30 July 2004

Random Trading Deadline Notes...

Sorry for the long layoff.  I was on a mission trip with my church last week and was catching up on stuff this week. 

A few random thoughts and observations while wondering if anyone knows anything about where Randy Johnson might end up...

On the (lack of) Big Trades...
I think we may have gotten a little spoiled during the last few seasons, when a lot of good and/or overpaid players on bad teams all happened to be in the last years of their contracts.  The months of June and July in 2000 saw David Justice, Denny Neagle, Andy Ashby, Todd Walker, Esteban Loaiza, Glenallen Hill, Curt Schilling, Richie Sexson, Bob Wickman, Charles Johnson, Melvin Mora, B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Steve Trachsel, Rondell White, Henry Rodriguez, Mike Timlin and others.  The 2002 trading season saw Bartolo Colon, Jeff Weaver, Raul Mondesi, Cliff Floyd, Chuck Finley, Ray Durham, Terry Mulholland, Scott Rolen, Ismael Valdes, Tom Gordon, and Shawn Estes change sides, among others.  Last year, Ruben Sierra, Rickey Henderson, Ugueth Urbina, Carl Everett, Jeromy Burnitz, Shannon Stewart, Kenny Lofton, Jose Hernandez, Aramis Ramirez, Armando Benitez, Scott Williamson, Jose Guillen, Sidney Ponson, Aaron Boone, and Robin Ventura all finished the season wearing a different uniform from the one in which they started the season, to name a few notables.   

This year?  Kris Benson.  B-F-D. 

Don't get me wrong, he's not a bad pitcher, but if The Big Unit stays put, Steve Finley won't just be the biggest star traded in July 2004, he'll be the only one.  I don't know what this means, but hopefully it's an indication that General Managers aren't making as many silly mistakes as in the past, and therefore are not forced to trade players to cut salary if they're out of the race by late July.  Or it could just be coincidence, and next year we'll have another dozen or so "big name" players sent packing before the trading deadline. 

What's Wrong With the Yankees?

Well, in simple terms, they're hurt.  Their starting Firstbaseman, Jason Giambi, has an intestinal parasite so rare that weaker people die from it.  One of their starting pitchers, Kevin Brown, had the same parasite, and a strained back, and will start tonight (July 30) for the first time since June 9th.  Another starting pitcher, Mike Mussina, has missed more than three weeks with a sore elbow, and probably won't be back for at least three more.  Oh, and when Moose was healthy, he stunk.  Orlando Hernandez won't be doing any of his patented high leg-kicks for a while, having strained a hamstring Tuesday night.  Not many teams can afford to lose three starting pitchers, especially ones of the caliber of Mussina, Brown and El Duque, and still succeed over the course of the season. 

The Giambi parasite is certainly a drag on the offense, but the Yankees have six other all-Stars in the lineup and a decent bench to help pick up his slack, whereas the starting pitchers' injuries have been that much tougher to take because no onein the rotation is really doing all that well.  Javier Vasquez has 11 wins and was named to the AL All-Star team, but he also has an ERA over 4.00 and hasn't strung together more than three straight quality starts yet this year.  Jon Lieber's coming off Tommy John surgery and doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of, say, the Diamondbacks, Tigers, Devil Rays or Mariners, none of which is known for its offensive prowess and all of which have beaten him this year.  Hernandez's hamstring may be OK with some rest, but don't bet on his 2.37 ERA staying that low for long.  The Yanks really need Moose and Brown, two potential Hall-of-Famers, to come back healthy and pitch like potential Hall-of-Famers down the stretch and in the playoffs, if they want to keep playing deep into October.  Oh, and they need Randy Johnson, but that's looking increasingly like it's not gonna happen. 

What's Wrong With the Phillies?

The Phightin' Phils currently have a 52-50 record, which ties them with the reigning Champions of Ridiculously Good Luck, the Florida Marlins for second place in the NL East, 3.5 games behind the Braves.  If you look at the grid that shows the teams' records against each other, you can see that the Phillies have a .500 or better record against all but 4 teams, and are within one game of a .500 record against all but two teams. 

The Phils are 6-7 against the Braves, basically holding their own in those competitions, with six games left against Atlanta on the schedule, and they're 1-2 against Pittsburgh, with three home games in late September to which they can look forward.  Neither of those is a terrible problem, if the patterns continue.  The more concerning issue is their records against their other division rivals, the Mets, and especially the Marlins.  They're 5-8 against the Mets, with six more games to play against them, and 1-11(!) against Florida, with six more games.  One and eleven.  Ouch.  Those trends, if they continue, would mean that the Phillies would lose roughly nine of the twelve remaining games against those teams, including 6 out of 7 against Florida, pushing them 5  games behind the Marlins for second place in the NL East, regardless of what they do against the rest of the league.  So essentially, if the Phillies can't figure out a way to beat the Fish, they're done-for. 

They would have to out-play Florida by at least five games, out of the remaining 54 on the schedule, not including the 6-out-of-7 we're assuming they'll lose to Florida, just to finish even with the Marlins.  That would mean that if the Marlins only go a game over .500 in their remaining 53 games, which is not unreasonable to assume, the Phillies would have to go 33-21, winning over 60% of their remaining games, just to finish in a TIE with the Marlins for second place, with 85 wins, which likely will not be enough to win the Wild Card, much less the division.  And it's not as though the Phils' schedule is kind to them down the stretch.  More than half of their remaining games are against teams with .500 rtecords or better, and another 18 are against the Brewers, Reds, Pirates and Mets, none of whom will just roll over for Philadelphia.  The only bonafide patsies left on their schedule, Colorado and Montreal, total merely ten of their remaining 60 games.  The Marlins' schedule isn't easy either, but they do have ten games in which they can beat up on Montreal, plus another six against the Rockies and Diamondbacks (with or without Randy Johnson) combined.  And of course, history seems to indicate that the Phillies also become patsies when they play Florida.  I wonder why? 


Perhaps we'll never know... Posted by Hello

Speaking of Silly Things on Which to Spend $8 million...

Francisco Cordero?!

A two year, $8 million contract extension with an option for $6 million if he's still the closer in 2007. 

He's not terrible or anything, he's actually pretty good, but he also almost thirty years old, and has exactly one full, healthy season in his career with an ERA under 5.00.  Granted, he's done OK for himself this year as the Rangers' closer, saving 30 games in 32 opportunities, but last year he was just 15 for 25, blowing ten saves, and he's consistently walked a batter about every other inning or so throughout his career, including 2004.  What makes them think he won't go back to blowing saves next season, or even this season

If he's still an "effective" closer, I guess $4 million a season isn't a bad deal, but if it goes sour, it's deals like this one, (and Jay Powell's, and Jeff Zimmerman's and Chan Ho Park's and Rusty Greer's...), overvaluing a few good months, that has kept the Rangers from being competitive for so long, not the one they gave Alex Rodriguez. 


Well, here's hoping that something interesting happens to Randy Johnson over the weekend, so I'll have something to write about. 


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15 July 2004

Astros Rearrange Cargo on Titanic, Dump Dead Wood, Pick up Scrap Iron

Yesterday the Houston Astros, currently in fifth place in the 6-team NL Central, 10.5 games out of first place and 4.5 off the Wild-Card leading SF Giants, canned their manager, Jimy Williams. WIlliams had been with the Astros since the beginning of 2002, and had managed the team to consecutive second-place finishes, but was mired in struggle to stay above .500 this season, and lost some of his credibility for some of his managerial and public relations decisions.

A manager like Williams, whose trademark is his ability to relate to and teach young players, seems an odd fit for a veteran-heavy team like the 'Stros. For that matter, he seemed an odd fit for the veteran-heavy Boston Red Sox team he helmed for five years before he went to Houston, but he was good enough as long as they were winning. In Boston, too, you should recall, he lost his repoire with and the respect of the players and was eventually ousted in mid-August of 2001. Despite a 65-53 record at the time, they brought in Joe Kerrigan, who promptly ran the ship aground, plummeting the Sawx into a 17-23 spiral for the rest of the season.

Though Williams has only once manages an entire season and finished with a losing record(1997, before the Red Sox had any pitching), he has never finished better than second place in any full season he managed either. I don't know how much that means, exactly, since the five years he spent with the Red Sox happened to coincide with the Yankees' run of division titles and playoff appearances, and if the current divisional format were in place in the 1980's, his 96-66 record in 1987 would have won the AL East. But it's at least interesting to note that the Astros brought in a guy who had a history of underachieving and then fired him when he underachieved.

Williams' replacement, Phil Garner, doesn't fit the usual mold they use when replacing a manager. Typically, a feisty manager is replaced with a more low-key guy (Bobby Valentine out, Art Howe in), or a strict rules type is replaced by a laid-back, Go-Do-Your-Job type (Buck Showalter out, Joe Torre in), or a "players' manager" is replaced by more of a disciplinarian (Lou Piniella for Hal McRae). In this case, both Garner and Williams have the reputation of no-nonsense, down-to-earth, players' managers, except that one is six years younger than the other, and had a significant part of his playing career occur in Houston. Why that should matter, you've got me.

In the meantime, there are reasons for the Astros' disappointing season other than Williams' perceived failure(s). Andy Pettitte is collecting ten or eleven million dollars (half of it deferred) from the Astros this year, and has spent half of it on the DL. He's made only ten starts, and did not pitch more than six innings in any of them until July 9th. Wade Miller has been and is again injured, and will probably need rotator cuff surgery after the season, if not sooner. Tim Redding has been a study in contrast, putting up a 6.07 ERA(!) so far this year after the 3.68 he compiled in 2003, which led all qualified Houston pitchers and was 15th in the NL. Pete Munro and Brandon Duckworth are hardly picking up the slack.

ESPN's Jerry Crasnick wrote that Roy Oswalt has been a disappointment, but disappointment depends on expectations, does it not? Oswalt is only 8-7, but his 3.65 ERA is actually pretty good, and he's got 13 quality starts to his credit. The trouble is that the Astros have lost six of those 13 games, with either the hitters or the bullpen, or both, letting Oswalt down. After three seasons in which he had an aggregate 2.92 ERA, 3.65 may seem a little high, but lots of managers would love to have a guy as "disappointing" as Oswalt is right now.

Unfortunately, there are enough guys like Redding and Pettitte to offset the Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalts, making the team's pitching staff mediocre overall. The Starters are mediocre, the bullpen's mediocre, that's just the way it's been. Now, if some of that is due to injuries and those injuries subside, or if Tim Redding figures out what's wrong with him, then the pitchers are right back on track.

Sadly though, the hitting is also mediocre. The Astros rank 8th in runs scored in the 16-tema NL, and 9th in ERA. Jeff Bagweel may be a Hall of Famer, but right now he's hitting .268, with fewer homers, fewer RBI and a lower OPS than Casey Blake. Morgan Ensberg, the darling of fantasy players everywhere last season with 25 homers in under 400 at-bats, needs to call Pat Robertson to join the 700-Club, because his OPS won't get him there. Craig Biggio's been decent, but Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus have been, well...Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus, so they're not much help either, on offense, anyway. Richard Hidalgo stank up the joint before getting taded to the Mets, where he somehow suddenly remembered how to hit like he did in 2000, a supposed breakout performance that got him a couple of points in the MVP voting (would have been more if the Astros hadn't finished in 4th place that year) and his likeness on the cover of BP 2001.

As I mentioned, however, he's now doing that for the Mets, so that's not helping either. The recently acquired Carlos Beltran is quite talented, but he can't do it alone, and Scrap Iron can't go out there and score more runs for them, so they either need Bagwell and his pals to start hitting like they're capable of hitting, and for the pitchers to get and stay healthy and effective, or they'll be lucky to finish the season with the .500 record they have now, much less winning the division.

This Astros team, it seems to me, has had a history of chewing up managers and spitting them out, scapegoating whomever is convenient, in spite of any evidence that failure wasn't their fault. Art Howe managed the team from 1989-1993, taking them from being a decent, 86-win, 3rd place team to a 97 loss team and back to third place in those five years.

That tumultuous ride ended after Howe had guided them back to respectability, and they brought in Terry Collins. Collins had never managed in the majors previously, but had the Astros in a near-tie for the NL-Central division when the strike hit in 1994, and he guided the team to second place finishes in 1995 and '96 as well.

Collins was replaced in 1997 by Larry Dierker, long-time pitcher and broadcaster for the Astros, but also new to managing, who led the Houston franchise to four division titles in five years. (The one blemish on his record was 2000, when the pitching all fell apart and the Astros had the worst ERA in the NL, the first time since 1993, when Colorado joined the NL, that a team that was trying to win finished below the Rockies in ERA. Florida had done it in 1998, but that hardly counts.)

The knock on Dierker, though, was that he somehow couldn't get it done in the clutch, because the Astros were eliminated in the NLDS all four of those years. Of course, nobody bothers to mention that three of those four times, the Astros had to face the Atlanta Braves' pitching, which has beaten a lot of teams in the playoffs over the past decade or so. So Dierker was ousted as well, with "Non-Clutch" stamped on his forehead and a "Kick Me" sign placed on his back by the players. Brad Ausmus and Bagwell and Biggio and probably others all had detrimental things to say about Dierker before and after he left, but the numbers speak for themselves, and his .553 career winning percentage in over 800 games should have said more than his 2-12 record in fourteen games spread out over 5 years.

They've scored 396 runs and allowed 379, so their record is right where it should be, according to Pythagoras, at least. The Astros aren't losing games they ought to win, they're losing games they were expected to win. Once again, the manager is taken out and shot to set an example, and to appease players who aren't doing their jobs well, and to scapegoat a front office that's spending millions of dollars on aging, underproductive players who need to win now, while they still have a career.

For his part, I have a hard time imagining that Garner will make much of a difference. He's never finished higher than 2nd place either, and that was 12 years ago, his only season above .500. Of course, he had to manage the Brewers and the Tigers before, so it's hard to blame him. Nevertheless, if the Astros don't at least win the Wild Card (the division, 10.5 games away, is clearly out of reach), blame him is exactly what they're likely to do. But should they? Since the inception of the three-division, Wild-Card format, only four of the 18 Wild-Card winners were as many as 4.5 games out at the All-Star Break, which is exactly where the Astros currently sit:

Year	AL WC      GB	NL WC     GB

1995 Yankees 7.5 Rockies 0
1996 Orioles 3.0 Dodgers 0
1997 Yankees 0 Marlins 0
1998 Red Sox 0 Cubs 3.0
1999 Red Sox 0 Mets 0
2000 Mariners 0 Mets 0
2001 Athletics 7.0 Cardinals 5.5
2002 Angels 0 Giants 2.0
2003 Red Sox 0 Marlins 4.5

Most of those teams that actually won the WC were already either leading the Wild Card race or theor own division at the Break, and it took tremendous second-half runs by the 2001 A's, the 1995 Yankees and the 2001 Cardinals to get into the playoffs. With that said, the Astros have all the elements in place for such a run: Underperforming talent, first-half injuries, and a new manager, all of which played into one or more of those second-half surges that got those teams into the playoffs.

If nothing more, it will be interesting to watch what happens.

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14 July 2004

Observations and Thoughts on the 2004 All-Star Game

Once a year, the best baseball players in the world get together and stage an exhibition to demonstrate the talent and skill and determination that makes them the best in the world. In no other sport is the All-Star game as real, as true-to-form as it is in baseball.

*In professional hockey, the goalies may be the best in the league, but they're not accustomed to facing five of the best players in the league simultaneously, and no one bothers to play defense much. This means that you regularly get NHL All-Star scores like 14-9, or 11-8, whereas regular season hockey game scores rarely venture into positive numbers.

*In professional basketball, the players are all too busy working on their rap record deals and trying not to get cappes by Allen Iverson's posse to bother playing defense, so we regularly see at least 250 points scored in the NBA All-Star Game, and that's just by the high-school kids!

*In professional football, the players don't even wear pads, and they're not even allowed to play defense, so that scoreboard usually gets a workout as well. Last year's Pro-Bowl saw a combined 107 points scored, a Pro-Bowl record.

Of course, this almost pales in comparison to my own Pro-Bowl accomplishments in 1993 Tecmo Super Bowl. That Super Nintendo game was set up to allow the user to choose the rosters for the pro bowl, as well as the starters and the play book. So I set up the AFC roster to consist entirely of injured and/or really poor players, and their playbook to consist of easily detectable running plays and very complicated passing plays (double backs, handoffs, etc.) This allows me to regularly run up the score on the AFC with my fully stocked NFC roster, and scores like 110-0, or 126-3 are not uncommon. It's a nice way to relax. In fact, it's a bad game if I score fewer than 100 points, allow any points to the AFC, if the AFC actually completes a pass or has more than negative 50 yards in total offense. Hey, I don't like losing.

But I digress.

Baseball is different. Baseball requires players to still throw the ball with the same force or spin or lack of spin they miht otherwise use in a real game. There just isn't much of any way to "pretend" to throw 95 mph, or to swing half-assed in order not to hurt yourself. You've still got to slide to avoid the tag, and you've still got to jump to catch that ball at the top of the wall, so baseball's greatest exhibition game has always carried with it a little more authority and intrigue than those of the other major American sports.

With that said, we lost a little something two years ago when the game ended in a tie, due to the AL and NL managers treating the game like an exhibition rather than a serious contest for bragging rights. For 2003, they came up with the "This Time It Counts" slogan, and senseless though it may be, made home-field advantage for the World Series contingent upon winning the All-Star game. Lots of good it did the Yankees last year. The All-Star game needed something to make it more intriguing, since we've lost the league-loyalty that used to be the hallmark of this competition. No fewer than nine of the 60 players on the two All-Star rosters were in the opposite league last season, and Carlos Beltran was in the other one this year! Twenty two of them, over one third, had played for the opposite league at some point in their careers, so you just can't see the game as the "Us against Them" kind of cnflict they'd like you to perceive.

So like I said, they came up with "This Time it Counts" for 2003, and last night, the sidelines said "This One Counts". It strikes me that at this rate, pretty soon they're going to start running out of phrases that include "count" in them to bill the game. I understand from sources close to actually existing, that some of the options they're exploring for next year are:

"This Time It Counts...Unless You're Eric Gagne!"

"Don't Count Your All-Star Game Victories Before They're Hatched!"  Posted by Hello

"Vun! Vun beaut-i-vul All-Star Game!! Ahh-Ah-Ah-AHHH!!"

They're also considering the possibility of simply re-using previous years' slogans with "...Bitch!" added to the end, but my sources are a little sketchy on that.

Otherwise, to my eyes, two years and a new system to add meaning to the game later, the managers don't seem to be managing much differently. The 2002 game saw all 30 players form both teams get into the game at some point. Last year's game saw 26 players from each team getting into the game, and last night, 28 players from each team made it into the record books. So aside from perhaps saving one pitcher or position player for an emergency (read: embarassing situation), it still looks a hell of a lot like an exhibition to me.

It was, however, one hell of an exhibition. The Greatest All-Star Outfield in History, Bonds-Griffey-Sosa, didn't even play together, as Griffey was (surprise!) injured. Bonds, Sosa, and Griffey-replacement Lance Berkman went a combined 1-for-6 with a walk and an RBI, leaving four men on base. Real exciting.

Well, for the American League, it was pretty exciting. Joe Torre may have managed it like an exhibition, but he also managed it to win, and he did, aided significantly by homers from Manny Ramirez, All-Star MVP Alfonso Soriano, and David Ortiz, whose 6th-inning shot landed in the JuiceBox upper deck. The AL also hit two triples, both by Rodriguezes (Ivan and Alex) who used to play for Texas, in which Houston lies. Talk about conspiracies!

Yes, let's talk about conspiracies, or rather the lack thereof.

So Roger Clemens started the game for the NL, with his supposed nemesis Mike Piazza as his batterymate. Clemens promptly gave up two homers and six runs in the first inning, something he's never done before in his "Hall of Fame twenty-one career" as Bud Selig so eloquently put it in the fourth inning ceremony in which Clemens was awarded the Commissioner's Award for Broadcast Excellence or for getting 1600 on the SATs or whatever the heck it was.

Theories I've heard about why this might have happened:

1) Piazza was tipping Clemens' pitches to get back at Roger for throwing baseball equipment at him four years ago.

I'd like to think that nobody could hold a grudge that long, but I've seen enough mafia movies to know it's not true. Any semblance of intelligence on Piazza's part will dictate to him that "home field advantage" won't mean a whole lot to him as he watches the World Series from his couch, so what does he care which league gets it? However, there were enough cameras, microphones and other recording equipment on that field last night that you could have heard Mike Piazza fart as he squatted behind the plate, if he had done so. It certainly would have been easily detectable if he'd been telling the batters what pitch was coming. So the Crash Davis Theory crashes and burns.

b) Clemens was tipping his own pitches, trying to let the AL win, thinking that he might be traded to an AL team going to the postseason before the season's over.

This is pretty ridiculous. If we know anything about Clemens after his "21-career", it's that the dude hates to lose. Hates it. Besides this, he doesn't expect to be traded, and the Astros don't really need to trade him, since he's only making about five million this year, and a lot of that is deferred. He doesn't have much control over the team to which he would be traded, and besides, I'm not sure Clemens is smart enough to come up with something like that. If he had, this would be the only possible Conspiracy Theory that might hold water: the Conspiracy of One.

iii) "That freakin' jerk Clemens got what he deserved! Fate caught up with him and he paid the piper for what he did to Mike Piazza, who is at least a Class Act, and probably a saint!!"

Admittedly, this theory came predominantly from Mets fans on WFAN radio out of New York, and therefore has about as much credibility and deserves as much discussion as, say, the Mets.

IV) Clemens was out partying til 2:30AM the night before the game and somehow couldn't get his fastball over 91 mph, so he had to rely on his breaking stuff, and he got rocked.

At least this theory doesn't have some dastardly scheme behind it. Just a guy who was out too late partying and couldn't perform at work the next day. Of course, the time at which he needed to perform was nearly 20 hours later, so you can safely presume, I think, that Clemens found time for rest at some point before he went on for the first pitch at, what, 8:30PM?

Certainly this theory seems more plausible than any of the others floated thus far, but the reality is that we still don't know everything there is to know about baseball. Sure, we know some things, especially when it comes to looking at the entire season: We know the Yankees will make the postseason, and that they'll pick up a notable player or two in July to help them do it. We know the Red Sox will choke, though we don't always know when. We know Ken Griffey will get hurt. We know Barry Bonds will walk. A lot. We know Alex Sanchez won't.

But we certainly don't know what's going to happen in any single game. There's still drama and suspense. That's why we watch it, right, because we don't know what's going to happen? If we did, they could just computer simulate the entire season, and we could all save a lot of money on baseball tickets. And I'd lost all my advertisers, which would suck.

It may be true that Roger Clemens had never previously given up six runs in the first inning of any game in his major league career, but in fact he has had worse games. Retrosheet tells us that Clemens has given up nine runs in a game six times, eight runs in a game ten times, seven runs 18 times, through 2003. He's even given up six runs in an inning on more than one occasion (as recently as last August and as long ago as 1987). He's given up two homers in a game over 60 times, and I know that at least a few of those occurred with multiple dingers in an inning.

So ultimately, there's a lot more evidence to suggest that this was a fluke than anything else. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Or if they try to, at least don't let them convince you that Piazza is actually descended from Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ.

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08 July 2004

Free at Last! Free at Last! Thank Ron Gardenhire, I'm Free at Last!

Through most of last season, everybody's favorite ridiculously prolific baseball blogger, Aaron Gleeman, had a sidebar on his website, exhorting Minnesota Twins management to "Free Johan Santana" as well as Bobby Kielty. In response (no, not really) the Twins proceeded to

A) Trade Bobby Kielty to the Toronto Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart, a player almost as good as Kielty, making $6 million, instead of, say, half a mil. At least he's "free" now. And playing for Billy Beane in Oakland, where he's currently hitting .221. I guess Aaron's not always right. Welcome to the club.

2) Allow Santana to start consecutive games on June 7th and 13th, during which he pitched 13 innings, allowing five hits, two walks and and two runs, striking out 14 in winning both starts...so they returned him to the bullpen, where he would languish until July 11th. At this point they made him a starter full-time, and after ironing out some of his wrinkles in July, he pitched an August to remember, and won MLB's Pitcher of the Month Honors for his efforts:

 IP    H  ER  BB  SO  W-L  ERA

42.0 30 5 10 44 5-0 1.07

Santana wasn't quite that good in Spepember of 2003, but he clearly emerged as the Twins' best starting pitcher down the stretch, even to the point that he started Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees. Thankfully and arm injury stopped him, cuz Lord knows the Yanks couldn't.

Well, Santana might have been even better this June, though Mark Mulder actually won that award this time. Frankly, I'm not sure how they justified that:

June 2004

Mulder 46.0 41 14 14 33 4-0 2.74
Santana 37.2 21 10 6 46 4-1 2.39

Well, maybe I can see it. Mulder made one more start than Santana in June, due to the way their schedules happened to fall, and pitched just as well in it as he had in the other five. Santana's first start in June was only OK, so even if Mulder wasn't as dominant as Santana, he was at least as effective, probably more so.

But since his second start in June, Santana has easily been the best pitcher in baseball:

6 47 23 8 5 6 64 5 1 1.53 0.62

Take a look at those numbers again. Less than a hit every other inning. More than ten strikeouts for every walk. Over twelve strikeouts per nine innings. Barely one and a half earned runs per nine innings! And that one loss? An eight-inning, two run, 12-K effort in which the Twins scored only once against Jon Garland and his ruby slippers. Can't really blame that one on Santana, y'know?

It's not as though this has come out of nowhere. As I mentioned, the dude was the AL Pitcher of the Month last August, and he's doing pretty well this year overall: leading the AL in strikeouts (125), 2nd in opponent batting average, 13th overall in ERA and 9th in innings. His lackluster 7-5 record is more an indication of his teammates' inneptitude with their bats when he pitches than his own quality as a pitcher: They've scored a combined total of eight runs in four of his five losses, not exactly picking up his slack.

In any case, he's been damn good for the last month or so. And when I say "damn good" I mean "peak-Sandy Koufax" good. What if you could project Santanas numbers for the last month across the same amount of starts and innings Koufax pitched in 1966, his best and last season? That year, Koufax won 27 games and the Cy Young Award, leading the NL in virtually every imagineable pitching category, and then retired. Well, Santana's been better, at least for this month. A lower ERA, fewer hits AND walks, a lot more strikeouts, and would win more games, again, assuming 41 starts and about 320 innings for the season, which will never happen again, sadly.

But how good was he really? Sure he shut out the Royals on Tuesday night, but so did Brad Radke. And so did Kyle Lohse, with a 4.71 ERA for the season. So did Mark Mulder, who's a great pitcher. So did Zach Day, who's not. So did Jason Johnson and two relievers, who had a combined ERA over 5.00 at the time. So apparnetly it's not that difficult to do, as only Montreal (12 times!) and Seattle (8) have been shut out more often this season.

Speaking of which, it turns out that Montreal was among the teams that Santana faced in the last month. Montreal's got the worst offense in the majors, averaging fewer than 3.4 runs per game. He also faced the New York Mets, ranked #22 out of 30 teams in runs per game, with 4.5, and the Brewers, twice, who score 4.4 runs per game on average, good for 24th place, in addition to Kansas City (4.15 runs/game, #28). The only team Santana faced in that stretch with any kind of decent offense was the White Sox, who rank 4th in MLB with 5.5 runs per game. As I mentioned earlier, they beat him, but only scored two runs in the process.

So how good was Santana really? Well, on average, these teams might have been expected to score about 23 runs in his 47 innings of work over the last month, whereas they actually only scored eight, so Santana saved about 15 runs, even though he did so against mostly pretty terrible offensive teams. I guess that's pretty good after all.

But don't be too surprised if he comes back to earth a little in the next few months. Of the remaining 79 games on the Twins' scheduly, only 12 of them are against teams in the bottom half of the league in run scoring. Fifty seven of those games are against teams in the top ten in the majors in run-scoring (Texas, the Yankees, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Boston and Baltimore), and another ten games are against Anaheim (12th) and Oakland 13th). So the Twins, and Johan Santana, have their work cut out for them.

But hey, at least the man's got his freedom.

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06 July 2004

Observations and Projections from the (Approximate) Halfway Mark...

As most of the teams in the majors are currently right around 80 or 81 games played, this seems as good a time as any to take stock in the season to this point, if only because the math is easiest.

This is how the season would end, if todays standings are played out over 162 games, which of course, will almost definitely not happen:

American League						

East W L Pct GB RS RA
 NY Yankees 103 59 0.638 - 903 792
 Boston 87 75 0.538 16 863 770
 Tampa Bay 80 82 0.494 23 722 800
 Baltimore 73 89 0.450 30 844 901
 Toronto 71 91 0.439 32 717 761
Central W L Pct GB RS RA
 Minnesota 88 74 0.543 - 754 778
 Chi White Sox 87 75 0.538 1 910 768
 Cleveland 78 84 0.481 10 892 882
 Detroit 74 88 0.457 14 870 866
 Kansas City 59 103 0.363 29 689 909

West W L Pct GB RS RA
 Texas 93 69 0.575 - 921 790
 Oakland 93 69 0.575 - 812 715
 Anaheim 84 78 0.519 9 798 768
 Seattle 65 97 0.400 28 652 759

National League
East W L Pct GB RS RA
 Philadelphia 88 74 0.543 - 868 786
 NY Mets 82 80 0.506 6 718 690
 Florida 82 80 0.506 6 689 714
 Atlanta 81 81 0.500 7 759 721
 Montreal 56 106 0.346 32 560 754

Central W L Pct GB RS RA
 St. Louis 99 63 0.610 - 851 672
 Chi Cubs 91 71 0.561 8 765 636
 Cincinnati 87 75 0.537 12 761 848
 Milwaukee 85 77 0.525 14 715 719
 Houston 83 79 0.512 16 747 699
 Pittsburgh 75 87 0.463 24 747 780

West W L Pct GB RS RA
 San Diego 89 73 0.549 - 709 658
 San Francisco 88 74 0.542 1 812 802
 Los Angeles 87 75 0.538 2 705 691
 Colorado 64 98 0.395 25 868 998
 Arizona 58 104 0.361 31 710 898

Things to notice:

Wins and Runs:

...Only the New York Yankees are on a pace for 100 wins or more, though St. Louis is currently paced for 99, so that could easily change. The last time a seaosn ended with no team winning 100 games was 2000, when the Giants led everybody with 97 wins, but the Yankees got the wins in October, when they counted, to bring home their 26th and (hopefully not) last World Championship. Interestingly enough, that was also the last time no team lost 100 games. The Phillies and Cubs both lost 97 that year. Call it Parity, Mediocrity, I'm not sure what it means, but it's interesting.

...Three teams, Montreal, Arizona and Kansas City, are on a pace to lose 100 games or more. All three teams had winning records in 2003, were in the hunt for at least a Wild Card berth through some significant portion of the season, and KC and 'Zona both fostered some aspirations to make the playoffs this season. Ain't gonna happen.

So what happened? KC and the Expos both did it with smoke and mirrors last year, actually getting outscored over the course of the season despite their winning records. Montreal lost its two best players (Vlad and Vasquez) and didn't do much to replace them in the short term. Carl Everett, the main guy they expected to help pick up some of Guererro's slack, has two homers and eight runs scored through half of the season, most of which he has missed with injuries. Orlando Cabrera, Tony Batista and Brad Wilkerson are all hitting about .230, and the team is on a pace to score fewer runs than the Tigers or Dodgers did last season.

Kansas City failed to recognize Lady Luck when she bit them in the collective ass. They added the players they could afford, instead of the players they needed, and most of them have been inneffective, injured or both, and many of the starters who helped them win a little in 2003 have either gotten hurt or come back to earth. On the plus side, Scott Sullivan is having a decent year, as always, and might net them another half-decent prospect if they can dump him on some contender who actually needs dependable middle relief.

The Diamondbacks traded away Curt Schilling over the winter, and didn't get much to replace his innings, but fortunately Randy Johnson has returned to form. Brandon Webb had pitched decently, though gotten no run support, and no other pitcher who has started a game has an ERA under 4.50. If you throw out Shane Reynolds' 2-inning start and one run allowed, no other starter has an ERA under 5.13. And the bullpen has been almost as bad. Time to start the fire sale in Scottsdale!

...Nobody is on a pace to score more than 921 runs (Texas, in spite of losing Alex Rodriguez over the winter). So much for having seven All-Stars in the lineup (Yankees) or the sequel to the Boston Dirt-Dogs that was supposed to be even better.

...Tampa Bay only has to go 30-51 over their last 81 games to set a franchise record for wins. Of course, that record would only be 70 wins, but they stand a pretty good chance of doing that. You gotta start somewhere.

...Colorado is perilously close to allowing 1000 runs for the season, currwently on a pace for 998. The last time a team allowed 1000 runs was 1999 when (surprise!) Colorado did it. The last non-Colorado team to achieve this dubiouss honor was the 1996 Detroit Tigers, who allowed a 20th Century record 1103 runs. Colorado and Detroit are the only teams since the offense-inflated 1930's to allow 1000 runs in a season. [Church Lady Voice:]Well isn't thas special?

...Montreal's "offense" is on a pace to score 560 runs, which would (I think) be the fewest in a full season since the 1992 LA Dodgers (532). Those Dodgers had one (count 'em: 1) player with more than six home runs. Eric Karros hit 20...with a .257 average and 103 strikeouts. Nobody drove in or scored 90 runs. These Expos aren't quite that bad...but give them a chance!

Playoff Picture:

...San Diego could go worst-to-first, and take the NL West by a game over the Giants. The Giants and Dodgers are both playing a little better than what you'd expect based on their runs scored/allowed ratios, so the Padres may pull away from the pack more as the season wears on and the Law of Averages catches up with the competition...but it wouldn't hurt to pick up an outfielder who can hit, y'know?

...In the NL, the Chicago Cubs are currently on a pace to win the Wild Card, and they would play the Padres in the first round while the Cardinals play the Phillies.

...In the AL, there would be a tie in the West between the Rangers and Athletics...for an exciting, 1-game winner-take-all bout...except that the loser takes the Wild Card anyway, so it really doesn't matter much.

...The AL Central is currently led by the Twins, but the White Sox have actually played better, and could overtake them by year end, especially if Freddy Garcia pitches as he is capable of pitching.

...Currently half of the teams that would make the playoffs (Cardinals, Padres, Phillies and Rangers) were not in the playoffs in 2003, and of those, only the Cards were in them in 2002. If Chicago takes the AL Central, that would be 5 of 8 non-repeat teams. It's becoming increasingly difficult to take Bud Selig's contention that the same teams make it to the playoffs every season, or that only teams with the highest payrolls make it (only four of the eight teams that are currently slated to make the playoffs are in the top ten in payroll.)

...The Yankees, Athletics, Cubs and Twins are the repeaters on the list, and the Twins are likely not to be there at the end of the year, though it would be their third straight season in the playoffs. (Contract THIS!) It would be Oakland's fifth straight year in the playoffs, and the Yankees' tenth (or eleventh, if you want to give them credit for winning their division in the strike-shortened 1994 season...but you probably don't, Yankee-hater!).

...Boston ain't gonna make it. Sorry. Oh, wait. No I'm not.

Damn Lies and Statistics (hitters):

...Phillies' firstbaseman Jim Thome is on a pace to hit 53 homers, the only player in MLB who is tracking to hit more than 50. Scott Rolen leads all hitters in both leagues with 80 RBI right now, which would give him about 160 for the year. Yeah, he was worth Placido Polanco and Bud Smith.

...Texas SS Michael Young is on a pace ofr 242 hits, which would be the most since Ichiro broke into the league in 2001, and the ninth highest total in history. Sorry, I don't see that happening.

...Tampa Bay out-maker, er...sorry, outfielder Carl Crawford is on a pace to steal 77 bases, which would be the highest total since Marquis Grissom had 78 in 1992.

**Barry Bonds is on a pace to walk 239 times! Did you read that? Two Hundred and thirty nine times!!!!! If he does that...

...he would (probably) have more walks than anyone else in baseball had hits!

...He would shatter his own record of 198 walks in a season.

...By contrast, it took Garret Anderson, who is widely gonsidered a pretty good hitter, ten years to amass 239 walks.

...Bonds would also break his own record for single-season OPS (currently 1.400, his own record is 1.387).

...The .618 OBP he currently sports would demolish his own single season on-base percentage record (.582) set in 2002.

...Sadly, his .781 slugging percentage would only be fifth on the all-time single season list, behind Himself, Babe Ruth, Babe Ruth, and Himself. Oh, and ahead of Babe Ruth. Pretty select company, if I do say so Himself.

Damn Lies and Statistics (pitchers):

...Will the real Kenny Rogers please stand up?

Kenny Rogers is on a pace to win 24 games.

His previous best was 17, back in 1995, and he might become the oldest player to win 20 for the first time in his career, I think, for whatever that's worth. Even if he stinks up the joint next season, they seem to have gotten their $6 million worth. In any case, the Rangers hafta be happy with that gamble. (Get it, Kenny Rogers? Gamble? Ha!) About seven other pitchers are also within striking distance of 20 wins.

...Cincinatti reliever Danny Graves is on a pace to save 61 games. This won't happen. The record is 57, and nobody else has ever had more than 55, so I don't see 61 happening, especially since Graves hasn't really been that good, allowing a home run about every five innings, and not striking many batters out. If he starts walking people again, that pace will slow down soon. His next save will tie his career high (32). Four other pitchers are on a pace for at least 50 saves.

...Devil rays starter Victor Zambrano is on a pace to allow 152 walks this year, which would make it consecutive seasons leading the AL in that undesirable category, and would also be the highest single season total since 1991, when Randy Johnson allowed as many for the Seattle Mariners. Somehow I don't see five Cy Young Awards in Zambrano's future...

...Baltimore starting (and immediately ending) pitcher Sidney Pnson is on a pace to allow 306 hits, which would be the highest total since 1979 when Phil Niekro allowed 311. Of course, Niekro is in the Hall of Fame, while Ponson, at least these days, is usually in the hall on the way to the showers. It's doubtful that he'll get a chance to be this bad over the second half of the season, as he's also on a pace to lose 24 games, and I imagine that the Orioles' front office would just assume that the Detroit Tigers keep the honor of having hosted the last 20 game loser in the majors. Nobody else is on a pace to lose 20 this year, since Hideo Nomo, his 8.06 ERA and his "inflamed" (read: LOUSY) shoulder are on the DL right now.


Well that's it. Obviously, a lot can happen over the next three months, but it's always fun to wonder "what if?" Well, unless you're Sidney Ponson.

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30 June 2004

Freddy Garcia to Tilt the Balance in AL Central

The Freddy Garcia trade has the potential to mean even more in the division races and playoff than the Carlos Beltran trade did.

For one thing, Garcia's not going to be traded again, and that is not a certainty with Beltran. Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker is smart enough to know when he's out of it, and if the 'Stros fortunes don't turn around significantly this month, he'll probably flip Beltran to someone else. For another thing, the whole "keeping so-and-so away from the Yankees" factor is a much more significant one in the Garcia trade, as the Yanks could actually have used Garcia, whereas Beltran would have been predominantly superfluous.

Garcia, catcher Ben Davis and some $cratch were sent to the Chicago White Sox, currently holding onto first place in the weak AL Central by percentage points, for catcher Miguel Olivo, AAA outfielder and super-prospect Jeremy Reed, and minor league shortstop Michael Morse.

The first thing that strikes me about the trade is that the Mariners somehow managed to get a prospect, in Reed, who is better than anyone the Royals picked up for Beltran. This seems to back up the contention that Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus made that Kansas City GM Allard Baird's decision in advance to seek a catcher and a thirdbaseman severely hamstrung him in negotiations and limited his options. Despite what their current statistis seem to indicate, as I mentioned a few days ago, the only player in that deal close to a blue-chip prospect is John Buck, and once they make him something other than a catcher, his value decreases tremendously.

Mike Morse is an infielder at AA-Birmingham, in the Southern League, and seems to be improving. Prior to 2004, Morse has spent four years in professional baseball, at Rookie and Single-A, and had hit .248 with a .369 slugging percentage, only 18 homers, 82 walks and 250 strikeouts in over 1,200 at-bats. He's got a little power (11 homers and a .567 slug% this year, albeit in the Texas League), is young (22), and may develop into a decent shortstop, but still has strike-zone issues (15 walks, 46 K's), ans might only top out as Jose Valentin Lite.

The real find in this trade is Jeremy Reed, who's betrayed by his lackluster 2004 stats: .273 with eight homers at AAA Charlotte. Reed was hitting .333/.431/.477 and was 27-for-33 in stolen bases in the Carolina League, in the middle of last summer, so the organization (wisely) promoted him to AA...where he proceeded to hit .409(!)/.474/.591 for the rest of the season. You read that correctly: He hit over .400 for half a season, with patience, speed and line-drive power. At age 22. He's consistently walked more than he's struck out, hits for average, has good speed, and could develop power as he fills out physically.

He's the total package, and the Royals could probably have had them if they wanted, but no, they wanted a catcher and a thirdbaseman, and they got them. Except their catcher is 23, can hit but can't throw, and has a good chance of being a firstbaseman in three years. Their thirdbaseman, also 23 years old, can take a pitch but can't do much else, and in three years he stands a good chance of being 26.

The others involved in this trade, catchers Miguel Olivo and Ben Davis, are somewhat similar, besides their mutual donning of the tools of ignorance. Davis came up through the Padres system, showing ability to hit for average, power and patience at different stages in the minors, but never putting much of that together in the majors. He never hit higher than .259 in parts of six seasons, never had more than 11 homers, and despite his patience, owns a career .313 OBP. He was back in AAA trying to prove himself when the Mariners shipped him to Chicago. There he may get a chance to prove himself in the majors, since their starter, Olivo, is gone, Sandy Alomar's best years are about half a decade behind him, and Jamie Burke has all of 30 major league games under his belt.

Olivo, while not exactly a super-prospect, also has shown batting average, patience and (to a lesser degree) power at certain times, and is supposed to be a good catch and throw guy. At 26, he can be a productive regular for the next several seasons, and an asset at catcher. But in leading the majors in runs scored, the White Sox needed pitching help more than offense, and they got it.

Garcia gives them an immediate "proven veteran" but more importantly, a talent they can use. He's one of the best pitchers around this season, with the fifth-lowest ERA in the AL, despite his seven losses, and is definitely bouncing back after a couple of so-so seasons. He should help bring the White Sox starters' ERA down from the 5.00 at which it currently sits.

It's not really fair to examine their starting pitchers asa group. Sure, they have an unimpressive 5.00 ERA overall, but Buhrle and Loaiza both have eight wins, and those two and Scott Schoenweis are all right around the top 25 in the AL in ERA, with Jon Garland not far behind. Decent, consistent, but not spectacular.

But their other starters? The patsies they've rolled out there to take a beating in the #5 spot in the rotation? Two-and-eight, 9.91 ERA, more walks than strikeouts and a homer every three innings. Ouchies. If ever there was an argument for the four-man rotation, this is it, or at least it was before they picked up Garcia, who immediately looks like the ace of the staff.

Actually, with Schoenweis on the DL, it might make sense for them to try the 4-man rotation for a while. All of the pitchers involved are guys who have been reasonably healthy throughout their careers, and it would free up a roster spot to put someone with some speed on the bench, a valuable commodity in the playoffs, if you ever get there. Like the NL Central race, this one is belied by the incongruity between the main competitors' records and their talent. Chicago, as I mentioned, is currently only percentage points ahead of Minnesota in their division, with a 40-33 record, compared to Minnesota at 41-34, but Minnesota has overplayed their expectations by 5 games, and actually has been outscored 363-345 for the season. Chicago, on the other hand, despit ethe best run differential in the majors, has won three games fewer than expected based on runs scored and allowed. If those factors even out, as they usually do over the long season, the White Sox could end up leaving the Twinkies out in the cold, and the Twins may find themselves looking up at Cleveland in the standings come September.

I can hear Jayson Stark now:

"Garcia for AL MVP!!"

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25 June 2004

Carlos Beltran Trade Analysis

I don't pretend to know everything about baseball.

OK, yes I do, but nobody really believes it, including me, so often times I have to go look stuff up. Despite all of the ridiculously useless baseball minutiae I have crammed into my head, probably in the slots where remembering to bring home dinner ought to be, I still have to use the internet to find out who the hell Brad Halsey is. (He's the AAA quasi-prospect who got his first major league win for the Yankees last Saturday at Chavez Ravine, and who will probably get his first major league ass-whipping against the Mets tonight, but that's another story.)

Or more germane to the current topic, I had to look up the qualifications of all three minor leaguers involved in the Carlos Beltran Trade. Before today, I had never heard of Mike Wood or Mark Teahen, and my only familiarity with John Buck was when I read his one-paragraph blurb in Baseball Prospectus 2004.

In March.

On the toilet.

So, you know, I kinda just forgot about him.

But now I gotta know, because this is important, right? So I read what the AP says about these guys. I read what Jayson Stark says about them. I look up his stats at the Baseball Cube. And since Lee Sinins was kind enough to point it out, I read what Aaron Gleeman has to say about him. And after I finished this Gleemanic article, and shaving off the 5 O'clock shadow that grew whilst reading it, do you know what I can't figure out?

Who the heck has Aaron been talking to?

Well, nobody, of course. If you spend as much time writing as Aaron does, you probably don't have much time left for conversation. But mnore precisely, where's he getting his information? Because it doesn't seem to jive with what I've read from other sources.


Mark Teahen is a former "Moneyball" pick who hit .335/.419/.543 in 53 games at Double-A to start this season, and has hit .275/.383/.391 in 20 games since being promoted to Triple-A. He's a third baseman who is going to get on base a lot, but he hasn't shown a ton of power. His good hitting this year has boosted his stock quite a bit, but he wasn't really thought of as an elite prospect coming into the season.

Hasn't shown a ton of power? How about hasn't shown any power? The guy has exactly ten minor league home runs in his three-year, 1000+ at-bat career. He hit only 10 homers in nearly 600 at-bats in college, where they hit with aluminum bats! Not only wasn't he thought of as an "elite" prospect, he wasn't even though of as enough of a prospect to bother listing him in Baseball Prospectus 2004, which has over 1600 players in it. A third baseman with no speed who cannot hit better than .300 or slug .400 at Class A is not a prospect, elite or otherwise.

This year he hit well, as Aaron mentions above, while at AA, but everybody hits well in the Texas League. There are currently 18 players with more than 100 at-bats hitting .300 or better in the AA-Texas League, and most of them won't have notable big-league careers, so that's not so special. To his credit, he's fairly patient at the plate, but in the major leagues, recognizing a strike and being able to hit one some place other than right at the shortstop are two very different skills. And right now Teahen's numbers at AAA, in the hitter-friendly PCL no less, are uninspiring: No homers and twice as many strikeouts as walks, albeit in fewer than 60 at-bats.

It remains to be seen whether Teahen will become George Brett without the "power" ... or Dave Magadan without the "average". For me, I'm obviously not convinced that 200 at-bats to start this season say more about his skills than the other 800 in his profesisonal career. Kudos to Billy Beane for capitalizing on his two good months and getting rid of an overrated player at a position they didn't need to fill while his stock was high.

Mike Wood, the other guy from the A's, is a RHP who doesn't strike out a lot of battters. Here's Aaron again:

Wood has posted extremely good ERAs in the minors, going 14-6 with a 3.27 ERA between Single-A and Double-A in 2002 and then 9-3 with a 3.05 ERA at Triple-A last season. So far this year, he is 11-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 90 innings at Triple-A. It's tough to argue with those numbers, and I do think Wood has a nice future ahead of him, but he doesn't strike me as a future star. He just doesn't get as many strikeouts as I'd like to see, with just 125 Ks in 181 career Triple-A innings and 63 in 105 innings at Double-A. Still, he is 24 years old and, like Baird said, will join the Kansas City rotation immediately.

Sorry, Aaron, I don't see extremely good ERAs. I see nice win-loss records, but those are circumstantial. His ERAs are certainly decent, maybe even good considering their compilation in the Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues, both of which are freindlier to hitters than pitchers, as I mentioned. But extremely good? Rich Harden was extremely good. Mark Prior was extremely good. Mike Wood's just good, especially when you consider that he doesn't strike many batters out. Jayson Stark, who probably has better connections than Aaron does when it comes to this sort of thing, said:

The third player the Royals got, 24-year-old right-hander Mike Wood, is going to be a useful back-of-the-rotation, middle-relief type guy. For now, the Royals will plug him right into the rotation as their No. 5 starter. Eventually, he'll probably be a ground-ball specialist out of their bullpen.

That doesn't bode well. Wood started that paragraph as a #3 starter and ended it as a ROOGY. That's got to be the fastest a prospect has fallen out of favor in history, and he hasn't even made it to the majors yet! Baseball Prospectus said he's been underestimated, and could have a long career as a starter or a swingman, but it looks like his upside is probably Mike Morgan or Bob Tewksbury. You could do worse.

The third prospect is a catcher named John Buck, who came out of the Astros system. Again, Gleeman and the "experts" seem to disagree:

The third prospect the Royals got came from the Astros. John Buck is a 24-year-old catcher who is hitting .300/.368/.507 this year at Triple-A. Those numbers are outstanding, particularly for a catcher who is considered a good defender, but they are also quite a bit above Buck's previous offensive levels.

Aaron doesn't say it explicitly, but that first sentence seems to imply that Buck is considered a good defender. He's not.

Buck, meanwhile, was once regarded as one of the best catching prospects in baseball. His star has fallen in the last year, but he will catch in the big leagues. And if Tony Pena can't iron out his release issues, nobody can.

Buck's build (6-foot-3, 210) reminds scouts of a young Carlton Fisk. His game, however, is a little short of that, though he will hit some home runs. And if he quickens his release, he will throw out some runners. And again, given Baird's options, he could have done worse.

There aren't many catchers with long, successful careers who match that physical description, especially ones who can't throw. It's a pretty big undertaking to get a guy that big, who's already 23, to learn different footwork and throwing habits. Not impossible, but difficult. The easier route, if he proves he can hit in the majors, is to move him to a different position, say, first base. Heck, you hardly ever have to throw there. Just ask Steve Garvey. But a catcher with throwing issues? Major leaguers will run rough-shod over him.

Buck was, however, a pretty good hitter, considered one of the best prospects in the game before injuring his wrist last year. That .300/.368/.507 line he put up in New Orleans means he's back as a prospect, but he'll probably follow the Piazza/Fisk/Torre route to first base a lot sooner than they did, which diminishes his value considerably.

So we see that the Royals got three guys, but none of them are really worth writing home to tell Mom about, at least not yet. All could be useful major leaguers, but none are likely to become stars. What we don't know is what the market was offering. BP's Joe Sheehan thinks that the Royals got fleeced, or at least...

The Royals may have added two players who will be contributors, but they haven't added players with star potential, and that's what they needed to do in this trade. The Royals have been treading water for a decade, and adding two guys who will probably never make an All-Star team isn't the way to change that.

Determining early in the process that they wanted a third baseman and a catcher for Beltran may have blinded the Royals to better options. Certainly, those two positions are important, but they settled for players who fit those slots when they might have been able to get more value by looking elsewhere.

It's not clear to me whether Sheehan is just dismissing Wood or Teahen as being "contributors" at all, and therefore only mentions two players, or if "two" is just a typo he never got around to fixing after he learned that there was an additional player in the deal, and he really means "three". He's kinda down on all three of these guys for one reason or another, so I just don't know, but it's clear that Sheehan's not as impressed with Royals GM Allard Baird's haul as Stark was. Neither am I.

Unlike Aaron, though, I don't think the Oaklands got the best of this deal. They got an excellent player, as Octavio "Don't Ask" Dotel is one of the best relievers in the business, but as a reliever his ability to contribute is fairly limited. They also got some cash, though, and they only gave up guys who were probably overrated and for whom they had no use, so they essentially gave up nothing. And, as Sheehan points out, they kept the Yankees, Red Sox and other AL competition from getting Beltran, which is certianly worth something. Give them credit.

And Houston picks up one of the best players in the game, even if it is for only three months. They got him early enough to let him help a lot, both on offense and defense. Craig Biggio was one of the best players in the majors at one point, but that point was about six years ago, and now he's been hurting the Astros with his bat and his glove for about two and a half years. Hopefully he'll do a little less damage at both in left field than he was doing in center.

Ironically, there's another factor here, one that really has nothing to do with the trade. Current luck in landing Beltran aside, the Astros have been one of the unluckiest teams in the majors, winning three fewer games than you'd expect based on their Pythagorean Projection from Runs Scored vs. Runs Allowed.

Team        ExW-L ActW-L Difference
Detroit 36-35 32-39 -4
Houston 41-31 38-34 -3
Chicago Sox 40-29 37-32 -3
Chicago Cubs 43-29 40-32 -3
Toronto 33-39 31-41 -2
Seattle 31-39 29-41 -2
Pittsburgh 29-40 27-42 -2
NY Mets 37-34 35-36 -2
Montreal 26-44 24-46 -2
Colorado 29-42 27-44 -2
Atlanta 35-36 33-38 -2

Only Detroit has had a bigger problem winning the "expected" games than Houston has. And nobody really cares about Detroit. But if Houston's luck, which may have been about to turn around anyway, actually reverts to the norm, or even becomes good, this trade will look even better to baseball fans and historians. Not that it should look better, but it will.

If the Astros' luck (and/or relief pitching) improves, and they end up winning a few more games than expected in the second half, taking their division or the Wild Card in the process, Beltran will have been a big part of that process. And of course, Beltran and Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker will be heroes. Remember last year, when the Twinkies' trade for Shannon Stewart coincided almost exactly with Minnesota's run to the division title? People like Jayson Stark, who is smart enough to know better, touted Stewart for the MVP, even though he didn't really play much better after the trade than he had before, and even though the Twins' offense was exactly as good beofre the trade as after. Coincidence was enough, for some people, to imply causality, when really it was the Twins' pitchers who deserved the credit for that turn-around.

And if Cincinatti's mirage success goes away, and the Astros' rotation happens to get healthy (Pettitte) and pitch the way we expected them to all along (Oswalt, Redding), well, Houston could really win this thing, and then we'll have to fight off a rash of

"Beltran for NL MVP!"


In the meantime, let's just see what happens.

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21 June 2004

Generational Gap

On Sunday, Cincinatti Reds centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. finally hit the 500th home run of his career, ending a quest that sometimes felt like he had hit #499 on the day he entered th majors at age 19, and we had to wait 15 years for closure. Actually, I think it was only about a week. Griffey is now the 20th member of the 500-home run club, which I think means that he now gets the Grand-Slam Breakfast for half price at Denny's ("Welcome to Denny's! Pictures on the menu: Actual Size.")

It also means that virtually any of the silly arguments you may have heard over Griffey's last few, injury-riddled seasons, that he is somehow not a Hall of Famer, now go officially down the toilet. I argued almost a year ago that Griffey belongs in the Hall, but now the National Media Bandwagon has caught up with those of us who have a little more sense, since Griffey's reached an official milestone. Jayson Stark, Rob Neyer, John "I Ain't an Athlete, Lady...and I Ain't a Writer, Either!" Kruk and others have already chimed in on the issue, as well as presumably dozens of other local writers. Monday morning, in their commentary on the subject, ESPN's morning show guys, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, were attempting to do the impossible:

Establish an argument for Ken Griffey Jr, and NOT Barry Bonds, as the Greatest Player of My Generation.

I don't exaclty know how to define "my generation", and Roger Daltrey won't return my calls, so I'm going to try this from a couple of angles.

Clearly, Bonds is five years older than Griffey, has more service time, and has not had the same injury problems over the last few years, so I don't think any reasonable baseball fan or writer would actually attempt to make the argument that Griffey is somehow more valuable over the course of his career than Bonds has been. So there's gotta be another way to compare them. There are, as I see it, only three possibilities for fairly comparing Griffey to Bonds.

1) Look at only those seasons that overlap for both players, by age. This would be their age 21-34 seasons, with the caveat that Griffey's not done with his age 34 season.

B) Look at only the number of seasons for which you have stats for both players. This would be their first 16 years each, again acknowledging that we'll have to do something about the unfinished 2004 season for Griffey.

iii) Look at their accomplishments through their last mutual full season by age, and count Griffey's first two years, as he should get snaps for making it to the majors at age 19.

Within option B, the question arises as to whether or not you give Griffey some kind of credit for all the time he missed with freaky injuries from 2001-2003. You can project out his numbers from 2000, (.271, 40 homers, 118 RBI) for those and pretend he was healthy and consistent. Or you can project what he actually did when he played in those seasons out to a full season, sort of pretending the variations in performance caused by his injury would not have gotten him benched or something. This still averages out to 35 homers and 95 RBI, with a ~600 at-bat season.

Frankly, I'm not very comfortable with either of these. Nobody, in any kind of official way, gives Ted Williams or Willie Mays or Whitey Ford credit for service time lost during wars. Nobody cuts Joe DiMaggio a whole lot of slack for all of his injuries. Nobody ever tries to argue that Sandy Koufax was the greatest pitcher of the late sixties and early seventies, because despite his talent, Koufax didn't actually pitch in the late sixties and early seventies. So if nothing else, the Greatest Player of a Generation must at least PLAY, right? I mean, you know, more than say, Gary Matthews, Jr.

So we can't really give him credit for stuff he didn't do, but to be nice, we'll give him credit for stuff he might do, at least this season. If Griffey stays healthy, and that's a big IF, he's on a pace for 45 homers and 127 RBI. If we add this year's projections onto his actual career numbers through last season, and use the age First 16 seasons' stats for both players, we get:

Jr. 2067 7647 1370 2228 417 36 526 1511 1029 1380 179 66 .291 .381 .562 .942
Bonds 2296 7932 1713 2313 483 71 567 1542 1724 1282 484 138 .292 .422 .585 1.007
diff 229 285 343 85 66 35 41 31 695 -98 305 72 nil .041 .023 .065

In their first 16 seasons in the majors, Bonds amassed more raw numbers than Griffey in every category but one: strikeouts. Junior struck out nearly 100 more times, in almost 300 fewer at-bats, playing in 229 fewer games. The two players' batting averages are nearly identical, but Bonds walked almost 700 more times, and therefore has a considerable advantage in on-base percentage and a slightly less pronounced one in slugging. He did get caught stealing 72 more times, but also succeeded over three hundred more times, at a slightly better success rate than Griffey, so Bonds gets a big edge there. Bonds has more homers, more doubles, over twice as many triples, a handful more hits and RBI, and a LOT more runs.

Runs and RBI, which are largely situational in nature, have to be taken with a grain of salt. Bonds spent the first four seasons of his career as essentially a leadoff or #2 hitter, so naturally he scored a few more runs and garnered a few less (there's got to be something grammatically wrong with that phrase) RBI in those years. Nevertheless, Barry still comes out slightly ahead of Griffey, even with a bunch of RBI he hasn't actually driven in yet this year. I just don't see how Mike&Mike can make this argument, especially considering that the first five years or so of Bonds' career were spent in the late 1980s and early 90s, before offensive numbers started exploding in the mid 1990s.

So what about their respective accomplishments through Griffey's current age? After all, by his sixteenth full season, Barry Bonds was 36, and Griffey's only 34 right now. On the other hand though, Bonds entered the majors two years older than Griffey did, so Junior's got a big head start on him there. This is a credit to him, as he was brought up with only a little experience in A and AA, and none in AAA, but made an impact immediatley. Griffey was hitting .300, with power and speed, in the major leagues at an age when Bonds had still been terrorizing the Pac Ten. Bonds didn't hit .300 in a full season in the majors until he was 26! So we can't just ignore Griffey's first two seasons, but we won't exactly be comparing apples to apples if we don't, or will we?

If you discount Griffey's first two seasons (which you shouldn't really do, as I mentioned), once again, Bonds comes out WAY ahead in virtually every category, except a handful of RBI and homers, the reasons for which we have already covered. So I won't bother to run that table again here. But I will show you what they actually have both done through the age of 33, the last season they've both completed, healthy or not.

Jr. 1914 7079 1271 2080 382 36 481 1384 940 1256 177 66 .294 .379 .562 .941 144
Bonds 1898 6621 1364 1917 403 63 411 1216 1357 1050 445 130 .290 .414 .556 .970 164
diff -16 -458 93 -163 21 27 -70 -168 417 -206 268 64 .004 .035 -.006 .029 20

This table I find particularly interesting. Despite Griffey's 2-year head start, he missed enough playing time with injuries from 2001-2003 to allow Bonds to catch up, so to speak. The two players end up with nearly the same numbers of games played and plate appearances by the ends of their age 33 seasons. (That disparity in at-bats is essentially offset by Bonds' penchant for walking.)

In this comparison, Griffey's still got more homers and RBI, which seems (as we've said) to be attributable to the era in which Bonds' first few seasons were played and his position in the lineup. Griffey has considerably more hits than Bonds, but given Bonds' HUGE edge in walks, he still got on base more often, for a not-insignificant 35-point edge in OBP. As a rough overall measure, the adjusted OPS (the last column) clearly shows that Bonds' adjusted OPS was 64% better than his league average for this span, while Griffey's was "only" 44% better. Big edge to Barry, once again.

And the argument only goes downhill from there for Griffey supporters. You see, if you're going to compare these two players against each other to determine which was the best of this generation, you'll have to wait until both of their careers have ended, and neither has. I know because Daltrey called me back.

Bonds has the extremely unusual advantage of having gotten better, a LOT better, after his 34th birthday. Bonds had managed to hit over 230 homers since he turned 35, in less than five full seasons, winning three more MVP awards and setting all kinds of records in the process. That's more than Don Mattingly had in his whole career. You think Griffey's going to follow that path? Granted, Junior's a special player and everything, certainly, if healthy, capable of being a productive player for a few more years, maybe even a lot more years, but he'll have to become better than he was when he was in his mid-to-late 20's, in his physical prime, for about another five seasons, to even have a prayer of being as good as Barry has been to this point.

Ken Griffey Jr., as good as he is right now, is going to have to kick it up a notch or ten to win this title. Better get going, Junior!

The clock is ticking...

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16 June 2004

Quien Es Mas Catcher-o?

Not too long ago, Mike Piazza broke the all-time record for career home runs by a catcher, when he hit #352 in May. That homer surpassed Carlton Fisk's mark, which he set a decade or more ago, but which took him about 800 more games to do than Piazza, so clearly Piazza's the superior hitter of the two. For that matter, Piazza is easily the greatest hitting catcher ever, by virtually any measure you can conjure.

Piazza polarizes baseball fans. Lots of purists, old-schoolers especially, think that a catcher must catch, first, and any offense you get out of him is secondary, gravy, as it were. This is why Moe Berg and Bill Bergen had careers. For that matter, this is why Brad Ausmus and Mike Matheny have careers.

Seamheads like me will tell you that you can't possibly do enough with the glove, regardless of your position, to make up for being a terrible hitter, and that likewise an average hitter can't do enough defensively to catch up to the overall value of a great hitter.

Rob Neyer argued that the ten best catchers were, all things considered, in order:

                      Games  Caught  OPS+
1. Johnny Bench 2158 1742 127
2. Yogi Berra 2120 1699 126
3. Carlton Fisk 2499 2226 116
4. Bill Dickey 1789 1708 128
5. Gabby Hartnett 1990 1793 126
6. Roy Campanella 1215 1183 123
7. Mike Piazza 1493 1404 156
8. Mickey Cochrane 1482 1451 127
9. Gary Carter 2296 2056 116
10. Ivan Rodriguez 1652 1590 113

You can see fairly easily that one of these guys stands out significantly, and it's Piazza. He's essentially twice as good a hitter as anyone else on the list, as his 56% above the adjusted league average OPS is double Bill Dickey's 28%. No, I'm not saying that Piazza is worth two Bill Dickeys, but I am saying that he's a much better hitter than any of these other guys, and it's not even close.

The question Neyer wrestled with was whether or not Piazza's defensive liabilities take away enough from his hitting to knock him all the way down to #7 on the all-time list.

Rob would have been happy to take Fisk down a peg or two, and Piazza up a peg or two, if he were inclined to investigate the matter more, which he wasn't at the time. Subsequent responses to emails from his readers dealt more with the lack of Josh Gibson on the list (no, I don't know where he belongs either, but would be interested to hear arguments about him one way or the other) and the difficulty of comparing offense across leagues and eras. Nobody, apparently, wrote in to rally for Piazza's ranking to be higher, and evidently lots of people think that I-Rod belongs a lot higher, if not at the very top. I don't happen to be one of those, or at least I wasn't before I did a little research.

I had planned to try to give Mike Piazza a little more support than he seems to have gotten, and to support Neyer's contention that I-Rod is overrated, but now I'm not so sure. Let me tell you what I did and you can tell me if I'm all wet, OK?

I used Baseball Prospectus DT Cards for the ten players on the list (Josh Gibson is omitted from the discussion, of course). I used their WARP3 numbers, which stands for Wins Above Replacement Position, and includes hitting, pitching and fielding contributions, adjusted for all time. I then (roughly, I admit) prorated those ten players' numbers for the games in their careers they actually caught(GAC). This isn't perfect, but it assures us that players like Yogi don't get extra credit for prolonging their careers by playing the outfield.

I then divided the wins into the games as catcher, and prorated this over 162 games, to level the playing field and to get the numbers into a useful range. And do you know what I found? Of course you don't, or you wouldn't still be reading.

Name                WARP GAC WARP/162 GAC
10. Ivan Rodriguez 95 1565 9.83
7. Mike Piazza 80 1383 9.37
8. Mickey Cochrane 82 1451 9.16
4. Bill Dickey 96 1708 9.11
1. Johnny Bench 95 1743 8.83
6. Roy Campanella 63 1183 8.63
9. Gary Carter 107 2056 8.43
2. Yogi Berra 88 1699 8.39
5. Gabby Hartnett 87 1793 7.86
3. Carlton Fisk 100 2226 7.28

I found that Gary Carter was the greatest catcher of all time! Well, not really. I found that the Kid did in fact amass the most WARP (107) as a catcher in his career, thanks largely to its length, with Fisk not far behind.

But I also found, much to my dismay, that Ivan Rodriguez may very well be the best catcher ever. I don't even like Ivan Rodriguez. I think he's overrated, both on offense and defense, and arrogant and self-absorbed. But if Baseball Prospectus is right about him, then "pound for pound" as they say on boxing, his 95 WARP as a catcher in "only" 1565 games makes his rate of wins/season higher than anyone else. By a decent margin, too. Almost half a win per full season.

Piazza comes in second, with 80 WARP in fewer than 1400 games, followed by Cochrane, Dickey and then Bench all the way down at #5! Campanella and Carter follow, and then Berra at #8. (As a Yankee fan, I had hoped that Berra would do better, but what can you do?) Hartnett and Fisk round out the top ten.

I don't really know if this means anything or not, but from looking at the DT cards, I can see how Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez gain so much ground. Piazza's offense, which Neyer seemed to sort of glaze over, is SO much better than anyone else's that he can't help but jump way up in the rankings. He's got about 200 fewer equivalent runs (EQR) than Bench, but Bench needed about 2000 more outs to amass those! As a fielder, Bench was as good as Piazza is bad, with +155 fielding runs above average vs. negative 111 for Piazza. This helps Bench, but you just can't make up for such a tremendous difference in offense with your glove, I think.

This is the same reason that Rico Brogna wasn't as good a firstbaseman as Jason Giambi, or that Pokey Reese is not as good a secondbaseman as Alfonso Soriano. Granted, there's a lot more to the defensive requirements at catcher than there is at first base, but if the methods Baseball Prospectus uses to measure defense and offense are at all reliable, then, we've got to take the numbers seriously, and the numbers say that Piazza has thus far been worth approximately 15 fewer wins than Bench for his career, which includes almost 400 fewer games as a catcher. If Piazza can catch another 250-300 games, which is possible but not a foregone conclusion for a 35-year old catcher, and continue to produce at a similar rate, he can catch Bench in career WARP, again, in fewer games. Remember, again, that this is taking into account total contributions, with the glove and the bat.

I-Rod isn't quite as good a hitter as Bench was, but his defense (amazingly, to me) actually rates better! He's +203 fielding runs above average, in almost 200 fewer games than the First Pudge. Rodriguez has had six seasons of at least +20 Fielding RAA, whereas Bench had only two, at exactly 20, and his overall defensive numbers are hurt by the fact that he was a bad firstbaseman, a bad thirdbaseman and a bad outfielder, but even factoring that out probably doesn't give hime more than a win or two over the course of his career.

And don't forget: Pudge and Piazza are still amassing stats this season, and their competition on this list is not. Piazza's currently hitting .340/.412/.610 with eight homers as a catcher this season, basically splitting time between catcher and 1B.

Rodriguez is hitting .357/.386/.527, also with eight homers as a catcher, and presumably still making the highlight reels with his defense occasionally. I don't think he'll necessarily finish the season hitting .361 with 120 RBI, but clearly he's not as close to slowing down as we would have thought by his August-September slump last year or his rash of injuries from 2000-2002. His defense does appear to have dropped off a bit. Even though things like fielding percentage, Zone Rating, Range Factor and the like are all as good as ever, he's not catching base stealers as much as he used to, with only 5 CS in 18 attempts off him, that 28% caught-stealing rate is beneathe the AL average of 32%, probably for the first time in his career. But he set the bar pretty high for himself in that area, and still does enough with the bat to keep padding his record for a while, especially since he's still only 32 years old.

Like I said, I don't even like Rodriguez. I did this hoping to prove that Mike Piazza'a offense makes him the Greatest Catcher Ever, despite his defense, but it didn't happen. I found what I found, and even though I didn't necessarily like the result, I've got to be honest with you about it.

Now please, someone, tell me why I'm wrong.

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15 June 2004

Are the Reds for Real?

How the heck are the Reds doing it?

The team is currently 14th in the majors in runs scored, 5th in the National League. The team’s OPS ranks 16th in MLB, and is tied for 7th in the Senior Circuit. So it must be the pitching, right?

Wrong. The Reds’ pitching is even worse than their hitting. The team ERA is 16th in the majors, and 13th in the NL, which means that only San Francisco, Arizona and Colorado are worse right now, and Colorado is always at the bottom of this list. So after playing 56 games, and only scoring four more runs than they’ve allowed all season, how in the world are the Reds standing atop the NL Central with a 34-22 record?

You guessed it: Luck.

The Reds have played way over their heads so far this year, getting timely hits and clutch relief pitching exactly when they needed it almost every time. Their #16 ranking in total OPS jumps way up to No. 4 with runners on base, meaning that they’ve been fortunate to get a lot of hits and walks with runners on base, which has helped them score runs. That kind of disparity, from No. 4 to No. 16, doesn’t usually last all season. There’s no such thing as a predictably “clutch" hitter, especially a clutch team. Eventually they’ll come back toward the average, missing a few much-needed hits, and end up being just a decent offensive team.

Meanwhile, the starters have been only decent overall, and outside of Paul Wilson’s 7-0 record and 3.18 ERA, they’ve been mediocre at best. The bullpen’s not spectacular, but it’s been better than the starters, with a 3.86 ERA 27 saves and 15 wins, which both lead the majors. Eventually that bullpen will give up a few homers, blow a few saves, and lose a few games, and when they do, the Reds will go back to struggling for .500. The Reds’ main competition, St. Louis and Houston, both have similar or better bullpens and much better starters. They just haven’t gotten the kind of luck from which Cincinnati has benefited all season. In addition, both the Astros and the Cardinals have better offense than the Reds, whose offensive success depends on Ken “I think I Pulled Something” Griffey staying off the DL, a 40-year old Barry Larkin staying both healthy and productive, and Sean Casey continuing to hit 200 points above his career OPS.

Don’t hold your breath.

See what the other Outsiders think...

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14 June 2004

Jocks for Justice?

I received an email from Peter Dreier, a professor of political science at Occidental College in L.A. on Friday. Professor Dreier alerted me to an article he co-authored with Kelly Candaele, brother of erstwhile Expo, Astro and Indian utilityman Casey Candaele. The article, he said,

"...celebrates the athletes, including baseball players, with the courage to speak out on important social and political issues and suggests why there are fewer outspoken athletes today than in the past. We also take a few whacks at the MLBPA."

I suggest you read the article first, or the rest of this post won't make a lot of sense to you. After I read the article, my response to Professor Dreier included the following:


Glad you found my website somehow. Thanks for
alerting me to this.

[...personal stuff, irrelevant, deleted...]

Regarding the article, I generally shy away from this kind of stuff myself, as I don't really believe that any of my readers comes to Boy of Summer to hear me
pontificate on politics or religion either, though occasionally I do lapse into the latter a bit, at least in terms of discussion of not actual preaching.

Though I see your point that athletes could and perhaps should be more vocal about social justice issues and the like, I don't see all the backlash to which you refer. You offer very few concrete examples of the media specifically criticizing an athlete's stance on an issue, though you do offer a few of an athlete's peers (David Robinson) or sponsors (Nike) doing so. You give passing reference to hearsay from a third party, like the professor on the Tiger Woods issue, but don't name any of the ones who actually perform the "crucifixion."

You mention the disparity between players who don't want to get involved in politics and owners who always seem to be, but you seem to glaze over the fact that the owners are also doing what is in their own material best interests: chumming up to the politicians who can serve them in their causes, for new stadiums or lower taxes or whatever. They're only activists for themselves, just like everyone else, for the most part.

I certainly agree with you that athletes have much more to lose, and considerably little to gain, at least materially, for voicing their opinions. This is certainly an enormous factor in the decrease in political and social activism among athletes, if this
does truly exist. However, I think that at least a portion of this perceived tendency is that athletes are gaining an understanding that the General Public, the ones who ultimately pay their salaries AND their endorsements, just don't want to hear it.

It is one thing for Adonal Foyle to start a grassroots organization with a website where people can go to find out what to do to help, or for Schoenke to organize a contingent of friends to support a presidential campaign. These athletes are doing what they believe is right and good, as is their right, and the people they're affecting are expecting what they get. They've signed up for it.

It is another ball of wax entirely for someone to wear a tee-shirt decrying the war on a nationally televised event or for an athlete to criticize the President in
a post-game interview (a hypothetical example). We tune in to these events to be informed about sports and entertained by its performers, not to hear/see
political rhetoric. Nobody's denying these people their first amendment right to speak their minds. We'd just prefer if they'd use their camera time appropriately, to entertain, as they're being paid to do.

If they want to do something to help a less fortunate group (like Piazza did for the food service union after the Strike), more power to them. Wealthy athletes should use their positions to help the less fortunate, and most of them do, but they shouldn't be
required to do it, by the media, their teammates, or their employers.

If I want to know what Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or anyone else thinks about an issue, I can probably find out by doing a little research on Google or writing a fan letter or something like that. I can listen to talk radio or read activist websites and get my fill of information to make a decision. I don't want to find out after the sports highlights on the evening news. It just doesn't belong there.

I feel for anyone who can't make up his own mind about an issue without consulting Steve Nash on it first, and I fear for anyone who's decisions are made in such manner.

As you've certainly detected by now, I tend not to agree with most of what your website preaches, and therefore will not be linking the article, at least not without something like this attached to it. I do try to focus on the baseball and only the baseball,
whenever possible.

Thanks again though. I am interested in your response, if any.


Much to my surprise, Dreier did not just write me off, choosing instead to continue the conversation:

> Travis,
> Thanks for the quick response to the "Jocks for Justice" piece.
[...more personal stuff...trust me, you don't care...]
> I enjoy your website. There are probably more
> baseball-oriented websites and blogs than political ones.
> I don't want anyone REQUIRING athletes to do anything but play ball. But I admire
> athletes who choose to speak out about social injustice. I don't mean athletes that
> shoot from the hip. I mean ones like Foyle who are well-informed.
> Many pro athletes come from poor backgrounds and are
> now (at least for a few years) making a lot of
> dough. They shouldn't be required to "give back" to
> society, but it would be nice if they -- as well as
> athletes from middle-class backgrounds -- did so.
> Lots of them to charity work, as we indicate. But we
> want athletes to do more than charity work, but to
> engage in the democratic process. Some, like
> Bradley, even run for office. Others, like Foyle,
> help educate people about what they can do to
> improve our political and social conditions. Whether
> we like it or not, athletes are role models and
> celebrities. They can use their status to enrich
> themselves or to help improve society (or both).
> We'd like the players' associations to do more, too.
> We hoped our article would trigger a discussion
> about these issues, regardless if readers agreed
> with us. So your email was a good example of what
> we'd like to see occur -- a public discussion about
> these issues.
> Peter Dreier

And so I decided to link him and his article after all, to see what my half-dozen or so readers might have to say about the issue.

Any thoughts?

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