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Just The Sports: 2006-05-28

Just The Sports

Saturday, June 03, 2006

I'll Take Schuerholz

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Mark Bradley, in a June 2 article, answered a question I think it is safe to say he was the only one asking. The question, which formed the foundation for his article, was which Atlanta Braves employee, manager Bobby Cox or General Manager John Schuerholz, would be harder to replace once they decide to retire.

The correct answer to the question seems suprisingly easy, which is why I was shocked when Bradley wrote that Cox is more irreplaceable, and thus more valuable to the success of the Braves. Forgetting concrete evidence for a moment, the titles of the positions alone should provide a clue as to which job has more value to a team, but Bradley is intent on anointing Bobby Cox as a god and nothing will deter him from that pursuit.

Bradley's lone plank on which he built his shaky argument is the fact that Bobby Cox has sat on the bench for all of the Braves' fifteen straight NL East division titles, ignoring that Schuerholz has been the general manager for each of the fifteen titles. He also seems to think "one or two other GMs could have stitched together comparable rosters for the price Schuerholz has paid [but] other manager [than Bobby Cox] could have won division titles without them." This is utterly ridiculous.

To understand which job is more valuable, we must first examine the descriptions of what each position requires, starting first with the general manager. A general manager is responsible for overseeing the drafting of amateur players, acquiring free agents who will contribute meaningfully, trading for players (in-season and out-of-season), and making sure that the prospects he does trade away do not come back to haunt him. In this last regard, Schuerholz is a certifiable genius. Since he became the Braves GM, Schuerholz has traded away eighty-four prosects, and of those only six have managed 10 or more Wins Above Replacement Player in their careers.

Last year, especially, where the Braves won the NL East title with a roster full of rookies was more a testament to Schuerholz's ability to draft players who will quickly become major league players than it was to anything Cox did during the season.

As opposed to a general manager whose job performance is easy to measure by how well the players he acquires perform, a manager's ability is much harder to measure. The prevailing sentiment about the worth of a baseball manager is he only as valuable as his players, which just happen to be provided to him by the general manager. For the most part, there is no statistical evidence one can point to in order to say that is where the manager makes a difference in his team.

Throughout the history of baseball, no manager, including the Great Bobby Cox, has shown an ability to consistently outperform their team's projected record according to runs scored and allowed, help their teams by using sacrifice hits, intentional walks, or stolen bases, or improve a team's batting performance.

Now, Cox could have helped leaded the Braves to fourteen straight division titles by fostering an atmosphere in the clubhouse of expecting to win year in and year out, but if that was the case, then one must ask why he was unable to lead the Braves to division titles in his first tenure as Braves manager? Methinks the players doth make the difference.

In fact, the case can be made that Bobby Cox the general manager was more valuable to the Braves than Bobby Cox the manager. As the general manager, Cox was responsible for trading for John Smoltz and drafting players such as Chipper Jones, Kent Mercker, and Mike Stanton, who would later make Cox the manager seem like a managing savant.

Furthermore, it is Schuerholz who has been the one to win without Bobby Cox, winning four division titles and one World Series title with the Kansas City Royals. One cannot say the same about Cox winning consistently without Schuerholz.

So, which one, Cox or Schuerholz, seems more irreplaceable now? That's what I thought.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Because I Can

There was no way I was not going to post this...

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Slow Down, De Luca

One of the only rules to being a sports columnist for a major metro newspaper is to do everything within your power to avoid sounding like a moron. As easy as this advice may sound, it was still too difficult for Chicago Sun-Times columnist Chris De Luca, who probably would have been better off not penning this article or at least he should have tried to pass it off as Jay Mariotti's work.

In the article, De Luca outlines two transations that occurred on a "wild Wednesday afternoon," namely the Cubs trading away Jerry Hairston, Jr. for the services of Texas Ranger Phil Nevin and the biggest transaction of the MLB season to date, Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros coming to terms on a contract. Although he makes the claim that these two transactions will change the landscape of the NL Central, De Luca may be overstating how big of an impact each transaction will have.

First, let's look at some choice quotes from De Luca's opinion on the Cubs trade.

It was a wild Wednesday afternoon in the National League Central, where two teams that were expected to be much closer to first place on June 1 announced their intentions to keep on playing deep into October.

Unfortunately for those with a vested interest in the Cubs' and Astros' seasons, merely stating one's intentions to play deep into the posteason carries little weight. The games still have to be played.

But for a Cubs team that had gone into complete paralysis -- from the front office to the back end of the bullpen -- since losing first baseman Derrek Lee on April 19, this was proof that general manager Jim Hendry still has been clocking in for work.

If trading for Phil Nevin is the reason why Jim Hendry has been clocking in for work, then the Cubs should change all the locks on their doors and inform Hendry his services will no longer be needed.

By acquiring Nevin, Hendry was acquiring a player, who at the age of 35, is a high risk for decline and is already providing evidence that said decline is already taking place. As it stands now, Nevin's 2005 year where he batted .237 BA/.287 OBP/.379 SLG with an OPS+ of 79 (100 is average) while splitting time between the Padres and the Rangers seems to be about what one can expect from Nevin now, especially when added to how he started this season (.216 BA/.301 OBP/.415 SLG), as a DH. Numbers like that are never palatable to a baseball club, and taste even worse when being served up by a 1B/DH.

However, maybe moving back to the National League and playing in the field is just what Nevin needs to help him find his eye at the plate. If only he was a good enough fielder to warrant him being put at first base day in and day out. Too bad he isn't.

Nobody wants manager Dusty Baker to earn a contract extension more than Hendry does

I don't know about that one. I could think of lots of people who want Baker to earn a contract extension more than Hendry, starting with the rest of the NL Central.

so he increased the odds in Baker's favor with a legitimate power threat at first base.

Legitimate may be a strong word here. Barely adequate would have been my phrase of choice. Nevin's .415 SLG ranks him 20th out the 26 eligible first basemen. If Nevin somehow manages to match his career slugging average of .475, that would push him up to only 14th out of 26. Again, legitimate power threat is a reach.

Nevin, 35, had a career year in 2001 with the Padres, hitting .306 with 41 home runs and 126 RBI.

If the basis of an argument for why Nevin might be a good addition for the team is what he did five years ago, then there is a problem. On the other hand, if you think of this is infallible reasoning, then the Cubs should re-sign Sammy Sosa. In 2001, he hit .328 with 64 home runs and 160 RBI.

Now let's look at some of the gems De Luca leaves us with when discussing Roger Clemens' acquisition.

Rookies Taylor Buchholz and Fernando Nieve helped the Astros' rotation get off to a solid start, sparking talk in April that maybe they didn't need Clemens. By Wednesday, it was clear the Astros desperately need Clemens.

While there is little doubt that adding Clemens to the Astros starting rotation will improve it tremendously, it is easy to simply anoint him as the savior of the Astros and wash your hands of the issue. This would be taking a simplistic view of the whole matter, especially in light of last season.

Clemens' 2005 season was the poster child for why a pitcher's win-loss record is one of the more overrated stats in baseball. Despite having the second-best WHIP and ERA+ of his career and leading the league in ERA, his record still stood at only 13-8. Of the thirty-two games Clemens started, the Astros won fifteen and lost the other seventeen, mostly because the Astros gave him lousy run support; they were shutout seven times while Clemens was on the mound.

The real key to whether or not the Astros can turn around their season, provided Clemens pitches at his 2005 level, is whether Andy Pettitte can somehow recreate the magic he had in 2005. So far this season, Pettitte has pitched much worse than he did last season and in most parts of his career. His pitches thrown per plate appearance (4.10) and pitches thrown per inning (16.9) are the highest they have ever been and his K/BB ratio (2.35) has regressed back to the mean after his stellar 2005 K/BB ratio (4.17). Not to mention his OPS-against (.965) is off-the-charts bad.

Last year, the Astros had three of the five best pitchers in baseball. This year, they have one of the fifteen best pitchers. That one's name is Roy Oswalt.

Astros starting pitchers had yielded a .278 batting average -- only the Phillies' .287 mark was higher in the NL entering Wednesday.

Batting average-against is one of the poorest indicators for how well a pitcher is performing. This is because a pitcher has absolutely no control over what happens to a ball after it is put in play. All the pitcher can do is hope the ball goes directly to one of his teammates who can then get a putout. He cannot command the ball to do so.

Also, there is no correlation between BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) and how good a pitcher is. A good pitcher is as likely to have a high BABIP as a poor pitcher is to have a low one. In addition, having a low BABIP is not a repeatable skill for a pitcher. What a pitcher's BABIP is in one season has no bearing on what it will be in the next season. The three statistics a pitcher has the most control over are his strikeout rate, walk rate, and home run rate (home runs are not technically in play).

If the Astros do make the playoffs for the third year in a row, it will not be solely because of Roger Clemens.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Slump Is Over

The longest slump in the history of man ended last night as for the first time in Francoeur's below replacement level career, he had a better month than his previous month's hitting totals. Admittedly, it would have been hard for him to go any lower than the level he was already at, but I will still give him credit for sucking less.

In the month of April, Francoeur hit a career-low of .216/.230/.371, embarrassingly bad numbers all around. However, he did show himself to be a more competent hitter in May where he put up numbers of .280/.295/.496. As I wrote about before, his on-base percentage will never be anything to write home about since with a .013 BB/PA ratio, if Francoeur is not hitting, he will not be on base.

The most impressive part of Francoeur's hitting resume is his isolated power, which was .216 for May, a mark that would have landed him in the upper quartile of MLB players. The problem is Francoeur is able to display his power infrequently because he is too busy swinging at bad pitches. Maybe if he saw more than 3.25 P/PA, he would have a chance to become a more complete hitter, hitting with both average and power. Until that day comes, the Braves will have to be happy with his 3.56 RC/27 and his -9 Batting Runs Above Average (BRAA).

Unrelated to his offense is the problem with Francoeur's defense. He may have one of the strongest arms in baseball, but that is certainly not being reflected in his -8 Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), which begs a question. What does Francoeur do to justify his roster spot?

We will see if anything changes over the month of June so we can better answer that question.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

More Peter King Mailbag=More Idiocy

It is a rare Tuesday where I point out Peter King's idiocy, but his inability to admit when he is wrong warrants it. Of course, this is about baseball, which he knows absolutely nothing about.

HE LIKES ME CALLING JETER THE BEST. From Andy Riordan, of Lisbon Falls, Maine: "Just agreeing with you regarding Jeter. As a lifetime Red Sox fan, I used to sell newspapers before games at Fenway at age 10. When we play the Yankees, the player I don't like to see up in a crucial situation is Jeter. I just don't understand why A-Rod is considered the best [sic] overall player.''

Couldn't agree more.

To help you, Andy, and you, Peter, understand why A-Rod is considered the better overall player, I present to you...statistics.

A-Rod: 8.09
Jeter: 6.45

A-Rod: 145
Jeter: 121

A-Rod: .309
Jeter: .290

Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP1)
A-Rod: 101.3
Jeter: 62.2

Range Factor (at shortstop)
A-Rod: 4.42
Jeter: 4.09

Fielding Runs Above Average
A-Rod: 67
Jeter: -121

Life After Hideki

The day after Hideki Matsui fractured his left wrist in a game against the Boston Red Sox, sports journalists waxed idiotic about how on earth the Yankees could recover after the loss of one of their best players. Betting pools were opened to see just how long it would take before Brian Cashman traded for Torii Hunter or Shannon Stewart or whoever the overrated outfielder flavor of the week was. Luckily, Cashman realized Matsui's talents were largely hyperbolized by the majority of a public that is still unashamedly in love with the RBI, and resisted the urge to make drastic changes to the Yankees roster.

Since Matsui's injury, not counting the game in which he got injured, the Yankees have only posted a record of 11-7, winning three of the five complete series they have played, losing one, and splitting the other. In the same time span, the Yankees' offense is rapidly approaching mediocrity, having managed a paltry 5.8 runs per game without the vaunted Hideki Matsui in the lineup.

The truth is Matsui is not the player public perception has billed him as. He is probably not even half the player the media likes to make him out to be. For all the accolades Matsui receives for his three seasons of 100+ RBI, the most contextual of baseball stats, his ability to drive in runs is more a testament of his teammates' ability to get on base before him than anything spectacular he is doing in the batter's box. In fact, last season Matsui led the majors in number of at-bats with runners on base, and in the two previous seasons he saw the third-most runners on base. As is the case with all counting statistics, durability is the key to amassing a large number, and durability just happens to be Matsui's calling card.

When Matsui's RBI totals are taken away, he is exposed as a slightly above average hitter at his position. His OPS numbers ranked him 8th out of 22 listed left fielders in 2005, 4th out of 16 in 2004, and 15th out of 21 in 2003. In addition, Matsui's isolated power numbers are no better. He ranked 12th of 22 in 2005, 6th out of 16 in 2004, and 17th out of 21 in 2003, not exactly the sort of power numbers one would hope for from a corner outfield position and certainly not worth making a rash decision over.

Possibly the most ironic facet of Matsui injuring himself while trying to make a diving catch is his actual defensive history. For his career as a New York Yankee, his FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) is -19, meaning Matsui has cost the Yankees approximately two wins during his tenure in the outfield under what an average fielder would have given them.

All things considered, perhaps the knee-jerk reaction many had to Matsui's injury was overblown by just a tad.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

When Should You Boo? In A Word, Never

You boo to voice your displeasure with the goings-on of the sports world. You boo because you think it makes a difference in the outcome of a game. You boo your team's players, your team's opponents' players, and you even boo the officials because it makes you feel like a part of the game and not just the idle spectator you really are.

Sorry, bud, I really hate to break it to you, but your booing has no more impact on the game you are watching than the Queen of England has over what laws are passed in Parliament.

While it may be fun to boo and a good way to release your frustration at how insignificant a role you play in sports, there is nothing productive about the act, unless you consider making yourself look ridiculous and slightly insane productive. If such is the case with you, then you should probably stop reading now because you are already beyond the realms of logical thinking. However, if you want to understand why exactly your booing is so foolish, then read on.

Let's examine three reasons where a fan is most likely to boo and why the fan would be better served keeping his or her mouth shut.

Paying For The Right To Boo

One of my favorite defenses for booing and also one of the more popular ones is the notion that by purchasing a ticket a fan has also purchased the rights to boo whomever he wants whenever he wants if the quality of the game does not live up to his expectations. In case no little birdie has ever informed certain fans of this fact, booing is free. One can boo just as well at home sitting in front of the television and have the same impact on the game (i.e., none) as the guy in the upper decks bellowing furiously at players and officials who either cannot hear him or are ignoring him. Paying for a ticket no more provides a fan with a license to boo than does buying a cup of coffee give me the right to then throw it on my server because I do not like the taste.

Furthermore, no fan should expect a competitive game full of stellar plays simply because it was the one he or she bought a ticket for. Nowhere on a ticket stub do the words "game guaranteed to be a memorable one" appear so this particular sense of entitlement carried around by fans has absolutely no basis in reality. Perhaps the real person the fan should be booing is himself or herself for being so foolish as to spend good money on a game that has a strong likelihood of being of no higher quality than an American Idol marathon.

Booing To Teach A Lesson

This is another gem of a reason to boo. While the reason could be construed as a fan's attempt to teach a moral lesson, in this instance, I am talking about when a fan boos in an attempt to let his own favorite team's players know that he expects more from them, performance-wise. Newsflash, Einstein. When a baseball player strikes out with two outs and the winning run on third base or a football player misses a penalty kick or a American football kick shanks a game-winning field goal, the player does not walk off the field confused as to whether he did a good or a bad thing. He does not wait for the reaction of the fans to decide if he should celebrate or be sad. He already knows, rendering fan's booing a moot point.

What is a fan trying to accomplish by booing a player when he is down? If the fan is trying to toughen the player up emotionally and force him to perform at a higher level to match expectations, then the fan is wasting his time. Booing never raises the level of play no matter how long or loudly a person may do it. More likely the end result will be a budding hatred toward fans who boo a player one day and then cheer him the next.

Booing A Former Favorite Player

An aspect of professional sports every fan secretly knows, but few actually choose to acknowledge is the fact that sports is first, and foremost, a business. Fans living outside of reality may want to believe that the players they root for love the franchise as much as they do, that the players also live and die with each game, and that the players hate the same teams the fans do with the same amount of passion, but it is simply not the case. True, players may say those things, but only because castigation would be sure to follow if they spoke only the truth. In actuality, a player's love for a franchise is directly correlated to the salary he receives commensurate to his own perceived market value. So when a player leaves one franchise for another it is purely business. However, fans and their love of saying the word "boo" choose not to understand such an idea.

Case in point is the treatment fans gave Johnny Damon, now centerfielder for the New York Yankees, on his return to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. The same fans who loved and revered him before turned around and booed him unmercifully and made t-shirts about him. For what? Because he accepted a contract from a team willing to overpay him for his services? Is that what the defintion of traitor is these days?

The way in which the fans booed Damon would lead one to think he had changed in some way or killed all their dogs for fun. Rather, they were booing the exact player they had cheered before he signed a more lucrative contract. Damon plays the same way for the Yankees as he did for the Red Sox. All that has changed in the situation is the jersey Damon now dons before heading out onto the field.

A simple analogy to further illustrate the asininity of booing would be if FedEx employees began booing a former colleague for accepting a job with UPS because of better pay and benefits. To the casual observer, the FedEx workers booing would appear to be imbeciles and the same could be said for fans who like to boo under identical circumstances.

For now and the rest of eternity, booing is better left to the ghosts.

Monday, May 29, 2006

I Think Peter King Is An Idiot

Monday rolls around. Peter King writes an article. David points out the idiotic things Peter King says. And for this week's episode...

1. I think the one thing I'll always remember about Ironhead Heyward, who died of cancer over the weekend at 39, is how honest he was with the press. I always got a straight answer from him, even in some tough times. I'll miss him.

Peter, you egotistical bastard. You mean that the only thing you can remember about a former NFL player is that he was honest with you? Nothing at all about his play on the field? Not a single thing about the real reason you even bothered to talk to him? I hope you sleep well at night, you biased buffoon.

2. I think I said something to my bride the other night that I never thought I'd say about a New York Yankee. As many of you may have divined from this column over the years, that's not my favorite franchise on earth. Anyway, I said to her: I'm not sure about this, but I think when Derek Jeter retires, I will say he's the best baseball player I ever saw.

And I hope to God you are saying that in jest. If not, I'm going to have to ask you to explain yourself a little further...

Living in Jersey, I see the man come to bat maybe 300 times a season, and I watch him in the field maybe 40 percent of his innings.

I just want to make sure I've got this right, Peter, so bear with me. You are basing your declaration on watching less than half of his at-bats and forty-percent of his innings in the field? That's just great; not at all a reflection of small sample size. Peter, you don't watch enough baseball for your "best baseball player I ever saw" award to carry any sort of weight. Why don't you just stick to writing football-only articles? At least football is something you sort of kind of know about.

Every at-bat is quality.

Even the ones where he strikes out? Or the ones where he flies out? Or the ones when he grounds out? Or what about the ones where he needlessly lays down a sacrifice bunt and actually hurts his team's run expectation? Are those quality at-bats, too?

Every ball hit to him, and some only close to him, are gobbled up with certainty.

First, I want to introduce you to my friend, Subject-Verb Agreement. Say hello to Peter, Subject-Verb Agreement.

Subject-Verb Agreement: Hello, Peter! You know, you should have said every ball hit to him is, not every ball hit to him are.

Thank you, Subject-Verb Agreement.

Despite the obvious grammatical error, this statement is simply wrong. Jeter does not gobble up every ball hit to him with certainty. No fielder does. Even the best ones are going to bobble a ball or make a bad throw every now and then and Jeter does not even rank among the best fielders in the game.

If Jeter really gobbled up every ball with certain, then his Fielding Runs Above Average would not be -3. That's right. Negative.

He is baseball's Tiger Woods.

Wrong again. He can't be baseball's Tiger Woods since he's not baseball's best player. That honor belongs to Albert Pujols right now.

a. Congrats to Sara Armour, for making her standup-comedy debut at the Gotham Comedy Club. Sara, Mary Beth's best friend from high school and now a close personal friend of Sydney Simpson's at Boston University (just kidding, O.J.), killed in a seven-minute segment highlighted by her story of a stalker in a Boston bathroom when she was, uh, indisposed. Kathy Griffin, here she comes.

No one gives a fuck about your goddamn family or your goddamn family's friends. Stop writing about them.

b. Good to have my daughter home from L.A. for a week, in part to be in her cousin's Cape Cod wedding Friday.

See above comment.