Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Sunday, December 07, 2003
Ranting and Raving About Baseball With Mike Carminati (Part Two)
I divided my interview with Mike Carminati of Mike's Baseball Rants into two sections. Part One covered Mike's opinions on topics ranging from his beloved Phillies to sabermetrics to his favorite players and baseball heroes. Part Two is exclusively devoted to Mike's views on the merits of certain Hall of Fame candidates.
RWBB: You recently posted an article, listing the players on this year's Hall of Fame ballot along with a few of those tables that tend to frequent your site. Let's go over several of the leading candidates and then we will discuss some of the omissions from the past.
Mike: Let me say that I have looked at the percentage of active players at any given time who eventually end up in the Hall, and the average is about 6% with a normal range around 4-8%. There have been three periods since the early 1880s in which the percentage went out of that range. When the National League contracted to eight teams in 1900--one year before the American League became a major league--the percentage skyrocketed to about 13%. In the late Twenties and early Thirties, the percentage sometimes reached about 12%. This is due to the bloated offensive numbers of the day and the disproportionate power given the players of that era when they were on the Hall's Veterans' Committee. The third period is since the early Seventies. The percentage has not been over 4%--the nominal low--since then, and it shrank rapidly thereafter. I know that there are still a number of players from the period who are eligible for the Hall vote, but we're not talking about an odd Bert Blyleven here. We're talking about one half to one quarter the number of people being admitted as compared to the previous 80-90 years. The players from the expansion era are getting screwed.
I'm a bit more liberal in doling out Hall plaques to players from my youth than the average sabermetrician.
RWBB: Paul Molitor is newly eligible. Is he HOF worthy?
Mike: I want to answer this question three ways. Will he get in? Should he get in given the de facto Hall standards? And would I put him in? The first is just handicapping. The second is estimating what the Hall standards are and if he matches them. The third is simply my opinion. Molitor will go in on the first ballot. He should go in according to the established standards. And I would put him in.
RWBB: Dennis Eckersley is another first timer.
Mike: Eck will go in, hopefully, on the first ballot. He should go in, and I would put him in.
RWBB: If he gets the nod, that would mean three relievers--Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, and Hoyt Wilhelm--would be in the Hall of Fame. How do you feel about Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Lee Smith?
Mike: Goose may go in via the writers. However, he has been treading water lately. He should go in. It's hard to say what the Hall standards are for closers, but I think Gossage would have made it more easily if his career had not gone on so long after he had stopped being a closer. Fingers got in so easily. Gossage was more qualified, but in the intervening years between their careers and becoming eligible, the number of saves for closers went through the roof. Then everyone forgot how good Gossage was and focused on the save totals. I would put him in.
I think Sutter will go in but may run out of time with the writers. He may be voted in by whatever body eventually replaces today's Veterans' Committee. Sutter is a special case in my book. Probably on his stats alone he wouldn't go in. However, he was the first modern closer and was amazing in his day. If you were to tell the story of relief pitching and reduced it down to one man, it would be Sutter. He's the one that changed it all. He just had a shorter peak than most. The Hall has found room for Candy Cummings for supposedly inventing the curveball and on Morgan Bulkeley for being the first president in the NL even though William Hulbert called the shots. I would say this is more deserving. Would I put him in? After conducting an exhausting study of relief pitching, decade by decade, I would say emphatically yes, and before Gossage and Eck.
As far as Lee Smith goes, I thought he would go in last year. The voters don't seem to know what to do with the closers. I think he'll probably make it within the next few years. Should he go in given the standards? The Hall has never barred anyone who is eligible and set the record for a significant stat. He set the record for saves, which is supposed to be the most important stat for closers. I like Adjusted Runs Prevented better. Who cares if a closer starts the ninth with a three-run lead and can hold on to it?
Personally, I think Smith had some great years especially early on with the Cubs, but I don't ever see him being the most dominant closer in the game. I would have to think about his long career and overall effectiveness. However, I don't think he had a high enough peak to qualify.
RWBB: Ryne Sandberg was the best second baseman in baseball for a ten-year stretch. Why do you think he was overlooked last year?
Mike: I thought Sandberg would go on the first ballot. I get the feeling that he was a victim of the bloated numbers of the past decade and of writers who wanted to ensure that he was not a first-ballot inductee. He could go as early as next year, but he will be voted in by the writers at some point. He definitely should go in. I would put him in.
RWBB: Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy. Four of the best outfielders in their time and MVPs all.
Mike: Rice's votes are going down though they are still high. I think that he'll eventually go in but I'm not sure when or how. I think that he is an extremely borderline case. I wouldn't single him out. I would rather put his old teammate, Dwight Evans, in first.
Dawson's numbers are climbing, and I think the voters will elect him in the next five or so years. Dawson is a better candidate than Rice or Parker. I'm on the fence as to whether I would put him in. Probably.
Murphy is an interesting case. He's facing attacks on two fronts. First, he went from great to average to sub-par in a very short time and at an early age. He had his last great season in 1987 at 31, was an average ballplayer for a couple of years, and then fell off the face of the earth. Being washed up at 35 hurts your Hall of Fame chances. It puts all the pressure on your peak value. Your peak had better be Koufaxian.
That's the second front he's facing. His peak went through a reevaluation after the offensive explosion of the Nineties. He's only been eligible for the Hall for about 5 years. .300 with 35 homers and 100 RBI just wasn't as impressive as it once had been. There were also feelings in the sabermetric world and in the baseball writer cognoscenti that he had been overvalued during his peak. People pointed to his relatively low adjusted OPS especially in 1982. They felt that his MVP candidacy was helped greatly by his being a Gold Glove center fielder. Also, there was a reevaluation of his defense and the feeling was it wasn't all that and a bag of chips.
I don't think he'll be voted in by the writers. His numbers are flagging. I think he'll be reassessed by whatever replaces the VC and given the distance of years and the abating offenses, he'll go in. I think that he definitely meets the criteria of the Hall. I would probably put him in, but he wouldn't be my first choice among outfielders.
RWBB: How do you feel about Steve Garvey, Keith Hernandez, and Don Mattingly?
Mike: First, let me say that Steve Garvey is not my Padre--sorry a little paternity suit humor. All three are borderline cases. They're three slick fielding first basemen who started to lose it around 33, 34 years old. Hernandez barely stayed on the ballot and may drop off after this year. Mattingly's vote numbers are dropping like a stone. Garvey is treading water among the second-tier candidates. I think that they are the types of candidates that in the past the Vets have jumped all over for the Hall. I could see them all going probably in this order: Mattingly, Garvey, and then Hernandez.
Do they qualify? Hernandez may have the best case from this point of view and is aided by the longest career of the group. Mattingly has the best peak but was a totally different ballplayer after 28. A lot of that is due to injuries but, if "woulda, shoulda" counted, Mark Fidrych and Lyman Bostock would be Hall of Famers. Garvey's defensive rep hit a bump after Total Baseball pronounced him a sub-par first baseman and then was revitalized by Bill James Win Shares. Like Derek Smalls, he is the lukewarm water of the group.
I don't know if I would put any of them in. Hernandez is the most likely.
RWBB: Now that Gary Carter finally made it in, I believe Bert Blyleven has become the most overlooked, multi-year candidate of all.
Mike: Blyleven's numbers are starting to grow, but they're still low. I'm thinking Veterans' Committee. Should Blyleven go in? A definite yes. He's the second best candidate on the list after Molitor. Would I put him in? Oh, yeah.
RWBB: Jim Kaat and Tommy John also may have been victimized by falling short of the 300 wins mark after it became magical.
Mike: Well, Kaat ran out of options and now has to wait for the veterans to get their act together. I think once they have a viable solution to the Vets' Committee, he will go in. Does he meet the standards? He's borderline. Would I put him in? Probably not, though I remember him fondly from his Phillies days.
John's votes have been slipping. He will probably be rescued by the Veterans' Committee. Does he meet the standards? See Kaat. Would I put him in? See Kaat. I would put him ahead of Kaat.
RWBB: Now, let's discuss a few players not on the BBWAA ballot. Ron Santo?
Mike: Given that Santo is a broadcaster in Chicago and given the publicity over his health, I could see his candidacy gathering steam. If the VC elects anyone, it will be him. Given the dearth of third basemen, he exceeds the standards and I believe I would put him in.
With respect to the Veterans' Committee, I have to say it was a travesty that Marvin Miller was not elected last year given his influence on the game and the number of voters who played during his tenure. I think that he could get some more support in the future though. There are players not on the VC ballot who are better than a number who are. Bobby Grich, Darrell and Dwight Evans, and Sweet Lou Whitaker come to mind. There is very little chance that they will get in though they should and I would support them.
RWBB: It's hard to believe that Grich and Whitaker couldn't even get 5% of the votes in their first and only year on the ballot.
Mike: Yeah, add Dan Quisenberry to that list. I could see them having problems because of their era and their positions, but no support whatsoever? I don't think that they'll ever be elected unless in some posthumous George Davis-type move. Grich and Whitaker don't have the strongest cases going by numbers solely, but when you consider that they were second basemen and are probably in the top dozen or so at that position, that really meets the Hall criteria. Grich is a particularly odd case because he was a Gold Glove winner and a power-hitting second baseman, which you'd think would garner him some votes. Maybe playing during Joe Morgan's hegemonic second base career wasn't the greatest idea. He's also hurt by having his best season during the 1981 strike, when he was arguably the best player in the AL but got no MVP support.
As far as Quisenberry, his career as a closer was too short and his numbers were hurt by the glut of saves in the Nineties, but his peak was pretty impressive. It was better than Smith's and Myers' and probably better than Gossage's. I don't think he should get in given the scant standards for closers nor would I put him in, but his candidacy merited more than a cursory, one-year review.
RWBB: Bill James believes Darrell Evans is the most underrated player in baseball history.
Mike: That sounds about right. Reggie Smith is another good one. So is the other Mr. D. Evans. I think Evans is hurt by never really having a peak. He had many good years but never had one of those headline-grabbing ones. He was overshadowed by Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, and Ron Cey at third in the NL in those days. It's hard to play in the same league as the greatest player in baseball history at your position. Ask Brian Giles.
Evans just happened to play the most overlooked position in the Hall and even though he was a power hitter, he did a lot of little things, defense, taking a walk, getting on base, that get overlooked. And he batted around .250. Santo and Graig Nettles suffer from similar biases. Maybe when Wade Boggs goes in, they will remember that third basemen can go in the Hall, too.
RWBB: OK, you brought up his name. Pete Rose. In or out?
Mike: Who? Oh yeah. I am probably the only person in America who thinks Rose probably bet on baseball but that his ban should be ended without an apology and he should go in the Hall. However, he cannot and should not go into the Hall until the ban is lifted. Who cares if Rose bet on baseball anyway? It carries a one-year suspension that he has served 14 times over. Did he bet on the Reds? I'm not sure, but I have not seen one credible shred of evidence in the Dowd witch hunt. If Rose apologizes, it would be the first credible piece of evidence. Moreover, if he did ever bet on the Reds, he should be banned permanently.
Baseball basically screwed Pete Rose. Bart Giamatti signed an agreement with Rose and went back on it before the ink dried and then died, thereby martyring himself and leaving Rose high and dry. It's high time that baseball closed this sordid chapter and they probably will soon. I think Rose will go in within five years. I wouldn't celebrate it, but it is eminently fair.
RWBB: There might be a Rose Parade all the way to the Hall of Fame with Pete out front twirling the baton if, and when, he becomes eligible. I have less of a problem with Rose in the HOF as I do allowing him back onto the field in some official capacity. His accomplishments as a player cannot be ignored but neither can the lifetime ban for conduct detrimental to the game in which Rose agreed be disregarded.
Check back on Wednesday for a mid-week special on tidbits gathered from the 2004 edition of The Bill James Handbook.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Saturday, December 06, 2003
Ranting and Raving About Baseball With Mike Carminati (Part One)
Mike Carminati is one of the "old timers" when it comes to baseball blogging. He started Mike's Baseball Rants in July 2002, and it has become one of the most widely read in the blogosphere. Mike recently switched from Blogger to Christian Ruzich's All-Baseball.com, a loose affiliation of several baseball blogs (including Ruz's The Cub Reporter and The Transaction Guy, Alex Belth's Bronx Banter, and Will Carroll's Weblog). Mike is also the lead baseball analyst at Baseball Interactive.com.
Mike was born in the suburbs of Philadelphia in 1965. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in Computer Math and minors in English, Philosophy, and Physics. Mike claims that he wanted to be a Renaissance man but missed it by a few centuries. He is making a living as an IT professional instead.
I had the pleasure of corresponding with Mike by email and talking with him over the telephone during the past week to find out his latest opinions on his beloved Phillies, Joe Morgan, baseball statistics, general managers, sabermetricians, and a few other rants.
RWBB: Mike, you seemed a little hesitant about doing this interview.
Mike: I have to admit that I feel a bit self-conscious doing this. I mean, I'm just a guy who has lots of opinions and gets very little sleep. I purposely keep my blog and my "about me" impersonal to keep the focus on baseball (and to assuage my wife's fears that some clod would stumble upon my site and be able to track me down). I don't even mention my last name. I think it was mentioned in a link once and other people picked it up.
RWBB: When did you begin following baseball?
Mike: I've been a baseball fan as far back as I can recall, but the first season that I remember distinctly was 1976. I was around 10. I remember keeping a scrapbook with box scores and day-to-day happenings for the Phillies. I was devastated when that Darth Vader of the diamond, Pete Rose, and his evil empire, the Big Red Machine, swept my Phils that year in the playoffs.
I still memorize numbers--at the deli, for takeout food, etc.--based on mid-Seventies Phillies jersey numbers (Number 23? Downtown Ollie Brown. Number 38? Larry Christenson. Number 40? Warren Brusstar.)
RWBB: Who was your favorite player as a kid growing up in Philly?
Mike: Greg "The Bull" Luzinski. Number 19. He was a big fan favorite with the Phils in the mid-Seventies, maybe because he looked like most of the fans at the game. Philly's that kind of town: John Kruk and little Lenny Dykstra became working-class heroes there. The Schmidts and Carltons seemed a little too esoteric or inaccessible though they merited respect.
Anyway, Luzinski had this big upper body and these little legs. He was a horrendous fielder in left and the Phils always threatened to move him to first but never did. He had this great straight-up stance, the first batting style I emulated. Ever since then, I have always gotten number 19 whenever I've done anything related to sports--intramural team, company softball team, etc. And "The Bull" was just a great nickname from an era in which it was still OK to give players nicknames.
RWBB: Speaking of numbers, what kind of impression did the man wearing #20 have on you?
Mike: Impression? My ultimate job would be to play third base for the Phillies but, as Austin Powers said, that train has sailed. Everyone growing up in Philly in the Seventies or Eighties wanted to be a third baseman. We would practice his bare-handed grabs and throws all the time. I remember doing that in the field, the Luzinski stance at bat (or Richie "The Hack" Hebner's when I attempted to switch-hit), and a combination of Steve Carlton's nervous tic on the mound into Gene Garber's corkscrew delivery.
Mike Schmidt is still the best player I've ever gotten to see on a regular basis. He was famously booed, on occasion, by the home fans in Philadelphia. I never booed him or any other player who was trying to help his team. I can, however, understand why they booed Schmidt.
Schmidt came in and batted .196 with something like 130 odd strikeouts in his first year and then became the best player in the National League. The fans were awestruck by him and placed all their hopes and expectations on every swing of his bat. It was too unrealistic.
RWBB: Those Philly fans are as tough as they get. They even booed Santa Claus once.
Mike: It goes back to Philly's basic inferiority complex because of its proximity and inherent inferiority to New York. It's a problem for Boston as well, but it at least has its own identity, which Philly lacks. I've lived in NYC, Philly, and Boston, so I've witnessed it.
Anyway, the Phils fans became so enamored of Michael Jack Schmidt (I have to say that in my Harry Kalas voice) that they expected, when Schmitty moved to first for a year, that his replacement, Rick Schu, would be a star, too. It was just assumed. Schu failed and was shipped to Baltimore. Schmidt moved back to third and then was replaced after he tearfully retired by the definition of mediocrity at third, Charlie Hayes. Schmidt replaced Cesar Tovar in '73 at third. That's the Phils for you, a vast wasteland of fungible Steve Jeltz types.
RWBB: Eighteen years of Mike Schmidt and a few years of Rick Schu, Steve Jeltz, and now David Bell is like going from one extreme to the other.
Mike: I like what Bill James said about him, that if he hit .320 instead of .270 he could have been the greatest ballplayer of all time. At .270, he was just the greatest third baseman of all time. People remember the homers, but he was a very good base runner before his knees went, hit well to all fields, and, I believe, was the best defensive third baseman of his era--better than Brooks Robinson. Another thing people forget is how much he developed as a hitter throughout his career. He was a better hitter after the age of 30 than before. He dropped the strikeouts.
RWBB: Speaking of swinging and missing, let's talk about your Joe Morgan Chat Day reviews.
Mike: They're fun. They're something that my college friend Mike and I started doing, just sending emails back and forth with the outrageous comments that Morgan said. It was before I had even heard of blogs and blogging. He just says the most gloriously, blatantly ludicrous statements. I wish Morgan no ill will. He seems like a nice guy after all. He is just sort of a symbol for poor baseball analysis. He beats the pants off of Steve Lyons though.
RWBB: Why do you think Morgan the ballplayer and Morgan the analyst are so diametrically opposed?
Mike: I guess it's just human nature. Why aren't there more great players who become great managers? Joe Morgan was a player who knew that working the count and, therefore, increasing the possibility of getting on base was an important way to help your team win. Yet, as an analyst, Joe downplays on-base percentage and overrates batting average and runs batted in. Go figure.
RWBB: What is the most outrageous comment that Li'l Joe has ever made?
Mike: There are so many, but I think the worst was his "I'm a baseball analyst, I see things that the average fan doesn't in a game" comment during the playoffs. I mean, c'mon.
There was also the time that someone questioned him on something he had said the previous day in his ESPN article about the Toronto offense and he denied it. The guy quoted the article verbatim, and Joe disavowed any knowledge of the statement. And he had just made it the day before.
RWBB: I don't think Joe is one to let facts get in the way of his opinions. My goodness, he still thinks Billy Beane wrote Moneyball.
Mike: Yeah, that was another good one. He said for two or three weeks straight that Beane wrote "Moneyball". He's commenting on something that he obviously did not read nor did he even have passing knowledge of. Someone at ESPN must have told him because the statements just stopped. Maybe they read my comments on Joe's Moneyball gaffe? Doubtful.
RWBB: How do you make it through the off-season without these chats?
Mike: My cousin asked me what I would do last year when there was a players' strike looming. I told him that sometimes the actual, pesky games get in the way. That I have all sorts of things that I want to hit that I never have time to get to because of all the damn games pulling me away. It's the same thing with the chat sessions: they're fun but exhausting and they monopolize my time. There's only so much sleep I can forego for the sake of baseball.
RWBB: Let's switch over to Joe's favorite topic--sabermetrics. (Laughs.) When did you begin analyzing baseball statistics?
Mike: I charted pitchers' performances on bar-graph paper starting in the 1976 season. I remember writing up stats-based team histories in junior high. It impressed the ladies.
I didn't really get turned on to Bill James until after college. But when I read his stuff, it just clicked for me. He had the same problem-based approach as I (math background, you know) except he is tremendously better at it. The thing I like best about James is that he is a storyteller. He just uses a lot of stats to help tell the stories.
RWBB: What are the most important metrics you use to evaluate hitters?
Mike: Hitting Win Shares is probably the best though it fails the Occam's Razor test. And somehow Albert Pujols was about 3 Win Shares ahead of Barry Bonds last year, so it's far from perfect. OPS+ and Runs Created are good, too.
RWBB: What are your favorite tools for comparing pitchers?
Mike: I think Support Neutral Wins Above Replacement Level is one of the best for starters and Adjusted Runs Prevented for relievers. Pitching Win Shares, league-adjusted ERA, WHIP, strikeouts-to-walks, strikeouts per nine innings. DIPS, Defense-Independent Pitching Stats, is a very interesting tool, but it is problematic in comparing pitchers and there is still some debate over its usefulness.
RWBB: Do you think OBP is superior to, equal to, or inferior to SLG as a singular measure of value?
Mike: Today it is superior. I ran a study some time ago that looked at every team since the advent of major-league ball and tried to find the stat that correlated to runs scored the best. I think that batting average was the best tool in the 19th Century and then OBP took over. Of course, OPS eclipsed OBP, I think, in the Twenties, but OBP has consistently been a better indicator of runs than slugging.
RWBB: Which GM "gets it" the most?
Mike: I guess this is where I invoke the name of Billy Beane. I think he really did revolutionize the GM position by coming up with a statistics-based approach to optimize performance. I think it's very interesting that it was borne of necessity. He needed to save money because of the financial limitations of the team. He developed an approach.
RWBB: Which ones don't get it at all?
Mike: If you mean among GMs, well, they've cleaned up their ranks pretty well in the last few years. Gone are Cam Bonifay , Dan Duquette, Steve Phillips, Jim Bowden, Randy Smith--did I forget anybody? The idea that you are going to turn over the reigns to some guy that most roto GMs could swindle the pants off of is obsolete or becoming so. Teams are starting to turn to men who have an approach based on factual information: Beane, Theo Epstein, J.P. Ricciardi, and their ilk. And you still have the traditionalists who do a decent job: Brian Sabean, Brian Cashman, Pat Gillick (until he forgot how to make a mid-season trade), and John Schuerholz.
Don't get me wrong, there are still a good number of bunglers about. Omar Minaya gets a free ride with every terrible trade because he's tied to the Expos. The guy goes through talent like Rush Limbaugh goes through pills. Milwaukee's Doug Melvin just exiled its best player, Richie Sexson, for a collection of Arizona's problematic players. It was like one of those ridiculous roto trades where an experienced GM fleeces a first-timer. The only difference is it would have been vetoed by another GM in a roto league. Talk about getting a Melvin. And then there's Ed Wade, who I'm still not convinced is anything more than a corporate shill. Jim Hendry, Chuck LaMar, Allard Baird, Dan O'Dowd, and Joe Garagiola Jr. don't do much to impress. It's getting harder to even evaluate transactions because some are made solely for financial reasons. Look at Schuerholz dumping Kevin Millwood last year for Johnny Estrada. That's a ridiculously bad trade, but Schuerholz's hands were tied. He had to get rid of Millwood because of the money involved, and Estrada was the best he could do.
If you are talking about who gets it in general, I don't think any of us do. I know I don't. Some are worse off than others but it's just a matter of degrees. It reminds me of that Donald Rumsfeld pearl of wisdom about knowing your known unknowns but not knowing your unknown unknowns. I think that we either put too much faith in numbers or none at all. Like Lili Von Shtupp, we've had our fill from below and above. We, even we sabermetricians, use numbers out of context or assume that because we adjust for the league, era, park, etc. all things are equal.
We take OPS and divide it by the league average and then divide it by the park factor. OK, that's a great stat, but how do we know that we can compare accurately across eras, especially when OPS's meaning has changed over time. Using OPS+ for 19th century players, it looks like Lip Pike, Ross Barnes, Cal McVey, and Dave Orr were almost as good as Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire.
The Pythagorean winning percentage, which uses runs for and against to calculate the expected number of wins for a team is a great tool, but it can be swayed by a team that scores a lot of runs in just a handful of games. I did a study about this last year. The Red Sox expected won-loss was over 5 games higher than the actual, and by isolating 8 games in which the Sox won by over 10 runs, I accounted for the shortfall.
Even when you try to compensate via standard deviations from the norm, you get unexpected results. Rob Neyer did this with his dynasties book a few years back. He took leagues of different sizes and compared the best teams' standard deviations above the norm. Well guess what? The teams from the expansion era looked better than the '27 Yankees. That's because as you add more teams, your standard deviation gets smaller. It has to. So the 1986 Mets look really great. You can't compare standard deviations across populations of different sizes.
Anyway, stats are tools and we should treat them as such. Some are better for certain situations and some are not. Look at another tool, a hammer. It's a perfect tool for what it does, but it does diddly for screws.
RWBB: I feel humbled.
Mike: Oh, and I forgot to mention my friends, the owners. Most certainly the owners and their leader Bud Selig don't get it. They are more concerned with driving down players' salaries than with attracting fans to the sport. They thank that promoting the game is analogous to tinkering with the home field advantage in the World Series by giving it to the All-Star winner. This was their brilliant solution to the tied All-Star game. Everything is a reactive, band-aid response. Anyway, baseball has arguably the greatest player in its history playing today, Barry Bonds. And they have no idea how to promote him.
Baseball's stat arm, Elias Sports Bureau, doesn't get it either. They should have been pioneering the stuff that Retrosheet has been doing on their own dime. They should be making as much historical data, including starter-reliever splits for pitchers and situational batting for position players, as a service to the fans. They can charge for it. Just make it available. Until we have all that, statistical analysis will be fragmented and research will be difficult to impossible.
RWBB: All right, Mike. It's time to make you GM for a day. You've got a budget of $60 million and $10 million is reserved for backup players. Based on last year's salaries, put together the best team possible for 2004 at each of the eight positions along with five starting pitchers and one bullpen ace.
Mike: $50 million for eight position players, a starting rotation, and a closer? What about the team mascot?
RWBB: Take the Rally Monkey, please.
Mike: OK. If it's based on last year's salaries regardless of contract situation, etc., and expectations for 2004 alone, how's this for starters:
And I'll go with Albert Pujols as a DH in case we play in the AL. I'll get to shortstop and left field later.
RWBB: I see where this is leading.
Mike: Of those players, only Wells (about $500 K) and Pujols (under $1 M) make much more than the league minimum. With these 7 players we have used about $3 M.
Now, pitching. Eric Gagne is the obvious choice for closer. He makes about a half-million. Starters: Mark Prior ($1.5 M), Barry Zito($1 M), Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano, and Brandon Webb (all around league minimum). I'll even add Esteban Loaiza ($500 K) for emergency duty. That's about $4.7 million for 7 pitchers.
So now, we've used $7.7 million and have over $40 million left.
Now back to SS and LF: Barry Bonds, LF ($15 M) and Alex Rodriguez ($25 M). You've got an extra $2.3 million or so to spend on the bench and the minors and just signed the two best players as well as two of the most expensive. This team has All-Stars or potential All-Stars at every position.
RWBB: That's an awesome team. You might be able to afford the players on that budget. But how about your scouts? Man, those guys deserve huge raises.
Mike: I think this team would do pretty well for itself. 120 wins and a starting rotation that puts Palmer, McNally, Cuellar, and Dobson to shame are not out of the question.
RWBB: Switching gears here. In reviewing your "About Me" page, I noticed you listed Cal Ripken as one of the most overrated players of all time, yet you have included him on your all-time all-star team among players you have seen.
Mike: Ripken was a great ballplayer and he started a revolution in the way people view the shortstop position. That said, Ripken didn't save baseball. Jimmy Stewart plunged into those icy waters and saved baseball all those years ago before baseball showed him what life would be like without him and in turn saved him. Ripken had a lot of up and down years and he was just about an average hitter after turning 30. I think if he hadn't been a slave to The Streak, he would have been a more productive ballplayer all around. But then again, it's what made him such a big name.
RWBB: I was also fascinated to find out that Rube Foster and Monte Ward were two of your baseball heroes. Tell us about these pioneers.
Mike: John Montgomery Ward was just a larger than life personality that somehow got forgotten. He was a great pitcher and then when his arm gave out he became a great shortstop. That was just the start for him. He was a highly successful, Columbia-educated lawyer. He started the players' brotherhood that would eventually split from major league baseball and create its own league, the Players' National League, in 1890. He challenged the reserve clause decades before Curt Flood. He eventually bought an interest in the Braves and became their president. He almost became the NL president but lost by one vote due to old enmities. How bizarre is that? Imagine Marvin Miller being named commissioner now.
Andrew Foster is perhaps the most tragic figure in baseball history. He was the greatest African-American pitcher of his era and was in the top two or three in Negro League history. There are apocryphal stories of Foster teaching Christy Mathewson his famous "fadeaway" pitch. He then turned to managing and led one of the greatest black teams in history, the Chicago Leland Giants. Foster moved quickly into team ownership taking over the Leland Giants and winning a lawsuit from the ersatz team owner, Frank Leland, even though the team still bore his name.
Foster created the Chicago American Giants in 1911. He was a great innovator, employing any and all strategies to win a game. He was credited with inventing a number of them. He was also one of the most disciplined managers of all time. He was also a great showman, drumming up interest in his team as they traveled from town to town.
He, of course, founded and ran the first successful black league, the Negro National League, in 1920. But he had been invited to join other attempted leagues. He just wouldn't do it until the situation was right. He was adamant about all black ownership but was open-minded enough to include the Kansas City Monarchs with white owner J.L. Wilkinson in the NNL (and he had a white business partner on the American Giants). He had such a disciplined mind that he could remember the finances of the league down to line items like balls and such. I loved the NNL motto: We are the ship, all else the sea.
Foster was tragic, in the Greek sense, because his great mind was his eventual undoing. He went mad dealing with the incongruity of being arguably the best person on the planet in so many facets of the game and yet not being able to compete at the highest rung because of something he had no control over and couldn't change--his skin color. Just imagine Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Bill Veeck, and Ban Johnson merged into one. And yet the powers that be in the Hall didn't see fit to honor him until the early Eighties.
RWBB: Thanks, Mike. You are truly a baseball historian extraordinnaire.
Check back on Sunday for Part Two of the interview. Mike is going to tell us which players should and shouldn't go into the Hall of Fame.
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