Saturday, August 14, 2004

I Got Nothing 

Nada.  Zip.  I mean, how do you write about a D-Backs starting pitcher having a lousy outing in some new, interesting way for the, er, 80th time this season?

I was amused by the headline for the D-Backs' 10-6 loss to the Mets on page C6 of the Republic:

"Another big, early deficit dooms punchless offense"

Hey, Mr./Ms. Headline Writer Gal, did you even read the article to wrote the headline for?  As is typical now, it was really, really short, so it wouldn't take you much time, but the DIAMONDBACKS SCORED SIX TIMES.  I gotta tell you, for the D-Backs this year, that is an offensive explosion.  And they managed to do it on just 8 hits.  Punchless, my butt.

(But, yeah, Fossum did not have a good outing.  Neither did Steve Sparks.  But Elmer and Aquino looked OK.)

Ah, an Edgar Gonzalez outing against Al Leiter.  Somehow another 10-3 D-Backs loss seems a distinct possibility.

Friday, August 13, 2004

At Least It Was A Reaction 

For the most part, my... well... over-attachment to sports teams ended after
college. I moved far away from my university and while I continued to pay
attention to my university's squads, new interests and new friends, along
with the lack of bombardment of information on the teams led to a gradual
withering away of the over-attachment.

And while I've been a fan of the D-Backs since their first season, I've
never quite matched that same attachment. Equanimity has been common for
me. Even in 2001, even during Game Seven (and I was there, waaaaay in the
upper deck in right field), I didn't quite match the obsessiveness and
passion that led to many a raspy voice and red face years earlier.

But in the fourth inning yesterday, I got as ticked off as I'd been
regarding a sports team in quite some time.

After giving up a 6-0 lead, then miraculously watching the D-Backs put
together six straight hits on their to scoring 5 runs in the top of the
fourth, what does Lance Cormier do? He promptly loads the bases with no
outs, the last by walking an Expos batter on, if I recall correctly, 4
straight pitches. Given a gift of a 5-run D-Back rally, and the man blows
it. I seethed.

Then Stephen Randolph comes on and promptly, again, if I recall correctly,
throws two, if not three, balls. Then he bobbles a ball that he could have
made a play on, letting the runner score from third and keeping the bases
loaded. I seethed more.

He started with another couple bad pitches to the next batter, and I was
about ready to rip out the radio.

And, almost as quickly as the rage increased, it subsided. Randolph,
amazingly, struck out the side. Let me repeat -- RANDOLPH STRUCK OUT THE
SIDE. Without a walk.

In the end, it didn't matter, because the D-Backs didn't score another run,
and they lost to the Expos 7-5. But at least the Diamondbacks showed some
ability to string together some hits, and at least I know now that I'm
committed to this team.

This team, of course, is now statistically prevented from having a winning
season with 81 losses. But I know without a doubt that it's my team.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Defense Is Not Everything 

I just saw the BP Mailbag in which a certain "M.H." asks about the D-Backs' defensive woes and says that they're a "major" contributor to the D-Backs' collapse this year. Scarily enough, Jonah Keri agrees.

Look, at the risk of offending of my few readers (and, hey, if you are, please comment and let me know if and how I'm wrong), I'm not saying the D-Backs aren't bad defensively -- BP's defensive efficiency stat sheet has them at 4th-worst in the majors. But let's say the D-Backs were at the major league median -- .6921 -- instead of at .6813. That difference -- .0108 means that over the roughly 5,000 balls in play over an entire season the D-Backs would give up 54 more base runners than the average team. What do you think that translates into in terms of runs? 40 runs? (There's probably a good answer somewhere...) That, to me, is a not insignificant amount.

But not "major," not when the D-Backs' ground-ball inducing pitching staff gives up dingers like they were candy at a July 4th parade in Flagstaff.

Hacktastic T? 

Untamed. Aggressive. Swinging as if he's blindfolded.

All words or phrases used to describe Luis Terrero's approach at the plate.

There's just one problem.

The numbers don't bear it out.

Here's a list of the 20 Diamondbacks with the most plate appearances (I have no idea why Alomar is in the list if Finley and Mayne aren't). The data is as follows:

Player: Plate Appearances, Pitches, P/PA, K/BB (Total Ks), OPS

Gonzalez 451 1836 4.07 0.85 (58) .866
Sexson 104 413 3.97 1.50 (21) .914
Tracy 372 1474 3.96 1.22 (39) .753
Johnson 59 233 3.95 12.50 (25) .327
Alomar 125 492 3.94 1.50 (18) .855
Brito 129 501 3.88 3.71! (26) .473
Terrero 62 237 3.82 3.20 (16) .798
Hammock 168 641 3.82 2.91 (32) .618
DeVore 56 210 3.75 5.67! (17) .478
Kata 178 663 3.72 2.23 (29) .665
Hairston 242 881 3.64 4.00! (56) .747
Olson 109 396 3.63 1.13 (18) .652
Baerga 65 233 3.58 1.6 (8) .568
McCracken 89 314 3.53 1.86 (13) .830
Webb 51 176 3.45 12.50! (25) .208
Cintron 434 1497 3.45 1.84 (46) .649
Hillenbrand 422 1417 3.36 2.41 (41) .807
Bautista 421 1412 3.35 1.67 (45) .803
Green 34 109 3.21 4.00 (4) .688
Sparks 30 91 3.03 N/A (14 Ks, no BBs) .207

So, do these numbers show that he's too aggressive? If they do, then everybody except Gonzo, Richie, and Chad Tracy would be definitively excused from additional batting practice; everyone else either has a P/PA, K/BB, or K/PA rate worse than Terrero's. (And in case you're wondering, the D-Backs' team K/BB rate is 1.96, which is right in the middle of the pack of NL teams, so it's not like the D-Backs are blatantly more hacktastic than the rest of the National League.)

And, for what it's worth, visually, I'm not sure those numbers on "patience" have any relationship to OPS. But I'd have to plot or run the regression to be sure.

Obviously, numbers -- or, at least, these numbers -- can't say whether Terrero swings at more incredibly awful pitches than his teammates. But I can't help but think his wildness in the field (and is that just a visual trick, too?) and off the field (cf his anger-management issues) has colored the impression of others re: his batting, an impression that isn't really justified.

Parlor Game: Baseball Books 

Earlier this week I talked about The Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract. I liked it, but found the editing mistakes and occasional strident-ness of James' prose sometimes distracted from my enjoyment of the sheer range of James' innovative ways of looking at the game.

So for this installment of this very occasional series, my question is:

What baseball books have you found have been most useful in your understanding of the game? I'm more interested in books that talk about how to play the game and new ways to think about the game than, say, history or biography, but feel free to list whatever you'd like.

Click the "comments" phrase below to weigh in.

Withering Away 

Is that the team, the decreasing length of Arizona Republic articles about the team, or the enthusiasm and production of D-Back bloggers?

All three, I suppose. It's hard to get excited when Brandon Webb continues an underwhelming 2nd-year campaign, this time giving up another 4 walks and a grand slam. Oh, and the offense got 8 singles and 1 walk, for an slugging average of, what, .242 (8 TB/33 AB), an on-base percentage of, I think, .265 (9 on-base/34 PA), creating an OPS for the game of .507. I'm actually amazed they scored 3 runs out of that.

The only D-Back who had a good game? Danny Bautista, who ESPN.com reported was traded to the Phillies until some other (unnamed) team claimed him off waivers (at which point the D-Backs pulled Bautista back). Read some Phillies blog-related thoughts here.

Stephen Randolph pitched last night. Typically, he walked someone. Surprisingly, however, Al Pedrique is thinking of putting him in the starting rotation in place of Edgar Gonzalez. Yikes.

So, that's it for the wrap. Shorter and shorter. But I'll have more today.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Luis Gonzalez: Hall of Famer? 

With the announcement that Edgar Martinez will retire at the end of the season, I've heard discussion regarding whether Edgar Martinez will get into the Hall of Fame. Aside from the silly debate as to whether designated hitters should even (or will ever) be admitted into the Hall of Fame, the debate revolves around whether Edgar's stats are good enough to get into the Hall of Fame.

Let me present 3 players, with the following stats:
Age at start of 2004 season, Games Played
Hits, Doubles, HR
VORPs 2000-2004, Total VORP over period

Player 1
36, 2008
2057, 458, 292
3517, .286, .859
60.6, 104.5, 46.7, 53.2, 21.5 -- 286.5

Player 2
39, 2238
2284, 397, 273
3718, .276, .787
52.3 21.0, 46.5, 39.9, 31.3 -- 191.0

Player 3
41, 2014
2207, 510, 306
3665, .312, .939
87.2, 69.1, 35.6, 23.5, 14.4 -- 229.8

So which one is Edgar Martinez? Well, you may have figured that out by looking for his number of doubles (510), hits (2207), and batting average (.312) -- it's player 3.

But when I thought about Edgar Martinez and his qualifications for the Hall of Fame, I started to think of Luis Gonzalez -- player 1. And, if you look at those stats, I gotta say, they're in the same ballpark, to use a metaphor. Especially if you consider the fact that Gonzo will have at least 2 more years in the majors. It's not unreasonable to think that in 2005 and 2006 Gonzo would get a) 150 hits (OK, 200 since Edgar will get 50 more this year), b) 52-60 doubles, c) 14-20 home runs, and d) 74-990 RBIs. At that point, the only significant difference between Edgar and Gonzo in his lifetime stats would be the batting average / OPS. That gap won't be significantly closed, but Gonzo might have the edge in other, more cumulative stats (e.g., homeruns).

Check out the VORP, too. Obviously, Edgar's numbers the past 5 years chart the course Gonzo and Player 2 (who is that masked man?) will likely follow in the next 1, 2, 3 years, but Gonzo certainly has had an excellent past 5 years (OK, 4 excellent years and 1 fair-at-best).

And, yes, Gonzo plays in the field. I don't think that playing the DH should at all count against somebody's Hall chances, but people who play the field should get some credit for that. Gonzo will never be known as a great left fielder, but I don't think he's an awful one, either. (Of his 12 Win Shares for this year, 1.2, or about 10%, were for his fielding.)

So I'm not saying that Edgar Martinez should or should not or will or will not enter the Hall of Fame. I'm not saying Luis Gonzalez should or should not or will or will not enter the Hall of Fame. (Bill James would have opinions and even a list of questions to address both questions.)

But I am saying that if you seriously consider Edgar Martinez for the Hall of Fame, you need to seriously consider Gonzo, too.

P.S. For what it's worth, Player 2 is Steve Finley. He's further away from Martinez in his offensive stats, but has better defensive stats than Gonzo. I'm not ready to put Finley in the same category, but maybe he'll have another stellar couple years...

What's French for Thirstbuster? 

OK, 4-0 Expos, which reflects both the score of last night's 5th straight Diamondback loss and the season record of the Expos over the Diamondbacks. Randy Johnson pitched OK, particularly from the 3rd inning on, but Livan Hernandez early on looked like he was the real Randy Johnson, throwing 6 strikeouts in the first 3 innings. He appeared well on his way to earning the 8,000 or so fans in attendance a Thirstbuster or whatever it is the Expos give their fans (if anything) for pitching 12 strikeouts, but then returned to earth. Both teams, 8 hits, but the Expos made theirs count.

In other news... oh, go read the Republic's notes, in which you'll learn that Luis Gonzalez might introduce President Bush when he visits Phoenix today. (No truth to the rumor that Randy Johnson is now calling up the Kerry camp.) Also in both that article and MLB.com's Notes article, Andy Green gets some praise from Pedrique. As I've noted before, it seems that, after Tracy and Hairston, Green is the next most-likely Sidewinder to be in a D-Backs uniform on a regular basis in 2005.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Cultural Diversion: Nerds 

As long-time readers might recall, I'm usually a little late reading our weekly New Yorker. My wife reads it first, then me. So it was only this past weekend that I read Burkhard Bilger's story on "Nerd Camp" in the July 26 issue. It's an occasionally amusing look at the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University, which is affectionately referred to as "Nerd Camp," and hosts summer programs for the brightest of the bright. Not just the top 1%, but the top 1% of the top 1%.

The article, like most New Yorker articles, isn't posted or disappears after about a week, so the only link I can point you to is an author interview which deals more with the competing theories of educational tracking, which I found to be the less compelling part of the article proper. What I enjoyed more in Bilger's article was the more "slice-of-camp" profiles of the kids, who early on in the article are divided into the "High Math" and "High Verbal" kids. The "High Math" kids are "sprawled on a patch of grass in front of their dormitory, waiting glumly for the games to begin." The "High Verbals," on the other hand are "waving banners in the sun, babbling excitedly and chasing one another around with high-pitched squeals." The "High Math" kids try to hack into the Johns Hopkins computer network; one of the "High Verbals" is described as being "surrounded by giggling girls, whispering confidences in his ears."

As a former nerd myself (though not in the class of these nerds) I read the article with amusement and faint recognition (though with not as much recognition as when I read another article in the same issue which briefly profiled a former professor of mine -- the shock nearly causing me to fall off the treadmill). It also gave me a convenient organizing theme to these reviews.

Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract: I would characterize James as a "High Math," seemingly effortlessly coming up with elegant mathematical and statistical solutions to questions most commonly asked with a can (or bottle, depending on your socioeconomic status) of beer in the hand. To review Bill James' work seems odd -- the man might not have invented sabermetrics, but he sure could sue for royalties. So I'll just leave it at this -- there are way too many editing errors than I would like to see in a book with a strong emphasis on statistical evaluation. The verbal mistakes makes one wonder if there are numerical mistakes. (And, judging by the reviews on Amazon of the paperback version -- I read the hardcover -- I wasn't alone, and, yes, there were even a few numerical mistakes.) In addition, the strident tone ("moralist" he was described in one review, and that's not far off the mark) of some of the writing can be somewhat off-putting. Oh, and I could probably buy a copy of the out-of-print Win Shares book if I had a dollar for every time James writes something like "you probably already all know this" (I did, at best, maybe 1/3rd of the time). It's a shame that the little things get in the way, because James did a great job of getting me to look at baseball in a new way many, many times in the course of the book.

They Might Be Giants, The Spine: The two Johns (Linnell and Flansburgh) of TMBG, on the other hand, seem much more "High Verbal," spinning off little quirky songs for more than 20 years. The new album ranges a great deal across the stylistic board, even more so than their previous full-length Mink Car. I will fail here as a reviewer in conveying a sense of the album, other than it has some of their typical mid-tempo rockers ("Experimental Film," "Prevenge") mixed in with, oh, a house track ("Bastard Wants To Hit Me") and baroque snippets ("Spine"). If you're a TMBG fan, you may or may not like it (general consensus among long-time fans is that it's not their favorite), but I don't think it's that much different from, say, Mink Car. I like it, but it took 3 listens before I really hooked into it.

Napoleon Dynamite: I had a co-worker once who would occasionally walk into my office and say something like, "So... if Arizona lost a county, which one should it be?" Bright guy, nice guy, but, well, occasionally odd. Another former co-worker of mine pointed out the similarity between our former co-worker and the title character. I wouldn't really characterize Napoleon as a nerd in that he's not incredibly gifted at anything in particular (he draws nifty dragons, but that's about it). His gift, I suppose, is complete dedication and interest in whatever's he doing at the moment, which is certainly nerd-like. The movie isn't a masterpiece of teen-set movies such as Rushmore or Election, but is amusing in its own way. A character study more than anything else.

Three Weeks, Three Questions (Behind Blue Eyes Edition) 

A day late, but with the off day, it seems OK...

Three Weeks

The Week That Was

After starting the homestand with 2 wins (and winning the series with the Marlins), the Diamondbacks lose 4 straight, swept by the Braves. Outscored on average 6.75-4 (high, low, as always, discarded).

The Two Weeks That Will Be

On the road for 3-game series against the Expos and the Mets, then at home for 3 against the Pirates, a day off, then 3 at home against the Reds. If the D-Backs are going to make any run at 63 wins (or, rather, avoiding 100 losses), they'll have to do most of that run in the next 3 weeks as September mostly consists of NL West teams who will probably still be fighting for playoff spots.

By the way... last week I noted how sparse tickets were for tonight's Diamondbacks-Expos game. I just checked; the best seats available now for tonight's game are section 103, row SS, seats 5 & 6 -- slightly worse, but not by much. Still, you could get back into the "right behind the plate seats" tomorrow night... section 101, row VV, seats 13 & 14.

Three Questions

After Jerry, Who's Next? In honor of the classic Who album, three "Behind Blue Eyes" references...

1. What's Jerry Colangelo's next move?
"No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes?"

Jerry was clearly saddened by the way this thing turned so suddenly on him. A year ago, running both the Suns and Diamondbacks... now, nothing. I hope that he doesn't decide to retire back in Chicago, because, let's face it, he's the closest thing to a non-political civic leader Phoenix has.

2. What's Jeff Moorad's next move?
"No one knows what it's like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies"

Hey, I'm not saying that Moorad lies. But as a former agent and the man who deposed THE MAN WHO BROUGHT ARIZONA A WORLD SERIES, FOR GOODNESS' SAKE! (emphasis for sarcastic effect), he will not be given much slack. Oh, yeah, the players' union hates you, too.

3. What's Ken Kendrick's next move?
"But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be"

As Ken Kendrick is publicly identified (though this, too, may be little more than rumor) as the puppetmaster behind the imbroglio (see above Moorad link and this link here), people seem to be lining up against him. John Gambodoro says Brubaker and Dozer should quit. The bigger question, of course, is how Kendrick feels about spending money. How ticked off was he about the Drew signing bonus, and was that because of the size of the bonus or because Colangelo kept him in the dark?

Monday, August 09, 2004

Fo-shizzle Fizzle 

You know, you get excited about winning two in a row, and what does it get you?

Bitter, bitter defeat. Moaning and complaining and whining about the great unfairness of life. Muttering under your breath. Sleepless nights.

And that's just Jerry Colangelo. [Rim shot for the cheap shot, folks.]

(And, hey, I just found out Blogger ate my comments from Saturday about the Colangelo deposing -- gonna have to find those again...)

Oh, who am I kidding? The D-Backs have now lost 4 in a row, and I suppose that's one benefit of cheering an awful team -- you just don't care. Put us in LA or Boston or Chicago, and 4 losses in a row would be an awful, awful skein. But here, this season, eh, what's the big deal?

Edgar Gonzalez on Saturday actually looked pretty good and kept himself in Phoenix for the time being. On TV, it looked like the D-Backs were hitting the ball harder than the Braves, but the Braves' flares fell softly for base hits while the Diamondbacks' shots into the outfield were run down by the Braves outfield (Andruw Jones in particular). And then Randy Choate collapsed, giving up 3 runs and earning himself a trip down to Tucson (with lefty Shane Nance passing him heading north somewhere around Picacho Peak, I suppose). 6-2 Braves.

And then, yesterday, it was like the rest of the Diamondbacks thought that Gonzalez pitching yesterday, as they lost 11-4, much more in keeping with Gonzalez' 10-3, 10-3, 10-3, 10-2 scores in his 4 games before Saturday's outing. It's hard to watch Casey Fossum, whose success on the mound seems to match mine on the golf course -- the occasional stellar outing keeps him coming back for more abuse the other 80% of the time. (Though, to be honest, my ratio of abuse-to-stellar on the golf course is well above 90-10...) There's no middle ground -- he's either pretty good, or really bad.