I'm an engineer. I have a degree in Materials Science and Engineering from one of the better such programs in the country (Lehigh University). This and $0.99 will get me a Coke. Sometimes. It doesn't qualify me to be a baseball analyst, but is is an indication that I have a pretty logical, analytical mind and that I have some idea of how to practice science and conduct experiments.
One of the first things that any analyst or scientist conducting an investigation must do is try to identify biases in his/her experiment, and either eliminate them or find a way to compensate for them, usually by including the analysis of an effectively neutral subject to go along with the analysis of the subject of interest. This, as you may know, is called a control, and it serves to put the data gleaned from the experiment into a context, so that meaningful conclusions can be drawn from them. Without such measures, the experiments are, well....bunk.
Jayson Stark is a sports writer. Not an engineer. He formerly wrote for the Philadelphia Enquirer, and was a pretty good writer, by most accounts, and certainly a heck of a lot better than Bill Conlin. Now he does a lot of "numbers" columns for ESPN, between his appearances on Baseball Tonight, finding weird and wacky statistics about which to muse, but rarely writing anything of substance. Often these stats are misleading, too often to take him to task every time he does so. But this particular case caught my attention because I heard it repeated during an ESPN broadcast of a game on Sunday and because it may reflect an intrinsic bias.
His column on who he thinks should win the major awards in each league included the following, with regard to the AL manager of the Year issue:
"...let's remember that Scioscia's team finished more games out of first place last year (41) than the Devil Rays. Biggest jump since the 1898-99 Brooklyn Bridegrooms."
He is, of course, not wrong. Last year's AL West standings finished up this way:
_Team___ W - L _ GB
Seattle __ 116 - 46 0
Oakland _ 102 - 60 _14
Anaheim _ 75 - 87 _ 41
Texas ____73 - 89 _ 43
This year's looked like this:
_Team____ W - L _ GB
Oakland _ 103 - 59 _ 0
Anaheim __99 - 63 _ 4
Seattle ___ 93 - 69 _10
Texas ____ 72 - 90 _31
Now certainly, an improvement from 41 games back to 4 games back is a significant improvement, but Stark points this out as though first place were a constant, and ist is most certainly a variable, an anyone with half a brain and one eye can see that the same team is not in first place this year as last, and that their respective records are quite different. Sure, Anaheim improved 37 games in the standings, but this was accompanied by the Seattle Mariners precipitous fall from the status of Ungodly Great to a more pedestrian Darn Good, a 23-game drop in their record. So really, the Angels improved by 24 games from their record last year, which is a big jump, but not as unprecedented as Jayson would have you believe.
As I see this, there are two major problems with Jayson Stark's argument:
The first is that he takes an accurate statistic and completely removes it from any relevant context, in order to give it more apparent weight than it actually should carry. Isn't it enough that the Angels improved their own record by 24 games? Do we have to pretend that the coincidence of this fact with the comparable decline of another team's record somehow makes it more of an accomplishment? This, in engineering terms, is an experimental measurement without any control group. Well, actually, Oakland is almost a Control, having finished within one game of their 2001 record. But Stark never mentions them.
The other problem is that Stark may have an inherent bias in that he works for ESPN, a company owned by Disney, who also owns ABC, and....you guessed it! The Anaheim Angels! So how seriously should we take the word of a man touting the merits of one of his fellow employees? I don't know. Perhaps a little more seriously than we would take Garret Anderson's word for it, but perhaps not as seriously as we might take that of someone like George Will.
This brings to the fray another question: What kind of integrity can/should we expect from an individual working for a company that is so closely attached to one of the organizations being analyzed? Or is it just the fact that Stark, like Peter Gammons before him, has kind of sold out what got him there in the first place, and stopped trying to really do tough, investigative and relevant journalism? I don't know.
30 September 2002
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/30/2002
27 September 2002
So much about which to write, so little time. The Angels are in the playoffs, officially, which may have been a surprise six months ago, but hasn't been for the last month, so no real excitement there. Just congratulations. Also they're For Sale.
Randy Johnson continues to do amazing things on a pitchers' mound, but I'll get to that in another post.
In a continuing effort to make sure that this season in Milwaukee is remembered for something other than the Worst Finish in Franchise History, field manager Jerry Royster is telling anyone who will listen that he doesn't know what he's going to do with Jose "Can you see yourself in the Record Books?" Hernandez. That is, he is as yet undecided as to whether or not he will play "K"ernandez this final weekend of the season, given that he is on the cusp of tying the numerously aforementioned single season strikeout record, held by the illustrious Bobby Bonds, whose otherwise most significant contribution to MLB is that he sired Barry Bonds.
Tim Kurkjian, whose work I am beginning to appreciate less and less, has a column of fluff on ESPN that suimultaneously laments the "strikeout epidemic" and says that Hernandez should not be mocked because so many other players strikeout so often. He says that strikeouts have become more accepted because people like Rob Deer and Bo Jackson showed that you could be productive while striking out a lot, but then discusses how ashamed certain players were of their own strikeouts. He compares the stats of people like Tony Gwynn with people like Preston Wilson. Hey, Tim, why don't you just compare the stats of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman? They both play basketball, right? This is my favorite quote from the article:
"The Yankees are the best offensive team in the game, and they likely will have eight 100-strikeout guys on their team this year. The Yankees didn't have eight 100-strikeout men from 1900-1960. Through Wednesday, 60 different players had struck out at least 100 times. Another 10 were on the cusp, meaning, for yet another year, there will be more 100-strikeout men in one season than there were in the first 60 seasons of the 20th century."
Two points, whichh seem to me to make themselves, but I will make them explicit for Tim's sake:
1) The Yankees ARE the best offensive team in the game this year, so obviously the K's aren't all that harmful, are they?
2) The game has obviously changed since 1960 or so, even before that. It isn't fair or appropriate to compare.
Royster himself, showing approximately the same prowess for public relations that he has for managing a baseball team, was attributed these wonderful quotes in the ESPN story debating whether or not Hernandez will play again:
"If we need him, he will play"
"The publicity he's getting for (the strikeouts) is overshadowing the kind of season he's having.''
"For me, I don't have a problem with what he does.''
No, no, Jerry. The publicity you're giving him is overshadowing the season he's having. You do need him, as evidenced by the fact that you sat him against the Giants last weekend and managed only to muster three (total!) runs in three games. If you're trying to keep him out of the record books, then you obviously do have a problem with what he's doing. Hernandez, to his credit, does not seem to care. Brian Kingman, the last person to lose 20 games in a season, actually roots against any annual contender for this distinction (Tanyon Sturtze, eat your heart out), as he knows that it will remove his name from the conversation, and he will therefore sink even further into oblivion than he already has, considering that it took me half an hour to find out what the heck his name was. If Royster had just bemaoned the rudeness of the Milwaukee fans when they jeered his horrendous team's second best player last week and then let him play, he'd have broken the record last Friday or Saturday and this whole issue would already be a fading memory.
Instead, reporters are wasting their time trying to figure out whether or not he'll play, whether or not he'll strike out, etc. Royster is making this story a distraction, not Hernandez, who will gladly play, and whom the Brewers desperately need to spare themselves from further shame. Not the media, whose job it is to report on the stories out there, not to create them. Royster's turned this whole issue into an episode of Point-Counterpoint, when it could have been dealt with in an episode of The Late Chris Farley Show:
Chris Farley's Ghost: [Nervously] Umm...we're here with Jose Hernandez, umm...one of the greatest shortstops...umm...ever.
Jose Hernandez: Thanks, Chris.
Farley: Umm...you remember that time...umm...when you struck out a lot? 'member?
Farley: Umm..well...that was great....
Jose: [Looks awkward] Thanks.
Farley: I'm sorry, that was a dumb question. Stupid! Stupid! [Tries to smack himself in forehead but misses because he's a ghost and doesn't have one. Falls off chair.]
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/27/2002
25 September 2002
Phollowing Up on Philly
You own a baseball team in a large city. Hypothetically, let's call it "Philadelphia". You have a stadium in which to play, which, while not glamorous is also not falling apart, for the most part. We'll call it "Veterans' Stadium". It's big and non-descript and pretty boring, and the turf isn't great, but it does the job, and besides, you didn't pay for it. Someone else did. We'll hypothetically call them "taxpayers". Anywho, there are teams for the other three major professional sports (NBA, NFL, NHL) in this "Philadelphia" too, and they all have very loyal fanbases and sell out a lot of games, if not all of them. They have all been able to contend in the last few years, some of them for several years. Some of them have had trouble with star players who don't seem to try as hard as these "Philadelphians" would like, but even after said players were jettisoned, (We'll call them "Eric Lindros", "Ricky Watters" or "Derrick Coleman." For the sake of the conversation, you understand.), the respective teams were still able to compete. But you own the baseball team, and nobody seems to be coming to the games. You haven't had a team in the playoffs in almost ten years, and before that, you hadn't had a team in the playoffs for another ten years. For that matter, you haven't had a winning season except for those two, ten years apart, until last year. Pop-Quiz, Hot-Shot: What do you do?
a) Try to win more. Maybe the reason nobody comes to games is that the team doesn't win? Nah...
b) Blame the players. Sure, you signed their contracts, but they're the ones who got hurt or sucked, despite the fact that they had a history of getting hurt and/or sucking! How were you to know? Or...
c) Blame the stadium. It's old. Well, not really. And it doesn't work right. Well, it mostly does. And the turf sucks...but you had it replaced. Everybody else is getting one. I think.
d) Blame the system. You can't afford to pay the salaries these players want, given that you're from such a small city....but you're not. Nobody could expect to succeed in this economic climate unless they're from a huge city...except the Athletics, Twins, Reds, Giants, Astros, Cardinals, Mariners...
e) Blame the fans. They should come even when the team stinks. That's what faithfulness is all about.
As the more astute readers have already figured out (congratulations!), this hypothetical "Philadelphia" is actually Philadelphia, PA (without the quotes, kinda like Clark Kent without the glasses). And of course, regardless of how much sense choice a) makes in light of the facts that...
1) It worked for the other three Philadelphia teams and
2) It worked in a lot of towns with smaller fanbases than Philly
...we all know that Philadelphia management and ownership has chosen instead to invest large amounts of time and energy in choices b) through e).
There's nothing wrong with planning for the future, it's just that the Phillies have done it so poorly. It didn't take to realize that the 2001 Phils team that won 86 games and contended until the last week of the season needed a better hitting 1B than Travis Lee, who, with all due respect to JT Snow, has been one of the worst hitting regular firstbasemen in the NL for about five years running. They needed a better hitting CF than Doug Glanville, and didn't get one. Terry Adams wasn't the ace their starting rotation needed.
A smart team would have parlayed its success into a good starting pitcher as an anchor for the rotation and a mentor for the likes of Brandon Duckworth, Brett Meyers, Dave Coggin and others. Or they'd have at least gotten a CF who can get on base, instead of squandering almost 450 plate appearances on Glanville. Now, they actually have a guy who can play first base and hit pretty well in Giambi the Younger, and BOWA NEVER PLAYS HIM!!! He's got a guy who could have hit 30+ homers and driven in 100+ runs if he'd just gotten to play every day, and Bowa has only given him 154 at-bats in 80 games!
The Phillies have the basis for a potentially good team. Let's look at the possibilities for next years' lineup:
1) Jimmy Rollins, SS
2) Marlon Anderson, 2B
3) Bobby Abreu, RF
4) Pat Burrell, LF
5) Jeremy Giambi, 1B
6) Mike Lieberthal, C
7) Marlon Byrd, CF
8) ???????????, 3B
The question marks will send you to an article written by John Sickels on ESPN.com, who knows as much as or more than anybody about rookies and prospects. He suggests that they platoon Chase Utley and Travis Chapman, and I agree, as it seems that they have little to lose in doing so. However, the Phils could easily put a stop-gap player like Robin Ventura, Edgardo Alfonzo, or some journeyman minor-leaguer in there until one of the rookies is ready to play full time. You'd like a better leadoff hitter, and Marlon Byrd may turn out to be that guy. Neither Anderson nor Rollins really walks enough to bat 1-2 in a major league lineup, but they don't have a lot of options. Besides, Rollins has some speed and enough youth that he might develop some plate discipline. Anderson probably won’t. Someone like Ray Durham could be a great help, as both a leadoff hitter and second baseman. Kenny Lofton, would fulfill the leadoff/CF jobs. With a low-base, incentive-laden contract, he wouldn’t hurt, especially if you can spell him with one of the young guys sometimes. Any of those guys (not all) would be a step in the right direction, though an unlikely one for the Phils.
(Incidentally, did you know that there’s never been another Marlon in the major leagues, and now the Phillies have two of ‘em? This just goes to support my theory: Britney Spears can’t sing for crap!)
The Abreu-Burrell-Giambi-Lieberthal line may not be the best in the majors, but it's very good, and you'll get production if you can ignore the occasional defensive miscues of Burrell and Giambi. Besides, they could have a great bench, with Placido Polanco, the so-called Super Utility player. Glanville can pinch-run, play great OF defense, or lay down a good bunt, and might not be a bad investment at 500K for some team, but not the Phils. Two other rookie OFs have potential to hit in Eric Valent and Jason Michaels, and they’d be cheap, too. Travis Lee can come off the bench to play late inning, 1B defense if you don't trust Giambi in that role, or even spot start during interleague games.
On the pitching side:
SP1 Vicente Padilla
SP2 Randy Wolf
SP3 Brandon Duckworth
SP4 Brett Myers
SP5 Dave Coggin
Closer: Joe Table $4.5 Mil
RP Carlos Silva $Table Scraps
RP Terry Adams $5.4 Mil Team Option
RP Rheal Cormier $2.9 Mil
RP Ricky Botallico $1.75 Mil Team Option
RP Turk Wendell $3.25 Mil
Wow, what a disparity. The rotation has a lot of upside, especially if they manage pitch counts well to help people stay healthy, and they’re all pretty young, and therefore pretty cheap. But the bullpen, woah. They’re saddled with Cormier’s and Wendell’s contracts no matter what, but they can opt out of Adams’ and Ricky Blowtallico’s, which I hope they do. Nobody who spends $5.4 million on Terry Adams has any business whining about revenue disparity or profit margins. If they do this, they can let Doug Nickle, and some journeymen round out the bullpen, and if they're not in the race in August, they can trade them for prospects. There's really no good reason for the Phillies to have kept Cormier and botallico and Adams on the roster the whole season when there are contending teams willing to overpay for relief pitchers. Heck, two bags of balls and a case of ethyl chloride would have been overpaying for Adams.
In summary, the Phillies are not that far from being a good team. Atlanta will have trouble keeping that team together, and even if they do, Glavine and Maddux may not be as good with an extra year of mileage on their respective arms, and there are big holes in the corner IF and catcher spots. The Mets have holes, too. BIG holes. Now is the time. Stop whining about the system, stop complaining about the lack of fans, stop blaming everyone and everything except your own inneptitude and poor choices, and go out and build one for the Gipper!!
My thanks to Aaron Gleeman of Aaron's Baseball Blog for the "hypothetical" idea, and to MLB Contracts, a searchable, well-done, though incomplete list of player contract data, for whom you will find a new link on your right.
Rolen in the Dough
Scott Rolen, according to people with access to better information than me, has reportedly signed an 8-year, $90 million deal with the . The deal averages almost $3 million/year less than what Philly was offering before the season, which he refused on the grounds that he wanted to see who else would negotiate with him in the off-season, when he became a free agent. He reportedly did this not because he wanted more money, but because he wanted a chance to win and wasn't sure he'd seen enough evidence that the Phils were going there.
I could not be happier about this signing, for three main reasons:
1) I like Scott Rolen. I always have. He has caught some flack from the media, especially around here in Philadelphia, for not turning into Mike Schmidt, but then, who does? (Actually, Troy Glaus may turn out to be a pretty good facsimile.) I think Eddie Matthews may be a better analog for Rolen. You could do worse. And the Phillies have. A guy who comes to the park every day, plays his ass off, and wants nothing more from the organization than a commitment to winning? It's hard not to like him. Well, unless you're a Philly baseball writer.
b) I like the Cardinals. They're not my favorite team or anything, but they seem to be run pretty well, know what it takes to win, and I never hear them complaining about being in a small market. St. Louis is very close to Kansas City, in both size and proximity, and yet I never hear Walt Jocketty or their owners bemoaning the woes of a small market club like I hear David Glass and Allard Baird and whomever is their GM now doing so regularly. And I have it on good authority that "...St. Louis locals are TERRIFIC, well-informed, polite fans." Whereas Philly fans are egocentric, uninformed, obnoxious, fickle and they smell bad. Ok, well, they're not that fickle.
iii) I don't like the Phillies. I try to, but I just can't. I don't mean that I don't like Ed Wade or Pat Burrell or Larry Bowa (although...), I just don't like the way the town and the team treat each other. The fans are always complaining that the team never wins anything, so they stop coming to games. The team is always complaining that the fans don't come to games, so they never spend money to win now, always planning for the future. And everyone's always complaining about how the wind/sun/umpires/infield turf/fan interference/flaky relief pitcher/Zeus conspired to screw them out of something, and I'm tired of hearing the excuses. I'm going to work on a plan for the Phils and I'll get back to you.
Caple-ble of Original Thought
Jim Caple, in a recent article on ESPN.com, had this to say about Barry The Great:
"If you don't think Barry Bonds should be the National League MVP, consider this stat: If you took away all of Barry's hits, he still would have a higher on-base percentage (.337) than American League MVP-candidate Alfonso Soriano (.335)."
Two weeks ago I said, right here on the Boy of Summer, that...
"In fact, if you took away all of his hits, he still walks at a .316(!) clip. That means that there are only five guys in the NL who get a hit more often than Bonds gets a walk."
...which is essentially the same statement, except that:
a) I didn't count HBPs, as they're out of Barry's control, for the most part, and Caple did. And...
2) I didn't compare him to a player in another league, as such a comparison is largely irrelevant.
None of this is to say that Caple isn't a good writer or anything. It's just to say that I saw it first. Ha.
24 September 2002
Lu-Go-ing on the DL
Luis Gonzales, the Arizona Diamondbacks' best player(.288/.400/.496), separated his shoulder last night in a collision with Tony Womack. This is extremely unfortunate for the Snakes, as their lineup is deceivingly mediocre. Even though they lead the NL in Runs scored and OBP (not a coincidence), they are helped greatly by their ballpark, and are only 7th in the NL in runs scored on the road. Without Luis Gonzales, the lineup is:
1) Tony Womack, SS .274/ .324/ .357
2) Junior Spivey, 2B .302/ .389/ .472
3) Erubiel Durazo, RF .260/ .396/ .558
4) Steve Finley, CF .283/ .367/ .490
5) Matt Williams, 3B .249/ .318/ .439
6) Damian Miller, C .252/.341/.439
7) Quinton McCracken, LF .316/ .374/ .468
8) Mark Grace, 1B .250/ .345/ .387
This is not good. Only one player with a slugging% over .500, and he's only played part-time. Nobody with an OBP over .400. Spivey is very good for a second baseman, but he's really the only outstanding hitter in the lineup, which, as Barry Bonds will tell you, means they don't hafta pitch to you if they don't want to. And despite his homer last night, he has tapered off significantly since his high-water marks of .337/ .425/ .569 on Independence Day. Finley is decent, and Durazo is a good hitter, but a lousy defensive OF, so he won't likely play as much as he should. Dave Dellucci has a similar resume, and Greg Colbrunn is really only useful as a bench guy. McCracken is decent, but has warning-track power. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling can do a lot for a playoff team, but if they struggle to score 3 runs/game, and they will, they aren't likely to repeat their World Series Championship.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/24/2002
23 September 2002
I have predicted a few times now that very soon, there will be a new Single-Season Strikeout King, though not taking Nolan Ryan's record, but Bobby Bonds'. Well, the Brewers' manager apparently is, as I have said before, less interested in winning than he is in public relations, though he's not very good at that either, it seems. He has apparently chosen to sit Jose Hernandez for the rest of the team's homestand, so that the Poor Wittle Miwionaire ShortStop won't have to get "cheered" towards Inneptitude Immortality by his own "fans". I am sure that public sentiment would much rather have the record set in Milwaukee, if possible, and it is foolish to "punish" what few fans the Brewers actually draw for simply doing what anyone's fans might have done: cheer when they might get a chance to see something special. Hernandez escaped tonights game against the Astros with no K's.
Nothing Left for Pedro
Pedro Martinez won his 20th game of the season yesterday, making him 20-4 and leading the AL in ERA at 2.26 and strikeouts, despite never having faced Jose Hernandez, with 239, and also despite not having pitched 200 innings. If he wins the Cy Young, and it's not as much of a lock as you might think, he'd be the first starter to win the award in a non-strike season without pitching 200 innings since...well, ever. I think. Actually, Mike Marshall threw more innings (208.3) in relief in 1974, when he won the Cy Young, than Pedro has thrown as a starter this year (199.3). Also, the Red Sox are out of contention, and lets face it folks, have been since August, so the fact that Barry Zito has been this good in a pennant/Wild Card race will count for more with the voters. Even though Pedro's ERA is half a run lower, even though he's got fifty more K's than Clemens or Zito or anyone else, even though he's got a lower opponent batting average, or has allowed only 13 homers to Zito's 23, has a higher SNWAR, or a better WKRP or whatever, he still may not win the Award, for three main reasons:
1) The BBWAA writers don't like to set precedents. (Of course, they ignore this tendency whenever there is an opportunity to vote for someone who has gaudy but misleading statistics.) They don't like to not vote for someone when they set some kind of important record, provided that they play for a contender (sorry Big Mac, A-Rod) and aren't a jerk (we're so sorry, Uncle Albert). They don't want the attention drawn to them saying that "This is the first time that (insert type of player) has ever (insert haphazardly accumulated, largely irrelevant statistical criteria)! And he did it in the thick of a (insert playoff race type)! He must be the (insert award)!" Cases in point:
1999: Ivan Rodriguez becomes first Catcher to hit .300/30/100 AND steal 25 bases, and is therefore voted AL MVP. This happens despite the facts that his 12 times caught stealing actually make his efforts at pilfering bases negligible at best, and that his .352 OBP was about 40th in the league, and that Mike Piazza had just two years earlier had the best hitting season by a catcher EVER, but was not voted MVP. That same year, Mike Lieberthal had an identical OPS to I-Rod, but less gaudy counting stats, and won the Gold Glove, but garnered no MVP support at all.
2) The BBWAA writers like Wins and RBI. This is why Bob Welch, John Smoltz and Roger Clemens have Cy Young Awards for 1990, 1997 and 2001 instead of Roger Clemens, Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina, respectively. This is also why Juan "I Can't Play Today, I Have Halitosis" Gonzalez has two MVP's.
3) The Boston writers will be split, because Derek Lowe is also having a great season. In 1996, when A-Rod had his breakout season and Griffey put up crazy numbers, the Seattle voters split their votes. If the guys who see them most and know them best can't agree on one of the two, how can we expect the rest of them to decide?
Two things are certain: It will be a close race, down to the wire, between three qualified candidates, and...
...the writers will find a way to screw it up anyway. Just like the MVP.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/23/2002
20 September 2002
In an apparent bout of uncontrollable frustration over custody battles with his ex-wife, Tommy Lee was arrested for charging onto the field during the ninth inning at Comiskey Park last night and attacking Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. Lee was led off the field in handcuffs.
Lee was accompanied onto the field by a 15-year old son that no one knew he had, evidently by former wife Heather Locklear, to whom he was married during the late 80's and early 90's. His son participated in the beat-down of the 54-year old coach, who had his back turned to the fans (much like the owners and players during the recent labor battles). Kansas City's bench and bullpen emptied and thoroughly pummeled Lee and son until security personnel were able to get to the pair and escort them from the field. This represents the first time in several years that the Royals' bullpen had succeeded in defending something late in a game.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/20/2002
19 September 2002
As I mentioned a few days ago, Jose Hernandez is about to break the single season-strikeout record, held by Bobby Bonds with 189 in 1970, as well as the two year record, also held by the Elder Bonds, with an additional 187 in 1969. He managed to hold off last night, much to the dismay of the Milwaukee crowd, as the AP recap tells us:
Brewers shortstop Jose Hernandez went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, moving within one of the single-season record of 189 set by Bobby Bonds in 1970. He had two strikes in his last at-bat and the crowd of 16,349 [Ed's note: Nice ballpark, Bud. Big draw.] at Miller Park began cheering in anticipation.
"I thought it was really disappointing to watch our fans do that to Jose Hernandez," Royster said. "To an All-Star, that was very disappointing. Our fans have been pretty darn good. I haven't had anything bad to say. But for them to stand up and cheer in hopes that he might strike out, I hate to see what would have happened had he struck out. They may have given him a standing ovation."
They probably would have, Jerry, and rightfully so! They probably were cheering for him to strike out, not because they think he's a jerk or they want him to fail, but because they want to see history! I mean, come on, what else is there worth going to Miller park to watch? The Brewers are awful, Houston's all but out of the race, nobody's ever heard of most of the people on Milwaukee's lineup card. Are people going to tell their grandkids that they sat in a Uecker seat or watched the sausage race? Nobody cares about that stuff. Hernandez is making history, even if it is a dubious distinction. If you don't give the fans a team worth watching, then don't blame them for being excited about the only significant event to happen to the Brewers all year.
Besides, it's not all that bad. Hernandez is still having a decent year, with 24 homers and the best OPS among qualified NL shortstops. And it's not like he's in bad company on that list: Bobby Bonds, Cecil Fielder, Jim Thome, Mo vaughn, Jay Buhner, Rob Deer, Mike Schmidt...pretty good company. But apparently Royster is more concerned about his player's fragile little ego than he is about beating the 'Stros, as he's not starting Hernandez in thie afternoon's game. It seems that Bill "Your Guess is as Good as Mine" Hall will be starting in his stead. That gives today's Milwaukee lineup exactly one player with more than 35 RBI. Maybe they should be emulating the Devil Rays?
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/19/2002
I have just lost all respect for Tim Kurkjian as a baseball analyst. Well, maybe not all respect. I used to really like him, because he often seemed insightful and passionate, and also because he kinda looks like a geek, which means I can relate to him (whereas Rob Dibble and Mike McFarlane look like the kinda guys who would have picked on me in middle school). But Monday, on the Tony Kornheiser Show, he was asked a question by Tony about why the Red Sox have as poor a record as they do despite the presences of Pedro, Derek Lowe, Manny Ramirez, Nomar, etc. And I thought, “Run differential, bad luck, Pythagorean Expected Record, and that sort of thing..." but nope, Tim must have been reading from the Joe Morgan Guide to Completely Misunderstanding Baseball Statistics, as he promptly explained to Tony that the Red Sox have a “terrible bullpen” [editor’s note:13-21, 4.36 ERA, 46/59 Saves], and a terrible record in one-run games that indicates to him that “they don’t quite know how to win just yet.” He then said something to the effect of “If you look, all great teams have a winning record in one-run games and all bad teams have a losing record in one-run games, but the Red Sox are the opposite…” or some such crap [Ed's note: 12-20]. This is blatantly untrue and patently ridiculous, and it’s unfortunate that Tony Kornheiser or whomever is the host of the particular show does not know/care enough to take someone to task for saying something so irresponsible.
Actually, their bullpen would be better defined as “mediocre” than terrible, as their ERA is 8th in the AL and their record is better than those of several teams. The problem is that their bullpen is not better than any of the contenders in the AL, all of whose bullpens have a lower ERA than Boston and a winning record. So the other contenders are not giving away games, and the Red Sox are. The Sawx seem to have "remembered how to win" more often than half of the teams in the AL, with 86 and counting, though they apparently had…..had…..um…..AMNESIA!... about 66 times and therefore lost. They have done well in spite of their bullpen, because their starters have been pretty good to great (3.55 ERA, 1st in AL), and they have hit well (803 runs, 3rd in AL).
Despite this, Pedro has not been healthy all year, and after Pedro, Lowe and sometimes Wakefield, they haven't gotten much out of their starters. Nomar has been pretty darn good all year, but not as fantastic as he was a few years ago, and so their failings are being partly blamed on him, despite his having played almost every game, hitting over .310, and driving in over 110 runs. Manny hasn't been healthy all year, and those who have have either been mediocre (Daubach, Nixon, Varitek all hitting about .260), terrible (Tony Clark) or inconsistent (Johnny Damon: .308, 22 SB Pre All-Star, .253, 7 SB since, Hillenbrand 13 HR Pre-All-Star, 4 HR since).
Yes, their mediocre bullpen has contributed to their poor record in one-run games. Yes, their poor record in one-run games has contributed to their overall record being insufficient to make the postseason. But no, this isn't an issue of "knowing how to win" or an issue of doing better in one-run games. Bill James recently did some research on the nature and effects of one-run game records, which I hope to read in its entirety soon. But in the article he gives several examples of lousy teams with great one-run records and vice-versa, thereby automatically disqualifying Kurkjian's comments, if they weren't already discredited by the fact that the Yankees are only 18-19 in one-run games this year, despite what is considered a pretty good bullpen.
Boston's bullpen has not been the only reason they are not winning more, but it's sure not helping. The lesson here is not "you must play well in one-run games to get into the playoffs" the lesson is "if your bullpen isn't going to be very good, you need to clobber the opponents with offense". That way there won't be as many close games for the bullpen to blow, and when there are, you have a chance to come back.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/19/2002
18 September 2002
To your left, The Babe's stoic visage represents my newest link, Bambino's Curse, a witty and well written (both HUGE understatements) blog about the 8-games-from-relevance Red Sox. Anyone creative enough to draw an analogy between the natives on Gilligan's Island and Boston sportswriters, or between bad luck and the Greek gods from Clash of the Titans, deserves a link, even if he doesn't link back to me.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/18/2002
I have added two more links to the page, one on the left and one on the right. This way your monitor won't begin to tip to one side every time you visit my page. (That would suck.) The one on the right, heavyhitter.com, has an entire mole of links to other baseball sites, hopefully including mine soon. You can go there and vote for my site, if you like, to get it ranked higher or something, once it's listed. No, you don't win anything if you can hit the moving ball, but it sure looks cool, huh?
The second site, America's Pastime, is deceptively titled, as it is not simply about having sex, but also about baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals in particular. Now that I think of it, I'm not sure there was much of anything sexual on the page. Lousy trick, y'know? Unfortunately, his server is slow or something, so the link image may not load or you may have trouble loading the page, but I imagine that Charlie will get that straightened out soon. If he does, and if you like the Cardinals, then you may want to check him out. Not bad.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/18/2002
16 September 2002
Stark, Others Grasping at Straws
David Pinto has an article about the AL MVP race from a few days ago in which he comments on Jayson Stark's article on ESPN. Stark, just like Dan Patrick, Dave Campbell, Peter Gammons, Bob Klapisch, Phil Donohue and Dr. Joyce Brothers, thinks that Alex Rodriguez should not be named the MVP because he plays on a bad team, and that therefore Miguel Tejada should be MVP. Pinto uses Bill James' new metric, Win Shares, to debunk this argument, and it is convincing if you believe in those. As I have not yet had the chance to read the book, I'll hafta take his word for it. However, by virtually any other rational and reasonably encompassing statistical measure, Rodriguez has been the better player of the two, and probably the best player in the league. The best Stark can come up with in Tejada's defense is, "Through Thursday, Tejada had more hits, more doubles, fewer strikeouts and a higher batting average [editor's note: by .001 on 9/16] than A-Rod. Second only to A-Rod in RBI." To which we should all reply, "So what?" A-Rod leads Tejada in HR (by 24!), RBI (14), runs (15), walks (39!), Steals, OBP, SLG, OPS, total bases (62!), extra base hits, runs created, RC/27outs, Range Factor, goals scored, touchdowns, penalty minutes, 3-point shooting %, hot dogs eaten....well, you get the point.
The question is not whether or not Alex Rodriguez is the best player. Everyone knows he is. Jayson Stark is wasting his time and insulting your intelligence if he tries to convince you otherwise. The question is whether he should be considered for MVP given that he's not on a "contender". Pinto and Rob Neyer have made the point that the team really isn't that bad, but that it would be horrible with a replacement-level SS (not to mention that nobody'd ever go to see a game). I think the question of value can be dealt with using a simple analogy:
You are the proprietor of a jewelry shop. You have a modest establishment, selling mostly stuff that working class people can afford. Nice, but not too froofy or expensive. However, you have one, very expensive diamond, worth $1 million . It's your drawing card, what gets people to come to your shop, so they can gawk at it and then buy less expensive jewelry. The rest of your inventory isn't worth ten grand. Your competition, across the street, has no such draw, but he does carry a lot of nice jewelry, and he has a necklace with a $50,000 sapphire in it, which is his most expensive piece. His total inventory is worth $10 million. Is the value of the most expensive piece in your competition's collection somehow higher because it's supporting cast is better? Well, maybe a little higher than it would be on it's own, but there's really no competition about which is the most valuable piece (MVP) of jewelry on the block. If you both get robbed, he'll collect insurance and get more inventory, but you're screwed, because that piece was irreplaceable.
A-Rod is one of a kind. And he's about to get robbed, too.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/16/2002
"Records are Made to be Broken..."
Taking a look at some of the scores and events from the last few days, I see that Anaheim has broken its franchise record for wins in a season, with 94 and counting. This is cool, I guess, though it's not exactly as though they have some great tradition to look back upon. The cooler part is that they may win their division for the first time since 1986, and only the third time in their history (the other was 1979, under Jim "I'll-just-sit-here-and-you-guys-go-hit-home-runs" Fregosi). Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling have become the only teammates to each strikeout 300 batters in the same season. Also, by Wednesday night, it is likely that Barry Bonds will have broken his age-old (age=1 year) record of 177 walks in a season, as he already has 176. Omar "cabbage-patch" Daal is pitching for the Dodgers tomorrow night, but he's only walked Bonds twice in 31 career appearances. Kevin Brown, on the other hand is pitching Wednesday, and has walked Bonds 12 times in 48 PA, and isn't what you'd call "sharp" right now to begin with. Also, in a somewhat more dubious category, Jose Hernandez is likely to break Bobby Bonds' record of 189 strikeouts in a season, as he's sitting on 186. At least it doesn't seem like Brewers' manager Jerry Royster is going to sit him as Preston Wilson was sat for the last few games in 2000, while he had 187.
I did a little math as I noticed that Barry Bonds' BA had climbed to .375 the other day, to see about the chances of him hitting .400 for the season. No dice. He'd hafta go something like 26 for 37 (~.705) to do it. Maybe next year.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/16/2002
13 September 2002
As the more observant of you will have noticed, there are several more links to your left, and one to your right, all to other baseball blogs and/or sites. I have been unashamedly prostituting myself out, hoping not just to bring you, my faithful reader, some more material with which you may wile away the minutes of your short life, but also to bring myself....well, more faithful readers. I have provided these links for the reader's benefit, but also for my own, hoping that these benevolent folk will return the favor. This, I imagine, is somewhat like your 5-year old son offering to "help pay" for your dinner by giving you some of his allowance, but hey, whatever works, right?
Nevertheless, I have done the research and all of these sites are quality baseball sites, in some respect or another. And now, without further ado, my brief takes on each of the new additions:
If Ducksnorts were a lousy website, I might have put it up there anyway, just because of the title. But it's snot. Geoffrey Young writes about the Padres, baseball in general, and....beer! I like him already. A very thorough website, encompassing minor leage affiliates as well. Less cynical and complaining than many of the blogs out there, including mine.
Celia Tan is a professional writer, just giving her services away, to unworthy peasants like you and me. Her site is more of a journal than a blog, with links to some women-oriented sites. Quality, not so much quantity. She's away right now, so use the opportunity to catch up on her back articles.
TwinsGeek is a blog about Minnesota sports, not just baseball. This is one of those more cynical sites I mentioned earlier, but it's also well written and funny. Even has monthly "grades" and positional evaluations within the Twinkies' organization.
Baseball Junkie is evidently newly redesigned, though I never saw the old one. It includes articles about major, minor and even semi-pro league baseball, statistical analysis, and even has opportunities for discussion and such.
Despite the title, Four Aces is not about the Yankees' postseason starting rotation. It's about the Red Sox, Padres, and anything else he sees fit to discuss. I'm particularly impressed by the fact that he's got an article about umpiring tendencies, which would be a great thing to study, unless of course it turned out that there actually were some measurable biases. That might suck. Then the damn BBWAA would be able to blame yet another thing for why the best player in the AL should not be officially dubbed its MVP.
As a Blogspot hosted site, Elephants in Oakland does not have its own logo yet, so I had to screw around and make one, sorta. They don't really need one though, as the insightful and thorough writing about one of the best-run teams around, if not the best, is enough to draw my attention.
Digressions on Baseball is another good site without its own logo, but also worth reading. I think I forgot to write to Misha Berkowitz to ask for a reciprocal link, but I'll do it tomorrow. Does not write nearly as often as some, but when he does its usually worth reading.
I have also added Baseball News Blog above Rob Neyer's smiling visage, on the right. This is a website that finds the best of the news, quotes, and analysis out there on the web from the more mainline sites as well as blogs like mine and boils them all down to the few you really wanted to read in the first place.
OK, I think the Yankees might be on TV tonight on ESPN, so I'm gonna try to catch some of it before friends come over for a movie.
Incidentally, if anyone wants me to branch out to movie and/or book reviews, just let me know. Heck, I may start doing it even if you don't want me to.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/13/2002
12 September 2002
Cub Reporter has a quote from Cubbies interim (hopefully) manager Bruce Kimm, regarding his hopes for the team's approach with men on base:
"I don't want Bill Mueller taking pitches to try to draw a walk so Sammy Sosa can drive him in."
What?! Granted, this was taken from the context of a conversation in which he was saying, essentially, that he wishes the other guys on the team would hit with men on base. Who wouldn't? But, not eveybody can be Sammy Sosa or Fred McGriff. Some guys have to be tablesetters.
Besides that, doesn't this just sound like a stupid thing to say? Do these guys even listen to themselves while they speak? It occurred to me that one way to point out how ridiculous this position is would be to turn the tables:
The Cubs are playing the Diamondbacks. Arizona has a runner on second base, and Craig Counsell up. Luis Gonzalez is up next. If you're the manager, would you rather:
A) Have Craig Counsell try to drive in the run himself, even if the pitcher is (evidently due to temporary insanity) trying to pitch around him? Or.....
2) Have Counsell try to work a walk from this idiot pitcher, and then allow your Best Hitter to try to drive in two runs?
Seems like a pretty easy choice to me. I'll take my best hitter with two men on base over a mediocre/bad hitter with one man on any day of the week, thankyouverymuch.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/12/2002
"I Am Not an Idiot"
Brian Sabean, the GM of the San Francisco Giants, has some work to do. Rob Neyer wrote about how the Jeff Kent for Matt Williams trade, which villified Sabean back in '96 when it was made, but has made him a hero in retrospect. But, as they say in France, "What have you done for me lately?"
Only Baseball Matters continually harps, and rightfully so, on the fact that much of the Giants' lineup is pretty pathetic, especially their firstbasemen, and particularly JT Snow. He is not, however the worst hitting firstbaseman in the majors, as Perricone contends. That (dis)honor belongs to Tony "The Kitten" Clark, whose .214/.266/.306 line is easily the worst in the majors for firstbasemen with at least 250 AB, even worse than Snow. However, no 1B with a worse OPS has gotten more at-bats than Snow, which is Dusty Baker's fault, not Snow's. Look at how the Giants rank in OPS in the Majors by position:
DH: 1st (9 games, probably all Barry Bonds)
Holy inneptitude, Batman. Four starting positions ranked 20th out of 30 teams or worse in OPS, plus their bench. The only other team with that many hitters who are that bad is...the Dodgers! But they have somewhat better pitching than SanFran.
Left field and second base are head and shoulders above anyone around, and catcher's been pretty good, even though Benito Santiago didn't belong on the All-Star Team. Shortstop is just above mediocre, though they've grown to expect much more from Rich Aurilia in recent years. Their pitchers are even better than they look here, because three of the teams ahead of them are in the AL (no more than 13 games each) and the other plays half its games in Denver, so really they have the best hitting pitchers in the majors, albeit with only a .430 OPS. But nobody wins anything because their pitchers hit relatively well. Just ask Mike Hampton.
Sabean has really got to clean house for next year, regardless of what happens this year. I don't know what the contract situations are for Snow, Kenny Lofton, Marvin Benard, David Bell, Bill Mueller, Shawon Dunston or Reggie Sanders, but I think they might all be free agents except Snow. They've got to let Damon Minor play regularly, hope Aurilia bounces back to his career levels, and get some outfielders who can hit. Santiago isn't likely to repeat this year's production at the age of 38, so picking up a Todd Greene or Bobby Estalella might help. (Perhaps their current backup catchers are of similar ilk, but I don't think so.) David Bell's hitting about 50 points above his career OPS, and still isn't even having a "good" season for a 3B, so he's gotta go. Edgardo Alfonzo, Scott Rolen and, more realistically, Robin Ventura will be free agents next year, and Sabean might want to look into their services. If he can get Ventura for around $5 or $6 million, he should do it, unless they're gonna let Pedro Feliz play. Ventura will probably only hit .250, but at least he'll hit for some power and take a few walks. And there have got to be more guys like Dave Roberts and Raul Ibanez in the minors somewhere, who have some talent, with perhaps a hitch or two in their games, who just need to be given a chance to play. I mean, what do they have to lose? They've already got one of the worst lineups in the majors, besides Bonds and Kent. Just getting guys who are average at each of the aforementioned positions (3B, 1B, CF, RF)should help them win four or five more games over the course of the year. Getting a field manager who knows how to evaluate talent and juggle a lineup wouldn't hurt either. Maybe Sabean's not an idiot. Maybe the Kent trade wasn't just luck. This off-season is time to prove it.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/12/2002
11 September 2002
NYY/BAL Velocity Limbo Contest
Watching Orlando Hernandez and John Stephens pitching against each other tonight, and almost trying to outdo each other with the eephus pitches, was pretty funny. Each inning it got slower and slower, until one pitch, which floated up there out of El Duque's hand, and was so slow that the radar gun didn't pick it up until after the batter hit it, on the way out, measuring 92 mph. I'd be surprised if it was more than half of that on the way in.
Stephens is a big, Australian righty who doesn't throw nearly as hard as you'd expect for his size. In fact, he doesn't throw as hard as you'd expect for Danny DeVito's size. He has a slider/changeup thingy around 73 mph and his "fast"ball tops out at about 84. At one point he threw five or six consecutive really, really slow curveballs, all in the neighborhood of 57-60 mph. And what's more, he had a decent amount of success with that pitch, striking out 8 in 7 innings. He hung one to Robin Ventura that got hit out, though just barely, and Soriano hit a homer, though I don't know off what pitch. The only player I saw who actually did anything with a good pitch like that was Jason "mecca-mecca-hi, mecca-hi-nee-ho" Giambi, who waited on one and then hit it with just upper body strength into right field. Otherwise, most everybody in the Yankees' lineup was made to look pretty foolish, especially Raul Mondesi, who seems to be trying to chop down a Redwood with every swing.
A lot was made of the homer A-Rod hit off El Duque's eephus pitch in a game a couple of weeks ago, but he continues to throw it, because it's usually effective. There aren't many guys who can go up there and throw a pitch at 48 or 50 mph and then come right back with 92 mph cheese that runs away from you. I just don't know if I'd try that crap with Rodriguez (who hit his 54th homer tonight) again any time soon.
Incidentally, I have added Christian Ruzich's Cubs Reporter site to my list of nifty logos to your immediate left. His site is attractive and well written, with copious amounts of the angst and cynicism that can only come from being a Cubs fan. But as George Will and/or the Apostle Paul will tell you, suffering (especially as a Cubs' fan) builds character.
I read a piece in an issue of The Sporting News today about who might be the AL and NL MVPs. The writer indicated that three NL pitchers were having great seasons: Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz, and that there is little precedence for a relief pitcher winning the MVP in the NL (only once) or the AL (3x), and that they usually happen only when no hitter is having a stand-out season. Then he said "Sound familiar?" Now, I hope that he meant that the "familiarity" for which we should listen is that the same argument was made in recent years for why Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez wouldn't/shouldn't win it, but initially I thought he meant that this year met those qualifications. Man, I hope I'm wrong on that though. I'd hate to think that an established magazine like TSN would hire a guy who doesn't recognize a season like Barry Bonds' as "stand-out". The Man is on a pace to break his own single season walks record, which had stood for 78 years before he set it last season. In fact, if you took away all of his hits, he still walks at a .316(!) clip. That means that there are only five guys in the NL who get a hit more often than Bonds gets a walk. Oh, and he hits a little, too. He's leading the league with .364/.569/.808 averages, AKA the Only Baseball Matters Triple Crown. That .569 would break Ted Williams' single season OBP record, standing since 1941, and his 1.377 OPS gives him a chance to beat Babe Ruth's record of 1.379, set in 1920. He's tied for 12th in the league with 95 RBI, and is third with 103 runs and only one behind the league lead in homers with 43, despite the fact that Jeff Kent is the only other player in Dusty Baker's lineup who knows whether you're supposed to hold onto the skinny end or the fat end of the heavy piece of wood when you walk up to the flat, white, house-shaped thing in the dirt. If that's not "stand-out" I don't know what is. But enough plugging John Perricone.
Besides, how do you say that John Smoltz is having a season worthy of MVP consideration without mentioning Eric Gagne? I mean, if you're gonna blow the relevance of a player's contribution to his team totally out of proportion, shouldn't it be the player who's actually better at that particular job?
10 September 2002
I was on my way into work today, listening to ESPN Radio, when I heard that "Everyday" Eddie Guardado got his AL leading 40th save for the Twinkies last night. This brought to mind two predominant thoughts:
1) "Wow, I didn't know Eddie Guardado was leading the AL in saves, and with 40 of 'em, no less!" And...
2) "Who the hell is Eddie Guardado?"
Or, more accurately, who the hell was Eddie Guardado before he started saving two games a week for the AL Central leading Twins? Eddie was a failed starter, turned relief pitcher in Minnesota's bullpen since 1993. He supplied the team with, on average, 60-70 league average (read: replacable) innings each year during most of that span. He was never very bad, nor very good, just...average. There's nothing wrong with that, as it managed to get him salaries in the neighborhood of $1-2 million, which is more than I'll ever see. But there was nothing to indicate that he would someday become the AL's best relief pitcher either. In fact, there's really no indication that the Twins ever planned that for him, rather that he was thrust into the closer's role for lack of a better option (read: LaTroy Hawkins).
This made me think about all of the other closers who have seemingly come out of nowhere and/or failed careers as a starter to become one of the better bullpen anchormen this year, as well as in recent years. Think of the names: Eric Gagne, John Smoltz, Jason Isringhausen, Bob Wickman, Jeff Zimmerman, Joe Table, Mariano Rivera, Todd Jones, Derek Lowe, Antonio Alfonseca, and going back a little more...John Wetteland, Dave Righetti, Dennis Eckersly, and many more. The list of pitchers who have come from obscurity (Zimmerman), mediocrity (Alfonseca), or failure (Gagne) to be among the league leaders in saves, at least once, is nearly endless. So what does this mean? Well, I don't know exactly, but I'm going to posit this: It must not be that hard.
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that I could get up off my fat ass and save 45 games for a team in the Show (or a team in Little League, for that matter). I'm just saying that relative to other jobs at the major league level, I don't think that being a closer is that hard, at least not anymore, and not for one year. When guys like Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers had to pitch 2 or 3 innings a game to get a save, almost always facing the opposing teams' best hitters at least once to do so, it must have been more difficult, because otherwise you would have seen lots of guys doing it, and you didn't. It used to be tough to dominate batters in that role for an extended period of time, as well, as you can see by the extended decline at the end of Goose's career. I'm not saying that Mariano Hasn't been a great closer for the Yankees, or even that he hasn't been a key to their success (witness: both times the Yankees have lost a playoff series since 1996, Mo was on the mound), just that it is ridiculous to say, as some have, that Rivera has been the MVP of the yankees during this run of success. As I said in a previous article, the saves that Rollie and Goose accrued were qualitatively different from those racked up by the likes of Doug Jones and Jeff Montgomery, or even this guy:.
Now the closer has become a stats-driven position, specializing to the point that many managers will not put their best available option in in extra innings, even at home, if the game is tied because it's not a save situation. Or they won't put him in before the ninth for fear of using him for more than one inning, or for lack of the insight to do so. The pitchers themselves often will not pitch as well in a non-save situation, presumably because they know that they have nothing immediately to gain from doing so, as contracts are too often based upon gaudy, obvious statistics and not enough on the history of and potential for real effectiveness. And Rolaids has exacerbated the issue by creating a manufactured award that encourages these pitchers to be used only in save situations. I expect we'd see much the same effect, over time, if Ex-Lax created a "Go-Go-Go Man of the Year Award" for the player with the most late inning stolen bases each year. What sense does it make to establish an award for the Herb Washingtons of the world? (Moonlight Graham's got nothing on Herb: 105 games, zero career at-bats.)
Obviously, the analogy only goes so far, and I don't mean to disparage the accomplishments of (insert your favorite overrated relief pitcher here). I just mean to make the argument that if so many different people can do this, especially those who were on their last legs as a starter or were pitching for Abe Fromann's Sausage Factory Road Team B, then maybe we shouldn't be in such awe when an Eric Gagne comes along. After all, he was supposed to have been a really good starter, remember? Shouldn't we be a little disappointed? John Smoltz won a Cy Young Award (albeit one that should have gone to Kevin Brown), Dave Righetti had a no-hitter once, Dennis Eckersly once won 20 games. I was disappointed when they put Rags in the bullpen, because he was my favorite pitcher and it meant that he would be in a less prominent, less important role. Also because I was eight. But that's beside the point.
So, next time somebody points out that Eddie Guardado "came out of nowhere" to lead the AL with 40something saves or that Eric Gagne may break Bobby Thigpen's record of 57 saves in a season, just say "Big deal." And remind them that "nowhere" is likely to be exactly where Eddie is, everyday, in about five years, while the likes of Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens will live on, at least figuratively, forever in Cooperstown.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/10/2002
07 September 2002
There is a lot of debate going on right now about who will or who should win the AL MVP Award this year, and I won't go into my opinions much because most anyone who's reading this probably thinks, like I do, that Alex Rodriguez should get it, and because others have already written as much or more than I would. In particular, Rob Neyer, makes a great case for why A-Rod is the best player and therefore (not but) should win the MVP. Most of us "enlightened" budding or experienced sabremetricians probably all agree on that, but the real question is, "Who will win the MVP?"
The answer is fairly simple: Whomever Peter Gammons says should win it will win it. Last year, though he eventually settled on Jason Giambi as the MVP, I seem to recall him indicating that Ichiro was a deserving candidate, at least for a while. Two years ago, despite the fact that Carlos Delgado had more runs, more doubles, and slightly higher averages than Giambi's (.344/.470/.664 compared to .333/.476/.647), Gammons went around telling anyone who would listen that Giambi was the MVP, and sure enough, they voted him in. This year Gammons is talking about how Miguel Tejada is the MVP, essentially because Aaron Myette, Chan Ho Park, John Rocker and Hideki Irabu all stink very much bad. So I wonder who's gonna win it this year....
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/07/2002
06 September 2002
Gary Sheffield has been a mainstay of my fantasy teams for the last few years, which has been great for me, especially since I stuck with him while he was stinking up the joint back in April/May. Now he's hurt yet again, for about the 76th time this season and the 479th time of his career. This just goes to support my theory: Michael Jackson is gay! No, wait, that's Norm McDonald's theory. My theory is that if Gary Sheffield had been even reasonably healthy over the course of his career, there would be very little debate about whether or not he'd be headed for the Hall of Fame. Sheffield's lifetime numbers are .295/.399/.521, with 339 homers, 1051 Runs and 1093 RBI, in only 1708 games, which works out to approximately 114 games per year over 15 seasons. Can you imagine what he might have done if he'd been able to play even 150 games per year? Well, you don't have to, because I've projected out his career averages, over 15 seasons at 152 games each, and...
_____ AB ___ R ___ H ___ 2B __ HR __ RBI __ BB __ K __ SB
Avg _ 542 __ 93 __ 160 __ 28 __ 30 __ 97 __ 90 __ 66 __16
Car _8123 _ 1401 _ 2397_ 421 _ 452 _1457_ 1353_ 985 _240
Wow. 452 homers. As many as Carl Yastrzemski. More RBI than Eddie Matthews, more runs scored than Joe DiMaggio, and still not even 34 years old! As things stand now though, his career numbers still resemble those of Ellis Burks just a little too much. if he were to keep producing at his career rates for about 5 more years, those projected numbers are likely very close to what his career numbers will be. However, if he can find a way to stay healthy, play like he has been for the time he's spent in LA and Atlanta for about 5 more years, he could still end up with 500 homers, 1500 runs, 1500 RBI, 2500 hits and a very good shot at the Hall. Of course, those are all really big "if"s for a guy who misses a game due to injury more often than Barry Bonds strikes out.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/06/2002
05 September 2002
Homers and Strikeouts...
John Perricone, over at Only Baseball Matters, had a digression regarding players who have had more homeruns than strikeouts in a season, specifically in response to a question from a reader about Barry Bonds' Second Annual Historic Season. (Perricone's blog is linked to this one, as you can see, and I thought mine was to his, but I could be wrong.) John, in his great benevolence (and evidently even greater free time) found all of the players dating back to 1620 who have hit at least 10 homers and struck out as many times or fewer. He found 267,492 of them, but I have gone a step more. I have pared it down to all of the players who led the league in homers while striking out less often than they homered, and gues what! There's only 13 of them, and none since 1954! Much better.
Name_______________Year __HR ___ K __
TED KLUSZEWSKI ____ 1954 __ 49 ___ 35
JOE DIMAGGIO ______ 1948 __ 39 ___ 30
JOHNNY MIZE _______ 1948 __ 40 ___ 37
JOHNNY MIZE _______ 1947 __ 51 ___ 42
TOMMY HOLMES _____ 1945 __ 28 ___ 9
TED WILLIAMS _______1941 __ 37 ___ 27
JOE DIMAGGIO ______ 1937 __ 46 ___ 37
LOU GEHRIG ________ 1936 __ 49 ___ 46
LOU GEHRIG ________ 1934 __ 49 ___ 31
ROGERS HORNSBY ___ 1925 __ 39 ___ 39
KEN WILLIAMS _______1922 __ 39 ___ 31
SAM THOMPSON _____1895 __ 18 ___ 11
HUGH DUFFY ________ 1894 __ 18 ___ 15
Look at that, some pretty great names, eh? And can you believe that Tommy Holmes? Not only did he lead the league in, like, everything that year, but he only whiffed nine times in 636(!) AB, perhaps even more impressive than Bonds. Of course, Bonds is currently 4 bombs behind Sammy Sosa in the race for the NL home run title, so unless Sammy cools off in Septober, it's not gonna happen this year either. (Sammy could slow down a little, as his SLG% in Septembers is the lowest of any month over the last three years, as well as over the course of his career, but I wouldn't bet on it.) The other interesting thing about Bonds' season is that he's on a pace to win a batting title, with a .367 average, and ESPN projects him to end up with 145 hits, which means that you'd hafta go back to 1958 to find a batting title winner in a non-strike season with fewer hits, when the Splinter amassed 136 hits on the way to an AL leading .328 average. To find a Major League leading hitter with fewer than 145 hits, you hafta go all the way back to 1940, when Debs Garms (Debs Garms?) led the majors with a .355 clip, but only 126 hits. Of course, those 381 plate appearances shouldn't qualify him for the batting title, so I'm not sure why he's even listed on the leader boards. Anyone who has some insight on this issue, feel free to email me here, or at the link to your left, which I have recently restored. And to find someone who actually qualifies for the batting title and has fewer hits than Bonds' projected 145? Well, I guess you'd hafta go back even more, and frankly I'm tired of looking.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/05/2002
04 September 2002
The Oakland A's are playing Nintendo Baseball right now. As you undoubtedly already know, they have won 19 straight games, going into tonight's, and it may be 20 by the time you read this on Thursday, as the A's currently have a 11-0 lead in the 3rd inning against the hapless Royals. Either way, it's an incredible run, unlike any seen in my lifetime (or even my mom's, who will be exactly double my age on our birthday this December). The only thing I can think to compare it to is the different video games I've played, and especially Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball for Super Nintendo. (Hey, remember when Ken Griffey was good/important enough to merit his own video game? Remember Nintendo?) Anyway, the way this game was set up, there were no givens, and you couldn't really cheat (unless you got guys on 1st and 3rd, and a catcher with a weak arm, then you could fake a double steal and pretty much steal/score at will. Also worked with bunting if a guy was on 3rd.) Anyway, the point is, if you were down by 5 runs in the ninth and things didn't go your way, you lost. However, you could just shut the game off before it had a chance to register, so you'd never record a game you didn't want to. Consequently, after having played out entire 162-game seasons with the Expos, Dodgers, Blue Jays, Braves, White Sox, Cubs, Giants, Mariners and Yankees ( I had a lot of free time during summers in college), I rarely finished a season with more than 4 or 5 losses. This allowed you to rack up really ridiculous statistical totals, such as Dennis Martinez winning 45 games for the Expos, Kevin Maas (remember Kevin Maas?) hitting 65 homers for the Yankees (back when that was uncommon), or having five starters with at least 20 wins, or eight starters with at least a .300 average. Anywho, this is what the A's are doing now. I ran a few numbers, and if you project out what the A's have done in this streak over 162 games, you get Zito and Mulder with 34-0 records, Eric Chavez with 200 RBI and slugging .660, Ray Durham with 168 runs, Billy Koch with 73 saves, etc. The point of all of this is twofold:
1) Holy cow, these guys can really play, y'know? and
2) They can't possibly keep it up. But it'll be fun to watch 'em try!
Another reason it's a pretty good time to be a Bay Area baseball fan is that the Giants are right in the thick of things in the NL West, and only 2 games out of the Wild Card standings also. They have the Best Player on the Planet, the best second baseman in the NL, a decent, if unspectacular rotation, and some serviceable, sometimes great relief pitchers. Unfortunately, they also have the likes of JT Snow, Tom Goodwin and Tsuyoshi Shinjo in their starting lineup entirely too often. So for the stretch run they picked up a little offensive help from the Cubs, on the cheap, in the form of Bill Mueller. Mueller plays third, but he's only got a .757 OPS, which is only sorta middle-of-the-pack for a National League thirdbaseman. So, the guy he would replace must be really horrendous, right? Well, the current 3B is David Bell, who has not usually hit well enough to justify keeping him as a regular 3B. You wanna guess what his OPS is right now? Yep: .757. Spooky, huh? As I understand it, they intend to use Mueller off the bench, though I'll be darned if I can figure out for whom, unless it's to spell Rich Aurilia, who's having an off year, once in a while. I guess I shouldn't expect much more from GM Brian Sabean, who once said,
"Don't talk to me about on-base percentage...that sabermetric crap gives me a headache.''
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/04/2002
03 September 2002
Sorry for the long layoff. I was away for the weekend, and have not had a chance to write anything since Thursday, I think.
I'm glad that a strike was averted, for the same reasons that most anybody would be: I like watching live, professional baseball, and it would be ridiculous for a bunch of guys making an average of $2.5 million to go on strike. INcidentally, I love it when they try to defend themselves, saying that $2.5 million is just the "mean" and that the median is around $1.9 million, and that "there are lots of huys in the majors making only around $600,000/year" Do they know how ridiculous that sounds? Do they really expect people to feel any sympathy for people making 15 times what we do? Asinine.
However, I do not for one minute think that this new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is The Answer. As I understand it, they came up with both a revenue sharing plan, about which you have probably already read, and a "competetive balance tax". These two things are supposed to help the smaller market clubs compete, and are supposed to help keep the players' salaries from getting out of hand. Also asinine. If they actually had a useful and decent revenue sharing plan, the tax would not be necessary. But I'll come back to that later.
The thresholds on the tax are pretty high, encompassing only a few teams, and they're going to rise over the next few years, possibly to include even fewer. Plus, the amount of the taxes are pretty low, so that there is still little to restrain George Steinbrenner from signing that Big Name Free Agent if he wants to. If King George has a payroll of $160 million next year, he'd have to pay a little over $7.5 million in Luxury/Competetitive Balance/Bud's Yacht Tax. Does anyone think that's really going to stop him? He's already agreed to pay Roger Clemens $10 million next year not to pitch for him, is an extra $10 or $20 million really going to make much difference? Similarly, the revenue sharing plan requires clubs to give up 34% of their revenue, which essentially gets divided between the teams equally, minus a commisioner's discretionary fund of $10 mil, and even this namby-pamby scheme will not be fully implemented for three years. This means that the teams will still be able to keep 66% of their local revenue, and that the Yankees will still have a $100 million advantage in revenue over the Montreal Expos, if you use Forbes revenue numbers, which are undoubtedly closer to the truth than the owners' reported numbers. Doesn't sound very competetive to me.
There are some much more creative, interesting, and useful ways of doing this "competetive balance" thing, if you subscribe to the notion that all the teams have to be on some kind of comparative financial footing in order to have any chance of winning the World Series. I for one, do not, and I think that Oakland GM Billy Beane and any fan of the Minnesota Twins would tend to disagree with that notion as well. However, for now, if we want to at least try to help out teams who are at a financial disadvantage, we can do so in much better ways than those the players' union and owners actually explored and upon which they eventually agreed. For instance, Derek Zumsteg, over at Baseball Prospectus, has written about a plan for revenue sharing that rewards teams who have found ways to make money in smaller markets (like Oakland, and penalizes those who should actually be making more (like my Yankees) given the size of their markets and the relative dearth of teams in them. It is based on census information on market size and Forbes reporting on revenue dollars for each team, both of which are available to anyone who wants to read them, directly from his article. He assumes that there is some threshold at which a team in a city of a particualr size (~4,000,000 people) should make a particular amount of money (~$92,000,000). Teams like the Phillies and Cubs, who are in huge cities but don't draw any fans because they usually suck hairy monkey ass, would be penalized. Similarly, teams in large markets that actually do well, like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers, but are in such a huge market that they enjoy a big advantage on several teams in smaller markets, also get penalized. Teams like Minnesota, Oakland, and (unfortunately) the Brewers, would be rewarded for doing so well with so little. It's a pricey plan for teams like the Yankees, but it's just as pricey for the Mets, who don't do nearly as well. I'll show you:
Team__Forbes Revenue___ Shared Revenue
SEA __ $166,000,000 ____ $170,237,520.00
CLE __ $150,000,000 ____ $167,005,832.00
ATL ___$160,000,000 ____ $160,000,000.00
COL __ $129,000,000 ____ $157,338,116.00
MIL ___$108,000,000 _____$154,041,423.00
STL ___$123,000,000 ____ $147,862,333.00
SFG __ $142,000,000 ____ $146,903,082.50
NYY __ $215,000,000 ____ $144,869,268.25
ARZ __ $127,000,000 ____ $141,634,992.00
PIT ___ $108,000,000 ____ $138,329,272.00
BOS __ $152,000,000 ____ $132,826,912.50
KAN __ $85,000,000 _____ $128,564,323.00
CHC __ $131,000,000 ____ $125,905,965.75
CIN ___ $87,000,000 _____ $125,847,115.00
TAM ___$92,000,000 _____$123,552,113.00
TEX ___ $134,000,000 ____$123,540,485.50
HOU __ $125,000,000 ____ $119,321,978.50
SDP __ $92,000,000 _____ $111,070,588.00
NYM __$169,000,000 ____ $98,869,268.25
DET __ $114,000,000 ____ $97,102,912.00
LAD __ $143,000,000 ____ $96,789,624.75
CHW _ $101,000,000 ____ $95,905,965.75
OAK__ $90,000,000______ $94,903,082.50
BAL __ $133,000,000 ____ $94,370,994.00
MIN __ $75,000,000 _____ $92,891,493.00
FLA __ $81,000,000 _____ $81,000,000.00
TOR __ $91,000,000 _____$80,863,900.00
PHI ___ $94,000,000 ____ $71,011,109.00
MON __ $63,000,000 ____ $70,440,270.00
ANA __ $103,000,000 ____$56,789,624.75
It has a nice, smooth curve, with a disparity based not just on market size, but upon how well the teams use their market to their advantage. There is no incentive here to hide profits, as it is based on revenues. There is no incentive to field a AAAA team to keep payroll low, because the sharing is not based on payroll. There is only incentive to maximize revenue, so that you'll have as much left as possible after sharing. And there's no need for a salary tax, other than to artificially keep players from making whatever the market would bear, as teams will mostly be on much more level ground. Kansas City will be able to resign Carlos Beltran, Cleveland will be able to resign Jim Thome, and Milwaukee will be able to resign...umm...well, if they ever get anybody worth holding on to, they'll be able to resign him. Montreal will need to move, as we know, and Florida and Toronto will need to seriously consider the possibility too. Philadelphia and especially Anaheim will need to start fielding competetive teams by making smart decisions. I live near Philadelphia, and believe me, the people there would like nothing more than to have a good team to watch at the Vet, that isn't wearing green helmets. With some decent business decisions, there's no reason the Phils can't be up there where the Braves are, in the revenue plan AND in the standings.
The problems with this plan are that it is a little too extreme, and a little too creative for the narrow minded Lords of Baseball, and that it is based upon numbers to which the owners will not admit. This is the biggest stumbling block.
There are, of course, other plans. Ones not nearly as complicated, but again, ones that would require a little more creativity, open-mindedness, and foresight than the owners and players have ever exhibited.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/03/2002