Learning from Children

It’s been a while since my last post.  Part of the reason for that is that I’ve been spending a lot of time coaching my daughter’s softball team.  Of course, I kept full stats on all of the girls on the team.  I hope that the girls learned something from me, but learning is a two-way street.  I learned a lot from watching and coaching these girls that can be applied to Major League Baseball.  Some of the things I learned may be obvious, but it seems like everything is amplified in games played by children.

 

Here are 5 things I learned:

 

1.      A lineup of 9 above average players is better than a lineup of 3 superstars and 6 below average players.

 

The 1998 Yankees were the best example of a team filled with above average hitters.  Chad Curtis was slightly below average with his OPS+ of 90, and you could call Bernie a superstar with his 160, but every other regular with the exception of Knoblauch (102 OPS+ is basically average) would be considered an above average hitter. 

 

The 2001 Mariners had Edgar Martinez (160 OPS+), Brett Boone (153) and John Olerud (136).  I don’t know that I’d consider all three of them superstars, but they were all great that season.

 

Compare the ’98 Yanks to the ’01 Mariners:  The Yankees had an OPS+ of 116, the Mariners 117.  The slash stats for the Yankees were .288/.364/.460, the Mariners’ were .288/.360/.445.  The Yankees scored 965 runs in 1998.  The Mariners scored 927 runs.  The Yankees had a 2.5% higher OPS (with most of the difference coming in the less important SLG category), but scored 4.1% more runs.  Why?  Because their lineup was more evenly balanced.  They had a lineup where each player got on equally well as opposed to a few guys who got on significantly more than their teammates.

 

Incidentally, all of the girls on my softball team had an OBP greater than .412 and as a result scored 10 or more runs in more than half of our games.

 

2.      Batting averages should not be ignored.

 

When I was younger everyone ignored OBP and only looked at batting averages.  Thanks to some great work by many sabermetricians the importance of OBP has grown over the years.  Unfortunately, they’ve done too good a job and sometimes it seems like many people have gone the other way.  Recently, so much focus has been placed on OBP by many who subscribe to the importance of sabermetrics that batting averages tend to be completely ignored.

 

Going back to the softball team, many of the girls who had high batting averages drove in the bulk of the runs.  These girls did not necessarily have the highest OBP, but walks do not help drive in runs unless the bases are loaded.  Teams with high OBP and low batting averages will tend to leave a lot of runners on base and not score as many runs.  The 2008 Rays finished the season at .260/.340/.422.  The 2008 Twins finished the season at .279/.340/.408.  The Rays had a 14-point lead in OPS and grounded into 31 less DPs.  The Twins scored 55 more runs than the Rays.  Why?  They had a 19-point lead in batting average.  Don’t get me wrong, OBP is the most important simple stat in all of baseball, but it’s wrong to look only at OBP (or SLG or even OPS) and ignore batting average.

 

3.      Players with high OBP and low batting averages tend to be under appreciated by average fans, most coaches, and even themselves.

 

Towards the end of the season I asked one of my assistant coaches who should make the all-star team.  He gave me a list of girls who had the highest batting averages, many of whom were in the lower half of the team in OBP.  I asked my wife the same question.  She gave me the same list of names.  I had many conversations with parents who attended all the team’s games who praised the hitting of these same players.

 

My daughter led the team in walks and was 2nd in OBP with a ridiculous .667.  She batted .182.  One day she expressed to me that she thought she stunk.  One of her friends batted .375 with an OBP of .483.  Now .483 is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s nowhere near .667.  My daughter thought that her friend was much better than she was.  It took me a long time to convince her that she is just as valuable to the team, if not more, because she makes less outs and keeps more innings going.

 

All of this got me to thinking about Nick Swisher.  Early on he was phenomenal, but he came back to earth.  Swisher is currently 23rd in the majors with a .368 OBP.  No one in the top 40 is even within 10 points of having a batting average as low as his .239.  Swisher has definitely helped the Yankees offensively this year.  (Coincidentally, he just hit a game-tying HR with two outs in the 9th as I was typing that sentence.)  Yet, many Yankee fans don’t appreciate his contributions because of his low batting average.

 

4.      Errors can be forced by running hard and being aggressive on the base paths.

 

I saw many examples of this while I was coaching, but I saw it play out in the majors when the Yankees were playing the Mariners.  Mark Teixeira who has been absolutely stellar in the field this year made a throwing error when he tried to throw out Ichiro at first with the pitcher covering.  Ichiro’s speed made Tex rush his throw resulting in an error. 

 

I saw this happen a lot when Rickey Henderson (congratulations on being inducted to the Hall) was with the Yankees.  I don’t have the stats, but I would bet that Rickey reached base on an error more times than anyone in the history of baseball (at least he did a lot early in his career).  Why don’t most players run hard up the line?  This brings me to the final point:

 

5.      Many major leaguers set a bad example for kids.

 

Let’s forget all of the off the field stuff.  I spent a lot of time teaching the girls to catch the ball with two hands, but every time they watch a game they see players trying to catch the ball with one hand.  Rickey Henderson was famous for his snatch catch.  Louis Castillo became infamous for trying to make a one-handed catch.  I’ve even seen Derek Jeter, one of the most fundamentally sound players in the game make one-handed catches on occasion. 

 

I’m not saying that major leaguers should start catching everything with two hands just to set a good example for kids (although it is a noble proposition), but fundamentally sound baseball leads to less errors which leads to more wins.  I would love to see all major leaguers practice sound fundamentals on every play.

At Spring Traning with the Yankees

I’m not what anyone would consider a lucky person.  In fact, my life has generally been filled with bizarre incidences that can only be attributed to bad luck.  As a mild example, I once called my doctor because I had strep throat, but he couldn’t see me because he had called out sick (you have to love God’s ironic sense of humor).  My luck tends to get considerably worse when it comes to traveling.  I could tell you some horror stories regarding tsunami evacuations, promised airline tickets that weren’t at the counter they were supposed to be at, and electrical malfunctions on airplanes that left me stranded in a foreign country for 24 hours – just to name a few.  But when it comes to the Yankees, I’ve led a charmed life.

 

I’ve been lucky enough to sit in the front row, in the Babe Ruth Luxury Box, and in the tenth row directly behind home plate – there’s nothing like seeing Mo’s cutter from that vantage point.  I attended Opening Day in 1997 and watched Mattingly do the honors of raising the first championship banner in 18 years. I’ve been to a pennant clinching game, and one of the greatest World Series games ever played.  I’ve also been to many Old Timers’ Day games (a personal favorite of mine) and last year I was even lucky enough to go to the All-Star Game.

 

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend a meeting for my company…in Tampa, FL.  My first thought was, “Maybe I can get to spring training.”  I had no idea what I was in for.  I was told late on Friday afternoon that I needed to fly in for a 5:30 dinner on Wednesday, and then needed to fly back on Thursday afternoon after a morning meeting.  Finding a non-stop round trip flight so late was a little challenging, but I managed to find a flight out of LaGuardia, which would get me to Tampa by 2:30.  LaGuardia isn’t exactly a convenient place to fly out of for someone who lives in NJ, but it would have to do.  If all went well I should be able to make my 5:30 dinner.  At 10 pm the night before I left, I received an e-mail requesting that I be at a meeting at 4:00 the next day.  Nothing like cutting it close.

 

I have come to expect things like traffic, and delays.  Especially traffic, knowing that I would have to travel over the George Washington Bridge and then down the Major Deegan Expressway (“Expressway” being a misnomer if ever there was one).  Of course, the Deegan would take me right past Yankee Stadium, so I at least had that to look forward to. 

 

I had an 11:15 flight, so given everything I know about traffic in NY and NJ, not to mention the long lines at security in NY area airports, I left my house at 8:10.  I programmed the airport into my navigation system and had to laugh when I saw the projected arrival time:  8:41.  This navigation system obviously has no idea of what rush hour hell lies ahead.  I started on my way, and kept waiting for the traffic jam.  I was over the bridge in about 15 minutes.  Is that possible?  Five minutes later I was driving by Yankee Stadium.  It’s a shame it had to close down because it still looks beautiful.  Miraculously, 10 minutes after that I was pulling into LaGuardia.  As I parked my car, I looked at the clock:  8:41.  I looked at the navigation system.  It was laughing at me.

 

I was checked in and through security by 9:00.  I now had over two hours until my flight with nothing to do.  I like to amuse myself in airport gates by looking at those who are going to be on my flight and trying to find the person I would least like to sit next to, knowing that there is a good chance that person will be sitting next to me.  Generally, it will be a large man who decided to save time by not showering that morning.

 

The flight was delayed about an hour, so I figured there was no way to make my 4:00 meeting.  We finally boarded and I kept waiting for someone to sit next to me.  I was in the window seat and there was a woman sitting in the aisle seat in my row, but no one ever sat in the seat between us.  I looked around the plane and saw that this was the only empty seat on the whole plane.  It’s not that I’m anti-social; I’ve met a lot of nice people on planes that I’ve enjoyed talking to.  I just like to read (about baseball) and be comfortable when I’m flying.  This was perfect.

 

The pilot made up some of the time in the air, and I landed around 3:00.  My luggage was one of the first to come off the plane on the baggage claim carousel and the shuttle to my hotel got me there quickly.  I was checking in by 3:30 and made it to the 4:00 meeting.  Amazing, but my luck was nowhere near about to run out.

 

Dinner that night was at…George Steinbrenner Field.  When we got to the field, the first thing we saw was a roped off section that had a replica of the retired number section from Monument Park.  Several people took pictures, but I left my camera in the hotel.  We walked inside and were greeted by Allison, our hostess for the evening.  Allison was an amiable, attractive young lady who worked for the Yankees in Marketing.  She was a lifelong Yankee fan and a Tampa native.  She gave us a tour of the stadium, which included showing us where the players are generally interviewed (where just a few hours earlier Derek Jeter had been answering questions about A-Rod’s press conference from the day before), a walk on the field – unlike my Yankee Stadium tour, they actually let us walk on the grass, and we also got to walk into the weight room.

 

After the tour we were escorted into a bar area where dinner was being set up.  On every wall was a flat screen TV tuned to the YES Network – which was showing Thurman Munson’s Yankeeography.  All the walls were adorned with pictures of Yankee greats – Mantle, DiMaggio, Ruth, Gehrig, Ford, Berra, Muson, Guidry.  Two small replicas of the ’96 and ’98 World Series trophies were encased in glass.  On one wall was a triangular shaped case filled with autographed baseballs.  Jeter and A-Rod had baseballs in there, but there were some that were unexpected, most notably Mike Torrez – who, as I took great delight in informing one of my co-workers who is a Red Sox fan, helped the Yankees win the World Series in 1977 by pitching brilliantly and again in 1978 when he was a member of the Red Sox and gave up a homer to Bucky “Bleeping” Dent.  In short, this was the coolest place I could think of to have dinner.

 

Dinner was catered by the chefs who normally cook for the players, and all the food was excellent.  The unlimited beer flowing in from the bar from the pleasant girl behind the bar also made for a great evening.  At one point I walked over to Allison and struck up a conversation with her.  She was very forthcoming about her feelings towards certain players.  I don’t want to reveal everything about our conversation since she had no idea that I write a blog, but essentially everyone you would expect to be a nice guy is, and everyone you would expect to be a jerk is, with one glaring exception.  There is someone who is no longer with the Yankees who she told me had a great picture of himself painted by the media who loved him, but he was not a nice person.  Focusing on the positives, she told me that Johnny Damon and Tino Martinez are exceptionally great guys (she’s a little biased because they’re both from Tampa).  She also told me that the toughest part of working for the Yankees is that she was taught to hate the Red Sox throughout her life, but having met them; they are the nicest group of guys.  She called Ortiz classy and said he was also a great guy.  I’m happy to report that she also told me that “The Boss’ ” (Steinbrenner, not Springsteen) health has been improving.

 

I need to mention something about a co-worker of mine.  I will refer to him as John (not his real name).  Just before dinner, John received a phone call from his wife who was 8 weeks pregnant.  She informed him that she suffered a miscarriage that day.  John was devastated.  John is a big Yankee fan, and being in Sales, is not exactly the shyest guy in the world.  He tried to cope through the evening (until the flight he managed to get home the next morning) by walking around and taking pictures of anything he could find with his cell phone.  At one point he wandered off.  He returned to our room with an excited look on his face.  He had been walking around taking pictures and while he was taking a picture of the bathroom sign (I can’t make this stuff up), he saw someone walk by that he recognized.  It was Hank Steinbrenner.  He asked and Hank was nice enough to pose for a picture with John, which while it could not make up for his loss, helped immensely.  I hope that Hank will realize that the simple act of posing for a picture with what he probably thought was some weirdo taking a picture of the bathroom sign meant the world to John.  It gave him something to be excited about.

 

The next day, I had some time after my morning meeting, so a few of us took a cab back to the field to catch some BP.  I got to the field as CC was walking off the mound.  I caught Tino walking to the dugout and pulled out my camera just in time to get a picture of the photographer that was behind him as Tino ducked into the dugout.  Missed it by that much.  We walked over to the lower field where we would be closer to the players, and I got some good pictures of Derek, Melky, and a few others. 

 

As we were standing there, I heard some fans yelling, “Bernie!”  I didn’t think Bernie was going to be there, but I looked up and sure enough there was Bernie Williams grabbing a batting helmet and walking over to the fence right by where I was standing.  A man standing next to me told his young son that Bernie was a legend.  Bernie actually acknowledged the man and said, “Thanks, I appreciate that.”  What a great guy!  He was the only player who acknowledged any of the fans.  Bernie was my favorite player for a long time.  Anyway, Bernie walked right up to a batting tee which was set up just on the other side of the fence from me, looked at me and said, “Watch out, I don’t trust my first few swings.”  Huh?  Did Bernie Williams really just talk to me?  I wanted to talk to him, to tell him how much I admired him, to wish him luck with his CD and in the WBC, and most importantly, to beg him to come back and be a bat off the bench this year.  Instead I just took a couple of steps back and remained silent (where was the beer when I needed it?).  Bernie checked the net in front of him with his bat for holes, and I was impressed that he was concerned with my safety, while I would have been more than happy to be hit in the head with a ball off of his bat.  He took a few swings off the tee while I stood just a couple of feet away from him.  His swing was still mechanically perfect.  He then stepped up to the plate to face some pitching.  He was in the batter’s box (batting lefty) for only 5 pitches, and he only swung at one, but he ripped it for a line drive past Cano.  I think he can still hit.

 

We left the field, very happy.  I checked out, had lunch and took a shuttle to the airport.  I breezed through security and had no issues with my flight.  We took off on time.  This time I had an aisle seat, and again there was no one sitting next to me.  Again it was the only empty seat on the entire plane.  What are the odds of that happening? 

 

I still had one more bullet to dodge, as I would be landing at 6 pm and have to deal with the evening rush hour.  We landed at exactly 6:00 and I quickly claimed my luggage.  I was on the road by 6:30.  I again passed Yankee Stadium, but this time was amazed at how much luster it lacked when the new stadium came into view behind it.  It was like having John Wetteland as the closer and being happy about it, but then replacing him with Mariano Rivera.  The new stadium is unbelievable.

 

I was home by 7:00.  I still can’t believe that I could have that much luck over two consecutive days.  Things got back to normal when I returned as I hit lots of traffic on my way into work the next day.  I got the flu a couple of days later (I blame Sabathia, who also got the flu the same day).  Overall though, it was a great trip.

Debunking the Myth – Closers

Before I get started I just want to mention that fellow blogger (and Yankee fan) Jane Heller wrote a book about her love for the Yankees called Confessions of a She-Fan that was released today.  I got my copy and am looking forward to reading it.  If you’ve never seen her blog, you can see it here:  http://janeheller.mlblogs.com .  Her blog is extremely entertaining and her book promises to be even more entertaining. 

 

OK, the commercial is over.

 

I am often amazed at some of the things that some very intelligent, and in some cases brilliant people can say.  I’ve heard it time and time again from those who analyze and write about baseball for a living:  “The closer is the most overrated position in baseball, and the save is the most overrated statistic in baseball.”  Recently, one writer even went as far as to say that he would never vote for a closer to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  I can’t imagine anyone not voting for Mariano Rivera, but I couldn’t imagine anyone not voting for Rickey Henderson either. 

 

I decided to do a little more research on the subject.  The table below shows the World Series winners of the last 20 years, since Dennis Eckersley changed the closer position, along with the team’s league rank in saves, ERA, and OBP.  I chose to show ERA because it most closely relates to a team’s ability to prevent runs, and I chose to show OBP because it is the most important simple statistic in terms of scoring runs.

Year        Team                 Saves       ERA       OBP

’89           A’s                         1            1            3

’90           Reds                      1            2            4

’91           Twins                     2            2            1

’92           Blue Jays               4            9            6

’93           Blue Jays               1            5            3

’95           Braves                  10            1           10

’96           Yankees                 1            5            3

’97            Marlins                  7            4            2

’98            Yankees                3            1            1

’99            Yankees                1            2            2

’00            Yankees                7            6            5

’01            Diamondbacks      12            2            4

’02            Angels                    1           2            4

’03            Marlins                  12           7            8

’04            Red Sox                  6           3            1

’05            White Sox               1            1          11

’06            Cardinals                 9            9           5

’07            Red Sox                  2            1           2

’08            Phillies                    2            4           7

 

There are few anomolies that warrant explanations.  The ’95 Braves were ranked 10th in saves, but they led the league with 18 complete games (Greg Maddux had 10) which limited save opportunities.  It’s conceivable that Mark Wohlers would have gotten a lot more saves if he had more opportunities.  The 2001 Diamondbacks also led the league in complete games.  The ’98 Yankees have been considered the greatest team ever by many, yet they did not lead the league in saves.  That’s because they led the league with 22 complete games.

 

I have no explanations for the Marlins or Cardinals, except to say that a great closer isn’t the only reason that a team wins the World Series.  Nonetheless, 7 of the last 20 teams to win the World Series have led their leagues in saves, and 10 of the last 20 have been either 1st or 2nd.  We can go back even further to the ’70s.  Of the 10 World Series winners from 1970 through 1979, 6 of them led their league in saves, and 3 of the other 4 were ranked 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.

 

Why are closers valuable?  They can help a team in 3 different ways.  Bill James’ Pythagorean theorem uses runs scored and runs allowed to fairly accurately predict a team’s expected won-loss record.  The first way a closer can help a team is obviously by preventing runs from being scored, thereby increasing the number of expected wins.  Secondly, it’s been noticed that having a great closer can actually help your team outperform their expected won-loss record, by as many as 3 games.  This is because they are preventing the most important runs.  Many teams win their divisions by less than 3 games, so those can be very valuable games.  The third way a closer can help has to do with the current playoff format.  I’ve often heard players and managers state that the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, but if you think about it, it’s really a marathon followed by a series of sprints.  Having a great closer during a short series is invaluable.

 

I realize that a closer these days only needs to go one inning, but they are pitching in the most pressure-packed inning of the game, night after night.  Most closers do not have long careers where they are consistently effective.  That’s why guys like Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera amaze me.

The Day I Missed History

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan posted a blog about missing history today.  This got me to thinking about the history that I’ve missed (all baseball related).  I’m not even that picky about being there in person, as long as I get to witness it live on TV. 

 

I’ve been fotunate enough to witness some great Yankee events:  Guidry’s 18 strikeouts against the Angels, the one-game playoff against the Red Sox in ’78, Graig Nettles’ incredible glove work in the ’78 World Series, the pine tar HR, the Jeffry Maier HR, Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter, the ’98 season, the Mr November game in 2001 (I was in The Stadium for that one), just to name a few. 

 

I’ve also missed a few great moments.  I have this uncanny knack for missing no-hitters even though I’ve watched 120-150 games per year every year for the last 30 years or so.  I missed Dave Righetti’s no-hitter because my parents made me go to a 4th of July BBQ at my cousin’s house (I didn’t want to miss the game since the Yankees were playing the Red Sox – and I really let my parents have it after I found out what I missed).  I missed Jim Abbott’s no-hitter (the only Saturday I had to work the entire year).  I missed the end of David Wells’ perfect game because I had to help my sister-in-law (I saw the first four innings).. Just to bring it all together, I missed David Cone’s perfect game because the same sister-in-law had a BBQ.  To make the Cone situation worse, he was supposed to pitch the day before against the Braves, but Torre pushed his start back a day.  Of course, I was at the game against the Braves that day.

 

There is one thing that I missed that bugs me more than all the others.  In October of 1977, I was 8 years old and in the third grade.  One day my school went on a class trip to the Newark Museum.  That morning when I got to school I felt a sharp pain in my side.  I figured it would pass so I got on the bus and went to the museum with my class, but the pain kept coming back.  Finally the pain was so bad that I had the teacher call my dad.  He came to the museum and picked me up. 

 

Since I was still in pain, he took me to the Emergency Room at the hospital.  The doctors ran some tests, hooked up an IV, and checked me into the hospital.  I was fed through the IV and ordered not to have any solid food.  I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this, but I am 100% Italian (mom and dad were literally right off the boat).  Italians live for food.  Breakfast is the only reason I get up in the morning, and lunch is the only reason I don’t just go back to sleep after I’ve had breakfast.  About an hour after they hooked up the IV, I was starving. 

 

I had this really nice nurse who came in and asked me if there was anything I needed.  I asked for food.  She told me that I was being fed through the IV.  I explained that it wasn’t nearly enough.  She turned up the drip (I think she doubled it, but I was still a little hungry).  I now felt that I had a friend there with whom I had established a good rapport.

 

That night the Yankees were playing the Dodgers in the World Series.  Game six.  Most Yankee fans know what happened, but here’s my version:  I was really excited about watching the Yankees clinch the World Series.  I was watching the game, knowing full well that my parents weren’t there to make me turn off the game and go to sleep.  Besides, it wasn’t like I needed to go to school the next day.  Reggie Jackson had hit two home runs.  In the bottom of the 7th Thurman Munson came up to the plate.  Reggie was on deck.  Suddenly and inexplicably, my TV turns off.  In a panic I started hitting my nurse’s button as if it were the fire button on one of the video games that I wouldn’t get for a few years.  The really nice nurse (remember her from the last paragraph?) came sprinting in as if I were dying and asked frantically, “What’s wrong?”

 

At this point I started screaming at the woman who I had just befriended a few hours earlier.  “MY TV WENT OFF!!!  I’M WATCHING THE WORLD SERIES!!!!!!!!!!  THE YANKEES HAVE A CHANCE TO CLINCH TONIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!  REGGIE ALREADY HIT TWO HOMERS AND HE’S ON DECK!!!!!!!!!!!!!  WHAT’S WRONG WITH MY TV?  WHY DID IT JUST TURN OFF?  HOW DO I GET IT BACK ON?”  Somehow I managed to get all of those words out of my mouth in less than 5 seconds. 

 

After being relieved that I wasn’t dying or in pain, the nurse tried to explain to me that I was in a pediatric room and they turn the TVs off at eleven.  In retrospect, I can’t believe that they even let me watch TV until eleven o’clock at age 8, but her response just sent me into another tirade.  “THE YANKEES ARE PLAYING!!!!!!!!!!!!  IT’S THE WORLD SERIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!  REGGIE HAS TWO HOMERS!!!!!!!!!!!!  ONLY BABE RUTH HAS HIT 3 IN A WORLD SERIES GAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!  THEY CAN CLINCH TONIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!”

 

Finally, the nurse told me that she would ask the Head Nurse if they could turn my TV back on.  I sat and waited anxiously. About half an hour later she came back and told me that there was nothing that she could do.  I argued futily for a little while longer, and then went to sleep.  The next day I found out what had happened on the news. 

 

The doctors never did find out what was wrong with me.  The pain went away and hasn’t been back since.  I now feel badly about yelling at my nurse and scaring the heck out of her.  They say that time heals all wounds, but almost 32 years later I’m still bitter about missing that HR.  My daughter bought me the 1977 World Series on DVD for Christmas this year.  I haven’t brought myself to watch it yet, but maybe sharing the experience with her will make me feel better about the whole situation.

 

I just re-read this story.  I think I now know why my friends all refer to me as a “psychotic Yankee fan.”

Evaluating Yankee Christmas Presents

The Yankees are being hailed as the big winners in this year’s free agent market, and with good reason.  They landed three of the most coveted players available.  What I’d like to know is how much better the Yankees have made themselves by adding these players.  More importantly, how many games can the Yankees expect to win in 2009?

 

In order to answer that question, some simplifying assumptions need to be made.  First, last year’s version of Jason Giambi will be replaced by last year’s version of Mark Teixeira.  Similarly, last year’s version of Mike Mussina will be replaced with last year’s version of CC Sabathia for the 200 innings that Moose pitched.  Finally, Darrell Rasner’s 113 innings and Sidney Ponson’s 80 innings will be replaced by AJ Burnett.  Andy Pettite will eventually get a contract he and his agents can live with and will perform exactly as he did in 2008 or he will be replaced by someone who will have the same ERA over the same number of innings.  Everybody else will be assumed to perform exactly as they did in 2008, with two exceptions – Jorge Posada will play the entire season (keep your fingers crossed!), and Hideki Matsui will play the entire season canceling out the loss of Bobby Abreu while Matsui’s production from last year for the 93 games he played will be offset by having Xavier Nady for a full season..

 

I realize all these things may not happen, but it would be impossible to accurately predict how each player on the team will perform next year.  I also believe that most of these assumptions are conservative since 1) Teixeira had an average season for him in terms of runs scored and RBIs and he should benefit from having the majority of his home at bats come as a lefty in Yankee Stadium, 2)  Sabathia will more than likely pitch more than 200 innings and will therefore take innings away from other pitchers who had a higher ERA than Moose did last year, 3) Burnett’s ERA last year was actually higher than his career average, 4) I didn’t account for Chien-Ming Wang pitching a full season or Joba spending the entire season as a starter, 5) if you project Nady’s run production from his 59 games with the Yankees over the 93 games that Matsui played, Nady actually produced more runs, and 6) I expect Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez to have better seasons in 2009 than they did in 2008.  I also believe that Melky will establish himself as the starter in center and will have a better year than he did in 2008.

 

I know some people may be thinking that there is no way that Sabathia can post the same ERA this year while pitchjing in the AL for the entire season.  I was tempted to make an adjustment for the change in leagues, but I found that the AL league ERA was 4.36 last year while the NL league ERA was 4.30.  Since Sabathia is a lefty who will be pitching half his games in Yankee Stadium, I decided that there should be no adjustment (he’s getting paid a lot of money, let’s expect him to come through).

 

Starting with the offense, Mark Teixeira scored 34 more runs and had 25 more RBIs than Giambi, so I’m going to assume that adding him to the lineup will result in 59 more runs scored for the year.  There was a dropoff of 60 RBIs at the catcher position for the Yankees last year and about 40 runs scored.  Since there is no way to know how Jorge will come back and Jorge had one of his best seasons in 2007, I’m going to ignore the runs scored and conservatively assume that getting Jorge back for the entire season will add 60 runs.

 

With the pitchers I will divide the numbers of innings pitched by by the pitcher who is being replaced 9 and multiply the result by the difference in ERA between the pitchers to get the difference in runs allowed over the course of the season.  Replacing Moose’s 200 innings at a 3.68 ERA with Sabathia’s 2.70 ERA will give the Yankees 22 less runs allowed over the season.  Replacing Rasner’s 113 innings at 5.40 with Burnett’s 4.07 will result in 17 less runs allowed while replacing Ponson’s 80 innings at 5.85 will result in an additional 16 less runs allowed.

 

In 2008 the Yankees scored 789 runs while allowing 727.  Adding the 60 additional runs for Posada and 59 additional runs for Teixeira will give the Yankees 908 runs scored.  Subtracting 22 runs for Sabathia and 33 runs for Burnett will give the Yankees 672 runs allowed.  Using the pythagorean won-loss formula, the Yankees would have an expected winning percentage of .646 which means a record of 105-57. 

 

Given the fact that teams with great closers generally outperform the pythagorean formula (the Yankees were two games better than ther expected won-loss record in 2008), and that there are many other players who could conceivably have significantly better seasons, the Yankees could be looking at another 1998.  Of course, if they suffer a couple of injuries or if Sabathia turns into Kenny Rogers, they could be looking at another 2008.

HOF – Jim Rice

My friend and I were debating Hall of Fame candidates.  There’s an obvious no brainer candidate eligible for the first time this year.  Rickey Henderson was the greatest leadoff hitter of all time.  We both agreed on that.  In fact we agreed on many candidates.  All that agreeing did not lead to a very interesting debate, but our discussion got really interesting when we got to Jim Rice.

 

Since I typically write about the Yankees, I should probably warn the Yankee fans:  If you really hate the Red Sox, you should probably stop reading now. 

 

In case all the Yankee logos on this page didn’t give it away, I’m a Yankee fan.  I became a Yankee fan in the mid-seventies.  If there’s one guy in baseball history that I should not be campaigning for, it’s Jim Rice.  There’s just one problem:  After watching him play, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.  If the Yankees were holding on to a small lead at the end of a game, and Goose Gossage was on the mound I usually considered the game to be over, just like when Mo comes in now.  There were only two guys I worried about Goose facing:  George Brett and Jim Rice, and I would much rather have had him face Brett.

 

Jim Rice is the only man in baseball history to have over 35 HRs and 200 Hits 3 years in a row.  Think about that.  Babe Ruth never did that, Ted Williams never did that, and neither did Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Stan Musial.  Over 16 seasons Rice averaged 190 Hits, 30 HRs, and 113 RBIs per 162 Games to go with his .298 career batting average.  During a good part of his career 30 HRs and 113 RBIs was an impressive season, and yet that’s what he averaged.  I tried to research players who have averaged over 30 HRs and 190 Hits over a career of at least 15 years.  There may be others, but the only two I was able to find were Lou Gehrig and Alex Rodriguez.  What’s more impressive is the list of players who do not make that list.  Again Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Stan Musial in addition to Barry Bonds, and Frank Robinson.

 

My friend who I debated with is a staunch follower of sabermetrics, so he pointed out that Rice didn’t walk much.  That’s true, but while walks can be important hits are more important.  If there’s a runner on second base a walk would keep that runner on second while a single would probably score the run.  In any event Rice has a .352 OBP which is better than Robin Yount, Lou Brock or Cal Ripken.  His slugging percentage is better than Reggie Jackson’s or Dave Winfield.  He has an offensive winning % of .627 which is better than Eddie Murray, Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield and Ernie Banks.  His career OPS+ of 128 is better than Ernie Banks, Paul Molitor, Tony Perez, and this year’s no brainer Rickey Henderson.  Rice also finished in the top 5 in MVP voting in 6 of his 16 seasons.

 

Looking at some tools that were developed to predict whether or not someone will be elected to the HOF, Rice has a HOF Standard of 43.  An average HOFer has a 50, so he’s a little below the average HOFer in that category, but his HOF Monitor is 144.5.  A likely HOFer has an HOF Monitor of over 100.  In terms of Black Ink (the number of times he led his league in an offensive category) Rice scores a 33 (an average HOFer has a 27).  In terms of Gray Ink (the number of times he is in the top 10) Rice scores a 176 with an average HOFer getting a 144.

 

I hope that the voters will finally give Rice his due and elect him this year.

Yankee Pitching Options Part 2

Dustin Pedroia was named the AL MVP today, proving that most the voters are Red Sox fans.  That’s all I can come up with.  There’s no other possible explanation.  Joe Mauer and/or Cliff Lee were robbed.  OK, I’m done venting, and I’ve already written about this so it’s time to move on to the Yankees.

 

In my last blog I wrote mainly about AJ Burnett, so this time I’ll focus on Derek Lowe.  In contrast to Burnett, since the Red Sox took Lowe out of the bullpen and returned him to the rotation in 2002 he has never had a season in which he won less than 12 games.  In three of those seven seasons he’s been 8 or more games over .500.  His career record is 126-107, but he’s 108-85 as a starter and 106-75 since 2002.  That’s not bad considering that he spent half of that time on a team that gave him very little run support.  Just this year, the Dodgers scored 2 or less runs in 13 of his 34 starts.

 

Lowe has a career ERA+ of 122 which is significantly better than Burnett’s.  Other than his rookie year when he only threw 41 innings and had an ERA+  of 125, Burnett’s highest single season ERA+ was 122.  Lowe’s two highest ERA+ years came when he was a reliever, but they were 198 and 190.  His highest as a starter was 177.  Even this year at age 35 his ERA+ was 131, which again, is higher than any single season of Burnett’s career.

 

What about my test for an ace of at least 15 wins with an ERA+ of 115 or greater?  Lowe has done it twice and just missed this year with 14 wins (he lost four games 2-1 and two games 1-0).  Remember Burnett has done it 0 times.  In 2002 Lowe was 21-8 to go along with that 177 ERA+.

 

There are three knocks I hear against Lowe.  First, he’s pitching in the NL.  Second, he’s pitching in Dodger Stadium.  These two suggest that his numbers look better than they really are.  Third, he’s 35.  As I’ve stated before, ERA+ takes into account the league average and adjusts for ballpark effects.  Look at his ERA+ in his 4 seasons with the Dodgers:  114, 124, 118, 131.  If 115 signifies an ace, those look like pretty good numbers.  As far as being 35, that’s true, but he never threw more than 123 innings until he was 29.  That means he has less wear and tear on his arm than the typical 35-year-old.  I believe that he has a couple of good years left in him, possibly 4.  He’s also made over 30 starts in every season since 2002, making him more durable than Burnett.

 

Postseason?  The Yankees beat him up badly in 2003, but since then he’s 4-1 with a 3.07 ERA, including 7 shutout innings in the World Series during which he gave up 3 hits and walked 1.

 

Summing up, Lowe is durable, consistent, has the ability to be an ace, and has had some postseason success during the past 4 seasons.  I still think that Wang will be the ace no matter who the Cashman brings in, but if the Yankees can’t get Sabathia, Lowe should be their next target.

Yankee Pitching Options

It’s been no secret that the Yankees are looking for pitching.  The names that are most often mentioned are CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Derek Lowe.  Sabathia is a no-brainer.  He has great numbers and would only be better as a lefty pitching half his games in Yankee Stadium.  Unfortunately for the Yankees, Sabathia has said that he wants to be in the wrong league and on the wrong coast.  That’s not to say that the Yankees can’t show him enough money to make him learn to love the AL and the east coast, but since it’s fairly obvious that bringing him in would be a good move, I’m going to focus on the other two.  Specifically, today’s topic will be AJ Burnett.

 

Burnett went 18-10 this year and led the AL with 231 strikeouts.  Sounds like a good pitcher, right?  Look closer at his numbers.  He had a 4.07 ERA and his ERA+  was 105.  ERA plus is similar to OPS+ from my previous blog.  Burnett’s 105 says that his ERA for this year after being adjusted for the parks he pitched in is 5% better than the league average.  That sounds like he was a little lucky to end up at 18-10.

 

One season doesn’t always give you the full picture though.  Burnett has pitched for 10 years and has had 6 seasons in which he had a winning record.  Before this season he’s never been more than three games over .500 and he’s never won more than 12 games in a season.  He won 12 games twice, but he’s also lost 12 games twice.  His career ERA+ is 111, which is not bad, but not great.

 

Burnett is also somewhat susceptible to giving up the long ball.  He was OK this year giving up 19 HRs in 34 starts, but in 2007 he gave up 23 HRs in 25 starts, which is terrible.  In 2006 he gave up 14 HRs in 21 starts. 

 

Many will point out that he’s been hurt a lot, so he wasn’t able to get a lot of wins.  That’s true, but that’s also a problem.  Before this year he’s only had two other seasons in which he’s thrown more than 175 innings (both of his 12-win seasons).  Can the Yankees afford to give a large free agent contract to another guy who spends a lot of time on the disabled list?

 

Being a Yankee fan, I have seen Burnett be very good.  In 11 starts against the Yankees he’s 6-3 with a 2.43 ERA while pitching 77.2 innings against the Yankees.  The only trouble is that if he’s on the Yankees he won’t get to face their lineup, making his numbers against the rest of the league even worse.  To his credit though, in 8 starts against the Red Sox he’s 5-0 with a 2.56 ERA in 56.1 innings.  Although it would be nice to get someone who doesn’t lose to the Red Sox, I don’t think he does enough against the rest of the league to make him worth a big money contract with the Yankees.

 

The Yankees are looking for an ace.  To me an ace would be someone who wins at least 15 games while posting an ERA+ of 115.  Burnett has never done that in his career.  On top of that he’s never pitched for a playoff team during the heat of a pennant race (he was hurt in April of 2003 when the Marlins won the World Series) and has never thrown a single pitch in post-season play.

 

In short, Burnett has been an above average pitcher who can be very good, but he’s also been inconsistent, unreliable, and is untested in the post-season.  That’s not the type pf pitcher the Yankees need to win another World Series, and I hope Brian Cashman doesn’t think so either.  (Please come to NY Mr. Sabathia.)

Surprising HOF Candidate

What current Yankees would you expect to be elected to the Hall of Fame?  A-Rod, Rivera, and Jeter are the obvious choices, but there is someone else who deserves consideration. 

 

First, a quick statistics tutorial.  Bill James, who has devoted his life to studying baseball statistics, has found that the most important statistic in helping a team score runs is OPS, which is On Base Percentage (OBP) plus Slugging Percentage (SLG).  I am certainly in no position to dispute Bill James, and I believe that he is largely correct, but his formula has one flaw:  It weights OBP and SLG equally.  I believe that OBP is more important than SLG.  To understand why, think about two extreme teams.  One team hits a HR in every 4th at bat while making an out in each of the at bats where a HR is not hit.  If this team led off a game with a HR and followed a perfect pattern, it would have a HR and three outs in every inning.  This team would have a team batting average of .250, team OBP of .250, and a team SLG of 1.000.  You would expect this team to score 9 runs per game (1 per inning), which is pretty good.  The second team does not get any hits, but every player walks every single time up.  The team batting average would be .000, the team SLG would be .000, and the team OBP would be 1.000.  This team would score an infinite number of runs in the first inning.

 

Now on to the HOF candidate.  Did you know that Jorge Posada has one less HR in his career than Don Mattingly?  Jorge’s career batting average is 30 points lower than Mattingly’s and yet his OBP is 22 points higher than Mattingly’s.  Jorge also has a higher SLG than Donnie Baseball.  Mattingly has scored more runs and driven in more runs but he also had more than 2,000 more at bats.  If you project Jorge’s career numbers over those additional at bats, Jorge would have more Runs and RBIs than Mattingly (and even more doubles!).  While it may be unfair to Mattingly to think that Posada can continue to produce at the same rate for an additional 2,000 at bats, it’s also unfair to Jorge to compare him to a first baseman.

 

How does Jorge compare to other Yankee catchers?  Let’s look at the 4 that are honored in Monument Park.  In over 300 less at bats, Jorge has 66 more runs scored, 88 more doubles, 160 more RBIs than Thurman Munson while hitting almost twice as many HRs.  Munson’s career batting average is 15 points higher than Posada’s, but Jorge’s OBP is 34 points higher and his Slugging Percentage is 67 points higher.  Jorge is above Elston Howard in just about any offensive category you can think of.  Yogi Berra’s SLG is 5 points higher than Jorge’s, but Jorge’s OBP is 32 points higher.  Bill Dickey’s OBP is 2 points higher than Jorge’s and his SLG is 9 points higher.  Keep in mind that the last two are two of the greatest catchers in baseball history.  Then again, of all the catchers since 1900, Posada has the third highest career OBP.  Only Mickey Cochrane (the guy Mickey Mantle was named after) and Bill Dickey had a higher OBP, which we’ve established to be the most important simple stat in baseball.

 

OK, I know what you’re probably thinking.  Mattingly and Munson are not in the HOF and I’m comparing players of different eras.  Fortunately, someone (I think it was Bill James) came up with adjusted OPS+, which compares a player to others in his league, and even adjusts for different ballparks.  This allows you to easily compare players of differrent eras.  An OPS+ of 115 means that the player is 15% better than the league average.  Posada’s career OPS+ is 124, which means he is 24% better than the league average.  Here is a list of players who are either in the Hall of Fame or will be who have a lower career OPS+ than Posada:

Tim Raines  123, Ernie Banks 122, Paul Molitor  122, Tony Perez  122, Derek Jeter  121, Roberto Alomar  116, Robin Yount  115, Ryne Sandberg  114, Cal Ripken Jr.  112

 

In The New Bill James Historical Abstract published in 2001, Bill James rank the top 100 players at each position.  Below is a list of the top 10 catchers (in order) of all times with their OPS+.

Yogi Berra 125

Johnny Bench 126

Roy Campanella 124

Mickey Cochrane 128

Mike Piazza 142

Carlton Fisk 117

Bill Dickey 127

Gary Carter 115

Gabby Hartnett  126

Ted Simmons 117

 

As you can see, Jorge Posada’s OPS+ of 124 fits in nicely with the top 10 greatest catchers of all time.  Only Mike Piazza has an OPS+ that is significantly higher than Jorge’s. 

 

How does Posada compare to his contemporaries?  Posada’s OBP/SLG/OPS+ are .380/.477/124.  Pudge Rodriquez (another catcher destined for the HOF) are .339/.475/110.  It appears to me that Jorge should also be destined for a plaque in Cooperstown.

 

 

Who’s the AL MVP?

Let me show you stats for two players:

                     R        HR        RBI        BA       OBP      SLG

Player A      118         17        83        .326       .376      .493

Player B      104         35      103        .302        .392      .573

 

Both of these players are infielders with a shot at a gold glove.  Player A played in 19 more games than Player B.  If you forecast the Runs based on the extra 19 games played, Player B would have 118 Runs.  Player A has been mentioned by many as an AL MVP candidate.  Player B has been mentioned by no one.

 

If you haven’t guessed yet, Player A is Dustin Pedroia.  Player B is Alex Rodriguez.  To be fair, Pedroia has performed much better in key situations.  I’m not suggesting that A-Rod deserves to be the MVP, because he doesn’t.  I don’t think anyone believes he does (except maybe his mother and Madonna).  I’m just saying that I can’t understand why Pedroia would even be mentioned.

 

Now that I’ve told you who shouldn’t be the MVP, let me tell you who does deserve consideration.  Milton Bradley led the AL in OPS, but he didn’t play in enough games.  Neither did Carlos Quentin, who probably had the best season of any hitter and may deserve the award in spite of his injury.  Aubrey Huff, Josh Hamilton, and Miguel Cabrera all put up great seasons, but may be hurt by the fact that their teams didn’t make the playoffs.  Josh Hamilton may be the most deserving of the three, and it’s certainly not his fault that his team has no pitching. 

 

How about players who fit the profile that MVP voters love?  Far be it from me to campaign for a member of the Red Sox, but Kevin Youkilis would be a far better choice than Pedroia and he has 115 RBIs.

 

That’s not who I would vote for if I had a vote.  My vote would go to Cliff Lee.  He dominated the AL this year with his 22-3 record and 2.54 ERA.  He has two strikes against him as far as MVP voters go though.  1) He’s a pitcher and 2) He plays for a team that didn’t make the playoffs.  If I was pressed to vote for a hitter I would go with Carlos Quentin, with Josh Hamilton being a close second.