Welcome to my web log, published via Blogger Pro. Below are some links to recent baseball-related articles I found of interest, with my own two cents thrown in. Feel free to chime in via the comments link at the bottom of each post (powered by YACCS), or use my Contact page, or my email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are the weekly archives of this blog, assuming Blogger hasn't screwed up again. If an archive appears to be missing, you can try hunting for it via the subdirectory. Please note that because of repeated difficulties I've had with Blogger, I no longer recommend their service and will be taking steps to switch to a new one in the near future.
Aaron Haspel, who writes a blog called God of the Machine, called my attention to a nice little statistical search feature he's programmed. Through his page, one can make customized queries against the historical database of baseball statistics. That is, you can define searches for players with (more than/less than/equal to/between) a number in a given category (either career or in a season).
Want to see the season stats of all the players who hit 50 or more homers in a season? Here you go. Ever wonder how many players have appeared in over 1000 games and hit fewer than 5 homers? They're all here. Guys who got 200 hits in a season during the Fifties? Got 'em. Hitting stats for all of the guys named Mendoza? No problemo.
I understand that the proprietary Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia can handle queries of the same sort (not to mention more powerful ones), but I have no first-hand experience with that product, nor am I likely to get any in the near future. I'm a graphic designer, and in my industry, it's all Mac, all the time. The SBE has no Mac version, nor is there ever likely to be one, as programmer Lee Sinins has written his encyclopedia in the Windows-only language Visual Basic.
Of course, the SBE isn't online, and Aaron's database is. I wouldn't be surprised if Sean Forman of the awesome Baseball-Reference.com is developing something like this, but for the time being, Haspel's got himself a pretty good little niche in the world of baseball statistics. Great work, Aaron.
At the end of the day, the answer to the question, "Who is the Most Valuable Player in the league?" depends less upon a player's accomplishments than it does on what we want the answer to be. Tell me who you want to pick, and I'll give you the argument to justify it. Best player in the league, having a monster season? Alex Rodriguez is an easy choice. Most surprising breakout season? Alfonso Soriano wins that, hands down. Clutch player when his team needed it the most? Nobody but Miguel Tejada. Most efficient and devastating hitter on a winning team? Jason Giambi is the man.
I agonized over my AL MVP choice for days leading up to my vote. I honestly couldn't justify putting A-Rod first on my ballot, given his distance from any semblance of a hint of a whiff of a pennant race. That said, each of my other top candidates had some tragic flaw as well; Giambi's defense, Soriano's plate discipline, and Tejada's lower numbers compared to the other three. And as my brother pointed out, only A-Rod's flaw was due to somebody besides himself. Still, probably because I felt Giambi got jobbed last year, and perhaps because I predicted him to win the award at the outset of the season, I put him first on my ballot. Knowing what I know now, I would have gone with A-Rod, though I still think Big G is defensible choice. Here's my complete ballot, with a mixture of candidates from those four criteria:
AL MVP 1: Jason Giambi; 2: Alex Rodriguez; 3: Alfonso Soriano; 4: Miguel Tejada; 5: Jim Thome; 6: Bernie Williams; 7: Manny Ramirez; 8: Torii Hunter; 9: Eric Chavez; 10: Garret Anderson.
By contrast, my NL MVP selection was a no-brainer. Barry Bonds had the numbers (boy, did he have the numbers), the successful team, and the clutch performance arguments all working in his favor. Vlad the Impaler's near 40-40 season elevated him to second on my ballot. My preseason pick, Sammy Sosa, was in the hunt for second until injury and a bad September derailed him:
NL MVP 1: Barry Bonds; 2: Vlad Guerrero; 3: Jim Edmonds; 4: Jeff Kent; 5: Sammy Sosa; 6: Albert Pujols; 7: Chipper Jones; 8: Shawn Green; 9: Lance Berkman 10: Eric Gagne.
The AL Cy Young award was a close 3-way race. I chose Zito based on his durability (five more starts and 30 more innigs than Pedro) and (to a much lesser degree) on the latter's double-barrel hissy-fit down the stretch. Two pitchers whose durability I disparaged earlier in the season, Derek Lowe and Jarrod Washburn, wound up placing in my top five. My preseason pick, Tim Hudson, wound up sixth on my pre-ballot ranking (the IBA ballot had only five spots):
AL Cy Young 1: Barry Zito; 2: Pedro Martinez; 3: Derek Lowe; 4: Roy Halladay; 5: Jarrod Washburn.
The NL Cy Young became more clear-cut down the stretch, as Randy Johnson rose to the occasion while teammate Curt Schilling faltered. I'm simply amazed at how well Johnson has aged. My preseason pick, Roy Oswalt, was no disgrace, winning 19 games and finishing 5th in ERA, all in all good enough for third on my ballot:
NL Cy Young 1: Randy Johnson; 2: Curt Schilling; 3: Roy Oswalt; 4: Odalis Perez; 5: Tom Glavine.
I flip-flopped my AL Rookie of the Year candidates in researching my vote, reasoning that it's much harder to win 15 games with good peripherals in front of the hapless Baltimore Orioles than to hit and field well every day in Toronto. My preseason pick, Hank Blalock, struggled out of the gate and then spent most of his season on the farm:
AL Rookie of the Year 1: Rodrigo Lopez; 2: Eric Hinske; 3: Bobby Kielty.
Degree of difficulty was the deciding factor in the NL Rookie race as well. It's a lot easier to learn to pitch in the bigs when you've got Glavine, Maddux, and Leo Mazzone available for tutorials than when you're stuck at 5,280 feet above sea level with Mike Hampton as your co-pilot. Jennings' initials and good bat helped give him the edge as well. Sean Burroughs, who I picked preseason, added injury to the insult of suffering a similar fate to Blalock:
NL Rookie of the Year 1: Jason Jennings; 2: Damian Moss; 3: Austin Kearns.
Neither of my Manager of the Year choices should come as a surprise, given my recently-stirred Dodger roots. The AL ones look particularly sharp this week:
AL Manager of the Year 1. Mike Scioscia; 2: Ron Gardenhire; 3. Art Howe. NL Manager of the Year 1: Jim Tracy; 2: Tony La Russa; 3: Dusty Baker.
While I'm on the subject, I'll revisit a few more random dumb-ass preseason predictions I made... Tony Muser didn't make it out of April, but he was not the first manager fired; that honor went to Phil Garner, with Davey Lopes and Buddy Bell at his heels. Scott Rolen was not the first superstar traded; Bartolo Colon beat him by over a month (did I forget others?). Barry Bonds finished with "only" 46 homers, not the 64 I predicted (at least I got the digits right). I was correct that he wouldn't beat out Sammy Sosa, who fell short of my targeted 66 with "only" 49 but still led the league (ahem). And finally, Rondell White stayed healthy enough to beat my predicted 112 games (he played in 126), but with a 666 OPS, he had a pretty hellish season nonetheless.
Nobody wants to hear the whining of Yankee fans this week. Goliath has fallen, and the rest of the baseball world couldn't be happier. The local papers have already dispensed with the post-mortems and moved on to filling out Uncle George's Christmas shopping list. I've decided to resist my temptation to remake the Yankees until after the World Series, because emotions are still running high all around, and more importantly, because we've still got a few weeks of good plot lines and (hopefully) great baseball ahead.
Each of the remaining four teams offers a compelling reason to root for it. And there's ample seating on their bandwagon:
The Minnesota Twins, who staved off contraction over the winter. The Twins have a young, likeable team, a closer named "Everyday Eddie," and a self-described "futility infielder" as manager. The sight of Homer Hankies waving in the Hefty Bag is sure to stir memories of Hrbie and Kirby and Black Jack Morris. Plus, imagine the awkward looks Bud Selig and Carl Pohlad would have on their faces at the Series trophy presentation if they won. Check in with the Twins Geek or Aaron's Baseball Blog for wholesome Twinkie goodness.
The Anaheim Angels, fresh off of schooling the Yanks and winning their first postseason series ever. The Angels feature strong starting pitching, gas-throwing relievers, a pesky Lil' Bastard in David Eckstein, and stellar defensive play, plus a coaching staff chock-full of those miracle 1988 L.A. Dodgers. They've also got a rather, um, unique primate for a mascot. I don't know of any Angel-specific blogs, but "Shredder" Seitz and other Anaheim fans can be found all over Baseball Primer's game-by-game blogs in Clutch Hits.
The St. Louis Cardinals, who overcame the tragic death of pitcher Darryl Kile, not to mention the passing of iconic announcer Jack Buck, this season, but who now stand to bring a measure of joy to a great baseball town. They feature human highlight film Jim Edmonds in centerfield, one of the league's most devastating hitters in Albert Pujols, and the league's best shortstop, the clutch Edgar Renteria. Bleed Cardinal Red and Charlie at America's Pastime have you covered. Notice that Charlie's put a strike through my site upon the Yanks' elimination on his October 7 entry. Reminds me of the Homicide: Life on the Streets episode in 1997 where "Torre" and "Rivera" were listed as victims on The Board.
The San Francisco Giants, featuring the best hitter on the planet as he's finally put his reputation for postseason misery behind him. The Giants are led by the highly regarded (and nearly departed?) Dusty Baker, who pulls rabbits out of his hat with this pitching staff of no-stars. They're owned by Peter Magowan, the only owner who DIDN'T bilk his taxpayers in building a new stadium. John Perricone of Only Baseball Matters will hook you up.
On the other hand, one can easily at least a solid reason to root against each of those teams. The Angels are owned by the Mouse, never anyone's favorite corporation. The Twins are owned by a rat willing to accept a payoff to have his own team whacked. The Giants are still the Giants, and Barry's not huggable no matter how many homers he hits. The Cardinals... well, that Tony LaRussa egghead thinks he's pretty smart, doesn't he?
I haven't figured out just which bandwagon I'll climb aboard for the next few weeks. Given that three of my four first-round predictions went down, fans of those remaining teams might hope that I don't jinx them with the pledging of my temporary allegiance. I'm leaning toward the Twins, followed by the Angels, with either of them over the Cardinals.
Still, I can't deny I've got a bit of an empty feeling right now. Unused LCS and World Series tickets protrude from under the front of my TV, taunting me as they tout a matchup I DON'T get to watch. But that's not the problem. It's that the crisp fall weather--jacket season--has arrived in New York City, and for the first time since 1997, there's no baseball buzz in the air to accompany it. No Yanks caps, no Mets jerseys, nobody reliving last night's ballgame on the subway or in the elevator, or stumbling into a random bar in a strange neighborhood to ask, "What's the score?" No us-against-the-rest-of-the-world cameraderie, no my-team-can-whup-your-team enmity. No swagger, no drama. No pull-out sections in the morning paper, no mystique and aura showing up after midnight. No electricity.
And for the rest of the baseball world, no clear villain. Mets fan Dan Lewis writes in his Sports Blog that he's sorry the Yankees lost: "I really enjoyed rooting against the Yanks last year, and that made game 7 all the more enjoyable. Now, there's no suspense." Lewis breaks down the anti-Yank sentiment for those still mourning the Bombed Bronxers: "[T]hose Yankee haters out there are sorry your team lost, not because we won't have the Yanks around to hate, but because we know that losing sucks. And for purely selfish reasons, we'd rather see you lose in Game 7 of the World Series to a bloop walk-off base hit."
Salon's King Kaufman has an interesting piece where he suggests that the San Francisco Giants would be better off if they batted Barry Bonds leadoff. When this article appeared the other day, my friend Nick asked me for my take on it. I gave him my best five-minute lunch-hour assessment (short answer: bat Bonds second to increase his PAs but give him somebody to clean up after), then packaged the quandary over to Giants fan John Perricone of the weblog Only Baseball Matters for an article to be named later. John ran my response and took a quick stab at the question himself (short answer: where he bats in the order will have only a marginal effect on his production; only batting him behind himself would make much difference). Since then, I've decided to go back and take a closer look at Kaufman's piece.
Kaufman is an entertaining and provocative writer whose work I generally enjoy, but he's not exactly known for his number-crunching. He presents a basic premise which makes sense: batting Barry leadoff would maximize the number of plate appearances the peerless slugger would get. But the writer makes some serious errors in his analysis, and it ultimately falls apart.
Kaufman starts with the assertion that the opposing strategy of pitching around Bonds has rendered him less valuable when it comes to driving in runners:
Because opponents flatly refuse to pitch to Bonds with runners on base, his value as an RBI man is severely limited. But: He's on base all the freakin' time! Nobody's ever been on base as often Nobody's been close. The more good hitters there are behind Bonds, the more likely the Giants will make the other team pay for walking him. With nothing but mediocre hitters behind Bonds -- Benito Santiago, Reggie Sanders, J.T. Snow and David Bell usually hit behind him--opponents walk him, and the strategy works.
First problem: the Giants hitters are not actually that mediocre. For one thing, their batting statistics are depressed by Pac Bell, which greatly favors pitchers, and so their raw numbers look worse than they are. Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average (EqA), a park- and context-neutral measure of offensive performance placed on a scale on par with batting average (with .260 defined as the major league average), shows the Giants with the best EqA in baseball, at .283. This is largely due to Bonds and Kent, of course, but Santiago, Bell, and Sanders--not to mention leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton, are all between .270 and .280. Shortstop Rich Aurilia and first baseman Snow are a few points on either side of .260, but by and large the oars are pulling in the right direction.
Kaufman then points to Dusty Baker's flip-flopping Bonds and Jeff Kent in the batting order and Barry's subsequent decrease in his rate of scoring runs when hitting behind Kent:
When Bonds was hitting third, ahead of the dangerous Jeff Kent, he scored 30.3 percent of the time he was a baserunner. (That is, 30.3 percent of the time that he reached base but didn't hit a home run.) After Giants manager Dusty Baker switched Bonds and Kent in the order, Bonds scored 16.4 percent of the time that he was on base, an astonishing, pathetic figure
...What's really amazing about Baker's misuse of Bonds is that he actually got some praise in late June when he switched him in the order with Kent, who had hit fourth for most of the previous five and a half years. The change helped Kent's production, for the obvious reason that he got better pitches while hitting in front of Bonds. But that improvement for Kent wasn't nearly enough to offset the neutralization of the game's best hitter.
Kaufman then gives us some figures for Bonds pertaining to the switch which I will more clearly present in a chart:
G R BI AVG OBP Pre (#3) 71 69 50 .354 .574 Post (#4) 72 48 60 .385 .588
If that's a downturn, I don't see it. Bonds' R + RBI (two team-dependent stats) went down by 11 in the second span, but his OBP was higher, so he was using fewer outs--something Kaufman never bothers to consider. More importantly, he never offers comparable breakdowns for Mr. Wheelie, despite his assertion that Kent's increase didn't offset Bonds' decline.
So I took a look at their ESPNsplits batting in the two positions; the numbers don'texactly jibe with Kaufman's incompletely-presented figures, and taken together they tell a more revealing story:
PA R BI AVG OBP SLG Bonds (#3) 340 71 64 .377 .591 .861 Kent (#4) 374 50 53 .297 .354 .484
Contrary to Kaufman's assertion, the 1-2 punch of these fine sluggers was actually more effective with Kent hitting before Bonds. Their OBP was seven points higher, their SLG was 58 points higher, and their rate of (R + RBI)/PA was higher as well (.522 to .472). Their counting totals were down in the second permutation because the two players missed about 30 games between them, with whoever played presumably taking the #3 slot while the other was absent from the lineup.
Kaufman also attempts to figure out how many runs Barry would have scored had he batted leadoff. To do this, he takes regular leadoff-hitter Lofton's rate of scoring and applies it to the number of times Bonds was on base: "If he scored at Lofton's 39.1 percent rate, he'd have tallied 167 runs this year, 50 more than his actual number."
Which is a horrible assumption. Lofton's scoring rate was dependent in no small part on having Bonds to drive him in. The ability to drive runners in is roughly represented by slugging percentage, and nobody hitting behind Bonds can touch his .799 this year. Suffice it to say that Bonds wouldn't match that 39.1 percent scoring rate without unprecedented work in the field of cloning. Furthermore, that's not 50 runs Bonds is adding to the Giants total, that's 50 runs he'd be scoring instead of some other player (leaving aside for the moment the fact that there's no way in hell it's 50 runs).
While Kaufman's idea is intriguing, his reasoning is faulty and his methods of calculating the effect are irredeemably flawed. By relying solely on counting stats, he misses the story being told by the rate stats--that Kent-Bonds was actually more productive than Bonds-Kent on a per-plate-appearance basis. And by compounding his calculations with further incorrect assumptions, his argument falls apart. It may make sense to bat Bonds leadoff, but Kaufman's not the one to prove it.
The sun arose Sunday morning and the earth continued to turn, but baseball's postseason will roll on without the New York Yankees. While this may violate what Yankee fans may feel is the natural order of things--not since 1995 has the team ended its season this early--the Yanks were emphatically spanked by the Anaheim Angels and ushered out of the playofffs yesterday, three games to one. The kings of the past several postseasons are dead.
For the third game in a row, the Angels came from behind, taking advantage of a porous and mistake-prone Yankee defense. They strung together an epic 8-run rally that bore a familiar resemblance to past pinstriped teams. Give a championship-caliber ballclub an extra out, as the Yanks did in the third inning and again in the fifth, and they will smell the blood in the water.
The Angels, who from manager Mike Scioscia on down deserve a huge amount of credit for doing what no AL team has done since 1997, were certainly helped by the fact that the Yanks didn't play up to their potential. Their hallowed starting pitching failed miserably, with all four starters allowing at least four runs and none of them getting out of the sixth inning. The staff ERA was an astronomical 8.21, and the Angels set a Division Series record with their .376 batting average. Defense was a factor as well; the Yanks allowed a .367 average on balls in play (an anemic .633 DER; see below) while the Angels held the Yanks to a .292 average on balls in play (.708 DER).
That eight-run inning put the Yanks down 9-2, but even mortally wounded, they battled back, twice coming within one batter of bringing the tying run to the plate. Fox tastelessly tried to unleash the ghosts of a past Angels collapse, showing haunting footage of the late Donnie Moore's 1986 playofff disaster (a disconsolate Moore, who gave up a Game FIve-winning homer to Dave Henderson when the Angels were one strike away from winning their first postseason series, committed suicide a few years later). The Yanks, for their part, were much more gracious in defeat--no Patrick Ewing "I still think we're the better team" defiance, no excuses offered. "We just got beat by the better team," said starting pitcher David Wells. Said pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre: "This four-game stretch is the best anybody has attacked our pitching in the seven years I've been here."
Even George Steinbrenner mustered an uncharacteristic bit of grace in defeat. "If we had to lose to somebody, I'm happy for Gene and the Disney people," admitted the Boss, referring to the late Gene Autry, who owned the Angels for decades without them winning a single playoff series. "For Gene's memory, it was a great day. He was always the nicest man I ever knew in baseball."
But just as surely, the Boss cannot be a happy man, not with the league's highest-paid team now free to schedule tee times in early October. Heads will likely roll, and the roster will be retooled yet again (New York Daily News gets the early jump on potential changes in the Yankee makeup; I'll have all winter to write about my views on the matter).
The Yankee brass and players are accustomed to winning it all; Derek Jeter termed this season a failure, and while it may sound harsh, the lingering image for Yankee fans is Darren Erstad's fifth-inning blooper falling between centerfielder Bernie Williams and a forlorn Alfonso Soriano--he of the spectacular near 40-40 season. For all of the individual accolades and milestones the Yankee players received, none matters so much as the big prize at the end of the season.
For Yankee fans, October will feel much more empty without our familiar pinstriped warriors. But this loss won't be mourned the way last year's Game Seven defeat was. That team, with a nucleus that had seen five World Series in six years, meant so much to the city in the wake of September 11, and came so close to winning it despite being more or less outplayed (but not outmanaged). While the losing hurt, most New Yorkers felt damn proud to have them representing the city. This year's team, with several newcomers, clearly couldn't muster the postseason magic of years past, and simply got their asses handed to them on a platter. Losing stings if you're a Yankee fan today, but most of us are still pretty confident we'll live to see the team get another shot or two in our lifetimes.
The last time the Yanks found themselves in a similar position, in October 1997, I passed an East Village bar with a chalkboard in the window that said "Only 107 Days Until Pitchers and Catchers. Go Yankees!" That spirit was enough to carry me and many other Yankee fans through the winter months, and we were rewarded with the finest ballclub most of us had ever seen. So I'll shed no tears for this year's Yankees. Instead, I'll sit back and watch the remainder of this year's playoffs, rooting for whichever AL team emerges from what promises to be an entertaining scrum, and start counting the days until pitchers and catchers report as soon as the final out of the World Series is recorded.
The postseason kings are dead, long live the postseason kings.