The Futility Infielder

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

Monday, July 30, 2007


Simpsonic Weekend

Fabulous weekend here at Futility Central, with baseball on the back burner after I delivered this week's Hit List...

• Friday night, we caught the opening of the long-awaited Simpsons Movie, and while it wasn't a gut-busting revelation, it didn't need to be. [Semi-spoiler alert; skip to next bullet]. Other than the expanded length, the movie didn't differ from the show spectacularly on a writing level. The main plot was engaging and amusing, the jokes were very funny, worth repeating even days later, the sappy moments were kept to a minimum, there were a few lines I missed due to the laughter that I'm sure will expand my appreciation upon another view. As the New York Times Anthony Scott wrote in his review, "In other words, I’d be willing to watch it only — excuse me while I crunch some numbers here — 20 or 30 more times."

The real treat was what a visual feast the movie turned out to be. The wider screen, larger color palette, shadows, and complexity of the large crowd scenes were all enough to remind you that this wasn't just another episode of the ultimate nuclear (powered) family. The common complaint among my friends was the minimal roles of secondary characters. Comic Book Guy and Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel -- two of my absolute favorites -- had prominent supporting roles, but Montgomery Burns, Smithers, Patty and Selma, Lenny and Carl, and numerous other favorites drew the short end of the script. And one of the key subplots, Homer's pet pig, went unresolved.

Still, that hardly added up to disappointment, even in the face of all the hype that's been building towards a movie that's seemed inevitable for at least the last decade and a half. I'm 37, and I've been watching the show since its inception; while I hadn't seen the Simpsons in their original guise on the Tracey Ullman Show, I was a fan of Groening's Life in Hell comic strip, and thus primed for the show's inaugural episode back in 1989. While I certainly saw a few people older than me at the theater, I was a bit surprised how young the audience ran. Kids as young as eight or nine could be heard giggling in the audience, though they probably had a leg up on their peers; one was even witty enough to offer "floor popcorn" to his fellow patrons as we exited the theater. Doubtless he'll be joining the show's writing staff in season 33.

• The Hit List had more than its usual share of Simpsons references in honor of the movie, but in retrospect it would have been far cooler if I'd thrown down the gauntlet and injected purple-goo Simpsons flavor into all 30 donuts, I mean entries. There's a brilliant article from a couple years back where each team was matched up with a Springfield character, so it's not like my idea would have been a first, but given the extent to which the column's warped humor has been influenced by the show, it would have been an appropriate homage. D'oh!

Anyway, the trading-deadline flavored Hit List found the Yankees ranked third, thanks to their feasting upon crappy Devil Rays and Royals pitching. What little baseball I saw this weekend reminded me that even as the Yanks work their way through the soft portion of the schedule, this remains an uphill climb. Eight games back in the AL East, a more reasonable four and a half back in the Wild Card, they still need to play .690 ball to get to 95 wins, a fact will temper any temptations to make a blockbuster and instead confine them to attempts to make Kyle Farnsworth an ex-Yankee, if not by burying him in the Meadowlands than by trading him to the Tigers for a bag of Gary Sheffield's hate mail and a one-legged batboy to be named later.

Trading Farnsworth might be the single biggest move to make the Yankees watchable again, particularly if highly-touted Joba Chamberlain shows up to take his spot. Regarded as the Yanks' second-best pitching prospect behind the soon-to-return Philip Hughes, Chamberlain was recently shifted to the bullpen at Triple-A Scranton in an attempt to provide the Yanks with an internal option for upgrade. As the New York Times notes:
In Chamberlain, the Yankees have a prospect with a refined repertory and, by all accounts, a solid makeup. The Yankees still view him as a starter for the future, but he has been scratched from his start Monday for Scranton and will work an inning of relief instead.

The plan is for Chamberlain to throw another inning Wednesday, but it is not a stretch to think he could be with the Yankees by then.

Asked when Chamberlain might be promoted, Manager Joe Torre said: “The only thing I know is he’s in Scranton, and that’s certainly something that’s going to be looked at. As far as what date, I don’t know.”

Promoting Chamberlain presents a health risk; it is late in his first professional season, after pitching in the Hawaiian winter league, and the innings in the majors will be intense. Chamberlain had triceps tendinitis at the University of Nebraska, an injury that caused some teams to pass on him in the 2006 draft.

Yet the benefits could be enormous. Chamberlain throws 98 miles an hour and could overpower hitters the way Francisco Rodríguez did for the Angels and Bobby Jenks did for the White Sox in their first seasons, helping their teams win the World Series. The Yankees, who are four games out of a playoff spot, do not have a shutdown bullpen. Their relievers allowed 9 runs and 16 hits over their last eight innings.
I've got tix to Wednesday's game. Perhaps I'll get to see one of the season's more anticipated debuts.

• Saturday, we went to go see Sonic Youth reprise their Daydream Nation double album in the delightful setting of Williamsburg's McCarren Park Pool, an empty 70-year-old, WPA-built public facility that's the size of three Olympic pools. Reproduced live in its entirety, Daydream Nation's soaring, interwoven guitars, chugging drums and alien melodies never sounded better -- appropriately huge given the album's landmark status. The 71-minute opus seemed to passed in about half that time even as I mentally followed along with every lyric, anticipated chord changes and shook in time to shifts in tempo that I've heard a hundred times. Meanwhile, the band careened around stage in a way that told the audience that they were enjoying the ride down this familiar road every bit as much as we were.

I've been listening to Daydream Nation since my Brown U. freshman roommate foisted it upon me by play the creepy, oddball and out-of-character track "Providence" on repeat about a dozen times in a row one afternoon in the fall of 1988. It took a bit longer for me to gain appreciation for the beauty and intensity of the band's oeuvre, but they became one of my favorites even as they broke out of the indie rock ghetto to infiltrate the incredibly boring world of early '90s mainstream rock. The handful of friends I saw at this show -- some who have been part of my life since college, others who I hadn't seen in five years or more -- evoked thoughts of even more distant friends who'd have given if not a limb then at least a couple fingers to see this particular show. Not for nothing is the album's title crucial to its following; we're all bonded together as part of a very large secret society: the daydream nation, indeed.

• In honor of the above (well, not the Yankees and certainly not Farnsworth), I present one of my favorite MP3 treasures: Sonic Youth playing the Simpsons theme from the "Homerpalooza" episode circa 1996. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Hit & Run

It's a big day here at Futility Central. Those of you who are regular readers of the Hit List may have noticed that last week's edition weighed in a bit lighter than normal, which is to say that for once it was of manageable length. There's a reason for that. After two and a half seasons of ever-lengthening weekly roundups, the powers that be at BP have encouraged me to tame the unruly beast and channel my energy into a more traditionally organized (and less HTML-intensive) weekly companion piece. Consider it a 2-for-1 stock split, or maybe the variety-show spinoff.

In any event, the Prospectus Hit & Run debuts today, with a look at some of the trends and tools which help shape the weekly Hit List. In the debut edition, I look at team Support Neutral pitching rankings, the difference between BP's two flavors of relief stats (Win Expectation above Replacement, Lineup-adjusted and Adjusted Runs Prevented), team records in one- and two-run games and their relationship to the aforementioned reliever stats, hitting streaks, and a piece of reader mail. Here's a taste:
My customized team WXRL report reveals which bullpens have most of their oars pulling in the right direction. Rather than dissect those rankings in parallel to what we did above, we'll look at things a bit differently. When Keith Woolner introduced it a few years ago, WXRL pushed another fine stat, Adjusted Runs Prevented, into the shadows. Whereas ARP accounts for the base-out situation in which a reliever inherits runners by treating them equally regardless of inning or relative score, WXRL incorporates leverage and the team's expected chances of winning into the mix (once again, Derek Jacques has your brush-up). Often the two stats are more or less in agreement, but sometimes they're not; a team may be doing a decent job of dealing with inherited runners as a whole, but a few high-leverage failures can throw their WXRL out of whack. Here are the teams' respective rankings (1-30) in both categories:
Team      WXRL  ARP Difference
D'Backs 4 14 10
Tigers 17 25 8
Indians 11 18 7
Brewers 8 15 7
Braves 15 21 6
Pirates 16 22 6
Cardinals 13 19 6
Angels 12 17 5
Astros 23 26 3
White Sox 27 29 2
Phillies 25 27 2
Nationals 7 9 2
Red Sox 1 2 1
Dodgers 5 6 1
Mets 10 11 1
Mariners 3 4 1
Reds 28 28 0
Devil Rays 30 30 0
Twins 6 5 -1
Padres 2 1 -1
Royals 14 12 -2
Rockies 26 23 -3
Marlins 20 16 -4
Athletics 24 20 -4
Orioles 29 23 -6
Rangers 9 3 -6
Blue Jays 18 10 -8
Cubs 22 13 -9
Yankees 19 7 -12
Giants 21 8 -13
For just about half of the teams (14 out of 30), the difference between the two lists is trivial; they're no further than three spots apart. What the list is saying for the rest is that relative to their overall bullpen performance, the teams at the top have done a better job of rising to the occasion than the ones at the bottom; they've especially taken advantage of their high-leverage situations. Note the lead here is held by the Diamondbacks, who are an NL-best 7.4 wins above their third-order projection, and that nine of the top 10 teams—all but the Braves—are ahead of their own third-order projections. At the other end of the scale, we've heard plenty about the bullpen failures of the Cubs and Yankees at various times this year, but the Giants? Between the minute-to-minute updates on Barry Bonds, the zombie lineup around him, and the solid but ill-supported rotation (including the fascinating Tim Lincecum), the bullpen has been pretty low on the list of things to pay attention to out by the bay. Then again, there's a reason Armando Benitez was banished to Florida, and it ain't the dominance of his replacement, Brad Hennessey.
You can expect a similar assortment of stats, analysis and Simpsons references when the piece rolls around next Tuesday, and of course, the regular Hit List will continue to run on Fridays.

• • •

Speaking of the Simpsons, not only have I already got my ticket for opening night of the long-awaited movie on Friday, but last Sunday we paid a visit to the 42nd Street 7-11, one of a dozen in the country which has been converted into a Kwik-E-Mart as a promotional tie-in. So I picked up a talking beer mug, a couple cans of Buzz Cola, and a box of KrustyO's (jagged metal prize not included), sampled a toothache-inducing donut, and cursed the failure to stock the Radioactive Man comic and the Dufffman bobblehead (to say nothing of the failure to produced Duff Beer). I resisted the call of the Blue Squishee, the giant PEZ dispensers, the Simpsons lunch box, and a few other items, but I feel sufficiently souvenired up.

The signage in the store was great. The trash can had a price tag, the hot dogs were touted as "rich in bunly goodness and were offered "3 for the price of 3," and an oversized visage of Grampa Simpson's friend Jasper Beardley was painted in the freezer in reference to the episode where he takes up residence there. "7 lb bag, Jasper extra," read the sign. Fun stuff.

• • •

Also at BP recently is an introduction to the forthcoming It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book and the first look at its cover:

Certainly better looking than the hideous Mind Game cover, at least. As to the contents, quoth editor Steven Goldman:
On August 13, the Baseball Prospectus family will proudly debut our newest book, It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book. For the first time, we’ve taken our nifty statistical tools and the insights gained from years of studying baseball and applied them to the pennant races of the past. Not only did we get to revisit some of the great players, personalities, and events of the past and look at them from a new vantage point, but in doing so we were able to find new insights about the game of today. As Shakespeare wrote, what’s past is prologue. That’s true even in baseball–you could look it up.

Using a method developed by Clay Davenport that compares the closeness and volatility of each pennant (or divisional) race, we ranked every race in history and wrote about the top 14 on the list, pausing here and there to explore related subjects from the greatest deadline-day trades of all time to what would have happened if Branch Rickey had been the general manager of the Yankees instead of the Dodgers.
Steve goes on to mention a couple of my contributions (Jay Jaffe on the Dodgers race to beat the Braves in 1959 and why a Milwaukee dynasty that had every reason to happen didn't") but he leaves out not only my favorite titled chapter of the book ("The Replacement Level Killers," on teams dragged down because of their failure to adjust their lineups)) but also my chapters on the 1967 race in which the Red Sox beat out the Tigers, White Sox, and Twins (oh my!), and the impact of Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski and other superstars on their teams' pennant chances. Still, it's exciting that the book is just a few weeks away from hitting the streets.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Return of the Seamhead on Crystal Math

I could quibble with the headline ("Stats Geek: Clemente, Waner almost an even match"), but once I learned that it was the title of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Brian O'Neill's regular offering and not another example of a P-G writer pejoratively yanking my chain (I tip my cap to Gene Collier's phrase "seamheads on crystal math" if not the sentiment behind it, though he and I have long since buried the hatchet), I was happy to find myself getting a nice press hit today.

Back in December, O'Neill consulted me for a JAWS comparison of Pirate rightfielders Roberto Clemente and Paul "Big Poison" Waner, the latter of whom will have his uniform number retired by the club on Saturday. Not to be confused with his brother, teammate, and fellow Hall of Famer Lloyd "Little Poison" Waner -- nicknames derived from a Brooklynese lament, "Them Waners. It's always the little poison on thoid and the big poison on foist!" -- Paul Waner was the superior of the two; as legend goes, Lloyd was elected by the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee in a case of mistaken identity. Da Big Poison is also a a very good comp for Clemente:
Baseball historians say Waner and Clemente are near equals. Both could run, hit and field like almost nobody else. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranks Clemente eighth and Waner ninth among all right fielders.

Jay Jaffe has developed a rating system for Baseball Prospectus to discuss the merits for the Hall of Fame, and he ranks both even higher. Jaffe puts right fielders in this order: 1) Babe Ruth 2) Hank Aaron 3) Mel Ott 4) Frank Robinson 5) Al Kaline 6) Clemente 7) Waner 8) Dave Winfield 9) Reggie Jackson 10) Sam Crawford. (That possibly unfamiliar name is the all-time triples leader who played alongside Ty Cobb in Detroit).

"If Clemente had lived," Jaffe wrote in an e-mail in December, "he'd have probably emerged from the pack for sole possession of fifth."

I haven't space to outline Jaffe's methodology, but he uses peak years and career record to come up with the overall rating. You don't hear arguments about Clemente and Waner the way you do, say, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, but no players who played the same position for the same team are more closely matched among baseball's all-time greats, according to Jaffe's system.
O'Neill had simply asked how the duo compared with other famous franchise mates, with an eye towards the aforementioned Joe D. and the Mick. In running the numbers, I discovered that Clemente and Waner were actually the closest call, JAWS-wise, among Hall of Famers from the same team. Since O'Neill didn't run down the others, and since this is likely too unwieldy for BP Unfiltered, I'll show the work here:
Player          POS  Career   PEAK   JAWS
Babe Ruth 9 234.2 107.0 170.6
Hank Aaron 9 209.9 85.0 147.5
Mel Ott 9 175.8 84.8 130.3
Frank Robinson 9 165.1 76.2 120.7
Al Kaline 9 129.9 64.6 97.3
Roberto Clemente 9 126.3 67.7 97.0
Paul Waner 9 124.7 68.2 96.5
Dave Winfield 9 131.6 61.0 96.3
Reggie Jackson 9 126.3 64.6 95.5
Sam Crawford 9 112.3 57.3 84.8
Clemente put up 6.3 WARP during his final season at age 37. Even two seasons totaling that would have been enough to distinguish him from the other four players with whom he's clustered here. Going around the horn and then some for other team-specific battles in the rankings among HOFers:
Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Johnny Bench 2 122.2 73.7 98.0
Gary Carter 2 117.8 68.9 93.4
Yogi Berra 2 116.2 66.0 91.1
Carlton Fisk 2 118.3 59.5 88.9
Bill Dickey 2 107.0 62.8 84.9
Among the two pinstripers wearing #8, Berra has a solid edge, though the latter is no shame.
Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Lou Gehrig 3 147.1 84.7 115.9
Cap Anson 3 159.3 64.0 111.7
Eddie Murray 3 140.3 69.2 104.8
Jimmie Foxx 3 129.9 73.9 101.9
Roger Connor 3 133.0 68.7 100.9
Dan Brouthers 3 116.1 70.1 93.1
Tony Perez 3 109.4 61.2 85.3
Johnny Mize 3 102.9 67.4 85.2
Willie McCovey 3 107.0 62.1 84.6
Connor, Mize, and McCovey all had stints with the Giants, though the latter's was by far the biggest chunk of his career, whereas O'Connor and Mize would see significant time elsewhere.
Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Eddie Collins 4 178.0 84.9 131.5
Rogers Hornsby 4 163.7 96.0 129.9
Joe Morgan 4 168.0 86.1 127.1
Nap Lajoie 4 167.1 83.7 125.4
Ch. Gehringer 4 132.3 77.0 104.7
Rod Carew 4 128.7 70.4 99.6
Frankie Frisch 4 119.8 66.2 93.0
Ryne Sandberg 4 112.8 72.0 92.4
Bobby Doerr 4 112.5 69.3 90.9
Billy Herman 4 106.8 69.6 88.2
Hornsby and Herman both spent significant portions of their careers as Cubs, though not as much as Sandberg.
Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Honus Wagner 6 194.4 86.8 140.6
Cal Ripken 6 169.2 89.1 129.2
Arky Vaughan 6 131.4 90.0 110.7
Another one for the Pittsburghers, as two of the top three Hall of Fame shortstops were at their best as Pirates. The underrated Vaughan even bests Wagner in peak score.
Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Stan Musial 7 197.3 90.8 144.1
Ted Williams 7 172.0 93.3 132.7
C. Yaztrzemski 7 144.3 67.2 105.8
Ed Delahanty 7 111.9 73.1 92.5
Jim O'Rourke 7 129.0 55.7 92.4
Billy Williams 7 117.2 66.3 91.8
Willie Stargell 7 105.8 60.3 83.1
Al Simmons 7 104.7 60.6 82.7
Joe Medwick 7 98.2 64.1 81.2
A pair of Red Sox at #2 and #3 here make for the highest ranking of "teammates," though the gap is considerably wider than between Clemente and Waner, or Berra and Dickey. Medwick played significantly in St Louis, though it's not really close with Musial, who actually played more of his games in leftfield but accumulated more WARP in rightfield).
Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Willie Mays 8 206.1 91.9 149.0
Ty Cobb 8 190.0 81.8 135.9
Tris Speaker 8 173.2 77.8 125.5
Mickey Mantle 8 155.1 85.3 120.2
Joe DiMaggio 8 120.2 77.3 98.8
The most famous intra-team positional battle isn't really all that close on either peak or career values, even with Joe D. holding about an eight-win edge on defense.

Anyway, it's always fun to see my name spelled correctly and my system in the paper. Thanks to Brian O'Neill for casting JAWS in a more flattering light than his colleague.

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Hoist a Skittlebrau to Vin Scully

Reason #10,001 why Vin Scully is the greatest announcer ever, from the broadcast of last night's game: "Yes, the Phillies have lost 10,000, but it's not been all beer and skittles for the Dodgers either."

When I heard this, at first I thought the esteemed voice of the Dodgers was referencing a great Simpsons quote from the episode "Bart Star":
Homer: Got any of that beer that has candy floating in it? You know, Skittlebrau?

Apu: Such a beer does not exist, sir. I think you must have dreamed it.

Homer: Oh. Well, then just give me a six-pack and a couple of bags of Skittles.
Scully has never been a guest voice on the Simpsons, though he's often been imitated to uncanny effect by Harry Shearer. Realizing the likelihood of the 80-year-old voice of the Dodgers making such a reference was slim, I decided to Google the phrase. As it turns out, it predates the Simpsons by several centuries:

'Beer and skittles' is shorthand for a life of indulgence spent in the pub.


Skittles, also known as Ninepins, which was the pre-cursor to ten-pin bowling, has been a popular English pub game since the 17th century. The pins are set up in a square pattern and players attempt to knock them down with a ball. It is still played but not so much as previously.

The phrase was referred to in Footman's History of the Parish Church of Chipping Lambourn (1894), which reprints a piece from 1634:

"William Gyde... for playing at skittolles on Sunday."

Citations of beer and skittles and variants appear in literature from the 19th century. For example, Dickens' Pickwick Papers, 1837:

"It's a reg'lar holiday to them - all porter and skittles."

Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's Schooldays, 1857:

"Life isn't all beer and skittles.
Several other sites back up this interpretation. So in the end, two of my favorite things have given me even more reason to appreciate their depth. Scully's added another fine archaism to his arsenal, and the genesis of a great Simpsons joke has been revealed. I'll drink to that!

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Friday, July 13, 2007


A Midsummer Day's Hit List

My annual All-Star break edition of the Hit List is up at Baseball Prospectus. The Yankees hold the #5 spot, but even with their win last night to return to .500, I remain unconvinced, consistent with my recent ranting:
Don't kid yourselves, Yankee fans--despite the high ranking and the upcoming soft schedule, it's all over but the shouting and pouting, not to mention the laying of bets on whether Joe Torre, Brian Cashman, or Alex Rodriguez will be around for the next step. The team's worst first half of the three-division era has left the Yanks needing to play .684 ball the rest of the way to reach the 95-win level of the last two AL Wild Card winners, not to mention a .737 clip to match Boston's 99-win pace. Injuries, age, and overpriced underachievement are the predominant themes here, and neither Torre nor Cashman deserve a pass for building a weak bench, forgetting first base, or the puzzling bullpen management which has contributed mightily to a 6-14 record in one-run games. For all the finger-pointing, Cashman's efforts to rebuild the organization's pitching depth may pay off down the road, and keeping his head at the trading deadline should merit sparing his neck come October.
Of course, even the news of the Yanks reaching .500 has been trumped by the fact that the team's overtures to extend A-Rod's contract have been rebuffed both by uber-agent Scott Boras and by Rodriguez himself; he'll exercise the opt-out clause in his contract and become a free agent at the end of the season. Say what you will about the odiousness of Boras, he's the best in the biz because he has the foresight to protect his clients with such loopholes in addition to prising the most money out of teams in the first place.

Rodriguez took the high road: "I think it would be selfish on my part to talk about my contract status when our team desperately needs wins... My goal is to win as many games as we can, focus on my teammates and really play at a real high level in the second half. That sort of thing I leave to the people upstairs. My only concern is to play baseball and play at a high level."

Of course, what A-Rod could have said is that the team and its fans deserve to sweat a bit for the shoddy treatment they afforded him last year; he owes them no discount for the times Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, unnamed front office officials (you think that Post cover happened naturally?) and a certain segment of the fan base (to say nothing of the rabid media) have thrown him under the bus. I'm reminded of the great Simpsons "Trash of the Titans" episode, where Homer's stint as sanitation commissioner ends with the re-election of the man he deposed, Ray Patterson. Upon returning, Patterson tells the crowd, "You know, I'm not much on speeches, but it's so gratifying to leave you wallowing in the mess you've made. You're screwed, thank you, bye."

As it is, even without the verbal dis, Rodriguez's dealing the team a painful enough blow by invalidating a contract to which the Texas Rangers are still contributing some $21 million over the next three years, plus another $3 mil a year (unclear for how long) in deferred payments. If the Yankees want to re-sign A-Rod, they'll be paying all the freight next time around. Payback is a bitch.

As for the rest of the Hit List, there's more Simpsons to be had, along with nutritional information, robot overlords, Harvey's Wallbangers and other fun stuff. Enjoy!

• • •

On a separate note, I just got word that the first copies of It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book--to which I contributed six chapters, including the book's first two narratives, on the 1967 AL and 1959 NL seasons--have made their way into editor Steven Goldman's hands, which means I'll hopefully have my copies in hand next week. Both Basic Books and Amazon lists August 13 as the publication date, and the latter is pre-selling the hardcover for $17.13. It's never too soon to reserve your copy!

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Watch the All-Star Game? No Foxin' Way

Yes, I'm still boycotting the All-Star Game. It sure was tempting to cave in, what with Fox's seven-year broadcast rights re-up and the choice to play the game in front of the only crowd gullible enough to worship Barry Bonds. But once I stuffed my mouth full of aluminum foil and found an old hemostat to clamp on the webbing between my finger and my thumb, I was able to recreate the aggravation of watching Tim McCarver, Joe Buck, Scooter and the Foxies at the Taco Bell Midsummer Poxcam Classic without even turning on the television.

If you're a hardier soul than me and plan to tune in, by all means tell Jeanne Zelasko I said hello. And don't say I didn't warn you...

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Just When I Thought I Was Out

For all of the ranting and raving within -- and about -- my last two posts regarding the 2007 Yankees, I still find myself holding a handful of tickets to their ballgames. Between that fact and the obligation I have to stay on top of the team for my various BP and radio duties, I can't shake this debacle in progress so easily. "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."

My problem, I realized as I was heading up to Monday night's game, is that my disappointment with the current edition's predicament is dwarfed by my disappointment with the quality of the Yankee Stadium experience, which has been in freefall over the past few year. heavy-handed "security" thugs have made entering and exiting the stadium increasingly difficult. The backpack/briefcase ban is completely unnecessary; if you were going to smuggle, say, a tactical nuclear weapon into a New York area venue, Shea Stadium, which allows backpacks and briefcases, is much closer to an international airport and therefore a more desirable option. The concessions continue to rise in cost; premium beer prices on Becks, Heineken and Fosters appear to have risen in-season. And beyond the modest upgrade provided by Nathan's hot dogs the last few years, the ballpark continues to offer third-rate food -- go to Camden or Miller Park or Safeco Field and you can get a much more appetizing set of options, barbecue, bratwurst, what have you.

It's all come to the point that I plan to reduce considerably my annual expenditure on all things Yankee, new stadium be damned. I can't envision buying a walk-up ticket again, and beyond my ticket plan, I'm not about to submit to the online rape via Ticketmaster; I just don't care for the experience enough to submit to additional gouging. The Yankees won't miss me so long as they continue to draw upwards of four million fans, but that only points to the steps they've taken to alienate a significant portion of their customer base to appease a more casually interested crowd.

So as I headed to Monday's game, the combination of these feelings and those about the 2-9 slide which had the local media reaching the same conclusion I reached last week gave me an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I didn't even pack a scorebook, something I've done for every Yankees game since 2001. That's alienation.

Mitigating all of that was the fact that I'd be attending the game with my friend Nick, seeing him for the first time since his return from his honeymoon. What could be better than catching up with a good friend over a few beers at the ballpark on a beautiful night? Nothing, really, though since Nick actually left his ticket at home and required some creative, um, acquisition to enter the ballpark, the cameraderie was delayed until the second inning or so, by which point the Yankees had squandered the first-inning lead they netted when Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera started things off with a pair of singles.

Nonetheless, once Roger Clemens got through the second, he was absolutely stifling. I've seen almost none of the Rocket's work since he signed, and with a 5.32 ERA coming into the game, I was hardly thrilled to do so; memories of booing him for most of 1999 -- at least until he sealed the deal by clinching the World Championship in my presence -- added to the aforementioned stew of unhappiness on my trip to the park. But after allowing Michael Cuddyer's second-inning single, Clemens would only surrender one more hit for the night, pitching eight solid innings to short-circuit a shaky and poorly managed bullpen.

After netting their first-inning run, the Yanks threatened several times against Twins' starter Boof Bonser. Not until the fifth inning, when he struck out Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada in succession did Bonser keep the bases spotless, and from that high-water mark it was all downhill. Andy Phillips sparked a sixth-inning rally with a one-out double, followed by a single from Robinson Cano. That chased Bonser in favor of Juan Rincon, who walked both Damon and Cabrera, forcing in a run. Jeter broke the game open with a two-run single through the left side, and suddenly the stadium crowd of 53,036 roared with a zeal that recalled happier times at the stadium. That mood was quickly replaced by concern when A-Rod tumbled after colliding with Justin Morneau at first base, having legged out a fielder's choice and avoided the double play, summoning trainer Stevie Donahue. When Posada walked, Rodriguez again called for help, and he was removed for pinch-runner Miguel Cairo. Hamstring was the upper deck diagnosis, and though Rodriguez would wind up back in the lineup the following night, this was a scary moment.

Scarier still was watching Nick's consumption of Yankee Stadium concessions. Earlier he had confessed that he was just emerging from an end-of-honeymoon bout of food poisoning, suffered at the hands of some unscrupulous Morrocan kebab tyrant. You'd never have known; in procuring his new ticket, Nick had downed a foot-long hot dog (even while admitting to a Ned Flandersesque unease about the thing), and he chased this with a bag of Cracker Jacks, a regular-sized hot dog, and a beer. Reminded me that on the day of my wedding two years ago I watched him down a Wisconsin triple threat of nachos, fried cheese curds and frozen custard within a 90-minute span; when asked how he was doing in the wake of this binge, he'd recounted the menu while moaning, "Of course I'm not OK."

In any event, though Brian Bruney warmed up for the Yanks in the seventh, Joe Torre was content to let Clemens cruise, and he did so by throwing just 97 pitches through eight. He only struck out four hitters, but his ability to throw strikes and generate ground balls (13, versus seven flies) kept him well out of danger against the contact-happy Twins. Mariano Rivera came on in the ninth and though he allowed a pair of one-out singles, a nifty double play by Cairo, who got the force at third and then fired to first, wrapped things up. It was Clemens' 350th win, a level not seen since Waren Spahn reached that milestone on September 29, 1963 in a game caught by some Brooklyn kid named Torre.

Victory and all, in the face of those sobering numbers, the Yanks face a dreadfully uphill climb just to win the Wild Card; for me, believing they'll make it is like believing Little Timmy the Orphan's whooping cough is going to go away without medication. But for one night, everything seemed right at Yankee Stadium, a delightful midsummer night spent among friends, downing beers and cheering victory. Here's hoping they can keep the good times rolling.

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Monday, July 02, 2007


Sobering Numbers

Yankees' overall record to date:
37-41 (.474 winning percentage)

Record without their early June 14-3 hot streak:
23-38 (.377)

Record vs. AL East opponents:
8-17 (.320)

Record needed to match the Red Sox's 99-win pace:
62-22 (.738)

Record needed to win 95 games, the same number as the last two AL Wild Cards:
58-26 (.690)

Number of times in baseball history that a team has won at least 58 of final 84 games:

Number of times that has happened since 1900:

Number of times that has happened since expansion era began in 1961:

Number of times that has happened since three-division play began in 1994:

Last Yankee team to accomplish this feat:

Last team to win World Series after accomplishing this feat:
1979 Pirates

• • •

Weekend travels prevented me from my usual lengthy Prospectus Hit List. Instead I put together another Hit List Remix article examining various trends across leagues and divisions and versus last year's performance and the 2007 PECOTA forecasts:
If you had the Dodgers as the team furthest ahead of this year's projections, raise your hand. Bueller? Anyone? Not even this Dodger fan -- hopeful but faithless, or perhaps the other way around -- could have foreseen that, particularly in a season where Nomar Garciaparra and Rafael Furcal have combined for just two home runs (down from last year's 35), where Juan Pierre has been even more fetid than expected, and where Jason Schmidt made almost no positive contribution before winding up on the operating table. On the other hand, the emergence of Russell Martin as possibly the league's best catcher, and PECOTA-whooping first halves from Brad Penny, Randy Wolf, Takashi Saito, and Luis Gonzalez have helped make up much of that ground. A 17-8 record [in one-run games] founded on the league's second-best bullpen [they're now third] hasn't hurt either. It will be interesting to see whether the Dodgers can sustain this level of play in the wake of their shifting Garciaparra to third to accommodate Loney, and Chad Billingsley into the rotation to cover for Schmidt.

The Dodgers are hardly the only team that's surprising by this measure; the Tigers have outpaced PECOTA even with a bullpen that's crumbling before Jim Leyland's eyes, and three quarters of the AL West is significantly ahead of their projections. As are the Red Sox, even if they seem to have more disappointments (Julio Lugo, Coco Crisp, J.D. Drew, Manny Ramirez) than surprises (Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell). Worth noting: Daisuke Matsuzaka is three ERA points off his weighted mean projections. Bow to the deadly accurate PECOTA!
Marc Normandin will take this week's Hit List, as I'll be headed to Wyoming for my brother's wedding. I'll be back in my usual format there on July 13, but I won't be off the grid completely.

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