Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Mike on Saturday, February 14, 2004

Here We Go Again...

If what the media is reporting is true, then Alex Rodriguez will be playing for the Yankees next year. Wonderful. Honestly, I can't understand why the Yankees feel they need to make this trade, at least not on a logical level. This can only be a half-panicked George Steinbrenner snap decision. With the Red Sox appearing to have a legitimately superior team for the first time in a number of years it appears that Steinbrenner was willing to take no chances. I doubt Brian Cashman could have condoned making this trade because it does not make the Yankees that much better. A-Rod is obviously an upgrade over Soriano but he's isn't a HUGE upgrade. So, what does the trade accomplish?

1. The Yankees get A-Rod. He's the best player in the game and if he stays healthy will continue to be for the next few years. He's better than Soriano both offensively and defensively but that upgrade comes at a cost. The Yankees receive the honor of paying the remainder of the largest contract in the history of baseball, $180 million over the next 7 years. It seems like they print their own money, so I guess his contract won't be crippling them like it did Texas. In Texas, A-Rod's contract tied up more than 20% of the payroll, in New York his salary will make up less than 10% of the payroll. Being able to spend $200+ million on players gives the Yankees the luxury of being able to hemorrhage money.

2. The Yankees give up Alfonso Soriano. He's only 26 years old and still 3 years away from free-agency. He plays second base, not an easy position to fill with a good player, and while not being a great batter against the league's top pitching he still manages to produce excellent numbers. While Soriano is a flawed player he's also young, talented, and cheap.

3. The Yankees move the huge hole in their infield from third base to second base. I don't know who they plan on playing at second base, but it does not look like it will be anyone good. Maybe the Yankees will stop babying Derek Jeter and move him to third base allowing A-Rod's superior defense to actually have a significant effect. Kevin Brown has to be thrilled at this prospect.

If you read between the lines you see that this move was purely motivated by Steinbrenner's desire to embarrass the Red Sox once again. The news of the trade seems to done an excellent job of royally pissing off every Red Sox fan in New England. Relations between Red Sox Nation and the Yankees Empire are always touchy and this deal certainly will do nothing to help the situation. As a strategic move designed to break moral just before spring training starts this is about as damaging a thing as the Yankees could have done. Mental warfare, leave it to the Yankees to bring the rivalry to that.

The deal also highlights George Steinbrenner's growing personal control over the team. As Brian Cashman has steadily lost control over the team Steinbrenner has been making more of the decisions. The Yankees are facing a future in which they already owe Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and A-Rod a combined $396 million in guaranteed money. Giambi and Jeter have already started to decline (Giambi might have a slight case of Albert Belle syndrom), even if A-Rod maintains his current level of performance the Yankees will have a rather large amount of money tied up in two other aging and underperforming stars.

I'm sure that John Henry and Theo Epstein are unhappy about A-Rod going to the Yankees but worse things could happen. As it stands now, the Yankees have built an offensive powerhouse with reasonably good pitching and weak defense. The Red Sox have made an effort this offseason to balance last year's squad with an infusion of pitching. This flip-flop is interesting because the Red Sox have historically been the more offensively heavy team among the two.

The additions of Gary Sheffield and A-Rod will certainly give the Yankees the best lineup in the majors but their pitching still contains a number of question marks. Kevin Brown was one of the best pitchers in the majors a few years ago but now that he has developed injury problems his real value is a big question (he may also take a beating because of the Yankees complete lack of defense). Jon Lieber has not pitched in a year and may need a few months before he regains his pre-injury form. Jose Contreras has amazing "stuff" but he's also 39 years old an "american years" and has yet to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season while a member of the rotation. Of all the Yankee starters Javier Vazquez is likely to be the most reliable but even he has not proved he can pitch effectively in New York's high-pressure atmosphere. In most years this would not be a problem for the Yankees, they could just go out and grab a pitcher from another team before the trading deadline. Will they have to the money to be able to do so this year now that A-Rod is on the roster?

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Posted by Ben K. on Saturday, February 14, 2004

Stay Tuned
Updated at 5:35 p.m.

As Spring Training for teams other than the Devil Rays looms on the horizon, out of nowhere, it appears as though the Yankees third baseman may end up being none other than Alex Rodriguez. In exchange, Alfonso Soriano will be headed to Texas. Of course, the two teams have to work out details in the contract and the issue of money. But if King George wants it, King George will get it. I'll be updating as this story unfolds, at least until 6 p.m. tonight and then tomorrow. So stay tuned. Meanwhile, here are the important links.

Newsday's original story

ESPN.com's story, saying the two teams are working on a deal, but it's not quite done yet.

MLB.com's report on the trade

The Fort Worth Star Telegram is reporting that the trade is done. All the two sides are waiting for is an approval from the Players' Association for some minor restructuring of Alex's gigantic contract. While this was the step that killed the Red Sox-Rangers deal a few weeks back, the Rangers and agent Scott Boras now know what the Association would consider to be an acceptable contract. If this report is true, this deal may be all but completed by tonight.

So keep checking back, and I'll keep you posted on this stunning development to a wild off-season.

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Posted by Dave on Friday, February 13, 2004

Salary Arbitration Revisited

Truth be told, I've been waiting about 3 solid weeks to write about arbitration again. I couldn't write about it again, however, because no arbitration cases had occurred yet. Unsurprisingly, a host of players agreed to contracts prior to their arbitration date. The most recent case, Kevin Millwood (1 year, 11 million), has been discussed to death on this board (I also think he is highly undeserving of that contract - I'm not even sure he is worth 7). Looking back on my previous discussion regarding salary arbitration, I'm pleased with my hypothesis. I felt that players and teams sometimes inexplicably (seemingly) agree to a bad contract prior to arbitration for one main reason: Risk aversion. Neither side wants to enter arbitration because either side could potentially take it on the chin. Albert Pujols, for example, could receive as much as 10.5 million or as little as 7 million. That's a pretty risky proposition for both sides - the Cardinals payroll becomes a lot tighter (too tight, perhaps, forcing a salary dump) if they end up paying 10.5 and Pujols loses a lot of money if he only gets 7.

Omar Minaya confirmed this fact when he spoke about the Expos' win in Nick Johnson's arbitration case: "Despite the risky nature arbitration presents, we know Nick's professionalism will not deter him from achieving his full potential this year." Omar and Nick were both concerned about the risk entering the case, surely. Omar was certainly glad to know that the arbitors felt that Nick was only worth the 1.25 million the Expos asked for rather than the 1.68 million Johnson asked for. The latter part of his quote touches on something which I failed to expound on (I did mention it, I believe) in my article. "We know Nick's professionalism will not deter him from achieving his full potential this year." That could be said about most any player at any time, so why mention it following an arbitration hearing? My hypothesis, reinforced by the following case, is that both sides desire to not hurt the relations it has with the other. This is because the side driving the hard bargain may worsen that side's chances at a future resigning.

Jack Wilson alludes to this in the press conference following the Pirates' loss in his arbitration hearing. Jack Wilson: "'It’s unfortunate it had to go this far,' said Wilson. 'It’s something I never intended to do. The whole point of the offseason that I had concentrated on was just getting tendered and being in a Pirates uniform. That’s all that really mattered to me.'" Jack's trying to comfort the Pirates by stating that the arbitration wasn't personal. He just wanted a fair deal and to stay in a Pirates uniform. He wants to make sure the Pirates understand have not damaged their relationship so that when it comes time to renegotiate a contract again, the Pirates will be a willing negotiator. Going to arbitration could offend or embitter the side that's trying to accomodate the opposing side that's trying to drive a hard bargain. Jack wants to make sure the Pirates aren't embittered. I failed to mention the potential embitterment as a possible reason to avoid arbitration in my previous article. This is because I believe that in agreeing to the average of the two proposed salaries made by the team and the player (this seems to be somewhat common) still embitters the side that didn't want to budge in the first place. That's just my opinion, however. Oh, and in case you were wondering (or didn't click the link, you uninquisitive insolents), Jack Wilson got the 1.85 million he asked for; the Pirates felt he was only worth 1.4 million.

This is all terribly interesting, I'm sure (a bit of sarcasm, because the following discussion will be far more intriguing (in my view, certainly)), but that's not the real motivation for this post. You may have noticed something peculiar about the arbitration rulings (it took me awhile to compare two indispuatble facts): Jack Wilson received 1.85 million from arbitration and, as a result of the objective, fair, knowledgable, and unbiased process known as arbitration, Nick Johnson will only receive 1.25 million. You have got to be kidding me. It would seem to me, and any reasonably informed or knowledgable baseball player, that not only is Nick Johnson better than Jack Wilson, he's significantly better. Take a look at their side-by-side offensive comparison on MLB.com. Nick played in 54 fewer games (about 1/3 less than Jack) and still managed to best him in most every offensive categories - even the non-averaged statistics! Nick had more HRs, walks, runs, and a better average, OBP, and slugging percentage. Remember, this is in 54 fewer games - just imagine what he could do in Jack Wilson's total of 150 games. Nick's OBP is also very indicative of a player with a very large ceiling - with that eye he could soon turn into Jason Giambi (how ironic it would be if he did, considering they signed one to a now illegitimate contract only to have the one they were looking for walk away from pinstripes). Jack Wilson's offensive statistics are positively pedestrian. To play in major leagues with these kind of offensive statistics (300 OBP, 350 SLG? That's awful) you need serious defensive capabilities - and most would claim that Jack Wilson has those capabilities.

Looking at the offensive statistics, it would seem there is no way Nick could be construed as a less valuable player than Wilson. But, there are two problems (that are alluded to in the above paragraph) with the belief that Nick is better than Jack (and therefore deserving of a better contract, seemingly). First, Nick is frequently injured, limiting him to the number of games he can participate in. Though some of the games he lost last year were as a result of playing behind Giambi (18 million soon? I'd hate to be paying that contract), the majority were as a result of his penchant for the Disabled List. So, in arguing to the arbitors, the Expos probably said something like this: "If this guy consistently gets injured, how can we depend on him for a full year? If he's not healthy, he's not worth the money he says he's worth - heck, he can't even play 100 games." The problem with this argument is that he's definitely worth it, especially if you look at his worth in relation to his arbitration buddy, the 1.8-million-dollar-man himself, Jack Wilson. Again, I'll be using win shares to approximate the value, in wins, that Wilson and Johnson were worth last year. Nick was worth 14.5 while Jack was worth only 11.3. In other words, Nick was worth nearly a full win ((14.5-11.3)/3) more than Jack Wilson. This seems rather odd, when you consider the fact that Wilson played nearly 54 more games, but Nick was worth a full win more. You could argue that you have to pay someone to play those games at first that Nick misses, but, even then the contracts are a wash and you're still left with an extra win created by Nick's burgeoning baseball brilliance.

Second, as anyone who watches SportsCenter can attest, Jack Wilson seems to play some sparkling defense at shortstop. It's a rare week during the baseball season where Baseball Tonight fails to sport a Web Gem by Jack Wilson. He has something of a reputation when it comes to making diving plays in the hole. It's this defense that may cause one to believe that Jack Wilson may be worth more than Nick Johnson. If we consult Defensive Win Shares (in a conversation earlier tonight, Aaron Gleeman assured me that these were reasonable estimates after I mistakenly relied on their cumulative values as a measure of defensive aptitude (I suspect that nearly all our readers are acquaintances or have travelled over from Aaron's blog, if you haven't seen it yet, do so, it's fantastic writing)), courtesy of Baseball Graphs, we'll see again that the difference between Nick Johnson and Jack Wilson is fairly minimal. Jack Wilson plays a decidedly mediocre shortstop if you view his value of 3.93 for WS/1000 innings defensively. This is right in the middle of the pack for National League shortstops; I've long suspected that Wilson's mediocre range was compensated for by his spectacular hands and flair, this statistic confirms that belief. Nicky's not too shabby, however. He sports a value of 2.24 WS/1000 innings defensively. This is actually better than nearly all of his peers at first, but the statistic seems unreliable (Jason Giambi's 2.20 is pretty high for a notoriously bad 1st-baseman), and it is still significantly below Wilson's 3.93. The problem with believing that Wilson's defense makes him better than Johnson is this: We already included that in our original analysis of total win shares. Maybe you believe that defense is undervalued by the Win Shares system. I won't argue with you, but ask yourself this question: Do you think Nick's propensity to get injured (remember, he's still more valuable even for only 96 games) and his questionably worse defensive credentials merit a salary that is 600,000 dollars less than Jack Wilson?

I don't even have to mull it over to realize that it's absurd to think that Nick Johnson isn't at least worth what Jack Wilson is. This brings us back full circle to the institution of salary arbitration. Arbitors "must consider the player’s contribution to his club during the past season (including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership, and public appeal), the length and consistency of his career contribution, the record of the player’s past compensation, comparative baseball salaries, the existence of any physical or mental defects on the part of the player, and the recent performance record of the club including but not limited to its league standings and attendance as an indication of public acceptance. Arbitrators may not consider the financial position of the player and the club, press comments, testimonials, or similar material bearing on the player or the club, except for recognized annual awards, offers made by either the player or club prior to arbitration, the cost to the parties of their representatives, and salaries in other sports or occupations. Further, the neither party may present evidence related to the luxury tax." Basically, they need to be the experts on baseball and on the worths of players in baseball. It seems, however, that they're not. The group of arbitors that MLB has under contract mistakenly (in my opinion, certainly) gave Jack Wilson 1.85 million while giving a clearly better player, Nick Johnson, only 1.25 million. There are two reasons for this:
1. The criteria and rubric used by the arbitors is so out of whack that it could produce these results. Or,
2. The arbitors really don't know what they're doing.
Call me arrogant, but I don't think I'm wrong, and I don't think it's the former reason. This is because no set of reasonable criteria would cause me to believe that Nick Johnson is worth less than Jack Wilson - certainly not 600,000 dollars less. I've assured myself of this fact in the preceding discussion. So, I'm convinced that the arbitors really don't have as much expertise as they should. I don't doubt their objectivity, their fairness, or their intentions in general. Arbitors, I would expect, would protect their integrity to their death - it's career suicide and totally immoral to behave in a biased fashion. Since arbitors intend to decide what's fair they must not be using the correct tools or instruments to understand the value of a player. RBIs? Subjective evaluation of defense? These don't matter. You need to maintain objectivity, especially as an arbitor. The fact that these arbitors are evaluating players' worths so poorly signals to me that their instruments and rubric are poorly constructed. No wonder teams and players are so afraid to go to arbitration.

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Posted by Jon on Thursday, February 12, 2004

Lucky Season Makes Millwood More Money

Before the start of the 2003 season, the Phillies acquired Kevin Millwood to lead their young pitching staff, giving up a top (and I mean tip top) prospect in Johnny Estrada. They thought they were acquiring a legitimate staff ace, and they paid that kind of money to get him ($9.9 million). In case you missed it, the Phillies just signed Kevin to a one year $11 million contract to avoid arbitration. Yesterday, Mike touched on some Millwood issues. He pointed to Millwood’s ERA+ numbers over his seven year career, which indicate that aside from one very good season in 1999, the Phillies were picking up an average guy to insert into their rotation as a number one starter.

I hold nothing against Mike for these claims, for they are quite accurate. Aside from 1999, Millwood has been nothing special. But, as Dave pointed out to me, what Philly was signing was hope that Kevin, after a better season in 2002, was on the verge of returning to his 1999 form. In 1999, Millwood went 18-7, striking out 205 batters in 228 innings. He was second in the league with a 2.68 ERA. In 1999, Millwood truly appeared to be the latest recipient of Mazzone Magic in Atlanta. After that season, an $11 million contract actually appears reasonable. But a closer inspection of Millwood’s career pitching in 1999 reveals why Millwood seemed so much better in 1999. Rest assured, Millwood had a good season, but if that season was the Phillies’ basis for his original contract, they missed an important factor. Interestingly, Millwood’s dramatic drop-off in ERA was a result of predominantly one factor: luck.

Mike gave us Millwood’s ERA+ over his career. Here is his ERA+ in addition to his hits allowed per nine innings for each year, with his 1999 season highlighted:


The only two seasons that really pop out at you going down these columns are his 1999 numbers: 162 ERA+ and 6.63 hits allowed per nine innings. Was Millwood really that much of a better pitcher in 1999 than the rest of his career? His strike outs per nine innings were actually down from 1998.

In fact, Millwood did not have the National League’s second-best ERA in 1999 because his pitching was so much better than his previous year. The real reason for his success in 1999 lies in his H/9. In 1999, Millwood allowed more than one hit fewer than he has in any other season. No reason is apparent from his stats. In fact, his win total, strike outs per nine innings, and walks per nine innings were remarkably similar to his 1998 performance. So how can we account for Millwood’s miraculous 1999 ERA? It had to be luck! Thanks to Voros McCracken we understand that in most cases, luck has a strong affects on whether a ball hit into play is recorded as an out, or falls as a hit. It appears that in 1999, Millwood pitched so well because he was particularly lucky. A pitcher’s hits allowed is never a good measure of a pitcher’s performance because it is a stat that depends on luck, at least to a reasonable extent. Millwood’s career year was nothing more than a lucky season. He pitched well, but not significantly better than any other seasons of his career. Philly should not have been banking on Millwood returning to his 1999 form. In 1999, aside from his ERA, he was the same pitcher he has always been: slightly above average.

Which brings me to my point: Millwood is possibly the most overrated pitcher in baseball, and he is one of the most overpaid athletes in the sport. I agree with Mike in that the Phillies need some stability in their rotation and that Millwood is a good fit, but for $10 million?! Millwood was going to be a Phillie this year regardless of his signing this contract (they were in the process of salary arbitration), so it’s not as if Philadelphia could have refrained from signing him. But what I do not understand is Philadelphia GM Ed Wade’s urge to sign him to a multi-year contract. In November, he offered Millwood a three-year $30 million contract, with an option for a fourth year, which the most popular agent at Talking Baseball (in one of Dave’s recent posts and also in my previous post), Scott Boras, elected to decline. Yes, you are correct. Ed Wade offered to sign Millwood long term at about the same rate that Roy Halladay was just signed to and Boras declined, which is his worst money move to date if you ask me. After one more season of mediocrity, Wade will be glad he wasn’t taken up on his offer.

From Overrated to Underrated

I have a news flash for all of you baseball fans out there: Frank Thomas is still an elite slugger. Unjustifiably, nobody talks about Thomas anymore. After an injury in 2001 cost him most of the season, the Big Hurt played more like he was still Hurt 2002, not playing up to his standards. He slugged a modest .472 and he his OBP dropped to a paltry .361, amazingly his lowest OBP in his 13 seasons appearing in over 20 games. But last season, when most expected his numbers to drop into the deep end, he rebounded, banging out 42 home runs with a dramatically improved .390 OBP. More than half of his hits were for extra bases, and his AB/HR ratio (13.00) was his third lowest and his best mark since the 1995 season. Admittedly, he started hitting for power at the end of the season, just trying to crank out homers, but don’t be fooled. The Big Hurt can still hit, and should be a force in 2004. Unfortunately, the White Sox seemed stuck in reverse this off-season, making up for the losses of Bartolo Colon and Tom Gordon by acquiring Cliff Politte. With that kind of an upgrade, watching Thomas cranking balls over the fence may be the only thing Sox fans have to look forward to next season.

Going 52 in a 25

It’s nice to know that some athletes can’t buy their way out of jail time. Yesterday, Milton Bradley received a three-day jail sentence after driving away from a police officer after the officer pulled him over driving 52 mph in a 25 mph zone (maybe he’s dyslexic?). I can’t think of a better place to spend the final week before Spring Training than in the big house.

From the Bleachers

Starting today, I’ll end all of my posts with some fun fact or insight. It’s so late tonight that I decided to have a little fun…

This relates back to my February 4th post, in which I wrote that Johan Santana is actually worth more than he is being offered in arbitration. I wonder what the arbiters will decide.

Two cases went to arbitration
With both teams winning mediations
But that darned players’ union
Will soon scream ‘collusion!’
Unless Johan gets fair compensation.

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Posted by Mike on Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Where's My Scratch?

Nick Johnson lost his arbitration case. Too bad, I guess he will have to wait until next year to buy that new Porsche. This will likely be the story for a number of the arbitration cases that will be settled in the next few days. In the current down baseball economy players generally overvalue their present day worth by judging themselves against contracts created during the market's peak a few years ago. Seemingly, baseball is experiencing some sort of contract value correction. In any event, Johnson will still receive about a $900,000 raise over the salary he received last year while on the Yankees.

Millwood Militia
Kevin Millwood signed a one year deal with the Phillies worth $11 million. Millwood is a well known and desired commodity because of his days in Atlanta, but is he really as good as some people think he is? Not really. He's above average but really nothing more than that. How about a little ERA+ to prove it:


That is Millwood's career summed up with just one stat. Two good years and five where he was the definition of an average pitcher. His career record of 89 wins and 58 losses makes him look a little better but that was partially the result of being on a very good Braves team for all but one of those years. He is something of a workhorse and aside from his injury year of 2001 has made most every start since his rookie year.

Millwood is an above average pitcher who can be relied on to make it through a season without a major injury but is he worth $11 a year? Normally I would say that he is not, but given the circumstances I believe this is good for the Phillies. They need some stability on an otherwise young starting rotation that includes Randy Wolf and Vincente Padilla, for this Millwood is exactly the type of pitcher they need. He will not exceed their expectations but he should produce exactly as advertised. This is a short term contract as well. It's not like they will be paying him this type of money for the next few seasons, they only have to worry about him being on the books for 2004.

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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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