Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Jon on Saturday, May 29, 2004

Why Les Expos Ain't All-Stars

Contrary to what Bud Selig tried to have you believe, baseball's All-Star game is more than a meaningless exhibition. Voting for the All-Star game has become an important part of the baseball season -- one that reinforces fan interest in the game. Fans, after all, have the opportunity to vote -- while attending games or online -- for the players they feel most deserve to be All-Stars.

Fan ballotting allows each and every fan a chance to impact the game. Recently, Major League Baseball even added an extra vote for a 26th roster spot on each team, determined solely by fan voting after rosters have been announced. Fans now have an even greater impact on who is lauded as the best in the business at each position. Indians fans can fill the roster with their Cleveland players. Red Sox fans can vote their favorite catcher or outfielder into the game and into All-Star history, no matter how undeserving he may be. Nevertheless, it is the fans who make these men All-Stars.

Just as elections in our country necessitate that each citizen has an equal say in who becomes our leaders, in the All-Star voting process, each fan needs access and ability to voice his or her opinions. Of course, it would be silly to assume that all baseball fans are native speakers of the English language. This season, three languages are spoken in cities with Major League ballparks. Most of the teams play in the States where English is spoken. Then there's that pesky little homeless team, which sometimes plays in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and sometimes plays in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Puerto Ricans speak Spanish and native Expos fans speak French.

English, Spanish, and French -- three languages that facilitate fans' love of baseball. Naturally, when voting online, one may choose to vote in any of three languages. The problem is that the three languages offered are not English, Spanish, and French. Instead of French, voters have the option of electing All-Stars in Japanese. Japanese?! Yes, Japanese.

There are no teams in Japan. This season, a paltry two games were played in Japan. Although the number diminishes with every season, the number of games played in the French-speaking provence of Quebec far exceeds two. In Montreal, not only are both the Canadian and American national anthems performed prior to each game, but every in-game player announcement is given in both English and French. The French language has been intergrated into the baseball experience.

It's obvious that Major League Baseball doesn't care about its native Expos fans. The team has been dismantled, its farm system diminished, and its funds reduced. Thanks to Major League Baseball, the team's owner and neglegent parent, Les Expos are not allowed a level playing field on which to participate. The league's attitude is clear in it's neglect of the French-Canadian fans and the French language.

Imagine all Red Sox fans being forced to vote in only Spanish, all Puerto Rican fans being forced to vote in English, or all Astros fans being forced to vote in Japanese. Major League Baseball wouldn't willingly neglect these valued and diverse fans. So why would they willingly marginalize an entire team's fanbase?

Join me in writing to Major League Baseball (fanfeedback@mlb.com), posing this question. And if you receive a response, let me know. Because no matter how few "home games" are played in Montreal, and how diminished in number they currently stand, Expos fans are still fans of their hometown ballclub and deserve the opportunity to participate in the game like the fans in the rest of the Major League cities.

Shouldn't French-Canadian fans should be allowed and encouraged to select their own Monsieur Cabrera or Monsieur Vidro to the Major League Baseball game All-Star game? Mais oui!

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Posted by Dave on Thursday, May 27, 2004

Returning to My Roots: Some Sox Thoughts

Here at Talking Baseball, it's not abudantly clear where our allegiances lie. We write about a host of subjects, almost never revealing who our hometown teams are. Well, although I root for my fantasy team with a greater passion than most (if Posada and Sheffield hit four home runs in a Yankee win, I'm thrilled), I still cheer on my Boston Red Sox. Born in Boston and raised in Worcester (an hour west of Beantown), how could I not? All the Sox I've been watching has raised a couple questions that I've been musing about recently.

Why Is Johnny Damon Stealing?

By now, it should be evident that the Red Sox have become one of the more sabermetrically oriented organizations this side of the Mississippi - so why is Damon still trying to swipe bags? It's been a well-known fact that stealing is generally not advantageous unless it's done by a player who's successful 70%-75% of the time. Damon has been anything but successful thusfar - he's been caught 4 times and has stolen successfully only 5 times - a 55.5% clip (no calculator necessary, if I may boast). If Damon's running into outs and sacrificing runs, why do we continue to send him?

Well, it would seem that Damon's yet another victim of sample size. As Aubrey Huff or Derek Jeter could tell you, diminished sample sizes can often make a player look worse (or better) than he is. Johnny Damon has had an impressive run (pun intended) as a base-stealer. If you exclude Damon's abbreviated stay in Oakland, he has successfully stolen no worse than 83% of the time in the last 5 years. So, it would be reasonable to assume that he'll improve his success rate for stealing.

Even if he doesn't, however, the Sox may still encourage him to steal. How could running into outs be beneficial to the team? Well, as with a lot of economic situations, there are externalities. Damon's increased agressiveness on the basepaths will still create more stolen bases. Stolen bases do not translate to offense very well, but only a select number of general managers realize this. When general managers envision a prototypical lead-off guy, they imagine a speedster like Damon more frequently than they envision an on-base machine like Jeremy Giambi (Beane's famous experiment).

True, Damon's sporting a .388 OBP this year, but we can't expect that to continue either. In the last three years, his OBP hasn't eclipsed .356, and at age 30, he's not getting any younger. While his defense has been above-average, at least, it's still difficult to say that Damon is legitimizing the 16 million he'll be paid over the next two years (including this current season).

The Red Sox are all too aware of Damon's illegitimate contract as well. They want him off their books so they can acquire players with legitimate contracts - like Carlos Beltran. The more Damon looks like a viable replacement for Carlos, the greater the probability that we can acquire the deadline jewel in Beltran. To look like a viable replacement, maybe even an attractive one, Damon needs to look like a good top-of-the-order option. If Damon's stolen bases plummet, Allan Baird (the GM of the Royals) is likely to be hesitant in taking on Damon. However, if the Sox encourage Johnny to run, it's more likely he could be dealt for Beltran. We may need to open our pocketbook and cover a bit of Damon's salary next year, but having Beltran's better bat and glove would be yet another cog in the Sox juggernaut; one that should defeat the Yankees this time around.

Why Aren't Trot and Nomar Back Yet?

As Sox Nation becomes increasingly perturbed with the absence of Trot Nixon and Nomar Garciaparra from the line-up, the Sox keep winning - and winning comfortably. Subtract the shellacking they experienced tonight at the hands of the Athletics and Mark Mulder, and they lead the AL in run differential by a large amount. Even with tonight's loss, they are at 29-18 - tied with the Angels for the league's best record. As many prognosticators felt, this Sox team - along with those despised Yankees - are in a class by themselves in the Land Of The DH.

With the fantastic Sox play thusfar, it's unsurprising that management and their rabid followers have not panicked about the Trot-less and Nomar-less lineup. Clearly, the Red Sox can't expect to keep winning with their absences. But, if they can play this well without two of their premier players, then there is little urgency to see them come back. With the cushion the Sox have created, however, its given Nixon and Garciaparra the comfort in knowing that they can rehab slowly and not strenuously. Due to the early season success of the Red Sox, I wouldn't expect Garciaparra or Nixon back until they are both fully healed; it's evident that the team can perform just fine without them.

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Posted by Ben K. on Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Good, The Bad, and The Managers

In the wonderful world of baseball blogs, writers are very quick to criticize Dusty Baker for his rather injudicious attention towards the pitch counts of his young arms. In fact, we here at Talking Baseball have taken on Baker a few times. I criticized him for Mark Prior's extensive absence, and Jon went after him for his comments on the relative importance of on-base percentage. Clearly, lots of metaphorical ink has been spilled online about what makes a bad manager bad.

But what makes a manager good? A way back in November of 2002, All-Baseball's The Cub Reporter gave us a hint of this in a post on, you guessed it, the Cubs' hiring Dusty Baker. In this post, as in many other articles around the web, the Cub Reporter lists the qualities that make Baker a bad manager. He doesn't always do a great job developing young players; he doesn't always know exactly how to utilize his bench; and woe are you if you decide to criticize Baker in the media. At the same time, the article discusses how Baker is a good motivator and how he manages egos fairly well.

Now, I'm curious to explore this aspect of managing a little bit more. Are the good managers simply the ones that are diplomatic and political when it comes to battling egos? Or is there more to being a good manager than just that? Let's start where the egos are biggest: New York City.

Now in his 8th season as Yankee manager, Joe Torre has compiled an impressive résumé. His record, as of games played on Sunday, May 23, 2004, stands in at 811-524, nearly 300 games over .500. He has guided the Yankees to 4 World Series titles and 6 appearances during his tenure in New York. But when looking over his managerial stats as compiled in the Bill James 2004 Handbook, the stat that sticks out the most is that Torre goes to his bullpen only about 368 times per year. The league average is well over 400 relief changes. Does this mean Torre's discovered that the trick to good managing is to leave your starting pitching in for as long as possible? Not at all.

Joe Torre is probably going to end up in the Hall of Fame as a manager, and he has now been embraced as a great manager. But is he? While managing teams that weren't the Yankees, Torre was 894-1003. That doesn't sound like a great manager to me. One of the obvious secrets to Torre's success and his willingness to rely on his starting pitching has been the fact that he manages teams that are consistently composed of the best players money can buy. Literally. When Andy Pettitte, David Wells, Roger Clemens, and Mike Mussina are your starters, there's no need to go to your bullpen before the 7th or 8th innings. So Torre's secret, therefore, is not leaving the starters in.

Nor is Torre's secret to great managing pushing the right buttons to win. Even the worst managers in the world would know to bring in Mariano Rivera in the 9th. It certainly doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that one out. Rather, I believe that Joe Torre's — and many other managers' — secrets rest in the ability to control the team and have them work together as a team. At first, this may seem silly; it is, after all, what they say in high school. TEAM is Together Everyone Achieves More. But there's truth in this overly cheesy expression.

In all of Joe Torre's years as Yankee manager, never has a player spoken out against Torre's managerial decisions. No player ever critiqued his lineups or his pitching moves. No one has whined about more playing time, and in an age when the Yankees are made up of Kevin Brown and Gary Sheffield, this is no small feat. It seems that Torre has found managerial success in his ability to diplomatically handle the fragile egos that go along with the Yankees' big contracts.

As the Cub Reporter article said, this ability to control the clubhouse was one of Baker's assets as well. But where do Baker and Torre differ? In my view, they differ in the men with whom they surround themselves. Many members of Torre's coaching staff act as second managers. Torre would not second guess a call from Mel Stottlemyre to remove a struggling pitcher from a game, and up until last year, Don Zimmer was invaluable on the Yankee bench. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I believe that managers such as Dusty Baker do not respect or trust their pitching coaches enough. If Larry Rothschild suggests that maybe Kerry Wood doesn't need to throw 131 pitches as he did a few weeks ago, Baker may not be as inclined to listen to him as Torre is willing to follow Mel's advice.

Maybe you're skeptical. Maybe you don't like my Yankee bias. Let's take a look at a man who should be in the Hall of Fame as a pitching coach: Leo "The Rocking Chair" Mazzone. And let's look at Bobby Cox as well, a man whose managerial style has influenced Torre's. Mazzone is famous for turning pitchers around and leading them to greatness. Mediocre pitchers arrive in Atlanta and leave All-Stars. If Cox didn't trust Mazzone, his right-hand man, then the Braves' pitching for the last 12 seasons would not have been the stuff of legends. Cox, as Torre has done, trusts those around him, and has led his team to greatness.

Additionally, Cox, like Torre, has done a great job handling big egos. He had Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield in the same clubhouse, and nary a word was heard. Mazzone respects those around him, and those around him respect Mazzone. When all is peaceful, the players are compelled to play.

Now, these post is not meant as a slight on Dusty Baker. It's hard to fault a man with a career managerial winning percentage of .540. Rather, this is a lesson in what I view as good managerial tactics. Grady Little could not build a peace in Boston and neither could Jimy Williams. Terry Francona so far has succeeded, and while the jury's still out on Francona for this season, Pedro's been well-behaved and Manny has yet to be sighted in the hotel bar instead of on the playing field.

Some might argue that Grady was a good manager. He did, after all, average 94 wins in two season in Boston. But his player didn't really believe in him and respect him, as evidenced by Pedro's remaining in the game in the 7th. When the players don't trust his decisions, it's hard to consider him a good manager. For us to really judge whether or not a manager is good, we have to look beyond the records. For the most part, the good teams will win with anyone managing. It's how well they win and how they deal with success that determines a manager's legacy. For the bad teams, it's how well they stay together during failure. Alan Trammell deserves more credit for getting the Tigers on the field every day last year to play out a miserable season than Joe Torre deserves for inspiring the Yankees to 101 victories. It is, in my opinion, all about the little intangibles when it comes to judging a manager's legacy. The bad, in this case, is much easier to pinpoint than the good.

Disproving an Old Theory

As the saying goes, pitching wins ballgames. The Marlins proved that last year, and the Diamondbacks proved it in 2001. Yet, one team this year it's doing it's best to disprove this theory. The Montreal-San Juan-Washington D.C.-Portland-Las Vegas-Monterrey Expos have great pitching this season. At 3.81, they have the 5th lowest ERA in Major League Baseball, having surrendered only 173 runs. (As an aside, they also have great fielding, as only 8 of those runs were unearned. Their fielding ranks them one in the league.) Additionally, they have throw up 4 shut outs this season, second only behind the Florida Marlins, who have 5. Unfortunately, for the Expos, 4 of the Marlins' 5 shuts out have been twirled against them, and they have been shut out 8 times this season, en route to scoring a whopping 118 runs in 44 games. That, folks, is just 2.68 runs per game. The Expos are working hard to show that pitching and fielding does not win games. Rather, mediocre hitting — that's all I'm saying, not great, just mediocre — and outstanding pitching win games. If the Expos can find a slugger or two, they could be competitive. And it's clear that the loss of Vladimir Guerrero hurts them more than anyone ever expected.

Trivia Question of the Day

Depending upon your knowledge of no hitters and how much you've been following the recent spate of 1-hit games, you may already know this. And again, no cheating. Don't use the Internet as a tool; the answer is easy to find.

When Randy Johnson threw his perfect game against the Braves his last, his no-hitter became the first in the short history of the Arizona Diamondbacks. When Tom Glavine threw his one-hitter over the weekend, he almost became the first Met ever (in 42 years of play) to throw a no-hitter. Besides the Mets, what three teams have never thrown a no-hitter? And for extra credit, which of these teams has never been on the wrong end of a no-hitter? As always, leave your answers in the comments section, and I'll reveal the correct answer in my next post.

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