February 20, 2003

I feel like Santa Claus

You know how little kids write letters to Santa Claus, telling him that they've been very good this year and informing him of the presents they want?

They write the letter, put it in an envelope and simply write "Santa Claus" on it - no address, no state, no zip code - and yet somehow they think it'll just magically get to where it needs to go.

Well, today I was Santa Claus.

About a week ago, I got an email from a reader in Iowa and he told me about a story that appeared in his local paper (The "Ankeny Press Citizen").

The story was about two former Ankeny boys that are trying to make it in baseball - Todd Sears who is currently the Twins' Triple-A first baseman and Benj Sampson, who is currently with the Cleveland organization, but who used to pitch for the Twins in 1998 and 1999.

Anyway, he thought I might be interested in reading the article and the "Ankeny Press Citizen" doesn't have a place on the web where people can read articles, so he decided he would send it to me.

After class yesterday I checked my mailbox and there was a big envelope waiting for me.

Here is how it was addressed:

Aaron Gleeman

University of Minnesota

100 Church Street SE

Minneapolis, MN 55455

There are a few minor problems with that.

First, I don't live on Church Street.

In fact, I don't think anyone lives on Church Street, it just has a bunch of big buildings and classrooms.

Secondly, he not only didn't mention my room number (which the dorm tells us is a must to receive mail!), he didn't even mention the dorm I live in.

And yet, somehow, it was sitting in my mailbox today when I got home from school.

It's not quite as if he addressed it to "Santa Claus," but it's damn close.

Wrong street/address, no mention of the actual building and no mention of the room number.

I want to thank "Aaron H" for sending me the article on Sears and Sampson.

Next time, maybe just send it to "Aaron Gleeman" and leave the rest blank.

I want to put this whole me as Santa Claus theory to the test.

Speaking of readers...

A couple days ago I discussed the legend of Tim Spehr batting cleanup for the Red Sox, which was mentioned in a USA Today article I read.

Here is the quote from the USA Today article:

"The Red Sox have had problems with stats guys. In 1997 one of their stats experts suggested, on the basis of research, that Tim Spehr, a weak-hitting catcher with a .198 career average, bat cleanup."

And here is a portion of what I said:

It is almost as if people around baseball think that guys that use computers and talk about on-base percentages are walking around with 2 heads and 3 eyes or a 3rd arm growing out of the side of their head or something.

The actual quote used here is just completely ridiculous and flat out false.

First of all, Tim Spehr never even played for the Boston Red Sox, which makes the entire "story" completely implausible.

How could a Red Sox "stat guy" have suggested they bat Tim Spehr cleanup when Tim Spehr wasn't even on the damn team?!

It sounds like something some old-time baseball guy said one day when he was asked about some guy in the front office working on "stats."

I got about a dozen emails yesterday in regard to this story, most of them with some info that I didn't have - mainly that Tim Spehr was actually a member of the Boston "organization" several years ago, although he never played for them in an actual Major League, regular season game.

A lot of people sent me a lot of different variations of the story, but basically a Red Sox "stats guy," most likely Mike Gimbel, suggested during spring training that Spehr bat cleanup.

I'm glad to have learned more details about the story, but it doesn't change my feeling on the quote being used in the USA Today story.

To say that "the Red Sox have had problems with stats guys" because someone suggested that Tim Spehr bat cleanup in a spring training game is just idiotic and something that should never find itself in a serious baseball article in a serious paper like USA Today.

For God's sake, Garth Brooks played in spring training games!

So, I stand by my original point, although I certainly was not aware of all the facts.

That said, Spehr most certainly did not play for the Boston Red Sox, at least not in a game that counted for anything.

Anyway, I don't want to spend anymore time on this subject, but I do thank everyone who emailed me about it.

It's probably the most Tim Spehr has been discussed in his whole life!

I also got a lot of emails yesterday regarding my crappy day.

Thanks to everyone that offered kind words - and even to those of you that didn't!

You should all be happy to know that my group's "skit" went very well and I didn't screw up at all! We were far and away the best of the 6 groups that went. Of course, I may be a little biased on this issue.

In other news...

I meant to talk about this a while ago, but I completely forgot.

Last month I was introduced to Steve Goldman's writing on YESNetwork.com.

For those of you that may not be familiar with it, the YES Network is the "Yankees Entertainment and Sports" Network and it's run by the Yankees and is the home for Yankee games during the season, as well as an extraordinary amount of "Yankee programming" including "ESPN Sports Century" type features on everyone from Lou Gehrig to Luis Sojo. It's basically 24 hours of Yankees, everyday, which makes some people (including me) want to throw up at times, but is probably pretty cool for New Yorkers.

I think they also have the New Jersey Nets games too, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, Steven Goldman writes a column for the YES Network website and it is absolutely phenomenal and, I hate to say it, but it is completely out of place compared to the rest of the junk on the website.

Goldman has quickly become one of my favorite "mainstream" writers.

His most recent column is his 13th for the YES Network website and, if you're like me, you'll end up reading all 13 of them.

As for actual baseball news...

Well, there just isn't a whole lot going on, as most teams are just getting settled into their spring training sites and the player movement portion of the off-season is almost completely done.

A few extremely minor stories caught my attention:

There is some talk in the Seattle camp that this may be Edgar Martinez's final season.

Here's what Edgar had to say:

"I won't say it's 100 percent, but it's looking that way," Martinez said. "There's a high, high percentage this will be my last one. But you never know."

"I'm never going to say this is my last season until I know for sure. It could be one of those years where everything works perfect for me."

Edgar just turned 40 and he has had some injury problems the past couple seasons, but I think he is the type of player that could be a productive part of a team well into his 40s, sort of like that 44 year old outfielder I talked about earlier this week.

When the time comes, Edgar may be the first true designated hitter to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

At this point, I don't think he is a good bet to get in, but if he can put together another good year or two he would have a pretty nice case.

Martinez has been one of the best hitters in baseball throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. The problem with his career, as far as the Hall of Fame goes, is that he got a relatively late start. He didn't become a full-time player until he was 27 years old.

Once he finally got an everyday gig, he made the most of it, hitting .302, .307 and .343 in his first 3 full-seasons, before missing the majority of the 1993 season with an injury. He came back in 1994 and hit .285 in the strike-shortened season and then reeled off 6 straight years of a .320 or better batting average, including .356 in 1995. His averaged dropped to "only" .306 in 2001 and then .277 last year.

As with most players, batting average doesn't begin to tell the whole story with Martinez.

Early in his career, Edgar was pretty much a singles and doubles hitter that took a few walks.

Something "clicked" in 1995 and Edgar turned himself into a bonified power hitter with awesome plate discipline, which led to 4 straight seasons with 100+ walks and then 3 straight with 90+, to go along with 7 straight years with a .540+ slugging %.

Edgar's bat speed is inevitably going to diminish (if it hasn't started to already) and his batting average will likely go with it, but I think he can still be a very productive player because he'll always walk a ton and his power is still very good. Plus, he is just a smart hitter.

Martinez has had 8 straight years a .400+ OBP and I think he could probably get on base 35-38% of the time in his sleep (once again, sort of like that elderly outfielder I have been talking about this week).

I hope Edgar has a nice season in 2003 and I really hope it isn't his last.

It would be nice to see him reach 300 homers, 500 doubles and 2,000 hits this year, all of which are well within reach if he has a typical "Edgar" season.

Meanwhile, in the New Yorks Mets camp, there is talk of Roger Cedeno being their everyday center fielder in 2003.

I particularly liked this quote from their new manager, Art Howe: "He's got the potential to be an outstanding center fielder."

Yes, and I've got the potential to be the Queen of England.

No really, I do.

Despite being very fast and fairly athletic, Roger Cedeno was one of the worst defensive left fielders in all of baseball last year and just the idea of him possibly playing center field is enough to bump Tom Glavine's ERA up half a run.

If Cedeno is New York's CF in 2003, that means Glavine will have gone from Andruw Jones to Roger Cedeno as his #1 fly-chaser and that is about as steep a drop-off as you can get.

To make matters worse, Glavine is a fly-ball pitcher, which means he could be in for a tough year in 2003.

In addition to scaring their entire pitching staff with talk of Cedeno in CF, the Mets also made a minor move yesterday, signing Tony Clark to a minor league contract.

Tony Clark had a miserable season in 2002, one of the worst in baseball, and it really was a bit of a shock to me.

Check out Clark's stats prior to last year:

Year      AVG      OBP      SLG      EqA

1997 .276 .376 .500 .299
1998 .291 .358 .522 .298
1999 .280 .361 .507 .291
2000 .274 .349 .529 .293
2001 .287 .374 .481 .304

That is remarkable consistency.

His EqA was above .290 every year and topped out at .304 in 2001.

The only downside with Tony Clark, prior to 2002, had been injury problems.

He missed 100 games in 2000 and about 30 in 2001.

And here's what he did last year:

Year      AVG      OBP      SLG      EqA

2002 .207 .265 .291 .198

Well, there goes the consistency.

I often talk about a player "falling off a cliff" and Tony Clark's 2002 season is probably one of the best examples of cliff falling that I could possibly come up with.

He had been a .290-.305 EqA player for 5 seasons in a row and was still relatively young (he was 30 in 2002) and *boom* all of a sudden he fell of the cliff and hit like Neifi Perez's little sister.

As bad as 2002 was, he is still only a year removed from a .304 EqA and 5 straight very good seasons, so the Mets did well by signing him up to a minor league contract.

There is really no downside for them and, if Clark can turn it around, they'll have a nice 1B to possibly compete with Mo Vaughn or a great guy off the bench.

If he continues to stink, they aren't out any significant money and Clark will provide a great example of just how quickly a good player can become completely worthless.

Finally...

Occasionally I get emails from people in Milwaukee or Tampa Bay or Kansas City and they want me to talk a little bit about their favorite ballclub, even though they stink.

Yesterday I got an email from "Sara," who is a frequent reader of this blog and a big Pirates fan.

This is the first email that I've received from a female reader, so I feel obligated to talk about the Pirates.

By herself, Sara is actually 1 more female reader than I thought I had, so I'm happy she decided to email me.

If there are any other ladies out there that check this blog out occasionally, send me an email, I'm a sucker for a girl that likes baseball.

I got her email and immediately went to work to try to find something on the Pittsburgh Pirates to discuss.

I've already talked about Brian Giles a few times, so I ruled him out.

Then I saw a couple of little blurbs on Rototimes.com and I had myself a Pirates topic!

"The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that, though nothing is definite, Randall Simon likely will get the bulk of playing time at first against right-handers for the Pirates, while Kevin Young likely will play against lefties and enter as a defensive sub."

"Kevin Young said yesterday that he expects this season to be his last with the Pirates, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He said he hasn't lived up to expectations and likely will lose playing time at first base to Randall Simon this year. While nothing is written in stone, he probably will start against left-handers and enter as a defensive replacement to Simon."

Before I say anything, let me remind everyone that Kevin Young has been one of the worst first basemen in baseball for quite a while.

Over the last 3 seasons he has hit a combined .246/.314/.414, including .246/.322/.408 last season.

That said, Kevin Young is not a completely useless baseball player, he is simply a bad starting first baseman.

Give him 450-500 at bats and he'll be at the bottom of the league in 1B value, but put him in certain situations - like playing only against lefties - and he can be pretty good.

The same goes for Randall Simon.

As a 500 at bat first baseman, he is below average.

As one half of a platoon he can be very productive.

Look what happens when we stop playing Simon and Young (that sounds like a law firm, doesn't it?) against all pitchers and start playing them against only lefties (Young) and only righties (Simon).

Kevin Young versus lefties:

Year      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG

1999 159 .308 .378 .535
2000 129 .264 .321 .488
2001 74 .270 .386 .486
2002 106 .283 .377 .519

Randall Simon versus righties:

Year      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG

1999 200 .325 .379 .460
2001 213 .319 .351 .437
2002 341 .320 .342 .510

Simon did not play in the Majors in 2000, which is why that line is missing from his stats.

Kevin Young and Randall Simon, like many "mediocre" Major League baseball players, can be valuable if used in the right situations.

A Young/Simon platoon could very easily combine to hit .285/.360/.500, which is pretty damn good.

I've decided that there are two different types of crappy baseball players:

1) The crappy-when-relied-upon-too-much type of player.

Kevin Young and Randall Simon are perfect examples of this. When you put them in full-time, everyday roles, they become a negative to a team, but when you limit them to spots where they can thrive and use whichever skills are their best, they can be valuable players.

Eric Karros is another good example of this type of player. He stinks as a full-time 1B (hit only .271/.323/.399 last year), but is very good at hitting lefties (.287/.369/.487 against them in the past 2 seasons) and would make an excellent platoon option at 1B, much like Kevin Young.

2) The crappy-when-relied-upon-at-all type of player.

I would classify this group as the Rey Ordonez/Neifi Perez's of the world.

They can't hit lefties and they can't hit righties and, to make matter's worse, they somehow seem to manage to convince multiple teams to waste hundreds of at bats on them every year.

Okay, Sara, how was that?

A few hundred words on Pittsburgh's first base situation.

I managed to say that Kevin Young and Randall Simon, together, form a nice first baseman.

And, while they are crappy players, they are the better classification of a crappy player, because they are not completely useless.

Somehow I don't think "they are not completely useless" is what Sara was looking for me to say in regard to the Pirates, but sometimes you have to take what you can get.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

February 19, 2003

Why I am in a bad mood

Some days just suck.

Yesterday would be one of those.

It started very early in the "day."

Sometime slightly after midnight I decided I would go online and register my intent to return to the dorms next fall.

I had gotten a note about doing so in the mail a few weeks ago and remembered that the deadline for doing it was sometime in the middle of March, so I figured I would get it done early.

I usually procrastinate like no one's business, so I was actually a little bit proud of myself.

I needed to go online, fill out a form or two, make a down payment and then check the box next to "request same room in same hall."

So, I go to the U of Minnesota housing website and begin my task.

The first thing I read is the following (taken directly from the website):

"Intent to Return is available from January 21 at 1 p.m. through March 12."

I figure great, I am beating the deadline to declare my intent to return to the dorms by about 3 or 4 weeks.

Then I see this:

Scheduled Reapplication Times:

Round I - 8:00 AM Monday, February 10 until Noon Wednesday, February 12.

Round II - 8:00 AM Monday, February 17 until Noon Wednesday, February 19.

Round III - 8:00 AM Monday, February 24 until Noon Wednesday, February 26.

Round IV, Group 1 - 8:00 AM Monday, March 3 until Noon Wednesday, March 5.

Round IV, Group 2 - 8:00 AM Monday, March 10 until Noon Wednesday, March 12.

It is at this point I start to get a little confused/upset.

You see, "Round 1" is the round where you can request to live in the same room you are currently in, next year.

This is the round I want.

I begin to realize that, although the "Intent to Return" deadline says it is the 12th of MARCH, the deadline for round 1 was apparently the 12th of FEBRUARY.

For those of you that aren't into calendars and stuff, that was about a week ago.

So, basically, I missed my chance to reserve my room again for next year.

I went from thinking I was signing up 4 weeks in advance and doing a nice job to trying to sign up a whole week after the deadline for what I need had passed.

Now, obviously, I screwed up big time here.

But, what I am wondering is why in the world the "Intent to Return" deadline would extend all the way to March 12th when you can no longer participate in 4 out of the 5 rounds by that time?

Here I had been reading all the fliers around the dorm and I kept seeing the words "Intent to Return...March 12th" and that somehow got locked into my head as the time I needed to do it by.

I no longer have dibs on my room and apparently some kid named "Keith" is signed up to have it for next year.

I'm gonna send him an email and try to negotiate some sort of a deal with him, but I'm not very optimistic.

And I like my room!

It's on a good floor where I don't have to walk up 50 flights of stairs to get to it and it's near the end of the hallway, so when I do have to go down the stairs, I only need to go about 10 feet to get to them (did I mention I'm lazy?)

Plus, it's my room! I've been here now for almost 2 entire years and was planning on next year being the 3rd in a row.

In other words, come the end of this semester, I will have lived here for nearly 10% of my entire life!

And now "Keith" has it.

This website does get about a dozen visits a day from other people on the U of M campus, so maybe "Keith" is a reader.

If so, GIMME MY FREAKING ROOM BACK!

Please.

So that was what happened before I even went to sleep.

It got worse after I actually woke up.

I went to my language class, which I have 5 days a week.

Seems kind of strange that a journalism student would need to take a foreign language 5 days a week when he only has actual journalism classes twice a week?

Well, YEAH!

That is the loveliness that is the "Liberal Arts Requirements."

I want to write stories about baseball games, but someone decided I need to be fluent in another language to do so.

By the time I graduate (assuming that time actually occurs at some point) I will have devoted 16.7% of all my credits to foreign language, a thing I am almost 100% positive I will never use in my job.

Add in the 8 science credits and the 4 math credits and you have about 27% of all my credits going to things that have absolutely nothing to do with the job I hope to get or even remotely related to the entire field I hope to go into.

Anyway, we have "weekly assignments" in class that are due on Thursdays.

This week's assignment was to get into groups of 4 and present a little 3-4 minute "skit" in front of the class.

Easy enough right?

I wasn't particularly worried and neither was the rest of my group.

We had been talking about getting together to work on it since we were told about the assignment last Friday, but it hadn't happened yet.

So, yesterday, I mention the fact that it is due the next day and that we still haven't finished our "script" (or even started on it, really).

We agree that we need to work on it for a little while.

So, I say, "How about after class? Can everyone stay for 15 or 20 minutes?"

Guy #1: "Sure."

Guy #2: "Yeah, I can stay."

Girl: "No, I have a class after this."

Hmmm...okay.

Me: "Okay, how about getting to class early tomorrow morning to work on it before we have to present?"

Guy #1: "Sure."

Guy #2: "Yeah, I can do that."

Girl: "No, sorry, that doesn't work either."

At this point I am getting somewhat angry.

This girl knew all along that the assignment was due Thursday and I assume she knew we would need to work on it at some point outside of class.

I didn't want to hear the answer to my next question, but I asked anyway: "Okay, so when can you work on it?"

Girl: "How about 10 o'clock tonight?"

At this point, if I had had some sort of weapon, I would have used it.

I am not sure if it would have been on me or her, but it would have been used.

We've known about this little assignment for almost an entire week and this girl knew we would need to work on it at some point and must have realized we were waiting until the last minute.

And yet she didn't feel the need to mention the fact that she couldn't work on it before or after class.

But, I wasn't exactly sure that I had any other options at this point, so I regrettably agreed to meet everyone at 10 to work on it.

Girl: "Okay, so we'll meet in the lobby of Centennial at 10 tonight."

For those of you wondering, Centennial is another dorm at the U of M.

It happens to be about as far away from MY dorm as humanly possible.

It is literally on the other side of campus.

I pointed this fact out to everyone, along with the idea that it would take me about a half hour to walk there and a half hour to walk home after.

They didn't seem to mind.

You see, all 3 of them lived near Centennial (including the girl, who lived in Centennial), so it was damn convenient for them to meet there.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against physical activity and I realize excercise is a good thing.

That said, when you tell me that I have to walk a half hour each way at 10 pm to meet with 3 people from a class I don't like, to work on some meaningless little weekly assignment that I know is going to be a piece of crap anyway...well, I am not real happy about it.

In my book, the only acceptable reason for a girl making me go outside, in the Minnesota winter, at 10 pm and walk a half hour to her dorm is...well, I don't want to finish that sentence, because I am pretty sure my mom reads this blog every day.

Anyway, I spent an hour walking there and back and missed the entire second half of the Duke/Maryland game, the end of the Timberwolves/Nuggets game and all of Letterman.

All to work on some crappy little assignment that is inevitably going to be horribly done and that we'll just as inevitably get a good grade for doing.

I mean seriously, when is the last time someone had an assignment to do a "skit" with 3 other people in a class at a University and received a bad grade?

I have a feeling I could up go up there drunk and start speaking Pig-Latin and the teacher would give me a B+.

So what have we learned in the last 24 hours?

1) I am a complete idiot.

2) I lost my room for next year.

3) Some kid named "Keith" has it and is holding it hostage, although he doesn't know it.

4) I want to write about baseball when I grow up but somehow am forced to take a foreign language class every single day of the week for 4 entire semesters.

5) I don't like walking long distances at 10 pm when the final destination is arriving at another dorm to work on a "skit" with 3 people I am not particularly fond of.

6) It is a good thing I don't have a weapon.

I'm sort of in a bad mood still.

Can you tell?

What's that you say? You came here for baseball content?

Oops, I forgot.

Well, as you can see, I am in no condition to do much good analysis.

But, here are a few links that I think are pretty good...

Alex over at Bronx Banter just posted part 2 of his interview with documentary film maker Ken Burns.

The always entertaining John Bonnes of TwinsGeek.com takes a look at Eric Milton's "wounded knee," which is starting to get me very worried.

In his latest column, Rob Neyer discusses the possibility of Brooks Kieschnick being the first true 2-way player (hitting and pitching) in a loooong time. If a team can find someone that can effectively pitch 50-60 low-impact innings a year and serve as a pinch-hitter/part-time starter, it would do a lot as far as giving the team some added roster flexibility. Kieschnick is property of the Brewers, so he could pitch, hit, sell popcorn, sing the national anthem, sell tickets and announce the game and they'd still finish in last place. But, it's still interesting.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

February 18, 2003

News and notes (and one big, fat retired guy)

Baseball Prospectus recently posted an interview with Oakland pitching coach Rick Peterson.

I think Rick Peterson is one of the best coaches in the game today and you all know how I feel about the Oakland organization as a whole.

The interview was fabulous and Peterson gave thoughtful, substanitive answers that are both interesting and insightful.

Some of the stuff he talks about in the interview is absolutely fascinating...

Peterson on developing pitchers:

We have pitchers do focused exercises. So since hip rotation velocity directly correlates to fastball velocity, we have them work on exercises to improve that rotation. We do strengthening exercises for the rotator cuff and elbow to prevent injuries. That's on top of more conventional throwing programs and running programs.

We did personality factor tests to learn more about each player. When we first rolled out these tests, there were norms for people like teachers and lawyers, but not for professional baseball players. For example one test measures whether a person is self-motivated or works better through instruction. What we found is that self-motivated, practical thinkers tend to fare well in baseball. By keeping your motivation up, you overcome the fear, worry, and doubt which can hurt performance. Then we look at an umbrella of skills in 12 major areas. Those include: keeping things in perspective, self-knowledge of strong points and limits, discipline, and ability to learn.

We want to quantify as much of the process as possible, whether it's mechanical or psychological. The expression I like to use is: In God we trust, all others must have data.

Peterson on preserving young arms:

We're very cognizant of volume, of pitch counts. We monitor those throughout the season. We'll watch pitch counts incredibly closely, where we count pitches thrown in the bullpen, in pre-game routines, all of that's taken into account. We had only two starts all year over 120 pitches--we're very conservative in that regard.

We work hard to prevent injuries. Our trainers do a tremendous job of using proactive elbow and rotator cuff conditioning programs--they're working at preventing injuries before they happen. We're also proactive in maintaining the delivery. If something's off, we'll stop everything and make sure to fix it. You hear people in baseball all the time say if it's not broke, don't fix it. My question to them is: Do you change your oil every 3,000 miles? Do you check the tread on your tires? Why would you wait until your engine blows up or you get a flat? It's tough to be a good pitcher in the big leagues if you're not pitching.

Peterson on communication within the organization:

We're all very close in this organization, and I think that gives us an edge. Having worked with teams on both ends, what I've seen is that small- and big-market teams are run so differently. There have been times when I was in other organizations, that it took five steps to get my message to the top of the chain. Some people feel they can't be inundated with every little detail.

Small-market teams have budget restraints, so they don't have so many layers of management between say, a pitching coach and the general manager. I have daily physical contact with Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta, which obviously makes for open communication. It gives them more insight into daily organizational activity. From my perspective I can see and have input into what the team's bigger goals are.

Peterson on building a pitching staff on a budget:

There's a great core competency here in getting those diamonds in the rough, polishing up those stones, then putting them in the right setting. We've had guys come over here, earn opportunities to perform, and then perform exceptionally well. One thing (Beane) and (DePodesta) have done a great job with is getting diversity in the bullpen at a low cost. Billy Taylor was just above sidearm. We've had power arms like Isringhausen, guys like Mecir, Doug Jones, they're all different. Our philosophy is to take a look at what are our individual pitchers' strengths.

With (Bradford), we discussed how he wants to attack lefties. Last year he did much better at it. Almost everyone who pitches well in the big leagues does so because they have excellent fastball command, since in the big leagues they're all great breaking ball hitters. We wanted to make sure he could repeat his delivery to improve command of his fastball. Then he'll throw all these different looks at a batter. He pitches from the stretch all the time, but he'll change up his tempo. We've really worked on maximizing his strengths.

Peterson on drafting pitchers:

(Beane) gives me a list of potential picks. He has me look at videotape to make sure there are no red flags in a pitcher's delivery. Every year in baseball there are so many guys with great arms that get drafted, even though they had big delivery problems. There are certain things in a delivery that are almost impossible to fix, and if they show up, we'll pass on the guy.

My job is to isolate things like hip rotation, which as I mentioned earlier is directly correlated to fastball velocity. About 60% of that rotation is done through the core of the body, from the rib cage to the knee. So a college guy that throws 92, we want to find a way for him to generate more hip rotation, and there are usually ways to make it better. Another guy that throws 91, if his delivery's tremendous, there's not a whole lot you can do to improve that. Hudson tops out at 95-96 now. When he signed he was in the low 90s.

I loved the interview so much that I'd like to reprint the whole damn thing here, but I won't.

Make sure you head over to BaseballProspectus.com to check out the full interview.

After reading it, my belief that the A's are the best organization in baseball was reinforced and I am now a huge Rick Peterson fan.

The A's have developed 3 outstanding young pitchers - Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, all of whom are "aces." They've also got another potential ace on the way in Rich Harden, who should be in Oakland by mid-season.

While there is an element of luck in almost anything regarding drafting players and turning them into stars, luck comes most easily to those that work hard and have a plan, which is something the A's are extraordinarily good at.

They are willing to try new things, they are willing to take risks and they always have a plan in place - a plan that they stick to.

Oakland has some of the best people in all of baseball in their organization - from Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta at the top all the way down to Rick Peterson on the field.

Elsewhere on the internet...

I came across this story over the weekend in USA Today: "Red Sox: Stats the way to go"

Basically, it is a story about the new Red Sox front office.

It focuses on Theo Epstein (of course) as well as Bill James, and the impact both will have on the Red Sox, particularly in regard to their "non-convential bullpen."

First of all, the idea that a bullpen without a "closer" is non-convential is pretty sad.

I've said this before and I'll certainly say it again - it is very disturbing that a statistic as utterly meaningless as the "save" has had such a dramatic impact on the way teams construct their roster, the amount certain players are paid and the actual way managers go about managing their ballclubs.

Somewhere along the line, it became "convential" to use your best relief pitcher in the 9th inning of a game you're leading by 2 or 3 runs.

Now, that is an important situation in a ballgame, but don't you think you could make better use of your best reliever?

Aren't there other players that could probably pitch an inning without allowing 3 or 4 runs to score?

Instead, wouldn't the best reliever be better used in a tie-game in the 8th or 9th inning? Or to protect a 1-run lead with 2 men on base in the 7th?

Oh no. The majority of teams today have a "closer" that they only use when winning a game by 1-3 runs in the ninth inning.

Tie-game in the 9th? No chance, better bring in the 2nd best reliever - we wouldn't want to use our best guy in the most important spots.

Anyway, Bill James, Theo Epstein and the Red Sox are doing the unthinkable this season - they are going to have a bullpen without a "closer."

And that is what this USA Today article focused on.

Here are a few quotes:

"We aren't trying to set a trend," says Epstein, so taken with the idea that he didn't re-sign 40-save closer Ugueth Urbina. "We are trying to win as many games as we can. I'm sure we will hear about it if it doesn't work."

They may not be trying to set a trend, but they are certainly trying to break a trend.

And Theo is right on the money saying they'll hear about it if it doesn't work.

Heck, even if it does work, they are going to hear about it.

The first time Alan Embree blows a lead in the 9th inning or the first time Ramiro Mendoza gives up a game-ending homer? I will guarantee there are articles the next day talking about how the Sox don't have a true closer and how they never should have allowed Urbina to go.

Meanwhile, Ugueth Urbina saved 40 games last year, but he also blew 6 of them.

Is it really that much of an accomplishment to have won 40 out of 46 games when you had the lead in the 9th inning, particularly when most of those games included 9th inning leads of 2 or 3 runs?

Of course not.

Ugueth Urbina is a good pitcher and a good pitcher makes for a good "closer."

There is no special skill involved, it is simply a matter of pitching well, just as being a good setup man is simply a matter of pitching well.

Eddie Guardado had been a very good reliever for the Twins for several seasons and they decided to give him a shot at the closer job last year.

He saved 45 games and now he is an official "closer."

Eric Gagne showed a lot of potential but struggled in the starting rotation.

The Dodgers decided to try him as the closer last year.

He saved 52 games.

John Smoltz was a great starting pitcher for many years.

He had some injuries and Atlanta decided to limit his innings by turning him into their closer last year.

He saved 55 games.

The list goes on and on.

Do you think Mike Williams or Jose Jimenez or Kelvim Escobar have some magical skill that makes them "closers" or are they just nice pitchers who were put into a role where they could accumulate a stat called "saves"?

By the way, those 3 guys saved 46, 41 and 38 games in 2002.

You want your pitchers to be pitching in the best possible situations for them, in spots where they can provide the most value to your team.

That means not holding your best reliever back until you have a 3-run lead in the 9th inning.

The Red Sox are bucking a trend - a very stupid trend - and they are smart for doing so, even if your local sportswriter says differently after they blow their first lead of the season.

Another quote from the article:

Stats people and the Red Sox are a lot alike. Stats people believe they don't get proper respect in baseball. The Red Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918. It's time to think outside the box.

And they did, especially when you consider that in the last 10 years 52 of 72 postseason teams had a closer with at least 30 saves. Last October the Yankees were the only one of eight teams that didn't have such a closer, but that was because injuries limited Mariano Rivera to 28 saves.

This is an example of that thing I hate, which is a writer using some random stat to "prove" his point.

In this case it is 30 saves and the relationship they have on post-season teams.

First of all, teams that make the playoffs win a lot of games and have a lot of opportunities for saves.

I don't care how good Mariano Rivera is, he is not going to be able to save as many games on Tampa Bay as he is on the Yankees.

Secondly, simply saying that 52 out of 72 playoff teams had a 30-save closer is extremely misleading.

What if I said 72 out of 72 playoff teams had a second baseman.

You'd say "wow, 100%!" (okay, maybe not you, but a less intelligent person)

On the other hand, 100% of non-playoff teams also had a second baseman.

See, you don't get a real feel for whether or not something is important unless you examine it further than the sportswriter wants you to.

Let's take a look at last year for an example: 18 Major League pitchers reached that magical number of 30 or more saves.

If 18 pitchers saved 30+ games last season and playoff teams tend to have more saves (and wins) to go around than non-playoff teams, why is it such a big deal that 72% of playoff teams over the past 10 years have had one?

Like the writer says, 52 out of 72 playoff teams over the past 10 years had a 30-save closer.

But guess what, 60% of all the teams in the entire league had a 30-save closer last year!

And it wasn't just last year.

There were 14 pitchers in 2001 that recorded 30+ saves, and another 5 guys that had 27 or 28.

In 2000, 16 pitchers recorded 30+ saves and 2 other guys had 29 each.

In 1999, 17 pitchers had 30 or more saves.

In 1998, 16 different pitchers saved 30 ballgames.

The point is that every year there are 15 or 20 guys that save 30+ games in the Major Leagues, which makes the fact that 72% of all playoff teams have a 30-save closer not-so-important, to say the least.

A useless, random stat used to try to prove an equally useless and random point.

If I didn't know better, I'd think Phil Rogers had penned the article.

But, I digress...

The quote that really got me nice and steamed was this one:

The Red Sox have had problems with stats guys. In 1997 one of their stats experts suggested, on the basis of research, that Tim Spehr, a weak-hitting catcher with a .198 career average, bat cleanup.

It is almost as if people around baseball think that guys that use computers and talk about on-base percentages are walking around with 2 heads and 3 eyes or a 3rd arm growing out of the side of their head or something.

The actual quote used here is just completely ridiculous and flat out false.

First of all, Tim Spehr never even played for the Boston Red Sox, which makes the entire "story" completely implausible.

How could a Red Sox "stat guy" have suggested they bat Tim Spehr cleanup when Tim Spehr wasn't even on the damn team?!

It sounds like something some old-time baseball guy said one day when he was asked about some guy in the front office working on "stats."

"Hey Bill, what do you think of these new ideas that the front office is coming up with?"

"Ah what the hell do those nerds know anyway? I heard they wanted us to bat Tim Spehr in the cleanup spot. TIM SPEHR!"

And so, a legend begins.

Nevermind the fact that Spehr was never a member of the Red Sox.

It's okay though, it isn't as if the author of this story, one Mr. Mel Antonen, could have easily checked on the accuracy of that quote he used.

Oh wait, he could have: Tim Spehr's career statistics

It took me about 30 seconds to "research" it, but, then again, I am a "stat guy."

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?

And finally...

I saw the following story on ESPN.com yesterday afternoon and it made me very sad:

Rockies down a body after Garces retires

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Veteran right-hander Rich Garces, who signed a minor-league contract with the Colorado Rockies on Jan. 24, has announced his retirement as an active player.

Rich Garces was one of my favorite baseball players and now that the man dubbed "El Guapo" has retired, the Rockies are "down a body."

And oh what a body it was!

So long El Guapo.

May your retirement be relaxing, may your nachos all have cheese on them, may your ribs be extra saucy and may all your donuts be creamed filled.

Oh, and may all your pants have elastic waistbands.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

More on Rickey



Last week, I wrote an entry devoted to Rickey Henderson and I discussed whether or not he was a good option for a team to sign.

After looking at his performance during the past few seasons, I decided that he was certainly still a valuable player and someone that many teams could definitely use.

Then, yesterday, I saw the following story in the Denver Post:

Henderson considers tryout

Apparently, Rickey Henderson - one of the greatest baseball players of all-time - is seriously considering attending an open tryout with the Colorado Rockies that is usually reserved for high school and college players looking for a chance to get their feet in the door.

Here are some quotes:

"I talked to Rickey yesterday, and he told me he's leaning toward showing up at the Rockies' tryout camp next week," said Jeff Borris, Henderson's agent.

"Usually, these tryouts are for high school or college players who are looking for a shot," said Jay Alves, the Rockies' media relations director. "They're normally not for future Hall of Famers."

This strikes me as a very sad and unfortunate situation.

Rickey Henderson is one of the greatest and most interesting players in the history of pro baseball and, as I discussed last week, he is certainly still a valuable player.

The fact that he is completely without any opportunities for a job while teams give Major League contracts to guys like Neifi Perez and minor league contracts to guys like Keith Lockhart is nothing short of ridiculous.

I am holding out hope that Rickey finds a job, because he obviously still wants to play Major League baseball.

And, if a 44 year old still wants to play and is still able to add something to a team, why shouldn't he get that chance?

If you played baseball for a living and played it for the majority of your entire life (counting the minors, Rickey has been playing pro baseball every year since 1976), would you want to stop playing, even though you were still a good player? I doubt it.

If there isn't a General Manager out there that thinks he can use an outfielder that has posted on-base percentages of .368, .366 and .369 over the past 3 seasons and has stolen 69 bases at a 78% clip during that same time span, there are some GMs that need to do some serious thinking about their ballclubs and themselves.

In case you're wondering, Henderson posted a .277 EqA last year.

That figure of .277 would have...

...ranked him 2nd on the entire Pittsburgh Pirares team (among everyday players), behind only Brian Giles (.351 EqA).

...ranked him 2nd on the Baltimore Orioles, behind only Gary Matthews Jr. (.289).

...ranked him 2nd on the Detroit Tigers, behind only Bobby Higginson (.280).

...ranked him 4th on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, behind only Aubrey Huff (.309), Randy Winn (.289) and Ben Grieve (.282).

...ranked him 4th on the Kansas City Royals, behind only Mike Sweeney (.328), Raul Ibanez (.295) and Carlos Beltran (.289).

...ranked him 4th on the New York Mets, behind only Edgardo Alfonzo (.307), Mike Piazza (.303) and Mo Vaughn (.283).

...ranked him 4th on the San Diego Padres, behind only Ryan Klesko (.323), Mark Kotsay (.288) and Ron Gant (.286).

...ranked him 4th on the Atlanta Braves, behind only Chipper Jones (.335), Gary Sheffield (.315) and Andruw Jones (.297)

...ranked him 4th on the Chicago Cubs, behind only Sammy Sosa (.332), Mark Bellhorn (.304) and Fred McGriff (.294).

There are more than a dozen teams in baseball that Rickey Henderson would have been one of the top 5 or 6 hitters on the team for.

And all he wants is a job as a backup!

In addition to that, his .277 EqA was better than the following 1B/DH/LF/RF-types, all of whom will have starting jobs in 2003:

Jose Cruz Jr.

Juan Gonzalez
Tino Martinez
Richard Hidalgo
Randall Simon
Robert Fick
Marty Cordova
Carlos Pena
J.T. Snow
Travis Lee
Sean Casey
Jay Gibbons
Russell Branyan
Todd Hollandsworth
Roger Cedeno
Doug Mientkiewicz
Jeff Conine
Jeromy Burnitz
Moises Alou
Juan Encarnacion
J.D. Drew
Matt Lawton

I don't mean to imply that Rickey Henderson is a better player than those guys or even that he deserves to start ahead of them.

What I do mean to imply is that that list is pretty damn long and if those guys have full-time, everyday jobs as Major League first basemen, designated hitters and corner outfielders, don't you think that just maybe there is a place for Rickey Henderson on a few rosters?

I mean those are starting players for teams and Rickey posted a better EqA than every single one of them in 2002.

You don't even want to get into how many bench players he was better than.

And all he wants is a job as a backup!

Before I stop babbling about Rickey Henderson, I just want to post his career statistics, because they are nothing short of amazing:

   G     AVG     OBP     SLG     HR     2B     RUN     HIT      BB      SB

3051 .279 .402 .419 295 509 2288 3040 2179 1403

Those are some absolutely crazy numbers.

And, keep in mind, his "rate stats" (batting average, OBP, slugging %) have all fallen quite a bit recently, as Henderson keeps playing well past his prime.

Plus, Henderson did all that while playing most of his career in very bad ballparks for offense.

The Oakland Coliseum was one of the worst parks for hitters in all of baseball during Rickey's first 6 years there (I say "first" because he has had 3 stints with the A's).

He then moved on to New York and played 5 years in Yankee Stadium, which was a slight pitcher's park back then.

Then, back to Oakland and the Oakland Coliseum for another stint.

He has also played his home games in Jack Murphy Stadium (aka Qualcomm), Shea Stadium and Safeco Field, all of which are good park's for pitchers.

Some all-time ranks...

His 2,288 runs scored ranks 1st all-time; the closest active player is Barry Bonds, who trails Rickey by about 450 runs.

His 2,179 walks ranks 1st all-time, ahead of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and about 250 more than Barry Bonds.

His career total of 5,316 times on base is 3rd all-time, behind only Pete Rose and Ty Cobb; Bonds is the closest active player and is nearly 1,000 behind.

His 3,051 career games played ranks 4th all-time, behind Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski and Hank Aaron.

His 3,040 career hits ranks 21st all-time and he got all those hits despite the fact that he has walked over 2,000 times in his career.

His 4,566 career total bases ranks 32nd all-time, ahead of Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Matthews, Harmon Killebrew and Mark McGwire.

His 509 career doubles ranks 34th all-time, ahead of every active player besides Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds.

His 295 career homers ranks 98th all-time (I bet you never thought of Rickey Henderson as a home run hitter, huh?)

And, perhaps the most amazing stat of all...

Rickey Henderson has stolen 1,403 bases in his career, which ranks 1st all-time.

The next closest player is Lou Brock with 938, which is 50% fewer than Henderson has.

50 PERCENT FEWER!

To put that in context, if Babe Ruth trailed Hank Aaron in homers by 50%, he would have hit 504 home runs, to Hank's 755.

The 3 closest active players in stolen bases are Kenny Lofton, Barry Bonds and Roberto Alomar.

If you add up the career steals of all 3 of them, they narrowly edge Rickey, 1,463 to 1,403.

Rickey Henderson is one of the greatest, most unique and least appreciated players in the history of baseball.

In his prime, he was on base constantly and was wrecking complete havoc on the bases.

And I'm not talking about the kind of havoc guys today wreck, I am talking about some serious havoc!

Rickey often walked and proceeded to steal second AND third base and he led his league in stolen bases 12 times, which is a Major League record, of course.

He stole 100+ bases 3 times, including 130 in 1982 and he had on-base percentages of at least .390 in 17 of his first 18 seasons in the Major Leagues.

Alfonso Soriano was only 24 years old last year and he led the American League in stolen bases with 41.

If he steals 100 bases a year until he is 38 years old, he'll only be 17 steals behind Rickey Henderson.

Think about that for a second.

So, Rickey, good luck on the job search.

I am definitely rooting for you and I'd love to see you hitting and walking and running and talking in 2003 in the Major Leagues.

If you can't find a gig for this season, I look foward to seeing you in Cooperstown in 2007.

Rickey-isms...

"This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey."

---Rickey leaving a message on the answering machine of San Diego GM Kevin Towers

"Listen: People are always saying, 'Rickey says Rickey.' But it's been blown way out of proportion. People might catch me, when they know I'm ticked off, saying, 'Rickey, what the heck are you doing, Rickey?' They say, 'Darn, Rickey, what are you saying Rickey for? Why don't you just say, 'I?' But I never did. I always said, 'Rickey,' and it's become something for people to joke about."

---Rickey on 3rd person

"My job was to get on base and score runs. If I didn't concentrate on getting on base, there's no telling how many hits I'd have. I have 2,000 walks, so how many swings is that? My No. 1 goal always has been scoring runs."

---Rickey on his approach to hitting

"To be in a class with Babe Ruth, you can't ask for anything more. Walks have been underappreciated. It's lost in the stats sheets. It lost its appeal somewhere. Another thing lost in the stats is on-base percentage. That's the most important thing in baseball. If nobody's on base, nobody scores."

---Rickey on breaking the career walks record

"Let's see, for breakfast Rickey will have bacon and eggs, and grits if I can get 'em. Then I'll have a good meal after the game, either the clubhouse buffet or at a restaurant someplace. I'll eat a steak sometimes, sure. But not too much. I always leave something on the plate. Never eat till I'm full; pick here and there, eat small, eat often."

"I really don't snack in the dugout. Seeds are going to make us fat. I tried them, but they're really not that good for me. I am always telling everyone to lay off the seeds or else they'll be getting fat. There's fat in those seeds. And they always say 'Right, there's a lot of fat in a seed.' Maybe my favorite is water. Water's kind of boring though. I like to chew bubble gum. Maybe that's my favorite. Rickey's going with bubble gum."

---Rickey on his diet

"Why you talk about when a player wanna quit? What is that player's ability? How much does he enjoy the game? Can he still compete? My grandmother didn't stop working when she was 40, and my mom sure didn't, either. There is nothing in life that says you have to quit at a certain age."

---Rickey on retirement

And finally...

"Rickey Henderson is a confident young man."

---Grady Little, Red Sox manager, on his 43 year old backup outfielder

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

February 16, 2003

Finally!



Kevin Millar joined the Boston Red Sox over the weekend, putting an end to a month long saga that appeared, at times, like it would never end.

For those of you who haven't been following the situation very closely, here is a basic recap:

On January 9th, the Marlins sold the contract of Kevin Millar to the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese League.

I wrote an entry about it at the time, which you can read by clicking here.

Here's an excerpt:

I have to say, I flat out do not understand this at all, from anyone but the Dragons' point of view.

Kevin Millar is a very good hitter and could help a lot of teams, including the Red Sox, whom I read earlier were interested in acquiring him.

Like I said, this is just very confusing to me.

I don't understand why Millar would want to go to Japan at this point in his career, after struggling through years in various independent leagues and now finally starting to become an everyday player in the Major Leagues that teams are interested in.

I don't understand why the Marlins would sell him to Japan, instead of trading him to a Major League team for some prospects or something, or (gasp!) actually keeping him and batting him in the middle of their lineup.

It turned out the Red Sox were still interested in Millar.

In order for Florida to send him to Japan, Millar had to first clear Major League waivers.

This is normally just a formality - when a player is sold to Japan, the other teams abide by a "gentleman's agreement" and do not block the move by putting in a waiver claim,

This time however, Boston GM Theo Epstein put in a claim, blocked the move and started what would become a month-long "situation."

There were 3 key things that had to happen before Millar could join the Red Sox:

1) He had to "get out" of the $6.2 million dollar, 2-year contract he had negotiated with Chunichi.

2) Chunichi had to be compensated so that they would send him back to Florida (ie they would likely want an American player to take Millar's place)

3) Florida had to be compensated so that they would send him to Boston, after initially receiving $1.2 million to send him to Japan.

According to ESPN.com, Chunichi did not receive another American player in the deal.

I had heard reports earlier that Boston would send them Benny Agbayani or possibly some minor leaguer, but apparently that did not actually happen.

Instead, they reportedly received a payment "between $1.2 and $1.5 million dollars," presumably from the Marlins, whom they initially paid for Millar.

Then, the Marlins were given "between $1.35 and $1.5 million dollars" from the Red Sox and they shipped him to Boston.

I think that, basically, Chunichi got fed up with the whole mess after a while and were just happy to rid themselves of the problem and get their original investment back.

The Marlins don't care if he plays in Japan or Boston, since neither is going to affect their post-season chances at all, if such a thing even exists.

And the Red Sox were happy to pay a million bucks or so to get the rights to Millar, whom they obviously think will be an impact player for them.

I am still slightly confused as to why Boston and Florida couldn't work out a trade a month ago and bypass this whole situatiion.

It seems as though all Florida wanted for him in the first place was a million bucks or so, which I am sure the Red Sox could have given them 35 days ago, instead of now.

In any event, Millar is now a member of the Red Sox (would that make him a Red Sock?), which gives me an opportunity to take a look at their offense for the upcoming season.

But, instead of just looking at Boston's lineup, I thought it would be fun to look at their lineup in comparison to New York's lineup, since, after all, Boston is always competing with the Yankees.

Instead of simply showing each team's batting order for comparison, I thought it would be better to look at each team's entire roster of hitters.

The main reason for this is that I have no clue who is going to play 3B for Boston and the 1B/DH situation isn't that clear either. With New York, will Raul Mondesi, Rondell White or Juan Rivera man right field?

Plus, each team has a lot of good hitting on the bench, no matter how the starting lineups shake out, and the bench is important to an offense too.

Here we go...

Red Sox...

Likely starters and 2002 EqA:

Manny Ramirez - .370

Jeremy Giambi - .322

Nomar Garciaparra - .304

Kevin Millar - .302

Johnny Damon - .292

Trot Nixon - .284

Shea Hillenband - .277

Todd Walker - .269

Jason Varitek - .257

Likely bench and 2002 EqA:

David Ortiz - .290

Bill Mueller - .270

Lou Merloni - .267

Doug Mirabelli - .260

Damian Jackson - .260

Some thoughts...

Aside from Barry Bonds, there aren't many hitters in the world that can say they are better than Manny Ramirez. He hit .349/.450/.647 last year, which was good for a .370 EqA. He had a .336 EqA in 2001, a .364 EqA in 2000 and a .353 EqA in 1999. Ramirez is also currently working on a streak of 8 straight seasons with an EqA over .315.

The problem with Manny is, of course, that he is always missing a couple dozen games a year.

He played in 120 last year and 147, 118 and 142 the previous 3 years.

When he's in the lineup, he's most likely among the top 3-5 hitters in the world, but you can't count on him being healthy for 155-160 games, ever.

Manny can pretty much be counted on to post a .340-.370 EqA.

Nomar Garciaparra had a very good season last year, hitting .310/.352/.528. Those numbers are awesome for a shortstop and pretty much the same stats the AL MVP Miguel Tejada put up (.308/.354/.508). But, Nomar's season was considered a slight disappointment, which tells you something about how great he was in previous years.

Nomar's .304 EqA last year was his lowest since his rookie season, 1997 (he had a .281 EqA in 2001, but in only 83 at bats).

From 1998-2000, Nomar posted EqAs of .311, .337 and .341.

2002 was a comeback season for Nomar, since he missed almost the entire 2001 year with a wrist injury.

Because of that, I would expect him to boost his EqA by 10 or 15 points in 2003 and I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up at around .325 or so.

We might as well talk about the man of the hour, Kevin Millar.

As you can see by the above chart (it is a chart, right?), Millar had the 4th best EqA of any projected Red Sox starter last year.

That fact may surprise some of you, but it wasn't a fluke.

Prior to the .304 EqA last year, Millar had posted EqAs of .277, .289 and finally .312 in 2001.

He should be a good bet to post a .300 EqA in 2002.

Although, there is one major reason to not think that...

Here are Millar's home/road splits for the past 2 years:

2002:

Home = .333/.384/.558

Road = .275/.346/.454

2001:

Home = .355/.414/.667

Road = .271/.332/.443

Those are really odd stats, mostly because Millar's home park during that time was Pro Player Stadium, which is a definite pitcher's park and a horrible place for power hitters.

During that 2 year stretch, Millar had 459 at bats at home and 428 on the road.

He hit 24 homers and 41 doubles at home and 12 homers and 37 doubles on the road.

According to Diamond-Mind, Pro Player had a "Home Run Rating" of 85 for right handed hitters last year, meaning it decreased homers by righties by 15%.

I don't have the numbers from 2001 in front of me, but I am fairly certain they were similar.

Despite the park cutting down homers by righties (which is what Millar is) by 15%, Millar actually hit twice as many homers at home, in about the same amount of at bats.

Like I said, very strange.

Before I get too carried away with those "splits" I want to point out what he did in 1999 and 2000 too:

2000:

Home = .241/.325/.444

Road = .278/.403/.556

1999:

Home = .284/.365/.426

Road = .286/.359/.440

Now, those numbers make a little more sense to me.

But, I tend to want to go by the most recent numbers, which say that Millar was a much better hitter at home in the last 2 years, despite Pro Player being a not-so-great place for right handed power hitters.

In case you're wondering, Fenway, Millar's new home, had a homer rating of 96 last year, which is pretty much neutral.

Like I said, I expect him to post a .300 EqA, give or take a few points, but his 2001 and 2002 home/road splits are a possible sign of concern.

After a horrible 2001 season with Oakland, Johnny Damon bounced back in a big way, posting a .296 EqA. That number goes right in line with his 1999 and 2000 seasons with Kansas City, when he posted EqAs of .294 and .297.

I'd feel safe penciling Damon in for a .290-.300 EqA in 2003.

Trot Nixon posted a .284 EqA in 2002, which was very good.

But, it was almost 20 points lower than his 2001 EqA of .303.

I think Trot could very easily post another .300+ EqA this year, but the .284 does go right along with his 1999 and 2000 EqAs of .282 and .284.

I couldn't decide whether to put Shea Hillenbrand as the starter at 3B or Bill Mueller.

A few weeks ago, I would have bet the house on Hillenbrand not being on the Sox come opening day, but the further we get to actual spring training games, the more I start to wonder.

If he's on the team, I think he'll get most of the time at 3B, although the Sox didn't sign Mueller to a 2 year deal to sit on the bench.

Hillenbrand posted a .277 EqA last year after a .237 EqA in his rookie year.

I think somewhere in between is probably a good bet for his 2003 level, but with a player like Hillenbrand, who knows?

Todd Walker is Boston's new second baseman and he posted a .269 EqA in Cincinnati last season. That is not a great EqA, but I really think Walker is a perfect hitter for Fenway - or Fenway is a perfect park for a hitter like Walker. He isn't a power hitter as much as he is a doubles-hitter. I think he'll take advantage of that gigantic green thing out in left field and smack 50+ doubles in 2003 (he had 42 doubles last year).

I'm gonna say he'll get his EqA to about .275 in 2003, but that's me being conservative.

The Red Sox bench is going to be a strength in 2003 after being a major weakness most of last season.

David Ortiz had a .290 EqA with the Twins last year and, as a Twins fan, let me say that he posted that good EqA without really having a great season.

Ortiz is incredibly injury prone and incredibly talented, so it wouldn't surprise me if he hit for a .320 EqA in 2003 and it wouldn't surprise me if he broke some bone in April and missed half the year.

His EqAs the past 3 years have been .276, .273 and .290, so he's a very nice 1B/DH/Pinch-Hit bat to have off the bench.

Doug Mirabelli is another great bench threat.

He absolutely destroys lefties.

vs lefties:

2002 = .364/.440/.750 (50 PAs)

2001 = .283/.367/.717 (60 PAs)

That is a very small sample size, but those are the kind of numbers that scream for a full-time platoon job.

And Mirabelli might just get that in 2003, as I've heard talks of him not only catching, but playing 1B a little against lefties too.

I will guarantee he gets more than 50 or 60 plate appearances against lefties in 2003.

Lou Merloni is a nice backup middle-infielder and also a very good hitter against lefties.

He hit .321/.406/.518 against them in 2002 and .303/.343/.606 against them in 2001.

I wouldn't be surprised if he and Todd Walker (who struggles a little against lefties) were in a platoon situation at second base by mid-season.

Yankees...

Likely starters and 2002 EqA:

Jason Giambi - .351

Bernie Williams - .324

Alfonso Soriano - .304

Jorge Posada - .300

Hideki Matsui - .300* (more on this in a moment)

Derek Jeter - .296

Robin Ventura - .295

Nick Johnson - .268

Raul Mondesi - .262

Likely bench and 2002 EqA:

Juan Rivera - .265* (Major League Equivalency for his AAA stats)

Chris Widger - .258

Todd Zeile - .257

Rondell White - .236

Enrique Wilson - .186

Some thoughts...

Jason Giambi has been one of the best hitters in baseball for the past 3-4 years.

His .351 EqA last year was 3rd in the American League and it was actually his lowest total since 1999, when he had a .332 EqA.

Giambi posted a .371 EqA in 2000 when he won the MVP and a .379 EqA in 2001 when he didn't win, but probably should have.

Giambi is on the wrong side of 30, so predicting an improvement is probably not a great idea, but he did struggle a little in his first month or so in New York, so maybe he'll do better in his second year there.

Either way, he's a .350+ EqA for sure.

Bernie Williams continued to be one of the most underappeciated stars of his era in 2002, posting a .324 EqA.

Bernie now has 8 straight .300+ EqA seasons.

He's declining on defense, but showing no signs of doing so on offense.

I'd expect another .320 EqA season in 2003.

Alfonso Soriano is the most difficult guy to get a handle on.

He had an extraordinary 2002 season, hitting 51 doubles and 39 homers in spite of walking only 23 times and striking out 157 times.

Soriano is on one of my Diamond-Mind teams, so I'm hoping he improves in 2003, but I just can't feel comfortable saying it's very likely.

He's definitely not a fluke though, so I wouldn't expect the EqA to drop too far.

Derek Jeter had his worst season since his 2nd year in the league and got ripped by his team's owner and yet still managed to be one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball.

I am not a Jeter fan and some would accuse me of being a Jeter-basher when I start talking about his defense, but I do admire his hitting ability.

That said, after a .337 EqA in 1999, he has declined from .314 in 2000 to .307 in 2001 and then .296 last year.

That's not a very encouraging pattern.

One theory I heard is that Jeter is a guy who hits a ton of balls to the opposite field and that when his bat speed starts to lessen a little, he will have a lot of problems.

I am not sure whether I buy that or not, but it is a theory.

He'll have an improved 2003 at the plate and get the EqA back over .300.

I know I already said this with Bernie Williams and it is probably hard to believe it could be the case with 2 players on the Yankees, but Jorge Posada is extremely underrated.

He broke out in 2000 with a .321 EqA and then had a .292 EqA in 2001 and a .300 EqA last season.

Those are great numbers for a catcher and, if not for Piazza and Pudge, he'd be considered a much better player.

Catchers over 30 tend not to improve, so I am gonna say Posada will stick in the .290 range.

Hideki Matsui is the wild card in all of this.

He posted phenomenal numbers in Japan and, if you trust the translations to the Major League level (which I do), he is easily a .300+ EqA hitter and likely more in the .320-.335 range.

There is some thought that a Japanese power hitter won't do as well as a player like Ichiro!, but then again, just a couple years ago there was a lot of talk that a Japanese hitter - period - couldn't do very well.

I say he'll put up an EqA around .300 and win the rookie-of-the-year award.

The Yankee bench is good, but not as stacked as the Boston group.

Depending on who ends up starting in right, 2 out of the group of 3 consisting of Mondesi, Juan Rivera and Rondell White will be on the bench and will be very good backup bats.

Chris Widger is a nice backup catcher, but Posada plays so much that it doesn't really matter.

Zeile is a decent backup corner infielder, but Torre has been talking about him playing a lot this season, which would be a mistake.

Okay, so let's try to do a real comparison...

Strictly by 2002 numbers (and using Rivera's MLE and putting Matsui at .300):

Boston EqAs:             New York EqAs:


Starters: Starters:
.370 .351
.322 .324
.304 .304
.302 .300
.292 .300
.284 .296
.277 .295
.269 .268
.257 .262

Bench: Bench:
.290 .265
.270 .258
.267 .257
.260 .236
.260 .186

Those lineups look pretty darn similar.

At the top, each team has an elite, .350+ guy (Manny and Giambi) and another .320+ guy (Nomar and Bernie)

The Yankees have 5 guys that posted EqAs between .290-.305, while Boston "only" has 3.

And, at the bottom, each team has a couple of guys that'll probably be in the .260-.275 range.

I'd give the slight edge for the everyday lineup to New York, simply because they have the potential to have 8 or 9 .290+ EqA hitters, depending on how well Nick Johnson does (I think he'll be very good) and if Rivera plays RF and plays it well. I do think Ventura will decline quite a bit, but still. They've got, at minimum, 7 guys that are good bets to post .290+ EqAs.

Either way, these 2 lineups are, by far, the 2 best in the AL.

The Boston bench is much better.

They have 4 solid .260+ EqA hitters in Mueller, Jackson, Merloni and Mirabelli - with Merloni and Mirabelli available to crush lefties.

And they have David Ortiz too, who is the best hitter on either team's bench.

The Yankees have either Mondesi or Rivera and then Rondell White.

Other than that, it is just Zeile, Widger and Enrique Wilson, which isn't scaring anyone.

It would not surpise me if either of these teams scored 1,000 runs in 2003 and I'd be willing to bet they both top 900 pretty easily (New York scored 897 last year, Boston scored 859).

It will be a lot of fun watching these teams duke it out all season, assuming you aren't an Orioles or Devil Rays fan, in which case it isn't going to fun doing much of anything baseball related this season (or the next season, or the next season...).

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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