Monthly archives: January 2006
While former shortstop Alex Rodriguez was honored at a dinner held by the New York chapter of the Baseball Writer's of America on Sunday night, the Red Sox have reportedly picked up a shortstop of their own, another Alex, Alex Gonzalez (who will presumably be backed-up by Alex Cora). Gonzalez will join Josh Beckett to help give the Yankees warm memories of the 2003 World Serious. A lousy hitter--who has displayed some pop over the course of his career--Gonzalez is known as a fine defensive player.
Every year, Bronx Banter correspondent Christopher DeRosa puts out an annual for his friends called "The Baseball Procrastinator," in which he chronicles the previous season in baseball. DeRosa includes sharp and entertaining book reviews in his annual--my favorite part, to be honest. DeRosa doesn't only cover books that were released last year, he reviews books that he just simply got around to reading. Well, I find them so enjoyable that I asked if he'd modify a grouping of this year's batch for you guys here at Bronx Banter. He has, and so here they are. Enjoy.
2005 Readings in Baseball
By Christopher DeRosa
Bill James Handbook 2006 (Cabrera cover)
They do a great job with the leader boards in this book. They're so extensive that they're not just a vehicle to see who did better than who, but to see how different players play the game.
You can use the Handbook to break down questions like, who was a better leadoff hitter, Derek Jeter or Johnny Damon? Not only overall, but specifically as a leadoff hitter, Jeter gets on base more than Damon, .391 to .367. Another job of the leadoff hitter is to take some pitches. Jeter led the AL in pitches seen with 2883. Jeter also led the league in ground ball to fly ball ratio. Is that someone you'd want hitting first, or second with possibly a man on? The book has a new baserunning report. Who scored a higher percentage of times when reaching base? Damon, 38% to 34% for Jeter. But Jeter was much better going first-to-third, doing so in 42% of such opportunities (18/43) vs. 19% for Damon (6/31). Jeter was also better at scoring from second base, 15 times in 21 chances, as opposed to 22 out of 34 chances for Damon. Damon did score 7 times in 10 chances from first base, Jeter 5 times in 10 chances. Damon was the better percentage base stealer, 18-1 vs. 14-5.
More Yankees: It's fun to see Mariano's across-the-leader-board domination of the reliever stats. He led the league in save percentage (91.5), relief ERA (1.38), lowest opponents' batting average (.177), lowest opponents' on base percentage (.235), lowest opponents' slugging percentage (.230), retiring the first batter faced (.831). He was also 4th in he league in opponents' batting average with runners on. He was the 3rd hardest pitcher for lefties to hit (.177), and the 5th hardest for right-handers to hit (.176). No one else was so high on both lists. He was tied for 3rd with 43 saves, tied for 4th with 7 relief wins, 10th in relief games (71), and 7th in relief innings (78.1).
After years toiling near the bottom of the league, Derek Jeter has moved all the way up to 2nd in the AL in range factor, and he won his second Gold Glove! After watching him all year, I don't really think he deserved it, but it is a kind of funny payback for yet another season of relentless Jeter-bashing from the baseball hipsters.
Jason Giambi took the most pitches in the AL (Abreu led the NL). He led the league in secondary average, at .523. He had the highest offensive winning percentage of any AL hitter other than Travis Hafner, ahead of Manny, A-Rod, and Ortiz. He was the most effective hitter in the league versus sliders. Not bad for a guy Selena Roberts wanted them to release.
Anything Left in the Tank?
Will Mike Piazza end up in San Diego? If he does, at least it will continue his streak of playing for team's with pitcher-friendly home parks. Over at ESPN, Alan Schwarz has a good piece about how Piazza and Frank Thomas can still be productive.
The Long Thaw
While Johnny Damon anticipates the upcoming WBC games (and Mariano Rivera lets out a long sigh), Murray Chass examines the state of affairs in Boston:
Last Thursday, announcing that Theo Epstein would return to the team's front office 12 weeks after he walked away from his role as general manager, club officials issued a statement that made them sound so full of themselves that they must have been inflated like hot-air balloons.
John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein all released statements to the media:
The statements totaled an astounding 2,500 words. If they were printed in their entirety in this newspaper, they would take up three columns, or half a page. Henry & Company could have used a good editor.
Meanwhile, while it is not likely that we'll see Mike Piazza in pinstripes this year, he's not completely out-of-the-picture yet either. Accoding to The Daily News:
"I have not made a decision," [Yankee GM, Brian] Cashman said. "We're still going through it. I'm obviously evaluating Mike and seeing if he fits where we're at at this point in time.
Too bad the Big Hurt was already nabbed by Oakland; Piazza would have looked great in the Green and Gold.
Enjoy The Silence
The Yankees signed Aaron Small to a one-year, $1.2 million contract yesterday. In doing so they avoid an arbitration hearing and fell just shy of meeting Small half way. That's what amounts to big news out of the Bronx these days. Things have been dead quiet since the team signed Miguel Cairo back on January 5.
That's in stark contrast to what's happening 200 miles Northeast in Beantown. The eight-player, three-team deal that was to bring Coco Crisp to Boston has hit the skids after Guillermo Mota failed Cleveland's physical (this despite passing Boston's physical when the Sox acquired him from Florida in the Josh Beckett trade back around Thanksgiving).
Meanwhile, the man who will be responsible for sorting all of this out will be none other than Theo Epstein. Less than three months after leaving his post as General Manager, Epstein has not only returned to the team, but reclaimed his position as GM, putting the lie to fact that Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington would share the job (Hoyer has been bumped down to assistant GM and Cherington has been made VP of player personnel).
It all makes one wonder exactly how involved Epstein really was during his 84-day exile. Here's what the Sox have done in Theo's "absence":
That doesn't include the still undetermined Coco Crisp deal.
While it's very tempting to dust that list for Theo's fingerprints, one tends to wonder if the "boy genius" would have left his club with Alex Cora at shortstop and a battle between Adam Stern and Willie Harris in center just 23 days before Pitchers and Catchers.
By the way, the last six items on the above list occured between the Cairo and Small contracts. Myself, I don't mind the silence.
According to published reports, Mike Piazza's agents have contacted the Yankees. While The Daily News writes that the Bombers have no interest in the Mets' former superstar, Brian Cashman tells Jon Heyman in Newsday:
"We're fairly set. Our designated hitter spot is taken by Bernie Williams and Andy Phillips. But I'll keep an open mind," Cashman said. "I'm always open to consider any possibility that may help the ballclub."
My co-writer Cliff Corcoran has been in favor of the Yankees' signing Piazza for months now. You know that Met fans would hate to see Yazzie in the Bronx. I've always loved the guy, so I think it would be a lot of fun to see him in pinstripes, playing for Joe Torre, but I don't think it's likely to actually happen.
Meanwhile, the News has a little puff piece on Aaron Small.
Change is Gunna Come
The noted baseball economist Andrew Zimbalist addresses the Yankee Stadium issue today in The New York Times:
Plans to build a new Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx have kicked up a small storm of local protest. Many people who live near Mullaly and Macombs Dam Parks, where the new stadium will be built, are concerned about what it will mean for their neighborhood, and rightfully so. But the crucial public policy question here is whether there will be a net benefit for residents of the Bronx and the other boroughs. The answer is yes.
Meanwhile, The Boston Herald reports that the Sox are close to finalizing a deal that would send Andy Marte (the guy they got from Atlanta in the Edgar Renteria deal) and Guillermo Moto to the Indians for center fielder Coco Crisp. The Phillies are also involved in the works and they'd send cf Jason Michaels to Cleveland. The Herald also reports that Boston is close to signing Alex Gonzalez to play short stop.
Crisp would be a much cheaper option than Damon for the Sox (Crisp isn't elligible for free agency for another four years). He doesn't walk all that much, but he had a good offensive season last year, and he does have some pop. With the acuisition of Julian Tavarez--who looks almost comically evil, like the villian who ties the girl to the tracks and twirls his mustache--Mota is expendable. Gonzalez isn't a great hitter but a fine defensive player. The Sox had to do something to fill in the gaps.
What do you think? If this goes down, how much does this improve, or hurt, Boston?
I Just Can't Quit You, Baby
Man, I just can't help but chuckle at this one. The once and future King, Theo Epstein, winner of the Hot Stove Sarah Bernhardt Award, will return to the Boston Red Sox next week according to the team. The Boston Globe reports:
Epstein's exact role and title had not been completely determined as of last night. Nor had it been decided exactly how co-GMs Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington would be recast. The club, in a release, indicated only that Epstein would be rejoining the Sox in a ''full-time baseball operations capacity, details of which will be announced next week." However, expectations within the organization point to Epstein returning as the lead decision-maker within baseball operations, with Hoyer and Cherington working under him.
Dan Shaughnessy, the polarizing columnist who is most closely identified with the Red Sox than any other writer (with all due respect to Peter Gammons), writes:
Here's an inside look at how it works over at Fenway these days. The Red Sox are afraid of what is written about them in the newspapers and what is said about them on WEEI. That's why we got this vague, preemptive strike just after the dinner hour last night. Nothing has changed since Theo left and no one knows how the new arrangement is going to work, but owner John W. Henry figured it was better to put out a press release saying ''all is well" than to read more speculation about weakness at the top.
Tony Massarotti adds:
Just 15 months after arguably the most glorious sports celebration in Boston's history, the luster officially is off the ownership and management at fabled Fenway Park. In this soap opera, president Larry Lucchino first made the mistake of arrogance. Then, owner John Henry committed the blunder of passivity. And now, Theo Epstein is committing perhaps the most inexplicable transgression of all.
The Red Sox, like the Yankees in previous years, have become equally, if not more, entertaining off-the-field than they are between the white lines. David Pinto thinks that the Red Sox keep finding ways of turning themselves into the Yankees. "Boston's front office is a soap opera," writes Pinto. "New York's front office is the calmest and quietest I've seen it since George took over. Who'd have thunk it?" I don't know how or if any of this mishegoss will impact the Sox on the field (remember, the Yanks had some winning teams during the Bronx Zoo Era), but Pinto's right. Who, indeed, would have thunk it?
Rest in Peace, Wilson Pickett.
If You Build it...
Picks and Pans
I've got a piece up over at SI.com about some of the moves I've liked and haven't liked this winter. 'Course I had to narrow it down some, but thinking more specifically about the Yankees and the rest of the AL East, what have been some of your favorite and least favorite deals?
Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)
The Yankees have exchanged arbitration offers with their two eligible players, pitchers Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small. When last I poked my head out of my hole to see if winter had passed, I estimated their 2006 salaries at $4 million and $1 million respectively. Turns out I was closer than even I would have thought:
Chacon's request: $4.15 mil
Small's request: $1.45 mil
It seems to me that Small is the more likely to lose his case due to his irregular career path and the fact that the Yankees regularly bounced him into the bullpen, including for the ALDS in which his coin finally came up tails. Much to my surprise, the owners have won the majority of the cases that have made it to arbitration (as the arbiter can only chose one figure or the other, most cases are settled before reaching arbitration with the two parties agreeing on difference-splitting contracts). From 1974-2004, the owners had a .573 winning percentage in arbitration cases. At any rate, the total difference between the offers made by the Yankees and the requests made by Small and Chacon is $1.475 million, or less any member of the Yankees' 40-man roster who has reached his arbitration years will make in 2006 save for Mike Myers ($1.2 mil), Miguel Cairo ($1 mil) and Kelly Stinnett ($650K). Small will join that group regardless of how his case is decided in February.
Nothing to see here. Move along.
According to Jack Curry in The New York Times, it appears unlikely that Alex Rodriguez will play in the WBC after all. This is getting silly; either yer in or out. Rodriguez's coy deliberation has become a bore. Let's move on.
Eyes of the Prize
Just a quick time out here to honor today's holiday. Last week, Taylor Branch's third, and final installment of his ambitious Martin Luther King, Jr biography was released. "At Canaan's Edge" follows the highly acclaimed "Parting of the Waters" and "Pillar of Fire" to make up probably the most comprehensive study of King's life to date ("Bearing the Cross" by David Garrow is another excellent study of MLK too). Branch is an outstanding writer and I'm sure his new book is fascinating.
Here is an excerpt of King's celebrated "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," dated April 16, 1963.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
I Thought They Were the Same Thing
So I'm at the supermarket yesterday when I see a mother talking to her son, who must have been all of five years old. She's pushing their shopping cart and he's hanging off the end of it, and I hear her telling me, "G-elt, not Guilt. They're different. Guilt your born with, gelt is something you are given." (For those who don't know, gelt is the Yiddish word for money.)
I started chuckling to myself as she continued.
"Guilt is something mommy feels when she doesn't get you a present that you want. Gelt is what mommy uses to buy you that present."
Now, I started laughing. The mother made eye contact with me and I said, "Now, I like that."
"Ah, the life lessons we've got to teach every day."
As they turned the corner to the next isle I heard her kid say, "I like that, I like that."
There is a piece in the Times today about the continuing popularity of the Strat-O-Matic baseball board game. I never played it as a kid. I have a vague memory of maybe having it once, or possibly I saw it at a friends house, but it never interested me. Too many numbers, too much abstraction. I was a much more tactile kid. Dungeons and Dragons never appealed to me either--it required a leap of faith, of imagination that was too remote for me to identify with.
I was usually playing baseball instead--hard ball with a team or whiffle ball in the back yard. If I played any baseball games they were usually on the computer. My brother and I used to go at it on the Commodore 64, and I remember buying Intellivision from a classmate when I was in junior high just so we could play the sports games. I used to keep boxscores of these games--not long ago I was leafing through an old Roger Angell book and found a boxscore I had kept around 1984-85, the Mets (my brother) vs. the Angels (me, cause of Reggie)--but that was about as far into the numbers as I went. Still, I now know a lot of baseball heads who were ardent Strat-O-Matic fans. Were you one of them?
A Delicate Balance
One of the most compelling aspects of baseball is the balance it requires of its participants--players, managers, owners, and fans alike. For the past couple of years, I keep thinking about Greg Maddux and his philosophy of throwing softer rather than harder when he's in a tight spot. Back in August of 2004, Mark Prior told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci:
"He's helped me tremendously," Prior says. "I've always gone harder whenever I'm in trouble. He's got me thinking, Go softer when I'm in trouble. I never thought that way before, and it's helped me develop confidence in my changeup."
In an earlier profile (August of 1995), Maddux told Verducci of a game in 1988 against the Cardinals, when he was still pitching for the Cubbies. Maddux lost in the 11th inning when Luis Alicea hit a fastball for a seeing-eye single with the bases loaded.
"I pitched 10 scoreless innings and lost because I was afraid to throw a changeup," he says.
I love the idea of doing something that seems instinctively wrong, counter-intuitive, but at the same time makes all the sense in the world. After all, how many times do we see a flame-throwing reliever over-throwing when he's in a jam late in the game? In this case, going with a softer pitch like a changeup, shows a greater sense of confidence and strength than going with a power pitch.
I was reminded of this recently when I read Peter Guralnick's outstanding book on Southern Rhythm and Blues music, "Sweet Soul Music". Willie Mitchell, who was responsible for producing most of Al Green's major records, is like the Maddux of music. Mitchell's wonderfully full and warm production style helped make Green a star; moreover, he knew how to harness Green's talents (like many soul singers, Green had strong gospel roots). Mitchell tells Guralnick:
"Well, you see, after we had done 'Tired of Being Alone' and 'I Can't Get Next to You,' I said, 'Al, look, we got to soften you up some.' I said, 'You got to whisper. You got to cut the lighter music. the melody has got to be good. You got to sing it soft. If we can get the dynamic bottom on it and make some sense with pretty changes, then we gonna be there.' He said, 'Man, I can't sing that way. That's too soft. That ain't gonna sound like no man singing.' We had the damnedest fights, but I think 'Let's Stay Together' really sold him that I had the right direction for him musically, 'cause, see, all the things I told him turned out to be true. Like 'Let's Stay Together' he didn't like at all, but when we put it out, it was gold in two weeks. So we softened and softened and softened."
A terrific example of what Mitchell describes can be found on Green's "I'm Still in Love with You," the album that also features "Love and Happiness" and "I'm Glad You're Mine." The last cut on the first side is called "Simply Beautiful," and the song has a special feel to it that is hard to describe. Intimate is the best word I can come up with. Anyhow, a record producer friend of mine explained to me a few years ago that the unique quality of the record was achieved by Mitchell turning up the recording levels on all of the microphones in the studio, and then getting Green and the musicians to play as softly as possible. Softer than soft. The results are subtle but powerful. It's like Green is right in your ear--and it is a devastatingly emotional love song.
In the black-and-white world we currently live in, where being "hard" is virile, powerful, masculine, and being "soft" is nothing short of an insult, it's great to remember than vulnerability is often the greatest sign of strength, the most powerful tool, no matter what art form you are talking about.
Dip, Dip, Dive
Goose Gossage was understandably upset that he wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame yesterday. He told Jack Curry in The New York Times:
"Right now, I don't think I'll ever get in," Gossage said. "Why would I feel good about this? Because Sutter got in, that's supposed to help me? Let me tell you, I don't have to take a back seat to anybody."
Regardless of how he's currently feeling, I say Gossage will eventually make it. But he isn't alone in his criticism of the results. Joe Sheehan ran some telling numbers in his column the other day proving that Gossage was a better pitcher than Sutter. His conclusion?
Gossage had Sutter's career and another ten seasons of work...There is absolutely no rational argument for having Bruce Sutter on a ballot, but not having Rich Gossage on it as well. You can vote for Gossage alone, you can vote for both or neither, but all ballots that list Sutter and not Gossage are fundamentally flawed, and reflect a lack of understanding of what the two pitchers accomplished in their careers.
Rob Neyer adds:
The voters certainly can't be supporting Sutter because of his value; if they were voting for value, they would have Gossage ahead of Sutter, because Gossage so obviously was more valuable than Sutter. They must be voting for Sutter as a "pioneer" -- a pioneer of the split-fingered fastball (even though he didn't invent the pitch) and a pioneer of the save situation (even though he was just following orders). Voting for Sutter but not voting for Gossage is simply an irrational act. Nothing personal; I act irrationally at least a couple of times a year, so I can't exactly hold that against my esteemed colleagues.
Meanwhile, Bruce Sutter was overcome when he learned that he was headed for Cooperstown:
"It's been 18 years since I threw my last ball," Sutter said in a conference call. "I didn't think it would affect me as it did. When I got the call and was told I was in, I gave a 'thumbs-up' to my wife and sons and then I broke down and cried.
A False Spring
Or something to that effect is what we're currently experiencing in New York, which is uncommonly warm at the moment. Last night, I could swear that I was smelling those first signs of spring through the chilly air. Then I had to remind myself, "Dude, we've still got plenty of Old Man Winter ahead of us, relax yourself Chester." Still, pitchers and catchers will report before long, won't they? In fact, there was an encouraging photograph in the Daily News today--that of David Wright taking batting practice at a Mets mini-camp clinic down in Florida. I hope that Wright becomes to the Mets what Derek Jeter has been for the Yankees--not just the leader of the team, but a guy who has bonafide and sincere passion for the game (right now Wright's youthfulness, talent, and disposition suggests that good things may be in store for the Mets).
But the hubub of the day will come later this afternoon when the Hall of Fame announces if they'll be electing any new members this year. It appears likely that nobody will make it, though Bruce Sutter and Jim Rice may be close--while Bert Blyeleven and Goose Gossage are entirely deserving. The Hall of Fame is an endless source of kibbitzing for baseball fans. What do you guys think? Anyone get in today? And if so, who'll it be?
While all remains quiet in Yankeeland (with the exception of the Alex Rodriguez-WBC affair, which Bob Klapisch updates today), the biggest story in the AL East during the past several weeks has been whether or not the Orioles and Red Sox will swap Manny Ramirez for Miguel Tejada. At it stands this morning, Tejada has rescinded his trade demand (Ramirez has been doing the cha-cha around his desire to be in Boston all winter long). Which is not to say that things won't change again--the latest gossip had Tejada going to the Phillies for Bobby Abreu, but for the moment, it doesn't look as if Tejada will replace Manny as David Ortiz's partner in destruction next season. Which is just fine by me.
I've rooted for Tejada for about five years now, ever since I read "Away Games," really. If he went to Boston, my ability to pull for him would be seriously compromised (which is funny because he plays for a division rival now in Baltimore, but it just ain't the same, is it?). For now, he's a-stayin.' Next week, it could change again, right?
Putting the Futility in Utility
Miguel Cairo is officially back in the Bronx. But our pal Steve Goldman warns that while Cairo had a nice season for the Bombers in 2004, he isn't necessarily the best available cherce out there:
Cairo's .292 average in 2004 was worth just two wins over replacement. That's not much. Nor is it evidence that playing for the Yankees makes him better, or that he can "hack it in the Bronx." Since he crashed with the Mets, is that proof that he can make it in the Bronx but Queens is too much for him? In fact, Queens represented nothing but a return to form. Batting average fluctuates sometimes more hits fall in than others. Since hitting for average (or a semblance thereof) is all Cairo can do, he's going to have swings to the negative extreme of his abilities (.245, Cardinals, 2003), the positive extreme (.292, Yankees, 2004), and back again (.251, Mets, 2005). I don't know where Cairo's average will land this year, but looking at his career as a whole, he's far more likely to resemble the Mets version of himself.
Ah, fer the good old days of Chicken Stanley.
Play it Again (and Again)
Hey, I forgot to tell you what happened to me at the barber shop last weekend. So I've been meaning to get my hair cut for more than a minute now, and as some of you know, even though I live in the Bronx, I still troop out to Brooklyn to see my old barber, Efrain Torres. I got up the energy last Saturday morning and made it to Brooklyn just after noon. The shop is run by a father and son (Ray and Macho) and my guy has a chair there too. A new woman has set up shop in the back to do stylings for the ladies, and she was all of a piece: her hair was colored dark-red/purple, and she wore about four different shades of maroon, including black slacks with red roses patterned up and down the legs.
Well, everyone was in high spirits what with New Year's Eve being that night and all. They had some bottles of booze ready to go for later on and were already dipping into the danish cookies that were laid out. The radio was playing old salsa tunes from the 1950's and '60s. A trio of beefy kids around my age--early-to-mid-thirties--were hanging around waiting to get their heads cut. They were old friends of Macho's and everyone was gas-bagging back-and-forth (they ordered Cuban sandwichs for lunch, and one of the guys, just along for the ride, made himself useful by sweeping up periodically). You know how conversation flows in the company of men. You go from rapid bursts of commentary--and in a barber shop, a good deal of bragging and boasting--to dead silence and back again.
As I was waiting my turn, I leafed through a magazine. Conversation had ceased, and everyone was either busy working or lost in their own thoughts. Suddenly, without really being aware of why, I put my magazine down and really started listening to a guitar solo on the radio that had been cooking for at least 30 seconds already. The music snapped up my attention without me being completely aware of it. The room seemed especially still, and not a moment later, Ray says, "Damn, this guy can play." Quickly, everyone else agreed, appreciating the fine musicianship. "Yo, this dude is ill." The rush of words from everyone was a real release. It was a small, but beautiful moment, a real guy thing. A group of guys coming together--not even consciously--by a piece of music, admiring it in silence, then breaking the tension, and clammoring about how great it was. Man, the power of music is just incredible isn't it?
Who You Calling Ugly?
Murray Chass characterizes the Yankees as the designated "Ugly Americans" when it comes to the upcoming WBC games. In the end, more Yankees will probably participate than originally expected--Alex Rodriguez will be there when all is said and done. Still, if it were up to me, I'd be the ugliest of 'em all, and keep all the Yankees from participating, Scrooge that I am. I recognize there is a lot of National pride invovled for the players. But man, how upset will we be if one of the Bombers--or anyone else for that matter--screws up his season with an injury that stems from these games?
Happy New Year, folks.
So, will the Yanks make any other significant moves before the '06 season begins? Will they trade Carl Pavano? It seems like they are pretty well set. What do you think they might do and what do you think they should do--if anything?
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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