27 November 2002

Stark Reality*

*Aaron, IOU $1,000,000. Put it on my tab.

In his most recent ESPN column, Jayson Stark discussed the possible merits of sending Mike Hampton from the Rockies to the Braves, and boldly predicted, "He can't be any worse in Atlanta than he was this year," which is like predicting that James Coburn will make fewer movies in 2003 than he did last year.

Stark mentions several factors that may help Hampton, including the effect of his home park: The Ted, instead of The Rock.

Just this past year alone, 54 percent more runs were scored at Coors (991) than at Turner (642). So if Hampton's ERA merely makes that mathematical drop, according to scale, he'd go from 6.15 to 3.98.

Stark's problem is not that he fails to recognize the significance of things like park factors, it's that he fails to appropriately comprehend and use them. What he says is true, but misleading. Yes, there were 54% fewer runs scored at Turner Field than at Coors Field, but this does not account for the facts that the Braves offense, outside of the Brothers Jones, was abysmal, and the Rockies was actually somewhat decent. Or that the Braves pitching staff was excellent and that the Rockies pitchers sucked rocks. And the assumption that Hampton's ERA will drop by the same amount doesn't account for the fact that he'll still have to make something like 15-17 starts in parks other than Atlanta's.

To compensate for these sorts of issues, people like Baseball Prospectus develop things called Park Factors that account for all of the variations and attempt to isolate the average effect that a particular park has on offense in a particular year, or in a 3- or 5-year span. As best as I can tell, The Ted had a park factor of 986 last year, and Coors Field had a factor of 1125 (1000 = no effect). So then, if you assume that Hampton's Home ERA (5.68) will exactly follow this trajectory, you only get a difference of


Well Jayson, that's not too bad. You were only off by A WHOLE RUN!

And this doesn't even address what he did on the road last year (6.44 ERA). Even if his road ERA comes back to around league average after he works out some bad mechanical habits, that still leaves him with a net ERA ~4.75. Doesn't sound like $6,000,000 worth of pitcher to me, but I guess it's better than $12,000,000.

A few weeks ago, after the NL Cy Young Award was announced, Stark wrote this column about Curt Schilling, and his supposed slights in the CYA voting in recent years. The original headline (for which, I realize, Stark is not responsible) said something about Schilling's chances for the Hall of Fame being hurt by his lack of Cy Young support in the last few years. My immediate reaction was, "No, Schilling's HoF chances are being hurt by his lack of being consistently great over the course of his career." To Stark's credit, I discovered when I read the article that he had no intention of implying that Schilling should be considered for Cooperstown, not without at least three more years like the ones he's had for the Diamondbacks in 2001 and 2002, which is unlikely. What he did say was,

"Before Schilling came along, how many pitchers do you think had ever had seasons in which they won 20 games, finished at least 16 games over .500 and piled up more than 290 strikeouts -- without getting a Cy Young out of the deal? Uh, how about zero -- at least not since 1956, when the Cy Young came into existence."

This simply isn't true. A search for pitchers who won more than 19 games, with a winning% over .800 (I had to pick a number, as Aaron Haspel doesn't have a "Games over .500" criterion yet.) and more than 290 strikeouts reveals that in fact Randy Johnson did exactly that, going 20-4, with 292 K's in 1997, and lost the Cy to Roger Clemens, who led the league in everything that year.

Schilling is only the fourth National League right-hander in the last 60 years to win 22 games or more in two straight seasons. You've heard of the others -- Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal and Robin Roberts.

Well, yes, this statement is true, but it has some inherent flaws. First of all, wins have a lot more to do with run support, bullpen help and opportunity than they do with great pitching. A quick search for 22+ game winners since 1942 at Godofthemachine.com reveals that such immortals as Clyde Wright and Bob Porterfield have won 22 games in a season at one time. Not such a stringent criterion, is it? Secondly, Stark's decision to narrow it down to only the Senior Circuit makes the feat seem something more than it is. If he had included the AL in his survey, you could add Mike Cuellar, Catfish Hunter, Bob Lemon, Mickey Lolich, Denny McClain, Jim Palmer, Wilbur Wood('71-'73) and Hal Newhouser ('44-'46). Still sounds like a pretty exclusive list, just not as snooty as it once may have been, given that the club membership has just tripled.

Despite his reputation as a workhorse, Schilling has had trouble staying helathy over the course of his career, and of course he has had some tough luck, like his 1998 season in which he led the NL with 300 strikeouts, 268.7 innings, and didn't even rank in the top 7 in Cy Young voting, due to his 15-14 record on an abysmal Phillies team. But mostly Schilling's career has been hurt (if you can call making $10 million/year "hurt") by his lack of health. Despite pitching in the majors since 1988, Schilling only has about 2400 IP, and 155 wins, about 10 or 11 full years' worth. And that lack of pitching time has hurt his Cooperstown chances mors than any bad luck has. On the other hand though, if he hadn't had some of those injuries, he might not have learned some of the physical and mental disciplines that have made him the great pitcher he has been for these last few years. And we'll never know anyway.

Finally, one last nit-pick on poor Jayson: In his article about the Giants hiring of Felipe Alou, he makes this statement:

Not with Barry Bonds on the premises. Not when you're talking about a team so loaded with veteran players that all the Giants' rookie position players combined got fewer at-bats this season than Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Not when your talking about a team whose key players come from hometowns as diverse as Villa Clara, Cuba and Los Altos Hills, Calif. [bold added]

Now, I know that this is "just" grammar, but to make the mistake of writing "your" when he should be writing "you're", especially when he just got it right in the previous sentence, is really annoying, at least for me. Nobody who's being well-paid to write for an organization as huge as ESPN should be making such a mistake, and if he does, his editor ought to catch it.

OK, that's enough Stark Reality for now. Happy Thanksgiving!

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26 November 2002

Simon Says Swing at Everything

I once heard someone, I believe a politician from Ohio, saying that he loved watching Jim Thome hit (a sentiment that the Boy of Summer echoes), and that one measurement of his greatness is the fact that he puts the ball in play less often than anyone else in the majors. It made sense to me, given Thome's swing-from-the-heels, grip-and-rip style, but I decided to check on this. Surely enough, Thome only put 253 balls in play in 613 plate appearances, for a 41.2% In-Play%, which led the AL, (I think that Adam Dunn and/or Mark Bellhorn might have him in the NL). But here's the interesting part: Near the opposite end of the scale is Randall Simon, putting the horsehide in play at a 65.8% clip. Two 1B/DH types, totally different approaches at the plate.

A friend wrote to me today to alert me to Simon's trade yesterday, sadly, to his favorite team, the Pirates. My friend, whom we'll call "Tim", wrote:

I'm not sure if you've heard, but the Pirates traded for Randall Simon yesterday, giving up a bunch of minor leaguers. Littlefield hasn't done a bad job, but he's starting to concern me, especially when he makes a comment like the following:

"It's hard to give up good young players when we have a lack of AAA and AA prospects, but as head of baseball operations, I have to make sure we address our needs at the major-league level," Littlefield said.

Excuse me, but isn't the Oakland A's [franchise] successful because they have a great minor league system that can replace guys who leave for FA when they get too expensive?

Yes, of course, Tim, you should be concerned. The Pirates do have a dearth of quality players, at both the major league and minor league levels, but what else is new? Given the fact that they're not really in danger of winning anything anytime soon, they ought to be focusing on developing prospects instead of trading them away for so-so players who are soon eligible for arbitration. Randall Simon only managed to muster 8 (eight!) unintentional walks in 506 plate appearances last year, which means that he purposely walked only 1.5% of the time! Or, to put this in perspective, you were more likely to see Joe Randa go yard than you were to see Simon go to first without hitting the ball or being put there intentionally.

OK, so what have we established?

1) Jim Thome doesn't appear to like running to first base.
2) Stephen Hawking walks more often than Randall Simon.

But is this really a problem? Well, of course it is, but how much of a problem? Simon swings at everything, but incredibly, he hardly ever misses! His 30 K's last year made him the toughest guy to KO in the AL last year. He's only 27, which means he's not likely to get much better, but he shouldn't start any kind of serious decline until 31 or 32, you'd hope, so you can pencil him in for a ~.295/20HR/85RBI season for each of the next few years. In other words, he'll be one of the worst hitting firstbasemen in the NL, now that Rico Brogna's retired. That is, unless David Littlefield suddenly becomes David Copperfield and magically teaches Simon to walk ~50-70 times/year. The Pirates already have Kevin Young under contract to play 1B, who's admittedly an even worse hitter than Randall Simon, but Simon is not enough of an improvement to justify a $7-8 mil/yr platoon. The combination of these two may hit .300/.350/.500, given their respective strengths, but that will still only bring their status up to "mediocre" and they'll have burned a roster spot. They ought to just bide their time with Young for another year, and spend the extra funds scouting minor league free agents who might put up similar numbers.

The Pirates traded Adrian Burnside, 25, who was 6-9 with a 4.55 ERA at Double-A Altoona last season, which means that he is not a prospect in any real sense of the word. As long as the two PTBNLs they send are of similar ilk, it's not a terrible trade, unless the Pirates go and sign Simon to a multi-year contract for more than, say, a million per. But now that Simon's got the ".300 hitter" label, that will never happen.

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25 November 2002

Things To Do In Philly If You're Stupid

On 23 October 1999, Norm McDonald hosted Saturday Night Live, which is not such a tremendous accomplishment when taken out of context, as hundreds of people have done the same over the years. What made it of particular interest is perhaps best explained by Norm himself, with his monologue:

"When the people here asked me to do the show, I've got to say, I felt kind of weird. I don't know if you remember this, but I used to actually be on this show. I used to do the "Weekend Update" news routine, you remember that? That's where I did the make-believe news jokes. That was me, you know? So then, a year and a half ago, I had sort of a disagreement with the management at NBC. I wanted to keep my job. Right? And they felt the exact opposite. They fired me because they said that I wasn't funny. Now, with most jobs, I could have had a hell of a lawsuit on my hands for that, but see, this is a comedy show. So, they got me. But, now, this is the weird part, it's only a year and a half later, and now, they ask me to host the show. So I wondered, how did I go from being not funny enough to be even allowed in the building, to being so funny that I'm now hosting the show? How did I suddenly get so goddamn funny?! It was inexplicable to me, because, let's face it, a year and a half is not enough time for a dude to learn how to be funny! Then it occurred to me, I haven't gotten funnier, the show has gotten really bad! So, yeah, I'm funny compared to, you know, what you'll see later.

Okay, so let's recap.
The bad news is: I'm still not funny.
The good news is: The show blows!"

Now, obviously, this is all tongue-in-cheek.

The real reason for his firing is not that Norm was ever not-funny, and the show didn't particularly blow any more than it ever did, especially when you have the Joe Piscopo Era for comparison. The real reason is that they wanted him off the show because of his constantly swearing on live TV and the fact that they thought he couldn't do anything well other than read the fake news. But, when given a chance to blossom on another show, suddenly Norm's phone is ringing off the hook.

Similarly (you were wondering where this was going, weren't you?) there are people like Tuffy Rhodes, Alex Cabrera and Roberto Petagine, who go from being so "not-funny" (in baseball terms, "not-hitty") that they're not even offered a job in MLB, to being so funny (read: kicking ass in Japanese, Mexican, Korean, Timbuktu League) that they're suddenly wanted back on the show, or, more accurately, back in The Show. Peter Gammons reports that Petagine suddenly has a whole boatload of suitors for a major league firstbaseman's job, after coming close to leading Japan's Central League in a bunch of offensive categories. Obviously, these guys weren't ever all that bad, and the quality of the Japanese Leagues is not so far below that of MLB, and nobody "learns" to hit in two years. These guys just needed a shot.

Which means that there are probably dozens of guys out there somewhere who can and would hit just like David Bell, for less than a tenth of what Bell will reap over the next four years. If there's anything to be learned in this era of free agency and high-priced mediocrity, it's "Don't sign a 30-something mediocrity coming off a career year to a long-term contract." But the Phillies can't be bothered with things like "research" and "fiscal responsibility". They want to be able to point to David Bell, or Heathcliff Slocumb, or Gregg Jeffries, or Danny Tartabull, or Mike Jackson, and say to the City of Brotherly Boo, "See? We tried! We signed a free-agent, and look where it got us! Why should we bother? It's the Market's fault!" Without acknowledging that they help to skew the market by paying for mediocrities like David Bell.

I want to like the Phillies. I do. Really. But then they go and sign David Bell for four years at ~$17 million, and I am instantly reminded of why I have such a hard time rooting for them, at least consistently. John Perricone, over at OBM, has compared Bell to Edgardo Alfonzo, another free-agent 3B looking for a job, and has shown how remarkably similar their counting stats and such were. I would submit (and I think John would agree) that Fonzie was actually the better player last year, when he was healthy.

John is upset that Bell spurned SanFran for Philly, and particularly that Larry Bowa is attributed as the main reason that Bell split, which is like your wife telling you that she's leaving you for Jake LaMotta. However, this potentially opens up the Giants to go get Alfonzo, or any of the other half-dozen third basemen on the market right now who are better than Bell. David Pinto correctly points out that Bell had the third most WinShares on the Giants last year, and accurately predicts that Felipe Alou will have his hands full trying tor eplace the production of Bell and Jeff Kent, but fails to mention that there was a STEEP drop-off after SuperMan and BatMan. According to Baseball Prospectus, Bell was only about the 15th or 20th best 3B in the majors last year, by EQa, depending on how many plate appearances you want to use as a qualifier. The Phils are not "breaking the bank" by today's standards, but $4.25 mil/year is a lot for essentially a league-average 3B. It's also a lot because it might not have cost much more to get Alfonzo, given his injuries last year, and they already have Placido Polanco, who should never play daily on a good team, but who is a serviceable backup and could play a few weeks if The Fonz goes down again. Too late now.

The so-called experts and insiders who are comparing Bell to Scott Rolen and lamentig the dropoff in expected production are totally right. And completely missing the point. Rolen is moot. He wasn't an option, so the comparison is worthless. The real comparison should be between Bell and Alfonzo, or Robin Ventura, or Phil Nevin, or Mark Loretta, or Todd Zeile. None of these guys is perfect, or they'd already be signed, but a lot of them will hit better than Bell over the next four years. Or at least until Chase Utley is ready.

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22 November 2002

Rainy Joe Morgan Chat Day Woman #12 & 35(sorry Mike)

Every once in a while, an idea comes along that is so brilliant in its simplicity, a creation so ingenious in its blatancy, that you kick yourself for not having thought of it first yourself.
The Bag-Clip.

Air Bags.

Edible Underwear.

OK, so the jury's still out on airbags.

My ranting colleague, Mike Carminati, had one such idea: Joe Morgan Chat Day. Throughout the baseball season, every week, ESPN hosts an Internet chat session with the Best Secondbaseman In History (apologies to Rogers Hornsby, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Alomar), which is a great honor for anyone whose question gets answered by Joe. However, he also happens also to be, arguably, the Worst Baseball Analyst In History, which means that....

A) Rarely do you even get the question you asked answered appropriately, if at all. This is a sign of both politicians and idiots. I'll let you make the call. Example:

Clint (Danbury, CT): You were one of baseballs best alltime hitters. What young pitcher today do you think that you would have the most problems hitting against?

: Probably, being left-handed, Randy Johnson. Other than him I can't think of anyone who could be that difficult…

What other baseball commentator can be asked to name a "young pitcher," respond with [39-year old] "Randy Johnson," and be allowed to keep his job? Of course, Joe's pushing 60 himself, so maybe The Old Unit seems young to him.


2) When he does answer your question, more often than not, he's wrong. Especially about statistics. Example:

Denis (Dover, NH): How valuable is a great base stealer to a ballclub? Statistically, a player needs to be around 70% successful not to hurt his club, but what about the effects on the opposing pitcher? …

: Stats can't be used to measure the effect of a base stealer because he changes the defense and the pitching patterns. A great base stealer should steal 80 percent or more, I think. Seventy percent is a good number, but that's not how you measure his effect. You measure the intangibles of what he brings to an offense.

Ahh, the old "measurement of the intangibles". My favorite. Right up there with the old "definition of 'God', including two examples".

Mike's happening upon the idea of a weekly proof that Joe Morgan is something less than Albert Einstein, or at least Eddie Epstein, is, as they say in France, a great blessing. Because Joe really proves this himself every week in these chat sessions, and Mike's job is simply to point the instances out. It's a sportswriter's (or a blogger's) dream! If Mike were, say, Rush Limbaugh, it would be like Al Gore going on the radio or TV every week, addressing the Nation, and making an ass out of himself by recounting conversations with people he's never met and memories of places he's never been! What? Oh, he did that? Well, there you go!

And I must kick myself because now the man who provides fodder for baseball bloggers' troughs as though he somewhere has a storage silo labeled "Stupid Things To Say On Internet Today", the man who sometimes says things so asinine that you have to ask yourself whether Morgan and Carminati have some sorta scam going to keep Mike's Baseball Rants in business, the man who, in spite of decades worth of research and evidence to the contrary, still thinks that wins/losses, and Runs/RBI are THE definitive statistics for measuring baseball players, this man of such staunch, ridiculous and unsupportable convictions, is taken. He is off the market. Sure, I can make fun of him sometimes. I can call him funny names and draw attentiontion to dumb things he says and writes (Stupid Morgan Tricks, anyone?), but by and large, I cannot make a regular practice out of this without being labeled a copycat, a fake or a RedSox Fan.

So I must find other material, an original source for my musings, preferably one who makes sufficiently egregious errors that I will have a somewhat steady flow of quotes to pick apart. Thankfully, there are enough bad sportswriters out there that you could probably wrap all of your Christmas (Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Whatever) gifts in a week's worth of their columns and have enough left over to line the hampster cage. I, however, have chosen someone whom I actually think a rather decent writer: Jayson Stark. Mr. Stark writes a column for ESPN and acts as an anchor on Baseball Tonight sometimes. If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know that I've taken issue with things Stark has written in the past. And if you haven't been reading, well, a pox on you! But now I will try to make a more or less regular occurrence of such writings, if only to establish some semblance of consistency in your feeble, aimless, woebegone life. And also so I won't have to peruse every stinkin' baseball writer's columns to find something to gripe about every week.

As I mentioned, I actually think that Stark is a decent baseball writer, so my posts likely will not be as harsh as Mike's often are, but Jayson does have some shortcomings. One of these is his use of statistics, not that he doesn't take seriously the work done by Bill James, Rob Neyer, Baseball Prospectus and the like. His use of stats ranges from inaccuracy to blowing certain, nitpicky coincidences completely out of proportion. In addition, Stark, just like everyone else from Philadelphia, shows a Philadelphia bias, which sometimes gets him into journalistic trouble. Or at least it will by the time I'm through with him, since I don't really like Philly, especially its fans, players and writers, with a few exceptions. His Philly bias is not a terrible vice, though, as everyone has some bias, and hey, at least he's not Bill Conlin.

I doubt that I will ever have the kind of material from Jayson that Mike gets from Joe Morgan, but like dentists with any kind of integrity, Mike and I will both labor on in the hopes that someday, somehow, our efforts will eventually lead the people who keep us in business to stop doing the things that keep us in business,and that we will be forced to find someone else on whom to pick. (Get it? "Pick"? Dentists? Oh, never mind.) So, I will begin (next week) by reviewing some of Stark's recent work, and commenting on its shortcomings as well as lauding its accomplishments. And then I will make attempts to do the same at least once a week with his columns. And we'll just see how it goes.

Now I hafta be able to come up with clever names for the posts...Any ideas?

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19 November 2002


I have had, on occasions throughout my life, Brushes With Greatness (both real and imagined), or at least acknowledgement, a few times.

- When I was about eight or ten, I went to Yankee Stadium for the first time with the Lodi Boys&Girls Club. We sat in the bleachers, got sunburn, and watched the Toronto Blue Jays beat my favorite team. When I got back, I told my mom how I had seen Ron Guidry, my favorite pitcher, warming up in the bullpen, how he had acknowledged me and even shook my hand! My mom was so proud! I must now admit, for the first time in public, that this story was a total fabrication. Well, not the part about going to the Stadium, or the Yankees losing to the Blow Jays. But all that stuff about Louisiana Lightning was total bull, made up just for the attention. (Mom, if you're reading, I'm sorry.) Actually, I did that sorta fishing-for-attention thing a lot when I was younger, but it's been a lot better lately. Ever since that pep-talk Marlon Brando gave me, after I provided him with some acting tips during the filming of On the Waterfront, I haven't felt that I had to do that as much. Neat guy, that Marlon.

- When I was about 15, I met Lou Piniella in Nordstrom, at the Garden State Plaza. Honest. My mom was even there this time. I got his autograph. Really!

- When I was about 12, I saw Mark Collins, then a cornerback for the NY Giants, in a McDonald's in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. Had no idea who he was, just knew he was someone famous and it wouldn't hurt to get his autograph. (Does McDonald's really need a restaurant locator on its website?)

- As a senior in high school, I was featured twice in 1993 in articles in the Bergen Record, a paper I delivered for three years as a child, and the paper for whom Bob Klapisch writes, when he's not writing for ESPN. (Alas, Bob and I have never met.) I was Scholar of the Week on 23 February 1993 and I was the most prominently featured of several students in an article on college financial aid (read:smart, poor kids) that appeared on 30 June 1993.

- In college, I got a letter to the editor of the Brown & White, Lehigh's student newspaper, published in reposnse to a column written about school prayer. The writer of the column called me about it and we have since become friends. We even played poker at my house last night. Then, a few weeks later, my picture appeared in the Brown & White. Actually, a member of the Harlem Globetrotters dunking a basketball at Stabler Arena appeared, but I was in the audience right behind him, with two friends.

- On 11 September 1999, I was featured on ESPN's SportsCenter. OK, not really. But I was in the left field stands at Yankee Stadium, right where Nomaaah's second homer landed, during a BoSawx blowout . The ball ricocheted off my right hand (the one day I forget my glove...), spraining my index finger, and hit some lady five rows back in the neck before some fat guy with no shirt finally came out of the scrum with it. But if you slow the tape of the highlight down, you can just make me out.
Not catching the ball.

- In this past year alone, I have received emails from such sages as ESPN's Rob Neyer and The Sporting News' Ken Rosenthal, who was thisclose to publishing one of my questions in his mailbag section in TSN. I think he changed his mind when he realized that my name wasn't really Cleveland Millhous Fitzgerald, the nickname I was using on my Hotmail account for a while.

- In September, I got a Letter To the Editor of Sports Illustrated published, as I discussed a while back, but cannot crosslink you to it because Blogger's got PMS or something right now, and she ate all my archives. Sorry. But it's in this issue:

- But now I have really arrived. I received a reply email from Clay Davenport. That's right, the Clay Davenport, of Baseball Prospectus and the Davenport Translations, which do a better job of evaluating players' performances, abilities, and potential than any other I know. Just ask the other nine guys in my Yahoo! Fantasy League, who got their butts kicked over the course of the last year.

I thought it was cool when I met a physics prof at Lehigh who had written a textbook, but this is much cooler. I had written to Prospectus to ask about their fielding stats, as these are excellently done and easy to use, if not to understand exactly how they come up with them, but you cannot find players ranked by such information anywhere on their website. You can do player searches, by name, for lots of players, including those who aren't even active, and their fielding stats are available there, but again, no rankings. I didn't really expect a reply at all, much less one from The-Man-His-Self.

Clay's (we're on a first-name basis now...) reply said, essentially, that these are coming, but that the guys are all working hard to get next year's Prospectus done ASAP, and so I hafta wait. But it was worth it. Hey, I'd never met a man who had a Translation named after him before.

Now if I can just get King James to return my calls...

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18 November 2002

Keeping Up With the Perricones, Carminatis, Gleemans, Pintos...

It looks like my priorities have been all out of whack for the last several days: Spending time with my wife and good friends, going to church, buying groceries...instead of doing what's really important: Writing yet another slant on the current baseball news. Frankly, I haven't had much to say about a lot of the stuff that's happened. But some of it's worth discussing.

The Headaches for Headaches Trade I discussed last week turned out to be a Headaches for Headache and money for Tim Spooneybarger (a headache to write, in itself!) and a PTBNL . Nothing's really changed from what I wrote, except that Atlanta may be a more attractive option for Hampton than Florida, what with their eleven consecutive division titles and all, and the Bravos won't hafta pay but about $35 million of the $80+ mil owed to His Gopherball-ness. Not a bad deal. If he doesn't keep sucking. Mike Carminati does a good job of hashing out all the creative accounting involved in the deal.

El Dusto was named as the Cubbies' new field manager, to nobody's surprise except maybe Osama Bin Laden, who has evidently been under a pile of rocks until very recently. Serves him right. Many are not sure Dusty has what it takes to take a young, talented team that needs a chance to develop and make it a contender, but then he's never really tried, so we can't knock him just yet. But soon. Don't you worry, soon. Christian over at the Cub Reporter has some good analysis of Dusty's future.

Bob Melvin was named the new manager of the Seattle Mariners, who seem to do a better job of not leaking these types of decisions too soon than the Cubs do. All I know about Bob Melvin is that

A) He has three first names. This is not such a terrible thing as you might think. Heck, so do I!

2) He spent the last few years as the bench coach for possibly the worst tactical manager to win a World Series in recent memory

iii) He was once a fourth-string catcher for the Yankees, and was needlessly placed on the DL with something called a "strained neck" in order to make room for someone important coming back from a rehab assignment.

This tells me two things, and only two things, about his prospects as a manager of the Mariners:

He probably knows less about in-game strategery than Bob Brenly, which is bad. And he may know some good roster-shuffling tricks. Hopefully this is not his greatest asset.

Felipe Alou was named manager of the SF Giants, also not much of a surprise. This is an interesting choice, too, because like Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou is being asked to do something he's never had to do before: He must take a predominantly veteran team that is already a contender, and make it a champion. He's already 67, which isn't as bad as some would have you think, but since he's from the Dominican Republic, that probably means that he's really about 207, which is not so good. John Perricone has a seriously thorough breakdown of what Alou might do based on (what else?) what he's done in the past. Good stuff.

Cory Lidle was traded to the Blue jays for two prospects no one but their parents have ever heard of. This is a good trade for both teams, potentially. Billy Beane makes his living dumping replaceable, thirtysomething pitchers making $5 million on other teams. The fact that he got two prospects in return is just gravy. Beane must have a stash of league-average innings-munching starters (Gil Heredia, Tom Candiotti, Mike Oquist) in his linen closet. Right between the sage hand towels and the utility infielders with plate discipline. With the three great, young pitchers the A's already have, and the possibility of another one developing in Aaron Harang, the A's didn't need Lidle, not at that price. What surprises me about it is that JP Riccardi, a former pupil of Beane's and now the GM of the Blue Jays, was on the other end of the deal. He should know better.

New Links...

I have added a few new links, one new blog, on the left, and two non-blogs on the right.

The one on the left is Bronx banter, a brandy-spankin' new blog by Alex Belth, a New York native who will keep you up on some of the things going on there. Alex seems to be just learning about how to set up his blog, but the writing is quite good. I suggest (if he ever reads my stuff) that he find a different template before he makes too many modifications to the existing one. Mike Carminati and Misha Berkowitz (whom Alex replaces on my page) both use that one already. Just a suggestion.

It's pretty mean and vindictive, but then, I don't watch Todd Hundley play every day, and I'm not exacxtly Mr. Nice Writer myself all the time, so who am I to preach? Hundley has hit near or below the Mendoza Line four of the last five years, so maybe it's past-time for the Cubs to cut their losses. The fake interview part is pretty funny.

The other is for a book I have not read, but hey, if Rob neyer says it's good, then it's good. besides, the site itself has lots of stuff worth reading. Go check out

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14 November 2002

ESPN.com is reporting the following headline:

On the table: Hampton, Johnson in six-player deal

Unfortunately, the headline doesn't tell you who the teams are; you have to read the article for that. Since there has been talk of the Yankees trading for Mike Hampton, my first thought was "Nick Johnson?" and then I nearly soiled myself, as the thought of my favorite team trading away a young, cheap firstbaseman (whom last year's BaseballProspectus said could turn out to be a cross between John Olerud and Barry Bonds) for a 30+ year old pitcher who sucks AND is owed more money than we have in Fort Knox did not sit well with me, to say the least. Thankfully, the story indicated that Charles, not Nick, was the Johnson involved in the deal, and that the Marlins, not the Yankees, were the other team. What a relief. Now I don't have to change my shorts for a few more days!

That being said, the deal would probably be good for almost all parties involved, though it sounds like Hampton won't let it go through anyway.

The Rockies would get:

Charles Johnson - a once-great defensive and pretty good offensive catcher who still has some power, when healthy. Coors Field should only boost his overall stats.
Preston Wilson- Average defensive OF with speed and power, whose main weaknesses (walks & strikeouts) should both be helped by Coors.
Vic Darensbourg and Pablo Ozuna - Replaceable relief pitcher and utility IF, respectively.

The Marlins would get:
Mike Hampton - Once-pretty good pitcher whose change-up and ground ball tendencies and the denser atmosphere of Miami should bring his pitching back to resembling Kenny Rogers in no time (instead of pitching like Fred Rogers, as he has done the last two years) . No wait, the other Kenny Rogers. Which is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Juan Pierre - The only player who stands to really be hurt by the trade. Pierre's fast, VERY fast..but that's about it. He's only average defensively, and doesn't hit well enough to justify a full-time job. Without the Coors effect, it will show a lot more. Anyone looking for evidence that stolen bases don't lead to runs need look no further than Juan Pierre's Career Home/Road splits:

Home 703 129 234 54 44 11 50 18 .333 .381 .391
Road 706 95 200 56 41 9 50 17 .283 .330 .351

He has nearly identical plate appearances, steals and caught-stealings (~748, 50 and 18, respectively), but got on base 39 more times at home than on the road in that span and somehow, mysteriously, managed to score 34 more runs. Who'da thunkit? And this year's split was even worse. At home, he was Luis Castillo, without the "patience." On the road he was Rey Ordonez. In bad year. With a broken arm. Swinging a lead bat. OK, tungsten. The only difference is that Pierre could occasionally steal second before the next guy in the lineup killed a rally, and Ordonez pretty much has to stay put unless Trachsel bunts him over. This trade would essentially kill Pierre's career, or at least his career as a starter and a chance at another multimillion dollar contract.

Essentially, the trade would boil down to the two 1993 expansion teams exchanging headaches (unproductive players tied to cumbersome contracts), which could work out for one or both teams. If it doesn't, though, neither team is really much worse off than they were before, so why not do it? Oh, yeah, because Mike Hampton wants to go to a winning team.

"They're pretty much in the same situation we're in," Hampton said. "They've been in a cycle where they've been trading good players and going young. If I am going to be traded, I wanted to go to a team that could win right away."

Yeah, Mike, have you ever heard the old adage,

"Pitchers who have the worst ERA in the National League two years running can't be choosers"?

What right should Mike Hampton have to make a request to go to a contender? This is like a convict refusing to be released on probation unless he's guaranteed a free room at the Hilton. Get a grip, Mike. Not just on your curveball.

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13 November 2002

Nothing To Do With Baseball...but I Can't Help It

I heard on the Imus in the Morning Show on my way to work today that some people got together and did a tribute album for Johnny Cash, one of the great Country/Western singer-songwriters of all time, which is great, you would think. But you'd be wrong. Because I also heard that some bozo named Keb-Mo covered Folsom Prison Blues on the album, but called the producer and refused to sing the lyric:

"But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die."

So producer Marty Stuart, who himself ought to be taken out and shot in Reno*, told Keb Mo that he could change it!

Excuse me?! Change one of the greatest lines in the history of recorded country music?! How exactly is that a "tribute" to the songwriter?

"Hi, Mr. Brown, James Brown? Yes, this is Joe Schmoe. No, the other one. Listen, I'm working on a tribute album for you...well, you're welcome...but I'm not sure I can sing the lyric "I Feel Good." You see, I don't want to offend people who might be kinda depressed. Wait, stop yelling. I was hoping to change it to "I Feel About as Well As Can Be Expected, Given the Circumstances." I haven't figured out how I'm gonna get it to rhyme yet but...Mr. Brown? Mr. Brown? Hello?"

He apparently changed the lyric to:

"They said I shot a man down in Reno, but that was just a lie."

Which RUINS THE ENTIRE DAMN SONG! It doesn't make any sense with that line changed! The song is about a BAD guy, who wants to get on the train he can hear from the prison, but he can't, because he's paying his debt to society. It's NOT about someone who's been framed, because if it was, the contrast supplied by the word 'but' at the beginning of the line in the original song ("...my momma told me, 'Son, / Always be a good boy; don't ever play with guns./ BUT I shot a man...") wouldn't be appropriate. And the line in the next verse (I know I had it comin', I know I can't be free.) wouldn't make any sense! If you listen to Cash explaining his thinking as he wrote the song (available on the Willie Nelson/Johnny Cash VH1 Storytellers album) he says that he was trying to think of the most evil reason someone could have for killing another person. Keb Mo is an idiot.

Can somebody please remind me which of the Constitutional Ammendments tells us that Americans have the Right To Never Be Offended by Anything, Ever, Including Things They Don't Understand Because They're Morons? I must have been sick the day we covered that one in history class.

(*In the ear, with a water pistol...just kinda grazing it...but shot, nonetheless!)

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12 November 2002

This Just In...

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Barry Bonds, on the eve of the announcement of his unanimous selsection as the 2002 NL MVP, his fifth Award, made it clear that he is still not satisfied. He wants to be liked, to have the love of the fans and press, just as Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Joe Montana did in their respective sports.

"I wish I was liked as much as them for the accomplishments I have. I wish I had the same respect as them. People really admire their accomplishments,'' Bonds said from the American All-Star tour of Japan.

Bonds' abrasive personality and flagrant self-centeredness have led many fans and sportswriters to shun him, in spite of his great accomplishments between the foul lines.

"I wish [my media reputation] could be erased,'' he said, "I'm a business-type player. I want to give the fans their money's worth.''

In a related story, pop stars David Bowie and Michael Jackson held a press conference at the Neverland Ranch to state that they also would like their reputations with fans and media to be "erased". While wearing the matching pastel uniforms of deceased Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison, accented by matching polyester feather boas, Jackson and Bowie confirmed that they wish to be thought of as "less bizarre" and/or "less gay."

(File Photos)

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11 November 2002

Say It Ain't So, Eddie...

Speaking (albeit briefly) of
Shoeless Joe, I have wondered for some time about another of the permanently banned Chicago Black Sox players, who seems to me to have surprisingly little acclaim as a pitcher, though (I think) if not for the Black Sox Scandal, he might have made the Hall of Fame: Eddie Cicotte. If you saw the movie Eight Men Out (based on the book of the same title by Eliot Asinof), Cicotte was the ace knuckleballer played by David Strathairn, who happens to be one of my favorite actors.

In the movie, Cicotte is cheated out of a $10,000 bonus he had been promised if he won 30 games that year. He won 29, even though he had missed three weeks in August simply because White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey had Cicotte benched "to save him for the [World] Series." He could easily have won at least one of his four starts during that span, but was not given the chance, because Comiskey was such a cheap bastard. (And to think, just five years ago, Steve Avery was purposely given a sufficient number of starts to kick in a $3.9 million option for the following year with the BoSox, despite having an ERA over 6.00 at the time!)

This slight, I suppose, Cicotte felt was justification for taking part in throwing the Series against the Cincinatti Reds. (Not "Redlegs", the moniker used in the movie. The term "Red" did not develop negative, Communistic connotations and subsequent taboos until later, and the Reds did not use the name Redlegs until McCarthyism was at its height in the early 1950's, I believe.) However he rationalized it to himself, the evidence is there that he took money from gamblers, took part in fixing the Series, and took his own name from the running for Cooperstown (though it didn't exist at the time...the HoF, not the town). His career similarity scores include four members of the Hall: Stan Covelski, Chief Bender, Jack Chesbro and Dazzy Vance. Carl Mays, also with very similar career numbers to Cicotte, might have made it to Baseball Immortality as well, if he hadn't first achieved Baseball Infamy as the Only Man Ever to Kill A Player With A Pitch.

But consider the following, about what was and what might have been for Edward Victor Cicotte:

What Was: Cicotte's 208 career wins place him 88th on the career list, ahead of HoFers Bob Lemon, Rube Marquard and Hal Newhouser.]

What Might Have Been: Cicotte only pitched 14 years, having been expelled from baseball after the 1920 season when he was only 36. If he'd gotten to pitch another four or five years (not uncommon for a knuckleballer), he should easily have had 250-270 wins, putting him in league with Jim Palmer, Bob Feller and Carl Hubbell. The fact that Cicotte's "shine ball" would have been legally grandfathered under the new rules would have only prolonged his career.

What Was: Cicotte's career 2.38 ERA places him 24th on the all-time list, in the same neighborhood as Eddie Plank and Chief Bender, both Hall of famers.

What Might Have Been: Well, with four or five more years of pitching, his ERA likely would have risen a bit, but even if he finished around 2.70 or 2.80, he'd have still been in pretty good HoF company (Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax, Chesbro).

What Was: Cicotte's career .583 winning percentage is better than Cooperstown members Ted Lyons, Jim Bunning, Dons Drysdale and Sutton, Burleigh Grimes, and Eppa Rixey, just to name a few.

What Might Have Been: Eh, probably about the same, maybe a slight drop, but still very good. Over the course of his career, the teams Cicotte played on had a .570 W%, slightly below his own.

What Was: Eddie Cicotte, according to the increasingly useful and wonderful fount of searchable knowledge over at , was one of only SIX 20th century pitchers to win at least 200 games, have an ERA under 2.50, pitch at least 3000 innings, and win over 58% of his decisions. The other five?

Walter "Big Train" Johnson
Christy "Big Six" Matthewson
Charles "Chief" Bender
"Gettysburg" Eddie Plank
Mordecai Peter Centennial "Three-Finger" Brown (my favorite baseball name)

Wow. Or, as they say in France: Holy Schnikies.

What Might Have Been: Do we really need to ask what might have been?! Isn't what actually happened good enough? Look at that list again! Five Hall of Famers. OK, so Bender's kinda marginal, but the rest are all top-notch Cooperstown cronies.

So what's the point of all this? Before people start sending me piles of flaming hatemail with lots of mis-spellings, I am NOT advocating for Eddie Cicotte's enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Obviously, I cannot do so in good conscience, especially after rallying against Pete Rose's candidacy as vehemently as I have. I am simply trying to spread awareness that Charlie Hustle and Shoeless Joe are not the only great players kept out of Cooperstown because of their alleged dealings with gamblers.

On the other hand, hatemail may be better than no mail, so flame away!

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09 November 2002

Rose Wrap-Up

In the continuing saga of the blogger community's Pete Rose discussions, David Levens, of Elephants in Oakland, wrote this piece, published on Only Baseball Matters, which I think does a pretty good job of covering all the bases on the argument. I recall when I read it that I felt that it was an article that someone on either side of the issue could read and feel like their side won, which either means that David is a good writer or that he's an aspiring politician. This, however, certainly does not end the discussion. Mike of Mike's Baseball Rants wrote this short play (read: long post) about the issue, on which he must have spent an inordinate amount of time, so if you haven't read it yet, you might want to. On the other hand, it's about 28 pages long, so don't say I didn't warn you. Personally, I don't think it's Mike's best work, so if you want a better example of how insightful and clever he can be, while slightly more pithy, read his weekly Joe Morgan roasts.

John Dowd, the chief investigator in the Rose case, sent this letter to the NY Times, which shows us that, if nothing else, at least Dowd's opinion on the subject hasn't changed. He mentions in the letter that no one who's been put on the permanently inelligible list has ever been taken off. Therefore, it would be extremely difficult to justify taking someone like Pete Rose off the list, for two more reasons than before: First, Rose's innocence is still very much in question. Opinions are like anuses: everybody's got one, and they're all different. Nobody has really definitively made an argument one way or the other. Second, if you do let Rose off the permanently inelligible list, then what? Then you've got Shoeless Joe Jackson supporters holding nightly candlelight vigils outside the commisioners house, taking out ads in major periodicals, appearing on Letterman and the Today Show, sticking fliers under your windshield wipers at the supermarket, accosting your children and brainwashing them to believe that Western Culture is Evil....oh, wait, that's something else. But anyway, it would suck. It would compromise the whole system.

Tomorrow: The Best Pitcher You've Never Known


John Perricone has correctly pointed out that I was wrong to parrot John Dowd's assertion that nobody on baseball's permanently inelligible list has ever been reinstated. The list of those who have been expelled is quite long in fact, with 27 people other than the Eight Men Out crew, including Steve "Seventh Time's the Charm" Howe, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, George Steinbrenner, and almost anyone who ever owned the Philadelphie Phillies, to name a few. Eight of these have been reinstated, but it is safe to say that no one who has been banned in connection with throwing a game, fixing a game or betting on games this century has ever been reinstated. I hope.

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08 November 2002

So Far, So Good...

Well, the BBWAA has managed not to royally screw up any of the 2002 season awards yet. They've named:

- Tony LaRussa and Mike Sciocia Managers of the Year, in the NL and AL, respectively. You could have guessed this one, given the Cardinals' success in the face of tremendous adversity and the Angels' success in the face of...well, being the Angels. During the Cardinals' NLCS loss to the Giants, LaRussa proved almost unquestionably that if he ever was a genious, he isn't any longer, but the playoffs aren't considered in the evaluation, so he won the Award anyway, his fourth.

- Jason Jennings and Eric Hinske the NL and AL Rookies of the Year, both deservingly so. Jason Jennings managed to win nine games at Coors Field and another seven on the road, toughing it out to a 9-4 record at home despite a 5.65 ERA. If he doesn't get the RoY award, he ought to at least get a Medal of Honor. No, not the one from Congress.

- Barry Zito the AL Cy Young Award winner, after going 23-5, 2.75, becoming the first AL pitcher not named Clemens or Martinez to win it since 1996. He paced in the Junior Circuit in starts and wins, was third in ERA and Strikeouts, and fifth in innings and walks allowed, but he made up for the walks by allowing only a .218 opponent batting average, fourth in the AL. Frankly Pedro Martinez was better in almost every respect when he pitched, but injuries and selfishness prevented him from racking up a fourth CYA. Five extra starts, 30+ inninings pitched and three wins are kinda hard to ignore when you're making this decision. A good choice, if I do say so myself.

And, in a surprising development, the BBWAA "made it anonymous" and picked:

- Randy Johnson as the NL Cy Young winner. This is no real surprise, except that he got all 32 first place votes. I figured at least some idiot would ignore the last three weeks of the season and pick Curt Schilling as #1, but alas, no one did. This is The Big Unit's fifth Cy Young, and fourth in a row, joining him with Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux as the only other member in those respective clubs. This, however, does not begin to describe how dominant El Rando has been over the last decade or so.

With the noted exception of missing most of 1996 with a back injury, RJ has essentially kicked ass at an almost unfathomable pace since 1992.

*He hes been the quintissential workhorse: Pitching 200+ innings and/or among the top 10 in the league in innings pitched every year. He has also led his league in IP and shutouts twice, Starts and Complete Games three times each.

*He has been the quintissential power pitcher: Pacing the Majors in strikeouts every year since 1992, except 1997, when The Rocket beat him by one measley K. Oh, but it took Roger fifty-one more innings to get that one. He led the majors in Strikeouts/9 IP every healthy year since 1992 (10 of 11 years), and he was second in the AL in 1991, with 13 fewer than Clemens, who pitched 70 more innings that year.

*He has piled up the wins, but not as quickly as you might think. Amazingly enough though, this is the first time in Johnson's career that he has ever led a league in wins. At the age of 39, he was by far the oldest first-time Major league leader in wins in the history of baseball.

While searching BaseballReference.com's database to verify this, I found that most of the first-time ML leaders in wins were right around 30 or 31, and that occasionally there was a 33 or 35 year old, but no one older than 36, until Johnson. This is mostly a confluence of circumstances, much like John Smoltz's success as a closer or Keanu Reeves' success as an 'actor': A pitcher who is very good at a somewhat old age, with great run support, while having been surrounded by pitchers on other teams who pitched better and/or got better run support than he did for the first 15 years of his career. I don't usually place too much stock in such things, as it makes it too easy to establish an argument that a player is/is not more wonderful/fantastic/smarter/faster/taller/a better cook than anyone ever has been before. For example, if you go to GodoftheMachine.com (a new link on your right that I meant to add a month ago and forgot about) and search for pitchers who threw less than 200 innings ina season and won more than 19 games, you'd find one: Bob Grim. Most of you are saying, "Who the hell is Bob Grim?" and you're right to question. He's nobody. A flash-in-the-pan who never won as many games or pitched as many innings again as he did in his rookie year, 1954.

The point of all this is: Friends, not only do we have the pleasure of being able to go to the park and see any of at least four different future Hall of Famers, two of whom can make pretty convincing arguments for themselves as the greatest pitchers of all time, but we now have pitchers who can give us that pleasure for longer than we are accustomed to seeing such excellence. Everyone keeps waiting for the other cleat to drop with RJ, and it just never does. He's fourth on the career strikeout list, and could end up in second or third place, depending on how long Roger Clemens hangs on.

It's unlikely that he'll derail the Ryan Express, as he'd hafta strikeout 300 batters/year until the end of the 2009 season. In other words, there's no room for him to slow down, if he wants that record. But he could possibly get to 300 wins, with continued success at pitching and run support, though he'd need almost 20 W's/year for the next four years or more, and I doubt that he'll still be pitching at 45. So let's enjoy him while we can.

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06 November 2002

I took this test the first time, trying to be as diplomatic as possible, and it turned out that the Founding Father I Most Resembled was John J. Perricone. So I took it again, being more honest, and it turns out that I am a total jerk. Who'dathunkit?

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