Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Mike on Saturday, January 17, 2004

The Anti-Christ

For seven years Roger Clemens has been in exile. He departed following the 1996 season because our great and wise general manager, Dan Duquette, wasn’t about to rest the future of the Red Sox on a pitcher who was, “in the twilight of his career.” Sure, injuries had slowed him down in 1995 but even with the extra wear and tear he remained one of the best pitchers in the A.L. His 10-13 record in 1996 was the fair product of finishing in the top 10 in ERA, strikeouts, IP, WHIP, and complete games. Red Sox fans turned on Clemens once he had departed for Toronto and hatred only grew when he forced a trade to join the Yankees before the 1999 season. For the five years since that trade Roger has enjoyed the position of being the most hated of all the Yankee players. Forget about Captain Intangibles and his overrated ability, Roger Clemens became the anti-Christ for Boston sports fans. Seven years, three Cy Young awards, and two World Series titles later Clemens is entering into what will likely be the last year of his career. Maybe now that he’s left the Yankees we can look back at what we had and admit that we never appreciated him.

With the additions of Clemens and Andy Pettitte behind Roy Oswalt the Astros might have built the best rotation in baseball. On paper they look great but there is one problem that may pop up again as it did last year, they have to rely on Oswalt to stay healthy over the course of a full season, something his mechanics may prevent him from doing. Roy has what is possibly the most violent and self-destructive windup in baseball, on any pitch it seems as if he may all of a sudden tear his arm off at the shoulder and fling it over the catcher to the backstop. He has proven he can pitch as well as any other starter in baseball but with him there is always a higher than normal risk of injury, minor or even career threatening. Still, they have front-to-back depth in the rotation now that they didn’t have the last couple years and that may be the difference that they need to finally put them into the playoffs. Tim Redding and Wade Miller certainly make for a stronger 4-5 slap than did last year’s Ron Villone and Jeriome Robertson. As for Minute Made Park, I’m not convinced the short port in left field will hurt Clemens or Pettitte as much as has been predicted. The opposing pitcher will be stepping into the box against them at the bottom of every lineup as opposed to the DH, this easy out may help mute the park effects of Tropicana.

And another thing...
The Tigers have offered Ivan Rodriguez a 4-year, $40 million contract. Apparently they do not have the sense to show some discretion. The obvious solution is to cut their losses and burn the stadium to the ground as a desperate but understandable scheme to collect insurance money. I’m sure Ivan would produce stellar numbers if the Tigers moved the outfield fences in 30 feet all around but as that isn’t likely it looks like they’re wasting their money. Cheers to losing another 100+ games.

And one last thing...
Looks like Trot Nixon will soon be signing a 3 year, $20 million extention with the Red Sox. Sounds like a reasonable cost and length so he's to Theo Epstien. A successful offseason looks like it will be capped by the promise of some stabilty after 2004.

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Posted by Jon on Friday, January 16, 2004

AL East: A Roll of the Dice?

Today I’m sort of extending my last analysis of the Orioles to the big boppers of the AL East. Seeing that our Yankee fan has graced the pages of Talking Baseball, now seems like an appropriate time to examine the age-old question that begins every baseball season in Boston. The question engrosses us Sox fans for months, from the day pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training to late September and (last year) into October:

Are the Red Sox better than the Yankees?

New York has finished in first place for six straight seasons. That is a long time. And after last season’s heartbreaking loss in that fantastic ALCS, I was a wreck, wondering what kind of a miracle it would take to push the Sox past those damn Yanks and into first place.

Boston fans’ greatest hope for 2004 lies in last season’s performance, in which the Red Sox came within – well, let’s not get into that… Aside from that Little debacle, last season was enjoyable, exciting, and positive, for the first time in a while providing Boston with optimism for the future. My optimism hit its peak when I examined the 2003 regular season Adjusted Standings, which provide support for the hypothesis that Boston fronted a better regular season team than the Yankees and that the Red Sox were one of the most unlucky teams in baseball. After adjusting for the opponents’ hitting and pitching, the Red Sox actually come out ahead of the Yankees. That is, eliminating luck for all teams, Boston is the division winner (and best team in baseball), with the Yankees as the AL wild card contender. The average team with Boston's production at the plate and their runs allowed would have won seven more games. The final standings would have looked something like this:

New York……100……62

Yes, this difference is minimal and the Yankees came out ahead in the real standings. But with a new manager and a better relief core, the Sox could turn their luck around. (It would not be surprising to me if Grady Little was fired due to this disparity, which indicates that for whatever reason, Boston underperformed in 2003.) My intention in bringing up these Adjusted Standings is not to prove that Boston was the better team or vice versa, but instead to point out how evenly these teams matched up last season.

Both teams made significant off-season personnel moves, with the Yankees' starting pitching experiencing the most turn-around. New Yorkers were heard griping about Pettitte jumping ship and the Rocket’s reentry onto the baseball diamond, but they should be happy. The Yankees’ revamped starting rotation appears to be just as good, if not better, than the 2003 rotation. With the loss of Clemens and Pettitte, and the additions of Brown and Vazquez, the Yankees actually gain 11 Win Shares. The only real dropoff may come from the loss of David Wells, who is being replaced by a guy who had trouble starting last season, and a guy who hasn’t pitched since the 2002 season. My guess is that one of these guys puts up decent numbers, but the Yankees would have preferred having only one of them starting come Spring Training.

Boston’s rotation received a strong boost from the addition of Curt Schilling. Conservatively, he should boost Boston’s rotation about 15 win shares, but he could account for up to 20. Kim replacing Burkett as the team’s fifth starter should also help, but we’ll consider that a wash. Both teams enter the season with powerful starting pitching from one to five, and injuries will likely determine which rotation comes out on top.

Both teams’ greatest flaws during the regular season were relief pitching, so it’s no surprise that they both made major acquisitions for the pen. The Yankees added Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon, a combined 22 win shares last season, the Red Sox countering those moves with the addition of Keith Foulke’s 21 win shares, who should put up fairly consistent numbers next season. And if Scott Williamson doesn’t get traded and performs as he did in the playoffs, the Red Sox bullpen could be their most improved component. But according to additions and subtractions, the Sox and Yanks are pretty even in the pitching department, with a nearly equivalent number of win shares and talent joining each team’s pitching staff, depending on Schilling’s performance.

The real changes in these teams will be in their offensive productions. While Boston lost one bat and 15 win shares in Todd Walker, they should also be anticipating drop-offs in production from four remaining bats after breakout seasons. They have yet to add much hitting, and instead opted to fill their second base hole with a Gold Glove fielder with a plastic bat. (They made an interesting acquisition in Bellhorn, who I think has a real shot of becoming a regular at second base.) Some guys, like Garciaparra and Ramirez, could have better seasons and offset the loss of production expected out of Mueller, Ortiz, Nixon, and Varitek, but ultimately Boston’s offense should suffer. The Yankees substantially upgraded their offense by adding Gary Sheffield and Kenny Lofton. While losing Nick Johnson may hurt the numbers Giambi, who's coming off of surgery, puts up by increasing his games played at first base (unless Torre wants to introduce a regular lineup that includes Tony Clark, in the midst of his wirlwind tour of North-Eastern ballclubs), Sheffield and Lofton should add substantial run production for New York.

Considering the Sox were only a slightly better team (if that) last season, they will need their luck to change to pass the Yankees in the actual standings. Whereas each team is virtually matched in high-profile pitching acquisitions, the Yankees’ offense should be more productive than last season, and the Red Sox should expect their run production to wane at least slightly. So this season, although the Red Sox may seem as close as ever and New York faces the probability of more injuries to aging stars, we again should consider the Yankees the team to beat in the AL East and in the majors.

This summer we should see another battle for the AL East, but anything can happen, and last year’s success should provide hope enough for Red Sox Nation in 2004.

But let’s talk the future of the Beasts in the AL East. What will happen after 2004? Dave showed us that the Yankees may be constricted over the next few years, unable to sign big-name free-agents because most of their large contracts are back-loaded. Ah, the perfect time for the Red Sox to strike! Unfortunately, as we know, Boston faces the loss of multiple stars to free-agency after next season. So how will Theo Epstein compete with the Yankees in 2005 and beyond after many key Red Sox become free agents (Varitek, Lowe, Pedro, Nomar)? Maybe he’s beginning a move to further deplete Steinbrenner’s farm system. Take a look at some recent moves:

December 15, 2003: Boston takes Colter Bean, RHP, in the Rule 5 draft, from the Yankees.
January 8, 2003: Boston claims catcher Michael Hernandez off of waivers from the Yankees.

Coincidence? Probably. Interesting? Very. Coming off of Varitek's career year, do the Red Sox really need twelve and a half percent of their 40-man roster to be comprised of catchers, or is Epstein purposefully snatching up promising Yankee minor leaguers? I wouldn't put it past him. (With this glut of catchers, Theo is no doubt not anticipating re-signing Varitek after 2004.)

So next season, when Colter Bean takes the jog from the pen to the mound (even if he pitches like Jose Canseco in 1993, Lucchino would never pay the Yankees to send him back to New York), don't forget to cross your fingers. A little help from Lady Luck could mean the division in 2004.

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Posted by Dave on Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Ricciardi? Shrewder Than Morgan!

Every year, general managers enter the off-season with the design to improve their team; in the short-run, ideally, but also in the long-run as well. A bit too infrequently, however, teams undertake this endeavor with a misguided approach. There are many examples: What are the Mets thinking, circa the last 3 years, signing sluggers when Shea Stadium is built for pitching and defense? What are the Mariners doing when they already have an adequate and younger shortstop in Carlos Guillen only to trade him away for the more expensive, older, and ultimately worse option in Rich Aurilia? What're the Orioles doing tying up most of their payroll in a few great stars when what they really need is a pitching improvement?

Not always do GMs behave so rationally when dealing with the problems that exist with their respective teams. That's why it's so refreshing, to me, when people like JP Ricciardi succeed in the big-time. JP (believe me, I tried, but I could not, for the life of me, find what it was short for) Ricciardi was one of Billy Beane's right-hand men in Oakland and he came highly endorsed to the Blue Jays. Once he landed the job, he got right to business, doing what all GMs (short of those that own money trees (Theo Epstein, Dan Evans, and Brian Cashman (Does anyone else find his last name horrifically ironic?))) should do - pare off unrealized payroll. "Unrealized payroll" is payroll that is not being maximized because it's being paid to players that are not producing to the point where it legitimizes their payroll. Ideally, the name of the game is to own players that have a high wins-to-salary ratio - this means you have the cost-effective players and it generally will mean that you have a good team for not very much money (a must for the Torontoes (you say Torohnto, I say Torahnto) and Oaklands of the world). Thus, it is necessary for most teams in a rebuilding process to rid themselves of unrealized payroll so that they may pursue more cost-effective alternatives.

What did that mean for JP? It nearly meant trading Carlos Delgado. The runner-up for MVP is making in the neighborhood of 19 million/year, and, beyond that, is the franchise player for the Blue Jays. Believe it or not, Delgado, even with his performance last year, still probably isn't legitimizing his gargantuan contract - but at least he's close. JP could foresee that, not only was trading Delgado difficult due to his price-tag, he had a distinctly higher ceiling than two other largely unrealized contracts: Raul Mondesi and Shannon Stewart. These two corner outfielders were swept up in the boom of the economy and both signed above market-value contracts by today's standards. Toronto, like the rest of MLB, paid too much for players in an economy (American Economy and Baseball Economy) that was sure to decline. So, JP spun Mondesi off to the Yankees and spun Stewart off to the Twins (eventually). Those were nice moves, but pre-dating those moves was the purge of Billy Koch in favor of Eric Hinske. Hinske, though he struggled last year with injuries, won the Rookie Of The Year award in his first year of service - another calculated and extremely shrewd move by JP. They needed a third baseman and Eric Hinske (who was expendable to the A's because of a decent player, Eric Chavez) was the perfect match (for now, and the future).

But JP continued to build. Realizing the quality of players he had in Hinske and Vernon Wells (this is prior to last season) he signed them to long-term deals:
Vernon Wells - 5 years/$14.7M
2003: $0.35M (+$0.85M signing bonus)
2004: $0.7M
2005: $2.9M
2006: $4.3M
2007: $5.6M
Eric Hinske - 5 years/$14.75M
2003: $0.5M (+$0.5M signing bonus)
2004: $0.8M
2005: $3.0M
2006: $4.325M
2007: $5.625M
JP emulated the success of the early 90s Indians (With the core of Belle, Sandy Alomar, and Kenny Lofton) and the late 90s-now A's (The Big Three of Zito, Mulder, and Hudson) by avoiding arbitration in the future with his burgeoning stars and by insuring that they would stick around for at least another 5 good years of service. Though Hinske got hurt (only bad luck could deny JP glory) and contributed very little (he likely would have built on his success from his ROY campaign), Wells became an arguably more valuable player than Delgado last year by posting incredible numbers with his bat (see my last entry (January 9th) on him and more predominantly, Aubrey Huff, for more on that) and by patrolling center-field like a hawk - being only rivaled by Hunter, Edmonds, and Erstad for being best with the glove. In addition to Hinske and Wells, however, the rest of the Blue Jays (many of which found themselves in Toronto as a result of JP) briefly flirted with the likes of the Red Sox and Yankees for AL East Pennant contention. Unfortunately however (for them, not for me; it was one less team to lose sleep over, the Red Sox still had to beat out the Yanks, A's and Mariners) started to fizzle out a bit before the All-Star break, due to a lack of pitching.

This brings us (with many minor and a few major omissions, I'm sure) squarely to the present - or the near past, anyways. Following the 2003 regular season, the Blue Jays had one glaring weakness: Pitching. They were scoring the 2nd most runs in baseball, but, god help them if it meant holding down a lead. I'm not just referring to their starting pitching, either - they really like a completely bipolar team up in Toronto, it seems. Both their bullpen and rotation may as well have been trash heap - save Roy Halladay and possibly Alquilino Lopez. But credit JP, he knew his glaring weakness, and he ventured to fill it. Although the Blue Jays would prefer to improve their team via internal methods (their farm system), they're strong in the wrong half of baseball (positional players) for filling their pitching needs. So JP hit the market, and was forced to scavenge for some bargains this off-season. First, he signed Hentgen for the paltry price of 2.2 million. Why is this price paltry? Surely last year's stats for Hentgen were mostly aberrant. This may be so, but he sure pitched well. 4.09 ERA in the most difficult division in MLB and he had a 2-to-1 K to BB ratio. Pretty solid. He even had a save!. Who can deny a potential closer like Pat Hentgen a lucrative offer sheet? Joking aside, this is a respectable gamble for a former *cough* Cy Young *vomit* Winner.

Mother of God, I'm tired. It's nearly three here, and I have class in 6.5 hours. I still have to sleep. I'm not a huge fan of Ted Lilly; anyone can look good in The Coliseum (even Barry Zito, last year (ouch)) if they pitch decently, but he can soft-toss his way to a decent ERA if he keeps the walks down, which is quite possible. In dealing away Kielty, they traded away a player who is rapidly losing the lusterous tag of "prospect" and gaining a player that is realizing some of his promise in Lilly. JP, you're the man.

But the move that got me most excited was their signing of Miguel Batista. This guy is so underrated, it's ridiculous. Arizona has misused him for years, doubting his ability as a starting pitcher. One wonders why when viewing his stats over the past three seasons:
2001 3.36 60 90 139.1
2002 4.29 70 112 184.2
2003 3.54 60 142 193.1
Batista was undervalued, however, because his record over the course of those three seasons was a combined 29-26, hardly the hallmark of a great pitcher. His ERA exhibits that he was effective, however. And it seems as though he is improving with a decrease in BB/9 and an increase in K/9 in each of the past two seasons. Though Batista is rapidly exiting his prime, his shelf-life will, at the very least, justify that three-year contract.

So, JP has drastically improved his starting pitching. What about the bullpen?! Aside from Ligtenberg, there hasn't been a significant move. That's okay though. If the Blue Jay Offense is setting off firecrackers again and if their pitching is capable of not allowing just firecrackers but also the occasional nuclear bomb, they could be in contention again this coming season. If that happens, I fully expect JP to deal for some relief pitching. Lopez and Ligtenberg won't cut it. Although this could happen, it probably won't. The Red Sox and Yankees have improved so dramatically that it seems inconceivable that the Blue Jays would even threaten. But, both teams are in financial dire straits following this season. The Blue Jays, with their solid base and JP at the helm, could maneuver for a future playoff run. Any playoff team can win it all - look no further than Florida to infer that fact. If JP only had the payroll of the Mets or Dodgers, I could guarantee a World Series Ring in his future. But, alas, he is relegated to forging small miracles instead with his dramatically smaller payroll - his miracles may even surpass his predecessor's, Beane, someday.

I may add, also, that I've changed the banner at the top of the website. Ben, our resident Yankee fan, is rightfully angry about the former banner of "Three Red Sox Fans Share Their Wisdom. One Yankee Fan Shares His, uh, Wisdom." I did this mostly as a joke, but it's not respectful. His previous entry highlights a bright future for this blog and his vision will help guide us down the road. Talking baseballs (like, images of them) are soon to come up top.

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Posted by Ben K. on Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Words of uh, wisdom from the Yankee fan

So this blog—or our little project, as I like to think of it—has started to take off. Wait, you might say, aren't there supposed to be four people here and not just three overly biased and bitter Red Sox fans? Yes indeed there are, and today, after a busy vacation that took me to San Francisco, Phoenix, Disneyland, and back, it's finally time for me, the one Yankee fan, to share my “um, wisdom.” And let me tell you, despite what many may consider to be a misguided fan allegiance to the Bronx Bombers, I have plenty of wisdom to share and very little love for our ridiculous leader King George, but more on him later.

For my first entry, I would like to discuss what I see as the role of a person commentating and writing about baseball. Baseball analysis these days has seemingly become fairly polarized. With the development of Bill James' Win Share ideas and the emphasis that Baseball Prospectus and numerous young GMs have put on statisticals, more and more writers are focusing on the statistics of the sport. Numbers are great for predicting the nastiness that will come out of the Anaheim outfield next season, but numbers never tell the whole story in baseball. Numbers don't show who made the incredible diving catch to save three runs with the game on the line in the bottom of the 8th; numbers don't really show which teams executed the hit and run at the most opportune moments; numbers don't even begin to show how well Josh Beckett pitched during game 6 of the World Series on baseball's greatest stage. Numbers also can't begin to express how stupid Tim McCraver is. Actually, nothing anywhere can begin to express my hatred for Tim McCarver. And as an aside, I was incredibly shock and disappointed to find Joe Buck announcing NFL Postseason games. I don't get what FOX sees in those guys, but that's for a post during the season.

Back to writing about baseball. Truly great baseball writers tell a story and weave the statistics into their writing. We can expound on the statistical virtues of Pete Rose's playing career, but do the stats tell about his negative effect on the game? Maybe we can use dollar signs and booking fees for that, but those are statistics you won't next to Pete Rose's Win Shares or Adjusted Batting Average. Writers at the peak of their field, such as ESPN's MLB columnists Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, and Rob Neyer, seamlessly meld statistics into storytelling. One day, you can read about how bad Bud Selig is, and the next day Gammons will write an ode to Bill James' ongoing statistical evolutions. I mention these three because of their national promince. Across the country, in daily newspapers and weekly magazines, many baseball writers have achieved this balance, and as I glance at the bookcase in my room, I see a book I've only begun to read called Baseball: A Literary Anthology. This book features some of the best baseball writing in the country, and before I forget, it features some of the most poetic sports prose ever writing. In particular, I think of the words of Roger Angell, a New Yorker writing and baseball poet.

In my mind, no other sports writing, whether it be Kinsella's fiction or Angell's analyses, comes close to the art form that has sprun out of America's Pastime. So now that I've waxed poetic on the art of baseball writing, where does that leave the four of us as we attempt to make our voices heard in the online world of baseball blogs? A look down the list at Aaron Gleeman's site shows that we're hardly alone in the world of baseball fans opining on the Internet. I think I can safetly speak for Dave, Mike, and Jon, and say that we're going to write and develop our style in a way reminicent of the best baseball writers. Now, you might say, isn't that just rhetoric? What writer doesn't try to improve over time? But as you, dear reader, return to read our blog over the coming months and (hopefully) years, you'll learn a little about the four of us, and you'll discover our unique perspective on the baseball world. But you'll also see that unlike most of the blogs out there, we won't throw the same opinion at you day after day. Instead, you'll see different takes on the same thing and different takes on different topics. Hopefully, when hot-button issues arise, the four of us will coordinate enough to develop a Writer's Bloc type debate (see ESPN's Page 2 to see what I'm talking about).

So that's my little introduction from me to everyone out there, finally. I will indeed be joining the regular rotation now that I've settled back in to something resembling a routine. Now on to a mini-post for now about Roger Clemens' signing with the Astros...

Last year was supposed to Clemens' fairwell year. He won his 300th game; he got his 4000th strike out; in fact, he even struck out the last batter he faced in the World Series, no less. With the picture-perfect ending to a Hall of Fame career, Roger Clemens retired. That was in October; now in January, Roger has unretired. He'll pitch for the Astros, mainly at home, for the tune of $5 million a year. Apparently, it was his good friend Andy Pettitte who convinced him to unretire. That, and the Power of Living.

At the end of the season, the Yankees though the Rocket was intent on retiring. They gave him a gas-guzzling H2 Hummer and didn't even offer him salary arbitration so that they could possibly pursue him in the off season. They traded in the money Clemens earned last year along with headcase Jeff Weaver for a slightly younger and more injury prone Kevin Brown. So all is good, right?

Wrong. Clemens decides to come out of retirement, basically showing how little class he truly has. He says he wants to go in the Hall as a Yankee because he won a Cy Young when he didn't deserve and finally got those elusive World Series rings, a few of them in fact. So much for loyalty.

George Steinbrenner had this to say, "Roger Clemens was a great warrior for the Yankees - a teacher and a leader. He told the world he was retiring and we had no choice but to believe him." Basically, that's George's way of flipping off Clemens, and everyone knows it. George's words in fact show a level of sophisticated humor that Steinbrenner rarely exhibits.

Now, in this case, I have no respect for Clemens. When he steps up to bat in the NL and pitchers start throwing at him, above him, under him, and behind him, he'll deserve it. He had no loyalty to Boston (who didn't have any loyalty to him), and he is one of the most self-centered players around. But George and his baseball team don't get off free. They shouldn't have been so naïve. They should have offered Clemens arbitration in the off chance that he wasn't going to stay retired. They could have at least tried to out-bid the Astros, and if they failed to lure Roger, so be it. But they were played, and badly.

Maybe later on, I'll write about how the Astros still won't win the NL, but for now, enjoy Talking Baseball.

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Posted by Mike on Monday, January 12, 2004

Vlad the Impaler

It’s interesting to see the Angels quickly becoming a team that actually deserves a World Series title. With the addition of Vladimir Guerrero they have built an outfield that will rival any other in baseball. Guerrero, Garret Anderson, and Tim Salmon surely are as good as any combination who the Red Sox, Yankees, or Cardinals will field every night. But as nice as his acquisition is there are still two big questions about Guerrero that remain, his health and his reputation as being a free swinging bad-ball hitter. If Guerrero were truly the free swinging bad-ball hitting monster that he’s often portrayed as then surely his OBP would suffer, but this is clearly not the case.


This guy gets on base at a pretty decent rate but it isn’t so much because of discipline at the plate but rather a combination of a high batting average and a sizeable share of intentional walks. Some of those walks may disappear because he will have Garrett Anderson hitting behind him rather than Brad Wilkerson. No disrespect to Brad because he’s a fine player with a bright future but if you were a major league pitcher then who would rather pitch to should you walk Vladimir, Wilkerson or Anderson? I would throw to Anderson (remember the announcers raving about his godliness during the All-Star game?) but that’s just me.

Quick Quiz: Which player has walked more in the last three years combined, Brad Wilkerson or Garrett Anderson? Hint: 2002 was Brad’s first full season in the majors.
Answer: Wilkerson had more BB last year (89) than Anderson has had in the last three years (88). Not bad for $315,000.

BB per year:

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