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, July 31, 2006


Slam Dunk

Nothing to say but WOW as to the Yankees' acquisition of Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle from the Phillies for four Yankee minor leaguers, none of them top-shelf,, the most familiar of which are C.J. Henry, the team's #1 pick in 2005, and 27-year-old LOOGY Matt Smith, who hadn't allowed a run in 12 innings while riding the Columbus shuttle eleventeen times. For whatever his power outage -- he hasn't homered since June 13 and has just eight on the year -- Abreu carries a career .412 OBP (31 points higher than Bernie Williams, the man whose at-bats he'll be usurping in the short term). That will fit in marvelously with the Yankee offense, no matter what kind of logjam it creates when (if?) Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield return (the latter can kiss his chances of having his option picked up by the Yanks goodbye, but that's a story for another day).

The real slam dunk for the Yanks is that they dodged having to pick up Abreu's $16 million option for 2008, something Abreu's agent said would likely be necessary to waive his no-trade clause. The Phillies bought out Abreu's no-trade for the meager sum of $1.5 million, with the understanding that the Yanks aren't picking up the option and will instead pay his $2 million buyout. Pennies on the dollar, kids.

The other major facet of this trade is that no matter how mediocre Cory Lidle is (and he's the dictionary definition), he's replacing a four-headed hydra of Sidney Ponson, Shawn Chacon, Kris Wilson, and Aaron Small who allowed 38 runs in 30 innings over eight starts in June and July. That's less than four innings a start, a lot of mopup for a bullpen that's often had to turn to whichever of these guys hadn't already blown them out of the game, with similarly harrowing results.

A few quick takes from my Baseball Prospectus colleagues with whom I've been discussing this deal over the past day:

Nate Silver ran through various permutations matching up several teams with the potential acquisitions of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee and Abreu to see which ones improved which team's Postseason Odds the most (nice visuals of the day-by-day Odds change by a BP fan here). Conclusion: the Yanks' addition of Abreu was a 14.2% upgrade -- the largest bump possible of the 21 scenarios he evaluated (he neglected to include Texas, whose chances with Lee must have jumped 10-12 percent) and that's without considering the effect of Lidle.

Christina Kahrl:
Similarly, the rotation finally has a fifth man who doesn't automatically make you wonder who's available for a multi-inning middle-relief gig. Consider the combined performances of Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, Aaron Small and Kris Wilson:
Pitcher   GS Tm W/L    IP   H  BB   K HR   R   R/9 QS
Chacon 11 5-6 52.0 62 30 28 8 42 7.3 3 (none after May 6)
Small 3 1-2 12.0 23 4 6 6 13 9.7 0
Ponson 2 1-1 9.0 10 6 10 3 10 10.0 0
K.Wilson 1 0-1 2.2 5 2 4 1 3 10.1 0
TOTAL 17 7-10 75.2 100 42 48 18 68 8.1 3
Lidle 21 10-11 125.1 132 39 98 19 74 5.3 14
That's three games that Chacon provided that most teams with a normal offense can win, none since May 6. Now, admittedly, I'm fudging something with Lidle, in that I'm counting two more quality starts than other sources, but that's because he lost two quality starts in the seventh inning, after he'd already given the Phillies the standard six innings while allowing three or fewer runs. (I refer to those as Blown Quality Starts, or BQS, probably my first and only contribution to the universe's statistical alphabet soup.) So, to give Lidle his due, the man has pitched winnable ballgames in two-thirds of his starts despite having a hitters' park as his home, and despite having to pitch 13 of his 21 starts in said bandbox. Now, even if he's "just" a six-inning starter, and even if he's just a 75-pitch starter, he's giving his team outings they can work with to win. Sure, he'll have to face the DH instead of the pitcher's slot, and he'll probably also have to face the Yankees' tough opponents in the East. Even so, he won't be pitching in Philadelphia. As long as somebody gives Joe Torre a good set of instructions on how to operate his shiny pre-owned fifth starter, the Yankees have themselves a major upgrade in the rotation that's almost as significant as Abreu will be in the lineup.

My WAG? The Yankees probably just added four wins in the final 60 games, with Lidle probably being every bit as responsible for that as Abreu. That's not just an upgrade, that's a massive difference, and a reflection on what's being replaced. This doesn't simply help the Yankees keep up with the competition, they now have a much better shot at winning not merely the wild card, but their own division, and they can better withstand an injury in either their rotation or lineup than before.
Joe Sheehan:
It’s more apparent what this deal does for the Yankees: it scares the hell out of the Red Sox. Set aside Abreu’s power outage and Lidle’s averageness, and consider the playing time the two will be assuming. Aaron Guiel (.214/.290/.536) and Andy Phillips (.242/.276/.406) will be sitting down so that Abreu’s .277/.427/.434 can play, with Bernie Williams (.280/.326/.428) losing some playing time now and the rest when Hideki Matsui returns. It’s 100-150 points of OBP; if Abreu doesn’t hit another homer and plays right field like Jim Leyland after two packs, he’s still worth two wins between now and October.

It breaks my heart to say this—I’m the guy who calls the 1996-2000 Yankees not the “Derek Jeter” teams but the “Bernie Williams” ones—but Williams isn’t a useful player any longer, recent hot streak notwithstanding. I was wrong about his career path; if you look in the BP annuals, you’ll see frequent references to how Williams could add power late in his career, especially once he left center field. That never happened; Williams just dropped off at 34 and then again at 36, and he’s now not even an adequate extra outfielder. Objectively, Guiel—with lefty sock and good corner defense—has more on-field value to this team. That’s not how it will play out, but it’s a damning criticism of the player Williams is today.

...All through July, I stood to the idea that the Yankees wouldn’t be able to make a major acquisition because Brian Cashman was committed to keeping Philip Hughes and Jose Tabata in the organization. Without those guys as chips, I didn’t see the Yankees as having enough to acquire a player like Abreu, especially with teams like the Dodgers and Angels, with deep farm systems, on the prowl. Well, Cashman did it, and he didn’t even trade away the next group of guys, like Steven White or Eric Duncan. Instead, he leveraged the Yankees’ cash reserves and negotiated a terrific deal for his team, one that should make them a favorite to reach the playoffs for the 12th straight season.
Mmmm-mmmm, good.

• • •

Meanwhile, held over from Friday due to the Floyd Landis doping scandal is my latest piece at the New York Sun, which examines the MVP races as the season's 2/3 mark approaches, using BP's Wins Above Replacement Player and Win Expectancy metrics to sort out the real impact players. The conclusion? In the NL, it's Albert Pujols (7.7 WARP and a league best 6.81 Wins Added), with Carlos Beltran (6.9 WARP prior to yesterday's grand slam -- his third of the month -- and a distant 10th at 2.48 Wins Added) and Brandon Webb -- that's right, a pitcher -- at 6.7 WARP and 5.78 Wins Added (via Support Neutral Lineup Adjusted Value Above Replacement, the awkwardly-named pitching counterpart). In the AL, it's the year of the pitcher:
n the AL, the MVP award is up for grabs, and if WARP rankings are taken to heart, the field is dominated by pitching. Hurlers on contenders occupy six of the top seven spots; the Twins' Francisco Liriano (7.4) and Johan Santana (7.3) lead the pack, followed by Boston's Jonathan Papelbon (6.6), who like Liriano is a rookie.Leading the WARP chase among hitters is Cleveland's Grady Sizemore (6.0), but with the Indians — a hip preseason pick to win the AL Central after a near-miss last year — now 12 games under .500 and 25.5 out, he doesn't belong in this MVP discussion. A hair behind him is among hitters is the Twins' Joe Mauer (5.9). He's hitting .371/.443/.525, topping the league in batting average and helping his team charge into the Wild-Card picture with a 42–19 record since May 19. Not coincidentally, that date marks when Liriano, who leads the league in ERA at 1.96, entered the rotation.

...No MVP discussion is complete without Boston's David Ortiz, who leads the majors with 35 homers thanks to a spree of 17 in his last 36 games. Ortiz, runner-up to Alex Rodriguez in last year's MVP voting, weighs in at an unremarkable 4.6 WARP; as a DH, he's not adding any defensive value. But true to his reputation as a clutch hitter, he leads the AL in Win Expectancy Added with 4.15, well ahead of closest pursuers Jeter (3.40) and Dye (3.28), not to mention Mauer (2.53). Pitchers Papelbon (5.86) and Santana (5.27) trump that total, however, as do fellow hurlers Justin Verlander (5.22 from yet another rookie) and Roy Halladay (4.65).
You can check the rest of the piece here (PDF). I'll have more commentary on deadline deals tomorrow; for now, the Hit List awaits.

Friday, July 28, 2006



A big welcome to those of you reaching this site from ESPN, where Jonah Keri (in his new digs at Page 2) used the Jaffe WARP Score methodology in a piece today to examine the Hall of Fame cases of John Smoltz and Curt Schilling. Even better, Keri gave extensive play to JAWS' take on several other active pitchers, and generously included a link to this site.
A Baseball Prospectus metric called JAWS tries to fill the breach. An acronym for Jaffe WARP Score -- named by its creator, Jay Jaffe -- JAWS measures a player's combination of career and peak production against those of Hall of Famers at his position. By this method, peak is defined as a player's seven best seasons according to another BP stat, Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP). The player's JAWS score, then, is a simple average of those seven peak seasons and his career WARP total.

WARP is itself a measure of a player's offensive, defensive and/or pitching contribution above what a freely-available minor leaguer or bench player could produce. With the Hall of Fame's ranks diluted by dubious Veterans Committee selections, the goal of JAWS is to identify players who would be above-average Hall of Famers. They help raise the bar for future generations. There's plenty that JAWS doesn't consider -- awards, postseason play, hitting or pitching milestones, league-leading totals, and character among them. But JAWS does a good job of weighing the meat-and-potatoes contributions of each player in a Cooperstown context.

JAWS is expressed as the total number of wins a player contributes above your typical scrub. Strip out batting average, ERA, OPS and every other stat and you're drilling down to the core of a player's value: how many ballgames he wins for his team.

The average Hall of Fame pitcher accumulated 99.6 career WARP and 63.0 peak WARP (an average of 9.0 per year), for a JAWS score of 81.3, or 81.3 wins more than your typical Gerald Williams-type player. Before this year, both Schilling and Smoltz were closing in on that level. Schilling stood at 96.6 career/63.2 peak/79.9 JAWS, Smoltz at 103.9/55.1/79.5. Those aren't the top scores among active and recently-retired pitchers (those who have yet to appear on a Hall of Fame ballot). Schilling and Smoltz rank eighth and ninth among active pitchers, and 37th and 39th all-time.

But with good 2006 seasons to date under their belt, both Schilling and Smoltz have crossed the gauntlet. If the season ended today, Schilling would wind up at 82.8, Smoltz at 82.0, clearing the 81.3 threshold for the average Hall of Fame pitcher. Both Smoltz and Schilling are also within a couple of wins of placing this season among their seven best of all-time, which would further enhance their candidacies by elevating their peak scores.
Among the other cool things about the piece -- besides the fact that it marks my first time my name has been on the ESPN site, which is a thrill even given how critical I am of the so-called "Worldwide Leader in Sports" -- is that Clay Davenport supplied me with a fresh set of WARP data to recalculate the JAWS scores, something I've wanted to do for a few months now (just about every article I've mentioned JAWS it's been with the caveat that the numbers are slightly outdated). I recalibrated pitchers for this, and I'll be getting some new scores together so that anyone who wants can see the updated scores for the other positions.

I also supplied Keri with this Top 10 of active pitchers:

Note that the besides Schilling and Smoltz, the JAWS scores of some of these pitchers will increase even more if their 2006 totals wind up among their seven; in fact, here's where the bar lies for each of them:

Clemens 10.7
Maddux 10.1
Johnson 10.3
Martinez 8.2
Glaving 7.2
Mussina 7.6
Brown 7.9
Schilling 6.9
Smoltz 6.5
Rivera 7.3
Schilling (1.2 wins shy), Rivera (1.4) and Smoltz (1.6) would seem to have the best shots at bettering their cases; at the very least they will knock Brown down to ninth on this list with one more solid start from Smoltz.

Anyway, thanks to Jonah for inviting me to contribute to his piece, and thanks to Clay for his fine work with WARP and all of the other BP stats that make JAWS possible.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Reynolds Rap

Harold Reynolds is out at ESPN, fired after 11 years. If the rumors are true, the reasons may be rather unsavory. I bring this up not to dwell on the speculation, to fan the flames, or to mourn the passing of an era. Frankly, though I kind of enjoyed Reynolds' squeaky on-air persona (and his presence in some pretty entertaining promos), I found his analysis -- when it extended beyond the mechanics of playing -- pretty crap.

In fact, I stopped caring about the entire Baseball Tonight franchise the last time I endured one of Reynolds' rants a little more than two years ago, one about how overrated on-base percentage is. That rant spurred one of my all-time favorite posts here, called "The Flat Earth Society." So today I'm amused and surprised to find that said post currently ranks second on for "harold reynolds fired" despite the fact that it has nothing to do with the current news cycle. Anyway, welcome to you readers coming here via that link; I hope you find reasons to stick around despite my crass exploitation of this little traffic bubble.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Jay Tee Vee Too

I haven't seen the results (they air Friday evening, when I'll be on an airplane) but my second NESN appearance on the Boston Globe's SportsPlus certainly felt like a success. I was on for one nine-minute roundtable-style segment with fill-in host Eric Frede and Boston Globe columnist Nick Cafardo; last time I did three shorter segments one-on-one with host Bob Neumeier, who's currently covering the Tour de France. This time around, I felt more comfortable; no deer-in-headlight moments, no endless rambles, no trying to work the definition of "Monte Carlo simulation" into my final 30 seconds. The conversation felt natural, with both Frede and Cafardo giving me room to answer questions in detail. If I had a regret, it's that the other 45 minutes I enjoyed talking baseball with the two of them and producer Alan Miller leading up to the show didn't make it on; it was fun swapping perspectives.

There's a dark irony that I have to travel all the way up to Boston, to the "enemy territory" of the Red Sox network to get on TV, when Steve Goldman can't even crack the YES studio despite being the most talented writer covering the Yankees anywhere. But really, that's nothing new. The John Henry/Theo Epstein regime has, by virtue of its success and the very visible employment of Bill James, created an audience that's receptive to the likes of Baseball Prospectus, and this isn't the first time I've benefitted from that.

Anyway, on the air I was able to make a good number of the points which I'd researched the day before. But some of the more interesting stuff got swept aside, so for the benefit of those interested Sox and Yankee fans, I decided to present my outline here. All stats through Tuesday unless indicated.

Part I: Red Sox vs. Good Teams -- the Red Sox simply haven't been very strong against other quality AL teams.

• BOS vs. .500+ AL teams (CWS, DET, MIN, NYY, OAK, TEX, TOR): 18-24 (.429)

• NYY vs. .500+ AL teams (BOS, CWS, DET, LAA, MIN, NYY, OAK, TEX, TOR): 24-20 (.545)

• Boston went 16-2 vs. NL in interleague play. Against AL they're only 40-34 (.541). Take out Baltimore (8-1) and they're 32-33 (.492)

• NYY went 10-8 vs. NL. Against the AL, they're 45-28 (.616)

Part II. Coco Crisp vs. Kevin Youkilis in the leadoff spot

• When the Sox lost Johnny Damon, they traded for Coco Crisp with the idea that he'd be their leadoff hitter. But after a broken finger sidelined Crisp in the first week of the season, the team moved Kevin Youkilis there. They restored Crisp to the leadoff spot when he returned six weeks later, but when he struggled there, they returned to the Youkilis leadoff lineup.

• Here are their stats leading off and elsewhere in the lineup:
#1          PA    AVG    OBP    SLG   BB/PA   K/PA    R/G
Crisp 107 .242 .299 .303 .075 .187 5.14
Youkilis 322 .287 .391 .451 .140 .171 5.82

Crisp 111 .304 .360 .490 .081 .127
Youkilis 88 .286 .409 .443 .136 .193
• Youkilis doesn't fit the profile of a leadoff hitter; i.e., he's not fast, whereas Crisp is. But Youkilils has been getting on base at a considerably better clip than Crisp, and the team has been scoring considerably more runs with him atop the order. He's shown more power and more patience, and he's even got five steals to Crisp's nine. Overall, he's a Wade Boggs-type leadoff hitter, and the benefits of having a guy like that at the top of the lineup far outweigh the costs.

• Crisp has hit well lower in the lineup; he may be pressing out of the leadoff spot (note increased K rate as well as depressed rate stats), and he may still be dealing with issues related to his broken left index finger.

• The Sox got off to a good start with Youkilis in the leadoff spot; they struggled a bit (6-7) since going back to that because Youkilis has struggled (.137 in July), but they've done a nice job of sticking with this plan overall despite its relatively unorthodox nature.

Part III: Why are the Yankees ahead of the Red Sox in postseason odds? [note: not anymore, since the Yanks lost two straight]

• The reason is that the Sox aren't outscoring their opponents by nearly as wide a margin as the other three teams at the top of the AL East playoff chase; particularly, the margin is only about 2/3 what the Yanks' is.
Team       --PLAYOFF ODDS--   -RUNS PER GAME--
Tigers 71.5 18.3 89.8 5.25 3.80 1.45
Yanks 52.1 14.6 66.7 5.67 4.70 0.98
White Sox 26.7 37.5 63.9 5.85 4.85 1.00
Red Sox 40.2 17.4 57.6 5.57 4.90 0.67
• However, the remaining schedules of the Red Sox and Yankees suggest that the Sox may have a considerable advantage:
Remaining (thru Tuesday 7/18):
BOS: 38 home, 32 road; NYY: 34 home, 39 road

Strength of Remaining Schedule: BOS: .506; NYY: .513

Games vs. .500+ Teams:

Bos: 1 TEX, 3 ANA, 3 DET, 5 NYY, 4 TOR, 3 CHW, 3 MIN
6 @ OAK, 3 @ ANA, 4 @ NYY, 4 @ TOR
TOTAL 39 (22 H, 17 R)

NYY: 6 TOR, 4 ANA, 3 DET, 3 MIN, 4 BOS
7 @ TOR, 3 @ TEX, 3 @ CHW, 3 @ ANA, 5 @ BOS
TOTAL 41 (20 H, 21 R)
Key differences:

• NYY has 13 games left vs. TOR, BOS has only 7
• NYY closes season vs. TOR, BOS closes season vs. BAL
• NYY travels to CWS, BOS hosts CWS
• NYY travels to TEX for 3, BOS hosts TEX for 1 makeup
• BOS has one more home game than Yanks in head-to-head
• BOS has two West Coast roadtrips, NYY has one

Part IV: Statistical comparisons

• Starting pitching: slight edge to the Yanks but both need help; these rotations are only three deep in terms of above-average pitchers at the moment.
       BOS    NYY
ERA 4.53 4.27
7th 4th-T (AL rankings)

RA+ 102 104
9th 4th
Adjusting for park and ignoring the relatively trifling distinction between earned and unearned runs (on a team level, they're still runs allowed), the Yanks are allowing runs at a rate four percent better than league average, the Red Sox two percent better than league average (100 = average).
SNLVAR  9.5   10.0
9th 5th
Support-Neutral Lineup-Adjusted Value Above Replacement (SNLVAR) is an insane mouthful as an acronym, but what it expresses is the number of wins above replacement level added by a starter's performance given league-average offensive and bullpen support.
EWP   .457    .491
12th 10th
Expected Winning Percentage for the rotation based on how often a pitcher with the same innings pitched and runs allowed in each individual game earned a win or loss historically.
VORP  114.3  121.2   (total staff)
9th 4th
• Relief pitching: thanks to Papelbon's incredible performance here, the Sox pen looks pretty good -- one of the best in the league, in fact -- but who knows when the bubble (3 ER in 49 IP) will burst?
WXRL  7.616   5.381
3rd 9th

ARP 19.3 22.5
8th 7th

FRA 4.95 4.77
8th 5th
Adjusted Runs Prevented (ARP) is a measure of the number of runs a relief pitcher prevented compared to an average pitcher, given the Base/Out state (the combination of runners on base and the number of outs) for which he entered and left each game (adjusted for park and league). In other words, it uses play-by-play data to assess the responsibility for fractional runs prevented based on the run expectancy of a given situation, instead of charging the runs scored by inherited runners solely to the previous pitcher. Fair Run Average (FRA) is ARP's cousin; it uses those fractional runs (due to letting inherited runners score) to recalibrate a reliever's "true" ERA.

The Yanks have a slight advantage in these numbers, but that's negated by the fact that the Red Sox have pitched better when the stakes are higher, which is what WXRL (Reliever Expected Wins Added) reflects. WXRL measures win expectancy based on the game state (inning, score margin, baserunners, outs); it combines the ability to assess fractional runs with the context of how close the game is. Jonathan Papelbon leads the majors in WXRL with 5.113, nearly a full win ahead of the next pitcher, BJ Ryan. Setup man Mike Timlin is 15th at 1.919, and Manny Delcarmen is 22nd at 1.060. For the Yanks, Mariano Rivera is 7th at 3.397, but their next-best pitcher is Ron Villone at #27 (.935), followed closely by Kyle Farnsworth at #29 (.929) and Mike Myers (30th at .910). Dragging the Sox down are Rudy Seanez (-1.019) and Julian Tavarez (-0.553).

• Offense: slight edge to Yankees, mainly in converting offensive events to actual runs. When they get Matsui and perhaps Sheffield back, margin could widen unless Sox improve (Crisp and Varitek in particular) or make trade.
        BOS    NYY
R/G 5.57 5.67
3rd 2nd

Actual 506 509
Proj. 524 505
Dif. -18 +4
The Sox haven't been as efficient in scoring runs, they're nearly two wins short of their projected totals.
EqA    .281   .283  
4th 3rd
Equivalent Average is a measure of total offensive value per out, expressed on a batting average-like scale and adjusted for park and league scoring levels and quality of competition.
VORP  157.6  167.8
5th 4th
Outside of the playoff odds, I'm not sure any of the Prospectus-brand stats actually made it into the conversation, but the discussion was certainly informed by it, and some of that stuff will probably be used in the graphics for the show. The one additional point I made was that the Sox have done a nice job of working their youngsters (Delcarmen, Papelbon, Jon Lester, Craig Hansen) into their staff when injuries and ineffectiveness have left them no better options, and the kids have delivered, with Papelbon and Lester doing so big-time (Lester's combined one-hitter against the Royals the previous night had the green room buzzing). Anyway, those of you with interest in this will hopefully get to see it on NESN when it airs Friday and Saturday at 5:30 PM Eastern, or when the segment goes up on the SportsPlus site. Special thanks to Alan Miller for inviting me back, to Baseball Prospectus for picking up the tab, and to Nick Stone for standing by with stat updates while I was in transit.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Doner Than a Pot Roast in a Burning Whorehouse

My latest chat at Baseball Prospectus went two-and-a-half hours, neither my longest nor my most prolific. Frankly, given all of my travels this week (roundtrip to Boston in a day and a cross-country weekend trip looming), I was pretty cooked. It would have been my preference to reschedule. I didn't have quite my usual joie de vivre or my arsenal of Simpsons jokes (I even passed up a Simpsons question, now that I think about it. D'oh!) -- but I took the ball when it was handed to me, got to re-recycle my favorite Scribbly Tate quote ("doner than a pot roast in a burning whorehouse"), and in the end it was pretty damn fun. There are far worse ways to kill a couple hours than talking baseball with BP readers.

The chat featured a ton of JAWS questions; I had 10 JAWS-related answers and still left another 10 questions of similar nature in the queue. A few of my better exchanges of the non-JAWS nature:
thecoolerking (New York, NY): Considering how often one hear's TINSTAAPP around these parts, I was pretty surprised that to hear Felix Hernandez anointed the "King" after half a season. What gives? I only saw him pitch once, but I saw a guy with awful mechanics who had some trouble locating his pitches. A serious talent, sure, but raw enough to make one wait a couple of years before coronation. What gives? I know BP writers aren't all of one mind, but this struck me as borderline fanboy wishcasting, the very thing BP isn't about. Was I missing something? And when do we start singing down with "King Felix, Long live Emperor Francisco (Liriano)" ;-) Barring injury, is Liriano this good? Or will he be more human when the league catches up. Is he the next Santana, or better?

Jay Jaffe: Felix Hernandez was anointed "King" before he even threw a pitch in the majors based on the high opinions of scouts and prospect mavens, and the stats an certainly supported the idea that this was a special talent -- 263 K's in 218 IP, through his Age 18 season (!), without being allowed to throw his slider, which is believed to be his best pitch, due to fears for what it might do to his tender young arm. If you think BP was excited about him, read what the competition had to say; he was 1, 2, or 3 on every Baseball America bigwig's Top 50 list in the 2005 Prospect Handbook for example.

I think it's far too early to cut bait on him, despite his struggles at the major league level. Not every fantastic pitching prospect turns into Dwight Gooden or Francisco Liriano overnight, but so long as the arm is still healthy -- the real goal here, as the Mariners aren't playing for a championship as they're currently configured -- he's got a shot at meeting that potential. If it takes until he's 25, that's still no shame.

As for Liriano, he's been everything anyone could have asked for, and he's certainly a more polished pitcher today than Felix is. He's also 2.5 years older, with 2 more pro seasons under his belt, and coming out of an organization with a much stronger track record of developing young pitchers. Right now he's outpitching Santana, and while I'm not sure if he can keep that up, I certainly think that the possiblity exists that he could surpass his teammate.

• • •

alan (pomona, ca): Jayson Stark is reporting that the Mets and Phillies are talking about a deal invlolving [Bobby] Abreu and [Lastings] Milledge. Assuming Abreu would only waive his no-trade status if the Mets picked up his $16M 2008 option, this would be a pretty short-sighted move, no?

Jay Jaffe: I'm not incredibly sold on Milledge myself; we're talking a guy who drew 33 walks in 477 PA as a 20 year old last year and 1 UIBB in his first 94 big-league PAs this year. That's downright Francoeurian. I'm a bit nervous about Abreu's power outage (.455 SLG in Citizens?), but the guy has 87 BB in 90 games, and has drawn over 100 walks seven years in a row while maintaining a lifetime OBP of .413. Yes, he's 32, and I've always been a little wary of what I see as a bit of a thick body type. But just compare his PECOTA stars and scrubs card with Milledges and notice how much more green there is for Abreu; it's not even close. The Mets have a legitimate shot at a championship, and I think taking on Abreu even at that price is justifiable.

• • •

Nicky (Bronx, NY): Are there any circumstances in which you'd be all right with the Yanks trading Phillip Hughes this year?

Jay Jaffe:: Well, if the Twins offer Francisco Liriano or Johan Santana, or the Rays offer Scott Kazmir, I'd take a flyer on that.

Seriously, I'd rather see the Yanks miss the postseason with what they have than trade Hughes and not get an extremely lopsided deal in their favor. If you're a Yankee fan and think otherwise, you're being greedy and shortsighted, because that team needs to start learning how to develop quality arms from within.

• • •

TH1964 (new york) I disagree with the thoughts that the Yankees shouldnt trade Hughes. If they can get a Soriano or a Willis, someone they can lock up long term, they should take it. Yankee prospects are typically overhyped, and I would take bird in hand.

Jay Jaffe: As likeable and useful as those two players are, I wouldn't want either of them long term, and if you're a Yankee fan, neither should you at that cost. Soriano is a useful player, but he's also 30 right now, and the holes in his game are well documented. Willis has bad mechanics and a lot of mileage at age 24.

It's certainly true that Yankee prospects are overhyped, but the consensus that Hughes is something special goes far beyond what the organization is saying; there's a reason every single team asks about him in a trade demand. 115 K, 26 BB, 74 hits in 107 IP this year, just 5 HR allowed.

It's a nonissue anyway. I'll bet my Yankees cap Hughes is still under NYY control on August 1.
Catch the rest of the chat, including plenty more on Milledge, the Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Blue Jays and the Hall of Fame cases for Manny Ramirez, Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Nomar Garciaparra, and Chicken Stanley (wait...) at the link atop the article -- you can't beat the price.

• • •

Score That E-6: in this week's Hit List, I booted my calculation of the average rank of the NL Central, dividing the division's cumulative ranking by five teams instead of six (as one astute reader pointed out, though I could argue that counting the Pirates as major league is debatable). Here is a corrected version of the chart:
            ----2006----    ----2005----
Division Avg RK HLF Avg RK HLF
AL Central 10.6 .531 14.0 .500
AL East 12.8 .524 14.0 .508
AL West 13.0 .511 12.0 .521
NL West 15.2 .503 24.4 .443
NL East 19.0 .482 13.2 .522
NL Central 20.8 .461 14.8 .508
Also, I claimed that the AL Central had four of the eight top-ranked teams, when in fact it was four of the top 11. Apologies for any confusion this has caused.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Reset Your DVRs, VCRs, and Betamaxes

Back from taping my aforementioned appearance on the Boston Globe's SportsPlus on NESN. It turns out my episode will air Friday at 5:30 PM Eastern, and again Saturday at 5:30. Those of you set to tape the show, please adjust accordingly.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006



This week's Prospectus Hit List is here. Given the short week following the All-Star break, I decided to shake things up a bit, stepping back to look at the list from a few different angles rather than another 30-team roundup. A remix, if you will.

I took a look at how the AL's big advantage in interleague play has shaken out on the Hit List, broke down which divisions are the strongest and weakest according to the Hit List, compared this year's list to last year's final and to our preseason rankings. Here's the division breakdown:

----2006---- ----2005----
Division Avg RK HLF Avg RK HLF
AL Central 10.6 .531 14.0 .500
AL East 12.8 .524 14.0 .508
AL West 13.0 .511 12.0 .521
NL West 15.2 .503 24.4 .443
NL East 19.0 .482 13.2 .522
NL Central 25.0 .461 14.8 .508
Driven by the Tigers and White Sox (#1 and #3 on this week's list), the AL Central is riding high. The NL West has gone from by far and away the worst to middle-of-the-pack respectability, while the NL Central has crashed through the basement floor thanks to the Cubs and Pirates. More good stuff after the jump, as they say...

• • •

I'll be making another TV appearance this week, my second of the summer thanks to the good folks at the New England Sports Network. I'm headed to Boston on Wednesday to tape another episode of the Boston Globe's SportsPlus for the NESN. Unlike last time, host Bob Neumeier is currently covering the Tour de France, and Eric Frede will be filling in. The episode will air at 5:30 and 11:30 PM. Anybody out there who wouldn't mind taping the show and slapping it on a VHS for me? You'll be amply rewarded for your efforts. Inquire within.

• • •

I've got my next Baseball Prospectus chat on Thursday at 3:00 PM Eastern. Drop by to say hi or submit your questions ahead of time.

Another road trip on tap this coming weekend, then maybe I can clear this backlog of incomplete blog entries and article ideas I'm accumulating...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Pass the Pillow

The All-Star break edition of the Prospectus Hit List is up; here's my intro:
Don't ask about the All-Star Game; this scribe boycotted, and it looks like I've got seven more years of same ahead of me. Seven more years of treating the game, its surrounding irrelevant contests, and the inane selection debates with all the consideration of the Simpsons' take on the Grammies. A pox on the houses of both MLB and Fox for their continued efforts to turn the national pastime into grotesque spectacle replete with annoying sound effects, blatant pandering and sheer contempt for its audience's intelligence... And now--swoosh! clank!--let's get that perspective with our new Poxcam. Wow... pus!--swoosh! boom!...
That last line (save for a bit of onomatopoeia) was stolen lock, stock and barrel from Christina Kahrl's response to my "poxing" on Baseball Prospectus' internal mailing list. Mad props to her.

I stayed true to my word and didn't catch a single lick of the game or any of its accoutrements. The news that Fox and MLB chose the occasion to announce a new seven-year contract was enough to quash any last-second impulses I might have had to at least check in. Seven years? Damn, what mirror did I just break?

As it was, technical difficulties with my computer earlier in the day -- for awhile it looked like 2/3 of a completed Hit List was completely down the drain -- forced me to work though the game anyway. From the commentary at BP, both internally and on the site, it sounds like I didn't miss much. Sure, Will Carroll had a great time, but he was in Pittsburgh, and carrying credentials, and thus didn't have to actually watch the damn thing on the tube. As my World Baseball Classic, Olympic and All-Star Game experience reminded me, there's a huge difference between being at the Big Event and enduring its endless, overblown coverage on TV.

More instructive was curmudgeonly Joe Sheehan, a selection of whose lines from an All-Star Diary I'll excerpt liberally for effect at the expense of context:
The home-field-in-World-Series gimmick is a tacit acknowledgement of the game's diminished stature, while doing nothing to address the causes of its decline... Brad Penny vs. Kenny Rogers. It's not often you get to see the sixth- or seventh-best starters in each league go after each other. Imagine if it didn't count... They didn't just turn a David Wright profile into an ad for "24," did they?... I just got nine e-mails, seven of which said something bad about Fox or a Fox broadcaster. I just report this stuff, folks... I don't get it. How do you make a big deal about "This Time It Counts," and then let one of the managers go on TV and basically wash his hands for the night? Either the game is critical or it isn't; the relentless mixed messages are tiring... I'm sorry...ceremony? What ceremony?... The fifth inning will start after 10 p.m. EDT, thanks in part to a 10-minute interruption so that Fox could get an extra commercial break during the game. Cynical? Me? Just wait until we get some mid-inning pitching changes late in the game for no reason whatsoever... I genuinely don't know how you could watch this game and buy into any tiny fraction of the ideas that 1) the All-Star Game should "count" or 2) the game can tell you anything about the relative strength of the two leagues. I saw spring-training games in Phoenix in the first week of March, and they had a comparable level of intensity... I think if you add defensive innings played and at-bats, you'll find that Gary Matthews Jr. and Matt Holliday led this game in playing time. Draw your own conclusions... One last Ozzie note: he used two of his manager's selections on Mark Buehrle and Bobby Jenks, then didn't put either into the game, while at the same time using the best pitcher on a division rival who started and went seven on Sunday. I'm just saying.
Sounds like hella fun, especially if you like yelling at the TV. And Joe's somebody who professes to actually enjoy and care about the All-Star Game, spending hours writing about who should on the team; sitting next to him at Dodger Stadium last Saturday, he suggested that my beef is with Fox, not with MLB. But really, the roster rules, selection compromises, fake injuries, conflicts of interest, and total capitulation to the network make it impossible to absolve MLB of blame. Ultimately it's their fault the ASG is so broken that it's not worth fixing anymore.

Salon's King Kaufman feels my pain:
Baseball's All-Star Game needs fixing. The Midsummer Classic, renewed Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, is stuck in limbo. It's part silly exhibition, part deadly serious decider of postseason fates.

The two parts don't mix. And if the All-Star Game isn't already a joke, it's getting very close. Want to elicit derisive snorts among baseball fans? Use "This time it counts!" as a punch line. It never misses.

This is the first year I've seriously heard a commentator compare baseball's All-Star Game to the NFL's, the Pro Bowl, and I have to say the comparison sounded pretty fair to me. It's a rule of life as crucial as not playing poker with guys named Doc: Don't let anything you care about get compared to the Pro Bowl.

Thanks mostly, but not entirely, to historical factors beyond the control of mere mortals, the All-Star Game was already well on the way to irrelevance in 2002 when the dreaded tie game forced commissioner Bud Selig to make a decision, which is never a good thing. He made a typically Seligian move by declaring that to fix the All-Star Game, he would change the way the World Series works.

Selig's the kind of guy who fixes his muffler by getting a louder stereo.
Kaufman was back again today:
"You're stuck!" taunted Joe Buck jokingly as he and Tim McCarver announced Fox's new TV deal with Major League Baseball. "You're stuck with us for the next seven years!"

Thanks for understanding, Joe. That's exactly how it feels.

...Fox dropping half of the League Championship Series is good news because, really, isn't anybody better at broadcasting baseball than Fox? I tried to think of a network that was more annoying in its coverage than Fox during the 43-minute wait for the game, but failed.

...Fox hates baseball, and if it could figure out a way to broadcast baseball without showing any actual baseball, if it could all be sappy music and slow-motion highlights somehow, like that by-the-numbers review of Pirates history, it'd probably pay twice as much for the privilege.
Yeesh. Some party I missed. I'm sad to see the All-Star Game go; I remember it fondly from my youth, caring who won the game and the MVP awards (I can still tell you that Steve Garvey won in 1978, Dave Parker in '79, Tim Raines in '87, Derek Jeter in 2000, Cal Ripken in 2001...). And while I do enjoy a break from baseball now and then, even in summer, three straight days without it is an eternity when there's so much ersatz baseball going on in its place.

Rather than rail against this any longer, I'll simply invoke the final scene of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest when the Chief smothers the lobotomized McMurphy, as my metaphor. The All-Star Game used to be a lot of fun, but it will never be the same so long as Fox has it in its clutches, and it looks like awhile before they let go. Say your goodbyes and pass the pillow.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Time Won't Let Me

So much to write about, so little time, but it will all have to wait until the All-Star break edition of the Hit List is finished...

• I planned to give this more of a buildup, but like the song goes, time won't let me. I'm boycotting the All-Star Game and have been all season: no voting, no roster-checking, no selection debates either here or in the Hit List, no Home Run Derby, no Futures Game, no links, no nothing. To hell with it. Beyond this mention, the closest I'll get is mentioning the All-Star break and related performance splits at the Hit List.

The reason I'm boycotting it is because of Fox, whose shoddy treatment of the game last year infuriated me while helping the game slide towards complete irrelevance. The most egregious offense:
...I did see the travesty that took place in the bottom of the third, when Joe Buck and Tim McCarver -- without a trace of guile in their voices -- gave airtime to a large Corvette advertisement hanging in the outfield as if it were the handmade work of some fan. "Welcome back to Detroit," remarked Buck. "A lot of banners and signs around the ballpark. No surprise there. Somebody just unfurled a big banner behind left field."

Uh-huh. Of course, this was a premeditated advertising opportunity of which Buck and McCarver were fully aware. "Buck might have been saying that tongue in cheek," Fox Sports spokesman Dan Bell told The Register, a UK tech publication which carries syndicated news feeds. "For sure, it was planned. It's not like we didn't know about it. Both parties knew about it." As the Register's Ashlee Vance reported:
Buck certainly did not sound "tongue in cheek" to us at all. Both he and McCarver sat there debating the sign like marketing automatons, wondering if it was real and how much time some true fan of baseball spent hammering it out. They most certainly wanted all the saps watching to believe in the sign's authenticity and go hunting for this mysterious website. "Yet another Chevy ad" probably would not have worked as well.
Blech. If you listened carefully enough, you could hear Jack Buck, Joe's Hall of Fame-honored father, spinning in his grave. His son has long since barreled through any line between reportage and corporate prostitution via the Budweiser "Leon" commercials. Now he's added to that distasteful legacy.

Look, I realize this isn't first-degree murder, or even all that surprising; I expect no better from Fox with all of its tacky lasers and sound effects and the entire network's complete abdication of journalistic integrity. Baseball and advertising have gone hand in hand since the early days of radio. But it's one thing for a radio announcer to read promos between innings, quite another for a pair of TV announcers to pass themselves off as innocents as they shill. So it's with more than a little glee that I note that Fox's broadcast set a new ratings low for the second year in a row. The people have spoken, and no sir, they don't like what Fox does to the game. As [Salon's King] Kaufman put it, baseball fans "get slapped every time they try to tune in to Fox, the network with a contract to broadcast the biggest events of a sport it hates..."

Enough is enough, so I've decided to give the All-Star Game the Star Wars treatment, at least for one year: I wash my hands of the entire franchise. I won't watch next year's game, I won't write about it, I won't vote, and I won't give a shit who makes the team. To Fox Sports, Buck and McCarver and anyone else involved in this charade, I say, "This time it's FUCK YOU."
So there.

• I had a blast on the rest of my west coast trip, remaining in Seattle for three more days after the SABR convention, then heading down to LA. Anyone waiting for the final piece of my SABR writeup should check out the work a couple of my Baseball Prospectus colleagues. Dan Fox did a very nice job of summarizing a handful of the presentations we both saw, some of which I covered from Thursday, some of which will go in my belated Saturday wrapup. Here's Part 1, covering the Chris Jaffe and Sean Forman presentations (the latter of which won the Doug Pappas Research award as the convention's best presentation. Part 2 covers the Jeff Angus, Vince Genarro and Jonah Keri presentions. Dan's also got more of a day-by-day at his blog: 1, 2, even more 2, more 3, and finally 4. Maury Brown has a nice multimedia presentation over at his blog, featuring photos, audio interviews.

Not to slight the non-BPers... over at The Hardball Times, Aaron Gleeman does his usual thorough job. Mike Carminati goes 1-2-3 over at Mike's Baseball Rants.

I'm not sure how much I'll have left to say about SABR beyond those, but all in due time...

• On the day of July 4, my aunt Kim was scheduled to attend a game with Sharon Hargrove, wife of Seattle Mariners manager Mike Hargrove. They know each other via my uncle Harold, who is the Diamond Club Concierge Captain at Safeco Field, his post-retirement job where he gets to hobnob with the high rollers. Kim had some amusing stories about Ms. Hargrove she shared over dinner, while Unca Harold brought me a goodie bag that included M's programs, Ichiro and Richie Sexson bobbleheads, some baseball cards (including a Topps Felix Hernandez that might fetch a pretty penny some day), and a calendar. Good stuff!

• Dodger Stadium -- wow!!! My first trip there after nearly 30 years of being a baseball fan, catching Friday night and Saturday games against the Giants. Still trying to process it all, but I'll say this: Dodger Stadium kicks Yankee Stadium's ass based merely on two features: grilled hot dogs (mmm, Dodger Dogs), and Vin Scully's broadcasts piped into the restroom so you won't miss out on the action. I'll have a thorough writeup and some pics (not of the restroom, fortunately) soon.

Great article about one of the original Futility Infielders in today's New York Times, Wayne Terwilliger. The 81-year-old "Twig," in his 57th year in baseball, is coaching first base for the Fort Worth Cats of the independent Central Baseball League, and he's now sporting some bling. Twig has been a feature in two of my favorite baseball books; his card adorns The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book, by Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris, and he's a coach of the St. Paul Saints in Slouching Towards Fargo, by Neal Karlen. He also was a coach on the Twins' two World Championship teams. Apparently he's got a memoir out, Terwilliger Bunts One. Like white on rice, I'm on it.

Hit List, here I come...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Rattling SABRs in Seattle -- Part II

continued from here

Friday hit the convention's highlight, a Seattle Pilots panel featuring Jim Bouton, Steve Hovley, Mike Marshall, and Jim Pagliaroni, and moderated by ESPN's Jim Caple. Even with an ungodly early 9 AM start, the panel had the ballroom packed with a few hundred people ready to hear the story of Major League Baseball's short-lived foray into the Emerald City and the reminiscences of these four iconoclasts. The Pilots, though they lost 98 games, survive in the popular memory due to Bouton's classic diary Ball Four, a book named by the New York Public Library as one of the 100 most important of the 20th century; Caple told the crowd that even that distinction sells the book short. Bouton's observations -- about the ride from being a former star at the end of the four-decade Yankee dynasty to a fringe major leaguer barely hanging onto a job with a terrible team, learning the game's most difficult pitch and living during a time of social upheaval -- are of course the stuff of legend. The bawdy "tell some" tales of hard-drinking, skirt-chasing, greenie-popping athletes using four-letter words were seen as scandalous at the time, but today they're revered for their candid glimpses into the lives and psyches of major league ballplayers. Caple drew one of the morning's biggest laughs when he said that every time he reads the book, he understands at least one more sexual reference than the last time.

Bawdiness and four-letter education aside, the Pilots hold a special place in my life beyond Ball Four (which I first read when I was nine). I was born in Seattle in December 1969, so my mother was carrying me during their lone season. Until I moved to New York City in 1995, that's the closest I got to living in a big league city. Kind of cool.

panelists Hovley, Pagliaroni, Marshall and Bouton

The panelists had the crowd in stitches for an hour and a half. Bouton described his Pilots teammates as characters out of a novel (quotes cribbed from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer):
"That was the beauty of the Pilots. They were older guys and every one of them was a great storyteller. Here they were playing together for the first time, getting to know each other through the exchange of stories.

"I caught lightning in a bottle. It was as if the baseball commissioner had put this team together thinking, 'Hey, they might not win many games, but if anybody writes a book, it'll be a hell of a story,'"
Such a viewpoint helped Bouton appreciate even old adversaries such as former Yankee teammate Fred Talbot. Particularly amusing was his re-telling of the Talbot home run incident (my favorite story from the book, and one I've had the fortune to hear him relate before in a command performance), in which the Pilots pitcher pounded a grand slam that won a lucky fan $25,000 (the amount seems to increase every time). Bouton and his teammates conspired to send a fake telegram offering Talbot a portion of the prize, with much hilarity ensuing.

Not everything Bouton said was rehashed; he also revealed that manager Joe Schultz's catchphrase, "Pound that ol' Budweiser" was rooted in the fact that Schultz had previously been a St. Louis Cardinals coach and thus, as an employee of Gussie Busch, owned stock in that particular brand. He brought the house down by singing verses of "Proud to be an Astro," a ditty (written by Houston teammate Larry Dierker) which he learned after being traded late in the 1969 season.

Marshall made quite an impression as well. A pitching coach, former player representative, Ph. D in kinesiology, Cy Young winner, and the holder of the single-season record for relief appearances (108) and innings (206), he's every bit the iconoclast that Bouton is, if not more. Marshall came off as particularly opinionated about today's game, both with regards to player salaries (they should be dividing a bigger piece of the pie) and pitcher injuries (much more money should be going towards prevention, and of course his teaching methods would also prevent most of them). Marshall revealed that he and his teammates were aware of Bouton's literary aspirations:
"It wasn't a secret [that Bouton was writing a book]... I read it in its rawest draft. I thought it was a celebration. I thought it was funny. It made us look a lot better than we actually were.

..."I'm proud of the book. I was proud of it when I first read it... You could write the same book about your co-workers... but who gives a damn?"
Hovley, a reserve outfielder on the team, had the least to say of any panelist, but he did explain what it was like to be identified as the team's designated Dostoevski reader: "I was a jock in college, then I was an intellectual on a baseball team. I had all this free time and had a book in my hip pocket. It was not only noticed by my teammates, but immortalized in print."

Pagliaroni discussed the difficulties of catching Bouton's knuckleball, recalling Bob Uecker's advice (wait until it stops rolling, then pick it up) and sharing memories not just of the Pilots but of his entire major league career. A Bonus Baby with the Red Sox, Pags was in the on-deck circle for Ted Williams' home run in his final at-bat. "I dropped my bat and cried," he told us. "I shook his hand as he crossed home plate." Pags followed that with a single, according to Retrosheet.

Following the panel, Bouton sat to sign copies of his classic's 2000 edition, Ball Four: the Final Pitch. I had the pleasure of meeting Bouton back when the book was released; later that night I ran into the woman who's now my wife, a story I told here upon my engagement and which I related to Bouton when I had him sign Armour's Rain Check article. Bouton seemed genuinely touched, and posed for a photo of me wearing my Pilots #56 throwback jersey (there were two other Pilots jerseys in the audience, one #21 for Tommy Harper, the other #2, which I think was for Schultz):

Bouton was also on the menu as the keynote speaker for the afternoon's Awards Luncheon, but at $50 or $60 a ticket, I decided to forego the rubber chicken. I had planned to sneak in after the meal to hear the speech, but after grabbing a sandwich with a few other guys (Mike Carminati, Anthony Giacalone, Ben Jacobs, Chris Jaffe), I returned and quickly became involved in a heady discussion with Stu Shea and ESPN's Gary Gillette, for whom I'd done some design work a couple years ago. Gillette and I chatted at length about the ailing Peter Gammons (later I scored a copy of Gammons' out-of-print book, Beyond the Sixth Game), then I picked his brain about some of this year's surprises, including the Tigers, Dodgers, and a handful of rookies. Somewhere amid the conversation, Pete Palmer -- Gillette's partner in compiling The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia -- dropped by, giving me the chance to meet and chat with a bona fide legend not just in the field of sabermetrics but in the dissemination of baseball statistics, period. A serious goosebump moment for me.

From outside the ballroom, I did catch the tail end of Bouton's keynote speech, which sounded some of the same themes as his appearance on the Pilots panel, right down to another verse of "Proud to be an Astro." Je ne regrette rien...

I spent much of the rest of the afternoon in the hotel bar, less to pound the ol' Budweiser than to get acquainted with my new BP cohorts, Maury Brown. and Dan Fox. Dan told me of his work datacasting Rockies games for's Gameday. Maury was working on a piece about the esoterica found in player contracts. We kicked that topic around, talked about the SABR Business of Baseball committee he co-chairs (along with Gary Gillette), and discussed rumors of new steroid-related revelations. We also shared a good laugh about some correspondence he'd had with Stan Kasten. The Nationals' president, whom he interviewed recently, solicited him in search of a sabermetrically-minded underling for GM Jim Bowden, who is miraculously going to keep his job, and apparently needs all the help he can get. Insert punchline here.

Around 5:30, most of the conventioners either headed out to catch a bus to the Mariners/Rockies game at Safeco Field or to walk (all of about a mile) to the field; I lingered another half-hour in the lobby, waiting for Bryan, my brother, to join me, then we strode down there as well. This was to be my first game at Safeco, and my 10th major-league stadium overall (Yankee, Shea, Fenway, Tiger, Wrigley, Jacobs Field, Camden Yards, Miller Park, and RFK are the others, with Dodger Stadium on deck next weekend). Arriving at the ballpark, we bumped in to Dave Eskenazi, whose memorabilia we'd soon be admiring on the ballpark's murals. Bryan and I scouted out potential food options, settling on Porter's BBQ on the 100 level. I got a tall beer and something called the Porter Special -- a hot link covered with a huge pile of pork -- then gingerly ascended to my seat in the upper deck, praying that I wouldn't spill anything on my Pilots jersey.

We joined Stu Shea, Cecilia Tan and their s.o.'s (Cecilia and Corwin, respectively) up in section 320, row 19, high up on the first base side, and I quickly removed the jersey and immersed myself in meat. I'm not sure I really attempted to follow the game until about the third inning; no scorekeeping for me, as I forgot my scorebook in New York City, but the only tally that really mattered -- besides the out-of-town scores which Bryan filled us in on via info culled from his Blackberry -- was no sauce on the retro jersey. In any event, the third frame arrived rapidly. Neither the Rox nor the M's seemed intent on taking many pitches, and both Josh Fogg and Jamie Moyer mowed through the opposing lineups in short order, relying mainly on their changeups.

The Rockies finally broke through in the fifth inning, when Moyer yielded a leadoff walk to Brad Hawpe, who advanced to second on a sacrifice and to third on a groundout, then scored on a single by Jamey Carroll. Hawpe belted a solo homer to centerfield in the seventh, and that was it for the scoring. Fogg went the distance with a shutout, tossing just 91 pitches while facing the minimum number of Mariner hitters; the two hits and one walk he yielded were erased via double plays, and the game was over in an astounding 1:52 -- the shortest contest in Safeco history. Cecilia and I joked about the fact that we'd seen Yankees-Orioles games which lasted twice as long.

Though it was barely 9 PM as the game wrapped up, my SABR day was done; I needed to rendezvous with Andra (my wife), who was flying in from New York. Bud would have to be pounded elsewhere... to be continued

Monday, July 03, 2006


Rattling SABRs in Seattle -- Part I

I had a genuine blast during my three days at the SABR Convention in Seattle -- the first I've ever attended -- spending hours talking baseball with other likeminded nuts, listening to presentations and panel discussions, and even taking in a ballgame. Most of the people I met were familiar names if not faces; it was as though my bookshelf, email box, and bookmarks lists sprung to life with an outstretched hand: "Nice to finally meet you!" I doubt I can do justice to the richness of the experience or the sensory overload of being among so many friendly, intelligent, enthusiastic folks, but what follows here and in the next couple of posts are some of the highlights.

I'd already registered and picked up my packet of goodies on Wednesday afternoon, getting the lay of the land by taking a bus downtown from my brother's place out in Tangletown after lunching with Bruce Taylor of Fantasy Baseball Index, the magazine I wrote for back in December and then again during spring training. I'd slept in, missing the Opening Ceremonies, but arrived in time for the Poster Presentations, in which 10 different members presented charts, graphs, photos and such on various topics.

Still a bit groggy and reserved, drinking the worst hotel coffee available in the entire Pacific Northwest, I was pleased to start my day with a few familiar faces. Mike Carminati of Mike's Baseball Rants, whom I've met a few times between New York and Philadelphia, had a series of graphs on the Hall of Fame entitled "Like School on Saturday: Reviewing the Hall by Class." Mike's work examined the Hall's standards from a historical standpoint, using Win Shares to trace the valuation of the average Hall of Famer and how the institution's standards have evolved over time. Sean Forman of presented information on the Wikipedia-like Bullpen, "A Collaborative Enyclopedia of Baseball History." Familiar with that portion of the site, I spent more time catching up with Sean and discussing the awesome stat site's success and the possibility of designing a new banner for it (I did the old Babe Ruth one, which now survives as a link banner). I also met Sean's lovely wife and infant son. Greg Spira, who doggedly convinced me to join SABR a few years ago, was nearby, and we spent a good chunk of time re-connecting and talking about various projects and SABRs past.

One of the most interesting poster presentations came from a trio of gentlemen I didn't know beforehand, Steve Weingarden, Christian Resick and Daniel Whitman (I met two of the three but can't remember which ones). Titled "Why is THAT Executive a Hall of Famer? Have You Seen His Leadership Stats?" the authors attempted to assess and quantify the accomplishments and leadership attributes of the dozen or so team-related execs in the Hall, including Bill Veeck, Branch Rickey, Warren Giles, and George Weiss (pioneers and commissioners who never worked for a team weren't included). I can't recall who came out on top; Veeck was fairly high, Negro League founder Rube Foster even higher, and George Weiss was by far the lowest-ranked. I spent a few minutes with one of the authors discussing where Walter O'Malley would rank were he enshrined (Maury Brown made the case for the oft-vilified O'Malley over at Baseball Prospectus recently; more on him later).

From the posters I toured through an exhibit of Pacific Northwest baseball memorabilia (not just the Pilots, but various Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver, and Spokane teams from the past century-plus, but alas, no Walla Walla Padres) curated by Dave Eskenazi. Later during the convention I was tipped off to look out for the semi-obscured bogus Seattle Pilots business card of Allan "Bud" Selig, next to a real business card of another Pilots exec. Selig's job title: "Franchise Thief." I nearly doubled over laughing, and so did the other guys to whom I showed it.

After grabbing a quick bite for lunch, I met a handful of bloggers whose names are familiar: Aaron Gleeman and Ben Jacobs of The Hardball Times, Matt Rauseo, Joe Dimino of the Hall of Merit, and my namesake, Chris Jaffe (no relation; the creator of the now-defunct Run Support Index blog). Soon we were watching Chris' presentation: "Evaluating Managers: Which Men Get the Most and Which Get the Least Out of Their Players." Chris used five different means of exploring that question, comparing Pythagorean records versus actual, and the performances deltas of hitters and pitchers under said managers. As with most of these presentations, I can't do it justice with my spotty memory, but I recall Joe McCarthy coming out on top by a wide margin, that both Casey Stengel and Connie Mack were hampered in the overall rankings byong, unproductive stretches fo their careers (Stengel scored well with the bad Braves and Dodgers teams but lousy with the Mets; Mack simply had too many years where winning was a secondary goal) and that the managers with the longest careers (2,000 or more games) tended to have the largest per year impacts (on the order of 1-2 games), while managers with the shortest tenures (less than 500 games) had the least (the paper on which Chris' presentation is based starts here).

Following a break for some liquid refreshments (a bit early at 1:30 PM, but when in Rome...) we returned for Anthony Giacalone's account of the creation of the Mariners, "'Let the bleeps talk to me. I'm a seller, too!": Relocation, Expansion and the Battle to Bring Major League Baseball Back to Seattle." His was a complex narrative involving Charley O. Finley's Oakland A's, the Chicago White Sox, the Messersmith-McNally decision, Bill Veeck, Bowie Kuhn, Congress, and the rivalry between the two leagues; Giacalone followed the tale's twists and turns an engaging fashion.

More refreshments, then back for Vince Genarro's well-polished "The Dollar Value of the Last Piece of the Puzzle," a look at the economics of the player who puts a team over the top. Like Nate Silver in Baseball Between the Numbers' chapter, "Is Alex Rodriguez Overpaid?" Genarro noted that within a very narrow range, the value of an additional win increases disproportionately due to the postseason revenue at stake, such that a team on the cusp of making the playoffs has the most to gain.

Following that, I sat through three presentations in a row. "Double Duty" Carminati served up "Welcome to the Halls of Relief: An Historical Review of Relief Pitching" which, in addition to throwing an overwhelming blur of data at the audience, concluded with a fantastic suggestion that the Hall create a special committee to review the cases of various relievers throughout history and select qualified oness for induction (screw the BBWAA and their inability to get it right on Rich Gossage). Phil Birnbaum asked "Do Players Outperform in Their Free-Agent Year?" (no, not to any great extent). Maury Brown and Dan Fox -- two of the newest Baseball Prospectus authors -- presented "The 2006 CBA and the Battles Within It", reviewing the various potential sticking points in the upcoming labor negotiations and concluding that this time around, there's a slimmer chance of a work stoppage than ever. The gregarious Brown did all the talking, actually, while the quiet Fox worked behind the scenes for a fine presentation.

With enough PowerPoint under my belt for the day, I retired to the bar, where I met up with fellow New Yorker Mark Lamster, whose Albert Spalding book I've been touting in this space. We caught up on the Yankees, bemoaning the state of their rotation and injured outfielders, he introduced me to Brown, and then we headed down to an author signing at Elliot Bay Bookstore by way of a reception at Ebbets Field Flannels.

The Elliot Bay event was a highlight, with the following panel:

Jeff Angus, offering up Management by Baseball, a book presenting lessons from the national pastime and their applications in the business world. Even to somebody like me, whose eyes glaze over at the thought of working in some corporate cubicle or attending a management seminar, Angus is an engaging, accessible and persuasive speaker. He had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand as he described his a-ha moment of combining baseball with his consulting skills: an unsuccessful steal of second base bay the Mariners' lumbering Jeff Burroughs as ordered by the worst manager in the history of history, Maury Wills. Watching him, I had the vision of a man quite capable of convincing the Eskimos to diversifying their ice-based economy by applying lessons learned from the 2005 White Sox. Or something like that.

• Mark Armour and Dave Eskenazi, presenting Rain Check, their convention-related history book covering Pacific Northwest baseball. Armour, the co-author of the award-winning Paths to Glory: How Great Baseball Teams Got That Way, edited the collection and wrote a terrific perspective piece on the hoopla surrounding Jim Bouton's Ball Four. Eskenazi's photos and memorabilia gave the book its visual punch; Safeco Field even has murals of his treasures.

• Rob Neyer, speaking about his Big Book of Baseball Blunders. As he'd done in New York a couple weeks ago, the immodestly modest Rob went straight into Q&A mode instead of touting his book.

• Jonah Keri, flying the Baseball Prospectus flag for Baseball Between the Numbers, which he edited. Jonah focused on BBTN's most provocatively-titled chapter (one of two he wrote for the book), "Why Doesn't Billy Beane's Shit Work in the Playoffs?"

Following the panel discussion and book signings, I joined all of the authors except Angus in heading to a nearby restaurant for burgers, onion rings, and other fried goodies. Also joining us was Armour's co-author on Paths to Glory, Dan Levitt. The most memorable portion or our conversation was Armour relating the sad tale of a SABR member attempting to enter by hand over 100 years of baseball data in the service of his own particular (and understandably unfinished) encyclopedia. Brutal.

Back at the hotel bar, Armour and I joined a group that included Stuart Shea, who edited my stuff for Fantasy Baseball Index and who wrote Wrigley Field: The Unauthorized Biography, Cecilia Tan, author of The 50 Greatest Yankee Games and The 50 Greatest Red Sox Games, and their significant others. I've corresponded with both Stuart and Cecilia, the latter for several years, but this was the first time I'd met them too. No problem; I instantly felt at home bending elbows around a table that included six of us drinking for the cycle -- beer, port, scotch, brandy, chocolate martini, and wine. Somehow our conversation turned to an All-Ugly team (current players only) and when we tired of that, an All-Domestic Violence team. Sadly, the latter took us hardly a couple of minutes to fill.

I hung out at the bar until about 1 AM, cracking the game with my new friends for a couple of hours, overwhelmed at all the people I'd met and hung out with in just one day at the convention. Finally, I excused myself and grabbed a cab back to my brother's place, where I caught a few Z's before rising early... to be continued


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