19 August 2003

Signed, Zeiled, Delivered

The Yankees released 15-year veteran Todd “Good Housekeeping” Zeile on Sunday.

Housekeeping was about all Todd had to do of late, given that the Yanks had recently acquired 3B Aaron Boone and jettisoned the lefty-susceptible Robin Ventura, whom Zeile had been hired to complement (“Nice bat, Robin.”) Besides this, Nick Johnson has recently come back from the DL, making it pretty tough to find playing time for Zeile at the 1B/DH spots.

I have two major observations about this:

1) I could have told you that Zeile was gonna suck.
B) The guys who pushed him out of a job have not exactly been hitting the cover off the ball.

Last year, Zeile hit .273 with 18 homers and 87 RBI, which looks pretty decent until I tell you that he played for the Rockies, and that his home/road splits looked like this:

Home 248 41 11 56 43 39 .315 .414 .500 914
Away 258 20 7 31 23 53 .233 .291 .353 644


So, given that a player's actual ability correlates much better with his non-Coors stats that with his Coors stats, what might we have expected out of a 38-year old with this kind of record? That's right:

.210 .294 .349 .644

...which is exactly what we got. Nothing to write home about, unless you're Gary DiSarcina.

In fact there is good news here: Despite his relatively advanced age for a baseball player, Zeile didn't really decline at all from 2002 to 2003. He had the exact same 644 OPS, which, while stinking to high heaven, is almost Bonds-ian in its age-defying consistency.

Nick Johnson came off the DL in mid July after recuperating from (yet another) wrist injury, and has hit only .230 since. Thankfully, he walks often, so his .390 OBP bolsters his otherwise unimpressive .410 slugging percentage on the way to a decent 800 OPS. Presumably, Johnson’s patience and health will allow him to start hitting .300 or so again, but he hasn’t been scorching since coming back thus far.

And what about Aaron Boone? Boone has hit a pathetic .169/.182/.238, for a sub-Neifi .420 OPS. Two lousy walks in 63 at-bats? Three extra base hits in two weeks? Zeile must be really upset. At least he wasn’t traded for Dooley Womack. Or worse, Tony Womack.

Don't worry about Zeile. He'll catch on somewhere. Dusty Baker is bound to bench some kid and give Todd another shot at mediocrity.

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14 August 2003

Could He be (H)Appier?

Kevin Appier beat the Yankees last night, pitching six shutout innings on the way to an 11-0 laugher due largely to Jeff Weaver's continued and inexplicable suck-ness. This was Appier's first start at Kauffman Stadium since rejoining the Royals, who traded him away to Oakland during the 1999 season. At the time, I was appy for Happier, er...appy for Appier, happy for Happier, er...I was glad for him because the Royals sucked back then (probably more than Jeff Weaver does now...maybe not). But now the Royals don't suck, at least not as much. And whomever in the AL Central can get through the rest of the year having sucked the least will win that weak-ass division and have a real, live shot at getting eliminated from the playoffs by the Yankees or Mariners. You can't beat that with a 19-or-20-inches-worth-of-pine-tar coated stick.

Appier spent the first eleven seasons of his career in Royal blue, pitching extremely well for some extremely lousy teams. Baseball-Reference.com's schedule breaker-outer indicates that only the Tigers, Phillies, Devil Rays, Marlins and Twins had a worse record than the Royals in that span, and that includes a 92-win season in 1989 in which Appier didn't play much of a role (1-4 in 21+ innings).

It also includes his best season, an 18-8 campaign in 1993 in which he won the AL ERA title by almost half a run less than the next closest competitor and almost a whole run less than the Cy Young winner, Black Jack McDowell. Jack had the good fortune to pitch for a team that could actually hit and therefore won 22 games despite a higher ERA and about 30 fewer strikeouts in 20 more innings. If the punchless Royals had somehow averaged more than the paltry 4.1 runs/game they gave Appier, he might have that trophy in his den instead of Black Jack.

For that matter, where would Appier's career numbers be if he'd had a team that could hit behind him for most of his career, say, like Andy Pettitte. Pettitte's got an ERA for his career roughly 18% better than the park adjusted league averages, which is pretty darn good. Granted, Pettitte's career isn't even ten years old yet, while Appier's been pitching in the bigs since 1989, but look at the contrasts:

Pettitte's career 3.95 ERA, roughly 18% better than average, has gotten him a career record of 141-77, so far, for a .647 winning percentage. That ERA ratio doesn't even rank him among the top 100 pitchers in history.

Appier is somewhere around #60, with an ERA about 24% better than average. That ratio is slightly better than current or future Hall of Famers Tom Glavine, Silver King, Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, Eddie Plank, Don Drysdale, Clark Griffith, and Joe McGinnity. What's more, it's only slightly worse than Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez, Tim Keefe, Jim Palmer, and Dazzy Vance. Pretty good company, if you ask me, which you must have, since you're still reading.

And yet Appier just doesn't have the wins to show for his effort. If not for the lousy run support he's received throughout most of his career, Appier might already have 15-20 more wins (and fewer losses). His "Support Neutral" record works out to about 175-130, instead of 169-135, but with good run support that could easily have been 190-115, which would place him squarely among some of the best pitchers in history. Where he is already, except that nobody knows it.

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11 August 2003

"Feature Analyst"

I haven't felt this important since the first time a clerk at the mall called me "Sir."

I add links to other baseball sites all the time. Other people link to me fairly often as well. Hopefully, at least some of those people actually think enough of something I write occasionally to mention it more specifically in their own writing. This is not completely unusual.

I have even been asked for my opinion, on occasion, on a certain subject in spirited debate. But now, I am syndicated.

That's correct folks, as you can see from the link on your left (right your to look should dyslexics you) I have linked a new site called Baseball Interactive, and, as you might have guessed from the 'interactive' part of their name, they have linked to me as well. Not just linked, syndicated. For now I am a member of the staff of writers at BI, and am listed as a "Feature Analyst" which is a somewhat cooler title than "Sir" and a much cooler one than "Ma'am," at least for me.

I won't necessarily be doing any extra posting, though I may get the chance to be part of an electronic round table discussion once in a while. The coolest part is that BI looks much better than Boy of Summer, and hopefully it will have an extent of reach beyond what I can do on my own. It'll be billed as "A Fan's Notebook", which will allow me to continue posting at random times on random subjects of my own choosing without having to have any sort of real responsibility at all! But I am proud to join Mike Carminati, Jay Jaffe, Brad Dowdy and a boatload of other writers to try to make BI a great fans' site. Should be fun.

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10 August 2003

What Goes Around Came Around for Pettitte

The Yankees lost today. Not such an unusual occurrence that it would normally be write-worthy, but it's the way they lost today that bothers me: They lost by playing well.

OK, so their hitters didn't play so well. They managed to scrounge together only three lousy hits and a walk. Four baserunners in nine innings does not often allow you to outscore your opponent, but given that they've averaged six runs per game over the last week, it's not as though they're in a "slump". Seattle Mariners starter Gil Meche just out-pitched them.

Meche was a super-prospect who broke through in 1999 and 2000, but had an undiagnosed injury to his pitching shoulder that shelved him for a while. Now, two years and two shoulder surgeries later, Meche is finally doing what everybody expected he would do in the first place: winning. He's now 13-7, 3.63 ERA, and strikes out twice as many batters as he walks, which isn't too shabby. But tip your cap to him and let's move on. This column isn't about Gil Meche.

It's about Andy Pettitte. Pettitte had the unusual misfortune of losing a game in which he pitched well. Since Pettitte hadn't seen an "L" next to his name in a boxscore since June 8, he might have forgotten what it felt like to lose. That performance (five outs, sig earned runs, two homers allowed to the Cubbies) stank very much bad. But since then, he may have begun to think that he led a charmed life, as even when he was less than stellar, his teammates picked up the slack. Four of his ten starts since that abysmal performance saw him allow four runs or more, never with more than 7 and a third innings pitched, but the Yankees hit in all of those, so he either got the win or someone in the bullpen vultured it from him. So this loss helps to make things even. If a man can be credited with a "Win" when he allows five runs to the lowly Devil Rays, then it only seems fair, if not appropriate, that he can be given a "Loss" for holding the mighty Mariners to two runs. But this column isn't about today's game.

It's about history. More specifically, Andy Pettitte's history. The guys announcing the game for FOX this afternoon were talking about how Pettitte has taken to working out with Roger Clemens, and how (presumably) this has helped Andy to improve his game. It seems that few, if any, of Rocket's teammates have been able to keep up with his workouts, but Pettitte is the exception, not the rule, and is the better pitcher for it. Apparently.

Year CG SHO   IP IP/GS H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 W L ERA
1995-97 9 1 636.33 6.42 9.12 0.64 2.83 6.25 51 24 3.58
1998-00 8 1 612.67 6.45 9.71 0.84 3.76 5.76 49 31 4.42
2001-03 5 1 482.00 6.34 9.73 0.71 2.02 7.26 41 21 3.87
Total 22 3 1731 6.51 9.50 0.73 2.93 6.36 141 76 3.96

Pettitte's never been much for stamina, averaging only about 6.5 innings per start over the course of his career,
somewhat less than most "aces" (Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown, etc) usually tally. He was quite a find,
the first Yankees pitching prospect to make a serious impact in quite a while. He finished third in a close vote for
1995 Rookie of the Year. (The 'close' was between Marty Cordova's 105 points and Garret Anderson's 99. Pettitte
finished a distant third with 16 points.) He finished a close (really this time) second to Pat hentgen in the 1996 Cy
Young voting, winning 21 games en route to the Yankees' first World Series triumph since 1978, and then found
himself among the leading CYA vote-getters in 1997, when he posted a career best 240 innings and 2.88 ERA,
allowing only seven home runs all year.

But then something happened. I don't know what, exactly, if Pettitte got complacent or if he just fell in love with that cut-fastball or what, but he slipped a little. From 1998-2000 his strikeout rates and innings pitched fell (though he was still a work-horse, averaging about 200 innings per year), his walk rates, homerun rates and ERA went up, and naturally he didn't win quite so often or lose quite as rarely.

But if his workouts with Clemens really are the reason for his turnaround, then it really didn't start to show until two years after Clemens joined the team. From 2001 to 2003, Pettitte has lowered his ERA, raised his strikeout rates, and cut his walk-rate almost in half. The hits have stayed about the same, as they are wont to do, but the things he can control, strikeouts and walks, he has controlled. And he should be commended for it. Where other pitchers may have gotten frustrated with lack of success or indignant towards new instruction when they had a hard time following success, Pettitte has seemed to embrace the advice and practices of someone who knows how to win and how to keep winning. Who better to look towards as a mentor than a guy who was your childhood hero, your rival for four years, and now your teammate for five? The only guy in history to win six Cy Young awards? The only guy to strike out twenty batters in a nine inning game twice?

Roger Clemens is to pitching longevity what E.F Hutton wa sto investment in the 1980's: Listen to him.

It's worked for Andy.

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09 August 2003

Mythological Figures...

Myth: (n) A popular belief or story that has become associated with a person, institution, or occurrence, especially one considered to illustrate a cultural ideal

There is a myth in the baseball world. Actually there are many of them, including the notions that “defense and pitching win championships”, “never make the last out at third base” and “Joe Morgan doesn't know what he's talking about". Well, maybe that last one has something to it.

The Yankees traded RHP Armando "Most Homers Allowed In Postseason Play By A Reliever In History" Benitez to the Seattle Mariners for RHP Jeff Nelson. The myth goes that you need solid middle relief (the Yankees already have a solid closer in Mariano Rivera, his recent penchant for allowing runs int he ninth inning notwithstanding) to win in the postseason, or maybe even to get into the postseason. The myth is probably right, in this case, but there's really no reason to believe that Benitez would have been any worse off in that role than Nelson will. The only real difference is that Nelson's done this job for years, while it's supposedly a relatively recent reaquisition for Benitez.

The myth has it that the Yankees relief corps just hasn't been right since Jeff Nelson departed for Seattle after the 2000 season. And in a move that would have made my freshman psychology professor cringe, they note that the Yanks haven't won a World Series since he left. But, as they say in France, "correlation never implies causality", and so I looked it up:

Yankees Right-Handed Relievers, Regular Season Performance

Year Saves Holds Innings HR/9 K/9 WHIP ERA
2003* 41 24 249 0.759 7.23 1.45 4.08
2002 47 29 288 0.719 6.66 1.30 3.59
2001 57 25 330 0.846 8.02 1.23 3.55
2000 40 22 333.3 0.729 6.26 1.40 3.94

*projected over 162 games

So we can see that the Yankees righty relievers actually got better after Nelson left. In 2001 and 2002 the right handed half of the Yankees Bullpen Monster had more saves, more holds, a lower ERA, allowed fewer baserunners, and struck out more batters than the team had in 2000, with Jeff Nelson. So there goes that theory.

So I thought to myself, "Self, I wonder if it was the POST-season that they were talking about..."

Yankees Right-Handed Relievers, Post-Season Performance

Year Saves Holds Innings HR/9 K/9 WHIP ERA
2002 1 0 14.0 2.57 5.79 1.50 5.14
2001 5 2 34.0 0.79 8.21 1.32 4.50
2000 6 3 29.7 1.21 6.67 1.11 3.94

This makes things a little tougher to evaluate, largely due to the small sample size. Clearly the Yankees relievers have nt been nearly as effective in the post season as they have in the regular season, and this is true for almost every year. But you can hardly blame the Yankees lack of post season success in recent years on the relievers.

In 2002, the Yankees' starters had a combined ERA of almost 11.00!, so the fact that the relievers didn't do so well seems hardly relevant. It's not as though there were many leads for them to protect.

In 2001 the starters were not so bad as all of that, but Andy Pettitte managed to lose three games in the postseason all by himself, which constituted half of the losses attributed to the Yankees starters in that post season. Mariano Rivera was the only reliever who was credited with a loss that year in the playoffs. So again, it's hardly for a lack of middle relief that the Yankees didn't win that World Series either.

And in 2000, the last year the commisioner's trophy did end up in the Bronx? Jeff Nelson did get three "Holds" that year in postseason play, but his ERA was 7.04, so I'd say that they were sucessful in spite of him.

Joe Sheehan has an article in Baseball Prospectus' Premium area in which he says it's a win-win trade. That the Mariners are better off having a righty who can get both lefties and righties out, and that the Yankees are better off having a situational pitcher with whom Joe Torre is comfortable, especially for the postseason. I don't disagree, necessarily, but the Yankees may end up with egg on their collective faces if Benitez comes in to close out games against them and succeeds, or if Nelson is asked to pretect a lead against the Mariners in the ALCS and fails. I guess we'll see.

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06 August 2003


I have been made aware that a couple of my fellow bloggers have moved over to Movable Type. I don't really know what this means, but I assume it costs money or something, so I doubt that I'll be doing it any time soon. However, if you're interested, you can now find the illustrious John J(acob Jingleheimer) Perricone's Only Baseball Matters at http://www.grousehouse.org/obm/. Of cours, if you go to his former site, there's a banner that will take you right over anyway. The only difference I really see is that he doesn't seem to have the papyrus font like he did before, but hey, you don't go there for the font, right?

Also, Brad Dowdy's Atlanta Braves Blog, **No Pepper** has moved to http://www.nopepper.net. No font change here, I think.

And of course both of these can be reached from my blog links on the left, as soon as I update them, which should be shortly.

While you're surfing, you may find Baseball Crank Dan McLaughlin's analysis of the Red Sox potential to finish the season with a team slugging percentage over .500, which has never been done before, and some ensuing comments, one from Yours Truly.

And Last, but not Finally, Elephants in Oakland has just become one year old. This Post marks their anniversary, but if you haven't read more of their writing by now, you're really missing out. EIO may be going the route of Movable Type or something even cooler soon, so stay tuned....

And speaking of being a year old, my own anniversary is Friday, August seventh. Here is my first post. Cool.

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05 August 2003

Trade Analysis...

How did this happen?

I went away for a couple of lousy days, and I came back to find that my favorite team's starting right fielder, third baseman and best pitching prospect had been jettisoned to the National League, and that they had gotten an overrated thirdbaseman, a backup outfielder, an injured lefty reliever and a couple of prospects in return. Not good.

What's more, my favorite team's immediate rival had gotten the second-best available starter (Jeff Suppan), two of the best available relievers (RHP Scott WIlliamson and LHP Scott Sauerbeck) and had given up only a couple of marginal prospects to do so.

Now don't get me wrong, I think that Yankees GM Brian Cashman did a pretty good job in getting a new, fairly productive thirdbaseman (Aaron Boone) to replace the aging, underproductive one they had (Robin Ventura), who was necessarily dumped into the Dodgers' already underachieving hitting ranks. And though I don't happen to put much stock in "team chemistry", if you hafta get rid of Raul Mondesi, it's best to get something for him and to send him someplace where he can't come back to haunt you. Arizona seems pretty safe.

Aaron Boone isn't that much of an upgrade on Robin Ventura, but it's something. Even when Ventura's batting average dips below .250, he walks enough to keep up a respectable OBP, but his almost complete lack of power this year (13 2B, 9 HR) and his age (36) meant that some upgrade was needed. There really wasn't anywhere else in the lineup they could expect to significantly upgrade anyway. And they got some decent (albeit old) prospects back in Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor.

Boston, on the other hand (...yep, still five fingers!), did a wonderful job shoring up their bullpen with Sauerbeck and Williamson, not to mention getting Byun Hyun Kim earlier in the year, while essentially giving up only a 2B prospect, once most of the original deal was un-done.

Suppan, frankly, I'm not very worried about. While he's a durable pitcher having a pretty good year (for the Pirates, no less) his career ERA is almost 5.00, and he's really not giving up any fewer hits or getting any more strikeouts this season than he normally does. What he is doing is allowing fewer walks (about one per nine innings less) and homers (about one-half per nine innings less). This, as Oakland GM Billy Beane and any sabermetrician worth his salt will tell you, is a good way to keep your ERA down. Unfortunately, it might just be a fluke. Suppan may revert to giving up that extra homer and extra walk and revert to the league-average innings muncher he usually is, in which case the Red Sox playoff foes have little to fear from him.

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