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...
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.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.
"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.
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).
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?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.
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].
LHR Tot PctObviously, 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.
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
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.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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.Now that I can relate to. Great stuff.
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.
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.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.
...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 changeIf 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.
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
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.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:
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.
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.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, Forbes.com'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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.)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.
...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.
American LeagueObviously, 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.AL MVP
AL East AL Central AL West
Yankees Indians Angels
Red Sox Tigers* A's
Rays White Sox Mariners
Blue Jays Royals Rangers
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 LeagueNL MVP
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
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).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.
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.
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.")• 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:
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?
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.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.
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.
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