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.

Monday, January 30, 2006


JAWS and the Supercilious Writer

Thanks to the great amount of feedback my recent JAWS series on the Hall of Fame ballot and its subsequent follow-up chat generated, I received enough good questions from Baseball Prospectus readers to make a mailbag piece worthwhile. Topics include the cases for Tim Raines, John Olerud, and Pete Rose, the relative merits of Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, the already-elected relievers (including this year's inductee, Bruce Sutter), and the eminently worthy Goose Gossage, and Yankee overrepresentation in the Hall. Here's the part about Raines:
Great job covering the Hall of Fame this year, as always. I was curious to know what Tim Raines' JAWS score is. In my opinion, he's a Hall of Famer, but I know that his candidacy is borderline and that in many ways he doesn't stack up. Regardless, a leadoff hitter with a career .385 OBP, who stole 808 bases at an 85% clip, while maintaining an OPS of .810 over more than 10,000 plate appearances at least deserves some consideration. If you have it, can you tell me his JAWS score? Also, what do you think of his chances of making it to the Hall?

--Jake Berlin
Gotta love the Rock! Friend of BP Alex Belth probably calls me twice a year to ask whether I think Tim Raines could make it, chirping, "I wish he was on this ballot, man!" On some level, I share Alex's excitement, and if ever there were a candidate I'd want to launch a preemptive campaign to enshrine, it's Raines, who in his Expo days was an unforgettable, electrifying ballplayer, the kind whose obvious joy at playing the game made you savor it--and him--all the more.

Raines' JAWS numbers (121.6 career WARP/67.7 peak/94.7 JAWS) are far enough beyond the average Hall left fielder (105.2/59.7/82.4) that there shouldn't be any doubt about whether he's a Hall of Famer, and I think it's fair to say that I don't know a single stathead who doesn't endorse him as Hallworthy. His combination of speed and ability to get on base made him the best leadoff hitter in the game this side of Rickey Henderson. Even into his latter days, he was a valuable roleplayer for a couple of champion Yankees teams.

That said, I get the sense that Raines will be pushing the rock uphill when he reaches eligibility in 2008, mainly because he's often measured in direct comparison to his contemporary, Henderson. He can't match Henderson's unassailable resume--didn't reach 3,000 hits, doesn't hold the all-time record for steals or runs, never spoke of himself in the third person. As good as his JAWS is, it can't hold a candle to Rickey's 165.2/70.4/117.8, which ranks 22nd all time. That's an unfair standard to measure anybody against, but it's something Raines will have to contend with. He may end up in a boat similar to Bert Blyleven, another blindingly obvious candidate whose merits the BBWAA has thus far failed to appreciate. I think he'll get in eventually (it certainly doesn't hurt to see him as the first-base coach of the World Champion White Sox) but it may take him a good while, perhaps when a larger handful of writers who were raised on the work of Bill James (a huge fan of Raines) and more comfortable with sabermetrics gain their voting eligibility.
Check it out.

• • •

Also at BP today is an article from economist Andrew Zimbalist, who didn't take too kindly to the tone of my blog entry about Neil deMause's dispute with the figures Zimbalist cited in last weekend's New York Times Op-Ed. Through an intermediary, Zimbalist sent me the following late Wednesday night:
[Name of said intermediary deleted]: please send this comment to the guy who wrote that supercilious piece on me.

Neil's math is wrong. My 75% estimate is accurate. And his comment about the state parking investment is strange. So what if they do an RFP and have a private company manage it. That does not mean that the state will not get back its investment.
Supercilious? My vocabulary training kicked in, as did my biology background. I grasped for a Latin handhold: "many cilia" -- maybe an especially speedy centerfielder? Chone Figgins came to mind. Close, but I was way off. "Behaving or looking as though one thinks one is superior to others," said my desktop dictionary, offering "arrogant, haughty, conceited, disdainful, overbearing, pompous, condescending..." and another dozen unflattering adjectives. The Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College had sicced 12-letter word on me (no, no that one), one that I needed a dictionary to decipher, yet I was the arrogant one.

Zimbalist and I traded a couple more snarky emails, none of which flatter either of us. I'm pretty sure he set a modern-day record (I'm not sure how that compares to pre-1900) by using "supercilious" in three straight exchanges. In one he also allowed that he might write a follow-up piece for BP, an approach I encouraged as much more constructive than having me mediate an email pissing contest.

Before the aforementioned piece ran, Zimbalist and deMause both appeared on this weekend's edition of Baseball Prospectus Radio. Math doesn't always play well on the radio, so in trying to get at the root of the reason the two writers' figures disagreed, I transcribed some of it:
Neil deMause: This article wasn't particularly to respond to him, it was in the works before Professor Zimbalist came out with his piece on Sunday. But given the fact that he was using the sort of up-front "who's paying the cost?" numbers for the Yankees deal -- he said that the public was going to put up about 21 percent, I think, of the cost. That's just what they're spending in terms of up-front costs, and he didn't include these rent breaks, property tax breaks, some of the other side subsidies. I have it as about -- if you look at the Yankees versus public breakdown -- it's about 58 percent public, 42 percent Yankees. If you include all the others -- private garage developers and again, Major League Baseball is kicking in some -- it winds up being 36 percent public and 30 percent Yankees or something like that. The public is putting in more than the Yankees for this stadium that's being sold as an entirely Yankees-funded project.
DeMause had offered a more clear breakdown of the money via a comment in my last blog entry, something I'm virtually certain Zimbalist hadn't seen at the time he was interviewed:
Along those lines, I should clarify what I meant when I said that the new Yankees stadium would be "58 percent public, 42 percent private." I was only referring there to the split between the taxpayers and the Yankees - the ballclub being the private partner with the city in the stadium deal. If you count the third parties who are also involved, both shares go down proportionately: more like 36% public, 26% Yankees, 25% other MLB teams, and 13% parking garage developers. (Though the parking garage developers and the Yankees, unlike the public and the rest of MLB, will have a chance to recoup their investment via new revenues.)

Probably a better way of putting it would have been: The public will be paying for 47% of the stadium and 30% of the associated parking garages, while George Steinbrenner will be putting up just 40% of the stadium costs, and getting the garages built for free.
Back to the radio, DeMause continued his portion of the interview:
The cost is that this is money that could be spent elsewhere by the city. It's red ink on the city's ledger and taxpayers wind up putting it out. Is it worth spending 200 or 300 million dollars of public money to move Yankee Stadium across the street into what's currently a public park. People in the Bronx neighborhoods are not very happy about that. If it's a bad project, it's certainly a worse project if it loses 200 million dollars, 300 million dollars in the process.
Zimbalist starts his portion of the interview by taking a thinly-veiled jab at deMause's credentials before coming around to the matter at hand:
Andrew Zimbalist: I'm not sure it's a dispute between economists, it's a dispute between an economist and a journalist, first of all. But my side of the story is that the Yankees are proposing to build a stadium for $800 million and they've made a deal with the city and the state whereby the city and state will put up $210 million for infrastructural related purposes. Some of those are to accommodate the stadium and some of them are directly beneficial to the neighborhood and some of those expenses from the public sector will in fact be paid back, for instance the parking garage that will cost the state $70 million. It is fully anticipated that that money will come back to the state in parking fees or through an RFP they do with a private company.

But even if you ignore the fact that there's $210 million the public is putting out and that some of that $210 [million] might come back, and if you also look at some implicit subsidies that there are embedded in the deal, that the Yankees are putting up 75 percent of the overall cost of the plan. Whereas in a perfect world this deal might be struck in a different way, in the world of major league sports in the United States for the team to put up 75 percent of the total cost of a stadium is a very large percentage. So my Op-Ed simply observed that, said that this is a fair deal as these deals generally go. Prior to the Yankees deal, assuming that it's consummated, no team has put up more than $300 million to build a stadium for itself. So not only is the Yankee percentage way higher than average, the average is about 30 percent private and 70 percent public... Not only that, but the deal is also one where the Yankess are going to spend, in an absolute sense, more than two times what anybody else has ever spent on their own stadium. So again, I'm not saying this is the perfect deal but I am saying that this is a fair deal, and Neil deMause wrote a response in part... at the end of the article on the Mets deal he said that my number was wrong and that the real number was 58 percent was going to be private and 42 percent was going to be public [wrong, it's 58 percent public, 42 percent private, as host Will Carroll corrected]. So he was saying that my numbers were off by 10 or 20 percentage points.

Neil makes a number of errors in what he does... What's going on here? The largest thing that's going on is that Neil makes an adjustment for what he calls the revenue-sharing subsidy from Major League Baseball. That revenue-sharing subsidy is correct and I believe he gets it from my own work, judging by the calculation that he made. It's correct that baseball [I believe Zimbalist meant to say Yankees here] will receive a stadium-building subsidy that's embedded in the revenue-sharing system. However the Yankees will actually end up paying more revenue-sharing as a result of this, because although they get a subsidy to help them build the stadium, their revenues will grow by enough so that their extra tax in the revenue-sharing system will be larger than the subsidy. So Neil ignores that.

But even more important than that, you can't call this public money. This is not a cost to New York State or New York City. If it's a cost to anybody, it's a cost to the other major league teams. So it's private money and there's no disputing that it's private money. That's the biggest adjustment that Neil makes to my numbers.
In today's piece, Zimbalist takes a magnifying glass to deMause's figures, analyzing them item by item:
  $800 million   -- cost of stadium
- $312 million -- savings from MLB's revenue sharing system
- $103 million -- present value of future rent payments
- $15 million -- present rent
- $44 million -- present value of property tax exemption

= $326 million
...Consider the first deduction. Under MLB's revenue sharing system, the contribution made by each team is based upon its net local revenues. To arrive at net local revenues a team is allowed to subtract stadium expenses. If the team owns the stadium, it is permitted to amortize its investment in the stadium over ten years. If it does not own the stadium, there is some dispute whether the investment should be amortized over ten years or over the period of the lease (40 years), where the investment is treated as a form of prepaid rent. In all likelihood, the Yankees lease will be considered an operating, not a capital, lease, and the team will amortize its investment over 40 years. DeMause's estimate assumes the Yankees will use a 10-year amortization period.

DeMause then takes my estimate from May the Best Team Win of the marginal tax rate faced by the Yankees under MLB's revenue sharing system, approximately 39 percent. That is, for every extra dollar of local revenue earned by the team, it gives up approximately 39 cents to the central fund. Hence, if the Yanks amortize an $800 million investment over 10 years, then each year for 10 years the team will be able to deduct $80 million from its local revenue. This $80 million annual deduction will then save the team ($80 million) X (.39) = $31.2 million a year in revenue sharing contributions.

DeMause then takes this $31.2 million per year and multiplies it by 10, to arrive at the $312 million savings for the team. What's wrong here? First, MLB might require the Yankees to base their deduction on the post-tax-break $756 million, not the $800 million. Second, the Yankees will probably amortize their investment over 40 years, lowering the annual deduction from $80 million to $20 million. Third, while the new stadium will allow the Yankees a revenue sharing deduction, it will also engender a substantial increase in earned revenues so that, at the end of the day, the Yanks' revenue sharing contributions will actually increase as a result of the new stadium.
And so it goes. The professor crunches his numbers right there in the piece, laying his cards on the table to show where he believes deMause has erred. There's at least one spot where I believe he's misinterpreted deMause (the $15 million in "present rent," if I understand correctly, comes from a report that Bloomberg has offered a rebate on the current rent -- roughly $5 million a year based on this New York Times report which says that the Yankees paid $26.43 million in rent from 2000-2004 -- until the stadium opens.

But on the whole, Zimbalist has offered a more solid showing than he did last week. Rather than delve into these numbers unaided, I'm now going to await deMause's turn at bat. He's got a BP mailbag piece on various stadium issues slated to run on Tuesday, and plans a direct response to Zimbalist's piece in the near future. Bring your popcorn.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Tenacious de

Sunday's New York Times found noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, a frequent critic of Major League Baseball's financial chicanery, giving a sloppy wet Op-Ed page smooch to the Yankees' plan for a new stadium:
Plans to build a new Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx have kicked up a small storm of local protest. Many people who live near Mullaly and Macombs Dam Parks, where the new stadium will be built, are concerned about what it will mean for their neighborhood, and rightfully so. But the crucial public policy question here is whether there will be a net benefit for residents of the Bronx and the other boroughs. The answer is yes.

Those who want no disruption and the maintenance of the status quo need to think again. The existing stadium was built in 1923 and grows more unsafe and expensive to maintain with each year. The Yankees have been spending nearly $10 million a year on maintenance at Yankee Stadium -- money that their lease allows them to deduct from the rent they pay the city. Engineering studies say it's time to build a new stadium.

The Yankees are proposing a fair financial deal to the city. Nationally, during the last 15 years, the public share in stadium development costs (that is, the stadium plus roads, utilities and so forth) for professional sports has averaged around 75 percent. The Yankees are planning to spend $800 million of their own money on the new stadium (no major league baseball team has spent more than $300 million on their own playing field). The city and state together will spend about $210 million for improvements in the neighborhood. By this reckoning, the public share is only about 21 percent.

...All major investment projects, no matter how positive they may be for a community, disrupt the life of somebody. Undoubtedly, some residents will be made worse off. But as an investment, the Yankees' stadium plan is a winner for the Bronx and all of New York.
Oh-kay... so, who is this New York Times and what has it done with the real Zimbalist? As in the one whose dismissal of the kind of consulting reports that generate such projections ("They engage in a very, very dubious methodology. They make unrealistic assumptions and they can produce whatever result they want to produce.") recalls the famous former MLB president Paul Beeston's line about major league baseball team finances ("Under generally acccepted acocunting principles, I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss, and I can get every national accounting firm to agree with me.").

Neil deMause, who's been covering the Yankee Stadium beat with admirable tenacity (making him, I suppose, Tenacious de), is has callen bullshit on Zimbalist, tackling the Op-Ed and its fuzzy math point by point. He notes, for example, that neither the Yanks nor the city have divulged the so-called "engineering studies" to which Zimbalist refers, and that $70 million worth of parking revenues which Zimbalist has earmaked for the city are actually headed to a private developer. This isn't the first time deMause has sparred with the big Z, but reading their exchanges, it's pretty clear somebody's been doing their homework while somebody else has been mailing it in.

Furthermore, as a coda to a piece on the Mets' new park at Baseball Prospectus, deMause charges that the 21 percent public share that Zimbalist touts is way off. "The actual figure, after accounting for all the Yanks' hidden lease subsidies: about 58 percent public, 42 percent private." In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "Close, but you're way off."

Via email, deMause broke down those numbers for me as follows:
Public cost is $444 million, which is from this. The Yankees' cost I just did the math on for this [BP] article -- here's what I've got:

$800 million
-$312 million revenue-sharing deduction
-$103 million future rent
-$15 million present rent
-$44 million property taxes
$326 million

This is just on the expense side, and doesn't include whatever new revenues each side would get, which would reduce the public deficit to the $250-350 million range, and undoubtedly put the Yankees well in the black.
As for the Mets themselves,
Suddenly, what looked like a $444.4 million expense for the Mets -- which would have been a larger private contribution than any prior stadium in baseball history -- has become a far more manageable $104.5 million, right in line with what other teams have paid of late. The public, even by the state's own optimistic economic projections, would be left with a minimum of $178 million in red ink after paying for land and infrastructure, plus all those tax and rent breaks.

I think we can officially call this a trend. Back in the bad old days of the 1990s, spending public money on stadium construction was relatively uncontroversial, with debates limited mostly to who exactly would get stuck with the tax bill. (Cigarette smokers and car renters were two popular targets, mostly because it's hard to tax child molesters and puppy-kickers.) But more recently, as the general public has started picking up on the "stadiums are bad investments" meme, sports team owners and their political allies have increasingly started looking for ways to, if nothing else, make the transmogrification of public dollars into private profit less obvious. In the latest example (non-baseball division), the New York Times' Charles Bagli revealed last week that the two local teams in that other sport with the pointy ball are expecting windfall profits from their new "privately built" stadium in New Jersey; the state, meanwhile, will be giving up 20 acres of free land and getting shut out of parking, luxury suite and ad revenues.
Count deMause -- co-author of Field of Schemes -- as among those responsible for spreading that meme, and tip your cap to somebody who understands that while big shiny ballparks are fun to imagine, the devil is in the details, and the details of Yankee Stadium #3 (The House That Ruthless Exaggeration Built?) don't paint a flattering picture of the Yanks or of Zimbalist's endorsement.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Say It's So, Joe

Can't Stop the Bleeding points to this New York Daily News column by Bob Raissman which offers hope that Fox Sports' 10-year relationship with Major League Baseball may be coming to an end:
Fox's exclusive negotiating period with MLB is about to expire -- probably in the next two weeks -- and the two sides are far apart in terms of the only thing that counts -- money.

Fox's current six-year deal with Bud Selig & Co., worth $2.5 billion, ends following the 2006 season. The Foxies began televising baseball in 1996 and, as in past negotiations, MLB is looking for more dough than Fox is currently willing to offer.

So, when Fox's exclusive negotiating period runs out without a deal, MLB will become a TV free agent. This probably was Selig's plan all along. Selig and the owners want to test the waters and see what their national TV rights are worth on an open market.

Fox, according to baseball sources, does have the right to match any "final" offer MLB receives from another network.
Raismann mentions NBC and ESPN/ABC as potential suitors and notes that while the nefariously obnoxious Tim McCarver would obviously be displaced (poor baby), product shill Joe Buck might opt to remain at the network so he could continue to whore himself further cover football.

Is there anything but upside to this? I mean, aside from the possibility that Selig might crack a smile while declaring that a new, more lucrative TV contract is further evidence that the 2002 Collective Bargaining Agreement is a failure because small-market teams just can't compete?

Seriously, considering I'm on the warpath against Fox and planning to screech about an All-Star Game boycott for the next six months, this is a glimmer of hope. This is the groundhog coming out of his hole to declare that the decade-long winter of our discontent is on its way out, bitch! It's time to pry baseball out of the video-console (woosh) deathgrip (clank) of the network (boom) that shoved (crunch) Scooter (braaaaak) down our throats and insulted our intelligence -- SURELY YOU COULDN'T POSSIBLY THIS ENJOY THIS PASTORAL PASTIME WITHOUT HAVING MORE FIREWORKS SHOVED UP YOUR ASS EVERY 30 SECONDS!!! -- every time we flipped on the game.

• • •

Like the bane of H.I McDonough's existence, Murray Chass of the New York Times is talkin' about wife-swappin':
At a news conference Saturday night, Anna Benson said that if the Bensons had known the Mets would trade Kris after only one year, he would have signed elsewhere. The Mets, however, might not have signed Benson if they had known his wife would criticize Carlos Delgado for not standing for the playing of "God Bless America."

Anna Benson is certainly entitled to her opinion, but the Mets are entitled to not want the potential of intramural squabbling ignited by a player's wife.

"Be liberal or not," Anna Benson said, comparing the Mets' disregard of Delgado's reputation with their concern for hers.

Anna Benson, though, doesn't hit the home runs and drive in the runs that Delgado will give them. And Kris Benson doesn't have a good enough arm for the Mets to overlook his wife's mouth.
Not that the trade which brought Jorge Julio and a minor-league arm to Flushing is a win for the Mets, but at least it allows Benson to put the tail in tailgate and thus maintain her league lead: "Anna said in a statement released after the trade that she and Benson looked forward to 'christening the parking lot' at the stadium, referring to her desire to have sex at every major league park."

Way to elevate the debate to the lowest common denominator there, Jiggles.

• • •

Color me (Dodger) green with envy over Jon Weisman's new freelance gig at Weisman (who joins labelmate Alex Belth as a face in the SI crowd) takes on the NL Worst, er West's quest for respectability:
Have you ever gone a year without a date? Or a job? Or a date and a job? Or a date and a job and a shower?

If so, then you were the emotional, economic and hygienic equivalent of baseball's National League West, the pride of the great unwashed in 2005. No NL West team clinched a winning record last year until the San Diego Padres won their regular-season finale.

The breakdown defied recent history: Until last season, the division had been the only one in baseball to have at least one 90-win team every year since the 1995 work stoppage. The NL West also boasted three winning teams in eight of its previous nine seasons.

Baseball will let the NL West sit with the cool kids at lunch again if the division can return to its previous form. Here's the early prognosis on the division's quest for respect...
Congrats, Jon.

• • •

Demonstrating their desire to corner the market on ticking timebomb pitchers, the Cubs have signed fomer Astros ace Wade Miller, late of the Red Sox, to a one-year deal. Miller's coming off of a torn labrum, so he fits perfectly into the Cubs plans:
"He can hold down the fort in between the time that Kerry Wood blows out his elbow and the point where Carlos Zambrano's arm finally falls off," said Jim Hendry, the Cubs' general manager, noting that manager Dusty Baker's usage patterns have all but guaranteed the latter. "After that, we'll cannibalize Miller for his organs. Dusty's been wanting a new pair of kidneys for awhile, and I know somewhere there's an ump in need of some eyes."
OK, I made that quote up. But would it surprise anybody given the way the Cubs have been going?

Friday, January 20, 2006


Clearing the Bases -- Torn and Frayed Edition

It wasn't quite a clean bill of health, but it counted as good news. My orthopedic surgeon, who repaired my right labrum in November 2003, reviewed my recent MRIs on Thursday and declared, "You've got a slight tear of the rotator cuff, and some fraying of the biceps tendon. But that might have been there before. The bottom line is that kind of wear and tear is normal in someone your age. You don't need surgery." Deep sigh of relief, even if that means I'm probably not fit to toss 200 innings. All I need is some physical therapy with the guy who helped me rehab my shoulder before. Whew!

Anyway, onto a few other notes...

• On Wednesday I had to pinch-hit for my pal Nick, the "commissioner" of our Yankees ticket group, which has been buying the 26-game pick-a-plan since 1998. This year the Yanks demolished that 26-game package, which came with the right to seats to a guaranteed playoff game for each round, in favor of a 20-game plan with no playoff guarantee except for grandfathered licensees (we transferred ours within the group and are currently hoping to qualify). But, oh joy, now we get to buy them online, picking each game and seats.

What happens when you get thousands of Yankee ticketholders trying to bum rush TicketRapist at the same time? Clusterfuck. Technical difficulty after technical difficulty. Nick, who was trying to TCB, had to hand the reins -- credit card number and all -- over to me because he had to meet with a client. Two hours and several hundred words that would shame even a Tourette's-addled sailor later, I finally succeeded and came out pretty well, with most of our tickets in sections 601 (lower part of the upper deck, Tier Box MVP, behind home plate) and 625 (between third and home).

I was one of the lucky ones. Reading Cecilia Tan's similar tale, I think I beat her friend by a good 45 minutes, but other than that, her blow-by-blow account of the saga is virtually the same as ours:
Well, at 10 AM, everyone began trying to buy the Flex plan and get the good seats before they were gone. But no one could get through because the server could not handle the volume. Neither could the Yankees' ticket office which was fielding complaints. By 10:45 in the morning, fans who did reach the ticket office were told to "just keep trying. It's slow, but it is working." That turned out to be blatantly wrong. Fans who finally did get past the login screen were greeted with a checklist of games to choose that showed neither the dates of the games nor the opponents. Just a list of 81 check boxes and every one labeled "Wed. //" except for the very LAST one, which bore the date of the SECOND game of the year, April 12th. With no way to guess which box stood for which game, many fans who were sneaking around at their day jobs to try to accomplish this fruitless task were forced to give up.

At 11:30 AM, callers to the ticket office who managed to get past the "all circuits are busy" messages heard a new story. "It's simply not working," a representative said. "So don't worry, nobody is buying tickets ahead of anybody. No one can use the system." When it was suggested that perhaps the sale should be rescheduled for another day, the representative said it was a Ticketmaster problem and would be fixed soon. "Maybe five minutes, maybe ten, maybe an hour. Just keep hitting refresh until the 'technical difficulties' message goes away. Then try to log in again."

The earliest successful ticket buyer we were able to find got through the gauntlet of a user interface at 2:40 in the afternoon, after trying all day. Among the additional failures of the Yankees on this day, the promised "flex"-ibility of the plan was scuttled; buyers had to choose a set number of seats that would be identical for all games. (All the ticket office would say about this was "Yeah, that's gone. Forget it.") Upon choosing the 20 games for purchase, the buyer then had to use 20 separate drop-down menus to choose what section to sit in for each game separately. Wouldn't it have made much more sense to let people choose their section and apply it to all games if they wanted? Others had problems with the drop-down menus and had to choose "best available" (the default option) and so spent more than they would have. Was this the real reason for the change?
The bottom line is that Yankee ticket buyers were treated like shit, which isn't really anything new. But it's crystal clear now, with a new ballpark on the horizon, that the middle-class ticketholder who pays out of his own pocket is a dying breed who's in the process of being screwed out of existence by the Yanks. Prices for our Tier Box MVP seats, even with the plan's discount off of the face value, have skyrocketed. Digging into my old Quicken files, here's what I get since 2000:
Year   Price $  Pct increase
2000 25 --
2001 29 16.0
2002 29 0.0
2003 30 3.4
2004 35 16.7
2005 42 20.0
2006 47 11.9
The Yanks did an admirable job of holding the line for awhile, even in the face of ever-increasing attendance; from 2000 to 2003 our tickets only went up a total of 20 percent. Since then they've risen 57 percent, and they've essentially doubled over the course of the past six years. Suffice it to say that both the money and the emotional capital I'll be forking over to the Yanks in the future is a finite amount, one that George Steinbrenner and company have decided is best spent sooner rather than later. When it's gone, I'm gone.

Surprised about Theo? You shouldn't be. Epstein's eventual return to the Red Sox has been the worst-kept secret in baseball since the day he snuck out of Fenway in a gorilla suit. He's been in the front-office loop all along, according to numerous sources, though few of my Red Sox-devoted pals (yes, I do have them) were willing to believe it. For awhile even the mainstream Boston sports media seemed to be downplaying that possibility.

Why all this? My pet theory, one that I've shared with a few readers, is that after letting Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez go last year -- the former in a midseason trade and the latter as a free agent following their World Series win -- Epstein didn't want to be in the firing line for the departures of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez (though the latter, of course, remains a Red Sock). The emotional toll of dealing with the media and the fan base over such deals was too much to face in the aftermath of an exhausting season. Shedding a superstar is much easier when done from behind the curtain, with somebody else answering the same. damn. questions. over. and. over. Rest assured that Epstein was on board with those decisions -- even the abortive Manny one -- and has probably had a say in everything else the team has done this winter, including the trades for Josh Beckett and Andy Marte.

The bottom line is that while the front-office power struggle between Epstein and Leaky Larry Lucchino isn't over, somebody, likely principal owner John Henry, has found a way to bridge the gap. Epstein's official title hasn't been announced, but bet on something weighty like President of Baseball Operations, Grand Emperor of Beantown, Colossus of the Citgo Sign or the Archduke of Landsdowne Street. What will be most interesting to see is whether the good cop/bad cop roles for Epstein and Lucchino continue or whether Epstein's return is based on reining in Lucchino's blabbermouth tendencies, which appear to prevent the team from operating with the stealth that the Yankees have mustered in the cases of Damon and Alex Rodriguez.

And speaking of A-Rod, any Sox fans piping up about his ridiculous deliberations over the World Baseball Classic can remind themselves that they've got their own Hamlet saga to live down, one which has killed far more trees and pushed more pixels.

• Like my pal Alex Belth, I have to mourn the passing of the wicked Wilson Pickett, one of the finest soul/R& B singers ever. Even his most widely exposed tracks such as "Mustang Sally," "Land of 1000 Dances" and "In the Midnight Hour" retain their freshness some 40 years and millions of spins later. Pickett didn't have the depth of catalog of Otis Redding, but at his peak he was every bit as good and gritty. If you've never heard his screams on his cover of "Hey Jude," then you've never listened to soul music. Educate yourself, kids, and then raise a glass when the midnight hour strikes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Notta Lotta

Not a lot going on above the surface here, but I've got a couple of things cooking in the lab, in between trips to the doctor to determine the extent to which my once-repaired right shoulder is in need of further attention following a skiing mishap. Thursday's the big day for the reading of the MRI; just because my father is a radiologist doesn't mean I can read the films myself, even if this is the second time around.

Anyway, the main project in the lab is DIPS 2005. Given that the DIPS 2.0 formula is now on its fifth go-round (fourth at this site), I've wavered on whether to proceed with publishing the numbers, a deliberation that conveniently coincided with the chaos of Book Season. But now that daylight has returned, I've concluded that there's a considerable value of maintaining a DIPS hub here -- my Tufts U. pals, among others, seem to appreciate it -- to round up the latest work in the field.

This year's review will include a look at David Gassko's DIPS 3.0 which was introduced at Hardball Times in August and is reportedly revisted in their annual book, which I have on order at the moment. DIPS 3.0 uses batted ball types (ground ball, fly ball, line drive) to project ERA, and it appears to do a very nice job of doing so with current season performance. However, my preliminary investigations as to its year-to-year predictive powers appear to indicate that it's no better than DIPS 2.0 at that task. Gassko admittedly had focused on the system's current-season utility rather than its utility as a projection tool. I'll be interested to see what he has to say in the annual, which gets an exhaustive comb-thru by my unrelated namesake, Chris Jaffe, at that steel-cage battleground, Baseball Think Factory. Jaffe length, indeed.

Also brewing in the lab, yet somewhat derailed by the demands of the stat crew putting together Baseball Prospectus 2006, is a PECOTA-based look at the two pitchers (Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany) whom the Dodgers traded to Tampa Bay over the weekend for relievers Danys Baez and Lance Carter. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the trade -- aside from speculation about the health of closer Eric Gagne -- is that Dodger GM Ned Colletti finally broke the seal on the bevy of prospects the team has in its system. In overhauling the team via a flurry of moves last month, Colletti had, surprisingly, resisted trading prospects for veterans. It was bound to end sooner or later, and while I'm not particularly impressed by the returns -- there's enough meh in Baez to make me surprised he didn't wind up on the Mets, and don't even get me started about the craptacularity of Carter -- I don't think this is a backbreaking deal for the Dodgers either. They're dealing from strength, looking for the extra couple of wins that might win them the weak NL West, and there are millions of reasons why that's a good idea.

Jackson, you'll recall, outdueled Randy Johnson in his big-league debut, which also happened to be his 20th birthday. But in the two-plus years since, he's been unable to harness that potential he gave us a glimpse of; his big-league ERA stands at 5.50 through 75.3 innings. He's bombed so badly in the Dodgers' Triple-A outpost of hell known as Las Vegas, with ERAs straight off of a Boeing assembly line, that the Dodgers sent him back to Double-A last year. His velocity is down, his mechanics are messed up, his confidence is shot. He needs a fresh start, and while as a Dodger fan it pains me to see him go, I wish the kid the best. Seriously.

Both Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith have done a nice job of covering this at Baseball Analysts, as has Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts, so I'll save my bullets for another day. The points I'd stick by for the moment are that among Dodger pitching prospects, Jackson and Tiffany would rate well behind Chad Billingsley, Jon Broxton, and Scott Elbert, and that the LA organization's player development system continues to be hampered by the fact that Vegas is brutal for pitchers. It's not too far off from sending a guy to Coors Field to learn how to pitch. Tiffany -- an Extreme (capital E, as in 0.58 groundball/flyball ratio according to Baseball America) flyball pitcher -- is the kind of player whose value after going through the Vegas meatgrinder (likely in 2007, given that he spent '05 at Vero Beach) could be severely lessened.

Anyway, here's hoping my data ship comes in soon, so that I can add something a bit more substantial to the discussion. For those of you with a subscription, at least...

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Clearing the Bases -- All Will Be Revealed Edition

A few quick hits:

Buster Olney on the wink-and-nod Hall of Fame votes for the unqualified:
We see it every year, these odd little vote totals, with some writers exercising their constitutional right to fill out their ballot with guys who -- with all due respect -- should only enter the Hall of Fame after purchasing a ticket.

We try to make sense of it.

...Walt Weiss, one vote . What you know is that the former shortstop had a lifetime average of .258, including two seasons of more than 130 hits. What you don't know is that one writer did, indeed, lose a 4 a.m. bet at a bar seven years ago, and finally paid up.

Gregg Jefferies, two votes. What you know is that the ex-Sports Illustrated cover guy never scored 100 nor drove in 100 runs in any season in the majors. What you don't know is that he is the greatest player ever to practice his swing underwater, and for two voters, that put him over the top.

...I'm sure that some of these votes are given with a wink and a nod, a personal tribute to someone who was enjoyable to cover, to someone who always stood at his locker and answered questions when other players hid in a trainer's room. The problem, however, is that placing a vote for Hal Morris or Walt Weiss for the Baseball Hall of Fame is like picking Terrell Owens for president -- it's silly, and adds thick reinforcement to the notion that the writers don't have any idea what they are doing.

Believe me, we can accomplish that without those two Hall of Fame votes for Gregg Jefferies.
Amen to that, Buster.

Joe Sheehan on the election of Bruce Sutter:
It’s not fun writing that a guy shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. It’s much easier to write that someone does deserve an honor, which is just one reason why most players see gradual rises in their vote counts over time. It’s more enjoyable to talk about what a player’s accomplishments were, what positive memories he created, rather than objectively compare him to his peers and to established standards. Because of this, much of the coverage of Sutter’s election ignored his short career and his clear inferiority to another reliever on the ballot, and continued exaggerating his role in the use of the split-fingered fastball and the development of the closer position.

It remains true, however, that Sutter didn’t have nearly the value that Rich Gossage did, and his edges over Gossage stem largely from usage patterns that were developed to protect Sutter from injury. In other words, to cover up a flaw, an area in which he was inferior to Goose. Save totals are the primary manifestation of this, but you can also see it in ERAs, where Sutter’s lighter usage helped his numbers as compared to Gossage.

...What’s galling is that Sutter is getting his Cooperstown pass in much the same way that he got that Cy Young Award: through a crack in a voting process. This is the most frustrating aspect of his election, and the one that calls the electorate into greatest question. What was acknowledged openly in the coverage of yesterday’s voting results was the idea that Sutter benefited from the lack of qualified first-ballot candidates. With no new players to vote for (Orel Hershiser led the way with 58 votes, and only two new candidates, he and Albert Belle, will make it back for another year), the voters changed the question from, “Is this player a Hall of Famer?” to “Who is the best player in this group?” That’s simply the wrong question to ask; this isn’t the MVP award, where you’re trying to determine a winner from among a field of candidates. This is the Hall of Fame, where the standards are set and it is entirely possible to have a year in which no one meets them.

If you look at the voting, though, you can see the shifted standard. Fourteen of the 15 returning candidates saw their vote totals rise in this election (Willie McGee being the understandable exception). The absence of new, highly-qualified candidates caused voters to lower their standards and drop votes on players who they normally would have ignored. That factor, and not some sudden collective reconsideration of Bruce Sutter’s career, is what pushed him over the top.

I think this is a huge hole in the process. Being a Hall of Famer should be about being one of the greatest players of all time, and even if the various Veterans Committees have screwed that standard up permanently, we should at least look to uphold the standard in the initial balloting. By electing Bruce Sutter just because he was the returning guy with the highest vote total, and there was no one new to vote for, the BBWAA has sullied the process and the honor.

...As I wrote the other day, in immortality, as in life, timing is everything.
Amen to that, Joe.

Silly fun with Photoshop in the service of an interesting concept at Baseball Prospectus. Not my idea, but I'm guilty of performing the execution.

Baseball Between the Numbers, the forthcoming non-annual book from BP in which I did a minor bit of glossary pinch-hiting, is now available for Amazon pre-order. It ships in the first week of March. Jonah Keri has the details here. Screw the haters, I think this will be a great book.

Meanwhile, the annual book ships in the last week of February, for those asking. I'm told that Fantasy Baseball Index will be available via Amazon as well, as it's been in the past.

• My Angels chapter for BP06 comes into focus much more clearly witth the news that Darin Erstad and his anemic bat are moving back to centerfield. Well, the bat probably won't be out there in center, that would be weird, dangerous, and probably illegal. But it's easier to stash a good fielder who's hit .274/.326/.374 over the past five years out there than at first.

The move gives Casey Kotchman his long-awaited entry into the lineup. It raises the question of where Chone Figgins plays; will he beat out Dallas McPherson -- an injury-riddled bust last year but a guy who can probably hit 30-40 homers in the near future -- at 3B? Will he move back to his natural position at 2B, thereby making Adam Kennedy expendable and keeping the seat warm for Howie Kendrick, a guy with a career minor-league batting average of .359? Will he push Erstad to the bench? I'm very intrigued to see how this plays out.

• Will Carroll, all 5'10," 230 lbs of him, is putting his money where his mouth is:
So I’ve decided to do what I should have been doing all along and combining it with my quest to bring out the truth – the real truth – about steroids and supplements. I would spend a year using the most advanced legal technology to bring my weight down, my strength up, my cardio to a solid level, and most importantly, prove that steroids aren’t needed to make the type of gains that we’ve all secretly wondered about.

I’ll take the next year of my life as a quest to do what I should have been doing all along – staying in shape – and also conducting a bit of an experiment. I’ll use what I’ve learned in researching steroids and supplements for good, not evil. I’ll have goals, talk to professionals, chemists, trainers, doctors, gurus, wackos, and whoever else could help this process along.

And I’ll write about it.

I’ll have goals for fat loss, weight, strength, power, cardiac endurance, and muscle building. I’ll guarantee that I won’t be a major league caliber ball player at the end of this, but I do think we’ll have a much better idea on what a world-class athlete with resources far beyond mine could do. I’ll be calling in favors, looking for suggestions, and in the end, I’ll succeed.
Best of luck with that, Will; it should make for a fascinating project.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Hey, Chatter Chatter!

The BBWAA voting results for the Hall fo Fame were announced on Tuesday, and contrary to many a pundit's expectations, one man gained entry. Bruce Sutter garnered 76.9 percent of the vote to become just the fourth reliever elected to the Hall. Goose Gossage, whom I've argued has a much better case, received 64.6 percent of the vote up from 55.2 last year and low-40s support for four years prior.

Jim Rice finished with 64.8 percent, Andre Dawson with 61. Bert Blyleven, another pitcher I've been stumping for, got 53.3 percent, up from 40.8 last year and 35 two years ago.

As disappointed as I am that the writers tabbed the wrong guy, I'm heartened by the surge in support Gossage and Blyleven have received. Besides Gil Hodges and those mentioned above, everybody who's gotten 50 percent of the writer's vote has gained election eventually. Next year is stacked with Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr., and Mark McGwire making their first appearances on the ballot, but 2008 offers "only" Tim Raines -- a personal favorite, but one who will need a Blyleven-type grassroots campaign to gain the vote. It's not too difficult to foresee Gossage slipping in on that timetable, unless he keeps shooting off his mouth about the results.

I hosted a chat on BP to chew on the results on Tuesday evening. The Hall was the prime topic, but it wasn't the only one. A few sample exchanges:
Nick Stone (NYC): To what degree does the selection of Bruce Sutter water-down HOF standards? Is his selection on par with some of the more egregious errors of the veterans committee? It would seem like this could open the doors to a flood of relievers. Or is this a time thing, the result of a weak ballot?

Jay Jaffe: It's tough to say that Sutter waters down the Hall standards for relievers, because with only three (or 2.5, if you account for the fact that Eckersley gets a big boost from the bulk stats of his career as a starter), there aren't really any standards yet. Sutter (49.9 JAWS) doesn't measure up to Fingers (61.4), to say nothing of Eckersley (87.1) or Wilhelm (70.3), that we know.

But there are a half-dozen pitchers with lower JAWS scores -- not a lot lower, but lower -- all elected by the VC, none of them relievers (Joss, Bender, Chesbro, Welch, Haines, Marquard). There are also eight hitters, all VC, with lower JAWS. S is this a travesty of that order? No.

I think Sutter's election is the result of a weak ballot, yes, and I do think it will open the gates to a trickle of relievers, not a flood. Gossage (64.6, up from 55.2 last year) will be in within a couple of years, I think. I don't see Lee Smith getting the same courtesy, nor John Franco. We may still be waiting for Mariano Rivera.

• • •

Brent (Raleigh): Do you agree that, from a PR standpoint, the best thing that could ever happen to an ex-player is to be right on the cusp of the HOF, but not quite? I mean, Gary Carter gets elected to the HOF and that basically does it for people reflecting about Gary Carter and his career. On the other hand, Burt Blyleven gets annual 1000-word articles written about him by sportswriters all over the country. Maybe being on the outside looking in isn't that bad...

Jay Jaffe: I disagree. Carter took six years to get voted in. I LOATHE Gary Carter, but never for a minute did I have a doubt while watching him play that he'd wind up in the Hall, and it sickens me to watch voters make players with his kind of credentials twist in the wind. He may not be foremost in the minds of the public now that he's in, but he's cast in bronze in upstate New York, and thousands of people get to read the words on his plaque every month.

I'm sure Blyleven would trade the thousand-word hosannas for votes and induction any day of the week. Not that the publicity isn't helping; he jumped to 53.3 percent this year from 40.8 last year and 35 two years ago.

• • •

dokomoy (Los Angeles): Has the HOF voters stupidity over the years cost the Hall any credibility? If so beyond making me the Final arbitrator of who gets in, what can be done to fix it?

Jay Jaffe: As I've said before, the BBWAA rarely gets it wrong in terms of electing somebody who's NOT worthy (Sutter's not their best choice, though). They generally err on the side of keeping reasonably worthy players out, leaving them for the Vet Committee to sweep up. The VC is where the problem has lain for a long, long time -- electing the wrong brother (Rick Ferrell, Lloyd Waner) or their cronies. Per JAWS, the 24 worst hitters in the hall and 13 of the worst 14 pitchers were VC selections.

Does that compromise their credibility? You'd think so, but the mainstream public seems to take the Hall at face value. As to what can be done, I think you're seeing it. You've got dozens of eloquent and largely web-based writers advocating for Blyleven and Gossage, and as a result, their vote totals have risen markedly over the last few years. the goal of JAWS is to identify and promote above-average HOF candidates so as to raise the standards of the elected. Is it having any impact? Not by itself, but I think it fits in well with the rest of what's going on online.

I think there's a generation of writers to whom any sabermetric evaluation of the Hall is lost. But the guys who are working their way towards that 10-year status which gets them a vote will be more receptive to seeing things in a different light. That won't undo the mistakes of the past, but may right a few wrongs, and make mistakes less likely.
There's plenty of non-Hall stuff to be had among my answers as well. Dodgers and Yankees and Angels.. and Red Sox and Brewers and Padres, oh my! Check it out.

Monday, January 09, 2006


Just When I Thought I Was Out...

One of the early defining moments of The Sopranos came in the series' second episode, "46 Long." In the back office of the Bada Bing, Silvio Dante, as played by Steve Van Zandt, does an animated impersonation of Al Pacino in The Godfather, to the amusement of his cohorts:

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!"

Having just barely started to glimpse daylight on my winter's worth of big writing projects, I had that line -- the rubber-faced Van Zandt's version of it, at least -- running through my mind the other night. Long story short, I accepted a call out of the bullpen to crank out one more team essay for Baseball Prospectus 2006, this on the Angels (having already done the Dodgers and Braves). Fortunately, I'm left with a pretty fresh set of notes from the ALCS Preview I wrote for BP, not to mention a thorough rundown of the team's hitters for my work at Fantasy Baseball Index. I should be OK, but if things are slow around here for another week, that's why.

In any event, I just want to remind everybody here that I'll be hosting another chat at BP on Tuesday, January 10, at 8 PM EST. My last chat set a BP record at three hours, 35 minutes, and while I have no intention of going that long this time around, I should be good for a couple of hours. The Hall of Fame voting results will be announced earlier in the day -- the reason I asked to host the chat in the first place, given my recent JAWS series -- and I'm sure we'll have plenty to chew on. Be sure to stop by (it's free) or submit a question beforehand.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Happy (Belated) New Year!

Yes, I'm back. Back in New York City after a week and a half in Salt Lake. Back to the high-bandwidth connection rather than a 56K modem I need to armwrestle my brother to access. Back to worrying about the health of my surgically-repaired right shoulder (more on that after the inevitable MRI). And with my various writing obligations more or less fulfilled -- except for a chronic, across-the-board 30 percent surplus of verbage that dogs everything I've submitted lately, likely leading certain editors to curse my very name -- hopefully back to a more orderly presence here at FI.

As I look back at 2005, I'm amazed at how far this site and its pilot came in a year. I found myself on TV and radio, turned up in an undergrad syllabus at Tufts, where I guest lectured, ran as the Hot Dog in the Miller Park Sausage Race, was published in not one but two books, as well as the New York Sun and Salon, and my name -- not always spelled correctly -- made its way into newspapers in Denver, Boston, and Pittsburgh. I celebrated ten years in the Big Apple and completed my first full year as a Baseball Prospectus author having created a successful, occasionally controversial, weekly feature in the Prospectus Hit List. I continued beating the DIPS, JAWS, Claussen and Stottlemyre war horses, and found myself with some legitimate paying work at year's end.

Oh, and somewhere in all of this I found time to marry a wonderful little gal who never fails to make me smile. The rest of the world may be going to hell in a handbasket (though the times, they are a-changin'), but it was a very good year here, and I want to thank everybody -- my readers, colleagues, editors, friends and family (y'all know who you are) -- who helped make it so special.

As I look to 2006, I'm struck by the fact that this site will celebrate its fifth birthday in April, a milestone that I suppose I'll mark in some fashion when the time comes. I'm not quite sure what the coming year will bring -- more than 71 wins for the Dodgers and a mixed reception for Johnny Damon in both Boston and New York is about all I'm prepared to wager on -- but if it's anywhere near as interesting as the last one, it should be worth a look here, so I hope you'll join the fun. Best wishes for happiness and health to all of you!


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]