The Futility Infielder

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

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Clueless Jose

I have but a few simple rules in life. One is never to be arrested while wearing adult diapers. Another is never to write a book where I'll be forced to defend charges of casual racism and homophobia on a media tour. So on the latter note, it's been several months since I got my snark on at Deadspin. A tip from Alex Belth sent me there yesterday to read Pat Jordan's hilarious trainwreck of an attempt to profile Jose Canseco on the eve of his forthcoming book, Vindicated. Jordan captures the clueless Canseco prattling around his empty life:
I tried to picture Jose writing his book and his movie. Hunched over, his broad shoulders casting a shadow across his desk like a raptor's wings, his brow furrowed in concentration, his massively muscled body tensed in anticipation of that torrent of words about to flow out of him like urine for one of the many steroid tests he'd been forced to take during his baseball career. I wondered, just how does Jose write? Like Shakespeare, with a quill pen on parchment? Like Dickens, wearing a green eye shade while seated at a clerk's desk? Like Hemingway, standing at a lectern in Finca Vigia, with a stubby pencil and unlined paper? Like Thomas Wolfe, in his Victorian house in Ashville, pounding away on a tall, black, manual Underwood? Or maybe the words flow out of Jose in such a torrent, 10,000 an hour, that he can relieve himself adequately of his thoughts only by tap-tap-tapping on a lightning fast computer, like Stephen King?

Anyway, as Heidi said, Jose is writing a book, and a movie, about his life, which he will star in, as himself. Jose is also going to star in a Kung Fu martial arts movie. That's what Rob told me. "Jose is fielding offers," said Rob. Rob is Jose's lawyer and agent. He's a Cherokee Indian from North Carolina. In the four years that Rob has been Jose's agent, Jose has racked up about a half-a-million dollars in legal fees. Rob hasn't been paid anything yet, although he said that Jose did give him his five World Series rings, worth about $50,000, as a down payment.

Heidi, Rob told me, is Jose's girlfriend/publicist. She's a "cute, little, junior college graduate, who lives with Jose," said Rob. "She likes to let Jose think she's working hard for him when really all she is doing is fucking things up for him." Rob said Heidi lives with Jose without paying anything, which may be literally true, but not figuratively. The price women pay for living with Jose is actually quite high. All those boring days and nights during which Jose rarely speaks, except to say, "Where's the Iguana?" because of Jose's fervent belief that when "women talk only bad things can happen."

...After a little prodding, Rob did admit to me that as of the moment no actual offers for that Kung Fu movie have come Jose's way, which, considering his fielding prowess (he once camped under a fly ball which hit him in the head and bounced into the bleachers for a home run), might be a good thing. Still, Jose spends his days at his house in Sherman Oaks, California, off the Ventura Freeway near the San Fernando Valley, home of the porn industry, waiting for producers to call to inform him that the time is ripe, America is now hungry for a Kung Fu movie starring a steroid-inflated, Cuban, ex-baseball player in his forties. In anticipation of that call, Jose showed off his martial arts moves to the man who choreographed "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." The man watched Jose's 250-pound body spin and kick and leap into the air for a few minutes and then he told Jose that his moves "were stiff, not very fluid, and you don't kick very well." Jose told Rob, "That guy doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about."
Rules for living number three and four: don't hire a lawyer who will discuss my financial affairs with a reporter, and keep those martial arts movie ideas under wraps.

Whether or not you're tempted to put any stock in Canseco's desperate attempt to grab headlines by trying to extort the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Magglio Ordoñez, or if you're simply up for a bit of schadenfreude, Jordan's piece is well worth your time. The man has a hard-boiled style, a deadpan sense of humor and a knack for catching those second acts of athletes for whom the cheering has stopped, not all of them as tawdry as that of Canseco. One of the best -- a piece I blogged an eternity ago -- is his New York Times Magazine profile of Rick Ankiel, told like a ghost story from beyond the grave by a haunted soul who went through a similar, career-ending bout of wildness 40 years earlier. Jordan devoted an unflinching book to his own demise, A False Spring and even wrote about his own second act in A Nice Tuesday.

Belth recently linked to Jordan's Fortune profile of the unlikely jock-to-stock savant story of Lenny Dykstra and offered some choice outtakes form the original manuscript (Nails, incidentally is everywhere this month via an HBO Real Sports segment, a Ben McGrath New Yorker profile, and a New York Times profile of his son Cutter, a touted high school prospect whom Alan Schwarz presents as a possible first-rounder this June).

And if that's not enough Jordan, you can look forward to the upcoming release of The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan, an anthology of the pugnacious freelancer's work edited by Belth, now slated for a mid-April release from Persea Books. I'm itching to get my hands on a copy.


Monday, March 24, 2008


The New Joba Rules

In last Friday's Prospectus Hit and Run, I took a look at the Yankees' "decision" to shift Joba Chamberlain to the bullpen to start the season, making some ballpark estimates as to his workloads in the rotation and in relief and how they fit in with the team's plans:
So, the recent Yanks [2005-2007] have averaged about 123 starts per year from their top five, leaving 39 starts to be absorbed by the rest of the staff. Even if they were to play towards the high side of that time span, 136 starts, those extra 26 are more than one extra pitcher can be expected to absorb. Of that surplus, how many can we expect Chamberlain to make?

An aggressive estimate might put him at about 15 starts, leaving the Yanks to come up with another dozen or two from among the Jeff Karstens/Darrell Rasner/Kei Igawa/TBNL herd. Suppose Chamberlain pitches on a 180-inning pace as a starter for three months of the year, and takes the guise of a heavy-use 90-inning reliever for the other three months. In his starter phase, he could total 15 starts averaging six innings per start (90 innings) and as a reliever, he'd average an inning every other day (45 innings). That would put Joba at 135 innings, not far off from his Rule of 30 target. Of course, that wouldn't leave a ton of headroom for October, if the Yankees get there. One can't determine whether the team might want him to be part of their front four, or to return to the set-up role without knowing the rest of the staff's strengths and weaknesses at that point in time. Either way has its merits so long as he can usurp a greater percentage of innings than the regular season, but both have their drawbacks as well.
From there I took a look at Chamberlain's performance in relief last year using BP's Reliever Expected Wins Added stat (WXRL), which measures the incremental impact, in wins, of a reliever's performance based on the changes in score margin and game state (runners on base and number of outs) when he arrives and departs. Joba was 1.85 wins above replacement level in his 24 innings last year; on a per-inning basis, only Cleveland's Rafael Betancourt had more of an impact, and all Betancourt did was set a record among the subgroup of nonclosers that I'm calling MISERs (Maximum-Impact Setup Relievers, crudely defined as pitchers with at least 1.0 WXRL and fewer than six saves in a season). The leaderboard for 2007:
Pitcher             Team    IP     WXRL    WX/9
Rafael Betancourt CLE 79.1 6.845 0.777
Joba Chamberlain NYA 24.0 1.848 0.693
Hideki Okajima BOS 69.0 4.429 0.578
Mike Gonzalez ATL 17.0 1.079 0.571
Heath Bell SDN 93.2 5.656 0.543
Brandon Lyon ARI 74.0 4.357 0.530
Zack Greinke KCA 53.1 3.114 0.525
Carlos Marmol CHN 69.1 3.694 0.480
Rafael Perez CLE 60.2 3.142 0.466
Pat Neshek MIN 70.1 3.572 0.457
J.C. Romero 2TM 56.1 2.822 0.451
Bobby Seay DET 46.1 2.303 0.448
Akinori Otsuka TEX 32.1 1.566 0.436
Tony Pena ARI 85.1 4.103 0.433
Ehren Wassermann CHA 23.0 1.075 0.421
Henry Owens FLO 23.0 1.051 0.411
Chad Qualls HOU 82.2 3.608 0.393
Derrick Turnbow MIL 68.0 2.752 0.364
Matt Herges COL 48.2 1.927 0.356
Justin Speier ANA 50.0 1.950 0.351
Scott Downs TOR 58.0 2.260 0.351
By comparison, Mariano Rivera's WXRL/9 was 0.467, which ranked 20th in the majors. Still, as good as Chamberlain's performance was, 24 innings is a pretty small sample size to base many conclusions on, so when I retroactively computed leaderboards for the seasons 2001 to 2006, I raised the bar to 40 innings to allow the occasional LOOGY or midseason callup to sneak through. What the rankings show is that the Yanks have been fairly deficient in this department recently. Here are the qualifying Yankees dating back to 1996:
Pitcher           Team   Year    IP     WXRL    WX/9   Rk
Mariano Rivera NYA 1996 107.7 6.876 0.575 1
Mike Stanton NYA 1997 66.7 3.541 0.478 2
Ramiro Mendoza NYA 1999 84.0 2.385 0.256 27
Mike Stanton NYA 1999 58.3 1.480 0.228 34
Jason Grimsley NYA 1999 75.0 1.608 0.193 41
Jeff Nelson NYA 2000 69.7 1.534 0.198 35
Mike Stanton NYA 2001 80.3 3.333 0.373 10
Jay Witasick NYA 2001 40.3 1.037 0.231 32
Ramiro Mendoza NYA 2002 91.7 1.621 0.159 44
Chris Hammond NYA 2003 63.0 1.954 0.279 21
Tom Gordon NYA 2004 89.7 6.438 0.646 1
Paul Quantrill NYA 2004 95.3 1.546 0.146 51
Tom Gordon NYA 2005 80.7 3.269 0.365 11
Scott Proctor NYA 2006 102.3 1.833 0.161 49
Luis Vizcaino NYA 2007 75.3 2.081 0.249 35
Kyle Farnsworth NYA 2007 60.0 1.142 0.171 51
Since Mo ascended to the closer role, only Mike Stanton and Tom Gordon have cracked the majors' top 20 in a given season. For a team spending as much money on its bullpen as the Yankees have, that's no relief. And it's yet another reason why sending Chamberlain to the bullpen for at least part of the year makes sense.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


For Those Who Like This Sort of Thing, This is the Sort of Thing They Like

Back from my three-day Baseball Prospectus 2008 media tour of Washington, DC and Philadelphia. The TV appearances didn't pan out; in DC the station only wanted either Steve or myself, and so I graciously deferred to my editor regarding the opportunity to taxi across town to do a three-minute hit at 6:45 AM (swell guy that I am), and in Philly they decided to devote our five minutes to some 64-team basketball hoedown that I've never heard of. The radio stuff went well; we went to the XM studio and did half an hour live with Jeff Erickson (remote from California) for the Rotowire Fantasy Focus show, then did an hour-long season preview with Mike Ferrin for MLB Home Plate that will air next week, plus some five-minute bumpers devoted to topics like "best offseason trade" that will be used prior to early-season. Both shows were a lot of fun, and particularly by the time we got to Ferrin's show, I was in the zone. Between the radio and the fantasy updates, I'm ready to talk about any team, any time. Let me tell you about the Nationals' rotation, the Reds' outfield, and the Tigers' bullpen...

The bookstore events were tremendous fun. We drew over 100 people to DC's Politics and Prose, which might be the biggest crowd I've played in this guise, with the possible exception of the Yogi Berra Museum and the now-defunct Coliseum Books here in NYC. Steve, Clay Davenport and I fielded questions from guests ranging from pre-teens to septuagenarians for a little over an hour, then signed books while munching on some pretty decent pizza and even partaking in a cold beer (gotta love those indie bookstores and their rogue promotional ways). Clay and I did P&P last September on the It Ain't Over promo circuit, and I recognized some familiar faces; Clay and Steve, who've been hitting that store as part of BP's regular circuit for the past five years, recognized even more. The Philadelphia Barnes and Noble on Rittenhouse Square was a smaller crowd of about 40, but again, there were some familiar faces, including that of their events planner, Lee, a devoted fan of BP and baseball (if I recall, her husband works for the Phillies). We did well over 90 minutes there, then dashed across the square for a quick bite at Rouge, a great restaurant we hit just about every time through Philly. Fun stuff.

My work demands were such that I didn't get to do any sightseeing beyond the Mitchell and Ness store in the latter; I had to prepare this week's Fantasy Baseball Index update in an array of hotels, coffee shops, and trains. This wasn't so bad, considering that at any given moment I could lean over and pick Steve's brain about the minutiae of Oakland's rotation, the Padres' outfield and whatnot. As the editor of the annual and columnist about seven different venues, he's in the same season preview mode as I am. Even if he appears to be sleeping or grazing, some part of Steve's brain is always working on that next deadline. To wit:
The Pinstriped Bible comes to you from a railroad car moving between Baltimore and Philadelphia, or what those of us who rarely find a reason to venture off of I-95 between New Jersey and Washington refer to as "terra incognita." "Here there be dragons," the maps say, and one suspects that what they refer to are not literal dragons but bad Chinese restaurants secretly staffed by goth college dropouts from the Midwest who have parlayed an interest in hair-straighteners and black dye into semi-lucrative careers in ethnic impersonation and culinary counterfeiting, passing off Indiana corn and Arkansas chicken parts as Moo Goo Gai Pan. It could be some intestinally corroding experiences with off-coast Asian foods has made me paranoid, or maybe it was two days amidst the striped-tie boys of occupied Washington. Maybe they're all working together out of the CIE, Culinary Institute of Espionage. The latest briefing says that the Iranians won't have the George Foreman Grill for at least five years, but we may go to war anyway.

I enjoy traveling by train between short-hop destinations like New York and Washington. In the age of the interminable airline delay, it really is the smarter, faster way to travel, and indeed, as soon as (if) the United States ever gets a true high-speed train system up, airline travel between Boston, New York, and Washington will wither and die. Similar effects have occurred in Europe, where they bullet along similar inter-city distances at roughly 200 mph in more or less perfect safety. With no grade-level crossings, there are fewer opportunities for Jereboam to park his poultry truck on the tracks and cause a major disaster.

My only regret about this one trip is being cautioned by the Norman Lloyd look-alike across the aisle (for photo reference see, appropriately enough, Alfred Hitchcock's "Saboteur") not to speak. Jay Jaffe, my traveling companion, and I inadvertently ensconced ourselves in the "Quiet Car." The Quiet Car, to quote the sign hanging above the aisle, requires that you, "Please refrain from loud talking or using cell phones in this car." When Jay whispered a question at me about — well, I never did get to find out what he was asking — I am hopeful that he had not just discovered that he was on fire — Norman jumped up and shouted, "Could you guys not TALK? It's really disturbing." I briefly considered shouting back, "Hey, Himmler, this is the Quiet Car, not the MUTE car. This is not the Maharishi's Meditation Caravan or the Prior Restraint Choo-Choo. Maybe you'd be more comfortable in the Corpse Car. Are you disturbed now? How about now? Wait until I tell you my theory about Chinese food imposters in off-highway Delaware. Then you'll be sorry you stopped my friend from telling me he was on fire."

Alas, I only mumbled a small fraction of that, not wanting to be forcibly relocated or removed. Principle was on my side, but after a few weeks of touring, I'm too fatigued to fight. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking with it.
It was an honor to be a bit player in that little comedy, just as it's an honor to spend time with Steve, who's one of the best friends I've made in this racket. We're separated by two hours of geography and don't get to spend much face time except in the context of these promo gigs; most of our interactions tend to come via instant messaging in the wee hours as we pick apart something I've written for one of his book projects. As one of the hardest workers I know, he's a great influence to be around, always reminding me that I can and should think bigger and do better, and -- given the serious health woes he constantly finds himself up against -- with a greater sense of urgency. More than that, he's a constant font of ideas, with a tremendous breadth of knowledge and a wacky sense of humor, the ability to muster an apt and funny quotation that will find its way into a conversation several times in a given encounter (such as the Abe Lincoln one in the title of this post).

Baseball Prospectus is an odd, decentralized beast, with no home office or physical roundtable where we sit around and flick paper footballs at each other while vetting ideas and theories. If it were, I might be a better and more prolific writer just by spending more time in Steve's orbit. Note to self: make do with the example he sets.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Marching On

Halfway through my mad, mad month here. Thus far the spring update coverage for Fantasy Baseball Index has gone well. Though I'm actually less of a fantasy junkie than my intended audience, it's one of my favorite projects of the entire year. Not only do I immerse myself in the familiar tropes of spring -- job battles, injury comebacks, hot shot rookies wowing the scouts ("Cueto is the ace of that staff. Right now...") and humbled veterans appeasing the gods with their sacrifices in an effort to eke out one more season (Hideo Nomo and Orlando Hernandez both junking their distinctive deliveries) -- but I come out of it with a great picture of the strengths, weaknesses and narratives of all 30 teams, ideal for the upcoming Hit Lists as well as all of the preseason chatter I get to do on my various radio gigs. It's my own spring training, whipping me into shape.

The BP promo-rama has gone well thus far. Last Thursday we packed 40-something people into the 18th Street Barnes and Noble here in NYC as Steve Goldman, Joe Sheehan, Derek Jacques and I took questions for well over 90 minutes, somehow managing not to trip over each other's sentences. Saturday's Long Island event was a smaller crowd, but one full of familiar faces, area friends who couldn't make our previous gig. Our sole misadventure involved getting from the train to the venue (memo to the surly, constantly muttering cabbie: Barnes and Noble and Borders aren't interchangeable if your name is on the marquee). On the docket next is a three-day trip to DC and then Philadelphia for appearances on the 17th and 18th. We'll have some media as well -- an XM Radio hit and even a TV spot, details forthcoming. Here's the plan:

• Monday, March 17th, 7:00 pm, Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008. With Clay Davenport and Steven Goldman

• Tuesday, March 18th, 7:00 pm, Barnes & Noble, Rittenhouse Square, 1805 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. With Steven Goldman and Joe Sheehan

Meanwhile, here's the transcript of last Friday's BP chat. More recently, on Thursday I followed up the work I've been doing on the way ballparks have evolved over the past 20+ years. Last time around I showed that contrary to popular belief, fence distances have not actually decreased over that time, they've increased, particularly on the left side. Even if we exclude Coors Field, they've increased:
      2007  Coors  2007'  90-07  90-07'
LF 332.0 347 331.4 2.4 1.9
LCF 376.6 390 376.2 1.2 0.7
CF 404.9 415 404.9 -0.1 -0.4
RCF 377.6 375 377.7 1.6 1.7
RF 329.1 350 328.6 0.2 -0.5
2007' is the average fence distance sans Coors, 90-07' the change from 1990 to 2007 excluding Coors. Anyway, this increase to the left side appears to have an impact on the distribution of home runs. In 1990, according to data from the Play Index, 54.4 percent of homers were hit to left field and left-center field. Last year it was 50.8 percent. Sparing you my first-ever graph for a BP article, an ugly one that puts this graphic designer to shame:
Year  % LF+LCF
1990 56.6
1991 53.6
1992 54.7
1993 55.0
1994 53.2
1995 51.2
1996 50.7
1997 48.4
1998 50.0
1999 46.3
2000 50.8
2001 48.6
2002 48.6
2003 46.7
2004 47.0
2005 48.3
2006 50.1
2007 50.9
As noted in the article, there's a bit of intermediate squirreliness with the data in a few years; not every year are the home run locations equally well-recorded, but the trend is apparent: fewer hoemrs are leaving the yard on the left side than before.

Beyond that, I took a look at the way the new ballparks may have had an impact on foul outs, and whether that impact results in more home runs. Short answer: foul territory is tough to get a handle on, and tremendously boring.

Foul territory area measurements aren't recorded in any official manner (since publication of this article, one data source has come to light, but I'll wait until my next installment to discuss that). Backstop distances don't make a great proxy; while such distances appear to have decreased, there's little correlation between them and foul out rates. Foul out rates actually appear to be a bit higher in the newer ballparks than the older ones -- contrary to the views of my readers, whose lines of questioning sent me trudging methodically down this rather bleak path -- but the problem with my finding is that the stadium changes I note are based on fence distances (which are well-documented) rather than foul territory adjustments (which aren't).

It's all just about as much fun as a field trip to the box factory, but I may have to take another swing at this if I get some better data. Still, if there's one take-home from of my recent articles, it's that it's time to retire the notion that parks have gotten smaller over the past two decades, thus driving up home run rates. Except when it comes to meat in the seats, parks aren't getting smaller.

You have my permission to swear at your TV the next time you're told otherwise.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008


The Madness Begins

Most sports fans associate March Madness with the NCAA college basketball tournament, but for me, the month is a crazy one due to the demands of my various writing positions as they pertain to spring training. For the third year in a row, I'm handling Fantasy Baseball Index's spring update coverage, delivering camp notes for all 30 teams plus updated depth charts, projections and dollar value rankings. The first batch, which is free to buyers of this year's Index, went out on March 1; subsequent updates are available via a weekly subscription newsletter starting March 12. See here for details.

In conjunction with a long-weekend ski trip to Salt Lake City that had my lungs searing due to an onslaught of fresh powder, said update kept me from checking in here to note my two most recent Baseball Prospectus pieces. The first took a look at some recent work done by Tom Tango over at the Hardball Times, work which provided some support for what I found in my contribution to Will Carroll's The Juice, namely that new ballparks and expansion can't explain the rise in home runs that's typified baseball's so-called Steroid Era:
Now the estimable Tom Tango has added some support for that viewpoint, at least with regards to parks and expansion. Comparing matched sets of head-to-head plate appearances between hitters and pitchers in the same park against all other pitcher/hitter/park combinations, Tango found virtually identical changes in home run frequency (HR per contact PA) from 1987 to 1988, and from 1992 to 1994. That is, both the matching combo and the unmatched combo saw their homer frequencies change at comparable rates during the same periods, first from 1987 to 1988, when a one-year home run spike came and went, and then from 1992 to 1994, a span in which homer and scoring rates escalated to levels that would be common over the next decade.
Like me, Tango then turned his attention to the baseball itself as an engine for the rise in home runs, and to evidence found via the University of Massachusetts-Lowell's series of tests back in 2000. But it appears he was a little off base when he tried to connect the ball's compositional changes with some data pertaining to fly ball distances:
In Tango's piece, he turns his attention to the ball as well, and to the UMass-Lowell testing in particular, focusing on testing director Dr. James Sherwood's report of an 8.7-foot difference in flight distance between tested major league balls and minor league ones, which differ in the compositions of their cores. Extrapolating from data provided by Greg Rybarcyzk of HitTracker Online, Tango finds that, lo and behold, an 8.7-foot decrease would reduce home run rates to almost exactly where they were in the decade prior to the surge. A tidy little explanation for where those extra long balls might have come from, right?

Not quite. Tango implies that what took place may have been as simple as MLB and Rawlings, the ball's current manufacturer, replacing balls made with a pure cork center (as specified for the minor league balls) with ones made with a compressed-cork center (a composite of cork and ground rubber, known as cushion cork or cushioned cork, which is part of MLB's official specifications for the ball). In actuality, the cushioned cork center ball is decades old: according to information provided by the Spalding company (which manufactured the balls up through 1976), it was officially adopted in the major leagues way back in 1926. Oddly enough, the words "cushioned cork center" imprinted on MLB balls were removed in 1999, the year before the UMass report was published, although the report notes that rubber continues to be added to the pill, the innermost element of the ball...

Though rubber and cork are still in the pill, its exact composition appears to have changed over the past couple of decades. A team from Universal Medical Systems confirmed this last summer, when they compared computerized tomography (CT) scans of baseballs from different eras. Whether simply due to technological advances incorporated into the manufacturing process or a calculated desire to produce more home runs, the pill has increased in size and density over the years. And that's without considering the aforementioned synthetic ring, or the increasingly synthetic composition of the yarn used to wind the ball, something a University of Rhode Island study identified back in 2000. While Sherwood and company continue to test balls on an annual basis for MLB and have even shown some teeth by criticizing the outdated specifications of the testing, they've remained conspicuously quiet as to the impact of the composition changes, to say nothing of MLB bulldozing its own published specifications.
Take a picture, kids -- it's not often a hack like me can legitimately find fault with the work of one of the field's top researchers. Then again, Enrique Wilson did get a few hits off Pedro Martinez, and D.J Houlton has struck out Albert Pujols in their only two encounters. It happens.

On the subject of The Juice, elsewhere in the piece, I re-visited some data from my chapter regarding the evolution of ballpark fence distances during the 1990-2004 period. Updating through 2007 and combining the two leagues:
MLB   1990    2007  Change
LF 329.6 332.0 2.4
LCF 375.5 376.6 1.2
CF 404.9 404.9 -0.1
RCF 376.0 377.6 1.6
RF 329.1 329.3 0.2
With the exception of the teensiest of fractions for straightaway center field, fence distances have actually increased during the wave of building that's put 21 clubs (including four expansion teams) into new ballparks. What has decreased during the time period in question -- indeed, what may be confusing the issue -- is smaller park capacities. In 1990, the average ballpark held 53,057 patrons; last year it was 48,219, a drop of about 10 percent. So yes, parks are smaller, but not in a way that carries any ramifications for home run levels.
Since this article's publication, several readers have pointed out that while the fair territory of playing fields aren't getting smaller, a decreasing amount of foul territory may be contributing to the rise in homers and scoring in general. That's something I'll be examining in my next take on this subject.

Whew. My second recent piece at BP is a pinch-hit job on the Texas Rangers' Team Health Report, since Will Carroll's commitments prevented him from taking a swing. I wasn't able to bring quite the amount of background to the Rangers that I did to the Brewers' THR, since I didn't cover the former in the now-shipping Baseball Prospectus 2008, but I did discover that the Rangers led the majors in number of trips to the DL last year (23) and number of same which were pitchers (14). Those injuries didn't cause the team's 19-35 start in April and May; four missed Kevin Millwood starts didn't hurt nearly as much as a 6.44 ERA from the rotation, but it sure didn't help. Anyway, the Rangers' THR is free if you're inclined to check it out.

• • •

The other element of my personal March Madness is promotional appearances for BP08. My ski vacation cost me a trip to the Yogi Berra Museum, but I've still got a handful lined up for this month:

• Thursday, March 6th, 6:00 pm, Barnes & Noble, 105 Fifth Avenue (at 18th Street), New York, NY 10003. With Steven Goldman, Derek Jacques, and Joe Sheehan

• Saturday, March 8th, 2:00 pm, Borders Books, 1260 Old Country Road, Westbury, NY 11590. With Derek Jacques and Joe Sheehan

• Monday, March 17th, 7:00 pm, Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008. With Clay Davenport and Steven Goldman

• Tuesday, March 18th, 7:00 pm, Barnes & Noble, Rittenhouse Square, 1805 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. With Steven Goldman and Joe Sheehan

If you're nearby any of these, we hope you can make it out. Also, I'll be hosting a chat at BP on Thursay the 6th at 1:00 PM for those of you burning to talk some baseball but unable to make it out.

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