31 March 2003

Brooks and Done

One of the more interesting Spring Training Stories (and let's be honest, there aren't many) this year was the possibility that swing-man Brooks Kieschnick might actually have made the Milwaukee Brewers team out of camp. Normally, this would not be such a big deal, but this time, when I say 'swing-man' I don't mean reliever/starter, I mean reliever/hitter. Kieschnick was vying to make the team as a right handed relief pitcher and backup OF/1B. Unfortunately, for him and for us, the Brewers finalized their opening day roster on Saturday, and Brooks was not on it. Presumably he'll be in AAA until Billy Beane or Theo Epstein or another GM with a brain calls and offers a couple of cases of Skoal to the Brew Crew for the right to book Brooks, whereupon he will help some other team to a division title. Milwaukee wasn't going to win one anyway.

And therein lies the problem: Having a guy on the roster who can both hit and pitch (Kieschnick apparently is exemplary at neither, but competent at both) saves you a roster spot. That way, you can carry, say, a fourth catcher, if you're Bobby Cox, or another superutility guy, if you're Tony LaRussa, or a fifteenth pitcher, if you're the Rockies' manager, or even an extra infielder who can't hit, if you're Lou Piniella. But if you're the Brewers, then having someone like Kieschnick on the roster might actually help you win games, and that would be bad. Because then you'd have to admit that it's possible to win games being from a small market, and acting-commisioner-for-life Bud Selig would have to do the same, since the team is, for all intents and purposes, his.

I'm not sure what the purpose of making such a big deal about Kieschnick's presence in camp was. It's been a long time since anyone has carried a guy who got significant playing time as both a hitter and a pitcher, as Rob Neyer pointed out some weeks ago. But several of the guys who made the team ahead of Kieschnick could not possibly have made it for any reason other than that they were going to make it no matter what they did. Take a look (I left out the starting pitchers, since they're not really his competition):


Vizcaino 28 1.42 6 6.1 10 1 1 0 4 8
DeJean 32 1.64 10 11.0 6 2 0 0 8 9
Nance 25 1.84 10 14.2 13 3 1 0 3 11
Foster 24 3.65 9 12.1 15 5 1 0 6 9
Kieschnick 30 3.95 9 13.2 10 6 0 0 8 9
Leskanic 34 6.94 10 11.2 13 9 3 1 4 8
de los Santos 30 9.35 9 8.2 12 9 2 0 7 5
Ford 21 13.50 6 6.0 16 9 0 1 3 9

Granted, Kieschnick wasn't light-out or anything, but he was reasonably effective. And 'reasonably effective' is better than 'sucks ass'. But we'll get to that later.

Now, Luis Vizcaino, Mike DeJean and Shane Nance all had very good springs, so I can't begrudge them a spot, and the two former were pretty decent last year too, as was de los Santos, despite these numbers, so I have no real problem there. Leskanic is coming off an injury year, and so it seems to me that perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad thing to start him out in AAA until they're sure he's healthy AND he can get hitters out. John Foster is fairly young, but has progressed through the Brewers' farm system, and was decent in AAA last year, but lost about 3 K's/9 Inings, and his ERA rose more than a run for the second year in a row, so I'd say it's not a foregone conclusion that he's got nothing left to prove in Richmond.

So that leaves one player (here comes that ass-sucking I promised you...): Matt Ford. Ford is only 21 years old, has exactly one year of pro ball under his belt, and it's an impressive one: 9-5 2.37 ERA in 114 innings...at Class A Dunedin in the Florida State League. And as you can see from the above, he did a pretty good impression of a batitng practice pitcher against watered-down competition this spring, allowing 20 baserunners, and nine runs, in only six innings. Ouch. How a 21-year old, with no experience above the FSL and no evidence that he can prevent hitters from teeing off on him makes the team ahead of a 30-year old with decent pitching numbers in AAA last year (2.59 ERA and 30 K's in 31 innings) who can also hit a little, and play the outfield, is beyond me.

Now, what about the Bench?

Kieschnick OF/1B 30 14 4 6 2 7 0 0 .857 .429
Helms 1B 26 68 7 20 1 5 1 0 .412 .294
Podsednik OF 27 70 11 17 1 10 4 2 .343 .243
Vander Wal OF 36 67 12 13 2 13 1 0 .373 .194
Conti OF 28 36 3 7 1 1 0 0 .306 .194

Again, Kieschnick beat the tar out of the ball every time (not that there were many) he came up. C'mon, 2 homers and 7 RBI in 14 lousy pinch hit at-bats? What more do you want him to do? Sell ice-cream?

Podsednik is a speedy guy with no power and decent plate discipline, and is therefore handy, as are Conti and Helms, if they ever do anything (both have a career OPS around .700, which is bad for a shortstop, much less an OF or 1B). The Brewers traded for Conti from the Devil Rays ("you know you're in trouble when..."), sending catcher Javier Valentin, who probably should have beaten out either Kieth Osik or Eddie Perez for the starter's job, had he stayed.

At the time, Brewers' GM Doug Melvin said, "In Jason Conti, we have acquired an outfielder with major league experience that will provide immediate assistance, given the injuries our club has sustained during spring training." Well, in responnse to that, I'd like to quote inspirational self-help guru Matt Foley;


There are piles and piles of experienced major league outfielders who can help you right now, Dean. You don't have to trade a 27-year old catcher who can actually hit a little (NOTE: Perez and Osik can't.) to get one. The injuries to which he refers are Geoff Jenkins and Brady Clark, and probably Jeffrey Hammonds, who if he isn't now, will be injured soon. But they already had several guys with major league experience, all of whom could help now, if you'd let 'em.

John Vander Wal had a terrible spring, but has generally proven himself to be a decent guy to have on the bench, and his numbers for the Yankees last year were right in line with his career averages. But he didn't do anything in the spring, and was only signed to a minor league contract anyway, so they could have cut him loose, instead of paying him something like $750K to ride the pine and spot start until Jenkins comes back. Anyway, most of the bench is a toss-up, but given the relative weakness here, it couldn't hurt to have an extra pinch hitter. Could it?

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27 March 2003

Morgan Than I Can Handle

With apologies to Mike Carminati, I saw this today and couldn't let it go:

Morgan: Teams in mix for Series

As most of you know, Joe Morgan is a great analyst...if you need a laugh. If you're looking for hard core, well founded study and/or prognostication, go to Baseball Prospectus. If you're looking for head-in-the-sand, old-school, pitching-and-defense-win-Championships kinda writing, then Joe's your guy. I'll show you:

Let's take a look at the teams I believe are in the mix for the 2003 World Series (as well as one sleeper from each league). And as we preview this season, let's review how the 2002 champions got there -- because I believe their success will have a bearing on this year's eventual champion.

BoS:Yes, let's. But we know that this is what you believe, Joe. It's your column.

American League
Anaheim Angels
The Angels won the World Series not because of superior talent or dominant pitching or tremendous sluggers. They won because they understood what the word team means. Each player understood that he had a role in the run to the championship.

BoS:Joe, they won because they scored more runs than the Giants did in four of the seven games they played. Pretty simple. They got the runs they needed in the clutch like they did all season long, but such good fortune rarely follows a team two years in a row.

[...blah-blah-pitching-blah...] The other key for the Angels was aggressiveness. They were aggressive at the plate and on the bases, which enabled them to create offense and manufacture runs.

BoS:Ah yes, the old aggressiveness theory. Let's see...the Giants only stole five bases in the series, whereas those aggressive Angels stole...six! That's 20% more! Big factor. Didn't hurt that the Giants' pitching gave up five and a half runs per game and only held onto two of four saves either. Well, it hurt the Giants.

Anaheim's hitters wouldn't let pitchers throw a first-pitch fastball over the plate to get ahead in the count. They were aggressive from the moment they stepped in the batter's box. They also put the ball in play consistently. The '02 Angels had the fewest strikeouts in the majors (805). By contrast, the Cubs had 1,269 to lead the majors.

BoS:By contrast, the Cubs kinda sucked last year, so you're comparing apples and meatballs. The Yankees struck out an AL-leading 1171 times in 2002, en-route to winning an also AL-leading 103 regular season games, By contrast, the 62-100 Kansas City Royals had the second fewest K's, with only 921. I doubt you'd say that we should all hope for our favorite teams to emulate the Royals, so what's your point?

This season, I believe we'll see teams being more aggressive than before -- taking the extra base, going from first to third, putting pressure on the defense to make plays. While many teams may try to copy the 2002 Angels, we'll have to see how many can maintain that team concept for an entire season.

BoS:Yes, Joe, we know it's your column. But you know, aggressiveness on the basepaths only works if you have baserunners on the basepaths. A team that relies as much on batting average to get on base as the Angels did last year is bound to have trouble repeating its own success at scoring runs.

Oakland Athletics
Most people believe the A's are automatic World Series contenders because of their Big Three of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. But I'm still not convinced they have the offensive philosophy to win a championship.

The A's approach emphasizes on-base percentage, which works well during the season when you play inferior teams. But when you get to the postseason and face better pitching, you draw fewer walks and are forced to rely on the home run. This has contributed to Oakland's first-round exit the past three years.

BoS:Joe may have a point here, beside the one at the tip of his duncecap. On the other hand, if you can't win in the regular season, then you don't have a chance to get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

The A's also must deal with the Miguel Tejada contract situation this year. I'm shocked that management would say before the season that they won't sign their star shortstop, who will be a free agent after the season. Usually, you say, "We'll evaluate that in the offseason." There seems to be some faulty logic at work there, and it will affect the A's this season.

BoS:This is very funny: Joe Morgan lecturing you about 'faulty logic' is like Geraldo Rivera lecturing you about 'sensationalism'. Or George Steinbrenner lecturing you about 'fiscal responsibility'. Or Keanu Reeves lecturing you about 'good acting'. Or Burt Reynolds lecturing you about 'hair'. Or...well, you get the picture.

Honorable Mention -- Minnesota Twins
The Twins are also in the World Series mix, but not quite as much as the above teams, in my opinion. Their newfound postseason experience could come in handy. And their style is similar to the Angels.

BoS:Oh, this is your opinion, Joe? I thought you were just reporting prophecies you had gleaned from the Almighty. Thanks for clearing that up. Again.

Sleeper -- Texas Rangers
They have baseball's best player, Alex Rodriguez, and one of these years their pitching and defense could come around. Will this be the season they put it together?


National League
San Francisco Giants
[...blah blah aggressiveness blah...]

This year the Giants have added speed guys -- second baseman Ray Durham and outfielders Marquis Grissom and Jose Cruz Jr. -- while slugging second baseman Jeff Kent departed for the Astros. The Giants want to get more runners on base in front of Bonds. Another big acquisition is third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, who could offer protection for Bonds in the lineup.

BoS:Grissom is going to be a bust. He's got a little speed and power, but won't get on base often enough to be a factor and will lose his job by mid-season.

It will be interesting to see if the Giants can overcome the loss of Kent and Dusty Baker, the best manager in the baseball. It won't be easy.

BoS:Baker's refusal to play guys who know how to hit in spite of their ages or handedness is what lost the World Series. Anyone who calls in Tom Goodwin to pinch-'hit' for Reggie Sanders in a crucial point of the game cannot wear the title "Best Manager in The Baseball", whatever that means.

Atlanta Braves
[ Braves...blah...blah...pitching...blah...weak offense...yadda..yadda] And while their overhauled rotation appears to be weaker, Greg Maddux has said that this could be the best staff the Braves have had. When he says that, you take notice.

BoS:Yeah, and Wayne Campbell once said that monkeys might fly out of his butt, and everybody took notice, but nobody took him seriously.

There will be more of a race this year in the NL East -- remember, last year the Braves won the division by 19 games. But they certainly know how to win, and I expect them to be one of the NL's best teams.

BoS:I know how to win, too: Score more runs than your opponent does on any given day. No secret there. The challenge is actually doing that. An offense that gets really thin after Gary Sheffield and Los Dos Joneses and a pitching staff that gets really thin after, well, Maddux, can know all it wants to about winning. They just won't do it. At least not as often as the Phillies.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Someday, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson won't be the dominant, fearsome duo they are now. But "someday" won't be this year. I believe they'll be as dominant as ever in 2003. The support they get from the rest of the staff and from the lineup will determine whether the D-Backs can win a second World Series in three years.

BoS:There he goes with those silly 'beliefs' again...

Sleeper -- Chicago CubsThe hiring of manager Dusty Baker, the rotation (led by Mark Prior and Kerry Wood), and an offense led by Sammy Sosa make the Cubs an intriguing team to keep an eye on.

BoS:Intriguing? Yes. Competetive? No, not this year.

So these are the favorites. But remember, the Angels went from 41 games out in 2001 to the world championship in 2002. And that can happen again -- other teams have similar potential this season.

BoS:Joe, you've been reading Jayson Stark's columns again, haven't you? The 2001 Angels won 75 games, and only finished 41 games out of first place because the Seattle Mariners happened to win 116 that year. Technically, this can happen, as there were two teams who finished 41 or more games out of first place in their divisions: The Devil Rays (48 behind the Yankees) and the Brewers (41 behind the Cardinals). But anybody who thinks that either of those two teams can make the playoffs, let alone win the World Series, must be "really stupid" ... if you get my drift.

But they must commit to a total team effort for it to happen. So keep this in mind on Opening Day: More than just the big-market teams have a chance to win.

BoS: You really believe that, Joe? Well, I guess he's not all wrong. Except that the total team effort to which the Milwaukee or Tampa teams must commit is kindnapping and brainwashing the Yankees' roster, dressing them up in Brewers' or Devil Rays' uniforms, and marching that team out there 162 times this year. Otherwise, they've got no hope in 2003, and you'll hafta look to some of the at least decent teams (White Sox, Astros, Phillies, Blue Jays) to take some big strides and surprise everyone.

Heck, maybe Joe Morgan himself will take some big strides and surprise everyone ... by making sense in consecutive paragraphs sometime this season.

Nah, probably not.

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26 March 2003


I have added or updated a few links.

David Pinto's King of all Baseball Blogs has moved to the aptly named www.baseballmusings.com. Do not adjust your sets, just your links.

Through my eXTReMe Tracker, I found that I am (or was) linked by a couple of political blogs. Ken Goldstein, who runs the hillarious Illuninated Donkey, was kind enough to provide me with some publicity last fall, and had me in his rotisserie links for a while again. The Donk is now my first official not-really-a-baseball-or-sports site link, though sadly he falls way under all the baseball bloggers on the left there. Doesn't mean I don't love him.

Also, I've added Skrythals (Loud Mouth in Norweigen) right below him. The proprietor of this politics/sports blog thinks enough of me that he's got me sandwiched right between Andrew Sullivan and John Perricone. I know, it sounds uncomfortable, but really, I'm honored. And Perricone and I are the only baseball blogs he's linked to anywhere. Pretty cool.

Twisted Fans Sports Blog is a tongue-in-cheek look at the world of sports, the bizarre things that happen in it, and our reactions to them. Evidently the keepers of Twisted Fans discovered my post about the beating of Royals' 1B coach Tom Gamboa last SeptOber, and therefore keep a link to that post on their main page. Hopefully I'll say something funny again sometime soon so they'll have a reason to link the main page of Boy of Summer.

Getting back to baseball, The New Giant Thrill has 100% more authorship than Boy of Summer does, as two guys (Matt and Josh) write about their favorite team, which just happens to be the reigning NL Champion San Francisco Giants (New & Improved, Livan Free Version!!). They asked me some time ago to give them a plug, so here it is: Plug.

And last, but not Finally, another book review, over at Boy of Summer's Books:
Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life.

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14 March 2003

Welcome Uecker Fans!
...somebody has to

For my birthday, which happened to coincide with the deadline to offer arbitration to your own free agents, I thought I'd buy myself a baseballreference.com player page, and simultaneously support Sean Forman's work over there. Because I'm a cheapskate, I looked for a bargain, something in the $10 range, and couldn't come up with much. Actually, I tried to get Dr. Strangeglove, but somebody beat me to him. So I found Bob Uecker, and his nearly 50,000 visits for a paltry $15. I've gotten a little traffic, but now my bet is paying off in spades.

Everyone's favorite self-effacing ex-backstop, Bob Uecker , has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Sorta. Actually, he's been given the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting, which is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp frick. Err...stick.

Mr. Baseball even got himself a little free publicity in Rob Neyer's chat forum today:

Bob Uecker (Front Row, MO): Hey, how come it's taken this long for me to get into the Hall of Fame? I was a better hitter AND broadcastert than Scooter...or at least I am now.

Rob Neyer: (3:04 PM ET ) I don't have any idea, Bob; you certainly should have been elected years ago. Technically, though, you're not actually in the Hall of Fame . . . but that's a topic for another day. Thanks for all the great questions, and I'll be doing this again soon.

OK, so that was me, getting Bob some publicity in his name. Rob never answers my questions in chat sessions, so I figured that this was the only way. Acyually, I first tried asking a question as "Buddy Bailedout (Macho Grande):" buddy wasn't having any of it.

So anyway, welcome, all you Uecker fans, to Boy of Summer. Hope you'll come back.

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13 March 2003

The Gambler Wins!

Not or some poser but this Kenny Rogers was signed by the Minnesota Twins to a one-year, $2 million contract.

My initial reaction to this news was to think that it's the classic knee-jerk, poorly thought-out, desperation signing, and I'm still not totally convinced it wasn't. The pricetag is not too bad for a team like New York, LA or Chicago, but $2 million is still a lot of money in the midwest. What's most surprising about the signing is that Rogers wasn't already signed by someone, given that Jamie Moyer had been able to negotiate a three-year deal with the Mariners. Take a look at their home/road splits the last three years:

Home 4.59 17 15 47 300.33 337 172 153 33 103 156 0.285
Away 4.70 14 13 40 258.33 282 143 135 26 94 152 0.276
Total 4.64 31 28 87 558.66 619 315 288 59 197 308 0.281

Home 3.45 22 13 48 318.67 273 132 122 33 71 197 0.231
Away 4.47 24 11 45 275.66 285 144 137 41 76 167 0.265
Total 3.92 46 24 93 594.33 558 276 259 74 147 364 0.247

At first glance, one might think that there's a pretty vast difference between the two pitchers, and certainly a 3/4 run disparity in ERA is nothing to sneeze at, but a closer look, as usual, reveals that the pitchers are not so different. Jamie Moyer's been helped tremendously by his home park, Safeco Field, where his ERA over the last three seasons is more than an entire run lower than it is on the road. Rogers had the presumed displeasure of pitching half of his games (more, actually) in Arlington Cemet..err..Ballpark, which is described as a "severe hitters park" by Baseball Prospectus. (His slight improvement in ERA at home belies the fact that all of his peripheral stats got worse there.) So they're probably as close to even with each other as any two pitchers could be.

I'm not saying that Rogers is going to suddenly morph into Warren Spahn, or even Tommy John, but he is two years younger than Moyer, but he's been almost as good as Moyer for the last three seasons, and would presumably have a better chance of aging gracefully, since he throws harder than Moyer does. (Actually, come to think of it, my cousin's 2-year-old daughter probably throws harder than Moyer, so forget I mentioned it.)

Eric Milton went down with a knee injury that should keep him out of action for about four months, which kinda sucks for him, but was not necessarily expected to hurt the Twins' chances much this year, as they already had six or seven guys who could start, and Radke, Mays and Milton all kinda underachieved last year. If one of the other two bounces back, and if they get even comparable performances from Kyle Lohse, Santana, or Juan Rincon, then the Twins are fine, and might have better spent the money shoring up their infield or bench.

Still, you'd understand it if they were maybe a little reluctant to go with an all-young guys rotation, and needed a "veteran presence" to steady the load. But Radke, Reed and Mays have all been around for a while (Reed's been around for two or three whiles), and Johan Santana is likely to be very good at the back of the rotation. Or at least he would have been, if not for Rogers. The only truly troubling thing about the transaction is this:

According to the AP story,

"The Twins were confident Johan Santana could fill Milton's spot, as he did
last season when Milton, Brad Radke and Joe Mays missed a total of more
than six months to injuries. But Santana, 8-6 with a 2.99 ERA last year,
is more valuable in the bullpen as a long or short left-handed reliever."

I'm sorry, but unless you think think that Santana is going to be a BAD starter, it makes no sense to say that he's more valuable as a reliever. As I mentioned the other day, an as Buffy will confirm, it is much easier to kill one vampire than ten, and it is much easier to find someone to pitch 70 good innings than 200. Duh. At least it wasn't a direct quote from anyone in the Twins' front office.

Not surprisingly, Aaron Gleeman expresses many of the same sentiments as me, but in more detail, and with a somewhat more positive spin, as he is a Twins fan. Aaron also goes into some discussion of the Jack "DH Waiting to Happen" Cust acquisition by Baltimore and the Joe Table-Omar Vizquel feud, which has already been overplayed, so I won't discuss it myself.

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10 March 2003


I have finally fulfilled my promise to the esteemed author Harvey Frommer, and written my review of his co-authored book Growing Up Baseball, which is on my book review website, Boy of Summer's Books. I've also got a review of Doris Kearns Goodwin's memoir, Wait Till Next Year, which I borrowed from my mom like a year ago and finally got around to reading last month. I'm a little behind. Which I guess is better than being a giant ass.

Christian Ruzich, the Cub Reporter, had the opportunity to visit the spring training home of everybody's favorite baseball team named for immature forest animals. I'm pretty jealous, being stuck here in Pennsylvania.

Stephen Keane sent me an email last week to inform me of his new site, the Eddie Cranepool Society, a Mets blog. Stephen writes kinda longwinded and stream of consciousness and spellling isnt always his strongest suit but he has some interesting things to say and hes very passionate about his Mets and you should go check him out if you havent already.

Also, as a public service message. Just over a month ago I added a tracker to the webcounter, so I have an idea of who's reading my stuff and where they're coming from. I don't check it everyday, but sometimes I see that I was referred to by a link on a website with which I am not familiar. If you have me linked, please let me know. If not to reciprocate the link, which I will usually gladly do, then to let me know who likes my stuff enough to spend the time placing a Boy of Summer link on their own website. I'm always honored when somebody does that. Thanks.

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07 March 2003

Kim The Merciless

Byung-Hyun Kim, the former Arizona Diamondbacks closer, is bidding to become a starter this year, and so far the results are promising. Kim has only made one start in the majors, and he gave up four runs in just over two innings. Otherwise, he's been exclusively used as a reliever, and more recently, almost entirely as a closer. Take a look at his stats:

Year GF% IP H R ER HR   BB   SO WHIP K/9 BB/9 H/9 HR/9  ERA
1999 40% 27.33 20 15 14 2 20 31 1.46 10.21 6.59 6.59 0.66 4.61
2000 49% 70.67 52 39 35 9 46 111 1.39 14.14 5.86 6.62 1.15 4.46
2001 56% 98.00 58 32 32 10 44 113 1.04 10.38 4.04 5.33 0.92 2.94
2002 92% 84.00 64 20 19 5 26 92 1.07 9.86 2.79 6.86 0.54 2.04
Total 64% 280 194 106 100 26 136 347 1.18 11.15 4.37 6.24 0.84 3.21
200IP 64% 200 139 76 71 19 97 248 1.18 11.15 4.37 6.24 0.84 3.21

Kim had been a starter throughout his career until he got to the majors. He was only 20 when he first came up, and despite the cultural stigma associated with relief pitching, Kim swallowed his pride and then promptly began chewing up and spitting out major league batters. His record (and Matt Mantei's annual trip to the DL) got him the closer's job, at which he has excelled. The challenge now becomes considering whether to take a guy out of a role in which he has thrived to place him in another in which he may not, leaving the pitching staff potentially weaker in two places.

TSN's Ken Rosenthal doesn't think it's a good idea, but then Ken and I don't often agree. His feeling is that Kim's not necessary as a fifth starter, since they have Miguel Batista and Armando Reynoso to fill out the back end of the rotation. First of all, counting on Armando Reynoso as anything other than a towel-boy has repeatedly proven itself an unwise expectation. The man has pitched all of 47 innings in the last two years, and hasn't had an ERA under 5.00 since 1999. Secondly, if Kim the Starter is even somewhat like Kim the Closer, he'll soon be their third starter, not their fifth. Patterson has talent, but won't likely turn many heads this year. Batista and Dessens are both decent, but nothing special (Dessens' 3.03 ERA in 2002 belies peripheral stats that indicate that he won't be able to sustain such success.)

The other concern that Rosenthal and others have raised is Kim's durability. Aaron Gleeman did a good job of de-bunking Rosenthal's pitch-count arguments, so I won't go into that again, but Ken's contention that the Korean's diminutive stature somehow makes him more susceptible to injury is almost laughable. What little we understand of the science and mechanics of pitching indicates that bad mechanics and poor usage patterns lead to injuries much more consistently than whether or not a pitcher has a 'rubber arm'. If anything, Kim's underhanded delivery should actually place less stress on the arm and shoulder than conventional overhand pitching, allowing him to pitch more innings, more often. If you can throw that way, and still have the velocity and control to get major league hitters out (which Kim has consistently done, his two World Series meltdowns notwithstanding) then more power to you, I say.

[Interestingly, Yankees farmhand Jay Tessmer's submarine-style delivery has not afforded him the same success that Kim has had, at least not in the majors. Admittedly, he doesn't throw as hard as Kim, but hey, you'd think that after the 23 innings spread out over five freakin' years the Yankees have given him to prove himself, he'd have done something by now, right? Maybe if he were pitching for Bob Brenly he'd get a shot to do something.]

The bottom line is that good relievers are much easier to find than good starters. Obviously, if you had the choice between getting 200 good innings or 70 good innings out of a guy, this becomes a no-brainer. Or, in the immortal words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,

"Like, does the word 'duh' mean anything to you?"

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06 March 2003

Same Oriold Story

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has given his front office permission to take on the $79 million due Cincinatti Reds' centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. in the final six years of his contract, several major-league sources told The Baltimore Sun in Wednesday's editions.

In a related story, several reliable sources have told Boy of Summer that President Bush is "more than willing to take all that bothersome oil" off Saddam Hussein's hands, as long as they can reach an acceptable compromise. Also, I understand that one-time pretty-boy Corey Haim has decided to stop holding out and begin making big motion pictures again. He's just waiting for the right deal to come along. Like Dream a Little Dream II. Wait, too late.

Anywho, ain't no way that nobody from no lousy-ass Orioles' farm system plus some sorry-assed major leaguers is gonna make Jim Bowden wanna give up his star CF, even if he has only played center stage about as often as Liberace the last two years. Griffey can still be one of the five best CF in the majors when healthy, which he's expected to be this year, pretty much. I don't see it, but you're allowed to wish. Besides, even if they did get Griffey, and didn't have to give up any of their major league "talent" the Orioles are still about five impact players away from, well, having an 'impact'. On third place.

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04 March 2003

Welcome to the Smart-Ass News...

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A CAT-scan has confirmed that Colorado Rockies shortstop Juan Uribe has a broken bone in his right foot. He will have surgery Wednesday and likely be sidelined for more than a month. Uribe will have a screw inserted into the bone.

Rockies trainer Tom Probst declined to estimate how long Uribe might be out.

``Everybody heals differently,'' Probst said Monday, ``so we're not throwing out an arbitrary date. A bone usually heals in four-to-six weeks. But is he going to be back playing then? No.''

Probst then elaborated, "We're gonna keep this guy outa the lineup as long as possible. I mean, did you see what he hit last year? Like .240 with no power and no plate discipline and no speed. And that's playing half his games at Coors! His OPS on the road barely cleared .500! Nope, I think if that right foot heals quicker than we think, we might hafta do something about the other one."

David Wells Either Is or Is Not A Big Fat Idiot
...and other non-committal observations

David Jumbo Boomer Big Giant Honkin' Lard-Ass Wells (who, to be fair, is roughly my size, except with some athletic prowess) like his pudgy basketball counterpart, Charles Barkley, seems to have been mis-quoted in his own autobiography. Imagine that.

First, it came out last week that he had been half-drunk, with a "skull-rattling hangover" or something like that, when he pitched his perfect game against the then-woeful Minnesota Twinkies back in 1998. Now he says that was an exaggeration, as was his originally quoted estimate that 25-40% of MLB players take steroids, and that this number is rising. Apparently Wells plans to change that number for the final re-write of the book, as it is too close to Jose Canseco's estimate in the tell-all book that he keeps threatening to write.

The whole problem with a tell-all book is that it's supposed to tell, well 'all'. If it only tells some, or if the author takes back a bunch of what's in it, before the public even gets a chance to read the darn thing, well then it isn't worth much, is it? Can you imagine how seriously people would have taken Ball Four if Jim Bouton had bowed to Bowie Kuhn's wishes and discredited the book when it was released? Not very, I betcha. Of course, there are two major differences here:

1) Wells is almost 40 years old, and planned to retire after this year anyway, probably, and he's already a bajillionaire, so he's really not risking anything by stepping on anybody's toes. Bouton was only 30 when he was writing Ball Four, and it basically ended his career in MLB, which had not yet made him rich. (Bouton made the double-mistake of being born in 1939 and having all his success when he was only 25.)

B) Nobody cares what David "Insert Weight-Related-Derogatory-Nickname Here" Wells thinks. Bouton had a reputation as quirky and unorthodox, but also intelligent. This morning I heard a certain radio personality use the old joke about how the first book Wells writes will make one more than he's probably ever read, and while that's probably not true, Wells has gone out of his way to let people know that he's anything but cerebral. Like in Blazing Saddles:

"You've gotta remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land.
The common clay of the New West. You know ... morons

Feliz CumpleanosCumpleanosCumpleanos

The Bad News: It turns out that SanFran IF Pedro Feliz is actually 27 years old, not 25, as was previously thought.

The Good News: Statistically, this should be Pedro's peak year at the plate!

The Worse News: Baseball Prospectus only project him to an EqA of around .230. Some 'peak'.

In Other News...

David Pinto has a tongue-in-cheek lineup of the Democratic Presidential hopefuls. Clever guy, that Pinto.

Also through Baseball Musings, I found Baseball Primer's Kansas City Royals season preview in the form of Poe's 'The Raven'. (It's even better if you imagine it as recited by Tarzan, Tonto and Frankenstein!) Very funny and very smart, something the Royals' front office is not. Don't worry, I won't spend three days worth of posts detailing how bad the KC team is. But I could put a Devil Rays season preview to verse..."Stairway to Basement" anyone?

Speaking of verse, Mike Carminati adapts an old Franklin P. Adams favorite for the re-introduction of the beloved Joe Morgan Chat Days. Also very clever. (Mike, not Joe.)

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26 February 2003


Mike's Baseball Rantscontinues his look at the history of relief pitchers. Good stuff, as always. He does love those tables...

The second part of Alex Belth's Ken Burns Interview is posted over at Bronx Banter. It's a little dated, talking about a couple of guys who were up for Veterans Committee election into Cooperstown, but didn't make it, but this is my fault for not responding to Alex's request very quickly. Apologies, Alex, and for the rest of you, go read it if you haven't already. It won't take long.

The new issue of Mudville Magazine is out. Turns out that this is a monthly site.

And lastly, but hopefully not leastly, a surprise! Part of the reason that my blog posts have been a little sparse lately is that I've been immersed in books. Besides recently buying copies of Baseball Prospectus 2003, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract(which I got for under $10!), What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?, I have also gotten copies of Harvey Frommer's A Yankee Century and Growing Up Baseball.

My review of A Yankee Century appears on Boy of Summer's Books, which is now linked at the top left of Boy of Summer. I plan to review Growing Up Baseball as soon as I've finished reading it, and other reviews will follow as I can keep up with them. I will likely even go back and review some books I've already read, like Boys of Summer, Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life, Baseball Dynasties, and more.

I'll try to give you the straight scoop on whatever I'm reading, and anyone who has a book they've written and would like me to review, please email me, send me a copy, and I'll try to indulge you.

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Sorry, one last post about the Devil Rays before we pack this issue away. Some months ago, I indicated that I had arrived because I received a reply from Clay Davenport of BaseballProspectus, but now I realize that I was mistaken.

This time, I have really arrived: I got Hate Mail.

From: "Stephen Clark"
To: tmutchell@yahoo.com
Subject: I suppose you never heard of the Angels
Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2003 08:31:57 -0600

You are an idiot. I will never read your dribble again.

To which I responded:
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2003 08:58:18 -0800 (PST) 

From: "Travo"
Subject: Re: I suppose you never heard of the Angels
To: "Stephen Clark"


This is entirely possible. I accept that I may very
well be an idiot. I prefer to think otherwise, but
I'm open to being proved wrong. Two things, however:

1) Please give me a chance to defend myself. It's
only fair. With which of my many idiotic posts did
you take issue? I have, of course, heard of the
Angels, assuming you mean the baseball team from
Anaheim, but I'm not exactly sure to what your comment
refers. Please let me know, I'm always interested to
hear opinions.

B) I think the word you're looking for is "drivel",
not dribble.


Stephen did not respond. This bothers me. I don't mind being hated nearly as much as I mind being ignored. I really didn't know what the heck he was talking about, but looking back, I figured that he must have been offended by my Devil Rays post last week (despite the date on his email, I actually received it on Friday morning). So I wrote again:

Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2003 15:30:12 -0800 (PST)
From: "Travo"
Subject: Re: I suppose you never heard of the Angels
To: "Stephen Clark"


OK, I'm doubting that you've been raptured from the Earth, so I guess you're
ignoring me. I will take an educated (for an idiot) guess at the source of your
ire, and say that you're probably a Devil Rays fan who's upset about my
disparaging comments on their infield defense plan. If I have guessed correctly,
you mean to say that the Angels won the World Series with offensively-sub-par
infielders, and that therefore, the D-Rays plan may not be such a bad one.
(I give you credit, because you can apparently type whole words, for not
believing that they're actually going to the World Series themselves this year.)

Let's look:

Baseball Prospectus (maybe they're idiots too?) ranks Scott Spezio's 2002
season as 16th among ML firstbasemen, 23.1 Runs Above Replacement Position,
or 2.7 Runs Above Position. Or, as they say in France: average, serviceable,
mediocre. (This was an uncharacteristically good year for him.)
Travis Lee, however, is ranked 37(!)th in RARP, at 2.7, or 20.5 runs *below*
an average MLB 1B in 2002. In other words, the Phillies paid Lee $3 million for
the privelige of fielding a guy who did what any number of AAAA guys coulda
done for the ML minimum. This year doesn't promise to be any different for the
D-Rays, except that they're gonna get ripped-off for less dough.

Similarly, Adam Kennedy was 7th in the majors among 2B, with 29.4 RARP,
while Marlon Anderson, Jay Canizaro and Brent Abernathy were 16th, 53(!)rd
and 61(!!)st in RARP last year. Mediocre, terrible and terribler.
Who goes out and intentionally signs guys like this?

David Eckstein was also 7th in the majors among SS, with 32.3 RARP,
while Rey Ordonez was 40(!)th with -1.9. Who trades for a guy who's
ranked ten notches *worse* than the number of extant teams??? No
amount of defense would compensate for this kind of putrid offense.
And even if their defensive reputations (not Anderson's) were all they're
cracked up to be, saving ten runs and allowing 20, for a lot of low-scoring
defeats, doesn't seem like the way to inspire young pitchers to me.
Ordonez and Lee only saved 6 or 7 runs more than the average players
at their respective positions last year anyway. Hardly worth giving up all
that offense to help the young pitchers.

Besides this, the Angels had Garret Anderson, Darrin Erstad, and Tim
Salmon in the OF most days, as well as Glaus and Fulmer, who all could
hit at least somewhat above average for their own positions. The D-rays
have no such compensation from the remainder of their lineup, except
maybe Huff.

C'mon, Stephen, I'm desperate here. Argue with me. Tell me I'm wrong.
Send me an email laced with profanity and grammatical errors and
CAPITALIZATION, but don't just leave me hanging. This is my first real,
unsolicited hatemail from Boy of Summer, and I'd hate to think that I may
have lost one of the couple dozen or so Devil Rays fans out there just
because he doesn't like to be told that his team sucks.

People tell me that, and I'm a Yankee fan. Don't take it personally.

Your hero,

Alas, Stephen Clark has yet to respond. (I resisted the urge to give out his email address so people could flame him for being so narrow-minded and force him to respond. That wouldn't be very nice.) I'll give him credit for sticking to his word and not reading my "dribble" anymore...but that's about it. Whereas David Bloom, Tampa Bay D-Rays blogger extraordinaire, has actually agreed with most of my assessments, some folks just aren't sufficiently open-minded or free-thinking to accept the possibility that their favorite team, losers of an average of 98 games over the last five years, isn't any good, and with the same General Management, might not have any idea how to change that circumstance.


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25 February 2003

Tampa? I Hardly Knowa!

I can't believe I'm spending this much time and effort on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Jayson Stark has a puff piece about the D-Rays, particularly the parallels between them and their Super Bowl-Winning NFL Counterpart, the Buccaneers. As I see them, the parallels are as follows:

1) Both teams hired a new field boss away from another team. (Lou Piniella from Seattle and John Gruden from Oakland)

...Did I mention that they're both in Tampa Bay?

Stark sees it a little differently, I guess, but then that's kinda what we've come to exect. Stark compares the current D-Rays team to the Seattle Mariners in charge of which Lou Piniella was placed prior to the 1993 season. That team had been bad, this team is bad. Sweet Lou turned them around, so why can't he do the same with this club?

Well, a few reasons: first of all, the major league talent the 1993 Mariners had is an order of magnitude better than what I see on the Devil Rays' current roster. They had some established, productive players like Ken Griffey, Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez on that roster, plus role-players like Dave Magadan, Rich Amaral and Pete O'Brien, Omar Vizquel (who managed to provide needed infield defense without totally sacrificing any offensive contributions) and some rising prospects like Tino Martinez and Bret Boone. The pitchers weren't bad either with Randy Johnson and a decent supporting cast (Erik Hanson, Dave Fleming, Chris Bosio, Jeff Nelson, Norm Charlton, Ted Power). While obviously much of this is retrospective name recognition, I expect that you will be hard-pressed to find such a familiar list of names from the 2003 D-Rays' roster ten years from now.

Stark quips, "Ten years ago, the Mariners were also a laughingstock of a franchise, playing in a lifeless domed stadium, barely drawing a million people, coming off a 98-loss season, looking back at one winning season in the history of the franchise."

Makes them sound pretty similar, right? Except that the one winning season the Mariners had came just two years before Piniella was handed the helm. Their pitching (and injuries to it) did them in in '92, dropping the team ERA from 4th to 10th in the 14-team AL, while run scoring remained about the same. But there was talent, and suffucient run support, to help turn the team back around. Some, like Stark, would argue that the early '90s Mariners had been heading the wrong direction, and that Piniella righted that ship, so he could right this one. The problem is that the analogy doesn't hold up. From '88 to '91 the mariners had won 68, 73, 77 and 83 games, a nice gradual increase, and an apparent indication that the team was already headed in the right direction, before the bump-in-the-road known as 1992 came along (64-98). Piniella just came along at the right time, and kept the team heading in the right direction. It took a while for everything to click, but by 1995, they were in the playoffs. They were hardly a laughingstock, just having an off year in '92.

These Devil Rays have no such track record. The last (their only) five years, they've lost 99, 93, 92, 100, and 106 games. If anything, the trend is downward, and there's no indication that they're plugging holes or making any concerted or intelligent effort to repent from the baseball sins that have created the trend. They've relied way too much on free agency, losing draft picks in the process. Not that they'd have done much with them anyway. The Devil Rays draft picks have largely not amounted to much, typically because of their insistence upon blowing their early-round picks on high school pitchers and toolsy outfielders. On the other hand (where I still have five fingers...) Seattle's picks in the late 80s an early 90s were quite productive, giving them stars and role players (Ken Griffey, Alex Rodriguez, Erik Hanson, Tino Martinez) as well as surplus talent they could afford to trade to fill holes (Mike Hampton, Shawn Estes, Bret Boone).

Piniella seems to recognize this disparity: "If you ask me what my rotation is, I don't know. I'll tell you Joe Kennedy will be in it. That's about it. And if I look at my bullpen, I can tell you Lance Carter is going to be out there. Outside of that, we've got to fill in the blanks."

Piniella's team has more blanks than a revolver in a spaghetti-Western.

Supposedly, the expectation is that this team will be ready to contend in about two or three years when:

1) They're finally rid of some of the cumbersome contracts that have albatrossed them for the last few years (Greg Vaughn, Ben Greive, etc.)

B) They're due for some nice chunk of the new revenue-sharing money.To the tune of like $20 million.

iii) Their Young Toolsters will be maturing into Actual Baseball Players. And...

IV) The Beatles reunite to tour with Karen Carpenter and Nirvana.

Why so harsh? I'll tell you:

1) and B) Sure they'll get more money, but other teams who make more dough than Tampa still can't win first prize in a Spell Your Own Name Contest. Payroll isn't everything. Just ask the Mets. Or the Dodgers. Or Baltimore.

iii) It takes more than Tools to make successful Baseball Players. It takes good coaching, good direction, baseball skill development. Just ask Ruben Rivera. Or Jose Guillen. Or Pat Watkins. Or Shawn Abner.

IV) The Tampa Bay Devil Rays will never contend for anything until there's a change of leadership or of leadership philosophy.

Give them more money? Won't matter, they'll find some other way to squander it.

Give them better draft picks? Won't matter, they'll use them on the wrong kinds of players.

Give them better players? Won't matter. They'll either misuse them, misguide them, or trade them for more toolsy prospects.

The problem with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays is not Greg Vaughn or Wilson Alvarez or Vinny Castilla or Roberto Hernandez or even Rey Ordonez and Travis Lee. The problem is in the front office. Chuck LaMar has all but run this team into the ground, with no real indication that he'll be turning things around any time soon. How a guy in charge of a baseball team can see what people like scouting director Cam Bonifay have done in Pittsburgh or what SS Rey Ordonez has done in NYC and still want them on his team is simply beyond me. And how such a person manages to retain his position, year-after-nine-years, has to be up there with Noah's Ark and Fabian's singing career on the list of The Great Mysteries of Human Civilization.

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19 February 2003

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are bad.

(How bad are they?)

They're so bad that...

...their lineup has less pop than an empty soda bottle.

...their batting practice pitchers have a 0.00 ERA.

...members of their infield defense are being sent to Iraq to try to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

... closer Esteban Yan is so bad at saving things that Tupperware won't let him endorse their products.

...their pitching staff allowed more homers than the doorman at a Simpsons Impersonation Convention.

...Louie Anderson has more plate discipline than these guys.

...their hitters ask Christopher Reeve for tips on walking. (ouch)

OK, OK, enough with the jokes. Everybody know that the D-Rays suck, and have since their inception in 1998. They've tried "proven" veterans, unproven rookies, development, free agency, trades, incantations, but mostly they've tried wandering aimlessly without any coherent plan, and... (surprise!) ...it hasn't worked. Amazingly, they still have fans, such as David Bloom, whose Devil Rays Blog will be linked here as soon as I get a chance to update them. Some more concrete measures of how bad this team was:

...nobody pitching more than 21 Innings had an ERA under 4.30. The AL average was 4.47.

...no pitcher with more than three decisions finished the season with a winning record.

...Greg Vaughn's .163 season marked the lowest BA by a non-catcher with at least 250 At-Bats in this century! (Note: Catchers' offensive contributions used to be considered secondary, so it was not uncommon for a Bill Bevens or a Bob Uecker or a Les Moss to hang around for a while without any indication that they knew what they were doing with that piece of ash they were handed three times a game.)

ESPN's Hot Stove Heater on the Devil Rays details some of their inneptitude, and more importantly, what to expect this year. My hero, Rob Neyer has argued that they aren't "historically bad" but in a way they are, or could be. It's been over two decades since an American League team lost 100 games in three straight seasons (the expansion '77-'79 Blue Jays had a better excuse), but the Tampa front office has all but sealed the team's fate in supplanting Toronto for this (dis)honor.

This is a team that Chuck LaMar has run since the start, and has never shown any indication that he knows how to draft players, sign free agents, or make decent trades, and yet he still has his job. To this, erstwhile Pirates GM Cam Bonifay, himself showing little evidence that he knows how to properly run a franchise, was hired in an assistant-to-the-innept-GM role last year. Results have not been surprising. Let me see if I can sum up the team philosophies for each season they've been around:

1998: The Devil Rays: We're an expansion team! Nobody expects us to win...so we won't.
1999: The Devil Rays: Did we mention that Wade Boggs plays for us?
2000: The Devil Rays: We're gonna slug our way to the...umm, basement.
2001: The Devil Rays: We've got an All-Star! ….whaddaya mean every team gets one?
2002: The Devil Rays: Did we mention that Wade Boggs used to play for us?
2003: The Devil Rays: Our new manager's SO good, we don't need good players!

And so they've gone out and assembled possibly one of the worst teams that will ever set foot on a major league baseball field. They took an "offense" that scored the third fewest runs in the AL last year, got rid of Randy Winn, arguably their best player, as compensation for new field marshal Lou Pinella. They released Steve Cox, a 28-year old hitter with some power (47 extra base hits) and patience (60 walks) and then sold him to Japan. Well, a baseball team in Japan. They lost two of their three top innings-munching pitchers (Paul Wilson and Tanyon Sturtze) to free agency, as well as Steve Kent, Wilson Alvarez, and their "closer", Esteban Yan. Actually, there's good news and bad news about this. Make that Bad News and Worse News.

The Bad News: The pitchers they lost went 24-53 with a 1.52 WHIP and a 5.10 ERA in 709 Innings last season. That horrendous 5.10 ERA is actually better than the team's MLB-worst 5.29 ERA in 2002.

The Worse News: Their replacements on the roster (Blake Stein, Jim Parque, Bob Wells, Steve Parris and the newly-signed Wayne Gomes) went 9-16 with a 1.74 WHIP and a 6.67 ERA in 227 innings. Now, of course, not all of those pitchers' 700+ innings will be eaten up by these five, as they have all been signed to minor league contracts, and aren't guaranteed to make the team. Ironically, GM Chuck LaMar had this to say about the Gomes signing:
``Well, this kid showed up yesterday and he wouldn't leave. So, because of that, we're giving him an opportunity. He's got some major league experience and we'll let him compete.''
He’s got some major league experience? How about ‘He’s got a lower 2002 ERA than all but two guys with at least 20 innings pitched last year who are still on our roster’? I’m not saying that Wayne Gomes is going to save the franchise or anything, but losers can’t be choosers, y’know?

The other pitchers expected to assume the bulk of the remaining workload aren't much more promising:

Victor Zambrano allowed 68 walks and 15 dingers in only 114 innings of "major league" work, to go with a nifty 5.53 ERA. He’s expected to improve on those numbers, but there’s not really much of anywhere to go but up from there.

Nick Bierbrodt apparently has some talent, but spent most of last year rehabbing from a gunshot wound in the non-pitching arm. Here’s what Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll had to say about him in the Tampa Bay Team Health Report:

”Being shot, I hope, is one of those fluke things that mean nothing in an injury history. For the Rays, it's not. Another rotation candidate, Nick Bierbrodt, was also shot[BoS: theother was Delvin James} , also at a restaurant. (Note to Rays: room service.) Bierbrodt was in the minors after losing complete control of his pitches, but reports indicate that Piniella has tabbed him for a starting slot, so we'll hope he can find the plate again. Still, past history plus the shooting plus Piniella equal a red light. “
Dewon Brazelton, despite an apparently talented arm as the D-Rays’ fourth best prospect, has exactly 18 innings of experience above AA ball, so expect some growing pains there. Also, he is a major injury risk, according to Will Carroll, so his best hope for future health is to suck enough that Piniella won’t overwork him and then pitch better when Piniella gets frustrated and quits, around June, hopefully to be replaced by someone other than Terry Francona.

Others expected to play a role this year include Jesus Colome, who was injured in an auto accident in the Dominican Republic that killed three people in the other car. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in the accident, but had the gall to say,

“This could affect my career because I don't know whether I feel OK to play this season”

First of all, three women just died: nobody cares how your career is going to be affected.

Secondly, Colome was 2-7 with an 8.27 ERA in 32 games last season. He allowed 91 baserunners in 41.1 innings. His opponent averages of .341/.446/.524 mean that his opponents generally hit like Mike Sweeney when they faced him. How much less OK could he possibly be this year than last? If anything, the accident may help him pitch better. Like to a Boeing ERA, say, 7.27. A whole run improvement!

On the other hand (where, in case you haven’t heard, I have five fingers), the Devil Rays have brought in quite a few players for offensive “help”:

Pos Name Age 2002 EqA MLB Pos EqA
C Jorge Fabregas 33 .165* .246
1B Travis Lee 27 .259 .287
2B Marlon Anderson 29 .250 .259
3B Chris Truby 29 .239 .264
SS Rey Ordonez 32 .226 .256
INF Jay Canizaro 29 .210 .256
OF Ryan Thompson 32 .272 .280
1B/OF Lee Stevens 32 .243* .287
(* approximate EqA for two different teams)

Eight guys, only one (Travis Lee) at an age where he might reasonably be expected to improve a little, none with an EqA above the the league average for his position, at least not with any significant playing time (Thompson's .272 was amassed in fewer than 150 plate appearances.

This might be the worst lineup ever assembled, if it ever got to play. Thankfully it won’t. Thompson is a one-time super prospect who probably won’t make the team, given all the hotshot young outfielders they currently have to evaluate (Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and Jason Conti), not to mention Greg “The Human Black Hole” Vaughn, who isn’t young, but won’t be paid $8.5 million just to chew sunflower seeds on the bench). Lee Stevens probably won’t make the club either, since they’ve already got Aubrey Huff and Travis Lee to play the 1B/DH/OF roles (though if Lee Stevens did make the team, along with Travis Lee, and if they could get Cecil Travis as a coach and bring up young Stevenson Agosto, you’d have the makings of a good Laugh-In! joke.)

Anywho, these guys are all in camp for a tryout, with the expectation that Anderson and Truby will platoon with incumbents 2B Brent Abernathy and 3B Jared Sandberg, respectively. You would imagine that at least two of the five OF/DH spots would end up in a platoon situation as well, meaning that the D-Rays’ roster will burn up 9 or 10 semi-regular players on four positions. That’s a good way to make sure you have a nice, shallow bench.

Some people may be screaming “No, the D-Rays are following the Braves’ model, valuing infield defense over offense to help develop the young pitching!” (Baseball Prospectus got such a letter, but didn't even see fit to offer a response, given how ridiculous it was.)

Indeed Travis Lee and Rey Ordonez have excellent defensive reputations at their respective positions, though in reality they both saved only about half a dozen defensive runs more than an average player at their own positions, good for less than one win, combined, in 2002. And their offensive contributions more than made up for that. Besides, the Braves’ model isn’t really an accurate notion, since the pitchers who became the backbone of that staff in the early ‘90s (Glavine and Smoltz) all had success before Sid Bream, Rafael Belliard and Mark Lemke became regulars, or before they joined the team (Maddux). Only Steve Avery’s arrival at stardom coincided with the so-called defense focus, and those Braves generally had enough offense, especially in the outfield (David Justice, Fred McGriff, Ron Gant, Terry Pendleton, Lonnie Smith, even Otis Nixon) to compensate for the offensive slackers.

The D-Rays won’t have that kind of production out of their outfield, or anyone else whose name doesn't rhyme with "chaw-free snuff". Not this year, not if Hamilton can't stay healthy and Baldelli, Conti and Crawford don't learn some plate discipline, a skill the Tampa organization does not seem to value, it seems. How else would you explain the influx of players like Lee Stevens and Rey Ordonez and the jettison of Steve Cox to Yokohama, a player who showed real promise in the minors, racking up homers and doubles like breasts in a Joe Bob Briggs movie review and walking almost as often as he K'd (both were a lot). He'll probably become the next Roberto Petaguine or Tuffy Rhodes, and it will serve the Devil Rays right. So while they're tilting at the windmills of infield defense, even the Phillies managed to figure out that you can't play Travis Lee and Marlon Anderson everyday and expect to get the damsel. Um, pennant.

Anyway, Rob Neyer is still right, so far. There have been a lot of teams worse than this five-year stretch by the Tampa Bay Americans, but this sixth year could really be something special. We're talking unexplored territory here. We're talking a team OPS under .600. We're talking 120+ losses. We're talking mathematical elimination from AL East contention earlier than any team in history.

Like, yesterday.

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12 February 2003


First of all, my apologies to anyone who has asked me for a plug and not gotten it in the last few weeks. As I mentioned yesterday, I've been very busy, and still am, so I won't belabor the point. Now, on to the good stuff:

Two new links appear on your right. The first is Mudville Magazine, full of prolific and excellent writing, regularly posted readers' email responses, cartoons and weekly reviews of baseball related stuff (this week: magazines).

The second is Sports Frog. Against my usual trend, this site has sports other than baseball (who knew they existed?), with smart-alecky commentary on everything from Baseball Magazines to Horses to basketball to Jennifer Lopez to...well, you get the point. They have four different writers, one of whom reportedly has a cat that eats Volkswagen Beetles for lunch, but personally I think the stray tabby that my aunt fed until it weighed thirty two pounds (they called it a "racing hippo") could probably take him. If it wasn't dead.

Also, I need to make some much-needed amends with my blog brothers, Mike Carminati, and Jay Jaffe, who have been reviewing and rewriting the way relief pitchers are evaluated for some time now. Mike's summarized all of those history links here, while Jay has a revision on a system for evaluating said short-winded hurlers here. Both are very thorough, and very good.

It's posted at Baseball Primer, where Aaron Gleeman's Top 50 Prospects Report also appears. Aaron is a college student, which, aside from being unemployed, is about the only way someone could possibly have the time to do what he does without being paid for it. You go, Aaron.

Also, Alex Belth over at Bronx Banter has posted the first part of the transcript of an interview with Ken Burns, the famous documentary guru. Belth was fortunate enough to work on Ken Burns' Baseball Documentary right out of school, which makes my pansy-ass brushes with greatness pale in comparison. Hopefully the celebrity endorsement will help him to pull in a few more readers. If that doesn't work, try mentioning supermodels in the text of one of your posts. Or underwear.

Batter's Box has piles and piles of great stuff, and not just about the Toronto Blue Jays, so much that I won't go into all of it. But you should go check it out. Now.

In other news, I missed a golden opportunity. Last week, Jayson Stark wrote the most ridiculous column he'd written since, well, the previous week, and I had hoped to take some time to pick it apart, but my schedule would not allow it. It turns out though, that I was not alone in my distaste for said crap, as Mike's Baseball Rants and Elephants in Oakland both beat me to the punch. Mike has a couple of follow-up posts, and between his stuff and that over at EIO, I don't think anything was written that I wouldn't have brought up myself, though perhaps with somewhat less name-calling, if only because I'm not good with names.

And finally, some of why I haven't been able to write much of late is that my family has a new addition. We adopted an eleven-week old girl, whose mother had been homeless, and she has taken up all of my free time, as well as my wife's. She's wonderful, except when she wakes us up in the middle of the night crying or something like that, especially if we lock her in her cage. She's lots of fun to play with and her personality is already coming out. She has "accidents" once in a while, but is generally learning when and where it's appropriate to relieve herself. Smart kid. Of course, she chews on anything she can get her sharp little teeth around, and her breath stinks, but overall, she's a lot of fun. She's a Dalmation/Laborador mix we got from Willing Hearts Dalmation Rescue, and we couldn't be happier, as you can tell from the pictures below. (My wife is the one without hair on her face.) We named her McCartney.

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10 February 2003

Boy of Summer would like to announce that the reason he hasn't posted anything in three weeks is that he's been working his ass off for his 2003 Philadelphia Phillies' Preview. Tracking down front office personnel, interviewing players, drawing schematics of the Vet, inspecting the locker rooms, conducting seyances, consulting oijia boards....I'd like to say that, but I can't. Well I could, but I'd be lying. Mostly I've just been really busy at the job I get paid for, and as well as in my home life. But finally, and without further ado (ado, ado), I present to you...

Phillies' Phutures... A preview of the 2003 Philadelphias.

Many of you know that Philadelphia is not my favorite town, nor are the Phillies my favorite team, and not just because they're about a quarter century's worth of World Championships behind my favorite team, but because they so rarely seem to be making any significant, intelligent efforts to remedy that situation. In my opinion:

* It's not that hard to like a team that seems mostly content to suck but doesn't mind 'cuz they've got nice digs that always sell out, and they win a division or something once in a while, just to impart a false sense of hope to their doting fans. Call it the Loveable Losers Syndrome. (cf: Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs)

* It's not that hard to like a team that tries to win but is somehow, always, tragically prevented from accomplishing their ultimate goal, often by their arch-rival. Call it the Tragic Heroes Syndrome. (cf: Boston Red Sox)

* It's not even that hard to like a team that used to be good when you were a kid, but isn't really anymore. Hey, nostalgia's better than nothing. (cf: NY Mets, most of the AL Central)

* But it's really hard to like a team that seems to aimlessly meander through history, trying to find a vision, alternately latching on to varying plans that range from the ill-advised to the insane. All the while lamenting the woes of their market and scapegoating the fan base for their lack of success, as though someone had forced them to play games in a Little League field on a small island off the coast of Alaska, when in fact they're in the largest one-team baseball market in the country. Such behavior is reprehensible and despicable. Also, the fans are really obnoxious and bitter. This means you, Philadelphia.

However, despite my relative distaste for the franchise, the Philadelphia Phillies have taken some serious strides. And I'm not talking strides toward mediocrity like Rob Ducey and Paul Spoljaric, or strides towards disappointment, like Mike Jackson and Danny Tartabull. I'm talking strides towards serious contention for the NL East crown, maybe more. Despite the lingering aftertaste of signings-gone-sour such as Mark Leiter and Greg Jeffries, the Phillies made the biggest splash in the free-agent pool this winter, bringing in Jim Thome and David Bell. They even traded for one of the best starters in their division, Kevin Millwood, giving up only a third-string catcher/motorcycle cop. They managed to let some of the dead wood float away, in Mike Timlin, Doug Glanville, Marlon Anderson, and Ricky Blow-tallico, who signed with the Red Sox, Rangers, Devil Rays, and Diamondbacks, respectively, and also Travis Lee who has ironically signed with the Devil Rays to "help their offense". Figures.

Anyway, here's what the projected lineup looks like:
Starting Eight

SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Placido Polanco
1B Jim Thome
LF Pat Burrell
RF Bobby Abreu
C Mike Lieberthal
3B David Bell
CF Marlon Byrd

If I'm a National League pitcher (I'm not), I'm going to lose a lot of sleep thinking about how to get from Thome to Bell without having to meet the homeplate umpire to get a ball to replace the one that just got air-mailed into the old Vet parking lot. Lieberthal isn't Mike Piazza, but a catcher who hits .280/.350/.450 when healthy is still in fairly select company. David Bell is unspectacular, and overpaid, but he hits for a little power, and so poses a threat himself. Bobby Abreu, despite his petulant refusal to hit lead-off, and Pat Burrell, despite the strikeouts, are two of the most underrated hitters in the NL. Marlon Byrd's upside is probably Carlos Beltran, but this year may resemble Jeffrey Hammonds a bit more than most Phillies fans would prefer.

The only real problem here is at the top of the lineup. Jimmy Rollins has some work to do to become a top-notch leadoff hitter, which is what this team needs: a patient hitter at the top of the lineup. Rollins isn't particularly patient (Fifty walks in 700 Plate Appearances just isn't gonna cut the gravy for a team that wants to win its division.) but is young, and therefore has as good a chance as anyone to become a little more disciplined and/or hit a little better next year. But all those big boppers in the middle of the lineup won't do much good if Rollins and Polanco don't get on base. In fact, outside of Thome-Burrell-Abreu, nobody in the lineup is really an outstanding hitter. Lieberthal and Rollins may be a little better than average for their positions, but not by a lot, and not enough to make up for the relatively weak-hitting Polanco and Bell or a still-developing (read: erratic) Marlon Byrd. They could really have used a Ray Durham or an Edgardo Alfonzo, but it's too late for that now. They can probably still be in the top 5 in NL runs scored, which, on a scale of one-to-ten, is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Polanco is serviceable (.296/.333/.390 career) as a backup IF and #2 or #8 hitter, but shouldn't be starting everyday. They've got Chase Utley, who has some power and patience, but didn't hit for average last season at AAA, has a lousy defensive reputation, and therefore probably won't be given a fair chance to supplant Polanco as the everyday 2B. So these are your 2003 Philadelphia Phillies. Hitters anyway.

Who's on the Bench?

C Tank Pratt
IF Tomas Perez
IF Tyler Houston
OF Ricky Ledee
OF Jason Michaels?
OF Eric Valent?

Pratt had a career year, hitting .311/.449/.500, with an OPS about 200 points above his career averages. That won't happen again, but there are worse backup catchers. Houston was a decent pickup. Nothing special, but not too pricey at ~$1.5 mil, and easy enough to flip to a contender for a prospect if they're out of it in July (they shouldn't be). Perez is placido polanco without the paying time. Ledee isn't going to amount to anything, despite the smooth swing. Woulda happened by now, you'd think. Michaels and Valent both came out of the Phillies' farm system, and I don't know if it's fair to expect very much out of them this year, other than to nobly ride the pine, and occasionally pinch run or replace somebody in the outfield for defense. Based on their minor league numbers, they both seem to have doubles power and mediocre plate discipline, so don't get your hopes up.

Now, what about the Starting Pitching?

Kevin Millwood
Randy Wolf
Vicente Padilla
Brett Myers
Brandon Duckworth

Millwood, as I've previously pointed out, is as good or better a bet than Bartolo Colon to be an ace in 2003, and was probably better than even Maddux or Glavine last year. Randy Wolf was also one of the better pitchers in the NL last year, despite not having been heralded as such, now two years removed from the watchful eye of Terry 'The Tyrant' Francona, who regularly left him in for 120+ pitches whether it was necessary or not (hint: it never is). His ERA (8th in the NL) is betrayed by a so-so 11-9 record, owed largely to bullpen ineffectiveness and lousy run support. Vicente Padilla was a surprise All-Star last year, though he faded somewhat in the second half. Look at the splits:

Vicente Padilla  ERA  W  L   IP   H   ER HR HR/9IP BB  BB/9IP  SO  SO/9IP  AVG

Pre All-Star 3.05 10 5 121 108 41 7 0.52 33 2.45 85 6.32 .239
Post All-Star 3.60 4 6 85 90 34 9 0.95 20 2.12 43 4.55 .274

Was he terrible in the second half? No, not by any measure. But was he worse? Absolutely: Hits, Homers and ERA went up, Strikeouts went down. Was it because of overuse, having never thrown more than 143 innings in a season before? Well, he wasn't abused, by BaseballProspectus PAP^3 standards, only throwing over 120 pitches once all year. Besides, the numbers he put up in the second half were only 'bad' in comparison to how 'good' he was in the first half: Andy Pettitte and Tom Glavine have been succeeding for years without numbers much more impressive than those, but he'd be better served to work on getting that strikeout rate back up, at least close to what it was. He'll probably end up somewhere between the two over the course of the year, maybe regressing to the mean a little from last year, but still a plus #3 starter, easily.

That gives them four guys who pitched at least 200 innings last season with better than league-average ERAs. Take a look at Brett Myers' combined numbers from 2002, but be warned, Kids, don't try adding stats from different leagues like this at home:

Brandon Duckworth GS W L CG IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA
CityofBrotherlyBOOO! 12 4 5 1 72 73 34 11 29 34 1.42 4.25
Scranton/WB (AAA) 19 9 6 4 128 121 51 9 20 97 1.10 3.59
Total 31 13 11 5 200 194 85 20 49 131 1.22 3.83

Myers will have to get his strikeout rate back up to have any long-term success, but he's succeeded everywhere he's gone so far, so that should happen. Personally, I think that Brandon Duckworth could really break out this year as well. He strikes out batters, he's just had trouble with walks and homers, which is a lot like saying that an aspiring Olympic hurdler only has touble "running and jumping", but they're things that a little luck could change. Duckworth is one of those guys the mercenaries over at BaseballProspectus say is "one walk per 9 innings away" from being pretty good. Unfortunately, he's also about one HR/9IP away, but he could break out this year. Mark my words!

Who's manning the Bullpen?

Terry Adams RHP
Dan Plesac LHP
Turk Wendell RHP
Rheal Cormier LHP
Carlos Silva?
Joe Roa?
Mike Fyhrie?
Tug McGraw?

Yuk. First of all, the Phillies ought to be docked three wins or three million dollars just for offering Terry Adams salary arbitration. He's a replaceable swingman, and he's gonna reel in that much for his negligible contibutions to the team anyway, so they might as well just pay the fine and let him go. Someone in Scranton can fill his role for less than a tenth of that. Wendell's coming off arm surgery (I forget if it's elbow or rotator cuff, not that it matters much) and so he's a question mark at best for 2003. Plesac and Cormier are both on the wrong side of 35 (Plesac was born on the wrong side of the Cuban Missile Crisis), and are only still in the majors on the virtue of the fact that they both eat cereal with their left hand. And a spoon, I expect. Carlos Silva and Joe Roa and anyone else who might get to argue over the music playing on the bullpen radio is also a curiosity, as we don't really know how young hot-shot unknowns (like Silva) or older journeymen unknowns (like Roa) will fare the year after making a breakthrough like both of them did. I don't know that this will be the worst bullpen in the majors, but I'm venturing a guess that they'll be mediocre at best.

And speaking of mediocrity...


Joe Table

Jose Mesa has been the Phillies closer for the last two seasons, and has surprised just about everybody in the process by not sucking for two straight years. Here's Mesa's record as a relief pitcher since being sent to the bullpen full time in 1994: (This one's for you, Mike.)

1994 7 5 51 2 8 4 71.43% 73.0 71 1.33 31 3 .370 26 63 7.77 3.82 123 ---
1995 3 0 62 46 0 2 95.83% 64.0 49 1.03 8 3 .422 17 58 8.16 1.12 411 288
1996 2 7 69 39 0 5 88.64% 72.1 69 1.34 30 6 .747 28 64 7.96 3.73 131 280
1997 4 4 66 16 9 5 83.33% 82.1 83 1.35 22 7 .765 28 69 7.54 2.40 196 65
1998 8 7 76 1 13 3 82.35% 84.2 91 1.52 43 8 .850 38 63 6.70 4.57 99 97
1999 3 6 68 33 1 5 87.18% 68.2 84 1.81 38 11 1.44 40 42 5.50 4.98 101 2
2000 4 6 66 1 11 2 85.71% 80.2 89 1.61 48 11 1.23 41 84 9.37 5.36 85 16
2001 3 3 71 42 1 4 91.49% 69.1 65 1.23 18 4 .519 20 59 7.66 2.34 183 98
2002 4 6 74 45 0 9 83.33% 75.2 65 1.37 25 5 .595 39 64 7.61 2.97 127 56
Avg. 4 5 67 25 5 4 87.30% 74.5 74 1.41 29 6 .778 31 63 7.60 3.53 157 113

A few things need some 'splainin':
- SVH% is Save-Hold Percentage: (saves+holds)/(saves+holds+blown saves). I think it's a better representation of a pitcher's effectiveness than SV% as it takes into account that a pitcher asked to get a hold can get a blown save but cannot get a save.
- ERA+ is the ratio of the pitchers park adjusted ERA to that of the league, according to BaseballReference.com, where 100 would be average. Above 100 is good, below 100 is very much bad.
- DERA+ is the absolute value of the change (delta) in ERA+ from the previous year.
- Some of the numbers in the Avg. row are rounded for the sake of space. Let's not kid ourselves about the precision we use in this type of analysis.

Anyway, what does this tell us? Well it tells us that it's likely that Mesa will save somewhere between one and forty-six games, have an ERA between 1.12 and 5.36....in other words, not much. But why? Why can't we look at Mesa's career numbers and pick up a trend to project what he might do next season? Answer: Because he's a flake! I mean, not that he throws a fit when someone mistakenly includes green M&Ms in his candy dish or that he wears women's clothing on off-days. (At least I don't think so.) I mean he hasn't had more than two consecutive similar seasons since he's been relieving full-time. The average difference in his DERA+ is 113, meaning that on average, his ERA ratio may go up or down by over 100% of what it was last year. That's flaky. Now admittedly, this average is weighted considerably by his stellar 1995 season, in which that ratio was 411, but even if we remove that number, it's still about 55, meaning that his ERA ratio could change (in either direction) by about 55% of its previous value in the span of one season. I must also admit that I did not perform this calculation for anyone else, so a number like that might actually be normal, but I doubt it. It seems to me that Joe Table has been particularly flaky, compared to other top-notch relief pitchers, in the last eight years, and despite relative consistency in the last two seasons, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to hafta put all my huevos in his basket.

In all, it seems to me that Joe Table and his band of merry (if not consistent) relievers offer little more staying power than Questionmark and the Mysterians. Clearly this is the weakest facet of the team, but it is a facet that may be reasonably polished with some development of young arms or pickup of some better, experienced ones. Or, this aspect of the team could be largely ignored and avoided, if the hitters and starting pitchers mostly live up to expectations. That's the nice thing about this team: almost no one really has to have a breakout, career year, (though Pat Burrell may be poised to do so given that he's going to be 26 this season, heading into the hitter's traditional prime) for the Phillies to contend. Most of the hitters and starting pitchers just have to keep from falling on their respective faces, (see: 2002 Mets). And if they can do that, this will be a heck of a team.

In summary, a few things to look for in the Phillies' 2003 season:

- Brandon Duckworth to break out, striking out batters as he always has, but with a little more luck on balls in play, and winning phourteen games in a surprise season. Ditto Brett Myers.

- Placido Polanco to lose phavor in Philly phast if he's phorced to play second base everyday and the Phans realize that he doesn't really hit any better than Marlon Anderson did.

- Joe Table to completely phall apart, blowing phour or phive saves in April and losing his job to someone like...um...like uh...I'll get back to you.

- The bullpen to expose itself ("Please, sir, there are ladies present!") as the major chink in the Phillies' collective armor. If they don't make it to October, this is the first place to look for culprits. Even if they do make it, they will likely be ousted by a team with more depth.

- The 2003 Philadelphia Phillies to play meaningful, playoff baseball in October! If nothing else, on the strength of the fact that neither the Braves nor the Mets look as though they're in any shape to take the NL East in the Phillies' stead. But it's a step in the right direction.

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