16 June 2003

Breaking News...Orioles Discover New Offensive Philosophy: Score Runs

Peter Gammons column today on ESPN.com highlights, among other things, the way the Baltimore Orioles' offensive philosophy has changed for the better, and has actually worked out well. Or at least Gammons seems to think it has. He says...

Now led by Melvin Mora, who (Orioles' VP Mike) Flanagan calls "the poster boy for what we're trying to do (.338 OBP last year, .465 this season)," the Orioles are on a pace to score 170 more runs than last year, and they've done it without adding any significant offensive talent in the offseason. "The whole team has bought into it," said Flanagan, "and those who didn't (i.e. Gary Matthews Jr.) are out of here."

Umm, maybe I'm missing something, but isn't Melvin Mora the poster boy for what every major league team is trying to do? If you polled 30 GMs and asked all of them whether or not they'd like a player who can play five different defensive positions and hit .360 with patience and power, I doubt that any of them would have to think about it over lunch. Probably only Allard Baird would respond with, "No, we'll take the weak hitting middle infielder who gets hurt all the time."

The Orioles saying that Melvin Mora is the perfect example of what your team is trying to do is like a homeless guy saying that winning the lottery is the perfect example of what he's trying to do. Like I mentioned the other day, if you've got a 31-year old with a career .262 EqA (read: mediocre) and he goes on a tear and hits like the second coming of Babe Ruth for a couple of months, you count your blessings and maybe you reward him with praise and/or a bonus, but you can't expect anyone to take you seriously when you parade him around and toot your own horn as though you knew he was gonna do that.

The irony, of course, is that they really haven't added any significant offensive talent since last season, and the statistical record shows that. But I'll get to that later. The other irony, if Gammons is touting the importance of on-base percentage, is that by all indications, Gary Matthews Jr. does get it: his career minor and major leageu records show him walking about once every seven at-bats. It's not Barry Bonds, but it's better than the league average, which is around every 10 or 11 at-bats. It was hits that Matthews Jr. had trouble getting (career .238 hitter in the majors).

Gammons also said:

Last year the Orioles' on-base percentage was .309, second worst in the league. This year, it's .344, fifth best in the AL. "We were looking to add 100 runs when we made our runs at Clifford Floyd, Pudge Rodriguez and players like that," said Flanagan. "We may have found those runs, in a large part because of a philosophy. Hopefully this is just the beginning, up and down the organization, as we try to bring back the Orioles."

This is true, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Look at how the Orioles did last year and this year, with and without Melvin Mora's contributions:

                   R     H    HR   BB  AB/BB    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS

2002 Orioles 667 1353 165 452 12.15 .246 .309 .403 .712
2002 O's no MM 581 1223 146 382 12.92 .248 .302 .403 .705
2003 Orioles* 844 1572 169 517 10.88 .279 .340 .429 .769
2003 O's no MM* 737 1398 145 433 11.89 .272 .328 .414 .742
Difference** +156 +175 -1 +51 -1.03 +.024 +.026 +.011 +.037

NOTES: The * means the projected numbers over 162 games for 2003. The ** means the difference for everyone on the Orioles who isn't Melvin Mora, both for 2003 and 2002.

Gammons was right about the numbers he quoted, but if you remove the flukey contribution of Melvin Mora from the equation, the rest of the Orioles have not improved nearly as much as Peter would hae you believe. Sure, the rest of the team has gained 26 points in OBP, but 24 of those are due to batting average, not walks, an indication that the Orioles are a lot luckier this year, not a lot more patient.

The rest of the Orioles are on a pace to score about 150 more runs than they did last year, which is a big jump, but there was really nowhere to go but up from that dismal team. They're taking about one more walk every three games as a team, which is a start but hardly the byproduct of an organizational philosophy. Just another statistical anomaly. Their increased run scoring is due more to a statistical return to the mean than it is to any true increase in talent or patience on the parts of Tony Batista, Marty Cordova, Jay Gibbons, Jerry Hairston, BJ Surhoff, or anyone else. They're just getting more hits, which means that they're pretty susceptible to a backslide later this year or next year. Just ask the Angels.

Hopefully this is just the beginning. Maybe next season the O's can bring in Eli Marerro and Doug Strange and Mark McLemore and Pete Rose Jr. and they'll all hit like Babe Ruth too. But I wouldn't bet on it.

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12 June 2003

Oswalt & Five Conspirators Avoid Hits
Six Arrested For Drunkenness on Grassy Knoll

Well, that was interesting. I got to listen to the first inning or two of the Yankees' first experience of being no-hit since the Eisenhower administration. I heard Roy Oswalt leave in the 2nd inning, and then spent the rest of the night playing cards with my wife, blissfully unaware that my favorite team was being embarassed on national television.

In truth, I'd have preferred to see the game, if only to say that I got to weatch live one of the more interesting no-hitters in major league history. I have historically missed most of the Yankees' no-hitters in my lifetime, many of them haviong taken place while I was away at college in Pennsylvania, unable to watch the games live due to broadcast restrictions. I think I may have gotten to see Gooden's no-hitter in 1996 and Cone's perfect game (the only other Interleague no-hitter) in 1999, but I know I missed Wells' Perfecto, Jim Abbott's no-no and Andy Hawkins' 4-0 loss in a no hitter against the ChiSox (4-0?!?). Don't mind so much that I missed that last one.

Lee Sinins of the extremely useful Around the Majors reports that Hoyt Wilhelm's no-no against the Yanks in 1958 was not the last no-hitter against them, just the last 9-inning no-no. Melido Perez no hit the Yanks for six innings less than two weeks after Hawkins' debacle, in a rain-shortened complete game. Interestingly, Hawkins was the losing pitcher in that game too. I wonder if that's a record, to be on the losing end of two no-hitters in the same month?

Overall, in terms of no-hitters, Yankee fans have been pretty fortunate. To have watcher your guys pitch no fewer than five no hitters in the last 15 years, including two perfect games, is pretty impressive. To have avoided being no-hit (over 9 innings) for 45 years (almost as long as Jesse Orosco's been pitching!) is also pretty impressive.

Rob Neyer, playing the consummate Thursday Morning Manager, says that we shouldn't be surprised that the Yankees were no-hit, and maybe he's right. Rob also said that we shouldn't be surprised that Kevin Millwood pitched a no-hitter either. Smart guy, that Neyer.

On the other hand (where, in case you haven't heard, I have five fingers...) the disturbing trends are there, not to indicate that the Yankees will get no hit again any time soon, necessarily, but that they might need to do some work to make sure they actually win some games. Bill Chuck of BillyBall.com points out that the Yanks are only 16-24 since April 27, a decidedly less-that-stellar record, and the Red Sox now control 1st place in the AL East by a slim margin. Granted, it is only June, and the Red Sox usually wait until August to wilt, but with Bernie Williams and Nick Johnson missing time due to injuries and Derek Jeter not yet returning to form after his own injury, the Yanks need help they can't get from Rueben Sierra.

Thankfully, Giambi and Matsui seemed to have started hitting again lately. Godzooky Godzilla was 12-for-17 with two homers in the last five games before last night's embarassment. And Giambi was 15-for-42 with 6 homers since May 27, so I guess he can see again. Hopefully the Yanks' will get Johnson and Williams back healthy soon, and Weaver and Pettitte will start pitching like they're expected to, or the Bronx Bombers will have a long summer in front of them.

And an even longer winter.

Postscript: In a classic move of capitalizing on their rival's bad press, the Mets will announce the firing of GM Steve Phillips this afternoon, according to Lee Sinins. I guess they're hoping that all the NY beatwriters will still be thinking of ways to sing lamentations on behalf of the hitless Yankees and won't notice.

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11 June 2003

Say It Ain't Sosa Short a Suspension!

Brief update: I'm wearing boxer-breifs.

Also, Sammy Sosa's suspension for CorkGate was reduced from 8 to 7 games, as everyone kinda expected. I maintain that Sammy Sosa is either a fool or a liar. If he expects anyone to believe that he would own a corked bat, bring it to the ballpark and put it in the batrack with his game bats without clearly labeling it


then he's an idiot, for not doing so. Either that, or he knew he was using a corked bat, and is therefore lying when he tells us that it was a mistake. Either way, there's no evidence to suggest that the rest of his career has been anything but legit, Rick Reilly's steroids questions aside, so let's just allow the man to serve his suspension and move on to something else, shall we?

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Let me introduce you to two players...sort of. Player M and Player G. Or should I say Players Jeckyl and Players Hyde.

MB 162 490 69 122 27 12 55 51 98 .249 .334 .388 .722
MA 162 585 130 213 41 29 89 99 108 .364 .466 .592 1.058
GB 162 541 63 141 27 14 71 25 100 .260 .305 .398 .702
GA 162 493 79 165 26 36 102 23 93 .336 .371 .624 .995

MB is player M Before the start of this year, his projected average stats per 162 games. MA is player M after the start of the 2003 season, again, his projected average stats per 162 games. Ditto For player G, before and after 2003. Player M is 31, and plays several defensive positions on a lousy team going nowhere anytime soon. Player G is only 27, plays the outfield adequately, and is on a mediocre team in a tough division.

Now it's pretty obvious that the After versions of these two guys is much better than the Before's, right? But here's the real quandary: The Before versions are based on 1500-2000 plate appearances over the last several years, while the After versions are based on a paltry 150-200 plate appearances this year. Now it's not a question of which is better (Before or After) but "How long will After stick around until Before returns to right the ship toward the Straight of Mediocrity"? In a fantasy league, just like in the stock market, you try to sell high, but it doesn't always work out that way in reality.

By now you may (or may not) realize that player M is the Orioles super-utility man, Melvin Mora, and that Player G is the Reds' Jose Guillen. Sean McAdam has a nice little puff piece about Mora on ESPN, and that's OK. If you can't write something nice about the guy who's leading the majors in batting average, what can you write? But for some reason, McAdam writes,

But the Orioles don't anticipate moving Mora. Rather, as the Orioles dig out from five consecutive losing seasons and approach contender status, Mora becomes that much more valuable.

This is a problem. As great as it is to have a guy hitting .364 on your team and to be able to play him anywhere you need, it's also necessary to recognize taht a 31-year old utilityman with a career .249 batting average doesn't suddenly learn how to hit, and isn't likely to keep this pace up for the rest of the season, much less over the next few years of the Orioles' "rebuilding process"...

BUILDER ANGELOS: "Hey, this building is old and crummy. Let's knock it down and build a new one...No, wait! Let's just trade it for another old, crummy building instead!"

CONTRACTOR THRIFT: "Yes, sir! But can I at least try to sell that nice, cast-iron antique tub on the second floor while they're still en vogue? We might get something for it..."

BUILDER ANGELOS: "Heck, no! We need that tub to make the place at least look a little nicer while we shop it around!"


The other player, as I mentioned, is Jose Guillen, who at age 27, is at least supposed to be having a career year, and it probably will be, but not likely at the pace he's currently showing. A couple of weeks ago, Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus gave Reds field manager Bob Boone a hard time for benching Adam Dunn, and I tend to side with Prospectus on the issue, as you might expect. Their suggestion is that if someone has to be benched, it ought to be Sean Casey, so that Dunn can play first base. (Austin Kearns and Ken Griffey have not given any real reasons to get benched consistently, so it's gotta be someone else.)

Casey is, as they say in France, a "professional hitter" which means that he's a firstbaseman who hits like a decent middle infielder. His career .283 EqA is just average for a firstbaseman, and this year's .260 is noticeably below average. However, there are a few GM's and GM's assistants around who don't know to look much past the .301 career batting average he also sports, but we won't mention any names. Besides Allaird Baird and Cam Bonifay and Chuck LaMar and probably a half dozen others.

So, as is typically the case in such situations, the fault in the organization lies not on the field (Dunn striking out too much) or even on the Manager (Boone benching the wrong guy) but on the front office. Reds GM Jim Bowden has pulled off a few decent trades in his time, and he ought to be shopping Jose Guillen, because

A) a guy with such a lousy history and lousy plate discipline never hits .336 for long, and

2) they need pitching!!!

I mean, have you seen who they're trotting out there? Their starting pitchers are 12-27 with a 6.67 ERA! None of them has a winning record, and only two of them have more than two wins (Danny Graves, 3-5, 5.31 ERA and Paul Wilson 4-4, 4.48 ERA) this season. I know that there are teams out there who need some offensive help, and would probably love to pick up a guy batting .336 with 11 homers before the middle of June. Heck, Arizona gave up Byun-Hyun Kim for a hitter who's less than half as good as Guillen looks. But the danger, as former White Sox GM Bill Veeck used to say, is holding onto a guy too long, rather than letting him go too soon.

The Reds and Orioles would do well to recognize how overvalued their commodities are in Guillen and Mora, and get something for them while they're hot.

But they won't.

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04 June 2003

Slammin' Cork-Crammin' Sammy

I had planned to spend my lunch hour with a little writeup about the Sammy Sosa Situation, but Christian Ruzich has beaten me to it, having made all the points I would liked to have made. Go check out what the Cub Reporter has to say, and try not to let the long excerpt from The Physics of Baseball scare you off. It's not that hard to understand. If you want some more depth, here's another professor's analysis of how a baseball bat works and can be modified.

Anyway, I guess that the reason everyone's making such a big stink out of this is that there exists a very real possibility, one we can never actually verify, that some of Sammy Sosa's 505 (and counting...) career home runs were accomplished with a corked or otherwise modified bat. And do you know what that means to his legacy?


Nothing is likely to happen to Sosa or his legacy as a result of this. While Sosa is the biggest name and the most likely Hall-of-Famer to ever be caught outright with a doctored bat, players have generally faced consequences for such offenses not much worse than being forced to watch reruns of The Magic Hour. Or the Nose-in-the-Book Penalty. (Not the nose-in-the-book-penalty!!) And nobody remembers primarily that Norm Cash or Mike Scott or Greg Nettles or someone else were cheaters. They remember that these guys were, at least for a little while, pretty darn good players, and a lot of fun to watch. Perhaps as a footnote in their careers, somebody occasionally mentions sandpaper or pine tar or Super-Bounce Balls, but nobody goes right to that in a discussion of such players.

People have been found to have doctored bats, or doctored balls, somewhat regularly over the years, and the penalty has generally been the same: When caught, the player and offending piece(s) of equipment are ejected, and the player is usually suspended 7-10 games and maybe fined. That's it. And these pansy-ass penalties often took place in eras when the players union either didn't exist or hadn't yet taken on the demeanor of a prissy, suburban mother defending her spoiled son who "just couldn't have done such a thing, my Lordy..." In this day and age I'll be surprised if they do much mor ethan take away Sammy's personal masseuse for a few days. This, I assure you, will not be the most memorable moment in Sammy's career.

You've heard the names: Gaylord Perry, Whitey Ford, Don Sutton... all Hall-of-Famers, all have essentially admitted to or been exposed to have cheated at some point, and it hasn't diminished any of their legacies one bit. If anything, it seems to make a pitcher more 'colorful' or clever to have thought to scuff up a ball with his wedding ring, or the catcher's shin guard, or a small piece of sandpaper, or whatever Perry could fit in his pocket that particular afternoon. In retrospect, we get nostalgic about such occurrences, with an "Aw, schucks..." and imagine giving a noogy to said offender like you would your kid brother when you found out that the only way he beat you at Go-Fish was by having your sister tellhim what cards you had behind your back. Perhaps the fact that they were so good without cheating (we think...) encourages us to lend them a little slack. It's Tim Leary eating a piece of sandpaper or Wilton Guerrero scrambling to reclaim the pieces of a shattered, corked bat that we remember...and rember to mock. They seem so pathetic. But Whitey and Gaylord? Cheating made them interesting. Rob Neyer concurs.

But for some reason, one I've not yet placed, we get really upset when Norm Cash or Greg Nettles or Albert Belle gets caught with a doctored bat. We think it cheapens there accomplishments...and maybe it does. But given the facts that physics has yet to show that doctoring a bat can do anything more than increase the chances that a bat will break and embarrass its owner, while scuffing/doctoring baseballs can even make Brian-Freaking-Moehler look like Sandy Koufax for three or four innings, maybe we should be more upset about the pitchers and less by cheating hitters. Of course, if you have to cheat to beat the Devil Rays, I have no sympathy for you.

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