Saturday, February 23, 2008

BP2K8 In My Dirty Little Mitts!

I still remember the day I got my hands on the first edition of Baseball Prospectus. It was the day before Joe Sheehan's wedding, just a few, short hours before the second-most overwhelming drinking experience of my life. (The refrain: "Oh! Another drink? We're still going to dinner after this, right?" Yeah, sure.) Joe pulled it out of a cardboard box, and even though the cover was a plain white thing, barely thicker than the pages inside, it was, at the time, one of the most amazing treasures I'd ever seen. There was the initial shock of "someone I know made this" and then the many tasty nuggets of player and team commentary inside. A few samples, from that year's Yankees chapter:

On then-future Yankee skipper Joe Girardi:
When I spellchecked this document, one of the potential replacements for Girardi was "giardia", an infection often caused by the accidental ingestion of bacteria from beaver feces. But anyway...this organization has the chutzpah to lose Mike Stanley, one of the top two or three catchers in the AL, replace him with this out-with-a-pulse, and call it "an improvement behind the plate." On some level, you have to admire the gall. A truly execrable hitter. He'd have to save 50 runs a year over the average catcher to be worth the roster spot, much less the money. This man's agent should go into the Hall of Fame right now.
Agree or disagree, at least the author of the comment is telling us how they really feel. On faded phenom Kevin Maas:
A highly entertaining player to watch. Studied at the Dick Stuart school of infield defense, the Rob Deer school of hitting, and the Dudley Do-Right school of jawbone. Worse players have jobs.
On recently-praised-for-the-wrong-reasons-by-Congress Andy Pettitte:
Big Lefthanded Kid [tm] who has decent and improving control, is slowly improving his K rate, and hasn't been overworked at a young age. Good thing Dallas Green doesn't have control over this kid, or he'd be proving his manhood by throwing 180 pitches for a few starts, then licking a cheese grater real hard or something. This is a very good prospect, and he will probably become a multimillionaire in this game.
Twelve editions later, the Baseball Prospectus is essentially in the same format Joe laid out as editor for that first book. PECOTA has replaced VLAD as the projection system, the Fungoes section has been added for extended statistical essays, and the cover (as you can see above) is a whole hell of a lot prettier than the original, which just said "Baseball Prospectus '96" and the authors' names in an impact font. What I couldn't have dreamed when Joe pulled that book out of the box in 1996 was that in 2008 Baseball Prospectus would still be going strong, and that I'd not only be one of the writers on the book, but that I'd have responsibility for the Statistical Introduction (which was called the "Tools" section in BP '96)--writing alongside a group of people much smarter than me (Nate Silver, Clay Davenport, and Christina Kahrl)--as well as a team chapter (which isn't bylined, but is the same as last year) and a large handful of other player comments.

I went down to the publisher's office with Joe on Thursday to pick up my copy from BP's extremely clutch publicist, Mary Pomponio, plus an extra as the prize for a contest I ran in my column. I've received the book by mail from the publisher the past couple of years, but that usually happens just as it's hitting the shelves. This time, I think Joe and I had the final product in our hands even before the editors did. As with anything I'm involved with writing, there is the immediate scan through my own stuff to see how it came out (Adrian Beltre made it this time! As did Wladimir Balentien!), and the search for the inevitable first typo (Apologies, Bob Ueker Eucker Youker Yucca Uecker! You get to misspell my name--first or last, your call--whenever you like from now on). Even though I was involved in writing the book, it still holds surprises for me, such as Dan Fox's amazing outfield arms study (Yankee fact: one of the few centerfielders to have a worse arm than Bernie Williams, 2005-2007, was the man who replaced him, Johnny Damon) and Clay Davenport's work on pitchers' counts. The book should start appearing in bookstores and on doorsteps any minute now, and I hope everyone out there enjoys the book as much as I enjoyed working on it.


One reason why it took me a couple of days to get this post up is because I wanted a picture of the actual cover of the book to go with the post. The original cover--which was prepared by the publisher before we'd finished writing--featured one of my guys dead center on the cover, with a blurb that I expected would have hordes of his fans bringing tar and feathers to my doorstep, despite my much more supportive player comment. I like the new one better, even if the blurb under Clay Buchholz is "Better than Joba."

If any of you want to meet me, Joe Sheehan, Steve Goldman, Jay Jaffe, or any of the other folks involved with the book, we'll be hitting the bricks, starting in earnest a week from tomorrow, with an appearance at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair. I'm currently booked to be there, at our Manhattan bookstore appearance on March 6, and on Long Island on March 8; for details, you can check Prospectus's events page.

I belatedly completed the latest (can I hope, last, at least for a while?) of my Stupid Lawyer Tricks articles at BP on the Clemens/McNamee/Pettitte PED triangle. I don't know how much I have to stress that I could happily live the rest of my life without seeing Earl Ward, Rusty Hardin, or Richard Emery quoted in print again. Here's a taste of the wrap-up:
The final, bizarre note about the Congress's voyage into the Clemens/McNamee mess was Waxman's attempt to wash his hands of the whole deal, insisting the final hearing was only held at the request of Clemens's attorneys. It was a vicious cop-out that didn't acknowledge the wrong-headedness of the Committee's strategy, which from the very first put Clemens, Pettitte, and McNamee on a collision course in their hearing chamber. I can understand the arguments that the Committee's authority extends to drug testing in professional sports, but it's an entirely different matter for a legislative body—no matter how broad its oversight authority—getting involved in a rather basic dispute between private citizens, no matter how famous. In this case, the Committee would have been well served to remember the words of Rick Blaine: "It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." Sometimes you've got to set aside the soap opera and keep your eyes on the bigger picture.
In case anyone wants to read the whole series, here are some links:

The Mitchell Report, Going to Court

Stupid Lawyer Tricks: Clemens vs. McNamee Mailbag

Stupid Lawyer Tricks: The Mitchell Report in Congress, Round I

Stupid Lawyer Tricks: Combing the Headlines

Stupid Lawyer Tricks: Clemens & McNamee Go to Congress

Stupid Lawyer Tricks: Clemens v. McNamee--After the Hearings

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Caribbean Finale...or Not?

I'm still down here in Santiago, Dominican Republic, working the Caribbean Series for Baseball Prospectus. Since the last time I posted here, I've cranked out quite a few words, including a couple of Unfiltered posts and a chat:

Caribbean Series 2008: Day Two

Caribbean Series '08: Extras (Unfiltered)

Caribbean Series 2008: Day Three

Baseball Prospectus Chat

Caribbean Series '08: Day Four (Unfiltered)

Caribbean Series 2008: Day Five

Some of those are subscriber-only features, but a good number of them (Day Five, the Extras, and the Chat for certain) are available to everyone.

As expected, it's come down to the two Dominican teams who face off tonight in a not-quite-winner-takes-all affair: if the capital's team, Licey, wins, they're the champions, if the host team, the Cibao Eagles, win, then we have two teams tied at 5-1, with a tiebreaker tomorrow. I love DR, and I love baseball, but it's really exhausting to cover a doubleheader a day, so I'm kind of hoping for a conclusion tonight, and only having to worry about filing my story tomorrow. I'll leave you with some pics, which might be my last update from here, since the Internet access at the hotel is pretty dicey.

This is Venezuela's Selwyn Langaigne, waiting for a pitch. I thought we might be looking at a racial incident when a fan near where I was taking the picture started yelling at Langaigne, "You look like a Haitian!" But apparently the man knew Langaigne and Timo Perez (who received the same heckling) so Langaigne didn't come into the stands to cave the guy's skull in.

There's been a lot of speculation about this group, the Mariachis of Jalisco, whom some suspect of not being mariachis at all. I'm sure that in Mexico there would be a test the authorities could give them, and lengthy prison terms if they were actually caught impersonating mariachis.

This is an as-yet unidentified Licey player warming up in the outfield. I'm crazy to figure out who this guy is, since I got lots of good shots of him. We share the press box with photographers and a number of others who aren't writers--actually, those in the "other" category outnumber us--and the biggest thing that the photographers are obsessed with is getting a roster with the correct numbers for all the players on it. Invariably, it takes days to generate this precious document, because the teams were effectively just put together and the guys are still choosing and switching numbers. Doesn't seem like a hard job to me, but documenting the number is always big trouble.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Gone South

As you might have heard already, I'm in the Dominican Republic for the annual Caribbean Series. Right now we're in a rain delay at Estadio Cibao, but the forecast looks promising...
I've got updates up on the BP Web site, which I'll be linking below. Despite the occasional rain shower, the weather here is near-perfect for baseball. Warm (low 80s), a nice breeze, and a fully-stocked crowd of baseball-crazy fans.

The TV broadcasts may show empty seats, but it seems to be more the result of scalpers keeping the demand artificially high by holding tickets than a lack of enthusiasm by the fans.

Here are the links:

Caribbean Series: Round Robin Preview

Caribbean Series 2008: Day One