Goldman is -- and I say this with as little hyperbole as I can muster, even with the fact that I count him as a personal friend -- quite possibly the best baseball writer in the country, at least among those who have sprung forth in the era of the Internet. No partisan hack or house organist, he's been able to carve out a niche writing a column that takes an objective eye to the Yanks, and done so on George Steinbrenner's nickel. As he consistently reminds irate Yankees fans whose butts chafe at his criticisms of sacred Yankee cows such as Derek and Tino and hoary baseball myths like the importance of RBIs and pitcher Wins in player evaluation, the PB is an argument about winning baseball. Those of you who come here to enjoy smart commentary, whatever your rooting interests, have much to gain not only by making the PB a weekly stop, but by getting a daily dose via his blog.
I bring this to light not only to celebrate its presence but also to shed a little light on what's been going on in my life over the past month. Goldman, who is also an author of Baseball Prospectus, has been tapped by the BP όbermenches to head up a new project:
I've been editing a new book from the Baseball Prospectus about (forgive me, Yankees fans) how the Boston Red Sox went about breaking their so-called curse and winning the World Series. We talk about where they got smart, where they got lucky, and of course we detail every one of their confrontations with the Yankees in 2004. Among other topics, we explore why the Yankees have been so successful against Pedro Martinez, why the Red Sox seem to have the key to Mariano Rivera, and how the recipe for future confrontations between these two superpowers will require the Red Sox to emulate aspects of Yankees' methodology, loathe as they might be to admit it. That will be out this spring.
Yes, the bearded YES-man is editing a book on the Red Sox, and if that isn't enough, I'm part of the project as well. That Pedro Martinez chapter he referenced is mine, and I spent a good part of December working on it, mining data via Retrosheet, going over my own blog entries about his two late-September starts against them, watching parts of those performances via MLB.tv, and bemusedly reviewing his history of outrageous Yankee-themed quotations about drilling the Bambino in the ass and calling the Yankees his daddy.
With much of BP's core staff tied up with their annual player guide, late in the game I agreed to do another chapter upon returning to NYC following the holidays, this on David Ortiz, whose career I knew much less about than Martinez's frustrated legacy against the Bronx Bombers. Regarding Cookie Monster (or Papi), Steve brought a quote of his that he referenced today to my attention for inclusion in that chapter:
"Something in my swing was not right in Minnesota," Ortiz told the Boston Globe. "I could never hit for power. Whenever I took a big swing, they'd say to me, 'Hey, hey, what are you doing?' So I said, 'You want me to hit like a little bitch, then I will.'"
Hehehe... even though the project concerns the championship victory of the team I loathe and the worst collapse in baseball history of the team I spend the most time covering, I'm incredibly grateful and excited to be part of it. It's a great story, one of the best in baseball history, and as a writer I'd be a damn fool not to put aside my own rooting interests to participate in its telling with a group of writers I admire (and earning a little scratch in the process). Not to worry, Sox fans, among BP's ranks there are plenty of folks on both sides of the aisle to insure a balanced book, and that includes editor Goldman.
That I drew a chapter in which the Yanks won most of the battles made it a little easier to swallow, as did the breaking news of Martinez's departure for Flushing Meadows. In that context, I really warmed up to Pedro, viewing the performances and antics of his Sox career in the past tense and reconstructing his season through the point of view of the chapter. Pedro the dominant pitcher of 1999-2000 bored me. Pedro of 2001-2002 just pissed me off. But the fallible Pedro of 2003-2004 is one of the more fascinating baseball characters of our lifetime, and a reminder why there's little need for fiction in baseball: the real thing provides better drama than we can possibly dream up. Red Smith had a point.
At one point during my stay in Salt Lake City, when the deadline was bearing down on me and the Cabernet from my dad's wine cellar had been especially good, I drifted off into one of those beautiful half-slumbers that I could recall later. In my dream-state, I was driving a car down a desert highway, and Pedro was riding shotgun, laughing bemusedly through his half-lidded expression as we talked about his battles with the Yankees on the field and in the media. The message, I guess, is that now that he's no longer a Red Sock, I'm free to appreciate him that much more, and I certainly do. And in a strange way, the dream and the writing brought me a kind of closure with the whole Sox win/Yanks lose angle of the past postseason. I can live with it now; the last tantrum has been thrown, the last hat stomped.
Anyway, I've probably spilled more beans about the project (not to mention my own psyche) than I should have, so I'll cut off the topic and turn my attention to Cookie Monster. Pinstriped Blog: go read now. BP Sox book: buy this spring. You have your homework.
The Hall of Fame voting results were announced on Tuesday, with two men getting enough votes for enshrinement: Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg. Boggs got 91.86 percent, and I swear that it feels like the other 8.14 percent all wrote articles to advertise their ignorance. Hey, when a .415 career OBP, the most times on base for eight consecutive years, and a higher WARP than the AL MVP six years in a row DOESN'T equal some measure of dominance that even a non-stathead could trip over on the way to finding his ass with a map and compass, I'll eat Tracy Ringolsby's hat.
Sandberg eked out the election by a mere six votes, but as I've argued before, he's a deserving candidate nonetheless. I had high hopes for Rich Gossage; Baseball Think Factory had a tally of published ballots showing that 43 of the 48 named him, a strong showing in what amounted to an exit poll. Alas, it was not to be, but Gossage did garner 55.2 percent, a 14.5 percent gain from the 2004 ballot, the second-biggest jump of any candidate (Sandberg's 15.0 percent leap was the biggest). In doing so, the Goose crossed the magic 50 percent rubicon, where every candidate save ol' Gil Hodges and four guys currently on the ballot -- Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, and Andre Dawson being the other three -- has eventually been elected. Sutter polled at 66.7 percent, a significantly higher tally than Gossage, which is just wrong in my opinion.
Even more dismaying were the showings of Bert Blyleven (40.9 percent) and Alan Trammell (16.9 percent), both of whom I've argued are worthy. Trammell is a comparable candidate to Sandberg, and frankly, the Hall is a joke without Blyleven, who's probably one of the top 20 pitchers of all time. Fifth overall in strikeouts, 60 shutouts, and a near-unanimous reputation among players for having the best curveball in the game -- there's your dominance. and if that' s not enough, he had the two World Series rings as well.
I guess it's back to the drawing board for guys like Rich Lederer and myself, not to mention all of the other analysts who make intelligent cases for some of these deserving but unrewarded players. Joe Sheehan argues that it's time to expand the voting pool to "acknowledge the breadth of baseball knowledge in the 21st century," and I couldn't agree more.
I just did a quick spot on the Hall results with Will Carroll for this week's Baseball Prospectus Radio. With any luck it will find its way online. Meanwhile BP's Nate Silver offers some amusing criticsm of my Jaffe WARP Score system in his piece today:
Truth be told, as much as I like Jay's work, I also think there is something to be said for gut-feel. A metric like JAWS tells you a lot about a guy's value, but it doesn't tell you quite as much about the shape of his career. JAWS applies what I would call the sausage method for assessing player value: you mush everything together into a nice, cylindrical package, add appropriate seasoning, and come out with what is hoped to be a tasty product. JAWS is, indeed, a very tasty sausage, and it's a heck of a lot more worthwhile than the spoiled cold cuts that most of the press is munching on. But it's still a sausage.
Hehhehe, fair 'nuf. At least it's not chopped liver...
The Yanks not in on Carlos Beltran? Hey, I've been arguing for months that their payroll isn't unlimited, a sentiment that met with a fair amount of guffaws at the time, even from other Yankee fans. The heft of the pending Randy Johnson extension (two years, $32 million we're being told) and the ridiculous shower of coins bestowed on Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano have stretched the team's budget to the point where the Beltran contract won't fit.
Richard Sandomir of the New York Times has a look at the Yankees' financial situation and speculates that they may not be making any money. I know most Yankee haters will weep at that notion.
I see the Yanks' lack of action in the Beltran sweepstakes as a sign that they're pretty sure they won't be able to get any relief on the Jason Giambi contract (which still has over $80 million to go) and that they expect to eat just about all of Kevin Brown's $15 million as well. The recent report (damned if I can find that link) that Brown took the ball in Game Seven of the ALCS despite Joe Torre's admonishments not to do so if he wasn't physically up to it are likely the last nail in his coffin as far as any future in the Bronx is concerned.
The new Dodger beat reporter, Steve Henson -- whom I met in Anaheim -- has an interesting piece on GM Paul DePodesta, who's been savaged endlessly by some of the dodger faithful ever since his controversial trade of Paul Lo Duca this summer. But DePodesta takes it all in stride, according to Henson:
Oftentimes the easy decision and comfortable decision is not the right one," DePodesta said. "You can come under an awful lot of criticism, especially in such a public role as this one. You have to stick to what you truly believe is right and at the end of the day hopefully you will be rewarded by the team's performance."
Sending off a good many architects of last season's National League West title team Adrian Beltre, Shawn Green, Steve Finley, Jose Lima and Alex Cora was part of the plan.
Speaking of the Dodgers and thanks, a relatively new blog called The Fourth Outfielder has come to my attention recently, and it's said some nice things about me, so I'll tip my cap and return the favor. Tom Meagher has had some excellent analyses of the team lately, takes of the kind that are far off the beaten path. Here he checks in on the team's 40-man roster situation with an eye towards next year's Rule 5 Draft (that's thinking ahead). And his latest article questions some thoughts I put forth the other day on the team's preference towards ground-ball pitchers. Tom's got a load of data that it'll take me some time to digest, but it's definitely worth a look.
Thanks to my new Prospectus Triple Play beat, I've spent a lot of time following the San Francisco Giants this offseason, and I've been corresponding frequently with Fogball blogger Tom Gorman, who's been an invaluable resource in the process. Tom took an excellent swing at analyzing the Giants' madness this offseason as they've stocked up on players well past their sell dates such as 34-year-old catcher Mike Matheny, soon-to-be 38-year-old shortstop Omar Vizquel, and 38-year old outfielder Moises Alou. As Tom notes, the Giants outfield's combined age -- with Marquis Grisson in center and Mr. Bigstuff in left -- is a creaky 116 years old. I suggested to Tom that the trainers put bedpans in the outfield gaps just in case, a joke that found its way into the article. (Yeah, I'll be here all week, two shows a night. Try the veal...)
Where to begin with all of this? My circuits tend to overload anytime the Yankees and the Dodgers are involved in the same deal. I touched base on this one a couple of weeks back, spent a fair bit of time outlining the Dodger angle in my recent Prospectus Triple Play, and already had to scrap one lengthy post that expired like a carton of unsold milk. So I'll keep this brief, fast-forwarding through the drama that had Yankee Hatchet Man/President Randy Levine (I swear that's his true job title) and an unnamed Arizona executive (likely GM Joe Garagiola Jr.) ripping Dodger GM Paul DePodesta for "reneging" on their previous agreement, and then resident ESPN yenta Peter Gammons spinning the story back in the Dodgers' direction, pulling out because of their "respect" for Javy Vazquez's family values. Whatever.
In the initial mιnΰge ΰ trois, the Yanks would have given up third base prospect Eric Duncan instead of Halsey, and received Dodger pitcher Kaz Ishii and $3 million. So for a net of $12 million cash flowing westward and the loss of a marginally promising lefty, they get to keep Duncan, the team's top prospect according to Baseball America, and they don't have to figure out what to do with Ishii, whom they would have either made $2 million for his enigmatic and erratic contributions (perhaps at the expense of, say, Tanyon Sturtze) or been traded elsewhere. Duncan's 20 years old and might see Double-A this year; his weighted mean PECOTA projection (via Baseball Prospectus) is at .241/.311/.410, so he's still a ways away from being a productive major-leaguer. While it's great that the Yanks get Johnson to capstone their remade rotation, the cost of keeping Duncan -- who now becomes their primary midsummer bargaining chip if they need one -- is a steep one.
In the supermegablockbuster, the Dodgers would have given up starters Ishii and Brad Penny and reliever Yhency Brazoban as well as Green, while they would have received Duncan, Navarro, Vazquez, and Arizona reliever Mike Koplove. Vazquez would have been a pricey upgrade on Penny, had the Dodgers actually kept him, something not at all clear given the flurry of rumors regarding a subsequent deal to the White Sox. Javy's got a higher upside and he's likely healthier than Penny, who was limited to 11.2 innings by a nerve injury after being acquired in the Paul Lo Duca trade. But as a flyball pitcher (0.85 g/f ratio last year), he likely wouldn't have benefitted much from Dodger Stadium, especially in its radically reconfigured state. The rumblings that he could have been unhappy enough to demand a trade next year (as is his right as a player traded in the middle of a multiyear deal) and perhaps opt out of the final two years and $25 million of his contract (his right if the demand was not fulfilled) were enough to make him too hot for the Dodgers to handle.
Meanwhile, keeping Brazoban is a nice little victory, though the sidearming, groundball-inducing Koplove would have had his uses for L.A. Navarro is clearly the lesser of the two prospects from the Yanks' chain. He's closer to major-league ready than Duncan, and the Dodgers do have a hole at catcher that you could drive a truck through if you don't mind running over a pair of guys who couldn't even make it across the Mendoza Line last year (and you shouldn't). But I see a lot more Einar Diaz (who's about his size) than Victor Martinez (one of his 2005 PECOTA comparables, I'm told, on a .249/.307/.371 projection) in Navarro, and that's not a compliment. But he's got youth in his favor, and he's still a significantly better prospect than either of the other two catchers the Snakes might substitute in the deal.
In the rotation, keeping Ishii is a necessary step when your five-man rotation is otherwise Penny, Jeff Weaver, prospect Edwin Jackson, and swingmen Wilson Alvarez (fragile lefty) and Elmer Dessens (nondescript righty named Elmer, for crying out loud). Shedding Green's salary is a plus for the Dodgers if they spend the money on pitching (Derek Lowe, a groundballer with a strong postseason resume but a whopping 5.42 ERA last regular season, is their reputed target) and can put some faith in the relatively economical and still-promising Hee Seop Choi at first base. Otherwise, they're just jettisoning one of their more productive (if expensive) hitters and another significant chunk of change in favor of a couple of prospects whose value has been significantly inflated by a grand tradition of pinstriped puffery.
So it's not at all clear that either the Dodgers or the Yankees have improved their lot over the deal which fell through nearly two weeks ago. The Yanks get a difference-maker in Johnson, but they've yet again put their eggs in the basket of a very old hen (Roger Clemens, David Wells, Kevin Brown...). They get to keep their prize in Duncan, but at the cost of eating a lot more of Vazquez's contract. The Dodgers eliminate some risk in their rotation, but still leave it looking nothing like that of a playoff contender, and the Navarro/Green angle is a salary dump that makes it look as though they, not the Diamondbacks, are the ones already playing for 2006.
But just as the three-team deal required a mountain of paperwork before it could be officially consummated, so do these two deals promise to keep the fax machines busy in New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and wherever Bud's toupιe currently rests. In this never-ending epic saga of perpetual infinity (like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), it's likely we haven't seen the last twist or turn, nor have we read about the last hand being wrung. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile in Yankeeville, the Bronx Bombers have lived up to their recidivist ways by re-signing Tino Martinez to a one-year, $3 million deal. The 37-year-old first baseman, who played for five pennant-winning Yankees teams from 1996-2001, always left me considerably more lukewarm than the dyed-in-the-wool Yankees fans thanks to his incredible shrinking OPS. But he enjoyed a reasonably productive season in Tropicana oblivion (.262/.362/.461, good for a .280 EQA, his highest since 1998), he's still good with the leather (six runs above average per 100 games, according to BP), and he gets the decaying corpses of Tony Clark and John Olerud off of the Bronx doorstep, so things could be worse, unless Jason Giambi replicates his 2004 form. In which case it will be one uncomfy and expensive summer in Yankee Stadium, and all the veteran herbs and spices which Tino brings to the Yankee clubhouse will be a poor substitute for his limitations.
On a more positive and personal note, I'd like to thank everyone who made 2004 such a great year for me, both at this venue and at Baseball Prospectus, where every passing month finds another couple of my toes wedged in the door ("You want a toe? I can get you a toe..."). I'm not going to do the roll-call like I've done in prior years, but suffice it to say that I know who you are even if you don't, and I won't forget that as we continue on this journey.
As I round the corner and head towards the fourth anniversary of my starting this site, it's been a great ride, one that's taken me to some wonderfully unexpected places, and the new year promises to be every bit as rewarding and exciting. Much of that excitement -- opportunities to write in other venues, not to mention my impending nuptials (not until May) and travels -- may keep me from writing here as much as I'd like to, but one way or another, I'll be around, and I hope you'll stick around as well. Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy 2005.