16 June 2003

Breaking News...Orioles Discover New Offensive Philosophy: Score Runs

Peter Gammons column today on ESPN.com highlights, among other things, the way the Baltimore Orioles' offensive philosophy has changed for the better, and has actually worked out well. Or at least Gammons seems to think it has. He says...

Now led by Melvin Mora, who (Orioles' VP Mike) Flanagan calls "the poster boy for what we're trying to do (.338 OBP last year, .465 this season)," the Orioles are on a pace to score 170 more runs than last year, and they've done it without adding any significant offensive talent in the offseason. "The whole team has bought into it," said Flanagan, "and those who didn't (i.e. Gary Matthews Jr.) are out of here."

Umm, maybe I'm missing something, but isn't Melvin Mora the poster boy for what every major league team is trying to do? If you polled 30 GMs and asked all of them whether or not they'd like a player who can play five different defensive positions and hit .360 with patience and power, I doubt that any of them would have to think about it over lunch. Probably only Allard Baird would respond with, "No, we'll take the weak hitting middle infielder who gets hurt all the time."

The Orioles saying that Melvin Mora is the perfect example of what your team is trying to do is like a homeless guy saying that winning the lottery is the perfect example of what he's trying to do. Like I mentioned the other day, if you've got a 31-year old with a career .262 EqA (read: mediocre) and he goes on a tear and hits like the second coming of Babe Ruth for a couple of months, you count your blessings and maybe you reward him with praise and/or a bonus, but you can't expect anyone to take you seriously when you parade him around and toot your own horn as though you knew he was gonna do that.

The irony, of course, is that they really haven't added any significant offensive talent since last season, and the statistical record shows that. But I'll get to that later. The other irony, if Gammons is touting the importance of on-base percentage, is that by all indications, Gary Matthews Jr. does get it: his career minor and major leageu records show him walking about once every seven at-bats. It's not Barry Bonds, but it's better than the league average, which is around every 10 or 11 at-bats. It was hits that Matthews Jr. had trouble getting (career .238 hitter in the majors).

Gammons also said:

Last year the Orioles' on-base percentage was .309, second worst in the league. This year, it's .344, fifth best in the AL. "We were looking to add 100 runs when we made our runs at Clifford Floyd, Pudge Rodriguez and players like that," said Flanagan. "We may have found those runs, in a large part because of a philosophy. Hopefully this is just the beginning, up and down the organization, as we try to bring back the Orioles."

This is true, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Look at how the Orioles did last year and this year, with and without Melvin Mora's contributions:

                   R     H    HR   BB  AB/BB    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS

2002 Orioles 667 1353 165 452 12.15 .246 .309 .403 .712
2002 O's no MM 581 1223 146 382 12.92 .248 .302 .403 .705
2003 Orioles* 844 1572 169 517 10.88 .279 .340 .429 .769
2003 O's no MM* 737 1398 145 433 11.89 .272 .328 .414 .742
Difference** +156 +175 -1 +51 -1.03 +.024 +.026 +.011 +.037

NOTES: The * means the projected numbers over 162 games for 2003. The ** means the difference for everyone on the Orioles who isn't Melvin Mora, both for 2003 and 2002.

Gammons was right about the numbers he quoted, but if you remove the flukey contribution of Melvin Mora from the equation, the rest of the Orioles have not improved nearly as much as Peter would hae you believe. Sure, the rest of the team has gained 26 points in OBP, but 24 of those are due to batting average, not walks, an indication that the Orioles are a lot luckier this year, not a lot more patient.

The rest of the Orioles are on a pace to score about 150 more runs than they did last year, which is a big jump, but there was really nowhere to go but up from that dismal team. They're taking about one more walk every three games as a team, which is a start but hardly the byproduct of an organizational philosophy. Just another statistical anomaly. Their increased run scoring is due more to a statistical return to the mean than it is to any true increase in talent or patience on the parts of Tony Batista, Marty Cordova, Jay Gibbons, Jerry Hairston, BJ Surhoff, or anyone else. They're just getting more hits, which means that they're pretty susceptible to a backslide later this year or next year. Just ask the Angels.

Hopefully this is just the beginning. Maybe next season the O's can bring in Eli Marerro and Doug Strange and Mark McLemore and Pete Rose Jr. and they'll all hit like Babe Ruth too. But I wouldn't bet on it.

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12 June 2003

Oswalt & Five Conspirators Avoid Hits
Six Arrested For Drunkenness on Grassy Knoll

Well, that was interesting. I got to listen to the first inning or two of the Yankees' first experience of being no-hit since the Eisenhower administration. I heard Roy Oswalt leave in the 2nd inning, and then spent the rest of the night playing cards with my wife, blissfully unaware that my favorite team was being embarassed on national television.

In truth, I'd have preferred to see the game, if only to say that I got to weatch live one of the more interesting no-hitters in major league history. I have historically missed most of the Yankees' no-hitters in my lifetime, many of them haviong taken place while I was away at college in Pennsylvania, unable to watch the games live due to broadcast restrictions. I think I may have gotten to see Gooden's no-hitter in 1996 and Cone's perfect game (the only other Interleague no-hitter) in 1999, but I know I missed Wells' Perfecto, Jim Abbott's no-no and Andy Hawkins' 4-0 loss in a no hitter against the ChiSox (4-0?!?). Don't mind so much that I missed that last one.

Lee Sinins of the extremely useful Around the Majors reports that Hoyt Wilhelm's no-no against the Yanks in 1958 was not the last no-hitter against them, just the last 9-inning no-no. Melido Perez no hit the Yanks for six innings less than two weeks after Hawkins' debacle, in a rain-shortened complete game. Interestingly, Hawkins was the losing pitcher in that game too. I wonder if that's a record, to be on the losing end of two no-hitters in the same month?

Overall, in terms of no-hitters, Yankee fans have been pretty fortunate. To have watcher your guys pitch no fewer than five no hitters in the last 15 years, including two perfect games, is pretty impressive. To have avoided being no-hit (over 9 innings) for 45 years (almost as long as Jesse Orosco's been pitching!) is also pretty impressive.

Rob Neyer, playing the consummate Thursday Morning Manager, says that we shouldn't be surprised that the Yankees were no-hit, and maybe he's right. Rob also said that we shouldn't be surprised that Kevin Millwood pitched a no-hitter either. Smart guy, that Neyer.

On the other hand (where, in case you haven't heard, I have five fingers...) the disturbing trends are there, not to indicate that the Yankees will get no hit again any time soon, necessarily, but that they might need to do some work to make sure they actually win some games. Bill Chuck of BillyBall.com points out that the Yanks are only 16-24 since April 27, a decidedly less-that-stellar record, and the Red Sox now control 1st place in the AL East by a slim margin. Granted, it is only June, and the Red Sox usually wait until August to wilt, but with Bernie Williams and Nick Johnson missing time due to injuries and Derek Jeter not yet returning to form after his own injury, the Yanks need help they can't get from Rueben Sierra.

Thankfully, Giambi and Matsui seemed to have started hitting again lately. Godzooky Godzilla was 12-for-17 with two homers in the last five games before last night's embarassment. And Giambi was 15-for-42 with 6 homers since May 27, so I guess he can see again. Hopefully the Yanks' will get Johnson and Williams back healthy soon, and Weaver and Pettitte will start pitching like they're expected to, or the Bronx Bombers will have a long summer in front of them.

And an even longer winter.

Postscript: In a classic move of capitalizing on their rival's bad press, the Mets will announce the firing of GM Steve Phillips this afternoon, according to Lee Sinins. I guess they're hoping that all the NY beatwriters will still be thinking of ways to sing lamentations on behalf of the hitless Yankees and won't notice.

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11 June 2003

Say It Ain't Sosa Short a Suspension!

Brief update: I'm wearing boxer-breifs.

Also, Sammy Sosa's suspension for CorkGate was reduced from 8 to 7 games, as everyone kinda expected. I maintain that Sammy Sosa is either a fool or a liar. If he expects anyone to believe that he would own a corked bat, bring it to the ballpark and put it in the batrack with his game bats without clearly labeling it


then he's an idiot, for not doing so. Either that, or he knew he was using a corked bat, and is therefore lying when he tells us that it was a mistake. Either way, there's no evidence to suggest that the rest of his career has been anything but legit, Rick Reilly's steroids questions aside, so let's just allow the man to serve his suspension and move on to something else, shall we?

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Let me introduce you to two players...sort of. Player M and Player G. Or should I say Players Jeckyl and Players Hyde.

MB 162 490 69 122 27 12 55 51 98 .249 .334 .388 .722
MA 162 585 130 213 41 29 89 99 108 .364 .466 .592 1.058
GB 162 541 63 141 27 14 71 25 100 .260 .305 .398 .702
GA 162 493 79 165 26 36 102 23 93 .336 .371 .624 .995

MB is player M Before the start of this year, his projected average stats per 162 games. MA is player M after the start of the 2003 season, again, his projected average stats per 162 games. Ditto For player G, before and after 2003. Player M is 31, and plays several defensive positions on a lousy team going nowhere anytime soon. Player G is only 27, plays the outfield adequately, and is on a mediocre team in a tough division.

Now it's pretty obvious that the After versions of these two guys is much better than the Before's, right? But here's the real quandary: The Before versions are based on 1500-2000 plate appearances over the last several years, while the After versions are based on a paltry 150-200 plate appearances this year. Now it's not a question of which is better (Before or After) but "How long will After stick around until Before returns to right the ship toward the Straight of Mediocrity"? In a fantasy league, just like in the stock market, you try to sell high, but it doesn't always work out that way in reality.

By now you may (or may not) realize that player M is the Orioles super-utility man, Melvin Mora, and that Player G is the Reds' Jose Guillen. Sean McAdam has a nice little puff piece about Mora on ESPN, and that's OK. If you can't write something nice about the guy who's leading the majors in batting average, what can you write? But for some reason, McAdam writes,

But the Orioles don't anticipate moving Mora. Rather, as the Orioles dig out from five consecutive losing seasons and approach contender status, Mora becomes that much more valuable.

This is a problem. As great as it is to have a guy hitting .364 on your team and to be able to play him anywhere you need, it's also necessary to recognize taht a 31-year old utilityman with a career .249 batting average doesn't suddenly learn how to hit, and isn't likely to keep this pace up for the rest of the season, much less over the next few years of the Orioles' "rebuilding process"...

BUILDER ANGELOS: "Hey, this building is old and crummy. Let's knock it down and build a new one...No, wait! Let's just trade it for another old, crummy building instead!"

CONTRACTOR THRIFT: "Yes, sir! But can I at least try to sell that nice, cast-iron antique tub on the second floor while they're still en vogue? We might get something for it..."

BUILDER ANGELOS: "Heck, no! We need that tub to make the place at least look a little nicer while we shop it around!"


The other player, as I mentioned, is Jose Guillen, who at age 27, is at least supposed to be having a career year, and it probably will be, but not likely at the pace he's currently showing. A couple of weeks ago, Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus gave Reds field manager Bob Boone a hard time for benching Adam Dunn, and I tend to side with Prospectus on the issue, as you might expect. Their suggestion is that if someone has to be benched, it ought to be Sean Casey, so that Dunn can play first base. (Austin Kearns and Ken Griffey have not given any real reasons to get benched consistently, so it's gotta be someone else.)

Casey is, as they say in France, a "professional hitter" which means that he's a firstbaseman who hits like a decent middle infielder. His career .283 EqA is just average for a firstbaseman, and this year's .260 is noticeably below average. However, there are a few GM's and GM's assistants around who don't know to look much past the .301 career batting average he also sports, but we won't mention any names. Besides Allaird Baird and Cam Bonifay and Chuck LaMar and probably a half dozen others.

So, as is typically the case in such situations, the fault in the organization lies not on the field (Dunn striking out too much) or even on the Manager (Boone benching the wrong guy) but on the front office. Reds GM Jim Bowden has pulled off a few decent trades in his time, and he ought to be shopping Jose Guillen, because

A) a guy with such a lousy history and lousy plate discipline never hits .336 for long, and

2) they need pitching!!!

I mean, have you seen who they're trotting out there? Their starting pitchers are 12-27 with a 6.67 ERA! None of them has a winning record, and only two of them have more than two wins (Danny Graves, 3-5, 5.31 ERA and Paul Wilson 4-4, 4.48 ERA) this season. I know that there are teams out there who need some offensive help, and would probably love to pick up a guy batting .336 with 11 homers before the middle of June. Heck, Arizona gave up Byun-Hyun Kim for a hitter who's less than half as good as Guillen looks. But the danger, as former White Sox GM Bill Veeck used to say, is holding onto a guy too long, rather than letting him go too soon.

The Reds and Orioles would do well to recognize how overvalued their commodities are in Guillen and Mora, and get something for them while they're hot.

But they won't.

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04 June 2003

Slammin' Cork-Crammin' Sammy

I had planned to spend my lunch hour with a little writeup about the Sammy Sosa Situation, but Christian Ruzich has beaten me to it, having made all the points I would liked to have made. Go check out what the Cub Reporter has to say, and try not to let the long excerpt from The Physics of Baseball scare you off. It's not that hard to understand. If you want some more depth, here's another professor's analysis of how a baseball bat works and can be modified.

Anyway, I guess that the reason everyone's making such a big stink out of this is that there exists a very real possibility, one we can never actually verify, that some of Sammy Sosa's 505 (and counting...) career home runs were accomplished with a corked or otherwise modified bat. And do you know what that means to his legacy?


Nothing is likely to happen to Sosa or his legacy as a result of this. While Sosa is the biggest name and the most likely Hall-of-Famer to ever be caught outright with a doctored bat, players have generally faced consequences for such offenses not much worse than being forced to watch reruns of The Magic Hour. Or the Nose-in-the-Book Penalty. (Not the nose-in-the-book-penalty!!) And nobody remembers primarily that Norm Cash or Mike Scott or Greg Nettles or someone else were cheaters. They remember that these guys were, at least for a little while, pretty darn good players, and a lot of fun to watch. Perhaps as a footnote in their careers, somebody occasionally mentions sandpaper or pine tar or Super-Bounce Balls, but nobody goes right to that in a discussion of such players.

People have been found to have doctored bats, or doctored balls, somewhat regularly over the years, and the penalty has generally been the same: When caught, the player and offending piece(s) of equipment are ejected, and the player is usually suspended 7-10 games and maybe fined. That's it. And these pansy-ass penalties often took place in eras when the players union either didn't exist or hadn't yet taken on the demeanor of a prissy, suburban mother defending her spoiled son who "just couldn't have done such a thing, my Lordy..." In this day and age I'll be surprised if they do much mor ethan take away Sammy's personal masseuse for a few days. This, I assure you, will not be the most memorable moment in Sammy's career.

You've heard the names: Gaylord Perry, Whitey Ford, Don Sutton... all Hall-of-Famers, all have essentially admitted to or been exposed to have cheated at some point, and it hasn't diminished any of their legacies one bit. If anything, it seems to make a pitcher more 'colorful' or clever to have thought to scuff up a ball with his wedding ring, or the catcher's shin guard, or a small piece of sandpaper, or whatever Perry could fit in his pocket that particular afternoon. In retrospect, we get nostalgic about such occurrences, with an "Aw, schucks..." and imagine giving a noogy to said offender like you would your kid brother when you found out that the only way he beat you at Go-Fish was by having your sister tellhim what cards you had behind your back. Perhaps the fact that they were so good without cheating (we think...) encourages us to lend them a little slack. It's Tim Leary eating a piece of sandpaper or Wilton Guerrero scrambling to reclaim the pieces of a shattered, corked bat that we remember...and rember to mock. They seem so pathetic. But Whitey and Gaylord? Cheating made them interesting. Rob Neyer concurs.

But for some reason, one I've not yet placed, we get really upset when Norm Cash or Greg Nettles or Albert Belle gets caught with a doctored bat. We think it cheapens there accomplishments...and maybe it does. But given the facts that physics has yet to show that doctoring a bat can do anything more than increase the chances that a bat will break and embarrass its owner, while scuffing/doctoring baseballs can even make Brian-Freaking-Moehler look like Sandy Koufax for three or four innings, maybe we should be more upset about the pitchers and less by cheating hitters. Of course, if you have to cheat to beat the Devil Rays, I have no sympathy for you.

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30 May 2003


Alex belth, he of the contacts with important people, has a couple more interviews available for your reading pleasure over at Bronx Banter. One is with NY Times sportswriter Allen Barra, and the other is with Ethan Coen, who has written some fantastic movies like Raising Arizona, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski, as well as at least one terrible movie in The Man Who Wasn't There. Gives a damn funny interview too.

Also, I got this in my Inbox yesterday, and I suspect that Mr. McLean wouldn't mind if I posted it here. Any thoughts?

Dear Commissioner Selig and Bob Watson,

I've long admired Curt Shilling as a stand-up guy, but I hope he is disciplined by MLB for destroying QuesTec's umpire/strike zone analysis equipment. For the good of the game, this discipline should certainly exceed the cost of the equipment.

I'm a baseball guy, my son is a current collegiate pitcher, and for years it has been obvious to me that the existing strikes zones are not reliable, but instead liberally-customized interpretations. Most of my adult life, the in-game MLB strike zone has been a distortion compared to the MLB rule book. It was too wide, too short and for whatever reason, most MLB umpires felt compelled to have their "own zones".

There is no room for lose interpretation here. Rewarding pitchers for hitting out-of-the-strike-zone spots that are physically impossible to reach is unfair. It is wrong that "established pitchers" should get three fists on the outside corners. If, as the rules state, Home Plate is: Five-sided, 17 inches by 8 1/2 inches by 8 1/2 inches by 12 inches by 12 inches, cut to a point at rear, there are no exceptions. If MLB wants a functionally wider zone, to change the offensive/defensive balance, then make the wider zone official.

Watching my team (The Royals) play home games without QuesTec review, I observe extreme strike zone changes during nearly every series. Watching certain TV games, where the more consistent zones are higher-than-wide, its obvious when the QuesTec review system is already in place. There will always be real borderline calls, but just getting close to the strike zone is not a strike!
Of course there will be some rough spots. I'm sure Schilling, Smoltz, et al will continue to protest, because they have clearly benefited from the wide and short zone. Simply put, the rules are the rules. The strike zone should be a standard size, rather than changed daily like a golf course pin position.

Every regular Joe, has some form of employment performance review. To be effective, these reviews should be as impartial and objective as possible. Computer technology is a natural ally in this effort. We already trust computer systems with such critical life issues as bank accounts, medical analysis, air traffic control and national defense. We can certainly trust hardware and software as a component of a MLB umpire's performance review.

Please, don't be bullied by any person or group, especially those driven by selfish self-interests.
Do the right thing. Universally deploy the QuesTec system ASAP. Ten years from now the game will be better for it.


Anthony Mark McLean

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29 May 2003

Morgan to the Rescue...

Baseball is such a great game because as soon as you think you have it figured out, it throws you a curve.

Baseball writing is such a great gig because as soon as you're convinced that you'll never have anything to write about again, Joe Morgan rattles off a column that begs to be shredded. Oh goody.

Joe: One month into the season, it looked like the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants were the class of their respective leagues. But as Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over till it's over." Baseball's unpredictable nature is why I never predict a World Series winner at the beginning of a season. Now it appears that the Atlanta Braves -- with baseball's best record at 35-17 -- are head and shoulders above everyone else. We'll have to see if that lasts.

I gotta hand Joe this, sorta. He didn't actually pick any winners, just teams he thought would be in the mix, and even that was pretty funny at times. Depending on your bent, this was either wise if him or wishy-washy and non-committal. You pick.

Joe: Over the long haul, those ups and downs even out, which means the best team usually finishes first in the end. The Kansas City Royals started 16-3 and looked like one of the best teams in baseball. But you're never as good as you look when you're playing well, and you're never as bad as you look when you're playing poorly.

Well, actually, you didn't have to be psychic to tell that the Royals weren't going to keep that pace up. That great record, built on beating AL-Central powerhouses like Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland, was pretty obviously a mirage even then.

It didn't require a mystic to determine that Mike MacDougal, who had all of 24 major league innings under his belt coming into 2003, wasn't going to finish the season with 77 saves and a 1.64 ERA, or that Joe Randa and Raul Ibanez weren't going to hit over .325 all year, and Brent Mayne sure-as-hell wasn't going to hit .378 all year. Runelvys Hernandez wasn't going to finish the season 34-0 with a 1.10 ERA. Albie Lopez wasn't gonna finish the year 26-0 in relief with a 2.30 ERA.
Sorry, Joe, but even at 16-3, the Royals looked like a fluke.

Joe: The formula for MLB success is simple: The best team that plays most consistently will win over the long haul. Consistent, quality play is rewarded.

Oh CRAP!! And I've been measuring baseball teams by Average Road Attendance on Odd-Numbered Sundays all these years! This changes everything!

Joe: The Giants roared to a 15-2 start, and all the so-called experts in the Bay Area had given them the NL West. The Los Angeles Dodgers were playing poorly and the Arizona Diamondbacks were off to a slow start, and the Bay Area media said they wouldn't be able to challenge the Giants. Well, on May 9 the Giants were 25-9. Since then, they've gone 6-11 while the Dodgers ran off 10 straight wins. The Giants (31-20) now lead L.A. (30-21) by just one game.

Yeah, but LA is still last in the NL in Run Scoring, and are gonna have a hard time keeping that team ERA under 3.00 all season, which is what they're gonna hafta do to keep pace with the Giants if their hitting doesn' pick up.

Joe:The Yankees jumped out to an 18-3 start. On May 8, they were 25-9. Since then, they've gone 5-13, and now they're in second place in the AL East, trailing the Boston Red Sox by 1-1/2 games. In one of my ESPN.com chats earlier in the season, someone asked me if the Yankees would win 120 games. Because I've been in this game so long and realize there are ups and downs, I said, "No way." I don't think anyone will be asking that question anymore.

Of course they will! Just wait till next year when the Milwaukee Brewers start out 9-1, or the Braves start out 15-2, and some Brewers or Braves or other team's fan will undoubtedly ask you, like a kid that doesn't want to leave the amusement park, "Gee Wally, ya think we can keep this up all year?" It is the very nature of sports fans to hope against all reasonable logic until their team is mathematically eliminated from relevance. And even then, sometimes, it's tough to talk a guy down. I used to work with a guy who was convinced that the 2000 Phillies could still "surprise people" and contend for the Wild-Card, despite the facts that

A) There were 19 teams in front of them in the NL WIld Card race and
2) It was November when he said this.

Joe:I still believe the Yankees will win their division. But the Red Sox are a better team this season because they don't rely on Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez alone. Shea Hillenbrand, Trot Nixon and others make Boston's lineup more capable. And I've always felt that the bullpen-by-committee has promise, and it is holding its own.

Yep, the Red Sox are much better off now that they've got those new guys helping out Nomar and Manny. Of course, I guess the Red Sox offense is gonna go back in the tank now that they've traded Hillenbrand away, right?

It surprises me a little that Joe would be a fan of the Bullpen-by-Committee experiment, but it astounds me that he can look at the Red Sox bullpen's 5.38 ERA and say with a straight face that the experiment is "holding its own."

Joe:I expect the Giants and the Dodgers to have a close pennant race, but don't count the Diamondbacks out yet -- especially if Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson get on a roll. I viewed L.A. as the favorite heading into the season, followed by San Francisco and Arizona.

I think the Diamondbacks would be happy if the Big Unit could just get on a treadmill, much less a roll.

Joe:In baseball, the long haul counts. Short bursts, which sometimes are related to favorable or unfavorable matchups, become less important. And the beauty of baseball is that you can't ever predict what's going to happen. Just ask the Anaheim Angels.

Would those be the same Angels that you kept saying everyone was going to try to emulate this year? Playing scrappy, NL-style little-ball, taking the extra base, getting clutch hits, whatever happened to that? Doesn't seem like it's working so well for them this year.

Joe: I asked Ichiro about the difference between playing in Japan and here in America, and he told me that it had nothing to do with baseball. It was a question of how comfortable he was 24 hours a day, not just how comfortable he was at the ballpark. The cultural change was the biggest adjustment he had to make. There's a marked difference between how he lived in Japan -- from cuisine to cultural customs -- and how he lives here in Seattle. It's the same with Latin players who come to play in the major leagues. We live so differently here in the United States than people do in many other countries.

Yep, it turns out that baseballs on both sides of the Pacific Ocean are round and white with red seams. Go figure.

Oh, and it's different from, not different than. Than is comparative (more than, less than, uglier than, etc.), while from is contrasting (varying from, straying from, changing from, etc.) I actually had a Religion professor at Lehigh who would take off points for that. Of course, he also came to class barefoot sometimes too, so...

Joe:Ichiro's command of the English language is also much better than people realize. When he walked in, I was prepared to use the Japanese greeting "konnichiwa" -- which means "hello" or "good afternoon" -- because we were meeting in the afternoon. But he walked in and said, "Hey Joe, how are you doing?"

I wonder if Ichiro gets annoyed with people making attempts to speak to him in Japanese with phrases they learned from watching Shogun, but actually butchering some word or phrase in his native language. (I had a friend who was working at a Christian camp for high school students with me in 1993, and spent significant portions of the summer telling people that his stomach was a watermellon when he meant to say that he was hungry. Leo also spent half an hour explaining to one of the japanese students, on a trip back from the beach, that while swimming, a "cat" went up his nose. And by "cat" he meant "water".) I would get annoyed about that. But maybe Ichiro's nicer than I am.

Joe:What's the secret to Jamie Moyer's success? This year, the Mariners starter is 7-2 with a 3.66 ERA. (BoS note: now 8-2, 3.55) Since coming to Seattle via a trade with Boston in mid-1996, Moyer is 105-50. In all but one of those seasons, he's had a sub-4.00 ERA. My theory has always been that left-handers who are able to throw strikes and change speeds can win in the major leagues -- even if they can't throw hard. If Jamie Moyer were right-handed, he wouldn't be nearly as successful.I can't see a right-hander throwing in the low-to-mid 80s (like Moyer) and having the same success. For instance, Greg Maddux is not a power pitcher at all, relying on his control and location. But he throws harder than Moyer (upper 80s to low 90s). Hitters don't need to look for Moyer's fastball, but Maddux can keep them honest. I don't believe a right-hander can win the way Moyer wins.

True, Jamie Moyer is that rarest of birds: The Pitcher Who Gets Better As He Approaches 40. There aren't many of them (Randy Johnson, Warren Spahn) but he's one. But to say that a righty can't have success because he doesn't throw hard? C'mon, Joe, if a guy gets outs, he gets outs. John Burkett, Bob Tewksbury, Mark "Same-Up" Portugal and a boatload of other guys would argue with you vehemently about that contention.

Chat Reminder: I'll answer your questions in an ESPN.com chat Friday at 10:45 a.m. ET.

Reminder from Boy of Summer: Go check out Mike Carminati's send up of last week's Joe Morgan Chat session, a cheesy 1970's themed post in which he lists the most screwed up shows of the seventies and somehow omits The Magic Garden. Tisk, tisk. But the rest of it is pretty good.

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22 May 2003

Rocket Redux

On the cusp of his 300th career win, Roger Clemens evidently sat down with the New York Times for an interview, which ran in Sunday's papers, regarding his career and the prospect of his entering the Hall of Fame as a New York Yankee. Clemens was quoted as saying,

"It's pretty simple, the way I look at it. I became a Hall of Famer here [NY], with my numbers here and what I've done here, and hopefully 300 will be another big part of that. When Duquette said that I was done, if I'd have taken his advice and went home, I wouldn't have been a Hall of Famer. So it's a no-brainer. It's definitely pretty easy. Reggie spent five years here, and this will be five for me."

He's referring to Reggie Jackson, who bears the similarities to Clemens of having played only 5 seasons of his 20+ year H-O-F career with the Yankees, and being responsible for a LOT of strikeouts. Of course, Reggie was 'the staraw that stirs the drink' but technically only one of his five seasons in Yankee pinstripes ranks among his best five seasons of his career: 1980, when he hit .300 for the only time in his career and led the AL with 41 homers, but finished 2nd in the MVP voting to George Brett, who happened to hit .390 that year. BBWAA always did like batting average. Reggie probably should have gone into the Hall in an Oakland A's cap, too, but then they never ask me for advice.

Clemens' contention that he "became a Hall of Famer here" is almost laughable. HA! Well, I guess it is laughable. Take a look:
Yrs  TM   GS    CG  CG%  SHO   IP     IP/GS  BB/9    SO   K/9   W    L   W/Yr   W%   ERA  *ERA+

13   BOS  382  100  26.2  38  2776.00  7.27  2.78  2590   8.4  192  111  14.8  63.4  3.06   151

 2   TOR   67   14  20.9   6   498.67  7.44  2.82   563  10.2   41   13  20.5  75.9  2.33   203

 5   NYY  133    2   1.5   1   851.00  6.39  3.47   816   8.6   65   29  13.0  69.1  3.94   119

20   ---  582  116  19.9  45  4125.67  7.09  2.92  3969   8.7  298  153  14.9  66.1  3.15   142

*NOTE: *ERA+ is park adjusted, relative ERA. That 142 means that Clemens' career ERA is 42% better than the park adjusted league averages for that span of time.

When the Rocket blew out of Beantown after 1996, he had 192 career wins, 2500+ innings, 2500+ strikeouts, had won more than 60% of his decisions, and had an MVP and three Cy Young Awards to boot. He had led the league in shutouts and adjusted ERA five times each, in ERA four times, in strikeouts three times (including 1996, after which then- Boston GM Dan Duquette said that he was in 'the twilight of his career'), in Wins and Complete Games twice each, and in starts, innings, and winning percentage once each.

Want to know how many other pitchers had the wins/innings/strikeouts/winning percentage stats like that as of 1996?

Five, all Hall of Famers: Bob Feller, Christy Matthewson, Tim Keefe, Tom Seaver, and Cy-Freaking-Young. [Currently Randy Johnson, David Cone and Greg Maddux also meet those statistical criteria, and only Cone has a marginal case for Cooperstown. The other two are locks.] In case you've never heard of him, Tim Keefe was a 19th cantury pitcher who won 342 career games over 14 seasons with five different teams. I hear that girl Christy was pretty good too.

Want to know how many other pitchers had garnered at least three Cy Young Awards at the time?

Five, four current, and one future, Hall of Famers: Steve Carlton (4), Greg Maddux (4) Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, and Sandy-Freakin-Koufax. (Big Unit and Pedro Martinez meet these criteria now as well, and will also be in Cooperstown when their time comes.) Of course Clemens has added three more of these to his display case in the den, but only one of them came with the Yankees.

So it's ridiculous to think that he somehow had not earned his ticket to Cooperstown on the merits of his first 13 years in the Majors. Maybe Clemens meant that he just hadn't pitched enough? 13 years was plenty of time for Amos Rusie, Dizzy Dean, Sandy Koufax, John Clarkson, Bob Lemon, and others, but now the baseball writers are gonna start counting "only 13 years" as a mark against you? No.

I don't think so, but then we've already established that my opinion doesn't count for much. But let's say that this is what Roger believes. What happens? He pitches two more years as a (yuk) Toronto Blue Jay, with those bright blue uniforms and fluorescent lights in the SkyDome and that fluorescent green turf as a backdrop. Not exactly the classic, nostalgic baseball of lore, but hey, he becomes the first right-hander to win pitching's triple crown (Wins, ERA and Strikeouts) in like fifty years, and he wins two more Cy Young Awards.

Now with fifteen years of pitching, 233 Wins, six ERA titles, five Strikeout titles, and a then-record five Cy Young Awards, Clemens has definitely paid his dues. There could be no arguing about his Cooperstown Credentials now. So by Clemens' own logic, if he didn't become a Hall of Famer in Boston, then he absolutely became one as a (fluorescent) Blue Jay. Right?

Except that

A) He only pitched two seasons there, and

2) The uniform's kinda tacky. So no dice.

So now Rocket's gotta convince himself that the last five seasons of his career, the span in which he has the highest ERA, the highest walk rate, the lowest innings/start average, the fewest complete games, the fewest wins per season, and one lousy shutout, is what made him a bonafide Hall of Famer? Just because he was on a few teams that won the World Series and he amassed some career numbers that look nice but wouldn't have been possible if he hadn't been so awesome the first 15 years? Just doesn't make any sense.

On the other hand, if you attribute Clemens desire to go into the Hall as a Yankee, and his meandering logic to support said contention, to his grudge against the Red Sox for how he was treated, it all makes perfect sense.

Hey, maybe we can get Wade Boggs to go into the Hall as a Yankee too?

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14 May 2003

Catching Up...

I am pleased to announce the first Boy of Summer Book Review in nearly two months! Harvey Frommer's Rickey and Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseball's Color Barrier, has been re-released in paperback this month, and I had the pleasure toread an advanced copy. You can read my take on it here, or by clicking on the link to the left.

I'm hoping to publish an as-yet unconducted interview with Harvey Frommer next week. Stay tuned...

In the meantime, if you'd like to read another famous author's ideas about lotsa stuff, check out Alex Belth's interview with Rob Neyer over at Bronx Banter. Part I and Part II of the interview are both pretty cool reading.

As always, Mike Carminati has some weekly fun at Joe Morgan's expense. His Mothers' Day edition is here, and last week's is here. Mike's gotten pretty creative lately, adding graphics into the chat roundups, making them that much more fun to read. Didn't need them to mak it fun, but it's a nice touch.

And while, by his own admission, Christian Ruzich is not Mike Carminati, he does have some fun at Mike Kiley's expense on his Cub Reporter site, here. And while you're over there, check out his interview with the seemingly tireless Will Carroll, formerly of Under the Knife, currently of Baseball Prospectus, and perpetually in the inner circles of baseball injury news.

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13 May 2003

Other News...

Yankees SS Derek Jeter is expected to make his return from rehabbing a dislocated non-throwing shoulder, after missing six weeks. Jeter reportedly went 8-for-18 at AA Trenton during the rehab stint, according to the extremely useful Prospect Report.

Erick Almonte will reportedly be sent back to Columbus, having hit an unspectacular .272/.337/.373, which is roughly what Angel Berroa and David Eckstein have done this year. Not horrible, but not really helping. And his defense, by most reports, has been atrocious (Nine errors in 28 games). Can't say he'll be missed much. With more playing time, he'd have probably found the power he displayed in the minors, but probably would also have lost about 40 points in batting average. Now he'll likely do that for some other team. Suckers.


The Florida Marlins finally fired Jeff "Shut Up and Throw" Torborg and a boatload of his henchmen this weekend. Currently the Marlins have three starting pitchers on the DL, though you can hardly blame Torborg or former pitching coach Brad Arnsberg for breaking Mark Redman's thumb, or even for Josh Beckett's elbow sprain, as Beckett has rarely thrown more than 110 pitches in a major league start, and has never thrown 120.

However, I think that enough blame can be heaped on this dynamic duo for A.J. Burnett's injury to more than compensate for Beckett and Redman. The reckless abandon with which Torborg treated the 25-year old Burnett during the last year is perhaps only surpassed in creating bewilderment by the irrelevance of the games in which the atrocities occurred. The Marlins have not been a 'competitive" team in any real sense of the word, since 1997, and yet Torborg felt it necessary to repeatedly leave Burnett in far longer than was really necessary for such a young talent. And now Burnett's missing a year.

Baseball Prospectus has done quite a lot of research and found that excessive pitch counts can be directly connected to both long-term injury probability and short-term inneffectiveness. Rob Neyer has said that there isn't much evidence to support the notion that high pitch counts lead to such problems, but until I see someone de-bunk BP's research, I think I'd rather err on the side of caution, wouldn't you?

Ironically, the Marlins hired Jack McKeown, who has a reputation for riding relief pitchers too hard...

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12 May 2003

Palmiero Piloting His Path to Cooperstown

Rafael "Emerson, Lake &" Palmeiro hit career home run #500 on Sunday, in a 17-10 beat-down of the woeful Cleveland Indians. There is significant debate about whether or not Palmeiro is really a "Hall of Famer" and I expect that the debate will continue until (or even after) he is, in fact, given a plaque in Cooperstown.

And make no mistake: He will, someday, be presented with a plaque in Cooperstown. No player with 500 homeruns has yet been denied. In fact, only three eligible players with at least 400 homers have been denied so far: Andre Dawson (438), Dave Kingman (442) and Darrell Evans (414). The real question is "Should Raffy's 500 homers get him into the Hall of Fame without paying the price of admission?"

I don't know. I know he's got impressive career numbers: 500 homers, maybe 550-575 by the time he's done. Sixteen-hundred RBI, maybe 2000 RBI, before he retires. Maybe 3000 hits (he has 2666 now)? No question that numbers like that have always been an automatic Ticket to Immortality in the past, but if there's one thing we know always stays the same about the Game of Baseball, it's that it's always evolving.

Twenty-some years ago, there were twelve guys in the 500-Home Run Club. That number could be doubled by the end of this decade, since Fred McGriff, Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Gonzalez, Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas are all potentially within striking distance. And I hear that there's a shortstop in Texas who hits OK too. None of these guys is guaranteed, but there's a distinct chance that there could be quite a few more in this club within the next five years or so. So that makes:

1868-1980 (112 years): 12 guys
1981-2010 (30 years) : 12 guys

What's up with that? Well, offense, especially the home run, is cheaper now. With that said, it should be noted that Palmiero has been much more than just a slugger over the last 15 years. While he's rarely led his leagues in any offensive categories of consequence, he's been a model of consistency and durability, with an adjusted OPS (Onbase Plus Slugging %) better than the league average every year for a decade and a half. With the exception of 1989, when he was only about 4% better than average, he's been between 21% and 60% better than a league average hitter every season since 1987. That's pretty damn impressive.

His career adjusted OPS is 35% better than the league average (thanks, BaseballReference.com), which is better than Hall of Famer outfielders Dave Winfield, Al Kaline, and Carl Yastrzemski, to name a few, and HoF first basemen Tony Perez, Eddie Murray, Orlando Cepeda, George Sisler, and others. That +35% mark is like hitting .290 with 30 doubles, 40 homers and 100 walks in today's game. Except for sixteen years, and he's not even done yet! Plus he's played good defense and even stolen bases successfully, on occasion. Mark McGuire, eat your patellar tendon out.

So, back to our question:

"Should Raffy's 500 homers get him into the Hall of Fame without paying the price of admission?"

No. If he had hit .260 with so-so walk rates, piles of strikeouts, a sharp decline in playing ability and a reputation asa numbskull, the 500 homers might not be enough to make up for all of that. 462 homers definitely isn't, but that's a discussion for another time.

But his other career numbers probably merit the honor now:
500 homers
1600 RBI,
1400 Runs
2600 Hits

His in-season accomplishments, despite the general lack of having led the league much, are also significant:
Eight seasons with at least 95 runs scored
Nine seasons with at least 104 RBI
Six seasons batting .300+
Nine seasons getting on base at a .379 clip or better,
Three Gold Gloves as a firstbaseman (OK, two as a 1B and one as a DH)

In two or three years, when Palmeiro hangs up the spikes for good, and has 550 dingers, 1900 RBI, 1600 runs, maybe 3000 hits, and maybe 1500 walks under his belt, there will be no more debates. But he gets my vote now.

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07 May 2003

Stark's Ravings...

Jayson Stark churned out his weekly useless info column, and he details some of the inneptitude of the Tigers, which is kinda fun to look at, as long as you're not a Tiger. The comparisons with the 1962 Mets aren't really fair...to the Mets. In fact, calling this team 'bad' is almost an insult to bad teams. They may have to make up a new word to describe how horrendous the Tigers are, if they keep playing like this. Astonishingly, their pitching is not completely awful: The team's 4.53 ERA is 9th in the AL and 20th in the majors, better than a third of all the teams.

It's their offense that's really killed them: the entire team is hitting only .202 coming into tonight, and has scored fewer than three runs per game.

Stark makes a comparison with the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, which is also a fun team to look at, but he says that their record, "...an almost hilarious 20-134, thanks to kind of a tough finish (i.e., 1-40)." Actually, it's a bit more involved than that, and I'm not sure Jayson realizes it. This isn't the first time he's mentioned this Spiders team, and he's never really explained why they were so bad, so maybe I will, a little. Or maybe not: you can read where I explained it here: In a response to a previous Stark post. Only you should know that I was wrong: The Cleveland Owners were the ones who purchased the St. Louis franchise, not the other way around.

Stark also discusses Kevin Millwood's no hitter (a little late, dontcha think?), which I already did, so I won't get into that, except for:

Kevin Millwood and Jim Thome demonstrate 

the Phillies' new calisthenics program.

Cy Young vs. Cy Old

In a relatively unrelated note (F#)...

Last week's matchup of 2001 CYA winner Roger Clemens and 2002 CYA winner Barry Zito did not disappoint, providing a great pitchers' duel. I found it amusing that in the post game interviews, when asked what he thought of Zito, Yanks' Manager Joe Torre said, "He really gonna be something special when he grows up a little..."

Umm...excuse me? Isn't this the guy who just blanked your team for eight innings? Isn't this the guy whom the clueless sportswriters dubbed the best pitcher in the Al last season? What's left to grow up? The guy's pretty damn special now. Silly Joe.

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28 April 2003

Alou Has Totally Feliped Out

Kevin Millwood pitched a no-hitter yesterday at the Vet.

It was the first major league no-hitter since Derek Lowe did it exactly one year ago.

It was the first NL no-hitter since Bud "Not Enough for Scott Rolen" Smith did it in 2001.

It was the first Phillies' no-no since the Immortal Tommy Greene did it back in 1991, at Montreal.

It was the first Phils no-no at the Vet since the Immortal Terry Mulholland did it back in 1990.

It was the first Phillies no-hitter by a righty at the Vet EVER. Just in time too, since this is the Vet's swan-song season.

It was the first Phillies no-hitter by a righty at Philadelphia since Red Donahue did it....in 1898. That's right. It's been 105 years since Philadelphia Phillies fans got to see their own righty pitch a no-hitter at home. That 1898 team had four future Hall of Famers on it (Nap Lajoie, Ed Delahanty, Sam Thompson and Elmer Flick. I'm guessing that this one has considerably fewer.

It was the first no-hitter by a pitcher with two sets of double letters in his last name since Jim Abbott did it back in 1993.

We could go on and on (don't worry, we won't) about how special this is...everyone else has already belabored the point, so I'll leave most of that to others.

Otherwise, there are two things of note about this particular no-hitter:

1) The Phillies traded a backup catcher to get Millwood from the Braves, in a trade much decried as an unfortunate residue of the slime that is the new collective bargaining agreement, by both the baseball-following public and even moreso, by the Braves' GM.


B) Giants Manager Felipe Alou practically handed the game to Millwood and the Phillies.

Lemme ask you something: If you're playing a game, and aware that you not only standa good chance of losing, but of being totally embarassed in the process, what would you do? Well, if you're a competitive sort (and hey, if you're not, what the hell are you doing in major league baseball?) you'll want to give yourself the best chance to win. And if not to win, at least to avoid embarassing labels next to your name in the record books. Right?

Well, apparently not. Apparently Felipe Alou likes having his name associated with embarassing records. Faced with the opportunity to make pone last-ditch effort to break up said potentially embarassing no-hitter, Alou removed light-hitting infielder Pedro Feliz (YAY!) and pinch-hit for him with...

...lighter hitting infielder Neifi Perez?

Yep. Given the choice of using:

SS Neifi Perez (roughly a career .230 hitter away from Coors Field),
3B Edgardo Alfonzo (career .289/.365/.442 hitter, admittedly having a bad month),
C Benito Santiago (career .262/.306/.415 hitter with a sore elbow), and
OF Ruben Rivera (career .216 hitter, and besides, he might have tried to sell the game-ball to a memorabilia dealer),

Alou chose Perez. Why?

Maybe because Perez is the only one of the four with much baserunning speed? Nope, Rivera has had much more success as a basestealer (49 for 69) than Perez has (46 for 84), and is therefore probably faster. Also a lousy hitter, but faster. Figures that he'd be good at stealing.

Maybe because Perez is a switch "hitter" and the others are righties? Of course, being able to see the ball from the pitcher better only really matters if you know what to do with it once it reaches the plate. It would seem that this theory is at least possible, given that he did use lefty-hitting Marvin Benard to pinch hit for the pitcher, despite that Benard is only 2-for-20 this season, and kept the righties on the bench.

In spring training, Alou was quoted as saying that his biggest concern for the 2003 season was finding playing time for Neifi Perez. I betcha a lotta Giants fans wish he coulda found Neifi's playing time in some other game this week.

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21 April 2003


In a continuing effort to remain gainfully employed, I have commited the sin of neglecting a few plug requests, for which I must now make ammends.

Cub Reporter Christian Ruzich was away for a while at spring training, and saw his readership fall off dramatically, as OBM's did during his computer problems saga. He asked for a plug over two weeks ago, and I'm just getitng around to him now, sadly. But thankfully, Christian was not relying on me to save his site, so i 'spek he's back upta normal by now, as any blogger worth his bandwidth will be saved on the strength of his writing, and not by how many other bloggers can help prop him up. Christian's excellent writing and following of the Cubbies stands out among nondescript, lackluster baseball blogs like...well, this one, for instance. Go check him out. Great picture of Sammy Sosa's head exploding, too.

Jay Jaffe, the Futility Infielder, also posted a review of his spring training trip, which you can check out here. Jay is also an excellent writer, and has the added bonus of being able to , howyousay...ah-yes, "pick a winner", as he is a Yankee fan. Not that it was a hard choice.

Baseball Ranting Mike Carminati has a review of the history of the designated hitter, which I have not yet had the opportunity to readin its entirety, but despite that he's a purist, he seems to think its OK. I happen to agree, even though Mike and I evidently disagree with a lot of other big name baseball people, I'm always interested to see what Mike has to say on such a subject. And you should be too.

Also, Mike did his weekly mangling of a Joe Morgan Chat session, which, if it's anything like last week's Beatles/Taxes themed post, will have you peeing in your pants before it's over. On second thought, maybe you don't wanna check that one out right now, especially if you're in public somewhere.

Baseball Crank always has interesting stuff on his site, which has now moved. I will update his link soon. But in the meantime, you can find him at http://www.baseballcrank.com/.

My hero, Rob Neyer, has a newly designed website (which will also be linked here soon) and a new book, which I'm hoping I can convince him to give me so I can post a review here and on my Boy of Summer's Book Reviews page.

The guys from Elephants in Oakland were actually at the game in Oakland where Carl "What Dinosaurs" Everett got hit with a cell phone, and they haven't stopped talking about it since. Go see.

And last, but not finally, Alex Belth's Bronx Banter passed 5,000 visits a few weeks ago, a neat little milestone, and deserves some congrats for it. Congrats.

And speaking of milestones, I just passed 10,000 readers myself. Wow. Thank you for your support. I couldn't have done it without you. Well I could have, but it woulda sucked.

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The Full Almonte

AP reported last week that Derek Jeter has started throwing again as part of his rehab assignment. As it was his non-throwing shoulder that was dislocated (turns out it was located under Ken Huckaby's shinguard...) this seems like something of a case of non-newsworthy news. Also, ESPN's version of the article reported that,

"The MVP of the 2000 All-Star Game and World Series hit a career-low .297 

last season with 18 homers and 75 RBI. His batting average has dropped three
straight years, from .349 in 1999 to his first sub-.300 average last season."

(italics added)

Wow. Two errors in two sentences. They're batting 1.000, just like Jeter, who hit .291 in 1997, his sophomore season, after winning RoY honors in 1996 with a .314/.370/.430 line. Not a career low. Not his first season under .300. Not that it matters.
Just shoddy journalism. Tisk-tisk. This is too easy. I'm in the wrong business.

Anyway, like I said, not really news, as Jeter is still optimistically expected back in 4-6 weeks. But a nice segue into an analysis of his replacement, Erick Almonte.

Almonte has played 15 games, has 6 runs and 6 RBI, even a homer! But after taking the Golden Sombrero (0-4, 4K's) on Thursday and two more lackluster performances this weekend, he's hitting only .231/.273/.327, for a .600 OPS, and has 14 K's against only 2 walks. After going 7-for-17 in his first four games (.412), he's hit only 5-for-35 since, or .143/.167/.171, for a .338(!) OPS. and he's made five errors in the field, again, in only 15 games. This puts him at a pace for something like 243 errors over the course of the year, or roughly the same number Fred Durst makes in a typical sentence.

But the rest of the Yankees hit like crazy (New York leads the AL in Runs scored and is tied with Texas for the lead in homers), and the starting pitching has been great (12-0, 2.57 ERA), and they keep winning, so nobody's noticed.

Yanks skipper Joe Torre keeps insisting that Almonte is his starter, and I suppose that Enrique Wilson isn't much better with the stick, but he could certainly hold up the defensive side of things a little better than this. I didn't really expect them to take my advice and go get a Mike Bordick type to play in Jeter's stead, but I didn't expect them to bring in a guy with stone hands just to spite me either. Eventually Yankees' radio announcer John Sterling is going to have to stop chanting that Almonte is doing a 'reasonable job' as the SS while Jeter's gone. He's not hitting, he's not fielding, and sooner or later someone more important than me is going to have to take notice and do something about it. Especially if Jeter's out longer than six weeks.

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15 April 2003

What are you doing reading Boy of Summer today? Go do your taxes!

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08 April 2003

"Hey! Speaking of Declining, Overpaid, Offensive Superstars Who've Dislocated their Non-Throwing Shoulders Diving During the First Week of the Season..."

Wow, how about that? Another has been added to the list. During a game on Saturday against the Chicago Cubs, Cincinatti Reds star centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr.dove for a fly ball, and sustained his Annual Debilitating Injury (ADI). Kudos to Griffey for getting creative with the ADI this year and not just pulling a hamstring, like he usually does. Griffey's expected to miss at least six weks, and more likely the whole season, if he needs surgery.

The fly ball came off the bat of lead-footed (and lead-batted) Cubs' catcher Paul Bako, who was credited with his Annual Only Triple (AOT) for his effort. Seriously, Bako has gotten exactly one triple every year since he broke in with the Detroits in 1998.

With Griffey out indefinitely, the plan apparently is for shortstop Barry Larkin to platoon in center field with Reggie Taylor. Larkin, once a top-flight SS, is now 38 years old and obviously in decline, after hitting only .247/.320/.368 the last two seasons, well below his career marks of .295/.372/.447. Larkin will spend some time playing CF as well as SS, and will undoubtedly be among the NL's worst centerfielders whenever he plays there. Thankfully, he will have competition for that honor on his own team, as Reggie Taylor might best be described as "Doug Glanville Lite". Ouch.

Reggie Taylor is a tools-guy drafted out of high school by the Phillies in the first round of the 1995 draft, ahead of Carlos Beltran, Randy Winn, Roy Halladay, Russ Ortiz, Jarrod Washburn, Brett Tomko, A.J. Burnett, Dave Dellucci, Mark Belhorn, and Mike Lowell, among others. Of course, hind-sight is 20-20, or maybe that's the number of steals and walks Taylor would get each year if he played every day? No wonder the Phillies never brought him up: they already had one of those.

Despite taking eight years to learn the trade and reach the majors, Taylor still doesn't know the strike zone from a No Parking Zone. He never hit higher than .280 in the minors, never walked more than 30 times and never hit more than 15 dingers in any year. The one thing he did do often was steal bases (20 to 40 each year), but with just barely enough profieciency that it was actually a useful skill. (Note: Baseball Cube (aka Sports-Wired.com) doesn't list minor league Caught Stealings, but Baseball Prospectus indicates that his minor league steals in 2001 and 2000 were 54/71 or 76%.)

Playing Larkin in centerfield will let manager Bob Boone get Felipe Lopez and Brandon Larson into the lineup more often. Lopez came over to Cincinnati from Toronto in a trade, and Larson has come through Cincinatti's own farm system. Both have "potential" (read: "haven't done anything yet"), having put up at least superficially impressive minor league numbers in 2002. Time, as always, will tell. The Reds probably lost about five wins to this injury, if you presumed that Griffey would have been healthy all year. But then you know what happens when you presume: You make an ass out of you and pre.

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02 April 2003

Amazing, but True

As you all probably know by now, New York Yankees shortstop, #2 hitter and #1 superstar Derek Jeter will miss at least the next month or so with a dislocated shoulder, which he suffered Monday Night in the third inning against Toronto. Jeter's a great player, but there are rarely many great players on the market in early April, at least for anything in way of prospects the Yankees have to offer (hint:not much), so now what? Yankees backup IF Enrique Wilson is not the long-term answer, and Yankees farmhand Eric Almonte is so not the answer that prospects guru John Sickels didn't even include him in his 2003 book (thanks, Aaron). So we need someone who's both decent and available.

Naturally, a player of Jeter's magnitude is not easy to replace....or is he?

Take a look at some of the Baseball Prospectus translated stats for three (sorta) players from last year:

Player J 157 .293 107 50 -27 5.9
Player B 117 .247 45 9 32 6.6
Player C 157 .247 60 12 43 8.9
Diff (C-J) nil -.046 -47 -38 70 3.1

First, some explanations of the stats:
G is games played. Baseball Prospectus's Equivalent Average (EqA) and Equivalent Runs (EqR) are all pretty obvious. You can go to Prospectus if you need further explanation on these. BRARP is Batting Runs Above Replacement Position, the number of batting runs the player was responsible for above a replacement-level player at that position. FRAA, similarly, is Fielding Runs above Average, the number of fielding runs more (or less) than an average player at that position. WARP is the drive that always malfunctions whenever Scotty needs something to rant about, but it happens also to stand for Wins Above Replacement Player. This takes into account all the player's contributions, for hitting, fielding and pitching, if applicable.

Now, given the context of the table in discussion, you probably know that player J is the aforementioned baseball demigod, Derek Jeter, and yes, the demi-god is, in fact, demi-god-awful at defense. Player B is what Mike Bordick did last year for the Baltimore Orioles, in 117 games, and Player C is a projection of Bordick's performance over the same number of games Jeter played. The Difference row is the difference between Jeter's actual performance and Bordick's projected performance.

So what strikes you? Well, first of all, you should notice that Bordick gives up 46 points of EqA to Jeter, which is a lot. It's roughly the difference between Mike Piazza and Ben Davis, or Alfonso Soriano and Ramon Vazquez, or between Eric Chavez and Craig Counsell. It's a LOT. Because Bordick played 40 fewer games, he naturally loses a few "counting" runs in the analysis, so the projection is intended to adjust for that. That EqA difference projects out to about 47 fewer runs somehow scored as a result of the Bordick's hitting compared to Jeter's, roughly four or five wins worth.

But on the fielding side, what happens? Despite what Tim McCarver tells you, Jeter is a terrible defensive shortstop, and always has been. Last year, he was 27 runs worse than a league-average defensive SS, while Bordick was 32 runs better, for a net difference of 59 runs, which more than covers the gap in offense. And that's just in the games Bordick actually played! If you take the projected difference over 157 games, Bordick's defense saves 70 runs more than DJ's would! Seventy runs! Holy cow!

So what are we saying here? Theoretically, if Mike Bordick had played every game that Jeter played last year, the Yankees would have actually won two or three more regular season games than they did. Obviously, this way over-simplifies these stats, and Bordick can't really be counted on to play such stellar defense again this year. But it does mean that Jeter may not be as hard to replace as we think: If the Yankees can get a mediocre-hitting SS, (they've got enough offense that they could afford to carry a guy like that, batting him 9th) who happens to be an excellent fielder, they should be able to make up most of what they're missing with Jeter gone, albeit in a different form.

Oh, and they could probably get Bordick or another such player for a song, and pay him beans, while collecting the insurance on Jeter's contract. He may even help Soriano learn some defense, and the Yanks could be better off in the long run.

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First and foremost, in case you haven't already heard, you must know that your hero and mine, John J(acob Jingle-Heimer) Perricone, has finally gotten Only Baseball Matters back online, after weeks of server problems, Macintosh problems, Blogger problems, Scud missiles, and attacks by packs of wild dogs. John is a great writer, who is knowledgeable about all things baseball, but still willing to listen to dissenting opinions. He's passionate about his Giants, but still fosters some affinity for the Yankees, on whom he was weaned. And despite that he is ten years older than I, and twice as old as Aaron Gleeman, he hasn't lost his touch ;) just a lot of his readership. So go check him out. Now, dammit. John happens also to be my biggest website referrer, bringing in roughly 10% of all my references, at least since I started keeping track.

Speaking of referrers, David Pinto's Baseball Musings (recently moved) is also excellent, and is running a close second to Perricone, especially since he plugged my fisking of Joe Morgan yesterday. With his new location comes a new logo, classy and understated, as is his style. This allows me to place his link up with the other picture links on the left, and he will go at the top of the list. This disparity has long needed a remedy, and I'm glad to change it.

While you're surfing, check out Mike's Baseball Rants, who finally finished his History of Relief Pitching a few weeks ago. The news is a little cold now, but since I started plugging these, I figured I'd finish.

Also, Alex Belth, who apparently is Somebody (unlike Yours Truly), has got an interview with Hall-of-Fame Negro Leaguer Buck O'Neil. Alex also had an interview with former players' union rep Marvin Miller, who probably belongs in the Hall of Fame himself, given his impact on it, but will likely never be elected because baseball owners and many old-school writers think that he's the Anti-Christ. Must be nice to be somebody.

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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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