From the archives: February 2009

FanGraphs' Dave Cameron ruminates:

    With the Rocky Mountain News folding today, it got me thinking -- where is the online baseball community headed? Between The Hardball Times and blogs like ours here at FanGraphs and Tango's work at The Book Blog, there is a remarkable flow of tremendous content being put out simply for the sake of improving the quality of baseball knowledge available. For guys like Studes or Tango, this isn't their career -- it's a hobby, and something they do because they love it.

    The same goes true, I would suspect, for most of the new analysts we've seen rise up in various sites over the last year or two. From guys like Sean Smith to Sky Kalkman, Colin Wyers, Josh Kalk, Mike Fast, and all the rest, there is a deep well of talent that is advancing baseball knowledge for everyone. And they're doing it without charging for their efforts.

    Much like the open source movement in software, there's been a revolution in the baseball community. The best content available isn't being written in books or newspapers, or even behind subscription walls that require payments to access -- the best knowledge available is free to everyone who wants it.

    And, while it's sad to watch newspapers fold and business models fail, it's exciting to be living in an age where anyone who wants to educate themselves on the game can do so.

It's easy to assume that every time the world changes, it's changing for the worst. And the older one is, the easier that assumption becomes. I'm going to miss newspapers, and every time a colleague of mine loses his job, I know it could have been me and I worry for my future.

But man, this sure is a great time to be a baseball fan.

Writing about Jason Giambi, Bob Klapisch got me to thinking about a certain pinstriped shortstop. …

    PHOENIX -- Jason Giambi has been closely following the Alex Rodriguez vigil from 2,500 miles away, safely embedded in the A's hysteria-free universe. After seven years in the Bronx, Giambi says returning to his Oakland roots is like coming home to a soft, feathery bed.

    Still, Giambi is a Yankee emeritus, which means he's in sync with every last detail of A-Rod's fall from grace -- if only because it mirrored his. Both sluggers were exposed as steroid users, both confessed (to some degree) and both were publicly rescued by Derek Jeter.

    Well, at least Giambi was, and he's not ashamed to say it was Jeter who saved his Yankee career.

    "I'll thank Derek until the day I die," Giambi was saying Thursday. "What he did for me, after what I'd been through, made it possible for me to keep playing in New York. The fans forgave me because of Derek. I'll never forget that for the rest of my life."

It's easy to make sport of Jeter's supposed leadership and I've done plenty of that. But you hear and read something enough times and you start to believe it. I think it's really, really easy to make too much of stuff like this -- if he's such a great leader, why haven't the Yankees won a World Series lately? -- but if you want to give Captain Jetes a few bonus points for stuff that doesn't show up in the stats, I'm not going to argue with you. Not that he needs any bonus points to be considered the Yankees' greatest shortstop and a lock Hall of Famer.

(H/T: BTF's Newsstand)

Joe Posnanski, while "tangling" with a long-promised blog post about steroids and finishing a rewrite of his long-awaited book about the Big Red Machine, somehow finds the time to write a bit about Adam Gopnik's new book about Lincoln and Darwin:

    I'm don't have time to review the book, but I want to point out a passage. There are numerous passages that made me stop, but this one made me think about our big Baseball Hall of Fame question: How should you judge baseball players for the Hall of Fame? Should you judge them against the standards of their time? Or should the players, by necessity, tower over their times?

    In many ways, Andre Dawson fits the question best (though you could argue that McGwire and the Steroid Five fit too). When Dawson played, you heard that he could "do it all." He played great defense, stole bases, hit homers, drove in runs, he even hit .300 four times. These weren't just standards -- that was everything in his time.

    Now we see that Dawson had a career .323 on-base percentage. We now know -- in a way that was not especially straightforward in Dawson's time -- that all those outs the Hawk made greatly diminished his value as a baseball player. What to do? Many suggest that voters should judge him by his time. Dawson wasn't paid to get on base (this is unquestionably true). He did what was asked of him, and he did those things at an extremely high level and with dignity and class, and for that he deserves to be in the Hall.

    Others say that you can't put in a guy with a .323 OBP no matter that he did many other great things.

    Tough call. I don't know that this Gopnik passage about Darwin provides answers about Dawson … but it made me think.

    We should not judge the past by the standards of the present. … But we should not judge the past by the standards of the past either -- if we did that, we'd smile politely as some of our ancestors burned books, and nod understandingly as others burned witches (and some of us would be nodding as both our ancestors and their books got burned). We should judge the past by the standards of the best voices that were heard within it.

    Does Dawson's .323 OBP stand up to the "best voices" of his time? I don't know how many words I have left, but I don't need many: The simple answer, sadly, is no.

Leaving novelists aside for the moment, my list of 10 favorite writers would probably include Joe Posnanski and Adam Gopnik. So finding them mashed up in one blog post is, well, it's the sort of thing that someone like me finds thrilling.

Not so thrilling, though, that the critic inside me stops working. And I just have to mention that I don't know a single soul who believes that a .323 on-base percentage disqualifies a player from election to the Hall of Fame. It's not that Dawson reached base only 32.3 percent of the time; it's that he reached base only 32.3 percent of the time and failed to do enough other things to qualify as a great player.

Yes, he stole 314 bases. But he never stole 40 bases in a season, and never stole even 20 after turning 29 years old.

Yes, he hit 438 home runs. But with the exception of two seasons in the early '80s and that magical 1987 with the Cubs, he was never a premier power hitter.

Yes, he did drive in runs … but you know, he didn't drive in a terribly huge number of runs. He did lead the National League in 1987, and was second in 1983 … but those were the only two seasons in which he ranked in the top five in his league.

Look: A .323 on-base percentage wasn't good in the 1980s when Dawson played, and it seems to me irrelevant whether he was being "paid for" reaching base at the time. Jason Bartlett is currently "being paid" to play great defense at shortstop, and he's doing it. But should we put him in the Hall of Fame?

Of course we shouldn't. He doesn't win enough games for his team to merit that singular honor. Which is exactly the problem with Dawson's candidacy. Yes, he made a lot of outs. But we might excuse all those outs if Dawson had stolen 514 bases or hit 538 home runs. He did not. Looked at holistically -- and not obsessing over one particular number or another -- Andre Dawson was a very good player who put together two or three excellent seasons. Whether that's a Hall of Famer or not is up to you and the voters.

Friday Filberts

February, 27, 2009
Today's links were cobbled together while wondering how many other would-be employees are turning down $45 million right about now. …

• Thursday night's news release from the Dodgers:

    LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers today received a letter from Scott Boras, the agent for Manny Ramirez, rejecting the offer that the club made yesterday. This rejection is the fourth by the agent in the club's attempts to sign Manny.

    "We love Manny Ramirez," said Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt, "And we want Manny back, but we feel we are negotiating against ourselves. When his agent finds those 'serious offers' from other clubs, we'll be happy to re-start the negotiations.

    "Even with an economy that has substantially eroded since last November, out of respect for Manny and his talents, we actually improved our offer.

    "So now, we start from scratch."

Raise your hand if you thought we'd still be talking about this at the dawn of March. … Yeah, me neither. Let me repeat that the Dodgers have reportedly offered Ramirez $45 million when he's worth -- at most -- something like $40 million, and they've also offered him the chance to go after more money next winter if he thinks he can find it elsewhere. Maybe they'll go higher. But they probably shouldn't.

• Dave Cameron adds a small-but-important piece to the BABiP puzzle.

• The latest stirring news from Nationals Land.

• Wezen-ball appreciates … and puts his money where his appreciation is.

• I can't claim to have read everything Joel Sherman has written about steroids. But every time I do read him, he's spot-on.

• Like me, ShysterBall wonders why the Mantle family gives a tinker's damn about one lousy profane baseball.

• I guess this is old news now, but last week Jim Caple and I wrote about the movies.

• And speaking of the movies, Gwyneth Paltrow really is better than you (and me, too).

Update: Now we learn that the Dodgers' most recent offer apparently included deferred money. A lot of deferred money. Which changes the tenor of this discussion. A lot.

How many wins for the Rays?

February, 26, 2009
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Rays are the safe pick in the American League East:

    "I see a team deep in pitching, a team with great defense, a team with young, emerging position players, a team that knows how to win," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says.

    "On paper, they're better than they were last year. And last year, obviously, they were the best in the league."


    The Rays won 97 games and eliminated the White Sox and Red Sox in the American League playoffs, only to lose the World Series to the Phillies in five games.


    Finally, there is the question of luck: The Rays last season produced 45 come-from-behind victories and finished 29-18 in one-run games.

    "Everything went right for them," Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi says. "Not to take anything away from them -- they're a force to be reckoned with. They've got good management, good young players. But it was a magical year."

    Cashman does not necessarily agree.

    "I understand that [argument]," he says. "But at the end of the day, they're so young, so talented, that even if there was some luck along the way, now it's a new year.

    "They go into this year knowing they're good. They don't have to learn how to win now. That's a huge hurdle they've passed mentally. Now they have to deal with being the hunted instead of the hunter. That's a different mentality, too.

    "But no one can dispute their talent. No one can dispute their ability. They match up with anybody in the game. That's a fact."

    The Rays actually were unlucky in some respects last season. Center fielder B.J. Upton lost power while playing with a torn labrum. Left fielder Carl Crawford and third baseman Evan Longoria missed significant time in August and September.

    None of the Rays' hitters enjoyed career years; the team ranked only ninth in the AL in runs per game. Crawford, in particular, hit into poor luck, according to the Rays' statistical measures. Upton's postseason showing might have been only a glimpse of what he might accomplish. Burrell, Kapler and Joyce should only help.

I agree with all of this. Well, almost all of it. It's hard to look at the Rays and not see a great deal of upside. But (as Rosenthal acknowledges elsewhere) the Rays were exceptionally fortunate last season with their starting pitchers; four of their starters made at least 30 starts and a fifth (Scott Kazmir) made 27. Also, the Rays won 97 games last season, but their run differential was that of a 92-win team. So that's their baseline.

I've seen two projections, CHONE and PECOTA. Both agree almost absolutely on the big contenders in the American League East. Essentially, both have the Yankees and Red Sox deadlocked with 97 wins apiece, and the Rays in the low 90s.

Before you say anything, I get it. I get that no projection can account for B.J. Upton's sore wrist last season, or David Price's enormous potential, or the supernatural brain behind Joe Maddon's modernized Clark Kent glasses.

One thing I've learned, though: If you're going to bet against the numbers, you'd better be really, really sure you've got a good reason. And for all the good reasons on the Tampa Bay roster, I see a whole bunch of bad ones wearing Red Sox and Yankees uniforms.

Eric Seidman on a smart manager and a truly great player:

    "Batting average, unfortunately for a lot people, and it's only been really noted in the last five or 10 years, that it is somewhat of an overrated stat. There are so many other numbers that are more important to a team winning a ballgame -- that's all that matters." -- Eric Wedge, Manager, Cleveland Indians

    Thank you, Eric Wedge, for this response to the question of whether or not Grady Sizemore's declining batting average over the last few seasons set off alarm bells. Sizemore hit .289-.290 in 2005-06, his first two full seasons, before dropping to .277 in 2007 and .268 last season. His wOBAs in that span: .359, .386, .376, .384. Grady's proportion of hits to at-bats may have dropped a bit, but his overall offensive productivity is extremely high. His batting average may have been .268, but Sizemore hit 33 HR, 39 2B, stole 38 bases, and earned 98 free passes.

    Oh, and Grady plays a mean centerfield, as well. His UZR marks since 2005: +3.7, +14.3, +2.6, +6.1. Averaged together, Sizemore has been a +6.7 runs/season fielder. He is also the model of durability, amassing 157+ games in each of his full big league seasons. As evidenced by his four consecutive 20/20+ seasons, Grady also runs the bases very well. Our wOBA includes stolen bases, but if you subtract the EQSBR from the EQBRR at Baseball Prospectus, Grady looks worthy of an additional two or three runs per season on the basepaths.

    Add everything together and we have win values of +5.3, +7.7, +6.0, +7.0 (his posted win values plus a couple additional baserunning runs). That is a grand sum of +26 wins in four big league seasons, and Sizemore is still just 26 yrs old, suggesting that continued improvement is not out of the question. Grady has made $4.2 mil in his young major league career while producing at levels valued around $102 mil, a mind-boggling number. Has anyone who previously did, stopped caring that he posted a .268 batting average last season?

Sizemore has never hit .300 in a season. He will someday, with just a little luck spread over six months. In 2008, he was unlucky, with only 29 percent of his batted balls in play resulting in hits; we would expect a figure just north of 30 percent, and it's that 29 percent that perfectly explains Sizemore's .268 batting average.

Fundamentally, though, he's just not a .300 hitter. Which is almost completely irrelevant, because he obviously doesn't have to hit .300 to rank among the game's best players. One of the biggest changes in baseball over the past few years is that teams are counting everything. Not just batting average, not even just hitting. But also fielding (and not just fielding percentage). And baserunning (and not just stolen bases). And now that the teams are doing it, I suppose it's just a matter of time until the newspapers catch up.

Assuming they're around long enough.

No white smoke yet, but I suspect that the Dodgers' PR department is getting ready. In the L.A. Times, Dylan Hernandez reports from Phoenix:

    Manny Ramirez's agent revealed early this morning that the All-Star outfielder hadn't accepted the offer made to him by the Dodgers on Wednesday, saying he remained "in the middle of negotiations" on behalf of the slugger.

    Scott Boras declined to discuss the Dodgers' latest proposal, which would pay Ramirez $25 million this season and $20 million in 2010 if his client picked up a player option, according to baseball sources familiar with the offer who weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter. But while issuing a "no comment," Boras indicated that Ramirez hadn't reached an agreement with the Dodgers and that there was at least one other team in talks with him.


    Though work might remain to be done to complete a deal, it was clear that progress was made on Wednesday, as the Dodgers granted Ramirez an opt-out clause at Boras' request, according to sources. The clause would let Ramirez, who turns 37 in May, void the second year of the contract and re-enter the free agent market next winter.


    Speaking to The Times less than three weeks ago in Florida, Ramirez said he wouldn't let the prolonged contract talks hinder his on-field performance.

    "That won't happen," he said. "Understand me, I have goals. I know that if I play six more years, I could get to my 3,000th hit and, who knows, maybe my 700th home run."

Two things.

One, it's pretty obvious that this thing's going to get done, and probably soon. When it does get done, the Dodgers immediately go from being slight underdogs in the West to being slight favorites.

Two, even if this doesn't get done soon, when it's done Manny will be ready. Say what you like about the guy, but he works hard and I'll be surprised if he doesn't hit the ground running. Or rather, hitting.

This supposed $45 million deal really is the best thing for everyone. Yes, it's probably more than Ramirez deserves, based strictly on his performance. Given his age and his recent (pre-2008) performance, he's "worth" closer to $15 million than $25 million (and given the current economic climate, even that's probably a little generous). But that doesn't include his marquee value, or the significantly increased chance of the Dodgers reaching the playoffs. I still don't think you can push his value to $25 million even with those things, but $20 million doesn't seem so outlandish.

So what about that the "extra" $5 million? That's just the cost of doing business with Scott Boras, who's got an empire to support.

And hey, it's only money.

Well, if Alex Rodriguez shrugs off all his demons and posts his typical Hall of Fame numbers, we'll know whom to blame

    DUNEDIN, Fla. -- There's nothing like a stern lecture from Mr. October to help a troubled friend focus on the priorities of life and career when enormous distractions are closing in and his reputation is crumbling.

    "Hit the baseball, and hit it when it counts," Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson told Alex Rodriguez at dinner Tuesday night. "That's really about all that matters now."


    Hit the baseball, and hit it when it counts!

    There could be no better advice for Rodriguez if he is going to pick up the pieces and rebuild whatever he has to rebuild.


    Matter-of-factly, A-Rod mentioned he had dinner with Jackson on Tuesday night, but didn't elaborate other than to jest, "Reggie was probably one of those guys booing me."

    Reggie said he spent time with Yankees general partner Hank Steinbrenner on Tuesday.

    "'You deliver this message,' [Steinbrenner] said sternly to me. 'You tell him to hit the damn ball and hit it when it counts,' " Jackson said. "Yes, that's really the most important thing Alex can do at this stage. All the other conversations, they don't matter. The more you talk, the more you have an opportunity to make a mistake or say something stupid or something you can go trace.

    "My dad used to say you can control the story as long as you still get a chance to hit. Take the bat away and you start running your mouth, you're going to get in trouble. Edit your own story with the bat, and as long as Alex does that, he's got a chance to change things."

    Jackson says it remains to be seen if Rodriguez will be able to block out the distractions.

    "It goes day to day," he says. "If things don't change and this is the only battle he has to fight, he'll win that. What you worry about is that he's got an uphill battle with things coming at him. It's not going to be easy.

    "If the story unravels cleanly, he'll get through it. He'll have the support of the team. He's got to have an outstanding year. What we saw today is his ability to concentrate, and the fan reaction wasn't that bad -- way more positive than negative."


    Reggie says all he has to do is hit the ball … when it counts.

This is the sort of thing that makes the Yankees so easy to despise.

Hit the baseball, when it counts. Really? That's the big secret?

I'm reminded of a story (which I told once in a book, but nobody read the book, so I'm sure you'll pardon me) … Joe Torre had suffered with cancer, but recovered nicely. Now some other public figure had the same cancer; if memory serves, it was Rudy Giuliani. Anyway, the two conferred, and afterward Torre was on National Public Radio and was asked, "What advice did you give Mayor Giuliani?"

There was a pause across our great land, as a nation held its collective breath while waiting for the Bronx Sage's advice, which was … "Listen to your doctor."

Listen to your doctor.

Granted, I'm glad that all this great advice is available to mere mortals like us. Why should stand-up guys like Alex Rodriguez and Rudy Giuliani get all the breaks?

Bowden on the way out?

February, 25, 2009
Are Jim Bowden's days seriously numbered? Baseball Prospectus' John Perrotto:

    The Nationals, according to multiple industry sources, are strongly considering firing general manager Jim Bowden and replacing him with Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava.

    Bowden has been implicated in a bonus skimming scandal in the Dominican Republic and is reportedly being investigated by the FBI. Jose Rijo, the former major-league pitcher and a special assistant to Bowden, has taken a leave of absence in wake of the allegations.

    LaCava is highly regarded inside the game and has interviewed for GM jobs with the Pirates and Mariners in the last year-and-a-half. Commissioner Bud Selig reportedly has given Nationals president Stan Kasten permission to hire LaCava without interviewing minority candidates because of the special circumstances of a change of GMs being necessitated after spring training has started.

The blog Fire Jim Bowden has done a fantastic job of rounding up information about LaCava, including this choice comment from Keith Law: "Going from Jim Bowden to Tony LaCava would be like going from Austin Kearns to Albert Pujols." I know Keith was doing an apples-and-oranges thing on purpose, but it's worth noting that the actual difference between a lousy general manager and a great general manager is significantly larger than the difference between Kearns and Pujols. In terms of wins and losses, I mean.

So if the Nationals are going to make a move, they'd better make the right one. Which is all the tougher when you're forced to make it under duress.

Recently there's been some confusion about the Giants' "territorial rights" and San Jose. Might the A's be allowed to move there, or not? Well, after making a bunch of phone calls, the Mercury News' Mark Purdy seems to have figured it out:

    Selig and baseball wanted to straddle the line and have it both ways. They wanted to create leverage and put pressure on Fremont to reach a deal with the A's -- but did not want to peeve the Giants in the process.

    Well, after Tuesday, no more straddling is allowed. Fremont is dead. Do the MLB owners now want to give San Jose a fair shot? Or not? Earlier this month, Wolff met with San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed to discuss the soccer stadium that Wolff wants to build for the San Jose Earthquakes. At that meeting, Wolff also briefed Reed on the A's situation. Reed simply listened.

    Tuesday, the mayor said he would eagerly meet with Wolff about a ballpark proposal whenever and wherever. Yet the first place for MLB to begin, in fairness to the Giants, is with an independent and impartial study by economists and marketing experts. The study would determine precisely what an A's move to San Jose would mean to the attendance, sponsorship and corporate support of both franchises.

    My strong hunch is that such a study would prove that the Giants' fears of losing fan loyalty to the San Jose A's are largely groundless. But the sports policy wonks can scientifically back me up.

    And then the negotiations could proceed. In his talks with Fremont, Wolff was not asking the city to pay a dime toward building the ballpark. His talks with San Jose need to start with that premise, as well. Would local residents go for a ballpark deal? Depends on the deal. But they deserve the chance to consider a deal instead of being treated as baseball non-persons.

    Because let me pound the drum once more: The people of San Jose, not the Giants, should decide whether the A's can move to San Jose. It is way past time for Major League Baseball and Selig to acknowledge that basic principle.

When I invited the Athletics to Portland on Wednesday, I was of course just fooling around; at this moment there is neither the political nor the corporate support for a $400 million construction project. Not to build a millionaires' playground, anyway.

The best outcome for the A's and their fans would be staying in the Bay Area. My only real concern is for those fans, many of whom would presumably have a non-arduous trip to a ballpark in San Jose. If you've been to the Bay Area -- and particularly if you've tried to drive from San Jose to downtown San Francisco during anything like rush hour -- you know the two cities don't feel particularly close to each other. For every San Jose fan the Giants might lose, they might gain a fan from Berkeley and Oakland.

Of course that's just idle speculation. Purdy is right; Major League Baseball should commission an independent study before proceeding further. But inaction at this point isn't fair to the A's or their fans.