailman Delivers

As the holidays and my 36th birthday rapidly approach, I want to take the time to thank everybody who responded to my three-part series on the Hall of Fame at Baseball Prospectus and my little brush with the mainstream media. The response was the biggest in the three years I've been evaluating the Hall ballot for BP, and it was overwhelmingly positive. A couple of readers even took the time to write the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gene Collier, as I had done. Speaking of which, a version of my letter is featured in today's sports mailbag.

Collier did take the time to respond, and did so with a disarming sarcasm in which he agreed with my assessment of his intellectual capacity, referring to himself various times as an idiot, a moron, and a neanderthal. He also claimed the omission of the word "here" was inadvertent, something I still don't buy since his reply continued to paint me as advocating a Hall of Fame dictated entirely by statistics. Since I didn't ask permission to rerun the letter, I can't do so. But I did reply to him once more, in a slightly more conciliatory fashion. Here's the conclusion:
If you enjoy Baseball Prospectus, you're probably aware that all of us at BP (including the 90% of that bunch who's smarter and more experienced than me) would probably run over our own grandmothers at home plate for the right to vote for the Hall. Currently, the best we can hope for is that somebody out there with a vote is paying enough attention to reexamine some of their closely-held assumptions about the game in light of our work. I hope that by the next time you get an opportunity to cast a ballot, you will have taken that message to heart.
Ninety percent? I'll admit that was a wild-assed guess rather than one derived from an advanced metric in my spreadsheet. Anyway, continuing with the postal theme, a couple of my replies to readers are featured in the most recent BP mailbag. And if you're disappointed you didn't get to read the articles because they were behind the subscription wall, I'll pass on a suggestion that you can take advantage of BP's gift subscription system to get a discount for that special someone ("Aw, honey, you shouldn't have"). It's not too late!

Since blogging is likely to be light over the next few days, I'll close with a pointer to my hoary annual piece on the sixty-odd players, including Rickey Henderson, who share my December 25 birthday. I swear, that thing is getting as long in the tooth as I am, but the chance to update it always sneaks up on me, and this year there was no freakin' way I could even begin to touch it. I'm not sure Willy Taveras, one of the two Xmas-born players to have debuted since my last update, has earned a spot on the team yet, but he's getting closer.

If you're hungry for an updated take on these players, my BP colleague Jim Baker gives you just that. And speaking of anniversaries of a sort, the gifted Alex Belth has a new piece up at, this one recounting the 30th anniversary of the Messersmith-McNally decision which led to free agency.

I'm off to SLC through the new year, but hopefully I'll be checking in from time to time. Happy holidays and safe travels to you all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Damonic Possession

If you heard me cussing last night as the news about the Johnny Damon signing trickled in, you'd have wondered which side of the aisle I was sitting on. "In the words of Joe Schultz: shitfuck," I wrote to the Baseball Prospectus internal mailing list, a medium which rarely sees a four-letter word, though now that I think about it, Steve Goldman dropped a few f-bombs when it came to the Ron Villone trade last week.

I'm pissed at the Damon signing, four years and $52 million, because it's back to business as usual for the Yanks. Damon is a 32-year-old centerfielder, A-list celebrity and Scott Boras client who was seeking a ridiculous seven-year deal that nobody was going to give him. Obviously, the Yanks called his bluff, going far beyond the Red Sox most recent four-year, $40 million offer, one the Sox never got the opportunity to match. So much for loyalty or Damon's words from last May:
"There's no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they are going to come after me hard. It's definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me. It's not what I need."
Uh-huh. So now Damon will be handsomely overpaid to deteriorate right before our very eyes in Yankee Stadium. If you liked watching the decline and fall of Bernie Williams, get ready for more, because he's already as bad a thrower as Williams about five years ahead of schedule. In fact, per BP's numbers, he was at -5 runs last year, while the Yankee CFs, including Williams, were at -1. Yeesh.

He's a better hitter than Williams circa 2005, of course, and likely 2006, too. He hit a handsome .316/.366/.439 for the Red Sox last year, with a VORP of 49.2, second best in the AL. Yankee centerfielders hit a combined .243/.297/.333 with a -11.5 VORP. That's a difference of about 60 runs right there, six wins, a six-win swing between two division rivals who were separated by an eyelash so narrow that the Sox still think they shared the AL East title.

But there are a few reasons to be disconcerted about the Damon signing. First, at four years, $52 million, it's essentially the same deal they gave Hideki Matsui back in November. Matsui is seven months younger, but their baseball ages are the same; both were considered to have their Age 31 season last year. Matsui hit .305/.367/.496 for a .293 Equivalent Average (EqA). Damon's line is only worth a .280 EqA (.260 is average) thanks to the fact that he was helped more by his home environment, Fenway Park. And that's the nut of it: Damon is a much lesser hitter away from Fenway. Over the past three years:
         -----HOME------   -----AWAY------
Damon .318 .388 .448 .278 .340 .433
Matsui .298 .362 .505 .296 .377 .463
Clear edge to Matsui on neutral ground. But more to the point, I'm not really crazy about either contract by itself, and taken together, that's $104 million worth of obligations for two players who are going to grow old side by side. So much for fiscal restraint or the lack of a big splash from George Steinbrenner this winter. So much for Damon's trademark unfrozen caveman look, too. Think he'll be hearing about that one from Sox fans?

The Yanks are better today than they were yesterday, and their division rivals are worse. That may be enough for some. But in the long view, Damon costs the Yanks a draft pick, as does reliever Kyle Farnsworth. Given the obvious need for the Yanks to shift over to a model of building from within, the Damon signing moves them further away from that goal, and it doesn't help that the Sox get their pick. Details have yet to be announced, but I suspect the contract is backloaded a bit too, meaning they'll be paying more and getting less down the road, another fading veteran the Yanks will have to accommodate. Roll over, Mike Mussina, and tell Randy Johnson the news.

Damon's a definite upgrade over Bubba Crosby, who Yankee GM Brian Cashman had bluffed about opening the 2006 season with in center. My personal preference would have been for the Yanks to make a low-level move by signing Jeff DaVanon, recently released by the Angels. DaVanon is a 32-year-old switch-hitter with good plate discipline, speed and the ability to play all three positions, so would have represented a sensible (and virtually free) upgrade over Crosby. He hit a weak .231/.347/.311 last year, but his career line of .256/.348/.401 is more respectable, the kind of thing you can stick in the nine-hole without worrying about a run hemorrhage, yet guiltlessly slide into a fourth-outfielder role when the midseason cavalry arrives, and flip for a Single-A live arm whenever you need the roster space. According to his agent, who's probably exaggerating, 15 teams showed interest in DaVanon, though a reported two-year, $3.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks turned out to be a rumor. Given that he's the son of a futility infielder, I've always had a soft spot for him. Clearly I'm not alone.

I do like the pending signing of reliever Octavio Dotel, who's reportedly getting a one-year, $2 million deal with incentives that could raise it to $5 million. Dotel is a fireballer who struck out 122 in 85.1 innings in 2004; for his career he's K'd 10.9 per nine innings. He's got a 97 MPH fastball, but he tends to get pounded occasionally; he gave up 13 homers in 2004, 1.4 per nine innings, which isn't what you want to see. He was limited to just 15.1 innings last year before undergoing Tommy John surgery in June, but it wasn't just any old TJ. His ulnar collateral ligament wasn't as badly torn as most surgery candidates are, and for that reason, he had been encouraged to continue rehabbing the injury rather than going under the knife. And speaking of "Under the Knife," here's what Will Carroll had to say:
Dotel had an overlay TJ. Remember how three surgeons didn't want to do the surgery? The UCL wasn't torn through, somewhere around a 60% tear. He could have pitched with some pain and maybe it would snap, maybe it wouldn't. [Surgeon Dr. James] Andrews put the graft over the existing, damaged ligament so he never lost proprioception. I don't THINK he'll be back on Opening Day, but it wouldn't surprise me.
According to A's trainer Larry Davis, the pain was unmanageable enough for Dotel to decide on surgery despite the advice of those surgeons: "Everybody's tolerance level is different. Octavio feels like he's tried long enough. ... He's been throwing a long time and is tired of recurrent tendinitis."

I suspect a return from Dotel sometime in June is probably more realistic, with the All-Star break as a worst-case scenario. TJ recoveries are much more predictable than shoulder surgeries -- remember Jon Lieber? -- and he'll effectively be a fine in-season addition to the Yankee bullpen at a reasonable price. I'm still not overly keen on the bullpen makeover, which stars Farnsworth, Villone, submariner Mike Myers, and likely Aaron Small joining the fading Tanyon Sturtze in getting the ball to Mariano Rivera. But that's a story for another day.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Nomah and RAJAWS and Leverage, Oh My!

My third and final piece evaluating the 2006 Hall of Fame ballot is up at Baseball Prospectus, this one tackling the relievers. Because there are only three of them in the Hall (Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, and Dennis Eckersley), and because Eck was a starter for half his career, computing a positional JAWS standard as I've done for starting pitchers and position players isn't an option. In the past I had used a standard that was basically 70 percent of the starting pitchers' positional standard, which was analogous to applying the concept of leverage -- the quantifiably greater effect of late-inning plate appearances on the outcome of a ballgame -- to the relievers. Starting pitchers generally have an LEV very near 1.0, but an ace reliever might be closer to 2.0, meaning the batters he faced were twice as important to the outcome of a ballgame.

But as more data has come to light, the leverage factor that 70 percent represents - a factor of 1.43-- was revealed to be too low, and simply multiplying the pitchers' total line by that factor (LEV) is untenable for a number of reasons, including the fact that every pitcher on the ballot besides Bruce Sutter pitched some innings as a starter. What I settled for was to utilize BP's Reliever Expected Wins Added (abbreviated as WRXL, because as brilliant as BP's Keith Woolner is, he's not exactly the egomaniacal acronym hound that I am) stat. WXRL tallies the cumulative impact in wins that a reliever adds to his team's total by measuring their chances of winning based on the game state (bases, outs, score differential) before he enters and after he leaves (or the game ends). I factored each reliever's career WXRL into the JAWS equation to create a new measure:

0.5 * WXRL + JAWS = Reliever Adjusted Jaffe WARP Score (RAJAWS)

That's pronounced "Rajah's" -- as in belonging to Hornsby, or if you're in New England, Clemens. As I said in the article, "this is sort of like enlisting Captain Kirk to fight Darth Vader," because WXRL comes from Woolnerian VORP side of BP's statistical universe, while JAWS is based on WARP, which is part of Clay Davenport's quadrant of the galaxy. We're mixing two different replacement levels together, but the result works out pretty well. As BP reader D. T. pointed out to me, "it's like adding OBP and SLG -- potentially useful if you know what scale it's supposed to end up on, but probably meaningless otherwise."

The 0.5 multiplier keeps the RAJAWS figures more or less in line with the starting pitchers' JAWS figures, with the theoretical line drawn at the same place, the Hall pitchers' average of 80.6. Some relievers, obviously were helped more than others, but after evaluating the half-dozen on the balllot, I came away with the same conclusion as I did last year: Goose Gossage and Lee Smith are the two relievers worthy of a Hall vote, while Sutter and the rest are not. Add them to Albert Belle, Will Clark, Alan Trammell, Bert Blyleven, and Tommy John, and that's a pretty full ballot for one year. As I noted in the piece, I'll be hosting a BP chat starting an hour after the Hall announces the voting results on January 10.

Given the number of Yankee fans who read this, many of your are likely to ask how Mariano Rivera stacks up under this system. The answer is quite well. Mo's accumulated 74.8 career WARP3. His seven-year peak is 57.2, which smokes every reliever on the ballot, Gossage included (his peak is 51.2). It's also higher than every starter on the ballot except Blyleven (66.4) not to mention quite a few HOF pitcherrs. That puts Mo's JAWS at 66.0, and with 53.7 WXRL in his career (just 0.3 less than the Goose), he's at 92.9. Gossage is at 94.6. Rivera won't have any problem getting in.

Anyway, given everything else on my plate, I'm thrilled to have JAWS done for the year. Time to turn my attention to writing about a team whose lineup is changing by the hour, the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose book essay awaits. Don't even get me started on the Nomar signing; Joe Sheehan knocked it out of the park today:
Outside of Fenway Park the past three seasons, Garciaparra has hit .281/.325/.448. That’s the player the Dodgers have just signed, and he bears little resemblance to the guy who hit .372 nearly six years ago.

...So what you’re left with is a past-prime ex-superstar who has been removed from the environment where he’s had the most success, and is now being asked to do on-the-job training at a new position in a difficult hitters’ park with, basically, the rest of his career on the line. Were Garciaparra being asked to play a position with low expectations for production, his chance to be worth the money would be greater. However, his reluctance to play second base, and the Dodgers’ investments elsewhere in the infield, mean that Garciaparra is slated to play first base at this time. That’s a lot to ask of a guy who posted a .263 EqA in 62 games last season.

It’s hard to see how the Dodgers have even upgraded the position. It’s established by now that the baseball industry simply doesn’t like Hee Seop Choi, who has been defined by what he cannot do rather than what he can by two organizations, and who hasn’t been given a fair shake outside of a half-season in Florida in 2004. Even in a difficult 2005 season, however, Choi put up a line of .253/.336/.453, good for a .274 EqA in Dodger Stadium. At worst an average defensive first baseman, and heading into his age-27 season, it seems certain that he would be a better choice than Garciaparra in 2005.

Let’s make this clear: the Dodgers are replacing Choi with a player Choi out-hit last season (and posted comparable numbers to in 2004), a player who’s likely going to be inferior defensively, who will cost more money, and carry a greater risk of injury and decline. They’re getting a more famous person in the deal, one whose aggressive approach at the plate may play better than Choi’s disciplined one, but whose edges are all stylistic.
With the arbitration deadline looming tonight, I expect Choi to be nontendered by the Dodgers, making him a free agent. His name will certainly be tossed around the blogosphere as an option for the Yanks to take over the Tino Martinez role. I don't see it working out here, given that Joe Torre rarely trusts anyone under 35. I simply hope for Choi's sake he winds up with a team and a manager who can appreciate what he can do rather than dwelling on what he can't.


Saturday, December 17, 2005


Seamheads on Crystal Math

My wife, who was sick a few days ago, fell asleep early on Friday night, leaving me to putter around our apartment into the wee hours after I couldn't edit one more player comment. I spent a few minutes watching a TiVo'd HBO Sports documentary on Howard Cosell, a favorite of mine, as the man had a massive impact on the world of sports reporting in the 20th century at a time when I was an impressionable youth (yes, I actually chose to watch this over the Skinemax presentation of Hollywood Harlots or whatever). The doc showed footage of Cosell's autumn years, when his ego had gotten the better of him. Strutting around the office, smoking a cigar that Reggie Jackson could have walloped a homer with, Cosell complained about being attacked in print by the infamous tabloid scribe, Dick Young. Cut to Frank Gifford and Al Michaels recounting an anecdote about the notoriously thin-skinned Cosell bragging and kvetching in his inimitably nasal cadence, "Did you see... what they said about me... in the Des Moines Register?"

Shortly after that, Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts sent me an email, calling my attention to being name-checked in an article by Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discussing the Hall of Fame balloting:
The old paradigm was, when I saw the player's name, if I had to think about it, he didn't get in. Hall of Famers, went the philosophy, are players whose very names terminate all debates of worthiness: Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, Mays, Clemente, etc., and next year Gwynn, Ripken and, of course, Derek Bell...

The seamheads on crystal math are running Blyleven through the software along the lines of Jay Jaffe, who points out on the Baseball Prospectus site that: "Clay Davenport's Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) figures make an ideal tool for this endeavor because they normalize all performance records in major-league history to the same scoring environment, adjusting for park effects, quality of competition and length of schedule. All pitchers, hitters and fielders are thus rated above or below one consistent replacement level, making cross-era comparisons a breeze. Though non-statistical considerations -- championships, postseason performance -- shouldn't be left by the wayside in weighing a player's Hall of Fame credentials, they're not the focus."


Here's my formula. If I'm managing a decent club that's going into Pittsburgh for a weekend series in July of 1979 and the Pirates are sending Bert Blyleven, John Candelaria and Bruce Kison to the mound, is there a pitcher among them that I think I might not be able to beat?

Yes, and it's Candelaria, who is not a Hall of Famer.
I went into my instant Cosell mode: "Did you see what they wrote about me in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettte?"

I especially admire the way Collier has decided that the last thing anybody should do when evaluating a Hall of Fame vote is think.

Heaven forbid, he's a professional sportswriter; he doesn't have to think!

Sometimes, like his colleague across the country, Bill Plaschke, he doesn't even have to put two sentences together to make a paragraph.

Because that might take thinking.

And we can't have that when we're guarding the gates of baseball history, can we?

But rather than do anything rash, I slept on it before taking the trouble to pen a reply to Collier this morning. Here it is, in its entirety, with a few relevant hyperlinks thrown in...

• • •

Dear Mr. Collier,

Thank you for taking what I said out of context at Baseball Prospectus in your article about the Hall of Fame voting. Not only did you lop off the key qualifying word "here" at the end of the paragraph you quoted -- thus distorting the purpose of my exercise, which was to demonstrate where the Hall candidates measure up statistically via a rather sophisticated system, as opposed to more subjective considerations which, as the key word you omitted had clarified, *were not* the focus of that particular piece -- you then made a random assertion (Blyleven vs. Candelaria, July 1979) that's demonstrably false thanks to our ability to actually go back and check every box score since 1960 at a wonderful site called

Blyleven---4 wins, 1 loss, 2.64 ERA
Candelaria-3 wins, 1 loss, 3.64 ERA

Not good enough for you? Then consider Blyleven vs. Candelaria in a more important and memorable month, one that probably holds a great deal of meaning for your readership, October 1979:

Blyleven---2 wins, 0 loss, 1.42 ERA
Candelaria-1 win, 1 loss, 3.94 ERA

Anyway, it's always a thrill to find people willing to set themselves out as the exemplars of the type of statistical illiteracy and ignorance of facts which we baseball fans have come to fear among those entrusted with a Hall of Fame vote. Your reactionary, anti-intellectual screed serves to illustrate how out of touch some voters are and to provide true fans of the game with the motivation to work harder in bringing the merits of candidates like Bert Blyleven to the attention of open-minded readers everywhere. Well done.

If you find what I have to say too dense for your tastes -- and I'm perfectly willing to concede that the article isn't for everyone, seeing as how it's a subscription-based site -- I invite you to check out what a couple of your BBWAA colleagues (Bob Klapisch and Jeff Peek) have written about seeing the light on Blyleven's candidacy at You're apparently unwilling to consider my logic, but I do hope you'll at least take a moment to consider theirs.

Best wishes,

Jay Jaffe
Author, Baseball Prospectus

Friday, December 16, 2005


JAWS II: Late Night Boogaloo

Somewhere around 1:00 AM this morning, when my latest piece on the Hall of Fame ballot was past late and waaaaay too long, I decided to cut and run with just the starting pitchers, leaving the relievers -- whose methodology I'm still tweaking -- for another day (word to the wise: no spreadsheets after midnight).

I'll cover both in a blog entry to be named later, along with some discussion of this piece by Alex Belth over at (dude's got a headshot up there, which can only mean more Mr. B at SI). Alex solicited my thoughts on his all-time non-Hall of Fame team choices, and even included my take on Tommy John in his piece. Check it out, and come back for some deeper discussion on the Hall of Fame in the next few days.


Monday, December 12, 2005


So I Touted an Axe Murderer

In my Thanksgiving post a few weeks back, I made mention of an exciting development that would be keeping me busy up until the holidays. With the contract signed (not to mention a good chunk of the work done), now it can be told: I'm writing player comments for Fantasy Baseball Index, a well-circulated annual magazine devoted to prepping its readers for the upcoming season's drafts and auctions, and one that counts heavy hitters like John Sickels, Mat Olkin, and Keith Law as alums. I'm covering the AL hitters, cranking out player comment capsules, more than 200 of them, at about 100 words apiece. It's a lot of fun, particularly when I get to bare my claws and tear apart an underperforming player with a dash of humor. Fish, meet barrel. Barrel, fish... I've never written for the fantasy market before, but I do play, and there's real money -- enough for me to turn away design work for a little while -- at stake, so I'm a happy, if somewhat punchy, camper.

Between pithy dismissals of backup catchers, I did find enough time to churn out my annual Hall of Fame ballot evaluation, the first part of which is up today at Baseball Prospectus (it looks as though it's a premium piece this time). This is the fifth time I've tackled the question of who on the ballot is vote-worthy, and the third time I've used the self-consciously named JAWS (JAffe WARP Score) system to determine that. This year I tweaked the methodology a bit: rather than defining a player's peak as his best string of five consecutive years (allowing for war and injury interruptions), I switched the definition to best seven years at large.

This change helps some players more than others, though the impact is very small. It does, I believe, make the PEAK score more meaningful (for the uninitated, a player's JAWS score is his average of career and peak WARP3 totals). Consider that of the 16,000+ players in my data set, 368 of them (2.2 percent overall) managed a five-year peak of 40.0 WARP or better, an average of eight wins above replacement level per year. The number of players maintaining that pace for seven years is cut by about a third, to 244 (1.5 percent overall), making it much more likely that such a player is a Hall of Famer. That's a meaningful change. It's a bonus that it requires less manual labor to compile, because I'm no longer concerned with the career interruption exceptions.

I made one other change, too. In determining the JAWS standards, the average JAWS score at each position, I threw out the lowest-scoring player at each position, effectively raising the bar by another win or two around the diamond. Here are the positional averages:
C 13 410 196 74 97.6 59.4 78.5
1B 18 738 483 -2 100.4 60.9 80.6
2B 17 570 295 88 114.1 67.1 90.6
3B 11 656 374 63 108.8 62.6 85.7
SS 20 415 137 87 102.4 62.0 82.2
LF 18 745 470 -15 105.2 59.7 82.4
CF 17 715 466 -8 108.6 63.8 86.2
RF 22 780 504 21 112.4 61.5 86.9
And because I didn't identify them in the article, here are the eight men out, the guys who are so much worse than the rest of the field that they distort our understanding of what "Hall of Fame-caliber" means:
                      BRAR  BRAA  FRAA  WARP  PEAK  JAWS
Roger Bresnahan C 325 170 -80 58.3 40.8 49.6
George Kelly 1B 242 41 81 50.4 39.3 44.9
Johnny Evers 2B 284 63 23 69.4 46.0 57.7
Freddy Lindstrom 3B 272 88 -6 49.5 42.3 45.9
Travis Jackson SS 227 22 -22 57.6 46.9 52.3
Chick Hafey LF 366 217 -50 49.0 41.8 45.4
Lloyd Waner CF 287 39 -46 55.8 37.6 46.7
Tommy McCarthy RF 92 -82 14 23.8 29.8 26.8
Tellingly, all of those guys were elected by the now-redesigned Veterans Committee, not the Baseball Writers of America, who are responsible for the balloting under consideration here. Some of the VC's votes make one wonder if the hearing aids were functioning that day; consider the elections of Lloyd Waner and Rick Ferrell, both of whom had brothers who were much more worthy of enshrinement (Paul Waner is in, Wes Ferrell is not).

With the stiffs removed and the bar thus raised, I ran thorugh each hitter on the ballot, tabbing three as worthy of a vote, including one that's sure to send people howling: Albert Belle. Loathe him or dislike him (that seems to be the range of people's feelings on his persona), you have to respect the man's dominance as a hitter over the era he played. Jim Rice drew 59.5 percent of the vote in last year's election, but Belle kicks Rice's ass seven ways to Sunday, and then bitch-slaps it on the way to church. At his peak he was worth two wins a year more than Rice, and at a level that ranks among the top 30 hitters of all-time. Consider that of the 58 players who averaged 10+ WARP a year (Belle averaged 10.5), every one of them who's eligible for the Hall is in except for Ron Santo. Here's a fun list of players whose peak Belle tops:
Player             PEAK
Albert Belle 73.3
Pedro Martinez 73.2
Randy Johnson 73.2
Frank Thomas 73.1
Jeff Bagwell 72.9
Charlie Gehringer 72.9
Bob Feller 72.6
Warren Spahn 72.5
Tom Seaver 72.2
Eddie Mathews 71.9
Roberto Alomar 71.4
John Clarkson 70.8
Hank Greenberg 70.7
Rickey Henderson 70.4
Todd Helton 70.1
Frank Robinson 70.1
Gary Carter 70.0
You could win a pennant or two with that lot, eh? Belle does fall a bit short on the career WARP and thus the overall JAWS numbers, but by a margin that comes out to about a year and a half of Terrence Long-level crappiness. And who really needs to see that?

None of which is to say that I expect Belle to be voted in. He was hated by the writers like few players before or since. Even the Wikipedia makes note:
In 2001, following Belle's retirement, the New York Daily News' venerable columnist Bill Madden wrote: "Sorry, there'll be no words of sympathy here for Albert Belle. He was a surly jerk before he got hurt and now he's a hurt surly jerk.... He was no credit to the game. Belle's boorish behavior should be remembered by every member of the Baseball Writers' Association when it comes time to consider him for the Hall of Fame." The New York Times' sportswriter Robert Lipsyte observed, ""Madden is basically saying, 'He was not nice to me, so let's fuck him.' Sportswriters anoint heroes in basically the same way you have crushes in junior high school.... you've got someone like Albert Belle, who is somehow basically ungrateful for this enormous opportunity to play this game. If he's going to appear to us as a surly asshole, then we'll cover him that way. And then, of course, he's not gonna talk to us anymore— it's self-fulfilling."
That Wiki piece is an excellent read, by the way. When it comes to talking about Belle's behavior, his shortened career, and the Hall of Fame, I have just two words: Kirby Puckett. The writers bought his snow job long enough for him to be elected, but once the curtain got pulled back, what was behind it was far nastier and more disgraceful than Belle's jerkish behavior. A lot of the latter had to do with his sensitivity to being taunted about the alcoholism that nearly crushed his career before it got off the ground. And most of the rest of his stuff was about wanting to be left alone to play the damn game: "Guys such as Sandy Koufax, Joe DiMaggio and Steve Carlton did not interview, and it was no big deal. They were quiet. I am also quiet. I just want to concentrate on baseball. Why does everyone want to hear me talk, anyway?”

Anyway, Hall of Fame arguments are some of the most fun to be had when huddling around the hot stove. I look forward to the discussion my choices provoke and the number of irate emails I get before Godwin's Law comes into play.


Thursday, December 08, 2005


Guest Column: Minaya's Machinations (Part II)

Part II of FI research assistant Peter Quadrino's take on the Mets' offseason moves...

Mets get: P Billy Wagner
Billy Wagner gets: $43 million over 4 years
Wagner's agent, Bean Stringfellow, gets: recognition for having one of the funniest names in sports.

Just a few hours after introducing Delgado to the NY media, the Mets reached an agreement with free agent closer Billy Wagner. This was a big pickup, as their need for a good first basemen was matched only by their need for a good closer. And Wagner is a good closer. As a matter of fact, Wagner is one of the best free agent relief pitchers in a long time. Think about it, when was the last time there was a reliever this good who was available for the taking? Bruce Sutter in '85 maybe?

If that sounds ridiculous (what about Hoffman and Tom Gordon this year, or Keith Foulke and Eddie Guardado a few years ago?), consider that even though Wagner is going to be 34 (hey, that number again), he still throws 100 MPH and is coming off probably the second-best season for a Phillies reliever in the modern era (where relief pitchers are given specialized roles), behind Tug McGraw's 1980. Over at the Baseball Analysts, Rich Lederer put Wagner's greatness into perspective:
Which active pitcher in the big leagues has the best collection of career rate stats? Pedro Martinez? Randy Johnson? Roger Clemens? Greg Maddux? Nope. Ahh, it must be a relief pitcher, ehh? Mariano Rivera? Trevor Hoffman? Eric Gagne? Wrong again.

The answer, my friends, is Billy Wagner. Yes, Billy Wagner. He is number one in hits (5.87), baserunners (9.28), and strikeouts (11.97) per nine innings, and is in a virtual tie for third with Hoffman behind Martinez and Curt Schilling in strikeouts/walks (3.84) while ranking second behind Rivera in ERA (2.44).
Lederer goes on to declare, "At a minimum, Wagner is the best left-handed relief pitcher in history." He notes that with Wagner (with 277 saves at that writing, now 284) is third all-time in saves among lefties behind John Franco (424) and Randy Myers (347), but with better peripheral stats. Updated through the end of the season:
            ERA   WHIP   BAA    K/9   BB/9   K/BB
Franco 2.89 1.33 .249 7.0 3.6 1.97
Myers 3.19 1.30 .233 9.0 4.0 2.23
Wagner 2.34 0.99 .184 11.9 2.7 3.96
Lederer's article was written while Wagner was in the midst of a 16-game scoreless streak in which he gave up only 5 hits and a walk and went 11-for-11 in saves. He ended the season with this line: 77.2 IP, 45 hits, 87 K/20 BB, 1.51 ERA, 38 saves in 41 chances and a 30.5 VORP. Braden Looper, closing for the Mets last season, had a 5.3 VORP, blew 8 saves and struck out only 27 in 59.1 innings. That's a lot of balls put into play for a closer. Speaking of balls in play, it's important to note (as Lederer did) that this 100-mph flame-throwing lefty has spent his entire career pitching in home ballparks that have been very unkind to pitchers, Enron/Minute Maid in Houston and Citizens Bank Park in Philly, and will now be pitching in one of the pitcher-friendliest, Shea Stadium. In road games for his career: 1.05 WHIP, 2.27 ERA.

There will always be the question of whether Wagner can stay healthy; he's only 5'11" and puts a lot of stress on that left elbow, but that's what they pay Rick Peterson for. He's renowned for his work with keeping pitchers healthy. Just ask all the folks who speculated that Pedro Martinez's (217 IP, 2.82 ERA) shoulder would explode or arm would fall off before the '05 season got under way. If Peterson does his job, Wagner will gain the recognition he deserves as one of the greatest lefty relievers in the history of the game, as the New York media can exalt a player to greatness just as fast as they can tear him to shreds.

Mets get: C Paul Lo Duca
Marlins get: P Gaby Hernandez, player to be named later

Minaya really went too far with this one. He was probably on such a high from the great feeling of the big moves he had just made and couldn't resist making one more. The Winter Meetings hadn't even started yet and he felt he just had to fill in that last position with a pretty name. So he plucked three-time All Star catcher (and 34-year-old!) Paul Lo Duca from the Marlins, giving up Gaby Hernandez who, after all the other moves Minaya had made, was their #2 overall prospect. By Baseball America's reckoning, the Mets had sent their #2, #3, #4, and #5 prospects to the Marlins.

Two things about this deal upset me. First: like I said before, Minaya has shown no foresight. He has shown that he doesn't look two or three moves ahead (he would be a shitty chess player). I was okay with him giving up their top pitching prospect for Carlos Delgado. No matter how great Petit becomes, that move can always be defended. The problem is, if he knew he was willing to get rid of his next-best pitching prospect in Gaby Hernandez, he should've done it earlier and sent him to the Marlins for second basemen Luis Castillo. The Twins sent the Marlins a couple of prospects who aren't as highly regarded as Hernandez and they got Castillo instead of the Mets. That infuriates me. Luis Castillo and his career .379 OBP (.391 in 2005) replacing Kaz Matsui at second would've made A LOT more sense than Paul Lo Duca replacing Ramon Castro does. Castro is nothing spectacular but he would've provided just about as much offensively and maybe a little more defensively as Lo Duca will. The word at the Winter Meetings is that Minaya will sign two-bagger Mark Grudzielanek on Thursday, when they won't lose any draft picks for signing him. Grudzielanek ain't bad. But he's 36 and he's worse than Luis Castillo.

Gaby Hernandez was a third round pick out of Belen Jesuit High School in the 2004 draft. He hasn't turned 20 yet and he tore up Single-A last season, striking out 141 in 135 innings and allowing only 5 homers between the Florida State and South Atlantic Leagues. Quoting Bryan Smith again: "Most organizations would kill to have Hernandez as their number three prospect in the system, as Gaby has been a steal since being drafted. His control could stand a bit of improvement, but that's nitpicking in some pretty flawless peripherals in his first full-season league."

As a Mets fan, I'm hoping that he becomes another example of TINSTAAPP (There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect). The Mets better hope so too, or the 2008 Marlins will be giving them regular ass-kickings. Even if Hernandez flames out before reaching the majors, the Mets will be paying $12.5 million over the next two years for a 34-35 year old catcher who hasn't put up an OBP out of the .330s since 2001. Lo Duca has little power left in him and is known to collapse down the stretch the last few years (.615 OPS in August/September since 2003). The New York papers ought to have fun with him if he does the same thing for the Mets if they're in a pennant race this summer. Mark Simon, who writes a Mets blog called "Mets Walkoffs and Other Minutiae," was able to think of some positives for Lo Duca, but he can't make me like him!

It's not the end of the world; Lo Duca shouldn't be relied on by the Mets for too much offense. They have enough already. But Minaya could've done a much better job of allocating his resources. It was a terrible move, but I'll forgive him if he stops there. The more mid-30s guys you have in your lineup, the likelier someone will get injured. He has insisted on holding onto Seo, Heilman, and their top overall prospect, outfielder Lastings Milledge, and Wright, Reyes and Beltran are all still young, but I'd like to see him show a little more restraint for the rest of the winter, stay away from Manny Ramirez, and maybe pick up another guy for the pen.

After throwing all this money around and giving away prospects to other teams (it was actually just one team in this case), the Mets were being referred to as the "New Yankees". They do have some notable similarities (an interlocking N-Y on their caps, high payrolls) and Minaya's strategy is certainly very similar to the one the Yankees have employed in the last six years or so, but he's walking a dangerously thin line between becoming the "New Yankees" and the "Old Mets" of the Steve Phillips era. Say what you want about the Yankees, but they haven't missed the playoffs in ten years. The Mets haven't been in the playoffs in five years thanks to stupid front office moves.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Guest Column: Minaya's Machinations (Part I)

Peter Quadrino is a college student from New York City who's been serving with distinction as my research assistant for the past six months on projects both for this site and Baseball Prospectus. He's a Mets fan, and as the two of us swapped emails back and forth about their recent spate of moves, I suggested he write a guest piece for this blog, which will run in two parts. So here it is, his FI debut. Pete can be reached here...

For the second winter in a row, the New York Mets have made the most noise of any team in baseball thus far. GM Omar Minaya was dead set on improving a team that won 83 games last year in a competitive division. His stated goals were to acquire players at first base, second base, closer, and catcher. As the Winter Meetings opened, he's filled those positions already, but the Mets farm system has taken a beating in the process. Here's my take on his movements thus far, in chronological order.

Mets get: 1B/3B/OF Xavier Nady
Padres get: CF Mike Cameron

Minaya's first big move of the winter was a complete shocker. At first, it was thought that this was just the opening move of an elaborate trading scheme in which he would flip Nady to Boston or elsewhere and end up with Manny Ramirez. My first impression was that the Mets wanted to clear a little salary by dumping Cameron's contract, which pays him $6.5 million next season, and pick up a younger, cheaper player in the process. Cameron will be 33 next season and Nady will be 27. At the time, it seemed like it wasn't such a bad move, with the Mets potentially starting the season with a first base platoon of Mike Jacobs against righties and Nady against lefties. But, in a minute you'll see that this wasn't what Omar was thinking. Or at least it doesn't seem like it was what Omar was thinking. Who knows what Omar is thinking?

When the Mets signed star free-agent Carlos Beltran last winter and shifted Cameron to right, the immediate speculation was that the latter would soon be traded. Despite numerous rumors, no deal happened and Cameron was in a Mets uniform for all of 2005, when he wasn't injured. He missed the beginning of the season recovering from surgery on a wrist that had hampered him for most of 2004, when he hit .231/.319/.479. He came back in May and went on a tear, batting .372/.476/.686 for the month and making a few SportsCenter-Top-10 plays in right field. The fun would be over for him soon; he and Beltran collided head-on while chasing a short fly ball in San Diego on August 11.

In almost every ESPN chat that he did during the summer, Rob Neyer had to explain to argumentative Mets fans the concept of the defensive spectrum and why they shouldn't have a Gold Glove centerfielder in right when they could use the resources to get a cheaper option who hit more and fielded less. Well, then I have two problems with this trade, then. First, unless the injuries he suffered in the collision have made him a lesser player, the Mets should have gotten a lot more in return for Cameron. Nady is an ex-Padres prospect who never completely blossomed. His usefulness is in his ability to play multiple positions (though not necessarily well), but he's not much of a hitter and Shea Stadium isn't going to help that. He has a career line of .263/.320/.414, which is pretty much exactly what he did last year, except with a little more power. He doesn't walk much and he can't hit righties at all (.232/.282/.395 career), making him a platoon candidate. I saw it tossed around on the Internet in a couple of places that the Mets couldn't keep Cameron in right because he wasn't a good enough hitter for a corner outfield position. Well, put it this way: in 2004, Cameron played 140 games for the Mets in centerfield and he hit 30 homers, 19 of them on the road. In the NL this year, no right fielder hit more than 26 (Jason Lane). I think it's a good idea to let Victor Diaz finally get consistent starting time as the right fielder next year. This was a bad trade in that Minaya a) could've gotten a lot more for what he was giving up and b) showed no foresight as his next move was...

Mets get: 1B Carlos Delgado, cash
Marlins get: 1B Mike Jacobs, prospects P Yusmeiro Petit, INF Grant Psomas

True Met-Heads should be very excited about this deal. Delgado is coming off a season in which he hit .301/.399/.582 with 33 homers and a .332 EqA. He'll provide much-needed offense at a position that they sorely lacked any kind of consistency in last year. Mike Jacobs had some exciting moments late in the season, playing in 30 games and slugging .710, inflated mostly by his historic first 4 games in which he homered 4 times. He's ten years younger than Delgado, so it's probably a good bet that he'll accomplish more over the next ten years than Delgado will, but I'd take the 2006 version of Delgado over the 2006 version of Jacobs in a heartbeat. Delgado turns 34 before next season's All-Star break but hasn't shown signs of slowing down.

I've heard that this deal could very well end up being a disaster of Mo Vaughn/Roberto Alomar-ish proportions for the Mets, and that could happen. Anything can happen. Both of those players came to the Mets entering their age-34 seasons. Alomar was coming off a pretty damn good year with the Indians, posting a .329 EqA in 157 games. But, a lot of people forget when using big Mo Vaughn's name as a punchline that he was coming off a season in which he didn't even play baseball! Vaughn sat out the entire 2001 season with a ruptured biceps. It's tough to come back and play professional baseball after a year of lying on the couch eating potato chips when you're 34 and weigh in excess of 300 pounds. The expectations weren't very high when he came to the Mets to begin with. Also, unlike Vaughn and Alomar, who had both been playing in the AL for over a decade, Delgado is coming off a monster year in which he played in the same division, and in a park that might be an even worse park for hitters than Shea Stadium. It's debatable how big the effect is when a hitter switches leagues, but Delgado (a meticulous hitter who keeps a notebook of all his ABs) won't need any time to adjust to new pitchers or their styles. He'll be facing largely the same pitchers, except for his teammates, of course. I don't think he has any complaints about not having to face Pedro Martinez next season.

The Marlins sent about $7 million to the Mets in the deal and an agreement is still being worked on for how that money will be spread out over the life of the contract. Delgado is owed $13.5 million in 2006, $14.5 million in 2007 and $16 million in 2008. His contract contains a club option for 2009 at $12 million with a $4 million buyout, but it could become guaranteed at $16 million depending on how he finishes in MVP voting and whether he wins postseason MVP awards. The Mets also have to fulfill a provision from Delgado's contract that provides for state tax equalization. This could mean about $400,000 extra from the Mets. Keep in mind that he only pays New York taxes for half his games, as the other half are played in other states.

Yusmeiro Petit reached legal US drinking age only a couple of weeks ago and, with impeccable command of his fastball and slider (in 21 starts last season for Double-A Binghamton he recorded nearly a 10/1 K/BB ratio), was considered one of the best prospects in baseball, let alone the Mets organization. Baseball Prospectus 2005 listed him as the fourth-best pitching prospect in the majors (former Met prospect Scott Kazmir was third), citing how rare his 200+ strikeouts in less than 150 innings in 2004 was (Josh Beckett's 2001 was the only other year they could find that occurring), noting that "those hitters unfortunate enough to face him last year point out that his delivery was tough to read and his fastball had excellent late movement."

Bryan Smith of The Baseball Analysts site wrote of Petit back in May: "Yusmeiro has it all: good control, deception, and a knowledge of changing speeds. There are questions about his stuff and about his ceiling, but Yusmeiro should be fine. Think Livan Hernandez (c. 2005, not 1997)." He's going to be a good one, there's no doubt about that. A Mets prospect with a deceptive delivery? Sounds familiar. Former Met prospect Aaron Heilman reverted back to the three-quarter delivery he used at Notre Dame at the urging of pitching coach Rick Peterson and pitched well last season, baffling hitters and finally living up to his high expectations. In 108 innings, he had a 3.17 ERA, struck out 106 and only walked 37. He allowed the lowest slugging percentage, .249, of any reliever in the NL with at least 50 relief innings (second lowest? Billy Wagner at .265). He'll be 27 next season so this might be the best he's got, but if this is his best, I'll take it.

Minaya has shown that he's not afraid to reach into his farm system and send away a potentially great player to get something he wants in return. Before the Paul Lo Duca trade (which I'll get to in my next entry), he was doing an okay job. He has refused to give up Heilman and he still has a very improved 29-year-old Jae Seo on the staff. So far, he's also held on to the two solid college pitchers (Philip Humber out of Rice U. and Mike Pelfrey from Wichita State) that they've drafted the last couple of Junes, but their once well-stocked farm system is starting to dry up. Consider that in the three of the last four drafts, the Mets have given up their third and fourth-round picks after signing free agents.

In this case, to get an excellent player you've got to give up something in return. Delgado is an excellent player and at the time, the Mets could afford to lose Petit if it meant getting one of the most consistent sluggers in the game. That's not to say that Petit won't be kicking the Mets asses while wearing a Marlins uniform by 2007 at the very latest, but the Mets need a first basemen. A cleanup hitter would be nice, too. Delgado plays first, and he slugged .573 last season out of the cleanup spot. Whichever order Willie Randolph chooses to combine Delgado, Cliff Floyd, and David "The Metssiah" Wright in the 3-4-5 spots next season (assuming he comes to his senses and bats Beltran either first or second), this will be a Mets lineup that not too many teams will want to mess with. The Mets need a lineup like that right now, while the dude with the curly afro is still pitching like Pedro Martinez.

To be continued...

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Clearing the Bases -- Avalanche Edition

It's free agent season, and as silly dollars get tossed at players, here are a few interesting links I've come across amid the avalanche of my writing projects.

• My man Alex Belth has a fantastic historical recap of some milestones of the free agency era in his Sports Illustrated ( debut. No, they're not all happy moments, but from Reggie Jackson signing with the Yanks to Nolan Ryan reaching the $1 million per year threshold to Kevin Brown getting the usage of a corporate jet (that unfortunately never went down in flames) to Alex Rodriguez becoming The Quarter Billion Dollar Man, these deals changed the game's landscape and provide an interesting thumbnail history of the last 30 years.

Major congratulations to Alex for getting his foot in the door at SI.

• The silliest-looking, most landscape-altering contract of the offseason thus far is the Blue Jays' five year, $47 million deal to reliever B.J. Ryan, a man who has exactly one year of experience as a closer and two more decent ones as a setup guy. The Jays overpaid, forcing every team in the market for a reliever to do the same. But Rob McMillan, ever the contrarian, points out that the performance of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar -- a 30% gain over the last three years, and one likely to continue thanks to our northern hockey-haired neighbor's relatively large supply of natural fuel resources -- creates a substantial discount on the order of about 9% for the Jays. Now, I'm not savvy enough about currency and economics to fully evaluate this, but it does provide a bit more rationale for the deal, and the Jays' desire to break the bank in pursuit of A.J. Burnett (still a possibility) and Brian Giles (gone back to San Diego).

• Speaking of relievers, Baseball Prospectus' James Click explores the lack of consistency when predicting their future performance:
Putting aside the dollar values on these contracts for a moment, it’s important to consider just how consistent and predictable reliever performances are. There are a multitude of factors that routinely influence reliever performance more than that of starting pitchers or batters; primarily those are small sample size and the prevailing usage patterns of modern bullpens. The sample size issue is obvious--most relievers top out around 60 or 70 innings, roughly 1/3 of a typical starting pitcher’s innings--but the way modern bullpens are managed (bringing in relievers in the middle of innings, for example) often means that a reliever’s performance, as measured by ERA, is as much a reflection of those pitching before and after him than his own contributions. Whereas starters often get to work into and out of their own jams, relievers don’t have that luxury.

The second problem is more easily corrected than the first. We can use Fair Run Average (FRA), a BP stat that removes the problems of appropriately placing responsibility for inherited or bequeathed runners. As a first pass, just to see how bad the small sample size is, let’s see how consistent a variety of pitching statistics are for both starters and relievers. To do so, we’ll only use significant consecutive seasons, in this case defined as a minimum of 150 innings in consecutive seasons for starters and 50 innings for relievers.
Among that group, Click reports year-to-year correlations of FRA -- a stat I really dig, because it translates back into conventional stat terms the impact of a reliever's performance based on how he dealt with inherited runners -- of .146 for starters (not very high) and 0.04 (just about nuthin') for relievers. Even using three years' worth of data to predict a fourth, the correlations are .192 for starters and .064 for relievers, three times the randomness. Summarizes Click:
So what does this mean for teams like the Cubs, Yankees, Blue Jays and Mets? Of the five relievers they signed, it’s likely that two of them will post an FRA a run-and-a-half or more from their established levels. Some of this variance is the natural change in player performance; after all, starting pitchers, while more consistent than relievers, are certainly no models of consistency. But even when comparing three-year groups of relief performance--attempting to remove the small-sample-size issue--relievers never approach the consistency of starting pitchers. Over the next three years, it’s likely that two of them will post a total FRA more than a run off of their established levels over the past three seasons.
Meanwhile, on BP's internal mailing list, Nate Silver has been discussing a key finding of his where a pitcher who moves from starter to reliever can expect a considerably lower ERA and improved peripherals. I'm not at liberty to steal Nate's thunder in describing this, but watch for a piece from him in the near future. Frankly, I'm in awe of the way guys like Silver and Click can chip away at the problems that keep the rest of us lying awake at nights and come up with concrete answers that have practical applications for running a baseball team.

• BP's Joe Sheehan advises any GMs reading his column to put down the checkbook and back away hastily:
One of the key credos in what you might call the “BP philosophy” is that you want to sign free agents from the very top of the market or the very bottom. Superstars in their early prime, guys like Greg Maddux and Barry Bonds in 1992, or Alex Rodriguez in 2000, are excellent investments, because it’s difficult to find players who have that kind of impact, and even harder to get their best seasons through the market. At the other end of the spectrum, a smart team can gain a real advantage by signing the right low-end free-agents to one-year deals, often minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training.

This winter, though, the very best free agents don’t come close to approaching the caliber of those available in recent seasons. There is no Carlos Beltran in this market, no Pedro Martinez, no Vladimir Guerrero or Miguel Tejada. The top players in this market are flawed, aging or both, and either have no superstar credentials to speak of or little chance of sustaining star performance over the life of a new contract.

Consider the B.J. Ryan signing, which combines about four different flaws in one package. The Blue Jays gave Ryan a five-year deal averaging just over nine million dollars a season. The five years covered by the deal are two more than the number of effective seasons on Ryan’s resume, and that’s giving him credit for 2003, in which he threw 50 1/3 innings in 76 games as a specialist, posting just over two Wins Above Replacement. This is the same mistake, down to the details, that a variety of teams made last year with guys like Eric Milton, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, just to name a few of the more egregious examples. Evaluating a player just on his walk year is a recipe for disaster.
Which brings us to...

• ... a team doing just that. Meet the new Yankee setup man, Kyle Farnsworth. Last year Farnsworth posted an ERA of 2.19 and an FRA (which accounts for the performance of inherited and bequeathed runners by divvying them up according to a Run Expectancy Table) of 2.01. Farnsworth's career ERA, meanwhile, is 4.45, one percent below the park-adjusted league average, though the man at least has about one strikeout per inning over the course of his career. And this guy is the Yankees' new latex salesman... I mean setup guy, because 38-year-old Tom Gordon extracted a three-year deal from the Phillies. The New York Times' Tyler Kepner points out that between Steve Karsay, Chris Hammond, and Jaret Wright, the Yanks haven't had much luck signing the Braves' free agents. Let's hope that new Yankee pitching coach Ron Guidry or bullpen coach Joe Kerrigan can find a little movement for Farnsworth's straight-as-an-arrow fastball.

• Speaking of Yankee dollars, there's been a lot of buzz about how little buzz the Yanks have generated this offseason in terms of signing free agents. Now comes a blockbuster: the New York Daily News has a report claiming that the Yanks lost between $50 million and $85 million in 2005 thanks to their bloated $200 million-plus payroll and almost $110 million in revenue sharing and luxury tax. Further, they may have to shell out more if an MLB consultant decides they're undervaluing their TV rights (a common way for teams to show paper losses while raking in money hand over fist, according to the late, great Doug Pappas). In the short term, that's bad news for Yankee fans, especially on top of a reported $37 million loss in 2004, but great news for Yankee-haters everywhere. In the long term, it should rightfully force the team to focus on developing its own talent rather than buying top free agents off the rack at a point where their careers are on the downhill slope.

• And speaking of those bad Yankee free-agent signings, Mr. Belth has the best and worst of the Steinbrenner era. It's too early to throw Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright onto the latter pile, but Steve Karsay can take a bow. I'll come back to this topic if I get more time down the road.

• Rafael Furcal to the Dodgers for three years and $39 (or $40) million? Wow, the eight-ball didn't see that one coming. I'm much more of the opinion that it's better to overpay a player for a shorter contract, and in this deal, the Dodgers are doing just that for a guy who is entering his Age 28 season. It's tough to complain about that kind of move, even if -- especially if -- it renders the team's commitment to Cesar Izturis, who endured a dismal, injury-riddled campaign, redundant. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal suggests that the Dodgers will shift Little Cesar to second base and Jeff Kent to first upon the former's return, Jon Weisman fears the end is nigh for Hee Seop Choi, but Rob McMillan thinks that Izturis is the more tradeable commodity. I'm going to withhold a close analysis of this here at FI because the two teams involved are the ones I'm covering for BP06 (there, I said it. Let's keep this between us, OK?).

• OK, enough free agency chitchat. The baseball world lost a very interesting, colorful player in Vic Power earlier in the week. Steven Goldman writes about how the Yankees' racism prevented Power, a slick-fielding, line-drive swatting first baseman, from breaking the pinstriped color barrier by trading him to Kansas City in December, 1953. Alex Belth expands upon that theme with some choice quotations from historian Jules Tygiel, who points out that the rumors that Power dated white women were at the root of the Yanks' hesitancy to promote him. Jon Weisman has pointers to more on Power's legacy.

As for me, I know Power mainly through his entry in one of my all-time favorite books, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book, by Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris:
With the possible exception of Jonas Salk, John Foster Dulles, and Annette Funicello, no one public figure so personified the fifties for me as did Vic Power. He was a line-drive-hitting first baseman for the Athletics and the Indians all through that glorious somnambulant decade who held his bat like a stalk of bananas, caught everything with one-handed disdain, and always managed to hit around .300 no matter how many times they tried to knock him down. I don't know what it was exactly that made Vic stick out above all those other ruggedly ostentatious individualists -- Frank Sullivan, Alex Kellner, et al. Suffice it to say that no one ever hit such frozen ropelike liners, assumed such a novel and menacing stance in the batter's box, was so deft and lightfooted around the first-base bag, swore so mightily at umpires and hecklers, or possessed a more novel approach to the game than did Mr. Victor Pellot Power of Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

Wherever you may be now Vic -- let it all hang out.
I love those last few lines, which I've italicized. Power wasn't a Hall of Famer, but that's a Hall of Fame epitaph right there.

• Speaking of epitaphs and not baseball, a school chum of mine named Margaret Brown has produced her first feature film, a documentary on the late, great country singer Townes Van Zandt called Be Here to Love Me. I saw its theatrical premiere on Friday night here in NYC and came away incredibly impressed. It's not the most cheerful story (Van Zandt was a very troubled man who was quite obviously destined for a short life in which he was completely devoted to his art) but it's a very well-done film -- arty and impressionistic, with tons of vintage footage from the mid-'70s and onward -- with a lot of great music, and appearances by Willie Nelson & Emmylou Harris (both of whom had #1 hits with his songs, "Pancho and Lefty" for the former, "If I Needed You" for the latter), Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle (who declared, "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that!"), Guy Clark (who puts in perhaps the best documentary interview ever, in which he discusses TVZ's perennial flirtations with his wife, who's sitting right next to him), Lyle Lovett and other country stars testifying to his reputation as a songwriter's songwriter.

I doubt too many of you reading this share my love of vintage country music or its bastard offspring, but if you do, or if you have an appreciation for a well-done, award-worthy documentary, please go see this when it comes to your town.

Back when I can get my head above the snow again...


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