An ugly situation is brewing in Milwaukee. Brewers team president/CEO Ulice Payne is apparently being forced out after one season by the team's board of directors, who have also decided to slash the player payroll by 25 percent, a move which will make the club an even tougher sell to a skeptical fan base. And it gets worse.
Following the worst season in franchise history in 2002 (yes, even worse than the Seattle Pilots which a certain used-car salesman hijacked), team president/CEO Wendy Selig-Prieb, daughter of you-know-who, relinquished her title. The moribund team brought in the charismatic Payne -- at a price of $7.5 million for five years -- just over a year ago to inject some hope and chart a new, less Selig-addled course. He chose a new regime in GM Doug Melvin and manager Ned Yost, and with nowhere to go but up, the ballclub improved by 12 games (to 68-94), at one point reeling off 10 straight wins.
Now the Brewers board of directors (chaired by the very same Selig-Prieb) has apparently told Payne that the team needs to cut their payroll from $40 million down to $30 million for next season, a move which will almost surely require the team to shed its two All-Stars, first baseman Richie Sexson and outfielder Geoff Jenkins, who will both make over $8 million. Payne doesn't like the message that's sending to the fans, who have already waited through eleven consecutive losing seasons. The board apparently doesn't like Payne, releasing the public statement about the team's budget cut without his knowledge. Payne's been reduced to no-comments such as "I am in discussions about my situation."
Legislators apparently don't like the message any more than Payne, and are turning up the heat on the ballclub. As it sought its $400 million taxpayer-funded stadium (Miller Park), the team had pledged to "create an economic structure so that the Brewers have the financial resources to consistently field competitive teams, which will maximize attendance and the economic benefits to the city, county and state." State Assembly Speaker John Gard sees the team's current actions as reneging on that pledge: "The taxpayers of this state have made a multimillion-dollar investment in this baseball team and taken the club's decisions on faith. This week's revelations of a 'fire sale' at the ballclub have shaken this faith, and it is time for us to actually be given a look at the books and review how the team is managing its finances." Unfortunately, that's little more than political posturing, because the Brewers are a private entity and can't be compelled to turn over the books for perusal.
So here you have a team that hasn't seen a .500 season since the first Bush presidency. They have a $400 million state-of-the-art boondoggle (with a busted roof, to boot), a 40% decline in attendance since said boondoggle opened, and $110 million in debt. Neither the $24 million in new money which investors have poured into the club over the past two years nor the revenue-sharing windfall they reap annually seem to be earmarked for improving the product on the field (hmmmmm), so -- shocker of shockers -- they've decided to go into a rebuilding mode by cutting salary, a move which will likely cost the team its top gate attractions.
As often happens when I come across such an absurd spiral of misery, a Simpsons quote springs to mind. In this case, it's from the Scorpio episode, where Bart's sent to a remedial class after the family moves:
Let me get this straight. We're behind the rest of our class and we're going to catch up to them by going slower than they are? [making "crazy" gesture] Cuckoo.
That about describes it. What's even worse for the Brewers (wait, it gets worse?) is that these revelations have reduced any leverage the team had going into the winter with regards to moving Sexson, Jenkins, or any other commodity they might actually have. Any GM that picks up a newspaper knows the Brewers are desperate, so getting value for their stars will be even more difficult for Melvin.
With the Florida Marlins now holding a World Series trophy and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays clinging to a bit of promise with their home-grown talent and an experienced manager, the Brewers are officially the worst franchise the sport has to offer. Except for Detroit, if they're still considered major-league. It's a wonder the good people of Milwaukee don't torch Miller Park and lynch the Seligs.
What has to be the most embarrassing thing about all of this for Brewers supporters is that the man synonymous with Milwaukee baseball, commissioner and owner-in-exile Bud Selig, has been whistling a tune about making the Brewers competitive for a long time. His song included the part about needing a new, publicly-funded stadium to be competitive, which the taxpayers gave him. His song included the part about needing greater revenue sharing for his small-market team to be competitive, which the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement gave him. Bud got his Brewers both of those things, but the fans don't have jack shit to show for it in the form of a more competitive ballclub, nor will they in the foreseeable future. Can you blame them for staying away in droves? And where the hell is the money going, anyway?
The headline to the articles concerning the CEO/president's ouster say things like "Payne May Be Done at Brewers." But when it comes to the Brewers, there's nothing going on but pain.
In the AL Rookie of the Year voting, I cast my own ballot for K.C. shortstop Angel Berroa at the Internet Baseball Awards and had Hideki Matsui second. In a narrow vote, the Baseball Writers Association of America came to the same conclusion. But the way they arrived at that result rankled some, including Matsui's ever-voluble employer, and for once George has a point: the two writers who left Matsui entirely off their ballots did so for misguided reasons, as a protest to the rules which made the Japanese League veteran elibigle. One of them, Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, issued a self-righteous missive in which he compared himself to "whipping boys Joe Torre, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Don Zimmer, Mel Stottlemyre and Dave Winfield" for being on the receiving end of Steinbrenner's ire. Uh-huh, he's a martyr just like Yogi. How could he have left Dick Howser off the list?
ESPN columnist and resident Royals fan Rob Neyer was upset by the way Berroa won as well. He offered the best summation of the situation:
As you might have heard, two voters didn't list Matsui on their ballots at all; not first, nor second, nor even third. Both voters have publicly stated that they didn't consider Matsui because of his extensive experience in Japan.
I hesitate to criticize my colleagues, but these guys -- the Worcester Telegram & Gazette's Bill Ballou and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Jim Souhan -- couldn't be bigger clowns if they wore red noses and big floppy shoes.
1. Matsui is, according to the rules, a rookie.
2. The rules instruct the voter to vote for the best rookies.
Case closed. If a voter thinks the rules don't make sense, he has two viable options: he can refuse the ballot in the first place, or he can accept the ballot but decline to return it. Either of these actions would make the point, and might lead to a change in the rules. Heroic even, in a very small way.
But no. Instead, Ballou and Souhan want to have it both ways. The writers love to vote, because it's as close to playing God as they'll ever get. So they vote and they protest, except the protest rings hollow, since it's accompanied not by sacrifice, but by whining.
Reviewing the two candidates myself, once you get past Matsui's gaudy but misleading RBI total (103) they look pretty even. Shortstop Berroa had almost exactly the same OPS that leftfielder Matsui had (.789 and .788, respectively). Baseball Prospectus has Berroa at 27 runs above a replacement-level shortstop and Matsui at 23.6 runs above a replacement level leftfielder, again comparable totals. But Win Shares, which takes defense into account, shows a wider gap between the two. Matsui comes in at 19, good for 35th in the AL. Berroa comes in at 16, 61st in the league. In retrospect, that probably should have been enough to sway my vote the other direction.
But oh well, I could say the same about the NL Rookie of the Year, which not only saw Dontrelle Willis beat out the more worthy (according to Win Shares) Brandon Webb, but saw the best-hitting rookie, Brewer Scott Podsednik get jobbed as well. Podsednik racked up 22 Win Shares, while Webb garnered 17 and Willis 14. I do think Willis' impact on the Marlins turnaround was worth something, as was the Fernandomania-style buzz he generated in attendance, so I won't lose a whole lot of sleep over that one.
For what little it's worth, while I've previously had cold feet about Japanese Leaguers being eligible for the Rookie of the Year, I've come around on it. More than ever after watching Matsui, it seems clear to me that the jump between Japan and the majors is a bigger one than most people realize. The combination of larger ballparks, stronger competetion, and a cultural gap as wide as the Pacific Ocean makes the transition for a Japanese Leaguer anything but automatic, so if they're new to the majors, they ought to be eligible for the award.
Yikes. If the Score Bard is the Alex Rodriguez of baseball-related poetry, I'm its Enrique Wilson, so I'll hereby make a solemn pledge not to bust any more rhymes here until the Beastie Boys accept my job application. The enigmatic Bard's muse has apparently been spending time south of the Mendoza Line, so in an attempt to shake things up, he created the Periodic Table of Bloggers, a color-coded page of links mimicking that Periodic Table of the Elements which taunted you throughout high school chemistry. The table was under wraps, but somehow Instapundit got wind of it, forcing the poor Bard to stay up late to finish the page.
I'm flattered to find myself included in the baseball section. My chemical symbol is Fr, for Francium, a "vanishingly rare" radioactive metal which has never been isolated in its pure form. I'm not sure whether the Bard is trying to say I'm tough to pin down, dangerous even in small doses, or completely useless, but as Bill Veeck said, "There's no such thing as bad publicity as long as they spell your name right."
Check out the table, and while you're there, marvel at the Bard's Primey-worthy poetry.
The labrum is a ring of fibrous cartilege that surrounds the end of the scapula (the shoulder blade) and holds the head of the humerus (the upper arm bone) as a ball-and-socket joint. My magnetic resonance scans (MRI), which weren't done until about a month after the injury, showed that I sustained a common type of tear called a SLAP tear. In addition to being something I'm tempted to do to myself every time I explain my injury, SLAP stands for Superior Labral Anterior Posterior. Basically, the lining of my shoulder joint was torn front to back.
Following the diagnosis by my orthopedic surgeon, I went through three months of physical therapy, which did help some in alleviating the impingement syndrome from which I suffered. But even now, my shoulder is still unstable, I've been unable to return to anything approaching my normal regimen of lifting weights, and many of my daily activities, such as opening windows and doors or holding onto a railing on the subway, cause me pain. I wake up several times each night to reposition my arm. I haven't thrown a baseball since a couple of hours after sustaining the injury, which I attempted for diagnostic purposes, finding that even flipping the ball twenty feet was a chore. Basically, my shoulder's felt as though it had the wind knocked out of it, and though I can't point to a single specific area that's sore, getting through a day pain-free is like trying to cover for an unfilled cavity -- sooner or later I do something to remind myself just how much I hurt.
My doctors and every other reliable source of information I've consulted have been pretty unanimous that at this stage the shoulder isn't going to get any better by itself, and that the surgery, which is 85-95% successful, is about as minimal as it gets. Basically, I'll be put out via general anesthesia and given a nerve block via a shot to my neck (mmmmm). Three incisions about a centimeter in diameter will be made in my shoulder, one in the back and two in the front. Using an arthroscope, a narrow fiber optic instrument with a camera, they'll peek into the joint through the incisions. They'll check my rotator cuff, which by most indications is probably normal, and reattach my labrum to the scapula via suture anchors. This kind of surgery is an outpatient procedure, so I'll be going home the same day, and after a few days of convalescing, I should be able to work the following week.
It's the rehab which is a bitch. To give my shoulder time to heal, I can't do much of anything for the first four weeks beyond the simple things -- feeding myself, typing, and some light range-of-motion stuff. So long, ski season. After that I'm looking at about 4.5 to 6 months before I can resume full activity, including breaking out my mitt to toss the ol' horsehide around. That feels like an eternity right now, but it's a better outlook than chronic pain and a throwing motion my girlfriend wouldn't sign for (she can zing it).
It's a good thing my baseball career is limited to the occasional game of catch or a rare turn in the batting cage, because a torn labrum is something no ballplayer wants to mess with. To find out why, I turned to medhead extraordinaire Will Carroll, who writes the Under the Knife column for Baseball Prospectus. Will and his father, orthopedic surgeon Dr. William Carroll, wrote a big piece on injuries, "The Medhead Manifesto," in the Baseball Prospectus 2003 book, including half a page on SLAP lesions, which are one of the "big five" injuries that cause nearly fifty percent of all lost playing time. Here's what the Carrolls have to say:
The SLAP Lesion (Superior Labrum Anterior Posterior) is an overuse syndrome injury commonly associated with overhead activities, such as the throwing motion in baseball. Technically, the anatomical structure that makes the SLAP lesion possible is the origin of the tendon of the long head of the biceps muscle and the way it hooks over the head of the humerus (the bone of the upper arm that makes up part of the shoulder joint). If the arm is forcibly bent inward at the shoulder as it is in the throwing motion, the humerus acts as a lever and tears the biceps tendon and the labrum. The lining of the shoulder joint from the glenoid cavity is torn in a front-to-back fashion, hence the name SLAP -- the superior aspect of the labrum is torn from anterior to posterior.
Usually the signs and symptoms involve the athlete either complaining of pain or instability in the shoulder while throwing. This condition worsens when the athlete puts his arm into the "cocked position" ready to throw. Some athletes with this condition may experience pain while doing overhead weight lifting and some have reported actually hearing a clicking sound in the shoulder when attempting to throw.
Unfortunately this condition is seldom discovered until the damage to the labrum is already done. Athletic trainers and physicians utilize a clinical test called the shoulder impingement test to clinically identify this condition. The test is performed by stabilizing the rear of the athlete's shoulder, extending his elbow and passively forward flexing the arm. If the test is positive for a SLAP lesion, the athlete will experience pain near the end of the range of motion. If this test is positive, usually an MRI will be done to confirm the diagnosis.
If the damage to the labrum is not significant, withholding the athlete from activity and prescribing anti-inflammatory medications may treat the condition. Stretching and stabilization exercises can be utilized under supervision when the pain lessens. It is extremely important that the athlete not return to sports-specific activity (such as throwing) until the pain has entirely disappeared.
If the labrum is significantly torn, the only viable treatment for someone who wants to continue to be active in the sport is a surgery in which the surgeon arthroscopically reattaches the torn labrum. After the surgery it is very important that the athlete undergoes supervised rehabilitation designed to both strengthen the shoulder muscles and gain flexibility in the joint. Unlike the generally more positive outcomes that result from Tommy John surgery, only a small percentage of players of those that suffer significant labral tears are able to successfully return to anywhere near their previous level of performance. Most often, players that are able to come back lose significant velocity, are forced to alter their mechanics, creating further injury risk, and often retear the labrum. Recent cases such as Mike Sirotka and Mariners prospect Ryan Anderson come to mind as typical.
Yeeech. That's two players who haven't thrown competitively since the 2000 season -- not exactly good company.
Will was kind enough to grant me some time to talk further about torn labrums. Basically the injury is a more drastic one for a ballplayer than a rotator cuff tear or an ulnar collateral rupture (which requires Tommy John surgery) because it's harder to detect and because there's no good rehabilitation protocol. Sports medicine has made many advances in treating other injuries thanks to the advent of the MRI, but in Will's opinion, it will probably be another 10 years before labrum rehab becomes routine in baseball. He points to Dodger rightfielder Shawn Green's surgery as a worst-case scenario -- Green's labrum was torn too severely to repair, so the damaged cartilege was removed, and he's got some bone-on-bone in the shoulder. Somehow, after talking about that, a best-case scenario didn't come up, but Will did reassure me that my surgery will likely be "as minimal as it goes."
So for once I'm sitting here thinking that I'm glad I don't have to hit big league pitching or keep my fastball in the mid-90s to put food on the table. This isn't going to be a joyride, but with my doctors I feel as though I'm in good hands. I'll be up and around in a few days after surgery, probably milking the experience for another column or two here. In a few weeks I'll be hoisting beers with Will and Alex Belth during baseball's Winter Meetings in New Orleans. Don't worry, I'll be hoisting with my left hand.
• • •
Christian Ruzich is back online, and one of the things he's done is set up a live Pitchers and Catchers countdown. At last notice, there were 95 days, 21 hours, 41 minutes and 36 seconds until the big event.
Will Carroll keyed me in to some interesting work being done by a guy named Avkash Patel at his blog, the raindrops. Inspired by a line from Billy Beane in Moneyball ("Baseball is a game of attrition, and what's being attrited are pitchers' arms."), Patel took a look at a stat he's calling Attrition Rate (AtR) which involves pitches per plate apperances and on-base percentage.
The theory behind this is that a long at-bat which works the count has value, even if it results in an out, because it tires the pitcher. And even more valulable at tiring a pitcher is a batter's success in avoiding outs -- on-base percentage. So what Patel came up with is a way to combine these two skills and express them in a meaningful number. Patel figured pitches per out made (#Pitches / [(AB - H) + CS + SF + SH + GDP]) and then multiplied by 18, giving us a figure that tells us how many pitches it would take a pitcher to get through six innings (18 outs); in other words, to make a Quality Start. The median of Patel's four-year sample was 98.63 -- just about 100 pitches, a handy context any stat-minded fan can understand. Here 's the top ten for 2003:
147.65 B. Bonds, SF
126.58 N. Johnson, NYY
126.17 J. Giambi, NYY
126.09 T. Helton, Col
124.56 E. Martinez, Sea
124.46 B. Abreu, Phi
122.75 M. Mora, Bal
122.49 F. Thomas, CWS
122.04 C. Delgado, Tor
121.60 B. Wilkerson, Mon
Those are some damn good hitters, even though a couple of the names (Mora, Wilkerson) are unlikely. What this says is that it would take a pitcher nearly 150 pitches to get through 6 innings of facing Barry Bonds (of course, he'd have allowed 10 runs by then, based on his Runs Created per 27 Outs). The next two hittes on the list are no slouches either; they form the DH/1B combo for the AL champions. Statheads now have yet another reason to drool over Nick Johnson, and the rest of the world should be remnded that even in a down season, Jason Giambi is still a terrific hitter. For what it's worth, Giambi's RC27 of 7.92 was still 12th in the majors, and he was in the top 10 in Equivalent Average and Runs Above Replacement Level.
Here are the bottom 10, the most hacktastic players in the majors this past year:
82.12 K. Harvey, KC
81.46 R. Sanchez, Sea/NYM
81.08 A. Sanchez, Det/Mil
80.38 V. Castilla, Atl
79.81 B. Molina, Ana
79.73 R. Santiago, Det
79.67 R. Simon, ChC/Pit
77.75 B. Phillips, Cle
77.63 C. Izturis, LA
74.61 D. Cruz, Bal
Yargggh. Anybody who's played Hacking Mass will recognize a lot of those names; I had three of them (Castilla, Itzuris and Rey Sanchez) on my HM team, and the latter two were HM All-Stars. Suffice it to say that none of those guys are ever going to make much money for their stickwork. But what's surprising is that Nomar Garciaparra is 14th from the bottom at 83.07. Nomar's OBP in 203 was only .345 (25 points off of his career .370 mark), and he doesn't see many pitches. Which isn't to say that he's not valuable, just that this is a dimension of his game in which he falls short.
Cherrypicking the Yankees from the list and adding one of their notable postseason players who didn't have enough PA to make Patel's list:
126.58 N. Johnson
126.17 J. Giambi
113.74 J. Posada
105.29 D. Jeter
104.01 R. Ventura (NYY/LA)
102.72 B. Williams
98.42 H. Matsui
96.62 R. Mondesi (NYY/Ari)
93.41 A. Soriano
91.89 A. Boone (NYY/Cin -- 87.17 with Yanks)
84.78 K. Garcia (NYY/Cle -- 94.02 with Yanks)
Well, there's one more indictment of two players (Sori and Boone) who caused Yankee fans to tear their hair out in October. Even the pinstriped version of Karim Garcia had more success in tiring pitchers out than Sori. More on this topic another time.
What's most exciting about Patel's work (which builds on work done by B-Pro's Keith Woolner and MLB.com's Cory Schwartz) is that it successfully quantifies one of the relatively intangible qualities we try to grasp. To use an example from my own recent baseball-watching past, consider Chuck Knoblauch during his first two seasons at the top of the order for the Yanks. Knoblauch was such a pest that I used to call him the Lil' Bastard, and I termed his skill at working the count to get on base the Lil' Bastard Instant Rally Kit. He was a huge factor in setting the tone for that Yankee lineup, seeing lots of pitches and wearing out starters so the Yanks could feast on the creamy nougat of the opposition's middle relief. Knoblauch's OBP in 1998 was .361, solid but not nearly as spectacular as the .424 and .448 he'd put up in 1995 and '96, or even his .390 in '97. He rebounded in 1999, with a .393, though it was downhill after that. Here's a simple chart for those years with his Attrition Rates (ATR) and his OBPs:
The numbers show that with the exception of 1996 (when he posted an awesome .965 OPS) Knoblauch was pretty much the same pesky hitter all along, though his results varied a lot more than his approach. Damn, I miss the Lil' Bastard.
Anyway, I think Patel's done some fantastic work here just by bringing this simple, intuitive and elegant new tool to light. It will be interesting to see whether others pick up on it and how it gets used -- if I were a manager or a GM, I could see it informing my lineup choices, especially at the top of the order. Joe Torre, are you listening?
I find Lee to be a bit of a curmudgeon -- his view on no-hitters is about as joyless and insufferable as it gets, and he termed the Wild Card Florida Marlins winning the pennant "a national disgrace." Nonetheless, I respect the fact that his opinions often run against the grain -- his take on "league average" versus "replacement level" is an enlightening one, for example. And I consider the work that he does on a daily basis -- sifting through the headlines for baseball news and rumors, which he fortifies with his own commentary and statistical perspective -- as essential as my morning cup of coffee. Countless times a single line in one of Lee's emails has turned into a full-blown piece here. Suffice it to say that Lee's a heavy hitter in the world of online baseball blogging, and he deserves a lot of respect for his labors.
In the interview, Rich asks Lee lots of questions about the specifics of his work and draws out the fan we readers rarely get to see; two years into receiving his mailings, I was surprised to find out Lee's actualy a Yankees fan. Sinins also gets to voice his opinons on several players past and present, such as the one he'd chose to start the seventh game of a World Series (Pedro). Good stuff, and I'm pleased to announce that Rich has tapped me to be one of the interviewees in this series sometime in the next month or two.