30 June 2004

Freddy Garcia to Tilt the Balance in AL Central

The Freddy Garcia trade has the potential to mean even more in the division races and playoff than the Carlos Beltran trade did.

For one thing, Garcia's not going to be traded again, and that is not a certainty with Beltran. Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker is smart enough to know when he's out of it, and if the 'Stros fortunes don't turn around significantly this month, he'll probably flip Beltran to someone else. For another thing, the whole "keeping so-and-so away from the Yankees" factor is a much more significant one in the Garcia trade, as the Yanks could actually have used Garcia, whereas Beltran would have been predominantly superfluous.

Garcia, catcher Ben Davis and some $cratch were sent to the Chicago White Sox, currently holding onto first place in the weak AL Central by percentage points, for catcher Miguel Olivo, AAA outfielder and super-prospect Jeremy Reed, and minor league shortstop Michael Morse.

The first thing that strikes me about the trade is that the Mariners somehow managed to get a prospect, in Reed, who is better than anyone the Royals picked up for Beltran. This seems to back up the contention that Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus made that Kansas City GM Allard Baird's decision in advance to seek a catcher and a thirdbaseman severely hamstrung him in negotiations and limited his options. Despite what their current statistis seem to indicate, as I mentioned a few days ago, the only player in that deal close to a blue-chip prospect is John Buck, and once they make him something other than a catcher, his value decreases tremendously.

Mike Morse is an infielder at AA-Birmingham, in the Southern League, and seems to be improving. Prior to 2004, Morse has spent four years in professional baseball, at Rookie and Single-A, and had hit .248 with a .369 slugging percentage, only 18 homers, 82 walks and 250 strikeouts in over 1,200 at-bats. He's got a little power (11 homers and a .567 slug% this year, albeit in the Texas League), is young (22), and may develop into a decent shortstop, but still has strike-zone issues (15 walks, 46 K's), ans might only top out as Jose Valentin Lite.

The real find in this trade is Jeremy Reed, who's betrayed by his lackluster 2004 stats: .273 with eight homers at AAA Charlotte. Reed was hitting .333/.431/.477 and was 27-for-33 in stolen bases in the Carolina League, in the middle of last summer, so the organization (wisely) promoted him to AA...where he proceeded to hit .409(!)/.474/.591 for the rest of the season. You read that correctly: He hit over .400 for half a season, with patience, speed and line-drive power. At age 22. He's consistently walked more than he's struck out, hits for average, has good speed, and could develop power as he fills out physically.

He's the total package, and the Royals could probably have had them if they wanted, but no, they wanted a catcher and a thirdbaseman, and they got them. Except their catcher is 23, can hit but can't throw, and has a good chance of being a firstbaseman in three years. Their thirdbaseman, also 23 years old, can take a pitch but can't do much else, and in three years he stands a good chance of being 26.

The others involved in this trade, catchers Miguel Olivo and Ben Davis, are somewhat similar, besides their mutual donning of the tools of ignorance. Davis came up through the Padres system, showing ability to hit for average, power and patience at different stages in the minors, but never putting much of that together in the majors. He never hit higher than .259 in parts of six seasons, never had more than 11 homers, and despite his patience, owns a career .313 OBP. He was back in AAA trying to prove himself when the Mariners shipped him to Chicago. There he may get a chance to prove himself in the majors, since their starter, Olivo, is gone, Sandy Alomar's best years are about half a decade behind him, and Jamie Burke has all of 30 major league games under his belt.

Olivo, while not exactly a super-prospect, also has shown batting average, patience and (to a lesser degree) power at certain times, and is supposed to be a good catch and throw guy. At 26, he can be a productive regular for the next several seasons, and an asset at catcher. But in leading the majors in runs scored, the White Sox needed pitching help more than offense, and they got it.

Garcia gives them an immediate "proven veteran" but more importantly, a talent they can use. He's one of the best pitchers around this season, with the fifth-lowest ERA in the AL, despite his seven losses, and is definitely bouncing back after a couple of so-so seasons. He should help bring the White Sox starters' ERA down from the 5.00 at which it currently sits.

It's not really fair to examine their starting pitchers asa group. Sure, they have an unimpressive 5.00 ERA overall, but Buhrle and Loaiza both have eight wins, and those two and Scott Schoenweis are all right around the top 25 in the AL in ERA, with Jon Garland not far behind. Decent, consistent, but not spectacular.

But their other starters? The patsies they've rolled out there to take a beating in the #5 spot in the rotation? Two-and-eight, 9.91 ERA, more walks than strikeouts and a homer every three innings. Ouchies. If ever there was an argument for the four-man rotation, this is it, or at least it was before they picked up Garcia, who immediately looks like the ace of the staff.

Actually, with Schoenweis on the DL, it might make sense for them to try the 4-man rotation for a while. All of the pitchers involved are guys who have been reasonably healthy throughout their careers, and it would free up a roster spot to put someone with some speed on the bench, a valuable commodity in the playoffs, if you ever get there. Like the NL Central race, this one is belied by the incongruity between the main competitors' records and their talent. Chicago, as I mentioned, is currently only percentage points ahead of Minnesota in their division, with a 40-33 record, compared to Minnesota at 41-34, but Minnesota has overplayed their expectations by 5 games, and actually has been outscored 363-345 for the season. Chicago, on the other hand, despit ethe best run differential in the majors, has won three games fewer than expected based on runs scored and allowed. If those factors even out, as they usually do over the long season, the White Sox could end up leaving the Twinkies out in the cold, and the Twins may find themselves looking up at Cleveland in the standings come September.

I can hear Jayson Stark now:

"Garcia for AL MVP!!"

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25 June 2004

Carlos Beltran Trade Analysis

I don't pretend to know everything about baseball.

OK, yes I do, but nobody really believes it, including me, so often times I have to go look stuff up. Despite all of the ridiculously useless baseball minutiae I have crammed into my head, probably in the slots where remembering to bring home dinner ought to be, I still have to use the internet to find out who the hell Brad Halsey is. (He's the AAA quasi-prospect who got his first major league win for the Yankees last Saturday at Chavez Ravine, and who will probably get his first major league ass-whipping against the Mets tonight, but that's another story.)

Or more germane to the current topic, I had to look up the qualifications of all three minor leaguers involved in the Carlos Beltran Trade. Before today, I had never heard of Mike Wood or Mark Teahen, and my only familiarity with John Buck was when I read his one-paragraph blurb in Baseball Prospectus 2004.

In March.

On the toilet.

So, you know, I kinda just forgot about him.

But now I gotta know, because this is important, right? So I read what the AP says about these guys. I read what Jayson Stark says about them. I look up his stats at the Baseball Cube. And since Lee Sinins was kind enough to point it out, I read what Aaron Gleeman has to say about him. And after I finished this Gleemanic article, and shaving off the 5 O'clock shadow that grew whilst reading it, do you know what I can't figure out?

Who the heck has Aaron been talking to?

Well, nobody, of course. If you spend as much time writing as Aaron does, you probably don't have much time left for conversation. But mnore precisely, where's he getting his information? Because it doesn't seem to jive with what I've read from other sources.


Mark Teahen is a former "Moneyball" pick who hit .335/.419/.543 in 53 games at Double-A to start this season, and has hit .275/.383/.391 in 20 games since being promoted to Triple-A. He's a third baseman who is going to get on base a lot, but he hasn't shown a ton of power. His good hitting this year has boosted his stock quite a bit, but he wasn't really thought of as an elite prospect coming into the season.

Hasn't shown a ton of power? How about hasn't shown any power? The guy has exactly ten minor league home runs in his three-year, 1000+ at-bat career. He hit only 10 homers in nearly 600 at-bats in college, where they hit with aluminum bats! Not only wasn't he thought of as an "elite" prospect, he wasn't even though of as enough of a prospect to bother listing him in Baseball Prospectus 2004, which has over 1600 players in it. A third baseman with no speed who cannot hit better than .300 or slug .400 at Class A is not a prospect, elite or otherwise.

This year he hit well, as Aaron mentions above, while at AA, but everybody hits well in the Texas League. There are currently 18 players with more than 100 at-bats hitting .300 or better in the AA-Texas League, and most of them won't have notable big-league careers, so that's not so special. To his credit, he's fairly patient at the plate, but in the major leagues, recognizing a strike and being able to hit one some place other than right at the shortstop are two very different skills. And right now Teahen's numbers at AAA, in the hitter-friendly PCL no less, are uninspiring: No homers and twice as many strikeouts as walks, albeit in fewer than 60 at-bats.

It remains to be seen whether Teahen will become George Brett without the "power" ... or Dave Magadan without the "average". For me, I'm obviously not convinced that 200 at-bats to start this season say more about his skills than the other 800 in his profesisonal career. Kudos to Billy Beane for capitalizing on his two good months and getting rid of an overrated player at a position they didn't need to fill while his stock was high.

Mike Wood, the other guy from the A's, is a RHP who doesn't strike out a lot of battters. Here's Aaron again:

Wood has posted extremely good ERAs in the minors, going 14-6 with a 3.27 ERA between Single-A and Double-A in 2002 and then 9-3 with a 3.05 ERA at Triple-A last season. So far this year, he is 11-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 90 innings at Triple-A. It's tough to argue with those numbers, and I do think Wood has a nice future ahead of him, but he doesn't strike me as a future star. He just doesn't get as many strikeouts as I'd like to see, with just 125 Ks in 181 career Triple-A innings and 63 in 105 innings at Double-A. Still, he is 24 years old and, like Baird said, will join the Kansas City rotation immediately.

Sorry, Aaron, I don't see extremely good ERAs. I see nice win-loss records, but those are circumstantial. His ERAs are certainly decent, maybe even good considering their compilation in the Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues, both of which are freindlier to hitters than pitchers, as I mentioned. But extremely good? Rich Harden was extremely good. Mark Prior was extremely good. Mike Wood's just good, especially when you consider that he doesn't strike many batters out. Jayson Stark, who probably has better connections than Aaron does when it comes to this sort of thing, said:

The third player the Royals got, 24-year-old right-hander Mike Wood, is going to be a useful back-of-the-rotation, middle-relief type guy. For now, the Royals will plug him right into the rotation as their No. 5 starter. Eventually, he'll probably be a ground-ball specialist out of their bullpen.

That doesn't bode well. Wood started that paragraph as a #3 starter and ended it as a ROOGY. That's got to be the fastest a prospect has fallen out of favor in history, and he hasn't even made it to the majors yet! Baseball Prospectus said he's been underestimated, and could have a long career as a starter or a swingman, but it looks like his upside is probably Mike Morgan or Bob Tewksbury. You could do worse.

The third prospect is a catcher named John Buck, who came out of the Astros system. Again, Gleeman and the "experts" seem to disagree:

The third prospect the Royals got came from the Astros. John Buck is a 24-year-old catcher who is hitting .300/.368/.507 this year at Triple-A. Those numbers are outstanding, particularly for a catcher who is considered a good defender, but they are also quite a bit above Buck's previous offensive levels.

Aaron doesn't say it explicitly, but that first sentence seems to imply that Buck is considered a good defender. He's not.

Buck, meanwhile, was once regarded as one of the best catching prospects in baseball. His star has fallen in the last year, but he will catch in the big leagues. And if Tony Pena can't iron out his release issues, nobody can.

Buck's build (6-foot-3, 210) reminds scouts of a young Carlton Fisk. His game, however, is a little short of that, though he will hit some home runs. And if he quickens his release, he will throw out some runners. And again, given Baird's options, he could have done worse.

There aren't many catchers with long, successful careers who match that physical description, especially ones who can't throw. It's a pretty big undertaking to get a guy that big, who's already 23, to learn different footwork and throwing habits. Not impossible, but difficult. The easier route, if he proves he can hit in the majors, is to move him to a different position, say, first base. Heck, you hardly ever have to throw there. Just ask Steve Garvey. But a catcher with throwing issues? Major leaguers will run rough-shod over him.

Buck was, however, a pretty good hitter, considered one of the best prospects in the game before injuring his wrist last year. That .300/.368/.507 line he put up in New Orleans means he's back as a prospect, but he'll probably follow the Piazza/Fisk/Torre route to first base a lot sooner than they did, which diminishes his value considerably.

So we see that the Royals got three guys, but none of them are really worth writing home to tell Mom about, at least not yet. All could be useful major leaguers, but none are likely to become stars. What we don't know is what the market was offering. BP's Joe Sheehan thinks that the Royals got fleeced, or at least...

The Royals may have added two players who will be contributors, but they haven't added players with star potential, and that's what they needed to do in this trade. The Royals have been treading water for a decade, and adding two guys who will probably never make an All-Star team isn't the way to change that.

Determining early in the process that they wanted a third baseman and a catcher for Beltran may have blinded the Royals to better options. Certainly, those two positions are important, but they settled for players who fit those slots when they might have been able to get more value by looking elsewhere.

It's not clear to me whether Sheehan is just dismissing Wood or Teahen as being "contributors" at all, and therefore only mentions two players, or if "two" is just a typo he never got around to fixing after he learned that there was an additional player in the deal, and he really means "three". He's kinda down on all three of these guys for one reason or another, so I just don't know, but it's clear that Sheehan's not as impressed with Royals GM Allard Baird's haul as Stark was. Neither am I.

Unlike Aaron, though, I don't think the Oaklands got the best of this deal. They got an excellent player, as Octavio "Don't Ask" Dotel is one of the best relievers in the business, but as a reliever his ability to contribute is fairly limited. They also got some cash, though, and they only gave up guys who were probably overrated and for whom they had no use, so they essentially gave up nothing. And, as Sheehan points out, they kept the Yankees, Red Sox and other AL competition from getting Beltran, which is certianly worth something. Give them credit.

And Houston picks up one of the best players in the game, even if it is for only three months. They got him early enough to let him help a lot, both on offense and defense. Craig Biggio was one of the best players in the majors at one point, but that point was about six years ago, and now he's been hurting the Astros with his bat and his glove for about two and a half years. Hopefully he'll do a little less damage at both in left field than he was doing in center.

Ironically, there's another factor here, one that really has nothing to do with the trade. Current luck in landing Beltran aside, the Astros have been one of the unluckiest teams in the majors, winning three fewer games than you'd expect based on their Pythagorean Projection from Runs Scored vs. Runs Allowed.

Team        ExW-L ActW-L Difference
Detroit 36-35 32-39 -4
Houston 41-31 38-34 -3
Chicago Sox 40-29 37-32 -3
Chicago Cubs 43-29 40-32 -3
Toronto 33-39 31-41 -2
Seattle 31-39 29-41 -2
Pittsburgh 29-40 27-42 -2
NY Mets 37-34 35-36 -2
Montreal 26-44 24-46 -2
Colorado 29-42 27-44 -2
Atlanta 35-36 33-38 -2

Only Detroit has had a bigger problem winning the "expected" games than Houston has. And nobody really cares about Detroit. But if Houston's luck, which may have been about to turn around anyway, actually reverts to the norm, or even becomes good, this trade will look even better to baseball fans and historians. Not that it should look better, but it will.

If the Astros' luck (and/or relief pitching) improves, and they end up winning a few more games than expected in the second half, taking their division or the Wild Card in the process, Beltran will have been a big part of that process. And of course, Beltran and Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker will be heroes. Remember last year, when the Twinkies' trade for Shannon Stewart coincided almost exactly with Minnesota's run to the division title? People like Jayson Stark, who is smart enough to know better, touted Stewart for the MVP, even though he didn't really play much better after the trade than he had before, and even though the Twins' offense was exactly as good beofre the trade as after. Coincidence was enough, for some people, to imply causality, when really it was the Twins' pitchers who deserved the credit for that turn-around.

And if Cincinatti's mirage success goes away, and the Astros' rotation happens to get healthy (Pettitte) and pitch the way we expected them to all along (Oswalt, Redding), well, Houston could really win this thing, and then we'll have to fight off a rash of

"Beltran for NL MVP!"


In the meantime, let's just see what happens.

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21 June 2004

Generational Gap

On Sunday, Cincinatti Reds centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. finally hit the 500th home run of his career, ending a quest that sometimes felt like he had hit #499 on the day he entered th majors at age 19, and we had to wait 15 years for closure. Actually, I think it was only about a week. Griffey is now the 20th member of the 500-home run club, which I think means that he now gets the Grand-Slam Breakfast for half price at Denny's ("Welcome to Denny's! Pictures on the menu: Actual Size.")

It also means that virtually any of the silly arguments you may have heard over Griffey's last few, injury-riddled seasons, that he is somehow not a Hall of Famer, now go officially down the toilet. I argued almost a year ago that Griffey belongs in the Hall, but now the National Media Bandwagon has caught up with those of us who have a little more sense, since Griffey's reached an official milestone. Jayson Stark, Rob Neyer, John "I Ain't an Athlete, Lady...and I Ain't a Writer, Either!" Kruk and others have already chimed in on the issue, as well as presumably dozens of other local writers. Monday morning, in their commentary on the subject, ESPN's morning show guys, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, were attempting to do the impossible:

Establish an argument for Ken Griffey Jr, and NOT Barry Bonds, as the Greatest Player of My Generation.

I don't exaclty know how to define "my generation", and Roger Daltrey won't return my calls, so I'm going to try this from a couple of angles.

Clearly, Bonds is five years older than Griffey, has more service time, and has not had the same injury problems over the last few years, so I don't think any reasonable baseball fan or writer would actually attempt to make the argument that Griffey is somehow more valuable over the course of his career than Bonds has been. So there's gotta be another way to compare them. There are, as I see it, only three possibilities for fairly comparing Griffey to Bonds.

1) Look at only those seasons that overlap for both players, by age. This would be their age 21-34 seasons, with the caveat that Griffey's not done with his age 34 season.

B) Look at only the number of seasons for which you have stats for both players. This would be their first 16 years each, again acknowledging that we'll have to do something about the unfinished 2004 season for Griffey.

iii) Look at their accomplishments through their last mutual full season by age, and count Griffey's first two years, as he should get snaps for making it to the majors at age 19.

Within option B, the question arises as to whether or not you give Griffey some kind of credit for all the time he missed with freaky injuries from 2001-2003. You can project out his numbers from 2000, (.271, 40 homers, 118 RBI) for those and pretend he was healthy and consistent. Or you can project what he actually did when he played in those seasons out to a full season, sort of pretending the variations in performance caused by his injury would not have gotten him benched or something. This still averages out to 35 homers and 95 RBI, with a ~600 at-bat season.

Frankly, I'm not very comfortable with either of these. Nobody, in any kind of official way, gives Ted Williams or Willie Mays or Whitey Ford credit for service time lost during wars. Nobody cuts Joe DiMaggio a whole lot of slack for all of his injuries. Nobody ever tries to argue that Sandy Koufax was the greatest pitcher of the late sixties and early seventies, because despite his talent, Koufax didn't actually pitch in the late sixties and early seventies. So if nothing else, the Greatest Player of a Generation must at least PLAY, right? I mean, you know, more than say, Gary Matthews, Jr.

So we can't really give him credit for stuff he didn't do, but to be nice, we'll give him credit for stuff he might do, at least this season. If Griffey stays healthy, and that's a big IF, he's on a pace for 45 homers and 127 RBI. If we add this year's projections onto his actual career numbers through last season, and use the age First 16 seasons' stats for both players, we get:

Jr. 2067 7647 1370 2228 417 36 526 1511 1029 1380 179 66 .291 .381 .562 .942
Bonds 2296 7932 1713 2313 483 71 567 1542 1724 1282 484 138 .292 .422 .585 1.007
diff 229 285 343 85 66 35 41 31 695 -98 305 72 nil .041 .023 .065

In their first 16 seasons in the majors, Bonds amassed more raw numbers than Griffey in every category but one: strikeouts. Junior struck out nearly 100 more times, in almost 300 fewer at-bats, playing in 229 fewer games. The two players' batting averages are nearly identical, but Bonds walked almost 700 more times, and therefore has a considerable advantage in on-base percentage and a slightly less pronounced one in slugging. He did get caught stealing 72 more times, but also succeeded over three hundred more times, at a slightly better success rate than Griffey, so Bonds gets a big edge there. Bonds has more homers, more doubles, over twice as many triples, a handful more hits and RBI, and a LOT more runs.

Runs and RBI, which are largely situational in nature, have to be taken with a grain of salt. Bonds spent the first four seasons of his career as essentially a leadoff or #2 hitter, so naturally he scored a few more runs and garnered a few less (there's got to be something grammatically wrong with that phrase) RBI in those years. Nevertheless, Barry still comes out slightly ahead of Griffey, even with a bunch of RBI he hasn't actually driven in yet this year. I just don't see how Mike&Mike can make this argument, especially considering that the first five years or so of Bonds' career were spent in the late 1980s and early 90s, before offensive numbers started exploding in the mid 1990s.

So what about their respective accomplishments through Griffey's current age? After all, by his sixteenth full season, Barry Bonds was 36, and Griffey's only 34 right now. On the other hand though, Bonds entered the majors two years older than Griffey did, so Junior's got a big head start on him there. This is a credit to him, as he was brought up with only a little experience in A and AA, and none in AAA, but made an impact immediatley. Griffey was hitting .300, with power and speed, in the major leagues at an age when Bonds had still been terrorizing the Pac Ten. Bonds didn't hit .300 in a full season in the majors until he was 26! So we can't just ignore Griffey's first two seasons, but we won't exactly be comparing apples to apples if we don't, or will we?

If you discount Griffey's first two seasons (which you shouldn't really do, as I mentioned), once again, Bonds comes out WAY ahead in virtually every category, except a handful of RBI and homers, the reasons for which we have already covered. So I won't bother to run that table again here. But I will show you what they actually have both done through the age of 33, the last season they've both completed, healthy or not.

Jr. 1914 7079 1271 2080 382 36 481 1384 940 1256 177 66 .294 .379 .562 .941 144
Bonds 1898 6621 1364 1917 403 63 411 1216 1357 1050 445 130 .290 .414 .556 .970 164
diff -16 -458 93 -163 21 27 -70 -168 417 -206 268 64 .004 .035 -.006 .029 20

This table I find particularly interesting. Despite Griffey's 2-year head start, he missed enough playing time with injuries from 2001-2003 to allow Bonds to catch up, so to speak. The two players end up with nearly the same numbers of games played and plate appearances by the ends of their age 33 seasons. (That disparity in at-bats is essentially offset by Bonds' penchant for walking.)

In this comparison, Griffey's still got more homers and RBI, which seems (as we've said) to be attributable to the era in which Bonds' first few seasons were played and his position in the lineup. Griffey has considerably more hits than Bonds, but given Bonds' HUGE edge in walks, he still got on base more often, for a not-insignificant 35-point edge in OBP. As a rough overall measure, the adjusted OPS (the last column) clearly shows that Bonds' adjusted OPS was 64% better than his league average for this span, while Griffey's was "only" 44% better. Big edge to Barry, once again.

And the argument only goes downhill from there for Griffey supporters. You see, if you're going to compare these two players against each other to determine which was the best of this generation, you'll have to wait until both of their careers have ended, and neither has. I know because Daltrey called me back.

Bonds has the extremely unusual advantage of having gotten better, a LOT better, after his 34th birthday. Bonds had managed to hit over 230 homers since he turned 35, in less than five full seasons, winning three more MVP awards and setting all kinds of records in the process. That's more than Don Mattingly had in his whole career. You think Griffey's going to follow that path? Granted, Junior's a special player and everything, certainly, if healthy, capable of being a productive player for a few more years, maybe even a lot more years, but he'll have to become better than he was when he was in his mid-to-late 20's, in his physical prime, for about another five seasons, to even have a prayer of being as good as Barry has been to this point.

Ken Griffey Jr., as good as he is right now, is going to have to kick it up a notch or ten to win this title. Better get going, Junior!

The clock is ticking...

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16 June 2004

Quien Es Mas Catcher-o?

Not too long ago, Mike Piazza broke the all-time record for career home runs by a catcher, when he hit #352 in May. That homer surpassed Carlton Fisk's mark, which he set a decade or more ago, but which took him about 800 more games to do than Piazza, so clearly Piazza's the superior hitter of the two. For that matter, Piazza is easily the greatest hitting catcher ever, by virtually any measure you can conjure.

Piazza polarizes baseball fans. Lots of purists, old-schoolers especially, think that a catcher must catch, first, and any offense you get out of him is secondary, gravy, as it were. This is why Moe Berg and Bill Bergen had careers. For that matter, this is why Brad Ausmus and Mike Matheny have careers.

Seamheads like me will tell you that you can't possibly do enough with the glove, regardless of your position, to make up for being a terrible hitter, and that likewise an average hitter can't do enough defensively to catch up to the overall value of a great hitter.

Rob Neyer argued that the ten best catchers were, all things considered, in order:

                      Games  Caught  OPS+
1. Johnny Bench 2158 1742 127
2. Yogi Berra 2120 1699 126
3. Carlton Fisk 2499 2226 116
4. Bill Dickey 1789 1708 128
5. Gabby Hartnett 1990 1793 126
6. Roy Campanella 1215 1183 123
7. Mike Piazza 1493 1404 156
8. Mickey Cochrane 1482 1451 127
9. Gary Carter 2296 2056 116
10. Ivan Rodriguez 1652 1590 113

You can see fairly easily that one of these guys stands out significantly, and it's Piazza. He's essentially twice as good a hitter as anyone else on the list, as his 56% above the adjusted league average OPS is double Bill Dickey's 28%. No, I'm not saying that Piazza is worth two Bill Dickeys, but I am saying that he's a much better hitter than any of these other guys, and it's not even close.

The question Neyer wrestled with was whether or not Piazza's defensive liabilities take away enough from his hitting to knock him all the way down to #7 on the all-time list.

Rob would have been happy to take Fisk down a peg or two, and Piazza up a peg or two, if he were inclined to investigate the matter more, which he wasn't at the time. Subsequent responses to emails from his readers dealt more with the lack of Josh Gibson on the list (no, I don't know where he belongs either, but would be interested to hear arguments about him one way or the other) and the difficulty of comparing offense across leagues and eras. Nobody, apparently, wrote in to rally for Piazza's ranking to be higher, and evidently lots of people think that I-Rod belongs a lot higher, if not at the very top. I don't happen to be one of those, or at least I wasn't before I did a little research.

I had planned to try to give Mike Piazza a little more support than he seems to have gotten, and to support Neyer's contention that I-Rod is overrated, but now I'm not so sure. Let me tell you what I did and you can tell me if I'm all wet, OK?

I used Baseball Prospectus DT Cards for the ten players on the list (Josh Gibson is omitted from the discussion, of course). I used their WARP3 numbers, which stands for Wins Above Replacement Position, and includes hitting, pitching and fielding contributions, adjusted for all time. I then (roughly, I admit) prorated those ten players' numbers for the games in their careers they actually caught(GAC). This isn't perfect, but it assures us that players like Yogi don't get extra credit for prolonging their careers by playing the outfield.

I then divided the wins into the games as catcher, and prorated this over 162 games, to level the playing field and to get the numbers into a useful range. And do you know what I found? Of course you don't, or you wouldn't still be reading.

Name                WARP GAC WARP/162 GAC
10. Ivan Rodriguez 95 1565 9.83
7. Mike Piazza 80 1383 9.37
8. Mickey Cochrane 82 1451 9.16
4. Bill Dickey 96 1708 9.11
1. Johnny Bench 95 1743 8.83
6. Roy Campanella 63 1183 8.63
9. Gary Carter 107 2056 8.43
2. Yogi Berra 88 1699 8.39
5. Gabby Hartnett 87 1793 7.86
3. Carlton Fisk 100 2226 7.28

I found that Gary Carter was the greatest catcher of all time! Well, not really. I found that the Kid did in fact amass the most WARP (107) as a catcher in his career, thanks largely to its length, with Fisk not far behind.

But I also found, much to my dismay, that Ivan Rodriguez may very well be the best catcher ever. I don't even like Ivan Rodriguez. I think he's overrated, both on offense and defense, and arrogant and self-absorbed. But if Baseball Prospectus is right about him, then "pound for pound" as they say on boxing, his 95 WARP as a catcher in "only" 1565 games makes his rate of wins/season higher than anyone else. By a decent margin, too. Almost half a win per full season.

Piazza comes in second, with 80 WARP in fewer than 1400 games, followed by Cochrane, Dickey and then Bench all the way down at #5! Campanella and Carter follow, and then Berra at #8. (As a Yankee fan, I had hoped that Berra would do better, but what can you do?) Hartnett and Fisk round out the top ten.

I don't really know if this means anything or not, but from looking at the DT cards, I can see how Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez gain so much ground. Piazza's offense, which Neyer seemed to sort of glaze over, is SO much better than anyone else's that he can't help but jump way up in the rankings. He's got about 200 fewer equivalent runs (EQR) than Bench, but Bench needed about 2000 more outs to amass those! As a fielder, Bench was as good as Piazza is bad, with +155 fielding runs above average vs. negative 111 for Piazza. This helps Bench, but you just can't make up for such a tremendous difference in offense with your glove, I think.

This is the same reason that Rico Brogna wasn't as good a firstbaseman as Jason Giambi, or that Pokey Reese is not as good a secondbaseman as Alfonso Soriano. Granted, there's a lot more to the defensive requirements at catcher than there is at first base, but if the methods Baseball Prospectus uses to measure defense and offense are at all reliable, then, we've got to take the numbers seriously, and the numbers say that Piazza has thus far been worth approximately 15 fewer wins than Bench for his career, which includes almost 400 fewer games as a catcher. If Piazza can catch another 250-300 games, which is possible but not a foregone conclusion for a 35-year old catcher, and continue to produce at a similar rate, he can catch Bench in career WARP, again, in fewer games. Remember, again, that this is taking into account total contributions, with the glove and the bat.

I-Rod isn't quite as good a hitter as Bench was, but his defense (amazingly, to me) actually rates better! He's +203 fielding runs above average, in almost 200 fewer games than the First Pudge. Rodriguez has had six seasons of at least +20 Fielding RAA, whereas Bench had only two, at exactly 20, and his overall defensive numbers are hurt by the fact that he was a bad firstbaseman, a bad thirdbaseman and a bad outfielder, but even factoring that out probably doesn't give hime more than a win or two over the course of his career.

And don't forget: Pudge and Piazza are still amassing stats this season, and their competition on this list is not. Piazza's currently hitting .340/.412/.610 with eight homers as a catcher this season, basically splitting time between catcher and 1B.

Rodriguez is hitting .357/.386/.527, also with eight homers as a catcher, and presumably still making the highlight reels with his defense occasionally. I don't think he'll necessarily finish the season hitting .361 with 120 RBI, but clearly he's not as close to slowing down as we would have thought by his August-September slump last year or his rash of injuries from 2000-2002. His defense does appear to have dropped off a bit. Even though things like fielding percentage, Zone Rating, Range Factor and the like are all as good as ever, he's not catching base stealers as much as he used to, with only 5 CS in 18 attempts off him, that 28% caught-stealing rate is beneathe the AL average of 32%, probably for the first time in his career. But he set the bar pretty high for himself in that area, and still does enough with the bat to keep padding his record for a while, especially since he's still only 32 years old.

Like I said, I don't even like Rodriguez. I did this hoping to prove that Mike Piazza'a offense makes him the Greatest Catcher Ever, despite his defense, but it didn't happen. I found what I found, and even though I didn't necessarily like the result, I've got to be honest with you about it.

Now please, someone, tell me why I'm wrong.

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15 June 2004

Are the Reds for Real?

How the heck are the Reds doing it?

The team is currently 14th in the majors in runs scored, 5th in the National League. The team’s OPS ranks 16th in MLB, and is tied for 7th in the Senior Circuit. So it must be the pitching, right?

Wrong. The Reds’ pitching is even worse than their hitting. The team ERA is 16th in the majors, and 13th in the NL, which means that only San Francisco, Arizona and Colorado are worse right now, and Colorado is always at the bottom of this list. So after playing 56 games, and only scoring four more runs than they’ve allowed all season, how in the world are the Reds standing atop the NL Central with a 34-22 record?

You guessed it: Luck.

The Reds have played way over their heads so far this year, getting timely hits and clutch relief pitching exactly when they needed it almost every time. Their #16 ranking in total OPS jumps way up to No. 4 with runners on base, meaning that they’ve been fortunate to get a lot of hits and walks with runners on base, which has helped them score runs. That kind of disparity, from No. 4 to No. 16, doesn’t usually last all season. There’s no such thing as a predictably “clutch" hitter, especially a clutch team. Eventually they’ll come back toward the average, missing a few much-needed hits, and end up being just a decent offensive team.

Meanwhile, the starters have been only decent overall, and outside of Paul Wilson’s 7-0 record and 3.18 ERA, they’ve been mediocre at best. The bullpen’s not spectacular, but it’s been better than the starters, with a 3.86 ERA 27 saves and 15 wins, which both lead the majors. Eventually that bullpen will give up a few homers, blow a few saves, and lose a few games, and when they do, the Reds will go back to struggling for .500. The Reds’ main competition, St. Louis and Houston, both have similar or better bullpens and much better starters. They just haven’t gotten the kind of luck from which Cincinnati has benefited all season. In addition, both the Astros and the Cardinals have better offense than the Reds, whose offensive success depends on Ken “I think I Pulled Something” Griffey staying off the DL, a 40-year old Barry Larkin staying both healthy and productive, and Sean Casey continuing to hit 200 points above his career OPS.

Don’t hold your breath.

See what the other Outsiders think...

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14 June 2004

Jocks for Justice?

I received an email from Peter Dreier, a professor of political science at Occidental College in L.A. on Friday. Professor Dreier alerted me to an article he co-authored with Kelly Candaele, brother of erstwhile Expo, Astro and Indian utilityman Casey Candaele. The article, he said,

"...celebrates the athletes, including baseball players, with the courage to speak out on important social and political issues and suggests why there are fewer outspoken athletes today than in the past. We also take a few whacks at the MLBPA."

I suggest you read the article first, or the rest of this post won't make a lot of sense to you. After I read the article, my response to Professor Dreier included the following:


Glad you found my website somehow. Thanks for
alerting me to this.

[...personal stuff, irrelevant, deleted...]

Regarding the article, I generally shy away from this kind of stuff myself, as I don't really believe that any of my readers comes to Boy of Summer to hear me
pontificate on politics or religion either, though occasionally I do lapse into the latter a bit, at least in terms of discussion of not actual preaching.

Though I see your point that athletes could and perhaps should be more vocal about social justice issues and the like, I don't see all the backlash to which you refer. You offer very few concrete examples of the media specifically criticizing an athlete's stance on an issue, though you do offer a few of an athlete's peers (David Robinson) or sponsors (Nike) doing so. You give passing reference to hearsay from a third party, like the professor on the Tiger Woods issue, but don't name any of the ones who actually perform the "crucifixion."

You mention the disparity between players who don't want to get involved in politics and owners who always seem to be, but you seem to glaze over the fact that the owners are also doing what is in their own material best interests: chumming up to the politicians who can serve them in their causes, for new stadiums or lower taxes or whatever. They're only activists for themselves, just like everyone else, for the most part.

I certainly agree with you that athletes have much more to lose, and considerably little to gain, at least materially, for voicing their opinions. This is certainly an enormous factor in the decrease in political and social activism among athletes, if this
does truly exist. However, I think that at least a portion of this perceived tendency is that athletes are gaining an understanding that the General Public, the ones who ultimately pay their salaries AND their endorsements, just don't want to hear it.

It is one thing for Adonal Foyle to start a grassroots organization with a website where people can go to find out what to do to help, or for Schoenke to organize a contingent of friends to support a presidential campaign. These athletes are doing what they believe is right and good, as is their right, and the people they're affecting are expecting what they get. They've signed up for it.

It is another ball of wax entirely for someone to wear a tee-shirt decrying the war on a nationally televised event or for an athlete to criticize the President in
a post-game interview (a hypothetical example). We tune in to these events to be informed about sports and entertained by its performers, not to hear/see
political rhetoric. Nobody's denying these people their first amendment right to speak their minds. We'd just prefer if they'd use their camera time appropriately, to entertain, as they're being paid to do.

If they want to do something to help a less fortunate group (like Piazza did for the food service union after the Strike), more power to them. Wealthy athletes should use their positions to help the less fortunate, and most of them do, but they shouldn't be
required to do it, by the media, their teammates, or their employers.

If I want to know what Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or anyone else thinks about an issue, I can probably find out by doing a little research on Google or writing a fan letter or something like that. I can listen to talk radio or read activist websites and get my fill of information to make a decision. I don't want to find out after the sports highlights on the evening news. It just doesn't belong there.

I feel for anyone who can't make up his own mind about an issue without consulting Steve Nash on it first, and I fear for anyone who's decisions are made in such manner.

As you've certainly detected by now, I tend not to agree with most of what your website preaches, and therefore will not be linking the article, at least not without something like this attached to it. I do try to focus on the baseball and only the baseball,
whenever possible.

Thanks again though. I am interested in your response, if any.


Much to my surprise, Dreier did not just write me off, choosing instead to continue the conversation:

> Travis,
> Thanks for the quick response to the "Jocks for Justice" piece.
[...more personal stuff...trust me, you don't care...]
> I enjoy your website. There are probably more
> baseball-oriented websites and blogs than political ones.
> I don't want anyone REQUIRING athletes to do anything but play ball. But I admire
> athletes who choose to speak out about social injustice. I don't mean athletes that
> shoot from the hip. I mean ones like Foyle who are well-informed.
> Many pro athletes come from poor backgrounds and are
> now (at least for a few years) making a lot of
> dough. They shouldn't be required to "give back" to
> society, but it would be nice if they -- as well as
> athletes from middle-class backgrounds -- did so.
> Lots of them to charity work, as we indicate. But we
> want athletes to do more than charity work, but to
> engage in the democratic process. Some, like
> Bradley, even run for office. Others, like Foyle,
> help educate people about what they can do to
> improve our political and social conditions. Whether
> we like it or not, athletes are role models and
> celebrities. They can use their status to enrich
> themselves or to help improve society (or both).
> We'd like the players' associations to do more, too.
> We hoped our article would trigger a discussion
> about these issues, regardless if readers agreed
> with us. So your email was a good example of what
> we'd like to see occur -- a public discussion about
> these issues.
> Peter Dreier

And so I decided to link him and his article after all, to see what my half-dozen or so readers might have to say about the issue.

Any thoughts?

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09 June 2004

Book Review - New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957

The Perfect Game. The Tape Measure Home Run. The Catch. Integration. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.

You know the events. Now read the stories behind them.

The latest offering from noted author and historian Harvey Frommer, a reprinting of
New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957, (Paperback, University of Wisconsin Press, $19.95) does not disappoint. The original was published in 1980, with a reprinting and a new afterward in 1992. This edition has a new forward by Monte Irvin, but otherwise does not appear to include anything that the 1992 edition didn’t. But that’s OK. It’s got plenty.

The time period that Frommer and many other baseball historians call the Last Golden Era, 1947-1957, at least for New York baseball, saw the Yankees, Dodgers or Giants capture 17 of 22 possible pennants (9 by the Yankees) and nine of 11 World Series titles (7 by the Yankees). More than half of the MVP awards given in that span went to players from New York teams. It was truly a dominant time for the City That Never Sleeps, and Harvey Frommer does a great job of recounting the era. He discusses the teams myriad successes and few failures, the histories of each of the three NY teams, their rivalries, and the eventual move by the Giants and Dodgers out to the West Coast All of this Frommer carefully places within the framework of living and working, growing up and growing old in the booming, post-World War II era that allowed this country, and indeed New York City itself, to experience some of the most significant growth, socially, economically and otherwise, it has ever seen.

Frommer’s penchant for writing about history and his ability to get stories about history’s figures, often from the figures themselves, both serve him well in this book. One of the best aspects of his work is the numerous first-hand accounts of the happenings inside clubhouses and on trains, the little anecdotes that make our heroes human, but that we often do not hear about until they have passed. New York City Baseball is no exception to this rule, chocked full of these stories, which can be equally as poignant to the young fan who never saw Willie or Mickey or Duke play as to the older fan who spent his childhood arguing which of those was the greatest. Those of us who never got to hear Red Barber or Mel Allen call a game can appreciate their involvement in this time as much as someone who grew up with his ear glued to the radio, listening for a “How about that?”

Frommer’s style, the simple, straightforward prose that clarifies without embellishing, that gives the story without trying to impress you with his vocabulary, makes you feel almost as if you could see and hear these old-timers sitting across your kitchen table from you, telling their own stories over a cup of Joe.

Speaking of Joe, some of the greatest players in history either rose to stardom in this time or called it their heyday: DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Rizutto, Ford, Mays, Snider, Campanella, Hodges, Furillo, Monte Irvin, Johnny Antonelli, Sal Maglie, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dons Newcombe and Drysdale, Gils Hodges and MacDougald, Pee Wee Reese, and of course, Jackie Robinson, all saw prominence and success in this time, and Frommer has stories for each of them.

I have only two minor qualms with this book. The first is that it’s a little pricey for a ~200 page paperback that’s been around in some form for nearly a quarter of a century. I guess that’s inflation. But, as you probably know, the book can be had for much less than that on BestBookBuys.com, so it’s not really a problem.

The other issue is that the book seems a little dated at times. I know, that’s kind of a silly criticism for a book that purports to be about an era that occurred nearly five decades ago, but it’s true. Since the book was originally written in 1980, Frommer mentions in passing things like how Phil Rizutto calls Yankee games on WPIX TV, and Mel Allen hosts This Week in Baseball. Even the afterward, mentioning that erstwhile Yankees infielder Dr. Bobby Brown is now the president of the American League, seems a bit stale now, four years after the offices of the league presidents were dissolved, and a decade after Brown stepped down from a position that no longer exists. It’s by no means awful or anything like that, but it would have been nice to have something new from Frommer himself for this edition, don’t you think? Heck, Jim Bouton’s up to Ball Sixteen or something like that, isn’t he?

Ultimately, though, this book isn’t about something new. It’s about several things old, old and wonderful, at least for fans of New York baseball, which I am. We need books like this one, and writers like Harvey Frommer, to remind us that baseball isn’t just about statistics and dollars. It’s about people. Some of the greatest of these are now gone forever, but at least they left some of their memories with Harvey before they left.

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07 June 2004

Should the Yanks regret the A-Rod-for-Soriano trade?

Like the Run Down question I do approximately every week, this is a conversation I had over email with Brandon Rosage, who runs Baseball Outsider.com, a fans' perspective website with some pretty cool content in its own right. The original appeared here.

Should the Yanks regret the A-Rod-for-Soriano trade?

Travis Nelson: Absolutely not. The Yankees (and more accurately Aaron Boone) should regret the injury that necessitated the A-Rod for Soriano trade, but they should in no way regret the trade itself. As great as Soriano is, he's always going to be limited by his inability to take a pitch (or rather, to take four of them out of the strike zone). He's two years older than we used to think, and he's about to get very expensive.

Alex Rodriguez is, of course, already very expensive, but he's better than Soriano is, and the Yankees have what amounts to a bargain for his contract after getting Texas to pick up over 40 percent of A-Rod's remaining salary. It's been worked out that the Yankees are actually paying A-Rod less, on average, than five other players on their own team (Jeter, Sheffield, Brown, Giambi, and Mussina). What's to regret?

Brandon Rosage: From a business standpoint, a trade for A-Rod is golden. Alex Rodriguez in pinstripes draws fans and unparalleled interest, not to mention a can't-lose situation at third base.

But looking at the Yankees as a team (which is rarely done these days), I can't help but notice that, with the continued distraction of repeated superstar additions, the club doesn't function well. The best Yankee teams, and the best winning teams anywhere for that matter, had home-grown, time-tested chemistry that put together wins on the field -- not just on paper.

Sure, with eight All-Stars on the field, the Yankees have virtually guaranteed that their work on paper will translate into wins on the field. But the Yankee teams that have neglected to win rings in the past three years have lacked that team chemistry and proven ability to get business done on-the-field.

I'm not so sure Rodriguez fixes this situation. He's a quick fix. Granted, he's a bargain and a sure thing. But all that gurantees is a productive third baseman. Scrapping together nine productive players in February doesn't ensure your franchise will be a productive team.

Travis Nelson: With all due respect, I think that "Team Chemistry" may be the most overrated commodity in all of major league baseball, excepting perhaps "Momentum" or "Joe Morgan's Analytical Skills."

A quick perusal of the annual league champions on BaseballReference.com shows that winners aren't always guys that get along great. The Oakland Athletics that won three straight championships in the early 1970s? The late '70s "Bronx Zoo"? Did those guys win because they all hung out at the bars together at night after games and had picnics in each others' backyards? The 1989 World Series Champion Oakland A's, with McGuire, Rickey, Canseco, Eckersley, Dave Parker, Dave Stewart and others, might have been the biggest collection of eccentrics and egotists to call themselves a major league baseball team since...well, the 1988 Athletics, who also had Don Baylor in the mix, but won the American League anyway.

Baseball teams win on two things: talent, and luck, in that order. If you've got enough talent, you don't need luck. You can pummel the competition and if a few things don't fall into place, you still come out ahead in the long run. The Yankees have had and continue to have the talent to not just compete, but to succeed in the regular season. Chemistry is bred by winning, not the other way around. If your team's doing well, it's easier to let your teammates' annoying little habits roll off your back. When you're losing, everything irritates you. Having a good relationship with the guy who sits next to you on the bus or in the locker room in no way will help you to know how to hit Pedro Martinez's change-up or Randy Johnson's slider. Having talent will.

Consider this: If there had been no strike in 1994-95, and if the current three-division format had been in place in 1993, the Yankees would be working a post-season streak of eleven straight seasons, and I can tell you from having followed them for the last decade that this clubhouse has not always provided a sanctuary of fun and respite for every player. Through Darryl Strawberry's, Dwight Gooden's and Steve Howe's drug issues, Paul O'Neill's tantrums, Jack McDowell's finger, Luis Polonia's statutory rape, Ruben Rivera's theft, Ruben Sierra's selfishness, Danny Tartabull's brooding, Raul Mondesi's sulking, Chuck Knoblauch's brain-cramps, David Wells' bar fights, and Denny Neagle, Terry Mulholland, Hideki Irabu, Kenny Rogers, and Jeff Weaver just plain sucking, these Yankees have continued to win and win big in the regular season. Why? Because they have talent, not chemistry. And if they don't, then they can go pick some up, like you and I pick up eggs or beer when we realize we're running low.

The post season, on the other hand, is largely a craps-shoot. If you get in, you've got about a 1-in-8 chance of winning, since eight teams make it every year. The Yanks have won four championships in nine attempts, which is more than pretty damn good. This is where luck comes in, and in a short series, the team that plays well and gets a few breaks, not necessarily the best team, will win it all. The Yankees of the last three seasons have not failed to win championships because they didn't "click" as a team, they've failed because they didn't "hit" or "pitch" or "field" as well as their opponents did, for a week's worth of games. That's not chemistry. It's misfortune. Bad luck, plain and simple.

You can't blame A-Rod or any of the other new players the Yankees picked up this year on their last three seasons' misfortune. (Incidentally, I'm sure that lots of teams would love to have the kind of "misfortune" the Yankees have had this decade.) For one thing, they just got here. For another, they currently have the best record in baseball, leading the majors in runs scored, with all those new acquisitions helping the Yankees to function better as a team than any other in MLB, with the most productive lineup. And A-Rod, leading the team in hits, homers, steals and total bases, has been a big part of that. Soriano, in the meantime, has only six homers and eleven walks, and seems to have stopped stealing bases, which used to help compensate for the other limitations in his game. The numbers he has right now project out to look a lot like what Rich Aurilia has done the last two years. Do you think anyone would be pondering the success of this trade if it had been A-Rod for Aurilia? Me neither.

Like I said, what's to regret?

Brandon Rosage: I'd be stupid to argue that the Yankees can't win with a mixed bag of All-Stars. As you point out, the Yankees have been to all but one World Series in the 21st century. But the reason they haven't won those series is the fundamental difference between the great Yankee teams and today's Yankees team: chemistry.

There have been great teams with a$$h01es up and down their lineup that have won it all. But what separates the good clubs from the greatest is team chemistry. It's an overused word, I agree. But in the case of the Bronx Bombers, its a point of interest.

I also agree that winning a championship most often requires luck. Just ask the 2002 Anaheim Angels. But nothing defeats luck better than a team with great chemistry. If the Yankees, or any team for that matter, had the chemistry and trusted success that the late '90s Yankees had, luck wouldn't be an issue. And if luck isn't issue, your club is better than all the rest.

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04 June 2004

Storybook Ending

Let me ask you something.

If you could have your choice of the end result of a particular baseball game, what would it be? If the gods came down and said, "Listen [your name here], I know you're going to this game tonight, and you've never been to this stadium, and probably won't ever come again. How would you like the game to turn out?" ...you'd ask for a win for the home team, right? Assuming, of course that it does not otherwise much matter to you who wins, just that the environment would be fun and memorable, the first thing you'd ask for is victory.

But what if you could script out the whole game? What if you had every possible option at your disposal? If you could make virtually every aspect of this game turn out practically any way you want it, how would it go?

Well, since you asked, I'll tell you: It would go exactly like the San Francisco Giants / Colorado Rockies game went last Friday night.

Sold out stadium with a beautiful view of the San Francisco bay? No problem.

Forty thousand screaming fans? Done.

Free hat? Uh-huh.

Dramatic, come-from-behind, victory for the home team? Yep.

Bottom of the ninth inning, two-out, full-count, walk off home run? Got one of those too.

Oh, and just for good measure, it was hit by Superman.

My wife and I were out in SF visiting a couple of friends who moved out there last year, and they made the mistake of asking me if there was anything in particular I'd like to do while we're out here, just for this 5-day weekend. "Gosh," I thought to myself, "what would I like to do?" As you might imagine, it took all of about a nanosecond for Self to smack me in the head and yell, "Go see a ballgame, dummy!"

So Self and my wife and our two friends and I got tickets to see the Giants-Rockies game Friday night. Personally, it would not have mattered a whole lot to me who was pitching or anything else, as long as Barry Bonds was healthy and playing. He was. So I didn't much mind that the two starting pitchers, Brett Tomko and Shawn Estes, coming into the game, had combined to allow nearly 12 earned runs per nine innings. Amazingly, they both pitched fairly well. Of course, most of the Giants, besides Barry Bonds, can't hit their way out of a paper bag, and neither can most of the Rockies once they get placed in sea-level air, so let's not give the Cy Young Award to Estes or Tomko just yet. But still, it surprised me that neither of them sucked very much.

Speaking of sucking: The Giants' "Offense".

The San Francisco Giants, even with the single most significant offensive force known to man, have scored fewer runs this season than every team in MLB except the Devil Rays and the Expos, who both really suck, in case you've been under a rock or something for the last few years. So you can imagine how bad the rest of the Giant hitters must be, if His Awesomeness can only manage to carry the rest of them up to a #27 ranking.

My wife and friends, unlike Self and I, are not particularly baseball fans. In fact, my wife practically can't stand it, though to her infinite credit, she suffers my talking about it much better than I would suffer her telling me as often about, say, knitting. The friends we went to visit are not really sports fans at all, except for golf, and that's just the guy. His wife had never been to any kind of professional sporting event at all, so you can imagine how excited we all were at how this little escapade concluded.

Since my friends aren't much into baseball, their relative ignorance afforded me the opportunity to talk (entirely too much, I'm sure) about the game, its players and history. I got to explain park effects a little, since the Rockies, the poster-children for home/road splits, were in town. I got to explain some of the history of ballparks, since we were in a new one that replaced one of the old ones but had been designed to look and feel like a really old one. (They call that "retro" by the way.) And before the game, during the Rockies' batting practice, I got to explain how Roger Clemens, who was pitching for Houston, on the big scoreboard beyond centerfield, was probably the best pitcher of the last half century, and that we would get to see the best hitter of that span play live tonight.

And oh, did he play. Bonds' has easily led all of MLB in walks each of the last several years, and this year is no exception. At the start of last Friday’s game, he had 16 more than the next closest player, Adam Dunn, who is a walking machine himself, despite roughly 40 fewer plate appearances. This strength of Bonds’ performance as a ballplayer, that pitchers literally fear to challenge him, is also somewhat of a weakness in terms of his performance as an entertainer. To a novice, few things could seem like more of a let-down than having someone talk up how great a hitter Barry Bonds is, to have him swagger up to the plate with his music blasting over the PA system, his very presence threatening to break the game open, the pitcher standing in a puddle of his own pee on the mound, and then to have him walk on four pitches. Thankfully, we didn't have to see that, as Bonds went 3-for-5, with two singles despite the infield shift the Rockies used.

The rest of the Giants hitters, as I mentioned, aren't much with the stick. The only hitter other than Bonds having anything resembling a decent year is Marquis Grissom, with a .300-ish average but few walks or steals and not a lot of power. Edgardo Alfonzo and A.J. Pierzynski (who didn’t start) have respectable averages and a little patience, but no power, and Pedro Feliz is only doing as well as he is because Bonds has already been on-base in front of him about 100 times this season. Several other players are hitting in the low .200s, or, in the case of backup backstop Yorvit Torrealba, the low, low .200’s, like .182. Neifi Perez, I explained to my friends and wife, is so bad that I regularly use the term “sub-Neifi” to describe a particularly horrendous offensive performer, like say, Derek Jeter’s first two months this year.

So you can imagine my surprise when they kept getting runners on base throughout the game…and then my dismay as they, not too surprisingly, ended each inning without a run crossing the plate. However, the Rockies' bullpen did not seem to mind that they were not expected to suck, since they weren't at Coors Field, so they went ahead and sucked anyway.

Rockies' closer Shawn Chacon started the ninth inning having only to get the bottom of the Giants lineup out in order to finish the game, and he couldn't do it. After A.J. popped out, pinch "hitter" Dustan Mohr, a career .250 hitter in three years of part time duty with the Twins, and hitting only .149 coming into the game, walked. Michael Tucker, who's also a ~.250 career hitter, did the same, and then Edgardo Alfonzo grounded out to short, moving both runners up. Shawn Chacon, who ironically, started the only other game I've seen in one of the one of the ballparks of the new millennium, the Pirates 11-3 drubbing of the Rockies in May of 2001, blew the save by allowing Marquis Grissom to single up the middle, which scored both runners, tying the game. The Rockies then, to face Barry Bonds, brought in Tim Hara-kiri, er, Harikkala who worked to a full count and then promptly committed pitching suicide by throwing the ball over the plate, allowing Bonds to hit a home run that just barely cleared the fence in left center field, and ended the game, much to the jubilation of the 20,000 of us who didn't leave at the end of the seventh.

After the game, everyone walking down the concourse from the top level was chanting "BARRY! BARRY! BARRY!", which was cool. Never experienced that before. But my friend, who had never been to a game before, noted that perhaps Marquis Grissom deserved a chant or two. After all, he not only kept the game alive for Barry to get his shot, but tied it up with his own hit. Maybe she was right?

Shawn Shacon, who blew the save and took the loss, even though Harikkala gave up the homer, was only recently made the Rockies' closer. He was not a good starter for three seasons, and I guess he has stamina issues or something, so they made him the closer coming into this season. Age 26 seems a little young to be giving up on a guy as a starting pitcher, doesn't it? But with Jose Jimenez getting expensive, and about to be promoted to Chief Astronaut for the United States Interplanetary Expeditionary Force, they had to get someone to pick up those saves. Shacon hasn't really done that as well as they'd hoped, or as well as Phil Rogers expected, blowing 4 saves in 14 chances so far this year, only closing the door about 78% of the time. Not exactly Eric Gagne territory, here.

But Shawn shouldn't worry. If this doesn't work out, I've already found him a job:

I guess it wasn't a storybook ending for everybody. Posted by Hello

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02 June 2004

Which player's injury has been the most devastating to his team?

The most devastating injury thus far has not been the loss of Nomar Garciaparra. Despite Boston shortstops’ cumulative .604 OPS this season, the Red Sox are still competing for first place, compensating for Nomar’s loss just fine. Mark Prior’s absence hasn’t hurt the Cubbies all that much, as their surplus of starting pitching talent has generally picked up the slack. The most devastating injury wasn’t suffered by Richie Sexson or Marcus Giles or any of the myriad of stars the Anaheim Angels have placed on the DL this season. Even Barry Bonds’ recent absence has not hurt his team the most. In fact, you’ve probably already forgotten about the most devastating injury to happen to a baseball player this season.

Because it didn’t happen this season: It happened in January.

In a basketball game.

That’s right, now you remember. Erstwhile Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone left his keys, his wallet, and apparently his brain in a locker and went out to play basketball, where he suffered a torn ACL and essentially forfeited almost $6 million in salary. But he also set the wheels in motion on a series of roster moves that practically changed the entire character of the Yankees lineup.

"Yay!! Yippee!! Ya-hoo!!! Ow! ...I think I pulled something..."

Before the injury, the Bronx Bombers were just that, Bombers, with perhaps the most productive infield in major league baseball. Jason Giambi is so good he could lose 65 points in batting average and still be one of the best first baseman in the AL. Derek Jeter, when healthy and right, can reasonably be expected to put up .300/.390/.450-type numbers, with 15 homers and 30 steals, one of the best shortstops in the majors. Second base was also manned by one of the best players at that position in the majors. In 2002-2003, Alfonso Soriano had the most runs, hits, homers, and steals of any 2B in MLB. He was second in slugging percentage and OPS, and third in RBI, while mostly hitting lead-off. He was and is, in short, a great player.

The Yankees, however, needed an even greater player to help make up for the loss of Aaron Boone, and they got one in Alex Rodriguez, who’s been playing third for the Yanks this year, and doing a fine job overall. Boone was capable of a .270 average with 20 homers and 25 steals, which doesn’t seem like all that much for a third baseman, until you realize that Boone’s offense isn’t really being replaced by A-Rod, but rather by Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo. Yuk. Through late May, Yankee second basemen had “hit” for a combined .614 OPS, with three homers and twelve runs scored. Almost as pathetic as Boston’s shortstops, and not helping the team to rank any better than eighth in runs scored in the AL.

Furthermore, rumors out of New York suggest that Derek Jeter’s recently anemic bat may be caused by the added strain, pressure and competition of a guy 30 feet to his right who frankly deserves his job. I don’t personally believe that, but it’s worth considering that Jeter may not be having so much trouble if he were more comfortable with his job security.

So Boone’s injury, his simple and singular decision to play a game of pickup basketball and the aftermath that ensued, has affected the Yankees at three positions.

No one else on any of the 30 disabled lists in MLB can say that.

Check out the other BaseballOutsider.com writers' opinions on this issue...

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