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In God we trust. Everybody else needs data. - Rick Peterson

Saturday, June 12, 2004

 

Don't Ring the Beltran Now

Just in case anyone is anxious for the Mariners to get involved in a bidding with Kansas City to acquire Beltran - don't hold your breath.

Beltran is a free agent after this season, and his agent, Scott Boraa, has made clear that Beltran will go into the market as a free agent after this season. Accordingly, any team that acquires Beltran now is only acquring him for the balance of this season. Since the Mariners are out of the pictuer for this season, there is no reason for them to make even the faintest effort to be involved in trade talks with Kansas City.

I do expect that the Mariners will pursue Beltran seriously this winter. In fact, I think that after the debacle that was this offseason, the Mariners will conclude they can't afford to miss out another big name free agent signing. So I expect the Mariners to be very active, I expect that Scott Boras will play Bavsi like an upright piano, and I expect that Beltran will either be a Mariner with an utterly stupid contract that will hamstring the team for year, or be a Yankee with an even more stupid contract (but since it's the Yankees it won't make a difference).

Take a deep breath everyone, enjoy the spectacle now, but save your excitement for this winter.

Friday, June 11, 2004

 

Free 30-day Subscription to MLB.TV for Comcast High Speed Internet Subscribers

If you're a subscriber to Comcast high-speed internet, you can get a free 30-day subscription to live streaming broadcast of baseball from mlb.com. See this link for details

 

UC-Davis on the Science of Baseball

An article from UC-Davis on-line newsletter: Finding the sweet spot: Experts eye science of baseball. There's some information on the physics of pitching and hitting, and some commentary on statistical analysis and traditional scouting methods.

 

(Vic) Power for the People. Mudcat Grant on Racism in Baseball

While visiting Clutch Hits this afternoon, I picked up the link to an article from the Jersey Journal, featuring Mudcat Grant talking about racism in baseball in the 1960's. That article, in turn, led me to dig out this Bronx Banter piece with an interview with Mudcat Grant and Al Oliver. The interview occurred last February 14, when Grant and Oliver visited the Hall of Fame to participate in a Legends Series event celebrating Black History Month.

Both pieces got me reminiscing about the Minnesota Twins teams of the early 1960's, and my emerging childhood awareness of racism and bigotry. I grew up in Minnesota in the 1950's and 1960's, just a few miles from the old Metropolitan Stadium. I remember the excitement when the Twins came to town and we had a big league team.

And I remember Mudcat Grant fondly. Grant had his best year with the Twins in 1965, when he went 21-7, pitched 270 innings, and had an ERA of 3.30 (vs. a league average of 3.56). The 1965 Twins team was a magical team, captivating Minnesota in somewhat the same way that the 1995 Mariners did in the Northwest.

I think Grant was my favorite pitcher on that team; he was good and he had such a cool nickname. I think "Mudcat" may have been partly responsible for Charlie Finley's fascination with colorful nicknames for his starting pitchers after he bought the A's ("Catfish" Hunter, "Blue Moon" Odom, and yes, in 1970, "Mudcat" Grant was also an Oakland Athletic).

Overt Jim Crow racism was still an ugly reality in the US at that time, and the interviews with Grant that I linked to above talk about that. In the articles Grant mentions that he and Vic Power were the only two blacks on the Cleveland Indians when they were there together; that would have been from 1958 through 1961. Although Power was Puerto Rican, he was very dark skinned and regarded as a "Negro" ballplayer.

Power had a reputation as an "uppity Negro" player, who didn't show proper respect for white folk.
Looking around the internet brought back a couple of episodes I remember hearing about at the time. One time Power entered a whites only restaurant in the south, and was told, "We don't serve ------s in here', to which Power replied, "that's ok, I don't eat them". Another time he was arrested for jaywalking and told the judge, that since he saw so many "Whites Only" signs in town, he thought the "Don't Walk" sign was also for whites only. Those comments were pretty ballsy, at a time when being perceived as an "uppity -----" still brought Klan justice in the south.

Power was picked up by the Yankees sometime before the start of the 1952 season, i.e., shortly after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1948. But, according to some people, the Yankees didn't like his "attitude". Since Elston Howard was already on the roster, they didn't need Power to break the Yankees "color barrier". The Yankees then included Power in a 1953 deal with the A's. Power then made his major league debut in 1954 with the A's.

Power's "attitude" was a continuing problem for the A's, and in June 1958 the A's traded him to Cleveland for, among other players, Roger Maris. (After Maris developed with the A's, the Yankees plucked him from the A's.) Cleveland, in turn, sent him to Minnesota just before the 1962 season started in exchange for Pedro Ramos.

I remember hearing of the trade and being excited. Power was immediately popular in Minnesota. Harmon Killebrew had "played" first base in 1961, and Power's arrival allowed Killebrew to move to left field. Power was a good glove man, and his presence helped stabilize a shaky infield. Power's personality, which had been a liability for him elsewhere, was warmly accepted in Minnesota.

Minneapolis at that time was probably an easier town for black players than many other cities. In May 1963 Sport, the preeminent sports magazine of that time, ran a cover story on Vic Power's new life in the Twin Cities. Titled Vic Power's New, Wonderful World the article talked openly about racism experienced by black players, and Power's difficulties in Kansas City and Cleveland. My older brother had a subscription to Sport, and he gave his copies to me when he was finished with them. I avidly devoured the story about Power. As I recall, Power had a white (or light-skinned) wife, and in the interview he marveled at how he could drive to his house in a white neighborhood without routinely being stopped by the police. At one point during the interview, a passing person saw Power doing the interview, and smiled and waved at him. Power waved back, and then returned to the interview, commenting about how things like that never happened to him in Kansas City and Cleveland.

As I read the article I was proud of my city and proud of my team. And I was proud that Vic Power was playing first base for the Twins, and I added Power to my list of favorite players.

Grant and Power missed being reunited in Minnesota in June 1964 by four days. Power was traded to Los Angeles on June 11, 1964, and Grant was brought in from Cleveland on June 15, 1964.

Now, of course, with the benefit of age and lesser hair, I realize that the Twin Cities were not the idyll I believed they were. The Twin Cities in the early 1960's were probably the whitest major metropolitan area in the US; as I recall the black population was well under 5%. For most of us, the only time we saw black people was on the baseball field or playing for the Murray Warmath's University of Minnesota football teams. Seeing a black person outside a ballpark or stadium was a real novelty, and I'm sure every cop in Power's neighborhood would have known immediately it had to be Vic Power in the car.

Although Calvin Griffith's latent racist attitudes are well known, Griffith may have been ahead of some of his contemporaries in valuing players primarily for their skills on the big league roster. In the scouting and development areas, though, the Twins were pretty much a non-factor in identifying and signing black players in the 1950's and 1960's.

While Googling for this post, I learned that the Sport magazine interview was conducted by Leonard Shechter. Shechter was one of the leading sports journalists of his day, challenging racism and ignorance in his writings. Shechter was also Jim Bouton's co-author on Ball Four.


 

A Fair Decision on a Foul Ball

Thanks to Rob McMillin at the 6-4-2 Angels-Dodgers blog for the link to this article about a Massachusetts state appeals court ruling on a baseball team's legal liabilities if a fan is injured by a foul ball. The court ruled that the BoSox were not liable because, in essence, the risk of being hit by a foul ball is so obvious that any fan attending the game assumes that risk.

I don't intend to minimize the seriousness of the woman's injuries, but I think the court got this one right. Some aspects of life are obvious to a prudent person, and that should be the standard that is used. It shouldn't be necessary to warn people that spilling hot coffee can cause injury. It shouldn't be necessary to warn people not to insert their fingers inside an operating fan blade. And it shouldn't be necessary to advise people that batted balls and other objets d'art may leave the field of play.

How many of you, after reading the title of this post, thought I was going to talk about the umpiring in Wednesday night's game?

 

Moneyball or Moneybust?

Over at Hardball Times, Aaron Gleeman has a detailed write-up on the A's 2002 Moneyball draft. It's interesting reading. Aaron's conclusion:
Oakland had a ton of first-round picks and they had a limited budget, so they took four top-ranked guys and then three "sleepers" or "reaches." Two of the top-ranked guys -- the first two taken -- are doing nicely, while two aren't doing much. One of the reaches -- taken with their fifth first-rounder -- is doing nicely, while the two other aren't doing much.

Much ado about nothing, if you ask me. You won't be able to look at the drafting records of many teams without finding much of the same "hit-and-miss" success rate, even for the first 30-50 selections in the draft. Right now it looks like the A's have two busts, two possible major-league contributors and one or two potential impact players with their seven first-round picks. Is that a great return? No. Is that a great return considering all of the attention their 2002 draft class got? Definitely not. Is it unbelievably horrible? I just don't see it.



All of which is an extremely long way of saying that this entire MLB draft thing is a complete crapshoot. The A's simply found a new approach to the crapshoot that they liked and that they thought would yield results more along the lines of what they wanted. Turns out all it yielded was the same group of hits and misses that the other teams' approaches to the crapshoot yield

Thursday, June 10, 2004

 

Desperation = "a rope ends it". A Phantastic Anagram.

The Phillies pitching staff has been decimated by injuries, so now the Phillies are adding Paul Abbott to their pitching staff to fill in:
Yes, the Phillies have lost another pitcher. They learned after Tuesday's 14-11 loss to the Chicago White Sox that righthander Amaury Telemaco has pitched through shoulder and elbow discomfort since spring training. He will join righthanders Vicente Padilla and Brian Powell on the disabled list along with lefthander Randy Wolf.

To take Telemaco's place, the Phillies yesterday signed righthander Paul Abbott to a minor-league contract. He will start Sunday in Minnesota against Brad Radke, and replace Telemaco in the bullpen as a long man. The Phillies also announced that Powell will start Saturday against former Phillies pitcher Carlos Silva in Minnesota.
Adding Paul Abbott to your staff because you've got too many injured pitchers?? The Phillies are desperate.



 

Dance with Us, Terry

Thanks to Jeff Shaw for the link to Newsday columnist Jon Heyman's latest column exhorting the Yankees to go get Freddy. Jeff covers the comment from the unnamed Mariners exec. I want to comment briefly on this excerpt:
All these clubs are expected to be in the market for starters: the Yankees, Boston, Minnesota, Texas, Cincinnati, San Francisco, San Diego and the White Sox, along with possibly Atlanta and the Mets.

However, Garcia's $6.875-million salary will deter some of the small-market contenders. Kris Benson, Ramon Ortiz and Tomo Ohka will go somewhere. But the Yankees aim higher.
The Mariners ought to make it very clear to any and all bidders that Freddy's salary should not deter any team from bidding for Freddy. The Mariners have available payroll money this year, which they can put to use by agreeing to pay part of Freddy's salary in exchange for more or better prospects in return.

Make the bidding pool as big as possible. Don't give the small and mid-markets teams such Minnesota, Cincinnati, and San Francisco a simple excuse to not go after Freddy. Let the fans and media in those towns pressure the ownership to do what it takes to get to the post-season. This is a situation where a team with prospects to burn can get value from those prospects before they start losing them as minor league free agents. (Hello, Terry Ryan!)

It's also smart business. If Freddy is the difference between a team making or missing the post-season, that team will reap a financial windfall in increased attendance during the season and in post-season revenues. That's money an owner can redeploy into next years payroll to upgrade the team or put in his pocket. (Hello, Carl Pohlad!)

Prom season just ended, and the Mariners should learn some basic lessons. Make sure that the boys you want to go with know that you’re available and interested in going with them.



 

Bad Back Kevin Brown. Baddest Back in the Whole Damn Town

Kevin Brown's back may be acting up. If so, the Yankee's interest in Freddy Garcia may get higher. It doesn't solve the question, though, of what they might be able to offer in return.

Added note: Joel Sherman of the NY Post talks about Brown's back and the Yankees pitching situation in his column today, including the following comment:
Rivera, who has been on the DL four times in the past two years, leads the AL in appearances while Quantrill, who is working with a less-than-a-100-percent right knee, and Gordon, who has a history of elbow troubles, are right behind him. The presence of all three has lessened the burden on each, if not the workload. For example, Rivera has been asked to pitch in the eighth inning just once this year. Still, all three relievers are on pace to appear in at least 85 games.

"I'm feeling really good right now," said Rivera, who reached 25 saves for an eighth straight season, something only five other closers have ever done. "I don't worry about [overwork[."

But the Yanks must. Perhaps the return of Steve Karsay, now out on a rehab assignment, will lighten the load of the bullpen's big three. Maybe Torre will give more work to the so far impressive Bret Prinz and Tanyon Sturtze, who allowed one run in four innings in relief of Brown. Or maybe Cashman will find the lefty specialist he has told associates he wants.
Cashman reportedly has inquired about Mike Myers availability. That's in addition to the Yankees interest in Freddy Garcia.

Trade talk with the Yankees has generally involved Dioner Navarro. The Yankees, aided and abetted by the NY media, are good at hyping their prospects, and Navarro is the latest beneficiary.

Dont get swayed by the hype. Only in the rarest of cases should a 20-year old catcher be worth a premium player. Catcher is one of the least projectable and also highest risk positions. Also, if a catcher doesn't develop as projected, there usually isn't another position you can move them to (unlike center fielders and shortstops).

For all of the hype, Navarro is a 20-year old catcher who is far from a sure thing. I can't see Navarro being the main piece in a deal for Freddy, but I can see Navarro as part of a deal for Mike Myers. I hope the Mariners see it the same way.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

 

Addition by Subtraction - Couldn't Happen to a More Deserving Player

Mondesi likely out for season:
In his eighth game as an Angel since signing with the club May 29, Mondesi tore his right quadriceps (thigh) muscle while running to first base in Tuesday night's loss to Milwaukee and is likely out for the year.

The Angels immediately placed Mondesi on the 15-day disabled list and said he will be out "indefinitely."

According to online medical journal WebMDHealth, the recovery time for this injury is a minimum of six months, so it's possible that Mondesi, a free agent at the end of the season, has played his last game as an Angel.

Mondesi, who was hitting .118 in 34 at-bats over eight games, left the Angels clubhouse while his teammates stretched on the field before Wednesday's game.
Mondesi originally signs with Pittsburgh for $1.5 million. After collecting part of that salary he leaves the team, then signs with the Angels for $1.5 million for the rest of the season. Now he's probably out for the season, but since his contract is guaranteed, he'll get his $1.5 million from the Angels.

Mondesi only cares about the money, and it appears he's done about as well for himself this year as he could possibly expected, and about ten times more than he deserved.

 

Duckworth Revisits Pitching from A(stros) to Z(ephyrs)

Astros option Brandon Duckworth back to New Orleans.

The clear message is that if you can't hold the 2004 Mariners in check, you don't belong on the active roster.

 

Sacrificing on the Altar of the Bunt

It’s the top of the third inning, and Biggio leads off with a double. Biggio is the top of the order, and the Astros have all of their best hitters coming to the plate. But Jimy Williams, being a graduate of the same school of buntology as Bob Melvin, decides to play for one run in the third inning and has Adam Everett bunt.

Everett bunts right back to Freddy, and Freddy throws out Biggio trying to advance to third on the bunt. Freddy has a shaky inning, and the gift out makes Freddy's inning a lot easier.

Melvin isn’t the only High Priest who sacrifices at the altar of the bunt.

Winn makes a great play in the sixth, robbing Hidalgo of a home run. Nice catch, Randy.

In the 7th, Aurilia hits a long drive that looks like it might be a 2-run home run. It's originally called fair by third base umpire Dale Scott, but, after conferring with the other umpires, Scott changes his decision. Melvin protests and is ejected.

A couple of comments:
  • All of the umpires on the field have a view as to whether the ball is inside or outside the foul pole. If it's a foul ball, any perspective on the field can see the ball crossing in front of the foul pole.

  • In one of the normal speed replays I thought for a moment that the ball grazed the foul pole. (The slow motion replay shows clearly the ball did not touch the pole.) Perhaps Scott originally called the ball fair because he also thought it nicked the foul pole. The conference among the umpires may have been Scott getting some help on whether the ball hit the pole. The second base umpire has the best perspective for that particular call.
Finally, what does Rene Lachemann do in the dugout as bench coach? Is he even in the dugout? I don't recall ever seeing him in a dugout television shot.

If the bench coach handles in-game strategy, potential matchups, etc., shouldn't we see Lacheman and Melvin conferring occasionally during the game? When Pinella was managing, John McLaren was pretty visible.

 

Running with Rosenthal

A few items from Ken Rosenthal's most recent column at foxsports.com:
  • A scout who recently saw the Reds is harshly critical of Ken Griffey Jr.'s defense in center field. "He's so worried about injuries that he gets no first step at all," the scout says. "Balls go over his head into the gaps and he just jogs after them. He can't throw as well as he used to, either. He's probably an average center fielder at best." Griffey ranks 15th among the 16 regular N.L. center fielders in zone rating, the percentage of balls a player fields in his typical defensive zone, according to STATS Inc.

    Cincinatti is about the middle of MLB in G/F ratio, so a low zone rating for Griffey probably can't be attributed to lack of balls hit into his area.

  • At least for now, Mets officials are opposed to trading top prospects for a potential free agent like Beltran when they can sign him this offseason and lose only a draft pick. Then again, a former Mets employee says of owner Fred Wilpon, "He's going to do something stupid. I can just feel it." The Mets were banking on RHP Scott Erickson providing depth for their rotation before he got rocked Friday night in a rehabilitation start for Class AAA Norfolk. The team's list of untouchables starts with Class AA 3B David Wright, but they can offer young pitching and/or Class AAA 1B Craig Brazell in trades. Brazell hit 15 homers in his first 205 at-bats at Class AAA.

    As a Mariners fan, I'm hoping that the Mets and the Mariners deal. I figure Bavasi is likely to do something stupid as well, so if he deals with Wilpon maybe there will be offsetting stupidities.

  • The Marlins are kicking around the idea of acquiring Royals CF Carlos Beltran for prospects, then shipping Beltran to the Yankees for RHP Jose Contreras, assuming the Yankees would pay nearly all of the approximately $20 million that Contreras is owed through 2006.

    The Marlins would use Contreras as a reliever, going with RHP Chad Fox, Contreras and RHP Armando Benitez in the late innings after Fox returns from an elbow injury--a significant upgrade for a bullpen that began the week 12th in the National League in ERA.


    I wouldn't mind this, since it means the Mariners wouldn't get Contreras.

  • One veteran scout calls the Angels' outfield of RF Vladimir Guerrero, CF Raul Mondesi and LF Jose Guillen "the best throwing outfield I've ever seen." In theory, the Angels' fly-ball staff should start giving up fewer doubles and fewer runs on base hits to the outfield. The team began the week ranked fifth in the A.L. in doubles allowed

    We're starting to see more recognition being give throughout baseball to outfield defense. It appears to me that astute teams are paying more attention to such factors as the groundball:flyball characteristics of pitching staffs, and using that information to construct rosters. The contrast is with "old school" teams, such as the Mariners, who pretty much cross their fingers and hope for the best when they punt offense for defense.

  • Mariners RHP Gil Meche, 25, threw 94 to 96 mph in his final start before getting demoted to Class AAA, and one scout says the Padres, Orioles and other clubs would be wise to continue pursuing him in trades. Meche is rushing his delivery, leading to command problems, but the scout says, "It's hard to find arms like that."

    As I've mentioned before, Meche is one twinge away from a career ending arm injury. If he regains his form, the Mariners should be looking to move him for a MLB ready top notch position prospect.

  • The Royals' best offensive player has not been Beltran or 1B Mike Sweeney, but second-year 1B/DH Ken Harvey, the league's second-leading hitter. G.M. Baird attributes Harvey's breakthrough to improved plate discipline. "His recognition is better," Baird says. "He's squaring up the ball on almost every at-bat, making improvements every day." Harvey, 26, is averaging 3.70 pitches per plate appearance, an increase from 3.30 last season.

    Allard Baird continues to show that he is a person who learns and adapts. He has changed from being one of the most hidebound GMs in baseball (as chronicled by Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli) to a GM who is open to looking at baseball practices in new ways. Of course, when you are one of the worst GMs in baseball, almost any change is bound to be for the better.

  • Orioles rookie RHP Daniel Cabrera posted a 3.90 ERA in his first five starts, not bad for a pitcher making the jump from Class AA. The Orioles added Cabrera to their 40-man roster after the 2002 season in part because they feared the Braves would grab him if he was left unprotected. Braves G.M. John Schuerholz twice saw Cabrera pitch at Class A that season against his son, Braves Class A IF Jonathan Schuerholz.

    Daniel Cabrera is one of the many young pitchers who have been stifling Mariners bats over the last few years, and it appears that he has had success against other teams as well. The comment about Schuerholz interest in Cabrera is revealing - and speaks to part of the reason the Braves have been able to sustain themselves for such a long period. Atlanta sniffs out possible Rule V prospects such as Cabrera, while teams such as the Mariners lust for Luis Ugueto.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

 

MLB has the DH Set Up Wrong in Interleague Play

MLB has the implementation of the DH rule backward in interleague play. They should use the DH in National League parks, and have pitchers bat in AL parks.

The whole purpose behind interleague play is to enable fans to see matchups that they otherwise wouldn't get to see. Why not continue that logic, and offer fans a chance to see a style of play that they don't usually see. Let NL fans see AL DH baseball for once, and let AL fans see their pitchers hitting.

 

If at First You Don't Succeed, Failure May Be Your Style.

A pitcher's duel tonight by both Clemens and Piñiero. Clemens was not as sharp as he has been in the past, often having difficulty locating his pitches for strikes. In 6-2/3 innings, Clemens gave up only three hits, but walked 5, well above his career BB/9 of 2.9.

Against the Mariners inept offense, that was enough though, as Clemens also struck out 7, with many of the K's coming in key situations. Considering the differences in team offense, Piñiero probably outpitched Clemens. With Piñiero's game tonight, if the Mariners had any kind of offense, they would probably have converted on some of their opportunities and picked up a win.

This is exactly the sort of game that separates good teams from bad teams. Houston has a good team, particularly on offense, and tonight they were throttled. Simultaneously, Houston gave the Mariners opportunities to win the game, but the Mariners weren't able to capitalize. After the game I'm sure Melvin and the players brought out the usual quotes about how the team battled against one of the best pitchers in baseball and didn't give up. But the reality is that the opponent allowed this to be a winnable game, and the Mariners didn't capitalize. Good teams don't miss these opportunities.

The Astros advance scouting reports obviously said they should try to run on Winn's arm. In the end, Winn's arm was the difference in the game. On Ensberg's sac fly, the Astros gambled that Winn's throw would be weak or offline, and they won the gamble. Winn also made it easier for Houston by camping under the ball before catching it, then taking a couple of hop steps to generate momentum for the throw to Wilson. If Winn instead sets up behind the ball and catches it with forward momentum already established, Bagwell is probably out at the plate even with Winn's usual weak throw.

It was interesting watching Houston's OF defense tonight. Houston ranks 10th in the NL in defensive efficiency. Watching their outfield play tonight, that ranking is eminently believable. Berkman took a real ugly route on one ball tonight, and Olerud's triple in the 8th was a gift from Biggio.

Added Note: I was so focused on Randy Winn's play on Ensberg's sac fly that I failed to mention Dan Wilson's role. Even with Randy's ragged play, Bagwell is out if Wilson holds on to the ball.

Added note #2: Rafe at Astro in Exile posted his comments about last night's game. Rafe notes the strong relief work by Lidge, particularly after Olerud's "triple" in the 8th with no one out. He also notes that Ensberg's sac fly was paticularly shallow, but doesn't identify that the Astros advance scouting picked up Winn's crappy arm. [and a clarification]: I'm not being critical of Rafe for not catching Winn's weak arm. I think props are due the Astros advance team for picking it up.

 

Another Young Mariner Pitcher Facing Surgery?

Yesterday, Will Carroll in his Under the Knife feature at Baseball Prospectus (Premium Subscription required) said Soriano was scheduled for another MRI, and whispers are starting that he might require a Tommy John surgery.

 

a plan so cunning you could brush your teeth with it

Angels blogger Sean at Purgatory On-Line is happy that the Angels landed Jered Weaver as the 12 pick of the draft. Sean notes that while Scott Boras' rumblings about a $10 million signing bonus may have scared away many teams, that shouldn't deter the Angels:
I suppose this could be seen as emblematic of the new Arte Moreno era; big-dollar gambles are getting made. But let's face it - ten million? Please. That's what, one-fifth of what Bartolo Colon's contract is worth, and Weaver's made the exact same number of quality starts over the last few weeks. He's a steal!
With a tip o' the hat to the Black Adder for the title of this post.

 

One Small Step for Blogkind

One of the great things about blogging is that it breaks the stranglehold on information that has traditionally been the preserve of the news media. As an example, if you are a Mariners fan, reading the various blogs in combination with the local newspapers gives you a much better perpective than simply reading the daily and listening to news coverage. Dare I say, if you were reading the blogs last winter, the Mariners collapse this season is probably not the surprise to you that it has been to most fans.

Of course, the quality of blogs varies greatly, ranging from psychotic ramblings to journalism that surpasses that done by most news organizations. Despite the unevenness in quality, blogs are an alternative source of news and information about the world, freely made available to anyone with an internet connection and the desire and time to seek information.

Now it's evident that blogging is getting mainstream recognition. N.Z. Bear, the influential blogger behind The Truth Laid Bear (and also the maintainer of the TTLB Ecosystem linked to in my right sidebar), sent letters to both the Democratic and Republican parties asking if bloggers could receive press credentials for this summer's nominating conventions. The Democrats response indicated there may be some opportunity for bloggers to receive credentials. The Republican Party has not yet responded.

Monday, June 07, 2004

 

The View from the Other Side of the Looking Glass

Tonight a rookie pitcher comes in and shuts down the Astros for six innings. If you had reversed the uniforns for every player but the starting pitchers, it would have looked like a typical Mariners affair. Strange things happen through the looking glass.

Kudos to Rafe at Astro in Exile, who called this game pretty well earlier today:
Game 1: Brandon Duckworth versus Clint Nageotte. If you're like me, you're thinking "Who in the hell is Clint Nageotte." You might also be thinking, "How do I pronounce Nageotte?" Or maybe not. Anyway, Nageotte is a youngster from Parma, Ohio who had his major league debut in relief on June 1. He pitched four innings, gave up four runs, and took the loss. Expect him to shut out the Astros for six innings or so. …
Meanwhile, Rafe had unkind words about Duckworth, and he did a good job of predicting the Astros pitching peformance tonight:
For a long time, I couldn't understand why Brandon Duckworth wasn't a more successful pitcher. He was pretty good in the minors and seemed to have the makings of a successful major league starter. At this point it's pretty obvious that he's not a successful major league starter and I don't bother to try to understand why that is. Anyway, he enters the game with a 6.57 ERA on the season thusfar, and I consider any game he starts that turns out to be a win for the good guys to be a stolen win. They should create a stat for that -- maybe the great teams amass more stolen wins than appalling losses over the course of a season. Anyway, back on June 1 (the same fateful day that Nageotte's major league career got under way), we picked up a stolen win against the Cubs, when Duckworth started, pitched three fairly miserable innings, and then gave way to five relievers who allowed two hits and no runs over six innings. Let's all hope for a similar outcome in this game.
The Astros bullpen didn't shutout the Mariners entirely the rest of the way, but Rafe's analysis was close enough for blogging purposes.

And we're glad this wasn't a stolen Astros win. Of course, in Seattle this season we've learned to consider every Mariner victory a stolen win.

Rafe has comments enabled at his blog, so if you want to enjoy one of our few opportunities this season to gloat, you can go over there by clicking on the link I provided above, and compliment him on his great game 1 preview. Clemens comes up tomorrow, so our opportunity to bask in victory will quickly wane.

I've slowly been expanding the team blog area in the right sidebar, and with the Astros in town I figured this was a good time to add some Astros sites. In addition to Astros in Exile, I added AstrosDaily.com. AstrosDaily.com is a bit more newsy and less bloggy, but has a lot of Astros information.


 

Tui in the Third

According to Mariners Intelligence, Baseball America believes Tuiasosopo has the talent to go late in the first round. Presumably he slipped to the third round because of anticipated difficulties signing him. That being said, the Mariners probably have a better chance than any other team in signing him to a baseball contract.

Drafting Tui does not, on its face, seem to me to be a bad idea. The Mariners apparently have had some discussions with him; I hope they have some idea about his signability. If he truly would have been a second rounder but for the football scholarship, and the Mariners can sign him with second round money, then the Mariners will have effectively picked up a second rounder in the third round.

Added comment: Jason at USS Mariner notes that the Mariners drafted an unusually high proportion of college players and low number of high school pitchers; those types of selections are a break from recent drafts.

Perhaps this reflects a shift in strategy under Bavasi and Bob Fontaine, the new director of scouting. Bavasi has also been quoted at least twice about the need to have more "inventory" in the minor league system. He first made the comment after Carlos Guillen was traded for Santiago and Gonzalez, and he used the same phrase again in commentary a couple of weeks ago about the draft.

No one has pressed him about what "increasing inventory" means. Presumably, it's more than warm bodies, and it sounds as if it's focused on getting more players into the upper levels of the system quickly. Since college players will presumably more through the system more quickly if they are true prospects, taking more college players may be part of an inventory restocking effort.

I'm not saying that the Mariners have suddenly converted to focusing only on college players, just that there may be some changes in thinking in the draft room.

Many of you may have also felt some strange and unusually large gusts of wind during the day today, coinciding with the Mariners announcing a pick that wasn't a pitcher. Those gusts were the collective sighs of relief from the families of pitching prospects throughout the country, issued as they learned their loved one had survived another round without being selected by the pitchers' arm demolition crew that is the Mariners minor league system.

 

The Manager Scorecard -- The Hardball Times

Hardball Times has a Manager Scorecard, summarizing data on the frequency with which every manager calls for stolen base attempts, sacrifice bunts, and intentional bases on balls. Melvin's overall rankings may surprise you.

 

Move Along. Nothing to See Here.

Yesterday I commented on a story in the Chicago Tribune that had an Ozzie Guillen quote about Magglio Ordoñez. Although Guillen's remarks sounded harsh, I wondered about the context, largely because the newspaper accounts did not mention anything about a rift between Guillen and Ordoñez.

I also e-mailed White Sox blogger Vince Galloro at Exile in Wrigleyville for his observations. Vince sent me the following e-mail:
Steve: I don't think there are any problems at all between Magglio Ordonez and Ozzie Guillen. I think Guillen likes to talk about the 25 players they have active, not the other possibilities (although, as you point out, Guillen is openly lusting after Freddy Garcia; Guillen and Garcia are a special case, I think, because they go back a long way together). His point is just that they have to play without him, so why talk about him? That's the way I read that.

Ordonez and Guillen also go back a ways, to when Guillen was a player in his last year with the Sox. Guillen said the team should be calling Ordonez up in 1997 -- he won the International League batting title that year at Nashville. (I'm happy to say they did call Ordonez up at the end of the year, and he hit his first major league home run about 20 feet from me in the left field seats.)

I also think the fact that neither of the main downtown papers (I haven't gotten to the suburban dailies yet) did anything more with this also gives you an idea that that was the context. If there were an open split between Guillen and Ordonez, that would be big news.

I would expect that Guillen would have had more to say if there were problems. This is not a man who makes a mysterious statement and let's it hang in the air. When he says something, he fleshes it out pretty well. The reporters pretty much can't get him to shut up.
Vince also addressed this issue in Exile in Wrigleyville yesterday.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

 

Contact Pitching Can Be Sticky

Rob McMillin at 6-4-2 -- an Angels/Dodgers double play blog comments on a recent piece by Buster Olney at ESPN.com about the Cincinatti Reds "pitching to contact". Rob references back to some of the work done by Voros McCracken on Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS) to show why this is generally a bad idea.

To summarize, the DIPS work shows pretty clearly that pitchers have far less ability to control the outcome of balls in play than most people believe. ("Balls in play" are all batted balls that are not home runs or ground fouls. All fouls flies and popups that are caught are part of balls in play.) The most successful pitchers are those who don't walk or hit batters, who don't give up homeruns, and who do strike out batters. I've discussed this issue in more detail previously, and you can follow the links in that story if you really want to get into this in depth.

I think Rob's analysis misses several important points, however:
  • All of McCracken's work normalizes a pitcher's performance against a league average defense, and McCracken's dERA (defense independent earned run average) is based on that. If you back up a pitcher with human vacuum cleaners in the field, he will consistently outperform his dERA.

    The corollaries from that are:
    1. If a pitching staff does not strike out a lot of batters, they need to be supported with good defense. That was a key part of the Angels' 2002 success, and has been the heart of the Mariners successful teams in recent years. One of Bavasi's principal failings with the Mariners this year was his failure to understand how important team defense was to the Mariners recent success.

    2. With a pitching staff that strikes out a lot of batters, defense is less important.

    3. The amount of offense needed when a a "good bat/bad glove" player replaces a "good glove/bad bat" player will vary with the characteristics of the pitching staff. With a low strikeout pitching staff, the "breakeven" point on the trade requires more offensive output. The reverse is true if you do have a lot of strikeout pitchers on your staff.

  • Because team defense is a component of a pitchers actual performance, comparing a pitcher's ERA to their DIPS ERA does not accurately assess their overall performance. If a team's defense is above average, the pitching staff as a whole will consistently have an actual ERA that is lower than their DIPS ERA. That difference is real and sustainable, and is not due to luck. Comparing actual ERA and dERA will estimate how much that pitcher benefited from (or was hut by) team defense, but it is not accurate to conclude that the difference are due to luck.

  • One of the key benefits of "pitching to contact" is reduced number of walks. Reducing walks (without giving up more home runs) is almost always good for a pitcher. When I review pitcher stats, I almost always look at K/9 and BB/9 separately because I feel they each tell different stories that are obscured by a K/BB ratio.

  • DIPS assumes that a pitcher can't control the outcome of balls in play, but that's not strictly true. As noted by Rob, line drive percentage is an important secondary stat, because the more line drives a pitcher gives up, the higher will be his batting average on balls in play.

    I think it's more accurate to recognize that to reach the big leagues, a pitcher has to be able to keep line drive percentages below a certain threshold. (Using the LD% data from The Hardball Times, I guess this percentage is somewhere around 18%.) Once a pitcher attains that level of performance, other random influences that determine whether a ball in play becomes a hit become more important than the remaining differences in line drive percentage. That's why there is little predictability from year to year on batting average on balls in play for a given pitcher. Accordingly once a pitcher reaches minimum required competence in preventing line drives, further reductions in line drive percentage don't show much additional benefit.
Cincinnati currently ranks in the middle of the National League in defensive efficiency, and their pitching staff ranks 10th in LD%. So the team is pretty close to average in both categories. Most importantly, the pitching staff's LD% is at an acceptable level.

The Cincinnati pitching staff is currently 13th in strikeout rate, and 2nd in walk rate. They are tied with three other teams for next to last in home run rate (HR/9).

I think "pitching to contact" is exactly the proper approach given the current makeup of the Cincinnati pitching staff. The Cincinnati pitchers are not strikeout pitchers, and they give up a lot of home runs. To be successful, they can't be giving people free passes, putting runners on base ahead of home run hitters. The defense is acceptable, so Cincinati is logical asking pitchers to put the ball in play rather than trying to to be cute and walking batters. Maybe Cincinnati pitchers could drop the homerun rate if the nibbled more and "pitched less to contact"; but it's far from clear they would gain any advantage.

 

"You don't hit with your face."

Tidbits and trivia from the NY dailies:
  • From Jon Heyman on the Mariners in his Newsday column today:
    The Mariners, so bad even low-key GM Bill Bavasi has gone ballistic behind the scenes, will be the big seller this summer.

    They've already soured on shortstop Rich Aurilia, and they'd trade Randy Winn if anyone would have him ... and Jamie Moyer and Gil Meche in addition to Garcia, and probably Bret Boone, John Olerud and Joel Piñiero, too.

    A person familiar with Seattle's thinking swears there was internal talk about trading Ichiro Suzuki. But one AL GM said, "No way they'd do that."

    Seattle's in a slump. After Eddie Guardado, its best move was hiring David Lander, better known as Squiggy, to scout.
  • Tyler Kepner at the NY Times is still talking about the Yankees swapping Contreras and cash for Garcia:
    The Yankees will try to trade for a starter if Contreras keeps struggling, but they have no interest in Pittsburgh's Kris Benson, who is available. The Yankees have strong interest in Seattle's Freddy Garcia, and may pursue him — with a discounted Contreras as possible trade bait — when the Mariners begin to shop him.
  • Bill Madden at the NY Daily News thinks the Mets should pursue Raul Ibañez. But then he also thinks the Mariners are looking for pitching. The M's shouldn't hesitate an instant if they could move Ibañez's entire contract and get quality talent in return.

  • Steve Serby at the Ny Post has a Sunday Q&A with Yogi Berra:
    Q: What would they say about your ears?

    A: George Susce used to say I made the All-Ugly team. He used to coach for the Red Sox. That don't bother me. You don't hit with your face.
  • A new twist on NY stickball. Meet Manny Rodriguez:
    His field of dreams is not a house built by some guy named Ruth but the strip of concrete bordered by trash cans and piled-high garbage bags in front of his apartment building, on W. 109th St. and Amsterdam Ave.

 

White Sox Miscellany

Some items out of the Chicago Tribune:
  • Ozzie Guillen wants Freddy Garcia. If Guillen's statements aren't tampering, they've got to be right on the edge.

  • Kelly Wunsch cleared waivers, which means the White Sox have an open space on their 40-man roster. Looks as if the White Sox may be getting ready to make a deal.

  • The story with the Wunsch note also had this comment by Ozzie Guillen about Magglio Ordoñez (currently on the DL with a knee injury) from the same story:
    "I don't want to talk about Magglio," Guillen said. "Magglio's not part of my team. I don't care about Magglio. He's out of here and I have to worry about my 25 guys here. I hope he's doing all right."
    That sounds pretty harsh. Is there something going on between Guillen and Ordoñez, or did this lose something in context.

  • And the most surprising item of all. Phil Rogers (the Mariners Wheelhouse candidate for "Worst Sportswriter, Major Metropolitan Daily Newspaper Division") did not make a fool of himself in his column today.

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