Sports Outside the Beltway

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There

The Philles have signed former Giant third baseman Pedro Feliz to a two-year $8.5 million contract with an option and bonuses that could raise the total of three years and $15 million. Third base has long been a troublesome lineup spot for the Phils, and that trend seems likely to extend another two to three years. Let’s look at Feliz for a minute.

timeframe Avg OBP SLG BABIP OPS+
Feliz ’07 .253 .290 .418 .259 81
Feliz ’06 .244 .281 .422 .266 79
Feliz ’05 .250 .295 .428 .273 85
Feliz ’04 .276 .305 .485 .295 100
Feliz all .252 .288 .433 .261 84

The typical BABIP is around .300. Feliz’ poor plate discipline leaves him forty points below average for his career. This would be okay if he slugged 40 homeruns every year, but he doesn’t. He slugs 20. Even moving to Citizens Bank Bandbox won’t improve Feliz’ power numbers enough to make him a better than average ballplayer. His fielding ability is rather good, but it hardly makes up for his deficiency at the plate.

As terrible as Feliz is, he represents an improvement over the three headed monster (Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms and Abraham Nunez) that tallied a combined line of .255/.321/.368/.689. The Phillies won the division thanks in part to an historic collapse by the Mets and a little internal luck. Their black hole 3B solution did not doom them last year, and they might be able to overcome that problem in 2008, too. However, without Aaron Rowand’s production in center, that task will be tougher. Their hitting core of Rollins, Utley, Howard and Burrell are all still young enough to be relied on to produce near current level or above for another few seasons. But a young third baseman with the capability of improving would have been far superior to an aging player with a good glove and limited ability at the plate.

Strangely, the Phils dealt away the best third base prospect in Michael Costanzo as part of the package to obtain Brad Lidge. I can’t imagine that the Astros were so bent on getting Costanzo that the Phillies substituting a different player or cash would have prevented them from acquiring Lidge. After all, Costanzo was later dealt by the Astros to the Orioles as part of the package to acquire Miguel Tejada. Costanzo looks like he will be in prime position to take over for Melvin Mora in late 2008 or early 2009. Costanzo, a Philly native, could have been underpaid to underperform for the next two or three years, freeing up a few million with which the Phillies could have shored up another area of need.

Teams that eschew inexpensive and equally effective solutions in favor of aging veterans of limited utility are failing their fans. Enjoy the title defense, Philadelphia. The cupboard looks pretty bare coming up next year.


Selecting Selectors

Today is the scheduled announcement of the new inductees to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. JC Bradbury has a few comments on Mark McGwire getting left off a number of ballots. Keith Law has been keeping a running tally of published votes. The selection of retired players to the Hall, as well as active players for awards is fraught with controversy. Witness the choice of Frank Cooney for NFL MVP.

Curiously, baseball’s big selection coincides with a big election, as the more politically obsessed in our culture, formerly including your humble correspondent, seek to divine what lies beyond the horizon in Presidential politics using the combined reason and wisdom of the tiny hamlet of Dixville Notch. Flinty Granite State voters (and truthfully, who would trust such an important job to the unflinty Granite State voters?) will bask in their share of the political spotlight tonight. Then the POTUSpalooza ’08 National Tour packs up and high tails it for just about anywhere else in the Republic. Even with the unseasonable non cold this week has offered, New England in January is hardly the most welcoming of climates.

The confluence of national election and Hall of Fame selection raises the time worn questions regarding the Hall and its method of inducting new members. The pundit class debates the value of Iowa and New Hampshire and their elevated importance in the primary/caucus process, while baseball fans stop and ponder questions of cosmic importance this time of year. In particular given the frequent complaints about sports writers among the more serious fans, they ask, “Why do writers, who may have knowledge of the players under consideration, have the final word on admittance to Baseball’s museum of famous players?”

No system, whether statistically derived or based on observation, can truly create an objective selection criterion. But the abundantly vapid reasons for excluding Tim Raines (who belongs in the Hall based on his accomplishments) detail a subjectively sanctimonious attitude that if spoken by Mike Huckabee would warrant hisses from the same writers. Raines had a problem with drugs. Had is the appropriate word. Ty Cobb and others in the Hall of Fame were unrepentant racists. We accept Cobb and company, rationalizing that the Hall celebrates the accomplishments on the field. Is Raines somehow an inferior selection because he cleaned himself up? Heavens, what are these people thinking?

This space has previously advocated for Mark McGwire, largely because his unsuccessful appearance on the ballot last year provided soapboxes for the writers. Quoting myself (because it’s fun – small grammatical errors have been cleaned up in the reproduction of this drivel):

Baseball writers are folks who cover teams regularly. They hear whispers and see things in their access to the club that fans don’t see. It is their responsibility to break stories. And steroids have been around as a big story for nearly twenty years. The first edition of the late and lamented National Sports Daily I bought in 1989 has a cover story expose on steroids in sports. This is not some new phenomenon that challenges sports. It’s been around for a long time.

These writers who turned a blind eye to the stories they knew about are now attempting to reclaim the moral high ground by scolding the most likely candidate for inclusion in the Hall of Fame who has been tied to the steroids scandal.

I assert that writers turned a blind eye to the scandal as it played out in the clubhouses. I stand by that claim. Either the reporters were unwilling to report the story, indicating complicity, or were unable, indicating either incompetence or a higher up power’s complicity. Reporters function as gatherers of information and aid in dissemination of it. Whenever they are taken off guard by a story, a natural question is worth asking, “Why didn’t they – the self-proclaimed expert – know it was going to happen?”

Ignorance of the story is not an acceptable defense, because their job is getting those stories. If they don’t get those stories, they cede the theoretical mantle of objectivity and become little more than fountains of hype, from which we expect little revelation and even less depth. Until the Hall voters step up and discuss in frank terms what they knew and why they did not seek to publish what they knew, they are not fair arbitrators of the game, and unworthy of the right of selection.

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Fernando Vina

Of all the criticisms leveled in the on-going baseball steroid scandal, the one receiving the least attention is the effect media blindness played in the unfolding of the scandal. As it happens, ESPN has in their employ a player named in the Mitchell Report. Fernando Vina had a fairly long major league career spanning 12 seasons.

Fernando Vina played several positions with five teams in Major League Baseball from 1993 until 2004, the Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Detroit Tigers. He played in the 1998 All-Star game and won two National League Golden Glove Awards as a second baseman. During the 2007 baseball season, he was a commentator for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.

While Radomski was working for the Mets as a clubhouse attendant in 1993, he met Vina, who was then in the Mets minor league system. Radomski stated that he sold anabolic steroids or human growth hormone to Vina six to eight times during 2000 to 2005. Radomski produced three checks from Vina. Radomski stated that these checks reflected a March 2003 purchase by Vina of human growth hormone, an April 2003 purchase by Vina of steroids, most likely Winstrol, and a July 2005 purchase by Vina of Deca-Durabolin.

ESPN suddenly has a dilemma. During the season, discussion of steroids and performance enhancing drugs occurred often. At no time did their analyst Vina step forward and acknowledge what is alleged in the Mitchell Report. This creates a credibility gap with the network mockingly referred to as the WWL (World Wide Leader in sports). Does ESPN sacrifice Vina to attempt to save some aspect of their credibility, or do they choose to stand by their guy?

Consider that even analysts have a responsibility in a news organization to the truth. That Vina was linked to this report demands both a reckoning on ESPN’s part, and some kind of statement from Vina as to the veracity of these claims. He can deny them, and without more evidence, that would be that,a he said, he said spat. But the reality of the accusation must be acknowledged.

My axe is ground against the media, who with their access to athletes knew more about this scandal than they let on. Some reporters have acknowledged that they could have and should have dug deeper to get to the story. But Vina’s case points out the difficulty that is faced in sports journalism.

Stories are gained by access to the clubhouse, to the athletes and to the support personnel. Write up something that puts a player in a bad light and a reporter might mind him or herself shut out. As a former player, the primary reason to appear on shows or in print is because of the forged contacts made as a player, contacts that give an advantage at understanding the inner workings of the game. Quite literally in this case, inside baseball.

Would Vina retain his value to ESPN if he with one of the reporters broke a story about that particular aspect of the Mitchell Report? Clearly the answer is yes. That’s investigative journalism. And the Ennuipundit loves himself some good old fashioned well-researched tasty investigative journalism. But it would be a Pyrrhic victory, as the access to the players that Vina had would be compromised by the exposure of the misdeeds of his former teammates.

In the modern era of reporting, which is little more than the dutiful recitation of carefully worded press releases crafted by agents and publicists and fed to a media, nominally devoted to truth, but profitted from running a well-oiled hype machine, such exposes are becoming frustratingly rare.

ESPN’s credibility is compromised by Vina’s continued presence as an in studio analyst, precisely because he has access to players, which is used selectively not in the furtherance of truth, but rather to promote an agenda. ESPN, the WWL, profits from the broadcast of major league baseball games. They have a vested interest in being able to provide that coverage with the dugout interviews and other nonsense, which in all frankness, detracts from the experience of watching a game. To lose that access would damage their bottom line. And so the stories go untold. The truth about whether a game is clean or not is obscured.

No one believes that the inane ramblings of the “announcers” at WWE wrestling events have any connection with truth. They are employees of the WWE and are compensated solely and wholly to say what Mr. McMahon wants them to say. Adherence to the bottom line has taken such a priority over pursuit of truth in sports coverage, that much of what is passed off as sports information is unwatchable. Do the suits at ESPN have more sway than the journalists when deciding stories? The answer sadly seems to be yes.


Hot Stove Update: Twelve Shopping Days ’til Christmas Edition

Baseball’s hot stove season keeps crackling along with a firesale beginning in Baltimore, a strange signing in San Francisco and the effective release of a phenomenal talent with an arm that was abused.

Dead Team, Dead Team Swapping

Let’s start with the Orioles.

Andy MacPhail is the new head honcho in Baltimore and his primary job is turning around a moribund franchise. It is about time. The Orioles recently woes have resulted in poor showings, fan protests and the dreadful overreach that typifies teams just beyond terrible, but nowhere near good.

Move number one in the now ongoing firesale:

Orioles Give Astros Give
  • SS Miguel Tejada
  • OF Luke Scott
  • P Matt Albers
  • P Troy Patton
  • P Dennis Sarfate
  • 3B Michael Costanzo

It’s an okay haul. Scott compares rather favorably with Trot Nixon at the same ages, giving the Orioles a competent outfielder, who will inexpensively complement and Nick Markakis. Costanzo may end up in the big leagues. He is on his third team this offseason, and is blocked by Melvin Mora. However if Mora is shopped, the Orioles could do worse than the 24 year old with good pop in his bat. Albers and Patton were the top pitchers in Houston’s farm system entering 2007. Neither pitched well with Houston, and both have iffy K rates. But both get groundballs and with a good infield defense have the potential to be respectable at the back of the rotation.

Houston meanwhile adds a slugging shortstop whose defense is declining and who, as an added bonus, has been linked to steroid allegations. For Baltimore, moving him prior to this afternoon’s release of the Mitchell report was an obvious priority. Even if not named, Tejada is tainted by association, possibly unfair.

Other Orioles likely to get moved before the end of this offseason: P Erik Bedard, 3B Melvin Mora, 2B Brian Roberts, OF Jay Payton, and Ramon Hernandez.

Currently, the Orioles need help at shortstop, centerfield and on the mound. Making more moves will yield more potential solutions, while opening more holes. This is the beginning of an about to be gutted franchise.

The Old and the Rested

The San Francisco Giants don’t seem too interested in younger talent. Their starting position players wheezed in with an average age of 36.25 last year. They will be around 34 years old on average next season, unless Giants GM Brian Sabean can find some geezer to play at either the hot or cool corner and thus spare fans the disgrace of having a 26 year old regular (Kevin Frandse) in the starting lineup.

To that mix, the Giants made a big splash yesterday inking centerfielder Aaron Rowand to a five year, $60 Million contract. Rowand will be thirty next year, which makes him the young whippersnapper of the Giant lineup. He also has the job of replacing Barry Bonds in the lineup. But Rowand is not a slugging outfielder like Bonds. Nor is he a prolific on base machine. Aaron Rowand is an outfielder who enjoyed an outstanding season in his walk year.

Let’s go to the numbers

Aaron Rowand ’07 612 .309 .374 .515 .348
Aaron Rowand car 2664 .286 .343 .462 .323

Not familiar with BABIP? Some folks aren’t. It is a very useful statistic to get a gauge on luck. The statistic measures Batting Average on Balls in Play. As a formula:

BABIP = Hits – Home Runs /At Bats – (Homeruns + Strikeouts)

Your league-wide BABIP is typically around .300. Rowand’s career is an exercise in better than average BABIP. It’s less than 10% over league average, but when he is closer to lerague average, as he was in 2005 with the ChiSox and 2006 with the Phillies, almost all of his offensive value vanishes.

Aaron Rowand ’05 578 .270 .329 .407 .318
Aaron Rowand ’06 405 .262 .321 .425 .297

See what I mean? Further, Rowand has always benefited from playing in Homerun helping Parks. Moving to San Francisco may cause his power surge to vanish, as well. But hey, it’s only five years and $12 Million per year. That’s nothing. Which unfortunately for Giants fans will describe what the Giants have for the better part of the next decade. Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are nice young pitchers. Noah Lowry is a healthier version of better than league average Aaron Cook, and Barry Zito, is an overrated league average innings muncher. They will have the pitching, but they still will struggle to win seventy games likely for the next five or six years.

Prior Descent

Mark Prior will be 27 next season. He put up remarkable numbers as a 22 year old in 2003. His 18-6 record in 211.1 innings pitched was worthy of acclaim, and we now know a dead canary in a coal mine.

Indians Executive Keith Woolner in his previous line of work at Baseball Prospectus developed a metric for measuring the abuse a starting pitcher takes from being overpitched. This was an expansion of the original Pitcher Abuse Points system introduced by Rany Jazayerli in 1998. Keith’s expansion focused more on egregious abuse of pitchers, instead of the minor tweaking of a young arm by exceeding 100 pitches.

For perspective, Daisuke Matsuzaka led the majors in PAP^3 last season with 116,740 followed by Carlos Zambrano (114,011) and AJ Burnett (97,899).

Mark Prior’s PAP^3 scores
2002 89,046 Age 21 Including a 54,872 PAP^3 138 pitch outing
2003 230,844 Age 22  
2004 36,847 Age 23 Started the season on the DL and did not pitch until June.
2005 102,159 Age 24 with a 25 day stint on the DL mid season
2006 1,000 Age 25  

But PAP^3 is not the only measure of risk to a young arm. The rule of thirty is a way of measuring the damage done to a young arm year by year rather than start by start.

Beginning with his Age 19 season at USC Prior pitched the following innings.
2000 129
2001 138
2002 167.2
2003 211.1
2004 118.2
2005 172.2
2006 62.2

Prior’s buildup with the Cubs went from a reasonable 140 or so college innings to an equally reasonable 170 professional innings from one season to the next. At the young age of 21, that is a little excessive, but, it was also consistent with advancing by 30 innings or less from year to year. The Cubs exceeded that rule of thirty by 15 or so innings in 2003, the year where as a 22 year old, he took almost twice as much abuse as any pitcher in 2007 did. In 2003, however, he
was fourth on in the majors behind Javier Vasquez, teammate Kerry Wood and Livan Hernandez. Another Cub starter (Carlos Zambrano) checked in at 11 on that list. The manager of that team got a new job recently to manage the Cincinnati Reds. Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang, consider yourselves warned!

I am of the mindset that pitcher abuse disproportionately impacts arms outside of the 26-34 age range. Keeping young arms on a strict pitch and inning count is an investment in the future, by giving a young arm time to develop properly. As pitcher’s age, they are less reliable because they push themselves to the extremes that their bodies no longer are capable of achieving. The job of a good manager is to recognize when his older pitchers need a month’s vacation and sending
them off to rest and keep their arm fresh for the stretch drive. This essentially is what the Red Sox did with Curt Schilling this past season.

In addition to maximizing the effectiveness of an older arm, it also creates an opportunity for game level mentoring of young arms, removed from the stretch drive. Would giving a younger pitcher with some upside a showcase against major league teams, again strictly monitoring his pitch and inning counts, both groom him for an eventual job and give him the exposure that could potentially lead to a trade for a spare part? Certainly. It also provides an opportunity for
reclamation projects to get a full speed test int he fires of major league competition.

Speaking of salvage jobs, all this is prologue for the question out there, how many clubs will be pursuing Prior? The answer is all fo them. Prior represents the wonderful confluence of high upside and minimal risk. It’s a long shot, on par with the reclamation project called Kerry Wood but with longer odds and more upside. But it is worth investigating, offering and developing a program to ensure the soundness of his arm and the realization of his tremendous potential.

Now the more fact based (will it work) question has no answer. Probably not is the most I will venture. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.


The Schilling Claus(e)

This Holiday season, the Baseball Writers Association of America are proud to present a new film, starring Boston Red Sox righthanded starter, Curt Schilling and the 28 writers who vote yearly for the Cy Young Award. It’s the Schilling Claus! A tale of corruption, averted by pointless bureaucracy. See Curt Schilling negotiate his contract with the Boston Red Sox and add a clause that pays him One Million Dollars for getting a single vote for the Cy Young Award. Watch as the Writers band together to avoid the appearance of impropriety, beginning in 2013, five seasons later. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll wonder why.

Thankfully, there is no Christmas Musical coming to a cineplex near you. But the recent action of the BBWAA “to disqualify from its awards players who would profit from them” prompts me to wonder why.

First, why wait until 2013 to implement the rule, which has become known as the Schilling Clause? By that time, Curt will be up for a Hall of Fame vote (barring another encore for 2009) not for any more Cy Young votes. So why wait. If it is so important, implement it now. Unless, the BBWAA understands that there is a firestorm of corruption that will sweep through its ranks beginning in 2013, and nothing short of this pre-emptive strike against it will stem the tide of darkness which threatens their hallowed association. Perhaps not. More than likely, they are saying that implementing this rule now would bar deserving players from consideration. But frankly, if they want to avoid the perception of corruption, then implement it now. And let the chips fall. If not, they are implying that they swear they will be incorruptible for 2008-2012, but then all bets are off.

Second, why is this rule even necessary? Writers have a responsibility to their stories. Their coverage should be fair, even-handed, accurate and thorough. Journalists are supposed to be above reproach, seared with integrity. If they are incapable of that, then should they really be trusted? The Association is in effect saying that their members are incapable of displaying integrity in the voting process, that without such a rule, they would succumb to the temptation of filthy lucre. A rule like this would not be necessary if their members were above reproach. That such a rule is deemed necessary by their members makes me feel warm and fuzzy about the coverage I read in the paper or on the Internets. After all, they are saying (by a 41-21 vote, I might add) that either individually or corporately that they are corruptible.

Schilling of course reacted on his blog:

Give me a break. Don’t get me wrong, 100k, 500k, 1 million dollars is a huge sum of money. But to think that these guys ever approached this as anything other than them being touted as the ‘experts’ on who wins what is crap. Add to that I seriously doubt anyone ever looked at this from a perception standpoint and thought wow, they are making this guy rich. I would disagree.

The only step that hasn’t happened yet is to stop them from voting on awards altogether. They shouldn’t do it. Anytime someone is allowed to vote on this, on the Hall of Fame ballot, and that person injects personal bias into their vote, they should lose the privilege.

My only quibble is that Curt uses the conventional “Give me a break”, rather than the beloved, “Break me a give.”

But taking Curt’s point a bit further, these writers are in the making these guys rich business. Jackie MacMullan, a wonderful columnist at the Boston Globe, spilled massive amounts of ink supporting Mike Lowell’s desire to get a contract extension from the Red Sox during the season. What purpose did she have in writing these columns? To inform the fans of the Red Sox that Mike just wanted three guaranteed years (which grew to four when he won the World Series MVP)? Of course not. Her writing was to advocate for his worthiness of such a contract extension, which is directly impacting his ability to get rich.

What makes this an even greater farce is the ham handed actions of these ink-stained wretches. The annual votes on the Hall of Fame ballots provide an example of bias, score settling and flat out ignorance about the game of baseball. Rich Lederer at Baseball Analysts has made it his mission to explain why Bert Blyleven deserves inclusion in the Hall of Fame. His quixotic quest has earned him the scorn of many writers who frankly cannot understand why Blyleven deserves inclusion. Often these writers, including the ESPN’s Buster Onley, will denigrate Blyleven without looking at what he did. Their ignorance of the game they cover and about which they are allegedly experts illustrates the absurdity of having these men vote for awards.

If the goal of this silly rule is to eliminate the appearance of impropriety, then there is a simpler and less controversial solution. Open up the process to public scrutiny. The BBWAA should publish the ballots they receive from their members, with a justification of their votes. So last year, when a Hall of Fame voter submitted a blank ballot, an explanation can be offered. By doing this, the biases that were rife in past voting can be weeded out. Sunlight kills corruption. The BBWAA should let the sunshine in. Otherwise it is clear that the writers want to keep their biases in play without suffering the consequences of public condemnation.


Girardi and Pitchers, A Second Look

Girardi is in as the new skipper of the Yankees. He has a reputation of putting winning ahead of organizational aims. The mediots who chortle and say that won’t be a problem in New York misunderestimate the effort Brian Cashman has made to develop the pinstriped pitching troika of Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy.

One of my esteemed co-bloggers posted an interesting study of Girardi’s one year of managerial experience, in particular the way he handled the young Marlin pitchers.

I disagree a little with Travis’, but you can judge for yourself, down below or by clicking here. I come down on the side of the argument that any overuse of a young pitcher puts him a a disproportionately greater risk of developing serious arm trouble than similar abuse of a pitcher between 26 and 34 years old.

Here’s a highlight of Travis analysis:

I looked at Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP) in 2006 (for starters over 100 ip) – Florida’s starters accumulated a total of over 147,000 abuse points, whereas Yankee starters reached just under 48,000. This appears to be a huge difference until you realize Florida had six pitchers qualify while the Yanks had just four. A better way to equalize the measuring stick is to take the average PAP per pitcher: for Florida it was about 25,000 while the Yanks had about 12,000. So the gap isn’t quite as big as it seemed but there’s still a gap.

PAP per pitcher is not an especially good way to look at individual abuse. To get a good gauge of how a manager uses his staff overall it works just fine, but individual pitchers, and in particular younger or older pitchers, deserve individual scrutiny.

By looking at individual efforts, things come more into focus.

Sanchez 2006 PAP^3 4,651
Nolasco 2006 PAP^3 4,300
Johnson 2006 PAP^3 13,211
Olsen 2006 PAP^3 13,256
Willis 2006 PAP^3 108,656

I omitted Brian Moehler – the sixth pitcher Travis references – from my tabulations, as he was the only starter over 25 in the 2006 Marlins rotation. This alone shows the tendency to send young arms well past 100 pitches far too frequently. But it is not the only way that these pitchers were mismanaged by Girardi in his effort to win now.

Bringing young arms along following the so-called “Rule of 30″ is a prudent strategy. Expecting a young pitcher to jump from 120 college innings pitched to 180 innings pitched without suffering fatigue or injury is foolhardy. So is expecting a pitcher to jump from 140 minor league IP to 200 major league IP, without consequence. The “Rule of 30″ offers a conservative strategy of ramping up a young pitcher’s inning tally by 30 inning increments from year to year. Let’s compare inning totals for those five Marlin starters both at the major and minor league level for 2005-2007. The middle column is when Girardi was manager and these totals include both major and minor league innings for all three years.

Sanchez 136, 200.3, 30
Nolasco 161.7, 140, 55
Johnson 152, 169.3, 36.3
Olsen 100.7, 186.7, 176.7
Willis 236.3, 223.3, 205.3

Sanchez was definitely over extended in 2006, and with the concerns about injury with his arm to begin with, that abuse may be the difference between him being a valuable pitcher for the next ten years and him being a flame out. You hope that is not the case.

Nolasco’s overuse was not from the Marlins, at least not in 2006, but more likely from the Cubs, whose track record of developing young arms is spotty at best (negligent at worst). His injury last year is more than likely the result of consistent overuse, rather than a burst of abuse.

Johnson’s injury this past season may not be the result of the number of PAP^3 he took in 2006 as a 22 year old. But it is hard to argue with a young arm breaking down after having stretches like this one in 06: 101, 109, 105, 94, 110, 103, 116, 109, 112, 105 over ten starts. Interestingly, he had an average of 5 days of rest between those starts. So even though he was effectively getting extra rest, that did not mitigate the strain of 100+ pitch outings. He gave up 14 earned runs (20 runs overall) in that ten game stretch, but his last 12 starts allowed 33 earned runs and 34 overall runs. His ERA climbed from 2.21 to 3.10. Got tired? Yep. And when a young arm is tired, that’s when it is most likely to strain or tear from overuse.

Those 108,656 PAP^3 for Willis, combined with his participation in the World Baseball Classic, go a long way to explaining the Willis’ decline of the last two seasons. Girardi leaned on Willis, because as the lone survivor of the purge, he was the de facto ace. A caveat, McKeon had abused Willis the previous year as well, so Girardi was following team precedent. Regardless, Dontrelle was still a young pitcher whose arm was nearing critical usage at a young age. How much he comes back is anyone’s guess. An statistically minded observer of baseball suggested Livan Hernandez when I posed the question to him.

Olsen’s 2007 inconsistency seems likely the result of injury due to double abuse, exceeding the normal rule of thirty increase of innings, and the second most PAP^3 among the 25 and under crowd. It seems unlikely to me that he does not make it through the 2008 season without a serious breakdown.

Five young pitchers, each showing marked decline or serious injury after Girardi’s tenure at the helm. For the sake of the franchise, Brian Cashman, needs to ensure that Girardi manages the young arms of Hughes, Chamberlain and Kennedy better than he did the young arms of the Marlins. I think he will. Girardi knew he was a sacrificial lamb in Florida. And so the only way to salvage his reputation as a budding managerial star was to win at all costs in his lone season in Miami. Now with a three year deal, from New York, it seems to me, he will play the good organizational soldier and follow the orders from on high about not wearing out the long term investments.

Still, the results of his last managerial job should strike fear into the hearts of Yankee fans.

For more information on PAP^3, click here.


Braves Deal Shortstop Edgar Renteria to Tigers

Let the Hot Stove begin. ESPN reports the essentials.

The Detroit Tigers made the first splash in baseball’s offseason as they addressed a pressing priority.


Detroit filled its No. 1 void Monday, acquiring shortstop Edgar Renteria and cash from the Atlanta Braves for two prospects.

Shortly after reaching the World Series last season, the Tigers pulled off the first major move when they traded for Gary Sheffield.

The two prospects ended up being 21-year old righthander Jair Jurrjens and 19-year old centerfielder Gorkys Hernandez.

What a coup for Atlanta. Even without John Schuerholz in the GM chair, the Braves are still well aware of players’ expiration dates. Ever a hallmark of Schuerholz’ trades, the Braves always seemed to know just when to move a player. Renteria fit a need on a contender who was awash with young arms, just what the Braves need. Hernandez meanwhile has speed to burn, good doubles power and the potential to blossom into a very good centerfielder.

Wren noted that the Braves had other moves to make. One of course will be installing Yunel Escobar as the full-time starting shortstop. In one move, the Braves just got a lot younger. The National League East should be on notice. The Braves may have missed the post season in each of the last two years, they are on their way back to contention.

In Motown, however, the story is contending with an aging core of known veteran players – familiar ones at that, to GM Dave Dombrowski and Manager Jim Leyland. Their last two big offseason acquisitions (Sheffield and Renteria) were playing for Leyland and Dombrowski in 1997 when they, as Marlins, were World Series Champions.

Age must be a concern at some point. Of Tigers position players, only centerfielder Curtis Ganderson is under 30. Top prospect Cameron Maybin showed he was not quite ready for the majors in his debut this past fall. Meanwhile Pudge Rodriguez is 36. Magglio Ordonez is 34. Sheffield is 39 and the Tigers offense is old, in a dangerous position for decline.

Their pitching is young however, with fireballers Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller and Jeremy Bonderman heading a deep rotation and Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney at the back of the bullpen. Only Rodney is over thirty. They can contend with these pitchers in the near term and continue to patch the lineup with veteran replacements for another couple of years.

Short term, this deal benefits the Tigers more, who may be able to make it back to the World Series in 2008, but long term this is a real steal for the Braves.


Milton Bradley: Marked Man

Bill Jempty’s initial report from Monday seems to be merely the tip of the iceberg. Charges from Padres’ coach Bobby Meacham appear in yesterday’s San Diego Union-Tribune are adding a layer of intrigue to what appeared to be just Milton being Milton.

Then, shortly after Bradley arrived at first base via a single, he and Winters were exchanging barbs that, according to Padres first-base coach Bobby Meacham, were inflammatory on the umpire’s part.

Bradley said [first base umpire] Winters called him “a (expletive) piece of (expletive).”

Said Meacham: “In my 26 years of baseball, that was the most disconcerting conversation I have heard from an umpire to a player. The way Winters responded was bizarre. It was almost like he wanted to agitate the situation.

“I was appalled. That’s why the game stopped.”

Padres CEO, Sandy Alderson, who previously worked as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball, understands fully the consequences of the actions alleged against Winters. He also insists on getting justice for his team.

“We’re not going to sit by and see an umpire baiting a player,” Padres CEO Sandy Alderson said in the clubhouse yesterday after the 7-3 Rockies victory at Petco Park. “Umpires are not supposed to react as emotionally as the players. They are there to control and manage the game. They are not the game.

“The only thing we can do is make sure the league takes a look at this and makes sure it was handled appropriately.”

Alderson said there was “overreaction” on the Padres’ part during a series of eighth-inning confrontations that resulted in the ejections of Bradley and Black.

But he called “provocative” three actions by the umpires.

Rockies first baseman Todd Helton can shed some light on the subject, by confirming one of the two sides of the story. His silence is to be expected. Players work, eat, sleep, and live in the glare of the public eye. Avoiding additional spotlights is reasonable. And a desire to avoid repercussions on the field from Winters or the Padres would hardly be out of the ordinary. But Helton ought to tell the truth about what he heard.

What makes the situation initially explainable is Bradley’s checkered history of causing problems along his career path. The Indians dealt him to the Dodgers, after they grew tired of his behavior. While in Los Angeles, Bradley called a LA Times reporter Jason Reid an Uncle Tom and a sellout. He also accused Jeff Kent, his then teammate, of discriminating against African American players. A charge Kent denied. Wearing out his welcome in LA, Bradley was dealt to the A’s who cut bait on the outfielder midseason and sent him to San Diego.

Winters meanwhile has 17 years of major league umpiring experience and has worked one All-Star Game, six Division Series, two League Championship Series and a pair of World Series. But an incident from 1998, as reported in today’s Union-Tribune makes the case that despite a sparkling record, Winters in no stranger to controversy.

In June 1998, the Giants’ Charlie Hayes snapped after hearing from Winters.

“He told me to go (expletive) myself,” Hayes told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The next one who says that to me, I’m hitting in the mouth.”


Reporters were denied access to Winters. After ejecting Hayes in 1998, Winters said Hayes “was popping off, and he continued to pop off after he popped up. He continued it long enough to where he was ejected. It was simple. I had enough.”

A scandal in officiating recently troubled the NBA. To avoid a similar circus, Major League Baseball needs to do something unusual. By being open in this process they can blunt criticism of a cover up and sort out what was said, by whom and in what order. Bradley, even with a checkered past, deserves fair treatment if he was baited. Fair treatment does not excuse his actions, for which he is paying a physical cost. Fair treatment is an acknowledgment of the truth, and if the allegations made by Bradley and Meacham are true, fair treatment is making sure that Winters is reprimanded accordingly.


John Henry: Red Sox are “the little engine that could”

True confessions time. I am a Red Sox fan. This season has held the magical feel of a Championship run, without the typical Red Sox fan baggage of the feeling of doom when the lead shriveled. So different then was the calm assurance I felt when New York closed to within five games almost three weeks ago. The tough stretch that awaited New York would slow down the surging Yankees. Sure enough, a 9-9 record since the 8th of August has restored the Red Sox lead to eight games. As an added bonus I was vindicated. This is not 1978.

But all is not well with this Red Sox fan. And part of it stems from the obtuse notions that fill the head of the management/ownership group that handles non-baseball ops at 4 Yawkey Way these days.

Without further ado, I give you the boss, John Henry.

But Henry understands that while the Red Sox find themselves on firm footing in their fight against the Yankees, both on and off the field, a new challenge is waiting around the corner.

“In 2009 their revenues will move to a higher level when they occupy the next Yankee Stadium,” he wrote. “And we are close to being maxed out in the venerable and magical Fenway Park [map]. So we will be presented with great challenges.

“It will be difficult,” he later added. “We are often called a large market team because our fans provide us with great revenues. But the fact is that we operate the 16th largest television territory as measured by the number of households. The Red Sox are ‘the little engine that could.’ It is because we have such devoted fans who live, breathe, eat and sleep baseball. They are the reason we have been able to build exciting teams. And our players as a group and individually have been a galvanizing force in New England and among Red Sox fans across America . . . around the world.”

If the Red Sox are “the little engine that could,” I’m U Thant.

The Red Sox have used every imaginable and conceivable means of adding new revenue streams possible. Highest ticket prices in the game? Check. Consecutive sellout streak intact? Check. Chartered trips so fans unable to score Fenway tickets can see the Sox on the road? Check. A fan club for the fans? You bet. Their own dating reality show on the team owned Cable channel? Hell yes!

Which makes a purist like me groan. The Coke bottles were fine, I get it, we need to raise money to compete with the Yankees who will spend anything and everything in pursuit of titles. And the new seating venues are wonderful. The packed stadium a testament to the ability to draw fans and fill the coziest and most intimate ballpark in the game. Even while the turnstiles spun to welcome throngs of pink hat clad fans to the stadium, arm in arm with their Bosox boyfriends, to buy overpriced beer and watch the beantown nine, the pervasive attitude on Yawkey Way was that Boston could not compete long term with the Yankees, because New York had the ability to earn far more than the Red Sox.

Reality ought to throw cold water on the Red Sox rationale. Of the last six World Series Champs, the 2004 Red Sox had the highest payroll. The Yankees, who spend more money than Congress, have exactly zero titles in that span. In fact, their last Championship, in 2000, was the last year where homegrown Yankees filled the roster and where the character guys like Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill were preferred. Since then the Yankees have added Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Robin Ventura, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Raul Mondesi, Hideki Matsui, Jeff Weaver, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Johnny Damon, Tom Gordon, Bobby Abreu, Kei Igawa and brought back Andy pettitte and Roger Clemens. Lavishing those big contracts on these players have bought the Yankees exactly one fewer title than the Red Sox have in that stretch. Congrats Red Sox, it’s not a competition anymore, we’ve won. We’ve won by spending more than everyone else, except New York, and finding the happy medium between outrageous and truly obscene spending on payroll.

Money helps teams win, that’s true enough. But more than that, teams need to wisely allocate their limited payroll resources. But still we hear the refrain, New York can still outspend us. Oh boo hoo, wook at the widdle Wed Sox team, in first by eight widdle games, and scared of the big, bad Yankees. Break me a freakin’ give.

And if you are looking for a pair of little engines that could, real ones, try Seattle and Milwaukee. Two teams fighting for their playoff lives, with smaller payrolls than most of their competition. Milwaukee had led the woeful NL Central for most of the season, but have yielded to the Cubs, and the Mariners are playing a big three-game series against the LAnaheim Angels of Orange County, California. Both teams payrolls are smaller than the team they are chasing. Those are little engines that can, John Henry.

The Red Sox certainly are not. No other major league baseball team charges what Boston does for tickets, then says to its fan base, “why don’t you and your kids sign up to be members of ‘Red Sox Nation’ and ‘Red Sox Kid Nation.’” They can do it because a select number of my fellow fans are so obsessive of their support that they buy every Red Sox thing they can – including silly fan club memberships. Chances are they watch the God-awful “Sox Appeal” reality show on NESN. And more than likely they have no idea who Butch Hobson was or that he managed the woeful Sox teams of my teen years. They have probably no idea who Denny Doyle was. And probably had no clue about what Dean Barnett was talking about with his former nom de blog (James Frederick Dwight). Come to think of it, they probably had no clue about Dean Barnett, either. The more I pay attention to them, the less a part of that community I feel.

Eight game lead, heading into the Bronx, while the Yankees are reeling. I ought to be atop the wide world of sport. I’m not. I hate what Red Sox Nation has become. Led by an owner who outspends every other team, except New York, but still cries poor mouth when he speaks to the press, and a marketing department so relentless they sell television programs devoted to showing the dating foibles of “real” fans, is it any wonder, I’m wondering whether I will ever be able to cheer for this team without the bad taste in my mouth?


Pirates Fans to GM Dave Littlefield: Drop Dead

The keepers of Bucco Blog have a gem from the Dave Littlefield radio program. Click over to listen. They kindly post a paraphrased transcript.

Dave Littlefield was asked by a Pirate fan when he plans to resign and Littlefield answered him by saying the current offense is not up to par, the players are in the 26 – 30 year old range and should be performing better, and the Pirates will score more runs when they do.

The second caller asked Littlefield what advice he has for suffering fans and Littlefield responded by saying there are better days ahead, the Pirates won three of four series before they went on the last road trip, the players must perform better, the players are young and in a funk right now, and he feels strongly it will be better.

The third caller was Dave Littlefield’s agent (just kidding – it was a fan) who called to say he was tired of people ripping on Littlefield, he thinks Littlefield is doing a really good job, and to hang in there. Littlefield’s response was that winning games was the most important thing and that’s what they are going to try and do.

Remarkably, the Bucco Bloggers merely glanced sideways at that third caller, without suggesting what to my ears – trained as a call screener for sports talk radio back in my college days – was clearly a planted call. Intrigues and conspiracies and aspersions, oh my!

The rational is simple. As I wrote to Brian Wilmer (whose mention of this story tipped me to it) of the Writer’s Radio (an excellent sports podcast (and live Internet Radio program):

When I was a humble call screener for the ACC Hotline call-in show, we had a guest and no callers, and sure enough one of the network employees called up, and asked an reporter like question, and primed the pump, so to speak.

But with the caller for Littlefield, he didn’t have anything else to say but positive, glowing stuff for the GM. A caller holding might want to voice support, but he’s still going to want to make his point. Calling a radio show is an act of narcissism that your opinion is worth disseminating. So is blogging! A caller would say his bit of support, then get on with why he called. A planted call though is there to stop the bleeding.

The call was one that successfully stemmed the tide of anti-Littlefield venom, and allowed the Littlefield to take command of the show back from the callers. Mission Accomplished! Still you have to admire the forthrightness of the two disgruntled callers basically asking the leader of their team, “why is it that after fifteen years, we still stink.” Hopefully, Littlefield, or the next General Manager of the Pirates will soon re-establish the winning tradition to a proud and dejected baseball town.


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