20 November 2003

AL MVP Debate, Part II

This is Part II of Boy of Summer's MVP Thoughts. You can read Part I here.

As I mentioned, some sportswriters are really not happy about this, perhaps most notably, Jayson Stark. As Rob Neyer confirms, Stark is a prince of a guy, so I'll be as kind as possible. However, it should be noted again that I think he's dead wrong on this issue, and that I think he's not much of a statistician, when you get right down to it. Most baseball writers would take that as a complement.

Examining Jayson Stark's MVP criteria is not as easy as it sounds, becasue he seems to keep grasping at different things, anything, to get people to believe him instead of the Rules.

If you've read Stark's columns for any length of time, you've learned that he's a pretty good journalist. He gets good stories, and he writes them well. He's interesting and creative and seems like a decent fellow. But he seems to have something less than a firm grasp on how statistical analysis ought to be utilized. One of the worst things you can do with stats, and one of the things that Stark does fairly often, is to pick an arbitrary number that seems to support your point, and don't bother to give any other information that might make your point look anything less than salient.

In an article he wrote in September about why A-Rod shouldn't be the MVP, he said, "Since 1994, when baseball broke into six divisions and created twice as many pennant races, no player from a losing team has finished within 100 points of the winner. That includes A-Rod last year. And it undermines his candidacy this year."

OK, he picked 1994 because of the break between the two and three division formats, meaning that there are more contenders and therefore (theoretically) more potential MVPs. But the 100 points could have been anything. It sounds like a nice, round number, but it's arbitrary.

When players have MVP voting clauses written into their contracts, they're written by placement, not point totals. And while what Stark says is true, it's misleading. Players from losing teams have been as high as second or third in the voting on several occasions in that timespan. A-Rod was second in 2002, Griffey was second in 1994, and Frank Thomas finished third to Griffey in 1997, all playing on losing teams. Players from non-playoff teams have been up pretty high in the tally as well, including Carlos Delgado (4th in 2000), Griffey (4th in 1998), and Mo Vaughn (5th in 1996).

That same article made three "key" points in the argument against Rodriguez's candidacy for the AL MVP:

1) WHAT PART OF "VALUABLE" DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND? - Stark argues that the BBWAA has almost always chosen a player from a winning team for the MVP, so why should we change that tradition now?

2) WHERE WAS HE WHEN THEY NEEDED HIM? Stark argues that A-Rod faded when his team sank from contention in June, and that he didn't consistently produce the way an MVP should.

3) THIS ISN'T 1991 - Stark argues that an MVP should only come from a losing team if there are no true/close pennant races, and therefore no clear player who makes the differene between his team making the playoffs or not.

Let's take these on one at a time...

1) WHAT PART OF "VALUABLE" DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND? The meaning of the word "valuable" has nothing to do with the context of the object in question. The Hope Diamond would be no less valuable in the bottom of a landfill in Staten Island than it is in the Smithsonian, it just wouldn't be as useful. Once the diamond's recovered, the landfill would admittedly be somewhat less valuable without it.

The fact that baseball writers have traditionally used winners, especially playoff contenders, to determine the MVP does NOT mean that it should be this way. History held many 'traditions' to be perfectly acceptable right up until someone showed that there was a better way. Ever read a short story called 'The Lottery'?

2) WHERE WAS HE WHEN THEY NEEDED HIM? This has to be Stark's weakest argument. He cites the following as evidence that Rodriguez was not the MVP:

So as the ship sank, he sank with it. It really wasn't until his team's season was essentially over that he began compiling many of these alleged MVP numbers.

He hit the second-most home runs in the league in April (8). But he was 10th in May (6), 20th in June (5) and 21st in July (5), before leading the league in August (15) and September (7).[Ed. NOTE: A-Rod was 5th in the AL in Sept.]

He was fifth in the AL in RBI in April (22). Then he fell to 44th in May (13), 34th in June (15) and 17th in July, before leading the league in August (31) and ranking third in September (15).

OK, how about slugging percentage -- a stat that doesn't depend on the contributions of anyone around him? He was fourth in the league in April (.667). But then he was 54th in May (.462), 31st in June (.540) and 37th in July (.505), before an .849 August (first) and .594 September (fifth).

Does that sound like an MVP season to you? It doesn't to us.

Well, Jayson, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't but since you don't give us anyone else's numbers to compare with A-Rod's, how are we to know whether it does or not? He could have picked a lot of other stats (runs scored, on-base%, etc.) but I suspect that he chose these because they supported his point. I'm going to use OPS (on-base% + Slugging%) to try to rebut his point, because it's a pretty good rough measure of a player's offensive contributions, apart from his teammates contributions, and also because I didn't feel like charting all of the possible stats.

Here are the monthly ranks for for each of the top ten MVP points-getters:

April May June July Aug Sept Avg (T) Avg (5) Season
Delgado 1 5 14 12 16 10 9.7 8.4 1
Ramirez 16 40 6 4 20 2 14.7 9.6 2
A-Rod 3 49 22 26 1 13 19.0 13.0 3
D. Ortiz * 45 18 11 3 5 16.4 16.4 5
Posada 18 36 40 25 11 6 22.7 19.2 10
Beltran ** 16 43 17 9 14 19.8 19.8 12
V. Wells 58 19 9 23 31 12 25.3 18.8 13
B. Boone 23 10 17 18 68 25 26.8 18.6 15
No-mah 49 11 10 44 28 92 39.0 28.4 20
Stewart 54 38 *** 24 44 51 42.2 42.2 32

First, a few explanations:

Only the top 100 players, in terms of at-bats, were rated each month. I had to cut it off somewhere.

*David Ortiz wasn't the everyday DH in Boston until June, but he amassed essentially one month worth of at-bats between April and May, which got him an OPS around .800, which would rank him around 45th in the league in any given month, hence the 45 in May and nothing in April.

**Carlos Beltran was injured the first month of the season and only got 38 at-bats in April.

***Shannon Stewart got only 33 at-bats in June.

The Avg(Tot) column is the average rank of the totals for all six months of the season. The Avg(5) column is the average of the player's five best months, which helps to normalize for players who didn't get enough at-bats in a particular month to qualify due to injury (Beltran and Stewart) or platooning (Ortiz). It also gives some grace to players who may have had one really off month that skewed their average. The Season column is the overall rank of that player for (you guessed it) the season.

OK, with that said, what can we learn from this?

A) Carlos Delgado is the only player who meets Stark's criteria of "consistently" producing. He's the only player in the top 20 in every month, never straying higher than 16th (Aug), and therefore ranked 1st overall at the end of the year. However, based on Stark's insistence upon players from winners and playoff contenders, Delgado's no good either. The standard deviation in his rank (which I didn't post here) was two and a half times smaller than anyone else's on the list.

B) Manny Ramirez, A-Rod, Vernon Wells and Bret Boone are the only other players who rank in or near the top 30 in the AL five out of six months. Other players either didn't qualify for a month or had more than one month in which they ranked over 30th.

C) Nomar Garciaparra was particularly flaky, ranking as high as 11th in May and as low as 92nd(!) in September. Ouch. Still, he managed to finish a solid 20th at the end of the year.

D) Jayson Stark's pet candidate, Shannon Stewart, was so valuable that he never ranked higher than 24th, and easily averaged the lowest among the lot. Even when he was supposedly somehow turning the Twins around and leading them into the postseason, he ranked as the 44th and 51st best hitter in the AL down the stretch. And Stark wants you to vote for him?!?

Regarding the fate of the Rangers with relation to Rodriguez's play, the fact that the team was as close to the .500 mark as they were (25-27 on May 29) was essentially a fluke, a mirage created by the ability of the early season to skew our views of reality (remember when we thought the Royals were contenders?).

The team's Pythagorean record at the end of May (the wins and losses you'd expect them to have based on the total runs scored and allowed) was a couple of games worse than what they actually had, which means that they'd been lucky to do as well as they did to that point. Certainly, there's no denying that June was Rodriguez's (and the Rangers') worst month, but there aren't many players who avoid a 3-week swoon all season, and the man couldn't do anything about the Rangers' pitching staff's 6.63 June ERA. And besides, A-Rod's worst month (49th in OPS) is about as good as Shannon Stewart's average month (42).

3) THIS ISN'T 1991 Stark contended that MVPs only come from losing teams whn there are no pennant races. This simply isn't true. He uses the AL's only example (Cal Ripken in 1991) because it supports his point. But if you dig just a little deeper, and choose another league to analyze, I don't know, let's say...the National League, you find that this isn't the case at all. Andre Dawson won the NL MVP in 1987 on a Cubs team that finished last, even though both the Mets and the Expos finished within four games of fisrt place in the NL East.

Also, in 1959, when Ernie Banks won the NL MVP on a losing Cubs team, both the Braves and Giants finished within four games of the Dodgers, who won their first pennant in LA. So we see that the Senior Circuit doesn't necessarily discriminate against a truly great and valuable player just because there are pennant races and good players on the teams vying for them.

Stark's post-mortem article on the MVP debate revisits the issue of tradition, which we've already addressed, so I won't get into that again. However, he also asks "Where would the team have finished without him?" and answers it accurately: Last. Again, though, his answer is uninforming and misleading.

In any other division in all of MLB, the Rangers (71-91) would not have been last. They were, admittedly, the worst team in a relatively strong division, but taking A-Rod away and replacing him with Joe Average Shortstop costs the Rangers something like six to ten wins in the standings, which is a lot. I'm sure that as bad as the Rangers were last year (and the year before that, and...) a lot of Texans are really glad that they didn't lose 100 games in 2003, and A-Rod is a major reason for that.

If that's not Value, then value doesn't exist.

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18 November 2003

AL MVP Debate, Part I

The following is the first of a two-part series on the 2003 AL MVP results. Just like the Wachowski Brothers, I found that I had way too much preachy, self-important, overblown and ultimately disappointing crap to fit into only one offerring. Sorry. Stay tuned for Part II.

I was having trouble coming up with something to write about the AL MVP Award being given to Alex Rodriguez (finally). I was going to find the instructions for the award somewhere and then re-vamp them with a bunch of tongue-in-cheek crap about clutch hitting down the stretch and fighting for a pennant and such, but then it occurred to me: They actually got it right for once. So I don't hafta do that. Wait til next year.

Several people, including David Pinto and my hero, Rob Neyer, argued that not only does A-Rod deserve the award, but that he might actually win it this year, as no offensive American Leaguer was really having a standout season besides him. Turns out they were right.

Others, however, most notably Everyone's Favorite Empirical Scientist Jayson Stark, are actually upset about this occurrence. Can you believe that crap?? I mean, A-Rod has easily been the best player in the AL for the last half decade, and the BBWAA finally finds a way to actually give him one award, and Stark's pissed about it??

It turns out that I found the actual ballot instructions at Aaron Haspel's God of the Machine, who had found them on (are you ready?) Jayson Stark's home page. When he argued that A-Rod didn't deserve the MVP last year either.

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team.

The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot.

Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, and that includes pitchers and designated hitters.

Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.

Let's look at each of these criteria individually, shall we?

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

The main argument against A-Rod, or any other great player on a losing team for that matter, is that the team still wouldn't have won even if he sucked. Which is a true statement, but limited in its usefulness. The writer of the ballot instructions seems to understand that a player can have value even if his team is stinking up the joint, and frankly, the Rangers weren't really that bad in 2003. Oh, their pitching was terrible, but they were among the best offensive teams in the majors, and had a record (71-91) identical to or better than four other teams in the AL. So A-Rod's value clearly was not completely wasted on a truly awful team, as Aubrey Huff's or Dmitri Young's was.

The irony here, as a fellow blogger pointed out last year, is that the argument against thinking that an MVP must come from a winner is right there in the instructions: The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier. And the definition of "value" is given right there in the instructions as well: Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense. So the strength of a player's offense and defense actually defines his value, regardless of his team's position in the standings.

And if this is the case, then A-Rod has to be the MVP. By almost any objective measure you'd ever pick, he was the best player in the AL last year. First in the league in homers, runs scored and slugging percentage, second in RBI, 3rd in OPS, and eighth in walks and On-base %. Bill James' Win Shares has him tied with Carlos Delgado atop the AL, according to David Pinto. A great hitter, who plays great defense at a tough position, with no obvious competition as the best player in the league? Sounds like an MVP to me.

2. Number of games played.

No problem there. Alex Rodriguez suited up and played 161 games. The game he missed? Sept 24th, at Oakland, after playing in 546 straight games. Say what you want about him being overpaid, but the dude shows up to work. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the Rangers lost that game, so there you go: Every time A-Rod doesn't play, they lose. How's that for value?

3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

Boy, I don't see how anybody could coplain about this. Again, he may make too much money, but you don't ever hear him complaining about being underappreciated, about the "daily grind," about the fans, about anything. He just straps on his gloves, laces up his cleats, goes out there and kicks butt. And then the Rangers' pitching staff squanders his efforts by giving up all those runs. Personally, I'd be complaining, but he doesn't.

4. Former winners are eligible.

Not a problem. A-Rod's been shafted in the MVP voting at least two or three times previously, so there's no conflict here.

5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

Well, that won't be necessary, although this is what killed A-Rod's chances in '96, when he and Ken Griffey Jr. ('member when he was good?) split the MVP voting, even in their own city, and the trophy went to Juan Gone.

So we see that based on the criteria set forth by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Alex Rodriguez clearly should be (and is) the AL MVP for 2003.

But some are still not satisfied...

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13 November 2003

George Steinbrenner: Crusader for Justice

Can somebody please explain to me who decides the order in which the BBWAA announces the winners of the different awards for the year? And more importantly, how they do it? I understand making the announcement about the Rookies of the Year for both leagues first and on the same day, as these are easily the least significant awards given out, and deserve the least hoopla (remember Bob Hamelin? Pat Listach? Mark McGuire?!! Ok, so Listach wasn't that bad.)

But how does the AL Cy Young, by itself, get sandwiched between the RoY and Manager of the Year Awards being announced together? And how did Esteban Loaiza finish such a distant second?

A much more significant controversy is the AL Rookie voting. KC Royals' SS Angel Berroa won the award by the narrowest of margins over Yankees' OF Hideki Matsui, 88 to 84 points. A lot of people have made a stink about Matsui's being left off the ballot by two sportswriters, but of course Angel Berroa was also left off two ballots, so essentially they’re on even ground, and it all seems to come out in the wash anyway.

However, Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune took the law into their own hands, and that’s got to stop. We're not talking about Death Wish here. Nobody's life is ultimately going to be significantly affected by this, but the fact that there is so little accountability among these journalists, that nobody can do anything about the blatant and admitted disregard for the rules, is troubling.

These two sportswriters both admitted publicly that although Matsui technically qualifies for the award based upon MLB's rules for such, they didn't feel that he should be elligible, because of his vast experience playing in Japan.

Jim Souhan put it this way: "I just could not in good conscience pretend that Hideki Matsui, this great player from what I consider to be a major league, was on the same footing as a 22-year-old kid trying to learn to hit a major league curveball. I think it would be an insult to the Japanese league to pretend that experience didn't count."

Is not this exactly why you are wrong, Jim? You know neither the players nor the rules that govern them. First of all, Berroa's 25, not 22. Secondly, maybe this has already occurred to you by now, but NOBODY ASKED YOU WHO SHOULD QUALIFY as a rookie, they just asked you to rate the people who DO qualify. And to rate Matsui somewhere below one of the three best American League rookies for 2003 means that you’re either not very bright or just not paying attention.

Personally, I may consider the college I-AA Patriot League to be a major league, but MLB doesn't. So if someone comes out of Lehigh University, directly to the pros, and blows away the competition for a full year, he'll probably win the award, regardless of my opinion, because opinion should only matter when judging quality, not qualifications. That's why we have rules. That and to avoid traffic accidents.

Noted shipbuilder, multi-millionaire and Crusader for Justice, George M. Steinbrenner III, decried Souhan's and Ballou’s decisions.

“…I firmly believe that a great injustice has been done to Hideki Matsui. […]This year's voting farce, where the appropriate qualifications for the award were blatantly ignored, clearly demonstrates unfairness to first-year players from Japan. And that must be stopped."

OK, let’s get one thing straight: Steinbrenner is only concerned about justice so much as it serves his own purposes. You didn’t see him out there blasting the two writers who left Pedro Martinez (league-leading 2.07 ERA, 23 wins and 313 Ks) off their MVP ballots in 1999, when Ivan Rodriguez (24 walks, 25 steals essentially negated by getting caught 12 times) inexplicably won the trophy. But he’s not wrong about the “farce.” He’s just a little disingenuous.

And I wouldn’t say that there’s really any sort of general “unfairness” to Japanese players as a whole, since three of them have won the Rookie of the Year awards since 1995, and one of them even won an MVP (albeit one that should have gone to Jason Giambi). Hideo Nomo and Kaz Sasaki both pretty clearly blew away the rest of their competition in 1995 and 2000, respectively, but I would be curious to know whether or not Souhan or Ballou left them off their ballots at the time.

Souhan responded to George Steinbrenner’s criticism of his decision by saying, “When Mr. Steinbrenner spends multiple millions to lure an MVP-caliber player from a major professional league, he should be embarrassed that such a high-profile player is vying for the Rookie of the Year award, and not the American League MVP award."

Perhaps. But again, that’s not the issue at stake here. Sure, shelling out $21 million for someone like Matsui ought to net you something more than an approximation of the aging Tino Martinez, but that’s hardly the point. Hideki Matsui was a 3-time Japanese Pacific League MVP, a perennial ~.320 hitter with 35 to 40+ homers and 100 walks in Japan. Isn't the fact that he couldn't even hit .290 with 20 homers and 70 walks in the American League evidence that maybe the Japanese Pacific League is NOT a "major league"?

Sure, Ichiro made a pretty good transition, and maybe with a year under his belt, Matsui will settle in and start hitting like they expected him to, but maybe not. Maybe it's just easier to translate a slap-hitter's skills from one league to another than it is to become a power hitter in a league where the parks are bigger, the season is longer and the ball is thrown harder. Or maybe Jim Souhan is right and the rest of us are morons.

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06 November 2003

With Apologies to Rob Schneider...


The Don-Man!

Donnie Baseball!



The Donnenator!

Don-Don, the Piper's Son!

The Last Don!


OK, that's getting annoying.

As you may have heard, Don Mattingly has been named the new hitting coach for the New York Yankees.

Donnie replaces Rick Down, who was such a failure that he only managed to help the 2003 Yankees to the third most runs scored in the AL, fourth in the major leagues (a slight decline after his pupils led all of MLB in 2002). He was so lousy that the Yankees outscored their opponent, 21-17 in the World Series, 30-29 in the ALCS and 16-6 in the ALDS (that’s 67-52 in 17 playoff games, if you’re scoring at home.)

The problem with Down was that the Yankees hitters picked the wrong time to let the Law of Averages catch up with them. Throughout the first two rounds of the postseason, the Yankees had gotten a run almost anytime they needed it. They managed to come back and prevent Pedro Martinez from beating them not once, but twice in four games against The Hated Boston Red Sox, and seemed to have little trouble with the Twins at all. They managed to beat the Twins and BoSawx despite hitting only .228 with runners in scoring position in the playoffs overall, because their opponents only hit .188 in that situation.

Throughout the year, the Yankees had used the Bill James/Billy Beane model, getting enough guys on base that it wouldn’t matter in the long run, if they “hit well in the clutch.” Brian Cashman and others in the organization apparently knew enough during the regular season to realize that “clutch hitters” don’t really exist, at least not in the sense of players who can predictably hit in the clutch. But Down was canned for this offense anyway, which is like firing the head of security on a cruise ship because the ship disappears in the Bermuda Triangle.

There’s a lot of research that says essentially that we don’t have any idea who’s going to hit well in a given situation in any particular year. For example, Larry Walker won the NL MVP award in 1997, leading the NL in On-base %, slugging % and home runs, and driving in 130 RBI while hitting .366. He then followed up that campaign with another stellar .363 season (the first of his three batting titles), but managed only 64 RBI. What happened? Did he suddenly start to “choke”? Did the pressure of following up an MVP season prevent him from remembering how to hit when it mattered most? Or did he just have a fluke season in which most of his hits didn't occur when there were guys on base? You can guess my answer. (Hint, the very next year, 1999, he hit .379 and had 115 RBI in fewer plate appearances than he'd had in 1998.)

So if there's no such thing as a clutch hitter, then the Yankees hitters can't really be blamed for choking, and more importantly, the Yankees hitting coach can't really be blamed for somehow not teaching them how to hit in the clutch. The problem with that is that it's much easier for me to say that, sitting here at a computer desk in Pennsylvania, than it would be if I were Rick Down...

KING GEORGE: Rick, you let us down. Boys didn't hit in the clutch! What do you have to say for yourself?!

RICK DOWN: (timidly) Well, Mr. Steinbrenner, you see...there's not really any such thing as a clutch hitter in the first place...

KG: NONSENSE! Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan talk about them on television all the time! Why don't we have more of them!?

RD: (really timidly)See, Mr. Steinbrenner, I was thinking that if we got guys on base often enough, it wouldn't matter how they hit in the clutch, in the long run...

KG: We don't have a long run! We only had seven games and you failed to get them to hit when they needed to!!

RD:(cowering under the desk) Actually, we outscored our opponents in every round of the playoffs, Mr. Steinbrenner. We should have won the games...


In the end, managers and coaches are hired to be fired, because the Players' Union won't allow you to just jettison a player making $15 million, even if he does suck. Down should find no shortage of suitors for his talents.

In the meantime, much-beloved former firstbaseman, much-missed Yankee Icon and Boy Of Summer's childhood hero Don Mattingly will take over what should be an easy task but won't. He's been given plenty of talent with which to work, and may get more in the free-agent signing season, but is also being asked to improve on a team that scored more runs than any other team but Boston during Down's 2-year watch. Forget about Sigfried and Roy "Live at the ER", that's a tough act to follow. Donnie will be on the hot-seat from Day One, and if the Yankees get into mid-May and they're not "hitting in the clutch" the Boss will not be happy.

And Donnie may decide that he likes raising horses and kids better than batting averages after all.

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04 November 2003

Billy, Can't Be a Hero

I had theorized, back in February, that the Phillies had what they needed to get to the post season for the first time in a decade. This was presented, however, with the caveat that if they did not make it, don't blame me, as View From the 700 Level indicated, but rather blame their bullpen. I said that the Phillies would probably be in the top 5 in the NL in runs scored, and they fell right in at #5, with 791 runs, more than everybody but Houston, St. Louis, Colorado and Atlanta. And Colorado almost doesn't count.

I suggested that their top four starters were all better than average, ~200 inning workhorses, and they were, though none of them were as good as I'd hoped. I also suggested that Brandon Duckworth could break out, though when I said that, I meant as a pitcher, in Philadelphia, during the season. Instead, it turns out, Duck-Man broke out from Philadelphia, after the season, in a trade to Houston. But I'll get back to that.

And I suggested that the Phils' bullpen could fall apart, with Joe Table losing his job to somebody in April. Boy was I wrong on THAT one! It took until August! And then again in September.

So anyway, knowing that the Phils in fact did not make the postseason, and knowing that thier bullpen was widely villified as the reason for this faltering, I looked up the numbers, and found something quite curious:

The Phillies' bullpen had the 5th best ERA in the NL (3.72), better than Atlanta's, and a winning record (23-20), despite blowing 23 saves in 51 chances. So I broke it down:

Regulars 306 17 9 5 11 52 333.1 292 110 21 122 225 6.08 1.24 2.97
Closers 89 5 11 27 6 4 83.2 95 59 7 50 64 6.88 1.73 6.35
Others 42 1 0 1 1 0 57.2 57 30 10 23 44 6.87 1.39 4.68

Interestingly, the Mesa/Williams two-headed monster only blew six saves all year. Six.
Tim Worrell blew seven all by his lonesome, and people think he's pretty good.

The greater portion of those 18 screw-ups belongs to the five guys who pitched most of the middle relief innings, and did so generally pretty well. Terry Adams, Carlos Silva, Rheal Cormier, Dan Plesac and Turk Wendell had a combined 2.97 ERA, which is very good, though some of them may have been a bit over their heads last season, especially Cormier, Plesac and Adams. Of course, Cormier and Plesac have the same thing going for them that Jesse Orosco does: They're not dead yet.

The few remaining relief innings (only ~57) were average. Nothing wrong with that.

But Mesa and Williams didn't just blow saves, didn't just lose games. These guys failed in spectacular fashion, giving up 9th inning homers, walking in the winning run, many of them right in the midst of the wild-card race, which, as it turns out, is a no-no. So the memories of their blow-ups is etched in the minds of Phillies fans everywhere, while Worrell's, for instance, are forgotten, because the Giants won 100 games and their division easily.

Whether or not those guys are all back, the point is that Billy Wagner, as great as he is, cannot be expected to save the franchise and propel them into the 2004 postseason all by himself. He's not going to compensate for 12 blown saves in middle relief, and he's not going to make up for a mediocre bench (7th in the NL in OPS). He's not going to get Pat Burrell to hit better than .209, etc.

All other things being equal, Wagner maybe makes this an 88- or 90-win team, which might just be enough for the Wild-Card. But as we all know, all other things are never equal. Burrell might not bounce back. Jim Thome might get old. Marlon Byrd might hit a sophomore slump. Mike Lieberthal probably won't hit .313 again. Placido Polanco probably will go back to hitting like, well, Placido Polanco. None of these things can be accurately predicted, and any of them might deprive B-Wag of the opportunities to save the games (franchise) that would make his $9 million salary money-well-spent.

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30 October 2003

Updates and Plugs...

Your friend and mine, Alex Belth, was kind enough to mention my Yankee Hell in one of his posts a Bronx Banter, his ecxellent basball/Yankees blog. Alex is a very forgiving sort, as he did this in spite of the fact that I usually forget to plug his work when he asks, either entirely or not until it's about three weeks after the fact. So, thanks to Alex's much more frequented blog, I have had a significant spike in visits over the last day or so, about twice as many as normal. Hopefully some of those people will come for the amusing Hell construction and stay for some decent writing (I'm in the market for a decent writer now...) but either way, I'm indebted to Alex.

Speaking of Alex, he's got a couple of interesting posts with actual, published baseball authors. The first is an interview with Pat Jordan, who wrote A False Spring, A Nice Tuesday, and the book I used to leard to throw a curveball, Sports Illustrated Pitching: The Keys to Excellence. This great book helped me to identify three minor flaws that are preventing me from becoming an All-Star pitcher: Velocity, Control and Stamina. Other than those, I'm set.

So anywho, Alex has an interview with Pat Jordan and you should go read it.

Alex also has a sweet but melancholy little post with an excerpt from a book by Roger Angell, that will remind you how little football and watching the leaves change does to abate the emptiness of The Void.

Speaking of The Void, those of you who enjoy interesting, informed baseball writing with a wry sense of humor and a twist of culture sprinkled in should already know Ranting Mike Carminati, he of the oh-so amusing Joe Morgan Chat Days. Well now Mike has defected to All-baseball.com, where the aforementioned Alex Belth, baseball injury guru Will Carroll, and Cub Reporter Christian Ruzich already maintain their own blogs. Th addition of Carminati gives the All-Baseball Team four aces that Steinbrenner would covet. If he owned a newspaper. Which he probably does.

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27 October 2003

Yankee Hell

Games that don't end til 1AM
Circle I Limbo

Jeff Weaver?!?
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

Outscoring an Opponent Who Beats You
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

Using Your Closer in a Game you're winning by Five Runs
Circle IV Rolling Weights

NOT Using Your Closer in a Tied Game in Extra Innings
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

Trading Away Mike Lowell for 3 Nobodies
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Aaron Boone: .143, 1 Run, 2 RBI
Circle VII Burning Sands

Jorge Posada: .158, 0 Runs, 1 RBI
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

"World Champion Florida Marlins"
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

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24 October 2003


Somebody needs to tell the Florida Marlins that they don't have to win.

...that nobody expected them to win.

...that most of us still expect them not to win.

...that no one will really mind if they don't win.

Somebody needs to tell them that they don't have to try so hard.

...Let an opposing runner on third with less than two out cross the plate once in a while.

...Let a ground ball through the infield once in a while.

...Let Aaron Boone have a meatball once in a while.

Somebody needs to let the Marlins know that their season is already a success.

...that nobody expected this, so it's a pleasant surprise.

...that nobody cared about them until three weeks ago.

...that nobody will care about them next year if they don't re-sign Pudge.

...and Luis Castillo.

...and Ugie Urbina.

Somebody needs to remind the Marlins that the Yankees make three times as much money as they do.

...that the Yankees have more than four times as many playoff appearances as the Marlins have seasons of existence.

...that the Yankees have about four times as many future Hall-of-Famers.

...that the Yankees have about a hundred times as many fans.

...and much cooler uniform colors. (Teal?! c'mon!)

Somebody needs to refresh the Marlins memory.

...that the Yankees won ten more regular season games than they did.

...that the Yankees had to beat two teams better than them, the Giants or the Cubs to get here. OK, maybe not the Giants.

...that Roger Clemens by himself or any two of the Yankees' starting pitchers have more career wins then their entire pitching staff combined.

Somebody needs to tell the Marlins that their manager is too old.

...that their ace pitcher is too young.

...that their rookie 3B/RF/DH/whatever is way too young.

...that their catcher is too...Pudgy.

Somebody needs to inform the Marlins that the Fates are against them.

...that History is against them.

...that Mistique, Aura and Buffy the Pole-Dancer are against them.

...that the Best Team on the Planet is against them, and ought to win.

Somebody needs to instill in the Marlins the understanding that it's OK to loosen up a little.

...that nobody will be fired in Florida if they don't win. (Not so in NY.)

...that they're going to have a hard time outdrawing the Expos again next year anyway.

...that a pansy-ass little expansion franchise that can't decide from year to year whether it wants to win or lose, stay or move, exist or be contracted, isn't supposed to beat the Mighty Yankees.

Somebody needs to tell the Marlins to lose.


...They're running out of time.

...And they're not listening to me.

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Noted baseball/history author Harvey Frommer, for whom I have done several book reviews, and who is in the midst of conducting an e-interview with me, to be published next week, has two books coming out soon. I hope to have reviews of these available for you as they become available, but for now, here are the plugs:

*Coming Spring 2004
New York City Baseball :
The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957
By Harvey Frommer
At one time New York City had three major league teams: the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers. In the days after World War II, the New York teams owned baseball. Relive the golden days of the 1950s in this amazing account.
When the lights came on again after World War II, they illuminated a nation ready for heroes and a city--New York--eager for entertainment. Baseball provided the heroes, and the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers--with their rivalries, their successes, their stars--provided the show.

"We shall not have such an era again except in such loving books as this one." --RED BARBER

“No red-blooded baseball fan will want to be without it. A genuine social history of New York sports in 1947 to 1957. A compulsively fascinating book.” - - NEWSDAY

“A look back at the heyday of Big Apple baseball when at least one New York team appeared in the World Series in 10 of the 11 years. - - “USA TODAY

”Lovingly described.”- - -NEW YORK POST

*New edition with an introduction by Monte Irvin


Covers nearly a century's worth of epic battles on and off the baseball field between these age-old rivals.
Featuring exclusive interviews with former governors Mario Cuomo of New York and Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, former press secretary Ari Fleisher, congressmen, reporters, broadcasters, and especially players, coaches, managers and front-office execs from the Red Sox and Yankees including Don Zimmer, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, Jason and Jeremy Giambi, Lou Meroni, Dwight Evans, and Theo Epstein.
Two unique features of the book are a Rivalry Timeline and a "Talkin' Rivalry" section, a free-for-all in print among fans, journalists, players who all have something to say.
Other chapters include Marker Moments, In-depth Profiles of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.
More than two years in the making, this coffee-table book will have nearly 400 pages of text and more than 125 photos, some in color, some archival.
A perfect book for Yankee fans, Red Sox fans, and all baseball fans.
Harvey Frommer is the author of 34 sports books,
including "The New York Yankee Encyclopedia, "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," "Growing Up Baseball" with Frederic J. Frommer and "Rickey and Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseball's Color Line," "A Yankee Century: A Celebration of the First Hundred Years of Baseball's Greatest Team."
Frederic J. Frommer is an Associated Press correspondent based in Washington, D.C. This is his second book.

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22 October 2003

Sports Theology

Andy Pettitte pitched a great game on Sunday night, which the Yankees won, 6-1. Eight & 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, only one, unearned run. (My wife thought I was in physical pain when she heard me screaming at Boone's 9th-inning, shutout-ruining, second-error-of-the-night from upstairs. She'll learn...I was.)

But this column isn't about baseball, at least not directly.

After the win, Pettitte said this to Fox Sports' Steve Lyons:

"...And the main reason is just...I've got so many people back home at my church, praying for me and I know they're there, and around all over the country praying for me and I just thank God that he just blessed me to be able to do this tonight."

Right there on live, inter-national TV, a grown man is standing there telling another grown man and about 13 million other people who are still watching that the Lord of the Universe helped him win a baseball game because a bunch of people from his church in Texas asked Him to do so.

Of course, you couldn't find the text of this quote anywhere on the internet if you so desired, which I did. I had to go to Fox Sports' web page, sign up for a free trial of RealOne Superpass and then download the video of Pettite's interview with Steve Lyons. Any of the normal news sources who had quotes from Pettitte in their game stories didn't bother to include this particular comment, which fell in the midst of a response to a question that Lyons asked about how Pettitte handled the speedy Pierre and Castillo at the top of the Marlins' lineup, but obviously encompassed more than that. Most writers left their stories to baseball, which, while a little biased against religion, is probably appropriate, in my opinion.

Getting back to the point...

Andy Pettitte is a Christian. So am I. Otherwise, we're pretty different. For one thing, he's left handed, and makes about 250 times as much money as I make every year. But this column isn't about money. It's about (get ready...)


More specifically, it's about God and Sports. My particular take on this issue is that God and Sports is a little like peanut butter and tunafish: they just don't go together. But clearly there are those who disagree with me. Andy Pettitte, for example.

It's not that I don't think God cares about the people who play sports. Clearly, if "God so loved the world..." this must have included professional athletes, right? Right.

But what about the other professional athletes? The ones competing against Andy Pettitte? This is where the issue gets dicey. You see, I'm willing to bet dollars to potluck supper buntcakes that there are Christians on the Marlins team as well. I'm not sure whom, exactly, but there's got to be somebody, and if you assert that Andy Pettitte was caused to and/or helped to win a baseball game by God, then it logically and necessarily follows that some other people, some of whom may also profess an allegiance to Christ, were specifically caused to fail by God, because God for some reason likes Andy Pettitte better, or something. I have a hard time with this notion.

For one thing, how do you explain times when Pettitte has not succeeded? Were the prayers of Pettitte's church more effective in 1997 (18-7, 2.87 ERA in 240 innings) than in 1999 (14-11, 4.70 ERA in 191 innings)? Was God angry with Andy or his church in 2002 when he sustained an injury and was only able to make 22 starts? Does God like it better when Andy pitches during the day (2.43 ERA in 2003) than at night (4.83 ERA)? Or do the people in Andy's church pray harder on Tuesdays (5-1, 2.72) than on Thursdays (1-2, 9.14)?

And if so, why? Why would Jesus care how well Andy Pettitte (or anyone else) does in any given baseball game? And why should Andy Pettitte's requests for success be honored any more than anyone else who prays to God for such things? Who does God decide to listen to when a potential game-winning field-goal is about to be kicked in a football game and there are circles of players on both sidelines praying for both it's success and failure? Can we really take him seriously when Evander "Real Deal" Holyfield thanks Jesus for helping him to turn his opponent's face into an impressive Memorex of raw hamburger? Pretty tough to imagine that the same Jesus who said, "If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also."


Back in 1996, the Yankees won their first World Series in almost two decades, and some (not all) Christians attributed their success to the presence of professing, Bible-believing Christians: Pettitte, Joe Girardi, Mariano Rivera, John Wetteland, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. (Doc and Straw, as you may know, only met Jesus after running thier lives into the ground with drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and/or tax evasion. This means, therefore, that all their early success was accomplished without the supposed aid of a higher being, or at least, presumably, without a significant number of prayers on their behalf.)

So these six players somehow, supposedly, managed to sway the favor of the Lord of Creation toward themselves and their teammates, the other 19 of whom, presumably, only pray when being shot at. Frankly I find this pretty hard to believe. I don't know off-hand, how many of the 1996 Braves would profess to be Chrstians as well, but I would guess that it's less than six. It would be an interesting study, sort of an antithesis to the "Ex-Cubs Factor", to look at the correlation of born-again Christians to World Series winners over time. Informative? Probably not, but interesting. Scott Brosius, apparently also a Christian, had an interesting take on this, from the Google translation of a French Christian webpage:

"Several claim that, if our team counts many Christian players, we will gain the world Series, Brosius entrusts. It was certainly amusing not only to belong to a gaining team, but côtoyer players who gained good way, by showing the true characteristics of humility. Many guy understood that they received many things, which are actually blessings that they did not deserve. I life a really formidable experiment! "

Well, I guess that clears things right up!

A Lesson From History

So from whence does this notion come? It seems to me that it's probably rooted in the same sorts of ideas that cause someone to be a fan in the first place, to be loyal to a particular team or city's teams. Identifying with a particular place, and with the team that represents it is nothing new. People have been doing so for centuries, rooting and praying for their athletes probably since the Athens Red Sox competed against the Sparta Yankees in the first Olympics (Athens later being permanently cursed by Zeus for allowing thier star shot-putter, Bambinostotle, to defect to Sparta and become a full-time javelin thrower.) Praying for these athletes made a lot more sense, because:

A) they were actually from your city, and not just a collection of mercenary ringers.
2) If you didn't have the Olympics, you'd have probably had a war instead.

Personally, I'd pray for victory too, if it meant that I wouldn't have to fight a war. But such is no longer the case, in 21st century America, where the biggest war addressed in a baseball game is either the battle for elbow-room in the urinals or the bean-ball war on the field. And that's only when Punk-Ass is pitching.


So we're back to pondering the veracity and applicability of Andy Pettitte's statement. It seems to me that there are a few ways in which his statement might be interpreted, depending upon whether or not God exists and whether or not Andy Pettitte really knows Him very well. Let's see:

1) There is no God. Andy Pettitte is a delusional weirdo. This stuff all happens either by random chance or because someone "wanted it more".

PROS: Charles Darwin and Joe Morgan both believe at lease some aspect of this scenario. Your fate's in your own hands, which is good news for control-freaks like me!
CONS: If the Universe can exist and hold itself together without a Designer, then life isn't really worth living, which would suck, and is therefore an unacceptable conclusion.

2) There is a real God. He's on Andy Pettitte's side when it comes to baseball games, and maybe other stuff too.

PROS: Andy thinks this is true. Other people, not just athletes, do also.
CONS: Andy doesn't win all the time, which either means that God is fickle or powerless, either of which would suck, and is therefore an unacceptable conclusion.

3) There is a real God. Andy Pettitte just thinks He's on his side in these things, but really God doesn't pay that much attention to these things. He's off somewhere playing cosmic marbles with planets we'll never see or something, and it would come as a surprise to Him that Andy Pettitte thinks He helped him win a baseball game.

PROS: Joan Osbourne believes this. It would explain why Andy doesn't always win, without making Pettitte out to be either delusional or a liar. That's good.
CONS: This scenario makes God out to be in less than complete control of all things at all times, and therefore less than all-knowing and all-powerful, which would suck and is therefore an unacceptable conclusion.

4) There is a real God. He is all-powerful and has control over, indeed, has already determined the outcome, of every event in the course of human history, including professional baseball games. Therefore, any prayers offered up by Andy, his church, or other fans "around all over the country" are not so much effective in terms of swaying God's mind as they are good practice for the praying people in relating to God and potentially understanding him better. This God is only concerned about the results of baseball games in so much as His people honor him in playing them, watching them or paring about them, which is appropriate, what with Him being the Lord of the Universe and all.

PROS: I believe this one, as did a lot of saints and theologians. Blessed assurance, right? God's got it in control, so you don't hafta worry. Pretty cool, I think.
CONS: An unpopular option, since it means that ultimately we don't really have as much control over things as we think we do. Also, this option requires much more faith and a lot of residual life choices that the other options don't necessitate.

Well you know where I stand now: Extremely glad that the people who control the Google translation tools don't control any of the rest of the Universe, but for the record, I'll be praying that God helps Roger Clemens to pitch the game of his life in his swansong performance tonight and beat those backward, Neanderthal, Cretan, pagan SOB's the Florida Marlins tonight, and for David Wells to do the same on Friday night. Amen.

Let's allow Andy to have the final word, though, from that same Google-translated French Christian webpage:

"People observe how you act, how you face the situations. When I gain a world Series, it is easy for me to hold to me in front of a crowd and to thank God. And much of players make in the same way, and it is well. But I really smell that I was faithful to my Christian faith,"

We smell it, too, Andy. We smell it too.

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15 October 2003

Curse Re-Trac-Tion

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no urse Re-trac-tion.
’cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.

When I’m playin’ towards the wall
And that fan wearin’ the radio
Gets in the way of the ball
So I can’t catch it for an out
And I have to scream and shout!
I can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no Curse Re-trac-tion.
’cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.

When I’m watchin’ my TV
And that ball goes toward the short stop,
Who can always play the short-hop.
But he can’t play this one ‘cause it hits his glove
And I watch…it…to…the ground…drop!
I can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no Curse re-trac-tion.
’cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.

When I’m pitchin’ ‘gainst the team
And I’m curvin’ this and I’m slidin’ that
And I’m tryin’ some outs to glean,
But I can get no outs, ‘cause the fielders reek,
’cause you see we’re on a (95-year) losing streak.
We can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

I can’t get no, I can’t get no,
I can’t get no satisfaction,
No satisfaction, no Curse re-trac-tion, no satisfaction….

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13 October 2003

Spineless Coward

Not long ago, an athlete with a world of talent at his beck and call, though perhaps a bit past his prime, found himself on centerstage in his sport, the place he most liked to be, against a formidable adversary. Finding that despite his best efforts, he could not beat this adversary at their game, this athlete became distraught and, perhaps not knowing how to deal with these feelings or perhaps not caring to try, he lowered himself to the basest level of human existence: Recognizing the victory he so desired slipping from his usually capable grasp, and lacking the wherewithal to stop it, he lashed out at his opponent, choosing instead to injure him physically, if he could not best him at sport.

The opponent, in justified (if not entirely righteous) anger, yelled obscenities back at our Anti-Hero, as the crowd cheered and jeered, according to their own dispositions toward both the Anti-Hero and his opponent. As the dust settled and the benefit of time and hindsight allowed fans, writers and other athletes to review the situation in all its grotesque angles, almost all agreed that the Anti-Hero was little more than a gutless, impetuous, selfish and childish punk.

But enough about the Tyson-Holyfield fight.

There was baseball played this weekend!

Sadly, last week my home computer decided that the ability to connect to the internet was not nearly as high a priority for itself as it was for me, and therefore left me without any realistic ability to comment on these happenings until now. Bronchitis hasn't exactly been helpful either.

Because I was working on the computer most of the day, I only got to listen to most of the game on the radio, rather than watch it.

Baseball is a game that lends itself to spoken description in ways that basketball, hockey and football simply do not. For example:

...The unique dimensions and character of individual ballparks, like Boston's Green Monster or Montreal's crickets (criquets?), allow the radio announcer to tell you exactly where the action is at any given moment. The uniformity and continual two-way movement along an ice rink, a basketball court or a gridiron simply cannot hope to be as interesting.

...The generally one-dimensional direction of play (mostly outward from home plate or back towards the infield), makes it easier for the listener to focus his mind's eye on whomever has the ball, where the ball is headed and what it's doing or has just done.

...Te ease with which the men who participate in the game can be seen, due to the relative lack of equipment on their persons (Barry Bonds' and Gary Sheffield's front elbows notwithstanding), allows the radio announcer to paint a much more descriptive portrait of the players's appearances than you can in say, football. Compare:

"McGuire steps in, a Hercules of a man at 6'5", 230 pounds of sheer muscle, rippling beneath the polyester double-knit uniform. He holds the bat with the ease of a flyswatter, weilding it as an ordinary man would a Wifle ball bat, as he prepares to swing. And here comes the pitcher's delivery...it's a fastball inside and McGuire's tied up, he grounds weakly to second and the inning is over. That's right folks, this Mr. Olympia of baseball was brought to his knees by the local office manager from H&R Block. Oh, wait. Sorry, folks, that was Greg Maddux."


"And Steve Young is down, he appears to have a concussion, again. He was sacked by...number 68, a 360-pound lineman from Fresno State who looks like, well, a big fat guy in tight pants."

...The variation of physical stature in the players themselves makes us all feel as though it could almost be us out there. Players as varied in size and shape as Jeff Nelson (6'8" 240 lbs.), Nellie Fox (5'9" 150), Rich Garces (6'0" 250), and Darryl Strawberry (6'6" 200) have all enjoyed at least a reasonable degree of success in Major League Baseball. You don't have to be a physical freak to succeed in baseball, like you do in basketball or football. We can all relate to it better.

With that said, the Yankees announcers did a less than admirable job in understanding and describing some of the events of the melee on Saturday afternoon. When Pedro Martinez (henceforth to be known as "Punk-Ass") threw at karim Garcia's head, John Sterling and Charlie Steiner spent more time trying to discern whether the ball hit Garcia's bat than informing the rest of us that Punk-Ass was taunting the Yankee bench and threatening to bean Jorge Posada, who would have been a much greater loss to the Yankee cause than Garcia, frankly. Eventually they told us that the guys on the bench were screaming at Pedro, but I'm not sure they ever mentioned the taunting from Punk-Ass.

"If I weren't such a gutless coward, 

you'd really be in trouble!"

Later on, when Manny Ramirez ("Dumb-Ass") ducked to get away from a Roger Clemens pitch that wouldn't have hit him if he were standing a foot closer to it, and all hell broke loose, Steiner told us at first that David Wells had been knocked to the ground by Punk-Ass, when, in fact, it turned out that Don Zimmer actually did the stop, flop and roll. Wells (6'4", 250+), as we alls wells knows, knows how to handle himself in a fight, and would not likely have toppled so readily to a man (and I use the term loosley) who stands 5 inches shorter and weighs 180 pounds dripping wet and carrying a bag of Quikrete. Steiner corrected himself quickly, but still...

The Yankees were, as you may recall, pretty bummed when the Red Sox traded Carl Pavano, Tony Armas Jr. and another young pitcher (anyone remember whom?) to Montreal and then signed Pedro to that ~$15 million/year contract, but for my money (and some of it is...) I'll take a boring, composed, college boy like Mussina over a punk-ass like Punk Ass anyday. Didn't see the Moose letting loose at Trot Nixon's head when it looked like he was about to take his third defeat of the postseason, did you?

"...And now Mussina holds the ball, And now he lets it go,
And now Trot's skull is shattered! The blood from his head doth flow!"

Not exactly the classic picture of good, old-fashioned American sport Ernest Thayer imagined, is it?

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09 October 2003

Winter of Their Discontent

I mentioned yesterday how exciting most of the postseason has been, and despite the Yankees' loss to Boston last night, and the Cubs' pummeling the Marlins into submission, it's still exciting.

Thankfully, we didn't see the kinds of bone-headed plays to which we've become accustomed in this postseason in either game. ESPN's Jim Caple reviews some of the low points.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the Oakland/Boston game in which the A's played like the Nine Stooges. A friend tried to explain it to me and I almost gave up trying to listen, it was so hard to follow all the screw-ups. I did, however, catch the end of the Giants/Marlins game that ended the former's season and propelled the latter into the NLCS for the second time in their history. As exciting as it was, I couldn't believe my eyes when J.T. Snow came barrel-assing around third and tried to knock the ball out of Pudge's glove. You'd have better luck trying to knock the sword out of the Governor of California's hands.

That sounds weird.

Pudge isn't one of my favorite players. I think he's egotistical and self-absorbed and pretty over-rated in almost every category. But I know that he's good at what he does, and I don't think I'd have sent the runner in that situation.

Caple lays the blame on Snow for running late, I guess, and not making it to the plate on time, but I saw the hit, and it wasn't that deep. Most people don't score from second base on a bloop to left field, so it seems to me that the Giamts third base coach is to blame, more than Snow, at least. Unless Snow ran through the 'stop' sign. (He didn't, did he?)

Not only was it a dumbass play because the gamble of scoring one run still only ties the game vs. the chance that the game/series/season will be over if it doesn't work (high risk, low reward). It was also a dumbass play because they'd have had the bases loaded with a one-time pretty good hitter coming up next in Rich Aurilia, and another pretty good hitter behind him. You might have heard of that guy. His name is SuperMan. And of course, by the time Barry Bonds would have gotten to the plate, the game would have already been at least tied, and there'd have been no where to put him, so someone would have to pitch to him.

Of course, there are no guarantees. Aurilia might have struck out with the bases loaded. Even if he didn't, and Bonds came up with a tie game and the bases loaded, there's no guarantee that he'd have deposited the ball in the Gulf of Mexico. He might have struck out, just like Mighty Casey, and given the fans one more thing to hate about him. But either of those options would seem better in retrospect than the colossal "what if" that the Giants and their fans have to deal with over the coming winter.

Here's hoping that Willie "The Human Windmill" Randolph doesn't do anything that stupid...

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08 October 2003


With apologies to Rob Neyer...

A few random notes while wondering where Carl Weathers will show up in the vast, right wing conspiracy to get the entire cast of Predator elected to public office...

First of all, the fact that the games have been so competitive this far into the playoffs is simply fantastic. There have only been four games (coincidentally, one in each Division series) decided by four runs or more, and only one decided by more than four runs (the Yankees' 8-1 clincher at Minnesota...so much for home-carpet advantage.) In fact, three of the four series were decided by four runs or fewer, with the Oakland-Boston series decided by only one run. Almost all of the games have been exciting, some of them going to extra innings. Hey! Free baseball!

What's more, half (count 'em) of this year's playoff participants come from cities that have been traditionally considered non-contenders because of being in a small market. Oakland and San Francisco, with essentially the same market, the Florida Marlins, and the Minnesota Twins have all been the subjects of conversations about "competitive imbalance" and the Twins were even threatened with contraction less than two years ago. It seems that Commissioner Bud has a lot less to say about the issue now that Oakland has made the playoffs for four straight years, with two MVPs and a Cy Young Award winner along the way, and the Twins are were in the playoffs for a second straight season.

Last year, Selig was bitching and moaning that the teams who had won the recent World Series' were all in the top tier of payroll, but this year the Cubs (12th) and Marlins (20th) still have as good a shot at it as the Yanks (1st) and Red Sox (5th). And even if neither of the National League, cheapskate teams wins (please...) the playoffs are almost a crap-shoot anyway. It's getting there that's the tough part. Winning once you're there is little more than good fortune.

For the record, I still pick the Cubs to beat the Marlins in the NLCS. The Marlins didn't strike out much this year (3rd fewest in NL), but they also aren't very patient as a team (4th fewest walks in NL in 2003), and don't hit for a lot of power (11th in homers). The Cubs are among the best at preventing homers and striking out the opposition, even though they walk more than their fair share. Florida doesn't have the patience to take much advantage of that tendency, and won't be able to overcome two appearances each by Wood and Prior.

FuzzyCubbies in six.

And, as you might imagine, I will still pick the Yankees in the ALCS. They're rested, they've got their rotation set up, they've got home-field advantage, and Boston's never beaten them in the playoffs. OK, so they've only met in playoffs of any sort twice, but still...

More importantly, the Yankees have their rotation set up exactly how they like it, as well as a rested bullpen, since they only needed a total of 7 innings and change from their relief pitchers to put away the Twins. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the cowboy-upping Red Sox are trying to patch together their starters from the tatters in which Oakland's hitters left them after five games that all came down to the wire. Their bullpen, despite not giving up a run after the first game of the Division Series, has not exactly been a bullwark of out-making fortitude this season. Byun-Hyun Kim, their supposed closer, isn't even on the roster for the series. And their starting lineup will sorely miss Johnny Damon, however long he's gone.

The Yankees left Chris Hammond off their ALCS roster to make room for an extra backup infielder, Erick Almonte. If it were me, I'd probably prefer to leave one of the RF/DH types off the roster and keep Hammond. Some of Boston's key hitters (Nixon, Ortiz, Walker) struggle mightily against lefties, and Gabe White is the only one Torre's got now in that bullpen. Not the way I'd have done it, but then maybe that's why I don't have four World Series trophies to my credit.

There will be some messy games, but they'll be fun. and the Yankees will win it in Six.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a dog to watch and a game to walk. Or something.

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01 October 2003


Error n. A defensive fielding or throwing misplay by a player when a play normally should have resulted in an out or prevented an advance by a base runner.

OK, so I was wrong.

The Yankees set out to embarass themselves right off the bat this year as well. Bernie "Can You Throw This For Me?" Williams misplayed a flyball, which led to a 2-run "triple" by Torii Hunter that should have been a single, first and third, at worst. Matt LeCroy isn't exactly a speed demon, and they might both have scored on Koskie's double anyway, but the point is that Bernie's play is an error if I ever saw one. For the record, I didn't see this one, but I heard it on MLB radio over the internet. (Free for the playoffs if you try eight free issues of Sports Illustrated, which they're hoping you'll forget to cancel in November. I won't.)

In addition, Bernie's universally acknowledged misplay led to Alfonso Soriano knoblauching a throw past Aaron Boone when he was pressed to make the play on Hunter, trying for third.

SOAPBOX TIME: Isn't it high-time that the rules were changed concerning errors? I mean, every report you hear or read tells you that Bernie Williams screwed up yesterday, and yet the box score doen't even mention the "misplay". It just says "triple". And Mike Mussina is laden with three earned runs, instead of the one or two he really deserved.

For whatever reason, the Powers That Used-to-Be decided that a player has to actually touch a batted ball for the play to be ruled an error. Now this kinda makes sense, considering that it's pretty hard to screw something up if you never get to handle it. On the other mitt, though, after 150+ years of playing this game, pretty much everybody knows how a centerfielder is supposed to play that ball: i.e., if you can't get to it, cut it off and keep the batter from running to second, or, say, all the way around to home plate.

Bernie didn't do that. He screwed up the play, allowing a single to be streched into an RBI "triple" and forced another error (actually called as such this time) that allowed another run to score. So why is that not an error? Why is Mike Mussina blamed for that run instead?

Tradition. That's why.

Tradition says that he's got to touch the ball. So if a ball is hit up the middle, and the shortstop dives to his right, everyone would acknowledge that this was a stupid thing to do, but the official scored can't actually call it an error.

Tradition says "You can't anticipate the double play." This means that with a runner on first and less than two out, the middle infielder can step on second base and then knoblauch the throw all the way to Tibet and he's not credited with an error. It simply goes down as a fielder's choice and a putout at 2B. But in the 21st century (and for most of the last one) hundreds, if not thousands, of double plays are turned every year, and we all know that if you can't get the throw off cleanly, it's better to just hold onto the ball. Everyone knows that, and yet the Rules still say it wasn't an error.

It's time to give Tradition the boot and bring in some common sense.

The Yankees still lost, which is ultimately what matters, but let's call a spade a spade here, eh? Or, you know, an error.

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29 September 2003


Not that I'm really any good at this (I picked the Angels to win the World Series over the Giants last year, and by "Angels" I mean "Yankees." Oops.) but I'm going to give you my three and a half cents on the 2003 postseason anyway. Because what the hell, you're here anyway, might as well do something productive, like read. Let's take the playoff series one at a time, because four at a time is just too messy, and I'm too lazy to clean up after myself.

Yankees vs. Twinkies

You can probably guess what I think about this one. The Yankees will certianly not allow themselves to be embarassed in the first round of the postseason for a second consecutive year. No sir, we're waiting until at least the second round before we start playing like bench-warmers from an American Legion team. Overall, it's hard not to like the Yankees' chances with Mussina & Pettitte (81-30, 3.46 ERA career at home) at The Stadium and then Clemens and Mussina (20-2 career against Twins) in the Dome.

Besides, how hard can it be to beat only two guys?!!? WITH THE SAME DNA??! They're twins!

Seriously though, kudos to the Twins for winning them when they counted, playing hard and pulling out all the stops when they needed to, but they're not getting past the Yanks. The Twins took advantage of a mostly soft schedule down the stretch, and it took them until the last week of the season and collapses by the WhiteSox (only 8-10 since Sept 10th) and Royals (13-15 in Sept) to wrap up a very weak division.

Sure, anything can happen, but it won't. Yankees in 4.

Oaklands vs. Bostons

Normally, this would probably be billed as Boston's vaunted offense against Oakland's vaunted pitching, but Mark Mulder is on the shelf, and nobody from the Athletics is really hitting like they'll need to in order to get past the RedSox starting pitching. As for the rest of you, well, if you can't be an Athletic, be an Athletic Supporter!

I'll give this one to the Wild-Card-Winning BoSawx. But I won't like it.
Red Sox in five.

Braves vs. Cubs

This should be interesting. The Braves had, uncharacteristically, the best offense in the National League, while the Cubs' pitching was among the best in the Senior Circuit, including setting a new record for team strikeouts in a season. But in the end, I'll give Atlanta's wonderful offense and decent pitching the edge over Chicago's "Team of Destiny (and Strikeouts)" and mediocre offense. Dusty Baker is great at getting whatever he can out of aging veterans during the regular season, but's he's hamstrung himself with older, slower and less on-base prone hitters in the lower lineup and bench, and he won't get what he needs out of them.

All over North Chicago, businessmen will skip out early to watch the Braves put the nail in the Cubs' coffin.
Braves in 4.

And last, but not finally...

Marlins vs. Giants

This is one of those series that would scare the crap out of me if I were a Giants fan, and if I hadn't just gone already. The marlins, frankly, are not that good a team, but they deserve credit for winning the games they had to win, and the Phillies (13-13 in Sept) don't. The Marlins were 8th out of 16 NL teams in both ERA and runs scored, decidely mediocre on both counts, but they won the close games, and with their pitching, they're usually close. Bonds and the Giants are pretty good at taking walks, but the Marlins don't give a lot of them up, so it might not matter.

Also, the Marlins' offense isn't built around walks, so the fact that SanFran is good at preventing these doesn't necessarily help them. I hate to say it, but I really think that the Marlins could ride their hot pitching and timely hits to a quick defeat of the Giants, whose offense gets extremely thin after Barry Bonds.

Marlins in 5. But I hope I'm wrong.

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23 September 2003

CYA, Wouldn't Wanna BYA...

It feels a little disingenuous writing a column about the American League Cy Young candidates now, since the front-runner for the award a month ago, Esteban Loaiza, has gone 1-3 with a 6.85 ERA in his last four starts and essentially pulled the trigger for his White Sox teammates as they shot themselves in the collective foot in the AL Central race. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Loaiza’s primary competition, Roy Halladay, rattled off four consecutive complete games, two of them shutouts (including a 10-inning gem!), and allowed only one earned run in those 37 innings. He leads the AL in starts (35), innings pitched (257), K/W ratio (6.03) and wins (21), is 2nd in the AL in complete games (8), walks/9 IP, and strikeouts (195), 3rd in baserunners/IP (1.07) and tied for 6th in ERA (3.22) with Barry Zito.

As I mentioned, it’s a little late to be writing a “debate” column about this “race” as most experts have likely made up their minds in favor of Halladay at this point. But let it be said that I was supporting Halladay three weeks ago, when he and Loaiza were both 19-6, and Loaiza’s ERA edge was 2.60 to 3.42. ERA is probably the most significant means of measuring a pitcher’s effectiveness, but it’s not the only means. When you consider that ERA titles have been won by the immortal likes of Joe Magrane, Allan Anderson and Atlee Hammaker, it doesn't seem quite so important. Hell, Steve Ontiveros once won an ERA title, but there weren’t many folks picketing outside the offices of their favorite BBWAA members when the AL Cy Young award was bestowed upon David Cone.

The major factor that Halladay has going for him is quantity. He’s got more wins (as antiquated and potentially useless a stat as it may be) than anyone else in MLB, and has almost 20 more innings than his closest AL competitor, Tim Hudson. His eight complete games trail only Mark Mulder’s nine, who sadly had his season cut short by a hip injury last month. In an age when pitchers rarely complete what they start, when Roger Clemens won the first ever Cy Young Award for a starter without a complete game to his credit (2001), it’s refreshing to see a pitcher go the distance at least a few times.

I understand, in terms of actual wins and losses, that run support has a lot to do with a starter's record. I'll be the first to tell you that Loaiza has lost or gotten no decision for six Quality Starts (6+ IP, 3- ER) this year, while Halladay has had only four such experiences. Halladay's run support, over 6 runs/game, has been very good, 6th in the AL, but Loaiza's is over 5 runs/game as well, thanks to playing in front of Chicago's (until recently) great offense.

Ironically, some people will tell you,

"For the Cy Young award, I don't factor in a team's performance, because I see it as a best pitcher or pitcher-of-the-year award."

...immediately after telling you that the first thing they consider is the number of Wins a starter has. Which is a lot like a movie critic saying that he only considers individual performances, right after he tells you that he thinks that Keanu Reeves ought to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for The Matrix Resuscitated.

So Wins can't be the only metric, nor should it even be the first. The main problem with only looking at ERA, or even Support-Neutral Wins and Losses, as Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan pointed out here, is that the pitchers don’t all face the same teams, thanks to the newly unbalanced schedule. The fact that Loaiza has won four games in six starts, with a Bob-Gibson-esque 1.21 ERA against the woeful Tigers (helps to blow up his record’s appearance. Overall, Halladay’s average opponents have hit to the tune of .265 BA/.336 OBP/.430 SLG/.766 OPS, which is in the Tino Matrinez, Wes Helms, Randy Winn, Craig Biggio, Mike Cameron, Torii Hunter Neighborhood. Loaiza’s opponents have hit only .261/.327/.411/.738, which is akin to Juan Encarnacion, Eric Young, Casey Blake, and Adam Kennedy.

Clearly a notable drop in quality. Sheehan described the difference as being worth less than ten runs over the course of a season, but then he dismisses its influence out of hand. Actually, if you look at the difference in average batter quality, it works out to about 5 runs/450 outs, which doesn't sound like much for a batter, because it's not. But Halladay’s 257 innings pitched yielded 771 outs, which extrapolates the difference between (roughly) Mike Cameron and Casey Blake to about 8.5 runs over the course of Halladay's season. If you take away eight earned runs from his season total, do you know what his ERA becomes?


Which suddenly is not so different from Loaiza’s 2.92, trailing only Hudson (2.74) and Pedro (2.25, but in only 183 innings). Heck, even if you only take off seven runs, it’s still 2.97, and I’d say that’s more than fair given the difference in the qualities of the batters these two have faced.

And now, when you’re looking at two pitchers who allow earned runs at almost exactly the same rate but one of them has forty more innings to his credit, which one do you say was better? Hallady becomes the clear winner.

Tim Hudson probably has a better case for the Award than Loaiza does, if you consider how well he's pitched and not how well the team's hitting and defense have done on his behalf. But Hudson won't get much support from the writers, with his mere 15 wins, so it comes down to Loaiza and Halladay.

I'll take Roy.

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16 September 2003

Quien Es Mas Valioso?

There seem to be two great debates raging currently in the world of Major League Baseball. The first is who should be voted the NL MVP, with Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols as the main contenders, Gary Sheffield, Todd Helton, Eric Gagne and others following a distant third, fourth and so on. The second debate regards the AL Cy Young Award, with Esteban Loaiza and Roy Halladay the main contenders. We’ll take these one at a time, since trying to read a column about two different issues would be almost as hard as trying to write it. I'll get to the AL CYA argument in a day or two.


Barry Bonds has already won five (!) NL MVP Awards, while no one else in NL history has more than three (Stan Musial, Roy Campanella and Mike Schmidt shared this record until 2001, when Barry won his fourth). Some would argue that it’s time for Barry to step aside and let some younger blood in to share the glory. This is just about the dumbest argument I can imagine for naming Pujols the MVP instead of Bonds. But are there any cogent arguments for Pujols over Bonds? Let’s look at their overall numbers:

Pujols 626 547 127 199 48 42 122 69 .364 .441 .686 1.127
Bonds 512 361 104 123 20 42 84 142 .341 .534 .751 1.285

This happens to be something of a convenient time to analyze these two players, as they both hit their 42nd home run of the season on Monday night, but in most other respects, their numbers are quite different. The most glaring differences you should observe are those between their at-bats (AB) and plate appearances (PA), as well as Barry’s edge in the walks (BB) category. Pujols has over 100 more plate appearances than Bonds, and nearly 200 more at-bats, because Bonds has played 26 fewer games than Pujols has, and has walked over twice as many times.

Now the question arises: What do we do about such disparities? How do we compare players with different skills and with different amounts of playing time? Well, let’s try normalizing for playing time. We’ll project Barry’s numbers out over the same number of plate appearances that Pujols has and see what the differences look like then.

Pujols 626 547 127 199 48 42 122 69 .364 .441 .686 1.127
Bonds 626 441 127 150 24 51 103 174 .341 .534 .756 1.276
Diff 0 106 0 49 24 -9 19 -105 .023 -.090 -.065 -.158

With more playing time, the theory goes, Bonds would have nine more homers, 105 more walks, and just as many runs scored as Pujols, but would still have almost 20 fewer RBI, half as many doubles, and almost 50 fewer hits. Bonds’ edge in the “rate” stats (on-Base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS) remains, as does his 23-point deficit in batting average. A 158-point advantage in OPS, largely due to Bonds’ penchant for walking, is nothing to sneeze at. It’s roughly the difference between Alex Rodriguez and Mark Loretta, at least this year. So don’t let the relatively small percentage increase fool you: It’s huge.

Still, though, two problems remain:

1) Bonds still has a lot fewer RBI than Pujols, even with his additional projected plate appearances.

B) Bonds doesn’t have any additional projected plate appearances.

Bonds has only what he has, which is a lot less playing time than Albert Pujols. ESPN.com’s Jim Butler has made a good case for Bonds as the MVP, citing his runs created per 27 outs as significantly above Pujols’s number in that stat. RC/27, in case you don’t know, is a measure of how many runs a team of nine Barry Bondses or nine Albert Pujolses or nine Travis Nelsons would score, given average pitching and defense. Bonds blows Pujols away in this category, about 15 to 11. (For perspective, no one else in MLB has a mark higher than Todd Helton’s 10.05, which he owes largely to the Greatest Hitter’s Park Ever.)

Bonds, it seems, is the better player. I can’t really argue with that. But who’s more valuable?

I heard Bobby Valentine on the radio the other day discussing Bonds,

“…the walk is a very powerful play in baseball…Bonds is the best player I’ve ever seen…there are pitches that Barry could hit, I think sometimes Barry takes a walk in a close spot by taking a close pitch just to prove how good he is…”

Bobby V. did not seem to notice the irony in his statement: He acknowledges Bonds’ greatness and the utility of the Walk as a hitter, but then says essentially that Barry would somehow be better if he walked less often. Sounds a little like saying that Tiger Woods might be a better golfer if he didn’t hit the ball so darn far all the time, doesn’t it?

Ted Williams realized, a long time ago, that the batter’s eyes were the key to his success. Specifically, not giving the pitcher anything that the rulebook didn’t allow him. Swinging at a pitch just two inches off the plate increases the size of the strike zone roughly 20%, depending on how tall you are. This means that the pitcher has an area 20% larger at which to aim in order to get you out. (Note: If Eric Gregg happens to be umpiring, the area jumps to about 150%. If Alfonso Soriano is at-bat, this number increases to something like 200%. If both are true, I think Soriano’s out as long as they can find the ball at the end of his at-bat.) So Barry knows that giving the pitcher anything more than what he absolutely has to give will work against him, and against the team, much more often than not. So he doesn’t swing at those pitches. Which is why he’s so great.

With that said, I still think that Pujols will, and perhaps even should, win the NL MVP. The awards voters like RBIs, they like Runs, they like batting average, and Pujols has a big lead in all three. But more importantly, Pujols has played a lot more. Twenty six games is a lot to miss when your team is jockeying for position in a pennant race. Granted, the Giants have had their division locked up since July, but they could have gotten home-field advantage in the NL playoffs instead of the Braves, and they probably won’t. The step down from Bonds to Jeffrey Hammonds or Trever Linden or whomever plays left field when Barry's not around is a huge step down, especially when the Giants don't have another regular with an OPS over .800. He leaves a gaping hole in the lineup whenever he's not in it, and Neifi Perez can't swing at enough extra pitches to ocmpensate for it.

I understand that with his injuries and his father’s illness and death, Bonds had every right to miss those games. I don’t begrudge him that. But I (and the BBWAA) have every right to count those against him in deciding whether he or Albert Pujols has been the more valuable player over the course of the season.

I mentioned earlier that Bonds has a significant edge in RC/27 over Pujols, and he does. But Pujols, thanks to his 26 extra games, actually has more Runs Created overall, 151 to 140, which is not a huge advantage, but it’s something. If you like Baseball Prospectus’ numbers better, you get the same story: Bonds has an enormous edge in their rate stat, Equivalent Average, .424 to .366, but Pujols actually has a slight edge in their counting stat, Equivalent Runs, 142 to 140. Obviously this is a lot closer, but it’s still an edge.

The analogy goes like this: If you have a stack of $100 bills, say, 50 bills tall, it’s worth $5000. If you have another stack of $50 bills, only this stack is 101 bills thick, its worth, its value, is $5050. You can argue all you want that the $100 bills are worth more, and you’ll win that argument, because that’s not the contention I’m making. I’m arguing that the stack of fifties is more valuable, if only slightly.

And so is Albert Pujols. At least this season.

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