12.15.2005

ESPN Watch: Loss of Perspective

I caught the 7AM replay of the December 14 SportsCenter. It's hard to know if the commentators are actually getting stupider themselves, or if ESPN is deliberately searching out dumber and dumber contributors. Steve Phillips analyzed the most recent White Sox trade and concluded that the White Sox rotation was now "One of the best ever." Best ever? Even though I'm writing this at 8:30 in the morning, I feel like I need a stiff drink before responding to that point.

So a rotation of John Garland, Mark Buehrle, Javier Vazquez, Jose Contreras, and Freddy Garcia are among the best ever even though ...

  • Not one of those pitchers won 20 games.

  • 13 of Buehrle's 16 wins came by one run.

  • Freddy Garcia has had only one season with and ERA below 3.8

  • Contreras and Garcia were tied for first in Wild Pitches in the majors. Contreras was also tied for the lead last season.

  • The Sock highest on the K list was Contreras, at # 34, right behind Jeff Weaver.

  • Vazquez was rated as almost exactly average (99 ERA+) last season


Thank god that the producers at ESPN haven't completely lost their minds and showed us a few teams in the last two decades that have had dominant starters. The A's in '89 and '90 were mentioned, as well as the Braves from about '91 to '96. I'm sure that any real baseball historian could come up with a slew of other teams, and I'll admit I'm partial to the 2002 A's. If you've got any favorites that I clearly don't know about, drop us some comments and let us know. We're a bit weak on our baseball history.

Still, I think we can all agree that Phillips was either engaging in self-satire at such an involved level that it was impossible to distinguish form sincerity, or that he simply doesn't know very much about baseball. I'll admit I lost a lot of respect for him a few weeks ago when he admitted to knowing of rampant steroid use in the Mets minor league system in the ESPN 15-page expose. It's clear that a lot of people knew, coaches, players and trainers, but you would think that as a journalist he would have considered it his duty to have brought this information to light earlier.

Is the Sox rotation one of the best ever? The answer is no. Are they the best in the majors? Very likely. The Cubs are hampered by injury, the Astro's will likely lose Clemens, and the Marlins sold everyone but Dontrelle. But isn't calling them the best rotation in the majors enough? Do we have to go to ridiculous lengths to praise them, making ourselves look foolish in the process? They've been a media darling most of the last nine months, but I'll let them throw a few pitches before bronzing them.

12.14.2005

Joining the 22nd Century

Well, not exactly, but the Friendly Confines can now be access through various newsreader services. If anyone out there needs another format, just leave suggestions in the comments and I'll get it up ASAP. Just one note, for those of you with gmail accounts, you can put us right on your Individualized Google homepage.

Stay tuned for more baseball comments; hopefully our crack staff can make some sense of the trades made so far this offseason. Until then, let's just hope that A-Rod get a chance to make a takeout slide on Jeter in the World Baseball Classic.

12.09.2005

Anonymous Sources: December 9, 2005


Compare these two statements:

"Player A has made it known he's willing to play any position but pitcher and catcher."

"I have the same position [on moving] as I always had... " Player B told the newspaper. "I said that I'm not going to change from [my position]."

Compare these numbers

Player A, 32, 10 seasons)

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG
+---+----+----+----+---+--+---+----+---+--+---+---+-----+-----+-----+
1071 4363 765 1395 305 50 191 740 86 29 307 444 .320 .367 .544


Player B, 30 (in January), 7 seasons

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG
+---+----+----+----+---+--+---+----+---+--+---+---+-----+-----+-----+
802 3255 505 912 199 16 162 465 169 43 157 676 .280 .320 .500


Now I'm sure you already know who Players A and B are. You probably knew when I began but they are (A) Nomar Garciaparra and (B) Alfonso Soriano. Given the numbers, given the attitude, who would you rather have? Just a rumination on the value of players, and the value of team players.

12.07.2005

Dr Loria or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Fire Sale

From the way things look right now, when we start the 2006 season, the Devil Rays will be the more recognizable team in Florida, and, honestly, there will only be 31 major league teams playing. In a sense, contractions will have happened, in a roundabout way. If the season started today, this would be the starting lineup for the Marlins.

1B - Jason Stokes / Joe Dillon / Mike Jacobs
2B - Josh Wilson
SS - Hanley Ramirez / Robert Andino
3B - Alfredo Amezaga
LF - Chris Aguila
CF - Reggie Abercrombie / Eric Reed
RF - Miguel Cabrera
C - Matt Treanor / Josh Willingham
P - Dontrelle Willis

I recognize two of those names, which is why my choices for infielders are probably completely wrong. Wilson, Ramirez, Andino and Amezaga are all listed as SS. This is a minor league team with the exception of two players. I'd list a possible five man rotation, but beyond Dontrelle, I can't tell who the starters are for the Marlins. If I knew the minors better, I might be able to pull something together, but as it is I'm stumped.

But in a sense, this can't be the minor leagues, because this team, this year, is Major League.

I can see you're confused.

While Rachel Phelps looked far better than Loria ever would in a bikini, while Willie Mays Hayes hits and runs better than Cabrera, and while the Marlins do not have any players who actively practice voodoo, this is the fictional Indian team from the movie. Loria is going to put an awful team on the field, let them rack up about 90 losses for the next few years, and then aggressively demand a new stadium in about 2008 or 2009 or threaten to move the team when the lease at Pro Player Stadium runs out in 2010. His argument is going to be that without a new stadium, the team can't remain competitive, that "there must not be a stadium gap!"

The good news in Dr. Strangelove is that it was all over after the bomb was dropped, that we never had to watch the aftermath. We're going to get a front row seat this year.

11.28.2005

Three Pieces: Washington Nationals



The 2005 season was a success in a lot of ways for the Nationals. Away from the baseball Siberia of Montreal the Nats were a far more competitive team, particularly during the first half of the season. Although they fell in the standings after the break, they managed finish at exactly .500, far exceeding many preseason preditions, including my own. Can Washington build on their success first year success, or will they go the way of last MLB team to play in DC "First in war, first in peace, last in the American League" (which is would now be last in the National League East)?

1. Fire Jim Bowden

I've long been of the opinion that this man is the worst GM in baseball. His undistinguished tenure as Reds GM saw years of failing to address an obvious pitching weakness at either the minor league or major league level. His free agent signings last winter was some of the worst I've ever seen. Granted, I didn't think Guzman would become the worst everyday player in the game, but it wasn't difficult to predict he might not be worth the lavish contract Bowden offered him. And Vinny Castilla?! If there was ever a textbook case of the Coors Field effect, here it was. I give him some credit for making bold moves to try and improve the Nationals, but they were all the wrong ones. The Nationals managed to compete despite the moves Bowden made in the off-season, not because of them. If it wasn't for the emotional boost from playing in front of an enthusiastic home crowd for the first time in years, the Nationals may very well have finished well below 500.

2. Find an Owner

The Nationals may be able to get along with being a ward of Major League Baseball for a time. In the long term however, it will be impossible to remain a viable franchise without a new stadium and without an owner. I'm rather mystified why Reggie Jackson was reportedly interested in the Twins who aren't for sale and don't have a new stadium in place, even considering he wanted to move them to Vegas. The Nationals on the other hand have been on the market for a long time, have become a proven draw for fans, and are currently competitive. Baseball needs to do a better job of selling this club, and do whatever it takes to make the Nationals attractive to a potential owner. It would be better for the game if owners were forced to open their collective wallet and pay for a new ballpark, rather than allow the Nationals to fail in their new market. These next few months will be critical for the future of the franchise.

3. Fix the Trouble on the Farm

In a recent poll on John Sickel's excellent prospect blog, readers ranked the Nationals dead last in terms of their farm system. While I believe that is highly debatable choice (the Yankees are at least as bad) this is a major problem for the Nationals. No team can afford to completely neglect their minor league system, as the Yankees are beginning to find out. While the Yankees have the breathing room that 200 million dollars in payroll can provide, the Nationals have a far smaller margin for error. With nearly all of their most highly touted prospects failing to meet expectations in 2005, the Nationals have a long way to go. They need to revamp their entire draft strategy, minor league instruction and prospect analysis systems. Unforunately I have abolutely no faith in Jim Bowden to do this properly. This will be an uphill climb, at best, and could eliminate the chances of long term competitiveness in DC.

The Bottom Line:

The Nationals have a lot of problems. While the Major League team is in moderately good shape with the help of workhorses like Livan Herandez, they have a number of severe long term problems. The problems of the Nationals go beyond the simple solution of adding some right handed power or finding a dependable number two starter; the Nationals need to make the kind of decisions which will determine their viability as a baseball franchise. Without a new owner, a competent general manager and the painstaking work of rebuilding a shattered minor league organization the Nationals will simply not succeed. For the sake of Major League Baseball, I hope either I'm wrong that they find a way to solve these problems. Otherwise, the issue of contraction may very well be back on the table, and our national capital may, once again, want for a home team.

11.23.2005

Three Pieces: San Diego Padres



While the Padres did manage to 'win' the NL West, it was kind of like beating your younger sibling in a competition, unsatisfying and ultimately a victory that leaves more questions about your skills than answers. If the Padres had been in the NL East, they would have finished one game out of last place, and now they've made a trade for an aging slugger with that one team the would have beaten in the East. But can the Padres manage to win this season, after going only 82 and 80 last year? Will anyone hit a homerun to straightaway center? Will Bruce Bochy, dissatisfied by the play of any thirdbaseman for the second straight season, begin playing the San Diego Chicken?

1. Have fun

Team that develop a tradition of winning, and teams that have won in the playoffs over the last decade or so, have by in large, been teams that clearly enjoyed playing the game. The White Sox are clearly an example of this in 2005, as were the Astros. If you go back a year, the same thing was true of the Red Sox, and before them the Marlins, Angels, Diamondbacks, Yankees and the Marlins again. The division winners (or contenders) usually tend to be teams that enjoy themselves as well, the A's and Twins of recent years come to mind. Last year, no one in the NL West was having any fun. Everyone was worrying about not losing, and this isn't a great way to become inspired. The pressure is going to kill the Padres if they don't relax, especially with the possibility of a full season from Barry Bonds, a man who creates more offense than any other player in the majors. If they worry about the homeruns they're going to give up (away from PetCo), about the errors they're going to make, the games they're going to lose, they're going to 'Bill Buckner' themselves to death.

2. Bring in the fences

I spent far too long searching for this article on ESPN.com, only to find it on MLB.com. Thank you Business of Baseball report. It addresses the Padres' plan to bring in the fences in right center from 411 feet to about 395. The hitters in San Diego have been so flummoxed by the dimensions of the field, even a small change may give players a psychological boost. It's a gesture, sure, but it's something. Hopefully they get this into action soon enough to have it in place for the World Baseball Classic. I can't tell you how excited I am about this, and it's great to see how much this means to all the international players.

3. Start using/acquiring some speed

Cameron could help the Padres. He went .273/.342/.477 last year and is .249/.340/.442 for his career. Nady is .263/.320/.414 fo his career, so San Diego is picking up some power. I'm not even going to dignify the trade for Vinny Castilla with a response. Okay, that was harsh, but the man spent 8 seasons in Colorado and turns 38 this year. He's just very high risk. But to trying to bring in sluggers is not a great strategy for this team. Right now, there's little difference between this team and the Marlins: young, hard throwing starters who may turn out great, a huge outfield, and an identity crisis. The Marlins were a success when they built on their speed and pitching and stopped trying to hit balls out of the park. This apporach should be drilled into Padres hitters' heads, and the GM's office should make every attempt to move more speed into any position they can. With a few more manufactured runs, the Padres might be able to move to five games over .500, and repeat in the NL West.

11.21.2005

Three Pieces: Milwaukee Brewers



At the end of nearly every season there are a number of up-and-coming ballclubs who believe that they need just one or two more key players in order to make the playoffs. The Brewers have been mocked from all corners of the baseball world in recent years. They were the team (well, one of the teams) nobody loved. Baseball fans in small markets outside Wisconsin resented them because they were Selig's team. Others have mocked Miller Park as a expensive boondoggle because of its neverending roof problems. However, in 2005 the Brewers proved that on the field, they would not be the subject to the same sort of ridicule they've seen for over a decade. The Brewers were suprisingly competitive last season, managing to avoid a losing season for the first time since 1992. But will they continue to move forward, or will they be more notable for plunging their mascot into a tub of beer than for baseball exellence?

1. Don’t Panic

The tendency of a lot of organizations with an emerging core of good, young players is to sign a big name guy or two to compliment them. This isn’t a horrible strategy; in fact I wish my hometown team had pursued it long ago. In the case of the Brewers, however, it would be a big mistake. The free agent market is too thin and the players in it too overvalued for the Brewers to take a chance on it. Anyway, the Brewers already added the big bat they needed in the Podsednik for Lee trade (one of those rare moves which seemed to help both clubs). This isn’t to say the Brewers don’t have needs; theirs are just less dire than the needs than most clubs, and will not be filled with an overpriced free agent.

2. A good bullpen arm

The Brewers have a young rotation, and I believe that their young arms like Jose Capellan and Chris Capuano will continue to develop under the pitching coach Mike Maddox (and yes, he’s Greg Maddox’s bother). Ben Sheets is an established force at the major league level, and Tomo Ohka is a solid number four guy, especially when you consider how cheap he came from Washington. However, I’m concerned about the relief pitching. Derrick Turnbow had a breakout year in 2005. Coming out of nowhere (reminiscent of Eric Gange in 2002), Turnbow saved 42 games with a ERA of 1.74 and became one of the great success stories of 2005. Considering his age (27) and his strong K/9 and BB/9 ratios I’m inclined to believe that he’s for real. However, the Brewers simply must add someone to set him up. Julio Santana certainly can strike em’ out, but his resemblance to Johan fades when you realize he’s a 30 year old journeyman with a career ERA of 5.27. Nor are the Ricky Battilco’s of the world (another journeyman in his mid 30’s) going to get it done. Scott Eyre who recently signed with the Cubs would have been a good fit, but the Brewers still have plenty of time to explore the market. I think the Brewers might be smart to take a look at what the pitching-rich Twins will offer for Lyle Overbay whom the Twins are rumored to be interested in.

3. Patience for the Prince

The 2005 major league season couldn’t have gone off to any sweeter of a start for super-prospect Prince Fielder, who hit a home run in his first day in the big leagues. Prince (or the player formally known as too fat even for Billy Beane) has proven all the skeptics wrong, tearing up triple A in 2005 at a .291/.388/.569 clip. He preformed well in the big leagues as well, hitting .288/.306/.458 in 39 games. There are a lot of concerns about his defense, but the reports I’ve read seem to indicate that while his range is still bad he is improving on whole. Prince has a good chance to be an even better player than his dad, if the Brewers don’t rush him too quickly. I would advise the Brewers to platoon him for a while with an experienced veteran (JT Snow perhaps?) and give him the job full time if he produces.

The Bottom Line:

The Brewers seem to have just the right mix of experienced talent (Carlos Lee, Geoff Jenkins) and young promise (Fielder, Trunbow). The task for the Brewers is to tweak the bullpen just a bit, without giving up players that would upset the chemistry of the team. Overbay looks expendable to me, as long as the Brewers add a veteran to help ease Prince Fielder along. With Carlos Lee continuing to put up excellent numbers, and the second half bounce-back for Geoff Jenkins, the Brewers have some breathing room. If they don’t panic and try to change things too much, the Brewers will challenge for the Wild Card and maybe even the division if the Cards stumble mightily.

11.16.2005

Three Pieces: Chicago Cubs



Coming off a year plagued by injuries to key players, and lifted only by the performance of Derrek Lee (and Aramis Rameriz), the Cubs are as rudderless as they were last offseason, and drastic changes are going to be necessary in order to get them back into contention in the NL Central. What do they need to get back to the postseason?

1. Fire Dusty Baker

The man is insane. I admit it, I loved Captain Toothpick in San Fran, but he's got to go. I've commented many times on the inanity of his lineups, and Darin Baker is a lawsuit waiting to happen. In addition to drawing names from a hat (or rolling a pair of dice) to fill out a lineup card, he's got this habit of riding pitchers, especially hard-throwing starters, into the ground. This would be fine, if he had pitchers who had Tommy Johns every season. Unfortunately he does not have a rotation of Frankensteins, but Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano, and oh, right, 39 year-old Greg Maddux, WHO THREW 225 INNINGS! 13th most in the majors. 13TH! Zambrano was 15th on the list.

Furthermore, he has the horrible tendency to 'believe' in certain players. Players like Neifi Perez. Players like Pedro Feliz. Players like Jerome Williams. Noticing a pattern yet? Just send him to replace Torre and then the Yankees on the field will look as crazy as the front office does.

2. Trust in Nomar

Look, we all know that the Cubs, even if they do by some miracle reach the World Series, they'll manage to lose. If they reach the last day of the season, they're going to lose. So why not stick with Nomar. What else could possibly go wrong with his body? There isn't much left. Believe, in the Disney sense of the word.

After rehabing from the most horrific injury I've ever seen (a "ruptured tendon in his left groin", poor bastard), Nomar bounced back from an awful .157/.228/.176 to .318/.347/.531. Rafael Furcal, whom the Cubs are rumored to be courting hit .284/.348/.429 for the year and Nomar, even with his terrible start AND injury ended the season at .283/.320/.452. Worse OBP, but better slugging. Basically a wash between the two. Furcal is five years younger, but Nomar isn't some slugger who is going to break down next year and his .320/.367/.544 (.911 OPS) career line looks much better than Furcal's .284/.348/.409 (.757 OPS). Acquiring Nomar was a good move and the Cubs need to realize that. This guy is the quintessential 'professional hitter.'. This whole 'better fit' nonsense needs to end now as do the Twins trade rumors. Hasn't Nomar gone through enough? And has any other shortstop, even Jeter, saved a life? (A-Rod doesn't count, as he was a third baseman when he saved the Boston youth from stepping into a truck's path.)

On the trade note, the Cubs let Jody Gerut go mid-season in a trade for Lawton. Career line for 33 year-old Lawton: .267/.368/.418; career line for 27 year-old Gerut: .263/.334/.434. I'd take Gerut, personally.

3. Trade Patterson

And replace him with anyone else. Even Bernie Williams. It's gotten that bad. He hit .215 this season. Two Fifteen. He's had one major league season with an average over .270, 2 with an OBP over .285 and 1 season with a SLG over .455. His SB numbers are okay, but they don't justify a lifetime .252/.293/.414 line. The free agent outfield market is not great, but it affords some options. Damon will be damn expensive, Jacque Jones doesn't hit well enough, neither does Preston Wilson. Encarnacion is worth a look, and if the Cubs could afford his poor defense, Rondell White would prove a huge offensive boost. Patterson could be traded too, in a package deal. He's young enough that a team might want to try to develop him.

There's always the chance that Dusty might push to sign Kenny Lofton, another one of his favorite little buddies.

The Bottom Line:

The Cubs aren't going to win the NL Central, I'll bet my student loan payments on that, but if they stay healthy and improve just a bit, this could be a very dangerous team. They just need to overcome incompetent leadership and a curse set into motion by a farm animal. Still, the boys on the northside will, at least, manage to be loveable losers.

11.14.2005

NL ROY Runners Up


Before I write anything related to the actual column I want to write, I want to say this. I feel that the NL Rookie Of the Year was incredibly deserving. But I do want to highlight the spectacular play of runners up Willy Taveras and Jeff Francoeur.

I've written about Taveras earlier this year. Here's how he finished for the year

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG
+----+---+---+----+---+---+---+----+---+-----+-----+-----+
152 592 82 172 13 4 3 29 34 .291 .325 .341
+----+---+---+----+---+---+---+----+---+-----+-----+-----+
89 351 49 96 13 3 1 26 33 .274 .338 .336
152 599 84 164 22 5 2 44 56 .274 .338 .336

The second line is Ricky Henderson in his rookie year, the third is Ricky projected to a 152 game season. Clearly Rickey hit for more power early on, but with Taveras' speed, he'll be able to create a lot of doubles.

Francouer clearly had more impressive power numbers than Taveras.

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG
+----+----+---+----+---+---+---+----+---+-----+-----+-----+
70 257 41 77 20 1 14 45 3 .300 .336 .549
+----+----+---+----+---+---+---+----+---+-----+-----+-----+
151 557 97 161 28 4 49 118 1 .289 .370 .618
70 258 45 75 13 2 23 55 0 .289 .370 .618


The last two lines are for Mark Maguire in his first full season with the A's, and then a line adjusted for the number of games that Francouer played. Now I know that the comparisons I've made here are not perfect analogs and either one of these players might fade into obscurity, but both looked very good this season. I wrote a longer post on Taveras with several other comparisons, and he finished the season as good as he started. Both of these players are going to have an effect on their franchises, and I can't wait to see it.

11.09.2005

2005 Cy Young Awards: Tradition Run Amok

I suppose I shouldn't have expected any better out of these guys. This is the same group of nitwits who picked Derek Jeter to win not one, but two gold gloves he did not deserve. I wish I had become as cynical as Aaron Gleeman, but somehow I had expected more. Rivera would have been at least a plausible choice, but Colon really has proven that when it comes to the Cy Young the Win is still reigns supreme. Granted, this was a weak field, with no starters posting an ERA lower than 2.86. Nevertheless, Santana clearly was the best pitcher in the field with the second best ERA in the AL (2.87), leading the league in strikeouts and an opponent average 45 points lower than Colon.

Even when every other available measure of a pitcher's skill pointed to Santana, the voters managed to give him only three first place votes. I'm temporary residing in the UK, where baseball interest is unfortunately not what it should be. However, I could pick out a hundred Britons at random, and if I provided them with American sports section and asked them to vote for the Cy Young I’m positive that they would arrive at a more logical, equitable and sane consensus than this travesty.

Chris Carpenter, the winner of the National League Cy Young is a bit more qualified, but qualified is a relative term. Carpenter finished with an ERA of 2.83, second in the NL in strikeouts and second in the majors in innings pitched. This is an excellent season by any standard. When the field includes a pitcher who finished with an ERA almost a full run lower than Carpenter and held opponents to below the Mendoza Line (a .183 OBA), its difficult for me to justify giving the award out to anyone else. Of course Roger Clemens lost, since the voters couldn't get past the fact he'd only managed to go 13-8.

Of the three man rotation of Confines writers I am probably the most "traditional" baseball thinker of the bunch. Since I follow a team with perhaps the most successful traditionalist general manager in game, (Terry Ryan) it’s hard not to sometimes extol the virtues of small ball and emphasizing traditional defense and athleticism in player development. However, I still have a brain. It may be news to the Cy Young voters but there are multiple methods of evaluating pitching performance. A win-loss record can tell you something about a team a player pitches for and maybe a little about the makeup of a particular pitcher. It doesn't tell you so much that every other statistic should be thrown out in favor of pitchers with clearly inferior seasons. The voters need to get past the win, and start giving out awards for the right reasons, something they've managed to botch for years. At least this time when Randy Johnson lost, it was because he deserved to.

11.08.2005

Three Pieces: Minnesota Twins



Minnesota Twins find themselves in an unfamiliar position this year. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and saw the winner of their division go on to win the World Series. In addition to the threat from a powerful Chicago ballclub, they Twins will have to battle with the Indians for the AL Central crown.

1. A new stadium

The Twins have suffered in what has been at times the worst, second worst or third worst stadium in baseball. The revenue structure at the Metrodome is very favorable for the Vikings, so favorable that the Vikings receive large percentages of concessions sales and luxury box receipts from Twins games. The Twins do not have a large cable network to draw revenue from and the Metrodome is likely the ugliest and least interesting ballpark in the majors. None of these things help generate additional revenue or interest in the franchise, either in the public, or from ownership. In the new golden age of the urban ballpark, the Twins need a new stadium, or risk sinking to the level of the Expos for all those years in Olympic, drawing only a few thousand a night. I don't care how it gets done, but I do feel that a small, county based sales tax raise (about half a cent on the dollar) is an entirely fair price to pay. If we want to live in a great city, we have to be willing to pay for it. Given the fact that there are also large areas of St. Paul to put a park in, the Twins have some opportunities that they need to exploit. The problem is that public support for the stadium is less than overwhelming. The Twins need to get into the community over the next few year and build the kind of relationships that make a community value an asset. I think that would be the best way to influence public support and make sure that the community has a voice in the new stadium.

2. A 'Professional' Hitter (or two, or three)

There's a Twins blog named "Warning Track Power" which is perhaps the most accurately titled thing ever. The Twins need power, and they need leadership in the lineup, period. They ranked 29th in team SLG, 21st in OBP, and 28th in OPS.
The only teams lower in OPS were Seattle and Washington. No team with stats like that can compete. The Twins have lacked a significant presence in their lineup for years. Mauer is good, but it will be years before he becomes the kind of force that can carry a lineup the way a Bonds or a Pujols can, and it may not happen at all. It is much more likely that Mauer will need two good, or one great bat to help him out, and the Twins as they are now aren't cutting it. The revolving-door infield has been a joke. Castro (.257/.279/.386), Bartlett (.241/.316/.335), Punto (.239/.301/.335), Rodriguez (.269/.335/.383) and Tiffee (.207/.245/.293) are glorified minor leaguers that should not have seen even a third of the playing time they did this season. Morneau should be able to improve on his abysmal .239/.304/.437, but he won't be enough to elevate the lineup, and doesn't threaten opposing pitchers. The Twins needed to make a move and trade Jacque Jones and his 5 million salary for a much better hitter this past season, and now they'll lose him to free agency without anything in return. They made a great decision with Stewart, and they need to make another move like that. If the Giant's hadn't inked Winn, I would see him as a good fit. But the point here is that this is a move that must be made this year. I know that the Twins would have been a much better team if Hunter had stayed healthy, but when the performance of your team depends on the health of a man who runs full speed into walls, perhaps you need to find ways to protect your team. This need has existed for years, and it is why the Twins have had minimal success in the playoffs.

3. Time for Liriano

This young man is going to do great things for the Twins (and would have for the Giants, if they hadn't given him away), but like any young pitched, he needs time to develop. He's been knocked around in his first few starts, but his K/9 is over 12 and a half. When he's got his head together and learns how to exploit hitters, instead of just trying to blow them away, he'll be a force, but the organization needs to keep the media heat off him, and needs to make a splashy move that will let him stay out of the limelight and develop at his own pace. If they put too much pressure on his psyche, or his arm, he may turn into a never-was, and that would be a crime of monumental proportions.

The Bottom Line:

This Twins have a lot to do, not much to do it with, and have two teams to climb over to reach the pinnacle of the AL Central. But this is a team that knows how to win, sports a Cy Young winner and a Local-Boy-Done-Good who has been waiting for a chance to really shine. Brooks and Aho might disagree with me (although considering the performance of the '05 Twins, they might be happy just to see the Twins get close), but it's nice to see a three-sided race shaping up. With a smart move or two, like the one that brought Stewart from the Jays in '03, the Twins could be a force in the AL again.

11.07.2005

Three Pieces: Toronto Blue Jays



The Blue Jays enter the off-season with the look of a team on the rise. The Jays ownership has pledged to raise payroll from 50 million to 85 million, giving baseball fans North of the Border their first good news since about 1992. How should the Jays use their upcoming cash infusion? Is Canadian baseball really dead? Should Alan Thicke or Michael J Fox take over announcing?

1. Middle-of-the-order Slugger

The Jays offense is competent, but unfortunately for the Jays, competent isn’t going to cut it in the AL East. Vernon Wells has continued to put up some good numbers without anyone noticing, (.269/.320./.463 28 HR 97 RBI) and while Shea Hillenbrand is solid enough as a supporting player in the offense, he is not nearly good enough to protect Wells in the lineup. Alex Rios has shown some promise, but shouldn’t be counted on to carry the club. I’m not going to waste my mind speculating too much about trades, especially since the Jays can’t afford to spare either hitting or pitching (on the Major League level anyway) if they want to compete in the toughest division in baseball. But I think it might worthwhile to take a quick look at some of the bats currently on the market.

Mike Piazza (Mets, C) : He’s old. His skills behind the plate… let’s just say he’s still the Mike Piazza we all know and love. He might be a good short term signing if he’s willing to play DH. However, Jays fans would be well advised to remember that this is not Piazza Circa 1999. He hasn’t hit more than thirty homers since 2002 and his OBP has been on the decline each of the past three years. In summary he’s a good guy to take a flyer on, but only at the right price.

Paul Konerko (White Sox, 1st Base) : After this postseason the word is that Konerko will be commanding up to 15 million a year on the free agent market. He’s a good bat to have, but I suspect that his numbers are bit inflated due to US Cellular Field (considering he slugs almost 100 points better there). Not worth it, unless the Jays have even more money to spend than I think.

Todd Walker (Cubs, 2nd Base) : With indications that the Jays want to move Orlando Hudson Walker might be a good offensive boost to the middle infield, but he’s not the answer the Jays are looking for.

Not a promising bunch. Although this is by no means an exhaustive look at the market, it is a representative one. The rest of the free agent crop either play positions the Jays have locked up or seem to be out of their league in terms of money.

2. A Solid Number 2 Starter

All of the online media outlets are a-buzz with the news that free agent pitcher AJ Burnett had a steak dinner with Roy Halladay and former Marlins (now Blue Jays) pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. The Jays seem very intent in adding another ace quality pitcher to the staff. Although the Toronto Staff certainly looks far better with the addition of Burnett, I would warn Blue Jays fans not to get too optimistic about him. The recent track record of inconsistant NL pitchers with great stuff leaves much to be desired (see Clement, Matt; Wright, Jeret). Still, no one better appears to be on the market right now. The bottom line is Burnett might help, but no one should expect him to be the team's savior. The Jays might be better off either looking at the trade market or signing another solid arm along with Burnett (Jerrod Washburn for example).

3. Saving Canadian Baseball

Back in the early 1990’s the Jays were drawing more than four million fans a year. With a competitive Expos team and a World Champion Blue Jays organization baseball looked to be in excellent shape in Canada. The 1994 strike hit the Expos the hardest, but it devastated the Jays as well. The Blue Jays went from being on pace for another year exceeding four million fans to about 2.8 million in 1995. Without a quality product on the field, interest in baseball waned. The Jays did have a modest increase in attendance last year, but they need a playoff appearance to begin to reignite Canadian passion for baseball. The Jays need to produce, and quickly.

The Bottom Line:

As much as I would like to somebody win the AL East aside from the Yankees or Red Sox, I’m not convinced the Jays have enough talent available either from within or from the free agent market to do it. But hey, I thought the White Sox were going to collapse down the stretch.

11.03.2005

Silent Vindication


Banned substances include steroids, steroid precursors, designer steroids, masking agents and diuretics. There will be one unannounced mandatory test of each player during the season. In addition, there will be testing of randomly selected players, with no maximum number. And there will be random testing during the offseason. The penalties for a positive result are, first positive, 10 days; second, 30 days; third, 60 days; fourth, one year, and all without pay.


I've posted this summary of the MLB steroid policy so that no one who read this can mistake the implications it carries. This means:

1) Giambi made his comeback this season with the aid of any banned substances, avoiding an embarrasing (and possibly career ending) demotion to the minors. It was not a spectacular return to form, but it puts him in a good position to improve next year.

2) Barry Bonds was clean this season, which doesn't mean as much since he spent most of it on the DL, but he still performed very well over the last two weeks of the season (.286/.404/.667), and there was no question that he still had his homerun swing and dominating eye (although both were a bit rusty). Many steroids also take months, even up to a year and a half to be totoally out of the body. If you question Bond's skill this season, go back and look at the homerun he hit at RFK. Moreover, his homerun rate projected over 140 games, which may be as much as he's able to play, puts him at 50 for the season. Not too shabby for a man who'll turn 42.

From this point on, I've run out of good things to say about steroids this season. Here's the list, current as of today, of the 12 major league players who've tested positive.

  • 11/2 Matt Lawton, OF Yankees

  • 10/18 Felix Heredia, LHP Mets

  • 10/4 Carlos Almanzar, RHP Rangers

  • 9/7 Michael Morse, SS Mariners

  • 8/2 Ryan Franklin, P Mariners

  • 8/1 Rafael Palmiero, 1B Orioles

  • 6/8 Rafael Betancourt, P Indians

  • 5/2 Juan Rincon, P Twins

  • 4/26 Jamal Strong, OF Mariners

  • 4/20 Agustin Montero, P Rangers

  • 4/11 Jorge Piedra, OF Rockies

  • 4/4 Alex Sanchez, OF Devil Rays


I'll admit that there are a few on the list, Alamnzar, Franklin, and a name or two in April, that I didn't know about until now. But these names make a couple of things very clear:

1) MLB badly needs a list of approved supplements, vitamins, and other treatments that players can use, instead of guessing if their product is on the list. This was the argument Twins pitcher Juan Rincon used (which is entirely believable). Also, this eliminates the supplement argument for a false positive test.

2) Contrary to popular wisdom before the testing regimen was put into place, there are almost as many pitchers on the list as hitters. This has been commented on before, but it is quite possible many of the fireballing relievers we've seen in the last decade were juiced.

3) Baseball's recent retirees and aging sluggers have all been put in an incredibly awkward situation by Rafael Palmiero's hysterics, both before Congress, and after his positive test, which was for Stanozolol, discussed briefly here in a Hardball Times article, and at greater length here. By the way

The only legitimate therapeutic indications for anabolic steroids are:

(a) replacement of male sex steroids in men who have androgen deficiency, for example as a result of loss of both testes

(b) the treatment of certain rare forms of aplastic anaemia which are or may be responsive to anabolic androgens.
(ABPI Data Sheet Compendium, 1993)

(c) the drugs have been used in certain countries to counteract catabolic states, for example after major trauma.


How can anyone who has alligned with Palmiero at any point come out looking as clean as they did before?

4) Did the Devil Rays really need the dubious honor of having the first positive test? This proves that there is no comsmic justice in the baseball universe.

Still, I started this on a positive note, and I'll try to end on one. After all the wonderful stories this year, the Astros and White Sox making it to the World Series, Derrek Lee flirting with .400 and a Tripple Crown, Pujols emergence (from Barry's shadow) at the "best hitter in baseball", the Braves Young Studs, the Nationals making a run at the division their first year in DC (much to the chagrin of Peter Angelos), and, yes Barry returning from injury to see if he could break a few more records, after all these stories, notice that none of them are tainted with steroids, and, for once, we know this to be a certianty.

11.02.2005

All that glitters ...

It's bad enough that the Yankees think they need a new stadium so that they can increase luxury box receipts, but this is truly an abomination unto baseball gods.

He could already get any woman (or man) in New York City. He is (for better or worse) the face of baseball. Did Derek Jeter really need another Gold Glove? Or, more to the point, did he deserve another one (because he sure as shooting didn't deserve the first one)? His range is limited, his arm is adequate, and his only real asset as a fielder is making flashy plays. Sure, he's got hustle, but when Orlando Cabrera has a FP 11 points higher, I think we need to re-investigate who we're giving these things to.

All the others, listed here are reasonable. But to give Jeter a second Gold Glove is to be blinded by his reputation, and the mystique of the Yankees. To be totally honest, I think that A-Rod was more deserving than Jeter, given that it's only his second year at a more demanding position.

I'll have to be satisfied that they didn't try to give one to Bernie Williams or Jason Giambi.

11.01.2005

The Black and White Sox

Living in Minnesota and developing an affinity has undoubtedly colored my view of baseball and, in particular, of the AL Central. The same is true to an even larger degree of fellow bloggers Aho and Brooks, who have lived here all their lives. Our view, all season, was that the White Sox' record was a fluke, that their obscene record in one run games was a sign of extreme vulnerability, and that the stunningly rapid evolution of their pitching staff had to be an anomaly, and one that would eventually have to reconcile itself with reality as we saw it. We thought that 'smart ball' was a dumb idea, that AJ Pierzynski was clubhouse cancer, and that Ozzie Guillen was completely out of his mind.

I still believe the last one.

However, if I'd been less partial, both to my own prejudices about teams and to the opinions of the media, I might have developed a more complete picture of this team. If you look at the moves made by the White Sox, you couldn't blame me for having a negative view. They traded Carlos Lee, who went .303 / .366 / .525 had 99 RBI and 103 scored runs. This season, the Sox only had two regulars who slugged over .500 (Konerko and Dye), and the man they traded for didn't even slug over .350. No, Podsednik's most impressive stat was his stolen bases, 59. Still, it's important to note that all that added speed on the bases scored significantly fewer runs, 80, and Podsednik only drove in 25 runs (albeit from the leadoff spot). Podsednik is about seven million dollars cheaper, and, yes, seven million dollars can buy quite a lot in the MLB labor market (if spent by anyone other than Brian Cashman).

The Sox spent a bit more wisely than the Yankees. They got Politte for 0.8 million, locked up Garland for another year for 2.5, El Duque for 3.5 and Jermaine Dye for 4 million. While this is a few million more than the difference between Podsednik's and Lee's salary, I think it gives a good idea of what a few million can do for a ballclub. The trade for Garcia left them with a large 8 million dollar a year salary to cover, but the release of Magglio Ordonzez (who had a 2005 salary of 7.2 million, and a 2004 salary of 14 million) made it easier to take that on. In a tight closer market, they signed Dustin Hermanson for 2 million. And who could forget Anthony John Pierzynski, at 2.25.

When you add all of this to what the Sox had, you see a solid rotation, and an offense geared towards contact hitting. The rotation had two distinct types of pitchers.

First, Garcia and Hernandez represented the veterans that other clubs had given up for dead. In the Garcia trade, the Sox gave up a young catcher (Miguel Olivo) who hit below the Mendoza line with Seattle, a minor league outfielder better known for his steroid violations than anything he's done on the field (Michael Morse), and Jeremy Reed a "top prospect" who hasn't done much in his first two years, and would have been crowded out of the outfield in Chicago. So while Garcia actually pitched substantially worse than he did in 2004 with the Mariners, (3.20 vs 4.61 ERA) he came over without too much risk, and there are those (myself included) who feel that a veteran presence can help young players blossom. I think the real reason that the Sox like Garcia is his record, 23 and 12 since he's come over. You see a lot of the same trends with Hernandez and Contreras, who've had their best years with other teams and had good records with the White Sox, although Contreras had his best season in 2005 since his debut with the Yankees. Hernandez had a dismal year, with a 5.12 ERA and .275 BAA, but still was 9 and 9. Both made significant

Garland and Buehrle were the real stars of the rotation, combining for 30 wins and nearly 300 strikeouts. This second type I'll call the young stud. Both of there pitchers improved substantially over their career numbers, which is entirely possible for young players to do.

This team was carefully balanced, and it's important to note that the Red, Athletics, even the lowly Devil Rays scored more runs this season. If you take a look at league BAA by team, you see that the Sox are very close to the top (.249), trailing the Indians (.246), Astros (.247) and Athletics at .241 to lead the league. Just a note to all you White Sox fans, fifth on the list at .250; the Cubs. The same four teams are also the tops in .OPS given up. Now the Pythagorean Win-Loss formula predicts a win total of only 92, so their record in one run games (which most analysts of a Sabermetric bent would call 'luck') really does come into play.

I guess my real point at the end of this article is about the true merits and deficits of the White Sox, the true picture, independent of the prejudices of years past. The truth is, AJ didn't poison the club house. The truth is the Yankee castoffs didn't blow out and revert to 6-plus ERAs. The truth is that they scored just enough runs to win without Magglio and Carlos Lee. The truth is they won the World Series, and they clearly were talented (and lucky, and luck always plays a part in championship runs) enough to do so handily. I can't say that I wish them luck next season, but I don't think I'll be rooting against them quite as hard as I used to, at least not until I have to hear about the 'brilliance' of Ozzie Guillen, which is the only real achilies heel of the team.

It's been a wonderful season, and we at the Confines are going to get back into the habit of regular articles, including a running series profiling the dire needs of every team in the majors. And to the fans of the 31 other teams out there ...

There's always next year.

10.28.2005

Free Agent Round-Up: October 28

In a move that may douse the hopes of Southsiders for back-to-back World Series championships, Paul Konerko filled for free agency. Other notable filings are AJ Burnett (FLA), Billy Wagner (PHI), and one of those amazing flying Molinas I've heard so much about, just to name a few.

The Nationals made a few minor signings, the Mets let 'reliever' Danny Graves go, the Rockies made a minor signing, and a total of 62 players filed for free agency. You can find a comprehensive list here.

The biggest news (although in every story about free agency filings, it appears in about the third paragraph) is that the Giants exercised options on five major players, Jason Schmidt, Randy Winn, Ray Durham, Moises Alou and LeTroy Hawkins. If Schmidt stays healthy, he's clearly worth the money, and Alou has the potential to be a bargain at 4 million. It would be a mistake to evaluate Winn on his performance with the Giants after being traded, (a superlative .359/.391/.680) but he is a career .288 hitter, and good discipline and adequate power for a outfielder with decent speed. Durham has hit .286 with the Giants over the last three seasons, and with a bit of pop. Hawkins has been a disaster since he left the Twins, and even though his stats aren't awful, there is the perception that he cannot perform in high pressure situations. I think he's overpaid at 3.5 million, even if it's only a one year commitment.

These decisions mean, very clearly, that the Giants are once again deferring any major rebuilding until Barry is out of the picture. They are going to try to keep their team together as is and win just enough games to take the weak NL West. As I profile the needs of teams in the coming weeks, we'll take a look at whether or not this really gives the Giants what they need to compete.

6.03.2005

ESPN: KUBAR (Kruked Up Beyond All Repair)

It's hard to know when it really started. The new sets for the shows were a step in the wrong direction. It might have been when they made half their ESPN.com columns (from their better writers) subscription only. From what I've read, the trend may be much older, but lately it's found new lows.

One of the biggest recent problems was giving Joe Morgan a regular column. His coloquial, down-home style works quite well when contrasted with John Miller on Sunday Night Baseball, but in print it just doesn't work. His chats have become near legendary on baseball blogging circuts, as has his confusion over who really wrote Moneyball. I won't bother rehashing what has been so well documented, but if you need something more concrete, see this article by Aaron Gleeman.

Sunday Night Baseball itself, which used to be beautifully produced, when a viewer was only subliminally aware that they were watching television, has turned into a spectacle, complete with theme song and gaudy intro. Worst of all, there's now even a segment for a band that ESPN feels it should 'spotlight.' Granted the band does usually say something about baseball, but it's even dumber than what Kruk or Bowa have to say. Add in the constant ESPNHD plugs and you'll know why I've enjoyed MLB.TV so much this season. I've even found a couple of networks that don't even air commercials, giving me a new level of enjoyment for Yankees games on the YES network.

I used to have a level of respect for all the regulars on both SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight. That is simply no longer the case. While ESPN used to balance between entertainment and journalism, they seemed to have slipped over the edge and become nothing more than entertainers. Stuart Scott has simply gotten out of hand. Steven A Smith is no more than thirty seconds from killing someone on air every time he speaks. The one and only thing Larry Bowa could do to become even mildly interesting (since he'll never be informative) is get angry, and he hasn't done it once that I've seen. Come on Larry, toss a chair at the Kruker! Pedro Gomez must feel like he was sent to the Bahamas and then got caught in a three-month long freak snowstorm, which is fine with me. In football season we have to put up with the insufferable Sean Salisbury. Even the once dependable Tim Kurkjian has begun to slip. In his most recent ESPN.com article on how Derek Jeter is "the face of baseball," he wrote the following:

Jeter wants none of the attention, but it comes because of the way he plays. Three of the most memorable plays of this decade belong to Jeter, and all because of his hustle. There was the famous backhanded flip to the plate in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS against the A's. There was the running catch, and subsequent bloody tumble into the stands, on July 1 last year against the Red Sox. And this year, on May 25, there was the diving catch he made – jumping over rookie second baseman Robinson Cano, a play filled with symbolism – in shallow center field.


Now I might personally disagree with his assessment of Jeter, but that's not what I'm taking issue with. Two of the plays that Kurkjian mentioned, the tag of Giambi and the dive into the seats, may be some of the more memorable, but his catch over Cano will be forgotten by the end of the season, and probably before then as the Yankees continue to sink. Again, this is an article about entertainment and not about sports. With all the compelling stories, all the surprising statistics this year (even those around those damn Yankees) why aren't we talking about the sport itself? If ESPN is trying to help rehabilitate the image of the MLB after the steriod controversy, then instead of talking about the image, they should be actively doing something to improve it, a move that is entirely in their own economic interest as well. You can't make the Jeter-Cano catch into a historical moment, no matter how hard you try, because it's not. But you can talk about everything that's actually going on with the Yankees, instead of writing Jeter a nice little promo. With what Lee is doing, this article is about the wrong Der(r)ek.

It seems like all the real analysis has been relegated to Peter Gammons, with occasional help from the unlikely source of Harold Reynolds, who was calmed down in recent years and provides a very good ex-player's perspective on the game. Gammons has seemed quieter as of late and seems almost dejected on air at times. I think this has less to do with him getting older, less to do with the tarnishing of baseball with steroids, and more to do with the people who have begun to surround him. I won't even start in on Kruk himself. In order to really disect Kruk, I'll need an entire article (and an XXL discetion table). He's that bad. Still, Kruk is only a symptom of the disease that ESPN seems to have caught. You would think after ESPN created a reality show to find the best anchor possible, in which they were judged on accuracy and analysis as much as character and poise, that they might apply the same rules in house. I suppose the problem is that they can't even see anything in the studio anymore other than the neon red and blue. I'll get to Kruk next week, hopefully with some choice quotes from the last two years. Until then, when you turn to ESPN, just use the mute button.

5.17.2005

Reality Check :: Return of the King?



Gagne had a rocky start to his season and if his numbers were to stay at this level for the rest of the season (which they won't) his ERA would be an astronomical 18.00. However, his strikeouts per nine would be even higher, 27. The current record, set by Gagne in 2003 is a hair less than fifteen. Even though I am a Giant fan from wayback, it's nice to see that some of the players in the West (both AL and NL) are returning from the DL and ready to help their teams. Ginter was back for the A's, and was on Sports Center's top plays this morning, though he was hitless.

And now, I turn my full attention to the (inexplicably) third place Dodgers. I say inexplicable not because of their blistering start to the season, but because they have simply outplayed the Diamondbacks in absolute terms. The Padres have come on strong, though, and are a different story altogether. While the Dodgers are 22nd in ERA, they are sixth in runs scored, behind the Cardinals. The real problem for the Dodgers has been that their 4.06 ERA in April has jumped up to 5.43 for May.

Choi still can't touch lefties (.222/.417/.333), but with and OBP over .400, it's no wonder why he keeps getting into the lineup, especially on a team run by a sabermetric devotee like DePodesta. Ricky Ledee (315/.396/.467) and Jason Phillips (.290/.328/.411) are hitting well in limited playing time as well, Kent and Bradley have OPS' over .920, and Mr. Injury Risk himself has made it into 35 games with a .254/.385/.421 line to show for it. Kent and Drew have cooled in May so far, with averages in the low .200s. I know that batting average is considered stata non grata but when batters are hitting .212 and .244, it provides meaningful information. Futhermore, in May in 12 starts, Lowe, Penny, Erickson and Perez are 2-8 with an ERA of 5.46. Jeff Weaver (2-0, 3.54 ERA) has been the bright spot in the rotation. These difficulties have put the seemingly invincible Ddogers behind two other teams in the NL West.

Two weeks ago I used a formula derived by Bill James to attempt to isolate luck and remove it from the measure of a team. I'm going to provide a frame of reference before we look at the NL West. For 2004, I've taken the divisional champs, the wild card winners and teams that were in the running the last week of the season for a playoff spot, listed their Runs Scored (RS), Runs Allowed (RA), their winning percentage for the year (WP), their record (W-L), their winning percentage predicted by their RS and RA (PWP), and then their records with that WP (PW-L). I've also listed the Diamondbacks.

RS RA WP W-L PWP PW-L
----------------------------------------------
Yankees 897 808 .623 101-61 .552 89-73
Twins 780 715 .568 92-70 .543 88-74
Angels 836 734 .568 92-70 .564 91-71
Red Sox 949 786 .605 98-64 .593 96-66
Athletics 793 742 .562 91-71 .533 86-76

Braves 803 688 .593 96-66 .578 94-68
Cardinals 855 659 .648 105-57 .627 102-60
Dodgers 761 684 .574 93-69 .553 90-72
Astros 803 698 .568 92-70 .570 92-70
Giants 850 770 .574 91-71 .549 89-73

D'backs 615 899 .315 51-111 .319 52-110

Some teams overachieved by quite a few wins, most notably the A's and Yankees. I checked the numbers three times for the Yankees; they did indeed outperform their predicted number of wins by 12. None of these teams picked up wins, which is to be expected. Few winning teams get unlucky, because luck is a good part of the reason they win. If we extend this measure to the rest of the league, there is only one major change

RS RA WP W-L PWP PW-L
----------------------------------------------
Cubs 789 655 .549 89-73 .585 95-67


That's right, sports fans, the Cubs would have made the playoffs in front of the Astros. The point of all this information is to show that while pythagorean wins occasionally incorrectly predict how one good team will finish compared to another good team, it will always predict how a good team will fare against a poor team. I've gone though all this trouble to set up the NL West race.

RS RA WP W-L PWP PW-L
---------------------------------------------
D'backs 173 193 .590 23-16 .446 17-22
Padres 182 171 .590 23-16 .531 21-18
Dodgers 190 184 .553 21-17 .516 20-18
Giants 170 190 .486 18-19 .445 16-21
Rockies 174 212 .286 10-25 .402 14-21
This is a small sample size, but even in the month of May when they've 'overtaken' the Dodgers, they still have scored less runs then they allowed, and anyone who has the most basic understanding of the game knows that scoring less runs than your opponents is a bad thing. The Giants have virtually identical runs scored and allowed numbers and are four games back. So with all due respect to Tim Kurkjian and Eric Neel the Diamondbacks are not a worst-to-first scenario, and aren't even a good team. If they make it to .500 this year, they need to view that as a monumental accomplishment, because improving by thirty wins is. But if they pin their hopes on winning the West, come September they are going to be sorely dissapointed. The Dodgers are scuffling right now, and once they pull their pitching back together (a rotation that I have infintely more confidence in than in Arizona's) and get Gagne pouring blinding strikes across the plate in the ninth, they will be leading the division. Their lineup is slumping a bit, but they should bounce back, especially with a guy like Kent in the mix. The Padres will be close, and if their young starters stay strong all season the could unseat the Dodgers. It's an outside shot, but the Giants could be, could be in the race if Bonds comes back at a hundred percent. Michael Tucker is hitting .213/.323/.363. For those of you who don't remember, last year Bonds was .362/.609/.812, which indicates that he was on base almost twice as often as Tucker, and Bonds would have legitimate protection from Alou, something he has needed since Jeff Kent left for Houston.

Even with all of that, this is LA's race to lose. The Giants are old and lack real power without Bonds. The Padres are still trying to figure out how to play in PETCO, and how to fit together as a team. The Rockies are a joke, and unless they magically improve their hitting or pitching, the Diamondbacks will drop in the standings.

Remember readers, statistics only lie to you if you let them. We'll give the Beane Boys and the DePodesta Dodgers a week or so before we look in on them again in the next exciting installment of ... Reality Check.

5.15.2005

New Blood :: Willy Taveras

Last week the Giants were in Houston for a three game set, and thanks to MLB TV I was able to watch parts of all three. It was nice to get a chance to see my old hometown team, even if I had to listen to the Houston broadcast crew. I saw all of the Thursday game and the most interesting thing I saw wasn't the adequate start from Hennessey, or the loss from Petite. Willy Taveras came up in the third with one out. I hadn't really heard much about Taveras, although I knew that the Astros were using him in their starting lineup. He bunted to the left side of the infield, Hennessey fielded the ball cleanly and threw in what I thought would be more than enough time to get him at first. Taveras beat the throw by at least a half step. A few pitches into Morgan Ensberg's at bat, Taveras took off for second. Metheney is a good fielding catcher (35% CS for his career) and I thought there would be a good chance to get Taveras. I was wrong, as he was in with time to spare. The Ensberg at bat wore on, and as Ensberg took ball four, Taveras took off for third. Again, Taveras was clearly in before the throw. Hennessy pitched out of the inning without surrendering a run, but I realized that Taveras created a first and third one out scenario base solely on his speed. Watching him, it was clear he is blindingly fast, and the impotant thing to realize about his bunt single is that Taveras is right handed, which costs him two steps. The play at first would have been laughable if he was a lefty.

I was curious to compare Willy's first major league season to a few other well known speedsters. The first two lines are for Ricky Henderson, in his rookie year and the year he was 23, the same age as Taveras. Lou Brock at 23 in his first full season is next, then Joe Morgan's first full season and his season at age 23, and finally, Taveras' projected numbers for the year.

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
R('79) 89 351 49 96 13 3 1 26 33 11 34 39 .274 .338 .336
R('82) 149 536 119 143 24 4 10 51 130 42 116 94 .267 .398 .382
B('62) 123 434 73 114 24 7 9 35 16 7 35 96 .263 .319 .412
M('65) 157 601 100 163 22 12 14 40 20 9 97 77 .271 .373 .418
M('67) 133 494 73 136 27 11 6 42 29 5 81 51 .275 .378 .411
T('05) 162 590 90 149 9 9 9 41 59 9 45 122 .252 .313 .344
So while Taveras' numbers aren't mindblowing, they match up fairly well with some of the best basestealers / early-in-the-order hitters of the modern era, and if hitting is indeed contagious, then Taveras is playing on a team that is dragging him down. The Astros are hitting .244, 26th in the majors. The only disturbing stat is that his strikeouts are so high. His minor league numbers also show increases at each level. These may be due to adjustment, and they might be signs of what is to come for this young man. Only time will tell, but for the time being, he is entertaining to watch, and may prove to be a player of note in a few years. Keep your eye on this kid.

5.13.2005

Reality Check :: No Joy in Oakland

The A's have continued their dismal hitting, with an ice cold .235 BA and .338 SLG. Worst of all, they're hitting .210 with runners in scoring position, and slugging .265. Like I said last time, these dismal numbers have nowhere to go but up, although I expected that an improvement wouldn't take so long. Injecting Swisher back into the lineup should also help (or at a bare minimum, could hardly make things worse). The Hardball Times recently brought me a ray of sunshine, in the form of Projected OPS(PrOPS). The idea is to eliminate luck in an evaluation of a player's hitting. With that said, here are the numbers for the A's

OPS PrOPS PrOPS+ PrOPS% PA
Bobby Kielty 0.724 0.844 -0.120 -16.56% 69
Keith Ginter 0.554 0.842 -0.288 -51.96% 52
Eric Byrnes 0.633 0.803 -0.170 -26.82% 86
Erubiel Durazo 0.734 0.799 -0.065 -8.88% 121
Mark Kotsay 0.755 0.795 -0.040 -5.27% 137
Charles Thomas 0.350 0.759 -0.409 -116.80% 39
Jason Kendall 0.573 0.754 -0.180 -31.48% 125
Scott Hatteberg 0.694 0.752 -0.059 -8.46% 123
Marco Scutaro 0.722 0.744 -0.021 -2.97% 106
Nick Swisher 0.646 0.739 -0.094 -14.52% 84
Mark Ellis 0.684 0.702 -0.018 -2.57% 87
Eric Chavez 0.553 0.691 -0.138 -25.01% 136
Adam Melhuse 0.250 0.556 -0.306 -122.21% 12
(for some reason Bobby Crosby wasn't included)

It's tough to know exactly what to make of this stat, and I intend to contact the author for the full PrOPS (I love that acronym) formula , but all those negative numbers mean that all the A's are getting unlucky at the plate, which, of course, bodes well for a comeback. Keep in mind too that if the A's had held both leads against the Red Sox this weekend, they would be 16-18 and only three back of the Angels. Getting Calero back from the DL should help with these late game collapses. Remember, one of the reasons that Beane traded the people he did was to reinforce the bullpen that was so shaky last year. Another very impotant point I would make is that Barry Zito may be starting to return to form, or at least may be working his way back to above average. He was electric against the Yankees last Friday and missed out on the win due to bad defense. Until the eighth inning he'd only given up one run and his curveball was moving enough to warp the space-time continuum. Billy Beane and Ken Macha need to start reading this blog if they want Zito to turn around; throw him seven and put him on the shelf. A few solid wins could put him back on track. But, I must admit, if I'm still writing like this in two weeks, I might just have to declare this season what it really is, a rebuilding year.

5.12.2005

Lollygaggers!

Here's the thing. For the longest time I've wanted to like the Mets, not wanting my contempt for the Yankees to color the whole city of New York. The problem is that for me to like a team, I have to respect them, and the Mets prove year after year all the reasons I shouldn't. The monstrously large contract to Beltran; fine, I'll live with that, he's a good player. Four years to Pedro Martinez; why not, after he throws out his arm you can make him wear the Mr. Met costume. But yesterday's game against the Cubs showed me exactly why I look at the Mets as a traveling circus more than I do a baseball team. Everyone focused on Dempster blowing the save and the walkoff homerun by Derrek Lee, but what interested me most was how the Cubs scored their first three runs.

In the bottom of the second, Jerry Hairston Jr. led off the inning. Victor Zambrano had him in a two strike count when he proceeded to drill Hairston between the numbers with a breaking pitch. No one was worried, because next, in the eight hole was Henry Blanco, or, as we here in Minnesota called him, Henry "The Rally Killer" Blanco. The Confines staff suspects that he generates more than one out per plate appearance, but we still need to go over the data. Blanco hit a low, weak popup that would have been caught by most little league teams under normal weather conditions, and by most major league teams, even with the gusty weather at Wrigley yesterday. Hairston ran the bases brilliantly, giving himself enough time to get back to first if he had to, but was closer to second because he knew what I knew; these are the Mets. The ball dropped in between Beltran and Kaz Matsui and was scored a single.

Now with runners at first and second with the pitcher coming up so early in the game, most teams would charge the bunt, take the out and get on with the inning. Zambrano allowed himself to get so worked up that he'd pitched Prior to a 2-2 count. Then he made an even bigger mistake: a balk. One would now think that Zambrano would go after Prior for the strikeout, or even a groundball to get an out. Zambrano's 2-2 pitch was so far off the plate, even the stellar defense of Mike Piazza could stop it. Hairston scored from third, Blanco moved to third, and Zambrano walked Prior on the next pitch. Patterson was up next and slapped a grounder to Mientkiewicz (who will henceforth be known as "The Doug") who short-hopped a thrwo back to Piazza after stepping on first. The low throw, combined with Piazza flopping backwards like a fish out of water, looking for the ball in front of him, allowed Blanco (a catcher to score from first). Neifi Perez then came up and ripped a ball up the middle that rolled halfway into right center for a single. Prior scored from second on the play.

So the Cubs scored three runs on: a HBP, a 1B (that should have been a team E), a balk,a WP (to the starting pitcher), a BB (also to the starting pitcher), a G3 (and another team E) and a 1B (with a throw so weak that the pitcher scored from second). Two singles, a hit batsman, a walk, a balk, a wild pitch and a groundout. This inning illustrates so clearly why I cannot respect the Mets. If Willie Randolph is any kind of manager, I know exactly what he said in the locker room after the game.

You guys... you lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. Do you know what that makes you? Larry?
Lollgaggers!
Lollygaggers.

5.10.2005

The All-Bust Team

Righty said to me the other night, “If I had a 200 million dollar payroll I wouldn’t just get one team to the World Series, I’d get two.” Fair enough. He’s a very smart guy, but most people could assemble a team that would at least contend for a title with that kind of money. It takes true skill to not only put 100 million dollars (100,971,429 to be exact) on the field and win, but you can also create a team that would run away with the worst record in the league based on their stats.

The following nine players earned their way on to the All-Bust team:

C Jason Kendall, OAK at 10,571,429
30 G, 12 R, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 13 BB, 12 SO, 1 SB, .310 OBP, .254 SLG, .219 AVG

1B Jason Giambi, NYY at 13,428,571
27 G, 10 R, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 18 BB, 29 SO, 0 SB, .386 OBP, .325 SLG, .195 AVG

2B Brett Boone, SEA at 9,000,000
32 G, 12 R, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 8 BB, 21 SO, 2 SB, .282 OBP, .339 SLG, .231 AVG

SS Edgar Renteria, BOS at 8,000,000
30 G, 16 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 10 BB, 16 SO, 2 SB, .299 OBP, .342 SLG, .239 AVG

3B Adrian Beltre, SEA at 11,400,000
33 G, 17 R, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 5 BB, 21 SO, 0 SB, .273 OBP, .356 SLG, .242 AVG

OF Preston Wilson, COL at 12,500,000
21 G, 12 R, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 5 BB, 18 SO, 2 SB, .276 OBP, .425 SLG, .225 AVG

OF Hideki Matsui, NYY at 8,000,000
34 G, 15 R, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 17 BB, 23 SO, 0 SB, .315 OBP, .372 SLG, .233 AVG

OF Bernie Williams, NYY at 12,357,143
29 G, 9 R, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 11 BB, 15 SO, 1 SB, .308 OBP, .295 SLG, .238 AVG

SP Kevin Brown, NYY at 15,714,286
1-4, 6.39 ERA, 31 IP, 46 H, 22 ER, 2 HR, 5 BB, 18 SO

And four are Yankees. It reminded me of this article from the Hardball Times, talking about the future of baseball after the Steinbrenner Era. Not a good sign for the Bronx Bombers, but a good one for baseball.

5.06.2005

So it's root, root, root for the home team (at Tropicana)

Most of the loyal readers of the Confines know that while we are named for the ballpark on the North side of Chicago, we are actually located in the greater metropolitan area for Minneapolis, and we are all Twins fans. My affection for them is less intense than both Brooks and Aho, who are lifelong Minnesotans. Bearing that in mind, I know that my next statement may draw their criticism; I am desperately hoping that the Twins lose their next series, and even hoping they get swept.

There's only one reason I would wish for such a thing, if the Twins lose this weekend, then the Devil Rays win, and if the Rays win and the Yankees drop two games to the A's, then the Yankees would be in sole possession of last place in the AL East. Think about that. Think of the vindication, the satisfaction, the pure joy that every Yankees hater has waited so long for. My Yankees hatred didn't come to fruition until Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS when Derek jeter made the most improbable play I've ever seen, snapping up a wayward throw to the plate at a full run and flipping over to Posada to tag out Jeremy Giambi at the plate. I've waited for this moment since then. Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.

I've got my finrgers crossed for this one, so, to the Boys in Oakland, give 'em hell, and to the dear hometown Twins, just take these next few off. The White Sox will implode eventually, and the Twins can handle a couple of losses at this point. They might even be as happy as I would be to see the Yankees in last.

5.02.2005

Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?

Last year, through the month of April, the Diamondbacks were 9 and 13 and well on their way to a dismal 111 loss season. This season, after the third day of May, Arizona is 15 and 11, and has at one point in the season actually had the division lead. How did a team that said goodbye to Randy Johnson last year turn themselves from a laughingstock to a contender?

Partly, they've used the New Detroit Tiger theory. This was also recently employed to a lesser extent in Seattle and in New York in the NL. This, simply, is to overpay for (mediocre, in some cases) talent. Even though the Diamondbacks have proved themselves to be a franchise that values winning, they don't have the (healthy) star slugger that powers a lineup (and draws fans). The ridiculous contracts are ridiculous by design. Ownership wanted to pay Ortiz, Glauss, Vazquez and Green far more than they would see elsewhere so that they could lock them in and field a team that might hit .500. The Mets and Mariners could sign better players for the payroll that went to those four players (almost 47 million dollars, take your pick, Beltre, Vazquez or Beltran, all between 11 and 12 for this year) so their strategy looks a bit different.

Now to these new D'backs. Vazquez has been a bust, with and ERA over 5 (but he does have a record of 3 and 2). Ortiz has been "Old-slow-and-steady" with a ERA around 3.5. Green and Glauss have been hitting in the low .270s and Glauss has had some power. Certainly adding Green and Glauss (if they don't get hurt) is a needed power infusion for the lineup, but if everyone in the NL West was healthy, this is probably the least dangerous offense, with the possible exception of the Padres, or the Rockies away from Coors. The staff is, at best, margnially improved. All due respect to Johan Santana (but not to Clemens, who got damn lucky that the Cy Young voters don't know any math more complicated than addition, subtraction, division and multiplication), but Johnson was the best pitcher last year. Somehow everyone overlooked that he threw one of only 17 perfect games ever pitched. He dominated every statistical category but wins. I know that his trade set up the trade for Green, but I think this is a much better team with Johnson and Ortiz as the starting two. While I don't fault the Diamondbacks for trying to get younger, they could have tried to get someone better than Vazquez in return.

Halsey (2-0, 3.21) and Webb (3-0, 3.24) have been the bright spots in the rotation thus far, both young and relatively unknown. Luis Gonzalez has started to get back to his old form and is hitting .298/.376/.479 so far. These numbers don't look great, but I'm sure that Gonzo sees them as an improvement over 2004 when he went .259/.373/.493 in only 105 games. The most dominant player on the team has been Lyon, who has ten saves in eleven chances.

This is a team that is, even with the loss of Johnson, better than they were last year. That having been said, this appears to be a team that has been very lucky. So far the Diamondbacks have scored only 111 runs so far, and have given up 121. Even a glance at these numbers would suggest that the D'backs have been getting fortunate breaks.

Just a little chart for you here





TeamRuns ScoredRuns AllowedRecord
Diamondbacks11112115-11
Dodgers13010616-9
Twins1149515-9
Braves1007915-10
Cubs12211612-12

The Dodgers, Twins and Braves are there to illustrate the RS (runs scored) and RA (runs allowed) of teams with similar records, and the Cubs are there to show that teams with worse records have better ratios.

There's a measure known as Pythagorean Win-Loss Records, which is caculated by RS^2 / RA^2 + RS^2 and is designed to measure how good a team is excluding luck.

Here are the predicted winning percentages for those last teams, and the record they would have at this point in the season





TeamEXP W%EXP RecordDif
Diamondbacks.45712-14-3
Dodgers.60115-10-1
Twins.59514-10-1
Braves.64616-9+1
Cubs.52513-11+1

Why are the Diamond backs even close, then? Well, the Dodgers have seen more streaking lately than a college campus during pledge week, the Padres are hurt and still adjusting to Petco, and the most dangerous man in baseball is still rehabbing his knee. Expect the Diamondback to fade into the desert night, unless they start playing better. You can only outrun the inevitable for so long.

4.26.2005

Reality Check :: Silver Lining

This is the begining of what will be a fixture here on the Confines. For the last few seasons, various figures in the baseball world have launched a campaign to convince the world that Billy Beane and his sabermetrics are ruining the game of baseball. Paul De Podesta has come under the same attacks (although oddly enough, not Theo Epstein. I guess if you win all is forgiven) for the moves he's made with the Dodgers. The purpose of this column is to look, honestly, at the record, at the statistics, and at the payroll, to see if these men are indeed crazy, or if they are crazy like foxes.

From time to time I may invite the other Confines writers to join in this series. I am by far the most sabermetric-minded of the group. Brooks walks the line between traditional wisdom and the 'new baseball math', and Aho is firmly of the old guard, though he does keep up with the newer stats.

So, without further ado, the first edition of ... Reality Check.


The Oakland Athletics have had a disappointing begining to their season, last in their division at 9 and 11. Even worse, the A's have a team batting average of .229, dead last in the majors and haven't scored in the last 22 innings. There is no point in talking about the Dodgers right now, as there is nothing to critique or quantify. I don't think they are a team that is good enough to keep up this pace all season, which would get them 110 wins. 100, however, is not out of the question.

The A's have signs for encouragement, though. They are sixth for ERA (3.65) thus far and if the offense pulls it together, they should be able to make a run at winning their division in what is a rebuilding year. Even if you hate the A's (which I find personally hard to imagine, but to each their own) you can't believe that Chavez won't improve on his .171/.256/.276 ([BA/OBP/SLG] career .274/.352/.497), that Jason Kendall wont improve on .233/.300/.274 (career .305/.386/.415). Durazo .203/.286/.275 (career .282/.383/.489) and Byrnes .182/.250/.364 (career .268/.333/.457) will also move back towards normal as the season goes on, and Crosby is on the DL. When all of this is taken into account and the A's find themselves only three off the division lead , they've got every reason to be optimistic.

The pitching staff has carried this ball club so far, with 7 pitchers with sub-2.10 ERAs and 6 with ERAs of 1.75 or below. These 7 account for nearly 82 innings of the 175 thrown this year. They also have nearly 40 innings from pitchers with ERAs less than 1. The bright spots are obviously Joe Blanton and Rich Harden. Harden has the lowest ERA in the AL (like Clemens, only one ER on the season), and his K/9 is 9.3. He has stepped up in a big way from last year. Blanton threw a fantastic game on Sunday Night Baseball this week. He made one bad pitch to Steve Finley in the seventh and lost because of it. Finley jumped on it and sent it flying into the right-centerfield seats.
Blanton's line for the game:
8.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO.
For the year:
25.2 IP, 18 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 6 BB, 7 SO.
The important thing to note about Blanton is his experience, or lack thereof. Last year he threw eight innings in the majors. Eight. None of those were in starts, and he's shutting down the Angel's lineup four starts into the season. Just ignore his 0-2 record, because it doesn't mean a damn thing. This guy could be very, very good.

Zito has proved himself an enigma this season, once again. If you take out his horrible start against the Devil Rays, his ERA is 4.68, which is not great, but respectable. He's also had two good starts that have been marred by late declines, both of which have come against very good lineups, the Angels on the 15th and the white hot White Sox yesterday. Against Anaheim he threw eight strong innings, only surrendering two runs in the seventh. Last night against the Sox, Zito threw six scoreless, but gave up four in the seventh. In both starts he threw just over 115 pitches.The splits from ESPN's stat page paint a clear picture of what is happening. Zito is tiring in the later innings and pressing to make pitches. In the first inning, batters are hitting .167 off him. Innings one through three, .276; innings four through six, .196. The problem comes in the seventh, eighth and ninth, when he's being hit at a .467 clip. It's is even more obvious looking at average by pitch counts. From 76 to 90, batters are only hitting .143, but from 91 to 105 they're hitting .357. Slugging also jumps from .143 to .429. With the strength the A's have in the bullpen, if I was managing I'd keep Zito on a short leash and pull him before he got into the mid 90s for pitch counts. Working the bullpen for an extra inning every fourth or fifth day is certianly worth the wins, and worth getting Zito's confidence back up. I already mentioned Crosby on the DL, but A's bullpen staple Chad Bradford could be back as soon as mid-June to help as well. The Angels should fear this team, because for as badly as they're playing, they're still in the thick of things, and they are very, very likely to improve.

In a few weeks, we'll check back on the boys in green and yellow, as well as the boys in blue. There's not much to say about the Dodgers right now, except that Hee Seop Choi is hiting (a predictable) .205, but with Kent and Bradley over .350, it doesn't really matter. Just remember, baseball fans, the three most important things in statistics are sample size, sample size, and sample size.

4.24.2005

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Many of you from outside the state might wonder why the Twins still play indoors in an age when so many clubs have built new facilities. Although the story of why is complex, the answer is really fairly simple: Carl Pohlad. The Twins owner had a friendly Governor in during the Arne Carlson administration, but he turned public opinion against him by pretending to consider moving the team to North Carolina. The public thereafter has remained quite skeptical of helping out an owner who is perhaps the most unpopular man in the state.

However, it may not matter.

This is from the Star-Tribune:

Twins, Hennepin have stadium deal


With a new promise of $125 million from Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad in hand, Hennepin County will seek state permission to increase the local sales tax for a Warehouse District ballpark in downtown Minneapolis.

Under the terms of the plan to be unveiled at a Metrodome press conference Monday, the Twins and the county would build a $360 million, 42,000-seat open-air stadium. The site is near the confluence of Interstate Hwy. 394, the end of the Hiawatha Light Rail line and the proposed Northstar commuter rail in downtown Minneapolis.

The total cost of the ballpark project is projected to be $478 million, including bonding costs, site preparation and surrounding infrastructure, such as road and pedestrian improvements. No state money would be required.

The team, which has been seeking a new ballpark for a decade, would reap revenues from concessions, naming rights and luxury suites.

"It's simple. It's straightforward. You know exactly what you're voting on," said Jerry Bell, Pohlad's longtime point man on stadium matters.

One group that probably won't be voting on the tax -- which would amount to three cents on every $20 in purchases -- is Hennepin County residents: County and team officials said that requiring a public referendum would kill the deal.

St. Paul voters killed a proposed ballpark plan in 1999, and polls have shown scant support for public funding of stadiums.

The proposed ballpark wouldn't include a roof, but the Twins still favor one.

The team will encourage the state to help cover that cost, projected to be at least $100 million.

Top legislative leaders said on Saturday they will consider the proposal after this session's major budget bills are complete, but the plan already has detractors. Gov. Tim Pawlenty declined to comment.

The Hennepin County Board is expected to endorse the plan Tuesday.

"It's important to have a vital downtown," Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said of the ballpark plan. "The team is a state asset, and we can't forget that."

The proposed 0.15 percent increase in the general sales tax is projected to raise $28 million a year and underwrite $353 million in county debt. County officials involved in drafting the proposal plan to issue 30-year bonds, but they predict the tax would raise enough money to pay off the bonds more quickly.

In Denver, 20-year bonds issued to build Coors Field for the Colorado Rockies were covered by a 0.10 percent sales tax and were paid off in less than 10 years.

The use of the sales tax -- as opposed to user fees -- allows the county to issue tax-exempt bonds, which carry lower interest rates than taxable bonds. The sales tax also is a stable and predictable funding source that would grow along with the local economy.

Opat said the goal was to "keep the public's involvement as reasonable as possible, and I think this deal does that."

Pohlad, known as a steely negotiator, sent a letter to the county on Friday saying he would pay $40 million up front with an additional $85 million to follow before the ballpark would open in 2009.

If the Legislature approves, the deal would go back to the County Board, which would then vote on whether to increase the tax.

Capitol reaction

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, and House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, both said on Saturday that they would support the proposal.

"This is a very workable plan because it does not require any state general fund money," Johnson said. "Three cents on $20 falls out of most people's pockets before breakfast."
Sviggum called it a "reasonable" plan. "Obviously, it's a significant commitment of the Twins owner," he said.

But both also warned that they would not consider a stadium proposal until after the budget bills for health care, education and transportation were done. That's an important caveat because in recent years the Legislature has had major trouble putting together a budget.

I'm inclined to agree with Majority Leader Johnson. A three cent sales tax on every twenty dollars of goods sold is a small price to pay for the revenue which a new stadium would bring to the county. Minneapolis is one of America's best mid-sized cities in terms of the arts, entertainment, and has managed to stay economically vibrant. It has been hampered by the lack of a decent pro sports facility. I hope that I can see the day when Tori Hunter makes an astonishing play at the wall, on grass. I hope I can see Morneau put one in the seats, seats which aren't folded up from a football game. However, a few more political battles need to be fought. Although I don't want to speak for Righty Grove, I imagine he'll have something to say about the politics of it from his birds eye view in St Paul.

4.22.2005

Bad Blood in the Central

Just when the White Sox make you respect them, just when they've gained some semblance of character, they go and do something like this that reminds you of the attack on the umpire, of the drunken fans, of why it seems so appropriate that AJ Pierzynski is playing there.

The quotes in the Chicago Sun Times article read like so --

"He never was my friend because I don't know him," Guillen said. "If he thinks what I said hurt him, I don't give a [bleep]. I didn't come here to make friends, I came here to win games. I've got a lot of friends. If Magglio doesn't want to be my friend, I'm not going to lose sleep at night."

Guillen only was warming up, though. He saved his best for last, launching into an expletive-laced torrent of insults.

"He's a piece of [bleep]," Guillen said. "He's another Venezuelan [bleep]. [Bleep] him. He thinks he's got an enemy? No, he's got a big one. He knows I can [bleep] him over in a lot of different ways.

"He better shut the [bleep] up and just play for the Detroit Tigers. Why do I have to go over and even apologize to him? Who the [bleep] is Magglio Ordonez? What did he ever do for me? He didn't do [bleep] for me. But he said I'm his enemy -- he knows me. Tell him he knows me, and he can take it how he wants to take it.

"Did he play good for me? Yes, he did. Did he play hard for me? Yes, he did. He might like me. He might be sensitive of me. He might be jealous of me, I don't know why. But saying I'm his enemy, he hates me, I could care less what that [bleep] thinks. I don't give a [bleep] what he does with the rest of his life. He [bleep] with the wrong guy, and he knows that, too. He knows for a fact that he [bleep] with the wrong people."

Now the mouthy catcher has a mouthy manager. I'll set aside all the personal rancor for the time being, and even the strategic value (or lack thereof) of character assassination of players in your division, but why the [bleep] did [bleep]ing race come into [bleep]ing play? April 15th was Jackie Robinson day. The aniversary of King's assassination was less than a month ago. If these two men want to sling mud, great; if they want to manipulate the media and sent insults back and forth, fine; if they want to step outside, I'll referee the damn bout myself. Just honestly, can't we hate someone for who he actually is, without bringing his race (or nationality) into the picture?

It's reasons like this that makes virtually everyone outside of the South side root against the White Sox. Some days it's no surprise that the White Sox are the only team to ever try to throw the World Series. Somehow The White Sox always wind up with a black eye.