Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Brodie on Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Worst Case Scenario?

I'm Brodie, a friend of Dave and Ben. Jon had to take the day off, so I'll be posting in his stead.

In between take-home midterm assignments the other night, I began to wonder what the worst-case scenario for the Red Sox might be this season. It occurred to me that with some untimely injuries, clubhouse strife, and truly horrid luck, it’s feasible that the Red Sox might find themselves out of contention for the playoffs. While I think such a scenario is incredibly unlikely, it also might be quite a blessing in disguise.

Before you stab me too many times, put your knives down for a second and consider Boston’s rather unique position. The Red Sox are one of the most financially powerful clubs in the majors. They clearly demonstrated this offseason that they are capable of reeling in top talent and keeping it around for a number of years. Of course, the Red Sox cannot quite compete with the Yankees in this area, as the Yankees are and will be able to outspend the Sox every year. Furthermore, both organizations’ farm systems are rather barren. The Yankees have torn their top talents away for midseason pickups, and the Sox are left with the trio of Hanley Ramirez, Shoppach, and Youkilis. While these three players all have substantial potential, they likely won’t secure the Sox’ future all by themselves. The Red Sox also have quite a few players preparing for free agency: Pedro, Lowe, Varitek, Ortiz, Williamson, and Nomar could all potentially be skipping town at the end of the season.

These three factors create a potentially incredible opportunity for the Red Sox to ensure their ability to compete in the years to come with anything the Yankees or the rising Blue Jays can put on the field. If the Sox falter, the front office must be ready and willing to pull the trigger and trade some or all of the free agent talent for prospects.

Most of baseball’s divisions look to be hotly contested in this coming season, and there are a great number of teams that will likely contend. Interestingly enough, this includes several teams that have some of the best farm systems in the game. The Twins, A’s, Astros, and Cubs all have excellent minor league talent and are likely to be fighting for playoff spots. The Mariners also have quite a decent system, and should they get lucky, the Indians and Dodgers could find themselves in search of some established players for the stretch run. The Red Sox could easily offer any of these teams what they need. Anemic offense getting you down? Ortiz, Nomar, and Varitek are the droids you’re looking for. Did one of your starting pitchers go down with an injury? Lowe would make an awfully good midseason pickup, and what team wouldn’t want Pedro for the playoffs? Furthermore, Williamson offers a solid arm for any bullpen. In return, of course, the Sox will be expecting some prospects.

The problem is this: many of the players the Sox could potentially be loaning to other teams are fan favorites, and a great many baseball fans simply will not understand the reasoning behind giving away talent like that for “mere” minor leaguers. The front office can’t afford to alienate fans, and is therefore caught in an unfortunate situation. They know that they can loan away our free agents and replenish our farm system quickly while still maintaining a good chance of resigning some of these guys in the offseason, but they also know that fans will be very angry in reaction to the trades. Giving up will not be acceptable, no matter how beneficial to the team in the long term. Theo Epstein has the charisma to pull off these moves and give the Sox a serious, long term advantage over the rest of the division… but I doubt it will happen even if the opportunity arises simply because the fans won’t be looking at the long term.

This conflict speaks to a fundamental problem in baseball today – a problem that many baseball writers are devoting themselves to addressing. There is a clear dichotomy between the old guard and the sabermetricians. The latter are constantly trying to show the former that newer statistical methods of player evaluation are simply better, and they have done so with a measurable degree of success. However, most baseball broadcasts still focus on “mainstream” statistics and obscure splits rather than more complex, interesting, and potentially useful statistics such as ERA+, RC or Win Shares. As a result, there is a wide divide between the casual and old guard fans and the “hardcore” fans who make an effort to draw from the well of sabermetrics, primarily through the Internet.

Furthermore, I wouldn’t hesitate to claim that most baseball fans don’t pay nearly as much attention to the Minor Leagues as they should. I certainly fall into this category, although I should like to correct this error. Understanding a team’s prospects is incredibly important, and any true fan should wish success on his or her franchise not only in the immediate future but also in years ahead. Every team has to stop and rebuild from time to time, and only through careful planning can that rebuilding process be made as quick and painless as possible. Unfortunately, because many fans do not pay attention to the minor leagues, do not understand sabermetrics, and are focused on the short term, front offices are forced to choose between wise action and fan placation.

While I doubt the Red Sox will suffer from a blown opportunity in 2004 as a result of this conflict, I nevertheless implore you, the reader, to make an effort to learn more about your teams’ prospects, incorporate sabermetrics into your player evaluation, and, most importantly, encourage other fans to do the same. There will be teams that suffer because their front offices are not in sync with their fan base. The team simply won’t be willing to risk losing revenue when a controversial opportunity arises. Should the team take the risk anyway, precious fans will undoubtedly be lost. Don’t let this happen to your team. We truly are at a crossroads in the way we think about baseball, and this revolution must come at the grassroots level.

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Posted by Dave on Friday, February 27, 2004

The Posting Gods Have Smiled Upon Thee

I know our complaints are getting old, but, really, it's difficult to find adequately interesting subject material for posts sometimes. I normally surf through tens of baseball websites looking for articles that spark my interest. The problem is, there's a distinct lack of originality associated with a commentary on someone else's article or idea. Some of you are missing a commentary or analysis of steroid abuse by Talking Baseball. I won't be the one to talk about it - I agree with Dusty Baker, these specious accusations ("Jason Giambi is thinner! He must be on it!"...He had knee surgery. You're supposed to lose weight) resemble McCarthyism more than an "investigation." As soon as there is some good evidence against players, not BALCO, not trainers affiliated with players, not players' doctors, then I might care. Truthfully, even if the players used some steroids, many forms weren't prohibited. McGwire used androstenedione, and everyone celebrated his march to seventy home runs. Unfortunately, Bonds (amongst others) is now receiving a lot of heat for only possibly using steroids during his season of 73 HRs - more heat than McGwire ever received, I would argue. I don't know whether these accusations are racially motivated (it's certainly possible), but I do know this: they're certainly not accusations founded upon anything tangibly wrong.

Now for what's right in baseball. As I alluded to above, sometimes it's difficult getting a topic. Today, however, as I was nearing discouragement looking around all the blogs (I'll update the list of blogs on the left, it doesn't include even 1/3 of the blogs I check out), the news crept in: Kerry Wood has inked a three-year deal. Quickly, before I analyze the signing, I want to discuss something that's always puzzled me: What is the Associated Press? I mean, do you the reader ever take pause to wonder? Where do these articles come from? Well, I did a bit of poking around and they actually have an FAQ page. They're not bashful in telling you that "more than a billion people every day read, hear or see AP news." It seems anyone can submit a story, and if the story "moves" (the AP's lingo, not mine) then it could reach its 1550 US newspaper members or its 8500 international subscribers. I still have no idea who "broke" the story about Kerry Wood, however. And it doesn't matter now. Feel free to e-mail if any of you have insight into the workings of the AP.

In case you weren't aware, Kerry Wood is awesome. I feel like the limelight evades Kerry Wood for a few reasons. First, due to playing second fiddle to the sensation that is Mark Prior, a lot of people have the misconception that he's just another #2 starter. Another issue is Wood's less than incredible control. His BB/9 seem to have finally settled at about 4.2 BB/9. To give you some idea of how bad that is, Wood was the sixth-worst of all qualifiers in BB/9 last year. Not sixth-best, sixth-worst.

A quick aside, why does MLB describe the groundball-flyball ratio (generally denoted by G/F) with GO/AO? Every time I see it, I'm initially bewildered by it - maybe it's because they're the only ones that use that abbreviation. In addition, I can't help but poke fun at it by dreaming of the chant, "Goh-ow! Goh-ow!" It's like out of a bad 60s movie with stereotyped "Indians" hopping around a fire - except they're hopelessly obsessed with bizarrely annotated statistics. I can hear them now: "Peh - coh - tah! Peh - coh - tah!

Well, Kerry must be doing something right then - he is, after all, making about 10 million/year. Well, as is the case with many walking machines (those that make it to the majors, that is), Kerry is also a strikeout machine. Unsurprisingly, Kerry bests everyone on the K/9 list, even Mr. Prior. He's not just better, he's a whole free out better. That's pretty significant when you consider that pitchers generally only record 18-21 outs these days.

So, where's the controversy? All this stuff you already knew. Kerry Wood is a strikeout machine in the mold of an early Randy Johnson - so what? I can't complain about the contract, the money's right. I have no qualms with signing someone who's shown the ability to consistently strike people out to an expensive multi-year deal. I just have qualms with the Cubs doing it. Juan Cruz has shown more than just a little bit of potential, with 9.59 K/9 last year, his upside is still quite high. In addition to Cruz, however, they have tons of arms waiting in the wings in the minors as well. Regarding that dearth of talent in the minors, Jim Callis of Baseball America recently said this in a chat on ESPN.com:

"The Cubs have the best young pitching in the majors, and the same is true in the minors. There will be some attrition, but Angel Guzman, Justin Jones, Andy Sisco, Bobby Brownlie, Chadd Blasko, Jae-Kuk Ryu and Luke Hagerty all have the potential to pitch in the front half of a rotation (at least one not as loaded as Chicago's). Also keep an eye on relievers Todd Wellemeyer and Francis Beltran, and lower-level guys like Billy Petrick and Jason Wylie. And Ricky Nolasco, who gets overlooked. I could go on and on and on . . ." (Should you want to check out any of those hurlers, Baseball Cube offers their stats)

Jim Callis certainly seems to think that the Cubs have tons of pitchers available to eventually pitch in the majors at some point, but I don't want to say that I think the Kerry Wood signing was bad; it simply wasn't. It's quite probable that all of these guys won't hold a candle to Kerry Wood, whose strikeout numbers could net him multiple Cys if that control ever improves. Kerry Wood makes the Cubs a formidable team, especially in the playoffs. No, I'm not unhappy about the Kerry Wood signing so much as with the Greg Maddux signing. Admittedly, Maddux is still good. Also admittedly, those pitchers in the minors are probably a year or two away, at least. The Cubs, like all teams, want to win whenever possible. And they felt that the addition of a solid arm to the rotation would help solidify their club in contending for a World Series run (Ben thinks it's quite possible that they reach and win the series this year, I don't think it's far-fetched either).

I don't feel that way though - the Cubs need hitting, and this fact is only highlighted by their abundance of quality pitching prospects. Right now, their lineup projects as follows: Patterson, Grudzielanek, Sosa, Lee, Ramirez (that's Aramis, not Hanley or Manny), Alou, Gonzalez, Barrett (Miller? I'm confused after that trading frenzy with Oakland). Unfortunately for the Cubs, they're stuck with Alou's illegitimate contract. And while Derrek Lee is a fantastic acquisition, another slugger would put them into contention for the World Series legitimately. An addition of another slugger would still afford them a staff comparable to the Red Sox (or Yankees, take your pick (NOT the Astros)) and a lineup that would perhaps be one of the five best in the MLB. Who's that slugger? Well, everyone can be had for a price, but Eric Chavez and Carlos Beltran are likely on the block soon. Both would give them the offensive improvement they'll come to desire. And it's not like they lack trade bait either - they do have all those arms.

They'll have to pay any slugger they take on, though. If they acquire Beltran, they'll still be paying for him. The money wouldn't have been a problem if they weren't so quick to behave emotionally with respect to Maddux. Many Cubs fans feel that they'll exercise their demons by acquiring Maddux - that it'll give them the magic necessary to make a World Series push. That may be so, but the minor improvement Maddux provides for 7.5 million a year (6 mill. this year, 9 mill. the next, 9 million for the third if he pitches 200 IP/year for the first two years) could be a major improvement if they spent that 7.5 on a hitter. I mean, they purchased Lee for 6.9 million, imagine what another Derrek Lee would do for the Cubs - or at least a player comparable to him at a different position (I'm not saying similar raw numbers, I'm saying numbers above the average at that position). I wish all the best to Kerry Wood though - I once considered buying his jersey I liked him so much.

A preview of things to come: We've received a lot of e-mail regarding Ben's post about the Yankee injuries - specifically, whether Giambi's numbers as a DH were influenced by the fact that he was injured, and not DHing. He has done some research, and he's found some extremely interesting findings regarding some of the game's DH/position players. Stay tuned.

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Posted by Ben K. on Thursday, February 26, 2004

The Yankee Weakness (and Strength) Revealed

It's just a few days into Spring Training and already the Achilles Heal of the New York Yankees is showing: the injuries have started. The Associated Press, a few minutes ago, released a story detailing how Bernie Williams, the Yankee center fielder, will miss much of Spring Training and possibly Opening Day due to an emergency appendectomy the 35-year-old had today.

By the end of the Hot Stove League, a few weeks ago, we all knew that the Yankees' weakness would be injuries. If one starting pitcher goes down (like Lieber has, at least for a few days), there are no sixth or seventh starters this season to pick up the slack. If A-Rod or Sheffield goes down, the effects would be devastating to the Yankee offense. And while it's never good to lose your Opening Day center fielder, if one Yankee regular had to suffer an injury now, Bernie actually may have been the most ideal candidate, or at least the best worst choice.

The Yankees have another center fielder in Kenny Lofton who will be able to adequately replace Bernie Williams; none of the other Yankee regulars enjoy this quality of play from their back-ups. Lofton, who will turn 38 two months after Opening Day, will assume the lead-off spot in the order and Bernie's position in the outfield. Last season, Lofton's numbers were respectable. He hit .296-.352-.450 with 97 runs scored and 30 stolen bases in 140 games. While the Yankees now have a guy to replace Soriano's missing speed at the top of the lineup, their outfield defense will suffer. Lofton's fielding percentage was .991 compared to Bernie's .997, and his range factor was significantly lower than Bernie's (2.64-2.47). Considering how bad Bernie's knees were last season, it's not a good sign that a healthy Lofton covers less territory than an injured Williams.

Furthermore, Lofton actually put up a better offensive season than Bernie did last year. He had 19 Win Shares compared to Williams' 12, and Williams' .266 average last season was down over 30 points from 2002. Lofton, I feel, should not replace Bernie permanently in center. He should probably DH so that the Yankees have speed at the top of their line-up. That did indeed seem to work well with the Marlins last year. However, Bernie is supposedly physically healthier than last year. His knees and shoulders, Steinbrenner claims, are better than they've been in a while. I think Bernie would, in the long run, make a better center fielder, and his clutch hitting is needed in the line up, even if he'll only be batting seventh or eighth this season. As a temporary replacement, however, Lofton will do just fine.

This injury to Williams will have some trickle-down effects in the Yankee line-up, too. Joe Torre now has the option of using the newly-acquired Travis Lee to spell Jason Giambi at first base. Originally, my thinking was that it would be a mistake not to use Lee in the field every day. He is regarded as one of the best fielding first basemen in the league, ranking 2nd behind Paul Konerko in Bill James' 2004 Handbook. Giambi, on the other hand, is very average in the field and also suffers from weak knees. The more pressure he puts on his knees in the field, the more his average will suffer as the season wears on. Or so I thought.

This assumption of my does not really bare out statistically. Looking at last season, during which Giambi had 50 more at-bats while playing first than while DHing, I noticed that Giambi's offensive production increases dramatically when he's playing the field. In 292 at-bats as a first basemen, he hit .270-.441-.592. He launched 25 homers and drove in 66 runners. While DHing, in 241 ABs, he hit .220-.377-.452. He homered only 16 times and drove in 41 times. Clearly, when Giambi plays the field, he is more focused on all aspects of his game, including his potent offense.

Furthermore, the difference in Win Shares would show that having Giambi in the field would be beneficial to everyone involved. Travis Lee's fielding accounted for 2.30 win shares (according to Baseball Graphs), while Giambi's only 1.63. That's not a very big difference, and Giambi's 26.04 offensive win shares dwarved Lee's 10.88. If Giambi's healthy and not suffering too much from steroid withdrawl, his offense as he plays 120 games in the field will be more potent than it was last year when he suffered from eye problems and a down year. My assumptions about Lee and Giambi were disproven.

In the end, then, it seems that the Yankees could escape relatively unharmed from missing Bernie once again to an injury. Torre would do well to make the obvious move: Lofton will lead off and set the tables for an incredibly dangerous heart of the order consisting of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and Jorge Posada. What Torre should do however is to make the unintutive move: Giambi should, if health permits, of course, remain at first base where his offensive production should make up for average defense. Whether Lee or someone else assumes the DH role is really a toss-up. Lee has little DHing experience, but offensively last season, he hit .275-.348-.459 with 19 home runs and 75 RBIs for the Devil Rays. He would make a fine DH until Bernie returns to complicate the picture.

It seems clear that Bernie should play the outfield, Lofton should DH and lead off, and Giambi should stay in the field when the line-up is back to full strength. But if another injury hits the Yankees, all bets are off. Bernie was the most replaceable Yankee in terms of stats (not personality), and another injury to one of the Yankee All Stars would be devastating.

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Posted by Mike on Tuesday, February 24, 2004

A Second Chance
Edited - 12:58AM

Espn.com is reporting that Jose Canseco has announced that he will attempt a comeback with the Dodgers this spring. When I heard the news I was immediately overwhelmed by a number of thoughts:

1. I thought he was under house-arrest. Over the last few years he has been in all sorts of trouble ranging from aggravated assault to drug use.
2. Didn't his body deteriorate in the mid-90s because of his extensive steroid use? Yes it did.
3. Does Jose really think that after alienating 85% of the players in the game last year with his comments that he is going to be welcome back with open arms?
4. Are the Dodgers really this desperate for offense?

Canseco has often been referred to as the greatest waste of talent in the modern game, but even during his bad years, he was still productive. So how much value does he still have today? It's tough to tell from his numbers because he was always a quirky player. He was a pure power hitter with few other offensive talents because every time he stepped up to the plate he was trying to hit a home run. Early in his career he was the first 40-40 man but that speed disappeared in the early 90s. He always drew a good share of walks but not nearly as many as he could have. A career OBP of .353 is certainly quite acceptable but before I researched it I was under the impression that it would be higher.


Two years ago he was still a slightly above average hitter but really nothing special. He cannot be anything more than a pinch hitter for the Dodgers because his defense is so attrocious. Perhaps the most memorable highlight of his fielding was in the 1990 World Series when he managed to allow a fly ball to bounce off his head (yes, his head) and into the stands for a home run. If he still has his old strength, then even in expansive Dodger Stadium, he should be able drive the ball out park when given the chance.

Edit: There is a logical reason why this is happening, but I certainly did not see it at first. I couldn't understand why the Dodgers were willing to give Canseco a chance until Jon reminded me that this is part of the new DePodesta philosophy. As a Billy Beane disciple, DePodesta embraces the concept that every player including spare parts, outcasts, and convicted criminals should have a chance to play if they can contribute positively. While I support the more analytic position that DePodesta will bring to the Dodgers, I still feel that in some cases his philosophy can be taken too far. When the Dodgers decided to allow Canseco to try-out, they also brought the controversy and bad publicity along with him.

I suppose if they feel the bad publicity isn't a real concern, then, at worst, having Canseco in their camp is an excellent way for the Dodgers to show their players how far a person can fall. Had Canseco not become a steroid driven (he admitted it), rage filled (aggravated assault), injury case (two full seasons since 1993), then his abilities probably would have been enough to gain entry into the Hall of Fame. Of course there is the issue of whether or not he could have hit all of those home runs had he not been on steroids but the general point remains the same.

In the end, I am convinced that Canseco will fail to make the team and all of this discussion will become moot. He's old, broken down, and hasn't taken a major league at-bat since 2001. Those ingredients are not part of a recipe for success. On the other hand, considering how poor the Dodgers offense is, I'm sure that they're desperate for anyone who can help out.

Frozen Caveman Centerfielder!

What on earth happened to Johnny Damon over the off-season? Maybe this will be confirmed later but I have a hunch that he suffered some sort of long-term brain damage as a result of the concussion he sustained in the ALDS. Bill Simmons dubbed Damon the Frozen Caveman Centerfielder before he grew this beard and it would seem that Damon is really embracing his new role as Red Sox crazyman. Here's a picture...

"I'm just a caveman who fell through some ice and was later thawed by your scientists.
Your world frightens and confuses me."
-Phil Hartman

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Posted by Jon on Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Youth at the Helm: Ozzie the Magic Skipper?

What’s more unique than the division housing possibly the worst team in modern day baseball history? How about a division in which all five teams’ skippers don’t even have a combined six years of Major League managerial experience?

As you may have noticed, Ozzie Guillen is back on the White Sox, but thankfully for South Side fans, he won’t be trying to best his .287 career OBP. He will be the driving force for what White Sox management hopes will be a successfully energetic approach to the game – the same kind of approach that supposedly made the Royals a contender last season. Guillen will be forty this season, certainly spry in terms of baseball managers. But he’s not even the youngest manager in the AL Central.

If Eric Wedge, Cleveland’s manager, was looking for clout in the Indians’ clubhouse, he must have been unhappy with Omar Vizquel for failing the physical that prevented him from being traded to the Mariners this winter. With the departure of last season’s elders, Terry Mulholland and Ellis Burks, Vizquel (37 years old on April 24th) is the only player older than Wedge (36) left in Cleveland. Yes, Vizquel is older than the manager!

Since the beginning of the 2002 season (just two years ago!), each team in the AL Central has handed their managerial reigns to an ex-player with no major league managerial experience. Following, each AL Central manager’s experience is listed in order of seniority, as of 2004:

Manager, Games of Managerial Experience
Ron Gardenhire, 323
Tony Pena, 288
Alan Trammell, 162
Eric Wedge, 162
Ozzie Guillen, 0
What is this, the 1996 smAll-Star team? It’s not so much that these guys have no managerial experience, but that I remember them as players from the not-so-distant past. Trammell played last in 1996. Wedge and Pena retired after the 1997 season. And Guillen is only three seasons removed from his playing days; he retired only after the 2000 season. (Next we'll see Andy Van Slyke hired to manage the Pirates!) So what’s going on here? Managing only five, five, four, and three years after giving up the day job? It strikes me as a bit premature.

In many cases, inexperienced managers are installed in situations in which a team has little chance of competing (see Trammell in Detroit, Wedge in Cleveland). Youth is brought in to better relate to a young, hapless team. But Guillen was hired after the 2003 season, in which a man born in 1930 led his young team to a World Series Championship. Kansas City’s success helped spur this youth revolution forward, but much of the recognition for the Royals’ success in 2003 has been misplaced, with most people crediting Tony Pena instead of crediting luck. The Royals were one of the luckiest teams in baseball, finishing ten games better than their run differential indicates they played. Kansas City’s key last season was not Tony Pena, but instead their offense’s penchant for hitting with runners on base. Maybe Pena was the catalyst, but it’s more likely that his hitters had luck on their side.

But the White Sox have been contenders, and almost made the playoffs in 2003. What is Guillen's role in this situation? Usually, players become managers when a team is rebuilding, but Chicago is not rebuilding. If White Sox GM Ken Williams hired Guillen to supply the energy that supposedly won games for Kansas City, he may soon be making another managerial decision.

It's not that Guillen cannot replicate Pena's success, but such a scenario is difficult to fathom. The White Sox and the Royals will have similar teams in 2004, but neither manager should be counted on to produce ‘clutch’ hitting. In 2004, KC’s luck will likely run out. But the AL Central is up for grabs, and one of the young skippers may very well carry home the division title.

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Posted by Dave on Monday, February 23, 2004

*Uncohesive Headline*

If you didn't infer the subject of this post yet, well, there isn't one per se. Nothing has happened that has merited extensive analysis (if it has required analysis, someone else has done it on another blog/site) and I wasn't prepared with a discussion on baseball & economics as per usual. Not ready? Yeah, I'm filling in for Jon, who has no desire to pull one of his up-until-7-AM posting nights on this work-filled night. So, I wasn't quite prepared (not that it makes any difference, I never prepare these things anyway) with prose, but usually I'm prepared with a topic. I don't even have that. So, rather than come up with one on the fly, I'm going to bombard you with them.

Recently, Albert Pujols signed a 7-year 95 million dollar (not 100 million, as Transaction Guy is dutiful in pointing out - the last year is a 16M or 500K buyout) contract. Surprisingly, no one at Talking Baseball decided to comment on this. In most cases, if we're mute on a transaction, then the contract or transaction is probably about right. This leads to no one talking about it, because, well, there's no controversy. Albert avoided arbitration (I can't imagine why) to sign the contract and he had commented that baseball is "a business" prior to the contract. He wanted to get approximately market value while staying with the Cardinals, who he's grown fond of playing for (presumably). In situations such as these, players generally take a bit less than they could because their main goal is to stay with their team. This deal is just such a case. In my opinion, Albert is getting a deal that is only slightly below market value for a player of his caliber. Keep in mind that this guy is clearly one of the three best players in the game and he's only twenty-four. This statement ignores the fact that, heading forward, Albert will be not only the preeminent player in the game, but by a decent amount. Sadly, I don't own a copy of "Win Shares," (if anyone reading this knows how to obtain one, e-mail us please) but I do know (all courtesy Aaron Gleeman, who wrote about Bonds and ARod and who also relayed Pujols' first two years to me via IM - incredibly, you can't find it anywhere online) ARod, Pujols, and Bonds Win Shares for the past three years:

ARod - 36, 35, 33
Bonds - 54, 49, 39
Pujols - 29, 32, 41
It's pretty clear that right now, Albert can only be considered one of the three best. But, if you couple the fact that he hasn't hit his prime (if you trust his age, which is certainly dubious) with the fact that he out-produced both Bonds and ARod last year, it would seem he's poised to be the best player in baseball for years to come.

Well, that was fairly long-winded. But, I guess I'm a fairly long-winded fellow. What else...Gagne lost in arbitration. Granted, he's probably not worth 8 million in any universe, but in Arbitration World, he plausibly could be. Foulke just got 7 mill. a year from the Sox. I think everyone in Major League Baseball and any rational fan would say that Gagne is better than Foulke. Not so, say the arbitors. Of course, they're not saying this, they're saying: "Eric Gagne is worth this much money in this stage of his playing career." Check out the archived (by author, to the left (can you tell I'm proud it's up?)) articles on arbitration for more thoughts on why I think this is insanely stupid.

A couple more things: Derek Lowe publicly stated today that "this is going to be the team's last run, who knows who's coming back?" That's not terribly interesting, granted. But later in the article is something far more interesting. First though, if I had to sign any of the six, I'd perhaps only sign Pedro. Everyone fears his injury baggage and looks past the simply spectacular performances. 'Tek is an aging catcher, DLowe is represented by Boras (so, even if we give him a fair contract, they're likely to reject it), Williamson is merely a middle reliever - they shouldn't pull in beyond 3 million (unless their name is Octavio Dotel, although Williamson may show himself capable of legitimizing his contract this year), Nomar's only getting worse, and Ortiz is inexplicably deified by the media (Ramirez deserved every single one of Ortiz's MVP votes last year), implying that he and his agent will exaggerate his worth in negotiations. Theo did a brilliant job in signing the most undervalued of the seven, Nixon, long-term. I've already written about the brilliance in this move (Archive, anyone?). I'm pointing to this part of the interview, however:

Lowe prefers to stay in Boston but said all players would like to test the free-agent market to determine their worth. Free agents consider many factors -- location of the team, money, winning -- in deciding where to play, he said.

Which one is most important to him?

"No comment," he said.
As best I can tell, this response can only mean one of two things:

1. Either Lowe really wants to stay and doesn't want to tip his hand (so he can maximize the money he and Boras extract from the team) about it. Or,
2. He just wants the money.

Either way, if he reveals his intent in future negotiations, he's losing out. With the first supposition, the Red Sox know they can lowball him somewhat while still getting him to sign. If he says he only wants the money, he receives the bad press that comes with it. In addition, he scares off potential free agent suitors (i.e. competition for his services) because Boston is the incumbent team. It's an interesting response by Lowe to the question, and one that was likely programmed into Lowe by Boras.

Finally, I'll leave you with an analysis of the sophomore slump:

"The word 'sophomore' literally means 'wise fool' (many thanks to my high school etymology teacher). It means simply that you think that you know more than you actually do. It's a frame of mind and it's a dangerous one but it can be actively dealt with if you are cognizant of its existence. Unfortunately, it plagues many young players as they embark upon their second go-around in The Show -- the attitude that 'I did it once and it really wasn't that hard. I'll just cruise through this thing because I have all the answers. I did it once, I can do it again.' Amidst a fury of postseason congratulations from teammates, fans, family, friends, and media this attitude almost manifests itself from within, being constantly fed. Eventually it is born into an aura of arrogance that pervades one's mind and one's world.

"What's more is that this attitude doesn't come without an ample amount of cultivation from the player's team. You can't totally blame a team for a player's poor attitude but the team becomes an unwitting accomplice by affording the player a new level of responsibility and freedom previously unavailable to him. He's now being told about the team's plans, the team's future, and how he fits into that picture. These things take their toll on a player's ego. Certain players have an obligation to take on some additional responsibility as they grow and develop -- seems harmless but it actually can be pretty overwhelming to be catapulted so quickly into a leadership role, especially on a team admittedly lacking veteran leadership.

"In short it is extremely easy to fall into this mental trap because the people around him treat him in a noticeably different way, an overly uplifting way, and mentally it is difficult to cope with these changes. A false feeling of arrogance is born after being inundated with praise, and laziness becomes embedded within like a nasty virus just waiting for the perfect time to infect your mind. I certainly fell into this trap when I was 19 years old but at the time I just didn't know it. That year all the upper classmen were either drafted into the pros or had graduated leaving me to hit in the middle of a batting order largely comprised of weak juniors but very strong sophomores. We went to the College World Series that year. We choked and I didn't help things.

"After all this I seem to have more of a grip on the situation. I know what to expect and how to handle it. But it is still no guarantee that it won't happen to me just as it has happened to others. Granted there are players like Albert Pujols who had no such correction in their career line of success, and for now his history will be my inspiration for 2004. Not only did he avoid the jinx but he obliterated every single expectation set upon him in his first three years in the big leagues. Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle once told me 'there are two types of player in this game: those that are humble, and those that will be humbled.' Well I am humble. Being humbled sucks. And I want no part of that again. If I approach this season with a humble heart just as I have in the past I know I will be satisfied with the results, no matter what they are. No wise fools here any longer -- that is one thing I can guarantee."
Incredibly enough, these aren't my thoughts, nor the thoughts of any baseball writer or analyst. The above passage is cribbed from a recent Gammons article, however. Surprisingly, the intelligent prose above belongs to Jody Gerut of the Indians, who is entering his 2nd (or sophomore, if you're sophomoric) season. I thought that nearly all athletes were hopelessly unintelligent - thanks to Jody for showing me that there are some good seeds floating about.

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Posted by Ben K. on Sunday, February 22, 2004

Now Pitching for the Astros...

I pride myself on being a member of the media. I've been working on school newspapers for the past seven years, and I feel as thought I know a little something about the world of journalism. That being said, I'm not going to argue about Mike's last post. He's completely correct in labeling members of the medias mediots. I'm going to try to explain this phenomenon.

When a reporter gets a story assignment, he or she has to go out and find the story. "Cover the Astros," says the editor. It's then up to the reporter to find the interesting news coming out of the Astros' camp. Today, the interesting news, as reported by the Associated Press, is that Jimy Williams has common sense. He has decided to name Roy Oswalt as Houston's Opening Day starter. This, I contend, is not really news worthy of any story.

Now, wait a second, you might say to me, what about Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte? The Astros went out and signed two high-profile pitchers. Wouldn't one of these well-established pitchers be a better choice than the often-injured 26-year-old Oswalt? The reason this story, in my opinion, isn't news, is because the answer is clearly no.

Let's look at Andy Pettitte first. On the surface, Pettitte had a great season last year. He was 21-8 for an explosive New York Yankees team. While his ERA was 4.02, he enjoyed a ridiculous amount of run support. He gave up 21 home runs last season, as compared to 6 home runs in 80 fewer innings in 2002. He sported a respectable WHIP of 1.33, yet his opponents hit .272 off him last season. Most telling, however, is the fact that his RAA (as calculated by Baseball Prospectus) was 0, meaning he gave up the average number of runs by American League standards last year.

Next up, Roger Clemens. Last season, Roger was 17-9 with a 3.91 ERA. His WHIP was 1.21 and opponents hit only .247 off of him. He did surrender 24 home runs, a three-year high. Remember, the home run stats are important because he (and Pettitte) will be pitching in Minute Maid Park, a stadium, surprisingly enough, on par with Yankee Stadium. In other words, Clemens and Pettitte will both give up a lot of home runs, but no more than a natural progression from the last few seasons would indicate. Clemens' RAA was 11; he was responsible for 11 fewer runs than the league average.

Finally, Roy Oswalt. Last year, Oswalt was plagued by a groin injury that limited him to 21 starts. Yet, he threw well despite this injury and had surgery in the off-season to correct the problem. He was 10-5 with a 2.97 ERA. He had a WHIP of 1.14, and NL opponents hit .246 against him. With an RAA of 17, he was responsible for 17 fewer runs than the league average. Furthermore, when the Astros needed him most last year, he pitched lights-out ball. Returning in September from his injury, he went 4-0, giving up only 6 earned runs in 27 innings.

So what, then, do we see? First, having Andy Pettitte start Opening Day makes about as much sense as Ralph Nader running for president. His numbers last season show him to be merely average with a lot of run support. While I am a big fan of Andy, the Astros may be in for a surprise if they don't give him the run support he enjoyed on the Yankees.

It comes down to a battle between Oswalt and Clemens. Oswalt, in my opinion, is a no-brainer, however. He gave up a run less per 9 innings than Clemens did, and he had a lower WHIP by a significant margin. Oswalt is young, and Williams needs him to front that rotation for a long time. Giving him the confidence by making him the number 1 guy over two established veterans is a much smarter move than going with the Hall of Famer during the twilight of his career.

Finally, there's one more part of this story worth mentioning. Williams has announced that Pettitte will pitch second. With Clemens in the picture, Pettitte should be number 3 in the rotation. Yet, he's going with Pettitte second; that's the inexplicable part. Maybe it's because Clemens is sort of retired, but I doubt that. Andy Pettitte was the marquis signing this off-season, and he'll be around longer than Clemens. I guess Williams is going to show that he has faith in Pettitte to be a number 2 guy. I'm not so sure of that.

Now, why is this news? It's news because Clemens and Pettitte aren't starting Opening Day. It's not news because Oswalt should start Opening Day. Anyone who knows anything about the Astros and their triumvirate of pitchers would be hard-pressed to disagree with Jimy Williams' decision. It's only the Associated Press trying to create a controversy as they pit Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte against the young and supremely talented Roy Oswalt.

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