Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Center Field and Back Again...

It's been a weird week already:

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

Happy Turkey Day!

All around baseball, big things are happening, but so far, it has been silent in the Bronx:

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:


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

Hot Stove Book Review: Mind Game

I almost didn't get to write this review for Mind Game.

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

Accentuate the Negative...

Right now, there's a wave crashing over baseball lovers everywhere, and the Yankee Faithful in particular. It's flood of dark, foul-smelling stuff that stains the soul and leeches the pleasure out of our National Pastime.

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:

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.

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?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Awards Season Review

I don't get too excited about these awards any more, simply because these days, they exist more as writing exercises for the BWAA than as matters of real importance. You can find my preseason picks here. Without much chatter, here are the awards for this season, and a few thoughts about each:

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
Shoulda: Howard
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
Shoulda: Cox
Preseason: None

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
Preseason: None

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
Should: Pujols
Preseason: Pujols

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
Should: Rodriguez
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

Bury the Lead

So as to not do what I'm talking about in the title, let me congraltulate Hideki Matsui on his four-year $52 Million deal. I'm genuinely happy for the big guy--after all, that money can buy him plenty of porn.

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

Post-Series Depression

I have to admit, that every off-season I experience a bit of depression. It's better if the Yankees win the World Series, but it's not really about winning or losing. It's about the Game, a constant companion through the spring and summer months, coming to an end. Baseball's daily presence is an amazing phenomenon in the world of sports--football is a terror that monopolizes the weekends, the NBA plays every other day, with games on back-to-back nights a relative rarity. The NHL is the same as the NBA, although they better get some cheap tickets into circulation if they want to catch my interest, post-lockout. But baseball's there every day, so much so that on the off-days that bracket the All-Star Game, the silence is deafening. It's that daily rhythm I'm missing.

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:

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.
Check it out, and feel free to tell me what you think.


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

Notebookin' the BoSox

This one's a day stale, but over at Baseball Prospectus, I have a list of questions for the next Red Sox manager to answer, covering such vital topics as Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, Keith Foulke, and Blistex (just go read it, you'll understand).


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

The Wages of Sin, Part IV

You ever get an idea, then forget what the idea was actually about? That happened here. Lawton got suspended, and at the same time the below story got some play in the newspapers, and I thought that the perfect title for a blog post about it would be "the wages of sin." I was rushed in posting part one, and just forgot about the companion story. So here's that, plus a little extra:

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

The Wages of Sin: Part III

The Sabermetric Counter-Revolution: I know we've talked about this before, but the hits keep coming in the Theo Epstein quitting/not being re-signed saga. Since last we talked about it, there was a farewell press conference attended by Epstein and owner John Henry, but not by alleged meanie Larry Lucchino. Despite the fact that Epstein insisted that Lucchino was not pushing him out of Boston (although, semantically, he did leave room for people to conclude that Lucchino was one of the reasons he was leaving), counteroffensive articles abounded this week, giving Theo a rhetorical smackdown. It's ironic that Mike Lupica and Ian O'Connor would both profess such a concern for Theo's career--both were on a "You'll never have it this good again, kid," kick--while also saying that he isn't that important, would have been overpaid, and is basically a loser, World Series ring or no World Series ring.

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.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Wages of Sin, Part II

More News Items:

The Yankees Finalize Their Coaching Staff -- Donnie Baseball is the sole coaching holdover, joined by Larry Bowa at third, Lee Mazzilli on the bench, Joe Kerrigan in the bullpen, Ron Guidry as the pitching coach, and Tony Pena as the first base coach.

I guess the "wages of sin" part here pertains to Pena, one of my odd favorites from the 80's. Pena was a hacker with a bit of pop, and he never played for a team I rooted for. Yet he was one of the most unique receivers I've ever laid my eyes on, and the type of guy you could see was really working with his pitchers during games.

Pena quit his managing job in Kansas City under a bit of a cloud, being named as the other man in a divorce suit by a former neighbor. He joins the Yankees staff as a catching coach/pep talker/Latino embassador. It'll be fun seeing him in pinstripes, but the overall makeup of the coaching staff smells like trouble brewing.

Joe Torre is now surrounded by former managers--everyone but Mattingly and Guidry has been at the helm of a ballclub in the last five years. In previous years, there were no recent former managers on staff. The opportunitities for backstabbing are astounding. With Guidry an unknown quantity, will Kerrigan try to jump in the second the Yanks go through their first pitching-induced losing streak? If the team has an April and May like last year, do Bowa, Mazzilli, Pena, and Kerrigan start jockeying for position to take Torre's place?

Only the shadow knows.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Wages of Sin, Part I

A bunch of Pinstriped news items, and a few not-so-pinstriped ones to get through, in mini-posts:

Lawton Tests Positive for Steroids -- The longer MLB's steroid policy grinds along, the more pitiful the offenders get. Lawton's season flatlined when he was dealt to the Cubs from the Pirates. He was traded to the Yankees, and his performance somehow got even worse. No offense, no defense, no nothing. And this was a man in his walk year.

We don't know when he started taking the stuff. We do know that he wasn't even taking a steroid made for humans--this was a veterinary steroid, for horses. The one thing we can be pretty sure of is that it didn't help him, because his performance couldn't have been worse if he tried.

Now, anyone who picks Lawton up has to deal with that 10 day suspension. For a veteran trying to catch a job in Spring Training, that's murder. Look for him to retire.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Golden Child, Part II

Well, it happened again. The Gold Gloves were announced this week, and once again, Derek Jeter is the American League's Gold Glove shortstop.

There is, of course, much gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes that's been going on over this. Like anyone who becomes popular, Jeter has a dedicated contrarian anti-following--you know, folks who think he was just showboating when he made The Catch last year, or who believed that Joe Torre should have chewed him out after the 2001 ALDS Flip Play because he had abandoned his position.

We talked about this last year, the first time the Captain took home the hardware
. Here's a quote:
It is unfair that Jeter won the award when he wasn't the best fielder in the league, and when the voters probably placed inordinate weight in one hype-filled play.

Based upon the numbers, it looks like Miguel Tejada should have won the Gold Glove. Clay Davenport has Tejada as BP's gold glove vote, and Tejada tops the list in UZR. Other candidates with better or equal claims to Jeter's include Guzman, Crosby, Jose Valentin, Carlos Guillen, and Julio Lugo.
I still think--and just about every measure of defense in the world agrees--that Jeter isn't the best shortstop in the AL. This isn't just the numbers speaking, but the naked eye. My observation is that Jetes makes a lot of highlight reel catches to his right, and going back on pop flies. But a lot of grounders to Jeter go for singles, particularly grounders up the middle. The singles he saves in the hole and going back on Texas leaguers probably don't completely balance out the singles he allows on relatively routine grounders which are out of his reach.

However, there are a few reasons that I can't get too riled up about this award:

1. It's the Gold Gloves, fer Chrissakes! GG voting has long been a joke, riddled with double-standards and faulty thinking. Sometimes players get the GG after having a banner offensive season, on the logic that if so-and-so was at the peak of his game with the bat, he must have had a good season with the glove (this year, for example, Bobby Abreu seems to have won a Gold Glove on the basis of his stellar performance in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game). Some voters tend to take the stance that the Glove is the incumbent's to lose, and barring a defensive breakdown, a guy with a good defensive rep can keep winning the award a year or three after he's lost a step in the field.

2. The Field Hasn't Been Overwhelming. The high-profile defensive shortstops this year--guys like Rafael Furcal, Jack Wilson, and Neifi Perez--are in the National League. That leaves some lesser-known guys in a wider, shallower pool of AL talent. Jose Uribe gets a lot of lip service right now because of the amazing plays he made in the World Series--plays the GG voters didn't see before casting their ballots. Jhonny Peralta, who had a breakout season for the Indians, is another candidate who comes up high in some of the stat leaderboards (said leaderboards seldom agree, which is one of the challenges performance analysis faces going forward). Still, there is no Ozzie Smith, or even an in-his-prime Omar Vizquel, in this crowd.

3. Jeter Has Improved to the Point Where This Isn't An Embarassment. As I remarked over BP's internal mailing list, by most measures, Derek Jeter is a vastly improved defensive player over the past two years. Over Jeter's career, "PADJ"--Past A Diving Jeter--has been a recurring notation in my scorecards. This year, not only did I write (and think) this less often, but Jeter actually seemed better positioned and to make plays more easily. By Prospectus' ratings, he's gone from being 21 runs worse than an average fielder in 2003, to two runs worse in 2004, and now five runs better than an average shortstop in 2005. Someone who was overrated defensively when he sucked will obviously look like a champion if they make that kind of improvement.

Overall, congratulations to the Captain, and to all the other winners, deserving or not.


Speaking of Derek Jeter, I've been reading BP's new book, Mind Game. Haven't finished it yet, so no review, yet--you can find a couple of nice reviews at Hardball Times and Management By Baseball.

But reading through the mid-summer chapters of Mind Game--which deal heavily with Nomar Garciaparra--brought to mind Derek Jeter's complete destruction of the Holy Trinity of Shortstops in 2004.

You remember the Trinity, right? Back in the late 90's Garciaparra, Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez were the vanguard of a new generation of shortstops, raised up in the image of Cal Ripken--big kids with big bats. All three players were American leaguers, making shortstop the AL's glamor position. Folks argued intensely about how the three shortstops ranked against each other, and whether outsiders such as Miguel Tejada or Edgar Renteria might someday join the group.

In 2004, over the course of about six months, Jeter was the only member of the Trinity left. In February, the Yanks acquired Alex Rodriguez, under the condition that he uncomplainingly move to third base, in favor of the lesser offensive and defensive player. Then, in July, Jeter effectively ended Garciaparra's run in Boston, by showing him up, making the big catch into the stands while Nomar conspicuously sat in the dugout, sulking. By the end of the month, Nomar was a Cub. By early this season, he was suffering from another huge injury. If his career continues, it will likely be in one of the infield corners.

And while other shortstops have risen in prominence since then--Miguel Tejada had a monster season last year, and Peralta has joined the party in a big way--that mystique of the Trinity is probably gone forever. The only one left is Jeter.

It's as if he announced "I am Derek Jeter of the clan Jeter. I am a shortstop. There can be only one."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Boston Breakup

Tell you the truth, I went into this off-season thinking the Yanks would be thrown into chaos by the loss of their GM, and that the Red Sox re-signing Theo Epstein was simply a formality. Man, was I wrong.

I heard almost simultaneously that Epstein had re-upped on a three year contract, and that he'd quit, both through BP's internal email system. I rushed to check, and the whole thing was confirmed. The story that's out there loudest is that Epstein quit because his relationship with club President Larry Lucchino had deteriorated to the point where Prince Theo no longer wanted the job of his dreams. Most sources pointed to this pro-Lucchino article written by the Curly Haired Boyfriend (as Carl Everett used to call the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy).

Now, the article is biased, patronizing, and somewhat idiotic (in CHB's mind, being in the Basketball NCAA Final Four thirty or so years ago makes you a "baseball man"). Still, it doesn't seem like justification for quitting your job. I guess it's all in the context--if I go through some work to try and save my relationship with someone, think that I've done so and make a career decision based upon that belief, and THEN read a story planted by that person with the biggest hack journalist in town...

...Well, I'd be mad, that's for certain. Maybe it would be enough to make me give up the job that I've worked for my entire life. Maybe.

I can't help but contrast this with Brian Cashman's situation. I think that Lucchino's an SOB--the kind of guy who comes in handy when you want to twist some arms in order to get a new ballpark, but not the kind of guy you want to keep around when there's no one to extort or threaten. Why? Because if he's not using his dark skills on your behalf, he's liable to get bored, and wind up using them on you.

But for all of Lucchino's skills with leaking information to the press, throwing tantrums, and doing hurtful things to his officemates, does anyone really think he holds a candle to George Steinbrenner? Sure, you figure that Big Stein is old and benign now, but if you want to talk about abuse, I'm sure that he can still dish it with the best of them.

Steinbrenner taunted Cashman with unflattering comparisons to Epstein, who we are told is one of Cashman's closest friends in the business. Steinbrenner did this publicly. He also publicly humiliated his GM on a half-dozen occasions--not letting him go to the Winter Meetings one year, openly hollering at him during a playoff game another. And this is only during Cashman's tenure--the Boss has been torturing his front office folks for as long as he's been an owner.

Yet Cashman stays, and Theo goes. The honeymoon in Boston lasts a year--just barely. And that's really what's at stake in Epstein's decision to leave. He did a great job with the Red Sox the past three years, but as an executive, it is extremely likely that Epstein is replaceable. The good vibe he brought into Boston? Perhaps less so.