Instead of being offered our $25 seats, or even anything between the bases, we had been assigned $85 seats in section 107…The article is a freebie over at BP. Those of you with Yankee-themed blogs, please consider linking to this piece, because the Yanks deserve every iota of bad publicity they get about this. See also the great additional commentary from Neil de Mause at the Village Voice.
…right behind the right field foul pole. Obstructed view, at more than triple the price of what we were prepared to spend. Are you kidding me? No, really, ARE YOU &*^%$#@ KIDDING ME?
Not every top prospect hits the ground running the way recent Rookie of the Year winners like Evan Longoria and Ryan Braun did, stepping into a major league lineup and putting up All-Star caliber numbers. Sometimes it takes a couple of years' worth of experience and adjustments for a high-upside player to reach his potential, but when he does, look out.The hitters most likely to breakout inclue Justin Upton, Elijah Dukes, Chris Young, Lastings Milledge, Ryan Zimmerman, Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce and Adam Jones.
Our PECOTA projection system can help to identify such players via a trio of categories called "breakout," "improve" and "decline," which estimate the likelihood of a player's production significantly rising or falling relative to his established baseline level. "Breakout rate" is the percent chance that a hitter's equivalent runs produced per plate appearance will improve by at least 20 percent relative to the weighted average of his performance over the past three years. A high rate generally indicates a high upside, though it's worth noting the Ugueto Effect, in which the system will estimate a high rate for a horrible player simply because there's nowhere else for him to go.
What follows are a handful of players -- curiously concentrated among a small number of teams -- whom PECOTA sees as excellent breakout candidates at the major league level this year, with "breakout rates" of at least 33 percent. Each is forecast for at least 400 plate appearances, a .275 "equivalent average," and 2.5 WARP. Most are familiar names from our recent top 100 prospects lists whom you'll likely hear even more about as they approach their considerable potentials.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (157 IP, 4.35 EqERA, 23% Breakout Rate)Sorry, Yankee fans, Phil Hughes just missed the list. His breakout rate of 48 percent is higher than any pitcher on the list, but his weighted mean projected ERA is 4.74, 0.14 above my cutoff.
Drafted one pick behind [Andrew] Miller, Kershaw ranked fifth on last year's prospect list, and dazzled observers in spring training — all before celebrating his 20th birthday. Recalled last May, he scuffled in his first major league stint before undertaking a Double-A refresher course. Upon returning, the young southpaw exhibited much-improved control (67/28 K/BB ratio in 69 innings) and impressive poise, finishing with a respectable 4.26 ERA that would have been considerably lower with average defensive support. Only the speed of his ascent curbs PECOTA's optimism for him to maintain or better last year's level, since his baseline includes relatively high translated ERAs from his low minors work.
John Danks, White Sox (169 IP, 4.03 EqERA, 20% Breakout Rate)
By any conventional sense of the term, Danks already broke out in 2008, pitching the White Sox into the postseason in the Game 163 tiebreaker to cap a season in which he finished fifth in the AL with a 3.32 ERA. His projection is weighted down by the brutal translations of his 2006 performance and an ugly rookie campaign, but the addition of a cut fastball to his arsenal last year boosted his ground-ball rate and prevented homers, and typifies the non-linear gains which developing pitchers often deliver. PECOTA remains bullish.
One thing about our sabremetric era that doesn't get discussed much: it's inherently anti-labor. "Efficiencies" is not a word workers want to hear from the executive suite. When Bob Seger sang "I Feel Like a Number," he wasn't talking about OPS+ or Revised Zone Rating (and by "Like a Rock" he sho nuff didn't mean Tim Raines), but there's more than a grain of truth to the suspicion that all this statistical research turns people into commodities as owners squeeze the most performance from the least amount of capital.At times I've wondered about this question myself. In the six years since Moneyball was published, most of its lessons have been absorbed into front offices, but at a pace much more slowly than that of the business world (see Michael Lewis' epilogue). Those lessons resonated most clearly with an audience of baseball fans who fancy themselves as the next Billy Beane -- or, given even greater success -- the next Theo Epstein. Stat geeks channel their inner GMs, talking of team-building and refusing to overpay for mediocrity.
But one man's soulless Futuramic dystopia is another man's common sense. Why not try to figure out who actually plays better defense? Why not ask what, exactly, is the pitcher's contribution to his team's success? Smart players will take advantage of the technology, too, whether it's digital video or higher math.
Besides, when we describe baseball players as "labor," we're not exactly talking the downtrodden and oppressed. Baseball players are, shall we say, exquisitely exploited. If this report is accurate, Bobby Abreu is about to take a 67% pay cut, and he'll still make at least $5 million. After pocketing more than nine digits during his illustrious career, Tom Glavine isn't sure he's willing to play for $1 million.
...So when I root for the Giants to build the best team possible at the most sensible price, I guess I'm siding with The Man and against my brothers in the fields. So much for solidarity. I don't feel too guilty. The players' union, like many other unions in history, has grown from a righteous cause to a juggernaut that has made its share of transgressions. For example, there are some who feel it's just as complicit as management in the steroids cover-up. It wouldn't surprise me one bit.
...What's all this about? Perhaps as player contracts have increased, they've alienated more fans. Perhaps as prices have gone up, the fan base has become more white collar, more identified with ownership, not labor. Maybe it's the Internet's fault, making math and statistics and computing power so much easier for kids to get hold of. Damn you, Internet.
While I want to see the game I'm so passionate about come up with a sensible way to handle the problem, I see the failure to do already in the context of a labor-versus-management war that has waged continuously for the past 35 years. The owners have historically shown a strong aversion to bargaining in good faith and produced union-busting tactics such as collusion and replacement players, and they've offered up a general dishonesty about the game's financial state as well. None of this justifies the players' use of such substances, but the owners' actions haven't engendered the kind of trust necessary for the Major League Baseball Players Association to join the owners in constructing an effective and proactive means of combating their usage either. While the players' conduct in this matter hasn't been exemplary, their hands have yet to be forced, and the MLBPA didn't get to be the most powerful labor union in history by selling out its rank and file just to appease a casual fan's notion that everything was a chemical-free hunky dory.While I had another couple of thousand words to follow this post regarding the less-than-flattering picture of the Major League Baseball Players Association that's been painted by the A-Rod affair, that entry got stuck in the pipeline behind my other work, and now we've got Rodriguez's press conference shit show to consider...
One of the ongoing notions in the past decade's witch-hunting is that people -- really, the media -- just want players to confess, to own up to what they did. The idea is that by coming clean, the public -- really, the media -- will forgive them and allow them to get on with their careers. In fact, most of the case against Mark McGwire is that he didn't do just that, and baseball fans -- really, the media -- have never forgiven him. The legal case against Barry Bonds isn't about drug use, but about words. Rafael Palmeiro failed a test, but his reaction to it, pointing fingers at teammates, is what doomed him. We -- really, the media -- hate this behavior, belittle it, and yearn for a player who will talk about his use.Selig's announcement last week that he was mulling punishment for Rodriguez was particularly laughable given the non-punitive nature of the original offense (which was supposed to remain anonymous, of course) and the ease with which an arbitrator would have swatted such an attempt away. "Jaffe mulls punishment for Selig" would have been just as credible a headline. The commissioner and the union leadership deserve to be sweating from the heat of the spotlight now just as Rodriguez is.
Yesterday afternoon, Alex Rodriguez sat down and answered as many questions about his use of performance-enhancing substances as any team-sports athlete ever has. No one has ever gone into the level of detail that Rodriguez did in his statement and in the 40 minutes of questioning that followed. No one has copped to as extensive a usage history. Whether you think he would have been there absent Selena Roberts' reporting, the fact is that he provided more information about his personal use than any player caught up in this mess.
Yet it's still not enough for many. The reaction to Rodriguez's press conference has been at best apathetic, and at worst, critical. His demeanor, his word choice, his expressions, his inflections have all been picked apart, and he's been given no credit for the details he provided. There's an assumption that he's being deceptive, duplicitous, and insincere. Whether this stems from the dislike so many people have for this very insecure man, the dislike of his agent, or the general disdain for the successful and wealthy -- let's face it, sports coverage has devolved into thinly disguised class warfare -- this most open moment has been dismissed, and Rodriguez has been given no credit for providing it.
Contrast that with the reaction to the press conference at which the Chargers' Shawne Merriman openly discussed his... oh, wait, that didn't happen. It didn't happen because the NFL doesn't have a vested interest in making its players look bad to gain the upper hand in an unending war against its own product. The NFL would never sustain a story like that through multiple news cycles, never allow PED use to overwhelm the story of training camps opening, never contribute to speculation that its game and its stars were somehow less than because of their behavior.
The other day, Bud Selig whined that he shouldn't be held responsible for the so-called "steroid era," claiming that he wanted to talk about the problem as far back as 1995. As I've mentioned, Selig has flipped on this issue a few times, sometimes claiming to have been fighting it for a while, sometimes claiming he didn't know there was a problem. I suppose he could have been fighting a problem he didn't know about. It's not as if Selig was running a needle-exchange program, but given that the man was an owner for 25 years and commissioner after that, I'm going to say that he had both the knowledge and the authority to do more than he did. His busy schedule of misleading Congress, putting out endlessly innumerate claims of poverty, attempting to break the union, destroying franchises, and extorting billions of dollars from taxpayers didn't allow much time for attacking this issue.
The West projects better than the Central in part because of high-upside pitching talent, with six of the majors' top 15 pitchers according to the PECOTA VORP projections: Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, Chad Billingsley, and Max Scherzer. The Central has just two among the top 15, Rich Harden and Roy Oswalt. The West has 13 pitchers projected for at least 20 VORP, the Central just eight—double the number per team, basically. Even given the fact that PECOTA underestimated the Central last year, the advantage seems clear.So far the numbers show the NL East gaining a fair amount of talent, with four out of five teams showing positive net WARPS via trades and free agency, while the Central and West both have seen talent drains, with only one team in each division bucking the trend. Pretty amazing. I'll start working my way through the AL soon.
As for the outside help, it bears repeating that what's presented here is just one piece of the puzzle, with no attempt to account for longer-term concerns such as prospect trades or multi-year deals. This is just a rough guide to who's new and who's gone, and how much impact they're expected to have on the division race this year. Teams are listed in order of 2008 finish; for each hitter, WARP and EqA are listed, while for each pitcher, the figures are WARP and EqERA.
Los Angeles Dodgers
IN: C Brad Ausmus (0.7, .235), SS Juan Castro (-0.5, .177), SP Shawn Estes (0.8, 5.40), SP Charlie Haeger (-0.4, 6.64), INF Mark Loretta (0.3, .249), RP Guillermo Mota (0.7, 4.88), SP Claudio Vargas (1.3, 5.00), SP Jeff Weaver (0.4, 5.76), SP Randy Wolf (2.4, 4.72)
OUT: C Gary Bennett (-0.1, .218), CF Andruw Jones (1.4, .267), SP Derek Lowe (4.2, 4.00), SP Brad Penny (1.8, 4.85), RP Scott Proctor (0.9, 4.56) LF Manny Ramirez (4.3, .316), RP Takashi Saito (2.7, 2.99)
NET: -9.5 WARP (-5.2 if Ramirez returns)
As you'd expect, the wealthiest team in the division has spent the most money this winter, primarily in the service of retaining their own. Presuming that the Dodgers will eventually strike an agreement with Ramirez, whose list of potential suitors has dwindled to LA and San Francisco, they'll have given out three of the division's four most lucrative contracts this winter. As it is, Rafael Furcal's $30 million deal and Casey Blake's $17.5 million deal rank first and third, respectively. Despite that spending, they've made some cuts that they otherwise might not have if they weren't saving room for Manny, winding up with a net talent drain even if he does return. Lowe's departure is the most significant, exposing a rotation that's got plenty of health concerns, but while we're on that subject, the losses of Penny and Saito may not be as painful as advertised, particularly since the latter's elbow woes may be serious enough to merit Tommy John surgery. The most damaging blow, however, would be in losing Ramirez, whose return would improve the Dodgers' eight-game deficit in the projected standings by three wins. And so long as we're alluding to useless outfielders, the Rangers will take that projection from Jones, whose remaining $21 million the Dodgers figured out a way to eat on the installment plan. As for the players that the team has acquired, aside from solid fourth starer Wolf, they're a singularly unimpressive lot, many of whom could be swapped out for Shawn Estes in Dodger Thoughts blogger Jon Weisman's instant classic of a quip: "When I think of Estes, I think of a game show in which the category is 'Pitchers I've been eager for the Dodgers to face in the 21st century.'"
IN: C Luke Carlin (1.0, .251), SP Jon Garland (2.1, 4.92), RP Tom Gordon (0.3, 4.53), 2B Felipe Lopez (2.2, .267), RP Scott Schoeneweis (0.7, 4.73)
OUT: UT Chris Burke (0.3, .238), RP Juan Cruz (1.3, 4.27), 1B/OF Adam Dunn (3.8, .308), SS David Eckstein (0.8, .243), C/UT Robby Hammock (-0.1, .201), 2B Orlando Hudson (2.6, .267), SP Randy Johnson (3.5, 4.01), RP Wil Ledezma (0.6, 5.1), RP Brandon Lyon (1.7, 4.33), RP Conor Robertson (0.5, 5.51), OF Jeff Salazar (1.0, .276)
NET: -9.7 WARP
As noted before, the Diamondbacks have already made a conspicuous show of belt-tightening this winter by laying off 31 employees and foregoing the Big Unit, not to mention other relatively high-quality free agents like Dunn and Hudson. As such, they've lost the most talent of any team in this division, though PECOTA still gives them a generous cushion in the standings. That only partially mitigates the decision to bypass Johnson, who took $8 million from the Giants, in favor of Garland, whom the Snakes signed for $7.25 million. While Arizona was one of the league's most efficient teams in terms of marginal dollars per marginal win last year, this is an obvious error, as they could have bought the extra 1.4 wins forecast for Johnson at about 20 percent of the going rate. Meanwhile, the decision to let Hudson depart in favor of Lopez is closer to a wash, though the five-run difference in defensive projections (+2 for Hudson, -3 for Lopez) may have a ripple effect once the defense is factored into the pitching projections.
[Mets GM Omar] Minaya entered the offseason with just three starters under contract: Johan Santana, John Maine, and Mike Pelfrey. Santana went 16-7 with a 2.53 ERA and 206 strikeouts last year, numbers that propelled the two-time AL Cy Young award winner to a third-place finish in his first NL vote. Maine pitched reasonably well (10-8, 4.18 ERA and 122 strikeouts), but a bone spur in his shoulder limited him to just six second-half starts and required off-season surgery. Pelfrey established himself as a viable starter by going 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA after getting the stuffing knocked out of him in 2007.The Mets are currently forecast for 92 wins, while the Phillies and Braves come in at 87 wins. Adjustments to those numbers will be made throughout the spring as injuries and trades happen and as job battles are settled, but the early line is favorable. Not that it will heal the wounds of 2007 and 2008.
With the re-signing of Perez (10-7 with a 4.22 ERA and 180 strikeouts), the front four is thus unchanged, and a stronger unit than the one they left the gate with last year, given that Pelfrey is replacing Pedro Martinez, whose injuries limited him to just 20 starts and an ugly 5.61 ERA. Indeed, Martinez's departure should liberate an organization that spent the past three years overestimating his capabilities and his durability; he averaged 16 starts and a 4.73 ERA in that span. Lacking in depth, the 2008 club called upon globetrotting journeymen like Nelson Figueroa and Brandon Knight to patch their rotation when Martinez or Maine were sidelined.
Minaya has improved that depth with fifth-starter options that include journeymen Tim Redding and Freddy Garcia, and homegrown prospect Jon Niese. Redding took the ball every fifth day for the Nationals last year, putting up a 4.95 ERA in 33 starts, while Garcia showed promise in a three-start audition with Detroit after more than a year lost recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum and frayed rotator cuff. Niese made three starts last September for the Mets, but with less than 40 innings of Triple-A experience, the 2005 seventh-round pick could use more minor league seasoning. Though a few starts remain unaccounted for, here is the rotation's initial prognosis:Pitcher GS IP ERA VORPAccounting for scoring inflation, that's the equivalent of a 3.92 ERA last year, which would have ranked fourth among starters, and which is essentially on par with their warts-and-all showing of 3.98. Note the effect of regression upon Santana, who has bettered a 3.14 ERA five times in six years as a starter, and that neither Maine nor Pelfrey are projected for a full complement of innings. PECOTA's initial forecast cautiously called for just 107 frames from the former because of last year's dip in playing time, and was wary of Pelfrey's 200-inning workload as a 24-year-old—48 more than he threw in 2007, including those in the minors. The Verducci Effect suggests that he'll have trouble repeating that success, as do his peripherals, but the more innings either throws, the more this unit will improve relative to that projection.
Santana 30 210 3.14 50.6
Maine 26 145 4.16 20.8
Perez 29 180 4.26 21.0
Pelfrey 26 145 4.39 13.6
Garcia 15 75 4.62 8.3
Redding 23 120 4.83 7.2
Niese 7 35 5.09 0.6
Total 156 910 4.14 122.1
New York Yankees: Center Field, Right FieldSince I was on a word count, I didn't have room to fit the Rays' job battles in there. I'll probably tackle them in another article in the near future given the interest level from readers.
As they attempt to rebound from their first non-playoff season since 1993, the Yankees' biggest question mark looms in center field. After solid performances in '06 and '07, Melky Cabrera's horrid 2008 (.249/.301/.341) threw the job up for grabs, and while Triple-A farmhand Brett Gardner didn't clinch it, his .294/.333/.412 showing in 73 plate appearances after a mid-August recall may have given him a leg up. PECOTA doesn't see either as a slam dunk, but favors Gardner's blend of speed and OBP, forecasting a .253/.339/.351 showing with 32 steals (2.4 WARP), compared to Cabrera's .267/.326/.376/10 steal forecast (1.8 WARP). Meanwhile, in right field, the system is more sanguine about off-season acquisition Nick Swisher's ability to shake off a down year than it is about Xavier Nady living up to the career bests he set in all three triple-slash categories. It forecasts a .244/.353/.460 performance for Swisher, compared to .270/.323/.444 for Nady. A platoon arrangement limiting the latter to lefty-mashing would maximize the duo's production.
Boston Red Sox: #5 Starting Pitcher, Shortstop
Touted as the game's top pitching prospect going into last year, Clay Buchholz thoroughly flopped (2-9, 6.75 ERA), plagued by mechanical woes. Hot stove rumors had him Texas-bound in exchange for a young catcher, but he returns to compete for the rotation's fifth spot against Brad Penny and John Smoltz, two veteran free agents attempting comebacks from shoulder injuries. PECOTA remains optimistic about the 24-year-old Buchholz, forecasting a 4.56 ERA and 8.0 strikeouts per nine. Penny, who made a miserable showing in LA (6-9, 6.27 ERA) after a Cy Young-caliber 2007, was initially forecast for a 4.47 ERA, but that adjusts to 4.85 in the move to Fenway. Smoltz, who needed labrum surgery after just 28 IP last year, is forecast for the best ERA of the three (3.57), but he won't return until June, and the number of innings left in the 42-year-old's arm is an open question, so the additional depth is a bonus. As for shortstop, PECOTA is bullish on the 25-year-old Lowrie (.260/.341/.432, 2 Fielding Runs Above Average) outdoing Lugo (.255/.325/.347, -2 FRAA), though the $18 million remaining on the latter's deal is a tough pill to swallow.
Updike's sentences are fresh-painted. In all his writing, critical or fictional or reportorial, he is a fabulous noticer and expander; he's invented HD. So armed, he felt free from the start to take up and engage with all that lay within the range of his attention and put it down on paper. He had never to my knowledge written about sports when, on a morning in late September, 1960, he was stood up by a woman in Boston with whom he had an assignation and instead went to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox, in the final home game of Ted Williams's career. Ted hit a home run in his last at-bat, and Updike came home and wrote "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" and sent it off to the magazine: the most celebrated baseball piece ever. The text grew not just out of the event but from Updike's youthful attachment to the Splendid Splinter; when he decided to leave New York and The New Yorker, in 1957, and move his young family to the suburbs, he chose Boston, as he later explained, in part to be closer to Ted Williams. My own baseball writing was still two years away when I first read "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," and though it took me a while to become aware of it, John had already supplied my tone, while also seeming to invite me to try for a good sentence now and then, down the line, like the one he slips in when Williams fails to doff his cap after circling the bases in the wake of that homer: "Gods do not answer letters."How about that? Not only was Updike's piece worthy of such a superlative (testifying to the esteem in which it's held, I own it as part of three separate anthologies), but it essentially served as a prototype for one of the great baseball writers of all time. You learn something new every day.
"I tell you, there isn't one of 'em -- not one -- that could make the Yankee club," one of them said. "I never saw such a collection of dogs."Right out of the box, that last line is almost good enough to hang with Updike's most famous phrase. Here's a shorter piece that leads off The Summer Game, Angell's first collection of essays. Devoted to the arrival of pitchers and catchers, it's a nice little tonic to chase away what is turning out to be one of the ugliest weeks for baseball in a long time:
"Well, what about Frank Thomas?" said the other. "What about him?What's he batting now? .315? .320? He's got thirteen homers, don't he?"
"Yeah, and who's he going to push out of the Yankee outfield? Mantle? Maris? Blanchard? You can't call these characters ballplayers. They all belong back in the minors -- the low minors."
I recognized the tone. It was knowing, cold, full of the contempt that the calculator feels for those who don't play the odds. It was the voice of the Yankee fan. The Yankees have won the American League pennant twenty times in the past thirty years; they have been world champions sixteen times in that period. Over the years, many of their followers have come to watch them with the smugness and arrogance of holders of large blocks of blue-chip stocks. These fans expect no less than perfection. They coolly accept the late-inning rally, the winning homer, as only their due. They are apt to take defeat with ill grace, and they treat their stars as though they were executives hired to protect their interests. During a slump or a losing streak, these capitalists are quick and shrill with their complaints: "They ought to damn well do better than this, considering what they're being paid!"
Suddenly the Mets fans made sense to me. What we were witnessing was precisely the opposite of the kind of rooting that goes on across the river.This was the losing cheer, the gallant yell for a good try -- antimatter to the sounds of Yankee Stadium. This was a new recognition that perfection is admirable but a trifle inhuman, and that a stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming. Most of all, perhaps, these exultant yells for the Mets were also yells for ourselves, and came from a wry, half-understood recognition that there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us. I knew for whom that foghorn blew; it blew for me.
Today the Times reported the arrival of the first pitchers and catchers at the spring training camps, and the morning was abruptly brightened,as if by the delivery of a seed catalogue. The view from my city window still yields only frozen tundras of trash, but now spring is guaranteed and one of my favorite urban flowers, the baseball box score, will burgeon and flourish through the warm, languid, information-packed weeks and months just ahead. I can remember a spring, not too many years ago,when a prolonged New York newspaper strike threatened to extend itself into the baseball season, and my obsessively fannish mind tried to contemplate the desert prospect of a summer without daily box scores. The thought was impossible; it was like trying to think about infinity. Had I been deprived of those tiny lists of sporting personae and accompanying columns of runs batted in, strikeouts, double plays, assists, earned runs, and the like, all served up in neat three-inch packages from Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Baltimore,Houston, and points east and west, only the most aggressive kind of blind faith would have convinced me that the season had begun at all or that its distant, invisible events had any more reality than the silent collision of molecules. This year, thank heaven, no such crisis of belief impends; summer will be admitted to our breakfast table as usual, and in the space of half a cup of coffee I will be able to discover, say, that Ferguson Jenkins went eight innings in Montreal and won his fourth game of the season while giving up five hits, that Al Kaline was horse-collared by Fritz Peterson at the Stadium,that Tony Oliva hit a double and a single off Mickey Lolich in Detroit, that Juan Marichal was bombed by ye Reds in the top of the sixth at Candlestick Park, and that similar disasters and triumphs befell a couple of dozen-odd of the other ballplayers -- favorites and knaves -- whose fortunes I follow from April to October.Hang in there, folks. It's just a couple more days...
The box score, being modestly arcane, is a matter of intense indifference,if not irritation, to the non-fan. To the baseball-bitten, it is not only informative, pictorial, and gossipy but lovely in aesthetic structure. It represents happenstance and physical flight exactly translated into figures and history. Its totals -- batters' credit vs. pitchers' debit -- balance as exactly as those in an accountant's ledger. And a box score is more than a capsule archive. It is a precisely etched miniature of the sport itself, for baseball, in spite of its grassy spaciousness and apparent unpredictability, is the most intensely and satisfyingly mathematical of all our outdoor sports. Every player in every game is subjected to a cold and ceaseless accounting; no ball is thrown and no base is gained without an instant responding judgment -- ball or strike, hit or error, yea or nay -- and an ensuing statistic. This encompassing neatness permits the baseball fan, aided by experience and memory,to extract from a box score the same joy, the same hallucinatory reality, that prickles the scalp of a musician when he glances at a page of his score of Don Giovanni and actually hears bassos and sopranos, woodwinds and violins.
The small magic of the box score is cognominal as well as mathematical.Down the years, the rosters of the big-league teams have echoed and twangled with evocative, hilarious, ominous, impossible, and exactly appropriate names. The daily, breathing reality of the ballplayers' names in box scores accounts in part, it seems to me, for the rarity of convincing baseball fiction.No novelist has yet been able to concoct a baseball hero with as tonic a name as Willie Mays or Duke Snider or Vida Blue. No contemporary novelist would dare a supporting cast of characters with Dickensian names like those that have stuck with me ever since I deciphered my first box scores and began peopling the lively landscape of baseball in my mind -- Ossee Schreckengost, Smead Jolley, Slim Sallee, Elon Hogsett, Urban Shocker, Burleigh Grimes,Hazen Shirley Cuyler, Heinie Manush, Cletus Elwood Poffenberger, Virgil Trucks, Enos Slaughter, Luscious Easter, and Eli Grba. And not even a latter-day O. Henry would risk a tale like the true, electrifying history of a pitcher named Pete Jablonowski, who disappeared from the Yankees in 1933 after several seasons of inept relief work with various clubs. Presumably disheartened by seeing the losing pitcher listed as "J'bl'n's'i" in the box scores of his day, he changed his name to Pete Appleton in the semi-privacy of the minors, and came back to win fourteen games for the Senators in 1936 and to continue in the majors for another decade.
To A-Rod’s credit, his response to ESPN after being caught sounded pretty honest. He said he was young and naïve and he wanted to prove he was worth the biggest contract in baseball history. 'Roids were part of the culture of the game then, so he took whatever the other guys were taking that helped them play better.No matter how sincere, one single apology isn't going to win over Rodriguez's toughest critics, but the fact is that he has already done more than Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire put together in response to the allegations. Instead of blanket denials and legal threats, he took responsibility, showed accountability, brought water to the raging bonfire instead of gasoline. It's not the end of the story, but it's a step in the right direction.
It might sound shallow, but the guy’s a jock. What do you expect?
I know Rodriguez lied a couple of years back when Katie Couric asked him if he had ever used the juice, but I’m not going to hold that against him. That was the same as asking him if he had ever cheated on his wife. Or asking elected officials if they’re atheists. People don’t answer those questions honestly unless they are under oath or confronted with the evidence against them. Even then, they try to wriggle out of it because if you admit it, you’re dead.
No matter how much you despise him, A-Rod is as much victim as wrongdoer in this ugly saga, unveiled yesterday by SI.com's Selena Roberts and David Epstein. Whatever level of embarrassment A-Rod feels today, the United States government should be 20 times more ashamed...BP colleague Derek Jacques, a lawyer by trade, succinctly explained the story arc of the samples relative to the subpoenas and search warrants:
For A-Rod's name to get out is a journalistic triumph for Roberts, an established, terrific reporter, and Epstein. And it's a disgrace for our government, which couldn't protect this very sensitive information.
While it's too late for A-Rod, it's not too late for our government to be reprimanded some more. We saw it this past week, as Judge Susan Illston indicated that she would not permit some of the crucial evidence that the feds had compiled in their perjury case against Bonds.
Back in 2004, when IRS agent Jeff Novitzky first acquired the testing records, Illston questioned Novitzky's tactics and honesty, as reported by Jonathan Littman of Yahoo!
"I think the government has displayed . . . a callous disregard for constitutional rights," Illston said in open court, according to Littman. "I think it's a seizure beyond what was authorized by the search warrant; therefore, it violates the Fourth Amendment."
The authorities' seizure of the non-BALCO 2003 tests was a little more than "serendipitous." A search warrant is supposed to be very specific, limiting the authorities to only searching for and/or seizing specific items they have probable cause to believe may be evidence of a crime. The IRS search warrant related to baseball players connected to BALCO, and since BALCO was allegedly dealing in PEDs, they had probable cause to think that MLB's survey testing of the players in question would turn up evidence that the players in question were using steroids, possibly sold to them by BALCO. The Feds should have only grabbed the results of those ten players, but they instead wound up seizing the test results for all the more than 1,000 players tested. This was convenient, since they'd requested all the results in a subpoena that the two laboratories were fighting at the time the IRS raided their offices. It's a long story that's still pending appeal.Rodriguez's former teammate Doug Glanville, who writes the occasional Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, was able to looked beyond A-Rod's transgressions, echoing Davidoff's unease with the violation of rights:
I'm not surprised by baseball's extensive drug culture. It's part of the game's history and has as much to do with insecurity as greed. Players have to capitalize on opportunity, and at the hypercompetitive major-league level that’s like threading a needle — no wonder they will do just about anything to get ahead. Not that this justifies taking performance-enhancing drugs.The Daily News' John Harper suggested that the heads of the Major League Baseball Players Association, executive director Donald Fehr and chief operating officer Gene Orza, should roll
But before we get self-righteous, we should look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether exposing A-Rod, or any player for that matter, is worth stepping all over rights, privacy, confidentiality and anonymity.
There is a lot of outrage out there about Alex. Not surprising. But what really surprises me is the lack of outrage about how a confidential and anonymous test could be made public. We seem to gloss over the fact that these players voted to re-open a collectively bargained agreement in a preliminary effort to address the drug problem. When privileged information is shared it effectively hurts anyone who has expected privacy in any circumstance, just as when someone made Brittany Spears's medical records public.
The 2003 test was only supposed to assess whether the number of players using performance-enhancing drugs exceeded a certain threshold. If it did, as part of the agreement, a full drug policy would be instituted in the following testing year. One that was more comprehensive with penalties. This was at least a step in the right direction.
So: if Alex tested positive then, but he hasn't since (and Monday he stated that he’s played clean since joining the Yankees), maybe that program served its purpose as a deterrent. If we take the higher ground and talk about the greater good of the game, then why create trust issues between owners and players by allowing an agreement to be breached this way? It undermines any sense of cooperation.
So now it's likely to get messy again, and scary for players whose names are on that list with, allegedly, A-Rod. You'd think that this might stir up the union's rank-and-file, but players have long been intimidated by the clout Fehr and Orza have held as leaders of the most powerful union in sports, clout earned over decades of tough negotiating that made their membership incredibly wealthy.Orza stood accused of tipping off Rodriguez to a 2004 test, according to Selena Roberts and David Epstein's report, a similar allegation to one voiced in the Mitchell Report that was later attributed to David Segui. In a press release, the union denied any wrongdoing (surprise) and laid out a timeline regarding the federal governemnt's conveniently-timed subpoenas which prevented the relevant samples from being destroyed. Plausible, perhaps, but the union hasn't exactly basked in glory by failing to clarify this until now. And if there's more than a sliver of truth to Harper's description of a union in thrall to a thuggish, unresponsive leadership, now would be a good opportunity for a change of direction.
As such, players have rarely challenged Fehr and Orza in public, or even in meetings behind closed doors. And one former player last night said that even after all the embarrassment brought on by the various steroids incidents, he can't imagine current players overthrowing the union leadership.
It would take an organized movement," the former player said. "And players aren't going to want to get involved with something like that. Players won't do anything that might mess with their careers or their money, and there has always been a feeling that you don't want those guys (Fehr and Orza) mad at you."
In fact, the former player said he preferred not to use his name because even in retirement, he feared the possibility of ramifications for speaking out against Fehr and Orza.
Knowing Alex Rodriguez used PEDs, in the context of those names, isn't information that changes anything. A great baseball player did bad things with the implicit approval — hell, arguably explicit approval—of his peers and his employers. It's cheating, yes, which would be a problem if we hadn't been celebrating cheating in baseball since the days when guys would go first to third over the pitcher's mound. You can argue that it's different in degree, though the widely accepted use of PEDs by peers and superiors, and the use of amphetamines before them, is a strong point against that case. What is clear is that it's not different enough, in degree, to warrant the kind of histrionics we're reading and hearing over this. It's not different enough to turn Alex Rodriguez into a piñata.Colleague Steven Goldman, writing over at YES, offered not one but 11 reactions to the news:
Of course, the screaming is about the screamers. The loudest voices on the evils of steroids in baseball are in the media, and there's probably a dissertation in that notion, because for all that we have to hear about how greedy, evil players have ruined baseball by taking these substances (and then playing well, according to this selective interpretation; no one's ripping Chris Donnels these days), the reason we're talking about this in 2009 is that so many "reporters" — scare quotes earned — went ostrich in 1999. We hear every year around awards time that the people closest to the game know the game better than anyone, because they're in the clubhouse every day, and they talk to everyone, and they have a perspective that outsiders can't possibly understand. For those same people to do a collective Captain Renault, which they've been doing since beating up players for this transgression became acceptable, is shameful. Take your pick: they missed the story, or they were too chicken-shit to report it. In either case, the piling-on now is disgusting.
In the same way that the reporters who vote for the Hall of Fame are going to take their embarrassment out on Mark McGwire, and probably Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro behind him, and god knows who to follow, they should punish themselves as well. I propose that for as long as a clearly qualified Hall of Famer remains on the ballot solely because of steroid allegations—or for that matter, proven use—there should be no J.G. Taylor Spink Award given out to writers. If we're going to allow failures during the "Steroid Era" to affect eligibility for honors, let's make sure we catch everyone who acted shamefully.
3. Most of the players caught taking steroids have been of the most fringe-y types. These fellows did not turn into Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez. It's hard to see that they received any benefit at all. When we turn to a Bonds or an A-Rod and say that they received a great benefit from using, not only are we automatically in the realm of conjecture about the basic effects, we're also positing that they received a benefit beyond what other users received. While it is known that certain medications will affect various individuals differently (the impact of side effects varies, for example), it is something of a stretch to say that one guy gets nothing and the next guy gets 50 home runs, or even 10 extra home runs. If you've had radiation administered to your eyes, as I have, you will find out that some people have their vision reduced, and some go completely blind (as I have). One guy in a hundred does not turn into Cyclops of the X-Men and go about shooting bad guys with his optic force beams. That kind of result just isn't on the menu of possibilities.Goldman hits on a great point, one that I made several times in the course of my radio rounds. For every A-Rod or Bonds whose numbers fit into our stereotype of what performance-enhancing drugs do to the statistics of the game, there are dozens of obscure players from the ranks of the BALCO files or the Mitchell Report who saw no discernible improvement. Trying to weed such players out of PECOTA, as some Baseball Prospectus readers have suggested, is a pointless exercise, not only because we have no basis to accurately determine what was used and when, but because the bottom line is that in the grand scheme it makes little difference to our ability to measure performance in retrospect or to forecast it going forward. And trying to wish the numbers away by expunging the record books -- a common theme on the talk radio circuit -- isn't going to happen. If the stats from the 1919 World Series are still on the books, the ones compiled by A-Rod, Clemens, Bonds et al ain't going anywhere.
...5. Rodriguez had the best offensive season of his career in 2007. His 2008 offensive output wasn't too different, when adjusted for context, than his now-tainted 2003 performance. How do we reconcile these things, assuming Rodriguez was clean after 2003 or 2004? Wouldn't it be naïve of us to believe that 2003 was the only time A-Rod was using?
6. Clearly, using PEDs does not help you come up with the big hit in a postseason game.
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