Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Successful, Amusing, and Awesome Failures

The Common Man's not going to lie, after a long and busy day at the new gig (and not wanting to anger the new overlords by blogging in the office), and choir practice tonight, The Common Man doesn't have it in his heart to throw down with anything resembling a lengthy, engaging argument. But given that the benevolent Rob Neyer drove boku traffic to The Common Man's realm on Monday (and thanks to Lar at Wezen-ball for attracting Rob's all-seeing eye),
The Common Man feels inspired to keep giving. So in celebration of a terrific couple days here at TCM.com, here's a bunch of awesomeness:

-Speaking of Lar, that man seems to have an unending list of fascinating questions. His latest is, by far, the most interesting to date. Lar's search for a twin holy grails of baseball was, spoiler alert, ultimately unsuccessful in that no two games proved remotely identical. But his brilliant idea, execution, and explanation made the trip entirely worthwhile. And The Common Man can't wait to hear about more adventures with the Retrosheet database, and will gladly ride along as Sancho again.

-Speaking of quixotic quests, Gary Matthews Jr received permission to leave Angels came for a day after learning he was being demoted to the team's 5th outfielder. He was presumably off looking for his lost talent (or, perhaps more accurately, luck).

Anyway, his AWOL adventures led to the following IM debate between The Common Man and loyal reader, commenter, and occasional guest poster Bill:

TCM: I love that Gary Matthews essentially needed a personal day because he didn't see the writing on the wall
Bill: heh. yeah
TCM: umm...Gary? everybody was saying the same thing last year, and you haven't gotten any better and you didn't need a day off then
Bill: right
Bill: so the Pierre deal has to be considered worse than the Mathews one, doesn't it?
TCM: Matthews: .242 .319 .357, 77 OPS+ last year
Pierre: .283 .327 .328, 72
given position, yeah I'd say you're right but it's closer than I'd have thought
Bill: I guess I'm thinking from the perspective of the time they were made. Both have pretty much been zeroes since. But Mathews was coming off an all-star year. The BABIP data and all of that would've told you it wouldn't happen again, but at least it happened. Juan Pierre had lucky-empty-batting-averaged his way to two good years three years BEFORE the one he signed in, and had been consistently terrible in the two seasons between that and the contract. And Mathews was (wrongly, apparently) perceived as a good CF, while Pierre's defensive shortcomings were well known
TCM: you're probably right that the idea was worse to sign Pierre but the outcome has been the same and ultimately, that's what we tend to be judged on
Bill: I mean, they were both terrible signings at the time. But the Pierre one was shoot-yourself-in-the-head terrible, while the Mathews one was only you'll-never-work-in-this-town-again terrible
TCM: I suppose I have trouble distinguishing between degrees of terrible. When something is terrible, it simply shouldn't be...case in point: the new Knight Rider and, um...yogurt flavored Pepsi. Both bad ideas for different reasons but it doesn't change the fact that neither should exist
TCM: I should point out I'm talking about the contracts, not the people I have no problem with the existence of either Juan Pierre or Gary Matthews Jr
Bill: that's an important distinction
TCM: right, I don't want to take away their right to exist. just their right to exist in an undeserved opulent lifestyle of self-delusion I wish someone would sell them on the idea of flood-proof furniture

-That last joke (which you probably didn't get) would have been funnier if you had read Pablo Torre's fascinating article in this last week's Sports Illustrated, where he recounted the reasons professional athletes end up on the skids. Torre reports,
• By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.

• Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.

• Numerous retired MLB players have been similarly ruined, and the current economic crisis is taking a toll on some active players as well.

Because athletes tend to be painfully ignorant of financial systems, overly trusting of friends and family members (many of whom mean well) who care for their money or have "investment opportunities" to share, have high rates of divorce (especially after their playing careers end), and far too eager to own businesses rather than invest in mutual funds or common stock they are vulnerable to rapid financial decline when their careers end (and sometimes before). Perhaps the best story Torre spins is the shortest, and comes from Matthews' teammate (and replacement), Torii Hunter:
"About five years ago, Hunter says, he invested almost $70,000 in an invention: an inflatable raft that would sit under furniture. The pitch was that when high-rainfall areas were flooded, consumers could pump up the device, allowing a sofa to float and remain dry."

What would happen when the sofa reached the ceiling is, of course another matter. But The Common Man kind of would root for the couch to find its way out of the house somehow. He would love to watch Torii Hunter shoot the rapids in his La-Z-Boy, wouldn't you? It's amazing this didn't catch on. If anything could cheer up those poor people along the Red River, it's Torii paddling by on a Hide-a-bed.

-Finally, to celebrate Rob Neyer's visit, and those of you who followed the gentle song of his pipe, The Common Man feels like something needs to get blown up. After all, it's been a while since there's been a good explosion around here. In the spirit of things, however, The Common Man has found the following Mythbusters clip, where Adam and Jaime try to knock the cover off a ball. The Common Man thinks this will suffice:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Moose Hunting

Lar's retrospective on the career of Mike Mussina yesterday on wezen-ball, ended on an interesting note:

"The last eight years of his career, though, which he spent on the Yankees, were not nearly as good as his first. Whether this is a product of his complacency after signing a big contract, or a result of the pressure of pitching in New York City, or just a natural result of his aging (after all, he didn't sign with the Yankees until he was 32), it's hard to say. It is clear that those Yankees years were not up to the standard that he set for himself in Baltimore, and that seems to be the main reason that some people don't remember him as being great."

That stuck in The Common Man's craw, and he started to wonder what, if anything, happened to Mussina during the move from The Charm City to The Big Apple. Now, The Common Man should preface this by saying that he is not a number cruncher by trade, and that some of the conclusions here may be rough. He leaves it to those with better resources and more time at their disposal (or just to the peanut gallery of armchair bloggers) to figure out if The Common Man is on to something here. All statistics were derived from that trustiest of trusty sites, baseballreference.com.

Here are Mussina's rate stats for his time as an Oriole and a Yankee:

Orioles ERA: 3.53
Yankees ERA: 3.88

Orioles K/9: 6.9
Yankees K/9: 6.2

Orioles BB/9: 2.1
Yankees BB/9: 1.8

Orioles HR/9: .94
Yankees HR/9: .96

As you'd expect, the raw data seems to indicate that Lar is right. Moose's ERA is a third of a run higher as a Yankee, and his declining strikeout and walk rates seem to indicate a pitcher who's compensating for a loss of velocity. In addition, the relative stability of his homerun rate could be a result of moving from a good homerun park (Oriole Park at Camden Yards) to a more difficult one (Yankee Stadium). Like most pitchers, as he aged Mike Mussina had to survive by pitching more to contact.

And given the state of the Yankees defense, perhaps this was exactly the wrong time for Mussina to have to make this adjustment. In his prime, up the middle in Baltimore, Mussina had Ripkens (plural), Harold Reynolds, Mike Devereaux, Robbie Alomar, Brady Anderson, and Mike Bordick, all players with excellent defensive repuations. Meanwhile, as a Yankee, he's had Soriano, Jeter, Miguel Cairo, an aging Bernie Williams, Robinson Cano, Johnny Damon, and Melky Cabrera. Defense has not been a hallmark of the Yankees of late, and Mussina's shift in pitching strategy seemed destined to lead to more basehits.

Indeed, if one crunches the defensive numbers, Mussina's Orioles allowed a .293 average on balls in play, while his Yankees allowed a .298 batting average. As Mussina's strike out rate dropped, one would assume that this more porous defense would affect his overall performance even greater. And indeed Mussina gave up 8.5 hits/9 as an Oriole, but 9.1 as a Yankee. And given how many Baltimore singles may have ended up as New York gappers, perhaps it's not a stretch to say that the majority of Mussina's problems in New York were caused by the disappointing defense playing behind him, rather than the attrition of his ability (during which he maintained a respectable K/9).

The case is, of course, far from proven. There's significant noise in that data and a lot of logical leaps that The Common Man made. Perhaps as Mussina gets closer to his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, others can do some of the heavier lifting, and demonstrate just how effective Moose remained in the Yankee years, and how deserving he is of baseball's highest honor. In the meantime, since it seems to bring you people back in droves (and The Common Man does love droves), here's Mike Mussina's Strat-o-Matic card from his fabled 1992 season (18-5, 2.54 ERA, 48 BB, 16 HR, 130 K in 241 IP, and a 157 ERA+):

As you can see, Mussina has a pronounced reverse platoon split. He allows fewer hits and less power to lefties (in his real season, lefties managed to hit just .220/.269/.280 off Moose, with just one homer in 459 plate appearances), has a strong ability to induce the double play (any grounder with an A next to it is a DP), and can go deep into games (8 innings without tiring). He even holds runners well, automatically decreasing their chances of stealing second by 15% (the hold -3 rating). In all, this is what The Common Man dreams about at night, when he thinks about the perfect pitcher. And only 23!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fallout Boy

The Common Man wrote last week about his love of Balboni and of his induction into and fascination with the Strat-o-Matic realm. It inspired him to throw a couple of teams together and play a game or two. The terms were simple, The Common Man simply had to find each player interesting. Perhaps they were very good. Perhaps terrible. Perhaps still active or recently retired. Perhaps they end up on The Common Man's television these days, bloviating about the game they used to play. Or perhaps, like Balboni, they were just fun. Each team had 22 man rosters (with three starting pitchers each, since The Common Man didn't know how many of these he'd end up wanting to play), but only the starting nine hit for either team. Here's how they were constructed:

The visiting team
1992 Pat Listach, 2B (.290/.352/.349
1992 Deion Sanders, RF (.304/.346/.495)
1990 Harold Baines, DH (.284/.378/.441)
1992 Matt Williams, 3B (.227/.286/.384)
1990 Eric Anthony, LF (.192/.279/.351
1992 Brian Harper, C (.307/.343/.410)
1992 Sammy Sosa, CF (.260/.317/.393)
1990 Steve Balboni, 1B (.192/.291/.406, of course he made the cut)
1990 Ozzie Guillen, SS (.279/.312/.341)

1990 Nolan Ryan, SP (13-9, 3.44, 137 H, 74 BB, 232 K in 204 IP)

The home team
1992 Paul Molitor, DH (.320/.389/.461)
1990 Robbie Alomar, SS (.287/.340/.381)
1990 Ken Griffey, Jr., CF (.300/.366/.481)
1990 Kevin Maas, 1B (.252/.367/.535)
1990 Gary Sheffield, 3B (.294/.350/.421)
1992 Shane Mack, LF (.315/.394/.467)
1992 Mickey Tettleton, C (.238/.379/.469)
1990 Rob Deer, RF (.209/.313/.432)
1990 Jose Oquendo, 2B (.252/.350/.316)

1990 John Smoltz, SP (14-11, 3.85, 206 H, 90 BB, 170 K, in 231.3 IP)

It looked like it should be a bloodbath. Smoltz's team clearly had the offensive advantage, and was not terrible in the field either, with Griffey, Mack, Deer, Sheffield, and Oquendo. But, of course, baseball is a funny game, and Strat-o-Matic can be even funnier. Nolan Ryan pitched a 2-hit shutout and won 3-0, striking out 11 and walking 6. And of those 11, only one was Rob Deer (Mack and Maas went down three times each, and Tettleton twice). Ryan's dominance shouldn't be that big of a surprise, as he was facing a lineup that was prone to the K, and he was the ultimate strikeout pitcher.

Smoltz's shortcoming was the longball in this contest, as he surrendered a solo shot each to Baines and to Balboni (long live Steve Balboni!). Balboni's was particularly surprising, given his troubles against RHP. But a 5-4 roll meant that Smoltz was vulnerable, and the 20-sided die did not roll his way.

Smoltz did manage to strike out 12 batters in eight innings, before giving way to Nasty Boy and mouth-breather Rob Dibble (circa 1990), who struck out the side in the 9th (four of the victorious visiting team's 15 K's were from Sosa).

The second game featured the same lineups, with 1990 Oil Can Boyd going for the visitors (10-6, 2.93, 164 H, 52, BB, 113 K in 190.7 IP) and 1990 Greg Maddux (15-15, 3.46, 242 H, 71 BB, 144 K in 237 IP) for the homers. It has always struck The Common Man that Strat-o-Matic (and Diamond Mind, for that matter) perpetually undervalues certain pitchers for reasons that defy comprehension. As he replayed the late 1920s and early 1930s, for instance, on DMB, Lefty Grove consistently underperformed his real stats. Maddux similarly seems to struggle in Strat-o-Matic, perhaps because his pinpoint control and ability to generate weak contact is mitigated by the hitters' cards he is forced up against. Because of the nature of Strat-o-Matic, pitchers are just as likely to affect the outcome of an at bat as a hitter (because the odds of the results being drawn from the pitcher and hitter cards is split evenly). But perhaps certain pitchers are more likely to control the outcome of hitters' at bats than others, particularly those with pinpoint control and wicked movement, like Maddux.

Or maybe it's all been the luck of the roll. The Common Man would be interested in hearing what others' experiences are with the Mad Dog.

In this game, true to form, Maddux struggled, walking 4 and scattering seven hits through seven innings, but only let in three runs. Oil Can, on the other hand, was beaten around Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, giving up five runs in five innings of work.

Anyway, The Common Man has no idea when and if he'll play more of these games. But as these things tend to go, The Common Man will undoubtedly get his inner 13-year old up and make a couple more squads to battle on the basement floor (much to the amusement of The Uncommon Wife, who descended the stairs to find her husband sitting cross-legged on the floor, hunched over a board and a mess of cards, rolling some dice and keeping score like he was at the Metrodome. She ascended them laughing hysterically, after he told her Steve Balboni had just hit a home run, but that Nolan Ryan pitched a two-hitter.). He realizes that you may have no real interest in this phenomenon (too bad for you). But as long as the results were fresh and the outcomes interesting (and real games haven't started yet), he thought he'd share that his discussion last week has manifested itself in strange and peculiar ways. Now The Common Man promises to leave you alone about fictional baseball games being played in his house. Instead, he'll bring back some of the more interesting cards he finds, now and again, in an effort to highlight the very great, very bad, and otherwise noteworthy players in the box. And if you have any interesting cards to share, feel free to scan them in and send them The Common Man's way via the email address to the right. He'll be happy to pass along your finds to the rest of the class.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


A while back, The Common Man talked about getting to meet Steve "Bye-bye" Balboni, a mustachioed hulk-of-a-man who manned first base and designated hitter for the Royals in the mid '80s, before moving on to the Mariners and Yankees. While The Common Man has long been an admirer of the soup strainer, Balboni has particularly fascinated The Common Man since 1991, when The Common Boy received his first version of the Strat-o-Matic Baseball board game for his birthday. The box contained (and still contains, you don't think The Common Man threw the single greatest present he ever go as a child away, did you?) a cardboard playing field, little pieces to represent baserunners, three dice (one white and two red), and two sets of pick cards numbered from 1-20 (which The Common Man quickly replaced with a 20-sided di (suck it, cool kids, The Common Man totally had a 20-sided di. Thankfully, he did not complicate his social awkwardness further by playing D&D.)) Also, there were several complicated looking charts and 800 individual player cards from the 1990 season.

Using these cards, like with the amazing Diamond Mind Baseball of today, the 13-year old Common Boy could replay entire seasons and make the players perform just as they did in the pros. Of these cards, The Common Man's favorite was undoubtedly Balboni's. In 1990, Balboni got into 116 games for the Yankees, hitting .192/.291/.406, with 17 homers in just 307 plate appearances. That he garnered just 34 RBI only adds to the delightful all-or-nothingness of his season. Indeed, fully one-third of his hits were homers that year. He had just 6 doubles. And scored a total of 24 runs (meaning other players knocked him home just 7 times. And he struck out 91 times, or once every 3.37 times up. Because of this, and because of his massive platoon split (.162/.205/.267 vs. RHP, .211/.340/.497 vs. LHP), Balboni's card was a thing of beauty:

Veteran players will note how feeble Balboni looks against RHP, with virtually no chance to get on board. Against lefties, however, Balboni is a monster, with seven different places he can hit the ball out. The odds of that are complicated, however, related to the likelihood of a specific dice combination coming up. Still, the all-or-nothing approach Balboni showed that season meant that every at-bat he got on the floor of The Common Man's bedroom or the family room coffee table was an adventure.

From 1990 and 1992 (the only two seasons The Common Man can find), here are some of the other great all-or-nothing cards from the game. First, from 1990, here's Orioles 1B Sam Horn, a monster of a man who never really rose to prominence because he couldn't hit LHP (and couldn't field):

Look how bereft of good things his left-side columns are. Indeed, the best he can muster is a sac fly. Against righties he feasts, with several opportunities to do big damage. A Horn/Balboni platoon in 1990 would have been a great thing indeed. That year, amazingly, Horn totaled 280 plate appearances (his second highest total ever. Only 17 of those came against LHP. Horn hit .248/.332/.472 that year, with 14 homers. But, having never caught on, he'll have to be content with inspiring a terrific message board and a great story from Shyster.

1990 was also the year of Kevin Maas, another all-or-nothing, lefty first baseman in the AL East. Maas played for the Yankees that year, and became the fastest player ever to 10, and then to 20 homers in his career. But by September of that year, teams had found the holes in Maas's swing and his production was (forgive The Common Man), no Maas. Still, in 300 PAs in 1990, Maas hit .252/.367/.535, good for a 150 OPS+, with 21 homers. His card was awfully fun too:

One slugger who managed to have extended success was Cecil Fielder, whose 1990 stands out in an era of relatively low offensive production. Back from Japan, Fielder pasted the ball that summer, good for .277/.377/.592 (a 167 OPS+), 51 homers, and this card:

But among these all-or-nothing allstars, Fielder stands out as one of the few truly productive players (well, he and Rob Deer). Eric Anthony was a lot less lucky. Billed as a huge prospect by the Astros, Houston fans were understandably disappointed by his performance when he was rushed to the majors. So was The Common Man, every time Anthony came up in either 1990 or 1992:

That's pretty brutal, but the Astros somehow managed to ship him to Seattle and get Mike Hampton in the deal, so it wasn't too bad a bargain.

There are more cards The Common Man wants to share, but he's unsure how this post will be received, how much additional explanation of the game and what the cards mean will be necessary, and doesn't want any of the cards (or players) to not get their due because The Common Man just kept putting out card after card. So he'll close here with just one more. Because this list wouldn't be complete without acknowledging the greatest all-or-nothing, three-true-outcomes slugger of them all, Ken Phelps, who finished his 11 year career in 1990 in less than spectacular fashion with the Oakland A's and Cleveland Indians, as you can see:

Alas, a .150/.280/.192 line doesn't use as much black ink as it used to. But it still apparently gets you a bushy, bushy mustache and some comically oversized glasses.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Random Thursday: Red Murff

This week’s lucky random man is Red Murff, a relief pitcher at the major league level who got into 26 games for the Milwaukee Braves from 1956-1957. Murff was a minor league legend in the Texas League in the early 1950s, and compiled a 114-71 record across six minor league seasons before being called up in ’56. In 1955, Murff was named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year, after going 27-11 for the Dallas Eagles, with a 1.99 ERA in 303 IP (including a 19.7 of those innings in a single game, a 3-2 loss to the Texarcana Bears). The next year, the Braves purchased him from the New York Giants and made him a rookie at 35 years old. He worked as a mop-up man (the team was 1-13 in games in which Murff appeared), and rarely pitched in any meaningful situations. The next year, Red was used heavily in the early goings, getting into 14 games before the end of May. In his last 6 outings, however, Murff gave up 12 runs and was sent back to the minors from whence he came. Pitching for the Witchita Braves that year, Red went 11-9 with a 3.63 ERA. But his former club went on to best the Yankees in the World Series, behind the amazing performance of Lew Burdette (3-0, 3 CGs (games 2, 5, 7), 0.27 ERA). Murff would never get back, and never really contributed meaningfully during his playing career at all. But what sets Murff apart is what he did after his career was over.

For without Murff, two of the greatest hurlers in baseball's great history may not have even made it to the big stage. After his playing days were done, Murff became a well-respected minor-league coach and manager, and is generally credited (according to his obituaries, anyway) with giving Phil Niekro the confidence to throw his knuckleball in game situations. Knucksie, of course, won 318 games in his Hall of Fame career, and his success inspired his brother to follow suit and win 221. Of course, it's difficult to know exactly what kind of role Murff actually played in Niekro's career (without reading Phil's biography Knuckle Balls, which you can buy online for as little as $.72, that is), but for now The Common Man will take that at face value (until his copy of the book gets here).

After coaching, Murff went into scouting, where he discovered and signed a young Texas right-hander named Nolan Ryan. In his Hall of Fame induction speech, Ryan singled the former pitcher out, saying "He thought when he saw me at 6-foot-2 and 140 pounds, he wasn't discouraged by my build and by the way I threw the baseball as many other scouts were. And I appreciate the fact that Red spent so much time with me and worked to help me become a better pitcher. Thank you, Red." The Ryan Express finished up with 324 wins, 5714 strikeouts, and 7 no-hitters.

So, while Red Murff may not have done much worth noting while he played the game, he is proof positive that even the shortest careers can leave an indelible mark on baseball, forever altering its history. Indeed, while Murff was only directly responsible for a 2-2 record and 31 strikeouts in 50.3 innings of work (and a 4.65 ERA), if we look at his larger impact, we can indirectly credit him with 644 wins and 9087 strikeouts in 10,840.7 innings in 53 seasons (and a 3.27 ERA). Indeed, if we generously credit him for Joe Niekro's work as well, he's good for 865 wins and 10,834 strikeouts in 14,424.7 innings pitched in 75 seasons (and a 3.35 ERA). Not to mention any additional innings, wins, and Ks that come out of Lance Niekro, who's getting the chance to reinvent himself as a knuckleballer just because he's Joe's son and Phil's nephew. Not a bad legacy.

Sadly, John Robert "Red" Murff passed away in November of last year at the age of 87. But his stamp on the game endures.

The Unusual Suspect

What the hell? There have been questions about Jose Tabata's motivation and overall makeup before, and that's one of the central reasons the Bucs were able to pry him away in the Xavier Nady deal last year. But I'm not sure anyone would have pointed to "being tangentially associated with a kidnapping in Florida" was on the list of possible outcomes. At this point, after all the injuries, missteps, and now general weirdness that has happened to their prospects in the past ten years, if a giant piece of Skylab fell from the heavens and killed everyone at their minor league camp, The Common Man would not bat an eye.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sadness, Awesomeness, Random Awesomeness in Video Form

-First and most importantly, The Common Man is very saddened to learn of the death of John Brittain, one of the driving forces behind The Hardball Times as well as other sites. John has been a terrific source of snark regarding the business of baseball (stadium deals in particular), and was continually frustrated by his beloved Blue Jays. Maury Brown, at The Biz of Baseball has a wonderful post up about the man, his struggles, his spirit, and his talent. Condolences to John's wife and daughters, and though The Common Man never met him, I feel like I've lost a friend.

-The Common Man has spent the day convelescing and recovering from a nasty virus (thanks to The Boy starting daycare full-time) and an awesome WBC Championship game that went deep into the wee hours the night before. Really, The Common Man could watch 162 straight South Korea vs. Japan games and be a happy man. The two teams play so fluidly, and seem to really match up to one another well. It was a thrilling contest from beginning to end, and it's 4 hours flew by.

-In particular, the sublime 5th inning featured remarkable moment after moment. After leading off the top half with a walk and a single off of former MLBer Jung Bong (still one of the greatest names of all time), Japan looked poised to break the game open. But Hyun Wook Jong came in and fired gas at the Japanese, striking out Kenji Johjima, then getting a strike-out/throw-out double play with Michihiro Ogasuwaru at the plate to get out of the jam. Shin-Soo Choo homered to deep left-center to lead off the bottom half against Hisashi Iwakuma and tied the score, amping up the intensity of the contest to 11. And when Young Min Ko looked to ignite the Koreans further by stretching a single, Japanese leftfielder Seiichi Uchikawa made one of the best all-around outfield plays The Common Man had ever seen. Getting quickly to the ball down the LF line, Uchikawa slid to cut the ball off, back-handed it, popped up, and unloaded a strike to second base. The throw, if The Common Man is being honest, was just a hair late. But the play was close enough that the runner was called out, made possible by a beautiful effort. The Common Man can't find video of the play to embed, but has a link that you can use here.

-Of course, the next inning, The Common Man thought Korean CF Yong-Kyu Lee was dead after he was caught trying to steal second. As you can see in the above video, Lee's helmet crumples against the Japanese shortstop's knee, and then explodes. The force with which Lee must have been moving was incredible, and it's lucky he didn't suffer a severe head or spinal injury. Hell, Corey Koskie fell down two years ago, and he still can't get on the field (a story that made The Common Man exceedingly sad, by the way).

-That The Common Man has to wait another four years to watch the Japanese and Koreans go at it full-tilt is incredibly disappointing. The three year cycle seemed more proper to The Common Man, especially if Major League Baseball wants to build on the momentum of what has been a wildly successful Classic.

-Oh sure, The Common Man has heard and read the complaints from bloggers and pundits who decry the WBC and its flaws. Indeed, the timing proved somewhat troublesome, with the final three games falling on the first weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. And perhaps Americans didn't fall quite as in love with its nationalist nature as Bud Selig and Tommy Lasorda were hoping. But its successes, which far outweigh the failures, suggest that tweaking the format and timing is better than drastically revamping the formula.

One of the most frustrating things to deal with is the notion that something you may enjoy, or want very much to enjoy, is not actually intended for you. This is something that the American media seems to miss about the WBC. Hey, Jason Stark! Sorry you can't get into the tourney, dude, and that's nice that you've got your own special proposal all ready to go. But dude, this tournament is not supposed to cater to you. Or to The Common Man. Or to the average Red Sox fan. It's aim is global, not local.

Rather than laud it for what it does (spread goodwill toward the game and MLB internationally, make gobs of money internationally, provide a more exciting and popular alternative spectacle to Spring Training that fans can watch nationally (as opposed to sporadic local broadcasts of spring exhibitions), provide live sports in a relatively dead time in the professional sporting calendar, and (perhaps) provide a showcase for potential future major leaguers), columnists and bloggers and talking-heads pick it apart because it isn't as good as the regular season or because there is no absolutely perfect time to play it or because there is a chance that their stars will get hurt (as if Chipper's oblique strain wasn't likely to result from working out with his Braves, given the aches and pains he's developed in recent years) in something so low as an exhibition (and what, pray tell, are Spring Training games???).

Look, The Common Man is not saying the tournament doesn't need some tweaks. But before anybody starting talking about altering the fundamental structure of the tournament, keep in mind how incredibly profitable it has been (in every sense of the word), and how baseball has been able to pull this off without significantly angering any of the other professional leagues who could short-circuit their efforts. Indeed, as Japan and Korea have proved, a WBC without them would not be legitimate. Attendance was up. Television ratings were way up. International television ratings were Super Bowl-esque. All The Common Man is saying is that it can take time to build a fan base for something so awesome. Lest America not learn the lessons of Firefly, an awesome show doomed before its time because many viewers (and Fox executives) didn't get it right away, it will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of Firefly. Let this grow and flourish and America will come around...eventually.

-Speaking of tweaking the formula, the drama of this last game was incredibly high, and much of that comes from the semi-finals and finals being single-elimination rounds. Now, The Common Man appreciated the extra tension, but after spending the first two rounds acknowledging that any pitcher can have a bad (or exceptional) game, and that a single loss shouldn't kill a team's chances by making each of the stanzas double-elimination, it's odd that these last three games had so much riding on them. Again, The Common Man loved the games, but thinks the teams and tournament would have been better served by giving the losing squads a final second chance (or at least making the semi-finals a best-two-of-three affair). Sure, the US and Venezuela may have ended up kicking the ball around the field like they did in their semi-final games this time around, but at least the result would appear more legitimate.

-Finally, speaking of things The Common Man enjoyed watching, feast on the following video by one of The Common Man's elementary school friends. Remember, it's Charades, not Tell Me What I'm Thinking!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fantasy Man

The Common Man spent part of tonight engaged in battle, scrapping over ballplayers with several other bloggers in the Baseball Bloggers Fantasy League, organized by Zach Sanders of MLB Notebook, like the 2002 Texas Rangers over a loose needle. This is The Common Man's first foray into fantasy baseball in some years, as the time-suck of grad school and fatherhood conspired to keep him otherwise occupied.

So it was with a neophyte's sense of excitement and trepidation that The Common Man waded once more into the fantasy forum, hoping to cobble together a winning squad against the likes of Charlie Saponara of Fantasy Baseball 365.com, tHeMARksMiTh of Way Gack and Gone, David Bloom of BaseballHappenings.com, Conor Cashel of 6 Pound 8 Ounce Baby Joba, as well as the aforementioned Sanders and frequent commenter/occasional guest columnist Bill (amongst others). The process was made more challenging by the somewhat arbitrary stats Zach chose for the pitching side of the league, which included walks allowed (but not hits or WHIP) and, believe it or not, holds. Hey, it wasn't The Common Man's league and he's not complaining. Just bemused. The idea, Zach argued, was to encourage owners to choose non-standard relievers, rather than just going with closers. Anyway, next year, The Common Man is pushing for BAwRISP,2Outs. The other stats are OBP, SLG, HR, RBI, Runs, SB, K, Wins, ERA, and Saves.

Anyway, The Common Man is largely pleased with his squad, ChristianBale's Unbridled Fury. He drafted 5th overall, and took Jimmy Rollins. Here's the roster:

C Victor Martinez, Chris Iannetta, Matt Wieters
1B Adrian Gonzalez
2B Orlando Hudson
3B Carlos Guillen, Josh Fields, Troy Glaus
SS Jimmy Rollins, Yunel Escobar
OF Nick Markakis, Justin Upton, Milton Bradley, Rick Ankiel, Jason Kubel, JD Drew
SP Brandon Webb, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Joba Chamberlain, Gavin Floyd, Kyle Lohse, Joe Saunders
RP Brad Lidge, Jonathan Broxton, Juan Cruz, Huston Street

The Common Man's strengths are obviously catching and starting pitching. Also, he has some good high-upside guys in the OF. He could probably use more saves (which could happen if Street ends up closing in Colorado), wouldn't mind more power, and an upgrade at 2B. He figures he can use one of his catchers (probably Iannetta), one of his top four starters (Joba?), and Escobar to get that done. The Common Man doesn't plan to bore you with updates very often, as he understands that reading about someone else's fantasy team can be an awful lot like watching paint dry. But, should he significantly out- or under-perform, The Common Man will be certain to let you all know and perhaps solicit advice from time to time. After all, he's new at this (again).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Random Thursday: Javier Martinez

Since returning from the desert, The Common Man recognizes he hasn't had anything to say here. And he's sorry about that. The past few days have been busy with recovery, interviews, meetings, and general craziness. He's back in time for this week's randomness, however, so perhaps you will forgive him.

This week's focus is on Javier Martinez, a right-handed reliever who played for the Pirates in 1998. Martinez was originally drafted out of Puerto Rico in the third round of the 1994 draft by the Chicago Cubs. After three solid seasons in the low minors, Martinez was bombed in 1997 while splitting the season between Rockford and Dayton, and was left off the Cubs 40 man roster the following winter. From there, he was picked in the Rule 5 draft by the A's, who sold him to the Pirates for an undisclosed amount. Martinez would get into 37 games in '98, and his 4.83 ERA (90 ERA+) masked how terrible his performance was. In just 41 innings, Martinez had 34 walks, 4 HBPs, and 5 wild pitches. Also, he managed to accumulate 10 unearned runs in those 41 innings, which worked out to an unacceptable 7.02 runs allowed/9. Martinez returned to the minors the following year, but never found the plate again. In 96 professional innings after leaving the majors, Martinez walked 86 batters, until he himself walked away from the game in 2004. Martinez was promoted before his time, obviously, and something about his experience caused his BB/9 to almost double. He became another in a long line of failed pitching prospects.

But for one summer, Martinez had a job. A good job. Dynamic and well-paying. For the summer of 1998, Martinez was a major league pitcher. The Common Man will never be able to say that, but will dream about The Boy being able to throw 90+ until it becomes clear that he's just as short as his father. However, today, The Common Man can relate to the sudden realization Martinez must have had when he was selected and kept by the Pirates, that he had new, stable, and exciting new positionm with a different organization. For today The Common Man was hired to a new position. The new job will start next Tuesday and The Common Man is incredibly excited by the compensation it will provide, as well as the stimulation. The Common Man feels the need to explain this just so you know what's going on. The Common Man fully intends to keep this blog going and to write, as he did before this week, new material every day (or nearly so). He's hoping that the new job will provide greater structure, meaning that new content will be available at a predictable time, so as to make things easier for you, the readers, and him, the writer. As The Common Man enters this new chapter in his life, he hopes you'll continue for the ride, and that he doesn't lose the plate like Martinez did.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Random Thursday?: Doc Prothro

It's a little late, but The Common Man didn't want to skip this week's Random Thursday event because of his busy travel and baseball-game-attending schedule. This week's spin of fortune's wheel landed James "Doc" Prothro, a 3B in the middle of the 1920s for the Senators and Red Sox. Prothro's history is unconventional, to say the least.

Already 26 when he broke into the big leagues, Prothro got 13 good at bats in with Washington in 1920, but refused to report the next season when the team planned to send him to Reading for additional seasoning. After all, Prothro was going to be 27 and had a side career to fall back on. You see, Prothro was a graduate of the University of Tennessee Dental School and a practicing dentist, who could presumably make more money seeing patients in Memphis than fastballs in Reading.

This endears Prothro to The Common Man greatly, especially this week, since The Common Man's father has been a dentist since the early 1970s, and his brother is actively finishing up dental school. Dentistry has been good for The Common Man's growth and development, as it paid for several trips to the Metrodome a year. And The Common Man's father is the best kind of dentist, the one who provides dental services to his family free of charge. To this day, The Common Man has never had a cavity. Floss people.

Anyway, for three years, Dr. Prothro played town ball in the Memphis area before agreeing to an assignment with the Memphis minor league team. Prothro continued to practice dentistry in the off-season, and in 1924 was called up for the Senators' pennant run, got into 46 games, and hit .333/.394/.465. Prothro did not play in the World Series that year, the last hurrah for Walter Johnson, who also won the league's MVP. Traded that offseason to the Red Sox, Prothro saw regular action for the only time in his career, and hit .313/.390/.383 for a team that went 47-105. The next year, somehow, Prothro got into three games for the Reds and his major league career ended.

Teh interwebz seem short on info about Prothro's playing career. He seemed to hit well enough to play every day, but teams kept finding players they liked better. Washington fell in love with Ossie Bluege's defense (not a bad choice, as Bluege was regarded as a wizard at third and had some decent on-base skills). The Red Sox acquired Fred Haney (who hit .221/.330/.284 in 1926, oops). And the Reds had Charlie Dressen. Prothro just never quite measured up. Perhaps it was baseball's long-established prejudice against smart guys that worked against him. Prothro would return to Memphis and to his practice, but also became the manager of the Memphis Chickasaws and Little Rock Travelers. From there, sadly, Doc was drafted into the service of the Philadelphia Phillies, who he managed from 1939-1941. The Phils were at the nadir of their dumpster dive that The Common Man discussed when chronicling the career of Jim Carlin (indeed, Prothro was Carlin's skipper in 1941). Prothro's teams lost 106, 103, and 111 games, and he finished with a career mark of 138-320. In fact, Prothro's .301 career winning percentage is by far the worst of any manager to last three full seasons at the helm.

It's probably not that Prothro was a terrible manager. In fact, he had led his Memphis team to seven straight seasons of finishing above .500, and won three league championships in the Southern Association between Memphis and Little Rock. Doc can't be held responsible for a team that essentially acted like a baseball stock market, buying players at low prices and flipping them when their investment "matured." Consistently low attendance was both the underlying cause and the effect of this arrangement, as the Phillies were caught in a spiral of poverty and hopelessness that John McGraw himself could not possibly reverse.

Prothro's time in the majors leagues seems to have been spent entirely with the wrong teams in the wrong situations. But given that he returned to Memphis and became manager and part-owner through 1947, and his son became a successful coach in both college and pro football, and that, presumably, he kept pulling teeth in his spare time, maybe the good doctor had other priorities.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Second Opinion

If you want to know the difference between the scouting reports of a yahoo sitting in deep CF and a professional sitting right behind homeplate, look no further. Though much of what The Common Man said about Darvish was corroborated by KLaw, that his control was off and that he has a unique delivery. But KLaw's analysis of the actual pitches is interesting, and something that was impossible to discern from the lawn.

At the Game

The Common Man was disappointed on two counts this morning. The first was when he found out that he wasn't the only blogger in the stands yesterday when Japan visited the Chicago Cubs. Of course, the other reason The Common Man is disappointed is that he had the chance to meet the KLaw, and tell him how impressive the body of his work is and how influential he has been on The Common Man's understanding of the proper balance of statistical analysis and scouting.

Keith was undoubtedly right behind the plate in typically awesome (and shaded) seats. Meanwhile, The Common Man was sitting just to the leftfield side of the batter's eye, on the lawn. In part, it's because The Common Man bought tickets at the box office the day of the game, but also because it is awfully fun to sit out on the grass. Like watching games in days of yore, when fences were a luxury most teams couldn't, or didn't afford. Anyway, here are The Common Man's observations from the action:

Before the game, the Japanese media was out in full force, and it is an intimidating group. Lined up down the leftfield line, they looked to number close to 100. And during the game, this is the view The Common Man had of RF:

After finishing his pre-game warm-ups, Daisuke came over to the stands and signed autographs. Watching the Japanese and American fans swarm him for autographs and pictures reminded The Common Man of seagulls fighting over scraps on the beach. And when Daisuke abruptly turned and jogged 10 yards down the line to reach other fans, the mob flocked with him, stumbling over itself as it negotiated the span and the bench seats. But give Daisuke major credit, he was the only Japanese player signing for the crowd, and he definitely made an effort to honor the fans' desire to be close to him, within reason.

The Common Man chose a more dignified approach, heading to the Fergie Jenkins Foundation tent and donating $20 to meet Rollie Fingers and get his autograph (Fergie, Pete LaCock, and George Foster (who didn't say a single word, and looked relatively lonely out on the end of the table)). Rollie still looks good and still sports the most recognizable 'stache in baseball (world?) history. "So you still haven't shaved that thing off?" The Common Man asked him, because he's a dufuss.
"I'd be too afraid of what I'd look like without it," he replied.
Pete LaCock, signing next to him, then asked, "Do you still use the same wax?"
Rollie: Yeah, same wax I've always used. ___________.
LaCock: You should get an endorsement deal.
Rollie: Nah, I just like it. I did endorse Just For Men about five years ago. But then they dumped me and went with Hernandez and the other guy. What's his name, the black guy?
TCM: George Gervin. Basketball player
Rollie: Yeah, I guess they liked them better.
TCM: Well, there's no accounting for taste.

Both teams used their everyday lineups (though Fukudome played for Japan). Presumably, the Japanese wanted to get their work in, and stay sharp. And the Cubs wanted to be good hosts. The upshot was that Soriano, Theriot, Lee, Bradley, Ramirez, and Reed Johnson each got three ABs in for the Cubs (and Fontenot got two), and Carlos Zambrano worked four innings. Almost all of the Japanese players, including Ichiro, Fukudome, Kenji Johjima, and Iwamura played the full game. Red Sox prospect Yu Darvish satred and went 3.3 innings.

Though he only gave up a run in those 3+ innings, Darvish did not look sharp. Location was a problem throughout his outing. He walked two and uncorked a wild pitch (which led to the only run he gave up), and sent several other pitches into the dirt or to the backstop. He did strike out 5, but The Common Man attributes most of that to the Cubs' lack of familiarity with Darvish and his stuff. Like many Japanese pitchers, Darvish's delivery is non-traditional from an American perspective. He works exclusively from the set and has a hitch in the middle of his motion, in which he seems to double-pump with his glove and pitching hand together. This hesitation may have also been throwing off the Cubs' timing, but The Common Man was not impressed with the overall quality of the outing.

After dominating in the first inning (a pop to third, a strikeout, and a nubber to the mound), Zambrano also underwhelmed, giving up three hits and two runs in his four innings. Two of the hits, a double by 1B Michihiro Ogasawara and a triple by Munenori Kawasaki, were hard line drives to the left-centerfield gap. Kawasaki probably should have been held to a double, but Alfonso Soriano took a bad route to the ball, and it got past him to the wall. Zambrano also had a wild pitch, which allowed Kawasaki to score. At the plate, Zambrano wasn't much better, striking out twice with runners on base (his first K was with the bases loaded, and Big Z almost came out of his shoes twice trying to hit the grand slam).

Ichiro had another poor game. He saw few pitches (except for one at bat, in which he walked) and didn't make good contact, popping up twice and grounding weekly to second base. Ichiro has been somewhat lost this spring, aside from a couple of games in the first round of the WBC, looking uncomfortable and slow. He just seemed off yesterday.

Mike Fontenot, on the other hand, had a terrific game, getting two very solid hits off of Darvish, both hard line drives to right and right-center. He also made a nice (but not overly impressive) play at second, jumping and backhanding a soft liner up the middle off the bat of DH Shuichi Murata.

The best moment of the game (frankly, the game itself was pretty underwhelming) was Milton Bradley's final at bat. After striking out against Tetsuya Yamaguchi, Bradley snapped his bat over his knee. The sharp crack resounded throughout the ballpark. In a word, awesome. Who says players don't take spring traning seriously? Bradley didn't come out for the top of the 6th, but was presumably done anyway after getting his third AB in. He did have a sharp single to right in the 3rd off of Darvish.

Finally, a final observation from The Common Man. If you are planning to go to a spring training game in Arizona, and sit in the sun for hours. You should wear sunscreen. Also, you should not forget your Expos hat in the car.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Blackouts Are Still In

While The Uncommon Wife is away for a few days, The Common Man and The Boy have winged (wung?) their way to sunny Arizona for some grandparents, great-grandparents, and cousins. And, of course, Spring Training. The upshot, for today anyway, is that The Common Man is unavailable for general blogging. In fact, it is taking the last of his energy and sobriety (The Common Man immediately poured himself a double of Jack Daniels after lugging three bags, a mega-stroller, and a carseat around three airports because The Common Man was too stubborn to check luggage. The Boy, thank God, was an angel all day.) Anyway, in lieu of himself, The Common Man contacted his boyhood friend and frequent commenter, Bill, to sub for today (though there should be some random Thursday action coming your way late Thursday). Bill's an awfully smart guy, and a talented and discerning writer, who really should be blogging in his own right. Bill was concerned that a lot of the ideas he wanted to write about wouldn't be fully developed enough or painstakingly researched enough for to his own standards. The Common Man was all, like, "Dude, have you read this blog before?" and convinced him to lay his fears aside. Anyway, if that's what it takes, he needs to stop his lawyering and fathering and husbanding and general business and get writing. 'Cuz feeding your family and stuff is highly overrated. Show him some love and encouragement and tell him to get back to "work." Without further ado, here's Bill:

Many thanks to TCM for letting me borrow his space for the following rambling rant. Warning: I use words like "I" and "me." I know you haven't seen those words here before, but it turns out that I'm a person, and not a Platonic construct. So I know it'll be weird for you, but just assume that those words mean the same things they do on any other site. Cool? Okay.

So have you noticed that in the last five or so years, Major League Baseball has gone from an organization with as much technological acumen as your grandpa to the cutting-edge leader, among all the major sports, in utilizing the awesome marketing power of the internet, and of cable and satellite TV? It may be hard to come around to that idea (baseball was so blind to these resources for so long, after all, and is still pretty prehistorical about a lot of things, and its really hard to admit that an organization run by this guy is doing anything right), but think about it for a minute.
• You can watch baseball games on your computer with MLB.TV from anywhere in the world (and it usually works pretty consistently now if you've got a pretty good connection, very unlike four or five years ago).
• You can listen to the radio broadcast of any baseball game on your computer through Gameday Audio or in your car with Sirius/XM Radio.
• You can get baseball games from other markets on your TV through MLB Extra Innings (and now you can usually even choose which broadcast to watch, so you're not stuck with the stupid YES Network every time your favorite team has to play the Yankees).
• If you don't want to pay for any of that (or if that's just not enough for you), MLB.com gives you Gameday, easily the best graphical play-by-play tracker out there, for free (who would've figured, five years ago, that MLB would be the best at giving you something that any national news organization could also give you?).
• Gameday in turn offers Pitch-f/x, probably the most important advance in baseball statistics since some guy came along at some point after Jim Rice and Andre Dawson retired and realized that walks are good things.
• Even the website itself, by the standards set by, e.g., NFL.com and NBA.com, is pretty great. Easy to use, loads pretty fast, not too hard on the eyes. Just don't read it for the articles.
• And earlier this year, MLB launched the MLB Network, available on most but not all cable packages. The "analysts," by and large, make the dufusses at ESPN's Baseball Tonight look like Bill James and Aristotle combined, but the non-newsy content is, by and large, a baseball geek's dream come true.

You have to admit, there's a lot of good stuff going on around here (and that's just the officially sanctioned stuff, ignoring completely your BBREFs and THTs and BPs and FanGraphs). It's a good time to be a hopeless baseball addict, especially if you're forced to live in a different market from your home team.


The part about watching games on your TV or computer? Well, you probably get to see the games you want to see. Most of them, if you live in the right zip code. See, against all odds, MLB continues to employ the most senseless and archaic set of blackout rules in existence -- an opaque set of restrictions that, sometimes seemingly at random, prevents certain users in certain markets from being able to see certain games; they've paid as much as anybody else has for MLB.TV or Extra Innings, but they get to see fewer games, and there's nothing they can do about it (besides move, I suppose).

The rules were created at least 30 years ago, and while I'm not at all convinced they've ever done anybody any good, they definitely weren't created with the internet and satellite TV in mind. This is the rough equivalent of your grandpa outfitting his house with wireless internet, a huge HDTV, and a sweet surround sound system, but then continuing to have to make sure the party line is open when he wants to use the telephone.

Of course, when one talks about baseball's "blackout rules," they're really talking about one of two distinct things, both of which suck for very different reasons: national blackouts and local blackouts.

National Blackouts: These come from specifically negotiated contracts with the big boys, ESPN and Fox; in exchange for getting paid a huge sum of money from the network, MLB agrees not to allow any games to be shown at the same time as the games the network is contracting to broadcast, other than local, regional broadcasts. In theory, this is kind of hard to argue with. If the networks are willing to pay more for exclusivity, MLB is totally within its rights to give it to them. And I have no quarrel with ESPN here: the blackout affects only their Sunday night games (it used to be that games were also blacked out for Wednesday Night Baseball, which seriously devalued your MLB.TV or Extra Innings subscription), and almost no other games are played on Sunday night anyway (when they are, it's almost always because the game is outdoors in Arlington or Miami in July and the teams are trying to avoid spontaneous combustion, and ESPN will often make an exception from its policy in those cases).

Fox, however, has the Saturday afternoon game, and competing Saturday afternoon games are much more common than Sunday night ones. The small print on the MLB.TV page linked to above says that Fox's blackout affects "live games occurring each Saturday with a scheduled start time after 1:10 PM ET or before 7:05 PM ET." The practical effect of this is that unless Fox itself is carrying the game, only teams in the eastern time zone schedule Saturday afternoon games (since those typically start at about 1:05 ET), and all the others start after 7:05 ET. The fact that Fox would want to black any games out at all is puzzling, since perhaps half or more of all local broadcasts are run on a Fox Sports Net channel anyway.

But Fox seems to really enjoy competing with itself, and that's the real problem. The only games that really get effected by Fox's blackouts are games that are being shown on Fox -- just not in your market. So if you're (oh, let's just say) a Twins fan living in Chicago, and Fox owns the rights to both the Cubs-Cardinals and the Twins-Indians, obviously your local Fox station is carrying the Cubs game, and because of the blackout arrangement Fox bargained for, you have no way of seeing the Twins game. On Fox.

I suppose the reason the powers that be would give for this is that they want you to see the local ads for your own market, right? But the thing is, a lot of the ads Fox shows during these games -- most of them, probably -- are for Bud Light or Ford Trucks. Big national ads for big global companies who would probably pay a little bit more to be piped into a few thousand (or more) extra homes via satellite TV or the internet. So Big Bob's Discount Auto Superstore gets some free airtime to reach some viewers living hundreds of miles away; is that really a dealbreaker here? Maybe it wouldn't even be that hard to come up with a feed that puts your own local commercials in another region's feed...I have no idea. What I do know is, there's no real justification for a policy whereby Fox prohibits competition from itself. None. Make it go away.

Local Blackouts: These are much more complicated, and yet much more stupid. The following map (borrowed without permission from Bleed Cubbie Blue; click that picture to access a greatly magnified version) shows the oddly gerrymandered group of overlapping territories within which a given team's (or teams') games cannot be shown on MLB.TV or Extra Innings. I'm not going to get into why this rule was initially created (frankly, I don't understand it, but it sounds pretty questionable even for the time), but now -- especially since they've now made both teams' broadcasts of most games available -- it serves absolutely no purpose.

If the idea is to make people go to games rather than watching them on TV, that's an epic policy fail. Research has shown for about sixty years now that the availability of telecasts has little to no effect on baseball attendance, and anyway, the policy applies to the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox, who sell out every game regardless, with the same force as it does to the Royals and Marlins.
If it's advertising-related...um, how? If you watch an Orioles broadcast in Irvine, California, you see all the local Baltimore commercials. Wouldn't letting residents of Raleigh, North Carolina see those same commercials be better, not worse?

And whatever the purpose, the regions are much, much, much, much, much bigger than they need to be. Until about two years ago, I lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, a lovely little place that was nowhere at all near Baltimore or Washington. A die-hard fan might drive four or more hours each way to see one or two Nats or O's games a year. Yet, as you can probably see from the map, Charlottesville was squarely in the blackout zone. What's more, both of the "local" nines played the bulk of their games on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network -- a network that the cable companies serving Charlottesville did not carry. Whatever the local blackout rules were intended to do, it's hard for me to imagine that blocking an entire city from meaningful access to its product was part of MLB's plan.

But that's just my personal experience, not the worst of it. From my reading of the map, the entire state of Iowa is prohibited from seeing -- are you ready for this? -- the Twins, Brewers, Cubs, White Sox, Royals and Cardinals. I mean, what can even be said about that? Does the MLB brass just really hate Iowa (perhaps they took a field trip only to find out that the Field of Dreams didn't really have ghosts playing on it)?

There was hope not so long ago, when MLB officials strongly hinted that the blackout policy would be reconsidered this offseason. But the subject apparently fell by the wayside, and we're stuck with the same infuriating inanities for at least another year. How is that possible? How is it any more complicated than: (a) here's the policy; (b) it infuriates fans and serves no purpose; (c) let's can it? Voting to table the discussion probably took longer than the discussion itself should have taken. It seems obvious that there's something in this for the owners that I am missing (along with everybody else).

The question, then, is: where's the secret profit? What are the owners actually getting out of this?

The answer: it doesn't freaking matter. If Iowans and central Virginians have to pay the same price as anyone else for the service, they should get the same service. If you're going to promise that "you'll be able to follow your favorite team from opening day to October no matter where you live," you have to make it so people can, you know, follow their favorite team from opening day to October no matter where they live.

Pretty simple, right?

The Common Man thanks his friend profusely for helping out when no more blood could be squeezed from The Common Man's stones. Good job. Dude, this could be the Jack Daniels talkin', but hwkjeaoijadioghjioadfsklewrjioe;a....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Royals Gone Rong

Before he does anything else, The Common Man wants to congratulate the Dutch WBC team for its remarkable upset wins over the vaunted Dominican team. True, the Dominicans were not at full strength, but the Dutch pitched lights out, dodged bullet after bullet, and made big plays when they had to. He can't wait to see what this George Mason of the WBC does next (and if you think about it, with real underdogs like the Netherlands, South Africa, Korea, Australia, and Italy playing tough, perhaps the WBC should be viewed in the same light as the NCAA Basketball tournament. Perhaps that can attract some of the negative nellies. How can you watch a celebration like the Dutch piling on Eugene Kingsale and not love this tourney).

Anyway, earlier today, lar at wezen-ball celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1969 expansion by profiling each of the four franchises spawned that year, the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots (now the Brewers), San Diego Padres, and Montreal Expos. Lar concluded that the Royals are the most successful, largely on the success of their World Series win in '85 and their appearance in '80.

But, as lar notes, the last decade and a half have been fraught with disappointment, "Their recent failures have helped to erase the memories of a winning franchise from many people's minds. In fact, the Royals only have five seasons in the last forty where they had a .400 winning percentage or worst, and all five of those have come in the last 10 years." Lar goes on to point out that "That stretch coincided entirely with the peak of George Brett's career, and the Royals haven't been able to do too much since then." While technically true, lar's statement unintentionally (The Common Man assumes) pins the Royals' decline on the decline and absence of their signature player. But even without Brett, the Royals (like Terry Malloy), could have been a contender. But they have squandered every chance to get back there. The Common Man thought it would be instructive, since no one really pays attention to the Royals (except Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli), to point out the main junctions where the Royals went wrong, and how they became a laughingstock.

The Royals recent problems putting a decent product on the field stem from:

1) Buying into the small-market mindset that said that they couldn't compete. As Oakland, Minnesota, Colorado, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Milwaukee have demonstrated, it's entirely possible to build a relatively sustainable success through a commited investment in a farm system and scouting department and a willingness to exploit the inefficiencies in the market. Kansas City, for years, settled for developing players and dumping them for more prospects(which they never seemed to properly gauge).

2) Incompetent ownership and management (related to #1). Following the death of Ewing Kauffman, the Kauffman family and David Glass eras have been horribly managed. And the hiring (and extended employment) of utterly lost GMs Herk Robinson and Allard Baird allowed the talent at all levels of the Royals' system to atrophy. An owner who recognizes competent leadership and management and stays out of their baseball peoples' way (someone like Lew Wolff or John Henry or John Moores or even the late Carl Pohlad) goes a long way to ensuring success.

3) Actual disadvantages of playing in a small market. There are real disadvantages to playing in Kansas City, which Nate Silver rated as the second-smallest market in the league in 2007. Fewer fans means a smaller pool to attract to the ballpark (the Royals haven't finished above 10th in the AL in attendance since 1992 (and then they were 9th). And it means fewer fans to watch their television and listen to their radio broadcasts, which means less ad revenue. Fewer people buying jerseys. While it's possible to compete on a shoestring budget, it's undoubtedly more difficult, as there is less margin for error (as the A's have discovered from the crippling Chavez and Crosby contracts). And with less money available, the Royals are unable to fill the holes created by their deficient farm system with adequate free-agents.

4) Astro-turf at Kauffman Stadium (now gone, thank God). The stuff is just bad. And in Kansas City it always looked flourescent for some reason.

5) and 6) Trading David Cone in '87 for Ed Hearn and trading Danny Jackson for Ted Power and Kurt Stillwell in '87. It's true that the Royals' strength in 1987 was its pitching staff. The Royals had a phenom in Bret Saberhagen, an effective Charlie Liebrandt, a good young Mark Gubicza, a competent Bud Black, and a talented Jackson (who was the 1st overall pick in 1982. So trading Cone at the start of the year might have been acceptable in spite of his age and excellent skills, especially with the widely lauded Melido Perez coming up behind him. But Ed Hearn, who had a .265/.337/.349 performance as a 25 year old at AAA the year before wasn't enough for the young gun, especially since the Royals were breaking in Mike Macfarlane in 1987 (a 4th rounder in '85 who had flown threw the minors and was being groomed for the job), who would prove to be an entirely serviceable backstop. After the season, the Royals moved to address their glaring hole at shortstop, sending Jackson (who, at 25, had lost 16 games with a 4.02 ERA) and incumbant SS Angel Salazar (.205/.219/.246, 23 OPS+) to the Reds for 23 year old, former 2nd overall choice, Kurt Stillwell (who was superfluous with Barry Larkin around) and swingman Ted Powers. Stillwell, who was rushed to AAA at the age of 20, would solidify the SS spot of the Royals for four years, never a star but consistantly acceptable. Meanwhile, Cone and Jackson would combine to go 43-8 in '88 for their NL clubs. And Cone would, of course, win 194 games in his illustrious career. With those two guys in '88, and a replacement level SS, the Royals may well have challenged the A's for the AL West title and ushered in a renewed era of Royals glory. (By the way, look at that '88 Reds lineup. That's the definition of good young talent.)

7) Signing the Davis brothers in '90. Mark Davis' ERAs before being traded for the bloated corpse of Juan Berenguer: 5.11, 4.45, 7.13, 7.18. And 7 total saves in 3+ seasons. Storm Davis' ERAs before being shipped off for 70 at bats from Bob Melvin: 4.74, 4.96. While the Davis signings didn't exactly make the Royals shy (they would sign Kirk Gibson, Mike Boddicker, Wally Joyner, Greg Gagne, and David Cone to big contracts in subsequent years), but they did demonstrate the kind of short-sighted, ill-considered deals that became part and parcel of the Herk Robinson era.

8) Choosing high school power arms who went bust from '97-'01, and whiffing with their first picks from '87-01(though they got Damon as a supplemental 1st pick in '92. Despite high draft positions, neither Herk Robinson nor Allard Baird showed any real ability to find help through the draft. After Kevin Appier was chosen in 1987, the Royals picked Hugh Walker, Brent Mayne, Joe Vitiello, Michael Pittsley, Michael Tucker, Jeff Granger, Matt Smith, Juan Lebron, Dee Brown, Dan Reichart, Chris George, Matt Burch, Jeff Austin, Mike MacDougal, Kyle Snyder, Mike Stodolka, and Colt Griffin. And their supplemental picks were largely wasted on Jay Gehrke, Jimmy Gobble, Matt Burch, Chris George, Sherard Clinkscales, and Jason Pruitt. That's a lot of terribleness. Random throws at a dartboard probably could have done better. As the major league squad suffered defection after defection, these consistent misses meant that no one was there to fill the void.

9) Trading Gregg Jeffries for Felix Jose. People tended to focus on what Jeffries couldn't do (field) far more than what he could do (absolutely rake). And by trying to force him into a position he couldn't handle, the Mets and Royals got diminished results at the plate. After trading an increasingly fragile Bret Saberhagen (thank you heavy workloads at a young age) for the moping and disinterested Kevin McReynolds and the promising Jeffries in 1992, the Royals were showing good sense. But by losing their patience with Jeffries quickly, the Royals significantly weakened their squad. Jeffries went to St. Louis in '93 and immediately became and MVP candidate and .300 hitter. Jose went to the Royals and put up a 71 OPS+. The Royals had a solid 1B already in Wally Joyner, and Gary Gaetti would do admirably at 3B once Phil Hiatt washed out. But at DH was 40-year old George Brett (.266/.312/.434). Brett had gotten to 3000 hits the year before and was just playing out the string. But letting George go, adding a guy who goes .342/.408/.485, and finding a passable RF would have significantly cut into the White Sox division lead.

10) Not protecting Jeff Conine in the expansion draft. Never really a star outside of South Florida, Jeff Conine was just a solid outfielder for seventeen seasons. David Howard, who was protected by the Royals in place of Conine had a .229/.291/.303 for a 53 OPS+.

11) No Balboni. One of the greatest names in baseball history to say is Steve Balboni. Balboni was a great hulk of a man with thick glasses and a thick mustache who played 1B well enough to be a good DH. His 1990 Strat-o-matic card was a joy to behold (The Common Man should really find it and post it here one of these days). Balboni was a main cog in the Royals last great team in '85, hitting 36 homers. And in his post Royals career, he bounced from the Mariners to the Yankees to the Rangers. In 1994, Balboni was resigned by the Royals. Though he never played a game for them that year, his presence rallied them to their last season above .500. The Curse of Balboni lingers in Kauffman Stadium to this day. [note: The Common Man, for whatever reason, was blocking out 2003, when he was absolutely sure they were 79-83, rather than 83-79. So, um, the curse is lifted! Hurrah!]

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dispatches From the WBC

Some random observations from a weekend of watching the World Baseball Classic:

Adam Dunn is playing with a chip on his shoulder. Two big home runs and good defense in the field. Do you think the problem with Dunn is that he doesn't care about winning or did the surrounding crappiness of Cincinnati make him less than enthused to go to work every day? Like he was working with eight Dwights every day and there was no Jenna Fischer.

Pudge Rodriguez looked good for Puerto Rico, getting four hits and two homers on Saturday. So while teams should be intrigued with his performance, it's important to remember he was facing Bruce Chen (who is 30 and out of the major league system) and Paolo Espino (a 21 year old who had an 8.49 ERA last year in High-A ball). Don't start jumping up and down just yet, Pudge. With the Netherlands on deck tonight, Pudge probably won't face quality pitching until Round 2.

Dave O'Brien, broadcasting the U.S.'s nail-biter over Canada on Saturday, pointed out the American squad was in good hands with Jake Peavy on the mound because he had a 1.44 ERA during the day last year. Sadly, O'Brien forgot to note that the dome was closed in Toronto, meaning that SuperPeavy would not be getting help from this Earth's yellow sun while he toiled. He was fairly human, giving up two runs in three innings, mostly thanks to a home run and three walks. The Common Man tries to remember that these broadcasters have a lot of time to fill and, in the quest to minimize dead air, will often say something dumb even though they're pretty smart people in general. But Vin Scully's a smart guy too, smart enough to know that dead air can add to the drama and the atmosphere, and that speaking only when there is something important to say makes your words seem even more important.

Italy was a lot of fun to watch on Saturday, with its good looks, solid uniforms, and great names. Also, rightfielder Mario Chiarini's catch was as impressive a play as you'll see. They fought the good fight against Venezuela on Saturday, before Jason Grilli killed their dreams in the 5th. Italy is the sacrificial lamb for Canada tonight, but it was fun while it lasted.

You know, The Common Man half expected Julio Franco to show up on the Dominican bench to tell stories about barnstorming with Babe Ruth and Satchel Paige. Bummer.

The Common Man knows that certain bloggers have written off the WBC, but c'mon, this is much more fun than Spring Training games, isn't it? (By the way, The Common Man gets the best of both worlds this Thursday, when he plans to attend a tune-up game between the Chicago Cubs and an as-yet-unspecified WBC team at HoHoKam Stadium in Arizona. Anybody who wants to take in a ball game is invited to email The Common Man at the address on the right side of the screen, especially if you're paying.)

Australia might be better than The Common Man expected. They certainly clobbered Mexico yesterday (17-7, invoking the first use of the "mercy rule" in the 2009 WBC). They have a lot of AAA and AAAA-level talent (including the Minnesota Twins' potential 3B of the future, Luke Hughes, who looks like a solid hitter). And watching them against Cuba tomorrow should be a lot of fun.

Poor South Africa. Virtually all of their players are ameteurs who play on club teams in their home country. They are as out of place here as a steak dinner at a Hindu wedding reception. As Paris Hilton at a MENSA meeting. As George Bush at a G-8 summit meeting. They just couldn't hit the flurry of breaking pitches offered up by Cuban pitching on Sunday. The Common Man hopes their programs continue to progress, like Australia's and the Netherland's has, and that they are stronger next time out.

Venezuela seems to have the highest proportion of hot chicks in the stands with their faces (and chests!) painted up. If The Common Man were not happily married, he might head on down to Caracas. Or at least up to Canada (where Pool C is playing), where there seem to be attractive Venezuelan women in spades.

The Common Man didn't have room in his Tivo for all the Pool A games, which started between 4 and 5 in the morning here (and not even The Common Man loves baseball that much). He understands the championship game between Korea and Japan was a sight to behold. Here's hoping for another matchup stateside.

Finally, this post wouldn't be complete without congratulating the Netherlands for their upset over the mighty Dominican team. The Dutch scored three in the first thanks to some sloppy play by the Dominicans (two infield singles, two errors, and a wild pitch; in fact, nothing got out of the infield) and were able to hold off an injury-depleted lineup. The Common Man doesn't expect the Netherlands to survive their encounter tonight with Puerto Rico, but loves watching them celebrate like they just won the whole shebang.

(Also, congratulations on keeping Sidney Ponson relatively sober and out of trouble, which may have been an even more difficult feat.)