28 April 2004

What are the Best and Worst of the New Ballparks?

Frankly, I am not very qualified to answer this question, having visited only one of the stadiums that have opened since 2000, PNC Park. Technically, that makes the Pirates’ new home both the best and the worst New ballpark I have seen, which seems like a cop-out, were I to finish my answer here.

However, thankfully, Al Gore invented the Internet, so I can go to Ballparks.com and find out what I would not otherwise know from people who have done their (and your) homework.

BEST: So, as best as I can determine, the best ballpark to open since 2000 is…PacBell…err…3-Com…um, no wait…

SBC Park!

Sorry ‘bout that. It gets a little confusing, you know?

But regardless of its name, the Giants’ new home represents everything that is good about today’s Major League Baseball. It’s a beautifully designed, baseball-only stadium set right on the San Francisco Bay, and built with a short (307-ft.) porch and high (25-ft.) wall in right field, so as to allow some of the numerous and impressive home runs hit by Barry Bonds (and others, once in a while) to land in the water. Fans and souvenir hunters in boats and kayaks can claim them without even paying the price of admission! This park feature has become as well known as any this side of the Green Monster, what with the proliferation of round-trippers launched by Mr. Bonds in the last few years.

With the recognition that SBC Park and McCovey Cove receive in commercials and highlight reels, that feature alone might be enough to call SBC the best park opened in this millennium, but it doesn’t end there.

SBC is situated in a place allowing for ample parking but also highly accessible to public transportation. It was designed to block the wind much better than its predecessor, Candlestick Park, did, and a waterfront promenade allows fans to actually watch the game for free through a fence from outside the park. How cool is that?

Inside the park, the seats are all tilted toward the pitcher’s mound, allowing for more comfortable viewing of baseball games, and the concourse is open, so you can watch the action while waiting in line for whatever it is that they like to eat in San Francisco during games. Take that, Yankee Stadium.

But most of all, I like SBC because the Giants ownership managed somehow to build all of this for only $255 million, less than any of the other new ballparks except Houston ($250 mil) and without a dime of public financing. The burden of building and maintaining the park, and therefore any profits, are entirely the Giants’ concern. That, my friends, in an age of millionaires and billionaires whining incessantly about how they need common taxpayers to buy them a new 300-million dollar toy every ten years, is greatness.

WORST: Speaking of whiny billionaires, how in the world did the owners of the Milwaukee Brewers manage to convince people that they needed $400 million to build Miller Park? The new venue in San Francisco, where you can’t buy a 2-bedroom Cape Cod with no yard for less than $300,000, only cost $255 million! And how on earth did they manage to convince the taxpayers of Milwaukee and the surrounding counties to pony up for over three quarters of that money? And almost half of the paltry $90 million the Brewers provided actually came from the Miller Brewing Company, in naming rights fees, so the owners of the team barely covered ten percent of the total cost.

Besides this, the park does not have any of the charm that its colleagues have. It seats 43,000, even though I’m not sure there are that many people who care about the Brewers left on the planet, and has the downtown location and revitalized neighborhood (also with government funds) typical of many of the newer ballparks. It also has open-air walkways and a view-of-the-skyline outfield that a lot of the other new ballparks have, along with the unique, fan-style retractable roof, so it’s not all bad.

By most accounts though, the park is pretty nondescript. It’s not a particularly pitcher- or hitter-friendly field, doesn’t really have any interesting quirks like an in-play flagpole, a manually operated scoreboard or wacky corners in the outfield, which is pretty symmetrical. Besides this, the park’s opening was delayed two years because of financing problems (“We’re sorry, Mr. Milwaukee taxpayer, 112 percent simply isn’t enough. You’re going to have to cover more of the cost for us or we won’t make you pay for the gentrification project, either.”) and the deaths of three construction workers. Not a good omen.

The only truly unique aspects within Miller Park are Bernie Brewer and his slide, which only get used every couple of games when the Brewers hit a home run, and the Sausage Race, which Randall Simon will tell you is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Oh, and did I mention that the Brewers play there? That’s reason enough not to bother.

See what some of my colleagues at Baseball Outsider think about this...

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I Want My Radio Back!

Let me give you my impression of the phenomenon known as Sports Talk Radio for the last several weeks...

Mike: ...I don't know what you're talking about. Zeke Duke is definitely going to go #46 in the Draft. There just isn't any way around it...

MIKE: [interrupting] You're a moron! There's no way Zeke Duke goes any lower than #45 in the Draft. I mean, the last five games of the season, he was playing out of his mind...

Mike: [interrupting] How can you say that!? Sure, he's good, but Central Southern North Midwestern State is hardly known as a breeding ground for middle linebackers. Zeke Duke will be lucky if they pick him at #46, and then he'll be lucky if they don't trade him immediately for 6th, 9th and 11th round picks in the 2009 draft! At the end of the day...

MIKE: [interrupting] Mike, you ignorant slut! You know that if he's traded at all, which I doubt, it'll be for 6th, 8th and 11th round picks...

Mike: [interrupting] Go wax your eyebrows!

And on and on and on and on and on.....

As you probably know, if you're interested enough in any sports to be reading this baseball blog, the NFL Draft was (finally) held on Saturday. Thank goodness. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like football. Admittedly, I don't like it the way I like baseball, but it's OK. Violence punctuated by committee meetings, perhaps, but it can be fun to watch. Sometimes.

So it's not that I don't like football, it's just that I don't care about football. Not at all. It would not have made any less difference to me whatsoever if the Giants had instead traded Manhattan Island and $24 worth of beads to get the #1 pick in the draft and then chose , (as Choosy Moms do!), or to draft a Sam Adams instead of an Eli Manning. I couldn't care a whole lot less if they drafted Eli Manning and sent him to Afghanistan, just so long as they STOP TALKING ABOUT IT!!!

Therefore, as you might have guessed, I am glad that the stupid draft is finally over, and as soon as the stupid NBA and NHL playoffs are over, I'll have Sports Talk Radio back to myself again, which is to say, back to baseball.

On the other hand (where, it turns out, I have some sunburn from fishing all afternoon Saturday without any sunblock), maybe the media's distractedness with such trivial matters as the future stars of the NFL and the current potential NBA and NHL champions wasn't such a bad thing. You see, you probably know, if you're reading this blog, that the Yankees haven't been doing so well.

OK, that's a bit of an understatement. The Yanks have in fact been stinking up the joint. Their six losses out of seven games in two weekend series against the Hated Boston Red Sox (TM) had New York tabloids calling for Joe Torre's resignation, and Derek Jeter's (now 0-for-28) head. The starting pitchers' decidedly mediocre 4.92 ERA is certainly not helping things, but the real problem has been their bats. The Yanks are batting only .221 as a team, and their .697 OPS is better than only the Mets and Expos in MLB. Including yesterday's 10-8 win over Oakland, the Yanks have managed more than four runs in a game only six times this season, and not surprisingly, they've won all six of those games.

It got so bad (how bad was it?) that the kinder, gentler George Steinbrenner of the New Millennium felt compelled to issue a statement reassuring everyone that, at least for the next few hours, nobody would be fired for this:

"I have a great manager in Joe Torre, and a great general manager in Brian Cashman, and I have confidence in both of them. It's in their hands."

One of the main reasons that the Yanks were able to win this game was the Athletics' use of Jim Mecir and his screwball, which, as you'll recall is thought to be one of the ten best out-pitches in the major leagues by people who don't have any idea how to read a box score. Let me demonstrate:

0 4 5 5 0 1 0 22-12 5 9.45

This boxscore says that Jim threw 22 pitches, but only 12 for strikes, while facing five battters.
Of those five batters, he only walked one, which isn't bad, unless you take into account that he allowed hits to the other four, and that all five of them scored before he recorded an out, which gives him an in-game ERA of

Which is bad.

With any luck, the Yanks may get to beat up on Mr. Mecir again before the series is over, and then maybe they'll remember how to hit real pitchers once in a while too. If not, it's going to be a long season for Yankee fans like me.

T-minus-three hundred and sixty days to the next NFL Draft!!

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20 April 2004

Short Attention-Span Theatre

Yankees-RedSox Series...

I got to watch (parts of) my first few Yankee games of the season this past weekend. Bad timing. Living in Pennsylvania means that you either have to own a bar or shell out several hundred dollars of your own money to get DirecTV and YES Network, and neither category applies to me, so I have to wait for those rare games on Fox or ESPN. (Too bad I'm not a Giants' fan. I could have seen their entire first series against the Astros, all three games, and then another game, against the Padres, on Easter, as ESPN tried to ride the ratings bus with Barry's pursuit of Willie Mays. Oh, wait. I did.)

Anywho, as you may have heard, we lost. Three out of four. The defense was bad, the pitching was bad, the hitting was bad. The Yankees were bad. A-Rod is hitting .160 with a sub-Neifi .543 OPS. Mike Mussina's 1-3 with a 7.52 ERA.

However, as I told my boss, a Red Sox fan: Sure they can win three out of four in April, but it's four out of seven in October that really counts. They've never shown that they can do that against the Yankees or much of anyone else.

1918, baby. Nineteen-eighteen.

Larry Walker Finds a Body in His Yard

Now, you must understand, Larry Walker's "yard" is not like yours or mine. Heck, I personally don't even have a "yard" or at least I fon't have any grass. Just a slab of cement with astroturf on it, and a couple of small trees. Bushes, really. Vines, I guess. Well, weeds. OK, just one weed. And it's dead.

But Larry's gotta get on and ATV [sidenote: Isn't ATV riding one of those things that voids a major league contract? Shouldn't it be? I mean, the guy's already on the DL. ] to survey his property, and when he did so this weekend, he found a body. That's right, a real-live dead guy. No, Larry's not a suspect, as authorities pointed out that he hasn't been killing much of anything in about two years.

Rumour has it that Arizona GM Joe Gariagola Jr. sent a scout to measure the body's temperature and see if he was fit to help fill out the Diamondbacks' bullpen, maybe even lower their relievers' 8.20 ERA. Callouses on his left hand seem to indicate that the body was a southpaw, so he's been signed to a minor league contract with performance bonuses.

"Now pitching for Arizona: John Doe."

There are rumblings out of the morgue that he may have to be placed on the Disabled List. Will keep you posted.

Mark of the Beast

Barry Bonds hit career home run #666 last night. It's the sixth consecutive game in which he's homered and the sixth home run he's hit since tying Willie Mays for third place, which is half of sixth. His team ( G-I-A-N-T-S, six letters) now has six wins and the homer was it in the third inning, which, as you'll recall, is half of six. It was his 36th at bat of the season (6x6).

Bonds' teammate Jerome Williams pitched 6.66 innings for the win, so he may be in on the conspiracy.

Nasty Pitches, Nasty Omission

ESPN's got a feature article today highlighting what some scouts, managers and general managers described as the best "out pitches" in the majors.

1) Mariano Rivera's cut fastball
2) Kerry Wood's curveball
3) John Smoltz' slider
4) Eric Gagne's changeup
5) Roger Clemens' split-finger fastball
6) Tim Wakefield's knuckleball
7) Billy Wagner's four-seam fastball
8) Barry Zito's curveball
9) Kevin Brown's sinker
10) Jim Mecir's screwball

Jim Mecir's screwball???

Look, I'm all for equal opportunity and making the game a little more interesting, and I would love to see more pitchers out there with something besides the usual fastball/curve/change-up combo, but let's give credit where's it's due, y'know? And not to Jim Mecir.

While it may be one of the more interesting pitches in the majors right now, Mecir's screwball can hardly be accurately referred to as one of the ten best pitches in the majors. If the guy had a 5.60 ERA in 2003 and "...right-handed hitters don't have nearly as much trouble with [his screwball as lefties do]", by the writer's own admission, then it can't be one of the best, can it? An "out-pitch" that isn't very effective against slightly more than 60% of the batters in the major leagues isn't much of an "out-pitch", is it?

So how do they find room on this list for Jim Mecir, but leave off Pedro Martinez entirely? Granted, he's not exactly been himself lately, but when he's "on" (and he will be again, don't you worry) the guy's got a 95+ mph fastball that moves, a wicked curve, and a changeup that screws better than anybody's screwball! Heck, forget Pedro. Most of John Burkett's repetoire was better than Mecir's last season, and Burkett was so good that he's RETIRED NOW!

End of diatribe.

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15 April 2004

Old and In the Way...

I went to the movies to see The Alamo on Friday night with my wife. Everybody dies. Sorry if that ruins it for you.

Speaking of dying, on our way in, there were some teenagers there as well. OK, so it seemed like every teenager on the East Coast was there, but maybe that's just me. Don't worry, the teenagers don't die in this story.

So as Sunny and I were on our way into the theatre, I held the door for a couple of the teenage girls coming in behind us, and then continued walking to catch up with my wife, at which point I overheard one of the teenage girls speaking to her friends. (Teens don't develop the Volume-Control Gene until about 22.) She said, and I quote,

"See? That old guy..."

Now I didn't catch the rest of that sentence (guess my hearing is going...) but I think it had something to do with my politeness in holding the door for her. Frankly, I wouldn't much care if the sentence went,

"See? That old guy is really hot and I think I'll give him this one million dollars in cash just for being so tall."

Doesn't matter. The harm is done. Period.

In my defense, I'm only 29 years old, which, while no longer at my peak as a hitter, is still not 30, at least. And it's certainly not old. My wife held me back from trying to defend my self to (and doubtlessly embarass) this girl, though I suspect that if I had done so, I'd have only dug the grave deeper. It seems that I am probably almost twice the girl's age, and you'd have more luck finding hair on a half-eaten peach. Maybe I am old? Oh well.

Hey, speaking of old guys...

OUR TOP STORY TONIGHT!!! The Anaheim Angels have given Garrett Anderson a 4-year, $48 million contract extension, and Francisco Franco is still dead.

I'm not a huge Garret Anderson fan, though Garrett Morris, well, that's another story. Anderson's certainly a good enough player. He's got decent power, plays good defense in whatever outfield spot he's assigned, stays healthy and doesn't complain.

However, Baseball Prospectus' list of Anderson's most comparable players is led off by the following ten names:

Hitter EQA@31 Games EQA Drop
Oliva, Tony 0.284 471 0.262 -0.022
Oliver, Al 0.300 561 0.302 0.002
Pepitone, Joe 0.252 34 0.255 0.003
Cooper, Cecil 0.316 370 0.290 -0.026
Hall, Mel 0.272 25 -0.105 -0.377
Kluszewski, Ted 0.301 341 0.268 -0.033
Rice, Jim 0.278 540 0.285 0.007
Gonzalez, Juan 0.318 76 0.279 -0.039
Dawson, Andre 0.287 575 0.293 0.006
Chambliss, Chris 0.276 530 0.277 0.001
Bell, George 0.277 259 0.244 -0.033
Alou, Felipe 0.312 577 0.271 -0.041
Cepeda, Orlando 0.274 392 0.287 0.013
Horton, Willie 0.310 528 0.270 -0.040
Hendrick, George 0.298 485 0.272 -0.026
Bichette, Dante 0.291 622 0.267 -0.024
Parrish, Larry 0.263 401 0.269 0.006
Garvey, Steve 0.287 533 0.268 -0.019
May, Lee 0.269 570 0.272 0.003
Scott, George 0.303 538 0.268 -0.035
Wt. Avg. 0.288 421 0.255 -0.016

The first column in the table lists the players' Age-31 EQA (Baseball Prospectus' comprehensive measurement tool, configured to roughly equate batting average in terms of the measurement scale). What follows is the number of games they each played over the next four seasons. Gonzalez has only played two seasons since, and Hall and Pepitone only played a handful of games after age 31 before retiring. The next column is the aggregate (weighted) EQA for those four seasons, and then the change in EQA in the last column, with the weighted average change at the bottom.

The list is not a bad one. It's composed almost entirely of players who were All-Stars at some point in their careers, and even a marginal Hall-of-Famer or two (Cepeda and possibly Dawson or Gonzales, when elligible). What it doesn't include is a lot of players who aged well. Of the 20 players on the list, half of them didn't even manage to average 125 games per season for the next four years, and seven of them couldn't even suit up 100 times per year. Twelve of the 20 experienced a ~20-40 point drop in EQA in the following 4 seasons (Mel Hall is a special, small-sample-size case, so we'll mostly ignore him). Of those who did improve, only Orlando Cepeda did so by more than 0.006, and that modest 13-point increase occurred in fewer than 400 games over four years. And in all honesty, it probably looks even worse for Anderson than this, since the extension we're discussing doesn't kick in until 2005-2008, his age 33-36 seasons, and I evaluated the 20 guys above for ages 32-35. But I'm not going back to do it again. So there.

To Anderson's credit, he has been the model of health and consistency, racking up over 600 at-bats and 150+ games played each of the last eight seasons. In the last four, he has hit between .286 and .315, with 28-35 homers, 39-56 doubles, 116-123 RBI, and 80-93 runs scored. That's pretty damn consistent.

Oh yeah, by the way, he only walks about 25-30 times a year, and nearly a third of those are probably intentional. And he doesn't steal bases either. So what we've got here is a guy who's consistently productive, but also somewhat limited in his ability to develop any further, given his age and his skill set. Thirty-something year old hitters with no base-stealing speed who hardly ever walk tend not to last very long, or at least not to continue to produce at the same level for long.

Nevertheless, the Anaheim brass saw fit to reward the guy who's gotten more hits in an Angel uniform than anyone else in history with at least $51 million, including the $3 mil buyout they'll have to pay him if he's hurt or sucky by 2009. So they'll be paying an average of almost $13 million per season for a guy who's only hit 30 homers in a season once in his career, who's never walked more than 34 times in a season, and consequently has never had an OBP above .345 in a full season. And though he certainly drives in runs, his inability to get on base as often as Ron Belliard has prevented him from ever scoring more than 93 runs in a season.

Why might the Angels have done this?

Well, maybe they realize Anderson's limitations and the possibility of him getting injured (if only due to the law of averages), but they think that the market is going back up soon and that $13 million will be market-price for a centerfielder who hits like a good shortstop. Or maybe Travis Lee. Didn't see many general managers beating down Lee's door to offer him $13 million this off-season, did you?

Maybe they know he'll decline somewhat in production with age, but they think he won't ever get hurt (it's never happened before...) and this way at least they know what to expect in CF.

Maybe they think that there's no reason that the next four years won't be exactly like the last four years were for Anderson, and that this contract will atually be a bargain.

Or maybe they just think that loyalty is a higher value to fans than winning, and they think it's necessary to sign someone so closely associated with the franchise long-term to make sure they don't lose their fanbase. Maybe they fgure they'll score enough runs with Glaus, Guerrero and Salmon hitting around Anderson, so he doesn't have to become Sammy Sosa circa 1998 to make this a good deal.

On the other hand, this is the same team that gave Darin Erstad a 4-year, $32 million extension while he was in the midst of a season of hitting .283 with little power, at an age when he should have been at his best (27). Someone needs to explain to the Angels' front office that locking up players for the sake of locking them up is not the same as locking up the right players in an effort to win games and save money in the long-run.

The Angels are likely to have the third highest payroll in the majors in 2004, after picking up Bartolo Colon, Jose Guillen and Vlad Guererro in the offseason. Anderson may very well continue to be the backbone of the franchise's offense for the next half a decade, but if the wheels come off and they recede into mediocre obscurity despite the $100+ million payrolls in the next few seasons, well, let's just say that they can't blame it on the Yankees, for once.

Pretty soon age is going to catch up with Anderson, robbing him of his batspeed and ability to amass 180+ hits in a year, and/or robbing him of his otherwise spotless health record. And when one or both of those things happens, Anderson's disdain for the walk is going to catch up with him, and turn an aging .300/30-homer/100-RBI guy into a .275/20/80 guy, and who wants to pay $13 million for that? Especially when we've already got one in the NL, for only $17 million!

Wait, never mind. Maybe this will be a bargain after all.

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What was the Biggest Surprise of the Opening Week?

This whole first week was one series of surprises after another. What was most shocking? Was it the Mariners’ near-slide to 0-6? Was it the Tigers, who didn’t win game #5 in 2003 until May 5th, surging to 5-1? Was it Ken Griffey’s amazing ability to stay healthy for five whole games?

No, I think that this dubious honor must be awarded to…

…your 2004 Philadelphia Phillies!!!

Notice I don’t say my Phillies. I would, of course, like the Phils to win, but I won’t lose any sleep over it if they finish the season 2-160, a result which I don’t think we’re in much danger of seeing. On the other hand (where, it turns out, there’s a wedding band…and five fingers), if they don’t start scoring some runs, that second win of the season may take a while.

The Phillies’ starting pitchers were not stellar, but if they finish the year with the same 3.82 ERA they had after six games, it’ll be a good season. The bullpen, despite its Burba-esque 5.06 ERA, was not the reason for this slide. It was the hitters, or rather the lack thereof.

Catcher Mike Lieberthal was hitting .100, an even buck, even though he had one of the team’s only two homers. Second-year leadoff man Marlon Byrd was getting on base at a paltry .320 clip. Number two hitter Jimmy Rollins sported a measly .190 average, with an OBP under .300. Bobby Abreu, who should be protecting cleanup hitter Jim Thome, was batting only .091 in the #5-hole, which may help explain why Thome had not yet scored or driven in a run through the Phils’ first six games. The whole team managed only 16 runs, scoring less often than everybody but Montreal in the first week of the season, and everybody expects Montreal to suque.

But as shocking as this first week’s events may have been, if the Phillies don’t get their buts in gear, the next significant occurrence in Philadelphia will come as a shock to nobody:

Larry Bowa on the unemployment line.

What do some of my colleagues think about this? Find out here.

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12 April 2004

What opening series are you watching most closely?

Travis Nelson’s Run Down for this week is guest-written by Mr. Subliminal.

I am a huge fan of the [hopeless] Devil Rays. I just love those uniforms with teal highlights and the weird fish [hate ‘em]. Plus I lose sleep over that big Aubrey Huff/Tino Martinez debate [washed up]. That’s why I’ll be very closely watching the historic [publicity stunt] series between the Devil Rays and the hated New York Yankees [jealous] this week, half of which will be played in Japan [no I won’t].

These are technically “home” games [stupid] for the Devil Rays [no talent], even though both teams are playing as far away from home as they’ll be all season [other side of the planet]. In Japan, the Devil Rays [losers] have to wear their away grays because the “Evil Empire” Yankees are known all over the world and the Japanese fans [insane] want to see them in the famous Yankee pinstripes [Giambi looks skinnier]. But the Devil Rays will still have home-field advantage [bigger bathrooms] for these two games. All the [rabid] Japanese fans will be rooting for them more, knowing that they’re supposed to be the home team [not gonna happen]. Besides this, the Yankees have all the pressure on them [used to it] to win in front of the Japanese crowd [psychos].

Ironically, the games played in the Land of the Rising Sun [offensive term] will be played before the sun actually rises back home in Tampa Bay [retired Yankee-fan haven]. Most of the Devil Rays’ fans [all twelve of ‘em] will be asleep while the games are played. But not me [yeah, right]. I’m always [never] awake at 5:00 AM anyway [only to let the dog out]. I can have the game on the radio at work and then listen to the last few innings [are innings shorter in Japan, too?] on the drive home, since I work third shift in a manure processing plant [shoveling bull].

Read my colleagues' responses to this question here: Baseball Outsider.com

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04 April 2004

Opening Night

Some random notes while watching the Opening Night (as opposed to Opening Day, which is tomorrow, evidently, or opening morning, which happened last week, in Japan) game between the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox...

First Batter: Johnny Damon, with long hair and a full beard? Bringing new depths to that 'dirt-bags' theme the BoSox had going on late in the 2003 season. I'm no professional prognosticator, but I doubt that Damon's new look survives the month. It's one thing to wear a full beard and long hair when it barely breaks 40 degrees at gametime, but come may, June and July, you don't need any help sweating. Also, I remember a few years back that Jeff Bagwell started the season, or maybe just Spring Training, with an 8-inch long goatee, and it took less than a month for him to revert to his usual facial fare. Guys just get bored with looking at the same face in the mirror every day sometimes, but eventually they remember why they looked that way in the first place: It was easier.

Second Batter: Bill Mueller, I don't have to tell you, has an uphill battle ahead of him. When people note how great the 2003 RedSox offense was, and more importantly, how great they could be in 2004, Bill Mueller is the first one about whom they usually say, "He won't do that again..." Well, he's got three hits already tonight, so maybe he will...but for a guy who never slugged more than .450 or hit more than ten homers, I'll be very surprised if he repeats that performance. Though I haven't examined the numbers, I would venture a guess that he had a very high batting average on the balls he put in play last year, and that if those numbers revert to the norm, you'll get something a lot closer to the .285/.380/.420 line we were used to seeing from Bill, instead of that gaudy batting title and 19 homers. But you never know.

Sidney Ponson: Looking good so far. Throwing 95-96 mph early in the game. Ponson signed as a free agent with the team that traded him to the Giants for the stretch run. I guess he likes Baltimore. I guess he doesn't mind losing. The Orioles signed Javy Lopez, Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmiero in the off-season too, but that pitching staff gets pretty thin after Ponson, and not just because he's pushing 250 pounds. He lasted 5 and two-thirds and managed to give up only one run to the vaunted Red Sox offense, but new Orioles manager Lee Mazilli left him in there for 138 pitches on Opening Night! Does Mazilli have that little confidence in his bullpen? Will Carroll may have a new whipping boy, when he's done with Dusty Baker, that is.

Correction: ESPN2 just said it was only 111 pitches, not 138, as their in-game box score had earlier indicated. Still a lot for opening night in 40 degree weather.

Red Sox Infield: Rob Neyer amusingly referred to the "guy" who replaced Damian Jackson in the Red Sox lineup as 'Pokey Bellhorn' assuming, of course, that Mark Bellhorn and Pokey Reese would split time at 2B, but with Nomar on the DL, both are in the lineup tonight. That's not gonna push the 2004 Sawx toward 1000 runs on the year...especially if it takes all month, as they fear it will, to get Garciaparra back.

Punk-Ass Pedro Martinez: Pedro gave up a solo homer to Javy Lopez on the first pitch he offered, and then his own throwing error led to a couple of more runs in the second inning. After that though, Pedro buckled down and hasn't allowed a run since. I do wonder about that hit-by-pitch in the 2nd inning. It happened immediately after Pedro gave up the homer, a single to Larry Bigbie and then a steal by Bigbie. Serves him right, though, since David Segui (the guy he hit) came around to score. Pedro left after 119 pitches, 6 innings, two earned runs.

Chuck Knoblauch, Eat Your Heart Out: In the third inning, Johnny Damon got called out when Ponson hit him in the back as he ran toward first base on a little dribbler back up the middle. They said that Damon was running in fair territory, not inside the baseline, and he was, but it was close. I still feel bad for Knoblauch in the playoffs a few years back. He was wrong not to pick up the ball, but the ump was clearly out of line with the call he made, just like Travis Fryman.

Gabe Kapler: What the heck happened to him? He looked like he was on the fast-track for stardom a few years ago. He averaged about 30 doubles, 15 homers and an .800-ish OPS from 1999-2001 with Detroit and Texas, but then injuries to his (perhaps too-) sculpted body shelved him for parts of the next few years, and his brief time with Boston last year was the first time he'd "hit" anywhere near the potential he showed in his mid 20's. I'd love to see him hit .290/.350/.450 over a full season, just not against the Yankees.

Bullpens Stink Very Much Bad: Pedro's relief wasn't much, as Mike Timlin came in and promptly gave up three more runs while only getting two outs. Rodrigo Lopez was OK for an inning or two, but Mike DeJean couldn't find the plate, and the Red Sox scraped another run out before BJ Ryan got out of the 8th inning. Scott Williamson gave up a run in the 8th inning as well, although that was more of a 'Defense Stink Very Much Bad' issue, but it's still a run.

Selig Interview: ESPN interviewed Commissioner Bud during the earlier part of the game, and Sam Ryan asked him some pretty good questions, which he (surprise!) mostly danced around. They discussed the international flavor of recent opening days, and he seemed to indicate that the trend would continue (sorry, Jayson).
They talked about the steroid issue, and he said that they're having dialogue with the players' union about getting something going there. They talked about the Expos moving, and when she mentioned Washington DC and how it would affect the O's revenue, he responded as though it were a foregone conclusion that there would, in fact, be some detrimental effect. Guess he didn't read my study on attendance.

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31 March 2004

The Void is Filled

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the other season of the year: Baseball Season.

The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays officially began the 2004 regular major league baseball season at something like 5:00 AM Eastern time on Tuesday, and three hours later, the Yankees were officially the Worst Team in Baseball, with an 0-1 record, after losing to the Devil Rays, 8-3. This, as you might have guessed, was exactly what all the muck-raking baseball writers who hate the Yankees had been waiting for, all these long, wintry months. Never mind that it was only one game (out of 162!) Never mind that they turned around and beat the Devil out of the Rays, 12-1 this morning. Never mind Hideki Matsui's 2-run homer, or Jorge Posada's dingers from both sides of the plate in the next game. Never mind that they have nearly a week to regroup before playing another meaningful game. All that matters, apparently, is that the Yankees lost an actual game, a situation which is simply not acceptable.

Perhaps chief among those proficient at raking muck is ESPN's Buster Olney. Olney seems to write fairly often about the Yankees, if for no other reason than that the Yankees tend to do more that merits writing. I don't think that he hates them or anything, but perhaps he hated the way they operated in the '70s and '80s, with Steinbrenner throwing too much money at virtually any problem, and generally screwing things up. Come to think of it, I guess that's approximately how they operate now, except for the screwing up part. But Olney, as a baseball writer, knows that there are few things that garner more hits on a baseball column than the Misery of the Previously Successful. So Buster tries, in his most recent offering, to get the masses stirred up, and to paint a bleak picture of the Bronx Bombers.

Bleak, indeed. Olney penned (raked, really) a column yesterday that epitomizes timely but ill-informed hand wringing. Consider some of thse excerpts from said column:

The Devil Rays thumped the Yankees, 8-3, in the Major League Baseball season-opener that almost nobody in the U.S. saw, a single-game result that is virtually meaningless, considering that 161 games remain. But for the Team That Isn't Supposed To Ever Lose, of course, any defeat will weigh just a little bit more.

Despite the fact that the 2003 Tigers tried to make a convincing argument otherwise, nobody likes to lose. Least of all the Yankees, pre-or post-Steinbrenner. But even King George knows that the first game of the season means next to nothing. For all the wailing and lamentation that the New York papers recorded on Tuesday and Wednesday about this loss, the one thing you didn't see was a lot of quote from Steinbrenner about breaking up the team or suspending video game priveliges or whatever. He didn't say much, and you can ecpect that he won't. In fact, the last time the Yankees started a season with a Team That Isn't Supposed To Ever Lose, 1998, they began with an 0-3 record, and the worst thing George said was something to the effect of "I think my boys may have been reading some of their own press..." Not so outlandish or terrible, was it? And those Yankees certainly rewarded George's patience, by going out and winning 125 of their next 172 games, including all three playoff series.

The Yankees' Opening Day record since Joe Torre took the helm was 4-4, prior to Tuesday morning, and they'd won four World Series in that span, lost two others, and made the playoffs the other two seasons, getting eliminated in the ALDS:

Year	Result	         Final	Playoffs

1996 W, 7-1 @CLE 92-70 won WS
1997 L, 2-4 @SEA 96-66 lost ALDS
1998 L, 1-4 @ ANA 114-48 won WS
1999 L, 3-5 @ OAK 98-64 won WS
2000 W, 3-2 @ ANA 87-74 won WS
2001 W, 7-3 KC 95-65 lost WS
2002 L, 3-10 @ BAL 103-58 lost ALDS
2003 W, 10-1 @ TOR 101-61 lost WS
2004 L, 3-8 @ TAM/TOK ??? ???

Doesn't strike me as though the result of the first game has anything to do with whether or not they win in the playoffs.

How about this little tidbit:

Steinbrenner has loaded his team with staggering talent, adding the game's best player, Alex Rodriguez, and perhaps the best right-handed hitter, in Gary Sheffield...

Those titles, I think, belong to Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, respectively. As good as A-Rod is, he's still not on a level with Bonds, and 2003 NL MVP runner-up Albert Pujols' .359/.439/.667 line is clearly just a smidge better than Sheffield's .330/.419/.604. OK, two smidges.

Success was a new concept for the Yankees' players in Joe Torre's first year as manager in 1996, but since they beat Atlanta in the World Series that fall, a presumption of success has hovered over them.

How's that? Hadn't the Yankees just won the AL Wild Card in 1995, the year before Torre got there? Hadn't they had the best record in the AL when The Strike hit in August 1994? If the three-division format had been in place in 1993, wouldn't the Yankees have won that Wild Card as well? That 1993 team spent most of the season neck-and-neck with the eventual World Champion Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East. Hadn't the Yankees' front office spent the better part of the previous three years re-building the Yankees that had finished dead last in 1990, like Steve Austin with cleats? Success was not something new to them, nor was winning a new concept, and Steinbrenner has always been one to punish anything less than the standards of success that he sets for himself and his team.

But there are cracks in this $182.3 million dreadnought. Giambi will be expected to play many games at first base, where he is a liability.

Actually, according to Baseball Prospectus' Fielding Runs Above Average, Giambi's about 2-3 runs better than an average firstbaseman over the course of a season (actually, it would be more, since he hasn't played 1B full time as a Yankee), so if nothing else, it does not appear that he's a liability there, conventional wisdom be damned.

Olney then proceeds to explain how the outfield defense will suffer, since Sheffield and Kenny Lofton have let balls drop in front of them during exhibition games that formerly Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams would have caught. He does mention that his observations occurred during exhibition games, for which Torre stresses NOT getting injured, if possible (you listenin' Griffey?), but then blows this off and says that "this is likely to be a recurring problem". He doesn't say what he bases this argument on, just that he's afraid the problem will become frequent.

In reality, neither Kenny Lofton nor Gary Sheffield is as bad as most of the baseball print media would have you believe, and Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill were never as good as Tim McCarver or John Sterling would have you believe. The last time either of them was even a "good" fielder at their own position was 1996(!). That was the last season in which O'Neill had a Baseball prospectus Fielding RAA (runs above average) in double digits, AND the last season in which Bernie Williams even had a fielding RAA greater than negative one. I'm not sure where Bernie's "Gold Glove" reputation comes from, or for that matter, but it appears to be pure myth. Besides this, Sheffield and Lofton are essentially average or slightly above average defensive players at their respective positions, so in the long run, there's no reason to fret here either.

The Yankees' starting rotation is aged; they're going to throw out their share of clunkers, as Mike Mussina did in the season-opener, allowing five runs in five-plus innings, including four straight extra-base hits in the sixth.

An aged rotation, eh? Let's see:

2003 Rotation			2004 Rotation		

2004 Age 2003 ERA+ 2004 Age 2003 ERA+
Mussina 35 129 Mussina 35 129
Clemens 41 112 Brown 39 169
Pettitte 32 109 Vazquez 27 153
Wells 41 106 Contreras 32 133
Weaver 27 73 Leiber 34 104*

They've gotten younger at three of the five rotation slots. The exceptions are Mike Mussina, who's still in New York, and who seems to have no more ability to pull a Dorian Gray than any of the rest of us, and Jeff Weaver, who, as you may recall, had no more ability to pitch than any of the rest of us, at least last year. Since Jon Leiber didn't pitch in 2003, I used his career adjusted ERA (ERA+) instead of his 2003 number, like everyone else. The rest of the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation will be taken up by Jorge DePaula, who's much younger than any of these guys, and Darren Oliver or Orando Hernandez, who aren't. I agree with Buster that they'll have their share of "clunkers" but not because they're old, simply because baseball is not a completely consistent and predictable game, especially not on a one-game basis.

And the Yankees will have to play young and hungry and aggressive teams from Tampa Bay and Toronto that will occasionally make them look very slow.

Perhaps, but "young hungry and aggressive" rarely wins three out of five games against "experienced, talented and patient". I'll take the latter, even if they don't steal bases all that often, thankyouverymuch.

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26 March 2004

'Mo Money, 'Mo Money...

Lee Sinins led off his Around the Majors report on Wednesday with this:

The Yankees re-signed P Mariano Rivera to a 2 year, $21 million contract, covering 2005-06, with an option for 2007. The option will become guaranteed if Rivera finishes either 114 games over the 2 years or 60 in 2006.

After 2.34 ERA/19 RSAA and 2.74 ERA/8 RSAA seasons, Rivera had a 1.66 ERA/21 RSAA in 64 games. He has a 2.49 career ERA, compared to his league average of 4.72, and 153 RSAA in 512 games.

Rivera ranks 10th in the majors in RSAA since 1997--


1 Pedro Martinez 389
2 Randy Johnson 331
3 Greg Maddux 242
4 Curt Schilling 236
5 Kevin Brown 204
6 Roger Clemens 182
7 Mike Mussina 169
8 Tom Glavine 156
9 Tim Hudson 145
10 Mariano Rivera 123

Having gotten Lee's reports for over a year now, I can see that he typically isn't privy to any information that you and I couldn't find on our own, in terms of the stories and facts themselves. (This story was out on Monday or Tuesday on the major websites and such.) But Lee comes in handy in two areas. First, his amusing commentary and sense of humor make many of these reports of otherwise mundane transactions more interesting. And second, and more importantly, his analysis of the significance of the players signed/released/traded sheds light on the subject that would otherwise elude those who typically write about these things, i.e traditional baseball beatwriters. And this ability to analyze what's going on beneath the surface leads Lee to sometimes come to conclusions about a transaction that differ greatly from what your local newscaster of newspaper writer would tell you.

In this case, as you can see, there's not a lot of commentary here, but despite that, I think there's a message. The first thing I noticed is that the rest of this list consiste entirely of starting pitchers. Look at this list:


Pedro Martinez 1408 201 2.20 389 0.276 56
Randy Johnson 1601.1 222 2.70 331 0.207 47
Greg Maddux 1603 239 2.93 242 0.151 35
Curt Schilling 1597.2 218 3.23 236 0.148 34
Kevin Brown 1367 206 2.72 204 0.149 29
Roger Clemens 1502.2 224 3.44 182 0.121 26
Mike Mussina 1531 225 3.51 169 0.110 24
Tom Glavine 1571.2 239 3.40 156 0.099 22
Tim Hudson 1052 156 3.26 145 0.138 29
Mariano Rivera 475 432 2.16 123 0.259 18

Tim Hudson, it should be noted, has only been pitching in the majors since 1999, so everyone else has got a 2-year head-start on him. Mariano Rivera, despite pitching less than a third of the innings of most of the pitchers on this list, is ranked right up there among them in RSAA (Runs Saved Above Average, Lee's own metric for measuring pitcher effectiveness) over this seven-year span. Now, I'm not saying that Mariano is as good as these guys overall, but still, he's on the list. Even if he's at the bottom of it, he's still there. Without a copy of Lee's Baseball Encyclopedia of my own, I couldn't check to see who else is on this list (say, ranked #11-25, or something), but I would guess that there aren't many relief pitchers on it.

As you can see in the RSAA/Inning column, Riviera's been almost as effective, inning-by-inning, as Pedro, which is saying something. I just don't know what yet. You can also see that, averaging 18 RSAA per year, Rivera's not quite as good as the others on this list.

However, his total of 123 RSAA over seven years means that he's better than Andy Pettitte, better than John Smoltz, Robb Nen, Troy Percival, Armando Benitez, Trevor Hoffman, or Billy Wagner, better than Bartolo Colon, Jason Schmidt, Kerry Wood, Jamie Moyer, Matt Morris, Russ Ortiz, Al Leiter, Kevin Millwood, David Wells, Derek Lowe, Jarrod Washburn, and yes, even Cory Lidle. (Incidentally, has anyone who had the worst qualifying ERA in the majors ever been asked to start on Opening Day the following year? Because Cory has.)

Anyway, a lot of guys who are considered to be among the better pitchers in the majors, both starters and relievers, aren't on this list either. So my question is:

Is Mariano Rivera, making about $11 million in 2004 and $10.5 million/year for each of the following two seasons, underpaid? Brown is getting $15M. Pedro gets over $17M in 2004. Clemens got about $20 mil last season, when you factor in what the Yankees paid him to pitch in 2003 and what his previous contract with the Yankees paid him whether he pitched or not in 2003. Randy Johnson will get $16M this year. Schilling just signed an extension for about $13M/year, I think. Glavine gets paid as much as Rivera and he's not even any good anymore.

Typically, I'll be among the first to point out that looking at Saves as any kind of indicator of quality is a bad idea. They are a self-fulfilling prophecy, an event-driven statistic that the manager can control as he sees fit, and that too many pitchers have parlayed into an inappropriately large contract. But, at least in this one way, you can see that Mariano Rivera is at least measurably comparable to the best starting pitchers in the majors, over the last seven years. I wanted to compare him to the other relief pitchers who have been pretty good since 1997, but there hardly are any. Anyone who was among the best in '97 is either now retired or was injured in 2003, or is no longer with the same team. Only Wagner and Percival pitched in each of those seven seasons AND stayed with one team, besides Rivera. Mo has had the good fortune to be both good and (mostly) healthy over those seven years (as well as 1996), a stake to which no other relief pitcher can lay claim. Billy Wagner had an injury- and suck-prone 2000 season, to knock him off the list, and Trevor Hoffman and Robb Nenn have both missed at least a year with injuries. Troy Percival is kinda brittle (only averages about 50-55 innings/year) and typically puts up ERAs in the mid 3.00s, so he's not in the rankings.

So clearly Mariano Rivera is the best "closer" of his generation, no newsflash there. But who woulda thunk that he was nearly as effective a pitcher, in some ways, as Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens, and better than a lot of others, since he became the full-time closer for the Yankees in 1997? Not me. Not til Wednesday, when this showed up in my Inbox.

The Yanks will have to retire Rivera's #42 when he retires anyway. He's the last player in the majors wearing that number, grandfathered becasue he had it before El Bud decided to make everybody retire it in a publicity stunt to honor Jackie Robinson. But even if they didn't have to do this, they should probably retire it, since it will probably be a long time before we see a guy spend 7 or 8 years with one team and consistently put up numbers like his, RSAA or otherwise. And if he manages to pitch three more years with similar results? Finishes his career with ~350 saves, an ERA around ~2.50? Continues the success in the postseason that may be, according to Rob Neyer, one of the primary reasons that the Yankees have four World Series wins in nine postseasons, while the Braves have only one in twelve shots at the trophy?

Well, after they retire his number, he ought to get a plaque in Cooperstown, too.

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21 March 2004

Book Review: Red Sox vs. Yankees - The Great Rivalry

Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry
by Harvey Frommer and Frederic J. Frommer

The newest offering from father/son duo Harvey and Frederic J. Frommer, Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry (Sports Publishing LLC, $24.95) found its way into my hands about a week and a half ago, and I have taken nearly any opportunity I could to review it. Not only because I promised the senior Frommer that I'd get this review out in a timely fashion for once, but also because as a Yankee fan myself, there are few endeavors more satisfying than reading about the histories of my favorite team, its closest rival, and their competition with each other.

Having had the good fortune to have been raised a Yankee fan (and the good sense not to switch alliances when they started to suck in the early '90s), this book was and is a pleasere for me to read. Its pages are filled with stories of Yankees and Red Sox games and series, players and trades, fans and fights, quips and quotes, playoff wins and losses, heartbreak and joy for both teams. OK, so mostly heartbreak for the Red Sox.

Frommer starts the book with a timeline that starts with the birth of Babe Ruth in 1895 and ends with the acquisition of Curt Schilling by the Red Sox in November of 2003. The book then provides an entire chapter on the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry as it was played out in the 2003 playoffs, which, while incredible to watch, somehow was not nearly as exciting to read about only a few months later. The chapter, however, like the rest of the book, is well writen, interesting in its own right, and very readable. I expect that ten or twenty years from now, I shall be able to pick up this book and find it an excellent resource as I recount my own memories of that exciting seven-game series to my own children or (God help you) yours. The book, like the rivalry it recalls, will stand the test of time, I expect.

I know this because the very next chapter focuses especially on the 1978 season, and it is a great read. The Yankees and Red Sox were both vying for the AL East title and were forced to play a one-game playoff to win it, which the Yanks did, even though they had been down as much as 14 games in the standings as late as July 18th. From that huge deficit, to Reggie getting benched for dogging it, to Billy Martin getting canned to Ron Guidry's 25-3 record to Bucky-Effing-Dent, there is no dull paragraph in the chapter. Harvey and or Frederic Frommer could have made a great living as a beat writer, had they not gone into slightly more prestigious careers as an Ivy League professor and a political journalist, respectively.

Moving on through the book, the Frommers spend chapters focusing on the general histories of the teams, the cultures and moods cultivated by the Rivalry, the merits and limitations of the respective ballparks, special games between the two clubs, a collection of quotes from various players, fans ad others, and list of statistics and trivia about the two teams. They even devote an entire chapter to perhaps the greatest rivalry between players on these two fabled teams, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Frankly, this is one area in which I think the Red Sox have a decided advantage, though I doubt if many of my fellow Yankee fans would back me up on this.

As you may have deduced, the Red Sox don't have many advantages in this rivalry, and therefore I would venture a guess that this book doesn't offer nearly as much for them as it does for Yankees fans. In fact, the title, "Red Sox vs. Yankees", is about the only time that Boston has gotten first billing in this struggle for the last three quarters of a century. Personally, I can't imagine being very excited about spending hours on end reading about the myriad disappointments and seemingly endless heartbreak associated with my chosen team, thankyouverymuch. But maybe that's just me.

Regardless of your particular bent, Red Sox vs. Yankees is still a very well-done book. As a coffee-table book, it offers large, whole-panel pictures, many of them in vibrant color, to appease the eye, and solid writing to appease the mind.

And even the price is right!

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19 March 2004

Who is Baseball's Greatest Current Ambassador?

Alex Rodriguez

Baseball has many ambassadors, of course. Not all of them actually help very much in their ambassadorships (this means you, Bud). Each of the players, in his own way and within his own sphere of influence, serves as an ambassador for baseball to at least the region in which he plays and probably in the area where he lives or grew up.

Several players have been the Face of Baseball for a time: Don Mattingly in the ‘80s, Cal Ripken in the early ‘90s, Sosa and McGwire in the late ‘90s. But who holds the torch now? Who is worthy?

You guessed it: Alex.

Is there a more recognizable face than that of Alex Rodriguez in all of the major leagues today? Sure, Barry Bonds is awesome. But he’s old, surly and possibly about as natural as the breasts on Baywatch. (I don’t actually believe that, but there are enough people who do to make his candidacy a moot point.)

Albert Pujols? Fantastic player, but he’s also foreign born, and is probably lying about his age. Derek Jeter? A great player, who does a lot of charity work, but spends too much time on the gossip pages in the New York Daily News and is too controversial a figure in some circles because of his defense, (or rather the apparent lack thereof).

So who’s left? A-Rod. He’s the best player in the league, playing on the best team in history, in the biggest city with a baseball team. Whether he plays the hot corner or moves back over to shortstop, he’ll remain highly visible. He’s attractive, articulate, playing in the prime of his career. He’s American, but with a Hispanic heritage, so he reaches out to more extensive markets than one player normally can. Plus, his trade to the Yankees netted him to rights to use their logos in any of his own advertising and publicity campaigns, so you’ll be seeing a lot more of him everywhere.

And when the Yankees win the 2004 World Series, Mr. Ambassador will get to meet Mr. President. What a photo-op.

You can read the opinions of some of my colleagues here.

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18 March 2004

Not That Anyone Cares: A Plan for the Expos

I got to thinking, as I was writing that piece on baseball teams' attendance numbers as they might be affected by the relocation of the Expos to North Jersey: Maybe there is hope. Maybe there's a way to save the Expos without preferentially stepping on any other franchise's toes, and without even relocating the team. For that matter, maybe without even selling the team.

You see, there's this long-standing rule in the MLB bylaws that nobody is allowed to own controlling interest in more than one franchise at once, because it would create a conflict of interest. An owner who has two teams could trade all the good players from one team to the other, for all its lousy players, with no repercussions at all. Then the one team could be great, and the other would suck. This thought occurred to a couple of different owners at approximately the same time, over a hundred years ago. But that's another story.

This story, on the other hand, is more interesting because it affects all the teams. A couple of years ago, when the Yawkey Trust wanted out of RedSox nation, the only guy who really wanted to buy the team was John Henry, who, besides being pretty handy at turning a jack and swinging a hammer, also owned the Florida Marlins at the time. So he needed someone to buy the Marlins so he could buy the RedSox. The only guy interested in that was Jeffrey Loria, who had been such a cheapskate as the owner of the Montreal Expos that their games weren't even broadcast on TV (and only in French on the radio, I think) the first (& last) year he owned the team. And of course, nobody wanted to buy the Expos, given that the franchise has been in self-imposed limbo for the last ten years, so now what?

Henry buys the Sawx.

Loria buys the Marlins (and they win the World Series. C'est la vie.)

And the other 29 baseball owners buy the Montreal Expos until someone with some brains and/or balls figures out what to do with them. Well, hold onto your hockey pucks and Bare Naked Ladies CDs, because Boy of Summer's got a Plan.

Here's the deal: Because the owners of the other 29 MLB teams own the Expos, and because to some extent or another the Expos are their competition, none of them wants to pony up any significant money to fund the enemy. The result of this tactic is that the Expos have less and less ability to retain or acquire talent, making the team that much less attractive both to any potential fans and to any potential buyers.

Well, I say that they're going about this entirely the wrong way. The Expos should have an extraordinary competitive advantage. Think about it: the other teams each only have one multi-millionaire owner to support them. The Expos have almost thirty! They shouldn't be scrimping and saving! They should be piling it on! Lavishing the franchise with payroll money! With a relatively minor investment from each of the 29 owners/ownership groups, they could have an enormous pool of money with which to pay the salaries of any and every player they can get their greedy little paws on! Think of the possibilities!

They've already got a pretty good second baseman in Jose Vidro, probably one of the three to five best in the majors right now, plus a pretty good shortstop in Orlando Cabrera. They had a superstar right fielder in Vladimir Guerrero and another decent player in Brad Wilkerson. Javier Vazquez was one of the better pitchers in the NL, even though the radio guys in NY don't seem to be giving him any credit yet. Tomo Ohka, Livan Hernandez and Zach Day all have their merits as starting pitchers, as did Tony Armas before he got hurt. Luis Ayala and TJ Tucker are certainly more than serviceable relief pitchers.

So you've got some talent with which to start building. And you've got 29 multi-millionaire owners. So why not pool your resources, maybe based on some kinda sliding scale according to revenues of the other team owners, and make a SuperTeam!??! You could get something like a $200 million payroll without enlisting more than $10 mil from any one team! With a pool of money like that, they could keep Vazquez and Guererro, sign Bartolo Colon, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmiero, anyone they want!

I wasn't able to find accurate numbers for 2004 MLB team payrolls yet, but based on last year's numbers, it looks like an investment of ~6% of each team's payroll, in addition to what they're already spending, would be plenty to make the Expos a Super Team. Besides, almost every team currently has or recently has had a worse investment than the one I'm suggesting, as you can see:

Approx 2003 Player(s) on whom team
Team Opening Day Payroll 6% wasted a LOT of $ in 2003

NY Yankees $149,760,995.00 $8,985,659.70 Steve Karsay $5M, Sterling Hitchcock $6M
Los Angeles $105,897,620.00 $6,353,857.20 Darren Dreifort, $11M
Boston $96,631,677.00 $5,797,900.62 John Burkett, $5.5M
Atlanta $104,622,210.00 $6,277,332.60 Paul Byrd, $3M
San Francisco $82,352,167.00 $4,941,130.02 Robb Nen, $8.8M
Seattle $87,184,500.00 $5,231,070.00 Jeff Cirillo, $6.8M
NY Mets $116,868,613.00 $7,012,116.78 Mo Vaughn, $17M
Chicago Cubs $80,743,333.00 $4,844,599.98 Shawn Estes $3M
St. Louis $83,150,894.00 $4,989,053.64 Fernando Vina, $5.3M
Arizona $80,657,500.00 $4,839,450.00 Tony Womack, $6M
Texas $104,526,470.00 $6,271,588.20 Chan Ho Park, $12.9M
Philadelphia $70,780,000.00 $4,246,800.00 Joe Table, $5.2M
Chicago Sox $51,010,000.00 $3,060,600.00 Billy Koch, $4.2M
Anaheim $79,031,667.00 $4,741,900.02 Kevin Appier, $11.5M
Minnesota $55,605,000.00 $3,336,300.00 Eric Milton, $6M
Baltimore $69,452,275.00 $4,167,136.50 Albert Belle, $12M
Houston $70,489,840.00 $4,229,390.40 Brad Ausmus, $5.5M
Colorado $66,981,667.00 $4,018,900.02 Denny Neagle, $9M
Cincinnati $56,979,777.00 $3,418,786.62 Barry Larkin, $9M
Florida $48,368,298.00 $2,902,097.88 -
Oakland $50,360,834.00 $3,021,650.04 Jermaine Dye, $11.7M
Cleveland $48,834,834.00 $2,930,090.04 Bob Wickman, $6M
Detroit $49,163,000.00 $2,949,780.00 Bob Higginson, $11.9M
Montreal $51,949,000.00 $3,116,940.00 Fernando Tatis, $6.5M
San Diego $45,430,000.00 $2,725,800.00 Trevor Hoffman, $9M
Kansas City $40,518,000.00 $2,431,080.00 Brent Mayne, $2.75M
Pittsburgh $54,542,099.00 $3,272,525.94 Kevin Young, $6.6M
Milwaukee $40,627,000.00 $2,437,620.00 Glendon Rusch, $4.25M
Toronto $51,279,000.00 $3,076,740.00 Cory Lidle, $5.35M
Tampa Bay $19,630,000.00 $1,177,800.00 Rey Ordonez, $6.5M
sum of contributions w/out Montreal $123,688,756.20
Potential Montreal payroll $175,637,756.20

I had to list two players for the Yankees, because nine or ten million dollars is a LOT of money, but maybe we can suspend the ridiculous Yankees Revenue SHaring Tax for a year or something, y'know?

Interestingly enough, Florida did a pretty good job of avoiding having any real albatrosses on the payroll. They had a pretty low salary to begin with, and the few big-ticket guys they had were all reasonably productive. And of course, we can't count Montreal's own payrollin contributions to its own payroll. That would be silly.

The point of listing those players (The Overpaid All-Stars) is not that the team couls or should take away the salaries of those players to give them to better (or healthier) players. It's simply to point out that what I'm suggesting, in most cases, would be neither the largest expenditure nor the most ridiculous investment most of these teams have made in the last year, much less the last several seasons.

And assuming that they could have done this, take a look at what their lineup could have been by signing free agents to the deals they got elsewhere and making a few key trades:

Starting Lineup
SS Miguel Tejada $12.00M
2B Jose Vidro $7.00M
CF Vladimir Guerrero $14.00M
RF Manny Ramirez $20.50M
LF Gary Sheffield $13.00M
1B Rafael Palmeiro $4.50M
3B Troy Glaus $9.00M
C Javy Lopez $7.50M

C Gregg Zaun $0.50M
1B Travis Lee $2.25M
OF Kenny Lofton $3.10M
3B Robin Ventura $1.20M
OF Raul Mondesi $1.75M
IF Mark McLemore $0.73M

Offense Total $96,300,000.00

RP-R Armando Benitez $3.25M
RP-L Arthur Rhodes $3.10M
RP-L Ricardo Rincon $1.30M
RP-R Tim Worrell $2.75M
RP-R Scott Sullivan $2.50M

SP-R Javier Vazquez $10.00M
SP-L Greg Maddux $ 8.00M
SP-L Kevin Brown $15.00M
SP-R Curt Schilling $12.00M
SP-R Bartolo Colon $13.25M
Pitching Total $71,150,000

Team Total $167,450,000

Are you telling me that this team wouldn't kick butt?

They already had Vazquez and Vidro under contract, and now they could afford to resign Guerrero. They could afford to pick up the Manny Ramirez contract when Boston dangled him on waivers last winter, and most of the rest of these guys were free agents. They had some talent on the roster already, which could be used to trade for Troy Glaus, Curt Schilling and Kevin Brown. Brown, especially, would not require much back in trade, since the Dodgers really wanted to clear salary more than anything. They could send Orlando Cabrera to Anaheim in the trade for Glaus, to give them someone who could eventually play 3B. Between the Starting and relief talent the Expos already had and their newfound ability to take on big salaries, they could make the trades for Schilling, Glaus and Brown with little or no trouble at all.

As we learned in our previous endeavor, looking at attendance, fans go to see games when the team plays well, so how much better a way could we come up with to drum up attendance in Montreal? Besides that, Maddux and Palmiero are sure fire Hall of Famers, setting potential milestones in each game they play. There must be at least two or three more HoFers in that lineup as well, which always helps fans to be able to say that they saw the Montreal SuperTeam back when Manny Ramirez was just a marginal Hall of Famer...

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10 March 2004

Random Thanks and Stuff

Well, that was nice.

Thanks muchly to the kind hearts of John Perricone, David Pinto, Lee Sinins, and numerous others with slightly smaller spheres of influence, Boy of Summer received 567 visits in three days last week, including a record 377 in one day that shattered the previous record of 143, set last year on Opening Day. I know fewer than 400 hits is an off day for some of you, but I'm excited, and they can't take that away from me. That, and the way you sing off-key...

Incidentally, if you're a blogger or someone to whom I sent an email asking for a plug and I don't already have you linked on my site, let me know and I'll remedy the situation.

Speaking of links, I haven't had the time to say anything about the steroids situation yet, and it's likely that I won't, but you can go check out John Perricone's place. He's written quite extensively on the subject and has links to lots of other resources.

Also SethSpeaks has a pretty long but interesting look at Minnesota Twins playoff teams.

And, in case you've been under a rock for a few weeks, Dan McLaughlin continues his series on Win Shares-based analysis, division by division, with the AL Central.

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02 March 2004

I Got Ya Expos Right Here!

WARNING: Some of the following material is GRAPHIC in nature, and is therefore not recommended for children over the age of three, the colorblind, or people who have trouble reading maps.

I lived in northern New Jersey for a long time, almost twenty years. And despite the fact that I happen to agree with the former NJ governor who thought that Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” would have been an appropriate state song (“We’ve got to get out while we’re young…”), I also believe that Jersey has a lot of good aspects. Being closer to New York City, for one, where my favorite baseball team happens to play.

At one time, while I still lived there, the possibility of the Yankees moving to a yet-to-be built stadium in the Meadowlands became a very hot topic. Everyone from radio and TV personalities to your local supermarket cashier had an opinion on the matter or used the phrase “New Jersey Yankees” as a punch line to some bad joke.

Speaking of bad jokes: The Montreal Expos.

The joke, sadly, is that the rest of the major league teams actually own the Expos franchise, one of their competitors (in more ways than one), and don’t appear to be willing to sell their interest in it to anyone who might actually be able to do something useful with it. That is, anything besides helping to stock the other 29 major league rosters with some fairly decent baseball players. (Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, John Wetteland, Javier Vazquez, Ugueth Urbina, Vladimir Guerrero, Moises Alou, Kirk Reuter, Rondell White, Carl Pavano, and others were all allowed to leave as free agents or traded away when they became too expensive.)

The problem is not the notion of selling the team, as no fewer than three major league franchises, including the past two World Series winners, have changed owners’ hands in the last couple of seasons. The hang-up appears to be that they just can’t seem to find a buyer who has both the wherewithal to purchase the team and a city to which it could be legitimately moved. A city/region that will appreciate (support) the team and won’t step on the toes of at least one other MLB franchise does not appear to exist. Places like Las Vegas, Portland, Memphis, Washington DC, and Northern NJ have all been suggested, each with its own set of problems. Baseball Prospectus’ Andrew Baharlias recently penned an article (sorry, premium content) about the possibility of the Expos (or some other team?) moving to New Jersey, and he came to the conclusions that:

1) It would never happen, because the Yankees and Mets would veto it.
2) South Jersey might actually be a better option for a stadium site than North Jersey, based on minor and independent league baseball attendance last year, and
3) The Yankees might be a better option to move to the Meadowlands anyway.

But why wouldn’t this work? Doug Pappas has been telling anyone who would listen for years that New Jersey should be able to easily support a third team in the area, and that the Baltimore/Washington area is also a very viable option, economically. Naturally, if Baharlias’ suggestion to put such a team in southern or central Jersey were taken, the Phillies would intervene to prevent it, as would any other team that perceived an economic threat in its backyard. Heck, ten years ago the Phillies wouldn’t even allow a minor league team to enter the Lehigh Valley, 60 miles away! They’re certainly not going to roll over for one in Trenton, right across the river.

The trouble with any of these plans is that the baseball owners all perceive that they will lose revenue if another team takes root nearby, that their fans will somehow become brainwashed and start going to the games of this new franchise, instead of their own, well-established one. But is this an accurate perception? I looked at the seasonal attendance records for three different areas over four spans of time, to see if there was any observable, long-term affect on attendance due to the placement or removal of another team in the same vicinity. (Thanks to BaseballReference.com for these numbers, by the way.) And do you know what I found?

Of course you don’t. That’s why you’re still reading.

What I found was that if there is any significant effect, it is either not permanent, or not significant enough for anyone to really worry about it.

NY Yankees, Giants, Mets and Brooklyn Dodgers

Take a look at what happened to attendance in New York City while it had three teams in the 1950’s, then after the Dodgers and Giants fled to the Left Coast, and then when the Mets were born.

Initially, you can see that the Yankees’ attendance (the dark blue line) was pretty much stable throughout the mid-1950s, while the Dodgers and Giants were still around. Even as the Dodgers’ attendance fluctuated and the Giants attendance plummeted, the Bronx Bombers drew just about the same average attendance from 1953-1957. They actually lost a few fans in 1958, for no discernable reason I can see, but more than gained them back in 1959, despite the team’s third-place finish.

You can also see that the Yankees’ attendance numbers steadily climbed from 1958-1961, reaching a pretty high peak in 1961, when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were chasing the Babe’s single-season home run record. Naturally, there’s really nowhere to go but down from there, and perhaps also because they were no longer the only game in town, they took a hit in 1962, when the Amazin’s were hatched. Yankee attendance continued to decline throughout the decade, while the Mets attendance climbed steadily. Could this be possible evidence of a deleterious effect on the Bombers’ ability to draw a crowd?

Take a look and the white line. That’s the Yankees’ winning percentage in each of those seasons (multiplied by a constant to bring it up to the level of the attendance numbers). It doesn’t take Lobachevsky to figure out that those two lines trend pretty nicely together, much better than any inverse correlation between the Yankees’ attendance and that of their competitors. Another thing you can’t see from the graph is that the Yankees were still the #1 or #2 draw in the AL in each of these seasons, despite the decline. (In fact the Yankees average attendance had been first or 2nd in the AL every season from 1926 to 1965, and did not lose their hold on that status until a last-place finish in ’66.)

But in the early ‘60s, for whatever reason, MLB attendance (the maroon line) was down everywhere. Maybe a lot of the ‘purists’ stopped going to games when the leagues expanded. Maybe people had more games available on TV. I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. The point is that while their total attendance may have been down, their relative strength in attendance was nearly as high as ever, until they started losing a lot.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Angels

Let’s move on to the next area, Los Angeles. The Dodgers arrived in 1958, and had the town all to themselves until 1961, when expansion dropped the Angels out of the sky.

Again, you can see that the Dodgers attendance fluctuated more with their in-season success than it did with how many fans the Angels were drawing. Incidentally, some of the sharp fluctuation in the Angels’ attendance was likely due to the instability of their stadium situation. In 1961, they were playing in Wrigley Field, a converted minor league park that held barely 20,000 people. From 1962-65, they played their home games in Dodger Stadium, and in 1966 they got their own venue, Anaheim Stadium, and immediately jumped up to 1st in the AL in average attendance.

You would imagine, I think, that if there was ever a situation in which having another, proximate team would have a detrimental effect on your own team’s attendance, this would be it, right? Angels’ tickets were probably less expensive than Dodgers’ tickets, and they were playing in the exact same location. Again though, the apparent drop in attendance from 1962-64 is more attributable to general trends in all of major league baseball that anything to do with the Dodgers themselves. LA was 1st in the NL in average attendance, despite these fluctuations, every year from 1959-1966. In any case, though, it seems fairly clear that there is little correlation between the numbers of fans coming to Angels games and the numbers of fans NOT coming to Dodgers games.

San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics

Also out in California, the Giants’ home turf was invaded by the Athletics, who moved in across the Bay, to Oakland in 1968, after thirteen mostly dismal years in Kansas City.

This graph shows a slightly different picture from the two we just examined. For one thing, the Giants’ attendance numbers fluctuated significantly, while their winning percentage stayed pretty constant. The one dip in their winning in 1972 also coincided with the first players’ strike, and so attendance was probably hurt more than it would otherwise have been for just a one-year blip in an otherwise reasonably successful on-field team.

That precipitous drop from 1966-1968 certainly doesn’t correspond to the team’s winning, and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the A’s, since they were still playing in KC in 1967, and they were a mediocre team (82-80) that drew poorly (8th in the 10-team AL) in 1968. With a few exceptions, both Oakland’s and San Francisco’s attendance numbers were fairly consistent throughout the next several years.

I think, though I don’t have any evidence to prove it, that the huge variances in attendance (almost 5,000 patrons/game stopped going in both 1967 and again in 1968, as well as the spike in 1971) are due to Willie Mays, or rather the lack thereof. Mays was a wonderful, Hall of Fame player, arguably the greatest centerfielder ever, and he still played with the Giants through 1971, but age was taking its toll. He was 36 years old in 1967, and started to drop from Demigod status to Mere Mortal, as you can see here:

YEARS     G    AB   R    H   2B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA

1962-66 157 581 117 177 28 45 114 74 78 .305
1967-71 136 456 81 128 20 21 70 72 91 .281

Some players, like Babe Ruth, Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds, so transcend the game, and the level at which their competition plays, that they can actually bring many more fans to the ballpark, just to see them. Maybe when Mays lost some of his touch, some of the Bay Area fans lost interest. It could also be that the spike in 1971 was due to Mays as well, if people knew it would be his last year with the team. Lots of fans may have wanted one last chance to see the Say Hey Kid before he retired, or to take their kids or grandkids so that they could at least say they saw him play once. If anyone has a better theory, I’m willing to hear it. John Perricone didn’t have one, and I would think that he’d know.

All of that, while perhaps an interesting tangent, really doesn’t answer the question of whether or not the presence of the Athletics hurt the Giants’ attendance, but I think that the graph does show one thing. The A’s drew pretty consistently around 10,000 to 12,000 fans per game in their first five years, with a slight increase that approximates the general trends in MLB attendance during that time (the maroon line), but offers no direct explanation for the instability in the Giants attendance.

Washington/Baltimore, Pre-1961

For all the harping that Orioles owner Peter Angelos does about the possibility of the Expos cutting into his profits if they move to Washington or Northern Virginia, he seems to forget that his own franchise did the same thing half a century ago. In 1954, a failing and flailing St. Louis Browns franchise decided to pull up stakes and head East, for Baltimore, which had not had a major league team since the Orioles left for New York in 1903, eventually to become the most successful and storied franchise in all of professional sports (no, the Yankees, silly). The Browns became the Orioles, and at that time, they were encroaching upon the Washington Senators’ home area.

Not that the Senators were exactly a model of success at the major league level, in terms of winning, attendance or anything else. But still, the place was theirs, and the Orioles’ arrival definitely didn’t help the struggling franchise.

As bad as things were for the Washington Senators (“First in War, First in Peace, and Last in the American League”) before the Orioles turned up, they didn’t exactly improve with the arrival of some “healthy competition”. In truth, for the first few seasons in Baltimore, the only thing for which the Orioles really competed with the Senators was the American League basement. From 1954 to 1959, Baltimore and Washington were two of the three worst teams in the AL every year except one (1957), when Baltimore finished 4th from the bottom.

But were they competing for fans? You can see from the graph that Washington’s attendance numbers were on a slight but steady decline even before the Orioles arrived, and that the same trend continued through 1955. Then the team’s attendance essentially leveled off at about 5,000-6,000/game, and since there was nowhere to go but up from there, they did. A little. Even that slight improvement, however, again coincided with a slight increase in the quality of the on-field product (and the general MLB attendance trend), as the Senators won 73 whopping games in 1960, just before they left for Minnesota. As before, we see that the notable fluctuations in the attendance levels of the newer team (Baltimore) had little to do with the previous team’s fan base.

Baltimore/Washington, Post-1960

Baltimore’s attendance continued its weirdness into the next decade, as the Senators left and the Newly Improved (not really) Expansion Senators took their place. This new team wasn’t any better at baseball than the old one had been, and they didn’t draw any better either, which is why they also left, this time for Texas, after the 1971 season.

This graph shows that the Orioles attendance (the black line) continued to fluctuate significantly throughout the mid 1960s, while that of the Senators (the blue line) remained fairly constant. And by “constant” I mean “lousy”. As we mentioned before though, the Senators’ attendance was pretty awful before the Orioles got there. It seems that it took about a decade for Baltimore fans to make up their minds whether or not they were really interested in the Orioles. Despite only minor fluctuations in the Orioles on-field success, the attendance varied from fewer than 10,000/game up to 14,000/game, back down to 10,000 and then up to over 15,000 fans per game, before finally stabilizing around 12-13,000 for the decade from 1967-76.

You can also see that the Orioles attendance trended pretty nicely with their winning from 1966 or ’68 on, so it would appear that once people got comfortable with the Orioles, convinced that they weren’t going to skip town (as the Senators had now done twice in barely over a decade), and convinced that Earl Weaver and his Oriole Way were going to work, they settled on how often they would go to games. These numbers, while below the major league average, were still pretty solid, and gave the Baltimore organization a foundation on which to build one of the more successful transformations of a franchise from Perennial Patsy to Consistent Contender.

However, returning to the question at hand: No, the departure of the Senators for Texas after the 1971 season did not create any significant spike in the Orioles’ attendance, which mostly followed the gentle upward movement that the rest of MLB followed.

So, what have we learned? Well, we’ve learned that Travis knows how to make pretty graphs. Also, we’ve learned that history has a few lessons for us regarding the effects of major league baseball franchise relocation on the attendance of the existing team.

Lesson #1: Teams that have lousy attendance before a new team moves in continue to have lousy attendance after the new team arrives (cf. 1950s Washington Senators). Teams that have good attendance tend to have continued good attendance (cf. 1960s NY Yankees) unless acted upon by an Outside Force, e.g. Losing A Lot. Call this Nelson’s First Law of Attendance Motion.

Lesson #2: Existing teams’ attendance levels tend to follow the trends of their on-field success fairly closely, unless acted upon by an Outside Force, e.g. Demise of a Superstar. (cf. San Francisco Giants, mid-late 1960s) Call this Nelson’s Second Law of Attendance Motion.

Lesson #3: Newly relocated or expanded teams will have a 5-10 year period wherein their attendance will fluctuate significantly, depending upon the team’s on-field success, stadium situation, previous history, manager, uniform colors, phase of the moon, etc. (Unless they’re the Devil Rays, in which case the attendance will start out slowly and taper off. That Law is called Entropy, which means that everything is in a constant state of breaking down and spinning out of control, at least in Tampa Bay.) Otherwise, call this Nelson’s Third Law of Attendance Motion (Chaos Theory).

Overall, of the five (six, really) location/time case studies we’ve done, it appears that the Yankees have the most cause for complaint, as theirs is historically the team that lost the most attendance with the onset of another team across town. As we’ve already discussed, that correlation seems to make less sense than the correlation of attendance drop with losing ballgames, but at least they have a correlation to show. And, since we’re talking about the possibility of a MLB team being placed in northern New Jersey (remember when we were talking about that?), this is relevant.

However, I do believe that we have pretty well established, according to Nelson’s Second Law, that the Bronx Bombers have little about which to worry. With their success, the Yanks have drawn over 3 million fans per season for each of the last four years, even though ticket prices have essentially doubled in the last decade. You’d imagine that if people were going to stop going to Yankees games, the prices would have pushed them away, and they haven’t, because for every fan who can no longer afford to go to two or three games a year, there are two fans who will go once or twice just to watch a good team play.

Fans choose which team they will follow early in life, and it’s usually not easy to pry that away from them, regardless of what the team does. If the team’s successful, more fans go to games. If the team loses a lot, the fans tend to stay home, watch the games or read about them and then complain to their barbers, or whatever. But under no circumstances would any lifelong Yankee fan trade in his Yankees tickets to go see the East Rutherford Expos, even at half the price. If anything, they might do both, but as long as the Yankees keep winning, they really shouldn’t bother about the Expos.

Nobody else does.

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19 February 2004


Scooter, eat your heart out.

Let’s talk about the Alex Rodriguez deal. Why not, right? Everyone else is.

Alex Rodriguez is now a Yankee, having been traded by the Rangers, with a huge pile of money, for 2B Alfonso Soriano and a PTBNL. I cannot, for my life, figure out why the Rangers would do this. Alex Rodriguez is the reigning AL MVP, probably the best player in the AL, and possibly the best shortstop in history, and the Rangers couldn’t wait to get rid of the guy? Why?

They have argued that his enormous contract (all together now: $252 million over ten years) was a millstone around the organization’s collective neck, preventing them from acquiring the pitching they needed to compete. This is ridiculous. As Baseball Prospectus pointed out a few days ago, the problem isn’t the $20-25 million they pay A-Rod each year to vie for the MVP award. The problem is the $12 million they pay Chan Ho Park to put up ERAs higher than, well, than almost anybody. The problem is the $3 million they’ll pay Jay Powell each of the next three years. The problem is manifold, and it is not named Alex.

The trouble is that perception often trumps reality. The fact that Alex is paid so much to play for a team that doesn’t win makes him (and agent Scott Boras, who negotiated the deal) out to be the bad guy, when really the guys who gave him the deal, and gave much more detrimental deals to lesser players, are to blame. Tom Hicks can’t, or won’t, fire himself, so he figures that if they can rid themselves of this contract, no matter how good he may be, it’s got to help them create fiscal flexibility in the future.

This year’s basically shot, since there wasn’t a ton of pitching talent available on the free agent market in the first place, and the last of it, Greg Maddux, just signed with the Cubs. I’m not sure who’ll become available at the trading deadline or after the season, but you’d have to think that the Rangers will be sellers rather than buyers in July, given their already terrible pitching and their tough competition in the AL West. So how does this help them?

Supposedly, in the “long run”, it allows them to sign the talent they need to compete, without one player taking up such a significant portion of the payroll. In reality, while they may have overpaid more than a little for A-Rod, having misinterpreted both the projected market and the existing competition for his services, he’s still worth it. Or at least he’s more worth his $25 million/year than Manny Ramirez is worth his $20M. And more than Jeter’s worth his $19M, etc. because there isn’t anybody else as good as A-Rod is.

Of course, the other “real problem” with A-Rod’s contract was that if he were to be signed now, he wouldn’t get anywhere near that kind of money or that length of commitment. Rumors out of ESPN’s Jayson Stark indicate that the Cardinals may be about to sign Albert Pujols to a 7-year, $100M, and that probably sounds about right. Amazingly, the Yankees worked it out so that this is about what they will pay him. Actually it’s more like $90 million over seven years, which seems like a bargain. That’s less than $13M/year, less (on average) than Vlad Guerrero, Jeff Bagwell, Carlos Delgado, Barry Bonds, Shawn Green, Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome, Mike Hampton, Todd Helton, Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Jeter, Gary Sheffield, and maybe a few other guys, none of whom will do as much to help their teams win games over the next half a decade or so than Rodriguez will. He’ll still be the best player in the AL, but the Yankees have the advantage, if he’s good, of having their competition pay him to beat them. And if he’s bad, they have the advantage of pointing to the Rangers and saying, “Well, at least we’re not paying his whole contract!”

Usually the Yanks are on the other side of the dump, sending aging, overpaid players, with some cash, to other teams to free up space for someone better (and often more expensive.) In this case, the Yankees somehow managed to convince the Rangers not only to give up the best player in the AL to its wealthiest team, but also to help pay his contract, to the tune of about $67,000,000. You could maybe see doing something like that if A-Rod had prematurely aged and started to suck, but he’s still young and awesome, so I just don’t see how it makes any sense at all for the Rangers.

While the Yanks did have to give up a pretty significant and talented player (plus a PTBNL from a list of about five) to get him, what they lost is nowhere near the value of what they gained. Don’t get me wrong: Alfonso Soriano is great, one of the ten or 15 most valuable players in the game right now, but he’s no A-Rod. He’s got power and speed, hits for average and plays a key defensive position, but he’s no A-Rod. His defense is actually better than he gets credit for, and improving, but he’s no A-Rod. Poor strike zone judgment, leading to enormous amounts of strikeouts with few walks mean that, you guessed it: He’s no A-Rod.

In fact, the only real (or apparent) advantages he had over Rodriguez at the time of the deal were that he was cheaper (making $5.4 million this year, with one or two more years of arbitration before hitting the free agent market) and that he was younger, 26 to Rodriguez’s 29. Well, now it turns out that Soriano is actually 28 himself, having lied about his age, but only finally admitting it now. Lee Sinins reported this a few days ago, and says that the Rangers were aware of it during negotiations, which makes the fact that the deal actually happened all the more unfathomable.

Sinins’ stats (Runs Above Average) indicate that Rodriguez is a much better player than Soriano, and he is, but since they don’t play the same positions, it’s a little tough to compare them. Baseball Prospectus has Rodriguez making about 10-15 more runs than Soriano in each of the last two seasons, roughly one win’s worth, over the course of the season. However, since there are fewer shortstops than second basemen who can hit, A-Rod comes out about +80 runs above replacement level for shortstops, whereas Soriano’s only about +55 for 2Bs, a much greater disparity. If Rodriguez moves over to play 3B, then obviously his RAA and RARP numbers would drop a little, since 3B’s can usually hit better than shortstops. Similarly, if Soriano is moved over to SS (where he played throughout his minor league career, and where it makes the most sense for the Rangers to put him) his RAA/RARPs increase, actually making him more of an asset, assuming that he continues to hit as he has the last few seasons.

That’s the thing though: If he’s already 28 years old, it’s likely that he’s already hit a plateau, that he won’t get much better. Of course, you can more than live with .290/.340/.520 from a middle infielder, especially one who steals 30-40 bases with a high success rate. If that was his peak though, if he’s about to start sliding, then you’d be a fool to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract. Or at least you’d be a fool to sign him to the same, expensive, long-term contract you might have signed him to a couple of weeks ago. Soriano will continue to be a pretty darn good player, and will probably be even better if they don’t have him batting leadoff, since we all know that working the pitcher is not where his strengths lie. He just won’t likely be as good as a lot of people expected, and he might even be a lot worse than Lee Sinins expected.

On the other side of the trade, the Yankees got an All-Star, MVP-caliber shortstop, which, as you may have heard, was not something they needed. What they did need was a third baseman, and the current plan is for Rodriguez to shift over to 3B, with Jeter continuing at short. Since Jeter’s the Captain, I guess the prerogative to move is his.

Almost anyone with any sabermetric background, or whose name doesn’t rhyme with “Slim Lickstarver”, will tell you that Jeter is not a good defensive SS. In fact, if Baseball Prospectus’s defensive stats are to be believed, Jeter’s been between 19 and 24 runs worse than a replacement level SS each of the last four years, including –22 in only 119 games this season.

So why keep him there? Why let the lousy defender stay at the tougher position and move the better player to a different, easier position? Rob Neyer has pointed out that A-Rod really isn’t that great with the glove, though he is slightly above average. But his +5 fielding runs coupled with Jeter’s –20 means that the Yankees risk a deficit of about two wins over the course of the year, just due to their defense at shortstop, assuming that Jeter would otherwise be an average fielding third baseman.

Once again, though, we reach an assumption that may not be accurate. The main reason for Jeter’s defensive ineptitude is his lack of range, his inability to reach that ball hit up the middle, bouncing past him into center field. At 3B, you don’t need as much range as you do at SS, since there’s less ground to cover. But if Jeter’s got such lousy range because he has such a slow reaction time, then he might be an even worse defensive 3B than he is a SS. And perhaps having a decent defensive 3B in Alex will help to decrease the range Jeter needs at short, which could allow him to cheat a little toward the bag at second base, making the entire infield defense better. Not good, but better, anyway.

Somebody I read the other day indicated that he thought it fairly likely that Jeter will not spend the whole season at short, that A-Rod will take over there a few months into the season, once it becomes apparent that he’s still terrible there at that they now have a better option, about 40 feet to Jeter’s right. I doubt this.

I think that if Jeter is going to spend any significant time playing third base this season, the Yankees are going to have him getting ready to do so in February and March, not in July. There’s no way that the New York Yankees, the most storied and successful franchise in all of professional sports, in the midst of a pennant race with their hated rivals, the Boston 1918’s, er, RedSox, will take any chances that they don’t have to take. There’s no way they go out on a limb in June or July and put an unknown out there at third base on the off chance that Jeter will suck less at third than he does at short. They’d rather have one guy who’s good and one who’s consistently bad than one who’s good and another who’s erratically, unpredictably bad. Game implications aside: the politics, the hype, the second guessing and back-page, tabloid pressures would be too great to even think about taking such a chance.

There’s too much riding on this season, and it looks much better, if they don’t win in the playoffs, to have Joe Torre quoted as saying something like, “We did what we’ve always done, what we’ve done for years, and they just plain beat us.” Than to have to read him saying, “Well, we tried something different, on a lark. We took a gamble, and it didn’t work.” Such a gamble would probably cost Torre his job, and I just don’t see that happening. Torre didn’t get to be the longest tenured manager in the history of Steinbrenner’s Yankees by taking chances. He got there by going with what he knows, what already works, and if he wants to keep doing so, he won’t let chance come between him and his next contract any more than necessary.

Of course, now they need a secondbaseman, and to answer your question, Mom, no, Miguel Cairo isn’t any good. Not sure exactly what they’re gonna do about that, but I’m pretty sure that Cairo/Almonte/Whomever they have in AAA Columbus is not the answer.


A few plugs:

Al Bethke, over at the Milwaukee Brewers blog, Al's Ramblings, has got a couple of new posts you might like to ckeck out. One of them is an interview with Brewers AAA catcher (and book/blog writer) Chris Coste.

He's also got a roundtable discussion he posted last Wednesday (2/11). Interesting even if you're not a Brew Crew fan.

Christian Ruzich, the Cub Reporter/Transaction Guy, has revamped the All-Baseball.com website, and they've got quite a few different, interesting and excellent writers. Almost anything you could ask for, except me. And you've already got me.

Seth Stohs has a post comparing traditional to Sabermetric baseball stats, which is over at Seth Speaks.

On a more personal note, I have had the good fortune to be added to the list of another baseball website, the brandy-spankin-new BaseballOutsider.com. Four other columnists (maybe more...) and I contribute, as do other bloggers to whom Outsider links. I'm honored to be a part of their effort. Go check them out.

And lastly, but not leastly, I will be adding a few more advertisements for baseball tickets this weekend, when I return home from a business trip and have access to my own computer. If anyone else is interested in advertising on Boy of Summer, please drop me a line.

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