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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


This Wasn't the Cold One I Had in Mind

Sat through another chilly night at Yankee Stadium last night, watching the Yankees fall to the Tigers 6-4 in a game they should have won. Even with Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada on the sidelines, they had more than their share of opportunities against a team that has thus far fallen every bit as short of expectations as the Yankees have. Not that the Tigers haven't been playing decent ball recently; since starting the season 2-10, their offense had put up 6.9 runs per game as they won nine of 14. But their pitching remains a problem; of their five starters, three have more walks than strikeouts, with ace Justin Verlander not far off that unhealthy balance as well. Kenny Rogers came into the game sporting a 7.66 ERA and the burden of having not earned a regular-season win against the pinstripes since 1993.

Yankee starter Philip Hughes -- who wasn't even born when Rogers was drafted -- offered no sure thing either, and unfortunately for the makeshift lineup, provided little support. Hughes put the Yankees in a 2-0 hole right off the bat, walking Curtis Granderson on seven pitches, yielding a single to Placido Polanco, advancing both runners on a wild pitch, and surrendering a two-run single to Magglio Ordonez. That last hit was a frustrating one; Johnny Damon was playing center field, and lacking the speed and throwing arm of Melky Cabrera could neither get to the ball in time nor make a credible cutoff throw to limit the damage.

The Yanks tied up the game in the bottom of the second on a two-run homer by Robinson Cano, just one pitch after I noted that the kid hadn't gone yard while in the lineup, only as a pinch-hitter. Hughes couldn't keep the account square; he surrendered a solo homer to Granderson to lead off the inning and a two-run shot to Gary Sheffield following a Polanco double and another wild pitch. Catcher Chris Stewart, the fourth backstop to whom Hughes has thrown this year, was brutal behind the plate, and no Chad Moeller with the stick either; if the Yanks are going to be without Posada for awhile, they at least need defensively sound work back there. Half a dozen guys at the bus station could have done a better job than he did in his Yankee debut. Today's New York Times writeup notes that he and Hughes weren't on the same page:
If Hughes ever doubted that, he does not now. Hughes explained how he had no command of his fastball, so he resorted to throwing breaking balls. He also said that he and catcher Chris Stewart, who made his debut as a Yankee, had communication problems. Hughes called that “inexcusable,” a word that could define his entire outing.
When they make you pine for the halcyon days of the Moleman...

Granderson figured in the coup de grâce for Hughes the next inning, lashing a two-out double to deep left center field -- a ball Damon might have flagged down but Hideki Matsui could not -- and then scored on a Polanco single. That chased Hughes, whose ugly line for the night tallied 3.1 innings, 8 hits, 6 runs, 3 walks, 2 K's, his third disaster start out of four. Suddenly, he's in jeopardy of losing his rotation spot, and rightly so; he looks as through he needs a stint in Scranton to iron things out. Anyway, he departed to a smattering of boos -- yes, the wormy Yankee crowd has already turned on him -- in favor of another rookie, Ross Ohlendorf. We had little optimism upon seeing the Dorf, who had yielded eight runs n his last four appearances, but he held the Tigers to one hit and one walk while striking out five over 3.1 innings.

Not that the Yanks could do much about it. Though Rogers struggled with the strike zone, walking the bases loaded with two outs in the third, the Yankees just couldn't come up with the big hit when they need to. Reliever Denny Bautista walked the bases loaded as well in the eighth, then plunked Derek Jeter to force in a run, but sidearmer Clay Rapada needed only two pitches to get Bobby Abreu to bounce into an inning-ending force play.

The Yankees had their chances in the ninth as well. Facing Todd Jones, whose best days are behind him, they netted a quick run on a Matsui walk, a wild pitch, and a Jason Giambi single, bringing the tying run to the plate with no outs as the sparse remainder of the crowd came alive. Alas, perhaps determined to round off the night's Left On Base total at an unlucky 13, the Yanks went gently into that not-so-good night, making the final three outs in a five-pitch span. Shelley Duncan, who'd doubled and drawn three walks in what was otherwise a good demonstration of his lefty-mashing skillz, hit into a fielder's choice on Jones' first pitch, and Morgan Ensberg, who figures to be the regular at third base while A-Rod is on the DL, grounded out on the first pitch as well. Cano went down 1-2-3 like he had a plane to catch, and that was that. Yuck.

Update: Could it be that Hughes can't stand the glare of the spotlight? According to a New York Post article, Hughes has difficulty seeing at night:
Joe Girardi revealed after the Tigers' 6-4 victory over the Yankees that Hughes has some difficulty seeing at night, especially at Yankee Stadium. Hughes and GM Brian Cashman both confirmed the problem, but no one was quick with a remedy.

"At night things get blurry," Hughes said.

..."His night vision isn't great," Girardi said. "It is something we will have to talk about."

Hughes said he has been checked several times and that he has "perfect vision." He said his troubles come from the glare of particularly strong lights at night, which he finds problematic at Yankee Stadium. He said there has been some talk in the past of outfitting him with neon glasses to counteract the glare.
I'm not buying this rather poorly-timed excuse. Hughes' ERA at night for his limited big-league career is 4.94 in 71 innings, whereas in the day it's 7.23 in 23.2 innings. Night vision problems didn't seem to bother him when he made that no-hit bid against Texas last year, nor in his first outing of the year against the Blue Jays, his best start of this young season. Hell, it was still daylight when he got the tar wailed out of him by Granderrson and Sheffield.

I hate to sound like a hardass, but for this to suddenly be the explanation for Hughes' problems doesn't ring true, and even if it is true, it reflects poorly on the pitcher and the team for going even this long without taking the appropriate steps without this becoming a spectacle. Lame, lame, lame.

Update 2: the Moleman Returneth! Laments Peter Abraham, "A team with a $209 million payroll praying that nobody claims Chad Moeller. Amazing."

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Saturday, April 26, 2008



In Friday's XM Radio appearance on the Rotowire Fantasy Sports Hour, host Chris Liss and I discussed my "Big Lugs and Small Sample Sizes" piece from earlier in the week. Chris threw me for a loop with the entry of Carlos Delgado into the discussion; as noted in this week's Hit List, I'm pretty down on him:
The Skinny: Though he's snapped a 1-for-28 skid, Carlos Delgado has fallen below the Mendoza Line; he's hitting just .198/.290/.272 with the lowest VORP on the team and the fourth lowest of any first baseman with at least 60 PA. Sadly, this isn't a new problem for Delgado. He was in the bottom third among NL first basemen last year, and it's increasingly likely that his days as a middle-of-the-lineup threat may be at an end.
Chris and I more or less disagreed over whether Delgado was able to salvage his 2007 season. His splits show that he hit a lousy .242/.305/.435 in the first half, albeit with 14 homers and 49 RBI, whereas in the second half, when not missing three weeks due to injuries, he hit .285/.375/.469 with 10 homers and 38 RBI -- more respectable, but lacking his usual thump (.279/.385/.545 career).

Anyway, you can hear our discussion at Rotowire's Podcast archive or download directly here.

• • •

A few excerpts from yesterday's BP chat:
Tommy (OPS,FL): Back when the Rays were shopping Delmon Young there appeared to be some talk of Young for Cliff Lee, but nothing came of it. Knowing what the Rays got in return and Lee's hot start which deal would have been better for the Rays?

JJ: Long-term, I'd still take Matt Garza over Cliff Lee, and it wouldn't cost me a moment of sleep.

Rany Jazayerli has a great Unfiltered post about Lee's hot start, a post that includes a note form Joe Sheehan regarding the quality of competition Lee has faced: "A’s twice, Twins, Royals. Ninth, 13th and 14th in the AL in EqA." Right now Lee is living off a .151 BABIP, and that's not going to last forever by any stretch of the imagination. Furthermore, sooner or later he's going to have to face some competent lineups, and when he does, you can expect his ERA to get fluffed up. The bottom line is that I don't expect him to be a significantly better pitcher than the mid-rotation inning eater who surprised us with his bellyflop last year.

Fred (Houston): Is Sheffield headed for the Hall of Very Good? It doesn't seem like he's made many friends in the media over the years.

JJ: Are you kidding? If there's been one consistent facet of Sheffield's career, its that he'll talk to the media and is almost guaranteed to say something that will stir the pot and give the writer some high profile attention. Writers bash Barry Bonds for not cooperating. They don't bash Gary Sheffield for speaking his mind, however ill-considered his words may sometimes be.

From a JAWS standpoint, Sheffield came into the year at 117.2 WARP career, 63.5 peak, 90.4 JAWS, with the average HOF right fielder at 125.0/68.7/96.8. I think he'll be a close call, because right now its not at all clear he can stay healthy enough to pass 500 homers (he's at 481), and there will be some who will hold his involvement in BALCO against him.

tommybones (new york): Is there a point in a borderline HOF career where the player is better off retiring than padding counting stats at the expense of pct. stats and reputation? I'm looking at Mike Mussina right now.

JJ: Sheffield seems to be a better answer to this than the Moose, whose numbers are well over the JAWS threshold (117.8/64.3/91.1 compared to 105.7/67.5/86.6 for the average HOF P) even if the perception lags behind. To me, I think we've seen enough great pitchers dragged off the mound kicking and screaming, having milked every last ounce of their ability for anyone's perceptions to be damaged by those final, futile days.

Which reminds me, for some reason, of one of the classiest thing I ever saw on a diamond. When Orel Hershiser tried to eke one last year out of his career with the Dodgers, he got knocked around pretty consistently, culminating in an eight-run, 1.2-inning bombing. Rather than boo him, the Dodger Stadium crowd picked up on the fact that the end of the line had arrived for Hershiser, and gave him an incredible standing ovation.

I think I have something in my eye...

bam022 (Chicago): Can you think of any analogue to Justin Upton's performance right now. A-Rod was similarly dominant at age 20, but other than him, does this have any parallel?

JJ: Tony Conigliaro hit 24 homers and .290/.354/.530 for the 1964 Red Sox as a 19 year old, which is pretty much the gold standard for teenage success for a hitter. Mel Ott (.322/.397/.524, 16 HR) also had a great Age 19 season. Those two would be a good start.

Homers aren't the only way to look at this obviously, but rather than worry about the number of plate appearances, I just did a quick list of the best single season hitter performances ranked by homers at B-Ref [here].
After enduring a half-hour delay at the start due to technical difficulties, I think I answered about 30 questions. I still had a lot of JAWS-related questions left over, enough to build a Hit and Run column around sometime soon. Anyway, it was lot of fun, as always, to spend a couple hours talking baseball with BP's readers.

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Friday, April 25, 2008


Bullets for a Busy Day

Busy day:

• A Prospectus Hit List to go with Wednesday's Hit and Run piece on struggling rotations, with special focus on the current Tigers and the historically awful Rangers, with an aside about the Yankees' failure to get innings from their starting five (5.07 per start).

• a spot on the Rotowire Fantasy Sports Hour with Chris Liss, XM 144 at 2:25 PM Eastern

• a 3 PM Eastern chat at Baseball Prospectus. Drop by and submit a question if you care to.

• Meanwhile, one article to recommend, today's freebie at BP. In it, Nate Silver aims a bullet at Bill James' recent, baseless allegations that steroid usage played a part in the development of Gary Gaetti and Kirby Puckett and their subsequent success in helping the Twins to a pair of unlikely world championships. James' comments come in his latest book The Bill James Gold Mine 2008, and as offhanded as they may have been intended, the fact that someone with his stature would stoop to the realm of the fingerpointers is a dark, dark day for baseball and for those of us who hold his legacy dear. I'd already decided I was in no hurry to buy the Gold Mine -- Steven Goldman bought one while we were on our promotional tour and we chewed on some of its rather pedestrian offerings -- and that sealed the deal.

• Drawing mention in Silver's piece is David Ortiz, as a victim of the old eyeball test for steroid stoppage, a statement that's a reliable litmus test to determine whether the person you're talking baseball with is a blithering idiot. Big Papi should have been part of my "Big Lugs and Small Sample Sizes" entry, now that I think about it. Ortiz started the season 3-for-43 since then has hit a considerably more robust .298/.377/.532, with 14 hits in his list 11 games. It's a coincidence that the turnaround almost exactly coincides with the excavation of a an Ortiz jersey buried in the bowels of the new Yankee Stadium. Probably.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Big Lugs and Small Sample Sizes

Watching Tuesday night's Yankees-White Sox game in an attempt to keep my mind off the Pennyslvania Democractic primary results, I saw Jason Giambi homer to left field in the second inning. Giambi came into the game hitting .109/.288/.283 in 46 at-bats, and more ominously, just .174/.323/.366 in 213 at-bats going back to last May 1. In the wake of Frank Thomas' unceremonious release from the Blue Jays, Steven Goldman floated the idea in today's New York Sun that it may be time for the Yankees to cut ties with the 37-year-old 1B/DH, who's in the final year of his seven-year, $120 million deal. The Blue Jays cut Thomas while owing him $8 million, but Giambi's contract is an even bigger pill to swallow; he's owed $21 million for this year plus a $5 million buyout for next year.

I'm not buying it, at least not just yet. It's unlikely the Yanks can find a trade partner to take Giambi off their hands even if they pay virtually every red cent of his deal AND convince Giambi to waive his no-trade clause. His results last year were skewed by the plantar fascitis woes which cost him two months and limited his availability; thus far this season there's no reason to believe he's in anything but a slump, as opposed to dealing with yet another injury. The Yanks aren't so desperate for a roster spot that it makes sense to cut him just for the sake of cutting him. Now, if Jorge Posada were to get to the point where he could hit but couldn't catch, I could understand, because his bat has far more life in it than does Giambi's. But Posada is back behind the plate tonight, so his arrow is at least momentarily moving in the other direction.

There may be something to the fact that Giambi homered to left; on the YES telecast, Michael Kay and Paul O'Neill spent a bit of time talking about his work with Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long and how he needed to return to going the other way. It's no secret that since coming to the Yankees, and particularly since 2003, Giambi has gotten away from his ability to hit to the opposite field; that's what the infield shift and his declining batting averages are all about. According to the data at's Play Index, the percentage of Giambi's homers that go to left field or left center is less than half of what it was during his Oakland heyday:
            LHR   Tot   Pct
Career 46 367 12.5

Oak (95-00) 28 187 15.0
NYY (01-08) 18 180 10.0

2001-2003 13 94 13.9
Since 2004 5 86 5.8
Obviously, the asymmetry of Yankee Stadium and the way it favors lefties (318-399-408-385-314) has something to do with that change; by comparison, the Oakland Coliseum was a more symmetrical 330-362-400-362-330. But as the last breakdown shows, this is something that's gotten more pronounced during his Yankee tenure, suggesting that it's more a function of choice or habit to focus on puling the ball to right field, than anything else. If he can't break out of that cycle -- and it's not just homers; O'Neill was incredulous that Giambi doesn't just take his pokes to the left side of the infield -- his career will continue its downward spiral. For the sake of the 2008 Yankees, here's hoping tonight's homer plants the seed for what he needs to do.

Update: good stuff at Replacement Level Yankees Blog on Giambi's lousy batting average on balls in play.

• • •

Regarding Thomas, Joe Sheehan appropriately savaged the move over at Baseball Prospectus:
So, as you read the coverage of the Jays’ decision to release Thomas yesterday, on the heels of their decision last week to reduce his playing time, remember that the “slow start” being cited as justification isn’t a slow start at all. It’s a slump that lasted all of 10 games, beginning April 9 against the A’s. Thomas was hitting .240/.296/.640 a week into the 2008 season, which is the kind of awkward line you get when you have 27 plate appearances, but it's nonetheless productive. In the subsequent nine games, Thomas was awful: 4-for-35 with no extra-base hits and 10 walks.

There were any number of ways the Blue Jays could have handled this. They could have given Thomas a day or two off, diddled with his spot in the lineup, put him into a platoon with Matt Stairs for a week or two, kept everything quiet and private. No, the Blue Jays had to turn it into a project, telling Thomas that he would be playing less, which invited Thomas to question their motivations. After all, Thomas is a bit more than 300 plate appearances shy of vesting his 2010 option for $10 million, and has already lost one contract to the invocation of a “diminished skills” clause. He would, justifiably, see this as an attempt to take money out of his pocket rather than a baseball decision.

Whether motivated by baseball or money, the Jays released their DH and #5 hitter based on a 10-game slump. Thomas was unquestionably awful over the last two weeks. If only there were evidence of him emerging from similar early-season stretches to be productive over the course of a season. It’s not like he hit .097/.243/.129 in a stretch of 37 PA last April, then went on to hit .285/.382/.500 afterwards. No, wait, that happened. Of course, that’s another small sample size. It’d be something else if, in 72 PA, he hit .154/.236/.323. That would be meaningful. He could never come back from that and hit .289/.403/.575 the rest of the way. What? He did that in 2006? Boy, I don’t know. Keep reading things like this, and you’d think that stretches of ineffectiveness weren’t all that meaningful when put up against Thomas’ career. But that would mean the Blue Jays had made a bad baseball decision, and that doesn’t seem…. No, wait.

It would be one thing if the Blue Jays were so larded with talent that they had to create space for it, and this was the only way to do so. On Saturday, the Blue Jays DH’d Matt Stairs, batted Rod Barajas sixth, and played Joe Inglett in left field. On Sunday, their DH was Barajas, who batted fifth; their left fielder was Marco Scutaro. I give you Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi:
I don't know that we have the luxury of waiting two to three months for somebody to kick in because we can't let this league or this division get away from us.
Really, now. Well, let me help you along with that, J.P. Rod Barajas is 32 and has a career OBP of .288. I seriously doubt it’s all going to “kick in” for him. Marco Scutaro is 32 and a utility infielder. Not playing him in left field is one good idea if you want to help your club's offense. Joe Inglett is 30 and might be a serviceable replacement for Scutaro, but is also not suitable for the outfield. These are all the guys who Frank Thomas is too done to play ahead of, based on 10 bad games.
Did I say savaged? There are days I read Joe as a fan rather than a colleague; like editor Christina Kahrl, I eagerly awaited seeing pounce on this petty little decision. Like a lion eating a rabbit (a particularly clueless one so as to better resemble the Toronto GM) -- "disembowled" would have been more appropriate. "Eviscerated" maybe. Classic Sheehan stuff.

• • •

Meanwhile, out in Milwaukee, there's been much made of Prince Fielder's decision to go vegetarian, not in an effort to slim down his bulky 260+ pound frame but for ethical reasons. Fielder started the season in a slump, and came into last Thursday's game hitting .224/.350/.286, without a single homer; he bashed 50 last year. By that point, even Brewers fans were begging Prince to go back to carnivory, and the national media was making a fuss. Luckily, Brewers' beat reporter Anthony Widtrado showed a good grasp of the situation with his piece the day before:
The national media, ESPN in particular, has been all over the topic of Prince Fielder not having any home runs in 45 at-bats. Oof course, people are blaming his vegetarian diet because it's an easy topic of conversation and makes Prince an easy target after his 50-HR season.

PTI and Around the Horn both had Fielder as subjects, and it amazes me that some people are still thinking that his diet is a way to lose weight and that it is contributing to his lack of home runs. I'm sure the Cardinals don't feel that way since they completely pitched around the slugger last night.

...Prince is struggling. Period. He isn't driving the ball because he is not squaring it up on the meat of the bat with any consistency. He's proven to be a good, patient hitter. His groove will probably come. The guy hit the ball 8 miles last season, so a drop in power won't mean he can't hit the ball over the fence. It'll just mean that instead of hitting balls off the scoreboard, he'll hit them into the bullpen.

Maybe, if there is a drop in power, and I'm not saying there is because I don't think that's the case, it would affect the balls that get to the warning track. But in reality, how many home runs of Prince's do we remember scraping the back of the wall? Not many.

He plays for a professional baseball franchise, and that franchise has enough money to hire qualified nutritionists to help Prince and all the players with what their bodies need to perform.
Fielder did homer last Thursday, just in time for me to note it in the Hit List, and he's now up to .250/.386/.368. His diet will continue to draw more scrutiny than merited, and he may not top last year's monster season, but we should at least wait for a larger sample size before trying to connect the dots between his lack of cheeseburgers and his lack of homers.

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Monday, April 21, 2008


The Stadium Within

With Yankee Stadium II in its final year, the nostalgia is already getting a bit thick, as everybody and their grandmother pens their ode not only to the House that Ruth Built, but to its shabby cousin in Queens, also in its final season. Luckily, some of the stuff is pretty good. The New York Times has a quartet of pieces from its regular columnists that have apparently been up since March 30, but I've only just discovered them. Here's William Rhoden:
Every morning, I look out my bedroom window at two Yankee Stadiums: the old one to my right, the new one to my left. What an awesome sight: looking across the river at the Yankees’ past, present and future. The new stadium is like that freshly purchased baseball glove that requires years of line drives and ground balls to be sufficiently broken in. The old stadium bursts at the seams with collective experiences.
I love that comparison of a glove, perhaps the ballplayer's most personal item, with a stadium. Both end up showing their wear over time, and become cherished less for what they are, for their ability to still do the job, than for what they've represented in the life of a user. Having retired my ancient ball glove last year, one I've had since about 1980 in favor of a new one that I'm still getting comfortable in, I can relate. And it's not only with Yankee Stadium, a ballpark I've visited well over 100 times and have come to love, warts and all. Last weekend, showing my brother-in-law around the dump that is Shea Stadium for the first time, I was reminded of the fact that even the lousiest ballparks have a certain soul to them. Seriously, who even among the most ardent Mets fans doesn't loathe certain facets of that stadium, the sound of La Guardia's air traffic overhead, the appallingly poorly considered vista of parking lot (now thankfully blocked by the new stadium), the upper-level seats so removed from the field, hell and gone from any shot at snagging a foul ball and askew at angles ridiculous for watching a game? Fan of the Mets or not, if you've ever been to Shea, you're allowed to commiserate with the millions of others who've shared that experience.

Ballparks, even da woist of dem, bring people from all walks of life together to create communities, vast civic and regional networks of like-mined fans, with satellites spread all over the country and even the world. Particularly in an age when we're becoming more and more fragmented, less able to connect on a mass scale, ballparks are the practically the last arenas to help us to form shared memories, and in doing so, even the diviest of dives manage to transcend their own crapulence. Forget the mystique and aura of Yankee Stadium for a moment and think of the miracles that happened at Shea in 1969 and 1986, the unlikelihood of their occurrence and the way they shocked the baseball world, and tell me there won't be something lost when that park is gone, memories that people pine for in the same manner they pine for the bygone days of Ebbetts Field and the Polo Grounds.

• • •

From the same Times series, here's George Vescey:
Somehow or other, my other enduring memory is an empty Yankee Stadium on the day of Martin Luther King’s funeral in 1968, not a soul in the house. My friend Jim Bouton felt the need to throw that day, so he pitched off the mound, and I squatted where Berra and Dickey had squatted, using a mitt borrowed from Coach Jim Hegan’s locker. (Hegan used a falsie to protect his hand, but I told Bouton I didn’t need the extra armor.) We dressed in the main clubhouse and used the players’ sauna. The Stadium was stone silent.

After decades of working at the Stadium, the original or the instantly antiquated rebuilt version, I try to see the awe through other people’s eyes — Tony Gwynn taking videos before the 1998 Series, rookies’ eyes widening, fans on a pilgrimage. I think of it as a hard place, with Steinbrenner meanness squashing the humanity in guards, ushers, executives. But I remember “Good friends we had/good friends we lost/Along the way,” as Bob Marley put it — Steve Hamilton, Bill Robinson, Bob Fishel, Michael Burke, some of the finest people I’ve ever known. I think about Mantle’s shot off Barney Schultz in the 1964 Series. And Bob Sheppard’s dignity. In the last generation, an old Brooklyn fan could feel immense respect for Joe Torre’s team.
How appropriate to mention Burke, the man who got the city to pay for Yankee Stadium II's refurbishments in exchange for the team not bolting for the Meadowlands à la the football Giants. Every time I see Michael Burke's name, I think of Baseball Think Factory's tireless linkmeister, Darren Viola, a/k/a Repoz, who always seems to work anecdotes about the iconoclastic pre-Steinbrenner Yankees president into his introductions at BTF. And that in turn sends me to Repoz's blotto account of an early-70s doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, published at The Baseball Analysts a few years back. Repoz's amalgam of bad booze, obscure musical references and futility infielders is an unforgettable one, to say the least.

• • •

On the subject of futility infielders, you'd be hard-pressed to come up one more futile than Duane Kuiper, a man who hit just one homer in 3754 plate appearances between 1974 and 1985. Kuiper was futile enough to merit mention in this site's original statement of purpose, but I never in my wildest dreams would have claimed him as a favorite. Joe Posnanski, on the other hand...:
People always seem to think that I love Kuiper ironically, or that I’m somehow being a wise guy about this whole thing, but in the words of that noted philosopher Mike Gundy, that ain’t true. I loved Duane Kuiper when I was 10. And I love him now. He has always represented something important to me, something I did not really understand when I was young. Duane Kuiper was the player who brought the game closer. He was the one who said that you don’t have to be supremely gifted and impossibly strong and touched by God in order to get where you want to go. You can also dive for every ground ball. If there’s one lesson I could pass on to my daughters, it would be that lesson. And also that you should not throw your ice cream cone just because you decided today that you don’t like vanilla.

My first memory of Duane Kuiper is not a memory of him at all; it’s a memory of a Little League game where the coach put me at second base for the first time. I was 9 then, I guess, and up that that point I had always played third base, always. I couldn’t really tell you why I always played third — maybe it was my father’s appreciation of Brooks Robinson — but I had gotten used to the position, and my entire view of the field was a third base view. I WAS a third baseman. I was not prepared to move to second base. It confused me. Then my coach said, “You can be just like Duane Kuiper.” In my memory, this appeased me. Duane Kuiper. I had about 28 of his baseball cards.

...When I got older and found that there was a whole other world outside of Cleveland, I started to appreciate that perhaps Duane wasn’t a good ballplayer. It’s funny … I had never really thought about it. I guess I felt about Duane the way I felt about nearsightedness, male pattern baldness and my Uncle Lonka who played the accordion at weddings and bar mitzvahs — I inherited him. I had never really thought to evaluate him. That almost seemed beside the point. He was the second baseman I wanted to be. He was the player who represented what life could become if you wanted it enough. He was the guy who every game made one diving play to send a little kid home with a memory.

Now, of course, I’m well aware that Duane Kuiper — because he hit only one home run in his career, because he was such an unsuccessful baserunner, because he is a funny, gifted and self-effacing announcer — has become a symbol, sort of a Joe Shlabotnik of the disco era, I appreciate that. But that’s not why I love the guy. Read that quote above one more time. When I was a little kid playing baseball in the backyard with my old friend Michael Fainer, we used to pretend to play World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds. We both wanted to the be the Indians, of course, being true Cleveland kids, but someone had to be the other team, someone had to be Pete Rose and Johnny Bench and Tony Perez and Don Gullett and, especially, Joe Morgan.
Now that I can relate to. Great stuff.

I've got another note on the futilitymen of yore, but as it involved an archaeological dig through some storage boxes stacked five deep, it's going to have to wait until later this week...

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Sunday, April 20, 2008



This week's Hit List was composed amid a hangover of sorts brought on by Wednesday night's Yankees-Red Sox match, an interminable 15-9 win for the Yanks that lasted four hours and eight minute. Four-hour affairs aren't really my bag any more -- I routinely avoid Yankees-Orioles games like telemarketers phoning at dinner time -- and it's not like a Yanks-Sox matchup needs anything to ratchet up the tension any further. Normally, one consumes beer at a ballgame to enhance the enjoyment, but this one required drinks just to tolerate.

The Yanks jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, as Bobby Abreu hit a two-run homer to right field and Alex Rodriguez immediately followed with a towering solo shot to left, his 522nd of his career, passing Ted Williams and Willie McCovey to move into 15th place on the all-time list. Both shots came at the expense of Clay Buchholz, a highly-touted rookie who threw a no-hitter last September and who wound up battling Joba Chamberlain for the top pitching spot on prospect lists.

Buchholz didn't have it on Wednesday, but neither did Chien-Ming Wang, who had two-hit the Sox the previous Friday night. Having already surrendered a first-inning run courtesy of a Manny Ramirez double, Wang couldn't hold the lead, as the Sox added runs in the second and fourth innings to tie the score at three apiece.

It was then that things got crazy. The Yankees broke the tie in the bottom of the fourth via a double by third-string catcher Chad Moeller, recalled from Dunder Mifflin a couple days prior after backup backstop Jose Molina tweaked his hamstring. A nine-year vet with a career line of .224/.284/.346, Moeller is the kind of generic backup catcher you can pick up at the service station just off the interstate. His hit was hard won, the result of an impressive eight-pitch at-bat against Buchholz, and it opened the floodgates. "The Moleman" -- my friend Nick's instant Simpsons-themed nickname for the new catcher -- would go on to collect two more hits and a walk on the night. Meanwhile, the Yankees scored three more runs before the inning was out, two on a Derek Jeter single which chased the rookie hurler and a third on a wild pitch by reliever Julian Tavarez.

Wang could do nothing to hold the lead. He fell behind 3-0 on leadoff hitter Dustin Pedroia before allowing a double, and then surrendered four straight singles which cut the score to 7-6 and spelled his early exit. Ross Ohlendorf, a rookie reliever obtained in the Randy Johnson trade last year, came on in relief and made an instant impression by striking out Jason Varitek, but he yielded an RBI single to Sean Casey, the last of seven runs charged to Wang's room. Ohlendorf found further trouble by walking Jacoby Ellsbury after another strikeout, then surrendering a two-run single to Pedroia -- his second hit of the inning -- to run the score to 9-7 Boston.

Undeterred, the Bronx Bombers roared back with four more runs in the bottom of the fifth, the first on a Jorge Posada double, the second on a Robinson Cano single, and the last two on a broken play. With the bases loaded, Melky Cabrera grounded to Pedroia at second. He flipped to Julio Lugo for the force, but Lugo's throw got away from Casey at first, and two runs scored. The outburst completed a stretch where 14 runs scored in the span of eight outs, as the game blew past the two-hour mark and threatened to reach three before the seventh-inning stretch. According to the wire service summaries, the bottom of the fourth lasted 23 minutes, the top of the fifth another 31. Had the Yankees not taken the lead in the bottom of that fram, I might have chewed a limb off to get out of the ballpark.

The Yankees' LaTroy Hawkins and the Red Sox's David Aardsma -- the nitwit who displaced Hank Aaron atop the game's all-time alphabetical register -- brought some semblance of order to the game, as the next three half-innings went by without even the threat of a run. Billy Traber, who got Ortiz to pop out on his only pitch of the game, and a much slimmer, shaggier Brian Bruney than I remember, pieced together the top of the eighth inning. The Yanks more or less put the game out of reach in the bottom of the inning, beating up Mike Timlin, now 42 and with his best days blessedly behind him, for four more runs. Three doubles by A-Rod, Posada, and Jason Giambi provided the scaffolding for the rally.

It also served as enough of a cushion to give Mariano Rivera the night off. Bruney made things a bit interesting by allowing two of the first three hitters to reach base, but he dispatched the Sox before Ortiz and Ramirez could get one last lick.

• • •

Starting pitching has been the Yankees' weakest link thus far; as I noted in the Hit List, the team's Fair Run Average (their runs allowed per nine innings, adjusted to divide the responsibility for inherited runners between starters and relievers based on the base-out situation) ranked just 11th in the league, and youngsters Philip Hughes and Ian Kennedy had combined for an 8.87 ERA. Since then, the two pitchers have both fumbled another start against the O's (and no, I couldn't really bear to watch), and the Yankee rotation's FRA has fallen to 13th out of 14 AL teams. Hughes and Kennedy aren't even averaging four innings per start combined (27.1 innings in seven starts), and as a team the Yanks have now fallen below 5.0 innings per start (94.1 innings in 19 starts). The bullpen has been one of the game's best; they rank second in the AL in Reliever Expected Wins Added (WXRL) but their combined 70.1 innings leads the majors. Ohlendorf (14.1 innings) actually has thrown more innings than Kennedy. If that pace continues, it will make Yankee fans pine for the days when Joe Torre tried to pitch Scott Proctor's arm off.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Rays of Hope

Back when I was making the rounds to promote Baseball Prospectus 2008, I invariably spent some amount of time discussing our PECOTA projection that calls for the Tampa Bay Rays to win 88 games. Mind you, this is a club that hasn't topped 70 wins in any of its 10 seasons to date, one that set records in a few key BP-branded metrics regarding the futility of their bullpen and their defense. While they have six out of the top 40 prospects on this year's Top 100 Prospects list, none of them were in the lineup when the season opened.

PECOTA sees the Rays scoring about the same number of runs, with a drastic reduction in runs allowed thanks to improved pitching and defense. that's all well and good, particularly given the arrival of pitcher Matt Garza to give the team a good third starter and third baseman Evan Longoria, a potential rookie of the Year candidate who was promoted from Triple-A over the weekeend. Nonetheless, the projection sparked some skepticism in me, and I decided to peek under the hood to see if I could pin down what it was that was bothering me. Suffice it to say that I found it:
Nonetheless, despite all of these good things, there are reasons to be skeptical about that Rays' projection. Perhaps the biggest -- beyond the fact that [Scott] Kazmir has yet to throw a pitch this year, and [Matt] Garza has been sidelined after just two starts -- has to do with the quality of defense behind that staff. Last year's Devil Rays allowed a major league-worst 944 runs thanks to one of the most inept defenses this side of the Bad News Bears. Their .662 Defensive Efficiency rate is the worst full-season rate in our database. (Note that this is the "1 - BABIP" version of Defensive Efficiency, which doesn't include Reached on Error totals). Taking into account their pitcher-friendly park, they had a Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of -5.64 last year, meaning they were nearly six percent worse than the league average at converting balls in play into outs.

...Cumulatively, the position players were an astounding 119 runs below average, about 15 runs to the bad apiece. Among the regulars, only [Carlos] Pena was above average, and every position save for catcher was in double-digit negatives, which in each case means that awful defense at those positions cost the team more than one win apiece. [Brendan] Harris and [B.J.] Upton "contributed" to the problem at multiple positions, though the latter's move from second base to center field did stop a bit of the bleeding in the outfield.

The Rays have taken steps to improve their defense this season, particularly on the left side of the infield. Shortstop Jason Bartlett, acquired from the Twins in the Young/Garza deal, was 12 runs above average last year, while Longoria's performance at the hot corner was six runs above average between Double-A and Triple-A. Couple that with some improvement from the developing youngsters and a bit of regression to the mean, and expectations for the defensive performance of the new lineup doesn't look too bad...

A couple of months back, Nate [Silver] noted that the Rays' pitchers' PECOTAs improved considerably -- by 30 to 50 points of ERA -- in the light of this sunny defensive forecast. Still, it's worth questioning the fundamental assumption of how much the new alignment will improve its results on balls in play. To examine that, I took every team's depth chart-derived pitching statistics and calculated their expected Batting Averages in Balls in Play using the formula (H - HR)/(2.89 * IP + H - HR - SO), which gets the individual pitchers within 1-2 points of their PECOTA BABIPs without the messy work of figuring out how many batters each pitcher is estimated to face per our depth charts, and centers the major league average at .2994, within a point of last year's .3002. Again using Defensive Efficiency as 1 - BABIP, here are the 2008 figures as compared to the 2007 ones:
Team  2008   2007   change
NYN .711 .707 .004
TBA .708 .662 .046
SLN .707 .700 .007
WAS .706 .706 .000
LAN .706 .691 .015
SFN .706 .699 .007
CHN .705 .712 -.007
OAK .704 .698 .006
DET .704 .699 .005
PHI .703 .691 .012
CIN .702 .682 .020
NYA .702 .696 .006
SDN .701 .706 -.005
ATL .701 .703 -.002
ARI .699 .700 -.001
BOS .699 .712 -.013
MIL .699 .684 .015
TOR .699 .714 -.015
CLE .699 .693 .006
SEA .698 .678 .020
HOU .697 .692 .005
CHA .697 .689 .008
PIT .696 .676 .020
MIN .694 .694 .000
KCA .694 .689 .005
TEX .692 .691 .001
BAL .692 .691 .001
FLO .692 .669 .023
ANA .691 .688 .003
COL .691 .703 -.012
If you're ready to call "bull(durham)" on this forecast, I can't say I blame you, because the combination of PECOTA and our best estimates for playing time show the Rays vaulting from a historical worst to the majors' second best. Meanwhile, the Red Sox and Rockies, the two teams who finished atop the PADE standings and were second and eighth, respectively, in the rankings for unadjusted Defensive Efficiency, they're expected to decline to be about average (in Boston's case) and the worst in the majors (in Colorado's case). This despite the two teams turning over at most one lineup spot apiece, the Rockies trading in a freakishly good season from Kaz Matsui (+20 FRAA) for rookie Jayson Nix (forecast for +9 FRAA), the Sox going from a similarly freakish season from Coco Crisp (+29 FRAA) to a job share between Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury (forecast for about +5 based on the division of playing time). Now sure, we should expect some regression to the mean at either extreme of the Defensive Efficienty rankings, but this is ridiculous.
Ok, that's a pretty liberal excerpt, but you can read the whole thing for free at BP. I'll be very interested to see if Nate addresses this in the near future. I try to learn as much about PECOTA as possible so that I can speak fluently about it when I do radio or promo events, but I wonder if there's something I missed in my reverse engineering here.

• • •

Elsewhere, I spent more time this past weekend attuned to the Mets-Brewers series than the Yankees-Red Sox one as I played host to my two Milwaukee-native brothers-in-law, and their respective significant others as they came to New York. One of them, Adam, went to Friday night's tilt with a friend, where he saw the Brewers fall to Mets 4-2; what was interesting about that game was the storybook plotline involving Mets starter Nelson Figureroa, a 33-year-old journeyman who journeyed as far as Mexico and Taiwan to pitch professionally -- this New York Observer article covers his odyssey -- before finally enjoying a storybook outing in front of a hometown crowd.

With the other brother-in-law, Aaron, arriving in town the next day, we TiVoed Saturday's contest, a marquee matchup pitting Ben Sheets, who hadn't given up a run in his first two starts, against Johan Santana, making his Shea Stadium debut. Sheets was shaky in the early going, giving up two runs in the first before settling down to retire 18 straight hitters. Meanwhile, the Brewers chipped away at Santana and touched him for five runs on the strength of homers by Bill Hall, Rickie Weeks and Gabe Kapler, thus carrying the day.

On Sunday, Aaron and I and our wives went to Shea to see the series finale, which featured Jeff Suppan and Oliver Perez on the hill in a rematch of the 2006 NLCS Game Seven. The weather was way too cold for our under-dressed tastes, and the pace of play too slow; with tickets in hand for a Sunday night Broadway show, we left after six innings, just shy of the three-hour mark. By that point the Brewers had gone up 2-0, fallen behind 6-2, and roared back to take an 8-6 lead thanks to a lackluster performance by Perez, who surrendered six runs in 4.1 frames before departing. Aided by inning-ending double-plays in five consecutive innings, the Brewers held on to win the game 9-7, thus taking the series. For those of us who remember back to last year when the wind was taken out of the Brewers' sails at the exact moment when they arrived in town -- they were 24-10 when arriving in New York on May 11 but just 59-69 the rest of the way -- we can hope that this year, things will turn out differently.

• • •

Wow. Thanks, Alex.

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Friday, April 11, 2008


Friday Doubleheader

Bleary-eyed but satisfied, I've got a two-fer today in the form of my first New York Sun piece of the year, and the first regular-season Hit List (both of which are free as opposed to subscriber-only). The Sun piece is about the absurd glut of young talent in the NL West, which figures to be a tight race, if not as tight as last year's:
In a season of great divisional and wild-card races, last year's NL West scramble may have been the best of the bunch. The Dodgers, Padres, and Diamondbacks all spent at least six weeks in first place, and by the end, just one full game separated the top three teams in the standings after the Rockies beat the Padres in a Game 163 playoff to decide the wild-card. The West looks similarly wild this year, as Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA projection system forecasts the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies to finish with 87, 87, and 82 wins, respectively, the tightest three-team cluster in any division. As with last year, the outcome may well rest on the shoulders of young, homegrown talent. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies have earned reputations as three of the game's top player development machines, offering a pipeline of top prospects to combat the ever-rising cost of signing free agents - especially important for the small-market Rockies and Diamondbacks. All three are poised to augment their lineups and pitching staffs with even more prized prospects as the year goes on.

Hardly anyone predicted the Rockies could win the NL pennant last year, and nobody foresaw their season-ending 14–1 dash. However, BP prospect guru Kevin Goldstein ranked the Rockies' minor-league system the game's second-best at the outset of the season, noting their ability to provide instant help in the form of 22-year-old shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who hit .291 AVG/.359 OBP/.479 SLG with 24 home runs while anchoring the league's best defense. The system also produced a pair of hard-throwing hurlers -— 23-year-old right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and 21-year-old lefty Franklin Morales -- who patched a rotation wracked by injuries in time for their amazing stretch run. Meanwhile, 24-year-old Manny Corpas, a second-year reliever, took over the closer role from Brian Fuentes by midyear, saving 19 games after July 6.

Strong player development is hardly a new thing for the Rockies; it's arguably the only area in which the team (once notorious for a $172 million binge on free-agent busts Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle) has ever excelled. Their 2008 Opening Day lineup featured seven homegrown players, including five-time All-Star Todd Helton, 2007 MVP runner-up Matt Holliday, and former first-round draft picks Tulowitzki (2006), Jeff Francis (2002), and Jayson Nix (2001). Three days later, with Chris Iannetta behind the plate, and Ryan Spilborghs in center field, they featured an all-homegrown nine. Nix, 25, is a late-arriving, good-field/no-hit rookie; PECOTA forecasts him for a .245/.300/.379 showing but defense at second base that's nine runs above average. Iannetta, also 25, was expected to win the starting catcher job last year, but a .158 AVG in April coupled with a solid performance from Yorvit Torrealba consigned him to the backup backstop role. Still, Iannetta forecasts as the better hitter, and he may yet claim the job.
I've remarked before about the prescience of Goldstein's ranking of the Rockies' org, but left on the cutting room floor was Tulowitzki's role in helping the Rox lead the NL in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. I had plenty to say about the D-backs and Dodgers, of course, particularly with regards to the latter's new skipper:
Even more tantalizing [than third base prospect Andy LaRoche] is 20-year-old southpaw Clayton Kershaw, a blue-chip pitching prospect. Despite less than 25 innings above A-ball under his belt, he spent most of March in the big-league camp and drew raves for his poise and his arsenal. Though sent to Double-A to start the season, he's poised for a midsummer promotion, either as the fifth starter or -- of particular interest given new manager Joe Torre's experience last year -- in a Joba Chamberlain-esque setup role.

It's Torre who may draw the most scrutiny of any newcomer in the division. As the Yankee skipper, he often drew criticism for preferring marginal veterans over untested prospects, but his latter-day ability to integrate Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes, and Chamberlain into the mix mitigated that somewhat. Already he's drawn fire for juggling Kemp with expensive, unproductive Juan Pierre in the outfield, and if Garciaparra and LaRoche are ever healthy at the same time, all eyes will fall on that choice, too. Given a slim margin for error, nothing less than a playoff spot may ride on Torre's willingness to choose youth over experience.
Given the Sun's space constraints, I didn't even have room to tackle the Padres, whom PECOTA forecast for a paltry 78 wins on the heels of their agonizing near-miss last year. As noted in my essay for Baseball Prospectus 2008, the Pads are at a real disadvantage against those divisional talent factories. They ranked 24th in Opening Day payroll last year, with the Rockies 25th and the Diamondbacks 26th; furthermore,'s 2007 estimates show them second-to-last in Operating Income. Their farm system has improved in a year's time; Goldstein ranked them 29th in 2007, but they've risen all the way to 12th thanks to strong seasons from Matt Antonelli and Chase Headley and a stockpiling of free-agent compensation picks. Still, Antonelli's a year away and Headley, farmed out to begin this year, figures to help only so much once he arrives. PECOTA has him at .231/.316/.388 due to a shaky track record; an equivalent translation of his searing season in Double-A is .255/.356/.474, but he'd have to surpass his 90th percentile projection to reach that.

Back to Torre and the Dodger outfield, here's what I had to say in the Hit List, where they ranked 19th:
Ding-dong, Juan Pierre's consecutive game streak is dead at 434, but the early returns on Joe Torre's ability to manage the crowded outfield are less encouraging. Thus far, Andre Ethier's started nine times, Andruw Jones eight, Pierre and Matt Kemp five apiece, and the four outfielders are hitting a barren .204/.241/.301. On a more positive note, Rafael Furcal looks like the 2006 model as opposed to the 2007 one, and Jeff Kent has been solid despite missing most of spring training.
That's not very encouraging so far, particularly when it appeared towards the end of spring training that Torre had let go of the idea that Pierre would be a regular. It does appear I missed one significant choice, via this article: when Torre sat Jones on Wednesday, Kemp started in center field -- where he played just 17 innings last year -- instead of Pierre, with Torre again kicking the latter in the head: "I'd much rather have someone with the confidence and aggressiveness that [Kemp] has... I'd rather have his arm in center field." Thunk.

Elsewhere on the Hit List, the Yankees were just above the Dodgers at #18 (that's what happens when your offense is down to 3.1 runs per game) and the Brewers were fourth thanks to the anomalies of a Ben Sheets complete-game shutout (his first since his rookie year in 2001) and a sizzling start from Jason Kendall (.538/.567/.731). Most importantly, this week's pop-culture cameos include The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Keith McCready, the Capital Punisher, David Bowie and the former Attorney General, the latter of which should (and does) come with a suggestion to try the veal.

One brief but neat aside about the Hit List: Baseball Prospectus has long had a function called "Audit Team" available via a drop-down menu in the upper righthand corner throughout most of its site. They function as team-at-a-glance pages, handy to have up while watching a ballgame or mulling your local nine's lineup, but recently, they've received a massive and very cool overhaul, adding headshots, graphics, links to the oft-cited PECOTA projections, and a whole slew of BP-flavored sortable stats, including current Hit List ranking and recent Transaction Analysis entries. Here's what the Yankees page looks like -- if you're not familiar with their predecessors, let's just say that the new ones are like stepping into Technicolor. As I found while putting together this week's piece, this is a great resource that's worth taking advantage of, and you can't beat the price (free).

Hat tip to Dave Pease, not only for his hard work on this, but also for eliminating the single most painful hour of my week, the agonizing mad dash to finish each week's list that involved hand-coding each player mentioned in the Hit List with opening and closing < player > tags in order to link them to their BP player cards, often upwards of 100 per week. A very clutch performance.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Lucky Sevens

It's no secret that Murray Chass is -- how to put this delicately? -- hopelessly out of touch. Once upon a time he was a groundbreaker, pioneering coverage of the business side of baseball back in the 1970s. For that he received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the Hall of Fame equivalent for writers, back in 2003. But lately, poor Murray's brainpan has been dripping.

You may recall that last February, Chass took a break from feeding the pigeons by the lake to take aim at Baseball Prospectus, complaining about those big mean acronyms like VORP which cluttered up the big bad daily emails he had signed up for by virtue of a complimentary subscription. He made himself look quite the fool, and we all had a good laugh at his expense (though surely, his editors deserved some opprobrium for letting him make such an ass of himself). It was rather like watching The Daily Show's clips of Alaska senator Ted Stevens combining his talent for self-immolation on the job with a laughable ignorance of technology.

That almost certainly wasn't Chass' only public gaffe in recent years, but it couldn't have helped his cause much when it came time for the New York Times bean-counters to reckon with their dwindling inventory of staplers and paper clip holders. Reportedly, Chass is in the process of being bought out (he refuses to characterize it as involuntarily), potentially ending a run at the paper that began in 1969, the year I was born.

Now, I was prepared to forego dancing on Chass' professional grave by letting this pass without comment, but then I saw his latest diatribe. The deathless topic of Bloggers versus Mainstream Media has been in the news again; along with many a stressed-out beat man taking his swipes, higher-profiler hacks like Bob Costas and Rick Reilly have been taking their hacks at the blogosphere, apparently unanimous in belief that their status as high priests of sports media is threatened by (talk about a lack of originality -- they all use this one) guys in their underwear. Costas, generally the most reasonable of this bunch (and also the one for whom the written word isn't a meal ticket), was forced to chug a mug of STFU and admit he'd overstepped in his generalization.

Anyway, Charley Steiner of XM Radio's Baseball Beat had Chass on his April 3 show, and amid the conversation, Murray the Grey got a bit cranky when it came to a certain medium:
"I hate bloggers." "Worst development in media business, anyone can be a blogger." "No credentials required, just spouting off their opinions." "Our wives could go on and do it if they wanted to." "I know they're not going away but I wish they did."
Oooo-kay. Not sure why he introduced sexism into the equation, but clearly Chass feels even more threatened now that the wolf is at his door. One wonders how well his attitude will go over when his next employer asks him to augment his next column by keeping a blog.

Chass' segment was followed by one from Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman, a man well equipped to understand the blogger/MSM fry, having spent a few years as a baseball beat reporter long before building one of the best blogs around. Weisman elaborated his take on Chass and the issue in general:
Today on Baseball Beat with Charley Steiner, I was asked to offer my perspective on the issue of blogger credibility and credentialbility. I understand what's prompting the questions: There's increasing discussion on whether bloggers should be allowed locker-room access, in a world where moments before my introduction, New York Times columnist Murray Chass had expressed the all-too-common view basically comparing bloggers to the Ebola virus. Nevertheless, it's fascinating to actually find a need to defend an entire class of people -- especially when the attacks are coming from a class of people that is supposed to be professional, insightful, objective and open-minded. (Yes, that passes muster with the Irony Committee.)

...But beyond self-preservation, it's important to realize that condemning a medium, at least in this case, is bush-league. The medium doesn't decide whether to tell a story in a thoughtful, responsible or entertaining fashion; the messenger does... trust me: There are good and bad messengers everywhere.

...If I've done a good job as an outsider looking in, I expect respect, not dismissal. First, some of the analysis done by bloggers is flat-out better than anything you'll see from a major paper -- and it's done without the support system of a major paper, often without any renumeration whatsoever. In some ways, it's harder work.

Second, while there's value in interacting with the players and management of a baseball team, I can testify that there's often value in not interacting with them. It can give you a level of objectivity that is often missing from mainstream reporting. And at a minimum, many kinds of analysis don't require a locker-room presence, yet can be of tremendous value when done right.

There is no good reason for an Us vs. Them mentality when it comes to mainstream reporters and bloggers. The readership benefits from their combined presence, and really, short of the sportswriter who doubles as a great blogger, one isn't going to take the other's job away. (You certainly won't see me on the Dodger beat for a local paper anytime soon.) Bottom line: A multitude of opinions and a more open debate of the issues are good things. We aren't witnessing the downfall of written baseball coverage; we're witnessing a flourishing, a tremendously rich era to live in. We should cherish this time.
Bless Weisman for rising above the fray while some of the rest of us are content to snark away. While I'm still tempted to tappa-tappa-tappa over Chass being run out of the Times, the larger point is that the days when the traditional media held the key to understanding in any field -- or at least sports, politics, and entertainment -- have been over for quite awhile.

Access and a budget don't add up to automatic insight, and the fragmentation that's taken place via the rise of the blogs is a reaction to the mainstream media's limitations of space, and a lack of respect for its constituency. In broad terms, to the extent that baseball fans read blogs, it's because they -- I mean you -- are not getting that kind of coverage from the mainstream outlets at your immediate disposal (exemplars like Pete Abraham and Joe Posnanski notwithstanding). Perhaps you're bored of the jock-sniffing quote monkeys or the soapbox derby champion columnists who bore you to death with their righteous pontifications on the local nine. Perhaps you're hungry for analysis using sharper tools than batting average, RBI, pitcher win-loss records and manager hunches, wiling to search for a bit of innovation in the service of insight. Or perhaps you simply want to have a few laughs to puncture the staid seriousness of the sports page. If so, it's not hard to find a handful of good blogs that fill the requisite niches, particularly as the medium has matured.

As the seven-year anniversary of this site arrives today, I'd like to think this blog remains one of them. It's no secret that The Futility Infielder ain't quite what it used to be, given how much of my energy is devoted to my paid work at Baseball Prospectus and Fantasy Baseball Index, not to mention projects to be named later. Particularly as I've backed away from covering the Yankees so closely, a good chunk of this site's regular readership has found other outlets for its fix, and deservedly so, as there's good coverage to be had out there.

In the dead of winter, weeks between entries, I pondered whether keeping this blog running was still a worthwhile venture. The conclusion I came to in my heart of hearts was a resounding yes. While it's not going to supplant the work I'm doing at BP or beyond, there's no place where I feel more at home than when I'm writing here. As the exhaustive season previews give way to the peanuts and Crackerjacks of the regular season, wrangling even a short blog post or two is an exercise I'm planning to maintain on a daily basis. I hope you'll continue along for the ride.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Prediction Pain, 2008 Edition

The Baseball Prospectus staff predictions went up over the past weekend, though most of them (including mine) were in the can by Opening Day. Here are the American League ones, and here the National League ones, with the oddball questions as well. My slice of the pie:
American League

AL East AL Central AL West

Yankees Indians Angels
Red Sox Tigers* A's
Rays White Sox Mariners
Blue Jays Royals Rangers
Orioles Twins
1. Miguel Cabrera
2. Alex Rodriguez
3. Grady Sizemore

AL Cy Young
1. James Shields
2. Joba Chamberlain
3. Josh Beckett

1. Evan Longoria
2. Joba Chamberlain
3. Alexei Ramirez

National League

NL East NL Central NL West

Mets Brewers Dodgers
Braves Cubs* Rockies
Phillies Reds Diamondbacks
Nationals Cardinals Padres
Marlins Astros Giants
1. David Wright
2. Ryan Braun
3. Mark Teixeira

NL Cy Young
1. Johan Santana
2. Jake Peavy
3. Chad Billingsley

1. Jay Bruce
2. Kosuke Fukudome
3. Johnny Cueto

Brian Kingman Award (pitcher most likely to lose 20): Matt Cain

Cristian Guzman Award (for the position player most likely to put up the lowest VORP in regular playing time): Jose Lopez

Jose Hernandez Award (most strikeouts, batter): Adam Dunn

The 2008 DiSar Award Winner (most AB before first walk): Corey Patterson

Best Player traded at the July deadline: Rich Harden

Barry Bonds Signs With: Orioles, July 1st

Players named in the Mitchell Report who will be suspended (of 89): Paul Lo Duca

The team that first decides to blast down to the foundations will be the: Blue Jays, July 31st

The team with the smallest spread between its upside and downside potential: Red Sox, 85-95 wins

The team with the widest spread between its upside and downside potential: Reds, 70-90 wins
Obviously, the Tigers' 0-6 start doesn't make my AL Wild Card pick look too good, though it's not like I wasn't forewarned about that team, particularly with regards to their bullpen. The spring showing of Clay Buchholz in the wake of the loss of Curt Schilling did lead me to temper my predictions for the Red Sox a bit, though as I said in the Hit List, it's not hard to imagine them working their way into the picture. I may be accused of letting my heart influence my head throughout this exercise, as I've picked the Yankees, Dodgers, and Brewers to come out on top of their respective divisions, but the Yanks and Dodgers legitimately topped their divisions on the basis of BP's PECOTA forecasting system and the related preseason Hit List power rankings. Besides, my track record in this deparment isn't too bad either.

On a staff-wide basis, the Red Sox were more heavily favored than the Yankees in the AL East, and the Tigers barely edge the Indians in the AL Central. The only other division where my picks differ from the consensus of my colleagues is in the NL Central, where the Cubs get the upper hand over the Brewers, though at least I did have them as the Wild Card. As with the Indians and Tigers, the Cubs and Brewers each averaged a rank of 1.5, with the frontrunner decided on a tiebreaker of first place votes, 9-8.

Anyway, I'm glad we didn't have to put World Series winners into this one. I had the Padres last year, and that didn't turn out so well.


Sunday, April 06, 2008


Miller Time in Miniature

Without question, the coolest toy I ever had was my Legos. From the time I was three until about age 14 or 15, I loved those colorful, interconnecting blocks. I graduated from the basic interconnecting bricks to the expert sets, with joints and gears. The auto chassis was my favorite; I once took a chunk out of a hallway wall during a series of demolition exercises in which I would test my acumen to reassemble the car after smashing it by wheeling it off a staircase. I got a lesson in the joy of Spackle for that one. Long after outgrowing the stuff, I've cast an envious eye as the Legos have gotten even more sophisticated with their entry into the world of robotics.

So it didn't take too much for me to be impressed by these Lego ballparks, some of them replicas of existing stadiums. By far the winner in terms of innovation and sophistication is this fully functional model of Milwaukee's Miller Park, complete with a motorized, retractable roof. Given that I've been to the park several times with my Milwaukee-native wife and my in-laws, this one hits close to home. Built by Milwaukee School of Engineering student Tim Kaebisch, the model is three feet tall and contains 99.9% Legos, with a bit of string and twist ties making up the rest. Kaebisch has his own page devoted to the model, showing previous phases of construction, photographing the current model from numerous angles, and showing the roof in action.

Kaebisch's attention to detail is amazing, as he's constructed Bernie Brewer's slide, the TGIFridays, the press box and control rooms, even the HVAC system room. The damn thing comes with everything but crazy tailgaters, racing sausages, a Lego Bob Uecker and a bratwurst with Stadium Sauce. Wow.


Friday, April 04, 2008


The Spartan Stadium

The flip side to my aforementioned aversion to Opening Day at Yankee Stadium is my willingness to brave the elements for an early season game, particularly if the company is good. Last year, Jonah Keri and I endured a snow-filled sufferfest amid a horde of Bleacher Creatures, so it was virtually automatic that I'd accept an invite from Alex Belth for field level seats to Thursday night's tilt between the Blue Jays and the Yanks, particularly with Philip Hughes on the mound for his first start of the year.

After I endured the dauntingly lengthy ride to the stadium from my new outpost in Brooklyn (1 hour, Q from DeKalb Avenue, changing to the 4 at Union Square), I found Alex at our designated meeting spot, a shuttered deli at the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue. It took me a moment to place him; Alex was bundled up, wearing a parka and a winter cap, with his industrial-strength headphones worn over the outside. I hadn't gone quite so hardcore, opting for my usual overcoat and a Yankees cap -- it is wool, after all.

Before we went in, the two of us walked down the avenue to take full measure of the still-under-construction new park, Yankee Stadium III. I invoked Derek Jacques' Death Star metaphor as we crossed under the subway platfrom and the whole thing seemed even more apt as the new park came into full view. With its exterior shell substantially finished, right down to the gold lettering announcing its intention to keep its maiden name, so to speak, the new stadium looms imposingly over the current one, promising the latter's demise in a not-too-distant future. Alex compared it to a hospice situation, with the old park on its deathwatch. For all of the hype surrounding the Opening Day articles, there's no mistaking it once you arrive on the grounds: this is the beginning of the end for The House that Ruth Built.

As we wandered outside the stadium, my thoughts focused less on the new park and more on the current one, and I mused to Alex about the familiar anxieties as they came back to me. How much more oppressive will the Yankee Stadium ballpark experience be this year? My view of the current model was unshakably altered by a Saturday game last year which found the ballpark security closing off exits while hot and bothered Yankee and Red Sox fans taunted each other after a tense game to the point where I had to try hard not to think of soccer riot fatalities. From that moment, my nostalgia for the current park and my own personal stake in it -- the hundred-something I've attended there over the last 13 years, including the 1999 World Series Clincher and the thousands I've watched take place in its yard -- was trumped by the desire for a better fan experience. Not that I have faith that the new ballpark will provide it, not with my upper-deck seats some 30 feet further back from the action and my wallet bracing for the kind of abuse that makes prison showers seem church socials by comparison.

Once inside, spared the hefty hike up the familiar ramps to the upper deck in favor of a ground-level entry to our seats, the current ballpark's familiar pleasures overtook me. Yankee Stadium II contains the famous reminders of its old history -- Monument Park, the white frieze, the flagpole in what used to be the center field patrolled by DiMaggio and Mantle, with the park's original dimensions preserved by the wall behind it, the black batter's eye where only the chosen few have reached with their towering blasts -- and the portents of its own obsolescence, the narrow concourses, spartan amenities, and fatal lack of luxury boxes. As limiting as that latter set is, it's also been part of the park's charm, at least to me. If you go to Yankee Stadium, you're there to see a ballgame, nothing more and nothing less. No fountains, waterfalls, kiddie pools, mascots, slides, or other diversions. Compared to the modern mallparks, the centerfield PA system is much less intrusive, even when the hated "Cotton-Eyed Joe" blares.

Our seats were as good as any I've had in over a decade (I was four rows behind home plate for this one back in '97), just to the first base side of the netting behind home plate. With my current scorebook buried in some unmarked box from my recent move, and Alex empty-handed in that department, I shelled out $7 for a program so we could keep score. Mind you, doing so in the itty-bitty squares of the flimsy Yankees Magazine scorecard is like trying to get romantic in the back of an old Volkswagen Beetle. There was little room to make the usual notes I keep on a game -- the location of each hit, notations on complicated plays or memorable moments in the stands -- and, given the gift of gab between two friends who hadn't seen each other all winter and who generally talk like sugared-up six-year-olds when we do get together, I found myself battling to stay in synch with the game.

Which, in the 42 degree weather, was thankfully brisk. Hughes mowed down the Blue Jays, striking out Matt Stairs and Alexis Rios looking in the first inning -- the Toronto hitters never did seem to figure out home plate ump Bill Miller's strike zone, as five of their seven Ks were backwards on my scorecard -- and retiring all nine hitters the first time through the order. Hughes found trouble in the fourth, via a David Eckstein double and a Rios single, but the damage could have been much worse. Rios got all the way to third with one out after a Robinson Cano error in fielding a throw from Jose Molina compounded a successful steal, but the kid came back to whiff Vernon Wells and Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt thought he'd just received ball four and jogged to first base excitedly, but when told it wasn't so, he raised such a ruckus that he was bounced to the delight of the rather sparse crowd (47,785 officially, maybe 30,000 in reality). The Jays added another run in the fifth, via a two-out walk to Marco Scutaro, a double by Greg Zaun, and an infield single by "The Little Gerbil," (Eckstein, in my friend Nick's words).

The Yanks, meanwhile, could do little against Toronto's Dustin McGowan until the bottom of the sixth, when Johnny Damon drove a ball to the base of the wall in deep right field for a double. McGowan then loaded the bases by hitting Derek Jeter with a pitch and then walking Bobby Abreu. The crowd, at least at field level, rose to its feet with Alex Rodriguez coming up and nowhere to put him. The fourth pitch of the at-bat, a ball low and away from A-Rod, skidded away from Zaun towards our general vicinity as Damon scampered home, but Rodriguez followed by striking out. Jason Giambi lofted a fly ball that brought Jeter home, but Abreu made an ill-advised bolt to third base -- perhaps as an attempt to protect Jeter by drawing the throw -- and was meat.

Against this backdrop, Alex and I buzzed about books we have and haven't been reading lately. Pat Jordan was a frequent topic of discussion, as I'd just gotten a copy of his Belth-edited book and had devoured the infamous, withering profile of Steve and Cyndy Garvey which had resulted in an $11.2 million lawsuit. As the innings passed, we chewed on Red Smith, Ring Lardner and Ed Linn, author of Nice Guys Finish Last and Veeck as in Wreck, the latter Alex's second answer to a question he'd posed about classic baseball books we hadn't read. Boys of Summer was his first answer, and for a moment I wished I had the time to do nothing but read those two old favorites. I offered up Jim Brosnan's The Long Season, an in-season diary precursor to Jim Bouton's Ball Four, and Robert Creamer bios of Babe Ruth and Casey Stengel. The conversation shifted to the genre of boxing writing, as Alex told me about Mark Kram chronicling Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, the Thrilla in Manila. A trip to the Strand was an inevitability in the wake of such chatter.

After six innings, the two young starters departed, with the impressive Hughes giving way to a resurrected Billy Traber, a much slimmer and shaggier version of Brian Bruney than we'd known, and then an electrifying Joba Chamberlain; the latter struck Zaun out looking, and worked around a two-out single with little problem. Brian Wolfe came on for McGowan, who'd weighed in with an impressive six-inning effort of his own. Wolfe completed a 1-2-3 seventh, but yielded a leadoff single to Melky Cabrera in the eighth. Lefty Scott Downs came on, and Damon dropped down a bunt, an intended sacrifice which Downs bobbled, with all hands safe. Jeter then bunted as well -- I hate it when he does that -- this time pushing the runners over, and then Abreu came dunked a blooper into center for what proved to be the deciding run. Mariano Rivera backed it with his usual finesse, surrendering a leadoff single to Wells before mowing down the next three Jays on just eight pitches, freezing Aaron Hill with two strikes to end the ballgame in a tidy 2:45.

As we shuffled out, Alex hit me with a frightening question: what would you do if your last game at the current Yankee Stadium ended to the defeat-laden strains of Liza Minelli's version of "New York, New York" instead of Sinatra's? That's a horror I don't even want to think about.

For Alex's take on the game, see his entry at Bronx Banter.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008



My work in It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over was singled out for praise in, of all places, the Christianity Today website in a rundown of spring baseball books (IAO is out in paperback):
Turning from We Would Have Played for Nothing to the latest installment from the high priests of statistical sophistication, 'the Baseball Prospectus team of experts,' and their thick tome It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book, edited by Steve Goldman, I thought at first that I would be trading the allusive power of story for the hard empiricism of the number-crunchers. Having previously reviewed a book of essays by this innovative squad, I knew that I was in for elaborate formulae, charts and graphs a-plenty, and a Soviet-style panoply of acronyms with strangely affecting phonetics, such as VORP (the crucial measure of a players worth over a completely average replacement player), and WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player, a yet-more-elaborate calculation that gets at the bottom-line: how many wins did the player create?). These are new kinds of numbers, generated by the desire to show real worth, rather than just let us live by the "nutrition-less bread" of Batting Average, RBI, and ERA (all of which delude more than clarify).

Enough said on the numbers racket, because I was wrong about this book! The authors are interested in story, the true story, the deep-down story of reasons, besides (but not precluding) luck and cruel twists of fate, for why several great pennant races in baseball history were great. And whether you go numbers-heavy, digging into the charts and taking stock of the VORPs and WARPs, or numbers-light, skimming the charts and muttering, "This is why I teach English" frequently under your breath, you will be enlightened by this book. These mathematician-writers are able to captivate us with pinpoint moments, exact pitches or managerial moves or mental errors or emotional collapses (or all of the above) that decided the outcomes of entire seasons. Horrible moments for the eternal goats (such as Ralph Branca giving up the "shot heard round the world," or Gene Mauch micromanaging the 1964 Phillies into a late-season collapse, or Fred Merkle's boneheaded play that seemed to sink the 1908 Giants) are shown as only small pieces of much more complex puzzles. Likewise, legendary feats like Carl Yastrzemski's final two weeks of torrid hitting for the Red Sox miracle in 1967, or Tug McGraw's emotional bravado with the "You Gotta Believe" 1973 Mets, are scrutinized and "right-sized"—fine feats, yes, but surrounded always by a broader context. The writers thus walk a fine line between clarification and revisionist demythologizing, and I think they carry the task out with a healthy balance of both love of science and love of mystery. In some ways, their work is more true to Medievalism than to Modernity.

I can only give a few highlights of this elaborate, somewhat diffuse volume, so I'll just trot out my favorite quirky points. Jay Jaffe's essay "The Replacement-Level Killers" reveals how managers sticking it out with certain veteran players during a pennant race can do irreparable damage, all in the name of loyalty and supposed worth. So the Angels use of Bob Boone as their catcher throughout the 1984 AL West race, with his supposed defensive acumen used as a cover for a horrific year at the plate (hitting only .202 and slugging a mere .262!), led to a VORP of -24.1, a pennant-killing formula. Not quite as numerically destructive was Don Zimmer's perverse insistence on playing Butch Hobson at third base for the 1978 Red Sox, victims of the Yankee charge and the "Boston Massacre." We read with fascination this description: "Revered by Zimmer as a gamer, Hobson played the field despite bone chips that locked up his elbow when he threw and—cringe!—had to be rearranged after each play. He made 43 errors, was 21 runs below average, and fielded .899, becoming the first regular to break the .900 barrier since 1916, when gloves were little more than padded mittens." It's just this mix of numerical exactitude and rhetorical flourish that gives It Ain't Over its flair, a combination that gets at baseball's distinctive appeal as the sport of both head and heart.
One of the nicest reviews the book received, and certainly the best review I've received for my work there. That's the value of clean living, folks.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Clearing the Bases: The Clipboard Edition

Clearing out some notes as I breathe a heavy sigh of relief at the passing of my final Fantasy Baseball Index update deadline and sit down to watch the Yankees' second game of the year -- my first chance to see the on my big new TV...

• As eager as I always am for the season to start, I've never been to an Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, never cared enough to fight the absurd supply versus demand discrepancy for a cold-weather game that will be a distant and almost insignificant memory come October. I love Yankee Stadium with the familiar love that only a hundred-odd trips to the ballpark can bring, but its security excesses and the pressure on its infrastructure as the team has shot past the four million attendance mark have quite literally made the last few years ones of diminishing returns for me. I can't blame somebody else for wanting to go to the opener, but it's one day that I can do without fighting the throngs.

My BP colleague Derek Jacques deflates some of the hype about the final Opening Day of Yankee Stadium:
We can look forward to these "historic" markers growing increasingly absurd as the year wears on, with broadcasters encouraging fans to catch the historic final midweek series against the Rays in July, and in August alerting us to Carl Pavano's historic final trip to the Yankee Stadium Trainers' Room. (I can almost hear Suzyn Waldman reverently running down the historic implications of the latter event: "Should Pavano somehow stay with the Yankees next year, and need a cortisone shot, or a rub down, or a precautionary X-Ray, it will be at the new Yankee Stadium.")

Of course, there will be an audience for all the sentimentality that's being unleashed with the Stadium's send-off. In a sport that conscientiously markets itself on its past and its traditions, the Yankees trade most effectively in nostalgia. Possibly the greatest achievement of the Yankees' nostalgia machine is the perceived continuity between the building that Colonel Ruppert built in 1923 to house Babe Ruth's bat and the current Yankee Stadium. The 1976 "renovation" was more of a gut-and-rebuild job than a simple sprucing up of the structure. Just about every significant detail of the building -- its dimensions, the playing field, the seats, the scoreboard -- was altered, resulting in an arena that doesn't fit in with the great classic ballparks like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, but doesn't quite have the plastic uniformity of the cookie-cutter parks of the '60s and '70s, either. Although many still admire its timeless look, Yankee Stadium II (as we sometimes like to call the post-1976 structure) shares little with the original other than its address.

Across the street, the new new Yankee Stadium looks a bit like the Death Star, circa Return of the Jedi, enough so that I half-expect it to sprout a laser cannon and vaporize the present stadium sometime after the last pitch of the 2008 season is thrown. Its still-under-construction exterior shell self-consciously recalls the original structure, but the ballpark within will be thoroughly modern and built from scratch-there's no longer any plausible deniability that this isn't a break with history. Talking to fans around the ballpark, the recurring theme was anxiety about the new ballpark. Will they be able to afford tickets? Will they be near the other regular ticket plan holders in their section? Will the new Stadium be the same kind of place the old one was?
• My parents were just in town, and in addition to getting to watch the Dodgers opener with my dad, I took him to see the plaque commemorating the signing of Jackie Robinson to a professional contract at the Dodgers' offices on 215 Montague Street in Brooklyn, a few minutes' walk from my new apartment. Speaking of Robinson, Steven Goldman has a great (and free) piece on his arrival in the majors, set up by another scene from Steve and Jay's Excellent Promotional Adventure:
I hope you enjoyed Opening Day, or as I like to think of it, the 61st anniversary of America. Yes, there was 1776, when the 13 colonies declared independence, or 1787, when the current Constitution kicked off, or even 1865, when Abraham Lincoln both ended slavery and established the supremacy of the federal government over the states by force of arms. Yet, in all that time, the country never began to close the gap between its rhetoric and its realities. That had to wait for 1947 and Jackie Robinson.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. A couple of weeks ago, Jay Jaffe and I were in Philadelphia for a BP book signing. We were doing our usual Q&A when an older black man, standing at the back in a tweedy newsboy cap, raised his hand. He didn’t really want to ask a question, but to say a few words — well, a lot of words — about Barry Bonds, and how the color of his skin influenced the way he had been treated by the media and by official baseball. I’m not completely clear on how the conversation progressed, because the gentleman was making a speech without stopping to breathe, let alone allow us to answer, while Jay and I were simultaneously trying to respond and reclaim our platform, with the result that the three of us were talking over each other in a way that became unintelligible even to me.

I do know that at one point, while the gentleman was indicting baseball for racism, I brought up Jackie Robinson, saying that whatever happened since, the breaking of the color line was a huge, gigantic thing, more than just a seminal moment in baseball but in all of American history.

That gave him pause. "Why?" he asked.

"Because for the first time in this history of the country, something that had been promised at the very beginning was finally delivered: equality of opportunity."

"Well, I don’t know about that," the gentleman said. At that point Jay jumped in again, and the conversation spiraled off in another direction. Eventually, the gentleman thanked us for the use of our soap box and left.
The point I tried to make in that three-way scrum was that I have colleagues who don't consider any major league baseball before Robinsons's arrival in 1947 to be valid -- an extreme view, perhaps, but by no means an unreasonable one. Anyway, what follows that excerpt is a lengthy history lesson involving democracy and baseball, one that rises above even Steve's usual high standards. Read it.

• Hat tip to Yanksfan vs Soxfan: This isn't an April Fools joke, though the outcomes of Steve C. Wang's use of Chernoff faces to graphically represent managers' tactical tendencies look like the help at a Mongolian yak-farming outpost. From the article: "Dr. Wang used a kind of statistical Mr. Potato Head to portray the spectrum of managerial characteristics in a way that intrigued even the skippers themselves."

If I'm reading these correctly, Joe Torre keeps a stable lineup, goes with the platoon advantage, uses a lot of pinch-hitters, tends to steal, sacrifice bunt, and hit and run. A pretty good summation of his tendencies with the Yankees.

Randomly picking a couple of others... Oakland's Bob Geren: lots of lineups, lots of platooning, few pinch-hitters or pinch-runners, almost no stolen base or sac attempts. Washintgton's Manny Acta: big platoon advantage, lots of pinch hitters, lots of lineups, few sacs, few hit and runs or steals, few sacs.

Acta incidentally, considers Mind Game to be his baseball bible. So now I'm rooting for the Nationals, too.

• Acta's not the only manager reading BP. Joe Girardi has an annual in his office, and from the sound of it, the New York Times' Tyler Kepner is the one who's unfamiliar: "...I don’t think I ever saw a Baseball Prospectus volume like the one Girardi has in his office." And he calls himself a respectable journalist!

• Another no-fooling April 1 selection, from when I was surfing through the Giants' MLB page in search of details for the fantasy update and reveling in just how craptacular they looked on Opening Day. The top headlines (none of these are made up):
With news like that, an 11-151 record appears optmistic. And then there' this: it's no secret that Brian Bocock, the 23-year-old who's playing shortstop in Omar Vizquel's absence, isn't qualified to be a major leaguer. Last year the guy hit .220/.293/.328 in High-A and he was old for his level. He hit .183/.247/.183 this spring in 71 at-bats, and while those numbers don't count, that's not a typo either. There are PE teachers all across America who can hit that.

• Larry Bowa creeps me out by wearing Dodger blue, but at least I know his ass will be forever red.

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