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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

HEE CHOI FOR D. LEE Will Carroll, a rock-ribbed Cubs fan, had a one-word reaction to this trade: "Fuck."

Statheads still get moony-eyed over Hee Seop Choi's upside -- and why not? He's only 25 years old, costs a mere 300 G's, stands a sturdy 6'5"/235, raked at every level in the minors, owns a patient eye and a phat OBP, and he pasted the ball around last year in the Arizona Fall League, a man among boys. When Dusty Baker let such a hot commodity wither in the nether-regions of Iowa, then later as Eric Karros and Randall Simon's caddy, Hee Choi became something else altogether: a find, a jewel, like a first edition copy of Rubber Soul on eBay with a starting bid of $0.99.

Hence Carroll's expletive when the Cubs let him go. But in my opinion this deal helps both clubs tremendously. The Associated Press broke the story with the lead sentence: "The breakup of the Florida Marlins has begun." Not true. Choi allows the Marlins to keep other high-priced properties like Mike Lowell, while giving them a young, solid firstbaseman who can hit now, especially now that he won't be jerked around by Dusty's veteranlust. Of course, there's always a chance that the Marlins will panic and go with Conine at first, which could happen if Choi hits around .210 in April in the spacious confines of Pro Player Stadium. But there's no reason this deal can't work out splendidly for the Fish.

But we're Cardinals fans, and at the end of the day we're more worried about the Cubs. And I hate to say it, but this is a great deal for the Northsiders too. Out with Karros/Simon, in with a legitimate bomber they can pencil in behind Sosa day-in day-out. Lee is a serious five-tool player: good eye (88 walks this past year), good power (31 homers in a bad homer park), good speed (the most steals of any first baseman the last two years), and good glovework (Gold Glovework, in fact). And yeah, he'll cost around $7 mil a year assuming he wins arbitration and/or a multi-year deal, but the Cubs (with a nice influx of cash recently) can afford him. Not bad for a guy who has surpassed Jeff Bagwell among NL first-sackers.

Meanwhile the Cardinals will be spending $7 mil on a firstbaseman too, but unfortunately he'll be taking his hacks somewhere in the no-man's land of Hillsborough County.

HOW'S THIS FOR WEIRD? Hee Seop Choi was signed for the Cubs by former Pacific Rim coordinator Leon Lee — Derrek's father.

AND WHILE WE'RE ON THE CUBS... Baseball America has a nice breakdown of their top prospects. Bottom line: they're loaded. The exact mirror opposite of the Cardinals ghost town of a farm system.

Scary prospect: Angel Guzman, who BA says "has the stuff of a No. 1 starter." Don't the Cubs already have two No. 1 starters? And another one waiting in the wings in Carlos Zambrano? Yikes.

But wait, it gets worse -- Guzman ain't the only arm the Cubs got down on the farm. Says Baseball America, "Chicago has so many pitching prospects that it doesn’t have enough minor league rotation spots to accommodate them all. There also aren’t many vacancies on the big league staff, so many of the up-and-coming pitchers could become trade bait."

Let's add it all up: Prior, Wood, Zambrano, Guzman, Derrek Lee, Hall of Fame rightfielder, reborn third baseman, prospects to trade, money to spend, plus reports that the Cubs might land I-Rod, or even (gulp) A-Rod, a mere five outs from the World Series this year, and, well, let's just say I'm not liking the forecast for next year...

ONE OF OUR READERS alerted me to a new Belle & Sebastian song called "Piazza, New York Catcher." You can hear a snippet of it here. The older I get, the less I go for B&S's brand of autumnal chamber-pop preciousness, but it's pretty cool that they got a song about Mikey Pizza, including these lyrics:

San Francisco's calling us, the Giants and Mets will play
Piazza, New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay?

The catcher hits for .318, and catches everyday
The pitcher puts religion first and rests on holidays

What is that, a Koufax reference? And how did a bunch of art school lads from Glasgow get into baseball?

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

STARK ATTACK If Jayson Stark has even a strand of logic left to his argument against Alex Rodriguez for MVP, then Travis Nelson thoroughly shreds it with his excellent rebuttal on A-Rod's behalf over at his weblog, Boy of Summer. His piece comes in two parts (click here first, then here), but it's worth the read -- a good comebacker for anyone who tries to tell you that MVPs should only come from contending teams.

ROB NEYER has a fond reminiscence of Warren Spahn over at

AARON GLEEMAN rolls out a new stat he calls GPA -- the Gleeman Production Average, although Grade Point Average works just as well, as it provides a rough and ready measuring stick for a player's overall offensive worth. It's nerdilicious.

Monday, November 24, 2003

REMEMBERING SPAHN Sad news about the death of Warren Spahn, one of the game's true greats. He won 20 games 13 different times, and had more wins than any pitcher who began his career after the live-ball era -- but, like Musial (another blue-collar type who played in the Midwest), Spahn never seemed to get his due from the East Coast curators of baseball history.

When I was a boy, I was a fiend for baseball lore, so I started a hobby of writing ex-ballplayers. The first guy to write me back was Stan Coveleski, an old-timer who won 3 games in the 1920 World Series. The second guy to write back was Waite Hoyt, one of the few surviving members of the 1927 Yankees. And the third guy was Spahn. He didn't really say much of anything; just "To Brian, Best Wishes, Warren Spahn" -- a tidy, workmanlike job, typical of Spahnie. But to this day it's one of my most cherished letters.

Spahn broke into the bigs at age 21, but one day he refused to brushback Pee Wee Reese, so manager Casey Stengel sent him back to the minors. He wouldn't see a big-league diamond again until four years (and one Purple Heart) later. After that he was a metronome, anchoring the Braves' staff for decades with impossibly sturdy win totals: 21 - 15 - 21 - 21 - 22 - 14 - 23 - 21 - 17 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 21 - 21 - 21 - 18 - 23.

Spahn had a lot of signature moments in his career -- he led the 1957 Braves to their first franchise championship in 43 years; won four straight strikeout crowns (for many years he held the NL record for most K's in a game); popped 35 lifetime homers; tossed a couple no-hitters after age 39. He also surrendered the first hit to a young prospect by the name of Wilie Mays. "He was something like 0-for-21 the first time I saw him," said Spahn. "His first major league hit was a home run off me -- and I'll never forgive myself. We might have gotten rid of Willie forever if only I'd struck him out."

Strangely, we mentioned Spahn just the other day as the 10th-best living ballplayer. Now that he's gone, (if we can ask a morbidly crass question) who moves into his place? According to Bill James, it's Carl Yastzemski, but I'll go with Tom Seaver in relief of one of the best starters to ever play the game.

STATE OF THE UNION Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark both have great articles about the tough road ahead for Bud Selig and Major League Baseball. Money quote from Gammons:

Selig has to quickly prove his innocence and restore the trust of the people in Wisconsin as well as the baseball consumers. He's got to get the Expos dilemma resolved before it expands from folly to scandal. The owners and the players have to rouse their leaderships to work together on the public perceptions surrounding steroids and the significance of the home run record; Selig has got to stop worrying about satisfying clueless owners; and Donald Fehr has got to realize he's moved way beyond the shadow of Marvin Miller and both sides have to creatively move the game forward... This past October we saw how good baseball can be, but it needs someone or something to blast it forward into the 21st century.

A few days ago I said we're enjoying baseball's Golden Age, but I was referring to the product on the field, not the way it's marketed by the Men in Charge. Here's a thought experiment: when you picture yourself sitting down to watch a baseball game 30 years from now, do you picture the game better or worse than the game you watch now? And what does your answer tell you about Bud Selig?

TOMKO'ING The Rangers want Brett Tomko. Not terrible news for the Cardinals, but not good either. The hope was that we could possibly sign Tyke as a #4 starter, most likely at a reduced rate given his poor numbers this past year. But you're not going to get any Blue Light specials if you have to compete with other teams, especially ones like the Rangers, who tend to give #1 dollars to #4 starters.

ROB NEYER calmly and ably gives some perspective to the recent steroid hysteria.

JEDMONDS UPDATE According to Bernie Miklasz:

Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds told Frank Cusumano (Channel 5, KFNS) that he'd defer a chunk of salary and accept $5 million a year over the next two seasons if it would help ease the team's payroll jam. That's how much Edmonds wants to stay in St. Louis.

That's nice to hear. I mean, deferred money is still money, so it's not like the Cardinals get a free pass on this one. But it does allow them to possibly keep Edmonds and sign Pujols and possibly even Matt Morris to a contract extension.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE CARDINALS OFFENSE? Not much, really -- the team finished 2nd in the NL in runs this year. But they also scored fewer runs than you'd expect given their walks and total bases, which suggests there may be something faulty with their lineup. So it's nice to hear Tony La Russa correctly diagnose the problem:

If you examine our club, we really have a bunch of guys hitting somewhere in the middle who can drive in runs. We ended up scoring quite a few runs. But if you were looking for a way to improve our offense, a lot of times we had close games come down to getting guys on base, getting something started.

But as we've said a zillion times, he's already got the best leadoff hitter in the National League. Guy by the name of Renteria.

BANG FOR THE BUCK John Konstantino has an interesting formula that measures the best buys in baseball -- those players who win the most games per dollar of salary. To be honest, I only partially understand his method, but it's still no surprise to see his metric reward Albert Pujols as the most efficient player in baseball. The complete top ten:

1. Pujols
2. Marcus Giles
3. Soriano
4. Vernon Wells
5. Gagne
6. Mark Loretta
7. Furcal
8. Bonds
9. Loaiza
10. Javy Lopez

SCHILLING IN RED STIRRUPS Red Sox fans like to rail about the deep pockets of their rival Yankees, but if this deal comes to pass, it'll remind everyone that the key comparison isn't Yanks dollars vs. Sox dollars, it's Yanks and Sox dollars vs. the rest of baseball.

j{[Ej()–E]/}|((x,),)|2 New articles in Nature and the American Journal of Physics try to describe the physics of batted balls. Some cool findings:

• The most important factor for hitting a home run is the speed of the bat at the instant it connects with the ball.

• What the bat is made of has little effect on the distance of batted balls -- i.e., aluminum bats do not differ significantly from wooden ones.

• A hanging curveball is the worst pitch in baseball. "The optimally hit curveball will travel farther than both the fastball and knuckleball," say researchers Gregory S. Sawicki, Mont Hubbard, and William Stronge, "because of beneficial topspin on the pitched curve ball that is enhanced during impact with the bat."

Friday, November 21, 2003

THE GREATEST Seeing Willie Mays on that Bill James list and realizing that it was Musial’s birthday brought back this memory:

Two summers ago I was in Cooperstown for Ozzie’s induction. Since it was Induction Weekend a ton of Hall of Famers were there, with the attendant autograph losers roaming around town with huge albums and crap for these guys to sign. I loathe those people, but that's another story. If you haven’t been to Cooperstown it is basically a one-street town, so steeped in Americana that you almost don’t believe it’s real. But it is, and it’s just crusty enough to keep from becoming Main Street USA at Disneyland. If you haven’t been, stop what you’re doing right now and plan a trip. It’s worth it. (If you fly to Albany you can go through airport security with Henry Aaron, just like me.)

Anyway, I went in the summer of 2002, just after Ted Williams had died. Immediately after his death there was a bit of a debate about who was now the “Greatest Living Ballplayer” (a title that Joe DiMaggio insisted be used every time he was introduced). Having snubbed Musial for Wiliams for years, the media settled upon Willie Mays as the new GLB. Not a horrendous choice, by any means, but I know I speak for all true students of the game and Redbird Nation as a whole when I say that if Mays is #1 then Musial is #1A.

During Induction Weekend a lot of the baseball card shops get a few old players to come in and sign for a few hours. People line up and pay up to $50 to get things signed. I got a Harmon Killebrew picture signed for $25 and was glad to pay it because he was donating every cent he got to a charity that is special to my family. As an aside, Killebrew is one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet.

With that as a backdrop, picture this – just off Main Street is a little café that has, I’m not kidding, a basement hot dog stand. You go down this dingy outdoor stairwell and enter a grimy little place with light refracting in from the two windows that are up high on the walls but, if viewed from outside, would be at the base of the building right at street level. A bit hard to describe, but I hope you get an image of this place. Hard, fluorescent lighting, booths and counters from 1977, not clean at all. So I went down there to find a bathroom, and two thirds of the place was curtained off by a big yellow curtain. I could tell there was someone behind the curtain just sitting in a chair but I didn’t really pay much attention to it. Once I figured out that there was no bathroom down there I looked a bit closer at the handmade sign in front of the curtain. All it said was “Willie Mays.” Then I noticed the two guys sitting in front of the curtain at a table with a cashbox. At one point they pulled the curtain back to tell the man back there something and I saw him, sitting there with dead triples in his glove. Apparently Willie had a one-man autograph show going on. Also very apparent was the fact that nobody was coming down to say Hey. I suspected the $150 price he was charging and the ridiculousness of the venue had something to do with that. I took this scene in for a minute and climbed back up to street level and reality.

A few minutes later I saw a car pull up right in front of the Hall of Fame. There was an immediate “buzz” around the vehicle so I craned my neck. After a minute, the trunk popped open and the man who had to get a special commissioner’s placement on the Team of the Century, Stanley Frank Musial, stepped out. He worked his way around to the trunk, waving and grinning at people, “How ya doin? How ya doin? Good, good good. Wonnerful! Wonnerful!” Stan then pulled a folded-up wheelchair from the trunk and brought it around to the door where he helped Lil, his wife, get into it. He then wheeled her on up a ramp into the Hall, shaking hands and even signing a few things along the way, the sun shining warmly down on his smiling face and reflecting off the harmonica he had in his breast pocket. Meanwhile the Greatest Living Ballplayer sat behind a yellow curtain in a basement hot dog stand, Sharpie in hand...

Long Live the Man.

TINO FOR RUST I don't know. I'm glad to see Tino go, but there must have been no one besides Tampa Bay bidding for his services. We're on the line for $7 million of the $8.5 guaranteed Tino, and all we got in return was some middling 25-year-old minor league reliever and a PTBNL? Maybe Evan Rust will amount to something. He throws a mid-90s fastball and a hard curve, and can actually strike out a few guys (unlike most of our bullpen last year), so who knows.

I'm bummed we couldn't pry loose a better arm from the D-Rays, but let's be realistic. Tino is, production-wise, in a league with guys like J.T. Snow and Scott Spezio. Sure, Anaheim paid Spezio $4.25 million last year, and the Giants handed out $6.85 million to Snow, but the market is now coming down to earth, and guys like that will (and should) be making more like $1.5 million, which is exactly what Tampa was willing to part with for Tino's services.

When I think of Tino's career, I'll always think of Mike Shannon calling one of his at-bats back in May: "Swing and a THREE-RUNNER! How 'bout that! Way to go, Tino! [beat] No, it's gonna fall short." Fly out to the warning track. Was the acquistion of Tino Martinez the worst of Jocketty's Cardinal career? Possibly. Back in June we said it was his third worst signing, after the Danny Jackson and Scott Radinsky deals. But when you consider that we will be paying the Devil Rays $6 million to play Tino next year, in exchange for a would-be could-be set-up man, then you have to say that December 18, 2001 could be the ugliest splotch on Jocketty's record.

For more on today's trade, check out Christian Ruzich's fine new baseball blog, The Transaction Guy. Christian's a great guy (you may remember the guest post he did on Redbird Nation back in August), so be a pal and stroll by his site.

STADIUM TEDIUM Doug Pappas has some added goods on construction and funding of the new stadium downtown:

The Cardinals must turn over to the state $58.9 million of land and/or marketable securities. The club will contribute $50 million of its own money toward stadium construction. In addition, the company that will own the stadium and lease it to the Cardinals for 29 years will borrow $183 million and obtain $47 million from equity investors. The Cardinals have also committed to spend $60 million developing two blocks of a proposed six-block "Ballpark Village" office and residential development, to be constructed on the site of the present Busch Stadium.

That'll be a sad day when they blow up Busch, won't it?

RICH LEDERER calls Marty Marion's 1944 MVP award for the St. Louis Cardinals the worst MVP selection in the history of the National League. Hard to argue with that.

AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO STAN MUSIAL, who turns 83 today. As the aforementioned Marty Marion once said, "if you don't like Stan, you don't like anybody."

And here's Bill James' list of the greatest living ballplayers (non-active guys only; we'll get to Barry and Rickey ten years from now, or whenever they retire, whichever comes first):

1. Willie Mays
2. Stan Musial
3. Henry Aaron
4. Joe Morgan
5. Mike Schmidt
6. Frank Robinson
7. George Brett
8. Mark McGwire
9. Pete Rose
10. Warren Spahn

Thursday, November 20, 2003

FIRST RENTERIA finishes 15th in NL MVP voting -- now this humiliation. Word is E-Rent finished second for the prestigious title.

A LITTLE LOVE from up North.

MVPs WITH ASTERISKS There are two excellent articles in Slate, both about the taint that surrounds the two greatest baseball players on earth, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.

With Bonds the issue is, as always, steroids. (Of course, there's the issue of Bonds' lousy attitude too, which is good for a few potshots by lazy sports columnists.) Bonds was recently subpoenaed in a federal investigation of the maker of THG, a so-called "designer" steroid, and a whole new round of whispers about Bonds' accomplishments have begun to fly. Slate's Charles Pierce explains how this latest steroid flap has blossomed into a witchhunt, short on evidence and long on pious denunciations.

My feeling about Bonds: give the man a break. I've seen no convincing proof whatsoever that he does steroids. But, you might say, just look at him! How did the rail-thin 21-year-old we saw in 1986 explode into the 230-pound hulk we see jogging around the basepaths today? Had to be 'roids. Had to.

All I know is that when I was 21 years old I was about as bony as they come; and now, after 10+ years, I've filled out, like most aging men do. What's more, I don't have the maniacal training regimen that Bonds has. Doesn't it make sense that Bonds -- who has devoted himself to a masochistic routine of strength training, flexibility enhancement, visual sensory drills, proper nutrition intake, and cardiovascular exercises -- simply willed himself to become bigger, quicker, and better?

In 2001 Gary Sheffield moved into Barry Bonds' home for two months and experienced firsthand his friend's endless series of stairs, sprints, hills, weights, hitting sessions, and fielding drills. They would rise every day at 6 a.m. and work out into the afternoon. Sheff admitted afterwards that he couldn't keep up with the then-36-year-old. And when reporters asked him if steroids played a role in Bonds' hitting surge, Sheffield replied, ''No one will ever know how much he works. People will say what they want, but I've seen him. That is the key to his success.''

So who you going to believe about Bonds and steroids -- some chattering sportswriters with an ax to grind, or a guy who lived and trained with Bonds for two months straight and got a taste for his workout routine up close? To me the answer is obvious.

THE 250 MILLION DOLLAR MAN Steroids are always good for a soapbox platform, but money might be better. As Allen Barra laments in this wonderful article, A-Rod will probably never be fully appreciated by the mainstream, if only because his accomplishments are so often obscured by his pricetag -- $250 million over ten years.

Is A-Rod worth $250 million? Probably not in this market, no. Should A-Rod be embarrassed, even villified, for making so much money? Absolutely not.

Imagine you're a 25-year-old guy looking for a job. And you have a marketable skill for an industry that generates billions of dollars a year. Now imagine that your skills make you one of the 2 or 3 best at your profession in the entire world. And you have to sign a contract with a company, knowing full good and well that you'll probably have to retire from your job, and lose your primary skills, by about age 40.

Now if you're in that position, why on earth would you not try to make as much money as you possibly could? If A-Rod were one of the best bankers or insurance salesmen or architects in the world, no one would begrudge him his millions. And yet somehow with athletes the perception is different. The old line is that they shouldn't make so much money playing a boy's game, a game that many of us would play for free.

And so we have a lot of tsk-tsking articles about A-Rod's greed, some urging him to take a voluntary pay cut, some implying that he and his millions are responsible for the Rangers' imbalanced roster and last-place finish. As Barra points out,

Americans are always embarrassed about the subject of the big money paid to professional athletes because, at heart, we know they're paid that because it reflects how much more we care about them than the things we say are more important.

You can blame a lot of people for A-Rod's contract -- Rangers owner Tom Hicks, or Fox Sports Net for signing such a fat deal with the team, or even ourselves, who underwrite baseball salaries and demand our owners go out and get the best players they can. But one person you can't throw stones at -- not in good conscience, anyway -- is Alex Rodriguez.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

EDMONDS-DREW-DREW-EDMONDS In a chat session yesterday (while wearing a Walt Jocketty wig and button-down Oxford) I asked Jonah Keri of Baseball Prospectus which Cardinals he'd keep and which ones he'd unload. He graciously replied:

I don't see why the Cards, at least if the headlines are an indicator, are in such a rush to deal Edmonds. There's been talk both in St. Louis and previously in Anaheim that he's a me-first guy, but dude can mash, he's a great fielder whether or not he slows down to dive for balls, and he's less brittle than he used to be. Everyone keeps waiting for The Big Drew Breakout, but frankly if St. Louis can get a quality starting pitcher for J.D. at this juncture, that'd be a tough one to turn down.

This contradicts Redbird Nation's suggestion to deal Edmonds and make Drew our everyday CF. As with most everything else, we can't make a fully reasonable argument either way unless we know the Cardinals' financial situation -- and who knows how poor they really are? If the team really has to freeze or trim payroll, Edmonds might well be your guy to deal, but Keri's arguments on his behalf are certainly persuasive...

WOOP-DE-DO From the Field of Schemes website:

The St. Louis County Council is preparing to authorize a $45 million bond issue for the St. Louis Cardinals to help fund their new stadium plans. (Though described as a "loan," the bonds will be repaid by county hotel/motel tax money, and so is really a grant.) Still no word on when the Cardinals will line up their $235 million in private investors, though Missouri Development Finance Board director Robert Miserez said, "The Cardinals have given us pretty strong assurances that they are almost complete, just little nicks and picks on the private side of the deal."

VISINE Sports Illustrated recently paid homage to all 2,548 covers in their 50-year history, complete with a breakdown for each team. Predictably, Yankees and Red Sox have graced the most baseball covers, but third? The Cincinnati Reds. (The Cardinals were fourth.)

The Reds, of course, were the team of Bench, Rose, Morgan -- even Joey Jay and Roy McMillan. Which is why it's so surprising that this once proud franchise has not received a single MVP vote for the past four years. Not one. The last Reds to receive MVP votes were Greg Vaughn (fourth place), Sean Casey (14th) and Barry Larkin (22nd) in 1999.

BARRY ZITO ARRESTED FOR ATTEMPTED MURDER That's the headline over at a baseblog called Barry Zito Forever. Apparently the Big Z will appear on the CBS drama JAG this Friday. He plays a Navy pitcher charged with assault after he hits an opposing batter with a beanball. Set your TiVos -- this could be the best acting turn by a baseball pitcher since Jim Bouton in The Long Goodbye.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

ONE OF THE GREAT JOYS of this year and every year: the Roger Angell baseball recap in The New Yorker.

MOST VALUABLE MVPs Bonds is a deserving MVP, as we ourselves opined a few weeks ago. I don't think Bonds is the slam-dunk no-brainer choice that most statheads do -- after all, he played one month less of baseball than Pujols did -- but in the end I think the argument on his behalf is the argument you make for Gagne for Cy Young, or any pitcher for MVP: when he was in there, his impact was so huge, so mighty, that it more than made up for games he missed.

Bonds now moves into second place on the list of most MVP awards in any sport. The Great One still tops the charts. Here's the complete list of those with three or more trophies:

Wayne Gretzky, NHL............... 9

Barry Bonds, MLB.................... 6
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBA
Gordie Howe, NHL

Otto Graham, NFL................... 5
Michael Jordan, NBA
Bill Russell, NBA

Jim Brown, NFL........................ 4
Wilt Chamberlain, NBA
Eddie Shore, NHL

Yogi Berra, MLB....................... 3
Larry Bird, NBA
Roy Campanella, MLB
Bobby Clarke, NHL
Joe DiMaggio, MLB
Brett Favre, NFL
Jimmie Foxx, MLB
Magic Johnson, NBA
Mario Lemieux, NHL
Moses Malone, NBA
Mickey Mantle, MLB
Howie Morenz, NHL
Stan Musial, MLB
Bobby Orr, NHL
Mike Schmidt, MLB

I should point out that football MVPs are notoriously difficult to tally, mostly because so many different entities have voted on the award over the years. In the end I decided not to make distinctions among competing bodies -- i.e., if you were voted Player of the Year by either the Associated Press or the Pro Football Writers Association of America (are you reading this, Marshall?), then I gave you an MVP trophy (but I didn't give anyone two awards in one year).

If you're interested, here are the complete list of winners for the NHL (those are Hart Trophy winners, f.y.i.), the NBA, and for MLB.

ALSO-RANS Here's the entire list of vote getters for NL MVP. Can you believe someone looked at all the players in the NL this year and thought, "Pujols, Bonds -- sure, they're great; but Gary Sheffield: the Greatest." (You know who cast that vote for Sheff? That's right: St. Louis' own Joe Strauss.) Other surprises: Renteria finishing fifteenth (behind... Juan Pierre?) and Scott Rolen completely shutout. What kind of sentient creature honestly considers Mark Grudzielanek more valuable than Rolen this past year?

THE OTHER MVP Aaron Gleeman has some fun observations about the AL MVP vote over at that fecund baseball paradise of his. Some of his more interesting tidbits:

• There were more voters who felt either Shannon Stewart or David Ortiz was the MVP of the AL this season (7) than voters who felt the same about Alex Rodriguez (6). (That former list includes New England tool Peter Gammons.)

• The only teams without at least one person mentioned on a ballot? Detroit, Cleveland and Baltimore.

• The American League West division, which has just four teams, has now won eight consecutive AL MVP awards.

JAYSON STARK, generally a fine writer, writes an homage to illogic by badmouthing A-Rod for MVP. The man still doesn't understand the difference between the league's Most Valuable Player and the Player From the Most Valuable Team. Check out this doozy from Stark:

You'd think, after watching 12 dozen MVP awards get handed out, we'd have some idea by now what that magic word "valuable" means... Because we can think of many words to describe A-Rod: "smooth"... "dependable"... "multitalented" ... even "great." But "valuable"?

Yes, Jayson, it sure is an upside-down world we live in when a Gold Glove shortstop with 47 jacks and the highest slugging percentage in the league is considered valuable.

BASEBALL AMERICA reprinted their scouting report on Alex Rodriguez after his first year in the majors, as a toothpick 18-year-old hot shot:

Rodriguez is a shortstop all the way. He glides instinctively to balls, especially to his left, and throws runners out with a strong, accurate arm. Defense is the most advanced part of his game. With experience, he'll become above-average in all other phases. He projects as a .280-.300 hitter with annual totals of 20-25 home runs and 20-25 stole bases.

In other words, they essentially projected him to be a Hall of Fame-caliber shortstop (that's what those numbers above will get you), and yet they still greatly underestimated him. For people out there who pine for the Golden Age of Baseball when Legends walked the earth -- please understand that Bonds and A-Rod are firmly in the pantheon alongside such titans as Ruth and Williams. Baseball's Golden Age is now.

NOTHING GROUNDBREAKING As author Neil deMause notes over at Baseball Prospectus: after new stadiums are completed in San Diego and Philadelphia this Spring, "it will mark the first time since ground was broken for Toronto's SkyDome in October 1985 that not a single new big-league ballpark will be under construction on planet Earth."

This includes, of course, a new stadium in St. Louis, which is currently being built only in press releases, promises, and pipe dreams. Here's deMause's progress report:

You'll be forgiven if you thought the Cardinals already had Busch Stadium's successor underway: after years of haggling with local elected officials, team prez Mark Lamping announced in September that he hoped to wrap up the team's share of its financing the following month, with groundbreaking scheduled for Oct. 15. October came, October went, and the St. Louis topsoil remains unsullied by shovels.

While the power of positive thinking may have made a nice storyline for Andy Benes, it's unlikely to conjure $225 million out of thin air, which is how much private cash Lamping needs to come up with to make the team's Ballpark Village plan a reality. This daunting sum would be the second-largest private ballpark expenditure in history (after Pac Bell); needless to say, it wasn't the Cardinals' original idea. But when initial requests for public cash met with a reluctant legislature, the team concocted a complicated scheme that involves private investors who will build and own the stadium (with the help of city and county subsidies), then lease the building back to the team for $14 million a year.

After the ball stopped bouncing, the Cards are still left with that $225 million financing hole, and so Lamping keeps declaring new target dates for groundbreaking (the first one was last May), as his credibility slowly slips away like the dying embers of Joe Girardi's career.

A MATCH MADE IN DETROIT According to Tigers manager Alan Trammell, his team might go after free agent shortstop Miguel Tejada. Says Lee Sinins, the hardest working man in the e-baseball business, "this news reminds me of that episode of Friends where everyone had a list of 5 celebrities they would be allowed to sleep with without it being considered cheating."

URGENT JOE GIRARDI UPDATE So Joe says he might come back and play next year, but only for a few select teams. He'll formalize his decision by December 1st. Feel free to giggle for the next few minutes if you like.

Monday, November 17, 2003

NO ACTION The GMs' meeting ended with only one consummated trade in five days. We keep hearing how Walt Jocketty is in for a busy winter, but so far nothing has come to pass. Check out the rumors:

• Odalis Perez and/or Guillermo Mota for Jim Edmonds
• Edmonds for Nick Johnson and someone else
• Some Unnamed Cardinal for Paul Quantrill
• Some Unnamed Cardinal for Pat Hentgen
• Some Unnamed Padre for Eli Marrero
• Some Unnamed Met for Mike DeJean
• Paul Quantrill signing as a free agent

Ain't much, is it? And the rumors deflate even more once you poke them with a stick. How hot is the Quantrill lead? Well, Bernie Miklasz tells us that he "has told pals he'd love to sign with the Cardinals." How 'bout Hentgen? Apparently La Russa likes him; that's all we know. What about Marrero? According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, he's on the Padres' wishlist of backup catchers. DeJean? The Mets have exprssed "preliminary interest." As for the fate of Jim Edmonds, Walt Jocketty recently told Peter Gammons that "I read where I'd offered him to two teams I hadn't even talked to." So much for the Dodgers/Yankees connections.

Oh yeah, the Tino-to-Tampa thing is all but a done deal. But for the most part you have to take trade rumors with a pound or two of salt. Most of them are the result of bored journalists and jumpy sports-radio callers who have nothing better to do with their time. We'll still pass along whatever buzz we hear, but until a deal is made, it's all idle chitchat.

A-ROD WINS MVP Okay, not yet. And I'll look silly if some Grade B candidate like David Ortiz or Shannon Stewart walks away with the award later today. But like Dave Pinto, I can't see A-Rod not winning. According to Jack O'Connell, the secretary of the Baseball Writers Association of America, a whopping 10 players received first-place votes from the 28 voters. It's only the third time in history that the number of players receiving first-place votes has reached double-digits. This tells me that all those other also-rans -- the Posadas and Boones and Nomars -- will split the vote and A-Rod will be the last guy standing.

Friday, November 14, 2003

LUSCIOUS FIELDS OF ASTROTURF Some blogger named Matt Bruce has fond memories of 80's-era baseball, including this blurb:

You're a baseball child of the 1980s if you could write an entire You Gotta Know on St. Louis Cardinals of the 80s, only to be told that nobody ever "Gotta Know", say, Tommy Herr. (The rest really are legitimately "Gotta Know," though: Vince Coleman; Willie McGee; Jack Clark; Andy Van Slyke; Terry Pendleton; Ozzie Smith; John Tudor; Joaquin Andujar; Bruce Sutter; and Whitey Herzog.) Oh, also, you're like me if the phrase "bullpen by committee" immediately reminds you of Herzog and Ken Dayley and a bunch of other guys.

My baseball coming-of-age story also took place in the '80s, which is one reason I -- like hundreds of thousands of St. Louisans -- fetishize the lore and legends from that time period. (Although my first truly vivid Cardinals memories were from '79. I had a copy of the Sporting News tacked to my bedroom wall, and I used to study the league leaders from that season. I can still recall from memory the numbers: Hernandez .344, 116 runs, 48 doubles, Tempy 211 hits and 19 triples, Winfield 118 ribs, Kingman, 48 bombs. Where do I land on the Kinsey Scale for confessing that I idolized Mustachioed Mex back in the late 70's/early 80's?)

Matt's got some other great flashbacks on his blog (although he says Jack Buck was "long-over-the-hill" by 1990), so you should check out the whole piece. I especially like his observation that we identify a player with whatever team he played for when we first got to know him. Therefore Pete Rose is a Phillie, Carlton Fisk is a White Sock, and Gene Tenace is a Cardinal, forever and til the end of time.

PLANS FOR A THREE-WAY fell through, which brings back anguished memories of my college days. Apparently the Yankees are no longer interested in Curt Schilling's pricetag, so don't expect any D'backs-Cards-Yanks get-together. But the Yanks are reportedly still keen on Edmonds, who, according to the New York Post, "has the perfect Yankee Stadium stroke."

CURSE OF THE TINO So it looks like Tino will be joining the Purple-and-Teal after all. Good riddance. Although unfortunately the trade market has soured on the guy as much as the Cardinals have. Looks like the Cards will still be paying between $6 million and $7 million of his $7.5 million salary while receiving only a minor-league position player in return. Let's hope it's a good one (I suppose Delmon Young is out of the question... just asking).

STEROID TESTING Don't the penalties seem excessively weak to you? You could fail five steroid tests and only then will MLB consider suspending you for one year.

MILWAUKEE SEWERS More evidence that the Brewers are the worst-run organization in baseball. And their godfather is our commissioner?

Thursday, November 13, 2003

NICK THE STICK According to the Post-Dispatch, there is already a three-team rumor that would send Jim Edmonds and Curt Schilling to the Yankees, Alfonso Soriano and Jeff Weaver to the Diamondbacks, and Nick Johnson and Danny Bautista to the Cardinals. Bautista is little more than a fourth outfielder to me. The real deal is Edmonds for Johnson.

Does it make sense? Well, no one in their right mind thinks Johnson is better than Edmonds right now. But consider: Johnson is nine years younger than Edmonds. Next year he'll earn $364,100 and he won't be eligible for free agency til the end of 2006. Jedmonds, on the other hand, stands to make $31 million through 2006 (by which time he'll be 36 years old). Oh yeah, and Johnson's OBP was .422 last year. Think about that.

Here's something else. A personable young guy named Avkash Patel has devised an eminently reasonable statistic called Attrition Rate. It measures how well players work the count, which, as every good stathead knows, is crucial to drawing walks, forcing quality pitches, and wearing down the opponent. The top five in baseball last year:

1. Barry Bonds, 147.7
2. NICK JOHNSON, 126.6
3. Jason Giambi, 126.2
4. Todd Helton, 126.1
5. Edgar Martinez, 124.6

That kind of plate discipline is flat-out stunning for a 24-year-old. The only comparable combo of youth and patience is Adam Dunn of the Reds, although Johnson out-BA'd, out-OBP'd, and out-SLG'd Dunn last year. I think Johnson would make a fine fit for the Cards.

(By the way, a number of Cardinals players did very well in terms of Patel's quality at-bats metric. Edmonds, Rolen, Pujols, and Orlando Palmeiro were among the best in baseball. E-Rent was around average. Matheny and Tino were low, both of them at about the 25th percentile.)

MILWAUKEE FEWER Isn't it clear -- especially after reading this and this -- that the A#1 choice for contraction (okay, maybe B#2 after the Expos) is the Milwaukee Brewers, home of Josef Vissarionovich Selig?

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

ROOKIE REDUX Our first awards controversy has erupted -- not over Halladay, Pena, or McKeon (swell choices, as nearly everyone agrees), and not over Willis/Webb (although some statheads are up in arms over that one). It's Berroa vs. Matsui, which has all the hallmarks of a Nippo-American trade war.

The backstory is this: some people think ex-Japanese League players should be eligible for the Rookie of the Year Award; some don't. Most of the debate revolves around an estimation of the Japanese League itself -- is it major league in its own right, or is it a quasi-minor league, more breeding ground than a rival to MLB?

There are good arguments on both sides (here's the best case for Hideki, Ichiro, Kazuhiro, et al, and here's the best case against), but the bottom line is that, according to current BBWAA voting rules, a rookie is any player who has not accumulated 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in previous seasons in the majors. Anyone who meets those criteria should be considered for the award, and that includes Hideki Matsui.

But that didn't stop two renegades -- Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Bill Ballou from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette -- from leaving Matsui off their ballots because they don't consider ex-Japanese League players eligible for the award. Steinbrenner, of course, went nuts, and seamheads have been debating Souhan and Ballou's defiance ever since.

Make no mistake. This isn't a case of artistic license or philosophical subjectivity -- this is a case of sheer gall. Souhan and Ballou (don't they sound like a magician act?) were invited by the BBWAA to vote, but they decided that they'd rather not abide by the BBWAA's rules, sorta like being invited to a party in someone's house and wiping your ass on the guest towels. Their "defiance" is feeble-minded and pathetic.

That being said, the Souhan/Ballou case does raise some interesting issues, much like the strict constructionist vs. original intent wings of the Supreme Court. i.e., how much should the baseball voters be allowed to freelance? Should ex-Japanese League players be considered rookies? What about guys like Francisco Rodriguez, who pitched 11 games in last year's postseason? What about pitchers as MVPs? Some writers (and even guys like Hank Aaron) have come right out and said they don't think, on principle, a pitcher can ever be the league's most valuable player. Or what about writers who claim (and there are a lot more of these folks) that MVP candidates must come from winning teams, even though the voting guidelines don't encourage this notion at all?

The truth is, whenever you have a lot of voters, you're gonna have a wide range of voting standards. What's that Winston Churchill line? "Democracy is the worst form of goverment, except for all the others." Democracy is a messy process -- it gives rise to weird, idiosyncratic selections, almost no matter what.

That's not to say that the system can't be improved (and I personally think Ballou and Souhan should be stripped of their voting privileges), but would the process be any better if an awards czar -- even an enlightened despot like Rob Neyer (who would have voted for Matsui, by the way) -- chose somebody and handed down his pick at the end of each season? No. Award voting is bound to be ugly, but all the more fun because of it. How ugly? Well, check out this observation about the NL RoY race, from Aaron Gleeman's fine baseblog:

Not only was Willis rewarded with something he in no way deserves and not only was Brandon Webb completely shafted, there were actually two writers who gave third-place votes to Jeriome Robertson of the Astros, who finished the year with a 5.10 ERA in 160.2 innings pitched. And there was another voter who gave a third-place vote to Ty Wigginton of the Mets, who hit .255/.318/.396 this season.

Reminds me of another one of Churchill's quips: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

The irony in the whole Berroa/Matsui Rookie of the Year flap is that it's quite possible that Hideki Matsui doesn't even want the award. Cleveland outfielder Jody Gerut, another rookie who placed fourth in the AL ballot, said "I don't want to take anything away from Berroa and it's nothing against Matsui, but I think if you asked Matsui, I don't think he would qualify himself as a rookie."

Of course, Matsui's numbers -- .287 average, 16 homers vs. .334 and 50 jacks last year in the JCL -- argue that he's still got a big learning curve when it comes to major league baseball. But Gerut might have a point. Matsui was a proud superstar in the Japanese League for years, and perhaps Rookie of the Year, to him, means emphasis on rookie.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

ESPN.COM has a list of the Top 50 free agents this offseason. They also make their predictions about where each hired gun will sign. They have the Cardinals picking up Greg Maddux, Miguel Batista, and Roberto Alomar. The Cubs, according to ESPN, have the inside track on I-Rod, Uggie Urbina, Curtis Leskanic, Kenny Lofton, and Mark Grudzielanek. The Astsros are considered frontrunners for Andy Pettitte and Jose Mesa.

Personally I find this list silly, both in terms of the rankings and the predictions. But it's good fun anyway.

THE AWARDS SHOWER continues with announcement of AL Cy Young today. Expect Roy Halladay to land the thing. If you're interested, the rest of the awards will be announced as follows --

Wednesday: NL and AL Managers of the Year
Thursday: NL Cy Young
Next Monday: AL MVP
Next Tuesday: NL MVP

Monday, November 10, 2003

INCORRECT So Angel Berroa, against our predictions, did win AL Rookie of the Year after all. But how did Brandon Webb finish third in the race for top NL rookie? Let's compare Webb to the league winner, Dontrelle Willis:

Webb 180.2
Willis 160.2

Webb 2.84
Willis 3.30

Webb 1.15
Willis 1.28

Willis 14-6
Webb 10-9

Webb 2.53
Willis 2.45

Opposition OPS
Webb .601
Willis .698

Average Game Score
Webb 59
Willis 55

First-Place Votes for Rookie of the Year
Willis 17
Webb 7

Strange. Willis edged Webb in only two categories -- won-loss percentage, and, of course, Rookie of the Year votes. I think Dontrelle won the award on the strength of two high-profile games: June 16th, when he one-hit the Mets (who play for the largest media metropolis in the world) and outdueld Tommy Glavine 1-0. The other game was on July 30th, when he defeated Randy Johnson 3-1, raised his record to 10-2, and lowered his ERA to 2.50. I think voters pretty much gave him the award right there.

That being said, I don't think Willis is a terrible pick. You have to give Webb credit for pitching in a tougher park than Willis, and for getting the job done when his team gave him adequate run support (he was 9-2 when the D'backs scored more than two runs). But you've also got to give credit to Willis for winning an unusual number of tight, low-scoring ballgames. In fact, his run support was lower than Webb's and he still won 4 more games (in one fewer start). And once you get past that admittedly large 50-point gap in ERA, Willis' and Webb's numbers were fairly even.

What's more, Willis was a hell of a lot of fun this year, certainly more memorable than Webb, and I think one could argue that this is a real contribution to his Rookie of the Year candidacy. I mean, why not? The first time I saw Willis this year I had a silly-ass good time. That counts for something, doesn't it?

Keith Woolner of Baseball Prospectus made a similar point a number of weeks back, after some dude in a chat session got all riled up about MVP picks. Said Keith,

I don't really get worked up about the awards as much these days since I started considering the MVP to be the player most "valuable" to the game of baseball as a whole, rather than to a specific team, or based on personal performance. The game of baseball is enriched by "intangible" factors beyond the outcomes of the game: narrative, dramatics, character, heroes, villains, surprises, stories, etc. And there's nothing wrong with recognizing the combination of these along with excellence in performance in giving an MVP.

Webb may have saved his team more runs this year, and I myself voted for him in the prestigious Redbird Nation Awards given out a few weeks ago, but if you're looking for the top rookie in terms of narrative, dramatics, and heroism, there's only one choice: Dontrelle.

THE CARDINALS HIT LIST Peter Gammons has the goods:

GM Walt Jocketty says he has to find two starters -- one might come if he re-signs Chris Carpenter -- and two left-handed relievers. "We'd like to do it without having to move Jim Edmonds or J.D. Drew or any of our regulars," Jocketty said.

Also, I stated last week that the trade of Billy Wagner would allow the Astros to go after a free agent pitcher. Not so, according to P-Gam:

The Wagner move simply pays for 2004 raises and arbitration cases. The 'Stros lost close to $15 million in 2003, they have to get closer to the debt/equity percentages and unless Hidalgo goes, Pettitte will probably stay in New York. It should be noted that getting Taylor Buckholtz in the Wagner deal with Brandon Duckworth was considered a coup for Gerry Hunsicker. Originally, the Phillies told the Astros that they had four untouchables -- Buckholtz, RHP Gavin Floyd, LHP Cole Hamels and 1B Ryan Howard -- but changed their minds when they thought about getting one of the three most dominant closers in the business.

THE HOT STOVE LEAGUE continues, beginning with the announcement today of the Rookies of the Year (Redbird Nation selected Berroa and Webb, but I doubt either will get it) and the first day of the free agent market. The only FA's the Cardinals are likely to sign are guys who played with them this past season.

MIC MEN Interesting list of longtime radio broadcasters, supplied by the excellent Doug Pappas. You'll see that Jack Buck had the second longest broadcasting career for one club of anyone in baseball history (Vin Scully, 54 years and counting, is first).

Team broadcaster is a cushier gig than Supreme Court Justice -- for example, Mike Shannon has logged 32 years as the Cardinals' announcer, but there are ten other guys with more years than him behind the mic.

If you're interested, Doug also has a downloadable database of all known regular local radio, TV and cable broadcasters, and their stations, since the 1920s.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

RETHINKING MATHENY For the most part, Gold Gloves work like Academy Awards -- they're often based on reputation as much as performance, so that a guy wins years after he should. I thought Al Pacino deserved a Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon; he had to wait until Scent of a Woman to get one. I thought Russell Crowe deserved an Oscar for L.A. Confidential; instead he landed one for a so-so performance in Gladiator.

Was Mike Matheny's Gold Glove part of this phenomenon, a legacy pick more than anything else? We suggested as much yesterday, but reader David Salvia has his doubts. Says David:

Matheny may have thrown out only 27% of baserunners, but there may be a reason: the Cardinals had a shockingly low number of attempted steals against them -- a mere 79 total; only Montreal (with Schneider) had fewer attempts against, with 78. Perhaps Matheny's reputatuion is such that fewer runners are tempted, and perhaps only the better runners even try (one attempt every 20 innings w/Matheny this year, one per 15 innings with other Cardinals catchers). The result is that while Matheny threw out only 27% of attempted stealers, there was a total of only 55 stolen bases against the Cardinals all
year -- second fewest, to only the Expos.

Good point. So good, in fact, that we should take a closer look at Matheny's Gold Glove credentials. As David points out, a catcher can stop the running game both by gunning runners out on the basepaths and by discouraging them from trying to steal in the first place.

If we look at all qualifying NL catchers by stolen base attempts against, we get a leaderboard like this:

1. MIKE MATHENY... 0.45 stolen base attempts per 9 innings
2. Ivan Rodriguez... 0.48
3. Benito Santiago... 0.54
4. Brian Schneider... 0.55
5. Jason LaRue... 0.60

Indeed, it looks like Matheny may be the most feared arm in the league -- teams try to steal off him less than once every couple games. (Although as David points out elsewhere in his letter, this may be a function of the Cardinals poor pitching staff -- i.e., one-run strategies normally diminish as your run context increases. Notice, for example, that opponents attempted 1.17 stolen bases off of the Dodgers' Paul Lo Duca. Part of this high total is surely due to Lo Duca's weak hose; but no doubt some of it is due to the fact that teams often try something, anything, to move runners along off the Dodgers' notoriously stingy pitching staff.)

Anyway, back to Matheny. So he's looking a little better, but he still threw out 27% of baserunners, only 9th best among the 12 qualifying backstops. So let's refine our study and count the number of successful stolen bases per nine innings -- that way we reward catchers both for throwing runners out and for discouraging attempts altogether. Our new list looks like this:

1. Brian Schneider... 0.26 stolen bases per 9 innings
2. Ivan Rodriguez... 0.32
3. MIKE MATHENY... 0.33
4. Charles Johnson... 0.36
5. Damian Miller... 0.41

Matheny now drops to third place, but he's not so far behind Brian Schneider of Montreal, who allowed only 24 stolen bases in 841 innings behind the plate. But ah, you might say, weren't there considerably fewer baserunners when Expos and Marlins pitchers were on the mound? Could this be why Schneider's and I-Rod's totals are so low?

Let's take a look. We'll start by estimating how many runners were on base while Matheny was catching. In 1,463.2 innings this year, Cardinals pitchers allowed 2,052 hits + walks. If we subtract home runs allowed (I wish I could cut out triples allowed as well, but I don't have those figures), that comes out to total 1,842 baserunners on the year, or 11.33 "stolen base threats" per nine innings. Taking Matheny's 0.33 stolen bases allowed per nine innings, we can guess (and remember this is only an educated guess, because there are many factors we don't account for in this down-and-dirty formula) that one out of every 34.33 baserunners stole a base off of Matheny. Where does this rate among the other NL catchers?

1. Brian Schneider... 42.12 baserunners for every stolen base allowed
2. Ivan Rodriguez... 35.34
3. Charles Johnson... 34.89
4. MIKE MATHENY... 34.33
5. Vance Wilson... 28.28

Woops. Math Matheny drops a bit according to these rankings, passed by Charles Johnson of Colorado. (But of course, that total is a bit skewed, as the stolen base becomes less attractive in the inflated run environment of Coors Field.) But he's still in a cluster along with I-Rod and C-John.

Nevertheless, I think it's clear that Schneider had the best arm in the National League this past season. So does B-Schneid deserve the Gold Glove this year? Let's compare him to Matheny in other fielding areas:

Passed balls: Matheny had five; Schneider had 3 in fewer innings.

Errors: Matheny didn't make a single error all season; Schneider made 3. But again, you're talking about incredibly small numbers here -- let's combine it with passed balls and call them a wash in terms of sure-handedness.

Blocking the plate and fielding the bunt: it's extremely difficult to find numbers to gauge these skills. Matheny had 34 non-caught-stealing assists to Schneider's 18. A plus for Matheny, for sure. On the other hand, Schneider had 12 DPs to Matheny's 7. Were most of those blocks of home plate? Or where they of the 1-2-3 DP variety? Again, hard to say. For now let's remain agnostic about this area.

Calling the game: While Matheny was behind the plate, Cardinals pitchers had a 4.58 ERA. With Schneider, Montreal hurlers had a 3.75 ERA. However, I place very little stock in this stat, as I've yet to see proof that catchers have a definitive impact on pitching performances. But if you must, give Shneider an edge here.

Blocking balls in the dirt: Big edge for Matheny, at least as well as we can measure it. The Expos threw 80 wild pitches on the year; the Cardinals staff only 53, a testament to Matheny's rep in that area. That's 27 fewer extra bases. Now, of course, wild pitches are, by definition, the fault of pitchers, not catchers, but I think it's safe to say that some of this discrepancy is due to Matheny's glovework on balls in the dirt.

Durability: Again, big edge for Matheny. He played 255.2 innings more than Schneider behind the plate. In fact, Schneider played only 58% of his team's innings, whereas Matheny was back there 75% of the time.

All of which leads me to conclude that Brian Schneider is still the best pick for the Gold Glove Award at catcher. But I was wrong to suggest that Mike Matheny's hardware was tainted. He's perhaps as deserving as Schneider, and one could reasonably call him -- along with Schneider, I-Rod, and Charles Johnson -- the best defensive catcher in the National League.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003


• So the Cardinals matched the Mariners with four Gold Gloves yesterday. Did they deserve them? Well, Rolen is damn near the best third-sacker I've ever seen, and his numbers back up his reputation, so let's give Rawlings a point on that one. Good call on Jedmonds too. He didn't play a ton of innings, but at age 33 he might have actually improved as a fielder. Among NL CFers, he had the most DPs, the second most assists, the highest range factor, and the highest zone rating. Solid pick.

• Mike Matheny: great at blocking the plate, and the best in the business at stopping pitches in the dirt. But can you win the Gold Glove without doing much to stop the running game? He threw out only 27% of baserunners trying to steal this year -- that's below the league average, and damn near half the rate of Brian Schneider up in Montreal.

• Renteria: best shortstop in the league. At the plate, that is. In the field? Hmmm... We've already stated that E-Rent's acclaim as a fielder is a bit of the emperor's new clothes, and his numbers this year bear that out: mediocre range, mediocre DP totals, mediocre fielding percentage. Personally I'd have chosen Cesar Izturis.

• The new Fox sitcom "Arrested Development" finished poorly in its debut last Sunday (it finished fourth in its time slot, a huge drop-off from its lead-in, "Malcolm in the Middle"). Why does this matter? Well, every show that Fox pushed during the baseball playoffs ("Joe Millionaire 2," "A Minute with Stan Hooper," "Arrested Development," and "Skin") has flopped. "Skin," in fact, has already been cancelled.

This doesn't bode well for the next baseball contract. Traditionally Fox has justified its hefty price tag for national over-the-air rights to televise MLB ($400 million annually since 2000, a 44% increase over the previous arrangement) by claiming that October baseball is a great platform to roll out new shows. But it hasn't been working out that way. Which means that after Fox's contract with MLB expires in 2006, TV revenues may go down, which means a smaller pie for teams and players. If the market is depressed now (no more Manny Ramirez contracts), it might shrink even further a couple years from now.

• Our thoughts go out to the family and loved ones of Reds outfielder Dernell Stenson. Earlier this year he got a couple of nice hits against the Cardinals, and I was thinking how happy the guy must be -- he knocked around for years as a one-time Big Name prospect, but he was back in the majors this year, in the relative quiet of Great American Ballpark, more or less making good. It's a shame, then, what happened to him early Wednesday morning. No doubt more fans will mourn the untimely death of a bonafide star like Darryl Kile or Thurmon Munson or Lyman Bostock, but as a loss to humanity Stenson's death is no less shocking.

TONY LA RUSSA WRAP-UP We conclude our series on the Cardinals manager with two important final exam questions:

WHAT IS HIS STRONGEST POINT AS A MANAGER? Casey Stengel was once asked why he used three pinch hitters in the first three innings of a game. “Whaddaya want me to do,” said Stengel, “sit there and lose?”

That’s La Russa to a tee – he’ll do damn near anything to win. As Dave Duncan once said of him, “Day-in, day-out, he's 100 percent involved. And I don't know how he does it. There’s just some days that you aren't there. I mean, some days I'm not there, for one reason or another. But with him, I've never seen a day like that.” In some ways La Russa’s intensity resembles that of two of his best friends, Jim Leyland and Bobby Knight. They’re all virulent battlers, wound tight and ready to throw down. But fortunately, La Russa’s competitiveness rarely devolves into psychodrama – as it has with Bobby Valentine or Larry Bowa, or, for that matter Bobby Knight – perhaps because La Russa never pushes his intensity too far, and because his players know that he’s won before. Nine division titles and a World Series ring command an awful lot of respect for some players.

IS LA RUSSA THE BEST MANAGER FOR THE 2004 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS? Compared to what? Compared to Ozzie Smith? Whitey Herzog? Red Schoendienst? Me? You hear a lot of names bandied about as possible successors as Cardinals manager, but unfortunately I don’t think any of the above options would do a better job than La Russa.

I’m particularly wary of “name” candidates – guys like Ozzie Smith or Whitey Herzog – who might inject St. Louisans with toasty nostalgia for the Runnin’ Redbirds of yore. Sure, as a one-time-only p.r. splash, they might boost season ticket sales. But in practical terms, they’re not what the Cardinals need. What’s worse, these guys are so beloved by locals that they’d be even harder to fire than La Russa. It’s my opinion that Bill DeWitt and Co. suffer from a typical small-town mentality – they’re so flattered, so honored, to be in the presence of a “legend” like Tony La Russa, that they give him a free ride, letting him dine out on his 2,009 wins and keep his job as long as he likes. With Ozzie and Whitey, you’d have the same situation, only worse. Not only are these guys more legendary than La Russa, they possess a kind of entitlement that would shield them even more than TLR.

Truth be told, for all of La Russa’s shortcomings, he has shown flashes of brilliance in a Cardinals uniform. Look at last year. The St. Louis Cardinals had any number of reasons to pack it in: a slow start, the devastating death of Darryl Kile, injuries to our pitching staff that required us to use 14 different starters (including journeymen like Jason Simontacchi and the oft-struggling Andy Benes). But instead La Russa allowed his team to both mourn and focus at the same time, all the while guiding them to their best record in 17 years. It was an excellent job, perhaps La Russa’s best.

And yet… La Russa may have peaked with this team last year. There are several ways in which his talents and tendencies simply don’t fit the needs of our current ballclub. Consider:

1. La Russa began managing in 1979, and he’s been slow to embrace many of the sabermetric principles that made winners in places like Boston, Oakland, and New York. For example, he still insists on batting spunky middle infielders leadoff, despite their lousy OBPs. By my estimate, La Russa cost the Cardinals at least 10-15 runs (and one or two wins) simply by hitting Edgar Renteria behind, rather than in front of, the big guns in the heart of our order.

But that’s not the only throwback strategy that hurts this team. For all his unconventionalities when it comes to bullpen usage, La Russa still uses Jason Isringhausen in a most conventional way, often waiting for him to appear in the ninth inning while our weaker set-up guys blow the game in the 8th. Or how about the way La Russa rides our starters? There’s no doubt that if Morris hadn’t been rushed back from arm troubles, or if Woody hadn’t been flogged so often early in the season, that both of these pitchers would have been sturdier in July and August. It’s not unheard of for an “old school” skipper to adopt objective analysis – Larry Dierker and Earl Weaver come to mind – and La Russa must do more in this area if he expects to maximize his team’s talents.

2. One hallmark of the current Cardinals is that they have no depth. Their bullpen is weak; their bench is threadbare; and they have a couple gaping holes in the lineup. Which makes it all the stranger that La Russa still falls back on his cobbled lineups, or his featherweight benchmen, or his #5 and #6 options out of the bullpen. We know that La Russa loves pulling levers – I call it “managing all over the place” – but it’s not exactly the right style for this team.

3. Similarly, the one-run strategies that La Russa favors aren’t helping us much. There’s simply no excuse for a team with 196 home runs, that finished second in the league in slugging, to lay down more sac bunts than anyone else in baseball. What’s more, La Russa has developed nice usage of the hit and run, but it comes at a price. The Cardinals, led by hitting coach Mitchell Page, have been ordered to put the ball in play at all costs – great when you need to move runners over, but not when you need to work the count, tire a pitcher, or draw a walk.

4. La Russa tries to manufacture runs even more in the postseason, which is, I think, one of the reason our runs scored totals have dropped in our last few playoff appearances. In general, La Russa has been a poor tactician in the postseason – his natural jumpiness causes him to panic and drop many of the core principles that allowed the Cardinals to win out over the course of the season. The Cardinals have been in the hunt the last few years, which is a great credit to La Russa’s preparedness, but they’ve swooned when it’s mattered most. Some of this is sheer bad luck (injuries to Rolen and McGwire, Ankiel going off the deep end, a fluky 3-for-39 with RISP in the ’02 NLCS), but some can be attributed to La Russa’s shoddy game management.

5. La Russa has baggage. Although as an outsider it’s difficult to assess these things, it seems to me that this past season left a sour taste in the locker room. Many of La Russa’s strategies backfired, and some of his run-ins with malcontents like Tino and Vina indicate that Tony may have “lost” the ballclub.

At the end of the season, La Russa told Rick Hummel that “I don't think this club could have won more than in the 80s,” as if the team had maxed out in third place. Whether or not this is true (I happen to agree that Jocketty didn’t give TLR the horses this year), it’s totally different from the defiant, unapologetic La Russa we’ve seen in years past. He sounds sunken, beaten down.

Bill James came up with something back in 1984 that he calls the Burt Shotton Syndrome. It’s when an intense manager (usually a ballbreaker, a demanding guy with a lust for details) gets replaced by a low-pressure, no-big-deal guy and the team subsequently experiences a period in which the talent seems to gush out of them. These ballclubs frequently win one pennant – but only one pennant – in this time period. Examples abound: Harvey Kuenn following Bob Rodgers in Milwaukee, Jim Frey following Whitey Herzog in KC, Bob Lemon following Billy Martin in New York, and (of course) Burt Shotton following Leo Durocher in Brooklyn. According to James,

What happens is that the demands that the ‘intense’ manager makes on his players creates a resistance, a deodorant shield that locks in talent and locks out advice. The Martins and the Durochers and the Rodgerses are teachers, among other things, but sometimes they try so hard to teach the players that they seem threatening and overbearing; they trigger a defense mechanism in the players, and it seems like they’re just not getting through anymore. The low-key manager takes over, the resistance melts, and suddenly all the things that the high-pressure manager has been trying to say sink in. And the talent seems simply to ooze forth.

Of course, James points out that these low-key sorts usually don’t have a very strong grasp of detail or command, and the team often ends up rudderless within a year or two. But I wonder if the Cardinals couldn’t use a breath of fresh air, a movement away from the anxieties of the last few postseasons, and a younger foundation. It’s sort of a moot point, as La Russa will indeed be returning for 2003. But the way I see it, he gets one more shot and then that’s it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

SOME ODDS AND ENDS since the season ended a couple weeks ago:

1. Cards decline Vina's option. Smart move. Still a good defender, increasingly useless with the bat and not worth half of the $4.5 million he'd make if we picked him up for next year. Seems like a tailor-made fit for Dusty Baker in Chicago, a Mark Grudzielanek clone at the plate.

2. The nucleus of "untouchables." According to Jocketty they're Renteria, Rolen, Pujols, and Izzy. Three of the names are right. But I don't know why Isringhausen's on that list -- perhaps Walt knew no one in their right mind would shell out the $17 million we owe Izzy over the next two years and he wanted to make the guy feel at home.

3. Tino packs his bags. Literally -- he put his St. Louis home on the market and seems to have played his last game in a Cardinals uniform. When I ragged on Tino's acquisition a couple years ago, my New York buddies swore that I'd warm up to the guy. Instead he'll go down as one of my least favorite Cardinals of all time. I can forgive poor production, but not when it's mingled with a piss-poor attitude. Will he reunite with Sweet Lou in Tampa? The Devil Rays practically invented themselves as the place where veterans go to die (Greg Vaughn, Wade Boggs, new Chisox manager Ozzie Guillen), so maybe this is a good fit for Tino.

4. Goodbye, Jedmonds? The Cards need to unload Edmonds' price tag (a guaranteed $33 million over the next three years), but damn I'll miss that son of a bitch. A great player -- once overrated, now (I think) underrated.

5. Detritus exodus. The new Cardinals free agents: Eldred, Hitchcock, Kline, Painter, Springer, Stephenson, Tomko, Widger, Girardi, Cairo, Carpenter, Fassero, Palmeiro, Perez. Re-sign Perez, Palmeiro, and Eldred. They can be had cheap and they'll play a bigger role in St. Louis than anywhere else (esp. if we move Pujols to first and platoon Perez and O-Pal in left). Then try for Carpenter, Kline, and (dare I say it) Tomko, but only at reduced rates.

6. Astros unload Wagner to Phils. The press is calling it a salary dump. My ass -- this is a good move by Hunsicker. No reliever on planet Earth (not even Gagne, although he's a Martian) is worth $9 million per. The 'Stros now free up cash to go after someone like Andy Pettitte, while Octavio Dotel turns himself into one of the best closers in the National League. (And personally I'll enjoy Wagner moving to another division. That little sprite murders us -- we've only scored four runs off him the last three years combined.)

7. Pujols, E-Rent win Silver Bats. What, no Rolen? Scotty deserved it this year, hands down, but fortunately he's the last guy in the world to care.

8. Jocketty makes a wishlist. This winter he's looking for three things: speed, youth, and power arms. Power arms -- yeah, we need 'em, especially out of the pen (heal thyself, Calero). Youth -- yeah, we need that too, although as this table suggests, the Cardinals have the third youngest team in the division if you go by concentration of talent. As for speed -- why on earth does Jocketty think we need more of that? It's not like we clogged up the basepaths this year. My guess is that Walt looked at the Marlins this year and concluded they won b/c of all their stolen bases. Stupid. They won b/c they had few holes on their team, unlike a certain NL ballclub from Missouri that shall remain nameless...

9. Our new second baseman. Among free agents, I'd nab Todd Walker or even Eric Young if we can afford 'em. Jr. Spivey's not a bad fit either -- apparently the Snakes want to deal him and start Kata at second. Spivey's coming off a down year, so maybe he can be had for a good price. Bo Hart is a platoon player at best.

10. Next year's schedule. Good: we open with three at home against the Brewers, and we close with four at home against the Brewers. That's 7 wins right there (although to be honest the Brew Crew has a rich farm system and won't be total doormats too much longer).

Bad: we have a tough interleague schedule (the Texas A-Rods are tasty, but otherwise we have Oakland and Seattle, and only one series against KC, who, I'm predicting, won't win 83 games next year). By the way, after next season there will only be one team the Cardinals have never played -- the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Unless, of course, we meet them in the World Series.

Worse: a ten-game road trip at the end of September to the three biggest hitter's parks in the NL (Coors, Miller, and Minute Maid née Enron). Start collecting those bullpen arms now.

Terrible: the Cards and Cubs had the most memorable late-season series in all of baseball this past year; next year they square off for the last time on... are you ready for this?... July 20th. Is this Selig's revenge for Cubs and Cardinals fans outnumbering his hometown fans at Miller Park down the stretch? Of course, the Yanks and Red Sox play each other next year as late as September 26th. Evidently that's a rivalry MLB actually cares about.

TONY THE TIGER, PART 4 of a 4-part series

Tony La Russa likes pitchers. Lots of 'em. The last couple days we broke down the ways in which TLR handles his offense. Today we take a look at his...


DOES HE LIKE POWER PITCHERS OR PREFER TO GO WITH PEOPLE WHO PUT THE BALL IN PLAY? La Russa likes to have one ace who can throw heat, but otherwise fills his staff with finesse guys, nibblers. This year the Cards finished 12th in the league in strikeouts; 12th the year before; 11th before that.

The prototypical La Russa pitchers? Eckersley. Honeycutt. Again, La Russa will usually have a big guy like Morris or Kile or Andy Benes anchoring his staff, but round things off with twirlers like Pat Hentgen, Donovan Osbourne, Jason Simontacchi, and so on.

DOES HE STAY WITH THE STARTER OR GO TO THE BULLPEN QUICKLY? Depends. By nature I think La Russa loves going to the bullpen, getting the best possible matchup. But he’ll leave his starters in if he doesn’t have the horses to work with. This year, for example, the Cardinals were 9th in the league in innings by relievers. TLR tended to ride his starters longer, especially Williams and Morris, because of our weak arms out of the pen. Last year, with a much more complete staff, La Russa’s team was third in relief innings.

Of course, La Russa’s most notorious decision of the year involved a quick hook, when he yanked Danny Haren in favor of Jeff Fassero with a 6-1 lead up in Chicago (the Cardinals eventually lost 8-7). Go back farther and you’ll find that this area – how hard should La Russa ride his starters? how much should he pamper his youngsters? – has been a theme throughout his St. Louis career. Some have said that La Russa has shredded and ruined the tender arms of more than one Cardinal pitcher. With that in mind, we should consider each case separately:

1. We’re gonna skip over Todd Stottlemyre, whose arm problems (torn rotator cuff) manifested themselves in 1999, after Stotty had been with a couple other organizations. We’ll also skip Donovan Osbourne, a fragile hurler whose arm totally fell apart on La Russa’s watch – he got most of his innings as a young man under Torre, and actually had his peak season in ’96, after TLR and Duncan joined the team. That leaves us with Alan Benes as our first case study.

Alan Benes was at one time a future ace starter, sporting a 2.89 ERA as a 24-year-old with a strikeout per inning. But as you know, he suffered a torn rotator cuff in 1997 after a string of high-pitch outings, and was never the same again. He missed two whole years, tried to make things work as a Cardinals reliever, and finally bottomed out this year with an ERA over 8.00 for the Cubs.

Did La Russa ruin Benes’ career? In an interview with Jeff Bower in April of 2001, Benes claimed there was “never any reason to think that I was pitching too much or throwing too many pitches. Physically and mechanically the way I threw the ball, it was just a matter of time before I had some [arm] trouble.”

And while we can acknowledge that Alan Benes knows more about his own arm than we ever could, we may also acknowledge that he was still a member of the Cardinals organization when he gave this interview, and that, in fact, there are compelling reasons to think he was pitching too much. Namely, a workload in 1997 that far exceeded any he had experienced previously. In his last 21 starts as a 25-year-old, Benes threw over 100 pitches every single time. That’s a tremendous amount of strain, and the charge that La Russa failed to protect his tender ace is a fair one.

2. How about Matt Morris? He threw a lot of innings as a 22-year-old rookie in 1997 – 217, to be exact. On the other hand, only one time did his pitch count go over 120 for a single game and in general he was handled conservatively. In 1998 Morris strained his right shoulder and was babied throughout the year… until August 4th, that is, when La Russa let Morris throw 131 pitches in a complete game against the Brewers. (As Joe Sheehan pointed out, this win pulled the Cardinals to within 15½ games of the Astros that year.) In nine of his next ten starts he went over the 100-pitch mark. The following spring training, Morris tore ligaments in his elbow and was out for sixteen months.

Did the heavy workload do in Morris? Tough to say. It’s incredibly difficult to enunciate the complex calculus that determines who suffers arm injuries and who doesn’t, but we do know that high pitch counts don’t help. All in all I remain agnostic about whether or not La Russa contributed greatly to Morris’ injury, but I would guess that his arm troubles, combined with Benes’, represent a trend rather than a coincidence. It’s a shame either way, as it would have been nice to have Morris starting a game or two in the 2000 NLCS, when we had to resort to using Kile (disastrously) on three-days rest.

3. Rick Ankiel. Compared to Benes and Morris – and especially compared to someone like Kerry Wood – Ankiel was handled like a Faberge egg. Not once during the 2000 season did La Russa let him throw over 100 pitches in back-to-back starts.

Nevertheless, La Russa still gets heat from some quarters for throwing Ankiel into the frying pan as his Game 1 starter in the ’00 NLDS. Just this October broadcaster Jeff Brantley questioned whether Ken Macha should have brought Rich Harden into Game 1 of the ALDS, reminding viewers that young pitchers are likely to snap under the pressure like Ankiel did. The implication: La Russa put Ankiel in the spotlight and contributed to his mental collapse.

That’s simply false. If anything La Russa was pampering Ankiel by starting him in Game 1, for it meant Ankiel could start Game 4 on four days rest, whereas if he was the Game 2 starter he might be called upon to start Game 5 on only three days rest.

What’s more, there’s evidence that Ankiel was a powder keg long before his postseason blow-up against the Braves. Look no further than Ankiel’s fielding percentage for 2000: a paltry .759. Why do I mention this? Because if you recall, nearly all of Ankiel’s errors that season were on throws to first – for every two assists he made, he made one error, and even on the “clean” plays Ankiel would often field a grounder or a bunt, have all the time in the world to throw the ball, then unleash some wild, scattershot laser down the line that McGwire or Will Clark had to leap or lunge for. This tells me that Ankiel had a problem with overthinking easy tosses even before the playoffs – he was spring-loaded. How or why his problems manifested themselves when they did, I have no clue, but I think there’s evidence that Ankiel’s blow-up was simply a matter of time, not timing.

4. Bud Smith. There’s only one real knock against La Russa’s handling of Smith – he once let him throw 134 pitches in a game. Granted, it was during Bud’s no-hitter, but that’s still a frightening total for a 21-year-old who shredded his shoulder not long after. But as with Ankiel, I think TLR gets high marks for his handling of Bud Smith. He got what he needed out of him – a solid 2001 and excellent trade bait for Scott Rolen in 2002. Mission accomplished.

DOES HE USE THE ENTIRE STAFF OR DOES HE TRY TO GET FIVE OR SIX PEOPLE TO DO MOST OF THE WORK? You’ll rarely see pitchers on La Russa’s staffs sitting around doing nothing. The last option out of the pen will not only play, he’ll often play in big situations. Remember journeyman Jeff Tabaka entering this hugely important game to preserve a 1-0 lead against the Astros? Or how about Mike Matthews spelling Darryl Kile in Game 3 of the ’01 NLDS? Or Esteban Yan appearing in 39 games in only three months for La Russa in 2003?

La Russa uses everybody – I mean, everybody – in his bullpen. The numbers are crystal clear: this past year, TLR made 460 pitching changes, an enormous total (that’s almost four pitchers per game on average). Since 1987 (when STATS first began tracking in-game information), La Russa has required 20 more relief appearances per season than the average manager. Also according to STATS, La Russa has used the one-batter reliever 13 percent more often than the average skipper.

These bullpen chess games are perhaps La Russa’s most famous legacy as a manager. He practically invented the role of the one-out lefthander (with Rick Honeycutt in Oakland), and now virtually every team carries one or two hyper-specialists out of the pen. In fact, the last five years of Jesse Orosco’s career probably wouldn’t be possible without Tony La Russa.

Some critics have blasted La Russa for his reliever fetish, accusing him of managerial “happy feet.” And indeed, there are some extreme examples of the phenomenon, like when La Russa came out of spring training 2001 carrying twelve pitchers, including two backup situational lefties after Kline. Or during the 2002 playoffs, when La Russa had eight relievers on his postseason roster. Obviously carrying this many pitchers bleeds into your offensive makeup – it’s likely that one reason La Russa loves multi-positional infielders is so he can obtain maximum flexibility with his pitching staff. (It might also explain why he tends to rush back pitchers from injuries – notably Woody Williams in ’02 and Matt Morris in ’03. He simply hates to be short-handed.)

Having said all that, there does seem to be one type of hurler that La Russa dislikes: young power pitchers. Perhaps because of his bad experiences with the early careers of Matt Morris and Alan Benes, La Russa has shied away from using guys like Jimmy Journell and Mike Crudale. He used Crudale a lot in 2002 (with good results), but only reluctantly, and then ditched him the following the season. Journell languished this past September in favor of veterans like Springer and Fassero. In fact, it’s possible that La Russa simply distrusts youngsters in general; case in point: his public jab at Josh Pearce back in September.

ARE THERE ANY PARTICULAR TYPES OF PITCHERS OF WHOM HE IS FOND? Needless to say, La Russa and Duncan like guys who have been around the block. And they have a good track record in this area, teasing good years out of aging veterans (Bob Welch, Mike Moore, Woody Williams, Cal Eldred, Chuck Finley) and retreads (Dave Stewart, Pat Hentgen, Dustin Hermanson, Dennis Eckersley, Garrett Stephenson, Kent Bottenfield, Rick White, Darryl Kile, Andy Benes).

La Russa’s success rate with these “projects” gives the Cardinals a cheap, high-yield competitive advantage. His ability to turnaround Woody Williams gave the Cardinals an instant #2 starter for the stretch run in 2001 and beyond. His work with Kent Bottenfield allowed Jocketty to flip him for Jim Edmonds following the ’99 season.

Of course, La Russa is no miracle worker either. Among the veterans who did not pan out on La Russa’s watch in St. Louis: Jesse Orosco, Fernando Valenzuela, Heathcliff Slocumb, Scott Radinsky, Ricky Bottalico, Jeff Brantley, Mike Mohler, Pedro Borbon Jr., Darren Holmes, Bobby Witt, and Joey Hamilton. Josh Schulz once joked that La Russa’s attraction to these pitchers is an extension of his animal rescue work – he just can’t resist taking in old, hobbled, bedraggled creatures. This may be true, but to be fair, La Russa does have a good overall track record in this area.

IS THERE ANYTHING UNIQUE ABOUT HIS HANDLING OF PITCHERS? A few oddities, most notably his experiment with a nine-man rotation in Oakland in 1993 (it was a shuttle system in which each starter would go three or four innings every three days). And, as I mentioned, his constant substitutions, which seem to fit a defensive coordinator or an NHL coach more than a baseball manager.

We'll return tomorrow with a wrap-up of La Russa's strengths and weaknesses, and we'll try to assess his future in the Lou...