Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Ben K. on Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Lord, I was born a ramblin' man

Finally, it's here. Or at least, it's almost here. In less than 5 days, Spring Training begins as pitchers and catchers report to their camps in Florida or Arizona. While many stars are already starting their work outs, for us baseball fans, the last few days before Spring Training opens are among the slowest days for news and trades. Outside of Greg Maddux, all high-profile free agents have landed contracts for the 2004 campaign (and beyond). So with no pressing topic, I'm going to offer my thoughts on a variety of subjects, ranging from contract extensions to the wonderful world of annual stat books. And in honor of last night's Grammy's and Peter Gammons' love affair with mentioning songs in his column, all of my headings are going to be song quotes. Just for kicks, really.

So Happy Together

Proving that the days before Spring Training are among the most boring in Major League Baseball, ESPN's lead story today was the stunning news that Mariano Rivera wants to remain a Yankee. Stop the presses. Can you believe that? Ok, maybe that's nothing to get too excited about, but there's actually an interesting twist to this story. Mariano is pitching in the final year of a contract valued at $39.99 million. He signed this contract back in February of 2001 when the Free Agent market was awarding players with much higher contracts than they get today. Rivera, who stands to make $8.89 million this season, did not mention any numbers in the short AP story. I would like to propose that Rivera should indeed get another contract worth about $8 million a year.

First, let's take a look at Rivera's numbers. Overall, Rivera was third in the AL with 40 saves. Breaking that down Bill James-style, Rivera had 23 easy saves (where he never had to think about the tying run), 12 regular saves (see the Rule Book), and, thanks to the Yankees' bullpen, an AL-leading 5 tough saves (where he entered with the tying runner on base and still recorded the save). Rivera, with 283 saves in 327 career opportunities, is the Yankees' save leader. More impressive was his 1.66 ERA, which was 0.40 runs lower than save leader Keith Foulke's. Rivera accomplished all of this by missing the first 25 games of the season with a groin injury. As the Yankees struggled along with Juan Acevedo's half-assed attempts at closing, had Rivera been healthy he would have approached 45-50 saves last season.

Some critics might look at these numbers and say that $8 million is now too much for a 34-year-old closer. Keith Foulke just signed a deal worth about $6 million a year, and his numbers are on par with the Rivera's. While über-closer John Smoltz stands to earn $11 million this year and Eric Gagne will one day reach the same monetary level, Yankee detractors might say that Rivera's performance and a history of groin injury should net him that same $6 million. I say look at the postseason intangibles.

In his career, Rivera becomes Mr. Automatic in October. He is 7-1 with 30 saves and a 0.75 ERA since 1996. That one loss was a game 7 blow up against the Diamondbacks when Rivera launched a ball into the outfield. He now does that every time he has to field a bunt. But that's not the point. Look at this postseason numbers. I don't see those from Smoltz, Gagne, Foulke, or anyone really. Last year, Rivera was once again utterly dominant in the postseason. Who could really forget his three innings of dominance in game 7 of the ALCS? His two saves and game 7 victory secured him another postseason MVP award and he was equally dominant against the Twins and the Marlins.

The secret, I contend, to Rivera's postseason success of late is, in fact, his groin injury. On average, Rivera only pitches about 65 games a season, much fewer than most closers. What this means is that when other pitchers are tiring in October, Rivera's arm is still feeling late-August/early-September fresh. If the Yankees can afford to keep Rivera on the bench--and with Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon, and maybe even Steve Karsay, they most certainly can--then by all means, Rivera should get the first 25 games of the season off.

So in my opinion, Rivera lives up to this contract and any extension he may want. Making considerably less than the 37-year-old Smoltz, Rivera might even deserve more than $8 million a year. As long as he keeps closing games during the regular season and shutting down even the most potent offense of all-time (2003 Red Sox) in October, the Yankees should keep paying Rivera the big bucks.

She told me to walk this way

Last week, I received the 2004 Bill James handbook, and let me tell you, this book is a stat-lover's paradise. It has complete stats for every single Major Leaguer, along with Managerial stats, very complete fielding stats, lefty-righty matchups, and leader boards for every conceivable statistic. If you're a stat junkie or want to become one, this book is a must-buy.

Now that I've done my part selling the book, I'm going to explore a few of the more interesting statistics I found in the book. Quick, out of Nomar Garciaparra, Alfonso Soriano, and Ichiro Suzuki, who walked the least last year? Suzuki, as we all know, is a very disciplined hitter who can spray balls to fields. Garciaparra and Soriano are known for their free-swinging tendencies. I was surprised to see that Suzuki walked a total of 36 times last year. Soriano received 37 free passes, and Nomar got 38. How did I find this out, you may ask. Well, I consulted the league leaders in plate appearances. Soriano, Ichiro, and Nomar were two, three, and four, respectively. (If you known number one without looking it up, e-mail me, and I'll name the first person to get it right for my next post.)

Consulting their walk numbers, I was surprised to see that while Soriano certainly has a reputation for free-swinging, other high-profile stars have the same problem. Yet, they aren't doubted nearly as much as Alfonso is. On a positive note for the Yankees, Soriano increased his walk total by 15 over 2002 while Nomar has witnessed a steady decline since a career high of 61 walks back in 2000. Ichiro's walk numbers dropped by 32 last season and he received only 7 intentional walks as opposed to his AL-leading 27 in his 2002 MVP campaign. But that's a topic for another post. Now, I want to look at Alfonso and Nomar.

Something about the ALCS has bothered me a lot this off-season. Why did Nomar and Alfonso seemingly tank? Some say Alfonso's head was messed up; he was swinging at everything. Some say Nomar was well behind on the fastball. But it's remarkable how similar their stats were during the 7 game series. In the end, Soriano was 4 for 30 with one double and 11 K's. Nomar was 7 for 29 with 1 triple and 8 K's. In game 6, Nomar went 4 for 5. Without that night, Nomar and Soriano's numbers would have been perfectly identical. Which is weird because their regular season numbers were statistically identical. During the regular season, Soriano had 198 hits, 36 doubles, 5 triples, and 38 HR. He drove in 91 runs, scored 114, and created 112 more. He hit .290 with an OPS (On base + Slugging) of .863. Nomar had 198 hits, 37 doubles, 13 triples, and 28 HR. He drove in 105 runs, scored 120, and created 114. He hit .301 with an OPS of .869. It's remarkable how similar these two players' seasons were last year.

So I thought maybe they were so ineffective during the postseason because their approach to the game is tailored for long-term success. I don't think that this, by the way, is very deep analysis. It's just not something that Tim McCarver or Joe Buck would ever think to mention on a FOX telecast. (They suck. That's all there is to it.) Nomar and Soriano both go through extremely hot and extremely cold stretches of the season. When they're cold, they look horrible as they did during the ALCS. When they're hot, they look incredible. When Nomar's on a tear, it's impossible to throw a pitch by him, and when Soriano's swinging a hot stick, balls are leaping off the bat. I've never seen quicker hands than Soriano's as they fly through the strike zone. I think baseball analysts are wrong to question Soriano's ability to rebound from a poor postseason while assuming that Nomar's going to be ok. Both players will return to form next season as they endure good and bad extremes of the season. If anything, I would question Nomar more because of the off-field Alex Rodriguez trade shenanigans from this season.

And so it seems, only in dreams

Finally, I'll end with something really short. One of the more entertaining parts of the Bill James Handbook is his Career Assessments section on the last page before the glossary. Based on previous year's stats and career performance, James assesses which players have a chance to reach major career milestones. For example, it's interesting to see that Barry Bonds has a 52 percent chance of breaking Hank Aaron's home run record and a 20 percent chance of reaching 800 home runs. Alex Rodriguez has a 34 percent chance of reaching 800 but only a 43 percent chance of breaking Aaron's record. While it appears that Aaron's home run and RBI records are under assault, it's interesting to see that Pete Rose's hit record is the safest, based on Bill James' projections. Of the active leaders, only the 23-year-old Albert Pujols and the 27-year-old Alex Rodriguez have a chance to reach 4257 hits. Pujols has a 2 percent chance, and A-Rod has a 1 percent chance. If you believe Pujols to be 26 instead of 23 (like some do), then his chances are probably 0. This probability chart just goes to show what an outstanding ballplayer Pete Rose truly was. It's a big shame that he couldn't control his personality off field and that he refuses to show any remorse for violating some of baseball's more sacred gambling rules.

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Posted by Dave on Monday, February 09, 2004

Flat-out: Trot Nixon Represents All That Is Good with the Red Sox

Trot Nixon recently re-signed with the Red Sox for three years 19.5 million. This deal replaces the equally good signing of Trot to a one-year deal worth 6.6 million. Trot's an invaluable member to the Red Sox both tangibly and intangibly. Quiz: Who was 7th in the league in runs-created per 27 outs? None other than Trotter. Check out who's above and below them. If you're too lazy to click the link, I'll give you a little hint: One makes 20 million a year (None other than Trot's teammate, Manny Ramirez) and the other makes approximately 25.2 million a year (Who could think this salary would befit anyone but ARod?). So, to recap, Trot makes approximately 14 million/year less than the guys sandwiching him in runs created per 27 outs. If that's not a deal, I don't know what is. Sure, he can't hit lefties, but I could probably count the number of good lefties in the AL on one hand (Jaime Moyer, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Jarrod Washburn, Mark...Buerhle?...). He may not be able to hit the lefty relievers either, but having Ellis Burks around makes his inability to hit lefties a lot more palatable.

Intangibles? He's got them all. He has an exemplary work ethic, is great with the glove (he certainly does not play a below-average right field), he's a gamer, and he's fantastic in the clubhouse. Never have I ever heard him maligned at a Red Sox game. For those that know Red Sox fans or for those that know of their reputation, this is no small fact. Pedro receives "Pussy!" for his frequent trips to the DL, Manny receives "Greedy Piece of Shit" for his contract, and Nomar who formerly received "Stop Popping Up Jackass" will now receive "Greedy Piece of Shit" (we're really creative in New England). With this contract, the fans can't even gripe about the money he's receiving (at least, not the ones that behave misanthropically toward baseball players). In addition, this signing again highlights quite possibly the team's greatest strength: Its general manager. Theo Epstein has made almost entirely good moves since filling the incredibly tiny shoes of Daniel IHateYou Duquette. This move is no different. He signed Trot to a contract that is decidedly below market value. He probably deserved about 9/year, but we took advantage of Trot's loyalty and we ended up signing him to a discounted contract.

"Dad, why do the Red Sox always raise prices?" "Son, they just want to maximize profit, worry not."

How often do you hear a conversation like this take place? Nearly never, would be my guess. Most fathers would likely reply: "Because owners are greedy." This may be true, and I can't argue with that. But, frankly, I don't blame them in the least for all these ticket price raises. CNN.com recently ran an article on how nearly all baseball teams raised ticket prices following last year. On the face, it's an outrage. There's enough money in baseball already. The owners are selling teams for increasing price tags, and the players, until recently, had been receiving astronomically high salaries (especially as compared with the other major sports). Still, the price for tickets to the ol' ballpark is being hiked ubiquitously. Actually, it's almost uniform throughout baseball - the Tigers are the only ones reducing ticket prices this coming year (Anyone want to take a gander why?). The article reports that 25 of the 30 teams (the Dodgers, Astros (this may have changed, please e-mail us about that...I think I saw something recently about it), the Orioles, and the Rockies join the Detroit in being the exceptions to the rule) have raised ticket prices. Why, if there's so much money already? Surely not inflation, these ticket prices are generally increasing faster than inflation is
Well, because there's more money to be had by baseball, in general. The owners would benefit from increased profits because their wallets would get fatter. As a result of increased profits, everyone would see larger salaries - GMs, scouts, PA announcers, stat-keepers, and, of course, the players. Even Baltimore, who is not raising ticket prices as a whole, is raising the prices on particular tickets. The Sox have raised them again this year, and they're now a perfect 5 ticket hikes in the last 5 years. Many articles will tell you that "it's basically supply and demand," but this isn't informative enough to explain why everyone can get away with these increased ticket prices. "Why isn't everyone revolting?" Some may wonder.

Again, my area of study (economics) makes this all very intuitive for me. Consider these two contrasting situations:
1. You have a form of entertainment that you thoroughly enjoy. You engage in the activity fairly consistently. You can purchase the means for the entertainment nearly anywhere. There are many different suppliers.
2. You have a form of entertainment that you thoroughly enjoy. You engage in the activity fairly consistently. You can purchase the means for the entertainment only through one supplier. This restricts your buying options to this one supplier.

In the first situation, what I'm describing is your desire to play cards (playing cards, that is). No supplier has a tremendous amount of market share (that is, they don't control the playing card industry) because CVS or Wal-Mart could easily produce cards similar to the industry leader (I would think), Bicycle, at a lower cost. This is an example of a highly competitive market where profits have been mostly whittled away. Since everyone can buy the playing cards for the same inexpensive price, people who would pay as much as 50 or 100 dollars for a pack of Bicycles (honestly, if it came to that, I would still consider it if I had no other means to buy playing cards) don't need to. They get it for 3 bucks like everyone else. Since I would've paid 50 dollars for it, I have the individual consumer surplus of 47 (50 dollars (my willingness to pay for a pack of cards) minus 3 dollars (the actual price)). For playing cards, and for competitive markets in general, consumer surplus is generally high (a decidedly good thing, because if there are many consumers with my amount of increased welfare, society as a whole benefits) because there are many suppliers, forcing suppliers to keep their prices near their marginal costs (what it costs for them to produce each unit of their good (in this case, a pack of Bicycles)).

In the second situation, however, what I'm describing is the act of attending a baseball game (or any major-league sporting event, for that matter). There's only one place you can watch your favorite baseball team, and that's at Fenway Park (or wherever else). You can't go anywhere else. It's Fenway Park, or nowhere else. Sure, you can go see the Pawtucket Sox or the Portland Sea Dogs, but it's not even close to the same. In economics, what the Red Sox (or any other MLB team (except maybe the Yanks+Mets and the Cubs+ChiSox)) have is called a monopoly. This is because no one can compete with the Red Sox to provide the service that only the Red Sox provide. This puts the Red Sox in an enviable position. They can price their tickets wherever they want, while only worrying about the demand curve (the downward-sloping line of a graph with Price on the y-axis and Quantity Demanded on the x-axis (if that's too much, just consider "demand curve" the demand) and not worrying about competitors. This leads to a lot of the pricing strategies that many teams currently employ. For the different qualities of seats at the ballpark, the team will price differently. For example, if you're a businessman with a ton of money, you're willingness to pay is pretty high because 3 hours at a ballpark is a lot of time and you make a lot of money. Therefore, the Red Sox will sell 200 dollar (It's probably more) tickets near home-plate because they're willing to pay exorbitant fees in order to attend. Similarly, if you're me, the starving college student, you're not willing to pay 200 bucks, but you like the ambience. So, they offer me bleacher seats to me for 20 bucks. In this manner, they maximize profits by maximizing the amount they receive of each fan's willingness to pay in return for each ticket.

Well, they try to maximize, anyways. Baseball has been reluctant to raise prices given the bad publicity recently with regard to the strike and steroids. But, they've come to realize that with the other major sports steadily increasing prices, consumers continue to come watch sporting events - with their pockets stuffed with twenties. Baseball wants to maximize profits, and if the other sports have been successful in doing so even after ticket price hikes, then baseball will follow suit. Clearly, it's working. The Red Sox, who are admittedly an extreme example, consistently sellout even with consistent price increases on tickets. Management will continue to raise them until they feel they've surpassed the point where they're maximizing profits. But even outside Boston, there's still excess demand for these tickets, even with rapidly increasing prices. I don't blame owners for taking advantage of this at all. It's their prerogative, and they want more money, just like all of us.

What about alienating fans? This can be a problem. Although you may not see a decline in ticket sales, you may see a decline in other goods that are related to the team (Memorabilia, apparel, and TV-viewership (leading to a decrease in the TV-contract with the team)). Though this is a concern, I don't think it's a great concern. Your average fan doesn't hear about the price increases for tickets, and if they are season-ticket holders, they expect the ticket price increases. So, it's really of no great concern, in my opinion. Of slightly greater concern, however, is the perceived demand for tickets. If a team increases prices, people are less inclined to come, thus causing teams to stop selling out. When people hear that their team is not selling out or see that their stadium is relatively empty (Montreal) on game-day, they are less encouraged to come because they perceive demand to be lessened. You always want what you can't have, and a ticket to a sold-out Red Sox game looks a lot better than a ticket to a 1/3 full Olympic Stadium, regardless of ambience or team quality. One, last, thing. I wouldn't have tickets be priced in steps. Generally, if you go to a baseball game, you'll see the tickets priced by group (as seen here in Fenway (haven't I put this off long enough?)). My question is, why?! Why not sell each seat at different prices? Fans wouldn't notice the marginal differences between seats that are priced 15 rows up or 5 rows up, but you could find out how desirable these particular seats are and adjust pricing information accordingly. If nothing else, this would act as a mechanism for understanding demand at the ballpark much better. This suggestion would also help to increase profits, however. Having a spectrum of prices based on the quality of your seat makes perfect sense to me, and I'm amazed no team has employed the practice yet. If you have any questions about the technical nature of the article, you're welcome to contact us, which, of course, you can do just below - now that I'm finally done.

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Posted by Jon on Sunday, February 08, 2004

Agents of Change

Following up on Dave’s last post regarding Scott Boras, I couldn’t help but agree. And in fact, neither could Curt Schilling. In an ongoing thread started by the recent Red Sox acquisition at the Sons of Sam Horn message board (inside the mind of an intelligent and revealing pitcher – a must read!), he explains why he dislikes agents: “Agents are the ONLY people in baseball that take from the game, and give nothing back.” Come on, Curt, that’s a little harsh. Agents give us so much to talk about! If it weren’t for agents like Boras, all of the future Hall of Famers would have already signed with teams. That’s just boring! Curt even offers to hammer out negotiations for his pitching hero, Greg Maddux (bring him to Beantown!). According to Schilling, Maddux’s agent is to blame for his extended stay in baseball purgatory.

Curt echoes Dave’s sentiments, arguing that established major leaguers are better off without agents, but that the young ones need assistance negotiating: “clubs will take advantage of players that don't have representation at this [early] stage of their careers, especially now with so many foreign players playing in the major leagues.” He’s right. I’d image young guys to be vulnerable, naive, and willing to sign anything for a chance to make it in the majors. You don’t want a player, say Adam Bernero, signing a contract on a napkin, unassisted by an agent, when another team is willing to compete for his contract (although the Braves must be pretty happy Detroit scout Gary York got to Bernero before they could). Established major leaguers, he writes, have less of a need for agents, unless they simply wish to avoid the considerable hassle of their own finances.

Let’s take a moment to think about the incredible sums of money that established players regularly contribute to their agents’ checking accounts. Schilling mentions that agents usually charge from five to ten percent of a players’ salary. Not considered by most fans, players can end up pocketing less money than their contracts would have us believe. Alex Rodriguez, a Boras client, signed a ten-year $252 million deal before the 2001 season. Hypothetically, if Boras charged A-Rod five percent for contract’s negotiation, he’s sitting on a significant wad of cash by the time the contract expires: $12.6 million. By now, he will have already collected $3.78 million, more money than Alfonso Soriano has made over his entire three year career, and more than double Albert Pujols’ career earnings to date. If Boras charged A-Rod ten percent of his contract’s value, he would make more than $25 million over the ten years. Forget about wondering why Pudge went for Detroit’s money instead of happiness in Florida. Boras’ projected income makes me wonder why Scotty doesn’t throw in the towel and begin working to ensure his clients’ happiness.

In addition to paying off their agents, players must file income tax in their home team’s state (unless the state has no income tax) and are abused by “jock taxes” levied against them whenever they participate in games in another state. In Puerto Rico, where the Expos will again play a sizable number of ‘home’ games, the commonwealth demands 20 percent of each player’s per-game salary (per-game salaries include all exhibition and spring training games). In California, players are taxed 9.3 percent of their income. Luckily A-Rod signed his contract in Texas, where no state income tax is collected.

It’s no wonder Los Angeles can’t find a bat to add to their lineup. Considering the amount of money they owe Scott, could any of Boras’ clients could ever afford to sign with Anaheim, San Diego, or LA? Well, yes they could…because they’re Scott Boras’ clients.

“Now Pitching – I mean Pinch Hitting…”

When 20 games out of first place is the closest a team comes to the playoffs in a span of six season, you don’t have to be Bill James to know that many problems are afoot. In Milwaukee, the Brewers have been out of contention for years, providing the few fans that come to the park the chance to watch a team with very little to play for. In the midst of selling the team (this can only be good news for the Brew Crew), Milwaukee has even offered their finances up to state examination, just to prove the necessity of cutting payroll by another 25 percent to the fans. But there are two things that the Brewers, and almost no other team in baseball, offer that I find incredibly exciting.

Firstly, the Brewers employ Brooks Kieschnick, one of the most intriguing players in baseball. This guy is a modern-day enigma, the only two-way player in the game. He pitches and he hits. Or should I say, he hits, foremost, and can pitch decently enough to make onto the mound for Milwaukee. After spending most of his career floundering in the minors, Kieschnick posted pretty decent numbers in 2003. Pitching-wise, he struck out 39 batters in 53 innings, walking thirteen. His pedestrian WHIP (1.49) and ERA+ (83) were nothing to brag about, but when at the plate, his batting average (.300) and AB/HR rate (ten at-bats per homer) were excellent for a pinch hitter. Even if nothing more than a novelty, Kieschnick is a baseball rarity and a fascinating player who will have a chance to both hit and pitch again in 2004.

But nothing excites me more than a team with loads of talent in the minors. And in the midst of their current rebuilding cycle, I have to admit that I’m more than a bit tickled with excitement for the Brewers of 2005 and beyond. Compared to the wasteland that is the Yankees and Red Sox farm systems, the Brewers have multiple legitimate prospects developing in an effort to set their dithering franchise straight. The Brewers have guys in the minors who should be ready to step into big league roles within the next couple of seasons. They could have a whole new infield by 2005, composed of Prince Fielder at first, Richie Weeks at second, J. J. Hardy at short, and Cory Hart at third. Amidst the turmoil of a regime change in Wisconsin, the Brewers should be looking for pitching help to compliment their high-quality prospects.

Without superstars in 2004, the Brewers will rely on entertaining players like Kieschnick and 27 year old rookie Scott Podsednik create team stability while massive changes occur. The impending exchange of ownership and a collection of studs in the minors should usher in a new era of competitiveness and interest in Brewers baseball.

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Posted by Mike on Saturday, February 07, 2004

Mad Dog Maddux

Let's talk Greg Maddux. This guy is still unsigned with less than a week remaining until pitchers and catchers report. It's not like he is without accomplishment, Maddux has won four Cy Young awards and is only 11 wins shy of his 300th victory. He hasn't won less than 15 games in any season since 1987, which was only his second season in the majors as well as his last losing season. His performance over the last decade and a half has put him in a class reached by very few of his contemporaries. Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez are probably the only other active pitchers who can claim to be in the same class as Greg Maddux...so why is he still unsigned?

It takes a combination of issues to make a future Hall of Famer a less than desirable commodity. Here's why:

1. High salary demands. Greg Maddux is represented by Scott Boras, an agent notorious for bleeding every last cent out of teams. He likely has made Maddux's contract demands well above present market value. Free-agency is a buyer's market right now and Maddux is unlikely to get the multi-year contract in the $14-16 million range he seems to feel he deserves. I don't think many teams are willing to pay that type of money for an aging veteran who has started to get the injury bug in recent years. He hasn't been missing starts but he's been accumulating a number of minor injuries that could start to affect him at any time. This type of money would be more understandable if Maddux were still a true ace but he hasn't been that version of himself since the 2001 season.

2. Declining "stuff." Likely an effect of getting old, Maddux's actual pitches have been getting worse over the last few years. He used to be known for the pinpoint control he had, which is still present for the most part, but people seem to forget he had amazing movement on his pitches. That movement just isn't there anymore.

3. Declining statistics. Maddux has a few disturbing trends in his statistics over the last few years. Take a look, these aren't healthy numbers:

.................K/9IP..........AVG Against..........OPS Against

This isn't good stuff. His strikeout rate is declining dramatically and, at the same time, opposing batters are hitting him more often and harder. There is no real reason to believe that he will improving in any of these areas in 2004, or even maintaining his current levels. More decline is likely to occur.

In any event, I don't believe that Greg Maddux is going to help whatever team he signs with as much as they are going to hope he does. At the moment his two major suitors are Los Angeles and Chicago. This makes sense, the Dodgers have a history of throwing money at players who aren't worth it and the Cubs need to ensure that they don't make the playoffs this year or else they might be confused with a "good" franchise.

Neither situation is ideal for Maddux but there are certain benefits to each. Dodger Stadium is the kind of spacious field that Maddux needs to help maintain his stellar career numbers. He will be able to keep his ERA down and the ball inside the ballpark (Maddux gave up 24 home runs in 2003, the most of his career). Of course, the Dodgers have one of the weakest offenses in baseball so Maddux isn't likely to see much run support unless he gets amazingly lucky. Look for a Kevin Brown type season if he signs with the Dodgers, an ERA in the high 2.00s and a 13-12 record.

If Maddux signs with the Cubs he will be returning to the team that he first broke into the majors with in 1986. Chicago is a legitimate playoff contender because they have a solid rotation as it stands now and a respectable offense. Maddux would probably be their fourth starter after Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano. Matching up against the bottom end of other teams' rotations Maddux would likely see his 300th win well before the end of the season. His other numbers might suffer a little because of Wrigley's more intimate confines but I believe Maddux is more interested in that 300th win than putting together another season with a sub-3.00 ERA.

In the end, if Maddux wants to make it seem like he still has his old "stuff" he'll move out to Los Angeles. But if he wants another chance at the playoffs and little more publicity around his 300th win then he will be pitching for the Cubs next year. I, for one, hope he ends up with the Cubs - but let's see what Scott Boras makes him do...

Trot-ting Toward the Future
Trot Nixon has signed a three-year $19.5 million contract with the Red Sox. The deal adds much needed stability to the team for the coming years. Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, David Ortiz, Nomar Garciapara, Scott Williamson, and Jason Varitek are all eligable to become free-agents after the 2004 season. Not all of these players will be coming back, but knowing that a 25 HR, 380 OBP player will be returning is very nice considering the price.

Theo Epstein has done a fantastic job of locking up players for reasonable prices. The aquisitions of Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke along with his shrewd management of team salary has proven Theo as one of the best GMs in baseball. It's good to see that the Red Sox aren't bleeding money like they did in the past under Dan Duquette.

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Posted by Ben K. on Friday, February 06, 2004

From Worst to....Worst

As we all know by now, Ivan Rodriguez, the team MVP of the 2003 World Series Champion Florida Marlins, signed a four-year, $40 million contract on Monday with the Detroit Tigers. Pudge gave up the chance to make around $16 million for two years in Florida to play with a team that lost 119 games last season, a total of 225 games over the last two years, and a three-year total of 321 losses, three short of the 87-year-old American League record held by the Philadelphia Athletics.

In the face of unprecedented losing, Pudge, of course, had all the right things to say about the signing and his new team. As MLB.com reported, Rodriguez said, "Believe it or not, when I was a kid, this was one of my favorite teams. I watched Detroit a lot on TV and have all those memories of a winning team all those years. I'm very happy to be part of this organization." It's a mystery to me how Pudge, who grew up in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, almost 2500 miles away from Detroit was able to watch the Tigers on TV. Also, in examining Detroit's team history, I see four years during Pudge's life where they could be considered competitive. So I don't know what winning Tigers teams Rodriguez watched on TV, but that's not my point today.

Instead, I'm more concerned with another one of Pudge's quotes. In the same MLB.com article, he said, "This team to me is not a losing team. Any team can have a bad year. This team did and it's already behind them." But did the Tigers really simply have a bad year last year as their new All Star catcher so succinctly put it? Let's take a closer look.

The Tigers finished last season with a 43-119 record, setting a new American League record for most losses in a single season. This dubious achievement left them with a .265 winning percentage. They finished 47 games behind the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins and 58 games worse than the best team in the majors last year. As a team, they hit just .240 with a .300 OBP and a .375 slugging percentage. They scored only 591 runs--less than 4 runs per game.

While the Texas Rangers' pitching staff was actually a little worse than that of the Tigers', Mike Maroth and company weren't exactly setting any records. Well, actually, Maroth himself did when, on September 5, he became the first pitcher since 1980 to lose 20 games in a single season. He would finish with 21 losses. Overall, the team finished with a 5.30 ERA. They managed three complete games and held their opponents scoreless only five times the entire season. The staff struck out a Major League-low 764 hitters while racking up a team WHIP of a stunning 1.51.

Pudge, I hate to break it to you, but this team did more than just have an unlucky bad year. The 2003 Tigers were one of the worst teams in the history of the game. Only two teams have lost more games then they did, and their level of ineptitude hadn't been reached since 1962. Despite Pudge's predictions that this team won't be a losing team in 2004, it's tough to argue otherwise. Bad breaks don't account for the horrible nature of the Tigers last year.

So the Tigers were bad. In another interview, Pudge even acknowledge this. "I know they had a bad season last year, but I think this is going to be a completely different season," he said. But is it really? Will the Tigers led by Ivan Rodriguez go from worst ever to first in the league next season? For a hint on the future of the Tigers, let's take a look at all of the teams in Major History that have lost more than 110 games.

I'm going to make this nice and easy. The following table will break down the teams that have been notoriously bad. It will have the team's record in the year they lost more than 110 games, the team's record the following season, the place in which the team finished that next season, and the number of games by which the team improved. Let's do it in order of teams that lost the most games. Also, as a note, I'm going to look at teams considered in the modern era of baseball. That is, only teams after 1903 are on this list.

 RecordNext SeasonStandingsGames Improved
1962 Mets40-12051-111Last Place+10
2003 Tigers43-119NANANA
1916 Athletics36-11755-98Last Place+20
1935 Braves38-11571-836th (out of 8)+32.5
1904 Senators38-11364-877th (out of 8)+26
1952 Pirates42-11250-104Last Place+8
1965 Mets50-11266-959th (out of 10)+16.5
1932 Red Sox43-11163-867th (out of 8)+22.5
1939 St. Louis Browns43-11167-876th (out of 8)+24
1941 Phillies43-11142-109Last place+0.5
1963 Mets51-11153-109Last place+2

The future for the Tigers does not look too good from what we see in this table. First, let's look at the bad news. The 1962 Mets are the only team on this list to lose more games than the Tigers. In 1963, they improved by only 10 games and are the only team on the list in consecutive seasons. In 1964, they lost 109, narrowly avoiding the list. It would be the only time they would so between 1962 and 1965. The 1939 Phillies are clearly the team on the list that improved the least. By losing 109 games the next season, they too avoided consecutive years on the list. Those Phillies, however, lost 100 games or more for five seasons in a row. They are the only team to achieve this dubious feat. The Tigers have lost more than 100 for only two seasons in a row.

Now for the relatively good news: The Tigers have to get better. On average, teams with over 110 losses improve by 16.5 games the next season. That would put the Tigers at around 59-103 for the 2004 campaign. Additionally, no teams have done worse in the season after losing over 110 games. So I think it's safe to say that Pudge's Tigers won't be any worse this season than the Pudge-less Tigers were in 2003. What it does mean however is that the Tigers will have lost 328 games in three seasons, thus setting a new record for most losses in three consecutive seasons. And to think Pudge could have stayed in Florida, defending a World Championship and not a loss record.

Is it really realistic though to assume that the Tigers will improve only by those projected 16 games? No and yes. no, because the Tigers' offense is radically better for next season. Rondell White, Fernando Viña, Pudge, and Carlos Guillen are all significant upgrades over last year's no-name offense. While Pudge's 23 win shares were the most he's had in four years, it's safe to say that he'll be better than Brandon Inge was behind the plate in Comerica last year. I don't think Pudge will reach 23 again, but he'll make a difference, as will the rest of the Tigers' additions. But the pitching has not improved. Detroit's pitching staff was not fooling anyone last year, and they won't be fooling anyone this year even with the help of Ivan Rodriguez.

In the end, I predict 95 losses from the Tigers. This would represent an improvement of 24 games over 2003, which is no small feat. But it's not really the "completely different season" that Pudge predicted. It's still a season of disappointment for the players and the fans, and it's most definitely a season at the very bottom of the mediocre AL Central.

Finally, Pudge also claimed that we, the fans, would see the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs "very soon." But unless the Tigers upgrade their pitching staff, those 96 losses may be the high-water mark for the Pudge era. Rodriguez will only get older, and the Tigers don't have much in the way of pitching prospects. I highly doubt, Pudge, the Detroit Tiger, will see a return to the October glory he enjoyed with the Marlins.

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Posted by Dave on Thursday, February 05, 2004

Scott Boras: Social Enemy?

Normally, before I launch into the post, I have some dirty laundry that I like to air out. Today, there isn't much because there isn't much going on. I still do have a few comments: I'm nearly outraged that the Twins haven't signed Johan Santana to a long-term contract, this guy could be one of the best pitchers in the MLB in a few years (he's already close), and the Twins haven't signed him to a Huff/Zito/Halladay deal. Realistically, they could sign him for 4 years for about 28 million and have it backloaded. I also suspect that if they accomplished a deal like that, it would have tremendous value in the future. I also highly suspect that they'll have a ton of difficulty getting him to sign a contract similar to this following next season...I agree with Rob Neyer's latest article - I think winning is by far the most important thing in sports. This is precisely why I am so surprised that it was not one of the categories listed in the ultimate standings. They include "Championships," but that eludes "winning." Maybe the creators of the poll thought "winning" was too broad an explanator in determining the value of a franchise. I don't believe that, however. Who cares if winning explains 70% of the quality of a sports team? That makes perfect sense, and it doesn't diminish from the study being interesting. In the end, you wouldn't care in the slightest about fan relations, stadium experience, ownership, the likability of the players...all of these wouldn't matter if your sports team wasn't winning. There's a reason no one goes to Camden Yards anymore, and I can guarantee you that it has nothing to do with ticket prices, ownership, or the likability of Jerry Hairston Jr. (I'm sure he's a swell fellow). It has everything to do with them cellar-dwelling, don't let that poll convince you otherwise...In an interesting story from ESPN.com, Fred McGriff injured himself after construction on a HR-sign that would countdown to his 500th. Going into this season, McGriff had 478. The Dodgers calculated that he would hit 500 on approximately August 22nd. This would mean he'd have to not only hit 22 HRs this season, but do it all before September. McGriff actually was on pace to hit more than 22 last year in an LA uniform, but to say he'll even hit 22 this season (the full one, not just until August) may be a bit of a stretch. McGriff isn't just on the wrong side of thirty, he's really on the wrong side. I take it all back, McGriff has been so consistent at bombing 30 out in a season that I suppose it's fair for the Dodgers to surmise he'd have 22 by that date. That's pretty incredible that he's maintained his power - let alone a job - until age 40.

Let's move onto Scott Boras, the man everyone loves to hate. But is he really that bad an agent? Remember this: His job is to get his clients in the best situation. With each client, there are a number of questions that are important in whether or not he signs with a specific team: How much money am I getting and for how many years? Where am I playing, am I near my family? Does the team win? Will the team have a realistic chance at winning a championship? How is the quality of the schools in the area? How is the nightlife (David Wells)? There may be other questions, but those seem to be the most important. Boras is notorious for getting above market-value for his free agents using strong-arm tactics and by always squeezing his client's suitors for more money. This is beneficial to the player; he's generally receiving the maximum amount of money possible when he's being represented by Boras. It's also beneficial for Boras; his wallet gets fatter with each extra million that's added to his clients' contracts. I think this truth about Boras is often underrated. Pudge Rodriguez accomplished all he could ever want to accomplish last season. He put together a fine season, winning WS MVP, and was arguably the premier catcher in the National League. After a year when you've accomplished it all, why not get some financial security for the future. For Pudge, he may have desired money much more than he desired playing near his current home, winning, or winning championships. This would seem to be the case if he accepted 40 million over 4 years instead of 24 million over three years from Florida (sans the voidability part, I would imagine). In Pudge's case, it almost (read: just barely in the realm of possible beliefs) makes sense that he'd put such a premium on the money. Boras also helped Darren Dreifort to a 5 year, 55 million dollar contract. This is an incredibly beneficial contract (even in the Golden Age of Contracts) especially considering Dreifort's history of injury. Boras did very well for his client in that case.

As much as I would like to condone Boras' behavior (it is in his job description to do the best he can for his clients), it seems that all too often, Boras does not behave in the best interest of his clients. Bill Madden informatively points out that Boras has behaved poorly in a number of cases:
Kevin Millwood had the chance to sign a 3 year, 35 million dollar contract with the Phils, but Boras turned it down because he claimed Millwood could get better. He didn't, and is now in arbitration.
Kenny Rogers wanted to stay in Texas last year, but declined their 2 year, 11 million dollar contract. He ended up signing with the Twins for 2 million for one year. He's back with the Rangers now - for 2 years and 6 million dollars, however.
Rey Sanchez has had to deal with the greatest amount of misagenting, however. In 2001, Rey Sanchez was apparently offered a 2 year deal worth 7.5 million. His salary for one of those years would exceed his salary for the last three years combined. Poor Rey.
We all know the situation with ARod too.

So, is Boras a bad agent? It depends who you ask. Perusing some of Boras' clients (middle of the page, in a table off to the side) If you're a player like JD Drew, Rick Ankiel, or Darren Dreifort, having an agent like Boras is extremely beneficial. Boras will help players get what they deserve (or much more), even if they're merely prospects (the former two) or unestablished players (Dreifort). These are the players that have the most to benefit from financial security because they're still young and their careers could become marred by physical injury (Darren's lost in Injury Hell, it seems) or, in the rarest of circumstances, psychological injury (Rick Ankiel, imagine what you could have been).

It seems, however, that if you're an established player (Millwood, IRod, ARod, Rogers, Sanchez), having Boras as your agent may cause one of two pitfalls: Boras overvalues your worth initially, trying to work for a better deal (Millwood, Rogers, Sanchez). After trying to strong-arm the club, the offer is dropped off the table later in negotiations. This is bound to happen with Borasian tactics. You may fall into the other pitfall, however. You may think you want the maximum amount of money, but end up miserable at your destination. This has already happened to one Rod, and will almost surely happen to the other Rod. If Boras was truly concerned for his clients' welfare, I feel he would better articulate the importance of the environment that the player is playing in. For players like the Rods, I don't believe that Boras does this. ARod must've had an inkling of a feeling that the Rangers would be put in financial chains as a result of his contract, preventing them from competing effectively (an extremely important factor in ARod's decision on who to sign with). The point, however, is that ARod shouldn't need to realize this. Boras should inform him that if he signs a 252 million dollar contract, he probably won't be able to compete for a divisional title in Texas. I feel as though this is what happened to IRod. Boras probably selfishly emphasized the importance of money in having IRod sign with Tigers. Most sports fans are bewildered by the signing - it would seem to most everyone that IRod would have a significantly higher utility in Florida. Hopefully Boras isn't behaving selfishly, I would hate to find out that a majority of his clients were unhappy with his services. In truth, I would suspect that most of them are dissatisfied with his services; I, for one, would not desire to have Boras as my agent.

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Posted by Jon on Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Yankees to Serve Lamb at Third

Texas finally caved, trading their infielder to a powerhouse AL East team. Only, the team wasn’t Boston, and the infielder wasn’t A-Rod. In an unforeseen move, New York will trade minor league pitcher Jose Garcia to the Texas Rangers for third baseman Mike Lamb, as soon as the Yankees free up a spot on their 40-man roster. Can the Yankees’ hole at third base now be considered filled?

With a shortage of other alternatives, New York will probably stick with Lamb and the gang (Houston, Wilson, Cairo), at least until the trading deadline, when better options may become available. As it stands, Lamb is their best option at the hot corner, but he only has one full year of major league experience. Lamb has posted decent numbers in parts of four seasons in the majors (only one as a full-time starter). His career numbers – .282 Batting Average, .336 on-base percentage, and .385 slugging percentage – are decent, especially considering the dearth of quality third basemen in the league. The real reason why I question this move: Lamb’s defense is nothing more than adequate, if that. With him at third, the Yankees’ infield defense will be below average all around.

Having no better defensive alternatives, Lamb easily beats out Tyler Houston as the best option in the Bronx. With the emergence of Hank Blalock, the Rangers had no need for Lamb and sent him down to AAA for much of the 2003 season. He performed dismally in only 38 plate appearances with Texas. In his last full seasons in the majors, although not a full-time starter, Lamb’s numbers are certainly good enough to beat out Houston in New York. Following is a comparison of their numbers in each of their last two full seasons in the majors.

2001............284...........306.......... .348............412............14/24..............4


Unlike Tyler Houston, Mike reaches base at a league-average clip and Lamb's BB/SO ratio is far better than Houston's. Compared to their other options, the Bombers’ meatiest lineup will be with Lamb at third. He will have to due until the end of July, when New York will trade for some Grade A beef.

Respect Your Elders

After Jesse Orosco officially retired a few weeks ago, I was a tad taken aback. For as long as I’ve been following baseball, Orosco was a part of the game. And he was always old! In the retirement of Orosco, baseball lost its oldest active player. But don’t fret! Another member of the rookie class of 1979 is prepared to take the torch from the old lefty, provided a team allows him to participate in the marathon’s final legs. You know who I’m talking about. You can see his years of baseball in the wrinkles on his face: 3081 little wrinkles – one for each game played in the majors.

For a second straight season, Rickey Henderson will be entering the season without an MLB contract. Rickey refuses to take the hint, though, and remains confident that he’ll catch on, as he did last July with the Dodgers. Like Orosco, who toiled through his worst season in the majors last year with a terrible ERA+ of 53 (easily a career low), Henderson suffered through his worst season at the major league level. He recorded career lows in batting average, OBP, stolen bases, and games played (only 30) – and that’s a long career.

It’s nice to know that one guy from the rookie class of 1979, despite poor performance, refuses to admit defeat. Most likely, Rickey will find a team to take a chance on him next season (maybe GM Billy Beane will pick him up, providing Henderson with a fifth tenure in Oakland. He has the reputation of a poor clubhouse guy, but if any teams are looking for a veteran presence, they can’t go wrong with Henderson.

Coming or Going?

It appears that the Pirates are on the verge of signing Randall Simon, who they traded to the Cubs before the deadline last summer. In exchange for Simon, Pittsburgh received minor league outfielder Ray Sadler, a moderate centerfield prospect. The Pirates are the only team interested in the notorious Sausage Smasher, but they are not the only club to sign a player who they traded away during last season.

The Orioles recently (re-)sig;ned Sidney Ponson to basically the same contract he rejected (a 3-year $22.5 million deal) before he was traded to the Giants. In the trade, Baltimore received pitchers Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth, and minor-leaguer Ryan Hannaman, who could end up as a decent starter or late-inning reliever, according to Baseball America.

In a way, the Pirates essentially rented their first-baseman out in exchange for the rights to a minor leaguer. Baltimore pulled the same trick, acquiring three pitchers of varying talent, health, and development, only to reacquire Ponson after the season. These something-for-nothing deals are pretty sweet for teams out of competition by the trading deadline. A team that likes a player enough that it plans on paying more than market value for him after the season, should trade him for some prospects at the deadline, and try to then resign him during the off-season. Whether their strategies were purposeful or not – Ponson knew that Baltimore’s deal would stand after the season – aside from the Rule 5 draft, there’s no better way to add prospects for free.

Coming or Going? – Part II: Burks Returning to Beantown

Speaking of teams reacquiring former talent, it appears that Ellis Burks is close to signing with the Red Sox. Burks wants to play in Boston in 2004 and Theo wants him there. He is in Boston now, ready to undergo a physical.

While his career has spanned eight fewer seasons than Rickey’s, at 39 years old, Ellis Burks is no youngster. Red Sox fans weren’t happy when Burks was sent packing in 1992 after contributing a lot to Boston: he was a standout 20/20 rookie contribution in 1987, he became recognized as one of the best centerfielders in the American League (Gold Glove in 1990), and was an All-Star in 1990. My father, who had a special knack for predicting Burks homeruns, was unhappy with the move. “He’s injury-prone,” the Red Sox said. “He won’t last another few years in the majors.” Did he ever prove them wrong!

Following his time with the Red Sox, Burks put up consistent numbers over the last ten seasons, including another All-Star appearance in 1996. Following a season filled with injury, Burks, now a regular DH, is determined, having never won a championship on any level, to return to baseball for one more season, probably in the form of a Boston homecoming.

The Red Sox are searching for a right-handed bench hitter, and Burks has a recent, history of dominating lefties (note: the sample sizes are relatively small and are not be conducive to extrapolating predictions for the future):

2002 vs. LHP.......136............9.............316............400............581
2003 vs. LHP........59.............3.............322............444............576

Burks, a capable right-handed bench bat or platooner at DH (with Kevin Millar), is exactly the type lefty-killing hitter Boston is interested in signing. Since Oakland signed Eric Karros, Boston’s list of such options is dwindling. Watch for a deal to be signed within the week.

Are the Twins insane?

After finally allowing him to cement himself a spot in their rotation, Johan Santana – a left-hander – appears to be the best starter pitcher on the Twins, and one of the brightest young pitchers in baseball (he’ll be 25 this year). Since his first start after regular rest on July 11, Santana posted some wonderful numbers: a 3.25 ERA, 95 strikeouts, and only 25 walks in 91.1 innings. After the All-Star break, opposing batters only .216 against him and starting on August 3, he did not lose a game in his last eleven starts, tallying eight wins during that span. Minnesota would probably do anything to keep such a young, potentially dominating pitcher a happy member of the Twins, right? Wrong!

Santana has filed for salary arbitration, asking for $2.45 million. Considering his performance as a reliever and a starter over the last two years, this sum appears quite reasonable. The Twins, though, refused to offer that much, beginning their offer at a mere $1.6 million, which is not fair compensation for a pitcher of his caliber. The Twins just upped their offer by $300k, but they will most likely lose the case if it goes to arbitration.

After mismanaging his career for the last two years, the Twins are now mismanaging his contract negotiations. Consider this: Brad Penny, two years away from free agency, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $3.725 million contract with the Marlins. Carl Pavano, a free agent after 2004, did the same, agreeing to a $3.8 contract with Florida. Santana is a better pitcher than both Pavano and Penny, despite having less experience as a starter. When he becomes a free agent, Santana will probably be happy to take the next available flight out of Minneapolis.

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