Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The unstated problem with the Yankees: Brian Cashman is a bad GM

In the last 48 hours, the Yankees have signed Brian Roberts to a $2 million dollar, one-year contract to be their starting second baseman. They have signed left-handed reliever Matt Thornton - most recently seen being left off of the Red Sox postseason roster - to a two-year, $7 million dollar deal. And Rany Jazayerli, one of the best baseball analysts alive, wrote a fantastic piece over at Grantland about the Yankees problems and the lack of a coming correction. 

In his piece, which is quite long but deserves the full treatment, there were two passages that I found especially telling.

Cano was worth 7.6 Wins Above Replacement in 2013. McCann, Beltran, and Ellsbury were worth 10.4 bWAR combined. Losing Cano wipes out most of the gains made by signing the other three players, and while Cano will make $24 million in Seattle next year, the Yankees will pay the other three $53 million

 And, the conclusion:

The culprit in the Yankees' downfall is mundane, but real: They're simply not talented enough to contend. Talent was something the Yankees could always buy in the past, but no one's selling it anymore. With few ways to acquire that ability, it looks like the Yankees will be living unhappily — if not ever after, then certainly for a lot longer than their front office and fans are prepared to stomach.
Talent. That makes it sound so simple - but the piece overlooks the major point. Yes, it's less easy now to buy talent, but there is still talent available. The Yankees just don't have any of it. Why is that? Because they are failures at identifying talent. They can't draft. They don't sign international free agents of any quality. They don't get contributing scrap-heap pickups. They've been building their team, for 10 years, almost exclusively on paying top dollar for other teams free agents.

While a Red Sox vs. Yankees comparison may seem overwrought, it reflects an important point of how these teams have been built. A note about terms: "Blockbuster Free Agent" is anyone signed to an AAV of $20 million. "Big Free Agent" is anyone between $10 million. "Mid-level" is over $2 milliong. Bargains are less than that. I've taken all the players projected to be at least 1.0 WAR players from Fangraphs "STEAMER" projection. It's not perfect, but I'm not looking for a perfect projection, just to illustrate a point.

NameWARHow acquired
CC Sabathia 3.9Blockbuster Free Agent Signing
Jacoby Ellsbury3.7Blockbuster Free Agent Signing
Hiroki Kuroda3.5Big Free Agent Signing
Brian McCann3.3Big Free Agent Signing
Ivan Nova3.1Rule 5 Draft
David Phelps2.1Drafted 2008
Mark Teixeira 2.0Blockbuster Free Agent Signing
Brett Gardner2.0Drafted 2005
Carlos Beltran1.8Big Free Agent Signing
David Robertson1.4Drafted 2006
Derek Jeter 1.4Drafted 1992
Alex Rodriguez1.2Blockbuster Free Agent Signing
Kelly Johnson1.1Bargain signing

NameWARHow acquired
Dustin Pedroia 3.9Drafted 2004
Jon Lester3.5Drafted 2002
John Lackey3.4Big Free Agent Signing
Xander Bogaerts3.0International Signing
Shane Victorino 2.6Big Free Agent Signing
David Ortiz2.4Mid-level Free Agent Signing
Will Middlebrooks2.4Drafted 2007
Clay Buchholz2.4Drafted 2005
Jake Peavy2.4Trade
Felix Doubront2.4International Signing
Jackie Bradley2.1Drafted 2011
Mike Napoli2.1Mid-level Free Agent Signing
Koji Uehara2.1Mid-level Free Agent Signing
A.J. Pierzynski1.3Mid-level Free Agent Signing
Daniel Nava1.2Undrafted free agent
Jonny Gomes1.1Mid-level Free Agent Signing
Junichi Tazawa1.1International Signing
Brandon Workman1.0Drafted 2010
Ryan Dempster1.0Big Free Agent Signing

The first thing that stands out is how many more good players the Red Sox have than the Yankees. The second, though, is the varied ways the Red Sox acquired their talent. Some were drafted over a decade ago, others quite recently. There are international signings, mid-level free agents, everything. The Yankees? Their top four players were all major signings. Ivan Nova was the one "find" in the group. They have three chosen in the draft in the last ten years. Let's resort the list, filtering out all of the Big and Blockbuster free agents, and players drafted 10 years ago (note - this works quite well, since it eliminates both Jeter and Lester, who were chosen by previous regimes).

NameWARHow acquired
Dustin Pedroia 3.9Drafted 2004
Ivan Nova3.1Rule 5 Draft
Xander Bogaerts3International Signing
Clay Buchholz2.4Drafted 2005
Will Middlebrooks2.4Drafted 2007
Felix Doubront2.4International Signing
David Ortiz2.4Mid-level Free Agent Signing
Jake Peavy2.4Trade
David Phelps2.1Drafted 2008
Jackie Bradley2.1Drafted 2011
Mike Napoli2.1Mid-level Free Agent Signing
Koji Uehara2.1Mid-level Free Agent Signing
Brett Gardner2Drafted 2005
David Robertson1.4Drafted 2006
A.J. Pierzynski1.3Mid-level Free Agent Signing
Daniel Nava1.2Undrafted free agent
Kelly Johnson1.1Bargain signing
Junichi Tazawa1.1International Signing
Jonny Gomes1.1Mid-level Free Agent Signing
Brandon Workman1Drafted 2010

There is a lot more red there than blue, including seven of the eight best players. 

The Yankee problems are often attributed to the Steinbrenners or the nature of sports in New York or Alex Rodriguez's ego or other such things, but the only good players they can identify are the ones that the league has already identified as good. It doesn't take any skill at all to figure out spending more money than every other team on the best players.

Note: As Jazayerli points out, this offseason they failed even at that - they replaced their best player with a series of inferior expensive ones. The combination of Ellsbury, McCann, and Beltran will probably produce more than Cano, but they are being paid more than twice as much, and do it while taking roughly 2.5 times as many at bats. 

Instead of filling additional spots with minimum cost youngsters or flawed players looking for a shot, it seems Cashman's go-to player is simply old guys that aren't nearly as good as they used to be. In the last year and a half he's brought in Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki, Travis Hafner, Alfonso Soriano, and now Brian Roberts. He's like Montgomery Burns, who tries to fill his company softball team with ringers, but only knows of players from the previous century. I'm waiting for the Yankee equivalent of Waylon Smithers to inform him that "your right-fielder has been dead for a hundred and thirty years."

The general managers job is talent identification. He doesn't do all of it himself, but he puts the team in place that does. Cashman's team has failed. The Yankees are bad not just because the economics of baseball have changed, but because their general manager can't identify good players. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Frequent special elections are not the way to run a democracy

So here in Massachusetts, my old congressional district (MA-5) elected a replacement for Ed Markey, who became Senator over the summer. I find the winner, Katherine Clark, to be rather uninspiring, but that's another story for another time. The issue I have here is the turnout. Clark won with just a tick over 40,000 votes of the almost 61,000 cast. That sounds like a dominating victory, until you sit back and wonder why we're electing someone to represent roughly 705,000 people with only 40,000 votes.

It is often the inclination to self-righteously proclaim that people are not active enough, and that they don't care enough about their democracy. This is the wrong place for that. Democracy is hard. High turnout levels reflect voter engagement in part, but they also reflect the ease of the process - that's why those polling place changes down south often wouldn't get through the voting rights act preclearance. Making it harder for people to vote makes it less likely for them to vote. That having frequent elections for single seats rather than a main election day suppresses turnout is not a controversial statement.

In Massachusetts there has been a real hullabaloo in the last decade about how to replace a Senator who leaves mid-term. When John Kerry was almost elected President in 2004, many were scared that Governor Romney would appoint his replacement, who would serve the next four years. So they changed the rules to have a special election.

Then in 2009, Senator Edward Kennedy died, and we realized they'd done, excuse my French, a shitty job writing that law. So they changed the law on the fly, having an appointed representative in place until the special election. That election had something of a surprise result but the system worked because people were very motivated to turn out for a variety of reasons.

In 2013, we had yet another special election to replace Kerry. It was won, with fairly poor turnout, by Congressman Markey. (Full disclosure: I was once an intern in Markey's office and volunteered on his Senatorial campaign). That set off the need for ANOTHER special election to fill his seat. Nobody showed up to vote in it. Well, not quite nobody, but check out the town by town comparison with the 2012 election. I use 2012 because with a Presidential race and a hotly contested Senate campaign, that's probably as close to full turnout as we're going to get.

City/Town2012 Total2013 Total% Turnout

Cambridge and Sudbury are only partially in the fifth district, so they are marked with asterisks - the 2012 total is city-wide.

The results are kind of gross. Malden (which Clark represents as a State Senator!) had 3100 votes cast, compared to nearly 21,000 in 2012. Medford, which for whatever reason I've always considered the "district seat" due to its large population and politically-connectedness, had less than 4000 voters. Medford could get 4000 voters if they announced were electing the town dump manager tomorrow - I've never seen anything close to that low in that city. Waltham, something of a bellwether in the state, had only 11.5% of its 2012 turnout! The big outlier was Winchester. Were they more politically active in Winchester, you ask? No, they voted on their new high school at the same time.

There is a very minimalist view of democracy, forwarded by Joseph Schumpeter and others, that essentially reduces democracy to free and fair elections. (Schumpeter specifically has a pretty detailed definition of "free and fair" but we shan't go down that road at this time). This, I think, is wrong - an elected tyrant is still a tyrant, and elections, even fair ones, can be non-democratic. Robert Dahl outlined additional rules for democracy, with one including effective participation (emphasis added). Having an election in December, four weeks after municipal elections, months after another special election, failed on its face. A United States Representative was chosen by 40,000 people.

What is the alternative? Appointments and empty seats are unpopular, but perhaps sometimes necessary. The 2004 rule change was put into effect because an appointed Senator would have served all of Kerry's remaining term, until January 2009. I agree that an unelected appointee should not serve for four years as a Senator, but I also don't want to be sending people to Congress with less than 40,000 votes, So what is the alternative?

Here is my proposal.

1. Special elections are held on election day. That is, the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Turnout is naturally higher then - people know that it is time to vote, and they do the proper preparation to do so.

2. Empty seats are filled by a governor's appointee between the open date and election day. I understand the push to institute a rule that the appointee must be filled by the same party as the departing representative, but I don't think it would do a lot of good - it won't take much for someone to change their own party designation and have the D or R label while voting the opposite. I also understand why people want these appointees to not be able to run for the open seat, so as not to gain an incumbency advantage, but I doubt the Constitutionality of such a rule. The enforcement of such a thing would need to come at the electoral level.

3. If there are no elections between the date a seat is opened and the date the seat expires, then there will be no special election. This may be seen as a flaw, but is actually an advantage. We seem quite worried about incumbency advantage here, but Clark is now going into 2014 as an incumbent after gaining only 40,000 votes. By contrast, Governor Patrick who received about 140,000 votes (very rough estimate) in the 2010 election from the communities that now compose MA-5, would be appointing the interim Congressman. Which is the undemocratic process?

It was a good idea to change the rule in 2004 - an appointed choice should not get a four-year term as Senator. But a one-year term is preferable to an election that features poor participation. A democracy is only as good as its rules, and the rules in MA-5 have produces a result that is insufficiently democratic.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Happy Birthday, Grandpa

Today would have been my grandfather's 97th birthday. He passed away in January, and I didn't have the words then to speak about it. Eleven months later I still don't, and it's likely that they will not be soon forthcoming. His life seemed like something of a storybook, growing up in early 20th Century Manhattan, going out to Williams College, eschewing Harvard Business for Yale Divinity. He and my grandmother were married 68 years. A stroke in the 1980s took much of his physical strength, including his ability to drive, though he still enjoyed croquet and his evening walks. And pruning. Every time I visited their house in the summertime he seemed to be pruning something. Another stroke about six years ago took much of his ability to speak, which was hard, but the twinkle in his eye and a shrug of his shoulders communicated more than most people could in 10,000 words.

I love him, and I miss him dearly.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Observations, I

The Worcester AHL team hasn't been the IceCats since 2005, and nobody bothered to tell me. Thanks, everyone.

If Springfield isn't still the Falcons, there's gonna be hell to pay.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Red Sox fans should blame Farrell, not umpires

As my regular readers know, I am a Red Sox fan. Many of my posts are from a Red Sox viewpoint, so while I often try to remain objective (unbiased is the wrong word - all commentary should have a bias), that viewpoint is important to keep in mind. So, with that in mind...

I obviously have thoughts on last night's game. About 10 minutes after, when it became clear that the call was correct* it was that the only thing worse than losing a game on a bad call is losing on a good one. In hockey and basketball there is often a mentality of "let the teams play," meaning that the calls should only be on egregious fouls rather than decided by officials. Baseball isn't like that. Every play has a call, even if it isn't necessarily a close call. Hit a routine ground out to the shortstop? The first base umpire still calls you out. When your favorite team loses on a bad call, there is an outlet for the frustration. "Those stupid umpires blew it for us!" When it's the right call, though? All you can do is shake your head and find other outlets for the frustration. In this case, Red Sox manager John Farrell left us with plenty.

*There's really no debate about this. Middlebrooks was in the base path. If you are one of the many people who has posted the picture of a clear baseline on facebook or another social media outlet, stop it. The baseline is not the base path, and if you played little league baseball or have watched more than a half-dozen games in your life, YOU KNOW THAT. Complaining about the umpires is a big reason why people hate Red Sox fans. You're contributing to people hating me, so stop it.

John Farrell's night last night was almost a complete disaster. He started the game out decently, finally giving Daniel Nava a start over Jonny Gomes' winning enthusiasm. I like Gomes and all, but the Red Sox were beating right-handed pitching in spite of him, not because of him. Nava was one of the best hitters against right-handed pitching in baseball in 2013, and he wasn't allowed to play against them in the playoffs, and it put the team's chances in peril. On Saturday, Nava got the start and excelled. It was unsurprising.

The wheels started to come off of the Farrell managerial machine in the late innings. There has been some talk about the decision to replace Stephen Drew with Will Middlebrooks - Middlebrooks went 0 for 2, an infield hit to Bogaerts likely would've been an out if Drew was there, Adams' double might have been an out with Bogaerts at third, and, of course, the final play of the game. To me, though, that's criticizing the result more than the decision. Drew looked lost at the plate, and Middlebrooks gained a platoon advantage at a time it was needed. The risk was obvious in the move, but the potential reward made it a sensible move.

The mistake came when it came to Brandon Workman. When he entered the game, he came in the #9 spot in the lineup- due up second in the top of the ninth inning. Farrell could have double-switched David Ross into that spot, giving the team a defensive upgrade and a short-term offensive one - if Saltalamachhia's spot comes up again, either the Red Sox had a big inning, or they'd gotten into extras. Farrell didn't do that, leaving Workman's spot in the lineup.

That would have been defensible, if - IF - Farrell's plan all along was to bat Napoli in the ninth inning for Workman. No reason, after all, to burn the backup catcher when there's an even better offensive upgrade to be made. But Farrell did not do that. He let Brandon Workman bat in the ninth inning of a tie game of the World Series.

Read that last sentence again.

With one out and nobody on in the ninth inning of the World Series, John Farrell sent up his pitcher to hit. And it wasn't his shutdown reliever Koji Uehara, it was set-up man, fourth-guy-out-of-the-pen Brandon Workman. Okay.

So Workman strikes out, of course, because it's the first time he's had a bat in his hands since 2008 and the pitcher throws 100. Workman comes back out for the ninth, he pitches to only two batters! The guy so indispensable that he couldn't be removed for a pinch hitter who is the second-best power hitter on the entire team was taken out after two batters!

Let's take a little trip down memory lane. Remember 2003? The Red Sox were leading Game 7 of the ALCS. Grady Little left a gassed Pedro Martinez in to lose the lead. The move led to Pedro Martinez getting fired.

How about 1986? Bill Buckner remained in the game instead of Dave Stapleton, a superior defensive player. It took 18 months, but John McNamara got fired. In Lou Gorman's book One Pitch From Glory, he makes it clear that Jean Yawkey had wanted to fire McNamara immediately after the series.

Farrell's managing last night was much, much worse than either of those managing blunders. Pedro Martinez was the greatest pitcher of his time - Little trusted him too much to get out of a jam. It was a mistake, but when it was made, everyone rooting for Boston wasn't saying - "boy, that was dumb." We were rooting for Martinez to make it through, because he was all of our favorite pitcher. We were scared it was a mistake, but not convinced of it.

I was too young to remember Buckner in 1986, but beyond McNamara infamously wanting him to be on the field to celebrate, Buckner was the superior hitter to Stapleton. Leaving him in the game may have had some logic in it.

Last night, though? Leaving Workman hit, even though Uehara was ready to come in and Workman was only going to pitch to two more batters? It's not second-guessing to call that foolish - it was obviously nuts at the time. It was - at the risk of exaggerating - the worst mistake I can remember a manager making. John Farrell clearly does a good job with game preparation, and the team plays hard for him. But game strategy is important, and like Ron Washington and Texas, Farrell is bad at it. It's crazy to think about after this years turn-around, but if he doesn't improve on his tactics, it will be a short stint in the Red Sox dugout.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My morning with Pearl Jam and Alice

Lightning Bolt, the new Pearl Jam record, was in my mailbox when I arrived home last night. I was able to listen to it, with Alice in my arms. Without being overly trite, it was pretty moving listening to the band that I grew up with while holding my daughter.

I was thinking of doing a review, and I may down the road, but I'm not sure I'll say anything that won't be said better by others. The short of it basically boils down to this - if you like Pearl Jam, you'll like the record. If you don't, or if you're one of those people turned off by Eddie Vedder's vocal affectations, you probably won't. Needless to say, I liked it quite a bit.

A final thought. Many people try to review music (and all other art) objectively, and there is a value in that, but music is also meant to provoke an emotional response. It is impossible to experience the art of a favorite artist without the emotional connection to all of the existing work. The Pearl Jam record is consistent with their growth as artists over the 22 years since Ten was released, and Lightning Bolt fits perfectly in their discography. 

I am seeing them live in Worcester tonight. Two tracks from the album I hope to hear are "Getaway" - the opener, which they have yet to perform live - and "Pendulum." I also would love to hear "Speed of Sound," a standout from their last record that they've only performed four times. They played it this past Friday in Pittsburgh, but here's hoping.

And here's hoping I'm around in 32 years to listen to whatever band Alice grows up with. 

Friday, October 04, 2013

10/4/13 playoff marathon liveblog!

12:55: Four games today. Over/under on time of games? 13:30?

12:57: Gerrit Cole is getting the start for Pittsburgh. Two notes about this. One, I'll always have a soft spot for Cole, because I saw his major league debut on TV in a bar in Monterey, CA, as part of one of the best vacations I've ever taken. Second, Cole deserves the full-on phenom treatment. Maybe we have phenom burnout? I dunno, but Cole is really, really good.

12:58: Chris Carpenter with the ceremonial first pitch. I can't remember another time with a technically active player throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.

1:02: Bob Costas calling a playoff game!!

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Francisco Liriano, fellow outcasts, lead Pirates to NLDS

I had a quick post last week about how the Red Sox having quality players at every position was the biggest reason for their success. The Pirates have been successful this year because of depth as well. They have a legitimate MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen, one of the current great players in the game, but they have gotten contributions from several players this year. What is amazing is that so many of these players weren't valuable at all a year ago.  Unlike the Red Sox, who got bounce-back contributions from players who were hurt or underused in 2012 like Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, and Koji Uehara, the Pirates have gotten help from players who simply were bad

Check out the production of these players last season:

-Russell Martin: .211/.311/.403, 24% CS, 1.8 WAR in 2012 (w/ NYY); .226/.327/.377, 40% CS, 4.3 WAR in 2013
-Mark Melancon: 45.0 IP, 6.20 ERA, 1.267 WHIP, 3.42 K/BB, -0.5 WAR in 2012 (w/ BOS); 71.0 IP 1.39 ERA, 0.958 WHIP, 8.75 K/BB, 2.0 WAR in 2013
-Marlon Byrd: .210/.243/.245, 1 HR in 153 PA, -0.5 WAR in 2012 (w/ CHC/BOS); .318/.357/.486, 3 HR in 107 PA, 1.0 WAR (after posting a 4.0 WAR w/ NYM through mid-August)
-Vin Mazzaro: 44.0 IP, 5.73 ERA, 1.682 WHIP, 1.37 K/BB, -0.2 WAR in 2012 (w/ KC);  73.2 IP, 2.81 ERA, 1.208 WHIP, 2.19 K/BB, 0.9 WHIP in 2013
-Francisco Liriano: 134.1 IP, 5.09 ERA, 5.0 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9 1.468 WHIP, -0.1 WAR in 2012 (w/ MIN/CHA); 161 IP, 3.02 ERA, 3.5 BB/9. 0.5 HR/9, 1.224 WHIP, 3.0 WAR in 2013

I know WAR is a bit reductionist, but I think it tells the correct story here - those five players produced 0.5 WAR for their teams in 2013 (the last four producing a combined -1.3). In 2013? 11.2, and 15.2 overall when including Byrd's time with the Mets. Did the Pirates get lucky or buy low? A little bit of both, it looks like. Melancon isn't this good, for example, but he was part of a generous package the team got in exchange for Joel Hanrahan, who was a complete bust with Boston. A rebound was to be expected, but not to this level. Same with Liriano. He was bad in 2012, but his home run rate was out of proportion with what he'd given up in the past. I'm guessing that Neil Huntington noticed that his HR/FB rate was 12.9% in 2012, while it was closer to 10% for his career - and the gamble paid off, as it was only 8.3% in 2013. Vin Mazzaro's career ERA is 33 points higher because of a single disastrous performance in 2011

Without getting ahead of myself, it's probably worth noting that the Pirates shouldn't expect the same production from this group next year. But so what? It's not like they have big, long-term contracts. The Pirates, on a limited budget, astutely filled in a roster of buy-low extras, and a lot of them came through. It's a sensible blueprint for a fringe team looking to sneak into the playoffs.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Todd Helton says goodbye to Coors Field

I was able to stay up and watch the Rockies home finale Wednesday night. In an otherwise unremarkable season, they wrapped up with a very nice tribute to Todd Helton. Helton is sneaking out of the league this week in the shadow of the retirement of Mariano Rivera. His departure probably deserves more attention than it is getting. Then again, getting less attention than he deserves is sort of the perfect way to send off Todd Helton, who has spent his entire career in mile-high obscurity. 

A couple years back, I wrote about evaluating the first baseman who played mainly between 1990 and 2006 (with the arbitrary cut-off of having played 1000 first-base games in that time). At the time, it was in the context of evaluating the careers of Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro. I have the numbers in this computer but haven't updated the active players, but in general there hasn't been a lot of movement from where things stood at that time. Then, it came out with Jeff Bagwell as a clear Hall of Famer. By my (invented) standard, Bagwell and Thomas were dead even as the best of the era, with Thome third and Palmeiro fourth. Fifth was Todd Helton, ahead of Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff, Jason Giambi, and others who seemed to get quite a bit more attention. 

Helton's career was a sabermetric dream. He didn't compile huge counting stats, with "only" 2518 hits and 369 home runs, neither of which place him in the top 70 of all time. Despite that, he is 26th all time in on-base percentage and 36th in slugging. His 1334 walks are 35th all-time, and three times he led the National League in Times on Base. He rankes 16th all-time in doubles with 592, retiring with a huge lead as the active leader. 

From 2000 to 2004, Helton was one of the best in the game. He had a rWAR higher than 6.0 in each of those years, with a five-season total of 37.4, higher than the five best seasons of some slam-dunk Hall of Famers, like Frank Thomas. He followed that up by leading the National League in OBP in 2005, but his power was starting to slip, never to return. After compiling a .643 SLG from 2000-04, he dropped to .534 in 2005, and never surpassed .500 again. He remained a difficult out, posting a .416 OBP in his age-35 season (2009).

A pet theory of mine is that players who peak early in their careers do worse in Hall of Fame voting. It makes sense - a marginal Hall of Famer seven years removed from being a dominant player is going to be fresher in the minds of voters than one 15 years removed. When Helton is eligible in 2019, he will be 15 years past his elite best. Add in the fact that his greatness didn't come in the traditional statistical categories and the natural bias against Coors Field sluggers having inflated stats, and Helton's chances are remote.

That's ok though. Helton has a new ranch, a new horse, and he gets to be remembered as the definitive player in the still-young life of the Rockies franchise. He was one of the few Rockies who played well in their only World Series appearance, and got to say goodbye to the Coors fans on Wednesday with a home run. He had a remarkable, memorable career, and baseball is better for having had him as one of its stars. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Red Sox won the division because all of their players are good

The Red Sox clinched the American League East last night. A lot is being written about their quick turnaround, which is probably appropriate, considering they lost 93 games last year and traded one of their best players. The how is pretty interesting, and I encourage you to check out this piece from the tireless Alex Speier of WEEI.com, and really any of the work Speier has done this year. He's done a ton of great work and seems to have a lot of access, so I'm hoping he writes a book when the season is said and done. He can be a little uncritical at times, taking the words of team officials at face value, but face value can be informative and helpful, especially when written so well. 

I won't get into the how of the roster construction, however. I don't have the access for such a thing anyway. What I just wanted to point out was the why.  The Red Sox are good this year because they basically have an entire team of good players. The Red Sox have eight players with a rWAR of at least 3.0, and 17 at over 1.0 (including the now-departed Jose Iglesias). By the same measure, they have the fifth (Pedroia), seventh (Victorino), and ninth (Ellsbury) best position players in the American League. 

When every single player on the team is good, the team wins. That some of the players have played over their expectations (Victorino, Nava, Uehara) is helpful, but the team is full of good players having good seasons. That's easier said than done, but the success is probably less surprising than it should have been.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Chicago had the third-highest total in America of people who didn't get murdered in 2012

This will be a quick post that won't get the attention that it probably deserves, but I think it's important to correct a bit of faulty information that's going around out there on the internet. The gist is that Chicago is being called the murder capital of America, having had the most people getting murdered in 2012 of any U.S. city. That is horrible, of course, and my point here is not to discount the lives of the 500 people killed in Chicago. However, Chicago has instituted some much tougher gun laws in recent years. This connection has led conservative blogs and commentators, who I will not give the benefit of linking to (use Google if you must, folks) to draw the simplified connection that Chicago's stricter gun laws a great example that the tougher gun laws are counterproductive. The old "if having a gun is criminal, only criminals will have guns" cliche, if you will.

Of course, it is all BS.

Chicago's murder rate was higher in 2012 than it was in 2011. It was also lower in 2012 than it was from any year between 1964 and 2003. Here is a simple chart of the number of murders in Chicago, 1991-2012 (Source: 2011 Chicago Murder Analysis, updated for 2012; https://portal.chicagopolice.org/portal/page/portal/ClearPath/News/Statistical%20Reports/Murder%20Reports/MA11.pdf)

One reason Chicago pass New York for having the highest murder rate in the country was its own slight uptick. A more important reason is the continued drop in New York's own murder rate. New York has pretty strict gun laws of its own, a mayor who is currently running the largest anti-gun PAC in the country, and happens to be part of the state of New York, which has stricter laws than Illionois.

Mostly though, what I object to is the fact that these "news" sites are basically pandering to the conservative echo chamber, knowing it will generate hits. The Washington Post, for example, probably knows that Chicago having the most murders is essentially meaningless without context. The fact that it isn't the Top 25 in the country in murder rate, and has a rate less than half of Detroit or St. Louis or Fort Myers (?!), and barely a quarter of that of New Orleans doesn't matter. WaPo, Yahoo, and the other charlatans carry on knowing full-well that their words will be misrepresented, and don't care as long as the click rate stays high. As Chuck Todd, one of America's leaders of misinformation-spreading, pointed out this week, it's not the job of journalists to make sure what they communicate is the truth - they just need to report who says what. If someone lies outright? Hey, don't shoot the messenger.

The headline I've chosen is exactly as accurate as "FBI: Chicago passes New York as murder capital of US," which appears currently on the website of the Washington Post. To use a baseball analogy, comparing the safety of cities based on the aggregate number of murders without regard to the number of people would be like saying that Clayton Richard has outpitched Clayton Kershaw in 2013, because Richard has allowed 47 runs and Kershaw has allowed 55. It is deliberately misinformative.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Introducing Alice Rose Dunne

At 6:04 Thursday morning, Christine gave birth to our healthy baby daughter, Alice Rose Dunne. She is beautiful, and I am proud.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

John Lackey, Cole Hamels latest examples that pitcher wins are dumb

John Lackey can't catch a break.

Ok, obviously his 2011 and 2012 were much worse, for both off-field and on-field reasons. Before the 2013 season, he clearly devoted himself to losing weight, and with a repaired elbow and lithe frame, Lackey is doing his best pitching since 2007 when he led the American League in ERA. In 2013, he is eighth in the league in ERA+, eighth in BB/9, and sixth in K/BB. Yet, despite all of this on baseball's third highest scoring team, Lackey is, inexplicably 8-11. Why? The Red Sox don't score any runs when he pitches.

Now, Lackey has had better run support than a number of pitchers. At 3.5 RS/9, he ranks 99th out of 130 pitchers, which doesn't sound so bad. However, his team scores 5.3 runs per nine innings. No other player with such a low run support number pitches for a team that scores more than 4.6 per nine.

Let's go to the breakdown.

PlayerTm R/9RS/9IPLuck
Scott Kazmir4.76.31.6
Matt Moore4.66.11.5
Justin Grimm4.55.91.4
Jordan Lyles4.15.41.3
Hyun-jin Ryu45.21.2
Yovani Gallardo4.15.31.2
Scott Feldman4.25.41.2
Max Scherzer5.66.81.2
Chris Archer4.63.4-1.2
Dan Straily4.63.4-1.2
Cole Hamels3.92.7-1.2
Kris Medlen4.43.1-1.3
Chris Capuano42.6-1.4
John Lackey5.33.5-1.8

No pitcher has been as unlucky as Lackey has been this year. In fact, no pitcher has been as lucky as Lackey has been unlucky. 

Still, I suppose it's better to be Lackey than Cole Hamels. Hamels is 5-13, despite a solid (though unspectacular 106 ERA+. As anemic as the Philadelphia offense tends to be every night, they simply don't show up with Hamels is on the mound. Eight times this season, the Phillies have scored zero or one run when the lefty pitches. When he allows more than one earned run, his record is 0-13. In nine starts where Hamels has given up exactly two earned runs, he's 0-6. 

Still, pitching for a team that can't hit isn't really "unlucky," it's just sort of a crummy circumstance. John Lackey pitches for a good hitting team, and they just don't hit when he pitches. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

New Pearl Jam record on 10/15/2013

Both followers of this blog will know that I am rather a fan of the band Pearl Jam. Today brings good news, as they have announced the release of their tenth full-length original album, "Lightning Bolt" on October 15. There is a short clip on the Youtube, and it sounds fairly rocking. 

Friday, July 05, 2013

The future is here: public and private transportation options bringing people back to the city

I noticed a couple of articles today that caught my attention and I wanted to pass along and comment about. Matthew Yglesias at Slate gave a strong rebuttal to the notion that private transportation companies like Uber and Lyft are undercutting public transportation. Yglesias knows much more about the San Francisco situation than I do - when I've been there, I've found the BART to be a mixed bag - faster and a bit cleaner than the MBTA, but much harder for traveling within downtown districts. I agree with Yglesias - the access to more low-cost transportation options makes people less dependent on owning their own car in general. People take cabs transportation options when they need to get somewhere quickly

While this may bring calls about how we're killing the American automotive industry, these concerns seem to miss the mark - we're selling more cars than we have in years, and that includes domestic cars.

Instead, what's happening is more basic, and more positive. People are sorting themselves - those who prefer the suburban, two-car garage lifestyle are still buying cars, while those who prefer to live in the city and walk, bike, train, cab or rickshaw to work and play are more able to do so without the burden and expense of car ownership. That means that everyone wins - cities need to devote less public space to inefficient modes of transport, the costs of city-living decrease, the roads become less crowded, the environmental impacts are mitigated... everybody's happy! So everybody dance!

Sounds like an impossible dream, right? Not according to this graphic today on boston.com:

More people are living in the city, and less of them are driving. That's why policies like this (article is a stub - subscription needed for full access) are not so "counter-intuitive" and certainly not "galling." Space is expensive. For three-quarters of a century, it seems like city management has regarded kowtowing to driving/private car ownership as a necessity, while doing things like making sure the Red Line runs as some ideal. The need for the city to subsidize $30,000 to $50,000 per year parking spaces is a big reason we only see "luxury" units going up in the city - in order to recoup land price in such a dense, expensive area, that money ends up being part of the price of the living space. That "free" parking space with the 600 square-foot apartment isn't free. It's offensively expensive, and it makes smaller and medium-sized units horrifically overpriced. Since the units are already overpriced, developers make them into "luxury" units - if space is going to be priced out of most people's market, it makes sense to make them as high-end as possible to appeal to those for who money is less of an issue.

Companies like ZipCar and low cost livery services help to mitigate the fact that even people can't take public transportation everywhere. That's a positive step, and to think otherwise is crazy. People who choose to live in 21st century cities both need cars less and *want* cars less. Outdated city management policies that treat car ownership as a necessity are unproductive and result in higher prices. Give people the car-free housing that they want.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Koji Uehara is better than Jonathan Papelbon

The ninth inning has been something of a sore spot for the Red Sox this season. Joel Hanrahan was terrible, then hurt (or hurt because he was terrible). Andrew Bailey was excellent in April, but struggled after coming back from his injury, bottoming out this month. Something of a panic broke out last week, when Bailey blew two games in three days, that the Red Sox needed to acquire a new closer.

Yes, I agree with you - the idea of the closer is, itself, dumb. Saving your best pitcher for in case you're winning makes no sense. You're preaching to the choir. The fact is, teams use a closer, and it's a good idea for your closer to be a good pitcher. Moving on

Anyhow, one prominent suggestion was that the Red Sox should work out a deal with a Phillies team stuck in baseball purgatory for Jonathan Papelbon. This is a bad idea. One reason that it's a bad idea is that it's dumb to trade for saves. Pitchers with saves cost more money than pitchers without saves, even though they aren't generally better. SOME are better. Mariano Rivera and Craig Kimbrel and Billy Wagner and Dennis Eckersley are/were mcuh better than their contemporaries. But, as the Red Sox have learned the hard way THREE @#$%^& TIMES in the last two years, trading for Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon because they had saves isn't a panacea. Trading for pretty good pitchers and making them closers? Yes! Trading for pretty good pitchers who have racked up saves? No!

Jonathan Papelbon is a pretty good pitcher. From 2006 to maybe 2009 he was a great pitcher. In 2010 he was mediocre. Since 2011, he's been between good and very good. The problem is, he won't cost what a good to very good pitcher will. That's one reason the Red Sox shouldn't trade for him. The other is that they have a reliever who is better.

Actually, they might have two who are better, but Junichi Tazawa's track record is short, even if his K/BB ratio isn't.

Anyhow, let's go to the old comparison chart! These numbers are since the start of the 2012 season.

PLAYER A2.3253100.21741.00371.
PLAYER B1.85468.02380.7215.21.11.311.88.9

Since you've already read the title to this piece, you know that Player A is Jonathan Papelbon and Player B is Koji Uehara. Papelbon beats Uehara is saves. He also is ahead in innings, so if you want to argue that he's more durable, you might be right, but the difference in their chances of getting hurt in the second half of 2013 is not worth what the Red Sox would have to give up for Paps. Since the start of last year, Uehara has struck out more batters, walked fewer, and been harder to hit. As a result, he gives up runs less frequently

If the Red Sox are going to use the traditional closer - and as a first place team following three straight playoff misses, they are - Uehara is a perfect choice.

Aside: The Red Sox aren't an ideal candidate for revolutionary bullpen usage. And by "revolutionary," I mean "what they did in 1987." 

Uehara's home run rate is a touch higher than I'd like to see, but there are so few runners on when he pitches that they are that they are likely to be solo shots. Indeed, three of the four he's allowed in 2013 have been with the bases empty. More importantly, Uehara represents an opportunity for the Red Sox to finally create their own closer, the way they did seven years ago with Papelbon. Uehara is a one-inning guy, so it's not like using him for short stints otherwise jeopardizes his usefulness. (Farrell continues to use Tazawa for one-inning stints as well, which is a soap box that I'm not planning to get off of.)  He came cheap.

The idea that someone the Red Sox could acquire is likely outperform Uehara over the next four months by such an amount as to justify the cost of that acquisition is kind of crazy. He's been one of the better relievers in baseball since the Orioles moved him there at the start of 2010, and has brought that to another, elite level over the last year and a half.

You may say that the Red Sox need now to fill the role Uehara is vacating if they use him as closer, and that's true to an extent. However, getting a "middle reliever" from outside the organization is much less expensive than getting Jonathan Papelbon, and the Red Sox have internal options for the role as well. Alex Wilson, Rubby De La Rosa,  and Brandon Workman could all be solid relievers right now, and Jose De La Torre could as well. Another option would be to not get into such rigid usage patterns with the current crop of guys. Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, and Junichi Tazawa can pitch multiple innings. Farrell needs to let them do that sometimes. Burning through five relievers to get 11 outs is incredibly inefficient. It's one of the reasons there has been talk of the Red Sox pen being "overused" despite the fact they've gotten an above-average number of innings from their starting pitching.

The Red Sox are in first place, and they have one of the best relievers in the game as the closer. Since taking over the role, he's retired all six batters he's faced, four via the strikeout. He gives the best high-fives in the game, which is worth something. If you want to argue that Uehara doesn't have the "closer's mentality," I don't know what to tell you. I'm pretty sure the idea of a "closer's mentality" is made up, but if anyone has it then it's Uehara - he comes into the game with his sort of crazed intensity that I certainly wouldn't want to be in the way of.

Instead of giving up prospects for a closer, the Red Sox just need to trust the best reliever they have to do the job.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Los Angeles Architecture and Design Museum: Astutely ironic, or just terrible?

Christine and I returned this week from a lovely nine-day vacation throughout California. It is my intention to make a few more postings about this trip, but if history is any indication, I will not. Such is life. Anyhow, we saw lovely places, great friends, and some pretty fascinating wildlife.

And, probably the worst museum I've ever visited in my life.

We had heard some good things about the Los Angeles Architecture and Design Museum. With minimal investigation, we took the recommendation at face value. With a few days in LA, and neither of us, nor our friendly companions, having visited said museum previously, we decided to give it a shot. Now, you may be saying "What the heck does Los Angeles have to do with architecture and design? Isn't that city sort of infamous for not having any of either?" I'll get to that.

We entered the museum, having paid our $10 fee. The exhibit when we entered was called "Windshield Perspective." It was a series of photographs giving a perspective of driving down Beverly Boulevard. But there wasn't really any information on these buildings. It was as though the curator/exhibit creator had gone to the hall of records and simply charted what building had been there for each census, dating back to the 1920's. A few of the placards had additional information on a current or past business, but most of it read like a business database. Informational, perhaps, but not really the sort of thing I pay to see in a museum. And not even the dates that the new business moved in, or interviews/quotes from neighbors about the turnover, or how the boulevard had changed over the years. Just what had been at each number on that block in 1930, 1935, 1940, 1945, 1950...

As if mocking itself, the museum was interspersed with quotes from philosophers or other famous folk, seemingly with nothing to do with Los Angeles or architecture. Kierkegaard had lots of interesting things to say, but I'm not sure what the application was here.

After completing the exhibit, we were rather stunned to find that it was not just the opening room, but the entire museum. One room, with pictures of a city street.

Then, the punch line:

So was this a well-meaning exhibit gone wrong? Or was it a clever way of saying "Yeah, Los Angeles doesn't give a crud about architecture and design. In fact, we spit in the face of such things. We just had an entire museum dedicated to the poorly-planned, uninteresting mundanity that characterizes so much of our city."

As a free museum, it might have been a lark. For $10 though, my expectations weren't through the roof - just that maybe the museum would be more interesting than the pictures of old local sport clubs that you find in Applebee's.

This current exhibit runs through July 9th. Even if the effect was intended, I cannot recommend this to anyone. There simply is not enough there, as you wait for the punch line, to warrant the entrance fee.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Overcoming political differences: Everyone hates Justin Bieber

I found this survey, by Public Policy Polling, to be pretty wonderful. PPP had one of the better records in the 2012 election season, which gives them some level of authority on public opinion polling. Basically, they polled 571 people on their music tastes, and used political affiliation as a crosstab. Bieber and Chris Brown were the two who saw the most agreement between the supporters of the two political parties. Since Chris Brown is actually a felon, that's a good reference point to where we're starting.

The most polarizing figures, Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Rihanna, all had positive ratings by Democrats and negative ones by Republicans. More research is forthcoming by the humble proprietor of this establishment to try to find out what these three artists have in common. 

How to fire a terrible umpire?

A lot - I mean a real lot - has been written about the Angel Hernandez blown call, and then the blown replay, in Wednesday night's game between Cleveland and Oakland. It is a problem that lacks any real, satisfying solution. The A's lost a game-tying run. They are a contender in a tough division - that run, and that game,may be important for them in the grand scheme of the season. That stinks for them. 

Some have called for the game to be stopped and replayed, as if it were an official rules protest, but as many have countered, that sets a pretty unworkable precedent. "How bad does a call have to be to replay a game" is just not a road we should be going down. What if the call had been in the first inning? What if it had cut the deficit from two runs to one, instead of tying it? What if the teams hadn't been playing the next day? Much of the calls to replay the game seemed to stem from the fact that it was convenient to do so. A decision like this shouldn't be made based on convenience.

Instead of cancelling the game, the response of Major League Baseball has been much more interesting. In my view, they've basically thrown Hernandez - who is a terrible umpire - under the bus. They haven't announced sweeping changes or rule discussions or anything, because they can't really. MLB can't fire Hernandez. I'm not sure that they can suspend him. They can't, in any workable way, reverse his decision. They CAN, however, publicly shame Hernandez and the rest of the umpire hierarchy into changing the way things are done, and they are doing that by making the public as mad as possible. 

It's expected to have ESPN and other independent sports news outlets focus on the blown call. It's less so to have MLB.com, the official site of major league baseball doing the same. Why would they do this? They WANT people to be mad. Why? Because MLB isn't one autonomous being, with a straightforward mission and a way to enact it. It's a group of organizations, made up of several groups playing within a specific set of rules. The owners essentially have formed a trust. While there points of disagreement within ownership, I'd guess that everyone, even the useless robber baron Jeffrey Loria, wants games to be officiated as well and fairly as possible. The players union, while often directly in disagreement with the owners, are on the same page on this one. The umpires, however? What is their goal. Ostensibly, it is to officiate as well as possible, but it's also important to them to keep their jobs, as it is for any of us. Who among us, when something has gone wrong at work that we were responsible for, didn't shift at least some of the blame elsewhere, if only onto a process or technology or something benign. Self-protection is a factor here.

Like I said earlier, Angel Hernandez can't really be fired for incompetence. In general, I think it should be hard to fire people willy-nilly. Hernandez is a bad employee though. He was a bad umpire even before he made it to majors, as this Buffalo News article points out. The man was a lousy minor league umpire in 1991. He's been a lousy major league umpire for a long time. He just blew a major call. TWICE. The argument against instant replay is that it removes the human element. Well, apparently not when you have an incompetent, arrogant rube watching the replay.

And THAT is why MLB is bringing attention to Hernandez situation, rather than sweeping it under the rug. Hernandez IS incompetent, and should be disciplined, but really can't be. The powers that be are trying to get people furious enough that they demand change. They are essentially union-busting. The umpires union, a legitimate organization that consists generally of competent, hard-working officials, has an Angel Hernandez problem. The longer it takes them to solve it, the worse they are going to come out of this. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

SoxProspects.com: Potential Red Sox bullpen reinforcements

With Joel Hanrahan leaving Monday night’s game with soreness in his right arm hours after Andrew Bailey was placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Red Sox bullpen is in a state of flux.

Read the rest of this article on SoxProspects.com

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The worst day

I'm still trying to collect my thoughts after yesterday, so bear with me. I do not have any physical injuries from yesterday's bombing at the Boston Marathon. I did not even attend this year - if I had, I likely wouldn't have been anywhere near Boylston Street. As far as I know, none of my family or friends sustained physical injuries either. The psychological injuries aren't going to end quickly, though.

Much of the commentary I've read in the last 24 hours has mentioned the "innocence" of the event. For me, this is true on a personal level. My memories of attending the marathon are as a youngster, with my family. We didn't go every year, but when we did, we would usually find ourselves in the Boston College/Chestnut Hill areas. I remember vividly bringing a picnic lunch and a battery-powered radio to listen to the race, while watching runners filed by. One year, my mother was asked by a policeman to get out of the tree she had climbed. It was school vacation week, the trees were blooming, and I got to hang out in Boston watching a world-famous event. We often look back at things we didn't appreciate at the time - this wasn't one of them. I knew it was pretty special.


I don't know whether there is a science to the stages of grief. I do know that the first stage, "denial" is the most terrifying, at least to me. It's the place where I can't accept what is happening in front of my face, a dissociation with reality.

I'd flipped the marathon off yesterday about 45 minutes before the bombing. I had quite a bit of studying to catch up on, I'd seen the winners and other elite runners come through, seen their interviews, watched some of the mid-race coverage, with the poor Channel 4 field reporter trying to interview runners while running. At one point, they interviewed volunteers who had administered first aid to a runner who had developed a blister on his foot. Back to Copley Plaza to hear the Ethiopian national anthem. Contendedly, I shut off the television to focus on studying. Well, half focus. I had my notes in front of me, but also my computer.

Poking around on gmail, a friend sent me a message - "are you following this?" I had no idea what he was talking about, but there was an ominousness to it. He said there were explosions at the marathon. I went back into my living room, flipped the television back on, and watched in horror. I tried calling my wife and my parents, but wasn't able to make outgoing calls, which added to the feeling of hopelessness. I knew they weren't in Boston, and they knew I wasn't there, so it wasn't a case of a safety check. More of a "what in the world is happening?" My mind continued to race. "Maybe it was an electrical explosion - I bet it was an electrical explosion, with all those people downtown, it must be a real strain on the electrical grid, maybe it overloaded." As though that made sense. "This can't be happening. This can't be real." Just two hours earlier, I'd been commenting how beautiful it was out, exulting on the Red Sox victory, thinking about how wonderful the name Lelisa Desisa was... and now, none of that could be further from my mind.

Actually, that's not entirely true. How beautiful it was out kept creeping back into my mind. The last couple years, it's seemed that the marathon hadn't had much luck with the weather. Last year the temperature topped 90 degrees, the previous year they'd run in a Nor'easter. This year though, it was the perfect weather for the event. A little cool, sunny, not too much wind. Perfect for both runner and spectator.

Maybe it's cliche to reference the last attack that had this sort of effect, but it was impossible not to. September 11, 2001 was a sunny, clear day - a bit warmer than yesterday, but a similarly blue sky and light wind. In the early morning that day, I showered and made my way to Professor Johnson's class on Democratic Theory, an almost uncanny forum to discuss events that nobody yet understood. As the day continued, hopelessness, knowing that, not only was there no way to change what had happened, but there was not a real way to prevent these things from happening in the future.

In the last 24 hours, the same hopelessness has set in, but with more immediacy. I live maybe four miles from the finish line. I walk at least part of Boylston Street on probably a weekly basis. It's no exaggeration to say that I've been on that stretch of road hundreds of times. Usually my thoughts revolve around how beer is too expensive at the nearby restaurants, how I need to check out the map collection at the library, or how I'm so stupid to be late for whatever I'm supposed to be doing. I feel a strong attachment to the place and event that yesterday's horror occurred, an attachment that will never again be quite the same.


There's another level of heartbreak, though, one that I didn't feel in 2001. Whatever the "outcome," whoever is "responsible," we're going to jump to too-easy conclusions. If it was Islamic fundamentalists, people will claim it confirms their ideology. Same as if it was anti-government groups. If there is a resolution to this, it will be followed by someone showing how this tragedy proves their worldview correct. That, frankly, might be the most heartbreaking. In the immediate aftermath - and I mean immediate - the divisive statements had already begun. I fear that the divides we have created are permanent. Maybe they were always there, and the immediacy of current media brings them to the forefront, but I can't shake an overwhelming sadness that we cannot, in the end, all get along. Unity is only possible if people can understand those they disagree with, but instead of identification and compassion, we choose to demonize. Consistently. These are some of the worst offenders. If you read that post and think "but hate is coming from the other side too!" then you are a) an idiot, and, more importantly b) part of the goddamn problem. These are not "sides." I've seen a lot of references, in the aftermath, to good overcoming evil. But evil doesn't start with killing 8-year-olds with a homemade bomb. It starts in a much more benign way, by demonizing those you disagree with as less worthy, as less of a person.

Perhaps we, as a nation, can get through this. But we won't get through it simply by penalizing those who perpetrated the individual action. Instead, we will get through only by not punishing the innocent, by not claiming ideological and moral superiority, no matter the result. If we cannot do that, then the American experiment has failed.

Deep down though, I want - I need - to be optimistic. Maybe it's part of acceptance, or maybe it's simply denial, but I suppose the reason isn't important. Let's get together and get through this.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Quick 2013 Predictions

I know, I'm cheating. The season has already started! You're right, let the record show that the Houston Astros are in first place in the American League West, a half game ahead of the Angels, A's, and Mariners, and a full game ahead of Texas. I will try my hardest not to allow this to influence my predictions.

American League East

1. Tampa Bay (91-71): They keep drafting and developing pitchers. Then they trade those pitchers for people like Wil Myers. As long as they keep drafting well, the model is sustainable. There's been a lot of talk about the parity in the division, but no team is great. Every team could win, and, yes, that includes the Red Sox and Yankees. The Rays have the pitching depth to get them through a season. David Price probably didn't deserve the Cy Young over Verlander last year, but he's pretty amazing anyway. Matt Moore is my pick for the breakout player of the year. His swing and miss rates predict a much higher strikeout rate, and his control numbers predict a better walk rate. Price/Moore will be the elite 1/2 combo in the league by the end of the year.

2. Toronto (89-73): Yes, the Blue Jays made a lot of big splash additions in the offseasons. Still, as far as Dickey is concerned, it's hard to predict that level of success. Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes are injury risks. Buehrle is a great addition for them, however - the Jays have had a real problem getting pitchers to go deep into games in recent years, and Buehrle has pitched 200+ innings for 12 consecutive years. He's the prototype of the #3 starter who eats innings and keeps his team in games. Many pitchers are touted as this, but very few actually exist.

3. Boston (88-74): Ok, it's hard to know what to predict from the Red Sox. 2013 was a total disaster in every way. How good are Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz? It's hard to project a team when it's hard to gauge whether their players are declining or simply had a bad season as part of a bad situation.

4. New York (81-81): They acquired Vernon Wells on purpose. But yeah, Brian Cashman is a brilliant GM who would have no trouble winning without the Yankees massive payroll. He's developed at least one player during his tenure. Sabathia and Kuroda should keep them above water. If those two falter, it's a long, long season.

5. Baltimore (80-82): A step backward, but a temporary one. They were 20 games over .500 in one-run games in 2012. That's not just unsustainable, it's pretty much impossible. They were an 83-79 team in 2012 that happened to win 93 games, then stood pat. They could win the division though, if their young pitchers step forward. I think they're a year or two away, though.

American League Central

1. Detroit (99-63): This shouldn't need an explanation. No other team is such a prohibitive division favorite. Everyone else in the division may finish below .500.

2. Chicago? (87-75): Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn both hit in 2012. Konerko doesn't ever seem to slow down, and has put together a wonderful career. Again, there is a lot of variance in where their pitching may end up. Chris Sale's delivery looks like it could lead to injury, but that doesn't mean it will. Jake Peavy pitched 219 innings last year, which I didn't think would ever happen again. They are a contender if all breaks well.

3. Kansas City (78-84): Trading Wil Myers and other prospects for Shields and Davis was probably the most controversial single move of the offseason that didn't originate in Arizona. I wouldn't be as low on the move if the other prospects weren't involved. Anyhow, its a huge gamble by a GM who will probably be fired if it doesn't pay off. And, in fairness, he'll deserve it.

4. Cleveland (72-90): I like Terry Francona, but I'm not actually sure he's a better manager than Manny Acta. He had a ton of talent in Boston, of course. The Indians have no pitching of note right now, though I like Francona's chance to bring a guy like Bauer along. Francona seems like the type who knew how to handle a lot of different crazy personalities and get the most out of them. None of that matters without talent, though.

5. Minnesota (58-104): Expect the rebuilding to continue. Justin Morneau, who has been a fixture there for a very long time, will be dealt if he's playing well. I still think Joe Mauer should learn third base, as I think he'd be fantastic there, it would keep him healthier, and he'd be an elite hitter as a third baseman, while he's only very good as a first baseman because of his power limitations. But hey, it's not my $180 million.

American League West

1. Los Angeles (95-67): Imagine if the Yankees had signed Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton? People would be talking about how they only can outspend their opponents, and are ruining baseball. These are the heels, folks. Root against them. Lack of pitching depth will cause some regular season frustration and keep them south of 100 wins.

2. Oakland (90-72): They were lumped in with Baltimore in 2012 as teams that got lucky and played over their heads. The problem is, Oakland's Pythagorean record was only two games behind its actual record. Unlike Baltimore, they've made some additions that will make up for the regressions of those individuals who were playing over their head. 90 wins and the wild card is another goal.

3. Texas (86-76): This team still has championship upside. They'll miss Josh Hamilton's bat, but not at that price. They won't miss Michael Young at all, at least on the field. Still, they have holes - they need another pitcher and outfielder. It needs a longer look, but the pending Elvis Andrus extension is an interesting move - I'm not sure which side I come down on it. A year ago, this organization looked like the class of baseball, but they're having some difficulties right now. That's not surprising with so many big personalities, I guess.

4. Seattle (71-91): They'll have fun beating on Houston, at least. They have some very talented pitching in the minors, but they are, quite frankly, baseball's most boring team when Felix Hernandez isn't on the mound. While he's incurred the wrath of his fanbase, I don't know that Jack Zduriencik quite falls in the Dayton Moore category where it is a make-or-break year. Jack Z. has restocked his farm system while playing in a tough division. For Moore, graduations and the Shields trade has pretty much emptied the system - if the Royals aren't any good, it may be terminal for their core.

5. Houston (51-111): They're 1-0. Jeff Luhnow is probably the most innovated GM in the game now. He's in a position to try new things, because the downside of the failure of any one move is nil - they can't possibly be worse than they are right now. I wasn't thrilled with the Carlos Correa pick last June, but he's drawn raves this spring, so I'm still reserving judgment. The #1 pick this June will be interesting from an organizational philosophy perspective, as it's a draft with college pitchers and high school outfielders.

National League East

1. Washington (98-64): On paper, this team really doesn't have a weakness. Depth could be a problem if injuries hit, but that's true of every team. If you want to argue their starting pitchers are a bigger injury risk than another team, I suppose that's fair, but unless they get ransacked, they have the talent to overcome it. Also, Bryce Harper hits 50 this year, and 800 in his career. Strikeouts may keep him from getting into the Williams/Ruth/Bonds pantheon of Greatest Hitters Ever, as the hitch in his swing is notable. But the swing also generates a ridiculous amount of power. He'll have seasons where he slugs .700.

2. Atlanta (93-69): The Justin Upton deal was a coup. This team may not have the upside of the Nationals or Tigers or Dodgers, but their downside is probably 91 wins. I'm interested to see how good Kris Medlen actually is.

3. New York (80-82): The Dickey trade had to be kind of sad for Mets loyalists. It may well have been the best thing for the organization in the long term, but Citi Field really seemed like they'd adopted Dickey. Sandy Alderson knows what he's doing, and this team is moving in the right direction. Their rotation is better than people realize, but that outfield is pretty rough. Zach Wheeler didn't make the club out of spring training, but he's one to watch.

4. Philadelphia (73-89): I keep hearing about their window of opportunity, as though it hasn't already slammed shut. They have a great front three on the pitching staff, but their offense is so bad and management so screwy that they signed Delmon Young. For all the crud the Yankees have been taking about signing Vernon Wells, imagine if Wells was also a miserable human being, and, instead of a spring training desperation maneuver, was signed in the middle of the offseason as a way to make the team better, rather than just as a warm body. It wouldn't surprise me if nobody in their lineup has a 2.0 WAR season. On the other hand, my guess is that the reports of the demise of Roy Halladay have been greatly exaggerated.

5. Miami (57-105): An absolutely embarrassment to both baseball and government. I'd feel bad for their fans if they had any. Instead, I just feel bad for those Floridians who got extorted out of tax money to buy a ballpark for a rich owner.

National League Central

1. Cincinnati (96-66): This team reminds me of the 2011 Rangers. They have a manager whose terrible decisions don't hurt them enough to outweigh the fact they're dripping with talent. The Aroldis Chapman move is disappointing, but, Joey Votto exists.

2. St. Louis (89-73): They're a tad uneven at the major league level, with several good players but few stars. There really isn't an obvious weakness here, but several positions could be upgraded. They have baseball's best farm system, so those upgrades are coming. Shelby Miller made the team out of spring training, Oscar Taveras isn't far behind.

3. Milwaukee (80-82): They bit the bullet and signed on Kyle Lohse, giving their rotation some much-needed depth. They're planning to start Alex Gonzalez at first base, proving that some general managers didn't read Moneyball.

4. Pittsburgh (79-83): The streak continues! Without the Astros to beat on, they may actually fall below this projection. Andrew McCutchen is great, but this organization is too often uncreative, and has been stuck in a neutral sort of mediocrity for awhile now. Signing Russell Martin was a smart move, however. Barajas was among the worst players in the league last year, and Martin, despite his flaws, is an above average player at his position. Getting out of the big city life may also do wonders for his focus.

5. Chicago (68-94): There isn't much at the major league level, but about 1000 miles east, Jackie Bradley, Jr. is debuting for Boston. Bradley was Theo Epstein's last first round draft pick while running the Red Sox. From 2003-2011, no team drafted as well as Boston did. They weren't perfect, and had their share of busts, but it was an impressive run. Other teams are run more intelligently than they were in 2004, making Epstein's job harder, but, like Alderson in New York, there's a good reason to have faith in him.

National League West

1. Los Angeles (95-67): Are they paying Zack Greinke too much money? Maybe, but they have the money, so that's their prerogative. Greinke is best-suited as a #2, because he's never come close to duplicating his 2009, either before or after. Fortunately for the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw. Expect a big bounce-back from Adrian Gonzalez. He had a miserable 2012, as he didn't get along with Bobby Valentine, then had to deal with hacks like Nick Cafardo taking Valentine's side.

2. San Francisco (90-72): Don't sleep on the Giants! We're told that every day. Nobody is sleeping on the Giants. They're good. Lincecum may end up in the bullpen, and he may end up dominating there. Without having to worry about repeating his delivery, and without having to pace himself, he'd project well in the role. They had a lot go right in 2012, but it's pretty tough to call two World Championships in three years any sort of a fluke. They're likely to be back in the playoffs, and Matt Cain makes them a good pick once they're there.

3. Colorado (75-87):Will Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy? Will Carlos Gonzalez produce consistently? How much does Todd Helton have left? Will we ever stop asking these questions about the Rockies? As usual, they're going to give up a lot of runs - Jon Garland could probably return to being a LAIM somewhere else, but Colorado isn't the place.

4. San Diego (71-91): This is a somewhat anonymous team, but not necessarily a bad one. Chase Headley's injury is a setback, and they could use another starting pitcher. Trading Street or Gregerson should be a consideration. If they turned down Porcello for either of them, they're fools. Between the better park, better defense, and lack of a DH he'd have a sub 3.50 ERA for them.

5. Arizona (70-92): On paper, Arizona isn't worse than San Diego. But they've had an offseason that's not just bad, but bad in a way that almost flouts the way they're doing things wrong. Trading Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Trevor Bauer for 50 cents on the dollar so that they can become more gritty is so foolishly 1992 Brewers that it's hard to believe it's happening. They traded two prospects for Tony Campana for crying out loud! Though many people who live in Arizona would probably prefer to watch a team without Justin Upton and Chris Young, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

AL Wild card: Toronto over Oakland
ALDS: Detroit over Toronto
ALDS: Tampa over Los Angeles
ALCS: Detroit over Tampa
NL Wild card: San Francisco over Atlanta
NLDS: Washington over San Francisco
NLDS: Cincinnati over Los Angeles
NLCS: Cincinnati over Washington

World Series
Detroit over Cincinnati (Hooray Midwest!)

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera (He'll deserve it this time)
NL MVP: Joey Votto
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young: Matt Cain
AL Rookie of the Year: Jackie Bradley
NL Rookie of the Year: Shelby Miller

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Opening Night 2013! Rangers at Astros Liveblog

8:07: Welcome to the 2013 baseball season! I'll have a short preview of the 2013 season tomorrow, but right now, Bud Norris is winding up to make the first pitch of the season. I am still physically rejecting the idea of the Astros as an American League team.

8:10: Bud Norris is a dominant force. Elvis Andrus strikes out.

8:11: Welcome back to Houston, Lance Berkman. I have to agree with Mr. Kruk on this one, I'm not sure why he's not getting a better reception. Maybe because he played well on the 2011 Cardinals team? The rules for how to respond to a returning player need to be laid out somewhere. "Rebuilding team trades a long term star for little in return in order to get that player a better chance to play for a contender has to be at the bottom of that order.

8:14: This Astros lineup is... young.

8:15: Jose Altuve with the first hit of the year. Insert "Short" joke here.

8:19: Matt Harrison backs up back-to-back ex-Oakland prospects to close out the firs tinning. While Chris Carter's prospect status has faded, but he's the type of player who should be solid playing every day.

8:22: Adrian Beltre, batting cleanup for the Rangers with Hamilton gone. It seems crazy, but statistically, Beltre is going to have a fantastic Hall of Fame case. I'm not sure how he plays from here on out, so it'll be interesting what kind of support he gets.

8:25: David Murphy takes a walk. Ten years ago, Murphy was Theo Epstein's first draft pick as Red Sox GM. Theo's performance with free agents was spotty, but the amount of talent drafted and developed from 2003 to 2011 by the Red Sox has to give Cubs fans a lot of hope.

8:33: AJ Pierzynski with the single to break up the Bud Norris opening day no-hitter. Bob Feller's record stands. The Murphy caught stealing is looking big.

8:35: I like the Astros uniforms. They looked good on paper, but I wanted to see them in game action.

8:40: Justin Maxwell put in some pretty solid play when I saw him in Syracuse. He swings and misses too much to make an impact right now, and he's 29, so he's pretty far from being a prospect.

8:42: I was a bit nervous heading into the season because of the drop-off in Matt Harrison's 2012 strikeouts. He starts off 2013 with four in his first six batters. This lineup is going to strike out a lot in the American League West.

8:45: Is anyone actually overlooking the Giants? I'm pretty sick of being told not to overlook the Giants.

8:47: Opening day pitching matchups are awesome. Matt Cain vs. Clayton Kershaw? Yes please. The playoffs never line up this well.

8:48: I'm giddy to log into baseball-reference.com tomorrow and see a 2013 stat line. Opening day is awesome. Baseball is awesome. You all are awesome. I could hug you all right now.

8:51: Elvis Andrus is still just 24. That's kind of crazy. He'll be a 26 year old plus defensive shortstop with over 1000 hits and good plate discipline when he hits free agency, and he's never played in fewer than 145 games. That may bode poorly for how he ages in his mid-30's, but he seems like a guy to gamble on from ages 26-30.

8:58: Full disclosure. I'd never heard of Brandon Barnes before today. 

9:00: Ronny Cedeno has a career .247/.290/.357 batting line. Unless the Astros defensive metrics rate him a lot better than most of the more common ones (which is possible), it's hard to justify them bringing him in. Even then, there has to be a journeyman/Quad-A type who has never properly getting the chance with just the tiniest bit of upside, right?

9:04: Watching Adrian Beltre, I can't help but think back to the 2010-11 offseason. At the time, it was so sensible for Boston to trade for Adrian Gonzalez, move Kevin Youkilis and let Beltre walk, but only two years later neither player is there and Beltre is the cleanup hitter on a playoff contender. For all those out there who want to second guess, however, it's hard to go back and find anyone critical of the move at the time. Even the best laid schemes...

9:16: Some sensible discussion from this announcing crew - unsurprising, since Hershiser is the best color man out there right now in my mind. No criticizing them for not having a high enough payroll, nor any unrealistic "maybe they can overcome expectations" talk either. And Hershiser is absolutely correct - 2013 is about seeing if Brett Wallace and Chris Carter and Jason Castro are actual major league contributors.

9:22: Justin Maxwell with a two-run triple, and the first runs of the 2013 season.

9:38: Like I said earlier, Ronny Cedeno is an awesome hitter, and the Astros are a contender because of him.

9:42: Altuve elevates to rip a single to center. Very impressive the way he gets his hands through the zone. 4-0 Astros in the fifth.

9:56: John Kruk is better in the booth than in the BBTN studio. It's more conversational, so his humor comes out more. He also seems content to not talk and simply fill up air when there isn't much to say. Well see if he keeps this up, but he's doing well so far.

10:00: David Murphy singles to right to make it 4-1. Runners on first and second, making Nelson Cruz the tying run with two out. The Astros are letting Norris try to fight through, but this is his last batter either way.

10:03: Cruz with an RBI single. Bedard is coming in for Norris, who pitched ok. He threw some pretty good looking sliders early on. I like that Porter is going with Bedard here, rather than feeling stuck in his traditional bullpen roles. Bedard is probably the best pitcher in the Astros bullpen, so he's the one coming in. Why isn't it always this simple?

10:07: And Bedard gets a lazy pop fly from Pierzynski. 4-2 Astros, headed to the bottom of the 6th. Bedard has a 112 career ERA+, and last year was his first below average season since his rookie year in 2004. Injuries put him off track, but he's pitched well when he's been able to pitch, and is a good pick-up for the Astros.

10:19: Matt Harrison's night is done after walking Matt Dominguez. Dominguez is a pretty good example of the Marlins not having an organizational strategy. Last July, they're trading him for Carlos Lee, three months later they blow their club up entirely.

10:21: DEREK LOWE! Forgot he was on the Rangers. 

10:22: Announcers get a minus one for treating Rick Ankiel like he's some sort of unknown prospect. He had a great spring! He's what he's been for awhile now. Low batting average, not very selective, with some pop.

10:23: There's the "some pop." That was a meatball. Derek Lowe probably shouldn't throw the high, slow, straightball again. That doesn't help Harrison's line.

10:44: I'm always amazed by plays like the one Matt Dominguez just made, going to his right and then getting something on the throw to get a fast runner like Andrus. It's fun to try that when playing catch, just to see where the ball ends up.

10:46: Bedard is absolutely dealing out of the bullpen.

10:50: Our first major league debut of 2013 is Joe Ortiz. Very impressive control numbers in the minor leagues

10:51: And he strikes out Carlos Pena, the first batter he faces. I'm pretty sure the MLB pitcher initiation is striking out Carlos Pena.

10:53: Two triple night for Justin Maxwell.

10:55: Matt Dominguez with an RBI single. Knocked down by Joe Ortiz, but it rolled up toward second base and wasn't going to be fielded cleanly. I hadn't seen much of him before, but Dominguez has impressed me tonight.8-2 Astros.

10:59: Bedard comes back for the ninth. If he completes it, it would be his first career save. Bedard hadn't pitched from the bullpen since 2004.

11:02: Justin Maxell crashes into the wall to catch the first out of the ninth.

11:09: Erik Bedard finishes it off, getting Mitch Moreland to ground to second. The Astros have the best record in baseball and Bedard leads the league in saves. Happy 2013 everyone.