Monday, March 1, 2010

If Omar Minaya Is Pryzbylewski...

Over at Baseball Analysts, they are doing a feature called Stakeholders wherein they interview someone affiliated with each Major League team and preview the upcoming season. Yesterday, Jeremy Greenhouse interviewed Pat Andriola from The Hardball Times about the Mets and led off with an awesome question. (Fair warning: If you haven't watched The Wire, you're probably not going to get much out of this post):
Jeremy Greenhouse: If Omar Minaya were a character from The Wire, who would he be?

Pat Andriola: I need a minute to think about this...You know who I think it is, it’s Pryzbylewski. Prezbo is clearly a guy, like Omar as a GM, who is thrown into a certain situation. Prezbo was in the police department where everything lines up for him to be there, but maybe it’s not the best situation for him. Like Prezbo was better off at school, maybe Minaya should be on the sidelines as a scout—head of scouting—because he gets a deer in the headlights look as GM. He makes some silly signings, like Prezbo shoots a cop accidentally. I think that’s it. That’s my on the spot answer.
Like the question, Pat's response is excellent, too. If you were feeling less charitable, you might pick Herc as Minaya's analog, but that might imply that he only got promoted to GM because caught Jeff Wilpon getting a blowjob on his desk.

Prez isn't a bad guy, but he clearly made some mistakes during his time as a cop. And some of those mistakes might have cost him much more dearly if he wasn't the son-in-law of Major Valcheck. Similarly, if Minaya was working for someone other than the Wilpons, he probably would have been sacked after the Luis Castillo deal (accidentally discharging his gun in the office) or re-singing Oliver Perez (beating up the kid who was leaning on the squad car in front of the high rises). Perhaps the part where he accidentally shoots a fellow cop is yet to come.

To continue this analogy a bit further, I think Brian Cashman's closest comparable in The Wire is Stringer Bell. Both are quiet and calculating and second in the chain of command - Cashman reports to the Steinbrenners and Stringer to Avon Barksdale. All Cashman is concerned about is winning and all Stringer cares about is making money, while their employers have different concerns (the Steinbrenners want to be profitable and Barksdale is obsessed with his name and reputation). Both are a few steps removed from where the rubber meets the road but still have a deep understanding of The Game. Each has a rabid customer base in fantastic market and runs the operation like a streamlined business even though their industry is filled with firms that don't.

For those who made it this far without having seen The Wire, or those in the process of re-watching it, check out the fantastic reviews that Alan Sepinwall wrote on his blog for seasons 1, 2, 4 & 5. I discovered Alan's work during my first time through Season 4 and reading his synopses increased my enjoyment and understanding of the series exponentially. I've since started from the beginning and am working my way through, checking his summaries after every episode. Highly recommended.

If you've got any clever baseball-to-The Wire analogies, feel free to drop them in the comments.

Divisional Realignment Is Not The Answer

As you've likely noticed, even though Spring Training is in full swing, there still isn't an awful lot to talk about just yet. Traditional media always has the "best-shape-of-his-life" or new pitch story lines to fall back on. We've resorted to filling space by making fun of Kevin Youkilis, writing about hockey, or just not writing much at all.

The indefatigable Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports filled his column inches last week with a radical divisional realignment proposal. Beyond the fact that involves Rosenthal, realignment talk is something that gets under my skin. I realize that it's extremely difficult for teams like Baltimore and Toronto to share a division with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, and play nearly sixty games a year against those three teams thanks to the unbalanced schedule. But rather than making reactionary realignment proposals that would be rendered moot when the balance of power inevitably shifts, there are more fundamental changes that baseball could undertake to level the playing field.

Consider that all else being equal, a team in the AL West has a one in four chance of winning the division, plus a one in fourteen chance of earning the Wild Card spot, for an overall 32.1% chance of reaching the playoffs. Meanwhile, a team in the NL Central has just a one in six chance of winning the division, plus a one in sixteen chance of earning the Wild Card spot, for an overall 22.9% chance of making the playoffs. Sure, the Pirates have been an extremely poorly run franchise for nearly twenty years. But compared to a club in the AL West, they have a nine percent handicap before the first pitch of the season is even thrown.

Beyond the disparity in league and division sizes, certain teams are also at a disadvantage when it comes to the gimmick of interleague play. Given the haphazard rotation of interleague matchups on a yearly basis, some teams luck into a cupcake schedule, while others have a more difficult row to hoe. Additionally, the designation of interleague rivals mean teams get an additional series against a predetermined opponent, usually geography based, regardless of the quality of that opponent. Yet all these things count equally in determining division and Wild Card winners.

The Wild Card presents another problem. All teams in a given league compete for a single Wild Card spot, yet all teams do not play equitable schedules. Aside from the inequities of interleague play, the unbalanced schedule makes it tougher for the second place team in say the AL East to win the Wild Card than it is for the second place team in the AL Central.

Lastly, the fact that division winners are guaranteed playoff spots creates the potential that more deserving teams miss the post-season. Last year, San Francisco, Texas, Florida, and Atlanta finished the regular season with records better than or equal to the Twins and Tigers. While the latter two clubs battled it out in an exciting play in game for the AL Central title, the other four clubs were off making tee times. Similar scenarios have the potential to play out every year. Before the '94 strike, the Rangers were on pace to take the AL West with a sub .500 record.

When divisional play was instituted in 1969, it made sense. Over the course of that decade, both leagues had expanded from eight to twelve teams. The fifty percent increase in size made another post-season berth worthwhile, and splitting the leagues into divisions was a natural way to identify two division champions as the post-season worthy teams. But moving to four playoff spots starting in '94 actually made the divisional system obsolete. Making those divisions unbalanced and awarding a playoff spot to a second place team was a less than ideal way of going about things. As laid out above, there are several systemic disadvantages to that system.

Baseball should do away with divisions. They should do away with interleague play. They should do away with the unbalanced schedule. Go back to the pre-1969 format. No divisions, just two leagues. The top four teams in each league make the playoffs. The top seed plays the number four seed in the first round, no more stupid rules that the Wild Card team can't play a divisional opponent in the Division Series. Having the best record in the league should have a reward, and it should be the path of least resistance to the World Series. Changes like that would do far more to increase competitive balance than changing around the divisions every time the balance of power changes.

An Ode To Edwar

At 6' 3" and 150 lbs, sporting Rec Specs and a change-up that's really more like a screwball, Edwar Ramirez always seemed as if he were created by a video game. His lanky frame and his signature pitch are similarly farfetched. Joe Torre compared his physique to that of a thermometer when he first came up and his change has been referred to as a "Bugs Bunny" pitch because it looked like batters could swing at it and miss a few times before it got to the plate.

That change-up really is a thing of beauty, rolling out of his hand a little under 80mph, just about 10mph slower than his riding 2-seam fastball and floating down and in to right handed hitters. It's all but unhittable if the batter has to protect against a legitimate fastball, but the problem is that if they are paying attention, they really don't have to. He threw the change so much that it caused a bench-clearing brawl in Double-A. He had to pare that down to 37% when he got to the Majors, but it doesn't take much game theory to figure out that 1/3 of the time is too often to throw a sweeping, 79mph pitch whose real value is in it's deception.

Mistakes on off-speed pitches are particularly deadly. Unfortunately for Edwar and the Yanks, Major League scouts and players keyed in on his reliance on that pitch, which led to the inflated home run rates that ultimately made him expendable to the Yankees, hence the ejection from the 40 man to make room for Chan Ho Park.

Rob Neyer doesn't expect Edwar to pass through waivers and end up back in Scranton and even if he does, Joe From River Ave. Blues doesn't think that he'll make it back to the Bronx again. It would be great if no team claims him in the next 8 days and he finds a way to improve his fastball and/or slider and defies the odds. But if not, he'll still be one of those interesting and memorable minor characters in recent Yankee history.

The Angels signed Ramirez in 2001 and he racked up a 4.66 ERA in 56 innings of Rookie Ball. Granted, that was in the run-friendly Pioneer League, but it wasn't a very good start to his professional career. He made it to High-A next season but struggled once he got there and was released by the Halos. Out of a job and unwilling to give up on baseball, he kept working on his craft with a friend at a field near his home in Miami. That's where he first experimented with the grip for his signature change up.

It took him a while to harness it - the Angels cut him again after Spring Training in 2006 - but he eventually caught on with Pensacola Pelicans of the Central Independent League. After striking out 93 batters in 56 innings and compiling an ERA of 1.12, he moved up to the Edinburgh Coyotes of the United League in 2007. He struck out 46 more in 25 frames as their closer before the Yankees finally scooped him up.

His ascent through the Yanks system was similarly meteoric. He pitched only 86 1/3 innings and just 40 in AAA before getting called up to the Big Leagues. He stuck out over 15 batters per 9 innings during that time, had an ERA under 1.00 and won the MiLB Minor League Reliever of the Award in '07. He struck out the side in his Major League debut and whiffed 13 per 9 IP for the remainder of the season but was saddled with a 8.14 ERA primarily because he allowed 6 home runs in 31 innings.

He was actually pretty effective in 2008, throwing 55 innings of 3.90 ERA and cutting his HR and walk rates in half from the previous season. However, in 2009, he returned to '07 form, walking too many, giving up too many hits and too many long balls.

Edwar was essentially the inverse of Shelly Duncan. Edwar was the quiet, skinny guy with glasses while Shelley was the outgoing, powerfully-built ox. Both made their Major League debuts in '07 and were let go this offseason. Both were more or less one trick ponies, Edwar with the devastating change up and the gaudy strike out totals and Shelly with the huge, looping swing and home run power. While those are the best tricks you can perform as a pitcher and hitter respectively, when they were exposed to Major League competition, Edwar's tragic flaw was his HR rate and Duncan was victimized by the K. But both guys were the sort of indelible characters that will be remembered more vividly than their contributions on the field would warrant. Best of luck to you, Edwar.

USA Loses, Hockey Wins

Good morning Fackers. Well that was one hell of a heartbreaking loss yesterday no? Team USA looked like destiny's darlings when they tied it up with just 24 seconds to go, but Sidney Crosby's goal in OT gave the gold to the Canadians. Congratulations to Canada. They had an incredibly deep team and were under a tremendous amount of pressure to take gold on their home soil. Even in the disappointment of defeat, it was quite something to hear the entire arena sing O Canada as the Maple Leaf was raised over Canada Hockey Place.

As for the U.S., as tough as it is to come so close and take home silver, they should be very proud of what they did. Coming into the tournament they were considered a long shot to even reach the gold medal game. Instead, they rolled along and never even trailed at any point until Canada took a 1-0 lead yesterday afternoon. They were the youngest squad in the tournament, and it looks like this new batch of players will be worthy heirs to the Leetch-Richter-Chelios-Modano-Tkachuk-LeClair-Hull-et. al. group that set the bar so high through the 1996 World Cup and 2002 Olympics. That is of course unless the NHL pulls the plug on player participation in 2014 Games.

Even in defeat, Team USA earned honors. Goalie Ryan Miller was named Tournament MVP; Brian Rafalski earned top defenseman honors, and forward Zach Parise joined them on the all-tournament team.

Beyond that, we were treated to an outstanding two weeks of hockey that I hope will have impact that lasts beyond the heightened interest of the past several days. For all those who have made comments to the effect of "now I can stop caring about hockey for another four years", please realize that what we've witnessed over the past two weeks is not unique to the Olympics. The level of intensity shown throughout the Olympics is no different that what's on display for two full months each year during the NHL playoffs. The advent of widescreen televisions and HDTV has made hockey on television better than ever but it's no comparison to hockey in person. For my money, no sport is so markedly better in person than on TV than hockey. Do yourselves a favor and find out for yourselves.

And with that, I'll stop talking about hockey again and we'll get back to baseball. Spring Training games start Wednesday. Soon we'll have something resembling real baseball to talk about.

Photo credit: USA Today