February 16, 2005

Fun with ESPN.com

  • Friend of AG.com Eric Neel, who is one of the few remaining reasons to check out ESPN.com's baseball coverage, named Doug Mientkiewicz the best defensive first baseman in baseball earlier this week. That title is less impressive to me than being named, say, the fifth-best defensive shortstop in baseball, but I do agree with Neel. Mientkiewicz's defense with the Twins was fantastic, and when he was having one of his good years at the plate, made him a very valuable player. Unfortunately, no amount of defense at first base can make up for a guy hitting .238/.326/.350, like Mientkiewicz did last season.

    Neel's article also included this silly quote from the man who traded for Mientkiewicz this offseason, Omar Minaya:

    Minaya figures first base is undervalued in the market place and in the minds of the average fan. "People take the position for granted," he said. He looks at a guy like J.T. Snow of the Giants, a smooth, graceful glove who "saves the Giants 10 games a year," and he anticipates something similar for his club with Mientkiewicz.

    If J.T. Snow or Mientkiewicz could save "10 games a year" with their gloves, they would be the most valuable defensive players in baseball history. Unless Minaya is talking about what would happen if the Giants and Mets played without anyone at first base, in which case that 10-game estimate is really conservative.

    Incidentally, I just grabbed Mientkiewicz for $5 in one of my Diamond-Mind keeper leagues (with a $400 team salary cap). We replay the season that just ended and he had almost zero value in 2004, but I'm hoping Mientkiewicz can turn things around with the Mets -- something along the lines of .280/.370/.425 or so. I also have Justin Morneau on that same team, so I'm hoping the two of them can coexist in the imaginary clubhouse. Known team-chemistry experts Jeff Weaver, Jose Mesa, and Julian Tavarez are also on the team, so hopefully they can help keep the peace.

    Oh, and here's a little trivia for you: Mientkiewicz and Derek Jeter have been awarded the same number of Gold Gloves in their careers, one. Hell of an award, that Gold Glove.

  • I have been pretty good about avoiding Buster Olney articles lately, but he wrote a "Team-by-team look at the American League" that I somehow found myself reading yesterday. I didn't get through the entire thing (I am only human, after all), but here's my favorite quote from the part I did read:
    From 2000 through 2004, the Athletics won nearly two-thirds of their games when Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder or Barry Zito started; when anybody else started, the Athletics' winning percentage was under .530. Now Hudson and Mulder are gone, replaced by talented young pitchers who don't have much of a track record in the majors. Unless one or two out of the trio of Danny Haren, Dan Meyer and Joe Blanton repeat the instant success that characterized the Big Three, Oakland will struggle to reach 90 victories.

    Here's the thing ... Olney discovered that ridiculously misleading "stat" about Oakland's winning percentages months ago and has been using it incessantly in his columns every since. For instance, here's a passage from an article Olney wrote in September:

    Cheap and young pitching is the root of Oakland's success. From the beginning of 2000 through games played Tuesday night, the Athletics' record when Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito has started is an incredible 297-156, 141 games over .500, for a winning percentage of .656. When anybody else has pitched, the Athletics' record is 179-159 -- a little better than .500 per season over a five-year span.

    And then here's what he wrote when the A's traded Tim Hudson to the Braves earlier this offseason:

    From 2000-2004, the Athletics won about 65 percent of the games started by Hudson, Mulder and Zito, and when anybody else has pitched, their winning percentage is about .530.

    There are more examples of his re-wording the same misleading information over the past few months too, I'm sure. And why is it misleading? First and foremost, ask yourself why it is noteworthy that a team's winning percentage is significantly worse when their three best starting pitchers aren't on the mound? In other, equally startling news, Caddyshack II had some problems without Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield, and the sequel to Dumb and Dumber had trouble without Jim Carrey. (And yes, there was a sequel to Dumb and Dumber.)

    Beyond that, Olney acts as if Oakland's .530 winning percentage when Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito weren't pitching is a poor record and something to be concerned about. The fact is, a .530 winning percentage over a span of five years is damn good. For instance, over that same span the Minnesota Twins had a .531 winning percentage. The Anaheim Angels -- the team Olney often pumps up at the expense of the A's -- had a .525 winning percentage during that time. And we're supposed to see the A's .530 winning percentage without their three best pitchers as a negative thing?

  • I was just about to give ESPN.com some credit for once. No seriously, I was! Earlier this week, Jeff Merron of ESPN.com's Page 2 penned an article about the most controversial sports books of all-time and he included a link to a blog entry of mine regarding Joe Morgan's misguided belief that Billy Beane wrote Moneyball. I'm not sure if Merron's editors were on vacation or they just decided to let it go, but I was impressed by the fact that ESPN.com would allow one of their writers to link to a blog entry bashing another person at ESPN.com.

    Of course, I just checked the article out again so I could write about it for today and it appears as though the link to my entry about Morgan has magically disappeared. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. For those of you wondering, here is what it originally said (thankfully I'm vain, so I saved it):

    7. "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis

    The most misunderstood sports books ever, perhaps, beginning with the many writers and baseball insiders who believe A's general manager Billy Beane wrote the book himself as a work of shameless self-promotion. (For a short list, check out Aaron Gleeman's short take on the topic.)

    The heart of the "controversy" is that you can't build a team just by looking at stats. Of course, nowhere in the book does Beane argue that you can. Old-school scouts and baseball people especially felt (and still feel) threatened by the increasing use of statistical analysis of past performance to predict a player's future performance and value. In essence, it's a very old controversy, between fans who like (and believe there's much truth in) stats, and fans who'd rather focus on other aspects of a player's makeup (heart, dedication, desire, clubhouse presence).

    Since they took it down about a day after it was originally published, I'm guessing someone screwed up. Hopefully Merron didn't get into too much trouble, since he was kind enough to send about 5,000 visitors my way on Monday.

  • Last, but certainly not least ... Minor league analyst John Sickels, who was recently let go in a very disrespectful way by ESPN.com, has resurfaced with his own baseball blog: MinorLeagueBall.com. From the looks of things over there so far, John is going to be taking advantage of the additional freedom he now has compared to when he was at ESPN.com, which is almost always a great thing.

    In the short time he's been blogging, John has already posted top 20 prospect lists for two teams, discussed his philosophy for judging talent, and posted pictures of Beavis and Butthead and Popeye. For those of us who are simply fans of John's writing and don't care where we have to go to get it, his move from ESPN.com to his very own blog is wonderful news. Head over there and make sure to bookmark it, because it has already joined the ranks of must-read baseball blogs.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Top 50 Prospects: Year in Review (1-10) (by Aaron Gleeman)
    - Defensive Regression Analysis: Part Three (by Michael Humphreys)

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