Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Boras Morass

O.K. I can’t really have my personal archives as the thing folks will first eyeball when they come here. Therefore, I’d better post something else. As of right now, I cannot be sure if anybody but me has read this blog. Sure I could promote it, add it to Ball-Hype, post a link at my Hardball Times bio, put the word out to my fellow scribes and bloggers so we can exchange links etc. but is that where I want this to go?

The fact that I’m doing this online rather than simply griping on my hard drive probably says that I want this to go public. On the other hand, I would like to see how this grows on its merits rather than actively promoting it. For now, I’m cool with this being my private corner of the web where I can grouse, whine and bellyache over anything that irks me without worrying about someone writing: “Hey, knucklehead, this is crap--you suck buddy!” when I’m simply venting my spleen.

I also think that I’m trying to stretch my writing/creative muscles a bit and am using this as a ‘gym’ of sorts. Things are getting more expensive and getting another gig would help. I have no plans to leave the Hardball Times or MSN Canada that is why I have to get into ‘shape’ so to speak. I’ll be starting my fourth year with THT this January and while the pay isn’t great admittedly, I do think we’re evolving into something pretty special. I get a certain ‘writing mojo’ from being on staff there that I’d be an idiot to give up. There’s also a feeling of gratitude towards them for reviving what was a flagging career and finally it’s just too much gosh-darned fun to stop doing. There is something to be said for quality of life and personal enjoyment in one’s career choice.

Moreover, they’re a pretty sharp bunch who have increased my knowledge and love for the game and made me a better writer. I hope if I am offered another job that they don’t want me exclusively. Obviously, I’d have to think long and hard about it and it would break my heart to leave--as silly as it sounds, I just can’t seeing myself doing it. I’d probably do the economically dumb thing and hope something else comes up.

I guess I’ll just have to see what happens when the time comes.

I’ve already submitted by MSN column for the week--more drivel on the Mitchell Report and I think I’ll do my Hardball Times article on my third favourite dynamic duo dum-dums (Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez). For the record, probably to no one’s surprise, the top spots go to Bud Selig and Bob Dupuy as well as Jeffrey Loria and David Samson. I’ve must admit, Don Fehr and Gene Orza are getting up there as well. It must pain Marvin Miller to see all his hard work come undone courtesy over his one time second-in-command.

They say a there’s a fine line between genius and insanity and I think Boras is right on it. If I had to hazard a guess, I think (yes, I do that occasionally) Boras wishes to demonstrate to prospective bidders about the value A-Rod has for a team. Getting equal media play with a Red Sox team winning a second World Series in four years--unthinkable earlier in the aught--is Boras’s way to demonstrate how big his client is. Rodriguez can capture bold-print, front-page headlines even when the biggest moment of the season is underway. It creates an unstated question in team owners’ minds: How can a player like that not be a huge revenue beast?

It’s Boras’s subtle, while not so subtle way of stating: "Now sit back and think about how that will translate into advertising revenue, television and local network contracts. It provides justification for raising ticket and concession prices, ballpark signage and anything else you can dream up." Best of all, you don’t even need to win the Fall Classic to enjoy the economic benefits. It also explains why Rodriguez's post-season failures will be discounted in Boras’s brochure--those flops are unimportant in making money for your club. He can earn you World Series level revenues even if you finish in last place.

Of course, it just gives fans in every major league city yet another reason to despise his client. Let’s face it, despite his apologies Boras knew exactly what he was doing. The guy fancies himself the Jedi master of P.R. so I doubt he'd 'accidentally' commit such an egregarious faux pas like upstaging the World Series. He did it to make a point.

Further, he all but flips the bird to the richest team in baseball. He avoids sitting down and talking to hear an offer, despite having 10 days to do so and even before the season is officially over, he leaves a message with the Yankees, and lets the media know. He couldn’t even wait to talk to a live Yankee representative before saying CIAO! Not only that, it’s a move which makes it $21 million more expensive (plus the 40 percent luxury tax) for the Yankees to sign Rodriguez and then he turns around and wonders why the they are so upset. You'd think a guy who uses $100 bills as spunk rags understands that folks don't like finding out their pockets are over $20 million lighter via IM.

“Intellectually, Alex is tying to understand the difference between his free agency and that of Mariano and Posada.” Alex Rodriguez has never said he does not want to be a Yankee. Filing for free agency doesn’t mean that. Because Rivera and Posada are free agents doesn’t mean they don’t want to be Yankees.”

Geez you opt out even before hearing what the Yankees have to say, even before your 10-day opt out period has had a chance to start and he thinks that’s a dandy way to say “I really want to be a Yankee! Yes I do!” It’s like trying to pick up a girl at a bar by telling her she’s fat, ugly, when she opens her mouth her breath reeks like a just-opened exhumed casket plus you think she’s a walking STD colony and being stunned that she dumped her drink on your head and stormed out of the place.

Either Boras overestimated Rodriguez’s value to the Yankees or he already has a sweet offer on the table from another club. The latter is unlikely since once A-Rod is away from the Yankees, the illicit offer doesn’t have to remain on the table. Before you can have a shot at Rodriguez you have to get him out of his contract. An under the table offer accomplishes that, but there’s no necessity to honour it until they see where the bidding goes.

I have no idea how this is going to play out. We know A-Rod can rake, but he’s older, he’s weaker defensively at a less important position, has post season baggage, and will soon have to play first base, left field or DH. Further, the way they opted out coupled with the fact that 252 is loathed by so many and saying in effect “It’s not enough, I want more!” while leaving your second winning situation for money and doing so with the most despised (or close to it) person in baseball…

It really isn’t the sort of guy the fans are going to embrace. Oh his new team will love him in the short term but Rodriguez is going to be treated like toxic waste on the road. Once his bat slows down and folks see that much money not producing then who knows?

The sad thing about all this is--fair or not--A-Rod is known for money, big stats and October failure. Is there any other all time great that has no team they are best known for playing on? Right now it’s Team Boras. Oh well, if Rodriguez really wants to win back the public it won’t really be overly difficult. A public firing of his agent will win back many fans.

(shakes head)

It’s going to be a long winter.

Best Regards


Personal Archive

One of the things I would like this blog to become is a résumé of sorts. Writers are a transient lot and web writers more so. Some of the sites I have written for went under (draw your own conclusions about any connections) and that translates into trying to find somebody to take pity on you and ask you aboard. Some are in the links. I don’t feel comfortable about breaking down the articles in my old blog so they aren’t listed below. You can try some of the links in the old MLBtalk site (courtesy of Wayback) but a lot of those are now behind the wall at ESPN Insider. Speaking of Wayback, I’m not posting individual links to my old TOTK/Sports bytes (about 70-80 columns) work since Wayback really messes with the formatting and some of them look like they were written by ‘The Riddler.’ I’ll try to find some of the slop I wrote for Bootleg Sports 1 (more below) however my (nee The Mining Company) articles are lost as are my old columns.

You didn’t miss much and the web is better off with their annihilation. I’ve been polluting the web for quite awhile, as you’ll no doubt notice.

The Hardball Times

MSN Canada


Bootleg Sports

(I can't believe these things are still up)

I should mention something here. I'm surprised with the anger in my writing back then. Contraction was allegedly in the works and it looked like there was going to be a prolonged work stoppage. I do recall being quite upset with the powers that be in 2001-02, I just never realized how much it showed up in my writing until I looked over a few of them.

It's funny how you remember things, I think this was from our second attempt at Bootleg Sports. Or Sportstalk 2.0. Bootleg Sports 1 had a rough start and I seem to remember regrouping for another shot. We just couldn't earn enough revenues to stay afloat. Further, I can't believe how many columns I wrote for editions 1 and 2 ... I didn't think there were that many. Admittedly, there are some stinkers in this lot--oh well.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A-Rod is great, so is ... ?

First things first, I have to make good on a threat made yesterday where I said I’d post my recent articles on A-Rod’s opt out. I have actually written six (three very recently, and three over the last year), and I doubt I’ll stop there. Anyway, from most recent on down:

As a writer, I love Alex Rodriguez and Scott Boras--there’s never writer’s block when these two are in the news.

Anyway …

This is another rant about hard-core stat guys.

Bill James once wrote that as time passes a player’s stats would define his legacy. There’s some wisdom in that to be sure. After all, we know about how some players are overrated and others underrated. With the perspective time brings, we can get a better bead on who was truly talented and who just sucked up/were nasty to the media.

Fair enough.

However, when it comes time to assess a player’s Hall-of-Fame case many point to the numbers and say “This guy has HOF stats” and “this guy doesn’t have HOF stats.” One argument is “Yes, he had a great peak, but his counting numbers aren’t HOF calibre” while another is “He has HOF counting numbers but he wasn’t really dominant.” If a guy could mash, but was a DH, then he doesn’t belong, on the other hand, if he was an all-time great defensively but was a slightly above average hitter, then he’s out.

Obviously you want terrific all around players in Cooperstown but it hasn’t worked like that--ever. Harmon Killebrew is a no-questions-asked HOFer but was a menace with the glove; had he been a full-time career DH and not costing his teams runs with his defense, well it’s a tougher sell since he didn’t play in the field. It seems that costing your team runs defensively has more merit than being a DH and costing your club nothing with the leather. Ozzie Smith was a good hitter for a shortstop of his era and was one of the greatest glovemen ever, yet he doesn’t hit like A-Rod, Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken so now he’s suspect. Those privileged to watch “Killer” or “The Wizard of Oz” generally feel they both belong.

The stats tell us one thing, but not everything. Cooperstown is about greatness, not achieving certain statistical milestones. After the passage of time, we may look back at the numbers--since that’s all that is left to examine his case--and say “Those are pretty good numbers but not good enough for the Hall.”

There's a guy who at the present time is a beast with the lumber; a feared player, a key cog on a great team, the go-to-guy when a big hit is needed and usually comes through. For those who watched his career live, there were no doubts that he has been great. Before we proceed further, I am not saying this player is of this moment, a qualified Hall of Famer... but he is a lot closer, in my opinion, than most people think. What he has done over the last five years is display a greatness that is characteristic of bona fide Hall of Fame players. He has many years to still add to the traditional numbers but make no mistake--his play has been epic.

I know it’s going to be a little odd to use stats in an article about how it’s not always about the numbers however it shows the level he has played it is worthy of a developing great. His reputation is based on merit--not hype.

With the Boston Red Sox having won their second World Series in four years--something unthinkable after losing game seven of the 2003 ALCS in extra innings. Aaron Boone’s blast reinforced every bit of bad karma folks felt resided at Fenway Park. Since then a big part of the Red Sox success has come from David Ortiz--a player released unconditionally from the Minnesota Twins in 2002. The Red Sox took a flyer on him and including his previous three seasons in the Twin Cities has improved every year. Ortiz’s OPS+ over the last seven seasons are 101 (2000), 106 (2001), 120 (2002), 144 (2003), 145 (2004), 158 (2005), 161 (2006), 171 (2007).

He enjoyed a solid first year in Boston and while he was an unremarkable hitter in the playoffs in the early part of his career the 2003 ALCS, despite the crushing loss to their arch rivals, gave a demonstration of what was to come (.269/.367/.538; 2 HR 6 RBI).

His aggregate totals of his five-year stint at Fenway are superb (.302/.403/.612) and despite being a DH is probably looking at his fifth straight top-5 finish in MVP voting. In helping the Red Sox win two Fall Classics, Ortiz in his last 31 post-season games mashed like Barry Bonds on steroids (.381/.500/.735--.321/.441/.571 in the World Series) with 9 HR, 31 runs scored and 30 RBI in just 113 AB. To put that into some kind of context, over a full ‘David Ortiz’ season he’s scored 155 runs, hit 45 HR with 150 RBI. In reality, when October rolls around, his bat morphs into Alex Rodriguez circa 2007 regular season.

Two rings, a post-season legend, a monster in the 162 with a career 266 HR at age 31. Yes, A-Rod has almost doubled that at the same age. With his opt out from his Yankee contract Rodriguez will be known simply as a mercenary despite his magnificent career and nobody knows which team’s logo he’ll wear on his Hall of Fame plaque. Over time, when folks are looking at the numbers, Alex Rodriguez will seem like a slam-dunk while folks debate whether Big Papi has the counting stats or a long enough peak and his DH-ing will be held against him.

For those of us who were around in 2007 we’ll remember these five years…

Regular season (2003-2007)

David Ortiz: .302 .403 .612 208
Alex Rodriguez: .302 .391 .578 220

Post season (2004-2007)

David Ortiz: .381 .500 .735 9
Alex Rodriguez: .245 .343 .380 4

World Series (2004-2007)

David Ortiz: .321 .441 .571 1
Alex Rodriguez: .000 .000 .000 0

…and wonder if the right guy got the $30 million a year contract and why one is an inner-circle Hall of Famer and the other a prolonged debate whether he even deserves consideration.

Best Regards


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Boras To Tears?

Probably the toughest part about being a columnist is trying to find a subject about what to write. Many of the ramblings you’ll read here are my attempts to come up with subject matter. I bat ideas around, throw stuff on the word processor and see what sticks. Now I’m stumped. Nevertheless, I could have an idea or two if basic professionalism didn’t get in the way.

The thing is, as far as baseball’s finances go, I tend to side with the players. They’re the ones laying it on the line and could be one play away from retirement. Don’t get me wrong, the owners invest a lot in these guys and deserve a decent return on investment. The thing that bothers me is when somebody is sympathetic to that point of view but dirties the water for everybody.

You see, baseball has always suffered when a given party accumulates too much power. When owners had it, they could blacklist players, keep entire races from playing the game and exploiting the game’s greats only to toss them aside like a dirty burger wrapper when they were no long useful.

When the players union developed too much clout, it made things onerous on small revenue clubs and their fans. Don Fehr once suggested that if Pittsburgh and Montreal couldn’t afford monster contracts then baseball should leave those cities--their fans (I was one of them) be damned. While management deserves its share of the blame in the whole steroid mess, the MLBPA made it easy not to tackle the problem head on due to its intransigence. Why fight it if the union will fight to the death to protect the players’ right to break the law and force borderline talent to choose between a major league career and unknown health consequences after their playing days are over?

Even players felt the long reach of the MLBPA; encouraged to accept the biggest contract offered rather than using their own criteria to decide where the next path in their major league career should go.

Now it’s an agent, more pointedly, Scott Boras.

I’ll be honest; I have little use for the man. I’m hoping that this A-Rod negotiation blows up in his face and Rodriguez ends up with less money per annum than he had if he hadn’t opted out (assuming he does) of his contract with the Yankees. Then I hope he fires Boras. Rodriguez is a man who strikes me as knowing what he wants until he sits down with his agent. It was Boras’s goading that caused A-Rod to make his comments regarding Derek Jeter in Esquire. A-Rod is a wealthy man, but 252 has been a shadow he cannot escape, as are his comments seven years ago. Now Boras has convinced him to make himself more of a pariah by leaving his second winning situation for money.

It seems Scott Boras is more concerned about what Rodriguez can do for him rather than the other way around. A-Rod stated in 2001, “I wanted to be a Met. I've always wanted to be a Met, I've been a Met fan since I was a kid. And I would've played there for less money and less years and they know that.” The Mets unquestionably had interest as well. Therefore, how could Boras not negotiate a marriage based on mutual interest? Possibly because the Mets had what A-Rod wanted and not what Boras wanted.

This isn’t about the opt-out however, I’ve dealt with it in other locales and I'll post the links after they go live. Where Boras’s power is hurting the game is at the amateur level. He likes to portray himself as a defender of the helpless. He would have more credibility with that claim were his work done pro bono. It’s about money like everything else he does. The draft was initially set up to aid competitive balance; giving struggling teams the first crack at top amateur talent.

What happens now is, due to Boras’s involvement, is he represents that top talent and requests outrageous signing bonuses that cause teams with lower revenues to pass on them and they fall in the draft to--you guessed it, the successful wealthy teams. It explains why that, despite always being among the last teams to draft, clubs like the Yankees, Red Sox etc. always seem to have these blue chip prospects while teams like the Royals and Pirates continue to struggle.

Players like A-Rod, Albert Pujols, Johan Santana (soon), Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez etc. deserve the big bucks because they are among the best in the world at what they do. They’ve paid their dues and should reap the rewards of investing so much hard work to develop their considerable talents.

To play in professional sports requires special genetic gifts. To reward high school or college players with outrageous sums of money for being fortunate enough to have these gifts but haven’t proven they can develop them seems instinctively wrong. That money belongs to those who have proven they can perform at the sport’s highest level. Yes, there should be bonuses for the simple reason that they are looking at as many as 10-12 years before they cash in and certainly there should be some compensation for the time they will invest.

However, to demand to be set for life before you touch a ball in the professional game is nonsensical.

I know there are risks for these kids. Life is a risk, not studying in school is a risk, choosing a profession where you know the high attrition rate going in is a risk. Why should the risk be taken away from your life and not for every person in high school or college? The trouble is, besides the problems with the draft itself are, trying for the maximum bonus at all costs can be disastrous. Matt Harrington blew a chance at millions for a few extra thousand, other players lose precious development time holding out or re-entering the draft. Why did A-Rod get a quarter billion dollars in 2001? One thing was talent, the other was he was just 24-25 when he hit the market. Every year older you are when you become a free agent costs many millions of dollars more than what you hoped to gain by holding out for a year or two until somebody met your agent’s price.

Getting back to Boras, when he’s negotiating these draft picks’ contracts, he tries to get them into the major leagues as quickly as possible to start their service clock for arbitration and free agent rights. To do so, he tries to get major league contracts for these kids after they’re drafted. When this happens, the player is kept on the roster regardless of whether his play merits the spot. The spot he’s taking up may well be leaving a more deserving player behind is destroying any sense of baseball’s meritocracy. Yes, nobody forced the team into having to do that, but it’s still cheating a more deserving player since the team doesn’t want to lose their investment by exposing him to waivers.

I admire Alex Rodriguez as a player. Somebody who wins (I am assuming) three MVP, two Gold Gloves at a tough defensive position, put up three 50 HR seasons averaging 47 long balls per year and was an All Star every year of the contract to date can certainly be said to be earning every blessed dollar of his deal. However, I do feel that Boras going down in flames, being fired by Rodriguez while suffering a huge drop in credibility and influence will serve the game well. Boras needs to be taken down a notch and I hope that baseball management will do just that by keeping their heads and wits about them and understanding what Alex Rodriguez can, and more importantly, can not do for their teams.

I’m not optimistic though. As Liam Neeson said (as Qui-Gon Jinn) in The Phantom Menace: “Greed can be a powerful ally” and Boras is counting on his old ally to again make Alex Rodriguez a very wealthy pariah.

Best Regards


Nerd fight!!! (The Dangers of Momentum)

Anyway, what started the whole ‘controversy’ was a section of my weekly Hardball Times column I entitled “The Whine Cellar” which was little more than a blog within a blog where I inflicted my insights on the Jays’ fortunes in 2007. I noticed the Jays were leaving a significant number of runners on base; oftentimes they would have a leadoff double, men on first and second/nobody out when the mess known as the bottom the lineup was due up. In May I went on the record as saying :

On to more current matters: I know J.P. Ricciardi is loath to give up outs for runs or to sacrifice. I hope John Gibbons realizes he has to be pragmatic. Right now, due to injuries, the Jays may have as many as three major out-producers at the bottom of lineup. If Troy Glaus’ legs are being rested it’s entirely possible that your 7-8-9 hitters could be some combination of Jason Phillips (78 OPS+), Sal Fasano (27 OPS+), Royce Clayton (78 OPS+), Jason Smith (44 OPS+) and John McDonald (67 OPS+).

Thus far this season (as of this writing), this quintet has drawn just 19 BB in 322 AB and struck out almost as often as they get a hit (77 K/ 78 hits). Occasionally there will be runners at first and second with none out and one of these five players coming to the plate. Suffice it to say, the odds of a popup, strikeout or double play ball are much more likely than that of a hit or walk.

What Gibbons should do in this scenario is try to bunt the runners over. Every day, Gibbons should be giving these guys bunting practice. When the odds of an out (and possibly two) are so strong, a double play more probability than possibility, the Jays would be better served in making sure that the almost inevitable out (the aforementioned five players have an aggregate OBP of .292) at least moves runner along. That way a groundball or ball hit to the outfield at least gets you a run.

The Jays' offense has been struggling for a while now and they should look at doing whatever it takes to gets runs across even if it means making an intentional out.** (this will be referenced below--just look for the symbols Bud Selig wants to use on home runs 73 and 756)

The situation continued through the summer months and I finally decided to see how much it was costing the Jays. I went through every box score and wrote my conclusions here. Since I had a word limit on the column I had a second part that would go a little deeper into the matter depending on the feedback I received. Suffice it to say, many folks took exception. While I wasn’t overly surprised by this, what did amaze me that so many missed completely where I was coming from. I decided to submit the follow up.

Same response. Since the word limit (which is wise considering that momentum and keyboards are often an explosive mix with me) on Sympatico.MSN wasn’t allowing me to go into the depth I wanted to on the subject, while I had expanded on it a bit earlier on THT, I felt I should do part 3 on the Hardball Times and 3000 words later I felt I had explained my thoughts on the 2007 Jays to my satisfaction. If folks still didn’t understand where I was coming from, then there was little I could do about it.

Of course that wouldn’t stop me from answering some of the objectors either through e-mail or on the blogs themselves. I limited myself to the blogs that I often read since I felt their general level of insight was the worth the time to understand where they were coming from. This of course led me to Drunk Jays Fans who are quite insightful. You just have to get past their fondness for Victorian police blotter acronyms regarding prostitution.

The good folks at DJF--who are big John Gibbons supporters--felt I was saying that Gibby should be fired for not bunting more. So I stated:

For the record, I don’t write the headlines for my MSN column and never said that Gibbons should be fired for not bunting more although I did write: “That’s how costly the Gibbons-Ricciardi approach has been in 2007. If the manager won’t change a losing approach, then it’s time to change the manager. If the general manager refuses to tell his manager that his in-game tactics are losing games, then it’s time to lose the general manager.

I was faulting the organization’s approach in general for not doing a mid-season re-evaluation regarding the offense and sticking with the status quo despite evidence that the Jays 2007 strategy wasn’t working due to injuries, slumps and counting on well below league average batters to execute a plan that they were incapable of executing. The lack of a re-evaluation was the point of my critique, not that guys like Frank Thomas weren’t bunting. I felt strongly that Ricciardi/Gibbons should have taken a step back and said: “O.K. this is our current circumstances, what can we do to maximize the offense with the talent on hand.”

I wrote back in May on the Hardball Times that: [**check above]

The MSN columns were an outgrowth of that. I made the mistake of assuming that folks reading my MSN columns also read the Hardball Times. Pretty stupid on my part admittedly.

Oh well, I like the Jays chances in 2008 and I think the Jays won’t have to scratch out runs anyway.

Now momentum has taken over. I expand on the above thought:

My view on bunting is based on a word that rhymes with it--punting. In football, why do you punt? You still have a down to work with and all punting does is give the other team the ball. Why not go for it on every fourth down? You have to have possession of the ball to score so why give it up? Alternatively, why bunt since that particular at bat likely won’t end up creating a run?

We know why. It isn’t about this series of downs, it’s about the next one. Punting puts you ideally in a better position to score next time around.

That’s partly my view on bunting. When you’ve got a player at bat with men on/nobody out and next guy up is a Sal Fasano level hitter, a bunt/punt puts you in a better position to score next time up--in this case the next hitter. Yes, you’re giving up something; in football its possession, in baseball it’s the out. Letting a Fasano hit in that situation is a lot like going for it on fourth down from bad field position. Sure you might convert/get a hit but odds are higher that you’re out on downs or you give up an out (and possibly two), without getting anything in return.

If you punt/bunt there is a chance of recovering the ball/legging out a hit or forcing an error. In both cases you’re trying to pick up field position and making it easier to score next time up--in the case of baseball the field position of your base runners goes from first and second to second and third.

In both cases, you’re conceding the circumstances: Chances are good that your quarterback won’t convert on fourth down just as Fasano is unlikely to get a hit/extra base hit/walk. Therefore, you give up the out/possession to improve your next scoring opportunity. Rigidly holding to a philosophy of not giving away outs in any and all circumstances strikes me as somewhat akin to never punting on fourth down.

To use an extreme example, it’s the bottom the 13th inning at Rogers Centre in game seven of the World Series. The game is tied 4-4 and the first two hitters have reached base and you’ve got Sal Fasano up.

Your bench is empty. Do you (a) have Fasano bunt to move guys to second and third and one out or (2) do you let a slow-footed .219/.293/.394 career hitter take his cuts since you’re not supposed to give away outs?

The answer is obvious. The circumstances at hand dictate what you must do.

So, we see that a rigid, dogmatic philosophical approach isn’t always the best thing.

That was my gripe about Gibbons this year: He stuck with the ‘don’t give away outs’ regardless of whether it was Alex Rios up with two on/nobody out in the second or Jason Phillips up with two on/nobody out in the eighth. He (or J.P.) never seemed to adjust to the evolving state of the roster. The Jays had 10 guys (Royce Clayton, Adam Lind, John McDonald, Hector Luna, Jason Phillips, Sal Fasano, Jason Smith, Ryan Roberts, Curtis Thigpen and Howie Clark) with an aggregate OBP/SLG of .275/.325 getting a lot of at bats (often consequently and even in interleague games where the trio would be followed by the pitcher) plus injury hampered slumps in Troy Glaus, Reed Johnson, Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells and never wavered with a strategy that was conceived based on the assumption that Johnson, Overbay, Wells, Rios, Thomas, Glaus, Hill and Zaun would be healthy and hitting close to their career norms.

That scenario never came close to transpiring and despite all that they stuck with their original plan. Gibby/J.P. to the best of my knowledge didn’t have a Plan B or a fallback.

That’s why I was so critical of the offensive philosophy--not that there was a problem with the philosophy per se but in refusing to acknowledge that they lacked the personnel to execute that philosophy with the circumstances of the 2007 season and try to be more flexible and creative. A station-to-station ball club is easy to defend against which is why you need lots of lumber and high OBP to pull it off since there’s no pressure on the opposing defense. If you lack the firepower to do it but still attempt it then you’re doing the other team a huge favour since in those circumstances where you get men on they can focus exclusively on the double-play ball. The pitcher doesn’t have to worry about hold runners close, the infielders doesn’t have to worry about what base they have to cover in case there’s a play on. All they have to do is find out where a given hitter puts the ball in play when he’s ahead/behind in the count and set up for the twin-killing, often against a struggling/poor hitter. Had the Jays mixed it up a bit more and realize that every so often that they might have to “punt” then you’re adding one more factor to the equation that the defense has to account for.

Here is where my foil pointed out that such a strategy is a gamble and poses risks. To which I replied:

Agreed, it’s a gamble. However, so is expecting 2-3 consecutive .275 OBP/.325 SLG level hitters to get a hit/walk/extra base hit. The ten players I mentioned had an aggregate line in 2007 of .233/.275/.325 that is actually worse than they were hitting in late May when I first made the observation. The numbers tell you, regardless of what sample size you care to use, that they can’t hit/walk/hit for power so why entrust the scoring opportunity to them? A man on third/one out can score in a number of ways unrelated to the abilities of the player at bat. He can come home on a passed ball, wild pitch, balk, a slow grounder on the infield, a reasonably deep fly ball (fair or foul), an error on a foul ball, a sac bunt etc.

That’s why the occasional use of the bunt can be helpful to a team like the 2007 Jays. When your outmakers come up with men on first and second/none out, a successful bunt increases the chance of getting a run in since a hit isn’t automatically needed to drive in a run. Also, most likely if a member of the “.233/275/.325” crew does manage a hit chances are good it’s going to be a single (.325 SLG) which opens up the possibility that the runners on both second and third can score.

The thing is, I’ve heard criticisms regarding my use of sample-size and not understanding run expectancy; however these things are based on a couple of assumptions. One, they’re based on league averages and the Jays often had 2-3 guys that were slightly better than half of league average. The second is that sample-size/run expectancy/regression and progression to the mean etc. follow a strict March 31-October 1 parameter. They don’t. Some of these things may have begun in the previous season or continue into the next one--none of which helps you when a decision is needed right now.

This decision that has to factor in such things as the player’s physical health (whether nursing a minor injury--come back from a major one or even a cold-flu), how he has been hitting of late (is he hot or is he slumping), or his mental state (is he brooding over a contract, or a bone-head play the last inning etc.) , how he fares traditionally against this style of pitcher (power pitcher, sinkerball, junk-baller, lefty/righty, flyball/groundball pitcher, is he fresh or fatigued etc.)

The numbers will reach certain norms over a certain period but that’s not much help in the eighth inning of a one-run game. The fact that he (or the team) will eventually perform according to norm isn’t really helpful at this point in time. That’s why there’s advance scouting, strategizing, analysis and the like since the factors at play are always in flux. Using three seasons worth of data charting run expectancy to decide what to do with Sal Fasano up with men on/nobody out won’t work, because what he’s done in the past is a single data point among many.

Sometimes in those situations you have to simplify things: Is Sal Fasano likely to hit? There’s men on first and second/nobody out. Fasano is hitting .178/.229/.311 at the moment. He took a foul tip off his lead elbow in the previous half inning and there’s a bit of swelling plus he thinks he might be coming down with a flu bug.

Do you look at run expectancy over a full season to make your decision or do you simply ask yourself what is most likely? He’s facing a sinkerball pitcher ergo a ground ball double play is a possibility. Do you gamble he can stay out the double play? What is the most likely outcome of this at bat: A strike out (creating a first and second, one out with Hector Luna on deck), a ground ball (creating a man on third, two out with Hector Luna on deck), a pop fly or medium depth fly ball (creating a first and second, one out with Hector Luna on deck), a warning track fly ball (creating a first and third or possibly a second and third, one out with Hector Luna on deck), a walk (loading the bases with Hector Luna on deck), a single (creating a first and third, none out run in with Hector Luna on deck or bases loaded/nobody out with Hector Luna on deck), a double (creating a man on second, none out, two runs in with Hector Luna on deck or men on second and third, a run in W.H.L.O.D.) or a home run (three runs in, none out W.H.L.O.D.)

Since its Sal Fasano (career .219/.293/.394 and currently hitting .178/.229/.311) you decide that chances are a negative outcome in this instance is more likely than a positive outcome. So you “punt” in an attempt to try avoiding the double play and improve your field position since and open up a chance to get a run without needing a hit since gosh darn it--Hector Luna is on deck and if does hit, it might score two. It’s a gamble, sure but what would you call expecting a guy currently hitting .178/.229/.311 who is as slow as Rita McNeil on a treadmill to come through with a big hit?

Unfortunately, this resulted in getting hung up on the Sal Fasano example used above. Since I’m now at full throttle, going down hill with the wind at my back it’s difficult to put on the breaks. But hey, so what? We’re two Jays fans talking baseball over a beer (I had one in hand and the name of blog suggested strongly that he had one as well):

Fasano was just one example; they had a bunch of outmakers with men on. Strictly speaking altering the philosophy wouldn't be as dramatic as you might think because you need the following scenario:

1) 1st and 2nd, none out outmakers due up.

2) Lead off double, none out outmakers due up.

You wouldn't do it all the time simply because it makes it predictable. You also use scenario 1 and 2 occasionally with somebody who might be struggling a bit (while generally a potent hitter) simply to keep the defense and advanced scouts guessing. You can’t let them assume that a play like that is on just when your .275/.325 guys are up.

It's like Nolan Ryan's changeup. Ryan made his living with the overpowering fastball and the bladder-loosing slider. However, he had his best starts when the changeup was working. He didn’t have to throw it often but once other teams knew it was there and working, it made his fastball/slider that much more potent.

The Jays build their offense around power and OBP--however to supplement it (especially when it’s struggling) with the occasional play like above, it gives the defense one more thing to consider. How many double play ground balls might have become singles if the opposing infielders were in motion?

There is more to “manufacturing runs” than stealing and bunting. It’s also done by creating holes for ground balls to get through--you create holes by creating uncertainty. The best part is, if you execute your offensive “changeup” successfully the worst situation you end up with is two men in scoring position with one out.

You have to remember, guys like the Jays were forced to utilize in 2007 are at the point in their careers where they realize they’re not going to be big bombers or OBP guys. To keep their jobs in the big leagues they have to focus on the little things: taking the extra base, not missing the cut-off man or throwing to the wrong base, calling good games, keeping the ball in front of them and being able to move runners along either with a bunt or a short swing ground ball on the right side.

It’s not like players like Luna, McDonald, Fasano/Phillips (especially in the NL) aren’t unfamiliar with the bunt. To get any kind of playing time it’s a skill they need to have.

Even in the minor leagues, there’s more emphasis on player development rather than winning games and with a lot of old school baseball men managing and coaching down there you can be sure that the great majority of players are taught how to bunt--especially if they’ve spent any time in a NL affiliate. Yeah, it’s pretty silly to ask a Glaus or a Thomas to play that way however most guys in the minors will never reach that level so the rank and file try to develop as wide a skill set as possible to maximize their value to the parent club. Unless they’ve got an all-world bat they will have had a lot of practice in the art of bunting.

At this point, fearing another outburst of bandwidth, he ended the discussion but implied he could still prove me wrong were he so inclined. Again, the point was missed. I thought we were talking baseball, I’m guessing he was involved in a competition requiring a winner and a loser. I have always been quite content to ‘agree to disagree’ and enjoy the discussion for its own sake. Since I wasn’t willing to surrender and admit defeat, he saw no point in continuing.

He’s still a young guy and I’ve been there and done that already. He’s pretty sharp and after a few more years of experience in life he’ll learn to sit back and simply enjoy an exchange of ideas. He’ll come to understand that if you’re getting involved in a debate, there’s nothing wrong with trying to understand somebody else’s point of view without trying to get to the point where he can spike the football or admire his home run.

Ah to be in my 20’s again.

Best Regards


Humble Beginnings

To paraphrase yet another Princess Bride quip, I’m often amazed at life’s little quirks. The idea of restarting another blog happened earlier this week. I’m a regular poster (a “primate”) at Baseball Think Factory for over five years now however, I was kicking around looking for a place where I could engage in a little Jays talk. Since I read blogs on a regular basis it seemed a good place as any to start.

I was enjoying myself at Drunk Jays Fans when it became apparent that my contributions were becoming unwelcome. Why? I imagine part of it is the fact that once I get going on a subject and momentum kicks in I can churn out a lot of verbiage. I’m guessing the second part is philosophical. One contributor took issue with a column I had written which they felt was suggesting that the 2007 Blue Jays become the 1985 Cardinals and guys like Frank Thomas and Troy Glaus should bunt more.

I took the time to explain where I was coming from on that topic and after an exchange where he couldn’t get me to change my mind he seemed to want me to take my heresy elsewhere. Later, on a different topic, I was explaining how folks in baseball float trial balloons through the media since they were caught up in just such an event. Somebody dropped the remark (I have a pretty good idea whom) "John Brattain, you are something else. I really get a kick out of the way you've taken to using the comments section of DJF as your own personal blog."

So now I was being accused of having my own sinister agenda rather than providing simple feedback and Jays talk which I erroneously assumed was the entire point of the comments section. I guess that section is to be used more for genuflection than discussion. Regardless, I did ask myself that since I need a place to vent and talk regularly about the Blue Jays, then why not--instead of inflicting myself on an unwilling audience--do just that and start (or more pointedly--restart) a blog? At any rate--thanks for the idea.

Don’t get the wrong idea (although it’s rapidly becoming a national pastime) and think I’m dumping on DJF. I’ll continue happily to read the blog (and link to them if they’ve written something I feel folks should check out) but if I’ve got an itch to scratch on a topic on something they’ve posted, I’ll just put it here instead. It’s win-win except for the folks reading this particular blog. I bear no ill will to any of them since it’s their blog and they’re perfectly entitled to have things the way they want them there. I’m simply an interloper and should have no say in how they develop their site. They’re Blue Jays fans after all so how can there be anything but love from my end?

I suppose I’ll handle feedback in this manner across the board. That way I can provide links to the blogs once the poor unfortunate souls stumble across this one. In addition, it’ll save them the clutter in the comments section when momentum kicks in and it’ll give me a ready-made topic for a blog post. After all, since what I wrote inspired their post it’s only fair that I use theirs as inspiration for mine.

Despite my mainstream gig, I like bloggers and view them as an invaluable resource. Due to this, I like to promote them when the opportunity arises. As I wrote yesterday, I don’t have to agree with somebody to appreciate their work/writing or to benefit from their feedback. I was ripped pretty well by Mockingbird and Maldonado Over Everything this year nevertheless I got tremendous input from them and was appreciative. Do we agree on the issue under consideration? No. Did they make their points well and provide valuable insight? Absolutely and I hope I’ll get ripped again next summer by them since, as stated once before, it’s difficult to learn new things from folks who have the same world-view as myself.

Since the whole “to bunt or not to be, that is the question” provided the genesis that lead to this, I’ll go transfer my thoughts from there to here. If folks want to engage in a discussion on the subject, they’re more than welcome to do just that.

Best Regards


Saturday, October 27, 2007

So, here we are

To get the obvious out of the way, this is a baseball blog. Or more pointedly, a Blue Jays blog (for the most part). You see, sometimes life does not work out precisely as you thought it would. I do a lot of writing about baseball. My main outlets are the Hardball Times and Sympatico.MSN. As is typical of my breed, I have kicked around a lot. I have inflicted my negligible synaptic function on places like MLBtalk, ESPN Insider,, Replacement Level Yankee Weblog,, Bootleg Sports, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals.

This is my second blog, the first one was called Synaptic Flatulence that somebody offered to buy and I happily accepted. Anyway, the folks I write for prefer me not to monopolize bandwidth while complaining non-stop about the Jays. Sadly, that leaves me few outlets for my angst. Therefore, if I feel the need to bellyache about the Jays, and the folks who pay the bills tell me to cover something else, I’ll dump it here. It goes for my new National League rooting interest--the Philadelphia Phillies as well.

One of the hazards of writing was well summed up by Indigo Montoya who said ‘I do not think that word means what you think in means.’ In other words, just because I wrote something and I knew bloody well what I was talking about doesn’t mean the reader does.

It made for an interesting summer at any rate. I found fascinating theories online about why I was off my rocker because of something I wrote. One problem, what they thought I was writing bore little resemblance to what I actually said in the column.

Some times, I tried to set the record straight, other times not--a lot depended on my mood and time available. As a scribe, a certain amount of grief is to be expected if for no other reason that if everyone agrees with you, then you’ve taken a very neutral stand on an inconsequential subject. One should consider a career change if that’s the case.

I don’t mind the flames as a rule because not everybody sees things the same way. I feel that’s a good thing in general since if everybody agreed on everything, then conversation will become little more than an exercise in stifling yawns. What does get me ticked is folks who blast me based on what they think I said rather than where I was actually coming from.

I can see myself making entries where I generally gripe about people who do that. It’s not particularly productive admittedly, it is probably preferable to banging my head on the keyboard after somebody insists he or she knows what’s going on inside my head better than I do.

Further, I’ll probably grouse about the absolutists on both sides of baseball’s great statistical divide (old school vs. sabermetrics) since both strikes me as being off their meds.

This is a good a place as any to get my first rant out of the way. A lot of things happen on the baseball diamond that will not show up in a box score: a double play not made, missing the cut off man or throwing to the wrong base are examples of this. Also pitches in the dirt that catchers corral, a pitcher’s mindset and confidence based on the backstop’s ability to do it as well as his faith in the defense behind him. In a tough situation, does he go for the strike out or is he willing to let his defense get the out?

Here’s an example of this beast. It’s ripped off from a Hardball Times note I wrote back in August:

The Jays-Angels game on August 16 was decided in the top of the second inning. Gary Matthews Jr. hit a solo home run of Jays RHP Dustin McGowan making the score 1-0.

How so? After all, the final score of the game was 4-3 as a Jays' rally in the ninth fell short. It wasn’t the one run differential that won the game but something happened as a result of that home run that might go unnoticed in the box score.

Matthews’ blast was titanic: It went off the top of Windows Restaurant. For the rest of the night McGowan wanted nothing to do with Matthews: He walked him on four pitches in the fourth with one out and was stranded on third base.

In the sixth, it cost him. With nobody out and Matthews leading off, McGowan again threw nothing in the strike zone and he was aboard. Timely hitting coupled by fielding gaffs cost McGowan two runs (one earned) and possibly the game. Matthews isn’t a disciplined hitter and McGowan had good command; of his three walks, two were to Matthews after the blast.

McGowan will have to learn selective memory and block out things like the Matthews’ home run to become an ace. His second inning shot was off a bad pitch but McGowan couldn’t let it go. Matthews isn’t Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez, he has only 15 HR and a .449 SLG.

I hope somebody in the Jays’ organization took note of this. McGowan has filthy stuff and capable of hitting three digits on the gun. His command is improving. He showed last night that he still has to work on the mental aspect of the game.

Here’s the thing, when I write something against accepted sabermetric wisdom, the long knives come out. It irks me that folks go to the stats to prove a point about a team that they haven’t watched all year. The Blue Jays in 2007 had a significant number of games where they had three simply awful offensive players that would come up in order. These guys were barely replacement level offensively with an aggregate line of .233/.275/.325. I had the audacity to suggest (initially back in May) that instead of letting them strike out/pop up or hit into a double play with men on and nobody out that maybe the Jays would be better served with the odd sac bunt.

Man, talk about generating a fecal-based turbulent weather pattern. I had spat upon the Bill James Bible and I, the infidel, must be punished. They would prefer the strike out/pop up/GIDP if it meant not giving away an opportunity for a three run jack by a by a player slugging .250. By year’s end, they had 1305 AB with 16 home runs--11 of them from Adam Lind.

The Jays finished 10th in the AL and last (behind Baltimore and Tampa Bay) in the division in runs scored.

But they sure showed me eh?

The thing is, I generally agree that it’s a bad idea to give away outs however I feel strongly that if something isn’t working in a given situation then it’s best to address that situation. The Jays gave over 1300 AB to out-makers (enough to make up a complete seasons for two players--even after Johnny Mac's contributions are taken out). Toronto was dealing with injury-induced slumps from their first baseman, third baseman, left fielder, center fielder with McDonald as the everyday shortstop and two other 'players' in the lineup with an OPS of 600. Nevertheless, with all this, the Jays should still stick with a an OBP/3-run HR offense with a team OBP .327 and a below league average slugging percentage saith the naysayers.

When you’d rather lose while maintaining your philosophy rather than gamble (especially when you haven’t a whole lot to lose) on something different then it strikes me as being a fan of a dogma rather than a fan of your team.

Run expectancy matrixes may tell you what is optimal, but it doesn’t account for outliers nor does it fall conveniently between the end of March and end of September of every single year--you still need to deal with the situation at hand. The fact that Vernon Wells will eventually return to his career norms isn’t a helpful data point when you need something right now.

Baseball remains a team game. A club striving to win will always have an advantage over a team trying to maximize their personal stats. If it’s a tie game in the bottom of the 11th inning in game seven of the World Series and you’ve got men on first and second and nobody out and you’re looking for three RBI even though the guy behind you is hitting .350...and you end up grounding into a double play because you’re a .260 hitting catcher, I don’t think folks will receive your dissertation on Run Expectancy kindly.

Both camps have good ideas and they work best when they work together in assembling a roster and making in-game decisions. Rigid dogmatism by either side rarely serves a team well.

I think the above gives you a pretty good idea about the sort of brain dumps to expect here. At some point I hope to set up an archive of my online work (except for the stuff that I really wish I hadn’t written) just because. I’ve got a lot of favourite baseball haunts and there will be links. I’ll pass along props to those whose work I respect and enjoy. I am more than capable of respecting and enjoying the writing of people who I disagree with. I know good stuff when I read it plus I learn a lot from people whose thoughts and feelings differ from my own. Feel free to drop me a line. I’ll be adding a comments section too so you can tell me what an idiot I am for not thinking the way you do. There is no ‘master plan’ for my blog. It’s just where I’m going to vent more often than not.

Best Regards