Archive for April, 2004

…. Ouch

Well, the Giants are getting pasted 7-0, in the fifth, as Jason Schmidt has given up seven hits and seven runs. Bonds is 0 for 1 with a walk, but with the score so lopsided, he'll probably get two more at bats to try and tie the major league record for homers in consecutive games. Other than that, wow, this te

am is in a complete free fall right now.

Update: I guess not. Padres manager Bruce Bochy, legendary tough guy, proclaimed before last night's game that he wouldn't shy away from going after Barry. So what does he have his pitchers do with a 7-0 and then an 8-0 lead? Walk Barry on four pitches both times. Loser.


…. The Famous Professor Albert

Over at the Sports Economist, Skip has a post about the famous Professor Albert.

…. part of the Bonds-McGwire uptick late in their career can be attributed to a league-wide increase in the propensity to hit home runs, coincident with their reaching an advanced age. But this observation gives too little credit to Bonds and McGwire – compare the dark and light lines in the charts. These guys lapped the field – their contemporaries – at ages when the performance of their predecessors declined. Professor Albert is right: something's going on, and I'd wager much of it is benign. While it would be great to talk about these feats without reference to the S-word, unfortunately, it ain't gonna happen.

Well, what I didn't get into is that there are many reasons why Bonds' or McGwire's home run totals could be going up as compared to Mays' and Aaron's time. Here's a few:

1. Ballparks are smaller. Just about every time a team has moved to a new ballpark, it's added home runs to the league. (Three exceptions, maybe the only three, are PacBell, Safeco, and the Tigers new park)

2. Advances in training and technology have increased exponentially over the last ten years. Video, coaching, weight training, yoga, … for crying out loud, the top players have batting cages at home, they train year round now. You can get very strong lifting weights, you know. You don't have to take steroids.

3. Sure Bonds, Sosa and McGwire have broken through, but there have always been two or t

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hree players in an era that do so, that's why they're the best. But they haven't been alone. Home run records for shortstop and catcher have been broken in the last several years. Jeff Kent has just finished one of the greatest power hitting and RBI runs a second baseman has ever had. Guys have been taking runs at .400, come on, lots of hitting has been going on.

4. Bats have changed dramatically in the last decade, as computer technology has allowed manufacturers to make the handles thinner than ever, allowing players to whip the head of the bat through the strike zone with more force than ever before.

5. Many players have said that since the players strike ended, baseballs have been harder than ever before. Is it really that much of a stretch to think that MLB wanted to see more home runs because they knew offense fills the seats?

I'm not saying that all of these reasons are dead on, but taken as a whole, it makes the changes in the game seem less striking. My criticism of Professor Albert's “study” is that home runs don't occur in a vaccum. The % of home runs hit per ball in play is an essentially worthless stat, because it ignores all of these (and countless others I've forgotten or haven't heard of yet) factors.

Hank Aaron moved to Atlanta just as he was beginning to decline. When he did, he went from a tough place to hit home runs to a launching pad, which allowed him to break Ruths record. Had he stayed in Milwaukee, he almost certainly would not have done so. How does Prf. Albert account for that?

Steroids is the only answer for the offensive upswing because it sells papers. Real answers are complex and require actual reading, something virtually no one does anymore.


…. Up & Coming

Scrolling through some of the backtalk, I came across this excellent rant by a reader who referred to himself as Another John:

Count me as one of those in the camp that are now at the point of saying “Bring on a 70 win season!!”

Yeah, you heard me, bring on a good 70 win season. It’s the only thing which will get rid of the current management philosophy, now extended through 2005.

Let’s go ’round the horn.

AJ is a nice enough player at his pre-arbitration price. There is no way he is going to play up to his 2004 price tag and even a horrible year won’t make too much of a dent in the 2005 figure. It isn’t hindsight to suggest that the job should have gone to Torrealba, every serious fan was assuming it. Not because Yorvit was going to set the world on fire, but because he was better than most of what was available and we all assumed that resources would be spent to upgrade elsewhere.

Snow. Someone explain to me why Brad Fullmer isn’t playing 1st? Not satisfied with the buyer’s remorse which hit most of the Giants faithful (and I would have thought most of the front office) after his first big Giants contract, we’re back with a guy whose torrid 2004 is a whopping .214 and a precocious 11 Ks in 42 AB. Yes, Virginia, cute old JT strikes out more than once every four ABs.

Durham. Not a bad thing to say about this guy. He’s hurt. S–t happens. (editors note: He’s hurt a lot)

Neifi. This guy will never get more ABs than he will get in 2004, you can bank on it. Take out his one good performance in Houston and we have the same Neifi everyone chuckled about when he was originally signed.

Alfonzo- I was one of the supporters of bringing this guy on board. And lest the David Bell chants begin, Bell’s 2003 (AVG/OBP/SLG) was .195/.296./.283! He appears to be rebounding a bit so far this year, but consensus is that he hit the lottery in Philly. So, the fault was not in the initial signing. It’s in placing so much faith in him for 2004. I think we’re going to see another 2003 for Alfonzo.

LF – No comment.

CF – Grissom. The only field player not named Bonds who is pulling his weight. A real find at his age, no doubt about it. And although this is a skill that is worth having as a GM, I’d much prefer the guy who can get a player who will give a good 8-10 years production to a franchise than the guy who can find that last, missing veteran piece. More on this below.

RF – Tucker/Mohr/Hammonds. An unmitigated disaster. Collectively hitting .200 right now with little chance of ever sending it over .250. I think the “we didn’t want a 1st round draft pick” rationale for Tucker is perhaps the lamest or scariest thing I’ve heard in quite some time.

The biggest recent flaw with the Giants has been their lack of position player talent rising to the major league level. Having to fill the openings the Giants have had recently exclusively through free agents or trades will kill any team not named the Yankees or Red Sox. Any serious baseball businessperson would know this. And yet, the Giants give away a high draft choice to a guy who would have likely been released the next day? Larry Baer was on KNBR at the end of last year preaching about how the Marlins and Angels proved that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to win a Series. True, but the common element with both of those clubs is that they had a heck of a lot of home-grown talent. Cheap, young, but talented home-grown talent. Not only do the Giants not have this, but they may be years away from having it if the “we’d rather have Tucker than pay a 1st round draft choice” mentality continues.

The consistent pattern of mismanagement which has characterized this franchise has been papered over since 2000 in a series of transfusion trades and signings. There are too many holes in the dike, however. I called the Tucker trade rationale scary because I haven’t even heard of teams such as Milwaukee being in such dire financial straits that they’re literally giving away 1st round picks.

John, there is nothing short of a housecleaning which can save this team. I’d hate to see the Giants in a position where they hurt the team more via futile deadline deals like last year’s Ponson disaster.

And here’s the real scary part. Assuming that the Giants are 10 games out of it as we approach the deadline, who on the Giants can anyone even envision some other club wanting to acquire?

Other than Bonds and Schmidt, I fear the answer is nobody.

Hear hear. Hey John, send me an email. I’d love to have you on board as one of my writers. Seriously.

As for your terrific argument, never forget that a team owns the first 6 years of a players career; that is, the first 6 years of a players career that they drafted. That’s how come the A’s paid Barry Zito $250,000 for a Cy Young Award. How the Yankees paid Soriano a total of $3 million dollars for his first 95 home runs. I could go on and on.

John’s point is dead on, and I have been slowly coming around to the same belief; there is a major flaw in the philosophical approach to building a team, top to bottom, that Sabean and Baer have been using. Without Bonds’ superhuman efforts over the last decade, the Giants would have been one of the biggest disappointments in all of baseball.

Right now, there roster is a joke, a collection of has-beens and never-was players who are, quite frankly, laughingly over-paid and under performing. Is there one or two players out there who could get them over the hump? Sure. A-Rod would have trasnformed the entire lineup. Guerrero would have too. If you’re gonna put your team together like the Cleveland Indians in the movie Major League, you’d better have more than one stud.

The Giants don’t.

…. Don’t tug on Superman’s cape

Although the Dodgers sure seemed to get away with it, after their third one-run win over the G-men yesterday. With the 7-6 loss, the Giants have a 5-7 record and are looking up at the first place Dodgers (9-3). Bonds hit his 6th and 7th home runs, went 4 for 4, drove in 5 runs, and has that 2001 look again.

As for the rest of the team, well, you heard it here first, and you’re gonna hear it again. Get used to this. No team can win with just defense, I don’t care how great Neifi Perez’s arm is, or how stupendous JT Snow’s glove is, or how great a jump Marquiss Grissom gets…. Just about every study ever done on winning baseball comes to the same conclusion; you need to get on base a lot to win games. Defense is maybe ten percent of the formula.

But when you do talk about defense, you find that defense is mostly pitching, and as brilliantly examined by Voros McCracken a while back, there are straightforward ways to analyze a pitchers ability to prevent runs. The boys at Baseball Prospectus call it defensive efficiency, and it’s deceptively simple:

You look at the number of batters faced, number of hits allowed, and then you subtract home runs, strikeouts and walks. Divide the two, and presto, a new way to look at a teams ability to pick it and throw it. Let’s look at the 2003 season.

Seattle led the AL with a .7312 DE, which means that 73% of all balls in play were turned into outs against the Mariners. The Giants(!) led the NL, with a .7117 DE. That sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Hold on, because there’s more to think about. First off, the difference between the best and the worst teams just isn’t that much, really.

The worst AL team at turning balls in play into outs was Texas, with a DE of .6876. OK, what does that tell us? The Mariners turned 73% of fair balls into outs, the Rangers turned 68% of fair balls into outs. During the course of any one game, that probably translates into maybe two extra outs, extending one or two innings. But wait, there’s more.

The Mariners and Rangers pitching staffs both struck out over 1000 batters. Both teams allowed about 500 walks (the Rangers a few more), both allowed a pretty good number of home runs (173 for the Mariners, 208 for the Rangers), the Rangers allowed 1624 hits, the Mariners allowed 1339. So, we are left with a pretty clear picture of the difference between those two team pitching staffs; the Mariners gave up fewer hits (giving them such a nice DE), but they also allowed fewer home runs and walks, which translated to a much better record, ERA, etc..

So what does that have to do with the 2004 Giants? I’ll tell you.

The Giants have undergone a pretty radical transormation the last three or four seasons. We know they’ve lost a huge number of home runs, OBA, and OPS. More importantly, they’ve gone from a pitching staff that had struck out a respectable number of hitters, to a disaster waiting to happen. The Giants made what I believe was a huge error when they decided to bet on Kirk Rueter (well below league average K/IP) instead of Russ Ortiz (above league average K/IP). They further compounded that error by trading away pitchers with solid strikeout ratios, and picking up more guys like Rueter, guys who nibble and try to induce grounders. This strategy is provably wrong, and there can be no doubt as to what the problem has been for the Giants pitching staff so far this season.

They don’t strike anybody out.

In 2000, they averaged 6.64 strikeouts per game.
In 2001, they averaged 6.66 strikeouts per game.
In 2002, they averaged 6.16 strikeouts per game.
In 2003, they averaged 6.17 strikeouts per game.
In 2004, they average 4.00 strikeouts per game.

This drop off is obviously attributable to the loss of Schmidt, and Nen (especially last season); but also to the addition of some below league average strikeout guys. Guys like Jerome Williams, Hermanson and Tomko (around 4 strikeouts per start) not only don’t strike out many hitters, they also allow a lot of home runs, a devastating one-two punch. They have pitches that move fast enough, they have the requisite arsenal of off-speed pitches, curves etc., needed to be in the majors, but the deadly combination of allowing just one or two more batters in each game to reach base, and then giving up home runs; is more than enough to doom them (and the team) to mediocrity.

This is the untold story of the Giants 2004 season so far, and even if Schmidt regains his Cy Young-level form of the last two seasons; its only every five days. The rest of the time, the Giants are going to struggle to get off the field, and the relievers are going to be wiped out, all the time. Add in the woeful offensive performances of virtually every player other than Bonds; and its starting to look exactly as I feared: Bonds’ exploits are going to be the only thing keeping the fans in their seats.

Brian Sabean has his work cut out for him right now. He needs to upgrade both the offense and the pitching; and his million dollars here, a million dollars there approach to putting this team together has hamstrung him completely. It’s looking like a long season right now.

…. New friend

I was contacted by J. Craig Williams, who runs a legal blog called May it please the Court. In this post, J. Craig takes a short-hand stab at the steroids and baseball issue. Most of the time, he just takes a wry look at the legal doings in America. He’s quite the writer, actually.

He’s headling my Odds & Ends section, there on the lower right.

…. You’re kidding, right?

The SF Chronicle’s Carl T. Hall, the papers Science Writer wrote a story about a home run “study” done by Professor Jim Albert, of Bowling Green university that purports to show that home run hitters today are peaking later. In the study, Professor Albert used a metric he called “ability-driven”, that is, the ability to hit home runs. Anyway, read it and laugh.

Not unlike the complaints Michael Lewis had after publishing Moneyball, it shows just how far from convention the things that outsiders, like most of us in the baseball blogosphere, really are.

Update:In Peter Gammons’ column today, if you go all the way to the bottom, you’ll read this:

For history’s sake, the home run rate in Major League Baseball from 1954 through 1976 — essentially the careers of Willie Mays and Henry Aaron — was one homer per 44 at-bats. The rate from 1993, when Barry Bonds first hit 43 homers, through this week was one homer per 32 at-bats. Thank you, Elias Sports Bureau.

Ummm… Peter, what about Professor Albert’s “study?”

…. More more more

Stephen A. Smith writes about Barry Bonds’ supposed tainted legacy in today’s Philadelphia Enquirer. He asks why Bonds is subject to such a groundswell of indignation and scrutiny while Mark McGwire was not. I just saw him interviewed on ESPN, and he pointed out several reasons why he felt this was so: Bonds is noted as having an adversarial relationship with the press, times have changed, and of course, Bonds is black. I think Smith is right on all counts, but the one that stands out for me is his poor relationship with the media.

I can’t help but think that Barry’s difficulties with the scribes are being turned against him full force, as if the men covering his career for all these years are glad to have a chance to make him pay for being so difficult. You say bosh? Really. Let me ask you this; if Bonds had hit only 53 home runs in 2001 instead of 73, would there be so much speculation that he’s a cheat? His home run totals, year by year, would thus look like this….

16, 25, 24, 19, 33, 25, 34, 46, 37, 33, 42, 40, 37, 34, 49, 53, 46, 45

Instead of this….

16, 25, 24, 19, 33, 25, 34, 46, 37, 33, 42, 40, 37, 34, 49, 73, 46, 45

One little change, and presto, there’s no evidence of cheating. I’ve heard, and have made, the argument that McGwire didn’t demonstrate any evidence of cheating, because his yearly home run totals didn’t show the type of distortion that Barry’s do. Well, I wonder. Because Barry hit 20 more home runs than he “should have” in 2001, a year in which, by the way, more home runs were hit than ever before, he is now the subject of a non-stop onslaught of negative publicity, the likes of which a baseball player hasn’t seen since Ted Williams retired. I wonder if he almost wishes he hadn’t broken the record.

PS…. Sorry Sadie. I just can’t stop.

….. Legally speaking

….. The specimen

Barry Bonds hit career home run 661 last night, moving past his Godfather, Willie Mays, into sole possession of third place on the career home run list. Amidst all of the hoopla, tonight happened to be my Mom’sbirthday, and I was out to dinner with the family when it happened.

Me, my Dad and my brother started talking about Bonds, and I was stunned to learn that both of them believed without a doubt that Bonds and Giambi, in particular, used steroids. They both pretty much spouted the standard line, look how big he is, there’s no way he could be this good without cheating, etc., pretty much the same crap all of these sportswriters have been saying over and over. That’s what happens when WFAN’s Mike & the Maddog say that they know that Bonds took steroids, and they repeat it over and over, drilling it home as fact, when in reality; it’s little more than slander and libel, the lowest form of yellow journalism.

Sort of what Murray Chass is doing in today’s NY Times editorial on the subject:

Barry Bonds, who hit his 661st home run last night and now trails only Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth, has denied using steroids, but he hasn’t convinced everybody. An unprecedented torrent of 213 home runs in four seasons covering his late 30′s can have that effect.

After Bonds hit the 660th of his career Monday, tying Willie Mays, ESPN provided periodic live reports from its anchor and three baseball analysts, but none of them mentioned steroids and at least the possibility that steroids have contributed to his late-career outburst, or whether his accomplishments would be tainted by the suspicion of steroids use.

…. The owners, however, have had opportunities to try to act against steroids and have declined to do so. They have made no effort to use the “reasonable-cause testing” provision in the current collective bargaining agreement.

Under the provision, if someone has reasonable cause to believe that a player has used steroids in the previous 12 months, he can submit the player’s name to the health-policy advisory committee.

The committee consists of a physician and a lawyer from each side (clubs and players). If a majority of the members says reasonable cause exists, the player is tested within 48 hours, whether or not he has already been tested that season. If the vote is 2 to 2, the committee’s medical representatives appoint a fifth member, also a physician, and he casts the deciding vote without knowing the identity of the player.

So, does MLB have reasonable cause to go after Bonds? I don’t see how. Guilt by association is hardly reasonable cause, and other than that, there’s been nothing but insinuation and speculation on the subject. I am waiting for the Sports Law guy to give me his take on the subject, when he does, I’ll let you know. For now, I am too bummed to say any more.

…. 660

History was made at Pac Bell again, as Barry Bonds hit his 660th home run into McCovey Cove to lead the Giants to a 7-5 win over the Brewers. So much has been said and written about it that I’ll leave it alone for now.

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I will say, however, that it was a titanic moon blast.

Here’s an ESPN game recap, and here’s a Willie Mays angle, and here’s Rob Neyer talking about Barry catching Ruth. Savor this moment, this is the real deal, baseball history at its’ highest level.

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
None of the opinions expressed should be construed as being endorsed by the
San Francisco Giants, Major League Baseball, or any other organization mentioned herein.

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