Sunday, February 28, 2010

Going For The Gold

The outstanding Men's Ice Hockey tournament will wrap up this afternoon with the Gold Medal Game between the U.S. and Canada. These two squads met last Sunday, with the U.S. taking a 5-3 victory to finish group play undefeated.

Since then, the U.S. beat Switzerland in the quarterfinals Wednesday and trounced Finland in the semis on Friday, scoring six goals in the game's first fourteen minutes. Team USA continues to get superb goaltending from Ryan Miller, who bettered Switzerland's Jonas Hiller and Finland's Mikka Kiprusoff, the only other goalies in the tournament who have come close to Miller's level of play.

As for the Canadians, their loss to the U.S. and the point lost via a shootout victory over the Swiss in group play left them with the sixth seed. With Roberto Luongo replacing Martin Brodeur between the pipes, they beat up on Germany 8-2 on Tuesday, and then faced Russia on Wednesday. What many predicted to be the eventual Gold Medal Game entering the tournament was reduced to a quarterfinal game, and the expected heavyweight match between the two deepest teams in the tournament was a laugher, with Canada winning 7-3. In the semis on Friday, Canada jumped out to an early 2-0 lead over Slovakia, then withstood a late rally to take a 3-2 victory.

Last week's match up came one day short of the thirtieth anniversary of the Miracle on Ice; today's game comes on the fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. winning gold at the 1960 Games. This is also a rematch of the 2002 Gold Medal Game, when the Canadians took gold on American soil. The U.S. looks to return the favor today.

It's tough enough to defeat a team like Canada once in this tournament, let alone twice. It's even tougher to do it when the gold medal is on the line and the entirety of the arena is behind the Canadians. But this U.S. team is talented, has had an outstanding run through this tournament, and has the best player at the most important position. That'll go a long way towards evening the odds, and anything can happen in a single game. Puck drops at 3:15 EST. Let's go USA!

Sunday Morning Link Buffet

Good morning, Fackers. Here are a few things to check out before the population of hockey fans in the country increases exponentially at around 3:00.

There are three features in the local broadsheets on Robinson Cano today. The first one comes from Mark Fiensand in the Daily News. The scribe talked to Brian Cashman about Cano's potential and Cash said:
He's already one of the premier guys in the game, but that's the only thing separating him from taking it to a whole other level. If he can be more selective at the plate, he could have a Hall of Fame-type career.
Like we've said before, Cano's ability to make contact with balls out of the zone makes it difficult for him to be patient. For him to get better, it would involve laying off of pitches he knows he can hit in order to wait for ones that he could hit harder. These decisions occur in a split second and are more a matter of intuition than choice. But maybe with some hard work he could make that jump.

The second and third Cano articles come from Bob Klapisch and Joel Sherman and are both about Cano "taking it to the next level" as well; each thinks Cano can step up to fill the void in the #5 slot in the line up left by Hideki Matsui. Sherman talks about improving Robby's production with runners in scoring position while Klapisch compares Cano to Dustin Pedrioa.

Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger talked with Jesus Montero about working on cars with his father and how that might translate to improving his skills as a catcher:
What about [working on race cars] makes it worthwhile for you?

I like to have fun. People teach me. I know already a couple of things. You have to do it perfect. If you do it wrong, the engine doesn’t work. Those engines have so much power. They have to be perfect for the race. So we try to pay attention every single time when we’re doing something. That’s why I like it.

How much of that translates to baseball, especially learning a position like catcher, where you’ve got to deal with a lot of details?

Catching is like a little bit more fun for me. It’s fun to control the game, to be behind the plate, calling pitches, to be like the third manager of the game. And it’s about having fun in the game, try to make my pitchers laugh all the time.
In the Post, Jorge Posada acknowledges the about the amount of catching talent in the Yankees' system (including Montero), but says he's is going to make it tough for them to take his place. Let's hope he's right.

Via Joe from River Ave. Blues, there is a quick story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Ross Olhendorf, Steven Jackson, Anthony Claggett and Daniel McCutchen sharing a house together in Bradenton for Spring Training. Sounds like a the four former Yankees are having a blast.

Chan Ho Park has arrived. Well, at least his stuff has shown up. [Update: Edwar Ramirez has been DFA'd to make room for Park]

A-Rod bumped up his $400,000 Mercedes Maybach while texting on his phone. He also reportedly broke up with the blonde Miami heiress he was dating. What a difference a year makes.

David Pinto at Baseball Musings takes a look at the Yankees offense and suggests that Nick Johnson's value might be maximized batting "second leadoff" or ninth. It won't happen but it's an interesting thought.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Carl Crawford, "Street" And Prejudice

Yesterday, Rob from Bronx Baseball Daily wrote a interesting and thoughtful post about some comments that Steve Lombardi from Was Watching made in reference to Carl Crawford. Rob made some even-handed commentary on a delicate subject but more has come up since his post was written and I wanted to take a moment to highlight the issue here.

Riffing on a report from Jon Heyman about the Yankees possible interest in Crawford, Lombardi stated matter-of-factly:
Two things about Carl Crawford: One, he’s very “street.” Think Mickey Rivers meets Rickey Henderson – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Okay, we all know "street" is a another term for "ghetto", but with a slightly less overt racial connotation. You can say that there "isn't anything wrong with that", but the fact of the matter is that you're still judging someone that you don't personally know based on a few things you've gleaned from watching them on TV. Why Steve even felt the need to point this out, I don't know, but he then went on to say:
Two, I dunno why…but… I just have this feeling that he’s one of those players who will be out of the game by the time he’s 35 years old. Granted, that’s not until 2017. And, I could be totally wrong on this… and he’ll be a Tim Raines type who plays into his late 30’s.

I’m just saying… if it were me, I’d be careful about giving him a very long term deal once he hits the free agent market. I’d be very concerned about going more than 5 years on an offer. But, that’s just me…
Lombardi has since denied that those two "points" (if you can even call them that) were connected, but if the hunch about Crawford being out of the game when he's 35 isn't related to the presumption that he's "street", then where did it come from? As Tom Tango is fond of saying, "Summary opinion without evidence is the very definition of bullsh!t". And Steve's statement is either A) prejudiced, B) bullshit, or C) both.

Additionally, given how much Lombardi criticizes Brian Cashman, I find his "analysis" of the Crawford situation to be endlessly amusing. Steve just has a feeling that Carl Crawford won't have a long career, so the Yankees should be careful about giving more than 5 years (as if any long term signing wouldn't be made with care). At least the Yankee GM bases decisions on tangible things that can be supported with evidence, as opposed to abstract feelings and hunches that admittedly can't be explained ("I dunno why... but...").

Predictably, people jumped on him in the comments about this, particularly the use of "street" and Lombardi attempted to "clarify" himself:
Just to clarify the “street” comment…

If you’ve ever heard Crawford interviewed, you probably understand this…

His communication skills are very far from polished. He’s not Jeter, Granderson, A-Rod or Teixiera like in terms of the way he presents himself verbally.

Further, have you seen the huge tattoo on the side of his neck? Somehow, I don’t think you’ll see Mariano Rivera or Andy Pettitte running out and getting one of those too.
Carl Crawford isn't under consideration to be the Yankees' next official spokesperson, so I'm not sure why his communication skills or the placement of his tattoos are relevant. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and many other players have a ton of tattoos. Joba Chamberlain isn't very good with the media. Would you like to use those things to infer things about their respective characters, Steve?

Late yesterday, Lombardi again attempted to "clear up" his comments about Crawford by citing the fact that he is a fan of Rickey Henderson:
Yeah, Rickey Henderson – who is really no different from Carl Crawford in terms of his image or whatever you want to call it. Really, the only difference between Henderson and Crawford is that Henderson had a better batting eye and played in the majors for a quarter-century whereas Crawford just has eight season under his belt, to date.

So, if I were a racist, explain to me why I have so much respect and admiration for Rickey Henderson – and have a picture of him hanging in the rooms of all my children? Does that sound like a racist to you?
"I respect Rickey Henderson as a baseball player. HOW COULD I POSSIBLY BE RACIST?!?!"

Let's ditch the R-word. Because apparently if you respect an athlete of a certain race and hang a picture of them in your children's rooms, that absolves you from being a racist in any other capacity.

What were talking about here is prejudice, which, to be clear is, "a preconceived belief, opinion, or judgment made without ascertaining the facts of a case". The biggest problem with Lombardi's statements is not the fact that they may or may not have racial connotations. I take issue with trying to draw conclusions about a person's character based a few interviews and the placement of one tattoo.

Rob from BBD actually took the time to ask a Rays blogger about Crawford's reputation as a person, instead of just assuming he already knew what he was about. Here's a bit of what Devon Rodgers from Rise of the Rays told Rob:
From all I have seen he is a very positive person. When I am hanging around by the field before the games, he is always joking around with the players, batboys and security staff. He is very well liked by the players and he is one of the fan favorites.
Kinda makes the tattoo and the PR skills seem irrelevant, doesn't it?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Kevin Youkilis Has A New Stat For You Fackin' Nerds: OBSTR

I don't think we should expect players to embrace statistics. It's probably unrealistic even to think they should understand them. Stats are for those of us who observe the game and would like to try to better understand the big picture. They aren't tailored for those on the field, playing in the moment.

There are limited situations wherein a player might be able to adjust their strategy thanks to stats, but as I mentioned yesterday, defense isn't one of those situations. But you'd hope that players would at least understand the impulse to quantify defense objectively. Youk? Not so much: (h/t BBTF)
I don’t know how they do it. How do you measure defense? You make an error, you make an error. You get to a ball, you don’t get to a ball. What if you have a bad hamstring and you can’t get to a ball up the line? I don’t know what they evaluate, but a good ballplayer is a good ballplayer.
Well, yes, that's exactly how they try to measure defense. By tracking who gets to balls and who doesn't. Just because you have a legitimate excuse - like an injury - for not getting to a ball doesn't mean it shouldn't count against you.

In that statement is exactly why we need objective stats. And yes a "good ballplayer is a good ballplayer", but part of being good involves defense. There is no universal truth that tells us who is good at defense. There isn't even a central source where scouts come to a consensus about who is or isn't good. UZR clearly has its flaws as a system, but it attempts to find a numerical representation of who is good and who isn't. When we get our hands on Field f/x data, UZR is likely to be left in the dust, but it's the best we have now.
Youkilis was in a jovial mood as he picked apart some of the stats of the day - particularly Ultimate Zone Rating, or UZR, which is used to measure how many runs above or below average a fielder allows.

“I don’t go off all those UZRs . . . is it UZR?” Youkilis said. “I don’t even know what it is. I hope my UZR is sick, along with my OBSTR.
OBSTR? I thought Jim Bowden had just raised the bar in the field of make-believe baseball statistics when he invented the cutting edge metric "OBPATUZXYZ". However, Kevin Youkilis has apparently just upped the ante by creating the Obligatory Bullshit Stat Trivializing Rationality. It may go down as the WAR of anti-stat dunderheads.

Anyhow, since Youk isn't a fan of UZR, we thought we'd create a few, more tangible stats that he might excel in and ultimately embrace:
HErBS - Homo-Erotic Batting Stances
OCFH - Obnoxious Configurations of Facial Hair
HFTASO - Hissy Fits Thrown After Striking Out
UPCOM - Unprompted Charges Of The Mound
ABRF20 - Ass Beatings Received From a 20 year old
GWwMOB - Gritty Walks With Men On Base
EHWotF - Embarrassing Hats Worn off the Field
BBwSG - Bats Broken With Sheer Guts
PEWFC - Products Endorsed With Fecal Connotations
WMFR - Washing Machines Fucked By Rhinoceri

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Youk Zee Ahh

Via Pinto, it appears that Mr. Youkilis knows about the new frontier of defensive statistics:
Kevin Youkilis this morning when talking about the brave new world of defensive stats: "My UZR better be sick!"
"Ahh you fackin' kiddin me? It's wicked haahd to get a ball past the Youkstah!"

I think we might be dealing with a sort of Zack Grienke situation here, wherein a player knows about a stat and what it measures but doesn't really understand the metric. And for the most part, it really doesn't matter. Youk understanding the components Ultimate Zone Rating isn't going to make him a better defender. He already knows that he should try to get to every ball he possibly can. UZR isn't the type of metric that's going to lead to a strategic epiphany. It's just the best method we have for quantifying a very complex process in motion.

One small nitpick from Pinto's post. He says:
Kevin is in fact a very good fielder, much better at first than at third.
Actually, his UZR is slightly higher in his time at 3B. Granted he's logged more than twice as many innings at 1B, but he hasn't been "much better at first", despite the fact that conventional wisdom would suggest a player would perform more effectively at the "easier" defensive position.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Yanks Weakening Up The Middle, Cause For Concern?

From his perch atop the baseball blogopshere, Rob Neyer wonders if the fact that the Yankees don't have any up-and-coming stars at premium defensive positions will be their fatal flaw in years to come:
Still - and I know this is a stretch, but please bear with me - if you're looking for a small chink in the Yankee armor in the coming decade, it's that Mark Teixeira might be their best player. He'll be in his 30s, and he'll be playing first base. Ideally, your best player is a bit younger, and playing in the middle of the field. Cal Ripken. Alex Rodriguez when he played shortstop. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.

All of those fellows were the best players in their leagues at one point or another. Is there anyone now on the Yankees' roster with a decent shot at being the best player in the American League in 2011? One of the five best players in the league? I don't think so. Which probably won't matter much. But if one or two of the veterans falls off more than expected, it would be nice if the Yankees had a young superstar ready to step into the breach.
If Albert Puljos was the Yankees' first baseman, would the fact that he was their best player still be a chink in their armor? He plays first base and just turned 30 a month ago. The point being that Teixeira's position only counts against him in so far as it affects his level above replacement. The fact that the Yanks best player is a first baseman isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Still, Neyer's point is well taken. Historically, the two most decorated positions on the Yankees are center field and catcher. With the exception of the 1920's dynasty when they had both Ruth and Gehrig, when they were at their best, the Yankees have featured great players in both positions. Dickey and DiMaggio; Berra/Howard and Mantle; Munson and Murcer; Posada and Bernie. Add to that Rizzuto and Jeter at shortstop and the Yanks have a storied history of finding excellent talent at premium defensive positions.

Like any other team, if you can get great offensive production up-the-middle, it becomes much easier to build an offensive powerhouse. You can find good hitting first baseman or left fielders on the open market a lot easier than shortstops, center fielders or catchers.

However, well-rounded second baseman are quite valuable as well. The Yankees have been lucky to have Tony Lazzeri, Jerry Coleman, Joe Gordon and Gil McDougald in the past. Neyer either forgot about Robinson Cano or chose to disregard him. I think Cano has a chance to be one of the 5 best players in the AL in 2011. Maybe he isn't one of the best 5 players in baseball now, but he's either the best or second best second baseman in the AL and he's only 27 years old. In his good years, he's an incredible hitter for his position, plays above average defense and hopefully his best seasons are ahead of him.

Furthermore, the Yanks have placed a lot of emphasis on their pitching in recent years through both free agency and the draft. Sabathia and Burnett figure to comprise a solid foundation for the rotation well into the middle of the coming decade and hopefully Hughes and/or Chamberlain will establish themselves as better than average Major League starters.

Having a solid core of talent up the middle is a surefire way to build a winning team over the long term, but there are other ways to do it. Having above average talent at basically every position, a solid defense and a top notch pitching staff can certainly work in combination as well.

A Visual Representation Of Why Newspapers Are Obsolete

Morning Linkaround

Good morning, Fackers. As much of the East Coast recovers from the winter storm that swept over it last night, the Yankees are down in Tampa beginning Spring Training in earnest. While we celebrate pitchers and catchers as the beginning of camp, as Joe Girardi said earlier this week, it doesn't really kick into full gear until the position players arrive.

Most of the new arrivals had already went through their physicals and took off by the time the writers hit the clubhouse yesterday, but today they will start doing their first drills as a full squad. Of course, we've still got a while to wait before any action appears on our televisions. A week from today, the first Spring Training game (against the Pirates) will be televised on YES. Marc Carig from the Newark Star-Ledger has the full TV schedule.

Here are some other links to start off the day:
Cliff Corcoran from Bronx Banter put out his annual Camp Classic. In it, he examines every player not guaranteed a spot coming out of Spring Training from the 40 man on down to the non-roster invitees.

Similarly, Matthew Pouliot from Hardball Talk continues his "Diving into the Depths" series with a look at the Yankees and organizes a depth chart by position.

Dan Novick from the Hardball Times spotlights an especially sabermetric statement Joe Girardi made about Robinson Cano's performance with runners in scoring position, via LoHud.

On XM Radio last night, Brain Cashman acknowledged that Brett Gardner might be one of the best center fielders in baseball, but said that Curtis Granderson was likely to be their center fielder this season. Ben from RAB thinks that Cash's statements might be an indication that the Yanks don't see Gardner as a long term solution.

On Twitter, Joel Sherman reports that the Yankees are converting Kei Igawa to a reliever in a last ditch effort to extract value from his $46M contract. Considering Joe Girardi is almost certainly going to select two lefties for his bullpen and Boone Logan might be the front runner for that spot, it appears that Igawa will be given a real chance. You can't blame them for trying to make use of him, but the reaction from fans won't be very positive if he stumbles out of the gate.

It's about the time of year that ESPN typically starts stacking new baseball "analysts" - read: past players and executives - on top to their already bloated crew. To wit, they announced that Aaron Boone and J.P. Ricciardi will be contributing to Baseball Tonight this coming season. We Yankee fans like Boone, and Ricciardi seems like a bright, sabermetrically-inclined sort of a guy, but they might need to add a second row of seats on the set of the show.

Larry from Wezen-Ball put together an interesting graphic showing the history of every Major League park marked with the Championships and Pennants won by the team that in habits it.

The ubiquitous Jonah Keri recently appeared on two podcasts that are worth checking out. The first is FanGraphs Audio, which as host Caston Cistulli proclaims "is like a bald eagle: less endangered now than it had been until recently". The second appearance is on Kissing Suzy Kolber's House of Punte. The relevant portion begins just after the 18:00 mark and there is a bit of overlap with the FanGraphs interview. The typical crowd over at KSK will probably not take kindly to the decided lack of poop humor, dick jokes and NFL character sketches, but you folks will likely enjoy the material.

Ozzie Guillen is on Twitter and already dropping gems like "going to eat in half hour why dye no have a job ?". In honor of his presence, Jonah compiles a list of the 9 sports figures who aren't on Twitter but would be in a perfect world.

Baseball America released its Top 100 Prospects list. Jesus Montero is 4th and they his his power a perfect 80 on the scouting scale. The only other Yankees was Austin Romine and he is 86th. Austin Jackson is 76th. Pat Andriola from the Hardball Times lists a couple of things he disagrees with, including ranking Jackson higher than Fernando Martinez.

We might have linked to this already, but for a more detailed and Yankee-centric prospect picture, check out Mike from RAB's Top 30.

Josh from Jorge Says No! wonders if the Yankees reluctance to give Johnny Damon a two year deal foreshadows their interest in Carl Crawford.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Yankees Might Be Getting 2 Years Younger

Over at the Baseball-Reference blog, Sean Foreman is considering divorcing the 1901-02 Baltimore Orioles from the 1903 New York Highlanders from the rest of the Yankees franchise. The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia considers them to be two distinct franchises and Foreman asked one of the authors, Gary Gillette, why that decision was made:
We discussed this at length when we did the first edition of our new encyclopedia in 2004. IIRC, the deciding factor was that the Baltimore franchise went bust during the season and was turned over to the league. After the season, the league then sold a new franchise to investors in New York City. We felt that wasn't really a relocation or a transfer; it was simply filling the gap in the league that was opened when the Orioles' franchise disintegrated.

Of the 39 players who appeared for Baltimore in 1902, only five appeared for New York in 1903. Jimmy Williams was the regular second baseman for both clubs. Herm McFarland, a utility player in '02, became a regular outfielder in '03. Ernie Courtney played one game for Baltimore. in 1902, then 25 for NY in 1903. Harry Howell was the only pitcher of consequence to make the transition. Snake Wiltse (4 G in '03) also appeared for both.
Before 1900, the Baltimore Orioles had been a National League club. They existed from 1892 to 1899, winning three straight championships in 1894, 1895 and 1896 and featured greats such as Wee Willie Keeler and John McGraw (who would go on to become player-manager of the team in 1899). The O's were disbanded after that 1899 season when the National League was contracted from 12 teams to 8.

The Orioles were re-formed with some of the same pieces, including McGraw, shortstop Bill Keister and second baseman Jimmy Williams in 1901 as an AL squad. Commissioner Ban Johnson had begun the American League and after a season without baseball in Baltimore in 1900, the city and the players were anxious to rejoin. However, Johnson was a proponent of "clean baseball" whereas McGraw was most certainly not.

Up until that point, baseball games were marked with brutal violence, including umpire abuse. According to the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract:
Players spiked one another. A first baseman would grab the belt of the baserunner to hold him back a half-second after the ball was hit. Players tripped one another as they rounded the bases. Fights broke out on more days than not. Players shoved umpires, spat on them, and punched them. Fans hurled insults and beer bottles at the players on opposing teams.
The Orioles were the best team of the 1890's by a considerable margin, and were responsible for promoting this style of play. McGraw in particular was especially nasty. As was noted in The Ultimate Baseball Book, he "had a genius for making enemies".

So perhaps McGraw becoming the manager for one of the teams in Johnson's new, "clean" league wasn't the best idea. But they needed each other. After spending 1900 in St. Louis, McGraw wanted to return to Baltimore and Johnson needed a team there.

It all came to a head during the Orioles second season in the American League. After a litany of fines and brief suspensions for his foul and sometimes violent play, Johnson suspended McGraw indefinitely. After the decision came down, McGraw persuaded John T. Brush, the chairman of the National League Executive Committee to buy a share of the Orioles. Brush obliged and promptly began by releasing McGraw and other players from their contracts. McGraw landed with the Giants where he would play for the next four and a half years and manage for the next 29. It got so bad that the Orioles couldn't field a full team by mid-July and the American League took ownership of the club and starting filling the roster with players from other AL teams.

Up until 1902, the National League claimed that they had the right to keep the American League out of New York. However, when Brush had bought a controlling interest in the Giants - already being managed by McGraw - Johnson chose to disregard the pact. After their blanant sabotage of the Orioles, Johnson saw an opportunity to get even. He decided that he needed to give the American League a foothold in what was then the undisputed baseball capital of the world.

With the help of commissioner Johnson, the Highlanders then began snatching up talent from National League teams. They pillaged Wee Willie Keeler from Brooklyn and Jack Chesboro, Lefty Davis, Jesse Tannenhill and Wid Conroy from Pittsburgh, among others. They also built a brand new stadium in Washington Heights called Hilltop Park which, to the dismay of the Giants was only a few blocks from the Polo Grounds. It would be a few years before the team would compete but the new owners of the franchise, Frank Farrell and Bill Devery, were set up very nicely by the commissioner and his desire for revenge.

The Highlanders undoubtedly took the place of the Orioles as the 8th team in the American League when they began play in 1903. However, the fact that only five (or six, depending on the source) players carried over from Baltimore to New York calls into question whether or not they were really the same team. They didn't have the same manager or owners. So were they the same franchise? It seems like the Orioles were killed by John McGraw and John T. Brush only to be reincarnated by Ban Johnson as the Highlanders. One in the same though? I'm not sure.

There is a debate going on over in the comments at the B-R blog and if you feel strongly either way, let your opinion be heard. I could go either way.

Minor League Run Scoring Environments

Over at the Hardball Times, Justin Inaz put together an excellent piece on the run scoring environments throughout the various minor leagues. If you pay attention to minor league ball, you know that the Pacific Coast League is notorious for being a "hitter's league", while the Florida State League is a much tougher run scoring environment. Thanks to Justin's work, we now have a snapshot of what the differences were in aggregate from 2007 to 2009.

The Yankees have teams in the Florida State League (High A Tampa), Gulf Coast (Rookie - also Tampa), International (AAA Scranton) and NY-PA (Short Season Staten Island) Leagues, which are the four lowest scoring leagues in the minors. They also have teams in the Eastern (AA Trenton) and South Atlantic (Low A Charleston) which are in the lower half of the bunch as well.

This means that Yankee pitching prospects who put up excellent numbers generally aren't quite as impressive as a hitting prospect who is doing the equivalent on the other side of the ball. And also that a pitcher in the Pacific Coast League with the same numbers as a Yankee farmhand in Scranton is likely to be pitching a whole lot better.

The difference between the Gulf Coast and Pioneer Leagues, which are both Rookie circuits is over 1.2 runs per game. Part of the reason is location. While the Gulf Coast League plays its games at or near sea level in humid conditions, the Pioneer League calls cities like Casper, Wyoming; Helena, Montana; and Idaho Falls, Idaho home, each of which is situated in the arid Northern Rockies at over 3,500 feet of elevation.

Of course, the size of the ballpark is also a major factor. Many clubs try to match their Big League parks to their minor league ones. This helps teams determine what kind of talent they have both offensively and defensive in the minors and eases the transition a bit when they finally call up their prospects.

The article at the Hardball Times also has a more detailed chart that includes the slash stats, home run rates and other pieces of data from the different leagues along with an explanation of the right column in the chart above - Base Runs. Check it out.

Baseball Prospectus Event At The Yogi Berra Center

Now for a public service message on behalf of the man pictured reading his autobiography to the above: The fine folks from Baseball Prospectus are putting on an event this coming this Sunday, February 28th from 3-5PM at the Yogi Berra Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey. Kevin Goldstein, Christina Karl, Steven Goldman along with friend of the blog and mustache aficionado Jay Jaffe will be appearing in person to promote their 2010 annual and inevitably to field angry questions about PECOTA. It will be a panel discussion and the Yanks upcoming season will certainly be discussed in depth.

If you are in the Northern New Jersey area, consider checking it out and taking a stroll through the museum while you are there. For more information, call (973) 655-6891.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Yanks Break Self-Imposed Rules, Sign Chan Ho Park

The most prominent and overarching storyline of the Yankees offseason to this point has been their desire to stay under their predetermined but officially undisclosed budget. Particularly when it came to picking an option to reinforce left field, it was the primary concern. In acquiring South Korean right hander Chan Ho Park for $1.2M plus $300,000 in incentives, the Yanks have demonstrated that their adherence to their magic number wasn't simply dogmatic. The same goes for their practice of building their bullpen out of the minor leagues.

As was the case when Mark Teixeira was signed last year - although obviously to a far lesser extent - Brian Cashman decided that Chan Ho Park was worth lobbying the ownership to spend extra for. Park rejected a $3.25M offer to stay with the Phillies midway through the offseason and watched his price fall steadily until, apparently, the Yankees couldn't afford not to sign him.

Park began 2009 as a starter for the Phillies, struggled and was ultimately bumped to the bullpen after a particularly dismal 1 1/3 inning, 5 run effort against the Nationals in mid-May. Once transitioned to the 'pen, he was extremely useful for the Phils, pitching more than one inning in 13 of his 38 appearances and compiling a 2.52 ERA over 50 innings in relief. Park blew Game 2 of the NLCS against the Dodgers but was otherwise very effective in the postseason as well, particularly against the Yanks in the World Series (3.1 IP, 0 ER).

Prior to the move, it seemed like the Yankees were essentially set in the bullpen with Rivera, Hughes/Chamberlain, Robertson, Aceves, Marte, and some combination of Gaudin/Mitre/Logan/Melancon. Given the Major League deal to Park, it's likely that he makes the team out of Spring Training. Consequently, the Yanks may decide to trade Gaudin and his $2.95M salary, as he could be more valuable to a team in need of a 5th starter than one who would employ him primarily as a mop-up man. They could also decide to stash the loser of the much ballyhooed Hughes-Chamberlain Battle in Scranton to start the season, although Joel Sherman doesn't think that is very likely.

Of course, the Yankees are going to catch some flak for this because of the emphasis they've continued to place on the budget. But Brain Cashman isn't a politician. He doesn't need to get re-elected or appease his constituents, so it doesn't matter that he deviated slightly from a previously stated plan (or two). In the end, it's not about sticking to the stated goals; it's about making the team better.

All told, the signing does seem likely to make the Yankees better. During an offseason in which many teams were more than willing to pay good relief pitchers far more than they deserved, Cashman and Co. found a relative bargain. You can question whether or not the signing was really necessary - or worth exceeding the budget for - given that the bullpen was already in good shape, but it's hard to argue that this isn't a good value for the Yanks.

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today

Good morning Fackers. Believe or not, I was planning on running this post this morning even before last night's Team USA win over Team Canada in Vancouver. Last night's game was certainly an upset. But personally, I don't believe it's as big of an upset as many are making it out to be. Either way, it's certainly not half the upset as the one that took place in Lake Placid, NY thirty years ago today.

This is the fourth Winter Olympics featuring NHL players, and the fifth featuring professional players. Hockey wise, we're so far removed from the 1980 Miracle on Ice, that it's easy to lose sight of just how massive an upset that game was.

The Soviet team was easily the greatest assemblage of hockey talent on the face of the planet in February of 1980. With the Iron Curtain still firmly in place, the NHL was still nearly a decade away from importing its first Russian talents. The Soviet National Team featured the best players of - at worst - the second most hockey-crazed nation on the face of the planet. They trained and played with, literally, military precision. They had gone 3-4-1 against the NHL's best Canadians in the 1972 Summit Series, dominated lesser WHA talent 4-1-3 in the '74 Summit Series, and more recently had gone 2-1 with a +5 goal differential against a squad of NHL All-Stars in the 1979 Challenge Cup. For all intents and purposes, the Soviets were a professional All-Star team competing in an amateur tournament.

On the flip side, Team USA was an assemblage of American collegiate talent led by University of Minnesota head coach Herb Brooks. Brooks was the final player cut from the 1960 US squad, a team that went on to win gold in Squaw Valley. Heading into the 1980 Games, that was the final time the Soviet didn't win men's Olympic gold. Brooks' captain was former BU Terrier Mike Eruzione, the team's oldest player at 25, who was three years removed from his collegiate days and toiling in the minors at the IHL level before joining the Olympic squad. Less than two weeks prior to the Miracle on Ice, the Soviets had crushed Team USA 10-3 in the final pre-Olympic warm up.

Something similar was expected on the evening of February 22, 1980, part of the round robin medal round. Instead, on the strength of a goal from Eruzione that proved to be the game winner, the US beat the Russians 4-3. A win against Finland in their next game clinched the gold.

As I compose this post, the post game coverage on MSNBC is declaring last night's game the biggest upset since the Miracle on Ice. It's not even close. It's not even in the neighborhood. The forty skaters to take the ice last night are all high caliber NHL players. Not all are superstars, but all are professionals playing in the best league in the world. Yes, the Canadian roster is absolutely stacked. Yes, perhaps maybe just three or four of the US players could crack the Canadian line up. But in a short tournament - hell even on any given night in the NHL - anything can happen. For a pumped up Team USA to come out and beat Team Canada last night is an upset, and is impressive. But, without even considering the socio-political climate of 1980, last night's game is worlds away from the Miracle on Ice.

That said, yesterday was a great day for hockey. The Big Six all paired up in a trio of good match ups: Eastern European powers Russian and the Czech Republic in the afternoon, the Battle of North America in the evening, and Sweden and Finland in a Scandinavian Showdown for the night cap. We'll see all of them again in the medal round.

As nice as it was to see the US win last night, I was hopeful they would save their upset for the medal round. Canada and Russia are loaded, and with both teams being upset this week, I don't know how good the chances are that they both lose again before it's all said and done. As exciting as it was to see the Swiss push Canada in to the brink in a shootout loss on Thursday, part of me was relieved that Canada pulled it out, postponing their upset for another day.

Still, who knows what will happen over the remainder of the tournament. Perhaps the US can recapture a bit of the Miracle from 30 years ago. Their roster features two defensemen with ties to the 1980 team. Ryan Suter is the son of 1980's defenseman Bob Suter, and my former classmate at Boston College, Brooks Orpik, is named after the coach of the '80 team. Come this time next week we'll know if this is their time. I'm going to enjoy watching it all unfold.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Not So Breaking News: Damon To Tigers

Hello Fackers. We interrupt this regularly scheduled weekend to bring you a breaking news bulletin. Johnny Damon, he of the magical DNA and absurd contract demands, has finally signed. Our long national nightmare is over.

Out of any alternate options, Damon has reportedly signed with the Tigers for one year, $8M, with no deferred money. All things considered, Scott Boras' mysterious powers over Tigers' owner Mike Ilitch was the only saving grace for his client. The Tigers were bidding against themselves essentially, and Boras was still able to get his client more than he rightly could expect by this point.

Still, Damon's deal is a far cry from Boras' initial three year $39M demand to the Yankees, a far cry from the terms discussed prior to Nick Johnson signing, and not much more than the Yankees' final offer of one year $6M. In the end, Damon was left with no other option but to ink a deal with Detroit, a franchise whose offseason began by dumping important cogs in Curtis Granderson, Edwin Jackson, and Placido Polanco, but concluded with signing a closer to a two year $14M deal and paying a 36 year old left fielder more than anyone else was willing.

We wish Damon all the best in Detroit, and Yankee fans will fondly remember his contributions over the past four seasons. But, as our friend Jason likes to remind us, and as Johnny Damon has illustrated for the second time in his career, it's about the money, stupid.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Morning Linkaround

Hang in there, Fackers. There sweet salvation of the weekend has almost arrived. Like yesterday, the the content is going to be fairly slow around here as the reports out of this stage of Spring Training aren't worth extrapolating upon and Matt and I are held up with the tedious obligations which actually provide us with monetary compensation. The best we can do is direct you towards some interesting reading material to hold you over:
Friend of the blog Marc Carig asked Joe Girardi a bunch of questions proposed by his Twitter followers. Carig polished up the best sub-140 character entries into actual queries and did his beat reportedly duty of following them up as well. (You can follow the Star-Ledger scribe on his personal Twitter account or with the paper. Or as I do, tag along with both.)

He doesn't go out of his way to publicize it or post on it very often, but Craig Calcaterra keeps a personal blog. Yesterday, inspired by the receipt of his Spring Training itinerary, he recalled his many unsuccessful attempts to have an enjoyable trip to Florida in the past.

Larry from Wezen-Ball used his uncanny powers of research to dig up some features from LIFE Magazine on Spring Training. The Wezenmaster also discovered, as we did last year, the bounty of Spring Training photos in the LIFE Photo Archive on Google, where we shamelessly sampled the banner of the site from. Poke around there and you'll find gems like the one at the top of the post.

Sorry Joe McCarthy, Joe Torre and Billy Martin. Rob Neyer could only find room for one former Yankee manager on Managerial Mount Rushmore. (I'm not counting John McGraw who managed the franchise for the first two seasons when they were still in Baltimore and called the Orioles before bolting to the New York Giants.)

The Bloomberg Sports Blog, headed by the esteemed Jonah Keri, is now up and running. It should be an excellent resource for fantasy geeks and statheads alike.

Jeremy Greenhouse of Baseball Analysts put the "Verducci Effect" under a scientific microscope and guess what... It doesn't pass the P-Value test.

In the Journal News, Chad Jennings notes that Yankee starters will begin their throwing schedule slightly later than normal due to the additional innings they tossed in the postseason.

Ben Shpigel profiled Andrew Brackman today in the New York Times.

The Sports Herina mined photo gold from Yankees camp.

Brew Crew Ball created a Mad Lib of sorts with which you can concoct your own passe Spring Training storylines. As Craig says, "It actually works pretty well. So well in fact that I wouldn't be surprised if the beat writer's guild has called an emergency meeting to see which of them was supposed to be on duty when the secret formula was stolen."

Alex Remington at Big League Stew compares Jonathan Papelbon's career thus far to Mariano Rivera's and concludes that they aren't as far apart as we so boldly stated on Wednesday.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Impromptu Movie Review: Sugar

I'd been meaning to see Sugar for a long time. I don't usually go to movies in theaters but I had heard good things about this one via Rob Neyer and others, so it piqued my interest. I was still living on the Upper West Side at the time and on my walk home from work I noticed the title listed on the black and white board outside of the Lincoln Plaza Theaters (not the huge Lincoln Center complex with the IMAX a few blocks north, the one that shows more independent stuff closer to Columbus Circle). After a few more nights, I convinced a girl I was dating to go see it with me. We walked by to see what time it was playing, but it wasn't up on the board as we approached. When we asked the woman at the box office, it turned out they pulled it the night before.

Just before Christmas, I was browsing for gifts on Amazon and the movie showed up in my recommended items. I saw there was a used copy for about $5 and figured it was well worth that plus shipping. But I ended up buying the presents elsewhere and it sat in my cart for a couple of weeks before I thought of it again. By the time I checked back, the only used copies were fairly expensive and I lost the ambition to make the purchase.

Then, two weeks ago, Bryan Smith put up a post on FanGraphs about the movie and I made it a point to go back to Amazon to get a copy. With shipping it was something like $13. Over the weekend, I finally got around to watching it.

My favorite thing about Sugar is that it vividly captures a reality in baseball that we don't think of of willfully choose to disregard. We see someone like Robinson Cano arrive in the Bronx with the ability to play in the Majors, but take for granted that he had to come up through the minors and learn countless lessons in order to pick up on the nuances of American culture. What we almost never consider at all are the prospects from other countries that never pan out and what happens to them after they've given up their dream to make it to the Majors.

The main character, Miguel "Sugar" Santos, starts in the fictional Kansas City Knights training camp in the Domincan Republic, where players not only improve their skills but learn simple baseball terms like "I got it" and "fly ball" in English. When he gets invited to come to the States and begin his ascent through the minors, he's throw into a completely unfamiliar situation.

While playing baseball in the United States does represent a great opportunity for the lucky prospects that make it here, coming from the Dominican Republic (or Venezuela, or Mexico, or especially Cuba) being thrust into America has to be extremely disorienting.

One of the best scenes of the movie comes in a restaurant when he first comes to Spring Training. One of the Dominicans, Jorge, had been in camp before and takes a few of the new recruits out to a diner. With their eyes glazing over looking at the unfamiliar menu, Jorge orders French toast. Reluctant to try pick or pronounce any of the foreign items on the menu, they all get French toast.

Sugar continues with his routine until one night, sitting in the booth alone, he works up the courage to order eggs. The waitress asks how he'd like them, and unable to to understand what "scrambled" or "over easy" means, he reverts to French toast once again. The waitress brings him what he ordered, but in addition, drops off a plate with three different kinds off eggs for him to try and explains which is which.

Sugar gets called up to Kansas City's minor league team in Bridgeport, Iowa and is given a host family. They seem to be genuinely kind and generous, but their Spanish is just as bad as his English. During a tour of the house, the mother uses the Spanish word for "soup" when referring to "soap".

Unlike so many baseball movies, Sugar is subtle and understated. Sure, for baseball geeks like us, some of the technical baseball stuff seems a bit hokey, but the movie isn't as much about baseball as it is experiencing America from the outside with the game serving as a conduit.

In stark contrast to films like The Natural, the Major League series, and Rookie of the Year, Sugar doesn't require you to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy it. As opposed to Mr. Baseball, it doesn't need a superstar to drive it's plot. Unlike Field of Dreams, it didn't even require a trained actor to play the lead role.

It's hard to make a good baseball movie. Take a look through this list and that fact will become even more apparent. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck struck a perfect balance between being over the top and being boring which, given the history of the genre, is extremely hard to do. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Five More Invited To Spring Training

Sometimes it's better to be invited to the party late than not be invited at all. Last week we took a brief look at the Yankees twenty non-roster invitees to Spring Training. Yesterday they added five more invitees to the list. No word as to whether the three new pitchers were notified before yesterday or if they will be given extra time to report if they were not. Here's a look.
Pitchers (3)
D.J. Mitchell
Dustin Moseley
Ryan Pope
Mitchell was a tenth round pick in 2008, made his professional debut last year, and turned in an outstanding season between Charleston and Tampa. Moseley has made 64 appearances for the Angels since 2006, but missed nearly all of last year with elbow and hip injuries. He was signed to a minor league deal that was also announced yesterday. Pope was a third round pick in 2007 and spent last season at AA Trenton. None has any realistic chance of making the team, though Moseley could provide depth at AAA.
Infielders (2)
Brandon Laird
Jorge Vazquez
Like fellow non roster invitee Colin Curtis, Brandon Laird had an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League. He's lucky not to be playing in the Arizona Penal League this year, following his arrest, and that of brother Gerald, at a Phoenix Suns game this winter. Vazquez, like Alfredo Aceves, Ramiro Pena, and Manny Banuelos, was signed out of Mexico, which is becoming a lucrative pipeline for the Yankees. Vazquez' season at AA Trenton was cut short by injury, but he did some serious damage with the bat while healthy. That said, it should be noted that Vazquez was quite advanced for the league at 27 years old.

Laird is a third baseman who may be switched to first, Vazquez is a first baseman who has experience at third, catcher, and the outfield from his days in the Mexican League. They are the only infielders amongst the non-roster invitees and have absolutely no chance of making the team.

The five additional non-roster invitees brings the total number of players in camp to 65.

Spring Training Countdown Epilogue & Table Of Contents

As Matt conveyed in both his Bobby Murcer piece yesterday and Oddibe McDowell post this morning, our Spring Training Countdown has reached it's conclusion and it's time for baseball, however informal it may be when camp begins. If you we were reading this blog a year ago, you might remember our first crack at the Countdown. Matt wasn't yet on board but we had other contributors like Joe (who came up with the idea for it), Boston Bren (who is responsible for the layout of the blog), and Cliff (who helps out with behind the scenes stuff here) all chipping in. The idea was to infuse the doldrums of the offseason with some history.

This year we left a few behind (Roger Clemens, Jorge Posada) but brought forward a lot of those posts and made significant additions and edits. With Matt now in the fold, he was able to draw on his vast reservoir of Yankee knowledge and add depth to many of the pieces, even those that have my byline on them.

I originally thought that resurrecting the Countdown would be a time saver. We could pull the posts forward, make some minor changes and have some easy content. But it turns out that every time I got to editing one of them, it would seem woefully incomplete or clumsily arranged. It ended up being a lot more work than I had anticipated, but the end result is 34 pretty interesting pieces, most of which we can build upon when next year rolls around.

Hopefully you the reader got something out of them too. Maybe some knowledge about Joe DiMaggio's time with the San Francisco Seals or some background on a player you didn't know much about like Gil McDougald or Spud Chandler. Perhaps some sympathy for Dave Righetti being thrust into the closer's role or a newfound respect for Roy White's career. Something interesting about the outlook for Mark Teixeira or Robinson Cano's upcoming season. Or were just reminded of some fond memories of Phil Rizzuto, Bobby Murcer or Thurman Munson.

I know I learned a lot by putting together the ones I did, and even more by reading Matt's work. Hopefully when next year rolls around, though, we'll look at this series with fresh eyes, dust off these pieces and make them more complete. Perhaps we'll decide that we need to pay homage to Moose Skowron, Jimmy Key, Bobby Richardson and Vic Raschi. Maybe we'll start with #32, Elston Howard.

0 Days Until Spring Training: Here Comes The Sun

Good morning Fackers. This is Oddibe McDowell. McDowell was drafted an astounding six times, including once by the Yankees, before finally signing with the Texas Rangers in 1984. A once promising prospect and member of the loaded 1984 U.S. Olympic team, McDowell became a middling outfielder for the Rangers, Indians, and Braves. He spent parts of just seven seasons in the Majors, finishing his professional career with fourteen games for the Columbus Clippers, the Yankees' AAA affiliate, in 1995.

So why does Oddibe appear here? Because no Yankee has ever worn zero on his back. One time Yankee Cliff Johnson wore 00 during his time with the Blue Jays in the 1980s, but I can't find any pictures of it. So Oddibe, the one time Yankee draft pick and minor leaguer, who wore 0 during his time at Arizona State and with the Rangers as a numerical representation of the first letter of his first name, brings our countdown to Spring Training to the magic number of zero.

And with that, here we are. My area in Connecticut got walloped with about ten inches of snow yesterday. My commute home took twice as long as usual. My driveway was a sheet of ice this morning. And I don't care. Because as of today, it's baseball season.

At some point today, thirty five Yankee pitchers and seven Yankee catchers will report to the team's complex in Tampa. Lockers will be filled. Physicals will be taken. And tomorrow, official workouts will begin, and I will never be so enthused about pitchers' fielding practice.

Welcome back baseball. It's been a long, cold, lonely winter.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say it's alright,

Little darling, it's been a long, cold, lonely winter,
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here,
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say it's all right.

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces,
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here,
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say it's all right.

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting,
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear,
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say it's all right.

Jonathan Papelbon ≠ Mariano Rivera. Ever.

I'm sorry, what?

Again, but just the second part:

Whose path?

Mariano Rivera's "path" began in Puerto Caimito, Panama playing baseball with makeshift equipment in the streets. He signed with the Yankees for $3,000 and spent 5 years toiling in the minors. Now he's won 5 World Series, is the greatest closer ever and has accomplished it all with a freakish reliance on one pitch. Jonathan Papelbon was a starting pitcher in the minors, has one World Series ring and closes for a team in the AL East, but you lose me after that.

Now, aside from the fact that both guys have three vowels in their last name, what are these amazing off the field similarities?
When you compare the earnings curve of the Yankees' icon and the Red Sox All-Star, there are definite parallels, especially in the way both have worked on one-year deals in the early years of their careers.
Yes. Them and 75% of the other players to reach the Major Leagues. See, there is a process called arbitration, and most players aren't offered multi-year deals that buy out... Nevermind. Maybe I'm nitpicking here, but "off the field" usually refers to a player's life away from baseball, not his contract status with his team.

But continue, Gordon, with these uncanny parallels:
Rivera had two Series rings when he became eligible for arbitration for the first time in 1999 and signed a one-year deal for $4.25 million. He went to an arbitration hearing before the following season, 2000, and lost, receiving a contract for $7.25 million after asking for $9.25 million. His $3 million raise was just $100,000 short of what Papelbon received.
Yes, what a coincidence that Papelbon and Rivera both performed well, went through the same process and got similarly proportioned raises. It's almost as if Papelbon's agent used Rivera as a precedent!

And now for the part where Edes completely submarines his own analogy:
Papelbon has demonstrated that he will not settle for anything less than what he considers fair value for his talents, and the Red Sox may not be willing to pay eight figures for a closer. And unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox have a prospective closer-in-waiting in Daniel Bard.

The last Yankees closer before Rivera was an All-Star named John Wetteland, who was named MVP of the 1996 World Series after saving all four games against the Atlanta Braves. But after the season, the Yankees allowed Wetteland to leave as a free agent because Rivera was in the wings. And we all know how that worked out.
Got that folks? Jonathan Papelbon = Mariano Rivera. Until the last paragraph, wherein Jonathan Papelbon = John Wetteland and Daniel Bard becomes Rivera.

Was Jonathan Papelbon raised in a fishing village in Panama? Did he once work upon a commercial shrimping boat? Is he devoutly religious? Is he fluent in Spanish? Does he own a steakhouse in New Rochelle?

No. Jonathan Papelbon is a blithering ignoramus who picks out names for his kids based on whether they are "badass" or not. He says stupid things without thinking. He's a demonstrative douchebag on the mound. He does not throw a cut fastball. He's part childish buffoon and part ungracious asshole. In short he's the anti-Mo.

Rivera is as distinguished of a player as there is active in baseball. He conducts himself with dignity and class in every facet in his life that is visible to the public. It's nothing short of insulting to Mo to equate him to Papelbon in an way. To do so is to stoop to lazy, hacky journalism. Eventually, someone may follow in Mariano Rivera's "path" to some extent. But that person will not be Jonathan Papelbon.