29 July 2005

Shawn Chacon, Unlikely Savior

The Yankees needed a Savior.

Perhaps not Jesus, himself, but someone who could pitch. (Unless it turns out that J.C. could bring it at 95 mph, and hey, after rising from the dead, throwing strikes must seem pretty easy, right?)

With four starting pitchers on the DL, three of them former 15-game winners making nearly $31 million combined, the Yankees' pitching woes have been well documented. Those three, Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano, have combined for a 10-15 record and a 5.88 ERA in 193 innings. In their desparation, the Yankees have started...

...LHP Darrel May, who lost 19 games for the Royals in 2004 and had an ERA over five and a half with San Diego this year when the Yankees aquired him for (also ineffective) relief pitcher Paul Quantrill in early July. May gave up three homers and seven earned runs and did not get out of the fifth inning in his only start in Yankee pinstripes. After an equally disastrous relief outing, he was sent back to the minors.

...rookie LHP Sean Henn, who had never previously pitched above Double-A. Henn made three starts over two months, exiting in the third inning of his debut, walking seven batters in under six innings in his next start, and allowing three homers in under five innings in his third (and mercifully, final) appearance. Henn and his 11.12 ERA were returned to Columbus.

...relief pitcher Tanyon Sturtze, who had not won a game as a starter since last August, and who was so bad two years ago (4-18, 5.18 ERA) that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who stink on ice, didn't want him back. Neither did the Blue Jays after 2003. And neither did the Dodgers or Marlins, who both released him at some point in 2004.

...RHP Tim Redding, also aquired for Paul Quantrill with Darrell May. Redding managed a 3.68 ERA in 176 innings with the 2003 Astros, a line that is beginning to look increasingly anomolous among his other career stats. He doesn't have another season in the majors of any length with an ERA under 5.40. In his lone Yankee start, Redding allowed six runs in one inning for an ERA of 54.00. Yes, that decimal is in the right place, or at least the accurate one.

These four have combined for an 0-5 record and a 13.72 ERA.

Some of the (slightly) brighter notes have included...

...rookie Chien Ming Wang, who went 6-3 with a 3.89 ERA in 12 starts before shoulder inflammation put him on the DL in mid-July.

...journeyman RHP Aaron Small, whose previous major league 5.52 ERA in 217 innings spread out over 11 seasons would not have suggested his two wins in two starts with New York. Granted, he hasn't blown the competition away, with only four strikeouts in 13+ innings, but for a guy who hadn't started a major league game in almost ten years, I'm not complaining.

...journeyman LHP Al Leiter, who was designated for assignment by the Marlins. Leiter is only 1-2, but he's given the Yanks a chance to win two of those three outings, and just got out-pitched by Johan Santana on Wednesday, a common occurrence for his opponents, as I understand it.

One player who will not likely be a "bright spot" if he gets to pitch for the Yankees is Hideo Nomo, recently picked up off waivers from Tampa, who, you will recall, suck. Nomo's 7.24 ERA in just over 100 innings was the highst of anyone in the majors this year with more than 46 innings under his belt. Hideo? No, no. Not the answer.

Apparently, Shawn Chacon is the answer.

A product of the Colorado Rockies' vaunted farm system, Chacon was a starter-turned closer-turned starter-turned Yankee Messiah, it seems. Chacon is unique, in a number of ways (as Margaret Mead would say, just like everyone else.) He's one of only nine players in major league history to be born in Alaska, though five of these were active in 2004, and is the first Alaskan to play for the Yankees.

The bizarre experiment that saw him rack up a 1-9 record in relief last year, saving 35 of 44 games despite a 7.11 ERA, made him the holder of several records. He has the most saves of anyone with an ERA over 7.00, or for that matter, over 6.00 and over 5.28! (Todd Worrell saved 35 games in 1997, with an ERA of 5.28...and then retired.) Chacon also, therefore, holds the record for the highest ERA of anyone with 35 saves...or 30 saves, or 20, or 15. (Norm Charlton saved 14 games in 1997 with a 7.29 ERA.) This, probably more than anything, is a testament to the ridiculously meaningless nature of the save rule, and the way closers are used in today's game, but I digress.

I have seen Chacon pitch twice in person. The first time was on May 5th of 2001, his rookie season, a day on which he was lit up for 7 runs (6 earned) in 1.1 innings. It was only his second major league appaerance, but he was pitching in Pittsburgh, no the thin air of Coors Field, against the Pirates, a team that would proceed to lose 100 games that season.

The second time I saw him pitch was during a visit to San Francisco last summer, at which time he was the "closer" for the Rockies. He got two outs, but gave up two runs to tie the game. After allowing another baserunner, he was pulled for a lefty to face Barry Bonds, and lost the game when his successor gave up a homer to Barry, scoring the baserunner he'd allowed, and thereby turning a two-run lead into a two-run loss.

So I can't say that I had a lot of hope in Chacon when I found that the Yankees had traded for him last week. Sure, he had an impressive-for-Colorado 4.09 ERA so far this year, bolstered by a perfectly respectable 3.12 ERA on the road. On the other hand, he was only 1-7, and 0-56 on the road, thanks largely to the fact that, in an effort to save money, the Rockies aren't actually employing any hitters this year, just a Weeble-Wobble with a cricket bat duct taped to it at a 90-degree angle. Considering that, it's fairly impressive that they managed to score a little more than three ruins per game for him, and that he actually got a win somehow.

But, to my great and pleasant surprise, Chacon managed to pitch pretty well in his Yankee debut on Saturday, the thirteenth pitcher to start a game for the Bronx Balmers, er, Bombers this season, the most since that horrid 1991 season. Six innings, one (unearned) run, three walks, four strikeouts. That's about as good as most of Randy Johnson's or Mike Mussina's outings this season. That performance kept the Yanks in the game, giving the bullpen a chance ot blow the lead, which they did, but also giving Jason Giambi a chance to be the hero again, which he was.

Now if Chacon can just keep them in the pennant race.

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23 July 2005

CD/DVD Review: Oh Say Can you SING?

Oh Say Can You SING?
Music Recordings by Major League Players

$17.99 (plus shipping)
c. 2005 Good Sports Recordings, Inc.

Good Sports Recordings' recently released compilation album of current and former major league baseball players' musical performances is nothing if not unique. It includes a CD with eleven songs and a DVD with some "extras", all for $17.99, which isn't too bad since lots of albums that benefit a cause no better than the producer's wallet go for more than that, and don't come with a DVD.

By contrast, some of the proceeds from this album will go to charities chosen by the ballplayers who performed on it. These are listed in the liner notes, good causes all, and frankly, that's the best reason (if not the only one) to buy this CD. The various tracks don't work well together in any sense of the word, with country songs following bluegrass songs following rap songs following rock and roll and pop songs and oldies and so forth. Even fans with the most eclectic of musical tastes will find their heads spinning after listening to this album straight through.

Nevertheless, a good cause is a good cause, and baseball is baseball, so this disc is certainly worth the money in those regards. Good Sports Recordings, Inc. has hockey, basketball and football equipment in their logo, in addition to baseball, so it's possible that this is just the first of a series of benefit albums to come. In the future, sticking with one or maybe two closely related music genres per album should help to net both better reviews and better sales.

This CD's unique nature, I feel, prevents it from being reviewed simply as one entity. The tracks are so diverse and the musicians' talents so varied that it would be an injustice to lump them all together, so I will review each song individually and then the DVD separately as well.

Ben Broussard, 1B/DH, Cleveland Indians, With or Without You, U2

Broussard (currently hitting .254 with 10 homers and 38 RBI) plays acoustic guitar and sings the lead on this U2 classic, and he does not embarrass himself with either venture. His voice, a solid baritone quite different from the breathy style used by Bono, works well for the song. He wisely does not attempt Bono's falsetto on the chorus or bridge. Possibly the best track on the album.

Sean Casey, 1B, Cincinnati Reds, How Do You Like Me Now?,Toby Keith

Casey's (.304, 4 HR, 40 RBI) lack of power as a hitter belies the power in his voice on this fun country track. Country music isn't known for its great vocal performances, so it's not as though Sean had to emulate Pavarotti, but he certainly proves himself up to this task. A solid track.

Jeff Conine, 1B/OF, Florida Marlins, Plush, Stone Temple Pilots

Conine (.271, 2 HR, 13 RBI) has gotten only sparing playing time with the Marlins this year, thanks largely to his age (39) and to the presence of more talented players (Cabrera, Delgado, Encarnacion) on the Marlins. Likewise there are more talented singers on this CD. I'm not much of a fan of STP, and even though the screaming tones of their lead "singer" aren't much to live up to, Conine has trouble holding some of the notes. Not the worst track on the album, but far from the best.

Coco Crisp, OF, Cleveland Indians, We Got That Thing, Original song

Crisp (.295, 8 hr, 37 RBI, 11 SB) deserves credit for writing his own song for this album, and while I can't call what he does "singing" he seems to rap as well as anyone I've heard. Not a rap fan myself, I can still appreciate his sense of rythm, quick-rhyming lyrics and solid delivery.

Matt Ginter, RHP, NY Mets, Dooley, The Dillards

Clearly the producers of this disc were not aiming for name recognition or staying power when they sought out players to perform on the album. Ginter spent the winter on the DL after having surgery on his ankle, got traded to the Tigers in April for Steve Colyer(???), pitched badly every other week for Detroit (5.47 ERA in 25 IP)until late June and was then outrighted to Toledo, where he's 3-2 in six starts with a 3.82 ERA in 35 innings.

On the other hand, he can play the banjo. I like Bluegrass music, and I can say with some authority that Ginter does fine in that role (I think he sings backup vocals as well). Kudos to Scott Schorr, the producer of "Oh Say Can You Sing?" for seeking players who could do something other than sing, though I'm not sure that placing this staple of Bluegrass music right after an original rap song was the best choice.

Aubrey Huff, 1B/OF Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Letters From Home, John Michael Montgomery

Huff (.261, 11 HR, 53 RBI) is struggling through a rough year at the plate, but gives a solid performance on this patriotic country number. Huff shares my birthday (December 20) but is two years younger than me, and has now got not one but two major life accomlishments on me: playing major league baseball and recording an album. I'm way behind schedule.

Scott Linebrink, RHP, San Diego Padres, Wave on Wave, Pat Green

Linebrink (4-1, 2.14 ERA, 13 Holds) has been a vital cog in the Padres' bullpen machine, which, with the second lowest ERA and second most wins in the NL, is a huge reason that San Diego is leading the NL West right now, albeit tenuously. Showing his versatility, Linebrink sings and plays guitar on this country song, and is decent at both.

Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia Phillies, Wish List, Original Song

J-Roll (.274, 7 HR, 62 Runs, 23 SB) signed a 5-year extension with the Phillies last month, which means he should never have to worry about money again. This is a good thing, because I don't see much of a future for him in the recording industry. Like Coco Crisp, he deserves credit for writing (if not really "singing") his own rap song, but the lyrics aren't very creative or interesting ("As a child I never had a big wish list / A bat and ball was all I wanted for Christmas / In '78 a star was born / 2001 his career was on"), and he doesn't deliver them as well as Crisp did.

Ozzie Smith, Hall of Fame Shortstop, Cupid, Sam Cooke

Over the course of his 19-year career, Smith showed talents for stealing bases (580 of them), doing back-flips, and hitting respectably enough (2460 hits, .262 career average) to keep his phenomenal glove (13 Gold ones) in the lineup. Now he's shown a talent for singing as well, as his impressive performance truly does justice to the late Sam Cooke on this R&B classic. His smooth voice delivers nicely on this track, which is helpful to the album as a whole, since Smith is far and away the biggest name (and biggest drawing card) on this record. Now we just need a cooking show on the Food Network and Smith will have nothing left to prove. "Omelets by Ozzie", anyone?

Omar Vizquel, SS, SF Giants, Broadway, Goo Goo Dolls

Vizquel (.294, 3 HR, 46 Runs, 14 SB) sings and plays the drums on this '90's pop/rock song. His drum work seems fine, but as a singer, well... let's just say he's having a surprisingly good year at the plate for a 38-year old shortstop in a pitchers' park.

Kelly Wunsch, LOOGY, Los Angeles Dodgers, Hurts So Good, John Mellencamp

Wunsch (1-1, 4.56 ERA, 15 Holds) is the quintessential Lefty One Out GuY, with 26 of his 45 appearances this year lasting less than one full inning. Despite his debateable prowess in that limited role, he manages to submit one of the best tracks on this disc, with a rendition of Hurts So Good of which Mellencamp would be proud. He sings lead and plays acoustic guitar on the track, which is a solid ending to a weird and disjointed CD. This is your reward if you kept listening this long.

DVD: Player Interviews; Outtakes; Ozzie's Memorabilia Tour

The DVD offers only marginal additional value, though there are a few amusing moments in the outtakes section and the tour of Ozzie Smith's trophy room is very interesting and informative. To their credit, the players all come off as likeable, average guys, most of whom are much more humble than you'd expect. The players were permitted to perform and record in the comforts of their own homes, as the producer brought his studio to them. This may explain why some parts of the DVD feature less than optimal lighting, a forgiveable offense given the trade-off, namely that the music would sound better if the players were more comfortanble. (It's probably also true that they'd be more likely to contribute of they didn't have to travel to do so, though the never mention this on the DVD, of course.)

Incidentally, producer Scott Schorr bears a striking resemblance to Dan Lauria, the dad from The Wonder Years, albeit with more hair. I don't know what that has to do with anything, but I found it interesting.

The interviews are spliced together, a 5-to-10 second clip at a time, in the quick, keep-it-moving style typical of modern commercials and much of TV. A head-on, color shot will cut to a shaky, intentionally out-of-focus black & white camera, from a side angle, often in mid-sentence, presumably for some kind of "authentic" feel or something, but that doesn't work well either. In parts of the interviews and outtakes the color seems washed out or the camera is slightly blurry. Like I mentioned, the tour of Ozzie's memorabilia is the best part of the DVD, so skip to that and you won't be disappointed.

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14 July 2005

Rockies, Nationals, A's, Red Sox Trades

It's interesting to see teams making moves this early in the season, right at the All-Star break, instead of waiting until the trading deadline or later. Boston's needed bullpen help for some time now, and Chad Bradford is just that. He hasn't yet pitched in the majors this season due to a back injury, but he has established himself as an effective middle reliever for the last several years in Oakland. His sinker should help keep the ball on the ground in Boston, which is necessary for any pitcher's success in such a small park.

On the other hand, why Oakland would want Jay Payton is beyond me. He's a decent defensive outfielder, but is below average in every offensive category, having neither the patience nor the power that Oakland GM Billy Beane supposedly values so highly. Oakland is 14th in the majors in run-scoring, despite hitting the fourth fewest homers of the 30 MLB teams. They are 8th in on-base percentage, so maybe Beane knows what he's doing.

And by extension, maybe he also knows what he's doing by trading OF Eric Byrnes and cash to the Rockies for LHP Joe Kennedy and RHP Jay Witasick. Byrnes is 29 and is in his sixth season in the majors, though he has only been a regular for the last few of them. He'll either be a free agent or at least elligible for arbitration at the end of the year, and therefore expensive in either case, a luxury the Oakland franchise cannot afford.

Beane has built his team by finding reasonably inexpensive talent through the draft and through minor league free agency, keeping players through the portions of their careers during which they're both good and cheap, and preferrinf to let someone else pay them the big bucks afterwards, even if they may be better once they leave Oakland. Terrence Long, Ramon Hernandez, Jason Giambi, Cory Lidle, Jason Isringhausen, the list is almost endless. But the proof is in the pudding as the A's have had six-straight winning seasons with the Moneyball formula, including four trips to the playoffs.

Another possible reason for trading Byrnes, though Oakland would never admit this, is the possibility that he'll get injured. ESPN's baseball analysts were handing out their defensive awards for the first half of the season last night (slow sports news day, you know) and Peter Gammons' pick was Eric Byrnes, whom he called "The Crash-Test Dummy" because he plays defense with such abandon, running and diving for balls, crashig into walls, teammates, moving automobiles, etc. just to make a catch. It's a great and creative nickname, something today's game tends to lack, but it's also a recipe for disaster.

Historically, one of the better known individuals with such tendency was Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Pete Reiser, who had a reputation for crashing into walls and other non-malleable objects as well. Reiser's enthusiasm and acrobatics made him a fan favorite, like Byrnes, though he was a better player than Byrnes is. He finished second in the NL MVP voting in 1941, sixth in 1942 and 9th in 1946, even after he missed the '43-'45 seasons serving in the military. He had hit .306 while scoring 400 runs, driving in 298 and stealing 78 bases during the six years Brooklyn had him, but after being traded straight-up to the Boston Braves for a backup outfielder named Mike McCormick, Reiser never saw 260 plate appearances in a season again, and hit only .248, stealing only 9 bases over parts of four seasons with three different clubs throughout his career.

Not that Byrnes is necessarily doomed to the same fate. Theoretically, Byrnes should be helped offensively by Coors Field, as nearly every hitter is. He's got 20-homer, 20 steal potential in Oakland, a pitcher's park. The thin Colorado air should help to improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio and help to turn some of those doubles into home runs, making him more valuable in fantasy leagues, if not in an actual one. However, the large expanses in the Colorado outfield will mean that Byrnes will have even more area to cover, and potentially more chance to dislocate, oh say, a shoulder while diving for a batted ball and crashing into Cory Sullivan and/or a Volkswagen.

One player whose offensive numbers will not be helped by his recent trade is Preston Wilson, swapped with some cash for pitcher Zach Day, OF J.J. Davis and a minor leaguer. Wilson led the NL with 141 RBI in 2003, but his adjusted OPS was only 15% better than the league for that year, and his 36 homers and that truckload of RBIs had more to do with Colorado than with his talent. Furthermore, Wilson's gimpy knees and $12.5 million salary seem to have aided in wearing out his welcome even more than his .258 batting average and propensity to strike out 140 times per season.

Furthermore, being traded to a team that plays half its games at sea-level will not help him to land another big contract. Take a look at Wilson's career stats at Coors Field and elsewhere:

Coors .279 .347 .528
Else .261 .324 .469

The biggest difference, of course, is the slugging percentage, but those batting average and OBP variations are nothing to ignore either. More importantly, the differences since Wilson joined the Rockies are even more stark:

2003-05 AVG OBP SLG
Coors .288 .350 .544
Else .248 .306 .445

Rob Neyer once suggested that a hitter being traded to the Rockies, and therefore playing half his games in Coors Field, may not be entirely unlike the evolution of the polar bear, if you believe in that sort of thing. (Personally, I'm not yet sold on the theory, as I've never actually seen a "polar bear".) Presumably, polar bears went through numerous mutations over millions of years until they had developed traits (white fur, thick layers of fat, an affinity for Coca-Cola, etc.) that made them particularly adept at surviving in the harsh Arctic climate. Conversely, polar bears do not do well in any other climate, as their fur provides no natural camoflauge in other settings, their fat makes them too hot south of the Arctic Circle, and Coke isn't nearly as readily available in other places.

Similarly, hitters learn to hit very well in the thin air of Denver, as curveballs break less, sinkers sink less and batted balls travel farther than they do at sea level. But when the Rockies go on the road, those pitches are harder to hit because they break normally, and even the balls they do hit don't go as far with the same force imparted to them. This gives the Rockies an especially tough time adjusting when they go on the road, as no road trip is usually long enough to allow them to recover from "air-lag", if you will. Once getting traded away from Colorado or leaving via free agency, most players lose much of their hitting prowess at home but recover some of what they lacked on the road, winding up with lower stats than their overall numbers as a Rockie, but not as low as their away-from-Coors numbers had been during the stint in Colorado. Larry Walker, for example, had hit only .227 on the road in 2003, his last full season with Colorado, but hit about .280 with St. Louis last year and is hitting .269 this season.

Other players, such as the aforementioned Jay Payton and Vinny Castilla, completely fall apart upon leaving Colorado. Castilla has done it twice now. The first time he left Colorado, he hit about .220 in parts of two seasons with the Devil Rays, with no power and even less health, as it turned out, after averaging better than .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBI for four straight years in a Rockies uniform. Last year, back in Colorado, he slugged .535 and led the NL with 131 RBI, but again left, and has seen his numbers dwindle to .253 with a .397 slugging percentage. At this pace, he won't even hit 12 homers for the season. Bret Boone has more homers than Castilla, and his team just released him.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying that if you have Preston Wilson on your fantasy team, get rid of him now. Not only is he leaving the best hitting environment in the history of major league baseball, he may be going to one of the worst. Washington has scored the fewest runs and hit the fewest homers of any other team in MLB in 2005. They're tied for dead last in the majors in both runs and homers at home, but are pretty bad at scoring runs on the road as well, ranking 22nd of 30. Jose Guillen is having a fine season, worthy of his All-Star selection, with 18 homers and a .305 average, but he's hit only one of those 18 homers in Washington. One. Nobody else on the team has more than Nick Johnson's eight, and he's currently (surprise!) on the DL.

What you may not know is that Washington's pitching staff has also allowed fewer homers than any team in MLB, including an especially stingy 19 at home. (For reference, the next closest team is Boston, with 26, and they've played five fewer home games than the Nats.) On the road, the Nationals are just average at preventing homers, having surrendered 48 of them, for a #16 ranking out of 30 teams. Not surprisingly, they're 20th in road ERA, while easily ranking first at home, two-tenths of a run better than Houston at #2.

I don't know exactly how park factors are calculated, but I'm sure that if this trend continues, RFK Stadium could go down as one of the worst hitter's parks in history, at least for one year. And Washington should further deflate Wilson's already Coors-inflated statistics, making him look even worse to potential off-season buyers.

What the Nationals really needed to boost the offense, I mean besides Harmon Killebrew in his prime, is someone whose apparent offensive prowess was not a creation of his home park. Someone like Ken Griffey, for example, who's been a good hitter in almost every environment for over 15 years, has only one more year on his contract and is already rumored to be on the trading block. Griffey would have been a better fit, especially since he's actually making less money than Wilson, a difference of over $2 million for the season, about half of which is still due to be paid.

Of course, having Griffey and Nick Johnson on the same roster probably is not a good idea. I doubt its ever happened before, but if anyone can figure out how to get a centerfielder and a firstbaseman to collide on a play, causing both players to sustain season-ending injuruies, these two would figure it out. So forget I mentioned it.

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11 July 2005

Tomb of the Unknown Dodger

Have you sene these men?

A             B
Robles Olmedo
Repko Oscar
Werth Mike
Saenz Cody
Perez Mike
Edwards Jayson
Ross Jason
Rose Antonio

More importantly, do you even know who they are? Can you match the first names in column A with the last names in column B?

Well, if you live on the Left Coast and/or you bleed Dodger Blue, you know exactly who they are. They are, or were, the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Dodgers as they closed out a four-game series against the hapless Colorado Rockies, themselves a refuge for obscure baseball players, on July 7th, 2005. If you matched all the names correctly, without first looking up the Dodgers roster online somewhere, well, congratulations, Mr. Tracy, but you should probably be paying closer attention to the game, don't you think?

Let's look at that list again, with a little more info, shall we?

Name, Pos           Age   pre-05 AB   2005 AB   pre-05 G  2005 G
Oscar Robles, ss 29 0 66 0 34
Jason Repko, cf 24 0 136 0 63
Jayson Werth, lf 26 384 146 130 40
Olmedo Saenz, 1b 34 1055 164 429 57
Antonio Perez, 2b 25 138 152 61 46
Mike Edwards, 3b 28 4 111 4 44
Cody Ross, rf 24 19 20 6 11
Mike Rose, c 28 2 25 2 9
Total N/A 1602 820 632 304
Average 27 200 103 79 38

That's eight players who had compiled a total of about three "player-seasons" worth of at-bats before the start of the 2005 season, and nearly two-thirds of those come from 34-year old journeyman Olmedo Saenz alone. Even this season, not one of these guys has been a regular to this point in the season. Fully half of this lineup had not amassed more than six major league games apiece in their careers before April 2005, including two who debuted this season. All-told, these eight players have an average of less than one season worth of game experience, more than half of that coming from Olmedo Saenz, the "clean-up" hitter, who's never hit more than 11 homers or compiled more than 41 RBI in a season.

Not surprisingly, this lineup didn't win, couldn't even beat the Rockies, who entered the game sporting the worst record in the NL at 29-54. Why, do you ask, would the Dodgers run out a lineup that had so little experience and arguably, so little chance of winning? Well, as is the case with many of the strange occurrences during baseball season, Lady Luck is to blame.

To say that Lady Luck has been less than kind to the Dodgers this season would be an understatement exceeded perhaps only by something like, "That Hitler was not a nice man." Lady Luck has not just robbed the Dodgers, but humiliated them in the process, and multiple times. She's lured the Dodgers into a false sense of security, and then handcuffed them to the bed in a cheap motel room while she stole their money, their credit cards, their watch, and not yet satisfied, their suit from Moe Ginsberg.

Let's recap, shall we?

April 3rd:
*RP Eric Gagne goes on the 15-day DL w/ right elbow injury;
*SP/RP Wilson Alvarez goes on 15-day DL w/ left shoulder tendinitis
*OF Jayson Werth goes on 15-day DL w/ fractured left wrist
*SP Brad Penny goes 15-day DL w/ right biceps injury
*SP/RP Darren Dreifort transferred to the 60-day DL

These things all happened on one day as the season was beginning. Alvarez would come off the DL on May 4th, pitch badly for a month, and then get placed on the DL again on June 6th with the same injury. Gagne similarly would come off the DL on May 15th and pitch for a month (very well, in fact) only to be placed back on the DL on June 16th, with a season-ending elbow injury. His replacement in the pen, Yhency Brazoban, has a 5.09 ERA. Penny came back in late April and has had one really bad start for every two good ones, and he's been their best starter to date. Werth returned in late May but has hit only .245 with four homers while playing essentially every day since. Dreifort still hasn't pitched this year, and probably won't.

May 5th:
*IF Jose Valentin goes on 15-day DL w/ sprained right knee

Valentin had hit a career-high 30 homers for the White Sox last season, despite a .216 batting average, and was being counted on for some much needed pop at the hot corner. Instead he hit .194 for a month and then got hurt. Japanese 3B Norihiro Nakamura, a star power hitter in his native Japan, hit only .128 in part time duty for the first month of the season and was designated for assignment. He's currently hitting .289 with power for AAA Las Vegas, but everybody can hit homers in the PCL, so that doesn't say much. Rookie Mike Edwards, an out-of-place outfielder, and Antonio Perez, an out-of-place shortstop, have split duties at third base for most of the year. Overall, Dodgers thirdbasemen have hit .258 with five homers combined. They have a .706 OPS, which is better than only two teams in the NL (Philadelphia and Florida) and 24th out of the 30 Major League teams.

May 24th:
*SP Odalis Perez goes on 15-day DL w/ left shoulder soreness
*IF Jose Valentin transferred to 60-day DL

Perez just returned to the team last week, on July 5th. He has now pitched twice since his return, surrendering 4 earned runs in five innings of work each time, to raise his ERA to 4.97. The Dodgers lost both games. He was doing the team more good on the DL.

May 28th:
*C Paul Bako goes on 15-day DL with a knee injury, forcing to Dodgers to call up one-time Yankees prospect Dioner Navarro, who doesn't get into a game before being sent back to Las Vegas three days later, when rookie C Mike Rose is brought up. Dodgers catchers have combined for a .669 OPS, third-worst in the NL and 23rd of 30 MLB teams.

June 3rd:
*OF Milton Bradley goes on 15-day DL w/ torn ligament in right ring finger

Bradley had been hitting .298 with ten homers, one of the few bright spots in a Dodgers lineup that currently ranks 24th of 30 MLB teams in run scoring. The only game Milton Bradley's been able to play since is Candyland.

June 8th:
*OF Ricky Ledee goes on 15-day DL w/ strained left hamstring, forcing the Dodgers to recall OF Jason Grabowski, who has been on the DL since the May 18th. As he was doing before his injury, Grabowski resumes hitting about a buck-fifty in spotty playing time.

June 29th:
*SS Caesar Izturis strains an already weak hamstring legging out a bunt. He will be placed on the 15-day DL July 5th.

Izturis had been playing injured for almost a month, and it showed, as he was hitting only .105 (that's right: one-OH-five) in June and hadn't gotten a hit in 20 at-bats before beating out a bunt in the 5th inning. That play apparently strained the hammy enough that they finally caved in and placed him on the DL as well, making rookie Oscar Robles the starter at short. To his credit, Robles has played well, hitting .357 overall, including .457(!) in July.

July 4th:
*OF J.D. Drew goes on 15-day DL w/ broken left wrist

Drew sustained the injury being hit by a pitch from Arizona lefty Brad Halsey, whom I didn't think could break a pane of glass with his fastball, much less a human bone. Drew was hitting reasonably well at the time, batting .286 with 15 homers, but only 36 RBI thanks to a .218 batting average with runners in scoring position. The Dodgers had hoped for more from him after he hit .305 with 31 homers and a dozen steals for Atlanta in 2004. They signed him to a five-year, $55 million contract in the off season hoping he would give them some of the offense they'd miss with the departures of Steve Finley, Shawn Green and Adrian Beltre in the off-season. I'm sure they'd take whatever they could get from him now.

Furthermore, placing Drew on a DL that already included Ricky Ledee and Milton Bradley forced the Dodgers to an all-Ja(y)son outfield: Werth, Grabowski and rookie Repko. Not exactly Snider, Furillo and Robinson out there, you know?

Adding injury to insult, secondbaseman Jeff Kent pulled a hamstring on July 5th, and had to miss a few games to let it heal. With lefty Joe Kennedy going for the Rockies on Thursday, and usual firstbaseman Hee Seop Choi hititng .158 against southpaws this season (and an alarming .132 for his career!), manager Jim Tracy apparently thought it better to start someone (anyone!) else at first base that day, so Saenz got the nod.

Mercifully, Ledee was taken off the DL on July 9th, but a 31-year old who's never gotten to the plate 300 times in a season in his major league career is not the savior Los Angeles needs. Neither, for that matter, is rookie Ching Feng Chen, whom they brought up to take Drew's spot on the roster.

That same day, relief pitcher Kelly Wunsch was placed on the DL with torn ligaments in his ankle. Wunsch had an unimpressive 4.56 ERA, but he also had 15 "Holds" in 24 innings spanning 45 appearances, a LOOGY if ever there was one. His loss leaves the Dodgers' bullpen without a lefty of any kind.

Also mercifully, Kent's injury was not season-threatening and he was back in the lineup this weekend, going 6-for-10 in three losing causes as the Astros swept them. At least he's healthy, even if the Dodgers aren't.

So, as I mentioned, with Drew, Izturis, Bradley, and Valentin on the DL, and with Kent unavailable and Choi useless against lefties, Tracy sent the aformentioned lineup of novices out there to get their butts beaten by the Rockies last Thursday. Originally I started this column with the thought that I might have stubmled upon the least experienced major league lineup in decades, if not a century. But I don't have any way to easily verify this, and besides, that's not all that important.

What's more important, at least if you're a fan of the Dodgers or one of their NL West competitors, is where they're going in the future. In my estimation, unless there's some miracle that occurs between now and October, I expect the Dodgers to continue giving lots of playing time to a bunch of guys you wouldn't know if you caught them breaking into your house. Moreover, the once-proud Dodgers will continue their downward trend, and end up battling the Rockies for third place in their division.

R.I.P 2005 Dodgers Posted by Picasa

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07 July 2005

Pre-MLB 2005 All-Star Game Notes...

Last Man Standing Running...

The winners of MLB's "Final Man" votes for each league were announced yesterday, with Astros starter Roy Oswalt beating out Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, Brandon Webb and Brett Myers for the NL honor. Oswalt's 11-7 record belies his 15 Quality starts and a 2.44 ERA that would be leading the NL if not for the ridiculous seasons that fellow All-Stars Roger Clemens (1.41) and Dontrelle Willis (1.89) are having. He is a deserving candidate.

Chicago outfielder and speed-demon Scott Podsednik beat out Hideki Matsui, Torii Hunter, Carl Crawford and most notably, Yankees captain Derek Jeter for the AL final berth. I don't know if it was planned to use either all pitchers or all position players for the selection process, but if it was, kudos to MLB for getting something right. Creating a ballot like that provides a fairer selection, giving the fans more of an apples-to-apples comparison for their voting processes.

What may not be fair is the presence of multiple players from the same team on that ballot. Brett Myers and Billy Wagner surely siphoned some of the Philly Phan votes that the other would have gotten if only one of them had been presented as an option, though Oswalt was clearly the most deserving of the lot, and is a fine selection. But in the AL, where Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui probably split the Yankee fan vote, the result was a surprise victory by a heretofore, and dare I say, deservedly unheralded Pale Hose leadoff man.

Podsednik is leading the world in steals, with 41, which are 13 more than his closest MLB rival, Rafael Furcal, who doesn't play in the AL anyway. Carl Crawford, with 26 steals, is his closest Junior Circuit competitor, and is actually a better player than Podsednik, with eight triples and nine homers, compared to Podsednik's zero and zero. He's got a decent batting average (for the moment, he hit .244 last year), but doesn't walk much and has, very literally, no power at all, so the speed is all he's got. Seventeen RBIs usually don't get you an All-Star berth where I come from.

Jeter, for his part, is hitting .310, and is on a pace for 20 homers, 20 steals, 130 runs and nearly 200 hits, and would therefore have been a much more deserving All-Star candidate. Ten years from now, we'll look back on the 2005 All-Star rosters and at Jeter's final 2005 stats and wonder why he was left off the squad, just as we can look back at the 1993 All-Star Game and wonder why Greg Maddux, in the midst of a 20-win season in which he would win the second of four concecutive Cy Young Awards, wasn't there. (Answer: He was only 8-8, despite his 2.83 ERA at the Break, and had just pitched seven innings on Sunday.) In Jeter's case though, the answer is that too many decisions are made by the underinformed fans, for the sake of drumming up interest in the game, and at the expense of rewarding the truly deserving players.

Vote Early, Vote Often, Vote Undeserving...

Half a century ago, then-commissioner Ford Frick intervened and kicked two players off the NL All-Star squad, when it became apparent that the Cincinnati Reds fans were stuffing the ballot box. Certainly today's commisioner doesn't have that kind of power, but I think Bud Selig ought to be able to make changes if necessary. Cliff Floyd, Pat Burrell and Ken Griffey, to name a few, are sitting home to watch the game on TV while Carlos beltran, with a .267 batting average and nine lousy homers is starting the game?

If the commissioner can't make a simple little change like that, what good is he? C'mon, Bud, you're the commissioner, right? SO commission somebody to take Beltran's place. Give him his All-Star bonus, as it's not his fault he was selected, but then pick someone else to start in his stead. There must be at least half a dozen NL outfielders who wouldn't embarass the team to be a part of it. Be a man. Pick one, and send Beltran packing, so he can rehab the alleged hamstring injury that's gotten him so much slack in the NY press.

Kenny Rogers: Not Coward of the County

I heard a refreshing soundbite this morning: An apology that actually sounded like an apology. Not, "I'm sorry you felt that way," or "I'm sorry this happened," or "I'm sorry I got caught,", but an actual "I'm sorry I did this wrong thing, and I don't have an excuse." Kenny Rogers held a press conference yesterday in which he said,

"I have been around this game for over 20 years and I prepare myself every day to control my emotions and act accordingly. In this instance, I failed miserably...I am deeply disappointed and embarrassed with myself for my inability to rise above the situation no matter how it became.""

His acts of two weeks ago were simply wrong, but give him credit for having the courage to take ownership of the situation. Rogers did something wrong, and there are natural consequences for that: He was suspended 20 games, which will cause him to miss 5 starts or so, and he's got to pay a fine and will probably face criminal charges. I think that's plenty. His selection to the All-Star game is a separate issue, one that should not be confused with or tainted by his other issues. Let him go, let him play, and if you're in the media, let him alone. This story will go away when the reporters stop making it something more than it is.

"This One Counts...2?"

I mentioned a year ago that MLB was going to have trouble coming up with more slogans with "Counts" in them. They didn't even bother to follow it up with "No, Really, We Mean it This Time" or something to that effect. Apparently they saw my article and have stopped trying. With the same exact slogan as last year's game, we will be reminded not only of the inneptitude of the individuals who run MLB, but also their total lack of creativity! Good job, guys.

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27 June 2005

Book Review: License to Deal, by Jerry Krasnick

License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent
by Jerry Crasnick

License to Deal Posted by Hello
(Rodale; June 2005; $24.95)

Captain Kirk and his crew took a five-year mission (and seven movies) to "go where no man has gone before." Jerry Crasnick took one year, and did it all by himself.

Of course, Crasnick didn't need a starship for his journey, though after reading License to Deal, I could see why one might think that baseball agents live in a different world. The "maverick" agent Crasnick follows is Matt Sosnick, half of the Sosnick-Cobbe Sports, Inc. partnership that represents some 80 or so major- and minor-league baseball players, including their crown jewel, Dontrelle Willis. The book recounts roughly a year of following Sosnick around in his travels, exploits and efforts in representing his clients, and gives a good amount of background information along the way.

Baseball authors and historians have composed tomes on all manner of baseball subject matter, from player, executive and even umpires' biographies, to ballparks to franchises and teams of certain years and eras, both good and bad, to the scouting business and even uniforms and other memorabilia. But to date no one had yet written about the business of being a baseball agent, despite it being so integral to the modern game, and Crasnick apparently decided that the time had come for someone to remedy that situation.

And what a cure it is. Crasnick, whose columns appear on ESPN.com, is a baseball writer by trade, but unlike some other beatwriters-turned-authors (Roger Kahn and George Plimpton come to mind), he doesn't have a particularly distinct writing style that serves as his trademark. He's a good enough writer, to be sure, but without the eloquence and flowery language of some writers, and without the plodding "just-the-facts-ma'am" approach of others. Rather, Crasnick seems to prefer that the subject matter speak for itself. His vast assemblage of interviews and other conversations give this book the personal feel missing from works composed from a much greater distance in space or time. The "fly-on-the-wall" perspective you get during so many interactions makes you forget that Crasnick must have worked very hard in not only following his characters around and procuring permission to record and write about them, but also in keeping himself mostly out of the interactions, allowing them to ahppen naturally, as he should. Like a good bass guitar player or a quality control engineer, you should only notice a writer/reporter if he's not doing his job properly, and Crasnick does.

Crasnick discusses various current and former clients of the Sosnick-Cobbe agency, featuring Willis most prominently, of course, but also discusses the agent/advisor business on a more general basis. He includes background on Matt Sosnick and Paul Cobbe, whose lifelong friendship forms the backbone of the agency, but also relates some details of the competition and the duo's relationships with other agents. Jeff Moorad, Arn Tellem, Randy & Alan Hendricks, the Beverly Hills Sports Council (affectionately known as "The Sopranos" by Toronto GM J.P. Riccardi) and others. Scott Boras practically gets his own chapter. He does a good job of being even-handed with each character in the book, portraying none as simply a villain or hero, providing both reasons for sympathy and for distaste in everyone. A good journalist you are, Jerry.

Fifty years from now, we will know whether this book was a landmark, the first in a series of tell-all, expose-type volumes on the business of baseball agents, as Ball Four was with regards to baseball players, or if it is simply part of the great landfill like most everyone else's work. By money's on the former.

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08 June 2005

Excerpt from License to Deal, by Jerry Krasnick

I will have a review of this book very soon, but in the meantime...

The following is an excerpt from the book

License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent
by Jerry Crasnick

License to Deal Posted by Hello
Published by Rodale; June 2005; $24.95US/$35.95CAN; 1-59486-024-6
Copyright © 2005 Jerry Crasnick

Arn Tellem, a devout fantasy baseball player who runs the basketball and baseball groups for SFX, was once described by Oakland general manager Billy Beane as having the intelligence of Alan Dershowitz coupled with the neurotic behavior of Woody Allen. He’s a profound man as well. It was Tellem, after all, who observed that the average Jewish boy realizes by age 13 -- the time of his bar mitzvah -- that he stands a better chance of owning an NBA team than of playing for one.

Arn Tellem also believes that The Godfather is a wonderful how-to video for aspiring agents, an observation that resonates with Matt Sosnick, even though he's too conflicted to do more than fantasize about ambushing one of his rivals at a causeway tollbooth.

“I can’t decide whether I want to kill myself or my competitors first,” Matt says. As life decisions go, it’s a lot tougher than choosing between the traditional burr walnut and the gray-stained maple veneer for the interior of his Jaguar.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where you stand, given the shifting nature of alliances in the agent game. Several years ago, Matt became aware that Scott Boras’s group was hawking Jerome Williams and Tony Torcato, two San Francisco minor leaguers represented by the Levinson brothers’ agency in New York. So he called the brothers with a heads-up, and Sam Levinson thanked him for the courtesy. Not long after that, the Levinsons took Mets outfielder Jeff Duncan from Sosnick-Cobbe, while claiming, naturally, that it was strictly Duncan’s initiative.

Other veteran agents have taken turns providing counsel to a kid with ambition. Tommy Tanzer, who represents Steve Finley, John Burkett, and others, encouraged Matt in the early going, and Joe Bick, a former Cleveland Indians front-office man who now runs a successful agency in Cincinnati, listened patiently when Sosnick was frustrated by several client defections and needed somewhere to turn.

“He had some issues that were bothering him, and he asked me for opinions on how he should handle it,” Bick says. “He seemed like a nice enough guy, so I tried to give him my thoughts.”

The fraternity usually isn’t this collegial. Talk to almost any agent, and he’ll quickly point out that he works longer hours and has higher standards and a more devoted client base than the competition. The agent will recoil with horror at the slightest negative commentary about his own business practices, while gladly pointing out that Agent B has the emotional and moral depth of your average protozoan.

Professional wrestlers are more inclined to say nice things about each other. Tony Attanasio, who’s represented big leaguers since the early 1970s, appeared on a talk radio show several years ago when the host stumped him with a question: If you had a son about to enter pro ball, which agent would you choose to represent him?

“Once I got past Ron Shapiro and Barry Axelrod, I couldn’t think of anybody,” Attanasio says.

Furthermore, if you had a dollar for every agent who said, “You know, I was the real basis for the movie Jerry Maguire,” you wouldn’t have to invest in a 529 plan to fund your kids' college tuition.

Given the tendency for agents to undercut each other and players to change allegiances so cavalierly, it’s no wonder that insecurity abounds in the profession. At the All-Star Game, where baseball’s best and highest-paid players congregate, agents walk around with their heads on a swivel to make sure rivals aren’t sampling the merchandise. A Major League Baseball official recalls an All-Star tour of Japan several years ago, when agent Adam Katz was so hyper about competitors stalking Sammy Sosa, “You wanted to shoot him with an animal tranquilizer.”

When Paul Cobbe was doing his early research, he came across a profile of David Falk, the king-making agent who represented NBA pillar Michael Jordan. Falk seemingly couldn’t ask for more, but when the interviewer asked him to identify his biggest regret, Falk didn’t hesitate. He said it was difficult for him to get over losing out on Grant Hill.

It struck Paul as odd that an agent could represent the greatest player in basketball history, yet feel such remorse over not representing one who was merely very good. The anecdote showed Paul that for the big boys, maybe it wasn’t just about money after all.


Matt has never operated under the illusion that he would find many friends or mentors in the agent business. For most of his life, he’s regarded his father as his best friend and sagest counsel. Ron Sosnick is a gentle, big-hearted man who ingrained a sense of industriousness and obligation in his son. On the rare occasions when he showed anger, it was prompted by lapses in judgment or the abdication of responsibility.

Late in Matt’s senior year at USC, he called his father and said that he was dropping accounting and wouldn’t be graduating until the following semester. Ron Sosnick got as mad as his constitution allowed. “Here’s what you’re going to do,” Ron told his son. “You’re going back to USC and pay the tuition out of your pocket and you’re going to graduate, and I don’t even want to talk about it anymore.”

Ron also believed that his boy should spend a year on his own before joining the company business, so Matt took a job selling fax machines for Lanier and wowing his customers with personal service. He knew that all the machines were basically the same, so customers would be inclined to buy from the salesman they liked the most. He took them to concerts and tended to their needs, and they overlooked the fact that his fax machine expertise began and ended with knowing how to plug one into the wall.

Matt’s next step was running his uncle Howard’s company, a Silicon Valley electronics firm called Allied Electronic Recovery that recycled used computer parts. He hated the job, felt antsy and bored, and knew he was destined for something more.

An escape route was ultimately provided by his mother, the novelist. Victoria Zackheim was living in France in the late 1990s when she befriended the brother of David Morway, a sports agent living in Utah. Victoria believed there was something cosmic about the link, and she passed along a phone number to her son under the assumption that he’d feel similarly.

Within days, Matt made an appointment with Morway and traveled to Utah, where he heard a tale that was both cautionary and uplifting. David Morway had graduated from law school and worked in the San Diego Padres’ front office in the mid-1980s before taking a blind leap into athlete representation. He built a client roster that included Junior Seau in football and Tony Clark and Esteban Loaiza in baseball, and he handled marketing deals for a number of golfers and volleyball players.

Morway gave Sosnick what he calls his “10-cent speech” on the hazards of the industry. He talked about client stealing and the risks inherent in the business model. If you sold pens for a living, Morway told Matt, you could recover from a bad stretch by working harder and selling more pens. If you were an agent and crapped out on the draft, you had to wait a whole year to try again. The only alternative was luring players from established agents, and good luck doing that.

The agent business was also an emotional grind. Agents, no matter how accomplished, had to kiss athletes’ asses all the time. It was degrading when you made phone call after phone call on behalf of a player and still couldn’t find him a job. And just try feeling like a hotshot when you were talking to the general manager and one of your players happened by and asked, “Have you picked up my dry cleaning?”

Morway’s speech should have deterred Matt, but it only served to invigorate him. Determined to become a baseball agent, Matt rushed out and recruited his first client, a San Francisco–born infielder named Lou Lucca who’d been drafted by Florida in the 32nd round in 1992 and kicked around the minors for 6 years. When Matt spirited Lucca away from Reich, Katz & Landis, the firm’s agents didn’t care, because they barely noticed.

David Morway has since left the agent business and is now a high-ranking official with the National Basketball Association’s Indiana Pacers, and Matt calls him regularly with updates.

“I’ve had tons of people do what Matt did,” Morway says. “I just try to give them an honest feeling about what they should expect -- the risks and ramifications. He was the one guy who came back for more. He went after it and did it. That’s the amazing thing. He actually did it.”

Copyright © 2005 Jerry Crasnick

Reprinted from: License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent by Jerry Crasnick. Copyright © 2005 Jerry Crasnick. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at www.rodalestore.com


Krasnick Posted by Hello
Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com Baseball Insider, has covered the game since 1988, when he followed Pete Rose and the Reds as a beat reporter for the Cincinnati Post. He has since worked for the Denver Post and Bloomberg News and written columns for the Sporting News and Baseball America. He lives in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two daughters. License to Deal is his first book.

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31 May 2005

Rochester Baseball Review

There comes a time in every man's life...and, and unlike Casey Stengel, I haven't had too many of them. However, despite being only 30, I still can grasp the value of a vacation, especially when my wife impresses it upon me with such vigor as she is capable of displaying when the need arises. Well, after three years of marriage without a vacation of our own since our honeymoon, the need arose. So my wife and I made some plans. We chose to stay at a spot called, fittingly enough, "The Chosen Spot", a modest but very accommodating Bed & Breakfast in Canandaigua, NY, which actually means "the chosen spot" in the Seneca tongue.

And so it came to be that I had the opportunity to visit Frontier Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings, AKA "The Twins of Tomorrow," not because they're planning to clone the entire roster tomorrow, but because the Red Wings are the Minnesota Twins' AAA franchise. The Red Wings were hosting the Buffalo Bisons, top farm club for the Cleveland Indians, in the first of a three-game, Memorial Day weekend series on Friday night, and the wife and I decided to attend. (Actually, I mostly decided to attend, and the wife acquiesced. Turns out she's pretty accommodating, too.) So we hopped in the car and headed off to Rochester, meandering through towns like "Victor" and "Hopewell", over rolling hills and past fields ("Centerfield", actually, another town) along routes so obscure that the local authorities only bother to label their numbers once in a while.

This commute, as you might imagine, was markedly different from the commutes to Philadelphia or New York to see the respective major league teams of those cities. Sure, I-78 in New Jersey has rolling hills, too, but appreciating the scenery as you zip by at 85 mph while swerving to avoid someone in a '73 Impala who's putting along at (how dare he?) the 65 mph speed limit is about as easy as trying to hit a major league fastball while enjoying the sunset. Needless to say, the 40-minute drive to Rochester left us both in a much better condition to see a baseball game.

Furthermore, buying front-row seats, right on the third base line, for $9.50 apiece sure puts you in a good mood as well. We even recieved a complementary "megaphone" also known as "a conically shaped piece of red plastic" from the local newspaper, which we proceeded to use throughout the game, mostly to converse with each other during its louder moments, but also to yell silly things at the players. And each other. OK, mostly each other.

If the concessions followed the same pricing scale, I reasoned, compared to game at Yankee Stadium, hot dogs should cost about 80 cents each, but apparently the concessions folks haven't been told that this is only a minor league town. Still, a Diet Coke for $3 is better than a Diet Coke for $4.50, and paying $5 for a fresh-grilled sausage and peppers (and peppers) and onions (and onions, and onions...) sandwich sure beats paying $8 for the privilege of consuming a cold sandwich, half the size, at Yankee Stadium. My wife and I both ate and were more than satisfied for less than $20 total. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, as they say.

Oh yes, the game. We did get to the game just a little late, but not too late to be shown to our seats (by a gracious, elderly usher who even wiped them off for us) just in time for Red Wings' 2B Augie Ojeda's first at-bat of the game in the bottom of the first. Ojeda, you probably don't know, has had a largely undistinguished major league career as a reserve middle infielder for parts of several seasons with the Twins and Cubs. But Augie has the special distinction of having been born on my birthday, December 20th, and unlike Branch Rickey, Aubrey Huff and my mom, Ojeda was born on December 20, 1974, the same year as I was. How’s that for kismet?

One of the more noteworthy Red Wings players to see time in the majors was leadoff man/CF Jason Tyner, he of the impressive college batting average and the 6'1', 170-lb frame that couldn't generate power if the Hoover Dam were attached to it. Tyner hit .385 with 49 steals in 64 games his senior year at Texas A&M, but did not homer in 278 at-bats that year, even with the benefit of an aluminum bat. The Mets took him in the first round of the 1998 draft anyway, but now, eight years later, he has exactly one home run in over 3000 major and minor league at-bats, and has to be considered a flop. Other Red Wings who have been in the majors included Todd Dunwwody, who played right field and SS Jason Bartlett, who got a cup of coffee with the Twins last year and broke camp as the starting shortstop with Minnesota this season but got sent back down after hitting only .242 through mid-May.

The Buffalo Bisons also featured several former (and perhaps future) major leaguers, including DH Jeff Liefer, 3B Mike Kinkade, 1B Andy Abad, OF Ernie Young (who's not, anymore), CF Darnell McDonald, SP Francisco Cruceta and SS Brandon Phillips, who may still be the shortstop of the future for the Cleveland Indians, but hitting .203 in the International League is not a good way to solidify your position as a prospect. Just so you know. Liefer, McDonald, and 2B Jake Gautreau were all 1st round picks at some point in history.

But the real story was Juan Gonzalez. That’s right, the Juan Gonzalez. "Juan-Gone." "Gonzo." "Igor." Sir. Call him whatever you want, but he's still a two-time AL MVP, with 434 career major league homers, over 1400 RBI, over 1000 runs scored and almost 2000 hits. Unfortunately, he hasn't had a healthy, productive major league season since 2001. The Indians, in dire need of some production out of right field, activated Gonzalez this week in hopes that even at age 35 he might be able to do any better than the paltry .203 Casey Blake was hitting in that role. Gonzalez though, took a page out of the Frank Thomas Guide to Health & Rehabilitation, promptly re-injured his hamstring and was placed back on the DL. Oops.

But enough with the name dropping, you probably want to know what happened at the game, right? Well, just pretend you do.

Red Wings' starting pitcher Dave Gassner surrendered 5 runs in seven innings of work, including homers to Mike Kinkade and Brandon Phillips, and the Bisons led 5-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh. With the home team down by four runs, and things looking bleak, the 8,500 or so fans in attendance started to let them hear it, leading my wife to observe,

"Boy, people are really mad about this."

Which was the funniest thing I had heard all day. My wife, not being a baseball fan, per se, often comes up with observations at games that would never occur to me. Sometimes she's wrong, as when she says, "This guy sucks!" if the batter happens to swing and miss at a pitch. "That's only strike one, honey," I reassure her, before whomever it is proceeds to bounce into an inning-ending double play, thereby reinforcing her initial judgment. But this time she was right-on. It just wouldn't have dawned on me to think about it, as I'm so accustomed to hearing fans boo at games that I didn't even notice. I do live near Philadelphia, you know.

The seventh inning stretch was fun, as it always is. A children's choir led us in singing "God Bless America" although without the spiffy intro that Ronin Tynin does at Yankee Stadium ("When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars..."). Then we all sang "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" and I must say that I was pleased to find that it was not followed up with what Jay Jaffe, my colleague at The Futility Infielder, once called "the sonic horror of 'Cotton-Eyed Joe'."

Getting back to the game, Cruceta tired in the seventh, giving up 4 runs on five hits, as my favorite player who's exactly my age, Augie Ojeda, scored the tying run. Ojeda also made a diving stop to start a 4-6-3 double play in the eighth to get reliever Willie Eyre out of a bases-loaded jam, and had two hits in four at-bats to bump his average over the Mendoza line. Phillips had flashed some leather earlier in the game as well, making a diving stop of a grounder deep in the hole, but unable to hold onto the ball to make the play. This actually made my wife laugh out loud, as the image of a grown man trying to throw a ball forward and have it pop out of his hand and land on the ground behind him is apparently an amusing sight, at least to her. I suppose, if you take all the external ramifications out of the picture (i.e. the score of the game, the player's salary and career aspirations, etc.) it is a pretty funny image. Yet another observation that eluded me.

To be fair to her, later in the game my wife got so upset at seeing Bisons' left-fielder Ernie Young tumble and fall as he ran after and missed a bloop fly ball that she nearly started to cry. Not because he missed the ball, but because it looked like he had hurt himself. So it's not that she laughs at others' pain. Just their mistakes. Or something. She felt better after she saw that he got up and returned to his post in left field, apparently unscathed. The gentleman one section over from us who got hit with a screaming foul ball and had to be taken from the stadium on a stretcher was not so fortunate, and Sunny (appropriately) did not so quickly recover from that sadness. But she did take care to keep an eye on the ball during the game herself.

Anywho, with the game tied at 5-5 after the seventh inning, the Red Wings came back up in the eighth, and a kid named Josh Rabe (pronounced "ray-bee") came to the plate with nobody on base. We had been making fun of Yankees' announcer John Sterling most of the night, trying to think of awful and not particularly clever catch phrases to use for significant feats by various players, I suggested that if this guy hit a homer, they could call it a "Rabe shot". Stupid, I know, but no worse than "...AN A-BOMB...FROM A-ROD!!!" And naturally, Rabe did just that, belting a solo shot to put the good guys up, 6-5, which was the score by which they won. Red Wings' closer Travis (more kismet!) Bowyer pitched a perfect ninth for his 11th save of the season, and Rochester had itself a win.

Following the game, I was able to procure a Red Wings' ceramic coffee mug for my baseball mug collection, and a tee shirt for myself and one for my wife, and then they even had fireworks, surprisingly good ones for a minor league ballpark in a small city. Traffic on the way home wasn't bad either, and we were able to get back to The Chosen Spot before 11:30. And if you're tired of the high prices, hectic travel and impersonal feel of major league stadiums, you could do worse than to make a place like Rochester your chosen spot for some entertaining and affordable baseball.

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24 May 2005

Subway Train Wreck Series Review

What a weekend.

We had the opening of Star Wars Episode III, almost 30 years after Episode IV debuted in 1977. We had the Preakness Stakes, in which the Kentucky Derby winner was not the favorite for the first time in forever, and with another surprise winner. We had that big showdown in the U.S. Senate, where the President's judicial nominees have apparently been blocked by a Democratic senator named Phillip Buster. What state is he from?

Not to be outdone, Major League Baseball held its first weekend of Interleague Play, with most of the regional rivalries taking place, including that classic Washington-Toronto Series we'd all been anticipating. These games generally tend to be the most popular, best attended games of the season for many teams, and the New York Yankees/Jamaica Mets rivalry is no exception. Unfortunately, in retrospect, much of the Subway Series looked too much like a train wreck.

Friday night's game saw some hopeful signs for the Yankees. Kevin Brown, despite getting into trouble a few times, managed to succeed in not failing once again, pitching only five innings but allowing no earned runs in that span. He did allow an unearned run, or rather Derek Jeter's two errors in the fourth inning allowed them. No Gold Glove this year, Derek.

Though he had walked four baters already, Brown had only thrown 90 pitches when his spot in the batting order came up in the top of the sixth, so he was lifted for pinch hitter Ruben Sierra, who had just come off the DL. Sierra, like Robinson Cano before him, was lucky enough to hit the ball right at a member of the Mets' porous infield defense. Sierra, however, hit his ball right at the normally sure-handed Doug Mientkiewicz, whereas Cano had been fortunate enough to hit a grounder to consistently inconsistent Mets' 2B Kazuo Matui, who's working hard this year to prove that he can suck equally regardless of which side of the keystone they want to station him.

Nevertheless, both plays resulted in errors, and runs scored for the Yankees, leaving the score at 3-1 Evil Empire, where it stayed until the Resistance struck back in the seventh. The Mets had another opportunity to score in the eighth, when Tony Womack returned the favor to Mientkiewicz by misjudging a fly ball to left and allowing him to get on base. Womack gets a little slack, since he's playing out of position in left field so someone who can hit can start at 2B, but with over 150 career games in the outfield, that excuse seems pretty thin. More sloppy play by the Mets infield helped the Yanks tack on two insurance runs in the ninth, and that's how it ended, 5-2, Visitors. Five errors, thirteen walks, but only seven runs. Not the neatest of affairs.

Saturday's game should have been closer than the 7-1 Mets victory it became, what with Randy Johnson on the mound and the most prolific offense in the majors at the plate. Alas, the Yankees couldn't do anything with Mets' starter Kris Benson (career: 49-54, 4.26 ERA) or Mets relievers, 36-year old rookie Dae-Sung Koo, 40 year old Roberto Hernandez or Braden Looper and his 4.41 ERA in 2005. In fact, not only did Koo strike out all three batters he faced, he also got his first major league hit off Johnson, an RBI double over Bernie "Can You Throw This For Me?" Williams' head, and then scored from second base on a sacrifice bunt by Jose Reyes. Jackie Robinson he's not, but jackie would have been proud.

Johnson, for his part, seemed something less than the 5-time Cy Young Award winner for whom the Yankees mortgaged their future in the off season. He allowed 12 hits and four runs in less than seven innings of work, while striking out five and walking none. Yankees' catcher Jorge Posada maintains that Johnson's relative ineffectiveness is simply due to growing pains in their relationship, difficulty in calling and shaking off signals, and the like. But unless Johnson is somehow confusing the sign for "98-mph, up and in" with the sign for "91-mph, belt-high, middle of plate" I don't buy that excuse.

Want some evidence that Johnson isn't quite right? After the sacrifice by Reyes, Miguel Cairo hit a home run off Johnson, and Cairo has never hit more than 5 bombs in any season of his 10-year career. To his credit, Cairo had owned Johnson coming into the game, with eight hits in 19 career at-bats against him (.421). However, only one of those was for extra bases, a double in April of 1996, Cairo's second major league game, and in the early part of an injury-plagued season for the Big Unit. Johnson would make three more starts after that one in 1996, none more than 5 innings, before spending three months rehabbing an injury.

Correlation? Sure. Causality? Who knows? I'm not saying that Johnson is headed for the DL again, but Randy's clearly not as spry as he used to be. Robert Adair explains in The Physics of Baseball that the elasticity of a pitcher's arm is as important a factor as strength, if not more so, for determining how hard he can throw. Like everyone else, the elasticity of tendons and cartilige tends to decrease with age, so if I were Randy, I'd be buying up as much collagen supplement as I could get my big, lanky hands on.

Sunday's rubber match between the teams wasn't quite the catastrophe that Friday's game had been. The defenses combined for only three errors instead of five, and the starting pitchers combined for only two walks and two earned runs in 14 total innings. But this time the left side of the Mets' infield threw (or bobbled) the game away, as Jose Reyes and David Wright both committed critical errors in the eighth inning. Both players recorded their sixth errors of the season on Sunday, and Reyes tacked on his seventh on Monday against the Braves, meaning that the left side of the Mets' infield is currently on a pace to commit a Jeter-esque 47 errors. No wonder Tom Glavine can't get anybody out.

But the Yanks won 2 of three, enough to keep their overall record above .500, 2.5 games behind the Red Sox, tied with Toronto for 3rd place in the AL East. It was not, however, enough to prevent WABC-NY AM talk show host, Guardian Angels' founder, Mets-hater and lover of his own voice, Curtis Sliwa from having to wear a Mets hat and jersey Monday morning, the result losing a bet that the Bronx Bombers would sweep.

See kids? That's what you get for betting.

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07 May 2005

The Moose is Loose!

Mike Mussina gave the New York Yankees exactly what they needed Saturday afternoon: a rest.

No, not a day off. They still had to play. But the offense didn't have to score 12 runs to win. Joe Torre and/or Mel Stottlemyre didn't have to walk out to the mound every other inning to make a pitching change. The bullpen didn't have to pitch perfect ball for four innings just to give them a chance at a 'W'. And the players didn't have to retreat to the clubhouse after the game only to be accosted by an army of reporters asking them exactly how ashamed they are to be the worst team ever to make $200 million.

Moose Posted by Hello

Everybody (except Moose, of course) got a nice little respite from the problems that have ailed them for the last month and change. Which is convenient because Kevin Brown is pitching tomorrow. Hopefully past, say, the third inning. But let's not think about that now.

Mussina had something of an "off" year for him in 2004, failing to pitch at least 200 innings in a non-strike year for the first time since 1993. Technically, his 164 innings were enough to qualify for the ERA title, but, well, let's just say that his 4.59 ERA (his highest since 1996) wasn't. He missed more than a month with some injury or another, and wasn't so great when he did pitch. Until today, 2005 wasn't looking like a particularly memorable campaign either, but a 4-hit shutout will help make almost anyone's stats look a little better.

This marked the first complete game shutout the Yankees have pitched since August 17, 2003, also by Mussina. But that shutout, 3 hits, no walks, 9 strikeouts in 121 pitches, seems like a wholly different animal from today's event. Mussina allowed only 4 hits today, but he walked two batters as well and only struck out three, hardly blowing anyone away. While I didn't hear a lot of the broadcast, it seems from the discussion I did hear between the Yankee commentators that Mussina's velocity had been up a bit, which is just about the only place it can go from the paltry 86 mph he'd been getting on his heater.

As a Yankee fan, I certainly love the fact that Mussina seems to be coming around. Including today's start, this makes three outings in a row in which he's pitched seven innings or more, and he's allowed only two runs in his last two starts, totaling 16 innings. Not to take too much away from him, but it must be said that these two starts came against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics currently sit #27 of the 30 MLB teams in total runs scored, and the D-Rays have averaged 7.33 runs per game against the Yankees, while scoring just over four per game against the rest of the field, so don't read too much into two good starts.

Something else that should at least be considered is the fact that Moose had to throw 131 pitches to get the shutout, whereas Torre could easily have replaced him with Mike Stanton or Tom Gordon when he got into some trouble in the ninth. Those 131 pitches were the most he'd thrown since August 6th of 2002, a 7-inning, 14-hit, 5-run losing performance against Kansas City. His next start? Six innings, eleven hits, four runs.

If this outing eventually proves to be the precursor to injury and/or more inneffectiveness for Mussina, Torre's gonna have a lot of 'splainin to do. Is it really necessary to risk injury to a star pitcher's arm for a minor statistical accomplishment that didn't even have anything to do with the win, especially against another bad team in early May?

After this weekend, The Boss won't be nearly as distracted by his horse being the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, though if this game isn't a harbinger of better times for the Bronx Bombers, Torre may finally have the free time he's always wanted to attend the Kentucky Derby in person.

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03 May 2005

Do the Yankee Shuffle

My mom is worried.

Two days ago, after hearing all about the woes of the New York Yankees on sports talk radio on my way to work, and the alleged plan to cure said woes, I received an email from said Maternal Yankee Fan describing the myriad of lineup and roster changes as well as her own panic over the state of said team. Said mom was not wrong to worry, though said Yankees may be. At the least, the Yankees may be overreacting to an otherwise appropriately worrisome issue.

On the other hand, the Bronx Bombers have done nothing in the last two days to assuage those fears. In fact, "bomb" is exactly what they did yesterday, losing 11-4 at Tampa. As I write this, the team is down 10-8 to those same Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a team that had lost eight straight games coming into Tuesday night. Strike that, 11-8. The same team that currently sports a 9-18 record, good for (wait for it...) 28th best in the majors! Yep, KC and Colorado are jealous. Wait, that 11-8 is a final score.

In an effort to shake things up, the Yankees released Steve "Ow, My Elbow" Karsay, who had pitched a grand total of 12.2 innings in 2004 and 2005, all for the low, low price of six million dollars. Per year. If he clears waivers (and gosh, I can't imagine why the other 29 teams wouldn't want a guy who makes roughly $1 million per inning pitched...) Texas may pick him up, with the Yankees paying the sunken cost of Karsay's contract. As it works out, that's still only about half of what the Rangers are paying Alex Rodriguez to play for the Yankees, so maybe that wouldn't be so terrible.

Karsay's release made room for AAA 2B Robinson Cano, who hit well at AA Trenton in 2004, but struggled a little upon his promotion to Columbus. This year he was hitting much better at Columbus, and has gone 3 for 8 in his first two games with New York, though he made a costly error tonight. Of course, Cano has gotten eight at-bats as a secondbaseman because the regular second baseman, Tony Womack, is playing left field. Interestingly, the Baseball Prospectus projections for these two players in 2005 are:

Womack: .261/.303/.353
Cano: .255/.298/.389

Nearly identical, don't you think? Except they're not, because the 22-year old Cano makes the major league minimum, and has some "upside", whereas the 35-year old Womack has nowhere to go but down from his 2004 career year, and makes $2 million for each of the next two seasons.

Anywho, Womack is playing left because Hideki Matsui, currently hitting only .243 himself, mired in an 8-for-53 slump and homerless since April 8th, is playing center field. And center field, as you know, is avilable because Bernie Williams and his .247 batting average, .312 slugging percentage and gimpy throwing elbow are riding the pine. If this truly is the end of the line for Bernie as a starter, he deserves a better epilogue than I can compose in the short few minutes I have available right now. However, I am not yet convinced that we have seen the end of Bernie's starting days in CF. A little time, a little health, and maybe Williams returns to continue to build on his legacy as, far and away, um...the third or maybe fourth best centerfielder in Yankees history. You could do worse.

Until he's healthy, Bernie will serve only as a part-time DH, one of about six guys who help fill that role for the Yankees these days. Jason Giambi is the usual DH, but the "H" may be a bit of an overstatement in his case. Giambi's apparently got his batting eye, with a .394 OBP, but is "hitting" only .208, has only 6 RBI and hasn't homered since April 19th. Giambi was signed to his seven-year megadeal as a recent MVP firstbaseman, but after a season of injuries, infections and inklings of inappropriate usage of controlled substances, Jason's been reduced to a full-time DH, and a lousy one at that. The Yankees actually went out and signed re-tread Tino Martinez, a fan favorite and erstwhile hero of the Yankee franchise, but a firstbaseman whose best offensive years are far behind him, and whose most valuable asset is his glove, which is a little like carrying a relief pitcher because he knows a lot of good card games to play on those long road trips.

Rookie Andy Phillips hit .318 with 26 homers at AAA Columbus last season, but is off to a .160 start with the big club this year, after an 0-for-5, 5 strikeout performance on Tuesday night. If 0-for-4 with 4 K's is the "Golden Sombrero", what the heck did Phillips do last night? On the other hand, here's another interesting projection comparison from Baseball Prospectus:

Tino: .267/.350/.444
Andy: .263/.326/.456

Yet again, almost identical statistical projections, but 37-year old Tino is costing them almost $3 million this year, while Phillips, in his prime as a hitter at age 28, will make the MLB minimum. Not a good use of resources.

Amazingly enough, despite the offensive woes of several key players, The Yankees currently rank 4th in the majors in runs scored, behind only Boston, Baltimore and Texas, since Jeter, A-Rod, Sheffield and others are hitting reasonably well.

The real problem has been the pitching. The Yankees' 5.08 team ERA is better than only Tampa Bay in the AL, and the Reds and the Rockies (who both have a pretty good excuse given their home ballparks) in the NL. Randy Johnson's got a slight groin injury that might turn into a much bigger problem, and he was the "good" starter at 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA. Carl Pavano and Mike Mussina have not been great, but at least have given their team a chance to win once in while, which is more than Kevin Brown (8.25 ERA) and Jaret Wright (9.25!) could say. Wright's on the DL with a bum shoulder, and Brown ought to be on the DL, as in "Don't Let" him pitch anymore. Rookie Chein-Ming Wang pitched pretty well on Saturday against the Blue Jays, but AA starter Sean Henn didn't impress anyone tonight, giving up 5 earned runs in fewer than three innings. I guess he'll be going back to roost in the 'pen in Trenton.

Worse yet, they don't have a lot of options in the minors to replace these guys if they get hurt and/or continue to suck. Pete Munro? Wayne Franklin? Not gonna happen. These Yankees are in it for the long haul, because the franchise isn't equipped to replace them, and their contracts make them untradeable. They may be mediocre, they may be bad, they may just be working out the kinks on the way to another division title, but don't expect the roster to turn over much more from here on out. So keep worrying, Mom.

Ladies and gentlemen...your New York Yankees.

Like them or not.

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27 April 2005

"OK Alex Rodriguez, You Can Stay"

Alex Rodriguez had the most productive night of his career last night, driving in 10 runs with three homers and an RBI single in a 12-4 pounding of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which is still a stupid name.

Alex Rodriguez Posted by Hello

The Yankee thirdbaseman had been hitting a respectable but unimpressive .280 with 4 homers and 15 RBI entering the game, but earned himself a whole lot of respect his performance last night. It was the third three-homer game or A-Rod's career, having previously accomplished the feat for both Texas and Seattle. I wonder how many other players have had three-homer games for three different MLB teams... The ten RBI was a personal record for A-Rod, who had previously driven in 7 runs for Seattle twice, but never more.

Naturally, these accomplishments should be taken with a grain of salt, lest we risk dubbing Alex "Mr. April". Most Yankee fans certainly won't soon forget or forgive A-Rod's 2-for-17 performance in the last four games of the 2004 ALCS against Boston, but performances like the one he had last night will certainly help buy him some time to redeem himself.

Historically, Rodriguez usually does pretty well in April, hitting .320/.401/.616, with his highest OBP in any month, and generally somewhat better than his career line of .305/.381/.574. The problem is that in September he has hit "only" .267/.357/.506. Not that an .863 OPS is terrible, not by any stretch. It's just that when 55,000 people go to a game expecting to see "Alex Rodriguez" and all they get is Craig Wilson, well, let's just say they can get a little irate.

All three of the bombs came off Angels starter Bartolo Colon, whom I am very grateful I forgot to pick up for my fantasy team yesterday. Colon entered the game 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA, having given up only one homer (to KC Royals rookie Ruben Gotay, if you can believe that) but after it took him 101 pitches to get through fewer than 4 innings of work agains the Yankees, Colon's ERA had jumped to 3.73.

I heard part of the Yankee broadcast on 880 WCBS out of NY last night, actually getting out of my car just before Alex's first homer of the night. Yankees announcer Suzyn Waldman mentioned that Colon has always had great "stuff" but that he tends to suffer lapses in concentration, making him something less than the pitcher his talent would portend. The argumant, such as it goes, is that Colon has trouble "gearing up" for the likes of the Royals, but no trouble getting himself prepared for the Yankees. So I looked into this, and not surprisingly, the conventional wisdom is not so wise.

Colon Posted by Hello

I looked at the winning percentages of teams over the span of time that Colon has been in the majors, from 1997-2004, using Baseball-Reference.com's schedule breaker-outer, to get a general idea of the qualities of the teams he's faced. A more accurate way to do this would have been to use the individual winning percentages from each season, as some teams that were bad in 1997 are now good (like the Twins and A's) and vice-versa (Baltimore, for example). But that sounds like a real time-consuming pain in the neck, so you're just going to have to suffer through my half-assed analysis with me.

-500 72 35 13 2 909.2 8.48 0.97 3.37 7.35 3.91 1.32
+500 49 41 15 5 718.2 8.87 1.15 3.36 6.99 4.12 1.36

The top line is Colon's combined performances against teams that have been, on average, sub-.500 for the years 1997-2004. The second line is for teams with a combined winning percentage over .500 for that span. (2005 is not included.)

Is it just me, or do those lines look pretty similar? He's got about 200 more innings against "bad" teams, owing to about 30 more games pitched, but all the averages per nine innings are very close. If anything, these numbers seem to show that he pitches better against bad teams, as most pitchers do (that's why they're bad teams), with slight edges in hit rate, home run rate, and strikeout rate providing an ERA not quite two-tenths of a run lower. And of course, better run support against "bad" teams gives him an impressive 67.3% winning percentage against them, compared to only 54.4% against "good" teams.

For the record, I don't think Colon is on his way to another 5.01 ERA for the year. Last season's stats were rathey flukey in that he gave up almost a hit more per 9 innings than he typically does, and his home run rate was a little high as well. If he can keep that one extra batter per game off the basepaths, there's no reason he can't win another 18 games with something like the 3.73 ERA he now sports.

And as for Alex Rodriguez, look for him to return to MVP-like form this year, leading the Yankees in most offensive categories, even if it does take him two weeks to drive in his next ten runs.

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