Monday, November 28, 2005
Key players lost: Paul Byrd, Bengie Molina, Jarrod Washburn
Needs: 2 starters, catcher, DH
The Angels have thus far shown a good deal of patience toward prospects Robb Quinlan, Dallas MacPherson, and Casey Kotchman. And it hasn't paid off even remotely. Someone here needs to step forward and play third base, and it would also be nice if somebody hit well enough to fill in at DH. It's possible that the Angels could move Chone Figgins to third, but that would mean Steve Finley playing CF, and that's not a good idea.
The most pressing need for the Angels is in the starting rotation. They're returning AL CY Young Bartolo Colon, as well as John Lackey. They've got Ervin Santana, a highly-regarded prospect who had a pretty dreary 2005. So they'll need somone to fill these 2 spots. And while the organization has its share of hitting prospects, it will probably need to pursue free agents to fill the holes in the rotation.
Key players lost: Scott Hatteberg, Octavio Dotel, Erubiel Durazo, Ricardo Rincon
Needs: Corner outfielder/DH, relief help
The A's are in a pretty good position to contend again in 2005. Their main problems will be keeping everyone healthy and doing something to goose catcher Jason Kendall (whose contract is the only albatross left on the team). They've got a fabulous young rotation, with Rich Harden, Barry Zito, Danny Haren, and Joe Blanton, and a fine closer in Huston Street. They look, in the early going at least, like the favorites in the AL West. Although it will require another step forward from youngsters like Bobby Crosby, Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher.
Key players lost: Jamie Moyer, Jeff Nelson, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Pokey Reese
Needs: 2B, SS, DH, a few starters and a few relievers
Two years of a poorly-run franchise has left the Mariners with a dead pitching staff and a non-existent infield. The odds that these humongous problems can be solved in time for 2006 are astronomical.
The Seattle infield is manned by capable first baseman Richie Sexson, and that's about it. Adrian Beltre plays third, but the Mariners are now regretting giving this league-average player an MVP's salary. Second base and shortstop are gaping holes the team appears to be dense about filling. We don't need another year of Scott Spiezio and Willie Bloomquist. The M's have filled their catching void with Japanese import Kenji Johjima, but could still use a bat at DH (or LF, with Raul Ibanez shifting).
Other than rookie phenom Felix Hernandez (whom the M's should handle with kid gloves), the Mariners don't have one other starting pitcher that would qualify as league-average. Joel Pineiro, Gil Meche, and Ryan Franklin have looked good at times in the past, but it doesn't seem likely that they'll return to that relative glory. The team should also be looking for backup for the capable, and aging, closer Eddie Guardado.
Key players lost: Kenny Rogers, Richard Hidalgo, Steve Karsay, Sandy Alomar, John Wasdin
Needs: CF, RF, 2 or 3 starters
The Rangers can at least comfort themselves in the fact that, apart from ex-ace Rogers, they're not losing a lot on the free agent market. This means that they can do something about their starting rotation, which continues to be their biggest problem. They have the capable, if untested, Chris Young as their de facto ace, backed up by the non-awe-inspiring Rich Rodriguez and Joaquin Benoit. They seem to be pursuing free agent pitchers, but getting them to come to Texas will probably require them to overpay, leaving their outfield barren.
The Rangers have the capable yet unspectacular Kevin Mench in left field, but center field and right field are gaping holes. Unless they want to send Gary Matthews, Jr., back out there, the Rangers will need to get creative in filling these holes necessary for a potent offense.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Key players lost: Paul Konerko, Carl Everett, Aaron Rowand, Frank Thomas
Needs: CF, 1B/DH
The Sox took a step toward shoring up their offense with the addition of Jim Thome. If they can re-sign Paul Konerko (and it looks like they eventually will), they will take another big step toward offensive solvency. But they're still not a really good-hitting team. They've got Thome, Konerko (maybe), Jermaine Dye, and Tadahito Iguchi. That's not amazing, and neither is the rest of their lineup: Podsednik (steals and nada else), A.J. Pierzynski (mediocre), and Juan Uribe and Joe Crede (homers and a sub-.300 OBP). If they can get something good in center field, that will help, but they're not even approaching Cleveland yet.
They probably won't touch their pitching staff in the off-season, which is about right, since offense is their main concern. But of their Big 4 starters, only Freddy Garcia and Mark Buehrle can be somewhat counted on to repeat their 2005 performances. Jon Garland has never pitched even remotely as good, and you can't rely too much on the aging Jose Contreras, either.
Key players lost: Kevin Millwood, Bob Wickman, Bob Howry, Scott Elarton
Needs: 2 starters, closer
The good news is that Cleveland's offense should be as good as 2005's, if not better next season. Young players like Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Grady Sizemore have nowhere to go but up. They're a bit weak on the infield corners (the dismal Ben Broussard at 1B and Aaron Boone at 3B), as well as the corner outfield spots (Casey Blake and Coco Crisp). But they've got enough firepower elsewhere to make up for it.
Cleveland's top priority is their pitching staff, their rotation in particular. They've got 3 pitchers to put in the rotation for 2006: C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Jake Westbrook. Sabathia and Lee are good, but not great, with Lee's career year in 2005 especially suspect. Westbrook's true value probably lies somewhere between his great 2004 (3.38 ERA) and dreary 2005 (4.49). And that's all they've got right now. I've heard that they're trying to bring back 5th starter Scott Elarton, but that would still leave them short an ace. Pitching is what kept them out of the playoffs in 2005, so the Indians would do well to pursue a strong hand for the rotation.
They also have to replace closer Bob Wickman. Wickman wasn't as great as people thought in 2005 (45 saves, yes, but a 21:41 BB:K ratio with 9 HR allowed), but at least he was something. With B.J. Ryan apparently off the market and Billy Wagner out of their price range, the Indians will have to get creative.
Key players lost: Jacque Jones, Joe Mays, Bret Boone
The Twins technically have most of their positions covered. By that I mean that they possess a human being who could realistically man those positions without being booed out of the building. But the problem is that none of them can HIT!
That's a bit of an exaggeration, yes. Joe Mauer was the AL's best catcher last year (372/411/294), and Torii Hunter is a decent enough hitter in CF (337/452/269). And Justin Morneau has the potential to become a big slugger at 1B, although he sure as hell didn't in 2005 (304/437/239). But the loss of Jacque Jones to free agency leaves the Twins with nothing else to fill in the gaps; and outside of Lew Ford in RF, the Twins don't even have any moderately good hitters. The outfield admittedly looks fine, with Shannon Stewart taking over in LF along with Hunter in CF and Ford in RF. But the infield, outside of Morneau at first, is a shambles. It's the true definition of replacement players, with minor-league wannabes Michael Cuddyer and Justin Bartlett at second and third, and the second coming of Neifi Perez, Juan Castro (279/386/257 in '05) at shortstop.
If the Twins can't solve these offensive troubles, even their amazing pitching staff won't be able to save them.
Key players lost: Jason Johnson, Rondell White
Needs: CF, 2 starters
For some reason, people keep insisting that the Tigers are contenders. It happened when they signed Ivan Rodriguez in 2004 (90 losses) and when they signed Troy Percival in 2005 (91 losses). The Tigers have some . . . well, one good young player (Jeremy Bonderman), and even he's not the ace people think he is. He certainly has time to develop, but that's the story behind these Tigers. They've all got plenty of time before they start winning.
The starting rotation behind Bonderman currently consists of Mark Maroth and Nate Robertson. Put the kiddies to bed, Mama.
The offense isn't any great shakes, either. The infield looks good, with the newcomer Shelton at first, the solid Polanco at second, the great-hitting (and injury-prone) Carlos Guillen at short, and Brandon Inge at third. But the outfield is much uglier. Magglio Ordonez could be good in RF if he's remotely healthy, but Craig Monroe in left is thoroughly mediocre. And center field is empty right now, although the club will probably insist on playing someone like Nook Logan, the career pinch-runner in training.
Kansas City Royals
Key losses: Terrence Long, Jose Lima, Brian Anderson
Needs: A gun
The Royals are a thoroughly hopeless franchise. They have some good prospects, yes. But they've done a fine job of squandering good prospects over the past 10 years, and there's no reason to expect that they'll stop any time soon.
The Royals have the wonderful 1-2 punch of bad pitching and bad hitting. Their chief offensive threats are David DeJesus (decent prospect), Mike Sweeney (DL here I come), and . . . uh, Matt Stairs. Emil Brown is the most overrated player in the game, and prospects Mark Teahen and John Buck made little progress in 2005. Angel Berroa is the greatest punch line in the organization, as he won a Rookie of the Year Award he shouldn't have, and the organization signed him to a long-term deal before determining, you know, if he was actually any damn good.
Zach Greinke is the ace of the pitching staff, and the Royals are hoping for the 2004 Greinke (3.97 ERA) instead of the 2005 Greinke (5.80 ERA). There's nothing for them after that in the rotation, although there is hope in the bullpen with the likes of Andy Sisco, Ambiorix Burgos, and Mike MacDougal.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Key players lost: Tom Gordon, Bernie Williams, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Ruben Sierra, Alan Embree, Matt Lawton
Needs: Center Field, 1B/DH, relief help
The Yankees' signing of Hideki Matsui to play left leaves center field as the only gaping hole in the lineup. Johnny Damon is the biggest name the Yankees will pursue, but they'll have to get past the Red Sox if they want him. The Yanks are already pursuing other options in center, with Brian Giles a name in the news. The problem is that the Yankees are coming off a terrible defensive year in 2005 and could do better than to have 3 left fielders in the outfield in 2006 (with Matsui and Gary Sheffield no great shakes with the glove). There are some hitting options for center, with the Yanks considering Giles or Jacque Jones and shifting Matsui to center, there aren't a lot of good defensive solutions. Most of the free agent outfielders are defense-challenged corner outfielders like Jeromy Burnitz, with Damon the only legitimate center fielder on the free agent market. It's possible that the Yanks could get creative and trade for a center fielder. Some have suggested moving Derek Jeter to center, which would be the best and most unlikely solution, considering Jeter's popularity.
The Yanks could also use another bat to play first base, with Jason Giambi a much better fit to DH. But considering that the Yanks did all right without a bat there in 2005 (with the underwhelmingTino Martinez and Ruben Sierra filling the 1B/DH role with Giambi), it's not their first priority.
But pitching is the Yankees' biggest problem. As much attention as their center field pursuit has received, one has to remember that the Yanks made the playoffs last year with the very un-dynamic duo of Bernie Williams and Matt Lawton playing there. If the Yanks really want to improve their team, they need to shore up the pitching staff. Closer Mariano Rivera returns, and if the Yanks can re-sign Tom Gordon, they'll have one of the best 1-2 relief punches in the league. But the starting rotation is a disaster waiting to happen. This is their rotation as it stands now:
Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Shawn Chacon, Chien-Ming Wang, Jaret Wright
That's just plain ugly. The back end of the rotation has potential (Chacon and Wang especially), but is amazingly unreliable, and is just as likely to fail as to succeed. The front end of Johnson and Mussina is more reliable, but the Yanks have to consider that Johnson (42) and Mussina (37) will be a combined 69 years old in 2006, with both men suffering big setbacks in quality in 2006 (Mussina's ERA was 4.41, Johnson's 3.79). It's really amazing to me that everyone is talking about center field, when the starting rotation is the biggest problem for the Yankees by far. The problem is that the Yankees are already paying a mountain of money to these starters (with Johnson, Mussina, and Wright breaking the bank), and can't really afford another big free agent payday. It would be a great move to sign a B-level starter like Matt Morris or Jarrod Washburn, but the Yanks seem far too preoccupied with center field. Which is a shame, because if the Yankees miss the playoffs in 2006, it will not be because of a lack of offense.
Boston Red Sox
Key players lost: Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, John Olerud, Mike Myers, Tony Graffanino
Needs: Center Field, 2B, 1B?, bullpen help
The acquisition of Josh Beckett gives the Sox a rotation they can at least have some faith in as they enter 2006:
Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Matt Clement, David Wells, Tim Wakefield/Bronson Arroyo
Wells has asked for a trade, so it looks like both Wakefield and Arroyo will stay in the rotation, depending on the progress of young hurlers like Jon Papelbon. There are no great pitchers here, but no bad pitchers, either (depending on Schilling's health and Wakefield's age).
The bullpen is a different story. The Sox had one of the worst bullpens in the AL in 2005, and aren't looking at any obvious improvements in 2006. Getting back closer Keith Foulke at full health will be a plus, but there's no guarantee he'll be at his 2004 level of excellence. The Sox have shown some interests in some big-name free agent closers, but a better solution would be a stopgap like Tom Gordon, who could serve as a setup man and emergency closer. They need some help in middle relief as well. They re-signed Mike Timlin, who was their best reliever in 2005, but there's nothing in Timlin's history to suggest he can consistently produce at his 2005 levels.
Center field is a pretty big issue. It looks like Boston will be able to re-sign Damon, although with Scott Boras representing him and the Yankees on the horizon, there are no guarantees. They face the same dearth of center fielders that the Yankees do, with no obvious replacement on the team.
The right side of the infield is temporarily empty, although the acquisition of Mike Lowell puts some people out of a job. It's possible that either Lowell or resident Kevin Youkilis could shift to first base, but that still leaves second base open. The Sox may choose to get creative at second, with no one outside of Mark Grudzielanek really appealing in the free agent ranks.
Top priority, though, is improving the pitching staff, and the acquisition of Beckett was a pretty big step towards that.
Toronto Blue Jays
Key players lost: (none of note)
Needs: Nothing obvious; could use another starter, a good closer, or a new DH
The Blue Jays did better than their record would indicate in 2005. With Roy Halladay (presumably) healthy, Josh Towers looking like a solid #2, and Ted Lilly a good bet to rebound from a dreadful 2005, the Blue Jays actually have a pretty strong rotation. Gustavo Chacin is another potential star, although his 70:121 BB:K ratio in 2005 is troubling. The Blue Jays could use a new closer, as Miguel Batista (4.10 ERA, 31/39 in saves) wasn't exactly dominating.
The Jays are hotly pursuing pitcher A.J. Burnett for reasons unknown to me. Burnett is a good pitcher, but not worth the $50 million in 5 years the Jays would have to pay. Burnett has great "stuff," but that's pretty trivial until he proves he can consistently turn that "stuff" into good pitching. Burnett isn't a bad pitcher, but his injury troubles and control problems (at least 79 walks in each full season) are enough to cast doubt on his high price tag. The Jays are apparently looking to spend money for its own sake, which never really works.
Key players lost: B.J. Ryan, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Steve Reed, Jason Grimsley, B.J. Surhoff
Needs: 2 or 3 starting pitchers, 1B, DH, closer
The Orioles have such a bad starting rotation that there's just not much they can do in one offseason. The signing of Leo Mazzone as pitching coach is a good start, but even Leo can only work so many miracles. The only starter of any consequence is Erik Bedard, who is coming off an injury-plagued 2005. Daniel Cabrera has highly-touted "stuff," but the fact that he's not actually a good pitcher (career 4.75 ERA). He turns 25 in May 2006, so he still has time to develop, but his truly abysmal control (career 176:233 BB:K ratio in 309 IP) make him a good bet to become the next Victor Zambrano.
Losing closer B.J. Ryan is a blow, and it's unlikely that Baltimore will be able to join the mad rush to sign Ryan. With Billy Wagner close to committing to a team, that will leave Ryan to pick among the 10 teams or so that want a closer now. It's unlikely the Orioles will get him, and coming up with a replacement will play a big part in setting the table for 2006.
The Orioles are pretty lucky to lose Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, all things considered. Since the Orioles traditionally ignore pitching in favor of big-money hitters, it's possible they could land a big name in the off-season. It's just that they're not always so hot at getting good players in those big-name deals. With Carlos Delgado off to the Mets, there aren't a lot of 1B/DH types available, unless they can pry Paul Konerko away from the White Sox. They could take a flyer on someone like Frank Thomas or Mike Piazza, but the Orioles have already spent enough money on injury-prone fading stars to justify taking such a chance.
The Orioles also have some pretty big issues in the outfield, which currently looks like this:
Eric Byrnes -- Luis Matos -- Jay Gibbons
All three are capable of being pretty good, but they're much more likely to be thoroughly mediocre -- not good news for an infield that includes Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts, and Melvin Mora.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Key players lost: Travis Lee, Alex Gonzalez, Eduardo Perez
Needs: 1B, 3B, an entirely new pitching staff
Things really could be a lot worse for the Devil Rays. They've got some good prospects on the way up, they've finally got rid of the Laurel-and-Hardy ownership and management that made them such a farce, and they've always got the Royals there to make them look good.
The simple story here is that their offense doesn't suck, and their pitching staff really does. Their outfield of Carl Crawford-Rocco Baldelli-Jonny Gomes looks solid, if unspectacular. They've got a fine shortstop in Julio Lugo, but big vacancies at first and third base with no strong candidates to take them over. Although, it's entirely possible that the Devil Rays will move someone like Joey Gathright into their stacked outfield, moving Gomes to first base.
Scott Kazmir took a big step toward becoming a true ace in 2005, his league-leading 100 walks notwithstanding. He's the fruits of the only really good trade the franchise has made, getting him for Wild Thing Victor Zambrano in the summer of 2004. After him, there's nothing. There's a chance that guys like Casey Fossum and Seth McClung could approach average, but not for Mark Hendrickson or the parade of other starter wanna-bes in the organization. Danys Baez is a serviceable closer, and the D-Rays have some arms to support him in the bullpen, but the franchise won't even begin to contend until they can solve some of their pitching problems.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
My basic stand on this issue is to argue on behalf of both. Statistics are, to my way of thinking, the primary tool, as I will explain later. More traditional scouting is still important, although I must point out that it is less so than it was in the past. Even over the past 15 years, statistics for college and high school players have become more easily accessible, rendering largely useless the most basic function of scouting, which was finding out who was good and who wasn't. Now you can tell the basic facts of a player without even leaving your seat.
However, statistics do not tell everything. I mean this in the traditional sense, yes, but also especially for high school players. Statistics are only really meaningful under certain circumstances. Paul DePodesta, in Moneyball, argues on behalf of college stats, because college players play more games against tougher competition than other amateur players. So stats from college players (and the minor leagues) are highly useful and predictive of a player's future performance.
Outside of college, though, is a different story. For high school players (and amateurs in Latin America and the Pacific Rim), there are no truly meaningful stats. Stats are useful, but not to the extent that they are in college and the minors. So scouting is necessary.
Not only that, scouting tells you what stats don't. This is true, of course, in the major league environment as well. Pro-scouting advocates believe that Moneyball scoffs at the idea of a player's "makeup." But this simply isn't true; the discussion in the book about whether a player is a "rockhead" or if he was caught selling porn in college could have occurred in any big league boardroom. It's simply a matter of how much importance is placed upon "makeup" and other aspects that scouting can tell you, but statistics don't.
Scouting is great at getting at the underlying aspects of a player's performance that stats don't reveal. I can look at a player's college stats and give you a basic rundown on what kind of player he is. But there are many very important facts I can't tell you: if he's a hitter, I can't tell you anything about his batting stance, I can't tell you anything about his methods of practice and preparation, and I can't give you any personal insight as to whether or not this player can make it in the big leagues. If he's a pitcher, I can't even tell you what type of pitches he throws. I can't tell you whether he's a lefty or a righty. I can't tell you how tall he is, or how often he works out, or whether he has a serious drug problem. These are all important bits of context that help you understand a player in his real-world environment.
The central problem with scouting as it exists today is that it tells you how good a player could be, rather than how good he realistically will be. Scouting-intensive organizations tend to draft athletic players with the potential to become superstars. Stats-intensive organizations tend to draft people who already are good players. What you end up with is, in the example of many failed traditionalist teams, is a bunch of very athletic people -- who can't play baseball. The discussion of Jeremy Brown in Moneyball is instructive. The scouting people obsess about the fact that Brown is out-of-shape, and a very poor athlete. Billy Beane could give a damn what kind of athlete Brown is or what kinds of tools he has. He knows that Jeremy Brown is already a very good hitter, and that is what matters.
It's so wonderful to see a player who is a natural athlete and dream about what he could become. It's also wonderful to buy a lottery ticket and dream about how you can spend $34 million. The reality is that the best way to find a good major league ballplayer is to try and find the best college and high school players and draft them. It is not a good idea to draft people who might become good in the future. And hey -- when these great athletes hit .220 in the majors, it's not the scout's fault -- it just wasn't meant to be.
Baseball, even more than other sports, shows the separation between pure athletic ability and the ability to succeed in a specific sport. Baseball is littered with the stories of great pure athletes who didn't succeed at playing baseball. Deion Sanders was supposed to be a great two-sport threat. And he was, as far as I know, really good at football. But Deion was not a good baseball player. His pure athletic ability didn't make him much of a hitter (336/413/268 lifetime). He was a lively baserunner, who stole a career-high 56 bases (with 13 CS) in 1997 with Cincinnati. Which makes him about as valuable as a really good backup outfielder. The funny thing is that people didn't really seem to realize that he wasn't a good baseball player. Many baseball observers and fans are scouts at heart, and are much better at recognizing pure athletes rather than determing who actually plays well.
The other 2-sport legend in baseball was Bo Jackson. Everyone felt that Bo would have been a legendary baseball player if he hadn't gotten injured. I did too, until I looked at what Bo actually did -- not how he looked, but what he did. Bo's first full season was with Kansas City in 1987. He hit 22 HR and even stole 10 bases. But did you know that his hitting line was 296/455/235? In 1988 Bo moved up to 27 SB, but hit a still-unimpressive 287/472/246. For his career, Bo hit 309/474/250. He stole 82 bases and was caught 32 times (for a fair 72% success rate). So the great Bo Jackson was actually about as legendary as Dave Kingman. With more stolen bases. Bo hit homers, some of which were hit long distances, and he was pretty fast, as well. But he was an all-or-nothing hitter; he hit some home runs -- but that's it. If you're going to have a sub-.300 OBP and hit below .240, you have to hit about 40 or 50 homers to be really valuable. Bo did not.
And did I mention strikeouts? Bo really was a new Dave Kingman. He played 4 seasons of 100 or more games and struck out more than 100 times in 5 seasons. Wait -- Bo had more 100-strikeout seasons than he had 100-game seasons? Yep. His 3 most-prolific offensive seasons (1987-1989) saw him strike out 158, 146, and 172 times. Bo was a classic example of a great athlete who wasn't able to refine those athletic skills into a more complex discipline, like hitting a baseball.
A historic example of the same player would be Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was the famous Olympian who was considered to be the world's greatest athlete; a multi-talented athletic wonder. Thorpe played major league baseball for parts of 6 seasons from 1913-1919 -- mostly with the New York Giants. And he didn't hit very well at all -- a 286/362/252 lifetime hitter that was poor even for the dead-ball era. (It's worth pointing out, as someone whose name escapes me did before, that Thorpe got progressively better as his career wore on.)
So what exactly am I trying to say? I'll boil it down into bullet points:
- It's always more valuable to look at what a player has done, rather than what you think he might do. A good bet in the draft is not someone who could learn to play, but someone who already has. This means that a lot of "lottery tickets" will have to be ignored, disappointing many scouts and other hopeless romantics.
- The separation of pure athletic ability and baseball ability is not insignificant. The presence of great athletes who failed at baseball (Neon Deion, Bo Jackson) as well as non-athletes who became baseball stars (Babe Ruth, David Wells, John Kruk) makes baseball an even more specialized discipline than other sports (imagine Ruth or Wells on a basketball court). Obviously, a great athlete is more likely to succeed in baseball than a non-athlete. But this is a very broad generalization. Pure athleticism is not, in and of itself, an argument in favor of someone's baseball ability.
- Scouting is a necessary part of the game, but only as a supplement to a basic understanding of baseball, of which statistics are our most important tool. The two can co-exist (as in Boston), but only when realism -- not traditionalism and mindless perpetuation of the past -- is the guiding light.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
- The Marlins are looking into relocating. In other news, they visited a local delicatessan and offered the owner "protection" for 50% of his business proceeds. Bud Selig supports both moves.
- Trades, trades, and more trades. I had heard a rumor about the White Sox trading for Jim Thome, with Chicago giving up Aaron Rowand and a pitcher, either Jose Contreras or Brandon McCarthy. Now, espn.com is reporting that the Sox are getting Thome straight up for Rowand. I don't know exactly how much of Thome's giant salary the Phillies are paying, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 50%. This is a great deal for Chicago, who as I said earlier, need to be "proactive" this offseason. Thome isn't a sure thing, coming off a dreadful season, but even if he hits at 75-85% of his 2004 value (396/581/274), he'll be quite valuable. It's hard for me to believe that the Phillies couldn't get anything more than Rowand for Thome. Rowand's a decent all-around center fielder, which the Phillies need, but surely they could have gotten SOMETHING else. Of course, the Phillies haven't made a habit of making really great decisions lately.
- The Artist Formerly Known as the Florida Marlins continues selling off its parts. They're getting rid of their pricey parts so they can sign their two core players -- Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera -- to long-term extensions. It's great to hear that the Marlins are following the wonderful example set by the Royals and Rockies -- trade off everything except one conspicuous star. He/They will make more money than the rest of the roster combined and the team will become a farce as one or two All-Stars are surrounded by 23 jabronis. Everyone will wonder when they get traded and the franchise descends. Willis and Cabrera need to call Mike Sweeney and Todd Helton and see how jolly they are about their situation.
- It looks like Josh Beckett is going to the Red Sox. Rob Neyer is doubtful about the prospects Boston is giving up, but I think it's a positive move for Boston. They need another starting pitcher, but can't afford a free agent. Beckett is not, repeat not a miracle franchise player who's going to win any Cy Young Awards. Everyone, particulary Sox fans, are turning Beckett into the messiah. And instead of blaming themselves for making him into the next Pedro, they'll blame him for being the slightly good, amazingly injury-prone pitcher that he is, instead of the savior they want him to be. The real big aspect of this deal is Mike Lowell. Yes, Lowell is overpaid ($9 million for two years), but Beckett is underpaid, so it all works out. There's every reason to believe that 2005 was a fluke, and Mike Lowell from 2002-2004 was one of the best third basemen in baseball. Is he Mike Schmidt? No, but he'll replace Bill Mueller. The only aspect of the deal that really bothers me is that it leaves Kevin Youkilis out in the cold. The Sox didn't need a third baseman; they already had one. Now they're spending money on Lowell that could be spent on Johnny Damon or a relief pitcher. But it was the price to pay to get Beckett. What no one has suggested is for the Sox to play musical chairs with their infield defense; move either Lowell or Youkilis to second base (currently vacant in Boston), and the other man can play third. It won't be pretty defensively, but neither is Tony Graffanino, their other best 2B option. Let's think outside the batter's box.
- The Mets are trading for Carlos Delgado, which is just plain good news for them. They needed a slugger? They needed a first baseman? A left-handed hitter? How's 3 out of 3? Delgado's still one of the best hitters in the league, and Mike Jacobs isn't exactly a steep price to pay. I know you can't count out the Braves, but the Mets are starting to look like the best team in the NL East. If they can sign, say, Bengie Molina to catch, they'll have a fine lineup (outside of the middle infield). If they can do something to goose their pitching staff, they'll be clear favorites in the east. The Mike Cameron trade was a true head-scratcher, but Omar Minaya is having a pretty good net effect on the Mets.
- The Cubs signed middle-reliever Scott Eyre to a 3-year, $11 million contract. I'd call it a completely boneheaded contract, but I wouldn't want to offend any boneheads.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Aaron (Cincinnati, OH): Do you see Boston's sabermetric-friendly front office surviving much longer now that Theo's gone?
Rob Neyer : (1:48 PM ET ) Absolutely. The Red Sox have spent four years building an infrastructure based on the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information, and they're not going to hire a GM who's not on board with that.
- Any team that wins the World Series is probably pretty good to begin with. So if they kept most of the players that got them there, we would expect them to do well. What we're looking for is whether keeping a team together provides more success, by and large, than making changes.
- What we're looking for is something that cannot be explained by the performance of the players. The argument is that the team is greater than the sum of its parts. The theory we are testing states that even if you are able to replace your players with others of equal or better skill, it's won't be as successful as retaining the core of the World Championship team.
- I'm going to look at the teams as they were the year they won the Series, and as they were the subsequent year. I'll see which players they lost and which players they gained. I'll compare their won-lost records, as well as their Pythagorean won-lost records. The Pythagorean Won-Lost Theory, if you're not familiar with it, states that a team's W-L record can be accurately predicted from the number of runs they score and number of runs they allow. While an actual W-L record can benefit greatly from luck and other outside forces, the Pythagorean record gives us a better idea of how well the team performed, as opposed to how many games they won. This may help us explain a rise or fall in a team's wins. If a team's W-L record is 96-66 and their Pythagorean record is 90-72, the team has probably been lucky. We would expect their W-L record to fall the next season. This will help us determine if a team is actually performing better, or if perhaps they just got lucky.
- I'm confining my study to modern teams. A study of teams around before free agency would not really be relevant to this study, as teams had complete control over every player gained and lost. The circumstances of player movement between teams, not to mention the singular challenges in building a team, make modern teams incomparable to teams in the past.
So let's look, team-by-team, at some of the World Champions of the past 15 years. The Rough Level of Turnover is a rough figure representing what percent of the team's At Bats and Innings Pitched were lost after their World Series victory. Pythag. Win-Loss Record is represented by pW-pL.
2004 Boston Red Sox
Key players lost: Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Orlando Cabrera, Nomar Garciaparra
Key players gained (2005): Edgar Renteria, David Wells, Matt Clement, John Olerud
2004 W-L: 98-64; 2005 W-L: 95-67; Net Gain/Loss: -3 Wins
2004 pW-pL: 96-66; 2005 pW-pL: 90-72; Net Gain/Loss: -6 Wins
Rough Level of Turnover: 21% --Moderately High
Conclusion: The Red Sox suffered a good deal of turnover and failed to repeat. This could support the "chemistry" argument. However, the truth is that the players the Sox added in 2005 produced more in quality and quantity than the 2004 players they replaced. This may seem hard to believe. But Matt Clement and David Wells together were more valuable than Pedro and D-Lowe were in 2004. And Edgar Renteria was more productive than the Sox' 3 SS in 2004.
The reason the Sox performed worse in 2005 was due to the huge drop in quality by the players they kept. If Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, and others such as Kevin Millar had even come close to their 2004 numbers, the Sox very well could have repeated. So it would seem that the 2004 Sox don't support the "chemistry" theory, unless you believe that the reason Schilling, et al didn't perform is because they missed Pedro and Nomar.
2003 Florida Marlins
Key players lost: Derrek Lee, Ivan Rodriguez, Mark Redman, Braden Looper, Ugueth Urbina
Key players gained (2004): Armando Benitez, Hee Seop Choi, Damion Easley, Paul Lo Duca
2003 W-L: 91-71; 2004 W-L: 83-79; Net Gain/Loss: -8 Wins
2003 pW-pL: 83-79; 2004 pW-pL: 83-79; Net Gain/Loss: Even
Rough Level of Turnover: 28.6% -- High
Conclusion: It looks like the Marlins got worse in 2003, but I would argue that it was simply a case of their luck running out, as the Pythagorean record would seem to indicate. The 2003 Marlins are, in my opinion, one of the worst teams to win the World Series.
2002 Anaheim Angels
Key players lost: Orlando Palmeiro
Key players gained (2003): (none of note)
2002 W-L: 99-63; 2003 W-L: 77-85; Net Gain/Loss: -22 Wins
2002 pW-pL: 101-61; 2003 pW-pL: 80-82; Net Gain/Loss: -21 Wins
Rough Level of Turnover: 6.8% -- Very Low
Conclusion: The Angels kept everyone from their World Series roster except Palmeiro, their 4th outfielder. And it got them a loss of 22 wins. The Angels are the strongest and most obvious argument against keeping your roster together for the sake of chemistry. Their level of turnover is among the lowest in the free agent era, and yet they simply sank to the bottom. It's very, very hard to explain this Angel team if you believe in keeping your team together for the sake of chemistry.
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks
Key players lost: Reggie Sanders, Albie Lopez
Key players gained (2002): Quinton McCracken, Rick Helling
2001 W-L: 92-70; 2002 W-L: 98-64; Net Gain/Loss: +6 Wins
2001 pW-pL: 95-67; 2002 pW-pL: 95-67; Net Gain/Loss: Even
Rough Level of Turnover: 12.5% -- Low
Conclusion: The Diamondbacks kept their team together and performed almost exactly as well. But they didn't even make it to the World Series, losing in the NLDS. This is another wrinkle in this study; winning the World Series isn't always a question of being the best team. So planning a team to win the World Series is problematic at best; the easiest thing is to try and create the best team, which would then have a better chance to make the World Series. But repeating as World Series Champions requires a whole lot of luck, perhaps even as much luck as talent.
2000 New York Yankees
Key players lost: Jeff Nelson, Dwight Gooden, Glenallen Hill
Key players gained (2001): (none of note)
2000 W-L: 87-74; 2001 W-L: 95-65; Net Gain/Loss: +8 Wins
2000 pW-pL: 85-76; 2001 pW-pL: 89-71; Net Gain/Loss: +4 Wins
Rough Level of Turnover: 18.2% -- Moderate
Conclusion: The Yankees went from a bad team (relatively speaking) winning the World Series to a much better team losing the World Series. Such is baseball. But there's nothing here out of the ordinary.
1999 New York Yankees
Key players lost: Chili Davis, Hideki Irabu, Chad Curtis
Key players gained (2000): David Justice, Glenallen Hill, Dwight Gooden
1999 W-L: 98-64; 2000 W-L: 87-74; Net Gain/Loss: -11 Wins
1999 pW-pL: 96-66; 2000 pW-pL: 85-76; Net Gain/Loss: -11 Wins
Rough Level of Turnover: 15.6% -- Fairly Low
Conclusion: The Yankees kept almost almost all of the key players from their 1999 World Series sweep of the Braves and ended up a significantly worse team. But they still repeated as World Champions. I'm starting to sense that luck has about as much to do with winning the World Series as roster moves, aren't you?
1998 New York Yankees
Key players lost: David Wells, Tim Raines
Key players gained (1999): Roger Clemens, Jason Grimsley
1998 W-L: 114-48; 1999 W-L: 98-64; Net Gain/Loss: -16 Wins
1998 pW-pL: 108-54; 1999 pW-pL: 96-66; Net Gain/Loss: -12 wins
Rough Level of Turnover: 10.7% -- Low
Conclusion: If ever there was a team that should be kept together, it's the '98 Yankees, right? Well, they kept it together and lost 16 wins. But this isn't a lesson about the loss of David Wells' "chemistry," it's a lesson about regression to the mean; whereby any extreme performance (good or bad) will tend to regress back toward the average in the future.
1997 Florida Marlins
Key players lost: Kevin Brown, Moises Alou, Robb Nen, Jeff Conine, Devon White, Kurt Abbott, Al Leiter, Darren Daulton, Dennis Cook
Key players gained (1998): Derrek Lee, Todd Zeile*, Dave Berg
* -- the Marlins acquired Zeile on May 14 and traded him away on July 31.
1997 W-L: 92-70; 1998 W-L: 54-108; Net Gain/Loss: -38 Wins
1997 pW-pL: 88-74; 1998 pW-pL: 58-104; Net Gain/Loss: -30 Wins
Rough Level of Turnover: 35.3% -- Obscenely High
Conclusion: This isn't really relevant to the argument, but I have to talk about the complete decimation of the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins. When the 1999 season opened, the only player left from the '97 starting lineup was 2B Luis Castillo. Only Livan Hernandez and Alex Fernandez were left from the starting rotation. Not only that, but the Marlins also traded away all of their marginal players. Only Craig Counsell, Cliff Floyd, and Mark Kotsay were left (when 1999 opened) from the '97 bench, and only Rob Stanifer, Kirt Ojala, and Antonio Alfonseca were left from the bullpen.
I also have to point out just how little the Marlins got in exchange for all these players. Here's a look at who the Marlins traded away, and who they got in return:
TRADED AWAY: Mike Piazza, Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield, Robb Nen, Edgar Renteria, Al Leiter, Todd Zeile, Bobby Bonilla, Devon White, Charles Johnson, Jeff Conine, Kurt Abbott, Jim Eisenreich, Dennis Cook, Manuel Barrios, Jay Powell, Scott Makarewicz
RECEIVED IN RETURN: Derrek Lee, A.J. Burnett, Preston Wilson, Braden Looper, Pablo Ozuna, Oscar Henriquez, Mark Johnson, Jesus Martinez, Joe Fontenot, Mike Pageler, Mike Villano, Blaine Mull, Rafael Medina, Steve Hoff, Fletcher Bates, Scott Comer, Eric Ludwick, Jesus Sanchez, Robert Stratton, Ed Yarnall, Geoff Goetz, Ramon Castro, Daniel DeYoung, Jose Santo, Armando Almanza
Never has any organization made such a mockery of baseball as the 1997 Marlins. Not only did they trade away a horde of excellent players, they didn't even bother to get crap in return.
But back to the point: After one year, the Marlins had lost 35.3% of their 1997 World Series production. When the 1999 season began, they had lost 71%. The 2-year loss is a record, but would you believe that the '97 Marlins do not hold the record for highest percentage of AB/IP lost in one year?
So who does hold that record? Well, let's just say that they prove my point and render any defense of the "chemistry" theory useless. So I'll just go ahead and skip to them.
1992 Toronto Blue Jays
Key players lost: Dave Winfield, Candy Maldonado, Jimmy Key, Tom Henke, Manuel Lee, Kelly Gruber, David Cone, Derek Bell
Key players gained (1993): Paul Molitor, Tony Fernandez, Dave Stewart, Danny Cox, Tony Castillo
1992 W-L: 96-66; 1993 W-L: 95-67; Net Gain/Loss: -1 Win
1992 pW-pL: 91-71; 1993 pW-pL: 91-71; Net Gain/Loss: Even
Rough Level of Turnover: 40.23% -- Very, Very High
Conclusion: Would you believe that the team with the highest post-championship turnover I've ever seen managed to repeat? The Blue Jays lost 2210 of their 5536 ABs and 589 of their 1440 IP. It would seem that any team so thoroughly gutted would be completely unable to make it back the next year. How much money would it cost to replace all those ABs and IP with anything but minimum-wage replacement players? The Blue Jays did it somehow and did just as well as they did in 1992.
I looked at every team from 1990-2004 and found no correlation between keeping a team together and subsequent success, other than that which can be explained by the quality of players. There's every indication that a significant level of turnover can help a team, if the new players can adequately replace those lost.
Not only did I not find any examples matching the archetype (a team that keeps its team virtually intact and performs better than expected), but I found two teams that demolished the archetype. There were the 2002 Anaheim Angels, a team that stayed intact and got significantly worse, and the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays, who lost a historic percentage of their championship team and were able to repeat as World Champions. I didn't list the teams in between, because I did not see them as strongly denying my central thesis. I'll go ahead and list the teams I studied not mentioned above here:
1996 Yankees: 9.6% turnover (low); +4 Wins, +12 pWins -- Lost in 1997 ALDS
1995 Braves*: 9.1% turnover (low); -3 Games; +1 pGame -- Lost in 1996 World Series
1993 Blue Jays*: 16.1% turnover (moderate); -16.5 Games, -11.5 pGames -- finished 3rd when 1994 season ended
1991 Twins: 22.2% turnover (fairly high); -5 Wins, -3 pWins -- finished 2nd in 1992
1990 Reds: 8.8% turnover (low); -17 Wins, -18 pWins -- finished 5th in 1991
* -- I used overall games instead of wins, because the 1995 and 1994 seasons were strike-shortened.
You may feel that the 1991 Twins support the "chemistry" theory. They had fairly high turnover and just missed the postseason. But I feel that the 1991 Twins represent two things: 1) regression to the mean, and 2) a team that got passed up. Another big hole we can poke in the "chemistry" theory is that it assumes that what was good enough to win one World Series is good enough to win the next. But this is absolutely false. In 1991, Minnesota's 95 wins (93 pW) were good enough to win the AL West. But in 1992, the Twins stayed roughly the same (falling to 90 Wins and 91 pW) while the Oakland A's won 96 games and shot past them to win the division. You may have to change your roster from year to year simply to keep up with the rest of the league.
So how does this reflect on the 2005 White Sox, which caused this study? The 2005 White Sox went 99-63, but their Pythagorean record was 91-71. This could be caused by Chicago's good bullpen (which can impact a team's Pythagorean record). Or it could mean that the Sox got really lucky in 2005 and are due for a fall in 2006. If I were Chicago GM Kenny Williams, I wouldn't risk it.
Even if the Sox do stay the same, is there any team that could zoom past them? I'd actually be surprised if the 2006 Cleveland Indians didn't zoom past the Sox. The 2005 Indians went 93-69, but their Pythagorean record was 96-66. This can't be explained away by bullpens; the Indians and Sox both have good relievers. What does this mean? It means that the Indians were a better team than the White Sox in 2005. And, considering their respective records, it would indicate that the White Sox will be the 2nd-best team going into 2006. So if I'm Kenny Williams, staring at a superior Cleveland team, am I going to sit still and hope for more extremely good luck (8 wins over your Pythagorean record is quite lucky)? Or am I going to go out and try to turn my 91-win team into a 96- or 97-win team? The latter choice is obvious, although the obvious can be surprisingly difficult for many baseball people to fathom.
There is, unfortunately, another factor here: public opinion. Kenny Williams may make the very shrewd move to keep his team together, thereby making him a fan favorite and getting the media (Peter Gammons included) to applaud him. And when the team inevitably falters next year, no one will blame Williams. He can point to the players and say, "I left you guys alone. I kept the same team that won the World Series last year, so it's Ozzie Guillen's fault and the players' fault if they can't repeat." And that explanation will be good enough for the fans and most of the media, with the notable exception of Rob Neyer, Baseball Prospectus, and the sabermetric minority. Many baseball executives (and managers, etc.) would much rather make the safe choice, the choice that will shield them from blame and protect their jobs, than to make the right choice. Because baseball rewards those who act according to tradition and custom, regardless of how effective those actions may be.
So let's hope, for Chicago's sake, that Williams is intelligent (and unselfish) enough to know what he is facing. Let's hope he realizes that Jose Contreras and possibly Jon Garland are due for a slump in 2006. Let's hope he realizes that postseason heroics aren't going to magically turn Joe Crede into a good hitter (303 career OBP in an AL hitter's park). If he knows these things, the Sox will be contenders. If not, the Indians can go ahead and put on those 2006 AL Central Champion t-shirts.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
- Alex Rodriguez is the AL MVP and Albert Pujols is the NL MVP. I agree strongly with both picks. In other news, the Pope is not Catholic.
- Just kidding. Not only do I agree with both MVPs this year, I agreed with both picks last year (Vlad Guerrero and Barry Bonds). I've worked my way back to 1980 documenting seasons and can't find any other consecutive seasons where I agreed with both the AL and NL MVP. But that's more semantics. I'm not happy simply because Pujols won (although that's part of it), but because Andruw Jones didn't. This isn't because of any personal animosity, but rather because Albert's defeat of Andruw represents the victory of reason over idiocy. It's not a victory that I anticipated. I thought it would be a close vote, yes, but I expected Andruw winning the award, with Pujols a close second and Derrek Lee a distant third. As it is, Albert got 378 points to Andruw's 351. A close finish to be sure. Albert got 18 1st-place votes, Andruw got 13, and Derrek Lee got 1 (I'd like to think that Lee's 1st-place vote came from a brave sabermetrician, as opposed to a biased Chicago voter). The Top 10 is rounded out by Morgan Ensberg, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Delgado, Pat Burrell, Chris Carpenter, Brian Giles, and Jimmy Rollins. Not a bad job of voting, if I do say so myself. Hopefully this is a sign of hope for the future and not some fluke; hopefully voters are getting smarter.
- The Yankees re-signed Hideki Matsui to a 4-year, $50 million deal. I think it's a good move for the Yankees, who need somebody else in that outfield. Matsui's a fine, fine hitter, and he's just 31, so giving him $12.5 million a year isn't unreasonable at all. Now if the Yanks can just find a center fielder without overpaying.
- I've heard some bizarre stories about some plans for the off-season some clubs are circulating. I've heard that the Yankees, if they can't find a center fielder, might just move Matsui over and find a replacement in left (it's easier to find a LF than a CF). The problem is this: Matsui, as a left fielder, isn't awful. Matsui, as a center fielder, is. And improving defense should at least be somewhere on the Yankees' priority list. Of course, the easiest solution is the one that will never happen: shift Jeter to center, move A-Rod back to shortstop, and find a bargain at third base. Jeter isn't such a great shortstop, but would be a better fit in center. A-Rod is a great shortstop. But the Yankees won't do that, because they (and the entire mainstream sports world) have convinced themselves that Derek Jeter is an excellent defender. No one can suggest otherwise without suffering an e-mail assault. I guess you can't blame Brian Cashman. If he tried to move Jeter, he'd be lucky if the fans only burned him in effigy.
- I've also heard talk about clubs signing Rafael Furcal to play some other position besides shortstop. This is about as intelligent as talking a young Johnny Bench into being a full-time DH. Furcal is one of the best shortstops in baseball, and he'd be an amazing boost to any team defensively (and offensively, to a lesser extent). The Cubs will probably just keep him at shortstop, but I've heard that the Mets (if they signed him) would put him at second and put Jose Reyes at short. Suuurrrre. And maybe the Cardinals will bring Dick "Dr. Strangeglove" Stuart out of retirement to play third base and put Scott Rolen on the bench. It's not that extreme, I suppose, but gosh.
- The MLB has instituted a new penalty system for steroids. I should point out that it is not an entirely new policy per se, just a new set of penalties. Although I'm sure Bud Selig & Don Fehr will act like this solves the entire problem. But penalties are only half the problem; priority one should be making the tests more effective. BALCO head Victor Conte remarked that any half-intelligent big-leaguer could beat the current testing system. Not only that, but it simply can't do all that we ask it to. The MLB has outlawed HGH, yes. But it's an utterly toothless rule, because you can only test for HGH in blood. And the MLB tests are urine only. Yay, team.
- As for the penalties themselves, I think they're just right. 50 games is a lot for a first-time offender, but deterrence is the ultimate aim of any test. And these guys will hopefully think twice before risking nearly 1/3 of their salary. It's 50 games for the first offense, 100 games for the second offense, and a lifetime ban for the third offense. It sounds harsh, but there's simply no excuse for a 3-time offender. I do worry about false positives, as people seem to think all these tests are 100% accurate. But you have to find the line between firmness and fairness, and I think this is close. Although we can hopefully avoid another case like the Mike Morse fiasco. Morse plays for the Mariners and was suspended this year for testing positive on a steroid test. It became clear that Morse's positive was a residual from steroids he had taken quite a while ago. He had actually already been suspended under the minor league penalties. So it's quite possible served two penalties for one crime. That's just silly. Some people said, "Well, he knew what he was doing, and he deserves the consequences." Hogwash. If the principle of double jeopardy is good enough for Sam Waterston on Law & Order, it's damn good enough for Bud Selig.
- Lots of rumors abounding as to who's going where. Early word appears to be that a lot of teams are going to try to fill their needs through trades, forsaking what some feel could be an off-season or ridiculous contracts. As far as free agents go, I haven't heard much reliable info. Ask Peter Gammons, he knows what happens before it happens.
- I'll be back soon with the (just-completed) look at whether there's a correlation between keeping a World Championship team intact and future success. Later, I plan to take a division-by-division look at each team's needs going into the off-season, and their early outlook for next season.
On a personal note, I wanted to mention my sadness at the untimely passing of Eddie Guerrero. Eddie was a WWE wrestler, and put aside your preconceived notions right now, because I always thought Eddie was special in many ways. If this blog is about anything, it's about not making snap, uninformed decisions. And the decision to marginalize Eddie because of his profession is a thoughtless one. I just saw Dean Malenko's comments about Eddie, and I got a lump in my throat. Eddie was one of the truly special ones, and we're all going to miss him. Our best go out to his wife and 3 kids, as well as all his friends and family.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Friday, November 11, 2005
- More predictable silliness from the awards voters. Chris Carpenter was named the NL Cy Young. This was a fine choice, if you were living in a cave and missed September (5.73 ERA in 6 starts). As it is, he just wasn't close to Roger Clemens, and was probably behind Andy Pettitte and Dontrelle Willis as well. But voters still worship at the idol of wins. Rob Neyer wrote that these awards just aren't really important anymore. In the past, no one (not even the leagues) had access to full and comprehensive statistics, so it was up to the sportswriters (who hopefully saw all their team's games and followed the whole league) to say who the best was. Nothing has changed since then, in spite of the fact that the average fan has easy access to the same information as the writers. The average fan can see any baseball game at any time, via satellite TV or the internet. There is no reason to think that the most informed and educated fans are any dumber than the people that vote on these awards. Sure, the smart fans make mistakes, but it couldn't be any worse than the present system. The present system of voting is like anything that's been around a long time: it is this way because it's always been this way, not because there's anything particularly intelligent about the arrangement. Not only that, but only members of the print media can be in the BBWAA. This is because it was formed back in the days before ESPN. But considering that the print media is fast becoming a minority, they still have not agreed to share power, logical though it may seem, because they cling to whatever power they have like helpless weaklings on a lifeboat. It's not just the lack of sense and intelligence that the voters exercise, but the amazing degree of self-righteousness and pretentious behavior that the exhibit. Nowhere in the world will you find a breed of smug, ignorant, angry and bitter assholes quite like the sports media. And that's just the nicer ones. It's even worse in New York and Philly ...
- Free agency is here, and teams are ready to overpay to the point of silliness. Paul Konerko will get a lot of money based on his World Series performance. I've heard some otherwise intelligent commentators (Peter Gammons, for one) suggest that the White Sox need to kept just as close to last year as possible. You shouldn't tamper with what works, they say. This is stupid and preposterous. The opposite problem is what teams face: when a team wins the World Series, they feel pressured to avoid improving it, lest they should mess with what "works." The infrequency with which teams repeat as World Champions should tell you how good an idea this is. It involves a lot of luck to win the World Series, and luck isn't nearly as reliable as talent if you want to get back. Too many teams sign mid-level guys to big money because of postseason heroics, which then fail to get them back to the Series. There is no magic chemistry that will get you back to the Series, and it is the ignorant pursuit of that chemistry that actively keeps teams from achieving it. Why do people delude themselves so? As Thomas Edison once said, "There seems to be no limit to which the average man will go to avoid conscious thought and contemplation."
- Can you believe that Bud Selig is still screaming about competitive balance? I've never heard someone in the public arena make so many laughable and demonstrably false arguments in my life (outside of politics). I loved it when he called the cheap, small-market Twins a "fluke" when they won the AL Central in 2002. So they repeated in 2003 . . . and 2004. He says the Marlins (the 2003 World Champion Marlins) can't compete in their current stadium. Neither can the Athletics, who have a better record than every AL team except the Yankees over the past 6 seasons. Selig says that the league will be dominated by the Yankees. Yes, just like the Yankees dominated the Diamondbacks in 2001, the Angels in 2002, the Marlins in 2003, the Red Sox in 2004, and the Angels again in 2005. The most dominant team in baseball (according to Selig) hasn't won the World Series in 5 years. What's wrong? And how does he explain the fact that 3 of the last 4 World Champions were a Wild Card that didn't even have the best record in their division? Or the fact that in the past 18 years, the team with the best record in baseball has won the World Series exactly twice? ('98 Yankees and '89 A's). Selig is a buffoon who can't even come up with a good cover story for his plan to rape the South Florida taxpayers for more money. Any self-respecting con artist can actually fool people into giving them money. Not only is Selig a poor commissioner, he sucks as a con man.
- John Brattain of the Hardball Times says that the Marlins might trade their best hitter, Carlos Delgado, in order to take his contract off the books and convince the voters to give them money. At least Al Capone had the decency to call what he was doing a Protection Racket. Brattain has this to say about the threats against the Twins, A's, and Marlins: "They can’t threaten relocation to Washington D.C., Portland and Las Vegas are no closer to having a temporary major league ready stadium (let alone the kind of publicly financed retractable roof virtual ATM machine that Selig uses in lieu of Levitra) than Dildo, Newfoundland is. So how can you open up a can of Extortion Whoop Ass on these communities without a "viable" threat? Of course there’s the upcoming CBA negotiation too, and if this offseason goes all spend-happy, what is Selig going to use against the MLBPA to convince them to give more free money to billionaires who mismanage their baseball business and still expect to reap obscene profits without actually working for it -- er, that the game needs more competitive balance and parity so the Yankees don’t keep winning the World Series forever? Well ownership "won" the right to unilaterally contract in the last negotiation, and Selig has never let minor details like common sense, logistics and being realistic to get in the way of a bargaining position. Expect the other “C” word to reappear in 2006. Selig says contraction is not even on the radar screen so you know that it probably is."
- Couldn't have said it better myself. I'm going to do some more work on my survey of saves and closers before I present it. But I plan to do a study (a formality) of teams that won the World Series, what they did the year after, and how they fared. It should give me some concrete example to supoort my hypothesis.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
- Bartolo Colon won the AL Cy Young. I wasn't surpised, although it shows how much the voters show ignorant fealty to win. Jayson Stark, whom I don't always see eye to eye with, does a very good job of explaining what a better choice Johan Santana was.
- Huston Street was named the AL Rookie of the Year, while Ryan Howard won the NL Award. Both are fine choices, although I was leaning toward Francouer in the NL. The AL Manager of the Year is named tomorrow, the NL Cy Young on Thursday, and NL Mgr. of the Year on Friday.
- The Winter Meetings have already started, with GMs gathering from all over to talk and stuff. I d0n't see anything particularly fruitful coming out of the meetings, as it's still pretty early. Especially since L.A. and Boston had to send their 4 or 5 lieutenants to cover for their lack of a GM.
- Jim Bowden is going to interview for the Boston GM job, as is former Baltimore co-GM Jim Beattie. Bowden would be a pretty dreadful choice. He's a trade-happy guy who isn't too poor at his job, but can't build a farm sytem or evaluate talent, both of which should be at the top of Boston's priority list. The smartest thing would be to stay on the current plan and promote someone from within. Henry and Lucchino's choice will tell us a lot about their future plans. If they promote someone from within (or someone new and clever), then they're probably going to keep on the Epstein path. If Bowden gets the job, it'll be the Dan Duquette years all over again, as ownership will be more interested in signing a name GM than actually winning.
- Bud Selig said that baseball would decide on the owner for the Nationals right after the World Series. Surrrrre, Bud. Considering the way MLB has handled this franchise already, this ship of fools should sail on for a while now, with Selig looking like a complete money-grubbing bonehead.
- Pete Rose, Jr. was arrested for selling a steroid alternative. He pled guilty. The news story from the Cincinnati Enquirer said that this would finally end Rose's major league dreams. Considering that Rose is 35, and his previous MLB experience in Cincinnati was a dismal failure, it could only be described as a major league "delusion" if he or the Enquirer ever thought he was going to make it back.
- Former Phillies pitcher and free agent Ugueth Urbina was arrested in Venezuela on charges of attempted murder. Workers on Urbina's ranch claim he and others attacked them with machetes and tried to set them on fire. Yikes. Given Urbina's sketchy reputation in the past, this should drive down his free agent price a wee bit. Of course, that's assuming that he doesn't spend the next 25 years-to-life in a Venezuelan prison, which can't be the most pleasant of places.
I'll be back soon with a look at closers. I've spent some time now collecting data to test a big major league truism: closers perform worse in non-save situations than they do in save situations. I've got the data from the past 4 seasons and some historical perspective as well.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Runs per Game: This is the most basic indicator of run production in baseball. It can be applied to a team or to an entire league. 5 runs/game is a lot, 4 isn't very much, and 3 is basically dead-ball.
League ERA: This isolates pitching as part of the equation. Runs per game indicates all runs, those allowed by the pitching and the defense. The League ERA tells us, roughly speaking, the quality of pitching in the league. Although I must point out that defense plays a part in ERA as well.
League AVG/OBP/SLG: These separate raw offense into a finer understanding. It's one thing to say that a lot of runs were scored; how were they scored? Was it high-average and low-slugging, which would indicate a singles-happy, power-less offense? Or was it low-average and high-slugging, which would indicate raw power? Or some variation of the two? This helps us isolate just what part of offense is prevalent.
League ISO (Isolated Power): Isolated power is the most accurate way to measure just that, power. Slugging percentage is a tally of how many bases an offense accumulates. But it doesn't say how they accumulate those bases. A high-offense team of singles hitters would rack up a high slugging percentage, because they accumulate a large number of total bases, even if nobody tops 15 HR.
Isolated power is calculated by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage. How does this measure power? Batting average measures hits/at bat. Every hit is weighted equally, so that a home run is the same as a single. A .350 hitter might be Babe Ruth or he might be Tony Gwynn; there's no way to tell. Whereas slugging percentage compounds batting average; a single is worth 1 base, so it looks the same as batting average. But a double is worth 2, etc. So if a hitter only hit singles, their batting average would be the same as their slugging percentage. Subtracting batting average eliminates singles from the equation; it lets you know how many extra bases a batter accumulates. So Ichiro Suzuki might have a .450 slugging percentage (which looks good), but when you subtract his .370 batting average, you get a .08 ISO, which is low. Dave Kingman might also have a .450 slugging percentage, and I don't need to tell you that Kingman and Ichiro are polar opposites in terms of hitting. Kingman's .450 slugging percentage looks great when you factor in his .220 batting average. Kingman's ISO is .23, which is fantastic. Other hitters, such as Adam Dunn, don't have such terribly high SLG, but when you consider that their average is in the .250-range, you see them as they are: batters who don't often get hits, but when they do, they're big ones.
ISO is a much finer stat; the difference between great and awful is low. When looking at a whole team (or a league, in this case), an ISO of .15 would be very high. Whereas anything below .1 would be pretty low.
Home Run Percentage (PA): This is the percentage of plate appearances (walks + at bats) which result in home runs. We can't just look at the raw number of home runs hit. There are more home runs hit today than in 1930, because there are 30 teams today, up from the 16 back in '30. We could look at HR/G, but not all games are created equal; some are rain-shortened and others are extra-innings. The most precise measure is HR/PA, which lets us know simply how often home runs are hit, as a percentage of total at-bats. The all-time leader in home run percentage is Mark McGwire, who hit a home run in 7.77% of his total PAs. Babe Ruth's mark is 6.83%. For an entire league, a 3% HR percentage is very high; anything below 1% is very low.
Looking at these numbers over each season of baseball history, what conclusions can we draw? I'll start with a look at the season we just completed, 2005. It's refreshing to see the stats from 2005 placed in a historical context. We know we're in the midst of a hitter's era, but how much of a hitter's era? And how much of that is power?
Well, in 2005, there were 4.76 R/G scored in the AL and 4.45 R/G scored in the NL. We would expect this, because the DH ensures a higher level of offense in the AL. While the actual difference between the two leagues varies, the NL hasn't outscored the AL since 1974. The DH was introduced in 1973. How the NL managed to outscore the AL even with the DH is beyond me at this moment.
How does this level of offense compare with the past few years? Both levels are actually down from 2004. In 2004, the numbers were 5.01 R/G in the AL and 4.64 R/G in the NL. That's a not-insignificant decline. Could this decline be traced to the new steroid policies? It's possible, but before we go a-leaping to conclusions, I have to tell you that these numbers fluctuate madly for reasons no one can fathom. It's possible that the steroid policies resulted in the drop in offense in 2005, and it's just as possible that it was pure chance, that the levels would have dropped either way.
The downward trend in R/G has been going on for a while. The hitter's era that I referred to earlier hit its peak from 1996-2000. The AL peaked at 5.39 R/G in 1996, making it back up to 5.30 in 2000 before starting to decline. The NL peaked at 5.00 R/G in 1999 and 2000. It, too, has since declined. So the hitter's era I referred to earlier appears to be over -- at least the worst of it is. It's impossible to determine exactly what the trend is. We might be in the middle of a temporary trough getting ready to sail back up again, or this might be a definite decline back to normalcy.
How does this hitter's era rank against other hitter's eras in the past? Well, while this is certainly one of the highest run-scoring environments ever, it is not the highest run-scoring environment in history, which is a bit of context I'd like most baseball columnists to grasp. Before the 1990s explosion, the American League last topped 5 runs/game in 1950, with a 5.04 mark. The NL was close behind at 4.66. But this did not compare with the '90s. You have to go back to the 1930s to find a run-scoring environment comparable to the '90s. And folks, would you believe that runs were scored at a higher rate in the 1930s than in the 1990s? While the 1990s featured just a few seasons above 5 R/G, the AL stayed above 5 R/G every season in the decade of the 30's. The NL topped the mark just once, in 1930 itself. In fact, the 1930 National League mark of an amazing 5.68 R/G is much higher than the 1996 peak of 5.39 R/G in the AL. The American League in the 1930's was a noticeable higher run-scoring environment than the 1990s.
What if I told you that that wasn't even the peak? The 1930's was the deadball era compared to the 1890's. Nobody remembers the 1890's as an era heavily favoring hitters, but it absolutely puts the 1990's to shame. Would you believe it if I told you that the 1894 National League averaged 7.36 R/G? The average team scored more than 7 runs per game! This is partly because the league ERA was 5.32 that year, and partly because defense wasn't what it is now. Rudimentary gloves and pre-historic groundskeeping made errors and unearned runs a common occurence.
Due to the chaotic nature of leagues and league organization at this time, run production fluctuates much more wildly than at any other time in recent history. Four years before the historic 1894, the NL averaged a pedestrian 3.56 R/G. This was in 1890, and must be partly explained by the brief emergence of a third major league, the Players League, which would naturally have an effect on league run production.
The story of run production in baseball can be explained, briefly, thus: After the chaotic years of early baseball and the hitter-happy 1890s, the emergence of the American League served as the knock to enter the game into the "Deadball Era." Too often, people think of the deadball era as an all-encompassing pre-history; sort of as "Everything before Babe Ruth." But the Deadball Era didn't begin until the AL and NL had made peace, somewhere around 1904. In 1901, both leagues were hitter-happy. In 1902, just the AL was, and then in 1903 it switched, with just the NL posting high run production. But in 1904, both leagues settled down into what we know as the DeadBall Era. The AL averaged 3.54 R/G and the NL posted 3.91. It basically stayed this way until the end of World War I. (There are two seasons, 1911 and 1912, where both leagues' run production rose, before falling back in 1913. I don't have a clue as to why this happened, but there has to be some historical event in these two seasons to explain it, if I can just dig it out of the history books).
And then Babe Ruth made baseball a hitter's paradise. Well, it didn't exactly work out like that. Babe Ruth didn't cause baseball to become more hitter-friendly in 1920, any more than Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax caused it to become pitcher-friendly in the 1960s. Babe was the biggest symbol of an overall trend. While it is true that Babe's fame and success helped spread the new offensive philosophy of pure slugging, he cannot claim credit for an entire era. Historians would suggest that the banning of the spitball and other trick pitches was a prime reason. There was also the unfortunate death of Ray Chapman in 1920. Whereas before teams would use one ball until it literally became unusable, Chapman's death at the hands of a dirty, nearly-invisible ball caused baseball officials to use more fresh, clean baseballs that jumped off hitter's bats. All these factors came together to bring about the hitting renaissance.
Offense didn't reach its peak in the 1920s; that would come in the 30's, as I said earlier. But it all began in the 1920s. The slow rise out of the DeadBall into a hitter's era took place during this ten years. In 1918, the two leagues combined for about 3.63 R/G, a very low figure. In 1920, the two leagues together scored about 4.3 R/G, which is an incredibly large increase in just two seasons. It would continue to slowly climb until it peaked with the average of about 5.5 R/G in 1930.
Offense dropped steeply in the 1940s, an event which was probably caused chiefly by World War II. Again, it's impossible to isolate one factor, but it can't be a coincidence that run production fell off so steeply when all the superstar hitters went off to war. Sure enough, they rebounded after the war was over, with the 1950s a pretty stable decade, altogether. You could look back at the 50's as somewhat of a middle ground; halfway in between the homer-happy 30's and the DeadBall teens.
Of course, things fell off quite steeply in the 1960s. For whatever reason, offense dwindled drastically, until it reached its nadir in 1968. Again, we have in '68 two memorable figures, Bob Gibson (1.12 ERA) and Denny McLain (31 wins), who represent fully the era in which they played, although they can't be said to have caused it. The AL averaged 3.41 R/G in 1968, whereas the NL sported a 3.43 mark. This is about even with the lowest point of the DeadBall Era.
The leagues reacted, taking measures to favor the hitter. 1969 was a sharp increase, with both leagues back over 4 R/G, although not by much. Whereas the early 70's were very pitcher-friendly, offense rebounded in the late 70's. This was due partially to the introduction of the DH in the AL. After a 1972 (3.47 R/G) that was almost as bad as 1968, the AL voted to institute the DH rule. Did it increase offense? All the way to 4.28 R/G, one of the biggest single-season increases on record. But this probably wasn't due entirely to the DH; the NL jumped from 3.91 in 1972 to 4.15 in 1973. This was either because of some phantom-DH-effect or the evidence of other forces at work.
This evened out in the 1980s to another sort of middle-ground. Not only was the 1980's a competitively-balanced decade not dominated by any one team, it was also a moderate run-scoring environment, usually staying in the mid-4s.
The exception would be 1987. No one in the mainstream media would remember 1987 for any specific reason; the Twins won their first World Series against the Cardinals in 7 games, although no one remembers that Series at all. But in Sabermetric circles, 1987 is known as the Year of the Hitter. It manifested itself on the individual level, with Cecil Fielder's 51 HR the first time someone had topped 50 since George Foster in 1977. Journeyman hitters looked like stars and pitchers suffered. This was part of a baseball-wide increase. In 1986, the two leagues averaged about 4.35 R/G. In 1987, that average jumped to about 4.75. It was one of the biggest increases on record, especially considering that it happened for no apparent reason. It was mainly a jump in slugging; there were small increases in AVG and OBP, but league slugging percentages shot up a combined 41 points in both leagues. After years of an ISO at 1.45 and 1.46, the AL ISO shot up to 1.60, which was (at that time) a record. The NL mark of 1.43 was the highest since 1961. For the first time in history, a league HR% rose above 3%, as the AL stood at 3.08%. The NL mark was 2.68%, a record for that league.
And just as quickly, it was gone. After the AL and NL posted 4.90 and 4.52 R/G in 1987, respectively, the two leagues dropped to 4.36 and 3.88 in 1988, both historic drops. The AL and NL SLG were .425 and .404 in 1987, but in 1988 they were .391 and .363. I don't think anyone has yet discovered why the levels in both leagues rose so dramatically. Some have said that the MLB tried out a new type of baseballs and pulled them after the season when they proved so lively. Someone (I think it was Ken Macha) has actually kept a box of 1987 baseballs to test them in the future. But I must say that's it's just possible that it was the randomness of luck. Sure, it's nearly impossible that such an increase could happen due to coincidence. What are the odds that that could happen? Less than 1%, surely. Well, MLB has played more than 100 seasons now, so we'd have to expect at least one season that was completely f***ed up simply due to chance.
But back to the timeline: after 1987, things normalized, as I said. And everything in the early 90's looked just like the 80's: pretty normal. In 1992, the AL scored 4.32 R/G, and the NL scored 3.88 R/G. Both were a bit low, but not out of line. Here's what happened after that:
1992 4.32 3.88
1993 4.71 4.49
1994 5.23 4.62
1995 5.06 4.63
1996 5.39 4.68
And we were off to the races. If you look at a graph of run production across history, the biggest and steepest increase is, by far, that from 1992-1994. In just 2 years, both leagues increased production by nearly a full run. We'd gone from a quiet, semi-pitcher friendly environment into the second coming of the 1930's.
Why did it happen? There may not be a why; things just happen sometimes. I'm sure there were 100 factors, all of which were instrumental. The biggest ones? New bat technology; stricter umpire guidelines; more new balls used per game; expansion; Coors Field; boom in free agent money for big hitters, etc. The hitter's era perpetuated itself, as everyone in the lineup became a home run hitter. Whatever purists may think of this approach, it helped the movement toward high run production perpetuate itself. The day of the light-hitting shortstop was all but gone. Keep in mind that some 75-90% of shortstops were basically without offense during the early 80's. Now any shortstop who is all-defense and no-offense goes by another name: utility. Someone like Pokey Reese would have gotten a long-term job with any team in the 80's; now, he's a backup. It wasn't so much a change in technology as a change in ideology. The emergence of shortstops like A-Rod, Jeter, Nomar, and Tejada, along with catchers like Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez led more teams to realize that wasting a lineup spot on a defensive specialist might be just that: a waste. Now a player who can't hit has to be a truly excellent defender (Orlando Hudson) to get a full-time lineup spot. And maybe that's how it should be. The days of an average defender who hits .250 with 2 HR earning a spot in the lineup may be over. And anyone who remembers Jackie Gutierrez should be happy about that.
So what about the 2000s? We appear to be through the worst of it. The 2005 levels of run production are roughly equal to that of, say, 1961. So we're still in a hitter's era, but we appear to be through the worst of it. And, as I've illustrated above, this is not the best run-scoring environment in history.
But what about home runs and power? Okay, so this isn't the biggest run-scoring era in history. But is it the biggest home run-hitting era in history?
The short answer is: yes, and it's not even close. A chart of run production over baseball history has its ups and downs, as I've said. And while we're on a big up right now, it's not much higher than other eras.
But what about a chart of Isolated Power? Or a chart of HR%? Folks, that chart is almost a straight line going up, up, and up. All those high-scoring run eras of the past I told you about? They didn't even approach our current level of power. In 1894, when the NL scored over 7 R/G, their ISO was .126. This is equal to the AL in 1992, which as I said, was pretty pitcher-friendly with just 4.32 R/G. Their HR% in 1894 NL? An even 1%. Home Run levels have been consistently higher than that ever since the 1920s.
What about the 1930s? Surely the peak of the Babe Ruth years rivaled ours in home runs? Not quite. The ISO in the NL in 1930 (5.68 R/G) was .145. That's very high. But it's lower than both the AL (.156) and NL (.152) rated in 2005, which was a step down from the 90's peak. The HR% in 1930 NL? 1.89%. That's roughly equal to the 1981 AL, and 1981 was a pitcher-friendly year even by the standards of the 1980s.
So what is the all-time record for a league's ISO? That goes to the 1996 AL, who sported an ISO of .168. Nothing in any other era tops .150, although the 1987 AL did make it to .160. So, although Isolated Power is down in 2005, both leagues are still historically high. In fact, both the AL and the NL were more powerful in 2005 than any league in history prior to 1987. That's sobering.
What's the all-time high in HR%? That would be 3.13%, again in the 1996 AL. The 2005 marks were 2.87% in the AL and 2.67% in the NL. But again, both leagues in 2005 hit home runs at a better pace than any other league prior to 1987.
How can we explain this? How can we be hitting so many more home runs and not be scoring more runs, period? It has to do with the nature of run scoring. Whereas modern offense is all about homers, the 1890s were all about singles. The NL batting average in 1894 was .309. The average hitter hit .300 in 1894. What was the league batting average in, for example, the 1996 AL, the highest-scoring league known to man? It was a pedestrian .262. This concept is also true in the 1930's. The 1930 NL hit .303 as a league, which is the last time any league has hit above .300. Or for that matter, the last time anyone came close.
But what about the difference in OBP? Maybe modern hitters are making up for the lack of singles by drawing more walks! Well, this is true to a certain extent; walks in the 90's were at an all-time high (as were strikeouts). The AL OBP in 1996 was .348, which is darn good. In the 1894 NL? It was .373. That closes the gap somewhat, but it still leaves the past hitters getting on base at a far higher clip than their modern counterparts.
And while modern hitters are reaching base on walks more often than ever, hitters in the past reached base on errors more than ever. This doesn't show up in AVG or OBP, but a run scored off an error is still a run. And more errors were made, by far, in the 19th century, and even in the 1930's, than are now. 31% of runs were unearned in 1894 NL. By the 2004 NL, just 8% of runs were unearned. This is a striking trend in baseball, and it helps explain how those old-timers were scoring so many runs without hitting homers.
So what is the point to my story? It helps to understand things in context. When you hear that Bill Terry was a lifetime .341 hitter, remember that the league average was .291 during his career, Whereas Tony Gwynn was a .338 lifetime hitter compared to a measly .265 league average. When you hear that Sandy Koufax's career ERA was 2.76, consider that the league average for his career was 3.70. Pedro Martinez's career ERA (through 2004) was 2.71, compared to a league average of 4.48. If you just looked at the stats in the record books, you might think that Pedro and Koufax were equally good at preventing runs. But when you put them in context, you find that it's not even close. Mainstream historians are inept at separating players from their context, which is why a lot of hitters from the 1930s got elected to the Hall of Fame despite not being that good. It also explains why everyone considers Sandy Koufax to be one of the best pitchers ever, when he just simply wasn't. Koufax was very good, but a lot of his quality didn't come from himself: it came from Dodger Stadium and the fact that he was lucky enough to pitch in the 1960s.
Consider this, and my history lesson shall not have been in vain.