Saturday, December 31, 2005
The Gifts: Wade Boggs, Jimmy Key
Cash or Charge: three years, about $11 million for Boggs, four years, approximately $17 million for Key
Naughty or Nice: This was a God-Bless-Us-Every-One type event. The Boss celebrated his impending reinstatement from suspension by gobbling up a couple of veteran free agents. The signings follow Big Stein's M.O. of vampirically signing away players from division rivals--strengthening the team and weakening the enemy simultaneously. I'll admit that initially I didn't like the Key signing. Key was then a finesse lefty over the age of 30 with a 13-13 record the season before. Exactly the kind of guy the Yanks had been burned on in the past. The World Champion Blue Jays considered him expendable.
Ah, back in the days when I still thought won-loss record meant something...
Key joined the rotation and was key in swinging the Yanks' record by twelve games, bringing them back above .500 and to second place (to the aforementioned Blue Jays, who won the World title again). By BP's support-neutral measures, Key was the second-best starter in the AL that season (behind the Royals' Kevin Appier, and ahead of Cy Young winner Jack McDowell and runner-up Randy Johnson). In 1994, with the Yankees in first place at the time of the players' strike, and the subsequent cancellation of the season, Key was somewhat over-hyped, finishing second in the Cy Young voting (to David Cone) despite being "only" the fifth-best starter in the AL. We'll never know exactly how much the 1994 strike cost Key, but when the 1995 season opened, Key had a couple of good starts against Boston and Milwakee, then a couple of bad starts against Toronto and Cleveland, and then his season was over, lost to rotator cuff surgery. Key wasn't really his old self after returning from surgery, but he gutted through the season well enough to make 30 starts, have a 4.2 SNLVAR, and win a couple of playoff games, including Game 6 of the World Series.
Boggs was just as big a contributor, and a little more topical, because of the parallels with 2005's Christmas present, Johnny Damon. Both were Boston leadoff men (primarily--in an ill-advised move, the Sox gave Wade more time in the #3 hole than leading off in 1992) both fit in the pesky/annoying category, with their penchant for fouling the ball off (no stat for this, so I could be wrong) and both were despised by Yankee fans. From the mid-80's until Boggs' arrival in 1993, my favorite highlight from the between-innings highlight reel the Yankees played each game (sadly, I can't remember which inning it happened) wasn't Reggie's three homers in the 1977 World Serious, or Ron Guidry's 18K game against the Angels in '78...it was Dave Righetti's Independence Day no-hitter--because the last out was Wade Boggs, little Mr. Never-Strikes-Out, swinging helplessly over Rags' slider to end the game.
I hated ol' Chicken Breath, with his stupid supersticions and his dinky singles, with his cheap doubles up against the Green Monster and the prissy way he looked at every ball out of the strike zone (little "good boy!" nod to the umpire if he called a ball, a small chastening look if he called a strike, one that said "I understand, that one got by ya. We'll do better next time, right?"). I detested Wade Boggs's World-Series-weepy, adulterous, end-of-season-sittin'-out-so-I-can-win-the-batting-title ass.
Here's where Boggs and Damon diverge: by the time Boggs left Boston, the world of baseball generally agreed with me. I lived in Beantown in the Fall of '92, at the end of Boggs' worst season ever. At the age of 34, he hit .259, and Boston had really turned on him. He was savaged on talk radio, New Englanders sick of Boggs' perceived selfishness, his preoccupation with stats. Like Ichiro Suzuki a decade or so later, many were obsessed with Boggs' batting practice displays of home run power, and upset that he didn't hit for power in non-batting practice situations. Some sportswriter, probably the Curly-Haired Boyfriend, had surgically attached the phrase "25 guys, 25 cabs" to Wade Boggs' name, creating the perception that he was a clubhouse cancer. His indiscretions with an on-the-road girlfriend (and her subsequent yapping about it to every news outlet that would give her a couple of bucks) had embarassed his teammates as well as the city itself (showing its Calvinist/Puritan side again).
Judging from my humble perceptions that winter, folks in New England just weren't all that broken up when Wade went away. They had Scott Cooper and Tim Naehring, each of whom was supposed to be the best thing since sliced toast. No one was burning Boggs's jersey in effigy.
Back to the Yankees, however. In December, 1992, the Yankees hadn't been able to get league-average production out of third base since Mike Pagliarulo in 1987. Boggs gave the Yanks a good glove at the hot corner (according to BP's defensive stats, Boggs was average or better every year he was in pinstripes) and badly-needed OBP at the top of the lineup (Boggs spent most of his Yanks' career batting first or second) for the five years he was a Yankee. Even though he was protected by platoon partners during his years with the Yanks (Randy Velarde, Russ Davis, and Charlie Hayes came out to play against tough lefties) Boggs' performance in pinstripes was greatly diminished from what he'd done as a Red Sock. This was reasonable, both give Boggs age (mid-30s) and the fact that he moved from a park he exploited to the hilt, to a somewhat more diffcult hitting environment in the Bronx.
On the other hand, Boggs was able to rehabilitate his reputation as a human being in the Bronx--he was widely regarded as a good teammate, he did "cluhouse leader" stuff like running the Yanks' Kangaroo Court, he even provided a touching moment with his horseback victory lap around the Stadium after the 1996 World Series.
So, to sum up, I think that there are three lessons from Wade Boggs, that we should keep in mind while welcoming Johnny Damon to the Bronx:
1. Win, and We Will Welcome You: Every Yankee fan who hated Damon as a Sock will come around--so long as he performs and the team wins. If either of those things fall short, we've got no guarantees.
2. Don't Expect the Same Performance: It's almost guaranteed that Damon's numbers will drop off from what he's done the past four years. First, Fenway is simply a better hitter's park for a lefty hitter whose value depends on singles and doubles. Second, although Damon's younger than Boggs was when he came to New York, just like Wade, we're not getting Damon's prime years. The Royals, A's, and Red Sox got those, and there's no use complaining about it.
3. The Intangibles Are Unreliables: One of the touted pluses in a Damon acquisition, is Johnny's "leadership" ability. If there's one thing that history teaches us, it's that the intangibles aren't guaranteed. Boggs was a crumb before he joined the Yanks, and became a solid citizen after. Damon's acquired a great reputation in Beantown (I don't recall him being hailed as a leader in Kansas City or Oakland) but the slate is cleaned with his move to New York. A couple of incidents with reporters, or a bad reaction to early struggles in pinstripes, and Damon could go the reverse route from Boggs, from beloved "idiot" to clubhouse cancer, in the blink of an eye. Once upon a time Bobby Bonilla was hailed as a clubhouse leader. He came to the Mets, got off on the wrong foot in an early press conference, and things went downhill from there--boos, earplugs, and "I'll show you the Bronx." Just months after starting his tour of duty in Flushing, Bonilla's rep was permanently ruined. Here's hoping Damon meets a better fate.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
The Royals piece is a solo Notebook, my first since the old Prospectus Triple Plays. It's all about the Royals' spending on place-fillers like Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Redman, Scott Elarton, and Paul Bako. Here's a sample:
That’s the big theme of [the Royals' free agent] acquisitions, one that reportedly will continue with the signing of outfielder Reggie Sanders. The Royals are on a two-year plan, matching the time remaining on Mike Sweeney’s contract, in which they intend to use veteran placeholders to support their youngsters. Like cedar chips in a closet, having a bunch of mildly above-average thirtysomethings around the clubhouse could keep the club from stinking while the Royals await the arrival of prospects like Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Justin Huber, and Chris Lubanski. In 2008, all those players could be in the show, along with $15 million which will come off the payroll in veteran players. In comparison, if the Royals had signed A.J. Burnett to the same five years, $55 million he received from the Toronto Blue Jays, they’d have a good, but not great, pitcher on a bad team now, and probably a 31 year-old innings-eater making $11 million in 2008.
The Yankees piece (you have to scroll down, since it's the second segment in this Notebook) is a rundown of the Yanks' tradition of offering the fans "Christmas present" acquisitions over the past ten or so years. Here's a sample:
The Gift: Johnny Damon, CF
They Left a Price Tag on This One: Four years, $52 million
Naughty or Nice: Some years, what you receive for Christmas is something new and extravagant, the equivalent of an XBox 360. Some years, it's something commonplace and practical, like a nice pair of woolen socks. Rarely do you come across a present that combines both the spark of novelty and the adult virtue of practicality--such as a slinky new cell phone to replace the one you've dropped a thousand times. For a team whose incumbent center fielders posted EqAs of .242 (Bernie Williams) and .227 (Bubba Crosby) in 2005, and one long in need of outfield defense, Damon was close to a necessity. Add in the fun of ticking off the entire fan base of the Yankees' closest rivals, and Damon is clearly a toy that's both fun and educational. We have to hope that the Yanks got the extended warranty, here--last season's PECOTA projections featured a couple of players comparable to Damon who fell off the face of the earth in their early 30s, most notably Lloyd Moseby and Andy Van Slyke.
It's a fun topic, and one I'd love to take on, much more in-depth, in the future. Enjoy!
Friday, December 23, 2005
- Take things one year at a time. That's the mantra with the Johnny Damon signing. For 2006, the Yanks desperately needed a centerfielder, and there was bubkes on the market, other than Damon. I'll go into this in some additional detail next week on BP, but for 2006 (and probably 2007) this was the move to make.
- People are, I think, making too much of this "Yankees Gain is Red Sox Loss" angle. As my brother reminded me yesterday, the Yanks gaining Damon's value and the Red Sox losing same could account for an 11 win swing, as per BP's Wins Above Replacement Player stat (Damon's value was about 5.5). But everyone forgets what the Red Sox gain in this transaction--$10MM they'd earmarked to re-sign Damon. The Red Sox aren't going to replace Damon with a replacement-level player--they have enough money and talent in their system to get a better-than replacement centerfielder.
- Next week, when I look back at 2005, I'm going to tally up the number of times I apologized not having posted more frequently, here. I love having a blog all to myself, but I'm open to any suggestions to make my blogging better. That could mean taking on a partner on this blog, so that there's daily content, or else moving to someone else's blog to perform the same function. No announcements imminent, and I'd welcome any input in the comments section.
- Got to catch a late show of Syriana last night. I was dead exhausted, so I dozed off at least four times during the movie. From what I was conscious to witness, I'd have to go with Roger Ebert's impression of the movie, which is that the movie was intentionally made so that the plot was impossible to follow. I think of this like one of those paintings with the endless, impossible stairway that's going up and down at the same time. It sounds strange not to pan a movie when you actually fell asleep watching it, but I think I'd give Syriana another chance.
- During the movie, which I saw at the Angelica, just at the stroke of midnight I felt the New York Subway system rambling back to life. Maybe the first time for me that a distracting noise in the movie theater was also welcome.
Away for the weekend. Have a Merry Christmas!
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Some people might think me a hypocrite for criticizing the hard-working men and women of the TWU while I'm usually fairly friendly to whatever another union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, does.
The issue is context. Major League Baseball, while one of my favorite things in the world, is not necessary. If it goes dark because people are arguing over money, no one's going to die; a relatively small number of support people are going to lose their job. That's big if you're one of those people, but not that big in the big picture.
A transit strike, in New York City, at Christmas, will have a broad and devastating effect, particularly in the short term. Businesses are counting on mass transit to bring shoppers to them. This is the week that many retailers get in the black, for the year, and that's a bit less likely to happen now. People count on mass transit to bring them to the doctor's office, to enable them to get to work. That's why strikes by transit workers (and cops, and firefighters, for that matter) are illegal in New York.
When he announced the strike, last night while most of us were sleeping, TWU President Roger Toussaint hit his points. He mentioned the Metropolitan Transit Authority's surplus for this year, reportedly a billion dollars or more, repeatedly. He declared that the TWU wasn't simply taking a stand for themselves, but for all the workers out there who are watching the "erosion" of pension, retirement, and health benefits. Toussaint asked the riders to "stand by" the TWU, as he claimed the TWU had stood by riders "to keep token booths open, to keep conductors on the train, to oppose fare hikes."
I don't remember that last part happening, but the first two were more matters of self-interest to Mr. Toussaint's union than altruistic acts for the benefit of the ridership.
Still, I'd be much more likely to have sympathy for the TWU if they were striking in June, rather than when the weather is in the 20's (that's farenheit, yo). Had they simply held out until next week, it would have been a true sign they give a damn about the saps who ride the rails and roads with them.
A transit strike hurts the MTA any day of the year. It hurts the city and the state at any time. However, striking right now, is calculated to hurt New Yorkers--the everyday rider--most.
So sadly, I'm wishing only the worst on Roger and his union right now. May a judge fine them twice their salary per day they strike, and their leaders a few million dollars a day. And should, heaven forbid, anyone die or be hurt, or permanently lose their jobs because of this strike, I hope they sue the illegally-striking union.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
But none of that has congealed yet, so here we are, another notes column. As the Chairman would say, Allez Cuisine!
The Yankees news of the week was the acquisition from the Immolation Trade Marlins of lefty reliever Ron Villone, obtained in exchange for Ben Julianel. Villone is...well-traveled. The Yanks will be the 10th team of his 11 year Major League career. The upside is that he's a swingman, who could make an emergency start when needed; he's tough on lefties, but doesn't completely fold the tent against righthanded batters; and he's maintained a good strikeout rate for his entire career.
On the other hand, Villone is 36 years old, his control is pretty crappy, and he hasn't posted an ERA below 4 since the Clinton Administration (1997, to be more precise). The control is the key issue, since Joe Torre is notoriously impatient with relievers who can't get the ball over the plate. In return for Villone, the Yanks give up Julianel--a guy who's a lot like Villone, just ten years younger. Julianel's a lefty with good stuff but bad control, who repeated AA in 2005, as a reliever. Some think that Julianel could make the jump to the majors in 2005, although a 3.90 ERA in Trenton usually isn't the fast track to the Bronx.
The key to this trade will be what use, if any, Torre finds for Villone. Stay tuned.
The other big news of the week is the Yankees not signing Nomar Garciaparra, just another outgrowth of the Fourth Estate's general discontent with the Yanks for not setting off their regular off-season fireworks. Mugs like Mike Lupica, who spend their lives slagging the Yanks for overspending and turning over the roster, are now slagging them for not spending on this winter's weak crop of free agents.
The Yankees didn't need Nomar, and actually didn't really have a place for him. The role that was discussed (in the media, not necessarily by the team) of Garciaparra as a four-or-five position superutility guy was a pipe dream. You just don't take a guy that had a catastrophic injury last year, and injury problems over the last 3-4 years, and then start playing him at numerous positions he hasn't played in years, if ever. That's pretty close to begging for the guy to get hurt.
Instead of going to the Yanks, Nomar goes to the Dodgers, where they're committed to playing him at first base, and where the owner, a New Englander, is attempting to rebuild the 2004 Red Sox roster, piece by discarded piece. Hopefully, Johnny Damon is next on their list.
In case anyone's interested in my BP work, I dropped a joint on the Pirates this week, discussing the huge turnover they've put in on their roster. Here's a taste:
The Pirates' off-season has settled into a near-bulimic binge-and-purge rhythm, so far.
The Pirates emptied their stomachs of all their outgoing free agents (Brian Meadows, Jose Mesa, Daryle Ward, and Rick White), offering none of them arbitration. They disgorged infielders Bobby Hill and Ty Wigginton, only getting a 23 year-old A ball righthander in exchange for Hill. Their Opening Day center fielder this past season, Tike Redman, was banished in exchange for a fistful of dollars. The other Redman, lefthanded starter Mark--whom the Pirates refused to sell off when he was riding high in the first half of 2005--was dealt to the Royals in exchange for a couple of relief prospects. Outfielder Michael Restovich? Waived. Utilityman extraordinaire Rob Mackowiak? A White Sock, and in exchange the Bucs re-acquire reliever-non-grata Damaso Marte.
That’s a quarter of the 2005 40-man roster, gone, with only one major league player (two, if you count Rule 5 pick Victor Santos) to show for it. Marte’s a worthwhile player, although the Pirates already had a younger version of him in Mike Gonzalez. Marte’s acquisition means John Grabow descends to the not-quite-coveted “third lefty in the bullpen” status, barring another move.
To put things back on Yankees=center-of-the-universe terms (not laudable, terms, but those of this space) a couple of the Pirates' discards are actually players the Yanks could've used this year, particularly Tike Redman, who had the look of a legit defensive centerfielder. The Mets got their hands on him, which is OK, since there isn't enough difference between Redman and Bubba Crosby to make Redman a clear target. Rick White has been mentioned as a possible target for the Bombers, to fill out the bullpen; Mike Restovich could actually be a good righthanded complement at the corners, if the Yanks don't bring back Bernie Williams.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
A few months ago, I had a mini-argument about irony with my BP Editor, John Erhardt (if you're a fan of Baseball Prospectus's website, you should drop John an email; aside from writing the Week in Quotes feature, he's also one of the many people who keep the website running behind the scenes). John's a rigid adherent to the first dictionary definition of irony, which is purely verbal--"the use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning," as per dictionary.com. Folks usually (and somewhat inappropriately) just call that type of irony "sarcasm." When a DMV bureaucrat tells you that you've been standing on the wrong line for the past half hour, and you say "Thank you, you're so helpful," to them in response, that's irony.
I'm a big fan of the second dictionary definition, "incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs." For example, if Courtney Love got all over some other celebrity for having no control over their life, that's irony (heck, calling Courtney Love a celebrity might be irony as well).
[Stupid aside: The Alanis Morisette song, "Ironic," actually contains no examples of irony. That in itself could be ironic under either definition of irony: if Morisette knew that there was no irony in the song, and called it "Ironic" anyway, that could itself be irony; meanwhile, the fact that a song called "Ironic" contains no irony, is definitely ironic--since you'd expect just the opposite based on the title. You could just go 'round and 'round with this all day.]
Irony is murderers being released from jail because they admit that they intentionally killed their victims. In New York, this is actually happening, because of a common prosecutorial practice of charging killers under a variety of different theories of murder--in this case, second degree murder under both the intentional murder statute and the "depraved indifference" statute. Depraved indifference means that, rather than having the specific intent to kill someone, the killer acted in such a way that he should have known it would result in someone dying (the classic example is firing a gun into a crowd--you might not be trying to harm anyone specifically, but you're acting with indifference to the lives of the people in the crowd).
Some of the time, the juries returned guilty verdicts under the wrong section of the statute--i.e., claiming that a killer was "indifferent" when there was evidence he carefully planned his crime. Some wingnut in my profession has decided that it's not fair for a fellow to be in jail for killing recklessly when he actually intended to murder someone; and an appellate court has agreed with the said wingnut.
What a great day for civil liberties! (Yup, irony again.)
I can actually see this being a fair result--if the murderer (or rather his attorney) argued at trial that his actions were premeditated. But if they argued he didn't do it, how on earth can they now come back and not only claim the murderer did it, but did it intentionally?
A somewhat different ironic twist could be found this week, in the sad story of Lillo Brancato. The headlines have read "Sopranos Actor to be Charged with Murder," because that's a pretty nifty angle--makebelieve mobster commits real-life crime.
But irony is when you're discovered, as a 17-year-old unknown, to star in a film opposite Robert Deniro and Chaz Palminteri; when the film is all about growing up in the Bronx surrounded by mobsters and knuckleheads, and finding the good sense not to follow your friends to their violent deaths or imprisonments; and then somehow, a dozen years later, being such a fuckup that you're robbing a neighbor's house, with a fellow knucklehead, and you get caught in a gunfight between your accomplice and an off-duty police officer, and the officer winds up dead, after filling you with enough lead to put you in critical condition.
That's some irony. If Brancato ever gets off the critical list, he is now a cop-killer (it doesn't matter if he wasn't the one pulling the trigger). In other words, even if he survives, his life is over.
And if he dies, I hope that in Hell they have A Bronx Tale running on a continuous loop. Maybe, with enough viewings, the idea that "the saddest thing in life is wasted talent" might penetrate his thick fucking skull, and he might start to feel some fraction of the anguish he's caused the dead policeman's family. Or not.
Thus endeth the rant. I'm a little disappointed with myself about the language. I mean, I was able to show more restraint even as the Yanks were signing Tony Womack and Jaret Wright around this time last year. But this really pissed me off, and A Bronx Tale was a really good movie. Hopefully I'll be able to go another fifteen months or so without getting R-rated on you again.
A tale of two classic movie channels: Peter Jackson's "King Kong" comes out in theaters (to near-universal acclaim), and tonight, Turner Classic Movies plays the groundbreaking, 1933 Fay Wray "King Kong" in response. In response to that, over on American Movie Classics, they play the 1976 Jeff Bridges "King Kong." The two earlier movies are not in the same league with each other--the 30's version was a classic, while the 70's version is classic only in the sense that it's more than 25 years old. That, plus the fact that AMC has commercials, makes tonight's TV viewing easy pickings.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
On the other hand, no one among the Yankees faithful is too broken up about saying g'bye to Tony F'ing Womack.
Sadly, the Tony Womack Fan Club page has been wiped out by Earthlink, along with the Original WTDB. Still, I think that if the TWFC were still alive, they'd approve this move, sending Tony to the National League, which is obviously, more suited to his skillz, where it's less likely that folks would get all tripped up if he hits .212 for a couple of months. That, plus the Yanks pay $900,000 for running the Woe-Man out of town.
The Reds gave up two guys for Womack. One, Kevin Howard, considered to be a top possibility for the Rule V draft, according to Baseball America (Chris Klein):
Kevin Howard, 2b/3b, Reds
Howard has the biggest buzz coming into this year's draft after having a brilliant season in the Arizona Fall League. A fifth-round pick in 2002 out of Miami, Howard won the AFL batting title, hitting .409-3-16 in 88 at-bats. But perhaps his strongest asset was proving himself to be an adequate defender at third base. Howard played third in college, but played primarily second base since turning pro. He's a patient lefthanded hitter with a line-drive stroke, and has shown improved power. Some scouts in the AFL liked him better at third, and Howard could be solid at either spot making him the best overall position player available in the draft. Dan Uggla (Diamondbacks) is another utility player who dramatically upped his stock in the AFL, but Howard's lefthanded bat, which could be valuable off a big league bench, gives him the edge.
And Baseball Prospectus (David Regan):
Kevin Howard, 2B, Cincinnati (24, AA)
AA (SOU): .296/.348/.428, 12 HR, 13 SB in 479 at-bats
AFL: .409/.475/.557, 3 HR, 2 SB in 88 at-bats
Howard is coming off a great Arizona Fall League (AFL) performance where he led the league in hitting. Nice way to get noticed. The AFL is typically very hitter-friendly, as teams don’t want to wear out the arms of their top prospects, but a .409 average is still pretty impressive. Teams should like his lefty bat and the fact that he’s adequate defensively at 2B, 3B, and probably OF should there be a need. Based on his bat and versatility, some team will take a chance on him.
That sounds promising, at least as far as a guy who can lend some depth to the organization goes. He's not going to start for the Yankees or anything, he may not even have a major league career (being a guy who was maybe a bit old for AA this year). But he's likely to bring some skills to Columbus in 2006, and be there (and ready) in case anything happens at the Major League level, in case someone wants to make a trade--that sort of thing. That's not a bad rate of exchange for old Woe-Mack.
In other news, the Yanks picked up Mike Myers (the former Red Sock, not the Halloween-themed murderer) on a two-year deal. For the first time since Graham Lloyd, the Yanks have a real LOOGy on the roster--a left-handed specialist who can take a hack at getting the likes of David Ortiz out. It's not a bad deal, at all, so long as Joe Torre understands Myers' limitations.
Yeah, big "if".
It looks like the Yanks' attempts to re-make the bullpen are running up against the limitations in the market. According to this article in Newsday, it's actually a shame that 41 year-old ex-Met Roberto Hernandez signed with the Pirates. Other options they name are (in rough order of age): Rudy Seanez (37), Rick White (37), Julian Tavarez (32) and Octavio Dotel (32). Another article mentions Jeff Nelson. The bullpen of the future looks more and more like something somebody could have assembled in the past.
Back when he was healthy, Dotel was a somebody. Seanez has largely cooked with gas, in those few moments he has been healthy over his ML career. It's hard to get excited about anybody else on the list, whose upside isn't all that high, healthy or not.
So far, the Bullpen of the Future has Mariano Rivera closing, Farnsworth doing the 8th inning thing, Mike Myers killing lefties, and Tanyone Sturtze doing everyone's taxes, making sure that there are no brown M&M's in Mariano's candy bowl, and detailing people's cars. Actually, Sturtze is rumored to be hitting the bricks in trade for a center fielder.
Sigh, maybe things will clear up at the non-tender deadline...
Friday, December 09, 2005
For example, the Houston Astros said good-bye, or at least "so long," to Roger Clemens yesterday. Clemens doesn't even know if he wants to play next season, and so the Astros couldn't risk him taking them to arbitration (more on him later). The Mets bid farewell to their franchise player of the past eight years, Mike Piazza.
It was expected that one of the sad good-byes would belong to Bernie Williams. His agent, Scott Boras, has a reputation for not taking into consideration anything other than the bottom dollar, so it was thought that he'd be shopping Bernie elsewhere after Wednesday.
However, the Yanks offered Bernie arbitration, under the condition that Williams would not accept the offer (they reached similar agreements with Al Leiter and Ramiro Mendoza). This means that Bernie remains a free agent, but his window to negotiate with the Yanks now runs until January 8. It is now rumored that there will be a one-year deal in place, between $1.5-2MM with incentives, before that deadline (past that deadline, the player can't sign until May 1).
Not having to say good-bye to Bernie is a mixed relief. The idea is that if Bernie sticks around, he will be in the old Ruben Sierra role--pinch hitter, sometimes DH, emergency outfielder. Given Sierra's performance in that role (Ruben was not offered arbitration), it shouldn't be too hard for Bernie to do better, in just about every way possible.
On the other hand, so long as Bernie is on the roster, the incoming centerfielder will likely be one extended slump away from losing his job. One bad week for Bubba Crosby would have Torre "mulling" a platoon. Two bad weeks for any CF short of Johnny Damon will have Bernie in a "job sharing" situation. So I don't like the move because it could promote stasis.
The fact is, Bernie is one of my favorite Yankees, ever. There's a special attachment you develop with a team's home-grown players. Well before Bernie Williams came to the majors, I knew his name. Before I ever saw him, there was a picture in my head of what he looked like. He, and a number of others, have been a beacon of hope that we nurture--names like Hensley Meulens (a/k/a "Bam Bam"), Hal Morris, J.T. Snow, Sam Millitello, Ricky Ledee, Ruben Rivera, Derek Jeter, Gerald Williams, Mark Hutton, Mariano Rivera, Brien Taylor, Drew Henson, Nick Johnson, Alfonso Soriano, Brandon Claussen, D'Angelo Jimenez, Bob Wickman, Russ Springer. Each name came New York-hyped with a description you could dream on. Meulens had limitless power, when he moved to the outfield because he couldn't handle the hot corner he was compared to Jim Rice. Sam Militello was a finesse pitcher, like Catfish Hunter. Snow was going to be a switch-hitting Don Mattingly. Taylor was a left-handed Nolan Ryan. Ruben Rivera was the "better Rivera," compared to his cousin, Mariano--the papers said he was like a young Mickey Mantle.
Back before the Internet, I speed-scanned copies of BA at the newsstand, looking for news of one of these fellows. The smallest mention of Bernie, or of Militello, could get me to buy BA. Bernie was supposed to be a speed-burner, the next Rickey Henderson, a lead-off guy. When I finally caught a look at him (spring training of '91?) he was taller than I expected, thicker. He never developed the baserunning instinct they were looking for, and the fact that he didn't fit into their mold, of leadoff centerfield guy, almost instantly put him in peril of being traded.
By the time that Bernie Williams finally came up to stay with the Yankees, as a fan, I'd been through a lot with him. I'd suffered through trade rumors, in an era where we were accustomed to every good prospect being dealt away. I suffered through management claiming that Bernie was hard to teach, not intense enough, had "bad instincts." When Williams first started showing his potential, in 1994, it was more than just a player having a good year, it was faith validated.
You don't get that with a player that you trade for, or sign on the free agent market. I loved Paul O'Neill, but by the time he first donned pinstripes, he already had a major league history. Even though O'Neill exceeded every expectation we had for him, that was just a pleasant surprise--O'Neill didn't have the burden of years of Yankee fans' expectations.
I hope Bernie retires in pinstripes. Be it after a few years as a useful bench player, or discovering that he just doesn't have what it takes anymore, and getting out while the getting's good. Until he quits, I'll cheer him. He's one of my guys.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
For those of you without the energy to click through, the story, which was on Page 3 of the NY Daily News, is that Anna is mad that the Mets are trying to trade her hubby, "just average" pitcher Kris Benson. Or, as she puts it:
"We would never, ever have signed with New York if they had said they were going to trade us," said Anna Benson, 29. "I was Miss [Politically Correct] for the Mets the entire time I was there."What seems to have Benson steamed is the idea that the Mets are trying to trade Kris, not because he's not all that good, but rather because she has been in negotiations to pose nude for Playboy. On this front, I'm with her 100%. They knew which wife they were getting when they signed Benson, and Anna eventually posing naked somewhere--or releasing an amateur porn video over the Internet--were pretty much a given at some point during the righthander's four-year contract.
Do the Mets actually think their fans would mind Benson getting nekkid for Playboy? Maybe a few would, but doesn't the potential gain--the coveted "Maxim demographic"--far outweigh any harm? More importantly, if Anna Benson doesn't mind the whole world seeing her naked body, and if her husband doesn't mind the whole world seeing her naked body, why the heck should the Mets organization care?
Heck, the Mets have a new sports channel coming, and hours of programming to fill. They could do worse than turning one of those hours per week over to Anna Benson, to see if she can't inject some sex appeal into a channel that will probably be a lot like the early YES Network, just without anywhere near history and tradition obsession that drives programming like Yankeeography and Center Stage.
C'mon, like you wouldn't watch, just to see if it's a train wreck?
Now, on the other hand, the rest of Benson's statements in this article are, at the very least, ill-advised. There's no "us" that the Mets are trading--if the Mets trade their pitcher, Kris Benson, Anna Benson can stick around New York if she likes. Worse than that, there's absolutely no reason to bring up Carlos Delgado, and his "unpatriotic" decision not to stand for God Bless America or the National Anthem. Delgado refused to stand during the Anthem because of weapons testing in Vieques, in Delgado's native Puerto Rico, but he's decided not do that any more now that he's with the Mets.
Which brings up the bigger point: Kris Benson hasn't been traded yet. Until he is, Benson is tied to the Mets organization, and may have to share a clubhouse with Delgado in Spring Training, or maybe even for the next three years. And if Kris Benson isn't traded, he--not his wife--will have to deal with the consequences of Anna Benson running off her mouth.
I don't know this woman personally, but I recognize the behavior. Everyone has dated, or has a friend who has dated, the type of girlfriend I call simply "The Big Mouth." Big Mouth's usually pretty attractive--no one would put up with her otherwise--and she's often loyal, devoted and protective of her man. These are all good, positive qualities. The downside comes whenever the Big Mouth leaves the house. You see, because of that devoted/protective thing, she's always on the lookout for people who are dissing her or her man, and because of the attractive thing, she has no inhibitions about expressing her feelings to anyone and everyone.
As a combined result of the attractive/protective qualities, she's a bit paranoid, dividing the world into lists of friends and enemies, and the enemies list always seems to be the longer of the two. Because the Big Mouth demands that her man be as devoted to her as she is to him, she'll expect him to back up her Big Mouth with action, putting the smackdown on her many "enemies," worldwide. Someone step on your shoe and mumble a half-hearted apology? You might let it slide, but not the Big Mouth. She'll insist on a big confrontation on your behalf. Not eager to get into a fistfight, singlehanded, with three or four Hells Angels wannabes? Well, you better get ready rumble, because Big Mouth thought one of them looked at her funny, and she's now impugning the manhood of him and his friends!
Being with the Big Mouth means being in a constant state of war with everyone in the whole world, over slights real or imagined. Sounds fun, doesn't it?
Saturday, December 03, 2005
There's a lively discussion of this going on at Alex Belth's place. Pierre's one of those divisive figures who has opposing clubs of diehard supporters and detractors. However, I have a pretty hard time getting all that excited about Pierre, either way. I'm ambivalent toward Pierre, and I find him hard to pin down. My impressions of him are more about what he isn't than what he is, which makes him a pretty ambiguous character in my book:
Juan Pierre isn't: Bernie Williams.
To go with all the other ambiguities, this impression cuts both ways. Juan Pierre is not Bernie Williams in that he is nine years younger than the outgoing Yankee centerfielder, and far more healthy--Pierre has played 162 game per year, for the last three years running. On the other hand, Pierre is not the perennial All-Star type of player that Williams was, is not anyone who will ever be discussed as having a legit argument for the Hall of Fame. More specifically, Pierre hasn't shown, and most likely never will show, the type of batting eye and on-base ability that made Bernie such an effective player.
Juan Pierre isn't: Cecil Fielder
There might be more recent examples of slow, powerful performers I could use that would fit this bill (Jason Giambi comes to mind) but former Yank Fielder really gives us a sense of scale in this comparison. A huge, not-terribly-well-conditioned mountain of a man, Fielder was so big that if he ate Juan Pierre for lunch, he'd need a small snack (say, a couple of dozen hamburgers from Mickey D's) before dinnertime.
The diametric opposite of Fielder, Pierre is greased lightning on the bases (267 SB in his career, good 73.6% success rate), but a dead duck in any home run derby (he's averaging roughly 1 homer per every 95 games; career .375 SLG in a career that included a few years in Colorado).
Juan Pierre isn't: Paul Blair, Andruw Jones, or Willie Mays.
When it comes to defense, everyone gives a speedy centerfielder the benefit of the doubt. The fast guys, we're told, can outrun their mistakes. When the Florida Marlins came into town for the 2003 World Series, with a strong defensive rep, we were regaled with tales that he was an up-and-coming gold glove type.
On the tools side of things, it seems to me that Pierre has a wet noodle for an arm. On the stats side, there's a bit of disagreement, but a few things become clear: Pierre is probably not a nightmarish CF, likely a bad-to-mediocre one, but definitely not an elite defender. BP's defensive stats, based upon the number and type of outs Pierre recorded, say he hasn't been above average since his Colorado days--a total of 31 runs worse than an average CF over the past three years. Win Shares--Bill James's system which is used over at the HardBall Times--isn't terribly informative, since all outfielders are clumped together. The one thing we know for sure is that Pierre's 2.9 fielding win shares in 2005 were far south of Aaron Rowand (7.6) and Carlos Beltran (7.2), but north of Bernie Williams (2.6) and Ken Griffey, Jr. (1.9). UZR--a system which breaks the playing field into a grid (of sorts) and assigns each defender a "zone" of responsibility--lists Pierre as being slightly above average...from 2000-2003 (the last years I can find the data). Another play-by-play system, Dave Pinto's probabilistic model of range, had Pierre as slightly below average in 2004...I think.
The only thing we can be certain about is that no one is saying that Pierre's a great center fielder. The question is, on a team that at one point put Tony Womack out in center, would Pierre have to be?
Juan Pierre isn't: a Sabermetric Darling
Pierre is the type of player who has been the bane of stathead existence since Bill James first started writing his Abstracts in the 70s--the low-power, low-walks "hitter" whose offensive value is primarily in his batting average. The thing is, Pierre has more often than not confounded expectations by hitting for average--his career BA is .305, which has been enough to keep him at a decent .355 career OBP (during that time the league average was .348), despite drawing an average of 43 walks per year.
Part of the confounding was that Pierre's demise was widely predicted after he left the best hitting environment in baseball (Denver) for one of the worst (Miami) after a bad 2002 season at altitude. For some reason, Pierre's batting skills were not perceptibly damaged by the move, which is pretty interesting. Maybe guys that bunt for hits and put the ball on the ground don't benefit as much from Colorado's thin air? Who knows?
Juan Pierre isn't: Expensive
Even though the Marlins are looking to move Pierre, ostensibly because of his salary, the speedy centerfielder isn't likely to earn much in 2006: Pierre is arbitration-eligible, but he's coming off of what superficially looks like his worst season, and was making about $3MM in 2005. In another sense of the word, Henn and Proctor are hardly the most valuable figures in the Yankee organization.
Yes, Henn is only 24, and he was well thought-of within the organization going into this past season--he has an impressive 3.58 minor league ERA, and has struck out 7.11 men per nine innings. On the other hand, his command was slightly suspect at the minor league level--3.49 walks per nine--and he got shellacked (0-3, 16R in 11.3 innings) in three major league starts...against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. I can't think of a young player during Torre's Yankees tenure who recovered from such a bad introduction to the team, and went on to contribute.
(Actually, there is one: Mariano Rivera, who allowed 18 runs in his first 15 ML innings. Two caveats--one, Rivera was able to register a win in his second start, allowing only one run in 5.3 innings to the A's; two, Sean Henn is no Mariano Rivera. Even before Rivera's breakout start against the White Sox (8IP 0R 2H 11K 4BB) you knew that the future Sandman had a blazing fastball. Henn's repertoire doesn't belong in the same conversation.)
Proctor is...fungible. He has a good fastball, and could have some freak good relief seasons over the rest of his career, but he hasn't impressed in two partial seasons in pinstripes (5.81 ERA, 57 K in 69.7 IP). Proctor's probably most famous in my book for his meltdown against Tampa Bay this season, where he walked in the winning run in extra innings. He's the kind of guy you wind up trading at the end of Spring Training, because he doesn't have any options left, and you don't have space for him in the pen.
Juan Pierre isn't: Bubba Crosby
While Pierre's many critics focus on the things he can't do--the lack of power and patience, the overrated defense and possibly overvalued speed--when looking at whether Pierre has value for the Yanks, you have to ask "what's the alternative?"
If the season started tomorrow, the Yankees' starting centerfielder would be Bubba Crosby. There are worse fates--Womack still lurks on the roster, and Crosby is inexpensive and has developed strong good will from the fans with some late-inning longball heroics over the past two seasons. But you look at the career line--fair enough, one that's only 170 PA long--and you see a total of three career homers, one triple, two doubles. A .221/.253/.301 performance.
As for the other skills he could bring to the table, Crosby looks to be a classic tweener. Faster than some of the tired old men on the Yankees roster, but not a speed demon. Better defensively than Williams or Womack or Matsui, but more of a corner outfielder than a center fielder. And he's almost exactly a year older than Pierre.
If all it costs is a possible waiver bait righthanded reliever, and a lefty "prospect" who has as good a chance of being the next Alex Graman as the next Brandon Claussen...wouldn't you rather have Pierre?
So, all told, Juan Pierre isn't: a Bad Pickup.
At worst, he becomes a stopgap until someone worthwhile becomes available in center; he has a shot at being a roughly average player, with flaws, otherwise.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
After all, backup catchers are like Dracula, Jason Voorhees, and the Terminator, all rolled into one.
But one of the strangest tenures in the Yankees' recent history seems to be over: John Flaherty might not be the backup catcher on the 2006 Yankees. Earlier this week, the Yanks signed onceuponatime Mets product Kelly Stinnett as their backup catcher for 2006.
Flaherty wielded one of the least productive bats in all of baseball last season. By Equivalent Average (one of BP's statistics) Flaherty was the worst player who got a chance to make 100 outs last year. (Actually, if you run the report on BP's sortable stats database, Miguel Olivo looks worse. But BP's DB separates the half-seasons of a player who played with more than one team in a year. Olivo, who was horrible in 156 PA with Seattle last year, redeemed himself in 119 PA with San Diego later in the year.) Flaherty's offensive shortcomings aren't news--in the three seasons prior to his arrival, Flaherty had EqAs of .216, .217, and .233, spread out over about 1,000 plate appearances.
Nonetheless, Flaherty held on to the backup job on perhaps the most competitive team in the American League, through a combination of bias and unexpected performance. Flaherty first got the job in 2003 due to Joe Torre's preference for catch-and-throw guys to back up Jorge Posada, and held on to it through an abysmal 2005 season by attaching himself to Randy Johnson as the Big Unit's personal backstop. Although Flaherty never cracked a .300 OBP as a Yankee, in 2003 and 2004 he showed a remarkable bit of pop in small samples, which translated to unprecedented (for his career) isolated power--ISO's of .190 and .213 after never cracking a .165 through his prime. Some of the big hits turned out to be timely, such as the hit that ended the July 1, 2004 game between the Yanks and Red Sox.
By signing Stinnett the Yanks are acknowledging--at least incrementally--that a vague sense of clutch and a winning personality is not enough to keep someone on the major league roster. A word of warning, however--just because the Yanks have signed someone else, doesn't necessarily mean that Flaherty's gone. You might recall that before Flaherty joined the Yankees, they had already signed Chris Widger to a contract to be their backup in 2003. Flaherty showed up in Spring Training, and impressed the brass enough that they ate the $600,000 or so they gave Widger, and gave Flaherty the same contract.
Still, it's hard not to see this as progress.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Joe Torre floated the suggestion in a report published Monday that Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez could be used in center field, even though he admitted he hadn't discussed it with either of the guys, but he figured that both fellows would do whatever it takes to help the team.
This was pretty obviously just talk; that much was obvious from the fact that Torre, one of the most tactful managers out there, discussed it with the media before he discussed it with either of his All-Star shortstops. Most likely, it could be considered a tactic to combat the hard sell being put forth by free agents Brian Giles and Johnny Damon.
Nonetheless, the appetite for this news in baseball-starved Yankeeland was such that Torre has effectively retracted his statement. It seems like Torre might actually have been engaging in a bit of sarcasm with the Reuters interviewer, since he claims to also have mentioned Mariano Rivera as one of the Yankees he considers "athletic enough" to play center field.
Meanwhile, Billy Wagner's a Met, the Blue Jays are suddenly big spenders, Kyle Farnsworth is a coveted creature, and Vic Power is dead. Steve Goldman has a moving piece about the trade that sent Power away from the Yankee organization at the Pinstriped Bible.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
In Boston, the Red Sox have become the first, and arguably the biggest, beneficiaries of the Florida Marlins' Immolation Sale--Marlins ownership's revenge on the people of Southern Florida for keeping their fiscal wits about them and not funding a baseball-only stadium in downtown Miami. The way this game works is, Loria's crew is going to tear down the franchise, claiming extreme poverty from trying so damn hard to be competitive. From here on out, the Marlins' players are hostages in a game called "hope someone cares enough about this team to call their state senator." It didn't work for Wayne Huizenga, so hopefully it won't work for the Angel of Death, Jeff Loria. Still, spoils abound for those bold enough to claim them.
So back to the Red Sox. They get former World Series MVP Josh Beckett. They give up a AA shortstop (the much-hyped Hanley Ramirez) and a AA pitcher (the well-regarded Anibal Sanchez) and another minor leaguer (Jesus Delgado, a high-A prospect coming back from Tommy John surgery, I think). This is the second time in three years (and the third time in eight) that the Sox have gotten a stud pitcher in return for...nothing much, really. In the Curt Schilling trade, the Sox traded on the inflated reputation of Casey Fossum; this time, they trade on the positive press around Hanley Ramirez.Does anyone know if Peter Gammons got a World Series ring?
Anyway, Ramirez had no place else to go: he was blocked at the major league level by Edgar Renteria, and he wasn't hitting enough in the minors to justify a move out to center. It's shocking that Florida surrenders one of the best young pitchers in the game, but does not even get a single player who will make an impact on the big league roster in 2006.
In Flushing, the Mets get last year's coveted free agent--first baseman Carlos Delgado--in return for their top pitching prospect, Yusmeiro Petit, and young first baseman (not necessarily a top prospect) Mike Jacobs. Again, the Marlins give up major league talent in exchange for at least one player who isn't expected to break camp with the big club out of Spring Training. Combined with last week's deal, the Mets have given up a top prospect and a coveted center fielder (Mike Cameron) and in return, they get a hard-hitting, no-glove first baseman, and a youngish first baseman/corner outfielder.
In Chicago, the defending World Champs get former All-Star firstbaseman Jim Thome, in return for their starting centerfielder, Aaron Rowand. Rowand's youngish and he can fly in center, so he was one of the players on the Yankees' radar.
In the Bronx (by which I don't actually mean just the Bronx, but everywhere where Yankee fans live and breathe) the fans have a sinking feeling, that all this commotion by top rivals while the team lays idle means that the Pinstripers will have to settle for the market's sloppy seconds. Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry, two relievers supposedly targeted by the Yanks, have already signed with the Cubs. B.J. Ryan and Tom Gordon haven't signed yet, but they both want to be closers, not just compensated like closers.
Still--and this is a Thanksgiving theme, for all you Turkey sandwich afficionados out there--you can often make a better meal of the leftovers than the original (or intended) meal. Beckett and Rowand and Eyre and Howry are nice--but there are still some bargains to be had, if the Yanks are patient, and don't overpay.
One possibility that's being discussed is adding the Phillies' Jason Michaels, a center field tweener who's now the Phils' fourth outfielder with the addition of Rowand. Since the Phils need starting pitching, Carl Pavano plus lots of cash for Michaels and Cole Hammels (a talented, but headcase lefty pitching prospect) would make some sense.
'Til then, let's just be thankful for what we've got. And I'm not just talking in the baseball sense, either. Happy Turkey Day.
A couple of blog-related notes:
First, I had a new piece up at Baseball Prospectus, this time about the Kansas City Royals. Part of it is a spoof of the promotional booklet agent Scott Boras as put up for Johnny Damon's suitors, which makes claims like "Best Leadoff Hitter in Baseball," and "Better than Future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson." Here's a taste:
BETTER THAN HALL OF FAMER CATFISH HUNTER
A careful look at the statistical record shows the elite company that Jose Lima keeps. He has allowed fewer career hits (1758 to 2958) and walks (383 to 954) than Catfish Hunter. His total hits allowed are similar to one of the most unhittable pitchers of all time--Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax--in the same number of major-league seasons. Lima has more career strikeouts (968) than Satchel Paige, Addie Joss John Ward and Clark Griffith. Each of those men is in Cooperstown.
In short, your investment in Jose Lima is not simply an investment in quality pitching, colorful personality and extremely attractive relatives, but as a possible investment in immortality.
Check it out.
In other news, a form of the A-Rod study that I discussed earlier this week has been done by James Click and Steve Goldman over at the Pinstriped Bible. It's extremely interesting, and would seem to confirm what some people have said--that Rodriguez didn't perform well in games that the team was trailing by less than four runs. At least, not good compared to David Ortiz (which is like not being fast compared toRafael Furcal).
Sadly, more on this later, whether in a new post, or in the comments to the post linked above.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
You see, earlier this year an urgent call went out on the BP mailing list for someone to help out with "Rudy"--the top-secret code name for Baseball Prospectus's new book on the Red Sox, named after former Sox infielder Rudy Pemberton. It was a rare moment in time where I had a few spare hours to rub together--maybe La Chiquita was out of town, or something of the sort. Anyway, I volunteered to help out, but it took a couple of days for the Rudy crew to get back to me (probably intoning, Election-style, "Anyone? Anyone? Anyone else?") with the assignment, and by then, I no longer had the spare time.
I worked on it anyway, and the results were a predictable disaster--I was already over my word limit, by a half and not yet finished, when I wrote the editors asking, "Am I on the right track here?" Mercifully, I was put on the "don't-call-us-we'll-call-you" list, and my overlong sidebar hit the digital cutting room floor.
So, after that heart-lifting introduction, you might feel compelled to ask, what exactly, is Mind Game? Mind Game (subtitled How the Red Sox Finally Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created a New Blueprint for Winning) is the story of the 2004 Red Sox, told from the Prospectus authors' sabermetric point of view--that is, facts, history, and performance analysis replace the usual mythologizing and revisionist history that goes into telling the story of a popular championship team.
Following a chronological structure, the authors break down the Sox' year, from the off-season to the post-season, and beyond, in a multi-author "articles" format. Articles are dedicated, for example, to the value of defense, the rise and fall of Nomar Garciaparra, and the effects of a big brawl (like the Yanks and Sox had in late July) or a big winning streak (like the Sox had in August). Many of the chapters are supplemented with "Extra Innings"--basically, big sidebars exploring a single nuance of the Red Sox' season or history.
Here are some highlights:
- Steve Goldman, unleashing a prosecutorial brief against the life and career of Tom Yawkey. If Yawkey were still alive, or if the Yawkey trust still owned the franchise, reading this chapter would be enough to get a decent-sized mob rolling down Yawkey Way, torches and pitchforks in hand.
- Will Carroll doing his injury thing, once again, with regard to Schilling's ankle. Seeing that Will has written so much about the Stigmata Sock, I was certain this would be a letdown, but Carroll somehow managed to tell the same story for the Nth time, yet make it new and informative once again.
- The section on brawls, including an appendix of brawls from the 1920's to the present, is a great, original piece of research.
- Nate Silver's alternate-reality analysis of the A-Rod trade that wasn't does a nice job of debunking the potshots by those who think that the Sox couldn't have won if they acquired A-Rod.
Since I have to say a few negative things, lest I be accused of bias, I'll start off by saying that the cover is darn ugly, in a lime-greenish sort of way. More seriously, this multi-author work doesn't quite gel the way a book with a single narrative would. By the time that Brother Joe scripts his excellent back-to-back chapters on the ALCS, near the end of Mind Game, he is probably the first and only author to have written consecutive chapters in the book. In some ways, Mind Game is more readable in a piecemeal fashion--the way I suspect most of us read the Prospectus annual--than trying to read it from start to finish like a more traditional narrative.
OK, so that's not really much of a criticism. Some might criticize Mind Game for capitalizing somewhat illogically on the Red Sox Championship. After all, if the playoffs are a crapshoot, then you could wind up praising a champion just for their outstanding luck. A good number of Yankee fans would argue that if the Bronx Bombers had just been able to get a couple more outs in Game 4 of the ALCS, Boston, 2005 edition, gets reduced to a mere historical footnote--the guys who got beat by the guys that went to the World Series.
However, all of the adversity the Sox faced on their way to World Series Rings and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy gives Mind Game its relevance. The 2005 Red Sox had a number of big decisions to make--ranging from the acquisition of Curt Schilling to whether or not to trade Nomar Garciaparra, to whether or not to pinch-run for Kevin Millar.
As broken down by the BP crew, we see that for the most part, the Sox made the right decisions at each juncture. Over the course of multiple essays, the guys at BP present arguments about the way the game is played, about how front office money should be spent, and about how the teams involved in the 2004 postseason--particularly the Red Sox and the Yankees--should be viewed by history.
You may not always agree with the arguments, but I must admit that they made me think, occasionally to the point where I paused in my reading to make notes on a napkin, or whatever else was handy.
And this is why Mind Game comes highly recommended--because any book that makes you think has done its job. Go buy it.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
It's easy to see the symptoms--anger, jealousy, resentment. To give it a name, it is negativity. We're having a hard time looking at the bright side of life, and of the game we love.
Part of it is the whole steroid mess, which marked Baseball 2005 from before Spring Training (the leaked Jason Giambi testimony) to after the World Series (Matt Lawton, the rumored "outfielder on a playoff team" who tested positive). Like the Olympics, steroids in baseball has become the game-within-a-game: we get to constantly guess about every achievement we see, "Is it, you know, real?"
The bad vibe is cristalized by Bill Madden in the Daily News. Every year, Madden writes a column dedicated to baseball's "turkeys," folks which the all-seeing Madden deems worthy of our scorn. Last year, I railed against this practice on the old website (having trouble right now pulling up anything from there, so no link right now), but this year the practice just seems pathetic. Here's this year's list:
1. Rafael Palmeiro
2. Paul DePodesta
3. Ivan Rodriguez
4. Jose Lima
5. Sidney Ponson
6. Ken Kendrick
7. Sammy Sosa
8. Kevin McLatchy
9. Randy Johnson
10. Kaz Matsui
Now, there are some genuine twits in this bunch (Palmeiro, Ponson) and an interesting rant against Pirates owner Kevin McLatchy, who seems to be raking in the dough while playing it cheap on the baseball side of the operation. Still, Paul DePodesta is a worse guy than Ponson, with his two DWIs and judge-assaulting charge? For all those that charge DePodesta with "ruining the 2004 division-winners," they all seem to forget 1) DePo GMed the division-winning team, and 2) nearly none of the guys that DePodesta traded or let leave as free agents before this season did terribly well in 2005. Juan Encarnacion--here's a name no one was crying about in LA when he was traded--did best of the bunch. Paul "Heart & Soul" LoDuca hit an empty .283 for the Marlins, and Steve Finley, Adrian Beltre, Guillermo Mota all were huge disappointments. True, some of the guys DePodesta brought on to replace them stunk, also, but does anyone think that Adrian Beltre would have been better in Chavez Ravine? Steve Finley?
But the point of this isn't that Madden treated DePodesta badly, or that he was mean to Jose Lima (whose only crime was stinking. Why not blame the idiots who let him keep on taking the mound?), it's the list itself. This is the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Why is it that baseball is the sport where the writers make lists of the game's "turkeys"? In the NFL, the only turkey they ever seem to discuss is Terrell Owens, and steroids get mere lip service--even though the puniest lineman in the league is more pumped up than the most pneumatic major leaguer.
Locally Yankee fans seem to be more negative, and fearful, than ever before. Everyone's anxious because the relievers that the Yankees targeted--BJ Ryan, Scott Eyre--have thus far been immune to Joe Torre's siren call. There's no center fielder. These are troublesome things, and there's a decided lack of optimism about where this team is headed.
Worse than that has been the reaction of many fans to Alex Rodriguez's MVP award. Despite a number of big moments in the regular season this year, everyone can't stop talking about how un-clutch the man is. A few times since the Yanks were bounced from the Playoffs, I've had requests to analyze the emptiness of Rodriguez's contribution.
I'm working on it, but the question that gets me sometimes is, what am I doing this for? Did Alex do a lot of his hitting when his team was blowing out the opposition? I don't even have to look at his play-by-play data to say that the answer is yes. But is it inordinately so? To say that, you'd have to look at everyone's production, under all circumstances, to compare to A-Rod. This is a huge amount of work.
...And that's work I've never heard being focused on a single player before, in an attempt to show that the performance we see from him, the big home run and batting average numbers, are an illusion--that Rodriguez isn't as good as we think. Ugh. It's like the steroid thing all over again.
I think it's a worthwhile something to examine, but I don't like the tenor of the argument. I fee the purpose would be to denigrate, rather than to shed any light on the subject ("as you'll note from this graph right here, the thing that you have to really improve on is sucking when it counts the most"). Bill Gallo (also in the Daily News) puts it best:
Alex Rodriguez had an excellent season, a sizeable improvement on 2004. He made some big contributions to keep this Yankees team on top of the division for the eighth straight season. These are facts. So, too, is it a fact that he performed very badly in a five-game playoff series. Everyone can see that. If he wants to get some respect, that's something he will have to improve. Can't we leave it at that?
Last week A-Rod promised that he would never touch a deck of cards again. Not while he's playing baseball, anyway. But for now, he won't even shuffle a deck to play hearts. Not even solitaire.
So, you see the man does have attributes. All we would want him to do would be to make one more promise.
It's this: Promise to never let your club, the New York Yankees, be second best. You must swear on a Bible you'll bring New York a World Series title all by yourself next year.
Friday, November 18, 2005
AL Rookie of the Year
1. Huston Street
2. Robinson Cano
3. Johnny Gomes
Shoulda Won: Street
Preseason Pick: Nick Swisher
The stathead pick was Street's teammate, Joe Blanton, who had a nifty season as a starter. I thought that Street's quality high-leverage innings were just a little more important than Blanton's quantity starting innings. My pre-season pick--another one of Streets' teammates, Nick Swisher--had injury problems and huge problems making contact.
1. Ryan Howard
2. Willy Taveras
3. Jeff Francouer
Preseason: Andy Marte
I was pleasantly surprised with the Howard pick--I expected voters to be dazzled by Francouer's high batting average and first-place team. Meanwhile the voters were dazzled by Willy Taveras, who...is fast. I'd love to have a guy like him on the Yanks, but the main appeal of his candidacy is that he played the whole year--and early in the season, when the Astros were going nowhere fast, Taveras was part of the problem. I didn't think he should win, but I'm flabbergasted that Zach Duke didn't finish higher in the running--the guy was a monster on the mound, yet he got three first place votes, one third place vote, and nothing in between. The preseason pick, Andy Marte, wound up getting skipped on the depth chart by Francouer, and found that Wilson Betemit was not yet ready to go gentle into that good night.
NL Manager of the Year
1. Bobby Cox
2. Tony LaRussa
3. Phil Garner
No, I didn't fail to predict the MOY award because I thought they'd suddenly stop giving it out this year, I simply overlooked it. If the Braves finish in first place again in 2006, without Leo Mazzone, they should forget giving Cox the award, and simply name the darn thing after him.
1. Ozzie Guillen
2. Eric Wedge
3. Joe Torre
Should: Guillen or Wedge
One of the reasons I overlooked Manager of the Year in my preseason picks is that managerial awards tend to go to freak success story teams, where since you can't explain why the team suddenly got good, the manager gets the credit. Nonetheless, Guillen's a good pick, although Eric Wedge also got a lot more out of his charges than expected. Guillen's team beat Wedge's in the waning days of the season, so Ozzie gets the MoY, and a World Series ring, to boot.
AL Cy Young
1. Bartolo Colon
2. Mariano Rivera
3. Johan Santana
Should: Santana, but you could have made a good argument for Rivera
Preseason: Randy Johnson
Note to self: never pick Yankees for Cy Young. Got killed with Mussina a number of times, and this time RJ. Observational fallacy: Santana dropped off some from his meteoric performance in 2004, therefore he must no longer be the best pitcher in the AL. He was still way ahead of the field, and Colon probably wasn't even the closest competitor. On a side note--more of a fan thing than anything else--this was probably Mariano Rivera's best chance to win the Cy, absent a run at the season saves record.
NL Cy Young
1. Chris Carpenter
2. Dontrelle Willis
3. Roger Clemens
Should: Clemens or Carpenter
Preseason: Josh Beckett
Note to self: stop being impressed just because someone beat the Yankees in the postseason. Beckett wasn't in the Cy Young picture, at all, and now that 2003 afterglow has faded from him, and resides with runner-up Dontrelle Willis. Some folks are worked up because Clemens was 12 runs better than Carpenter in VORP--a little more than a win better. I'm not too upset that Roger got rogered, since at least Carpenter was in the same ballpark of performance, and he gave the Cardinals an average of 2/3 of an inning more per game. What mystifies me is this: Andy Pettitte gets the same number of votes as Chad Cordero? Nuts.
1. Albert Pujols
2. Andruw Jones
3. Derrek Lee
Lee wouldn't have been a bad pick. I don't think having a team in contention is a qualifier for MVP consideration, but I admit that I use it as a tiebreaker when the performance is close. Does this mean that I'm penalizing Lee for his teammates' incompetence? Sadly, yes. In another shameful disclosure, I'm also rewarding Pujols for his past performances--kind of a lifetime achievement MVP. The question for Jones is whether he sticks at this new performance level, or goes all Adrian Beltre on us. These three guys collected all the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place votes. I wonder how often that happens?
1. Alex Rodriguez
2. David Ortiz
3. Vlad Guerrero
Preseason: Manny Ramirez
The main event. The eternal arguments between DH and defender, clutch hitter and non-clutch hitter were hopelessly clouded by personality issues. David Ortiz is a "leader" which is often reporterspeak for "good interview." We all know what a great interview subject A-Rod is--the mainstream guys will be flogging him about his "my benchmark is so high that no matter what I do, it will never be enough" quote straight through Spring Training. My opinion? Defense is part of the game, and even a guy whose glove is bad is an improvement over one that can't play the field at all. Still, this could have gone either way, and it wouldn't have been too disappointing.
Congrats to all the vote-getters. Well, except maybe for Jose Reyes...
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
If you think that's out of left field, you need to read Time Magazine Asia's 2003 profile of the man they call Godzilla.
That's almost as good as the story that Japan's foremost porn star volunteered to do a personal goodwill mission to the United States, to make sure Matsui's...taken care of. I bet that's a recruiting angle Bud Selig's office never thought of. Now we know why Japan has such baseball fever.
Um, Catch It!, I guess.
Anyway, to get my mind out of the gutter, yesterday the Commissioner's office decided that the perfect way to upstage the announcement of the NL MVP award was to announce their new, tougher steroid policy. Like it would have killed them to wait a day, and let Albert Pujols have his moment in the sun. Then again, I've never had to stare down John McCain with a bayonet in his hands and a dangerous look in his eyes.
So this means that for years Pujols has been upstaged by Barry Bonds for years, and now that he finally wins and MVP, Albert gets upstaged by steroids themselves.
Not sayin' anything. Just the irony's there for the taking.
Friday, November 11, 2005
The November awards season holds very little interest to me (I'll comment on it when it's through, after the MVP announcements next week). The hot stove isn't really lit yet--free agents have just finished filing, teams other than their old team are only now getting the chance to negotiate. It's a huge lull, and I have trouble filling the void.
One way I stave off the depression is by writing. You'll find some of my thoughts about the home team's free agent situation over at Baseball Prospectus (free, as always). Here's a glimpse:
Check it out, and feel free to tell me what you think.
By next Tuesday, the Yankees and Hideki Matsui will have agreed to a new deal, or they will have parted ways. This is because of a contractual provision under which the Yankees are obligated to release Matsui if he’s not re-signed by the November 15 deadline, making Matsui a free agent. If it weren’t for this clause, Matsui would be treated as any other third-year major league player: eligible for arbitration this winter, but not eligible for free agency for another three years.
Looking back, the three-year deal Matsui signed with the Bronx Bombers prior to the 2003 season was a bargain.
In the larger world outside, Mike Bloomberg won re-election on Tuesday, whuppin' up on the city's first major Hispanic mayoral candidate (IIRC), former Bronx Burrough President Freddy Ferrer. As a Latino, I should be bummed out that Freddy lost, but I'm not. Ferrer was a rather weak candidate who never really managed to capture the public's imagination. Much like in the last election, Ferrer managed to stuff a shoe in his mouth a number of times, and Mayor Mike was able to capitalize each time--once, Ferrer was quoted as saying that the police officers who shot Amadou Diallo were over-charged by the District Attorney's office (probably true, but still the type of thing that would alienate many black voters); later, Ferrer's blog claimed that he was the product of public schools (since Ferrer was a catholic schoolboy, this played wrong in every way...it made Ferrer look incompetent, since obviously he wasn't writing his own blog; it allowed Bloomberg to point out that despite his present wealth, he was a public school product born into a family of modest means; and it made Ferrer look ungrateful for his catholic school education).
While everyone will point at Bloomberg's incredible spending advantage in this election (it's estimated that he spent ten dollars to each one of Ferrer's) , dig underneath and you'll see that Ferrer didn't lose because of a lack of advertising dollars. He lost because the incumbent mayor kept crime down, steered New York through the post September 11 financial downturn, and took personal responsibility for the City's school system. Mike Bloomberg was Rudy Giuliani without the nastiness, and Ferrer never really found an issue to pursue that outweighed those achievements.
So here's wishing Mayor Mike a fine second term--for the sake of all New Yorkers.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
In other news, Rafael Palmeiro's lawyers are still blaming his positive test for stanazolol(sp?) on a B-12 shot Palmeiro got from fellow Latino slugger Miguel Tejada. So first he wagged his finger at a Congressional committee, now he points that finger at another, trying to deflect blame from himself in the lamest way possible. At least, the House of Representatives has finally admitted what anyone in their right minds would have known to begin with: that it would be close to impossible to pursue perjury charges against Palmeiro.
Given the fact that Palmeiro didn't have to worry much about the end of the season, you'd think he'd've had the chance to come up with something better than this. Just off the top of my head, a few better excuses that Raffy could've used:
1. Honest to God, I thought it was heroin. I would never shoot up steroids.
2. Now I know what the secret ingredient of Colonel Sanders' chicken is!
3. I must've caught it from Paris Hilton, the time we filmed that video.
4. You know, I figured everyone else lies to Congress, so why not?
5. The Viagra guys send me pills, and I don't ask any questions.
6. To help the zero tolerance effort, I decided to go undercover in the steroid underground. YOu should be thanking me!
7. So I'm at Barry Bonds' beach house, and he's rubbing this lotion on me he says is SPF 45--wait a minute, you don't think...
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Reebok Signs Giambi -- It's an endorsement contract, and it generated all the usual self-righteous declarations from the online community, which we've come to expect whenever steroids enter the picture. As happy as I am that Giambi's bat has returned to life, and as sympathetic as I've been about Jason's cancer struggles, I'm pretty flabbergasted by this move.
Jason won the Comeback Player of the Year Award, which gives Reebok some positive publicity by signing him. He also reportedly switched cleats to Reeboks mid-season, around the time that Jason turned his year around. So it makes sense that the company sees him as an exploitable asset, now. But the fact that he's receiving a reward, so soon after his steroid testimony to the Grand Jury, but without making any admissions to the public, or issuing a genuine public apology, or doing so much as recording a single anti-steroid PSA...it smells wrong. It sends the wrong signal.
The fact is, the size of Giambi's deal with Reebok is unknown, so we don't know how important this development is. Most folks think "endorsement contract" and we think of Tiger Woods getting millions from Nike and AmEx, Michael Jordan having his name on a line of shoes. For all we know, this deal might just keep Jason in fresh cleats for the rest of his career. Probably the biggest thing that it accomplishes for Giambi is that it takes the stigma off him of having no endorsements. It returns him to normal society again. Perhaps a bit too soon.
It's not like the steroid story is going to die anytime soon. Apparently, there will be a huge expose about it in ESPN the Magazine.
Special Bonus Sin:
Urbina Charged with Attempted Murder -- This stems from an incident late last month, where workers at one of Urbina's houses were reportedly attacked with machetes and threatened with incineration, supposedly over a missing firearm. Now, one can see how a missing firearm would be an issue for alarm to Urbina, given that his mother was kidnapped last year by drug dealers. Still, machete attacks and pouring gasoline over your employees does seem rather extreme.
In his defense, Urbina now claims that the only conflict that he had with the workers was over their unauthorized use of the pool, and that he simply gave them a stern talking to, and went to sleep. Latin america's a strange place sometimes, ultramodern and sophisticated in places, and then just short of feudal in others. Hopefully, the truth will find its way out in this case, eventually.
Urbina, by the way, is a free agent.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
An article in Sunday's Daily News by Bill Madden seems to boil the whole thing down. Part of the Theo-bashing is probably Lucchino trying to re-apply his teflon coating; but the other part of it is plain-old generational warfare. Around baseball, young, statistics-saavy, Ivy League-educated execs are the rage. This off-season has seen Theo's second-in-command in Boston, Josh Byrnes, hired in Arizona, and the even younger Jon Daniels hired to lead the Texas Rangers. Andrew Friedman, a 28 year old former Wall Street analyst, is now in charge in Tampa Bay. To some, this has caused worry that the annual GM Meetings will soon start to resemble Logan's Run.
Since guys like Madden aren't likely to renew on Carousel, they feel threatened by this prospect. Luckily, plenty of folks have come to the defense of the new school GMs--Jay Jaffe, over at Futility Infielder has a rundown of the best.
There are a couple of other things going on here, with the Sabermetric Revolution and the young GMs, beyond all the cries of "stat geek" and "Moneyball." Baseball owners of the past were often hobbyists who got a kick from hanging out with the ex-jocks and time-worn "baseball men" who ran their franchises. Today's owners tend more towards being successful businessmen, who treat their ballclubs like businesses rather than playthings. Such people are used to putting their confidence in like-minded individuals--folks with MBAs and Ivy League diplomas. The fact that Moneyball has popularized statistical analysis in baseball just makes their natural instinct (to surround themselves with JDs and MBAs from the Ivies) more socially acceptable.
The other thing--and this is speculation--is that it seems that these "boy genius" GMs work for bargain prices. There's nothing that baseball owners like more than keeping labor costs down--not even winning.
Hopefully I can end this discussion with the judicious use of bullet points:
- For all the guys who are worried about Theo's career decisions--I'm pretty sure the guy can write his own ticket, either elsewhere in baseball or outside of the game. After all, the top line on his resume does read "General Manager, 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox." I doubt anyone's going to let him starve.
- Every anti-Epstein article, and even some pro-Theo ones, all make a point of how many times more money Epstein would be making under the Red Sox alleged offers than he had been making before. What's the point? Epstein was about to become a free agent, as much because the Red Sox didn't bother to try to extend his contract earlier as for any other reason. What's relevant to his salary other than what the market will bear?
- It's only in sports where we forget how creepy it is to have strangers discuss your compensation in public. I don't know how much some of my closest friends make, I certainly don't know how much Lupica, Madden, and O'Connor make, but I do know in great detail how much salary each New York Yankee earns.
Signing season: a quick comment here, with no links. We're in the prime free agent wooing period, which always brings reports with headlines like "Country Boy Wagner Impressed by Mets," where a free agent will say stuff like "I never thought about living there, but New York sure does interest me. My wife loves those Broadway musicals."
They're just being polite. The real title of these pieces should "Player X says he's interested in money." Which, come to think of it, wouldn't really be news.
New favorite nickname, from Jeff Angus's Management By Baseball Blog, we have Joe Kerrigan, The Bullpen Coach of Damocles. Used in a paragraph:
[The Yankees' hiring Kerrigan to back up Ron Guidry is] also sad in a way, because it allows Steinbrenner a classic XYY maneuver, which is holding the Bullpen Coach of Damocles over Guidry's head all the time. Guidry knows they have this completely qualified replacement standing off to the side, and Steinbrenner is perfectly capable of using that to torment Guidry whenever it gives the owner pleasure to do so.You'll have to head on over to Jeff's blog to find out about his XYY Theory, but trust me, it's well worth the trip. Angus's work is reminiscent of Will Carroll's, in that both men have found fairly unique angles from which to approach the game of baseball: Carroll with his ground breaking injury analysis, Angus by looking at the lessons that baseball strategy holds for business management, and vice-versa.