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.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

 

Hey Chatter Chatter

Tuesday afternoon's BP chat was a big success; despite very little promotion on my part, I received over 70 questions and answered more than 40 of them over the course of three hours. Among the teams I covered were the Yanks (their decimated outfield and beleaguered pitching), Red Sox (their rotation and Manny Ramirez's place in history), Dodgers (their rookies and Odalis Perez's forwarding address), Mets (Aaron Heilman and Jose Reyes), Twins (their awful defense), White Sox (lucky?), Royals (their awfulness), Tigers (can they hold on?), the game's top GMs, its worst regulars, the fantasy realm and so on. The chat had something of a European flavor; judging by the bylines, I got questions from France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, and I can vouch for at least two of those as legit. It's very cool to have an international following.

A few of my better exchanges:
sanchez (santa barbara): When will Grady Little figure out that Jonathan Broxton is his best reliever? The big kid with the upper-80's slider shouldnt be pitching to the bottom of the order.

Jay Jaffe: I watched Broxton pitch last night against the Rockies and wow, that guy's slider IS nasty, plus he can flat-out Bring It.

It's very clear to me that Little likes Broxton, but it's important to remember that the kid has just 24.2 innings of big-league work under his amply-sized belt. What's impressive, even given the small sample sizes of this year's stint in LA and last year's is that he's not having the control problems he did in '05: 14/3 K/BB compared to 22/12 last year.

It's also important to remember that the last time the Dodgers got excited about a young reliever, they pitched his arm off. Yhency Brazoban is out with Tommy John surgery after less than two years in the bigs. I don't think the team wants to repeat that mistake.

The bottom line is that Broxton is on his way to being one of the Dodgers' go-to guys, and likely Eric Gagne's heir apparent. I think he'll be a part of whatever setup crew the team has going forward this year.

--

Zach Tavlin (Essex, Vermont): When is the Randolph/Minaya tag-team, in their infinite wisdom, going to wake up and move Heilman to the rotation? I guess it's sometimes hard to wrap your mind around the idea that having your good pitchers pitch more innings at the expense of bad ones leads to an increase in the number of wins attained. Heilman's peripherals indicate that he's the third-best starter on the Mets. Do you see this as a potential Ishii situation that will go on for far too long, or is this just another bout of easily corrected "Mets logic"?

Jay Jaffe: Multiple Heilman questions here. In fact, I think "Why isn't Aaron Heilman in the Mets rotation?" might be the most popular question in Big Apple baseball right now given the team's depleted starting corps.

The answer, as best I can tell based more on the opinions of others and less on having seen him pitch (I've only seen him for a few innings here and there), is three-fold:

1. The Mets have consciously built their bullpen into a strength by keeping Heilman in place.

2. Heilman's results as a starter (4.71 ERA, 7.3 K/9 last year) were inferior to those as a reliever (2.18 ERA, 9.2 K/9).

3. Heilman's repertoire isn't deep enough to withstand facing a hitter multiple times. He's got a decent, above-average fastball and changeup, but his split-finger has been described as "iffy," and his slider isn't loved by many. Given that a reliever can gain a few MPH because he doesn't have to pace himself as much, the fastball/changeup combo works well for Heilman as a reliever, but if he had to take a few MPH off he'd have less contrast in changing speeds, and diddn't have other effective pitches to fall back upon, that performance wouldn't carry over.

The bottom line, I think, is that Heilman has to show Randolph and Minaya that he's got an above average third pitch before they consider him for a rotation slot.

--

Nick (Currently Berlin, but back home to the EV soon): How likely is Pujols to snag the triple crown this year? What about breaking 73*?

Jay Jaffe: Berlin! I'm telling you, I'm HUGE in Europe.

I think Pujols has a better shot at 73* than he does at the Triple Crown; he's got substantial leads in homers and RBIs but his average is already outside the top 10, and that's tough ground to make up, particularly if you're less than 100% healthy and aren't likely to leg out too many infield hits.

I'd love to see him top 73*, of course, but that too requries staying healthy, and he's already had some back problems. That simply doesn't bode well no matter what kind of pace he's on.
On that latter question, Pujols' chase of the single-season home run record is the topic of a piece I'm working on for the New York Sun. I caught flak from one rather annoyed reader for affixing an asterisk to the number 73 (which I also did in this week's Hit List), but I'll maintain that the gripe is misplaced. I didn't put that asterisk there, Barry Bonds did. Bud Selig did. The owners and MLBPA did. It may be the major league baseball record for home runs in a single season, but the circumstances surrounding it are tainted enough by the weight of evidence that's been offered that I feel quite justified in referring to the record as a sham. Three quick points on this topic, then I'm back to work:

A) You've got a hitter who laid total waste to the record books between the ages of 35 and 39, a time when most ballplayers are in serious decline. Slugging .809 for four-year stretches (as Bonds did from 2001-2004) isn't only unprecedented, it's pretty much impossible given everything we know about baseball players and aging, particularly within the context Bonds did it, which included a ballpark which depressed homers by about 15 percent during the timespan in question.

B) You've got a warehouse full of evidence that Bonds used illegal performance-enhancing drugs (IPEDs), including leaked grand jury transcripts, taped answering machine messages, and the testimony of his ex-girlfriend. The evidence suggests he used them deliberately with the intent to undermine major league baseball's rules (however weak they were at the time) and federal laws.

C) Research that has been done (including my own) suggests that while IPEDs may not have had a huge impact on the statistics of the game during a time of rapid change that included new ballparks, expansion into more favorable hitting environments, interleague play, better conditioning, significant turnover in the ranks of umpires, and changes in the process of ball manufacturing, they very clearly might have had an impact in individual cases, particularly in the shattering of decades-old records that had withstood numerous challenges before such drugs appeared on the scene. None of the three sluggers who surpassed Roger Maris' record of 61 homers in a season during the 1998-2001 timespan has escaped speculation that they used IPEDs, but the one on whom we have the hardest evidence is the one still playing. So long as he holds the record, it's 73* to me.

Anyway... would that I had the time to lay out my notes from the past five Yankee games, including the Subway series and the first two games against the Red Sox at Fenway; I've also got a stack of notes regarding the Freeway Series, which the Dodgers swept from the increasingly inept Los Angeles Angels of Ineptitude, I mean Anaheim. With my Sun deadline and a long weekend trip looming, it looks as though I'll have to stash those notes for a rainy day.

For now, I leave you with a plaintive wail at the thought of ever having to watch Terrence Long play the outfield for any team I'm rooting for. In a discussion with a friend shortly after Hideki Matsui went down, I jokingly included Long among the worst-case scenario names the Yanks might obtain, but I was hardly surprised when the team inked him to a minor-league deal, then promoted him in short order. Like Jay Payton and Timo Perez (other names I inserted in this discussion), he's one of the least instinctive players I've ever seen, and his mental mistakes are impossible to forgive. Who can forget his misplay in the deciding game of the 2000 Divisional Series between the Yankees and A's, helping the Yanks to a 6-0 first-inning lead they narrowly maintained to advance? Long didn't drop any fly balls in his Yankee debut, but he made adventures out of fielding base hits and throwing to the wrong bases on Tuesday night, and I was relieved to find Bernie Williams playing the Green Monster last night. Yes, it's that bad.

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