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Sunday, February 29, 2004

WOOD VS. MORRIS So the Cubs signed Kerry Wood, reportedly for 3 years, $32.5M with a team option for 2007. We all know how this will affect the Cardinals -- Wood is probably one of the ten or twenty best starters in the game, and he'll continue to be a thorn in our side. But how will Wood's signing affect the signability of the Cardinals ace, Matt Morris? At the end of the season, can Matty Mo command a contract comparable to Wood's?

Let's stack up Morris against Wood and see how they rank in terms of market value. Mind you, I'm not trying to determine their true value so much as I am their perceived value, which exerts a stronger hold on the amount of money Morris can demand.

Winningness Last year, of course, Wood was superior to Matty Mo -- pitched 40 more innings, had an ERA 50 points lower. But Morris clearly has the better career numbers. Over his career he's 72-42 with a 3.28 ERA, compared to 59-41, 3.62, for Wood. He also won a career-high 22 games in '01 and finished third in the Cy Young balloting, whereas Wood has never won 15 games in a season. Despite Wood's more recent success, I think it's fair to say that Morris has proven himself a winner every bit, if not more, than Wood.

Upside: Wood is three years younger than Morris, and his stuff is considered more electric. And where Morris' ERA has risen 25+ points each of the past two years, Kerry Wood is coming off of his best, most complete season. Wood's peripherals (11.35 K/9 innings and only 6.48 hits/9 IN) also make his performance easier to gauge going forward. Of course, Morris has had 3 seasons with an ERA better than Wood's career high, so in that sense he may have a higher ceiling, but I think most shoppers would give Wood the edge in this category.

Durability: Well, both pitchers have suffered traumatic arm injuries, with each pitcher sitting out the entire 1999 season. Wood has been more durable recently, logging 200 innings for the second straight year, whereas Mo Mo endured a variety of kinks and stresses last season. Wood racked up the most Pitcher Abuse Points in the majors last year, which is either a sign of his incredible sturdiness or of his imminent collapse. Overall, I give the edge to Wood in this category based on his recent health record.

Marquee Value: This doesn't much impress your average sabermetrician, but it matters to owners, so you have to consider it relevant to a pitcher's demand. My guess is that Wood has a higher Q rating than Morris -- he was the 4th overall pick in the '95 amateur draft, and within three years became a legend with arguably the most dominating single-game pitching performance of all time. Morris has never been that flashy, but he has shined in the postseason, most memorably a series of duels with Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson in the '01 and '02 NLDS. Again, a small edge to Wood here, but both pitchers are considered dyed-in-the-wool "gamers."

Verdict: Morris has better career numbers, but Wood's stuff and his more recent success make him a more valuable property on the open market. But Morris is certainly comparable as a commodity (especially if he turns in a solid 2004), and my guess is that if Wood can land $11 million per year, Morris can ask for and receive $9-$10 million.

KERRY ROBINSON has a theory about why he'd make a good leadoff hitter. Yes, he concedes, he had a low OBP last year. But if you listen to Kerry, that's because he was used so often as a pinch-hitter, and as a PH you've got to go up there swinging:

"The way Tony uses his pinch hitters, he wants you to go up there hacking at the first strike -- fastball, changeup, whatever, anything early in the count. If I'm a leadoff-type, I'll have the luxury of seeing pitches before swinging."

It's a nice theory, although it's entirely unencumbered by actual facts. K-Rob's 2003 OBP was .281 overall -- and .285 when he wasn't pinch-hitting. When he faced a pitcher for the third or fourth time in a game, his OBP rose all the way to .286.

The sad truth is that Kerry Robinson is not good at reaching base, whether he's starting or pinch-hitting, whether he's playing on turf or grass, whether it's day or night. He's already 30 years old, and as any good Hobbesian would tell you, people don't change who they are overnight.

THE HOME OF THE BRAVE Dr. Z has a fun column about different renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner, which includes this anecdote:

For years, the fastest rendition I regularly clocked was that of the Princeton band. Always around 53 seconds. Then in 1977 I covered a Yankees-Red Sox series at Fenway. The organist was an older man named John Kiley who'd been playing the anthem at Red Sox games for years. The first night he hit the turn ("And the rocket's red glare") in 23 seconds. "Oh my God," I said to myself. "He's on a record pace."

When he reached Heartbreak Hill ("Oh say does that Star Spangled banner yet wave...") he looked like he was going to break five-oh, but the Hill got him, as it does all of them. He staggered in, and held the last note for a couple of counts, but the watch still read 55 seconds. Gosh, if he picked it up at the Hill and got off the last note ... well, I had to talk to him about it.

So I entered the booth, and he was a nice old guy, and when I told him what was possible he said he'd have to think it over. "Some people complain that I do it too fast anyway," he said.

Next night the press box was poised. Everyone who owned a stopwatch had it out. John came through. He took the Hill at a gallop and gunned it at the end, and when he cut off the last note, the readout was 51.0. A big cheer went up among the writers...

That reminds me of one of my all-time favorite RBN posts, by our own Mr. Flynn:

Those who have been to Cardinal games over the last quarter centure have undoubtedly heard the song that Ernie Hayes plays between the Star Spangled Banner and the first pitch. A few years ago my cousin met Ernie at some organ-o-rama and asked him about that song. It is an original composition by Ernie and he considers it "The Second Verse" of the national anthem.

If you ever need to interrogate someone to prove he's a Cardinals fan, ask him to imitate Mike Shannon, spell "Schoendienst," and hum Ernie Hayes' "The Second Verse." Works as well as a DNA test.

DEFCOM 12 This story cracked me up -- last Wednesday a rumor surfaced that had the Red Sox sending Trot Nixon to the D'backs for Randy Johnson. Turns out the rumor wasn't true, but for a short while there Yanks GM Brian Cashman was on "Unit alert," which I can only assume involves air-raid sirens, junior execs screaming into red phones, wall maps blinking with trouble spots like the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Mr. Cashman supplicating himself before Emperor Steinbrenner on the holodeck.

THE EARL OF BALTIMORE Here's an article in the Baltimore Sun that checks in with the great Earl Weaver. I consider Weaver the greatest manager of my lifetime, so it's nice to know he's still around and doing well. And apparently he's mellowed out some -- asked whether he'd return to managing like fellow geezers Jack McKeon and Frank Robinson, Weaver (a native St. Louisan) said, "I don't know about McKeon or Frank, but I have a lot of doctors' appointments I have to take time to go to."

KUDZU Here's a nice little article about the growing popularity and influence of baseball blogs. Almost all the writers profiled in this piece are New Yorkers, and most of them put out fine work.

You'd think that New York City, being the most populous town in the country, would produce the most baseball blogs, but I believe that title belongs to Chicago, and more specifically the Chicago Cubs. By my count there are 27 serious Cubs blog out there, compared to only 2 or 3 serious Cardinals blogs (which says something about the extent of Cub fandom, or the number of wired Chicagoans, or perhaps something else altogether).

But luckily there are a couple newcomers to the Cardblog field:

The St. Louis Cardinals Ultimate Fan Site -- a very newsy site, lots of good, quick material to keep you busy; and

Get Up, Baby! -- run by a 16-year-old who rightly appreciates the cockeyed genius of Mike Shannon, this blog has already shown some pretty sharp analysis (i.e., check out Dan's take on the Maddux signing).

Fun stuff. And welcome, guys, to the Cardblogosphere.

Friday, February 27, 2004

A PIECE ON LUIS Chris Kahrl endorses Jocketty's pickup of reliever Luis Martinez, whom he describes as "a lefty with decent velocity and a pretty nasty curve." Here's his thinking:

The Cardinals' rotation is still a two-man show, followed by prayers for surprise off-days, scheduled rain-outs, and a lot of whistling. Even then, there's a lot of wishcasting involved, because both Woody Williams and Matt Morris aren't models of durability. Jeff Suppan should fill one of the slots behind them, with the hope that he'll be one of the appropriately aged retreadings that Dave Duncan made his name on. And then… and then it's the hope that Dan Haren sticks, or that Chris Carpenter's finally healthy, or that Jason Marquis will be one of those infrequent ex-Brave success stories. In that circumstance, you can be sure that as the group's token lefty and one of the few guys with a decent health record, Martinez will be taken seriously.

I buy that. Martinez is cheap insurance, for the low-low price of a mere waiver claim.

BASEBALL'S AVERAGE MAN I stumbled across an odd stat the other day: the average batting average, throughout all of major-league history, is .262. I don't know why, but the number fascinated me: .262. Plain, ordinary, not too good, not too bad. Jeff Blauser hit .262 for his career. So did Dave Engle, Willie Upshaw, and Tony Bernazard. Michael Tucker hit .262 last year. All pretty average guys.

So I got to wondering: who's the most average baseball player of all-time? Lawyers and statisticians have tried to define "the average man," so why can't I? I started off by figuring the average numbers for everyone who ever played big-league baseball. Here's what I found:

AVG .262
OBP .328
SLG .383

By looking at these three categories, we can guess that the most average player of all time was probably Babe Dahlgren. Here are his career totals:

AVG .261
OBP .329
SLG .383

Now, of course, Babe Dahlgren wasn't exactly average. The average ballplayer actually plays only a handful of games in the majors, whereas Dahlgren played for 12 years. (Which goes to show that the average ballplayer contibutes real value to a team, a concept which is a staple of sabermetrics.) But in terms of pure rate stats, Dahlgren is about as average as you'll get.

How about active players? Well, over the last ten years the average numbers look like this:

AVG .267
OBP .337
SLG .425

The man in the middle? How about Gabe Kapler:

AVG .272
OBP .335
SLG .430

He's a fine, bland choice. But I prefer the blandest player of our generation, Mr. Todd Zeile:

AVG .266
OBP .347
SLG .427

For sheer generic, ho-hum, run-of-the-mill ordinariness, Zeile out-averages them all.

CYBER-HARDWARE The Primeys Awards -- which are basically the Oscars for the baseball wonkhead community -- have been named. Most of you who read this site are familiar with the winners: Baseball Prospectus as Best Baseball Analysis site; Rob Neyer as top baseball writer; Baseball Musings as best baseball weblog. These are all worthy choices, and there are some pretty good picks among the nominees too, so you might want to check them out.

THERE'S A POLL on the Cardinals official site asking who you'd like to see as the Cardinals leadoff hitter in 2004. The winner (so far, anyway) is Kerry Robinson, he of the .281 OBP last year. Perhaps Michael Lewis is right -- there really are a lot of pre-enlightened folks out there.

STEINBRENNER AND DEAN I got this link from, and it raises a strange question: Why did George Steinbrenner fund a vicious campaign ad comparing Howard Dean to Osama bin Laden?

THINGS TO BLOW UP So the Steve Bartman ball is no longer -- well, there's some charred wisps of yarn left, but otherwise it's been detonated. Athletics Nation has an idea of what his beloved A's should blow up: Jeremy Giambi's shoes (you remember, 2001, bad shoes, didn't slide, Jeter hype, Yanks win, etc.).

As Cardinals fans, what should we want to blow up? Here are a few suggestions:

1. First Base at Royals Stadium. As in, the one that Donn Denkinger said Jorge Orta touched ahead of Jack Clark's throw to Todd Worrell in the '85 Series.

2. A Sea of White Shirts. The ones in which Curt Flood lost Jim Northrup's fly ball in Game 7 of the '68 World Series. The ball fell in for a two-run triple and the Cards ended up losing the game and the series.

3. The Willie McGee Baseball. 1996, the Cards hold a 3-1 series lead over the Braves in the NLCS. In the first inning of Game 5, Willie McGee miscommunicated with Brian Jordan on a flyball, turned an inning-ending out into a 5-0 Braves lead, and the rout was on from there.

4. Tony La Russa's Lineup Card. The one that had Matt Morris batting for himself in the ninth inning of a tie game in the 2002 NLCS. In the bottom half of the inning Morris lost the game and the series.

5. Bowie Kuhn. He had the bright idea of dividing 1981 into two strike-shortened seasons, hence the Cards finished with the best record in their division (by two games) but missed the playoffs entirely.

I have to admit, that's not much in the way of franchise angst (although the Denkinger call outranks the Bartman ball in my opinion). Please weigh in with any further comments or suggestions.

WOODY'S ARM So Woody Williams has shoulder tendinitis, but his manager is taking an Alfred E. Newman approach to the whole thing:

La Russa said he wasn't too worried about Williams being ready to compete once he was cleared physically.

La Russa recalled one year when Williams was supposed to throw a rehabilitation assignment, but was impressive enough that the Cardinals put him back in the rotation.

I wonder if La Russa recalls the year (2002, to be exact) that Woody was rushed back from arm injury and missed half the season. Or if he recalls Woody wearing out last year some time around inning-marker 150. Or if he recalls that Woody's right arm came into being some time around the middle of the LBJ Administration.

It all reminds me of this exchange from an episode of Cheers:

Frasier: Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
Woody: You got that right, Dr. Crane. Back in high school I was condemned to repeat History three times.

WEIRD Cubs pitcher Matt Clement has a new teammate -- Greg Maddux. He also has a new son, born a little over a year ago. His name: Mattix. You could look it up.

LOCAL NOTE Jim Bouton, the author of Ball Four and the recent Foul Ball, will appear at the Daniel Boone Branch of the St. Louis County Library, 300 Clarkson Road in West County, on Thursday, March 4, 2004, at 7 PM. Admission is free. I might ask Bouton what felt worse: having Pete Rose yell "fuck you, Shakespeare" at him during a game, or getting shot by Elliott Gould in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye.

MONEYBALL PLAYS HARDBALL Did you read that article in Sports Illustrated by Michael Lewis? He details the reaction to his book Moneyball by the Baseball Establishment (which he calls "a social club... a kind of women's auxiliary"). The article has a number of good zingers, including this priceless jab at Tracy Ringolsby (who I've disliked for about 25 years now):

Ringolsby is just another guy who's assigned himself the job of barring people from the game who, in his view, have no business inside. He's not a writer, he's a bouncer.

It's a good piece, worth reading, and yet... the whole thing left me feeling a bit sour. I'd heard of the article before I received it in the mail, and I assumed it was one of those fluffy one-page memoirs at the front of the magazine. Instead it's a six-page feature spread, full of bitterness and fury. There are no feuds pettier than feuds in the book world (see O'Reilly, Bill and Franken, Al), and when Michael Lewis goes after nobodies like Doug Kirkorian of the Long Beach Press Telegram, I wanted to tell him to grow a thicker hide and move on.

B-BONDS DROPS THE P-BOMB How did Barry Bonds respond to Turk Wendell's charge that he's as doped-up as an East German weightlifter? Like this, of course:

"Just to disrespect other people like that, or talk to the media, I think that's chickenshit. If you've got something to say, you come to my face and say it, and we'll deal with each other, but don't be a pussy and go talk to the media like you're some tough guy."

I don't root for Barry Bonds. And I do root for Alex Rodriguez (or at least I did when he played in Texas). But my guilty secret is that I'll take Bonds' swagger and candor over A-Rods' Brand X inoffensiveness any day of the week.

And speaking of Bonds and steroids, I got a kick out of this observation by Will Carroll:

Stand in the middle of a room. There can be no wall within five feet of your outstretched arm. You're fully nude. Now, with a stranger watching, urinate into a cup. See why the players had a problem with the privacy aspect of drug testing?

SON OF A BLEACHER MAN Paul Giamatti is one of my favorite character actors. He's made his mark playing splenic goofballs, generally in movies (like Planet of the Apes and Man on the Moon) that are otherwise terrible. He missed out on an Oscar nomination for American Splendor, although the film is up for Best Adapted Screenplay, and we'll find out on Sunday if it wins.

So what's Paul Giamatti doing on a baseball blog? I just recently found out that he's the son of A. Barlett Giamatti, who, as you know, was commissioner of baseball in 1989. A lot of people revere Giamatti's essay "The Green Fields of the Mind" (which contains one of the greatest of all baseball lines "It is designed to break your heart"). But it may be that Bart Giamatti's greatest work is actually his son Paul.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

TONY'S TRACK RECORD Did any of you think of Tony La Russa when Joel Quenneville was fired by the Blues yesterday? Both have been in St. Louis for 7+ years, both have been given adequate resources, both have piled up lotsa regular season wins, both have suffered some notable collapses in the postseason, and neither has taken his team to the Big Dance.

The headline of this article trumpets "La Russa Still in Command," but, like Coach Q, he's got to realize that the sand is running out of his hourglass.

We covered Tony La Russa's track record pretty exhaustively last Fall (so exhaustive that our four-part series came in five parts), but let's try something different here. There's a handy little method that Bill James created to evaluate a manager's wins over expectations. As this article describes it,

To predict how many games a team should win in a season, we can look at four factors: the three most recent seasons and one hypothetical season of mean performance, or 81 wins. The most recent season accounts for 50% of the weight, the hypothetical season of .500 ball is weighed at 25%, and the two seasons previous to the most recent account for 12.5% each.

So let's run the numbers for Tony and see how he's done during his eight-year tenure in the Lou. Here are his predicted wins vs. his actual wins by year:

Total +27

(By the way, I did the math here with Google calculator, which is one of the cooler things around.)

As you can see, Tony has generally done pretty well when measured against baseball's centripetal forces. His first four years were as wobbly as a metronome, but he's come on strong the last four years to finish with 27 wins more than you'd expect (or, over 3 wins per year).

To be sure, this formula is a blunt tool for measuring performance, but it does give you a decent indication of how well La Russa has battled expectations. And 87 wins for this season sounds about right -- how Tony does in relation to that threshold may tell us whether he's leaving or staying for '05.

SHORT AND CENTER If you get a chance, read this piece on Jeter and Bernie Williams by Richard Lederer and Alex Belth. It's one of the finer pieces of sportswriting I've read in the past year, and demonstrates the blurring distinctions between the best of amateur blog-writing and the best of professional journalism.

THE THREE-LEGGED RACE Joe Sheehan continues to throw a little love our way in his continuing look at the NL Central. He picks the Cubs to finish first this year, but concedes that

the Cardinals have the easiest route to improvement. They need a first baseman (or left fielder), maybe a second baseman and some arms. That's a lot easier to find than the shortstop and center fielder the Astros need, or the leadoff-hitting middle infielder and catching help the Cubs could use.

To be honest, I think Sheehan has been going out of his way lately to disparage the Cubs, but I do agree that the Cards should be in the mix.

Another interesting sidelight to Sheehan's piece is the woodshed-job he does on Astros centerfielder (still feels weird to call him that) Craig Biggio:

Let's just get this out of the way now: if Craig Biggio walks into Kissimmee as you're reading this and announces his retirement, forcing the Astros to use Jason Lane in center field every day, the team improves by about four games. Not only is Biggio barely above replacement level at the plate, but he's a lousy center fielder, nine runs below average in '03 and projected... to be eight runs below average in '04. He should be a bench player at this point in his career, and might actually be an asset in a Tony Phillips role. As an everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter, he's a millstone.

Among CFers with over 400 plate appearances last year, Craig Biggio tied for 28th (along with Ryan Freel and Trenidad Hubbard) in Runs Created Above Average.

BUMPER CROP Here's Baseball Prospectus' annual list of the Top 50 Prospects in baseball. Twins phenom Joe Mauer grabs the pole position. Cards' righthander Adam Wainwright checks in at #43.

Surprisingly, there are no Cubs or Astros in the top 50, although a couple Cubs make honorable mention, and a few more would be considered second-tier prospects. J.P. Ricciardi and his Amazing Talent Machine up in Toronto produced the most top prospects, with six. And over in the NL, the Dodgers nab four spots, the Mets claim three of the top dozen prospects in baseball, and the Brewers have almost an entire infield in the top 20 (Prince Fielder at first, Rickie Weeks at second, and J.J. Hardy at short).

The fun part is what happens next with these prospects. A few will pan out, a few will flame out, and perhaps one or two will be the guys you someday tell your grandkids about.

YOUNG TURK Here's Rockies reliever Turk Wendell on Barry Bonds taking steroids:

"I mean, obviously he did it. [His trainer] admitted to giving steroids to baseball players. He just doesn't want to say his name. You don't have to. It's clear just seeing his body."

What is it with Rockies relievers and idiotic comments? Remember, Wendell is the same guy who, after being tossed out of a game a few years back for throwing at Mike Mathey's head, asked rhetorically, "when Ankiel is out there and he throws balls everywhere, why don't they throw him out of the game?"

THE FORMER RAY THAT GOT AWAY Yeah, I wanted the Cards to go after Travis Lee, but would you pay $2.25 million for him in this market? I guess it depends how confident you are in our other options.

And don't forget, our other options may include more trades. A reader of ours named Rob R. looks at all those young arms in the minors -- Ankiel, Narveson, Luis Martinez, Wainwright, Hawksworth, Haren, Parrott, Pearce, Caple, Duff, Tyler Johnson, and Jason Ryan -- and draws this conclusion:

We still have a lame farm system overall, but we ARE (now) practically overstocked in young pitchers, and not by a little. I am convinced Walt J has been stockpiling pitching on purpose -- to pull a late pre-season trade.

I'm not so convinced. After all, only a couple of those guys will fetch you prime beef, and this is the second year in a row Jocketty has aimed for quantity over quality in his pitching staff. But by the same token, I agree with Rob that Walt may not be done wheeling and dealing. Don't we still need a leftfielder?

BLEEDING DODGER BLUE Chris Kahrl looks at the big picture with the Dodgers' hiring of new GM Paul DePodesta:

If there's a problem here, it's the idea that the Dodgers are finally run by somebody I can't help but root for. If Bostonians have their evil empire, and football fans everywhere have the Cowboys, as a kid growing up in Northern California, there was one great Satan: the Dodgers. Where the Giants of the '70s and early '80s represented a sort of moribund leftover from the honeymoon age of Mays and McCovey, and the threadbare post-Green Machine A's resembled a past-prime pinup trying to avoid mention on the cover of People magazine and just disappear after one failed comeback attempt too many, the Dodgers represented slick, sunny sanctimony. They were the team of Steve Garvey, stealth sinner, and the Pastaman, all tinsel and little actual mining-quality ore. Naturally, they were loathsome, and having no fictive commitment to journalistic "professionalism," it's a feeling I've yet to entirely discard.

Funny, when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn they were known as Dem Bums, a shaggy bunch of clowns and ragamuffins. Then they moved to sunny Southern Cal, got a facelift, and somehow transmogrified into the most buttoned-down, starched-shirt 2% milk drinkers in all of baseball. And DePodesta -- handsome, dutiful, Ivy League educated -- fits right in.

STRICTLY BUSINESS George Steinbrenner had this to say about the Boston Red Sox: "Esposito, their GM, has done a wonderful job."

Does he really not know Theo Epstein's name? Or -- and I suspect this is more likely -- is he pulling a routine like Senator Geary in Godfather II, who clumsily mispronounced Vito Corleone's name as VYE-toh CARLY-on, then turned into a snake behind closed doors.

HITTER PITCHERS I stumbled across this exchange in a Baseball Prospectus chat transcript:

Alex Sims (Houston): Do the Cubs have the best-hitting pitching staff ever assembled?

Rany Jazayerli: Always love the oddball question... it's an interesting thought, because both Wood and Prior are among the best hitting-pitchers in the game. The answer is no - no staff with Matt Clement and his lifetime .084 average is going to rank with the all-time greats.

The Pittsburgh Pirates of the mid-80s, if I recall correctly, had some fearsome bats on the mound. Rick Rhoden and Don Robinson could outhit a quarter of the starting shortstops at the time.

Those who read this site regularly know I'm a sucker for these types of argument-starters, so I did a little poking around. And I discovered that the best hitting pitching staff was clearly the 1915-1918 Boston Red Sox, led by some fellow named Ruth. But it wasn't just Ruth -- Joe Wood, Rube Foster, Ray Collins: they could all rake. The 1915 Sox staff had a .686 OPS at the plate, which was 26 points higher than the league averge at any position.

For those of you uncomfortable with a pre-modern team that includes Babe Ruth, some other contenders for the best hitting pitching staffs would include the 1926 Reds, the 1958 Braves (led by Spahn and Burdette), the 1965 Dodgers (Drysdale had 7 homers), the 1974 Pirates (Ken Brett and Jim Rooker), and the 1988 Mets (Darling, Fernandez, etc.).

And is it just me, or do the current Cubs remind you of the mid-'80s Mets?

STENSON TRIBUTE I got from Dave Pinto this link to an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer. At the bottom of a series of team notes is this item:

The Reds will remember outfielder Dernell Stenson with a 30-second video tribute on Opening Day at Great American Ball Park. Stenson, who played in 37 games after the Reds claimed him off waivers from the Red Sox last season, was murdered on Nov. 6, 2003 in Chandler, Ariz.

I can't say why exactly, but I find that almost unbearably sad -- a 30-second video tribute, probably stashed in between the announcement of the Reds lineup and Dave Concepcion throwing out the first pitch. That's not to say the Reds are treating Stenson unfairly. The fact is, he was less well-known and less appreciated than stars like Darryl Kile and Thurman Munson, and I guess in some ways that's why I find his tribute so sad.

THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE HOLY MAZZONE EMPIRE Does it strike you as odd that the Braves rotation this year will likely be Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, John Thomson, Horacio Ramirez, and Paul Byrd? Shouldn't those guys be wearing those powder blue Braves unis from 1984?

MANGLERS There's a grand tradition in baseball of ex-athletes joining the broadcast booth and generally raping and pillaging the English language -- from Dizzy Dean ("He slud into third") to Ralph Kiner ("On Fathers Day, we again wish you all happy birthday") to Jerry Coleman ("The first pitch to Tucker Ashford is grounded into left field -- no, wait a minute, it's ball one, low and outside") to our own Mike Shannon ("Gilkey was originally born in University City"). And now Trident Fever makes a case for adding Mariners announcer Ron Fairly to the list. I think my favorite is his line about Bruce Sutter: "He's thirty-five years old, that will give you some idea of how old he is."

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

DEADBIRDS? Today Joe Sheehan devotes an entire column to the Cardinals' chances for 2004. Apparently a number of his readers agreed with Jim Bowden's assessment that the NL Central will be a two-team race this year, so Sheehan looked into the matter more deeply.

In short, Sheehan stands by his comment that the Cards will be players alongside the Cubs and Astros. He has real questions about our pitching staff (who doesn't), but thinks we should improve simply by untying that ballast called Yan and Fassero. Our lineup suffers holes at catcher and leftfield (cumulatively those two positions are below replacement level), but the rest of our lineup is relatively solid.

Although beware. As much as Sheehan believes in the Cards, he's still not totally sold:

That structure -- four or five stars carrying a roster -- reminds me of the Seattle Mariners in the last days of the Kingdome. They had Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson and Jay Buhner and... Dan Wilson? Russ Davis? Bobby Ayala? That team seemed like it should have been more successful, but the inability to surround a championship core with quality players kept it from making an extended run.

Which pretty much echoes what we said about the Cardinals in our midseason report from last season:

The Cardinals need to find [role players], or we’ll become just another version of the 1980 Cardinals, or the 1982 Expos, or the 1996 Mariners – failed teams who couldn’t cobble together enough average players to play the positions not manned by great players.

In other words, the division won't be won on the backs of Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen -- we know what those cats can do, we know they'll probably be great, and we know we can finish in third nevertheless. No, if the Cards win this year it'll be on the backs of grunts like Ray King, Jason Marquis, Steve Cox, and Marlon Anderson. They might not be much, but they're all we got, so start crossing your fingers for a career year from some of those guys.

PLAYING HARDBALL Fascinating interview over at Go Cardinals with Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' Vice President for Baseball Development. A bunch of readers submitted questions to Luhnow, and he was kind enough to answer them, even the Mike Wallace-style finger-pointing questions. You should check it out.

Luhnow's boosterism can be annoying, but he is an employee and an advocate for the Cardinals, and in general I was impressed with the guy. He says pretty much all the right things, and his general philosophy on player development and talent evaluation appears sound. One thing struck me, though. Someone asked if it made more sense to keep Pujols in left and start Gall and Cox at first. Luhnow said that "the strongest Cardinal team is one where Albert Pujols is healthy and playing every day," and more or less implied that Albert would find a home at first. But is Pujols that big an injury risk in leftfield? And if so, yikes!

Also, someone asked Luhnow whether the Cardinals were dead sharks heading into this season. For the record, it wasn't I who asked that question, even though I used that same metaphor in a post last week. I still think the Cardinals are doing very little to move forward, though, and if our team isn't moving forward, they may not wind up dead last, but they will wind up in third place.

THE NEWEST CARDINAL I know very little about this Luis Martinez guy that we just claimed off waivers. He was the Brewers' 2003 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, although that may be like winning the Miss Liechtenstein beauty pageant. He also seems like a bit of a headcase. He was recently arrested in the Dominican Republic for shooting a man in a parking lot dispute, and although he was later cleared of all charges, he was dubious enough for the pitching-strapped Brewers to waive him.

I've always thought headcases faired a little better in baseball than they do in team sports like basketball (think Roy Tarpley) or football (think Lawrence Phillips). But I'm not so sure. Baseball is littered with enough carcasses of the emotionally unstable (Steve Dalkowski and Denny McLain come to mind), and I'm not so confident in our scouting staff to get jazzed up by this signing.

ROLLING THE DICE Josh Schulz reports the latest Vegas odds on the Cardinals winning the World Series: 22 to 1. The odds that a random team wins the W.S. is 30 to 1, so the Cards aren't much better than average. (Well, technically they're 36.4% better than random chance, but why quibble.)

TIME WARP J.D. Drew is already battling injuries in Atlanta's training camp. In other news, the Brewers face tough challenges this season, Ben Affleck has called off wedding plans with J.Lo, and George Bush still hasn't found bin Laden.

Although to be fair to Drew, he knew he'd experience some tenderness this spring, and, according to him, his knee is "heads and shoulders above where it was last spring." Considering he put up decent numbers last year with two legs made of Swiss cheese, I wouldn't count him out just yet.

BUCS LAND THE BULL So the Pirates signed Raul Mondesi. I hear it's for one year, about $1.5 million. First off, I'll say that Mondesi has always been one of my least favorite players in the game -- he's got sort of a reverse Midas thing going on, turning everything he touches into shit.

But he's not that bad, especially if you take a few steps back and squint your eyes just right. He's not that old (33 in a couple weeks) and his .272/.343/.484 line last year, while nothing great for a corner outfield, at least outdoes that two-headed monster (Sorry Taguchison) we have pegged in left.

As for the Bucs, I'm not sure why they grabbed Mondesi. As Christian Ruzich points out, his playing time retards the growth of Craig Wilson (just as the Randall Simon signing squeezed Wilson out of the firstbase job). My guess is that the Pirates are hoping Mondesi will be this year's Jose Guillen -- a masher who'll fetch prospects at the midseason trading deadline. If all goes according to plan, expect the Cardinals to be unloading Chris Narveson in exchange for Mondesi sometime in late July.

THE CURSE OF STEVE BARTMAN About 24 hours from the time of this post, the Steve Bartman baseball will be no longer. It's going to be destroyed in a public ceremony in front of Harry Caray's restaurant on Thursday night. The method of execution is unclear, but that's not for lack of options:

One fan suggested using Caray's glasses to ignite the fire that will melt the ball, collect the ashes and have Bartman fly over Yankee Stadium and scatter the ashes, thus transferring the curse to the Yankees. Several proposed involving NASA and depositing the ball into eternal orbit, with one e-mailer adding, "I actually know a guy in the program who can get it done."

Another fan suggested "slicing the ball into thin pieces, cover with milk, sugar and flour, bake at 350 degrees for a half-hour, then feed it to a billy goat. When it passes through the goat, the curse will be gone forever." One fan wanted it unraveled a little at a time at a Cubs game. Several wanted it pickled in Budweiser. Others suggested it be dropped off the Sears Tower, devoured by animals at Lincoln Park Zoo or knocked into Lake Michigan by Ron Santo, whose own battle with diabetes inspired the charitable involvement.

I'm surprised those Northsiders didn't try all those tactics on Bartman himself.

CHRIS CARPENTER SIGHTING Why is Tony La Russa excited about Chris Carpenter?

"Part of the confidence we have in Chris is what he was before his injury," La Russa said. "He had a track record up in Toronto of facing hitters that was very impressive."

But is that true? The big question with Carpenter this Spring has been: can he stay healthy? But even if he can stay healthy, what's his upside? His career high in ERA is 4.09. Over the past four years he's had season ERAs over 5.00 and over 6.00. He's only pitched in 13 games over the past two years. In short, he's never fully recovered from the way he was mishandled by ex-Jays skipper Tim Johnson.

There's no question about Carpenter's stuff, which is ace material when he's got it going on. But I recall hearing the same arguments last year on behalf of a certain Brett Tomko. Between Morris and Williams' arm kinks, and the flakiness of Carpenter, Suppan, and Marquis, this season may present Dave Duncan's biggest challenge yet. (Then again, they're all challenges for Dunc, aren't they? The guy should get a Purple Heart or something for his years in St. Louis.)

ARMS RACE Have you ever heard so much preseason discussion about great pitching rotations? The Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, A's, Astros -- they're all loaded. Guess this finally puts to rest all that talk about how diluted pitching is, how there are no great arms out there anymore. That was a veritable cottage industry back in the late '90s.

As for Cardinals fans, well, the bad news is that our rotation is only about half as good as the Cubs or Astros. The good news is that we're not quite as bad as I'd have thought -- we rate middle-of-the-pack, which isn't so awful given how many projects we have in our rotation.

PUJOLS' REAL AGE, CH. XXXVII Chris Kahrl brings up an interesting point: if a mid-market team like the Cardinals were willing to commit a nine-figure salary to Albert Pujols, surely someone in the organization resolved the "age issue" to their satisfaction. I mean, it's not that difficult to verify Albert's birthdate, especially with so much at stake. I'm more and more convinced that either (a) Pujols is genuinely 24 years old; or (b) he's a couple years older but, like the Yankees and Alfonso Soriano, the club is aware of it.

HEAD TO HEAD Tony La Russa tells us that Bo Hart, Marlon Anderson, Brent Butler, and Hector Luna will all battle it out for the Cards' second base job this season. Does this "healthy competition" thing work? Do players train harder or play better when someone is breathing down their back? I'm assuming they probably do to some degree, but it would make an interesting study...

SAME OLD SAME OLD From Peter King's Monday Morning QB column:

Bob Costas said on WFAN radio in New York Monday morning that if he'd been commissioner of baseball, he'd have vetoed the A-Rod-to-the-Yankees deal. "It's not in the best interests of baseball,'' Costas said. "Unless you think of the rest of baseball as the Washington Generals... all this does is compound the already overwhelming advantage the Yankees have. They're just bludgeoning everybody.''

Everybody? Does that include the '01 D'backs or the '02 Angels or the '03 Marlins? Do the Washington Generals include the mighty Red Sox or the spiffy-looking Cubs and Phillies? Costas is an adopted son of St. Louis, so perhaps I should cut him some slack, but his knee-jerk pieties are pretty insufferable.

THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR By the way, if you think the Yanks-Sox rivalry has maxed out, consider what will happen if the Yanks nab Lowe, Nomar, or Pedro in '05.

Monday, February 23, 2004

TEAMS OF THE DECADE Brian over at Sox Nation had a post yesterday about the 1990s Toronto Blue Jays, in his opinion one of the most underrated "decade" teams in recent history. That got me wondering -- what are the Teams of the Decade? With a little help from, as well as Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Encyclopedia, I tried to get at some answers:

1901-1909 Chicago Cubs (814-517 .612)

The Pittsburgh Pirates, led by Honus Wagner, could lay claim to this title -- in fact, they had the best winning percentage of any team in any decade (.642). But the Cubs won two crowns to the Bucs' one, and, of course, the 1906 pre-Wrigleyites won games more frequently than any club in history. Side note: the White Sox, at 744-575 .564, had perhaps their last decade among the greats.

1910-1919 Boston Red Sox (857-624 .579)

The New York Giants actually won at a better clip (.598), but they were also the Buffalo Bills before the Buffalo Bills -- they lost all four World Series they played in. How bout the A's? They featured a truly powerhouse team in the first part of the decade, winning 3 world titles, but Connie Mack's fire sales left them under .500 for the decade. No, the team of the Teens was the Boston Red Sox, who won four World Series and are perhaps the only forgotten dynasty of the last hundred years.

1920-1929 New York Yankees (933-602 .608)

The 1920s Giants had great teams, but the 1920s Yanks are legends. Three rings, Ruth, Gehrig, Lazzeri, and enough mojomentum for the next 45 years.

1930-1939 New York Yankees (970-554 .636)

What could the Yankees do for an encore? Well, in my opinion the '30s Yankees are the best team of any decade, period. They won more games than any decade team, and swept all five World Series they played in. (And if you listen to Neyer, their 1939 squad was the best team of all time.) As for the NL rep, the Giants and Cardinals finished with the exact same number of wins, but the Cards get the nod by dint of two world championships.

1940-1949 St. Louis Cardinals (960-580 .623)

The Yankees actually won one more crown this decade, besting the Cards 4 to 3. But the Cards won 30 more games, had stiffer competition (namely the Dodgers), and were one of only four teams to average more than 95 wins for an entire decade. Besides, the Yankees shtick was getting old and I wanted to mix it up some.

1950-1959 New York Yankees (955-582 .621)

But you can't mix it up for too long -- the Yanks are once again the undisputed decade champs, with 6 rings in 8 trips to the Fall Classic. The Boys of Stengel are known for feasting on the Boys of Summer, but the Dodgers weren't exactly doormats this decade. They finished the decade with 913 wins and two world titles.

1960-1969 Pick 'Em

True to the turbulence of the times, the '60s were the most difficult decade from which to choose a best team. Here are the contenders:

Orioles 911-698 .566
Yankees 887-720 .552
Cardinals 884-718 .552
Dodgers 878-729 .546

No real standouts there -- if it was a whole season, only 3 games would separate the four teams. So let's do this by process of elimination. First off I think we can strike the Orioles, even though they had the decade's best record. They're the only team of the four to win fewer than two championships (in fact, they closed the decade getting spanked by the Miracle Mets), and that's enough for me to take them out of the top slot.

Next let's lose the Yankees. They were superb for the first half of the decade, going to five straight World Series and winning two. But frankly they sucked for the latter half of the '60s, finishing no higher than 5th place and actually falling as low as 10th.

Neither the Cards nor the Dodgers ever got that bad. But deciding between those two teams is nearly impossible. Both won 2 World Series in three trips. Both won 90+ games four times and 100+ games once. Only a handful of games separate them in the decade standings. How to decide?

I went with the Cards. Their record was slightly better than LA's, and their only World Series loss was a nail-biter, whereas the Dodgers got swept in four by Frank Robinson and those mighty O's.

1970-1979 Cincinnati Reds (953-657 .592)

The Mustache Gang A's actually wore more rings than the Big Red Machine, but they collapsed at the end of the decade. The Reds win on the strength of overall greatness.

There were a lot of truly fine teams in the '70s. The Orioles went to four World Series and had a record almost identical to the Reds'. The Pirates averaged 92 wins and nabbed a couple of championships. And the Yankees were one of four teams this decade to win two world titles. Even the Dodgers were excellent, although they lost three World Series in one decade for the third time in franchise history.

1980-1989 Los Angeles Dodgers (825-741 .527)

Another dead heat with the Cardinals. Both teams won the exact same number of games over the ten-year span, and the Runnin' Redbirds won one more pennant than the Blueboys (even downing them head-to-head in '85). But the Dodgers were the only team in the decade to win two World Series, which is enough to push them over the top. Besides, we gave the Cardinals the '60s, so turnabout is fair play.

As for other teams, the Yankees once again had the best record, but they didn't win squat. The Royals and Tigers played fine baseball for the decade, both winning more games than the Cards and Dodgers, but each team won only one pennant. The Mets had flashes of brilliance, but didn't have one of the top five best records. And the A's played pretty good ball, but they got sorta caught between decades.

1990-1999 New York Yankees (851-702 .548)

Cleveland finally put together a string of good years. And as Brian pointed out, the Blue Jays won it all twice. But the competition is really between the Braves and Yankees. The Braves had the better records; the Yankees have the rings.

The Braves really played superbly -- they had 925 wins, 7 divisional titles, 5 pennants, and one world championship. In fact, they represented the NL in over half the World Series played in the '90s. But even though the Yankees won 7 fewer games per year, I had to go with the team that won two extra World Series.

If the Braves had won just one of the four Fall Classics that they lost, they'd be kings. And if sustained excellence is your criterion for greatness, then they ARE the kings. In the end it comes down to taste, and my palette favors the Yankees.

2000-2003 New York Yankees (386-258 .599)

The Yanks again -- I know, it's getting old. But I can't see who else you'd choose. There are five teams within eleven wins of each other for the decade: the Mariners (393), A's (392), Yankees (386), Braves (385), and Giants (382). But the Yanks are one of four teams with a ring, and the only team to go to the World Series more than once. Until someone comes along to knock them out of the top slot, they're the reigning champs of the last millennium, and this one.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

THE YEARLING Now that Woody Williams has become a big question mark, and now that Matt Morris seems sorta blase about re-upping with the Redbirds, there's going to be more attention than ever on our young arm waiting in the wings: ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Adam Wainwright.

We all know how unpredictable pitching prospects are, but Wainwright seems even less predictable than most. Exhibit A: the dispute that erupted over Wainwright's chances during a recent Baseball Prospectus roundtable. The responses were all over the map.

Rany Jazayerli kicked things off by suggesting that Wainwright was one of the ten best pitching prospects in baseball (#10, in fact). He likes Wainwright's upside, even without the maternal effects of the Braves farm system. BP's Dave Cameron chimed in with this feedback:

I've seen Wainwright a ton the past two years, and he isn't improving. He's still 87-91 on the fastball, despite the 6'7" frame. The curve is a knockout pitch, and the change has potential, but he's basically a tall Aaron Sele right now. I'd move him down.

Nate Silver kindly disagreed:

The conventional wisdom on Adam Wainwright seems a little bit backward to me. He had, far and away, his best year statistically, halving his walk rate, but nevertheless lost status in many people's eyes. I think a lot of people shared in Dave's disappointment that Wainwright's velocity hasn't increased, and I'll admit that it limits his upside to a certain extent. But the guy has demonstrated a pretty good understanding of how to pitch, should have an opportunity waiting for him in St. Louis, and I think he deserves his place in the middle tier.

Chris Kahrl went even further, suggesting that Rany had Wainwright too low and that perhaps AW should leapfrog over other prospects in the top ten.

None of this surprises me very much. Wainwright has chops, for sure, but he's streaky -- his progress hasn't been linear. What's more, he's apparently added a couple inches to his frame over the last year or two, and some people aren't sure what to make of that in terms of mechanics.

As for velocity, Wainwright himself thinks his fastball can top out in the mid-90, if not higher. Besides, as Dayn Perry has pointed out, a high strikeout rate in the minors is not a prerequisite for success in the bigs. For example, Matt Morris and Curt Schilling's minor league K/9 innings were lower than Wainwright's last year in AA.

So obviously a lot of questions still need to be answered regarding Wainwright's future. But an even bigger question lingers out there: now that we got AW in exchange for JD, do you think we can replace chants of "Dreeewww" with "Awwwwww"?

BUM SHOULDER What to make of Woody William's shoulder tendinitis? Well, I don't know much of anything about the injury, so I did a little Googling to find this:

Tendinitis is inflammation (redness, soreness, and swelling) of a tendon. In tendinitis of the shoulder, the rotator cuff and/or biceps tendon become inflamed, usually as a result of being pinched by surrounding structures. The injury may vary from mild inflammation to involvement of most of the rotator cuff.

From what I can tell, this injury is either mild or serious. It'll either keep him out of a few spring training games, or it'll linger throughout the year. It'll either derail his career, or it'll turn out to be a minor ailment. In other words, it could be a mountain, could be a molehill.

My guess is that Woody will spend a few weeks on the DL. The track record for older guys with this injury -- e.g., Dave Veres, Mike Jackson -- is not good. Beyond that, we'll have to wait for word from the estimable Will Carroll.

THE END OF HISTORY Interesting article in the New Republic by Aaron Schatz, about the rise of sabermetric analysis in baseball's front offices. As Schatz sees it, the competitive advantages of Beaneball diminish with each successive stathead in positions of power: the long-term, once everyone is using sabermetrics, every team will correctly value players, and there won't be any more inefficiencies to exploit. Suddenly major league baseball will be right back where it started: With the richest teams buying up the best players, and the poorer teams settling for the dregs.

Well, that day may come, but I'd say we're about, oh, two or three hundred years away from that. There's just so much we still don't know about talent evaluation and player development. Once some franchise comes along to precisely quantify defensive prowess, or how to avoid injuries to young pitchers arms, or how to determine the attitudes and adaptability of the best players, then we'll see a whole new set of competitive advantages and a whole new group of franchises trying to catch up.

(By the way, Dave Pinto beat me to the punch with some similar thoughts, so check him out for further explication.)

RAISE YOUR ARMS AND COUGH So Pujols wouldn't sign his mega-deal if he had to first undergo a physical. Now, obviously I can understand a guy not wanting to submit to a physical -- when that much cash is on the table, you don't want to give your adversary any advantage whatsoever. But... the way I read this article, Pujols and Co. were adamantly opposed to the physical, even prepared to walk away from the deal if he had to take one. Don't you find that more than a little odd? I suspect there's some other side to this story I'm not aware of.

TRIVIA TIME! The largest contract ever for a three-year player: Albert Pujols, $95 million. The second largest contract ever for a three-year player: Torii Hunter, $32 million.

HIS WILL BE DONE "I'm pretty sure people think, 'What can I do with that money?' But it's not my money. It's money that I have borrowed from God. And He has let me use it. Whatever He wants me to do with it, that's what I'm going to do." -- Albert Pujols after signing his historic deal.

THE BASEBALL WIDOW is back with a true fantasy team -- her nominations for the cutest players in baseball. She kicks things off with Javy Lopez at catcher. And if my girlfriend has anything to say about it, we'll be seeing Reggie Sanders in right, and Robert Horry and Chris Webber in left and center.

SKINNY WALKER Check out this photo of a slimmed-down Larry Walker (evidently vying for the Widow's fantasy team). Makes me wonder why the guy was on the all-Crisco diet for the rest of his career.

SUPER SCOUT Here's a nice obituary of Jimmy Russo, a longtime St. Louisan who scouted many of the Orioles players (like Jim Palmer and Mike Cueller) that made Baltimore a powerhouse for several decades.

Did you know -- this is a pretty wild stat -- that for a 40-year stretch, from 1958 to 1997, the Orioles had a better record than the Yankees? You could look it up.

BRING IT Curt Schilling is about this close from taking the mound for the Red Sox wearing war paint and clutching a Jeddart axe. He's taking no prisoners, not even his own boss. Damn, it's gonna be a fun season.

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR has some cool thoughts about music and baseball. His basic point is that baseball is as much art as science, which is a good lesson to all the sabermetric wonkheads out there.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't take this point too far. Statistics and analysis needn't be a deterrent to the joys of baseball. Taken properly, they can enhance our experience, in the same way I like knowing that the movie E.T. quotes Jean Renoir's Boudu sauvé des eaux and I like knowing how Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day" expands on the Isley Brother's "Footsteps in the Dark." It's just a different kind of mystery, that's all.

AGEGATE CONTINUES They're coming out of the woodwork -- O's prospect Denny Bautista is the latest ballplayer who, Jack Powell-like, aged a couple years overnight. I suspect we haven't heard the last of this trend.

And reader Matthew Rollo brings up an interesting point in relation to Alfonso Soriano's new age:

Wait a minute. Didn't I read something about a player being suspended for a year if caught lying about his age?

Well, close. The owners recently made changes to MLB's governing rules, including "a year suspension for any player fabricating his name, age or nationality on documents such as U.S. entrance visas." Merely lying about your age is presumably okay, but if it includes tampering with documents you're in trouble.

Which leads to the question -- how was Sori able to fiddle with his age? If he didn't have documents to back up his age, why did the Yankees ever believe him? And if he did present false papers, shouldn't he sit out for a year?

THE RITES OF SPRING Here's Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar on Tino Martinez:

"He is the complete package. He's had a successful career at the major-league level. On the field, we think he has another year or two left to continue to play at a high level. The championships that he's won, the way he carries himself - I think the word 'professional' is overused sometimes in sports, but this is the consummate professional. His work ethic, what he brings on and off the field, is going to be a tremendous example to our young players."

Now where have we heard that before?

WELCOME TO THE GABFEST Here's a fun blog I just discovered called Yankees, Mets and the Rest. It's nice and breezy, with just the right balance of passion and thoughtfulness. Check it out.

Friday, February 20, 2004

MADDUX REDUCTION Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus is pretty underwhelmed with the Greg Maddux signing. He figures that Maddux is good for about one win over Juan Cruz, which isn't worth the dough -- especially given the shifting demographics up in Chicago:

The move is another step in the steady aging process the Cubs have undergone since Dusty Baker arrived 15 months ago. Bobby Hill lost the second-base job that was to be his to Mark Grudzielanek and was traded; Hee Seop Choi lost his first-base job to Eric Karros and was traded. Now Maddux replaces Cruz. Only Corey Patterson has been able to establish himself under Baker, and his 2003 season was cut short by an knee injury before he had a chance to fall out of favor. The Cubs may win a championship, but there's no question that Baker's impact has shortened their timeframe for doing so.

Sheehan does have a suggestion for how the Cubs might meet that timeframe -- by packaging Juan Cruz, Corey Patterson, and possibly minor-league 3B David Kelton to the Royals in exchange for Carlos Beltran. Without such a move, says Sheehan, "they need a bat, and until they get one, they're not clearly better than the Astros and Cardinals."

BRONZE GLOVES Avkash Patel over at the Raindrops has come up with a pretty legit way to measure defensive performance. But it ain't good news for Cardinals fans. According to Avkash's metrics, the Cardinals underperform their reputations when it comes to gloveliness. To wit:

Edgar Renteria rates as a mediocre shortstop. Bo Hart and Marlon Anderson come in as poor 2Bmen. And even Scott Rolen is ranked in the vicinity of Tony Batista and Sean Burroughs at third. Jim Edmonds comes out okay, but he's also a tad lower than his Gold Gloves suggest.

This isn't the first time I've heard questions from the stathead community about the reputation of the Cardinals infield. And while I take some of these metrics with a grain of salt (partly because so many of them contradict each other), the lump total of them -- which is exactly what Avkash set out to measure -- has me more than a little concerned. The Cardinals don't have a big strikeout pitching staff, so it's crucial that when balls are put into play, our glovemen can catch them.

THE BASEBALL CRANK wrote an opinion piece back in May 2002 that's as timely as ever. You should check it out -- it's about morals in sports, role models, steroids, gay ballplayers, and a lot of stuff in between. The Crank concedes that football may well be the nation's groin, but baseball is still its soul. (And basketball is, I guess, its hairstyle and wardrobe.)

ONE FURTHER THOUGHT that struck me about the Baseball Crank -- I've known him for over ten years; he was a year behind me in college. We both went to Holy Cross, a small liberal-arts school in Massachusetts. (Trivia: HC's greatest baseball player may have been a Native American named Louis Sockalexis, and the Cleveland Indians are, in fact, named after Sockalexis.)

Anyway, I was also in the same class at HC as Bill Simmons, who writes for And I was in the same class as Brian of Sox Nation. Add them to the Baseball Crank and I'd like to think we make, pound for pound, a pretty good contender for best sportswriting alums on the internet.

THE GRAPEFRUIT CIRCUIT One thing I like about spring training is how small towns in Florida or Arizona adopt the major-league clubs that visit them every year. It's like some dude letting his rich college buddy crash on his couch for a couple weeks. To that end, there've been daily articles in the TCPalm (which covers Florida's Palm Beach and Treasure Coast, home of the Cards' spring training site in Jupiter) about the Cardinals' prospects this season. This piece, for example, does as good a job at capturing the pulse of St. Louis fans as any article I've read in the Post-Dispatch recently.

THE OLD GUARD Richard Lederer has an excellent piece on the reaction of the L.A. press to the hiring of Paul DePodesta as Dodgers GM. It goes to show that, no matter how well the A's have done, no matter how many weeks Moneyball was on the NYT best-seller list, there's still huge resistance from the mainstream media to wonks like DePodesta. Of course, as TwinsFan Dan reminds us, DePodesta shouldn't be crowned with laurels yet -- he hasn't done a damn thing as GM. But by the same token, he shouldn't be roasted alive before he gets a chance to prove himself.

Bill Plashke of the L.A. Times has been the worst offender (click here to read Aaron Gleeman's merciless body-slam of the guy), but T.J. Simers has been pretty bad too. Simers -- one of those annoying guys who couldn't make a living as a sports journalist or a comedian, so decided to do something in-between -- writes a whole column on DePodesta based on innuendoes and gut impressions. I wrote him an email asking if he was familiar with DePodesta's work in Oakland. Simers was kind enough to reply: "never heard of him before." That actually explains a lot.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

THE MEEK INHERIT THE EARTH There's been a lot of talk lately (including from yours truly) about how the A-Rod deal is a blow to the poor and the downtrodden and a triumph for the rich and powerful. But this article by Chris Isidore argues just the opposite. Isidore points out that

the Yankees, the team in desperate need of [A-Rod's] services with the greatest resources to spend, was unwilling to pay even two-thirds of the average remaining cost of his contract. His former team, the Texas Rangers, agreed to give the Yankees a reported $67 million to shed the contract, an amount that allows the Yankees to pay A-Rod a relative bargain price of $16 million a year, less than two other members of their current infield.

He also points out that baseball's market is still generally depressed, with this winter's crop of free agents taking an average 26.6 percent pay cut.

Does this mean that the new collective bargaining agreement is working? Difficult to say, but I do think that under the old market standard -- with Jeter making $18.9 million per year and Mike Hampton making $14.4 million per -- Albert Pujols could have commanded considerably more than the annual $14 million he's getting from the Cardinals. So maybe it's time to be a little more thankful for the current environment and thank the CBA that we've been able to hold on to our best players.

THE INNER SANCTUM OF AWESOMENESS Rob Neyer recently published his list of the nine greatest ballplayers of all time. It goes a little something like this:

1. Ruth
2. Mays
3. Williams
4. Wagner
5. Cobb
6. Bonds
7. Aaron
8. Musial
9. Mantle

I can't really argue with any of those choices. I'd swap Musial and Aaron, if only because the Man's peak was higher than Hammerin' Hank's. But beyond that quibble I think this is one of the best "all-time" lists I've seen.

SWIMMING WITH SHARKS I was struck by this comment from the great Dave Pinto:

The big movers in the offseason have been the Cubs, the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Phillies, four teams that came up just short of their goals. That's the great thing about losing a close one; it really makes you focus on what went wrong and how to fix it.

He's right -- all of these teams have committed tremendous resources to reach the mountaintop, even making choices that might otherwise seem unwise. The Phillies will shell out $8 million for an 85-inning closer; the Cubs just inked a 38-year-old to $15 million plus; the Yanks are spending more than $35 million on the left side of their infield; and the Red Sox signed a 37-year-old to a guaranteed three year, $37.5 million deal. These team want to win now, come hell or high water.

All of which makes me wonder what Walt Jocketty was doing after the 2002 season. Yes, I know, it's water under the bridge; and yes, each of the above teams are in bigger markets than St. Louis and have a little more latitude than we did. But it still grates at me. The Cardinals won 97 games in '02, went to the NLCS, and lost out on the World Series because of bad luck more than anything else. What's more, the core of our team was intact heading into 2003, which suggests the Cards were, like this year's Cubs or Red Sox, only a piece or two away from making a serious charge at a title.

And what did Jocketty do? Not much. He traded for Brett Tomko, re-signed Woody Williams, invited a few journeyman relievers to spring training. But that's it. At the time Jocketty even admitted that he wasn't going to do anything drastic. "Our everyday club is pretty well set," he said as soon as the 2002 season ended.

Again, I know this is sour grapes and all, but to paraphrase Alvy Singer, "a baseball team is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies." The question is: has our ballclub become a dead shark?

BASEBALL'S RESIDENT EGGHEAD Greg Maddux has been more than a record-setting hurler -- he's also a pioneer of sorts. Back in 1984, teams were reluctant to draft Maddux because he didn't fit the image of a flamethrowing ace pitcher. (He's always seemed to me sorta like Jay Ward's cartoon character, Sherman.) As Alan Schwarz explains in this article for ESPN:

The persistent concern with Maddux among most scouts was that he didn't have the prototype, 6-foot-3 and 210-pound body they looked for. In fact, in the 19-year history of the draft to that point, no pitcher as small as Maddux had ever been chosen in the first round. "You really have to stick your neck out when a high pick is a guy of that size," [Cubs scout Gene] Handley later recalled. "When the owner goes to spring training and sees him -- 'That boy there? He looks like the batboy!' -- you can be in trouble."

Maddux's success opened the door for countless baseball misfits, from Pedro to Mike Hampton to Tim Hudson.

BASEBALL RICHES If you'll allow me to moralize for a moment -- the next time you rail against superstar athletes for being overpaid, try to recall this story about Miguel Tejada. Yes, he's making multi-millions for playing a boy's game, but he's not spending that money on kidney-shaped pools or a fleet of Lamborghinis. Instead, he's giving back to his impoverished hometown of Bani, Dominican Republic:

Tejada has committed more than $1 million to replace that old field where he started playing baseball with a modern complex, complete with lights. And he routinely ships Mizuno equipment back to Soto to distribute around the old neighborhood.

On the eastern outskirts of Bani, Tejada is building a shopping complex. Closer to downtown, his father runs a new Esso gas station built with Tejada's earnings from baseball.

It reminds me of something Joe Sheehan wrote when A-Rod was being asked, back in December, to forfeit a portion of his salary for the good of the game:

I hate the argument -- which is set up in a macro for some people -- that if a player makes X, he shouldn't care about some amount of marginal dollars because "he could never spend it all in one lifetime." The amount of money even the most well-compensated athletes make is really nothing if your goals are ambitious, and the notion that someone should take less, in a business with Pohlads and McMorrises and, my god, Reinsdorfs, is appalling to me. What if Alex Rodriguez wants to own a baseball team? What if he wants to run for president? What if he wants to find a cure for cancer?

Miguel Tejada might not be curing cancer, but he's been a salve to his people all the same.

COOPERSTOWNERS A couple weeks back I did a post about contenders for the Hall of Fame. A guy named Bill Gilbert comes to pretty much the same conclusions I did, but he does it in a much more comprehensive and systematic fashion.

POWERHOUSE There's been a mega-merger in the baseball blogosphere., already home to some of my favorite seamheads out there, has now added even more of my favorite writers to their roster of all-stars. Check 'em out...

CHECKING IN WITH DICK ANKLE This probably qualifies as a "dog bites man" story, but I'm always curious how our old friend Rick Ankiel is doing -- and, as you'd expect, he's frustrated but hopeful, antsy yet patient, etc., etc. Whether he's truly as chipper as he says, or whether he's actually going out of his mind, I wish him well. If Rick Ankiel could ever come back to MLB and throw a good game and get the win, I seriously think that would be worth a playoff victory or two.

And is it just me, or do you still do a double-take every time you read Rick Ankiel's age? The guy's younger than Hee Seop Choi, for crying out loud.

ASSESSING MADDUX The Baseball Savant makes an argument on behalf of Greg Maddux's good-but-not-great numbers from 2003. But he engages in a form of logic that I find slightly annoying -- that is, if you take away Maddux's six worst starts (where he got pounded for 39 runs in 24 innings), his record would be 16-5 and his ERA would be 2.60.

Well, yeah, and if you take out Matt Morris' six worst starts his ERA drops to 2.47. If you take out the Cardinals' worst 15-game stretch, they finish with the best winning percentage in the NL Central. And if your aunt had balls she'd be your uncle. Those runs Maddux gave up led to losses; and those losses count in the standings; you can't just factor them out.

Having said that, I do agree that when Maddux is on, he's one of the best pitchers out there, and I also agree that he helps the Cubs. (If you read more of the Savant's piece, make sure not to miss his assessment of the Cards' chances this year: "Well I think they aren't even a factor any longer and I'm sort of surprised that the Cardinal brass let it come to this." Ouch.)

A-ROD HAS LEFT THE BUILDING One more bad thing about A-Rod leaving the Lone Star State: it means the Cardinals won't get to play him this year! I had June 11th circled on my calendar (well, not literally, or even metaphorically for that matter) -- that's when we play the Texas Rangers for the first time ever. I was looking forward to seeing the Rod strut his stuff against Matt Morris and Co.; now we're left with Brad Fullmer as a consolation prize.

By the way, I've mentioned this before, but I still can't believe our last game against the Cubs this year comes on July 20th, only one week after the All-Star break. What a disgrace.

SILVER LINING The Baseball News Blog makes an interesting point -- it's certainly bad for the Red Sox that A-Rod joined the Yanks, but it's not at all the worst-case scenario for them:

[I]t would have been worse if A-Rod had joined the Blue Jays, Angels, A's or Mariners. It doesn't matter if the Yankees win 100 games or 110 or 120; if the Sox can finish ahead of Toronto and Baltimore and the Central runner-up and the West runner-up, they're in the playoffs, and anything can happen then.

HUB FANS BID KID ADIEU Larry Stone of the Seattle Times has a fitting tribute to the late Hub Kittle. My favorite tidbit involves the first time Hub met Whitey Herzog, when the White Rat was a young player sent to the Dominican Republic to play for Hub's team:

As Kittle told it, Herzog was waiting for his ride at the airport, when Kittle rode up to the terminal on a horse, emerging out of the jungle in full gallop.

"Are you Herzog? Get on."

DIVISION RIVAL UPDATE Will Carroll has this rumor:

The Astros are actively trying to move Richard Hidalgo. Only Drayton McLane's reluctance to eat any of the contract is holding up a deal at this point and Hidalgo may not open the season in Houston.

Hidalgo's an odd duck -- two great years, otherwise awful. Last year he was probably one of the 20 best players in the NL, but no one noticed, which makes me wonder why McLane is so eager to ship him.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

WE GOT HIM Seven years, $100 million. I've been arguing for this move for several weeks now (not that that's going out on a limb or anything), so I don't have much to add. But this puts Albert in a Birdnals uniform through age 30, and through the year 2010, which is also the last year of the Scott Rolen contract. This ensures that no matter how things get for the team over the next couple years -- and things might get awfully bleak -- there will always be the compelling drama of the Albert Pujols Saga. It's gonna be an awful lot of fun to watch...

THE VISIBLE HAND There's a very fun article from Bill Simmons about the A-Rod deal. He has, I think, the right perspective on the whole thing -- he's mostly amused and challenged by it. But I do disagree with one thing he wrote:

If you're upset because the Yankees ruined the spirit of baseball as we know it, just remember: EVERY business works this way. Monopolies come in and swallow up rivals that can't compete, whether we're talking about the Yankees, Microsoft or Oprah. It's a part of life.

This is fairly similar to what Peter Gammons wrote in his ESPN column:

That's just the way it is, good old-fashioned Republican baseball, and six strikes haven't changed the fact that the Yankees are in a different world from the Red Sox, who have a huge advantage over the Rangers or the A's, just as George W. Bush and John F. Kerry were born with an advantage because they were born rich.

In other words -- that's free-market capitalism for you. The rich get richer, and the poor can make lemonade out of it.

The problem is, the economy of baseball is not a free market. MLB is, in fact, a state-sanctioned monopoly with a presumed anti-trust exemption ("presumed" for reasons that are too complicated and legalistic to get into here). As a public trust, baseball has an obligation to maintain a sense of regional and competitive balance.

For example, if MLB were a true free market, teams that don't compete (say, the Brewers) would go out of business -- they wouldn't be propped up by the largesse of their competitors. And the Yankees wouldn't have hegemony (along with the Mets) over the biggest market in the U.S. -- instead, you would see at least one other team rushing in to fill that market need. In fact, for the first half of the last century there were three teams in New York, and the only reason one left is because there was an even bigger untapped market out West.

But contrary to what Simmons says, baseball isn't like the software industry, and baseball fans aren't like other consumers. In the free market, consumers choose between Brand X and Brand Y, and if Brand X is a superior product, then Brand Y will eventually declare bankruptcy.

But this isn't at all how people select ballclubs. If you're anything like me -- and I suspect most of you are -- you didn't choose your favorite baseball team in a vacuum. More likely you were born into your allegiance. And you wouldn't switch teams as easily as you'd switch from Brand X to Brand Y. Imagine, for example, rooting for the Yankees rather than the Cardinals this year solely because they put out a superior product. This scenario seems patently absurd, if only because your favorite baseball team is invested with a considerable amount of shared memories and regional pride.

That's precisely the justification for baseball's anti-trust exemption, and that's why there are all kinds of central controls on the industry. Or, as the Baseball Widow put it:

Artificial economies won't survive absent lots of manipulation. The good of the entire industry is tied to the success of the least well off. (Nerd Alert: it's called the maximin principle.)

I'm not sure I'd go that far -- I wouldn't strap the health of MLB so much to the health of the weakest team. But I do think it's important to recogize that baseball is a unique industry, and should be protected from the ravages of a volatile free market. What that means in concrete terms, well, that's an article for another day...