Talking Baseball

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Posted by Dave on Saturday, March 13, 2004

All Great Baseball Minds Like to Argue…About Hats!

Let's be honest, we all love baseball - but what would baseball be without hats?! Nothing would differentiate players from different teams! It would be sheer chaos on the diamond! Okay, that's a bit melodramatic, but hats have had a timeless presence in baseball. Originally, they were designed to help shield the sun from the eyes of fielders. They have developed into far more than mere shade-producers. The insignias upon them are the strongest symbols we have of each of our favorite teams. Hats emblematize all that is right and all that is wrong with the franchise - they are a gateway to previous memories and future aspirations. Hats are an integral part of baseball.

Hats are also a statement of character and statement of fashion. It's no coincidence that all the "gamers" have hats in miserable condition - they're all hardcore, just like their hats. Their hat symbolizes their work ethic and tenacity on and off the field. Trot Nixon, Steve Kline, and Eric Gagne are just a few of the names that come to mind that have absolutely squalid lids - all play with abnormal ferocity and desire. Pedro changes his hats regularly and has a new one nearly every start - the changes in hats show his superstition in general. With respect to us normal folks, the kind that can only dream of taking a field where the bases gleam and the grass is aromatic, hats are a statement of both character and fashion. First, if you own a specific hat, chances are good that you're a fan of that team. Second, how do you wear your hat? Is it curved slightly? Is it generally forwards, or backwards? All are statements about your mood and personality. Chances are, if I need to be alert, I need more of my vision so I'll turn it backwards. People with more extreme curves tend to be more intense people, as well (just an observation). In addition, hats are nice fashionable items. The particular color on your head helps compliment your current attire and adds synergy to your wardrobe. Lacking color with your white shirt and jeans? Spice it up with a green A's hat. Missing just the right color to compliment your navy sweater and khakis? You can always grab your red Twins hat.

Now that I've reaffirmed what we all already knew - that hats are awesome - what makes particular hats particularly awesome? Well, this is by no means an exact science; everyone has different preferences when it comes to the delicate decision of what are personally approved toppers. Clearly, a large portion of a hat's attractiveness stems from your affinity (or utter lack of it) for the team you're representing on your dome. It's difficult, for me, to wear an Expos hat. Putting aside the objective fact that the Expos hats are ugly, I have no ties or connection with the Expos organization or its players. The only reason I'd ever wear one is in tribute to them for affording us the service of the incomparable Pedro. It's far more difficult for me to wear a Yankees hat. As a Red Sox fan, the Yankees represent all that is oppositional and antithetic to the Red Sox. Because we've been rivals for so long, you couldn't force a hat forged by the Evil Empire even if you lowered onto my head with a vice or rack. The karmatic disequilibrium would prohibit my hat from ever cementing itself on my scalp. Obviousl, this connectedness with the team of the hat you're wearing is fan-specific - clearly it's a large portion, but it's just a subjective element clouding the objective quality of hats. Hey, even if I was a Diamondbacks devotee, I'd acknowledge that my team's topper was hideous from the get-go.

So what contributes to the objective quality of hats? I was tempted just to formulate my opinion independent of all others, but I felt it would be a better representation if I supplemented my opinion with my more style-conscious friends. Drumroll please? And now, for the criteria of hat importance:

Simplicity: 35%
Symmetry: 25%
Colors: 25%
Lasting Appeal: 10%
Nostalgia: 5%

Each hat I'm about to review will get a rating, 1-10, with respect to each category. This means that each hat has a possible Hat Rating score of 10 (that is, if they can muster a 10 in each category - a seemingly unthinkable feat). This rubric for rating hats is clearly debatable, but I feel it's the best representation for a lid's overall quality. Why does simplicity trump all other categories? What would you say the ratio of baseball hats to all other major sports? I would argue that the ratio is 1:1, or perhaps even much greater. Baseball has a lot of fans, but I suspect that there are just as many passionate admirers of the NFL and NBA. So why the dearth of NFL, NBA, and NHL hats? The lack of simplicity.

The Nuggets hat has a giant mountain with Nuggets in gold lettering superimposed upon it. In addition, it has about 5 colors. Not to mention, the insignia is downright ostentatious it's so large. Simple? No. A cool hat? Certainly not. How about the Seahawks?

Wow, no symmetry, but it also lacks simplicity. It's a large bird with lots of colors. Pretty ostentatious again. Want a truly repulsive hat?

God, so many colors, so little symmetry, and so little simplicity. It's a freaking Native American for crying out loud. It's not even politically correct(man, do you become acquainted with the nuances of what's PC quickly at Bates)!

As you can tell, a lot of these criteria are heavily intertwined and difficult to prize apart, but I'll do my best. Symmetry adds to aesthetic beauty because it's naturally pleasing to see it. The reason we find the opposite sex (or the sex we're attracted too (gotta keep up the PC-ness)) attractive is larglely due to their facial and body symmetry. Logically, this extends to all aspects of aesthetics, including hats. While vertical symmetry (Old-style Houston Astros hat) trumps horizontal symmetry (Boston Red Sox), both types are important. Colors are also important - no one would want to wear a puke-colored hat and combinations of the correct colors add a singular appeal to specific hats. Lasting appeal reflects the staying power of the insignia and the timelessness of it. People more easily identify with the history of the Red Sox through its B than through the history of the Broncos through its Bronco. The Bronco truncates Elway's career into his Super Bowl victories and his years as the best Two Minute Drill Sargeant To Never Have Won The Big One (if you forgot that emblem, I couldn't blame you, it was a bronco neighing inside an orange D). Nostalgia is similar to Lasting Appeal - but it's more a measure of how well we can recall the deadball years or years of the Complete Game Throwing Pitcher of our national pasttime through the hat and symbol.

At long last, I'm going to start rating the hats. I've decided, especially after this lengthy introduction and description of the methodology (the preceding paragraphs could comprise an entire post with respect to their content), that I'm only going to discuss the majority of the NL hats in this post. I may discuss multiple hats per team, but, for the most part, I'll stick to one hat per team. Teams with multiple notable hats (The Cubs come to mind) will receive the extra analysis they deserve. At the end of the American League hats (they're coming last because I'm sure most of our readers are AL junkies due to the concentrated support of the writers (though, I may add, we at Talking Baseball distribute our subjects pretty uniformly across the league)), I'll come up with a master list. I can't wait to see the results and I already have an idea of what the leaderboard (I can't believe I just borrowed a golf term) will look like.

I'll start with the NL East, and the team that never seems to lose, the Atlanta Braves:

Simplicity - 8: This hat's nice and simple. Not too flashy, not too many colors. The font the A is in is actually a bit weird for my tastes, that's the only reason that this gets a boot down from a higher number. I may add that there is a threshold of simplicity - you don't want hats to be too simple. Blank hats are the most simple, but clearly they're too simple. The Braves hat straddles the line well - it's simple, but not too simple
Symmetry - 5: Clearly the hat is not all that symmetrical, but most A's are. Also, compared to many lids, this hat has a fair amount of symmetry. Clearly there aren't a whole lot of insignias with much symmetry, so you don't need a ton of symmetry to net yourself a decent score in this department.
Colors - 7: A nice blend of white and navy blue. I could've chosen an Atlanta hat with red bill, but I'm slightly opposed to hats with different colored bills and uppers (the thing that covers the majority of your head (I made up that word for the sake of discussing these hats)). Clearly there are no good or bad colors, it's mostly which colors you combine in making a hat. If the colors have a lot of synergy, then a hat will receive a good score in this department. Blue and white is a nice combination, and it goes with lots of clothing, but it's pretty standard - many other teams have that combination.
Lasting Appeal - 8: The Braves switched from a lower-case "a" awhile back, and I think his insignia is an appreciable improvement. For most of us, this symbol is the only symbol we've known for the Braves, so it has quite a bit of lasting appeal.
Nostalgia - 8: During the Braves' glory years in the 90s they were wearing this hat. Whenever I see a Braves hat, I can easily imagine Glavine, Avery, or Smoltz wearing it, glaring in at the catcher.

Overall Hat Rating: 7

How do those Metropolitans stack up?
Simplicity - 8: A nice intertwined NY, similar to that of the Yankees and the Giants that preceded them. Nothing too flashy, the font of the NY is a little busy, but not too much so
Symmetry - 7: The Y has some symmetry and the N has some kind of weird folding symmetry as well. I don't know what kind of symmetry it is, maybe a math major.
Colors - 7: Good complimentary colors - blue and orange. For some reason, I think the colors are just off. I think it's because the blue is a lighter blue and the orange is a darker orange - for that reason it has an odd sort of clashing.
Lasting Appeal - 7: The Mets have a nice, classy, timeless symbol.
Nostalgia - 7: In assigning points to this score, I now realize that all I was doing, really, was rating the history of the franchise under the hat. With that said, the Miracle Mets will never be forgotten and neither will be the cap they wore. There also was that absolutely exhilirating Subway Series...yeah...

Overall Hat Rating: 7.35

How about everyone's favorite World Series contender, the Phillies?
Simplicity - 8.5: This old-timey hat has a nice simple P and is only two colors. The baseball in the P is a nice touch.
Symmetry - 5: Not particularly symmetrical, but not particularly assymetric either - 5's the standard for the hats that aren't encroaching on assymetry.
Colors - 8: I'm a big fan of the maroon and white. If you're a guy, chances are you don't own much maroon, so it's not going to contradict your outfit of choice. It'll go well with most dark jackets and/or jeans.
Lasting Appeal - 7: The Phillies did away with this insignia awhile back, so it can only have so much lasting appeal. But it's a nice little hat, to be sure.
Nostalgia - 7: Remember Mike Schmidt? Of course you do with this hat.

Overall Hat Rating: 7.275

Simplicity - 4: One of the uglier hats around, the Florida Marlins really need to figure out a better insignia. I mean, I liked Old Man and the Sea as much as the next guy, but c'mon. That ugly fish draped over the F really is unappealing.
Symmetry - 3: What symmetry? F doesn't have any symmetry, and the marlin that's clothing it only enhances the asymmetry.
Colors - 3: Black and...teal?! Gross, no self-respecting individual ever wears teal. I challenge you to find an article of clothing that contains teal. You won't find it.
Lasting Appeal - 3: Yeah, they were an expansion team when I was following baseball and their hat sucks - lasting appeal? I think not.
Nostalgia - 8: You can't argue with their World Series success, whether it was garnered through money (1997) or luck (2003). It's too bad they had to celebrate looking like fools with their lids.

Overall Hat Rating: 3.6

Simplicity - 4: At least it's just one letter (it is a letter, right?), but what the hell is going on with it? Truthfully, I just realized it was an M, but it's a major stretch. I actually thought it said "lb" for the longest time. The Montreal Pounds, way to go.
Symmetry - 5: They could've been a contender...M's such a nice, symmetric letter. Too bad they had to bastardize it.
Colors - 8: They're nice colors, red, white, blue, and a light blue background...but...it's hard to rate this generously when the hat sucks so much.
Lasting Appeal - 3: Just waiting for the move, folks.
Nostalgia - 2: Well, they might have won in the strike-shortened season. Maybe...

Overall Hat Rating: 5.05

NL Central:

Simplicity - 9: The Cubbies have multiple good-looking hats, and I probably could include more than two, but this post has stretched on long enough as it is. This is really classic hat, and its red C is immediately identifiable with the Cubs. Two colors, not too flashy, a generally awesome hat.
Symmetry - 8.5: Solid horizontal symmetry here.
Colors - 8.5: Great combination of colors here - blue and red are both primary colors and as a consequence they're visually appealing.
Lasting Appeal - 9: Cubs fans are hardcore, and wearing the Big Red C signifies an intimate connection with baseball through your fanship.
Nostalgia - 9: The Cubs insignia is a solid reminder of the years of heartache.

Overall Hat Rating: 8.75

Simplicity - 9.5: The little cub is quite descriptive as an insignia. The only reason this doesn't get a 10 is because it's not immediately apparent that you're a Cub fan if you wear this hat.
Symmetry - 5: Nothing doing.
Colors - 7: If you're going to be unimaginitive, you can't get much more than a 7. But there's nothing wrong with navy and white.
Lasting Appeal - 5: The Cub isn't nearly as recognizable as the C, and as such, I can't give it too high a score.
Nostalgia - 3: When did they wear this?

Overall Hat Rating: 6.975

Simplicity - 8.5: The Brewers have theirselves a very thoughtfully interesting hat. Honestly, however, it took me a solid 3 years to realize that the glove was really an M and a B. Call me stupid, but a lot of people don't realize it either. The cleverness is great, but being too clever alienates the fans from the true meaning of the symbol.
Symmetry - 7: The m and b have symmetry on their own - together there isn't much. The circular nature of the glove gives a nice symmetric flavor.
Colors - 8.5: I could've chosen the blue glove on the blue hat, but the yellow/tan background is nice. You can wear lots of things with such a diverse tan colored hat.
Lasting Appeal - 9: It's certainly an interesting hat - one of the most applications of baseball to an insignia and location.
Nostalgia - 5: Man, I really miss the days of...uhh...Paul Molitor. By the way, I should add, the new insignia is freaking ugly.

Overall Hat Rating: 8

Simplicity - 8: St. Louis' hat with just the letters is classy. The font's not too busy either. The letters are intertwined nicely, and it's clever how the T is just the right size.
Symmetry - 5: Not egregiously assymetric.
Colors - 8: I'm a big fan of that red and white. Goes with everything because you're generally wearing non-red, non-orange clothing.
Lasting Appeal - 8: The Cardinals have always been an above-average franchise, and they've always had that classy insignia.
Nostalgia - 8: Ozzie Smith doing backflips and Big Mac's run at Maris' record? A fair amount lies behind this symbol/hat.

Overall Hat Rating: 7.25

Simplicity - 9.5: A nice, simple H cleverly superimposed upon an orange star. The Houston Astros were quite smart with the logo, invoking their status as the Lone Star state. An overall great hat, it's no surprise I own it.
Symmetry - 9.5: It doesn't get much more symmetric than this. The entire hat has vertical symmetry, and the H specifically has horizontal symmetry. Heck, even the star has 5 axes of symmetry.
Colors - 9: These colors compliment each other very well. The orange and blue are complimentary colors, and the orange adds just the right amount of spice to flavor of this hat. The white H helps to tone down the difference between the orange of the star and the navy background.
Lasting Appeal - 8: The emblem is outdated, but the overall quality of the hat will never be lost. I was trying to obtain this hat even before The Franchise started mass producing it.
Nostalgia - 5: I guess Ryan's no-hitters were of significance...

Overall Hat Rating: 9

Simplicity - 8: The Cincinatti Reds have a nice hat here. The C is a little pointy at the end, a little too confrontational for my tastes. The insignia is also elongated strangely, like it was yanked apart on a rubber band.
Symmetry - 7.5: Horizontal symmetry - I have no qualms with the aesthetic appeal of this hat. I wish it didn't have a shadow-ish thing, that's a bit strange.
Colors - 8.5: A nice combiation of white, red, and black. Goes with anything.
Lasting Appeal - 8: They've had this hat for awhile, and it's pretty representative of the Reds, I feel (Derek).
Nostalgia - 9: While no one likes Joe Morgan for his comments, no one will forget his stay on the Big Red Machine - partially as a result of this hat.

Overall Hat Rating: 8.05

Simplicity - 7.5: This is just what I'm referring to with a hat being too simple. The Pirates have just a yellow P, wonderful. Nothing is remotely interesting about this hat except for those odd rounded corners of the square part of the P.
Symmetry - 6: I mean, I guess there's some benefit to symmetry simply because the hat is so content-less
Colors - 4: What colors? Yellow and black? Meh.
Lasting Appeal - 8: It's an okay hat, and I'm getting tired of rating hats - this post is long enough - and this is my last hat for today.
Nostalgia - 5: Roberto Clemente's cool. Randall Simon and the inconceivably valued Jack Wilson (check Salary Arb. Part II in the archive by author) are not.

Overall Hat Rating: 6.175

I'm done for now - my fellow Talking Baseball writer Jon is up from Wesleyan (he's on break), and I want to entertain him rather than write. Next time I'll cover AL/NL West teams, and then I'll end with the AL East and AL Central. On the last day, I'll tabulate a leader-board of all the hats and crown the victor. The Astros and Cubs have hats that are tough to beat, so we'll see how the ratings and hats stack up in future posts. Please e-mail me with your thoughts and comments about the rating system and particular hats. As I will post about in the future, your feedback is what encourages us at Talking Baseball to keep writing thoughtful, interesting posts. Commentary and feedback is like blogging currency - consider it as payment for reading our posts. So, if you like or dislike something, drop us a line, we really do want to know what you're thinking/feeling.

Until next time, keep covering your dome with your lid of choice - the baseball season is almost upon us.

### So what do you think? We want to know. | | E-mail us ###

Posted by Jon on Friday, March 12, 2004

Baker Can’t Walk Away

Dusty Baker, Cubs manager, has made some unreasonable comments during his short tenure in Chicago. Last summer he caused a commotion when he stated his preference for dark-skinned players in extreme heat, saying, "It's easier for most Latin guys and it's easier for most minority people because most of us come from heat. You don't find too many brothers in New Hampshire and Maine and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Right?" With those comments, Dusty started quite a brouhaha.

Now Baker has added to his list of questionable comments. In an effort to cement himself as the next Joe Morgan, Dusty is really making a place for himself in what Michael Lewis refers to as baseball’s Social Club. Yesterday, he reinforced Cubs fans and his organization of his immense disdain for the walk (thanks to David at Baseball Musings for the link). Yes, apparently, his Cubs can do without walks. And he’s not talking about allowing walks to opposing hitters. Baker doesn’t want his hitters to walk to first base.

"Walks help," he said, "but you aren’t going to walk across the plate." He adds, "You’ve got to hit across the plate." Yes, hitting is important, but the results from an infield single vary little from a walk. The player takes first and the runners advance. Maybe before the season starts he’ll tell his players to stretch their singles into doubles. Apparently reaching first base is counter-productive.

I’m making a big deal out of a silly comment, but I find it hard to believe that a major league manager could make these comments in earnest. The creme de la creme, though, comes in this statement: ''Now, have you ever heard the Yankees talk about on-base percentage and walks?''

I don’t think it’s a news flash, but the Yankees have been among the leaders in walks and OBP in many of their recent seasons -- the seasons in which they have regularly competed for a Championship. Baker is blatantly slamming baseball's new logic, and his ignorance about the utility of OBP in scoring runs is astonishing. If he doesn’t want his team to be as successful as the Yankees, then so be it. Baker is positioning himself as a strong candidate to be the president of baseball’s old guard for years to come, brushing off the significance of new baseball knowledge by ignoring it.

I didn’t anticipate knocking Baker so harshly tonight. Forgive me, Dusty. I still think of you as an above-average manager, with the exception of your Grady-like boner in game six of the NLCS. Much like Little left Pedro on the mound only to see his team’s almost certain trip to the World Series be bashed apart by the Yankees, Baker kept Prior on the mound after the Bartman fiasco. Both managers left their pitchers in to die, but Baker really doesn’t take the blame. Different circumstances, but the in-game situations were almost identical.

"He’s back! A Spring Training Homer!"

I fear some of my frustrations with spring baseball have been displaced onto Baker. Spring Training is a glorious time for baseball fans. Just about every team has a shot at making the playoffs, and limitless expectations are stowed upon players, with Spring Training statistics feeding the frenzy. In my opinion, Spring Training stats only go so far. Foremost, they tell us who’s playing in games. But beyond that, it's difficult to discern exactly the utility of spring stats.

Now, at about the midpoint of Spring Training, the novelty of following real games wears down and the meaninglessness of spring stats become apparent. When I visit Rotoworld, I am inundated with news concerning various players, from major league scrubs to minor leaguers who won’t even make their teams come Opening Day. It’s just not important to me how a starting pitcher looked in two and a third innings of work in mid-March. Nor is a hitter going one-for-two with a double and an RBI anything to get excited about. The competition in Spring Training is poor and the sample size is too small to be taken seriously. While players performing well can build confidence and lead into a productive opening month of baseball, spring stats are most useful in trying to determine who will get the chance to win major league roles in 2004.

Worst of all, spring stats can be misleading. After all, Milwaukee is 8-1 in Spring Training.

Luck of the Draw?

An interesting tidbit from David Lipman’s espn.com column yesterday about the National League:

In 1992, the draft expanded to 28 first-round selections. Between that year and 1999, 75 percent of players picked in the first four spots made an impact in the majors. Players picked between Nos. 12 and 15 did not fare as well, with only 34 percent of those reaching the same level. By the end of the first round (picks No. 26 and above), the number slides all the way down to 12 percent.
As Lipman points out, this has an immediate impact on teams acquiring compensatory draft picks after their players leave as free agents. In a decade, I’d like to see how drafts by the statistically-minded organizations differ from the rest.

The Brewers and Devil Rays are both benefiting immensely from repeated high draft picks. Maybe Milwaukee’s hot start this spring is a showing of things to come -- not this season, but beginning in 2005?

That Pesky Walk

I wonder whether Dusty Baker would be happy with a young Johnny Pesky on his team. Pesky’s walk totals and high OBP would undoubtedly irk him to no end. Seventy-sixth on the leader board with a .394 career OBP, Pesky averaged 84 walks per 162 game season. Incidentally, none of Baker’s Cubbies reached either of those marks last season.

Pesky caught my attention after hearing a local talk-show host in Boston calling for his number six to be retired by the Red Sox before Boston loses him. Pesky has lived seven-decades of his life as a Red Sox, playing, coaching, and managing since the 1940s.

1, 4, 8, 9, 27, and soon, 6?

To tell the Sox what you think, write to them at: fanfeedback@redsox.mlb.com. I wouldn't mind seeing his number up there. It will be there eventually, so why not while he's still with the team?

### So what do you think? We want to know. | | E-mail us ###

Posted by Ben K. on Thursday, March 11, 2004

The 2004 World Champions: Not the Royals

For some reason, lots of analysts, who get paid to analyze baseball (man, am I jealous), have anointed the Kansas City Royals as The Surprise Team of 2004. These baseball guys have called the Royals the 2004 version of the 2003 Marlins or the 2002 Angels. In other words, they will be the team with a homegrown core of players and a few key free agents and a young pitching staff that will lead them to a parade down some highway in Kansas City.

Taking a look around the world of baseball, Rob Neyer believes the Royals could win the AL Central, and Sports Weekly columnist Bob Nightengale is of a similar mind. Nightengale, in fact, predicted as much in the latest edition of MLB's Official Guide to the 2004 Season (that I got handed to me for free at Roger Dean stadium during a Marlins spring training game a few days ago). In this article (which I unfortunately cannot find on the web, although the USA Today link has similar paragraphs), Nightengale writes about the Royals:
We're going with the team that quietly made all of the right moves. We're going with the team that is playing in the weakest division in baseball, if not in all of sports. We're going with the team that stunned the baseball world for five months last year before the glass slipper broke in September. We're going with the team that brought in a two-time AL MVP.

We're going with those lovable Kansas City Royals...

The Royals started spending. They kept center fielder Carlos Beltran. And third baseman Joe Randa. And starter Brian Anderson. And relievers Curtis Leskanic and Jason Grimsley.

Then, suddenly acting like they were the Yankees or the Red Sox, they jumped head-first into the free-agent market. They signed All-Star Benito Santiago...They signed elite setup reliever Scott Sullivan. And first baseman/outfielder Matt Stairs. And they even outbid the Red Sox for second baseman Tony Granffinino...They got [Juan Gonzalez], too...

The way we figure it, how can you not pick the Royals?...Besides the Royals are due.
First, let's get one thing straight. The AL Central is not the worst division in professional sports. That award goes to the NBA's Atlantic Division, where one team is over .500, and the second place team is 7 games below .500 and 11 games out of first place. Last season, the AL Central had three times over .500, and this year, it could possibly have four teams. While it's true the division is mediocre, it's certainly not the worst division in sports. That's my defense of the Central;now, let's take a look at last year's Cinderella team.

In 2003, the Royals did indeed shock the baseball world, holding precariously on to first place until the Twins remembered how to play winning baseball (or until Shannon Stewart showed up). But this surprisingly first place run was largely by luck. While the Royals finished at 83-79, their expected W-L -- which uses Bill James' equation: Runs scored [squared] / (Runs scored [squared] + runs allowed [squared]) -- had them at 78-83. I'm not really sure what happened to that 162nd game, but that's besides the point. The Royals simply got lucky. While they were third in the AL in runs scored, they were third-to-last in runs allowed. They were outscored last season 867-836. Basically, they hit well with runners in scoring position and won a few games they might not have otherwise won. While I don't mean to take away from their 21 game improvement over 2002's 100-loss campaign, the 2003 season was no ball for MLB's supposed Cinderella team.

Turning our attention to 2004, are the new Royals good enough to propel this team to a pennant in the AL Central? More broadly, are the Royals on the whole good enough to win the World Series? To answer these questions, I'm going to do a little comparison between the World Champion Marlins and the 2004 projected opening day lineup (with some other key players from both teams). To do this statistical comparison, I'm going to look at a Baseball Prospectus stat called VORP, or value over replacement player. As Baseball Prospectus defines it, VORP is "the expected level of performance a major league team can receive from one or more of the best available players who substitute for a suddenly unavailable starting player at the same position and who can be (or were) obtained with minimal expenditure of team resources." (Baseball Prospectus 2004, pg. 2-3)

In other words, if Juan Gonzalez went down with an injury, he would be replaced with one of the Royals' reserve outfielders. If Ivan Rodriguez (more on him later) goes down, he would be replaced by one of the Tigers' backup catchers. VORP measures how much better Gonzalez, Rodriguez, or any starter is than the generic replacement player who would back him up in case of injury. It's a good measure of a player's overall value, and like most metric scales, the number increases as the player improves.

In this table, I'm going to look at the Royals' Opening Day lineup, along with their projected starting pitchers and relievers. This table features their 2003 VORP and their 2004 predicted VORP as projected by Baseball Prospectus' advanced formulas. (It's complicated. Take my word for that.)

Player2003 VORPPredicted 2004 VORP
Benito Santiago C18.25.1
Mike Sweeney 1B21.330.9
Desi Relaford 2B-1.812.8
Angel Berroa SS28.221.1
Joe Randa 3B22.410.3
Juan Gonzalez RF20.112.3
Carlos Beltran CF49.536.8
Aaron Guiel LF7.74.3
Matt Stairs DH29.310.2
Ken Harvey DH-6.611.41
Brian Anderson SP12.716.6
Darrell May SP49.124.5
Miguel Asencio SP5.49.2
Kevin Appier SP4.517.3*
Kyle Snyder SP8.96.2
Jeremy Affeldt SP30.222.8
Mike MacDougal RP9.46.6
Scott Sullivan RP12.68.8
Curtis Leskanic RP10.714.5
Jason Grimsley RP6.615.8

(*Appier is unlikely to pitch much, if at all, during the 2004 campaign after off-season elbow surgery.)

Now, let's take a look at the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins to see how these two teams stack up.

Player2003 VORP
Ivan Rodriguez C45.7
Derreck Lee 1B44.4
Luis Castillo 2B38.6
Alex Gonzalez SS24.4
Mike Lowell 3B48.3
Juan Encarnacion RF11.5
Juan Pierre CF32.0
Jeff Conine LF24.3
Miguel Cabrera LF/3B11.5
Josh Beckett SP32.5
Mark Redman SP33.6
Carl Pavano SP22.3
Brad Penny SP22.5
Dontrelle Willis SP36.8
Braden Looper RP15.0
Ugueth Urbina RP17.7
Chad Fox RP9.6
Rick Helling RP9.2
Tommy Phelps RP6.0
Tim Spooneybarger RP4.3
Armando Almanza RP-7.2

Except for Spooneybarger and Phelps, who were injured for much of the second half, and Almanza, who was just plain horrible after a while, it's abundantly clear that the 2003 Marlins are miles ahead of the predicted 2004 Royals. While it is true that many members of the Marlins had career VORP years and many of them had break-out seasons as well, these numbers don't lie; last year's Marlins team was solid all around. Eight of their starting nine were exceptional last year, posting VORPs well over 20, and the tandem of Encarnacion and Cabrera performed better than their VORP numbers indicate due to Miguel's mid-season call-up and Juan's splitting time as the fourth outfielder. The pitching, which carried the Fish through October, was outstanding.

As for the Royals, don't plan that parade quite yet. While these are merely predictions based on previous seasons' numbers, the 2004 VORP for the Royals Opening Day line up does not really approach that of the defending World Champs. There are some bright spots in the line up, especially in some of the Royals' younger pitchers, but for this team to make a serious run at a World Championship, the entire line up would have to overachieve for the entire season. This includes the relief corps as well as the starting line up. Is it possible? Yes, it is, but it's also highly unlikely. While it's nice that Royals fans will unquestionably see a more exciting and improved team on the field this season, it may be a little early to start popping the champagne corks. However, if the young pitchers improve and the Royals can develop a solid line up, in a few years, the Fall Classic could wind up in Kansas City.

Premature Tigers Hype

In the world of Internet baseball writing, Cnnsi.com, in my opinion, comes in a distant last place to all other Web sites, whether they be corporate media (ESPN.com and MLB.com), blogs, or Prospectus-like sites. Despite CNNSI's utter lack of interesting and creative analysis, I still peruse the headlines. I've always found John Donovan and his holier-than-thou articles to be the worst. He answers e-mails condescendingly, and his analysis is simply uncreative. Today, I came across this story by Donovan about Pudge. In this article, Donovan writes:
And, again, he's willing. That's big. Getting anyone to come to Detroit willingly has not been easy lately.

Detroit, it's safe to say, was not Rodriguez's first choice. But the Marlins wouldn't give him the money ($10 million a year) or the length of contract (four years) he wanted, and apparently no one else would, either. The Tigers offered $40 million over four years, but they added a clause that voids out the final two years if he misses significant time because of his balky back. That was close enough for Rodriguez so, after a week of stewing on it, he accepted. The Tigers couldn't be happier.
It's analysis like this that makes me question why an editor approved this article; it's simply deceiving to a reader. I don't think Pudge came to Detroit all that willingly. He burned all of his bridges in Florida after the non-tender date when he rejected their offer. And as I wrote a few weeks ago, for 10 million dollars, Pudge was willing to do anything, it seemed. Instead of question Pudge's worth in a pitcher's park - Donovan does point out that Ivan has only reached 100 RBIs and 25 HR twice - he harps on Pudge's defense and his skills at handling pitchers. It's true that Pudge is a great defensive catcher, but he's 32 and hasn't reached 140 games since 1999. Having caught over 13,000 innings, it's hard to believe that his stellar defense will stay that way.

In the end, if Pudge can turn around the Tigers' pitchers, he should automatically earn a place in Cooperstown. But if he gets injured, which is almost inevitable, the Tigers will have invested a lot over four years for a rapidly aging catcher. Baseball analysts such as John Donovan should certainly not be handing out the laurels to Pudge yet. At least wait until the end of May for any definitive statements on the effects Rodriguez has on the Tigers. Anything else is dangerous, idle speculation.

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Posted by Mike on Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I Don't Like Losing Either...

We here at Talking Baseball have all been in the same fantasy baseball league for a few years now. It's fun stuff, especially because I have been lucky enough to win the last couple of years. Well, I won outright last year and the year before I tied for the lead but it's all the same in the end. Anyways, as I said, I was lucky to win both years and it's more like I was lucky to win either year. Last season my pitching staff effectively tanked on me after the draft (thanks RJ). The year before I spent the first half of the season in the bottom half of the league and second half riding some hot players to an anti-climactic tie (like the all-star game that year). What I'm trying to get to (it's early AM and lots and lots of parenthesis look good) is that winning fantasy baseball teams don't need to be perfect. They can actually be horrible flawed but if they're well managed then they can overcome serious problems like an injury to an ace (or two, thanks Morris) or even an entire pitching staff collapsing.

A good draft can save a team from facing many problems down the line and good waiver wire scouring can be the edge that brings victory. Tonight I'm going to talk about who the best aces will be in this year's draft. Unlike past years the best pitchers are not as clear-cut as they once were. In the late 1990s it was easy to tier the pitchers. At the top were Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and to a slightly lesser extent Greg Maddux. None of these guys are in prime form anymore, RJ was hurt all last year and never looked good even when he returned, Pedro is always an injury risk with that hole in his rotator cuff, and Maddux is getting very old and lost his best stuff a few years ago now. No other pitchers have really taken the position of dominant year in and year out super-ace as of yet so the best we can do it speculate over which pitchers will have monster seasons. In no particular order (my mind is wandering) here is the ace tier:

1. Roy Halladay - He's good for 220+ innings and an ERA in the low 3.00 range. No real injury concerns. Last year's CY-Young season was aided by quite a bit of luck during the summer when he received vast amounts of run support from a potent Blue Jay lineup.

2. Pedro Martinez - Will put up the best numbers of any starter on a per inning basis. Too bad there is little chance of him starting more than 30 games because he manages to get injured when the wind blows to hard. Has a partially torn rotator cuff that he's been babying for more than a year now. As a Red Sox fan I worry about this every time he takes the mound...

3. Mark Prior - He's good, really good. Should have an ERA in the 3.00 range and will put up strikeouts like nobody's business. No injury concerns as last year's missed starts were the result of a freak basepath collision. The only thing to worry about is the Cubs offense and the Wrigley fan's defense.

4. Jason Schmidt - He's pretty good but he relies on his fast ball too much for my tastes. Injury risk.

5. Randy Johnson - If he returns to pre-2003 form then he could be the best starter in baseball again. I don't think it will happen and I'm looking for performance somewhere in between last year and the 2002 season. Injury and age concerns here. He's not a bad draft pick but the later in the draft he can be acquired the better that pick is...

6. Curt Schilling - Should finally see some run support in Boston. Expect a pile of strikeouts and an ERA in the low 3.00s. Age is a little bit of a concern (37) but health is not.

7. Javier Vazquez - Draft him. Forget all the talk about feeling the pressure in New York because this guy is the real deal. ERA will be in the low 3.00s and he strikes out oodles of batters. Is sort of a younger and less risky version of Curt Schilling.

8. Tim Hudson - If he had any run support last year then he would have won the Cy Young award. Oakland doesn't seem to have enough offense to get Hudson to 20 wins but he is as solid a pick as an ace as any other pitcher here. Excellent ERA, lots of innings, good WHIP, decent strikeouts, few injury issues... happy fantasy team.

9. Bartolo Colon - Hahaha. I laugh at his reputation. Colon Cancer is his nickname around Talking Baseball, there's a reason for this...

10. Roy Oswalt - This guy is as good as any other pitcher in the game when he's healthy. Too bad he can never be healthy. Have you seen his motion? It's painful to watch so I can only assume that it is part of the reason he breaks down every year. If you haven't seen it then take your arm and reach behind your back with your palm up as far as you can and lean forward... now throw a baseball 95 mph. If you draft him you deserve what you get, you have been warned.

11. Esteban Loaiza - He's pretty good, too bad Chicago is in rebuilding mode all of a sudden.

12. Mike Mussina - Super-solid. Can't go wrong drafting him as long as you don't do it in the first round or before all the better pitchers are gone.

I'm sure I'm missing pitchers who deserve to be on here but I will put together a full list closer to the start of the season...

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Posted by Jon on Tuesday, March 09, 2004

First Base and DH: A Rebuttal

On Sunday, Ben wrote an extensive analysis examining production between American League players who spent some time in the field and some time as the designated hitter. Ben’s piece comes in defense of his previous post, in which he gave Jason Giambi’s dramatic DH/1B splits and stated that "Clearly, when Giambi plays the field, he is more focused on all aspects of his game, including his potent offense." People (Talking Baseball readers and writers) jumped all over him for ignoring the difference between causation and correlation, and not entertaining the possibility that Giambi spent much of 2003 at first base when healthy and at DH when less healthy, and therefore, less apt to hit. After an analysis of seven DH/1B cases, he comes to the conclusion that "I believe that something else [aside from injury] affects their production, and that something else is a lack of focus from not being totally involved in the game. Players on the bench are never as focused on the game as those in the field, and the Designated Hitter is no exception to this rule." Even after his defense, I still find myself unable to accept Ben’s reasoning. What follows is a critique of his methods and my opinions, but my intention is not to bash his work. He was merely theorizing about the Jason Giambi case.

Ben examines seven cases of first-basemen/designated hitters from 2003 in his argument. Giambi, Frank Thomas, Raphael Palmeiro, Erubiel Durazo, and Tim Salmon all played better as first-basemen than designated hitters. David Ortiz was the only player listed who certainly plays best as the DH. Aubrey Huff I count as a wash because his production when in the field (both infield and outfield), is remarkably similar to his production as DH.

My overall critique of this analysis is that generally, these sample sizes are way too small to be considered statistically significant. For example, Frank Thomas excelled at first base in 2003, but he only had 91 at-bats at that position compared to 453 as DH. Naturally, one would assume, with equal amounts of playing time at each position, the numbers would even out. The next logical step would be, as Ben suggests, to examine players’ career numbers at each position. Unfortunately, this creates a new problem. Wouldn’t first basemen, as they age and become less productive with the bat and especially in the field be shifted to DH? Frank Thomas’ career 1B/DH splits show significantly better hitting from first base, but more than half of his at-bats as a DH have come in the last five years of a fourteen year career. In this latter portion of his career he's still a monster hitter, but not nearly as productive as he was when he was predominantly a first baseman. Could it be that as Thomas got older (1) his production began slipping (more than one more AB/HR since 1999, in addition to lower aggregate OPS in this span), and (2) he began hitting more exclusively as the DH? In fact, over 80 percent of the Big Hurt’s at-bats as DH have come over the last five years, when his production began dropping. I do not dispute that Thomas has hit better in games as a DH, and that he continues to do so. What I object to is accounting for this discrepancy solely as a measurement of Thomas’ level of comfort on the field versus as designated hitter.

Raphael Palmeiro, too, had better numbers at first base than as DH in 2003. But in his long career, he has actually performed better when DHing than when planted at first base. In noticeably fewer at-bats (5870 fewer, to be exact), Raphy has a higher slugging percentage, a higher OBP, and hits a homer roughly four at-bats more frequently than when he plays at first. In fact, although he hit better as a first baseman last season, Palmeiro's overall performance has been better as a DH, but in many fewer chances.

A number of players have fared better or no worse as designated hitters than as first basemen. Kevin Millar, Ellis Burks, Manny Ramirez, and Nick Johnson serve as examples. It is possible that 2003 was not a representative year for 1B/DH hitting splits.

But I digress. I have no definitive thesis to present regarding this quandary, but I hope to take the issue up with a more statistical research approach in the future. The point of my rebuttal is merely to point out that for a number of reasons – a lacking statistical significance of one seasons’ worth of split at-bats, and the eventual decline of a first-baseman to a designated hitter due to age – that a 2003 case study analysis may be inadequate. As much as some players excelled in 2003 as first basemen, plenty of others have faired well or decently well when slotted as the designated hitter.

Finally, in regards to Giambi in particular, while I do not deny that he has shown a penchant for hitting as a first-baseman over his last two seasons, I am not convinced that injury or a general wearing down of his body is not the cause. As I found that Derrek Lee’s home and away splits from 2003 were nothing more than an aberration, I question whether Giambi’s splits are more indicative of his preference for playing first base, or his superior production as an Oakland A. In 1999, 2000, and 2001, Jason’s last three seasons with the A’s, he rarely played as a DH and was better, worse, and no different, respectively, in those seasons as DH in comparison to his time at first base. Perhaps as he has grown older, Giambi’s superior production in the field is a result of playing (DHing) through injuries, or maybe it's just a fluke. Either way, the Yankees should be worried. With Giambi’s degenerative knee, he will be playing fewer and fewer games at first as the seasons pass. Baseball Prospectus 2004 warns that Giambi will not reach his peak performance levels again (2000-2002), and that he’ll be a "full-time DH who can’t run by the end of his contract." It appears that for whatever reason, the Yankees should be ready for Giambi’s diminished production level as a DH (.220/.377/.452, 12 AB/HR in 2003), and not as a first baseman (.277/.441/.592, 15 AB/HR in 2003), in the future.

Falling Like Flies

If you didn’t believe me when I said it a few weeks ago, even after the A-Rod deal, the Red Sox and Yankees are essentially equals coming into the 2004 season. And if some Sox fans still feel a bit queasy looking at the Yankees’ recent acquisitions, the events of the last week may be enough to soothe their souls.

Even before the regular season begins, two members of the Yankees’ Opening Day lineup could already be scratches. First, Bernie Williams, thirty-five this year, recently underwent an emergency appendectomy, and may not be ready for New York’s Opening Day in Tokyo. Also thirty-five this season, Gary Sheffield, steroids aside, may too be unable to begin the season after hurting his thumb in Spring Training and GM Brian Cashman is "officially worried about it." With the possibility of losing their Sheff for upwards of three months, we’ll see what Brian Cashman can cook up for New York. Hopefully for Yankee fans, his absence will bring about possible outfielders more palatable than Darren Bragg, Tony Clark, and Travis Lee. Ask the Sheff if the wine is supposed to be so aged?

Puns aside, we are witnessing the beginning of what must be a concerning trend for Yankee fans, especially compared the relative health of the Red Sox. Of the eight former All-Stars signed during the off-season, five are at least thirty-five years old. Javier Vazquez, my ex-favorite Expo, is the Yankees' future, but the man who may very well hold the Yankees’ season in the balance is none other than thirty-nine year-old, Kevin Brown, who has had numerous injury problems over the last few years. But don’t worry, New York. If Brown goes down, you’ll have Orlando Hernandez back in pinstripes at the ripe old age of thirty-eight.

"Bad Andy, Good Pizza!"

The baseball season is soon to begin in earnest, but sadly, we have another five months to anticipate the ultimate battle of morality. Mark it in your calendars, folks. On the sixteenth of August, a truly monumental match-up may occur: baseball’s first moral showdown. Former PawSox star Andy Abad’s Pittsburgh Pirates will face pitcher Andrew Good’s Arizona Diamondbacks. If both players sustain themselves in the majors, Abad Andy may face the Good. It's more than a battle of Andy’s. Good will be pitching for all that is righteous in this battle of Good and evil. But first things first. Let’s hope these guys make it out of Spring Training so we can begin anticipating this ultimate showdown.

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Posted by Dave on Monday, March 08, 2004

The Obsession That Is Fantasy Sports

Every free moment of every day inevitably reverts back to one thing: Fantasy sports. I'm not proud of my obsession, but I can always comfort myself with the knowledge that at least I'm not doing crack or heroin. I'm not kidding either - it's definitely an obsession. In the morning, I'll get up and load up Internet Explorer and I'll go to http://fantasysports.yahoo.com (worry not, it's obviously my homepage). Generally, however, I don't even need to open Explorer because I already have a window open from the previous night of pouring over statistics. In the morning, my concern is that there were players acquired. I'm not worried about guys that slipped under my radar - that never happens - I'm worried about my carefully monitored help crew being swept away by fantasy owners less worthy than me. These less worthy owners are the ones who didn't notice that Doug Christie or Troy Hudson finally started getting minutes a week ago, only to put up big numbers just last night. In a perfect world, I'd have an infinitely long bench, and I could snag these players immediately. But, I'm allowed only 3 bench spots in basketball, so these guys need maximum potential in order that they might some-day crack my starting 10 (four guards, four forwards, two centers).

In the evening, after classes and dinner, I'll make sure none of my guys are injured and I'll make sure I have maximized the effectiveness of my lineup for the night. Bibby and his King copatriots are playing the defensively obsessed Pistons? Fine, he can sit for Damon Stoudamire and his three-hucking, ball-dishing ways vs. the defensively inept Mavs. Periodically thorughout the night I'll check box-scores. It doesn't matter what I'm doing, it's always an acceptable form of procrastination. What if I'm working in Pettengill (work area on campus) reading some boring Holocaust material? Well, the computer's just a few paces away. I'll inwardly curse when Andrei Kirilenko goes 2-19 (how can someone shoot so miserably?!) and I won't even be particularly pleased when Baron Davis lights it up with a stuffed stat line (33 points, 4 triples, 13 assists, 8 boards, 3 steals). He's supposed to do that - no sub-par nights are acceptable. I'm not quite Billy Beane - I won't throw chairs if my players underperform - but every time Hubie Brown, the flagrantly moronic coach of the Grizzlies, limits Pau Gasol (the best player on the Grizz) to less than 30 minutes, I get pretty infuriated. Why play your best player less than 60% of the game?! Better question: Why screw me out of so much fantasy production?!

Now for some appalling accompanying information. I still do this even though the season is 3/4 over and I have a 15 point lead in my fantasy basketball league. How big is 15 points? Well, let's just say that I lead the league with 50 points out of a possible 56 points. I own first place in 4 categories, 2nd in 3-pointers made (I can't help it if another guy's lineup includes Peja, Billups, Kidd, Houston, and Lenard), 3rd in rebounding (Maybe if Gasol wasn't SITTING SO MUCH!...), and 4th in FG% (good work Jamal Crawford, only for you is 6-22 from the floor the norm). Second place has 35 points, 7th place has 21 points. What I'm saying to you is this: I lead second place (one team away) by more than 2nd place leads 7th place (5 teams away). I'm reasonably certain that I could compose a team from just the waiver wire and play them the last month and a half and still win. That gives you an idea of how much I'm killing the competition. And I still fanatically check the boxscores and lineup even with the gigantic lead. This can only point to one thing: Addiction.

I haven't even gotten to the worst part: All this fantastic fanaticism, all this obsessive-compulsive checking and re-checking of the league homepage, all this I do with three different sports. Basketball, Baseball, and Football are the sports of choice. And multiple leagues for each sport! I was only discussing basketball above. This is what occurs with each and every sport. It's worse with baseball though. As if I need more incentive (I can't let those other clowns beat me!), there's money on our fantasy baseball league. The past two years, first place has won the entire purse. The past two years, I've finished 2nd.

I don't like losing.

This year, I refuse to lose. The draft is in t-minus three weeks and I have yet to begin researching. I want an objectively awesome master list. No stone will be left unturned. I forgot, that's something that I didn't mention with basketball. With each league comes a compulsory draft. Our basketball one lasted about 2 hours. That's about 6 minutes per round for 8 teams of 15 players. Our baseball league has more teams (10) and more players (28). That means that our baseball draft will take approximately 3.5 hours - and I'll relish every second of it. Let me tell you something, there's nothing that's more disheartening than not being able to select your guy. There's always someone you target prior to the draft as someone who's extremely underrated. Someone who's avoided all the draft page hoopla, someone who you know is going to outperform expectations. A few years ago in fantasy basketball my guy was seven-foot Jermaine O'Neal. He had just been signed by the Pacers long-term and was ensured big minutes. He hadn't logged them yet, however. I needed a center, and I knew I needed Jermaine could put up some big numbers. So I took him in the fourth round, a little early by most people's standards. Immediately, however, I was lauded by my fellow owners. That's not usually the case, however. I got a lot of flack when I took Andrei Kirilenko in the 4th round this year. He's a fairly unathletic Russian who put up good numbers off the bench last year. He projected well as a starter, but not as the 4th best fantasy basketballer! When you catch your guy though, the excitement is unparalleled.

I've only told you about the obsession thusfar, but fantasy sports is tremendously fun as well. For me, fantasy sports is yet another great competition. You must be informed (is Rich Harden available in our league yet?), you must be knowledgable (are herniated discs likely to produce recurrent injuries or lingering effects? How will ARod's shift to New York bode for his fantasy value), and you must be savvy (can you convince your buddy that your Barry Zito is worth his Edgar Renteria?). Winning a game that lasts six months is especially rewarding. Imagine winning a game of cards one time. Winning a league in fantasy sports is like winning a card game, every day, for six months, all at once. It's pretty awesome. Seeing the players you picked perform well is almost as rewarding. Keith Foulke hadn't closed in awhile, but he looked great in Chicago and was closing the spacious Coliseum, so you selected him. Kudos to you, he was incredible last year - and each save he recorded confirmed your insight and excited you.

...Oh...who's my guy this year? I can't tell you, of course! You'll find out in about three weeks, when I write some post-draft analysis and discussion. Until then, sign up for a fantasy league and get immersed. It'll be the best decision you've ever made.

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Posted by Ben K. on Sunday, March 07, 2004

Statistical Differences in DHing

Back on Thursday, February 26, following Bernie Williams' emergency appendectomy, I wrote about the Yankees' strengths and weaknesses. In this post, I suggested, among other things the following about Jason Giambi's production when he's playing first base as opposed to when he's the designated hitter:
"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."
Almost immediately, our readers (and my fellow bloggers) started calling me out on this assumption. Many of you believed that Giambi's injuries prevented him from producing and not his stints as the DH. An e-mail from David Blackburn sums up the critiques of my argument. He wrote to me:
"Isn't it just a little possible that Giambi's numbers are better at 1B than as DH because he was put in as a DH on days that his knees, back, whatever were bothering him more than normally? So, he's playing 1B when relatively healthy and DH when relatively injured and thus has good numbers as a first baseman not because he concentrates better when playing the field (or something like that) but rather because he's healthier?"
Quite frankly, I had thought about this possibility only briefly and dismissed it out of hand. Giambi's knees were bothering him the entire season, and his eye was troublesome for a long time as well. Yet, there was no real consistency to when he played first and when he DHed. Maybe he told Joe Torre he was feeling good on the days he played the field, but I never though that injuries really had that much say in his final statistics. An experienced baseball player, I thought Giambi produced better when he played the field because fielders are more focused on the game. A DH comes to bat every few innings and doesn't have the same levels of adrenaline or stimulation that those playing in the field enjoy. If my ideas were correct, I imagined that a look at Designated Hitters across the league would turn up similar results to Giambi's 2003 splits. Testing my new theory theory, I started with a look at some Giambi's numbers, and what I found not only amazed me but validated by assumption as well.

In 2002, Giambi was unhindered by knee or eye problems. During his first year in pinstripes, he hit .314 with 41 home runs and 122 RBIs. He had a slugging percentage of .598 and an OBP of .435. He walked 109 times and struck out 112 times, for a K to BB ratio of 1.03. Statistically, Giambi's 2002 campaign was one of the best in the league. Looking at Jason's 2002 splits, I found that he had 331 at bats as a first baseman and 229 at bats as the Designated Hitter. Yankees manager Joe Torre used Giambi as DH in order to give the better-fielding Nick Johnson a chance to man first base. Giambi's numbers, however, suggest this might not have been the best idea, and they also suggest that Giambi's limited production last year was due, in part, to his not playing the field.

In those 331 at bats as a first baseman, he hit .344 with an astounding .674 slugging and an OBP of .461. He homered 29 times and his K to BB ratio was 0.88. In the 229 at bats as the DH, he hit only .271 with a .489 slugging and an OBP of .397. He homered only 12 times and his BB to K ratio was 1.27. Those numbers, in a season where Jason stayed healthy, show a clear drop in production on days that Giambi was DHing instead of playing the field. So, in summary:

2003First Base292.277.441.5921.0111.68
Designated Hitter241.220.377.4521.1815.06
2002First Base331.344.461.6740.8811.41
Designated Hitter229.271.397.4891.2719.08

From this table, it's easy to see that as a DH, Jason Giambi produced far less than he did when playing first base. To further test my assumption that hitters hit better on days they played the field, I decided to examine numbers from other players who spent a considerable amount of time DHing and playing the field. (Note: Not all teams are represented here because these teams did not have established DHs or players who split enough time at DH and in the field for me to adequately test my assumptions. For the sake of this post, I picked only the guys who were clearly split between the field and DH and not just those guys who happened to be filling in as DH on a certain day like Matt Lawton, Ellis Burks, and Travis Hafner did last season for the Indians.)

Frank Thomas -- Last season, the White Sox slugger finally had a healthy season. In fact, he held up enough for the Sox to stick him at first base for 29 games last season. For the other 124, he was the DH. His aggregate numbers were quite impressive. He hit .267 with a .562 slugging and a .390 OBP. He drove in 100 runs while slamming 42 home runs. His K to BB ratio was 1.15. These numbers were three-year highs for a the aging slugger. Looking at Thomas' splits, however, suggest that he could have been even better last year.

First Base91.352.487.7251.0011.38
Designated Hitter453.252.371.5321.1813.32

Thomas seems to be one hitter who definitely benefits from playing in the field. Yet, because the White Sox have Paul Konerko, Bill James' number 1 fielding first baseman in the majors, to anchor the infield, Thomas doesn't get too many opportunities to play the field. When he does though, the White Sox offense certainly enjoys a substantial boost. As you may have guessed, the obvious question arises then: why don't these DHs play the field more? The answer I will get to later on.

Rafael Palmeiro -- Raffy, a former Gold Glove winner, DHed 97 times last season and played first 55 times, spelling Mark Teixeira for about a third of the season. Despite a slower bat, Palmeiro put up solid numbers last season; he hit .260, slugged .508, and had a .359 OBP. He homered 38 times or once every 14.76 ABs. His K to BB ratio was 0.92. Palmeiro's splits, once again, support my assumption.

First Base200.275.386.5600.7212.5
Designated Hitter359.251.343.4791.0616.32

Unlike Thomas, Palmeiro is relatively injury-free. Also unlike Thomas, Palmeiro does not have one of the top defenders backing him up; in fact, he is one of the top defenders at first. If his production is so much better when he plays the field, what explains Buck Showalter's decisions to slot Palmeiro at DH and Teixeira at first?

Erubiel Durazo -- By all accounts, Durazo had a disappointing first full year on the Athletics. Billy Beane and the A's expected more than a .259 average, a .430 slugging, an .374 OBP, with 21 home runs (one every 25.57 at bats), 77 RBIs and a K to BB ratio of 1.05. Maybe the problem was that Durazo spent much of the season as the DH, leaving first base open to Scott Hatteberg. Take a look at his splits:

First Base113.283.403.4251.005.38
Designated Hitter424.252.366.4321.067.57

Durazo's numbers as a first baseman were more along the lines of what the A's had expected, and maybe the problem was that Durazo, who came from the Diamondbacks, was not used to DHing every day. During 2002, when he played in the NL, Durazo had only 20 at bats as the DH and almost 200 at first base. As the Diamondbacks' first baseman, he was more involved in the game and was thus more focused when he came up to the plate.

Tim Salmon -- Although Salmon is one, like Giambi, who has faced numerous injuries recently, his numbers at DH show a dramatic decline compared to those when he plays the field. Overall, last season, Salmon hit .275/.374/.464. He had a 1.21 K to BB ratio, and he drove in 72 runs. (Since his power numbers are fairly underwhelming, I'm using RBIs, as I did with Durazo, as an indication of Salmon's production. Most would argue that these are more important than home runs anyway.) Salmon had a solid season on an underachieving team, but could he have done better?

Designated Hitter248.250.351.4111.308.27

In Salmon's case, his injuries probably contributed to the difference in his splits as much as playing in the field did. However, it's hard to ignore that Salmon's production declined as it took him 1.65 ABs longer to drive in a run when he DHed.

Aubrey Huff -- Now, I would like to take a look at one more hitter; this one, however, is not an aging star like Palmeiro or Thomas and he did not suffer from injuries like Salmon or Giambi. Aubrey Huff, the 27 year old outfielder on the Devil Rays, last season played in all 162 games, and he is the only player in my study to do so. During those games, he hit .311/.367/.555 with 34 home runs, 107 RBIs, and a K to BB ratio of 1.51. Of those 162 games, he spent 30 in the infield, 102 in the outfield, and 33 at DH. (Obviously, there's some overlap between the infield and the outfield.) Let's look at his splits.

Designated Hitter136.316.367.5511.097.1619.42

Huff's numbers show us what happens when a young player DHs. His numbers as a DH slumped compared to when he played the outfield. When he played the infield, however, is a different story. Maybe Huff really gets nervous playing third or first, and this tension carriers over to his at bats. He's more comfortable in the outfield, and thus, when he plays in right, he is better able to get on base, drive runners in, and hit for power and average.

David Ortiz -- The Red Sox slugger had a break out year last season; while he opened this season at first base, by the end of the year, he was crushing the ball as DH. In fact, Ortiz's splits are the only ones that do not adhere to my theory. Overall, Ortiz hit .288/.369/.592 with 31 home runs, 101 RBIs, and a K to BB ratio of 1.43. Let's see his splits:

First Base161.255.346.4221.436.1940.25 (!)
Designated Hitter277.310.389.7001.313.7910.25

Ortiz is the anomaly of the group; he actually benefitted from not playing the field. Additionally, it's no secret that Ortiz doesn't like playing the field. Under no circumstances should the Red Sox have Ortiz play the field with Kevin Millar on the bench. Bill James' defensive stats show Millar to be a significantly better defensive first baseman than Ortiz. Ortiz's range factor was a paltry 8.86 while Millar's was 9.90. Even a hobbled Giambi (9.30 RF) makes more plays than Ortiz does in the field. This, I think, explains the difference in his stats. His reluctance and inability to play first leads him to be hesitant at the plate. Plus, when he was playing first early in the season, Grady Little was unsure how to use Ortiz. He was sitting many days while Jeremy Giambi was playing, and it was only Giambi's injury that propelled Ortiz to the spotlight as the DH.

Having completed this examination, I would like to make note of one thing analytically. One season is not a very good sample size. Yet, looking at career splits, the same patterns emerge. I did not include them hear in the tables because then this long post would simple become unwieldy. it's time now to look at the aggregate results. Throwing out Huff's differences between the infield and DH (but keeping the outfield-DH differences; after all, the OF is his natural position) and Ortiz's numbers, based on the 2003 data, players improve on their batting average by .051. OBPs rise .054 percent, and slugging rises by .105, on average. When you include Ortiz, BAs go up around .038, OBP by 0.42, and slugging by 0.58. The large drop in slugging occurs when you realize that Ortiz, somehow, slugged almost .300 higher as a DH than as a first baseman. I am skeptical to include Ortiz in this study because it looks like something other than time in the field was at stake. I think overall playing time and consistency had more of an effect on Ortiz than anything else. In every case, hitters drove in more runs and hit home runs more frequently when they were playing the field. Interestingly, hitters, except for Huff and Ortiz, also struck out less and walked more often when they had regular at bats while playing the field. Huff's numbers improve when he plays the field except for this stat, and I can't quite figure out why. If anyone has any suggestions, send them my way.

So it seems that, except for David Ortiz in general and Aubrey Huff's specific K to BB ratio, all other stats improved when a player spends more time in the field. In my mind, two important questions arise out of this conclusion. First, what accounts for this rise in productivity? As I explained briefly before, when you are in the field, you are much more focused on the game. Your adrenaline is higher; your engine is higher; and your preparedness is higher. A DH who gets four or five at-bats a game won't be as involved in the game. To stay loose, he'll probably return to the clubhouse in between at bats and have the trainers stretch him or simply ride the bike to keep the blood flowing. He won't be gearing up to make a play or have the ball hit at him with every pitch. He won't already be tracking his own pitcher throw hard. Instead, he'll jump in there every 9 batters and swing away off of live pitching. Even if he's in the clubhouse taking BP swings, the difference in speed and location between batting practice and in-game pitching is simply incredible. I believe that DHs are simply not as adjusted to playing the game and are therefore less focused on their at bats than those men in the lineup who are out in the field for half of the game.

The second question that naturally follows from the first then is why don't these players just play the field instead of DHing? It would seem that they would be more productive and a better help to their teams if they did this. The answer lies in part in David Blackburn's e-mail. I don't believe that these guys could play the field for an entire season. Palmeiro's old; Tim Salmon's fragile; Giambi's knees were killing him by the end of last season; and Frank Thomas is blocked by the top fielding first baseman in the league who isn't a bad hitter himself. (Don't look at Konerko's 2003 stats; look at the years preceding that. If Konerko doesn't return to 2001-2002 form, I think Thomas should just play first everyday.) For these players to produce at all, the DH spot gives them the opportunity to rest aging bodies. While they may build up more strength and stamina by playing in the field, by August, these players would be worn down. They DH simply because their bodies cannot take playing the field every day, not because they want to.

Finally, I would like to pose a different question: What should we expect from some of these players this year? In the case of Ortiz, I would say more of the same. He'll kill the ball, again, though not level with his DH stats from last year. I don't think he'll slug .700 and a drive in a man more frequently than every four times to the plate. If Giambi's knees are healthy, he'll have a monster season. Playing in the field seems to benefit him quite a lot. I liked watching him hit a Grand Slam yesterday. That's always reassuring. Thomas won't play the field, unfortunately for him, and Palmeiro will see some action at first and some at DH. He is pretty old after all.

So there you have it. While David Blackburn brought up an interesting point about Giambi's injury, I think injuries only account for some of the difference. Injuries are why I omitted Mike Sweeney. He refused to go on the DL when injuries forced him out of the field last season. As the DH, he was horrible. Yet, injuries do not account for the differences we see in Huff's, Thomas' or Palmeiro's numbers. I believe that something else affects their production, and that something else is a lack of focus from not being totally involved in the game. Players on the bench are never as focused on the game as those in the field, and the Designated Hitter is no exception to this rule.

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