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, August 31, 2007


Clearing the Bases - Long Day's Journey Into Night Edition

Guy: It's August 31. Have you got waiver trade deadline fever?

Other Guy: (checks thermometer) Nope.

Guy: But... but... some teams need second LOOGYs! And third pinch-hitters! MIGUEL CAIRO may be headed back to St. Louis.

Other Guy: (breaks out into a cold sweat) Better drink a beer and go straight to bed.

Guy: I've pulled down the shades and barred the door.

Other Guy: (looks at watch, digs finger in ear, looks at watch again) Any news?

Guy: Jesse Orosco has put on his conversation hat, just in case. Tony Fossas is using his cell phone to call his home line and vice versa, just to make sure both are working. Paul Assenmacher got a phone call, but it was a wrong number. He went back to sleep.

Other Guy: on the couch, in his stained wifebeater, with two-week old chili stains...

Guy: ...sprinkling Doritos crumbs on top of last night's pizza.

Other Guy: (gags)

Guy: Hey, you think being a retired LOOGY is all skittles and beer? Far too often, it's Milk Duds in scotch. Or simply 1¢ gumballs in Mad Dog.

• • •

As for the tribulations of Mike Mussina, who's been torched for 17 runs and 25 hits over his past 9.2 innings, the reason is now clear. From today's New York Times:
The self-analysis has become so painful for Mussina that he has stopped doing his regular interviews with the author John Feinstein, who is writing a book about Mussina’s season. Mussina would prefer to focus on whatever positives remain.
Holy cow, it's A Pitcher's Story: Innings with David Cone all over again. Recall Cone's 2000 season, in which the 37-year-old Yankee hurler collapsed from a 12-9, 3.44 ERA season to a 4-14, 6.91 debacle while working on a book with Roger Angell. Instead of writing about the normal ups and downs of a pitchers' season, Cone and Angell were forced to confront the darker side, the possibility that Cone might have Lost It. By Angell's standards, the book wasn't great, but his depiction of the likable Cone twisting and turning as he candidly sprinkled the discussion of his troubles with a touch of gallows humor made for a compelling read.

Moose, who replaced Cone when he signed as a free agent in the winter of 2000-2001, is probably every bit as cerebral as Cone, but from a public persona standpoint, he's always lacked his predecessor's candor, up-front accountability and sense of humor. That's not a criticism, it's just fact, as are the numbers which say he's got a much stronger Hall of Fame case even with a less crowded awards shelf, or the ones which say he's had a few bad starts in a row, not an entire season in hell.

I can't fault Mussina for wanting to shut out the coverage, but it makes me wonder if he's as equipped to handle adversity as Cone; his career has run far more smoothly, with no major injuries or troubles outside the lines to put his 60'6" struggle in perspective. Given that he's under contract for 2008 (Cone was facing free agency), the hope is that he turns things around in short order and writes a happier ending to his tale. But I'm not holding my breath.

• • •

Thursday was a memorably great day for games with playoff implications, and as I worked on the Hit List, I had a fantastic time following the action. In the early afternoon, I followed the Yankees-Red Sox game and was treated to Chien-Ming Wang taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning, less than 24 hours after Roger Clemens had held the Sox hitless into the sixth. Wang lost his no-hitter one batter after Derek Jeter made a throwing error on Kevin Youkilis' grounder, his second of the game; with first baseman Jason Giambi (!) holding the runner, Mike Lowell singled through the opening into rightfield. Rats.

The game was a tight 2-0 affair at that point, and it quickly got interesting when Youkilis ran out of the basepaths and onto the grass on J.D. Drew's grounder, avoiding a tag by Alex Rodriguez, who fired to first to get one out. Not until the umps convened did they actually call Youkilis out for his transgression, but the replays showed he was clearly coloring outside the lines. Of course, that meant Terry Francona needed to enact the getting-tossed ritual, and he got his money's worth. Jason Varitek struck out to end the frame and Wang's afternoon.

The Yanks opened up their lead in the bottom of the eighth off Hideki Okajima thanks to a Jeter single, a Bobby Abreu RBI double, an intentional walk to A-Rod, and a double steal accompanied by a horrible throw from Varitek that went down the leftfield line, with both runners scoring.

With the lead expanded beyond a save situation, Joe Torre bypassed Mariano Rivera, who'd worked the previous two nights, in favor of a second inning from Joba Chamberlain. The kid added a level of intrigue when he sent consecutive 98 MPH pitches over Youkillis' head and to the backstop on the fly. It was unclear if Chamberlain was throwing at him, and if so, on what grounds, but after the second one, home plate ump Angel Hernandez -- one of the worst umps in the majors long before this -- tossed the rookie. Chamberlain denied intent:
Chamberlain threw up his hands in a mixture of confusion and disgust before leaving the game.

"There's no chance I'm trying to do that," Chamberlain said of his intent. "I definitely don't want to send that message, because that's not who I am."

Youkilis anticipated Chamberlain's reaction, and rebuffed it in advance.

"Two balls going over somebody's head at 98 mph, I don't know," Youkilis said. "I didn't see any other pitches going that far out of the strike zone. Those balls were pretty close to the head."

"That's the second time," Youkilis continued, referring to a similar situation that occurred on June 1. "Scott Proctor hit me in the head. Coincidence? I don't know. It doesn't look good. When two balls go at your head and the guy has a zero ERA and is around the strike zone pretty good, any man is going to think there's intent to hit him in the head."
In any event, the Yanks completed a sweep of the Red Sox, but after a 2-5 road trip, that only cut the AL East gap to five games.

Following the conclusion of that contest, I flipped over to the Mets-Phillies game, a wild affair which saw the Phils, who were gunning for a four-game sweep, blow an early 5-0 lead; neither Kyle Lohse nor Orlando Hernandez completed four innings. The Phils recaptured the advantage in the fifth, 8-5, but fell behind 10-8 in the eighth.

That's where I came in, with the surprise that Billy Wagner was on the hill, gunning for his first two-inning save in eight years. After striking out Chase Utley, Wags yielded a solo homer to Pat Burrell, his second longball of the day. Wagner escaped the inning, but the contest had tightened.

After the Mets went 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, Wagner found trouble when he yielded a leadoff single to Jayson Werth. One out later, with the pitcher paying him no mind -- not that Wagner has much mind to pay -- Werth stole second and third on consecutive pitches, setting up a game-tying single from Tadahito Iguchi. The Gooch stole second, Jimmy Rollins was intentionally walked, and then Utley, who had come off the DL at the start of the series and gone 3-for-5 with a homer, delivered again, with a single to rightfield. Ballgame.

After burrowing into my Hit List work for a few more hours I stopped for dinner, where I flipped back and forth between the Indians-Mariners (a makeup game from that absurd snowed-out series back in April) and the Brewers-Cubs. The Tribe had already taken 3-0 lead when I tuned in, and Aaron Laffey looked sharp in protecting it. They wound up falling behind 4-3 as Laffey ran out of gas, but won 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth when Kenny Lofton drew a bases-loaded walk off Rick White.

Which brings up the question: what the hell was M's manager John McLaren thinking? With his team having lost five straight, why wouldn't he call upon closer J.J. Putz, the most effective reliever in baseball this year according to BP's metrics? Putz hadn't pitched at all during the streak, apparently because of the lack of save situations, but this was the kind of brain-dead Joe Torre mistake that's been railed at before. Particularly in a high-leverage game such as this, you owe it to the team to force the opposition to beat your best pitcher, not some fringe guy with bad facial hair. Just absolutely one of the dumbest moves of the year. In case you were expecting surprises:
Other than Putz, who hasn't pitched since Aug. 24, the bullpen has been overworked.

McLaren said he didn't use Putz in the ninth inning on Thursday night because, "We had to have J.J. available in case we got the lead and had to wrap it up. If we don't do that and we count on the other guys (to finish the game), we're really behind the eight ball."
Right, because only a guy wearing the scarlet letter C can possibly protect a lead. Now's the time to shell out for that plasma TV, McLaren; you'll want something big to watch the playoffs.

Over to the NL Central game, the rubber match of a three-game set that could trim the Cubs' division lead to a half-game. The day before, the Brewers had clawed their way back to .500 -- yes, it's gotten that bad for Milwaukee, who is 17-28 since the All-Star Break -- on the strength of Ben Sheets' return from a six-week absence.

The Brew Crew took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first against Ted Lilly, forcing him to work through eight batters, with Kevin Mench dealing the big blow via a two-run double down the leftfield line. The Cubs came back in the second, scoring three against Manny Parra, a rookie who tossed a perfect game in Triple-A earlier this year but has mostly been confined to mop and bucket duty -- not that the Brewers have had much other work these days, what with a staff ERA above 6.00 in August.

Mench tied the game up with a sac fly in the third, but the bad omen arrived in the fourth. Parra bruised his thumb bunting and departed in favor -- no, that's not the right word -- of Chris Capuano, bumped from the rotation recently after an epic winless streak; in fact, the Brewers had lost every one of the last 15 games he'd appeared in.

Make that 16. Capuano worked out of minor trouble in the fourth and fifth, but surrendered back-to-back solo shots by Matt Murton and Alfonso Soriano with two outs in the sixth. The Brewers looked like they might claw their way back from the 5-3 deficit, but with two outs and runners on second and third, home plate ump Brian Gorman made a horrible strike three call on a Carlos Marmol pitch to Corey Hart; Eric Gregg would have been shamed by that one.

Fast-forward to the ninth, where the Brewers made it interesting. Supersub Joe Dillon doubled into the gap in left-center, Rickie Weeks was hit by a pitch. J.J. Hardy bunted them over, a move I didn't hate; it set up the possibility of a game-tying hit and kept them out of the double play. But slugger Ryan Braun, the likely NL Rookie of the Year, chopped one to third base. Prince Fielder was intentionally walked, then Hart worked an RBI walk. That set up a final showdown between Mench and Cubs closer Ryan Dempster, but he induced a fielder's choice to end the game. Ah, shitfuck.

But wait, there's more! I'd actually left the house in the middle of that game and the Hit List to see off some friends who were ending an extended stay in the city; with the tone of four teams' entries riding on the balance of the night's action, I downed a couple pints before returning.

Once the Cubs prevailed, I flipped over to Diamondbacks-Padres -- the one game of the day where first place was actually on the line -- as I resumed my work. The Pads had taken the first three games of their four-game series to recapture first place on a percentage point basis, but they trailed 8-0 at the seventh inning stretch. Then 8-1, 8-3 as starter Doug Davis ran out of gas. To the bottom of the eighth, where Juan Cruz and The Other Tony Pena coughed up another three runs before LOOGY Doug Slaten ended the threat with runners on second and third, inducing a pop-up from Brian Giles. Hmmm.

Finally, I stopped working to see the bottom of the ninth, where Jose Valverde yielded a one-out solo shot to Milton Bradley, his 10th homer in just 135 plate appearances since being picked up off the scrap heap; the dude is hitting like Gary Sheffield in a grudge match.

Alas, the Pads got no closer, as Valverde K'd the next two hitters in short order, but after all that excitement on a full, rich day of baseball, I was hardly in a position to complain. What a day, what a day.

• • •

Oh, and in case you haven't had enough of me yet, here's Tuesday's Hit and Run, featuring Stupid VORP Tricks and a look at the recently deceased Phil Rizzuto's Hall of Fame case.

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Monday, August 27, 2007


For a Fat Man, He Didn't Sweat Much (Redux)

In the Hit List a couple weeks back, I suggested that the Padres' release of David Wells may have been premature, and that given their rotation woes, a couple teams were likely to target the big man:
Lowering the Boomer: a 5-1 run snaps the Pads out of their post-break funk, but the return of Chris Young prompts the team to release David Wells. The move may have been premature; though bombed for 26 runs in his last 16.2 innings, Wells had put up four quality starts in his previous five, and while the market for overweight 44-year-old hurlers with a history of gout may not be robust, the cost for a banged-up contender like the Dodgers or Phillies to bring him in after a couple weeks of rest and rehab is vanishingly small.
Last week, the Dodgers inked Wells, cutting bait on the struggling Brett Tomko (2-11, 5.80 ERA) and biting the bullet on a $176,000 per start incentive clause that I'd failed to account for but that didn't seem all that daunting given the possibility that the team may know after one start whether he has anything left.

Unsurprisingly, Wells made something less than a graceful entry:
In a surreal scene, Tomko talked to reporters about his fate while Wells, an unapologetic jokester, dressed not two feet away at the next locker.

Tomko: "I'm OK with it. Last night I saw it coming."

Wells: "Really? You saw it on the sports ticker?"

Tomko: "Funny."

The Dodgers have 10 days to trade Tomko or give him his unconditional release.

Tomko: "I hope the (general manager Ned Colletti) can get me to another team and not let me sit around and rot. I'll go home and start throwing at the local high school field. I don't know what to do first, it's uncharted territory."

Wells: "You've got to find a catcher."

The Dodgers kept Tomko on the roster through Thursday, allowing him to reach 10 years of major league service time and guaranteeing him the maximum pension.

Tomko: "That was important. It's a good time for me. I'm ready for a new opportunity. And it's not like they brought in a chump to replace me."

Wells: "Yeah, they did."
Ouch. As bad as Tomko has been at times, he's basically come off as an amenable guy while on the team, well aware of his limitations; there was little reason to add insult to injury. So much for the San Diegan staying classy, right?

Nonetheless, all is forgiven after Wells' debut in Dodger blue, on a Sunday night ESPN game against the NL's best team. What else would one expect from the biggest big-game pitcher around? Wells pitched five inning of two-run ball, not quite going Granny Gooden but hardly safe for the heart-attack prone. He was often one pitch away from disaster, puttin g10 men on base in his five innings but ultimately escaping jam after jam. He wound up his night on a high note, striking out Moises Alou with two outs and the bases load in the fifth on a classic hook. Boo-yah for Boomer!

The most surprising part of the night had already come and gone in the top of the inning, when Wells led off the frame by -- are you ready for this -- bunting for a base hit. If you had a 44-year-old 250-pounder with bad knees dropping one down and beating it out, you just hit the exacta, and if you had that sparking the go-ahead rally and scoring the tying run (just his seventh run of a 21-year career), we're talking trifecta; claim your winnings at the ticket window.

All in all, it was just one more memorable showing from a pitcher who's rarely failed to disappoint me no matter what uniform he's wearing. I've said it before and I'll say it again: "For a fat man, he doesn't sweat much."

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Saturday, August 25, 2007


The Killer in Blue

Tuesday's Replacement Level Killers piece was still on my mind when I sat down to write this week's Hit List. Here's what I had to say about the Dodgers:
For those who thought Juan Pierre deserved a spot on the Replacement Level Killers, he was left off due to his surprisingly robust VORP (on the strength of a .367/.405/.443 August) and the team's distance from first place, though his -12 FRAA does keep his WARP at 1.8. A stronger case can be made for the inclusion of Nomar Garciaparra (0.3 VORP, 0.3 WARP), or the team's handling of an eight-man pileup at third base.
Yesterday I came across a piece on Pierre that has me reconsidering my exclusion of him in favor of Andruw Jones (3.1 VORP, 3.0 WARP). The piece is so blatantly idiotic it may deserve a Fire Joe Morgan-esque line-by-line carve-up [late note: great minds, etc.]. Start with the headline: "Pierre not bothered with OBP issues: Center fielder focused on doing little things to help team win." Marge, boil some coffee. And get me something sharp, I'm feeling stabby.
What is it about the on-base percentage that a player like Juan Pierre -- who leads the Dodgers in at-bats, runs scored, hits, stolen bases, triples and games played -- gets knocked for not having his higher than .350?

Pierre has been one of the most consistent players in the Dodgers lineup this season. He plays every day (395 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the Majors), makes diving catches in center field on a regular basis and steals second just about every time he gets on base, yet his OBP evidently isn't cutting it.

...The issue with Pierre is that he doesn't walk. Plain and simple, his OBP suffers because he averages one walk every 21 at-bats. On the season, he has just 24 walks in 510 at-bats, which is the lowest in the Majors.
Even with a torrid August showing, Pierre is hitting .289/.329/.344. So let's start with the fact that on a park- and league-adjusted basis (per, his OBP is 19 points below the .343 average, and his slugging percentage is 89 points below the .435 average. In other words, he's doing neither of the principal things necessary to create runs, getting on base or advancing runners (without using up outs, please).

THAT is why Pierre gets knocked.

That and the goddamned $44 million contract Dodger GM Ned Colletti dished him last winter.

Jeebus Cripes, I'm in one-line paragraph Plaschke mode, ready to disembowel someone and send the entrails to Stupid Flanders.

This is bad. It's not going to end well.

Pierre's Equivalent Average, which places his ability to produce runs on a scale similar to batting average (.260 is the league average), is .247. So he's about halfway between average and replacement level (.230).

In other words, his crippling the offense is why he's getting knocked.
Compared to some of the elite leadoff batters in the game, Pierre's .324 on-base percentage is considerably low. [Jose] Reyes has an OBP of .375, Hanley Ramirez is at .392, Chone Figgins is at .392 and Ichiro is at .396, so the consensus is that a No. 1 or 2 hitter in the lineup needs to have a .350 or higher OBP.
Gee, ya think? Pierre's OBP in the #1 spot is actually just .268, though he's got just 83 plate appearances there. In a move that recalls Seventies style like bad shag carpet, polyester leisure suits, and macrame plant holders, Manager Grady Little actually hits Pierre out of the #2 hole, where Pierre's OBP is still an offense-murdering, soul-curdling .329 in 478 plate appearances. Among the 19 hitters with enough PA in the #1 or #2 spots to qualify for the batting title, only Florida's Dan Uggla, Milwaukee's J.J. Hardy (both .321), Washington's Felipe Lopez (.300) and Houston's Craig Biggio (.294) have lower OBPs atop a lineup. All of them save for the truly hapless Lopez have enough power to put up higher OPSes than the big Juan.

But Pierre does the little things. How little? Futility Infielder's intrepid field reporter Nick Stone interviewed Pierre. Here's what he filed:
"My short at-bats allow me to sneak back into the clubhouse and help put together a really nifty post-game buffet," said the Dodger centerfielder. "I know from experience that it's really nice to come back to the locker room after a close defeat and find personalized place settings, and I think the guys really appreciate my centerpiece designs. Little things like that really do help team morale."

In full-on Martha Stewart mode, Pierre added, "And I also leave inspirational notes for the guys, written inside these handmade cards I do. That and back in spring training, I made some macrame plant holders for the other guys in the lineup. You can see how little things like that really help this ballclub."
In the interest of avoiding this blog entry turning into a death threat to either Pierre or Colletti, I'll stop here. Suffice it to say that under Colletti, this team has about as much idea of how runs are created as your average three-year-old does of where babies come from.

"The Run Stork?" asks the wide-eyed Stupid Flanders.

You can use your imagination to envision how much red I'd spill over these Dodger blues.

• • •

Friday's Hit List went up with a glitch that unfortunately I wasn't aware of until late in the evening. It's been corrected now but in case you were one of the readers who hit it early, the Red Sox entry should have read:
Clay Buchholz makes a solid debut (6 8 4 3 3 5), but he's sent back to Pawtucket, where he'll continue to build on the absurd 164/30 K/BB ratio he's compiled in 117.1 minor-league innings this year; he may be back for a September 1 start. There's more help from the farm as Kevin Cash -- subbing for injured Doug Mirabelli -- catches a Tim Wakefield start with nary a police escort from the airport, a ball rolling to the screen or a world coming to an end. Wakefield continues to bedevil the Rays with a 15-inning scoreless streak; he's 19-2 with a 2.72 ERA against them in his career.
Over and out.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Triple Threat

In today's edition of Prospectus Hit and Run, I provide an updated taste of a chapter I wrote for the recently-released It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book:
In a pennant race, every edge matters. The late-season heroics of one individual may turn a close race into a tale of success writ large, but it's the failures writ small, the weak links on a team, that commonly create that close race in the first place. All too often, for reasons rooted in issues beyond a player's statistics, managers and GMs fail to make the moves that could help their teams, allowing subpar production to fester until it kills a club's postseason hopes. Nowhere is the value of the replacement level laid more bare than when the difference between playing into October and going home is simply a willingness to try something else.

Sometimes a manager sticks with a veteran who's passed his sell-by date because the guy has helped the skipper win in the past, and the club is convinced it lacks better alternatives. Sometimes a regular simply isn't performing up to his established level due to injury, but misguidedly tries "toughing it out." And sometimes a rookie hasn't yet adjusted to the big leagues, yet the club doesn't want to risk destroy the youngster's confidence with a benching. In the just-released It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book, I examined numerous instances of teams' pennant hopes dragged down by such "Replacement Level Killers."

For the book, I compiled an all-star team of ignominy that went back further than a half-century, but even in a single season, it's not too difficult to assemble such a squad, and at the suggestion of one reader from my most recent chat, I've done just that. The difference is that with some six weeks of baseball still to go, teams may still take steps to avert disaster even if they've placed a player on this 2007 edition of the Replacement Level Killers; indeed, some already have.
The Yankees were an easy choice at one position:
1B: Doug Mientkiewicz, NYY (-2.2 VORP, 0.1 WARP), Miguel Cairo, NYY (-1.8, 0.3 WARP), Josh Phelps, NYY (0.1 VORP, 0.0 WARP), Andy Phillips, NYY (1.5 VORP, 0.2 WARP), and Wilson Betemit, NYY (1.2 VORP, 0.2 WARP)

For all of the craft that Brian Cashman and company put into their $200 million juggernaut, the Yanks turned a blind eye to first base, sacrificing any shot at offensive production in favor of some notion of defensive competence via which they could justify limiting the increasingly immobile (and for a two-month period, injured) Jason Giambi to the DH role. They left the gate with a plan to platoon Minky with Rule 5 pick Phelps, but the former broke his wrist, and the latter couldn't buy the time of day from Joe Torre, getting discarded only to bob back to the surface in Pittsburgh.

Torre then installed futilityman Cairo--one of "his guys"--at the first base slot for a few weeks until the fateful day when the supposed defensive whiz made three errors, including a pair on a play where the Angels scored the winning run. That loss turned out to be a win, as it forced Torre to turn to organizational soldier Phillips, who hit a thin but nonetheless useful .320/.355/.420 in July as the Yanks began turning their season around. He's cooled off considerably since (.327 SLG in August), but continues to share time with deadline acquisition Betemit, who's provided some pop off the bench along with the ability to play all four infield positions. The Yanks may muddle through, but the standing reservation they've held for the postseason since 1995 has been jeopardized by poor planning here.
I was at Yankee Stadium on a gorgeous Saturday to reap the benefits of a team replacing its Replacement Level Killer. In a surprise move, on Friday the Tigers DFA'ed leftfielder Craig Monroe and promoted blue-chipper Cameron Maybin, who had just a couple weeks of Double-A experience. Though he appeared to struggle with the transition to leftfield -- he's a natural centerfielder -- Maybin collected a single and an impressive 417-foot homer off Roger Clemens in just his second big-league game. BP prospect maven Kevin Goldsten ranked him seventh on our Top 100 Prospect lists over the winter and compared Maybin's upside to "a healthy Eric Davis." Now that's buzz.

Fellow 2007 RLKillers Stephen Drew and Andruw Jones came up as topics in last Friday's chat, where JAWS talk predominated -- A-Rod, Ichiro, Chipper (and Andruw), Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel all got cursory evaluations, which should make up for the lack of JAWS in this week's Hit and Run. Here's a thread of Ichiro questions:
Alex (SF, CA): How many more years of top-notch CF play does Ichiro need to be a shoe-in or is he already?

JJ: At least three, since it takes 10 seasons in the majors to be eligible.

He won't have the career numbers to make him a slam dunk, but assuming he keeps up his level of play long enough to get at least 2000 hits , I think he's a good bet to get in.

For what it's worth, if he finishes the season with the WARP3 he's on pace for, his JAWS peak score will be three wins above the average HOF centerfielder (66.6-63.7).

birkem3 (Dayton): For HOF purposes, should Ichiro even be considered a CF? This year is his first full-time exposure to CF.

JJ: Good point, though rightfield is actually a steeper hill to climb (119.8 WARP3/65.5 peak/92.7 JAWS) than centerfield (109.1/63.7/86.4).

Hal Incandenza (in here): On the other hand, if we are admitting _any_ "extra- (i.e. non-) statistical" criteria for the Hall, Ichiro -- assuming continued production -- is a slam dunk, no?

JJ: Indeed. I doubt he'll have a World Series ring (sorry, Mariner fans) let alone two, but I do see Ichiro as having a Kirby Puckett-esque case for the Hall - short career, high peak.

Hopefully without the belated allegations of violence towards women and the early grave bit, of course.
Finally, there's last Friday's Hit List. In keeping with the It Ain't Over plugs and the chat-related synergy, we'll chose the Angels' entry:
In Steven Goldman's most recent chat, one reader of the just-released It Ain't Over's chapter on Carl Yastrzemski (written by yours truly) asked if the Angels fit the bill as a team whose pennant chances might be hurt by the lack of a second superstar behind Vladimir Guerrero. To the contrary, the Halos appear to be in great shape on that front, since the correlation between winning percentage and WARP3 increases markedly the deeper one drills into the roster. Vlad (8.2 WARP3) is joined by Orlando Cabrera (9.4), Kelvim Escobar (8.5), and John Lackey (8.1) in terms of front-line talent, with Gary Matthews Jr. (6.9), Reggie Willits (6.6), and Francisco Rodriguez (6.4) in strong supporting roles... For results of last week's Rat-tastic contest see here.
More on the Angels -- once again proving themselves to be the thorn in the Yankees' side -- when I get a chance.

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Friday, August 17, 2007


Less Hat, More Chat

Just a quick note to let you know that I'll be hosting a chat at Baseball Prospectus today at 2 PM Eastern. Hit List, JAWS, Yankees, Dodgers, Brewers, Mets, It Ain't Over, pennant races, sausage races, the World Series of Cockfighting, the Simpsons, whatever's on your mind -- drop by and as a question or leave one beforehand.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007


The Scooter

As a Johnny-Come-Lately to New York City and the Yankees, I never really got what dyed-in-the-pinstriped-wool fans found so special about Phil Rizzuto, who passed away yesterday at the age of 89. While he certainly held a link to the Yankees' glory years as part of seven world champion teams, objectively he wasn't as great or popular a player as Yankee legends like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, or even Yogi Berra. He wasn't an imposing hitter; his lifetime numbers don't even compare to crosstown contemporary Pee Wee Reese. Beyond his playing career, the descriptions of his lapses and malapropisms as an announcer suggest something less than one of history's great baseball minds. A relic, more sacred cow than "Holy Cow," was my conclusion.

Fortunately, Cliff Corcoran sets me straight with a touching tribute to the Scooter at
Perhaps it's inappropriate to lead off this tribute to the memory of Rizzuto with such an insult, but Rizzuto lived his life in defiance of such insults, and lived a life that any of us would be fortunate to relive. Rizzuto was famously insulted by Casey Stengel when he tried out for Stengel's Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid-'30s ("go get a shoeshine box," said Casey). A decade and a half later Rizzuto would be the starting shortstop on Stengel's five consecutive World Series-winning Yankee teams, earning the 1950 AL MVP award along the way.

Rizzuto was famously insulted by the Yankees organization in 1956 when George Weiss forced him into retirement by making Rizzuto select himself as the player to be removed from the roster to make room for Enos Slaughter. Weiss was slaughtered in the press for the move and the team's broadcast sponsor insisted that Rizzuto be hired to broadcast the team's games the following season. Rizzuto was still in the same job 39 years later when the team forced him to call a game rather than attend Mickey Mantle's funeral. Rizzuto, enraged and embarrassed, quit mid-game, but public outcry brought him back for a 40th and final season.

My voice was one of those calling Rizzuto back. The Scooter may have had more to do with my becoming a baseball fan than anyone else. Though my family is filled with Yankees fans dating back to the days of Babe Ruth, I had no older sibling to turn me on to baseball and neither of my parents was particularly interested in professional sports when I was growing up. Instead it was Rizzuto, with his enthusiasm, good humor and wildly entertaining and unpredictable asides (which were a good match for the often tragicomic play of the mid-'80s Yankees), who sold me on the joys of the game and its history despite the poor quality of the team I was watching.
Can't argue with that at all, nor with the various tales of how the 5-foot-6 scrapper clawed his way into the major leagues and the hearts of fans. Thanks to Cliff, the Bronx Banter community, Steven Goldman (and his not-so-evil twin), Joe Sheehan, Mark Lamster, Buster Olney and others for sharing their memories and their points of view. RIP, Scooter.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007


The New New VC

In today's Prospectus Hit and Run, I turn my attention to the re-revamping of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee. Changes to the New VC, which has gone a self-congratulatory 0-for-3 since it was last restructured -- were announced a couple weeks back, but amid the Bonds home run chase, the trading deadline, and the Hall's annual induction ceremonies, the news flew beneath the radar. Here's the skinny:
According to the Hall's press release, the New New VC will split the player, manager/umpire, and executive voting into three separate ballots that will be screened and voted upon by three separate processes. Furthermore, players whose careers started before 1943 will be treated on a separate track from later ones. The details:
  • Post-1943 Players: a BBWAA-appointed committee will narrow the list of eligible candidates (players with 10 years in the majors, not on the ineligible list, and not under consideration on the BBWAA ballot) to 20. Concurrently, a screening committee of six Hall members that gets appointed by the Board of Directors will identify five players total. The slate of 20-25 candidates (depending on overlap) will be screened by the living Hall of Fame members, narrowed to 10 finalists, and then voted upon, with candidates needing at least 75 percent for election. The next set of players will be voted upon in 2009.

  • Pre-1943 players: a Board-appointed committee of 12 Hall of Famers, historians and writers will review eligible candidates every five years starting in 2009.

  • Managers and umpires: a BBWAA-appointed committee will narrow the list of eligible candidates to 10 candidates. A Board-appointed committee of 16 electors, consisting of Hall members, executives, writers, and historians, will vote on a semiannual basis starting in 2008.

  • Executives: a Board-appointed committee of Hall members, executives, and writers (but apparently no historians?) will review of ballot of executives. The timing of this has yet to be determined, and no further details were announced in the release.
I think the new changes bode particularly well for non-players, who are likely to get better traction from a better-informed electorate than the unwashed former players. I also think that putting the pre-1943 players -- of which there were seven on the 2007 ballot, none save for Wes Ferrell a very good candidate -- on a separate track will clear away some of the deadwood. However, I worry that while the electorate is more likely to recognize Ron Santo as a Hall of Famer, the other players at the top of its latest vote -- Jim Kaat (63.4%), Gil Hodges (61.0%), and Tony Oliva (57.3%), for starters -- are more than a little shy in the qualifications department according to JAWS. The thing that needs to happen to show that the New New VC is moving forward is a consideration of Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Dwight Evans, and Darrell Evans, all of whom fell off the BBWAA ballot after their first try and none of whom have reached the VC ballot since, despite stronger JAWS cases than warhorses like Roger Maris and Thurman Munson who, great as they were, don't really have Hall of Fame chops or momentum behind their candidacies.

Elsewhere in the piece, I begin working through a considerable backlog of JAWS cases, starting with Craig Biggio, who comes up a hair shy of the average HOF second baseman -- a very high bar, if you'll recall. It's a moot point given the fact that he's got 3,000 hits and that it's defense dragging him down; with few exceptions (Ozzie Smith, Bill Mazeroski, Brooks Robinson), BBWAA voters don't place too much emphasis on defense, let alone value it properly.

However, there's one other point about Biggio that bears making, and I intend to do so in an Unfiltered entry: he's not a pure second baseman, having played 427 games at catcher and another 366 in the outfield, roughly 2/3 of which were in centerfield. On an Adjusted Games (i.e., innings) basis, he spent about 28 percent of his career at positions even more demanding than second base. As such, it's appropriate to consider him not only in the context of second basemen but also in the context of the cross-positional groupings I include with the JAWS standards:
C 13 425 215 70 95.7 59.0 77.3
1B 18 744 489 -9 106.1 62.8 84.5
2B 17 579 304 92 122.8 71.5 97.1
3B 11 668 385 69 117.4 67.3 92.4
SS 20 453 153 120 112.3 67.1 89.7
LF 18 752 477 7 111.1 62.6 86.8
CF 17 720 466 15 109.1 63.7 86.4
RF 22 795 519 36 119.6 65.4 92.5

CI 29 716 450 20 110.3 64.5 87.4
MI 37 510 222 107 117.1 69.1 93.1
IF 66 600 321 69 114.1 67.1 90.6
OF 57 759 490 21 113.8 64.0 88.9

Middle 67 547 283 77 111.0 65.8 88.4
Corners 69 751 479 22 113.5 64.3 88.9

Hitters 136 651 383 49 112.3 65.0 88.6
Given his rather unique resume, it's not inappropriate to consider Biggio in the light of a "Middle" hitter, that is one who spent his career mostly at catcher, second base, shortstop and centerfield. At 123.7/69.5/96.6 he's just shy of the second base standard but well over that of the Middle players as well as hitters at large. Biggio's on his way to a pretty inglorious end, but I'll have no beef when he's elected in 2013 or so.

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Monday, August 13, 2007


It Ain't Over, But It Is Out

Very briefly, amid what's already shaping up to be a crazy and somewhat stressful week full of deadlines and mortgage agita (the closing process on my apartment has finally begun, at precisely the wrong time):

• A quick trip to Barnes and Noble's Astor Place branch in New York City revealed a pleasant surprise: It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book is actually on the shelves, consistent with the previously announced August 13 publication date. In the company of BP colleagues Steven Goldman (who edited the project), Clay Davenport (who devised the methodology by which we selected the best races), John Erhardt, Kevin Goldstein, Rany Jazayerli, Christina Kahrl, and Nate Silver, as well as special guests Kevin Baker, Allen Barra, Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, I'm proud to say that I have six chapters totaling somewhere around 60 pages in the book, including the two top-ranked races:
* "1967 American League: To Fight the Unbeatable Foe" - in which the Red Sox shook off decades of indifferent management and institutional racism, joined the 20th Century, and beat out the Tigers, White Sox, and Twins

* "The Summer of Loving Carl Yastrzemski" - the impact of Triple Crown winner Yaz and superstars in general on their teams' pennant chances

* "1959 National League: Alston's L.A. Confidential" - in which the impressively flexible Walter Alston helped the Dodgers score their first triumph on the West Coast by beat out the Giants and Braves, the latter in a best-of-three playoff

* "The Braves Dynasty that Wasn't" - how a team with future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Warren Spahn won just two pennants and one World Series during an eight-year span in which they won more games than any other NL team

* "The Replacement-Level Killers" - a recurrent theme of great pennant races is one team blindly sticking with an unproductive player when better options exist, thereby dragging its performance down and sometimes making the difference between winning and losing

* "The Say-Hey Savior: Rookies and Pennant Races" - timely contributions from the new kids on the block
That represents my biggest contribution to any book thus far. I'm damn proud of this one, and hope you'll take the time to check it out.

• Last week's Hit List is here. Once again, the 2nd-ranked Yankees are closing the gap on the Red Sox, but there's a reason:
Hot Knife, Meet Butter: the Yanks finish the easy portion of their post-break schedule having played themselves into the Wild Card hunt by going 19-8 and scoring 7.8 runs per game off .328/.401/.556 hitting, with Jorge Posada (.395/.511/.711) and Robinson Cano (.416/.479/.693) leading the way. The road ahead gets tougher; just two of those 27 games were against teams above .500, but 17 of their next 20 are against contenders. Alex Rodriguez becomes the youngest player to reach 500 homers, Jason Giambi returns, and 2006 supplemental first-rounder Joba Chamberlain arrives to aid a bullpen that's only eighth in the league in WXRL.
Many other outlets have claimed that all of those 27 games were against sub-.500 teams, though your eagle-eyed correspondent here took note of the Blue Jays poking their heads above .500 a couple times in that span.

The Yanks do look a great deal better than they did six weeks ago, when I shoveled dirt on their graves by noting they would need to play at a .690 clip the rest of the way in order to reach the 95-win plateau that the last two AL Wild Card winners attained. They were 37-41 then and have gone 29-10 (a sizzling .744) since, including the completion of that suspended game against Baltimore which is retroactively considered to have been completed on the date started. Even without that game, they've been far and away the best team in the AL since that point. From
AL      W   L    GB      WP      RS      RA
NYY 28 10 - .737 285 168
BOS 21 16 6.5 .568 210 159
TOR 20 15 6.5 .571 160 128
SEA 20 17 7.5 .541 178 175
BAL 19 16 7.5 .543 171 168
LAA 18 16 8.0 .529 178 164
KCR 17 17 9.0 .500 171 159
CHW 19 20 9.5 .487 200 242
DET 18 19 9.5 .486 196 212
TEX 17 19 10.0 .472 150 172
MIN 16 21 11.5 .432 138 167
CLE 16 21 11.5 .432 159 173
OAK 14 23 13.5 .378 163 199
TBD 12 25 15.5 .324 166 239
Thanks to slumps from Cleveland and Detroit, they've gained 11.5 and 9.5 games, respectively, on their two most likely Wild Card competitors at the time, not to mention 6.5 games on Boston. Furthermore, they've gained 10.5 on Boston since May 29, with a record of 45-22, as compared to 34-32 from the Red Sox.

While the Yanks still need to play at a searing .644 clip to get to the 95-win level, the Wild Card-leading Mariners (who are just percentage points ahead of the Yanks, owing to a pair of snowed-out games in hand) are only on a 91.5-win pace. And with six games left against Boston, the division now appears back in play. The Baseball Prospectus Postseason Odds report gives them just a 12.5 percent chance on that front but a 57.5 percent chance at the Wild Card, for a cumulative 70 percent shot at October -- about double what their chances were 10 days ago and quadruple what they were less than four weeks ago. Things are definitely looking up for the Bronx Bombers.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Fear and Loathing Atop the All-Time Home Run List, or Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?

Our long national nightmare is finally over. On Tuesday night, Barry Bonds finally hit his 756th home run, topping Hank Aaron's record, a record that stood for over 33 years as perhaps the most hallowed statistical accomplishment in the annals of sport.

Surprisingly, the world didn't end.

I missed the home run. Or rather, to borrow the take-home phrase from Office Space, I wouldn't say I missed it. I just didn't care enough to watch. Such was my disinterest that after viewing one replay of it on ESPN -- where its coverage pre-empted the Bronx Is Burning episode I'd TiVoed -- that I didn't even bother to find out who surrendered it until lunchtime today. The sight of the orgy of celebration in San Francisco was enough to drive me away.

I'd missed #755 too, though at the time I did hear my computer alert me via one of those annoying ESPN update chimes on a page I'd left open, and several minutes later, when my wife paused the movie we were watching, I flipped around to find a replay of that one. I even watched it twice before flipping away.

Were either of those home runs against the Dodgers, I might have sat still and enjoyed Vin Scully wrestling with the contrast between the accomplishment and its reception even as I gave Bonds the double-barreled middle finger from my private box seat. That the San Francisco fans uncritically embraced Bonds was no surprise. That the San Diego fans chose to stay classy felt weak; particularly given the two teams' rivalry and Bonds' stated loathing for PetCo Park, I thought they'd have more cojones than to smile brainlessly when prompted for their close-up, but I thought wrong.

The cheerful celebrations in San Diego and San Francisco belied a chase that was no fun at all for most of us, a group that likely includes Bonds. His pursuit brought out the worst in people, from Bud Selig to elected officials to the peers of Bonds and Aaron, from the media to the fans in 29 other ballparks. I'm not happy to concede that at times it's brought out the worst in me, but I'm not too ashamed to admit that watching the joy drain from the chase filled me with some small degree of satisfaction. As a nation of baseball fans, we deserved what we got, a cynical and likely chemically aided summit of a peak that was thought to be unconquerable.

I'm done gnashing my teeth. The record is what it is, something to be taken in context. Even absent a positive test, the mountain of evidence that Bonds used performance enhancing drugs is enough to convince me that his accomplishment is tainted. We'll never know the extent to which Bonds was aided, but the fact that his historically unprecedented late-career surge matches up with the well-documented timeline of his alleged usage is enough for me. However, Bonds certainly wasn't the only player using during this sordid era, and the extent to which the drugs helped him achieve his record will forever remain uncertain. Furthermore, Major League Baseball's failure to address in any meaningful way the pervasiveness of the steroid problem made them complicit in Bonds' use. There's also a growing body of evidence that MLB's decision to introduce a livelier baseball following the 1994 strike played a part in the astronomical home run totals that followed, but that's a story for another day.

This much we know: the three players who topped Roger Maris' long-standing season record of 61 homers have varying degrees of evidence suggesting they had help in the matter, and it's not unreasonable to eye their latter-day accomplishments with some degree of suspicion so long as that evidence remains. I'm not advocating an asterisk in the record books or the expungement of any stats; if the fabric of baseball history can withstand the variable impacts of the spitballers, scuffers, bat-corkers, sign-stealers, and greenie-poppers -- to say nothing of the Black Sox and Pete Rose, rats of an entirely different color -- it can withstand this. That doesn't mean we have to worship the record or the man with the prickly persona who achieved it, nor does it diminish the accomplishments of the men who preceded him in holding that record.

I don't see eye-to-eye with my BP colleague Joe Sheehan on very much in the Bonds sphere, but a few weeks back, he wrote something that stuck with me, something I resolved to file away for this occasion:
Should Bonds get to 756 home runs, it will mean only that he hit more home runs than anyone else in the game’s history. Doing so doesn’t make him a better person than Hank Aaron—it is irrelevant to that question entirely—nor does his superiority in one statistic necessarily make him a better baseball player. Hank Aaron’s legacy as a player is not diminished one whit by the fact that his name is no longer atop a list of names and numbers. His greatness isn’t defined by a number, and his accomplishments remain just as impressive—overcoming racism in the South in he 1950s, being a player who could do everything on a baseball field, his amazing consistency stretching across two decades of play, and his grace under pressure, surrounded by hatred, as he set the all-time home run record.

Statistics are a record of what happened in baseball games. We make lists, but those lists don’t rank men, they rank their doings. All statistics, however, need to be put into context. That applies when comparing two pitchers who work in disparate run environments, two prospects who play three levels apart, or two Hall of Fame outfielders who find themselves next to each other on a list. Beyond statistical context, however, there’s historical context. The narratives of Ruth and Maris, of Aaron and Bonds, will be written and rewritten, and their places in the history of baseball will be determined not by any statistic, but by the body of their work and their impact on the game.
I've yet to read anything in the coverage of the entire home run chase that I agree with the way I agree with that, and so I'll quit while I'm behind, hopeful that the all-time home run list finds a new man atop it -- Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Jason Tyner -- by the time I need to explain this record to my children.

If we can agree on one thing, let us agree that the next time around should be more fun.

• • •

My latest Prospectus Hit and Run went up at BP yesterday. With milestone home runs the obvious leading topic, I began with a look back at some old research I did:
I come neither to bury Bonds nor to praise him, but given that the all-time home run list has seen enough shakeups since I wrote about it over three years ago, updating that older work will surely keep me down with OBC (Obligatory Barry Content). Along with Bonds tying Hank Aaron at 755, Sammy Sosa has become the fifth player to top 600, Ken Griffey Jr. and Rafael Palmeiro have cracked the top 10, and Frank Thomas and A-Rod have joined the 500 club.

...Among the top 27 home run hitters of all time — the 22 men in the 500 Club, plus the three active players likely to reach that plateau within the next year, and the two men who came up just shy — Bonds' ratio of home to road homers is the ninth-lowest. That's pretty ho-hum stuff. What's much more interesting is how the chart's latest interlopers have profited from their home parks. While nobody will ever catch Mel Ott when it comes to home field advantage, Thomas, [Jim] Thome, and Palmeiro have all hit at least 20 percent more homers at home than on the road, with Sosa and Griffey enjoying about a 10 percent advantage, while A-Rod checks in at five percent.
From there, I went on to rerun one of that old piece's most popular items:
The "Home Doubled" list shows what the leaderboard might have looked like if each of these sluggers had enjoyed the perks of home in every park; we've simply doubled the home HR totals (2xHHR). The "Road Doubled" list (or 2xRHRR) puts things on more neutral ground. It ain't rocket science, but it's revealing nonetheless:
Player     2xHHR   Player     2xRHR
Aaron 770 Bonds 760
Bonds 750 Aaron 740
Ruth 694 Ruth 734
Mays 670 Mays 650
Ott 646 McGwire 596
Robinson 642 Sosa 574
Sosa 634 Jackson 566
Palmeiro 622 Schmidt 566
Griffey 616 Killebrew 564
Foxx 598 Griffey 562
Thomas 596 Mathews 550
Killebrew 582 Williams 546
Banks 580 Mantle 540
McGwire 570 Robinson 530
Jackson 560 Palmeiro 516
Thome 546 McCovey 514
Mantle 532 Murray 512
Schmidt 530 McGriff 504
McCovey 528 Rodriguez 488
Rodriguez 512 Gehrig 484
Gehrig 502 Ramirez 478
Ramirez 500 Sheffield 472
Williams 496 Foxx 470
Murray 496 Banks 444
Sheffield 484 Thome 436
McGriff 482 Thomas 414
Mathews 474 Ott 376
What stands out most about the Home Doubled list is how much bigger the 600 level might have been if all these sluggers had feasted on home cooking all of the time; a couple more Skydome shots by Thomas and we'd have 10, with Double X Jimmie Foxx just outside the ranks. The second thing to note is that at every rank but one, the Home Doubled total is higher than the Road Doubled one, by an average of 38 homers. The Road Doubled list shows Bonds as having left Aaron in the rearview mirror already, while maintaining a much more exclusive 600-homer level. It's just further confirmation that the reputations of these sluggers were considerably helped along by favorable conditions at home.
Elsewhere in the piece, I took a look at the best bullpens according to BP's suite of statistics, and the best and worst pitching staffs as a unit according to our win-expectancy based measures. That kind of stuff isn't as timely or as controversial as talking about the longball, but I relish the fact that we can now turn our attention to such matters with fewer distractions.

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Friday, August 03, 2007


Swap Meet Spectacular

The post-trade deadline Hit List is up at Baseball Prospectus, with a look at which teams improved themselves, which ones dropped the ball, and which ones merely treaded water. The Yankees, thanks to their recent offensive onslaught, climb all the way to #2 behind the Red Sox, with the Mets third.

The Dodgers come in at #7:
With rotation injuries sprouting up like mushrooms--Randy Wolf may be done for the year, while Brad Penny and Derek Lowe narrowly escape DL stints--the Dodgers trade away their most productive third baseman for an overworked reliever and spend the rest of their deadline arguing internally over which prospects to keep and which to deal without pulling the trigger. That this one's so obvious even Bill Plaschke gets it right is a sign that whatever the current regime's faults, they know how to deal in PR. Bad news: Jeff Kent strains a hammy after a .447/.500/.737 July.
Yes, that's a Bill Plaschke link in the Hit List, and for once, my nemesis actually written something about the Dodgers that I agree with:
For the first time in a decade, they are no longer the kind of team that needs to do calisthenics every July to be strong for many Octobers.

They have a nucleus. They have a surplus. They have a clue.

What they may not eventually have this season is a spot in the playoffs, but -- and I can't believe I'm writing this -- maybe that can wait.

Maybe they have to sacrifice a September for James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to learn how to play in the heat.

Maybe they have to lose a division for Jonathon Broxton to learn how to pitch under the glare.

Maybe Dodgers fans, just this once, will agree to pay for two months of soaring, skidding fun with an October of silence.

Having finally collected enough good players to contend for several years, the Dodgers smartly refused to break them up for the sake of this one.

Maybe, by taking no big steps, they have actually taken a giant one.
Sorry about that spacing; like high-powered magnets, Plaschke's thoughts continue to be too weighty to put side-by-side. Anyway, while none of the prospects Dodger GM Ned Colletti has traded have come back to bite the Dodgers thus far, every deadline gives Dodger fans the feeling that he's playing Russian roulette, willing to sacrifice a prospect or two in spectacularly shocking fashion. The GM puts up a unified front in the Plaschke piece, but the buzz leading up to the deadline had Colletti clashing with the team's player development arm over which prospects were tradable, particularly 19-year-old southpaw Clayton Kershaw, who stands a good chance of being one of the top three pitching prospects on next year's lists. Even with the Dodgers on the edge of a playoff spot, I can't fault them for keeping the kids together; 2007 won't be their last playoff chase by any means.

Anyway, elsewhere in the Hit List, you'll find Willy Wonka, Nightmare on Elm Street, "Twas the Night Before Christmas," Lays potato chips, Thomas Hardy, and Coach Krupt. I challenge you to find a more eclectic assortment in any set of power rankings for the big four sports (baseball, chess, curling, and yak rodeo).

As for the Dodgers, I watched most of their three-game series against the Giants, with Barry Bonds perched on the precipice of history at 754 home runs. As negative as I am about the whole record chase, the the idea of Vin Scully calling the shot, as he did Aaron's 715th, certainly held some appeal, as did the idea of Bonds at least tying the record in the ultimate enemy territory as a chorus of boos rained down. The possibility of that contrast wasn't lost on Scully:
“This to me is different,” Scully said. “Aaron was received with great love, affection, adoration. I’m not sure how this one will be received. The story won’t be what I say. The story will be what the crowd will say. So I will shut up and let them take it.”

Scully is famous for going silent at the right times. When Aaron hit his 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth, Scully let 26 seconds pass, allowing the crowd in Atlanta to roar. Only then did he reflect on the setting, the meaning and the times:

“What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”
Speaking of that call, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Furman Bisher recently did a completely irresponsible hatchet job by taking Scully's call out of context, as though race were the first thing he mentioned.

Anyway, though they neutralized Bonds, the Dodgers dropped two out of the three games. They did win the middle one in dramatic fashion, outlasting rookie phenom Tim Lincecum with a four-run eighth-inning rally capped by a two-run homer by Nomar Garciaparra. Ironically, that was the one game called by the delightfully bent Giants' announcing team of Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper (futility personified, with one home run in 3,379 career at bats); they're about the only Giants-related thing I can stand. Overall, Bonds went 1-for-7 with five walks during the series, thereby halting a 19 at-bat hitless streak against the Dodgers. He only faced Dodger lefty specialist Joe Beimel once, resulting in a reach-on-error; Beimel, as the New York Times notes in a recent article, came into the series having held Bonds to 1-for-15 with a homer and two walks over the last two years.

The middle game also featured Scott Proctor's Dodger debut; he threw one pitch that resulted in an inning-ending caught stealing, and that was his night. When he reappeared the next night with somewhat less success (1.1 innings, one run on two walks and a hit), the sickening realization came over me that I am stuck with the guy like he's some felonious in-law trying to goad me into joining his next shady venture at every family event. There's no relief from Scott Proctor.

Meanwhile, Proctor's opposite number made a splash with the Yankees yesterday, belting a three-run homer in his first official at-bat as part of an eight-run comeback that eventually went for naught. I was at the stadium on Wednesday night and actually saw his Yankee debut as a defensive replacement for Alex Rodriguez. The more I think about the deal, the more I like it from the Yanks' perspective. Betemit's in his Age 25 season (he's listed as 27 on ESPN, but they're still using the false date that got the Braves in trouble several years back when it was revealed they signed him at 15), he's got a .264/.339/.445 career line that if you remove the first 50 at bats in 2001 and 2004 becomes .270/.344/.463, and he's arbitration-eligible for the first time this coming winter, meaning he'll be under the Yanks' control for the next three years. If he never wins a starting spot he's still the best hitter on the Yankee bench in ages.

A few links to note:

• Via Rob Neyer, the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee is being revamped again, with managers, umpires and executives screened and voted upon separately from the players; there will now be a VC election every year, with two sets alternating (managers/umps in '08, players in '09, execs TBD), a final ballot of 10 players, and a new five-year-cycle for players whose careers began before 1943. I'll have more on these changes at Baseball Prospectus soon.

• George Steinbrenner is in rough shape according to former Sports Illustrated writer Franz Lidz, who pays him a visit in this lengthy Conde Nast Portfolio piece.

• Speaking of Steinbrenner, I could watch Oliver Platt play the Boss to John Turturro's Billy Martin, as in the ESPN Bronx is Burning miniseries, on a weekly basis for the next five years without getting bored. The series has its share of problems, but the performances of those two, not to mention the comic relief provided by the Mickey Rivers character, are reasons to keep watching. Bruce Markusen has an entertaining profile of Mick the Quick at Bronx Banter.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Deadline City

The trading deadline is a great time to be part of Baseball Prospectus. Not only is it fun to watch guys and gals like prospect guru Kevin Goldstein, transaction maven Christina Kahrl and yenta hotliner Will Carroll do the voodoo that they do so well, but kicking the deals around on our internal mailing list is always informative, and simply being privy to the flood of competing rumors and connecting the various dots is a blast.

Somewhere amid our internal roundtable on Monday, in dissecting the initial announcement of the Mark Teixeira-to-Atlanta trade, BP intern/FI research assistant Peter Quadrino summoned forth the study I did of Braves GM John Schuerholz's track record in dealing prospects (former colleague Dayn Perry recalled it, too). I quickly decided that updating it would make for an appropriate lead for this week's Prospectus Hit and Run:
While Jason Schmidt and Jermaine Dye remain the cautionary tales, they're the exceptions rather than the rule when it comes to Schuerholz's track record. In my study, I found that only six out of the 80 traded prospects (arbitrarily defined as having not accumulated 502 plate appearances or 162 innings in the bigs) had thus far managed 10.0 WARP post-trade, a "career of consequence."

Revisiting those numbers two years later, Dye and Schmidt have distanced themselves from the pack, even though they've fallen on hard times in 2007. Meanwhile, Wes Helms and Jamie Walker have crossed the 10.0 WARP threshold, the latter as a rather wealthy man but nonetheless a situational reliever, bringing our running total to eight careers of consequence.

...[Wilson] Betemit and [Adam] Wainwright look like reasonable bets to make the grade, but even if they do, that would make 10 careers of consequence out of a new total of 87 (the aforementioned plus Max Ramirez and a few others, but not the ones in the Texeira deal). As good a deal as the Teixeira one looks for the Rangers right now, those are steep odds to beat.
As it is, the deal looks a bit better for the Rangers, given that it expanded to five prospects for Tex and lefty reliever Ron Mahay: catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Elvis Andrus, and pitchers Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, and Beau Jones, the latter two apparently added to mitigate Harrison's sore shoulder. The Baseball America Prospect Handbook has Salty, Andrus, and Harrison 1-2-3 among the Braves prospects, with Jones 14th and Feliz 18t; Salty was 36th overall, Andrus 65th, and Harrison 90th. At BP, Goldstein's Top 10 Prospects had Salty, Harrison and Feliz 1-2-3 and Andrus 5th, with Salty 51st, Harrison 79th, and Feliz 98th overall.

I've been pretty critical of Rangers GM Jon Daniels in recent weeks, but I dished out a reasonable amount of praise for his deadline work in a piece I did for today's New York Sun:
Most intriguing is Saltalamacchia, a 6-foot-4-inch switch-hitter who projects as one of the game's top-hitting catchers. Already boasting an elite backstop in 23-year-old Brian McCann, the Braves found at-bats for "Salty" at first base; after a hot start, a slump dragged his numbers down to .284 AVG/.333 OBA/.411 SLG. That's light for a first sacker, but solid for a catcher, particularly on a team getting considerably less from incumbent Gerald Laird. Andrus is years away from the majors, but he's been playing against competition that's three years his senior, and with Young signed through 2013, time is on his side. Harrison's a big strike-throwing lefty with solid control and good velocity; his recent shoulder soreness prompted the inclusion of the other two pitchers as insurance.

In shipping Gagne to the Red Sox, Daniels acquired immediate help and future promise. Southpaw Kason Gabbard, 25, has filled in admirably for the injured Curt Schilling, putting up a 3.73 ERA through seven starts. His ability to induce ground balls by the dozen will aid a rotation that's giving up the league's highest slugging percentage. Outfielder David Murphy, 25, is a card-carrying member of the Future Fourth Outfielders of America; he's a good enough defender to handle center field, and while his plate discipline improved markedly over the past year, his power remains middling. The key to the deal is 17-year-old Dominican Engel Beltre, a toolsy outfielder with good speed, a good arm, and power that's evoked comparisons to Barry Bonds and Darryl Strawberry from scouts. It may take a decade to see who came out ahead here.

Daniels made one other solid move prior to that pair, shipping Lofton back to Cleveland for another catching prospect, Max Ramirez. Thanks to a refined approach, the 22-year-old is hitting .306/.420/.500 in High-A, but his defense is suspect, he's undersized (5-foot-11, 170 lbs), and he joins a farm system already stocked with the highly-regarded Taylor Teagarden behind the plate. A shift likely looms, though a bat of his caliber won't go to waste.

These moves won't turn the Rangers' 2007 around, but they've gone a long way toward restocking a system whose minor league talent ranked among the game's bottom ten. For doing that, Daniels may just have earned his extension.
The Gagne move was a big one around these parts, even bigger than the Scott Proctor/Wilson Betemit move that had me gnashing my teeth in disgust for both of my teams. In talking to Steven Goldman last night, the bearded one offered an interesting take that he replicates in today's Sun: the Gagne move actually helps the Yankees because it prevented him from going to the Tigers or Indians, since it's more likely the Yanks are challenging for the Wild Card instead of the division:
...the Yankees are in the wild card business, the Red Sox are on their victory lap, and the two aren't in any kind of direct competition except when they're playing head-to-head, something that happens just six more times this season. The Yankees can worry about what should be a deadly back end of the bullpen for Boston with Gagne, Hideki Okajima, and Jon Papelbon when and if they make the postseason and have to play them.

Until then, Theo Epstein and pals have given the Yankees a huge break. The Yankees are competing with the Indians for the wild card, and the Tigers could be in the mix should the Indians pass them for the AL Central lead. Even if they don't, the Yankees have eight games remaining with the Tigers and three with the Indians, which is to say that the Yankees will be spending 20% of their remaining time in 2007 playing exactly who they need to be playing. Both of those teams, particularly the Tigers, have had problems in the bullpen. When the Red Sox stepped up to the plate on Gagne, they prevented the Yankees' real rivals from getting an upgrade they desperately needed.

...For either of these clubs, acquiring Gagne would have been a season-altering event. After 105 games, the two teams are one game apart. In broad terms, they are equals. The reasons for their record may differ, but neither is the superior of the other. Had either team improved their bullpen, the stalemate might have been broken. For the Yankees, who need both teams to be weak, that would have been disastrous.
As for the Proctor deal, the interesting point is the Yanks' avoidance of the relievers on the market in favor of a plan to promote heat-throwing Double-A prospect Joba Chamberlain and perhaps also Ross Ohlendorf (acquired in the Randy Johnson deal): "There are certain guys in my system right now that I have people telling me could replace Scott Proctor," GM Brian Cashman told the New York Times. "And if that’s the case, that’s what made me consider the opportunity for Wilson Betemit. We have needs, there’s no doubt about that. But there’s a belief that some of those needs might very well be met from within."

Betemit, as I pointed out in the Hit and Run, got the screw job from the Dodgers; batting average aside, he's been a much more productive hitter than Nomar Garciaparra, though the latter's timely hitting with runners in scoring position has given him the "clutch" tag. While Betemit's versatility and ability to come off the bench are assets sorely missing on the current Yankee roster, I don't particularly trust Joe Torre to integrate him into the mix. And for all the sense it makes to have Betemit as a fallback option in case Alex Rodriguez departs, if the Dodgers didn't see it then the Yankees certainly won't; they'll be under far too much pressure to Do Something Big if A-Rod leaves and will have to get a Name Player there, even if said Name Player is actually more expensive and less productive.

Anyway, I've got plenty more to say on the topic of the deadline, but I've got to bang on the Hit List for a few hours before I head to Yankee Stadium to boo what's left of the ever-charming Kyle Farnsworth. Five 1-2-3 innings this year in 45 appearances -- not to mention working back-to-back days just five times as well -- and he's complaining? Grab drink, dude.

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