Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Sunday, November 30, 2003
Bye Bye to a Bygone Era
The days of watching Ted Williams in left are over. And the wondrous Willie Mays no longer wears his uniform. Time marches on. Transition is inevitable. With each passing day, the game of our youth moves further into history. But those vivid images that are so much a part of our life will always remain.
--"When It Was a Game"
Warren Edward Spahn passed away last week at the age of 82. Spahn was best known for winning 363 games, tied for the sixth most in the history of baseball and tops among southpaws.
In addition to being one of the top pitchers of all time, Spahn was a military hero who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for being hit with shrapnel. Warren made his major league debut in 1942, then missed the following three years when he was drafted into the Army and assigned to the 176th Combat Engineers Battalion. Spahn participated in the taking of the key Rhine crossing bridge at Remagen, Germany. Several in his company lost their lives when the bridge finally collapsed. Spahn's bravery also won him a battlefield commission, extending his military service another six months and delaying his baseball career an additional three months until July 1946.
From Spahn's first full season in 1947 through his last great season in 1963, he finished in the top nine in wins in the National League every year and was in the top three 17 times. Spahn led the league in victories eight times, including five seasons in a row from 1957-1961.
Spahn also finished in the top eight in ERA in all but three of those years, having led the league three times in three different decades. Although Spahn never struck out 200 batters in a season, he led the league four years in a row from 1949-1952 (with a career high of 191 in 1950).
Although Spahn won just one Cy Young Award (in 1957), he arguably should be credited with five. Remember, the award itself wasn't even established until 1956, and it was only given to one pitcher in the entire major leagues until 1967. As such, one could easily make the case that Spahn deserved the Cy Young (had it been given out) in 1949 and 1953 when he finished seventh and fifth in the N.L. MVP voting, higher than any other pitcher. Spahn could also lay claim to the Cy Young in 1958 and 1961 when he came in second in the voting behind two A.L. pitchers (Bob Turley and Whitey Ford, respectively).
IP H R ER BB SO W L PCT ERA
Spahn 5246 4830 2016 1798 1434 2583 363 245 .597 3.08
Lg Avg 5246 5190 2575 2269 1951 2725 292 292 .500 3.89
Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia
As shown, Spahn was better than the league average in every category except strikeouts. He had superior control, allowing substantially fewer walks, hit by pitches (42 vs. 108), and wild pitches (81 vs. 126) than the league average. Spahn also allowed fewer hits and home runs (434 vs. 499). Not surprisingly, the combination of fewer walks, hits, and home runs resulted in fewer runs and a vastly better ERA than the league average as well.
As great as Spahn's totals were, he "only" ranks 27th from 1900-on in career ERA as a percentage of the league ERA and 29th in terms of the absolute difference (among pitchers with at least 1500 innings pitched). Similarly, he ranks 38th and 41st, respectively, in baserunners per nine innings. By comparison, Pedro Martinez ranks first in all four measures. Spahn and Martinez are an interesting contrast. Spahn had good rate stats and great counting stats. Martinez has had good counting stats and great rate stats.
What really sets Spahn apart from Martinez and other more modern-day pitchers was his in-season and career durability. From 1947-1963, Spahn finished no worse than fourth in the N.L. in complete games every year. In fact, he led the league in CG for seven straight years from 1957-1963. Spahn's stamina and longevity is the primary reason why he ranks in the top ten in career totals from 1900-on in virtually every counting pitching statistic, including GS (9th), CG (5th), IP (6th), SHO (5th), and W (4th) as well as some of those one wouldn't put on a resume like H (5th), ER (8th), HR (6th), BB (10th), and L (T8th).
The Braves all-time great won 177 games after his 35th birthday, more than the career totals of Martinez and Curt Schilling and all but seven pitchers likely to be on an opening day roster in 2004. He also threw both of his no-hitters after the age of 39. Spahn pitched in the majors until 1965 when he was 44 years old, and he didn't leave gracefully, grumbling, "I didn't quit; baseball retired me." Spahn even pitched briefly in Mexico and in the minors for two years before finally giving it up for good.
Spahn holds the record for the most consecutive seasons facing 1,000 or more batters with 17--three more than his closest challenger (Christy Mathewson) and five more than third place (Walter Johnson).
MODERN BASEBALL HISTORY (1900-)
CONSECUTIVE SEASONS WITH BATTERS FACED >= 1000
1 Warren Spahn 1947-63 17
2 Christy Mathewson 1901-14 14
3 Walter Johnson 1908-19 12
T4 Gaylord Perry 1966-76 11
T4 Steve Carlton 1970-80 11
T6 Cy Young 1900-09 10
T6 Robin Roberts 1950-59 10
T6 Phil Niekro 1971-80 10
T9 Vic Willis 1901-09 9
T9 Carl Hubbell 1929-37 9
T9 Bobo Newsom 1934-42 9
T9 Bucky Walters 1936-44 9
T9 Bob Friend 1956-64 9
T9 Don Drysdale 1959-67 9
T9 Jim Bunning 1959-67 9
T9 Claude Osteen 1964-72 9
T9 Mel Stottlemyre 1965-73 9
T9 Ferguson Jenkins 1967-75 9
Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia
Incidentally, Roy Halladay was the only pitcher in the majors who faced 1,000 batters last year. Halladay faced 993 batters in 2002 so the longest active streak of 1,000 BFP is one.
Based on the changed landscape of the game (i.e., five-man rotations and pitch counts limiting starters to 100-120 per game), we are unlikely to witness a pitcher of Spahn's magnitude in terms of raw stats again. If Spahn wasn't one of a kind, he most certainly was the last of his kind.
Warren Spahn. Hall of Famer. Decorated World War II veteran. A hero between the lines. A hero outside the lines. America salutes you. You will be missed by us all.
Check back next weekend for an interview with Mike Carminati of Mike's Baseball Rants, who also has an in-depth review of Spahn's statistical achievements and rankings.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Friday, November 28, 2003
Tossing BP With Will Carroll
Will Carroll has catapulted himself into the big leagues of off-the-field baseball personalities during the past year. The multi-talented Carroll is an author with Baseball Prospectus, a host of Baseball Prospectus Radio, and the proprietor of the Will Carroll Weblog. His Under The Knife column, which is available to BP Premium subscribers, appears at least four times per week during the season. It is a must read for those of us who like to be on the cutting edge when it comes to injuries and potential health risks as well. BP Radio is a weekly one-hour radio show, and it is currently carried by 13 stations around the country.
Baseball Prospectus is one of the four most important sources of information (along with Baseball-Reference.com, ESPN.com, and the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia) for Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT. I am a BP Premium subscriber and found it so useful this past season that I recently re-upped for another two years.
I had the honor of interviewing Will during the past week in my ongoing off-season series of discussions with baseball's top online writers, analysts, and bloggers. Not surprisingly, Will gives us his valuable opinions without holding anything back. Pull up a chair and listen in.
RWBB: I'm curious. Are you an MD?
Will: That's probably the most common question I'm asked. I am not a physician, nor medical professional of any type. I have a background in sports medicine, but I am not a certified athletic trainer.
The next question I generally get is the following: "If you're not a doctor, why should I listen to you?" I figured out the answer after about a hundred failed attempts. I'm a translator and a pattern recognizer. If you have a medical background, you'll understand what a Grade II+ medial collateral sprain with meniscal involvement means without me. If you're a baseball fan, you know who B.J. Surhoff is. If you're not both--and who is, really?--then you're missing half the picture. I sit in the middle, trying to give my readers as much overlap as I can. Without talking down to anyone, I can usually translate the medical info into a baseball context and the baseball info into a medical context. I take what the medical professionals do and try to make it mean something to the BP reader, which is at a pretty high level to begin with. If I can do it in an entertaining fashion, it's all the better.
RWBB: When did you become interested in sports medicine?
Will: Birth. My father is in the field. I can remember seeing him work on Jimmy Connors or Andy Brown when I was four years old. (Brown was the last hockey goalie not to wear a mask. Does that sound like a good idea? "Mask? Nah, I can dodge those pucks.") If he'd been a shoe salesman, maybe I'd know shoes. My interest in the field has come and gone, but it's always been about a basic understanding of the athlete and what they go through.
RWBB: What prompted you to begin writing your Under The Knife column?
Will: I just thought I could add something to the conversation. I didn't think sports medicine was getting enough coverage--and still don't--and had just enough coffee in me to think I could do it. I was working on my novel--still unfinished--regarding a fictional Steve Dalkowski and, well, it's still sitting there, the third book on my "to do" list. I sent my first email to three guys, who all gave great feedback. I think the biggest inspiration was Lee Sinins. He was one of the "original three" and his links made me. It went from three to three thousand in a hurry, so a lot more people wanted this kind of stuff than I thought.
RWBB: How did you get hooked up with Baseball Prospectus?
Will: I had read BP since 1998 when Rob Miller (another one of the "original three") told me I had to read this book. He had kicked my head in two years running in our Front Office Baseball league, so I figured I'd better read it. It turned what I knew about baseball on its head, and it was exceptionally well written. I didn't understand the math--and still don't--but, wow, it was life changing.
Later on, Gary Huckabay sent me an instant message one day and asked if I'd like to write a piece for BP 2003. I was flattered and stunned and said yes way too fast. I got to know Joe Sheehan a bit and had corresponded with a couple other BPers and when I was asked to become part of the big Premium move, how could I say no? It's like the kid from the farm getting a call telling him he was going to play in Yankee Stadium. BP is the Yankees of baseball writing and I'm proud to wear pinstripes.
RWBB: You're of the belief that injuries are the hidden frontier of baseball knowledge. Please explain.
Will: I need more coffee for this one. Injuries have always been looked upon as something that just happens--tragedy, accident, darned shame. Or they become a destiny, like injury-prone, star-crossed, or worse, "might have been". No one, including MLB, took a serious look at what damage was being done to the game in any holistic sense. There were parts out there--Keith and Rany's PAP, MLB's "Redbook", the work Glenn Fleisig is doing--but there was no one place that tried to put it all together and make injuries a part of a baseball discussion. That's my goal; that and giving the guys behind the scenes in sports med some credit.
J.D. Drew, a good player? Can you answer that without discussing injuries? How did Rickey Henderson or Roger Clemens stay healthy for so long? (For both, it's one simple common thing.) Why did this guy come back so soon and this guy had the same injury and is still out? The paper said four to six weeks. Which is it and why? If my ace goes down with a blown cuff, how does it hurt my team and could we have prevented it?
Endless questions, but when I see someone drop a med head phrase in a column, I just love it. We don't see guys saying, "Damn, he's hurt" anymore. The smart ones are asking good questions now--or coming to me.
RWBB: Do you believe that baseball injuries can become a transparent statistical class like on base percentage and park factors?
Will: Darn good question. We don't have the stats to work with right now. I work from anecdotal evidence and the experience of the people that share their knowledge with me. The Redbook is amazing, but it's mostly raw data with some suggestions made in an actuarial sense. Good first step, but even people in the front offices of very smart teams didn't know what it was or have access to it. I think there will be "counting" stats like DL days and "derived" stats like DL Days over the average for this injury. There will probably be calculated stats, too. I'm toying with a formula that tries to approximate an injury percentage, but Nate Silver's way ahead of me with PECOTA's attrition rate. I used a simplified version this year on the Team Health Reports and it worked very, very well. Red Lights (the highest risk category) were 89% more likely to have a significant injury than an average player. We're working on seeing if DL days or DL dollars is a better measure, but the preliminary results are encouraging.
RWBB: Are teams generally aware as to the number of days lost or amount of payroll lost to injuries?
Will: In the broad sense, no. I'm sure they have it in a spreadsheet somewhere, but there are few GMs that could pop that out. They could say, "Damn, we're awfully banged up" or something, but there are few that really look at it and fewer that seem to do anything about it. San Francisco and Cleveland are really in the forefront with data, and New York has a secret weapon down in Tampa.
I only know of two teams that really take injury prevention seriously. All teams say they want fewer injuries but not many have a real plan for doing anything about it. It wouldn't be that hard to do. Heck, give me 1% of the money I save a team (and the right to hire the head trainer), and I'll do it for no salary. When you look at how teams fall apart due to injuries--the A's, the Cubs--or don't, in the case of the Marlins this season, it's a wonder that it's not more of a focus.
There are some really good teams, a lot of average teams, and a few teams that are about a half step shy of just saying, "Rub some dirt on it."
RWBB: You recently reached an agreement in principle to write a book this off-season on pitcher injuries. Give us a sneak preview of your work.
Will: Hell, I signed a contract and everything. The book is an amalgamation of the knowledge that's out there about pitching health. From mechanics to medicine, from surgery to stretching, I'm going to give both a broad overview and some deep insight. Well, that's the goal. Like UTK, it's just filling a niche. There's nothing out there like it, so I might as well write it.
It even has a title, "Saving The Pitcher". I'm really excited about the project because I'm working with some great people on it. That's something of a theme of my writing existence and even the radio show. It's the people I meet and get to know in the course of my job that makes it so amazing. If you'd told me a couple years ago that Nate Silver and I would walk up and talk to Rickey Henderson or that I'd interview Scott Boras or that I would stand on the field at Wrigley next to Ryne Sandberg, I would have laughed. If you told me I'd be writing full time, I wouldn't have believed you. I'm the luckiest boy in the world!
RWBB: When will "Saving The Pitcher" be published and by whom?
Will: I don't have a firm date for you, but Ivan R. Dee will publish it in the spring. It should be a few months behind BP 2004 and the new Neyer/James book on pitching, so budget accordingly. Some people think the Neyer/James book is competition, but if what I hear about it is true, they will actually be very complementary.
RWBB: What is your position on the significance of pitch counts and stress rates?
Will: It's all in the book but, until then, pitch counts are a decent measure. If you don't have a radar gun or a good knowledge of pitching mechanics, pitch counts aren't bad. You know where pitch counts would make the most difference? Little League. We kill these kids and then keep on riding the best ones in high school and college. Kerry Wood didn't have surgery because of being overworked as a rookie, though that didn't help. All the mileage he had on that arm built up and...pow...it was almost gone, if not for a miracle of surgery that's near common today.
RWBB: How do you feel about Pitcher Abuse Points?
Will: I wrote an article a long time ago attacking PAP and that was pretty dumb. PAP is, without a doubt, meaningful and the best system available today for measuring pitcher workload. It's pretty technical, which is a downside, and doesn't tell us much in a particular game, but it's definitely a great tool and, more importantly, a big step forward for the science of pitching.
My work on Velocity Loss is preliminary. It's promising but preliminary. Data collection is the big problem there. Until V-Loss is proven or not proven, it's my pet. Either way, PAP is the big dog on the porch and, in most long-horizon analysis, the best tool period.
RWBB: Which factors are the most relevant when forecasting the likelihood of injuries to pitchers in the future--age, pitcher type, mechanics, or overuse?
Will: All of the above? I think it's some combination of those. Mechanics are probably the most important. Mike Marshall's work with high speed films makes that point. If everyone could do what he teaches, I'd have nothing to write about other than Kaz Ishii taking one off his dome or that Barry Zito has calluses from his pre-game workout. Age is a big factor. Randy Johnson can do what Jerome Williams shouldn't do. Type is an interesting one. It's very subjective, but if we can find patterns, that's valuable. The Neyer/James book intrigues me greatly because what they're doing in categorizing pitchers may give me things to work with.
One or two other things that aren't often mentioned (outside of my upcoming book, of course) are that most pitchers are in terrible physical condition for pitching and that most pitchers don't throw enough.
RWBB: Name two or three pitchers who you believe could experience serious arm troubles next season?
Will: Arm only? Wow, I would have guessed Roy Oswalt last year, but his groin broke first. He's a good candidate again this year. He'll need to really concentrate on his mechanics and he's never been great at that. Houston has a problem keeping pitchers healthy in general so I worry a bit about Brandon Duckworth heading down there. I'm a bit worried about Josh Fogg's mechanics near the end of 2003. Would Kaz Ishii surprise anyone? Dewon Brazelton? I'm not worried about any of the Cubs pitchers, surprisingly. It hasn't caught up to them yet.
RWBB: In one of your recent articles, you mentioned Chan Ho Park as an early "breakout" candidate for 2004. Did you mean "breakout" or "breakdown"?
Will: Breakout. I mean, what's it take for him to look way better than last year or even 2002? Not much. What's he look like if he has 10 wins? Comeback player of the year? Here's a guy who had the bad luck of a horrid contract and the worst pitching coach imaginable for him all at once. There's enough left there, he's got the right people working around him, and he's a low risk pick at the right spot. The problem is, the Rangers aren't paying him like the White Sox did with Esteban Loaiza. Instead, they're paying him the GNP of an industrialized nation.
RWBB: That's for sure. Do you think teams are finally learning not to pay pitchers so much or not to give them such long contracts?
Will: I think in general teams are starting to notice that they can't insure contracts beyond three years and that certainly got their attention. I think it was Joe Sheehan that I was talking to about this, but he was telling me just how risk averse most teams are in their decisions and it's true, most teams don't go too far out on the limb for anything. That risk aversion permeates baseball. It's why we see the same old managers, why you get long term contracts for 'proven veterans' and why young guys have to fight so hard to make it.
Pitching is almost literally a coinflip proposition, injury-wise. Just over half of all pitchers will be on the DL at some point in a three-year period and some of those will be serious--elbow reconstruction, torn labrum. Rotator cuff injuries are way down, but tendonitis is up. Baseball's going to need to get a lot smarter on how to value players, especially pitchers. I'd pay for greatness and I'd pay for consistency. The rest seems replaceable to me. Granted, if I were running a team, I'd have a four man rotation, a thin bullpen, and...well, if I were running a team I'd be smart enough to get people around me that knew a lot more about this than me and I'd defer to them.
RWBB: How can the union and the owners work together to restore credibility on issues such as the use of steroids and other supplements or enhancements?
Will: Man, this would take a long time to answer plus I'm working on an upcoming piece for BP, so I hesitate to give an important but overblown issue short shrift. The MLBPA and the owners could implement a world-class drug testing policy much like those in place for Olympic sports. Perfect? No. Good for the sport? Not sure. Steroids are not the issue people make them out to be in paranoid, reactionary columns. If Ken Caminiti came on SportsCenter and said, "Five percent of baseball players are on steroids", would anyone freak out? If Jose Canseco said, "I know there are 82 players on the juice," would anyone buy his book? Maybe some of them used THG or another drug. Maybe some took hGH or used testosterone gel. I'd rather have drugs out of the game, but I don't think it's making a mockery of history either. If you take out steroids, do you take out creatine? If you take out hormones, do you take out protein shakes? There are all kinds of mines in this field--privacy issues, accuracy, false positives, etc.
One thing I do know. I would not want to be the first guy that tests positive. Counseling might not sound like a penalty--and it's not--but that guy is going to take some abuse in the press and on the field. Sadly, it's more likely to be a guy who's trying to be the next Scott Podsednik rather than the next Barry Bonds.
RWBB: How about the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative?
Will: BALCO? I'm not touching that until the grand jury is done. But remember, gossip isn't guilt and America is built on innocent until proven guilty--no matter what they're doing in Gitmo.
RWBB: Do you still stand by the exclusive story you broke for Baseball Prospectus last August that Pete Rose and MLB have reached an agreement allowing Rose to return to baseball in 2004?
Will: Absolutely. Unequivocally. What people forget is what we put on the line for that story. We'd have to be blithering morons to put ourselves so far out there without rock-solid evidence. It's a failing of me as a journalist that I didn't do some simple things at the very start, when the story was falling into my lap, that would have made this easier, but live and learn. I'm not a professional journalist any more than I'm an orthopedic surgeon.
Actually, the question as asked is off slightly from what we reported, but that's semantics. The basic point of the story is that Pete Rose will be back and yes, that will happen. If Bud's waiting me out, seeing if he can bring back the panic attacks, tell him he wins!
RWBB: You were expecting an announcement regarding Rose's reinstatement in late November. Why hasn't something been released yet?
Will: Bud and MLB will do this on their own time, for their own reasons. Since the story broke, people have pointed to the post-awards, pre-Winter Meetings period as the most likely. The announcement is still something MLB controls completely, so they'll do it when everything is right. John Erardi at the Cincy Enquirer thinks it will be early 2004 and he's done a great job following this.
RWBB: Do you think Rose will ever admit his wrongdoings?
Will: Someone close to Pete said recently, "What makes you think he hasn't?" Baseball's never been an organization that does things in broad daylight. Our original report said that Pete wasn't going to be asked to make a public admission of wrongdoing. He came pretty darn close in a recent TV interview. People overwhelmingly want him back in the game, with or without the admission, so even getting close is going to push that popularity higher. I'm guessing here, but I think he'll sign something and Bud will wave the document at the press conference, but we'll never see it. "Pete has met my conditions for reinstatement," he'll say. For most fans, that will be more than enough.
RWBB: Rose has already missed the mid-November cutoff to be included in next year's Hall of Fame balloting, reducing his window of eligibility for his election by the BBWAA to just one year. Is that correct?
Will: There's some debate on that but, by the rules I've seen and the people I've spoken to, you're correct. Someone told me it would have been a bad idea and hell on Pete's ego if he'd missed the Hall on a vote, but just think about this - let's say he's back in baseball and you see him at games and on the field. He's working with kids, he's keeping his nose clean, and he's being an ambassador for the game. Give him a year of that and people will be so used to seeing him in the game rather that out of the game that it will seem a lot more natural to think of him in the Hall.
Besides that, the Hall is pretty bogus. Hell of an honor, but if they wanted to futz with the rules to get Pete in, who will stop them?
RWBB: If Rose is elected to the Hall of Fame, do you think any of the 59 living members would boycott his induction ceremonies?
Will: I honestly have no idea. Maybe one or two. If Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and Mike Schmidt are standing up there with him, do you think anyone will care if someone like Bob Feller isn't?
RWBB: Are you planning on attending the Winter Meetings in New Orleans on December 12-14?
Will: I'll be there with bells on. Well, not bells. That really isn't something that I would normally wear, especially in New Orleans. My business is based on talking to people, so when all of those people are in one place, I'd be a fool not to be there. I wish I had the freedom to be at the GM meetings, the owners meetings, and so on, but the Winter Meetings are still kind of Baseballapalooza.
Plus, New Orleans...that has to be better than Nashville and I had a blast in Nashville. Stand in a bar and there's Gammons over there and Cashman right there and...man, it goes on and on. It's mostly standing around and drinking and waiting, really. All the action goes on behind the scenes and Peter will beat me to all the good stuff!
RWBB: What can baseball fans expect from these meetings?
Will: I'd imagine it will be a lot like last year. The Expos are holding the game hostage since Vladimir Guerrero will set the market. We'll see one or two big deals, several minor ones, and signings of big but not huge names. The non-tender situation is what throws everything we think we know off. If we come out of these meetings with no major deals, then the collusion talk gets really loud and ESPN will start putting a microphone in Frank Coonelly's face.
RWBB: Who do you talk to on a regular basis to exchange information?
Will: You're kidding right? Name my sources? Not in a million years!
Oh, you mean people I speak to and respect their work? I speak with players, agents, doctors, clubbies, GMs, stat guys, fans that sit in the stands, and a guy that lives really close to the Yankees minor league facilities that owns a camcorder with the longest lens imaginable.
I speak with a lot of writers and I'm honored that people like Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, and Rob Neyer read my stuff. I read as much as possible, but there's just so much junk out there. There are a really small number of really good writers in any medium. For every Stephanie Myles, there's someone on a beat that doesn't ask good questions. For every Matthew Leach, there's someone that toes the party line too closely. For every Alex Belth or Christian Ruzich, there's ten blogs by a guy who puts ketchup on hot dogs and moves his lips when he reads.
RWBB: I like my hot dogs plain.
Will: Same here. I always end up with something on my shirt otherwise! But seriously, there's not many consistently good writers out there. It's an issue that comes up because the Internet is finally starting to be taken seriously from a credibility standpoint. The BBWAA is debating allowing net based writers to join, but how do you set the conditions? How long would someone have to write and in what type of medium? Don't get me wrong, there's good writers out there and more coming, I hope. There's also a lot of noise, but everyone deserves to have a voice and that's the interesting thing for me. Teams should be grasping this and learning that they should be managing their communities better. Teams still think far too locally.
RWBB: Which teams have the best trainers and team doctors?
Will: No team has a bad staff. Some have bad results, but they're all qualified, hard working people that do their best. People get weeded out when they can't do the job to the level that is expected, or just by bad luck. Stan Conte is the class of the field, but he had a fluky bad year in 2003 (yet the team still won). Dave Tumbas, Sean Cunningham, Ron McClain, Jamie Reed, and Jim Rowe come to mind, but there are just as many deserving assistants, too, like the now-retired Barney Nugent, Paul Anderson, Chris Correnti, or Lonnie Soloff. Heck, Dave Tumbas just got let go by the Cubs in a move that really surprised me.
Doctors? Well, you probably know the big names. Andrews, Yocum, Kremchek, Conway, and Hawkins. The teams that are good integrate it all. They give the medical staff a say in personnel and in game decisions. Not overruling but just having a voice. Some trainers can say that a pitcher shouldn't go out and the manager will listen. Some doctors will say that a player shouldn't be signed. Very few teams do integration well.
RWBB: Which teams have the best facilities?
Will: All are pretty good and they have access to better. The newer facilities have a big advantage of course. San Fran and Cincy are world class.
RWBB: Other than injuries, what proprietary baseball knowledge is still inefficiently valued?
Will: Lots. More than lots. How do we value anything? We can't even agree on what "value" is! The lesson of Moneyball is that baseball is a very inefficient market. We don't have a great grasp on defense and what work is being done is such high level stuff that it will be years before it trickles down in a usable form.
RWBB: As a Chicago Cubs fan, what would you like to see Jim Hendry do this off-season and Dusty Baker do next season?
Will: First, I'd get a bench coach with a strong talent for game strategy. Dusty runs a great clubhouse, but he's been out managed and he runs a crap staff. I'd hire Tom House as pitching coach. Not that Larry Rothschild is bad, but Tom's better and has a relationship with Mark Prior. I'd try to convince Rickey Henderson that he'd be the best first base coach of all time. I'd try and work a deal for Alex Rodriguez. The Cubs are one of few teams that could absorb that contract. Maybe deal Kerry Wood, Juan Cruz, and a minor league pitcher, plus Alex Gonzalez.
I'd also like to get one more consistent arm in the pen and a new second baseman, maybe Fernando Vina. He's not my ideal, but he would fit in well, is an upgrade on Grudz, and he's got the proven veteran facial hair.
RWBB: Trading Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee seems right up Dusty Baker's alley.
Will: Very much so. My reaction to the deal was a four-letter word. Still, I like Lee a lot more than I would have liked J.T. Snow or Rafael Palmeiro and his subliminal big black bat. I mean, does Viagra really think we don't get that message? Lee is a solid player who's probably slightly overpaid, but will fit right in. His father was with the organization and actually was the one that signed Choi, if I remember correctly. More than anything this deal really makes me re-think Larry Beinfest. He may really "get it" more than I thought.
RWBB: I agree although Marlins followers and mainstream baseball fans may view the trade as nothing more than an opportunity to dump salary. I don't see it that way myself.
Will: No, it's a good trade that happens to clear up some salary space. It will be interesting to see if the Marlins stick with their plan--and they had one--or if they really are the next Angels. Building around batting average is tough and they're going to lose several of their important pieces. Not sewing up Pudge quickly is the most surprising part of the early Hot Stove for me.
RWBB: Combining the Cubs and Baseball Prospectus Radio for a minute, what was it like to have Ron Santo as a guest on your radio show?
Will: Interviewing Santo was one of the highlights of the year. Sure, I turned into a fan during the interview, but man, why is he not in the Hall. I said it was bogus and here's one of the reasons why. Did you see the ceremonies where the Cubs retired his number? Here's a guy that's lost his legs, facing bladder surgery in days, they screwed him out of the Hall earlier in the year and all he wants to do is thank everyone for letting him be a Cub. Every team needs a Ron Santo, someone who is as good a human being as they are a player, someone that reminds you that "love of the game" isn't just an empty phrase.
RWBB: Speaking of the Hall of Fame, how do you feel about Ryne Sandberg?
Will: Sandberg is my childhood hero. How is he not a first ballot guy? I don't know, but I'm not rational about Ryno. Lee Smith got hosed, too. He should be in.
RWBB: I believe Santo and Sandberg are worthy of enshrinement, but I'm far from convinced when it comes to Smith. In my mind, he was a good relief pitcher who just happened to come along at the right time to get the maximum benefit from the so-called "save" stat.
Will: I think our valuation of relievers is too high in-season and too low when we're looking at their careers. It's odd to see the disconnect, but I think we'll have a sea change soon. Dennis Eckersley is coming up and he had such a singular career that it may force people to change how they look at it. He was a pretty good starter, but not great. He was a great closer, but not for long enough to match someone like Smith. If you put Eck in the Hall, then I think you have to start taking a harder look at relievers. I agree, the save stat alone shouldn't be putting these guys in. But just like Eric Gagne winning the Cy Young this season, some of these guys--the top ones like Smith--deserve recognition. We can't fault them their role or era that they played in. That was management. They were given the chance to play and they did very well. We're also going to see more and more guys of this era coming eligible without some of those 'magic numbers' like 300 wins and some of those magic numbers get altered by era. Is 500 homers magic? The game is always changing. God, I love it. When do pitchers and catchers report?
RWBB: Not soon enough, Will. Thanks for your time and hard-hitting answers.
Next week: Mike Carminati of the ever popular Mike's Baseball Rants will be in the hot seat. Expect a question or two about Joe Morgan.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Saturday, November 22, 2003
Baseball Questions, Answers, and Musings With David Pinto
David Pinto has been writing Baseball Musings, one of the most widely read baseball blogs, since March 2002. David was the lead researcher for ESPN's Baseball Tonight for ten years, and he also hosted Baseball Tonight Online on ESPN.com. He is currently on the professional staff at the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
David is originally from Bridgeport, Connecticut but now resides in Western Massachusetts. He has an A.B. and a C.S.S. from Harvard University.
I had the privilege of interviewing David during the past week for the third installment of my series this off-season with the best writers and analysts in the baseball blogging world.
RWBB: How old were you when you began watching baseball games?
David: I was 9 years old. By a bit of luck, my baseball watching coincides with the start of division play in 1969.
RWBB: Who was your favorite team back then?
David: I was a Yankees fan when I was young, although in 1969 I rooted for the Mets as well.
RWBB: Ahh, the Miracle Mets. What a year.
David: Yes, I could have gone either way that year, but I stayed with the Yankees mostly because of their history. My dad was a Yankees fan, but I remember him calling in sick so he could watch the Mets in the World Series that year. They were still playing day games then.
RWBB: Who do you root for now?
David: I root for good organizations now. I really liked what Cleveland was doing in the 1990s, signing their young stars to long team contracts. That protected them from the salary inflation of the 1990s, so they were able to keep a good team together for a long time.
RWBB: Which organization do you think is the best run today?
David: There are a few I really like. The Braves and the A's have known what they were doing for a long time. The Braves do a very good job of addressing their weaknesses every year. If you look at that team through the 1990s, they are always replacing one or two people, and invariably they are dropping a weak link for someone stronger. The A's under Alderson and Beane have understood the statistical analysis of the game. The Yankees do a great job of team management, where Cashman, Michael, Torre, and Steinbrenner work together extremely well.
RWBB: When did you become interested in baseball statistics, research, and analysis?
David: I was always interested in stats. I'd read the league leaders column everyday. I remember making the connection between lots of walks and runs scored while watching Willie Randolph play for the Yankees. I really got into it when I started playing Strat-O-Matic baseball in college, and realized I had to take a lot of stats into consideration to be successful. Finally, when the Bill James Abstracts became available, I was totally hooked.
RWBB: Do you play fantasy baseball or simulation games?
David: I have in the past, but not right now. I've been in a few Strat-O-Matic leagues over the years. And I used to play the Bill James games when I worked for STATS, Inc.
RWBB: Speaking of Bill James, did you work with him in any capacity while at STATS?
David: I worked with Bill on a game that was used on the Big Mac CD Encyclopedia.
RWBB: Many of us view James as the father of sabermetrics. Do you share that belief?
David: No. He was the one who popularized it. There were people before Bill who did similar work, but they never got the national exposure he did. Bill is a great writer and does a tremendous job of explaining these theories and formulas so everyone can understand them. Because of that, he reaches a very large audience, so it just seems like he started it.
RWBB: If you had to name names, who would you be inclined to give the most credit to?
David: I'd have to go back and check my history books. But there were certainly people who had these ideas in the 1960s.
RWBB: How has your degree in computer science helped you the most in terms of your baseball interests?
David: When I was hired by STATS, Inc., they needed someone who could get up to speed quickly. I had quite a bit of database experience which helped. Many of the data structures and algorithms I learned getting my degree I applied in building software at STATS.
RWBB: Are you interested in the statistical analyst job with the Mets?
David: Yes, I am. I would be interested in that kind of job with any team.
RWBB: I understand you talked to the Mets directly. Were you given any consideration for the job?
David: By the time I contacted them, the job was filled. They were very nice about it and did not discourage me at all.
RWBB: What would you like to be doing professionally longer term?
David: I'd like to either be working for a major league team as an advisor to a GM, or blogging professionally.
RWBB: Now that you mentioned blogging, how do you find the time to post as many entries as you do on a daily basis?
David: I type really fast. Also, since I now have a wireless network at home, I can be with my family and blog at the same time. At work, I'm on the internet all day, so it's not hard to fire off a quick post if I see something interesting.
RWBB: What did you learn keeping score for Project Scoresheet?
David: PS didn't teach me that much. Later scoring for STATS, where we kept every pitch, I was surprised at how many strikes were taken strikes. I was also surprised at how much more my head is in the game when I'm scoring. If I just sit as a fan, I can't remember what happened two innings ago.
RWBB: What did you do as head of research at ESPN's Baseball Tonight?
David: I had two main jobs. The first was to come up with interesting graphics for the BBTN show, as well as helping the talent out with any numbers they needed. The second part of the job was writing game notes for the remote telecasts of games.
RWBB: What was the most rewarding thing you did at Baseball Tonight?
David: I remember having written notes for a Cardinals playoff series (I don't remember the opponent, but it was the NLDS), and Chris Berman and Buck Martinez based their whole preview piece on those notes.
RWBB: That must have felt good. Any embarrassing moments you wish to share while at ESPN?
David: I had the wrong year for Babe Ruth's 60 HR season on a graphic at the all-star game. So the whole country is watching, and the graphic is wrong.
RWBB: Doh! What do you think of Peter Gammons?
David: Peter is a good friend. He's the most well-connected reporter I know. He's always on the phone, and I don't think there is a GM or agent who won't return his call. He's very smart, very competitive, and very knowledgeable about the game.
RWBB: What's your take on Rob Neyer?
David: Rob is also a good friend, and he's my favorite baseball columnist. He doesn't accept the conventional wisdom without being able to prove it. He's not afraid to use sabermetrics in his arguments, so I tend to trust his opinions over others I read.
RWBB: Which publications or online resources do you value the most?
David: I have access to STATSPass, which is an SQL based interface into the STATS database. Baseball-Reference.com is also a great source of information.
RWBB: Baseball-Reference is one of my favorites as well. What area do you think is the next frontier for statistical analysis?
David: It will be getting away from the heuristic methods of Bill James toward a more probabilistic approach.
RWBB: You've begun to do some work on defense, which you have called probabilistic model of range. Please explain what that means.
David: Range is the Holy Grail of baseball stats. We all have a feeling for what range represents, but it's really difficult to pin down with a number. Plays per game, plays per nine innings, and zone ratings were all attempts at measuring range, and they all have their flaws. UZR was the first probabilistic model that I know of. It looked at the probability of making a play in a particular zone (area) on the field. Mine is similar to that, although I eliminate the idea of a zone.
Basically, there is a probability distribution of balls put into play. The normal position of fielders should be where those probabilities are densest; in other words, the shortstop should stand where the most ground balls are hit in his area of responsibility. Ground balls hit in the densest region should be easier to field because that's where the SS is usually standing. So if you field a ball there it's no big deal, everyone does that. But as you move left or right from the region of highest density, the balls are more likely to get through for hits. So a SS who consistently fields those balls well should get more credit than someone who doesn't. So the probabilistic model of range tries to model these probabilities and assign them to fielders based on where balls are hit.
RWBB: What conclusions have you drawn from your research thus far?
David: I have not drawn any conclusions yet. It's still too early in the development of the system. I think it's going to become clear, however, that pitchers do have some effect on balls in play going for hits.
RWBB: Voros McCracken seems to think otherwise in his Defense Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS). Yet, there appears to be some evidence suggesting a pitcher's success is not totally random outside of strikeouts, walks, home runs allowed, and team defense.
David: It's not random, but it's pretty close. As a first approximation, McCracken's system works very well. We should be able to model this as well, eventually.
RWBB: What do you think is the most overlooked aspect of the game by most general managers today?
David: I don't think they spend enough time on the bottom of their rosters, players 22-25. I don't see many teams filling those roles with players who complement their starters (the great fielder to replace the one with stone hands, for example).
RWBB: Let's talk about a few current issues. What is your stance on steroids?
David: I think it's overblown. I believe there is a big difference between someone who abuses them and someone who uses them for a short time to build muscle quickly. You can't just shoot up with steroids and get big. You have to work at it. My guess is that the weight work gives these players most of the benefit; if they did the intense weight work without the drugs they would still see a huge improvement. If someone wants to use them in the off-season for a couple of months to build quickly, I don't have a problem with it because they would get there without the drug eventually. I worry that players don't use them properly, however, and that the misuse is ending careers early. But this is nothing new, as any numbers of players over the years have had their careers shortened by some kind of drug abuse.
RWBB: Do you think Bud Selig is doing a good job as commissioner?
David: I don't like the whole idea of Bud Selig as commissioner. He has a huge conflict of interest. 1994 was a disaster, and it was his entire fault for trying once again to break the union rather than take the players on as partners. Most of the other things he's done (interleague play, the wild card) are gimmicks. MLB has not done a good job of marketing the game under his leadership.
On the good side, he's kept Pete Rose suspended until now.
RWBB: It sounds to me like you're an anti-Pete guy.
David: Yes, I've never been a big Pete Rose fan. I found him obnoxious as a player, and the more I learned about his personal life the less I liked him. I get the feeling he's this generation's Hal Chase, so the longer he's out of baseball, the better.
RWBB: How do you feel about unbalanced schedules?
David: I liked them when you had two divisions of six teams each. But now, it's such a hodgepodge, you have no idea how many times one team will play another. But without the imbalance, I think you'll get a situation like we had in 1994, when Texas looked like it was going to win the west with a losing record.
RWBB: I wonder how these writers who refuse to vote for certain players as the league MVP would react to a situation in which such a team finished in first place?
David: They'd have a field day. But they couldn't use the excuse that the player didn't perform in a pennant race.
While I was against the way contraction was attempted two years ago, I actually think six team divisions are the right size, and 24 teams would be perfect for the majors. I would really like to see six MLB teams and six big minor league cities form a super minor league. The league would not be a farm system, but the salaries would be lower and (one would assume), the players would be in the neverland between AAA and the majors. My guess is a lot of minor leaguers fall out of the system in their late twenties due to the fact that they haven't made the majors. This league would give them someplace to play and allow lower payroll teams to compete and have winners.
RWBB: Well, David, we now know the recipients of this year's MVP Awards. Give us a couple of predictions for the MVPs in 2004.
David: My guess is that Alex Rodriguez will have the numbers to be MVP for another five or six years. If Jorge Posada can repeat 2003, he may very well win it. In the N.L., I think this was Barry Bonds last MVP. Look for Albert Pujols to start winning them, and it won't be long before you hear "future Hall of Famer" attached to his name.
RWBB: Do you care to guess as to which teams will wind up in the World Series?
David: No idea here. Teams haven't even finished remaking their rosters yet. Philadelphia got a whole lot better with Billy Wagner. They have a new stadium, and last year's bad luck will even out a bit. I'd look for them to at least make the playoffs. I'd also look for Toronto to be better. They've already improved their pitching staff, and they still have a great offense.
RWBB: Thank you, David. We'll all be following your comments this winter and throughout next season. Your daily entries are enjoyed by us all.
Check back next weekend for an interview with Will Carroll, Baseball Prospectus author and Baseball Prospectus Radio host as well as proprietor of Will Carroll's Weblog.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
The Worst MVP Seasons Ever
The American League and National League Most Valuable Player Awards were announced on Monday and Tuesday. I wholeheartedly endorse the selections. In early October, I picked Alex Rodriguez as the MVP in the A.L. and Barry Bonds as the MVP in the N.L. Both players maintained their reputations as the best player in their respective league although A-Rod's MVP was only the first of his career, while Bonds' MVP was his sixth--a major league baseball record. Barry's MVP also proved to be an unprecedented third in a row.
With the Most Valuable Player balloting behind us, I thought it would be interesting to research the worst MVP seasons ever. It was not my intention to uncover the worst players to win the award. Rather, my objective was to find the worst seasons by players who won the award.
I found two players who won the MVP award with seasons that cannot be justified by any statistical measure whatsoever. The worst MVP season in American League history belongs to Roger Peckinpaugh in 1925. The worst MVP in National League history belongs to Marty Marion in 1944. The common thread was the fact that both players were shortstops on pennant-winning teams. Peckinpaugh was with the Washington Senators (96-55) and Marion was with the St. Louis Cardinals (105-49).
Interestingly, Marion is the only player in the history of baseball who was voted the MVP despite having batting, on base, and slugging averages below the league mean (excluding pitchers).
BA OBP SLG OPS
Marion .267 .324 .362 .686
N.L. Average .270 .338 .380 .718
Marion's OPS that year was .032 below the league average and his OPS+ was 91, indicating his productivity was 9% below par on a park adjusted basis. Marion's Runs Created Above Average (RCAA) was minus four, which also suggests he was a subpar player offensively. In fact, Marion was such a mediocre hitter at best that he batted seventh in all six World Series games that year.
To Marion's credit, he compared favorably to his peers at shortstop that year by creating 18 runs above his position average (RCAP). From a purely offensive standpoint, Marion's year was similar to Orlando Cabrera's season in 2003 in terms of BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ relative to the league and position, as well as RCAA and RCAP.
In fairness, it should also be pointed out that Marion was the premier defensive shortstop of his day. However, it is my firm belief that no matter which fielding measure one uses, it would be impossible to conclude that his defensive prowess overcame his offensive shortcomings to such a degree that he was more valuable than any other player in the league that year. Baseball Prospectus rates his defensive play at 123 for 1944, meaning he saved 23 more runs per 100 games than the average fielder. According to BP, Marion's defense saved the Cardinals 32 runs for the entire season.
On a combined basis, Marion's contributions were worth about seven to nine wins according to BP's Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP). Marion also had 20 Win Shares in 1944, which equates to approximately six to seven wins. Based on these measures, let's give Marion credit for seven wins that year. How does that compare to others? Well, for one, Marion ranked sixth on his own team in Win Shares with just over half of the team (and league) leader, Stan Musial (who had 38). Musial's totals work out to 13 wins, which is validated by BP's various WARP totals ranging from 11-13 wins.
Taking a look at more traditional stats, let's see how Marion fared vs. Musial:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG
Marion 144 506 50 135 26 2 6 63 1 43 50 .267 .324 .362
Musial 146 568 112 197 51 14 12 94 7 90 28 .347 .440 .549
Am I missing something here? I recognize Marion was a shortstop and Musial a right fielder and center fielder that year, but there is no way that Marion can overcome his offensive deficiencies to justify his selection over Musial. Stan the Man tallied 84 RCAA and 70 RCAP vs. -4 and 18, respectively, for Marion. To put those numbers in perspective, Musial ranked first in RCAP and Marion, 17th. Musial also happened to lead the league in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ that year and was number one in hits, doubles, extra base hits, and total bases as well. The only stat in which Marion finished in the top ten was the almighty category of sacrifice hits (5th with 16).
Although not of the defensive importance of Marion (by position or quality), it should be noted that Musial was an above-average OF (with a BP rating of 109 in RF and 108 in CF). Overall, Musial's defense was worth about 15 runs or 17 fewer than Marion. On the other hand, Musial created 77 more runs offensively than Marion using Baseball-Reference.com's definition or an additional 88 runs above average using Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia's methodology.
All in all, I believe an objective analysis would conclude that Musial was worth 60-70 more runs than Marion in 1944 and was a much more deserving choice for MVP honors. Working against Musial was the fact that he had won the award the previous year, and it is my belief that voters generally tend to favor new names over previous winners. It may seem like Bonds is the exception, but he actually could have won another two or three MVPs earlier in his career had voters taken a more objective viewpoint when casting their ballots.
I won't go into as much detail with respect to Peckinpaugh, but suffice it to say that his numbers are no better than Marion's when compared to the league average.
BA OBP SLG OPS
Peckinpaugh .294 .367 .379 .746
A.L. Average .297 .367 .416 .783
Like Marion, Peckinpaugh's OPS+ was 91. And, almost identical to Marion, Peckinpaugh had a RCAA of minus four and a RCAP of 17. Peckinpaugh also finished 17th in RCAP, exactly the same as Marion.
Ol' Rog must have been one helluva shortstop, right? Well, not actually, at least according to BP's analysis. Peckinpaugh's fielding rating was 101, and he saved his team a total of two runs above an average player for the entire season.
Peckinpaugh must have made up for his lack of rate stats and defensive wizardry with big-time raw numbers, no? What would you say if I told you that Peckinpaugh had a grand total of 124 hits? No, he wasn't a slugger. To wit, he only had 24 extra base hits, including just four home runs. Well, he must have walked a ton, right? Nope. He had 49 bases on balls. Stolen bases, you ask? A whopping 13. In fact, Peckinpaugh did not place in the top ten in any department.
Peckinpaugh had 15 Win Shares in 1925, meaning that he was responsible for five wins. (The 15 Win Shares, I believe, are the lowest ever accorded an MVP.) BP's WARP gives "Peck" credit for about four-and-a-half wins that year. Call it five wins, whether it be by Win Shares or WARP. Amazingly, Peckinpaugh tied for tenth in Win Shares on his own team and there were three players in the A.L. (Al Simmons, 34; Goose Goslin, 31; and Harry Heilmann, 30) who had more than twice his total. If the voters were looking for a player on the first place team, why not pick Goslin? If they were looking for a shortstop, why not Joe Sewell (who had 24 Win Shares)?. Goslin, believe it or not, failed to place in the top ten because writers were limited to voting for only one player per team back then.
The only award that Peckinpaugh should have earned that year was in the World Series when he deserved to be named the MVP for the Pirates. Peckinpaugh made a record eight errors, several in key spots, as the Senators allowed the Pirates to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series. Of note, the Senators made only one other error the entire series.
A final and almost unbelievable common thread for Marion and Peckinpaugh:
Marion had the 15th worst OPS in the N.L. in 1944, while Peckinpaugh had the 10th worst OPS in the A.L. in 1925 among players who qualified. There may have been greater injustices served in the MVP voting over the years, but it's safe to say there have never been worst seasons by the award winners than the ones that Marion and Peckinpaugh forged nearly 60 and 80 years ago.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Saturday, November 15, 2003
Bantering Throughout The Bronx With Alex Belth
In just over one year, Alex Belth has become one of the giants of the baseball blogging world. His Bronx Banter is a must read for thousands of Yankee loyalists and baseball fans alike. In fact, it is one of several blogs that I make a habit of checking every day.
Alex has earned a well-deserved reputation for conducting great interviews with several well-known baseball writers, such as Allen Barra, Jim Bouton, Pat Jordan, Jane Leavy, Michael Lewis, Rob Neyer, and Buster Olney. He has also had the privilege of interviewing filmmakers Ken Burns and Ethan Coen as well as the former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association Marvin Miller and Negro League star Buck O'Neil.
I thought it might be fun to turn the tables on Alex and interview him in the second installment of my off-season series of questions and answers with baseball's best analysts and bloggers.
RWBB: Earlier this month, you celebrated the first anniversary of Bronx Banter.
Alex: The year flew by, let me tell you.
RWBB: What have you enjoyed the most since becoming a major fixture in the baseball blogging community over the past year?
Alex: I would have to say it's the feeling of community. I like belonging to something. I also like the fact that there is room for so many different opinions and angles. It's not as if every baseball blog is the same. I love the variety, and I love being able to learn so much about baseball from these websites. But most of all, I appreciate the friendships I've made with bloggers and readers alike.
RWBB: What is it like to eat, breathe, and sleep Yankees, Yankees, Yankees?
Alex: For the most part, it's great. Sometimes it's enervating, but I really can't complain, right? I used to feel a lot of liberal guilt and angst because I rooted for U.S. Steel, but I've learned to come to grips with that. Every team has a cross to bear, and if that's the Yankees cross, so be it. That's the way they've always been. What does turn me off is the self-congratulatory schmaltz. All that shit they pump out on the YES network. It's so unnecessary. There are too many people who root for the Yanks that are simply frontrunner jerks. Some guys feel like the Yankees are entitled to win every year and that's obnoxious. I actually feel humbled and blessed to root for them.
RWBB: How does your girlfriend Emily feel about your infatuation with the Yankees?
Alex: She doesn't understand the fanaticism, the need to suffer. She doesn't get why I take it so personally and let myself lose sleep over something I have no control over. Having said that, what she does appreciate is how passionate I am about the game and the Yankees. But it could be anything. She's turned on by the fact that I'm so involved in something. The funny part is that she's become a big fan, too. And I don't think that is something she would have ever anticipated. I wouldn't have either. I mean I've always viewed sports and girlfriends like church and state. They have to co-exist but I never try to mix them. If I am going to blow off going out to dinner and movie with my girlfriend in favor of watching a Yankees-Tigers game in the middle of July, then there is either something wrong with me or the relationship. But, as it turns out, Emily likes watching the games. I'd come home and there she would be with the game on. That blew me away. I told this to Will Carroll at one point this summer and he said, "Marry her already." What I can't get over is that Em and I have completely different tastes in the arts, but we both like baseball. Go figure.
RWBB: When you commented on my interview with Lee Sinins last week, I noticed you mentioned that Reggie Jackson was not only Lee's favorite player but yours as well.
Alex: Well, I first started really paying attention to baseball when I was seven or eight years old. I was born in 1971. By the time I became aware of the players' names and faces, Reggie was the biggest star around. He had a candy bar for crying out loud. Each time a Yankee player came up to hit, I wanted them to hit a home run. Reggie was their home run hitter, so I naturally gravitated to him.
My fascination with Reggie is all tied up in my relationship with my father as well. My old man grew up in Manhattan but was a diehard Dodger fan. He was ten years old when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. I remember him telling me that he was "second to none" as a Jackie fan.
By the time I came around, my pops didn't have much use for the game. He rooted for the Mets inasmuch as he rooted for anyone. Only one thing was for sure as far as baseball went: he hated the Yankees. Now if he had been an active fan, perhaps he would have seen to it that I rooted for the Mets, but I don't think it mattered to him really. My uncle Fred was a Yankee fan, however, and it mattered to him that I became a Yankee fan. And that was that. After all, I was from Manhattan. It wasn't a tough choice.
But from the start, I remember, if not exactly fighting with my dad, then at least some sense of friction that I rooted for the Yankees. I don't know that it was my first baseball memory, but as far back as I can remember my father railed against George Steinbrenner's boorishness, his arrogance. Steinbrenner was a bully, and an out-of-town bully to boot. Dad didn't care much for Billy Martin either. The truth is, as much as my dad despised George and Billy, he possessed similar character traits. At that point, my dad was drinking heavily and his alcoholism cost him his career in the TV business as well as his marriage. He was manipulative and a bully, too. I wasn't aware of that stuff at the time, but I did know that the one Yankee my old man did hold in some regard was Reggie Jackson. He appreciated Reggie's showmanship, not to mention the fact that he was intelligent and well spoken. So I think the fact that I could connect just a little bit with my dad through Reggie made me care even more about Jackson.
RWBB: You hear a lot of stories about father-son relationships and baseball.
Alex: My dad took a lot of heat from family members because of his drinking. I naturally came to his defense. I think I also felt that Reggie needed defending as well because he was usually getting negative attention. The press was on him, his teammates were on him, George was on him. Reggie needed me. My dad had a kind of grandiosity and self-importance that made him like Reggie, too. I think, as a kid, my hero worship of my father and Reggie were tangled up together. I thought that when Reggie hit a dinger, that maybe my dad would be able to come through on one of his many promises, too. That's what made sitting through all the strikeouts tolerable. Somehow, when Reggie would hit a single, it just didn't resonate in the same way. The strikeouts were more meaningful.
I'll tell you what though: I'll never forget watching Reggie's first game back in New York when he was with the Angels. It was the first year after my folks had split. He hit a bomb off Ron Guidry, and the entire stadium chanted, "Steinbrenner Sucks." That was one of the happiest nights of my life.
RWBB: Being a baseball fan must have made your job as a production assistant on the Ken Burns documentary, "Baseball" all the more enjoyable.
Alex: That was my first film job when I left college after the fall semester of 1993. An old friend, Jerry Michaels, hooked me up with an intern position on the "Baseball" project. Initially, I worked for free, but then Ken saw to it that I got paid as a post-production assistant. That was great because I wouldn't have been able to afford to stay on otherwise.
RWBB: Did you work in New York on this project?
Alex: Ken makes his movies in his adopted hometown of Walpole, N.H. There was practically a small army of editors, assistants, sound and music editors who had been working on the "Baseball" series for several years. I came on during the final months of the project when they brought the finished episodes to New York to mix the sound.
RWBB: What a way to start your career.
Alex: It was a dream job, and I looked forward to going to work every day. It was an ideal first gig for a few reasons. One is because it was about baseball and I had drifted away from the game during my college years. Oh, I still followed it some, but without any real passion. The previous fall, my interest was sparked again when Joe Carter hit the walk-off homer to win the World Series. I felt rejuvenated on the spot. Getting a chance to work on Ken's movie was an extension of that rediscovery. I learned something new every day. I felt as if I was getting in touch with an old friend, a long lost love.
RWBB: You must have come into contact with some of the well-known interviewees and consultants along the way.
Alex: Spike Lee stopped in once to check out one of the reels on the Negro Leagues. Carly Simon was there a bunch. She contributed a song to the soundtrack. I remember Roger Angell showing up, in a tweed sports jacket one day. I was very excited to see him and very disappointed by what he looked like. I had never seen a picture of him before although I was very familiar with his work. He was a stuffy old guy. I don't know what I had expected. In his interview sessions for the movie, Angell sucked on a throat lozenge and rolled it around in his mouth the entire time. So the mixer had to go through his scenes, frame by frame and clean up all the clicking and popping that came through on the audio track. Bob Costas came in one day too. I'll never forget it. The crew was in the middle of a reel change and everybody was quiet. In glides Costas. I notice him out of the corner of my eye. But nobody else looked up. So he looks around the room and announces, "What a hallowed moment." I nearly slapped my forehead, but rolled my eyes instead.
RWBB: Which celebrity encounter had the most impact on you?
Alex: Without a doubt, Buck O'Neil. He came into town for a screening in the spring of '94, and it was my job to pick him up at his hotel and escort him around the city for the afternoon. I was already familiar with how special he was from what I had seen of him in the movie, and he was even more charismatic in person. You know that saying about how a person can light up a room? I've run into a lot of actors and celebrities, but Buck O'Neil was the first person I ever met that I could say that about.
I picked him up at his hotel on Park Avenue. He was wearing a suit and looked elegant. It was a sunny afternoon, and he was easy to be around, naturally charming. We hailed a cab and headed over to the Jackie Robinson Foundation to meet with Rachel Robinson. What I remember most about that cab ride were Buck's hands. They were enormous. Like mitts. They looked like Rodin sculptures, I kid you not. I could barely take my eyes off of them.
RWBB: A giant in more ways than one.
Alex: We got to the Jackie Robinson Foundation and Rachel Robinson greeted us along with her assistant. I really thought I was hot shit being there with Buck because I had heard that Rachel Robinson was a cold fish. She didn't pay me any mind, but I didn't care. They escorted us around offices, and there were framed photographs of Jackie everywhere. We eventually settled in a conference room and sat down at a big, round table. I don't remember much of the conversation but what I do recall is that Robinson's eldest son, David, was in the office that day. He didn't live in the States--he lived in Africa--but just so happened to be in town. At one point, he came into the room and Rachel Robinson introduced him to Buck. Buck stood up and reached across the length of the table to shake David's hand. He told David how important his father had been. Buck made a whole speech to him and would not let the guy's hand go as he spoke. And remember, Buck has these great big hands. You should have seen the look on David's face. I've rarely seen a person so uncomfortable. It's like he wanted to disappear. I could only imagine how difficult it must be to have a father who was as famous as Jackie Robinson, but I could sense it must have been tough watching David Robinson that day. That may explain why he chose to live half way across the world.
RWBB: Speaking of pioneers, you have been asked to write a Curt Flood biography geared to a young audience. That must be a challenge in view of the fact that Flood is not a name that would resonate with many kids today.
Alex: It's a challenge for several reasons, the first being that I've never written a book before! That is daunting enough. Another trick is that this is a book aimed at high school kids. I mean who has a more sensitive bullshit detector than teenagers? I think I'll be able to handle it, but it has been a learning experience for sure. I think that Flood is a compelling character though. He sacrificed his career for a principle. Flood fought the law and the law won. I think teenagers can identify with that sense of injustice. He called himself a "child of the Sixties" and I think that's spot on. A lot of people were making huge personal sacrifices during that period so he wasn't unique in that regard. What I want to make clear is that he also paid a price for those choices. I think this is what could be an eye-opener for the young reader who has grown up watching their favorite athletes showing off their Hummers on MTV Cribs.
RWBB: Of the authors you've interviewed, whose book did you enjoy reading the most?
Alex: That's hard to say. I liked Jane Leavy's and Michael Lewis' books very much. I don't know that I have a favorite baseball book, but I if I had to pick a favorite writer I would probably chose Angell. Or Tom Boswell. Or Pat Jordan. Depending on my mood.
RWBB: Jim Bouton's book "Ball Four" was one of my most enjoyable reads ever. I was an impressionable teenager at the time, and it opened up my eyes to what took place off the field. How would you describe him?
Alex: Bouton is a jock, a '60s type of guy. He could have come right out of the movie "Mash". He's funny and sarcastic and a bit irreverent.
RWBB: I loved the part in your interview when Bouton tells Moose Skowron that the players of today are better than in their days. I think it takes a big man for a former athlete to admit that.
Alex: I think Bouton is a realist. That's why he is funny, because he has common sense and can see things for what they are. That's why he's so gifted at satire. He's not sentimental in the traditional sense, that's for sure.
RWBB: Do you sense that Michael Lewis was caught off guard with the popularity as well as the controversy of "Moneyball"?
Alex: I would tend to doubt it. It's my impression that Lewis has already dealt with a certain amount of celebrity. I don't know enough about him really, but I would guess that "Liar's Poker" was a bigger book than "Moneyball" has been. I think that Lewis is more amused and intrigued by the controversy surrounding "Moneyball." Here he is, a talented journalist who falls into a story, which becomes a big book. I think Lewis is aware that he's not a baseball insider, and likes it that way.
RWBB: Do you have any other baseball writers or personalities on tap for interviews in the future?
Alex: I do have a wish list, sure. But I'll tell you, I was lucky to talk to many of my favorite personalities this past year. Hopefully, I'll be able to talk to them again next year, too. But I would like to do an interview with Bernie Mac, who is filming a baseball movie, and John Sayles, the guy who directed "Eight Men Out". As far as writers go, just off the top of my head I'd like to interview Tom Boswell, Donald Hall, Glenn Stout, Will Carroll, Steven Goldman and Alan Schwarz for starters.
(Editor's note: Carroll has agreed to do an interview for Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT and will be featured in late November or early December.)
RWBB: OK, let's have some fun. Who would you select for your all-time favorite Yankees team? Let's go position-by-position, starting with catcher.
Alex: Joe Girardi would be my catcher.
RWBB: That's an interesting pick.
Alex: Girardi wasn't Thurman Munson or Jorge Posada, that's for sure. But he was great with the pitchers, and he played within himself offensively. A humble, worker-bee type of guy.
RWBB: First base?
Alex: Don Mattingly.
RWBB: What was your attraction to Mattingly?
Alex: Mattingly played his whole career with the Yankees. His bad back robbed him of his greatness, but he was the one constant through the bad years. Mattingly had a certain work ethic, and I think he set the tone for the championship teams of the '90s.
RWBB: Second base?
Alex: Willie Randolph. Willie was a quiet professional. He did everything well. If Reggie was Jackie Gleason, then Willie was Art Carney. He was happy playing second banana.
Alex: That's a no brainer. Derek Jeter. He loves playing and is a pleasure to watch.
RWBB: Many sabermetricians love to hate Jeter.
Alex: It's strange. The saber crowd devalues him and the casual fan overvalues him. No one agrees how to assess Jeter as a player. It's almost held against him that he is on the winning team.
RWBB: Moving over to the hot corner...
Alex: That's an easy one. Graig Nettles. Great with the glove and very good offensively, too.
RWBB: Name a trio of outfielders.
Alex: Dave Winfield, Bernie Williams, and Reggie. Winfield was a great athlete but never had what it took to be another Reggie. Bernie has been my favorite player as an adult. I don't think I've ever been as proud of a player as I am with Bernie.
RWBB: Who would you select as your four starting pitchers?
Alex: Gator, El Duque, David Cone, and Tommy John. Guidry was my favorite pitcher ever. By far.
RWBB: Give us a lefty-righty combo for the bullpen.
Alex: Forget that. Just give me Goose Gossage and Mariano Rivera.
RWBB: Well, Alex, I don't think anyone is more qualified to close the interview than Goose and Mariano. Thanks for sharing your time and insights.
Check back next weekend for an interview with David Pinto of Baseball Musings, one of the kingpins of the baseball blogging world.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Monday, November 10, 2003
Whatcha talkin' 'bout, Willis?
Now the world don't move to the beat of just one drum
What might be right for you, may not be right for some
A man is born, he's a man of means
Then along come two, they got nothin' but their jeans
But they got Diff'rent Strokes
It takes Diff'rent Strokes
It takes Diff'rent Strokes to move the world
--Lyrics by Alan Thicke, Gloria Loring, and Al Burton
Perhaps the headline is backwards and should read "Willis? Whatcha talkin' 'bout!"
The selection of Dontrelle Willis over Brandon Webb as the National League Rookie of the Year on Monday is more comical than the popular show of the late 1970s and 1980s starring Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges. Even Mr. Drummond is scratching his head over this one.
How laughable is it? Let's take a look at the finished script for 2003.
G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO
Webb 29 28 180.2 140 65 57 12 68 172
Willis 27 27 160.2 148 61 59 13 58 142
Personally, I tend to favor pitchers who throw more innings with fewer hits, earned runs, and home runs allowed while also striking out more batters. Unless one is a control freak, the raw stats make a strong case for Webb over Willis.
Maybe I'm missing something in the rate stats.
ERA WHIP K/9 K/BB BAA OBP SLG OPS
Webb 2.84 1.15 8.57 2.53 .212 .295 .307 .601
Willis 3.30 1.28 7.95 2.45 .245 .313 .385 .698
Nope, it's not that. Webb beats Willis across the board. Lower numbers when it matters. Higher numbers when it matters. Eight-for-eight.
So what could it be?
Webb 10 9
Willis 14 6
Ahh, the ol' won-loss category. Geez, I nearly forgot. Even though Webb beat Willis up and down and around in every stat in which the pitchers have some say in the matter, Willis had more wins and fewer losses than his rookie counterpart.
I guess voters didn't take into account the fact that Florida's offense scored 34 more runs than Arizona's or that the team won seven more games overall. Perhaps they think Willis was the one responsible for the difference in these two teams win totals rather than the other way around.
In any event, it is obvious that the voters didn't pay attention to the fact that Florida's Pro Player Stadium favors pitchers and Arizona's Bank One Ballpark favors hitters. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Pro Player Stadium is rated 94 for pitching (meaning the park helped pitchers by 6%) while Bank One Ballpark is rated 109 (meaning the park hurt pitchers by 9%). In fact, Webb's adjusted ERA is 165 (or 65% better than the league) and Willis' is 122 (22% better).
Alternatively, it might be enlightening to take a look at Lee Sinins' favorite stat for pitchers -- Runs Saved Above Average or RSAA. Webb ranked fifth in the N.L. with 39 while Willis finished tied for 34th with 12. In other words, Webb saved 27 more runs above the average pitcher than Willis (or approximately one per game).
Another way to evaluate Webb vs. Willis on a more level playing field is to compare their performances on the road.
G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO BAA ERA
Webb 15 14 91.1 72 27 23 5 32 83 .213 2.27
Willis 12 12 72 74 30 29 7 24 67 .264 3.63
C'mon now...2.27 vs. 3.63? Not only should Webb have won the ROY Award, but it should have been a unanimous decision--at least with respect to these two players. A vote on behalf of Scott Podsednik is an entirely different matter, but there is no way one can justify voting for Dontrelle Willis over Brandon Webb.
Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks, I guess.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Saturday, November 08, 2003
Around The Majors With Lee Sinins
Lee Sinins is best known as the creator of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, a product that I use extensively when researching, analyzing, and writing articles for Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT. The Encyclopedia is available via CD and can be ordered by visiting Lee's website at http://www.baseball-encyclopedia.com. Lee also produces daily Around The Majors reports to his e-mail subscribers at no charge. His research and encyclopedia have been cited numerous times online and in newspapers throughout the country.
Lee is a proud alumnus of Syracuse University, home of the National Champions as he is quick to point out, where he received degrees in U.S. History and Political Science. Lee also has a degree in computer programming, along with a law degree.
I caught up with Lee and gave him the third degree (or should I say his fifth degree?) in the first of a series of interviews this off-season with the game's best analysts and bloggers.
RWBB: Lee, how long have you been a baseball fan?
Lee: Since I was 7 years old, back in 1978.
RWBB: What is it about baseball that you like the most?
Lee: I love everything about it. The games, the drama of a pitching duel, the back and forth of a slugfest, a pennant race between good teams (before the wild card made that just about defunct), the history and so much more.
RWBB: You have been a vocal critic of the wild card system.
Lee: I've written a lot about it over the years. The wild card system has destroyed numerous pennant races. It is illogical that a team that can't be the champions of a subdivision of a whole should be eligible for the championship of the whole. It makes as little sense as having a player who's not the best on his own team be named mvp. (Editor's note: The use of lower case letters is at the behest of Lee to show disrespect for the award.) I still have no idea what was supposedly wrong with the four division setup from 1969-1993. The switch was nothing more than change for the sake of change.
RWBB: You are well known in baseball circles as the creator of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia. What motivated you to produce this product?
Lee: I was a big fan of the old Fanpark Baseball Encyclopedia. However, they stopped making it. Also, while it had a lot of the functions of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, it didn't have all of them.
RWBB: It sounds like you stepped in to fill the void created by the demise of the Fanpark Encyclopedia.
Lee: While I was at computer school, I realized early on that I could create an encyclopedia that can do everything I want and which I could keep up to date. So, the Encyclopedia was born.
RWBB: The newest version of the Encyclopedia with statistics from the 2003 season is now available. Did you add any new features this year?
Lee: This year I added the ability to sort using team statistics.
RWBB: Give an example of how this sort could be used.
Lee: The Red Sox set the major league record for highest slugging average in a season in 2003. Using the new team sorting feature, you can get the top ten, or top whatever number you want. Or, if you wanted a specific team's top ten, or a leader list for a particular time period, those options are also available.
RWBB: One of the beauties of the Encyclopedia is that a user can sort in absolute and relative terms.
Lee: That's right. When we combine the team sorting with the "vs. average" feature, we can compare each team to their league's average and generate that leader list. Compared to the league average, the 1884 Cubs become the leaders, the 1927 Yankees are the modern day (1900-) leaders, and the 2003 Red Sox fall to 10th (7th since 1900).
RWBB: What are some of the features of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia that are unavailable online or in printed reference sources?
Lee: In online or printed sources, you are just stuck with the player's stats. There's no way to sort them. There's no way to create your own leader lists. That is a major difference between the Encyclopedia and other sources.
RWBB: I like using the Encyclopedia to compare a player's stats relative to the league.
Lee: Yes, every player has his own average player line, customized to his own career.
RWBB: Switching gears, please explain your Around The Majors reports.
Lee: Each day, I write the ATM reports with baseball news, commentary, statistics and rumors. Each Sunday during the season, I send out a complete stat report.
RWBB: Are you planning on publishing a 2004 edition of the Player Comments Book?
Lee: Yes. But, this time, I'm just planning on making it in Adobe format. The sales from the first edition weren't high enough to justify the low profit margins after the printing costs.
RWBB: You do not acknowledge the Hall of Fame and instead have created Baseball Immortals as an alternate to Cooperstown. What is the difference between the two?
Lee: The major difference is I use my own judgment when making the selections to Baseball Immortals, while I've long given up on figuring out what criteria the voters use for the hall of fame. (Editor's note: Once again, the lower case is intentional).
RWBB: Give an example of a player who has been enshrined by Cooperstown yet is not a Baseball Immortal.
Lee: About a quarter of their members aren't Baseball Immortals, so there are many to choose from. A good random example is Rabbit Maranville. Maranville had minus 280 Runs Created Above Average and an OPS 73 points under his league average. Maranville had 14 years with a double-digit negative RCAA, compared to just two with a positive figure and never more than seven in a season. He's grossly unqualified even for a Hall of Average.
RWBB: Rabbit was a slick fielding shortstop at a time when baseball placed a bigger premium on defense. Is there any way you can measure his value in the field?
Lee: I believe that the gap between fielding is far smaller than the gap between hitting. In Maranville's case, I find it unbelievable that he could have saved his team 280 runs in his career, and that would be what he would have needed just to get himself up to the level of an average player.
RWBB: Let's go in the opposite direction. Pick a player you have selected as a Baseball Immortal but is not a HOFer and give us the rationale for his inclusion.
Lee: One of the best examples is Dick Allen. He had 511 RCAA, four years with 50+ RCAA and six years with at least 40. Allen's .912 OPS was 205 points above his league average and he hit 215 more HR than his league average.
RWBB: For what it's worth, I believe Allen is much more deserving than Maranville, too. As stat heads, are we too preoccupied with numbers rather than a player's overall contribution to his team and/or the game?
Lee: I'm definitely a big believer in things being measurable.
RWBB: That doesn't surprise me.
Lee: Statistics, when used properly, give us an accurate assessment of a player's value. However, they are subject to so much misuse with far too many people using them improperly.
RWBB: What is the single most important statistic from an offensive standpoint in your opinion?
Lee: Runs Created Above Average. A hitter's job is to produce runs for his team and RCAA measures the amount of runs a player added or cost his team.
RWBB: What is the most important stat for pitchers?
Lee: Runs Saved Above Average. A pitcher's job is to save runs for his team and RSAA measures the amount of runs the pitcher saved or cost his team.
RWBB: How do you feel about average value vs. replacement value as used by Baseball Prospectus and others?
Lee: I hate replacement value. I wrote a lot about this in my Player Comments Book and intend to just about repeat that verbatim in the next edition.
RWBB: Give us a sneak preview.
Lee: Comparing a player to a made up awful one asks the wrong question. I'm not interested in trying to estimate how much better a player is than a hypothetical terrible one. What I'm interested in is trying to determine whether a player helps his team win or lose games and by how much. Whether a player helps your team win or lose, I'll bet that's what you're really interested in, too.
RWBB: Average value is easier to quantify than replacement value.
Lee: League average isn't just some abstract concept. Rather, it is the level that separates whether a player helps his team win or lose games. If, for example, the league averages 4.81 runs per team per game, like the 2002 AL, it means that a team has to score more than 4.81 runs to win the average game. So, a player who has 4.81 runs created per 27 outs is performing at an average level, not pushing his team more towards winning or losing, while 4.82 and above moves his team more towards winning and 4.80 and below moves them more towards losing.
RWBB: There has been a lot of discussion about the importance of on base percentage vis-a-vis slugging average. Which one do you believe is of more value and why?
Lee: I give a slight edge to on base average because it has a little better correlation with runs scored. But, I also put a lot of value in slugging.
RWBB: Do you favor rate stats or counting stats?
Lee: I can't really choose between them. I have to go with both.
RWBB: Name the baseball researchers, analysts, reporters, and columnists you most like to read?
Lee: Every day, I retrieve every online article at ESPN Local, which purports to collect all of the articles from all of the teams' local papers. Most of my baseball reading is to collect material for the ATM reports. For the most part, I pay a lot more attention to the content of the articles than to bylines.
RWBB: OK, Lee. Time for the lightning round. Which team is your favorite?
RWBB: Who is your favorite baseball player of all time?
Lee: Like most people, I'm partial to my favorite player of my youth, which was Reggie Jackson.
RWBB: Who is your favorite active player?
Lee: Bernie Williams.
RWBB: Do you think Barry Bonds will break Hank Aaron's career home run record of 755?
RWBB: If salary was not a factor, which player would you pick first if you were going to build a baseball team for the next 5-10 years?
Lee: I'd say a team would get more out of what is left of Barry Bonds' career than anyone else in the majors.
RWBB: Who is the most overrated player in the game today?
Lee: Alfonso Soriano.
RWBB: Who is the least appreciated great player today?
Lee: Although he's gotten a lot of press, I still don't think people have appreciated how great Jason Giambi's been over the past five years.
RWBB: If you were the manager and needed to win the seventh game of the World Series, who would you pick to start that game among all the pitchers ever?
Lee: For a single game, I'd have to take Pedro Martinez. But, that does not make him the best pitcher ever.
RWBB: That begs my next question. Who do you think is the best pitcher ever?
Lee: It's a too close to call battle between Walter Johnson and Roger Clemens, with the deciding factor being how much boost Clemens gets from a higher level competition in today's game vs. the past.
RWBB: Thank you for your time, Lee. This has been a most enjoyable discussion.
Lee can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Check back next weekend for an interview with Alex Belth of Bronx Banter, one of my most enjoyable daily reads.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT