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.

Monday, September 29, 2008



Cutting through the metaphorical hangover of a thrilling day of baseball to go straight to the bullets, because I've got about 5,000 more words to deliver over the next three days:

• I've got a Brewer-centric article on Sunday's action:
I don't know how many times I've seen the clip. Big Pete Ladd delivers to Rod Carew, who grounds to Robin Yount, who throws over to Cecil Cooper, who clutches the ball in his glove and raises his outstretched arm as he heads towards the dogpile on the mound where the Milwaukee Brewers celebrate their 1982 pennant. That final out has stood as the pinnacle of the Brewers' success for over a quarter of a century, a moment to savor for a franchise that has enjoyed more bad times than good in 40 seasons of existence across two cities and two leagues. It defined not only the success of a pennant captured, but the failure to top that with a World Championship, and the epic, playoff-free drought that the franchise endured during 25 years of frustration and occasional humiliation.

All of that changed on Sunday. The Brewers didn't capture a pennant on the final day of the 2008 season, didn't even capture a division crown, but the pairing of their come-from-behind victory over the Cubs with a loss by the Mets earned them the NL wild-card berth. Furthermore, it guaranteed that if nothing else, the next generation of Brewers fans will have a new highlight reel to etch into their collective unconscious, one featuring Ryan Braun's towering two-run eighth-inning homer and CC Sabathia's bear hug of Jason Kendall after sealing the victory by inducing Derrek Lee to ground into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play. A new chapter has been written in Milwaukee baseball, and it's about damn time.

I know that 1982 clip by heart, not only because I was one of many baseball fans across the country who climbed onto the bandwagon of Harvey's Wallbangers, but because I married into a family of Brewers fans, a long-suffering bunch for whom that now-ancient pennant remains a touchstone.
I can't tell you how elated I am that the Brewers made it. I was as absorbed in their quest for the playoffs as I've ever been for any Dodger or Yankee run, and I had just as much fun. As to whether I get to worry how things might shake down if the Dodgers and Brewers were to meet, the long odds suggest that won't be a problem.

• Further down in that piece, I take on something Rob Neyer wrote the other day:
Over the weekend, ESPN's Rob Neyer noted the supportive comments of former Orioles great Jim Palmer, who thinks Mussina is Hall-worthy. "I always said I thought he was every bit as good as I was," Palmer told the Baltimore Sun's MASN Online's Roch Kubatko. Neyer begged to differ: "He wasn't. Jim Palmer won three Cy Young Awards and finished with 268 wins and a 126 career ERA+. Mussina's got 269 wins, zero Cy Young Awards, and a 122 career ERA+."

With all due respect to Neyer, he's off base here. Mussina may lack Palmer's hardware, but over the course of his career he's been more valuable than Palmer was, and not by a little. Over the course of 19 seasons, Palmer pitched 3,948 innings and was 151 Pitching Runs Above Average and 1,064 Pitching Runs Above Replacement, worth 99.6 WARP3 according to Clay Davenport's system. Mussina, in 18 seasons totaling about 400 fewer innings, was 312 runs above average -- more than double Palmer, in other words -- and 1,302 Pitching Runs Above Replacement, good for 132.4 WARP3. Palmer's best seven seasons (his peak, in JAWS terms) were worth 64.3 WARP3; Mussina trumps that with 66.5 WARP3. Mussina's also got a considerable edge in career VORP (860.7 to 752.9) and a slight one in SNLVAR (99.7 to 96.2). Properly adjusted for the context of a more difficult work environment, he gains the advantage.

Jim Palmer was a great pitcher on some ballclubs that are regarded among the best of the '60s and '70s. The matinee-idol good looks, the underwear ads, and the public feuds with manager Earl Weaver make for a colorful public persona that rounds out out his Hall-worthy credentials to the point of legend. Mussina bore the burden of spending the first half of his career pitching in the shadow of that legend on ballclubs that weren't the equal of those Weaver squads, and he developed a public persona that, while thoughtful, was far more reserved than that of the outgoing Palmer. Accompanied by the evolution of the starting pitcher's role over the last three decades, those differences dramatically distort the perceptions of the two pitchers, but props to Palmer for recognizing that and for speaking up on Mussina's behalf. Even if he never throws another pitch, Mike Mussina is worthy of a spot in Cooperstown.
Neyer responds. The traditional stats are on his side in that Palmer had more wins, a higher winning percentage, and the second-best ERA+ of the decade among pitchers with at least 2000 innings. But the stat I called upon, Pitching Runs Above Average, is designed to separate pitching from defense. Moose's strikeout rates relative to the league (a translated rate of 6.9 EqSO/9) made him much less reliant on his defense than Palmer (5.2 EqSO/9), so he's rewarded by getting a larger share of the credit for each run saved on his watch, and thus generated more value. Put another way, Palmer owes more of his standing to perennial Gold Glovers like Brooks Robinson, Bobby Grich, Mark Belanger and Paul Blair (36 Gold Gloves between them, not all concurrent with Palmer's tenure) than Mussina does to his fielders.

In the grand scheme, it matters more that Neyer and I and anyone else who reads either of us agree that Moose is Hallworthy than it does as to how he rates relative to Palmer. Still, it's always fun to go mano a mano with Rob.

• I was also part of an epic roundtable for the White Sox-Tigers play-in game (including the rain delay):
Jay Jaffe (11:46:43 AM PT): Ford Frick (D.C.) asks: "Has there ever been a study that suggests whether one team's regular season record against another's is a predictor of playoff success/failure. For example, if the Rays had been 3-8 vs. Boston and 8-2 vs. the Angels during the regular season, is there any empirical data to indicate they would have a better chance of defeating the Angels (as opposed to the Red Sox) in a 5- or 7-game playoff series? Thanks."

I don't know of any published studies towards that end but I strongly suspect Nate Silver and Dayn Perry took a look at that among untold other stats and metrics for the playoff-related chapter in our Baseball Between the Numbers book. While we're at it, it's worth mentioning that Nate and Dayn found no statistically significant relationship between records after September 1 and playoff success, or between previous postseason experience and playoff success.

One more thing, and this is something I looked at over the weekend and may publish in an article format if it actually turns into something interesting upon further investigation: at least with regards to first-round matchups, actual Won-Los records are less predictive than Pythagorean records. Of the 100 first round contests (League Championship Series from 1969-1993 excluding 1981, and Division Series from 1995-2007), only 42 of them were won by the team with the better raw record. 49 of them were won by the team with the better Pythagorean (first-order) record, 47 by the team with the better third-order record. Limiting it to just the five-game series of the Wild Card era, the numbers are 24/52 for actual, 29/52 for first-order, and 26/52 for third-order. The take-home message is that short series are mostly tossups in which anything can happen, and that looking solely at teams' raw records (and probably head-to-head records) isn't a great way to judge these matchups.
I'm hoping to revisit that data before the playoffs get underway.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Paul Newman, RIP

By all rights it should be a happy day in my household this morning with the Brewers opening a one-game lead on the Mets in the NL Wild Card race, but I was bawling in my coffee when I found out that Paul Newman had passed away at age 83, the latest big-name celebrity death in a year all too full of them. A fantastic actor who did stellar work from the late 1950s to the early part of this millennium (much of it in the world of sports, a dedicated philanthropist who turned his fame and fortune towards worthy causes, a good lefty, and an icon whose incredible staying power made him a heartthrob across multiple generations -- he was all of those things and more. We lost one of the great ones.

From Oregon Live:
For a half-century, on screen and off, the actor Paul Newman embodied certain tendencies in the American male character: active and roguish and earnest and sly and determined and vulnerable and brave and humble and reliable and compassionate and fair. He was a man of his time, a part of his time, and that time ranged from World War II to the contemporary era of digitally animated feature films.

...Although Newman was a World War II veteran who didn't become a bona fide star until he was in his 30s, his choices in movie roles could make him seem like a younger man; the iconoclastic individuality of his anti-hero characters resonated with the social upstarts of the '60s, who were the same age as his children. At the same time, he bore a cast of honor and manliness with him on screen that was so unquestionably real that he simultaneously retained the respect of older audiences. In a sense, he combined the rebelliousness associated with the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean with the rock-solid decency exuded by such stars as Henry Fonda and James Stewart. Fittingly, he entered movies as one of the last Hollywood contract players and then became one of the first independent superstars, commanding more than $1 million per film as early as the mid-1960s.

Newman made nearly 60 films, originated three classic roles on Broadway, delivered memorable performances in some of live television's finest dramas, served as president of the Actors Studio, won championships as a race car driver and racing team owner, started a food business on a whim and used it to raise nearly $400 million for assorted charities, founded an international chain of camps to offer free vacations and medical care to sick and deprived children, and participated in politics as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, as a delegate to a United Nations conference on nuclear proliferation and as part-owner of (and occasional guest columnist for) "The Nation" magazine.
From the AP obit:
With his strong, classically handsome face and piercing blue eyes, Newman was a heartthrob just as likely to play against his looks, becoming a favorite with critics for his convincing portrayals of rebels, tough guys and losers. "I was always a character actor," he once said. "I just looked like Little Red Riding Hood."

Newman had a soft spot for underdogs in real life, giving tens of millions to charities through his food company and setting up camps for severely ill children. Passionately opposed to the Vietnam War, and in favor of civil rights, he was so famously liberal that he ended up on President Nixon's "enemies list," one of the actor's proudest achievements, he liked to say.
From Slate:
For his part, Newman put it all down to luck. In his 1992 introduction to our book about the camp [for seriously ill children], he tried to explain what impelled him to create the Hole in the Wall: "I wanted, I think, to acknowledge Luck: the chance of it, the benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others; made especially savage for children because they may not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it." Married to Joanne Woodward, his second wife, for 50 years this winter, Newman always looked at her like something he'd pulled out of a Christmas stocking. He looked at his daughters that way, too. It was like, all these years later, he couldn't quite believe he got to keep them.

...In an era in which nearly everyone feels entitled to celebrity and fortune, Newman was always suspicious of both. He used his fame to give away his fortune, and he did that from some unspoken Zen-like conviction that neither had ever really belonged to him in the first place.
The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, The Color of Money and The Road to Perdition are some of his essentials and my favorites. Slap Shot has a case as the best sports movie ever, or at least the best sports comedy; if you've never seen it, crack a cold one and prepare to laugh for two hours. Salon has a great highlight reel of his best moments.

My wife actually met Newman, briefly. When summering as a nanny in New York City between high school years, she once found herself sitting in front of Newman and Woodward at a Broadway show. Starstruck, she asked for an autograph after the show as the crowd filed out. "I'm sorry, my dear," he said, putting his arm around her shoulder momentarily. "I don't sign autographs. But thank you so much for asking. It was nice to meet you." He was so genuinely classy that his refusal actually increased his standing in her eyes.

He'll be missed.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008


Front Page News

Today my Baseball Prospectus column on the Mets' bullpen woes is not only syndicated on, it's on the front page of the site for the moment. For posterity's sake, here's the screenshot:

Cutting to the chase:
The sad fact is that through the first half of the season, even with [Billy] Wagner performing at a level far below his peak, the Mets actually had one of the league's better bullpens; their 6.1 WXRL through the All-Star break ranked third in the NL behind the Phillies and Dodgers. Since then, they've been a league-worst 1.4 wins below replacement level as a unit. Fill-in closer Luis Ayala (-0.04 WXRL since coming over from the Nationals on Aug. 17) is an obvious culprit, but he's hardly the only offender.

A quick peek at the individual numbers informs us that it's not hard to recognize a systemic combination of overuse and ineffectiveness. Of the six relievers whom Jerry Manuel has called upon most frequently, five have second-half ERAs above 4.90: Ayala (5.54, including his Washington stint), Pedro Feliciano (6.38), Aaron Heilman (6.75), Duaner Sanchez (6.00), and Joe Smith (4.91); Scott Schoeneweis (4.50) is the exception. Excluding the late-arriving Ayala, that bunch has combined for 152 appearances in 63 games since the break, a breakneck 78-game pace for each over the course of a season. Feliciano (83 games), Ayala (80) and Smith (79) represent three of the six major league pitchers stretched to that exhausting plateau over the full season, with Heilman (77) not far behind. Overall the Mets rank second in the league since the break with 227 relief appearances, an average of 3.6 per game.

Driving such a frenetic pace is a massive platoon split that has Manuel chasing the "right" matchups, following a single-minded La Russa-style tactical orthodoxy at the expense of more important strategic imperatives such as conserving bullpen arms over the course of the long season. When they have the platoon advantage (righty on righty or lefty on lefty), Mets relievers have limited hitters to just .225/.299/.325; ranked by OPS, that's an impressive fourth in the majors. However, when they don't have the platoon advantage, they've been tagged at a .294/.375/.479 clip, worst in the majors. The 227-point OPS difference between situations is the highest by a wide margin; second-highest are the Brewers at 188 points, and they just whacked a manager over his platoon-related shenanigans and bullpen mismanagement. The take-home message is yet another reminder that chasing matchups can easily backfire on a skipper, either by exposing lefty specialists such as Schoeneweis (.333/.421/.509 versus righties) or Feliciano (.357/.453/.561) to the point where they face more righties than lefties, or by shunting a heavier workload to the second- or third-tier pitchers in a bullpen.

Yet for all of those woes, things might be different if Wagner were still around. Despite a superficially tidy 2.30 ERA, the five-time All-Star had accumulated just 1.5 WXRL in about two-thirds of a season, after compiling 3.8 last year and 5.9 in 2006 (second in the league). Depending upon which model of Billy Wags you use as a benchmark, that's anywhere from one to four wins missing from his ledger. Even at its lowest, that margin may easily be the difference between a club playing its way into October and adding another season like their now-infamous 2007 collapse to give them a matched pair of late-season meltdowns.
Like just about everyone else out there, I had the Mets pegged to win last night once Daniel Murphy led off the bottom of the ninth with a triple. My one-man Ikea furniture assembly line came to a halt to watch Bob Howry strike out David Wright, and I could have sworn one of the Mets' announcers -- Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez or Gary Cohen -- said something to the effect that "if Wright strikes out, this inning is over." That's optimism for you. Of course, Wright did strike out, and Howry escaped by intentionally walking Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran, getting a forceout at the plate, and then blowing away Ramon Castro. Unbelievable. I'm reminded of an expression by my friend and former coworker Lillie, a Brooklyn gal whose capacity for amazement at the ways she could be tortured by the Mets never ceases: "This fuckin' team!" she'd say, drawing the F-bomb out until it's longer than a mid-inning pitching change.

Meanwhile, the Brewers won behind a gritty effort by CC Sabathia, pitching on three days' rest and striking out 11 Pirates over seven innings and 108 pitches. The race for the two NL spots tightened even more with a Phillies loss. The Postseason Odds Report says:
Thru 9/24   Div   WC    Tot
Phillies 87.4 11.1 98.5
Mets 12.6 59.6 72.1
Brewers 0.0 29.3 29.3

Thru 9/25 Div WC Tot
Phillies 85.0 12.4 97.5
Mets 15.0 39.6 54.5
Brewers 0.0 47.9 47.9
Clay Davenport, who runs the Odds Report, published an estimate of the various tie-related scenarios:
The Mets and Phillies finish in a tie, ahead of the Brewers - 8.89% chance. If this happens, the Mets win the division and the Phillies win the wild card. No playoff.
Phillies and Mets tie for the division, Brewers win the wild card - 1.12% chance.
The Mets and Brewers tie for the WC, behind the Phils - 23.92%.

The Phillies and Brewers tie for the WC, behind the Mets - 1.29%.

Three-way tie for the WC - 3.13%.
So if you're simply a fan of entropy rather than any of these specific teams, today's math says you've got about a 29 percent chance of some extra baseball before the playoffs begin.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I Don't Think Either of Them Can Win

I've got an article in today's New York Sun about the war of attrition being fought over the NL West and NL Wild Card playoff spots. As I conceived the piece, in thinking about the recent struggles of the Brewers and Mets I was reminded of a great old quote. Had I been able to source it immediately, I probably would have led off with it, but it took forever to find, even with the help of Steven Goldman. As it is, it closes the piece out nicely:
The struggles of both teams remind one of the immortal words of sportswriter Walter Brown. In analyzing the war-depleted rosters of the Cubs and Tigers before the 1945 World Series, he famously quipped, "I don't think either of them can win." Observers of this year's NL races can certainly relate.
Flipping around between six games last night (thank you, Extra Innings package, and thank you, iPhone) as I assembled Ikea furniture, I watched considerable portions of both the Mets and Brewers wins while the Phillies lost, results that shifted the article's cited Postseason Odds -- the estimated percentage chance that they could gain entry to the playoffs -- a bit; even with Prince Fielder's walk-off homer, the Brewers lost gound:
Thru 9/23   Div   WC    Tot
Phillies 95.5 4.1 99.6
Mets 4.5 60.9 65.3
Brewers 0.0 34.0 34.0

Thru 9/24 Div WC Tot
Phillies 87.4 11.1 98.5
Mets 12.6 59.6 72.1
Brewers 0.0 29.3 29.3
Of course, those numbers can change dramatically. As of September 1, the Brewers were at 14.8/81.2/96.0, and of course last year the Mets were at 98.8 overall prior to their collapse. Until they clinch, there's no such thing as a lock -- just ask the 2007 Rockies.

As for the Dodgers, they dodged a bit of a bullet last night. They came into the game against the Padres with a two-game lead over the Diamondbacks and a 91.5 percent shot at the division title, and while they were initially scheduled to face Jake Peavy, the ace's absence from the team over the weekend to attend the birth of his son compelled Pad skipper Bud Black to push him back until Thursday. Instead the Dodgers scored six first-inning runs off replacement starter Your Name Here and rolled to a 10-1 win while the D-bags lost, raising the Dodgers' odds to 98.0 percent and cutting their magic number to three. Aw yeah, baby.

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Monday, September 22, 2008


The Decline and Fall of Yankee Stadium

The Yankees put on quite a show in the Bronx last night for the final game ever at Yankee Stadium. I wasn't in attendance, alas, unlike some of my NYC-area cohorts like Alex Belth, Cliff Corcoran, Joe Sheehan and Derek Jacques, and without the anticipation of attending the game, I had a tough time summoning the requisite nostalgia beforehand. Over the weekend I did manage to surmount some of my baggage in time to pen a pending piece for Alex and Cliff's Bronx Banter series on my favorite moment in Yankee Stadium; in true Jaffe fashion I turned a simple assignment into a five-reel epic, emerging with a top ten countdown of my most memorable moments at the ballpark. Sooner or later, the piece will join the ranks of those by Pete Abraham, Allen Barra, Brian Gunn, Phil Pepe, Dayn Perry, Ken Rosenthal et al, and I hope it will be a worthy addition.

The flip side of those warm memories is today's piece for Baseball Prospectus in which I come less to praise Yankee Stadium than to bury it. Mainly, it's a much harsher reckoning with all that the Yankee Stadium experience became in the wake of September 11. Regular readers of this site will be familiar with my litany of complaints, from the arbitrary enforcement of "security" procedures to the controversy surrounding the ritualistic playing of "God Bless America," all of which served to make a trip to the ballpark a considerably less fun experience than in earlier years:
The Yankee Stadium which emerged in the immediate wake of September 11 was a defiant symbol of national unity in a time of crisis, and I had the honor of attending a few of the games there, including Game Three of the World Series, when President Bush threw out the first pitch of what Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci called "the ceremonial first pitch to America's recovery" (alas, stadium security was so heavy that night that I couldn't gain entry until the second inning, after Bush had departed). The problems began when the Yankee organization, from owner George Steinbrenner on down, couldn't let go of that symbolism. "God Bless America" became a permanent staple of the seventh-inning stretch, devolving from the spectacular pomp of Irish tenor Ronan Tynan's delivery during home playoff games to the banality of the canned recording of Kate Smith and the U.S. Army Band's version. More on that in a moment.

Accompanying the regular renditions of "God Bless America" were heightened security procedures that subjected patrons to no small litany of hassles while doing little to make them more secure. Given the cursory frisking procedures and lack of metal detection capabilities, it would have been possible to gain entry with a 9mm handgun jammed down the back of one's pants and a Bowie knife sheathed in one's sock, but without those, the organization simply inflicted its increasing paranoia and greed upon paying customers. Backpacks and briefcases were immediately banned from the ballpark after September 11, as though any potential ticketholder might be a terrorist smuggling in a tactical nuclear weapon swiped from the imagination of some z-grade thriller. Not even Shea Stadium -- located only two miles from La Guardia Airport -- stooped to such extremes. Anyone coming to the park while porting one of the banned bag types -- say, from work -- was forced to check it for a fee at one of the bars or restaurants across River Avenue. Anyone wishing to schlep a bagful of items into the stadium -- say, a scorebook, a jacket, and reading material for the long subway ride home -- was forced to place those items in a flimsy, clear plastic grocery-type bag available outside the turnstiles. No other types of bags, such as ones with reinforced handles, were allowed, first for vague "security purposes" and then, once fans began pressing Yankee security to explain these increasingly irrational and seemingly arbitrary requests, "because you're not allowed to bring bags with logos inside." As you may have divined, I had many a terse confrontation over this policy.

But wait, there's more. Umbrellas were banned, subjecting patrons to a true soaking at the stadium's souvenir stands, where they could shell out $5 for a flimsy poncho. Confiscated umbrellas were consigned to giant heaps near the turnstiles, where aggrieved fans departing a game were granted the opportunity to choose a replacement vastly inferior to the one they'd brought. But perhaps the reductio ad absurdum was the stadium's ban on sunscreen -- yes, really -- thus creating another opportunity for profiteering inside the ballpark.

All of those were petty annoyances of a type not unfamiliar to any New Yorker; one basically signs up for a host of such inconveniences upon taking residence here with the hope that they'll be outweighed by the advantages of city dwelling. Far more ominous were the crowd-related issues that exacerbated over the past few years. To appreciate them, one need understand the trend of rapid attendance growth that occurred during the Joe Torre era...

For me, the final straw came on April 30, 2007, after attending a tense Saturday game against the Red Sox in which the Yankees prevailed. A very bipartisan, alcohol-fueled crowd had been at each other's throats all game; the cheap seats in Tier Reserved had featured numerous fights and ejections. An irrational security force nonetheless sealed off several of the stadium's ramps, slowing the exits of legions of emotionally overheated fans. It took 40 minutes to crawl from the upper deck to the subway platform, and while I'm no claustrophobe, all I could think about on my painfully protracted way out was the deadly human crush of English soccer riots. The limiting of the exits apparently became standard operating procedure, and if the consequences didn't turn tragic the way I kept envisioning, they nonetheless added an unnecessary, dangerous level of discomfort to the experience of attending a game in the Bronx.
Further down in the piece is a summation of the horrors of the new ballpark's ominously named Relocation Program (if the hot dogs in the new park taste different, you'll know why) and a recognition of the way so many rank-and-file fans stand to be priced out of the cherished ritual of regular attendance in the coming years. On that topic, Cliff C. had a fantastic piece the other day, titled "The Rich Get Richer: The Ugly Truth About The New Yankee Stadium."

Raining on a parade isn't a fun thing to do, and I have to admit, in watching from my seat on the couch last night, I was moved by the pomp and pageantry of the gala affair despite its contrivances. But in the afterglow of the finale, I'm more resolute than ever about the necessity of shedding some light on the dark side of Yankee Stadium's final days and years. I'm not sure things will ever be the same for me in the Bronx again, and I wonder how many fans will feel similarly in the coming years.

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Friday, September 19, 2008


Five Style

Well, my trip to the ballparks last weekend didn't work out quite as planned, with rain washing away the Brewers-Phillies game and depriving me of my first opportunity to see Citizens Bank Ballpark. Given the way the rest of the weekend unfolded for the flat Brew Crew -- including the shocking firing of manager Ned Yost -- that might have been for the best. My frantic trip back to New York for my final game at Yankee Stadium didn't wind up much better, as I watched a listless bunch of pinstriped zombies fail to summon the energy of going through the motions to pretend that they could act like they gave a shit. They lost 7-1 to the Rays, failing to score until the ninth inning, failing to draw a walk all day long. Alex Rodriguez sat in favor of Cody Ransom at third base. Blech.

As the finale approaches this Sunday, I've got a piece in the works about my last game still in the pipeline. Until then, here's this week's horde of links to my work at Baseball Prospectus, with a bonus as well:

• I neglected to include a link to the chat I did last Wednesday.

• This article looks at the high-profile bullpen failures of recent days, and focuses on the teams who haven't been able to get much relief in the second half.

• This piece follows up one from three weeks ago, about teams who have dramatically over- or underachieved relative to their projected records. Last week, according to Baseball Prospectus' Adjusted Standings Report -- which forms the basis of the weekly Hit Lists -- the Angels set an all-time mark for overachievement that was previously held by the 2004 Yankees; they're now more than 14 games better than their adjusted runs scored and runs allowed totals would tell you. And when I say adjusted, I mean adjusted for run elements, park, league, and quality of competition.

Interestingly enough, the team that's underachieved the most relative to their projected record are the Red Sox, who are more than seven games under theirs. A similar thing happened last year and it didn't stop the Sox from winning the World Series, but it's quite an anomaly for teams that are more than four games under their records to make the postseason -- it's happened just four times in over 100 years of play prior to this year.

• Today's Hit List, the penultimate one of the season, much to my relief. Strangely enough, the Brewers, Yankees and Dodgers are 9-10-11 in this week's rankings, and it looks like only the "weakest" of the three might make the playoffs. Not that the difference between the clubs is huge, just three percentage points of Hit List Factor (.003).

• Also, as a follow-up to last week's piece on Manny Ramirez, researcher Bil Burk helped me prepare an Unfiltered follow-up comparing Manny's initial hot streak with the Dodgers to the majors' best hot streaks of equivalent length. It turns out that over the course of 180 plate appearances, the size of Ramirez's stint in Dodger blue at the time, Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla -- the first three pretty solid MVP candidates -- have outdone the toast of Tinseltown.

Ok, back sooner than later, hopefully.

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Friday, September 12, 2008


Three Quick Shakes

Back from my late winter summer trip to Salt Lake City and Wyoming, where I nearly froze my ass off while backpacking in the Wind Rivers range once again. After three days of chilly weather and occasional odd snow flurries that melted the moment they hit the ground, I awoke to a snow-covered forest floor at 10,000 feet last Friday morning. Brrrrr.

Back in the swing of things, I've pretty much given up the Yankees for dead. Instead my focus has been on the NL West. I watched some of last weekend's key series against the collapsing Diamondbacks and marveled at the unstoppable force that is Manny Ramire - two topics that each provided me with enough fodder for Prospectus Hit and Run pieces:

Snakes Down a Drain:
This past Saturday, the Arizona Diamondbacks did what they've been threatening to do for the better part of the last four months: they surrendered first place in the NL West, a position they had held at least a share of since April 6. Back in April, they appeared poised to build on last year's league-best record and run away with the division flag. Since then, they've been an adventure in mediocrity. On the heels of a three-game sweep by the Dodgers, Monday night's loss even knocked them below .500. If you were in an airplane with their Postseason Odds, you'd have strapped on your parachute, unbolted the door, and checked the crossbreeze by now.

Before peering too deeply into the abyss, a brief refresher course is in order. Recall that the Diamondbacks finished with a 90-72 record but became just the sixth team to make the postseason with a negative run differential. They wound up 12.2 games above their third-order projection, the third-highest mark of all time. It wasn't hard to envision the old Bill James Plexiglass Principle coming back to swat them on their collective derriere; exceeding expectations two years in a row is a very tough act. Nonetheless, the addition of Dan Haren to the rotation via a blockbuster trade with the A's, the return of Randy Johnson from injury, and steady improvement by a nucleus of players 25 or under—Stephen Drew, Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton, and Chris B. Young—figured to make the Diamondbacks at least co-favorites in the NL West. PECOTA forecasted an 87-75 finish and a +58 run differential (821 runs scored, 763 runs allowed). Not thrilling, but nice.

That forecast looked to be well on the low side through the first month of this season. The Diamondbacks compiled the best record (20-8) and run differential (+56) through April 30 while opening up a 5½-game lead in the division. They scored 5.9 runs per game to that point, second best in the majors. Even more impressively, they allowed just 3.9 runs per game (third best in the majors), a Herculean feat given that they play half their games in the second-best hitters' park in the bigs. But since that sprint out of the gate, the D'backs have gone just 51-65 while wheezing their way to 4.2 runs per game (24th in the majors) and yielding 4.6 per game (14th).
The Manny Show
Earlier this summer, I had occasion to review the career of former Dodger slugger Pedro Guerrero, a favorite player of my youth, for a research project. Guerrero spent the first few years of his major league career--1978-1980, for those too young to remember--waiting for Steve Garvey and company to grow old. In the interim, he was forced to learn other positions, playing every spot except for catcher and shortstop, finally cracking the Dodgers' lineup as a right fielder for a couple of years. When Ron Cey was traded to the Cubs following the 1982 season, Guerrero began a nasty, short and brutish war of attrition with third base, where his range was above-average and his arm was strong, but his footwork was lousy. The media tended to focus on his errors (46 in 1983-1984) rather than the plays he made, but Guerrero paid his critics no mind. "I can f---ing hit" was his refrain, and brother, he could. Guerrero finished in the top three in Equivalent Average three times over the 1982-1985 span, often carrying a meager Dodger offense on his back for weeks at a time.

I'm reminded of Guerrero because I swear I'm seeing the reincarnation of that one-man Dodger blue wrecking crew in the form of Manny Ramirez right now, night after night after night. Ladies and gentlemen, in case you haven't been paying attention, know this: Manny Ramirez can f---ing hit. Since coming to the Dodgers in a three-way deal consummated just moments before the July 31 trading deadline, he's batting .396/.498/.776 with 14 homers in 166 plate appearances while helping his new club climb from two games behind the Diamondbacks in the NL West to 3 1/2 ahead of them. On the heels of his controversial exit from Boston, he showed up in Tinseltown, chose jersey number 99, promised to cut his dreadlocks in due course but barely obliged, ignited a merchandising craze and charmed his fans, teammates and even his stony-faced manager with his between-innings misadventures. Amid all of the distractions, he's simply beaten the tar out of the ball, and the Dodger offense has started to click. On Wednesday night, he crushed a pair of opposite field home runs in Petco Park, one of the majors' least homer-friendly venues.
And with no time to spare, I put together this week's Hit List in a manner that I've never done before in the 90+ I've banged out over the last four years: I wrote the team comments in order from top to bottom, 1 to 30, just to see if I could finally do it. I'm not sure it will mean much to the reader, but as an exercise in quickly assembling some "talking points" about each team, it was a productive one, and I'm proud that it came out as well as it did.

As I write this I've got one foot out the door. I'm headed to Philadelphia tonight for a Phils-Brewers game, my third Brewers game in three cities this year and my first trip to Citizens Bank Ballpark. Tomorrow morning I've got to turn that around to get back to the Bronx for my final game at Yankee Stadium. I'll be writing that one up for Baseball Prospectus next week, and rest assured, it won't be the kind of weepy nostalgia piece that's going around like a bad cold given recent events.

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