We are a fantasy baseball league whose draft is scheduled for April 14. Ten men enter (or nine or eight), and one man leaves.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

BP on Tigers and Royals

Detroit Tigers
Comings and Goings: Detroit's free agent news: Coming:
Player VORP Contract
Troy Percival 15.7 2 years/$12 MM
Player VORP New Team
Esteban Yan 17.7 ANA, 2 years/$2.25 MM
Al Levine 12.3 still free agent
Eric Munson 3.8 non-tendered
Moving in the Wrong Direction: Troy Percival is now the Tigers' closer, having signed for two years/$12 MM. Here are some worrisome numbers:
Year K/9I HR/9 BB/9
2000 8.82 .9 4.8
2001 11.08 .5 2.5
2002 10.86 .8 3.8
2003 8.76 1.0 4.2
2004 5.98 1.1 3.2
Moving from a somewhat neutral park in Anaheim to a pitchers' park in Detroit will help hide his decline, but he's not worth anything near six million bucks. With the 2004 Tigers bullpen both anonymous and mediocre, and with Ugueth Urbina's mother's kidnapping situation still unresolved, one can see how Detroit would want at least a modicum of stability in their pen for next season. Signing an overvalued power pitcher who is losing his power precipitously is not the best way to go about adding that stability, however. Paying Percival far more than he's worth while simultaneously letting Esteban Yan sign for far less elsewhere is curious. Shiny "Proven Closer" label aside, Percival's basically a warm body at this point; there's not as much of a difference between him and Yan as you might think. Ten million dollars over two years is a lot to gamble to find out, though.
Who's on Third? Well, not Eric Munson, who was non-tendered on December 21. We could charitably call Munson's 2004 "challenging" but, in all seriousness, he's pretty clearly not the player that the Tigers thought he'd become. His departure leaves a vacancy at third base, a vacancy that will require some creativity to fill as no internal solution seems likely.
Brandon Inge re-signed, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $1.35 MM. Inge had himself a pretty useful season in 2004, and played the majority of his innings at third base. No one's arguing that he should start there in place of Munson, though; 2004 was Inge's age-27 season and likely his career year. His OBP was .340; his highest before this was .266. His .453 SLG was largely a product of a power spike that saw him hit 13 home runs and 7 triples. It's interesting that triples affect a player's SLG column, yet are more an indicator of speed than power. Inge has decent speed, but the fact that five of his triples were hit in Comerica just screams "fluke." While both his ABs and hits have gone up each of his four seasons, his doubles output has stayed largely the same, meaning that he's adding lots of singles each year.
This isn't a bad thing. While the triples were largely a fluke, perhaps the home run power is for real. Inge plays a credible third base, and can sit in at catcher and center field; finding a single player to play those three very different positions has some value. If he chips in anything close to a .340 OBP, as he did in 2004, then all the better. As a utility player, Inge is exactly what you'd want: he has the ability to play a few different positions, and the ability to spot start when a regular becomes injured or ineffective (*cough* center field *cough*). Heading into 2005, we're at least wondering whether or not Inge will hit. We know Joe McEwing won't.
He's Got Legs and He Knows How To Use Them: The Tigers also re-upped Alex Sanchez for 2005 for the same $1.35 MM that they gave Inge. While much has been made of Sanchez's basestealing deficiencies, 2004 was out of line with his career numbers:
Year SB CS SB%
2001 6 2 .75
2002 37 14 .73
2003 (Mil) 8 6 .57
2003 (Det) 44 18 .71
2004 19 13 .59
This doesn't excuse the signing, though. Alex Sanchez is still Alex Sanchez, and he's still on the wrong side of the 75% break-even rate for stolen bases. He missed some action in 2004 with various leg problems (hamstring, thigh), and if those recur, what little value he had could be entirely gone; if his speed returns and he accumulates some steals at about a 71% rate, that'll be a lot of counting stats that might increase his value come July 31 when a playoff team tries to get a Dave Roberts at a bargain price.
Much of Sanchez's batting average is tied up in infield hits, and if he loses that, he's toast. It's absurd to pay over a million bucks for a center fielder who won't hit the ball out of the infield, especially when the Tigers already had such a player earning the league minimum: Exavier Logan, otherwise known as Nook. I mean, come on: Exavier Prente Logan? That's a great name. That has to count for something, right? Right?
Kansas City Royals
Comings and Goings: Kansas City's free agent list: Coming:
Player VORP Contract
Kevin Appier -5.2 minor league deal
Luis Ugueto DNP minor league deal
Jose Lima 28.0 1 year/$2.5 MM
Player VORP New Team
Joe Randa 20.1 CIN, 1 year/$2.25 MM
Kelly Stinett 5.7 ARI, minor league deal
Dennis Reyes 11.0 SDP, 1 year/$550K
Miguel Asencio DNP non-tendered
Juan Gonzalez 4.4 still free agent
Desi Relaford -10.8 COL?
I'm Crazy For You But Not That Crazy: What's this? Zach Greinke, not necessarily assured of starting on Opening Day? And a few inane quotations about how there are plenty of good candidates available within the current rotation? Who exactly are these "good candidates," and how, precisely, are they better than Greinke? Of course, fretting over who gets the ball Opening Day is not really a good way to spend one's time. But this is ultimately a cheap and easy way into a look at the Royals rotation. Here's what they did in 2004 (minimum: 10 starts):
Player GS VORP
Darrell May 31 -1.2
Brian Anderson 26 -8.0
Jimmy Gobble 24 8.5
Zack Greinke 24 36.4
Mike Wood 17 2.2
Dennis Reyes 12 11.0
Greinke was clearly the superior pitcher in Kansas City last year, and with no competition. May has been traded to San Diego, ostensibly replaced in the rotation by Jose Lima, recently inked to a one year, $2.5 MM deal. Virtually guaranteed a spot in Kansas City's rotation, Lima returns to K.C. after reclaiming his career in Los Angeles. While we'll have plenty of fond memories of his time in L.A. (including, but not limited to, this playoff game, he's not likely to improve on his recent performance. He still doesn't strike anyone out (he's been under six whiffs per nine since his disastrous 2001 with Houston), and the impeccable control he had in 2004 reversed a recent (though small) trend of relative wildness. When a team's Web site champion's a recent signee's veteran leadership before his position is even mentioned, be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
In other Royals rotation news, Miguel Asencio turned down the Royals' offer of arbitration, but there's a chance they will re-sign him. Given the almost inexplicable free-agent market for mediocre pitching this offseason, he was probably right to hold out for more money. Coming off Tommy John surgery, though, and the fact that he's Miguel Asencio, he's unlikely to have many serious suitors.
Nobody {Messes} With DeJesus: With Carlos Beltran gone (and he's not coming back), the center-field job was handed to prospect David DeJesus:
Before the All-Star Break: .164/.253/.179 in 67 ABsAfter the All-Star Break: .314/.385/.453 in 296 ABsTotal for season: .287/.360/.402 in 363 ABs
While Beltran's offense will be missed, it's not like they replaced him with a slouch. DeJesus' minor league track record suggests good OBP, good BA, above-average defense, and low home run totals. That'll play.
One thing DeJesus definitely does not share with Beltran is basestealing acumen: eight successful steals in 19 tries is not so good (See: Sanchez, Alex above). His minor league numbers aren't much better, either: 19 successes against 14 failures. But when SB% is your largest concern with a prospect, you're in pretty good shape.
I Don't Know's on Third: Like the Tigers, Kansas City has a third base hole to fill, with Joe Randa having moved on to the Reds. Desi Relaford was the only other player to see significant time at the hot corner in 2004, and he's likely a Rockie for 2005.
The Royals appear to have two options. The first is Mark Teahen, whose contract was just purchased from Omaha. Is he ready? In three minor league seasons, he's a .287/.368/.411 hitter, with 18 home runs in 1256 career ABs; most of this minor-league line was compiled in pitcher's parks, so we can throw him a bone, albeit a small one. His power numbers are a bit low, though he's demonstrated impressive control of the strike zone at all levels. Allard Baird took some heat for publicly saying he wanted a third baseman and catcher in return for Beltran last year, as some people thought it limited his options; rather than get the best possible players available regardless of their position, he settled for the best "third baseman and catcher" set. Teahen might not be cut from the Scott Rolen mold of third basemen, but Bill Mueller has value.
It can only be assumed that if Teahen's not ready, the job will go to option number two: Chris Truby, signed to a one-year deal in November. Truby's career line is .231/.269/.388. Advantage: Teahen.
The Sisco Kid: Dayn Perry ran down the list of Rule 5 eligibles this year and determined that Andy Sisco could be the real prize. The Royals snagged him with the second pick overall, which could work out very well for both parties; though he's arguably better suited for Omaha, it isn't like Sisco will have to be buried as the 13th man on the staff, and his presence alone might dispel any crazy notions that Jaime Cerda could/should ever be used as a LOOGY. Of course, Rule 5ers tend to hit the DL in May or June with a surprise case of "Mystery Arm," the only known cure of which is roster expansion.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

BP on the Angels

Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels
Saying Goodbye: An organization that had been characterized by its roster stability and its loyalty--some would argue excessive--to the pillars of its success has undergone significant change in the past three months. The Angels have watched three players who have never played a game for any other team, and who were all key parts of the 2002 championship team, leave via free agency. In all three cases, the Halos made virtually no attempt to keep the players.
First to go was nominal closer Troy Percival. Percival hadn't been the Angels' best reliever since '02, and the emeregence of not only Francisco Rodriguez as a shutdown pitcher, but also Scot Shields behind him, made it easy to let Percival walk away. Percival signed a surprising two-year deal with the Tigers for $12 million.
The Angels declined to offer arbitration to third baseman/DH Troy Glaus, whose Festivus-worthy feats of strength in October of 2002 were a huge part in the Angels' title that year. As with Percival, the organization can let Glaus leave because it has been able to develop an adequate replacement, in this case, slugger Dallas McPherson. McPherson destroyed Double- and Triple-A this year, and should provide Glaus-like power in short order, although his defense won't be up to the same standard. At $10-11 million less per year over the next three seasons--Glaus signed a four-year, $45-million deal with the Diamondbacks--they'll learn to do without.
Finally, the Angels chose to make a change at shortstop, signing free agent Orlando Cabrera to a four-year contract worth $32 million. This meant the end of fan favorite David Eckstein's tenure in Anaheim after four years as the starter. Cabrera, who received a disproportionate amount of credit for the Red Sox late-season run and eventual championship, is the same age as Eckstein and, at least according to our metrics, outplayed him just once over the past three seasons. Per Wins Above Replacement Player:
Eckstein Cabrera
2001 2.7 8.2
2002 5.6 4.9
2003 3.3 6.1
2004 2.8 2.1
Of course, the statement above is misleading. Cabrera was much more productive in '03, and within one win of Eckstein in '02 and '04. Given that some of the statistical proximity is defense, with Eckstein showing as better than Cabrera in our metrics, it's fair to say that Cabrera is likely the better player. Is he $5 million a year--the difference between his salary and Eckstein's after Eckstein signed a contract with the Cardinals--better over the next three seasons? Quite possibly, given the trend in Eckstein's performance and the possibility that Cabrera, who likes to swing the bat, will thrive with the Angels.
How much these changes will help the Angels remains to be seen. Much depends on whether McPherson can sustain his offense in the majors. If he can, the overall output from the left side of the infield should remain stable at lower price than what last year's combination will make.
Some of the savings has been invested in the outfield, from which Jose Guillen was dispatched to make room for free agent Steve Finley on a two-year contract. Projecting continued production from a 40-year-old is risky, but Finley should at least be an average hitter, and even though he's lost a big step defensively, having him in center field pushed Garret Anderson back to left, which should keep him in the lineup and hopefully allow him to return to his 2000-03 production level.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

BP on Twins

Minnesota Twins
Who's on Third: Turning to the Twins' free agents:
Coming VORP '04 Salary Status
Brad Radke 60.1 $10.8MM re-signed 2 yr/$18MM
Juan Castro 0.8 $1.0MM signed 2 yr/$2.05MM
Terry Mulholland 9.6 $0.6MM signed minor league deal
Mike Redmond 3.7 $0.8MM signed 2 yr/$1.8MM
Going VORP '04 Salary Status
Henry Blanco -8.0 $0.8MM signed CHN 2 yr/$2.7MM
Cristian Guzman 15.5 $3.7MM signed WAS 4 yr/$16.8MM
Corey Koskie 26.7 $4.5MM signed TOR 3 yr/$17MM
The Twins' angle on the winter meetings was only notable for what it didn't include: a contract for Corey Koskie. Though Koskie had said he'd be willing to take less money to return to Minnesota--a two-year deal in the vicinity of $9-10 million overall, with a no-trade clause--GM Terry Ryan was content only to offer him arbitration. When the Blue Jays swooped to offer the 31-year-old a three-year deal, Koskie's six-year tenure as the Twins' third baseman ended.
Coupled with the earlier departure of Cristian Guzman, the loss of Koskie means a turnover of the left side of the Twins' infield. That's not necessarily a bad thing, given the generous contracts the two players received from their new teams and how fertile Minnesota's system has been in recent years. But how the Twins will choose to fill that hole is an open question.
Recall that in a market crawling with shortstops to fit every budget, the Twins found a way to go off-label by signing Juan Castro. A futilityman who can barely keep his performance above sea-level (4.7 WARP spread over 1742 plate appearances, with a robust EQA of .210), Castro's signinq barely makes sense even if he's merely the caddy for prospect Jason Bartlett. On a team where every million counts, locking up a Castro for two years is a gross misunderstanding of the replacement-level concept.
With the Beltre and Koskie signings, the market for high-profile free-agent third basemen boils down to Joe Randa, a 35-year-old who hit .287/.343/.408 (a .263 EQA) last year, and 32-year-old Tony Batista (.241/.272/.455, .242 EQA). The most likely scenario has Michael Cuddyer, who filled in at third base when Koskie was injured, taking over the role full-time. In his first full season in the bigs, Cuddyer hit .263/.339/.440 for a .267 EQA, falling somewhere between his 25th and 40th percentile PECOTA projections--a bit of a disappointment, in other words. He'll turn 26 in the spring. For comparison's sake, at 26, Koskie was a rookie raking to the tune of a .310/.387/.468 line (a .288 EQA), a level that he's more or less held since then. Cuddyer has his work cut out for him to reach that level, let alone maintain it.
Slotting him at third may not be in the Twins' best interests. Cuddyer's 43 games there were a bit hairy: 17 runs below average per 100 games, according to the Davenport system. He also subbed for the injured Luis Rivas at second base, putting up slightly above average performance in 48 appearances. It's fair to say that Cuddyer's skill as an infielder is an open question; whether he can comfortably handle a regular role defensively will drive many of the Twins' decisions in the spring.
Another name from within the organization is Terry Tiffee, who was the Eastern League's All-Star third baseman in 2003 and who hit .307/.357/.522 (a .254 MjEQA) in Rochester last year before getting a cup of coffee with the big club. Only three weeks younger than Cuddyer, Tiffee's a solid two years behind him developmentally--a considerable gap. He's a switch-hitter with a bit of pop, but he's walked only once for every 17.5 plate appearances in the high minors, and the Twins can use all of the plate disciplinarians they can find.
The Twins have owned the AL Central for the past three years, but they'll need to find some production in the infield to insure that they stave off the pretenders to the divisional throne. Cuddyer/Castro/Rivas likely won't cut it, and Tiffee/Bartlett/Cuddyer might still not be enough. They're probably one man short here, so don't be shocked if they make a move to throw another veteran into the mix.
Bradical: The Twins' biggest victory this offseason has been the retention of Brad Radke, who was heavily courted by the Boston Red Sox before an 11th-hour deal kept him in... Twinstripes? Sure. Though his won-loss record was only 11-8 last year, Radke enjoyed an excellent season, with career-bests in ERA (3.48) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.5) and the most innings he'd thrown (219 2/3) since 2001.
Radke finished tied for eighth among pitchers in VORP with 60.1 and second among all pitchers (behind staff ace Johan Santana) in... wait for it... Support-Neutral Lineup-Adjusted Value Above Replacement. Radke added 6.9 wins above a replacement level pitcher given the same support, the same ballpark, and the same quality of hitter faced. He was also fourth in Team Expected Wins in his starts with 20.6, one of only six pitchers to crack 20 last year. Not too shabby for the team's second-best starter.
The Twins had been offering Radke a three-year deal worth about $21 million, but the Mets' overly generous pact with Kris Benson raised the ante. By settling for two years, Radke received a higher payday, while the Twins kept themselves flexible over the long term.
Tender Mercies: As Monday night's non-tender deadline approached, the Twins had seven arbitration-eligible players whose fates rested in the balance. Just before the deadline, the team announced deals with Rivas, Jacque Jones and Matt LeCroy, and tendered contracts to Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, Kyle Lohse, J.C. Romero and Carlos Silva.
Jones' deal is for one year and $5 million. Second on the team in homers with 24, Jones was nonetheless a drag on the Twins' offense, hitting just .254/.315/.427 (.244 EQA). As the season wound down, the Twins looked well-positioned to replace him thanks to the performance of Jason Kubel (.300/.358/.433 in 67 plate appearances), the team's minor-league player of the year. But Kubel suffered an injury during Arizona Fall League play, tearing not only his anterior cruciate ligament but possibly his medial collateral ligament or his meniscus as well. He's expected to miss all of the 2005 season. With their readymade replacement out of the picture, the Twins went with the safe bet.
Said Ryan of the signing, "I understand people have said we have all kinds of outfield depth. But Jacque gives us offense, he hits for power and he plays a good right field. He's unselfish, he's durable, he's a good teammate. He's a lot of things that we're about here." Resist the temptation to take the red pen to that quote, Twins fans. After all, Luis Rivas is coming back (one year, $1.625MM), too.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Why Did Beane Trade Mulder?

Matier and Ross speculate that it's to trim commitment so that the A's look more attractive to a buyer. One of the Oakland Trib columnists says that Beane has become an egomaniac and is pursuing a disastrous course that will destroy the A's. What do you hear, little league buddies?

Friday, December 17, 2004

Time for a Prediction

BCL says the A's won't make the playoffs with the current subtractions/additions. Maybe 85 wins but no playoffs.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Boggs, Sandberg and Trammell for Hall? So says BP

Click and you shall see.

I'm just going to give the link in case you are interested.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Moneyball Lewis Talks About the A's

Well, I borrowed this from an A's fan website.

September, 2004

Without further ado, my conversation with Moneyball author Michael Lewis:
Blez: Hi Michael, I wanted to interview you for my site because I'd seen some rumors around the Internet that you were working on a follow-up to Moneyball. So is there any truth to that rumor?
ML: You know when I sold Moneyball, I sold it in two books. And I decided it was a book after the draft of 2002. So when I decided it was a book, I thought that I would really want to know what happened to these kids. And so I've been marinating in minor league baseball for the two years. It's a different kind of book so I anticipate it taking another two or three seasons before I'm even ready to write it. I'm just gathering string right now. The players really need to work out their fates before I can sit down to write about them.
Blez: That makes a lot of sense.
ML: It takes them so long. So I am working on it. I'm doing other stuff at the same time, but I am doing that. It's tentatively scheduled to be published in 2007. I wouldn't bet money on that happening.
Blez: Do you have a title for it?
ML: Underdogs.
Blez: Great name.
ML: As I say, it was conceived the moment that Moneyball was conceived. They're twins. It wasn't something I thought of doing after I published Moneyball. When I got into it, the funny thing was that I was really worried that I didn't have the stuff to do Moneyball. I was really confident that I was going to have the stuff to do the second book, but I didn't know how the first book was going to look. In a way, I remember thinking as I was working on Moneyball that the only reason I'm writing this piece is so that I can get to the second one.
Blez: Well, you turned out a heck of a piece for someone that just wanted to get to the next one.
ML: Yeah, but that was the spirit in which the whole project was conceived. I really did think, "God I really do want to write that second book. But I can't write that second book unless I write the first book first."
Blez: So you had a good idea going into writing that first book that a good portion of it was going to be about the drafting philosophy of the A's?
ML: I didn't know quite how much, but I did know that there was at least one long scene set in the draft of 2002. It just ended up running longer than I thought it was going to run. I knew that was interesting and was going to be a part of Moneyball because they were just getting real conviction in the front office about what they were doing in the draft. They had sort of dabbled in the draft in previous years. They had more or less taken control of the top draft choices where they were spending a lot of money. But they hadn't said, "Here is a list of the hitters we're going to take and here is a list of the pitchers." They hadn't gone that far. When I walked in, they were beginning to feel much more confident about imposing their theories. And 2002 was really a watershed for them, when they said, "Screw it, even if this doesn't work, it can't be that much worse than what we're doing. And so let's try this." I thought that it would be sort of neat and that it would be a part of what I was writing, I just didn't know how much.
Blez: When you became a part of the draft room, was it something that naturally evolved to them getting used to your presence? Sort of like reality TV stars getting used to a camera person being in their face all the time?
ML: I had been badgering them for two and a half months before that. So I'd developed an extended conversation with Billy Beane about what he was up to, and Paul DePodesta. By that point in the season, it wasn't that weird for me to be there because I'd been hanging around so much. I'd met a couple of the senior scouts and been to minor league games with Billy and scouting trips with Paul. So I don't think they thought twice about who I was and what I was doing. I was just another guy in the room and it was jammed. There was 40 people there so I don't think anyone really paid much attention to me.
Blez: Were you interested in baseball prior to the book proposal? I had thought some of your natural interest in the A's had come from the corporate world and how they were conducting business differently to be successful.
ML: The dirty little truth is that I used the connection of something I'd written a lot about, which is Wall Street and the way that markets work or don't work as an excuse to write about baseball. I don't want to be too clear about this because the truth is ambiguous. It is true that I didn't know that I had a book until I had framed it in terms of the market working or not working, the market being baseball players and how it was changing and how people were thinking about it. Theories on Wall Street were now being applied to human beings. That's really when I realized that there was a big story here. Having said that, I didn't start by saying, I want to write a market/financial-like book. I started by saying, I kind of want to write a little piece about baseball and I'd been curious about this thing going on in Oakland. I paid enough attention to notice that how well they were doing with their money was bizarre. In a properly functioning market, a team with such a severe financial disadvantage shouldn't be able to win so many games. But as for my baseball background, I wasn't interested the way, say Bill James was interested. I wasn't an obsessive. It had been a very important part of my youth. I'd played through my freshman year in college. I played summer ball after my freshman year and gotten very badly hurt playing after my freshman year. But I always felt cheated out of a longer career. I didn't think I was going to play professional ball, but I thought I'd been cheated out of an extra three years.
Blez: What happened to you?
ML: I was a pitcher. I was sliding into second base. I was playing American Legion ball. The team was so bad, they let me hit, which I didn't usually do. I slid into second base and the hole under the base where the base was planted. The gap was still there and my toe went under the base and I popped up after the slide. I ripped everything in my ankle and while my ankle ballooned, like an idiot, I pitched on it. I couldn't walk properly for almost a year, so I just stopped. It was my landing foot, so I couldn't pitch. I was having a good time in college, so I just sort of said, oh well. But then my senior year I remember feeling really sad that I had not been able to continue to play. After that, I didn't follow it that closely because I moved nine months after I graduated college. I moved to London for eight years and this is before it was really easy to get American baseball games on British television. So I was just cut off from it all and didn't pay any attention to it. I was a casual fan who had a history with the game. I wrote something three months ago for New York Magazine. I actually had my old baseball coach on the cover of the magazine.
Blez: I didn't see it, but I did see your Sports Illustrated piece about Moneyball.
ML: The piece for the Magazine was about my high school baseball coach who is still coaching. He's just a fabulous coach and they made him the cover story. I wrote a bit of that story. I had a natural interest in the game, but not the kind of interest that maybe a lot of the people that you hang out with have.
(Laughter ensues)
ML: (Still laughing)...Now I do though. It's a tar-baby. Once you engage with it, it's tough to disengage.
Blez: That's funny that you say that because growing up I was a real big hockey fan and I wasn't all that into baseball, and it wound up being the A's that drew me in and hasn't let go since.
ML: There's a good reason for that. There's a reason to root for this team. That's what is so fun about it. That whenever this team takes the field, it's not just a baseball game, it's a war of ideas. That's kind of neat. That does happen in sports, but not often.
Blez: Do you think that Moneyball in some senses, I don't want to say started that war, but in a lot of ways it did because it brought it to the mass public's consciousness?
ML: There were glowing embers there and the book tossed a can of gasoline on it. That is basically what happened, I think. Billy Beane was already experiencing friction within the game. Largely because he had done pretty well in some trades, but there was a sense that he was doing things a little differently. And people focused on what they could see, which was that they didn't steal bases and they didn't sacrifice bunt. I think word got out a bit that Oakland's front office was a bit more heavy-handed than other front offices and that they were controlling things that the manager would normally control and that the scouting director would control.
Blez: Like on-the-field decisions?
ML: Yes and that is, of course, heresy. And it pisses off all the old baseball guys because the managers, they want that power. They want that prestige and they can't imagine ceding any of it to a suit. There were already some little signs of friction, but the book clearly created a mess. I've always thought that it wasn't going to end really sweetly. The nature of these sorts of things, I mean. History is not kind in this sense. The revolutions tend to consume the revolutionaries. And how they do it is different in each case, but I've always kind of thought that this was a good moment for Billy, for Paul, for David Forst, for the book, but I wouldn't be surprised if the story evolves and there is more of them together in the future. One scenario, the ideas in the book that were spawned in the book-- actually the front office never invented these ideas, they just kind of seized on them. The Bill James stuff, these ideas will become so commonplace that so many baseball teams will be run this way. The attitude towards these people in this book, we know what that is already: "What's this book and who are these people claiming to have known something that we already use?" I wouldn't be surprised to see that kind of thing happen.
Blez: That brings me to a very relevant point about the book. If a team like the Boston Red Sox that has $120 million to play with gets into the same general philosophy that the A's are imploring, does that automatically put the Red Sox two or three steps ahead?
ML: No question about it. The Red Sox will be a better team than the A's for years to come. Thank God the playoffs are a crapshoot. There is room for both of them in the playoffs and anything can happen in the playoffs. Yes the market is moving now. It's moved quite a bit since I was in the front office. There aren't the same inefficiencies that there were before. There are still inefficiencies, but it's just that it's getting more efficient, so it's getting harder and harder for Oakland to operate. You can see it in the way they build the team, from stressing the high on-base percentage guys to not being bad this way now. There's a lot of noise out there now about how they've sort of abandoned the on-base percentage philosophy in favor of pitching and defense, but if you look at the Oakland offense this year and factor in the ballpark, it's actually a good offense. It's not a great offense. But if you take money into account, it is a great offense for the cost. If you factor in the extreme pitcher's park that these guys have to hit in and the money that's spent on them, it's pretty damn good still. It is true that a little before the time I showed up, they were already seeing the market for on-base percentage change, so they couldn't go snap up the same players. Scott Hatteberg wouldn't be available to them now for example. Jason Giambi coming out of the draft would've probably been more coveted. But they were already saying the next game for them was measuring defense better. I don't know this for a fact, but I think that's what they think they are doing.
Blez: I would tend to agree with you because the front office has alluded to the importance of the defense in some newspaper articles.
ML: Yes and it's a natural question to ask, why was it so devastating to Billy Beane that Mark Ellis got hurt? Even now, he sort of mourns the season loss of Ellis. Even taking into account the offensive production of Scutaro which is surprisingly good, and you could even say better than Ellis's. It's because the way they measured Ellis's defense, that defense was extremely valuable. And while Scutaro has, I think I saw on television the other day, committed the fewest numbers of errors of any second baseman in baseball, he just doesn't have the same range and he just doesn't get to some of the balls that Ellis would get to.
Blez: Which is obviously very important with the ground ball staff Billy's assembled.
ML: Exactly right. They built a ground ball staff and if you have Crosby and Ellis in there, you probably have the tightest infield groundball defense in the American League or at least one of the top ones.
Blez: Do you think Crosby is that good defensively?
ML: They think he's really good. They were very comfortable with it. And it would've been really fun to watch Ellis and Crosby grow up together as a double play combination. But what's also happened this year is the outfield defense has excelled. Part of this is luck because Jermaine Dye has come back in a way that you just couldn't predict. But the outfield defense is the best it's been since I've been paying attention to them. With Kotsay, Dye and Byrnes in left, the range is...I mean all of sudden they are running down a lot of fly balls. It's really very damning about Zito's year. To have that ERA and to be a flyball pitcher with the best outfield defense you've ever had behind you, it's very damning of where he is. In any case, the broader issue, as I was talking about the revolution consuming the revolutionaries, no matter how much I, as the writer, say about the book and try to explain to people that haven't read it or misinterpreted it what the book is trying to say and do: the noise against the book inside baseball is so loud and so persistent that there is no way I can drown it out.
Blez: How do you think that noise has affected Billy personally? Have you ever had a conversation with him about it?
ML: We talk about it all the time. I honestly think that after a period of being a little unsettled by just how noisy the response was, and it was very, very noisy, that Billy had started to build a new kind of strength. I think he has an attitude now of just, "Fuck `em." He's indestructible now, and it didn't kill him it only made him stronger. He's liberated from his clippings. This isn't to say that he isn't capable of getting irritated by them, but he really doesn't care what people think anymore, and I'm not really sure he ever did that much. But he just sort of discovered this strength within himself that he is capable of dealing with this and moving on. He's told me he finds it very liberating. And just judging from his behavior and attitude, I'd say that is true. Coupled with that is that it's also been empowering in a different way for him. There is a social power to the book. The reason that baseball was so noisy about it was that it managed to build a bridge between baseball culture and the larger culture. It drew in all kinds of people who would pay casual, if any kind of attention, to baseball. People were reading this and saying, "God this applies to my business and how come the other baseball teams are managed so stupidly." All of a sudden, the owner or the manager has his buddies asking him, "What the hell were you doing there, Fred?" It creates a pressure on baseball from outside of baseball. That has been greatly to Billy's benefit because he's now well known in corporate America whereas no one really knew him before outside of baseball. There have been benefits to him because in some ways it has liberated him from baseball. It's funny because baseball trapped Billy the minute he was talked into not going to Stanford. He was sort of rendered unfit for anything but baseball. It was going to be very hard for him after several years of bouncing around in the minors and the major leagues to go find a job outside of baseball that he would find challenging and interesting. Typically that person spends their life trapped in baseball, which could be an explanation for the behavior of some of the people in baseball. They're completely dependent on the culture. They can't break from the pack because it's too risky and there is nothing else they can do. Billy began to sense, even before I met him, there are other things he could do if he had to. But now that the book has come out, if he wanted to go be a venture capitalist tomorrow, there would be people who would hire him.
Blez: Speaking of people who are fearful of breaking from the pack and baseball being all that they know, what are your feelings about Joe Morgan at this point? I don't think anyone has been a louder, more public voice that won't let go of the book and criticism of Billy and the A's. He seems to have a lot of problems with Billy Beane and the book and new thought in general.
ML: I don't know what to say about that. He says lots of stupid things on the television set. He seems lazy and foolish to me. But on the other hand, he's not completely without merit as an announcer. There are times when he is actually interesting about some things and one doesn't want to give him too little credit. God knows where he is coming from, so I'd hate to explain his motive, but I'd just say he's not a very persuasive character to me. You can't write for a living without creating enemies. Or at least enemies of the things you've written. And I've sort of winced at some of my enemies, saying, "Oh God having that person as an enemy isn't good because whatever he says next could be dangerous." I don't feel that way about Joe Morgan. I actually feel very pleased that Joe Morgan is an enemy of the book. With enemies like that, who needs friends? It's hard for me to get upset about it.

Blez: I want to get some insight as to where you are with the follow-up book. It sounds like you're pretty far away from completing Underdogs, but what have you seen this season? You've seen Jeremy Brown, Mark Teahen, Blanton, Swisher and the other guys close up. You've probably seen them more than most people have.
ML: I'd argue that I've seen them more than anyone has because that's all I've been doing. Their manager has seen them more, but I don't think anyone has spent more days collectively in the presence of these guys. I've seen quite a bit of them. It's been fun to watch. They're still growing. It's still unclear what their future is, even some of the more prominent ones. There was 40 guys that they drafted and 25 of those are really front office picks. They say that they signed 30 of the 40 they drafted. A lot of these guys, their futures are very ambiguous. You just don't know what's going to happen to them. Blanton, it's kind of clear already. I'd say with Swisher it's very clear already. These are going to everyday, possibly extremely well-known, big league players. I'd say that Teahen too that's true of. But you have to look at them everyday to see-- no I don't mean look, I mean pay more attention to their stats than just their batting average. In particular, Swisher. The stats tell you everything you need to know about him. If you look at his walks, it's insane. He's 23 YEARS OLD in a league filled with 30-year-old players who've spent time in the big leagues. And he's got like 78 or 80 walks and the next closest guy has 60? How does that happen? It's freakish. He's got 16 bombs, who cares that he is hitting .260? Last time I checked, he was like sixth in the league in on-base percentage and that's at 23 years old. When you go see him and you look at the numbers, what you see when you watch him just confirms the numbers in that he has a really amazing tendency/ability to control his encounters in the batter's box. He does have a remarkable control over the encounter. He really does have a very, very good eye and just great discipline. He doesn't mind taking his walks. In the big leagues, it's a little harder to get those walks, but it's not that much harder. He's sort of made it clear that he could be given a starting shot next year. Those guys in a way are the rabbits, and the tortoises are more interesting in a lot of ways than the rabbits. The rabbits will be there.
Blez: Can you tell me about some of the tortoises?
ML: I don't want to tell you because I don't want to blow what's in the book.
Blez: Can you mention any names that have stood out to you then?
ML: I hate to even mention them at this point. But one fun part of the project that didn't occur to me when I was conceiving it was that it was going to be fascinating to figure out ways to evaluate the draft. That's honest and valid. The people who said it was a bad draft or a good draft, well there isn't really a valid argument for that yet. You've got to sort of say, "Compared to what? Compared to the other guys that were drafted that year? Compared for what they spent?" You've got to take all these things into consideration when evaluating it. And that's something that I'm going to have to sort through. And then measuring what they got in return. I mean, if you look at what Billy has gotten out of that draft already, it's kind of amazing. He's gotten Dotel for a period of time. And he got Redman. He traded Bill Murphy for Redman. The obvious value are the ones that get to play for the Oakland A's for six years before they go off to free agency. That's an obvious value. But there's a secondary value is the ones who are used as chips in trades and Teahen and Murphy have already served that function.
Blez: Are you going to stop following them now that they're out of the system or will you continue?
ML: I'm going to continue following them. In fact, I talk to Teahen every few days. It's getting harder though.
Blez: The more they disperse you mean.
ML: Yes. They are scattered to the four winds right now and it's only going to get worse.
Blez: What do you think and what has been the impact of Beane and DePodesta being separated? They truly seemed to be the ying to each other's yang.
ML: They're better together than they are apart. That's real clear. I think Billy's biggest loss has been Paul. It's too bad they couldn't find some way for it to be gratifying for both of them to stay together.
Blez: Either in Oakland or someplace else?
ML: Yeah, or even someplace else. It would surprise me if they were someday reunited in some other kind of operation.
Blez: Where it's baseball or not?
ML: The only thing I could imagine reuniting them is some kind of conglomerate of a baseball, a basketball and a football team where they were running all three together.
Blez: Really?
ML: Yes. That was their fantasy when I met them. It probably still is. Paul's got his own thing going now. But three or four years from now, who knows how interested he'll be in that?
Blez: I'm guessing they still maintain a very good relationship?
ML: Oh, very good.
Blez: How are your feelings on the way the book has been taken? I mean, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it's got to be somewhat gratifying but also at the same time frustrating that so many people misunderstood the basic premise of the book. And to this day we still have people like Bill Simmons on ESPN.com write that the Red Sox are a nightmarish softball version of Billy Beane's Moneyball dreams.
ML: (Prolonged laughter)
Blez: Well, the reality is that you can't even call the Red Sox that because Moneyball was about an idea of beating the system...it's right in the subtitle, The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. And you can call the Red Sox lots of things, but you can't say that they aren't part of the system the A's are trying to beat.
ML: Exactly. They are unfair the other way. Now they're going to get Randy Johnson because Schilling and Pedro aren't enough. But to answer the question about my feelings about the response to the book... look, the truth is that the worst thing that can happen to a book is that it get ignored. The best thing that can happen to a book is that it get read. And this book got read. It would be a bit rich for me to complain about the response to the book. It's been fabulous. Sure, it's frustrating when people write things that I think are stupid about the book, even when they're kind of flattering. It is frustrating when I feel like I haven't been understood, but it's mildly frustrating. It's delightful that anybody's paying attention at all. It's a little hard for me to imagine a better response. The people who are angry about it keep it in the news. If everybody just loved it, nobody would be talking about it anymore. So it's very helpful that the Yankee announcers go on and on and on about how dumb it is when the Yankees are playing the Red Sox. That's just so helpful. You can't buy that kind of publicity. I'm sitting here trying to think of a complaint I could generate about the response to the book. An honest complaint. It's true that it would be nice if everyone had the same high level of reading skills, but they don't. You can't do anything about that. The only thing that I would've liked for the book in its fantasy, and it wasn't going to happen, was that I wish it had gotten a little more serious intellectual attention and literary attention. It got this fabulous review in The New Republic from an economist and a law professor in Chicago, both of whom I admire immensely. But because it's baseball, I think they were the limit to how up-market it was going to go. Literary people were not going to grab for it, and I had those ambitions for it, and those weren't completely realized. But as far as the response in baseball, in the business world and the noise in the papers and stuff, it really doesn't get any better. It couldn't get any better. If you want your book to get attention, you have to put up with people misinterpreting it. In fact what they do misinterpret it when it comes out, it just serves to give me more material. So you can't really complain about that either.
Blez: You know I mentioned this to you in an earlier exchange, but I believe this book belongs in hotels next to that "other book" and is one of the best books I've ever read.
ML: That's really nice, but you do have a little bit of an interest. It confirmed your passion. (laughs) It dignified your passion. You're an Oakland A's obsessive. And now it makes a lot of sense to be one.
Blez: Exactly. It just justifies every single reason why someone needs to root for this team as the underdog. And if you think about it in a lot of ways, Moneyball is a "true American story." It's about looking for a better way to do something.
ML: Absolutely!!! I completely agree. That innovation is at the center of this culture's soul and that it's being done in a game that everyone thought they knew; that makes it a very rich story. It's one thing when people are just inventing new gadgets, but when you've got something that is as high bound and as seemingly perfectly understood as baseball, and right in the middle of it, someone is trying to reinvent it, that's an incredible story. And it's a very American story. It would be like if someone reinvented soccer...I'm trying to think of the European equivalent. I couldn't believe how good a story it was. After I sold the book to my publisher and I was sitting here with a stack of notes four or five months later thinking that the only constraint for this story was my talent. A lot of times the material itself is a constraint. There's only so much you can do with it. I've had that feeling a lot, but in this case, I just knew if it's no good it's my fault. That's such a great feeling, a scary feeling, but a great feeling because there's no doubt. You know you've stumbled upon something terrific. To have that feeling a few times in the lifetime of writer is all you can ask.
Blez: How often are you still around the Coliseum? Are you around a lot to go see the big league club?
ML: Rarely because I'm off at minor league games. At some point in September when the minor league season is over, I'll be there quite a bit. But not before then. And then I'll probably get a press pass because some of my guys are probably going to be September call-ups. Even if not, I've got some interviews to do in the big league clubhouse. The big league players can tell you an awful lot about minor-league life. So I'll be over there in September for three, four or five games.
Blez: How long did it take you to learn and understand the language of Bill James?
ML: You know, I read everything that he wrote in the press box during games. This project took a year and it was very quick. From the moment I engaged to the moment I handed in the manuscript, it was a year. I stumbled upon Bill James a month into it, so I spent 11 months dragging old abstracts around with me to baseball games. I went and visited with him in Kansas and spent some time with him there. But only after I'd felt like I'd earned the privilege, reading everything and grappled with it. So that's how long it took, a year. I'm not everyone ever completely understands Bill James, but that's the amount of work I put into it generating the piece of material that I wrote about him in the middle of the book.
Blez: How do you feel about the pressure some of the kids are under and the scrutiny they are under? It's like the new school applications are kind of hinging on these kids being successful. And how are they dealing with that type of pressure?
ML: I think they are kind of oblivious to it. I mean they weren't at first. Jeremy Brown, for example, everywhere he went people would tease him about being fat. But other than that, they are kind of oblivious to it. And the truth is that there are two more draft classes after them that were drafted the same kind of way. So they're just the first, they're not the only. This is something I'm going to have to say right at the beginning of the second book, but this theory about how to evaluate amateur talent won't be proven or disproven by a single draft class. There's just not enough guys and you need a bigger sample. So it would be false to draw any radical conclusions from a single draft class. So I don't think it's necessarily true that everything hangs on them.
Blez: I've actually talked to a couple of baseball writers who've claimed that this wasn't something that was revolutionary. It was something that was going on in baseball, it was just Moneyball that had brought it to light. Did you get the feeling from Billy and others that this had been going on for some time?
ML: No. Everyone always wants to say I already knew that, but that's bullshit because there was very little good reporting, in fact, virtually none being done on the Oakland front office. So you couldn't really read about what they were doing in the newspapers. They had the sense that what they were doing was very different from what the rest of baseball was doing. It is true that for the most part, that most of their ideas were completely unoriginal. There was a literature out there they just seized upon. It wasn't like they put chocolate in their peanut butter and discovered Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. What they did was that they ate them and they were the first to do that. You can see from the response to the book that there wouldn't be such hostility to it if there was nothing new to it. If everybody was already doing it, it wouldn't be threatening. You wouldn't have the St. Louis Cardinals firing their scouting director and hiring a computer geek to analyze statistics of amateur players. You wouldn't have the New York Mets having their front office read the book. In Boston and Toronto, they have a sense that what they're doing is different. Look, they're still playing the same game so the innovation is a matter of degree. It's not like they've changed everything about the game. To say there was nothing innovative about what they were doing is crazy because I think the response just shows that it was innovative.
Blez: You mentioned the defense becoming more of a part of the equation, for example no Jeremy Giambi in left field anymore. How do you feel the team has evolved since you wrote the book? Do you think they are already trying to figure out the new measure to stay ahead of the teams like the Red Sox and Yankees?
ML: I think the market is getting more efficient so I think the opportunities are drying up. The biggest opportunity is the draft. If they're right about the draft and if these classes of college players they've evaluated in a particular way pan out at a higher rate than past drafts then they're going to successful for another decade. They're going to be successful for a long time. Because they're going to have more good professional players than they'll know what to do with. So that's by far the biggest opportunity. Whatever edge they have there, if they have it, is the most lucrative one. The evaluation of other team's professional players and their farms systems on the other hand, well, there are enough other teams that are looking at and valuing things roughly the same way that there's not huge opportunities there for them. I don't think that they have huge intellectual advantages. I think that Boston and probably Toronto and now Los Angeles for sure. For example, whatever they're thinking about defense, it's mentioned in a slightly complicated part of the book- the AVM - that's the source of their defensive analysis. I think they all have that. The draft is the biggest thing. There are other things that get less attention like the health of pitcher's arms. That in itself could be a wealth machine. If you can draft 15-20 good college pitchers each year and if they're all healthy, then three or four of them are going to be good major league pitchers, then you're in great shape. But that goes back to the draft. If there is anything of extra value of what they've done starting in 2002 to draft players, then there is nothing to worry about for the Oakland A's. They are going to be very good for a long time because they won't even need all the good players coming up through their system. As long as they trade them smartly, which I'm sure they'll do, there is going to be some much value there that it won't matter that they can't play in the free agents market.
Blez: The health of the A's is a natural segue to my last question then, would you call yourself an Oakland A's fan?
ML: Yeah, of course. How can I be anything but? Every time they win, I sell a book. It's more than being a fan. I'm a partner. I feel like a business partner at this point. I feel like my commercial fate is tied to the fate of that team, so I can't completely detach myself from them. I became a fan while I was watching them. Once you understand there is a war of ideas taking place on the field, you're engaging in a different way and I find myself completely engaged in that way.
Thank you very much for taking out the time to answer my questions Michael. Athletics Nation greatly appreciates your considerable contribution here and I'm sure the majority of us can barely stand the fact that Underdogs is coming out three years from now.
Oh and thanks for outing the fact that I'm an obsessive. Wait a minute, AN already knew that.

The 2004 VORP Statistics. I'm Going to Look Up What It Means

Or maybe I won't. It's a long time till the draft.

Lord Vorp, the Dark Prince of Baseball Prospectus

Monday, December 13, 2004

Rays and Jays

Cantu Can-Do? Jorge Cantu presents an interesting dilemma for the Devil Rays. While he doesn't have the tools pedigree of, say, Alfonso Soriano, he did an excellent job imitating him last season. Below are his 2004 numbers, including the Mexican winter league:
AAA 95 368 57 111 33 1 22 16 64 3 0 11 .302 .335 .576
Majors 50 173 25 80 20 1 2 9 44 0 0 5 .301 .341 .462
Mexican 41 168 24 52 8 1 9 11 37 0 0 1 .310 .357 .530
Cantu is just 22 (he turns 23 in January), and his bat has made rapid gains of late. Signed at 17, Cantu was one of the youngest players in Double-A in 2001 and 2002, and put up sub-.200 EqAs in both years. He's improved upon that with an EqA of .245 in a half-season at Triple-A in 2003 followed by a .262 there this year and a .270 in two months of major-league work.
It's not certain that Cantu's improvement is for real. So what? This is the Devil Rays, what do they have to lose trying to find out? They're in a position where they can be patient. As a second baseman, Cantu might be an outfielder, but they're better served finding that out than going to the alternative.
His Future DT pegs him at a .264/.317/.501 peak. If he can survive at second base and approach those numbers, he'll be one of the better players ever to come out of the Devil Rays' system, a reasonable bet to be the poor man's Soriano.
What's an "Orvella"? Quick--anyone have an idea who this is?
Low A 47.1 28 4 5 76 1.33 14.45 15.2
High A 17.2 13 2 4 24 3.06 12.22 6.0
Double-A 7.0 0 0 0 14 0.00 18.00 infinite
Triple-A 1.2 1 1 1 2 5.40 10.78 2.0
Totals 73.2 42 7 10 116 1.73 14.17 11.6
If that's not a prospect, what is?
Chad Orvella rocketed through the D-Rays' system last year. He was drafted out of North Carolina State in 2003, where he was primarily a shortstop. The Devil Rays changed that quickly, and he's taken to his new role like a fish to water. Orvella works off of a late-moving fastball that reportedly peaks in the mid- to high 90s (92 to 94 mph consistently). His out pitch, though, is a fantastic change-up. The Devil Rays promote aggressively, so while he may start the season in Triple-A Durham, if he keeps this up it won't be for long.
The downside is that, for the time being, he's a reliever. As he hones his craft, one would hope he can become more consistent with his breaking ball. Nothing would be more exciting than watching him follow the Johan Santana career path through the bullpen to dominant starter.
When Is a Bad Signing a Good Signing? Recently, rumors have surfaced about Joe Randa signing with the Devil Rays to man the hot corner. On the surface, this sounds like a typical Devil Rays move, as Randa's upside is minimal and he's not going to be around for the next time...er, first time...they contend.
The odd thing is, signing Randa would be a good move. It would keep the Rays from moving B.J. Upton to third base, and that can only be a good thing. So what if they throw a few million dollars at Randa for a couple years? His consistent mediocrity is just what's needed to give Upton the time to work on his game and see if shortstop is in his future. Let's just hope Lou Piniella isn't looking when he makes an error while working out the kinks.
Toronto Blue Jays
Halladay's Heroes: Last year wasn't pretty for Roy Halladay. After two increasingly stellar seasons, last year was kind of like the fizzle going out of your Pop Rocks. What can we expect from him in 2005?
Let's look at his last three seasons (since he settled into a regular role). In addition to more conventional statistics, we've listed pitches per plate appearance (P/PA), batting average allowed (AVG) and groundball-to-flyball ratio (G/F):
2002 239.1 223 10 62 168 2.93 3.52 6.32 2.71 .244 2.75 66.1
2003 266.0 253 26 32 204 3.25 3.39 6.90 6.38 .247 2.70 69.1
2004 133.0 140 13 39 95 4.20 3.66 6.43 2.44 .272 2.27 26.1
Halladay missed two months with right shoulder fatigue. It looks like, perhaps related to that, he lost some of the otherwordly command that marked his 2003 campaign. Note the reduction in K/BB and G/F ratios, and the spike in P/PA. He became more hittable and threw fewer ground balls, leading to a jump in his ERA.
Curiously, PECOTA has always been pessimistic about Halladay. The one area where PECOTA seems to have hit the nail on the head is HR allowed, where it's been skeptical that he could keep his home-run rate at 2002 levels. So far, that's been the case.
Halladay certainly hasn't forgotten how to pitch. The primary concern at this point would be his health, and all accounts so far are that his shoulder will be 100% come Opening Day. We can't expect every year to be like 2003, but he's got plenty of life left in him. Prediction: Doc Halladay will be back to his old ways this season as the rotation anchor. The Jays will need it.
Dude or Dud? It's all about expectations.
Eric Hinske set a high bar for himself by winning the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year award. He continued to improve on the across-the-board performance he had shown in the minors, and seemed destined for stardom. How quickly things change.
Since Hinske and Vernon Wells signed similar five-year deals just before the 2003 season, they've taken divergent paths. Wells has produced a cumulative 101.8 VORP in the past two seasons with stellar defense. Hinske, however, has limped to to a combined 21.9 VORP with lousy glovework. A wrist injury bothered him in 2003, although he still banged out 42 doubles in the midst of a difficult campaign. Last year seemed a logical time for a rebound. Sadly, he fell so far short he hit negative VORP territory. His three-year progression:
2002 151 566 99 158 38 2 24 84 77 138 13 1 .279 .365 .481
2003 124 449 74 109 45 3 12 63 59 104 12 2 .243 .329 .437
2004 155 570 66 140 23 3 15 69 54 109 12 8 .246 .312 .375
That's a disturbing downward trend across the board. It's possible Hinske's not adjusting to the league as it adjusts to him. His walk rate and isolated power remained fairly constant from 2002 to 2003, so a lot of his dropoff there could be explained by a drop in batting average. The most disturbing part of the above line is the significant power dropoff last season; perhaps Hinske was masking another injury. He seems to have an old player's skill set, and as such there's a concern that he'll age prematurely.
The Jays reportedly have interest in Corey Koskie, who could push Hinske across the diamond to first base or perhaps to the trading block. While Koskie isn't all-world, he could be a strong value-signing if he comes at an affordable price. In comparison to Wells and Hinske, Koskie was good for a cumulative 73.3 VORP the past two seasons.
Since the Jays will want another bat, given the departure of Carlos Delgado, this would be a reasonable signing if Koskie is healthy. The Twins have offered Koskie arbitration, which may lessen the Jays' desire to pursue him.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

MLB Fantasy Take on J. Dye Deal

Jermaine Dye signs a free agent contract with the Chicago White Sox
Dye bounced back in 2004, after an abysmal 2003 campaign in which he was hindered by a shoulder injury. The nine-year veteran raised his average almost 100 points (.172 to .265) and hit 20-plus homers for the fifth time in six seasons.
However, Dye really struggled in the second half of the season, posting a .231 average, seven homers and 26 RBIs in 199 ABs, while missing time with a fractured thumb. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.6-to-1) was also the worst of any full season in his career.
Leaving Oakland for Chicago should boost his numbers. He'll be in a better hitter's park and will have a superior offense surrounding him. If he can stay healthy, it is not unreasonable to think the 31-year-old outfielder will blast 30-35 homers and drive in 100-plus runs. He probably won't hit .300, but he won't kill you in average, either.
Dye will make a solid third outfielder in AL-only leagues and a good option as a fourth or fifth outfielder in mixed leagues. Owners should be wary of Carl Everett, who will probably see less playing time with Dye in the everyday lineup.

We Love You, The French Love You. Patsy Forever!

This is too important just to be a comment. Here's our Patsy, with the encouragment of his good wife, reasoning with Koppy.

diving in


I know I have all your sympathies and delight that I will return for yet another draft. I like the "deleted one" have been overcome by introspection. What am I doing? Thankfully after many long meditative sessions clearing my mind of the past three or more baseball seasons I have no idea what I am doing nor do I care to. I love the draft, I love the league, I love the commissioner for life.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The League Banquet Was Quite Wonderful

And pictorial evidence is available. See the link, hit the link.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

You Gibbons Lovers Take a Look

Baltimore Orioles
Garage Sale: Call us cruel if you will, but that seems to be an apt description of the Orioles' 2004 free agent class: mostly old and useless, and not likely to sell for much.
'04 VORP '04 Sal. Status
David Segui 4.3 $7.0MM Filed
Omar Daal DNP $4.5MM Filed
Marty Cordova DNP $3.5MM Retired
Buddy Groom 6.8 $3.0MM Filed
B.J. Surhoff 16.7 $800K Filed
Luis Lopez -7.7 $365K FA after cut from 40-man
Jose Leon -5.3 $305K FA after cut from 40-man
Robert Machado -7.0 $300K FA after cut from 40-man
Darnell McDonald -3.5 $300K FA after cut from 40-man
The Orioles aren't looking to bring any of these players, except Surhoff, back in 2005. What they hope instead is that the passing of names like Segui and Cordova caps the purging of the old guard of bloated contracts from their roster. The performance of Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez is helping to ensure that the old unpleasantness is not immediately renewed. Sidney Ponson, on the other hand....
With money to burn, who will the Orioles look to sign? Tops on their list is Carl Pavano, scheduled for a December 6 visit to Camden Yards. Pavano's merits have been detailed elsewhere on this site, but we'll add this: he is an excellent example of a player over whom scouts and statheads will clash, and his great 2004 will give the scouts more ammo. You might look at Pavano and see a guy who's been healthy and effective for a full year exactly once in his career, with a declining strikeout rate and a career year probably helped by a fluky low BABIP. I might look at Pavano and see a workhorse with the cojones for big-game success and some serious heat that he can bring again and again.
This writer will throw a dissenting voice into the mix and say that there is something to what the scouts see. Some pitchers are just late bloomers, and don't deserve to have their history held against them too strictly. Unfortunately, the attention being lavished upon Pavano right now all but guarantees that whichever team signs him will fall prey to the Winner's Curse.
Decline and Fall: There are two Gibbonses in the big leagues. John is retired and manages the Blue Jays. Jay turned 27 this year and plays right field. Would you believe that John had the higher VORP in '04?
Here's the younger Gibbons' line for the last three years:
2002 .247 .311 .482 17.0 $232,500
2003 .277 .330 .456 26.5 $375,000
2004 .246 .303 .379 -1.7 $2,600,000
Gibbons figures to make around $4,000,000 in arbitration this winter. If he could return to his 2003 form, that wouldn't be all that bad, especially for a one-year commitment; look where that 2003 VORP would have placed among corner outfielders in '04:
VORP Salary
Kevin Mench 29.0 not yet arb-eligible
Matt Lawton 28.1 $7,250,000
Sammy Sosa 27.9 $16,000,000
Craig Monroe 26.7 not yet arb-eligible
GIBBONS '03 26.5 ($4,000,000)
Geoff Jenkins 26.1 $8,737,500
Matt Stairs 25.1 $1,000,000
Shannon Stewart 24.4 $5,500,000
Luis Gonzalez 23.7 $8,250,000
It's not the easiest thing in the world to find a 25+ VORP. (We ought to note that this is not the most scientific way to be looking at our question; there were better bargains further up the VORP scale.) Still, Gibbons' 2003 screams CAREER YEAR!, especially when you consider that he's now trying to come back from a torn hip flexor and a bulging disc. He says he's OK, but with Magglio Ordonez, Jermaine Dye, Richard Hidalgo and Moises Alou all available, the O's may try to deal Gibbons, and might non-tender him if they can't.
That wouldn't be a bad move. Gibbons wouldn't see four million a year as a free agent; the only attractive thing about keeping him at that price is the one-year commitment

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Christmas thoughts

Listening to carols on the radio this morning it occurred to me that so many of our very favorite versions of timeless yuletide classics are rendered by people no longer with us. Consider. Bing Crosby (White Christmas), dead on a golf course. Elvis Presley (Blue Christmas), dead on the toilet. Burl Ives (Holly Jolly Christmas), just dead. And the Chipmunks (The Christmas Song): Simon, dead of a heroin overdose; Theodore, cut down by gunfire in Las Vegas; and Alvin, eaten by Dick Clark's cat. Hearing them sing these favorites, you just have to pause halfway through Target and wonder.
By the way, the fact that we have a "White Chrismas" and a "Blue Christmas" raises the question of why no one has recorded a "Red (blooded/neck/state) Christmas." Somebody out there, get on this.

Rangers Outlook

from Baseball Prospectus: My man Soriano is primed for a huge year -- because he burned me last year and ohyes I won't be fooled twice. But I will be fooled twice because I won't buy him and he'll be great.

Texas Rangers
Farewell to Rusty: He hasn't played since 2002, so the fact that the Rangers declined to offer arbitration to Rusty Greer, letting him leave as a free agent, wasn't that surprising; the fact that Greer hopes to play elsewhere in 2005 is what caught our eye. His absence over the past few seasons makes it easy to forget that Greer was a damn fine player before injuries took their toll:
25 1994 .314 73 28.0
26 1995 .274 66 18.7
27 1996 .310 96 63.4
28 1997 .317 112 73.2
29 1998 .293 96 45.4
30 1999 .303 98 51.9
31 2000 .284 59 22.1
32 2001 .272 35 9.6
33 2002 .260 24 4.9
Greer was relatively healthy most of his career until 2000, and then the bottom fell out: plantar fasciitis, shoulder trouble, a pinched nerve in his hip, a severe rotator cuff tear...he went through it all. Meanwhile, Texas went through a rogue's gallery of left fielders, searching in vain for the production they had counted on from Greer:
Texas batters as LF, 2002-2004
David Dellucci 2004 306 0.234 0.327 0.408 -0.125 8.6
Kevin Mench 2002 196 0.251 0.316 0.486 -0.011 9.6
Shane Spencer 2003 175 0.242 0.326 0.353 -0.17 2.9
Kevin Mench 2004 163 0.237 0.282 0.395 -0.217 1.9
Eric Young 2004 159 0.331 0.384 0.414 0.046 9.6
Carl Everett 2003 132 0.318 0.417 0.573 0.310 15.1
Kevin Mench 2003 126 0.298 0.357 0.430 0.018 6.4
Frank Catalanotto 2002 92 0.333 0.435 0.573 0.344 10.1
Gabe Kapler 2002 91 0.293 0.308 0.329 -0.200 1.2
Todd Hollandsworth 2002 80 0.290 0.350 0.391 -0.050 3.3
Carl Everett 2002 78 0.279 0.359 0.441 0.021 3.7
Ruben Sierra 2003 70 0.250 0.314 0.328 -0.217 0.6
Jason Jones 2003 49 0.233 0.306 0.419 -0.127 1.3
Jermaine Clark 2003 42 0.216 0.286 0.270 -0.358 -0.9
Mark Teixeira 2003 41 0.294 0.415 0.706 0.447 6.3
Chad Allen 2004 39 0.243 0.231 0.324 -0.398 -1.0
Jason Romano 2002 28 0.200 0.250 0.320 -0.360 -0.4
Mike Lamb 2002 27 0.261 0.370 0.391 -0.034 1.3
Jason Hart 2002 15 0.286 0.333 0.500 0.060 1.4
Ryan Ludwick 2003 13 0.231 0.231 0.308 -0.403 -0.4
Donnie Sadler 2003 12 0.111 0.333 0.111 -0.475 -1.3
Laynce Nix 2003 12 0.333 0.333 0.583 0.222 1.4
Marcus Thames 2003 9 0.125 0.222 0.500 -0.238 0.1
Todd Greene 2002 4 0.250 0.250 1.000 0.564 0.6
Gary Matthews Jr. 2004 3 0.667 0.667 0.667 1.249 1.1
Mike Lamb 2003 3 0.500 0.667 0.500 0.737 1.4
Brian Jordan 2004 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 -1.312 -0.7
Ryan Ludwick 2002 1 1.000 1.000 2.000 4.712 3.7
Herb Perry 2002 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 -1.253 -0.7
That's an ugly list, just as you'd expect when Kevin Mench is near the top of it. It's been so hard for Texas to find left-field production, in fact, that the Rangers offered David Dellucci arbitration in hopes of keeping his quasi-productive bat in-house.
In fact, the outfield is a big offensive problem for the Rangers. in 2004, the team's outfielders combined to hit .264/.325/.450 while playing half their games in the offensive wonderland that is Ameriquest Field in Arlington. This is the sort of thing that should be keeping John Hart up nights. We've talked before about the Rangers inability to recognize that offense is the team's weakness; here's another example.
The Rangers have been rumored to be talking to Jermaine Dye, late of the Oakland A's, to try and provide some offense. A lot was made of Dye's comeback in 2004, but by the end of the year, he was hitting .265/.329/.464 and had a VORP of 23.3. That's an upgrade, but not nearly as much as they need.
Wherefore Art Thou, Alfonso?: Alfonso Soriano was the Rangers' fourth most valuable player by VORP in '04, posting a 39.9 mark; that was enough to lead all AL second basemen in VORP as well. He was the MVP of the All-Star Game. As a reward, he's been the subject of trade rumors all winter.
Soriano is arbitration-eligible, and stands to grab a deal in the $8-10 million a year range, according to most estimates. That's more than Texas wants to spend on him, but they seem to be out of options. The offers the team has received for Soriano have all been lowballing Texas, and the Rangers' pursuit of Todd Walker as a replacement ended when Walker re-signed with the Cubs for one year and $2.5 million.
The Rangers would love to move Soriano to the outfield, where he would likely be less of a defensive liability and help boost the outfield's production. But Soriano is adamant about staying at second, and as things stand now, he's going to stay put, both at his position, and in Texas.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Some Thoughts on the Kendall Deal

This is from Baseball Prospectus by way of Athletics' Nation

BP: A's Come Out on Top in Kendall Deal
By Blez on Mon Dec 6th, 2004
Baseball Prospectus likes the Kendall deal and once again sings Billy Beane's praises (from Chris Kahrl's Transaction Analysis):
I think it's important to note what this deal's basic motivation is, which is an exchange of expensive mistakes. Don't get me wrong, acquiring Kendall for two lefties who'd become about as desirable to possess as a Creed album makes for a pretty nice swap for a team that needed a catcher.
It goes on...
It's easy to say Beane got himself off the hook here, since he had reason to regret signing both Redman and Rhodes. But he's also had reason to regret signing Scott Hatteberg or Terrence Long to multi-year deals; he found a taker for Long, as he indeed seems able to find a buyer for the back-ends of all sorts of odious deals. There's an artistry to it, of course, but it depends on the existence of marks to be taken. Even with some of the GMs who've been recycled of late, that isn't so easy to do when you're known and feared (or respected, or resented). On that level, getting Kendall's that much more impressive, but keep in mind, the Pirates aren't your ordinary desperately-overstretched team.
Joe Sheehan also likes the deal:
The key for the A's is that the trade largely only costs them money, and not all that much of it. Kendall will make $34 million over the next three seasons; he'll likely account for between 15% and 20% of the A's payroll in that time. Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes' contracts are worth $21 million in 2005 and 2006, and according the Associated Press, the A's will send a million bucks a year over to help pay for them. In '07, the Pirates send the A's about $5 million to cover the last year's of Kendall's deal.
Net it all out, and the A's win the talent portion of the deal handily at a cost of about $4 million a year for the next two seasons, and $8 million in 2007. That's a nice trade for a player who will give them a real OBP boost at the top of the lineup and at a position where it's hard to find offense.
While it's not a huge surprise that the BP boys like a Beane trade, it is affirmation (in opinion at least) of what many, including myself, have said since the deal.
We're a better team now than we were two weeks ago.

Some Merry Celebrity Carols from Bob Wieder


To the tune of “Away In A Manger”

Beware! There’s great danger! The threat is intense!
It’s huge and it’s growing! We’ll beef up defense
By hiring more jerks who will make life a pain
For anyone who tries to get on a plane.

I promise to not let the bad guys hurt you,
But don’t ask just how, ‘cause I haven’t a clue.
There’s car bombs and shoe bombs...and bombs in a sleigh?
If Santa looks fishy, we’ll blow him away.


To the tune of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting)”

Christians roasting on an open fire!
Jews and Hindus dead in heaps!
(Thus do I rave in the dark in my cave--
I even give Hamas guys the creeps.)

Death to every infidel on earth!
Every Buddhist, Jane and Druid!
(I’m no kill-crazed troll; the truth is, I control
Over half the world’s embalming fluid.)

I don’t look like I love holidays,
But deep down I really do.
So I wish--no put on--for a great Ramadan
(And of course, death) for you.


To the tune of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”

They came, all the faithful
Viewed my Bible story!
I’d made it so gory--
Kind of “Braveheart” meets God.

“No English? Crazy!”
Some said; didn’t faze me.
And to each carping critic
Who cried “Anti-semitic”:
Don’t be so analytic!
(Jews do that so well.)

But how do I follow
That flick? How to top it?
“The Wars of Mohamet”?
“Lethal Buddha”? No way.

No, someone bigger,
A brave, heroic figure!
No “peace and love” hand-wringer.
Instead, a far-right winger
Who gave filmtown the finger:
“The Passion of Mel!”


To the tune of “What Child Is This”

What child is this who makes me cry
By coming forward to testify?
The first of many, it seems. Oh my.
And my chimp’s on the phone to his lawyers

Please, bring me some Christmas joy!
(Unless you’re underage and a boy.
The court’s order is clear, not coy:
I don’t dare let you in past the foyer.)


To the tune of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”

Oh town of old Manhattan, I’m
Your prime celebrity.
I’ve bought up half your buildings and
Named each one after me.
I’m sleek and rich and famous--
It makes most people sick.
They hate The Donald! (I’m just glad
Mom didn’t name me Dick.)

No gifts for me this Christmas, thanks;
I’ve all I need in life:
A ton of dough, a TV show,
A brand new trophy wife.
And if you “want it all” too,
Take my advice, young lad.
Just do like I did: Be set up
In business by your dad.


To the tune of “The Little Drummer Boy”

“Exit strategy,”
That concept’s Greek to me,
I trusted Chalabi
How stupid could I be?
I knew it all smelled,
Should have rebelled,

What a huge mistake,
But we can’t bend or break,
We dare not pull up stakes,
For Halliburton’s sake,
Our foes must be felled,
Killed or dispelled,
So says Rums-feld.

Until then I wish you joyous Noel,
And Powell, go to hell.


To the tune of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”

I shot Bonny like I’d planned because
No one else would kill the bitch for me.
That’s what the cops contend,
But I’m innocent, my friend.
(I’d say she had it coming, but
I don’t want to offend.)

Hope your Christmas joy’s as great as mine,
Even though the state wants me to fry.
Just because you do the crime,
Don’t mean you’ll do the time.
Hell, if O.J. walked then so can I.

Christmas Carols


A New Blog for a New Day

Here's a post from Baseball Prospectus on the A's:

Oakland Athletics
Stepping In: With the departure of Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes in the Jason Kendall deal, the spotlight has been turned on two Oakland prospects the organization is betting can step onto the big stage. It’s the same old refrain in Oakland. Last year it was Bobby Crosby; now it’s Huston Street and Joe Blanton.
We covered Street’s performance in depth last time. Now it’s Blanton’s turn. The A’s top pick in the 2002 draft (aka "The Moneyball Draft"), the big right-hander was very impressive in 2003, his first full professional season. Blanton dominated the Midwest League with a 144/19 K/BB ratio in 133 innings, then after a late call-up to Double-A Midland, continued to throw strikes, posting a 30/7 ratio in 35 2/3 frames to go with a shiny 1.26 ERA. This year, spent at Triple-A Sacramaento, was more of a struggle for him. Blanton scuffled early, but improved as the season went on, showing the polished repertoire of pitches one would expect from a pitcher drafted out of college.
Blanton certainly looks ready to step in and contribute to the club, but he won't be an immediate star. Expecting him to be anywhere close to Rich Harden next year would be like expecting the Yankees to start cutting payroll. Blanton doesn’t have the same natural stuff that Harden features, instead working with an 88-91 mph fastball and good breaking pitches. Blanton’s shown that he can handle the jump from Double- to Triple-A, a gap that sinks more than its fair share of prospect ships, and the chances that he performs at least as well as Redman last year are good.
The Other Giles: After Blanton, the A's don't have much in the way of starting pitching prospects, which is why rumors about the A’s looking to send one of the Big Three to Atlanta for Marcus Giles don’t seem to make much sense on the surface. If Oakland does move another member of the rotation, the replacement options would be limited to Justin Duchscherer, Kirk Saarloos, or perhaps another player acquired in a trade.
Duchscherer performed admirably in the long-relief role last season after a dominant season in Sacramento in 2003, but he’ll be 27 next season and has never spent a full season in a major-league rotation. That’s not to say that he can’t do it, but having two question marks in the rotation with very little backing up the inevitable injury is not a situation in which the A’s usually put themselves. Saarloos--acquired last year for Chad Harville--had a few spot starts when Tim Hudson went down mid-season, but his career so far is less impressive than Duchscherer’s. He’d have to perform very well in spring training to have a shot at the job, if it’s available.
Mark Ellis is expected back healthy for spring training, ready to reclaim the starting second base job. One of the AL's best rookies in 2002, Ellis floundered in 2003 before spending last year on the DL with a dislocated shoulder and labrum problems. Expecting something along the lines of 10-15 VORP with significant injury concerns is probably about right for him.
Giles, however, accumulated 35.9 VORP last year, a season in which he had just 434 plate appearances, the result of his second major collision with another player in two seasons. If he'd played a full season, Giles would have been the third best second baseman in the majors behind Jeff Kent and Mark Loretta. He’s been in the majors for less than four seasons, leaving whatever club owns his contract with exclusive rights to him through 2007.
Swapping one of the Big Three for a healthy Giles could net the A’s about 35-40 runs at second base, an offensive gain of two to three wins over Ellis. However, removing one of their star pitchers would likely cost them anywhere from 10 to 50 runs in the rotation, depending on who is traded and how everyone performs next year. It would be a big gamble, but considering that at least one of the Big Three will be gone after 2005 anyway (the A’s cannot afford to sign Hudson and pick up the options on both Mark Mulder and Barry Zito for 2006), it’s the kind of preemptive move that would better answer the second-base question while allowing the A’s to focus their efforts on the two remaining members of the Big Three.

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