The Futility Infielder

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

Friday, March 13, 2009


Ticket to Ride [update]

In the end, after no shortage of drama, we got our Yankees tickets:

Just moments before I embarked for the Baseball Prospectus 2009 Baltimore whistle stop earlier this week, I got a call from my friend Nick, the "commissioner" of our aggrieved group of Yankees partial-plan ticket holders. Two weeks after turning down the team's generous offer to accept $85 dollar obstructed view seats behind the right field foul pole instead of $25 grandstand seats, a representative from the Yankees ticket office had phoned Nick to apologize for the way the ticket renewals had been handled, offering us a closer approximation to our initial request. Instead of a 20-game set of $25 grandstand seats between first and third base, we were offered $20 seats just beyond first, in section 413, three rows from the back of the stadium. No word on whether complimentary oxygen tanks would be provided.

As tempting as it might have been to tell the Yankees where to stick that offer given the way we and so many other fans had been treated, in the end, we accepted the deal. The desire to preserve the continuity of our 11-season tradition of making the occasional trip to the ballpark in each other's company outweighed our distaste for the new world order in the Bronx. Still, this is no happy ending. In spite of this belatedly semi-favorable outcome, this episode still represents one more data point in a long line of them detailing the demise of the Yankee brand, at least from the nosebleed seats where I sit.

As it is, we're only spending about one-quarter of the dollars did on last year's 26-game Flex Plan Tier Box seats—a steep decline in our outlay which makes it clear we've voted with our wallets. We've lost our automatic access to playoff tickets, but particularly since 2004, the last time the Yanks made it to the ALCS, that's scarcely amounted to more than a winter-long interest-free loan for tickets to games that never happened.

I'm extremely hopeful that other aggrieved customers have received similar remedies and apologies. Even if this is a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease -- which I highly doubt given the lack of resourcefulness in the Yankee ticket office, given that my name's not the one on the account -- not everybody's got the platform to speak up as I did and send a little ripple of dissent through the Yankees' world. The Yanks owe every single customer better treatment than the type we received, and they're not easily forgiven under the circumstances.

So while my friends and I will be making our regularly scheduled trips up to the Bronx after all, I'm still livid at the way all of this went down. But I'm also relieved that I'll have the opportunity to shoot the breeze over beers and hot dogs at with my good friends a few times this season as we watch the Yankees. A summer without baseball and bonding at the ballpark would be a bleak thing indeed, so fuck the Yankees for hindering our pursuit of that possibility for even a moment. Seriously.

UPDATE: Great to see that the Yankees' instincts regarding ticket sales just continue to get better. Via New Stadium Insider comes the word about the team's brilliant pre-sale strategy:
Prior to the public on-sale, all Yankees Premium, Full-Season and 41-Game Ticket Licensees will be able to purchase individual-game tickets, online only, via a pre-on-sale on Thursday, March 19. On the following day, Friday, March 20, all other Partial Plan Licensees (of 20-, 15-, 12- and 11-Game Plans) will be permitted to purchase individual-game tickets online only as well. For complete information, including ticket limits, please visit
Backing up a bit... if you simply want to attempt to think about possibly trying to take a chance on buying single-game tickets, you have to register for a random drawing and be one of the lucky souls who wins a golden ticket pulled out of Randy Levine's buttcrack or something, and even then you're still third in line behind the season-ticket and 41-game holders, and then the partial-plan holders, each of whom gets a separate day to pick over the non-plan seats and put them up for sale on Stub Hub because after all, they've already gotten their seats. Swell.

According to Trost's latest appearance on WFAN, there's no truth to the rumor that once you register, a representative from the Yankees will come to your house and spray you with a fire hose for as long as you attempt to log into your Ticketmaster account and participate in the pre-sale. But would it surprise anyone if that were true?

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Blog-Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

Blogrolling, the third-party add-on to this site which maintains the links you see at left, recently returned from a lengthy stay on the disabled list. The code has been completely re-written, but as I'm just discovering, not all the kinks have been worked out. Instead of alphabetizing the links, they now appear in the order they were added, with the newest links down at the bottom. Not exactly user-friendly.

Anyway, lest you grow weary of scrolling down for hours at a time, I'd just like to call your attention to the most recently added link, New Stadium Insider, which has been covering the none-too-smooth transition from the House That Ruth Built to the House That Ruthlessness Built for nearly two years. Proprietor Ross has been following the latest twists and turns in the partial plan ticket fiasco with keen interest, chiming in via the comments here and at Field of Schemes to offer some support. Check his work out when you get a chance.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Radio Free Wisconsin

I'll be appearing on WSCO 1570 AM in Appleton, Wisconsin this afternoon at 5:05 Eastern, 4:05 Central to discuss the Brewers as part of Baseball Prospectus 2009's promotional tour. You can listen to the streaming webcast here if you're out of range.

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The Streets of Baltimore (and NYC)

Not to tread on the five posts I've put up over the past two days, but I just wanted to call attention to my first appearance on the Baseball Prospectus 2009 bookstore tour:

March 10, 7 PM: Clay Davenport, Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe
Barnes & Noble @Johns Hopkins University
3330 St. Paul Street
Baltimore, MD 21218 (map)

Also, I'll be appearing in New York on Thursday:

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

For more tour details see here.

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Pole Dancing

Friend, colleague and stadium shell game expert Neil deMause has been flexing his journalistic muscles by keeping up with the Yankee Stadium ticket beat(down), and generously salting his reports with a few choice quotes from yours truly. Following up his initial report for The Village Voice, last week he unearthed some choice euphemisms from Yankees' chief operating officer Lonn Trost, who's emerging as the face of villainy in this debacle:
Team COO Lonn Trost's response has essentially been "RTFM," but recent days have revealed some undocumented features. First off was Trost disclosing to WFAN's Mike Francesca that the stadium's 1,886 standing-room tickets will go for "around $20" a pop — and that holders of $12 bleacher seats will for the first time be free to roam about the stadium at will. While this is no doubt because Yanks execs wanted to ensure that Bleacher Creatures are able to get to the new stadium's many premium-priced concessions areas, it makes for one weird pricing scheme: Fans will, in essence, be levied an $8 surcharge for not having a place in the outfield to rest their tuchuses between purchases of $10 caesar salads.

The plot also continues to thicken regarding the seats behind the foul poles that offer obstructed views of the field — or as Trost neologized, are "architecturally shadowed." Trost told Francesca that foul-pole seats will not be offered as part of season ticket plans, but rather only on a game-by-game basis; they won't be marked "obstructed view," however, which is apparently allowable under state law, which requires that obstructed-view tickets be so marked, but doesn't define what "obstructed" is.
Neil then goes on to cite my ticket group's experience regarding those "architecturally shadowed" seats and finds that we're hardly alone in that treatment (a topic that's made its way around the area dailies). Big surprise.

Over at Field of Schemes, the site devoted to his efforts to keep up with stadium shenanigans (following his book of the same name, which is now in its second edition), Neil details a year-old exchange between Trost, Francesca and his then co-host Chris Russo, unearthing some hollow words from the Yankee organization regarding the infamous relocation plan:
Mike Francesca: Are some people getting relocated, getting hurt? Are there some guys who've been loyal season ticket holders who are gonna get hurt in this move?

Trost: We hope not. We spent substantial time coming up with a relocation program, and the relocation program will probably be public in about six weeks. The program basically says, we will put you in a comparable location, and you have the choice of taking it or not. If you don't want it, and elect to go down, or up, or move, we will do that also.

Chris Russo: You will take care of them.

Trost: We will take — and understand, this is most likely the largest and hardest relocation program in the history of sports. ... But the philosophy is try to give—

Francesca: And you're going to take care of your people in the bleachers, and take care of your people who are in the upper deck, and the guy who takes his son once a week, or has his Sunday plan. You're going to take care of that fan in this new ballpark.

Trost: The plans will be the same, or comparable.

That relocation plan actually took six months, not six weeks, to appear, and contained none of the guarantees about "comparable" seating that Trost promised to radio listeners. Noting that Trost has recently begun berating fans for "not reading the documentation," jilted miniplan holder Jay Jaffe tells FoS: "Basically, he's insulting his customers for failing to read the fine print."
As for that fine print, here's what I wrote in one of the comments:
It's worth pointing out that not only did Joe Stalin's Guide to the New Yankee Stadium Gulags (a/k/a the Relocation Guide) contain none of the guarantees about "comparable" seating that Trost promised, it included the following, note in response to Question 8 in the FAQ on page 33 ("How will seats and seat locations be assigned in the new Yankee Stadium?"):

...With respect to existing "B" Plan and Partial Season Plan Licensees, the Yankees will attempt to assign seat locations in accordance with the Licensees' seating preferences as expressed in the Licensees' Relocation Program Questionnaires. However, please note, unlike existing Full Season and "A" Plan Licensees, under the Relocation Program, "B" Plan and Partial Season Plan Licensees will not receive reasonably comparable seat location assignments. All seat location assignments for existing "B" Plan and Partial Season Plan Licensees will be made in accordance with the Licensee's preferences as reflected in the Relocation Program Questionnaire submitted by the Licensee. All seat locations will be determined by the Yankees, subject to the pool selection process. Please see pages 36, 38 and 40, respectively, for more information. (emphasis in original)

Got that? WILL NOT RECEIVE REASONABLY COMPARABLE SEAT LOCATION ASSIGNMENTS! Will receive unreasonably incomparable assignments. No wonder Trost is berating us for not having read the fine print, because he as much as said we were screwed, previous statements to the contrary be damned.
Capping it off, on Monday, Neil penned a brief Op-Ed piece for the free commuter paper Metro New York, one whose title may have caused readers to assume he was throwing his hat into the ring as the team's fill-in third baseman ("Neil deMause: The solution to Yanks’ troubles"). Actually, it's his modest proposal to remedy this whole fiasco:
There can be only one solution: The city needs to move as quickly as possible to put this whole sorry episode behind us by starting demolition. Demolition, that is, of the new stadium.

Think about it. The construction jobs that the Yanks were touting from the project have already been created, and the workers are home busily hiding their money under mattresses where the banks can’t get at it. Tear down the new building, and the locals get their parks back right where they’re used to them. Ticketholders get their old seats back. The Yanks can even keep their $350 million in new parking garages as a gift from us for being such good sports — while getting a mulligan on their final Yankee Stadium season, hopefully putting it off until after Jose Molina has retired.

Jay Jaffe, the baseball writer and Yankee fan whose blog posts about his ticket woes have helped spur Polegate, says, "I think it’s a great idea! Tear it down, except for the luxury boxes. Those of us who pay for our own tickets can go back to the great seats we’ve enjoyed for all these years in The House That Ruth Built, while the fat cats can hobnob without missing a thing, as they didn’t come to watch the ballgame anyway."
I wasn't initially supposed to get the last word, but I wound up with it anyway due to some overzealous editing. None of the quotes are as good as my little Wall Street Journal splash, but then what is?

UPDATE: Over at the excellent Biz of Baseball website, Pete Toms has a lengthy, link-heavy piece regarding the tarnishing of the Yankee brand as it relates to this whole stadium mess and the current economic downturn. A must-read.

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Monday, March 09, 2009


The Replacement Killers

Another one of my Baseball Prospectus pieces syndicated on ESPN Insider, this one on trying to quantify what the absences of Alex Rodriguez and other stars would cost their teams in terms of runs and wins:
When the news on Alex Rodriguez's hip injury broke last week, the Baseball Prospectus crew brainstormed a few possible solutions for the Yankees. Unsurprisingly, we reached an inevitable conclusion: he's virtually irreplaceable, at least when it comes to finding a player under team control who could offset the expected loss of production.

Bound for surgery, Rodriguez is projected to miss six to nine weeks. Barring a trade, his most likely in-house replacement is 33-year-old journeyman Cody Ransom, whose solid .251/.348/.432 line over the course of 214 major league plate appearances spread across six seasons is dwarfed by a lengthy, significantly less impressive minor league track record which drags down his PECOTA weighted mean projection to a brutal .216/.293/.386 line and a -0.164 Marginal Lineup Value rate, the number of runs per game he would contribute (or cost) to a lineup of otherwise average offensive performers. By comparison, Rodriguez is forecast for 0.174 MLVr, a difference of 0.338 runs per game. That's 10 runs—or roughly one additional win—for every 29.6 games, or 54.8 runs over the course of 162 games.

As staggering as losing roughly one more game per month in the standings might be to the Yankees, at least 10 other stars' losses would cost their teams even more—as many as 75 runs on the offensive side—due to a combination of higher MLVr projections and/or lousier backups. In reality, the extended absences of these players would likely trigger trades for better replacements to stop the hemorrhaging, but for this exercise, the pool is restricted to players under team control, and we'll pay only lip service to defense.


3. Ryan Braun, Brewers LF (0.231 MLVr, 0.434 above backup): While Braun's overall 2008 line couldn't quite equal his 2007 numbers, the move from third base to left field saved 30 runs according to our defensive numbers. His MLVr ranks ninth among our PECOTA projections and is exacerbated by the Brewers' lack of a suitable backup. Tony Gwynn Jr. (-0.203) and Chris Duffy (-0.239) carry weak sticks even for center fielders, and it's a stretch to assume that Trot Nixon (0.010) will suffice given that he played in just 11 major league games last year. Former top prospect Brad Nelson (-0.083), a first baseman who's taken up the outfield corners in an attempt to win a reserve job, would bump Braun out of the top 10 if he can handle the move to the pasture.

4. Albert Pujols, Cardinals 1B (0.456 MLVr, 0.398 above backup): Pujols' MLVr tops our projections, hardly surprising given that he's ranked either first or second in that category in five of the past six seasons. What prevents him from topping this list is the presence of the serviceable Chris Duncan (0.058), who's played 43 games at first over the past three years and who appears to be recovered from last year's neck problems. Once you figure in Pujols' prowess with the leather and Duncan's lack of same, however, this could well reclaim the top spot here.

5. Manny Ramirez, Dodgers LF (0.245 MLVr, 0.369 above backup): Last week's signing averts the grim specter of the Dodgers starting the season with a slap-hitting $44 million left fielder (Juan Pierre and his -0.124 MLVr), instead of a power-hitting $45 million model. Skipper Joe Torre might have eventually stumbled onto a more productive solution by playing Blake DeWitt (-0.061) at third base and moving Casey Blake to left, but then again, it took the skipper over four months to give up on Pierre and Andruw Jones last year. Manny's defense might cost one full win over the course of a year relative to these options, but his addition still pushes the Dodgers ahead of the Diamondbacks in the NL West projections.
A-Rod would actually rank 12th on that list, as I neglected to include the 0.340 runs per game gap between the Astros' Lance Berkman (0.259) and replacement Aaron Boone (-0.081) because my calculations showed the 'Stros would actually disappear into a giant Vortex of Suck before that could become a reality.

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Friday's Baseball Prospectus chat was one of the most enjoyable ones I've done in recent memory, the happy coincidence of a fun time of year, a good batch of questions, and a lack of the technical gremlins which have created a distraction in every one of my chats in recent memory. A few anwers covering a couple of last week's bigger stories:
Manny Ramirez (Los Angeles): I am going to opt out of my contract after '09 right?

JJ: Offhand, I don't think there have been any big-dollar players who haven't opted out when given the chance, but it's hard to know where the economy will be a year from now. Manny might have a big year, and even be a model citizen, but I think the appetite for his services will continue to be suppressed. I would hardly be surprised if we see a repeat scenario of this winter, but I do think the Dodgers could more easily walk away if that happens.

rw448 (vt): Is Arod's torn hip labrum a byproduct of steroid use? Thanks Jay.

JJ: It's an ugly but inevitable question that's been asked. From what I read via an article in the NY Daily News, there's no avascular necrosis in the hip, which would be typical of a link to steroids. Here's the take-home quote:
"Such questions arose because cysts in muscle are a common side-effect of intramuscular steroid injections, as is avascular necrosis (loss of blood supply to the bone) from use of the drugs themselves.

"'Because A-Rod kept changing his story about his steroid use,' said Dr. Lewis Maharam, the medical director of the New York Road Runners Club, 'it made us skeptical about his hip issue, thinking it could be steroid-related. It is not. Avascular necrosis of the femoral head is linked to steroids and sometimes described by the lay public as a cyst. This is not what he has.'"
Scott (St. Louis, MO): Having just seen the update to the depth charts reflecting A-Rod's potential output this year, I have two questions: 1) do you think that 95 wins may be an overzealous projection if A-Rod doesn't play until June? and, the million dollar question 2) how should A-Rod be treated in a fantasy draft: is he still a top four round guy if he's only giving you 360-400 PA?

JJ: The situation is too fluid to really gauge what the overall impact will be on the Yankees, though I do think this could be analogous to the Posada injury last year -- the straw that broke the camel's back, keeping a 90+ win team sidelined in October. As for A-Rod's fantasy value, I took a swing at bracketing some expectations for Fantasy Baseball Index, a newsstand publication whom I write for in the winter (covering pitchers) and spring (covering all camp happenings, job battles and projection adjustments). We did dollar value projections based on four different scenarios, which you can see here and I'll continue to keep an eye on the news as it develops.
On the latter topic, I contributed a few suggestions for this Joe Sheehan piece on possible replacements for Rodriguez:
Looking outside the organization is a better option, but the Yankees are limited by the uncertainty over how long Rodriguez will be out. A team already stuffed to the gills with corner players can't easily bring in a third baseman in trade, someone like Garret Atkins or Adrian Beltre, and be left with no place to play him come June. On the discard pile you have Esteban German, who was designated for assignment by the Royals last week. Jay Jaffe scanned a list of players who were out of options and found Dallas McPherson and Jeff Baker, both of whom could be a short-term patch. The recently outrighted Andy Marte might be available, though it's unclear if he can hold a major league job.

Jaffe also pointed out that the Dodgers' Mark Loretta has become expendable in the wake of the Orlando Hudson signing. He brings a glove, some OBP, and the ability to be a useful bench player once Rodriguez returns. The Dodgers have some issues in the back end of their rotation and bullpen, and the Yankees' depth in those spots could make a trade work. Loretta, as a free agent signed during this past winter, would have to approve any deal.
More on the topic of A-Rod in the next post.

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The Class of 27

An ESPN Insider/Baseball Prospectus twin killing, this one looks at PECOTA's picks for the most productive 27-year-olds:
As with many a key sabermetric tenet, Bill James is responsible for introducing the idea that ballplayers, or at least hitters, reach their peak value at the age of 27. In fact, it was a serendipitous 27 years ago, in the 1982 Baseball Abstract, that James first presented his research supporting this conclusion, thus contradicting the then-prevailing wisdom that ballplayers peak between the ages of 28 and 32.

While you wouldn't know it to see the way certain front offices function when signing over-the-hill hitters, this particular bit of James' wisdom has withstood the test of time, and has even undergone some expansion. Using more advanced valuation methods, Nate Silver has found that players peak between the ages of 25 and 29, generally cresting at 26 and 27, with some understandable variations by positions. Speed-based players, like middle infielders and center fielders, tend toward the earlier side of that range.

Baseball fans like their rules of thumb simple, however, and focusing on hitters about to enter their age-27 seasons is particularly popular in the fantasy realm. Although this year's "Class of 27" isn't full of marquee names whose eye-popping numbers match those of 25-year-old Hanley Ramirez, 26-year-olds David Wright and Jose Reyes, or 29-year-old Albert Pujols, it's worth a gander.
For the list I ranked the nine players with the highest Equivalent Average forecasts, then interpolated between the various PECOTA percentile forecasts to estimate the chances they're reach .300 EqAs and reach their career EqAs. Playing to the home crowd, here's what I had to say about the Dodgers' Andre Ethier (third on the list) and the Brewers' Corey Hart (seventh):
Andre Ethier, Dodgers RF (.292/.368/.464, .292 EqA, Reach .300: 36%, Reach .293: 50%)
Perhaps no Dodger should be smiling as widely as Ethier after Wednesday's Manny Ramirez signing, as it returns the player whose arrival coincided with Ethier's scorching .368/.448/.649 performance over the final two months, less likely due to any mythical protection effect than to the end of Joe Torre's dickering with the lineup's Pierres and Joneses at Ethier's expense. Ethier forecasts to have the highest EqOBP of any player here (.372), and assuming that he again hits ahead of Ramirez, that will put extra runs on the board for L.A.

Corey Hart, Brewers RF (.289/.343/.494, .286 EqA, Reach .300: 28%, Reach .277: 59%)
Hart went from being the second most valuable Brewer in 2007 to a basket case this past year, hitting just .252/.275/.452 from June onward, and hacking his way into an 0-1 hole more often than any other player. PECOTA believes he can recover his plate discipline, and it gives him about a 25 percent chance at 25 home runs and 25 steals.
As a side note, I remember the 1982 Abstract fondly, having borrowed the first mass market edition from a friend for the better part of a summer and gone nuts with my pocket calculator figuring out Runs Created for the players on the Salt Lake Gulls. I was 12 at the time, the young whippersnapper you see in the Little League photo on the site banner. I eventually returned that copy, and never tried to fill that hole in my collection until I recently won the bidding for a copy on eBay. Can't wait to get my hands on that one again; it really blew my mind, and it remains one of the most important baseball books in the field of sabermetrics.

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A Little Help

Given three articles and a chat since my last post, I'll be clearing the decks with links to each individual piece rather than one monster post. First up is the AL West installment of the Outside Help series. Here's the intro and the part about the Angels:

The AL West was the American League's weakest division last year, finishing with a .487 winning percentage and a .475 Hit List Factor. The Angels won an MLB-best 100 games, but they were the only team in the division to finish above .500, and they reached the century mark only by setting a record by outdoing their third-order Pythagenpat projection by a whopping 16 wins. All told, the division's HLF was just a single point ahead of the basement-dwelling NL West's mark, and the 12th-lowest of the Wild Card Era.

As with much of baseball beyond the East Coast, it's been a relatively quiet offseason in the AL West when it comes to flashing the cash around. The four teams have spent an average of $13.7 million on free-agent contracts, a bit ahead of the AL Central's mark ($12.4 million), and with the dollar amount of Oakland's Nomar Garciaparra deal still pending. But beneath the surface, a handful of trades have shown that these teams aren't standing still this winter, and PECOTA now foresees a typically tight division race between the two teams that have dominated the division during this millennium.

As we move the Outside Help series on to the AL, we've got a revised set of PECOTA projections to deal with. Some of the player values won't reconcile directly with the ones from the NL series, though perhaps I can ply a willing intern into getting some final numbers once the series is complete. Teams are listed in order of their 2008 finish; for each hitter, WARP and EqA are listed, while for each pitcher, the figures are WARP and EqERA.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

IN: OF Bobby Abreu (3.2, .294), RP Brian Fuentes (3.1, 3.52), RP Matt Palmer (0.6, 5.74)
OUT: LF Garret Anderson (1.3, .260), SP Jon Garland (2.3, 4.85), SP Nick Green (0.2, 6.12), RP Darren O'Day (1.2, 4.23), RP Francisco Rodriguez (5.7, 3.02), 1B Mark Teixeira (5.1, .308)
NET: -8.9 WARP

The Angels are a most interesting paradox during this winter of discontent. They're a perennially successful big-market club coming off of their fourth division title in five years, a 100-win season in which they had the sixth-highest payroll (according to both Opening Day and final reckonings). Among AL clubs, only the Yankees have outspent them in the free-agent market this winter.

Then again, that was by a mere $400 million or so, which helps to explain why the Angels have taken such a hit in the talent department. They were outbid on Teixeira, who ranked as the most valuable hitter on the market according to PECOTA and who came away with the winter's biggest contract ($180 million), and they decided not to spend that savings elsewhere. They've replaced Teixeira with the inadequate Kendry Morales, the latest in a long line of highly touted infield prospects who haven't really lived up to their hype (Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson, Brandon Wood, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick); the system says Morales will be worth 0.2 wins below replacement level. They let Rodriguez depart after he set the single-season saves record, and while they struck a reasonable deal for a replacement in Fuentes at less than half the total price tag, the latter doesn't have quite as strong a track record or a forecast. A perennial bullpen powerhouse—with the top four team WXRL finishes in six of the past seven years—they could have chosen to fill from within with Scot Shields or Jose Arredondo, but instead they spent for Fuentes, while letting Garland walk and banking they could replace him with surgically repaired Kelvim Escobar, bruised prospect Nick Adenhart, and Grade D staff filler Dustin Moseley. They made a solid upgrade by replacing Anderson with Abreu, but that was only after re-signing Juan Rivera to a three-year, $12.75 million deal at a time when they've got outfielders coming out of their ears, somewhat neutralizing that gain. All in all, it's a mix of defensible decisions and odd lapses, one that winds up being less than the sum of its parts, unless some of the youngsters on hand live up to their billing.
Between the Angels' losses and Oakland's gains, this might be the division with the largest impact owed to offseason moves, though the Halos' returning to earth after last year's Pythagorean overachievement will likely provide an assist as well.


Friday, March 06, 2009


You Can Add Dropping the F-Bomb in the Wall Street Journal to My Resume

So, over the past three years, I've talked to two other WSJ reporters at length a total of five or six times, for maybe an hour and a half, without getting my name in that paper (not that I'm counting).

While part of me wishes that the eloquent command of the Yankee Stadium ticket issue that I've shown elsewhere were reflected in what amounts to my debut in the paper, I'm not too refined to say that this doesn't trump that:
Jay Jaffe and a group of friends shared Yankees tickets for 11 years, but they won't be making the move to the new stadium. The 20-game packages of $25-a-game grandstand seats they hoped to get were sold out. Instead, the Yankees suggested $85 seats deep in right field.

"Literally, my words were, 'Are you f- kidding me?'" Mr. Jaffe recalls.
If you're gonna be reduced to a soundbite, might as well go out with guns blazing. Somewhere George Carlin is getting a good laugh.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Manny Happy Returns

Our long dreadlocked drama is over. and ESPN report that after more than four months of arduous negotiations and more spin than the 2008 presidential election, Manny Ramirez has returned to the fold. From MLB's Ken Gurnick and Barry Bloom:
The deal was closed, pending a physical, at a meeting in Los Angeles attended by Ramirez, his agents Scott Boras and Mike Fiore, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, general manager Ned Colletti and manager Joe Torre, the latter duo both flying from Spring Training camp on Tuesday night for the session.

Torre and Colletti were already winging their way back to Phoenix this morning and are expected to arrive in time for Wednesday's Cactus League game between the Dodgers and Giants at Camelback Ranch.

The manager was summoned back to Los Angeles along with Colletti for what turned out to be the final negotiating session in a 4 1/2-month effort to get the free agent to return to the Dodgers.

Ramirez accepted the same deal the Dodgers offered last Wednesday -- two years, $45 million ($25 million in 2009, $20 million in 2010), payment deferred over five years without interest, with an opt-out clause after one season paid at $10 million each for the first four years and $5 million for the fifth.

But both sides indicated Tuesday night that the deal could not be completed until all primary parties met face-to-face in Los Angeles Wednesday. Ramirez flew in from Florida Tuesday night for the meeting.
Considering Manny and Boras went into the offseason seeking a four- or five-year deal at rates comparable to Alex Rodriguez ($27.5 million per year), this is a pretty huge win for the Dodgers, particularly on the emotional level; they get a great hitter, the best free agent of the offseason, they get him while screwing überagent Scott Boras fairly hard relative to those lofty initial expectations, and -- if the deferral info is accurate -- they get him at a dollar amount that's less than one of their recent, previous offers. Arguably, Manny bought himself the opt-out with that money, which doesn't bother me as much as it will some people. It's the cost of doing business, in this case.

On a baseball level, this is a great move even at that dollar amount. Lengthwise, it's tough to screw up too badly on a two-year deal, though the Dodgers do have the Andruw Jones deal as the exception that proves the rule (how often does a player who was on track for the Hall of Fame suddenly hit .158 with three homers in half a season?). As a win-now move it's even better. Baseball Prospectus' current, PECOTA-based projections have the Dodgers at 84 wins, five behind the Diamondbacks. That's with Juan Pierre as their regular left fielder. The difference in projected WARP values between the two (4.3 to 1.7) more than cuts that margin in half, and that's if you buy that Manny is worth -13 runs in the field, which is, to say the least, extreme; his historic defensive numbers have always been distorted by Fenway's Green Monster, while his numbers with the Dodgers last year were around average. Still, as a low-end estimate, that will stand. Figuring totally on projected VORP, the difference increases to 43.6 runs (49.0 to 5.4) -- more than four wins -- but even that doesn't get it right, since Pierre's VORP is based on his being a center fielder, where the offensive replacement level is theoretically lower than in left field. Marginal Lineup Value Rate (MLVr) numbers put Manny as worth .245 runs per game above an average hitter, whereas they put Pierre -.124 below, a difference of 59.8 runs, about SIX wins. Now, that's assuming the Dodgers can just bury Pierre in a ditch without him getting any playing time, which unfortunately isn't going to happen, and we've avoided the thorny issue of defense, but as a back-of-the-envelope calculation, we can call that the high-end estimate.

So, we can estimate this move as worth between 2.6 and 6.0 wins. Considering the fact that the Dodgers are in the sweet spot where, as Nate Silver showed in Baseball Between the Numbers the marginal dollar values per win rise sharply, peaking around $4.5 million per win for the 90th win, this is essentially the point where the big-dollar incremental gains start to pay for themselves. Particularly so in this instance, given that this was 2005 dollars that Nate was figuring when he did that study, and that the bar for the current NL West is lower than your typical division. After all, 84 wins brought home the flag for Manny and the Dodgers last year.

As for Ramirez and Boras, it's tough to say they came out ahead given their efforts. As Paul SF at YanksFanSoxFan did some figuring himself:
Assuming Ramirez were to exercise the 2010 player option for $20 million (I think he will because anyone who thinks the teams will be in any position to pay players more money next offseason is kidding themselves), he will have received a whopping $5 million more than he would have gotten if he had simply stayed in Boston and put up his big numbers (thereby assuring that the Red Sox would have picked up their two options on him).

Except he changed agents, and Boras now gets a commission for whatever deal Ramirez accepts. Everything I've read assumes Boras gets a 5 percent commission (though no one actually quotes Boras or a player saying this). Five percent of $45 million is $2.25 million -- leaving Ramirez a net profit of less than $3 million over staying in Boston. If Boras' commission is 10 percent, Manny would have agitated his way off the Red Sox for all of $500,000.
If the net present value of the contract is less than $45 mil, as it must be if those terms are right (my crash course in the Excel Net Present Value function yielded about $41.5 mil assuming a 3% discount rate), those gains are even smaller. As my financial guru over the lifespan it took to write this piece, Neil deMause, put it: "Basically you're trying to figure out the cost of Manny giving the Dodgers a no-interest loan. You could argue that the Dodgers are a safer place to keep your money than a bank, or your mattress."

Indeed. No chance of the Dodgers being nationalized anytime soon.

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