Monthly archives: March 2006
Grady, It's the Big One, Part II
In an attempt to put the Grady Sizemore contract in context, I want to project its impact given a variety of scenarios.
First, there's the Lyman Bostock scenarioSizemore is hit by a bus, never plays again, and retires to Miami on the $24M the Indians owe him. This is what I would term a bad outcome for Cleveland. The Indians would buy him out in 2012 for $500K instead of $8.5 M. He record no further Win Shares for his career (it currently stands at 25).
Next, let's assume he plays out his contract but never again plays at the high level he displayed in 2005. Let's call that the Rick Manning scenario (to give Joe Charboneau a breakbesides Manning was a center fielder, looked like a future All-Star when he came up, but had a long replacement-level career in Cleveland and Milwaukee). Again, the Indians buy out his contract for 2012. His Win Share total would increase by the replacement-level value of ten per year (for six years, that's 60 WS or 85 in total).
The third scenario is that Sizemore remains an All-Star caliber player throughout the remainder of the contract. The Indians use their 2012 option ($8.5M). Let's call that the Albert Belle scenario. His Win Shares would increase by around 20, to be conservative, each year for a total of 165 by the end of the contract (his current 25 please 20 per year for seven years).
The final scenario is that Sizemore becomes (or remains) one of the best center fielder in the game for the remainder of the contract. The Indians happily use their 2012 option. His Win Shares go up by about thirty per year for 235 by the end of his contract (25 plus 30 per year for seven years). We'll call that the Earl Averill scenario in honor of the Hall of Fame Indian center fielder.
Here's a summary of how the scenarios play out:
Obviously, the first scenario would be tragic for the Indians and the final one would be ideal. But how do the other two, more realistic scenarios in the middle play out for them?
We need to put them in context. I summed the salary and Win Share numbers for all players under the age of thirty (min 10 WS). Here are the under-30 players who cost the most and delivered the least:
If the Bostock scenario plays out, Sizemore deal would be the worst of the bunch above. However, given the more realistic Manning scenario, Sizemore would be rank 40th in dollars-per-Win Shares for players under thirty. That's bad but far from Kaz Matsui territory. Actually, it puts him right between a couple of other fairly successful center fielders:
To put the Belle scenario in context, here are the other players who would be within $10K per WS of Sizemore:
For the Averill scenario, I ranked just the players with 175 Win Shares or more before the age of 30. Here are the cheapest from that group:
My conclusion? It's a good deal for the Indians with a bigger potential upside than downside. Now, let's regroup in 2013 and see how it turned out.
Say It Aint Charboneau!—Indians Hope Grady Contract Won't Label Them 'You Big Dummy'
The Indians today locked up Grady Sizemore, a veteran of a season and a quarter, to a six year contract for a minimum of $23.45 M. The deal includes an option year at $8.5 M or a $500 K buyout (included in the $23.45 M). The Indians have essentially locked up the center fielder until he turns 30
This is the sort of strategysigning up youngsters to long-term dealsthat the Indians employed to perfection in the Nineties, becoming for a time perennial winners. I am surprised that Cleveland rushed to sign Sizemore so quickly, two years before he is arbitration eligible. But really the money that he would be getting each year would be relatively if he remains a serviceable starting position player (ergo the Joe Charboneau reference).
Here's a quick table for each of Sizemore's years until the contract expires with his age and salary (I'll be optimistic and use the non-buyout figure for 2012):
Thirty million or so by your thirtieth birthday? Sure, I'd take it.
It made me wonder what was the most any ballplayer made before turning 30. So I looked it up. It turns out that Sizemore won't even make the top ten:
So, yes, it's a gamble, but at least the Indians haven't mortgaged the farm. Maybe a big gamble is what it takes to win. It worked for them before. At least it'll make things interesting.
By the way, I couldn't resist the Fred G. Sanford reference in the title.
Katzenjammer Kids Keystone Kombinations, Redux
As promised here are the missing entries:
Katzenjammer Kids Keystone Kombinations
The Padres handed the second base job to youngster Josh Barfield today. It's not a big surprise given that his competition was an aging Mark Bellhorn and the gapping hole created by unloading Mark Loretta had his name all over it. It does tick me off to have the son of a player who I remember as a rookie (Jesse Barfield, that is) be a rookie himself, but I sometimes forget the world doesn't revolve around me.
Anyway, this gives the Pod People a doubleplay duo, Khalil Greene (26) and Barfield (23), under the age of 27. It made me wonder how often that had happened and what one can expect from two such youngsters.
Well, this will mark the 330th time in baseball history that a team's starting second baseman and shortstop are both under 27, and it's the first time since 2000.
Here are the best of the lot ranked by career Win Shares for the two individuals. Many of the top keystone combos ready come to mind. Some are celebrated in song:
The average combo ended with 212 Win Shares, 102 for the second baseman and 110 for the shortstop, not too shabby.
Keep in mind that the year ranges reflect the years in which both men were under 27, but just for the heck of it, let's see who were together for the longest time in their youth or as Joe Pesci would say their yute:
Even though there has not been a keystone combo under 27 since 2000, there was a spate of them in the late Nineties. For those scoring at home, there is a Jay Canizaro sighting, and I had to go back the Steve Jeltz days in Philly:
The 44-Year-Old Boy Genius Strikes Again
The Nationals will start the season with 24-year-old rookie Brandon Watson in centerfield. Watson batted .355 with a .400 on-base percentage, .419 slugging percentage, and .819 OPS. So he's a fine choice, right? I guess, the only problem is that they had a better choice already starting in center.
Ryan Church went .287/.353/.466/.819 in 102 games last year before succumbing to injury. He had a park-adjusted OPS that was 20% better than the league average. That was the second best figure among Nat starters after Nick Johnson.
Jim Bowden, in his infinite wisdom, sent Church down to Triple-A.
Yes, Church is 27, three years older than Watson. However, Watson was making his second attempt at Triple-A in 2005 (he went .293/.332/.348/.680 in 2004). He started last season in Double-A and was rather lackluster there (.247/.290/.253/.543). He also has almost a thousand more minor-league at-bats than Church (2436 to 1558) even though their ages make it seem that Watson ascended more quickly. Bowden also praises Watson's speed. Church did steal just 3 bases last year. Watson stole 31 bases in Triple-A but was caught 13 times, barely over the break-even point. In all levels, he stole 38 bases and was caught 29 times in 2005. For his professional career he has stolen 130 bases and been caught 71 times, which is worse than the magic 67% success rate.
Watson does have the advantage over Church defensively. Church is more of a corner guy and the Nats appear to be covered in left and right with the converted Alfonso Sorisano and Jose Guillen. Given Soriano's defense, the Nats will need all the defense they can get in center, but if Bowden hadn't acquired two starting second basemanbut I digress.
It all reminds me of the story of how the Mets in the early Nineties devolved into chaos (and that sucking sound that Davod Letterman oft referred to) by trying to resolve their center field situation and in the process poisoned just about every other position. At least these Mets have one over those Mets: the have a new stadium deal all set. The Mets though they may contend this year will have to do it in that tin can in Flushing. And they have an aging boy genius calling the shots.
In the Bag? Well...
With Jeff Bagwell's career apparently in jeopardy, I am left wondering how many teams have had two Hall of Famers retire on them. Last year's Astros could be the last team for two future Hall of Famers, Bagwell and Roger Clemens.
No team has ever had more than two Hall of Famers play their last game in their lineup. There have actually been 16 instances in which two HoF players have retired from the same team. The last time was 34 years ago when Maz and Clemente played their last games for the Pirates (and yes, I know, Clemente didn't "retire"let it go). Here is the full list. Note that both St. Louis teams had two future HoFers up and quit on them in 1937:
Oh, so you may have noticed that I skimmed over the part where I assumed Bagwell is a Hall of Famer (and don't embarrass yourself by arguing that Clemens may not be one). Yes, my basic assumption is that Bagwell is not only a Hall of Famer, he's a better than average for HoF first basemen.
Let's test that theory. I ran a query for all HoF first sackers and took their average for various stats (Note: Banks and Carew qualify since the played more games at first than any other position):
(And yes, George Kelly is one of the worst Hall of Famers at there.) OK, Bagwell exceeds those numbers (i.e., the averages) in all stats but at-bats, hits, and batting average. Putting Bagwell in the Hall will improve the average stats for players at his position. If that's not a definition for a first-ballot Hall of Famer, I don't know what is (and I don't).
I'll even offer that there is plenty of talent at first that is not in the Hall. What if you took all first baseman with at least 300 Win Shares who are not in the Hall, would their averages for the various statistical categories be better than the averages for those in the Hall? Let's see:
It's pretty close. If Olerud had had an extra trip to the DL in his career, the non-Hall group would trounce the Hall guys.
So what's the point? Bagwell is arguably the best first baseman not in the Hall even without a number of flashy Hall-worthy numbers (500 homers, 3000 hits, three major felonies, etc.). With Palmeiro and possibly McGwire facing steroid backlash, Bagwell's case looks even better. And who knows? Maybe somebody they will let that Dick/Richie Allen in at some point.
Howard in a Von Purple Hayes of Spring Stats
Phillies fans, as they await a nearly written in (Jeff) stone guarantee for third place, can rejoice at least that Ryan Howard, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, is not suffering through a sophomore slump if spring training is any indication.
He stands at ten home runs through 23 spring games, a "record" whatever that means. Meanwhile, the Phils' former first baseman, Jim Thome, just hit his first dinger this spring. One could argue that Howard's performance does not really matter given the state of the Phils today unless he can pull a Babe Ruth and pitch. I would also point out that in 1989 Von "Five-For-One" Hayes had four homers through the first eight games of the season, thereby projecting to a Bondsian 81 for the seasonand the local papers did indeed bother to project it, so what do spring stats mean?
Then there's other side of the argument that goes something like, dang, this has been a boring spring with the unnecessary Wannabe Baseball Classic preempting the action like turning on the TV this season to watch Lost and finding instead of a new show or even a rerun from this season, a season-one Lost re-run for the umpteenth plus one-nth time.
In that spirit, I present the following projections for Howard's performance this season. First, I projected his spring stats based on his at-bats per game this spring projected to a full 162 games. You might be disappointed that Howard comes out as a mere McGwire clone, with 70 homers. However, he projects to a mere 465 at-bats with 35 walks. Given that players constantly traipse in and out of spring games, that projection seems low.
I recalibrated with at-bats based on his at-bat per game rate from last year. Now, Howard projects to a record-breaking 87 dingers. With me ridiculous projection now achieved, I will proceed to present the results at a Spaceballs-esque ludicrous speed:
So does it mean anything? Yes, it means that Ryan Howard will probably not be supplanted by Tomas Perez at first this spring (though Charlie "I Need A" Manuel reserves the right to pull any young player at any given time).
It means that Josh Beckett, who, though a newly minted Red Sock, is already fitting in as a hothead, can key on Howard to the point of causing a bench-clearing shouting match in yesterday's ballgame. Howard's come a long way given that his lollygagging at the plate can now be interpreted as showboating on a potential homer instead of the laziness it had heretofore been seen as. Like Howard could showboat in those silly crappy blue-topped uniforms.
As for watching spring stats, I am more interested in Ryan Madson's (1-0, 2.84 ERA in four appearances) and Gavin Floyd's (3-0 with a 2.30 ERA in five games). If those two guys can pull a Mark Fidrych and lead the staff this year, then the Phils have a chance to be real contenders. Otherwise, it's Franklin and Lidle and hope that they're idle.
Put Me In Coach, I'm Ready To Play….Left Field
So Alfonso Soriano is now ready to play the same position as such defensive luminaries as Greg Luzinski, Manny Ramirez, and Ron Kittle, at least for one day. If he is ready to assume the position and, Kevin Bacon-like, affirm, "Thank you, sir. May I have another,"game in left field, that isthe issue of his free agent value being diminished by the decision still looms.
Being a putz myself, I wondered if a second baseman moving to left field would affect his value on the open market. The only problem is that the only player in baseball history who went from being a starting second baseman one season to a starting left fielder the next was Chuck Knoblauch, and he had extenuating circumstances (like a Mackey Sasser-like inability to make simple throws). Knoblauch did go from a $6M per year contract with the Yankees to a $2M one-year contract with the Royals, one year after shifting to left, but he was 33 and in the midst of a very rapid decline.
So without a history of comparable player moves affecting a player's worth, I have to resort to the actual values of players whose primary position is left field as opposed to those who are second baseman.
I selected all players with a primary defensive position of either second or left who were active from 2001-2005 (the years in which Soriano has been a starter). I looked at only those seasons in which they played just those positions and just those players who had at least three years primary at those positions over the past five seasons.
For each I averaged the batting Win Shares and salary. I removed the defensive component so that we were comparing left field oranges to second base oranges. Here they are sorted by average batting Win Shares (min. 5 BWS average). Soriano was 11th among all the playersm, but second among second basemen, though slightly ahead of a whole back of second sackers:
Now, here are the same players sorted by average annual salary. Not that Soriano is 25th and 11th among second basemen, though his arbitration money had yet kicked in (min. $2M annual salary):
Now, here's the entire group sorted by batting Win Share per each million dollar of the player's salary. Soriano has been one of the cheaper players, but again this predates his Amigo Money for 2006:
There a couple of check young left fielders at or near the top of the list, but for the most part the cheapest players are second basemen. That made me wonder what the average for all players on the list were per position. Here 'tis:
So second basemen are usually better values, but left fielders produce more offensively (surprise!) and are paid almost twice as much.
So what does this mean for Soriano? He probably wouldn't be among the highest-paid left fielders. His production is about average for the position. However, since left fielders make so much more than second baseman, the money he'll lose by going from the top end of second basemen to the middle of the left field pack will be made up for by the difference each position is paid. My prediction is that he'll make the same amount of money either way.
You may notice that his $10M in 2006 would be toward the high end for either position. I don't expect him to make that much annually in his next deal, but that might have more to do with a market adjustment than a change of position. Then again, the odd idiotic GMWayne Krivsky, are you listening?might be easier to sway by a high-end second baseman than by a fair-to-middling left fielder, even though they are both worth about the same to the team. Think about your fantasy league opponents salivating over Soriano until he no longer qualifies at second base. Again, life reflects roto baseball.
Left Field? Soria-No Problem
Alfonso Soriano, a career middle infielder, will accept an assignment to left field for his new club, the Washington Nationals. Manager Frank Robinson reacted, "It's a relief for everybody, it really is." You said a mouthful, Frank.
Baseball gets it second chance in less than a week to emit a collective sigh of relief. The first instance was when Japan defeated Cuba in the Wannabe Baseball Classic. It was bad enough when the US got ousted, but imagine how Bud and his boys would have reacted if Fidel Castro could crow that he had the best players in the world. Having the Japanese win jut showcased players that the majors will be signing in the next few years.
Soriano agreeing to play left in the Nationals version of chicken, allows baseball to avoid a PC version of Danny Gardella or Curt Flood. Back in the day, players argued that they could not be held to a team in perpetuity as some sort of chattel. Fights flared up with John Montgomery Ward and the Players League rebellion in 1890, Danny Gardella challenging being blacklisted after playing in the then-rival Mexican League in the late Forties, and Curt Flood famously refusing to report to the PhilsI can't blame himafter a trade in 1969.
Those players were fighting for the right to play for the team they wanted at a fair market value. That's a right that the players later won to some degree. That is, players must complete six seasons of major-league service to earn the right.
Soriano, though he may not have known it, was fighting for a player's right to play a role that he desired, the one that he felt was best for his career in the long run. Though many can empathize with players being able to decide the team and city for which he would play, the public is not going to support a player refusing to play a new position just because he doesn't want to do so. He is seen as a lazy lollygagger who is putting himself before the team.
Some would say Soriano should have seen this coming. Going back to his Yankee days, two franchises ago, rumors swirled that Soriano would eventually be moved to the outfield. Some would point to the fact that when he was traded to Texas, Michael Young shifted to shortstop to accommodate his playing second (not to mention Alex Rodriguez, the man for whom he was traded and the then-reigning AL MVP, agreed to shift to third base).
Never mind that Soriano had been steadfast in his refusal to shift to the outfield. At the time he was traded to the Nationals for two outfielders in December given that the Nats already had Jose Vidro at second base, he stated he was not moving to the outfield. That was four months ago and Washington apparently made no effort to trade him due to the deadlock.
With the Soriano away at the WBC, the issue was tabled, but when he returned, apparently, the team just assumed he was ready and able to play left field though he had never played there before in his major-league career and the issue was never resolved after the trade.
When he refused, Jim Bowden, the Expo GM, knee-jerked that the team was ready to put Soriano on the disqualified list, thereby holding onto his $10M price tag for 2005 and barring him from becoming a free agent after the season: "[H]e would not be a free agent. He would still be our property."
It was theorized that the union could argue that Soriano shifting to left would reduce his value just as he is preparing to become a free agent. It was also in question as to whether Soriano would lose service time while sitting on the disqualified list since it was not explicitly stated one way or the other in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
One could also question whether refusing to play a particular position was an offense that could put a player on the disqualified list. At the very least it would be a precedent. Disqualification is just for players who violate their contract. Of course, there is nothing Soriano's contract that states which position he will or will not play so it's a stretch under the best interests of the team corollary of the disqualified list definition:
Disqualified List:I found three instances in recent history in which the disqualified list was used other than as a disciplinary action for suspended players. Bert Blyleven tried to force a trade on April 30, 1980 but caved after two weeks on the disqualified list (though he was granted his wish and was traded after the season).
Dickie Thon left the Astros on July 3, 1987 still dealing with being beaned three years earlier. An unsympathetic Dick Wagner, the Houston GM, placed him on the disqualified list for the rest of the season. Interestingly, Thon became a free agent in the offseason and signed with the Padres. However, he had already amassed more than six years of major-league experience and he was apparently release by the Astros (though it appears that he was paid his full salary for the season).
In 1993, Deion Sanders went AWOL for three weeks starting at the end of April, after attending his father's funeral. He was on the disqualified list for the entire time but was welcomed back when he finally did report.
There's not a lot of history that applies to the Soriano case in there. Thon's the closest and it's still a stretch.
So there were a lot of question marks and no real answers. Both sides girded for battle. The Nats were idle on Tuesday, but Bowden set a deadline with today's game against the Cards. If Soriano refused to play left again, the GM would set the whole machinery in motion.
The game would start and the PA announcer would boom playing left field for the Nationals .Bueller?...Bueller?..Er, I mean, Soriano?...Soriano?
Unfortunately, Soriano perhaps seeing how hard the row would be to hoe, decided that left field aint so bad after all. So we'll never find out who would have won. It would have been interesting.
I think that the whole idea of team sports start to erode if players decide how and when they will be used. Remember how many kids wanted to play right field in stickball when you were growing up? It may make teams think twice if they blatantly disregard a player's desires like Washington did here. If you acquire a first baseman to play short in the future, you might now reconsider. Then again, if the Nats knew what they were doing they would have never picked up two starting second baseman and painted themselves in the corner to such a degree.
Then again, this issue may not be dead. Soriano only needs one-half season under his belt to be eligible for free agency after the season. Let's say he has an amazing first half, and Jose Vidro struggles. That might allow him to put more pressure on the team to trade Vidro and shift him to second. Or for another example, he could stink up left field, boot balls and have a sub-par offensive start, which might convince the Nats to trade him, but that won't help to get him Amigo Money once he becomes a free agent. Then again, with Christian Guzman and Royce Clayton at short, Washington may decide that moving Soriano back to the infieldhe was a shortstop in the minorsis the best option.
I'm still disappointed the worst-case scenario didn't play out. I expected Bud Selig to engineer a trade to the Red Sox for a bucket of ice (wait, the Reds just took that in the Pena trade). Dang!
Reds Lop Off a Wily in More Ways Than One
The Cincinnati Reds will start the season Wily-less, but will have another mediocre pitcher to shove into their abysmal rotation.
They traded Wily Mo Pena to the Red Sox for Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo is 29 and has had one decent full season (200410-9 with a 121 adjusted ERA) since breaking into the Pirate rotation in 2000. Those Pirates seem to crank out the mediocre pitchers, don't they? Arroyo was about a league-average pitcher last year (98 adjusted OPS) and just signed a three-year, $11.25 M contract this winter.
Pena had a very good year subbing for most of the Red outfield in 2004 (26 homers, .527 slugging percentage, and 121 adjusted OPS). Last season was a push, but he is just 24 and should start to blossom over the next couple of years. Oh, and he made just $440 K last year and will not be eligible for free agency until 2008. The worst you can say about him is that he doesn't know how to draw a base on balls.
Pena plays all three outfield spots and should move into an instant platoon in right with lefty Trot Nixon. The Sox have never seemed enamored or Nixon even in his best seasons and 2005 was not one of them. He could start to decline quickly at 32. Expect Epstein to start shopping him should Pena fit in well.
Arroyo was probably not going to make the rotation given the development of Jon Papelbon. So he would have become an expensive albatross who would be at best a long reliever and rotation insurance.
The best you can say for Arroyo going to the Reds is that he will fit in well with the rest of their rotation dreck. I guess being saddled with Eric Milton's execrable contract wasn;t enough.
Arroyo could start anywhere from number two to number five (I guess Harang is the number one). What's the difference? If he keeps his ERA under 5.00 in Cincy, I'll be surprised. Not that it'll matter. He'll be in the rotation if he still has a pulse by the All-Star break. It seems that the Reds have five guys destined for 10-14 records with a 4.00-5.00 ERA. Bless 'em.
So on the surface, the Red Sox get a younger, cheaper, better. They jettison a player that would not have a major role this year or in the future for a player who should make a significant impact this year and for years to come.
But if you delve deeper it's even worse for the Reds. First, it effectively reverses just about the only decent deal the Reds have made this century. They originally acquired Pena from the Yankees in the Drew Henson deal, a major embarrassment for New York.
Wayne Krivsky, the new GM, carries on in the proud tradition of his predecessor, Dan O'Brien. That is, he got fleeced. The Reds were once a GM machine cranking out in rapid succession Larry MacPhail, Warren Giles, Gabe Paul, Bill DeWitt, and Bob Howsam. Now, the can't find a credible rendition of a general manager.
This line from Krivsky says it all, "Signing Hatteberg was the key" to the deal.
You see, the Reds needed to jettison Pena to move Adam Dunn back to left field in order to clear a starting spot for Scott Hatteberg. Oh, it all makes sense now!?! It was a trade of Pena for that stellar veteran Scott Hatteberg. Incredible.
Even if Hatteberg were Lou Gehrig, he's 36. Pena's 24. Even when he's not involved, Billy Beane gets the last laugh. Hatteberg was a washed up backup catcher whose career was resurrected by Beane when he became a role-playing first baseman in Oakland. Beane held onto him until it was clear that he was done. He signs with the Reds and now becomes probably the worst starting first baseman in baseball.
He replaces fan fave Sean Casey, who though overrated, had his points. The Reds trade him for another mediocre Pittsburgh pitcher (Dave Williams), and then putz around until eventually they replace him with Hatteberg? Way to bring in the fans! At least you can justify it with shifting Dunn there. What a screwed up team!
Krivsky further effuses, "They needed a right-handed bat to complement Trot Nixon. It all fell into place rather quickly. Theo Epstein and I have been talking about this for three or four days." Sheez, he sounds like a fantasy GM trading Barry Bonds for Andy Ashby circa 1999. Of course, it fell in place quickly. Epstein got him to bite at the bait and then reeled him in.
I hope the fans remember this trade fondly around the All-Star break when the Reds are fighting the Pirates for last in the NL Central, Ryan Freel is starting at two of the outfield spots (when was the last time Griffey, Dunn, and Kearns didn't go down with a season-ending injury at some point in the year?), Hatteberg is stinking up the lineup, and Williams and Arroyo are major albatrosses in the rotation.
The Reds are a perfect team. Perfectly awful. The only question is how bad they will be. They should compete with the Marlins, Rockies, and Pirates for worst team in the NL. Florida will be hard to beat since they have a different agenda besides trying to win. Krivsky's really going to have to try to out-awful them, but I know he can do it.
Al Leiter returned from the WBC, pitched to one batter for the Yankees, and then decided to hang 'em up. And when I say "'em", I mean "'em".
After 19 years of fairly decent pitching, Leiter retires after one batter and then retires himself. At least he got the guy out, and what pitcher doesn't want to go out pitching a shutout, or at least pitching in a shutout.
But it seems a rather circuitous route to retirement. His own version of "veni, vedi, vici". Eh, then again, he did retire in Florida: that's pretty typical.
Leiter will be remembered as a very good, fairly intelligent pitcher for a number of years but even in the steroid-diluted list of Hall eligibles, Leiter will have a hard time even getting the necessary five percent of the vote to remain on the ballot his first year.
It's a shame since his career is somewhat unique in its own way. Leiter, you may remember was a "can't miss" prospectI think I have is "Topps Top Rookie" Rookie card from 1987who missed, for a while. He broke in at age 21 and followed that up with 14 starts, a 4-4 record, and a slightly better than league average ERA of 3.92 in 1988. Then injuries limited him to 13 games and just 5 starts at the major-league level over the next four seasons.
He finally made the Blue Jay rotation in 1994, and then registered a double-digit win total for the first time the next year. He would then collect at least ten (and as many as 17) for every season through 2004.
I wondered if Leiter had the most wins for any pitcher who did not win ten in a season until the age of 29. He's not but he's close. Here are the most wins for pitchers who qualified with the age and stats for the season in which he first won ten:
And after the long wait, he went ahead and pitched 19 seasons, a sort of Minnie Minoso on the mound. Leiter is one of a handful of pitchers to pitch 19 years. They are an interesting group of second-tier Hall of Famers and memorable if not Hall-worthy pitchers. Here they are sorted by wins:
Leiter is pretty far down on the list. I tried projecting out his win total for the injury-plagued years to see if it helped his Hall credentials. I came up with a 199-181 record, still not really Hall-worthy.
The hard part in those projects were his three consecutive years with zero wins. I based those on the two adjacent years before and after the futility streak. Whatever. I did make me wonder how many pitchers went through three consecutive seasons without a win and then went on to win at least once more at the major-league level. Well, there were 72 occurrences, so it's not as rare as I thought. However, few very went on to have successful careers. Here are the pitchers in the group who won the most. Leiter makes a better showing here:
So good bye to Al Leiter the pitcher, and after his decent job as a color man in the playoffs a couple of years ago, I hope it's "Hello" to Al Leiter, the broadcaster. I mean, the guy's IQ is higher than the aggregate for the entire Fox crew. Then again, that's probably reason enough for him not to get the job.
By the way, my Toaster-mate Alex Belth's biography of Curt Flood was officially released today. I have my own signed copy in hand. Make sure to get one yourself. And congrats to Alex on publishing his first book. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Retaining Watermark II
Yesterday we found that retaining many of one's youngsters does not ensure success on the field. Being a Phillies fan, I know that sometimes running your homegrown talent out year after year is only a good idea if you homegrown guys are goodremember Steve Jeltz?
But what if we could filter out those homegrown players that burn a hole in your team's roster. I reran the numbers looking at just those players who had at least 100 Win Shares in their careers. Here are the results sorted by the percentage of time the average 100-WS prospect spent with his first club:
So how well does that correlate to winning percentage? Not at all actually (coefficient of -0.0842). Maybe 100 Win Shares just isn't enough. I ran the data again using a 200 Win Share cutoff:
I like what I'm seeing toward the top of table. Does it correlate any better? Ever so slightly, but not really (0.1527).
Ok, as a last ditch effort I will limit the data just to players with 300 or more career Win Shares, basically a Hall of Fame-caliber player. So how'd we do this time?
We improved significantly (0.4327 coefficient), but I'm still not happy.
Maybe looking at the total number of players produced who eventually collected the desired Win Share total is enough. Maybe it doesn't matter how much time those actually spend with the team. Let's see. I ran the numbers and actually it correlates pretty well for 100 Win Shares (0.7662). But what's odd is that it goes down significantly as the Win Share cutoff goes up, eventually approaching what we saw above at 300 WS (0.6538 for 200 WS and 0.4332 for 300).<.p>
Let's try looking at just the average number of years the player spent with the team that developed him. Those numbers don't correlate as either of the other two (0.3418 for 100 WS, 0.2470 for 200, and 0.3469 for 300), and it takes an odd dip in the middle.
So what have we learned? It's most important to develop credible major-leaguers in large numbers and it's best to retain the best players for the longest amount of time. That seems to make sense, sort of the Branch Rickey player development approach when he revamped the Cards' minor league system. Quantity and quality.
Given my newfound data on player retention, I thought it might be interesting to look at whether retaining young talent leads to winning teams. I looked at how long each franchise does on average in retaining the players that first reach the majors with them.
Below are the results sorted from highest to lowest. Keep in mind that the newer expansion teams will have lower numbers given that they haven't had time to build up a history:
A cursory look at the list seems to indicate that winning teams retain young players longer. However, when I ran the numbers I found that the correlation isn't very strong at all (coefficient of 0.4546). Actually, the total years that the players these teams developed (though didn't necessarily spend with the given team) correlate to their winning percentage slightly better (0.5056).
OK, maybe I'm comparing apples to oranges. What if we divvied the up the team stats by decade? The teams that retained young talent best did have some very good results. The Yankees of the '30s, the Reds of the Sixties and Seventies, the Seventies Royals, the O's in the '60s, etc.:
So how well does retaining one's prospects correlate to winning when the data are divided up by decade? Even worse than the overall stats (coefficient of 0.1598).
Well, my next thought was that maybe we need to limit some of the data. The data from the current data is largely meaningless given that it'll be incomplete for another decade or so. Also, the nineteenth-century data are much lower given the volatility of the times. I limited the data to 1900-2000 only. The results were (drum roll please) not a whole lot better (0.3198).
So what does it all mean? I'm going back to the drawing board, but by the looks of things teams that held onto their young players longer did not necessarily lead to on-field success. Given that teams have tried to sign up their youngsters a la the Indians in the Nineties, this seems counterintuitive. Isn't the whole idea behind restricting free agency to players with six years of major-league experience and arbitration to those with three based on this theory?
Maybe it's not retaining the most youngsters for the longest that helps teams win. Maybe it's retaining the best and being able to evaluate that correctly that helps teams win.
Loyal Is As Loyal Does
Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world-and never will.
The other day on the SABR-L email digest, there was a note from John Thorn from a reader to the effect:
I came across a transcript of an interview you did with "Outside the Lines" a few years back. You mentioned during the interview that player tenure on teams lengthened during the 1940s and 1950s, and I was wondering if you had any statistics to that effect.
I won't go into the idea of loyalty in player movements, whether it's a matter of disloyalty, if you want to call it that, on the part of the owners or the players or whether this is just a business like any other where employees move around from time to time. (If you want a treatise on management disloyalty, you revisit Ford's recent history, but I digress.) However, I can and did investigate how long it took a player, for whatever reason, to switch teams.
First, here is a breakdown by a player's first team per decade. For each decade, here are the average years he spent with that team (whether he went to another or left the majors) and the average number of years he spent in the majors. Finally, the percentage of his major-league time spent with that first team appears in the last column:
Note that the data for the current decade (and possibly for the 1990s) are incomplete. The number of years with the first team were way down but the percentage of total time is way up. Clearly, more time is needed to examine the 2000s.
The numbers for the 1990s are also down from the previous forty years. It may be due to incomplete data for current players.
Next, let's look at the average life expectancy for a given player when he starts his tenure with a new club (either as a rookie or as a veteran on a new ballclub) over the years. Below are the average stats for all of those new tenures per decade:
Again, we do not yet have complete data for the last decade or so. However, you might note that the average tenure had held pretty steady in the 2.5 to 2.75 years range from the Twenties to the Eighties. Actually, it went up slightly in the expansion era, and even free agency didn't put much of a dent in it.
But, you'll also note that the average career length went up, meaning that the percentage of time that a player spent with any one individual team went down on average.
If you want to argue that expansion helped marginal major-leaguers stay in the game longer, the data seem to support that. However, if you want to look into any concept of player/owner loyalty. All parties seem to remain as loyal as ever to each other, whatever that means.
Old Rocket Chair
Roger Clemens is really going to retire. Believe him. Right after the WBC, the fulfillment of his long careerI kid you.Never mind that he was in the Texas Rangers camp today, Texas being one of the teams he will deign to pitch for this season.
You see, Rocket was just sightseeing: "I've never pitched in Arizona, and I told him I wanted to come see things in Surprise." Ah, it was beautiful Surprise. The Rangers just happened to be encamped there. Surprise is Arizona's version of Mecca after all. And according to their website, there was a city council meeting today. I hope Roger got tickets.
But let's take Roger at his word. Let's say he does retire. Would his 2005 season be the best final season by a pitcher ever?
I looked up all pitched with at the lowest ERAs in their final season while throwing at least 50 innings. Here's what I got:
Well, clearly ERA isn't the end-all be-all. Let's try Win Shares. Here are the most in a pitcher's final year:
So there you are: Koufax, Clemens, and a bunch of nineteenth-century guys.
Actually, there are a lot of interesting stories in there. Devlin was kicked out of the game in 1877 in the Louisville Colonels game-throwing scandal. And of course, there are Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams who were of course a couple of the infamous "Black Sox" (though Cicotte did get played by a future Oscar nominee in David Strathairn and was way more sympathetic because he was hosed out of a bonus).
Sandy Koufax as you probably know retired due to arthritic pitching elbow. He quit instead of potentially becoming crippled.
Win Mercer was named the Tiger manager (Player-manager actually) at age 28 but pulled a Dave Chapelle and committed suicide after the season. He inhaled poisonous gas and left a note on the evils of women and gambling, maybe not in that order.
Henry Schmidt returned to his native Texas and decided not to go back to the East to play ball. He returned his 1904 contract unsigned, explaining that "I do not like living in the East and will not report."
Ted Lewis retired to become a full-time coach at Columbia.
Larry French and Van Lingle Mungo both went into the military. Actually, Mungo returned and then retired.
And a bunch of the players were creations of single-season leagues. Bill Sweeney was from the lowly Union Association. George Kaiserling was a Federal League creation who never made it in organized ball afterwards. Chief Johnson jumped his Reds contract to play for KC in the Federal League. It probably didn't bode well for his career when the Feds folded.
So there you have it, Clemens would probably be the best pitcher to just hang 'em up without a reason ever. That's all the more reason to believe he'll be pitching somewhere this season.
Grin and Barry
Yeah, screw you, too. I had a bad enough day even before finding out that the best ballplayer I've ever seen did it on steroids. Great.
I know, the rumors had been swirling for quite some time, but now there's tangible proof, or at least tangible allegations. I'm not sure how reliable these guys' sources are certainly, Kimberly Bell seems highly suspect at best, but will it matter?
The court of public opinion is already weighing in and Bonds apparently will end up on the guilty end of Justice's scale, not that he'll get an actual trial. First, Palmeiro. Then Sosa. Now, Bonds. Look on the bright side though: Maybe it helps McGwire's chances of getting into the Hall next year.
Bonds will now be asterisked and marginalized to death. Never mind that the man already had 411 home runs, 8 All-Star appearances, and three MVPs before he started taking steroids after 1998, when the writers allege that he started roiding. He was already a Hall of Famer, but now that will be forgotten. Some would argue that his "cheating" abrogates his prior achievements.
It seems that the legacy for the power hitters of the last decade or so will now be permanently tainted. As for me, I'd rather not deal with this crap. I like my heroes to seem heroic, not to have fallen arches.
I'm not even ready to debate how this affects his career or the era in which he played. It's too depressing.
The one thing I noticed in their analysis was that they looked at Bonds' homers per at-bat, given that he was walked about a gazillion times in the last five years or so. Of course, he can't homer when he is intentionally walked, but I'm not sure limiting him to at-bats alone is fair. Nor, is it fair to forget that he played before and during the greatest power surge in baseball history. Comparing his early stats to his later stats without keeping an eye to that is unfair as well.
Here are his yearly stats with homers per at-bats and per plate appearance included:
Now, here they prorated for the league average for each stat:
Aside from 2001, his homers per at-bat and per plate appearance relative to the league average has not changed that dramatically.
Bonds also changed stadiums. Here are his stats relative to the team average:
Again, 2001 is the big outlier.
I guess, all I'm saying is if you want to dislike Bonds for steroid use, go ahead. But if you want a statistical basis for it, I don't thin it'll be quite so easy as people expect.
Kirk Rueter retired tonight as the all-time winngest lefthander in San Francisco Giants history. I have nothing more to say other than I am shocked by that fact.
I looked up the team leaders in left-handed wins (as opposed to left-handed compliments) for each franchise in their various iterations. Here goes. Enjoy:
Just when I finish the chart on how bad it had gotten for the Marlins' payroll, it got worse. Over the weekend, Florida released an AWOL Pokey Reese, thereby saving his eight hundred thousand dollar salary. Or to be more precise, the saved the $473 K difference between Reese and a league-minimum, replacement-level shnook, which given the Marlins' ways of late, he surely will be.
So that lowers the projected Marlins payroll to just $14,837,000. They potentially will leapfrog the 1998 Pittsburgh Pirates ($15,065,000) for the fourth-lowest in the the last twenty-one years (the era for which we have salary data). (See the payroll numbers below.)
Of course, that could get lower if guys like Wes Helms ($800K), Joe Borowski ($1 M), Brian Moehler ($1.5M) get moved to lower the payroll more. The payroll devoted to their top four salaries (those three plus Dontrelle Willis $4.35 M), is almost as much as they have devoted to the next 23 guys on the roster ($7,650,000 to $8,241,000).
With this team, I wouldn't be surprised if Willis or potential arbitration-eligible Miguel Cabrera get the heave-ho by season's end. This team won't be a Triple-A club; it'll be a bad Mexican League club. Maybe we can outsource their jobs south of the border and kill two birds with one stone or rather pelota.
Miguel Cabrera re-signed with the slash-and-burn Marlins today for the lowly sum of $472K. Four hundred and seventy-two?
What, they couldn't spring for the extra $28K to make it an even half-million?
And they had the gall to add a provision should he find himself in the minors this year. If that should happen, Cabrera will make $296K. The man hit 33 home runs each of the last two seasons, and they couldn't guarantee the $176K difference? That wouldn't pay the weekly liquor bill for Jeffrey Loria's suite at Joe Dolphin Player Stadium-agig.
Besides what series of events could occur to drive Cabrera off the major-league roster? The Marlins have basically a Triple-A lineup going into 2006. Cabrera's the only guaranteed starting position player with any experience. Retreads Pokey Reese and Wes Helms have plenty of experience but will be battling rookies for playing time. Cabrera could pull a Glenn Davis this season and the Marlins would still be hard-pressed to replace him.
I originally estimated Cabrera and Willis would get $5 M each, under the assumption that both were eligible for arbitration. Cabrera missed the cut for arbitrationhe only played 87 games in 2003. After Willis signed for $4.35M, I reset Cabrera to $3M.
Boy, was I wrong.
In any event, we now have the final numbers for the non-rookie players. It gets grimmer and grimmer each time I do this. Here is a comparison between last year's and this year's payroll:
So there you have it. The Marlins could possibly pay just under twice the league minimum payroll (that is, 25 times the league minimum, $327K, or $8.175M). And that's assuming that higher-paid players like Reese and Helms make the team. With the current crop, I estimate the payroll at $16,291,000, but that would fall to at least $15,310,000 when they get down to 25 players. The net effect would be that Florida would cut 75% of their payroll from last year.
That would put the Marlins at the fifth lowest payroll since 1995 and the lowest since the Expos and Pirates in 1998:
But if that's not enough, let's shift the focus back to the Cabrera low-balling. Cabrera batted .323 with 33 homers and a .947 OPS last season. I took a look at the lowest salaries doled out to players coming off of similar seasons (from 1985 players batting at least .300 with a minimum of 30 HR and a .900 OPS). Cabrera's is the fifth-lowest deal and the worst in twelve years. Here are the only men meeting the criteria who made less than one million dollars the next year:
When one considers that Cabrera isn't a one-year flash in the pan, that he has hit 33 home runs each of the last two seasons, the Marlins' offer is even more unbelievable. Only two players coming off consecutive thirty-homer seasons have been rewarded with less money, and they were at least 18 years ago. Only 13 have made $1.5M or less out of the 225 players who qualify:
Cabrera should get battle pay for the atrocities he will see on the field this year. The only thrills for the Marlins will be measured by how badly the perform. Will they be worse than the 2003 Tigers? The 1962 Mets? The 1899 Cleveland Spiders? Will Dontrelle Willis have a season on par with Steve Carlton in 1972? Carlton won a Cy Young despite how woefully his Phils performed that year (he collected 27 of their 59 wins). How far down can their attendance go, triple digits per home game?
At least the Marlins fans' (if there are any left) loss will be my gain. I can't wait for the historic pain to begin. Dare I dream that they will out-bad even the Spiders? Dare. Dare.
All Quiet on the Baseball Front
A quiet fool can go undiscovered for a long time
It's a slow news day, news week, and even news month, if you count February, which just ended with Barry Bonds, arguably the best player of the last seventy years, appearing in drag on the front page of most of the major baseball sites.
Aside from debating the merits of Bret Boone's Hall of Fame chances or enumerating all the players backing out of the World Baseball "Classic", which henceforth will appear only accompanied by the pretentious quotes, there aint much going on here.
While I complete my General Manager study (I have just about every one all-time and will finalize the rest soon) and regretfully ignore my site, my baseball jones the last few days has been slaked with the amusing attempts by MLB.com to positively spin the WB"C" defections. Witness, "Citing family tragedy, Guerrero out of Classic". " Leiter, Majewski added to Team USA" (Of course, replacing two major pitchers gone AWOL, Billy Wagner and C.C. Sabathia).
Unlike March, which starts today (set your calendars accordingly), this baseball season goes in like a lamb but comes out a lion.
The Marlins and Nationals have already hung "Contract Me" targets on their backs. Both teams are clamoring for a new, more favorable stadium deal. In the last collective bargaining agreement, of course, the owners acquired the rights to contract without the players union's say-so. Thanks Donald Fehr, bye bye Expo-Nats and Marlins. Of course, the contraction threat might just be empty posturing to secure the deals in question, but hey, that doesn't mean it won't happen. And the Marlins are down to "Cabrera and Willis and hope the rest don't kill us".
And there's the CBA itself, which runs out at the end of the year but has barely caused a ripple this languorous offseason. I think I read one mention of a meeting by both parties on a new CBA. I expect that to change dramatically fairly soon.
And lastly, there's hardly a mention of last season's bugbear, steroids. Meanwhile players who are tainted by steroids, or at least perceived as so, are quietly disappearing into the sunset. Rafael Palmeiro. Sammy Sosa. And now Bret Boone. They will be spending plenty of time with Luca Brasi and Adrianna from "The Sopranos" this season.
It's quiet out there.
But like Billy Ray Valentine in "Trading Places", I can smell that there's something afoot. (Or as Valentine put it, "They're panicking out there. It's Christmas and they're afraid they can't get their kids the G.I. Joe with the Kung-Fu grip and that their wives won't make love to 'em anymore. They're panicking. I can smell it")
I have the feeling that every parent gets when his kids are too quiet. "It's quiet too quiet! They're up to something!"
Or maybe it was a slow news day and Mr. Eko cutting his beard off and giving it to one of the "Others" on Lost got my conspiracy mojo rising. What the frig was that about anyway? Was it a possible reference to the newly minted, non-caveman edition of Johnny Damon, New York Yankeehow weird is that to say?
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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