Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Running wild?

I had big hopes for today (something about Mo Rivera and closers, most likely), but work has dashed them. I don't even really have time to be writing this.

But here's your ten-cent thought for the day: in 2008, the average MLB team stole 93 bases. In 2009, the Rays have already stolen 121 (just 31 shy of their 2008 MLB-leading total), and the average team is on pace to steal 105. That's about an 11% increase, and they're doing it more successfully (75% in 2009, 73% in 2008).

So it's definitely a difference, but not a huge, game-changing sort of difference just yet. Last year's MLB individual leader in steals (Willy Taveras) had 36 through June 29; this year, Carl Crawford has 40. Three stole 50 and four more 40 last year; this year, we're on pace to see five steal fifty, but only two or three more look like good bets to get to 40. And so on.

So it's true what they say, speed is coming back into the game and all that. But it's coming back in slowly, if you will. At a snail's pace.

It's not the kind of difference you really observe from a single day at the ballpark. I just feel like I've heard it talked about to a degree that goes well beyond what an 11% difference justifies.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Happy Birthday...

Harmon Killebrew!

Killer turns 73 today, and still looks like he could hit a baseball about 500 feet.

I never saw Killebrew play, but I grew up hearing stories, and I've gotten to meet him in person several times at fanfest types of things. He's always come off as one of the true good guys. Maybe too good and soft-spoken for his own good; if he'd acted out a little, maybe more people would've remembered him.

Killebrew has the second-lowest batting average of any position player in the Hall of Fame (excluding those inducted as managers), at .256, three points ahead of Ray Schalk (who (a) was a catcher and (b) has no business in the Hall). He has the fifth-most HR, but he's not in the top 20 in OBP, SLG, R or RBI. That's the sixties for you; neutralized by baseball-reference to an environment where the average team scores 770 runs per season (which is about where the current AL is), his line is a much more HOF-like .270/.393/.535, and with 620 rather than 573 HR.

Five Twins have ever led the league (or tied for the lead) in home runs, and Harmon Killebrew is all five of them. Two Senators ever led the AL in home runs, and Killer was one of them, too...as a 23 year old in 1959, in his first full season, and really his only full season with the Senators (he only got into 124 games in 1960, and they were in Minneapolis the following April).

Most people will tell you that Killebrew was the model for the batter in the MLB logo. And it looks a lot like Killebrew's stance and profile -- in particular, the figure holds his hands low and close to his shoulder as the pitch comes in, kind of a Killebrew trademark. But MLB and the logo's creator have flatly denied that the logo was based on Killer or on anyone else in particular.

Killebrew made appearances with the Senators as early as age 17. This was because his large contract for the time (for a whopping $50,000) triggered baseball's short-lived Bonus Rule: for a few periods from 1947 until the amateur draft kicked in in 1965, amateurs who signed for more than a certain amount (at least initially, $4,000) had to be kept on the 40-man roster for two full seasons. From his age-18 season through his age-22 season, Killebrew played 113 games in the majors and posted an 85 OPS+.

Killebrew, helped to a large extent by his magnificent name, has probably the best-looking autograph I've ever seen.

Know how people complained that the HR Derby Era (posthumously renamed the steroid era) was going to change everything, because 500 HR always meant automatic induction to the Hall, and now it wouldn't anymore? Well, consider that Killebrew retired relatively recently (1975), and at that time, his 573 homers put him second all-time to Babe Ruth (and thus first among all right-handed hitters) in the history of the American League...and it still took him four years of eligibility to get in. Nothing about how it "used to be" is ever as simple as people think.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Links of the Week or So

I can't find a whole lot worth talking about right now, so how about reading stuff from people who can?
  • Frequent commenter tHeMARksMiTh always does great work and has had, I think, a particularly great week, but I thought his writeup on the career of Hank Greenberg was the highlight.

  • Non-Baseball Division: Bethany over at one of my favorite sites in the whole series of tubes, The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, finally got around to posting something I had sent her way back sometime before this blog even began. Turns out it had been posted on that site before, but that's hardly my problem. I thought this submission was a better one anyway, but that one didn't make the cut (or just skipped her attention) somehow. Oh well.

  • Ron Rollins wrote about agents in Japanese baseball, and pretty much everything there is something really interesting that I didn't know. You might guess from my Strasburg rant that I'm not really behind the idea that baseball agents are "the devil" (well, maybe Boras), but it's an interesting topic.

  • Obligatory Dave Cameron Article Division: this week, Dave points out that Juan Pierre hasn't been doing such a good Manny impression lately. I think that what I like about Cameron's stuff (when I'm not disagreeing with him completely, which has been happening more often lately) is that he's really good at pointing out flaws in the common wisdom that, once he's pointed them out, seem like the kind of things we all should have noticed already. I mean, you knew he wasn't going to keep hitting .400, but why haven't we already heard that he's been that bad for the last month or so?

  • Know how the other day I wondered how often one starting pitcher in a game was twice the age of the other? Well, lar at wezen-ball went to the trouble of figuring it out.

  • Joe Mauer has, inevitably, slowed down; he's stopped homering, which is the worrisome part, but his batting average has also dropped below .400. David Pinto says his odds of hitting .400 (as of Saturday morning, I suppose) are 1 in 275 or 1 in 1235, depending on...something. I honestly don't understand it at all. But it's Mauer, so it's interesting.

  • This seriously stretches the definition of "week or so," but the most recent post on Recondite Baseball has info on one of my favorite topics, the Three True Outcomes. No surprise that Dunn shows up at the top of the list, though he's keeping the spot warm for when Jack Cust hits 3000 PA. I haven't talked about Recondite Baseball, and I don't even remember how I came across it, but the one or two posts Theron makes over there a month are always worth reading.
That's about all I've got I'm sure there'll be something to say tomorrow.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Aces

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and all that crap.

Sometimes, the final score of a game not only doesn't tell the whole story, it totally misses the whole point of that story. And sometimes, when the danged score totally drops the ball like that, GameDay's got its back.

Chris Carpenter was, as he's been whenever healthy since first setting foot in St. Louis in 2004, outstanding yesterday. After hitting Alex Cora to start the game, Carpenter retired the next nine hitters, and made it look easy. If you flip through the GameDay link, you'll see nothing but 92-MPH sinking fastballs at the knees; sharp sliders exactly hitting the low-outside corner against RH hitters or riding in on the hands of LH hitters; and two-strike curveballs suddenly diving into the dirt. For those first three innings, it was like a video game; every pitch he threw (except that first time to Cora) went exactly where you would assume he would've wanted it in that situation. He turned human after that, but only a little, still hitting his spots with all his pitches with alarming regularity.

On the other hand, Carp's opponent yesterday was none other than probably the best pitcher of the 'aughts (I figure it's got to be him or Randy Johnson, right?), Johan Santana. And what is wrong with that guy? Through the first two innings, Santana threw 17 strikes and 16 balls. He wasn't striking out anybody. His GameDay log shows fastballs left over the middle of the plate, and his usually-awesome changeup (which should generally be down in the zone) left well up and away to most hitters. He was all over the place, especially early. He loaded the bases in the second with Albert Pujols coming up, and gave him a 93-MPH fastball right in Albert's wheelhouse that Pujols came just a few feet short of converting into four runs.

The story is also told by how the pitchers fared against each other: in his first two at-bats, Carpenter singled on the first pitch and then drew a walk. Santana struck out on three pitches and then popped out to very shallow right.

For the day, Carpenter pitched 7 innings; threw only 82 pitches (he was pulled for a pinch hitter; just another persuasive argument in favor of the DH rule), but 64 of them (78%) for strikes; allowed four hits, three singles and a double; and walked none while striking out five. He did hit the one batter.

Santana also threw 7 innings, but required 110 pitches, 74 of them strikes (67%, a huge improvement given his 50/50 start). He allowed 7 hits, one of them a double. He walked three and struck out only three.

But here's the catch: all four of the hits Carpenter allowed came in the fourth inning. They led to three runs. Ignore that little HBP to lead off the game, and Carpenter authored six perfect innings and one clunker (though it's not as though he was hit terribly hard even in that inning). Meanwhile, what with the Pujols near-grand slam and all, Santana stranded eight runners on base, permitting only two runs. The Mets bullpen held on (barely, with some nerve-racking wildness by K-Rod), giving Santana the "win" and Carpenter the "loss."

And today, you'll probably read about how Santana might be back on track after picking up the win in St. Louis. But that just doesn't tell the story of this game at all. These are two guys who are going in opposite directions.

In Santana's last 7 starts before yesterday, he had gone 43 innings, given up 10 HR and posted a 5.82 ERA, striking out 37 and walking 14; that's 3 fewer innings, 1 more walk, 23 fewer strikeouts and 8 more HR than he put up over his first seven starts. This one will make his ERA over that stretch look a lot better, and it's nice that he managed not to allow a HR for the first time in eight appearances...but there's not a lot to feel hopeful about here. This isn't the Santana of those first seven starts, and you have to start wondering if something is a little wrong with the guy.

Meanwhile, in his entire nine-start, injury-shortened season, Carpenter has been consistently fantastic, with a 1.53 ERA, 43 strikeouts against just 9 walks, and just 3 HR in 58 2/3 innings. Yesterday, he took his second "loss" in his last three starts, and allowed exactly three earned runs for the third time in his last four. But make no mistake: Carpenter has shown conclusively that, injuries and all, he's still a truly great pitcher. And the "L" by his name in the boxscore and the one unlucky inning don't change the fact that, in this particular matchup of former Cy Young Award winners on this particular day, he was the better pitcher, and it wasn't even remotely close.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

On June 24, 2001...

Of course, the nature of this blog means that June 24 was yesterday. But I'm writing this on June 24, so that's good enough for me. Anyway, eight years ago yesterday...

- Cristian Guzman, enjoying his one good season, had an unlikely 6 RBI, with a double and a homer, as the Twins trounced the Tigers 14-5. They came close to shocking Cleveland and taking the Division Title that year...but 2002 would be their year. By which time neither Guzman nor Keir Dullea was any help at all.

- Barry Bonds went 0-for-4 with a walk, which left him sitting on 39 HR, and on pace for 84.

- John Rocker got his first save with Cleveland after being traded from the Braves; the 26 year old had just four more saves left in him after that. I wonder if he's the only (nearly-)star-quality MLB player whose career was actually derailed by stupidity? Not, like, a debilitating accident caused by his stupidity; just plain ol' stupidity, in and of itself?

- The Mariners won to run their record to a ridiculous 55-19. They were leading the Angels by 18.5 games. It's a travesty that that team didn't even make the series. Probably one of the three best teams ever assembled...and with essentially no star power.

- I noticed none of these things. I was busy getting married to my best friend and a wonderful person who has kept me sane and happy and healthy for eight wonderful years. So forgive me for kind of a nothing post, but we've been celebrating, and I'd just like to appreciate that and marvel at the fact that it was already eight whole years ago. Also, just looking at a random day (random to the baseball world, that is, not to me...) can be fun.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jamie Moyer could be almost your whole team's dad

I don't think baseball-reference or retrosheet can do this yet (I could be wrong), but I'd really like to know how often one starting pitcher in a game has been twice the (seasonal) age of the opposing starting pitcher. I bet you could find a bunch of them just by looking at the last few years of the likes of Moyer, Ryan and Johnson and the first few of Feller and Newhouser. But anyway...I'd like to know, but not enough to actually go looking.

Regardless, it happened on Tuesday night, and it was bad news for the young guy, with 23 year old David Price and the Rays falling to 46 year old Jamie Moyer and the Phillies by a score of 10-1.

Now, Price didn't pitch that badly (though he pitched plenty badly), and Moyer probably didn't pitch that well (though I'd like to see anyone in his peer group do better). Price suffered from some terrible defense behind him...but did give up 5 "earned" runs (he surrendered all 10 total runs), and his K/BB/HR ratio was an ugly 1.0 (he racked up two of each in just over four innings). Moyer needed 101 pitches to get through six, and walked three, but he did double up on the younger's strikeouts, with 4, and he allowed only the one run to score.

Price throws a 94 MPH fastball and a sharp 86 MPH slider; Moyer hasn't thrown any of his pitches 86 in probably 15 years, and his fastball averages 82.

Now, Moyer's 6 IP, 1 ER lowered his ERA for the season to just barely below 6, so let's not get too carried away. But that 5.97 ERA is good for (approximately) a 74 ERA+, which is 10th all time for a player 46 and older (minimum 70 IP). And of the seasons ahead of his, two are by Hoyt Wilhelm, two by Jack Quinn, and two by Phil Niekro, and one by Brian Dowling in 1901, which should hardly count. So you could argue that Moyer is the 6th-best 46 year old pitcher of all time. Also, only Niekro (and Dowling) was a full-time starter by that age; if Moyer tops 138.2 innings this year (also a Niekro number, at age 48), he'll have thrown the most innings in a season by a dude 46 or older, aside from Phil Niekro, in the last 108 years.

And he doesn't even throw a knuckleball! Now, I'm pretty sick of the Phils, but you gotta love Jamie Moyer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Oh, what the holy hell is this

Some utter rot from MLB.com:

"Frankly, you can't go wrong with Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies or Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins. And that's what makes picking a starting shortstop to represent the National League so tough."

He's talking about this Hanley Ramirez. And this Jimmy Rollins. The first (and it's pretty clear any way you want to look at it, but see e.g. this) is quite easily the best shortstop in the National League, and the other, so far in '09, has been the worst. The first is in the discussion for the distinction of "best player in the National League who is not playing first base for the Cardinals," while the other has never really been as great as his reputation, and seems to have lost it entirely (as middle infielders sometimes do) at age 30.

I mean, the actual news part of the article is good news -- Hanley finally surpassed J-Roll again in the All-Star voting after two weeks of Phillies-Phan-led insanity. But they should really stop pretending that MLB.com isn't beholden to MLB and its clubs for its editorial content. In fact, they should get rid of individual bylines altogether: a "By the Philadelphia Phillies PR Department" line rather than "By Alden Gonzalez/MLB.com" would've made this a little more palatable.

Monday, June 22, 2009

You Don't Mess with the Zobrist

"Part of the payoff for Aubrey Huff, [Ben] Zobrist is less the Shortstop of the Future then [sic] the shortstop of right now. Too old to be considered a high-ceiling prospect, he's still a solid player with great command of the strike zone. He doesn't have much power to speak of, but if he can catch the ball and get on base, he'll be plenty serviceable for the time being."
-- Baseball Prospectus 2007

"While he's made it pretty clear that he's [sic] doesn't deserve a starting shortstop job, Zobrist is still a fundamentally sound defender with good on-base skills who will likely fill Josh Wilson's bench spot next year, but do it better."
-- Baseball Prospectus 2008

"Zobrist's miserable 2007 was the reason the Rays acquired Jason Barlett [sic] in the first place, but . . . Zobrist refashioned himself as a future super-sub able to play six positions. . . . Expecting him to deliver a home run every 16.5 at-bats again is a bit of a pipe dream, but he's one of the more valuable reserve players around, one who can give a team reason not to panic if a starter is forced to the disabled list."
-- Baseball Prospectus 2009

"A switch-hitter, he stands out the most for his ability to handle the bat, but all his tools except for power are average. The Astros often compared him to former standout utilityman Bill Spiers, and Zobrist projects more in that role than as a regular."
-- Jim Callis, Baseball America, July 12, 2006

Even if you didn't understand a word Baseball Prospectus was saying about Ben Zobrist, you can pretty much tell what they thought of him by the fact that they put a typo in his writeup every single year. That's pretty amazing. But anyway.

If you go by traditional qualifying rules (that is, you don't give Mauer hitless at-bats for the number of plate appearances by which he fails to qualify -- if you do that, he's still leading the world in every category ever imagined), the guy those quotes are talking about came into Sunday leading the American League in OPS and OPS+, sitting 4th in OBP and 1st in SLG. He isn't homering every 16.5 at-bats; he's doing it every 12.4. He barely has enough plate appearances to qualify (he's played in all but 8 of the Rays' games, but has frequently been used in that "supersub" role, limiting his ABs), but is still in the top ten in counting categories like Runs Created, Adjusted Batting Runs and Adjusted Batting Wins, and his 33 extra-base hits are five short of the league lead. If not for Mauer, Zobrist would be the story of the year among AL hitters. He's also played six positions (everything but first base, catcher and pitcher) and handled them all pretty well.

But the quotes above were all totally defensible at the time. Zobrist's overall minor league numbers looked pretty good, but he never hit more than seven home runs in a minor league season, and never slugged .500 in the minors (despite being on the old side of almost every level at which he played) until doing it for the 20 games he spent in AAA in 2008. When BP said he had "made it pretty clear" he didn't deserve a starting job, they were referring to Zobrist's 2007 season, which I would bet is one of the worst hitting lines a position player has ever put up in > 100 AB: .155/.184/.206, good for a 4 (yes, four) OPS+. That followed a 48 OPS+ in 2006, so looking at the first 303 plate appearances of his Major League career (.200/.234/.275, 33 OPS+), and noting that he was already 26, you could very understandably conclude that he wasn't ever going to hit enough to play in the big leagues.

Looking at his 447 PA since then (again, through Saturday), you'd have to conclude that this guy was an MVP candidate: .276/.374/.581, 145 OPS+, 27 HR, 72 RBI, 11/2 SB/CS. In 2006, he's a AAAA player; in 2007, he might not even be that; in 2008, he's a very serviceable supersub; in 2009, he's probably the second-best player in the AL. He was never a notable prospect, and he turned 28 a month ago.

This doesn't happen, does it? And how does this happen? Is he really one of the best players in the league allasudden, or is he (as ZIPs seems to think) due for a dropoff back to his 2008 level (which is still excellent) or lower (not so much)?

I think he's come too far along these last two years to be a total fluke. But very few players can keep up the pace he's on right now beyond a single year, if they can make it last that long (see Bradley, Milton), and I doubt Zobrist is suddenly one of those very few players. But if back to earth for Zobrist is a 120-130 OPS+? That's still one of the best ten or twelve players in the league. Not a bad haul for half a season of Aubrey Huff three years ago.

What do you think?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Birthday...

Dickie Thon!

Richard William Thon turns 51 today. He was born in South Bend, Indiana where his father was graduating from Notre Dame, but spent almost his entire childhood in Puerto Rico, from which he was signed by the Angels as an amateur free agent at age 16. Up and down with the Angels starting in 1979 at age 21, he was an Astro by the time he started to come into his own, in 1982. That year, he hit 10 triples and stole 37 bases in 45 tries. His overall line of .276/.327/.397 isn't going to turn many heads, but for the Astrodome in 1982, that was awfully solid, good for a 110 OPS+. 1983, then, was like a dream: .286/.341/.457 (127 OPS+), 20 homers, 34 steals (though in 50 tries this time). He made the All-Star team, and finished 7th in the MVP voting.

Maybe another young shortstop over in the AL was doing even more impressive things at an even younger age, but at just 25, Thon looked like a star. Wikipedia even claims that some considered him a future Hall of Famer (and cites Bill James' original Historical Baseball Abstract, which I wish I could find right now, as the source of that), and two pretty good seasons at ages 24 and 25 don't seem to me likely to lead you down that particular path, but he looked poised for a long and successful career.

Then: April 8, 1984.

A fractured orbital bone sounds like a terribly unpleasant thing. You can read about it here, but probably shouldn't do so while having lunch or anything. It can lead to serious vision problems...which is what Thon got when he was struck in the face with a Mike Torrez fastball on that day. His depth perception was shot.

The New York Times archives are full of references to Thon's determination to return to the playing field...and his repeated setbacks. Thon never got back into the game in 1984, and while he played in the Winter Leagues at home in Puerto Rico that winter, he got only 84 games in in '85. And frankly, he was terrible when he did play. He was a tiny bit worse in 106 games in '86, and played 32 awful games in '87, walking away from the team in July (presumably to undergo the eye surgery he had talked about wanting in March of that year) and acknowledging that his career might be over, as many writers seemed to be assuming it was. He'd just turned 29.

But it wasn't over. He signed with the Padres, and did pretty well, putting up roughly average offensive numbers (which are, of course, better than average for a shortstop) as a part-time starter. From there he went to Philly, where he reminded the game of what it might have missed out on seeing a decade or so of, hitting .271/.321/.434 (117 OPS+) with 15 homers. The speed was gone, but otherwise he looked much more like the promising young All-Star he had been than the mediocre backup infielder he had since become.

That performance earned him two more full years with the Phillies (then half-time gigs for the Rangers and Brewers after that), but he was done. He ended with a solid career, above-average numbers for a shortstop in nearly 5000 PA. But of course there's no telling what might have been.

You just have to admire a guy like Thon, though. Taking a fastball to the face would ruin (and has ruined) a lot of hitters. So would the continued setbacks and blurred vision and repeated trips to the minors or DL just a few years after finishing 7th in the MVP voting.

Even better? Thon was hit in the head with a pitch in 1987 -- less than three years after the Torrez incident -- while on a minor league rehab assignment. He missed five games. I'm pretty sure that if the first blindingly fast flying object to hit me in the head didn't get to me, nerves-wise, the second one would.

So no, I don't think it's particularly likely that he was working on a Hall of Fame career when it happened. But he was an exciting player, and a damn good one. And his perseverence in coming back time and again after the incident(s), culminating in his second very good season in 1989, is the kind of thing Disney will (and [gulp] probably should) make a movie about someday. Next time you're up against something that seems too arduous, think of Dickie.

So happy birthday, Mr. Thon. Hope you're seeing OK these days.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Insert Your Own Corny Pirate-y Pun Here

Well, the Twins played three with the Pirates this week as part of the ongoing abomination that is interleague play.

Which can really only mean one thing: for the first time in, at least, weeks, I noticed the Pirates.

And hey: they don't stink right now! They dropped two of three to the Twins, but they took two of three from the Tigers right before that and came into the Twins series at 30-33, or closer to .500 than many Pirates fans can even remember (not true at all--actually, they had about the same record at this time last year, and then everything fell apart--but it's kind of fun to write). They have a positive run differential (+4), suggesting they might've played even better than that. How did that happen?

Well, Freddy Sanchez has been great; the high batting average and doubles power are back, and he's held his own at second base. Shortstop Jack Wilson can't hit, but more than makes up for it with his glove; ditto Nyjer Morgan, easily the most exciting 85-OPS+ left fielder in the league. Zach Duke is back looking like the ace of the pitching staff again. McLouth was doing a fine job in center, but so far McCutchen has been just as good.

Other than that, though? Really hard to say. Brandon Moss looks good in the field, but has been an even worse hitter than Morgan at the other OF corner. The LaRoche brothers have been fine, but certainly no better than average at their respective positions (but it's nice to see Andy getting a legit chance to show he can play). After Duke, the pitching staff has been awful (it seems like every year, one of Duke, Snell, Gorzelanny and Maholm is pretty decent, and the others take a year off--though to be fair, Maholm has been at least an average starter, and even has Duke beat in FIP). They don't have anybody that you'd really think will get a lot better anytime soon.

So anyway, I came into this hoping to be able to say "look out for the Pirates!" or something like that. But...no. They're only six games out at this writing, but with four teams in front of them, each of whom is probably legitimately a much better team than they are. This year's out. And you have to think there'll be some more selling off before this season's over; Adam LaRoche is a good bet to go, and they don't exactly have another league-average 1B ready to step in. Jack Wilson's probably gone too. Freddy Sanchez might stay around forever...but he's already 31, and probably not actually this good.

And it's hard to see them getting too much better in the near future. The Reds are up-and-comers. The Brewers will be pretty good for a couple more years, probably, and the Cubs have the resources to be good just about every year if they want to, and the Cardinals...well, the Cards have Pujols.

After McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, there's not much on the way. Jose Tabata might still be pretty good some day...but that day is at least three years off. They took a "signability pick" college catcher with the #4 pick in last week's draft. It's hard to see them getting enough for LaRoche and whoever else they might get rid of to suddenly become a real contender in a year or two.

Come to think of it, it sucks being a Pirate fan. Maybe more than anything else in baseball. But hey, right now, they don't stink!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Weird Wright

Hey, real baseball!

By any reasonable analysis you want to do, David Wright is having the best offensive year of his career. He has (through Tuesday) a career-high 161 OPS+, .430 wOBA, and already has 6 wins above replacement according to BP's WARP3 (which is insane). He's leading the NL with a .365 batting average (40 points over his career high) and a .458 OBP (42 points over his career high), while posting a .526 SLG that's right in line with his career average of .532. He's even stolen 18 bases, second in the NL (though he leads in CS with 8, already a career high in that category, so he's barely breaking even when he runs and probably should go back to being more selective).

The amazing thing you probably already know is this: Wright, who has a career full-season low of 26 HR, is doing all this while having hit just four homers all year. He's on pace to hit 11 all season, or three fewer than he hit in 283 PA as a 22 year old rookie in 2004. He's balancing some of that out with doubles, but he's only on pace for 8 more of those than in '08 (50 total, but he's always hit a lot of doubles), so his Isolated Power is down 70 points from '08; that SLG is being sustained mostly by that astronomical batting average.

Some have written that it's too hard to hit HR in the Mets' new park, so you might think that had something to do with it. Doesn't look like it, though; while overall scoring at Citi is pretty low, it's actually been the fifth most homer-happy park in the Majors so far, and in fact Wright has hit three of his four homers at home.

It gets weirder still. Look at these numbers (lifted straight from FanGraphs):
GB/FB: 0.95 (2008), 0.94 (2009)
LD%: 25.6% (2008), 25.9% (2009)
GB%: 36.2% (2008), 35.9% (2009)
FB%: 38.2% (2008), 38.2% (2009)

So Wright is hitting line drives, grounders and fly balls in almost exactly the same proportions as he did last year. Even fewer of those fly balls (4.6% this year, 7.6% last) are staying in the infield. We'd expect him to be hitting HR at more or less the same rate, even a tiny bit better...but, well, obviously, that ain't happening. You have to assume he's getting unlucky, homer-wise; he has to be hitting the ball pretty hard to maintain that BA, but the ones in the air just aren't carrying quite far enough.

So, we should expect the homers to come around. He's not likely to hit 30 again this year, but it's not unreasonable to expect him to hit 'em at a 30-HR pace from here on out (which would give him a total of about 22 for the season).

But there's a big, huge, flashing neon warning sign for Wright that has nothing to do with his HR power or batted ball types, and this is the incredible part to me: Wright is putting up that huge batting average not only while keeping the ball in the park when he does hit it, but while striking out once per game. He's struck out between 113 and 118 times in each of his four full seasons, but now he's already struck out 61 times in 61 games, which over a full season would top his career high strikeout total by 40+. His walk rate is up very marginally, while his strikeout rate is up by over a third. That's bad.

It's been a while since I've talked about BABIP, so let me just remind you: that sort of thing (a strikeout per game + a .365 BA) just doesn't happen. It varies a little based on the percentages of GB/LD/FB players hit, but when they don't hit a homer or strike out, we expect everybody to have a 30% or so chance of getting a hit (that is, a .300 BABIP). Wright's BABIP right now (well, through Tuesday) is .485. By comparison, Joe Mauer is hitting a ridiculous .429 right now, and his BABIP is "only" .443. Ichiro! is hitting .354, pretty close to Wright's BA, but with a BABIP of .374; he's done it by striking out about 1/3 as often as Wright.

A different perspective: Wright's .485 BABIP leads the #2 (PA-qualified) guy in the majors in that category, Kevin Youkilis, by 76 points. There is no one within 76 points of Wright, and then there are 43 guys within 76 points after Youk. The 2008 leader BABIP'ed .396, 89 points below Wright's '09 number.

So you get the point by now: it's not going to last. Something's got to give--Wright has to start making better contact, or his batting average will start coming way, way down, and then if he doesn't also start hitting home runs (and playing better defense, which is another weird thing I haven't even touched on here), it'll take a huge chunk of his value right down with it.

Wright has had an amazing first 62 games, and is an amazing player. There's really no telling what this guy can do. But I'm pretty confident in this: whatever he does, he'll look like a very, very different player over these last 100 games than he did over the first 62.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Geoff Baker is really, really wrong

Shyster links to this latest gem by the Seattle Times' Geoff Baker, who last week ripped into an until-recently obscure blogger for doing something Baker himself has done in suggesting that maybe there are reasons to believe that Raul Ibanez's amazingly hot start to his age-37 season wasn't 100% natural.

Shyster is actually awfully kind to Baker in this one (and he calls Baker "off his nut"). Baker's piece (most of it) is presented as kind of a Libel Law for DummiesBloggers, and as Shyster notes, everything he says is right. Technically. And maybe in practice he's right, too; after all, even if there's no serious case that you've actually committed libel, just the fact that you might be sued for it (however baselessly) probably ought to be enough to give one pause. Obviously, he's right that in general, it's important to be careful whenever you're talking about something that's going to hurt someone's reputation.

But the claims and insinuations he makes about the law itself are so misleading and silly that I just can't leave it alone. To leave off the points Baker leaves off indicates that he either (a) has an alarmingly poor grasp on defamation law for a professional journalist, or (b) wrote the piece in an attempt to scare amateur bloggers away from their computers. I think it might be some of both.

If you get sued for libel, your defense can be "the truth'' -- that what you wrote is true -- or that, even if what you wrote was false, you did not act with malice. In Canada, where I began my career, the law is much tougher and states that your stuff had better be true, or you're in hot water. It's a bit more lax here in the U.S. with the whole "malice'' thing.
Yeah, "a bit more lax." The basic tone of it is: "be careful, because if you say anything bad about someone and it turns out to be false, you'll get sued, and all they have to show is that little 'malice' thing."

Let me try to get across how crazy a misstatement that is. He might as well have said this: "If the government wants to get you for murder, all they have to prove is that you actually killed somebody. When I grew up in 14th Century England, all they needed was the King's word that you did it. It's a bit more lax here in the U.S. with the whole 'proof' thing." The requirement of "malice" -- and the legal term is actually "actual malice" -- has the practical effect of rendering almost any defamation suit filed by a celebrity like Ibanez utterly frivolous.

With all due respect to Mr. Baker, let me try to give you my own primer on defamation law*:

In the 1960s, the Supreme Court decided New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which laid out the following standards for a defamation suit where the allegedly defamed subject was a public official or public figure (a legal term we won't get into, but suffice it to say that Ibanez unquestionably qualifies for these purposes): (1) the statement must actually be false and harmful to the subject; and (2) the statement must have been made with actual malice.

Now, "actual malice" is another legal term, and it has nothing to do with the dictionary definition of malice (like simply wishing someone ill). It means that the statement must have been made with either (a) actual knowledge of its falsity or (b) reckless disregard of the truth.

Baker insists (in a later-posted update in response to some comments) that mere speculation or insinuation is enough. And it's not. Not for public figures. If the blogger Baker is so incensed with had said "Raul Ibanez is on steroids," period, and done so in a way that led you to believe he knew what he was talking about, that would be a different matter (assuming it's provably false and the blogger has no particular reason to believe it might be true). Or if Ibanez were not a public figure, the bar would be much lower (tellingly, Baker doesn't use the phrase "public figure" anywhere in his "primer").

But the post in question did involve a public figure and overtly put itself out as pure speculation, pointing to a number of signs that could be taken as support for the idea that Ibanez might be using PEDs. I have a hard time believing that that would qualify as defamation in a free-speech-respectin' country like Canada, but I'm absolutely positive that it would get laughed out of any court in our own country. For Baker to suggest that there are real worries for bloggers in cases like these is either intentionally misleading or shows an alarming level of incompetence in an area that's pretty vital to his own field of alleged expertise.

Of course, you "can be sued" over everything, however baseless. Celebrities love to file defamation suits, almost literally all of them baseless, as a way to rehabilitate their image (Clemens wouldn't sue over it if it were true, right?!) and in the hopes of scaring the defendant into a quick settlement (retraction and apology). You'd win the suit easily, and you'd have a good case for sanctions against the celeb (recoupment of your attorney's fees), but the risk, however slight, is so costly that they can usually bully you out of taking it. So if the fear is that you'd be sued, then yeah, it's a real fear. If the fear is that you're actually running afoul of the law, that's ludicrous. The athlete almost definitely makes more money than you, and uses it to bully you out of your right to free speech. It's sad, but true. So in most practical ways, Baker was right; he was just kind of disingenuous in going about it.

Now, let me be clear: I hate reading, writing, and especially speculating about PED use. You'll never see that here. The post in question was ill-advised and horribly written. But under our Constitution and NYT v. Sullivan, the blogger absolutely had a right to write it. It's very wrong to spread lies and baseless rumors, but to speculate about a public figure using publicly available information is pretty comfortably in the heart of our free speech zone. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible. I get the sense that Baker and a lot of other professional journalists consider amateur bloggers to have invaded their own private realm, and that posts like these are the equivalent of them attempting to brush an annoying gnat off their shoulders. Well...join the current century, guys.


*Obviously, in no way is this legal advice, or any kind of advice at all. The message here isn't "defame away, everybody." Nobody wants to be sued even if they know they'll win, and to tread the line of spreading lies and totally groundless rumors (which CAN be defamation, even to a public figure) is a terrible, terrible idea, not to mention crappy writing. But the blogger in this case did absolutely nothing more than the things Baker and his colleagues do on a regular basis; the idea Baker wants to get across is that you're an amateur and you don't know what you're doing, so you're gonna get in trouble, so you crazy kids just get off my lawn turf already. And I have a big problem with that...but I'll stop ranting now.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Strasburg Redux

A couple times last week I wrote in passing about Steven Strasburg and how silly I think it is that people (mostly writers and "experts") are so riled up about the amount of money he's apparently going to demand before ever throwing his first professional pitch.

To one of those posts, Ron commented like so (unabridged but compressed for space):
Strausburg hasn't proven anything. They're asking $50 mil who might be the biggest bust of all time, and he's not worth the money. I hope the Nats lowball and him, and Boras has to make the decision of taking less money or having him sit out the year. No college or high school 'deserves' that kind of money, no matter how good they were at a previous level. Players today get big arbitration and free agent contracts by putting up numbers at the major league level. Last time I checked, Strasburg had 0 professional wins, 0 professional strike outs, 0 professional shutouts, etc. How is he worth anything more than a basic contract and a chance to prove himself?
And over at his own site yesterday, tHeMARksMiTh chimed in with somewhat similar sentiments phrased in an entirely different way.

I replied to Mark's directly over at his site, but here, rather than tackle either of these arguments head-on, I'm going to try to explain my own position a little better.

1. I'm not saying Strasburg should get $50 million. Only Boras and Conlin have said that, as far as I can tell, and only Conlin seems to actually believe it. I don't believe anyone is worth that kind of money, and there's no way the Nats or anyone else would pay it. He should, however, get something approximating what the highest bidder would be willing to pay him. And:

2. there's absolutely nothing wrong with a kid hiring a representative to zealously advocate for him. Otherwise it's just the kid against the zealous advocates on the other side, and that's how you get the reserve clause and collusion and all that. Strasburg might be a bust. He might throw out his arm this fall and be back in school (for real this time) by spring. But that's exactly why he should be trying to get every penny he can, right now. And the Nationals should be willing to give him a lot of it, because:

3. Strasburg has proven plenty, thank you. He's probably the best college pitcher in history. He throws 100 miles an hour with control for 100+ pitches. Scouts say he can step in right now and hold his own in the majors. Scouts can be wrong, but many of them are very, very good at their jobs, and they all seem to agree on this one. His skills have a value apart from any statistics, professional or otherwise, you might want to tack onto them. And that value is a very, very large number. If you graduate at the top of your class from Harvard Business School, you're (even in this economy, I think) going to get your choice of a number of prestigious and lucrative job offers. You haven't written a single professional report or given a single professional presentation, but there's plenty of evidence you can do your job well. And you'll be making a lot more money than the guy who graduated at the bottom of your class, and more than a lot of other guys who went to Muncie State and have been writing reports and giving presentations for a less prestigious company for 20 or 30 years. That's the way the world works, and there's no real good argument for treating baseball as though it were any different in that regard. All that said, though:

4. I'm not really in favor of abolishing the draft. This has been something that's been discussed a lot lately, and I have to admit that the revolutionaries (like David Pinto) have a lot of great points, and probably make a stronger rational/economic case than the traditionalists do. But baseball is different, and there's a lot to be said for the (theoretical) best players going to the worst teams. However, there's a lot that needs to be done to make this fairer to the kids. Get rid of the ridiculous slotting system entirely (though it's increasingly being ignored by most teams anyway). Make draft picks tradeable, so that a team that doesn't value (or have the cash for) the top pick can immediately get value from a team that does. And so on. On the other hand,

5. We already know what a draft-free world would look like. There's no draft for overseas players. Any team is free to bid on any player. And you know what? The Yankees and Red Sox don't have anything like a monopoly on the best international talent, and never have. So I can't quite go so far as to endorse it (yet), but the world without the draft might not be such a bad or scary place.

So anyway. That does a slightly better job of explaining where I come down on this thing than I was doing last week. No, Strasburg shouldn't get $50 million. Nobody should, and nobody seriously thinks he will. But he should be able to get something like the top of what the market will pay for his services. And if the nature of sport prevents that from happening (which the international market suggests it probably shouldn't), the constraints on the draft should be loosened or lifted to get as close to that as realistically possible.

Lastly (maybe most importantly): there are a lot of arguments against amateurs "deserving" this kind of money and against changing the system. And I think most of them are shockingly weak, but I get where they come from. But what are the arguments in favor of keeping the system as it is? Why do we want to continue artificially shifting wealth from the kids to the(ir) owners? I'm all ears (er, eyes)...

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Approve of the Justin Upton

Wasn't able to get a post together for this morning, so the Strasburg one will be pushed to tomorrow.

So how about this kid?
Everybody knew he was going to be good, but this good, this fast? He's hitting .306/.389/.569 (143 OPS+) and on pace for 32 HR, 35 2B, 11 3B and 24 SB. This after putting up a .250/.353/.463 (107 OPS+) line in 2008, batting .220 for the rest of the season after a hot April. He's also saved 4.4 runs above average with his glove and arm, according to UZR, after costing the team 6 runs last year.

Here is a complete list of guys who have batted at least 350 times at or before their age 20 season (Upton's age last year) and put up an OPS+ in that season of between 100 and 110.

He's already in pretty select company, with only 19 names (taking off the upper limit on OPS+ more than doubles the list and adds names like Mays, Mantle and Hornsby, but I'm interested in comparing him to guys who, like Upton, were good enough to play at age 20 but weren't quite there yet). Here's how those guys did the following year (prior year's OPS+ -> next year's (comment)):

Buddy Lewis: 102 -> 102 (big breakout the year after that)
Adrian Beltre: 101 -> 119 (then fell below 100 for three years)
Ruben Sierra: 107 -> 101 (broke out two years later)
Phil Cavarretta: 107 -> 65 (limited PA; broke out two years later and had an excellent career)
Freddie Lindstrom: 108 -> 111 (had two good years and somehow made the Hall)
Hank Aaron: 104 -> 143 (continued being Hank Aaron for 21 years)
Cecil Travis: 101 -> 103 (took a slight step up at age 23, career destroyed by the war after 27)
Edgar Renteria: 103 -> 80 (that's been Renteria's career in a nutshell)
Joe Torre: 104 -> 104 (jumped to stardom the following year; should be in the Hall as a player)
Travis Jackson: 103 -> 87 (see comment to Lindstrom, Freddie)
Ken Griffey Jr.: 108 -> 135 (the first was actually his age 19; jumped to 155 at age 21, and you know the rest of the story)
Clint Hurdle: 108 -> 96 (had a 120 OPS+ third year and flamed out)
Butch Wynegar: 109 -> 96 (Twins might have harmed his career with too much PT as a catcher at ages 20 and 21; good hitter for a catcher, but never had another full season as good as the first)
Roberto Alomar: 105 -> 107 (broke out two years later; no-doubt Hall of Famer)
Rick Manning: 101 -> 118 (fell to pieces immediately after that)
Ed Kranepool: 100 -> 93 (only had a couple years, much later, that were better than those)
Milt Stock: 102 -> 98 (same as Kranepool)
Whitey Witt: 100 -> 99 (missed the following year fighting in WWI; never got much better)

So that's it. Being on a list in which Aaron, Torre and Griffey are among only 18 other names is pretty impressive as it is, but it looks to me that you can safely say this about it: being an average hitter at age 20 (or 19 in some of these guys' cases) is great, but the real marker of a Hall of Fame-type talent is getting much better very quickly. Making the jump Upton appears to have made at age 21 rather than, say, age 23 or 24 might be the difference between becoming Hank Aaron and becoming Ruben Sierra.

Here's another list: best seasons by OPS+ at age 21. If Upton maintains his 143 OPS+, he'll slot in in a tie for 16th. All but two of the guys ahead of him and the majority of the 15 or 20 guys behind him are clear Hall of Fame talents (are in, are not yet eligible but will be in, or are Shoeless Joe).

So, we could be witnessing the beginning of something very special. Better start paying attention.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Guest Blogger: The All-Hotness Team

When I posted my All Unfortunate-Looking Team the other day (and by the way, how did I forget Otis Nixon?), it was suggested in the comments that I should follow it up with an All-Good Looking Team. And, well, I can't. I'd like to be able to; I just don't know whether guys are good-looking or not. I guess there's an ugliness threshhold below which I feel fairly confident in my assessments. Above that, though, I find I have no idea.

Enter my first ever guest writer: my own lovely wife, who has recently (re-)begun writing her own delightful blog under the name "Minerva." Enjoy!


After reading Bill’s delightful-if-irreverent blog on Thursday providing his readers with the homeliest of players, the question came to mind of whether he would provide the opposite list. He assured me he would not; however, he did offer me the opportunity to do so in his stead. I will do my best. I will restrict myself to players who have played in my lifetime, as he did, for consistency’s sake. Also, then I won’t have to look up quite so many players. I lack the depth of encyclopedic baseball knowledge of my darling husband, although he has made quite the baseball fan out of me. I undertake this challenge with one caveat: judging a person’s attractiveness is very subjective. I am going with my own gut reactions here, so I fully expect there to be some disagreement. I apologize in advance if anyone’s secret heartthrob is inadvertently left off my list. And if it seems like I have too many Twins, it’s probably because I watch them more than any other team, so I can readily recall more of them and what they look like off the top of my head…sorry about that. Maybe that’s why I don’t have many Yankees…Hmm.

Catcher: Joe Mauer. I admire baseball players that are great at fielding a very difficult position and also are excellent hitters. As the first-round draft pick for the Twins who went on to win the batting title in 2006 and 2008, Mauer certainly fits that bill. I also admire a pair of startlingly-blue eyes set off by dark hair (I secretly hope my own son will one day rock this combo). I may not be a huge fan of giant sideburns, but if that’s his biggest flaw, I’m willing to overlook it.

Honorable Mention: Mike Piazza. Growing up in California in the 90s, I clearly remember the days when a young Mike announced in a commercial that he was the lowest-paid player on the Dodgers, and he could still afford that car…what a cute guy. Always charming and well-spoken, and he wore a goatee well. He seems like the type of guy your mom would love, but he'd still be fun on a date. He happens to rock the classic "tall, dark and handsome" combination very well.

1st Base (tie): Justin Morneau. Another excellent player (MVP, anyone? How about Home Run Derby champ?). His name is fun to chant when followed by a clapping pattern. This action seems to spur him to superhuman home-run streaks against the Chicago White Sox. I am also a sucker for accents and he is Canadian. He has nice eyes, straight, white teeth and wavy but not 'fro-y hair. Plus, his surname rhymes with “porno.” I'm not sure why, but this seems to be in his favor.

Derrek Lee is a tall drink of water who still manages not to look like Frankenstein. He has a warm, genuine smile and once in awhile you can catch him laughing and joking in the dugout, as in this photo. Sexier than a solely-attractive man is a man with a cause: he is also a crusader for further research into the rare retinal disease that afflicts his young daughter. Bonus points if he can speak Japanese, since his father had a career in Japan’s major leagues. Domo arigato, Mr. Lee.

Honorable Mention: Chris Davis. Davis has big, soulful blue eyes. He also finds creative poses for his photo sessions, indicating a certain level of creativity and intelligence beyond raw athletic talent. Hmm, maybe I have a thing for goatees, I never noticed before. Maybe it’s just that so many danged baseball players HAVE them…I sort of have to end up picking some of them then.

2nd Base: Chase Utley. The unattractive-sounding surname doesn’t suit such a handsome mug. Even the boo-birds in Philly can’t find much to fault in him. I mean, really. He married a woman who is a classic beauty (not the bottle-blonde bimbos a lot of them seem to gravitate towards), and they rescue dogs together? What’s not to like? Let's take a moment to revel in the pure cuteness of it all.

Okay, moment over. Moving on.

Shortstop: Ryan Theriot. I love an underdog, and The Riot seems to be one of the main poster children of our loveable Cubbies. While his eyebrows are threatening to take on David Wright-esque proportions, he is otherwise a very nice-looking guy. A benign Sylar, or a more-athletic Spock, if you will.

Honorable Mention: Elvis Andrus. Bill had to spell his last name for me, I was not familiar with this rookie, but his smile has the makings of a young Denzel Washington. This one intrigues me. I will be watching you, Mr. Andrus. Please, keep smiling.

3rd Base: Evan Longoria. Lucky he is this cute, or everyone would tease him WAY more for having a name almost identical to Eva of Desperate Housewives fame. Another really nice smile, and the rest of his face is well in proportion as well, with nice high cheekbones and smiley eyes. Oh, and he can play a little, too.

Outfield: Ichiro! Suzuki. Even scruffy, his quiet intensity at bat and gravity-defying feats in right field make him very easy to look at indeed. His smile is more of the mischievous, little-boy-all-grown-up variety. Very winning.

Outfield: Torii Hunter. While he played for the Twins, he had braces for at least a few years, but despite that potential barrier, his smile was infectious. Now that they are off, it’s even more so. Just try not to smile when you see him smile! Really, I dare you. That’s on top of the 8 consecutive Gold Gloves.

Outfield: Jeff Francoeur. Sure, he he sucks, but look: PUPPY! In all seriousness, he is a good-looking dude. Sweet smile, big, bright eyes, long eyelashes. I guess it's good he has all that going for him since he probably won't have a really long MLB career. Get the Annies while you can, buddy!

Pitcher: Johan Santana. My first article of clothing featuring an MLB player's number was his. I had the pleasure of going to an early autograph signing he had at a Twins pro shop with my husband, and he is definitely easy on the eyes. Warm, open face, sparkling eyes, and a neatly kept goatee that actually flatters him. He was a very polite young man as well, which certainly doesn’t hurt. What could be a better combination than knockout looks and lights-out pitching? We miss you in the Cities, seƱor.

Honorable Mention: Pat Neshek. Okay, he’s hurt right now. That doesn’t make him less cute. He has an irrepressible energy that radiates from the field clear out to the bleachers. It shines through in his rakish smile and crinkly eyes. He also has an awesome submarine pitching action that actually offends opposing hitters—very entertaining. Plus, he is a big nerd—he collects autographs.

I dig nerdy athletes.

Okay, it’s impossibly late, so I need to put this, then myself, to bed. Thanks for humoring the chick that doesn’t know quite as much about baseball as all of you.

"Dude, we're hot. High five!"

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dark day...almost

Sometime soon, I'm going to go to one post per weekend rather than two. But not this weekend (which means that, since this little notice is most definitely something, there will have been at least 67 straight days with a post before I go one without).

I was hoping to have a special guest blogger today, but that's not going to happen yet, so that will be tomorrow. Then on Monday, I'll try to be a little clearer about my position on all this Strasburg stuff, by way of a response to Ron Rollins' comment to yesterday's little bit of nonsense (and presumably to tHeMARksMiTh's Sunday post on the same topic).

In the meantime, consider this: since May 23 (the date of his return from the illness and passing of his mother), Delmon Young is "hitting" .217/.226/.233 with 27 strikeouts in 16 games. That's a .459 OPS, from a left fielder who contributes absolutely nothing in the field. There are 53 times since 2007 where a pitcher has had at least 25 PA in a season and managed to top a .459 OPS.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I agree with Bill Conlin, dammit

Well, okay, that's not true. Just the opposite of that is true, as you'll see. And it will probably never be true. But I do agree with his headline:

In desperate times, Nationals must throw cash at Strasburg

The article itself is a meandering, incomprehensible mess full of contradictorily ridiculous assertions (which qualities could fairly be summed up by calling any article like this "a conlin"; in fact, I think I'll use that from now on), so you can't really coherently "agree" with the meat of it. If you thought I was crazy for saying that Strasburg is worth considerably more than $11 million, you'll love this.

In a perfect world, owner Ted Lerner would transfer about 500,000 Benjamins to the account of Strasburg's agent, Scott Boras. Then the new face of the franchise would make a couple of starts before full houses and go off to the minors to learn about pitching every fifth day for 6 months.
But cf. Conlin, a few paragraphs later, after rambling about a huge top prospect he once covered who in the end could only manage to be Lew Krausse Jr.:

Nationals owner Ted Lerner can only pray he gets a little more bang than that for the 50 million Stephen Strasburg bucks Scott Boras is about to pry out of him.

So I find the first quote almost offensively stupid. Conlin's "perfect world" is essentially a system of something like indentured servitude. I know, it's hard to sympathize with a 21 year old kid making half a million dollars, but focusing on the figures involved just obscures the brain-exploding wrongness of this line of thinking.

I'm not going to get all philosophical about what would really be a "perfect world," but there's certainly no arguing that in the most perfect version of our own capitalist system, everyone would be free to obtain the highest price his or her services could bring on the open market. For Strasburg, that's a hell of a lot more than $500,000. It's a lot more than $11 million. And it may be even more than $20 million. You could draw a lot of frightening conclusions about Conlin, if you wanted to read that much into it, from the fact that his "perfect world" involves robbing a young man of something like 98.7% of the value of his services (and transferring that cash directly to the young man's billionaire bosses).

That's a little unfair, since one presumes that by "perfect world" he means the perfect world in Ted Lerner's head, not a utopian society. But if that's the case, why stop at such a ridiculously low figure? In Lerner's "perfect world," wouldn't every player just play for free?

In my opinion, it's because of the effect I alluded to on Wednesday (more directly discussed in the comments): writers like Conlin and former players like Harold Reynolds just don't want a kid making that much money. It offends their delicate sensibilities, which in turn mangles their capacity to reason (if Conlin ever had that capacity, which I kind of doubt). They get this figure in their head of what a young player "deserves," and what he's "earned" by his play on the field. These ideas have nothing to do with concepts of value and everything to do with their own preconceived notions of merit and hard work and the value of a dollar (dagnabbit).

But Conlin's ultimate point (apparently, though I think he forgot to actually make it amidst all that pointless blather about Krausse) is that, as offensive and horrible it is, the evil Strasburg and the eviller Boras have the Nationals over a barrel, and they have to pay him as much as he wants. To Conlin, that means paying him $50 million, a pipe dream of a figure that Boras kind of alluded to in a roundabout way in comparing Strasburg to the bidding on imports like Dice-K.

Saying he'll get $50 million is, in a way, even dumber than saying he should be getting 1% of that total (and the fact that he said both those things in the space of one article is what makes him Bill Conlin). Boras consistently has incredible success at getting his clients hilariously huge amounts of money, but when has he ever gotten the top figure he's asked for? And he hasn't even asked for $50 million; that's just a pie-in-the-sky number he floated in an interview, hoping to make the $18 or $20 or $25 million Strasburg will eventually get sound more palatable by comparison. Conlin is the only dude I know of who has even considered for a minute that $50 million might even be somewhere on the far-right, fading-to-zero tail in the bell curve of possible outcomes of these negotiations.

As Mark noted in the comments to the Wednesday post, Strasburg isn't really in a much better position than any other draftee. Yeah, it would look terrible for the Nationals to fail to sign him, but Strasburg's alternative is to play independent ball for a year for almost no money and hope he doesn't blow his arm out (and inevitably watch his draft position slip in '10 even if healthy, since the Nationals are pretty much locked into the top pick in that draft too). It's an alternative I don't think he'll hesitate to take if the Nationals really lowball him, but it's not exactly an attractive one.

So I guess it's just kind of an army of straw men Conlin has set up here. Strasburg should be getting half a mil, but Conlin has resigned himself to the fact that, in this modern world gone mad, Strasburg will be getting $50 mil. It's just lazy, bad, brainless, worthless writing. And it makes it just a little harder to feel sad about the impending death of the newspaper industry.

Also, Conlin once said he wished Hitler were still around so he could kill all the bloggers. Essentially. So, you know, there's that.

BLACKBERRY EDIT: ha! As Mark points out in the comments below, I'm not nearly as up on my mid-90's lingo as Conlin is. Of course "500,000 Benjamins" is just a really lame way of saying "$50 million." So while I have no interest in being "fair" to a guy like Conlin, I guess I should axknowledge that he's only dumb about one of these two things. The rest only applies to almost every other newspaper writer out there...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The All-Unfortunate-Looking Team

Inspired by The Common Man's post of about a month ago and a friend's suggestion, here are my votes for the ugliest players at each position in my lifetime. This is a little mean-spirited for my taste, but it's not like this would be the first time any of these guys had heard it, and it's hard to think of a new topic every single day sometimes, so give me a break already:

Ron KarkoviceThere's a reason that all the cards (and other pictures for that matter) of the good-field, no-hit catcher other than this one are from a solid 15-20 feet away. He had the wrinkles, and the pure-white hair and whispy little mustache, of a 75 year old man. He was about 23 in this picture. No kidding.

First Base: John Kruk

You know, first basemen as a whole are a good- (or at least inoffensive-)looking group. They're either your strapping athletic types that look like quintessential baseball players (Steve Garvey, Don Mattingly, Mark Teixeira, Justin Morneau), or they're the lovably pudgy types (either Fielder, Kent Hrbek, Mo Vaughn, Jim Thome). Kruk might have fit into the latter category, but he wasn't quite pudgy enough, and the mullet goes a long way in this competition. And of course now on ESPN (he's still on ESPN, right? I really don't watch anymore), he looks like a bowling ball in a suit with no neck, just a head perched on top. Steve Balboni narrowly missed the cut, by the way, but with him I think it was just the walrus mustache; without that, he'd probably look totally normal. John Kruk couldn't be spared that easily.

Second Base: Mickey Morandini

In this picture, he kind of has a younger Ron Karkovice thing going. In later pictures, no doubt influenced by Krukkie (his teammate both here and with the Phillies), he has a mullet. Either way, it ain't pretty.

Shortstop: Alvaro Espinoza Huge 80s mustache + huge 80s glasses = win.

Third Base: Gary Gaetti

My first favorite player, as I've mentioned before, but man. You don't get a nickname like "The Rat" by...well, by not bein' ugly.

Left Field: Pete Rose Maybe I'm biased, but that mug and those jowls and that greasy bowl haircut...just kind of revolting.
Center Field: Willie McGeeThe MVP of this team, for obvious reasons. Not only was Willie less than blessed aesthetically, but his "picture face" was less of a smile than a look suggesting that something has just happened that is so horrible as to be beyond his comprehension.

Right Field: Ricky Ledee
Kind of an out-there pull on this one. But if that's not unfortunate, I don't know what is. And it's not the picture--all his pictures look just like this. May actually be The Missing Link.

Starting Pitcher: Randy Johnson
I mean, obvi. Apologies to Pete Vuckovich, CC Sabathia and David Wells, but just as with the NL Cy Young race throughout the early 2000s, this contest is no contest.

Relief Pitcher: Rich Garces
There are a lot of higher-profile guys to choose from -- Eckersley, Mesa, Urbina -- but if Ledee can make the team, then so can El Guapo. Kruk would give him a run for his money nowadays, but I think Garces may be the first player who, at his playing weight, was as wide as he was tall.
So who'd I miss?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Adventures in Miscellany

I don't think this year was the best time for MLB to try to go all NFL on us with the draft. I mean, you've got the new best pitching prospect ever (don't dare tell Keith Law that he might not be the next Clemens, by the by) , but nobody seems all that excited about anyone else in the draft. I'll watch pretty much anything having anything to do with professional baseball, and maybe if the amateur draft was held in January, they'd rope me in. But I'm not watching the MLB draft in prime time when there's real baseball to be watched. And if I'm not in their audience for this thing, odds are pretty good that their actual audience will be wildly terribly small compared to the amount of time and money they've spent promoting it.

Nobody has told baseball that it's a dated and boring game. It keeps coming up with things I've never seen before. Like this:

I wish I could figure out where that came from or who those teams were. But anyway, I thought it was cool.

Speaking of Strasburg, add Buster Olney to the growing list of crotchety writers who are jealous of his opportunity and "advising" him to take less money than he's worth in what may be the one shot to make real money he gets in his life. Olney quotes "one baseball official" as saying he would just offer Strasburg $11 million (half a million more than Prior's record-breaking deal eight years ago) "and make that my best and first and only offer."
I'll just say this: I hope that "baseball official" is the Padres' director of marketing or the Mets' senior counsel or something. If that official is making baseball decisions, you should hope that he's not doing so for your team. A Boras client very well may (I'd go so far as to say probably will) ignore an offer so obviously below his value as that (and negotiation techniques as bullying and amateurish as that), and go play for the Saints or something.
And if that happens, with fan morale where it is now (that one fan is getting awfully down on himself), the Nationals might as well move back to Canada. Or Senegal.
Mr. Pinto points out that the Padres get a strange off-day in the City of Angels, maybe indulging in a Rodeo Drive (or maybe just Rodeo Road--man, I wish that video was online) shopping spree between their series with the Dodgers ending on Wednesday and the one with the Angels starting on Friday. There have been a lot of head-scratchers with the schedule this year, mostly (a) all the two-game series and (b) pairs of teams in different divisions seeming to meet each other very frequently over the first two months, and then not again for the rest of the year. But problem #1, now and always, is that ridiculous unbalanced schedule. Yankees and Red Sox fans (and Rays fans) should put away their differences and organize a collective uprising against that ludicrosity.
Then again, you can get from LA to San Diego in two hours or less. I guess I'd probably just buzz back home for the day. Now, if they did that to the Marlins or Orioles, there might be issues.
Finally, a video that has nothing to do with anything. Here's a sentence I never thought I'd say: I'm currently obsessed with two folk-comedy duos. You've probably heard of the first:

The other is Garfunkel and Oates, who don't have the benefit of an HBO sitcom (yet) but are just as funny. But I've realized that they don't have a video I could embed here that wouldn't be likely to be at least a little offensive to someone.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

If it's May 9 rather than June 9...

...and your team's MVP candidate is hitting .228/.343/.447, do you worry?

Because that's Ian Kinsler's line since May 6 (the season started on April 6, so if this were a month earlier that would take us back to about game 1). Fortunately, back in the real world, he hit .321 and slugged .652 for the first five weeks or so. So since May 6 he's lost 47 points of average, 14 points of OBP and 103 points of SLG, but he's still a .905 OPS second baseman, not some .228-hitting disappointment. For now.

Another one: his season numbers are still awe-inspiring, because he hit .400 for the first month or so. But do you think Miguel Cabrera would be getting ESPN.com feature stories right now if the first baseman had put up an .839 OPS with 3 homers through May 9, rather than from May 6 to June 9?

On the other hand, how do you suppose the New York media would react if Mark Teixeira had waltzed into the city and hit .350/.417/.761 with 12 HR in his first month-plus, rather than his second?

Do you think there would be any doubt about his All-Star chances if Ichiro! had hit .400/.439/.538 in April-May rather than May-June? Would the media get off David Wright's back a little bit if he had been hitting .388 with a .500 OBP on May 9?

One thing that drives me crazy is the way that, at least with regard to position players, each passing month is a little less important to us than the last, until you get to September (and that's assuming you're in a pennant race). If a guy hits .400 in April but then hits .200 in May, he's still a good bet to make the All-Star team, while if he hits .200 in April and .400 in May, he's probably still considered a disappointment come June (unless somebody noticed and gave him the Player of the Month Award or something). The April stats count for all the hype, and the October stats count for who's "clutch" and who's not, and all the stuff in the middle just kind of happens.

But if the Mets win by a game or two, Wright's enormous early-May-to-early-June will have been as big a part of it as anything Delgado or Reyes or Beltran could possibly do in August or September. With that decimated lineup, being only three games out at this point is a miracle you can attribute almost exclusively to the wonders that are Wright and Santana. Yet if Wright slips a bit in September (or even if he's his usual stellar self, but is perceived as being "not clutch"), he'll be widely regarded as a failure again. These games (and these stats) count too, people...