Monthly archives: June 2005
Learning to Walk II
Sheez, I go away for a few daysto Venice thanks, or rather "grazie", to a surprise trip planned by my fabulous wifeand the standings go all kaflooey, not to be overly technical. The O's, and their makeshift staff, finally get overtaken by a member of the Yankee-Red Sox fascist regime, this time by the Sox. My Phils, and I use the term lightly, meanwhile go from nipping at the heals of the division-leading Nats to a half-game out of last, albeit in a very tight division. And the locals suddenly started to notice that Jim Thome's contract may not have been such a good long-term investment, especially when the term is getting longer all the time. Eric Gregg, the former umpire and current "Metro", and I use the term loosely, reporter, is starting to call for the start of the Ryan Howard era. To quote the Bard, "Oopha!?!"
What else did I miss while I searched for the best Venetian "Pizze" while attempting to find a public "water closet" for less than half (or rather 0,50) Euro? My interview with Promohthree, in which John Carroll attempts to make me sound halfways intelligent, was posted. Good luck there. And my fluff posts to fill in the site during my absence drew some fire. And, of course, Leon is getting laaaaaaarger!
Some weren't convince that Rickey Henderson and Mark McGwire, among the all-time walk leaders, learned to elicit a base on balls more consistently late in their careers. Yes, they talk walk-drawing to new levels late in their careers, but it's not like they were Alfonso Soriano early on in their careers either. I guess my choice of titles based on the worst pun possiblewitness "Learning to Walk"is not necessarily the most effective means. Yes, they did not "learn" how to walk, but my main criterion was how much an established player had upped his walk ratio from his previous career ratio.
Now, if we are talking about just those players who were sub-par at drawing a walk and became at least better than average, here are the new all-time Learning to Walkers:
That may be more befitting of the title. However, it leads me to a new idea. Can players learn how to walk after making it to the majors, and does it positively affect their careers (Sammy Sosa comes to mind)? More on that after I get over my jetlag.
Learning to Walk
If you couldn't tell, I'm on vacation and attempting to milk every drop from this subject before I take my leave. I'm continuing the walk study with postdated research ad nauseum.
Anyway, this time I thought it would be interesting to look at the players who suddenly learned to draw a walk after becoming a regular player. I looked at the biggest increase in walks above expectation per plate appearance for those players with at least 400 plate appearances in the given year. Here are the best:
Now for players who suddenly lost the ability to draw a walk:
Walk of Ages
I received the following comment regarding my post the other day on Gary Matthews' year of walking easily in 1984:
That got me to thinking about how veteran players are said to be compensated by umpires. Can that be measured? Let's see. Here are the numbers based on the age of the batter:
If you graph that and throw out the years with small sample sizes at either extreme, you'll almost see a straight diagonal line from age 17 to 35. The line wavers from 35 to 44 but stays above average. The break-even point is somewhere between age 27 and 28.
I could see the positive numbers after age 35 reflecting the superior skills of players who can remain in the majors for that long. And I could see some sort of development by players as they age. However, this seems a bit excessive.
Sarge's BB Surge II
Oops, I said I was going to look at the best seasons ever for players drawing walks and I forgot to do it. So here goes.
Here are the best seasons for walks above expectation per plate appearance:
Here are the worst:
Now, here's the best based on total walks above expectation:
And the worst:
Sarge's BB Surge
Walking is the very best exercise. Habituate yourself to walk... Thomas "Reggie" Jefferson
There's an email chain going around the SABR mailing list about statistical variations, one-year outliers in certain players' careers. Most of it is mental dross about Brady Anderson's 50-homer season, but the other day there was one entry about ex-Phil Gary "Sarge" Matthews 103-walk season in 1984 (with just two intentional walks). Matthews never had another season in his other 15 before and after 1984 in which he amassed more than 75 bases on balls.
So what's the deal? Did Sarge, who by the way had one of the best right-handed batting stances ever, suddenly learn how to be more selective in 1984 and then promptly forget it the next season? Could some strange statistical phenomenon have occurred in 1984 in which walks in general just went through the roof , affecting Sarge's stats?
Maybe a close look at his stats are in order. I took a look at Matthews' walks and walks per plate appearance for each year. Then I compared them to the league walks per plate appearance average to derive his expected walk total (based on the league average and his plate appearances). Then I compared his actual and expected walk totals to derive two stats: his walks above expectation and his actual-to-expected walk ratio. Here are the results (Note: IBB are removed from the walk totals in all calculations.):
First, the league average did not increase in 1984. In fact they went down slightly.
You'll note that 1984 was Matthews' career year for walks, but it was not completely out of line with what he did the previous year, what he would do the next year, or with his career in general. He was, after all, 42% better than the league average at acquiring a free base.
The biggest anomaly I do see is his dearth of walks when he was on the Braves. In 1980 he had a career low 42 walks, about three fewer than one would expect for the league average batter. He walked just 6.48 percent of the time. After being traded to the Phils for 1981, he doubled his walk rate to 13.38%. What's doubly odd is that Matthews had walked at about that rate the year before being sent from San Francisco to Atlanta (12.27% in 1975). His walk rate started to drop in his last season with the Giants and just continued to plummet when he was in Atlanta.
Another oddity in Matthews' career is that he is one of five men to ever steal twenty bases and yet ground into more double plays than bases stolen:
But I digress. So how good was Matthews at drawing a walk from an historical standpoint? Is he among the best ever? What about his 1984 season: is it among the best ever? And what about the walk king of the recent years, Barry Bonds? How history are his walks when you ignore intentional walks?
Here are the all-time leaders in career walks above league expectations per plate appearance (min. 400 PA):
Max "Camera Eye" Bishop? Ahead of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams? Bishop, the leadoff hitter in the great Philly A's teams, twice walked eight times in a doubleheader (the record) and drew five walks in a game twice. His career walk total is almost three times his strikeout total (1153 to 452). His on-base percentage was 152 point higher than his batting average. Even though he played in an era in which intentional walks were not tallied, his numbers were not padded due to pitcher avoidancehis career .366 slugging average, 57 points below the adjusted league average, did not intimidate the opposition's pitcher. On the contrary, with Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx hitting behind him, pitchers would do whatever they could to keep him off the bases.
So where's Barry Bonds, the career walks record holder? He's at number 33. So one could claim bias in the stats due to IBBs. Matthews does fairly well. He's number 430 out of 5159 batters who qualify.
Willie McGill was a pitcher and yet he finishes two spots of Rickey Henderson, the one-time walk king. His odd career line goes like this: .202/.344/.250. He had more walks (101) than hits (97) for his career. It's too bad that he gave as good as he got. He had 701 walks against 510 strikeouts in his pitching career.
Here are the men who earned the most walks above league expectations for their career, and it's a pretty good list:
Now for the worst at drawing a walk. First, the worst based on walks above expectations per plate appearance, excluding pitchers:
Kim Batiste, ah yes, I remember him well. He's right behind the inappropriately named Johnny Walker. You've got to love that Oscar Azocar, the converted pitcher, made the list. Rob Picciolo, Gary Hancock, Angel Salazar, Devi Cruz, Gus Polidornow them's some bad players, truly offensive. Stallcup, by the way, once drew nine walks in a 589-plate appearance season. His OPS was just 58% of the park-adjusted league average. Ouch!
Now here are the career worst at meeting the league walk expectation:
Shame on those Dodgers. It seems like they should have been more aggressive drawing a walk with their home park. Especially Bill Buck, whose career OBP was just 32 point higher than his batting average and who averaged just 29 walks per every 162 games.
Of course there's Roberto "You Can't Walk Off The Island" Clemente as well as a number of manager's pet (Ozzie Guillen and Shawon Dunston). And of course, I had to leave off with the Phils one-time leadoff hitter and offensive albatross, Larry Bowa.
Reds' Incompetence Catches Up With Miley
Dave Miley, who I continually have to remind myself is not the same Dave Miley that lived across the street from me when I was a kid, was mercifully fired yesterday by the last-place Reds. There's been widespread speculation that Miley wouldn't survive past the All-Star game given the team's performance (27-43, 18.5 GB).
Judging from Miley's profile photo on ESPN.com, he was getting a bit worn down by the job:
Anyway, Miley was just asking to be fired given that his bench coach, and eventual replacement, was Jerry Narron, a lifetime backup catcher. Everyone knows that today's backup catcher is tomorrow's fast-track managerial candidate. Whether it's Eric Wedge, Ned Yost, Bruce Bochy, Bob Brenly, Buck Martinez, Lloyd McClendon, Mike Scioscia, or Bob Melvin, catchers are hot commodities in the dugout, and they seem to keep their jobs for years no matter how the team performs on the field. It's the Catcher Mystique. Willie Randolph and other minority candidates couldn't get more than a cursory glance for years. If you want to be a major-league manager, put down the Strat-O-Matic and pick up the Tools of Ignorance.
I call it the Tim McCarver Principle. McCarver has tried to sell catchers as astute students of the game for years, and I guess the owners are picking up what he's putting down. As for me, I wouldn't pick it up with a pooper scooper.
The Real Bash Brothers
So who were the most prolific home-run hitting teammates of all time? It sure wasn't Canseco and McGwire.
I looked at the home run records for all teammates who hit at least 100 homers individually, and here they are:
There are two current pairings on the list, the so-called Killer Bs of Houston and the Jones Boys in Atlanta. So where are the Bash Brothers? They crack the list at a meager number 41 with 503 home runs in eight years (McGwire 254 and Canseco 249), tied with Schmitty and the Bull and just three dingers behind Juan Gone and Pudge in Texas.
Is MLB Experienced? Has MLB Ever Been Experienced?
As the 2005 All-Star Game approaches, baseball is bending over backwards trying to find ways to exploit the game that make the Spiderman 2 fiasco from last year look as innocuous as the fan-friendly "I Live For This" campaign.
Witness the "2005 MLB/Dale Jr. TM All-Star Experience Sweepstakes Extravaganza-palooza". Not only should baseball not be dealing with a man who trademarks his own nameDale Earnhardt Jr.?!? , what are they doing promoting another (alleged) sport?
"Baseball invites you to start watching the NFL when training camps open (and your local nine are fading) with the 'MLB Pennant Race/Michael Vick Reality Experience'!"
What are they thinking? Then again, any organization that believes that a trip to Detroit"Detroit? No, not Detroit"is a "grand" prize, is not worthy of having its thought system plumbed.
And how wholesome is the sport when it promotes "Budweiser One Night Stand Concert". Why don't they just stick their stars in Lucky Strikes ads like in the old days.
Talking Long Ball, Sammy and the Rafe, Say Hey!
After looking at the possibility of Sammy Sosa hitting 700 homers, I thought it would be fun to look at the teammates with the most combined career home runs. The O's Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro are now tied with themselves at sixth. If Baltimore duo fulfills their projection of 21 home runs each, they will within a stone's throw of Aaron and Evans in fourth.
Here are all the teammates who hit at least one thousand home runs combined in their careers. Active players are designated with an asterisk:
It's nice to see the two Giant pairs tied at number nine and two sets of A's tied at #25.
Sosa's Chances of Breaking 700? So-So
On Saturday Sammy Sosa hit an opposite-field home run in a 7-2 Baltimore victory over Colorado for the 583rd of his career, tying fellow "savior of the game" Mark McGwire in the process.
In case, you have lived under a rock for the last decade, after two strike-shortened seasons in 1994-95, including one lost World Series, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were locked in a dogfight for the NL home run crown. Both eventually broke the single-season home run record. McGwrire reached the then-ungodly total of 70, while Sosa had to settle for one of the more ludicrously misguided encomiums in baseball history, the NL MVP award.
Now, Sosa and McGwire again meet in an odd confluence at the number six spot of all time. Sosa also is just four home runs away from sole position of the number five spot. Keep in mind that he's had five in the last 25 games.
Given that Sosa is 36 and, even though he projects to 21 homers this season, it would be the fourth straight year in which his home run totals have decreased (from 64 in 2001). Does he have enough in the tank to make a run at Willie Mays' 660 in fourth place? Could he be the fourth man to 700? Or will Sosa and McGwire's meeting at 583 be symbolic of Sosa's sudden decline a la McGwire in 2001?
Let's look at similar batters and see what they have to tell us. I took a look at every batter who hit between twenty and twenty-five home runs at the age of 36 and then looked at their career totals after that year. This is what I found:
On average these players had 48 home runs left in the tank. That would leave Sosa 17 shy of Mays. Of course, Sosa may follow the Carlton Fisk route (146 post-36 homers) putting him at 741, in earshot of Aaron. Wouldn't it be the ultimate irony if Sosa eventually passed Bonds and Ruth? Though I think it's unlikely that he'll pass anyone but Frank Robinson at this stage.
For Whom The Bell Tolls? It Tolls For KC—So Far
The Royals swept the Dodgers yesterday, running their record under Buddy Bell to 11-4.
They became the fourth team in major-league history to sweep both the Yankees and the Dodgers, both times under Bell. The first to sweep both teams was the 1966 Orioles who took four straight from the Dodgers in World Series. The other two were the 1997 Mariners and the 1998 Angels (by the way, MLB missed the 1966 O's in their analysis).
Of course the Royals are still one of the worst clubs in baseball because of their record before Bell:
They have improved by .473 percentage points under Bell yet far. That made me wonder what was the best improvement under a replacement manager in baseball history. Has any team improved by that much over a full season?
Put a Tiger in Your Tank
Jeremy Bonderman allowed one run in seven innings to beat the Padres, 3-1, and run his record to 8-4. Bonderman is on target to win 19 games and owns a 3.84 ERA.
The odd thing is that two years ago, in his rookie year, Bonderman lost 19 games and owned a 5.56 ERA, over 1.70 points higher. That made me wonder if he were the first pitcher to go from losing at least twice as many games as he won in his rookie year to winning twice as many games as he lost two years later.
Greg Maddux came to mind. He went 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA in 1987 and won 18 and 19 games the next two years. However, he started his career with a 2-4 six-game stint in 1986. Lefty Gomez started his career with a 2-5, 5.55 record and two years later was 24-7, 4.20. However, I'm looking for someone who has at least ten decisions in his debut year to qualify
Let's see. Here are the pitchers in descending order by ERA differential:
Getzein is the only one who saw his ERA go up, but then again the 1886 Detroit Wolverines were 87-36, which helps one's winning percentage.
It's an odd list overall. Gleason had the most success, winning at least 20 games four straight years, but he very quickly converted to second base due to injury. Farr converted to the bullpen by his third year. All of the starters but Stigman established career highs in wins in his third year, and Stigman would have just one more successful win.
So maybe Bonderman would be better off just stinking up the joint for the rest of the season rather than join this list.
And Then There Were Two
The Yankees announced their plan for a new Yankee Stadium. The fact that the team is remaining in the Bronx, a one-time point of contention for owner George Steinbrenner, grabbed the most fanfare.
Aside from wondering what they were going to do with the Monuments, I found it extremely interesting that the stadium will be privately funded as will the new Cardinals stadium that is in the works. When the Giants did that a few years back, they were vilified by the other owners. Baseball must be making too much money to notice nowadays.
My interest was also piqued by the estimates that the Yankee annual stadium expense will increase from $22 to $68 M, thereby, barring substantial changes to the CBA, will greatly lower the team's revenue-sharing debt. "They may be the only unhappy people as a result of this deal," Yankees president Randy Levine said.
Finally, and most obscurely, by retiring Yankee Stadium, baseball loses one of three stadiums from before World War II, the other two being, of course, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Beantown. Yes, Yankee Stadium got an extreme makeover in the mid-Seventies, but it was essentially the same building that Babe Ruth crafted with his own two hands back in 1923.
The third oldest stadium in the majors after the Yankee switchover would be Washington's RFK Stadium, beating Dodger Stadium by one day. RFK hosted its first baseball game on April 9, 1962 (though the RedSkins played there on October 1 of the previous year), and the first game at Dodger Stadium didn't happen until the next day. Baseball's newest stadium is actually one of its oldest. It's like that question, who's at once the oldest and youngest Beatle (It's Ringobecause he joined last but was the oldest).
Here are the current oldest stadia in baseball in descending order with the year each was first used for baseball:
Fenway Park, 1912
Wrigley Field, 1914 (though the Cubs didn't play there until 1916)
Yankee Stadium, 1923
RFK Stadium, 1962
Dodger Stadium, 1962
Shea Stadium, 1964
Busch Stadium, 1966 (to be replaced)
Oakland-Alameda County (Whatever They Call It This Year) Coliseum, 1968
Royals/Kauffman Stadium, 1973.
That takes me up to when I started being a fan, and, boy, do I feel old.
Crying Wolf— Friday Awaits Robinson's Rescue
In Philadelphia, it's worth fifty bucks.
With the lack of depth in the Phils starting rotation the loss of Randy Wolf for the year to potential Tommy John surgery can be devastating. 23-year-old Robinson Tejeda, making his second major-league start, spells Wolf this Friday against Oakland.
Wolf started 1-4 with a 6.00 ERA, but in the last month has gone 5-0 with a 3.07 ERA. It's just the latest in Wolf's up-and-down career. Two years ago, he was drawing favorable comparisons to fellow lefty Tom Glavine. Now, the only comparisons that are made to a famous lefty is because of a surgery that bears his name.
Meanwhile, Robinson Tejeda pitched well in his debut against Texas (5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 K), but remains an unknown. This is a pitcher who took four years to get above Single-A and who has 14 walks to go with his 13 strikeouts in 15 major-league innings. This is the story of Tejeda's career yet far: he strikes out a ton but is very wild (in addition to the walks, he had 11 wild pitches one year).
Another problem is that he has never gone that deep into games, averaging well under six innings per start. That's another load the beleaguered Phils' pen just doesn't need.
Here are his minor-league numbers:
I just don't see Tejeda being the solution for the rest of the season. He may hang in for a few starts, but he has too many negatives to overcome at least right now. But what other options do they have?
Ryan Madson has become indispensable in the pen, though I wish they would give him another chance in the rotation. Early season starter Gavin Floyd is floundering at Triple-A Scranton (2-5 with a 7.09 ERA). Former first-round pick, 21-year-old Cole Hamels won't be rushed to the rotation until probably September or next spring.
That leaves [drum roll please] Amaury Telelmaco as in "Sounds like debacle". I think I said at the start of the season if Telemaco was in the rotation by May, it was going to be a long season in Philly. Well, it's June and the Phils are just two games out of first, coming off a tremendous homestand, but the season is getting longer by the minute.
It was great that GM Ed Wade traded one of the few decent players the Phils can move (Polanco) for an overrated, would-be closer (Urbina) instead of a decent starting pitcher. The Phils have one more ace in the hole (Ryan Howard) and a better GM would be able to turn him into a decent option for the rotation.
In Philadelphia we'll get 15 starts from Amaury Telemaco.
J-Rolled?: Rollins' Extension and the Rolen Syndrome
The Great Jack Lemmon: What makes you think they're looking for a scapegoat?
Yesterday, after winding up perhaps the most successful homestand in club history, the Phils signed 26-year-old shortstop Jimmy Rollins, whose contract was up at the end of 2006, to a contract extension that guarantees him $40 M over the next four years.
It breaks down thusly:
Signing bonus: $5 M
2006: $4 M
2007: $7 M
2008: $7 M
2009: $7.5 M
2010: $7.5 M
2011: $8.5 M club option or $2 buyout
That means the contract will either be for $40 M over four years or $46.5 M over five years (though the Phils reported $47.5 M, but what's another million more or less among friends).
Quoth Phils' GM Ed "Thanks Guys For Saving My Job" Wade:
"We signed a very special kid (in 1996). Words to describe Jimmy during his career in Philadelphia: class, energy, catalyst, a red-light player (the guy you want up in a big spot). Jimmy's prepared to go out and shine in the spotlight as someone who will lead us for a long time."
As for the newly shorn Rollins himself, "I wanted to stay here in Philly. I could have gone out there and possibly gotten more money. But my heart was here in Philly."
OK, after you pick yourself up off the floor from the peals of laughterwho exactly would have given him more?, I have to tell you that you're not alone. My sitemate, Derek Smart sent the Powdered Toast Men an email in which he asked the musical question:
Do you guys think the market is really that out of whack? I guess with what Orlando Cabrera got it probably is, but I can't help but wonder about this sort of deal. It just seems like financial suicide, even if the team is willing to carry a big payroll.
My reaction was:
1) For some reason Rollins is seen as a marquee player in Philly. Even though he was roundly booed in 2003 and at the beginning of 2004, he is as the hometown soul of the team. Sure, Abreu and Thome are bigger names but they were not homegrown. Rollins is sort of a poor man's Jeter in that sense.
2) The standards are so low, especially at short, in Philly that Bowa is still seen as a great player. Steve Jeltz was the starting shortstop for a number of years and made Mario Mendoza look like Cal Ripken. Rollins is seen as a superstar shortstop locally. People in Philly just aren't that bright. They even forgot that they booed him roundly last year.
3) The management in Philly is completely out of its mind. Ed Wade's sole goal is keep his crummy job. There's a bit of excitement with the 12-1 homestand and being 1.5 out of first. The Phils are trying to stem the flow of fans to the Eagles' training camp in their second year in a new stadium. This is probably seen as a PR move. And besides, with the heaps of cash thrown to Thome, Bell, Lieberthal, Burrell, et al, this is a drop in the bucket.
After losing Rolen, the Phils policy has been to sign up every homegrown starting player for big bucks and a number of years. Call it the Rolen Syndrome. I saw team prez and Penn grad Dave Montgomery on a local sports talk show last year (Comcast Sports Net's Daily News Live) explaining the team's woes. When he was asked about the big contract to Burrell, he blamed the sportswriters (who were the hosts) for the bad PR during the Rolen fiasco and said basically he had to do it as a sop to the locals and the press. Now, that's great team management! [And of course it overlooks the fact that Bill "Jabba" Conlin led the villagers in their wild pursuit of "Clubhouse Cancer" Rolen's head.]
4) Oh, one last thing: the Phillies coffers are stuffed. They went a good decade or two without paying big bucks to anyone while the troglodytic locals continued to fork over the mullah for tickets. They also made out like bandits in luxury taxes for years. Cleveland basically paid the Phils to take Jim Thome off their hands. This is a big market that had a team that ran itself as a small-market club for many years.
The Inquirer/Daily news ran a short history of Phillies shortstops (amended from Baseball-Reference.com data):
1970-81: Larry Bowa
1982-84: Ivan DeJesus
1985-88: Steve Jeltz
1989-91: Dickie Thon
1992: Juan Bell
1993-97: Kevin Stocker
1998: Desi Relaford
1999: Alex Arias
2000: Desi Relaford
2001-05: Jimmy Rollins
Wow, that's some lineage! Rollins looks tremendous after seeing other homegrown products like Relaford, Stocker, and Jeltz flop. (Actually Relaford came out of the Mariners organization but got his first shot at the majors with the Phils.) Looking around the Phils organization, they may not even be able to produce another Jeltz for the foreseeable future.
Maybe I'm too tough on J-Roll. He is getting a chunk of change but look at the Renetria and Cabrera deals this past offseason. So how does he compare to the other shortstops in baseball?
National Interest, II
The Nationals prepare to run their win streak to eleven games tonight versus the Burbank Angels of Anaheim. Washington has had some close calls in the streak, winning five games by one run and only two by five or more runs, resulting in six saves during the period for Chad Cordero.
The Nats were 24-25 on May 28 but one their next three, lost one (june 1) and now have won ten straight. The Phils have been almost as hot, winning twelve of thirteen on their just completed homestand and 15 of their last 17.
On May 28, The NL East looked like this:
Now, they look like this:
The Washington Nationals passed a million in attendance this weekend and may surpass two and one-half million fans for the first time in franchise and Washington baseball history. They have already outdrawn their predecessors, the 2004 Expos, by over 250 thousand fans in almost 50 fewer games. They project to 2,571,601 fans for the season, almost 3.5 times as many as the Expos drew in Montreal and San Juan last year.
The 2005 Nats are also just the second Washington club to draw over one million fans. The other was the 1946 Senators with 1,027,216 in total attendance. They finished fourth that year.
Here are all the seasons in franchise history in which at least 1.5 million fans came out to see the Expos/Nats play, ranked by average per game:
Purposeful or Plunk-Happy?
Of a thousand shavers, two do not shave so much alike as not to be distinguished.
The other day I looked at Craig Biggio's run at the "modern" hit by a pitch record and which batters exceed HBP expectations the most. Next, I'd like to look at the other side of the equation: which pitchers like to shave batters the closest.
Using each pitcher's career HBP totals and the his career batters faced pitching (or innings pitched for the years in which BFP were not kept), I calculated the difference between each pitcher's actual and expected HBP totals. Here are the ones that exceeded expectations the most:
A Promotion of Ruthian Proportions
Baseball has gotten to the point where the way it can promote itself is with gimmickry or syrupy "Field of Dreams" and "The Natural"-inspired nostalgia. That's why the Red Sox winning the World Series last year was such a great coup for the sport: it incorporated both of those promotional approaches in one great big rowdy package. That's a rarity so baseball has to invent events that they are capable of promoting.
Enter interleague baseball, the game's ugly stepsister that I reported last week had altered the results of possibly ten playoff spots in as many years. But even that aesthetic mess is has become de rigueur. Baseball needed to up the gimmick factor.
So what's a scheduler to do? I can see the boardroom meeting now:
[Dimly lit boardroom with lots of leather and even more scotch, all bearing the label, "Property of Allan H. Selig". An overhead projector sits waiting whirring in the alcohol-laden silence. A Powerpoint cell appears on the screen that reads "MLB Annual Ineffectual Middle Management Suckups Committee". Bud Selig slouches somnolent in an oversized leather chaise lounge in the corner. A peon fans him with an oversized palm leaf. Other than his left hand, which is gently swishing a half-full brandy snifter, and his preternatural drooling, Selig is unmoving, otherworldly, above it all. Men and (rarely) women business suits shuffle in nervously, approach the Selig, bow, kiss its right hand (which it does nothing to acknowledge), and quickly take a seat as far as possible on the other side of the room.]
[The meeting starts.]
Sycophant/Marketing Whiz: OK, Boss, we have some great news for our evil plan
What baseball did is pair up the Red Sox and the Cubs in an interleague smorgasbord-a-palooza.
But they couldn't enough let bad enough alone. They have created a line of merchanidise to commemorate the fiasco, the Interleague Collection June 2005 (from Sears).
For $19.99, you can get the evil hat:
Or the evil gold coin, the Highland Mint Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago Cubs 2005 Interleague Matchup Gold Coin to be exact:
Though I have to admit that I kind of like the New York Yankees 4 Line vs. New York Mets 7 Line Cap ($14.99). It reminds me of the crappy subway races on the scoreboard at equally redolent Shea:
Jeff Kent-Walt Weiss Memorial Baseball Darwin Awards, IX
Clint Barmes seemed on target for an NL Rookie of the Year award this year, but after breaking his collarbone, an injury expected to keep him out three months, he'll have to settle for a JKWWMD Award. Maybe he was shooting for one the whole time: they are rarer and more prestigious after all. The guy seems to be working overtime embellishing the story behind the incident, thereby ensuring enshrinement in the Darwinian Hall.
Initially, the story went that Barmes had fallen in his home carrying groceries thereby causing the injury.
"Obviously, accidents happen I figured, I'm an athlete, I can walk up the stairs, it's not that big a deal," Barmes said in an interview Monday, his left arm hanging in a sling. "Obviously, if I had to go back, I would have waited, or at least been a bit more careful going up."
But then the story got kind of complicated. Let me say for the record that Barmes had me at Hellogroceries gamboling causing a collarbone catastrophe? Holy gamboling, Barme-man! Actually, I think with a name like Barmes, it has to be good. No, wait, with a name like Barmes, which sounds too close to some odd Benny Hill expletive, he was halfway to a JKWWMDA the day he stepped into a major-league clubhouse.
Anyway, next he changed the story to a package of deer meat from teammate Todd Helton as the culprit of the fall. I guess that sounded more manly (Quien es mas macho?). He was evidently covering for Todd or maybe the deer, "I just didn't think it was right to bring Todd Helton into something like this."
Something like what? He fell right? Did Helton burst his eardrum causing his equilibrium to go haywire?
Well, the real culprit might have been the all-terrain vehicles that Helton and Barmes were riding that day. But Helton gainsays such talk:
"I cannot say it strongly enough -- he did not get hurt riding an ATV," Helton said. "I was there. He never left my eyesight the entire time."
Methinks they dost protest too much. Even though nothing in Barmes' contract bars ATVs. Doesn't the mutual behind-covering seem a bit excessive? Enquiring minds want to know!
The All-Time Hit (By Pitch) King?
Uptown. Downtown. No one's fussy I'm a target. Black, white. Day, night. No one's fussy I'm a target
The New York Times has a piece on Craig Biggio's assault on the "modern" hit by pitch crown. Biggio stands at 262, five behind "modern" leader Don Baylor (but a 1000 behind the farcical record of Ernie 'Coach' Pantusso).
However, in third place sits Ron Hunt with 243, who collected his plunkings in almost fivr thousand fewer plate appearances (10914 to 6158). So who was a bigger target for opposing pitchers? Let's take a look, shall we?
Urbina Shocker—Wade Boggs Down Phils Again!
Not when truth is dirty, but when it is shallow, does the enlightened man dislike to wade into its waters.
Ed Wade has to go. And now
Not tomorrow. Not after he flubs the ball at the trade deadline again.
It can't wait for the inevitable house cleaning at the end of the year. He could wiggle out again like he did last year by keeping walking dead manager, Larry Bowa, until the end of the season.
Marlon Byrd for Endive Chavez was inept enough. Now, Wade has traded one of his trump cards for a mercurial would-be closer.
Wade re-signed Placido Polanco in the offseason even though everyone in the organization backed aging prospect Chase Utley as the regular second baseman. Their new rube manager, Charlie Manuel, decided to platoon the two. While Polanco started slowly, he still shared time with Utley. Wade alluded to holding onto Polanco and Quad-A first baseman Ryan Howard as deadline bait. As Polanco improved, so did the Phils fortunes. They are now in second in a surprisingly bunched-up division2.5 games separate all five clubs. The Phils it should be noted are now healthy while the Braves have had key injuries and the Marlins have been slumping offensively. They trail division-leading Washington by 1.5 games.
So Wade chose this moment to spring. He decided to play one of his cards to perform a Billy Beane-esque pre-trade deadline revamp. So did Polanco bring a much needed starter? Or how about a young catcher who can take over for aging Mike Lieberthal? Or a similar eventual replacement for disappointing David Bell?
No, the Phils exchanged Polanco for overrated closer Ugueth Urbina and 32-year-old utility infielder Ramon Martinez. Great, because the Phils don't have a closer or utility infielder. Wait, they have Billy Wagner, who's far superior to Urbina, and Tomas Perez, who's better than Martinez.
Wade deftly explains his approach:
"The price was high, but to be able to get a proven bullpen arm who has pitched at a championship level, it was too good to pass up," Phillies general manager Ed Wade said, adding that Tigers president Dave Dombrowski told him he was close to moving Urbina to another team in the NL East.
The last time I heard an explanation like that, it came from the GM of the last-place team in my fantasy league. So I think it went this way, Dombrowski called up Wade,
Dombrowski: "Hey, Ed, I know that you like Urbina. So I just wanted to let you know."
The only positive is that even Manuel can't screw up the lineup by limiting Utley's time now. Team management by the numbers was apparently needed.
Although, this may cause Wagner to start looking over his shoulder. And no holes were filled.
It was a move for the sake of making a move, a fantasy player with an itchy finger and a fear of losing a crappy reliever to a rival.
When do we get Ryan Howard for Todd Jones anyway?
Airing Out the Draft—Does the Amateur Draft Matter?
A corner draft fluttered the flame
I was musing to my friend Mike last night about the hoopla attending the amateur draft over the last couple of days. We decided it was a slow (baseball) news day.
I mean, the overwhelming media coverage has been like the sports writers expect the next LeBron James to step up to the podium. The truth is that it is unlikely that any of the players will make an impact this year and very few will be ready for anything but a September callup next year. It's the sports equivalent of watching paint dry.
Aside from an occasional Bob Horner has the draft ever mattered? I know that in the long run, a good number of these players will contribute at the major-league level, but does it really matter whether he was drafted in the second round or the 22nd round? Gammons had a nice piece the other day on how the Red Sox settled on Roger Clemens, the tenth pitcher selected and "a pitcher who Morgan that day said 'might be a closer'", after the high profile guys (Tim Blecher, Darrel Akerfelds, Jackie Davidson, and Stan Hilton?) were taken. The Sox actually wanted Rich "Mink" Stoll.
In the last eleven drafts, there have been just 6 players who made any contribution at the major-league level in the year they were drafted. Of those six, three came in 2003 (Rickie Weeks, Ryan Wagner, and Chad Cordero).
This people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people.
The MLB.com site has an interest article on the Mexican League. It details the difficulty of prying a player free from the league:
"[P]layers from Mexico cannot be signed as free agents and later placed in academies funded by big league teams [The Mexican League has] a system similar to Japan's, all players are first affiliated with a Mexican League team [Major League teams] first must negotiate with a team owner to attain temporary or permanent rights to a player."
The Mexican League is aberration in organized ball today, a maverick that works within the system. The Mexican League started in 1937 (though the author says it is celebrating its eightieth anniversary). After collecting Negro League stars in the Forties, it turned its ambitions toward raiding the Majors and establishing itself as a separate major league. As troops were returning home from World War II, many players jumped to Mexican teams. Danny Gardella was probably the most famous case: he signed with a Mexican team but after changing his mind, discovered he was banned from organized ball, initiating a major court case (one of the major assaults on the reserve clause before Curt Flood).
Anyway, the Mexican team overextended themselves the league dissolved and was swallowed up by the Arizona-Texas League in 1953 (to become the Arizona-Mexico League). When the old Mexican League was reorganized in 1955, as a sop it was allowed to enter organized ball as a Triple-A team (actually Class A, then the triple-A equivalent).
Ever since, the Mexican League has been allowed to operate on its own. Aside from a Fernando Valenzuela or a Rico Carty attaining some success, very few players sneak over the border (Maybe Homeland Security should contact the league). The last to make a splash was a 40-year-old Julio Franco, who used the Mexican League as a stepping stone back to the majors.
The Mexican League is baseball's West Bank, a tricky situation fraught with hazards. However, in this case, baseball should be rushing in, not pulling out.
Revenge of the Joe Morgan Chat Day—On the Sith Joe Morgan Chat Day God Created Sabermetrics
A LONG TIME AGO
We were under the delusion that George Lucas was a cinematic genius. By merging the austere palette of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western and the Eastern ethos of an Akira Kurosawa's samurai film, Lucas came up with a fun new kind of science fiction genre. He improved on it for another film, but then the chinks in the armor started to appear, those damnable Ewoks.
But the original trilogy was done, and it seemed like a masterpiece. Lucas would go on about the other two trilogies that he had already written, one before and one after the original three, but other than Lucas's speech pattern getting more stilted and ever so pedantic and his developing a Jabba-inspired dewlap under his signature beard, nothing became of it for a decade.
Then suddenly the originals were revamped and re-released to huge audiences. Never mind that Lucas toyed with every characteristic blemish of the original, finished unfinished scenes, pulled some scenes in favor of new ones, and upgraded the special effects to the then-current standard. And never mind that they had stuck these add allusions to episodes four, five, and six.
Who cares?!? A new trilogy was on the way! When the first new Star Wars revealed a whole new look into Darth Vader's go-carting skills, not to mention tremendously annoying characters who offended a broad swath of nationalities from Jamaican to Chinese to Jewish.
But we forgave the first cinematic stinkbomb when the second film came out. Our friends said it's better than the first, a claim every film in the last twenty years except for Gigli and Carrot Top's and Cindy Crawford's sole masterpieces could make. The film was revelatory. Bobba Fett's father provided the genetic material to create the entire imperial army! If anything in the last sentence appeals to you, you are officially a geek. It also revealed that a major motion picture could be crafted without any modicum of acting or screenwriting ability. And apparently Darth Vader's evil emanated from extreme peevishness. But you had to agree with your friends that these was an improvement over the first for no other reason than the dearth (I wish that was actually "death") of Jar Jar Binks (and I may have misspelled that name but I can't invest the intellectual wherewithal to give a never mind).
Now, everyone is saying this one, the third or sixth Star Wars depending on one's point of view, is as good as the original trilogy. Yeah, the acting and writing still sucks (even though that egomaniac Lucas turned the screenplay over to someone who actually was interested in having some semblance of a plot), but it's good, it really is, we're told. Suddenly, Lucas has foresworn any knowledge of the final three films so that he can go out on a high note. And I am torn between my desire to complete the last chapter of a story in which I have apparently invested way more than I ever intended and my desire to never give another dime to that charlatan Lucas.
In a parallel Schrodinger-cat-like universe, our hero, Joe Morgan, took a career that personified the sabermetric ideal and became a broadcaster who had been tempted by the dark side. I used to parody this apostasy (as well as his entire existence) on a weekly basis by analyzing his chat sessions, but I had to give that up in protest when ESPN.com decided to put Joe and a Padilla flotilla of content behind its premium firewall (which is another way to say I was to cheap to pay for it though I'll couch it as a moral stand).
But I had to revive the franchise when Joe decided to cast off the dark side and embrace the sabermetric force. At least that's the vibe that he promulgates in his latest article, a screed on closers, a subject near and dear to my heart. Somehow the confluence of these two events, Joe's pseudo escape from the Dark Side and Darth's cinematic descent into it, was too good to resist. You see, I believe that Joe's latest article is merely an attempt to lure us all down the path of evil. The student has become the master. Grab this pebble from my hand, Grasshopper. And all that rot
Do I think that Mondesi has greatness left in him? I doubt it.
But if he signs with another team this year, he will do something that's been done just seven times before. Mondesi has played for at least two teams for the last three years. In 2002 he played on the Blue Jays and the Yankess, in 2003, the Yankees and the Diamondbacks, and last year, the Angels and the Pirates. And so far this year, it's the Braves. If he rehabs his aching knee and catches on with a club in need of a corner outfielder/DH, he will have tied the "record" for most consecutive seasons playing for multiple teams.
Here are the previous "record holders":
All of these guys were vets playing out a string usually with not much left of their career, except for Bruce Chen. He was a hot potato who never blossomed (do potatoes blossom?) until he was picked up by the Orioles.
No Flower Blooms For A Thousand Days
Ancient Chinese proverb, huh?
A thousand moral paintings I can show
As the Yankees prepare to fend off a sweep at the hands of the Buddy Bell-inspired Royals tonight, Jorge Posada will become just the 42nd catcher in baseball history to catch one thousand games with the same team. Number 41 was the Phils' Mike Lieberthal, who accomplished the feat Tuesday.
There are now three active catchers (Dan Wilson is the other) who have caught 1000 games for their current team. Three other catchers (Jason Kendall, Javy Lopez, and Ivan Rodriguez) have accomplished the feat for a previous team. Here's the complete list (including Posada):
Number Five With A Bullet?
The Phils beat the Giants tonight on a Chase Utley pinch-hit grand slam. They are now one game under .500 for the first time since April 22 (8-9). If the Phils sweep the Giants tomorrow, they will have recorded their tenth day at or above .500. They are 11-6 since May 13 and 16-13 since the beginning of May.
Keep in mind that the Phils have not been more than one game over .500 all year. They may be 3.5 games out of first and one game out of third, but they are still in last place and have very little prospects of sustained winning streaks with their sub-par rotation and pen. They haven't won more than three games straight all year.
The Phils will probably pass the Nats once the excitement of escaping their Montreal/San Juan limbo wears off and the Mets aren't world beaters. But the division still comes down to Atlanta and Florida in my opinion.
Dem Bums Iz History
[O]nce a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable.
The Brooklyn Historical Society has opened an exhibit on the Dodgers that they've entitled "Dodgers Do It!: Celebrating Brooklyn's 1955 Big Win!" The fiftieth anniversary of such a bittersweet momentthe Dodgers announced that they were moving to Los Angeles a little over a year later (December 1, 1956)is certainly worthy of commemorating.
However, the brochure that accompanies the exhibit plays a bit loose with the facts:
Journey back in time to baseball circa 1955, a season of destiny and deliverance for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Home runs jumped off Dodger bats and crowds streamed into Ebbets Field. Despite five prior trips to the World Series as the Dodgers - in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953 - the team had never won a World Series Pennant. Stroll through playful environments and travel back to experience the agony and ecstasy of each of the seven games in the World Series and Brooklyn's deep-rooted love for baseball.
Yes, the Dodgers lost the Series in 1941, 47, 49, 52, and 53. But, there are two gaping holes in their history. First, as the Robins (for manager Wilbert Robinson) the team lost the Series in 1916 and 1920. Prior to that, while known as the Superbas, the team won two NL pennants prior to the advent of the modern World Series (1899 and 1900). They also failed to win in the old National League-American Association championship series twice. In 1889, their last in the AA, they lost to the Giants. In 1890, the series between Brooklyn and Louisville ended in a three-three tie (with one tied ballgame).
For the record, here are all the Brooklyn champs in the professional era:
OK, but that's just me being a stickler. The second more important omission was that the Dodgers had lost each of the World Series mentioned (plus one in 1956) to the hated Yankees. That's what made 1955 so important. The Bums finally beat the Yanks. If the Dodgers had beaten the Indians, who finished three games behind the Yankees, even in seven games, I doubt it would be as compelling a story.
So why is the BHS burying the headline? Maybe it's because they don't want to alienate all of the Yankee fans who potentially would come out to see the Dodgers exhibit, something that would have been anathema to Dodger fans back in the day. Eh, so what's a little revisionist history among friends?
Anyway, to illustrate just how unlucky the Brooklyn Dodgers were, here are all the league champions broken down by city affiliation sorted by the percentage of World Series won in their league championship years (Notes: Years without a Series are listed separately. There are more losers , or non-winners, than winners since two pre-1903 Series ended in a tie and three leaguesUA, PL, and FLhad champions but never sent teams to the Series):
Nine percent is pretty low, the lowest among the "original 16" cities. Brooklyn had the bad luck of having two of its best teams prior to the modern World Series, but look at Boston's non-WS numbers.
Yeah, they are bums, but look at it this way: They had one playoff championship in 62 years (ones that employed a playoff system). San Fran has none in almost fifty years, Houston none in 42, San Diego none in 35, Dallas/Fort Worth none in 32, and Seattle non in 28 years. Montreal had none in 35 and probably won't have another chance. Of those cities only San Francisco and San Diego have gotten to the World Series. That's more bummy, but I guess a bit less dramatic.
This is my site with my opinions, but I hope that, like Irish Spring, you like it, too.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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