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.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


It Never Rains...

Since we last spoke:

• In Friday's column at Baseball Prospectus, "A Tale of Two Right Fielders," I discussed the way the spotlight seemed to find the Phillies' Jayson Werth and the Rays' Rocco Baldelli all night long in Game Two. Both players took unlikely routes to the World Series, and each threw out the other on the basepaths along the way to the Rays' 4-2 victory.

• In Friday's chat, I fielded questions on the World Series, the offseason, and the Hall of Fame. A brief sampling:
oira61 (San Francisco): It seems like there are no players on either team who are already good Hall of Fame candidates (though guys like Utley, Upton, etc. have time to qualify.) Can you ever remember a Series without such an established veteran star?

JJ: Wow, that's a good question, one that pretty much ties into what I was saying a couple of days ago about how rare it is to get two fresh teams facing off in the series for the first time in awhile. Add to that the fact that both teams are dominated by younger guys whose best days may still be ahead of them and you wind up with a situation like this. I'm jogging my memory and looking back over the WS matchups and thinking that we've hit a real stumper. At the time, people wondered aloud if the 1998 Yankees would yield a Hall of Famer, but now it's apparent that Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter will make it if nobody else does, to say nothing of Tony Gwynn from the opposite dugout.

The 1982 matchup maybe - at the time it certainly wasn't apparent that Ozzie Smith, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor or Don Sutton would make it (Sutton would win 60-something more games in the majors), and Rollie Fingers was sidelined too. Definitely a question to sock away for future pondering.

Swingingbunts (NY): I think the 1997 World Series is a good match for the 1st question. The Indians had Manny and Thome but they were only 25 at the time. The Marlins had Sheffield who was only 28. That's about it.

JJ: Fair point, though I guess one might have been forgiven for hoping that Kevin Brown or Orel Hershiser might continue building strong cases, David Justice (31 and coming off a monster year) too.

Ameer (NYC): ...Follow-up to the first question of the chat--who do you see as the most likely HOF candidates on each of these WS teams? I know it's a lot harder to make any kind of prognostication with the kids, like Price, but hey, it's fun to take a guess.

JJ: ...Looking at these rosters, I'd say both Utley and Howard have uphill battles given their relatively late starts to their careers, though Utley could be the Jeff Kent of the next decade albeit with better defense AND plate discipline. Rollins may make a run at 3000 hits; despite his flaws, he's got 1461 through his Age 29 season and he's generally been very durable. The sky's the limit for Cole Hamels if he stays healthy...

And you an say that about Longoria, Upton, Price, Shields, Kazmir... all of them or none of them might pan out as HOFers - if I had to pick one I'd put my money on Longoria.

blaseta (Calgary): Do you see the Jays having any chance at signing Derek Lowe? They seem like a really good fit with their strong infield defense. Personally, I think they'd be much better signing him then they would be if they got AJ Burnett back given their respective histories. Am I making sense are is my dislike of AJ getting in the way?

JJ: Lowe has been among the most durable pitchers in the majors; he's second to Maddux in games started over the last four years while Burnett is... not. He's a horse and there aren't too many teams who COULDN'T use a pitcher like that. Which means the Jays would have to outbid the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets and anyone else who throws their hat in the ring.

As for Burnett, he's got a MUCH higher upside, but with the high reward comes a very inflated risk, not to mention his reputation as a jackass, which as you acknowledge can distort the perception of his value. If he opts out, I think the Jays are better off looking in another direction rather than paying him, though I'm sure somebody will.
• On Monday night, I partook in a World Series roundtable along with colleagues Will Carroll, Steve Goldman, Derek Jacques, Christina Kahrl, David Laurilia and Joe Sheehan. Despite the incessant tangential banter about the career of Hall and Oates (much of which thankfully took place before I arrived on the scene), we did spend a lot of time talking about baseball and in particular the rapidly deteriorating weather conditions which led to the suspension of the Game in the middle of the sixth inning. I laid out my feelings on the topic of whether the game should be halted as the weather worsened (I've italicized reader questions to make them more clear than they are at the BP site):
Jay Jaffe (7:49:58 PM PT): I can't believe there's no contingency for suspending a non-tied postseason game after the fifth due to unplayable weather conditions. This is horse****.

Jay Jaffe (8:16:09 PM PT): "Tim (Philly): This is an absolute embarrassment. Had the Rays not scored, theres no way they'd have called the game. I don't want to hear a single Rays fan say they got unlucky breaks this series. Major League Baseball just handed them the World Series."

For what it's worth (i.e., not much), MLB's resident prince of darkness Bob Dupuy told Chris Myers that they were going to bring out the tarp at the end of the half inning because conditions had gotten so bad. I'm not exactly ready to buy that, but even if it's true, it's a loooooooong stretch to say delaying a tie game with a team down 3-1 is handing anybody the World Series.

Let me get this straight: you seem to think a team that was 12 outs from a World Champions are going to curl up into a fetal position and let themselves be steamrolled by the Rays simply because of the timing of a tarp?

Jay Jaffe (8:37:23 PM PT): "Jon (SF): Maybe I am naive or missing something, but I fail to see how the Phillies are being screwed. Please explain."

At the simplest level, the idea is that the two teams should both be playing under the same conditions for an even amount of time. When the lights are turned on for a game, for example, they have to be turned on at the start of an inning so one team doesn't gain an advantage.

At a deeper level... reader tirk44 sums it up well: "Thinking ahead the Rays must be feeling good. They have a 3 1/2 inning game whenever this gets started, and the Phillies' best pitcher is likely done for the year. It's not a stretch to say that the pitching matchups, and home field advantage, favor the Rays in games 6 & 7"

Jay Jaffe (9:26:04 PM PT):...I'll cap this with a closing observation based on watching part of the post-game press conference. It sounded quite apparent that there was a mandate from MLB to the umpiring crew prior to the game to play all nine innings even if that required an unprecedented (in WS history) suspension of play. If that's the case, then maybe there was a bit more leadership than I've given credit for. The timing of the suspension was still awkward and arguably bent towards the Rays, but I think we can all agree that a title granted via rainout would have been the worst of all possible outcomes.

The commissioner who gave us an All-Star game that ended in a tie did manage to avoid a situation that would be ridiculed even more. So he's got that going for him.
• Finally, in addition to discussing the sodden conditions, my column for today puts the oh-fers of Carlos Peña and Evan Longoria — a combined 0-for-31 leading up to the fourth inning of Game Five after combining for 26 hits, nine homers, and 21 RBI in the first two rounds of the postseason — into historical context. Not all of the baker's dozen players on the list, which spans 100 years, failed to collect a hit in the World Series, but the performances of Dave Winfield (1-for-22 in 1981), Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire (a combined 2-for-36 in 1988, albeit with two homers) aren't much better for having avoided the horse collar. Here's a couple of interesting ones:
7. Davey Johnson, Orioles, 1969
Perhaps better known for piloting the 1986 Mets to their second World Championship, Johnson also played a part in their first one, albeit reluctantly: the All-Star second baseman went just 1-for-16 as the heavily favored, 109-win Orioles fell to the Miracle Mets. Of course, there was plenty of blame to go around on a team that hit just .146 over the five game series, and Johnson wasn't even the worst offender. Brooks Robinson went 1-for-19 (albeit with two RBI to Johnson's zero), and Paul Blair and Don Buford each went 2-for-20, but Johnson's link to the Mets' two championships stands out, and that's why he's noted here.

8. Dick Green, Athletics, 1974
The Big Green Machine's second-base situation—exacerbated by manager Dick Williams' penchant for pinch-hitting for the light-hitting Green—had already drawn heavy scrutiny the previous fall, when owner Charlie Finley forced backup second baseman Mike Andrews to sign a false affidavit saying he was injured after Andrews made errors on consecutive plays in the decisive 12th inning of Game Two. Finley wanted Andrews deactivated in favor of rookie Manny Trillo (who would later share in the 1980 Phillies' World Championship), but Commissioner Bowie Kuhn saw through the ploy, and Andrews' teammates mutinied, taping Andrews' uniform number to their uniforms during a workout.

Green had gone just 1-for-16 in Oakland's 1973 victory, but he under-did that the following year. New skipper Alvin Dark maintained Williams' tendency to pinch-hit for Green, who went 0-for-13 in the five-game victory over the Dodgers, but Green's slick fielding nonetheless helped him earn the Babe Ruth Award, given by the New York chapter of the BBWAA to the World Series MVP; Rollie Fingers won the official World Series MVP Award for collecting a win and two saves.
Anyway, it remains to be seen whether Pena and Longoria can hit their way out of consideration for an updated list, or when that might happen; given Tuesday night's grim forecast, MLB has decided not to attempt resumption of the game until Wednesday evening. As noted at the end of my piece, FanGraphs' live win expectancy figures show the Phillies with about a 58 percent shot at winning the game once play resumes, and even if the Rays should come back to force a Game Six and a Game Seven, Hamels would be available on three days' rest for the latter, assuming the travel day is absorbed by the rescheduling. The Phillies and their fans can gripe about getting a raw deal from Mother Nature and MLB, but they still hold a considerable advantage.

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