Talking Baseball

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Posted by Mike on Friday, April 09, 2004


"Congratulations Detroit! You just rambled off the longest winning streak that you'll have this year! I know you lead the majors in wins, but that probably won't happen again for a few more years so enjoy this while it lasts." This is what I would say to the Detroit Tigers if I had a chance. That is, if they're not broken up because they are bad for baseball. In any event, at least they're going to draw a few more fans because of this quick start than they would have otherwise. Considering their lineup and pitching staff they should consider themselves lucky. It's not often that a future Hall of Famer is placed on a Triple-A team while he still has a few good seasons left in the tank.

This all has made we wonder where do Hall of Famers go to die? I searched the last five years worth of Hall of Fame inductees and the won-loss records of their teams over their last three full seasons. This is what I found:

Name..............Year Inducted.....Team Wins
Paul Molitor..........2003..........70,68,78
Dennis Eckersley......2003..........94,73,88
Eddie Murray..........2002..........88,96,100
Gary Carter...........2002..........87,93,85
Ozzie Smith...........2001..........88,62,53
Carlton Fisk..........2000..........86,87,94
Tony Perez............2000..........86,89,70
Nolan Ryan............1999..........86,77,85
George Brett..........1999..........84,72,82
Robin Yount...........1999..........69,92,83

Now, with the exception of Eddie Murray who was part of Cleveland and Baltimore's mid-1990's power offenses, these players all played their last few seasons on average teams. Murray is really the only exception, and still Cleveland liked him so much that they traded him midway through the 1996 season. On the other end of the spectrum, Molitor was the only player to play on consistently poor teams before he retired. This was surely because he was a career member of the Twins.

Nothing all that interesting here, but how about looking at how many games each of these players played over their last three seasons?

Name.........Games Played.....Average
Carter.........95,101, 92........96
Smith..........82, 44, 98........75
Fisk...........25, 65,134........75
Perez..........77, 72, 71........73

Some of these guys were Iron Men while others were injury cases. Fisk played far fewer games his last two season but he was only backing up Ron Karkovice at that point. Ditto for Gary Carter, he was playing second fiddle to Mike Sciocia. Tony Perez backed up Pete Rose for a year and a half, not exactly a slouch himself even though he's not in the Hall of Fame for some reason. This leaves Ozzie Smith as the lone injury case.

What does this all mean? Actually, not much. If anything, it would seem that recent Hall of Fame caliber players go off to die on mediocre teams with no real shot of winning it all. Eddie Murray was an exception unless you consider the fact that the Indians decided to trade him away en route to the playoffs in 1997. For Pudge and the Tigers this all means the obvious. Wait till next year... and the year after that... and the year after that...

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Posted by Ben K. on Friday, April 09, 2004

Break Up the Tigers

This madness has got to stop. The Detroit Tigers are ruining baseball as we know it.

Alright, maybe I'm being a little premature, but it's hard to ignore the 4-0 Tigers right now. That's right, I said 4-0.

For those of you who haven't gotten your ESPN fix yet, the Detroit Tigers came from behind on Thursday to beat the Twins, 10-6. With that victory, Detroit improved to a Major League best 4-0 this year. In 2003, the Tigers went 0-9 to start the season and ended up with a 43-119 record. They hold the dubious record of most losses in a single season by an American League team, and they didn't win their fourth game of the 2003 season until May 4th. For those of us counting, that's almost four weeks away. The Tigers would have to lose everyday for the next month to match last year's level of futility. Clearly, this is an improved team.

Furthermore, the Tigers have not won four games in a row to start the season since 1985. I was two years old then. It was that long ago. This four-game winning streak then is new territory for an entire generation of Tigers fans. The season, just a few days after I turned two, the Tigers opened with six straight wins en route to an 84-77 finish. If the Tigers pull off that feat this season, they would improve by 41 games over 2003. (On a side note, they could end up winning the AL Central with 84 victories as well, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.)

In reality, it's still the first week of games in April. It's doubtful that the Tigers are going to lead the Majors in runs scored as they do right now, and it's fairly impossible to belief that the Tigers will only surrender runs at the pace of three per game as they have in their first four outings. But could we expect the Tigers to maybe reach that 84-win plateau (and the postseason)?

A few months ago, as part of my fascination with last season's inept Detroit Tigers, I took a look at all of the teams that lost more than 110 games in a single season. I charted how these teams improved in the seasons following their loss-filled campaigns. Let's take another look at the chart. This time I've added these teams' records after the first four games of the following seasons.

RecordNext SeasonGames ImprovedRecord After Four Games
1962 Mets40-12051-111+100-4
2003 Tigers43-119NANA4-0
1916 Athletics36-11755-98+201-3
1935 Braves38-11571-83+32.51-3
1904 Senators38-11364-87+261-3
1952 Pirates42-11250-104+81-3
1965 Mets50-11266-95+16.52-2
1932 Red Sox43-11163-86+22.51-3
1939 St. Louis Browns43-11167-87+242-2
1941 Phillies43-11142-109+0.50-4
1963 Mets51-11153-109+20-4

As I discussed in my last post on this topic, the average improvement among the teams with more than 110 losses was 16.5 games. As this new chart shows, even the teams that improved more than 20 games, a truly astounding feat from season to season, started out slowly. The 1935 Braves improved by 35.5 games, but they were only 1-3 after the first four games of the season. Only a few teams managed to play .500 ball to open the season, and only one team, the 1940 St. Louis Browns, won Opening Day after losing more than 110 games.

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

In the end, I predict 95 losses from the Tigers. This would represent an improvement of 24 games over 2003, which is no small feat. But it's not really the "completely different season" that Pudge predicted. It's still a season of disappointment for the players and the fans, and it's most definitely a season at the very bottom of the mediocre AL Central.
Now, I would like to revise my prediction. While I know that it's dangerous to make any assumptions based on the first four games (baseball is a marathon, not a sprint), the Tigers have already set a new record for teams that have lost more than 110 games.

So then, what can we expect from the Tigers? Right now, I would guess that the Tigers will have a decent season, by their standards. I would even say they'll approach .500. Will they match the 1985 Tigers 35-5 start? It's doubtful. I stand by my statement that the Tigers' pitching is not vastly improved. In 1985, the Tigers were coming off a World Series championship. They had Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Walt Terrell, and Frank Tanana in their starting rotation, and none of those pitchers sported an ERA over 3.85 that year. The year before, the highest ERA of that group belonged to Frank Tanana, and his ERA was only 4.15. In 2003, the Tigers' lowest ERA was 4.67.

While the 2004 Tigers are an improved offense team, and the 30 runs are a good indication of that, their pitching is not that much better than it was last year. The Tigers are still relying on the inexperienced arms of Jeremy Bonderman, Mike Maroth, and Nate Cornejo. Without Dmitri Young in their lineup for the next six to eight weeks, the team is already weaker than they were four days ago. If Pudge were to go down, the Tigers would be in trouble. But as my girlfriend Sarah has said, "The Tigers are so cool." And this team certainly deserves some praise for their quick start. Whether these four games were a fluke exposing the lack of pitching from which the Blue Jays' bullpen suffers or a good indicationn of the Tigers' new look on the field, only time will tell.

On a related note, I would like to take a brief look at what accounts for the Tigers' seemingly fast recovery. Looking at the chart, an interesting economic trend emerges: except for the 2003 Tigers, none of the teams on that list lost their 110 games during the free agent era. For the most part, those teams lost their 110 (or more) games and then fielding the same rotation and same lineup the following Opening Day. This winter, though, the Tigers ownership realized they had to improve the team. If they did not show any commitment to winning, they would see attendance numbers dwindle down to nothing, and they would see revenue plummet. So in order to satisfy the demands of today's fans, they went out and spent a lot of money. They signed Ivan Rodriguez to an above-market value contract and picked up Rondell White, Fernando Viña, Carlos Guillen, Jason Johnson, and Ugueth Urbina. Considering how different the 2004 Tigers are from the 2003 team, it's not that surprising to see such a high level of improvement at the start of the season.

Match-Ups of the Weekend

Friday, April 9 at 7:35 p.m.: Philadelphia Phillies @ Florida Marlins
Carl Pavano and Eric Milton square off in the first of 19 games the two NL East competitors will play against each other. I expect these two teams to battle for the top spot in the East, and while the Phillies' offense (most notably, Thome and Abreu) is off to an early start, the Marlins pitching has been sharp so far.

Saturday, April 10 at 7:05 p.m.: Toronto Blues Jays @ Boston Red Sox
Two aces who didn't have their best stuff on Opening Day take the hill for these two AL East competitors. Halladay, who didn't win his first game until May 1 last year, will look to regain his form after losing to the Tigers, and Pedro will look to regain his velocity after topping out around 90-91 mph against the Orioles.

Sunday, April 11 at 1:05 p.m.: Chicago White Sox @ New York Yankees
Mike Mussina will face off against Mark Buerhle on Sunday at the House that Ruth Built. This start will be a real test for Mussina. So far, in two road starts against the Devil Rays, Mussina has seemed lost on the mound. He hasn't been hitting his spots, and he's been giving up a lot of runs. Mussina will face a tougher lineup in front of a home crowd Sunday, and if he doesn't rebound, the New York media may begin to seriously question Mussina.

Trivia Question of the Day

As I was researching the Detroit Tigers, I came across an interesting stat, courtesy of Baseball-Almanac.com. The Boston Red Sox have a lifetime record of 8165-7753, good for winning percentage of .513. While the Red Sox have a losing record against the National League in interleague play, they have winning records against all but two American League teams. Can you name those two teams (without cheating)? If you think you know the answer, leave me a comment. I'll reveal the answer on Tuesday in my next post.

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Posted by Jon on Thursday, April 08, 2004

Flat Top

Hats are all the rage here at Talking Baseball. We wear them, we rate them, and we love them! And so do the ballplayers.

Most of them wear their hats like this:

The hat rests effortlessly upon his head. Nice slight curve to the bill, Manny. Thanks for posing!

Last season, Dontrelle Willis, illegitimate 2003 National League Rookie of the Year winner, introduced a new style:

Cap a bit askew, eh Mr. Willis? The bill is also less curved, but I buy it. It actually looks pretty decent, and it gives a little flair to the D-Train. Cock your hat to the side and see how you look. I'm amazed he can pull it off.

But not everybody can pull off a style of their own. Try to look at this one. I know it's difficult to sustain eye-contact, but don't be afraid:

That's the newest Brewer, Jeff Bennett, a Rule 5 pickup from the Pirate oraganization. And yes, he is wearing his hat flat. The MLB.com story reports that he keeps his hat "perfectly straight so he can check runners on base." Not only is it flatter than the hat my father wears to baseball games, but it's also pulled down to right above eye-level. How can he even see the plate? Personally, I hope he continues to have trouble holding runners on. If his hat style becomes a trend, the aura around baseball players will quickly fade, especially among young fans. I do hope that Bennett, who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief in his Major League debut, continues to contribute to the Brewers. I can see him becoming a dominant reliever and possibly a closer based on looks alone. Can anybody say Gagne? How about Eckersley?

A Little Sidebar

Now that I have your attention, it's time to get down to business. It's late, and us four here at Talking Baseball are college students with college classes with loads of work and extracurricular activities. Tonight Ben was slated to post but understandably, he's swamped with work. So in his absence, I wanted to get something up here. In addition, you get my ranting thoughts from the evening.

First, I'd like to direct you to the developing additions to our sidebar, just to the left of this text. That gray box, near the bottom, now includes little sections for each writer, in which each of us - Dave, Ben, Mike, and I (Jon) - are free, on a daily basis, to keep tabs on anything we find interesting througout the season. I've added my section in which I'll be tracking Griffey's health, Dusty Baker's overused starters, and the lovable Matt Stairs' season. In addition, Jimy Williams' sanity is being put to the test. Just check out the side bar section marked "Jon's Corner." Dave is following his own comparison of two "aces" in his corner. Note: although they're marked as corners, they can be found in vertical sequence on the sidebar. Tricky, eh! Check it out.

The Only Game I Could See...

A few days ago I ordered MLB.TV for a month to test it out and see if it would be worth having for the entire season. A few notes. Firstly, I am prohibited from watching Boston or New York games because I live in Connecticut where these games are available on cable, automatically eliminating six teams' worth of action on any given day of baseball. Not only this, but I am also prohibited from seeing any Braves game (they're on TBS), and all games on ESPN and ESPN2. Today, of the fifteen games played, I was allowed access to four: Chicago at Kansas City, Texas at Oakland, Anaheim at Seattle, and San Diego at Los Angeles. Three games weren't carried by MLB.TV and eight were blacked out because they were presumably available on television in my region. In fact this was not true, as not all of the blacked out games were on cable in my area. So out of the 30 teams playing today, I could watch 8 of them, or about a quarter of the total games played. I ask you, MLB: where are my games?! And don't ask me why I don't have cable...

One of the games I had access to, San Diego at Los Angeles, actually turned into a nice contest, with a 1-1 tie going into extra innings. Notes from the game:

· The two starting pitchers looked good -- Eaton was better than Weaver in Jeff's LA debut, but Jeff Weaver in LA looked much better (more focused and comfortable) than Jeff Weaver in NY. He looks like a different person, with all of the confidence in the world.

· The Dodgers have now scored nine runs in three games. With an average of 3.00 runs scored per game, they are already undercutting their major league worst 3.54 runs scored per game last season. But all those who were hoping and waiting for the Dodgers' bats to come alive have to be a bit hopeful. If Shawn Green can return to form, Milton Bradley appears to be the perfect man to hit before him, reaching base seven times in his first 14 plate appearances of the season. It's early, but what the Dodgers needed most last season were base runners.

Dave Roberts is no great leadoff man, but what I really cringe thinking about is Cesar Izturis and his career .272 OBP hitting second and before Milton and Shawn. Jim Tracy's a smart guy, right? Cesar should be nowhere near the front of the lineup. Shouldn't Paul DePodesta be showing Jim what's besta? Follow Shawn with Paul Lo Duca and you have pretty decent 3-4-5 hitters, at least for the first half of the season, in which Lo Duca is a regular on the base paths before dropping off substantially post All-Star break. Last season is a perfect example: .374 OBP in 86 games before the break, and .282 after. Check out his career splits:

Before All-Star Game: .315 .374 .475
After All-Star Game: .255 .308 .375
After the All-Star Break, Lo Duca turns into a second Izturis. One Cesar's bad enough for the lineup, but no team can take two, especially when one is protecting the team's best hitter. Sadly, this is the best Opening Day lineup the Dodgers have had since Gary Sheffield called Chavez Ravine home. But maybe they should be trying to insert somebody else into the 2-spot. Perhaps Adrian Beltre? At least he's shown on-base potential (OBP's of .352 and .360 as a regular in 1999 and 2000).

· The Dodgers are now 2-1, winning their second game in a row, both by only one run. Yesterday they won 5-4; today's score was 2-1. Last season, over 30% of their games were decided by one run and they ended with a 26-23 record in those games. But with worse pitching in 2004, they'd better watch out. One run games can easily begin going the other way.

· The Dodgers opened the season against the Padres. For two days in a row I've heard two different TV announcers on two different TV broadcasts describe San Diego's Brian Giles as "an aggressive hitter" only to follow by describing him as "nonetheless patient." Ummm, guys...is that possible?

Sterling Narration

But those guys aren't alone. Back on morning of the first Opening Day (way back in March, and way back in Tokyo), I couldn't ignore baseball even at 5AM EST, so I turned on the radio to hear the beginning of the game. John Sterling, Yankee radio announcer (must he repeat that annoying game ending taunt?) described (I believe) Victor Zambrano, eventual winning Tampa Bay pitcher, saying that he allowed far fewer hits than innings pitched, which is always a good sign. He followed this comment by saying that this was a fact even those following "sabermatrix" would smile upon. A mathematical matrix of sabres? John, John, John...If you're going to be involved so closely with baseball, can you please learn the term used to describe this whacky objective revolution? It's spelled "sabermetrics" and is pronounced as "sabre-metrics." Sterling Loses, Jooooooooooooooooooooooooooooohn Sterling Loses!

Sorry, I've been waiting to get back at him for years...

The Proof is in the Pudding

If you didn't read Dave's post yesterday, you missed out on one of the best uses of mathematical proof I've ever seen. Written after Michael Lamb started at third base instead of Morgan Ensberg yesterday (see the sidebar), and reprinted with permission, here it is again:
1. Given: Morgan Ensberg did not play.
2. Given: Mike Lamb played.
3. Near-Given: Morgan Ensberg is much better than Mike Lamb.
4. Given: Jimy Williams is the manager of the Houston Astros, and the manager of Ensberg and Lamb.
5. Given: Managers are responsible for playing the best players at all times.
6. Corollary: Managers that do not play their best players are flagrant idiots.
7. If (2&3) ---> 6, by modus ponens. That is, IF Mike Lamb played AND Morgan Ensberg is much better than Mike Lamb, THEN the manager of those players is a flagrant idiot.
8. Since the manager of Ensberg and Lamb is a flagrant idiot, the conclusion follows:
9. Jimy Williams is a flagrant idiot.
I guess my ranting evolved into a pretty decent-sized post. Don't forget to keep checking the sidebar. You'll love it!

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Posted by Dave on Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Wonderful World of Baseball

Finally, baseball is upon us. This is our first taste of real action, the kind we are accustomed to, day in and day out. Today there was a full slate of games - up from the 8 yesterday and the solitary games played on the days prior to Monday. Baseball is an appreciably long and complex game, and with the length and complexity comes tons of story-lines. I'll present a look around baseball on the REAL Opening Day:

Marlins vs. Expos: In the battle for the bragging rights to the worst hat, the Marlins bested the Expos 4-3. Nothing terribly interesting here except for Matt Perisho. Matt Perisho?! That's right - he's certainly the antithesis of a household name. Aside from living with the residents of Reticence (they have a private language), Perisho has been a particularly horrible major league pitcher. Amazingly, however, not horrible enough it seems. The Marlins used him as their LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY for the uninitiated) today, a trend they would seem content to continue (he was the first LOOGY they've used this season). This is a disturbing trend indeed for the Marlilns if that LOOGY has a lifetime ERA of 7.07 (how is this guy in the majors?!).

Red Sox vs. Orioles: Many in the Boston media were trying to create a notion of panic amongst the Sox Nation prior to the 4-1 Red Sox win. I caught the last four innings of this game and Curt Schilling looked unimpressive in the 6th. Yet, he allowed only one run over six. Only supremely talented and resilient pitchers can pitch poorly and still pitch effectively. In Pedro and Schilling, the Red Sox have two of these pitchers. Another note, the Red Sox have grounded into five double plays over these last two games. Ignore the fact that this is incredibly unlucky - it is also incredibly encouraging. What?! Grounding into double plays is GOOD, he says?! Well, obviously grounding into double plays is bad, but it also signifies an unwillingness by Francona to lay down sacrifice bunts. There has been an abundance of studies and research all pointing to the sac-bunt's lack of efficacy. This stems from the truth that it is effectively giving away an out to the opposing team. Still, however, many teams employ it as an offensive tactic. Francona's policy of refusing to sac-bunt is probably due in large part to the front office. Theo Epstein, Bill James and company adhere strongly to the maxims of sabermetrics, and one of those maxims is that you should almost never bunt.

Angels vs. Mariners: The Angels' new acquisitions paid off nicely in their 10-5 slaughter of the Mariners. Guerrero hit a two-run double and Colon pitched six innings of 0 ER ball while racking up a very respectable five K's. Even more encouraging, however, was the Angels' use of their ace. Colon threw the 8th-most pitches last year, and tied for the league-lead in complete games with nine. I can't imagine that number of innings and pitches can be good for a pitcher long-term, and Colon sat after a relatively benign 100 pitches. Colon's counterpart, Jaime Moyer, did not fare nearly as well. Every year, Moyer gets incrementally older. Every year, we increase our reverie for one of the men that defy their age. Let's hope that this is not the beginning of the end for Moyer.

Diamondbacks vs. Rockies: The Rockies got a perfect day from Todd Helton in defeating Randy Johnson and the D-Backs 6-2. Looking past Randy Johnson's disturbingly mediocre performance (the K's were still there, at least) and Shawn Estes' surprising start, we see an oddity that makes baseball unique. In this game, Luis Gonzalez hit three home runs. You quip: "But the D-Backs only scored two runs, how did Gonzo hit 3 HRs?!" Well, sirs and madams, there weren't one but two Luis Gonzalezes that played today. Not only did everyone favorite's steroid-induced imagination play (All-Star Luis Gonzalez) , everyone's favorite...ahhh...Frank Abignale (Certainly not an All-Star, Luis Gonzalez). That would be enough to surprise us, but when you couple it with the fact that Aaron Miles was the expected starting 2nd baseman for the Rockies, it becomes even more bizarre.

Tigers vs. Blue Jays: The Tigers continue their deception as a good team in defeating the Blue Jays again, 7-3. I can't decide if the Tigers are actually this good or not, but they have a big problem going forward. Dmitri Young, the only batter of worth from last year's Terrible Tigers, apparently broke his fibula getting cleated by a Jays middle-infielder. Young was hitting clean-up today and took a walk before exiting the game. Should he be out for an extended period of time, the Tigers lack the depth to replace him effectively. This is a concern if the Tigers want to maintain their perfect season. Oh man, that's too funny.

Yankees vs. Devil Rays: The Devil Rays rallied to beat the Yanks, scoring 9 unanswered runs in winning 9-4. Mussina pitched poorly yet again, but I have a feeling it won't matter once the Yankee offense is clicking. It may not be long. Sheffield and ARod both homered for the first time in Yankee uniforms - the first of many for the sluggers. When I looked at the box score, it struck me: Rodriguez, Giambi, and Sheffield isn't the heart of a lineup - it's a lineup in and of itself! With these three sluggers, the Yankees not only have three premium sluggers, but three of the dominant sluggers of our era. I don't think I appreciated the improvement in the Yankee offense enough this off-season - with the acquisition of ARod and Sheffy, the previously formidable lineup becomes positively monstrous. As a Red Sox fan, I can only hope Lofton and Jeter don't start table-setting.

Mets vs. Braves: The Mets have jumped out to an early lead in the NL East by torching last year's Cy candidate (chuckle), Russ Ortiz, in a 7-2 walloping. Aside from the fact that Ortiz was lit up, Marcus Giles performed admirably in a loss - going 2-4 with an HR. This could mark the beginning of an agonizing season for me as a fantasy owner. Pressured by the clock, I knew I had to choose a 2nd-baseman. I had settled on either choosing Mike Young of the Rangers or Giles of the Braves. Giles showed the superior power and OBP last year and had long been considered an underachieving power prospect. Young showed that he could hit .300 in a vaunted Ranger offense. I dwelled on the absence of Sheffield too much and opted for Young. What a dumb move. Giles will probably hit 25 HRs this year - I'd be lucky if Young hits more than 15. Worse, Giles will likely eclipse Young's run and RBI total this year, making this a truly stupid selection.

Astros vs. Giants: Pettitte's ugly performance is a sign of things to come for the 'Stros who overpaid for a hunk of junk in Andy. Andy is secondary to a far worse offense, however. Suffice it to say, Jimy Williams is a flagrant idiot. Jon will be writing more about this in a few days (he owns Ensberg, he has the most to be infuriated with), but let's look at a proof for now:

1. Given: Morgan Ensberg did not play.
2. Given: Mike Lamb played.
3. Near-Given: Morgan Ensberg is much better than Mike Lamb.
4. Given: Jimy Williams is the manager of the Houston Astros, and the manager of Ensberg and Lamb.
5. Given: Managers are responsible for playing the best players at all times.
6. Corollary: Managers that do not play their best players are flagrant idiots.
7. If (2&3) ---> 6, by modus ponens. That is, IF Mike Lamb played AND Morgan Ensberg is much better than Mike Lamb, THEN the manager of those players is a flagrant idiot.
8. Since the manager of Ensberg and Lamb is a flagrant idiot, the conclusion follows:
9. Jimy Williams is a flagrant idiot.

Brewers vs. Cardinals: The Brewers bested the Cardinals and (my) Danny Kolb collected his second save of the season in a 7-5 nail-biter. The question most pertinent following this game is this: "Who will pitch for the Cardinals?" Morris had an utterly atrocious outing yesterday and Marquis was actually worse today. To follow in their rotation is the utterly unintimidating combination of Woody Williams, Jeff Suppan, and Chris Carpenter. Not even their relief is pretty - Jason Isringhausen is shepherding a flock of black sheep. Diamond Mind writer Tom Tippett recently posted their projected standings for the coming baseball season over at ESPN.com and they had the Cardinals besting both the Astros and Cubs in the Central. This clashes with many of the experts' opinions and it looks entirely far-fetched when the reality of their pitching hits: The last two performances could be indicative of the entire Cardinal rotation for the remainder of the season.

Rangers vs. A's: Mark Mulder paced the A's to a 3-1 victory, taking just 2 hours and 5 minutes to defeat the Rangers. Mulder is known as one of the quickest-working pitchers in the Bigs, and he definitely exhibited that today. Two things I wanted to note: First, Mark Teixeira has already nestled into the clean-up spot of the Ranger batting order. This uber-prospect has tons of pop in that bat, and he's been labelled a future 40-homer guy by many. He hit 28 his first season with Texas and thus becoming my targeted player in the fantasy draft. Already he has launched one out - many more are to follow in that lineup and in the Ballpark at Arlington. Second, Alfonso Soriano has drawn two walks in two games. A seemingly normal act for most, this act is positively super-human for Soriano's hacktastic ways. To put the two walks into perspective, Soriano drew 38 bases on balls in 156 games last year. Maybe pitchers are trying to force him to chase too much, but Soriano's plate discipline seems to already have undergone a major improvement. If Soriano's discipline improved, I wouldn't be entirely surprised - he's an extremely talented player.

It's too bad, but I'm tired of waiting for the Dodgers vs. Padres and the (currently) 14-inning marathon the Indians and Twins are engaged in. Some brief thoughts on their games: Santana's injury scares me immensely. He apparently left the game with left-forearm (that's his pitching arm, folks) spasms. First and foremost, if Santana misses a big chunk of the season, my fantasy team is in dire straits. I have Schmidt, Santana, Contreras, Miguel Batista, and Kip Wells fronting the rotation. If Santana goes down, that could be a pretty toothless top-two - especially if Schmidt returns poorly from his DL stint. Milton Bradley has started off admirably at the plate for the Dodgers - hopefully he can stay admirable in the clubhouse.

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Posted by Mike on Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Mercenary

It's Opening Day (Part ...3?) and I'm swamped with work. I know, life isn't fair. More than anything though I'm worried about Pedro's wing. Ben mentioned that Sox fans aren't worried about Pedro because spring training performance doesn't really mean anything. I for one am absolutely terrified.

There is a widespread belief that Pedro at 88 mph can be almost as effective as Pedro at 93 mph because he has excellent command and movement. I don't doubt that he can be successful throwing a little softer but this line of thought seems to avoid the real problem at hand, Pedro's health. During his prime Pedro was able to throw in the 93-94 mph range regularly (not just when he needed it with men on base) and could reach 97-98 mph when he really needed a little extra pop. Early in the 2003 season Pedro was still throwing 91-92 mph and maxing out in the 95 mph range. During the playoffs he could barely break 90, although he was able to dial it up on just a few pitches. His average fastball seemed to be about 85-86 mph. In fact, during the ALCS he was barely breaking 80 mph. Much of this decline was attributed to fatigue caused by the extra stress on his shoulders over the last month of the regular season.

Unfortunately, I can't accept that as being the soul reason for his decline. We all know that Pedro has yet to be resigned by the Red Sox and will likely be testing the free agent waters this coming winter. He views himself as one the premier pitchers in baseball (which he was... er, is) and wants big money. He's not looking for Curt Schilling money ($12-13 million). No, he wants Pedro Martinez money. Part of the problem that premier players are currently facing is that the free agent market has adjusted dramatically since they last signed a contract. There are no more Kevin Brown or Mike Hampton deals out there anymore. This isn't to say that there isn't a $60 million paycheck out there with Pedro's name on it.

If you've heard Pedro speak (he's been quiet since Baltimore last year), then you know he is a very intelligent man. He knows that there's a market out there for his arm even if the Sox seem to feel he isn't worth the risk. The problem is that he has to get to that market in one piece. Missing a chunk of the season to the DL will only reinforce the perception that he is fragile and a high risk acquisition. He may be the most dominant pitcher in the game, but what good is he if he's going to miss a season recovering from surgery?

I think he's pitching through some pain because he does not want to miss any more time than he has to this year. He's hurt and won't admit it. I don't know if other Sox fans are in denial but this seems to be a path destined to blow up in his face and ours. At least we have Curt Schilling to carry the staff if Pedro finally succumbs to his injury.

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Posted by Jon on Monday, April 05, 2004

Shifty Baseball: Opening Day in the USA and Overshifted Infield Defense

After months of anticipation, Red Sox Nation got its first taste of what it's been pining for. Opening Day (Night) was upon us, but unfortunately the taste wasn't as sweet as it could have been. Opening Day, usually the sweetest of sugars, represents to baseball fans all that spring entails for the rest of the population: hope, beginning, and a coming to life of all that has wilted since the cold winds began blowing in November. And suddenly last night, it was here staring me down. When I finally sat down to start watching, my excitement grew. But following Manny's outfield assist early on, there was little for Sox fans to celebrate. A frustrating game, to say the least, in which the Red Sox couldn't hit themselves out of rallies with three inopportune double plays and a host of unproductive and unlucky plays. All in all, they left fourteen men on base, a testiment how frustrating this game bacame.

But it wasn't all bad.

Thankfully, I wasn't forced to add insult to injury by being subjected to the ESPN2 broadcast, in which Joe Morgan probably spent most of the game spouting broad generalizations based upon this one game. Maybe he already has the Orioles penciled in to finish the season ahead of Toronto (and maybe even Boston).

Pedro's pitching was far from dazzling. While he had trouble early, his fastball "frequently" reached 91mph, reports espn.com . After allowing three runs in the second inning, Pedro allowed only three baserunners, two infield singles and a walk. He settled down and pitched well...just not as well as most Sox fans were hoping. It is worth noting that all five of Pedro's K's came after he gave up those runs early on. Overall, Martinez certainly pitched well enough to win, which should be encouraging despite the slower fastball.

By the eighth inning there was little to cheer about, as Boston was already down by five runs. But I couldn't help cracking a smile when I saw Brian Daubach step to the plate, hitting for Pokey Reese in the eigth. While working a five pitch walk (it wasn't much work at all -- he didn't swing once), I was pleasantly reminded of the old Dirt Dog I'd nearly forgotten about. His trademark pre-pitch dance was a sight for sore eyes, reminding me of one of baseball's beauties. More than any other sport, the game of baseball is slow enough to become personal. Seeing him place the bat between his legs and readjust his gloves and helmet before hoisting the bat over his shoulder again brought back memories of summers past.

But Boston fans have some Monday Morning Quarterbacking ahead of them today. Can anybody explain Pokey Reese's two-out bunt attempt with two men in scoring position in the fourth inning? Let's hope Pokey merely forgot how many outs were on the board, which I'm fairly certain was what occurred. After Tony Francona being hired as a stats man and a smart guy, a two-out suicide bunt would be the last play I'd expect him to call.

There's something else from the season opener I hope not to see much of again: the overshift. How many times will the Red Sox be burned by such fielding shifts? It happened against the Yankees last season when they shifted against Giambi and it happened again tonight -- against Rapheal Palmeiro. Looking at the right side of the field, you could mistake the positional alignment for a softball game. With three fielders between first and second base (the second baseman in the outfield, no less), Raphy sliced a grouder to the exact spot Pokey Reece would otherwise have stood.

Essentially, the shift places three fielders in an area usually covered by two (the right side of the infield: first and second basemen), leaving one fielder on the other side in a space generally covered by two fielders (the left side of the infield: shortstop and third baseman). Aside from the fact that Palmeiro, and basically everybody I've seen recieve this shift-treatment (Giambi, Bonds), is a very good hitter and probably has the ability to poke the ball when given a chance on an outside pitch, the Red Sox are making a few bets when the induce this shift.

In 2003, the average team's fielders coverted 73.6% of the ground balls they induced into outs. (For the purposes of this argument, I will assume that while shifting occurs, this percentage can be representative of all non-shifted fielding conversions because the sample size for large shifts is most likely negligable. If you have information about the efficiency of infield or outfield overshifts, or know where to find it, please let me know by emailing me at talkingbaseball@hotmail.com.) If you're curious, fly balls were converted to outs 87.2% of the time. Essentially, the Sox are betting that when Palmeiro hits a grounder, it will end up on the right side of the infield more than three-quarters of the time beacause a ball hit anywhere in the infield has a 73.6% chance of becoming an out.

Following is a list of Palmeiro's groundout splits, depending on the half of the infield the ball was hit into:
			Left Half		Right Half

Angel Stadium 0 13
Safeco Field 0 7
Network Coliseum 3 6
Ballpark at Arlington* 7 36

Kauffman Stadium 0 6
Metrodome 1 1
Jacobs' Field 0 4
Comerica Park 0 2
U.S. Cellular Field 0 1

Fenway Park 0 3
Yankee Stadium 0 2
SkyDome 1 5
Camden Yards 2 5
Tropicana Field 0 5

Turner Field 1 2
Hiram Bithorn Stadium 0 0
Total 15 98

*Approximated from congested hit chart

Of his 72 total groundouts in each of the Western teams' ballparks last season, an astounding 86.7% were hit to the right side. Essentially, Boston was playing this statistic (which I'm assuming holds true for his performance at the rest of the ballparks in which he played last season) against that of the normal percantage of ground balls converted to outs. So it appears that the Red Sox made the right decision. Either they were unlucky, and if repeated, about nine times out of ten they force him to ground out to the right side of the infield, or these statistics, which I assume Boston management has examined, were flawed. I would like to know whether other teams have ever put such a shift on Palmeiro and how he has reacted. When a hitter is given the option of trying to thread the ball through a gigantic hole in the infield, he may change his approach, trying to push the ball through the gap. In fact, this is what Palmeiro appeared to do. Timlin gave threw him away and he pushed the ball through, right where the shortstop is usually positioned.

The next time a team wants to put on the shift, they'd better consider whether the man at the plate has the ability to punch the ball through the gap. Timlin is a groundball pitcher, so expecting a grounder was certainly justifiable. But by having him pitch away to Palmeiro instead of pitching inside allowed the hitter to go with the pitch and slice it into the outfield. In normal situations, that ball is an out, as are about 75% of all groundballs hit. In Rappy's situation, it was a hit -- solely because in normal situations he had less than a 15% chance of doing it. With an overshift on, this was not a normal situation, and Palmeiro reacted accordingly.

Advance Token to Chavez Ravine

Milton already recieved the "Go Directly to Jail; Do not Pass Go; Do not Collect $200" card a few weeks ago. So I guess it was about time he picked this one from the Chance cards. The problem is deciding which is worse. Bradley will now be the second best hitter on the team who put together worse offensive numbers than the lowly Detroit Tigers. Sadly, Milton's numbers will probably drop a bit as a result of playing in the pitchers' haven we like to call Dodger Stadium. But kudos to DePodesta, the new Los Angeles General Manager who, with his first move, acquired a cheap, young, and productive outfielder who didn't cost a lot to get. Will this acquisition put the Dodgers over the hump? Probably not. But it could noticably boost their offensive production. With Dave Roberts on the bench, the Dodgers have a positive net VORP of 37.9 (remember 10 VORP points equals one win), or 10 Win Shares (3 Win Shares equals one win). The center field shuffle could net the Dodgers about four wins. For their sake, let's hope Milton Bradley can stay healthy and help. But sadly, the Dodgers may have passed the point of no return. When the acquisition of Juan Encarnasion is celebrated, Bradley should be revered as a god.

This time, Milton, please don't pick the race car.

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Posted by Ben K. on Sunday, April 04, 2004

Opening Day 2004
Updated at 3:46 p.m. on Sunday

Today is the day we've all been waiting for. The regular season starts in earnest tonight as the Red Sox square off against the Orioles at 8 p.m. (Don't forget to spring ahead.) From today until the end of October, hardly a day will go by when they are not multiple baseball games. It's what true baseball fans yearn for through the winter.

On another level, it's great for those of us who are members of the baseball blog world. Throughout the off-season, it's possible to go days without hearing anything of note from Major League Baseball. We've certainly spent our fair share of time complaining about how there was not much to write about during January and February (and parts of March, too). Now, we'll always have stuff to write about so make sure to check the site daily during the season. If you thought Talking Baseball was good before, it will only get better as the season progress.

Enough shameless self-promotion. In honor of Opening Day, I've decided to tackle a few subjects. They are all interesting but none of them are long enough to be a post by themselves. So here goes.

The Challenges of Hitting .285

In 2002, Jeff Cirillo paid for my entry into a fantasy baseball league.

Allow me to explain: In 2002, Cirillo was coming off two seemingly stellar seasons, and he was slated to be the answer to the Mariners third base questions. The Mariners had given him a multi-year contract worth nearly $7 million annually, but I had my doubts as to whether or not he was worth it. Before the 2002 season started, I looked at his home-road splits and saw that Cirillo's success was largely due to Coors Field factor. I told Dave about my findings, but he doubted it. So we put some money on it.. I bet Dave $20 bucks that Cirillo would hit less than .285. Dave thought that, based on his last year in Milwaukee when Cirillo hit .296, he was a better hitter than that and took the bet. Needless to say, I won that bet with room to spare. Cirillo hit .249, and fantasy baseball was free for me that season.

In 2003, Cirillo fell even further. He hit .205 for the Mariners and forgot how to field. The Mariners during the off-season paid the Padres $5 million to take Cirillo off their hands. As the saying goes, there's a sucker born every minute. Once it was the Mariners; now it's the Padres. But Cirillo hasn't always been this bad, has he? I mean, a few years ago, the Mariners were willing to pay a lot for Jeff's services. I think the Mariners got hoodwinked, and here's why.

In the early part of the 21st Century, Jeff Cirillo was the toast of the Rockies. In 2000, he hit .326/.392.477 with 111 runs scored and 115 RBIs. The next season, he missed a few games of the season, but still put up seemingly solid numbers. In 138 games, he hit a career-high 17 home runs, stole a career high 12 bases, and turned in a solid .312/.364/.473 line. After that second stellar season in Colorado, the Mariners rewarded the All Star with a large contract worth close to $7 million a year.

Last year, that $7 million bought the Mariners 3 win shares or 1 win. Cirillo's VORP was -8.7, meaning that his replacement player would, and did, play better than he did. He had a -19 RCAA (Runs Created Above Average, thanks to Lee Sinins), marking the third year in a row that Cirillo was worse than average. Suffice it to say, a good player will create more runs above average, but Cirillo had created fewer runs than average for three years running.

Wait, a second. Three years running? Doesn't that mean he turned in a negative RCAA performance in Coors Field too the season before he landed a big contract? Yes, in 2001, Cirillo's RCAA was -3. All of a sudden, Jeff Cirillo appears more overrated than ever. He couldn't, in a hitter's paradise, turn in average production numbers.

Looking at the Baseball Prospectus stats for Cirillo, I noticed some interesting trends in his park-adjusted statistics. During his years with the Rockies, Cirillo's EQA (his park-adjusted equivalent batting average, adjusted for season averages) was .266 in 2000 and .267 in 2001. While those numbers are better than his Seattle production, it certainly takes away the mirage of Coors Field.

If you're one of the people out there who for some reason don't buy the Prospectus stats, looking at 2001 pure home-road splits should do the trick. In 2001, Cirillo hit .362 in Colorado and .266 everywhere else. He slugged .571 in Coors and .383 everywhere else. Ouch. It seems clear that someone pulled a fast one on the Mariners.

But why bring all this up, except to remind Dave that he made a stupid bet? Well, Cirillo broke his finger on Monday and will miss four to six weeks of the season. Never mind that Cirillo broke his finger bunting, and if he had good bunting form, his finger would still be in tact. Apparently, Cirillo's absence constitutes something of a crisis for the San Diego Padres. While Cirillo would have been a utility infielder on this team, manager Bruce Bochy still needs to fill that 25th roster slot. In my opinion, the Padres would be better off fulfilling this slot permanently with someone else.

The two replacement candidates are right-hander Jason Szuminski, who the Padres took from the Cubs in the Rule V draft, and Damian Jackson who is already on Chicago as a minor leaguer. While Jackson just signed with the Cubs last weekend, a trade between the Padres and the Giants would be simple. In a second, I'll explain how that will work, but first let's look at the particulars of these two guys.

Szuminski, if he makes the roster, would be the first graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to play in the Majors. I can only imagine what it's like having an MIT grad and David Wells in the same clubhouse. Furthermore, Szuminski went to MIT on an ROTC scholarship, meaning he has to get approval from the Air Force to play baseball every year. In the minors, Szuminski has improved at every level. He had an aggregate ERA of around 3.00 in three stops last year and struck out 73 in 96.1 innings. He issued only 29 walks. He relies on a sinking fastball, and this year's Baseball Prospectus book thinks he'll make a really good reliever. Szuminski, this spring, has pitched to a 3.38 ERA, striking out 7 while walking 7 in 13.1 innings. He has a lot of up side, and we at Talking Baseball love the up side.

Damian Jackson is a light-hitting back-up infielder. He's a good defender and a poor hitter with a career. 246 batting average. He'll steal some bases, as he recorded 16 swipes while earning only 161 at-bats for the Red Sox last season. More importantly, he won't make nearly the same amount of money as Cirillo. While it's true that the Padres would still have to pay Cirillo, Jeff is nearly useless on the team. He can no longer hit, turning in a Spring Training batting average of .157 in 51 at-bats; he can't field anymore; and he can't steal bases. Jackson would be a minimal upgrade over Cirillo, but he's no right-handed pitching stud from MIT.

So how then would the Padres go about getting Jackson from the Cubs, who just signed him to a minor league contract? Easy. Since Szuminski is a Rule V player, the Padres need him on the Major League roster or he automatically goes back to the Cubs. Since Chicago would probably want Jason back, the Padres would put him on their roster, and then, General Manager Kevin Towers would trade him back to Chicago for Jackson. It's all a part of baseball politics and the Rule V (read that 5 not the letter V) draft.

But in my opinion, it would be foolish of the Padres to make that trade. The Padres should just go with Szuminski. Jackson is not that much better than Cirillo, and he's certainly not worth a promising young right-hander. With Cirillo out, the Padres should see what they have with Jason Szuminski. If San Diego finds something good, they may be hard-pressed to find a spot for Cirillo. I don't think Cirillo's really worth it, and his numbers don't really help him out with that one either.

Update: It seems that Towers made the right move. Jason Szuminski won the last roster spot on the Padres. He'll be the first MIT grad to make the majors, and he has a degree in aerospace engineering. Who says rocket scientists can't play baseball?

The Victors Don't Always Get The Spoils

This is certainly old news now, but the Yankees lost their Opening Day game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays by a score of 8-3. Mike Mussina pitched as though he had no idea what to do. And the Devil Rays hit as though they were the Yankees. Some people, ESPN and New York Times reporter Buster Olney included, believed that the loss meant the end of the season for the Yankees. The Yankees were in last place a full game behind the team with the best record in the Majors Leagues. After the Yankees thumped the Devil Rays 12-1 the next day, the critics backed off a little. Order, it seemed, had been restored.

As you may have been able to tell, I wrote that last paragraph a little tongue-in-cheek. The Yankees lost one game to the Devil Rays, and while, as my dad pointed out, we Yankee fans always assume the Yankees will destroy the Devil Rays, Tampa is not going to go 0-162 and the Yankees are not going to go 162-0. Inspired by all of the naysayers who proclaimed the Yankees to be a flop after day 1, I looked up the Yankees' previous Opening Day records during the years in which they reached the World Series. The Yankees have won the World Series 26 times. During those 26 season, they were 17-9 on Opening Day. That's a .654 winning percentage. However, in the 13 seasons where the Yankees have made it to the World Series but then have lost in October, they were 10-3 on Opening Day, good for an astounding .769 winning percentage.

While the Yankee-haters may have gotten a lot of joy out of the Opening Day loss, an Opening Day loss is no reason to write off the Yankees. In the end, this little analysis is highly convoluted, and I write it with intended sarcasm to prove a point: Opening Day is one day, one game. It is impossible to predict a team's success during the regular season based upon how they perform on Opening Day, and the writers should refrain from sounding the death bell after just nine innings of baseball.

But the opening series can indicate certain trends that may prove to be a team's undoing. Let's look at the Japan series pitch counts. The Devil Ray hitters saw a grand total of 286 pitchers while drawing three walks from Yankee pitchers in 18 innings of play. On average, Yankee pitchers threw less than 16 pitches an inning. The Yankees, on the other hand, saw 391 pitches, or almost 22 per inning. The Yankee lineup also recorded 11 walks in the two games in Japan. While the Devil Rays have some experienced hitters, this is not a team that will walk too often this season. If they don't walk, they won't put much pressure on the opposing pitchers. If they are overeager at the plate, this team will strike out a lot and hit weak ground balls. Piniella must teach his team patience for the Devil Rays to show their potential.

From the "It's only Spring Training" Department

During Spring Training, teams work out the kinks in their lineup. There are of course battles for positions and rotation spots. Managers get a glimpse at young talent and new players. It's also a time to work on fundamentals, but it looks like someone forgot to tell that to the Tigers. After Saturday's game against the Yankees, the Tigers have played 33 Spring Training games. While their 14-17 record (along with a few ties) shows a greatly improved team, they have managed to commit 64 errors in those 33 games. Last season, in 162 regular season games, the Seattle Mariners committed only 65 errors, and while last year's 119-loss Tigers made 138 errors during the regular season, their Spring Training pace puts them on pace for 314 team errors this season. While Dave was quick to dismiss this stat as a Spring Training stat (the young kids can't field, he says), I'm not so sure about that. Looking at today's five-error effort against the Yankees, the Tigers responsible for four of the errors will be with the team when they head north. The same holds true for almost all of the Tigers' games. If the guys on the 25-man roster are making the errors, things could get ugly in Detroit.

Interesting Match-Ups: Week 1

As the season gets going, I'll probably end each post with a look a few interesting match-ups that will occur in between posts. To start things off, here are three games to watch this week.

Sunday, April 4: Pedro vs. the Orioles. Pedro gave up 6 runs before recording an out earlier this week. Supposedly, his velocity was topping out at 89-90 mph. But most Sox fans and Pedro himself are not worried. How will he pitch now that the regular season is upon us?

Monday, April 5: Giants vs. Astros. Roy Oswalt got the home Opening Day nod over Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. The pressure is on him to go out there and win the game against the defending NL West champs. As Bonds begins his assault on Babe Ruth and 714, Oswalt will go up against Kurt Rueter.

Tuesday, April 6: Tigers vs. Blue Jays. Mike Maroth lost 21 games last season. He started the season 0-9 before defeating the Chicago White Sox on May 23. If Maroth wins his first game this season, it may bode well for the Tigers. Also, check out Blue Jays pitcher Miguel Batista. If he's sharp this season, the Blue Jays may remain pretty competitive atop the AL East.

Now play ball!

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