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, June 28, 2006


Heavy Thoughts from a Different Time Zone

Things to write when you find yourself awake before 8 AM due to the time zone difference...

• I'm far from being the world's biggest Peter Gammons fan, but my thoughts and best wishes go out to Gammons, who underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm on Tuesday.

At 61, Gammons is no spring chicken, no matter how many attempts to be hip he makes by throwing rock references into his ESPN columns. I have no wish to kick the man while he's flat on his back, so I hope that this critique of him is taken in the positive spirit with which it's intended. My main issue with Gammons is that aside from pioneering the "Sunday notes" column format as a writer for the Boston Globe -- an innovation that's deservedly included in his J.G. Taylor Spink Award bio for the Baseball Hall of Fame -- he hasn't produced much work of lasting substance.

Gammons published a book, Beyond the Sixth Game, back in 1986. It's supposed to be a very good book, but it's out of print, and 20 years out of date. I've never read it and I bet you haven't either, but you've read Gammons' notes columns and watched him monger rumors on behalf of anonymous GMs on TV and in pixel form. The man loves the game and has his finger on its pulse, certainly, and he'll win any popularity contest among baseball writers in a landslide. But from where I sit he seems addicted to access, more interested in feeding our short attention spans by acting as a mouthpiece and a pawn for front office thought balloons, or simply stringing together tidbits from a notebook than as somebody who genuinely advances our baseball knowledge with his considerable talents.

I'm certain that were Gammons to take a break from the yenta hotline, he could produce a book -- an in-depth look at the state of the game or a particular aspect of it, a memoir of his life and times within it, what have you -- that would explain to people 50 years from now why the man was so highly regarded within the game. Buster Olney's got one, and even Bill Plaschke collaborated Dick Williams' memoir, fer chrissakes. This week's scare should serve as a reminder that Gammons may not have forever to do that. I'm reminded of a "Pinstriped Bible" column my good friend Steven Goldman -- himself a man who's had to meditate on mortality -- wrote two years ago on the sad occasion of the passing of Baseball Prospectus author Doug Pappas, who was just 43:
Last week, my colleague, and, as George Harrison once said of Bob Dylan, "a friend of us all," Doug Pappas passed away. For those readers of the Pinstriped Bible who have not heard of Mr. Pappas, he was our preeminent writer on the business of baseball. His deconstructions of baseball's often nefarious financial practices brought new transparency to the game. That he accomplished this from the outside, in the face of opposition from the game's management speaks to his intelligence, perceptivity, and diligence.

Doug made himself available to most anyone who wanted to tap his tremendous reservoir of knowledge, and his work was one of the direct inspirations for Michael Lewis' Moneyball, one of the most important baseball books of the last twenty years. For those who try to understand baseball in all of its compelling facets, not just the athletic and the strategic but also the economic and the political, the loss of Doug is an irreparable blow.

Doug Pappas was just 43. Lou Gehrig was not quite 38. Thurman Munson was 32. Addie Joss, the four-time 20-game winner for the Cleveland Indians, was 31. Ross Youngs, the great Giants outfielder, was 30. I am 33 and am a cancer survivor. The thing about being a cancer survivor is that it's not necessarily a permanent distinction. I hope to be able to wear that badge for a long, long time, but you never know. Sometimes the doctors say encouraging things about that, sometimes not.

We make our long-term plans and we hope for the best, not really knowing whether we'll be able to follow through. Doug thought he was going on vacation. Gehrig suited up for that last game on May 2, 1939, but he didn't get to play. In the end, not even he could count on that.

Work while you can, gather ye rosebuds while ye may, and never turn down a time at bat, for the night comes, and in this game, they don't play night games.
Goldman has since published a book on Casey Stengel, Forging Genius, and he's edited a couple more for Baseball Prospectus. He's the hardest-working writer I know (so hard that I even forgive his email lapses) as well as the standard-bearer for a generation of Internet-groomed baseball writers, and a genuine inspiration on both a personal and professional level. No matter what endeavor you choose, his words should be taken to heart.

I don't know if Peter Gammons has the faintest idea who Goldman is; I suspect he might, given that he's touted BP on a number of occasions (and don't think I don't appreciate how that's trickled down to help me). I wish him a quick recovery and more than anything else, a chance to heed Steven's words.

• I railed at the Philadelphia Phillies in this week's Hit List, and with good cause:
Brett Myers is arrested for beating his wife, but he can't beat the Boston Red Sox lineup he faces a day later. In putting the team's interest ahead of other concerns by allowing Myers to pitch, the Phils send a disgraceful message that trivializes a problem all too common among professional athletes, one that does far more harm to society than performance-enhancing drugs. Seriously, here's hoping the fine fans of Philadelphia shower Myers and the organization with the scorn and abuse they deserve, and that both Major League Baseball and the criminal justice system bring down the hammer on this thug.
The last line of what I wrote for this entry was understandably left on the cutting room floor: "Until they do that, the Phillies can phucking rot." Sorry to enter yet another soapbox derby, but this is an issue I feel very strongly about. More than any other transgression involving athletes -- steroids, hard drugs, even drunk driving --domestic violence gets short shrift; the police blotters are dotted with wife- and girlfriend-beatings on an annual basis, yet justice is rarely served because often these incidents take place without witnesses. Critics of my bitter obituary of Kirby Puckett liked to point out that Puckett was never convicted of a crime, but it's clear from his rap sheet that the man displayed a pattern of behavior in his private life that contradicted -- and to me, completely devalued -- his cuddly public image.

There were apparently plenty of witnesses to what Myers did outside of his hotel, allegedly hitting a woman half his size in the face with his fist two times and dragging her by the hair; charges were filed by the police, not the victim, meaning that this isn't going to fade away the way so many other domestic violence cases do.

I'm gratified to see the consensus among baseball writers is that Myers and the Phillies shit the bed on this one, big-time -- yes, their conduct is as foul and graceless as that metaphor. My Hit List entry linked to well-written columns by a pair of writers I normally disdain, the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy and the Philadelphia Daily News' Bill Conlin. Shaughnessy pointed out a useful precedent, citing the Sox benching and subsequent release of Wil Cordero, who hit his wife with a telephone, in 1997. Conlin wrote of the legacy of numerous Phillies players' brushes with the law that were ignored by the team: "No Arrest + No Witnesses + No Media = It Never Happened."

Another Philadelphia-based writer, ESPN's Jayson Stark, knocked the ball out of the park:
It's now four days since the arrest of Brett Myers after one of the most public, most witnessed and -- if all those witness accounts are accurate -- most reprehensible examples of spousal abuse I can ever remember an athlete being accused of.

But I'm still waiting (as is the rest of the planet) for some evidence that it has dawned on Myers, or anyone on the Phillies, exactly what a horrendous job he and the team have done of handling everything -- everything -- related to this incident since.

It seems clear now that Myers, who already has made one start since his arrest, is going to make his second Thursday in Baltimore. Bad idea. Really, really bad idea.

Yes, Brett Myers has legal rights, as a citizen and as a baseball player. Yes, his team and his sport have an obligation to let the legal system play out before they discipline this man.

But somebody needs to take charge of this situation. Somebody needs to sit down with Myers and make him understand the gravity of this mess.

Somebody needs to make him comprehend the irreparable damage he has a chance to do to his career if he really thinks the only thing he needs to say to the public is: "I gave it my all."

And once that sinks in (if it ever does), somebody needs to make him understand that he needs to miss a start -- or five -- to get his life together and to work on what really matters:

Demonstrating that he's a civilized human being who believes in treating the female half of the species with proper respect and decency.
Myers finally agreed to take a leave of absence through the All-Star break to deal with his situation, but the damage has been done. The Phils took four days to reach a conclusion that the rest of us reached in four seconds, reacting only when they were being all but burned in effigy. They get no points here.

And, on that note, neither do the Detroit Tigers, who are allowing Dmitri Young to proceed with a rehab assignment in Florida despite an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Michigan for failing to appear in court in conjunction with a domestic violence case of his own (he's "accused of choking a 21-year-old woman from Toledo on April 14 at a suburban Detroit hotel", according to the article). The two cases aren't parallel, but the Tigers appear to have their heads just as far up their asses as the Phillies do: "[Young's] lawyer, William Swor, and the Tigers have declined to comment about Young's whereabouts. Team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has said the arrest warrant would not affect Young's status with the team."

Dombrowski has done an admirable job of turning the Tigers around; they're atop the Hit List yet again this week. But his handling of this situation is giving the team, and the game, a black eye. Young shouldn't be allowed back on the field until his legal situation is sorted out, and the Tigers should be held accountable by the criminal justice system and Major League Baseball for failing to comply with that. If Bud Selig can be bothered to speak up about Ozzie Guillen's running off at the mouth, he should have the sense to confront a much more serious issue where The Right Answer is glaringly obvious.

• Mea culpa: I'm not sure what I was thinking when I wrote this week's Red Sox entry for the Hit List and counted David Ortiz's homer off of Tom Gordon in the 2004 ALCS as a walk-off. He did end the game with a walk-off hit, of course, but it was a single off of Esteban Loaiza. Consider me punch-drunk on that particular matter, I guess.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


You Know It's a Long Road Trip When...

You know it's a long road trip when you pack multiple throwback jerseys; I've got my Fernando Valenzuela Dodgers #34 and my Seattle Pilots Jim Bouton #56 in the suitcase as I light out for Seattle and L.A. for the better part of the next two weeks. Hope to see some of you at SABR!

The Hit List is here. I'll try to carve out some time for a few posts from the road...

Friday, June 23, 2006


Flipping Channels

It's been a busy couple of weeks here at Futility Central as I try to wrap up a major design project as well as keep up with my usual Baseball Prospectus writing flow before heading out of town. I leave on Tuesday for Seattle, where I'm spending a week centered around the annual SABR convention.

This will be my first one; I entertained the notion of going in years past, but with this one taking place in a city where my brother, two sets of aunts and uncles, and my wife's best friend and her family are all in the area, it made sense to turn it into a full-on vacation. The fact that Jim Bouton is the keynote speaker only adds to the reasons to go; it was on the same night I met Bouton five and a half years ago that the gal who's now my wife first staked her claim on my heart. Anyway, if any of you are going to SABR, I hope we can meet up. Look for the guy wearing the replica Pilots #56 jersey (Bouton's uni circa Ball Four). Email me for further details.

From Seattle, I'm headed down to Los Angeles, where, for the first time in my 36+ years, I'll finally get to attend a game in Dodger Stadium -- two in fact, courtesy of Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman, who's been clutch with the tickets. The Dodgers are playing the Giants, which means I'm packing my leather lung to scream tasteless epithets at Barry Bonds as women and children cower in fear. It may be L.A., but I'll show him the Bronx (just kidding, Jon -- I'll be on my bestest behavior).

So anyway, it's been ages since I rapped at ya, going all the way back to last Wednesday, just before I headed up to the Yankees-Indians game, where I missed the signature moment of Randy Johnson's ejection while making a beer run. Johnson came inside against nemesis Eduardo Perez a half-inning after Jorge Posada was plunked by Jason Johnson. He didn't hit him, but since both benches had apparently been warned, the Big Unit and Joe Torre got to take a powder. I heard the roar of the crowd as I was purchasing beers; by the time I got to the field, players, coaches, and umps were milling around on the field, sorting things out, and the crowd was chanting "Randy! Randy!" as if they were finally on the disappointing (5.32 ERA) Johnson's side. As I noted in this week's Hit List, the Yanks have been out-plunked by 14 hitters, the second-largest margin in the majors. With the lineup already decimated by injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield, and Derek Jeter having missed several games due to being hit on the hand, the Big Ugly finally stepped up to protect his teams. No beef there.

A few other moments stand out from the Yanks' 6-1 win. First was the dramatic contrast in treatments by the official scorer on potential hit/error rulings for Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. In the fourth, with Jeter at third, Jason Giambi on second and none out, A-Rod grounded to shortstop Jhonny Peralta. He looked to have beaten the throw, which was a bit high, but first baseman Ben Broussard bobbled it. Jeter scored easily. "Watch, they'll screw him," I said to my friend Nick about the decision on whether Rodriguez, in the midst of a 6-for-40 slump, would get a hit. Nope.

Jeter, on the other hand, reached on ball Broussard bobbled in the seventh. "How much you want to bet that's a hit? It's the Jeter Rules," I said to Nick. Sho' nuf, that's the way the official scorer saw it too. I've heard from numerous sources -- those in the press boxes, and those who work for teams -- that the Yankee official scorers are regarded as among the worst in the majors, and here was vivid proof. Pure horseshit.

Also, Andy Phillips seemed to be around a few big plays. In the third he hit a ball into the right-center gap, but Cleveland centerfielder Grady Sizemore laid out for it and made a beautiful diving catch to take away a sure double. In the sixth, Phillips exacted some revenge with a two-run homer to expand the lead to 6-3 shortly after Posada was hit. And in the ninth, Phillips dove over the rail, into the stands to nab Victor Martinez's pop foul ball for the final out -- one of the best game-ending defensive plays I've ever seen.

Johnson, of course, drew a five-game suspension for his efforts. That paled in comparison to his opposite number, Jason Johnson. Ineffective since being signed as a free agent this past winter (the loss took him to 3-7 with a 6.00 ERA), Johnson was designated for assignment following his next start, where he surrendered six runs (three earned) to the hapless (28th in this week's Hit List) Chicago Cubs. The Tribe subsequently traded him to Boston for a bucket of tobacco spit said to have been produced by Luis Tiant, if I'm not mistaken. Given the Red Sox's back-end problems, this could work out nicely for the Yanks.

• • •

Anyway, the aforementioned Hit List found the Tigers back on top, the Yanks third, and the Dodgers ninth. The latter are the subject of a piece I wrote (PDF here) for today's New York Sun about the influx of rookies that's arrived ahead of schedule to keep the team in the thick of the NL West race:
In early May they recalled Andre Ethier (acquired from Oakland for the controversial Bradley) to man their decimated outfield and Russell Martin to fill in for injured catcher Dioner Navarro (who, at 22, was starting his first full season). Both quickly made impacts. Ethier homered in his second big-league game, and a day later Martin stroked an RBI double in his debut, setting off a streak in which the Dodgers won 16 of 18 with him catching.

A week after Ethier's homer, a knee injury to Mueller forced the recall of Willy Aybar, who spent most of last season in Triple-A before hitting a torrid .326 AVG/.448 OBA/.453 SLG as a September call-up. This year, Aybar picked up where he left off, hitting safely in 20 of 21 games. By the end of May, the Dodgers promoted another outfielder, Matt Kemp; within a week of arriving, he'd homered in his first three games at Dodger Stadium, and through his first 18, had gone yard seven times.

The bullpen, where the once-elite Gagne has been sidelined again, has also been shored up by rookies. Gasthrowing, 288-pound Jonathan Broxton has become one of manager Grady Little's key setup men, while 36-year old Japanese League veteran (technically a stateside rookie) Takashi Saito is now closing due to Baez's struggles.

Even the rotation has gotten a shot in the arm, with Chad Billingsley, considered the system's crown jewel, debuting on June 15 with a 5.1-inning start in which he he allowed two runs while dazzling the Padres with a 96 mph fastball and a curve thrown for strikes when behind in the count.

The rookies are a big reason why the Dodgers are even contending in the NL West. Collectively, only the surging Marlins - amid a fire sale-induced youth movement that's seen as many as seven rookies playing at once - have gotten more production out of their freshman class. According to Baseball Prospectus's Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) metric - which measures a player's offensive or pitching contribution in runs relative to that of a freely available minor-leaguer or benchwarmer - Marlins rookies have accounted for a collective VORP of 106.4 runs, split about evenly between pitchers (57.3) and hitters (49.1). Dodger rookies have totaled 51.0 VORP (33.2 for hitters, 17.8 for pitchers), albeit in considerably fewer plate appearances and innings; only four other teams have topped 30.
The piece was accompanied by a table showing the contributions of the aforementioned rookies:

While I'm dishing out the numbers, here's the complete chart of the team-by-team rookie VORP totals referenced in the article; pitchers' hitting was not included in the offense totals, and a bug in BP's stat reports required me to add about a dozen rookies who recently debuted to the ones the database flagged. Numbers through Wednesday night, when I stayed up late to watch Chad Billingsley's start against the Mariners, hoping he'd live up to his debut and keep his VORP in the black. Billingsley had a so-so night. The M's fouled off numerous pitches, elevating the kid's pitch count; they walked four times and struck out only once but managed only two runs. The first came on a delayed double steal; Richie Sexson whiffed on a beautiful curve ball, but Russell Martin was completely buffaloed by Raul Ibanez bolting from first base, forgetting that Adrian Beltre was scampering off of third. Rookie mistakes. The second run was also odd. Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima hooked a ball down the leftfield line; the announcers (a Seattle crew, not Vin Scully) and cameramen thought it was a foul ball and cut away, only to be surprised when the ump signalled for an equally surprised Johjima to circle the bases for a solo homer. Raw deal. Anyway, the data:
Team   Hit  Pitch  Total
FLO 49.1 57.3 106.4
LAN 33.2 17.8 51.0
DET -4.8 54.7 49.9
PIT 10.7 27.2 37.9
TEX 10.5 24.7 35.2
MIN 4.1 27.5 31.6
WAS 4.0 22.1 26.1
SDN 7.0 16.8 23.8
MIL 21.3 2.3 23.6
BOS -2.3 24.6 22.3
SLN -2.1 23.5 21.4
ATL 10.8 5.5 16.3
COL 1.4 13.7 15.1
ANA 3.8 9.2 13.0
HOU 0.0 12.8 12.8
TBA 0.0 12.2 12.2
ARI 2.6 8.8 11.4
TOR -1.3 12.2 10.9
BAL -12.2 20.8 8.6
KCA 2.0 6.6 8.6
NYN -5.9 10.6 4.7
SFN -3.0 7.5 4.5
CLE 0.1 4.2 4.3
CIN 1.4 1.7 3.1
OAK 0.0 2.2 2.2
NYA -1.0 3.1 2.1
CHN 1.1 -1.6 -0.5
CHA -8.2 6.6 -1.6
PHI -3.5 0.5 -3.0
SEA 1.3 -4.7 -3.4
Notice that the Yanks have fallen below replacement level in the hitting department. Our new best friend Melky Cabrera fell on hard times in the form of an 0-for-14 slump, and is down to hitting .254/.355/.328 even after a couple of key hits in the Yanks last two wins over the Phillies. His VORP stands at -2.4; Phillips' is at -1.0 due to a putrid .278 OBP which offsets his marginally useful .431 SLG.

• • •

Weird night for flipping channels. I just missed Roger Clemens' season debut against the Twins and rookie sensation Francisco Liriano, tuning in right as Justin Morneau greeted perpetually craptastic Houston reliever Russ Springer with a 439-foot solo shot on his third pitch in relief of Clemens. So I turned over to the White Sox-Cardinals game, where rookie Anthony Reyes had taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning against a Sox team that had rolled up 33 runs in its previous two games against the Cards. Jim Thome came to the plate just as I arrived and on the first pitch he saw -- BOOM! -- 428 feet (you must check out the awesome Hit Tracker site, which logs the distance and conditions for every homer, and links to video). Bye-bye no-hitter, bye-bye shutout, bye-bye baseball. That was the only hit the Sox got, and it was enough for a 1-0 victory behind some pretty spiffy pitching by Freddy Garcia.

But I didn't stick around to watch much more of that, instead heading over to the Dodgers-M's game with Felix Hernandez on the hill for the latter. After a sensational debut as a 19-year-old (!) last year (2.67 ERA and 77 K's in 84.1 innings), "The King" has struggled this year to the tune of a 5.10 ERA. The Hardball Times' David Cameron pointed out a few weks ago that Hernandez has had some rocky beginnings due to a tendency to come out of the gate throwing nothing but fastballs; even with his 95-97 MPH heaters, he's been getting raked.

That wasn't the problem last night, but getting strike one was. Hernandez threw first-pitch strikes to the first four hitters, struck out J.D. Drew, Jeff Kent and Russell Martin in the second, and held the Dodgers scoreless through four innings as the the Mariners took a 2-0 lead. But he started falling behind hitters by the fifth and sixth; actually, after the first four, he'd thrown first-pitch strikes to just five out of 12 entering the fifth. The Dodgers rapped out three singles in the fifth, on 2-2, 2-0, and 1-0 pitches, then put together three more runs in the sixth courtesy of singles on 1-1, 0-0, 3-1, 1-1, and 1-0 pitches. In all, Hernandez managed just 13 first-pitch strikes to 29 hitters (counting Cesar Izturis, who was at the plate on an inning-ending caught stealing in the fourth and subsequently led off the fifth). That's not enough to get the job done. I wasn't keeping close track, but the guys at U.S.S. Mariner counted only two changeups in the fifth and sixth, and the aforementioned Felixologist, Mr. Cameron, logged this for how the Dodgers reached base:
Ethier, E-5, Fastball
Izturis, Single, Fastball
Lowe, Single, Fastball
Etheir, Single, Curveball
Martin, Single, Fastball
Furcal, Single, Fastball
Drew, Single, Fastball
Etheir, Single, Fastball
Izturis, Single, Fastball
Martin, Single, Curveball
Furcal, Single, Fastball

Can you spot the trend?
Cameron also noted that according to the TV radar guns, Hernandez never threw harder than 94 after the fourth. "He was sitting 93-94 in the 5th and 6th. Last year, he was consistently 96-98 even late in games. He rarely, if ever, hits 97 or 98 anymore."

It goes to show that just like the pretty girls at that age, young pitchers will break your heart.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Clearing the Bases -- Booked Edition

This week's Prospectus Hit List went up yesterday, with the Big Apple holding the top two spots. Fresh off a 6-1 week that included a four-game sweep of the Diamondbacks by a combined score of 37-9, the Mets top the list while the Yanks, who lost four straight from Thursday to Sunday, still had enough mojo to edge the Tigers for second.

The Diamondbacks are one of baseball's big stories right now, though not for on-field matters. Saving myself the trouble of rewording and relinking, I'll just pull from the Hit List:
Grim Reaper: a BALCO-related federal raid on the home of Jason Grimsley leads to the journeyman pitcher's admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs, highlighting loopholes in the current policy such as the lack of a test for Human Growth Hormone and setting the stage for a new phase in baseball's drug scandal. The news rocks the baseball world, particularly because Grimsley reportedly revealed to the feds names of other players who used (pdf); if the pattern holds, those names will soon be leaked to the public. Grimsley requests and receives his release as the Diamondbacks decide to withhold pay.
Grimsley, of course, is a former Yankee; he played on the 1999 and 2000 World Champions. But his time in New York is best remembered for a story he told New York Times beat writer Buster Olney about pilfering Albert Belle's corked bat from the umpires' dressing room while a member of the Cleveland Indians in 1994. At least superficially, the link between that incident and this is that it paints an image of Grimsley as a brazen journeyman willing to do just about anything to keep himself in the majors, whether or not the rule book allows it.

What's shocking isn't that Grimsley was using, however; of the 12 major leaguers who tested positive last year, six were pitchers and none of them stars. No, what's shocking is that he named names of other players he believed were using or supplied drugs. Those names were redacted in the affidavit that's circulating on the Internet, but given how consistently every other redacted name has been leaked to the media, it won't be long. Some big ones have already been bandied about, and I'm hearing even more jaw-dropping ones through the grapevine. You can bet that not only will Grimsley's names be out there, but also the names of the five to seven percent of players (60 to 84, by my math) who tested positive during the so-called anonymous survey testing from 2003. Those identities, which were supposed to be confidential, have long since been matched up with their samples.

Those names could come from all over the game; ESPN's Jayson Stark paints a chilling picture merely by retracing the pitcher's steps:
He connects the late 1980s, when steroid use was just getting trendy, to the post-testing age we now live in.

He played with the Phillies of the early 1990s, with a bunch of players who went on to become a major part of the worst-to-first saga of their 1993 World Series runner-up team.

He played with the Indians of the mid-'90s, on a team of mashers that eventually grew into the only club in the past 70 years to score 1,000 runs in a season.

He played with the Yankees of 1999 and 2000, teams that won back-to-back World Series.

And he played with the Orioles of 2004-05, with guys named Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa.

Not to mention the '96 Angels or the 2006 Diamondbacks, or the three teams (Astros, Tigers and Brewers) that dumped him without bringing him back to the big leagues.

So Grimsley's All-Teammate Team would go on longer than his federal affidavit. It would be a roster hundreds of names long -- many of them really famous names, players who have never been associated with any kind of drug use.
All in all, this is Bad News for baseball. Whatever the motivations of the media following the story, the rumors flying around indicate that the game is headed for another black eye and another public pummeling.

No matter where you stand on the issue of steroids within the game, you probably exhaled a sigh of relief when Barry Bonds hit his 715th home run, hoping that the soapboxes could be put away for awhile. Now, the issue will be with us right up through the negotiations of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement after the season. Any time that's brought up, we'll be reminded that the Players' Association will be pressed to make further concessions, to find a way to prove their members aren't using despite the fact that there's currently no reliable urine or blood test available. To prove the unprovable, in other words.

Congressmen and media will bloviate that Something Must Be Done. And they're right. If Congress wanted to do something about the issue rather than simply score points in the public while dodging the real needs of its constituency, they'd pour a reasonable amount of research money into the creation of a reliable test for HGH, and they'd force Major League Baseball to step up to the plate, too. Olney pointed out that MLB has committed only $450,000 over three years to finding such a test; relative to the industry's revenue, that's a pittance he likens to the price of a Happy Meal for someone making $30,000.

But no matter how much money is thrown at the issue, there won't be a test anytime soon, and holding the samples for later testing isn't going to edify anyone. Which means it's clear that the game is at something of a dead end when it comes to the issue. Some folks might downplay the problems in the sport and point to the steps that have been taken, but consider this: for whatever advances baseball can claim in the reduced number of positive tests (from that 5-7% of players in 2003 to 96 players in 2004 to 12 in 2005), the scandals that are rocking the sport center on the use of substances -- including designer steroids and HGH -- chosen to circumvent those tests. You can't count what you can't catch, and it's quite possible that there are dozens of players who've switched over to undetectables for every one who's been caught.

The unruly and often counterproductive noise that's emanating from so many fronts is in part a reflection of the frustration and powerlessness people feel as that likelihood dawns on them while they watch the sport take hit after hit. In the words of James Brown, "People it's bad."

• • •

Speaking of steroids, yesterday brought the news that Will Carroll's book, The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball's Drug Problems, was one of three books to receive The Sporting News-SABR Baseball Research Award to honor "those whose outstanding research projects completed during the preceding calendar year have significantly expanded our knowledge or understanding of baseball." I contributed a chapter to the book, and I'm delighted to be associated, even tangentially, with such an honor.

Carroll was in town on Monday, and in between entries for the Hit List, I spent about 90 minutes catching up with him while on a barstool at Mesa Grill; he knows one of the restaurant's co-owners, and the three of us were gabbing about the Grimsley news, player injuries, food, business and gambling for a nice, well-liquified little late-afternoon spell. He didn't receive the SABR news until he returned to Indianapolis, so I didn't get a chance to raise a toast then. I'll hoist one at Yankee Stadium tonight if it doesn't rain.

• • •

Continuing the Page Six theme, Carroll wasn't the only writer I caught up with recently. On Saturday, Andra and I dropped by Coliseum Books on the Forty-Deuce to see this month's installment of the SABR Baseball Book Club Meeting. Up first was Alex Belth, discussing Stepping Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players' Rights. Alex gave a well-polished 20 minute presentation on the book, tracing the narrative arc of Flood's career and his legal battle to challenge baseball's reserve clause. He did a great job of bridging the gap between Flood's unsuccessful Supreme Court case (filed early in 1970 and decided in '72) and the landmark "Messersmith-McNally" arbitrator's decision which opened the door free agency in 1975. The key, as former Executive Director of the Players Association Marvin Miller pointed out to Belth a few years ago was the education of the players and the creation of that impartial arbitrator position in the 1970 Basic Agreement; prior to that, players had no avenue for their grievances to be heard.

Following 15 minutes of Q&A, Belth yielded the floor to ESPN's Rob Neyer, in town to promote his Big Book of Baseball Blunders. Neyer, whom I'd met in the moments prior to Belth's presentation, seemed somewhat nervous as he took the stage; unlike Alex, he didn't have a structured presentation planned, so he simply jumped to the Q&A, where he quickly gained comfort. I can relate to that; as somebody who has shown a tendency to overprepare when I'm giving a speech, responding to questions almost automatically enables me to simplify my answers in a way that an audience can connect with much easier. Anyway, Neyer did a very good job fielding the questions; he comes off as very intelligent and genuinely confident without being full of himself. I don't read Neyer as often as I used to (he doesn't write as often as he used to), but there's little doubt in my mind I wouldn't have started this blog without him. His work at ESPN back in the late '90s brought me back to my Bill James days and pointed me over to Baseball Prospectus, and I've got a massive amount of respect for the way he was able to educate a generation of Net-savvy baseball fans to go beyond the AVG-HR-RBI triumverate when it comes to evaluating baseball statistics.

The event drew several other writers, many of whom I had the pleasure of chatting with afterwards. Baseball Prospectus' Rany Jazayerli, who has had a long-running dialogue with Neyer on the state of the Kansas City Royals, just happened to be in town this past weekend and dropped by. This was my first chance to meet him, and we talked about the year-long series of studies he did regarding baseball's amateur draft. My BP cohort, Steven Goldman, was in the house, as was's Jacob Luft; carrying over a discussion from the night Hideki Matsui got hurt, we talked about a research idea he suggested on the recent futility of the Designated Hitter and the latest chapter in Josh Beckett's struggles (Luft linked my Beckett-related data for a recent piece; thanks, Jake!). Another participant in that ill-fated Matsui gathering, Yanksfan vs. Soxfan's Mark Lamster, was also in attendance, giving me the opportunity to congratulate him on a nice review in The New York Times for his book, the wonderful Spalding's World Tour: The Epic Adventure That Took Baseball Around the Globe -- and Made It America's Game. Lamster and I pledged to bend elbows at the SABR convention in Seattle later this month.

Neyer introduced me to Josh Prager, who in a Wall Street Journal article five years ago set the baseball world on its ear when he revealed that the 1951 New York Giants' miraculous comeback which culminated in Bobby Thomson's famous home run was fueled by an elaborate system of stealing signs (Neyer covered the revelation back then for ESPN). Five years later, Prager finally has a book, The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World, due this fall. Prager, Neyer, Luft, Goldman and I were part of a group of ten people who went to John's Pizzeria after the event, where I sat next to Scott Gray, author of The Mind of Bill James, a book I've heard about but have yet to lay my hands on.

Anyway, it was a hell of a time talking to all of these writers, and it reminded me more than ever that I've got to get my act together and work on getting a book of my own out there. Once I clear my plate of the big design project I've been filling my days with, I may have to carve out a chunk of time even if it's at the expense of this blog. Because damn it, some day I want to be the guy on that stage at Coliseum Books; I've been there and done that as part of the BP team, but a book of my own is the next frontier.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


"They Buried Me on That Game"

Yesterday an article of mine on the untimely passing of former MLB ump Eric Gregg -- who died Monday at the age of 55 following a massive stroke -- went up at Baseball Prospectus. I'd written a short paragraph about Gregg in this week's Hit List, but when my editor, John Erhardt, suggested cutting a couple of lines because I didn't have room to expand on a particular assertion, I offered to bang out a quick piece once I got back from my Boston trip.

Gregg, of course, was the instantly recognizable, ebullient but grossly overweight National League umpire who became the men in blue's biggest celebrity. His struggles with obesity transcended the sport. Unfortunately, they can also be seen as part of the undoing that led to him losing the job he loved so much.

The assertion in question was that it can be argued that Gregg and the rest of baseball might have been better off if Game Five of the 1997 National League Championship Series hadn't occurred. That's the game where Gregg's extra-wide strike zone helped Marlins rookie Livan Hernandez strike out 15 Atlanta Braves, many on pitches that appeared six inches off the plate. The Marlins' saga, from their unlikely championship run to their first fire sale to the protracted stadium battle which still hasn't been resolved might have unfolded differently; for all we know the Expos might still be in Montreal and the Red Sox still without a championship if owner Wayne Huizenga hadn't sold out to John Henry the following year.

Furthermore, Gregg, already on thin ice due to his high-profile (or some would say wide-profile) weight issues, wouldn't have had such powerful ammunition to be used against him when he played a part in the ill-fated umpire resignation of 1999. Fifty-seven umpires resigned on the advice of Major League Umpires Union president Richie Phillips, and while most quickly rescinded their resignations when MLB called their bluff, Gregg's was accepted. Nine out of 22 umps whose resignations were accepted were rehired after an arbitration process; he wasn't among them, nor was he rehired via a later settlement. He did belatedly receive $400,000 worth of severance pay and health benefits, but only after five years of sporadic employment and a bit of public ridicule for his inability to move on with his life.

The Marlins' component of the argument is admittedly a bit of a stretch, but the link between that fateful game and Gregg's demise seems pretty clear. In a Players' Association poll the next year, Gregg finished second-to-last among NL umpires in an eight-category poll of players, coaches and managers. "They buried me on that game," Gregg would later say, and this week those words took on a chilling weight of their own. My first reaction was to recall "the enduring image... of Gregg punching out a seemingly endless succession of bewildered hitters while hamming it up like Leslie Nielsen behind the plate in The Naked Gun," as I wrote in the article.

Here's the piece's conclusion:
From a public standpoint, Gregg never did get a chance to write another chapter to his short life, so we're left with an image of a man who struggled with his weight, wasn't particularly good at his job, received some terrible advice from his boss and lost that job, never got back on his feet, and died young -- a grossly unfair reduction. Reading various obituaries, one comes away with the impression that Gregg's peers--fellow umps, players, managers (even Cox)--held him in high esteem, and his family loved him dearly. Son Kevin Gregg (not the pitcher), in talking about his father as his inevitable final hours unfolded, painted a portrait of a hard-working, well-liked man who overcame many obstacles as he rose from humble origins to make the major leagues, a success story just like many a ballplayer.

As fans, we sometimes have a tendency to reduce players players to the sum of their stats and forget the human side, but as often as we bust on the incompetence of Neifi Perez or Aaron Small, we're not impugning these players' personalities, just their performances. Umpires don't have stats (well, they do, but parsing them is another story) and there's a temptation to see them as interchangeable, particularly with the amount of turnover seen in recent years. They've become anonymous autocrats, and we gripe about their performances even as technologies like Questec squeeze their authoritah. Many of them are still just as belligerent as the rank and file appeared to be when Phillips marched them like lemmings into the sea. For whatever his shortcomings, Eric Gregg was different than that. Rather than being buried for his role in one game, he should be remembered as the all-too-human face of the men in blue.
As testament to the positive aspects of Gregg's life, the man was remembered on Friday in an upbeat memorial service in Philadelphia:
Bill White, the former major-league player who was NL president during part of Gregg's 23 years as an umpire, called Gregg a pioneer in the game.

Gregg, known for his rotund build and his big laugh, umpired his first major-league game in 1975, becoming the third African American to do so.

"I've been to a few celebrations of life," White said. "Jackie Robinson, Elston Howard, Junior Gilliam, John Roseboro, Curt Flood, Larry Doby. They were all pioneers. And we're here today to celebrate another pioneer. Eric Gregg wasn't the first black umpire, but he was the most flamboyant."

Marty Appel, the former New York Yankees public relations executive who cowrote Gregg's autobiography in 1990, described Gregg as the "most famous umpire in baseball history."

"Eric saw baseball the way it's supposed to be, in its truest form -- fun and entertainment," Appel said. "He never lost that spirit, whether he was dancing with the Phillie Phanatic or going toe to toe with Tommy Lasorda."

...Everyone had an Eric Gregg story. White told of how he entered the umpires' room shortly after an earthquake hit San Francisco before Game 1 of the 1989 World Series. He looked around the room and saw just five of the six umpires.

"Where's Eric?" White asked.

Someone pointed downward.

"Eric was under the (buffet) table, and every few minutes this big hand would come up and grab a shrimp," White said.
It's certainly sad to see the man go, but I'm gratified he got the sendoff he deserved. He truly was larger than life.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Jay Tee Vee

My trip to Boston to appear on the Boston Globe Sports Plus pregame show on NESN went off without a hitch. I spent about eight hours riding the rails through a rainstorm for what turned out to be about 10 minutes of air time with host Bob Neumeier. The performance -- my first in-studio TV appearance ever (the other one was a remote setup that was rather disorienting) -- went well; Neumeier is a big Baseball Prospectus fan as well as an engaging host, and we had plenty to talk about. Producer Alan Miller chauffeured me from South Station to the studio and made sure a cab was waiting to return me so that I could hightail it back in time for Wednesday night's game at Yankee Stadium. The only problem, of course, was that the game was rained out.

Still, I think the effort was successful. I spent all day Tuesday doing research for my spot, and I had the heavy machinery of BP at my beck and call. Keith Woolner pulled a complicated data query for me at a moment's notice. A sleep-deprived Kevin Goldstein called me an hour before his big event of the year, the amateur draft, to brief me on Sox prospects who might be traded this summer; this is akin to receiving a call from Santa Claus as he finishes loading up his sleigh and leaves the reindeer idling in the driveway. Peter Quadrino grabbed a bunch of data for me as I jotted quick player blurbs, built spreadsheets and compiled about 25 pages of printouts on various sabermetric angles related to the Red Sox. I was overprepared; I had about 10 times the material I needed for my segment. I upped that quotient by checking in with my pal Nick Stone back in "the studio" in New York City as I rode up to Boston, asking him to pull a few numbers from updated stat reports for me, and with Will Carroll, asking him about the health of David Ortiz, who has looked uncharacteristically sluggish against the Yanks lately. Tuesday's solo homer notwithstanding, Ortiz is down 30-60 points in his rate stats and looks as though he's getting fewer singles, an early warning sign, perhaps, of what I'll call Frank Thomas Syndrome.

For those who've never seen it, Sports Plus is a half-hour pregame show that re-runs after the game as well. The episode's first guest was Globe writer Bob Hohler, who talked about Tuesday night's result (about which let me just say, "GOT MELK?"), and then they cut away to my favorite Red Sock and the night's probable pitcher, Curt Schilling, as he did an interview from Yankee Stadium. Somewhere in the studio, eyes rolled. And not just mine.

I did three segments with Neumeier. Clips of two of them in their entirety can be found at the show's site. In "Sox lacking in run differential" (as the first one is titled), we kicked around -- you got it -- the Sox's mediocre run differential, (+27 runs, compared to +30 for the Cleveland Indians, four and a half games worse in the standings, and +77 for the Yanks). I had a lot of nervous energy going against me, more cups of coffee than hours or sleep the night before. I stammered a bit, plus I wasn't sure where to look; I finally figured out that looking at the host was a safe bet.

The second segment began with an examination of the lackluster performance of the Sox's 3-4-5 starters (Josh Beckett -- statistically worse than Tim Wakefield by our definitions -- Matt Clement, and Lenny DiNardo, subbing for David Wells and lately replaced by David Pauley). The data Woolner pulled was interesting enough to run here:
TEA  GS   ER    IP     IP_ST   ERA    VORP  SNLVAR  E_W     E_L
DET 32 83 194.3 194.3 3.84 46.8 5.65 13.6 9.2
SDN 27 78 176.0 165.3 3.99 30.6 4.11 10.7 9.3
LAN 28 77 161.3 157.3 4.30 19.9 3.21 10.4 8.7
COL 30 94 185.0 185.0 4.57 22.2 1.99 11.2 11.1
NYN 21 57 111.0 111.0 4.62 14.7 2.29 7.1 5.5
OAK 23 82 152.3 138.3 4.84 18.0 2.62 7.6 8.7
SFN 29 92 169.3 167.3 4.89 10.8 1.82 9.9 9.8
CHA 33 115 210.7 210.7 4.91 32.3 3.80 12.4 12.7
SLN 36 123 225.3 225.3 4.91 11.5 2.45 14.0 13.6
SEA 35 117 212.0 212.0 4.97 20.8 3.08 12.4 13.7
ARI 31 96 173.7 171.7 4.98 10.3 2.41 10.5 11.1
WAS 29 99 176.3 176.3 5.05 4.7 1.60 9.5 10.8
NYA 32 107 188.7 186.3 5.10 15.6 2.70 10.5 12.8
MIL 23 77 134.7 134.7 5.15 2.9 1.12 6.5 10.4
ATL 29 92 159.7 154.3 5.19 -7.6 0.55 8.6 12.1
ANA 26 99 169.0 150.7 5.27 8.7 1.01 7.5 12.1
PIT 35 110 187.7 186.7 5.28 -0.6 1.57 10.7 14.5
TEX 27 88 147.3 147.3 5.38 14.3 2.16 8.4 10.9
CIN 27 91 149.3 148.3 5.48 -4.2 0.61 8.3 10.8
CLE 34 118 193.7 193.7 5.48 8.3 1.92 10.4 13.8
HOU 32 126 193.0 184.3 5.88 -5.8 1.55 9.8 13.7
FLO 27 99 147.0 147.0 6.06 -13.2 0.83 7.3 12.4
CHN 22 90 133.0 118.3 6.09 -5.4 0.78 6.1 10.4
TBA 32 119 175.7 173.7 6.10 -1.1 2.33 8.5 14.1
BOS 28 106 156.0 150.7 6.12 -0.3 1.75 8.4 12.6
TOR 31 107 157.3 157.3 6.12 0.1 0.94 8.9 11.9
PHI 30 120 170.3 160.0 6.34 -13.2 0.19 7.6 14.7
BAL 35 143 191.0 190.0 6.74 -20.4 0.02 7.7 16.8
KCA 24 97 117.3 116.3 7.44 -18.9 -0.26 5.8 11.2
MIN 26 121 145.3 138.3 7.49 -24.7 -1.04 4.5 15.3
The statistical categories, left to right: Games Started, Innings Pitched, Innings Pitched in Starts, ERA, Value Over Replacement Player (in runs; this includes all of these pitchers' innings not just starts, hence the two inning categories), Support Neutral Lineup Adjusted Value Above Replacement (in wins), Expected Wins and Expected Losses.

Through Beckett's pummeling on Monday, the Sox contingent ranks 25th out of 30 in ERA, 19th in VORP, and 16th in Support-Neutral Yadda Yadda. As I pointed out on the show, those starters' ERA is nearly a run higher than their Yankee counterparts, and they combine for just a 40 percent expected winning percentage (the Yanks are at 45 percent). That's just not getting it done, and the Sox will need to hope that Beckett (5.27 ERA and 2.0 HR/9) and Clement (6.68 ERA, 4.75 BB/9) can sort themselves out while the team patches its number five starter spot.

Pauley, who gave the Sox a stellar 6.2 inning performance on Tuesday night, only to make a critical non-play that helped turn the Yankee lineup over and score the go-ahead run (woe to thee who turneth the Yankee lineup over), isn't expected to be that #5; Hohler poo-pooed that notion in the segment preceding my appearance. The theory Kevin Goldstein fed me is that Pauley's being showcased for a summer trade because the Sox don't want to lose their top prospects such as Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia. The fact that many of their top prospects are 2005 draftees who can't be traded until a year after they signed -- Craig Hansen among them -- means that the team has to find viable talent they can afford to part with.

As to who they might acquire, I broke the pitchers into three categories: pending free agents on contenders, pending free agents on non-contenders, and non-free agents. The first group consisted of Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt, and Andy Pettitte, none of them guaranteed to be available but all of them with reasons they could be. My pet(titte) theory is that with the Astros now on the hook for $12 million or so for the freshly-inked Roger Clemens, and staring at the possibility of no relief on the Jeff Bagwell insurance claim, they may be looking for ways to shed salary if they fall out of the running. On the previous episode of Sports Plus, Neumeir had been pimping the pipe-dream that Clemens would be traded to Boston, but I think the 'Stros might try to move Andy Pettitte and some of his $17.5 million deal. Pettitte isn't pitching well (6.03 ERA, 1.5 HR/9) in part due to bad luck (.359 BABIP) and he may not be ideal, but he'll be a name that's out there, and the dude has some big game experience under his belt.

For pending free agents on non-contenders, the big name out there was Greg Maddux, who's suffering through a Cubs deathmarch that now includes "The Keystone Combo That Hell Forgot" (as I called it in this week's Hit List) of Tony Womack and Neifi Perez. If he's willing to be traded (he doesn't have a no-trade clause, but the Cubs would almost certainly extend him the courtesy of deciding his fate), he's the biggest name of the bunch. The Dodgers are rumored to be warm for his form, and if it comes to that they've got a passel of prospects the Sox simply can't match. I offered the names of some bargain basement guys who come with question marks, including oft-injured former Sox prospect (and former Yankee draft choice) Tony Armas Jr., now pitching for the Nationals, and pitching well (3.34 ERA, 16.9 VORP, the latter 33rd in the majors).

The third group, non-free agents, included the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis, who got off to an awful start due to mechanical problems but has recently righted himself, and the Nats' Livan Hernandez, who's not pitching so well (5.16 ERA) but has a proven big-game pedigree. Willis, if you believe the Marlins brass -- and lord knows, why would you? -- is supposedly not available despite the team's fire sale from last winter. Hernandez will almost certainly be available in the Nats' midsummer swap meet.

(Of that whole block, from the 3-4-5s onward, only the pending free-agent contender portion made it up onto the website -- via the "What pitchers might be available?" link -- because video footage of various pitchers was interspersed, footage Sports Plus doesn't have the right to redistribute on the web. Hopefully I'll be getting a copy of the show so I can see how it came out and perhaps share with those interested.)

The show's final segment ("Sox face 54.5 percent playoff odds" on the web) was a look at Baseball Prospectus' Postseason Odds report, which on Wednesday morning showed the Yankees with a 77 percent chance of making the playoffs and the Red Sox with just a 54.5 percent chance, still making them the Wild Card favorites. Neumeier asked me to explain this, and after mentioning run differentials and the Yanks' 1.5 game lead, I made the mistake of trying to explain the damn report, which is done by running a Monte Carlo Simulation of the rest of the season one million times. When I broke out that term, Neumeier gave me a ya-gotta-be-kidding-me ribbing, something about how it's only a half-hour show and we don't have time to explain the nuts and bolts of it, kid. D'oh.

In any event, the show was fun as hell to do, even if I did spend a total of 13 hours door-to-door in the service of just 10 minutes of air time, a good chunk of it I've yet to see. Thanks again to NESN, Neumeier, and Miller for having me on, and to my BP team and Nick for all their help in making me look much smarter than I am.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Hey, New England!

I missed the heavy damage the depleted Yankees inflicted on Josh Beckett and the Red Sox last night, forced to follow the game via ESPN GameCast and then the radio while I finished this week's Hit List and endured my wife and her friend watching the series finale of "Everwood." By the time I made my way to a bar to escape the teen drama treacle, the Yanks were silently putting across the last of their 13 runs, and it wasn't until the postgame show where I got to see and hear about the big blows.

Speaking of which, it was most gratifying to see the two Yankee rookies I highlighted in this week's Hit List continuing to contribute; the Yanks have now won 10 of their last 13 at a time when players are dropping like flies. First, the increasingly lovable Melky Cabrera (hitting a downright useful .295/.380/.364 since being recalled) scored the game's first run on a play straight out of Little League. In the first inning, the Jason Giambi shift was on with Cabrera on first following a fielder's choice. Beckett threw a wild pitch which Sox catcher Jason Varitek hurriedly threw into right centerfield. Cabrera hauled ass for third base, and when he realized Varitek was covering the bag in the absence of any other soul on that side of the diamond, beat him home in a footrace to give the Yanks the early lead.

In the second inning, Andy Phillips blasted a three-run homer to put the Yanks ahead 4-2 and start off their seven-run frame. Phillips hit .462/.448/.731 last week and has now racked up 14 hits in the last seven games, including homers in three of the last four. In the face of the likely end of Gary Sheffield's Yankee career, his productivity enables the Yanks to keep the DH slot open for Jason Giambi while shunting Bernie Williams to rightfield, where for the short term he's at least preferable to the execrable Terrence Long.

Here's what Will Carroll had to say about Shef in yesterday's "Under the Knife":
The injury to Gary Sheffield is devastating. I dug and dug to get the information on what was actually going on with Sheffield, knowing that while the Yankees were not lying about the injury, they weren’t giving anyone the whole story. Just as I was putting the pieces together, having two of my best advisors pointing me in what was the correct direction, Sheffield’s wrist made my work moot. Sheffield’s injury was not a bruise or a fracture, but a soft tissue injury. The torn ligament and translocated tendon have only an outside chance of repairing themselves without surgical intervention, but the chance that they could -- along with the timetable of surgery -- means it makes sense to wait. If Sheffield had surgery now, he wouldn’t be back in time for the playoffs and waiting a month just pushes it a bit further into the off-season. Yes, you’ll note that if he waits that will possibly affect him next season, but that’s not really the Yankees' concern given his contract situation--or is there some handshake agreement that helped Sheffield stay patient on the chance he gets better? We don't know. Sheffield has a small chance of avoiding surgery, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
Ugh. The Yanks simply won't be the same without the Bad Mofo in the #3 slot, threatening to kill Larry Bowa with every swing of the bat.

A quick note to those of you who can get the New England Sports Network. Via my Baseball Prospectus connection, I'll be on the Sports Plus pregame show for Wednesday evening's Red Sox-Yankees game (I think it airs at 5:30 and then again at 11:30, if I'm looking in the right spot on the website and you may even be able to see it through the miracle of the Internet). Rumors that I'll be reading my epic poem "1,918 reasons I Hate Curt Schilling" while scratching myself like an ape are totally unfounded; I've been asked to prepare some talking points regarding starting pitchers the Sox might trade for to prop up their shaky rotation. I've prepped my list of about a dozen, including the big names like Barry Zito, Greg Maddux and Dontrelle Willis, but I'm interested to see if you readers might toss me a name I hadn't considered, so please feel free to brainstorm in the comments section.

I'm taping the show in the early afternoon, then hauling ass back to New York because I've got a ticket to the Wednesday night game. Barring a rain delay I won't make first pitch, but I'll be in the House That Ruth Built to cap a whirlwind day. Should be exhausting, but a ton of fun!

Friday, June 02, 2006


Back In Blue

The thing about Barry Bonds that I absolutely hate so much I want to chew out his eyeballs... oh, wait, we're retiring that meme for another 39 home runs. Rats...

Instead I'll turn my attention to a team I haven't had much time to write about this year, the Dodgers. I did a little thing on them for today's Prospectus Notebook. They're currently 31-23, a half-game out of first place in the surprisingly strong NL West, where all five teams are above .500; recall that last year, the Padres won the division with an 82-80 record while everybody else finished below .500. What a difference a year makes.

I was surprised to find that the Dodgers -- despite all their injures, the latest of which claimed Jeff Kent -- are leading the NL in scoring (5.49 runs per game; all stats through Wednesday), On Base Percentage (.359), Equivalent Average (.276) and run differential (+61). One of the keys has been the contributions of their rookies, particularly catcher Russell Martin (.253/.345/.387 after a slump), Willy Aybar (.327/.448/.491, reprising his hot cup of coffee last September), Andre Ethier (.324/.395/.577 for the bounty of the Milton Bradley trade) and Jonathan Broxton (16 IP, 1.13 ERA, 11.25 K/9). My notebook piece focused on what they'd done and where they fit in with the team's future.

One interesting facet that I neglected to mention is that of that quartet, only Aybar has more than about a month of Triple-A experience. That speaks to how little was expected of them this year, and it also points to one thing I've been harping upon: the team needs to get its Triple-A club out of Las Vegas, because the Coors Field-type environment does their prospects no favors. Paul DePodesta aside, the Dodgers never appear to have been particularly savvy when it comes to sabermetrics; even the basics of adjusting for park have seemed beyond them when it comes to a legacy of failed prospects who put up hot stats in Albuquerque (Greg Brock, Franklin Stubbs... don't even get me started). As it is, the crown jewel of the system, pitcher Chad Billingsley, is faring reasonably well in Vegas. He's got a 4.22 ERA but has struck out 68 hitters in 59.2 innings, while allowing just seven homers. That's pretty impressive, considering how often balls fly out of the yard.

Watching a bit of the Dodgers' 7-2 win over the Phillies last night, I got glimpses of two more of their vaunted rookies, neither of whom I could squeeze into the piece before it ran. Matt Kemp, up from Double-A since the weekend, pounded his first major-league home run in the second inning, a shot off the leftfield foul pole. That was just before I tuned in, but I did see the highlights several times. Later in the game, Joel Guzman (promoted that day to replace Kent on the roster) made his major-league debut, grounding into a double play in his only at-bat. Guzman, a 6'6" behemoth, was converted from shortstop to leftfield this spring, and some of the shine has come off of his prospect status. Lately, the team has been trying him out at third base and first, two positions he's dabbled at in winter ball and in the minors. He'll see some time at the hot corner, with Aybar, who had been subbing for Bill Mueller, shifting over to second. That could mean a team with as many as five rookies among their eight position players.

All in all, it's an impressive troupe that's quickly making the Dodgers one of the best stories of the season. It's possible that the crown jewel, pitcher Chad Billingsley, will get his shot soon as well. New GM Ned Colletti will get the credit if they win, just like Paul DePodesta got credit for winning in 2004 with a team largely built by his predecessor, Dan Evans. But the real star is Logan White, the team's Director of Amateur Scouting. Aside from Ethier, who came from the A's system, these rookies are his babies.

Not that Colletti's job should be overlooked. He's gotten some stellar contributions from a few of the free agents he signed over the winter. Not so much from others, but none of them broke the bank:
                   AVG   OBP   SLG   EqA   VORP
Rafael Furcal .260 .339 .335 .246 2.3
Nomar Garciaparra .360 .421 .625 .336 20.6 (#1 on team)
Kenny Lofton .312 .377 .420 .289 12.5 (#2 on team)
Bill Mueller .252 .357 .402 .268 1.5

Brett Tomko 63.7 4.38 0.9 5.2
Aaron Sele 32.7 2.20 1.4 13.3 (#3 on team)
Yes, that's the official Yankee whipping boy, Aaron Sele. In the latest sign of the apocalypse, he's given the Dodgers six straight quality starts and a microscopic ERA. It probably won't last -- we're talking about a guy whose past three ERAs are 5.77, 5.05, and 5.66 -- but he's given the team a big boost while Odalis Perez has earned a trip to the bullpen.

Some late info pertinent to the injury situations which put these rookies on the hot seat comes from the team's official site:
More injury update: [Manager Grady] Little said Mueller is healing "slowly" from May 16 right knee surgery, which can be interpreted to mean the five-week prognosis for his return might have been overly optimistic. Mueller, 35, has had three operations on that knee. Mueller, who has been recovering at home in Arizona, is scheduled to have the knee evaluated by Dodgers doctors Friday.

Catcher Dioner Navarro began hitting off a tee Thursday with his healing bruised right wrist, but outfielder Ricky Ledee had a "setback" with his pulled groin muscle and will receive a cortisone injection Friday. Jason Repko still has a sprained ankle in a cast, so he's probably a month away. And Little said there was nothing new with Werth. "
The biggest injury-related news for the Dodgers yesterday, bigger than Kent even, was the activation of Eric Gagne. He didn't pitch, but when Tim Hamaluck began frittering away the team's 7-0 lead in the ninth, the goggled one began warming up, and you could see that the focus of the remaining fans shifted from the field to the bullpen. Nobody knows what Gagne has in store after 16 months of elbow woes that included two surgeries and just 13.1 innings pitched, but it was a true blue goosebump moment nonetheless, and I'm glad I got to see it.

Back (I hope) with something on the Yanks tomorrrow...


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