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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


V for Venditte, I for Icebox

In honor of Pat Venditte's spring fling with the Yankees, I've got a One-Hopper at Baseball Prospectus, covering not only his appearance but also a history of switch-pitching:
It was only one inning and change in an exhibition game, but on Tuesday the Yankees finally got a good look at Pat Venditte, the ambidextrous reliever who has pitched for three of their lower minor league affiliates over the last two years. Drafted out of Creighton in the 20th round in 2008, Venditte has been regarded by the media simply as a curiosity, and even his own organization has treated him more as a suspect than a prospect. Nonetheless, he's done nothing but deliver the goods when asked, compiling dominating numbers — 1.53 ERA, 11.6 strikeouts per nine and 6.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, against just 6.7 hits per nine — in an even 100 innings. Intrigued, manager Joe Girardi requested that the Yankees bring him along to the Braves camp for a command performance in a split-squad game. "I've wanted to see it all spring," said the Yankee skipper.

Venditte entered the game in the fifth inning in relief of CC Sabathia, and after warming up with four pitches as a lefty, threw four more as a righty, switching his six-fingered mitt to the opposite hand as he did (alas,'s video edit fails to capture it). The book on him is that he throws harder from the right, with a four-pitch arsenal which includes an 87-89 mph fastball, and scraps his curveball when throwing sidearm from the left, topping out in the low 80s.

He started auspiciously, retiring righty Yunel Escobar on two pitches, the second a grounder. Returning for the sixth, he faced six more hitters, three from the left side and three from the right side, with limited success. Venditte yielded two hits, a walk and a run, but escaped further damage when he induced switch-hitter Brooks Conrad to ground out. Prior to the at-bat, home plate umpire Mark Reilly informed Conrad of the so-called "Pat Venditte Rules" which mandate that a pitcher declare his handedness for the duration of the plate appearance, lest the opponents dance around both sides of the plate until the cows come home, as they did the first time such an occurrence happened in the New York-Penn League.
Along with a couple more grafs about the reactions of Venditte's Yankees teammates, I appended an updated version of an April 2002 Futility Infielder post devoted to the topic of switch-pitching, complete with fresh links and an appearance by Icebox Chamberlain. It's free, so check it out!

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Mauer Power on the Road to Cooperstown

In the wake of Joe Mauer agreeing to an eight-year, $184-million contract extension with the Twins, I wrote a piece on Mauer's Hall of Fame chances vis-à-vis JAWS, using his PECOTA projections to fill in the blanks because his major league career consists of five seasons and change. Amazingly, he's already 31st in all-time WARP among the 1,713 catchers in our database — the 98th percentile — and 24th on the JAWS list at the position:
We can employ PECOTA and JAWS in the service of gauging [Mauer's] progress towards Cooperstown. If he were simply to deliver what his weighted mean forecast expected of him this year (6.1 WARP), his seven-year Peak score of 40.6 WARP would be higher than five of the 13 Hall of Fame catchers, four Veterans Committee selections (Ernie Lombardi, Roger Bresnahan, Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell) as well as the more contemporary Carlton Fisk, whose peak was diluted by injuries. That's a decent start, particularly given that it's within hailing distance of the Peak score component of the JAWS standard for catchers:
Rk  Player            Career   Peak   JAWS
1 Johnny Bench* 84.7 55.0 69.9
2 Gary Carter* 79.7 51.6 65.7
3 Ivan Rodriguez 82.9 42.3 62.6
4 Mike Piazza 68.7 50.1 59.4
5 Bill Dickey* 71.9 44.6 58.3
6 Yogi Berra* 73.2 43.8 58.5
7 Gabby Hartnett* 73.0 42.6 57.8
8 Buck Ewing** 66.6 46.3 56.5
9 Carlton Fisk* 65.9 37.5 51.7
10 Joe Torre 61.8 40.0 50.9
AVG HOF C 60.6 41.0 50.8

11 Mickey Cochrane* 55.9 40.9 48.4
12 Jorge Posada 53.6 40.7 47.2
13 Ted Simmons 53.5 37.8 45.7
14 Charlie Bennett 48.5 39.5 44.0
15 Roy Campanella* 45.7 41.0 43.4
23 Ernie Lombardi** 40.7 28.8 34.8
24T Joe Mauer 34.5 34.5 34.5

24T Roger Bresnahan** 38.7 30.3 34.5
33 Ray Schalk** 31.2 29.7 30.5
53 Rick Ferrell** 28.8 21.2 25.0
*BBWAA-elected Hall of Famer
**VC-elected Hall of Famer
Turning to Mauer's PECOTA Ten-Year forecast — less useful for its relatively flat shape than for the cumulative weight of his contributions — if we were to assume he hits his PECOTA mark of 6.5 WARP in 2011, Mauer's Peak score would rise to 45.7, as his abbreviated 2004 season would be dropped. Among enshrined catchers, that would elevate his Peak score above those of Mickey, Campy, Gabby, Yogi and Dickey, putting him in what we at the JAWS headquarters like to call "Flavor Country." At that point we might have to start calling him Joey.

Add a third season from that Ten-Year forecast, 6.4 WARP for 2012, and Mauer's really in business, for his Peak score would rise again, to 47.3 (dropping one of those 4.8-WARP seasons). Not only would that push the odds-on favorite to be the top catcher of the 21st Century past Buck Ewing, the best one of the 19th century, it would lift Mauer's total line (53.5 Career/47.3 Peak/50.4 JAWS) above the Hall standard for catchers. And amazingly enough, he would still be shy of his 30th birthday, though he would need at least a token appearance in 2013 to reach the Hall of Fame's ten-year eligibility rule. Less uniformity to those three phantom seasons — say, 9.0, 3.5 and 6.5 WARP over three rollercoaster years — could actually push Mauer's peak score even higher, and he'd presumably be well on his way towards rounding off his Hall of Fame case with some minimally positive contributions in his thirties.
Further down in the piece is the data behind the unsurprising tendency of catchers to supply two-thirds of their total career value (in WARP) before the age of 30, and some back-of-the-envelope calculations showing that the flat structure of Mauer's deal, literally $23 million per year, makes it easier for the Twins to get their money's worth out of him, as the rising cost of a win on the open market will counter the player's tendency towards age-related decline:
The bottom line is that even with more conservative projections than PECOTA is offering, one can model an array of happy outcomes which provide value to the Twins as Mauer marches not only towards Cooperstown but into the discussion of the top five catchers of all time, at least according to JAWS. Darker scenarios exist, of course, but so long as Mauer's healthy and productive, let's celebrate the upside, because we're watching something pretty special.
Indeed. So special that I made him my first pick (fifth overall, behind Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Alex Rodriguez) in the True Blue LA Fantasy League. My team is the Dukes of Flatbush, in honor of the Dodgers' Brooklyn history and the fact that I'm a fungo away from Flatbush Avenue. Clever, maybe, but using an unironic team name feels akin to what the players call "playing naked," i.e., without greenies — just doesn't have the same oomph. Any bright suggestions?

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Friday, March 26, 2010


Spring Chatter

Just finished a chat at Baseball Prospectus. Some highlights:
Mike W (Chicago): How many starts do the Brewers give [Jeff] Suppan? Not that their alternatives are very attractive, but we know how this movie ends, right?

JJ: It sounds as though the Brewers are closing in on the decision to make David Bush their #4 behind Gallardo, Wolf and Davis, which leaves Manny Parra, Chris Narveson and Suppan battling for one spot. Narveson made a good impression last year, and has further helped his cause this spring, while Parra seems to have really clicked with Rick Peterson and seems eager to mend his wayward ways. I don't think it's out of the question that the Brewers concede Suppan is a sunk cost and cut him by the end of the spring.

And a good riddance it will be.

Nick Stone (New York, NY): Assuming [Phil] Hughes is healthy and effective as a starter, do you think the Yankees re-think the Joba rules idea when dealing with Hughes's innings count?

JJ: I can't possibly imagine the Yankees taking the same approach with Hughes that they took with Chamberlain, because that turned into an epic failure.

For one thing, it sounds as though Hughes will be on a longer leash, good for about 170 innings as opposed to 150, which would require less manipulation. For another, Hughes has always come off a more cerebral, better able to understand the organization's plans for him than Joba, who increasingly seems like the guy with the 10¢ head.

On the other hand, Hughes' reputation for fragility may make that upper bound a moot point, and it could be that he takes a midsummer vacation on the DL for even the slightest aches and pains.

tommybones (brooklyn): Having now had the chance to see [Stephen] Strasburg pitch to major league hitters, what is your impression of him?

JJ: He's all that and a bag of chips. I was particularly impressed with how well he's handled the spotlight given the pressure and attention. And while we shouldn't put too much stock into the strikeout to walk ratio (12/1) and groundball to flyball ratio (14/1 on outs) bode very well for the future. He's going to be a monster.

dianagramr (NYC): Will the Yanks regret dealing Austin Jackson? If not this year, then ever?

JJ: A lot of it depends upon how well Curtis Granderson takes to New York. Do the contact lenses help? Can he restore his ability against lefties? Can the Yankees keep one of the two playoff spots that will inevitably come out of the AL East? If the answers to those are yes, not just this year but over the next few ones, I suspect they'll sleep OK no matter how Jackson does in Detroit.

tommybones (brooklyn): Speaking of overpaying closers, how do you see the [Jonathan] Papelbon situation playing itself out?

JJ: In tears of rage, just like the vasts majority of Red Sox player/team divorces.
The chat also provided an opportunity to point people in the general direction of this great bit from Vin Scully on Bill Veeck and the role racism played in leading teams to flee Florida spring training sites for Arizona, and to unearth I'm Keith Hernandez, the awesome short film I covered last summer. Set aside 20 minutes to watch Rob Perri's ode to the man who put the cheese in machismo if you haven't done so already.


Thursday, March 25, 2010


Let's Get Real

Back on February 28, I was part of the Baseball Prospectus team that visited the Yogi Berra Museum at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Beyond the usual business of promoting Baseball Prospectus 2010, the occasion was notable because HBO Real Sports sent host Bryant Gumbel and their production team to film the event and conduct interviews in the service of a segment on three transgender sportswriters, including my colleague and friend Christina Kahrl.

Christina is one of Baseball Prospectus' co-founders and quite probably the most original talent the organization has produced. Many a BP writer can pick apart a manager's bullpen usage, run a regression connecting market size to on-field success, or step into a major league front office to advise on Rule 5 draft options. But where else on God's green earth can you find references to Habsburg-era archdukes in the context of breaking down the godforsaken Washington Nationals' non-roster invitations besides Christina's "Transaction Analysis" column, BP's longest-running feature?

Anyway, the Real Sports segment aired on March 16, contrasting the torment and the ultimately tragic demise of the Los Angeles Times' Christine Daniels (née Mike Penner) with the ongoing battles for acceptance that Christina and's Bobbie Dittmeier wage. Both surviving writers counseled Daniels/Penner on what became a very public transition, and both have fortunately fared much better than their fallen comrade, facing their challenges with extreme courage and heartening amounts of success.

The story could have been handled in an exploitative manner, but Gumbel and company did a commendable job in treating it with sensitivity. It's a heartbreaking but also inspiring segment, well worth watching. Given how much footage the HBO team shot, I only wish it could have been longer.

On a personal note, yes, that's me visible in a non-speaking role at about the 5:30 mark. While I did have the decidedly surreal experience of standing next to Gumbel while watching the tying goal in the Olympic Gold Medal hockey game — which was going on at the same time as our event, cutting into our attendance — he didn't interview me for the bit. While I wish he had, it's not for my own ego gratification that I say that; I know what I look and sound like on television, thanks.

No, what I would have liked to add to the piece was merely that Chris Kahrl's TA columns were the gateway drug via which I started reading BP back around the turn of the millennium, before this website had even been conceived. It wasn't until shortly after she emerged from her transition in 2004 that I actually met her, and upon doing so, I was instantly relieved to find that talking baseball with a transgender expert was no more difficult than doing so with any male or female expert. Now I'm proud to call her a colleague, a mentor, and a friend, and via the HBO segment, I — and the rest of that episode's audience — understand her world just a little bit better.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Lift a Finger

Jim Marshall, one of the great rock and roll photographers, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 74. Marshall photographed the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and others. His work was recently featured at a Brooklyn Museum exhibit called "Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present," and you can see a selection of his iconic photos at his own website. It's this iconic photograph of Johnny Cash for which I'll always remember him:

That bad-ass shot was taken at San Quentin Prison in 1969, when Cash performed a famous concert for the inmates which was filmed for documented on the incredible Johnny Cash at San Quentin. On that album, the bond between the great performer and his audience audibly collides with the tension of the prison security. When Cash sings the composed-for-the-occasion "San Quentin" for the second time in a row, you can practically hear the guards drawing their truncheons, ready to bust heads in a full-scale riot. No live album has ever carried such an edge.

In the deluxe repackaged version which was released a few years ago, here's what Cash had to say about the photo:
During the show at San Quentin in 1969, it seemed that Granada TV was on stage in front of me. At some point I walked around my microphone and yelled, "Clear the stage! I can't see my audience!" Nobody moved. So I gave them "the bird." Hence that picture.
Here's what Sylvie Simmons' liner notes have to say:
Cash snarls like a punk rocker at the camera with his middle finger raised... Whatever brought it on, nothing sums up the defiant, macho, outlaw Johnny Cash quite like that picture and the concert it was taken at. As Bob Johnston, At San Quentin's producer, recalls, "God, I'd never seen anything like it. When Cash sang 'San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell,' they were on the tables yelling. A lot of the guards were up on the runways with loaded guns, backing up the doors, and I'm backed up to the door with all of these guards with guns, and I'm thinking, 'Man! I should have brought Tammy Wynette and George Jones — anybody but Johnny Cash!'"
Several years ago, I acquired a poster of the photo, cropped to serve as a promotion for American Recordings celebrating The Man In Black's unlikely latter-day comeback album Unchained winning the Grammy for Best Country Album. The inscription in the upper left reads: "American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville Music establishment and country radio for your support."

Cracks me up every time, which is why I have that poster hanging above my desk. Johnny Cash may be giving someone the finger, but to borrow a line from one of his singer pals, it ain't me, babe.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010


Children By the Millions Sing for Alex Chilton (1950-2010)

When I first arrived in New York City back in 1995, I moved in with a friend of my downstairs neighbor in Providence, a guy who worked in film and video who had been flopping on friends' couches in Hoboken for awhile and needed to solidify his situation with, like, a mailing address. A guy named John, who had just come off working on Ken Burns' Baseball epic, where — I learned the better part of a decade later — he crossed paths with pal Alex Belth.

John and I were only paired in our tiny East Village apartment for about eight months, and while we weren't exactly the fastest of friends, we had some common ground when it came to basketball (remind me to tell you the Reggie Miller story sometime) and more importantly, music. The largest portion of John's collection was devoted to Alex Chilton, the former lead singer of the Memphis teen soul group the Box Tops and the quintessential power pop band Big Star. The latter was the vehicle by which I knew Chilton best, having purchased the band's all-too-small catalog sometime shortly after college graduation.

John was a connoisseur of the ups and downs of Chilton's post-Big Star ride, a solo career that had redefined the term erratic. He let me comb through that fascinating collection, and long after he bailed on the apartment to take a cross-country road trip, we'd cross paths at Chilton shows at small, dingy dives like Under Acme and Coney Island High and catch up. I haven't seen John in years, but I think of him when I spin outre classics such as Bach's Bottom and Like Flies on Sherbert whose warped, gritty charms were to the John Spencer Blues Explosion what the pristine melodies of #1 Record were to R.E.M. and the Replacements a decade earlier.

Chilton died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack at the age of 59, and while I was instantly saddened upon reading the news, what amazed me was how many friends on Facebook and Twitter had something to share about it — from college pals to current colleagues, as well as the more tenuous social network acquaintances (not that there's anything wrong with them) — the vast majority of whom I'd never, ever discussed Big Star, the Box Tops or anything Chilton.

Literally, the lines in the Replacements' tribute to a man who spent most of his career confined to cult status — despite having sung on a #1 hit song as a teenage sensation for the Box Tops, penned and recorded the original version of "In the Streets," which as covered by disciples Cheap Trick became the theme song to the long-running That '70s Show, and in between made three of the most beautiful, unsettling, influential and ultimately important albums of the post-Beatles canon — had come to life:

"Children by the millions sing for Alex Chilton when he comes round / They say, "I'm in love, what's that song? / I'm in love with that song."

Having not paid much mind to the mid-Nineties reunion in which Chilton and Big Star drummer Jody Stephens were joined by two members of the band the Posies, I guess the band wound up reaching further than I'd ever imagined, as the fans of so many bands who had cited Chilton as an influence actually gave a damn and listened to the records, bothering to track down whoever it was that sang that song they loved. Imagine that. Though he retained a standoffish attitude towards his own career, and often seemed hell-bent on self-sabotaging any shot at success, at least Chilton got to feel some of the adulation that had long eluded him.

A handful of links, both for the initiated and the not:

• An Entertainment Tonight segment on "The Letter," the song which set a commercial high bar he never topped... or even tried to. Chilton notoriously avoided interviews later in life, so to see him actually playing ball is rather fascinating.

• A mid-Eighties segment of Chilton on 120 Minutes, playing fragments of his famous songs on acoustic guitar, again surprisingly willing to talk about his career relative to his later reluctance.

• Big Star's "September Gurls," my favorite track among many:

• Or maybe I meant their "Nightime," another Big Star favorite:

• Pitchfork's brief obit and a selection of videos.

A lengthy Crawdaddy piece covering Chilton's career, with a special focus on the odd twists and turns his post-Big Star days took

• A nice little tribute from Caryn Rose of Metsgrrl and

• Chilton eulogized on the floor of the House of Representatives (!) by Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee):

• And finally, the Replacements' "Alex Chilton," the song that both cemented his legend and ultimately provide a fitting epitaph:

Children by the millions will miss you, Alex Chilton.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Willie Davis, Redux

Over at Baseball Prospectus' new One-Hoppers blog, I've expanded and revised my take on Willie Davis to include some comments from the New Bill James Historical Abstract as well as my own JAWS-flavored take: "He was sort of the Mike Cameron or Kenny Lofton or Devon of his day — a fine supporting player whose merits for Cooperstown fall short of the mark, but who could certainly play. There's no shame in that."

It's free, so don't be shy.

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We Got That B-Roll!

I've never worked in film, TV or video, but I have enough friends that do to know what a b-roll is: supplemental footage intercut with the main event in an interview, documentary or news report.

As such, this video has been cracking me up for the past couple of months. Too good not to share. It's even got a great baseball reference to boot. Enjoy!

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Willie Davis (1940-2010)

Willie Davis was before my time. He spent 18 seasons in the major leagues, from 1960 through 1976, with a brief comeback in 1979, so unless he made a cameo appearance in an Angels game I was watching in that latter year — he wasn't in this Nolan Ryan near no-hitter — I never actually saw him play. I knew of him primarily because of a gruesome inning in the 1966 World Series in which he made three errors, a moment which represented the fall of the Sandy Koufax-era Dodgers' mini-dynasty. He lost one fly ball in the sun, dropped the next ball, and overthrew third base on the same play as three runs scored.

Alas, that turned out to be Koufax's final game. The pitcher was actually forgiving of Davis' woes, and as the great Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote, "I don't think the shock of Game 2 of the World Series was that Willie Davis dropped two fly balls off Koufax fastballs in center field, I think it was that Koufax fastballs ended up in center field in the first place."

Anyway, Davis was so much more than that. He patrolled center field for the Dodgers for 14 year, from 1960 through 1973, a span during which they won three pennants and two World Series. The tail end of his career overlapped with the beginnings of the great Longest Running Infield which drove the team's next four pennants (1974-1981). He is the Los Angeles era franchise leader in hits (2,091), extra-base hits (585), at-bats (7,495), runs (1,004), triples (110) and total bases (3,094). His legacy looms large.

Davis passed away on March 9, and he was fondly remembered at a ceremony at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday which brought together several generations of Dodgers, from Peter O'Malley to Frank McCourt, from Maury Wills and Tommy Davis to Bill Russell, Ron Cey and Reggie Smith. Both his talent and humanity drew tribute. "Willie treated every player with respect and he made you feel welcomed," said Smith, who watched Davis while growing up in Southern California and played with him in St. Louis in 1975. "Willie had it all and he was probably the fastest man I ever saw in baseball."

Indeed, his speed was remarkable. "He was the only man I've ever seen who, when he hit a ball in the gap, the opposing team watched him run," said Lou Johnson, another Dodger teammate from the Sixties. Recalled Tommy Davis (no relation), who raced against him in a 60-yard dash in spring training, ""I realized he was fast," Davis said, "because Johnny Podres and Stan Williams were betting on him -- and those guys knew how to bet."

Davis had his critics as well, not to mention his problems. He converted to Buddhism late in his career, and was often ridiculed by closed-minded sportswriters. He had financial woes late in his career, and following it. Playing in the death valley of 1960s Dodger Stadium, the most parched run scoring environment on earth, his numbers looked meager; he hit .275/.306/.385 for his career at Chavez Ravine, .281/.314/.428 everywhere else. Still, his lifetime True Average (a/k/a Equivalent Average) was .274; a .260 is league average after adjusting for park and league scoring levels, so he was actually a significantly above-average hitter for his time. Translated to a 4.5 runs per game environment (as BP does for every player), his career line comes out to .300/.335/.467, with 2,738 hits, 242 homers and 438 steals — numbers that start to look Hall of Fame caliber — and his defense, according to BP's numbers, was 104 runs above average for his career.

Still, he was viewed as something of an erratic player and character. As the New York Times obituary notes, Murray "suggested that Davis had tinkered with his batting stance too much. 'Willie, you see, did imitations. The only way you could tell it wasn’t Stan Musial was when he popped up.'" (The entire Murray column from which that was taken is here. It's worth a read.)

The best of the Davis tributes online belongs to Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Willie Davis might have been the coolest ballplayer I ever saw. He exuded style, a sense of the pure aesthetic, and he could have excelled at any sport. His choice of baseball was a blessing to the game, and among those of us who watched him up close at Dodger Stadium in the early 1960s, there was no question he was the fastest man alive. In a race from first to third with a running start, I'm not sure even Bob Hayes could have caught him.

Davis was found dead Tuesday at the age of 69 (authorities believe there was no foul play), leaving behind a legacy of unique, unforgettable talent. He made two All-Star teams, racked up 2,561 hits, had a 31-game hitting streak, won three consecutive Gold Glove awards, but he wasn't an elite outfielder in the National League. With the likes of Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente in the mix, that just wasn't possible.

What none of those players had — few that I can recall in any era — was Davis' combination of urban cool and blazing speed. He addressed the world at a slow, measured pace, never in a rush. He basically let life come to him. Even as he approached home plate with a bat in his hands, he struck the impression of a man wearing shades at the far corner table of a jazz club.

There was lightning inside him. He turned it loose at the crack of the bat. Like so many good left-handed hitters, he crushed the low fastball, drilling it up the alleys on a laser path. That's when Willie Davis struck fear in the hearts of every opponent, because that would be a triple.
As Tommy Lasorda inevitably lamented, Davis has gone to visit the big Dodger in the sky. So long, Willie.

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Friday, March 12, 2010


Today's Batch

At Baseball Prospectus, I've got a lengthy take on Nomar Garciaparra's retirement, placing him in the context of the "Holy Trinity" of shortstops:
Back in the mid-1990s, a trio of young shortstops burst onto the American League scene. Soon dubbed the "Holy Trinity," Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra were part of an elite three-way positional rivalry not seen since the days that Willie, Mickey and the Duke ruled the center field scene. The trio were heirs of a sort to Cal Ripken, Jr., who a generation earlier had opened up the shortstop position to bigger, more athletic and more offensively adept types — a development which played no small part in moving the game towards a higher-scoring era. Arguments raged over which of the three was superior, though they often came down to a choice between Rodriguez's video game offensive totals and Jeter's championship rings, with Garciaparra's own merits somewhat lost in the fray. But no matter which dog one had in the hunt, for a few years it certainly seemed as though all three were racing towards Cooperstown.

On Wednesday, the first one of that trio officially bowed out of the race. Garciaparra, who was traded away from the Red Sox mere months before they broke their 86-year World Championship drought in 2004, signed a one-day contract with Boston and announced his retirement. Though just 36 years old, his brittle body had aged far beyond its years, the result of a genetic condition which causes the development of excess scar tissue at the injury site. Already been interrupted by a wrist injury which cost him most of the 2001 season, his career had been on the downslope ever since Achilles tendonitis cost him the first two months of the 2004 season. From that season onward, he averaged just 323 plate appearances per year and qualified for just one batting title while serving a total of 384 days (over two full seasons!) on the disabled list. He did no less than 10 stints due to a groin tear, a fractured wrist, and an endless litany of oblique, knee and calf woes. As his body crumbled, he played just 57 games at his natural position following his exit from Boston.

...While Garciaparra couldn't match Rodriguez's home run numbers or Jeter's championships, during the period that the three players overlapped up to that point — a carefully manicured stretch, admittedly — he had actually been the most valuable of the Trinity:
1997 21 SEA .287 -3 5.2
1998 22 SEA .302 -7 7.1
1999 23 SEA .290 -1 4.9
2000 24 SEA .333 24 11.6

Tot .304 13 28.8

1997 23 NYA .273 -14 3.6
1998 24 NYA .300 1 6.8
1999 25 NYA .324 -7 8.0
2000 26 NYA .300 -21 3.9

Tot .299 -41 22.3

1997 23 BOS .286 -5 5.9
1998 24 BOS .302 3 7.0
1999 25 BOS .319 13 8.2
2000 26 BOS .321 16 8.5

Tot .306 27 29.6
Helped by a knee injury which cost Rodriguez a month during the 1999 season and by Jeter's already-dismal defensive numbers, Garciaparra squeaks by both players in terms of WARP, and he edges past them in True Average as well. Of course, by that point A-Rod had already put up a 9.5-WARP season in 1996, and Jeter had enjoyed a pretty fair year himself.

...[Garciaparra] won't wind up in Cooperstown due to the sad denouement of his career. He leaves behind a bittersweet legacy in Boston, where he reached stardom but like so many other Red Sox stars departed under unhappy circumstances. Nonetheless, he enjoyed a fantastic stretch at the outset of his career. Not only was he a part of one of history's great concentrations of talent at a given position, but for a brief period he could make the claim at being the best of the bunch. No matter what came after it, that's pretty special.
TAv is True Average, formerly known as Equivalent Average, a measure of offensive value per out which adjusts for offensive level, home park, and team pitching. A .260 TAv is defined as league average, a .300 is great, a .230 is replacement level. FRAA is Fielding Runs Above Average, WARP is Wins Above Replacement Player.

In any event, beyond that professional take on Garciaparra and his minimal Hall of Fame chances, I've also got a One-Hopper which expands upon this brief tribute regarding the Dodgers' 4+1 game.

• • •

Having covered the Red Sox and Dodger flavors — and a bit of the Yankees' flavor, with Jeter involved — in my Nomar coverage, I've also got something expressly more pinstriped. Over at Pinstriped Bible, I join Steven Goldman and fellow guest traveler Cliff Corcoran for a roundtable concerning the Yankees' fifth-starter battle between Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. Here's a taste:
STEVE: Given that Joba was averaging 91 MPH during Wednesday's start and his velocity was down last year as well, is it possible that we're no longer looking at a potential elite starter or am I jumping to conclusions?

JAY: It's probably a bit early to start worrying about any pitcher approaching maximum velocity at this stage of the spring, but the results (11 runs in 3.2 innings via two appearances) are certainly unsettling. That said, I think we're at the point that every minor variation in what Joba does relative to expectations is under such a microscope that we - by which I mean everyone following the Yankees, not specifically you two - are in danger of losing perspective. It's the Yankees brass that's brought this situation about, and one has to wonder if the uncertainty of Chamberlain's role at this point in time is weighing upon him.

STEVE: You bring up a good point about the Joba-scope, Jay. Still, though we always talk about how it's crazy to make decisions based on small sample-performances in Spring Training, but on the other hand, isn't there a point at which you have to say, "Track record be damned, we need to see this player execute already?" Cliff?

CLIFF: ...Track record should absolutely play a part in it, however. In a perfect world, the players competing for jobs in camp aren't all starting from zero. Rather, they're demonstrating the skills that allowed them to compile the track record that got them to this spot in the first place. To use an extreme example, based on track record alone, Ron Guidry should be the fifth starter. He's in camp as a special instructor, so he's available and in uniform, but ask him to win the job and you'll realize that he's 59 years old and no longer has those skills. Based on track record alone, Chamberlain should be the fifth starter, because in his 32 major league starts before the team started skipping his turn and limiting his innings late last year, he posted a 3.27 ERA and 8.74 K/9, while Hughes has a 5.22 ERA and 7.1 K/9 in his 28 major league starts.

Joba also has the advantage of being prepared to throw up to 200 innings this season, but he has to prove that his velocity is not an issue, that he can still break off those nasty sliders we saw in 2007 and 2008, that his curve and change are effective major league pitches, that he can mix those four pitches effectively, and that the debates and rules that hounded him over the past two years haven't undermined his confidence on the mound. Jay is right about Joba being under a microscope and there being a loss of perspective about his performance as a starter (I imagine the stat I quoted above will surprise a lot of readers), but Chamberlain also has to prove that he can withstand that concentrated heat without bursting into flames.
Plenty more where that came from.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Clearing the Bases: While I Was Out

Amid all of this recent book promo hubbub, I've actually gotten to do some writing:

• Last week, I noted the introduction of the ESPN Insider TMI blog. Today I've got another piece there, this one on Ozzie Guillen's stated desire for the 2010 White Sox to be more aggressive on the basepaths. There's a longer version over at Baseball Prospectus. Here's a taste:
Despite the coupling of his predilection for smallball tactics (bunting, base stealing, and manufacturing runs) with a desire to call attention to them that's so outsized you'd think these were the 1959 Go-Go Sox, [Guillen's] teams have been overly reliant on the longball in recent years. So reliant that colleague Joe Sheehan christened the Guillen Number, which measures the percentage of a team's runs derived from homers. Last year, the White Sox ranked third in the majors at 41.0 percent, trailing only the Yankees (45.1 percent) and the Phillies (42.1 percent). They've been among MLB's top four during every year of Guillen's tenure...

Over the winter, Guillen pressed Williams to provide him with a more flexible roster, one which offered more speed than he had in the past. In reacting to the team's shedding of sluggers Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye and the addition of Juan Pierre, he declared that aggressive baserunning would be a major point of emphasis this spring. While the Sox have stolen 10 bases through their first five exhibition games, the skipper's statement highlights the fact that they've been hemorrhaging runs on the basepaths, according to our Equivalent Stolen Base Runs (EqSBR) and Equivalent Base Running Runs (EqBRR) metrics, the latter of which incorporates not only steals and caught stealing but also advancement on hits and outs:
Year EqSBR  Rk   EqBRR  Rk
2004 -14.2 29 -2.1 12
2005 -7.4 19 -2.0 11
2006 -7.1 22 -22.3 30
2007 -6.5 24 -7.0 22
2008 -4.6 21 -3.2 14
2009 -4.1 16 -9.2 25
Tot. -43.8 27 -45.8 24
Under Guillen, the Sox have failed to break out of the bottom half [of the 30 teams' rankings] in EqSBR, and they've done so only twice in EqBRR. In all, team has cost itself between four and five wins via baserunning over the past six years, which at least explains why Guillen thinks it's an area where the team needs improvement.

Still, that won't mean a whole lot more runs scored, particularly if the Sox can't rise above last year's measly rankings of 20th in OBP (.328) and 27th in True Average (.249).
The piece concludes with a link to former Orioles manager Earl Weaver's famously blue comment (NSFW; see here for those with more sensitive ears) on the relative merits of team speed and team power, which should tickle Guillen's funny bone even if it doesn't change his philosophy. If I am confident of one thing about Ozzie, it's that he's got a legendary tirade just waiting to be recorded.

• Baseball Prospectus has launched a handful of new blogs over the last several days, with some of the posts available for all readers and others behind the subscription wall. Yours truly is heading up a new one called "One-Hoppers." A version of the Clayton Kershaw piece is here, and I've also got a more recent freebie on last week's Barry Zito versus Jeff Suppan "showdown," a matchup initially notable for Zito's plunking of Prince Fielder in retaliation for what the Giants felt was an overly excessive home run celebration from last September. Had Suppan, whose fastball is almost as slow as Zito's, attempted to further the hostilities, "A beanball war between those two hurlers would be like watching a pair of elderly men spar with sporks," I wrote.

What piqued my interest beyond zingers like that was the fact that the game in question paired two of the more dubious contracts given out to pitchers in recent years:
Zito is in the fourth year of a seven-year, $126 million deal, one which represented the largest contract ever signed by a pitcher at the time (it's since been surpassed by Johan Santana and CC Sabathia). Suppan is in the fourth and final year of a $42 million deal. Check the tale of the tape across the first three years of their deals (all dollar amounts in millions):
Pitcher   IP     K/9    ERA   WARP     Sal    MORP     Net
Zito 568.2 6.4 4.56 3.1 $43.0 $14.0 -$29.0
Suppan 546.0 5.0 4.93 0.5 $26.5 $1.5 -$25.0
MORP is Marginal value Over Replacement Player, a measure which was originally introduced by Nate Silver back in 2005, and is currently under revision by our own Matt Swartz. What MORP does is place a dollar value on a marginal win (i.e., a Win Above Replacement-level Player) which is based upon the actual behavior of recent free agent markets. That dollar value changes from year to year as baseball's economy expands and contracts, but for this back-of-the-envelope calculation, I've substituted a 2007 value of $4.5 million per win, and increased it by five percent in each of the past years.

...Zito has provided the Giants with about $1 worth of value for every $3 spent, while Suppan has given the Brewers $1 worth of value for every $18 spent.

• Speaking of the Brewers, I pinch-hit for BP colleague Will Carroll to do their Team Health Report, which classifies every lineup regular, rotation member and closer according to a red light/yellow light/green light system which based upon a player's history and some actuarial tables tells you roughly how likely they are to serve a stint on the disabled list; a red means at least a 50 percent chance, a green is less than 33 percent (Rickie Weeks is red, Prince Fielder is green). For the THRs we also focus on a couple of the big issues a given team faces.
The Cost: The "Brew Crew" put up another successful season in regards to injuries last year. Milwaukee lost $10.3 million to injuries in 2009 and had a total loss of just $29.8 million over the last three seasons. The biggest hits to their day and dollar counts came from David Riske, who lost the entire year due to elbow woes culminating in Tommy John surgery in June, and Rickie Weeks, who played just 37 games due to a wrist injury; those two combined to miss over 300 days and cost Milwaukee $5.7 million. Even with that, Milwaukee found itself in the black when compared to the rest of the league, losing almost $4 million less than the league average. The front office was busy in the offseason, spending nearly $30 million on Wolf, and bringing in Doug Davis, LaTroy Hawkins, and Gregg Zaun to fill holes. In total, the $47.65 million Milwaukee spent on the free-agent market was no doubt helped by their low injury costs over the last few years.

The Big Risk: Wolf enjoyed something of a career year with the Dodgers in 2009, posting a 3.23 ERA in a career-high 214 1/3 innings. That's roughly 100 more than he'd averaged per year from 2004-08 due to a variety of elbow and shoulder problems, including 2005 Tommy John surgery and 2007 labrum surgery. After finishing last in the NL in rotation ERA (5.37) and SNLVAR (8.0), the Brewers had little choice but to invest in starting pitching, even during a winter where the market was thin. Wolf was the second-best starter available after John Lackey. The Brewers' signing suggests a confidence that they can keep Wolf in working order.

The Comeback: Weeks' season ended prematurely due to a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, the latest in a litany of injuries to both wrists. From right wrist surgery in 2006 to tendonitis in the same wrist the following year — not to mention a torn ligament in his thumb which required surgery, and couple of other sprains along the way — his injuries have prevented him from playing more than 129 games in a single year, and he's topped 100 just twice in five years. While Craig Counsell, Felipe Lopez, and Casey McGehee actually hit quite well in Weeks' absence last year, the team lacks a fleet top-of-the-order threat when he's not in the lineup, and they can't always count on such similar good fortune in filling in for him.
• Still in Brewer country, I covered the National League Central in the latest installment of my number-crunching series on competitive ecology. Here's the Brew Crew:
Among the litany of unhappy stories in this series, the Brewers rate among the happier ones. Throttled by a combination of ineptitude and political point-scoring, the team posted losing records during the last 12 years of the Selig family's regime, inducing the good fans of Milwaukee to stay away in droves despite a new ballpark. Since purchasing the team in September 2004, new owner Mark Attanasio has helped turn over a new leaf. The 82 wins the Brewers have averaged during his five years of ownership is their highest since the 1988-1992 era.

Reaping the benefits of groundwork laid by since-departed scouting director Jack Zduriencik (who drafted Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, and Ryan Braun in consecutive years), the Brewers broke their skid of sub-.500 seasons in 2005, crossed the .500 threshold in 2007, and then went for broke in 2008, with general manger Doug Melvin making a well-timed move by trading prospects for CC Sabathia, who practically carried the team on his back to the postseason. Over that four-year span, Attanasio let Melvin double the team's payroll, and luckily, the long-starved fans rewarded such aggressiveness at the gate. Attendance increased 49 percent from 2004 to 2008 as the team crossed the three million mark despite playing in the game's smallest market — a remarkable achievement. That they ranked ninth in attendance over the 2007-2009 period only underscores the fact that the Brewers are punching well above their weight.

The bounty of homegrown talent — particularly Fielder (16.7 WARP over the last three years) and Braun (15.3 WARP) — helped the Brewers rank 11th in Non-Market WARP, ninth in MP/MW [Marginal Payroll per Marginal Win, a measure of economic efficiency; the Brewers spent $2.06 million per win above replacement level from 2007-2009], and eighth in PER' [Payroll Efficiency Rating, a measure of the money the team spends to gain extra wins with what we'd expect them to generate given their market size; the Brewers were 16 percent better than average] over the past three years, though the times they are a-changin'. Fielder is in the second year of a two-year, $18 million deal, and as his final pre-free agency year looms, the question of whether the Brewers can afford to keep him looms as large as the slugger himself. It's not entirely out of the question, particularly with the horrendous Jeff Suppan contract coming off the books, Braun locked into an eight-year, $45 million deal through 2015, and just $22 million committed for 2011. But like any small-market team, the Brewers will need to catch a few breaks.
That ought to give my people in the dairy state enough to ruminate on for a little while.

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The Hits Keep Coming

It's been a busy and exhilarating couple of weeks promoting Baseball Prospectus 2010. After a wave of some two dozen radio hits, last weekend my colleagues and I made appearances at the Yogi Berra Museum at Montclair State University in New Jersey and a Barnes and Noble in Manhattan. Sandwiched between those two appearances, I did an hour-long spot on the Fox Strategy Room's "Clubhouse Report" streaming videocast, on a panel with New York Post deputy sports editor Tim Sullivan and Sports Illustrated writer Pablo Torre, hosted by Duke Castiglione.

While we spent a bit of time at the top of the hour talking about the just-completed Olympics and in particular about the USA-Canada gold medal hockey match, baseball was the bigger topic. Duke's curiosity about BP 2010 led him to feed me a generous number of questions about the book and the way we use statistics to measure defense and reliever value. He was so taken with the discussion that a couple of days later he invited me to appear on his television show, Sports Extra, which airs every Sunday night at 10:30 PM here in New York on the local Fox affiliate, WNYW.

The spot, which taped a couple of hours earlier (I got to meet former NBA superstar and basketball Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins while waiting my turn) and ran up against the Oscars, was just over three minutes long, and the topic of Derek Jeter's defense was the hook:

Overall, I wasn't terribly smooth — adrenaline, thanks — but I wasn't incoherent, and Duke certainly seemed enthusiastic enough that there's hope I'll get to do another spot down the road. I'm very grateful to him for having me on, and for giving BP 2010 such prime promotion.

Meanwhile, I'm back from a couple nights in Washington, DC, where yesterday Steven Goldman and I made an appearance on Sirius-XM's Home Plate "Power Alley" show with hosts Jim Duquette (he of the infamous Scott Kazmir trade and last year's self-deprecating introduction) and Seth Everett.

In the evening we joined colleagues Clay Davenport, Kevin Goldstein and Matt Swartz for our annual appearance at the fantastic Politics and Prose Bookstore. This marked, I believe, our seventh appearance there, and my fifth, four for the annual and one for It Ain't Over. Thanks to a bit of a push from the Washington Post's website, we set personal bests for attendance and sell-through, with something like 130 people present to hear us answer questions about Stephen Strasburg (who looked like something special — as advertised — in his spring debut, which we'd watched earlier), Derek Jeter, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, Bud Selig, competitive balance, Walter Johnson, Willie Mays and a whole lot more. I wish I had the energy to do justice to the discussion, but hopefully we'll have an MP3 clip or two to share. In the meantime, I'd just like to give a shout-out to the folks at XM and Politics and Prose for welcoming us and helping to give BP such a big push.

Update: Some pics of the Politics and Prose event from Matt's lovely wife Laura, and a fine writeup from another attendee. Thanks to both!

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Thank You, Nomar

... For one of the most memorable moments I've experienced in over 30 years as a Dodger fan. I speak, of course, of Garciparra's 10th-inning walk-off homer off the Padres' Rudy Seanez on September 18, 2006, capping a miraculous comeback in which four Dodgers — Jeff Kent, J.D. Drew, Russell Martin and Marlon Anderson — hit consecutive solo shots in the ninth inning to tie the game.

For all of the Yankees-Red Sox battles in which a prime-era Nomar Garciaparra was a centerpiece — getting through that middle of the lineup with him ahead of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz was like running across I-95 during rush hour — it's the walking wounded warrior of his Dodger days doing the damned-near-impossible that I'll remember most vividly. I still have that game on my TiVo, and you can be damn sure I'm watching it tonight in honor of his retirement.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Clayton Kershaw: TMI

Behind the subscription wall, our partners at ESPN Insider have launched a new blog called TMI (The Max Info). Baseball Prospectus is contributing to it, as are writers from Fangraphs, Tom Tango from the Inside the Book blog, and folks from within ESPN's Stats and Info department, a couple of whom I had the pleasure of meeting when I went to Bristol for a big baseball summit a few weeks back. It's an all-out slide rule war. Well, not really, since I don't think you're going to see the future of sabermetrics settled over 250-500 word posts delivered by otherwise competing entities.

Today I made my debut with a short bit on the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. Back in June, the 21-year-old southpaw introduced a slider into his arsenal. His numbers from that point onward are eye-popping, and can stand with both league's elite hurlers, albeit with the caveat that his age limited his workload:
Player            GS    IP    ERA   K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Clayton Kershaw 20 115.0 2.03 10.2 4.6 0.2
Felix Hernandez 23 167.1 2.10 7.8 2.7 0.5
Tim Lincecum 22 160.0 2.25 10.0 2.8 0.5
Adam Wainwright 23 161.0 2.29 8.6 2.1 0.6
Jon Lester 21 138.0 2.35 9.9 2.6 0.6
Chris Carpenter 23 163.2 2.53 6.4 1.8 0.4
Javier Vazquez 21 149.0 2.54 9.2 1.7 0.9
Jair Jurrjens 23 149.0 2.60 6.8 3.1 0.7
Zack Greinke 22 147.1 2.75 9.4 2.4 0.7
Roy Halladay 21 157.0 2.87 8.0 1.4 0.9
Seven of the players on that list received Cy Young votes. Kershaw did not, but if he keeps pitching like that, he will soon.


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