Friday, November 19, 2004

Where's His Rookie Card Again? 

I don't normally do these "hey, congratulations!" postcard-entries, but here you go -- Chad Tracy was named to the Topps All-Rookie Team yesterday. With Khalil Greene and Jason Bay on the team as well, he's in good company.

Chad Tracy... hey, congratulations!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

I Miss Hockey 

My junior and senior years in college, I lived with 3 other guys in an off-campus apartment. One of my roommates was a RTVMP major (that's "Radio/Television/Motion Pictures") and his career goal was to make a living as a soap opera writer. Now, I can hear the snickers, but thanks to the power of the writers' union, the annual salary was over $100K (and this was almost 15 years ago) for one 44-minute script every two weeks. Nice work, if you can get it.

So as part of his general learning of the trade, my roommate watched Guiding Light. Daily. And at first he did it alone. But within, oh, 6 months at the most, watching the day's episode ended up being more of a communal experience with at least 2 and sometimes all 4 of us watching (Taped, it proved to be a popular post-bar-hopping chill-out). Once we started watching, we became invested in the characters, thereby encouraging us to watch more. The girlfriends that occasionally made their way to our place had very little interest in watching, probably because they lacked that character investment.

And so it is that I think of hockey and how I miss it.

It's not so much that I adore the sport as much as it that I miss the storyline. Conditioned to the daily nature of baseball for six months, to have it end suddenly and be forced into the 2- or 3-times-a-week start-stop of the NBA is difficult for me. I have no great abiding interest in the Suns or Coyotes, other than the general enjoyment a winning local squad engenders, but it's nice to pick up the Republic in the wintry dark, bring it into the house, and read about the local club while enjoying a breakfast cereal of choice. Football, thanks to its weekly nature, makes for poor reading in that regard. College basketball can help fill that void, but frankly, until conference play heats up in January, it's fairly dry to me.

But hockey and basketball, particularly if you're lucky enough to live in a metropolitan area with both types of teams, that's great. It allows you to compare and contrast. Maybe one team is ascendant while the other is declining. Whatever -- it's like a soap opera with the "A" plot and the "B" plot. You really care about the "A" plot, but the "B" plot is a nice distraction.

Sadly, this fall, we've had no "B" plot.

The best I can do regarding Diamondbacks news is this -- Mark Grace will be the D-Backs' color analyst in 2005 and 2006. Many D-Back bloggers or internet denizens will be of mixed mind regarding this, cursing his return to the booth but thankful he won't be trying to manage in the organization. (Frankly, I don't share the negativity, though it's not like I think he's incredible either.) But the other news -- Garagiola, Jr. met with Randy Johnson, Moorad still not approved as CEO, coaching changes -- are just dull to me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Cultural Diversion: The Incredibles 

The not-so-secret secret behind Pixar's movies is that they're more for the parents in the audience than the kids.  Think of Toy Story 2, for example, which took the theme of watching your kids grow older that bubbled below the surface of Toy Story's buddy comedy and brought into full view.  Or Finding Nemo, in which Marlin's and Dory's journey (outward and inward) was more difficult and more significant than Nemo's.

So it is with The Incredibles, which packs such kiddie-unfriendly themes such as midlife crises, compromises made in the process of having a family, dealing with surly adolescents, and, er, tort reform into its nearly two-hour running time.  There's a reason why the movie is rated PG, folks, and it's not solely because of the movie's violence.  It's because it might simply bore the 5-year-olds.  Oh, sure, there are stretches of the movie that move by at a fast pace (the ones that clearly will serve as the basis for the video game tie-ins).  But it's the other beats -- the oversized Bob Parr trapped in an undersized insurance company cubicle, the sly sending up of spy-movie cliches even while it uses those cliches to full effect -- that will reward the adults in the audience while leaving the 5-year-olds wondering when the kids in the movie will do something cool again.  (Indeed, at the screening we saw this weekend, it did appear that families were leaving the youngest 'uns at home.)

So now Brad Bird has been involved with The Simpsons and has written and directed two of at least the top 10 animated movies of the past 5 years or so, The Incredibles and The Iron Giant.  That is an enviable record and I hope it's not another 5 years before another movie of his comes out.

Monday, November 15, 2004

What Does It All Mean? 

If you haven't checked out Jon's post on baseball blogging at Dodger Thoughts, please do so. It's an excellent interview with a number of baseball bloggers, their motivations, and other various and sundry notes. As I've been thinking about how to approach this blog in the future, the article echoed many of my thoughts and gave me new ones to ponder.

Looking Back: Injuries and Absences 

In my first look back at the 2004 Diamondbacks' season and how it made its way to a 51-111 record, I talked about the vagaries of luck. Today I'll discuss an only slightly less random occurrence, injuries, along with its cousin, absence. Unfortunately, this discussion revolves around the D-Backs' four biggest stars -- Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, Richie Sexson, and Steve Finley.

Now, if you thought that the D-Backs were best by injuries this year, you'd be right. Will Carroll estimated that the D-Backs lost more games to injury -- more than 1,800 -- than any other team. Now, if the D-Backs had lost 12 Brandon Lyons instead of just 1, the D-Backs might have ended up with more than 51 wins. But they didn't.

Let's start with the most depressing fact first -- The 33-win collapse from 2003 to 2004 came in spite of Randy's recovering from an injury-depleted 2003 to a Cy Young-caliber 2004. So, yes, Randy went from just 6 Win Shares in 2003 to 25 Win Shares in 2004, a net gain of 19 Win Shares, or about 6 wins. In other words, if Randy had had the same year in 2004 as he had in 2003, the D-Backs would've won 6 fewer games. (Note: all 2003 Win Shares stats are from here and the 2004 Win Shares are from the Hardball Times' stats page.)

Next, let's move to Luis Gonzalez. Gonzo had a pretty decent 2003, but a fair-at-best injury-depleted 2004. He dropped from 24 to 12 Win Shares, a net loss of 12 Win Shares, or 4 wins. I recognize that it's possible that Gonzalez would've declined in Win Shares from 2003 to 2004 even without injury due to the natural decline of age, but aside from beginning-of-the-year projections, there's no way of knowing that for sure. For the purposes of these studies, I'm going to assume no significant decline or increase in production from one year to the next.

Finally, Richie Sexson. Thanks to Richie's labrum, he declined from 26 Win Shares in 2003 to just 3 in 2004, for a net loss of 23 Win Shares, or about 8 wins. There was little to suggest in Richie's few games with the team that he was going to have a monstrously good or bad year.

So, what you have is 56 Win Shares from those 3 players in 2003 and 40 Win Shares from the same players in 2004. A net loss of 16 Win Shares, or about 5 wins.

Now, what I haven't talked about is the other 1,600 or so games lost to injury. I'm basically going to cover the rest of the team in future segments, but it seems fair to say that even though the other players lost to injury were essentially interchangeable, at some point, losing the equivalent of 10 players for the whole season will have an effect. I don't remember injuries being a significant factor in 2003 (aside from Johnson and some problems with Schilling).

Finally, no discussion of absences would be complete without a discussion of Steve Finley. Now, looking at Finley does highlight some of the shortcomings in Win Shares. Look at these two lines:
With AZ -- 104 games, VORP: 23.8, OPS: .828, AB/HR: 17.6, AB/K: 7.8
With LA -- 58 games, VORP: 12.0, OPS: .815, AB/HR: 17.2, AB/K: 7.5

Now go ahead and guess how many Win Shares each line was worth.

9. Each.

Looking at those two lines, I can't see any conclusive difference between them. In most categories, Finley's totals with the D-Backs were a little less than twice his totals with the Dodgers. (With the exception of RBIs -- he had just 48 with the D-Backs but 46 with the Dodgers. If that isn't an illustration of the anemic D-Back offense, I don't know what is, even if Finley did lead off for a few games.) Yes, Dodger Stadium is less of a hitters' park, but still…

In any case, Finley's trade can be viewed as costing Arizona 9 Win Shares, or 3 wins. As for the other trades, it's not worth the effort. Elmer picked up a couple Win Shares in LA, but that's just noise.

So, add up the 5 net wins lost to injury by the Big 3 and 3 wins due to Finley's departure, and that's 8 wins. Add those to the 54 non-luck-adjusted wins (see the first entry), and that takes this team to 62-100, or a 22 wins shy of the 2003 level. In my next reviews, I'll be looking at the rest of the team.