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, September 29, 2006


If You Link It, He Will Come

You know you're as marginal as marginal major leaguers get when in the Age of the Long Ball, you've gone over 1,000 at-bats in your career without getting a single major league home run. And you know you destined for the Hall of Punchlines when your life as a player pales before that of your alter ego, a bobblehead which has become the modern-day equivalent of the Honus Wagner T-206 card in rarity if not value. Such is the case for Jason Tyner, the 29-year-old journeyman Minnesota Twins outfielder.

Tyner may be enjoying a renaissance of sorts, hitting .315/.348/.357 in a reserve role for the plaoyff-bound Twins, whose outfield/DH situation has been decimated by injuries (Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter, Jason Kubel) and ick (Rondell White, Lew Ford, Ruben Sierra) even as the team has rallied to reach October after an awful start. In the grand scheme of things, that hardly matters unless you're a Twins fan. What matters is that at least one Tyner bobblehead has been liberated and is now residing in the East Village of New York City. It's not mine, but I can claim to have midwifed the acquisition.

But first, some back story. Tyner was drafted out of Texas A&M by the Mets in the first round of the 1998 draft. In taking him 21st, the Mets passed over useful players like Brad Wilkerson (33rd), Aaron Rowand (35th) and Adam Dunn (50). Similarly useless Bubba Crosby, another product of a Texas school (Rice) was taken by the Dodgers two picks later.

The 6'1", 170-pounder showed some promise as a speedy leadoff hitter over the next couple of seasons, most notably hitting .313/.390/.369 with 49 steals for the Mets' Double-A team in Binghamton in 1999. Promoted to the majors in June 2000, Tyner played only 13 games with the Mets before being packaged along with Paul Wilson in a near-deadline deal with the Devil Rays that brought Bubba Trammell and Rick White to the Big Apple. Finishing out the season in Tampa, he hit just .226/.261/.258 in 124 at-bats, managing just four doubles and no triples or homers. That lack of power soon became his trademark.

Tyner fit in perfectly on the hapless Devil Rays, hitting .280/.311/.326 and stealing 31 bases as a fourth outfielder in 2001 for a team that lost 100 games. In some places that will get you released, or at the very least ridiculed. In Tampa, it was enough to get a day in his honor. In March 2002, the Devil Rays announced that they would give away 5,00 bobbleheads on June 2. Alas, not even the Rays could stomach Tyner's .214/ .249/.238 performance in the early months of the season, and with Carl Crawford nearing readiness for the majors, the Rays shipped out their punchless wonder five days before the festivities.

As Chris (now Christina) Karhl wrote for Baseball Prospectus at the time:
Apparently, the Devil Rays' bobblehead giveaways scheduled for this year were for two of these very gentlemen, Jason Tyner and Toby Hall. Think about that. As dumb as baseball's dumbest organization is, they did have the smarts to finally cut bait on Tyner, baseball's worst regular. That's a cause for hope, right? I suppose that depends; only the Devil Rays would consider making Jason Tyner a regular in an outfield corner. There is an astounding lack of self-awareness, not only on the organizational management level, but in the team's marketing division. A bobblehead doll for Jason Tyner?

BP staffers like to joke about accumulating Lame Shares, but I think the Devil Rays are the first team to take that concept to heart and use it as a way to outdo themselves in finding new and interesting ways to run fans off. There is something ageless about a Jason Tyner bobblehead doll, of course, in that rather than try to give fans something that symbolizes hope or optimism or a commitment to improvement, or even something like a Randy Winn bobblehead doll that wouldn't say much of anything at all, the Devil Fishies want to give their fans something that represents how totally hopeless this franchise is, just like Jason Tyner. It's sort of like a Jose Tartabull doll for the Kansas City A's to tell fans to abandon hope, or one for Jim Gantner with the Brewers to remind fans that the hometown nine is well-intentioned and mostly harmless. A Jason Tyner bobblehead doll might be the game's most compelling anti-marketing tool this side of Bud Selig.
At the time it appeared possible that the bobblehead giveaway was simply forestalled. But Tyner didn't make it back to the big leagues that year, prompting Kahrl to revisit the topic a few months later:
Look, at this stage of the game, there are really only two questions to worry about as far as the D-Rays are concerned: will a strike wreck their shot at 110 losses (and do they have what it takes to do it in fewer than 162 games?), and what happened to all those Jason Tyner bobblehead dolls? Having already decided that trying to build a set of the political leaders of Europe in 1914 would be a vanity I should not indulge, I'd be really unhappy if I didn't fill my tchotchke bill with the ultimate expression of Devil Ray-dom. Just to think on all those Jason Tyner bobbleheads, gathering dust in some Florida warehouse filled with surplus tinned beef from the Spanish-American War, it's almost enough to make you moderately interested.
Though Tyner made it back to the majors for 46 games with the Rays in 2003, his big day was never rescheduled, and at the end of the year he was put on waivers. He went to spring training with the Rangers but was cut, spent half a season with the Braves' Triple-A team in Richmond, the highlight of which was his first professional home run. It came on May 6, in the 2,632rd at bat of his career, off of Columbus pitcher Jim Mann.

It wasn't enough. Tyner soon found himself the victim of a numbers game in Richmond, but he caught on with the Indians' Triple-A team in Buffalo, hitting .350/.417/.392 over the last two months of the season. That drew the attention of the Twins, who kept him at Rochester for most of 2005, where he hit another bomb on May 15. He hit well in a September call-up (.321/.367/.375) and found himself back in Minnesota in mid-July when, in a two-day span, Lew Ford, Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter all hit the DL. The Twins didn't have a whole lot of choice, but fortunately Tyner came out of the gate strong. He got two hits apiece in each of his first three games and had 18 hits in his first 12 games. His moderately useful work as a reserve has lifted his career line all the way to .272/.309/.315. Still, he's in the No Homers Club (no, not that one).

But enough about the player. The bobblehead never was too far from this writer's mind given the futility it (the doll, not my mind) represents. Back before Tyner was recalled, I referred to him in a June 11 Hit List entry on the Giants: "Moises Alou returns after missing a month due to an ankle sprain and hits .273/.360/.636 for the week, including a homer on his own bobblehead day (somewhere, Jason Tyner is weeping)."

A month later, I even had a bobblehead doll sighting of sorts. In her column, Kahrl noted that the Twins' release of Ruben Sierra "clears space on the roster for the club to bring up a fifth outfielder (Jason Tyner? The Jason Tyner? Man, I still want one of those)" Check that last link; it points to the promotion company that created the doll; their website trumpets it among dozens of others, failing to note its dubious distinction. Nonetheless it's there, a plastic apparition of sorts. I emailed the photo to my friend Nick Stone, calling the it "the closest you might ever get."

A few weeks later I linked the image in yet another Hit List entry on the Cardinals. "Meanwhile, Albert Pujols proves he's human by going all of 33 at-bats without a homer. Somewhere, a Jason Tyner bobblehead is crying." Never let it be said that I don't know when to drive a joke into the ground.

The repeated references struck a nerve with Stone, who decided to take action. "While I've never considered myself a bobblehead collector, I was intrigued by Tyner as a player because of his complete inability to hit for power, and the absurdity of his story; getting sent down a few days before his bobblehead night. I think over the years I had occasionally checked eBay without any luck. I hadn't given it much thought recently until both [Jay] and Christina Kahrl mentioned Tyner after his recent call up." To Stone's surprise, he found one on eBay, with an asking price of $5.50. A few days later, he'd won the doll without much trouble. "I made a last minute bid with a very high maximum, but only ended up paying $36.50."

He was surprised at the lack of competition. "It takes two people to have an auction, but in this case, one of them didn't show up. Either the other bidders weren't that keen, or they thought that it wouldn't take much to get it. Considering that this bobblehead was never 'released,' I would have thought that the rarity of it, combined with the back story, would drive the price through the roof." Stone notes that Chien-Ming Wang Trenton Thunder bobbleheads are going for over $300. "I had envisioned boxes of the dolls stacked in a forgotten corner of a cavernous warehouse never to be opened, not unlike the the warehouse scene at the end of the first Raiders of the Lost Ark movie!"

As for the doll's origin, the seller told Stone he'd found it at an estate sale. A deceased Devil Rays employee? Not necessarily. According to the St. Petersburg Times, the ballclub donated the lot of them -- reportedly 15,000, not 5,000 -- to charity: "This past offseason, the Rays gave them to the Pinellas Education Foundation for use at Enterprise Village, where they are among the items students can 'buy' with their earnings after learning about business and commerce."

In other words, there may be a few Tampa-area schoolkids running around with Tyner bobbleheads. Either they have yet to flood the market (just one other recently completed auction turned up on eBay) or the sentimental attachment is too great for those kids to let go of their treasured dolls. Is Stone worried his new prized possession will decrease in value? Not really. "Since I paid a reasonable price and have no interest in selling mine, it doesn't bother me too much," he says. And he offers advice for the Foundation: "The charity would do well to occasionally post them on eBay in order to maximize their value instead of flooding the 'market' by selling them all at once. This might price the kids out of the market, but really, are there any kids out there who really want a Jason Tyner bobblehead? After my eBay experience, I wonder if there's anyone out there who really wants a Jason Tyner bobblehead besides you, me, Christina Kahrl, and the handful of people I bid against."

As for the Devil Rays, now under new management, they're trying to move beyond the doll and the legacy of futility it represents, even if the results haven't shown up in this year's standings. "We're more focused on trying to compete in the AL East," says a source within the front office, who reports, "People mostly 'comment' on [the doll] by way of joking about it. There are some Tyner bobbleheads floating around the office here and there, although I hate to say that there's no gigantic bowl of them."

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Grasping Wang

Despite some technical difficulties that delayed its start and had the old rage-o-meter in the red for a few minutes, my chat at BP yesterday was pretty fun, lasting nearly three hours -- much longer than I intended to go. Tons of questions about JAWS, Frank Thomas, Trevor Hoffman, the MVP races, the Hit List Comedy Gold awards, Chien-Ming Wang, a good deal of busting on the Blue Jays and Tony LaRussa.

Wang was a big topic of discussion at BP yesterday because Nate Silver took a look at the postseason rotations using his Quick ERA toy to assess "true" rotation quality. The QERA formula is QERA =(2.69+K%*(-3.4)+BB%*3.88+GB%*(-0.66))^2 where K% and BB% are the number of strikeouts and walks per plate appeareance, and GB% is a pitcher's groundball/flyball ratio expressed as a percentage [GB/(GB+FB)]. Why use just these? As Nate writes, "These three components -- K rate, BB rate, GB/FB -- stabilize very quickly, and they have the strongest predictive relationship with a pitcher’s ERA going forward. What’s more, they are not very dependent on park effects, allowing us to make reasonable comparisons of pitchers across different teams."

The upshot of all of this is that WANG's QERA was estimated at 4.58, nearly a run more than his actual ERA of 3.63, and not exactly what you'd want from a #1 starter in a postseason series, 19 wins be damned. Silver wrote:
Wang is one of those pitchers who, like Tom Glavine, continually manages to post an ERA that is far superior to his peripherals. Even after accounting for his superior groundball rate, the numbers say he’s a #3 starter, not a #1. What’s unusual is the way in which Wang is getting lucky. His BABIP is very normal, and he’s actually been a bit worse with runners in scoring position. So what gives? Wang has allowed just a .230/.271/.316 line to the hitter leading off the inning, and it's very hard to score runs when your leadoff man gets on only 27% of the time. There might be some element of skill in attacking leadoff hitters, and Wang is undoubtedly a smart pitcher who understands good situational baseball. Nevertheless, this has to be mostly luck, and the secret sauce reminds us that finesse pitchers tend to get creamed in the playoffs. This is a very vulnerable rotation, especially with both Johnson and Mussina nursing injuries.
The "secret sauce" of which Nate speaks is from another one of his articles, an adaptation of a chapter from Baseball Between the Numbers where he and Dayn Perry examined more than a century's worth of playoff teams to see which factors correlated best with postseason success. In fact, only three passed the test of statistical significance; they are:

• A power pitching staff, as measured by normalized strikeout rate
• A good closer, as measured by Reliever Expected Wins Added (WXRL)
• A good defense, as measured by Fielding Runs Above Average FRAA

Following up on this, my pal Nick asked about Wang:
Nick Stone (East Village, NYC):[A]s someone who watches a lot of Yankees games do you think that Chien Ming Wang's success has a lot less to do with luck than his strikeout rate would indicate? Wang consistently hits the mid 90s with lots of movement, has allowed only 12 hr in 212 IP, and seems to be able to maintain a 3-1 G/F ratio in his sleep. While I usually shy away from scout terms like "stuff", I do think there is more to Wang than his a perusal of his stats would suggest. In my mind, this guy is clearly not a Granny Gooden/Kirk Reuter with a razor-thin margin for error.

Jay Jaffe: I do think there's something to be said for Wang's stuff, his mid-90s velocity, his ability to keep the ball on the ground and avoid home runs; in fact, given that he also has allowed just 9 steals with 11 CS, I'd say we're looking at a Tommy John-family pitcher minus the lefthandendess, and that's a good thing because those guys tend to last longer than cockroaches.

That said, a good portion of the reason for his success is that the Yankee defense has improved in terms of efficiency; their .707 is 2nd in the AL to Detroit whereas it was 10th last year. I see that as a result mainly of last year's outfield being absent for most of this year, but some improvement in the infield may have also taken place.
The Tommy John family of pitchers has nothing to do with the surgery; it's a concept Bill James introduced in his 1984 Baseball Abstract:
1. they are left-handed
2. they are control-type pitchers
3. they cut off the running game very well
4. they receive excellent double-play support
5. they allow moderate to low totals of home runs, lower than normal for a control pitcher
6. they are able to win while allowing an unusually high number of hits per game
7. their won-loss records tend to be very team dependent, often more exaggerated than their teams'--that is, a higher winning percentage than a winning team's or lower than a losing team's
Wang meets all of these criteria except for the first. With a 3.14 K/9 rate, 0.50 HR/9, 9.62 H/9, the aforementioned shutdown of the stolen base, the number two ranking in the entire major leagues in total Double Plays behind him (33), and a 19-6 (.760 winning pct.), there's really no doubt about it; if anything, what's interesting is that as a righty, he's got the platoon advantage more often than most TJ-family pitchers, though lefties and righties' splits against him are basically indistinguishable (.275/.321/.384 for lefties, .279/.319/.367 for righties).

One thing I didn't check but notice in retrospect: Wang's Batting Average on Balls in Play (.289) is actually much HIGHER this year than it was last year (.270), suggesting that situational pitching, as Nate pointed out, may be a bigger part of his story than the improved Yank defense. Also, his ERA is lower by 0.39, but while his K/PA has dropped 11 percent, it's his HR/9 where the real improvement lies: a 41 percent drop from last year.

Wang was still the topic of discussion when I went to last night's Yankees-Orioles game with Alex Belth. The lineup, which included Jason Giambi for the first time in a week, might have been on the short list for the most devastating Murderer's Rows ever; each player has at least one All-Star appearance to his credit:

1. Johnny Damon, CF
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Bobby Abreu, RF
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Jason Giambi, DH
6. Gary Sheffield, 1B
7. Hideki Matsui, LF
8. Jorge Posada, C
9. Robinson Cano, 2B

When one of the hottest hitters in the majors -- Cano is batting .369/.385/.656 with 23 2b, 11 HR, and 51 RBI since August 8, and is now running second in the AL Batting Average race, ahead of Jeter -- is hitting ninth, you're talking serious firepower, an embarrassment of riches. The game was a rout, with the Yanks chasing Oriole starter Kris Benson in the third inning, with Giambi, Abreu and Posada bashing homers off of him. Giambi's was his first since August 20, a span of 65 at-bats; he's been slowed by a torn ligament in his wrist that has Shef learning first base. Abreu's was his third in as many games and his fourth in eight games; he's hitting .345/.437/.536 in pinstripes.

Benson departed for Bruce Chen, who got the final out of the third, then was torched for five runs himself in the fourth; he knocked Rodriguez down, at which point I shouted, "Hey tough guy, how many outs you got?" The answer was none; Jeter had walked and Abreu had singled -- giving way to pinch-runner Bernie Williams -- following Damon's homer. A-Rod responded with an RBI single, Giambi followed with a two-run single (his third hit of the night already; the second an opposite-field single that defeated the now-standard shift against him). After a Sheffield single -- his second hit of the night, following a sharp double that gave hints that his bat speed is on its way back -- Chen was toast.

The Yanks continued dishing out Cream of Whoop Ass, with Cano adding a two-run homer in the seventh, and by the end of the game -- we stuck around, having a blast watching the scoreboard (Jon Weisman has a nice summary of that angle, which included four games relevant to the NL playoff picture and a Dodger victory), playing peek-a-boo with a 14-month old baby girl in the row in front of us, and chatting with blogger Benjamin Kabak -- every single position player had departed for a sub. Andy Cannizaro, Kevin Thompson, Sal Fasano (whom I couldn't stop yelling at; the pear-shaped backup catcher totally entertains me with his junk-in-the-trunk waddle), Andy Phillips, Melky Cabrera -- come on down! Final score: 16-5.

For all of this, Wang wasn't too sharp, slogging through six innings and giving up 10 hits (eight singles and two doubles) and four runs, though he did strike out four. Sitting on the bench for extended periods of time might have had something to do with it; by the fourth the Yanks had already scored 13 runs. But still, the question remained as to whether Wang will ever convert that mid-90s speed into a higher strikeout rate, generally held to be the predictor of pitcher longevity. I'm skeptical myself; the sinker is his bread-and-butter pitch, and it's not one designed to miss bats, it's designed to generate ground balls. He's got a four-seamed fastball and a splitter, but he doesn't rely on those to deceive batters nearly as much. It will be fascinating to see how he develops, and whether he can be The Man in the playoffs. Torre officially announced that he's starting the Division Series opener, so we'll soon find out.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


One More Thing

I've got a Baseball Prospectus chat scheduled for Wednesday at 1 PM. Drop by, or submit a question beforehand -- the Hit List, JAWS, Yanks, Dodgers, the NL Wild Card race, the postseason, the offseason, the secret lives of futility infielders, and barrels full of rabid monkeys -- it's all fair game.


More Fun Than a Barrel Full of Rabid, Knife-Wielding Monkeys

With the Dodgers idle after Sunday's second Nomar Garciaparra walkoff of the week -- NOMAAAAAAH! -- this one a grand slam to close out the regular-season schedule in Chavez Ravine, Monday night was a helluva night for scoreboard watching as I finished the week's Hit List. The NL playoff picture, in particular, is more fun than a barrel full of monkeys. Rabid, knife-wielding monkeys intent on stabbing one in the stomach with rusty blades, at that.

With the Phillies a half-game up on the Dodgers in the Wild Card race and playing the Astros, I had that game on and was following along, cursing as Jimmy Rollins broke open a 2-2 game with a two-run homer. Meanwhile I was eyeing ESPN's scoreboard page, where I spied the NL West-leading Padres jump out to an early 5-1 lead on the Cardinals, who came into the game having lost five straight. With the score cut to 5-2, I told my wife, "Call St. Louis collect and tell them to stop sucking!"

No sooner had I said that when I saw that Jim Edmonds, who hadn't played in four weeks due to post-concussion syndrome, had apparently hit a three-run homer to tie the game. I didn't actually see the bomb live, mind you, but I watched the scoreboard page refreshed with his name in the homer column, and quickly flipped the channel to watch the replay.

No sooner had Edmonds and I pumped fists in unison as he rounded first base than I sat back down and saw that the Astros had re-tied the game in the seventh on a two-run single by Orlando Palmeiro. Figuring that I'd done a good job of not jinxing things by actually missing the key plays, I went back to the Hit List and discovered on my next glance two minutes later -- I don't have a very long attention span these days, and who wants to watch a Brad Ausmus at-bat, even on GameCast? -- that Mike Lamb had singled in the go-ahead run. "Everything is coming up Milhouse!" I wrote in an instant message.

Meanwhile, the Yankees -- who needs to watch them in these post-clinch days, especially against the Devil Rays -- were pounding the living snot out of poor Tampa Bay 12-1. Glancing at the box score, I patted myself on the back for skipping over a laudatory comment about Jae Seo's recent work as he'd been torched for eight runs, including two three-run homers in the first by Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui, in 1.2 innings. Feh, Mark Hendrickson can do that.

That wasn't the only blowout going on at the time, either. I checked in on the White Sox via GameCast; they were down 14-1 in the seventh, while the Twins, whose magic number to reach the postseason coming into Monday was at two, led the Royals 3-1 in the sixth. Clickety-clack on the IM: "I see that the World Championship has called Ozzie Guillen in the visitors dugout of Jacobs and told him that it's time for them both to see other people."

By this point I'd surrendered the TV to Andra so she could tape Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, so I spent another hour flipping back and forth on the GameCast as I closed out the Hit List. The AL picture tidied itself up with the White Sox elimnation, leaving only the Central title to be decided between the Tigers and Twins. Meanwhile, the Phils lost, moving the Dodgers into a tie for the Wild Card (wohoo!), but the Padres managed to break the tie in the seventh with a Brian Giles double and a Mike Piazza single, and even with Trevor Hoffman sitting this one out as Scott Linebrink closed out Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen, they never looked back.

As the game wound down, I outlined various NL playoff scenarios via IM for a friend with Mets tickets:

• If the Phillies win the Wild Card, the Mets play either the NL Central or NL West winner, whichever has a worse record. The most surprising result of last night's play is that the slumping Cardinals' lead over surging Houston (whom I roundly dismissed in the previous two Hit Lists) has dwindled to 2.5 games with seven to go (six for the 'Stros). Right now the Baseball Prospectus Postseason Odds Report gives the Astros a 7.8 percent chance of pulling off such an unlikely scenario. Even if the Cards do win, they're currently 3.5 behind the Padres in terms of having the better record, so they'd play the Mets, while the West winner (likely the Padres at 87.1 percent, with the Dodgers at just 12.9) would play the Phils.

• Other scenarios are simpler. If the Dodgers win the Wild Card (41.0 percent), they'd play the Mets in a rematch of the magical 1988 LCS matchup. The Padres and Cardinals would reprise last year's Division Series, or the Pads and Astros would... meet to discuss which of the two teams got the better of their 12-player deal back in December 1994. Or something.

• If the Padres win the Wild Card (8.9 percent), they'd play the Mets, with the Mike Piazza storyline likely dominating the airwaves. The Dodgers would get either a rematch of their 2004 Division Series with the Cards, or a throwback to the strike-induced 1981 Division Series via a matchup with the Astros.

Cribbing from Dodger Thoughts (whose Jon Weisman tells me he wasn't actually at the Four-Homer game, contrary to my understanding), here's how the slate plays out:

Day DateSan Diego (84-72)Los Angeles (82-74)Philadelphia (82-74)
TueSept 26 at St. Louisat Coloradoat Washington
WedSept 27at St. Louisat Colorado at Washington
ThuSept 28at Arizonaat Colorado at Washington
FriSept 29at Arizonaat San Franciscoat Florida
SatSept 30at Arizonaat San Francisco at Florida
SunOct 1at Arizonaat San Francisco at Florida

• If PHI finishes ahead of a tied LA and SD, there would be a tiebreaker game for the NL West title in LA on October 2.

• If SD finishes ahead of a tied LA and PHI, there would be a tiebreaker game for the NL Wild Card in PHI on October 2.

• If LA finishes ahead of a tied SD and PHI, there would be a tiebreaker game for the NL Wild Card in PHI on October 2.

• If SD and LA finish tied ahead of PHI, SD would be the NL West champion and LA the NL Wild Card.

• If all three teams finish tied, SD would play at LA to decide the NL West champion October 2, and the loser of that game would go to PHI to decide the wild card October 3.

Fun stuff, even with those monkeys. Did I mention how sharp their teeth were?

Friday, September 22, 2006


The Sox Come Unraveled, and Other Tales From the Bullpen

The American League Central has turned out to have one of the best races in recent memory, with the Tigers, Twins and White Sox dueling for two playoff spots. But it appears the three-horse race has dwindled to two, and it's the defending Sox -- six games out of first and 5.5 back in the Wild Card -- who've faded in the backstretch. I've got an article in today's New York Sun exploring "The Unraveling of the World Champions":
As September dawned, the Sox and Twins were running neck-and-neck for the Wild Card, apparently the only postseason vacancy remaining in the AL. Chicago held a half-game lead, but the [Baseball Prospectus Postseason] Odds report showed both teams holding a 50% shot of reaching October, either via the Central crown or the Wild Card. The remaining schedules favored Minnesota, with three more home games than the Sox and thehome-field advantage for a season-ending three-game series between the two clubs; at the imposing Metrodome, the Twins had gone 45–22.

Nonetheless, conventional wisdom showed reasons to favor the Sox. Not only did they have experience and the championship imprimatur on their side, they held a significant advantage at the training table.

In August, the Twins suffered a pair of devastating blows to their rotation. Brad Radke, who'd battled a torn labrum all season, left his August 25 start against Chicago after just two innings and was subsequently discovered to have a stress fracture in his shoulder. Worse, rookie Francisco Liriano, arguably the best pitcher in the league this year (even better than teammate Johan Santana), was limited to one start in August because of elbow soreness. By comparison, the defending champs were fairly healthy, save for a recent hamstring injury to slugger Jim Thome and intermittent problems with Joe Crede's back.

Yet the Sox are the ones who unraveled. Despite the Twins' injuries — Liriano is done for the year after an abortive return, while Radke may get one more start — Minnesota has raced to a 13–6 record this month, while Chicago has stumbled along at 7–12. What happened?
What happened is that both the offense and the pitching went down the tubes. Specifically, those injuries to Thome and Crede turned out to be much more detrimental than expected, helping the team's scoring rate fell off 36 percent this month (more than that, actually, since the Sox were shut out last night; Crede's slump has expanded to 0-for-25. The bullpen fell apart as well, yielding a 6.58 ERA (that increased last night, too) this month as Bobby Jenks (10.12 ERA, scored upon in four straight appearances) and Brandon McCarthy (19.29 ERA, scored upon in six out of seven appearances) dropped the ball. And while GM Kenny Williams did some good work over the winter in acquiring Thome, he tabbed the wrong rookie centerfielder to replace him, trading Chris Young to Arizona while keeping Brian Anderson, who's hit just 231/.301/.368. He passed up a deadline trade for Alfonso Soriano that would have cost them McCarthy but given the team the option of sliding slumping Scott Podsednik over to centerfield, where the offensive bar was lower.

Anyway, the article is free, so don't be shy.

Meanwhile, I've got a couple of links to point out, stuff that's slipped through the cracks recently. First, there's my much-promised "Prospectus Hit List: A Brief History", which ran... wow, two weeks ago. Thanks to the number-crunching of Clay Davenport, BP now has Adjusted Standings data going back into the 19th century, data that will hopefully find its way to the site in due time. I had the pleasure of sifting through it to answer some of the burning questions readers have had: who's finished first most often (the Yanks, 22 times but not since 1998), what's the longest consecutive run at #1 (four years, by three different franchises, two of them Yankee dynasties), how often does #1 win the World Series (about half the time), how often does #1 miss the postseason completely, as the Indians did last year (just five other times), what the best and worst single-season marks of all time are, and what a composite all-time ranking of the 30 franchises would look like (a whole lot of New York at the top).

One issue my astute readers raised was that when I tallied how often various rankings reached the postseason and won the World Series, I lumped the three eras coinciding with different postseason structures (1901-1968, 1969-1993, and 1995-2005) together, generating some results which muddied up the picture. I'll be attempting to clear that up -- and getting to some of the other interesting facets about the data -- in an article to be named later, so to speak. Big thanks to Clay for running those numbers and to my trusty research assistant, Peter Quadrino, for his help.

Second, Alex Belth cited an old BP piece of mine, "The Claussen Pickle" in his examination of the current state of the Yankee farm system:
Instead of developing their own talent, they returned to the tactics that characterized George Steinbrenner during the '80s: trading their best chips for big-name, top-dollar veterans while breaking the bank in their pursuit of glitzy free agents. At the start of the 2005 season the Yankees' farm system was considered to be underwhelming, with no clear help in sight.

But nearly two seasons later, thanks to the breakout successes of Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang and Melky Cabrera and a budding crop of farmhands, that perception couldn't be any more different from the truth.

"A year ago at this time, these Yankees seemed to be in a 'win now with this group' mode," says Pete Abraham, who covers the Yankees for The Journal News. "Now they have Cano, Cabrera and Wang as transition players with right-hander Philip Hughes, outfielder Jose Tabata and others on the way. There may be no letup."

Jay Jaffe wrote about the Yankees' farm system two summers ago in an article for Baseball Prospectus titled, "The Claussen Pickle," the upshot of which was that while the Yankees lost some good young players from 1994 to 2004, they didn't lose any Hall of Famers. Mike Lowell is the best position player the Yankees have traded in the past 10 years; perhaps Nick Johnson will surpass him one day.

Eric Milton, a No. 1 draft pick, helped land Chuck Knoblauch; Jake Westbrook and Zach Day fetched David Justice. However, "in the two years since that article was written," Jaffe explained recently, "it's even clearer that they've traded away players that were better than what they came up with for their secondary players. Juan Rivera, Marcus Thames or even Wily Mo Peña would have been superior to Ruben Sierra or Bubba Crosby on last year's team."
The difference these days is due to GM Brian Cashman's consolidation of power in the front office, lessening the influence of Steinbrenner's Tampa mafia and exerting more control over scouting and player acquisition.

On that note, last week the New York Post's Joel Sherrman had a complimentary article on Cashman and his crosstown counterpart Omar Minaya's strong work in the dumpster-diving department this year. For the Yankees, that's included picking up OF-1B Aaron Guiel (let go by the Royals), starting pitcher Darrell Rasner (waived by the Nationals) and reliever Brian Bruney (cut by the Diamondbacks), who's pitched so well that he's a lock for the playoff roster. Bruney, who can hit 97 on the gun but had an ERA above 6.00 in his Arizona tenure (the Times has an excellent piece on his saga today), has given the Yanks the fresh power arm that they thought they were getting when they signed Octavio Dotel coming off of Tommy John surgery, but the performances are night and day:
        IP   H    ERA   K/9   K/BB    WXRL
Bruney 17 11 0.53 12.71 2.40 0.374
Dotel 8 13 10.13 7.88 0.70 -0.462
That fresh arm is crucial to the Yanks because Scott Proctor leads the AL in relief appearances (79) and innings (98), Mariano Rivera has missed the past three weeks, and overall, the Yankee bullpen has been worked much harder than any of the other AL contenders. From Buster Olney's piece on Wednesday:
          B2B   #P
Yankees 128 8078
Oakland 110 7128
Minnesota 79 6954
Detroit 57 6713
The first column is the number of times the Yanks have run a pitcher out there in back-to-back games. The second is the total number of pitches thrown by the bullpens this season (both figures through Tuesday). As you can see, it isn't even close; Yankee relievers have been ridden harder. Not surprisingly, they've performed worse as well. Baseball Prospectus' WXRL stat (Reliever Expected Wins Added), which measures the increment by which a pitcher increased (or decreased) his team's chances of winning in each plate appearance, shows the A's bullpen leading the AL with 14.345 wins, the Twins a close second at 14.216 (the two have flip-flopped since I wrote that Sun piece), the Tigers fifth (10.257) and the Yanks sixth (9.706). The Yankee bullpen has tossed 478.1 innings, 19 more than the Twins, and 50 more than the TIgers and A's, and their Fair Run Average (which divvies up responsibility for inherited runners according to a run expectancy table) is 4.81, considerably higher than the A's (4.43), Twins (4.34) and Tigers (4.11) as well.

As past experience has shown, a sharp pen is a key to October. Ask the soon-to-be-former champion White Sox about that when you get a chance.


Thursday, September 21, 2006


Five Cool Things about Pat Neshek

Last Friday night, I finally got a chance to watch Twins reliever Pat Neshek. By way of belatedly introducing this week's Hit List, in which Neshek appears, I just had to share a few of my favorite things about this guy.

1. First and foremost, he's a rookie big-league pitcher who has his own blog; he's been doing it since spring of 2004, when he was pitching in High-A ball. It's not a scandal sheet where juicy tidbits of inside gossip are dished out, but it's not a slick, filtered production either. Mainly it's just cool to see a player make an honest attempt to connect with fans and share his wide-eyed take on being a rookie in the bigs (scroll down about 1/4 of the way here to see his illustrated take on signing a contract with Topps, for example).

2. Neshek throws with a very funky motion that includes a herky-jerky stutter at the beginning that must drive hitters bat-shit crazy. He drops down to begin his delivery from a submarine position, but brings the ball up so that he's basically throwing slightly above sidearm. He describes how he developed his delivery here (with photos):
My best guess is the following hypothesis. In my last High School game I was drilled in the forearm by current Phillies farmhand CJ Woodrow. Up to this point I was a normal over the top thrower. In fact the first time I was drafted it was by the Twins in 1999 and I was throwing directly over the top, I'm sure they still have video of it. That next day after getting hit in the arm I had trouble gripping a baseball. About two weeks into summer baseball I still could not throw a baseball unless it was from three fourths / sidearm angle. I tried to pitch but my mechanics wanted me to go over the top but it hurt too much to do that. I continued to play shortstop all summer turning double plays and throwing the ball from down under. I eventually finished the summer season and took off the rest of the time until I started college, which was about a month and a half. During that time my forearm healed and when I got to Butler I felt fine throwing the ball. One problem though, I had a whole new arm slot and it wasn't anything I thought it could be. During my freshman year at Butler I was watching a tape of me throwing and this was one of the first times I had seen myself throw on TV since high school. A lot changed in my mechanics from high school to college and I never noticed nor felt like I was throwing any different. After viewing the tape I was shocked and tried for a few months to change my mechanics. Near the end of the season I watched myself again after trying to improve the delivery but it still looked the same. Butler Head Coach Steve Farley tried for the rest of the year to work on making me "Look Normal." During my Sophomore season on an average day near the end of Fall Ball, Coach Farley came up to me and said "Do your own thing" "That's your own unique style and it works" and something to the extent of "I give up with you." From that point on I stopped feeling bad about having the worst mechanics in college baseball and used my style as strength. So now if you ever see me pitch you'll know how I pitch like that!
Neshek describes his repertoire in a March 2005 interview with Seth Speaks:
I guess if I were to describe myself I would say that I'm a guy looking to come at you, compete, throw in the zone and not let up looking to strike the batter out. Yeah it's a different arm angle from most guys. I throw a four seam/two seem fastball, slider, change up from a little above sidearm and a sinker that I throw submarine. My fastball is usually my out pitch but if my slider is on I go with that.
Aaron Gleeman links to a short clip of Neshek's delivery that shows the arm angle but not the stuff that precedes it, which appears to be every bit as important.

3. Neshek's funky delivery has been done up in Lego, courtesy of Bat-Girl. What, you were expecting Joe Sheehan?

4. He has a cool-looking autograph and is in fact a collector of both autographs and cards. Like any reliever, he's got a lot of time on his hands, and he must have spent a fair amount practicing his signature. He actually trades signed cards with fans and runs his own auctions on eBay. In a couple of his recent entries (September 5 and 11, 2006, can't seem to find the way to permalink), he describes a trip to the MLB Players Association office, where he was given some boxes of baseball cards. He opens a couple of the boxes and describes the various sets, then runs stats for how much of a set he's completed and how many doubles he had. Endearingly nerdy.

5. In his September 15 entry, Neshek is believed to have made big-league history by photo-blogging the Twins' rookie initiation ritual, for which he was dressed up in a magenta and black skirt, witches hat, fishnet stockings and silver platform shoes. He described the experience as "Not Fun!" but the photos speak otherwise, showing him and the other unidentified Twins rooks -- one dressed as Elvis, one looking like the cop from the Village People, one that might be the Tin Man, another in a Tarzan outfit, Matt Garza in a yellow bikini, Boof Bonser (I think) in a modified girls' school uniform -- are mostly smiles. Hilarious stuff, and the reason Neshek made it into this week's Hit List.

Not that Neshek hasn't done good work this year. Recalled just before the All-Star break, he was charged with just three runs in his first 25.2 innings. But September has been a cruel month; he's yielded six in 7.1 frames, and he took the loss in the game I caught on Friday. Overall, he's got a 2.45 ERA in 33 innings, and an awesome 48/6 K/BB ratio, and he's held righties to a .158/.179/.250 performance in 76 at-bats (lefties hit .233/.292/.512 off of him in 43 at-bats). He's fourth on the Twins in Reliever Expected Wins Added, with 1.034, and that's helped them to lead the AL in that category. Since the Twins appear likely to play into October, he should get plenty of TV time over the next few weeks. Catch him while you can.


Basking with the Ho-Hum Guy

Basking in the afterglow of that miraculous Dodger win, I caught the postgame interview footage with Jeff Kent. Now, I'm not a fan of Kent's winning personality, as I wrote before, but I respect the hell out of his game, and for a guy who treats baseball like a job instead of a passion, he's certainly somebody who gets the job done more often than not [late note: not Wednesday night, when he struck out with two outs and the bases loaded, the Dodgers down by two, to end the game].

With the rest of the team whooping and hollering as if they'd clinched a playoff spot after Monday night's win, Kent sounded like a killjoy:
"I'm standing here as your ho-hum guy. I'm not too excited about this. This is just one game in 162 that we're trying to get ahead on. It was a great game, don't get me wrong. But for me, I'm taking this one in stride."
A killjoy, perhaps, but a correct one. Sure enough, Kent's words came back to haunt the Dodgers, as they lost on Tuesday night to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 10-6, and fell out of first place with a Padres victory. Marlon Anderson, one of the biggest heroes of Monday night, made a valiant effort to prevent Jose Bautista's grand slam by diving into the stands, then slammed a three-run homer -- his third in two days and his fifth this month -- to narrow a 10-3 lead, offering a brief flicker of hope. But the magic wand was out of batteries, and that was as close as the Dodgers got. Sigh.

As Earl Weaver once said, "This ain't football. We do this every day." And when that means the 2006 Dodgers, every day may include a blow to the solar plexus or pure, unadulterated joy. Still, Tuesday's revelry was fun. A few favorite responses from around the web:

• Robert Daely, who attended the game and kept score, concludes his entry at a blog called Celcius 1414: "So what's the scoring symbol for a miracle?"

• Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts, who also attended, offered up an SOS on Tuesday's one-line entry, titled "Help Me": "I can't think. I can't think about anything else." Finally getting the chance to post at length, he wrote:
Pure, glorious torture.

One of the wonderful things about Tuesday was to see the entire community share in the wonder of the Fourmer game. (No, I know that doesn't really work, but you know what I'm talking about.) You might not have even known there was a community until Nomar Garciaparra's exclamation point flew into the left-field bleachers. So many people were talking about it, and man, so many people were writing about it.

And it killed me not to be able to join in. Monday night was a blessing, but my Tuesday work schedule was a curse.

It was humbling to see everyone else do everything I wanted to do: recount their tales of attending or not attending, transcribe Vin Scully's call, round up reactions, pull together video montages, interview participants, write open letters to their sleeping children. I wanted to do it all. Instead, I was just left with being an ordinary fan blessed with having experienced the event live. It's okay, but I'm jealous.

The genius of Scully is that he doesn't need any extra time to put his stamp on history, not one extra moment. He speaks directly into history.
Let's get this straight. I sit writing at home, 3,000 miles away, while you get a loge box seat to view history and you're jealous, Jon?

I actually understand that.

• Speaking of Scully, here's a five-minute YouTube montage -- viewed over 10,000 times as I write this -- that captures his call of the five homers. If it had only gone on another 30 seconds or so, his awesome, belated reminder about the team being in first place would have made the cut. There's a more complete, higher-quality two-part clip that runs about 14 minutes which includes that reminder as well as his sign-off.

That game simply wouldn't have been the same without Vin.

• Rob McMillan at 6-4-2, where I haven't spent enough time lately, offers a thorough roundup of all of the Four Homer Game links. He reminded me that I neglected to include a note about the confrontation between Dodger first base coach Mariano Duncan and Padre pitcher Jake Peavy. "Obviously, it upset me," said Peavy, "but that had nothing to do with me not throwing quality pitches."

As Rob corrected my last post (and rightly so), I'll point out that the spat occurred after the first inning, not before the game.

• Eric Neel at ESPN's Page 2, wrote a letter to his sleeping young son:
What happened was one of the six best Dodgers games I've ever seen -- right up there with the R.J. Reynolds squeeze game, the Rick Monday walk-off game, Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS, Steve Finley's grand slam game two years ago, and the night Gibson went deep off Eckersley in the first game of the World Series. Remind me to tell you about those games some day, but for now, I'll tell you about this one, because you asked me to, and because I can't believe it happened.

...I'm laughing out loud as he runs the bases. And dancing, too. And so is mom. I'm singing out my list of all-time Dodgers games and shaking my head like a bobblehead. We waltz into your room and sidle up to your top bunk and I just say, "We got 'em, T."

I want to tell you more, but like me, you're lost in a dream.
That particular dream is over -- the Dodgers lost again on Wednesday night, but so did the Padres -- but long live the dream.

• Scully was again in classic form during Wednesday night's game. I'm simply not sure I could get through this nightly rollercoaster without presence and his counseling. He speaks with the authority of somebody who's seen and called more than a half-century of Dodger ups and downs but has had -- is still having -- far too much fun to grow jaded or frustrated.

With the Dodgers trailing by two but threatening to tie:
"Well, I'll tell you what, you might as well get accustomed to this. It's going to be like this every day, right on through the first of October, I believe," he said, elongating "every" into its three-syllable form.
After the game, with the fans beginning to file out once Kent's strikeout left their comeback unfulfilled, and an on-screen graphic showing the Dodgers tied with the Phillies in the Wild Card standings and a half-game behind the Padres in the West:
"It is really something. And we still have four left here, and six on the road. Ten games left and they all go nose-to-nose down to the wire. Hope you'll be out here to join in the fun, the excitement, the disappointment, the euphoria, what-ever. It's a great game and a great team to watch."
Amen, Vin.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Operas Have Been Written About Less

With the Yankees coasting towards their ninth straight division title, my attention has been riveted on the NL West the past several days, where the Dodgers and Padres have been fighting tooth and nail for control of the division and its likely consolation prize, the NL Wild Card. Coming into the series, the Dodgers held a bare half-game lead, and thanks to the most miraculous comeback I've ever seen this side of Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, they still hold it four days later. In the interim they managed to rip my guts out about 17 times, but really, who's complaining? This series alone justified my Extra Innings cable TV package. Operas have been written about less. We're talking about a fairytale bedtime story as read by Vin Scully himself. But let's back up a bit...

• • •

The Padres have owned the Dodgers all season; coming into the series, they'd won 11 out of their 14 head-to-head battles, including all five games at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers would have to make some headway against that in order to survive the weekend still in the playoff picture.

Friday night kicked off the series with a marquee matchup featuring two soft-tossing fortysomething pitchers near the end of the line, Greg Maddux and David Wells. Interestingly enough, the two 20-year vets had never faced each other before. I'd attended Maddux's previous two starts, one at Miller Park, the other at Shea, and watched opposing hitters bleed him to death. Since coming to the Dodgers, Maddux has struggled on the road, yielding a 4.87 ERA in five starts, including his six-inning no-hit bid in his Big Blue debut. In Chavez Ravine, he's been something else, yielding just a 1.71 ERA coming in.

The 43-year-old Wells served three different DL stints this year, finally proving himself healthy enough just as the Red Sox season sank to the bottom of Boston Harbor. Theo Epstein traded him back to the Padres -- for whom he pitched in 2004 -- on August 31, a move that signaled a white flag for the Red Sox. Big as an RV now, he nonetheless still has his impeccable control and a penchant for rising to the occasion. Here in New York, we still miss the Boomer.

The matchup lived up to its billing, with the two wily veterans matching zeroes for the first three and a half innings. In the fourth, having just benefited from a double play, Wells issued a two-out walk to Jeff Kent -- the only free pass he issued all night -- before J.D. Drew drove him home with a double. Julio Lugo followed with a single to run the score to 2-0. Hampered by a sore ankle, Wells yielded to a pinch-hitter in the sixth still trailing. Meanwhile, Maddux was doing no less than making his second no-hit bid in nine Dodger starts. He didn't allow a hit until Brian Giles singled with one out in the seventh, and he departed at inning's end, having thrown just 68 pitches.

The Dodgers added another run in the seventh when Marlon Anderson reached second on a bunt and a throwing error by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Anderson then stole third on Mike Piazza, who'd only thrown out about 12 percent of opposing baserunners, scoring on a sacrifice fly by Olmedo Saenz.

The Padres mounted a threat in the eighth when Jonathan Broxton issued a leadoff walk to Gonzalez, who came around to score on a single and a throwing error by Lugo on a botched double play. Takashi Saito closed the deal in the ninth by striking out two hitters and then inducing Giles to ground out, and like that, the Dodgers had given themselves a nice cushion in the division race.

That cushion didn't take long to be erased. The next night, in a game I mercifully missed, rookie Chad Billingsley took the hill for the first time since missing three weeks due to a strained oblique muscle. He lasted just an inning, yielding three runs, two of them on a Gonzalez double. The Dodgers quickly got one run back when Rafael Furcal poked a leadoff homer, but in the third inning, the Padres rolled a snowman, as the golfers say: eight runs on homers by Mike Cameron, Todd Walker, and Gonzalez off of Eric Stults and Tim Hamulack. The Dodgers tacked on a run late, but they were never in this 11-2 rout.

Sunday's matchup, another battle for first place, was much closer to Friday in tone. Chris Young and Derek Lowe matched zeroes, with Young yielding just one hit through six innings. By the time he departed, the Padres had given him a 1-0 lead on Russell Branyan's two-out home run in the top of the sixth. An inning later, the Dodgers got even on a Russell Martin solo shot off of Cla Meredith, ending the rookie reliever's amazing run of 34 scoreless innings dating back to July 17. It was the first homer Meredith allowed all year.

The nailbiter remained deadlocked into the ninth. Broxton got into trouble by surrendering a one-out single to Josh Bard (replaced by pinch-runner Khalil Greene) and then a walk to Geoff Blum. Pinch-hitter Termel Sledge laced a single to right that brought home Greene to put the Pads on top. A wild pitch sent the runners to second and third, so Dave Roberts was intentionally walked to face Giles with one out (gulp). Broxton won the battle, striking out Giles looking on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, and he escaped the inning when Josh Barfield fouled out.

The Dodgers mounted a meager threat against Trevor Hoffman when Furcal, who never took the bat off his shoulder, drew a two-out walk. But Kenny Lofton only managed a flyball to centerfield, and like that, the Dodgers surrendered first place for the first time since August 9.

• • •

Which brings us to Monday night's finale. This one, which I TiVOed to save until I finished the Hit List, was almost over before it began because Bad Penny turned up. Er, Brad Penny. Penny came in as the league leader with 16 wins, but after earning an All-Star Game start with a 10-2, 2.91 ERA record, he's been brutal in the second half, posting a 5.91 ERA. He seems to run deep into nearly every count, and his labor-intensive style isn't just hell to watch, it puts a big burden on the bullpen.

Here, Penny got two quick outs in the first, the second by striking out Giles. But Gonzalez poked a single up the middle, Piazza doubled him home, Branyan walked, Cameron tripled to make it 3-0 -- I waited all day for this? -- and Blum brought him home with a single. 4-0, grrrr. In an instant message, I suggested feeding Penny to rabid wolves. In my head, I devised tortures so cruel, the Geneva Convention would have blushed.

But the Dodgers quickly began chipping away against Jake Peavy. Peavy, this man's preseason pick for the NL Cy Young, has had a trying year due to a strained latissimus dorsi muscle and other woes; he came in just 9-14 with a 4.25 ERA, though in his previous three starts he'd allowed just four runs in 21.2 innings.

Furcal started the party with a bunt and moved to second on a Lofton single. Nomar Garciaparra, back in the lineup after missing two starts due to a strained quad sustained late in Friday night's game, grounded into a double play, but Jeff Kent drilled a double to deep centerfield to plate the run. Alas, J.D. Drew struck out looking to end the inning.

The Dodgers got another run back in the second when Anderson, whom L.A. acquired from Washington at the August 31 deadline, poked a solo homer to rightfield, his third in just 25 at-bats as a Dodger. The third brought even more fun when Furcal led off with a homer, and back-to-back two-out doubles by Kent and Drew tied the score. A whole new ballgame, baby.

Penny and Peavy artlessly trudged onward, neither recording a single 1-2-3 inning all night. The Padres left the bases loaded in the fifth, and the Dodgers, as if in sympathy, stranded two themselves. Brett Tomko, who's been awful enough lately to push his ERA above 5.00, took the baton from Penny and promptly surrendered a leadoff double to Blum. He got as far as third base before Tomko whiffed Roberts to close the door.

Alan Embree relieved Peavy to start the bottom of the sixth and got into trouble himself, yielding a single to Anderson -- his third hit of the night -- and then walking Wilson Betemit. Grady Little called pinch-hitter Olmedo Saenz, slated to bat for Tomko, back to the dugout in favor of Oscar Robles, who tried to lay down a sac bunt. Embree picked it up and threw to third for the force, but the throw pulled Branyan off the bag to leave all hands safe with nobody out. Ohboyohboyohboy!

But Meredith came on in relief of Embree and quickly restored order. Furcal grounded into a forceout at home plate, and Lofton hit a feeble first-pitch comeback that started a 1-2-3 double play. I nearly swept my laptop into the floor in anger, then thought better of it. The Dodgers used the double-play escape hatch themselves in the bottom of the inning, when Joe Beimel induced Bard to ground into a 5-4-3 DP to escape a two-on, one-out jam.

Alas, the dam broke in the eighth, when Broxton came on in relief. The burly, heat-throwing rookie had surrendered the winning run the day before, and while he looked poised, the results weren't there. A one-out walk to Blum was followed by an RBI double by Barfield, who took third when the throw got by the catcher. Todd Walker brought him home, and nearly scored himself via a steal and a wild pitch. I held my breath as Giles flied out to right to end the ordeal.

Scott Linebrink, the Pads' fine setup man, instantly made things interesting when Anderson drove a ball into the rightfield corner. He ran through the third-base coach's stop sign and chugged into third with a leadoff triple, his fourth hit of the game. Wilson Betemit promptly plated the run with a single up the middle, then gave way to Julio Lugo. The Dodger Stadium crowd gasped as Furcal lofted a flyball to leftfield, but it settled into Roberts' glove for an easy out. Scully's call was classic: "The crowd looking at that flyball with their hearts, and not with their eyes."

With two outs, Lugo took third when Lofton slapped a two-out hit to right. Giles nonchalanted back into the infield, and Lofton, who can still motor at 39 (he's got 10 triples and 27 steals this year), raced to second. Alas, Nomar struck out swinging to keep the score 6-5.

The Padres looked like they'd seal the deal in the ninth. Gonzalez greeted Saito with a single -- the fourth time he'd reached base on the night, and the ninth time of the series -- and Manny Alexander -- Manny Alexander? -- beamed in from the twilight zone to lay down a sac bunt. Bard drove a ball to deep centerfield that would have gone out had it not been for an amazing effort by Lofton, who knocked the ball down and kept Gonzalez from scoring. "That might have saved the season," I thought to myself, admiring the play. Cameron was intentionally walked to load the bases, and then all hell broke loose. A wild pitch scored Gonzalez and moved the runners up, a sac fly scored Bard, and then a Barfield single scored Cameron to run the score to 9-5. Jack Cust, another long-lost soul from an alternate dimension, grounded out to close the inning but the damage was done. Fair game to the Padres, it seemed.

The big rally had taken the Pads out of a save situation, so instead of calling on Hoffman, Bruce Bochy turned on the autopilot -- as Joe Sheehan writes today, this was a chance for the Padres to step on the Dodgers' neck -- and summoned Jon Adkins. Adkins threw ball one to Kent, who'd already had a great night with two doubles and a single. Kent promptly socked his next pitch over the centerfield wall, and I reminded myself about the fantastic season he had last year for the Dodgers, when all else crumbled around him. I'm not fond of the man, but I respect the hell out of his game, and if nothing else, seeing him round the bases in what still looked like a lost cause at least sent a message that the team would go down swinging.

Four pitches later, J.D. Drew, another gamer, punished another Adkins offering, sending it into the right-centerfield bleachers to trim the lead to 9-7. "Okay, okay!" I muttered to myself as Bochy belatedly summoned Hoffman, four shy of becoming the all-time saves leader and still at the top of his game.

Martin greeted Hoffman with a home run to left-center on his first pitch, the Dodgers' third home run in a row. For a moment I wondered if I'd been looking at a replay -- it was well after 1:30 AM, after all -- or backed the TiVO up, but the ball landed in a different spot than either of the previous two. "Holy shit. Tying run at the plate, baby!" I said to myself, frantically flapping the blanket that I'd been curled up underneath. "The Dodgers are still a buck short," reminded Scully as the cameras cut to Martin's dad dishing out high- and low-fives to bystanders. In stepped Anderson and I thought, "This is asking too much." At best I hoped he could double to complete the cycle, but really, anything this side of an out would have been fine.

And for some reason, at that moment, I was reminded of Dick Nen. Any Dodger fan who knows his history knows the significance of that name. In his fifth inning "This Day in Baseball" feature -- generally the only time Scully appears on screen these days -- the Dodger announcer reminded the audience that 43 years ago today, Nen, in just his second major-league at-bat, slammed a ninth-inning, game-tying home run to cap a comeback against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Dodgers had trailed 5-1, but they went on to win in 13 innings. It was the only hit Nen ever got for the Dodgers, but it helped them stave off the Cards (whom they led by three games at the time) to win the pennant. The situations weren't parallel, but the message was clear: pennant races make for strange bedfellows and unlikely heroes.

On Hoffman's very next pitch, Anderson hit a towering drive over the right-center wall as the Dodger Stadium crowd erupted. "Believe it or not!" exclaimed Scully, and the late Jack Buck's immortal words to describe Kirk Gibson's World Series homer came to the tip of my tongue: "I don't believe what I just saw!" What came out instead was a string of obscenities, gleefully muttered through the world's biggest shit-eating grin as I watched bedlam in Chavez Ravine. The camera cut to fans who'd left the game re-entering just to see what the hell had happened.

Four homers in a row -- that's something I've never seen, and unless you're pushing 50, neither have you. The feat was done three times in the early 1960s, most recently by the Twins in 1964. To summon such magic in the service of late-inning rally in the midst of a pennant race? By a team that entered the night last in the NL in dingers? Dude, that's why I watch baseball. Unbelievable.

"The art of fiction is dead," wrote Red Smith on the occasion of a much more somber moment in Dodger history. "Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again."

And there were still no outs. Lugo slapped Hoffman's next offering into the outfield, but Cameron got under it for the first out. Pinch-hitter Andre Ethier popped out to shallow center, then Furcal, who's morphed into Albert Pujols this month (.388/.411/.687, with five homers in his last 10 games) tomahawked a shot that took Giles to the warning track as 55,000 fans held their collective breath. Close but no cigar.

That took the game to the 10th inning, where Aaron Sele came on in relief. Sele had crawled off the scrap heap and into the Dodger rotation earlier this year, going 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA in his first five starts. He was at 6-2 with a 2.91 ERA in mid-July when things began to unravel, and he was sent to the pen in early August when the Dodgers feared he was gassed. Since then he's appeared only sporadically -- a spot start here, a long-relief appearance there, an extra-inning stretch for good measure -- with rocky results that had taken his ERA to 4.35. Not surprisingly, he quickly got into trouble, when Giles hit a one-out double and Gonzalez drew an intentional walk. One looooong flyout later (Lofton at the wall to haul in pinch-hitter Paul McAnulty's drive), Bard singled in Giles, and a Cameron walk prolonged the agony. But Sele retired Blum to end the inning, preserving the one-run deficit.

As the clock approached 2 AM Eastern, on came Rudy Seanez, last seen drawing his walking papers from the Red Sox amid the Beantown Beatdown. Scully marveled at Seanez's lengthy, injury-riddled career, which included a stint with the Dodgers back in 1994-95 and is now on its fourth run with the Padres; in all he's pitched for eight big-league teams, and it took him until 2005, his Age 36 year, to record even one 50-inning season.

Seanez walked Lofton to lead off the inning. "Ball four! And the Dodgers have a rabbit as the tying run," exclaimed Scully. Up came Garciaparra, and though his injury isn't as severe as Gibson's, one could be forgiven for thinking of that fairytale moment on such a weird and wonderful night. Manager Grady Little -- oh jeez, what a buzzkill to think of him at this moment -- had sounded like he was risking Nomar's entire season the day before when he remarked:
"Unlike the knee injury, where he could play when the pain was tolerable, this thing, if you push it, could pop altogether and he'd be out for 10 days or two weeks, and we can't afford that right now.. I think he'll play tomorrow, and he could pinch-hit today."
Indeed, Garciaparra struck out in the pinch in the ninth inning of Sunday's game. Little was only slightly more sanguine before Monday's contest:
"We'll try him today... We hope he gets through it. It's a little gamble. It could blow up if he gets overextended, but we'll take a chance with it tonight. When a player gets under the gun with a chance to beat out an infield hit, it's hard for them to back off... We're trying to win the game... We need him in there to win the game. He wanted to play yesterday. He feels he can play effectively and we feel he can play effectively and that's why he's going to play."
Wow. Nonetheless, there was Nomar, hitting just .224/.255/.469 in September, coming to the plate. Seanez fell behind 3-1, and then Garciaparra just crushed his next pitch.

Two-run homer.


The second lead change in the division in as many days.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Leftfielder Roberts had already turned back to face the plate as the ball went over the wall as pandemonium broke out both in Dodger Stadium and in my own private viewing box; somehow I managed to keep from waking my wife. The Dodgers dogpiled at home plate as Scully, with admirable restraint, let the celebratory scene do the talking.

Two minutes later, the master of the mic remarked enthusiastically, "I forgot to tell you: the Dodgers are in first place!" Another minute of crowd shots and stadium noise passed, un-Scullyed, before he finally signed off: "I think we've said enough from up here. Once again, the final score in 10 innings -- believe it or not -- Dodgers 11, Padres 10."

Best. Game. Ever.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


So Long, Kitty

A few months ago, when Al Leiter suddenly became a staple in the YES Network broadcast booth, I predicted to a couple of friends that Leiter was being groomed to replace Jim Kaat. As great as Kaat is as an analyst, he's clashed with Yankee brass before over everything from contracts to criticizing the team to NOT criticizing Alex Rodriguez enough, and given his advancing years (he'll be 68 in November) and the sudden presence of another articulate former pitcher on the YES team, it seemed likely the end of his time with the team might be nigh.

Alas, the future has arrived much more quickly than I had predicted. After 50 years in the game as a player and broadcaster, Kaat is retiring, effective this Friday. He'll throw out the first pitch at that night's Yanks-Red Sox game, do his thing in the booth, and head off into the sunset. Damn. Set your TiVOs.

I've long enjoyed Kaat's work, particularly in tandem with Ken Singleton. Pre-YES, the duo anchored the team's coverage on the Madison Square Garden Network. As I wrote more than five years ago: "Kaat & Singleton are a smooth, even-keeled, knowledgable duo. Whereas Fox's blaring production [these were the days when Tim McCarver and Bobby Murcer were calling 20 games a year for the Yanks on network TV] gets old real fast even in the most exciting of ballgames, MSG's low-key approach is perfect for the long haul of a season." The intrusion of Michael Kay once YES came about upset that dynamic a bit, but the duo's smooth, subtle dynamic withstood the intrusion of the blathering Kay, keeping Yankee broadcasts bearable.

Which isn't say that the opinionated Kaat gets a free pass on everything. He's been pretty critical of the influence of Moneyball on the game, and his disdain for pitch counts isn't surprising given that we're talking about a pitcher who spent parts of 25 years in the big leagues, from 1959 to 1983.

For his career, Kaat tossed 4530.1 innings, good for 26th all-time (Greg Maddux passed him earlier this year) and 180 complete games, winning 283 overall and reaching 20 three times. He was a fast-working southpaw who at his peak faced off against Sandy Koufax in the 1965 World Series three times, including the decisive Game Seven. He closed his career as a lefty reliever for Whitey Herzog's Cardinals, earning a World Series ring in 1982. Once upon a time, I touted his case for the Hall of Fame:
Kaat was a remarkably consistent performer for the Minnesota Twins for a 12-year span, a teammate of Blyleven's for the better part of four seasons (their 1970 division-winning rotation also included Jim Perry and Luis Tiant--a foursome with at least 215 career wins apiece). Had the Cy Young Award been given in both leagues instead of just one overall, he likely would have won in 1966, when he went 25-13, 2.75 ERA, and he would have been in the mix in '65, with an 18-11, 2.83 for a pennant-winner. Until David Cone won 20 games in 1998, Kaat held the record for the longest drought between 20-win seasons (eight years). He won in double digits 15 times (he lost in double-digits 16 times), won 17+ games six times, but had a 115 ERA+ or better only six times. A lefty, he tacked on a successful second career as a middle reliever, which enabled him to set a record for the longest gap between World Series appearances (1965-1982). Oh, and he also won 16 straight Gold Gloves, though a look at his raw fielding stats suggests several somebodys weren't paying attention--five times in that span his Fielding Percentage was below .930, though his range factors were always 50-100 percent higher than the league average at the position. If I had to pick one of the three [Tommy John and Bert Blyleven being the others] to leave off, it would be Kaat, but I still think he should be in.
The development of the JAWS system ultimately led me to conclude Kaat wasn't quite worthy of induction, but his work with the Yanks has more than earned my respect and even gratitude -- no way in hell could I tolerate 100+ Yankee games a year with Tim McCarver in the booth. A Ford C. Frick Award admitting him to the broadcaster's wing of Cooperstown would get no argument from me.

The New York Daily News's Bob Raissman recounts Kaat's rocky early relationship with The Boss:
As a player, Kaat was a good interview. He left an impression. The late Don Carney, who directed Yankee telecasts on WPIX-TV, was so impressed with Kaat after a rain-delay interview (remember those?) he reached out and hired him to work with Bill White and Phil Rizzuto in 1986. Carney did this knowing Kaat was not on the best of terms with George Steinbrenner.

After Sports Illustrated put The Boss on its cover posing as Napoleon, Kaat wrote a scathing letter to SI accusing the magazine of poor taste. With so many great players in the game, Kaat wondered why SI would choose Steinbrenner. SI printed Kaat's letter. When Kaat pitched for the Bombers (1979-80) he also got into a contract dispute with Steinbrenner.
Richard Sandomir's New York Times article elaborates on Kaat's 13-year history as a Yankee broadcaster:
Kaat first called Yankees games in 1986 for Channel 11, but he was bumped after a season for Billy Martin. Kaat thus had another reason to dislike George Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner, with whom he got into an unhappy contract dispute as a player a few years earlier. But on Dec. 25, 1994, he received a call at home from Steinbrenner.

“I was heading out to hit golf balls, and Mary Ann said, ‘It’s George Steinbrenner,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, right,’ ” Kaat said. Steinbrerner called to say he had approved Kaat as the MSG Network’s replacement for Kubek.

“He said, ‘I want everything to be good between us,’ ” Kaat said.

Kaat picked an exquisite time to join the Yankees at the start of their playoff and World Series run. From MSG to YES, he has been a low-key star, never boisterous, never loud, but always with strong views, and that made him the equal of the more nationally known McCarver and Joe Morgan.

“He knows the game so well and gets to the essence of a play so quickly,” said John Filippelli, YES’s president of production. When he was at Fox Sports, he added: “The one mistake we made was that we should have hired Kitty. I think you rate him the equal of any analyst you’ve ever heard.”
Amen to that. We'll miss you, Kitty. Thanks for making summer evenings so much fun.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Pythagoras Gets Paid

As I mentioned earlier, this week's Hit List -- the first full one I've done since August 20 -- is up at Baseball Prospectus. For the second week in a row, the Yanks top the list, followed by the Tigers, Mets and surging Twins, who not only look poised to keep the White Sox out of the playoffs but may give the Tigers a run for the AL Central crown.

The Dodgers are running eighth, right between the A's and Angels. I made a bit of a deal last week out of the A's finally passing the Angels after opening up a 7.5 game lead in the standings. But then, as now, the Angels still led in BP's Adjusted Standings, the raw stuff of the Hit List where a team's actual, first-, second- and third-order winning percentages (using various iterations of the Pythagorean formula) are calculated. With that 7.5 game lead back down to 5.5 through Sunday, the Angels climbed back ahead.

Even before last week's list ran, I got an email from a disgruntled A's fan pre-emptively complaining about the rankings. I wrote up a response that while sent as a reply, didn't see the light of day anywhere else. Here it is, with stats through last Tuesday -- a bit outdated, but the point still stands.

• • •

It's always amusing how worked up someone can get when the stats don't conform to their version of reality; last year it was Angels fans cranky about the A's rating higher Hit List ranking and assuming some kind of sabermetric "bias," to the point that I took the time to write a whole article about the Hit List process. This year, the shoe is on the other foot, and at least one A's fan is up in arms. Reader B.O., who has written before to complain about the ranking of the A's before, writes:
I'm going to complain about next week's hit list now because I know I'm going to get all riled up when I see it. How is it possible that the A's have scored 34 more runs than the Angels and are still behind them in 2nd and 3rd order winning percentage (and I therefore assume the hit list)? Have the A's been playing KC all year? How much more difficult could the Angels schedule have been? And shouldn't it even out by the end of the year when they've played all the same opponents? Is it actually taking into account the players on opposing lineups as individuals each day and if so, did all other teams have a rash of DL stints while playing the A's but not Angels?

Assuming you stand by the methodology and rankings, do you really feel confident that the Angels and Rangers have both been better than the A's this year and that their luck is really this horrible? If not, then I would ask what the hit list is really meant to be a measure of.
BJO can hopefully sleep more soundly knowing that the A's have passed the Angels and Rangers on this week's Hit List. But looking into the Adjusted Standings data, it appears that a good portion of that 5.5 game bulge (through Tuesday) is illusory, less the result of adjusting for caliber of competition than a massive gap between the two teams' expected runs allowed and their actual runs allowed:
                      OAK       LAA
Actual RS 640 660
Projected RS (EQR) 641 663
dif -1 -3

Actual RA 595 645
Projected RA (EQRA) 636 612
dif +41 -33
Common underlying reasons for such shortfalls include either luck or differential performance in key situations (whether by starters or bullpen). Sure enough, when we check the two teams' performance in situational hitting against, we see a massive difference in the A's favor (dOPS is the difference between the OPS allowed in a given situation and the team's overall OPS allowed):
Vs. LAA       AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS    dOPS
Overall .257 .319 .410 .729
Runners On .265 .328 .429 .759 +.030
RISP .267 .337 .449 .786 +.057
RISP, 2 Out .235 .328 .372 .700 -.029
Loaded .340 .377 .557 .934 +.205

Overall .266 .334 .413 .757
Runners On .267 .339 .400 .739 -.018
RISP .255 .335 .396 .731 -.026
RISP, 2 Out .243 .335 .361 .694 -.063
Loaded .320 .366 .515 .881 +.134
All in all, it looks like we're talking about a swing of about 75 runs, or 7.5 games in the standings. I'm skipping any park adjustments in this quick and dirty exercise; I think it's safe enough to say that the two teams play in pitcher's parks, and given that we're using OPS, we're hardly dealing with precision anyway. Still, it's apparent that despite an overall performance edge to the Angels, the A's pitchers have fared better in every situational breakdown listed, both in actual terms and relative to the team's overall pitching performance. But just because that's so doesn't mean it would be expected to hold up given larger sample sizes. Yes, the A's have one of the league's best bullpens (2nd in AL in WXRL at 12.9, LAA is no slouch, 4th at 10.3) but reliever performance is notoriously prone to regress over time; what we're measuring is based on individual sample sizes of 50 or 60 innings, which really don't tell us a whole lot that we can take to the bank year after year.

Anyway, unlike the Adjusted Standings, where the Angels still run ahead of the A's based on second- and third-order win percentage, the Hit List does factor in the two teams' actual records, thereby granting some amount of credit for that "lucky" performance and helping the A's inch ahead of the Angels for the first time since July 3. Here's hoping B.O. can finally rest easy.

• • •

A few more points to add to that. First off, I'm frequently asked how the Adjusted Standings and Hit Lists account for the caliber of competition. It comes in via the third-order winning percentage. Specifically, a team's projected runs scored and allowed (Equivalent Runs and Equivalent Runs Allowed) are adjusted up or down based on the composite Equivalent Average of its opponents. In other words, team Y's runs scored are adjusted based on the Equivalent Average Allowed by their opponents, and team Y's runs allowed are adjusted based on the EqA of their opponents.

Second, things don't always even out within a division. Not only do variable interleague and intradivisional schedules factor in (such as teams playing two series at home and one on the road against certain opponents), but there's also the simple fact that, Team Y's pitching doesn't face Team Y's hitting. If you're the Yankee pitchers, backed by the best offense in the league, the rest of the offenses you're facing are more likely to be slightly below average.

Third, neither the Hit List nor the Adjusted Standings account for individual lineups on a given day. I'd love to find a system that does, but for now, we'll have to make do with the kind of general team strength calculations this system offers or look elsewhere for an answer. I'm still pretty confident that run differentials, particularly with adjustment, are vitally important in determining true team strength and predicting future performance.

Anyway, following my response, B.O. emailed me back. First he apologized for his premature griping, then he tried to lay the blame on me for the A's dropping a pair to the Rangers on Monday and Tuesday: "thanks for putting on your curse as things are suddenly not going as well this week." Sheesh. "A little regression to the mean, perhaps?" I suggested, reminding him that "Pythagoras always gets paid." Teams that are eight games above their third-order win projections aren't great bets to stay there.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Congrats, Mr. B!

Big congratulations to my good friend Alex Belth on his engagement to his lovely gal, Emily. Having met Em and watched a ballgame in the happy couple's home up in Riverdale, I can vouch that Alex is getting one of the good ones. Mazel tov to both, and best wishes for the future.

The news comes with pix and a great story:
Ten minutes later, I had her on the five yard line in the bedroom when the phone rang. "Let it ring," I said as she came in the room with the portable phone. Then thinking that it might be a return call from one of the potential interviews I was going to do I looked at the caller ID. My eyes--according to Emily--almost popped out of my head. "It's Reggie," I said.

And sure enough, it was none other than Mr. October. I picked up the phone and quickly made arrangements for an interview later this week. We weren't on the phone longer than two minutes.

"You're having some kind of fifteen minutes," my fiance[e] says to me.
For the three and a half years Alex and I have known each other, Reggie Jackson has been a constant staple of our conversations. Alex is a year or two younger than me, but he's old enough to remember the 1977, '78, and '81 World Series that pitted Reggie's Yanks against my Dodgers. Reggie was larger than life to kids like us, and it didn't matter whether you were rooting for or against him; you got your money's worth either way. Dude had his own candy bar; even as a Dodger fan, I bought it, ate it. Today I see replays of his swing and think of a cross between the quick-wristed violence of Gary Sheffield, the pose-striking of latter-day Barry Bonds ("I'm this good and I hit it taht far, so I get to watch it, chump...") and both the timeliness and titanic force of David Ortiz. He was a hot dog with extra mustard, with the ability to crush pitches and drop the bat to admire his own handiwork like nobody else. Or corkscrew himself into the ground as he grimaced, coming up empty in the big situation but making the pitcher earn it. Whatever happened, it was always worth watching.

For Alex, the same was true: "When I was growing up, Reggie Jackson was my favorite player," he wrote a few years back. "He dominanted my thoughts; he was my idol." Now, Alex is enough of a player as a writer -- not just his blog, but a fine book (I'm halfway through Stepping Up myself) and a recurring spot on to his credit -- that he's got Reggie's phone number. And just after he's popped the question to the gal of his dreams, here comes Reggie to interrupt his post-engagement canoodling by returning his call.

Mr. October is forever a part of Alex and Em's engagement, just as
Jim Bouton, one of my few heroes, is inextricably linked with the start of my relationship with my wife. Like the game itself, the truth is better than just about any story you can make up.

• • •

And yes, lest it occur to anyone to ask why I've got three posts (and counting) in one day, there are two reasons. First, I'm clearing out a backog of stuff built up from the past few weeks. Second, as my BP and other writing responsibilities have come to the fore, I've been posting here less, mainly because I tend to think in terms of articles, not quick hits. But I miss the latter, miss the immediacy of posting and then moving on, and so I'm trying to force myself into more of what I'll call "Hit and Run" mode, just to shake things up. We'll see how that goes for awhile.


Count Da Tangibles, Bitchez

Anyone needing an explanation for why Yankee fans love Derek Jeter need only look at his measured response to David Ortiz's pre-emptive whining about the upcoming MVP vote now that the Dead Sox are 10.5 out of first place:
"Don't get me wrong -- he's a great player, having a great season, but he's got a lot of guys in that lineup," Ortiz said of Jeter. "Top to bottom, you've got a guy who can hurt you. Come hit in this lineup, see how good you can be."

To that, Jeter replied "I don't have to do it in his lineup."
Oh no he di-unt!
"I'm not thinking about the MVP right now," he told reporters Monday. "We're thinking about winning a division. We've still got something to play for."
He then added, "No one here's focused on individual awards."
Game, set, match. As cool as the other side of the pillow, Jeter pretty much hangs the otherwise likeable but suddenly, puzzlingly petulant Papi with the rope of his own words while pouring him a frosty glass of Shut the Fuck Up.

Yankee haters love to dwell on the high esteem in which Jeter's held for the things that don't show up in the box scores, the intangibles. It's true Jeter's raw hitting stats don't hold a candle to Ortiz's in this or any year -- they're completely different players, and vive la difference. I'm not even sold on the notion that Jeter deserves the MVP award; if I had to vote today I'd probably cast mine for Johan Santana first. But today Jeter's delivered something that you can mark down in your scorebook, and I'll wager that it's remembered come ballot time.


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