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, May 25, 2007

 

Busy, Busy, Busy

It's been a busy week here at Futility Central. In addition to today's Prospectus Hit List, I had a JAWS Notebook article at BP, a piece on the AL Central for the New York Sun, sidecar Unfiltered entries to both of those pieces, and three radio spots — Toledo, Ohio, College Station, Texas, and my usual XM gig.

Somewhere in there I found time to take in the Yankees-Red Sox series, albeit with my thumb pumping the Tivo remote's fast-forward button. I've literally become tired of watching Yankee games; the combination of the team's recent mediocrity and typical plodding pace is a total drag when on a given night you can watch about a dozen other games moving along at a more sprightly pace (offer not valid in Boston). Even with the Tivo, watching Kyle Farnsworth endlessly fidget outside the strike zone is no fun.

Nonetheless, it was good to see a bit of energy flowing through the Yankees as they beat up on Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling; the benefits of time-shifting allowed me to pause after Hideki Matsui's home run in the latter to cue Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" for an impromptu celebration of the team's 3-0 first-inning lead against the Tubby Bitch. And then to see Doug Mientkiewicz upper deck Schilling, both literally and figuratively, aw yeahhh. Derek Jeter passing Joe DiMaggio for fifth place on the Yankee hit list in the midst of a streak of his own added icing to the cake, as did watching Alex Rodriguez get his groove back with homers in three consecutive games, not to mention a nasty take-out slide of Dustin Pedroia that drew words from Boston. Hey, when Jason Varitek takes off his mask to fight A-Rod instead of hiding behind it like a pussy, the latter can send flowers to Pedroia.

Nonetheless, it was a bit of a dark week in Yankeeland for the off-the-field stuff. Jason Giambi's steroid-related comments drew an audience with Bud Selig, not to mention talk of a voided contract (no chance, and given the Yanks' cynical contract concessions none deserved) and a failed amphetamine test (quite likely a smear job from within MLB offices; Peter Gammons says that Giambi hasn't been asked to take follow-up tests, which would have occurred after a positive). My BP colleague Joe Sheehan had an excellent column (free, not subscription-only) on the Giambi situation:
The specifics of Giambi’s point can be debated, but the central idea here, the one that blame for the nominal Steroid Era lies with personnel both in and out of uniform, cannot. The players who took performance-enhancing drugs shoulder the majority of any responsibility, but to absolve non-uniformed personnel, up to and including the ones on Park Avenue, is folly. We live in an era in which the idea of “clubhouse chemistry” is considered a tangible thing that can be manipulated and monitored. With that the case, it’s silly to think that front offices, spending all kinds of time looking for the right mix of personalities, could not be aware of a different sort of chemistry making the rounds.

Fourteen months ago, Commissioner Bud Selig drafted George Mitchell to investigate the use of PEDs in baseball during the pre-testing era. I said at the time, and I believe now, that the Mitchell Commission is a cynical exercise in public relations, designed to turn up no surprises. What I didn’t see coming was how the Commission would be used to focus blame for the era exclusively on uniformed personnel. Every time the Commission makes the news, it’s in some way reflecting badly on the players: they won’t talk, they won’t give up medical records, they won’t cooperate. If the Commission isn’t going to make any new findings along the way, it will certainly make sure to establish in the public eye who the villains are.

To which I say, “enough.” The Mitchell Commission isn’t going to—and isn’t designed to—make any discoveries about the nominal Steroid Era. It has neither the authority nor the gravitas to do any real work. It exists merely in the hopes that it will provide a veneer of credibility to official disdain and/or condemnation of the media-approved bad guys of the timeframe.

The Mitchell Commission should be disbanded. It should be disbanded because all it’s doing is extending the shelf life of a story that does the game no good. MLB isn’t going to get anywhere by trying to figure out who was doing what five to 10 years ago; there’s nothing that can be done, and no credible way or sorting out the impact of PEDs on gameplay, wins and losses, or statistics. If the evidence in Game of Shadows isn’t enough for the Commissioner to come down on Barry Bonds — and no, it’s not — then no amount of paper-shuffling and stern questioning is going to produce actionable information.

The Commission isn’t helping baseball. It’s only keeping a dead story alive, while shifting focus from the evidence we have from three years of testing, from MLB’s toughest-in-sports PED policy, from the great storylines created by the players on the field. In four seasons of testing, going back to the survey year, the number of positives has dropped from the high 80s in survey testing down to a single-digit number. Of the players who have tested positive, we’ve seen a mix of pitchers and hitters—putting the lie to the idea that steroids were responsible for the raised offensive levels of the 1990s—and the entire list has a Q rating comfortably behind your average “Dancing With the Stars” cast.
Also weighing in with a must-read is The New York Times' Harvey Araton:
Imagine if Jason Giambi had gone to the House Government Reform Committee hearing in March 2005 and said what he told a USA Today reporter last week.

Imagine if, after Mark McGwire had ceased stammering and Rafael Palmeiro stopped grandstanding and Sammy Sosa was done pretending he couldn’t understand English, it was Giambi’s turn and this is what he said:

“I was wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago was stand up — players, owners, everybody — and said: ‘We made a mistake.’ We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward.” In that setting, that context, can’t you hear the politicians and reporters gushing over Giambi, saluting him for setting a standard of accountability for the rest of baseball to follow?

Can’t you picture the commissioner, Bud Selig, thanking Giambi for placating the pols instead of summoning him to meet with baseball officials — as Giambi did Wednesday — and perhaps considering punitive action?
Meanwhile, it appears Carl Pavano's tenure in pinstripes is mercifully over, as the various big-name surgeons consulted confirmed that Pavano is a candidate for Tommy John surgery. As I said in the Hit List, here's hoping Dr. Octagon — or Dr. Nick Riviera or Dr. Leo Spaceman, depending which flavor of pop-culture quack you prefer — performs the operation, preferably after some Yankee official slips the guy a $20 and tells him to take a detour through the abdominal cavity. After drinking a six-pack, preferably.

I did a quick bit of figuring on Pavano's contract, comparing it to the infamous Darren Dreifort deal (five years, $55 million) the Dodgers handed out back in 2000. Using BP's marginal dollars per marginal win formula, Dreifort netted the Dodgers one extra win for every $13.1 million of the deal. Pavano blows that away, with one extra win for every $35 mil. It may take BP's equivalent of the Warren Commission to find a worse contract.

On the topic of marginal dollars per marginal win, do check out Maury Brown's tribute to the late Doug Pappas, the originator of that formula. It was three years ago this week that the game lost its foremost expert on financial matters and one of the biggest bees in Bud Selig's bonnet, a sad day indeed.

• • •

A bit more about those off-site articles of mine. The most interesting facet of the JAWS piece, to me at least, was the impact of Frankie Frisch on the Veterans' Committee from 1967-1973. Frisch led the way in the election of some of the Hall's most dubious members, particularly with regards to my methodology:
To give an idea of just how far off the mark these candidates — Frisch's Follies, if you will — are, [Chick] Hafey (CF), [Fred] Lindstrom (3B), [George] Kelly (1B), and we'll-include-him-anyway [post-Frisch honoree and former teammate Travis] Jackson (SS) rate as dead last among Hall of Famers at their positions according to JAWS, which makes them the players that I drop when I compute the positional averages (as explained here). [Jess] Haines is the second-to-last pitcher, which puts him in the same category (I drop four pitchers). [Ross] Youngs is second-to-last in rightfield,[Jim] Bottomley is third-to-last at first base. [Dave] Bancroft, sixth-to-last at shortstop (one hair ahead of Phil Rizzuto), is the closest thing to a defensible pick here.

...Bancroft aside, none of these players are within 25 JAWS points of the average Hall of Famer at their positions. Furthermore, out of the 138 hitters with a JAWS score, Bancroft ranks 100th, Jackson 119th, Youngs 126th, Lindstrom 134th, Kelly 136th, and Hafey 137th — that's right, three of the bottom five. To borrow a phrase suggested by Derek Jacques, these guys should pack their plaques.
Along with that, a look at the cases of Jeff Kent and Bobby Grich, the all-time ranking of Roger Clemens, I also found time to add JAWS to BP's glossary, a long-overdue move that can provide a quick reference for anyone looking for the system's explanation and standard numbers.

At the Sun (which is now free as well), I examined the likelihood that the AL Wild Card would come out of the Central division, as it did last year:
When the Red Sox went into a tailspin last August, the collapse hastened an end to their threeyear monopoly on the AL Wild Card. Confusion reigned, as though birthright and expense guaranteed playoff spots for the AL East's top two teams, the Sox and Yankees. That breach was filled by a thrilling AL Central race, as Minnesota overcame the upstart Tigers' early lead and fought off a late challenge by the defending World Champion White Sox. Though the Twins won the division, Detroit's wild card winners ultimately snagged the pennant.

With the Yankees currently limping along below .500 and nine games behind the sizzling Red Sox, the Central again appears poised to send two teams to the playoffs. This time it's a four-team race, with the Indians joining the White Sox, Tigers, and Twins. But which two teams will win out? Baseball Prospectus's Postseason Odds report uses a team's run-scoring and run-preventing proclivities, adjusted for park effects and quality of competition, in a simulation which plays out the rest of the season one million times. Run the numbers, and the Tribe (67%) and Tigers (47%) have the best shot at October, with both teams' chances dwarfing those of the Yankees (26%), though both are also well behind the Red Sox (93%).
Three days and a series win for the Yankees later, those odds are more or less unchanged: Red Sox 93.6 percent, Indians 57.5, Tigers 51.2, Yankees 27.5, White Sox 16.3, Twins 9.0. Further sobering news comes in the form of my quick hit at Unfiltered: "During the Wild Card era, just three teams have come from at least 10 [games] back to win a division flag, including last year’s Twins. However, 11 out of the 24 Wild Card teams have come back from double digits to make the playoffs. Five of those teams had fallen to 10 back by the 41-game mark [as this year's Yanks did], including the pre-Joe Torre 1995 Yankees, not to mention the 2002 Angels and 2003 Marlins, both of whom went on to win the World Series."

Rest easy on that one.

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