The Futility Infielder

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

Friday, 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.

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