14 January 2005

Random Notes...

Hey, it's January. There's not a lot of baseball being played for a fella to write about.

New Steroid Policy

The Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners have finally come to an agreement on a policy regarding steroids and other performance enhancing drugs that actually has some teeth to it. You've no doubt heard and/or read about the details, so I won't rehash them here. Random, year-round testing, stiffer suspensions, etc. It's all a big step in the right direction. Jayson Stark's Q&A answers a few of the questions you might not have thought to ask. Ultimately, there's still a few silly aspects to the policy, like the fact that they've declared a ban on Human Growth Hormone but there's apparently no test the find it. Mostly, though, they're making significant progress.

It will be interesting to seee how the fans react to players who've tested positive. I expect that, like always, they'll cheer the guys who produce and boo the guys who don't, regardless of what's found in their urine. ("Waiter! There's a fly in my...") I still can't figure out though why the minor leagues have a tougher drug policy than the major leagues. Doesn't make any sense to me.

Sale of Milwaukee Brewers Approved

Los Angeles investor Mark Attanasio bought the team from a used car salesman for $223 million.

I wonder how much a Major League team costs.

The Low Down on Lowe's Signing

Former Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe has reportedly agreed to a 4-year, $36 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Good for him, but why? Ever since this was announced, everyone has been trying to figure out what the heck a smart dude like Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta was thinking when he commited $36 million to a guy who posted a 5.42 ERA last year. ESPN's Rob Neyer thinks the combination of Dodger Stadium and Lowe's extreme ground ball tendencies will make hima slightly better than average pitcher for the next few years. Baseball Prospectus' James Click thinks that Lowe was unlucky last year, and that a reversion to normal luck, coupled with park effects, will bring Lowe's ERA down to around 4.00 next year.

Lowe Posted by Hello

But still, an ERA around 4.00, or slightly better than average performance, does not constitute a bargain at $9 million/year. Odalis Perez is four years younger, has a much lower ERA, and yet only got 3 years and $24 million. So what gives?

I'll tell you: I have it on good authority, from my Baseball People (read: imaginary friends), that Derek Lowe will be a bargain next year and beyond. You see, DePodesta, like the rest of us, was watching the playoffs last Fall, and he saw two things:

1) Derek Lowe start on two days' rest
B) Derek Lowe beat the Yankees

So he figures that if he can start Lowe on two days's rest every time, and his luck returns, and Dodger Stadium and Lowe's grounders combine to drop his ERA just under 4.00, he'll get his money's worth! That's why he's paying the guy as much money as two mediocre starters normally get: He's going to take the place of two mediocre starters! If Lowe could just have a decent season he could become the first pitcher in almost 40 years to win 30 games.

Think about it. Starting with only two days rest, Lowe would make 58 starts next year, and pitch something like 350 innings. He only pitched more than seven innings twice all of last year anyway, and this way they can let Kaz Ishii pitch long relief instead of starting, which he's no good at anyway. A rotation of

1) Derek Lowe
2) Jeff Weaver
3) Odalis Perez
4) Derek Lowe
5) Brad Penny

...allows the Dodgers to have the deepest bullpen in the majors. Guys like Ishii and Wilson Alvarez, who might be starters on half the teams in MLB, are relegated to bullpen duty. Or they can trade them for someone who can hit, a commodity on which they are running a little thin.

Ok, so I made that up. But wouldn't it be cool if I hadn't?

North Dakota Resolution Calls for Maris in Cooperstown

I wouldn't expect too much out of these resolutions. The United Nations passed a few dozen of these things trying to get Iraq to disarm, and those didn't do much good.

Maris Posted by Hello

Lawmakers in North Dakota really, really want Roger Maris to be enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame. They're even sending delegates to Cooperstown to try to convince them that Maris belongs there. That's rich: send a bunch of lawyers and/or baseball fans to the Hall of Fame. This is the place where they keep the records and archives for major league baseball, where there are probably more relics, data and people who know and love baseball, as a percentage, than any other town in the world. You're going to lecture them about who should and should not be in their Hall of Fame?

Think about it. This is something like saying "I resolve to make the other commuters on my way to work drive more safely. By yelling at them. From my car." Even if they could hear you, or were paying attention to what you say, you can't make them do anything. You can just yell, and that's all the North Dakota legislature is doing: yelling.

"Hey, Maris won two MVP awards! He held the single season home run record for longer than anyone else! He lost his hair!!"

Never mind that he played only 12 seasons in the majors, only five of which could reasonably be considered "good". Never mind that he hit .260 for his career, and never topped .283 in a season. Ignore the fact that Baseball prospectus' fielding rankings indicate that Maris was an average defensive outfielder at best, Never mind that he was a "power hitter" who hit only 275 home runs in his career, fewer than contemporaries like Roy Seivers, Willie Horton and Joe Adcock. I don't see the state legislatures of Virginia, Missouri and Louisiana lobbying to get those three inducted.

Amusingly, Maris' supporters somehow have convinced themselves that the man was underappreciated in his own time, but then in the same breath tell you that he was a back-to-back MVP. The guy who sponsors his player page on Baseball-Reference.com says,

The greatest player not in Hall, no player achieved more with less appreciation from fans or writers. Won consecutive MVPs, a great defensive OFer, his departure started the Yanks’ darkest era. His 61 HRs stood as the mark longer than any other since 1900.

So which is it? Was he underappreciated, or did the beat writers of his day think he was the best player in the league, not once, but twice? Oh, and by the way, Mickey Mantle was a better player in both of the years in which Maris won the MVP.

Mantle's protection in the lineup, the eight extra games and the diluted pitching talent pool from a league that had added two teams in one season were the only reasons that Maris broke that record. Bill James' New Historical Baseball Abstract ranks Maris as the 28th best right-fielder of all time, behind such immortals as Bobby Murcer, Regie Smith and Rusty Staub. Sure, #28 is better than #82, but is there really room in Cooperstown, at this point in history, for everybody who played 12 seasons and hit .260? It's gonna get awfully crowded in upstate NY if those are the criteria.

Any North Dakota state lawmakers who might be reading this should ask yourselves this question: Would we be having this discussion if Maris had hit, say, 58 homers in 1961? Because three homers, in the grand scheme of things, is not a lot. And wet, without those three homers, for which he needed those extra eight games to hit, Maris has no legacy, and this conversation never happens. Sure, he hit them, and he gets credit for that. Cooperstown has the bat and the ball and his name on a plaque of former record holders and probably some other stuff. But the rest of his career was pedestrian. Good, maybe, but great? One of the best of all time? Not remotely.

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