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Tag: "baseball"

Pirate Booty

[ 45 ] July 26, 2008 |

While picking up something at the hardware store today, I heard a talk radio guy complain that the Pirates were driving too hard a bargain on players who rightfully belong to the Yankees, boo-hoo. But when you’ve recently benefited from trades that seem to be crackpot talk radio caller proposals, why no expect to add useful parts without losing anything significant? So, right on cue, following Pat Gillick generously donating OBP machine Bobby Abreu and the late Cory Lidle to the Yanks two years ago in exchange for a 2-for-1 McDLT coupon, the Pirates gave the Yankees decent RH outfielder Xavier Nady and outstanding LH reliever Damaso Marte. In exchange, the only quality prospect they received is someone (admittedly only 19) who can’t hit AA pitching and already has wrist and hamstring problems. But he’s toolsy so he may learn to hit someday. Ehh. Moreover, they took this highly underwhelming package several days before the deadline despite several contending teams in the market for outfield and bullpen help. I’m tempted to say that nothing has changed in Pittsburgh, although in fairness if Littlefield was still there they would have received Pavano, Igawa, and the rights to Dave LaPoint instead of two of the prospects.

I’m tempted at this point to bet Howard a donation to the anti-Prop 8 campaign that the Yankees win the division outright. Not because the Sox didn’t hit tonight per se — two excellent pitchers combined with Foster’s Alice-in-Wonderland strike zone will do that — but because Ramirez may be hurt and Ortiz doesn’t look anywhere near 100%. With the bottom of the order having become a vast wasteland and the leadoff hitter looking almost equally atrocious, they can’t afford to have both of these guys out or in significantly subpar form, especially with Drew bound to cool off. Maybe Manny will be Manny tomorrow and Papi will shake off the rust more quickly than his performance tonight would indicate, but it wouldn’t be very surprising for the Yankees to outplay them by 3 games the rest of the way, especially with Cashman having addressed their weakness against lefthanders while giving up nothing they’ll miss.

Do You Believe In Miracles?

[ 24 ] July 22, 2008 |

I forgot to mention this, but commenter Howard and I once again have a $50 donation to Planned Parenthood riding on whether the Yankees make the playoffs. Harvey Araton’s highly unconvincing comparisons to 1965 notwithstanding, I would definitely make the bet again in a second. Especially with Posada looking out for the year, I don’t think it’s quite the lock it was at this time last year, but I still think it’s much better than 50/50. In particular, with the collapse of the Indians the competition is a lot weaker. The West is a write-off: with over-their-heads pitching and a pathetic offense, the A’s (as Beane correctly saw) have as little chance to make the postseason as a team in their position could have, especially after their meek surrender in the Bronx. (Speaking of pathetic offenses, is the jig finally up on J.P. Riccardi?) The Tigers might outscore the Yankees going forward, but with their pitching I can’t pick them to be 4 games better the rest of the way. The Twins have two players who could start for the Yankees and have allowed more runs. And while I would still pick the Red Sox, one can’t rule out the possibility of the Yankees winning the division outright.

This leaves us with Tampa. I’ll be rooting hard for them, not only to beat the Yankees but because they remind me of my beloved early-90s Expos. But I think they’ll be good but not quite good enough. The historical hurdle is formidable: indeed, I think they would be the most unlikely miracle team ever. The only other miracle team with 95 Pythagorean losses the previous year is the ’91 Braves, and the Rays face tougher competition and don’t have a Hall of Fame manager in their first year. (The ’69 Mets and ’61 Reds did have a manager who wasn’t new and had no previous credentials, so it’s not impossible, just something working against them.) If their young starters hold up under the strain, Percival stays healthy, and Wheeler, Howell and Balfour all keep pitching brilliantly, they’ll win…but myself I wouldn’t bet on that. Not impossible, but significantly less than 50/50.

Whether they make the playoffs this year or not, though, they’ve still had an amazing season. And like the ’91 Braves, I think the key lesson is that when you have a team with talented young pitching, putting a real defense behind them is absolutely crucial.

Googleplex

[ 2 ] July 22, 2008 |

Nicholas Carr asks Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (I started reading this but got bored so I don’t know the answer).

I do know that Google is the single greatest invention of the human mind since that thing Peter Frampton used to make his guitar sound like a robot voice, mainly because it allows one to find the answer to questions such as “was Jimmy Gobble’s ten runs given up in a single inning last night a major league record?” in 20 seconds flat.

Early on during those 20 seconds I suspected the answer might involve one of those deals where a position player pitches an inning in a game that has gotten out of hand, so I take it as some sort of cosmic joke that the record is held by a regular pitcher who washed out of the majors then came back five years later as an outfielder at the age of 31 and hit .349 in seven seasons (fourth-highest average of all time in 3000 or more plate appearances, per baseball-reference).

Baseball Challenge Halfway Results

[ 0 ] July 16, 2008 |

Although C. Moore’s Sluggy McSlugs managed a hard charge towards the end of the first half of the season, they were unable to stave off the inevitable victory of the Lexington Bearded Ducks. The Ducks, considered nigh unbeatable by most analysts, delivered a 175 point victory over the McSlugs and other, lesser competition. The pointless formality of the second half of the season will begin on Thursday. The final first half standings:

1 Lexington Bearded Ducks, R. Farley 4700
2 Sluggy McSlugs, C. Moore 4525
3 The Rev. Josh Fields, A. Katz 4374
4 Headless Thompson Gunners, S. Hickey 4325
5 kodos423, k. crockett 4274
6 JacobyRules, P. Smith 4231
7 KY Colonels, R. Payne 4198
8 Austin Electric Chairs, E. Loomis 4080
9 Wild Loose Comma, C. S 4015
10 Axis of Evel Knievel, D. Noon 4012
11 Theibault Moor Orioles, J. Theibault 3924
12 Lungless Wonders, E. Udall 3907
13 MutiliatedLittleLady, K. Houghton 3823
14 Sprained Mitochondria, P. McLeod 3783
15 Heavily Armed Tourists, M. Haxby 3712
16 Warning Track Power, P. Wu 3681
17 Drunken Warthogs, S. Ehrlich 3601
18 Robertson, E. Robertson 3593
19 Wobblies, M. Christman 3543
20 Lee Ho Fuk’s, P. Richardson 3529
21 The 14th Century, M Dugas 3316
22 Anderson, f. Anderson 3184
23 Wengler1, W. Engler 3115

Vidro

[ 7 ] July 14, 2008 |

95 games into the season, the deep and wide flaws of the organization known as the Seattle Mariners baseball club have been cruelly exposed to the world. At 37-58, they are the worst team in the American League by a fair margin. (On the senior circuit, only the Nationals are currently worse, the Mariners surely have a decent chance of catching them). This is made all the more pathetic by their payroll in excess of one hundred million dollars.

So many obvious and stupid mistakes have been made by this organization that to attempt to catalog them would simply be too depressing. One stands out for me, though: Jose Vidro. For many superficial baseball analysts, the trade with which we acquired Vidro turned out reasonably well for the Mariners. The prospects they traded haven’t amounted to much of anything, and Vidro hit .314 for them last year. The flaw in this reasoning is that he was still among the worst DH’s in the American League, because he didn’t hit for any power. A closer look at his 2007 season reveals that his high batting average was in large part the product of Vidro’s unusually high infield single rate. Now, if you’re Ichiro, infield singles are part of your skill set. Anyone who thinks Vidro’s infield single rate is the product of his baseball skills clearly has not seen him play in several years. Feed me a large steak dinner and pour a pitcher of beer down my throat, spin me around a few times, and I could still beat Jose Vidro in a footrace without any diffiulty at all. His infield hit rate was clearly a fluke, and if you return it to league average, his 2007 falls below replacement level.

So 2007 contained plenty of evidence that Vidro was quite likely to be done as a useful player. Vidro’s performance in 2008 has given us all the confirmation we could ever need. His on base percentage sits at 261; his slugging percentage at 310. How bad is this? We’ve got a truckload of advanced meta-statistics in baseball these days, and I don’t have the mathematical chops to have strong opinions about most of them, so I’ll choose one at random (others would paint a similar picture). MLVr is an expression of marginal lineup value. The number expresses how many runs would be added (or subtracted) if you shifted from a lineup of 9 perfectly average players to a lineup of 8 perfectly average players and the player in question. The very best in the league (Chipper Jones, Berkman, Pujols) are adding over half a run per game.

There are 199 players in baseball with 250+ plate appearances so far this season. Of these, only five are inept enough offensively to have MLVrs below -.250. Vidro is, of course, one of these five (another is Kenji Johjima, who was just given a three year, 24 million dollar extension by the Mariners, even though their best prospect plays his position). The other four, of course, play difficult defensive positions (CF, 2B, C). To make matters more baffling, Vidro continues to hit cleanup. And, he’s got a vesting option for 9 million dollars in 2009 if he gets enough plate appearances.

Let’s review: One of the worst hitters in baseball is a declining, immobile, weak-groundout hitting machine who plays DH. He continues to not only play most of the time–he’s starting and hitting cleanup.

Is there any precedence for this? The glorious baseball-reference.com allows me to find out. In the history of the DH, there are 160 player-seasons that were full time enough to qualify for the batting title, and where at least 70% of playing time came as DH. Here’s the list. As you might expect, only 10% of these seasons were below average, because these people are paid to hit, and nothing else. The below average seasons are mostly from good to great players (Hank Aaron, Edgar Martinez, Alvin Davis, Eddie Murray, Reggie Jackson, Paul Molitor, Greg Vaughn, Dave Parker), the sort of player one could reasonably hope would turn it around. If Vidro continues this pace, he will join this list as the very worst DH ever, by a wide and significant margin. Yet he plays, hits 4th, and marches toward a vesting option that further hamstrings whatever fool takes the GM position with even more pointless payroll giveaways.

Some high comedy: placeholder manager Jim Riggleman seems to be making some justificatory argument about “protection” for Raul Ibanez. This might make sense if he also had a secret plan to replace every other team’s scouting report on Vidro with the 2000 version (and if protection was an actual phenomenon). Apparently they think other teams evaluate players based on how good they were five years ago, too. They’re willing to cut bait on other hitters who are clearly done (Sexson, Wilkerson) but who aren’t as done as Vidro.

The Bonds Question

[ 11 ] July 14, 2008 |

I was at Shea yesterday, which was great except for Pedro leaving the game early (although he was pitching 1-hit shutout ball with no stuff.) Between that and Alou unsurprisingly out for the year, it makes me a little sad (and makes me feel old) as the number of still-active players from the definitive team of my baseball fan existence continues to shrink. You have to think this is it for Alou, and the careers of Better Than Koufax Martinez and Floyd aren’t exactly looking robust right now.

Anyway, with the Expos playing Cinderallas and marginal prospects on the corners but back in contention, I guess this brings up the Barry Bonds question. At his subscription site, Bill James has made an extensive case against a team signing him in most circumstances:

Look, I like Barry Bonds. I don’t have to deal with him, but I was always on his side, and I still am. I don’t think he belongs in jail; I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Ten years ago, he was playing by the rules as they were enforced ten years ago. It seems self-righteous to me to say now that he was cheating.

But. . .it’s over.

The argument is primarily baseball related: basically, that once a player 1)starts getting hurt, and 2)produces value solely by hitting homers and drawing walks the chances of a complete collapse in his value have to be considered very high. (Perhaps this could be called the Jack Clark effect? Although I still wish he had showed up to the ’93 Expos…)

Is this right? It’s certainly plausible. I think there’s a tendency to rely to much on the Ruth analogy, although the 1935 Braves are certainly a powerful example (pretty good team signs still-high-OPS Ruth, Ruth collapses, team literally posts worse record than 1962 Mets.) Still, one can say something similar about Aaron and Mays, and the comparable players you can’t say that about (Williams, Mantle) retired without pressing the issue. None of those players peaked in their late 30s, but it’s reasonable between that and the circus he would create (especially when he didn’t go through spring training) you would want to pass. In the context of New York, I can understand if the Mets would prefer to make a play for Ibanez or Rivera or Bay. Still, if I’m the Devil Rays, and look at my athletic, good pitching-and-defense team notably lacking in the power core your main wildcard rivals have…I’d be pretty inclined to take the risk. Tom Tango summarized the discussion and disagrees with James.

This is awesome

[ 6 ] July 11, 2008 |

….um, so my effort to embed video evidently failed. Just watch it here

Er, it’s fake apparently, and I’m behind the curve. Never mind.

Blog Away, Dude

[ 0 ] July 8, 2008 |

This March, I spent $4 on Milton Bradley in our fantasy baseball auction. He has rewarded my faith with a .439 OBP, .605 SLG, 17 home runs, 52 runs scored and 54 RBIs. Congrats, man, on reaching the All Star Game.

Tito’s Players Home Cookin’ Aren’t Talent Evaluators

[ 0 ] July 7, 2008 |

I don’t mind the defending World Series manager favoring his own players in marginal cases, but seriously, Jason Varitek? What a disgrace. I mean, he was a fine player for a long time, but he’s turned into Brad Ausmus without the arm. Well, maybe he’ll hit a feeble popup in a key spot like he did Saturday, and the NL will get home field advantage for once…

UPDATE: Whoops–Varitek was actually voted on by the players. I remember Bill James once running down the history of awards voted on by players with frequently ludicrous results, and this fits right in. And yet I’m sure we’ll hear more broadcasters talk about taking the vote away from the fans and giving it to the players every year…

On Omar

[ 0 ] July 1, 2008 |

Interesting discussion about Omar Vizquel here. Some thoughts on the two questions:

  • On the Hall of Fame issue, the conclusion of the more analytical observers seems right to me. I hate to say that — he’s been a favorite of mine since I saw him in Calgary as a minor leaguer, and he even worked out in my gym in Seattle in the winter. But I have to say no Evidently, this is a question of standards; he has a reasonable case under the historical standards for HOF shortstops, which the Veteran’s Committee has padded with Rizuttos and Jacksons and Bancrofts. But assuming we don’t want to use past errors as a baseline, I don’t think he’s even close. I think James went through this in detail at his site recently, but certainly we shouldn’t even consider Vizquel until Larkin and Trammell — also good shortstops if not quite Vizquel’s caliber and far better hitters — are in. Unfortunately, my guess is that the writers will compound their foolish rejection of Trammell by voting him in.
  • On the direct retirement question, everyone who have the “MYOB” answer is right. If put in a more useful way, however — should the Giants release him? — I’m going to be contrarian. Vizquel is still an excellent defender, and on a team with 1)a lot of young pitching and 2)no chance of winning, I say play him. Every hit he saves Lincecum and Cain and Sanchez helps the team’s future. I wouldn’t play him in front of a good young player, of course, but the Giants’ Opening Day shortstop can’t hit .200 in AAA. Anyway, the key lesson of the Rays this year is the importance of putting a decent defence on the field, especially when you have young pitching.

Subway

[ 15 ] June 29, 2008 |

I saw my first ever Mets/Yankees game yesterday, and it certainly sucked although my section didn’t have the fights that apparently happened in other sections. Especially with the effect of the rain delay, the striking thing is that after Reyes getting picked of second with 2 out and Wright up the crowd was completely dead, and for good reason. And although it was a one-run game the bottom of the ninth severely tested my irrational commitment to never leaving the park with a game in progress, given that it involved Rivera facing Didn’t You Used to Be Carlos Delgado, Fluke Season Tatis, and the Rapidly Decomposing Corpse of Trot Nixon. The term “overmatched” seems grossly inadequate.

Although I’ve seen this It’s not really accurate to say that Petite outpitched Santana. The latter had much better stuff; it’s just that the Yankees have this strange commitment to trying to put major league hitters into as many lineup slots as possible. I don’t understand how anyone could watch yesterday’s game and think that the Mets are underachieving. They had a washed-up third baseman whose last good year was 2000 in right, a shitty backup first baseman in left, an immobile utility infielder whose last good season as a regular was also in 2000 at second, and a washed-up anvil at first base. That’s four positions out of which you’re not getting any offense or defense. The more common lineup isn’t much of an improvement; Castillo can get on base but is barely better defensively that Easley at this point, and Schneider can throw but can’t hit at all, Chavez is a good outfielder but would be a bad hitter for a utility infielder, let a lone a corner OF. Three stars plus 5 below-average-to-entirely-unacceptable players adds up to mediocre even if you get good pitching. If Church comes back and is healthy and Minaya can find a major league left fielder (and, in fairness, who could ever have anticipated that Moises Alou would get hurt?), then maybe they can win a weak division, but with the kind of lineups they’re running out there now they’re not going to finish .500 if Joe McCarthy comes back to earth and takes over Manuel’s body. This team isn’t underachieving; it’s just not very good.

Clash of the Third-Rate

[ 9 ] June 25, 2008 |

Apparently all the Mariners needed was a trip to Shea Stadium, which suddenly turned R.A. Dickey into Phil Niekro. (And it’s hard to even bring up Wright being out of the lineup, given that Tatis was 3-4.)

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