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, July 31, 2009


Deadline Day Drama

Having a blast at the SABR Convention in Washington, DC, despite a few snafus on the navigation front (a city where the subway closes? WTF?) and a good chunk of both Thursday or Friday holed up in my hotel room working on this week's Hit List and the BP Hot Sheet. Given the travel and the deadline drama, that actually amounted to a Hit List and a half, because I had to re-write multiple entries, some of them multiple times. Take the Red Sox, please:
Shopping at V-Mart: The Sox land Victor Martinez at the deadline at a time when their offense appears to be emerging from its July funk via 42 runs in seven games, and they manage to hold onto Clay Buchholz in the process. They'll need him to step up, with John Smoltz being smoked for a 7.04 ERA through his first six starts, Tim Wakefield and an unhappy Daisuke Matsuzaka on the DL, and Brad Penny backsliding (5.07 ERA, .445 SNWP after Wednesday's debacle). Meanwhile, the Leak Fairy outs David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez as two of the 104 players who tested positive in the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey test, which should put a sock in the mouths of those so sanctimonious as to claim that the Sox had the high moral ground on the Yankees—or any other team—when it came to performance-enhancing drugs.
V-Mart killed the previous lead, involving Adam LaRoche, who was flipped to the Braves for Casey Kotchman less than a week after being acquired, as did a larger bit about Buchholz. All of that's small beer compared to the bigger news therein, the sad but hardly surprising note regarding Ortiz and Ramirez being on the 2003 list.

I like Big Papi more than most Sox haters, having written a chapter about him for Baseball Prospectus' Mind Game back in 2005; one SABR member suggested via my Facebook page that the revelations now explain why the Twins non-tendered him back in late 2002, but I'm not sure I buy that; they were awash in left-spectrum hitters at that point, they considered Ortiz out of shape, and they always discouraged his power tendencies, trying to make him hit "like a little bitch" (his words). Anyway, schadenfreude is a bitch, ain't it? I suspect he'll survive much as Manny has, with fans ultimately at least somewhat forgiving, and I think the headline to Tyler Kepner's New York Times piece ("If Every Team Was Doping, Why Use Asterisks?") speaks volumes. Also, a tip of the cap to Craig Calcaterra; just when I was starting to buy the idea -- or at least considering setting aside some time to think about possibly looking into the feasibility of potentially purchasing that cup of Kool Aid -- that the list should be released, the Shystermeister weighed in with some well-reasoned perspective.

Enough of that. A few of my pre- and post-trade takes from the BP Hot Sheet over at ESPN Insider:
Baseball Prospectus: There will be rest for the weary

The Sox made by far the best move among the three AL East contenders, acquiring a potential difference-maker who's hitting .284/.368/.464. The switch-hitting 30-year-old provides the lineup with flexibility, as he can catch or play first base, allowing the Sox to rest Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, or Mike Lowell (with Youkilis shifting to third) -- a major boon given Lowell's fragility. --Jay Jaffe

Baseball Prospectus: We're scratching our heads here

Rolen's having a fantastic season (.320/.370/.476 with defense about five runs above average), but even assuming he has waived his no-trade clause, this one's a puzzler. The remaining money on Rolen's deal (about $3.5 million this year, and $11 million for next) represents a substantial burden for a notoriously cost-conscious team, and given that the Reds have lost 18 of 26, they're hardly contenders -- fifth in the NL Central at 9.5 out, ninth in the Wild Card at 10.5 out. --Jay Jaffe

Baseball Prospectus: Injury won't force Milwaukee's hand

It's somehow fitting that Jeff Suppan hit the disabled list the day before a trade deadline at which the Brewers didn't make a splash. The Brewers' highest-paid player ($12.5 million, with another $12.5 million due next year) is currently putting up a 5.27 ERA and .415 support-neutral win percentage. He is a major reason the team ranks second-to-last in the league in support-neutral value and didn't have the financial flexibility to replace the losses of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets with a front-line starter this past winter. It appears that because the Brewers were not willing to part with a top prospect such as Mat Gamel or Alcides Escobar -- or alternatively, to trade J.J. Hardy so the latter could play -- they'll likely do little more than play out the string over the final two months of the season. And the right move was probably no move, if the best they could have obtained via one of those two highly regarded youngsters was Doug Davis. --Jay Jaffe

Baseball Prospectus: Bannister reinvents himself on the mound

Brian Bannister quietly has had a very solid season for the Royals. In one of the more fascinating little stories of 2009, he has remade himself as a pitcher by studying the pitch f/x data provided by Major League Baseball Advanced Media and abandoning his four-seam fastball in favor of a cutter to generate more ground balls [see here]. Mission accomplished: His ground-ball percentage has risen from 38 percent last season to 46 percent this season, his home run rate has fallen from 1.4 per nine innings to 0.9, and he has shaved almost two runs off his ERA. He'd be a solid No. 5 starter for a contender, and for the Yankees to balk at such a minimal price tag might rate as one of their dumber [non]moves this season. --Jay Jaffe
Now: rest for the weary. And beer. Lots of beer.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Return of the Rickeys

In honor of Rickey Henderson's induction into the Hall of Fame this past weekend, I wrote a follow-up piece to last Friday's look at which contemporary players are the most Rickey-like based upon a 10-category statistical profile:
• Batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage: All three were maintained for this exercise, because they preserve the shape of a player's performance in a way that a single indicator such as EqA, OPS, or OPS+ doesn't. Average and slugging percentage are the only two categories here in which Henderson doesn't rank in the top 30 among this crop; without including them, we wind up with Alex Rodriguez and his translated rate of 55 homers per 650 PA among the top five comps, which is nonsensical.

• Equivalent Average: Fundamentally, this is runs produced per plate appearance, adjusted for park and league scoring levels, and placed on a batting average scale.

• Equivalent Baserunning Runs (EqBRR): This measures how many additional runs a player adds on the bases, via steals as well as advancing on ground balls, fly balls, hits, wild pitches, passed balls, and balks.

• Walks per plate appearance: While walks obviously make up part of OBP, the category deserves special emphasis in any comparison with the man who's second all time in drawing them.

• Power/Speed Number (P/S): This [Bill] Jamesian creation was designed to credit players who hit home runs and steal bases via the formula (2 * HR * SB)/(HR + SB). As with the walks, Henderson ranks second all-time in this category, and his per-650 PA translated rate scores third here, his highest ranking.

• Runs scored per time on base (R%/TOB): While this is a context-sensitive measurement that depends upon a player's teammates, normalizing the players to the same scoring environment removes some (but not all) of the inequity. I've chosen to include this to emphasize top-of-the-lineup types who have the skill to put themselves in scoring position in one way or another.

• Stolen-base percentage (SB%) and stolen base attempts per times on base (SBA/TOB).
After finding the least Rickey-like among the current crop of players (the Brewers' Jason Kendall, with a dishonorable mention for he more hacktastic Bengie Molina) I turned to the most Rickey-like among the players in history. The latter group had to be split into two sub-groups, one for pre-1954 players due to the dearth of caught stealing and other baserunning data, and the other for the Retrosheet era, where those numbers are readily available. Among the first group, it was Kiki Cuyler, a relatively obscure Hall of Famer, who outdistanced the more famous Sliding Billy Hamilton, holder of the all-time stolen base record for over 80 years until Lou Brock came along; Henderson, of course, broke Brock's record.

Brock finishes sixth among the other sub-group behind Joe Morgan (whom nobody guessed as the most similar player), Davey Lopes, Tim Raines, Kenny Lofton and Eric Davis. That's an electrifying group of players right there, cerebral speedsters who could hit, walk, and steal with a great degree of success. Lopes, Raines and Davis are on my short list of personal favorites.
Via the translations, Morgan winds up as an excellent match for Henderson, scoring well above 900 points [out of 1000] in five different categories, and below 800 only in stolen-base attempt frequency. Lopes is a surprising second, edging out Raines. One of the great high-percentage basestealers of all time, he once set major league record with 38 consecutive steals, and it's no coincidence that the 2007 and 2008 Phillies, two teams for whom he was the first-base coach, rank first and fourth in our database in Equivalent Stolen Base Runs, and ninth and 10th in EqBRR. The man could read a pitcher's move, to say the least. As for Raines, who didn't walk or steal quite as often as Henderson but who was a better baserunner (more on that momentarily), with Henderson's admission to Cooperstown now a done deal, it's worth a reminder that he's eminently worthy of election to the Hall.
I didn't say anything about Davis in the body of the piece, but I did add a note in the comments regarding his incredible ability in all but one area: "From 1986 through 1993, Davis' Age 24 through 31 seasons — his statistical prime and then some — he averaged 31 homers and 47 steals per 162 games, yet averaged only 118 games a year, never topping 135." Owner of perhaps the greatest power-speed combo to hit the scene between Willie Mays and Barry Bonds, the guy simply couldn't stay healthy, but beteen a lacerated kidney suffered while diving for a ball in the finale of the Reds' 1990 World Series sweep and a torn rotator cuff doing the same for Jose Jiminez's no-hitter in 1999, few players left as big a piece of themselves out there on the field, or showed more heart. More on his career in my 2007 Hall of Fame ballot rundown.

The article concludes with a couple of other lists, one showing the all-time leaders in stolen base percentage (300 attempt minimum) and the other the Retrosheet era leaders in EqBRR, where Willie Wilson edges Henderson and Raines by a hair, with Paul Molitor and Lopes rounding out the top five, a considerable distance back. A couple of surprising names in that group, to say the least.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Smelling Like Roses

Tuesday afternoon's appearance on the Fox Strategy Room's "Last Call with Rick Leventhal" was a gas, if not the world's most substantive or coherent discussion about sports. As with my previous appearance, I was joined by comedian Geno Bisconte, whose hyperactive mugging for the camera and willingness to tweak just about anybody kept me and the other panelists — Division I baseball coach Tommy Weber, Mike Falcone of and host Leventhal — in stitches as we talked over one another during our rollicking roundtable. Bisconte seized on my relatively new mustache and my Western-cut blazer, nicknaming me Deadwood (as in the HBO show... I hope) a few times.

Our conversation began with the topic of whether Pete Rose should be reinstated to baseball, a topic based upon a rumor floated by the New York Daily News's Bill Madden on Monday, one that I didn't believe for a second (Madden showed us who's boss by refuting his own story by the time we went on air). While I expected the discussion would eventually veer towards the Hall voters' attitudes towards steroids (I had prepared a talking point or two on the matter), I'm just as happy to have avoided that topic. You can see a nearly 10-minute excerpt on the Rose stuff here.

From there we moved onto Plaxico Burress' upcoming grand jury testominy and Michael Vick pending reinstatement — neither of which were in my wheelhouse, though I did enough homework on the latter to be more than, um, deadwood — briefly returning to baseball to touch on the Yankees' recent play and the possibility of Roy Halladay being traded. Sadly, the Mets' public relations meltdown didn't take much hold of the conversation, depriving me of my best comedy material. Ah, well — you win some, you lose some, and some are called on account of rain.

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This Calls for Stragety

To my surprise and delight, I've been invited to return to the Fox Strategy Room, where Steven Goldman and I appeared back in April in the service of promoting Baseball Prospectus 2009. For those unaware of its format, the Strategy Room is a streaming webcast conducted in a roundtable format and broken up into hour-long segments that tend to veer all over the map.

Ostensibly, I've been invited to discuss Pete Rose's potential reinstatement with host Rick Leventhal and the other panelists, but given their tabloid sensibilities, I'm sure by now the Mets' disasterpiece may be the bigger story in the baseball world. I'd better read up on my other sports, because if history is a guide, our segment won't be limited to baseball.

I had a great time during my last appearance, and I'm looking forward to this one. I'll be on at 4 PM Eastern, streaming from the Flash popup here.

(Apologies to Bugs Bunny for the title of the post.)

Monday, July 27, 2009


Clearing the Bases: Post-Rickey, Pre-DC edition

Whew, am I behind in my blogging. Here's what's not-so-new:

• A Basseball Prospectus/ESPN Insider piece examining second-half strength of schedule, revisiting an earlier piece but using Hit List Factor instead of a team's projected winning percentage. Here's how the teams shake down:
Team       Season   1st    2nd
Blue Jays .514 .497 .536
Orioles .522 .510 .536
Royals .505 .494 .518
Yankees .508 .500 .518
Rays .504 .496 .515
Athletics .518 .521 .514
Rangers .503 .495 .513
Red Sox .504 .498 .512
White Sox .497 .485 .512
D'backs .503 .497 .510

Astros .494 .485 .505
Indians .505 .504 .505
Tigers .495 .488 .503
Giants .497 .493 .502
Mariners .502 .502 .502
Padres .512 .523 .499
Angels .505 .510 .498
Reds .491 .490 .492
Nationals .504 .516 .489
Pirates .492 .495 .488

Braves .494 .499 .487
Twins .494 .499 .487
Phillies .490 .495 .485
Marlins .496 .507 .483
Rockies .497 .508 .483
Cubs .489 .496 .482
Mets .496 .508 .481
Cardinals .483 .486 .480
Brewers .492 .504 .477
Dodgers .489 .499 .477
Glad to see that two of my three teams have cupcake schedules, though for the Brewers it won't mean much if they can't improve their pitching.

• Last week's Hit List, which found the Dodgers and Yankees 1-2 for what I believe is the first time in the column's history.

• Speaking of the Hit List, I was lucky enough to get to take a time out during its creation to watch the final two innings of Mark Buehrle's perfect game. While I've seen a few no-hitters in their entirety (including Nolan Ryan's record-setting fifth) and caught the tail end of several more, this was the first perfecto I'd seen the end of; I missed those of David Wells (turned that one off early, d'oh) and David Cone. DeWayne Wise's spectacular catch to rob Gabe Kapler of a home run to lead off the ninth inning was worth the price of admission alone.

• Also from last Friday, in honor of Rickey Henderson's induction into the Hall of Fame, I took a at which contemporary players are most like Henderson:
Rickey Henderson will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, an honor that feels long overdue for the player who holds the all-time records for both stolen bases and runs, is a member of the 3,000 Hit Club, and is widely acknowledged as the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. "If you could split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers," wrote Bill James of Henderson nearly a decade ago. The bearded bard of sabermetrics was onto something, and not only with regards to Henderson's Cooperstown credentials. Scanning the horizon in search of a truly similar active player, one comes up with only fractional Rickeys, players who possess elements of Henderson's game — his speed-power combo, his keen batting eye, his basepath derring-do — but nowhere near to the exact same blend.

In honor of Rickey's impending induction, I set out to search for the most Rickey-like player among the current crop of actives, devising a series of similarity scores in categories that typify the unique shape of Henderson's performance. Rather than use raw statistics to compare a player whose major league career began 30 years ago, I called upon Clay Davenport's translated statistics, which normalize all players to the same run-scoring environment. Instead of relying upon a single year's performance, I used a 3/4/5 weighted average of 2007, 2008, and 2009 stats for all players with at least 900 actual plate appearances over that span, then boiled those down to a per-650 plate appearance format for comparison to a similar encapsulation of Henderson's career. This sells the superstar short by including his decline phase, but with nobody even remotely close to Rickey Henderson at his peak out there today, the bar needs a bit of lowering.

The players were then scored in ten categories, with Henderson's performance defined as 1000 points, the least Henderson-like as zero, and all performances in between scaled accordingly. Occasionally, small-sample outliers had to be removed for this to work; crediting a player who's 4-for-5 in stolen bases with similarity to Henderson's 80.4 percent success rate on the basepaths isn't appropriate. It's important to note that players who exceeded Henderson in these categories — with higher slugging percentages or stolen-base success rates, say — were penalized, too; this process isn't designed to tell us the best player, just the "Rickeyest."
While obviously I had the upper hand because I was the one creating the system, I was as surprised as anyone else when the Orioles' Brian Roberts came out on top, with B.J. Upton, Johnny Damon, Jose Reyes and Carl Crawford following. "All of these players combine speed, power, and the ability to get on base to some degree, but none of them profile quite like Henderson does; each punts at least one category in this particular decathalon," I wrote, noting particularly that none of the overall leaders walks with Henderson's frequency. For more, see BP and ESPN Insider, and look for a follow-up at BP on Tuesday.

• Last week's Toledo radio hit.

• Following up this item, which gave me ample fodder for the Mets' hit List entry, Tony Bernazard gets what he richly deserved: a pink slip. What an asshole. Meanwhile, Diamondbacks scout Carlos Gomez clarifies his part in one of the incidents that led to the firing. Contrary to the New York Daily News' earlier report, Bernazard did not directly address Gomez with his profanity-laced tirade, but rather berated a Mets official who told him to wait until the end of the half-inning before taking the seat occupied by Gomez.

[Update]: Via Shysterball, Mets GM Omar Minaya's performance at the press conference is worth a look. He tangles with Daily News Mets beat reporter Adam Rubin, accusing his coverage of being slanted by his own desire to join the Mets' player development department under Bernazard. This is turning into a parade of trainwrecks. And I can't stop watching.

• Finally, I'll be at the Society for American Baseball Research convention in Washington, DC from Thursday until Sunday. Don't be shy if you see me there and want to say hi — I don't bite.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009


Hot Stuff Coming Through!

If it's July, trade rumors are in the air, and if you've got ESPN Insider access, you may have seen that the Baseball Prospectus team, including yours truly, has been augmenting the site's MLB Rumor Central area with some quick-hit analysis every morning, complete with bylines. Starting today, ESPN's collecting those bits into the Insider-only BP Hot Sheet. Here are a few of my contributions (the uppercase stuff links back to the rumors page, referring to their previous writeups):
Baseball Prospectus: The best of the rest behind The Doc

Beyond [Roy] Halladay, who's fourth in the AL with a 2.73 ERA and fifth in the majors with a .646 support-neutral winning percentage, the best commodity on the pitching market is Cliff Lee, whose 3.17 ERA and .632 SNWP also are high on the leaderboard. From there, the drop-off is steep, however. Doug Davis (3.95 ERA, .531 SNWP) is above average, Jon Garland (4.41 ERA, .496 SNWP) is average, and then you're into the dregs of Carl Pavano (5.48 ERA, .467 SNWP) and Brad Penny (5.02 ERA, .448 SNWP). - Jay Jaffe

Baseball Prospectus: With Holliday, what you see (in Oakland) is what you get

[Matt] Holliday's stock has been rebounding, thanks to a .311/.389/.557 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) July with three homers in the past week, breaking a six-week homerless drought. No team acquiring him should expect a sudden return to his Colorado form, however. His numbers this season (.280/.372/.448) are a very good match for his career road numbers (.281/.351/.450), confirming the much-held suspicion that his power was the product of Coors Field's high altitude. - Jay Jaffe

Baseball Prospectus: No team should break the bank for Penny

Brad Penny is not really the same type of pitcher he was during his Dodgers heyday. He's getting grounders on just 40 percent of balls in play, compared to about 49 percent in 2007, and he's lucky he hasn't allowed even more home runs, as his home runs-to-foul balls rate of 7.9 percent is well below league average. He'd benefit from a move to a friendlier park in the easier league, but he's nobody the Brewers should break the bank for. - Jay Jaffe
You say Halladay, I say Holliday, let's call the whole deal off...



Some People Crack Wise, Some Just Crack

I don't hate the Mets by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to admit I'm fascinated by the frequency and ferocity of their self-immolations over the past few years. The latest has team brass cracking down on Jerry Manuel cracking wise about the team's injury situation, while VP of Player Development Tony Bernazard simply cracks.

Three ugly incidents involving Bernazard have been reported over the past two days. In the first one, he took his shirt off and challenged a minor leaguer to a fight, leading one wag to remind readers that Bernazard once endured an 0-for-44 string of futility, tied for the longest in the majors by a non-pitcher: "Odds are he wasn't going to hit anybody even if he tried."

In another incident, he engaged in "a profane verbal exchange" with closer Francisco Rodriguez, and now a third has come to light, in which he got in a shouting match with a Diamondbacks scout:
These incidents have been common knowledge around the Mets for days - as was the ugly, very public exchange Bernazard had with Diamondbacks scout Carlos Gomez in the box seats behind the plate during a recent home stand at Citi Field. For Minaya to say he's "investigating" the matter is either an insult to our intelligence or an acknowledgment that all of this despicable behavior by his assistant is somehow news to him.

In the confrontation with Gomez, Bernazard screamed at the scout for sitting in his seat and angrily demanded him to move. Then when one of his own baseball operations men attempted to intercede, suggesting that they wait until the end of the inning for everyone in the scouts section to shift seats, Bernazard went ballistic and began cursing at his own man in front of all the other scouts.
Gomez, you may recall, is the indy-league sidearmer I interviewed a few years back for Baseball Prospectus. Alias Chad Bradford Wannabe, he was hired by Arizona in late 2007 after writing a popular series on pitching mechanics for Baseball Think Factory. Somehow I have a feeling he'll still have a job long after Bernazard is fired, a dismissal that's richly deserved, as even Bill Madden figures out:
It would be one thing if Bernazard, despite his temper, was doing an exemplary job at developing talent for the Mets. But the hard facts are the Mets' farm system is among the worst in baseball. All you need is to look at what has transpired this year where the best the system has been able to offer in the face of all the injuries are Argenis Reyes, Nick Evans, Wilson Valdez, thrice-released Angel Berroa and Fernando Nieve, a March waiver claim from the Astros. On that alone, Bernazard deserved to be the first fall guy for this Mets mess.
The Mets' Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, are an International League-worst 35-58 at this writing, and the Double-A Binghamton Mets are 37-59, two losses away from holding a similar claim on the Eastern League. Ouch.

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Implied Oral Consent: The Smackdown

Major League Baseball cracks down on The Daily Show for rebroadcasting President Obama's ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star Game with implied oral consent, not express written consent, or so the legend goes.

That's no way to treat America's most trusted newscaster.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009


The Doctor Is In

Enough with the first-half navel-gazing. Over the course of the past two days, Baseball Prospectus colleagues Steven Goldman, Christina Kahrl and I have offered second-half prescriptions for each of the thirty teams -- one or two suggestions that could improve their outlook in the short or long term, depending upon their chances of making the playoffs. In the AL version (BP or ESPN Insider flavor), Steve takes the AL East, Christina the AL West, and yours truly the AL Central. Here's what I had to say about the two teams in my Toledo jurisdiction (yesterday's radio hit is here, btw):
The Tigers have the right idea by benching Magglio Ordoñez who's 163 plate appearances from vesting an $18 million option for next year, and hitting an unacceptable .243/.319/.292 against righties. He can still hit lefties (.300/.356/.463), but in order to limit him to a platoon role and turn the position into an offensive plus—something the Tigers, with a .250 EqA, sorely need—manager Jim Leyland needs a better lefty-swinging corner outfielder than Clete Thomas. The Royals' Mark Teahen and the Orioles' Luke Scott are among the available, affordable corner outfielders who would fit the bill.

One reason the Indians are last in the league in runs prevented is that their pitchers don't miss many bats; they're 12th in strikeout rate and 13th in Defensive Efficiency. As they play out the string, they should move Kerry Wood back to the rotation. He's been lousy enough as a closer (5.28 ERA, -0.2 WXRL, 12 saves in 16 opportunities) not to be missed, and while his fragility might necessitate a short leash, he'd provide the rotation with at least one pitcher with a strikeout rate above league average. For $20.5 million over two years, is that too much to ask?
The Wood one was greeted with plenty of skepticism over at BP, which isn't terribly surprising. It's an outside-the-box modest proposal, something that's not likely to happen. My point is that the Indians, who have only one starter with an ERA below 5.00 (Cliff Lee) have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Wood's contract is short enough that it's likely covered by insurance. It's also got a vesting option for 2011 if he finishes 55 games in either year (he's at 29 now), an extra $11 million commitment that makes absolutely no sense. The Tribe is more likely to be able to offload him elsewhere if he can demonstrate that he can start, at least for a short stretch. And not to sound callous, but if he breaks, so what? He's not helping at all at his current level of performance, and he's never going to live up to that contract.

For the NL piece (BP and ESPN Insider), Steve again takes the East, Christina takes the Central, and I've got the West. Here's what I had to say about the Dodgers and Padres:
Snubbed via the All-Star selection process, Matt Kemp can't even get respect from his own manager despite a .320/.384/.495 first-half performance. Joe Torre has batted him seventh or eighth in 45 of 87 games, and in the top five in just 11 games, this despite the fact that his OBP is third on the team behind Manny Ramirez and — wait for it — Juan Pierre. Oh, and he's also stolen 19 bases (second to Pierre) in 23 attempts. Even with Rafael Furcal heating up after a frigid three-month slump, moving Kemp to the leadoff spot would give one of the team's most effective hitters at least another 50 PA over the course of the second half, adding runs to the Dodgers' ledger ["...particularly with Ramirez batting behind him," I should have added.]

Adrian Gonzalez is the poor man's Mark Teixeira, minus the switch-hitting part — an excellent all-around player with power, plate discipline, and a good glove. And the Padres, with a depleted team that's nowhere near contention, should strive to get a Teixeira-like return for their star slugger, the kind of multi-prospect raid on another team's system that can provide several cogs for a future contender. Gonzalez is ridiculously affordable ($3 million this year, just $4.75 million for 2010 and a $5.5 million club option for 2011 that apparently has no buyout), and losing him will make for an extremely bland major league product in San Diego in the near term, though the sight of 275-pound behemoth Kyle Blanks playing first base on a daily basis might offer some amusement. The point is that since the Padres have the leverage here, they don't actually need to deal him yet, and they shouldn't unless they're offered a package that changes their future.
Until the past few days, I've actually been against the idea that the Padres needed to trade Gonzalez, a move that's bound to be a tough sell to Padres fans. But seeing the way opposing pitchers walked the slugger more than 20 percent of the time last month, I don't think there's a lot of excitement to be had by keeping him around amid such a barren lineup. The suspense of whether Kevin Kouzmanoff (.244/.280/.405), Chase Headley (.232/.308/.366) or the undead Brian Giles (.191/.277/.271) — three players who've batted behind Gonzalez frequently this year — doesn't exactly make for scintillating baseball. But that's just me. Padres' fans mileage may vary.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009


The All-Star Break is No Time For a Break

So I watched the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game this year, which is out of character with my recent history, though last year's game at Yankee Stadium did bring me back into the fold. I couldn't have done it without my TiVo, however, which reduced my total time expenditure to about three hours across two nights. Couldn't take much more than that of the Fox bombast, nor could I afford more between my writing schedule and the steps I've been taking to alleviate discomfort caused by what feels like a 50-pound badger attempting to shred my throat. Pass the antibiotics, please.

I was happy to see Prince Fielder, he of the swing-from-the-heels 503-foot blast, but sheesh, what a drawn-out waste of time. Deadspin's Will Leitch gets it right when he describes the proceedings as "an event that stuffs enthusiasm in a laundry sack and bashes it against the cement for three hours." For my money, you could edit the whole thing down to a 5- or 10-minute pregame highlight package without missing anything of worth.

As for the centerpiece, who ever heard of an All-Star Game played in less than three hours? It was downright old-school, a competitive affair that turned on a spectacular defensive play (Carl Crawford's catch of Brad Hawpe's drive) and a triple by speedster Curtis Granderson, and kept the suspense right up to the final out. But all of the early-count swinging -- 15 at-bats ended after a single pitch, another 14 after two pitches -- kept the contest feeling like an exhibition. Swing at this, because I've got a plane to catch.

Anyway, between the actual midpoint of the season (which was a week ago Sunday) and the All-Star break, it's a convenient time to look back at the first half, and at Baseball Prospectus we've been using the time to examine how our PECOTA projections have fared thus far. In Tuesday's piece I gave an undignified burial to three teams whom PECOTA saw as potentially playoff bound, the Diamondbacks (88-win Wild Card favorites), the A's (84-win AL West favorites) and the Indians (86-win AL Central favorites. All three are well below .500, with the latter two in last place in their divisions, and all have seen their Playoff Odds approach zero. Hence, "The Flatliners."

In today's piece, mirrored at ESPN Insider, I expand upon that piece to show which teams have seen their Playoff Odds change the most since our preseason projections:
The three-day All-Star break is a convenient time to begin the grieving process, and so yesterday made for a timely opportunity to shovel dirt on three teams whom PECOTA tabbed as potentially playoff-bound back in April. The Diamondbacks, A's and Indians may not be mathematically eliminated from postseason contention yet, but with their odds of joining the dance falling below 0.5 percent, a burial seemed in order.

As the BP staff has taken the past several days to examine how our preseason PECOTA forecasts have fared with regards to teams, hitters, starters and relievers, it's worth remembering that such projections don't equal destiny. They're simply a shorthand for a wider range of probabilities centered around the weighted mean forecasts we publicize, and all kinds of real-world factors — injuries, bad luck, mismanagement, imperfect information, and so on — can affect their accuracy.

Bearing that in mind, today we'll examine which teams have helped or harmed their postseason chances the most relative to our initial forecasts using our plain vanilla version of the Playoff Odds report, thus isolating the effect of our projections from our expectations for these teams going forward. In that report, each team's current record and third-order Pythagorean record — their record after adjusting for scoring environment, run elements, and quality of opposition — are factored into a Monte Carlo simulation of the rest of the season, with their records regressing not to .500 but to their third-order winning percentages. Run differentials play a big part here; a team that's above .500 but being outscored won't see favorable odds.

Surprisingly enough, none of the freshly buried teams rates as the biggest disappointment from this perspective:
Team        Wpct   3Pct    Div     WC    Tot   Proj    +/-
Cubs .500 .486 13.0 3.2 16.2 62.6 -46.4
D'backs .427 .475 0.0 0.2 0.2 45.0 -44.8
Athletics .430 .475 0.4 0.0 0.4 41.7 -41.3
Indians .393 .471 0.2 0.0 0.2 38.4 -38.2
Mets .483 .502 11.5 2.2 13.8 48.4 -34.6
Braves .489 .501 12.4 2.6 14.9 33.1 -18.1
Reds .483 .442 2.8 0.7 3.5 19.7 -16.3
Royals .420 .466 0.4 0.0 0.4 13.8 -13.4
Nationals .299 .451 0.0 0.0 0.0 10.9 -10.9
Brewers .511 .477 16.5 3.0 19.5 28.5 -9.1
...From this vantage, it's the Cubs who have disappointed the most, though at least they maintain about a one-in-six shot at October. Expected to pace the circuit with 95 wins and an MLB-high 11-game cushion, they're instead tied for third in the NL Central, 3 1/2 games back. Injuries to Milton Bradley and Aramis Ramirez, disappointment from Alfonso Soriano, and a hole in the lineup where Mark DeRosa used to be (their second basemen have hit a combined .224/.280/.294) have limited the Cubs to just 4.1 runs per game and the league's third-lowest EqA.

The Diamondbacks' offense ranks directly above them, a problem compounded by the loss of Brandon Webb, who hasn't pitched since Opening Day, and a wretched bullpen. The A's main problem has been a lack of offense, some of which is attributable to bad luck on balls in play>. The Indians merely have a staff that's been the league's worst in terms of run prevention because they don't miss enough bats; they're 12th in strikeout rate and 13th in Defensive Efficiency. The Mets have been without offensive stalwarts Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran for weeks now, and their pitching depth has been compromised by injuries as well; their playoff hopes aren't dead yet, but please excuse their weak pulse, clammy skin and stiffening limbs.
The Yankees wind up in the middle of the pack; their overall preseason odds of 66.6 percent have fallen slightly, to 58.9 percent, but they're still very much alive. The Dodgers wind up second from the top of the final list, those teams whose odds have improved the most; they went from heavy pre-season favorites (57.2 percent) to near-certainties (99.3 percent) despite Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension.

Anyway, I've also got another piece up today on BP and ESPN that looks forward to the second half; I'll save that for another post.

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Friday, July 10, 2009


Back in the Saddle Again

Gene Autry or Aerosmith, it's all good:
[#1 Dodgers] Prodigal Sons: The Dodgers regain the Hit List top spot as Manny Ramirez returns from a 50-game suspension. He goes 6-for-18 with two homers and seven RBI, drawing louder jeers for being ejected after an awful strike three call than for his transgression. With Juan Pierre sitting, Rafael Furcal is restored to the leadoff spot and feeling better about his swing via a 14-for-30 showing this month.

[#3 Yankees] Running the Table: A 13-2 run carries the Yankees back into a first-place tie with the Red Sox. They take a three-game set from the Twins in Minnesota, thus winning the season series 7-0; they've won 18 of their last 24 games against the Twins. Alas, the run is tempered by the loss of Chien-Ming Wang due to a shoulder strain. Not that he'd pitched well (9.64 ERA overall, 5.50 since returning from the DL, and still waiting for that first quality start), but his absence forces the Yanks to pull Alfredo Aceves into the rotation. Along with Phil Hughes, he's become a key player in a bullpen that's put up a 2.39 ERA and 3.3 K/BB ratio since the beginning of June; he's 18th in the league in WXRL.

[#10 Blue Jays] Break Up the Jays: J.P. Ricciardi opens the door to offers for Roy Halladay, though the ace won't be a free agent until after 2010. It's a consequence of a ridiculously top-heavy payroll; they have $74.45 million — 92 percent of this year's Opening Day payroll — committed to just six players for next year, including B.J. Ryan, whom they punt with some $15 million remaining on his deal. The bigger problems are their five-year commitments to Vernon Wells ($107 million) and Alex Rios ($59.7 million), hitting an interchangeably pallid .264/.313/.418 and .259/.314/.415, respectively.

[#30 Nationals] Dunn Deal? Adam Dunn's 300th career homer halts Tommy Hanson's 26-inning scoreless streak and helps the Nats snap their four-game losing streak. Dunn's the fifth-fastest to 300 homers, at least in terms of the fewest at-bats to reach that milestone, trailing Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire, Ralph Kiner and Harmon Killebrew. Acting GM Mike Rizzo has no plans to trade the curiously consistent slugger. Meanwhile, ex-Nat and current Pirate Joel Hanrahan earns the win in a suspended game against the Astros, with the winning run scored by Nyjer Morgan, who arrived from Pittsburgh in that deal.
Notes galore to these:

• That link in the Dodgers entry, by Mike Celizic, may be the best piece yet about Manny Ramirez's return. Between that and Eric Seidman's piece on John Hirschbeck's lousy strike three call, that's a rather off night in the Mets' booth for the usually appealing Gary Cohen.

• The ease with which Hughes has taken up residence in the bullpen should be used to quiet those who continually pine for Chamberlain to return to the pen. Why? Because it shows that Chamberlain isn't so unique in his ability to dominate in relief. A pitcher with excellent stuff — Chamberlain, Hughes, even Aceves — can succeed down there by shortening his arsenal and attacking hitters more aggressively. Those same pitchers may struggle a bit in the rotation, but that's life in the big city; it's a much harder job getting hitters out three or four times a game, and it's no crime for even a pitcher with their skills to scale a learning curve. Particularly given the specter of a Brett Tomko start.

• As somebody who likes to dine on schadenfreude pie, metaphorically speaking — it's the term my friends and I use when discussing the pleasure of watching right-wing lunatics self-immolate — I'm continually amused by Ricciardi's brash displays of incompetence. I can't believe that guy still has a job.

• That Hanrahan-Morgan game is just so wonderfully weird I had to squeeze it into the last line of the Hit List. A box score for the ages.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009


Every Day's a Halladay

In Tuesday's chat, a flurry of Baseball Prospectus readers wanted to know my thoughts on the possiblility of Blue Jays' ace Roy Halladay being dealt:
Roopan (toronto): If the jays put a Halladay/Wells combo on the market - would [there] be any take[r]s. I don't believe a mid-market team like the jays can afford to pay 2 players 20+ mil.

JJ: I don't think there's any team out there who could afford the blood and treasure it would take to land both at the same time. And I don't think there's any reason to trade Halladay given that he's got another year on his contract. Pitching is what's keeping the Jays relevant right now, and while I'm not really a believer that they can elbow their way into the postseason this year, there's zero chance it happens without the Doctor.
The topic was still a hot one when I did Wednesday's Toledo and Boston (no MP3 love) radio hits. Today I've got a BP/ESPN Insider piece examining the teams most in need of Halladay's services, a short list which assumes that he won't be dealt within the AL East, that he'll be dealt to a team that can add payroll, and one whose minor league system isn't devoid of blue-chip prospects:
Our Support-Neutral pitching stats tell us he's been worth 3.9 wins above replacement level over a half-season of work -- that's a lot -- and it's no stretch to think he'd be worth three additional wins to nearly any team that bumps aside their fifth starter. It's a truly massive upgrade.

The Jays' ace won't come cheap with regards to blood or treasure, however. Not only will he take multiple top prospects to acquire, he's owed the balance of a $14.25 million contract this year and then $15.75 million next year, a price that will scare away some teams operating in a tight economy. That's also before considering that waiving his no-trade clause might require a Johan Santana-style extension, though Ricciardi says he won't open a negotiating window for a potential suitor.

Those obstacles suggest a trade isn't imminent, but from the standpoint of these five teams, it should be. An extra three starts between now and the July 31 deadline would be worth three-quarters of a win beyond a replacement-level fifth starter. Ask the Brewers what that was worth to them last year.


1. Phillies: 5.02 rotation ERA (15th in NL), 6.0 SNLVAR (13th in NL)
No other team combines the resources and the motivation to deal for Doc better than the defending champs, who lead the NL East mainly because their offense is pummeling opponents into submission, scoring one-third of a run more per game than any other NL team. With Cole Hamels battling a post-championship hangover and Brett Myers probably done for the year due to hip surgery, rookie J.A. Happ is the only Phils starter who's beating the park-adjusted league-average ERA. His arrival has coincided with an improved performance from the starting five (a 3.98 ERA since May 23), but they remain vulnerable to the long ball, allowing 1.3 HR/9, and 1.6 HR/9 overall. The staff as a whole is the league's most fly ball-oriented, a bad match for Citizens Bank Park. Halladay's ability to generate ground balls (doing so on 56.4 percent of balls in play, the fifth-best mark in the majors) would be an ideal tonic. Pairing him with Hamels as 1-2 punch should give potential postseason opponents night sweats.


3. Brewers: 5.01 rotation ERA (14th in NL), 5.5 SNLVAR (14th in NL)
Even with Ryan Braun pressing the case that the Brewers need better starting pitching to survive the NL Central race, general manager Doug Melvin has continually cautioned that he won't trade his top prospects in another CC Sabathia-sized deal. Braun has a point, however. Yovani Gallardo is the only Brew Crew starter with an ERA better than the park-adjusted league average, and with David Bush injured and Manny Parra banished to the minors, the team has been forced to call upon journeyman Mike Burns, who earned his first major league win just two weeks shy of his 31st birthday. Like Sabathia last year, Halladay could dominate in the Central, which features four offenses scoring at rates below the league average.
Personally, I'd be surprised if a deal gets done before the deadline. The Phillies will be likely reluctant to give up the prospects Toronto wants, such as Kyle Drabek -- good thing, as far as the Dodgers' pursuit of the pennant is concerned -- and the Rangers (#2 here) won't be willing to take on the extra $20+ million.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009


The Montero Question(s)

In yesterday's chat, I had a two-part exchange with a reader regarding perhaps the Yankees' top prospect:
Charlie (Bethesda, MD): Think Jesus Montero is a good enough catcher (and hitter) to play DH and backup catcher for the Yankees next year? If he's their DH they could probably rotate him, Posada and Cervelli as catcher to use both of their bats and reduce wear and tear on Jorge.

JJ: You'd have to search far and wide to find anyone who thinks Montero will be a catcher at the major league level, or that it's a good idea to take a raw 2019-year-old with his collection of strengths and weaknesses and let him fester on the major league bench. Horrible, horrible idea.

Charlie (Bethesda, MD): My point with Montero probably wasn't clearly written. I think he should be the starting DH, and was wondering if you thought he could catch enough to have the occasional start back there sprinkled in.

JJ: To borrow a phrase from the Simpsons, we discussed this already and I said, "no." He's 19, he needs to learn a defensive position, and it doesn't serve either his interests or the team's to start his clock so early when there are better fits for now out there.
I bring that exchange up not because of my hardline stance or my expertise on such matters but because today colleague Kevin Goldstein surprised me with this bit about Montero in his Top 100 Great Leaps Forward rundown:
Jesus Montero, C, Yankees (Pre-season ranking: 38)
After a big full-season debut last year, Montero has gone from one of the better hitting prospects around to simply one of the best period, as after going off in the Florida State League with a .356/.406/.583 line, the 19-year-old hasn't missed a beat as one of the youngest players in Double-A, batting .312/.379/.527 for Trenton, including a recent four-game stretch in which he hit five home runs. "He has improved his plate discipline, he's making more contact, and he's still going to get better," said Mark Newman, Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations for the Yankees. "His balance is going to get better, he's going to have a better plan at the plate... offensively, he's as good as anyone we've had here." Montero's defense behind the plate has often been the bigger story, but he continues to make strides there, with a handful of scouts believing he could at least start his big-league career behind the plate. "He's got a ways to go still," admitted Newman. "But his arm accuracy and delivery times are much better. We knew that was an issue when we first signed him, but my confidence in his ability to stay at catcher grows all the time."
It's good to hear that Montero's progressing defensively. It's also timely given that it's July, a month when any team would be well served to talk up its prospects in case they're needed for a deadline deal. Note that the Yankees also have the well-regarded Austin Romine, who's better defensively, in their system. He ranked fourth on Goldstein's Top 11 Yankees Prospects list, where Montero was first. Regarding the two catchers, Goldstein wrote, "Romine has a far better chance of sticking at catcher than Montero, and should be seen as the catcher of the future....He'll continue playing in the shadow of Montero at High-A Tampa, but his all-around skills could be part of what eventually pushes Montero off of the position."

Note also that their second-round pick in this year's draft was also a catcher, one J.R Murphy. They're not exactly brimming with confidence that Montero's the backstop of their future, though Baseball America's John Manuel had this to say about the Murph: "People aren't sure if he will stick at catcher defensively ... he can hit, and he has some athletic ability, but there are only so many catchers that you can play in the minors at each level."

In any event, I still think the day when Montero joins the Yankee lineup is a ways off, because he's either got to prove that his catching skills are legitimate, or he's got to learn another position. That won't happen overnight, and if he shifts, it would make no sense for him not to be playing every day while learning the ropes. He's an exciting prospect, to be sure, but the Yankees have every reason not to rush him.


Answers: Free. Correct Answers: $20

A few choice cuts from yesterday's Baseball Prospectus chat:
strupp (madison): Jay. Thanks as always for the chat. Are we about to see a long "drought" of pitchers being elected to the Hall Of Fame because of the change in usage and other factors that prevent pitchers from reaching milestones? Maddux, Glavine, Unit seem locks, Smoltz & Schilling solid, but then what?

JJ: About to see a drought? You mean like the one where we haven't seen a starting pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame since 1999, and haven't seen a non-300 winner since 1990? My God, man, the next few years will feel like a flood by comparison.

The current electorate is stuck in the Seventies mindset of pitchers finishing what they started and wins being the top criterion for election. Beyond the 300 winners, it may take another decade of voter turnover before the Schillings and Smoltzes get in.

steveomd (Ohio): Jay, how do the Braves fix their absolute mess of an outfield, now and down the road?

JJ: Start by pulling the ol' switcheroo the next time the traveling secretary hands out plane tickets to Jeff Francoeur and Garret Anderson, maybe something along the lines of a flight to Tijuana via Nova Scotia.

I'd start with the assumption that McLouth should be playing a corner position (does he have the arm for right?), platoon Gregor Blanco and Omar Infante in center, at least until you're satisfied [Jordan] Schafer is ready, and try to find a lefty bat that can match with Matt Diaz in left. And look forward to the day when Jason Heyward is ready (two years?).

Eli (Brooklyn): What are your thoughts on Girardi and Cashman's work this year? Overall I like the duo, but watching Jeter bunt in the 5th inning or Cody Ransom remaining on this team is not very encouraging...

JJ: While I've been a big supporter in the past, Cashman's roster work at protecting A-Rod borders upon total f-ing incompetence. Anybody who rosters Angel Berroa for more than 48 hours deserves to be the GM of the Nationals, and anyone who can't come up with a better alternative than Cody Ransom in the two months since he went on the DL deserves to be the GM of the Astros.

Girardi's done a decent job with the hand he's been dealt. He's finally got a functional bullpen thanks to the work of Hughes and Aceves, he's gotten productive stretches from both Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera, and his failure to rest Rodriguez adequately can be seen as a response to the craptastic options Cashman's provided him with.
There was also a Yankees-related question that deserves a separate post, and a Roy Halladay question I'll save for tomorrow, as I've got an ESPN Insider piece in the pipeline.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Crime, Punishment, and Manny

Via my boy Alex Belth comes this fantastically irreverent Slate piece by Charles P. Pierce on Manny Ramirez's return to action:
Then, back in May, the test results came back. A chorus of moaning arose from the Church of the Perpetually Outraged. (This week's sermon: "What about the children?") But he slowly but surely made a goof even out of the Most Serious Crisis There Absolutely Ever Has Been. The drug for which he was nailed was only the beginning of it. Pundits were dispatched to the far corners of the minors to seek out the disheartened and disillusioned. Instead, they found fans who were just happy to see Manny Ramirez swinging for the fences of their little stadium. (My favorite was the guy who told Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times that he and his wife had, like Manny, used a fertility drug. "Manny got suspended," the man told Plaschke. "We got twins!") With Manny in town, the game was a happy, not haunted, place. This seemed to come as a surprise to some people.

Ramirez's weird pilgrimage to the bushes served as a living reminder that the great steroid hunt is almost solely an intramural problem between baseball and its various acolytes. The overwhelming number of baseball fans—who, given the economic problems of the moment, are filling ballparks in reasonably overwhelming numbers—have quite obviously made peace with what happened in the game over the past 20 years. Manny Ramirez was treated as though he'd pulled a hamstring or tweaked a tendon. Now, he's back. That's the way things are going to be from now on.
This isn't the first time the Massachusetts-based Pierce has taken up the poison pen when it comes to Ramirez's detractors. The day after he was traded to the Dodgers last summer, he marveled at the pitchfork-wielding mob which ushered him out of Beantown:
I was driving home late in the last afternoon of the Manny Ramirez Era in Boston, listening to the local ESPN radio outlet, when, suddenly, it seemed that the two hosts had decided that what the situation called for was the opinion of Margaret Hamilton's character from The Wizard of Oz.

... disgrace to the game ... I get sick of people in Boston adoring a guy who didn't play hard. ... blackmailed the Red Sox ... an affront and an embarrassment ... What about the integrity of playing the game right? ... When it comes to the Hall of Fame, there will be a lot of people who have a lot more questions about Manny Ramirez than they do about Mark McGwire.

And his mangy little dog, too, one supposes. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of the sources of this particularly violent magma displacement was ESPN's Peter Gammons. This is like being heckled by one of the heads on Mount Rushmore. It's also gloriously unmoored from reality. Gammons' own record on covering the Steroid Era is a decidedly mixed one. Not that I care, because that cause was never my frenzy of choice, either.
There's no question in Pierce's mind that Ramirez's positive test and suspension mark a turning point in baseball's battle against steroids. Without trying to belittle the need for that fight, I agree with him. Here we have a popular superstar who has been caught by Major League Baseball's increasingly sophisticated testing program; recall that he didn't test positive for a steroid but for elevated testosterone, which gave MLB license to examine his medical records, where they discovered a decidedly unkosher prescription for hCG. While certainly granted more coverage than was necessary, there was no innuendo, no violation of guaranteed anonymity, no illegal governmental leak. Just crime and punishment, the violation of baseball's drug agreement triggering a 50-game suspension served as eager fans awaited his return.

And not just Dodger fans; as Pierce points out, ESPN devoted plenty of space to Ramirez's day-by-day progress during his suspension and "rehab" assignment. For once, the chattering classes notably failed to agree that history's greatest monster was walking among us. Plaschke's curmudgeonly colleague at the LA Times, T.J. Simers, went so far as to call himself a Ramirez apologist because with Ramirez around, "The Dodgers are not only relevant again, but a show worth watching."

While there have been outbreaks of handwringing here and there since Ramirez returned to the lineup last Friday, a long last, it appears we're at least incrementally past the simplistic outrage that equates steroid users as Evildoing Cheaters Who Have Destroyed the Game and Should Be Banned For Life, Plus Spanked and Sent to Bed Without Supper. Ramirez broke the rules, the rules were enforced, the penalty was handed down, Ramirez served it unflinchingly, and the sun still rose in the East. That's healthy, and if somebody wants to Think of the Children, how about reminding them that after serving their punishment, people deserve their second chances.

As I write this, Ramirez has just been ejected in the fifth inning of Tuesday night's Dodgers-Mets game. Home plate umpire John Hirschbeck wouldn't stand for him tossing his elbow pad to express his disgruntlement with being called out on strikes via a ball that, conservatively speaking, was closer to Rockaway Beach than home plate. That's a punishment disproportionate to the crime, but thankfully, at least Manny is back to being Manny.

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Midterm Report

On Sunday the baseball season reached its midway point in terms of total games played, and this week at Baseball Prospectus and ESPN Insider, we're using that as an opportunity to examine how our PECOTA forecasts have held up over the course of the first half. Yesterday, Christina Kahrl examined team-level performances. The top six:
Team     PECOTA   Act.   +/-
Rangers .432 .563 .131
Rockies .438 .519 .081
Marlins .438 .518 .080
Giants .469 .543 .074
Angels .500 .563 .063
Dodgers .574 .634 .060
Today I take a stab at the hitters:
In case you hadn't noticed, it's been a rollercoaster season for Alex Rodriguez. Steroid revelations, hip surgery, a .219 batting average balls in play, an inflated walk rate, a recent eight-game, five-homer tear — he's done plenty to confound expectations, both good and bad. Yet the ever-controversial 33-year-old slugger's .313 Equivalent Average through the first 81 games is just two points off his PECOTA weighted mean projection of .311.

Rodriguez's is hardly the only on-the-nose projection our projection system has had halfway into the season. Of the 227 players with at least 200 plate appearances through Sunday, the schedule's official midpoint, 97 are within 15 points of their PECOTA weighted mean EqAs. The variations are normally distributed, with 154 players within 29 points — one standard deviation — of their projections, and 213 within two standard deviations. Here's a non-random selection of players within 15 points either way:

Player Tm PA Act Proj Dif

Justin Upton ARI 325 .302 .287 .015
Matt Kemp LAN 336 .302 .290 .012
Robinson Cano NYA 347 .271 .264 .007
Jacoby Ellsbury BOS 338 .275 .270 .005
Jason Bay BOS 348 .299 .295 .004
David Wright NYN 353 .325 .323 .002
Hanley Ramirez FLO 336 .326 .324 .002
Alex Rodriguez NYA 221 .313 .311 .002
Mark Teixeira NYA 356 .309 .308 .001
Miguel Cabrera DET 330 .306 .308 -.002
Ken Griffey SEA 250 .265 .272 -.007
Emilio Bonifacio FLO 347 .223 .233 -.010
Dustin Pedroia BOS 365 .270 .284 -.014
This list is simply a baker's dozen of players, mostly from the East coast, who have been surrounded by lofty — and in some cases unreasonable — expectations. We've got three of the game's six highest-paid hitters (Rodriguez, Teixeira, and Cabrera), the reigning AL MVP (Pedroia), the whipping boy of Queens (Wright), a prodigal son returned (Griffey), a 21-year-old phenom (Upton), arguably the game's best all-around player (Ramirez), a horrible idea for a leadoff man (Bonifacio), and a few others who frequent conversations in the Northeast corridor. Despite the varying shapes of performance hidden by EqA, they're all about as productive as PECOTA — if not the chattering classes — expects.
Recall that EqA basically is an expression of runs created per plate appearance, adjusted for park and normalized so as to be expressed on a scale of batting average, with .260 defined as league average, .230 as replacement level and .300 a mark of excellence. None of the Yankees or Dodgers make the leaderboards at either extreme. The Brewers' Prince Fielder (.305 projected, .355 actual) is eighth among the overachievers, and the Mets' Gary Sheffield (.271 projected, .318 actual) is 12th, one of just three over-30 players (along with Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibañez) among that group. That's after his 43-point shortfall ranked second-to-last in 2008, and after he was released earlier this spring by the Tigers.

As for the trailers, the Brew Crew's Bill Hall (.270 projected, .204 actual) is third. Former Yankee Alfonso Soriano (.294 projected, .241 actual) is eighth, and Boston's David Ortiz (.297 projected, .248 actual) is ninth even after a scorching June performance. The Dodgers' Russell Martin and Rafael Furcal, both 40 points below projected, just missed joining that party.

Anyway, there was a lot of fascinating stuff to be found within the numbers, more than I could get to on a word count, and enough that I may spin that into another piece soon. Stay tuned.

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Monday, July 06, 2009


Chatta Chatta Batta Batta

Drop by Baseball Prospectus at 1 PM Eastern on Tuesday where I'll be chatting about Manny Ramirez's new hairstyle and the striking facial resemblance of latter day Johnny Cash and Dodger-era Joe Torre (as seen in the fine Cowboy Jack Clement documentary, Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan). Leave a question beforehand if you can't stick around.

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Beating the Rush

Last week's Hit List, submitted for Thursday publication prior to my departure for Milwaukee (hence the holiday traffic title reference) but alas, not run until Friday. The list marks the first time since Opening Day that the Dodgers were not #1; they were one point short of the Rays. Ouch.

Meanwhile, at a Fourth of July barbecue in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, my in-laws challenged me to repeat a recent feat of box score archaeology. As White Sox fans during their pre-Milwaukee days in Chicago, they rarely frequented Wrigley Field, but they recalled a rare visit. It was a game where the Expos' Warren Cromartie led off with a home run, but only after Cubs third baseman Steve Ontiveros dropped a pop foul and was charged with an error. "That might have been all the scoring," said my father-in-law.

Bingo: July 4, 1979 — thirty years to the day! It was a low-scoring affair, with Cubs starter Bill Caudill allowing just one other hit besides Cromartie's homer, an Ellis Valentine solo shot. He wound up on the short end of a 2-1 decision, with Spaceman Bill Lee getting the win. Years later, my brother-in-law recounted, he was getting Caudill's autograph after he'd moved on down the line and said he'd seen him pitch a good game in Chicago. "Is that the one where Ontiveros dropped the ball?"

They never forget.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009


Look Me Over Closely

I've got another Baseball Prospectus/ESPN Insider twin killing today, this time devoted to players who might be left off the two leagues' All-Star teams.
By midnight tonight, the All-Star balloting will have ended, and on Sunday the starting lineups will be announced. Inevitably, deserving players will be left out in the cold (even after managers Joe Maddon and Charlie Manuel have stocked their benches and bullpens), whether they be unheralded veterans amid career years, youngsters whose stars haven't fully risen, or players nudged aside to ensure that every team is represented. What follows is a mixed-league lineup of players who might not get that trip to St. Louis, though they should. Space considerations prevent me from showing the entirety of my mental math for both leagues at each position, so I've spotlighted what I felt was the more interesting decision of the two.

...Outfield: Adam Dunn, Nationals; Adam Jones, Orioles; Matt Kemp, Dodgers
In the NL, Raul Ibañez, Ryan Braun, and Carlos Beltran lead the voting. With the latter out of commission due to injury, Mike Cameron or Shane Victorino (who rank fifth and sixth in the voting) are likely to replace him as starter, but Kemp is even more deserving. He's hitting .302/.363/.474 with the second-best EqA (.302) among NL starting center fielders. The fact that Joe Torre has mainly hit him sixth, seventh, or eighth in the lineup suggests that his accomplishments, which include outstanding defense (+12 FRAA, +11.5 UZR), could be overlooked; he's just 13th in the voting. Also likely to be overlooked is Dunn, who's batting .260/.396/.528 while ranking second in walks and fifth with 20 homers. A polarizing figure, he hasn't been invited to the midsummer party since 2002, but only Pujols and Alex Rodriguez have bashed more homers since then. From the AL ranks, I'll channel Joe Sheehan and put in a plug for 23-year-old Adam Jones, who has tacked superb defense onto his .305/.359/.509 performance while ensuring that the name "Bavasi" will be cursed in Seattle for years to come.

Starting Pitcher: Edwin Jackson, Tigers
Figuring out who's in or out on the All-Star pitching staffs is a trickier game than it is for the hitters due to starters' schedules and teams' understandable reluctance to part with their aces. Rather than pull my hair out overthinking this, I'll simply stump for a less-obvious choice: Jackson, who's finally living up to the promise shown when he beat Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday. He's second in the league with a 2.49 ERA, fifth in SNLVAR (ahead of his more heralded teammate, Justin Verlander), and ninth in strikeouts.
Yeah, as a Dodgers fan, that Jackson one still stings.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009


The New Nick Green

The Baseball Prospectus/ESPN Insider soup du jour is a roundtable devoted to dissecting the performances of a few unlikely first-half heroes. ESPN editor Matt Meyers, columnist Buster Olney, BP colleagues Kevin Goldstein and John Perrotto and I discussed whether the work of Red Sox shotstop Nick Green, Mets pitcher Fernando Nieve, and Rays utilityman Ben Zobrist are sustainable. My job was to throw around the big numbers, and I wound up in the middle of the fray in this exchange regarding Green:
Buster Olney: Green may not be a .290 kind of hitter, but guys, I'd say he's not a fluke: he's a decent player who is taking advantage of his surroundings. He is playing as part of a deep lineup, in Fenway Park, and hitting .310 at home. One scout mentioned this week that Fenway has a knack for making average hitters into above-average hitters. He has always been able to hit a high fastball, and he's playing in a park where there's some payoff for that (12 extra-base hits in 87 at-bats).

John Perrotto: Green has always been a guy with some tools, decent pop, and a strong arm, so I don't think it's totally unexpected that he has put together a pretty good stretch for the Red Sox. He was always the kind of guy who was awfully hard on himself, and perhaps now that he is getting older he has learned to relax. Like Buster said, he is in the right ballpark with the right lineup to succeed. He is a one-year wonder? Perhaps. At the very least, he is a viable major league player.

Jay Jaffe: Coming into the year, Green had done nothing to distinguish himself from among dozens of Quadruple-A futility infielder types. He was a 30-year-old who owned a career line of .240/.309/.347 in nearly 800 PA, he'd gotten just seven at-bats in the majors since 2006, and his 2008 minor league numbers at Scranton were horrible, with a .191 EqA. On that basis alone, for him to be where he is right now is a total fluke.

Which isn't to say he hasn't learned a trick or two (the Chipper Jones tap) or gotten some breaks in his favor (a starting job in a great hitters' park? Yes, please!), but I'm not terribly optimistic it can continue. Would you be, if you were Theo Epstein or Terry Francona?

Green's numbers look to be the product of Fenway, where he's hitting .310/.348/.517 in 92 PA, compared to .256/.326/.354 in 92 PA on the road, which is the Nick Green we know and love. His overall line is being driven by a .344 batting average on balls in play, and his batted-ball types say he should be around .290. That 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio doesn't suggest he's got the control of the strike zone for all of this to continue, and that pitchers will figure out how to exploit him.

Matt Meyers: Some dissension, I like it! But even conceding some "realness" to Green's performance, wouldn't it be foolish for the Red Sox to have any faith in him beyond this year? Didn't we just see this last year with Mike Aviles? I am not sure Jed Lowrie is any sort of long-term answer, so the Sox might actually have a hole at short. Is there a world in which Green is more than just a stopgap for them?

Jay Jaffe: In the context of Lowrie's slated return in July, Green's a perfectly suitable stopgap. I just don't think the Sox should let themselves get overly attached to the guy based on a park-driven 92 PA sample that's well out of context of the other ~900 PA for his career.
Green kind of reminds me of Miguel Cairo circa 2004, the year he hit .292/.346/.417 for the Yankees. You knew it couldn't last, but you had to appreciate a guy like that coming out of nowhere to give the team a major boost.

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The New Juan Pierre

A couple weeks back, on one of my Boston "Young Guns" radio spots, I joked with host Chris Villani about Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury being the new Juan Pierre. Yesterday, Rob Neyer's got a blog entry ruminating on that prospect, and concluding that while he's been a disappointment, time is on the 25-year-old Ellsbury's side.

I tend to agree, but at the same time, I'm rather alarmed — and as a Sox-hater, amused — that he hasn't come anywhere close to approaching his sizzling 2007 debut. Ellsbury's hardly developed into the Johnny Damon clone that some expected him to be, and his power appears to be more a function of park than of anything else. Check these career numbers out:

Ellsbury, Fenway 499 .304 .361 .441
Pierre, Home 2942 .311 .361 .375

Ellsbury, Away 552 .285 .332 .374
Pierre, Away 2962 .292 .336 .371
On neutral turf, they're virtually the same slappy hitter, but at Fenway, Ellbury packs considerably more punch, enough so that his career Equivalent Average dusts Pierre's, .279 to .258; recall that the latter has spent more than a third of his career in hitter-friendly venues like Coors and Wrigley Fields, depressing the value of his offensive "accomplishments." As I've said to Villani and company, I don't think that makes him a particularly strong choice as the Sox's leadoff hitter, but his game is a stronger one than Pierre's

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