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.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Clearing the Bases

Hola amigos, been awhile since I rapped at ya, at least in this forum. The past week and a half has been a whirlwind: four promotional appearances on behalf of Baseball Prospectus 2007 in such exotic places as New Haven, Montclair, New Jersey and the Columbia University campus, five radio appearances in markets such as Atlanta, Baltimore, St. Louis, and wherever it is that gets Sirius' "The Fellas," (which completes my sweep of the satellite radio networks), one article for BP's preseason "Hope and Faith" series (with an accompanying BP Radio interview), about 16,000 words worth of Fantasy Baseball Index spring update coverage, and the chance to break bread or bend elbows with a fine bunch of BP colleagues and assorted friends. Oh, and one sushi bet on the length of Doug Mientkiewicz's leash. Suffice it to say that I've talked a lot of baseball since you last saw me here. If you came out to see or tuned in to hear me, so much the better -- and thank you for showing up.

About that "Hope and Faith" piece, the idea was to take Bud Selig's deathless catchphrase from the 2001-2002 labor negotiations about how few teams actually had a chance to win it all, and to illustrate -- sometimes with the aid of fiction or pharmaceuticals -- how that particular team might win the World Series. I had one of the easier ones, the Dodgers:
As you've seen throughout the past month here at Baseball Prospectus, hope and faith is not distributed evenly among major league baseball clubs. Some teams' shots at October are relatively straightforward, while for others, the fine writers who have graced this series have often need to wax creative or even wander in the desert under the influence of peyote-like substances to summon the requisite visions of champagne-soaked glory.

The Dodgers would appear to fall into the former category. In General Manager Ned Colletti's first year at the helm, the team won the NL Wild Card despite a wildly up-and-down season. But for a few bad breaks (such as the beer glass that sliced up Joe Beimel's hand) and assorted aches (Nomar Garciaparra's hamstring, Brad Penny's back), they might have played ball deep into October. Salve a few wounds, spackle a few dings and cracks, paint liberally with Dodger blue and--voilà--contender, right?

Not so fast. As has been the case since the moment he took over, Colletti spent the past winter confounding both admirers and detractors with his wheelings and dealings. One minute he was overcompensating for J.D. Drew's abrupt departure by re-upping Garciaparra to a two-year deal, drawing ridicule for dishing out one of the winter's worst contracts to Juan Pierre, and signing a Luis Gonzalez so long in the tooth he could be mistaken for Bugs Bunny. The next minute, he was earning kudos for inking Jason Schmidt to the kind of short-term, big-dollar deal that has served the team's interests well with regards to Rafael Furcal and Jeff Kent. Other good news? Non-tendering Toby Hall, and... um... avoiding the temptation to trade Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, and Chad Billingsley to the Devil Rays in a package deal for the bleached bones of Doug Waechter and a pair of unwashed Mark Hendrickson lederhosen (the Rays won't accept a return to sender on Hendrickson himself).
I went on to identify four players and one executive whose seasons will be the bellwether of the Dodgers' fate. For Brad Penny and Nomar Garciaparra, the key is to stay healthy and provide more of the good stuff they gave the Dodgers when healthy last year, and -- duh -- less of the bad. For Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsley, the key is to live up to all that potential and force their way into the lineup or rotation, burying the mediocrities by the wayside. For Ned Colletti, it's staying away from his "Stupid Flanders" tendency to burn off high-upside prospects for the next Toby Hall/Hendrickson package.

You can hear the accompanying BP Radio spot I did for this piece here. And be sure to check out Rany Jazayerli's fantastic finale to the H&F series here.

• Speaking of Toby Hall, man, did I put the hex on him or what?

• Alex Belth chipped in the Yankees' Hope and Faith piece, but the Belth piece you should really read is his interview with Curt Schiling at For all of the bad things I've said about Schilling over the years -- and there have been plenty -- I have to applaud the way his new blog does an end run around the Dan Shaughnessys of the world, the self-important insiders whose only real skill, at this point, is knowing how to procure a press pass. Schilling more or less broke the news about the Sox returning Jonathan Papelbon to the closer role, and you know some of those hacks had to break out in a cold sweat, knowing they were just a little bit less relevant than before.

The Big Schill even stuck up for BP in one question: Do you think that Internet-based baseball analysts and writers should be available for BBWAA awards and Hall of Fame voting?

Schilling: Oh, it'll come full-circle at some point. Why wouldn't it? They already have a much larger impact than the Murray Chass' of the world would like to believe. I mean, you've got guys who are putting out what I know to be legitimately valuable statistical information and its relevance to a game in a win or a loss at Baseball Prospectus. Then you have guys that I'm not too fond of, like Murray Chass, who says, "What is VORP and who cares?" It was a stupid article. The only thing it did was show his ignorance to me in modern day baseball. Because those numbers do matter, those numbers do have value. Do they have value to me in getting a player out? No. But I would tell you that there are a lot of front offices that use those numbers for a lot of important decision making.
I'm not so sure that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but Schilling's going to have to work extra hard to make my blood boil the way he usually does. I'll wager he can pull it off.

• Tangential to Alex B., Allen Barra makes his debut as a guest blogger at Bronx Banter, and part of the pleasure of reading his very entertaining piece is that after sitting across the table from him after BP's recent outing at the Yogi Berra Museum, I can practically hear him reciting it:
Hello. Some of you may know me as Allen Barra. Some of you may know me under my pseudonyms, Norman Mailer -- check out The Naked and The Dead, it kicks butt -- or Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the black congresswoman from D.C -- I'm thinking of giving up that identity as it forces me to do too much writing from the bleachers while watching Nationals games.

I promised Alex Belth that I would do this blog, so here I am. I wanted to call him up this morning and say, "I'm not responsible for the decisions I make when I've been drinking." But then the horrible truth struck me: I don't drink, and I actually made the decision to do this while sober. This has to rank with the worst decisions I ever made in my life, right up there with not returning Angelina Jolie's phone call.
Bemoan that though he may, Barra must have eventually returned Ms. Jolie's call, because in the handful of times I've hung out with him, he's always got a new story about hanging out with her (my favorite is the one about this photo). I wonder if she's a baseball fan.

• Elsewhere on Baseball Toaster, I stumbled into the wonderful Cardboard Gods blog and killed a good hour laughing my ass off. I've read and re-read the most recent Kurt Bevacqua entry, where writer Josh Wilker notes the horrible airbrushing done to the Mariners' expansion draftees in the 1977 Topps set and imagines the new team materializing just beyond the blurry horizon, like figures in a classic Leone western but trapped in some horrible existential limbo. "I think we’re in a horseshit operation," grumbles the Bevacqua character to the Pete Broberg character, and you know it's going to be a long eternity for both.

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Monday, March 19, 2007


For Pete's Sake

Having already established that the good folks at Yanksfan Vs. Soxfan have fine taste in interview subjects, today the blog offers a tête- à-tête with Peter Abraham. Abraham covers the Yankees beat for the Westchester Journal News, but it's his accompanying Lohud Yankees Blog which sets him apart from most other beat reporters by providing a more spontaneous and often more candid take on the pinstriped team.

Abraham's long been ahead of the curve when it comes to blogging. Three years ago, he interviewed me among 27 New York-area bloggers for a lengthy feature on the medium's growing influence:
[Alex] Belth and many other bloggers were first inspired by Aaron Gleeman, Jay Jaffe and David Pinto, the Willie, Mickey and the Duke of this fledgling genre. They were among the first and are now three of the best-read bloggers.

Jaffe, 34, started "Futility Infielder" three years ago. Once primarily a Yankees blog, he has branched out to cover all baseball.

"I developed a penchant for lengthy lunchtime e-mails involving stat-based baseball arguments. My friends invited me to leave them alone and start a blog," he said via e-mail. "The rest is history. I don't watch very much TV, besides ballgames, or see many movies since I started doing this. I've always got a couple of ideas I'm working on, even if only in my head, to the point where it's become like the music of my mind."
A question about said feature leads off the YFSF interview, but the meatier stuff comes in further down:
YFSF: What do you see happening with the Yankees post-Steinbrenner, and how close are we to that time (or are we already there)? What are your impressions of Steve Swindal?

PA: I think we are already at the post-Steinbrenner phase. His health is one of the most closely guarded stories in sports and that is obviously because it is fading. I believe that Brian Cashman, Randy Levine and Steve Swindal make 95 percent of the decisions and once George gives up his title or passes away, Swindal will be the man in charge with Cashman at his side. I like Steve a lot, his recent arrest aside. I think he will do what is right. But I don't believe you'll see the Yankees with a payroll $50 million higher than any other team.

YFSF: You've been fairly critical of the Boston moves this off-season. Do you see them falling behind the Jays again?

PA: I think Boston's offense is a house of cards. They're relying far too much on second-tier players in important positions. J.D. "Nancy" Drew will be a terrible fit. That said, they have great starters and it's all about pitching. But how do you go into the season without a closer?
Nancy Drew -- gotta kick myself for not coming up with that one, even though I don't think the Sox's new rightfielder will have much trouble adjusting to Boston. Abraham does have a point in that the Sox probably should have made a few other upgrades, particularly at first base, where Kevin Youkilis is really not much better than a league average.

Anyway, check out the interview, and check out Pete's blog, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.

Update: I knew I forgot something... last summer Pete did a fine "Designated Hitter" piece for the Baseball Analysts website on Joe Torre's facility with the media and his ability to conjure a story for any occasion. Now that's what I'm talking about.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007


Three B's

• After 12 years of living in the East Village, I'm Brooklyn-bound. On Thursday, my wife and I signed a contract and put down a deposit on a 1,250-square foot apartment in downtown Brooklyn, one that will allow me to have a dedicated home office AND keep a room in reserve for a Jaffe To Be Named Later, not that we're "expecting" yet. The unit is still under construction and we won't close for at least a couple of months, but it's a very exciting development even if it does take us out of Manhattan. Most of our friends have long since moved to Brooklyn, and we desperately need the space, as we're coming up on four years in a 450-square foot apartment that requires us to go outside to change our minds. The downtown Brooklyn area is a bit raw at the moment (which is what made our space so affordable), but with a ton of civic planning in the pipeline, it's set to undergo a major facelift over the next few years.

In other words, we're now carpet-bagging, gentrification-chasing scum. Ask me how I feel about that when I won't have to double-stack books on my bookshelves or schlep a good quarter of my stuff into storage. Ask my wife how she'll feel when she's able to shut the door to my office and avoid the ever-growing pile of books, magazines, mail, computer cables and assorted whatever that's practically reached sculpture status during this past offseason. Ask me about the dining room table that will finally enable us to eat like adults on a daily basis, not that we'll actually do so because when else would we watch the previous night's Daily Show?

The baseball angle, of course, is that I'm finally moving to the borough where my favorite team originated, and only fifty years too late. I intend to do all of those historical things like tracking down the Ebbets Field plaque and the Washington Park wall that I've never done because frankly, I don't know my way around Brooklyn yet. Finding them will be part of my learning experience.

I have already come across one very cool baseball-related monument not ten minutes from my new home. It happened by accident when Andra and I were casing the neighborhood for the first time on the day after our bid was accepted, and it stopped me in my tracks. At 215 Montague Street, on the outside of Commerce Bank, is a plaque commemorating the fact that the Brooklyn Dodgers' front offices once resided on that spot. In those offices, on August 28, 1945, Dodger President and GM Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to an agreement to play for the Dodger organization, thus initiating the chain of events that allowed him to break the major-league color barrier less than two years later.

For somebody who can turn Chapter Six of Ken Burns' Baseball in to a three-hanky special, it was a total goosebump moment. Stumbling across the plaque by happenstance felt like a good omen. And soon I'll be able to see it just about anytime I want.

Anyway, you can read more about the plaque here.

• As announced last week, Baseball Prospectus 2007 is on the New York Times Bestseller List for the first time in its 12-year history. The March 18 list had BP07 at #15 on the Paperback Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous list, while on the March 25 one, we're up to #9. Look out, What to Expect When You're Expecting bitchez (ironically, published by BP's former publisher).

A reminder that I'll be on the promo trail for BP this week and next:If you're not in the area, see the BP events page for local listings in your market (not that all are as well-served as the Tri-State area).

• Last weekend, I got my copy of Bombers Broadside, which is now shipping from Amazon.

It's a nice piece of work, 112 pages of glossy, full color, pinstripe-flavored content about the current team as well as its illustrious history -- including features about the 1977 champions, and Babe Ruth's (in)famous "Called Shot" -- sure to appeal to Yankee fans, and featuring a roster that includes myself, editor Cecilia Tan, Alex Belth, Mike Carminati, Vince Genarro, Gary Gillette, Mark Healey, Derek Jacques, Tara Krieger, David Laurila, Dan McCourt, and Pete Palmer. I'll wager a guess that more than one of those names means something to those of you reading this, so cut yourself a slice. Belth's bittersweet piece on his childhood memories of Reggie Jackson and his recently deceased father is worth the price of admission alone.

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Monday, March 12, 2007


Yanksfan vs Soxfan Interview II

Here's Part II of the interview which I did with the fine folks at Yanksfan vs. Soxfan. If you missed Part I last week, you can catch up here. The guys came up with some great questions about the Yankees, Red Sox and the rest of the AL East.

YFSF: How psyched are you for Phil Hughes?

JJ: Very, as this kid looks to be the real deal, not to mention the cornerstone of a plan that might see the Yanks rein in their payroll a bit and reap the benefits of growing their own pitchers. That said, I don't think he should start the season with the Yankees no matter how good a spring he has. The scattered April schedule means more days off and fewer opportunities for a fifth starter, and let's face it, the Yanks aren't going to introduce him in the rotation as anything higher than that because the pressure is too great, the hype too overwhelming.

The additional benefit of waiting is the increased likelihood that Hughes won't have enough service time to be arbitration-eligible after the 2009 season, as it takes three full years except for the "Super Twos" (the top 1/6 of the players who have just under three years of service time). That's not an abstract issue, because young pitchers, even great ones, get hurt all the time, and the longer you can wait before you have to pay him big bucks, the better.

Geez, I've already got Hughes to the point of being an overpriced, broken-down bum like Carl Pavano. Sorry about that.

YFSF: Losing Sheff and Randy: addition by subtraction? How do you rate the Yankee offseason?

JJ: To the extent that it rids the Yankees of two aged and potentially fragile players who often create distractions, addition by subtraction is an apt term. That said, I will miss Gary Sheffield; he was a pleasure to watch when he was healthy here, whether he was cracking home runs, ripping life-threatening foul balls down the leftfield line, or simply waving that bat like a tiger waiting to pounce. Or even jabbering about whatever perceived slight he'd endured; that's Gary being Gary just like Manny is Manny. So long as he's not committing any crimes, you just have to laugh at the hubbub about what he says or does and let the guy hit.

The bottom line is that 38-year-olds coming off soft-tissue wrist injuries aren't the horses to be betting on, particularly when they seem more concerned with their next contract than the distraction they cause. He'll be missed, but let Detroit deal with his luggage.

As for Johnson, the same goes doubly for 43-year-old pitchers coming off of back surgery and dealing with Synvisc injections, terminal surliness and potential mullet regrowth. I really wish things had worked out better for him in New York -- he's a favorite from way back, even when he was handing the Yanks their lunch money -- but he was pretty much just a more durable Kevin Brown last year. Blech.

I do like the direction the Yanks went this offseason, stockpiling young arms in deals for those two and elsewhere (such as the Jaret Wright trade, which brought Chris Britton in return). Growing your own pitching is a tremendously worthwhile endeavor that can save the Yankees millions of dollars worth of bad contracts in the future. The fewer Pavanos, the better.

YFSF: Willy Mo Pena: future star, or Boston's Balboni?

JJ: Pena's a curious collection of raw talents and bad habits. The dude can hit, though his plate discipline leaves something to be desired, and his defense... aye chihuahua. It will be interesting to see if any of what he diid last year in the wake of his wrist injury carries over; he showed more patience and ability to hit to all fields than in the past, and I've heard reports that he handled breaking balls better than previously.

Pena's certainly more athletic than Balboni ever was, but not so much that he should be allowed to play centerfield ever again. I wonder if they can teach him to play first base. Keeping on the Balboni comparison, he'll almost certainly enjoy a much better career; remember that he was playing semi-regularly at 22 where Balboni didn't get a full shot until age 27. Huge difference from a developmental standpoint.

YFSF: Moose: There's a strong statistical case for the Hall. Will he make it? Should he?

JJ: Moose is one of nine active or recently retired pitchers whose JAWS scores are better than the average Hall of Fame pitcher:

Pitcher Career Peak JAWS
Clemens 192.9 83.5 138.2
Maddux 165.6 81.9 123.8
R. Johnson 136.6 78.1 107.4
Glavine 129.4 61.4 95.4
Martinez 113.7 75.3 94.5
Mussina 110.1 62.5 86.3
Smoltz 114.1 57.7 85.9
Schilling 103.3 63.4 83.4
K. Brown 100.5 62.9 81.7
Avg HOF P 99.0 62.7 80.9
He's in the middle of the pack here, but the problem is that he's lacking the three major peripherals which could get him over the top without having 300 wins (he's at 239 and counting): no Cy Young award, no World Championship, and no postseason dominance (he's 7-8 with a 3.40 ERA, respectable but hardly Gibsonesque). Compare that to Schilling, who's behind him here and in wins (207) but has an 8-2, 2.06 ERA line in postseason, including two rings. Compare that to Smoltz (193 wins plus 154 saves) and a 15-4, 2.65 line in October, including one ring. Moose will suffer by comparison in the eyes of voters.

YFSF: What's your analysis of the Boston closer situation? Are the Sox better off with Paps in the pen or the rotation? Is the closer-by-commitee solution tenable in Boston?

JJ: The closer situation right now looks like a 2003-esque trainwreck in the making. Mike Timlin's nursing oblique issues while coming off a year where he really showed his age; he would't last the year as closer. Joel Pineiro is a worthwhile gamble; anytime you move a starter to the bullpen, you let him narrow his repertoire to the pitches he throws well, dodge his stamina issues and reap the benefits of increased fastball velocity. But Pineiro's got mechanical issues that need solving before he can be what the Sox envision. I have a feeling they'll start the year with Julian Tavarez or Brendan Donnelly in the role just as the last man standing, and I think they have to have somebody in there, because the moment "closer-by-committee" is whispered to a reporter, the ghost of Grady Little will come out of the woodwork and it will be hell for Terry Francona and Theo Epstein.

I expect the team to make a trade before they'll go that route. If I were them I'd see what it takes to land Fernando Rodney or some other closer in waiting.

I think the Sox have to respect the needs and wishes of Papelbon to return to the rotation, as good as he was in the bullpen. You can't have him turning up sore-shouldered in September. Just as importantly, I don't think there was any guarantee he'd continue his early-season dominance once the league got more looks at him.

YFSF: How does the division shake out? Do the Rays pass the O's? Are the Jays a serious threat? Will the division get the wild card?

JJ: I still see the Yanks ahead of the Red Sox because they've got fewer question marks, particularly in the bullpen. If I'm a Sox fan, I'm concerned about Mike Lowell bouncing back to the way he hit in the first half, about underpowered Kevin Youkilis at first, about Coco Crisp returning to form. Aside from Pavano and the gaping hole at first base, I don't think there's anybody on the Yankees that gives as much concern, and at least in the former case, the Yanks have some warm bodies to bridge the gap until the point where Phil Hughes is ready.

As for the rest, it's still tough to envision the Jays cracking the top two, not with gimps Gustavo Chacin, Tomo Ohka and John Thomson as potentially 3/5 of their rotatoin. Nor is it easy to see the Rays leaving the cellar without improvements to their rotation. If they can convert their surplus of outfielders -- Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes, B.J. Upton (yeah, that's likely where he'll settle) -- into some pitching, I like their chances better, but until then, no.

As for the Wild Card, I think the AL Central, which could have the Tigers, Twins, Indians and White Sox all competing, may yet again threaten the return of the East's second-place team to the postseason. Last year was quite a reminder that there's no birthright which guarantees both teams make the postseason, though I expect the Red Sox to make a much stronger go of it than in 2006.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007


Vuk (1947-2007) [BP Unfiltered]

The world of futility infielders has lost one of its legendary practitioners in John Vukovich, who passed away this week at age 59. Vukovich, a .161 career hitter, holds a rather dubious distinction, as I wrote at BP Unfiltered, but the 40 years he gave to the game as a player, coach, interim manager and executive is a truer testament to his baseball acumen and reputation within the game.

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Friday, March 09, 2007


Yanksfan vs Soxfan Interview I... and Big News

Back from a successful jaunt to Philadelphia, where Baseball Prospectus 2007's promotional appearance season kicked off with an enthusiastic turnout that included's statgod Sean Forman, with whom we had the pleasure of breaking bread afterwards. Other evening entertainment included a very enthusiastic young bartender at the Radisson who had vocal opinions about the career of Tim Salmon, and multiple glass clinkings -- including my first vodka shot of the 21st century -- due to some Big News:

For the first time in the colorful 12-year history of the BP annual, we have cracked the New York Times Bestseller List. Or will; as of March 18 (next Sunday), BP07 will be ranked #15 on the Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous list. Ergo, the 19 of us who contributed to this year's book and are listed on its title page are best-selling authors now, not that any of us are able to dine out on said laurels just yet. Anyway, a happy day here for the BP family.

My travels caused me to delay the posting of Part I of a two-part interview I did for the fine Yanksfan vs Soxfan blog on -- guess what? -- the AL East's big dogs as they stack up this year. Here's one of the exchanges:
YFSF: Josh Beckett and Chien-Ming Wang: They are the sabermetric paradox. Do you expect a big turnaround from Beckett? Can we expect another big year from Wang?

JJ: Beckett's more of an enigma than a paradox. It remains to be seen whether he can harness his curveball while at the same time keeping free of the blister problems that have plagued his career; last year he wore a band-aid between starts and it prevented him from tossing the curve in bullpen sessions. If Lester is healthy, the Sox might have enough depth in the rotation to cover for a 150-inning season from Beckett where he does throw the curve and deals with the consequences. But right now there are a lot of questions about Schilling, about Matsuzaka, about Wakefield, and about Papelbon, so that may be too risky.

Wang is certainly a paradox in that he succeeds while striking out only about 3.1 hitters per nine. But so long as he throws mid-90s heat with that great movement on his sinker, I expect him to throw a lot of innings and be pretty successful, if not quite so so much as last year. He'll never be an ace, I don't think, but especially at his current price, he's a very valuable commodity and fun to watch as well.
Part II of this home-and-home series will be posted in this space on Monday. As you read Part I, please note that the introduction includes one innacuracy that bears correction. As I've said in this space, I covered the Dodgers and Red Sox for BP07; Steven Goldman is the one who wrote about the Yankees.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Hey Cheesesteak Heads!

Just a reminder that I'll be in Philadelphia on Thursday evening to promote Baseball Prospectus 2007 along with the book's editors, Christina Kahrl and Steven Goldman. The three of us will also attempt to eat our weight in cheesesteaks*.

Here's the deets:

Thursday, March 8, 7:00 PM
Barnes & Noble
Rittenhouse Square
1805 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Philly fans, be there or I'll send you nude pix of Greg Luzinski. Don't think I won't stoop that low.

* won't actually happen


Monday, March 05, 2007


Radio Free New York

This morning I recorded a radio spot for WGBB 1240 AM's Sports Break with Joel Blumberg. Over the course of about 20 mintues (starting 7:45 in), Joel and I talked about Brian Cashman's bold power play, the Mets' middle relief, the Red Sox's winter spending, and (sigh) the impact of steroids on the single season and all-time home run records. You can hear it all here.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007


Kicking Chass and Fixing Chats

On Monday, my JAWS article about the Veterans Committee was published at Baseball Prospectus publication. Tuesday saw the voting results -- another shutout -- announced, and when I blogged it at BP Unfiltered, I added a veiled dig at the New York Times' Murray Chass, who had... well, I'll give him the rope:
I receive a daily e-mail message from Baseball Prospectus, an electronic publication filled with articles and information about statistics, mostly statistics that only stats mongers can love.

To me, VORP epitomized the new-age nonsense. For the longest time, I had no idea what VORP meant and didn’t care enough to go to any great lengths to find out. I asked some colleagues whose work I respect, and they didn’t know what it meant either.

Finally, not long ago, I came across VORP spelled out. It stands for value over replacement player. How thrilling. How absurd. Value over replacement player. Don’t ask what it means. I don’t know.

I suppose that if stats mongers want to sit at their computers and play with these things all day long, that’s their prerogative. But their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game threatens to undermine most fans’ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein.

People play baseball. Numbers don’t.
Shortly after the blog entry was published, I began receiving a steady stream of emails, almost unanimously positive. The supportive comments -- thank you, readers -- kept pouring in during my chat a couple of hours later, where I said some things that a few people took as upping the rhetorical ante. If I regret anything now that the story has cooled, it's that nobody got the vintage Ice-T reference, and that said opening line was taken as BP's party line. It was not; it was an off-the-cuff response that was far more heated and less measured than Executive Vice President Nate Silver's open letter, which stands as BP's official response.

In my view and the view of many others around the blogosphere, Chass looked completely foolish. Even in hindsight, I'm puzzled why his screed was published; it's an embarrassment to the New York Times and the profession. Did anyone who read that article decide they would suddenly take Chass more seriously than they had before, now that he had drawn the line in the sand and declared, I will not learn what this means under any circumstances, even when the answer is one click away?

Did any of Chass' colleagues at the Times -- whether old-guardsmen like Dave Anderson and George Vescey or younger writers such as Alan Schwarz and David Leonhardt (who have mentioned many BP statistics and writers in their "Keeping Score" column" but who obviously weren't asked in Chass' informal poll) -- thank him for standing up to those punks with their new-age stats?

Did the wheezing Grey Lady gain more traction in any quarter thanks to one of its writers proudly standing up for knownothingism?

Boil down Chass' words, and they amount to, "I don't understand this. It somehow finds my computer every day and it scares me and reminds me I'm obsolete. They're replacing me with a calculator!" To me, that looks like a writer who's gone waaaay past his pitch count.

It's a sad day when someone who's received the top honor that baseball can grant his profession decides he knows too much about the sport to have to learn another statistic. Scratch that. It's a sad day when any writer decides he knows so much about his field that he'll trumpet his exemption from learning more.

It's even sadder that said writer, who was honored in part for being on the vanguard of reporting the business of baseball and its labor issues, has decided that he no longer can keep up with the changing times. Worse, he decided to make an unsupportable and offensive generality that something he doesn't understand -- a statistic, for heaven's sake -- somehow ruins the game for most fans.

The beauty of baseball is that its fans can find such a multitude of ways to appreciate the game. If Chass hasn't grasped that single fact in 40-something years of covering baseball, he hasn't learned a thing.

• • •

Aside from l'affair Chass, my chat also featured technical problems that sent a few of my responses floating into the ether rather than showing up on the page. I earmarked a couple of JAWS-related ones to take a later swing at:
bloodwedding (BK): Jay, I am not totally up on HOF opinion and JAWS, but I assume a) that Biggio is a lock and b) that he is now a below average player in 2007. Using Biggio (not sure he is the best example), but say a player's last few seasons are decidedly below average for their position, yet they push up the guy's WARP3 or question is, should Peak be given more weight than Longevity, and how much more? A guy like Albert Belle could peter out for a few more years and enhance his raw totals, but it wouldn't help a team in real life. Thoughts?
Biggio, who is now just 70 hits shy of 3,000 and 19 homers shy of 300, is in good shape regarding the Hall of Fame based on his accomplishments on the field. JAWS thinks so, too; he scores at 123.7 career WARP3, 69.5 peak, and 96.6 overall. The Hall of Fame second basemen set the highest bar — 122.8/71.5/97.1 — and Biggio isn't quite over it yet, but 1.2 WARP will do the trick.

Which brings up the fact that Biggio is in fact now a below-average player. According to BP's numbers, he was seven runs below average with the bat and 14 runs below average in the field last year, good for just 2.5 WARP in a season where he got over 600 plate appearances. In fact, in a year where the Astros missed winning the NL Central by 1 1/2 games, it's arguable that Phil Garner's decision to ride such a spent horse so far when they had a younger, more able alternative in Chris Burke cost the team the division. I wrote a chapter for the forthcoming It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book on similar instances throughout baseball history. It's an all-too-common mistake, alas.

But that shouldn't change how we view Bigs' career. One thing I stated in both the BBWAA and VC JAWS articles is that what we can call the Terrence Long portion of a player's career -- the point where we could substitute said crappy player to soak up a mostly useless 2-3 WARP a year to finish out a foreshortened career -- isn't where a Hall case should be decided. That's why I overrode the "no's" on Belle and Dick Allen, both of whom had very high peaks and missed by just a couple JAWS points on career; with better luck they'd have made it over the line even with minimal production.

On the other hand, the studies I've done with my WARP data indicate to me that in terms of using JAWS as a predictive tool for the HOF, I'm probably overvaluing peak; one actually gets a better correlation simply using career WARP. Note that JAWS isn't specifically designed to be a predictive tool; my goal with it is to strike a balance between the idealism that a Hall vote should be based on merit and the pragmatism to understand that merit is a concept that means different things to different voters, but that greatness is generally considered along the lines of career and peak.

Accounting for peak gives the system more nuance than simple career totals, as the peak element stands as a proxy for the awards, the All-Stars, Gold Gloves and league-leading totals which a career WARP measure doesn't see. But the latter still provides the bulk of a player's Hall of Fame argument whether rwe're talking about JAWS or the BBWAA vote; if it didn't, most of the players on this year's VC ballot would have long since been in, as their careers petered out at 33 or 35 instead of lasting until 40.
Carlos Delgado (Flushing, New York): JAWS me, please!
Oddly enough, this question came up over dinner last week with my baseball-loving pals of some renown. Delgado scores at 81.8/58.7/70.3, where the average Hall of Famer first-sacker winds up at 106.1/62.8/84.5. That puts Delgado, who's entering his Age 35 season, 28.4 WARP away from the line, needing about four and a half seasons that are the equivalent of his 6.2-WARP 2006.

He can get closer by improving upon his peak component; his seven best years are worth 10.4, 9.2, 8.9, 8.7. 7.5, 7.2, and 6.8 WARP. An 8.0 WARP season, a level he hasn't seen since 2003, would up his career total to 89.8 and raise his peak to 59.9, good for an overall score of 74.9, leaving him 19.2 WARP shy. And so on. The bottom line is that Delgado will have to maintain a considerable pace into his late 30s to improve his Hall of Fame credentials. While I'd like to see it happen -- he's a great hitter, and his outspokenness is a nice reminder that not all athletes are pompous right-wing gasbags like Curt Schilling -- I'm not going to put money down on that likelihood.

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Friday, March 02, 2007


Al Kaline Battery

In the wee hours of the past few nights, amid my other deadlines and drama I've inevitably found myself IMing with Steven Goldman about my various contributions to It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book. Two nights ago, the topic was 1967 (one of my two narrative chapters), and Tiger great Al Kaline came up for discussion, which is why today's Detroit Free Press piece about former teammate Denny McLain's latest tome caught my eye.

In his book, his third autobiography, convicted felon McLain -- wow, now that would make a catchy nickname for a ballplayer, Convicted Felon McLain -- has some not too nice things to say about Kaline:
McLain knocks Al Kaline for slamming his bat into the rack and injuring himself in the middle of the ’68 pennant race. Some of the players, and even manager Mayor [sic] Smith, McLain says, didn’t think Kaline should have started the World Series.

“As respectfully as I can say about a Hall of Fame player, Kaline wasn’t the most loved SOB in the clubhouse, and we did win the pennant without him,” McLain writes. “Our guys resented Kaline for turning down a $100,000 salary when Jim Campbell offered to put him on par with the top players in the game. While the media played him up as a hero for being so modest, we all knew that it cost us serious dough.”
McWrong. The injury to which the pitcher refers was on June 27, 1967, when he slammed the bat into the rack after Sam McDowell struck him out. He broke a bone in his hand and missed just over a month, but the situation probably didn't cost the Tigers the pennant; they they went 15-11 with him on the sidelines despite an offense that aside from Dick McAuliffe and Willie Horton pretty much shut down.

Kaline missed five weeks in 1968 after a Lew Krausse pitch broke his arm on May 25. He hit .309/.408/.461 when he returned, an improvement on the .257/.369/382 he was hitting when he got hurt (keep in mind this was the Year of the Pitcher). Further, the Tigers were 24-14 prior to the injury, then 24-13 with him out. Yeah, they really won the pennant without him.

Since McLain is so eager to throw stones from his glass house, it's worth noting that his own ankle sprain is far more culpable for the Tigers '67 loss of the pennant. As recounted in Dave Anderson's Pennant Races: Baseball at its Best, on September 18, a day which began with the Tigers holding a half-game lead on the White Sox and a full game lead on the Red Sox and Twins, Boston knocked McLain out after he allowed four runs in two innings. Mad at himself, McLain kicked his locker with his left foot. Later that evening, he was watching TV at home and was startled by a noise in the garage. He jumped up, but his left foot was asleep, and he crumpled to the floor, his ankle severely sprained.

He would not start again until the season's final game. Rain forced the Tigers to play doubleheaders on both the Saturday and Sunday of the final weekend. They split the Saturday twinbill, and won Sunday's opener behind Joe Sparma. With the Red Sox having won their game, the Tigers needed a win to force a tie and thus a playoff. McLain took the hill and was staked to a 3-1 lead in the second, but he couldn't hold it. He departed in the third with the tying run on base, and Don Mincher greeted reliever John Hiller with a two-run homer. The Angels scored three more in the fourth and never looked back, helping the Red Sox win their first pennant since 1946.

So from September 17 on, the Tigers went 6-6, while the Red Sox went 7-4 and the Twins 6-5. All McLain gave them in that span was four innings of bad pitching, when one good start might have meant a pennant.

In honor of all that, I present an MP3 of "The Ballad of Denny McLain" by the SF Seals, an indie-rock project fronted by baseball fan Barbara Manning from a gem of an EP called The Baseball Trilogy which was put out by Matador Records (whose co-owner Gerard Cosloy runs the wonderfully snarky Can't Stop the Bleeding). It's a cover sung by one of Manning's bandmates and thus not quite as good as her mind-melting psychedelic original "Dock Ellis" -- a tribute to the pitcher who threw a no-hitter under the influence of LSD in 1970 -- but it's still pretty good. When Gerard's jackbooted thugs come to drag me away for copyright violation, ask him why that hopelessly out-of-print EP isn't part of the label's voluminous offering at eMusic.



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