07 June 2004

Should the Yanks regret the A-Rod-for-Soriano trade?

Like the Run Down question I do approximately every week, this is a conversation I had over email with Brandon Rosage, who runs Baseball Outsider.com, a fans' perspective website with some pretty cool content in its own right. The original appeared here.

Should the Yanks regret the A-Rod-for-Soriano trade?

Travis Nelson: Absolutely not. The Yankees (and more accurately Aaron Boone) should regret the injury that necessitated the A-Rod for Soriano trade, but they should in no way regret the trade itself. As great as Soriano is, he's always going to be limited by his inability to take a pitch (or rather, to take four of them out of the strike zone). He's two years older than we used to think, and he's about to get very expensive.

Alex Rodriguez is, of course, already very expensive, but he's better than Soriano is, and the Yankees have what amounts to a bargain for his contract after getting Texas to pick up over 40 percent of A-Rod's remaining salary. It's been worked out that the Yankees are actually paying A-Rod less, on average, than five other players on their own team (Jeter, Sheffield, Brown, Giambi, and Mussina). What's to regret?

Brandon Rosage: From a business standpoint, a trade for A-Rod is golden. Alex Rodriguez in pinstripes draws fans and unparalleled interest, not to mention a can't-lose situation at third base.

But looking at the Yankees as a team (which is rarely done these days), I can't help but notice that, with the continued distraction of repeated superstar additions, the club doesn't function well. The best Yankee teams, and the best winning teams anywhere for that matter, had home-grown, time-tested chemistry that put together wins on the field -- not just on paper.

Sure, with eight All-Stars on the field, the Yankees have virtually guaranteed that their work on paper will translate into wins on the field. But the Yankee teams that have neglected to win rings in the past three years have lacked that team chemistry and proven ability to get business done on-the-field.

I'm not so sure Rodriguez fixes this situation. He's a quick fix. Granted, he's a bargain and a sure thing. But all that gurantees is a productive third baseman. Scrapping together nine productive players in February doesn't ensure your franchise will be a productive team.

Travis Nelson: With all due respect, I think that "Team Chemistry" may be the most overrated commodity in all of major league baseball, excepting perhaps "Momentum" or "Joe Morgan's Analytical Skills."

A quick perusal of the annual league champions on BaseballReference.com shows that winners aren't always guys that get along great. The Oakland Athletics that won three straight championships in the early 1970s? The late '70s "Bronx Zoo"? Did those guys win because they all hung out at the bars together at night after games and had picnics in each others' backyards? The 1989 World Series Champion Oakland A's, with McGuire, Rickey, Canseco, Eckersley, Dave Parker, Dave Stewart and others, might have been the biggest collection of eccentrics and egotists to call themselves a major league baseball team since...well, the 1988 Athletics, who also had Don Baylor in the mix, but won the American League anyway.

Baseball teams win on two things: talent, and luck, in that order. If you've got enough talent, you don't need luck. You can pummel the competition and if a few things don't fall into place, you still come out ahead in the long run. The Yankees have had and continue to have the talent to not just compete, but to succeed in the regular season. Chemistry is bred by winning, not the other way around. If your team's doing well, it's easier to let your teammates' annoying little habits roll off your back. When you're losing, everything irritates you. Having a good relationship with the guy who sits next to you on the bus or in the locker room in no way will help you to know how to hit Pedro Martinez's change-up or Randy Johnson's slider. Having talent will.

Consider this: If there had been no strike in 1994-95, and if the current three-division format had been in place in 1993, the Yankees would be working a post-season streak of eleven straight seasons, and I can tell you from having followed them for the last decade that this clubhouse has not always provided a sanctuary of fun and respite for every player. Through Darryl Strawberry's, Dwight Gooden's and Steve Howe's drug issues, Paul O'Neill's tantrums, Jack McDowell's finger, Luis Polonia's statutory rape, Ruben Rivera's theft, Ruben Sierra's selfishness, Danny Tartabull's brooding, Raul Mondesi's sulking, Chuck Knoblauch's brain-cramps, David Wells' bar fights, and Denny Neagle, Terry Mulholland, Hideki Irabu, Kenny Rogers, and Jeff Weaver just plain sucking, these Yankees have continued to win and win big in the regular season. Why? Because they have talent, not chemistry. And if they don't, then they can go pick some up, like you and I pick up eggs or beer when we realize we're running low.

The post season, on the other hand, is largely a craps-shoot. If you get in, you've got about a 1-in-8 chance of winning, since eight teams make it every year. The Yanks have won four championships in nine attempts, which is more than pretty damn good. This is where luck comes in, and in a short series, the team that plays well and gets a few breaks, not necessarily the best team, will win it all. The Yankees of the last three seasons have not failed to win championships because they didn't "click" as a team, they've failed because they didn't "hit" or "pitch" or "field" as well as their opponents did, for a week's worth of games. That's not chemistry. It's misfortune. Bad luck, plain and simple.

You can't blame A-Rod or any of the other new players the Yankees picked up this year on their last three seasons' misfortune. (Incidentally, I'm sure that lots of teams would love to have the kind of "misfortune" the Yankees have had this decade.) For one thing, they just got here. For another, they currently have the best record in baseball, leading the majors in runs scored, with all those new acquisitions helping the Yankees to function better as a team than any other in MLB, with the most productive lineup. And A-Rod, leading the team in hits, homers, steals and total bases, has been a big part of that. Soriano, in the meantime, has only six homers and eleven walks, and seems to have stopped stealing bases, which used to help compensate for the other limitations in his game. The numbers he has right now project out to look a lot like what Rich Aurilia has done the last two years. Do you think anyone would be pondering the success of this trade if it had been A-Rod for Aurilia? Me neither.

Like I said, what's to regret?

Brandon Rosage: I'd be stupid to argue that the Yankees can't win with a mixed bag of All-Stars. As you point out, the Yankees have been to all but one World Series in the 21st century. But the reason they haven't won those series is the fundamental difference between the great Yankee teams and today's Yankees team: chemistry.

There have been great teams with a$$h01es up and down their lineup that have won it all. But what separates the good clubs from the greatest is team chemistry. It's an overused word, I agree. But in the case of the Bronx Bombers, its a point of interest.

I also agree that winning a championship most often requires luck. Just ask the 2002 Anaheim Angels. But nothing defeats luck better than a team with great chemistry. If the Yankees, or any team for that matter, had the chemistry and trusted success that the late '90s Yankees had, luck wouldn't be an issue. And if luck isn't issue, your club is better than all the rest.

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04 June 2004

Storybook Ending

Let me ask you something.

If you could have your choice of the end result of a particular baseball game, what would it be? If the gods came down and said, "Listen [your name here], I know you're going to this game tonight, and you've never been to this stadium, and probably won't ever come again. How would you like the game to turn out?" ...you'd ask for a win for the home team, right? Assuming, of course that it does not otherwise much matter to you who wins, just that the environment would be fun and memorable, the first thing you'd ask for is victory.

But what if you could script out the whole game? What if you had every possible option at your disposal? If you could make virtually every aspect of this game turn out practically any way you want it, how would it go?

Well, since you asked, I'll tell you: It would go exactly like the San Francisco Giants / Colorado Rockies game went last Friday night.

Sold out stadium with a beautiful view of the San Francisco bay? No problem.

Forty thousand screaming fans? Done.

Free hat? Uh-huh.

Dramatic, come-from-behind, victory for the home team? Yep.

Bottom of the ninth inning, two-out, full-count, walk off home run? Got one of those too.

Oh, and just for good measure, it was hit by Superman.

My wife and I were out in SF visiting a couple of friends who moved out there last year, and they made the mistake of asking me if there was anything in particular I'd like to do while we're out here, just for this 5-day weekend. "Gosh," I thought to myself, "what would I like to do?" As you might imagine, it took all of about a nanosecond for Self to smack me in the head and yell, "Go see a ballgame, dummy!"

So Self and my wife and our two friends and I got tickets to see the Giants-Rockies game Friday night. Personally, it would not have mattered a whole lot to me who was pitching or anything else, as long as Barry Bonds was healthy and playing. He was. So I didn't much mind that the two starting pitchers, Brett Tomko and Shawn Estes, coming into the game, had combined to allow nearly 12 earned runs per nine innings. Amazingly, they both pitched fairly well. Of course, most of the Giants, besides Barry Bonds, can't hit their way out of a paper bag, and neither can most of the Rockies once they get placed in sea-level air, so let's not give the Cy Young Award to Estes or Tomko just yet. But still, it surprised me that neither of them sucked very much.

Speaking of sucking: The Giants' "Offense".

The San Francisco Giants, even with the single most significant offensive force known to man, have scored fewer runs this season than every team in MLB except the Devil Rays and the Expos, who both really suck, in case you've been under a rock or something for the last few years. So you can imagine how bad the rest of the Giant hitters must be, if His Awesomeness can only manage to carry the rest of them up to a #27 ranking.

My wife and friends, unlike Self and I, are not particularly baseball fans. In fact, my wife practically can't stand it, though to her infinite credit, she suffers my talking about it much better than I would suffer her telling me as often about, say, knitting. The friends we went to visit are not really sports fans at all, except for golf, and that's just the guy. His wife had never been to any kind of professional sporting event at all, so you can imagine how excited we all were at how this little escapade concluded.

Since my friends aren't much into baseball, their relative ignorance afforded me the opportunity to talk (entirely too much, I'm sure) about the game, its players and history. I got to explain park effects a little, since the Rockies, the poster-children for home/road splits, were in town. I got to explain some of the history of ballparks, since we were in a new one that replaced one of the old ones but had been designed to look and feel like a really old one. (They call that "retro" by the way.) And before the game, during the Rockies' batting practice, I got to explain how Roger Clemens, who was pitching for Houston, on the big scoreboard beyond centerfield, was probably the best pitcher of the last half century, and that we would get to see the best hitter of that span play live tonight.

And oh, did he play. Bonds' has easily led all of MLB in walks each of the last several years, and this year is no exception. At the start of last Friday’s game, he had 16 more than the next closest player, Adam Dunn, who is a walking machine himself, despite roughly 40 fewer plate appearances. This strength of Bonds’ performance as a ballplayer, that pitchers literally fear to challenge him, is also somewhat of a weakness in terms of his performance as an entertainer. To a novice, few things could seem like more of a let-down than having someone talk up how great a hitter Barry Bonds is, to have him swagger up to the plate with his music blasting over the PA system, his very presence threatening to break the game open, the pitcher standing in a puddle of his own pee on the mound, and then to have him walk on four pitches. Thankfully, we didn't have to see that, as Bonds went 3-for-5, with two singles despite the infield shift the Rockies used.

The rest of the Giants hitters, as I mentioned, aren't much with the stick. The only hitter other than Bonds having anything resembling a decent year is Marquis Grissom, with a .300-ish average but few walks or steals and not a lot of power. Edgardo Alfonzo and A.J. Pierzynski (who didn’t start) have respectable averages and a little patience, but no power, and Pedro Feliz is only doing as well as he is because Bonds has already been on-base in front of him about 100 times this season. Several other players are hitting in the low .200s, or, in the case of backup backstop Yorvit Torrealba, the low, low .200’s, like .182. Neifi Perez, I explained to my friends and wife, is so bad that I regularly use the term “sub-Neifi” to describe a particularly horrendous offensive performer, like say, Derek Jeter’s first two months this year.

So you can imagine my surprise when they kept getting runners on base throughout the game…and then my dismay as they, not too surprisingly, ended each inning without a run crossing the plate. However, the Rockies' bullpen did not seem to mind that they were not expected to suck, since they weren't at Coors Field, so they went ahead and sucked anyway.

Rockies' closer Shawn Chacon started the ninth inning having only to get the bottom of the Giants lineup out in order to finish the game, and he couldn't do it. After A.J. popped out, pinch "hitter" Dustan Mohr, a career .250 hitter in three years of part time duty with the Twins, and hitting only .149 coming into the game, walked. Michael Tucker, who's also a ~.250 career hitter, did the same, and then Edgardo Alfonzo grounded out to short, moving both runners up. Shawn Chacon, who ironically, started the only other game I've seen in one of the one of the ballparks of the new millennium, the Pirates 11-3 drubbing of the Rockies in May of 2001, blew the save by allowing Marquis Grissom to single up the middle, which scored both runners, tying the game. The Rockies then, to face Barry Bonds, brought in Tim Hara-kiri, er, Harikkala who worked to a full count and then promptly committed pitching suicide by throwing the ball over the plate, allowing Bonds to hit a home run that just barely cleared the fence in left center field, and ended the game, much to the jubilation of the 20,000 of us who didn't leave at the end of the seventh.

After the game, everyone walking down the concourse from the top level was chanting "BARRY! BARRY! BARRY!", which was cool. Never experienced that before. But my friend, who had never been to a game before, noted that perhaps Marquis Grissom deserved a chant or two. After all, he not only kept the game alive for Barry to get his shot, but tied it up with his own hit. Maybe she was right?

Shawn Shacon, who blew the save and took the loss, even though Harikkala gave up the homer, was only recently made the Rockies' closer. He was not a good starter for three seasons, and I guess he has stamina issues or something, so they made him the closer coming into this season. Age 26 seems a little young to be giving up on a guy as a starting pitcher, doesn't it? But with Jose Jimenez getting expensive, and about to be promoted to Chief Astronaut for the United States Interplanetary Expeditionary Force, they had to get someone to pick up those saves. Shacon hasn't really done that as well as they'd hoped, or as well as Phil Rogers expected, blowing 4 saves in 14 chances so far this year, only closing the door about 78% of the time. Not exactly Eric Gagne territory, here.

But Shawn shouldn't worry. If this doesn't work out, I've already found him a job:

I guess it wasn't a storybook ending for everybody. Posted by Hello

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02 June 2004

Which player's injury has been the most devastating to his team?

The most devastating injury thus far has not been the loss of Nomar Garciaparra. Despite Boston shortstops’ cumulative .604 OPS this season, the Red Sox are still competing for first place, compensating for Nomar’s loss just fine. Mark Prior’s absence hasn’t hurt the Cubbies all that much, as their surplus of starting pitching talent has generally picked up the slack. The most devastating injury wasn’t suffered by Richie Sexson or Marcus Giles or any of the myriad of stars the Anaheim Angels have placed on the DL this season. Even Barry Bonds’ recent absence has not hurt his team the most. In fact, you’ve probably already forgotten about the most devastating injury to happen to a baseball player this season.

Because it didn’t happen this season: It happened in January.

In a basketball game.

That’s right, now you remember. Erstwhile Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone left his keys, his wallet, and apparently his brain in a locker and went out to play basketball, where he suffered a torn ACL and essentially forfeited almost $6 million in salary. But he also set the wheels in motion on a series of roster moves that practically changed the entire character of the Yankees lineup.

"Yay!! Yippee!! Ya-hoo!!! Ow! ...I think I pulled something..."

Before the injury, the Bronx Bombers were just that, Bombers, with perhaps the most productive infield in major league baseball. Jason Giambi is so good he could lose 65 points in batting average and still be one of the best first baseman in the AL. Derek Jeter, when healthy and right, can reasonably be expected to put up .300/.390/.450-type numbers, with 15 homers and 30 steals, one of the best shortstops in the majors. Second base was also manned by one of the best players at that position in the majors. In 2002-2003, Alfonso Soriano had the most runs, hits, homers, and steals of any 2B in MLB. He was second in slugging percentage and OPS, and third in RBI, while mostly hitting lead-off. He was and is, in short, a great player.

The Yankees, however, needed an even greater player to help make up for the loss of Aaron Boone, and they got one in Alex Rodriguez, who’s been playing third for the Yanks this year, and doing a fine job overall. Boone was capable of a .270 average with 20 homers and 25 steals, which doesn’t seem like all that much for a third baseman, until you realize that Boone’s offense isn’t really being replaced by A-Rod, but rather by Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo. Yuk. Through late May, Yankee second basemen had “hit” for a combined .614 OPS, with three homers and twelve runs scored. Almost as pathetic as Boston’s shortstops, and not helping the team to rank any better than eighth in runs scored in the AL.

Furthermore, rumors out of New York suggest that Derek Jeter’s recently anemic bat may be caused by the added strain, pressure and competition of a guy 30 feet to his right who frankly deserves his job. I don’t personally believe that, but it’s worth considering that Jeter may not be having so much trouble if he were more comfortable with his job security.

So Boone’s injury, his simple and singular decision to play a game of pickup basketball and the aftermath that ensued, has affected the Yankees at three positions.

No one else on any of the 30 disabled lists in MLB can say that.

Check out the other BaseballOutsider.com writers' opinions on this issue...

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21 May 2004

Congratulations to my lovely (and smart!) wife, Sunny, who graduated from Moravian College last weekend. (And congratulations to all of us cheap Bloggers, who now have a free means of posting images on our websites!) Posted by Hello

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RUN DOWN: Which team has the best fans?


It’s too bad this question isn’t which club has the worst fans in baseball. That one’s easy: the Phillies.

Say what you want about the judgmental New York fans or the unforgiving Boston media, but the City of Brotherly Love has easily got the worst fans in sports. What other city would throw snowballs at the opposing team, loaded with rocks or batteries? Where else might the crowd cheer as an opposing player is carried off the field on a stretcher? Who else would boo their own pitcher for not throwing 100 mph? In what other city would they boo Santa Claus? And then tell you how proud they are of the occurrence?

That’s right: Nowhere but Philly.

But that’s not the question. The question is who has the best fans, and frankly, I don’t know. It’s tempting to say that the Yankees have the best fans, since I am one, but hey, how hard is it really to be loyal to the best sports franchise in history? Like rooting for U.S. Steel, as they used to say.

Boston is another option, I hate to admit, because by all reports the Red Sox fans are as knowledgeable as any in the game, probably more so, and that counts for something. However, the recent emergence of all these Boston fans from the proverbial woodwork leaves me a bit skeptical as to their genuineness.

After Tuesday night, I might have even offered up the Braves’ fans as the best, for who else would cheer the opposing pitcher as he hurled a perfect game against their own team? But Atlanta’s attendance has been dropping, despite the team’s continued success, and they can’t even sell-out first round playoff games anymore. Guess all that success has gone to their heads. Somebody ought to explain to the good people of Georgia that you can’t finish the season any higher than first place.

Perhaps the best measure of a team’s fans’ character is their attendance, not just overall, but in light of the team’s performance. With this in mind, it seems to me that the Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals have had the most consistency in their attendance numbers for the last half-decade or so. These teams have also been fairly successful on the field, so it makes sense that their attendance has been good.

Furthermore, for St. Louis, even when the team wasn’t that good, they had Mark McGuire and his nightly home-run record chase as an incentive to watch. Not that this should discredit the good people of St. Louis, who by all accounts are great fans, but fair is fair. I’d go to the ballpark every night too if I thought I might see history.

We’d like to find, if possible, a group of fans that embodies the very spirit of support for the franchise. Fans that aren’t concerned with silly things like “winning” and arcane notions like, well, “winning”. Fans who go to the ballgame for one reason and one reason only: to get drunk, and get a tan. OK, so it’s two reasons. And with these criteria, one team stands cork-filled head and steroid-enhanced shoulders above the rest…

…the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs' fans sure have nostalgia, and a nice ballpark, if not much recent success.  Posted by Hello

That’s right, they made the playoffs last year, winning 88 regular season games and drawing almost three million fans to a ballpark that’s nearly 90 years old and seats fewer than 39,000!

The year before that? They lost 95 games, but still drew 2.7 million fans to that ballpark. In 1998, a 20 year old phenomenon named Kerry Wood took the NL by surprise, took 20 Houston Astros down on strikes in one game, took 13 of 19 decisions and took home Rookie of the Year honors. The Cubbies took in 2.6 million at Wrigley Field. In 1999, Wood missed the entire season with Tommy John surgery, but the Cubs drew even more fans, 2.8 million! For a team that lost 95 games! Same thing in 2000: 97 losses, 2.8 million fans. 2001? An 88-74 record, good for third place in the NL Central, but still 2.8 million fans.

OK, so maybe they were a little tough on Steve Bartman last year. And maybe they’re a little bitter and jaded. After all, it’s been almost 100 years since their last World Series title. Actually, it’s been that long since they won any series in the playoffs. But consistency is consistency, and the Cubs are nothing if not consistent. Consistently underachieving, perhaps, but their fans are right there with them.

All 2.8 million of them.

See what my colleagues at BaseballOutsider.com have to say about this issue...

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19 May 2004

the Big Perfect Unit

Who says modern baseball favors hitters too much?

Sunday, with all 30 MLB teams playing, 14 of them, nearly half, scored two runs or fewer, Including the Atlanta Braves, who struck out 18 times agains the Brewers' Ben Sheets. Sheets, however, at least had the courtesy to allow three hits and a walk, even a run to score, while beating the Braves.

Randy Johnson offered no such considerations last night. Again with all 30 teams playing, 11 of them scored two or fewer runs, including both teams that took part in Johnson's perfect game, a 2-0 win for the Arizona Diamondbacks over the Braves.

Of course, these are not your father's OldsmoBraves. They lost, as you know, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez and Vinny Castilla over the winter to free agency, and those three have combined for a .309/.393/.517 line with 18 homers and 74 RBI in the first month and a half of the season. D'ya think John Schuerholtz is reconsidering his decision to let all three go? I do.

Add to this (or subtract, really) the fact that both Braves starting middle infielders, rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles, the lineup's table-setters, were injured and unable to play, further diminishing the team's chances of getting a hit, much less winning. You've got a recipe for disaster, which is exactly what happened.

Johnson struck out 13 en route to his second career no-hitter, the first perfect game since David Cone's in 1999, the first by a lefty sincd David Wells' game against the Twins on May 17th, 1998, almost six years ago to the day. It was the first in the NL (not counting David Cone's Inter-league performance against the Expos in '99) since El Presidente, Dennis Martinez, clean-slated the Dodgers in 1991. (For the record, the Dodgers have had perfect games pitched against them three times, more than any other team. Tom Browning did it for the Reds in 1988, and Don Larsen pitched one against Brooklyn in the 1956 World Series.)

There are, of course, several interesting things to note about this game, most of which are covered by the mainstream media, so I won't rehash them. You come to Boy of Summer for something other than what ESPN tells you, so I'll try to make good on that promise.

Rob Neyer notes that it's not a terrible surprise that Randy Johnson was able to pitch a no-hitter, given how stingy he always is at giving up hits, and he's right. Indeed, Johnson seems almost good enough to do so every time he toes the rubber. What surprises me though is that Johnson was able to not allow any walks. His control, admittedly, is not so bad as it was in 1991, when he walked 152 in 201 innings (yikes!), or when he annually led the league in walks allowed from 1990-92. His last no-hitter included 6 walks and eight strikeouts, and since 1995 he's averaged almost three walks per nine innings (3.6 overall for his career), so the perfect game is that much more surprising.

The other interesting thing, I think, is the frequency with which perfect games occur these days. Take a look at the list of 9-inning perfect games:

Date Pitcher Team Opponent League
5/18/2004 Randy Johnson ARZ ATL NL
7/18/1999 David Cone NYY MTL AL/NL
5/17/1998 David Wells NYY MIN AL
7/28/1994 Kenny Rogers TEX CAL AL
7/28/1991 D. Martinez MTL LA NL
9/16/1988 Tom Browning CIN LA NL
9/30/1984 Mike Witt CAL TEX AL
5/15/1981 Len Barker CLE TOR AL
5/ 8/1968 Catfish Hunter OAK MIN AL
9/ 9/1965 Sandy Koufax LA CHI NL
6/21/1964 Jim Bunning PHI NYM NL
10/ 7/1956 Don Larsen NYY BRK AL
4/29/1922 C. Robertson CHI DET AL
10/ 1/1908 Addie Joss CLE CHI AL
5/ 4/1904 Cy Young BOS PHI AL
6/17/1880 Monte Ward WOR CLE NL
6/12/1880 Lee Richmond PRO BOS NL

Notice anything?

There seems to be a significant bias toward recent years. The National League was founded in 1876, and in the first 76 seasons of MLB as we know it, there were five regular season perfect games, plus one in the World Series. Then, in the 1960s, during a very pitcher-friendly era, three were tossed inside of five seasons, and then another drought, til 1981.

But from 1981 until last night, there has been a perfect game pitched about every 3-5 years! What the heck? 1981, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2004? That measley five-year span between Cone's perfecto in '99 and Johnson's last night was the biggest gap since the 14-year span between Catfish Hunter in 1968 and Len Barker (Len Barker!?) in '81.

I don't really know what it means, but it's weird, isn't it? I mean, not as weird as, say, a couple that needs to be told to try actually having sex in order to get pregnant, but weird, nonetheless.

Spanning times in which offense was generally down (the '80s), and when it was at an all-time high (the late '90s), we still get a perfecto every three years or so.

Does it mean that this pattern will continue? Who knows? Past behavior may be the best indicator of future performance, but it's still no guarantee.

Is it a conspiracy among Bud Selig and those who run MLB to make sure interest in the game stays high? Doubtful. Selig and company can't conspire to tie their own shoes without consulting the 29 ownership groups, and there are just way too many loose lips in that bunch to ever hide something like this.

Well, whatever it means, I guess I'll look forward to 2007 or so, for the next perfecto. Any guesses on who's next?

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14 May 2004

Selig Responds to Challenges (no, not really)

Tongue-In-Cheek, Neb. (BS) -- MLB Commissioner Bud Selig's spoke at a sports banquet on Tuesday and miraculously managed not to mention illegal steroids, cheesy advertising ploys or the problems of the Montreal Expos. Instead, he rambled on ad nauseum about the beauty of baseball and its enduring popularity. Or at least he tried to...

Unaware that this was actually a gathering of disgruntled bloggers and baseball writers, Selig told a crowd of more than 1,200 that the momentum created by last year's dramatic playoffs and World Series has carried over. Crowds are up 15 percent compared with the first month and a half of the 2003 season, and he predicted major-league attendance would set a record at more than 70 million this year. Selig did not happen to mention how, exactly, one can legitimately describe events occurring five months apart as being somehow linked by "momentum" but then explaining what he means is something most of us have come not to expect from him.

"If nothing else, the major league baseball postseason demonstrated the remarkable power of the game, the attraction of the game, the durability of it and the ability to captivate the attention of the public," Selig said. He then followed this by saying that, "It also demonstrated that even a franchise as wealthy as the Yankees can't win all the time. Money doesn't always translate into success." Wait a minute. No, he didn't.

Selig took some ribbing from the head table regarding baseball's reversal of its decision to allow bases to be stamped with advertisements for the movie "Spider Man 2."

Unexpectedly, ESPN columnist Rob Neyer stood up and asked, "Hey, I thought you guys were doing that promotion thing for the kids, weren't you? To reach out to the youth of America? I mean, your own man, MLB President Bob DuPuy, actually said, 'It's part of our effort to market the game in a holistic style, but mostly to market it to a whole demographic: kids.' Aren't you interested in marketing to kids anymore?"

Selig wouldn't be baited, though. He essentially ignored Neyer's inquiry and tried to continue with his prepared remarks. Interrupted again though, this time by John Perricone, Selig was unable to finish his statements.

"Hey, Seligula, did you hear that the government released all those steroid test results? Turns out the entire 2003 Florida Marlins team was using, so you'll have to forfeit that World Series to Superman and the Giants! Ha! Just kidding!"

Selig did not respond verbally, though he did appear to pee his pants in the middle of Perricone's remarks.

During his 10-minute speech, Selig showed reverence for the sport he oversees. He said the game has a social responsibility to the nation.

"What about baseball's social responsibility to the people of Minnesota, not to threaten to contract a team that's smart enough to have three straight winning records and two consecutive division titles, despite a payroll one-third that of the Yankees and a twenty-year old stadium?! Contract THIS," the young man said, and then heaved a stack of papers toward the Commissioner. These later turned out to be previous blog entries, to which the young man attempted to refer in a conversation with Selig after dinner. The young man was identified as Aaron Gleeman.

Selig avoided the confrontation with Gleeman, stating that he had no idea what Bobby Kielty's GPA was, and for that matter, couldn't even recall where Kielty went to college.

Baseball's proudest moment, Selig said, came when Jackie Robinson became the first black to play in the major leagues in 1947. Selig also touted the millions of dollars baseball has donated to charitable organizations.

"Hey, you know what else was a pretty proud moment for the Dodgers?" another heckler stood up to ask, "turning a nice $120 million profit in just five years when they re-sold the franchise." It was Doug Pappas. "And did you really expect us to believe that the freaking Dodgers were losing $40 million a year? What kinds of fools do you take us for? Whose 'charitable organization' is getting all that money? Darren Dreifort? Mmfpph ack!" His words were stifled by a gag as several unidentified men in white suits subdued Pappas and dragged him from the banquet hall.

Selig attempted to continue. "Baseball has served as a bridge of the generations," he said. "How many of you still remember the first time you walked into a ballpark on the hand of a parent or grandparent and first experienced that great expanse of grass?

Apparently thinking that this was something more than a rhetorical question, David Levens and Zachary Manprin responded, "Hey, you know where's there's a pretty nice expanse of grass? Oakland Colliseum. All that foul territory? One of the few pitchers' parks left in the major leagues? An affordable day at the ballpark? I mean, sure it's kinda nondescript and not perfectly suited to baseball, but we've made the playoffs four straight seasons, with two MVPs and a Cy Young Award to boot. But maybe we should push for a publicly-financed new stadium, so we can become the booming success that, say, the Milwaukee Brewers are!"

Selig reiterated that he does not, in fact, own the Brewers anymore, but otherwise had no comment.

Feebly, and clearly worn out from all the confrontations, Selig labored on, "Baseball is a great game, but it is more than a game because of its incomparable history."

"Speaking of history," interrupted Mike Carminati, "did you ever decide what to do with Pete Rose? The Dowd Report is ridiculously biased, but the man's admitted to betting on baseball now, so there shouldn't be any question now. Here, take a look at this..." Carminati then attempted to pull out an Excel spreadsheet with some obscure statistics from players banned for gambling in the 19th century, but Selig left the podium before he could finish.

Selig, it should be noted, arrived at the banquet late and left early. He was whisked to a waiting limousine and was unavailable to reporters. A spokesman for Selig said that he had an appointment with a plastic surgeon, where he would undergo a procedure to prevent himself from talking out of both sides of his mouth.

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11 May 2004

Who is the best sleeper of 2004 thus far?

The baseball statistical leader boards, in April and May, are often filled with the names of relative unknowns. Who would have guessed that Ron Belliard, with a career .272 batting average, would be leading the AL with a .383 clip, or that Jake Westbrook would one of the best ERAs in the AL? Heck, Roger Clemens almost qualifies as a sleeper himself, as the retired-for-about-20-minutes pitcher has six wins, a 2.11 ERA and more strikeouts than Pedro Martinez.

Ah, but with a few exceptions, many of these names will not be there at the end of the season. Belliard, Westbrook, R.A. Dickey, Francisco Cordero, Tom Glavine and a host of others are getting it done with smoke and mirrors. Their presence among the league leaders is due mostly to luck, capitalizing on their good fortune either in terms of batted balls not falling in for hits (Al Leiter has 13 walks and only 22 strikeouts despite his NL-best 1.53 ERA) or run support (Shawn Estes has a 7.34 ERA, despite his 4 wins).

Clemens and Bonds and most of the usual suspects will still likely be among the names we’re discussing in September, as will some newer names, but the real sleepers are the ones who come out of nowhere and produce for most of the season. Lew Ford, currently hitting .344 as the Twins’ primary DH, may be one of those, as he hit ~.300 with good plate discipline at every level of the minor leagues.

But the best sleeper may still be sleeping. Twins 1B prospect Justin Morneau is hitting .361/.407/.664 at AAA Rochester right now, with 9 homers, ten doubles and 26 RBI in 29 games. He’s the real deal, too, as Baseball Prospectus 2004 said, “Morneau’s not just going to be a good hitter. He’s going to be positively great. How great? Healthy, prime Fred McGriff great.”

So stick around. When the Twins realize that the empty .300 average and overrated defense of Doug Mientkiewicz aren’t worth his $3 million salary, Justin the Sleeping Giant will wake.

The best is yet to come.

Now go see what the others at Baseball Outsider think about sleepers...

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06 May 2004

Say It Ain't So, Joe...

Would it not amaze you, if you were a business analyst, to find out that Jack Welch or Bill Gates was staunchly and stubbornly convinced that the secret to success in the business world was having a lot of money in your bank account?

Wouldn't you be astonished if, as an aspiring actor, you read an interview with Tom Cruise or Kevin Costner in which he stated that the primary concern for an upcoming actor is to make sure he gets roles in movies that will pay him $20 million?

Wouldn't you just laugh out loud if one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff held a press conference explaining that the key to winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is making sure we kill more of theirs than they do of ours?

Wouldn't you just stand there agape if you went to a Billy Graham Crusade and heard him say that the best thing for you to do with your life would be to make absolutely sure that God chooses you as one of The Elect?

How ridiculous would this be, for the so-called "experts in their field" to preach to you that the best measure of your value is something that is either completely out of your control, or a result of your circumstances, once you've already ascended to the pinnacle of your profession?

In a related story: Joe Morgan.

Well, as ridiculous and laughable as these scenarios sound, Joe Morgan manages to somehow get away with doing exactly that, pretty much all the time. Joe has written books on baseball, has a weekly chat on ESPN.com (which Mike Carminati performs the service of picking apart for us), writes columns for the website and he even propounds, from his nationally broadcast bully pulpit on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, these silly ideas about what makes a good baseball player. Morgan, as ESPN is so apt to point out, was the NL MVP in 1975 and '76, so you'd imagine that he would know what makes a good baseball player, since he was a great one. Except he doesn't.

Joe Morgan will tell you, for instance, that ERA is an overrated statistic, and that the real measure of a pitcher's abilities is Wins & Losses. Never mind that there's an entire league in MLB in which the pitchers almost never get an opportunity to actually produce some of the offense that would be necessary for them to be credited with a win in any given game. Never mind that even in the league in which pitchers do "hit", they do so at the bottom of the lineup, where there is little or no pressure to contribute very much offensively. A pitcher may do the absolute best he can, shutting out a team for nine innings, and striking out every batter in the process, but allow an unearned run to score because he has the Marx Brothers playing infield defense behind him, and be credited with a loss. Conversely, a pitcher may allow five or six runs per game, but still get credit for the win, because his teammates become indwelled by the 1927 Yankees whenever he takes the mound.

Take, for example, Jeroime Robertson, the erstwhile Astros rookie who "won" 15 games in 2003, with a 5.10 ERA. How good was he? He was so good that the Astros bumped him from the rotation for 14-game loser Tim Redding and his 3.68 ERA, and then sent him to AAA. Then, just to make it very clear how valuable those 15 wins were, they traded Robertson to the Cleveland Indians for a AA-level non-prospect and the rights to a minor league outfielder they had already taken in the Rule 5 draft. Sounds to me like the Houston front office believed that the 5.10 ERA said a lot more about Robertson's abilities (and future) than those 15 wins did.

But I digress. This column is actually going to look at another of the Sabermetric Sins that Morgan commits regularly: Overvaluing Runs and RBI.

Morgan's latest column on ESPN.com deals primarily with two issues, the "realness" of the 2004 Texas Rangers and the relative merits of Runs and RBI as compared to such arcane notions ar on-base percentage. Let's take the second part first, shall we?

On-base percentage has always been an important stat, but RBI and runs scored are the truest tests of what a player does to help his team win. Once runners get on base, someone needs to drive them in. OBP by itself does not equal success. How often does a team get four walks in an inning to drive in a run? OBP is essential, but a good OBP alone does not guarantee a win or a successful season.

To Morgan's credit, and he does deserve some, he admits that OBP is essential. This is, in fact, the best thing I think I've ever heard or read from him about the subject. And he's not wrong about someone needing to drive in the runners on base in order for them to score, but he fails to see that the crucial point in building an offense is finding the people who will get on base in the first place. He still manages to cling to the old adage that scoring and driving in runs are the best measures of a hitter's quality, without recognizing that the "skill" of clutch hitting doesn't really exist.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the teams that have led the majors in batting average with runners in scoring position over the last five seasons, including this one:

BA RISP 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
1 Rockies Indians ChiSox Royals Astros
2 Royals Seattle Angels Atlanta Detroit
3 ChiSox Rockies Yankees Seattle Angels
4 Giants Giants Rockies Toronto Atlanta
5 Indians Royals Astros Boston Twins
6 Toronto ChiSox Boston ChiSox Royals
7 Texas Astros Seattle Oakland Texas
8 Oakland Texas Cards Expos L.A.
9 Seattle Oakland Arizona Florida Reds
10 Yankees L.A. Texas Angels Florida

Five years, fifty positions, 23 different teams.

If you throw out Colorado, who until recently almost always led the majors in everything offense-wise due to their ballpark, you've only got three of the fifteen teams that manage to repeat their performances among the top 5: Atlanta(2003-04), Kansas City and the Tribe (both 2000-01). For that matter, Atlanta's standing on this list is in serious jeopardy, since they're clearly not as good an offense as they were last year and they've hardly got any of the same hitters they had last year (Sheffield, Lopez, and Castilla left in the off-season, and Chipper's been hurt this year), so there's really not much to compare anyway. In the top ten, it's a little better, with 18 of 38 possible non-Colorado teams repeating, or 47.4%. You can do better flipping a coin.

Well, you may say, "Those are teams, and teams turn over players a lot. Surely there must be players who can consistently hit in the clutch?" Well, by this same (admittedly limited) measure, there are, or I should say, there is.

Mike Sweeney.

	2000	2001	2002	2003

1 Helton Suzuki Ramirez Helton
2 Cirillo Alomar Sweeney Sweeney
3 Sweeney Conine Bonds Posednik
4 Delgado Biggio Tejada Sheffield
5 Thomas Beltran Bernie I. Rodriguez

The only players who re-appeared on the 2000-2003 top five lists of players's batting averages with runners in scoring position were Todd Helton (who plays in Coors Field, and therefore will almost always hit well in almost any situation) and Mike Sweeney. Don't get me wrong, Sweeney's a fine player, and he's hitting .367 with RISP this season, but he's not typically one of the first players mentioned when people start talking about drafting a fantasy team, you know?

The perfect example of this is the defending World Series champion Florida Marlins. Florida finished 15th last year in OBP (.333) among 30 MLB teams. But when the Marlins got runners on base, they were good at forcing the issue -- using the hit-and-run, stealing bases and exhibiting aggressive baserunning ... all of which help produce runs.

Unbeknownst to Joe Morgan (but knownst to us), the 2003 Florida Marlins are the perfect example...to illustrate my point, though, not his. Do you see what Morgan does here? It's subtle, but read what he says again and see if you can detect the flaw in his argument...

...back already? OK, here's what he does: He cites a team that is known to have had success in winning (the Marlins won the NL Wild Card and then beat three teams to win the 2003 World Series, of course) and mentions that they did so DESPITE the fact that they did not get on base any more frequently than the San Diego Padres (a .333 clip, to be precise). So far, this is true. He then mentions the things they did to supposedly augment this relative weakness and allows you (the reader) to assume that these tactics MUST have been successful, because after all, the Marlins won, right?

Well, yes, they did win, but not the way Joe's argument implies. It is true that they finished 15th in team OBP, but they also finished 17th in Runs scored. You'd imagine, wouldn't you, that if their small-ball techniques were actually helping them to score runs, to take advantage of the few times they had runners on base, that they might be ranked higher in runs scored than their rank in OBP, wouldn't you? Or at least the same? But the Marlins are actually ranked lower in run scoring than in OBP, which would tend to speak against stealing bases and moving runners over as useful approaches to scoring runs. In fact the 2003 Marlins won on the strength of their pitching (10th in MLB in ERA), and luck, as they won about 4 more regular season games than their Pythagorean projection would have suggested they'd win, based on the runs they scored and allowed. Not small-ball.

As I see it, a good hitter either scores runs or drives in runs -- and a great hitter does both. Great hitters will account for about 200 runs per season (a combination of runs scored and RBI). When you look at baseball history, that's the benchmark for great hitters like Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays (as well as today's great hitters, like Barry Bonds). The most important stat in baseball is the combination of runs scored and RBI.
(bold added)

Is that true? Do managers and general managers and scouts really use the addition of runs and RBI as a measure of how successful a player is or will be? Seems to me I'd have heard something about that if it were actually happening.

Maybe it's just me, but wouldn't you say that these guys drove in/scored 100 runs because they were great hitters, rather than (as Joe implies) that they were great hitters because they drove in/scored 100 runs? I'm not a Minor League scout, but somehow I seriously doubt that there's anything on a standard scouting report discussing how many runs a player scores or drives in. Scouts talk about a hitter's swing, his mechanics, his physique, patience, power, batting eye, etc. They don't mention runs scored or batted in because those are situational stats, a result of opportunity more than talent, and not something you can project. The greatest hitters in history "accounted" for 200 runs because their managers knew they were great and therefore batted them amongst the other good hitters on the team, thereby maximizing their opportunities to score and/or drive in runs. Barry Bonds (who, by the way, must have had an "off" 2003 by Morgan's standards, with only 90 RBI) would not be a 100-Run, 100-RBI guy if you batted him 8th or 9th in that Giants' lineup.

Bill James did a study (in the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, p.785) in which he illustrates the silliness of walking a batter (Babe Ruth circa 1921, in this case) every time up. He placed a slightly modified Ruth in the cleanup spot within a lineup of really terrible hitters, and then ran separate simulations to show what would happen if

A) Ruth was walked every time he came up and
2) Ruth was allowed to hit within this terrible lineup.

Well, the A) lineup outscored the 2) lineup significantly, with about 10% more runs per season on average and winning about ten more games per season.

And the #5 hitter behind Ruth in this illustration? Gino Cimoli. An outfielder with a career line of .265/.315/.383, who never hit more than ten homers or drove in more than 72 RBI in a season in reality, suddenly becomes great by Joe Morgan's standards, with a .253 average and 9 homers, but 151 RBI. Can you say "victim of circumstance"? That's great. I knew you could.

I view baseball as an individual game within a team concept. It's individual because, whether you're hitting or pitching, you're the one standing there. But everything is done in the context of teamwork and team play (putting the team first). RBI and runs are the ultimate measure of a player's contribution to a team, and they're also dependent on teammates. Home runs, though, are the ultimate measure of a power hitter's individual accomplishment.
(bold added)

Again, Morgan does acknowlege that RBI and Runs depend upon one's teammates, but he doesn't seem to give enough weight to the concept. Look at the way he just throws this line in amongst a paragraph describing the role of home runs in the game and how the team/individual aspects of the game interact. Does that make it seem like Joe gets the notion that OBP is the most important component to scoring runs? I don't think so.

Look, Joe, if you had a published e-mail address, I wouldn't have to keep fisking you like this, but you don't, so let me lay this out for you:

1) To win a game, you need to score more runs than the other team.
2) To score runs, you need to have men on base, and then drive them in somehow.

I think we both agree on these points. Here's where it gets a little tricky:

3a) It is difficult, if not completely impossible, to predict which players will hit best when it most matters, and it is all but impossible to make sure your best hitters are at the plate when you've got runners on base

3b) It is much easier to predict/project which hitters will be able to get on-base consistently from year-to-year, as you can see here:

OBP	2000	2001	2002	2003	2004

1 Indians Seattle Yankees Boston Houston
2 Rockies Rockies Seattle Yankees Orioles
3 Giants Indians Arizona Cards Indians
4 Seattle Houston Boston Toronto Rockies
5 Houston Oakland Giants Atlanta Texas
6 Oakland Texas Angels Rockies Twins
7 Cards Giants Oakland Seattle Yankees
8 ChiSox Arizona Philly Philly ChiSox
9 Yankees Cards Texas Twins Boston
10 Angels Twins Cards Giants Reds

The same forty opportunities to repeat here as we had with the last table, but this time only 17 different teams appear, not 23. And even if you don't include the Rockies, the ratio of repeaters is over 68%. (At the end of the 2004 season, don't be surprised if that ratio is higher, as I have serious doubts about whether the two Ohio teams will still be among these ranks come September. Well, maybe the Reds will.)

there4) It logically follows that it is easier to build a good offense by acquiring guys who will get on base a lot, so that when they do hit, there will be runners to drive in. Not necessarily that it's the only way to do this, but it's easier.

So there you have it, Joe. I imagine that you've hear dthe argument before, but it seems that either you're unwilling or unable to consider it. If you had an email address, I could write to you directly, instead of having to bring this up in public all the time, but you don't, so everybody gets to read my rants instead.

Thanks for giving me something to gripe about.

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05 May 2004

Apprehending An April Apparition

Rob Neyer's latest column discusses the relative merits, and potential futures, of the reigning AL-Champion NY Yankees and the reigning Worst Team Anyone Can Remember, the Detroit Tigers. As recently as Saturday, the Yankees and Tigers had the exact same 13-11 record, despite the apparent gaps in talent and the definite gap in payroll. (Of course the Yankees have done nothing but win since then and the Tigers have done nothing but lose, but that's beside the point, at least for now.)

Neyer made the points that the Tigers have

A) Scored more runs this season than every team but Houston, which is remarkable after they outscored only the anemic Dodgers last season


2) Scored almost exactly the same number of runs (156) as they have allowed (161), which means that their (now) 13-14 record is just about what you'd expect.

What Rob didn't mention, at least not explicitly, was that if they've scored more runs than almost everybody, and they've allowed even more, then it logically follows that their pitching staff must not be very good.

In fact, their pitching staff is horrific, having allowed an average of almost six (!) runs per game, earned or not. The team's 5.76 ERA is lower than only Colorado's 6.38, which is so bad that the Rockies have already decided to throw in the towel on the season and are now experimenting with a 4-man rotation! In the long run, according to Baseball Prospectus' Rany Jazayerli, this may be the best thing for the Rockies and for all of baseball, but in the meantime it smacks of hopelessness.

The Tigers have a 5.52 ERA at home, despite the fact that Comerica is supposed to be a pitchers' park. The first 20-game loser in over two decades (actually 21, if you're scoring at home), Mike Maroth has a 3-1 record this season, as does Jeremy Bonderman (who lost 19 games last year, and only didn't lose more than that because Tigers' manager Alan Trammell mercifully removed the 20 year old from the rotation in early September). However, their 6-2 record belies the fact that the two have combined for a 4.81 ERA this year. For that matter, no Tigers starting pitcher has more than one win to his credit, and no pitcher with more than eight innings of work under his belt has an ERA lower than Maroth's 4.26. This is not a good sign, but then we expected their pitching to suck, so why should this surprise us?

Mike Maroth is the best pitcher on a bad team.

The other thing that Neyer didn't mention was that the Tigers aren't likely to keep up their run-scoring pace.

The real danger here, especially for those few remaining Tigers fans out there, is that you'll get your hopes up and think the Cats will actually pull off this ~.500 record thing for the whole season. Well, don't hold your breath. Even though their 156 runs scored ties them for second place among all major league teams, their .771 OPS places them squarely in a tie for 12th place in MLB, among offensive jugger-nots like L.A. (122 runs scored), Kansas City (126) and Florida (127). So how did the Tigers, with a relatively mediocre "offense" manage to put up more runs than almost everybody in their first 27 games?


Seriously, look at their splits, overall as compared to their runners on base and (especially) runners in scoring position


Total 0.278 0.422 0.349 0.771
ROB 0.296 0.443 0.382 0.825
RISP 0.317 0.498 0.409 0.907

A team that goes from hitting like D'Angelo Jimenez to hitting like Carlos Beltran, just because there are runners in scoring position? They can't keep this up.

For perspective, from 2001-2003, teams that finished the season with an OPS around .771 generally scored about 800 runs on the year, which isn't terrible by any stretch. It just isn't the 936 runs the Tigers are currently "on a pace to" score. There simply is no evidence that anyone, a team or an individual, has any kind of special ability to "turn it on when it counts" or "hit well in the clutch" or whatever. Sure, there are teams and players who in fact do these things, but you can't predict it, and you sure can't plan your offensive strategy around it. And so it appears that all their current lead in run-scoring really means is that the Tigers have that much farther to fall when the law of averages catches up with them and they get drawn back into the pack.

Of course, having the worst pitching staff in the AL and a mediocre offense is a huge step up from having the worst pitching staff in the AL and the worst hitters, but it might still make them the worst team in the League, overall. Still, though, the Tigers (and their fans) should be moderately pleased with the possibility of being a league worst 63-99 instead of a league-worst 42-119.

You've got to walk before you can crawl. Wait a minute, strike that. Reverse it.

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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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