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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Jon on Saturday, January 24, 2004

Capping Off a Bad Season

When the most exciting transaction of the day involves Homer Bush, you know it’s been a slow twenty-four hours. I could comment on Halladay’s new contract or Boston’s recent acquisition of Terry Shumpert (why in the world…?), but I thought it might be nice to have some fun playing a little game of “What If?”.

A friend and I were talking basketball this evening, wondering whether the two worst NBA teams, believed to be the Hawks and the Bulls, combined into one could beat the best team in the League, presumed to be a healthy Lakers squad. I’ll spare you the arguments, but it was mutually decided that the Bawks had no chance. So I began to wonder: If the two worst teams in Major League Baseball were combined into one, would this team be better than the best team in baseball? If the worst teams could not combine to beat the best team in the NBA, which enforces a soft salary cap, but a cap nonetheless, then how many of the worst teams would have to be combined in order to field the best team in baseball? How much worse are the worst teams in baseball? Oh yes, friends, this has many real-world implications!

Tonight, I’ll just be examining the two worst teams in baseball. First, I decided to use last year’s final rosters as a basis for this comparison. Next, I came up with the teams for my little study using the 2003 adjusted standings, which tell us that according to adjusted runs scored and adjusted runs allowed per team (adjusted for league-wide comparison), the Red Sox were the best in baseball and the Tigers were by far the worst (no surprises there). The second worst team of 2003, the Reds, performed far worse than their record reports and, eliminating luck, were only seven games better than Detroit (according to these adjusted statistics). So I’ll be comparing a combined team of the 2003 Tigers and Reds to the 2003 Red Sox.

My analysis is far from perfect, and merely acts as an exercise in baseball imagination. By mixing the two worst teams into one super-bad team, we come up with a new team, hereafter referred to as the Dunce Caps. Now, let’s not have any illusions. The Tigers were a terrible team. Whereas the league average OBP was .351 and the league average SLG was .459, the Tigers’ began their season with what must be considered one of the worst OPS’s for one month ever, enduring a putrid .258 OBP and an awe-inspiring .262 slugging percentage in April. Contrary to what Dmitri Young believes, (regarding Marlin’s manager Jack McKeon’s disparaging remarks about the Tigers: “He's got to realize we're just one or two players away from doing what he did last year. ... He must be thinking of the Detroit Tigers from the mid-90s or something. I don't know."), Detroit is a ways away from competing. The Tigers are B-A-D: bad, bad, bad. Maybe the addition of the best players from Cincinnati would help? … I wouldn’t count on it.

With a little position flipping to maximize the Dunce Caps’ potential, position by position, the amalgamation compares to the Red Sox like so:

......................................AVG........OBP........SLG
CATCHER
Jason LaRue, CIN..............230........321.........422
Jason Varitek, BOS...........273........351.........512

FIRST BASE
Adam Dunn, CIN...............215........354........465
Kevin Millar, BOS...............276........348........472

SECOND BASE
Warren Morris, DET............215........354........465
Todd Walker, BOS..............283........333........428

SHORTSTOP
Barry Larkin, CIN................282........345........382
Nomar Garciaparra, BOS.....301........345........524

THIRD BASE
Eric Munson, DET ..............240........312........441
Bill Mueller, BOS.................326........398........540

OUTFIELD
Ken Griffey, Jr., CIN............247........370........566
Johnny Damon, BOS...........273........345........405
Austin Kearns, CIN.............264........364........455
Manny Ramirez, BOS..........325........427........587
Bobby Higginson, DET........235........320........369
Trot Nixon, BOS................306........396........578

DESIGNATED HITTER
Dmitri Young, DET..............297........372........537
David Ortiz, BOS................288........369........592

Pardon me if this is looking futile…but is it even worth it to continue onto pitching when the Dunce Caps post a rotation of Aaron Harang, CIN; Danny Graves, CIN; Jose Acevado, CIN; Paul Wilson, CIN; and Todd Van Poppel, Cin? Sadly, no Tigers crack this list. For kicks, the Caps’ three best relievers are Ryan Wagner, CIN; Jamie Walker, DET; and their closer is Chris Reitsma, CIN.

So the final tally has a Dunce Caps team featuring 12 Reds and five Tigers.

Comparing them to the Red Sox, it’s easy to see that the Dunce Caps don’t stand a chance. There are only two players on the Caps who I would consider better starters than what Boston offered in 2003: Ken Griffey, Jr. could certainly win a spot in Boston’s outfield, and Chris Reitsma in the bullpen. There are close calls are at DH and first base, but overall, it really isn’t close. After combining the two worst teams of 2003 (the Reds and Tigers), they are still not nearly as talented as the team Boston fielded in 2003.

Maybe using the Red Sox as a basis for comparison was cruel because they boasted the best offense in baseball last season. But my point should be clear: the best teams in baseball are so much better than the worst that it is difficult to compare them. The Tigers performed so horribly last season that they barely made it on to the Caps when competing with the Reds of 2003, the second worst team in baseball, for roster spots (less than 30 percent of the Dunce Caps was made up of Tigers).

So no, Dmitri, your Tigers will not be the surprise World Champions of 2004. Your Dunce Caps wouldn’t even be able to compete. Even Rush Limbaugh could tell you that.

What can the Dunce Caps tell us about baseball in the year 2004? They tell us that it’s a good thing players and owners agreed to some sort of salary restrictions. But the current system may not be enough to bring baseball’s moribund franchises back to life.

To create a league in which all teams can again compete, baseball needs a more rigid salary cap. Today’s exercise was painfully depressing, confirming the awkwardness of Major League Baseball’s power structure. For the good of the game Major League Baseball needs to allow teams to take off their embarrassing Dunce Caps and replace them with a better fitting salary cap.


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Posted by Dave on Friday, January 23, 2004

Please, Make It Abundantly Clear That You're An Econ. Major

If you weren't sure about it before, this post will make it pretty damn clear. Ben gave you all a bit of info last time around with his (ahem) shameless plug for The Phoenix - the school paper for Swarthmore (he's the editor, and damn proud (and he should be, that's quality stuff they put out, in large part because of him, I'm sure)); this time around, you get a bit of info about me. I go to Bates College (we like our liberal arts schools 'round this blog) and I'm an Economics major. Unabashedly, my dream job would be the GM of a major sports team (baseball, basketball, football - I love the big three). I've been into sports for just about my whole life. Actually, I've been into competition for longer. Games, sports, grades, whatever. Compete with me in something, I'll probably beat you (call me arrogant, but it's the truth). So, I was easily attracted to sports.

*Long interlude, during which I talk to Jon extensively about my subject material for today*

So, as always, I've been scouring Transaction Guy's website (check it out, it's really great...succinct, and he'll get every major transaction) looking for the latest outrage (Adrian Beltre for 5 million?! Don't get me started.) and the latest blessing (Joe Borowski? I'd pay him nearly 1 million more/year for the job he's been doing). But recently, I've been a bit confounded. I see a lot of signings, which, on the face don't make much sense to me. The names have whirred by in the past week: Jimmy Rollins, Francisco Cordero, Scott Williamson, Tony Armas Jr., Roy Oswalt, Rafael Furcal, and much much more. What do all these players have in common? You may have guessed it: They are all players that were scheduled for salary arbitration that avoided it by signing one-year deals just before they had their turn off the docket. Some of the signings were bad (as in, the GM will not get return on his investment): I'm not convinced Williamson is worth 3 million even after that sterling post-season - nor do I think that Jimmy Rollins is worth 2.4 million given any criteria. But most were good: Oswalt, though injured last year, still posted some stellar numbers that surely would merit more than 3.2 million. Same for Francisco Cordero, he certainly deserves a bit more than 2 million. I've saved the best (and the most (hah, or at least more) recognizable, for our less knowledgable readers) for last, however:

Alfonso Soriano: Man, he cannot hit good pitching (or, at least, good postseason pitching). But, holy crap, he sure does his fair share of bashing. He produces incredible offensive numbers at a remarkably unincredible offensive position and he's done it the past two seasons. We know the knocks on him, though...Can't walk worth a damn and he plays a crappy 2nd base. Still, 11th in Runs Created? That's some clout. And what's he getting paid next season for his status as Guerrero (that's not Wilton, trust me)Jr.? 5.4 million. You'd think there was some Secret Money (3 million, at least) Deferred clause. Ray Durham makes 6 million next season and 6.5 the next. 99% of Baseball Men (the other 1% get polled by Jayson Stark (check out last Monday's entry)) would agree that Soriano is more valuable...so why isn't he getting paid more?

Kip Wells: This guy, more than Aubrey Huff, more than Jaime Moyer, more than Matt Stairs is really Captain Underrated. "Who the hell is Kip Wells?" Well scroll down only 17 names in this chart and you'll find his name. That's right, he had the 17th best ERA in the entire MLB. He's got really solid peripherals too. He's 30th in MLB in K/9 at a very respectable 6.70 and he's something of a horse - nearly 200 IP last year. He's only getting better, too. His ERA has improved in each of the last three seasons (certainly a recipe for future success). What do you pay for one of the top pitchers in the MLB? 2.575 million! The Bucs, though they moronically think Jack Wilson is worth something, at least know what they have in Kip Wells: A pitcher who is vastly undervalued. Why might he be? The statistically unimportant (this is the reality, but certainly not the perception) fact that he has gone 32-34 in the last three years as a starter. "He's not a winner!" They say. "Give him a good freaking team." I say. Oh, just for comparison, check out the past two years from these two pitchers:
Pitcher #1:
IP...............W............L..........ERA
198.1.........12...........14........3.59 (2002)
197.1.........10............9.........3.28 (2003)
Pitcher #2:
IP...............W............L..........ERA
134.2.........13............5.........3.28 (2002)
208.1.........21............8.........4.02 (2003)
Scratch your head for awhile, tell me who's better. At the very least, you'll tell me: "Man, I really can't tell, they both look pretty good. That second guy can sure win ballgames, but that first guy seems more effective and durable. I can't tell, they're probably about equally effective." Fine, that's fine by me. Truth is, I think pitcher #1 is objectively better, but it doesn't matter. The market doesn't just think that pitcher #2 is better, they think he's about 8 million dollars better. It should come as no surprise that the first pitcher is Kip Wells. Second pitcher? Andy Pettitte. Yet more proof that you can't look anywhere else when anointing Captain Overrated.

Here's my point though: Why would the majority of these guys choose to sign? Why would they willingly take something decidedly below market value? It seems it makes much more sense for them to go to arbitration where a guy like Kip Wells could ask for 4 million (hey, that's only 6 million dollars fewer than a less effective Andy Pettitte) and actually receive it. Same for Soriano. He at least deserves Ray Durham money - if not a bit less than Bret Boone. The weirdest part is, it's not just the players that fear arbitration. The Cardinals (just a team that I've read about recently) is amongst a plethora of teams that prefer the Bubonic Plague to Salary Arbitration.

Just before I continue, I want to make it clear what's going on here (at least, clear enough for my purposes, Baseball Primer wrote a very informative article where I learned quite a bit more than I'll impart to you). A player goes to arbitration, and he has a figure in mind. The team also has a figure in mind. The arbitor decides where amidst that spectrum of numbers (endpoints included) the player's salary should be. That is then the player's salary for the coming year. None of this makes sense to me, however: Why not let an unbiased party decide what's fair? That way, both parties (the team, and the player) can go home happy. At least, it would seem to me, the players got what they deserved. But, both parties are petrified of arbitration. I've gotten a lot of theories: When I talked with Jon, he seemed to think that players may fear the potentially corrupt MLB. There have been rumors of collusion for some time - maybe the corruption has extended to the arbitors, he argues. This is at least somewhat plausible, but I don't buy into conspiracy theory very much - baseball's fabric would be significantly damaged if the supposed collusion had extended that far. Ben thought players might be afraid of having the perception of being money-grubbers. Let's be honest, though, don't they already have that? And doesn't everybody want what they're worth (even if it's way too much? If only we paid teachers 1/1000th as much...)? Well, all these people compromise early for one reason: They're risk averse, just like you and I.

What's risk aversion? The best way to understand risk aversion is to discuss insurance (in general). Let's say you own a house in a very nice neighborhood - one where crime is extremely low. Let's also suppose that you have many valuables in your house. Truthfully, it's not worth it for you to own insurance; they'll make you pay through the nose because they're insuring a lot of stuff - but the fact of the matter is that you're never likely to have a theft occur. You pay a risk premium in order to avoid the possibility of the theft, because, well, it would suck if all your stuff was stolen. Here's another example: Go around asking college students if they'd take a bet. Tossing a fair coin, if it's heads up, they win $1050 - but if it's tails, they lose $1000. No one would take the bet (even if they knew it was a fair game) because even though their expected value for the bet is +50 dollars, they could lose 1000 dollars. In fact, I doubt if I'd take the bet. The point is, everyone (or nearly everyone, people with gambling addictions don't apply) is risk averse. So, most everyone would rather have a sure thing than take a positive risk. This is the principal reason why players like Carlos Beltran (who I believe to be worth about 10 million, but he gladly took 9) and the Royals (they may fear that Carlos would get 11 in arbitration) avoid arbitration. In a negotiation, both parties know the result and, in a sense, each is "paying" for the increased information by not necessarily getting fair value. Generally, the players pay more to get that information because they're youngsters - everyone eligible for arbitration is between 4-6 years of major league service and they really haven't made the big bucks yet. They really would like to know that they're going to be comfortable financially for awhile. But, for the most part, they want to know the value of the contract, rather than risk the contract falling in a range of numbers (8-11 million, in Carlos' case). If you have any theories, I'd be thrilled to read them. E-mail me (us) with your thoughts (that's top-left of the screen, folks (which probably, as a result of this post, seems very, very far away)) and questions.


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Posted by Ben K. on Thursday, January 22, 2004

The Beauty of a Triple, in a matter of speaking

As my oh-so-witty title suggests, I have three things for you all today. So without further ado, let me get started. Today marks the beginning of a new feature of the Talking Baseball blog. It's the part where I answer your e-mails. You see that link on the left of your screen? The one that says e-mail TalkingBaseball (a) hotmail.com? Well, that's where our readers, all 328 of you up to 1:10 a.m. on Thursday, January 22, 2004, should be e-mailing us. So opening our inbox, I see...hmmm...one message from Dave checking to make sure that the e-mail account was working properly, and nothing else. So I'm going to answer the e-mail.

Dave, yes, indeed, our e-mail address is working. No need to worry, my friend.

Phew, I'm glad I got that one off my chest. Seriously, dear reader, we want to hear from you. E-mail us your thoughts on how we're doing so far. Do you agree with us? Do you disagree? Do you like our four-man rotation? I know J.P. would; the Blue Jays pitchers, as they showed last spring, wouldn't be so keen on it. Furthermore, send us any topics you want us to tackle. We're certainly open to suggestions. We know you're out there, and we want to start hearing from you. Now on to the baseball...

Age before beauty, or baseball's Energizer battery finally stops

Wednesday was the end of an era for modern baseball. Iron man Jesse Orosco retired after 24 years of big league service. As this article shows, Orosco leaves baseball having pitched in a record 1,252 different regular season games (1,248 of them as a reliever) since debuting for the New York Mets in 1979. While he was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks this winter to a minor league contract, the lefty will be turning 47 shortly after opening day, and who can really blame him for moving on?

Hopefully, Orosco will be remembered in baseball for many generations to come. Over the course of his career, Orosco threw 1295 innings for 9 different teams. Based on his career numbers, it's highly doubtful Orosco will make the Hall of Fame. He saved only 144 games in his career, compiled a W-L record of 88-80, had a career ERA of 3.16 and a career WHIP of 1.26. Yet, while his career stats are decidedly human and many starting pitchers throw more innings than Orosco did in his career, his career should not be any less revered. Orosco was able to carve a niche for himself that led to his playing on three teams this past season at the age of 46. His record of most career games pitched will be a tough one to reach with not too many pitchers pitching into their 40s. As the trend these days is to flame-throwing relievers like Billy Wagner, Troy Percival, and Mariano Rivera, these pitchers' bodies break down more easily. Orosco is some kind of marvel for our age.

While us Yankee fans, Red Sox fans, and Mets fans will remember Orosco as the one on the mound as the Red Sox lost game 7 of the 1986 World Series, he should remain with baseball outside of any petty rivalries. He's one the greatest iron horses in the history of the game, and his accomplishments must not be forgotten.

A Hidden Gem Among Aces

In glances over the headlines on ESPN.com in between deadlines for my college newspaper of which I am the editor, I noticed a story about the Cubs sort of sneak on to the Top Stories list. In the story--a fairly mundane one for the deadzone of the offseason--the AP reported that the Cubs signed Ryan Dempster to a one-year contract with a team option for 2005. Dempster, as you may recall, missed the last two months of the season with the Reds because he went in for ligament surgery. In much the same way that the Yankees have gambled with Jon Lieber recovering from major arm surgery, the Cubs are hoping for some luck with Dempster, who will probably pitch again in July or August. Yet, if this gamble turns out for the best, the Cubs could have landed themselves a major prize. If Dempster can regain his touch from the 2000 and 2001 campaigns, the Cubs could have cemented the NL Central for the next few years.

In 2000, Dempster was 14-10 with a 3.66 ERA, a really high 1.37 WHIP, and 209 K in just over 226 innings. If you want to get really technical, his numbers from that season look even better with positive values in the RAA column. (That just means he allowed fewer runs than the league average per inning. It's a stat to show, in essence, that his ERA was below the league average.) Even if Dempster pitches at his 2001 level, when he threw a 4.94 ERA, striking out 171 in 211 innings but with a very high WHIP of 1.56, the Cubs will still have found a more-than-adequate fifth starter.

Currently, the Cubs have Prior, Wood, Zambrano, and Clement as their top four starters, making them my pick as the team to beat in the NL Central. If they manage to add a rapidly aging Maddux, they'll just be that much better. But even so, I think Dempster could provide the Cubs' rotation with a solid back-end starter in 2005, when his Opening Day age will be only 28. It's clearly a gamble on a pitcher who hasn't pitched very well for a number of seasons, but in the end, the Cubs could end up drawing maybe not an ace, but at least a very competent 5th starter.

Let's score that run as a triple and an error

Yes, I know at the beginning of the post I said three topics, but there's one more I want to throw in. In a change from their usual format, ESPN has issued a series of analytical articles for this season's Hot Stove Heaters feature. If you aren't reading them on a regular basis, I urge you, as a loyal reader of Talking Baseball, to read the one ESPN posted yesterday. In it, Senior Writer of Baseball America Alan Schwarz wrote about the 8 most important stats used in baseball analysis today. Since the four of us here write using stats a lot, this article serves as a primer to decoding some of what we're talking about. Just follow this link and all of your questions about WHIP, Run Differential, and a few other key stats will be answered.


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Posted by Mike on Tuesday, January 20, 2004

It seems the media is unwilling to let the A-rod deal die without at least giving it some sort of fabricated ending. Espn.com reports that a high-ranking baseball official told Dan Patrick that the talks would be resuming this weekend.

I would like to focus on Dan Patrick’s credibility at this point more than I really want to discuss the trade itself. This is the Dan Patrick who insisted on putting Kevin Millar in a very awkward situation in an interview before Christmas by forcing him to admit on television that he would rather have A-rod on the team than Nomar Garciapara. Obviously A-rod is the better player but the point is that Dan Patrick shouldn’t be making it a goal to destroy team unity by driving stakes between players on national television when the likelihood that they will remain teammates the following season is still a great probability. I wish I had a transcript of the interview because it was clear that Millar did everything he could to blow the question aside without doing any damage but the pressure of the situation eventually made him crack (Dan had to ask multiple times in multiple ways). Millar admitted that he would rather have A-rod on the team, which most anyone would, I just don’t think Nomar and Mia ended up sending Millar a Christmas card.

Even though he did ultimately answer Dan Patrick’s question he understood the situation the Red Sox were in perfectly. Three major points, after the 2004 season the Red Sox are likely going to let Nomar go and find a replacement shortstop because of his ridiculous salary demands and declining performance, Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke had just be acquired at a sizeable cost, and the Red Sox owners would like nothing more than to send Manny Ramirez packing. As a result the Red Sox were looking to cut some payroll, replace Nomar, and trade Manny. With the renegotiated contract the Sox agreed to with A-rod and the potential deal with the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez pending, two of those three goals would have been achieved had the deal not been struck down by the players association.

Dan Patrick, troublemaker that he is, could not accept this perspective. Instead he had to use Kevin Millar as a tool to try to force the hand of the Red Sox toward completing the deal with the Rangers. The media wanted this deal almost more than did the Red Sox, Rangers, Bud Selig, or even the fans. Dan Patrick wanted this deal so much that he was willing to use his position as a means of manipulation.

Now, I didn’t mean to start writing this entire post as a means of conveying my dislike and distrust of Dan Patrick. I did intend to discredit him for the purpose of showing that the likelihood of the A-rod talks resuming is very slim. Everyone from the Red Sox and Rangers as well as Scott Boras was surprised to hear any talk of the deal at this point with a clear insistence across the board that the deal is officially dead. Had there been any real news about the deal then I would have to believe these insiders would tell someone in the media who is more reliable than Dan Patrick. Peter Gammons, while not as great as he used to be (I cut him some slack because he’s starting to get very old, you must realize he was in his reporting prime in the 1970s), should know something about it if there were any truth to the rumors and he has yet to mention it anywhere that I’ve seen. Let’s not forget, it was an unauthorized post of an A-rod Red Sox game jersey for sale that preceded any of the talk of the deal still being a possibility.


Now for a few things unrelated to A-rod…
The Red Sox gave Scott Williamson a one year contract for an undisclosed amount. I’m sure it was for a reasonable sum because Theo has done nothing so far to prove that he is fiscally irresponsible. So, the bigger issue is the strength of the Red Sox bullpen at the start of this year as opposed to at the start of last year. Obviously the most major change is the addition of Keith Foulke, a legitimate relief ace but even behind him the pen appears to be dramatically stronger:

2003
Timlin
Lyon
Embree
Fox
Howry

2004
Foulke
Williamson
Timlin
Embree
Arroyo

Just a random fact, Keith Foulke’s 21 Win Shares last year were better than all but three Red Sox players; Manny Ramirez (28), Nomar Garciapara (25), and Bill Mueller (23).


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Posted by Jon on Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Vote ‘Yes’ on Questec

Baseball umpires in Major League Baseball really need to chill out and stop complaining about Questec. The system was created first and foremost to put a check on umpiring crews in Major League Baseball who have faced no consequences for poor officiating for as long as you’ve been buying those peanuts and crackerjacks.

Umpiring in America’s other main sports is evaluated: in the NFL, the best umpires are promoted to the playoffs, while the ones who blow the important calls are reprimanded publicly and fined, if not suspended or fired (just ask Tom White). Why should the umpires in baseball, the sport that relies on the judgment of officials as a part of the game, be allowed to repeatedly affect games negatively without consequence?

I remember the playoffs of 1999, when Knobby “tagged” Jose Offerman between first and second. I’m not saying it effected the outcome of the series, or even the game, but I was pissed off! How can Major League Baseball have no recourse against umpires who repeatedly influence games due to poor calls or lack of hustle?

The obvious argument is that umpiring, good and bad, has always been a part of the game. To the traditionalists I ask, why? I concede that the strike zone has rarely been consistently umpired, even way back when. But the implementation of the Questec system is less about reforming the strike zone, and more about MLB trying to gain influence over the umpires’ union. I applaud Major League Baseball for going ahead and attempting to correct inconsistencies that, while a part of the game, could be diminished.

In addition, with official replay analyses becoming a trend (the NHL has been using a system of replays to determine whether goals are legit for a while, the NFL implemented coaches challenges, and the NBA is experimenting with using replays to check the legitimacy of game-winning buzzer-beaters), Major League Baseball is implementing Questec at the right time, when the public and players in many sports have demonstrated their willingness to adopt and appreciate changes in the name of justice (maybe Bush proposed these changes…).

The problem with Questec is that while it aims at creating a strike zone consistent between umpires and with the rules, it has been used inconsistently by Major League Baseball, who placed it in only ten ballparks in 2003: Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Bank One, The Coliseum, Jacob’s Field, the park in Anaheim, Miller Park, Shea Stadium, and the two orange juice parks. Why only a few parks? Because Questec is expensive to install and also because Major League Baseball understands that major overhaul is frowned upon when violating the traditions of the game (Unfortunately, Selig forgot about this when he decided that the All-Star game should influence which team wins the World Series). They’ve decided to take this change one step at a time (much like how the NBA has dealt with their video replay implementation). But has Questec really even influenced the game that much? Or have its detriments to the game been overblown by the umpires’ union a few loud pitchers?

By the middle of the 2003 season it was widely believed that that pitchers who rely on specific strike zones (the wider the better for pin-pointers Maddux and Glavine) and specific umpires’ tendencies (particularly Schilling) were having difficulty adjusting to the new system. Compared to the 2002 season, Schilling allowed one fewer walk, but his K/9 retained its luster in 2003. Yes, Glavine looked like a different pitcher last season, unable to reach double figures in wins for the first time since 1988, but he just looks old (check out his picture!). It looked as if Maddux was having more trouble in 2003, sporting his highest ERA since his rookie season in 1987, but his K/BB ratio actually improved over his previous season (note: there was no Questec in Atlanta). On the surface, it looks as if these pitchers suffered due to Questec, but in all, “there were actually more strikes thrown in Questec parks than non-Questec parks,” reports Sandy Alderson. The inconsistency of placing Questec in only some parks (even though there was only a slight difference in strikes, balls, strikeouts, and walks) gives the illusion that umpiring was extremely skewed in different ballparks, when in fact, only minor changes are occurring.

Next season, there will be five to eight more QuesTec ballparks, but until Questec is in every park, substantial debate on the legitimacy of Questec will undoubtebly continue. The fuss around Questec comes from the umpires and their skewed information. Most players are looking forward to umpire accountability. Even Schilling, before feeling squeezed at the plate, was in favor of a system of accountability. What fans and players alike need to remember is that Questec is there to monitor the umpires, and not to drastically change the way the game is played. If Major League Baseball the strike zone enforced strictly, they could no doubt generate ball/strike calls using a computerized system. This is not their goal.

Stats can be used to prove almost anything. I’m sure there’s a way to show that Questec has hurt pitchers, altered baseball forever, and some might say, defamed the game. But by implementing Questec, Major League Baseball is forcing umpires to work just a bit harder to assure that they make the right decisions by holding them responsible when they do not. And it’s about time.


Those Tigers…Will They Ever Learn/Win?

Quickly, I’d like to bring up the Tigers one more time on this blog. Everybody’s just begging Detroit to spend more cash on aging players that will not amount to any more wins. It is true: even with all of their additions, the Tigers will still be a below-.500 team. They are so entrenched in the cellar that the minor upgrades they have made in Carlos Guillen, Jason Johnson, Fernando Vina, and Rondell White will not make them a winning team now or in the future. But, let’s face it: the Tigers had to do something this off-season. Considering how far away from competing they have fallen and how difficult it is for them to attract free-agents (just as Pudge, who will get nowhere near as much money as the $40 million contract over four years that Detroit offered from any other team and still can’t decide where to sign), they have done a lot to try to rekindle fan interest. With the added star power of Rodriguez, the Tigers’ lineup would not be the worst in baseball. A lineup of Vina, Guillen, I-Rod, Young, Monroe, White, and Pena would actually be decent, at least a whole lot better than last year. Baseball is a business, and bringing fans to the ballpark is part of what a general manager must consider.

I’ll reiterate from my column about the Orioles: it is a lot easier to add wins by acquiring hitting than pitching. The Tigers are trying to make a statement to their fans by improving, at least a little bit, this year. Although Pudge may not be worth $10mil a year in today’s market, I wonder what he could do for the young pitchers on Detroit. The Tigers’ pitching staff is nothing like Florida’s last season, but Rodriguez did a very good job of holding that young pitching staff together.

By acquiring decent bats for the moment, the Tigers are also allowing themselves to keep more of their minor league positional players down on the farm instead of rushing them up to Detroit before they’re ready, thereby allowing them to develop at a normal pace. If only they could do the same for their pitching staff…


NOMAHHH

Just about everybody, including Red Sox management, has noticed that Nomar Garciaparra’s numbers have declined since the 2001 season, in which he injured his wrist. Although he seemed to be regaining his all-around game last season, has Nomar really recovered from his injury? Check out these numbers, comparing his two full seasons before the injury and his two full seasons since:

........................BB/SO.................Groundball/Flyball Ratio
1999..................1.31...............................1.16
2000..................1.22...............................1.17
.....................................................................
2002..................0.65...............................0.71
2003..................0.64...............................0.73

In the two seasons after his injury, these BB/SO and G/F ratios been consistent – that is, consistently and strikingly worse from before his wrist got whacked. Considering these polar opposite numbers, it’s hard to believe that Nomar will still turn it around and revert back to producing like he did in his glory years, 1999 and 2000. Lately, he has had trouble keeping his bat over the ball, and by the end of the season he was popping out on inside fastballs to every fielder on the other team before the game ended. His September slump, which carried into the playoffs, is a scary possibility of things that may come, and a good reason that Boston won’t pay him Tejada money after 2004.


Three Words I Thought I'd Never Say

Usually Major Leaguers make the move to cross the Pacific only in the most dire situations: when they are traded against their will, when they can no longer get a job in the MLB, or for more money. And with injections of Matsui in consecutive seasons, we are used to world-class Asian players trying their best in the U. S. of A (errr, in New York). Apparently though, Kaz Sasaki has had enough, and has asked off of the Mariners, effective as soon as possible, after his worst season in America. Although this may be a difficult situation for MLB to negotiate, I want to throw out some esteem to Kaz, who decided $9.5 million is not enough to prevent him from seeing his family. We applaud Pettitte and Clemens for wanting to go home, and we should also applaud Sasaki.

During an offseason in which I've had difficulty understanding newly-appointed Seattle GM Bill Bavasi's transactions (I hope he really likes the younger Juan Gonzalez), he may end up deserving an ovation for signing Eddy Guardado earlier in the off-season. Imagine if the Mariners had lost both Rhodes and Sasaki without picking up a premier reliever. Eddy gets it done and will be ready to close out games when (not if) Hasegawa falters in 2004. Shiggy will continue his fall back to earth next season.

Those three words I thought I'd never say? I Quote myself: "Bavasi, you genius!"


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Posted by Dave on Monday, January 19, 2004

The Astro Rotation? Not Even Close to the Best

I'd like to think that enough has been said about the Astros rotation and its supposed quality, but there obviously hasn't been enough said. Jayson Stark recently wrote for ESPN.com and his article discussed a survey of several executives, scouts, and GMs. Apparently, the Astros are considered the best rotation overall. A snippet: "They got the most first-place votes. And no one voted them lower than third." The fact that the Astros were thought of as the best rotation by a consensus of these baseball folks means one of two things:

1. Jayson Stark knows a disproportionate number of idiots in baseball. Or, more likely,

2. There are large number of idiots still in baseball.

No matter how you slice the question, the Astros couldn't even come close to being construed as having the best rotation. This fact is so self-evident that I would stake my life upon the fact that, barring gratuitous injury, the Red Sox and Yankee (both AL teams in an offensively-oriented division) rotations will have a lower ERA than the Astros' rotation. It's also quite probable, perhaps even more probable that the A's will finish with a lower ERA and that Cubs will as well. Let's take a look:

First, let's look at those overrated Astros. You take a look at their top 5, and it's not quite awe-inspiring. In 2003, they had a rotational ERA of 3.81 (385 ERs in 910.2 IP). Granted, they play in a fairly difficult park, but 2/5 of their rotation is coming from the Yankees. 3.81. Not exactly stellar numbers from what Stark's Henchmen call the best rotation. It's okay though, they can boast "Four number one or two starters." To which I say: Great, but their ERA is nothing impressive. Also, newsflash: Oswalt (Roy Oswalt posted the best ERA of the group and he was finnicky about his groin like Pedro is about, well, his entire body) and Miller are injury-prone, and Clemens and Pettitte aren't getting any younger.

Let's look at the Red Sox rotation. If you're having the same problem I am, you won't be able to see Schilling's numbers. Anyways, combined ERA: 3.45 (322 ER, 839.2 IP). This number does come with disclaimers though. First and foremost, it remains to be seen whether Byung-Hyun Kim is capable of posting something similar to that 3.10 ERA as a starter in more than limited duty. Also, and less of a question mark, whether Schilling is still himself following an unluckily injury-plagued season (appendicitis and a broken hand are hardly up Tommy John's alley). 3.45? A helluva lot better than 3.81.

Surely the Yankees can't be better too? I haven't begun to number crunch, and I can guarantee their rotation ERA will be lower. Here's how the Yankees' projected rotation stacks up. Since Lieber was out in 2003, we'll exclude him for a moment. The rest posted a (246 ER, 727.1 IP) 3.04 ERA. This number also comes with disclaimers since Contreras didn't pitch the whole season. This would mean that to have a worse rotational ERA than the Astros, Lieber (along with whoever else the Yankees indenture as a 5th starter) would have to give up approximately 136 ER in 175 IP (that's an ERA of 7, folks). That's even a generous number of IP for a 5th starter. The point is, are the Yankees likely to have a worse rotation than the Astros? Unequivocally, no.

Could it even be the case that the Cubs have a better ERA too?! It seems that Houston won't even have the best rotational ERA in the National League. The Cubs projected rotation has an ERA of 3.58 (394 ER, 989.2 IP) to its credit. That's better than the Astros - but it gets worse. The Cubs may be sans the ultimately putrid presence of Shawn Estes come 2004 (Greg Maddux may be coming to town, and with him, 200 IP of downright effectiveness compared to Estes). How's the Cub rotation shape up with the addition of Maddux? Suffice it to say that Maddux gave up the same number of ER as Estes in 2003 - in 67 more IP.

I'm sure I could do this with the Athletics as well, but what's the point? I've already proved these three rotations to be better numerically and, therefore, objectively. Even the Cubs, picked as the 5th-best rotation in Stark's Poll of Morons, is shown to be clearly better (in a similarly bad hitter's park, mind you). Why such hostility? Why such malcontent? Because it infuriates me, Dave Metz the college student, that I could analyze baseball's best rotations better than a vaunted collection of baseball's "scouts, executives, and GMs." The Red Sox and Yankees are both almost a half-run better than the Astros given their 2003 numbers and even the Cubs are shown to be more effective. How can all these people, whose jobs require them to evaluate the quality of players, fail to realize that the Astros rotation is merely 3rd-best, or worse? I don't know. But give me a job if they really believe that the Astros have the best rotation.


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Posted by Ben K. on Sunday, January 18, 2004

Overhyping the Astros and Pudge's trip to purgatory

Pencils ready everyone? Good, because it's time for a pop quiz.

Name the top five starting rotations in Major League Baseball heading into Spring Training 2004. Boston and the Yankees, you say? Good choices. One through five, these two teams appear to sport the best rotations in baseball. Mussina, Brown, Vazquez, Contreras, and Lieber are as qualified as any 5 and a rotation fronted by Schilling and Pedro with Lowe, Kim, and Wakefield backing up is nothing short of spectacular.

The A's? Of course, with the Big Three, plus a very promising Rich Harden and now Mark Redman, it's hard to go wrong with the Billy Beane's boys. How about the Cubs? Prior and Wood make this a force not to be reckoned with; Zambrano and Clement have huge upside, and talk of adding Greg Maddux must have Cubs fans thinking next year could finally end their curse.

So that brings me to number 5. And the point of my post. After reading Mike's post from yesterday (just scroll down--I'm too lazy to HTML the link in here), I decided that I did not agree that the Astros have the best rotation in baseball. Yes, they are vastly improved and have three frontline starters in Clemens, Pettitte, and Oswalt. They also have to worry the most about declines in the numbers Clemens and Pettitte will put up next season. According to the incredibly confusing stats over at Baseball Prospectus, Clemens and Pettitte both overachieved last year. Playing with a subpar defense and a superb offense, Roger and Andy both won more games than either should have. Now, they're going to be pitching for a team that may field better than the Yankees have recently, but won't give Clemens practically six runs a start and won't give Pettitte nearly seven runs per game.

The Astros should also be concerned that Pettitte fell two short of a career high for HR allowed in a single season. In 1996, Pettitte surrendered 23 HR while pitching 13 more innings. Last season, the Astros' pitchers gave up 16 more HR than Yankee pitchers, with 89 of their 161 HR coming at home. Pettitte, it seems is not primed for another 21-7 season. While this rotation could easily be the 5th best this season, it's been completely overhyped. I think Boston and New York are much better than the Astros. Within their own division, I think the Cubs are a better bet, pitching-wise, than Houston. In fact, I think the 5th best rotation won't be enough for Houston to make it to the Playoffs. I predict the Cubs to lead the Central; I think the Phillies will win the NL this year. Finally, don't count out Atlanta. Somehow, despite all of the naysayers, Bobby Cox and the Braves have won the East every year since the dawn of time. While the Phillies have been called by ESPN analysts the most improved team, Atlanta just won't every go away.

Houston will be relying on one of the premier setup men in Major League Baseball to close (Octavio Dotel) and a rotation that, while solid, will face many questions. The health of the five starters rests on shaky ground. But if Clemens' legs, Pettitte's elbow, Oswalt's entire body, the band box nature of that left field fence in Minute Maid Park, or a lack of production from the offense all become factors, the fans in Houston will be in for a very long summer.

------------

Changing the subject, I would like to give my two cents on Ivan Rodriguez and the rumors that he's going to sign with the Detroit Tigers. Yes, the same Tigers that lost 119 games last season, and yes, the same Ivan Rodriguez who was instrumental in the Marlins' winning the World Series. If this deal goes through, Pudge will sign for four years and $40 million with a team that has no future and no hope of being good before Pudge retires or becomes a free agent after the 2007 season. Yet, as hard as it is to believe, it looks like Ivan Rodriguez will be behind the plate in a Tigers uniform next season. Pudge will get a chance to play on some of the worst teams in the history of the game. He coulda been a contender; instead, he's ending up back on a team worse than the Texas Rangers. The next time he's a free agent, he'll be 36 and in the twilight of his career.

Of course, I don't feel pity for Pudge. He and Scott Boras, his greedy agent, got exactly what they deserve. (Of course, I'll eat my words if the deal doesn't go down, but it's looking quite likely these days). Pudge, a 32-year-old catcher with a history of injury, wanted his 10 mil a year for four years. He would be 36 years old at the end of his contract, well passed his catching prime. The Marlins, a team with young pitchers and a solid offense, offered him something in the neighborhood of 8 million a year. Pudge could stay on the team where he finally won a ring. He would lead the newly-named Miami Marlins through a few years in their glorious new ballpark in downtown Miami and he would be the hero of South Florida. But he couldn't deal with not getting those 2 million extra dollars.

Instead, he's signed up for a one-way trip to baseball hell. This is no cornfield on a farm in Iowa. He'll play on a Detroit team with Rondell White and Fernando Viña. The Tigers may have signed some new players this season, but they've poured their money into oft-injured fourth outfielders and backup infielders. They didn't sign pitching, their one sore spot. While Pudge might be a good choice to develop Bonderman and Maroth into something other than 20-game losers, he won't win. At all. Ever. For all of his years in Detroit. Is $2 million really worth 100 losses?


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