30 April 2008

Roger Clemens-Mindy McCready Affair Quasi-Update

Deadspin yesterday had some comments about the Roger Clemens Boinks Little Girls story, but then followed it up with an email response they received from someone purporting to be a cousin of the troubled country singer.

Here's part of that:

I wouldn't be surprised if Mindy leaked the story to the press herself as she is probably the most cold-blooded, attention-seeking, self-promoting person I've ever met. She may be an emotionally-damaged person as you labeled her in your post but she's also manipulative and prettly much always looking out for number one.

Mindy's dad, Tim, is raising her son in FL. Mindy hasn't seen the kid in at least a year yet a couple months ago she was on "Extra" pimping herself out talking about how her son is the most important thing in her life.

The only thing Mindy cares about is self-promotion and if she's lucky, getting back on the County Fair concert circuit.

Who knows whether this is true or not, though I can't think of why someone would bother to pretend to be her cousin and have some inside scoop on the woman's personal life. She looks pretty bad without this. I had sugeested yesterday and Monday that McCready probably doesn't mind the bad press all that much, but I didn't think she would have leaked it herself.

On the other hand, it makes sense, if this e-mailer's words are to be believed. I mean, it's horrible to think that someone would do something like this, leak news of her own affair to either the press or the lawyers for Brian McNamee, who have probably been telling anyone who would listen that they're looking for dirt on Clemens. When you consider that their supposed 10-year affair has presumably been over for several years, McCready isn't likely to burn any bridges with the Rocket by making this public anyway.

If you want to know who leaked this information, one way of going about it is to take Deep Throat's advice to Woodward and Bernstein and "follow the money." In this case, though, we'd have to follow the potential money, and the only one who stood to make any money off of this information was Mindy McCready. Sure, the McNamee camp stood to gain from it, but how would they even know it was out there if someone didn't leak the information to them? With a new CD, a TV show and a documentary coming out all about the same time, but her fame as a country singer long-since past, how else could she get herself back in the public eye?

Another Update: The NY Daily News is reporting that their source has indicated other affairs that Clemens had, and going so far as to actually name one of them. Angela Moyer, a former bartender in Manhattan during Clemens' tenure in Yankee Pinstripes. They also mention women in Boston and even California. I guess he needed someone for those long West Coast trips. At least this one was legal at the time. She's evidently 30, which means that if she was involved with Clemens when he joined the Yankees, she'd have been 22, while he was 36. And married.

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Injuries, Pitching Big Problems for Yankees

In the immortal words of Homer Simpson:

"D'oh! It just gets worse and worse!"

Not only is Jorge Posada on the disabled list for the first time in his 13 year career, now Alex Rodriguez is joining him. This is the first time since Y2K that A-Rod has had to go on the DL, though hopefully his strained quadriceps will be able to heal with two weeks of rest. Posada's shoulder injury, though the team is hopeful that it won't end his season, might take more than that. Torn rotator cuffs usually do.

For those of you scoring at home, that's $41.1 million in salary on the shelf (not including Carl Pavano's $11 mil). Last year, those two players combined for 74 homers, 234 runs, 246 RBIs and an approximate percentage line of .325/.425/.600, and missed only 22 games between them all year. This year they've already combined to miss 14 games, and we're only 28 games into the season.

Needless to say, the Yankees were counting on them a great deal coming into 2008, though as I mentioned the other day, the fact that the Yankees are hovering around .500 is as much the fault of the starting pitching and Robinson Cano's and Jason Giambi's failure to hit as it is result of any injuries.

I was wrong about Posada's expected replacement, though. Apparently Chad Moeller wore out his welcome in Yankeetown. (Lot of nerve he had, hitting .350 in those six games!) Actually, he had to be waived so they could make roster space for Jonathan Albaladejo and Chris Britton). The new backup is someone named Chris Stewart, a 26-year old non-prospect (his minor league line is .253/.314/.361 in 1425 at-bats). River Ave. Blues has a decent profile of him, but basically says you shouldn't get two attached to him since he expects Moeller back after he clears waivers.

Worse yet, Phil Hughes had another awful outing last night: 6 Earned Runs in 3.2 innings, including 11 baserunners and two wild pitches. Hughes now has an ERA of exactly 9.00 and has walked 13 batters in 22 innings this year, after averaging just over two walks per nine innnings throughout his minor league career.

People who know more about pitching mechanics than I do are saying that he's got something wrong with his, but I've looked at some of his footage from last night and compared it to footage I took when he was wiping up the field with the Portland Sea Dogs a year and a half ago, and I can't see anything. Whatever it is, if he doesn't start showing some promise, he's going to find himself working out the bugs at Scranton/Wilkes Barre. The American League is no place to be ironing out one's kinks.

As a side note, after last night's game, Johan Santana is now 3-2 with a 3.12 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 40.1 innings. The Yankees could have had him, at one point, for Hughes, OF Melky Cabrera, pitching prospect Jeff Marquez and another prospect. You think they're still glad they didn't make that trade?

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29 April 2008

No Longer "Allegedly": McCready Confirms Clemens Affair

Well, that didn't take long.

I expected that we would hear more about the affair that Roger Clemens was supposed to have had with country music singer Mindy McCready, and I might have suspected that we'd have more info within 24 hours...

But I sure as hell didn't expect the confirmation to come from McCready herself.

The NY Daily News is reporting this morning that McCready has confirmed her affair with Clemens.

"I cannot refute anything in the story."

McCready was described as "tearful but resolute" by the Daily News, which contacted her to get a confirmation or denial of the story they ran yesterday alleging the affair. That she "cannot refute" the details implies that they did meet in a bar in Fort Myers, Florida, during spring training in 1990, though there was no mention of why her parents would allow their 15 year old daughter to hang out in a bar frequented professional athletes twice her age.

Craig Calcaterra at Shysterball rightly says that Clemens is, "an evil and loathsome monster who contributed to the destruction of a young girl in a major way." But while we're at it, let's not let McCready's parents off the hook either. Until she's an adult, she's their responsibility, and it appears that they dropped the ball here.

More from the Daily News:

"After the teenage McCready met Clemens at a Fort Myers bar called The Hired Hand, she returned with the Rocket to his hotel room, but there was no sex that night, sources told The News.

It wasn't until later, after McCready had moved to Nashville and become a country singing star, that the relationship turned intimate."

Reading McCready's admission of the relationship this morning, to paraphrase Chevy Chase, could not have made me more surprised than if I'd woken up this morning with my head sewn to the carpet. But within the confines of that, this particular detail comes as no surprise at all, or at the very least, it does not surprise me that she would say that. This, just like Andy Pettitte's confession to using HGH back in 2003, before it was banned by MLB, comes off as the perfect confession: Yes, I did something wrong, but not that wrong.

It's all very convenient that McCready says that her sexual relationship with Clemens did not begin until she was 18 - and therefore legal - but is it a credible story? Are we supposed to believe that this testosterone-ridden egotist took an attractive young girl, totally enamored of him, back to his hotel room that night and they...what? Just talked? Watched TV? Painted each other's toenails? Come on, people.

But let's give him the benefit of the doubt here. Let's say that they were attracted to each other, but that they restrained themselves. After all, to get where he was, Clemens obviously has to have a lot of discipline, so maybe he drew upon some of that reservoir to keep him from Little Miss Jailbait. If they saw each other in the intervening time, between 1990 and 1993, when she turned 18 and moved to Nashville to destroy herself become a star, are we supposed to believe that they acted with similar restraint each of those times?

McCready did not say that she never saw Clemens between the ages of 15 and 18, just that the relationship did not turn sexual until then. I find it extremely hard to believe that someone as self-absorbed and impressed with himself as Roger Clemens would be able to keep seeing this young girl who seemingly threw herself at him and be able to keep turning her down. (And if you have any doubts about the man's enormous ego, you need look no further than his kids' names: Koby, Kacy, Kory, and Kody. It's surprising he hasn't legally changed his own name to KRoger Klemens.)

In McCready's position, as I mentioned yesterday, it's not necessarily a bad thing for her name to be coming up now, even in this manner. After all, she's releasing a new album, filming a documentary about her life and starting a reality show. She needs all the free press she can get. There are probably thousands, maybe millions of people who heard of her for the first time ever yesterday (yet more evidence that she should not be referred to as a "star"), and who therefore may be more inclined to watch her show, buy her CD, and/or pay $9 to go see here movie. Which will probably go straight to video anyway. So never mind.

Richard Emery, the lawyer defending Brian McNamee in the defamation lawsuit filed against him by Clemens has been very clear about his motives in this:

"If the case heads to trial and is not dismissed, as we feel it should be, we will be calling [McCready] as a witness," Emery said.

"The point is whether he was damaged by the allegations that he used steroids - he claims he was hurt. But if there are other women - and there's not just one case, but many - and he holds himself out as a family man and an American paradigm, it's relevant."

"None of this would have been revealed but for his lawsuit and sanctimonious testimony before Congress."

Let me sum those three points up for you:

1) Be afraid. Be very afraid. If you let this go to trial, your reputation will be forever sullied, whether it deserves to be or not.

B) We have evidence that you have cheated on your wife with other women, too. We brought this one up because she's a big name (or at least she is now), but there are others. Do you want everyone to learn about those?

iii) This is all your fault.

That second point may just be a threat, or it may be the real thing, but Emery suggests that there are "many" cases like this one, and he's basically daring Clemens to keep going with this lawsuit, so they can bring more women forward. Time will tell if they actually have anything (or anyone) else up their sleeve.

Clemens and his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, look rather foolish now, after denying any wrongdoing when this story broke yesterday. According to Hardin:

"At no time did Roger engage in any kind of inappropriate or improper relationship with her."

Well, whether it was illegal or not is still up for debate, but cheating on your wife definitely qualifies as "inappropriate or improper" in most people's minds. And if the woman herself is admitting it, there's not much room for explanation on Clemens part about this denial. He either lied to his lawyer or his lawyer lied to us. It's that simple.

Maybe he'll tell us that she "misremembers" having had sex with him regularly for ten years?

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28 April 2008

Clemens Story Gets Weirder: Linked to Washed-Up Country Singer

You'd think it would be a welcome distraction for Roger Clemens to wake up in the moringin and see his name in the paper for something other than allegations of performance enhancing drugs.

You'd be wrong.

The New York Daily News this morning broke the story that Roger Clemens is being accused of having had an affair with country music singer Mindy McCready. Other sources have variously referred to McCready as a country music "star", but it seems to me that someone who hasn't had a hit record (either a single or an album) in a decade does not qualify as a star. By that metric, Hanson and Chumbawumba are also "stars".

Clemens, of course, was exactly that, though his sterling reputation has been tarnished somewhat in recent months because of all theis steroid talk. Apparently that's what has led to the revelations about this affair: in an effort to discredit Clemens' testimony, lawyers for his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, have dug up the dirt about McCready, which was previosuly unknown. McNamee's lawyer, Richard Emery, makes no apologies for the mud-slinging:

"If it's proved that he's a philanderer, his reputation is already damaged. When
you sue for defamation, you put your whole reputation in the community at issue.
Anything is fair game, including his claim of sanctimonious purity. [...] He's a 'family man' - he implies that. It's about what his damages are. All is
fair game." [AP]

This is a little bit disingenuous on Emery's part. He knows damn well that he doesn't need to prove that Clemens is a philanderer, any more than Johnny Cochrane needed to prove that Mark Fuhrman was a racist. All you really need is doubt in the minds of the decision makers, whether they're a jury, a judge or a congressional committee, and - voila! - you've got yourself an acquittal. Or whatever it was you're seeking.

The fact that McCready was allegedly only 15 alleged years old when the alleged affair allegedly started (I think I've got myself legally covered there...) is just icing on the alleged cake for McNamee and his lawyer. Allegedly. No, they can't prove anything. They may have some evidence, a witness or something, but they sure aren't going to have video tape of Clemens having sex with a 15 year old aspiring country singer. And that's what they would need for "proof".

Nevertheless, this allegation should prove to be a master stroke for McNamee. His defense in the defamation lawsuit filed against him by Clemens was pretty weak, for even though there were others who suggested that Clemens might have been using PEDs, these were often seedy characters themselves, like Jose Canseco, so their word didn't count for much in comparison to a guy with the kind of reputation Clemens had. But the possibility that Clemens befriended the McCready family (as they admit he did) and then started boinking their 15-year old daughter is going to make a lot of people wonder how credible, and how moral, this guy really is.

Canseco, ironically, in his book Juiced, suggested that while Clemens may have been juicing himself, he took his wedding vows pretty seriously, and as far as Canseco knew, didn't cheat on his wife while he was on the road, as many players apparently do. Of course, if I were Clemens, I wouldn't tell someone like Jose Canseco about that even if I were doing it, so that may not be the best evidence in Clemens favor. But it's something, anyway.

Obviously, everyone in the Clemens and McCready camps is denying any wrongdoing. They admit that the two know each other, even that McCready traveled on the team plane with Roger during road trips, but her mother indicates that they wer eonly platonic friends, as far as she knows. Why she would let her 15-year old daughter hang out with a man almost twice her age is beyond my obviously limited comprehension.

Her producer, of course, knows that there's no such thing as bad publicity, so he's only too happy to defend his client's honor. And while he's at it, did he mention that she's got a new documentary and an album and a reality show comeing out? Reminds me of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story: "Yeah, I'd just like to mention that I'm no longer mainlining LSD...and that my show airs Thursday nights at 8PM, after your local news!"

It should be interesting to see how this pans out. Don't get your hopes up about Clemens doing the perp-walk on child-endangerment or statuatory rape charges. You need more than accusations for something like that, and they're just not likely to get it. If there ever was any such evidence, it was probably destroyed within minutes of when the story broke this morning.

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Posada Proves Problem for Yanks, Just Not the One I Expected

The Yankees won a tight game against the Cleveland Indians yesterday, after dropping the firt two games of their hard-fought series with the Tribe, but it turned out to be a lousy day anyway.

Jorge Posada is going on the DL.

Posada's throwing shoulder has been bothering him all season, so much so, that would-be base stealers are almost always successful, nabbing 14 steals in 17 tries.

As a rule, steals aren't that big a part of the game, but in a situation like this, when opponents know they can steal on your catcher at will, the story changes a bit. The pitcher has to re-focus his energies to try to keep the runners close, which takes his attention away from the batter, which leads to mistakes, and it's more or less all down hill from there.

One approach to this problem, naturally, is to just not allow anyone on base. Chien-Ming Wang made it work for him yesterday, allowing only 4 hits and two walks in seven shutout innings against the potent Cleveland offense. Effective though it may be, this is not very likely to happen. Putting Posada in there in the hopes that your pitcher will be that niggardly with his baserunners every time out is a foolish strategy, so to the DL Posada must go.

I expected Posada to be a problem for the Yankees this year, but in my case, I thought it would be his bat, not his arm that haunted them. I figured that he had nowhere to go but down after hitting .338 last year, and that his age-related drop in production would hrt the Yankees' pennant hopes. Of course I was right that he would drop off, but he's still hitting about .300 this year with a slugging percentage almost exactly on his career mark, despite only having gone yard once so far.

Jose Molina and Chad Moeller have to try to pick up the slack, which is no easy task. In 2007, Posada led all MLB catchers in Runs Created, Secondary Average, VORP, batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, adjusted OPS and doubles. He was second in homers and Win Shares (behind Victor Martinez) and third in RBIs (behind Martinez and Brian McCann). That's one heckuva hole to fill.

Obviously it wasn't reasonable to expect Posada to keep hitting like that at age 36, but I'm sure the yankees expected something like .275/.375/.475 from him with 18 homers and 80 RBIs. The drop from that level down Jose Molina and a random backup catcher is a steep one. The Yankees have enough offense that they can withstand a month of missing Posada, assuming that rest is all his ailing shoulder needs, but to do that, they need some of the others to step up and help.

And in this case, I don't mean the offense: I mean pitching.

Specifically, the two youngsters in the rotation, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

BAD NEWS: Hughes and kennedy are now collectively 0-5, with an ERA of 8.20, with 27 walks and only 26 strikeouts in 34 innings.

GOOD NEWS: Ian Kennedy' opponents' batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this year is .361, and for Phil Hughes, it's even worse, at .388.

Why is that good news? Because on average, most major league pitchers allow a BABIP around .300 these days. (That hasn't always been the case, but a study of that history is beyond the scope of this post.) If Kennedy and Hughes are so far above the normal average, and there isn't something physically wrong with them, then they're likely to regress toward the mean eventually, and start pitching like we've been told they can.

On the other hand, Mike Mussina's not been exactly great this year, only 2-3 with a 4.94 ERA and only 10 strikeouts in 27 innings. Worse yet, he's got a BABIP of only .250, which means that when the mean catches up with him, he's likely to get worse, not better. Moose's problem to this point is that he's just not fooling anyone with his mid-80's fastball and 68-mph knucklecurve, so he never strikes anyone out anymore, allows a homer every 4 innings, and makes the defense work for him. Unfortunately, the Yankee defense is better known for its ability to hit than its collection of Gold Gloves, Derek Jeter's small collection of them notwithstanding.

Regardless, the two young guys have got to start pitching better if the Yankees are going to compete. Mussina, too, of course, but if he falters, they can always try Joba Chamberlain in the rotation and relegate Moose to mop-up duty. Or they can try Moose as a once-a-week starter, keeping him a little more fresh for each time he pitches, and helping to take some of the pressure off Joba and Hughes and Kennedy, so they don't have to rack up so many innings on those young arms.

Not that they're likely to try something that unusual, but don't ever let it be said that there were no alternatives out there.

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MLB.tv Black out Problems

FOX broadcast the Saturday afternoon Yankees-Indians game, so I got to watch some Yankees baseball on my television instead of MLB.tv, which was nice. These kinds of games are of course blacked out from MLB.tv as well as the MLB Extra Innings package you can get on most satellite and some cable systems. fair enough. But on Thursday night, I was blacked out of both the Yankees-White Sox game and the Mets-Nationals game, neither of which was being broadcast natioanally.

Several emails to MLB.tv customer service have done nothing to explain to me

1) Why this happened, or
B) if I should expect it to happen again.

According to their website, MLB.tv only has me blacked out of Phillies games, since my hometown (Bethlehem, PA) falls in their broadcast area. I live over 100 miles from New York city, and while I get some of the NYC broadcast stations, we do not get the YES network out here, not Sports NY, which does most of the Mets games, so it's not like the Yankees or Mets think of eastern PA as their broadcast area.

When I emailed MLB.tv customer service, they sent me the obligatory confirmation email, followed up by another one in which they asked me to provide more information (like my IP address, zip code, and where I was trying to watch the game from) which they said had been "previously requested". When, or by whom it had been requested, they did not say, but the remark had a distinctly snotty tone to it, like one of those teenagers who works in the computer store at the mall and gives you attitude because you don't already know the difference between DDR RAM and SODIMM.

I don't think I was supposed to respond directly to the email, but they did not provide clear instructions as to how I should furnish this information to them, so in my view, that's a failing on the part of MLB.tv as well.

They also suggested that I should make sure my "wallet preferences" were up to date and accurate. For the uninitiated, this means that I should make sure the credit card they have on file for me is accurate, though this should not matter either. For one thing, I bought the MLB.tv package for the whole year, and for another, even if I was paying for it monthly, We're still in the first month of the season, so there's no reason that I should be out of date on that front either. And besides, it's not as though the whold MLB.tv module wasn't working. I could watch the Reds game or the Padres game or the Mariners game if I so desired. Just not the Mets or Yankees.

All I know, at this point, is that I'm not supposed to be blacked out of any of these games, which I already knew, and that if I have troubles in the future, I can contact them through their website, which as it turns out, is pretty useless.

MLB.tv's product itself is pretty darn good, but on the whole, its customer service interface leaves a lot to be desired.

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22 April 2008

Book Review: Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid, by John Rosengren

The word "skeptical" barely begins to describe my demeanor as I was asked to review John Rosengren's new book, Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid.

First of all, I'd never heard of its author, so how good could the book be, right? Well, I'd never heard of Michael Shapiro before I read his excellent book on the Brooklyn Dodgers a few years ago. Before I happened upon A Dirty Job in the Allentown airport last summer, I'd never heard of Christopher Moore either, and he's now my favorite author. So I didn't give that particular prejudice too much weight.

More important, the book's subtitle "The Year That Changed Baseball Forever" kind of put me on my guard. And not just because it referred to 1973, and therefore happened before I was born. I had to take the title with a grain of salt, mostly because I just read a book last year about a team that (allegedly) changed baseball, just two years before this book supposedly did the same thing, and that, frankly that was a crock. And a really boring book.

Rosengren's book is neither.

This well-written, insightful and intriguing tome relates how the events of the 1973 baseball season, and several events that unfolded around it, really did change the game, and perhaps the country, for all time. Think about it:

* You had Hank Aaron chasing babe Ruth, right down to the last day of the season, contending not only with his aging body and racist death threats, but also the ambivalence of the baseball establishment (read: Commissioner Bowie Kuhn) and the people of Atlanta, who mostly ignored him right to the end.

* Willie Mays, the once great Giants centerfielder, was linping along in his last year as a player with the Mets, who somehow managed to get to the World Series despite winning only 82 regular season games.

* Reggie Jackson was trying single-handedly to not just win the AL pennant again, but to become the superstar that we all now know him to be, and while he was at it, he was also trying to change the way players dealt with both management and the media. He succeeded at all three.

* Pete Rose collected his 2,000th career hit, won his third batting title and his only NL MVP award.

* Charlie Finley was an odd juxtaposition of both progressive and traditional baseball values. For example, he lobbied for the Designated Hitter rule, which was accepted, as a way to improve offense levels in the attandance-challenged American League. He also suggested orange baseballs for night games, though these were only used in exhibitions. At the same time, he was a world-class cheapskate, losing his players' loyalty (and ins ome cases their contracts) over comparitively trifling sums because he simply could not stand to give up a dollar if he didn't absolutely have to.

* George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees for a song from CBS, and despite promises to keep building ships for a living, it was not long before he started meddling...and winning.

At the same time, America was still trying to get out of the Vietnam War, and the Paris Peace Accords were signed, though it would not be the end. By the end of the year, both the President and the Vice President were forced from office over separate political scandals, though Nixon made significant inroads with both China and the Soviet Union, helped to start the DEA, the Alaska Pipeline, and signed the Endangered Species Act, before he was forced to leave.

The World Trade Center, the CN Tower in Toronto and the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Bosporous Bridge in Istanbul and the Sydney Opera House all opened. The SkyLab launches mark the next step in manned space flight and exploration. Thalidomide settlement. The Stockholm Syndrome. The American Indian Movement standoff at Wounded Knee. Roe v. Wade. The Yom Kippur War. The Arab Oil Embargo.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon was the biggest selling single of the year. Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii was seen by over one billion people, and they didn't even have YouTube. Dark Side of the Moon was released. The Miami Dolphins became the first (and still, only) team in NFL history to finish a season undefeated. Secretariat won the Triple Crown. O.J. rushed for over 2,000 yards. Bobby Riggs and his big mouth were beaten (easily) by Billie-Jean King. Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!

It was a tumultuous time, you have to admit. And I hadn't even been born yet!

To his credit, Rosengren doesn't try to cover all of that stuff in his book, but he does touch on some of the bigger issues (like Watergate) and how the baseball world could never be wholly insulated from the larger culture. Steinbrenner's illegal campaign contributions to Nixon in 1972 were given special attention in the book,as was the effect of the investigation, and his eventual conviction, on his business with the Yankees). Rosengren also discusses the ways in which Steinbrenner almost immediately renegs on his promise to practice "absentee ownership" and "stick to building ships", and apparently had no shame about the way he wanted to run things. When Mike Burke, the general Manager of the team under CBS's ownership, was forced out, George simply explained that, "[he] didn't agree with everything I wanted to do, so I fired him." (p. 82)

Speaking of contentious and controversial owners, the Oakland Athletics, despite their success in 1972, were a wild bunch, and hated their cheapskate owner. "They disregarded authority with exhuberant contempt." (p. 29) Moreover, they nearly mutinied during the World Series when Finley's meddling forced secondbaseman Mike Andrews to agree to a false medical report in order to get someone else on the roster. Finley eventually forced out his manager, Dick Williams, lost his best pitcher, Catfish Hunter, and the AL MVP Reggie Jackson, once free agency took hold.

Finley's brainchild, the DH, was proposed essentially as a gimmick to improve attendance, which, it was though, would increase with increased offense. The American League in 1972 had averaged just 3.47 runs per game, 13% lower than the Senior Circuit, and almost exactly as low as the anemic 1968 season. Run scoring (and attendance) increased dramatically in 1973, and everyone was so pleased after only the first season of what was supposed to have been a three-year experiment, they decided to make the DH permanent. Hard to blame them.

With that said, I do have to take issue with Rosengren's contention that, "The experiment had improved offense, no question." Offense improved, sure, but how much did the DH have to do with it? Plenty, but not everything. The AL scored 4.28 runs per team per game in 1972, a 25% increase from the previous year, but only about half of that was due to the DH. The rest of it was due to the fact that the League as a whole just hit much better, and much more in line with historical trends. Designated hitters scored 0.58 runs per game in 1973, compared to only 0.14 runs per game by pitchers and pinch hitters in 1972, but everyone else in the American League jumped from a paltry 3.17 R/G up to a much more palateable 3.56 R/G. In short, it looks in retrospect like 1972's pitcher's paradise was just a fluke, which would likely have reverted to the mean anyway, at least to some degree.

Anyway, I'm off-topic. Back to the book.

Rosengren manages to relate some of the social and historical implications of the DH, the ways it was perceived and who actually embraced the role and succeeded at it. Ron Blomberg may have gotten his name in the record books as the first player to serve in the role, But Orlando Cepeda was the one who made the DH look like a good idea. Cha Cha was basically washed up at 35, but got a second chance in Boston in 1973 due entirely to the DH rule, and probably owes his Hall of Fame induction to it. (Rosengren mentions that Cepeda won the inaugural Outstanding DH Award in '73, though he fails to include the fact that Frank Robinson had a much better season. Baby Bull only got the award because it was started by a newspaper in New Hampshire, which is obviously in Red Sox Nation.)

The book, in fact, is really quite good. The author seems to be one of those select few people who can look at an array of information from various and sundry sources and not only see the big picture, but relate it to others as well. It seems that a lot of things really did change in 1973, and Rosengren weaves all the intricate parts of that season together for you, presenting the tapestry and explaining how it all fits, and what it all means.

How he managed to do this is beyond me. His bibliography lists over 50 different books, plus numerous websites, periodicals, audio/video sources and more than a dozen personal interviews with players and other personalities who lived the events in the book. And talk about meticulous! After the brief first chapter, every chapter has at least 29 end notes, and most have at least 60! The man obviously paid enormous attention to detail, working his butt off to verify and cite his sources.

The result is an interesting, well-researched, well-written and comprehensive work that tells the tale of a season that really did change the world of baseball forever.

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17 April 2008

Pitchers with Something to Prove, AL Edition

Continuing a theme today...

American League:

The Junior Circuit has no shortage of intriguing starting pitching matchups either.

The marquee matchup (and by "marquee" I mean, "The only one I really care about") is Josh Beckett vs. Mike Mussina. Beckett was decent in his last start, especially considering that it came against the Yankees, but in neither of his two starts this year has he much resembled the ace who won 20 games for the BoSox last year. With the Yankee bats starting to heat up, he'll have his work cut out for him.

Thirty-nine year old Mike Mussina, unlike John Smoltz, has been showing his age of late. While he hasn't been terrible, exactly, in any of his three starts this year, he's hardly dominated anyone either, and he's yet to throw more than 91 pitches in a start. Given the drubbing that Chein-Ming Wang took last night, and the efforts put forth by the bullpen to keep the Red Sox at bay, Moose should be trying to figure out how he can go 6+ innings tonight and instill Joe Girardi with some confidence in him.

Simultaneously, Chicago's Gavin Floyd will be starting against Baltimore. Floyd is hardly a big-name, big-game or big-contract pitcher, as many of these others are, but after throwing 7+ no-hit innings against the pre-season favorite Tigers last week, Floyd will want to demonstrate that he's not just a flash in the pan.

Speaking of the Tigers, their alleged ace, Justin Verlander starts for them tonight against Fausto Carmona in Cleveland. Verlander had 35 wins in 2006-07 combined, more than any pitcher in baseball except Wang (38) and Beckett (36). Unfortunately, he's 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA this year, and none of his three starts has been close to "quality", though that trend won't likely continue. Granted, four of his 14 earned runs have been allowed to score by his alleged bullpen "support" but then they were only there in the first place because of Verlander's efforts, so he's got nobody to blame but himself.

Carmona won 19 games last year for the Tribe, and was off to an amazing start this year when the Clevelands signed him to a contract extension last week. The next day he allowed 3 runs in 3 innings to the Oakland A's, who can't hit worth a damn. Hopefully without the pressure of the recently-announced contrat on his mind, he can get his head back in the game and pitch like he showed he could last year. With that said, it appears that the sleeping Tigers' bats are starting to wake up, so Fausto had better work fast-o and get out-o there before he's eaten alive.

One of three former Cy-Young Award winners pitching tonight (along with Smoltz and Peavy), Roy Halladay is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA. He's coming off a complete game win against the Rangers last week (One run, 110 pitches) and before that an 8-inning win against Boston. We'll see if he can continue to dominate Texas or if he'll revert to his more typical performance against them (He's only 7-5, 5.45 against them in his career).

In Los Angleles of Anaheim of Orange County (which is still a stupid name) Jon Garland faces Brett Tomko. Tomko was 4-12 last year, but has inexplicably pitched pretty well so far this year, one of the reasons that the Royals have a (gasp!) winning record. Temporarily, at least. His opponent, Jon Garland, was traded during the off season for shortstop Orlando Caberea and some cash, and while the South Side fans decried the trade at the time, Chicago GM Kenny Williams is looking like a genious at the moment. Because the moment happens to be one during which Garland is 1-2 with a 5.10 ERA. If, at the end of the summer, Garland has somehow amassed 18 wins (as he did in 2005 and 2006), Williams will have some 'splainin to do.

And finally, but not last, the late game features Oakland's Lenny DiNardo against Seattle's Carlos Silva. The former is nothing special (unless you're his mom, I guess) but the latter was signed to a 4-year, $48 million contract in December (my birthday, in fact), and obviously much is expected of him. Silva's basically a LAIM, though in SafeCo's friendly confines, he'll look a little better than that. Other than that, his one claim to fame was that he virtually never walked anybody back in 2005.

If he can keep that up, the damp northwestern air will help keep his offerings on the ground, and the good people of Washington State should be reasonably happy with their acquisition. Fortunately for him, the Athletics aren't athletic enough to hit their way out of a paper bag, but the tiniest slip in his control will make him a below-average pitcher "earning" $12 million a year, and he'll get real unpopular, real fast.

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Pitchers with Something to Prove, NL Edition

Lots of big-name, or big-game, and/or big-contract pitchers will toe the rubber for their respective teams today.

(To be honest, I only thought to look for this because of Rob Neyer's blogging about Dave Pinto's comments yesterday about "Aces in Trouble", but still, it's true.)

National League:

As I write this, the games in Philadelphia and St Louis have already started. Brett Myers started the game for the Phightin's. He was, you'll recall, the best pitcher on the Philly staff as recently as 2006, but last year Charlie manuel panicked when his bullpen seemed to have imploded and made Myers (struggling at the time) his closer for the remainder of the year.

With the acquisition of Brad Lidge, Myers returned to the starting rotation this year, and while he hasn't been as bad as he was in his three starts last year, he has given up five homers in only 18 innings coming into today's game, and had a 5.00 ERA to boot. Fortunately for him, the Houston lineup has only three real hitters in it (Berkman, Lee and Tejada). The other five non-pitchers are Punch-and-Judy hitters like Geoff Blum, Mark Loretta, Michael Bourn, and Humberto Quintero. Right field is manned these days by Darin Erstad, who might be Punch or Judy, but these days, the "and" would be too generous for him.

The Reds play at Chicago, and both pitchers have something to prove there. North-Side southpaw Ted Lilly currently sports an 0-2 record and a 9.95 ERA. After having a career year in 2007 (15-8, 3.83 in 207 innings) he was due to come back to Earth a little bit, but he's practically underground right now. He has yet to get out of the 5th inning or to allow fewer than 4 runs, but his trikeouts are still there, so maybe it's just been some bad luck.

Lilly's opponent, Cincinnati rookie Edinson Volquez, has been dominant but short winded (5 and 5.1 innings) in his two starts so far. He likely would have pitched longer if not for an extended rain delay in Pittsburgh last time out, but still, most teams can't abide many 5-inning starters. Dusty Baker, in particular, has reputations both for overworking pitchers and for being reluctant to use young players. This presents Volquez with a conundrum: How to pitch well enough to keep his job in the starting rotation but not so well that Baker will ask him to throw 140 pitches every time he goes to the mound.

In New York, the Mets' Nelson Figueroa needs to prove that winning his first start since 2003 last week wasn't just a fluke. He's facing the last-place Washington nationals, who have hit .227 as a team so far in 2008, so that should help stave off his being designated for assignment for at least another week. Don't get me wrong: the guy's named Nelson. I want him to succeed. But if he's still pitching in the majors every 5th day come August, something is very, very wrong.

In Miami, the seemingly ageless John Smoltz starts for the Braves. Nobody expects the 40-year old to keep his 0.82 ERA down there all year, nor to remian undefeated. With that said, the team with the oldest rotation in baseball has to get more than it has any right to expect from John Smoltz and Tim Hudson any time they take the mound, because they're not likely to get much from the rest of the rotation (42-year old and already gimpy Tom Glavine and three youngsters you never heard of). Also, many of the better pitchers in the bullpen are on the DL keeping Mike Hampton company, so the 5-6 innings games that Smoltz has given them to this point just will not cut it.

And last but not finally, Colorado's Jeff Francis faces defending Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy in San Diego. Peavy's been lights out this year, like he was last year, but Francis, after posting the second-best VORP in team history (after Jason Jennings in 2006) has been positively awful this year. He's allowed 23 baserunners and 12 runs (including 6 homers!) in just over 11 innings of work. Granted, the Rockies have scored a "grand" total of two runs in each of his two starts, but you can't pitch like that and expect to win. I mean, unless you're Shawn Estes, right?

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09 April 2008

A Giant Offense With Miniature Bats

Yesterday I opined about the Phillies (meager) chances of scoring 1000 runs this season. Seems pretty clear that we shouldn't get our hopes up about seeing the best offense in history this year, in the City of Brotherly Boooo! or anywhere else.

But what about the other end of the scale? Is it possible that one of the worst offensive teams in history might be taking shape before our very eyes? Or more accurately, before the eyes of the good people of San Francisco?

To date, the 2008 San Francisco Giants have scored only 19 runs in 8 games, for an average of just 2.4 runs per game. Believe it or not, that's only the 3rd worst in the majors at the moment, behind (or above) Detroit at 15 runs in 7 games, and Colorado, at 16 runs in 8 games. However, the Tigers were third in the majors in Runs Scored last year, and the additions of Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria should help them stave off any attrition form Magglio Ordonez and others returning to Earth. Similarly, Colorado was 5th in the majors in runs scored last year, and they still play in a great hitter's park, so they should be fine.

But the Giants? They look more like midgets with each passing day, their win last night notwithstanding. In their 8 games, their oompa-loompa bats have not yet scored more than 4 runs, and they've only scored more than 2 runs three times (losing all three games). They've been shut out twice already.

Baseball Prospectus has them projected to score 635 runs this season, worst in the majors, and 53 fewer than the next closest team, the Seattle Mariners. The San Diego Padres are the only other team in the majors under 712 runs (Minnesota), and both Seattle and San Diego at least have the excuse of playing in severe pitcher's parks.

In the modern era (i.e. since World War II) the fewest runs scored by a team in a full, 162-game season was 463, by the 1968 White Sox. Of course, that was the Year of the Pitcher, when Yaz won the AL batting title by hitting .301, and those 463 runs were only about 16% below the AL average that year. To find a truly, historically awful offense, you have to go to the 1963 Houston Colt .45's, whose 464 runs were about 25% below the NL average. That, however, was a recent expansion team playing in a severe pitcher's park in a pitcher's era.

To get back to a more normal run scoring context, you have to look at the 1969 San Diego Padres. They scored only 468 runs, but in a league in which the average team scored 656, so they were 29% below average. They, too, played in a pitcher's park, but it was not that severe. On the other hand, they had the excuse of being an expansion team. The Mets of the mid-60's and the Pirates and Orioles of the mid 50's were also really, really awful, but not nearly as bad as the '69 Pads.

The California Angels of the late 60's and early 70's were very poor offenses as well, though Anaheim Stadium was a pitcher's paradise, so that helped. The 1976 Montreal Expos are a curious case because they played in a hitter's park, and yet scored only 531 runs. When you adjust for the 107 pitching park factor, that's about 24% less than average.

So, do the Giants have a chance this year?

Last year they scored 683 runs, an average of 4.22 per game, second worst in the major leagues to Washington. That was with Barry Bonds playing 126 games and creating about 100 runs, and Pedro Feliz playing 150 games and creating 63 runs. Ryan Klesko created 49 runs in 116 games, and is also gone now.
In their steads, we have...

...Aaron Rowand, who had a career year in 2007 at age 30, creating 116 runs. With some return to the norm and age-related attrition, let's say he's good for 85 runs.

...Rich Aurilia, now 36 years old, and highly unlikely to create more than about 40 runs, if he plays all year. (He hasn't been healthy enough to play more than 133 games since 2001). Alternate option Dan Ortmeier would be cheaper, but probably no better.

...Jose Castillo, who wasn't good enough to play for the Pirates or the Marlins, and probably won't even manage 40 runs created this year.

Additionally, Omar Vizquel is 41, and is already hurt, so Brian Bocock is playing shortstop. Bocock is 23, and his career minor league numbers are .239/.310/.333, so normally I would suggest that he'll be demoted soon, but if Vizquel doesn't make it back, they really don't have anyone else who can play up here.

Among the players they retained from last year, all of them are on the wrong side of 33, and are therefore likely to regress. Dave Roberts is 35 and, like Vizquel, is also hurt. Randy Winn is 34 and is unlikely to hit .300 again. Ray Durham is 36 and is coming off a year of being plagued by injuries. Bengie Molina (now 33) is a decent hitter, for a catcher, but is likely to see some age-related decline as well. The kids they have on the roster (Fred Lewis, Rajai Davis) aren't really that young, and probably won't get much of a chance to play unless the expensive veterans really flop. Even if they do, the only real benefit to the Giants would be that they're cheaper, not much better.

As bad as the Giants are, however, I don't think they'll be 200 runs worse off than they were last year. They might have trouble scoring 600 runs, but in this day and age, even a terrible team can score 3.5 runs per game.

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08 April 2008

Phillies Chances to Score 1,000 Runs? None and None.

Baseball fans do love their history, though some of them don't really know it all that well.

Heck, some people who work in baseball don't know their history. And I don't just mean the 20-something security guard I met at Yankee Stadium on Saturday who did not know that the Yankees used to play in Baltimore. (No offense to him, by the way. Most New Yorkers think the universe starts and ends at the George Washington Bridge.)

I'm talking about important people. (Again, no offense to that security guard, who was created in the image of God, just like the rest of us, and is therefore of preeminent importance...just like the rest of us.)

I mean people like Charlie Manuel, the field manager for the Philadelphia Phillies. Manuel was quoted before the season began as saying that he thought the 2008 Phillies could score 1,000 runs or more. His argument, essentially, was that they scored a lot of runs last year (892, leading the NL) and that they had some missed time by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. He thinks that Howard and Utley and Jimmy Rollins and others on the team have the potential to be even better than they were last year. He thinks that they could become the first team since the 1999 Cleveland Indians, for whom Manuel was the hitting coach, to score 1,000 or more runs.

Or at least he thought that in Spring Training. I didn't, so I didn't bother to mention it in my Phillies Preview, though I did think they'd be one of the better offensive teams in the NL. To date, in the regular season, the Phillies have scored only 32 runs in 7 games, a pace of only 740 runs. Better pick it up a little, guys.

But seriously, could they score that many runs? The sort answer is:


Doesn't get much shorter than that.

Want to know why? That's easy. Nobody ever has.

Well, that's not technically true. The 1930 St. Louis Cardinals scored 1004 runs, but no other National League team since the 1890's has scored 1,000 in a season. Those Cardinals managed that feat in a league that averaged 5.68 runs per game. At that rate, in today's 162 ganme schedule, an average team would score 920 runs. The 1930 Cards had 12 guys (including all eight regulars) who got at least 100 at bats and hit .303 or better. As a team, they hit .314. That was only 3rd in the NL that year. They had three Hall of Famers in their prime in the daily lineup (Chick Hafey, Jim Bottomley and Frankie Frisch). They had three guys who hit at least .366 on the bench(!)

The best mark in a 162-game season goes to the 2000 Colorado Rockies, who scored 968 runs. This, too, was largely a product of the run environment in which the team played. The national League that year averaged exactly 5.00 runs per game, which means that the average team scored 810 runs. However, Coors Field in Y2K was an insane hitter's park, the most severe in history, I think, increasing run scoring by about 25%. That means that a average hitting team would have scored 911 runs playing half its games in Coors Field. Their 968 runs were only about 6% better than average.

The best hitting team in history, taking league and ballpark context into account, is probably the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers. They scored "only" 955 runs, but they did it in a roughly neutral hitter's park (Ebbets Field), and in a league that averaged 4.75 runs per contest, about what the 2007 National League averaged. They scored about 28% more runs than an average team that year. Put the 1953 Dodgers in a neutral park in the 2007 National League, and they'd have scored about 977 runs. Still 23 shy of Charlie Manuel's prediction. With a little help from Citizens Bank Park (which increases runs by about 5%), they'd easily break the record, scoring about 1025 runs. In Colorado, even though it has been significantly tamed in recent years, tack on another 35-40 runs.

So what would have to happen for the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies to score 1,000 or more runs?

Assuming that Citizens Bank Park doesn't suddenly morph into a severe hitter's park, and that the trend toward normal offensive levels in the post-steroids era doesn't reverse itself abruptly, the Phillies will have to score about 25% more runs than an average NL team would, which is a huge number. Not only do they need to get virtually every game out of their stars Howard, Utley and reigning NL MVP Jimmy Rollins, they need just about everybody on the team to vastly out-perform their projected offensive levels.

The simple fact that they play ing the National League, with a pitcher hitting about twice a game or more, makes it all but impossible. The last team to score 1,000 runs, the 1999 Indians, did not have to watch their pitchers hit twice a game. In 1930, the Cardinals' pitchers collectively hit .213 and scored 51 runs. Last year, Phillies' pitchers hit just .155 as a group and scored 28 runs, and that was the best in the majors for a pitching staff.

But what might we expect, or need, from the rest of the lineup?

Baseball Prospectus uses percentiles in their projections, showing not only what a player is likely to do (his 50% projection) but also what he might do if he "kicks it up a notch" or, conversely, gets kicked. His 50% projection essentially means that about 50% of the players similar to him did better than that and 50% did worse. The 75% projection would mean a performance that's better than 3/4 of the players they deemed to be similar in that year.

As far as I can tell, you'd need just about everyone in the starting lineup to meet or exceed his 90th percentile projection, and for everyone on the bench to hit at least their 75% percentile, in order for the Phillies to score 1,000+ runs. That team would look like this at the end of the season:

Starters     PA    R    2B   HR  RBI   BB    SO   SB   AVG   OBP   SLG
Victorino 570 105 29 18 66 46 67 28 .315 .377 .501
Rollins 730 131 43 26 88 59 75 34 .318 .377 .532
Utley 646 122 39 34 103 68 100 10 .328 .408 .596
Howard 711 139 33 59 147 113 184 2 .302 .417 .665
Ruiz 454 72 27 13 57 42 56 7 .303 .374 .480
Feliz 487 67 26 21 74 28 67 2 .289 .332 .492
Burrell 536 97 26 33 86 101 121 2 .283 .420 .583
Jenkins 392 64 20 22 70 35 88 3 .300 .369 .559

Werth 289 49 14 10 33 41 69 7 .275 .385 .469
Taguchi 233 37 12 3 22 18 25 5 .297 .358 .405
Coste 252 33 12 7 32 15 39 1 .276 .325 .431
Dobbs 313 50 17 11 41 27 49 5 .288 .352 .484
Helms 241 36 15 9 35 19 43 1 .296 .357 .501
Bruntlett 95 13 5 1 7 10 16 4 .281 .371 .414
Snelling 143 21 8 4 16 17 29 2 .288 .383 .494
Total 6092 1036 326 275 860 635 1010 152 .301 .359 .501
There would need to be another 350 or so plate appearances for the pitchers as well, which might mean aonther 25-30 runs. Those are just guesses on the percentages at the bottom.

Anyway, I don't have to tell you that this would be an absolutely incredible team, and that it can only exist in Phantasy-delphia, where the Phans don't boo, the cheese steaks are free and don't contain any cholesterol, and every batter gets to have a career year simultaneously.

Not only would H.U.R. reach their full potential. Those three are in their prime, so any one or even two of them having their best years simultaneously (as Rollins and Utley did last year) is not totally out of the question, but all three of them? Again?!!??

Pat Burrell would need to out-do his career batting average by 25 points at age 31. Thirty-three year old mediocrity Pedro Feliz would need to hit almost 40 points above his career mark, without losing any power. Geoff Jenkins, 33 himself, will need to hit .300 for the first time in this milennium. Carlos Ruiz, who just made it to the show at 29, will have to buck every convention of baseball scouting history and hit over .300 in a full season. Shane Victorino will need to double his usual power level while increasing both his patience and his average, and can't let his speed be sacrificed.

And everyone on the bench needs to play well enough that they would force the issue of whether or not they deserve more playing time. That is, if everyone on the Phatasy-delphia Phillies wasn't having a career year. Which, as you'll recall, they are.

In the AL, with another All-Star playing as a DH, they might be able to do it.

But they aren't, and they don't, so they can't.

In short: It ain't gonna happen.

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07 April 2008

Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto: Quite-O Debut!

*Attention Orioles' Fans: Read my analysis of Chris Waters' debut HERE.

Not that Rob Neyer's ego needs any more massaging, but his blog entry today about the Reds' young phenom, Johnny Cueto is spot-on.

When I did my preview of the 2008 Reds this spring I intended to give Cueto more ink, but I figured that unless they were desperate, the Reds would start him in AAA, so I didn't bother. Good thing they were so desperate.

With regards to Cueto's MLB debut game last week (7 innings, one-hit, no walks, 10 strikeouts), Neyer refers to Bill James and some research the guys at Baseball Prospectus may did last year, indicating that the fact that a pitcher had a really good start like that does not necessarily mean that he is, or will be, a great pitcher. It just means that everything went right for him on that day, pretty much. Don Larson is a perfect example of this, of course, a guy who had a pretty lackluster career record who just happened to pitch a perfect game in the World Series one time.

But then Neyer appropriately points out that this was not just any start, it was the kid's major league debut, and at just 22 years old, it's hardly fair to compare him with 29-year olds or 34-year olds who have some major league experience.

So I didn't.

Instead, I looked up everyone who pitched at least seven innings and struck out at least ten batters in his major league debut. This brought the list down to just 14 pitchers, including Cueto.

The others are:

Pitcher      Yrs  Wins     IP     ERA+   Notes
Tiant 19 229 3486 114 Won 20+ 4X, 3X All-Star
Marichal 16 243 3507 123 HoF, 9X All-Star
Wakefield 16 168 2627 108 Still going at 41...
Astacio 15 129 2197 97 Won 17 in COL in 1999
May 16 152 2622 102 Won 10 or more 8 times
Aase 13 66 1109 103 Good RP for 10+ years
Richard 10 107 1606 108 Stroke at 30 ended career
Shirley 11 67 1432 96 1st round pick, only spot starter after rookie season
McDevitt 6 21 456 94 Beat Bucs in last game in Brooklyn MLB history
Morehead 8 40 819 89 Pitched in '67 WS
Woodard 7 32 667 91 Hurt a lot; Mitchell Report alleges he bought HGH
Harang 7 63 1006 108 Current Reds' ace
Matsuzaka 2 16 216 110 Won Game 3 of 2007 WS
Average 11 101 1689 107
Non-Dice Avg 12 108 1802 107
That's an interesting list. Among the 14 pitchers, we've got one Hall of Famer, a borderline guy in Luis Tiant, and a bonafide star in J.R. Richard whose career ended early because of a stroke. We've also got Tim Wakefield, who's no all-star, but has been eating innings and winning a dozen or more games per year for more than a decade (whenever he's predominantly a starter, that is). Pedro Astacio was probably better than you think, but didn't look like anything special because he spent half his career toiling in the worst run environment (Colorado in the late 90's) in history. Don Aase was a relief ace for a few years, and Rudy May was useful if not spectacular.

On average, I think most pitchers would love to hear that they'll probably stick around the majors for 11 or 12 years, win 100 or more games with a better than average ERA, don't you think? I took Dice-K out of the second set of averages because this is only his second year, which consists of exactly one start at this point. Harang has at least been around long enough to establish himself, pitching every fifth day of the Cincinnati Reds schedule for the last several years. Those accomplishments alone would put him in pretty rarefied air, though it will take us a decade to know whether it happens or not.

One thing that bodes well for him is the fact that he struck out so many batters in his MLB debut. Cueto's Game Score of 81 is very good, of course, but it's hardly anything all that exciting, even for a debut performance. Looking at others who have debuted since 1956, which is as far back as the searchable archives at Baseball-reference.com can go, there have been 29 pitchers with a game score of at least 80, including Marichal, Woodard, Tiant, Morehead, May and Astacio.

Also, we see...

* Jeff Russell, eventual relief ace and two-time All-Star,
* Dave McNally, 4-time 20 game winner and three-time All-Star,
* 2002 NL Rookie of the Year Jason Jennings,
* Mike Norris, who should have won the 1980 AL Cy Young Award (though he was never anywhere near that good either before or after that season),
* 14-year veteran Mike Remlinger,
* 13-year veteran Kirk Reuter,
* 12-year veteran Lew Krausse, and
* 11-year veteran Danny Cox

Hard to complain about any of those guys' careers, though only Russell and McNally were very good for any length of time.

However, with those guys, we also get nobodies like Jim Cosman, Mark Brownson, Jeff Pico, Billy Rohr, Dick Rusteck, Kevin Morton, and Charlie Beamon, none of whom lasted more than three seasons in the majors, and many of those were not full seasons. A few others on the list burned out in 4-8 years and never did much while they were still around.

But because game scores depend on runs and hits allowed, not just strikeouts, there could have been more luck or coincidence involved in those guys' MLB debuts. Cueto, on the other hand, retired almost half of the batters he faced on strikes, meaning that he wasn't relying on his defense, or the weather, or the ballpark configuration to get his outs for him.

So what does all this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that Johnny Cueto's expectations are that much greater now. Sure, he was awesome in Spring Training, but some of those guys are back bagging groceries for a living now, so we shouldn't take those spring numbers too seriously. But the Arizona Diamondbacks won the NL West last season, and though their offense is nothing special in and of itself, it is still a major-league offense, and given its youth, it should only be getting better.

Cueto's dominance of them in his first major league game last year bodes very, very well for his career.

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Saturday at Yankee Stadium

Got to go to the Yankees-Rays game on Saturday.

I try to attend at least one Yankee game or two a year with my mom and my wife. Used to be I could afford to go to a few games a year but to get half-decent seats these days, I can usually only spring for one or two a year, especially if I have to buy through a ticket broker, as I did for today's game.
On the plus side, because I bought through a broker, when they didn't have the seats I was supposed to get (Field Box 83, Row D) they were required by policy to give me seats at least as good as the ones I was supposed to get. So I actually got seats in Row A, not Row D, right on the field. In this case, the box happened to be along the first base line, right where the foul line meets up with the stadium wall.
Right here:
On the minus side, the stadium security guard who sat near us said that someone bought those same seats for last night's game for about 1/3 of what I paid. Oh well.

As for the game itself, it was a great day to go, no matter where you were sitting. After raining all week, the weather let up and gave us a very nice day Saturday. It was about 60 degrees and sunny at game time, and we didn't really start to even notice the cold until about the 6th inning, when the sun ducked behind the right field tier. Hard to complain about that too much, especially given how cold it was when we came to this same game last season.

The seats were pretty good, or pretty close, anyway. We were behind the protective netting during batting practice, so we couldn't get a ball, but I was close enough that I could have gotten an autograph from Joba Chamberlain if I'd wanted one.

I didn't want one, and he wasn't really signing for very long anyway, but he did take a few minutes to make some kids happy before the game, which was more than any of his teammates were doing, so I'll give him credit for that.

Of course, the trouble with the seats was that we had a security guard sitting right next to us for the whole game, and kind of blocking the view, not to mention the fact that any time a runner was on first base, there were several people between us and the batter, effectively blocking our view: the runner, the first base coach, the first baseman, holding the runner on, the umpire, and the aforementioned security guard. Good thing I'm so tall.

Still though, I was able to get a decent shot once in a while, like this one of Shelly Duncan's single in the second inning, which loaded the bases for the Yanks with only one out. Sadly, as would turn out to be the case for much of the afternoon, the Yankees could not capitalize on this opportunity, and failed to score.

Much of the game followed this theme. The Yankees had nine hits, two walks and a reached-on-error (Matsui, when his fly ball to the RF warning track was lost in the shadows and dropped by Rays' right fielder Johnny Gomes) - twelve baserunners - but only three runs. I all, the team left nine men on base, but missed 21 opportunities to score.

One of these, perhaps the most disappointing, occurred in the home half of the eighth. The Yankees had a surprising amount of trouble with Edwin Jackson, just 5-15 with a 5.76 ERA last year, and managed only one run off him in his six innings. His replacement, journeyman Dan Wheeler, pitched a perfect seventh, but when they brought in Trever Miller, the Yankee bats came alive. Bobby Abreu, Alex Rodriguez and Wilson Betemit (playing for Jason Giambi, who had been removed in the fifth for a sore left groin) rapped consecutive singles, loading the bases with nobody out.

After Robby Cano struck out, Jorge Posada hit a 2-run single to make it 6-3. Unfortunately, Matsui then worked the count to 0-3. Not exactly what the Yankee Stadium faithful had in mind. The last pitch of the at-bat was a borderline call that had everyone in the House That Ruth Built to Last Exactly 85 Years and No Longer booing the umpire, but as you can see from the picture on the left, it was definitely a strike. Matsui sets up in the back of the batter's box, as most power hitters do, but that ball is above the plate at the moment this photo was taken. It's dropping down because it's a curveball, but it's a strike as it crosses the plate.

Shelly Duncan then grounded out to kill the rally, once and for all. The top of he Yankee lineup gave new closer Troy Percival little trouble in the 9th.

The real story of the day, though, at least for the Yankees, was the return of Andy Pettitte, who had been on the DL with back problems for two weeks, this after reporting to Spring Training late due to the Clemens/ steroids/ McNamee/ HGH scandal stuff. Pettitte has not been an overwhelming pitcher for a long time, but he was particularly rusty on Saturday, allowing eight hits and two walks in only five innings of work. He struck out three batters, but also hit Carlos Pena twice, and allowed a homer to Johnny Gomes, a three-run jack in the 5th that all but ended Pettitte's day. He threw only 86 pitches, but most important, perhaps, he was not immediately placed back on the DL after the game, so hopefully he's healthy and just needs a few starts to get some of his finesse back.

As a team, the Yankees' biggest problem is not the pitching though, Ian Kennedy's disastrous start on Friday night notwithstanding. The elephant in the room is the offense, except the only thing offensive about their hitters this year might be their smell. The team has scored 4 runs or fewer in every game this year, and are averaging just under three runs per game. Through Sunday, they had batted .239 as a team with a 658 OPS and five of the nine regulars were hitting .217 or lower.
Ironically, after six games of the 2007 season, the Yankees had not scored fewer than 4 runs in a game, and were averaging almost seven runs per game. With that said, however, they had the exact same 3-3 record that they have right now, and they did manage to make the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, so maybe we shouldn't be too worried about the offense just yet.

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01 April 2008

Yankees Need to Address Melky Problem

The New York Yankees start their season today.


Or at least they’ll try.

After getting rained out in what should have been their last first game of the season in the old Yankee Stadium, they’ll take another stab at it tonight. Fortunately for me, however, the unanticipated delay gives me a chance to discuss an issue that I have come to see as being of paramount importance to the 2008 Yankees’ chances, if not to the very future of the franchise.

Melky Cabrera.

The New York Yankees’ young center fielder is going to kill the Yankees.

OK, not exactly kill them, not yet anyway, but it’s just a matter of time before he does. For all the hype he brings, the “Got Melky?” T-shirts, John Sterling yelling “the Melk-Man delivers!!!” and etc., Cabrera really just isn’t all that good. Worse yet, he’s not likely to become good.

Cabrera, you have been told, “won” the starting center field job from Johnny Damon in 2007, but really, it was Johnny who lost it. He hit only .229 with four extra base hits in April, and though he bounced back a bit in May, his injuries thrust him into an even worse slump in June (.226 with no walks or power in 91 plate appearances that month). By the time he started hitting again, it was too late.

Melky, for his part, was nothing special either. He hit only .200 in sporadic duty in April, and then .254 in May, with a few walks but not much else. But he improved significantly in June, just as Damon was going back in the tank, and then got hot in July and August, just as the Yankees began gaining ground on the Red Sox. He averaged an RBI or a run scored per day that month. Though he tanked in September (hitting .180 with a .220 slugging percentage, thanks to only four doubles and no homers or triples in 100 at-bats), Damon hit well that month, and anyway by then the Yankees’ postseason berth was pretty secure, so nobody noticed.

For the season, Melky hit a respectable .273 with a .327 on-base percentage and a .391 slugging percentage. That gave him a .719 OPS that ranked 53rd among the 57 outfielders who qualified for the batting title in 2007. His Secondary Average and Runs Created per 27 outs both also ranked 53rd, while his Isolated Power was 50th. Near or below him on most of those lists were Corey Patterson, Vernon Wells, Juan Pierre, Coco Crisp, Andruw Jones, Delmon Young and/or David DeJesus. Those guys are all center fielders as well, except for Young, who could be a center fielder if it weren’t for the presence of B.J. Upton and Rocco Baldelli on the Devil Rays’ roster.

Jones and Wells are both very good hitters who had awful years in 2007, but who should bounce back. Crisp has been plagued by injuries since he was traded to Boston two years ago, but he still manages to be a prolific and effective base stealer (60 steals, but caught only 10 times in 2006-07) and an excellent defensive player. Pierre isn’t much for defense, but he has speed to burn, and is an excellent base stealer. (The value of that skill, however, can hardly make up for his poor hitting, and he may be losing his job in LA because of it.) Patterson, too, steals bases often and well, and has shown a little power in the past, though he didn’t much in 2007, and had an off year on defense as well. Young is still, well, very young (21) and hit for some power in the minors (51 homers at three levels in 2004-05) so I suspect that the power will come for him, especially if he learns to lay off a bad pitch once in a while.

But Melky’s different. He’s decent at a lot of things, but not great at anything. He hits for a respectable average. He walks a little. He doesn’t strike out too much. He steals a few bases (13 for 18 in 2007). The jury’s still out on his defense. (Baseball Prospectus rated him as +14 Fielding Runs Above Average last year, but Bill James’ +/- metric says he was 22 plays below average last year, so who knows?) Regardless, it’s clear that he doesn’t stand out in anything, and that may be a problem.

A quick look at the ten most comparable players to Cabrera, (according to Bill James’ Similarity Scores) through their age 22 seasons, reveals some interesting names:

Sixto Lezcano
Max Carey
Chet Lemon
Rick Manning
Harry Heilmann
Roberto Clemente
Cliff Heathcote
Carlos May
Les Mann
Jimmy Sebring

That’s an interesting list. Three of the ten (Carey, Heilmann and Clemente) are Hall of Famers and Chet Lemon and Carlos May were All Stars two or three times each. Not a bad list of comps, all things considered. But remember, these similarity scores are through age 22 only. Part of the reason that Melky’s in such good company is the very fact that he was a regular player at ages 21 and 22, when most players are still in AA or AAA. The fact that he didn’t totally fall flat on his face in the majors at such a young age automatically bodes well for his long term success.
But what about in the short term? Lezcano, Lemon, Heilmann, Heathcote and May all got hurt and missed significant time during their age 23 seasons. That’s probably just a weird coincidence, but you can’t ignore the fact that the more you Play, the more likely you are to get hurt.

Carey, Heilmann, Heathcote and Mann all played in the Dead Ball Era, at least through their age 22 seasons, so any apparent increase in power for them (like Heilmann starting to hit 15-20 home runs every year) likely had more to do with the change in the nature of the game itself than to any real improvement in skills.

Carey was basically a slap hitter and an extremely prolific base stealer (738 of them, 9th place all time) who didn’t hit .300 in a full season between age 22 and age 31, when the Dead Ball Era was ending. Heathcote was decent but unspectacular for about 15 seasons, amassing 500 at-bats in a season only once, at age 28.

Les Mann had his best season at age 22, in the Federal League in 1915, so that hardly counts. He promptly returned to mediocrity in the National League when the Federal League folded. He held on long enough to parlay some success as a part-time player at the end of the Dead Ball Era into a few more years of work, but was never anything to write home about.

As for the others on the list…

Sixto Lezcano: Got a jump in his power at age 23 and hit 15-20 homers a year when he was healthy. At age 25 he hit .329 with 28 homers and 101 RBIs and finished 15th in the NL MVP voting, but never came close to those numbers again and was out of baseball by age 31.
Chet Lemon: Started to hit for some power at age 22, and hit .300 or better three times in the late 70’s and early ‘80’s, though only once in a full season. He was a productive regular or semi-regular through age 33 and retired at age 35, after a couple of down seasons. The Yankees could do a lot worse than to have Melky turn out like this.

Rick Manning: Played for 13 seasons (1975-87) but never hit more than 8 homers in any of them. After hitting .285 and .292 at ages 20 and 21, he never did better than .270 in any other year of his career. He stole some bases, but not always well, and walked once in a while, but not enough to make up for hitting .250 with no power. The Tribe finally got tired of waiting for him to turn into Tris Speaker and traded him to the Brewers in 1983, when he was 28. By the middle of 1984 he was relegated to spot starter/pinch hitter status, and by 1987 he was retired.

Roberto Clemente: A terrific talent, and a deserving Cooperstown enshrine, but he didn’t start hitting for power until he was 25, and then he got some MVP votes every year for a decade. Still he had that great arm and a swing that produced doubles and triples even when he wasn’t hitting homers, so there was a little more reason to believe that Clemente would turn out like that than there is for Cabrera, I think.

Carlos May: May had hit .280+ with power at ages 21 and 22, and though he lost some of the power, he gained in batting average every year from age 21 to age 24, when he hit .308 and made the All-Star team, all the time with lots of walks. At age 25 he hit 20 homers, drove in 96 runs and got a few MVP votes, but after that his career spiraled downward quickly. His power and batting average both disappeared simultaneously, and with them, his playing time. He lost about 100 at bats at ages 27 and 28, then about 150 at age 29, when he hit .236 with a sub-Neifi .623 OPS, and then retired.

Jimmy Sebring: Played in the early 1900’s for the Pirates and Reds, as a regular at ages 21 and 22, but played less than half of a season, badly I might add, at age 23, and then disappeared except for a cup of coffee at age 27. An anomalous data point, at best, given the abbreviated career and the time in which he played.

Bill James’ Similarity Scores, however, are not the only tool for comparing players. Baseball prospectus, for example, has its own methods of comparing players, and they’re a bit more comprehensive than James’ approach, which is based entirely on stats. BP has a list of 20 “comps” to Malky Cabrera for 2007, and these are, in order:

Carlos Beltran
Coco Crisp
Pete Rose
Brian McRae
Rick Manning
Nick Markakis
Reggie Smith
Rondell White
Jim Wohlford
Hosken Powell
Mark Kotsay
Tito Francona
Bernie Williams
Marquis Grissom
Carl Yastrzemski
Shannon Stewart
Ellis Burks
Peter Bergeron
Tom Umphlett
Lee Mazzilli

Most of those guys had long careers, 10 years or more, though some of them were only marginally useful during much of their long careers. Others are in the midst of their career now, so we don’t know how they’ll turn out, though some of the players have been around long enough (Beltran, Stewart, Kotsay) that we have a pretty good idea of what they are.

It should be noted, however, that none of these guys is substantially comparable to Melky. BP indicates that for their scores, which are graded on a 0-100 scale, a score of 50 or higher means a player is substantially comparable to another player. A score of 40, I suppose, is only moderately comparable. Melky’s closest comp, Carlos Beltran, scores a 40, and everyone below that is between 30 and 36. By comparison, Bobby Abreu’s closest comp, Carl Yasztremski, also scores a 40, as does Beltran’s #1 comp, Tom Tresh. It’s like taking the SAT all over again!



When in doubt, you always answer “b”, right?

So I don’t really know what to make of those comparisons, except that we should probably take them with a grain of salt. Still, if you look at the players on that list, and particularly how well they did at age 23, Cabrera’s current age, you can get an idea of how they turned out. The average, age-23 WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) among those players was about 3.6. Twelve of the 20 players on the list came close to or exceeded that mark at age 23, or at least demonstrated such ability before that, even if they had a down year at age 23. These were:

Hitter      Yrs. OPS+   Age-23 WARP
Beltran 11 116 1.5
Williams 16 125 3.3
Kotsay 12 100 2.6
Manning 14 84 2.8
Rose 24 118 4.4
Markakis 2 114 6.8
Smith 17 137 7.4
White 17 108 4.6
Yastrzemski 23 129 8.4
Burks 18 126 6.3
Umphlett 3 65 3.9
Mazzilli 14 109 6.6
Average* 15 116 4.7

*I threw Markakis out of the average calculations because this was only his second year, though it was a very good one. In case you’re curious, if you throw Umphlett out, too, the numbers go up to 16.6 years, 117 OPS+ and 4.8 WARP.

The following eight players did not demonstrate the ability to produce at least a 3-3.5 WARP season by age 23:

Hitter      Yrs. OPS+   Age-23 WARP
Crisp 6 94 1.4
McRae 10 92 1.9
Wohlford 15 84 2.9
Powell 6 79 2.5
Francona 15 107 1.3
Grissom 17 92 2.4
Stewart 13 107 1.2
Bergeron      5    56    -1.1
Average 11 93 1.6
Crisp’s career is hardly over, as he’s only 28 this year, but there’s little reason to believe he’ll ever be a star. McRae was a useful player for a while, supplementing his modest hitting skills with his speed, but was washed up at 31.

Francona took a while to get going, thanks to the Korean War, injuries, and managers with the Browns/Orioles and Tigers who never gave him a shot, but when he finally got to play in Cleveland, he did not disappoint. He parlayed the success of hitting .363 at age 25 into four more years of regular work, but by 30, he was basically a spot starter and pinch hitter.

Though he didn’t do much before age 24, Grissom was very good for about 6 years, a 5-tool player, and was useful for another 5 years or so after that. Stewart’s no star, but he’s had four of the 5 tools (no power, really) at one point or another in his career, so teams keep giving him a chance. He’s probably got a year or two left as a fourth outfielder before he can’t hit for enough batting average to keep his job anymore.

For Yankee fans, the really scary names on that list are Jim Wohlford, Hosken Powell and Peter Bergeron, not to mention Umphlett. Wohlford was never really a good hitter, and made a career for himself as a defensive replacement. In other words, these days, he’d never make it. Powell, like Bergeron, never hit, and didn’t last long. Umphlett looked solid as a rookie, getting the only RoY vote that didn’t go to Harvey Kuenn in 1953, but fizzled out quickly after that. Melky has, it seems, already demonstrated superior talents to any of those three, but not vastly superior, and therein lies the problem.

Most of the guys on the list of Cabrera’s comparables who turned out to be any good had done something to establish themselves by this age. Rose and Beltran each won a Rookie of the Year Award at age 22. Francona and Reggie Smith each finished 2nd in the RoY voting at the same age. Yaz was getting MVP votes at age 22, and was an All-Star and serious MVP candidate at 23. Ellis Burks hit 20 homers and stole 27 bases at age 22. And Melky?

Well, he’s got those T-shirts!

In my mind, that’s just not enough. Granted, he’s still young, so he’s cheap, and the Yankees should have plenty of offense, it would seem. But the Yankees do not have the luxury of overlooking a spot in the lineup. Not this year, in which they expect two aging veterans and three sophomore starting pitchers to help carry them into the postseason. Not in a year when Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez are bound to suffer significant declines from their 2007 production levels. Not in a year in which the Red Sox look like they’re well equipped to defend their World Championship.

So here’s the plan: The Yankees still have four outfielders, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Abreu and Cabrera, plus Shelley Duncan on the bench. They don’t have much in AAA, but they could probably get by with Jason Lane or Greg Porter as the 5th outfielder. Damon’s under contract for this and next year and is blocking Cabrera, but his contract and his health (or lack thereof) make him essentially untradeable. Abreu and Matsui are both still productive, so that makes Cabrera the odd man out.

He’s young enough and cheap enough that other teams will want him on his “potential” alone, not to mention the fact that he’s not eligible to be a free agent for three more years. That, and maybe some other mid-level minor league swag, might be just enough to fetch a decent starting pitcher in mid-summer, before the trading deadline.

Some other team, conceding that they need to go into re-building mode, might give up a superfluous pitcher making a little too much money, especially a lefty like Jarrod Washburn or Mark Buehrle, who might do well in Yankee Stadium. Guys like Derek Lowe, Jon Garland or Ben Sheets, in the last years of their contracts and unlikely to be re-signed, could become available if their teams are out of contention in July.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am NOT saying that the Yankees should mortgage their future for a fleeting shot at the 2008 postseason. I am saying that Melky Cabrera is NOT the future, not if he doesn’t start getting really good at something. His pitiful spring (.222 with one extra-base hit – a double - in 63 at-bats) does not bode well for him.

A centerfielder with a good arm but questionable range is destined to be a right fielder, and there are no right fielders who can’t hit 10 homers in a season, or hit .320, or steal 30 bases, or something. If Cabrera wants to be in the future plans for the Yankees – and really, who wouldn’t? – then he’s got to start hitting like a future star.

It’s high time for the Melk-Man to deliver.

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