10 March 2004

Random Thanks and Stuff

Well, that was nice.

Thanks muchly to the kind hearts of John Perricone, David Pinto, Lee Sinins, and numerous others with slightly smaller spheres of influence, Boy of Summer received 567 visits in three days last week, including a record 377 in one day that shattered the previous record of 143, set last year on Opening Day. I know fewer than 400 hits is an off day for some of you, but I'm excited, and they can't take that away from me. That, and the way you sing off-key...

Incidentally, if you're a blogger or someone to whom I sent an email asking for a plug and I don't already have you linked on my site, let me know and I'll remedy the situation.

Speaking of links, I haven't had the time to say anything about the steroids situation yet, and it's likely that I won't, but you can go check out John Perricone's place. He's written quite extensively on the subject and has links to lots of other resources.

Also SethSpeaks has a pretty long but interesting look at Minnesota Twins playoff teams.

And, in case you've been under a rock for a few weeks, Dan McLaughlin continues his series on Win Shares-based analysis, division by division, with the AL Central.

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02 March 2004

I Got Ya Expos Right Here!

WARNING: Some of the following material is GRAPHIC in nature, and is therefore not recommended for children over the age of three, the colorblind, or people who have trouble reading maps.

I lived in northern New Jersey for a long time, almost twenty years. And despite the fact that I happen to agree with the former NJ governor who thought that Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” would have been an appropriate state song (“We’ve got to get out while we’re young…”), I also believe that Jersey has a lot of good aspects. Being closer to New York City, for one, where my favorite baseball team happens to play.

At one time, while I still lived there, the possibility of the Yankees moving to a yet-to-be built stadium in the Meadowlands became a very hot topic. Everyone from radio and TV personalities to your local supermarket cashier had an opinion on the matter or used the phrase “New Jersey Yankees” as a punch line to some bad joke.

Speaking of bad jokes: The Montreal Expos.

The joke, sadly, is that the rest of the major league teams actually own the Expos franchise, one of their competitors (in more ways than one), and don’t appear to be willing to sell their interest in it to anyone who might actually be able to do something useful with it. That is, anything besides helping to stock the other 29 major league rosters with some fairly decent baseball players. (Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, John Wetteland, Javier Vazquez, Ugueth Urbina, Vladimir Guerrero, Moises Alou, Kirk Reuter, Rondell White, Carl Pavano, and others were all allowed to leave as free agents or traded away when they became too expensive.)

The problem is not the notion of selling the team, as no fewer than three major league franchises, including the past two World Series winners, have changed owners’ hands in the last couple of seasons. The hang-up appears to be that they just can’t seem to find a buyer who has both the wherewithal to purchase the team and a city to which it could be legitimately moved. A city/region that will appreciate (support) the team and won’t step on the toes of at least one other MLB franchise does not appear to exist. Places like Las Vegas, Portland, Memphis, Washington DC, and Northern NJ have all been suggested, each with its own set of problems. Baseball Prospectus’ Andrew Baharlias recently penned an article (sorry, premium content) about the possibility of the Expos (or some other team?) moving to New Jersey, and he came to the conclusions that:

1) It would never happen, because the Yankees and Mets would veto it.
2) South Jersey might actually be a better option for a stadium site than North Jersey, based on minor and independent league baseball attendance last year, and
3) The Yankees might be a better option to move to the Meadowlands anyway.

But why wouldn’t this work? Doug Pappas has been telling anyone who would listen for years that New Jersey should be able to easily support a third team in the area, and that the Baltimore/Washington area is also a very viable option, economically. Naturally, if Baharlias’ suggestion to put such a team in southern or central Jersey were taken, the Phillies would intervene to prevent it, as would any other team that perceived an economic threat in its backyard. Heck, ten years ago the Phillies wouldn’t even allow a minor league team to enter the Lehigh Valley, 60 miles away! They’re certainly not going to roll over for one in Trenton, right across the river.

The trouble with any of these plans is that the baseball owners all perceive that they will lose revenue if another team takes root nearby, that their fans will somehow become brainwashed and start going to the games of this new franchise, instead of their own, well-established one. But is this an accurate perception? I looked at the seasonal attendance records for three different areas over four spans of time, to see if there was any observable, long-term affect on attendance due to the placement or removal of another team in the same vicinity. (Thanks to BaseballReference.com for these numbers, by the way.) And do you know what I found?

Of course you don’t. That’s why you’re still reading.

What I found was that if there is any significant effect, it is either not permanent, or not significant enough for anyone to really worry about it.

NY Yankees, Giants, Mets and Brooklyn Dodgers

Take a look at what happened to attendance in New York City while it had three teams in the 1950’s, then after the Dodgers and Giants fled to the Left Coast, and then when the Mets were born.

Initially, you can see that the Yankees’ attendance (the dark blue line) was pretty much stable throughout the mid-1950s, while the Dodgers and Giants were still around. Even as the Dodgers’ attendance fluctuated and the Giants attendance plummeted, the Bronx Bombers drew just about the same average attendance from 1953-1957. They actually lost a few fans in 1958, for no discernable reason I can see, but more than gained them back in 1959, despite the team’s third-place finish.

You can also see that the Yankees’ attendance numbers steadily climbed from 1958-1961, reaching a pretty high peak in 1961, when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were chasing the Babe’s single-season home run record. Naturally, there’s really nowhere to go but down from there, and perhaps also because they were no longer the only game in town, they took a hit in 1962, when the Amazin’s were hatched. Yankee attendance continued to decline throughout the decade, while the Mets attendance climbed steadily. Could this be possible evidence of a deleterious effect on the Bombers’ ability to draw a crowd?

Take a look and the white line. That’s the Yankees’ winning percentage in each of those seasons (multiplied by a constant to bring it up to the level of the attendance numbers). It doesn’t take Lobachevsky to figure out that those two lines trend pretty nicely together, much better than any inverse correlation between the Yankees’ attendance and that of their competitors. Another thing you can’t see from the graph is that the Yankees were still the #1 or #2 draw in the AL in each of these seasons, despite the decline. (In fact the Yankees average attendance had been first or 2nd in the AL every season from 1926 to 1965, and did not lose their hold on that status until a last-place finish in ’66.)

But in the early ‘60s, for whatever reason, MLB attendance (the maroon line) was down everywhere. Maybe a lot of the ‘purists’ stopped going to games when the leagues expanded. Maybe people had more games available on TV. I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. The point is that while their total attendance may have been down, their relative strength in attendance was nearly as high as ever, until they started losing a lot.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Angels

Let’s move on to the next area, Los Angeles. The Dodgers arrived in 1958, and had the town all to themselves until 1961, when expansion dropped the Angels out of the sky.

Again, you can see that the Dodgers attendance fluctuated more with their in-season success than it did with how many fans the Angels were drawing. Incidentally, some of the sharp fluctuation in the Angels’ attendance was likely due to the instability of their stadium situation. In 1961, they were playing in Wrigley Field, a converted minor league park that held barely 20,000 people. From 1962-65, they played their home games in Dodger Stadium, and in 1966 they got their own venue, Anaheim Stadium, and immediately jumped up to 1st in the AL in average attendance.

You would imagine, I think, that if there was ever a situation in which having another, proximate team would have a detrimental effect on your own team’s attendance, this would be it, right? Angels’ tickets were probably less expensive than Dodgers’ tickets, and they were playing in the exact same location. Again though, the apparent drop in attendance from 1962-64 is more attributable to general trends in all of major league baseball that anything to do with the Dodgers themselves. LA was 1st in the NL in average attendance, despite these fluctuations, every year from 1959-1966. In any case, though, it seems fairly clear that there is little correlation between the numbers of fans coming to Angels games and the numbers of fans NOT coming to Dodgers games.

San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics

Also out in California, the Giants’ home turf was invaded by the Athletics, who moved in across the Bay, to Oakland in 1968, after thirteen mostly dismal years in Kansas City.

This graph shows a slightly different picture from the two we just examined. For one thing, the Giants’ attendance numbers fluctuated significantly, while their winning percentage stayed pretty constant. The one dip in their winning in 1972 also coincided with the first players’ strike, and so attendance was probably hurt more than it would otherwise have been for just a one-year blip in an otherwise reasonably successful on-field team.

That precipitous drop from 1966-1968 certainly doesn’t correspond to the team’s winning, and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the A’s, since they were still playing in KC in 1967, and they were a mediocre team (82-80) that drew poorly (8th in the 10-team AL) in 1968. With a few exceptions, both Oakland’s and San Francisco’s attendance numbers were fairly consistent throughout the next several years.

I think, though I don’t have any evidence to prove it, that the huge variances in attendance (almost 5,000 patrons/game stopped going in both 1967 and again in 1968, as well as the spike in 1971) are due to Willie Mays, or rather the lack thereof. Mays was a wonderful, Hall of Fame player, arguably the greatest centerfielder ever, and he still played with the Giants through 1971, but age was taking its toll. He was 36 years old in 1967, and started to drop from Demigod status to Mere Mortal, as you can see here:

YEARS     G    AB   R    H   2B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA

1962-66 157 581 117 177 28 45 114 74 78 .305
1967-71 136 456 81 128 20 21 70 72 91 .281

Some players, like Babe Ruth, Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds, so transcend the game, and the level at which their competition plays, that they can actually bring many more fans to the ballpark, just to see them. Maybe when Mays lost some of his touch, some of the Bay Area fans lost interest. It could also be that the spike in 1971 was due to Mays as well, if people knew it would be his last year with the team. Lots of fans may have wanted one last chance to see the Say Hey Kid before he retired, or to take their kids or grandkids so that they could at least say they saw him play once. If anyone has a better theory, I’m willing to hear it. John Perricone didn’t have one, and I would think that he’d know.

All of that, while perhaps an interesting tangent, really doesn’t answer the question of whether or not the presence of the Athletics hurt the Giants’ attendance, but I think that the graph does show one thing. The A’s drew pretty consistently around 10,000 to 12,000 fans per game in their first five years, with a slight increase that approximates the general trends in MLB attendance during that time (the maroon line), but offers no direct explanation for the instability in the Giants attendance.

Washington/Baltimore, Pre-1961

For all the harping that Orioles owner Peter Angelos does about the possibility of the Expos cutting into his profits if they move to Washington or Northern Virginia, he seems to forget that his own franchise did the same thing half a century ago. In 1954, a failing and flailing St. Louis Browns franchise decided to pull up stakes and head East, for Baltimore, which had not had a major league team since the Orioles left for New York in 1903, eventually to become the most successful and storied franchise in all of professional sports (no, the Yankees, silly). The Browns became the Orioles, and at that time, they were encroaching upon the Washington Senators’ home area.

Not that the Senators were exactly a model of success at the major league level, in terms of winning, attendance or anything else. But still, the place was theirs, and the Orioles’ arrival definitely didn’t help the struggling franchise.

As bad as things were for the Washington Senators (“First in War, First in Peace, and Last in the American League”) before the Orioles turned up, they didn’t exactly improve with the arrival of some “healthy competition”. In truth, for the first few seasons in Baltimore, the only thing for which the Orioles really competed with the Senators was the American League basement. From 1954 to 1959, Baltimore and Washington were two of the three worst teams in the AL every year except one (1957), when Baltimore finished 4th from the bottom.

But were they competing for fans? You can see from the graph that Washington’s attendance numbers were on a slight but steady decline even before the Orioles arrived, and that the same trend continued through 1955. Then the team’s attendance essentially leveled off at about 5,000-6,000/game, and since there was nowhere to go but up from there, they did. A little. Even that slight improvement, however, again coincided with a slight increase in the quality of the on-field product (and the general MLB attendance trend), as the Senators won 73 whopping games in 1960, just before they left for Minnesota. As before, we see that the notable fluctuations in the attendance levels of the newer team (Baltimore) had little to do with the previous team’s fan base.

Baltimore/Washington, Post-1960

Baltimore’s attendance continued its weirdness into the next decade, as the Senators left and the Newly Improved (not really) Expansion Senators took their place. This new team wasn’t any better at baseball than the old one had been, and they didn’t draw any better either, which is why they also left, this time for Texas, after the 1971 season.

This graph shows that the Orioles attendance (the black line) continued to fluctuate significantly throughout the mid 1960s, while that of the Senators (the blue line) remained fairly constant. And by “constant” I mean “lousy”. As we mentioned before though, the Senators’ attendance was pretty awful before the Orioles got there. It seems that it took about a decade for Baltimore fans to make up their minds whether or not they were really interested in the Orioles. Despite only minor fluctuations in the Orioles on-field success, the attendance varied from fewer than 10,000/game up to 14,000/game, back down to 10,000 and then up to over 15,000 fans per game, before finally stabilizing around 12-13,000 for the decade from 1967-76.

You can also see that the Orioles attendance trended pretty nicely with their winning from 1966 or ’68 on, so it would appear that once people got comfortable with the Orioles, convinced that they weren’t going to skip town (as the Senators had now done twice in barely over a decade), and convinced that Earl Weaver and his Oriole Way were going to work, they settled on how often they would go to games. These numbers, while below the major league average, were still pretty solid, and gave the Baltimore organization a foundation on which to build one of the more successful transformations of a franchise from Perennial Patsy to Consistent Contender.

However, returning to the question at hand: No, the departure of the Senators for Texas after the 1971 season did not create any significant spike in the Orioles’ attendance, which mostly followed the gentle upward movement that the rest of MLB followed.

So, what have we learned? Well, we’ve learned that Travis knows how to make pretty graphs. Also, we’ve learned that history has a few lessons for us regarding the effects of major league baseball franchise relocation on the attendance of the existing team.

Lesson #1: Teams that have lousy attendance before a new team moves in continue to have lousy attendance after the new team arrives (cf. 1950s Washington Senators). Teams that have good attendance tend to have continued good attendance (cf. 1960s NY Yankees) unless acted upon by an Outside Force, e.g. Losing A Lot. Call this Nelson’s First Law of Attendance Motion.

Lesson #2: Existing teams’ attendance levels tend to follow the trends of their on-field success fairly closely, unless acted upon by an Outside Force, e.g. Demise of a Superstar. (cf. San Francisco Giants, mid-late 1960s) Call this Nelson’s Second Law of Attendance Motion.

Lesson #3: Newly relocated or expanded teams will have a 5-10 year period wherein their attendance will fluctuate significantly, depending upon the team’s on-field success, stadium situation, previous history, manager, uniform colors, phase of the moon, etc. (Unless they’re the Devil Rays, in which case the attendance will start out slowly and taper off. That Law is called Entropy, which means that everything is in a constant state of breaking down and spinning out of control, at least in Tampa Bay.) Otherwise, call this Nelson’s Third Law of Attendance Motion (Chaos Theory).

Overall, of the five (six, really) location/time case studies we’ve done, it appears that the Yankees have the most cause for complaint, as theirs is historically the team that lost the most attendance with the onset of another team across town. As we’ve already discussed, that correlation seems to make less sense than the correlation of attendance drop with losing ballgames, but at least they have a correlation to show. And, since we’re talking about the possibility of a MLB team being placed in northern New Jersey (remember when we were talking about that?), this is relevant.

However, I do believe that we have pretty well established, according to Nelson’s Second Law, that the Bronx Bombers have little about which to worry. With their success, the Yanks have drawn over 3 million fans per season for each of the last four years, even though ticket prices have essentially doubled in the last decade. You’d imagine that if people were going to stop going to Yankees games, the prices would have pushed them away, and they haven’t, because for every fan who can no longer afford to go to two or three games a year, there are two fans who will go once or twice just to watch a good team play.

Fans choose which team they will follow early in life, and it’s usually not easy to pry that away from them, regardless of what the team does. If the team’s successful, more fans go to games. If the team loses a lot, the fans tend to stay home, watch the games or read about them and then complain to their barbers, or whatever. But under no circumstances would any lifelong Yankee fan trade in his Yankees tickets to go see the East Rutherford Expos, even at half the price. If anything, they might do both, but as long as the Yankees keep winning, they really shouldn’t bother about the Expos.

Nobody else does.

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19 February 2004


Scooter, eat your heart out.

Let’s talk about the Alex Rodriguez deal. Why not, right? Everyone else is.

Alex Rodriguez is now a Yankee, having been traded by the Rangers, with a huge pile of money, for 2B Alfonso Soriano and a PTBNL. I cannot, for my life, figure out why the Rangers would do this. Alex Rodriguez is the reigning AL MVP, probably the best player in the AL, and possibly the best shortstop in history, and the Rangers couldn’t wait to get rid of the guy? Why?

They have argued that his enormous contract (all together now: $252 million over ten years) was a millstone around the organization’s collective neck, preventing them from acquiring the pitching they needed to compete. This is ridiculous. As Baseball Prospectus pointed out a few days ago, the problem isn’t the $20-25 million they pay A-Rod each year to vie for the MVP award. The problem is the $12 million they pay Chan Ho Park to put up ERAs higher than, well, than almost anybody. The problem is the $3 million they’ll pay Jay Powell each of the next three years. The problem is manifold, and it is not named Alex.

The trouble is that perception often trumps reality. The fact that Alex is paid so much to play for a team that doesn’t win makes him (and agent Scott Boras, who negotiated the deal) out to be the bad guy, when really the guys who gave him the deal, and gave much more detrimental deals to lesser players, are to blame. Tom Hicks can’t, or won’t, fire himself, so he figures that if they can rid themselves of this contract, no matter how good he may be, it’s got to help them create fiscal flexibility in the future.

This year’s basically shot, since there wasn’t a ton of pitching talent available on the free agent market in the first place, and the last of it, Greg Maddux, just signed with the Cubs. I’m not sure who’ll become available at the trading deadline or after the season, but you’d have to think that the Rangers will be sellers rather than buyers in July, given their already terrible pitching and their tough competition in the AL West. So how does this help them?

Supposedly, in the “long run”, it allows them to sign the talent they need to compete, without one player taking up such a significant portion of the payroll. In reality, while they may have overpaid more than a little for A-Rod, having misinterpreted both the projected market and the existing competition for his services, he’s still worth it. Or at least he’s more worth his $25 million/year than Manny Ramirez is worth his $20M. And more than Jeter’s worth his $19M, etc. because there isn’t anybody else as good as A-Rod is.

Of course, the other “real problem” with A-Rod’s contract was that if he were to be signed now, he wouldn’t get anywhere near that kind of money or that length of commitment. Rumors out of ESPN’s Jayson Stark indicate that the Cardinals may be about to sign Albert Pujols to a 7-year, $100M, and that probably sounds about right. Amazingly, the Yankees worked it out so that this is about what they will pay him. Actually it’s more like $90 million over seven years, which seems like a bargain. That’s less than $13M/year, less (on average) than Vlad Guerrero, Jeff Bagwell, Carlos Delgado, Barry Bonds, Shawn Green, Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome, Mike Hampton, Todd Helton, Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Jeter, Gary Sheffield, and maybe a few other guys, none of whom will do as much to help their teams win games over the next half a decade or so than Rodriguez will. He’ll still be the best player in the AL, but the Yankees have the advantage, if he’s good, of having their competition pay him to beat them. And if he’s bad, they have the advantage of pointing to the Rangers and saying, “Well, at least we’re not paying his whole contract!”

Usually the Yanks are on the other side of the dump, sending aging, overpaid players, with some cash, to other teams to free up space for someone better (and often more expensive.) In this case, the Yankees somehow managed to convince the Rangers not only to give up the best player in the AL to its wealthiest team, but also to help pay his contract, to the tune of about $67,000,000. You could maybe see doing something like that if A-Rod had prematurely aged and started to suck, but he’s still young and awesome, so I just don’t see how it makes any sense at all for the Rangers.

While the Yanks did have to give up a pretty significant and talented player (plus a PTBNL from a list of about five) to get him, what they lost is nowhere near the value of what they gained. Don’t get me wrong: Alfonso Soriano is great, one of the ten or 15 most valuable players in the game right now, but he’s no A-Rod. He’s got power and speed, hits for average and plays a key defensive position, but he’s no A-Rod. His defense is actually better than he gets credit for, and improving, but he’s no A-Rod. Poor strike zone judgment, leading to enormous amounts of strikeouts with few walks mean that, you guessed it: He’s no A-Rod.

In fact, the only real (or apparent) advantages he had over Rodriguez at the time of the deal were that he was cheaper (making $5.4 million this year, with one or two more years of arbitration before hitting the free agent market) and that he was younger, 26 to Rodriguez’s 29. Well, now it turns out that Soriano is actually 28 himself, having lied about his age, but only finally admitting it now. Lee Sinins reported this a few days ago, and says that the Rangers were aware of it during negotiations, which makes the fact that the deal actually happened all the more unfathomable.

Sinins’ stats (Runs Above Average) indicate that Rodriguez is a much better player than Soriano, and he is, but since they don’t play the same positions, it’s a little tough to compare them. Baseball Prospectus has Rodriguez making about 10-15 more runs than Soriano in each of the last two seasons, roughly one win’s worth, over the course of the season. However, since there are fewer shortstops than second basemen who can hit, A-Rod comes out about +80 runs above replacement level for shortstops, whereas Soriano’s only about +55 for 2Bs, a much greater disparity. If Rodriguez moves over to play 3B, then obviously his RAA and RARP numbers would drop a little, since 3B’s can usually hit better than shortstops. Similarly, if Soriano is moved over to SS (where he played throughout his minor league career, and where it makes the most sense for the Rangers to put him) his RAA/RARPs increase, actually making him more of an asset, assuming that he continues to hit as he has the last few seasons.

That’s the thing though: If he’s already 28 years old, it’s likely that he’s already hit a plateau, that he won’t get much better. Of course, you can more than live with .290/.340/.520 from a middle infielder, especially one who steals 30-40 bases with a high success rate. If that was his peak though, if he’s about to start sliding, then you’d be a fool to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract. Or at least you’d be a fool to sign him to the same, expensive, long-term contract you might have signed him to a couple of weeks ago. Soriano will continue to be a pretty darn good player, and will probably be even better if they don’t have him batting leadoff, since we all know that working the pitcher is not where his strengths lie. He just won’t likely be as good as a lot of people expected, and he might even be a lot worse than Lee Sinins expected.

On the other side of the trade, the Yankees got an All-Star, MVP-caliber shortstop, which, as you may have heard, was not something they needed. What they did need was a third baseman, and the current plan is for Rodriguez to shift over to 3B, with Jeter continuing at short. Since Jeter’s the Captain, I guess the prerogative to move is his.

Almost anyone with any sabermetric background, or whose name doesn’t rhyme with “Slim Lickstarver”, will tell you that Jeter is not a good defensive SS. In fact, if Baseball Prospectus’s defensive stats are to be believed, Jeter’s been between 19 and 24 runs worse than a replacement level SS each of the last four years, including –22 in only 119 games this season.

So why keep him there? Why let the lousy defender stay at the tougher position and move the better player to a different, easier position? Rob Neyer has pointed out that A-Rod really isn’t that great with the glove, though he is slightly above average. But his +5 fielding runs coupled with Jeter’s –20 means that the Yankees risk a deficit of about two wins over the course of the year, just due to their defense at shortstop, assuming that Jeter would otherwise be an average fielding third baseman.

Once again, though, we reach an assumption that may not be accurate. The main reason for Jeter’s defensive ineptitude is his lack of range, his inability to reach that ball hit up the middle, bouncing past him into center field. At 3B, you don’t need as much range as you do at SS, since there’s less ground to cover. But if Jeter’s got such lousy range because he has such a slow reaction time, then he might be an even worse defensive 3B than he is a SS. And perhaps having a decent defensive 3B in Alex will help to decrease the range Jeter needs at short, which could allow him to cheat a little toward the bag at second base, making the entire infield defense better. Not good, but better, anyway.

Somebody I read the other day indicated that he thought it fairly likely that Jeter will not spend the whole season at short, that A-Rod will take over there a few months into the season, once it becomes apparent that he’s still terrible there at that they now have a better option, about 40 feet to Jeter’s right. I doubt this.

I think that if Jeter is going to spend any significant time playing third base this season, the Yankees are going to have him getting ready to do so in February and March, not in July. There’s no way that the New York Yankees, the most storied and successful franchise in all of professional sports, in the midst of a pennant race with their hated rivals, the Boston 1918’s, er, RedSox, will take any chances that they don’t have to take. There’s no way they go out on a limb in June or July and put an unknown out there at third base on the off chance that Jeter will suck less at third than he does at short. They’d rather have one guy who’s good and one who’s consistently bad than one who’s good and another who’s erratically, unpredictably bad. Game implications aside: the politics, the hype, the second guessing and back-page, tabloid pressures would be too great to even think about taking such a chance.

There’s too much riding on this season, and it looks much better, if they don’t win in the playoffs, to have Joe Torre quoted as saying something like, “We did what we’ve always done, what we’ve done for years, and they just plain beat us.” Than to have to read him saying, “Well, we tried something different, on a lark. We took a gamble, and it didn’t work.” Such a gamble would probably cost Torre his job, and I just don’t see that happening. Torre didn’t get to be the longest tenured manager in the history of Steinbrenner’s Yankees by taking chances. He got there by going with what he knows, what already works, and if he wants to keep doing so, he won’t let chance come between him and his next contract any more than necessary.

Of course, now they need a secondbaseman, and to answer your question, Mom, no, Miguel Cairo isn’t any good. Not sure exactly what they’re gonna do about that, but I’m pretty sure that Cairo/Almonte/Whomever they have in AAA Columbus is not the answer.


A few plugs:

Al Bethke, over at the Milwaukee Brewers blog, Al's Ramblings, has got a couple of new posts you might like to ckeck out. One of them is an interview with Brewers AAA catcher (and book/blog writer) Chris Coste.

He's also got a roundtable discussion he posted last Wednesday (2/11). Interesting even if you're not a Brew Crew fan.

Christian Ruzich, the Cub Reporter/Transaction Guy, has revamped the All-Baseball.com website, and they've got quite a few different, interesting and excellent writers. Almost anything you could ask for, except me. And you've already got me.

Seth Stohs has a post comparing traditional to Sabermetric baseball stats, which is over at Seth Speaks.

On a more personal note, I have had the good fortune to be added to the list of another baseball website, the brandy-spankin-new BaseballOutsider.com. Four other columnists (maybe more...) and I contribute, as do other bloggers to whom Outsider links. I'm honored to be a part of their effort. Go check them out.

And lastly, but not leastly, I will be adding a few more advertisements for baseball tickets this weekend, when I return home from a business trip and have access to my own computer. If anyone else is interested in advertising on Boy of Summer, please drop me a line.

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16 February 2004

Second Time's the Charm

Sophomoric (adj.): Exhibiting great immaturity and lack of judgment.

Well, pitchers and catchers don't all report for almost another week, but while we're all sitting around waiting for the snow to melt, let's look forward to 2004. What might we expect from this year, and more specifically, what might we expect from the substantial crop of players who will continue into their second year in the majors? Who will crack under the pressure, and who might flourish with another year of seasoning? Who will succumb to the dreaded Sophomore Slump?

I took the data for all of the rookies in 2003 who say significant playing time, everyone with at least 250 plate appearances, about half a season's worth. These guys will no longer qualify as rookies (I think the cutoff is 150 plate appearances) in 2004, and many of them have a starting job with their major league team this coming year. There were 30 players, but I threw out Eric Munson, Rob Calloway, Matt Kata, Jhonny Peralta and Kevin Witt because frankly, I don't think anyone really cares all that much what they'll do in 2004, except maybe their moms. And it made for fewer players for me to examine.

Anyway, here they are, ranked in order of Plate Appearances/Walk, along with some other stats:

1 Overbay, Ari 254 1 0 8.26 .276 .365 .402 .767
2 K. Ginter, Mil 358 1 1 10.68 .257 .352 .427 .779
3 H. Matsui, NYY 623 2 2 10.89 .287 .353 .435 .788
4 Podsednik, Mil 558 43 10 10.96 .314 .379 .443 .822
5 Phillips, NYM 403 0 1 11.33 .298 .373 .442 .815
6 M. Byrd, Phi 495 11 1 12.25 .303 .366 .418 .784
7 Teixeira, Tex 529 1 2 13.02 .259 .331 .480 .811
8 Broussard, Cle 386 5 2 13.06 .249 .312 .443 .755
9 Wigginton, NYM 573 12 2 13.46 .255 .318 .396 .714
10 Cabrera, Fla 314 0 2 13.56 .268 .325 .468 .793
11 T. Hafner, Cle 291 2 1 14.23 .254 .327 .485 .812
12 J. Gerut, Cle 480 4 5 14.71 .279 .336 .494 .830
13 J. Bard, Cle 303 0 2 14.77 .244 .293 .373 .666
14 Everett, Hou 387 8 1 14.82 .256 .320 .380 .700
15 X. Nady, SD 371 6 2 16.46 .267 .321 .391 .712
16 Monroe, Det 425 4 2 16.74 .240 .287 .449 .736
17 M. Olivo, CWS 317 6 4 17.68 .237 .287 .360 .646
18 K. Harvey, KC 485 2 3 17.72 .266 .313 .408 .721
19 C. Crisp, Cle 414 15 9 19.00 .266 .302 .353 .655
20 A. Berroa, KC 567 21 5 20.55 .287 .338 .451 .789
21 R. Johnson, Tor 412 5 3 21.60 .294 .353 .427 .780
22 J. Reyes, NYM 274 13 3 22.08 .307 .334 .434 .769
23 R. Baldelli, TB 637 27 10 22.23 .289 .326 .416 .742
24 B. Hart, StL 296 3 1 25.67 .277 .317 .395 .713
25 Phillips, Cle 370 4 5 27.43 .208 .242 .311 .553

I know it's a long list, but stick with me.

Some of the interesting things to note here:

Young and inexperienced Brandon Phillips, who was slated to be the Indians' starting SS in Spring 2003, spent three and a half months sucking, and lost his job in mid-July. He was replaced by even younger, even less-experienced Jhonny Peralta, who, while better than Phillips, also stank very much bad. Phillips, as I understand it, is the future at SS for the Tribe, so he's listed despite the sub-Neifi .553 OPS.

And speaking of the Indians, did you know that they had no fewer than seven rookies get at least 250 plate appearances last year? Peralta, Phillips, Ben Broussard, Travis Hafner, Josh Bard, Coco Crisp and Jody Gerut, who came out of nowhere to finish third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Also he has a blog. Cool. I wonder if all those at-bats by rookies (not to mention Alex Escobar, Victor Martinez, Angel Santos and Ryan Ludwick) is some kind of record? Amazingly, despite their relative lack of experience, they still finished 25 games ahead of the Tigers in the standings.

I could have chosen any of a number of ways to rank/list these guys, but I chose their walk rates because patience at the plate tends to be a better predictor of future performance than batting average or RBI, and on-base percentages can be artificially bolstered by an uncharacteristically high batting average. I also listed steals and caught stealing to show that some of these guys have skills that don't show through in the percentage numbers.

The highest profile rookie of 2003, Hideki Matsui, was not spectacular, but was one of the most patient of the rookies. Of course, a 27-year old who's been in a semi-major league for several years ought to be more patient than a lot of 22-year olds getting their first bitter taste of Major League Coffee. He didn't hit many homers, but 42 doubles helped him to a decent slugging percentage. At his age, I wouldn't look for him to take any huge strides in 2004, in either direction. He may improve a little, with a year of experience under his belt, but I understand that "Matsui" is a Japanese word for "grounder to second", so don't bet on him returning to the 50-homer seasons he had in Japan.

Jody Gerut actually had the highest OPS of any qualified rookie in 2003, but his walk rate (35 in 480 AB) was distinctly middle-of-the-pack, but his minor-league history shows that he used to be pretty patient. If he can regain some of the walks he used to get in the minors and keep his newly-discovered power (two big ifs), he'll be a pretty decent, non-Coors-inflated, Ellis Burks type of player, without so much batting average. Unfortunately, a torn rotator cuff may keep him either sidelined or inneffective for much of 2004.

Lyle Overbay, part of the trade that sent Richie Sexson to Arizona, will likely be the Brewers' starting first baseman. He's probably nothing spectacular, but he's patient and has a little power. Without Mark Grace there to compete for his job, he should get plenty of at-bats, and a .300/..390/.450 type of season isn't out of the question.

Milwaukee's two rookies, Scott Podsednik and Kieth Ginter, are not as bad as you might think, considering that they play for the Brewers. Podsednik probably should have won the NL RoY honors, hitting .314 and scoring 100 runs for a last-place team. His patience and speed should help him to remain an effective part of the Brewers (ahem) offense, but he's not young (28 on opening day) so don't expect any notable improvement. Look for his batting average to drop back into the ~.280 range, more in line with his minor league stats, and perhaps for him to lose some of those steals.

Ginter's got more power, but less patience, a lot less batting average and no speed at all. Still, a 2B with 15-homer pop is still kind of unusual, and he's not terribly impatient, but again, he'll be 28 in May, and is therefore likely already as good as he'll ever get. Think David Bell with 20 more walks and without the $3 million annual price-tag.

The Mets have three players on this list, Ty Wigginton, Jason Phillips and Jose Reyes. These are very different animals.

Wigginton should be a serviceable major league 3B. Baseball Prospectus projected him to hit .257/.319/.408, which rather nicely reflects the .255/.318/.392 line he did put up, albeit in twice as many at-bats as they expected, since the Mets never picked up a real option at third. He's not great at anything, but has a little patience, a little power, and a little speed, which, if I'm not mistaken, gets you a little over $4 million in annual salary once you hit free agency, right? Wigginton is as good an option as they have, is still cheap, and is young enough (25) to possibly improve in 2004. Don't bet on anything better than .275/.325/.425 though.

Phillips has always shown the ability to hit, with ~.280/.340/.450 kinds of numbers throughout his minor league career. Reportedly he's a decent defensive catcher as well, and his patience and ability to avoid the strikeout should help him to remain a solid (if unspectacular) hitter in 2004. Hopefully splitting time with Mike Piazza at catcher and First Base will help to prolong both of their careers.

Despite not being old enough to have a legal drink in 2003, Reyes hit .307 in almost 300 National League at-bats, having essentially been handed the job as the starting shortstop in July (why not, right?). But he sustained an ankle injury at the end of August that kept him out for the rest of the year. Everyone has raved about this guy's tools, and they're certainly there. He doesn't have much power, but is purportedly an excellent fielder, and has tremendous speed. Experience is helping that speed to translate into better success with stolen bases. (Despite 58 steals at AA and A in 2002, he was successful only about 70% of the time, but succeeded in 83% of his attempts at AAA and the majors in 2003.) Like a lot of 20-year old Dominican shortstops, he could stand to learn a little about plate discipline, but he seems to have all the tools and drive needed to get over that too. Look for him to suffer through a semi-slump in the early part of the season, but to make the necessary adjustments and continue to impress in 2004.

The Phillies' Marlon Byrd does a little of everything: a little speed (11 for 12 in steals), a little pop (39 extra base hits), pretty good patience (a walk every twelve plate appearances), batting average and solid defense. Rookies of the Year have been named after doing less than he did in 2003. Nothing's not to like, and as he matures, he should develop some more power. Perhaps a little drop in the batting average, but he should be a solid part of the Phillies' lineup in 2004.

Ben Broussard and Travis Hafner, both 1B/DH types who've proven all they can in the minors, both hit for mediocre averages with some power and not much patience, as you might expect from guys getting their first real shot in the majors. Both should regain some of the patience and batting average they showed in the minors. Hafner's younger and is already better than Broussard, so expect him to make the greater progress.

Speaking of the Indians, Josh Bard and Coco Crisp are the only ones I haven't yet discussed. Bard is probably good enough to keep hanging around the majors for a long time, but he's not anything special as catchers go. No power, decent bat control. Crisp has plenty of speed, but hasn't been successful enough as a base stealer to really help his teams (only successful 69% of the time since he reached the Carolina league at age 21.) He's still only 24, and could learn to be more effective with some patience at the plate and some wisdom on the basepaths, but is not likely to be the second coming of Kenny Lofton in 2004. More like Tom Goodwin or Doug Glanville.

Adam Everett, the one-time shortstop-of-the-future for the RedSox, can't really hit, as you can see. That it's taken him until the age of 26 to nail down a more or less full time job, and that he only managed to hit .256/.320/.380 in said stint, is an indication that you shouldn't expect much. He's got no power, and doesn't really hit for average, but will take an occasional walk, and is supposed to be a slick fielder. Omar Vizquel without the steals?

Xavier Nady should probably have done more than he did in 2003, but missed some time with injuries and platoons. He always hit in the minors and is still only 25, so don't be surprised if he does something like .290/.350/.450 in 2004.

Craig Monroe, second to Dmitri Young on the dismal Tigers' "offense" with 23 homers, would probably be a decent reserve 1B/3B on most teams. On this one, he's the starter, so he gets to rack up a few more counting stats. Probably still decent power numbers in '04, but don't expect him to ever hit much more than .275, and in that lineup, won't get many RBI opportunities or walk enough to score many runs.

Miguel Cabrera made a nice splash as an OF and 3B during the latter part of the season and especially during the playoffs. He hit OK and is versatile and flexible on defense, but at this point, with barely more than 300 major league at-bats to his name, who knows? He didn't display fantastic plate discipline, or great power, or very much average, but to do even what he did, at the tender age of 20, provides a harbinger of perhaps great things. Maybe not the next Albert Pujols, but great things.

Miguel Olivo. See Bard, Josh.

Ken Harvey is not likely to be much more than a part-time player, if he can't prove that his egregious platoon split was a fluke. The trouble with players who show a limitation like that early in their careers is that they usually don't get a chance to prove themselves later. If you do pick him up for your fantasy team, don't start him against righties. Don't worry though, righties only comprise like, 85% of the pitchers in the majors. Wait a minute...worry.

The guys who may really have trouble continuing their success, or staving off an early retirement, are the guys on the bottom of our list, the guys who walked less often than once every 20 plate appearances. Angel Berroa won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, but he never hit much in the minors, and the numbers he did put up last year may have been artificially inflated by Kaufmann Stadium's recently aquired penchant for allowing runs to score. He's still a good defensive SS, by all accounts, which should help him keep his job, but it's highly possible that he'll never hit 17 homers or ~.290 again.

Reed Johnson hit at just about every level in the minors, with pretty good plate discipline, a little pop, and even some speed (42 steals in the Southern League two years ago). His only struggle came at his first taste of AAA, but ever before and since he's been rock-solid. He's a little old, but should be hitting his peak years now, so look for some moderate improvements across the board, maybe even a small power spike. A .300 average and 20 homers is not out of the question, if he can regain the plate discipline he showed at previous levels.

Rocco Baldelli, with more speed, more pop, and frankly, more talent than Johnson, having reached the majors and put up comparable numbers at an age of only 22. Sammy Sosa and Roberto Clemente put up similar numbers early in their careers, but then so did a lot of other guys you've never heard of. He's got the talent to make the necessary adjustments if he wants to, but he should really decide if he's gonna be a threat to swipe bases or not. His rate last year just made the break-even level for actually helping the team, and his minor league rates weren't even that good. Despite the plate discipline problems, he'll likely hit for a pretty decent average, numbers across the board slightly better than they were in 2003. But note that his lack of power, walks and success stealing bases make him overrated.

Bo Hart. See Baldelli, Rocco. Except for what I said about the speed. That and the stuff about improving next year.

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