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Archive for February, 2005


…. Off-base or on?

I have to say, David Pinto manages to read a lot of work. He almost always beats me to an article. That won’t stop me from linking to him and what-not, but he sure is quick.

Today, he writes about a lineup construction piece for Baseball Prospectus Premium subscribers, written by James Click. Click and Pinto both found that stacking your lineup in descending order of OBP was the most effective way to put it together, sort of in line with my desire to see Bonds bat in the first inning. But based on their conclusions, It’d be interesting to see the Giants put together a lineup with three good hitters batting 7th, 8th and 9th, and Bonds leading off. Using their OBP, I’d like to see something like:

Bonds .609
Alfonzo .350
Grissom .323
Alou .361
Pitcher .250 (?)
Matheny .292
Durham .364
Vizquel .353
Snow .429

Now that would be unconventional. The at-bats he’d gain as a leadoff hitter, as opposed to batting cleanup (I’d guess between 60 and 100), would be offset by the 90 or so first inning AB’s with men on. But the Giants would have their first batter of the game reach base twice as often as normal. Seems like that would be a big advantage. I’d love to see it for a month. Maybe David can run it through his computer, I’ll ask him and let you know what he says.

Update: David emailed me back. I read his piece wrong, it’s not his program. I sent an email to James asking him to do it. We’ll see what he says.

As an aside, I must mention that I failed to read the whole Click article earlier. He did do a Bonds-type lineup, but he didn’t give the computer Bonds the same super-powers that the real Bonds has, and that lineup didn’t really stand out as particulary efficient. D’oh!



…. Expose’

And speaking of talk that got things started, now we find out that the FBI warned MLB about steroids use way back in 1995. Again, not to put too fine a point in it, but how was a story like this ignored for ten years? How come no reporter covering baseball had the scoop on this, oh I don’t know, within a year or so of it happening?



…. Odds & Ends


…. Just wondering


…. Go fourth

El Lefty Malo has a quick note about Felipe Alou’s intended Opening Day lineup, (he picked it up at yesterday’s Giants luncheon). Anyway, the lineup would be:

Durham
Vizquel
Snow/Feliz
Bonds
Alou
Alfonzo
Grissom
Matheny
Pitcher

What happened to Alou batting cleanup? What happened to getting Barry to the plate in every first inning? I guess we’re back to using JT Snow as if he’s one of the best hitters in the league again, since he’s had his once every five years run of a half-season of good hitting.

Don’t these guys have access to the same stats we do? I mean, seriously, isn’t there anyone working for the team with a computer, who can go to ESPN’s stats page and figure out how to put a lineup together? Here’s your OBM lineup card, with actual stats to suggest there’s a plan:

Durham .364 OBP
Snow .429 OBP
Bonds Hello?
Alou 78 extra base hits
Feliz 58 extra base hits
Grissom 90 RBI
Matheny (whatever he does is gravy)
Vizquel (somebody has to bat between Matheny and the pitcher)
Pitcher

Actually, once the first inning is over, you have an essentially random batting order for the rest of the game. Of course, this is why it’s so important to have Bonds at the plate in every first inning, since the first inning is the only inning in which you have a choice. Batting Bonds third is saying, hey, if I have a choice, I want him to bat last. Batting him fourth is saying that in rougly 1/3 of your games, Bonds will not only not come to the plate in the first inning; but that he will lead off the second.

This is not a tragedy, at least the Giants will have someone with a little bit of a track record of hitting well with a man on, but in reality; it is a poor trade-off. If Barry’s walked with two outs and nobody on in the top of the first, (something that might happen a couple of times this year, I don’t know), Alou still gets the same opportunity he would if Barry’s walked leading off the second. Here’s what I wrote over a year ago:

How do we determine what percentage of the time your order should be succesful? Well, I am a dunderhead, so I did some dunderhead calculations, using the following as my premise: Durham, Aurilia and Cruz all will be held to be able to reach base approximately 35% of the time they go to the plate. So, if you run that out in reverse, looking at out-making percentages, you would see that 65%x65%x65%=28%.

That means that 28% if the time, or 45 games or so, Bonds will not bat in the first inning at all. The inverse should be that something like 72% of the time, he will come to the plate with at least one man on in the first inning, or 117 times, (4% of the time, or 6 or 7 times, he would come to the plate with the bases loaded). These are rough calculations, but I’d say that on first glance they look OK. So, with Bonds batting fourth rather than third, you trade 45 first inning appearances for 117 or so men on base opportunities. What about when he bats third?

Well, using the same simple numbers, you get 65%x65%=42%. 42% of the time, or 68 games or so, Bonds should bat in the first inning with 2 outs and nobody on. The converse would be the 94 games or so he’ll come to the plate with at least one runner on.

So, with Bonds batting third, you are guaranteed 162 at bats in the first inning, 162 times when your absolute best hitter comes to the plate in the first inning, the most important scoring inning of the game, including approximately 90 times when he’ll bat with men on base in that first inning. With him in the cleanup slot, you’re looking at 45 games or so when he will miss the first inning completely.

Batting 3rd 94 games with at least one man on in the first inning, 162 games batting in the first inning

Batting 4th 117 games with at least one man on in the first inning, 117 games batting in the first inning

Towards the end of 2003, I did a follow-up piece in which I concluded that my rough calculations were dead-on. The trade-off is barely 20 more men on base opportunites vs. 50 more first inning at-bats.

This is old news. Somebody ought to call Alou and let him know that managers have been putting their best hitters in the third slot for only about 100 years or so.



…. Tough times

Jason Giambi faced the media for the first time since the SF Chronicle reported his grand jury testimony, and carefully avoided the actual reason for all the fuss. He and his team of representatives decided that they would use the old “I can’t discuss an ongoing legal issue” front, and consequently, wouldn’t say the word steroids, and wouldn’t answer any questions that had the word in them.

Now, I’m probably the last guy that’s going to condemn Giambi, as I have a fairly libertarian view of how things ought to be; but that was a poor strategy by him and his team, led by super agent Arn Tellem. Since his team of representatives weren’t smart enough to come up with a good, solid apology, I took the time to work one out for him. Here’s what I would have had him say, whatever the consequences:

“I’m here to apologize to everyone who was offended or disappointed in me upon discovering that I had used steroids. I’m sorry if I let people down. I did what I did, for the most obvious of reasons, I wanted to get the most out of my ability possible. I wanted to be the strongest, fastest, most powerful hitter and athlete I could possibly be, and I was willing to do anything to meet my goal. At the time I decided to experiment with steroids and other performance enhancing agents, I was not breaking any of baseball’s rules, but I understand that in the eyes of many of you, I was cheating. Again, I am sorry.

I hope you will understand my desire to be the best I could be, and understand that I am human. Thank you.”

There. That’s a pretty good apology. Covers all the bases.

The problem Giambi faces is that apparently the Yankees are still considering voiding his contract, so anything he says can be used against him. Nonetheless, I would have him say something like this, because Giambi must get out from under the dark cloud, and only this type of apology can start that proccess. If it meant that he would have his contract bought out, so be it. He will never be able to handle the pressure of his comeback if he hides behind the lawyers. He must say it all, get it all out there.

Murray Chass says that when the Yankees signed him to the mega-contract, Tellem and Giambi had all references to steroid-use deleted from the contract, and the Yankees said OK.

A person with knowledge of the contract said that before they signed off on Giambi’s seven-year, $120 million deal, the Yankees acquiesced to his request and removed all references to steroids from the guarantee language routinely included in contracts.

The Yankees were not innocents in this matter. They didn’t say to themselves: Delete references to steroid use? Well, all right if you insist, but why would you want us to do that?

They wanted Giambi badly enough that they relinquished the right to suspend him or stop payment on the contract or terminate the contract or convert it into a nonguaranteed contract if he was found to use steroids. No other words were deleted from that paragraph of the contract, the person said.

Well, that’s interesting. Now they want out? That’ll be a tough sell.

Alex Belth has his two cents, and finds the one writer who actually has some dignity, Tim Marchman, of the NY Sun.

…. Assuming – and it is reasonable to do so – that he was not first introduced to performance-enhancers in 2001, it’s clear that Giambi also wronged the players in the Oakland A’s system with whom he was competing as he came up through the minors (just as, no doubt, many of them wronged him). And most of all, he wronged players on other teams, against whom he competed with an illegal edge (though again,many of them wronged him as well).

There were no words in Giambi’s statement, though, for long-forgotten minor league washouts who couldn’t compete with both his talent and his willingness to break the law for his own advantage. Actions have consequences. A home run Giambi was only able to hit because he was on drugs may have made the difference between the majors and the minors for a fringe pitcher trying to qualify for a pension. The 2000 Indians, who finished a half-game out in a three-way race for two playoff spots with the A’s and Mariners, may well have been kept out of October by testosterone cream.

Not acknowledging this isn’t a fault unique to Giambi, and it isn’t really fair to blame him for it. Judging from his statement, he thinks about performance-enhancers much the same way most people do – that using them is wrong because ballplayers owe everyone not only their athletic performance, but also a reprieve from the real world,w here people cheat each other in ways infinitely worse than any ballplayer has ever been accused of doing.

That’s not true. The accounts Giambi has to settle are with his own conscience and his fellow athletes – not with you, not with me, and not with George Steinbrenner. These are not matters for press conferences, and it’s unfortunate that the Yankees would trot the man out in a deeply silly attempt to pre-empt what will be a richly deserved storm of bad publicity for their organization.

In speaking yesterday, Giambi has already done more than he needs to do. It speaks well of him. Apologies are at best more than the rest of us really need, and at worst more than we deserve.



…. Field of dreams

A group of Giants fans have started a website, Mays Field to try and get the Giants to rename PacBell/SBC. I am not sure I really like the name all that much, but it’s preferable to SBC, and/or whatever else they might change it to again. For me, I still call it PacBell, but Mays Field is better than just about anything else.

Of course, expecting the Giants to pass up the millions of dollars the naming rights generate is a bit unlikely. Still, a worthy cause.



…. Backtalk

Some of my backtalkers questioned my comments regards PED’s earlier this week. Listen, I’m trying to keep an open mind here, but let’s get our heads out of the sand. You cannot know anything about the way people respond to challenges, the way people act under pressure, the way people risk and sacrifice for their dreams; and not know that a people at the highest levels of competition already have taken, and will continually take, enormous risks to bring their dreams to life.

Simple point of fact, we are encouraged to do so, and derided when we don’t. Look at the all the BS Donovan McNabb is going through right now, all because he and his teammates didn’t handle the pressure of the final minutes of the Super Bowl as well as they could have. Let me tell you right now, exhaustion or dehydration or whatever, if a trainer would have walked up to McNabb and offered him a drink that would have cleared his head and made him feel like a million bucks, McNabb wouldn’t have asked question one, he would have taken it. And he would have been right to do it.

A guy like McNabb spends his entire life getting to the Super Bowl, a one shot deal, and he may never get there again. He would have taken five years off his life to win it, on this point there is no doubt. Virtually any player, in any sport, would take that deal. PED’s are the logical extension of that argument. (And as an aside to Concerned, wrestlers aren’t very different from football players, who regularly die in their forties and fifties, and let’s not forget that basketball players have life-long knee and hip problems). Baseball, today’s baseball, is a marathon of travel and games that lasts seven months. Athletes who participate in today’s baseball are playing a game that is markedly different from the game they grew up watching. There are fewer days off, more night games, way more traveling, to cities that are much farther apart.

These players train year-round in an effort to maintain their strength and abilities. PED’s are available to help them do so. Whether they use greenies or beans, or andro or steroids or HGH protein shakes or whatever else to help them get and stay in the optimum condition to perform at the level that the team, the fans, and the game demands; the simple truth is that, from the perspective of the athlete, no one really cares how they do it. Just do it.

Now, why would a slogan like that be so damn popular? You ever read Ball Four? Most people remember the greenies stuff in it, but nobody seems to understand that the demands of the game create the pressure to use the greenies. It’s not a simple question of peer pressure. In fact, what is peer pressure? Peer pressure isn’t doing it because others say you should, peer pressure is a description of an artificial environment, one that is governed by different rules. The pressure to not let your team down, the pressure to avoid being sent back to the minors, the pressure to be perfect, every day, day after day, game after game; the pressure that led Joe DiMaggio to utter his now famous, “because somebody out there might be seeing me for the first time,” line.

You think DiMaggio wanted to play when his knees and his back and his elbows were all but destroyed? You think DiMaggio wouldn’t have given anything to play another five years, pain-free? You think Ruth wouldn’t have done ANYTHING to keep hitting home runs at Yankee Stadium? If you came up to me right now, and told me if I could be Derek Jeter, 21 years old, rookie with the Yankees… I don’t even know what I would say no to. I wouldn’t kill somone, I can tell you that. But beyond that, I know I would be willing to make some serious sacrifices, take some pretty damn big chances. And I would be right to do it. Because that’s what it takes. Big chances, huge, life-changing risks, to make it to the top.

For some, there are limits. For others, there are none. Who is right?



…. Juice

I know I’m supposed to have something to say about Jose Canseco’s expose’. Ray Ratto does. He says Mark McGwire needs to come forward and respond to Canseco’s allegations.

…. It must, however, be done, because silence is a right, but not a very effective shield. McGwire doesn’t want to speak out on this, he doesn’t want to have to defend his character, but failing to do so is far more reckless, and exponentially more dangerous, for obvious reasons. He has to speak, and submit his words to more diligent fact-checking than he has ever known. Why? Because, for lack of a better explanation, that’s just the way it is.

Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, does McGwire really have to? His career is over, he answered a bunch of these questions already during the andro controversy. Now, Canseco’s trying to sell books, so McGwire’s back in the hot seat?

And Buster Olney continues his assault on reality, his never-ending “steroids are the end of the world” rant.

Steroids has held the game hostage for almost two decades, and there will be constant reminders of that; inevitably, other steroid users like Jose Canseco will come out and tell us more about what we already thought was happening. At this point, we should not be shocked.

Steroids has held the game hostage. Well, given the staggering number of fans who’ve packed ballparks these last ten “steroid-scandalized” seasons, perhaps the Olneys’ of the world might lay off the hyperbole just a bit. I don’t know, maybe.

Here’s where we are. Baseball has a new policy, with stiffer penalties and public shaming. This will do much to calm the fears of the sportswriters, but in reality, athletes will continue to have access to substances that will aid them in their efforts to ply their trade. As fast as the drug testing companies can find the new sensation, another one will be available.

This is not news. This is as old as competition. There has never been a time when athletes, professional athletes, have not had access to performance enhancing agents. There is little doubt that Babe Ruth (or virtually any of the “hallowed” greats) would have done anything to extend their careers, to be better players. How ridiculous for these sportswriters to go on and on about the “sanctity” of the game. It’s a game, a business, a profession. It’s all of these things, and the men that are involved in it are grown-ups, and they will make choices and take risks according to their needs, desires, and backgrounds. Should they decide that the benefits of using performance-enhancers are worth the risks, they will use them. Count on it.

There will never be a time when baseball is “clean.” There has never been a time when baseball was “clean.” But I guess asking people to stop over-reacting is unlikely to have any effect. So, I’ll just sit here and read about it, and write about it, and get lots of angry backtalkers.



….Same Bat-time, same Bat-station

Andrew Vogelsong, OBM reader and afficianado, sent me one of his own articles comparing the current New England Patriots and the New York Yankees of the late 1990′s. It’s an interesting comparison, as both teams exemplified team over individual, both were sort of lunch pail type of professionals. Andrew just started his site recently, so check him out, and tell him how great he is. He’s headlining my More Sports section on down there on the right.



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