Three Things

Quick radio note: in addition to my usual gig on Toledo’s WLQR 1470 AM at 4:10 PM Eastern today, I’ll be this week’s Baseball Prospectus representative on Boston’s WWZN 1510 on “The Young Guns Show” at 3:05 PM Eastern. The Toledo gig doesn’t have a means of listening via Internet (hey Norm, get on it!) but the Boston one does, so check it out.

• • •

Mike Piazza retired on Tuesday, ending a stellar 16-year career which saw him make the All-Star team 12 times and finish with a lifetime .308/.377/.545 line and 427 home runs. A fellow Dodger fan came asking about his Hall of Fame credentials on Tuesday evening, prompting me to put together a quick piece for Baseball Prospectus Unfiltered. The bottom line is that Piazza’s JAWS score inches past the Hall of Fame standard for catchers on the basis of his strong peak, but that’s not the most interesting part of the story:

Bolstering Piazza’s primary JAWS case are his secondary numbers, which confirm the oft-repeated claim that he’s the best-hitting catcher of all time. Piazza’s .311 EqA [Equivalent Average] is the all-time high for the position. No Hall of Fame catcher has an EqA above .300, though there are several in the .295-.299 range and the positional average is a robust .289. The highest EqA for a catcher not in the Hall of Fame is sabermetric hero Gene Tenace at .308 (ayyy Gino!), while the highest active marks coming into 2008 were held by Joe Mauer (.305) and Jorge Posada (.300).

Furthermore, Piazza’s 472 Batting Runs Above Average is light years ahead of the rest of the backstop pack. No Hall of Fame catcher has more than Johnny Bench’s 325 BRAA. Joe Torre, at 396, is the only hitter between Bench and Piazza, and while he played a plurality of his games at catcher (893) and this is classified as such in our system, the majority of his time was actually split between the infield corners (793 at first base, 515 at third). Torre’s got a lifetime .298 EqA as well.

Piazza also holds the record for home runs as a catcher, hitting 396 of his shots while playing that position. His fielding is another story; at -149 runs, he’s the worst-fielding catcher ever, which prevents him from topping the JAWS list at his position. Had he taken the time to learn first base in his later years, he might have had a shot at 500 homers, but as it is, he’s still got enough of the good stuff for the Hall of Fame.

As I discussed in the piece, his final game at Shea, as a member of the Padres, was a night to remember. No matter what uniform he wore, he was always something to behold as a hitter, and he’ll be missed.

• • •

The transcript for yesterday’s BP chat can be found here. The Cubs, about whom I spent a good portion of the day working on a forthcoming piece for the New York Sun, were a popular topic, as were the Dodgers — particularly regarding the news that Andruw Jones has torn cartilage in his right knee — and the Yankees, whose season continues to spiral downward:

scareduck (Still closer to Angel Stadium than Chavez Ravine): Three questions: 1) For my Cubs lovin’ wife, are the Northsiders for real? They’ve done well so far, but what are their big questions down the stretch? 2) Is there any light at the end of the Andruw Jones tunnel, or is that the sound of a diesel locomotive? 3) Joe Torre: great manager, or *greatest* manager? Seriously, look at Friday’s Dodgers lineup: how could he expect to win?

JJ: Cubs: for real. Their run differential is the best in all of baseball by a wide margin, and I don’t see any of the other NL Central teams being able to hang with them. I think the big questions are whether Rich Hill rediscovers his control and returns to the rotation, and whether Kerry Wood can hold up as the team’s closer. Barring injuries, I think they’ll be OK, and even with those injuries, they have a bit of depth to either cover from within or make a trade to help themselves out.

Andruw: lots of questions about him today. The upside of his injury is that it may explain some of his struggles, it may force him to get back in shape as he rehabs, and it will give Dodger fans a bit of relief when it comes to the daily drama of the outfield lineup.

Torre: Furcal being hurt certainly takes a bite out of that lineup. But really, Torre’s going to have to get over this Russell Martin-at-3B fetish, even though it’s only been a total of 37 innings he’s played there. It’s fine to give him a breather now and then, but when you’re stealing at-bats from DeWitt or LaRoche to give them to Gary Bennett, something is definitely wrong.

jlebeck66 (WI): Dodgers. DeWitt. LaRoche. How’s this gonna end? Did LaRoche anger a deity or something?

JJ: Sticking with this topic for a moment, I’m as big a LaRoche booster as you’ll find, but DeWitt is knocking the stuffing out of the ball. I don’t expect that to continue unabated, but there’s no sense in sitting him down right now.

From a long-term standpoint, it’s a nice problem to have. I’d hate to see them trade LaRoche, but I don’t think they necessarily have to. I wonder whether the Dodgers would consider revisiting the DeWitt-to-second experiment that they tried in 2006, when the kid was at Vero Beach. With Jeff Kent clearly showing his age and Tony Abreu apparently joining the Federal Witness Protection program, that may be a palatable option.

Joe (Tewksbury, MA): Why do I keep reading about how much trouble the Yankees are in? Hasn’t this been the story for three years running now? Slow start, fast finish. Do you see anything to make you think this year will be different from 2005-2007?

JJ: Yes. Everybody in the lineup, including Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada is a year older, and with the exception of Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano, they’re a year further away from their statistical primes, to say nothing about the fact that Cano looks pretty lost right now. The bench is weak even for a team that’s done poorly in that area in the recent past. Seriously, I’d take Chili Davis, Darryl Strawberry, Luis Sojo and Ron Coomer circa 2008 over some of the stiffs they have lying around.

There’s that, plus a weak pitching staff where the back of the rotation has been a thorough disaster thus far and the bullpen situation is considered so fragile that there’s actually a question about whether they’ll move Joba Chamberlain to a starting role this year. Add to that the fact that the AL East has gotten tougher and I think there’s no longer any guarantee that the Yankees will contend, let alone win the division.

The other thing in play is the new manager. Through the early season debacles of the last few years, Torre was able to absorb the front office’s slings and arrows and still give off a sense of calm confidence that things would eventually turn around. Girardi is protected from the barbs of Hank Steinbrenner at the moment — his focus appears to be on forcing Brian Cashman out — but Little Joe is the kind of guy who seems more likely to go Billy Martin bonkers as things get worse, and I don’t think that’s going to help.

That’s Rob McMillan in the top spot above, operator of the Dodgers- and Angels-themed 6-4-2 blog, which is one of my daily reads, incidentally. Anyway, I had some great chat questions left over, enough that I may repurpose some of them into my next Hit and Run column. Like a good chef, I do my best use the whole part of the beast.

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