Friday, November 20, 2009

Keith Law Is Smarter Than You...Get Over It

The Common Man is very amused by the controversy generated by Keith Law’s 2nd-place vote for Javier Vazquez on his Cy Young Award ballot. Law, as most of the Interwebz has learned since yesterday, crunched some numbers and came up with a very convincing argument that Vazquez provided the second most value in the National League, and that the innings Chris Carpenter did not throw while on the disabled list dropped him below Adam Wainwright in terms of overall value. Law has been accused of bias and incompetence (which, really, is a normal day for him, given how pig-headed and traditional analysis-minded many readers and baseball fans in general are) because of his vote. It’s a shame, because unlike some other voters, the diminutive and cherubic KLaw lays out a thoughtful and transparent reasoning for his vote on his ESPN blog, and has clearly done his due diligence in preparing his ballot.

For the better part of two days, on Shyster’s Hardball Times site, there has been a proxy battle raging between Law’s champions and detractors (okay, mostly one or two detractors) that seem to be raising the same concerns that writers and pundits are raising nationally. When he was on the mound, these detractors argue (often without this amount of coherency), he was at least one of the three best pitchers in the league, if not the best (AND LOOK AT HIS W-L RECORD AND ERA !!!!11!!!!11), and that the award is meant to honor the best pitcher in each league, which is not necessarily always the most valuable. Quantity, they seem to argue, is trumped by quality.

While the argument is relatively (ahem) by numbers, some interesting points were brought up over the course of the discussion. One commenter in the Shyster thread, a “civilwarmike,” wonders, “To dock Carpenter because of innings pitched? Does that mean Joe Mauer will should not[sic] be the MVP because he missed the first month of the season? Just wondering. “ It’s an interesting idea, Carpenter and Mauer both missed roughly a month of the season, and were huge question marks as they came back from their shoulder and kidney problems, respectively. Both ended up being big time performers for their clubs, who both (largely on the strength of their stars’ performances) won their respective divisions. And if we are going to count the time and innings Carpenter missed against him, don’t we also have to do the same to Mauer.

The answer, obviously, is that of course we have to count Mauer’s time and plate appearances missed against him. In 226 plate appearances, Minnesota’s non-Mauer catchers hit .277/.335/.335 with no homers. In April, Jose Morales and Mike Redmond combined to hit .297/.358/.351. It’s almost assured that Mauer would have outperformed that duo. So his absence not only hurt Mauer’s individual stats, but it undoubtedly hurt his club. In April, the Twins scuffled out of the gate to an 11-11 mark, and finished the month in fourth place, a game back of (chortle) the Kansas City Royals.

But Mauer’s absence does not tell the whole story. On the first pitch of the season, Mauer lined a bullet into the leftfield bleachers in the Metrodome and didn’t stop hitting from then on. Mauer finished with an ungodly .365/.444/.587 line, with 191 hits, 28 HR, 96 RBI, and 94 runs scored. It was one of the two or three best seasons ever by a catcher. His OPS+ was 170 (Mark Teixeira was second at 149). Despite missing a full month, Mauer led the American League in Runs Created, and contributed more than a win more to his team than any other American League hitter according to Adjusted Batting Wins. According to Baseball Prospectus, Mauer contributed almost 18 more runs versus replacement level to his team’s offense than Derek Jeter (89 to 71) and 1.4 wins more than Ben Zobrist in WARP, the second leading hitter (9.0 to 7.6, though Zack Greinke actually led the American League with 9.5). Fangraphs lists Zobrist as the Major League leader in WAR, with 8.6 wins, but a) Mauer finished just behind with 8.2 wins and b) as Jeremy Greenhouse pointed out for Baseball Prospectus last Tuesday, catcher defense and catcher replacement levels are not properly valued yet by WAR. No matter what stat you use, it’s pretty clear that Joe Mauer has lifted and separated himself from the rest of the field of AL MVP candidates simply because the value he added during the time he was on the field was so far, even quantitatively, beyond what other hitters contributed over the full season.

Carpenter, on the other hand, suffers in this analysis because of the quality of his competition. While Carpenter was terrific while he was on the field, the other competitors for the NL Cy Young were almost as good if not a little better. Carpenter finished sixth in the National League in WAR behind Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, Vazquez, Dan Haren, Wainwright, and Ubaldo Jimenez. He finishes 6th in WARP behind those same five minus Wainwright, but plus Jair Juerrens. He finishes second to Lincicum in VORP for pitchers, and third behind Lincecum and Vazquez in FIP. With fewer K/9 and K/BB and fewer IP, it is impossible to construct an argument for Carpenter beyond looking at his W-L record and ERA. And in a packed bunch of starters, it is entirely reasonable that the value lost by the month he missed knocks Carpenter out of the race.

It’s really that simple. On the one hand, the players’ individual seasons are very similar in terms of the paths they took. However, the contexts in which they are competing for their respective post-season awards are completely different. There is far more evidence than Joe Mauer belongs in the top spot of every single AL MVP ballot than evidence that Carpenter even belongs in the top three of the NL. Sorry Cardinals fans.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In which The Common Man drinks beer and rededicates himself to blogging...

Being a good dad and a productive employee and a blogger has proven difficult in recent months, but The Common Man is compelled to write tonight, not because of baseball (though he'll get around to that, he promises), but because he can't get three murderers out of his head.

The first is Nidal Malik Husan, the alleged shooter at Fort Hood, who murdered thirteen people on Thursday of last week for reasons that are as yet not understood. Hasan has been described by classmates and colleagues as being opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afganistan, and has been alleged to have had contact with extremist Imams who advocate the killing of American troops and civilians. Hasan's attack was probably religiously motivated (though this is not an indictment of Islam in particular or of religion in general. But what resonated with The Common Man today is the Eugolgy given today by President Obama. Obama discussed each victim and his or her accomplishments and got to a specific nurse from Milwaukee, Captain Russell Seager, who was a beloved husband and father. It was the "father" part that got to The Common Man, who has cherished being a dad for just under three years now. And as The Boy grows and changes, The Common Man could not help but picture, as he listened to that story, what life could be like for The Boy without a dad. Indeed, as he seethed, The Common Man could think of little else other than Hasan knew how wonderful it was to have a father, and chose to deny another son or daughter that opportunity. It is this impersonal cruelty that The Common Man just doesn't understand and makes him wish Hasan and all others who cold-bloodedly murder fathers and mothers and sons and daughters around the world dead.

But, of course, that's part of the problem. The second murder on The Common Man's mind, John Muhammad, is (as of the moment The Common Man is writing) scheduled to be executed tonight in Virginia. After killing mothers and fathers and sons and daughters, Muhammad is going to be taken fromt he world. And as much as The Common Man knows that Muhammad (and Hasan) deserve it, The Common man realizes that his emotional reaction to these crimes is exactly why justice is not served through exectution. Justice is a bitch godess who constantly disappoints us; yet, to be effective, she must remain blind to the emotional undercurrents tha make me want to slam Hasan and Muhammad into walls again and again while showing them pictures of adorable babies who will grow up without fathers and mothers, and ask them what those babies ever did to Hasan and Muhammad. And, as several studies have demonstrated that execution does not substantially deter crime, there does not seem to be a rational reason for capitol punishment. The world may be a better place without Muhammad in it tonight, but justice (whose guarantee is the basis of civilization and of our society) is not served by it.

But there must be a happy medium somewhere. As much as capitol punishment is too much, given the emotions and uncertainty that play into its application, some applications of justice are startling in just how inadequate they are (particularly for the wealthy and powerful). In particular, the case of Angel Villalona, a prospect in the Giants organization, who is accused of shooting a man in a nightclub in his native Dominican Republic. According to prosecutors, Villalona has agreed to pay roughly $140,000 to the family of the deceased, who are now claiming that Villalona was not the man killed in the incident. Obviously, there is a lot we don't know about this case. We don't know whether Villalona was acting in self-defense. We don't know whether the charges will stick without the cooperation of the victim's family. However, the appearance in this case is definitely that Villalona, as Matthew Poirot points out for Circling the Bases, is buying his way out of trouble with his $2.1 million signing bonus. This gives the appearance that, at least in the Dominican Republic, that Justice is for sale, even with her blindfold on.

Fortunately, in this case, baseball is the lone major American sport where character seems to be taken into account (at least where prospects are concerned). Guys like Ugueth Urbina and Ambiorix Burgos typically become persona non grata when their behavior veers from unpleasant to unacceptable. Jose Offerman was forced out of baseball early; and minor league players (such as the Twins Delmon Young and Anthony Swarzak) have had their careers delayed because of their naughtiness. While baseball has a long way to go, as they still welcome wife-beaters and drunks back with open arms after they've proven their talents indespensible, at least they are not the NFL, where Leonard Little continues to suit up every week for the St. Louis Rams despite a second drunk driving conviction, even after being convicted of vehicular manslaughter in 1998. And at least the MLB is not the NBA, where crazy, destructive behavior often seems to be the rule, rather than the exception, with players going into the stands, choking coaches, demanding trades, and sulking their way out of contracts.

Villalona's case is an interesting one, particularly if he is acquitted in the D.R. If there is justice in baseball, and Villalona truly is guilty of murder, hopefully we'll never have to hear from him again. Hopefully it will leave such a bad taste in the mouths of the Giants (and Villalona's potential teammates) that they will ask him not to return in the Spring. Baseball will probably be better for it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What the Playoffs Mean

This morning, Aaron Gleeman rebutted Jim Souhan’s contention that the Twins would be better off not making the playoffs, noting that “Getting into the playoffs thanks only to an awful division and being a thoroughly mediocre team with tons of flaws and late-season injuries to key players aren't things that necessarily keep teams from having success in the postseason because having success in the postseason is an unpredictable mix of skill and luck played out over the course of at most 19 games.” Technically, of course, Gleeman’s right. With enough luck, pluck, and gumption, even the 82 win St. Louis Cardinals managed to win the World Series in 2004. If the Twins get hot, they have a realistic chance of winning the tournament (especially if they play their best team in the field, which they are currently not doing by leaving Carlos Gomez and Brendan Harris on the bench). It is a smaller chance than the Yankees, Red Sox, or Cardinals have, but it’s still a possibility.

Gleeman doesn’t mention, and Souhan probably has never thought about, the most important reason why Twins fans should care about the team making the postseason…money. In Baseball Between the Numbers (2006), Nate Silver argues that “a team receives a long-term benefit to its regular season attendance as a result of reaching the postseason. In addition, making the playoffs brings the bonus of getting to play some number of additional home games in front of a packed house at higher-than-normal ticket prices.” Likewise, playoff appearances have additional benefits, including richer local media contracts, higher regular-season attendance the following year, more concessions sold, etc. In all, Silver calculated that a playoff appearance is worth approximately $25 million.

This extra $25 million or so will help a team to loosen otherwise tight budgetary restrictions, especially if that team plays in a smaller market. The Twins must maximize revenue streams and minimize expenses (as much as is practical) to afford the level of talent necessary for the team to compete again and again for a playoff spot. It is a cycle of success that can, at least in part, fund and sustain itself as long as a team continues to produce talent from the farm system, and does not significantly waste resources (ahem, Livan Hernandez, Luis Ayala, ahem). Teams can use their ability to get to the postseason in one year as a springboard to get to it the next.

The Twins have one glaring problem looming on the horizon, even as they get ready to enter a new stadium and reap the benefits associated with being able to charge higher prices: Joe Mauer’s impending free agency (after 2010) and the additional dollars the team is going to have to shell out as its cores get older and more expensive. It is essential, for the team to feel reasonably confident it can get to the playoffs and share in that cash bonanza at least every other season, particularly if it is going to shell out $20-25 million a year for Mauer’s services over the first part of the Twenty-Teens.

Fig. 1: Your new god.

The Common Man believes that the Twins will sign Mauer to a long-term extension regardless; however, for the team to maintain its core and to build upon that core, it will have to have that additional playoff money. Scott Baker, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Joe Nathan are all about to get more expensive (or continue to be expensive). Nick Punto is going to continue to eat money for doing little. And eventually, the team is going to have to think about whether to lock up Kevin Slowey, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel to longer-term deals. The Twins need to make the postseason again soon just to be able to subsequently make the postseason again. The possibility Gleeman discusses of a deep run into the tournament would be icing on an otherwise very lucrative cake.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Random Thursday: June 11, 1960, Chicago vs. Boston

When baseball’s elder statesmen square off, doesn’t it seem like something special always happens? Fortune smiles again on The Common Man, as his browser, with eyes closed, leapt from Scott Sullivan’s page to this June 11, 1960 contest between the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox. The game was the first of two that day between the Soxes, and was certainly the more memorable.

The Sox lineup featured Hall of Famers Nellie Fox (in his final decent year; raise your hand if you knew he was basically done at age 32) and Luis Aparicio, and was bolstered by Hall of Very Good members Minnie Minoso and Roy Sievers. The Sox in 1960 were a good club, in the middle of a good run. For 17 straight seasons, the Sox finished above .500 (1951-1967), though they managed just one pennant (1959, when they lost in the World Series to the Dodgers). In 1960, they finished in the 8-team American League, with an 87-67 record. They couldn’t get close to the Yankees, however, who (as usual) finished 10 games better thanks to Mantle, Maris, and Big Bill Skowron.

Minoso, Jim Landis, Aparicio, and Fox receive their Gold Gloves from 1959.

The Red Sox were on the opposite end of the spectrum. In 1960, they would finish in 7th place, losing 89 games. Poor personnel decisions, including the team’s famous refusal to pursue and sign African-American talent, had caught up with Boston, and they were unable to compensate for an aging core and bad pitching staff. The Sox’s starter that day was Ike Delock, a former swingman pressed into the rotation who would finish the year with a 4.73 ERA (84 ERA+) in 23 starts. The lineup featured Hall of Very Good hitters Pete Runnels and Vic Wertz (whose greatest historical comp is Roy Sievers, actually).

But what made the game stand out was the battle between two legends near the end of their respective careers. 40-year old Early Wynn started for Chicago, sitting on 273 career victories, a year removed from going 22-10 and winning the ML Cy Young Award (the Cy Young award was only given to one pitcher a year through 1966). Though pitching well, Gus had lost four straight in which his team had scored just seven runs behind him. For the Red Sox, Ted Williams started and played in LF. Williams, had missed most of April and May, totaling just 27 plate appearances. But in June, Williams was on fire. In 96 PAs, The Splinter would hit 11 homeruns, bat .329/.458/.803), and drive in 24 runs. He had hit a solo homerun the day before and was just starting to round into playing shape.

Wynn allowed a leadoff homerun to Don Buddin, but settled down to retire the next 8 and keeping the Sox off the board through five. On the strength of a Gene Freese homer and a Nellie Fox double in the 2nd, the Sox scored two. Wynn himself had gone 2-2 with two singles, one of which moved Jim Landis into scoring position for Fox’s double, and the other of which drove in Freese in the 4th. At the end of the 5th, Chicago led the Red Sox 3-1. Williams had underwhelmed in two at bats, fouling out once to third base and once to catcher. In the bottom of the 5th, Wynn allowed a leadoff single to Pete Runnels to bring up The Kid. Williams hit a long fly to right field that cleared the fence for his 5th homer of the year, and 497th of his career.

Wynn got out of the 6th without allowing another run, and in the top of the 7th Delock ran into more trouble for Boston. Chicago loaded the bases on two singles and an error, bringing up Sievers, who struck out. But when Delock hit Sherm Lollar, he forced in Nellie Fox, giving the White Sox a 4-3 lead.

Wynn was removed from the game with one-out in the 7th after giving up a single to Bobby Thomson. He was relieved by Gerry Staley, the Sox’s relief ace, who escaped with no damage. Delock got into trouble in the top of the 9In the bottom of the 8th, however, Williams led off. The Kid worked out a walk and was replaced by a pinch runner. Vic Wertz hit a big opposite field home run that gave the Red Sox the 5-4 lead, which they would hold on to. Staley was hung with the loss, and Mike Fornieles, Boston’s relief ace, ended up with the win after pitching the last two frames.

Williams would have an excellent season (.316/.451/.645, 29 homers) despite getting just 390 PAs, and would, of course, retire at the end of the season after hitting a home run (#521) in his final at bat. Wynn would make the All Star team that year, and go 13-12 with a 3.49 ERA, and lead the league in shutouts. He hung on for three more years after that. Gus pitched well in the first half of 1961 before injuries forced him to the shelf for the rest of the year. He struggled in 1962, and finished with an even 300 wins as a pitcher-coach for the ’63 Indians.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Random Thursday: Scott Sullivan

The Common Man will recap his final visit to the Metrodome tomorrow (though the visit took place last weekend), in a final, teary farewell to a truly horrible stadium that is full of wonderful memories. But today is Thursday, which means randomness. Fortune smiled on us today, for it landed on quintessential right-handed reliever Scott Sullivan.

Sullivan, for those of you with short memories, pitched from 1995-2004, almost entirely with the Cincinnati Reds. From 1997-2001, he was one of the most reliable relievers in the National League, consistently posting ERAs in the low 3.00s (except for a hiccup in ’98) with good strikeout rates, average control, and a good ability to keep the ball on the ground (thanks, in large part, to his sidearm delivery). He also was terrifically durable during those years, topping 70 games pitched or 100 innings in all of them, except ’97, when he pitched 97.1 innings. Sullivan began running out of gas in 2002. His K/9 was still excellent (in fact, it ticked up slightly), but his HR/9 doubled and his H/9 jumped as well. Sullivan bounced back in 2003 in a split season between Cincinnati and the White Sox, but began experiencing back troubles that prompted him to raise his arm angle. Sullivan lost a great deal of his effectiveness with the Royals in 2004, and didn’t pitch after that (but he did spend a lot of time on the 60-day DL). While Rotoworld doesn’t have additional information, Sullivan never made it back from his injuries, and hasn’t pitched since 2005.

But this post isn’t about Sullivan, per se. Rather, it’s about one almost-great season. Sullivan was a part of three terrible Reds teams at the end of his career (otherwise known as the Bob Boone years), but was a mainstay of some pretty impressive squads during his stay. In fact, Sullivan was an important cog on the single best team of the post-wild card era to not make the postseason, the 1999 Reds. The Reds won 96 games that year, more than any other team to not make the playoffs since the San Francisco Giants won 103 and finished out of the money in the pre-wild card wilderness of 1993.

The ’99 Reds were cobbled together by Jim Bowden and Jack McKeon, who had a lot of talent come together at exactly the right time. 1B Sean Casey, then 24, enjoyed his best season (.332/.399/.539, 132 OPS+), Pokey Reese played stellar defense at 2B, and for the first time, hit enough to make him a productive player (.285/.330/.417). 3B Aaron Boone had a solid season in his first real opportunity to play regularly. Mike Cameron (acquired for Paul Konerko, who was redundant with Casey around) rebounded from a horrible season with the White Sox to hit a Cameron-ian .256/.357/.469 and play Gold Glove-ish defense in CF. Dmitri Young (.300/.352/.504) played well in a utility role, as did Jeffrey Hammonds (.279/.347/.523, starting down the road to what would become the Milwaukee Brewers’ long nightmare). Catcher Eddie Taubensee shined in his last full season (.311/.354/.521), and 35-year old, future Burt Blyleven-esque Hall of Fame-case Barry Larkin had his last good, uninterrupted season (.293/.390/.420, which was still off for him). And LF Greg Vaughn, acquired for Reggie Sanders and change, provided impressive power (.245/.347/.535, 45 HR 118 RBI) (though the deal actually didn’t end up working well for the Reds, as Sanders hit .285/.376/527, didn’t get injured in ’99, and was included in a deal for Bret Boone and Ryan Klesko that offseason, while Vaughn signed with Tampa during the offseason).

Pete Harnisch shined in the rotation (16-10, 3.68) in his last productive season, and 31 year old minor league veteran Steve Parris had 21 good starts (11-4, 3.50), but the rest of the rotation was really underwhelming and inconsistent. Juan Guzman (6-3, 3.03) only started 12 games after being acquired from the Orioles. Denny Naegle was moderately effective (9-4, 4.27), but only started 19. Ron Villone (9-7, 4.23) and Brett Tomko (5-7, 4.92) both got more than 20 starts, but weren’t anything special. No starter threw more than 200 innings (Steve Avery had just 96 IP in 19 starts, and Jason Bere had 43.1 in 10).

While the rotation was in flux, the bullpen shined. McKeon leveraged his bullpen extremely well, using Sullivan (79 G, 113.2 IP, 5-4, 3.01, 3 Sv), Danny Graves (75 G, 111 IP, 8-7. 3.08, 27 Sv), Scott Williamson (62 G, 93.1 IP, 12-7, 2.41, 19 Sv), and Dennys Reyes (65 G, 61.2 IP, 2-2, 3.79) with effectiveness. It was an extremely stable bullpen as well. In addition to those four, Gabe White pitched 50 games and 61 innings, and Stan Belinda got into 29 and 42.2, but no one else pitched more than 2 games of relief (except Villone and Tomko). Indeed, while The Nasty Boys bullpen of 1990 gets all the attention (a 2.93 cumulative ERA, 450 K in 472.2 innings), one wonders whether the ’99 Reds pen was actually more effective (3.36 cumulative ERA, 463 K in 530.1 innings in an extremely high-scoring environment). If we adjust the Reds’ pen performance in 1999 to the 1990 environment (in which 18 percent fewer runs were allowed by NL teams), their ERA drops to 2.85, and they have a significant advantage in innings pitched.

The Reds went into the final weekend of the season tied with the Astros for the NL Central lead, and with a two game lead over the Mets for the Wild Card. That weekend, they lost two of three to the Brewers, while the Mets won out and the ‘Stros took two of three from the Dodgers. This left the Reds and Mets tied for the Wild Card, and a one-game playoff was scheduled for the next day. Cincinnati ran into an absolute buzzsaw that day in Al Leiter, who tossed a two-hit shutout to eliminate the Redlegs. The Mets would advance to the NLCS, where they lost to the Braves.

That offseason, the Reds made their infamous trade for Ken Griffey and picked up Dante Bichette to play RF. Injuries to Larkin and Boone, and poor performance from Benito Santiago behind the plate dropped their offensive production by 40 runs, and their excellent bullpen masked an absolutely abysmal starting rotation that was often hurt. Injuries to Naegle and Harnisch forced the Reds to use Elmer Dessens and Williamson in the rotation, which forced them to use Manny Aybar, Mark Wohlers, and a cast of misfits. They gave up 45 more runs than in ’99, and finished with 85 wins and 10 games back of the Cardinals. By 2001, they were in full collapse and lost 96 games.

Because of their relatively small market and short peak, and because they ultimately failed to make the playoffs, no one really remembers the ’99 Reds today. And that’s a shame. Jack McKeon put players in positions where they would succeed and did not ask more of them than they could deliver. Jim Bowden, for all his failings, had a talented group that gelled at just the right moment, and could have been (for the want of a little starting pitching) a force in the NL Central for years to come. If they had managed to win one more game in 1999, who knows how that club's offseason, and its next decade, might have unfolded.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Random Thursday: September 12, 1964, New York vs. Los Angeles

It’s Thursday, and that used to mean randomness was in the air. Perhaps it still is, as The Common Man used the random function of Baseball to jump from his previous entry, Joe Smaza, to this September 12 game between the 1964 Dodgers and Mets. The game itself, an 8-0 drubbing by Los Angeles over the hapless New Yorkers, is pretty unremarkable. Pete Richert, who had struggled to establish himself in the Dodgers’ rotation, pitched a two-hit shutout against a terrible lineup that was headlined by someone named Joe Christopher and a 19-year old Ed Kranepool. The uninspiring Al Jackson got pummeled for eight runs, but took his lumps like a man, limping to a complete game loss. The game doesn’t seem all that interesting, but at least the 20,004 Dodgers fans in attendance got to go home with the W.

1964 was a poor year for the Dodgers (80-82), who finished below .500 because Sandy Koufax was limited to 28 starts (in which he had a 1.74 ERA and won 19 games), could not seem to find a serviceable 3rd starter behind Sandy and Big D (who was 18-16 with a 2.14 ERA), Frank Howard and Tommy Davis’s production dipped from MVP-esque (149 and 141 OPS+, respectively) to passable (111 and 110 OPS+) and they employed an old-looking Jim Gilliam (.228/.318/.287) at 3B for 390 PAs, and an overmatched Nate Oliver (.243/.309/.271) at 2B for 357.

The Mets, this being the early ‘60s, were understandably terrible (53-109). In addition to Christopher* and Kranepool (.257/.310/.393), the only offense to speak of on the team came from 2B Ron Hunt (.303/.357/.406) and OF Jim Hickman (.257/.319/.377). The pitching was uniformly bad. Jackson (11-16, 4.26, 83 ERA+) and Jack Fisher (10-17, 4.23, 84 ERA+) competed to see who could be the worst pitcher on a staff that only had one member with an ERA+ over 100 (22 year old reliever Ron Locke, who had a 3.48 ERA in 41 innings, but also walked 22 batters and gave up 7 unearned runs).

The game did feature a great duel of managers, however, as Walter Alston and Casey Stengel (in his second to last season at the helm) faced off. Casey probably slept through most of this one, as he was down 5-0 after the 4th, and he couldn’t have made much difference (by the way, Casey finished with a .503 winning percentage as a manager. His Mets-less percentage, however, was .543. There’s no real wisdom there, as The Common Man is glad Casey was still working, and it’s not like managing the Mets hurt his legacy, and the photos of Casey’s misery as the Mets’ skipper are hilarious. It’s just interesting.)

Unlike the Mets, the Dodgers would get better in a hurry. That winter, Richert was dealt with Frank Howard to the new Washington Senators (where he would win 29 games and make two all star teams in the next two seasons, becoming the 3rd starter the Dodgers wanted, before faltering) for Claude Osteen (who also became the 3rd starter the Dodgers wanted, winning 147 games in nine years). Koufax came back strong, as he famously finished 26-8 with a 2.04 ERA and set the new ML record for strikeouts (which still stands as the NL record). Oliver was replaced by NL Rookie of the Year Jim Lefebvre (.250/.337/.369, 109 OPS+), Gilliam bounced back strong (.280/.374/.384, 121 OPS+) at age 36, and the team produced just enough offense to deal with the losses of Howard and Tommy Davis (who broke his ankle in May) and eke out the NL pennant by two games over the Giants, before edging The Common Man’s beloved Twins in the World Series.

*Christopher himself is kind of interesting, mind you. In ’64, his first year of full time action, he put up a .300/.360/.466 line (and a 134 OPS) and finished with 16 HR and 76 RBI. Christopher never finished with an OBP above .340 again, nor a SLG above .365. He was a true flash in the pan for a terrible team and the first player born in the U.S. Virgin Islands to play in the big leagues.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pete Rose to Idiots: Get Off My Side, You're Not Helping

Earlier today, Craig kicked at some embers and turned it into a brushfire over at Circling the Bases, arguing that Pete Rose's 20 year exile from Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame is not enough for an unapologetic serial liar who has worked tirelessly to promote himself and undermine the game he supposedly loves since at least 1989. As you can probably tell, The Common Man tends to agree with Craig on this issue. Over on CTB, The Common Man was not in the majority, however, as dozens of angry idiots with poor sentence structure and historical recall threatened to kill the Internetz with their innanity. Beneath their bile and foolishness, The Common Man left the following extended comment, and reprints it here under the general heading of "how not to argue in favor of Pete Rose's reinstatement":

I wish I had time to write a response to all you idiots, but alas there is not time and most of you can't read at a high enough level for it to make any difference. Let's clear up a few things:

1) If you are tempted to play the "even rapists and murderers get out of jail card," remember that Rose was never put in jail for gambling on baseball (though he was for tax fraud). Going to jail is vastly different from not being allowed to work somewhere. Major League Baseball has never restricted his freedom to make a living anywhere outside of the context of Major League Baseball, which he agreed to in 1989. But just as someone who sells corporate secrets to a rival may get out of jail one day, it's highly unlikely that his original company will want to hire him back. Same situation here.

2) Baseball has had a rule against betting on baseball since 1920. Since 1920, the consequences of breaking that rule have been drilled into its players, coaches, managers, owners, trainers, groundskeepers, batboys, and beer vendors. Rose knew what he was doing and what the consequences of getting caught would be. He made his bed, and has constantly whined about how uncomfortable it is.

3) Rose's stunning lack of honesty and remorse undermine his case significantly. He seems to be a habitual liar, such that nothing he says today, about the nature of his bets or his conversations with Bart Giammatti, cannot be taken at face value.

4) As Craig has noted, his exclusion from the Hall of Fame is the Hall of Fame's decision, not Major League Baseball's. Baseball has no leverage over the HOF. While you might think that Bud Selig, Fay Vincent, and the MLB have had some kind of stick they can hold over the HOF's head, there's no evidence of it. Baseball is at least as beholden to the Hall of Fame (since the MLB isn't going to start a new museum now for itself to funnel players and memorabilia away from Cooperstown).

5) Please get your historical facts straight. Ken Cochran, no one has ever accused Stan Musial of deliberately spiking Jackie Robinson. Quite the opposite; players have raved about Stan's class and kindness to everyone, including his African-American and Latino teammates. VGREISS, Darryl Strawberry is not in the Hall of Fame. And Michael Seibert, Pete Rose quit managing in 1989. Robbie Alomar starting playing in 1988, and the "Spitting Incident" didn't happen until he was playing with the Orioles in 1996. There is no way your version of events is remotely possible.

6) Can we please separate the debate about steroids and the Hall of Fame from the issue of Pete Rose/gamblers and the Hall of Fame? They are two completely different situations, completely different arguments. As far as we know, Rose was acting alone in the game, taking actions that may have compromised the integrity of the game on the field. Steroid users (while morally and ethically wrong) were part of a culture of cheating in which they were universally trying to perform better. We have no such assurance with Rose, aside from his word, which as I've already pointed out, is crap. Have a nice day.

As you can tell, I have nothing but disdain for Pete Rose, and everything he has done since 1989 to stoke the fires of this debate. He is, by all accounts, a first-class jerk. His body of work as a player is astounding, and his achievements will not soon be forgotten, whether he gets into the Hall of Fame, is reinstated into the MLB, or not. But I do not think he has earned himself any leeway in the debate, nor has he tried to. Perhaps a few years out of the limelight and some good works will go a long way toward changing my mind. Pete needs to work on himself in order to change my mind.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Explaing Albert's "Albatross"

On Circling the Bases this morning, contributor Matt Casey pondered Albert Pujols’ second-half performance, which is a significant drop-off from his amazing start. Pujols’ season line has dropped from . 332/.456/.723 to .321/.445/.675 thanks to a .280/.401/.525 “drought”. Casey writes,
“Are we ready to blame the Home Run Derby for squashing Albert Pujols' chance at the Triple Crown, or is that just an easy excuse? We remember players from the past flaming out after taking part in the Derby - David Wright hit only 6 HR after the break in 2006, and of course Bobby Abreu hit a mere 6 dingers in the second half after dominating the slugfest the year before….Did the HR Derby mess up his swing a bit?”

Casey’s article equivocates a great deal, and never really delves deeply into Albert’s performance beyond looking at the surface numbers and wondering aloud whether his two rounds of homerun derby (in which he swung at something like 35-40 pitches) has messed with the man. Of course we can’t be certain, even if Pujols were to complain about the Derby’s effect on him (which he hasn’t), since the data set is small and the subject of the study is probably less reliable a source than The Common Man would like to have. That said, The Common Man hopes that some intrepid soul is going through tape of Albert’s ABs before and after the All Star Break to see if there’s any difference in his swing (ah, the glory of our times, when such things are possible).

The Common Man prefers to look at the issue as a whole. Understanding that even great players have rough patches, it’s important to look at the alleged phenomenon Casey and others have used to explain the performances of Abreu and Wright, and that other players have used to excuse themselves from the Derby. Is this effect real? Does the Home Run Derby unduly affect its participants, as many have been led to believe.

First, a caveat: There is no way for The Common Man to determine with any reliability whether the Home Run Derby has affected the performance of an individual player. It certainly could have. But significant analysis of swing mechanics is probably necessary to address that.

Now then, since 2000, there have been 54 individual participants in the Home Run Derby, but 80 player-seasons are in our data set (8 participants per derby, 10 derbies). Of those 80 seasons, 47 experienced a drop in batting average from the first half to the second, losing an average of .0093 points off of their BA. Forty of the player-seasons experienced a drop in on-base percentage, and the cohort lost an average of .0045 points from their OBP. Forty-five seasons experienced a drop in SLG in the second half, losing an average of .037 in the process. Finally, between the first and second halves, players lost an average of 7.8 homers.

So at first glance, it appears that there is a drop, but there’s some noise in our data. First, the two halves, despite their names, are not the same duration. Teams tend to play somewhere around 90 games in the first “half” (Pujols’ Cardinals played 91 games before the All Star Break this year), meaning that there are fewer available at bats in the second half. This accounts for a great deal of the difference in total homeruns hit, such that the actual difference in terms of homeruns/game ends up being closer to 6.8 HR lost over the course of the season. Second, our data also includes players from 2009, whose HR are drastically down simply because they’ve only played 40 games or so since the break. If we remove these individuals from our analysis of the HR total, we find the difference in HR is something like 4.6 HR lost.

Finally, there’s the case of Ivan Rodriguez and Brandon Inge, both of whose rate stats and home run totals were and have been gutted by injury. In 2000, I-Rod was hitting .366/.393/.708 at the All Star Break, with 26 home runs, on his way to what could have been the greatest season by a catcher ever (perhaps even better than Mauer’s year this year). Eleven games into the second half, however, Pudge broke his right thumb on Mo Vaughn’s bat (is there nothing that behemoth can’t ruin?) as he tried to throw to second base, and missed the rest of the year. He finished the second half hitting .184/.225/.316 with 1 HR. Inge has suffered from knee problems unrelated to his Derby appearance since the break that have robbed him of a great deal of effectiveness. While he continues to play, Inge is hitting .170/.257/.250 in 31 games, and is probably not a good example of typical post-Derby play. I-Rod’s removal (Inge was previously removed from the analysis because he participated in 2009), the difference, adjusted for approximate games played, is approximately 3.8 homers.

Once we remove these significant noisemakers from the data, we see that, in 71 players-seasons, there have been 42 drops in BA, 35 in OBP, and 40 in SLG. This translates to an average drop of .0066/.0006/.029, a very small blip. Indeed, when one considers that the players likely to be part of the Derby had already performed at a level above their normal ability level, and the difference in HR hit, is likely attributable to players finding their truer level, or regressing to the mean, or nagging injuries that weren't there in the first half, rather than some kind of post-Derby swing hitch. So let’s stop wondering about Albert Pujols, who is probably fine aside from his seemingly constant throwing and foot problems. The man, while most uncommon (far more so than The Common Man, I assure you), is still just a man and prone to regression like everyone else. Unlike, for instance, Joe Mauer, who has upped his game since the All Star Break (during which you’ll remember he participated in the Derby), hitting .392/.449/.622.

Note: Other fun stuff in the data (I’m happy to send a spreadsheet around to anyone interested):

Barry Bonds’ line in the second half of 2002 was .404/.608/.825. An OBP of almost 61%? Holy God.

Somehow Hee Seop Choi slipped into a Home Run Derby in 2005 for the Dodgers. It was Choi’s last season in the majors, and he was hitting .236/.318/.458 at the time. He was not on the All Star Team, as a particularly bad Dodgers squad was represented by Jeff Kent and Cesar Izturis.

Another unlikely participant was Pudge Rodriguez in 2005. Pudge had 6 homers at the All Star Break, and would finish with just 14.

The biggest drop in BA was Jim Edmonds in 2003, who hit .303 in the first half and .214 in the second. Based on his playing time, and injury history, he very well may have been hurt. His OBP and SLG dropped as well, but were still perfectly acceptable in the second half (.357/.507). The largest jump in BA was Junior Griffey in 2000, who went from .238 to .317. Griffey’s OBP, however, ticked up just two points from .386 to .388, and his slugging from .550 to .564.

Ryan Howard’s OBP jumped from .341 in the first half of 2006 to .509 in the second half once pitchers stopped throwing him the ball over the plate, the biggest jump in OBP in this study. On the opposite end, Carl Everett dropped .074 in 2000.

The biggest drop in HR between halves (non-I-Rod edition) was Carlos Delgado in 2000, who hit 30 bombs in the first half, but just 11 after the break. Not so coincidentally, Delgado’s drop in SLG (.225 was also the highest in the data set.

The smallest difference between halves in the three rate categories in the data set belonged to Miguel Tejada (who hit .311 in both the first and second halves of 2004), Vlad Guerrero (who slugged .547 in the first half of 2007, and .548 in the second half), and Garret Anderson (.345 and .344 OBPs in 2003) and Grady Sizemore (.374 and .375 in 2008).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Different Kind of Rifle-armed

The Common Man was surprised to find out, when he got home last night, that his Tivo has been making some strange suggestions. For instance, The Common Man has little use for telenovelas like El Corazon Prohibido, or for something called Degrassi: The Next Generation. However, Tivo was right in its guess that its owner would appreciate a look at the iconic Western The Rifleman. The Rifleman, which aired on ABC from 1958 to 1963, ran for 168 episodes and starred Chuck Connors. It was the story of Lucas McCain, a widower who moves with his son to New Mexico, and uses his modified Winchester rifle (which allows him to fire a bullet in .3 seconds) to help the local Marshall.

The Common Man was excited because Connors, who got his big break playing the original owner of Old Yeller in the Disney classic and led to his role in The Rifleman, also was a bit of ballplayer. Connors was originally signed by his hometown Dodgers in 1940, but enrolled in Holy Cross soon after. After being drafted by the Yankees in 1942, he was drafted by the Army and served as a tank maintenance instructor until 1945. In 1946, he convinced Branch Rickey to sign him again to a minor league contract, and played four years in the Dodgers’ minor league system (and playing in the NBA during the offseason before getting a one at-bat tryout in 1949 (he grounded into a double play).

While Connors had significant success for the Dodgers’ farm clubs through 1949, he took a significant step backward in 1950. In 1951, Connors was shipped with Dee Fondy to the Cubs, where he was assigned to the Los Angeles Angels of the PCL. Connors had great success in LA in the spring of ’51 and was called up by the Cubs to take over for a faltering Fondy at 1B. He was given a disastrous extended trial as a 30 year old rookie, hitting .239/.282/.303 and 2 HR in 215 plate appearances. The next year, Connors was sent back to LA, where he struggled with injuries and eventually retired.

Before he did, Connors’ square jaw, on-field antics, and wavy hair were noticed by a fan in the entertainment industry. The unnamed fan inspired Connors to try acting after his baseball career was over. His success in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, however, dried up as the public moved on from straight-laced, earnest John Wayne-types and embraced the darker, more rebellious, anti-establishment heroes played by Eastwood, Newman, Beatty, and Redford. Connors retreated to occasional movie roles (as the father in Flipper, and the heavy in Soylent Green, and The Sarge in Airplane II) and guest spots on Spencer: For Hire, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Murder, She Wrote.

The life of Chuck Connors, despite reaching the pinnacle of both of his chosen professions, is something of a disappointment. Connors clearly had the talent to play major league ball; his minor league stats are Andre Ethier-like (low .300s BA, 15-25 HR/year power), particularly impressive given the developmental time he missed in college and in the Army. By the time he got back to playing ball full time, Connors was 25, and only got a real shot at 30. And while his good looks made him a terrific hero for early-TV Western morality plays, his limited range and lack of emotion left him unable to adjust to the changing needs of Hollywood following his short peak. If Connors had debuted in the early ‘40s, in either field, he might have truly become a legend and a household name.

Connors died in 1992 from pneumonia related to lung cancer. He was 71.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Fork

The Common Man wishes the Twins would just go ahead and make up their freaking minds already. On Saturday night, with the Twins a game under .500 and seemingly inventing new ways to lose against the A's and Angels, The Common Man was all set to trade Michael Cuddyer, the Twins lone tradeable commodity likely to bring back real talent (Mauer and Morneau are fixtures whose trade would timewarp the Twins fanbase back to 2000, and the rotation is doing poorly enough (and has enough health concerns) that dealing a starter is unlikely to get good value back, and most of the bullpen has negligible trade value). With the team floundering, and little on the farm likely to bring back the kind of middle infield upgrade the Twins desperately need (Ben Revere's lack of power makes him less than an ideal chip and he seems to be regarded as the future in Minny, last year's #1 pick, Aaron Hicks, has struggled in A-ball (though he's just 19), and 21-year old Wilson Ramos left his plate discipline in Fort Myers (138 PA for AA New Britain, 3 BB). Shooter Hunt looks lost, Carlos Gutierrez is still learning to be a starter, and Deolis Guerra is suddenly on fire in AA after disappointing for the last year and a half). The Twins have a bunch of flawed prospects, none of whom figure to be centerpiece quality for a blockbuster deal that will help Minnesota leapfrog both Detroit and Chicago.

Then the Twins go off and win 3 straight, including two against the White Sox, and now sit just 2 games back of Detroit. Mark Grudzielanek is hitting .333 in Rookie Ball (just 2 games, of course, but it sounds impressive). Jesse Crain has pitched well since coming back to the majors, lending some stability to the Twins pen. And now The Common Man has visions of October again (they're horrifying visions of being swept out of the playoffs by the Yankees, but still).

This is an exceedingly frustrating and confusing team...and the interwebz bear this out. Gleeman is seemingly waving a white flag (or at least a caution flag), and arguing against giving up farmhands for help. Neyer says it's too early to give up. Bill, from The Daily Something, or somebody really needs to step in here and break the tie. Because The Common Man is paralyzed by his own frustration and fervent fandom here. He wants to see this team win, but this club has angered The Common Man far more than any Twins squad in recent memory (grr...Gomez at the plate, Casilla, Punto, Young everywhere, all the injuries, Luis Ayala before he was jettisoned, Bill Smith's refusal to upgrade the bullpen). What say you, readers? Do the Twins go for broke or sell anything that isn't locked down or has sideburns? This team needs a direction.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Karma Police Strike Again

Karma sucks sometimes (though, by its very nature, The Common Man supposes it's a good thing just as often).

Last night, The Common Man was merrily watching the Twins beat the Oakland A's on his birthday. But because of the game's late start and the fact that The Common Man was bound and determined to spend a few hours of quality time with The Uncommon Wife, a totally hot scientist who has a grant due this week and so is mostly unavailable, The Common Man forsook his Twinkies after the 5th and headed upstairs to the boudoir. After all, how likely was it that the Twins would let an 11 run lead get away?

Huh? Oh.

The good news, I suppose, is that The Common Man didn't find out about it until this morning, when it was already too late to ruin his birthday. But still, The Common Man considers it a karmic bitch slap for embracing his inner Dodger fan and leaving early, and for making fun of Alexi Casilla's miserable birthday (Casilla's horrible day continued, as he and Nick Punto were the only Twins starters not to get a hit yesterday, combining to go 0-for-8 with a walk). Yuck.

Lost in all the talk about the A's comeback (it was epic) and the boning of the Twins by umpire Mike Muchlinski (which, after giving up an 11-run lead, let's face it, they kind of deserved), The Common Man wants to extend a hearty congratulations to the A's bullpen, who held Minnesota to just two runs (one earned) over 6.1 innings (and no runs over the last 4.2). Craig Breslow got some karmic love himself, getting a win in relief over the team that mistakenly cast him aside earlier this year.

And while Breslow and the A's pen deserve credit for silencing the Twins, perhaps their success had less to do with their awesomeness and more to do with them not being Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez again showed he's not ready for the big time, giving up 10 hits, 4 homers, and 11 runs in just 2.2 innings. In 61 career innings, Gio's got an 8.41 ERA, largely due to 16 homers and 42 walks. At just 23, he's still got time to adjust, but for now it's clear that Gonzalez is not good enough to pitch to hitters like Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer. So while all the offense was nice, The Common Man is skeptical given virtually all of it came off a guy who throws beachballs.

Tonight, The Common Man is going to try to get some karma back, watching the contest on Gameday in bed instead of on the big screen in the basement, with The Boy beside him because he doesn't want to sleep in his big boy bed. Stay tuned to see if his good deed goes unpunished.

Monday, July 20, 2009

One Great Birthday Ruins Another

The Common Man figured that there would be no better day for his grand re-blogging than the day of his birth, and this being that, he’s good to go. The Common Man hopes you’ll come back and enjoy the blog. The Common Man regrets his absence, generally caused by the crazy-high level of activity at work, the crazy-high level of activity of a two-and-a-half year old. Blogging, The Common Man is afraid, fell by the wayside. Totes The Common Man's bad, y'all.

Anyway, it's been a good birthday for The Common Man, who got up before The Boy and was able to make and eat his asiago-cheese bagel with no two-and-a-half year olds clamoring for a bite, little fingers stretched upwards, straining toward the grainy goodness, grasping at the air. Grainy Goodness.

The Common Man also had time to make The Uncommon Wife's coffee (The Common Man is not exempt from this sacred ritual, even on his birthday, despite the fact he hates coffee). Then he had some essential help from said Uncommon Wife getting The Boy ready for school and got out of the house relatively close to on time. Work, as The Common Man mentioned, has settled down for the near future to a manageable level. And dinner was enjoyed by all at a local establishment that serves Blatz in a can for $1.50/can. You can't go wrong with Blatz, people.

Blatz. You know you want it.

What made the day great (so fars), however, is the news that the Twins are finally, finally addressing their middle infield deficiency. Now, they're doing it by signing a 39-year old, oft-injured, definition of mediocre free agent who hasn't played since last season, but it's something. If he's capable of playing close to his level last year, Mark Gurdzielanek represents an upgrade. Now, it's not as good as if the Twins traded for the Pittsburgh Pirates' disgruntled duo, but it's a start.

Which one of us has to be Robin?

That said, what is a great birthday present for The Common Man, is the world's worst birthday present for The Common Man's fellow Cancer and July 20 birthday celebrant, Alexi Casilla. Casilla is, of course, the Twins' current second baseman, whose horrific and humiliating play at the plate and in the field has led the Twins to seek help from a creaky-kneed old-timer, who's going to be the singular cause of the team going over its names-on-the-backs-of-uniforms sewing budget.

See? That's a huge name!

Casilla, despite an acceptable performance last year (at least at the plate, where he had a 94 OPS+, in the field he was almost 12 runs below replacement level), has dropped into the abyss, "hitting" .176/.237/.216 (a 25 OPS+!) and managing to be almost 6 runs below replacement level despite playing in only 37 games.

Another bunt? You're not even trying anymore, are you?

Casilla has even received the kiss of death from the great Aaron Gleeman, who pointed out in early May that
"at this point waiting for that guy from early last season to return is wishful thinking. His production in the high minors was anything but impressive and he's basically been a replacement-level player through 187 games in the majors, posting a measly .619 OPS while playing mediocre, mistake-filled defense. Aside from those two months last season, nothing Casilla has done in the past three years predicts long-term success."
Whether it's because of basic crappiness or Casilla never really recovered from his thumb injury last year, it's clear Casilla isn't going to help the Twins soon.

Still, despite the undeniable truth that Casilla has earned being "fired" from the second base job, The Common Man can't imagine a crappier present on your birthday. Twins GM Bill Smith must've come around the corner this morning and smirked,

B.S.: "Congratulations, Alexi, on turning 25. Here's someone we just hired, who does the same exact job as you, but better. Let's see how this works out. Oh, here's a card."

A.C.: "Que? No hay pastel?"


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Slotting Pujols

Way back in 2001, a plucky young writer named Bill James published his magnum opus, his 1,000 page classic New Historical Baseball Abstract. In it, he traipses across baseball history, providing vignettes and anecdotes about the players and events that tickle his fancy. He also spends a good two-thirds of the book explaining his new analytical tool (win shares) and using it to rank the best 100 players at each position.

The Common Man's buddy Bill brought this all up last week, in his examination of Jeff Bagwell (who comes in at #4 among 1B) and Frank Thomas (#10) and comes to the conclusion that Bagwell was the better all around player (which was James' conclusion as well).

This prompted some confusion for The Common Man, who couldn't mentally get past Jeff Bagwell as the 4th best 1B ever. In the comment section, he wrote, "I love me some Bill James, but we've got to be able to find four better 1B than Jeff Bagwell, can't we? I can't quite wrap my mind around him being an inner circle HOF guy." Bill responded and effectively challenged that, pointing out a lack of candidates to unseat Bags. Gehrig and Foxx are obvious. James puts McGwire at #3 (Bagwell probably moved past him with three good years after the publication of the book). After Bagwell, James has Eddie Murray at #5, Johnny Mize (6, much more reasonable than The Common Man figured, after looking back). Harmon Killebrew was #7, Hank Greenberg is 8, and Willie McCovey is 9. Nobody really stands out as better than Bagwell.

But before anybody on that list really settles down and gets too comfortable, let's talk about this Albert Pujols guy who was not yet a twinkle in Bill James' eye in 2000-2001. Indeed, in 2001, Pujols was unanimously voted the NL Rookie of the Year, and excelled as a four-corners super sub (though he played 161 games) for Tony LaRussa's Cardinals. Two MVPs, four silver sluggers, a gold glove and seven all star appearances later, Pujols is 29 and enjoying his best season yet. His OPS+ is a Bondsian 198. He's homering every 13.5 plate appearances (16 in 216). His defense seems to have taken a hit so far this year, but Albert hasn't ever given back runs in the field in his career and isn't likely to across a full season at age 29. His career hitting numbers .335/.427/.626, 351 2B, 335 HR, 1019 RBI, 989 R, and 1588 hits are incredible for just 8+ years in, not even accounting for his career 171 OPS+. Yesterday, Matt Waters and Rob Neyer ran through their All-'00s team, and Pujols was prominently displayed. Neyer wrote "Pujols has absolutely zero competition, and must be the easiest choice here." Indeed, if he had the requisite 10 years, Pujols would probably be a shoe-in for the Hall, despite playing in an extreme offensive era, particularly because the stain of PED use has yet to touch his golden reputation (though, admittedly, you never know).

So, at this point, the question for The Common Man becomes, where does Pujols belong on James' list? Assuming that no one else is added from this era (yet, though Morneau, Ortiz, Howard, Fielder, Helton, Giambi, Konerko, Thome, Delgado, and Teixeira may have something to say about it already), where can we safely slot Pujols among the greatest of all time?

It's pretty clear to The Common Man that Pujols should already be in the top 12. Given the troubles with assessing 19th century players (which The Common Man has gone into before, he would err on the side of caution with players like Cap Anson (who is #11 for James). And Don Mattingly (#12, James' worst choice in the book), with respect, is not fit to carry Albert's jock. Given the defensive upgrade, and the peak value, and the fact that Pujols has created about 65% of the runs in 55% of the plate appearances as Thomas has, Albert probably edges ahead of The Big Hurt at #10.

McCovey's three best seasons ('68-'71) stack up with the best of Pujols' work very nicely. That said, the body of Pujols' work outside of those years is far less impressive. Stretch has an OPS+ of 146 before those three years, and 126 after. Pujols' lowest single season OPS+ is 151. The sheer dominance of Albert is too much to ignore here (note, Thomas probably also shoots past McCovey).

Hank Greenberg, at #8, is a tougher case. His counting stats (1628 H, 331 HR, 379 2B, 1276 RBI, 1051 R) are remarkably similar to Pujols' (see above). And Greenberg suffers from losing four years in his early 30s to military service. Just because he's 29 though, and still going, and is already marginally ahead of Greenberg, The Common Man's gotta push Albert up past him.

It pains The Common Man to say this, but in terms of peak value (and not even thinking about defense), Albert Pujols is already light years ahead of Harmon Killebrew (James' #7). Partial though The Common Man is to Harmon's plight, and cognizant of his adventures at 3B and LF (which drag down his overall contribution to his team and for which he shouldn't be blamed (Harmon was about as good a LF as a post...or Delmon Young, but the Twins kept looking for ways to create at bats for Rich Reese, among others), Pujols has been a far more complete player, and elite player, than Harmon ever was (The Common Man will now go scourge his back with his Twins-flail).

Johnny Mize is a tough call too. His peak is comparable to Pujols, but it's shorter and not easily bunched together. That said, Mize missed his 30-32 seasons to WWII, which would have presumably extended that peak, helped his overall counting stats, and raised his OPS+. We don't have advanced defensive stats for Mize, but his reputation preceeds him, as one of the sweetest fielders ever around the bag. It's probably fitting that, until Pujols does more to assert himself, he stays right about here. Call him #6b, and Mize #6a.

There's little doubt that Pujols will move past The [Original] Big Cat soon, perhaps by the end of the year. And depending on how you feel about Mark McGwire, he could be sneaking up on #4 as well. Eddie Murray probably is safe for another season or two, which means that Bagwell's ok for now. But with, presumably, 5 more prime or just-off-prime seasons left to go, and maybe another 3-5 beyond that, it's likely that Pujols will move into the top 3 all time before he's done. Whether he's actually able to push aside the twin colossuses of Gehrig and Foxx will be fun to watch.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Random Thursday: Joe Smarza

So, this week, fate played a funny joke on The Common Man. When he spun up the randomizer, he found himself face to face with Joe Smaza, an outfielder who got a two-game cup of coffee with the White Sox in 1946. Smaza batted five times, getting a single hit and scoring two runs. Because there is no play-by-play or boxscore data available from Retrosheet, we don't know about either of his appearances. From his minor league record, Smarza looks like a slap-hitting outfielder in the Scott Podsednik mode, who might have been able to hold down a 5th outfield job if he had the chance.

The Sox in those years weren't all that exciting either. In 1947, Chicago was in the third year of a seven year run of finishing under .500. Jimmie Dykes, their long-time manager, was fired some time between the 20th and 22nd of May when the team was 10-20, and was replaced by former ace and future Hall-of-Famer Ted Lyons (for whom the team went 64-60), who became player-manager but only pitched 5 games that year (going 1-4 with 5 CG and a 2.32 ERA). Smarza's teammates, aside from Lyons, would have included SS Luke Appling (still going strong at age 40), 1B Joe Kuhel (who was about to hang it up at 40), OF Wally Moses (who, at 35, was settling into the decline phase of his career), 1B Hal Trosky (who made an abortive attempt to come back after WWII), Ed Lopat (who would become an ace of the Yankees staff during their five year championship run from 1949-1953), and Bill Dickey's little brother George (who pretty clearly didn't inheret the talent in that family).

And that's all we know about Joe Smarza's baseball career. Eventually, Joe hung it up and returned to his native Michigan. He died in 1979 at the age of 56. Presumably, he had people who loved him and whose lives he touched. But the trail is cold. Sometimes, randomness hits dead ends. Of the '46 Sox, only Ralph Hodgin, Dave Philley, and Tom Jordan are still alive.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Today, as you undoubtedly already know, has been Memorial Day, and if you have served or are serving as a soldier, sailor, marine, Force guy, The Common Man thanks you for your sacrifice. The following entry is offered in the spirit of the day, at the end of the day, because now The Boy is finally asleep.

Understandably, when Memorial Day rolls around every year, baseball fans think of the Ted Williamses, Cecil Travises, and Bob Fellers, stars who saw combat in World War II and risked their lives for the United States and their fellow soldiers. These men are genuine heroes, and any amount of praise and attention they get will not be enough. That said, their heroism and service tends to overshadow the contributions of other ballplayers in other wars both because of the epic nature of the larger struggle and their legendary status as players. Here are a few of those players:

John Titus (OF, 1903-1913, Spanish-American War)

Titus was one of the best hitters on a decent string of Philadelphia Phillies teams in the early 20th century. Playing the outfield corners, Titus hit .282/.373/.385 in the Deadball Era, good for a 127 OPS+. At the time, Titus was probably one of the 15 most valuable hitters in the league. His mustache (he was supposedly the last man in the league to sport a handlebar mustache) was in the top five all by itself. Titus was considered a veteran of the Spanish-American War in 1898, in which the United States gained control of Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.

Gabby Street (C, 1904-1905, 1908-1912, 1931, Spanish-American War, World War I)

Street was Walter Johnson's personal catcher for four years in Washington. While doing little to distinguish himself as a player, he famously caught a ball dropped from the Washington Monument as a publicity stunt (people have always been easy to impress) and appeared as a pinch hitter at the ripe age of 48. Street also managed the Gas House Cardinals for three and two-thirds seasons from 1930-1933, finishing with two pennants and a World Championship and a .563 winning percentage in the National League.

Sammy Strang (IF, 1896, 1900-1908, Spanish-American War, World War I)

Strang was a minor star for the Giants and the Dodgers in the first decade of the 20th century. After a solid rookie year for the Giants in 1901, he jumped to the new Chicago White Sox, but jumped back to the National League before the end of the season. Released by the Chicago Orphans, he signed as a free agent with Brooklyn, before becoming John McGraw's supersub from 1905 through 1907. He led the National League with a .423 OBP in 1906 and managed a career OPS+ of 113. Bill James estimates that Strang was the smallest player of the 1900s, weighing in at around 120 pounds. Despite his leprechan-like size, Strang served as an infantry captain in World War I.

Eddie Grant (3B, 1905, 1907-1915, World War I)

Grant was a defense-first 3B for the Phillies, Reds, and Giants, back before 3B primarily became an offensive position. Grant was a relatively light hitter, posting an OBP above .300 in just four of his nine full seasons, and a SLG above .300 just three times.
(not to disparage our fine fighting men, but Grant could easily have been included in our discussion of ugly players a few weeks back)

Grant was Harvard-educated, and would go on to practice law after his playing career finished. Grant became the first former major leaguer to enlist in the Army after the war broke out in 1917 (though Hank Gowdy joined before the war started), became a Captain in the 307th infantry regiment, and was sent to France. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the last Allied push of the war, Grant's company was sent forward to help rescue a "lost" battalion behind German lines. Grant's commanding officer was killed and Grant became the new C.O. Soon thereafter, Grant was also struck by mortar shells and was killed instantly. He was the first former major leaguer killed in wartime action. The Giants memorialized Eddie with a monument in deep centerfield, and placed a wreath there every Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. Sadly, the Grant memorial was destroyed by careless fans who pillaged the Polo Grounds following New York's final home game in 1957.

Al Bumbry (CF, 1972-1985, Vietnam War)

Bumbry was drafted in the 11th round in the 1968 amateur draft. In 1973, he won the Rookie of the Year award when he hit .337/.398/.500 and led the American League in triples for the AL East champion Orioles. From 1969 through 1971, however, Bumbry was drafted and serving as a platoon leader in Vietnam, where he won a Bronze Star. Despite the late start to his career, Bumbry played 13 years for the Orioles and one for the Padres, and hit .281/.343/.378 for his career (104 OPS+), with 254 SB while playing a pretty decent centerfield. He never really approached the heights that that first season suggested, but Bumbry was a very good player for a long time, and a war hero to boot.

Garry Maddox (CF, 1972-1986, Vietnam War)

As good as Bumbry was, Maddox seemed to consistently do him one better. In '68, Maddox was drafted in the 2nd round by the Giants, but was drafted by Uncle Sam and sent to Vietnam from 1969-1970. While Maddox became known primarily for his exceptional defense, a close second was his excellent and bushy beard, which helped Philadelphia fans differentiate him from Greg Luzinski. Indeed, the beard was and is iconic, but also necessary. While in Vietnam, exposure to chemicals made his skin extremely sensitive, and he used the beard to protect himself. For his career, Maddox hit .285/.320/.413 (100 OPS+) for the Giants and Phillies while providing the best defense in the National League.