18 July 2008

Blanton Traded to Phillies, Prospects to Oakland

In the latest move of desperation to shore up teams' rosters for the stretch drive, and Billy Beane's latest move to rid himself of burdensome (or perhaps soon-to-be-injured) starting pitchers, the Philadelphia Phillies have acquired RHP Joe Blanton from the A's for three minor leaguers.

Blanton's only 5-12 this year with a 4.96 ERA, which is even worse than it sounds when you consider that 70% of his innings this year have been pitched in the hitters' hell of McCavernous Coliseum, and he's managed only a 4.63 ERA there. Baseball-Reference.com's stat neutralizer/adjuster sayshe'd have a 5.91 ERA pitching in last year's conditions in Philly. Run scoring is down a little in both leagues this year, so any adjustments made for that would be all but negligible.

That, of course is in the past. What really matters is whether we can expect Blanton to bounce back to his previously useful LAIM form as he pitches for the Phils this year. He shows no particular tendency to pitch better or worse in the second half, with a second-half ERA only 0.31 lower, much of which can be acocunted for by the rough first half of 2008. Historically, he's gone from 4.05 in April to 5.81 in May, all the way down to 3.29 in June, only to go back up to 4.81 in July. He cruises along at 2.67 in August only to rocket back up to 4.75 in September. He's all over the place, with the only pattern being that there is no pattern.

What he does show is a tremendous reliance upon the miracles of his home park to keep his ERA in check, a full run split from a 3.79 ERA in Oakland to a 4.78 ERA on the road, and this over a significant sample size, over 750 innings total. This does not bode well for him in Philly, where Citizens Bank Park increases run scoring by about 4 or 5% compared to a neutral park, and Oakland is anything but neutral.

His walk rate is up almost a full walk per nine innings from last year, but that's just about his career average, and still well below average. He has not allowed an unusual number of in-play balls to become hits, either, with an opponent .304 batting average on balls in play, just about the league norm. The real problem has been that he's hardly striking anybody out, only 4.39/9 innings, almost a full whiff below his pre-2008 career average, and way below the 5.48 he posted last year.

In short: He's lost something. I don't know what, exactly, but it's real, and it's not likely to come back any time soon. Oakland's front office realized that this, combined with his pending arbitration eligibility, would make him suddenly both expensive and ineffective, something a small market club like the A's cannot afford.

So they got what they could for him, when they could.

LHP Josh Outman (Double-A)

He's 23 years old, 6'1", 180 lbs, and he can throw about 95 mph. And he's left-handed, so he's desirable, even though he walks a batter every other inning. Baseball Prospectus' commentary on him two years ago suggested that the control problems may have been due to his trying to learn to pitch with a more conventional motion*, but this is now his fourth year at that, and it seems like his control is getting worse instead of better.

*In high school and college he used a method developed by his father, Fritz, who wrote a book called Over Powering Pitching, describing a methodology that both increases maximum velocity and lowers injury risk. Obviously, he was sufficiently successful in college that the Phillies drafted him in the 10th round...and then promptly told him to scrap it. He still throws hard and strikes batters out, but his inability to keep the free passes in check will keep him from becoming a useful starting pitcher in the majors, and he may instead be relegated to LOOGy duties. There are worse fates, of course, but it's sad that so many "baseball people" are so closed minded, and that others suffer because of it. I personally would love to see someone using the Outman Methodology, Dr. Mike Marshall's Maxline approach, or some other scientifically-based pitching style make it to (and succeed in) the majors, but it will probably never happen.

With that said, Outman is the top prospect in this deal, and still could have a long career as a lefty out of the pen, if not much more than that. Southpaws who can hit 95 on the gun will get plenty of chances.

2B Adrian Cardenas is only 20, and has hit .303/.365/.430 between Rookie ball and two levels of Single A in the last two plus seasons. He's got a little patience (averaging a walk every ten at-bats or so) and steals bases effectively (48 for 58 in 234 career games) if not often. His modest home run totals may not look like much, but the nine homers he hit last year in Lakewood tied him for second on the team, and his batting average, slugging, OBP and OPS were all in the top 11 or higher in the Florida State League this year before the trade.

Baseball Prospectus called him an "outstanding hitting prospect" in their first comments on him for their 2007 book, and nothing he did last year changed their minds. This year is more of the same, though they anticipated a position change due to his poor defense at second. If he can improve that, he would be the heir apparent to the Keystone in Oakland now, but he's still probably two years away, at best. Still, a very good pickup.

OF Matt Spencer (Single-A) 6'4", 225 lbs, hits and throws lefty. He hit .378/.448/.616 at Arizona State and led the Sun Devils to the 2007 NCAA championship, got picked by the Phillies in the third round of the draft...and quickly turned into a non-prospect. He hit only .263 in the NY-Penn League the rest of 2007, and though he led the team with nine homers (congratu-freakin'-lations) he walked only about once every five games, and his paltry .320 OBP was artificially supported by getting plunked five times.

He's 22 now and should be destroying the unproven talent in the FSL, but instead he's hitting only .249 (including a-buck-ninety-one aganst lefties) and has lost most of his only asset: his power. He's hit only 6 homers all year and is "slugging" .367, which is like Ryan Garko without the cool, barbarian-sounding name. And the major league contract. Basically he's a throw-in.

But make no mistake, the Oaklands got themselves a solid hitting prospect in Cardenas and may have a lefty reliever or more in Outman (not to mention another cool name) plus whatever Spencer does, for a starting pitcher whose best asset was the park in which he'll no longer pitch. Oh, and who's soon eligible to start making millions of dollars just for having been in the majors for the last three years.

How does Beane keep doing this?

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16 July 2008

All Star Game Almost Another Tie, Needs More Incentive

Are they listening?

Hello? Are the All-Star managers listening at all?

"This One Counts."

Or so we're told, and yet the managers continue to utilize their respective rosters as though their main concern is "to avoid stepping on anybody's toes", rather than "to win the damn game". Last night's contest, and epic, tension-filled, 15-inning record-breaker, featured 11 NL pitchers and 12 AL pitchers. Every pitcher on each team was used.

Boston skipper Terry Francona was supposedly checking with J.D. Drew to see if he could pitch in a pinch, though I'm sure nobody expected the second coming of Christy Mathewson. Rockies/NL All-Star manager Clint Hurdle was said to have asked David Wright the same question. I wonder if he regretted not choosing Cardinals' outfielder Rick Ankiel for his roster, who at least has some experience as a pitcher in the majors, disastrous though it may have been.

With the embarrassing 2002 "Kissing your Sister" All-Star Game not all that far off in the rear view mirror, Major League Baseball drives on as though nothing is wrong. The managers were reminded that they're supposed ot be trying to win this thing, which seems to me like reminding an archer that his goal is to hit the target, not just use up all his arrows so he doesn't have to carry that heavy quiver all the way back to the storage shed.

Nevertheless, to sweeten the pot, they decided that awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star game would be enough. Clearly, it's not. Neither league's manager has been the same in consecutive years since before this rule was instituted in 2002, so it's tough to argue that this incentive has any meaning at all. Clint Hurdle's team is clearly not going to repeat, as they currently sit near the bottom of the sad-sack NL West division. What does he care who gets home field advantage? He'll be watching the World Series from his couch, just like you and me.

Most of the players in the game will not be in the World Series. The Cubs had a record nine All Stars this year, yet they did not encompass even one third of the NL squad, so even if the team with the best record in the league gets to the World Series (which doesn't happen as often as you would hope or expect), well, their representatives can only do so much to assure that they get the advantage come October. If they get there.

Since they started the All Star game in 1933, there have been 11 contests that went into extra innings, out of 78 games played. That's more than 14%, which is about a one-in-seven chance. Given those odds, you'd think the managers would prepare better, leave themselves a little wiggle room. Nope. Instead, they use their starting pitcher for two innings, maybe just one, and rarely use anyone else for more than an inning or two, and then only when they start to sweat about the game going into extra innings.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that they should play this like a regular game, trying to get six or seven innings out of their starters. That wouldn't be fair to anyone, especially the pitcher, who's not used to facing an entire lineup of world-class players. Three innings is probably enough. But then what's wrong with letting the next guy pitch three innings? Then you can mix and match for the last two, assuming a regular 9-inning contest, and still have three or four pitchers left over in case of a tie after nine.

There has never been a time when this game was managed like a real game, no matter what anyone tells you. Right from the beginning, it was managed like an exhibition. In fact, there have only been two games in All Star history in which one of the starters went more than three innings. One of them was Hall-of-Famer Lefty Gomez, who went six (!) in 1935, a record that still stands.

The other was Spud Chandler, who went four innings in 1942 against a WWII-depleted NL squad. That team featured 2B Jimmy Brown (.256 with 1 homer), Aarky Vaughan (.277 with 2 homers), and SS Eddie Miller, who hit .243 that year with an adjusted OPS of 81, i.e. almost 20% below average. Pete Reiser batted third, with a .310 average, 10 homers and 64 RBIs that year. The backups weren't all that great, either: Billy Herman, Mickey Owen, Pee Wee Reese, Terry Moore, Willard Marshall, and someone named Danny Lithwhiler. Not exactly threatening.

Fun fact: The other five innings of that game were all pitched by Detroit's Al Denton, who went 7-13 on the year. Another fun fact: The Cardinals' Mort Cooper started (and lost) the game, throwing to his brother and St. Louis teammate, Walker. That's the only combo of All-Star brothers who didn't play the same position, and they did it twice (1943, too).

Anyway, back to my point: There is no reason to think that the managers should try to get 6 or 7 innings from an All-Star starting pitcher. It's never happened before, and it shouldn't now. But three or four is hardly unreasonable. As the teams went into extra innings last night, Terry Francona had to look past

  • Joe Saunders (averaging 6.7 IP/start with a 3.20 ERA),
  • Roy Halladay (7.6 IP/GS, 2.71 ERA),
  • Ervin Santana (6.8 IP/GS, 3.34 ERA) and
  • Justin Duchscherer (6.8, 1.82)

Why? Because he had already used them. For one inning each.

Halladay, who had three days of rest and who averages 107 pitches per start, threw nine pitches. Nine.

"Thanks, Roy. Nice effort. No, that's OK, we don't need to win. Go take a shower. Well, even if you didn't get sweaty."

After six years of this home-field-advantage-in-the-World-Series silliness, it's obvious that something has to be done. My proposal is as follows:

Go back to what motivates people: Money.

Back in the day, the players used to really try hard to win this thing for two reasons. One of them was that they had a sense of league pride, something that has essentially disappeared with the advent of free agency. But the other was money. Players got a bonus for winning the All Star game, and since their salaries were not so exorbitant, that bonus actually meant something. Let's get back to that.

Major League Baseball probably already makes a killing at the All Star Game, but they could be making even more. StubHub was selling bleacher tickets for over $1000 apiece yesterday, so imagine what box seats would be worth! Players get bonuses for being selected to the All-Star Game, which are written into their contracts. Let's do away with those, or at least limit them, so that the real money can be doled out to those who actually win the game, not just those who play.

Maybe a $500,000 bonus for each player on the winning team? That's $15 million, but hey, that's pocket change for a $4 billion industry like MLB. If they sell tickets at an average of $500 apiece, that's $27.5 million right there, just for filling Yankee Stadium! And that doesn't include concessions, television rights, advertising, Home-Run Derby revenues, or any of the other things that MLB does to squeeze every last nickel out of the American Consumer.

Better yet, since it's really the manager who's the problem, not the players, give a $5 million bonus to the manager of the team that wins. Maybe an extra mil to each of his coaches. That's an incentive, since most managers don't make anywhere near that much money. Sure, it's kind of mercenary, but heck, these guys are professionals. They're not doing it for free now. Let's motivate them where we know they'll feel it: In the wallet.

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15 July 2008

No "Cheap Seats" In New Yankee Stadium

New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick laments the staggering increase in prices for some of the tickets to the Yankees' and Mets' new digs next year.

Well, not the price increases per se, but the fact that none of the nationally telecast games feature any discussion of said increases.

But what prevents McCarver and other national commentators who work Mets and Yankees games from adding that the cost of tickets to these new parks will price many longtime and even lifetime patrons right out of their seats and even out of the parks?

What prevents them from simply stating, "By the way, the cost of many of the tickets will be staggering"?

The story's out. And it's a sensational story. So why the silence?

Oh, I dunno...maybe because they don't really care? McCarver or Jon Miller or anyone else who does commentary on a baseball game is supposed to be talking about the game. It's only on the FOX post-season broadcasts that anybody pays any attention to who's in the stands, and then it's only to notice celebrities in the stands, to plug the new season of Lost or The Hills or CSI: Ulaanbaatar.

The announcers aren't paying for their tickets. They're not reporters, and probably aren't even aware of what tickets will cost in Yankee Stadium next year. If Phil Mushnick wants to complain about that stuff, he's free to do so. Or, alternatively, he's free to try to get a job as a color commentator on a national network, so he can air his complaints there. But I think he'll find that there's not much tolerance for that kind of thing. people tune in to those broadcasts to watch and listen to the game, and don't much want to hear how much more money it's going to cost to attend such a game next year.

Think about it: The people watching the game on TV are, by definition, not at the game. Most of them won't attend a game all year. They either live too far away, or can't afford the time or the money or both. And those who do attend games probably already know that their prices are going up. They know the new park is going to be smaller, which means that the prices will be that much higher, besides the normal increase you would expect with a new park. They have to choose whether they're going to

A) pony up the money for the kind of seats they usually buy,

2) spend the kind of money they usually spend for lesser quality seats, or

iii) spring for MLB.tv or satellite television.

There really aren't any other options, and that's true for season ticket holders, too. Well, except that if someone who has two box seats this year decides to go for the satellite TV deal instead, he can buy tickets to a game or two through an online broker and then drive to the game in the brand new Lexus he bought with his savings. What a pity.

I don't have much sympathy for people who can afford to spend half my salary on season tickets but can't afford to spend all of it. I do, however, feel that the casual fan is being squeezed out. I am more than a casual fan myself, but due to my distance from the team I follow, I only attend games at Yankee Stadium once or twice a year, and the rest of the time I have to make do with an occasional Phillies game or a minor league game when I'm on the road for work or something.

My mom's a lifelong Yankee fan, now in her, um...well..she reads this blog, so I can't tell you how old she is. But she 's old enough to remember the one time the Yankees lost to Brooklyn in the World Series. Let's just leave it at that. Anyway, I got to take her to her first game ever about ten years ago, when I was right out of college. Back then, I could afford to go to three or four or five games a year.

While I was still in college in 1994, and almost literally dirt poor, I got to take two friends to a game on a Wednesday night, back when "half price nights" for students applied to any seat in the park, not just the seats that you need a Sherpa to reach. We paid about $12.50 each for (half-price) seats in the Main Section, right behind first base. Those seats cost $100 each now, and no discounts are available unless you have seven grand burning a hole in your pocket and you want to buy a full season plan. Oh, and that's for one seat.

Another time I went with one friend and got seats right behind home plate for $25/each, seats that now cost $400/each.

Now I'm married and my wife and I make almost four times as much as I was making then, but we can only afford to take my mom to about one game a year because the tickets are ten times as expensive. I have no delusions about entitlement. There are much greater problems in the world than how many baseball games per year someone like me gets to attend. I wish things were different, that there weren't so many people these days who wanted to go to Yankee games.

But I also understand that there are market forces at work here about which I cannot do anything. The Consumer Price Index in cities in the northeast has risen about 53% since 1993, while ticket prices have gone up, in some cases, 1500%. Sure, part of that is due to the legalized monopoly the baseball owners have, but most of it is just due to demand. The supply has decreased (since the Yankees don't sell those seats out in the black in center field any more) and the demand has increased because the Yankees have been good, so they can afford to charge more money for the same product.

When I travel to other cities, I find that the demand for tickets there is not nearly as high. I was in Los Angeles a few weeks ago and had hoped to go to a Dodgers-LAnahfornia game. Alas, my work schedule wore me out and I had nobody to go to the game with, so I passed up a chance to see a no-hitter in person, even though the other team won the game. Woe is me, right? Well, me and Jered Weaver.

But I looked for tickets, and if I had wanted to, I could have bought two tickets right behind home plate for the Friday night game. Not from a broker/scalper, but from the Dodgers themselves. Granted, those seats were $400/each, so it wasn't all that difficult to turn them down, but still. There was no shortage of tickets still available at face value, from the Dodgers, just days before the interleague rivalry. In New York, tickets for the Subway Series get snatched up within nanoseconds of when they go on sale. Not just the good seats: ALL of them. Brokers are already selling them for ten times their face value within minutes. The demand is simply higher there, and therefore so are the prices.

Rob Neyer commented on Mushnick's article and had this to say:

Yes, baseball teams are businesses. But they're not run like businesses. Owners routinely lose money on purpose. Owners benefit from being parts of a legally sanctioned monopoly that should, by almost any standard, be illegal. Owners buy teams not because they want to make money, but because they like baseball (usually) and because they want to see their names in the newspapers. Baseball owners derive immense benefits -- many of them falling under the heading of psychic income -- from their teams, far different from those enjoyed by the owners of, say, trucking companies and widget factories.

So, don't tell me it's all about the free market, because it's not and shouldn't be. I don't expect the owner of my favorite team to lose money every year, but I do expect him to have a heart. And that includes somehow ensuring that fans who can't afford $70 for one ticket can still occasionally watch a game without needing binoculars.

I'm not an economist, but then neither is Rob. While I think that what he said about teams losing money may have been true years ago, I doubt very seriously that many - if any - of the owners are actually losing money any longer. Thirty five years ago, when George Steinbrenner's group bought the Yankees from CBS, they were paying another network to broadcast their games! Those guys were losing money. Baseball owners didn't know what they had in baseball, how much money there was to be made. Now they do, and they've spent the last ten years or so making up for lost time.

Today's owners are smarter, at least about the business end of things, if not about how to develop talent. Whether they are obviously making money is tough to determine, because rich people can afford to hire expensive, sneaky accountants and attorneys, but it seems to me that in a monopoly like Major League Baseball, which collects something like $4 Billion in revenue per year, some of which is shared even with inept teams like the Royals, it's hard to imagine that owners would not be in it for the money.

Sure, they like owning a baseball team more than they'd probably enjoy owning a mid-range paper supply company, but they get some money from it, too. Probably a lot of money. Many of the teams are owned by groups of people, and many of those people remain predominantly anonymous. They're not in it for the ancillary benefits. They're in it because they like baseball, AND they like making money, not necessarily in that order.

Ticket prices have gotten to the levels they have because that is what the market will bear. Until people start saying "no" a little more, nothing - absolutely nothing - is going to change. Owners have the right to charge whatever the hell they please, and consumers have the right to tell them to take their $400 box seats and put them where the sun don't shine.

And I don't mean in the back of the Loge in right field.

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09 July 2008

Rich Harden-to-Cubs Trade Analysis: Don't Think the A's Got Cheated

Well, that didn't take long.

Despite the patently transparent protestations of Cubs general manager Jim Hendry that he would not ramp up his efforts after the big CC Sabathia deal, the Chicago Nationals have acquired their own pitcher for the stretch drive, getting Rich Harden from the Oakland A's in a 6-man swap. The Cubs get RHPs Harden and Chad Gaudin in exchange for RHP Sean Gallagher, OFs Matt Murton and Eric Patterson, and minor league catcher Josh Donaldson. (It's being incorrectly reported as John Donaldson in some places, which would really be a bad deal for the Athletics, since John Donaldson is either 65 years old, or dead, depending on which one you're talking about.)

Of course, some parties didn't think this could happen, and if Oakland had waited for the kind of package the Tribe got in return for Sabathia, it never would have. But in the end A's GM Billy Beane settled for less than anyone thought it would take to pry Harden away from him.

Make no mistake, though. If we've learned anything about Billy Beane in the last ten years or so, it's that the man is no fool. He got the best deal he thought he could get for Harden, or he wouldn't have traded him. Actually, for Harden and Gaudin.

Rich Harden has talent coming out of his ears. Maybe you remember him coming to the majors in 2003, a fresh-faced 21-year old with a sizzling fastball, a hard curve, a nasty slider...and, it would eventually turn out, a penchant for getting hurt. He struck out ten Devil Rays as a rookie, won 11 games as a sophomore, and looked every bit like the Next Big Thing in Oakland, following in the footsteps of Hudson, Zito and Mulder (not to mention Dave Stewart, Vida Blue, and Catfish), but alas, 'twas not to be. Harden simply could not stay on the mound, and the Oaklands really weren't even counting on him to come back this year, mostly just hoping he'd be healthy enough to trade by the deadline. Who knew they'd be within striking distance of the division lead by the All-Star break?

A foolish GM would think that Harden has suddenly discovered some magical ability to stay healthy, some Fountain of Youth -or at least Health- to which he'd never before had access. Billy Beane is not a foolish GM, so he can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. Jim Hendry may not be a foolish GM either, just one who happens to be holding on to a tenuous grasp of first place with a club desperate for a World Series win, which the Cubs have not had in (all together now...) 100 years.

So he looked to trade harden while the young righty still had some value. And while he was at it, he got rid of Chad Gaudin, a young, short righty who's A) playing over his head and 2) been in the majors for parts of six seasons and is therefore about to become expensive.

For his trouble, Beane got the following:

Josh Donaldson: A 22-year old Single-A catcher who hit .346/.470/.605 last year in 49 games in Boise. (He was 0-for-2 with two walks as a DH in the game I saw there last summer.) Nobody seems to think he's injured or anything, so he should eventually get out of the slump he's currently struggling through (hitting only .217 through 63 games this season) and become the top catching prospect the Cubs thought he would be when they drafted him in the supplemental phase of the first round last season.

Matt Murton: A 26-year old right-handed hitting outfielder with a decent batting eye, who has not yet displayed much power or speed. On a bad team, he might be a starter in centerfield. On a good team, he's a 4th outfielder who can pinch hit because he won't go up there swinging for the fences. On the Cubs, with Soriano and Fukudome on the corners and Reed Johnson playing center, he's taking up a roster spot. Baseball Prospectus 2008 called him "a good bet to be traded".

Eric Patterson: Younger brother of Corey, he's a 25-year old outfielder/secondbaseman who has bounced back and forth between Chicago and AAA Iowa this year, where he's hit .320/.358/.517. He's only hit .237 in the majors, which is why he hasn't stuck, but then if you only played once a week or so, you'd be rusty too. In the minors, he hit for average, took walks, stole bases effectively and even hit a few homers. If the Oaklands (currently playing .247-hitting Mark Ellis at the keystone) decide to give him a chance at the second base job, he could be pretty useful for a few years.

Sean Gallagher: The real jewel of the trade, 22-year old Gallagher is a big righty (6'2", 225-235, depending on your source) who's dominated the minor leagues. Over parts of five seasons, he's gone 27-12 with 482 strikeouts and a 2.71 ERA in 481 innings. He's walked only about 3.5 per nine innings and has allowed an obscenely low 0.49 homers per nine frames.

The numbers are all there, but the scouts don't love him, or haven't, because he didn't have a great fastball and they at least used to think he was a little overweight. One report on MLB.com indicated that he lost 30 pounds this spring, or presumably, coming into the spring, and when you see him now, he looks like he's in fine shape, probably not more than about 205. More important, his fastball now clocks in at 92-93 mph and can hit 95 on occasion. He still has the sharp, 12-to-6 curve, plus a slider and change he can throw for strikes. What he has not yet shown in the majors is stamina, as he's averaged just 5.4 innings per start this season. That should come with time, though, and moving from the Friendly Confines to McCavernous Coliseum should only help his progress into a very good starting pitcher.

In total, the Cubs got two pitchers who can help them get to - and maybe even win - the playoffs this year, but who will be expensive to retain, too expensive for a club with Oakland's modest budget.

The Oaklands got a starting pitcher they can plug in right now, to go along with Justin Duchscherer, Dana Eveland, Greg Smith, and Joe Blanton. The names may not be all that familiar to you, but the four of them have combined for a 3.48 ERA in 434 innings this year, and Blanton, at least, hasn't even pitched up to his capabilities yet. They got a useful third or fourth outfielder, a potential starting secondbaseman and a minor league catcher who has shown the ability to hit like Mike Piazza, at least for a little while in the low minors.

In time, when Harden is either hurt or playing for another team, and oakland is still reaping the benefits of one or more of their acquisitions, I don't think A's fans will still be complaining.

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07 July 2008

Sabathia Deal Helps Both Brewers and Indians

C.C. Sabathia, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, has apparently been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for prospects, according to various sources. The names of the prospects have not been officially announced, as the deal is not officially complete yet, but everyone seems to agree that Double-A outfielder Matt LaPorta is the top name in the group.

With the Tribe looking up at the rest of the AL Central and no hope of re-signing Sabathia during the season, they're folding their cards early in an effort to get a decent return on their trade.

Sabathia gives the Brewers a legitimate ace for their rotation right when they need it most. Forget the lackluster 6-8 record. The Tribe has averaged just 4.41 Runs per game when he pitches and he was inexplicably terrible in April. Since then, however, he has a 2.39 ERA and has walked only 16 batters while striking out 90 in 90 innings. He immediately becomes the #1A pitcher on the Brewers' staff, along side Ben Sheets, just ahead of Manny Parra and way ahead of Dave Bush and Jeff "LAIM" Suppan.

More important, it keeps the likes of Carlos Villanueva and Seth McClung in the bullpen and/or the minor leagues. And that upgrade (from Seth McClung to Cy Young) could get the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time in a quarter of a century. After this year, however, he's anybody's free agent, and the Yankees will likely be trying as hard as anyone to sign him.

For their part, the Indians are rebuilding, and they know it. They don't seem to be getting any major league-ready talent in the trade, though some of it is very close.

LaPorta, according to Baseball Prospectus, had been considered a top power hitter in college but was drafted low after an oblique injury ruined his junior year. Returning to college for his fourth season paid big dividends, as he was drafter #7 overall by Milwaukee last year, and so far he has not disappointed them. He hit .304/.369/.696 in 30 games combined in 2007, split between the Rookie Pioneer League and Low-A West Virginia in the Sally League. This year has been spent entirely at Huntsville where he's hit .291/.404/.584 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs in 82 games to date.

The Southern League is known as a hitters' league, and Huntsville is a hitters' park within that league. Currently, five of the top 9 players in OPS in the Southern League are on the Huntsville team, and two others are in the top 30. That's either a remarkable coincidence, a remarkable assemblage of hitting talent, or a park/league effect. So you'd like to discount those numbers a little.

With that said, however, the Reds' Joey Votto had similar numbers in the Southern League last year and he's already holding his own in a major league lineup. Two years ago Evan Longoria had similar numbers and he's on the AL Final Man ballot with a chance to be an All-Star as a rookie. In 2005, Dan Uggla put up very similar numbers playing for Tennessee, and though few people gave him much of a shot at success in the big leagues, for the exact same reasons, Uggla is an All-Star and currently is one off the MLB lead in homers. So there.

All of that is to say that LaPorta should be a very good hitter when he reaches the majors, perhaps as soon as next year. He's not a good defensive OF ("Ron Kittle-bad" according to BP) but with the Indians' firstbasemen either injured, struggling or both, that may not matter. He was a firstbaseman in college and could easily return to that role. More easily than Travis Hafner could learn to play left field or Ryan Garko could learn to, I dunno... hit.

It appears that AAA southpaw Zach Jackson, and AA RHP Rob Bryson are also part of the deal, along with a PTBNL. Earlier rumors had suggested Single-A 3B Taylor Green, Single-A OF Lorenzo Cain, and Keith Law suggests that Green might be the PTBNL.

Jackson pitched a few games in June and July of 2006 in the majors, after some solid work in Class-A, but he was overmatched and got busted back down to the minors, where he'd been ever since. Though unimpressive and mired in the minors for the rest of 2006 and all of 2007, he did pitch a couple of innings for the Brewers in May of this year. Otherwise he's spent 2008 helping to keep the Pacific Coast League's reputation as a hitter's haven intact. He's 1-5 with a 7.85 ERA and has given up 10 homers in only 57 innings. Hitters' league or not, a homer every 5 or 6 innings would be lousy if you were pitching on the Moon. He's a throw-in.

Bryson, on the other hand, is a real talent. He's only got a 4.25 ERA in Double-A right now, mostly because he's a little wild (22 walks in 53 innings) but he's fanned 73 batters, has only allowed three homers, and has been much better as a reliever (3.96 ERA) than a starter (4.82). He's only 20, so he could still reign in the wildness a bit, but if not, his lack of command will prevent him from becoming a good starting pitcher. However, he has the stuff and the stamina to be an excellent long man out of the bullpen or a top-notch closer.

Green, if he is the fourth player in the deal, gives the Indians a real prospect at the hot corner for the first time since Jim Thome came up in the early 1990's. He's hitting .295/.380/.444 with 10 homers in 302 at-bats, but he's also displayed impressive patience, with 42 walks (2nd in the league) and only 42 strikeouts in that span. His 54 RBIs are also second in the league, and his 10 homers place him 9th. He's not a sure-thing kind of prospect, but he should be a productive major league hitter in a few years. He'll be 22 in November, which means he has plenty of time, and he's a lefty who can hit lefties, with a .344 opponent average this year against southpaws that should help keep him from getting platooned whenever he does arrive.

The Brewers have a press conference scheduled for noon to announce the actual deal.

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01 July 2008

National League Will Win the 2008 All Star Game

OK, so it wasn't "tomorrow" but here's my NL All-Star Ballot, for what it's worth:

First Base: Berkman, L., HOU
Second Base: Uggla, D., FLA
Third Base: Jones, C., ATL
Shortstop: Ramirez, H., FLA
Catcher: McCann, B., ATL
Outfielder: Braun, R., MIL, Burrell, P., PHI, Lee, C., HOU

There are not a lot of votes here that are very difficult to defend. Nevertheless, I'll go through them one at a time.

Lance Berkman leads the entire National League in slugging percentage, OPS, Runs, total bases, extra base hits, times on base, and several sabermetric categories, such as VORP, Adjusted Batting Runs, Runs Created and Batting Wins. He has been, put simply, the best player in baseball up to this point. If he doesn't make the All-Star team, they shouldn't have one.

I assume that Berkman's monster year has netted him the top spot in the vote getting, but now that the balloting is closed, MLB's holding its cards close to the vest and will not divulge the All-Star rosters until Sunday. Honorable mention to Albert Pujols, who's having a great year despite the fact that his elbow might snap in two at any moment, and Adrian Gonzalez, who's somehow managed to hit 21 homers despite playing half of his games in a 1:8 scale replica of the Grand Canyon. Good to see him finally living up to the hype that comes with being a #1 overall draft pick.

Chase Utley has been great, but when you adjust for the effects of their home parks, Dan Uggla has been even better. The two are tied for the MLB lead with 23 homers and are both slugging over .600. Utley's 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts, while Uggla's 4-for-5, and both are decent, if not Gold Glove, fielders. Utley, however, was blowing away all of the competition, leading the major leagues with over 2.6 million votes, last I checked, more than Jeter or A-Rod. He's certainly a solid choice to start the game, and Uggla should have no trouble making the reserve squad.

Chipper Jones is hitting .391. Three-ninety-one. And with power and walks and stuff, too. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury has cooled him off a bit, as he's hit only .244 over his last 16 games, albeit still with lots of walks and a few homers. David Wright is having a decent year, but after generally increasing his percentage numbers across the board for the first three and a half years of his major league career, he's taken a decided step back, and the New York fans have not been voting for him as much as you might expect. Still, he's likely to make it as abackup, but I didn't vote for him because of, well... Three-ninety-one.

Hanley Ramirez was holding onto a slim lead over Miguel Tejada in the voting department, but in terms of stats, there's little comparison. Miggy's .286/.324/.446 line is decent, but his adjusted OPS is only about 3% above average, while Ramirez is 46% better than the norm. Add to that the fact that Hanley is handy on the basepaths (20 steals in 25 attempts, compared to just 6-for-9 by Tejada) and that both players are pretty bad with the leather, and there's no comparison. Jimmy Rollins has been injured and underperformed, but was still within striking distance the last time they let the vote totals see the light of day. Jose Reyes would be an excellent addition to the squad, and should be.

The outfield is all-power, all the time. Ryan Braun, Pat Burrell and Carlos Lee are all in the top 10 in the NL in extra base hits with 42 or more, and though you'd like a little more patience from Lee and (especially) Braun, the threat of three guys who could readily hit one out will loom large over the AL pitchers' heads. Yankee Stadium is not the cavernous righty-killer it once was, and all three of these guys is capable of smashing one into monument park if a pitcher makes a mistake.

Unfortunately, those guys are all left fielders, so if the NL squad wants some defense in center, they'll have to look to Carlos Beltran or someone like Aaron Rowand. (Hey, someone from the Giants has to make it, right? More likely they'll start Alfonso Soriano there, as he was leading NL outfieldrs in votes at last tally. He's mis-cast there, despite his speed, but he'll be OK for a couple of innings, which is as much as these guys play anymore anyway.

Looking at the big picture, despite the fact that the AL is generally considered better than the NL, this may be the year that the NL breaks is consecutive losses streak in the MLB All-Star Game, which started in 1997. There's a lot of really impressive options for filling up the NL bench, and a lot of really great players leading the vote getting (or at least there were, two days ago).

The American League is a different story. The voting has been dominated by Yankees and Red Sox, and this is not always a good thing.

  • Kevin Youkilis was leading AL firstbasemen in votes when I wrote my last article on the subject, despite being demonstrably inferior to Jason Giambi, and arguably Justin Morneau.
  • Dustin Pedroia was leading the AL secondbasemen, and while he's been on a tear of late and is hitting .311 with nine homers, he's clearly inferior to Ian Kinsler, at least this year. Worse yet, Robinson Cano was not far behind, and he's having a horrible season. If somehow Pedroia or Youk should miss the cut, Red Sox and All-Star manager Terry Francona will undoubtedly put them on the team anyway. Brian Roberts would be a much better choice to back up the winner.
  • Derek Jeter was leading the entire American League in votes and will be the AL starting shortstop despite his pedestrian offensive numbers, while Michael Young and Jhonny Peralta will likely miss out. Francona will probably choose his own guy, Julio Lugo, who's hitting .268 with one homer and playing atrocious defense.
  • The catcher's spot was only tenuously held by Joe Mauer, with Jason Varitek right on his heels, and Jorge Posada not far behind. If Mauer holds on to win it, and depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out, Francona may again pick his own man instead of a more productive hitter like Dioner Navarro or A.J. Pierzynski.
  • Though soon-to-be-divorced Alex Rodriguez hald a firm grasp on the starting job at the hot corner, second place was held by Boston's Mike Lowell, who could get tabbed for the backup spot there. Lowell is having a solid season but is not as good as Rays rookie Evan Longoria. More important, if Francona wants some late-inning defense, Scott Rolen might be a better choice. Again, someone from the Blow Jays has to make it, so why not him?
  • In the outfield, though Manny Ramirez doesn't really deserve to be the leading vote-getter, he's certainly no slouch, except, you know, when he's slouching. But be that as it may, he'll do, as will Josh Hamilton. In third place, however, was Ichiro Suzuki, who's an exciting player to watch, but is only about the 8th best outfielder/DH in the AL this year, well behind not just Hamilton and Ramirez, but also Milton Bradley, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Quenton, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Hideki Matsui and (I hate to admit it) J.D. Drew. Ichiro's speed may come in handy, but not as handy as someone who can do something besides hit singles and win the hearts and minds of every voter in Japan. Again, this probably means that he'll pick Drew and/or Jacoby Ellsbury if Ichiro wins the third spot in the outfield.
  • The DH spot, while being unfairly led by Big Papi and followed by Hideki Matsui, both of whom are injured, should not be a problem. As Papi won't be able to play, Francona can pick anyone he wants, and may even surprise us by going with the smart choice of Aubrey Huff.

All told, these bizarre voting practices, combined with the blatant nepotism usually displayed by the All-Star managers, have really put the AL in a bind. To his credit, the last time he managed an All-Star game, Francona only picked one Red Sock for his reserves (Matt Clement), but then he had four starters that year as well. If he feels that one or more of his players was cheated out of a spot they deserved, he'll likely pick them over someone who might actually be a better option.

Time will tell, but I'm going on the record now as saying that the NL will have home field advantage in the World Series this year.

See? I told you that was a stupid idea.

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American League 2008 All Star Ballot

Tomorrow is the last day for online All Star voting. I know because I get about two dozen emails per day telling me so. (OK, more like one.) I voted today, and thought it might be interesting to discuss why I voted as I did. here's my AL Ballot:

First Base: Giambi, J., NYY
Second Base: Kinsler, I., TEX
Third Base: Rodriguez, A., NYY
Shortstop: Jeter, D., NYY
Catcher: Posada, J., NYY
Outfielder: Damon, J., NYY, Hamilton, J., TEX, Sizemore, G., CLE
Designated Hitter: Huff, A., BAL

I'm a Yankee fan, and I make no apologies for that. With that said, I don't think any of these picks need too much explanation.

Jason Giambi, despite the .263 batting average, leads all AL first basemen in walks, homers, slugging, OPS, OBP and awesome facial hair. In fact, his .398 OBP is almost 20 points higher than that of Kevin Youkilis, the so-called "Greek God of Walks", who leads all AL firstbasemen with 48 Runs scored. Youk also leads the pack with about 1.9 million votes, almost 300,000 more than second-place Justin Morneau. For his part, Morneau leads AL firstbasemen with 63 RBIs. More to the point, if you're trying to actually win the contest, the Giambino and his child-molester/pizza guy moustache have been raking at a .324/.444/.642 clip since early May.

Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler leads not just the Al, not just second basemen, but everyone in MLB with 71 runs scored. He's hitting .321 (5th in the AL) has 20 steals (6th in the AL) and his .532 slugging percentage is 10th. In addition, he leads all AL second basemen in homers, RBIs (50) and OBP (.375), and is one point behind Placido Polanco in batting average and one steal behind Brian Roberts. Granted, his home park helps him, as you can see from the approximately 100-point spread between his home and road batting and OBP numbers, but he actually has hit 10 of his 13 homers on the road. So that's something. Regardless of that, nobody else is even in the same category. Also, I just fleeced someone in my fantasy league out of him, so I have to pull for him.

Third base was practically a no-brainer. Despite missing three weeks with an injury, A-Rod leads all AL hot cornermen in homers, batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, and Steals. He's two runs off the pace of league leader Alex Gordon (who needed about 75 more at-bats to score those two runs) and is three RBIs behind the pace of Mike Lowell and Evan Longoria. There are also some bizarre rumors about him being "linked to" Madonna, so maybe he and Jose Canseco have more in common than the Juice Man would care to admit. If we notice the reigning MVP wearing a red string bracelet at the All-Star Game, we'll know why. In any case, A-Rod will be there, as he leads all AL players with 2.52 million votes.

Shortstop was one of the tougher decisions. Derek Jeter is clearly having an off-year (for him), hitting only .280 with 4 homers and steals, though that's only 5 points behind Michael Young, and Jeter doesn't have the benefit of playing half his games in a Texas phonebooth. (Young's hitting just .254 on the road.) Jhonny Peralta has a dozen bombs, but the one he hit yesterday was hist first in more than a month. He's also struck out more than any other AL shortstop, and is hitting only .257 with an OBP that barely cracks .300. Plus he spells his name wheirldy. Nobody else has more than half a dozen homers, is hitting more than about .275 or has stolen more than a dozen bases. So, without a clear leader, I went to my fall back. Which is apparently what 2.5 million other voters have done, as Jeter is second only to A-Rod in AL votes.

Catcher was tough, too, since I really like Jorge Posada, but he hasn't played much due to the problems with his throwing shoulder. Despite missing all that time, he has as many homers as Joe Mauer, and his OPS (min 100-at-bats) is second to Mauer as well. I should probably have voted for Mauer instead, who leads the AL with a .323 batting average, is third in OBP with a .410 mark, and has caught 71 of his team's 83 games. Additionally, he leads all AL catchers in runs, RBIs, doubles, walks and OPS.

Incidentally, with about 1.6 million votes, Mauer is the only non-Yankee or Red Sock to be leading a position in the AL voting, and his lead over Jason Varitek (.222 with 7 homers, *yuk*) is only about 150,000 votes, so he could get overtaken if the Red Sox make a mad vote rush in the 11th hour.

The outfield was fun because there are so many good options. I left Milton Bradley off because he's been a little gimpy (I know because he was one of the players I got rid of in the Ian Kinsler trade, which also netted me A-Rod and Dan Haren). We want to win this thing, so I couldn't pick a guy I know is hurt.

I did pick Hamilton because he's leading the majors in RBI's and he's a great story. I picked Damon because, well, he's a Yankee, but also because he's hitting .315 with patience and he's got some speed, and we're a little short on that. Jacoby Ellsbury was looking like a great option a month ago, but he's hit just .176 woth zero homers and one RBI in the last two weeks, and we don't need speed that badly.

Grady Sizemore, despite the .263 average, has 19 homers and 19 steals (in 21 attempts), so he's a threat both at the plate and on the basepaths. J.D Drew is doing very well, or has had a great month, at least, but I'm not convinced he's for real, not after a year and change of mediocrity. Manny Ramirez, who leads all AL outfielders in votes, is having a good year, but not a great one, not for him, and anyway screw Boston.

And speaking of screw Boston, David Ortiz leads all Designated Hitters in votes, despite the facts that

A) He's hitting .252 on the year and
2) He's been on the DL since the end of May.

Maybe that's why he got all those votes? Fans thought it aid DL, not DH?

the number two vote getter, Hideki Matsui, was having a decent year as well before he got hurt, so I couldn't vote for him. Jack Cust has a lot of walks and 13 homers, but is hitting just .234, and ditto for Jim Thome, one of my favorites.

So, instead I voted for Aubrey Huff. He's hitting a respectable .274, leads the AL DH field with 14 homers and 46 RBIs, and we share a birthday, though he's two years younger than me. Just to show you I'm not that biased, though, I did not vote for either David DeJesus, who's injured but was hitting .316, or David Wright, who's having a sold year over in the Senior Circuit.

Tomorrow I'll share my NL ballot...

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Review: Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends

by Rob Neyer

“Because only a good story well told is worth all this effort.”
- Rob Neyer in “Big Book of Baseball Legends”

The latest release from Rob Neyer, Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, the Lies, and Everything Else, follows in several of his traditions, but also explores some new ground. This is the third “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of…Something” though alas, he opted not to go with my suggestion of “Bubblegum” for the subject of his next work. Perhaps that’s still to come.

More important, Rob keeps with his traditions of seemingly endless and in-depth research, sharp, focused writing and an interesting subject matter.

As its title suggests, this book explores some of the legends of baseball history that we may have heard through the years. Babe Ruth’s famous “Called Shot” in the 1932 World Series against the Cubs is perhaps the biggest of them, but many and varied are the legends in this book, and they range from the commonplace to the obscure.

Most of us know about the rivalry between Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson, about Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson. Maybe you know about how George Steinbrenner foolishly releasing Johnny Callison on a whim, or about Steve Dalkowski scaring the hell out of the Splendid Splinter. Maybe you’ve even heard about how Paul Waner was actually a better hitter when he was a little drunk, or of the impostor who kept Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak alive when he was laid up.

But what do you really know? The very nature of “legends” is such that there’s almost always a grain or two of truth wrapped up in a fanciful, entertaining, but largely untrue tale. Rob Neyer (and a guest or two) help to investigate, and in many cases, de-bunk, some of the more famous legends and tall tales from the history of baseball.

Rob doesn't get into legends about misdeeds off the field, sticking instead to the fun stuff, like who hit a game winning homer off of whom on which date, or whether or not an event had the life-changing impact that was claimed by certain players. And these, it turns out, are the best sorts of legends to investigate, because the eventual outcome of any investigation is mostly of academic and human interest, having no impact on either the law or the record books. Well, mostly.

As is always the case with Neyer’s books, this one is eminently readable. Neyer’s prose is always solid, personable and fluid, with well chosen but not overly elegant words, and he makes no effort to impress you with his vocabulary. Some of the best writing in the book actually isn’t Neyer’s, but rather that of Scribbly Tate, who does the remarkably interesting chapter on the so-called impostor who replaced the ailing Iron Man to keep his 2,130-game streak alive. To be fair, though, this is more a credit to Tate’s unique written voice than it is a knock on Neyer, who’s no slouch as a writer himself.

Neyer’s digressions are always interesting and well informed, and he rarely goes of on a Posnaskian tangent, though those can be fun, too. The chapters are brief, usually no more than three to six pages, so the book can be easily read in small chunks whenever you have a moment to spare.

The main strength of the book, painstaking research, is also its one weakness. Or, if not a weakness, perhaps just a downside. The whole point in each chapter is to get at the truth behind the stories told by players, journalists and other baseball people, and that takes time and effort. Some of it could be done with Baseball-reference.com or Retrosheet, while other information had to be sought from the Hall of Fame archives or other out-of-print books.

This is all fine, but in a few cases it seems that the research goes a little too deep, exploring things that are beyond the scope of a particular legend, just to make sure that no stone is left unturned. In a few cases, by the time we get to the bottom of the story, Neyer has nearly forgotten what he was looking up, and so we find him looking for a strikeout when the story referenced a pop-up, or getting the names mixed up a little. These are few and far between, but they’re there.

The other downside to the painstaking research is, well, I’ll just say it: Most of the legends are not true. Almost every referenced story in the book is wrong in one or more detail, and most of them have either gotten various incidents mixed up with each other or are almost complete fabrications. If you’re ultimately looking for the truth, this is not a problem for you, but those of you who really like a good story, and want to keep believing in it, will have some of the wind taken out of your sails. Of course, you get warned about that right in the introduction, so if you’re upset about it, you’ve nobody to blame but yourself.

In all, the book is really a tremendous amount of fun. Neyer has done all the dirty work for us, spending hours and hours poring over the internet, old books, and even (get this) something called "microfiche", which it turns out is how they used to store really old information before Al Gore invented the Internet. All the leg work is already done, so you can relax with the book and a beverage in the comforts of your own home instead of in front of a big, flat screen with crusty old knobs in some dusty old library. Not that there's anything wrong with libraries.

So the next time a friend tries to tell you about how Fred Lynn always hit better against the good teams, or how Billy Martin turned the 1965 Twins into a running machine, or how Lou Boudreau turned Ron Santo from a nondescript catcher into the greatest thirdbaseman of the 1960’s, you can tell them they’re all wet.

And better yet, if you hear or read a story that’s not in this book (and there’s no shortage of those) you have a framework for how to find out whether that one’s true or not, too. Finding out the truth of these matters, it turns out, is almost as interesting as the embellished story itself. Sometimes, even more so.

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08 June 2008

The Greatest Game: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the Playoff of ’78 by Richard Bradley

“It felt not just like a singular moment, but a fragile one, a rare convergence of tradition and rivalry and timelessness that would not be easily, if ever, re-created.”

- Richard Bradley in The Greatest Game

You know the story: The Yankees storm back from 14.5 games down in July to overtake the Red Sox in September, only to end up tied at the end of the season, forcing a one-game playoff at Fenway Park. The unlikeliest of players hits a home run to put the Yankees on top to stay, and then they sweep through the ALCS and the World Series to become MLB world champions for the second consecutive year.

This might have been the shortest book ever written. I mean, Peter Gammons and Murray Chass probably summed it all up in about 1000 words the next day, right? But don't bet against Bradley. Thirty years later, with most baseball fans (especially those of the Yanks and Sox) having heard the story hundreds of times, Richard Bradley managed to find more. A lot more. He has put together a book that tells you not just about the game, but about the histories of the teams, the circumstances and events leading up to the game itself and background on many of the personalities involved.

And what personalities they were. George Steinbrenner. Mike Torrez and Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson and Carl Yastrzemski, Bill “Spaceman” Lee and Goose Gossage, Billy Martin and Don Zimmer, Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk, George Scott, Mickey Rivers, and of course, Bucky (F-ing) Dent. There are fewer characters at a Loony Tunes convention, and Bradley does each of them justice, in their turns.

The book gives some background, but then goes into the game itself, following pitch-by-pitch, an inning at a time, discussing personalities and histories of each of the players as they come to bat. In the alternate chapters, he goes into more detail on some of the more prominent people involved in the game, so the reader can have a better sense of the meaning and experience of the game from various perspectives. It’s an approach that works very well, as you really do find yourself identifying with each of these people, in turn, but the story of the game itself retains its tension, even though you already know how it turns out before you ever pick up the book.

Bradley’s prose is excellent, as you should expect from someone who has written a bestselling biography of JFK, has written for some of the best known periodicals in the country, and is a former executive editor of George magazine. About Billy Martin, he says,

“Martin carried that me-against-the-world attitude, a combustible mix of courage and insecurity, pride and fear, into his play on the baseball diamond.”

About the Reggie Jackson chocolate bar fiasco, he writes, “…and Reggie! Bars were raining from the sky like some high-calorie biblical plague.”

Describing the aging, out-of-shape Bob “Beetle” Bailey: “…Bailey’s stomach pressed enthusiastically against his uniform.”

The writing is very good, tight but descriptive, expressive without being verbose, and a pleasure to read.

If there is a problem with the book, and really, there aren’t many, it’s that Bradley mixes up a few of the minor, baseball related details. He’s written often and well before, but never about baseball, and it shows, though just barely. He gets a statistic wrong here and there (baseball fans are notoriously sensitive to this sort of thing), mixes up right and left field at least once, and gets a few other details wrong.

He mentions that the regular season tie in 1978 was the first such occurrence since 1948, but that’s only true for the Junior Circuit. He did not realize that since the National League’s by-laws were different, the regular season ties that happened in 1962, 1959 and 1951 (ending in Bobby Thompson’s famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”) were resolved by 3-game series between the two tied teams, rather than the American League’s one-game playoff.

Still, such qualms are relatively minor for such an otherwise excellent book. Bradley’s composed a volume that should be of interest to not just fans of the Yankees or Red Sox, but of MLB and history in general. OK, so maybe just baseball.

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29 May 2008

Royals Lose 10th Straight in Epic Fashion

Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli and Joe Posnaski are complaining about the Royals losing their 10th straight game last night. Hard to blame them. If I were a Royals fan, I'd be complaining too. Other medium-sized midwestern cities have fielded competitive teams, at least occasionally, in the last 20 years, so why can't the Royals do it?

I don't know, and frankly, that's beyond the scope of this post, which I'm writing mostly so I can get some credit for all the thinking I've done about this, and not just post a comment on Rob Neyer's blog.

Posnaski is always the most fun to read about this stuff. here's his explanation of what happened as an 8-3 lead slipped away:

And then Brendan Harris loops a fly ball to right field that looks like it very well could be the third out. David DeJesus should run that down and … wait a minute. David DeJesus is not in right field. No, that’s, um. Ross Gload in right field. Why is Ross Gload in right field? Oh, right, Hillman pinch-hit for DeJesus the previous inning. So, no, wait … why did Ross Gload pinch-hit for DeJesus? I’m very confused.*

*OK, I just got a call from Royals TV voice extraordinaire and good friend Ryan Lefebvre … apparently, in the seventh inning, DeJesus broke out in hives. Yeah. Hives. Now, this team has biblical plagues descending upon them. Hives. I mean, seriously. I still couldn’t tell you why Gload didn’t go to first, where he’s actually pretty good, and Teahen go to right field, where he’s played all year. Trey Hillman’s explanation is that he didn’t want to switch TWO positions. Whatever that means.

You can't make this stuff up.

Anyway, the problem (at least last night) was that in a tight spot, Royals manager Trey Hillman looked at his bullpen, didn't like his options, but picked one and it didn't work out. And by "didn't work out" I mean "a miracle did NOT happen" because apparently everyone who knows anything about baseball and/or likes the Royals (not that there are many of them...) knew that this was the wrong move.

Here's Joe Posnaski again:
...at this point, the Royals decided to take [Ramon] Ramirez out of the game. Part of me understood — Ramirez had given up four hits in the inning. But part of me cringed because they were pretty soft singles, one probably should have been caught, and Ramirez had struck out two in the inning, and he was quite unlikely to give up a home run to Monroe because of his sinker (Ramirez has not yet given up a home run this year).

Instead, Hillman goes with Joel Peralta, a fly-ball, homer-prone pitcher with control problems, to face Craig Monroe, a hacker who's going to be looking fastball all the way and swinging for the fences. This was so obviously a bad move that it's hard to wonder why Hillman would even think of it, much less do it.

This is not the same thing as trying a squeeze play or a hit-and-run in a place where everyone knows you're going to do a hit and run and you get into a strike-out, throw-out double play. That kind of thing happens, and you deal with it, and move on. But when your manager chooses perhaps the worst of all possible options from his bullpen, and then the inevitable happens, well, you have to wonder.

You can't blame Hillman for not having better options available to him than he has (that's GM Dayton Moore's fault) but you can blame him for not seeing the options he actually has:

- Ramon Ramirez, for just one more out, as Rob Neyer mentioned. Go up there, calm him down. Remind him that they still haven't hit him hard, and that the defense will pick him up. Granted, this is a lie, but it sounds good. Tell him to give you all he's got, as this is the last guy he'll have to face tonight. Let him buck up and try to make you proud. Maybe he'll surprise you.

- Jimmy Gobble. Sure, he'd thrown 33 pitches the night before, but he tossed 2 scoreless innings, which might have given him some confidence, right? In any case, those pitches hardly take a toll on you like having guys on base all the time, or whatever. You only need half a dozen pitches out of him, for crying out loud. Gobble's a lefty though, and an extreme flyball pitcher, so I can understand leaving him in the bullpen. No argument here, not really.

- Ron Mahay. He'd also thrown two innings the night before, but he used only 17 pitches to do it. Craig Monroe is hitting .118 with ZERO homers against lefties this year. Make him prove you wrong. What's the worst that could happen? Monroe gets a homer, wins the game, Mahay gets hurt and his career is over. He's 37 years old, it was gonna happen sooner or later anyway, and he's only Ron-freaking-Mahay!

- Joachim Soria. Sure, 31 pitches the night before, but he pitched very well, and again you're only asking him to get one lousy out. Throwing half a dozen pitches on short rest ONE TIME is not going to kill him.

- Yasuhiko Yabuta. 6.80 ERA, righties hitting .426 off him. Put the bullpen phone down, and slowly step away.

So it seems to me that obviously, short of an in-game trade for Mariano Rivera, Ramirez or Soria or Mahay would have been much better options. Why I can see that and Trey Hillman can't is beyond me.

For the most part, maybe 85 or 90% of the time, a manager's job is probably pretty easy, at least during a game. According to Fangraphs.com, there was a 99.8% chance that the Royals would win that game, with a 5-run lead and two out in the 9th. I mean, you really had to go out of your way to screw this one up, right?

Everyone who watches a significant amount of baseball generally knows what strategies to employ at what time, what kinds of pitchers to use when, and etc. Having more talent on your team can make that easier, but failing to understand the situations you find yourself in ("They're going to be swinging for the fences...maybe I should use a ground-ball pitcher?") is an unforgiveable sin in this business.

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Yankees Beat Baltimore, but Still Struggling

Sometimes things just work out.

Everything went to plan for the Yankees in Baltimore last night. After a couple of demoralizing losses to the Orioles, the good guys managed to salvage a game from the birds and avoid a 3-game sweep, which would have been the Orioles' first over the Yankees since 2005.

In the first game of the series, Darrell Rasner again pitched brilliantly, allowing only one run in six innings, but took the loss anyway when O's starter garrett Olson didn't allow any in seven. The Yankee bullpen (hawkins and veras) gave up 5 more runs in their two combined innings, putting the game out of reach.

In Game 2, Ian Kennedy struggled, as I had suggested he might, allowing 4 runs in three innings, and leaving the game with a pulled lateral muscle. Ross Ohlendorf relieved him, trying to protect an 8-4 lead, and did fine his first inning, but then he allowed a single to Brian Roberts and homers to Melvin Mora, Luke Scott and Kevin Millar in the 5th, which tied the game. He did strike out Nick Markakis, Aubrey Huff and Ramon Hernandez, so technically, he struck out the side.

Don't you hate when announcers say that, when it isn't true? He struck out the side. I mean, can we really say that anytime a pitcher gets three strikeouts in an inning? "Struck out the side" should mean that he struck out the first three batters, not just any three batters that came up that inning. What the hell difference does it make if he struck out the side when he also gave up three homers, allowed four runs to score, blew his cushy lead and put the game in jeopardy? If that's the way we're going to look at it, well Ohlendorf also homered the side, except that doesn't really sound right. And I think they's throw John Sterling off the air if he ever said something as goofy as "Ohlendorf allow-homered the side."

On the other hand...Hey, Sterling, I've got a suggestion for you...

Anyway, a series of relievers for both teams continued to put up goose eggs into the 11th inning, when a 2-out single by Hideki Matsui made it 9-8. But then, disaster struck. Not satisfied with having put the previous night's game out of reach, LaTroy Hawkins came in to protect a 1-run lead in the bottom of the 11th (Mariano had just pitched 2 innings), Hawkins came in and gave up a single and a double to tie the game, then, after two intentional walks to load the bases (not his fault, really) he allowed another single which lost the game.

At least Pettitte pitched well, as he seemingly always does against Baltimore. Indeed, Andy's 24-6 against Baltimore in his career, which is far more wins than he has against any other single team. For that matter, it's more than any active pitcher in the American League has against any other team (Mike Mussina's got 23 wins against Toronto, but nobody else is really even close.) In the NL, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux also have 24 or more wins against at least one team. Heck, Maddux has that many or more against nine different teams.

Anyway, Pettitte pitched well, Chamberlain followed suit, and Mariano Rivera, a day after he had tossed 31 pitches in two shutout innings, added a near-perfect 9th (A-Rod committed an error on a grounder) for his 13th save of the year. The Yankee offense got a few key hits, with three singles from Johnny Damon, and two doubles each from Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera. They also got a single, a homer and two RBIs from Jason Giambi, who has quietly returned to respectability. His batting average has gone from a low of .150 on May 4th to .244, as he has hit .382/.507/.818 with 6 doubles, 6 homers, 11 Runs and 13 RBIs in that span. Not that I expect him to keep it up or anything, but I did think that early-season accounts of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Or at least premature.

Kennedy's placement on the DL before yesterday's game necessarily speeds up the timetable for putting Joba Chamberlain in the rotation. Joba relieved Andy Pettitte in the 7th and threw 28 pitches in 1.1 innings of work, plus another 25 or so in the bullpen before and after his game-work, so he's making progress toward having the necessary stamina to start, but he really should get another week or more of throwing longer stretches in games.

For that matter, I don't really understand the logic of taking him out of last night's game in the 9th. The Yankees had a 2-run lead that that point, and Chamberlain was doing well. he's supposed to be getting more work anyway, and they just had him go back to the bullpen to do some more throwing in the 9th anyway.

Why bother? Why not leave him in, give him another inning of real work, and a chance to protect a lead? He's going to have to get used to pacing himself, and pitching in tight spots as a starter anyway. Mariano was already warmed up, so they could have brought him in if they saw Chamberlain getting himself in trouble. And if not, then he's got 2.1 innings of work, and those other 20+ pitches he threw actually counted for something. Seems silly to me to send a guy who's pitching well, who you want to "stretch out" back to the bullpen to do that while another pitcher comes in to actually try and get batters out, simply because it's the 9th inning and you've got a lead of 3 runs or less.

Overall, it would have been nice to win 2 out of 3 from baltimore, which would have gotten the Yankees over .500 and out of last place. As things stand now, they'ye 26-27, half a game behind the Orioles, and I doubt that they're taking any solace in the fact that they're the best last-place team in the major leagues.

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23 May 2008

Omar Vizquel's Weak Hall of Fame Case

UPDATE: I have taken an updated and more thorough look at Omar Vizquel's Hall of Fame credentials here.

Rob Neyer links to a column by Henry Shulman of the San Francisco Chronicle suggesting that some writers might be thinking of voting Omar Vizquel into the Hall of Fame, once he's eligible. Shulman says he conducted "a small straw poll of hall voters" which probably means he asked two guys while they were sitting in the press box together, covering the same game.

Let's hope so. If not, the Hall of Fame is about to lower its standards a bit.

Shulman says that Vizquel's credentials as the all-time leader in games played at shortstop, plus his 11 Gold Gloves and his 2700+ hits (by the time he's done) should make him a solid Hall candidate. Neyer argues that the fact that the man was never considered a great player, not just defender, should mean that the writers wouldn't even consider voting for him. Sure, he got all those Gold Glove votes, but when it came down to it, he only got any votes for the MVP once, finishing a distant 16th in 1999. This despite anchoring the infield defense of half a dozen playoff teams with the Tribe in the late nineties and early oughts. Also, he's not much of a singer.

Here are the 23 current players whom the Hall considers shortstops, with their Baseball Prospectus career WARP3 totals, which is Wins Above Replacement Position, adjusted for all time, encompassing offense, defense and even pitching.

Shortstop          WARP3
Luis Aparicio 91.2
Luke Appling 127.9
Dave Bancroft 82.2
Ernie Banks 119.9
Lou Boudreau 110.1
Joe Cronin 112.6
George Davis 130.3
Travis Jackson 73.9
Hughie Jennings 76.3
Pop Lloyd ???
Rabbit Maranville 92.9
Pee Wee Reese 105.8
Cal Ripken 173.1
Phil Rizzuto 75.3
Joe Sewell 91.5
Ozzie Smith 132.5
Joe Tinker 81.2
Aarky Vaughan 131.5
Honus Wagner 203.0
Bobby Wallace 112.8
Monte Ward 83.7
Willie Wells ???
Robin Yount 132.0
Average 111.4
Omar Vizquel currently sports a total of 100.3 WARP3.

It should be noted that some of these guys spent significant amounts of their careers at other positions. Ernie Banks actually played more games at first base than he did at short. Yount played almost half his career as an outfielder. Boudreau and Cronin were, in addition to being very good players, managers for a long time, with some degree of success.

Wells and Lloyd were both presumably very good players in the Negro Leagues, but we don't really have any credible numbers for them. Monte Ward was also a pitcher, and a pioneer in the early days of major league baseball. Joe Tinker was elected by a suddenly generous Veterans Committee in 1946, right after a World War, when they were feeling especially nostalgic, apparently.

But even if you throw all of those guys out, the average for the remaining players stays almost exactly the same, 111.3, instead of point four. So don't worry about that.

Vizquel's WARP3 number fits in rather nicely with the career marks of several of these guys. It's more than Rabbit Maranville, Joe Tinker, Joe Sewell, Dave Bancroft, Travis Jackson, Hughie Jennings or Luis Aparicio. It's also more than Rizutto, and almost as much as Pee Wee Reese, but still way less than Aarky Vaughan, Lou Boudreau or Luke Appling, all five of whom lost time to the War.

If you go by the argument of pointing out the existing bar, which is down there somewhere in the neighborhood of Travis Jackson or Phil Rizutto, even accounting for the war, it's obvious that Omar has done more in his career than those guys, despite never being great in a single season. But it's also obvious to most observers that those guys shouldn't be in the Hall in the first place, so that's not a terribly convincing argument.

Even if you want to use the benchmark of where the average is, it would seem that Vizquel would at least reasonably maintain, if not raise the standard of MLB HoF shortstops. Of course, so would Bill Dahlen, and I don't see anyone clamoring for his candidacy.

This type of argument is something of a slippery slope. It's not a bad starting point to only enshrine players whould maintain or even raise the standard of the existing crop at a given position, but that's not enough, in my mind. We ought to want to make the Hall more exclusive, and therefore more impressive, not less.

Sure, we can put Omar Vizquel in. he's better than Travis Jackson, right, even though he doesn't have as cool a first name? Then we've got to let Ron Santo in, too, though, since he's better than George Kell, right? And what about Harold baines, since he has the most games and hits and what-not as a Designated Hitter? Shouldn't he be considered Hall-worthy?

If you think instead about where the bar should be, instead of where it is, I think you have to leave Vizquel out of the Hall. Not everyone in the Hall has to be Honus Wagner or Cal Ripken, but "appreciably better than Gary Gaetti" doesn't seem like such an outlandish requirement to me.

We've had more than 125 years to see what great players look like, and to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I think we should know them when we see them. Omar Vizquel is not one of them.

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Yankees Rotation Issues Sorting Out; Hitting, Well, Not So Much...

The New York Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles last night, 2-1 in New York, their second consecutive win after a 4-game losing streak. They're still in last place in the AL East, but they're only a game behind Toronto in next-to-last! More important, they're 5 games behind the Devil Rays, who somehow have the second best record in the American League, and there are still 4,147 games left to play this season, though not all of them by the Yankees and their competition.

The Yankees have scored only 191 Runs to this point, good for 11th in the 14-team Junior Circuit. On a scale of one to ten, that sucks. Worse yet, they're 10th in team ERA, which is also lousy. Granted, with Alex Rodriguez back and Jorge Posasa Jopefully returning soon, they should start hitting like we all know they're capable of, but it's more than just the absence of two of their stars.

Three of their regulars are hitting just barely above the Mendoza Line, with Jason Giambi and Jose Molina both sitting at .205, and Robinson Cano at .207. Morgan Ensberg, who got most of the playing time at third base while A-Rod was on the DL, is hitting .208 with one homer, which is 100% more of them than Molina has hit. Giambi's 8 dingers and 24 walks have helped keep his OPS respectable in spite of the low batting average, but getting a hit, any kind of hit, only once every 5 at-bats is simply unacceptable, even more so for a guy making $21 million this year.

Oh, and I love hate to say "I told you so" but Melky Cabrera is hitting .248 with a .316 OBP and hasn't hit a homer in almost three weeks. He is currently 53rd in OPS among the 71 qualified outfielders, and is, as much as anybody, killing the Yankees. Just as I said he would. So there.

With that said, Giambi, and especially Cano, are bound to improve, and nobody's really even gotten hot yet, so I expect them to hit better from here on out, and not just because A-Rod is back.

The starting rotation, which has been just as big a problem, seems to be taking shape. Chien-Ming Wang (6-2, 3.51), while no longer untouchable, still seems like a solid pitcher, and Andy Pettitte should provide some decent innings for them, thought you'd like to see a little more consistency from him. Mike Mussina had a pretty solid stretch in there where he won five straight decisions, bet he couldn't get anyone out on Tuesday, and the Yankees must be concerned about that. Darrel Rasner has been a breath of fresh air for the rotation, winning each of his three starts in impressive fashion and increasing his pitch count each time out.

The best news from yesterday's game, however, has to be Ian Kennedy's start: 6 IP, 4 hits, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts, and only one run. This from a pitcher who entered the game with an 0-3 record and an 8.48 ERA to his credit. Great news, but before we get too excited, consider the following:

Three of Kennedy's K's were against Nick Markakis:

  • In the first inning, Kenned got two "gift" strikes called, way outside, and then managed to make Markakis swing and miss on an 89-mph fastball right down the middle of the plate. With markakis' power, that could just as easily have been a homer.
  • In the 3rd inning, with the bases loaded, Markakis was pressing to make something happen, and swung at a 2-1 pitch half a foot outside, and then another one a foot outside for strike three. That could have easily been a walk, which would have scored a run, or, with a 3-1 count, Kennedy might have had to come back inside and his 89-mph fastball would not have fooled Markakis again.
  • In the 6th, Markakis watched an 89-mph fastball sail right down the pipe, then fouled one off just above that, then chased one high and out of the zone for strike three. Good pitching by Kennedy there, no doubt.
  • The other strikeout was against Brian Roberts. He threw him two fastballs on the inside corner, then wasted one away, then came back inside for a called third strike. Again, nice work by Kennedy.

In short, only two of his four strikeouts were "legit". The other two were mistakes that he got away with, hardly a dominant performance. With a fastball that rarely cracks 90 mph, Kennedy doesn't have much room for error, and teams like the Red Sox will make him pay for those kinds of mistakes. Let's see how he does in Baltimore next week.

The other glimme rof hope for the rotation is the announcement that Joba Chamberlain is being groomed to join it, perhaps as soon as the All-Star Break. Fans have certainly enjoyed seeing Joba pitching, dominating, out of the bullpen, but the Yankees have said all along that his future is in the rotation, and they appear to be sticking to their word, for once.

Some fans may be a little disappointed by this news, having hoped thay Joba might inherit the closer's role from mariano Rivera, but you shouldn't want him to become a closer. Joba's skill is much more valuable as a starter than as a reliever, assuming that he'll be a good starter. It's much harder to find good starting pitchers, and the 200+ innings they amass help the team considerably more than pitching about 70 innings, even very well and in high-leverage situations.

If you think about it, relief pitching is just an easier job to do. Mariano Rivera, as great as he is, would never have made it as a starter, because he doesn't really have a second pitch, not a consistent one. He can give it his all for one, maybe two innings and get batters out, but by the second time through the lineup, they'll have seen all he's got, plus he'll be starting to tire, and they can sit on that pitch or wait for him to make a mistake. He may be one of the best relievers ever, but he'd flop as a starter. So if you can get 200+ innings with an ERA around 3.50 or so out of Joba every year, that's much more help than pitching 70 innings with an ERA around 2.00.

As for timetable, I'm guessing that they'll have him pitch 2-3 innings a few more times, give him a chance to remember how to pace himself, and force him to work on his other pitches. If Kennedy continues to be reasonably effective, the Yankees will have the luxury of putting Joba in to pitch 3, 4 even 5 innings if they want, in a start in which someone gets knocked out early, OR, they can even start Joba, expecting only 3-4 innings out of him, and then inserting Mussina or Kennedy whenever Joba tires out. More likely, they'll probably send him to AAA for a start or two to make sure he has the necessary stamina in games that don't have as much meaning.

They'll miss his arm in the bullpen, of course, but relief pitching is such a fickle business, that someone like Chris Britton or Ohlendorf or Bruney could just as easily step into that role and thrive. Scott Proctor, you'll recall, was lousy in 2005 (6.04 ERA in 45 innings) before becoming the main man in the bullpen in 2006 (102 innings with a 3.52 ERA). Like Joaquin Andujar said, you can sum up baseball in one word: youneverknow.

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21 May 2008

Mike Piazza Hangs Up Tools of Ignorance

I did some research about four years ago when Mike Piazza broke the all-time record for homers by a catcher, in which I estimated that Ivan Rodriguez, not Mike Piazza, and not Johnny Bench, was probably the most valuable catcher of all time. I'm not a fan of Pudge, and I haven't been since he came up with the Rangers, so I wasn't happy with those results, but that was where they led.

In light of Mike Piazza's retirement from baseball, I thought I would look at that work again and see where he ends up. What follows is an edited version of that column:

In May of 2004, Mike Piazza broke the all-time record for career home runs by a catcher, when he hit #352. That homer surpassed Carlton Fisk's mark, which he set a decade or more ago, but which took him about 800 more games to do than Piazza, so clearly Piazza's the superior hitter of the two. For that matter, Piazza is easily the greatest hitting catcher ever, by virtually any measure you can conjure. Shysterball mentions that his career OPS (on-base plus Slugging percentage) was 15 points higher than his closest serious competition.

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

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

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

                      Games  Caught  OPS+
1. Johnny Bench 2158 1742 127
2. Yogi Berra 2120 1699 126
3. Carlton Fisk 2499 2226 116
4. Bill Dickey 1789 1708 128
5. Gabby Hartnett 1990 1793 126
6. Roy Campanella 1215 1183 123
7. Mike Piazza 1699 1629 142
8. Mickey Cochrane 1482 1451 127
9. Gary Carter 2296 2056 116
10. Ivan Rodriguez 2190 2099 111

You can see fairly easily that one of these guys stands out significantly, and it's Piazza. The question Neyer wrestled with, then, as now, is whether or not Piazza's defensive liabilities take away enough from his hitting to knock him all the way down to #7 on the all-time list.

If you look at Bill James' rankings in his most recent Baseball Abstract, he has Yogi first, then Bench, then Roy Campanella, then Cochrane and Piazza at #5, and Pudge all the way down at 13th. But James' rankings are simultaneously more comprehensive and more subjective than what I'm doing here. James used career Win Shares, WS/season, peak value, and other metrics in the numerical valuations, but he also admits to a subjective element, including postseason contributions, leadership, clutch performances, etc. Also, Pudge was only about halfway through his career when that book came out in 2000, and I'm sure James would put him in the top 5 or so, at least, by now. None of that has any real bearing on my statistical approach, I just thought you might like to see what someone smarter than me thinks. Or, thought, eight years ago.

In Rob Neyer's column in 2004, he mentioned that he would have been happy to take Fisk down a peg or two, and Piazza up a peg or two, if he were inclined to investigate the matter more, which he wasn't at the time. Subsequent responses to emails from his readers dealt more with the lack of Josh Gibson on the list (no, I don't know where he belongs either, but would be interested to hear arguments about him one way or the other) and the difficulty of comparing offense across leagues and eras. Nobody, apparently, wrote in to rally for Piazza's ranking to be higher, and evidently lots of people think that I-Rod belongs a lot higher, if not at the very top. I don't happen to be one of those, or at least I wasn't before I did a little research.

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

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

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

Name                WARP   GAC  WARP/162GAC
10. Ivan Rodriguez 122 2099 9.45
7. Mike Piazza 94 1629 9.37
8. Mickey Cochrane 82 1451 9.16
4. Bill Dickey 96 1708 9.11
1. Johnny Bench 95 1743 8.83
6. Roy Campanella 63 1183 8.63
9. Gary Carter 107 2056 8.43
2. Yogi Berra 88 1699 8.39
5. Gabby Hartnett 87 1793 7.86
3. Carlton Fisk 100 2226 7.28

Four years ago, I found that Ivan Rodriguez appeared to be the best catcher ever. At the time, he had a rate of 9.83 Wins per 162 games at Catcher, which was far above anyone else. Mike Piazza was second, though, not seventh, with a rate of 9.37 W/162.

Well, four years have passed, and interestingly enough, Piazza's rate hasn't changed at all, even though his OPS has come down 14 points, from 156 to 142, and his WARP has gone up from 80 to 95. That's mostly because he's been a part-time player the last four years, and has only caught an additional 200 games. His worst year with the bat was also the only year that he only used the bat, 2007, when he was a lackluster DH with the Oakland A's.

As for Rodriguez, his OPS has come down a bit, from 113 to 111, but he's caught about 400 more games and continues to be a very good defensive catcher, at least according to the metrics used by Baseball Prospectus. Though his rate of Wins above Replacement per season has dropped, as you would expect for an aging player, he still leads the pack in that area, and of course he's now got more WARP in his career than any catcher in history.

I don't even like Ivan Rodriguez. I think he's overrated, both on offense and defense, and arrogant and self-absorbed. But if Baseball Prospectus is right about him, then "pound for pound" as they say on boxing, he's the best.

But, Piazza, despite his uninspired defensive reputation, is a very close second.

Those two are followed by Cochrane, Dickey and then Bench all the way down at #5! Campanella and Carter follow, and then Berra at #8. (As a Yankee fan, I had hoped that Berra would do better, but what can you do?) Hartnett and Fisk round out the top ten.

I don't really know if this means anything or not, but from looking at the DT cards, I can see how Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez gain so much ground. Piazza's offense is SO much better than anyone else's that he can't help but jump way up in the rankings. He's got almost exactly the same number of equivalent runs (EQR) as Bench, but Bench needed about 900 more outs to amass those! As a fielder, Bench was as good as Piazza is bad, with +166 fielding runs above average vs. negative 143 for Piazza. This helps Bench, but you just can't make up for such a tremendous difference in offense with your glove, I think.

This is the same reason that Rico Brogna wasn't as good a firstbaseman as Jason Giambi, or that Pokey Reese is not as good a secondbaseman as Alfonso Soriano. Granted, there's a lot more to the defensive requirements at catcher than there is at first base, but if the methods Baseball Prospectus uses to measure defense and offense are at all reliable, then, we've got to take the numbers seriously, and the numbers say that Piazza has thus far been worth approximately the same number of wins as a catcher, as Bench for his career, in about 100 fewer games as a catcher. Put simply, the bat makes up for the glove.

I-Rod isn't as good a hitter as Bench was, but his defense (amazingly, to me) actually rates better! He's +204 fielding runs above average, and has caught about 350 more games than the First Pudge. Rodriguez has had six seasons of at least +20 Fielding RAA, whereas Bench had only two, at exactly 20, and his overall defensive numbers are hurt by the fact that he was a bad firstbaseman, a bad thirdbaseman and a bad outfielder, but even factoring that out probably doesn't give hime more than a win or two over the course of his career.

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

Regardless of that, Piazza rates, "pound for pound" as the second greatest catcher in history, right behind Ivan the Terrible at Taking Pitches, and should easily be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when his time comes. If Pudge keeps playing but his defense slips, he could drop down further and that rate of Wins per season as a catcher would fall below the mark that Piazza is now sporting, and with which he's retiring.

But Pudge is still a semi-regular catcher only because he's still a good catcher, if not much of a hitter anymore. Right now he's hitting .264/.307/.386 with one homer and 16 RBIs in 37 games. Last season he became the first player in the American League in over 60 years to qualify for the batting title without walking at least ten times. He's not a good hitter anymore. But just as Piazza's bat made up for his glove, Rodriguez' glove makes up for his bat. When Piazza's bat went south on him, he had no other skills to offer, and had to retire, and eventually, the same will happen to Pudge with his defense.

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