Archive for January, 2005

…. And while we’re at it

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge and show my appreciation for two writers. First, Richard Lederer has taken the time to write a full review for each of the 12 Baseball Abstracts written by the Godfather of all baseball blogs, Bill James. Rich’s efforts are simply stellar, I found myself reliving the glorious pleasure I experienced when I was first exposed to James in the mid-eighties. Th Abstracts were a revelation, a stunning expose’ of the dynamics behind the scenes in the game I loved.

In fact, I loved baseball more after reading them. Rich’s reviews are outstanding, and deserve your attention. For those of you who weren’t there when James exploded on the baseball world, the reviews will help give you a sense of what it was like. For those of you who were, they’re a great trip down memory lane. And the last review, of the last Abstract, finishes with Bill’s exit, stage right letter.

…. Because it is time to go, friends. I’m breakin’ the wand, exit stage right. I hereby release any and all of my formulas, theories, and other systems of analysis to any other analyst who wishes to use them and call them by name (runs created, value approximation method, etc.) either for private or economic use, even by Elias should they so desire. I’ll be doing other things, writing other books. I won’t be hard to find. I hope that some of you will enjoy those other books. I know that some of you won’, and that’s all right, too. It’s been good.

Bill James
Sabermetrician, Retired
February 1988

As Rich points out, it was better than good, it was revolutionary. Bill James changed the game of baseball for the better, in ways to numerous to count. Thanks to Rich for the work in reviewing the Abstracts, and many many thanks to Bill for writing them.

…. You talkin’ to me?

…. Movers and shakers

That would be the NY Mets, who, according to NYFansites, have reached an agreement to sign Carlos Beltran to a seven year, $112 million dollar contract. David Pinto says the deal is a good one for the Mets, comparing it to the bank-breakers that A-Rod and Manny Ramirez got.

For the Mets, landing Pedro Martinez and now Beltran, (if NYFansites has it right), arguably the best pitcher and best hitter on the market, puts the team in terrific position for a big 2005. With the middle of the infield in good hands with Kaz moving to second and Reyes back where he belongs, Beltran in center, and a pretty damn good rotation, the Mets can turn their attention to upgrading the bullpen and landing a first baseman. Omar Minaya has certainly made a splash since taking over, making the team look like a legitimate organization for the first time in quite a while.

In my eyes, the Randy Johnson deal was the only deal the Yankees had to make. Getting Jared Wright and Carl Pavano and Tony Womack and Mike Stanton made little sense once Johnson was on board; and if those deals are the reason the Yankees didn’t pursue Beltran; they will probably be haunted by them for years to come. They are old, slow, and actually need a player like Beltran in center field, now and for the next several seasons.

That said, is Carlos Beltran really worth $16 million dollars a season? I’m looking at his stats page, and he’s certainly got some nice looking numbers, but $112 million dollars is an awfully big investment for a player with a career OPS of .843, who’s never posted a .400 on-base percentage, who’s had a batting average above .300 twice (.307 and .306), who’s never had 200 hits, or 40 home runs or 100 walks or driven in more than 105 RBI, even in today’s era of inflated offense.

What Beltran offers is perhaps more subtle; top-level defense, speed, pretty much the prototypical five-tool type of player. Still, that’s a huge commitment for someone who doesn’t really do one thing terrifically; but does a lot of things very well. Amid speculation and rumors that Beltran may not be well-suited for the pressure of NY, this deal has some potential to be another Mets disaster, but that’s hard to see now. Minaya has stolen some of Boston’s thunder, and some of Steinbrenner’s back page. Now we’ll see if he’s put together a winner.

Update: Larry Manhken has similar Yankees thoughts in this rant at the Hardball Times.

…. Hall of Fame, Part II

Over at Baseball Prospectus, Joe Sheehan has written a piece on the Hall of Fame voting process. In the column, (which I believe may be Premium only) he echoes much of Bill James’ Politics of Glory argument that the list of people who are eligible to vote for the Hall should be expanded and that the voting process should be upgraded and improved.

To that I say, hear hear. As Sheehan and James have pointed out, the list of qualified people who don’t vote is immeasurably huge. Why is that?

It is time for a new system. Bill James proposed a very reasonable program of rigorous testing for anyone interested in becoming a voter. That’s a good start. The problem is that the voters enjoy the exclusivity, (which in itself isn’t a bad thing). But the voters happiness isn’t the issue. The Hall of Fame isn’t for the voters, or, for that matter, for the players. It’s for the fans. And anything that can be done to improve it should be considered.

…. Hall of Fame

David Pinto notes the inductions of Ryne Sandberg and Wade Boggs into the Hall of Fame today. As I was driving just now, I was listening to Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN, (here in NY). These guys are widely recognized as the best radio sports talk show guys in the country, and I found myself shouting at the radio as I listened to their amazingly uninformed debate on the different guys who have been close but no cigar these last couple of years.

The players who they seemed to be the most well-informed about happened to be Don Mattingly and Kirby Puckett. I’ve written a couple of times about how Mattingly compares favorably to Puckett, and for the most part, the radio hosts echoed most of what I have already pointed out; Mattingly was the best player in baseball for about three years, Puckett never was. Puckett’s career came to an abrupt end, meaning he had no noticable decline phase for the writers to hold against him; Mattingly hurt his back and was never the same…. Both Mike and Chris agreed that neither player was a true Hall of Famer, and I think that’s pretty accurate.

But what both failed to acknowledge (among about fifty things) is that 3000 hits isn’t the test for Hall of Fame worthiness, neither is 300 wins. The line (for lack of a better word) is much lower than that. 500 home runs isn’t the line, .300 batting average isn’t the line. The Hall of Fame has never had anything resembling a consensus on what a Hall of Famer is or isn’t. A Hall of Famer has always been just that, a Hall of Famer. There are singles hitter with short careers in the Hall. There are pitchers with short careers and less than 250 wins in there. There are power hitters with less than 300 home runs.

Whatever. The biggest aggravation came when both Francesca and Russo began stating that Jim Rice was the one player they felt should be in the Hall who currently isn’t. Rice’s candidacy isn’t absurd, but he certainly isn’t the most qualified guy not in. You have to take into account that Rice played half of his games in the easiest place to hit in all of baseball. Without Fenway, he’d have no support for the Hall. With Fenway, he’s borderline. For Russo and Francesca to not even acknowledge this is ridiculous.

Anyway, congrats to Sandberg and Boggs.

…. All in

The Giants, under Brian Sabean’s leadership, have assembled what many have suggested could be the oldest starting lineup in baseball history. Baseball history being long, and my time being short, I haven’t bothered to look up whether that is true or not; in reality, it hardly matters. The team is very old, and we know enough about old athletes to know that an old team is a risky proposition.

In particular, the signings of Omar Vizquel to play short, and Mike Matheny to catch represent perhaps the most risky of the deals, as they play high stress, high risk positions. Add into the mix the fact that both players find themselves in the beginnings of what Bill James calls the “decline phase” of their respective careers; and you begin to be struck by the seeming inevitability of this season ending up as bad as the previous two; with the Giants undone by one or two breakdowns.

A managers job is to put his players in the best possible situations relative to each players abilities. You don’t ask Neifi Perez to pinch-hit when you need a three-run homer, and you don’t use Cody Ransom as a late-inning defensive specialist, (if you can avoid it); because that is a poor use of their abilities.

One aspect of a general managers job is to build a team using the financial resources available to him in the most judicious and efficient way possible. However important he may feel one player, or type of offensive philosophy, or emotional makeup might be; all of these things need to be measured against what the team can reasonably afford. If you pay one guy $20 million, you will need to make very astute decisions on the other 24 guys, because they will need to be very cost-effective.

Another aspect of a GM’s job is to provide the manager with a group of players whose combined talents and abilities address as many possible needs the manager may have. If your corner infielders have no stick, that’s OK if your outfielders are above-average. You can mitigate, to some degree, a lack of speed, if everyone has a solid reputation with the leather. And so on. A GM who fails to assemble a flexible and balanced team has failed in his job, regardless of why. (Let me address ‘why.’ Why doesn’t matter in the arena of results. Results matter. Nobody cares that a gnat flew in your eye, causing you to strikeout. All they care about is the strikeout.) When last season’s Yankees went into the year without enough left-handed pitching, Brian Cashman failed. It took 165 games until it bit the Yankees in the ass, but in the end, it proved to be perhaps the biggest mistake of Cashman’s career.

Brian Sabean’s failure to provide the 2004 Giants with an adequate relief corps has to be considered the greatest failure of his career, even taking into account . The Giants headed into the season banking that Robb Nen’s shoulder was healthy again, even though there was no evidence to support that hope. Sabean’s backup plan, Wayne Herges, was inexcusably inadequate, as Herges’ production to that point in his career could charitably be called adequate. To pin a team’s championship hopes on such a player; in fact, to take a $120 million dollar investment, (a rough estimate of what it costs to run the team for a season), and push forward with such a tremendous, obvious weakness in such a key area would get you or me fired in about fifteen minutes.

Sabean did not get fired, nor was his job ever in any real jeapordy, (so it seemed). By all rights, this should be his “put up or shut up” season. His failure to win a championship despite having a decade of Superman has to be held up for consideration, and he must be held accountable. (And I’ll give him the gravy points for 2002. It’s fairly obvious that the Giants caught the bad beat of all-time in Game 6) Since then, this team has been remade and retooled and reorganized and it’s all under his direction. Should the Giants find themselves watching the playoffs again, after a season of one injury after another; Brian Sabean must be held accountable. Backloaded contracts or not, the money spent on this collection of thirty-somethings could have been allocated to younger, faster players; on this point there can be no debate. If they can afford $25 million dollars on has-beens, they could have gotten some of the younger talent out there. They didn’t.

The success of the Giants in 2005 is on Brian Sabean, more this year than ever before. He is all-in with a K,10 off-suit, before the flop. I don’t do that unless I’m short stacked, and as far as I can tell, Sabean wasn’t. For the Giants to win it all, they’ll need to draw out; and as TJ Cloutier will tell you, draws are death.

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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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