Friday, July 31, 2009

The Bi-Daily Something?!

So this is a first for me, two posts in one day, but I have to point this out now.

Read this. Digest. Come back.

Ready? Good.

I was going to write my Pirates post for today, and then when the news broke yesterday I was going to write about Ortiz and Manny, and then I got fed up with it and re-decided to run with the Pirates post.

Craig has written exactly what I would have, only approximately a thousand times more clearly and convincingly. The idea that these leaks are going to keep happening so we should just end the silliness and release all the names now is kind of like criticizing the Pirates for trading their average players; while the sentiment is somewhat understandable, it's completely and totally wrong.

What needs to happen is the opposite--investigate this. Find those spineless unnamed attorneys who have access to the list and are violating a court order and making a mockery of the various codes of ethics to which they're bound by releasing these names, and prosecute them as severely as possible. Need attention from somebody? Need a quick buck? Well, now you've got your wish: you can become widely known as that one ex-lawyer who now sells crack in the alley, because you've forfeited your right to practice law (not to mention your dignity, etc.).

Totally legit to be disappointed in Ortiz, if you're so inclined. But if you're feeling shocked, and outraged, and angry? Save that for these faceless low-lifes, not Papi.

Lay Off the Pirates Already

So it's very, very popular -- fashionable, even -- to slam the Pirates lately. And by "lately," I mean these last few days, but also the last sixteen years.

And it's understandable to a point. They are going to finish this year with their seventeenth straight losing season; no way around that. And then all those fire sales. How can you ever stop losing if you trade off all their players every year? One of the articles linked above goes so far as to call it a "losing philosophy" (should be no surprise that's from the Red Sox' flagship network); another calls it "business as usual" and predicts that the prospects they're gathering in these deals will be ushered out in the same way this year's roster was, and blames them for not drafting well...naming three players the youngest of which was drafted five years ago.

Well, it's time to stop all that. It really is. This may look like the same old Pirates (that is, forever becoming the new Pirates, jettisoning talent to save money), but to the extent that that ever existed, this is very different.

First: It makes no sense to look for patterns in the last sixteen years. Neal Huntington has been General Manager of this club for two years. And he's done a weird thing here and there, but it's pretty clear that he's smarter than the other guys.

Second: I've heard at least five different people talk about what a great team the Pirates could've had if they'd just been able to hang onto their players.
C: haven't traded a good one, unless you go back to Jason Kendall (2004)
1B: Adam LaRoche
2B: Freddy Sanchez
3B: Jose Bautista
SS: Jack Wilson
LF: Jason Bay
CF: Nate McLouth
RF: Nyjer Morgan or Xavier Nady

SP: Snell, Gorzelanny.

Sanchez is a slightly above average player. Jason Bay, for all the attention he gets for the RBI and stuff, is...a slightly above average player, thanks to his glove (or lack of any idea what to do with one). Ditto McLouth. Wilson and Morgan are talented defensive players who can't hit and aren't young enough to learn. The rest, currently, are all somewhere between subpar regulars and terrible baseball players. So depending on the rest of the pitching (and there'd better be a lot of it), this could be an 80-win team. Even if you want to go all the way back to 2003 and add Aramis Ramirez to the mix and gave them their current catcher (Ryan Doumit) back...give them 83 wins. At the best.

They weren't going to compete with that squad, and none of those guys except maybe Morgan were going to be around the next time they might compete. Each of the guys above was worth more to some other team than he was to the Pirates. Basic rule of economics (probably too basic): if you have something and someone values that something more than you do, you should take as much as they're willing to give you for it.

Third: They're not giving these guys away, you know. They somehow took a freakish half-season from the very mediocre Xavier Nady and got the Yankees to give them Jose Tabata for it, now a 20 year old more than holding his own in AA. The Giants gave them Tim Alderson for Sanchez for some reason--a pitcher and another 20 year old doing well in AA. And then there's former top prospects Milledge, Clement, and Andy LaRoche, still decent bets to be good players sometime soon. And then there's a litany of lower-profile or too-soon-to-tell guys, and it's not like those don't have plenty of value too. They've built themselves, if not a good farm system, then one that's much better than they could've dreamed of having two years ago.

Fourth: This Pirates team (as opposed to the pre-Huntington one) does draft well. The negotiations with Pedro BorasAlvarez were a farce, but he's signed now, and is doing fine in his first pro season and could be doing fine in the Majors by 2010. Andrew McCutchen was drafted under the other regime, but is 22 and going to be a star very soon.

Fifth: They play in the best ballpark in the Majors (at least among those built in the last ninety years or so), and in a good sports town. Start to show signs of putting a winning team together, and the fans -- though it'll certainly take a while to convince them given their recent history -- will come out.

Is there a chance that none of these young guys pan out, or only a few of them, and those guys are gone again as they get toward free agency? Of course there is. (And if that's what happens, it'll probably still be the right thing to do.) But there's a pretty good chance that, two or three years down the road, a bunch of these guys will be household names, and they'll be looking to bring in a few guys to put them over the top.

So maybe it happens, and maybe it doesn't. But I like the moves they've been making lately, for the most part. And whatever happens two or three years down the road, hanging on to Sanchez or Adam LaRoche now wasn't going to make that future any brighter.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On the Twins and the Deadline

So I've been called out. Or called upon. Or called something.

And in stark contrast to the caller-outer himself, when that happens, this guy responds. Or he is this time. I mean, you know, he's not making any promises.

The question: what should the Twins do with the rest of this season? Buy? Sell? Nothing (which we all know is what really will happen)?

My answer: well, it's complicated. First, of course you don't pack it in right now, especially since, as TCM notes, there aren't all that many sellable commodities anyway. I'm writing this with the added perspective of one extra game over TCM, but it was (or felt like) a pretty huge game--they completed the sweep over the White Sox and jumped past said stockings into second place. still just two games behind the Tigers (and six out of the wildcard, but with four teams in front of them, two of which are clearly better teams). The Twins aren't particularly good, but the Tigers and Sox aren't either. The Twins and Tigers are separated by two games in the standings and one in expected W/L; they're separated in run differential by a single big blowout (currently 11 runs). And I don't see the Tigers or Sox getting any better this year either. There's absolutely no reason not to do everything within reason to win this year (for your sanity, three additional uses of the word "reason" have been omitted from this sentence).

That said, I don't think you should ever engage in a big buying spree unless you (a) feel like you have a great chance to win it all and (b) are pretty sure you're gonna suck for the five years after this anyway (old team, expiring contracts and so on), and neither of those things are in place here.

Moreover, the realistic middle infield options are pretty well gone; I doubt the Mariners are moving Lopez at this point; Jays GM Riccardi has shown himself to be a useless trading partner, so Marco Scutaro is probably out; and my favorite target, Freddy Sanchez, just went to the Giants (and for waaaaaayyyyy too much). If they're going to get significant middle infield help, it's going to come from Mark Grudzielanek (which, as I've said before, isn't nearly as unlikely as people seem to be assuming it is). And for God's sake, Just Say No to Orlando Cabrera.

But what the Twins both (a) need and (b) can feasibly get is another pitcher. With Slowey gone for the year, they could use a starter, and as weird as the Mariners' last couple days have been, I bet Jarrod Washburn is still available. But even he might cost too much for what he's likely to bring them (I sure hope they're asking, though).

My answer, then; be buyers, but for only one thing: a dependable relief pitcher who won't cost any big prospects. Arthur Rhodes. John Grabow. There are probably ten or twelve of these guys who will or should be available, and they're all pretty fungible, because they all have equal amounts of the one quality we're looking for here: that elusive quality of not being Jesse Crain. If a team wants too much for one of these guys, you forget about him and move on to the next guy on your list.

Matt Guerrier's and Jose Mijares' ERAs look awfully good right now, but I just don't trust those numbers (and neither does FIP--both are 1.5 to 2 runs higher than their ERAs). And with the starters struggling the way most of them are, another bullpen arm for depth--regardless of whether he slots into the 6th-7th behind those two or in the 8th in front of them--would really help.

So that's it. Get a relief pitcher. Hope Grudzie gets ready quickly to provide some much needed league-averageness. Don't go crazy just trying to "make a move" and thereby give away anything you're going to miss a bunch later (like, say, Danny Valencia). Catch the Tigers. Leave the White Sox in the dust. Win the Series. 'Kay?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stuff I'm thinking about

  • After the standing ovation the Dome fans gave Mark Buehrle after his bid for a second consecutive perfect game was broken up in the 6th inning last night, I've decided it's time to give up my resentment of Buehrle, all based on the litany of incredibly stupid things he said to or about the Twins five or six years ago. He's a hell of a pitcher, and hardly the most offensive thing on the Sox (Hawk, Guillen, Pierzynski, and Kenny Williams, in that order). From now on, he'll be on my list of likeable White Sox players (Thome and Buehrle, in that order).

  • And oh, yeah, Buehrle set a major league record last night by taking that perfect game into the 6th inning. With the 17 in a row he retired last night, the 27 in a row from the perfect game, and the final batter of his outing before that, he retired 45 straight batters, shooting past the old record held by his teammate, Bobby Jenks. So, a hearty congrats to Buehrle...if throwing two no-hitters in his career was unlikely for him, 45 batters in a row is like winning the lottery. (And then the Twins won anyway, so all is well.)

  • Vikings fans: everything's okay again. Hallelujah; the nightmare is (apparently) over.

  • You probably didn't notice this because he's a Nat, but Josh Willingham hit two grand slams on Monday. Ruth, Gehrig, Mays, Aaron, Griffey, Bonds or McGwire? No. Willingham, Mueller, Tatis, Tabor, Hoiles, Nokes, York, and pitcher Tony Cloninger? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes, among a select few other, similarly surprising names (and F-Rob).

  • Here's a contemporary article on Cloninger's two slams, which I have to say were quite a bit more unlikely and interesting than Willingham's. And here's the boxscore. Cloninger's career OPS was a very pitcher-like .486, and outside of 1966, his career highs in parts of seven other seasons were two homers and eight RBI, or exactly the total he came up with in those two swings in one game in '66 (he added a ninth RBI in the game). Even better, Cloninger had had a two-homer, five-RBI game less than three weeks earlier.

  • How is Omar Minaya not history already? This was about the most incompetent display I've ever seen by an executive of anything.

  • I continue to believe that the Rays are the best team in the East, and in the entire American League. But they're six and a half games behind the Yankees for first, four behind the Red Sox for the wildcard, and have Texas and conceivably even the White Sox or Twins to contend with for that as well. They may be better teams than the Yankees and Red Sox, but I don't think it's likely that they're that much better.

  • I dislike the wildcard, but the National League wildcard race is shaping up to be the most (and before too long, could end up being pretty much the only) interesting race in the Majors. Fully half the league (Florida, Atlanta, St. Louis, Houston, Chicago, Colorado and San Francisco) is within three games of the wildcard lead, and since two of the divisions are already virtually wrapped up by Philly and LA, those teams will really be fighting for that one spot. It shouldn't exist, but I'll be interested in seeing who gets it anyway.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rose and the Hall (Sigh.)

So some journalist reports that some Hall of Famers (whom I'm sure Czar Bud respects very much, but to whom he has no reason or obligation to listen on this issue) have mentioned to Selig that they think Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. That journalist extrapolates, out of thin air, that this means Selig is "seriously considering" reinstating Rose. (Seriously, that's it. Read the article. All he has to go on is that Hank Aaron said something, and that Selig likes Aaron.)

Based on this, whatever it is, this "news" was everywhere, all day. All it takes is a Hall of Fame ceremony and one piece of terribly irresponsible journalism, and Charlie Hustle is back on everybody's mind. That piece of irresponsible journalism has since been predictably and fully refuted, but not before anyone who tuned into Mike and Mike in the Morning, or Sirius/XM Home Plate, or browsed past ESPN or a number of other sports outlets or blogs, had to put up with a full day of uninformed, senseless debate.

So about that senseless debate...let's continue it! Should Pete be reinstated (or just go into the Hall without being reinstated by baseball itself; not debating the two alternatives, since no baseball team will ever hire him, so either one would have essentially the same impact)?

I discovered today that I'm of two minds on this issue. Or two somethings, anyway. So I'm going to do a bit of point-counterpoint, with myself. Deal with it.

POINT: No way, no how does that ass belong in the Hall of Fame.
by: Everything Bill Knows and Believes

MLB Rule 21 says, in part (subpart (d), to be exact):
Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.
This rule hasn't been touched since well before Pete's career started. It was, as most everyone familiar with this debate knows by now, posted on the bulletin board of every clubhouse at every park in which Pete played or managed, and continues to be posted there today. Pete did whatever he did with full knowledge that he was violating this rule, and with full knowledge of the rule's consequences...or if not that, with deliberate and inexcusable ignorance thereof.

And it's true that the Hall of Fame didn't officially adopt the mirror rule until Pete's case came up, but Shoeless Joe never made it in either. And no matter what anyone tells you, while the Hall is a museum, its purpose is to celebrate baseball, not merely chronicle it. Does it really make sense to enshrine someone that baseball has seen fit to banish from the game? If there were an anti-PED policy posted in every clubhouse throughout the 1990s that carried permanent banishment along with it, you can bet I'd be dead set against Bonds, McGwire et al. too.

And it's not just about following the letter of the rule; there's damn good reason for that rule. Even if we knew he never bet against his own team -- and we won't know for sure until Pete decides he needs more money and publishes another book telling us he did do it -- just betting on one's own team creates all kinds of incentives and pressures that have nothing to do with trying one's best to win each individual game. If there's one thing that professional sports should have a no-tolerance policy for, it's gambling on a game the bettor is involved in.

Pete Rose was a great player for 15 seasons. (Unfortunately, he selfishly hung around for six mostly terrible ones afterward to nab that hits record, but his actual performance isn't the issue here.) He also very likely did more than anyone in the last 90 years or so to cheapen the game and threaten its integrity. He did so knowing he might be banned for it, and he got banned for it. Let him stay that way.

COUNTERPOINT: Get this ass off my TV.
by: Bill's Deep Loathing of Pete Rose and the Idiotic Half-Formed Arguments People Try to Make for Him

I agree with everything that EBKAB says above. But at the same time, this issue won't go away until Pete dies (and maybe not even then, since there are still Shoeless Joe apologists out there too). And this issue is really, really freaking annoying. It's miserable, painful almost, to visit anything from a random internet message board to and read arguments about why the Hall just isn't the Hall without Pete and so on. It's even worse to get to this time of the year and see Rose on my TV, shamelessly begging to be let in so he can charge an extra ten bucks an autograph.

So: put an end to it. Let the guy in. It'll be like ripping off a band-aid; the year he goes in, the media coverage will be as unbearable as if Brett Favre retired again, Tiger Woods missed a cut and Terrell Owens said something all on the same day (best if it happened in a year when no actual worthwhile human beings were going into the Hall for Pete to overshadow). But then, you know what? He'll be mostly forgotten. Nobody in the media cares about a "story" anymore once there's no more anticipated action to it; once Rose is in, there's nowhere else for him to go. Story over. I mean, yeah, they'll show a shot or two of him behind the podium at induction ceremonies, and maybe he'll get booed up there or something, which would be news, but it'll barely be a blip. All the contentious debate about Jim Rice ended the moment he was inducted. Nobody really cares what Michael Irvin does anymore. Sure, there are some unique elements about Rose's case, but is there really a reason to expect this to be all that different? He can say whatever he wants to, but nothing else is ever going to happen. He'll just be another guy. Pretty much.

Put him in. Shut him up. Try your best to forget he ever existed.
So overall, point 1 wins. There's absolutely no way Pete Rose belongs anywhere near the Hall, and it might actually make me sick if and when he goes in. But if that happens, I'll try to take some small comfort in the fact that we'll all be hearing a lot less from Pete from then forward.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Instant replay now, please

A week ago today (I think I can finally talk about it now), the Twins blew a ten-run lead to fall behind the A's 14-13. They appeared to tie the game in the top of the ninth, when Cuddyer came around from second on a wild pitch and slid in comfortably ahead of the catcher's throw to the pitcher covering the plate. The umpire called Cuddyer out, however, ending the game.

But Cuddyer was safe. There's absolutely no question about it. You could see it live on TV. You could see it, in fact, from any possible angle except the one at which the umpire had chosen to place himself. He was inexcusably out of position, and thus blew the call in an absolutely critical spot. It was terrible, and the umpire, Mike Muchlinski -- apparently a minor league umpire substituting for a regular crew member -- should never see action in the majors again. Still, though, it was an isolated incident, it was a non-regular umpire, and it was publicized enough that we can expect the rest of the umpires around the league to take a lesson from it. Hard to get too worked up about it, in the big picture.

Until yesterday. With the Cubs up 3-1 in the eighth, the Reds are threatening a comeback, with runners on the corners and only one out. On a fly ball to medium center, Edwin Encarnacion tries for the plate. Fukudome makes a great throw, he's called out, and the inning is over.

Except he wasn't out, not by a long shot. This was an even worse call than Muchlinski's; it's not clear if Cubs catcher Koyie Hill ever tagged Encarnacion, but if he did, that didn't happen until at least two thirds of Encarnacion's body had safely crossed the plate. And there was no trickery or other confusing element of the play; it was a close enough play as plays at the plate generally go, but not that close. There's no excuse for getting that one wrong. So instead of it being 3-2 with a runner on second and two outs in the 8th, it's 3-1 going into the bottom of the inning, in which the Cubs score two and effectively put the game away. So it didn't change the outcome of the game as clearly as Muchlinski's screwup did, but it was an even more obvious screwup, and it certainly may have changed the outcome.

Even worse? This time, it wasn't some triple-A schlub. This umpire was Laz Diaz, a real-life Major League umpire who's been at it for over ten years. Replays showed he got into the exact same position Muschlinski had gotten himself into, completely screening himself off from actually viewing the play that it was his job to interpret. So much for learning from the other guy's mistakes.

So it seems to me that at least one, and very likely both, of these two things are true:
(1) Laz Diaz and Mike Muchlinski are incurably incompetent; or
(2) we need instant replays across the board, now.

If it's (1) and not (2), what we need is a league-wide audit of the umpires, and for the ones who can't handle basic things like getting into the proper position on a play at the plate to be made gone (or at least heavily retrained). But why not just implement (2) regardless?

Really, what's the serious argument against instant replay, and how can those considerations possibly mean more than the importance of getting the calls right and avoiding altering the outcomes of games by virtue of terrible calls? This seems unbelievably simple to me. Yeah, you make the game a little longer, you take some (possibly very little, depending on how you implement it) of the humanity out of the game, and so on. But you get the calls right, and you protect the integrity of the games against incompetence like Muchlinski's and Diaz's.

There's a lot of room to argue about how to go about it and how pervasive to make it, how the replay should be triggered, etc., but I don't see the argument that replay should be kept out of the league altogether, or limited to home run calls as it is now. We have the capability to get calls like these right (and have for decades now), so we should get them right. What am I missing?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Most unlikely thing ever?

Okay, so, I have a particular (and probably, at this late date, irrational) dislike for Mark Buehrle, I dislike the White Sox even more than I do the Yankees, and I don't think Hawk Harrelson should ever get to be happy about anything (though only for as long as he continues to hold a job he's almost uniquely unqualified for).

But even I have to admit that this was pretty special. And if you haven't seen THE CATCH, then...well, then you probably don't like sports very much, or you're on vacation or something, because it's been everywhere. But in either case, watch it anyway.

Matthew Pouliot pointed out one thing about Buehrle's feat that I thought was just extraordinary:
Mark Buehrle has led the AL in [most] hits allowed three times and finished in the top five a total of six times, yet he now has two no-hitters to his credit. . . .
I knew Buehrle gave up kind of a lot of hits, but I hadn't put it together yet. That floored me. Common sense dictates that a likely candidate to throw a no-hitter is one that gets a lot of strikeouts and thus keeps hits down. Buehrle doesn't do that at all and generally has had a pretty poor defense behind him, leading to a lot of hits, most days...and yet he's now gone completely without twice. How rare is it that a contact-and-control pitcher like Buehrle throws two no-hitters?

The answer to that is surprising in weird and wonderful ways (okay, that may be overselling it, but it's interesting). Here are the sixteen pitchers to have thrown two or more no-hitters since 1940 ranked by career hits per nine innings, alongside their strikeouts per nine innings:

Nolan Ryan: 6.6 H/9; 9.5 K/9
Sandy Koufax: 6.8; 9.3
Randy Johnson: 7.3; 10.6
Jim Maloney: 7.4; 7.8
Don Wilson: 7.6; 6.6
Bob Feller: 7.7; 6.1*
Hideo Nomo: 8.1; 8.7
Virgil Trucks: 8.1; 5.1
Jim Bunning: 8.2; 6.8
Warren Spahn: 8.3; 4.4
Steve Busby: 8.5; 5.6
Carl Erskine: 8.6; 5.1
Bill Stoneman: 8.6; 6.8
Ken Holtzman: 8.7; 5.0*
Bob Forsch: 8.9; 3.6
Mark Buehrle: 9.3; 5.3

I think that's everybody. Don't read a lot into the raw strikeout rates; in the 1940s and 50s, Trucks, Spahn, Feller and Erskine all regularly finished in the top 10 in K rate with numbers around (or below) 5, and Feller and Holtzman both saw their rates decline sharply late in their careers.

So, Buehrle obviously isn't the worst pitcher on this list (in fact, I have to admit he's much closer to the best than the worst). Buehrle is the only pitcher ever to do it with a career average of more than a hit per inning, and in context, in an era in which virtually every hitter in the lineup strikes out a hundred or more times a year, you could argue that his 5.3 strikeouts per nine is even less impressive than Bob Forsch's 3.6.

The most impressive thing might be that Bob and his brother Ken Forsch--who had stats roughly equivalent to Bob's--combined for three no-hitters. But anyway, if you're going to pick the most surprising pitcher to throw two no-hitters based on actual pitching talent, you'd probably go with Busby, Stoneman or Forsch. And Busby, Stoneman and Wilson all had pretty short careers, so maybe they're the most unlikely based on the number of opportunities to do it. But if you're looking for the most unlikely guy to do it based on those criteria above -- hits down, strikeouts up -- I think Buehrle has a good case.

So I have no idea what to make of the rest of this, but here is one long and kind of rambling random thought:

Nolan Ryan, of course, threw a record seven no-hitters. He's also the all-time career leader in fewest hits per nine innings. Sandy Koufax threw a second-place four, and is also second all-time in H/9.

Ryan and Koufax would clearly be the most likely to hold the all-time #1 and #2 positions for no-hitters -- to my eyes, anyway -- but how "likely" do you think it actually is that these exact two guys would hold those exact two spots?

I'd bet that if you restarted baseball history from the beginning and checked back 150 years later, there would be a very, very small chance (maybe 0.5% or so, as a totally random and worthless guess?) that the two all-time leaders in H/9 would also be the two all-time leaders in no-hitters pitched. Consider: Sid Fernandez, J.R. Richard, Andy Messersmith, Kerry Wood, Pedro Martinez, Sudden Sam McDowell, Bob Turley, and Dave Boswell are numbers three through ten on the H/9 list among modern starting pitchers, with 2,128 starts among them, and those eight guys combined for a grand total of zero no-hitters. And then consider Bob Forsch and Mark Buehrle and Johnny Vander Meer.

Not that I think Buehrle or Forsch would be likely to throw seven no-hitters in any universe, but they did get two, and Pedro zero, and it strikes me as more likely that any one of dozens of guys who get a lot of strikeouts (but not the most) and consequently are pretty good at suppressing hits (but not the best) would have five to seven really great games than it is that the very most unhittable pitcher ever would hold that record too. Ryan and Koufax having the most no-hitters is like the odds that the next two guys you run into on the street are named Mike and John. Maybe it's more likely than any other combination, but it's still not likely.

So here's what that all comes down to, in my little head: I think that throwing one no-hitter is mostly luck (see Bud Smith, Eric Milton, Jose Jimenez), and that throwing two no-hitters is about 80% luck and 20% having the right sort of skill set, with the balance continuing to shift gradually toward "skill" as you go on from there. It's certainly no coincidence that the three modern guys with more than two no-hitters -- Nolan, Sandy and Bob Feller -- are three of the most unhittable pitchers in history, but how is it that Pedro, Maddux and the Rocket never had even one? Isn't it pretty easy to imagine a world in which Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson threw five or six and Ryan had maybe one or two (with like fifty one-hitters)?

This got really off-track, but I guess there's only so long that I can talk about Mark Buehrle. Conclusion: Buehrle, while I have to admit he's a very good or even great pitcher, is the most unlikely pitcher of the last seventy seasons, based on his skill set and environment, to have pitched two no-hitters. And hey, he's still only thirty, which means (a) his K rate probably only goes down and his hit rate probably only goes up from here, making him look even more out of place on this list; and (b) wouldn't it be amazing if he threw another one sometime in the next ten years or so?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

So Who's Garrett Jones?

I mean, aside from "the one ex-Twin I would've been most surprised to be blogging about three months ago"?

Jones was born in the Chicago-area city of Harvey, Illinois, also the hometown of Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau (though I wonder if a small city twenty-five miles from here would be considered "Chicago-area" in 1917). He was drafted by the Braves in the 14th round of the 1999 draft. He's listed at 6'4", 225 pounds. He's played 1,038 minor league games and hit 158 minor league home runs.

And now he's hitting like Babe Ruth. He played in his 17th game of the season on Wednesday, and hit his ninth home run. Through Wednesday, he's hitting .313/.378/.821. If he had started the Pirates' season this way, he'd be on pace for 86 homers and 48 doubles (and, because he plays for the Pirates, only 104 RBI).

He's getting worshipful newspaper columns.

Garrett Jones is, frankly, a minor league slugger, and not a particularly great one. Or that's what he was through July. His career minor league line was .258/.312/.450. He opened some eyes with a nice year split among high-A and double-A as a 23 year old in 2003, thereby earning himself the reputation among the team and media as the secret hidden power in the minors and holding it for the next three years or so. But it wasn't even that nice (.302/.347/.564, 31 HR, which doesn't project well from a 23 year old who spent half that time in high-A), and he went downhill from there, with two straight years of approximately a .300 OBP in triple-A.

His pre-this-month career major league line was .208/.262/.338, with 2 HR in 84 PA for the Twins in 2007. Yet he kept getting referred to as the potential power the Twins sorely needed, which was very successful in drawing the wrath of Gleeman.

This year, Jones was having a solid year with the Pirates' AAA club, but not that solid: .307/.348/.502. That compares pretty well to his .279/.337/.484 line from 2008, and definitely isn't the kind of thing that sends a signal that a 28 year old is about to break out in a big way.

But break out he has, so far. He homered in four straight games (five total), and before that happened he was slugging .613. Right now, it looks an awful lot like they won't be missing whiny Adam LaRoche at all. But...

Jones, 2009: .313/.378/.821, 9 HR (69 PA)
Chris Shelton, first 17 games of 2006: .406/.457/1.000, 9 HR (70 PA)
Chris Shelton, rest of 2006: .246/.316/.356, 6 HR (342 PA)
Chris Shelton, since: .219/.328/.333, 2 HR (126 PA)

It's great that, per the article linked above, John Russell thinks Jones can keep it up, and the columnist thinks that Jones "looks the part." But in the ways that matter, he looks a lot more like Chris Shelton. In fact, he's two years older than Shelton was in 2006, and Shelton's minor league numbers through that time were significantly better (and he's still raking in the minors, by the way, now for the Tacoma Rainiers; he just can't do it in the bigs).

I hope Jones really did just flip a switch and turn into a star. The Pirates need some good news, and he always struck me as a decent guy. But the odds of that happening were really, really low when the Pirates called him up three weeks ago, and as impressive as his first seventeen games have been, not much has changed on that front. He's still just a 28 year old, middling minor league slugger having a really solid few weeks, and it'll take quite a bit more than that to prove otherwise.

Here's hoping he proves otherwise.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

can't tell you more 'cause I told you already

Taking a badly needed break from baseball after last night's disaster, I walked a handful of blocks down the road to Wrigley Field tonight to see this. Our seats were terribly far away (would've been awfully nice seats for a Cubs game, though, way up but right behind the plate), but it was a lot of fun. Even if it was essentially the same show we saw eight and a half years ago, well, it's a damn good show.

So I've not paid any attention to baseball today (aside from all the chatter in the comments earlier), and I'm not gonna 'til tomorrow. What did I miss?

Pictured: the best team to call Wrigley home in 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

MVPs and RsBI

Sorry for a third consecutive Twins-related post (this one doesn't have much to do with the Twins at all, it just starts out that way), but DicknBert really ticked me off the other day.

This was Friday night, the same night that Alexi Casilla made me (and apparently Billy Smith) wish the second base position had never been invented. It was the second game back after the All-Star break, and the " question of the day," or some similarly silly promotion, was: who are Dick and Bert's picks for MVP through the first half of the season?

Both picked Albert Pujols for the National League MVP, which is the only pick a thinking person can make. But Bert goes first, and his AL MVP pick (stats up to the last date he could've made the pick, through July 16) is:

Jason Bay. .260/.380/.527, 20 HR, 72 RBI, 56 R, 125 OPS+. He's a left fielder, and probably the worst one in the league; UZR says he's already cost the Red Sox 8.1 runs, or essentially 1 win, with his defense alone.

Then it's Dick's turn, and he starts out by indicating he agrees with Bert on his NL pick, but disagrees on the AL. Thank God, I think. Dick's pick:

Torii Hunter: .305/.380/.558, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 56 R, 140 OPS+. He's a center fielder, and has always had a sterling defensive reputation, but the stats have never agreed, and this year UZR has him at -2.1 runs.

So kudos to Dick Bremer, I guess, for picking a much, much more valuable player as his Most Valuable Player than Bert did; Torii is the better hitter, plays the more important position, and has been the much less damaging defender. But it should go without saying that neither of these guys is anywhere near the actual most valuable player in the American League.

And then I started thinking: what do these guys have in common? And then Blyleven listed off all the other guys he could have picked: Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau, Mark Teixeira, Evan Longoria...and that's about when it dawned on me.

1. None of these guys is Joe Mauer.
2. On a related note, each of these guys is near the top of the league in runs batted in.

Now, let's be clear about this. He had a huge slump over the weekend that has muddied the waters a bit, but as of July 16, there was only one remotely reasonable selection for AL MVP, and that was Joe Mauer. There's just no debating that. You could've made an argument for somebody else, but you would've been indefensibly wrong. Check it:

.373/.477/.622, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 49 R, approx. 182 OPS+. He wasn't just leading the league in batting average, or on-base percentage, or slugging percentage, or OPS, or OPS+; he was leading the league in all of those things. And he's a catcher, and one of the best in the business; consider that while the average AL LFer (Jason Bay's position) has a .771 OPS and the average AL CFer (Torii's) has a .743, the average AL catcher has just a .712 OPS...and that number is significantly buoyed by Mauer himself. Aside from Pujols, there is nothing in all of baseball right now that even has a case for being anywhere near as valuable as a great defensive catcher with an 1.100 OPS. And, yeah, he missed a month, but he was still leading the league in almost every cumulative stat that attempts to measure player value, too; that's just how much better he was than everybody else.

So there are DicknBert, Mauer's own home team announcers, and not only do they not pick him, they don't even mention him as being in the conversation. Morneau, sure, but not the runaway best player in the league hitting right in front of him (incidentally, the only other player even arguably in the conversation is Ben Zobrist, who also went unmentioned).

So it's really clear to me that all they did was look at the RBI leaders and pick the one they think is having the best year (Bert didn't even do that, he just picked the #1 RBI guy, despite the fact that he's hitting roughly as well as you'd expect a LF to hit, and much worse than you'd expect a terrible defensive LF to hit). That would be fine and all, since it's just two guys on a small-market local broadcast filling air space, except I'm pretty sure that that's what the writers do, too. Here's an ordered list of how the leader in RsBI has fared in the MVP voting the last five seasons (so 10 total contests, AL & NL):

1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3*, 5, 7*, 23

The average of these numbers is 4.8; the median is 2. In the two races with asterisks, there was a very close second-place finisher in the RBI race who finished first or second in MVP voting. The 23 throwing the whole thing off is Vinny Castilla, who had about an average offensive year in the middle of the lineup for the 2004 Rockies...if the Rox had won 94 rather than losing 94, Vinny might have wound up as the worst MVP pick in modern history.

Writers (and most everybody else) have seemingly always been in love with the RBI; I stopped with 2004 because before that, Barry Bonds stepped up, was intentionally walked approximately 800 times a year, and forced them to get away from RBI for a couple years. And of course every now and then they'll pick a middle infielder--like Rollins in 2007 or Pedroia in 2008--but they almost never end up with the right middle infielder. The only way they end up on a non-RBI guy is: when the RBI champ is playing for a bad team (and where your team finishes in the standings should have nothing to do with how valuable you are, but that's a discussion for another day); when other big RBI guys all have something go wrong; and when some little middle infielder is bestowed with the tag of "heart and soul" or "team leader" of some first-place team. In 2008, Morneau was the big RBI guy for the contending team, but he fell flat on his face in September, so he finished "only" second to sparky 'n' scrappy little Dustin Pedroia, whereas in 2006 Morneau did well down the stretch, so he won it. In both years, Joe Mauer was far and away the Twins' MVP, and you could've made a case for him for league MVP too (though Derek Jeter was in the discussion in '06 and Pedroia actually had a decent case in '08).

The thing about it is--and I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but whatever--raw RBI total has almost nothing at all to do with a player's value. It's remarkably easy for a decent hitter with some power who spends 160 games hitting 4th or 5th in a high-scoring lineup to wind up in the top two or three of the league in RBI, and to be an average or worse overall player (see Ryan Howard ca. 2008 and 2009). The work Mauer did in getting on base in front of all those Morneau RBI, and in playing impeccable defense at catcher, was just much, much more valuable to the Twins, in '06 and '08 and again in '09, than the RBI themselves are. And I think people are starting to recognize that, or at least the writers who refuse to recognize it are retiring or dying off and being replaced by the Rob Neyers, Keith Laws and Christina Kahrls of the world. But when the two guys whose entire livelihood is made by watching Mauer do his thing and relaying the wonder of it all to the masses can't get this down, it really makes you realize how far we still have to go.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Twins Know Casilla Sucks Too

Hey, I guessed one right! Just took 2 1/2 months longer than I had hoped.

Apparently the team decisionmakers watched Casilla flailing around second base and had the same reaction I did (tastes a lot like what you had for dinner the night before), because today they signed 39 year old Mark Grudzielanek to a minor-league deal.

I expect story-breaker Seth's reaction will be echoed by most Twins fans: essentially, "ew." He's old; he hasn't played in nine or ten months; he's old; he's not Freddy Sanchez; and he's old.

But. It's clear that the Pirates want a lot for Sanchez. Otherwise, they wouldn't be making the big show of making extension offers to him and Jack Wilson (offers both of them rejected, but still). A year ago, Sanchez was a terrible player. At 31, he's reaching the age where most middle infielders start to break down. For all we know, that could happen in August.

Grudzielanek, meanwhile, made it through that barrier age and then some. In every year from 2003 to 2008, Grudzie hit between .290 and .314 and posted an OBP between .331 and .347 (with an outlier .366 in '03) with a SLG between .399 and .432. Combined with surprisingly good defense for his age (saving 3.1 runs over average in 2008 per UZR), that's a damn fine second baseman. Not an All Star or anything, but the kind of solid everyday player that playoff teams have filling all their non-All-Star positions. Not as valuable as Sanchez was in 2006 or has been so far in 2009, but a whole lot better than Sanchez ca. 2008.

Now, some assumptions need to be made. One needs to assume that (a) the Twins did their homework and determined that Grudzie has been working out and is still in playing shape, and (b) if he reports to the complex at Ft. Myers and proves otherwise, the Twins are ready to make another move. Because if one thing on this earth is clear, it's that nothing is happening this year as long as Tolbert or Casilla stays at second base.

But my hopes are relatively high. Grudzielanek has certainly wanted to play, and would've been signed in February or March had it been any other offseason--it would be profoundly stupid of him not to stay in playing shape. I don't think it's crazy to hope that he'll take a week or two in Florida and be ready to be the same .300 hitter with doubles power that he's been for forever. And if that's the case, you've got a player who, over the remainder of the season, is probably about half a win worse than Sanchez, and who in the context of baseball economics has cost virtually nothing. Whatever small piece of the Twins' future that would've been mortgaged to obtain Sanchez, it's a good bet that that piece is worth more than a half-win in 2009.

So, for maybe the first time in his tenure, I'm going to provisionally approve of something Billy Smith has done.

Then again, it's feasible that this is just a tactic for use against the Pirates--if Huntington thinks the Twins are desperate and he has them over a barrel, it would be really, really smart to show him that they have another option besides the two subreplacement stiffs they've been throwing out there. So it'll be interesting to see what happens. Either way, I'm liking this move...and that's a really weird thing for me to say.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Casilla sent down, called back up, still sucks

Please don't make me watch this dude anymore.

Alexi Casilla came into Friday "hitting" .180/.242/.225 in 31 Major League games this season. That's good for a 28 OPS+. 28% of an average major league hitter. For comparison's sake, the first no-name National League pitcher who popped into my head (and I'll never even be able to guess why) is the Pads' Kevin Correia. Correia, this season, has a 32 OPS+.

Which would be fine if he were the best defensive second baseman in the history of the world (that's a total lie -- there's nothing that can make a 28 OPS+ okay). But the sad truth is, he's also a terrible second baseman. UZR thinks that he's cost them 5 runs out there in his limited work this season, and from watching him, that seems low to me. All in all, FanGraphs has him at just over one win below replacement, which is something like saying if you had put pictures of random AAA second baseman on a board and threw a dart at it, then played the guy that dart hit for 31 games instead of Casilla, the Twins could expect to be a game closer to the Tigers right now. Just gross, all the way around.

Unfortunately, Matt Tolbert isn't noticeably better, with a 37 OPS+ (and -0.9 wins below replacement, meaning that if you'd played Random AAA Guy at 2B every day, they could be two whole games better), and Casilla was tearing it up, relatively speaking, in the minors ( .340/.379/.449). So, contrary to my hopes and expectations, the Alexi Casilla Era began anew last night.

Ian Kinsler reached leading off the Rangers' first, and then attempted to steal second. Mauer uncorks an absolutely perfect throw, coming right up to Casilla on the short hop, and Kinsler's out by a good six feet. Except Casilla doesn't even touch the ball. Just skips on past him; Kinsler ends up on third, and somehow Mauer gets stuck with the error. Later in the game, the Rangers double steal, and Mauer has the guy at second dead to rights...except Casilla doesn't even cover the base.

And that's the thing that gets me. I have a certain tolerance for terrible players, especially if they're 24 years old and were considered decent prospects not so long ago. I also have patience for good players who sometimes make mental mistakes. But if you're a terrible player and you have no idea how to play the game or where you're supposed to be in a given situation? GTHO.

The Twins would be doing both themselves and the Pirates a big favor to go out and make a really solid offer for Freddy Sanchez before the deadline. The Twins get an automatic 3-win-or-so expected improvement over the last 70 games, while the Pirates are spared from their GM's apparent inexplicable desire to sign two 30-something middle infielders to multi-year deals. C'mon Freddy!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Because I have to post something today

Yesterday, there were two different and, I think, kind of crazy, posts on the Hall of Fame and steroids made by two very different people. (If it hasn't come through yet, I'm in the stop-moralizing-and-put-them-all-in camp, and I'm sure there will be a day to discuss that, but today is not that day.)

First: Jeff Pearlman puts out this one. It's almost a caricature of the typical indignant whine: "But they cheated! What's happening to this country? Think of the children! Integrity! Sportsmanship! Character!" Which is certainly not surprising coming from him, but nonetheless disappointing, since I've been reading his blog for a couple months now and find that I really enjoy almost everything he writes about any topic other than baseball. People just have blind spots, I guess.

Consider this, though: "As soon as they chose to cheat—to violate the law of the United States in an effort to enhance their careers—they deemed themselves ineligible."

One day earlier: Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Come on, man. At least be consistent with the reasons behind your crazy.

Second: Meanwhile, Bill James comes out with his thoughts on the topic, which would be a big deal except that link is subscription-only (though it's only a very-worth-it three bucks a month) and has been read by a grand total of 200 people so far.

It should come as no surprise that I like Bill James. A lot. "Revere" probably isn't too strong of a word. "Worship"? Debatable. I've read unauthorized biographies (okay, biography) of Bill James. I have friends that call me Bill James. There are, finally, a few really extreme numbers people who are starting to resist this notion, since he's kind of softened his stances in the last few years, but I maintain that everything good that happens in baseball these days goes back to Bill James at some level.

But this article? Kind of crazy.

Okay, only one part of it. The first part, where he says that all the steroid users will go into the Hall eventually because "steroids keep you young" and eventually "every citizen will routinely take" steroids (which he then calls "anti-aging pills") "every day." Now, I'm fully prepared to accept that Bill knows a lot more than I do about everything there is to know in the world (the law, my own personal life, you name it), but that seems really out there to me. I'm hoping it's satire and I'm just missing the joke...but I don't get that sense from reading it at all.

Most of the rest of the article is great, actually. James argues that (2) the moral high ground will vanish once someone who used PEDs gets in (and they will, even if it takes someone about whom the news doesn't leak until they're already in); (3) "History is forgiving[, and] statistics endure," something I've been saying since this whole mess started; and (4) old teammates advocating for their PED-using brethren will help get them in (not sure how I feel about this, but it's not crazy).

And fifth, James puts forward the best pro-inclusion argument I know of in the most eloquent way I've ever seen it put. Just trying to take the very best bits while hopefully still respecting Bill's proprietary rights:
It seems to me that, at some point, this becomes an impossible argument to sustain—that all of these players were “cheating”, in a climate in which most everybody was doing the same things, and in which there was either no rule against doing these things or zero enforcement of those rules. If one player is using a corked bat, like Babe Ruth, clearly, he’s cheating. But if 80% of the players are using corked bats and no one is enforcing any rules against it, are they all cheating?
It seems to me that, with the passage of time, more people will come to understand that the commissioner’s periodic spasms of self-righteousness do not constitute baseball law. It seems to me that the argument that it is cheating must ultimately collapse under the weight of carrying this great contradiction—that 80% of the players are cheating against the other 20% by violating some “rule” to which they never consented, which was never included in the rule books, and which for which there was no enforcement procedure. History is simply NOT going to see it that way.
I would encourage you to subscribe, to read the whole article, and to soak up everything else on his site as thoroughly as you can. But anyway, I'd have to say that fifth argument absolves him of all the crazy of his first argument. Pretty solid stuff there.

Feel free to discuss/berate/question in the comments.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Oh, Pedro

The week from hell continues (I have about one of those a month). I'm working on a more interesting post, but it's not happening today.

So how about this?

What is it with great players at the end of their careers having to jump from one unmemorable stint with a wrong-seeming team to another rather than just leaving well enough alone?

Now, when I first heard this, I figured the Phillies must've looked at him really closely and determined that he was 100% healed from whatever was ailing him last year, when he was, um, horrible. So then what's the next thing that happens? They put him on the DL.

Incidentally, does that ever happen? I've never heard of anyone going from free agency straight to the DL before.

Anyway. It's not a big deal in the end; they're paying him $1 million (up to $2.5 with incentives). He might not even make an appearance with the big-league club. But here's the thing: you have to figure that however many appearances he does make with the Phillies, he'll hurt the team approximately that many times. He hasn't been a good pitcher since 2005, and he was awful when healthy last year.

Consider this: he gave up 19 HR (tied for the fourth-highest total in his career) in just 110 innings in 2008. Shea was a bad home run park; Citizens Bank is a good one. In 10 innings in the Phillies' home park last year, Pedro surrendered 4 home runs. Terribly small sample size and all that, but Pedro is 38, hasn't pitched competitively in nearly ten months, and obviously isn't healthy. Say he goes down to AAA for a couple starts and uses guile and the awe of facing Pedro freaking Martinez to go 12 innings and give up 3 runs and strike out 10. If you're a Phillies fan, do you really want him up and facing the Mets at CBP in August? Or do you kind of have to secretly hope he never makes it out of the minors? I know they're feeling pretty desperate, but it would almost be hard to find somebody that wouldn't figure to be better than Pedro right now.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Links of the Week or So

I had big plans for today's post, but paying work gets in the way again. I did sort of try to watch the big non-exhibition exhibition game while I was doing said work. And I'm told it was a good game, but without being invested in it, I kind of missed all the interesting stuff, I think. I came away from it with the feeling that it was terribly boring. I didn't think at the time that the ball Crawford caught was going to clear the fence, but even if it was, it didn't strike me as that great a catch. A very nice one to be sure, but Crawford, phenomenal outfielder that he is, makes a better catch than that just about every day of the season. MVP material, really? Maybe that's why I came away disappointed--no real standout performances. I would've loved to see Pujols go all hey-I'm-the-best-right-handed-hitter-you've-ever-seen on everybody in his home park. But anyway.
  • Topical and timely! It's a transcript of what the Sotomayor hearings would be like if they were conducted by the 1977 Royals instead of the SJC. It's...funny. Not terribly coherent, but funny. I can't decide if it would help one's appreciation of it to know more or less about the players involved. And it took me a while to realize he meant "the members of the 1977 Kansas City Royals, but in the present day, armed with their personal experiences of the past 32 years," not just the team straight out of '77 from like a time warp or something. Anyway, it's an experience.

  • Also timely, at least as of yesterday! wezen-ball's look at best players never to be All-Stars. I'd still say Tim Salmon or Kirk Gibson has to top the list; it depends on where you come down on the whole peak vs. career thing. Shouldn't we weigh peak even more than usual when you're considering stuff like this, since if a guy's had some really big years, it's that much more of a surprise that he wasn't an All-Star? That said, though, Tony Phillips was a really solid player too, and I'm sure he deserved at least a couple nods. One of the few utility players who could really play any of the five or six positions you could put him in, and an ideal leadoff hitter (for what I'm looking for, anyway).

  • I might've failed in my quest to complete Minerva's poetry challenge last week, but look! This week's? Already done, baby! Funny thing is, we didn't plan that. She was planning to do that type of poem anyway.

  • More interesting stuff from Tango: Jamie Moyer = Jack Morris. Almost exactly, as of today. And yet, one of those guys is kind of a running "old guy" joke while the other will probably end up in the Hall three or four years from now. I was kind of proud of my snarky comment to that post, I have to admit.

  • This Dayton Moore quote has finally convinced me that the Royals are trying to be tragically, snobbily, pathetically hilarious. The haughty ineptitude is too perfectly executed to be real. In other news, I don't really understand the pleading rules of our court system, and as an attorney, I don't see why I should have to. Next time I'm asked to file an answer to a complaint, I'm going to scrawl "DINT DO IT" in crayon on the back of an old receipt with my right (non-dominant) hand and mail it to the judge. My bosses would be cool with that, right?
I wish that this were a Royals shirt. Or Dayton Moore himself. But anyway, it's what I think of whenever people are being both incredibly stupid and incredibly self-aggrandizing or condescending:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Baseball Is Poetry, Vol. II

A favorite college professor of mine posted this wonderful baseball poem of his yesterday, and it put me in the mood to do another one of these.

The Cliff's Notes:
First: on Monday, posted a 2009-All-Star-rosters tribute to Ogden Nash's delightful 1949 poem, "Line-up for Yesterday". That was fine and all, but I decided to do my own tribute to Nash, comprised mostly of players from post-'49. I'm sure it's been done before, but I don't care. Loyal readers may detect one slightly satirical entry.
Second: last night's Home Run Derby recapped in Haiku form. I was really hoping to do an entry for Minerva's latest poetry challenge, but I'm afraid I've run out of hours in the day (and night, and most of the next morning). I tried--sonnets are freaking hard. Anyway, away we go:

A Lineup for Nearer Yesterdays
A is for Aaron,
who topped seven-fourteen;
his passion and pride
before and since, unseen.

B is for Barry
and Bonds too, of course;
an unparalleled talent
from sense quite divorced.

C is for Calvin
Edwin Ripken, Jr.;
when it came time to play
he'd never defer.

D is for Doby,
the AL's pioneer;
the stats show he did
more than just persevere.

E is for Eckersley,
mulleted closer sublime;
he'd enter and the other guys'
death knell would chime.

F is for Ford,
Casey Stengel's top gun:
save him for the big games,
consider them won.

G is for Griffey,
or Junior, to you.
Played just the way
we'd all like to do.

H is for Henderson,
base-stealing's top name--
Rickey played 'til they kicked
Rickey out of the game.

I is for Ian Kinsler
'cause there just ain't no I's;
the fine slugger of Texas
defaults into this prize.

J is for Jackie,
bigger than any game.
The world got a little better
because Jackie came.

K is for Koufax,
the ace of L.A.,
turning visiting lineups
into a fine-cut fillet.

L is for Larry
(but you know him as Chipper);
sixteen Hall of Fame years for
one Hall of Fame skipper.

is for Maddux and Musial,
Mantle and Mays;
as great as great gets,
each worthy of praise.

N is for Niekro,
the lord of the flutter,
winning 20 for teams
often found in the gutter.

O is for Ortiz,
the much-feared Big Papi;
his bat is a force,
tho' his defense is sloppy.

P is for Pujols
and his incomparable power--
he keeps getting better,
almost by the hour.

Q is for Quiz,
the wisecracking sidewinder;
to catch sight of his sinker
you'd need a depth finder.

R is for Ryan,
of the seven no-hitters;
his uncontrolled heater
still gives batters jitters.

S is for Spahn
the tireless lefty,
who'd face fearsome lineups
and butcher them deftly.

T is for Torre:
at the bat and the helm,
Joe had the stuff of
the Hall of Fame's realm.

U is for Utley,
the king of sack two.
Don't try to dissuade him:
he says "boo? Eff you!"

V is for Valenzuela,
enigmatic Fernando;
he killed in '81--
sustain he could not, though.

W is for Williams,
the Thumper, the Kid;
if a hitter on God's Earth
can do it, Ted did.

X is for Eckstein,
the X Factor to you;
hustles into your heart
and onto this list, too.

Y is for Yaz,
the basher of Beantown,
and still last to wear
the three-titled Crown.

Z is for zenith,
the apex, the best;
these stars all stand there--
so the records attest.

Home Run Derby Haiku Recap
Inge comes up empty--
that's just eleven less than
he hit all last year.

Mauer, Al, Pena
in a three-way-tie swing-off.
Yeah, Joe's got no chance.

"Ball Track" trails ball's flight
with a goofy yellow line;
worse than Berman's jokes.

Fielder wins it all,
hits the night's four longest shots;
Big Man Hit Ball Far.

Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Make the Derby Watchable

Happy second-worst day of the summer, everybody. I don't think there's any question that the Wednesday after the All-Star Game, with no baseball of any kind at all, is worse, but the Home Run Derby and the celebrity softball nonsense don't do a whole lot to save the Monday prior, either.

That said, and despite the title of this post, I will actually watch the Home Run Derby. I'll watch it live or DVR it and flip through it late tonight. But I won't really care, and I won't really pay attention; unless somebody goes all Josh Hamilton on the thing, it'll just be something to have on in the background.

It still seems like a relatively popular thing, by cable TV standards, so I'm sure ESPN is in no hurry to change anything at all. But here are some things that would make me care about it, anyway, in descending order of importance:

1. Just Make Chris Berman Go Away. I don't care how this is done or who replaces him, and I really mean that. This is the one night a year where I think I could deal with the brain-exploding inanity of Joe Morgan or Steve Phillips (and by the way, is it in Morgan's contract that he has to be smugly wrong about every single thing ever? And was Phillips hired only to agree with Morgan's wrongness in an even more smug way? Watching the Cubs/Cards game last night was like being continuously kicked in the teeth for three hours. The only tolerable part was the two or three minutes where the sound went out).

But that's the point--anybody could do the HR Derby job, even Phillips. You give little factoids between swings, and you get a little excited when somebody hits it a really long way. Jon Miller would be fantastic. Just--anybody but Berman. I remember thinking his little nicknames and (then-)30 year old rock music references were funny when I was twelve or so, but to hear them now, I'm pretty well convinced that I was a slower-than-normal twelve year old. I caught parts of a few classic HR Derbies over the weekend, and I think they'd be a lot of fun to re-watch if not for Berman's incessant distracting, unfunny bleating.

2. Get rid of at least one, and preferably two, rounds. The first round is always great fun. Everything worth remembering that has ever happened in the Derby has happened in the first round (may not actually be true, but it seems that way to me). You see all eight guys get to take their swings, and they're all fresh and trying to kill everything. Then you get to the second and third round, and everything kind of dies...some of which I blame on Berman, but it also just seems to run out of steam all around. And it goes on forever.

Everybody thinks, or at least acts like, Hamilton won the Derby in 2008, and I think even real-winner Morneau probably knows Hamilton should have won. He put on an incredible show that was certainly the most entertaining the Derby has ever been, and then he was punished for that by having to go out for two more rounds when he had nothing left because he'd taken something like twenty more swings than anybody else. I'd keep it an eight-man contest, but give everybody ten outs and get out of there. The Derby is supposed to be about power, not endurance. Seems to me the award should go to the guy who can hit a whole bunch of batting-practice home runs rather than the guy who can continue hitting some batting-practice home runs for the longest time.

3. Bring back the Classic Derby Format. As an alternative to #2, I'd like to see them bring back the old 50's TV show format for the second (and final) round. The eight guys compete in the first round in the current, ten-out format, and then the top two slug it out for nine innings. I'd like to see it at least tried, anyway. They might get even more tired, but they do get to take breaks while the other guy I don't know.

4. Keep sprinkling in "pure hitter" types. I'm very interested to see how Joe Mauer does tonight, and I'm disappointed that Ichiro! reportedly turned their offer down. The most (someone like me might say "only") interesting thing about the NBA Slam Dunk Contest is when the little guy -- Spud Webb, Nate Robinson -- gets up there and does something no one his height should be able to think about doing. Wouldn't it be similarly fascinating to see someone like Ichiro beat the big boys at their own game?

You always hear people say that guys like Cobb, Boggs and Ichiro are/were such great hitters that they could hit for power if they really wanted to, but that they decided to focus on batting average instead. That's always struck me as ridiculous, and if it is true, Ichiro should be fined or something for intentionally choosing not to do everything he can to help his team. But that's a little different from saying that, in a batting practice situation where all they have to try to do is hit 60-MPH fastballs out, Mauer or Ichiro could be really good at it. No doubt some of the time, or most of the time, they'd come up with 0 or 1. I'm half-expecting Mauer to turn in a performance like that tonight. But then what if he hits 12 or 15 in the first round and beats out the likes of Howard and Pujols? That would keep me interested, and I think they ought to try to get one guy like that in there just about every year.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Just a Day: June 10, 2002

The ol' randomizer came up with a fairly recent one this time. Which is good, because it's already pretty late at night, and maybe I can get away with saying less than I would if I got myself absorbed in 1957 or something. (If you missed the first one of these, here's how it works.)

It's also another day with more than one very long game, which is kind of fun. It's interleague play, which is less fun (to me). In any case, onward!
  • Jamie Moyer throws a complete-game, 123-pitch shutout, the Mariners thumping the Cardinals 10-0. It's Moyer's second consecutive game allowing no runs (he'd gone 8 in a win over the A's on the 5th), and runs his record to 6-2, 3.52. He had looked done as a 38 year old in 2000, then exploded back to win 20 for the first time in his career in 2001. He'd go on to have another fine season (128 ERA+, though with only 13 wins), then win 21 in 2003 at age 40. He's won 68 games (and counting) since. I know I just talked about him a little while ago, but it's always worth remembering what a wonderfully weird career he's had. Ichiro! has three of his 212 hits, and inexplicable fan favorite Charles Gipson singles, triples, walks and drives in two.

  • In the same game, 32 year old So Taguchi makes his Major League debut and goes 0-for-3 for the Cards. I believe that Taguchi was the second Japanese position player to hit the Majors after Ichiro!, so it was fitting that he debuted opposite the first. Didn't turn out quite as well.

  • The Twins beat the Braves, 6-5, in 15 innings. I've just remembered for some reason, as I'm looking this over, that The Common Man was at this game and told me about it at the time; here's hoping he hops on and tells what he remembers (if anything). It was a historic opportunity to watch the great Greg Maddux at the Dome...and he's very much off his game, giving up 5 runs in 7 innings. Luckily, Eric Milton matches him run for run, and the bullpens take over and make quite a show of it. Eventually, in the bottom of the 15th, 37 year old backup catcher Tom Prince singles, then somehow lumbers all the way around on a Cristian Guzman double to win it. That must've been quite a sight (or quite a double). Journeyman reliever Tony "the Vulture" Fiore goes three scoreless for maybe his most honest "win" of the year; that puts him at 4-1, and he ends the season 10-3.
    [Edit: here's the recap. Apparently Prince was running on the pitch, but it still seems like an awful lot to ask of the slowest runner on the team. Guzman: "I thought, 'hey, he can make it!'"]

  • Game of the Day: The Marlins blow out the Royals in 14 innings. Yes, you read that right. The Royals score in the bottom of the 9th to tie it at 6. Florida scores two in the 12th, but so do the Royals. So it's 8-8 in the top of the 14th, and the Royals suddenly go all Royalsy: walk, wild pitch, fielder's choice, wild pitch, double, intentional walk, single, walk, walk, single, fielder's choice, popout. Seven runs come home in all that, and the Marlins waltz away with the 15-8 win. Pitcher Mac Suzuki was out there for better or worse, and thus responsible for all that ugly: four walks (five in his two IP) and two wild pitches. They actually let him into three more games after this one, the last three he'd ever get into (in the Majors, that is--seven years later, his career is still alive and kicking in one of professional baseball's little out-of-the-way places).
    [EDIT: recap. Amazingly, not a word about Suzuki's implosion. Derrek Lee homered twice for the second straight game, then hit 4 homers in his next 47 games.]

  • There was apparently a partial solar eclipse visible in parts of the Pacific side of the world.

  • According to Wikipedia (and uncredited), "the first direct electronic communication experiment between the nervous systems of two humans is carried out by Kevin Warwick in the United Kingdom."

  • I was attempting to sell cars at a crummy dealership in Washington state. This lasted less than a month. Probably the worst idea ever. What were you doing?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Link of the Week or So: Navel-Gazing Division

Not much to say today.

But I've finally stumbled upon the single most appropriate (and appropriately inexpensive) BBREF player page to be the first one sponsored by this blog! (I mean, who else but me has ever put him on the all-time anything team?)

I haven't been much of a self-promoter re. this blog, especially lately. Part of that is just who I am, and part is that I'm not convinced I'm doing anything worth promoting. As much as I love and appreciate all my current readers, I'm really just sitting here once a day and jotting down whatever pops into my head. I think it's the knowledge that I could definitely do a lot better if I put in (or had) the time to really polish it and think about exactly what it is I want to say. I don't know that I need hundreds of people to read my second-best.

On the other hand, maybe seeking more traffic will inspire me to actually do better somehow. And in either case, I'll definitely do more of these; not only is it about the most targeted marketing possible, but it's a way to support the best website in the world (not that they seem to need all that much support anymore). Let me know if you happen to stumble across any more particularly appropriate, unsponsored pages...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I have no title for this post about hustling and pretentiousness

This may come as a surprise to you, but I'm pretty unabashedly a stats guy. Stat geek. Stathead. Sabermetrician (though the "-trician" makes it sound like I know something; I prefer "sabermetrically-inclined," which is clunky enough to permit me to sound like the dufus I am). Whatever. It might be a stretch to say I'm "proud" of it, but I certainly don't try to hide it. I enjoy it, a lot.

But there's one problem with stat geeks, and always has been. One annoying tendency that gives us a bad name, that sometimes makes it hard to take us seriously, that gets people angry with cause (as opposed to the kneejerk angry-because-I-don't-want-to-bother-to-understand-what-you're-saying reaction that we get so much more often). I've fallen victim to this tendency as often as just about anybody else, though I've been fighting it pretty hard of late.

That thing is this: someone establishes that some traditional concept or statistic is overrated or overvalued, and we go around beating people over the head with that fact, and eventually we treat the thing as though it has no value. That may be justified in some limited circumstances (I can't actually think of any, not even "saves," really), but usually all it does is distort our view of things and eventually come around to bite us in the rear.

The most obvious example of this, of course, is how about ten or fifteen years ago we started noticing that guys like Neifi Perez and Walt Weiss, while they might for all we knew be great defensive players, were killing their teams' offenses. We noted that the "pitching and defense beats offense" idea was, all else being equal, utter crap. We noted that offense was rather easily measured, quantified and even projected, and defense was not. These are true things and worth noting. But all of that led to the decision, at some point, that defense just wasn't important, at all. At some point I remember Rob Neyer writing that baseball was probably 55% offense, 40% pitching and 5% defense (or something very similar). I don't mean to rip on Rob, then and now my favorite baseball writer, and we were all thinking that...I just happen to remember that he said it in so many words. You'd almost think--and I think some people really did think--that you'd be better with seven slugging 1B-types in the field and lineup than with a squad built to cover the traditional positions.

Well...whoops. Now we can measure defense (pretty well), and we know that it's really important. That a guy can have enormous offensive value, but kill it all with his glove. That Franklin Gutierrez (aptly but unoriginally named "Death to Flying Things" by the guys over at USS Mariner) can be a below-average-hitting outfielder and still be one of the best outfielders in the league, all because of defense. Now we value defense even more than the rest of the world does. But the thing is, it was ridiculous to write off defense in the first place--just an absurdly overblown extension of the seed of a pretty sound idea.

There are lots of other examples, too. We knew that Jim Rice is a terrible choice for the Hall of Fame, and the argument after a while starts to sound like we think Rice was a terrible player; likewise, we knew Bert Blyleven belongs in the Hall, and after a while we're essentially arguing that Blyleven was Walter friggin' Johnson. We knew that stolen bases were being overvalued and that the out given away by a caught stealing or sac bunt was undervalued, so we eventually decide that stealing or bunting is never a good idea.

We're getting better at most of these things. A lot better. But the guys at the Inside the Book blog seem to have found another one that nobody's really talking about: the value of "hustle".

The problem here, I think, is this. We know that scores of players are wildly overrated because they "hustle" (are grinders or gritty or gutty or have heart or whatever), and others are wildly underrated because, in the eyes of most, they don't. Eckstein, Erstad, Podsednik good (dated examples, but you know what I mean); Dunn, Manny and Barry Bonds bad. We know that the good things the latter group does and the bad things the former group does far outweigh whatever value you might reasonably put on hustle and grit. So we've ultimately decided that hustle just doesn't matter.

Well, in the blog post linked above, MGL mentions a couple of plays in an inning where Adam Dunn was, like, militantly non-hustling, and it cost his team. The title of the post is "I'm not one to complain about players not hustling, but...," and I can understand why he puts it that way: most fans or reporters who complain about players not hustling are rooting around for ways to find fault with their team's best player. So and so may hit 50 homers a year, but he didn't run out that one routine grounder to second base, so he sucks.

But when a guy really isn't hustling, at all--I mean, not even trying--I don't think there's anything wrong with getting on him for that. Tom Tango (also of Inside The Book) put it best in a comment to MGL's post:
Ken Dryden, in The Game . . . was talking about how important practice is. That you keep practicing over and over and over at a high tempo so that your body is simply conditioned to do things that way all the time. . . .
To then decide in an actual game to put the brakes on is inexcusable as far as I'm concerned. At the very least, what the heck is wrong with considering these "routine" plays in an actual game identical to the "routine" plays in practice where you must run all out?
And . . . [i]t's not like in hockey where you are skating up and down and side-to-side in 45 second shifts and you are panting by the time you get back to the bench. It's a four second anerobic exercise. Adam Dunn gets paid 10MM to come to swing (or consider swinging) the bat 3000 times, to run 500 times, and to field (or back up a play) 500 times. That's $2500 for every "effort" he puts out on the field. If he thinks that one time he doesn't want to put [in] the effort, then he should give back the 2500$.

Maybe it sounds like I'm letting TangoTiger make my point for me here, and maybe I sort of am, to the extent that the point is "hustle matters." But the larger point here, I think, is that this is just one example of an endemic problem with sabermetric folk (one that was a lot worse 10 years ago, but still persists). Just like "Jim Rice does not belong in the Hall" ≠ "Jim Rice sucks," "hustle doesn't make David Eckstein a good player" ≠ "hustle doesn't matter."

I'm quite sure that we (and by that I totally mean "I") would jump all over Bill Conlin or Mike Celizic if we caught them engaging in that kind of phony logic. But we seem to think it's okay for us...and I think it all comes from pretentiousness. We start with some little thing we're very sure is right (something that is, in fact, right), and it leads to this thinking like we're perfectly right about everything on this topic, while the other side is perfectly wrong. I guess that's sort of a fact of life -- isn't politics more or less the same thing? -- but it's been getting better among the sabermetric community lately, and it'll be really nice if that trend continues.