29 December 2003

Not Standing on Harden Ground

Your hero and mine, Rob Neyer, makes some interesting points with regards to the relative qualities of two candidates vying for the title of “Best Fifth Starter in the Majors.” However, like most of us, Neyer appears be guilty of seeing what he wants to see in the numbers and ignoring what doesn’t agree with the argument he’s trying to construct. Maybe he's been spending too much time hanging out with Jayson Stark.

In an article he wrote last week, he indicated that with the addition of Mark Redman to their staff, the Oakland A’s probably have the best starting five in the majors, and Neyer’s probably right about that. He also indicated that Rich Harden is therefore the Best Fifth Starter in the Majors, which seems to be a more debatable issue. In particular, a few of Neyer’s readers posited Brett Myers as a better option for said title.

Rob’s response:

His (Harden’s) ERA in the majors last season was essentially the same as Myers' and his peripheral numbers are better. Looking at all of Harden's professional innings in 2003 – roughly half of them in Triple-A -- he struck out nine hitters per nine innings, and his control was decent. Myers, meanwhile, struck out seven batters per nine innings. Granted, Myers spent all season in the majors (Harden didn't), but Myers, a National Leaguer, also faced a lot of pitchers (Harden didn't). [italics added]


Let’s look at the pieces of the argument one-at-a-time, shall we, just like the great philosopher, Nuke Laloosh, tells us we should.

1) Similar ERA with better peripherals = better pitcher? Generally this is true, but the quality of the hitters they faced can influence those peripherals significantly. At the major league level, Harden and Myers faces roughly the same quality of batters overall (.744 OPS vs. .735, respectively), but they didn’t only face major leaguers. But I’ll get back to that… Rob's statement also begs the question of which peripherals, exactly, were better? Look at them (Harden's numbers were projected over the same number of at-bats):

          AB    R   H   2B  RBI  BB  SO   SB  CS   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS

Myers 754 99 205 43 88 76 143 16 5 .272 .342 .424 .766
Harden 731 100 189 32 87 105 176 24 5 .259 .349 .363 .712


Was Harden better? Sure, but marginally.

That ~50-point difference is nothing at which to sneeze, but most of the disparity rests in the difference in their hits allowed, which is hard to predict from year to year, and a few more extra-bases given up by Myers. Those numbers could easily flip-flop next year, especially since both pitchers' home ballparks behaved out-of-character last season. (Veterans Stadium, usually a pretty neutral park, was a better pitcher's park than Dodger Stadium in 2003, and Oakland/Network Associates/Grace L. Ferguson Airline & Stormdoor Co. Coliseum, usually a pretty good pitcher's park, was a slight hitters' park in 2003. Nobody knows what the Phillies' new Stadium will do to offense in 2004, and, similarly, no one knows what the Athletics' stadium will be named next year.)

2) Harden had decent control. I’m not sure what Rob uses as the benchmark for “decent” control, but according to my (admittedly limited) analysis, Harden walked 40 batters in less than 75 innings at the major league level in 2003. That walk rate (4.82 per 9 IP) would rank him in the worst ten in the majors if he had pitched enough to qualify for the ERA title. Of course, you can still succeed as a pitcher walking a batter every other inning if you get enough strikeouts (just ask Kerry Wood) or if your teammates score six and a half runs every time you go out there to pitch (just ask Russ Ortiz). But neither of those means you qualify for “decent” control. And of course, Myers’ control was much better (about 3.5 walks per nine innings.)
3) Harden spent about half of his season in AAA, but Myers spent the whole season in the NL, where you have to face pitchers, so it evens out? Rob may not have said this explicitly, but he does seem to imply that we can somehow just glaze over those differences as we analyze them. Personally, I don’t see how you can equate facing roughly 75 pitchers a season (out of almost 850 batters faced) with facing 400 hitters who aren’t even good enough to make it to the majors (out of about 700 to 750 batters). I’m not totally sure how to compensate for this difference, but I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t just call it a wash.

And besides, if you’re looking for the Best #5 Starter in the Majors, he’s probably in the Yankees’ rotation anyway. The Yanks’ 1-3 starters are Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina and Javier Vasquez, with their #4 and #5 slots taken by some combination of …

…David Wells - owner of 200 career wins, career *ERA+ of 110 (i.e. 10% better than average)

…Jon Lieber (LAIM, perhaps, but still capable of posting 200 innings of 10% better than average work when healthy)

…Jose Contreras (purportedly one of the best Cuban pitchers ever, even though he’s probably 32 going on 40)

Seems to me that not only was Rob making a shaky argument, he was making the wrong shaky argument.

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17 December 2003

No Longer the Zer0rioles?

When I was in college, not so long ago, the Orioles didn’t suck.

At least not all the time. I was at Lehigh University from the autumn of 1993 to spring of 1997, and as you probably know if you’re a sufficiently intense baseball fan to be reading this website, the O’s made the playoffs a few times in that span. They were decent overall, finishing 2nd or 3rd every year from 1992 to 1996. They won a Wild Card in 1996, losing to the Yankees (and Jeffrey Maier) in the ALCS, and then they became one of the very few teams ever to lead its division wire-to-wire in 1997, though they lost the ALCS then as well, to the Indians this time.

And they haven’t had a winning season since. That 1997 season preceded an immediate and precipitous drop-off, due largely to the fact that so many of the regulars on that team were on the wrong side of 30 (Jimmy Key, Randy Myers, Scott Kameneicki, Cal Ripken, Harold Baines, Chris Hoiles, B.J. Surhoff, Eric Davis, etc.)

I recall, in the seasons and off-seasons prior to the O’s successful years, arguing about the relative merits of those Orioles and my Yankees with fans of the O’s on Lehigh’s Internet discussion boards, which was fun. For a certain fan, (we’ll call him “Mark Passwaters”) it seemed that no matter what the Orioles did in the off-season, they were going to win, and no matter what the Yankees did, they were going to lose, at least to the Orioles.

I recall one time in particular, in which Mark pointed out that Arthur Rhodes was AL Pitcher of the Month for August, 1994, as an indication that Rhodes was really going to make something of himself (as a starter, at the time). Indeed, Rhodes was undefeated in August that year, pitching two shutouts…in only two games, since the season ended on August 12th that year. This analysis, though accurate, ignored the fact that Rhodes had an ERA of 7.17 in his first eight games pitched that season.

I suppose I was guilty of the same thing though, as I recall being pretty excited about getting Jack “The Finger” McDowell in a trade just before my birthday in 1994. I used the fact that he had gone 2-7 in the first two months of the season with Chicago and 8-2 in the next two and a half months to explain why he would be great for the Yanks. (Alas, he was only good in 1995, but he was the best we had until David Cone came along in a late-season trade.

Anyway, the point of this tiresome, rambling introduction, is that Mark Passwaters (and other semi-delusional Orioles fans) have something about which they can be excited again. The Orioles are picking up big-name free agents like they’re barrels of hard pretzels and boxes of Fun-Dip at BJ’s Wholesale Club. Inappropriately-Voted 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada has signed with Baltimore for six years and $72 million, which is a lot of money, but a lot less than the $189 mil for ten years that Derek Jeter’s getting for comparable (if not lesser) performance.

Rumors Sunday and Monday had the Orioles signing Vladimir Guerrero and either Ivan Rodriguez or Javy Lopez to catch (and presumably hit a little). I looked at the BP Prospectus' offensive WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) numbers for these three players and those they'd replace. I-Rod, who seems a much more probable signee than Javy at this point, would most likely replace most of Brooks Fordyce and Geronimo Gil's at-bats, though I suppose Gil would still be the back-up back-stop. Tejada replaces the dreadful Deivi Cruz. Guerrero does NOT replace Jay Gibbons, his 23 homers and 100 RBI, as ESPN has said. Rather he replaces either Jeff Conine or David Segui and BJ Surhoff. Gibbons is young, cheap, and still a good hitter, so they'll place him at first base or DH, keeping that bat in the lineup, and so Vlad effectively supplants some combination of the other three aging monsters.

Anyway, here's how those WARP numbers shake out. I took the averages of the players for 2001-2003 seasons, combining some where a platoon existed for whatever reason. Here's what I got:


WARP WARP WARP WARP
Vlad 7.8 7.8
Rodriguez 7 Miggy 6.7 Conine 4.1
Brooks/Gil 2 Cruz 1.5 Segui/BJ 2.9
difference +5 diff +5 diff +3.7 +4.9

Holy cow.

This makes it look like the Orioles just bought themselves fifteen additional wins (about five more at each position). That's HUGE. Fifteen more wins still only gives them 86, a tie for third in last year's AL East, but that's an enormous improvement in one year.

Of course, they've still got to have somebody pitch those games, and having traded their best pitcher (albeit a LAIM one) in mid-season last year, there's not much of anybody to pick up the slack. Jason Johnson? Another LAIM guy. Rodrigo Lopez? Nah. Eric Dubose? I don't think so. They're gonna hafta go out and spend some more on the free agent market, and there just isn't enough pitching talent out there to buy to get them ten more wins (than the assumed 85 mentioned above), which is what it will take to even be a contender in the AL East in 2004. They'd probably have to sign both Greg Maddux and Kevin Millwood, plus another LAIM with some upside just to have any kind of shot at 2004. I just don't see it.

But hey, Rome wasn't built in a day, and I'm sure they suffered through some 84-78 disappointing seasons before they built up that big empire.

**By the way, Mark Passwaters, if you should happen across this page, drop me a line. If you're nice to me, I may even give you Dave's email address so you can tell him what an idiot he is.

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16 December 2003

Flashes of Adequacy

Douglas Coupland has “Generation X.” to characterize anyone born between 1968 and 1988, especially if they’re lazy or indifferent.

Pat Riley’s got “Threepeat”, so that now even when the Bulls or Lakers win back3back championships, he makes money.

Somebody came up with LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) to characterize the Dan Plesacs, Buddy Grooms and Jesse Oroscos of the world. Write me if you know whom, so I can give them credit.

And now it’s my chance to coin a term.

A-hem.

The St. Louis Cardinals yesterday announced the signing of LAIM Jeff Suppan for two years and $6 million.

LAIM stands for “League-Average Innings Muncher” and is generally applicable to the likes of Jeff Suppan, Dave Burba, Steve Trachsel, Sidney Ponson, and lots of other pitchers.

Some pitchers, like Suppan, are basically LAIM their entire career, racking up about 200 or more innings without their league adjusted ERA deviating from average by more than 10 or 15% in any given season, and typically ending up within about 5% over the courses of their careers.

Some pitchers, like Aaron Sele, Rick Helling and Charles Nagy, have the benefit of spending the majority of their LAIM career pitching for a good team, and so they win many more games than you might expect for such a LAIM guy. Hence, their LAIMness is disguised somewhat, to the casual observer.

Some pitchers, like Orel Hersheiser, were once great, but due to injuries and/or ineffectiveness, become LAIM and finish out their careers that way. David Wells and Roger Clemens come to mind. (Hey, this isn’t a knock on either of them: If you’re good enough that the “tapering off” stage of your career looks like about 200 innings with an approximately average ERA, you must be pretty talented, right?)

Some pitchers are so bad/inconsistent/often-injured when they start their careers that they aspire to be LAIM and consider it an accomplishment when they plateau for a while, making 32-35 starts and racking up a 4.30-4.70 ERA. (cf. Chris Haney, 1996 and Brian Anderson, 1998)

LAIM pitchers are most certainly not useless ones. You can't jst take them out into the back pasture and shoot them, even with a water pistol. You have to get those ~200 innings pitched anyway, and it’s better to let one Jeff Suppan do it than, say, Brian Meadows, Rob Bell and Joe Beimel, right? I mean, at least you know what you’re getting, it’s better than awful, and you get it just about every time out there: Mediocrity at its finest. You can pencil those guys in to be Decent-if-Unspectacular 30 to 35 times a year, and that’s what you get.

On a good team, only the fourth/fifth starters will be LAIM, while the first two or three rotation slots will be filled with somewhat more studly fare. One measure of a team’s quality, and perhaps more usefully, its understanding of what is needed to win, is how the front office bills the signings of/trades for LAIM pitchers. If they make a lot of fanfare and/or pay more than about $5 million/year to a LAIM pitcher, they clearly don’t get it. If, on the other hand, they use phrases like “shoring up” or “filling out” the rotation, or they talk about “consistency” more than “greatness”, maybe they understand that this LAIM guy is useful, but replaceable, and not worth overspending for.

And, if you’re lucky and he has a decent year or wins more games than you’d expect but your team is out of the race, you can trade him to some unsuspecting contender for prospects. Their GM will think they’re getting a stud for the home stretch when really the guy was just LAIM all along. And you make out like a bandit.

So there you have it: hopefully the newest term to catch on inthe baseball world. Be sure to give proper credit. You heard (or read) it here first. LAIM. League Average Innings-Muncher.

Now go tell your friends.

****************************************************

By the way, if you like historical comparisons, go check out Dan McLaughlin's Baseball Crank, with a look at Bob Gibson vs. Pete Alexander. Should be pretty interesting.

Also, Alex Belth has an interview with Tom Verducci, whom, I hear, has written a little himself. Some sports magazine, I think. Should also be good.




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11 December 2003

Fool's Gold

Andy Pettitte is on the brink of changing the course of history, and he doesn’t even know it.

Rumors out of Houston yesterday, and subsequently all over the country this morning, indicated that the erstwhile Yankees left-hander was on the cusp of signing a contract with the Houston Astros. These rumors are not new, only recently solidified, and unless King George pulls another multi-year, multi-million dollar trick out of his hat (as he did when it appeared that Bernie Williams would soon become – horror of horrors – the Boston Red Sox centerfielder) Pettitte has thrown his last pitch as a Yankee.

This is where history comes in. You see, Pettitte’s not really that good. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of other teams would love to have a pitcher who’s “not that good” like Pettitte, but the fact of the matter is that the guy is a little overrated because

A. He’s left-handed, and

2. He’s a Yankee.

Or at least he was. Yankee Stadium is not as biased to left-handed pitchers as it used-to-was, back when the left-centerfield fence was 461 feet from home plate and Joe D. or The Mick got to everything hit in their general direction, but it’s still comparatively kind to lefty pitchers, not to mention pitchers in general. As Pettitte is not predominantly a fly-ball pitcher, he may not benefit from this advantage as much as someone like Roger Clemens or David Wells would, but it still helps.

The other, and in my mind, more significant factor, is that the Yankees have been all but spectacular during Pettitte’s tenure in Pinstripes. Since 1995, when Pettitte began pitching essentially full-time for the Yankees, they’ve won 79, 92, 96, 114, 98, 87, 95, 103 and 101 games in his seasons. Pettitte’s own 149-78 record gives him a stellar .656 winning percentage (21st all-time), which is even better than the Yankees’ .602 winning percentage in that time. There is not a long list of teams that could reasonably be expected to win 60% of their games over the next decade (only Atlanta and the Yankees have done so over the last one), and Houston certainly isn’t on it. This fact brings Pettitte’s legacy into jeopardy.

Now as I mentioned, Pettitte is quite good, with a very high career winning percentage, owed largely to the fact that the team he’s played for has scored runs for him pretty consistently throughout his career, and won a lot of games in its own right. But his career park-adjusted ERA is only 17% better than average, right between the likes of Al Leiter/Chuck Finley (15%) and Jose Rijo/David Cone (20%).

None of these names are particularly high on the list of expected Cooperstown enshrine-ees, and Pettitte probably wouldn’t be either, if ERA were the only number anybody in the BBWAA examined while they’re pondering their Hall of fame ballots. But the baseball writers like wins. They always have, and they’re probably not going to just abandon that tendency within the next decade and a half. Which means that by the time Pettitte comes up for consideration, the best thing he could have going for him is his wins and his winning percentage. Say what you want about the irrelevance of such statistics in measuring the true worth of a pitcher, and I’ll probably agree with most of it, but in the end, you and I don’t get to decide who is Hall-worthy, the baseball writers do. And they like their wins. Three hundred of them is a sure ticket to Cooperstown, and Pettitte’s chance at such an accomplishment essentially dies with the demise of his career as a Yankee.

Lee Sinins pointed out in his Around The Majors report this morning that Pettitte has the fifth highest difference between his expected (.573) and actual winning percentages, behind Vic Raschi, Johnny Allen, Allie Reynolds and Jack Coombs. You might notice something about those names: three of them spent significant portions of their careers as Yankees too, and won a lot more often in Pinstripes than out. The fourth, Jack Coombs, spent a lot of his career pitching for the very good Philadelphia Athletics and Brooklyn Dodgers of the early part of the last century. Winning teams breed winning pitchers, and ain’t nobody wins like the Yankees wins.

Making a lot of BIG assumptions, finishing his career in Pinstripes might have afforded Andy another 130 to 150 wins, if he remains healthy and reasonably talented for the next ten to twelve years (a big if for anyone). He could average something like 16-11 with a 4.30 ERA for nine or ten years and end up with almost 300 wins at the age of 40. That gives him a good shot at serious consideration for the Hall, though he may need to wait quite a few years to get enough of the vote. The BBWAA is sometimes dense, but not blind to the fact that those win totals have a lot to do with the players around him.

In Houston (no laughingstock of a baseball organization, but one that can hardly hope to be as consistently competitive in today's economic climate as the Yanks will) those numbers might be something more like 13-12 or even 12-15 on average per year, which makes a difference of about 40 wins over the course of his career. Perhaps his career won't be as long either, if he's not winning as much, further reducing the possible win totals at the end of it. There aren't many pitchers with career numbers like 240-200 in the Hall, especially if they don't have some other spectacular numbers, lemme tellya.

Just wait, it gets worse: Houston's ballpark (whatever they're calling it this week) is not kind to pitchers in general, as Baseball Prospectus' 2003 edition labels it a "Severe Hitters' Park", increasing offense by over 5%. That number may drop a little, as 2003 marked the second year in a row that the JuiceBowl did not significantly increase offense for Houston's opponents, but it's still generally regarded as a bad place to be on the mound. So now maybe Pettitte's typical ~4.00 ERA becomes 4.30 or 4.50, and maybe over 5.00 in a bad year. Take those higher ERAs, toss in a few losing seasons (for the team and for Pettitte), a healthy dose of late-inning pinch hitters to lower his innings totals, and a dollop of missing the playoffs (in which Andy's career record is 13-8, and where a good record could have been the tie-breaker for Pettitte's Cooperstown candidacy), and you've got yourself a formula that will appease any critics of Pettitte's Cooperstown credentials: He hasn't any. And Andy's OK with that.

Or at least he won't now. The official word came this morning that Pettitte's definitely signed. Three years, $31 mil, about $8 mil less than the Yankees offered him, but we all knew that Andy never cared much about the money. A reasonable man realizes that there's not a whole lot of difference in the lifestyle you can lead making $13 million a year compared to $10 mil, and that if your relationship with Jesus is priority #1, you can have that anywhere. If your family is priority #1a, then they're limited by existing in our current time-space continuum, and can therefore only be in one place at a time. If that place happens to be close to a different employer who's willing to pay you (slightly fewer) gobs of money to do what you love, then you'd be a fool not to take them up on that offer.

If Pettitte knows God like he says he does, then he realizes that it's about God's glory, not his own, and that a piece of bronze with his mashed-down likeness in a small town in upstate New York is not going to last as long or reward him as much as his family, and his Lord, will. He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. In the end, all George Steinbrenner had to bait him with was fool's gold. And Andy wasn't biting.



Good for you, Andy. We'll miss you. God Bless.


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10 December 2003

Braves New World

Has there ever been an off-season with more big question marks in it?????

Probably. It seems to me that the 1994-95 off-season was pretty up-in-the-air, if for no other reason than the fact that no one was quite sure when/if there would be an on-season.

But given that we all kind of expect most of the more-or-less usual suspects to actually be playing professional baseball at the major league level next year, it seems to me that there is a surprisingly high number of players, especially high-profile players, for or against whom we have no idea where to go to actually root in 2004. Not only are we talking about some of the big-name free agents (Greg Maddux, Rafael Palmiero, Javy Lopez, Vladimir Guererro, Miguel Tejada, Ivan Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, etc.) but some players who are already signed to pretty significant deals (Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, Reigning AL MVP Alex Rodriguez) may not be with their current teams next year either.

And it seems to me that the Atlanta Braves may be the most severely affected by this phenomenon. Rob Neyer rightly points out that they’ve lost two of the five best players in the NL to free agency, and you just can’t make up for that. Not without a whole lotta luck.

Maddux has spent the last eleven seasons with the Atlanta Braves, and they have not failed to make the playoffs in any of those seasons. Maddux pitched at least 200 innings in all but one of them, won at least 15 games in each of them (194 total), won three Cy Young Awards, and more than solidified his stature as a Hall-of-Fame pitcher. But these Braves are not in the habit of overpaying for anything, certainly not a once-great pitcher in the twilight of a HoF career (cf. Glavine, Tom), and so he’s out.

In his stead, the Braves signed journeyman John Thompson, a 30-year old pitcher who’s never had a winning record and whose career ERA approaches 5.00. Heck, last year’s ERA approached 5.00 (4.85). He had had the misfortune of spending only a handful of his career games pitching for a team that plays in a pitchers’ park (nine games in 2002 with the Mets), the bulk of it having been spent in Texas (yuk) and Colorado (yukker). The Braves aren’t paying him much ($7 mil total) or for very long (two years, plus an option), and Leo Mazzone has a knack for taking pitchers who have struggled/underachieved and making them worth their pay (Paul Byrd, Mike Hampton, Mike Remlinger, etc.), so it’s a somewhat fair guess that Thompson could take a step forward in 2004. Or, having just had the best season of his lackluster career, the Braves may have deluded themselves into thinking that the career year was a breakout year, and hafta pay $7 million for two years of continued mediocrity. I suppose that’s about the going rate for mediocre these days, so maybe it’s not a bad deal either way.

In addition, Javy Lopez, who had easily his best offensive year (.328, 43 homers, 109 RBI) at age 33, is also gone, because the Braves know better. They know that it’s not often that a player sets personal bests in hits, runs, doubles, homers, RBI, BA, OBP, SLG, OPS and a bunch of other stats as he enters his mid thirties and then repeats the performance. And it’s not often that such a player would be content to settle for a paycut from the $7 mil he made last year, even though he had been grossly overpaid in 2001 and 2002, making almost $14 million in two years in which he hit at a level roughly 80% of mediocre. So Javy’s gotta hit the pavement too.

Gary Sheffield, no slouch himself with 39 homers, 132 RBI and a .330 batting average, is also looking for a new employer, which he may have found in George Steinbrenner’s Yankees. Steinbrenner, unlike John Schuerholtz in Atlanta, never met an aging, overpaid free agent he didn’t like. However, unlike Atlanta, and pretty much every other team in professional sports, Steinbrenner can afford to make such mistakes. I’m not sure that signing Sheffield to a three-year, $36 to $39 million contract is exactly a mistake, but Sheffield isn’t young, probably just had the best year he’s ever going to have, and is headed to a park that’s not traditionally kind to righty power hitters. Besides this, he’s got a reputation as a troublemaker, and seems to have already begun this process before even having signed with the Yankees, by asking for $3 million more than their alleged handshake agreement originally called for. No wonder the Braves let him go.

Atlanta’s front office has its work cut out for it. It seems like every year we say this, “No, really, this year they’re gonna drop off from contention…No, wait, I mean this year…no wait…” but honestly, this could be it for the Braves’ run of division titles, which is sad. Thirteen seems like plenty though, and it won’t be broken any time soon (the Yankees currently have a 6-year streak for division titles, 9 playoff appearances, plus a quasi-division title in the unfinished 1994 season.)

The Braves won’t just disappear. They’ll be decent, but it’s hard to see them losing all the offense they (surprisingly) got from Lopez and Sheffield, not to mention the relative rotation stability afforded them by Maddux (albeit in an “off” year) and still winning 100 games next season. There just isn’t a catcher out there who can make up for what Lopez did this year, and they can’t afford to get someone like Vladimir Guerrero if they’re attempting to pare $20 mil from the payroll. Add to this the facts that Marcus Giles and/or Rafael Furcal aren’t likely to be quite this good again and that the journeymen stalwarts of the bullpen may be due for a drop-off, and you’ve got a recipe for backsliding, if not disaster.

Should be interesting watching to see what the Braves do to figure out how to beat the pants off the rest of the NL East. I don’t see it happening in 2004, but then I didn’t see it last year either, and it did. Rob’s smarter than I am when it comes to thinking about baseball, and the Braves continue to confound him, too.

I should know better than to guess by now.

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04 December 2003

Vazquez Right-Wing Conspiracy

I am not happy.

My favorite team has just officially announced a trade for one of the ten best pitchers in all of major league baseball, and I'm not happy about it.

It would appear that there is some vast conspiracy, some grandiose plan to rid my favorite team of anyone who might be both successful and cheap at the major league level, thereby neccessitating these continuous, infernal ticket price increases. Sadly, the conspirators in this process happen also to be the ones who actually run the team, so there's nothing I can do about it.

Evidently it was almost too good to be true to think that an up-and-coming young LHP (Brandon Claussen) might have actually earned himself a rotation spot next year, so they dumped him off on Cincinnati. And now, the possibility of having not one, but two or three relatively inexpensive, home-grown players who might not just be good parts of a championship club, but actually stars on it, was just too much to bear. So, out go Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera, and in comes Great Pitcher about to Get Expensive.

Oh, sure, I'm looking forward to watching Javier Vazquez win some games in Yankee pinstripes. The 5-6 runs per game the Yankees could score when he pitches mean that he could win 20 games even without matching the kind of stellar performance he has compiled with the Expos over the last few years. You couldn't do any better to fill a hole in your starting rotation via trade. Well, unless you can get Curt Schilling, but who could pull that off? Besides, with the age difference, I'll take Vazquez long-term any day.

As a Yankee fan, I won't especially miss Juan Rivera, even though he's young, cheap, and could have been the heir to Bernie Williams in CF if the organization ever admits to itself that Bernie doesn't belong out there anymore. Rivera's kind of projected as Juan Gonzalez-lite, which is a pretty good guy to have on your team, as long as he doesn't come with Juan-Gone's trips to the doctor.

I won't miss LOOGY (Lefty-One-Out-GuY) Randy Choate. Heck, I don't think I even knew that Choate pitched for the Yankees in 2003. I think I sneezed once in April or something and I missed it.

But I'll miss Nick. Oh, will I ever miss Nick. Nick Johnson is the kind of player you dream about your team developing. The kind of player a stat-head like me lays awake at night trying to figure out how to make one of these for the computer baseball game I play to pass time between loads of laundry on quiet Saturday afternoons. The kind of player you tell your kids you got to see play before anyone knew how good he was gonna be.

BP said last year that he might end up a cross between Barry Bonds and John Olerud, in terms of his hitting. This is a guy with already tremendous plate discipline, now walking more than he strikes out, developing power (slugging percentages from .313 to .402 to .472 the last three years in NY) and a pretty decent glove to boot (or not to boot, as is the hope with infielders...) Johnson's 1999 season at AA-Norwich, at age 21, saw him rake for a Bonds-ian .526 on-base percentage, not to mention 52 extra-base hits in only 420 at-bats for a .538 slugging%), which made him one of the best prospects in all of baseball, if not for his health.

This guy's talent might be once-in-a-lifetime. The problem is that his injuries are more like once-in-a-season, and tend to cost him a month or two at a time. Consider:

1998: Separated shoulder. Misses six weeks.
1999: 37 hit-by-pitches, due to plate-crowding. Plays 132 of 140 games at AA.
2000: Does not play. Undiagnosed wrist injury keeps him out entire season.
2001: Plays 110 games for Columbus and 23 for Yankees
2002: Wrist sprain. Misses four weeks.
2003: Stress fracture in his right hand. Misses over two months

If not for the injuries (which, I realize, is right up there with "If Woody had gone right to the police...") Johnson would not be traded for anyone. You couldn't offer a GM enough to let this guy go. His career numbers, to this point, compare favorably to John Olerud's after three years in the majors, and Johnson hasn't even had three full years. Take a look:

Johnson	Age   AB   R    H  2B  HR RBI  BB   SO   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS

2001* 22 358 32 69 11 11 43 37 80 .194 .308 .313 .621
2002* 23 454 67 110 18 18 70 58 118 .243 .347 .402 .749
2003* 24 458 85 130 27 20 66 99 81 .284 .422 .472 .894

Olerud
1990 21 358 43 95 15 14 48 57 75 .265 .364 .430 .794
1991 22 454 64 116 30 17 68 68 84 .256 .353 .438 .791
1992 23 458 68 130 28 16 66 70 61 .284 .375 .450 .825


I've normalized(*) for Johnson's relative lack of playing time, since he saw only 23 games in the majors in 2001, and only 96 in 2003.

Now I'll grant you that John Olerud is not Lou Gehrig, but who is? And the fact that Johnson displays the command and ability he's shown at this young stage in his career, though he is a year older, but without the benefit of as much playing time as Olerud had through three years in the bigs, is impressive. Think about it: If you could get John Olerud's skills, with more power, even more patience and possibly better defense, wouldn't you take it in a heartbeat? Omar Minaya would. And did.

And if he gets enough playing time, Johnson could break out next year, just like Olerud did, win a batting title, lead the league in OBP and OPS, and lead the Yankees to a World Series.

Sorry, I meant the Expos. So much for the World Series. So now, instead of fulfilling his destiny of becoming the neext, great cog in the Yankee Championship Machine, Johnson gets to be the shiny chrome bumper on the rusty '78 Pinto the Montreal Expos organization has become. Very sad.

But the Yankees needed to make a splash, and they needed some solid starting pitching, and they felt that with the injury risk that Johnson seems to be, it would be a worthwhile opportunity cost. The ironic part is that in three or four years, Nick Johnson will be elligible for salary arbitration, and if he's as good as I think he'll be, the Expos won't be able to afford him. So the Yankees could get him back anyway. And he may still do great things in Yankee pinstripes. Just not for a long while.

So long, Nicholas Robert Johnson. We hardly knew ye.

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Shout-Outs...

I recently added a few new links:

Redbird Nation, a Cardinals (duh) blog, was kind enough to post a reference to my ALMVP analysis posts, and I got a nice spike in hits for a day or so because of it. Thanks. Redbird Nation is now a permanent link on the left, the old-fashioned St. Louis logo toward the bottom of the image links.

Another kind soul, General Zod, made reference to my body of work as "[his] top 5-7 of best overall baseball blogs" for which I am flattered, on a discussion forum called Birds on the Bat. Though I don't have the time to become an actual member and spend that much time discussing these things, I have added a link on the left for them also, in case you do have such time, in which case, you should probably go out and get a job.

Also, I noticed that a website called 2-Headed Monster was linking to me, which is a blog about Chicago baseball (both teams, as you might have guessed), so the picture of the Cubbies pez dispenser on the lower left is a link to them.

In addition, one of my least new links, Jay Jaffe from the Futility Infielder, has a long break-down of the starting pitching on the market and how some of them might help the Yankees, or your own team, for that matter. Jay does good work. Go read his stuff.

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Milton For All He's Worth...

Here's a headline:

Phillies Get Former Yankees LHP...

...Eric Milton?

Where did this come from? The Andy Pettitte rumors of previous off-seasons might have suggested to us that we could expect the Phils to make a splash picking up someone like this, but nobody guessed it, as far as I know. I suppose we get so used to hearing the rumors long before any trade actually occurs that when a GM actually does a good job of hiding his intentions, we're all surprised. I was.

In truth, Milton never got a chance to throw a pitch at the Major League level for the Yankees, despite having been so excited about being drafted by the Bombers out of college that he immediately went out and got a Yankees tattoo. (reason #257 not to get permanent markings on your body...). He was traded to the Twinkies with three other players for Duck! Chuck Knoblauch before the 1998 season, and immediately became…mediocre?

Baseball Reference.com indicates that Milton’s adjusted ERA has never been more than 13% better than average in his career, and that his career ERA overall of 4.76 is not appreciably better than the 4.80 average for the AL in that time span, though his career numbers are hurt significantly by that 5.64 he posted over 170 innings as a rookie in 1998. He's Livan Hernandez without the durability.

The Yankees caught a lot of flack at the time of that trade for letting this “future of the franchise” get away, and the heat intensified when Milton was winning 15 games and making an All-Star team in 2001 as Chuck Knoblauch’s aim, batspeed and career abandoned him, but Milton’s never really been as great as his hype suggested. Slightly more than 200 innings/year with slightly better than average ERAs is NOT a star, and not worth the $9 million for which the Phillies are now on the hook for 2004.

Baseball Prospectus’ synopsis of Milton’s career suggests that, like Ron Guidry, who didn’t have his first great season until he was 27 years old, Milton might still have his best years ahead of him, but I tend to disagree. Milton’s a big lefty (6’3”, 220) who throws hard and has decent control, but a lot of scouts have questions about his mechanics, and besides, the reason Gator suddenly became so successful was his discovery and perfection of the slider (more of a cut fastball by today’s standards) in 1977-78. BP's reviews of each of Milton's seasons through 2001 are always gleaming, in spite of the fact that the numbers just don't seem to support their hope in him. His 2002 season saw all of Milton's numbers drop off, across the board: fewer innings, higer ERA, lower strikeout rate, and perhaps not all of that is attributable to the knee injury. Perhaps he was hitting the plateau before he got hurt.

Milton’s knee surgery essentially wiped out his 2003 season, in which BB Prospectus expected him to take a step forward and become one of the 10-15 best pitchers in baseball. Didn’t happen, though it could in 2004. Or the arm injury everyone’s been waiting for could happen instead, and the Phils could end up paying $9 million for another pitcher not to live up to expectations. The more likely result is what we usually see from Milton, if he’s healthy: about 200 innings of league average or slightly better pitching, which any team can use.

Kudos to the Phillies, who didn't give up too much for Milton. Knowing that they would have to pick up an All-Star salary, they leveraged the deal by taking something the Twins couldn't afford to keep (an expensive but oft-injured and ultimately replaceable starter) and gave up a replaceable relief pitcher in Carlos Silva and a middle infield prospect with some speed and patience but no power at all, in Nick Punto. And a PTBNL. No big losses. Serviceable pieces of a decent major league team, but all replaceable.

And if Milton does what BP thinks he can do, Ed Wade looks like a genius. Worth the risk, I think.

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02 December 2003

Yankee Roster Moves...

Well, I have to admit that I'm somewhat less than impressed by the Yankees recent signings.

The first official signing they've made was to re-up with a thirdbaseman who hit .254/.302/.418 as a Yankee, who hit .297/.366/.530 at the Great American Phonebooth and .251/.308/.413 everywhere else. If he can keep up the .295/.337/.534 pace he hit for in September, Aaron Boone will be worth the $5.75 million they'll pay him in 2004. But I have my doubts that he'll do much more than .260 with 20 homers and 70 RBI. Some would argue that his ALCS heroics make him already worth that money, but I don't play that way, and neither do the New York fans. If he's hitting .160 in May, they're gonna forget all about him ever having blasted a hanging knuckler into Bronx Bomber history.

Tom "Flash" Gordon was also signed to a two-year, $7.25 million contract, to bolster the bullpen, though it's was not clear from the deal which half of which season he would actually be pitching. Since he became a full-time reliever in 1998, he's had exactly two seasons in which he's pitched more than 45 innings: 1998 and 2003. The rest of the time he was either stinking, recovering from arm injuries, or both. Now don't get me wrong, he was great last year:91 strikeouts, 31 walks and 57 hits in 74 innings with an ERA just over 3.10 is stellar for a relief pitcher in this age, but giving seven million dollars to a 37 year old pitcher with a history of arm trouble and only one season of "proof" that he's past them is rarely a wise move. Maybe they figure that between Gordon and Steve Karsay they might actually get a whole season's worth or right-handed relief pitcher, and for the bargain basement price of just over eight million dollars! It's all starting to make sense now...

Gary Sheffield, on the other hand, would be a great addition. Sure he's got his health problems too, but he's managed at least 130 games in each of the last eight seasons, and has averaged 145 games the last five years, which isn't completely awful. Heck, it's more than Bernie Williams. I argued over a year ago that Sheffield could have been a lock-Hall-of -Famer if not for his injury history, and that was before he hit .330 with 39 homers and 132 RBI in 2003. A few more years like that and he will be a lock for the Hall. A few more years even close to that and he should have little trouble getting into Cooperstown, but there are no guarantees, and for $36 million, you sure wish there were.

Incidentally, is it just me, or is "Yankees Looking to Trade Jeff Weaver to Dodgers for Kevin Brown" the silliest headline since "O.J. Looking for the 'Real' Killer"?

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20 November 2003

AL MVP Debate, Part II

This is Part II of Boy of Summer's MVP Thoughts. You can read Part I here.

As I mentioned, some sportswriters are really not happy about this, perhaps most notably, Jayson Stark. As Rob Neyer confirms, Stark is a prince of a guy, so I'll be as kind as possible. However, it should be noted again that I think he's dead wrong on this issue, and that I think he's not much of a statistician, when you get right down to it. Most baseball writers would take that as a complement.

Examining Jayson Stark's MVP criteria is not as easy as it sounds, becasue he seems to keep grasping at different things, anything, to get people to believe him instead of the Rules.

If you've read Stark's columns for any length of time, you've learned that he's a pretty good journalist. He gets good stories, and he writes them well. He's interesting and creative and seems like a decent fellow. But he seems to have something less than a firm grasp on how statistical analysis ought to be utilized. One of the worst things you can do with stats, and one of the things that Stark does fairly often, is to pick an arbitrary number that seems to support your point, and don't bother to give any other information that might make your point look anything less than salient.

In an article he wrote in September about why A-Rod shouldn't be the MVP, he said, "Since 1994, when baseball broke into six divisions and created twice as many pennant races, no player from a losing team has finished within 100 points of the winner. That includes A-Rod last year. And it undermines his candidacy this year."

OK, he picked 1994 because of the break between the two and three division formats, meaning that there are more contenders and therefore (theoretically) more potential MVPs. But the 100 points could have been anything. It sounds like a nice, round number, but it's arbitrary.

When players have MVP voting clauses written into their contracts, they're written by placement, not point totals. And while what Stark says is true, it's misleading. Players from losing teams have been as high as second or third in the voting on several occasions in that timespan. A-Rod was second in 2002, Griffey was second in 1994, and Frank Thomas finished third to Griffey in 1997, all playing on losing teams. Players from non-playoff teams have been up pretty high in the tally as well, including Carlos Delgado (4th in 2000), Griffey (4th in 1998), and Mo Vaughn (5th in 1996).

That same article made three "key" points in the argument against Rodriguez's candidacy for the AL MVP:

1) WHAT PART OF "VALUABLE" DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND? - Stark argues that the BBWAA has almost always chosen a player from a winning team for the MVP, so why should we change that tradition now?

2) WHERE WAS HE WHEN THEY NEEDED HIM? Stark argues that A-Rod faded when his team sank from contention in June, and that he didn't consistently produce the way an MVP should.

3) THIS ISN'T 1991 - Stark argues that an MVP should only come from a losing team if there are no true/close pennant races, and therefore no clear player who makes the differene between his team making the playoffs or not.

Let's take these on one at a time...

1) WHAT PART OF "VALUABLE" DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND? The meaning of the word "valuable" has nothing to do with the context of the object in question. The Hope Diamond would be no less valuable in the bottom of a landfill in Staten Island than it is in the Smithsonian, it just wouldn't be as useful. Once the diamond's recovered, the landfill would admittedly be somewhat less valuable without it.

The fact that baseball writers have traditionally used winners, especially playoff contenders, to determine the MVP does NOT mean that it should be this way. History held many 'traditions' to be perfectly acceptable right up until someone showed that there was a better way. Ever read a short story called 'The Lottery'?

2) WHERE WAS HE WHEN THEY NEEDED HIM? This has to be Stark's weakest argument. He cites the following as evidence that Rodriguez was not the MVP:

So as the ship sank, he sank with it. It really wasn't until his team's season was essentially over that he began compiling many of these alleged MVP numbers.

He hit the second-most home runs in the league in April (8). But he was 10th in May (6), 20th in June (5) and 21st in July (5), before leading the league in August (15) and September (7).[Ed. NOTE: A-Rod was 5th in the AL in Sept.]

He was fifth in the AL in RBI in April (22). Then he fell to 44th in May (13), 34th in June (15) and 17th in July, before leading the league in August (31) and ranking third in September (15).

OK, how about slugging percentage -- a stat that doesn't depend on the contributions of anyone around him? He was fourth in the league in April (.667). But then he was 54th in May (.462), 31st in June (.540) and 37th in July (.505), before an .849 August (first) and .594 September (fifth).

Does that sound like an MVP season to you? It doesn't to us.


Well, Jayson, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't but since you don't give us anyone else's numbers to compare with A-Rod's, how are we to know whether it does or not? He could have picked a lot of other stats (runs scored, on-base%, etc.) but I suspect that he chose these because they supported his point. I'm going to use OPS (on-base% + Slugging%) to try to rebut his point, because it's a pretty good rough measure of a player's offensive contributions, apart from his teammates contributions, and also because I didn't feel like charting all of the possible stats.

Here are the monthly ranks for for each of the top ten MVP points-getters:

April May June July Aug Sept Avg (T) Avg (5) Season
Delgado 1 5 14 12 16 10 9.7 8.4 1
Ramirez 16 40 6 4 20 2 14.7 9.6 2
A-Rod 3 49 22 26 1 13 19.0 13.0 3
D. Ortiz * 45 18 11 3 5 16.4 16.4 5
Posada 18 36 40 25 11 6 22.7 19.2 10
Beltran ** 16 43 17 9 14 19.8 19.8 12
V. Wells 58 19 9 23 31 12 25.3 18.8 13
B. Boone 23 10 17 18 68 25 26.8 18.6 15
No-mah 49 11 10 44 28 92 39.0 28.4 20
Stewart 54 38 *** 24 44 51 42.2 42.2 32

First, a few explanations:

Only the top 100 players, in terms of at-bats, were rated each month. I had to cut it off somewhere.

*David Ortiz wasn't the everyday DH in Boston until June, but he amassed essentially one month worth of at-bats between April and May, which got him an OPS around .800, which would rank him around 45th in the league in any given month, hence the 45 in May and nothing in April.

**Carlos Beltran was injured the first month of the season and only got 38 at-bats in April.

***Shannon Stewart got only 33 at-bats in June.

The Avg(Tot) column is the average rank of the totals for all six months of the season. The Avg(5) column is the average of the player's five best months, which helps to normalize for players who didn't get enough at-bats in a particular month to qualify due to injury (Beltran and Stewart) or platooning (Ortiz). It also gives some grace to players who may have had one really off month that skewed their average. The Season column is the overall rank of that player for (you guessed it) the season.

OK, with that said, what can we learn from this?

A) Carlos Delgado is the only player who meets Stark's criteria of "consistently" producing. He's the only player in the top 20 in every month, never straying higher than 16th (Aug), and therefore ranked 1st overall at the end of the year. However, based on Stark's insistence upon players from winners and playoff contenders, Delgado's no good either. The standard deviation in his rank (which I didn't post here) was two and a half times smaller than anyone else's on the list.

B) Manny Ramirez, A-Rod, Vernon Wells and Bret Boone are the only other players who rank in or near the top 30 in the AL five out of six months. Other players either didn't qualify for a month or had more than one month in which they ranked over 30th.

C) Nomar Garciaparra was particularly flaky, ranking as high as 11th in May and as low as 92nd(!) in September. Ouch. Still, he managed to finish a solid 20th at the end of the year.

D) Jayson Stark's pet candidate, Shannon Stewart, was so valuable that he never ranked higher than 24th, and easily averaged the lowest among the lot. Even when he was supposedly somehow turning the Twins around and leading them into the postseason, he ranked as the 44th and 51st best hitter in the AL down the stretch. And Stark wants you to vote for him?!?

Regarding the fate of the Rangers with relation to Rodriguez's play, the fact that the team was as close to the .500 mark as they were (25-27 on May 29) was essentially a fluke, a mirage created by the ability of the early season to skew our views of reality (remember when we thought the Royals were contenders?).

The team's Pythagorean record at the end of May (the wins and losses you'd expect them to have based on the total runs scored and allowed) was a couple of games worse than what they actually had, which means that they'd been lucky to do as well as they did to that point. Certainly, there's no denying that June was Rodriguez's (and the Rangers') worst month, but there aren't many players who avoid a 3-week swoon all season, and the man couldn't do anything about the Rangers' pitching staff's 6.63 June ERA. And besides, A-Rod's worst month (49th in OPS) is about as good as Shannon Stewart's average month (42).

3) THIS ISN'T 1991 Stark contended that MVPs only come from losing teams whn there are no pennant races. This simply isn't true. He uses the AL's only example (Cal Ripken in 1991) because it supports his point. But if you dig just a little deeper, and choose another league to analyze, I don't know, let's say...the National League, you find that this isn't the case at all. Andre Dawson won the NL MVP in 1987 on a Cubs team that finished last, even though both the Mets and the Expos finished within four games of fisrt place in the NL East.

Also, in 1959, when Ernie Banks won the NL MVP on a losing Cubs team, both the Braves and Giants finished within four games of the Dodgers, who won their first pennant in LA. So we see that the Senior Circuit doesn't necessarily discriminate against a truly great and valuable player just because there are pennant races and good players on the teams vying for them.

Stark's post-mortem article on the MVP debate revisits the issue of tradition, which we've already addressed, so I won't get into that again. However, he also asks "Where would the team have finished without him?" and answers it accurately: Last. Again, though, his answer is uninforming and misleading.

In any other division in all of MLB, the Rangers (71-91) would not have been last. They were, admittedly, the worst team in a relatively strong division, but taking A-Rod away and replacing him with Joe Average Shortstop costs the Rangers something like six to ten wins in the standings, which is a lot. I'm sure that as bad as the Rangers were last year (and the year before that, and...) a lot of Texans are really glad that they didn't lose 100 games in 2003, and A-Rod is a major reason for that.

If that's not Value, then value doesn't exist.



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18 November 2003

AL MVP Debate, Part I

The following is the first of a two-part series on the 2003 AL MVP results. Just like the Wachowski Brothers, I found that I had way too much preachy, self-important, overblown and ultimately disappointing crap to fit into only one offerring. Sorry. Stay tuned for Part II.

I was having trouble coming up with something to write about the AL MVP Award being given to Alex Rodriguez (finally). I was going to find the instructions for the award somewhere and then re-vamp them with a bunch of tongue-in-cheek crap about clutch hitting down the stretch and fighting for a pennant and such, but then it occurred to me: They actually got it right for once. So I don't hafta do that. Wait til next year.

Several people, including David Pinto and my hero, Rob Neyer, argued that not only does A-Rod deserve the award, but that he might actually win it this year, as no offensive American Leaguer was really having a standout season besides him. Turns out they were right.

Others, however, most notably Everyone's Favorite Empirical Scientist Jayson Stark, are actually upset about this occurrence. Can you believe that crap?? I mean, A-Rod has easily been the best player in the AL for the last half decade, and the BBWAA finally finds a way to actually give him one award, and Stark's pissed about it??

It turns out that I found the actual ballot instructions at Aaron Haspel's God of the Machine, who had found them on (are you ready?) Jayson Stark's home page. When he argued that A-Rod didn't deserve the MVP last year either.

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team.

The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot.

Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, and that includes pitchers and designated hitters.

Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.



Let's look at each of these criteria individually, shall we?

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

The main argument against A-Rod, or any other great player on a losing team for that matter, is that the team still wouldn't have won even if he sucked. Which is a true statement, but limited in its usefulness. The writer of the ballot instructions seems to understand that a player can have value even if his team is stinking up the joint, and frankly, the Rangers weren't really that bad in 2003. Oh, their pitching was terrible, but they were among the best offensive teams in the majors, and had a record (71-91) identical to or better than four other teams in the AL. So A-Rod's value clearly was not completely wasted on a truly awful team, as Aubrey Huff's or Dmitri Young's was.

The irony here, as a fellow blogger pointed out last year, is that the argument against thinking that an MVP must come from a winner is right there in the instructions: The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier. And the definition of "value" is given right there in the instructions as well: Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense. So the strength of a player's offense and defense actually defines his value, regardless of his team's position in the standings.

And if this is the case, then A-Rod has to be the MVP. By almost any objective measure you'd ever pick, he was the best player in the AL last year. First in the league in homers, runs scored and slugging percentage, second in RBI, 3rd in OPS, and eighth in walks and On-base %. Bill James' Win Shares has him tied with Carlos Delgado atop the AL, according to David Pinto. A great hitter, who plays great defense at a tough position, with no obvious competition as the best player in the league? Sounds like an MVP to me.

2. Number of games played.

No problem there. Alex Rodriguez suited up and played 161 games. The game he missed? Sept 24th, at Oakland, after playing in 546 straight games. Say what you want about him being overpaid, but the dude shows up to work. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the Rangers lost that game, so there you go: Every time A-Rod doesn't play, they lose. How's that for value?

3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

Boy, I don't see how anybody could coplain about this. Again, he may make too much money, but you don't ever hear him complaining about being underappreciated, about the "daily grind," about the fans, about anything. He just straps on his gloves, laces up his cleats, goes out there and kicks butt. And then the Rangers' pitching staff squanders his efforts by giving up all those runs. Personally, I'd be complaining, but he doesn't.

4. Former winners are eligible.

Not a problem. A-Rod's been shafted in the MVP voting at least two or three times previously, so there's no conflict here.

5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

Well, that won't be necessary, although this is what killed A-Rod's chances in '96, when he and Ken Griffey Jr. ('member when he was good?) split the MVP voting, even in their own city, and the trophy went to Juan Gone.

So we see that based on the criteria set forth by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Alex Rodriguez clearly should be (and is) the AL MVP for 2003.

But some are still not satisfied...


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13 November 2003

George Steinbrenner: Crusader for Justice

Can somebody please explain to me who decides the order in which the BBWAA announces the winners of the different awards for the year? And more importantly, how they do it? I understand making the announcement about the Rookies of the Year for both leagues first and on the same day, as these are easily the least significant awards given out, and deserve the least hoopla (remember Bob Hamelin? Pat Listach? Mark McGuire?!! Ok, so Listach wasn't that bad.)

But how does the AL Cy Young, by itself, get sandwiched between the RoY and Manager of the Year Awards being announced together? And how did Esteban Loaiza finish such a distant second?

A much more significant controversy is the AL Rookie voting. KC Royals' SS Angel Berroa won the award by the narrowest of margins over Yankees' OF Hideki Matsui, 88 to 84 points. A lot of people have made a stink about Matsui's being left off the ballot by two sportswriters, but of course Angel Berroa was also left off two ballots, so essentially they’re on even ground, and it all seems to come out in the wash anyway.

However, Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune took the law into their own hands, and that’s got to stop. We're not talking about Death Wish here. Nobody's life is ultimately going to be significantly affected by this, but the fact that there is so little accountability among these journalists, that nobody can do anything about the blatant and admitted disregard for the rules, is troubling.

These two sportswriters both admitted publicly that although Matsui technically qualifies for the award based upon MLB's rules for such, they didn't feel that he should be elligible, because of his vast experience playing in Japan.

Jim Souhan put it this way: "I just could not in good conscience pretend that Hideki Matsui, this great player from what I consider to be a major league, was on the same footing as a 22-year-old kid trying to learn to hit a major league curveball. I think it would be an insult to the Japanese league to pretend that experience didn't count."

Is not this exactly why you are wrong, Jim? You know neither the players nor the rules that govern them. First of all, Berroa's 25, not 22. Secondly, maybe this has already occurred to you by now, but NOBODY ASKED YOU WHO SHOULD QUALIFY as a rookie, they just asked you to rate the people who DO qualify. And to rate Matsui somewhere below one of the three best American League rookies for 2003 means that you’re either not very bright or just not paying attention.

Personally, I may consider the college I-AA Patriot League to be a major league, but MLB doesn't. So if someone comes out of Lehigh University, directly to the pros, and blows away the competition for a full year, he'll probably win the award, regardless of my opinion, because opinion should only matter when judging quality, not qualifications. That's why we have rules. That and to avoid traffic accidents.

Noted shipbuilder, multi-millionaire and Crusader for Justice, George M. Steinbrenner III, decried Souhan's and Ballou’s decisions.

“…I firmly believe that a great injustice has been done to Hideki Matsui. […]This year's voting farce, where the appropriate qualifications for the award were blatantly ignored, clearly demonstrates unfairness to first-year players from Japan. And that must be stopped."

OK, let’s get one thing straight: Steinbrenner is only concerned about justice so much as it serves his own purposes. You didn’t see him out there blasting the two writers who left Pedro Martinez (league-leading 2.07 ERA, 23 wins and 313 Ks) off their MVP ballots in 1999, when Ivan Rodriguez (24 walks, 25 steals essentially negated by getting caught 12 times) inexplicably won the trophy. But he’s not wrong about the “farce.” He’s just a little disingenuous.

And I wouldn’t say that there’s really any sort of general “unfairness” to Japanese players as a whole, since three of them have won the Rookie of the Year awards since 1995, and one of them even won an MVP (albeit one that should have gone to Jason Giambi). Hideo Nomo and Kaz Sasaki both pretty clearly blew away the rest of their competition in 1995 and 2000, respectively, but I would be curious to know whether or not Souhan or Ballou left them off their ballots at the time.

Souhan responded to George Steinbrenner’s criticism of his decision by saying, “When Mr. Steinbrenner spends multiple millions to lure an MVP-caliber player from a major professional league, he should be embarrassed that such a high-profile player is vying for the Rookie of the Year award, and not the American League MVP award."

Perhaps. But again, that’s not the issue at stake here. Sure, shelling out $21 million for someone like Matsui ought to net you something more than an approximation of the aging Tino Martinez, but that’s hardly the point. Hideki Matsui was a 3-time Japanese Pacific League MVP, a perennial ~.320 hitter with 35 to 40+ homers and 100 walks in Japan. Isn't the fact that he couldn't even hit .290 with 20 homers and 70 walks in the American League evidence that maybe the Japanese Pacific League is NOT a "major league"?

Sure, Ichiro made a pretty good transition, and maybe with a year under his belt, Matsui will settle in and start hitting like they expected him to, but maybe not. Maybe it's just easier to translate a slap-hitter's skills from one league to another than it is to become a power hitter in a league where the parks are bigger, the season is longer and the ball is thrown harder. Or maybe Jim Souhan is right and the rest of us are morons.

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06 November 2003

With Apologies to Rob Schneider...

Donnie!



The Don-Man!

Donnie Baseball!

Don-A-Rew-Ski!

Don-O-Rama!

The Donnenator!

Don-Don, the Piper's Son!

The Last Don!

Rama-Lama-Ding-Don!


OK, that's getting annoying.


As you may have heard, Don Mattingly has been named the new hitting coach for the New York Yankees.

Donnie replaces Rick Down, who was such a failure that he only managed to help the 2003 Yankees to the third most runs scored in the AL, fourth in the major leagues (a slight decline after his pupils led all of MLB in 2002). He was so lousy that the Yankees outscored their opponent, 21-17 in the World Series, 30-29 in the ALCS and 16-6 in the ALDS (that’s 67-52 in 17 playoff games, if you’re scoring at home.)

The problem with Down was that the Yankees hitters picked the wrong time to let the Law of Averages catch up with them. Throughout the first two rounds of the postseason, the Yankees had gotten a run almost anytime they needed it. They managed to come back and prevent Pedro Martinez from beating them not once, but twice in four games against The Hated Boston Red Sox, and seemed to have little trouble with the Twins at all. They managed to beat the Twins and BoSawx despite hitting only .228 with runners in scoring position in the playoffs overall, because their opponents only hit .188 in that situation.

Throughout the year, the Yankees had used the Bill James/Billy Beane model, getting enough guys on base that it wouldn’t matter in the long run, if they “hit well in the clutch.” Brian Cashman and others in the organization apparently knew enough during the regular season to realize that “clutch hitters” don’t really exist, at least not in the sense of players who can predictably hit in the clutch. But Down was canned for this offense anyway, which is like firing the head of security on a cruise ship because the ship disappears in the Bermuda Triangle.

There’s a lot of research that says essentially that we don’t have any idea who’s going to hit well in a given situation in any particular year. For example, Larry Walker won the NL MVP award in 1997, leading the NL in On-base %, slugging % and home runs, and driving in 130 RBI while hitting .366. He then followed up that campaign with another stellar .363 season (the first of his three batting titles), but managed only 64 RBI. What happened? Did he suddenly start to “choke”? Did the pressure of following up an MVP season prevent him from remembering how to hit when it mattered most? Or did he just have a fluke season in which most of his hits didn't occur when there were guys on base? You can guess my answer. (Hint, the very next year, 1999, he hit .379 and had 115 RBI in fewer plate appearances than he'd had in 1998.)

So if there's no such thing as a clutch hitter, then the Yankees hitters can't really be blamed for choking, and more importantly, the Yankees hitting coach can't really be blamed for somehow not teaching them how to hit in the clutch. The problem with that is that it's much easier for me to say that, sitting here at a computer desk in Pennsylvania, than it would be if I were Rick Down...


KING GEORGE: Rick, you let us down. Boys didn't hit in the clutch! What do you have to say for yourself?!

RICK DOWN: (timidly) Well, Mr. Steinbrenner, you see...there's not really any such thing as a clutch hitter in the first place...

KG: NONSENSE! Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan talk about them on television all the time! Why don't we have more of them!?

RD: (really timidly)See, Mr. Steinbrenner, I was thinking that if we got guys on base often enough, it wouldn't matter how they hit in the clutch, in the long run...

KG: We don't have a long run! We only had seven games and you failed to get them to hit when they needed to!!

RD:(cowering under the desk) Actually, we outscored our opponents in every round of the playoffs, Mr. Steinbrenner. We should have won the games...

KG: TELL IT TO AL GORE!! YOU'RE FIRED!!


In the end, managers and coaches are hired to be fired, because the Players' Union won't allow you to just jettison a player making $15 million, even if he does suck. Down should find no shortage of suitors for his talents.

In the meantime, much-beloved former firstbaseman, much-missed Yankee Icon and Boy Of Summer's childhood hero Don Mattingly will take over what should be an easy task but won't. He's been given plenty of talent with which to work, and may get more in the free-agent signing season, but is also being asked to improve on a team that scored more runs than any other team but Boston during Down's 2-year watch. Forget about Sigfried and Roy "Live at the ER", that's a tough act to follow. Donnie will be on the hot-seat from Day One, and if the Yankees get into mid-May and they're not "hitting in the clutch" the Boss will not be happy.

And Donnie may decide that he likes raising horses and kids better than batting averages after all.

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04 November 2003

Billy, Can't Be a Hero

I had theorized, back in February, that the Phillies had what they needed to get to the post season for the first time in a decade. This was presented, however, with the caveat that if they did not make it, don't blame me, as View From the 700 Level indicated, but rather blame their bullpen. I said that the Phillies would probably be in the top 5 in the NL in runs scored, and they fell right in at #5, with 791 runs, more than everybody but Houston, St. Louis, Colorado and Atlanta. And Colorado almost doesn't count.

I suggested that their top four starters were all better than average, ~200 inning workhorses, and they were, though none of them were as good as I'd hoped. I also suggested that Brandon Duckworth could break out, though when I said that, I meant as a pitcher, in Philadelphia, during the season. Instead, it turns out, Duck-Man broke out from Philadelphia, after the season, in a trade to Houston. But I'll get back to that.

And I suggested that the Phils' bullpen could fall apart, with Joe Table losing his job to somebody in April. Boy was I wrong on THAT one! It took until August! And then again in September.

So anyway, knowing that the Phils in fact did not make the postseason, and knowing that thier bullpen was widely villified as the reason for this faltering, I looked up the numbers, and found something quite curious:

The Phillies' bullpen had the 5th best ERA in the NL (3.72), better than Atlanta's, and a winning record (23-20), despite blowing 23 saves in 51 chances. So I broke it down:


NAME G W L Sv BS Hld IP H ER HR BB SO K/9 WHIP ERA
Regulars 306 17 9 5 11 52 333.1 292 110 21 122 225 6.08 1.24 2.97
Closers 89 5 11 27 6 4 83.2 95 59 7 50 64 6.88 1.73 6.35
Others 42 1 0 1 1 0 57.2 57 30 10 23 44 6.87 1.39 4.68


Interestingly, the Mesa/Williams two-headed monster only blew six saves all year. Six.
Tim Worrell blew seven all by his lonesome, and people think he's pretty good.

The greater portion of those 18 screw-ups belongs to the five guys who pitched most of the middle relief innings, and did so generally pretty well. Terry Adams, Carlos Silva, Rheal Cormier, Dan Plesac and Turk Wendell had a combined 2.97 ERA, which is very good, though some of them may have been a bit over their heads last season, especially Cormier, Plesac and Adams. Of course, Cormier and Plesac have the same thing going for them that Jesse Orosco does: They're not dead yet.

The few remaining relief innings (only ~57) were average. Nothing wrong with that.

But Mesa and Williams didn't just blow saves, didn't just lose games. These guys failed in spectacular fashion, giving up 9th inning homers, walking in the winning run, many of them right in the midst of the wild-card race, which, as it turns out, is a no-no. So the memories of their blow-ups is etched in the minds of Phillies fans everywhere, while Worrell's, for instance, are forgotten, because the Giants won 100 games and their division easily.

Whether or not those guys are all back, the point is that Billy Wagner, as great as he is, cannot be expected to save the franchise and propel them into the 2004 postseason all by himself. He's not going to compensate for 12 blown saves in middle relief, and he's not going to make up for a mediocre bench (7th in the NL in OPS). He's not going to get Pat Burrell to hit better than .209, etc.

All other things being equal, Wagner maybe makes this an 88- or 90-win team, which might just be enough for the Wild-Card. But as we all know, all other things are never equal. Burrell might not bounce back. Jim Thome might get old. Marlon Byrd might hit a sophomore slump. Mike Lieberthal probably won't hit .313 again. Placido Polanco probably will go back to hitting like, well, Placido Polanco. None of these things can be accurately predicted, and any of them might deprive B-Wag of the opportunities to save the games (franchise) that would make his $9 million salary money-well-spent.

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30 October 2003

Updates and Plugs...

Your friend and mine, Alex Belth, was kind enough to mention my Yankee Hell in one of his posts a Bronx Banter, his ecxellent basball/Yankees blog. Alex is a very forgiving sort, as he did this in spite of the fact that I usually forget to plug his work when he asks, either entirely or not until it's about three weeks after the fact. So, thanks to Alex's much more frequented blog, I have had a significant spike in visits over the last day or so, about twice as many as normal. Hopefully some of those people will come for the amusing Hell construction and stay for some decent writing (I'm in the market for a decent writer now...) but either way, I'm indebted to Alex.

Speaking of Alex, he's got a couple of interesting posts with actual, published baseball authors. The first is an interview with Pat Jordan, who wrote A False Spring, A Nice Tuesday, and the book I used to leard to throw a curveball, Sports Illustrated Pitching: The Keys to Excellence. This great book helped me to identify three minor flaws that are preventing me from becoming an All-Star pitcher: Velocity, Control and Stamina. Other than those, I'm set.

So anywho, Alex has an interview with Pat Jordan and you should go read it.

Alex also has a sweet but melancholy little post with an excerpt from a book by Roger Angell, that will remind you how little football and watching the leaves change does to abate the emptiness of The Void.

Speaking of The Void, those of you who enjoy interesting, informed baseball writing with a wry sense of humor and a twist of culture sprinkled in should already know Ranting Mike Carminati, he of the oh-so amusing Joe Morgan Chat Days. Well now Mike has defected to All-baseball.com, where the aforementioned Alex Belth, baseball injury guru Will Carroll, and Cub Reporter Christian Ruzich already maintain their own blogs. Th addition of Carminati gives the All-Baseball Team four aces that Steinbrenner would covet. If he owned a newspaper. Which he probably does.




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27 October 2003

Yankee Hell

Games that don't end til 1AM
Circle I Limbo

Jeff Weaver?!?
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

Outscoring an Opponent Who Beats You
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

Using Your Closer in a Game you're winning by Five Runs
Circle IV Rolling Weights

NOT Using Your Closer in a Tied Game in Extra Innings
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

Trading Away Mike Lowell for 3 Nobodies
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Aaron Boone: .143, 1 Run, 2 RBI
Circle VII Burning Sands

Jorge Posada: .158, 0 Runs, 1 RBI
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

"World Champion Florida Marlins"
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

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24 October 2003

Somebody?

Somebody needs to tell the Florida Marlins that they don't have to win.

...that nobody expected them to win.

...that most of us still expect them not to win.

...that no one will really mind if they don't win.



Somebody needs to tell them that they don't have to try so hard.

...Let an opposing runner on third with less than two out cross the plate once in a while.

...Let a ground ball through the infield once in a while.

...Let Aaron Boone have a meatball once in a while.



Somebody needs to let the Marlins know that their season is already a success.

...that nobody expected this, so it's a pleasant surprise.

...that nobody cared about them until three weeks ago.

...that nobody will care about them next year if they don't re-sign Pudge.

...and Luis Castillo.

...and Ugie Urbina.



Somebody needs to remind the Marlins that the Yankees make three times as much money as they do.

...that the Yankees have more than four times as many playoff appearances as the Marlins have seasons of existence.

...that the Yankees have about four times as many future Hall-of-Famers.

...that the Yankees have about a hundred times as many fans.

...and much cooler uniform colors. (Teal?! c'mon!)



Somebody needs to refresh the Marlins memory.

...that the Yankees won ten more regular season games than they did.

...that the Yankees had to beat two teams better than them, the Giants or the Cubs to get here. OK, maybe not the Giants.

...that Roger Clemens by himself or any two of the Yankees' starting pitchers have more career wins then their entire pitching staff combined.



Somebody needs to tell the Marlins that their manager is too old.

...that their ace pitcher is too young.

...that their rookie 3B/RF/DH/whatever is way too young.

...that their catcher is too...Pudgy.



Somebody needs to inform the Marlins that the Fates are against them.

...that History is against them.

...that Mistique, Aura and Buffy the Pole-Dancer are against them.

...that the Best Team on the Planet is against them, and ought to win.



Somebody needs to instill in the Marlins the understanding that it's OK to loosen up a little.

...that nobody will be fired in Florida if they don't win. (Not so in NY.)

...that they're going to have a hard time outdrawing the Expos again next year anyway.

...that a pansy-ass little expansion franchise that can't decide from year to year whether it wants to win or lose, stay or move, exist or be contracted, isn't supposed to beat the Mighty Yankees.



Somebody needs to tell the Marlins to lose.

Please?

...They're running out of time.


...And they're not listening to me.

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Noted baseball/history author Harvey Frommer, for whom I have done several book reviews, and who is in the midst of conducting an e-interview with me, to be published next week, has two books coming out soon. I hope to have reviews of these available for you as they become available, but for now, here are the plugs:

*Coming Spring 2004
New York City Baseball :
The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957
By Harvey Frommer
At one time New York City had three major league teams: the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers. In the days after World War II, the New York teams owned baseball. Relive the golden days of the 1950s in this amazing account.
When the lights came on again after World War II, they illuminated a nation ready for heroes and a city--New York--eager for entertainment. Baseball provided the heroes, and the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers--with their rivalries, their successes, their stars--provided the show.

"We shall not have such an era again except in such loving books as this one." --RED BARBER

“No red-blooded baseball fan will want to be without it. A genuine social history of New York sports in 1947 to 1957. A compulsively fascinating book.” - - NEWSDAY

“A look back at the heyday of Big Apple baseball when at least one New York team appeared in the World Series in 10 of the 11 years. - - “USA TODAY

”Lovingly described.”- - -NEW YORK POST

*New edition with an introduction by Monte Irvin

****COMING OPENING DAY 2004
*******************
THE GREAT RIVALRY:
THE BOSTON RED SOX VS THE NEW YORK YANKEES
By
** HARVEY FROMMER AND FREDERIC J. FROMMER **

Covers nearly a century's worth of epic battles on and off the baseball field between these age-old rivals.
Featuring exclusive interviews with former governors Mario Cuomo of New York and Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, former press secretary Ari Fleisher, congressmen, reporters, broadcasters, and especially players, coaches, managers and front-office execs from the Red Sox and Yankees including Don Zimmer, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, Jason and Jeremy Giambi, Lou Meroni, Dwight Evans, and Theo Epstein.
Two unique features of the book are a Rivalry Timeline and a "Talkin' Rivalry" section, a free-for-all in print among fans, journalists, players who all have something to say.
Other chapters include Marker Moments, In-depth Profiles of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.
More than two years in the making, this coffee-table book will have nearly 400 pages of text and more than 125 photos, some in color, some archival.
A perfect book for Yankee fans, Red Sox fans, and all baseball fans.
***************************************************
Harvey Frommer is the author of 34 sports books,
including "The New York Yankee Encyclopedia, "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," "Growing Up Baseball" with Frederic J. Frommer and "Rickey and Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseball's Color Line," "A Yankee Century: A Celebration of the First Hundred Years of Baseball's Greatest Team."
Frederic J. Frommer is an Associated Press correspondent based in Washington, D.C. This is his second book.

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22 October 2003

Sports Theology

Andy Pettitte pitched a great game on Sunday night, which the Yankees won, 6-1. Eight & 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, only one, unearned run. (My wife thought I was in physical pain when she heard me screaming at Boone's 9th-inning, shutout-ruining, second-error-of-the-night from upstairs. She'll learn...I was.)

But this column isn't about baseball, at least not directly.

After the win, Pettitte said this to Fox Sports' Steve Lyons:

"...And the main reason is just...I've got so many people back home at my church, praying for me and I know they're there, and around all over the country praying for me and I just thank God that he just blessed me to be able to do this tonight."

Right there on live, inter-national TV, a grown man is standing there telling another grown man and about 13 million other people who are still watching that the Lord of the Universe helped him win a baseball game because a bunch of people from his church in Texas asked Him to do so.



Of course, you couldn't find the text of this quote anywhere on the internet if you so desired, which I did. I had to go to Fox Sports' web page, sign up for a free trial of RealOne Superpass and then download the video of Pettite's interview with Steve Lyons. Any of the normal news sources who had quotes from Pettitte in their game stories didn't bother to include this particular comment, which fell in the midst of a response to a question that Lyons asked about how Pettitte handled the speedy Pierre and Castillo at the top of the Marlins' lineup, but obviously encompassed more than that. Most writers left their stories to baseball, which, while a little biased against religion, is probably appropriate, in my opinion.

Getting back to the point...

Andy Pettitte is a Christian. So am I. Otherwise, we're pretty different. For one thing, he's left handed, and makes about 250 times as much money as I make every year. But this column isn't about money. It's about (get ready...)

God.

More specifically, it's about God and Sports. My particular take on this issue is that God and Sports is a little like peanut butter and tunafish: they just don't go together. But clearly there are those who disagree with me. Andy Pettitte, for example.

It's not that I don't think God cares about the people who play sports. Clearly, if "God so loved the world..." this must have included professional athletes, right? Right.

But what about the other professional athletes? The ones competing against Andy Pettitte? This is where the issue gets dicey. You see, I'm willing to bet dollars to potluck supper buntcakes that there are Christians on the Marlins team as well. I'm not sure whom, exactly, but there's got to be somebody, and if you assert that Andy Pettitte was caused to and/or helped to win a baseball game by God, then it logically and necessarily follows that some other people, some of whom may also profess an allegiance to Christ, were specifically caused to fail by God, because God for some reason likes Andy Pettitte better, or something. I have a hard time with this notion.

For one thing, how do you explain times when Pettitte has not succeeded? Were the prayers of Pettitte's church more effective in 1997 (18-7, 2.87 ERA in 240 innings) than in 1999 (14-11, 4.70 ERA in 191 innings)? Was God angry with Andy or his church in 2002 when he sustained an injury and was only able to make 22 starts? Does God like it better when Andy pitches during the day (2.43 ERA in 2003) than at night (4.83 ERA)? Or do the people in Andy's church pray harder on Tuesdays (5-1, 2.72) than on Thursdays (1-2, 9.14)?

And if so, why? Why would Jesus care how well Andy Pettitte (or anyone else) does in any given baseball game? And why should Andy Pettitte's requests for success be honored any more than anyone else who prays to God for such things? Who does God decide to listen to when a potential game-winning field-goal is about to be kicked in a football game and there are circles of players on both sidelines praying for both it's success and failure? Can we really take him seriously when Evander "Real Deal" Holyfield thanks Jesus for helping him to turn his opponent's face into an impressive Memorex of raw hamburger? Pretty tough to imagine that the same Jesus who said, "If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also."

Retrospective...

Back in 1996, the Yankees won their first World Series in almost two decades, and some (not all) Christians attributed their success to the presence of professing, Bible-believing Christians: Pettitte, Joe Girardi, Mariano Rivera, John Wetteland, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. (Doc and Straw, as you may know, only met Jesus after running thier lives into the ground with drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and/or tax evasion. This means, therefore, that all their early success was accomplished without the supposed aid of a higher being, or at least, presumably, without a significant number of prayers on their behalf.)

So these six players somehow, supposedly, managed to sway the favor of the Lord of Creation toward themselves and their teammates, the other 19 of whom, presumably, only pray when being shot at. Frankly I find this pretty hard to believe. I don't know off-hand, how many of the 1996 Braves would profess to be Chrstians as well, but I would guess that it's less than six. It would be an interesting study, sort of an antithesis to the "Ex-Cubs Factor", to look at the correlation of born-again Christians to World Series winners over time. Informative? Probably not, but interesting. Scott Brosius, apparently also a Christian, had an interesting take on this, from the Google translation of a French Christian webpage:

"Several claim that, if our team counts many Christian players, we will gain the world Series, Brosius entrusts. It was certainly amusing not only to belong to a gaining team, but cĂ´toyer players who gained good way, by showing the true characteristics of humility. Many guy understood that they received many things, which are actually blessings that they did not deserve. I life a really formidable experiment! "

Well, I guess that clears things right up!

A Lesson From History

So from whence does this notion come? It seems to me that it's probably rooted in the same sorts of ideas that cause someone to be a fan in the first place, to be loyal to a particular team or city's teams. Identifying with a particular place, and with the team that represents it is nothing new. People have been doing so for centuries, rooting and praying for their athletes probably since the Athens Red Sox competed against the Sparta Yankees in the first Olympics (Athens later being permanently cursed by Zeus for allowing thier star shot-putter, Bambinostotle, to defect to Sparta and become a full-time javelin thrower.) Praying for these athletes made a lot more sense, because:

A) they were actually from your city, and not just a collection of mercenary ringers.
2) If you didn't have the Olympics, you'd have probably had a war instead.

Personally, I'd pray for victory too, if it meant that I wouldn't have to fight a war. But such is no longer the case, in 21st century America, where the biggest war addressed in a baseball game is either the battle for elbow-room in the urinals or the bean-ball war on the field. And that's only when Punk-Ass is pitching.

Godviews

So we're back to pondering the veracity and applicability of Andy Pettitte's statement. It seems to me that there are a few ways in which his statement might be interpreted, depending upon whether or not God exists and whether or not Andy Pettitte really knows Him very well. Let's see:

1) There is no God. Andy Pettitte is a delusional weirdo. This stuff all happens either by random chance or because someone "wanted it more".

PROS: Charles Darwin and Joe Morgan both believe at lease some aspect of this scenario. Your fate's in your own hands, which is good news for control-freaks like me!
CONS: If the Universe can exist and hold itself together without a Designer, then life isn't really worth living, which would suck, and is therefore an unacceptable conclusion.

2) There is a real God. He's on Andy Pettitte's side when it comes to baseball games, and maybe other stuff too.

PROS: Andy thinks this is true. Other people, not just athletes, do also.
CONS: Andy doesn't win all the time, which either means that God is fickle or powerless, either of which would suck, and is therefore an unacceptable conclusion.

3) There is a real God. Andy Pettitte just thinks He's on his side in these things, but really God doesn't pay that much attention to these things. He's off somewhere playing cosmic marbles with planets we'll never see or something, and it would come as a surprise to Him that Andy Pettitte thinks He helped him win a baseball game.

PROS: Joan Osbourne believes this. It would explain why Andy doesn't always win, without making Pettitte out to be either delusional or a liar. That's good.
CONS: This scenario makes God out to be in less than complete control of all things at all times, and therefore less than all-knowing and all-powerful, which would suck and is therefore an unacceptable conclusion.

4) There is a real God. He is all-powerful and has control over, indeed, has already determined the outcome, of every event in the course of human history, including professional baseball games. Therefore, any prayers offered up by Andy, his church, or other fans "around all over the country" are not so much effective in terms of swaying God's mind as they are good practice for the praying people in relating to God and potentially understanding him better. This God is only concerned about the results of baseball games in so much as His people honor him in playing them, watching them or paring about them, which is appropriate, what with Him being the Lord of the Universe and all.

PROS: I believe this one, as did a lot of saints and theologians. Blessed assurance, right? God's got it in control, so you don't hafta worry. Pretty cool, I think.
CONS: An unpopular option, since it means that ultimately we don't really have as much control over things as we think we do. Also, this option requires much more faith and a lot of residual life choices that the other options don't necessitate.

Well you know where I stand now: Extremely glad that the people who control the Google translation tools don't control any of the rest of the Universe, but for the record, I'll be praying that God helps Roger Clemens to pitch the game of his life in his swansong performance tonight and beat those backward, Neanderthal, Cretan, pagan SOB's the Florida Marlins tonight, and for David Wells to do the same on Friday night. Amen.

Let's allow Andy to have the final word, though, from that same Google-translated French Christian webpage:

"People observe how you act, how you face the situations. When I gain a world Series, it is easy for me to hold to me in front of a crowd and to thank God. And much of players make in the same way, and it is well. But I really smell that I was faithful to my Christian faith,"

We smell it, too, Andy. We smell it too.

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