Friday’s Child: Headshots and Coups de Grâce

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve once again been invited to appear on the Fox 5 Sports Extra with Duke Castiglione. It’s the second time this season I’ve done so; I joined him back in March, where I got to show off the latest copy of the Baseball Prospectus annual. The spot airs Sunday at 10:30 PM on WNYW Fox 5.

Onto this week’s links:

• On Wednesday, I buried the 2010 Tigers as part of a “Dog Days” series at BP and ESPN Insider; they now have a 5-17 record since the All-Star break, which is even worse than the Dodgers’ 7-14 mark:

In many ways, the Tigers’ season ended July 24 when Magglio Ordonez broke his ankle while sliding into home plate in the third inning. A few innings later, Carlos Guillen departed with a severe enough calf strain to hit the disabled list as well, where he joined not only Ordonez but Brandon Inge, who had suffered a fractured metacarpal the previous week. The devastation wrought by this injury stack left the Tigers with a lineup half-full of Triple-A fodder, one which was no-hit by Matt Garza two nights later.

The Tigers did look good early — they spent much of the first half in second place, trailing the Twins, then surpassed Minnesota for a bit. Then, through Sunday, they lost 15 of 19 games, saw their playoff odds plummet, and are presently looking up at the Twins and the White Sox; they’re seven games back in the AL Central.

Can they get back in this thing? All signs point to no.

For starters, Detroit’s schedule is brutal. ESPN ranked the Tigers’ second-half schedule as the fourth-toughest among contenders, noting that the team will have played 30 straight games against teams above .500 by August 19. They’re just 16-21 against the rest of the division, a mere half-game better than the Royals. With six games left against the Twins (versus whom they’re 5-7) and a whopping 14 against the White Sox (versus whom they’re 1-3), any shred of hope in climbing back into contention rests on sweeping a few of those series.

The Tigers have more than $60 million in payroll coming off the books in 2010, $52 million of that in the contracts of Ordoñez, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson; the latter duo aren’t even with the team anymore. They’ll have plenty of money to play with over the winter.

• The NL Hit List examines the aftermath of the trading deadline. Here’s what I had to say about the Padres and the Dodgers:

[#2 Padres] The Chase is On: Chase Headley’s three-run homer—part of a four-hit night—helps the Padres rout the Dodgers and preserve a dwindling NL West lead. Though his overall numbers aren’t much to look at (.278/.336/.398, still good for a .276 TA), Headley has been swinging a particularly hot bat since July 1 (.324/.400/.539). He’ll get some extra offensive help with the Padres’ deadline acquisitions of Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada. The former may rate as the deadline’s biggest steal, not to mention a solid cornerstone in an outfield more suited to mixing and matching; his .289 TAv is higher than every Padre except Adrian Gonzalez and Yorvit Torrealba. The latter, while not the player he used to be, can help cover for Headley at third against lefties (he’s got a horrific .190/.259/.238 reverse platoon split), as well as providing some punch from shortstop, where Everth Cabrera and Jerry Hairston Jr. have “hit” .223/.292/.327.

[#8 Dodgers] Too Lilly, Too Late: Fourteen years after being drafted by them, Ted Lilly tosses seven strong innings in his Dodgers debut, halting his new team’s six-game losing streak. Acquired from the Cubs at the deadline, Lilly’s arrival is too late to save the Dodgers’ season; the team’s fifth starters yielded 20 runs in 20 innings over their previous five starts as their Playoff Odds plummeted into the single digits, and they’re now around 6 percent. Meanwhile, there are signs — boy, are there signs — that the Dodgers could shift into selling mode regarding Manny Ramirez; multiple teams have inquired, but he can’t be waived while on the disabled list, and his rehab has suffered a setback.

The news just gets worse for the Dodgers, as Russell Martin is done for the year. From today’s Under the Knife:

Russell Martin (torn acetabular labrum, ERD 10/4)
Some injuries are traumatic, while some are insidious. With Martin, it’s pretty clear exactly when and how his hip was injured. In virtually every other case in baseball, the mechanism is a bit different. Martin basically had his hip stuffed back into the fossa, the cup where the head of the femur connects to the pelvis. Because of this and his position, it’s harder to compare this injury and the treatment to similar cases like Chase Utley and Alex Rodriguez. There are just no really good comparables here. There are going to be some that take a look at Martin’s declining steals and workload and say that this did have some insidious nature. There’s simply no way for us on the outside to know that and unless Stan Conte or Martin decide to share, we’re left with what we do know. As a former Super-Two player, Martin is headed back to arbitration this year (or signing out of it, as he’s done twice), but this complicates things. If Martin needs the FAIL surgery, he could be playing winter ball in time to get a good look at him prior to an arbitration hearing. While he’s done for this season and there are no good comps, it’s unlikely that Martin is done, period. The idea that Martin is a non-tender is a non-starter too; the Dodgers have nobody close in the minors after trading Lucas May to the Royals in the Scott Podsednik trade last week. In the meantime, the Dodgers will have to hope that Brad Ausmus is smart enough to handle this team for a couple months.

Martin’s been quite a disappointment over the past couple of years, but it’s worth pointing out that even with his loss of power, his .261 True Average is five points above the major league average for a catcher, and that for all the criticism of his defense, he’s scored in the black according to BP’s Fielding Runs Above Average in each of his five seasons, averaging +10 runs per 100 games. He won’t be easily replaced, either this season or down the road.

• The AL Hit List has plenty of post-deadline stuff, as well as a delicious opportunity to take a few shots at some of the game’s most annoying writers in the context of the week’s events:

[#1 Yankes] The Waiting is the Hardest Part: After 51 plate appearances without a home run — tied for his second-longest streak of the year — Alex Rodriguez finally hits his 600th; despite the delay, he’s still the youngest player to reach the milestone. The celebration is dampened by the number of players who have preceded him to the mark in recent years, by his awkward public persona and his own admission of steroid usage, and by the hypocrisy of so-called journalists who celebrated the post-strike home run binge while looking the other way at such activity but are now content to moralize. In any event, the well-timed homer helps the reloaded Yanks — Lance Berkman, Kerry Wood, Austin Kearns and more cash? — snap a three-game losing streak that briefly bumps them out of first place for the first time since June 12.

[#3 Red Sox] Man Up? Man Down: The Sox scramble to make up lost ground, but the injuries continue to mount, as does the misplaced machismo. As Jacoby Ellsbury is slammed for the slow speed of his rehab, the bolder Dustin Pedroia is cautioned for overdoing it as he rehabs his broken foot, Mike Cameron is shelved for the year after playing through pain, and Kevin Youkilis is done for the year due to a season-ending thumb injury after playing through his own pain. Losing the latter and his .331 TAv (fourth in the league) might be the coup de grâce given that Mike Lowell’s health inspires no more confidence than his rusty bat (.244 TAv), though he does homer in his return from a six-week absence.

As for the former, anyone who wants to mount their soapbox to discuss how many home runs A-Rod owes to steroids would do well to check out today’s Joe Posnanski column, which distills the work of Eric Walker. It’s a topic I’ve hit upon plenty of times, but it’s nice to see it in the hands of as widely-read a guy as Poz:

The biggest power jump in the steroid era did not happen in the late 1990s as most of us think but actually from 1993 to 1994. There were 4030 home runs hit in 1993 … and the players were on pace to hit almost 4,700 homers in 1994 before the strike crushed the season. That was a huge spike year. You will no doubt remember the individual achievements. Matt Williams was just about on pace that year to break Roger Maris’ home run record when the strike struck, and Ken Griffey Jr. had a shot at the record, and Tony Gwynn was a real threat to hit .400 (just to show it wasn’t all power that year). Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas were both having absurd Jimmie Foxx kinds of years AND (people do forget this), Barry Bonds had 37 home runs in 112 games. He was on pace to hit 53 or so home runs. And this was the SKINNY Bonds (he might, with a stolen base rush, have had a shot at a 50-50 season). Seventeen different players (including a 25-year-old kid named Sammy Sosa) had at least a shot at 40 home runs … the most ever in a season had been eight.

So what happened from 1993 to 1994? Steroids kicking in? It doesn’t seem likely that all of a sudden all these players, all at once, started doing steroids at exactly the same time and their power numbers began to soar all at the same time. It seems much more likely that, yep, once again, something happened to the baseball.

This starts to get to the point here, which is this: We KNOW that adjustments to the baseball — adjustments so slight that baseball can deny they even exist — can create a massive shift in the game. We KNOW that slight alterations to the rules (such as expanding or shrinking the strike zone a touch or raising/lowering the mound) can create a massive shift in the statistics of the game. We KNOW that even minute changes in ballpark dimensions can create massive shifts as well*.

We KNOW these things are true. But we don’t KNOW what steroids do to help players hit home runs. It’s like Jim Mora said: We may THINK we know but really don’t know. For a long time, you will remember, the conventional wisdom was that weight training and steroid use could NOT help you hit home runs — could not give you the necessary hand-eye coordination, the necessary form, the necessary mental approach, the necessary preparation and so on. And then, one day, without any real shift in logic except that a few guys started hitting a lot of home runs, the conventional wisdom shifted wildly to the point where it seemed that steroid use was the MAIN FACTOR in home run hitting.

Word. As for the Sox, all hail the Fragile Equilibrium of Unhappiness. Just a few weeks back, Youkilis was calling out Ellsbury for not being with the team during his rehab, implicitly questioning his toughness. Now he’s apparently been felled by his own bullheaded desire to play through injury (a trend that brings up fond memories of this blog’s first-ever post). Meanwhile, it’s wicked fun to see Peter Gammons taking a shot at former Boston Globe colleague Dan Shaughnessy for the innuendo-laden piece of shit — you’re better off reading the takedown, trust me — the Curly Haired Boyfriend unleashed on the world earlier in the week pertaining to Ellsbury.

Anyway, I’m off to the stadium to night for the first of two games in this Yanks-Sox series, tonight as a fan, Monday as a member of the working press. Hoping the Bronx Bombers can step on the hurtin’ Bostons’ necks…

• • •

A few friendly links:

• Speaking of the Red Sox, BP colleague Marc Normandin and Baseball Analyst‘s Patrick Sullivan have a new Sox-flavored blog, Red Sox Beacon. They’re a pair of quality analysts, so this should be a lot more rational than your average RSN fanboy site.

• Again with the Sox (and the extended BP family), a fine interview of Pedro Martinez by Dayn Perry. Some particularly poignant stuff pertaining to last fall’s World Series:

DP: Although Game 2 of the 2009 World Series wasn’t your last game, I think that’s one of the things people are going to remember about the tail end of your career – a great effort against the Yankees and that smile you cracked while walking off the field. Why were you smiling at that moment?

PM: I was realizing that New York wanted to clap for me, but I was wearing the wrong uniform. They wanted to show me respect, and I knew that, and I loved it. If you understand baseball, the more they boo you, chant your name, the more respect there is.

DP: Have you thought about pitching for the Yankees?

PM: I thought about it a couple of times in my career. I was a Yankee fan growing up, a Reggie Jackson fan. I had a couple of opportunities to pitch for the Yankees, but it never worked out.

DP: You’ve played in Philadelphia, New York and Boston–all intense baseball towns. How do they differ from one another?

PM: In those cities, the fans are warm and into it, and the media is into it. But I think Boston’s the most intense. It’s an aggressive media.

DP: Do you miss Dan Shaughnessy?

PM: No, no, no. That’s the only thing I don’t miss about Boston. I’m pretty sure other players feel that way, too.

Oh, snap!

• Finally, a fine excerpt of Bronx Banterer Emma Span’s 90% of the Game is Half Mental is up on Deadspin. Big fan of the Span here.

• Oh, and early next week, you can expect an exciting announcement about a new venue in which my work will be appearing. Try to get some sleep before then, because I’ll have a hard time doing so myself.

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