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, February 24, 2009


Stickin' it to the Ticket Holders [updated]

I'm mad as hell about the Yankees' ticket situation, and I'm not gonna take it any more.
Instead of being offered our $25 seats, or even anything between the bases, we had been assigned $85 seats in section 107…

…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?
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.

UPDATE: Good additional coverage and tales of woe at Bronx Banter, ESPN's Jim Caple, Exit 55, Field of Schemes, Fire Gardy, ESPN's Rob Neyer, River Avenue Blues, Subway Squawkers, Was Watching, The Yankee Universe, YanksFanSoxFan. Thanks!

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The Breakout Bunch

I've got a pair of articles at BP and ESPN Insider focusing on young players whom PECOTA forecasts to break out, which in terms of our forecasting system means improving their productivity at least 20 percent relative to their three-year baseline. From the hitters piece (BP and ESPN):
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.

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.
The hitters most likely to breakout inclue Justin Upton, Elijah Dukes, Chris Young, Lastings Milledge, Ryan Zimmerman, Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce and Adam Jones.

The pitchers (BP and ESPN) include Andrew Miller, Clay Buchholz, Anibal Sanchez, Clayton Kershaw, John Danks, Jonathan Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Masterson. Here's what I had to say about Kershaw and Danks:
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (157 IP, 4.35 EqERA, 23% Breakout Rate)
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.
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.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009


Larry H. Miller, RIP

In the years before the baseball bug returned to my life, the Utah Jazz were at the center of my sports universe, and the annual attempts of the John Stockton/Karl Malone/Jerry Sloan teams to win an NBA championship were as absorbing as any Dodgers or Yankees team if not more, since they remained part of the ties that bound me back to my hometown, family and friends. Their 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals runs and eventual losses remain as bittersweet as anything I've ever experienced as a sports fan.

So I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Jazz owner Larry H. Miller on Friday. A devout Mormon whose faith prevented him from watching his own team play on Sundays, Miller's righteousness and his up-close style sometimes got him into hot water, and deservedly so. At times, he could make a villain or a fool out of himself as well as any Steinbrenner, and he probably holds the professional sports record for tearful press conferences.

Miller invested his heart and soul in the franchise as much as any owner ever did, and the simple fact remains that his 1985-1986 purchase of the Jazz saved professional basketball in Utah and insured that a club in one of the league's smallest markets thrived as a top-shelf organization year in and year out. A large part of that was thanks to his work to build what is now EnergySolutions Arena in 1991 and his willingness to keep the Stockton/Malone/Sloan core together for 15 years (1988-2003), all of them seasons in which the Jazz made the playoffs. That the long-awaited Next Year never arrived on his watch doesn't diminish his efforts one bit, because the team he saved and the organization he built remain strong even after those legends have moved on. He'll be missed.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009


BP09 Book Tour

I'll be making half a dozen bookstore appearances on the East Coast next month to promote Baseball Prospectus 2009. Here's the schedule, with times subject to change:

March 10, 7 PM: Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe
B&N @ Johns Hopkins University
3330 St. Paul Street
Baltimore, MD 21218

March 12, 6 PM: Kevin Goldstein, Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe, Neil deMause, Cliff Corcoran
Barnes & Noble @ 18th Street
2 East 18th Street
New York, New York 10003

March 17, 7 PM: Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe, Clay Davenport (dressed as leprechauns)
Politics & Prose Bookstore
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008

March 18, 5 PM: Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe (dressed as hungover leprechauns)
McShain Lounge at McCarthy Hall (Building 42)
Georgetown University
37th and O St NW
Washington, DC

March 24, 5 PM: Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe
Penn Bookstore @ University of Pennsylvania
3601 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

March 26, 6 PM: Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran
Rutgers University Bookstore
Ferren Mall
One Penn Plaza
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

For more BP authors in other cities, please see here.

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It's Not the Crime, It's the Coverage

In addition to flattering me with some choice casting, El Lefty Malo (a/k/a Alex Lash, a mentor from way back) raised a provocative question in this post last week: is sabermetrics anti-labor?
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.

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.
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.

Nonetheless, I think it should be apparent that among this crowd is enough understanding of the game's historical nuances, from the rising and falling tides of offensive levels to the long and sordid history of its labor-versus-management battles, to find plenty of sympathy for the players' side. Search "Marvin Miller" in the Baseball Prospectus database and you'll find a wide selection of articles by numerous authors which either tilt towards the labor side or are heavily critical of the management side, and in particular, commissioner Bud Selig. I've written about Miller myself, and have long viewed the game's steroid saga through the lens of the labor battles which left the union with the upper hand when it came to any attempts to impose testing. From a 2004 FI piece:
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...

Or not. While I thought Rodriguez did a particularly craptacular job on Tuesday with his fable of the unnamed cousin administering an compound of unknown effect on an unspecified schedule during that "loosey goosey" era of being not-quite-so-young but certainly stupid, I'm far more tired of the way the mainstream pundits manufacture outrage in 800-word parcels while failing to acknowledge their own culpability in an issue that's more nuanced than "liar, liar, pants on fire!/cheater, cheater, pumpkin-eater!" Remember, those pundits the ones who anointed Rodriguez the New Hope after they were forced to topple the previous gods they anointed such as Mark McGwire. They're the ones who looked the other way while ballplayers were gobbling greenies back in the day and failed to report the steroid story as it was unfolding in major league locker rooms. They're the ones who forget that all too often, big-money athletes have big-time failings as human beings, and their ability to hit curveballs 450 feet doesn't make them saints or qualify them to be role models. Exactly what credentials do they have to serve as judge, jury, or executioner?

A-Rod deserves plenty of anger, sure, but the guy didn't commit murder, didn't bust his wife in the mouth for burning dinner, didn't gamble on baseball, didn't steal an election, didn't wage a war based on faulty intelligence, didn't cause the economy to collapse, didn't bilk investors out of billions, didn't cancel Arrested Development. For all of his obfuscations, he's admitted to far more wrongdoing regarding steroid usage than any other player accused of using ever has, yet there appear to be some who won't be satisfied with anything less than him opening up his wrists in remorse and bleeding to death mid-press conference while confessing to drowning kittens in puddles of spilled human growth hormone.

Colleague Joe Sheehan hit it out of the park yesterday at BP:
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.

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.
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.

Anyway, I could go on, but I've had enough of this unappealing topic for the moment except to say that the idea that A-Rod is beyond redemption because of this transgression is pretty dumb. He's got nine more years of playing ball according to the terms of his contract, and while the guy has shown his ineptitude at dealing with life beyond the foul lines, he's hardly down to his last at-bat in the public sphere. If the media intends to make his every day as miserable as the past several have been -- not just for the slugger, but for fans who have some sense of scale regarding his actions and their context, fans eager to embrace the renewal marked by the rite of pitchers and catchers reporting -- then this truly is our prison without bars.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Clearing the Bases - Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Edition

A fistful of links from the past couple of weeks, none of them having to do with steroids or A-Rod (we'll get those in another post. Maybe.)...

• Baseball Prospectus 2009 is shipping from and on the bookshelves of your local retailer. I've had a copy in hand since last Friday, and it's as chockfull of wit, wisdom and data as ever, with stats and projections for over 1,600 players across 628 pages by the BP crew. Your truly contributed five team essays and two sets of player comments, the most I've ever contributed to a BP annual. Get it.

• At BP I've been working my way through the new PECOTA projections to examine the offseason departures and arrivals on each team and in each division. By taking the Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) projections of each player signed (or lost) via free agency or acquired (or offloaded) via trades we can get a better sense of the flow of talent into or out of the various divisions and the way this winter's hard economic times have had an impact on roster construction. Combining that knowledge with the publication of the PECOTA-based projected standings, we can see how these moves have an impact on the division races.

The series is called "Outside Help," and thus far I've done the NL East, NL Central and NL West. Here's a sample from today's piece:
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.

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.'"

Arizona Diamondbacks

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.
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.

• Last week at BP and at ESPN Insider via our new syndication deal, I took a look at the Mets' offseason efforts to upgrade their pitching staff:
[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.

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   VORP
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
Accounting 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.
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.

• Speaking of job battles, one more syndicated column that ran on both BP and Insider addressed some of the highest-profile ones using the PECOTA projections. Here's what I said about the various battles on the beasts of the AL East
New York Yankees: Center Field, Right Field
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.
Since 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.

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Friday, February 13, 2009


Site Hiccup

I'm not sure what's going on with Blogger but when I came to check on this page several minutes ago, none of my posts from the past week were visible. The problem appears to have been taken care of with a simple republishing of a post, but I apologize for anyone experiencing temporary busted links and assuming Selena Roberts' jackbooted thugs (or maybe Gene Orza's) had roughed me up. All is well now, and every word should be back in place.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Angell's in the Outfield

Taking a break from the 28 years we'll have to digest the Alex Rodriguez steroid saga -- his contract runs through 2017, which if he retired then would mean his Hall of Fame eligibility would run from 2023 through 2037 -- I meant to post something I read last week. It's from "The Fadeaway," by Roger Angell, about his 33 years of editing the recently deceased John Updike in his day job as an editor for The New Yorker. From the February 9-16 issue of the magazine:
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.

Angell was a latecomer to the world of baseball writing, taking up the challenge when he was in his early forties. His first pieces ran in 1962, not coincidentally the first year of the Mets' existence. This page has a couple of his pieces from around that time. One is about taking up the Mets' cause in their inaugural year, during a stretch where the two former New York teams, the Dodgers and Giants, returned to play the Mets at the Polo Grounds, Angell's favorite haunt:
"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."

"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.
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:
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.

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.
Hang in there, folks. It's just a couple more days...

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The Dumbest Article in the History of Stupid, and other A-Roid Tales

The Alex Rodriguez story took a new turn on Monday evening, as A-Rod submitted to an exclusive interview by ESPN's Peter Gammons in which he admitted to using steroids from 2001 to 2003 while a member of the Texas Rangers. While the interview was relatively softball -- the hand-picked Gammons is about as threatening as Barbara Walters -- Rodriguez admitted to wrongdoing, repeatedly using words like stupid, selfish, arrogant and naive to describe his actions, which he claimed were a reaction to the pressure of living up to the 10-year, $252 million contract which brought him to Texas.

It was a reasonably solid performance, though Rodriguez's obvious lack of facility in the glare of the spotlight has left no shortage of wags taking issue with his lack of uncontrollable sobbing and occasionally vague descriptions of his usage, parsing his every word and feigning outrage that he didn't give them the beeper number of his dealer or the name of each substance and its page number in the Physician's Desk Reference. Even the delay between the story's break and Rodriguz's interview pissed some pundits off, as if they expected an athlete with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and endorsement at stake to do something besides consult a lawyer under the circumstances. If it wasn't baseball's finest hour, it was hardly sports journalism's finest hour either. NBC Sports' Mike Celizic was the rare exception (hat tip to Cory Schwartz for the link):
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.

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 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.

Making the rounds on the radio this morning, I was struck by the lack of outrage my Fox News Radio hosts showed relative to our previous discussions about Bonds, Clemens and the topic in general. Perhaps there's a selection bias at work; I've made the rounds on this circuit often enough and shown enough resistance to pandering to turn off extremists like the particular female host in a New England state who clearly had a pitchfork stuck in her derrière over Clemens. All of which reminds me that it was Jose Canseco's allegations regarding Rodriguez which essentially bumped me off of my tabloid TV debut for Inside Edition back in December 2007. The producer kept pressing me for a two-second soundbite like "A-Rod is the last hope," but I knew I could never face myself or my colleagues if I fed the beast on their terms. I said words to the effect that the game is more than resilient enough to withstand the wrongdoings of its biggest stars, and that it's a mistake to invest too much hope in any single player but that Rodriguez, if clean, certainly had the chops to pass Bonds. That deliberately wordy answer left me on the cutting room floor, but I never regretted the outcome.

Only a small handful of what I've read on the subject over the past couple days is worth sharing, but before passing on a few links, I'd like to point out the article that inspired this title. With the absolutism of a four-year-old, the New York Daily News' Bill Madden called upon the Yankees to eat the $270 million remaining on Rodriguez's contract. You read that right. They're supposed cut off their noses to spite their faces by taking the financial hit on behalf of the entire industry over something which (if Rodriguez is to be believed) took place on another team's watch. Seriously, the guy's brainpan has to be dripping to pen an article that insults the intelligence of its readers so blatantly that it's not out of line to suggest that the Daily News should eat HIS contract. You may not be dumber after reading Madden's piece, but you'll certainly be angrier.

Among the responses to the whole imbroglio worth mentioning, Newsday's Ken Davidoff was quick to point out the trampling of the Fourth Amendment that's brought this whole scandal to light:
No matter how much you despise him, A-Rod is as much victim as wrongdoer in this ugly saga, unveiled yesterday by's Selena Roberts and David Epstein. Whatever level of embarrassment A-Rod feels today, the United States government should be 20 times more ashamed...

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."
BP colleague Derek Jacques, a lawyer by trade, succinctly explained the story arc of the samples relative to the subpoenas and search warrants:
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.

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.
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
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.

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.
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.

Also rising to the occasion was colleague Joe Sheehan, who pointed a finger at the most hysterical of the chattering classes:
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.

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.
Colleague Steven Goldman, writing over at YES, offered not one but 11 reactions to the news:
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.

...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.
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.

Anyway, that's some of the good stuff, which beats the hell out of reading tripe like this. I still think it's likely to get worse before it gets better, but for one day, at least, Alex Rodriguez made progress towards putting this story behind us.

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Roid Rage Radio

As usual, big news in baseball's steroid story means me waking up at oh-dark-thirty to field a handful of interviews for the Fox News Radio network, talking sense to the occasionally inflamed radio hosts, though with the Alex Rodriguez story shifting a bit int he wake of yesterday evening's interview with ESPN's Peter Gammons, tempers may have cooled somewhat.

Here's today's docket, many of which can be heard over these stations' web sites. All times Eastern:

WTVN Columbus, OH
7:42 AM ET

WTAG Worcester, MA
8:06 AM ET

WOAI San Antonio, TX
8:40 AM ET

WSYR Syracuse, NY
8:50 AM ET

KTRH Houston, TX
9:20 AM ET

KFAB Omaha, NE
9:35 AM ET

KFBK Sacramento, CA
10:18AM ET

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Monday, February 09, 2009


The Summer of Hate Begins

It's a dark day for baseball, the revelation that Alex Rodriguez was among the 104 players who failed a drug test in 2003. Never mind the fact that the test was supposedly anonymous and carried no punitive consequences but was being conducted as a survey to establish whether Major League Baseball should implement more stringent testing for performance-enhancing drugs. The soapboxes have already been mounted, and it's clear that this news will bypass the thaw promised by the impending arrival of pitchers and catchers. For those looking to further vilify the game's highest-paid, least media-savvy superstar, the Summer of Hate has begun.

A-Roid Scandal... Yankees Stuck with A-Fraud... Alex a Total Bust... Tarnished Forever... Roid-riguez in Hall of Shame... that's just a small selection of one day's headlines. Those of us who live in the Big Apple get to read stuff like this for the next nine years, if Rodriguez plays through the end of his contract. Oh, joy.

Like a foot-long shit sandwich, this story stinks seven ways to Sunday. It stinks for those of us who've stood by the Hammerin' Hamlet with the frosted tips as we've witnessed him performing some of the most remarkable feats on the diamond that we've ever seen (three home runs in one game, two homers in one inning) as well as the most bone-headed (the glove slap) -- and that's before touching his infamous opt-out. It stinks for those who supported him when he was thrown under the bus by Joe Torre not once or twice but thrice, most recently over the manager's own laundry-airing "autobiography" in conjunction with Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci. It stinks for those who wanted to believe that Jose Canseco was off base when he pointed the finger at A-Rod. It stinks for those who bore hope that Rodriguez might eventually restore some dignity to the all-time home run record after it had been sullied by Barry Bonds' joyless quest.

The stench is hardly alleviated once we move beyond whatever faith was misguidedly placed in Rodriguez; by now we should have known better. This stinks for fans of due process, the right to privacy, and collective bargaining. That the confidentiality of the 2003 testing, the product of a collectively bargained agreement, was not safeguarded is a black eye for both the players' union and Major League Baseball, who have federal investigators up in their business because they didn't destroy the samples as they had agreed to do. Said samples and the key to match them up to the identities of individual players were then seized in a raid that was part of the BALCO investigation, with the union failing to negotiate to limit the subpoena to the records of 10 BALCO-related players, as Howard Bryant notes.

Further allegations that the Players Association's chief operating officer, Gene Orza, tipped Rodriguez off regarding an impending test in 2004 and that he was charged with finding enough false positives among the 104 players to drive the percentage below the threshold needed to trigger testing discredit the union even more, call into question its sincerity on the matter once it agreed to crack open the 2002 Collective Bargaining Agreement in the first place. From here the allegations surrounding Orza look like grounds to haul everybody in front of Congress again for another dog and pony show.

That the federal investigators in turn leaked information to the press regarding the identities of the players -- and if you believe Rodriguez was the only one whose name leaked, I've got a bridge to sell you -- is just as disturbing. That's been business as usual ever since the BALCO investigation began, and it's not surprising that this information is coming to light at a time when the prosecution is fighting an uphill battle to admit all of its evidence against Bonds into his perjury trial. Despite the conviction of BALCO leaker Troy Ellerman, it's clear that there are others willing to do an end run around due process to out people no matter the stakes. It's also clear that most of the chattering classes don't care at all how this information made its way to daylight. They just want to manufacture outrage and admit the ill-procured evidence into the court of public opinion. A high-profile ballplayer doing steroids six years ago, before MLB began enforcing any type of ban? I'm shocked. SHOCKED!

At the risk of playing Kill the Messenger, it's only appropriate to point out that Roberts, who shared the byline on this break, has a book on Rodriguez coming out this summer. Funny how she broke this news just as the "A-Fraud" buzz from Torre's book was dying down, isn't it? While some regard her as a solid reporter, her days at the New York Times were marked by one of the most grating styles ever to, uh, grace its sports page. Rife with agendas, laden with innuendo, she was living proof that the world of hackneyed sportswriting wasn't restricted to those with a Y chromosome (or two). Check the sheer ineptitude of her late-to-the-party dissing of Billy Beane and Moneyball. Check her premature burial of Bonds. Check her smear of Rodriguez regarding the rental properties he owns in Miami and his alleged lack of generosity with regards to charities. Clearly, she's well equipped for whatever literary takedown she's preparing on the slugger.

None of which is to exonerate Rodriguez for any of this, of course; he screwed up. And while that should only make him yet another screw-up in an era full of them -- Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, the BALCO boys (and girls), the players in the Mitchell Report, et al -- being the highest-paid and perhaps most talented one, he becomes the newest poster boy for the era. Barring a remarkable turnaround in his ability to deal with the harsh glare of the spotlight, he'll be carrying this baggage with him for a long time.

Which makes me miss the departed Jason Giambi all the more. As much as he was pilloried for his lack of specificity when he came forward and apologized for his PED usage, his candor -- to the extent he could be candid while avoiding saying anything explicit enough to void his contract -- and contrition stand in marked contrast to the players who have taken the lady-doth-protest-too-much route like Clemens and Palmeiro. Here was a player ensnared by the BALCO investigation, one whose career nearly crashed onto the rocks in its aftermath, one who drew skepticism even in his home ballpark once he began hitting again. Yet Giambi never complained publicly about the bind he'd gotten himself into, never put the blame upon anyone but himself. He simply kept his head down and played ball, outlasting the abuse he took by discovering a way to reconnect with fans via his own sense of humor, as signified by a cheesy mustache.

Giambi pulled off a pretty neat trick, and for the sake of whatever rooting interest I maintain in the Yankees, I wish he was around to beat some of that advice into A-Rod's thick skull. That's not going to happen; it's unclear what tack Rodriguez will take once he opens his mouth, but the bet here is that he'll find a way to make the problem worse.

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Friday, February 06, 2009


A Toast

"...we write for each other, for baseball is not a paragraph, and losing, I think, is no parenthesis" --'s "Random Diamond Notes Generator," after e.e. cummings

Waaaaay back in the day, as a regular poster on Baseball Primer, I was a fan of the mysterious Score Bard, the poet laureate of the baseball blogosphere. Shortly after celebrating his first foray into creating a site to house his verse, and soon after leaving the design job I'd held for nearly six years, I received a touching email from the still-pseudonymous Bard. In it, he talked of his own departure from a dot-com job and subsequent voyage of self-discovery, as well as the connection he shared with his late father over The World Almanac, whose 2002 and 2003 covers I had designed. Obviously, I still have that email.

I'm not sure how much later it was, but one day I was reading his site and stumbled onto a page which linked to some of the Bard's other ventures, unmasking him as Ken Arneson in the process. I kept this bit of information regarding his identity under my hat for months, finally passing it on to Will Carroll and Alex Belth at the Winter Meetings in 2003 in exchange for some other bit of juicy gossip It was probably the only privileged piece of baseball information I had at my disposal; I had no other chips with which to go "all in."

Fast-forward a year later, to the 2004 Winter Meetings in Anaheim. I met Arneson for the first time. He was there to hook up with a few of our mutual blogging pals, including Carroll, Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman and the Cub Reporter's Alex Ciepley; they were all working together at and in the process of forming what would become Baseball Toaster, an aggregation of a handful of great baseball blogs, some of which had migrated from the A-B hub, Bronx Banter among them. Arneson, a tech wiz, custom built the site's blogging software.

Despite my connections to this great gang of folks -- and my role in pointing them in the general direction of each other -- I never explored the possibility of joining the Toaster group, in part because this site, or at least my vision for it, was more expansive, and in part because I was already headed down the road to becoming a full-fledged member of Baseball Prospectus.

Our voyages of self-discovery would continue in parallel, occasionally intersecting, as I retained a deep connection with the Toaster crew. Dodger Thoughts and Bronx Banter were my chosen houses of worship for my two teams, and I collaborated with DT's Weisman and BB's Belth on a few occasions between All-Baseball and the Toaster. I regularly read Arneson/Bard's Humbug blog, his A's-themed Catfish Stew, Mike's Baseball Rants, Carroll and Scott Long's Juice Blog, and others. Cardboard Gods, which didn't join up until years later, became one of my favorites as well, with Josh Wilker's note-perfect style of incorporating baseball cards and the existential revelations they held into the narrative of his own journey through life -- a model that via The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book had initially inspired this site, but one that I've invoked with decreasing frequency as my own work here and beyond has grown more analytical. The Toaster sites were among my favorite reads in the baseball blogosphere, and they fostered a great sense of community among its reader-fans.

Alas, there's something about toasters that suggests a built-in obsolescence. After Dark's Flying Toaster screensavers. Cylon Centurions. The fetishization of vintage kitchen appliances. Hell, the slang usage of the word "toast": finished, defunct, done.

And so it is with Baseball Toaster. Earlier this week, Arneson announced that he had decided to unplug the Toaster as multiple bloggers go their separate ways. The departure isn't for lack of interest from readers. Rather, the graduation of Bronx Banter to SNY late last year and Dodger Thoughts to the Los Angeles Times earlier this week -- thus removing the two highest-traffic blogs from the site -- as well as Ken's understandably shifting priorities regarding work and family led to a reconsideration of the enterprise. The impending departures seem to have led a few of the other blogs to give up the ghost as well, though I'm particularly glad to see Cardboard Gods land on its feet.

Wilker's final post on BT concerns Reggie Jackson and the sway he held on those of us fans of a certain age; obviously, I can relate. So can Arneson, who invokes Jackson, among others in the Toaster's final post, a remarkable epic whose role call also includes Moby Dick, Huck Finn, Billy Martin, Ingmar Bergman, Borg-McEnroe, Sinatra, Dylan, Rickey Henderson, Bono, Battlestar Galactica, the Bash Brothers, Yeats, Billy Beane, Gorbachev, the Berlin Wall, original poetry that doesn't suck (this is the Score Bard, after all), the birth of Netscape, the dot-com boom and bust, the futility of banner ads, Kos, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Terminator movies, the inefficiency of Nigerian diplomats, Elvis Costello, Kraftwerk, Monty Python, Armed Forces Radio, Radio Moscow, Dennis Eckersley, Kirk Gibson and Jack Buck.

Written in honor of Arneson's 43rd birthday as a farewell to the Toaster and to blogging in general, it connects the scraps of personal information which I first gleaned via my initial connection with the Score Bard to classic literature, film and music in perhaps the most ambitious piece of web-based writing I've ever read. It is Ted Williams' final at-bat and John Updike's "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" rolled into one along with so much more. "Well, the internet is over, this post won. Thanks for playing, everybody," wrote Wilker in the comments section, invoking a previous comment to another epic Arneson post that I somehow missed.

Reading that piece and watching the Toaster go toast leads me to voice the inevitable questions regarding my own blogging. For a few years now, this site has become something of a personal back burner as my Baseball Prospectus work occupies more of my time and carries me into new frontiers (see here, here, here, and here as well if you've got a subscription, and know that there's more of this to come). My audience continues to grow via those venues, but it contracts here as my posts grow more scarce and pieces of the site fall into disrepair. On some occasions I vow to begin posting shorter and more frequent entries, reaping the dividend of my occasionally short attention span and my expansive voyages across the Internet in the service of rebuilding this site's traffic. On others, I'll wonder if the blog is a burden to be shed, a childish thing to be put away as my work grows more professional.

In the end, as this site approaches its eighth birthday, I find that I'm still willing to soldier on with Futility Infielder, keeping the pilot light lit if only to illuminate my progress and the occasional bursts of inspiration which wouldn't otherwise find a home. Maybe I will get that shorter-post thing down at some point. Maybe I'll move this thing to a self-contained platform where I don't have to worry about third-party add-ons going kaput. Maybe I'll let this blog evolve into something that's less strictly baseball-oriented. One way or another, you ain't getting rid of me that easily.

In the meantime, I can only offer the fondest farewell and best wishes to my pals at the Toaster as they scatter to the four winds. They've brought me community and plenty of inspiration while taking me a few steps closer towards my own personal enlightenment, and for that I raise my glass and offer my humble thanks. Fare thee well, friends.

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