On Thursday night I got together with Bronx Banter's Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran and SI.com's Jake Luft for some burgers and balltalk. It was typically rambunctious, with the four of us barely restraining ourselves from talking over each other like sugared-up six-year-olds as we discussed Bernie Williams, fantasy baseball, Ronnie Lott (how'd he get in there?), Steve Rushin, Tropicana Field, spring training and the Hall of Fame. If only I could remember what I was supposed to check out on YouTube...
Cliff, who edited Baseball Prospectus 2007 for Plume (a division of Penguin), showed up carrying his hot-off-the-press copy of the book, promising mine would arrive Friday, albeit with slighly less ketchup on the cover. It did, and aside from a couple of surprise commas -- them's the breaks when you play subordinate-clause chicken as often as I do -- I couldn't be happier. My contributions to the book were the Dodgers and Red Sox chapters, as well as a back-of-book collaboration with Will Carroll on the effects of the amphetamine ban.
The book is 48 pages longer than last year, weighing in at 602 in all (biggest BP ever, I'm told), and the switch in publishers from Workman to Plume looks like the difference between Scranton and New York City. Hats off to BP editors Steven Goldman and Christina Kahrl, as well as Cliff, for a job well done. We at BP like to say that we write the baseball book that we'd want to read. Here's hoping you readers come along for the ride and enjoy the advances we've made.
On the promotional front here in NYC, the March 22 Columbia University time and location have been changed:
March 22, 6 PM Columbia University Lerner Hall 2920 Broadway (@ 114th Street) New York, NY
The changes inadvertently accomodate my previous commitments (Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price getting their Western Schwing on at Radio City) and thus shift me from tentative to probable, with a 60 percent likelihood of watermelon smashing. Consider yourselves warned.
"Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star. You know, Poz."
"Why would I care what's going on in Kansas City?"
The conversation ground to an abrupt halt. There was no sense in pressing the issue with my provincial acquaintance; it was like showing a pig a wristwatch. We simply consume baseball differently; he's a rabid fan of the hometown nine, and I'm someone who likes to -- needs to, given my writing responsibilities at Baseball Prospectus and Fantasy Baseball Index -- be conversant about every team. Fair enough. I like knowing what's going in Milwaukee, Miami, Pittsburgh, or Kansas City, not just because they're exotic non-New York City locales but because just as there are players worth watching on other teams, there are writers worth reading all over the country, and they don't write about the Alex Rodriguez v. The World soap opera twice a week.
Posnanski's one of them. He's had to endure some pretty dark days covering the Royals, yet he always seems to strike the right note, never strident, neither too suicidally pessimistic nor too insanely optimistic about the home team's situation. And his street cred, as far as I'm concerned, is impeccable. He's a SABR member, friends with Bill James and Rob and Rany, hip to Baseball Prospectus, he's interviewed with Rich Lederer, he actually gets to vote for Bert Blyleven, Alan Trammell and Rich Gossage in the Hall of Fame balloting, and he counts the futile Duane Kuiper -- one home run in 3,379 career at bats -- as his all-time favorite player. With stats like that, the dude can pound Budweiser at my table anytime.
Posnanski's got a new book on the way out called The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neill's America, and alongside a more traditional book home page, he's rolled out a blog that's been pretty entertaining thus far. Here he reflects on the cast of zombies that make up the Royals' five previous Opening Day starters; they combined to go 31-58 with a 5.68 ERA, while opposing hitters wailed the tar out of them at a .291/.354/.500 clip. Here he writes at length about the Royals' infamous Gil Meche signing and a possible rationale behind it, one that doesn't involve photos of executives with dead hookers. Here he offers a rather surprising and contrary take on Barry Bonds, even while admitting that Bonds has painted himself into a corner. Here he writes about James' seeing the light on Blyleven (believe it or not, this took until recently).
Even if you don't agree with every position he takes (and I don't), it's good stuff, several cuts above what many of his ink-stained colleagues are offering up elsewhere. The world of mainstream baseball writing needs more Joe Posnanskis; failing that, at least we've got more Poz.
Because damn it, somebody cares: my BP colleague Dan Fox notes a change pertaining to the crediting of Defensive Indifference among the latest batch of rule changes. Dan reports that DI is apparently enjoying a renaissance, with about five percent of all stolen base attempts being scored as such. The rules changes might even up that rate, given that they allow official scorers more latitude to award these little jewels.
Such information completes me, and since it's clear that Defensive Indifference is finally the hip topic among baseball cognoscenti, I've decided to start caring. Vive l'indifference!
Yankee fans will be delighted to see Philip Hughes ranked #2, just behind Kansas City's Alex Gordon. He's one of five righthanded pitchers the Bombers placed in the Top 100 or among the honorable mentions; the others are Joba Chamberlain (56), Humberto Sanchez (65), Dellin Betances (92), and Tyler Clippard (HM). The team's only positional prospect, outfielder Jose Tabata, ranked 22nd. Overall, the Yanks rank fourth out of the 30 teams, an excellent turnaround from what was a rather dire state of affairs a few years ago.
Meanwhile the Dodgers placed four prospects: lefty pitcher Clayton Kershaw (16), third baseman Andy LaRoche (20), lefty Scott Elbert (32), and first baseman James Loney (54). That may seem like a relatively small group, but remember that the Dodgers graduated many of their top prospects to the majors last year: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, Jonathan Broxton, Chad Billingsley... Overall, the Dodgers rank fifth by Goldstein's methodology, with a monster list of under-25 talent.
The Devil Rays placed the most prospects on the list, with seven, from #3 Delmon Young to #100 Elijah Dukes, with a lot less attitude in between those two. On the other side of the coin, the Nationals placed just one prospect on the list -- Mumbly Joe Somethingorother -- at #93 to boot.
Adding Goldstein to the team might rate as BP's best move since the advent of PECOTA. Aside from the high-quality content he produces, he's a fantastic resource behind the scenes, quick with great anecdotes or off-the-record scouting scuttlebutt, and able to dig up hard-to-find stats, whether they're from the New England League circa 1947 or the Dominican Summer League circa 1995. He's certainly helped me through many a pinch, so a tip of the cap to him here.
• Speaking of the Nats, Joe Sheehan gets off some good lines at their expense today in an article about Non-Roster Invitations:
Just this week, the Nats snapped up the last reasonable free agent by inviting Ron Belliard to camp. Belliard becomes the team’s best second-base option, allowing them to keep Felipe Lopez at shortstop and turn Cristian Guzman into a conversation piece for the living room, or lawn furniture, or a slightly uncomfortable beanbag chair.
Alas, the more likely scenario is that Guzman keeps his job—the contract must play, you know—and Belliard gets time platooning with Lopez or pinch-hitting a lot. This scenario, where a team has multiple options and lands on the least-productive one, is common enough to warrant a piece of its own.
The Nats, who right now have two Senate pages and an extra from “D.C. Cab” in the rotation, have invited a whole bunch of pitchers to camp. Of particular note are Brandon Claussen, who isn’t that far removed from being on the road to what Chris Capuano actually turned into. Claussen had his left shoulder scoped last year, and isn’t likely to make an impact before the second half. Remember the name, though.
As if Yankee fans could ever forget Claussen...
• Mussina versus Pavano. A-Rod versus Jeter. Bernie versus Father Time. Mariano versus Cashman. Sheffield versus Torre. Good Lord, I'm already sick to death of every single Yankee storyline coming out of Tampa, but then I'm an idiot for paying too close attention in the first place. As my friend Nick says, "Reading spring training clubhouse articles by beat writers is like making a dinner out of Cheetos and broken glass." Not healthy at all.
All of which serves to highlight the wisdom of Earl Weaver, as passed on today by Alex Belth at Bronx Banter. Weaver used springtime to get his cliches into shape; "The hitters are ahead of the pitchers," "The Second-Time-Out Theory," and "The Lee May Syndrome" are all classics worth rehearsing while ignoring the faux-controversy rites of spring.
Oh, and speaking of Weaver, here's video of one of his great tirades. Most definitely not safe for work, just as it should be.
• With the Dodgers slated to move their spring training facilities to Glendale, Arizona in 2009, Dodgertown's days are numbered. Having been to Vero Beach in 1989 and again in 2003, I have some fond memories of the place, and I'm not the only one. Over at Dodger Thoughts, reader Eric Tenbus shares some wonderful memories of spring training in Vero. Tenbus got to serve as a batboy during the '78 spring training, which sounds like my idea of heaven:
I was allowed to leave school early for those games in March 1978 so I could play catch with Steve Garvey, practice pitching to Yeager, and laugh at Dusty Baker's jokes. I also had to work, running out to the plate to retreive Reggie Smith's bat, and wipe off the plate with a rag because Billy Martin had complained to the umpires that the plate was too dirty for his pitchers. I remember that March Yankees game, only five months removed from Reggie's three-HR game that crushed the Dodgers' World Series hopes in 1977, with Martin bitching about the overflow of people sitting on the outfield "wall," which as you know was a hill, replete with royal palm trees (this was before the fence was put into place) and how this would affect ground-rule doubles. I also remember Tommy swearing loudly about Martin's grandstanding. I took seriously my responsibility to bring Davey Lopes bubble gum for each game after he confided to me that his numbers would be much higher if I was his supplier. I was damn sure not going to let his OBP suffer due to my sixth-grade negligence.
As he got older, Tenbus worked in the publicity office during spring training and made friends with youngsters Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez. Lucky bastard.
Doesn't look like I'm going to make it to spring training this year, but I may try to get to Vero for one last go-round next spring. And as bummed as I am about the move, I'm certain that I'll give Glendale a shot at some point; if nothing else, it's closer to my dad and my brother, and taking in a few games in the spring sun wouldn't be a bad way to go.
• Gaslamp Ball, a Padres blog, has an excellent three-part interview with former Dodger GM and current Pads special assistant for baseball operations Paul DePodesta: I, II, III. Anybody looking for dirt on his Dodger days will be disappointed; the interview is mainly focused on DePodesta's current role, the Padres' front office's way of doing business, their offseason activities, and the lengths to which one can go to get a leg up at miniature golf. Though the Pads are the Dodgers' top competition in the NL West at the moment, I have a great deal of respect for Kevin Towers, Sandy Alderson and company, and I'm happy to see DePo land on his feet.
• Feels like I wrote this just a few months ago, but lo and behold, another two years have passed. Today it's 12 years since I loaded all of my worldly possessions into a U-Haul and drove from Providence to New York City. Time flies...