The Futility Infielder

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

Friday, July 11, 2008



If you haven't already done so, set your TiVo or similar appliance to record the Fox Sports Net's 13-part series, "Baseball's Golden Age." Each episode features rare or previously unscreened footage of greats from the 1920s through the 1960s, mainly via home movies, and a lot of it in color. It's similar to the stellar HBO series from a few years back called "When It Was a Game," and while this one doesn't have Liev Schrieber narrating, it's got a good selection of older players and writers weighing in as the talking heads.

The voiceovers, however, are quite stilted and clichéd, which is a drawback, as is the fact that it airs with commercials (hence the TiVo recommendation). But none of those things matter one iota when weighed against the visual feast of the footage shown. As Dayton Daily News reporter Mark Katz puts it, "If I could have figured a way to do it, I would have stopped the DVD in my computer, printed out all the images and wall-papered my house... I'd like to break into Flagstaff's film archive and just run a projector of what they have — over and over for the rest of my life."

Even the big name talking heads in the first episode are impressed:
"We lived in a black-and-white world; our lives were in color but our heroes were delivered to us in black and white (through newsreels)," historian John Thorne says.

Adds NBC's Bob Costas, about what he experienced as a kid going to big-league games: "You walk up that tunnel and, boom, it's like that scene from 'The Wizard of Oz,' where it goes from black and white and everything's now in Technicolor."
Yeah, it's that good. Babe Ruth (in black and white as a player, in color as a coach or retiree), Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the promise of more to come. Sign me the hell up.

• • •

In light of having written the Brewers chapter in Baseball Prospectus 2008, I spent a bit of time thinking further about the CC Sabathia trade this week. And the more I think about it -- trumped though it may have been by the Cubs' Rich Harden heist -- the more impressed I am with the Brewers, for this simple reason: I think they foresaw exactly such a scenario when they drafted Matt LaPorta just over a year ago.

LaPorta was chosen seventh by the Brewers and at that considered something of an "overdraft," a player picked higher than his talents may have actually merited. Prior to the draft, Baseball Prospectus colleague Kevin Goldstein termed him "arguably the top pure hitter in college baseball" albeit "limited to first base defensively." He also foresaw him lasting until the 30th pick. Basball America's Jim Callis and ESPN's Keith Law also believed he would go later in the first round. The BA 2008 Prospect Handbook termed LaPorta's selection at number seven "the first surprise in the 007 draft," particularly so because of Prince Fielder's emergence at first base.

In retrospect, my reading is that Doug Melvin and company realized that they could grab a near-ready bat at a position -- or actually three, if you include the outfield corners -- where they were already set and parlay that surplus into something that could help them in exactly this type of deal, on this type of time horizon. Yes, it took some stars to align for all of this to be a reality, but this team didn't just stumble into the problem of having too many burly power hitters and too few DH slots.

Nonetheless, when I bounced this possibility off of Goldstein the other day, he wasn't entirely buying. He reminded me that at the time of the draft, Ryan Braun was still just settling into the Brewers' third base job, and it wasn't obvious that he'd have to move to left field due to his troubles there. He also reasoned that had the draft been held this week, LaPorta would have gone in the top 10 because he has in fact shown himself good enough to play either outfield corner according to some scouts he's talked to; a catcher before college, he does have an arm good enough for right field. Having said all that, Goldstein did commend the Brewers' choice of LaPorta for adding the most valuable asset to the organization without worrying about position or future.

Anyway, discussion of that deal and the Harden one takes up a good amount of space on this week's Hit List (cleverly titled "Reshuffaluppagus" by my eds), with pointers to many other BP authors' takes on the two deals:
[#3 Cubs] Touché: The Cubs waste no time in countering the Brewers' Sabathia deal by trading little of consequence for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin, a deal that basically amounts to a free lottery ticket and an insurance policy for a team that's already the best in the NL. The Cubs' rotation ranks second in the league in SNLVAR, and they're adding a pitcher who ranks fifth in the AL in that category despite a month on the DL. Health is the rub, of course; Harden's thrown more innings this year than in 2006 and 2007 combined, and his last two starts have been iffy, with quickly decreasing velocity.

[#5 Athletics]The A's raise a white flag and more than a few eyebrows as they dispatch Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Cubs for a questionable package in which there's no clear best player. Noble as the "Free Matt Murton!" sentiments may be, doing so at the price of a virtually free Harden makes little sense without a forecast of impending elbow or shoulder doom, and that's without pondering the utility of Gaudin. With the A's still showing a much more solid run differential than the Angels, one can argue that they're still very much in the AL West race. Then again, given the quick yield on this past winter's reloading, that may be a sign that Billy Beane does know what the hell he's doing here.

[#10 Brewers]The Big Deal: With his team having gone an MLB-best 26-12 over the past six-plus weeks to move (briefly) into the Wild Card lead, GM Doug Melvin pulls the trigger on a deal that sends four prospects--including 2007 first-rounder Matt LaPorta--to Cleveland in exchange for CC Sabathia. Though the big man will almost certainly walk at the end of the year, this is nonetheless a bold statement by the post-Selig Brewers, and a shrewd use of resources; the positionally-challenged LaPorta was something of an over-draft last year, but his bat's near-readiness made him an ideal candidate for an interleague swap with this time horizon. The move could mean about three added wins, which may well be enough to break the team's 26-year postseason drought.
As for the seventh-ranked Yankees, their lack of scoring and ability to get on base, as well as the decline of Captain Jeter, provide some sobering notes:
At 34 years old, Derek Jeter may be headed for his worst first-half performance (.286/.349/.389) since his rookie season, but the Yankee captain keys a crucial two-game sweep of the AL East-leading Rays, helping his team retain some momentum after scrambling for a split against the Red Sox. Nonetheless, the pinstriped offense is anything but Bronx Bombers these days; their scoring is down 28 percent relative to last year's team, about 1.3 runs per game. With three regulars--Jose Molina (!), Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera--putting up OBPs below .310, Jeter and Bobby Abreu both below .350, and rookie Brett Gardner filling in for Johnny Damon as the latter hits the DL for the first time in his career, it's not hard to see why.
Finally, there's this one about the suddenly lifelike if still 1th-ranked Dodgers, their throwback shortstop, and the pair of perfect games their pitchers chased this week (both of which I was smart enough to TiVo:
Despite their sub-.500 record, the Dodgers briefly move into a tie for first place in the NL Worst West behind near-perfect efforts from Hiroki Kuroda (9 1 0 0 0 6) and Derek Lowe (7.2 2 1 1 1 4). The two pitchers combine for a 3.4 GB/FB ratio in their outings, notable particularly because of their starting shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra. Fresh off the DL and in his natural position for the first time since August 2005, Nomah hits like the shortstop of old, going .294/.400/.588 in five starts.
Anyway, I'm a chatty patty with this week's Hit List. After taking a week off for travel, it's good to be back in the swing of things if only for a few moments. I don't have a single weekend at home during the month of July, which is unsettling but also quite fun.

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