I learned from Mike's Baseball Rants today that the Phillies signed Joe Kerrigan to replace Vern Ruhle as pitching coach. Ruhle, you probably won't recall, was canned by the Astros after the 2000 season when (who'd a thunk it?) the Houston pitching staff had trouble going from the Astrodome to Enron/Homerun/Minute Maid/PhoneBooth Field, especially when Billy Wagner started sucking and then got hurt. I thought Ruhle got a raw deal then, as now, but Kerrigan is purportedly a great pitching coach, and the BoSox were foolish to let him go.
Mike's article goes into very good details on the task at-hand for Kerrigan in the next few years, though I think the outlook is a bit more hopeful than his Rant would lead you to believe. That is to say, I don't think that there is necessarily "salvaging" to do in the cases of David Coggin and Brandon Duckworth: I think they can both be reasonably expected to develop into decent starters, given their relative youth, experience, and some statistical evidence of talent. I wrote a little about the Phillies' 2003 pitching staff in the latter half of this post myself, and I actually think that there's hope for improvement if they can find cheap help from the farm to compensate for expensive non-help like Turk Wendell and Rheal Cormier. But most of the dead wood will leave as free agents, so they have a real shot at improvement, as long as they don't go do something stupid, like signing Jesse Orosco to a five-year contract. Also, Cliff Politte, who seems like a pretty good reliever, evidently rubbed some people in Philly the wrong by throwing too hard and/or getting too many batters out(?), and so was traded to the Blow Jays for 40 year old Dan Plesac in May, which is a little like your ex-wife trading in your '63 corvette for an '83 Plymouth Omni, so he won't be part of the picture. I've seen Politte pitch, and he could very well have been the Phils' Francisco Rodriguez, if they'd let him.
17 October 2002
Even though it may seem like it's been forever since you've watched any baseball, The Void is not here yet. There is still a World Series to be played, in which two teams that didn't even win their own divisions will square off for the title of World Champion, despite the factt hat there are roughly 30-50 professional teams in Japan and Cuba who don't get a chance to vie for this title. Oh well.
Your pal and mine, John J(acob Jingleheimer) Perricone, has a preview of what you might expect from the Second Place Series. John knows more about the Giants than you do, so you should read his stuff, but only after you finish mine. And those
LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists said Wednesday they have discovered at the center of our galaxy a huge black hole, a mysterious celestial object that sucks in everything around it including light. This marks the first real, scientific evidence of an immensely dense, invisible gravitational field, which slows everything anywhere near it to a crawl, though its effects have been seen for years.
Despite its enormous mass, the object cannot be detected directly, but is observed by its effect on objects around it: Creating a drag on everything in its path, holding back what might have otherwise been strong, fast and energetic entities until they collapse and give in to its gravitational pull. Despite its deleterious effect on its surroundings, the object cannot be changed, fixed or removed, due to its extremely large mass, and so it is destined to continue destroying everything around it as it sucks unassuming objects into its powerful field.
The scientists have not yet named the black hole, but they are considering seriously the option of calling it "Greg Vaughn".
16 October 2002
Joe Morgan has probably forgotten more about baseball than most of us will ever know: It’s hard to compete with a guy who spent about two decades making a pretty convincing argument for himself as the Greatest Second-Baseman in History. Despite this, many of us in the sabermetric/baseball commentary community have nearly swallowed our own gum as we’ve read/heard some of the asinine things that Morgan has written/said about baseball in recent years. My colleague over at Mike's Baseball Rants even has a weekly feature in which he makes fun of some of the ridiculous statements Joe makes in his weekly ESPN chat sessions. (Mike's a little overly harsh about the typos, but it's usually pretty funny.) Rob Neyer has said that Morgan's propensity for saying things that get your attention, both right and wrong, is what makes him a great personality. Of course, Neyer's statement came in the midst of an article (16 August 2000) in which he made it very clear that Joe didn't know what the hell he was talking about, though Joe usually does a pretty good job of this himself.
The TwinsGeek recently did a piece responding to another of Morgan's columns, this one saying that on-base percentage is not that important for a leadoff hitter. Unfortunately, when Joe wrote this particular article, I was forced to simply yell at the screen, much as one might do when the Dumb Blonde in a Horror Movie walks into a room in which the Killer is likely to be without bothering to turn on a light. Or, like, when Chuck Knoblauch argues with the umpire instead of throwing out Enrique Wilson, scoring from first on a bunt. I could yell at an inanimate object, or I could bite my tongue, as I had not yet discovered my Secret Identity, and my wife, love her though I do, simply would not have wanted to hear it. But now, I have entered the phonebooth of cyberspace and have emerged as The Boy of Summer! Faster-witted than Joe Morgan! More logical than most of the rabid fans out there who thought the Pirates had a shot at, say, 70 wins! Able to conquer simple-minded logic in a single post! Running out of analogies to Superman!
Anyway, Morgan's list of necessary leadoff skills goes like this (in order of importance):
iii) On-base Percentage
IV) Stealing Bases
The TwinsGeek himself actually does a great job debunking the crap that Morgan spews. He runs a correlation test and shows, at least for the last three years' data, that there is essentially no correlation between a leadoff hitter's steals and the #2 hitters OPS, and that the correlation between the leadoff hitter's OBP and the #2 hitter's OPS is about .300. Now, please understand that this correlation is not a batting average, but in this case, we can evaluate it similarly, as the .300-.350 range is sort of the benchmark of a good correlation in most studies (at least that's whay my Psych 1 prof told us). So statistically, Joe Morgan's idea just doesn't hold water, which, incidentally, is wet, in case you didn't know that either.
I tell ya, for a guy who was smart enough to figure out that he had the talent to become the Greatest Second Baseman in History, he sure sounds like a complete idiot sometimes, y'know? Can you imagine how good he might have been if he'd had all that talent AND understood the few basic principles of statistically successful baseball? It seems like he understood how to use these things as a player, but since then he has lost any ability to explain it as a commentator, which, unfortunately for the rest of us, is his job these days. What he calls "Awareness" is basically taking pitches, "plate discipline", which ultimately helps the player to either get a good pitch to hit or to take a walk: essentially deja-OBP all over again. Stealing bases and speed could also be combined into essentially one category. While each of the two skills does not necessarily mean that the player has the other one, not having one almost definitely precludes the second, in either case. So really, there are only three necessary categories: OBP, Speed and Power. These qualities, in case it is not immediately obvious, are the skills that ANY hitter needs to succeed in the majors. It's just that "table-setters" (#1 and#2 hitters) need the first two more, and "clean-up hitters" (#3-6) need the first and third more.
The irony is that Morgan, in his own words, actually de-bunks his own argument:
"Hitting behind Pete for the Reds was valuable to me as a left-handed hitter. Every time he got on base, the hole opened between first and second base. Any time I hit the ball through the hole, he automatically went to third; he never stopped."
Every time he got on base, Joe. And when he didn't get on base? Nothin'. A leadoff hitter's prowess at stealing bases, distracting the pitcher, shifting the defense, telling dirty jokes to the firstbaseman (You got any naked pictures of your wife?) or anything else doesn't mean squat if he doesn't get on base! As they say in France: "You can't steal first base."
Morgan uses Rickey Henderson as the prototypical leadoff hitter, which he was, but having the speed of a jet would not have made him the Greatest Leadoff Hitter Ever if his career OBP had been, say, .320, instead of .402. You'd probably have to take away at least 500 runs over his career, and you know that he couldn't have just hit for the averages he did if the opposing pitchers had known that he had the plate discipline of Homer Simpson at the Sizzler All-You-Can-Eat Salad Bar, would he? And of course, he wouldn't have hung on as long as he has without getting on base often enough to justify hiring a 42-yr old left fielder with no arm.
I think Morgan's view is kind of skewed by the fact that he (Joe) did have great plate discipline, so he can't grasp how tough it is to succeed without it. Because Morgan and Pete Rose were on base all the time, Joe can't see how important that was to everything else: He just takes it as a given, and thinks that his speed and power were what made him so successful. It's a little like Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake" mentality: A complete lack of ability to relate to or comprehend the defficiencies of lesser people.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/16/2002
Aaron Gleeman did a nice breakdown on the pending contract issues between the Twins and their CF. He contends that the Twins will probably sign him for something like 4yrs@$8million each, based on their desire to continue to win, to make good PR, and on the fact that Darin Erstad, a similar if not inferior player, recently signed for 4 yrs @$32million.
I think it would be great if they were able to sign him for 4 years at $8mil per, but I doubt it's likely, or even necessary. Erstad may have signed for only four years, but he's a year older than Hunter and the trend seems to be toward longer contracts, not shorter. If stars in their mid twenties to early thirties (Giambi, Hampton, Helton, A-Rod, Jeter, Ramirez, Williams, Mussina) are signing 7 to 10-year deals, it seems to me that Erstad's comparatively short contract was the exception, not the rule. Hunter, if his agent is worth his salt, won't settle for less than 6 years with an option for 7.
Plus, Erstad didn't have the leverage of being able to say that he's the best player on that team. Hunter does. I don't see him signing for less than 6-7 years and $9-10 mil/each, which will likely price him out of Pohlad's market. And it may be just as well, if his historic lack of plate discipline and newly-found defensive mediocrity continue. Rob Neyer, as usual, goes a little more into depth discussing several other decisions the Twins need to make, and it seems fairly logical to let Hunter go and allow their corral of young, stud outfielders to get some more playing time, especially since Hunter has probably peaked and some of the youngsters may have higher ceilings.
I like the Twins. I like how they've been able to finally climbout from underneath the pile of financial rubble heaped upon them by their ownership. And I'd like to see them continue their success, if only to give the Indians someone against whom to compete, but now is not the time to get sentimental. Recognize your strengths (outfielders) and use them to fill weaknesses (infielders). Recognize where you underperformed this year (starting pitching) and try to improve to compensate for where you overperformed this year (relief pitching). Gosh, it all seems so simple now.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/16/2002
15 October 2002
Unlike most baseball fans, trying to put as much distance between themselves and Tampa Bay as possible, there are in fact a few managerial candidates who seem to be ambling perilously close to the precipice of inneptitude that is the Devil Rays. There are rumours flying about that have the new Devil Rays field manager variously named as Willie Randolph, Chris Chambliss, Lou Pinella, Jerry Narron, Bucky Dent, or someone else. The list would be longer, but there are only so many of the 1979 Yankees remaining. Sweet Lou was released from his contract, to free him up to explore other options, in much the same way that an occupant of the community in The Giver is "released" to another community when expressing dissatisfaction with the current one. Only instead of a quick, secretive execution, Piniella's career will be slowly poisoned to death over the course of the next few years if he takes Hal McCrae's old job. Sometimes, when a big-name, high profile baseball guy might change teams, ESPN or some website will make a computer-enhanced picture of what he might look like in his new threads. In this case, they could not show what Lou might look like as the Devil Rays' manager, as there were no available file photos of him crying.
Anyway, the more interesting question, frankly, is not "Who will manage the Tampa Bay club to another year of bumbling futility?", but "Who's gonna take the helm for the Mariners?" ESPN has a decent run-down of the candidates, with no real surprises: Ken Macha, El Dusto, Bobby V and His Travelling Fake Moustache Show, Cito Gaston, and some less likelies, right down to the Bone. The Seattle coaches, Bryan Price and John McLaren, may be the front runners at this point, though it would be unfortunate to lose Price's skills as a pitching coach, and especially his hand in the development of pitching in the Seattle farm system, for him to attempt to manage, a stretch which pitching coaches historically have not made well (Ray Miller, Joe Kerrigan, etc.) McLaren may be the most likely, though Seattle GM Pat Gillick essentially has his pick, as this is probably the most coveted managerial job in MLB this off-season.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/15/2002
13 October 2002
Weird Postseason Accomplishments
Jayson Stark, the erstwhile Philadelphia Enquirer scribe, now writes a weekly column for ESPN about Useless Facts/Stats/Info which might better be titled "Accurate but Misleading Stats", for some fairly obvious reasons. This would be a great place to go into some of those, but...
A) It's a waste of my time, and
2) Stark's got the Elias Sports people to do it for him anyway.
But while I'm on the subject, in Stark's column about a week ago, he made the argument that the Twins had a good shot at the World Series championship, because they had home field advantage in both the ALCS and the WS, and because,
"So the Twins are now 12-2 all-time in postseason games in the Metrodome. They get to play four games there if this series goes seven. And remember, they've never lost a Game 7 in the Dome."
Gee, thanks, Jayson. Let's see what this really means:
Two different teams, who played eleven and fifteen years ago, respectively, none of whose players have any role on the current team, and most of whom aren't even in MLB anymore, went 11-1 at the Metrodome. This team went 1-1 in this postseason at the HHH Dome coming into this series. Whoopee. Sure, teams that played for the Twins franchise back in the Regan-Bush Era never lost a Game 7 at the Metrodome....but they only played two lousy freakin' games! Two. Nothing like making sure you've got a nice, representative sample from which to extract your data, eh Jayson?
Anyway, I did notice that Adam Kennedy was named the ALCS MVP, despite having gone 1-for-10 in the series before tonight's 3-homer, 5 RBI fluke performance that didn't even have much bearing on the 8-run victory. It seems to me that Francisco Rodriguez, with 2 holds, 2 wins (now 4-0 in the postseason), 4 baserunners and 7 K's in 4.2 IP, would have been a better choice. At least he contributed in every winning wame. Kennedy didn't do crap before tonight, and didn't even play in Game 3. For that matter, Kennedy had never had a 3-HR game before tonight. Heck, he'd only had three 3-HR months before tonight.
Looking at the NLCS, which is shaping up to be a much more interesting series, I notice some out-of -character performances there as well. JT Snow is hitting .314 currently, Benito Santiago has 11 RBI. Livan Hernandez has an ERA of 3.07, and hasn't lost yet. The Angels haven't choked (yet). Tino Martinez stole a base. Tim McCarver was quiet for like, a few seconds. Amazing stuff.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/13/2002
11 October 2002
Buck Showalter, apparently in high demand in an off-season that saw managers drop like files after the last pitch in September, has been hired by the Texas Rangers, on a four-year contract. Buck was rumoured to be headed for The Freindly Confines, Flatbush, Cow Country and even Siberia.
I would have liked to see what Buck could have done with the Cubbies, as I think that their recipe (a few good, seasoned veterans and some fresh, young talent, on a bed of crisp, green money with loyal fans on the side) would have suited his tastes very well. If I had ever written the column I promised on the managerial guillotines administered since the end of September, I would have said that I think that Jerry Narron was one of the least deserving of the axed-ones. The team really wasn't that bad, being 5th in the majors in runs scored, and closer to second than they were to sixth. But they used 27 pitchers, and, as they say in France: when you've got 27 pitchers, you've got no pitchers. That's not Narron's fault.
What I don't get is that the Mets didn't seem to have any interest in him. He was easily the most experienced manager out there who seems willing to get back into it (Davey Johnson seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth), and the Mets didn't even extend him an interview. Their criticism of him apparently, is that he's too much of a control freak, too big on "rules" (Like the rule about how you're not allowed to go back out onto the field after being ejected from a game?)....but the knock on Bobby Valentine was that he lost the control and therefore the respect of his club.
This seems to happen in lots of places, especially sports, business and politics:
1)Team/Group fails to have the success it wants/expects;
1-a) leadership is scapegoated and sent packing;
1-b) leader with opposite personal style/charachet from previous leader is brought in to "right ship";
Now, one of two things happens:
2) Team/Group continues to stink
2-a) new leader's personality traits are blamed for lack of success, or
3) Team improves temporarily,
3-a) new leader's traits credited, and then
3-b) team goes back to stinking and new leader's "act has worn thin" [go back to 1)]
This happened in Philadelphia last year when Terry Francona's lackadaisical approach was blamed for the Phillies' suckiness, so they brought in Larry Bowa, who promptly began to wear grooves in the floor of the Vet's home dugout. When the Phil's won a few games in 2001, Bowa's high-energy, take-charge attitude was said to rub off on his players, making them all want to play harder. When the Phillies returned to their established levels of play in 2002, Bowa's high-energy, take-charge attitude was said to rub his players the wrong way, and there are some who don't think that he'll last next year if the Phils don't win.
I'm not sure texas will be the best place for a guy like Showalter, though. They have no pitching, lots of overblown contracts on teh pitchers they do have, and a few primadonna-type players, who always seem to get on Showalter's bad side. If Carl Everett pulls the kinda crap on Buck's watch that he did under Jimy Williams with the Sawx, he'll find his ass on the first bus to Kansas City. Tom Hicks can afford to eat the rest of his contract. Good luck to Buck in his new digs, he's gonna need it.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/11/2002
10 October 2002
I got an email from reader Aaron Haspel last week, in which he informed me that he has a searchable database for historic baseball stats. It does everything Baseballreference.com does in terms of finding players' names and career stats, but you can also search for specific statistical criteria(batting or pitching). So if you want to know who scored the most runs in a season with no at-bats (Herb Washington, OAK, 1973) you can find him. If you want to know who had the fewest hits while still driving in 100 runs in a single season (Phil Plantier, SD, 1993) he's there. The only thing it doesn't seem to cover is stolen bases, but maybe if we all give him some flack about it, he'll include that, too.
Also, David Levens of Elephants in Oakland did a great job of debunking my rant about Oaklanders not showing up for the playoff games, both in the comments on my page and in an article on his page. I am happy to have been wrong about this one. I am also happy that Levens et.al. are actually complemented by my characterization of them as "zealots" (his word) or "ape-shit" (mine). Shows they have a sense of humor, in case you couldn't tell by reading his blog.
Also, astute reader Jonathan Brook pointed out that:
For various and obvious reasons, the first Yankees-SF Giants World Series will not take place this year; it already happened in 1962.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/10/2002
09 October 2002
John Perricone, the illustrious keeper of Only Baseball Matters, the only blog of which I know whose title is actually a complete sentence, had this to say about the much-maligned Yankees defense:
Looking farther ahead, I'd say Brian Cashman's got some real hard thinking to do this off-season. He's got a shortstop with a third baseman's range, a first basemen whose really a DH, a centerfielder who should be in left, a second baseman who kind of looks like a centerfielder, and a catcher who should be a DH.
So I took it upon myself to respond to him and defend (sort of) my favorite team:
John, I just noticed your take on Yankees you deem to be out of position, and I'd have to say that you've got some points. Jeter and Soriano are both just about the worst defensive players in the majors at their positions. Jeter made 56 errors in AAA Columbus one year, and I guess the way he's evaded that kind of statistical sore thumb is by not getting to anything hit more than five feet from wherever he happens to be standing at the time. Hey, if you don't make the play, you can't be credited with an error, right?
Soriano, I think you have to cut a little slack, because he only started playing second base last year, and It's gotta be tough to learn that on the job in the Majors. Nevertheless, if he still can't improve next year, they might want to consider making him a centerfielder or something. At least then he'd have some excuse for being way out there
in shallow right center on a play that's clearly the CF's ball. He'd need a lot of training though, as I seem to remember him stinking very much bad when they put him in LF during Spring 2001. For all that effort, they might as well leave him at second.
Giambi's never going to be mistaken for Kieth Hernandez or Donnie Baseball with the leather, but he's basically a middle of the pack defender, as his Range Factor, which is right around those of Thome and Konerko, will attest to. You can live with that kind of "mediocrity" for a guy who hits like Giambi.
Bernie should definitely be in left field. No question. He has lost a lot of range, and couldn't throw well BEFORE his shoulders started hurting at the beginning of last year. If he can swallow his pride and move to left next year, and allow Juan Rivera or some free agent/trade acquisition to play CF, the Yanks will be better for it.
Posada, I think, gets a bad rap for his defense. He led the majors in errors, but he also was second in assists, second in Range Factor (which admittedly is helped significantly by catching a pitching staff that was second in the AL in strikeouts), and at least decent in other areas. Posada is not nearly the liability at catcher, if he is a liability at all, that Jeter, Soriano or Williams are at their positions.
Maybe the Yankees can get someone to impart knowledge of how to read pitchers and position themselves if Willie Randolph gets hired away by the Mets or someone else. Willie was a pretty good defensive 2B, as I recall, but maybe they just don't listen to him much because he's been there so long. A new hitting coach (Jeff Pentland) turned around Sammy Sosa's career, maybe it'll work for Jeter and Soriano. Maybe not. Keep up the good work, and good luck to the Giants, Travis Nelson
.....To which John responded:
Yeah, it's really an accumulation of all of them being below average that hurt the team so much. If they could just solve the CF, SS and 2B problem, the rest of it is background noise. Trouble is, it ain't gonna be easy. Offensively, Jeter is just off the mark as a SS, as a 3B, he's below average. Yeah, Soriano has played second for just a little while, but why keep him there? I'd say they would be better off getting a second baseman, jeez, they could pick up Alfonzo from the Mets for nothing, and then move Soriano to center field so his offensive talents could really blossom.
Then either hire an Alan Trammell [Ed's note: Trammell is apparently employed for at least the first six games of next season.] or somebody like that to help Jeter postion himself better. The problem I have with Posada is that he can't throw anyone out, and even worse, he's not even a threat to. Once the playoffs start, he can be run on with impunity, sort of like Rob Nen. This eliminates the chance for a DP, among other things. Again, this is an accumulation, Jeter's got no range, Soriano is inexperienced, Giambi is a lunk, Posada can't throw, Williams has no arms. That's a lot of extra hits and bases, and look what happened.
Don't be afraid to give me a plug for my LCS preview.
John J Perricone
Only Baseball Matters
...And so I responded, rather cleverly, I think:
I don't know that they could get Alfonzo for "nothing". the guy had an off year, but he still hit .308/.391/.459, which put him right behind Kent and Vidro (had he been a 2B), and he hit .330 with runners on base or in scoring position. There just weren't any runners most of the times he came up. I'm not convinced that Jeter would field 3B any better than he does SS, as I think that the smaller coverage area would be more than accounted for by the decreased time to react. But he's got the arm for it. They could shift both of them over one, putting Soriano back at SS where he started, and stick Edgardo Alfonzo in at 2B. Then they could trade for Antonio Alfonseca, and record the first ever Alfonseca to Alfonso to Alfonzo double play on a comebacker to the mound! (Let's see Franklin P. Adams write a poem about that.) Anyway, Posada's not great at throwing out basestealers, but he's really not that bad, and if you've seen the Yankees pitchers, they're not the best at holding runners on or getting to the plate quickly. At least some of the blame has to go to them, just as some of the credit for Posada's high range factor goes to the pitchers. Besides, if the opposing team doesn't hit .376 against them, and they usually don't, there won't be as many baserunners to worry about. Will plug your site when I get a chance.
With all of that being said, I mostly agree with John, though I think that the Yankees lousy pitching in the postseason had more to do with their early exit than the defense. But the lousy pitching was a fluke, even if it was a particularly wretched, 400-pound mutant fluke with green eyes and purple smoke emanating from its gills. The defense was pretty much what it was all year: Wanting. Hopefully George won't hit the Panic Button and clean out the front office because the pitching staff happened to have four consecutive bad games.
( Was that enough of a plug, John?)
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/09/2002
08 October 2002
All Blogged Up, & Nothing to Write
It's a little hard to get very excited about the playoffs, much to my dismay, as there are really no teams in which I have any sort of vested interest.
I'd like to see the , go all the way, just to see the look on El Bud's shriveled face when he has to hand over that trophy.
It'd be nice to see the , win, after all they've gone through this year. Not that we need another bad, sappy baseball movie.
I wouldn't mind seeing the , win, to give Barry Bonds the only thing his incredible career is lacking.
, for all I care, can go scratch. Besides the resentment I'm fostering because they beat the Yankees, I just don't like the team that much. They're another team in a huge city but doesn't market itself well, keeps its payroll low, makes bad personnel decisions (Mo Vaughn, Pat Rapp) when it does spend on payroll, doesn't walk much, and manages to win anyway. Heck with 'em.
What I am interested in is next year. Rob Neyer has a neat little column in which he "rates" the managerial openings (six and counting...). He deduces (surprise!) that the Mets' job offers the best possibility of significantly improving next year, whereas (supplies!) the Devil Rays suck ass.
My plan is to examine the managers who have been or may be fired and try to assess which of them most richly deserved the boot in their hind-parts, and which were most untimely ripped. I don't think I'll have any sorta nifty mathematical system, but I'll try to come up with some reasonably insightful commentary. Coming soon...
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/08/2002
07 October 2002
What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is a-Goin' on Around Here?!
I heard on ESPN radio this AM that the Twins-A's game, at Oakland yesterday afternoon, played host to 20,000 empty seats in Network Associates Colliseum. It turns out that 20,000 is something of an exaggeration, as the paid attendance was listed at 32,146 and the capacity listed on ESPN.com is 43,662, but on a scale of 1-to-10, eleven thousand five hundred is a hell of a lot of unpurchased tickets. Where was everybody?
Oakland A's fans may assert that there were two other major sporting events in the Bay Area that day. This is true, but hardly an excuse. One of them was the 49ers game in San Francisco, which drew about 68,000 people, a sellout. The other was the Braves-Giants game, also across the Bay, which more than sold out, with 43,000+ paid ticket holders in a stadium that nominally seats 40,800. And this wasn't even the last game of the series, unless the Giants lost, which they did not.
Shame on Oakland and the Athletics' supposed supporters. A team that wins 103 regular season games and is facing elimination in the playoffs should be able to fill a stadium, especially one that only seats 44,000. There were plenty of people to come see the Giants stave off elimination and plenty more to watch the 49ers demolish the suddenly inept Rams, but only moderate interest in the best team in northern California? When were they planning on coming out? How much more impoortant or potentially dramatic does a baseball game have to be to induce these long-haired, pot-smoking, sandal-wearing, buncha tree-huggin-hippie-crap Oaklanders to come? Billy Beane works too hard and is too good at his job to have to deal with this kind of response to the mordern miracle he has engineered in Oakland for the last several years. I hope that some other team comes along, sweeps him off his feet, and allows him to work his magic for a city that might actually give a crap.
As long as it isn't Philadelphia.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/07/2002
06 October 2002
You Lose Some, You Lose Some
Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines. First, my favorite team loses. Loses badly. Plays ugly. Elephant-man ugly. Beaten like a red-headed step-child. Then, my second favorite team loses. Beaten not so badly, but beaten nonetheless.
So, congratulations are in order:
To the Twins Geek, for doing a great job of following and analyzing the Twins throughout their year. And to Aaron, who really did a great job of analyzing the playoff teams himself, though it's a little late for all that now. To the Twinkies, of course, for progressing to the ALCS. Send those Angels back to heaven, if you don't mind.
I actually haven't followed the Twins-A's series closely enough to comment on it much, but suffice it to say that if you can hold Miguel Tejada, David Justice, Terrence Long and Ramon Hernandez to a combined batting average under .200, you have a pretty good shot at winning. Oakland mostly got the pitching it needed, three quality starts in five games, though the relievers did not do so well to stop the bleeding when they needed to. This notion that the Metrodome somehow intimidates opposing teams into playing badly is, as they say in France, poppy-coque. Both teams have to play there, and without having had a sellout, playoff crowd at the Triple-H in eleven years, there's no reason that the Twins should be any more adapted to the circumstances than should the Athletics.
My condolances go out to fellow blogger, Elephants in Oakland. The interesting thing about a blog dedicated to observations and analysis of just one team is that you get really detailed, in-depth commentary on a team you would not otherwise be able to read about were you not in that city. And of course, you're getting fans' perspectives on the team, so you get commentary you might not normally hear from the genetically cloned sportswriters who simply parrot whatever they think people want to read (...even Epsilons are useful...). However, the fact that a fan is willing to spend so much of his/her time and energy following and commenting on one team means that you are getting the perspective of a fan in the very definition of the word: a Fanatic. Totally ape-shit. Now, given their locality and fervor for the team, it seems to me that they probably know a little more about the situations across the Bay than I do, but it is at least possible, I think, that perhaps Art Howe is not, in fact, the Anti-Christ, and that every move he makes is not necessarily wrong. Howe was given a team that was expected to contend, a team that was expected to feel a big absence when The Giambino defected, and didn't miss a beat. I think that a manager who's used to getting .320/40hr/120rbi out of his first baseman and who's then given Scott Hatteberg, and still wins 103 games in the regular season, deserves at least a little credit.
I don't know how impulsive a man Billy Beane is, and I hope Howe doesn't lose his job over this. But it seems to me that the A's had some of the same problems as the Yankees did in their series. The Yanks are usually built for the Short Series, with four quality starters, patient hitters with power, and solid defense. They often don't have a great fifth starter, or a league leading offense, but they have enough to be top-five in pitching and offense, and in the Short Series, they have enough pitching to give the offense a chance to make a game out of it. This year, they seem to have gone with a different approach. They had six quality starters, meaning that they had to put two of their best pitchers in the bullpen, out of their normal roles, and it showed. They had a great offense, hitting homers and walking like it was going out of style, but also striking out a lot. Their defense was sub-par, at best, and terrible up the middle, except for Posada. Jeter, Soriano and Bernie Williams all have perhaps the least range of anyone in the majors at their respective positions. Over the course of a full season, playing often against lesser teams, these things even out. A 2B who hits over .300 with 39 homers and 40+ steals makes up for making more errors than the first version of Windows and striking out more often than John Tesh's attempts at a musical career. But in a short series, against good pitching, that same 2B gets all of two hits the entire series, misses routine grounders (both to his right and right to him) AND interferes with two differnet outfielders on plays they could have made if not for his intrusive presence in the no-mans'-land between second base and right center field. Jeter hit .500 with two homers, but again, did not make plays on grounders that most other shortstops can reach with ease. Those are the things a team has to do to win a series like this, because against playoff pitching, it's rare that you can just bludgeon a team into submission. Especially if your own pitchers have a collective 8.21 ERA. Ouch.
Well, at least SanFran is still Alive, and my pich for the Cards/D-Backs series was right. It would be neat to see an all-Midwest World Series, but I'm getting ahead of myself. More coming soon....
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/06/2002
04 October 2002
I tell ya, it's nice to see good, quality infield play during postseason games. Of course, it'd be even nicer if said plays were being made by the middle infielders of my favorite team...but it's nice nonetheless. Adam Kennedy just made an actual play ranging to his right (you payin' attention here Soriano?). Joe Morgan called it a "tough play" or some such nonsense. I don't know if it's just because he's been retired for a long time, and has therefore forgotten that a major league second baseman ought to be able to make that play, or if he's required to say nice things about the Angels or he'll get fired, but it doesn't seem to me to be such a difficult thing to ask of a guy to be able to reach a ball hit 5 or 6 feet to one side of second base. If Jeter and Soriano would spend half as much time working on defense during The Void as they do on photo shoots and restaurant openings, the Yanks' middle infield defense could be mediocre in no time!
Mike Scioscia's managerial miscues are already coming back to haunt him. His bullpen handling of Percival the other night may have lost him that game as much as his use of "The Shift" did. Rob Neyer argues that Giambi's having hit the ball as hard as he did may have had to do with knowing that the ball would be over the inside half of the plate, given the shift in defense to the right side, and therefore led to the big inning that put the Bombers up to stay. Tonight, in the first inning, the lack of a third baseman on third base meant that Jeter's steal of second became a trip all the way to third when the player covering second (Glaus?) didn't field the catcher's throw cleanly. Of course, the ball should never have been thrown, trying to thwart a steal atempt on ball four, but that's hardly Scioscia's fault.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/04/2002
Based on the recommendation of avid and insightful reader Ken Goldstein, I have added comment tags to my posts. Feel free to chime in. Believe it or not, I'm interested in what you have to say! Well, I'm trying to anyway....If they ever work, they're provided by haloscan, which was both free and easy. Two of my favorite words, right up there with "ice cream".
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/04/2002
02 October 2002
I actually got to see a meaningful Yankee game last night! Well, most of it anyway. There's little to say about it that hasn't already been said, but hey, this is my website. So there.
Roger Clemens, despite his copious Cy Young Awards, has not had similar success in the postseason, sometimes for lack of run support, sometimes for lack of run prevention. Last night exemplified the latter. He still throws damn hard, as Darin Erstad could testify, since he whiffed on some 95mph gas with the chance to tie the game in the 4th or 5th. But his control is not what it used to be, at least this year, and so he left a few pitches up, one of them to Garret Anderson, which essentially ended Clemens' night. Like David Pinto, I can't understand why Rocket was trying to blow high heat past Anderson, who walks about once every 24,687 At-Bats, it seems. Garret has hit only 8 for 39 (.205) against Clemens in their careers, with 13 K's, no walks, 1 RBI and one extra base hit, so maybe Clemens was just trying to overpower him, but with someone like that, who can hit it when he puts it in play, you're better off throwing sliders and/or splitters in the dirt, I think.
I usually get annoyed when someone touts players like Craig Counsell, or David Eckstein as great players because they "do the little things", like "moving runners over", "taking the extra base" or my favorite, "being a great clubhouse guy". The problem with this, in my opinion, is that they have to do the "little things" because they're not much good at the big things like "hitting". That having been said, I saw something I've never seen before, except in a movie: David Eckstein hitting against Clemens in the 5th, with Adam Kennedy on first and one out. Kennedy was doing his best to pester Clemens into paying attention to him instead of Eckstein, and it seemed to work, as Clemens threw over to first about 324 times in that inning. Anyway, with Kennedy going, Clemens and Posada tried a pitchout, and Kennedy would have been nailed but Eckstein reached out and slapped the pitchout foul! You may not realize it simply from my statement, but this was truly an accomplishment, as Eckstein is barely three feet tall. OK, three and a half. Maybe this happens more than I think, but I can't remember ever having seen it before. It kept both of them alive, and allowed him to single, continuing the inning in which Clemens' poor pitch selection would eventually allow the Angels to tie the game at 3-3. It was a clear case of doing a little thing to help the team win. Except that they lost, because the Yankees hit four home runs. (One of those "big things" I mentioned earlier.)
Other than the Yanks, it was the Night of the Underdogs, as St. Louis beat the Big Unit and the Arizonas, and the Twinkies beat Oakland, despite a mediocre performance by both Brad Radke and their defense. If Schilling continues his past month's trend, The Cards have a real chance to win that Series, which I would like, because I don't want the yanks to have to face the Dynamic Duo again in the World Series. Also, the Twins will likely have a harder time against Mulder and Zito, as they have struggled against lefties all year and rarely walk, so they're not likely to score many runs, since Mulder and Zito are pretty stingy with hits, too. We're not talking Detroit-Tigers-kinda-"rarely-walks" (I hear that Randall Simon has a motorized chair at home so he won't hafta walk there either.) but the Twins easily have the lowest OBP of any AL playoff team, and are only a hair better than Atlanta among all MLB playoff teams.
The Boy of Summer's Picks:
Yankees out-homer Anaheim, 13 to 4, win series, 3 to 1.
Oakland out walks Minnesota, 22 to 8, wins series 3 to 1.
St. Louis takes advantage of Dynamic Duo's temporary mortality, wins series, 3 to 2.
SanFran keeps Atlanta's pathetically hitting infielders at-bay, wins series 3 to 2.
Yankees keep Balance of the Universe, beat Oakland 4 to 2. Some Athletic forgets to slide/makes error at crucial moment.
'Frisco beats St Louis, whose Magic/Fate/Destiny runs out, 4 to 3. Kent is NLCS MVP despite hitting .238 w/RISP, because SuperMan is on base 23 times when he comes up.
In first ever Yanks - SF Giants World Series, Yankees' bats come up big against 'Frisco's overrated pitching, 4 to 1. Baker continues to start JT Snow at first, despite his not having done anything to justify said decision in three years. Livan Hernandez throws 273 pitches in a complete-game, 18-hitter for the Giants' only win. After the game, Dusty is quoted saying, "We would have run him up to 300, but his right arm fell off in the seventh, and we weren't sure how much more his left arm could take."
Prove me wrong.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/02/2002
01 October 2002
Ex-Lax Go-Go-Go Man of the Year
A while ago, I whined about the Rolaids Relief Man Award, and I won't go into those details again, because you could look it up. However, I will comment on it a little, if you'll suffer me. Maybe sometime soon I'll compile data for the late-inning stolen bases award that I think Ex-Lax should sponsor, but not right now.
Not surprisingly, John Smoltz and Billy Koch won the Rolaids Awards for their respective leagues. Much was made of Koch's winning 11 games in addition to saving 44 games for the AL West leading Oakland Athletics, the most wins ever by a pitcher with 40+ saves. But is this really an accomplishment? I mean, isn't the fact that the closer won 11 games more an indication of the fact that the bullpen and some of the starters couldn't last and/or hold a lead long enough to get it to Koch? Or that the hitters didn't hit enough earlier in games to give a lead to Koch in the ninth? Or that Koch himself blew leads (that should have been saves) but then held on for the win, which he did 5 times this year? We need to start distinguishing between an accomplishment and a coincidence.
Also, as far as Smoltzy is concerned, even more was made of his 55 saves, which set a new NL record. Big deal. His 3.25 ERA qualifies him for the... (are you ready?) ...42nd best ERA in the NL, (min 40 relief IP). Woo-hoo! Heck, he only had the 6th best ERA on his own team! I know, I know. "But most of those runs came in two or three bad appearances!" So what? They still happened. Am I supposed to praise a guy who, over the course of the year, prevented runs about as well as Giovanni Cararra because he "only" got his ass handed to him a few times? I think not.
And how ridiculous is the talk that he should be considered for the NL Cy Young Award? Smoltz gave up four home runs this year. Not too bad. The last reliever to win the CYA was Dennis Eckersly, who did it in 1992. But The Eck's more impressive performance came in 1990, when he gave up 5 RUNS all year. He walked four batters in over 73 innings. Four, or in today's terms: twenty fewer than Smoltz did this year, or half as many as Smoltz walked in May alone. That was an accomplishment. This is mostly another coincidence.
John Smoltz taking credit for getting 55 saves is like a rooster taking credit for 55 sunrises. Well, almost.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/01/2002
It occurred to me, upon further review, that I had not actually followed my own advice and looked into the 1898-99 Brooklyn Bridegrooms, as any good analyst should have. Shame on me. So I looked them up, and found some remarkable things. I imagined that there must have been some extenuating circumstances surrounding such a jump in the standings and I was not disappointed.
So, as long as we're on the subject, Jayson, let's not forget that the 1898 Brooklyn team went from 54-91, 46 games out of first place, to 101-47, 8 games up in first place just one year later. Brooklyn went from awful to great, whereas Anaheim simply went from mediocre to good. Significantly less impressive. That same year, the St Louis Perfectos went from 39-111, dead last and 63.5 games out of first, to 84-67, 18.5 games out, but a 46 game jump in games back from the previous season. You may be asking yourself, "How?" (OK, so just pretend you were.) How did two teams make such drastic jumps in one year?
Easy: They cheated. Well, technically it wasn't cheating because there were no League bylaws saying that you couldn't do it, but it certainly wans't fair. The owner of the Brooklyn club purchased the Baltimore Orioles, switched all of its good players with the lousy ones on the Orioles, and improved their record by 47 wins, almost doubling the previous year's total. The St Louis Perfectos did the same thing: purchased the Cleveland Spiders, made the necessary switches, and turned that team right around. Of course, they also turned the Spiders around, sending them reeling to a 20-134 record, the worst team in the history of the NL. The Spiders finished 84 games out of first place, and 35 games out of ELEVENTH place! Shortly thereafter, the rules were implemented that prevented an owner from buying stock in another team in the same league. You can read all about this in Rob Neyer's and Eddie Epstein's book, Baseball Dynasties. It is an excellent book, which, in addition to discussing the greatest teams of all time, also spends a chapter on the worst teams ever, and the Spiders run away with that title.
If there is to be any comparison at all, Anaheim's accomplishment is actually greater than those of the Brooklyn Bridegrooms/ Superbas or the St. Louis Browns/ Perfectos, because the Angels turned themselves around with largely the same personnel. Almost everybody simply got better, all at once. Should Mike Scioscia win the AL manager of the Year Award? Well, despite my hesitancy about rewarding a guy who employs a hitting coach once quoted saying that he didn't want Troy Glaus to walk a lot, yes, he probably should. But let's give him credit for turning his own team around, not for somehow miraculously causing the Seattle Mariners to lose 23 more games than they did last year. And lets not diminish Anaheim's accomplishment by comparing them to a team that got turned around by plundering the roster of another team, as the rampant corruption of the owners of the end of the 19th century totally skews any comparisons one might like to make.
We've got our own rampant corruption to worry about.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/01/2002
30 September 2002
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.
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