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June 24, 2003

Prospectus Today

Catching Up

by Joe Sheehan

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  • The case for leaving history to the historians was made stronger last week when I botched a reference to Carlton Fisk in discussing the Hall of Fame. While Fisk did split with the Red Sox after 1980, he had patched up his differences with the organization before he was inducted in 2000, and chose a Red Sox cap for his plaque rather than having one foisted upon him by the Hall.

    I was completely wrong, and I appreciate the many readers who dropped an e-mail to correct my misperception.

  • Padre fans were up in arms about a comment in June 13th's notes column that implied the Pads had no legitimate All-Star. Many people wrote in to defend Ryan Klesko as a worthy candidate, backing up the argument with his stat lines from the past three seasons, including this one.

    They're right. Klesko is right there in a group of players virtually tied for the second-best offensive performance by an NL first baseman this year, and he led NL first basemen in VORP in each of the last two years (stump your friends!). He's been a very good player for years, underrated thanks to the Padres' mediocrity and Qualcomm Stadium's dampening effect on his numbers. He will make a perfectly good All-Star, and I shouldn't have dismissed him so readily.

    Evaluating Klesko brings to mind one of the holes in performance evaluation: rating the defensive performance of first basemen. By observation and by acclamation, Klesko is an awful first baseman because he simply cannot handle imperfect throws. Other than errors, which are largely scorer's judgment and often get hung on the infielder making the throw, we have no statistic that measures how well a first baseman makes the play on a bad toss.

    Unlike at the other six fielding positions, where the number of plays you make on batted balls hit in your area largely determines your defensive value, first basemen have to be evaluated on more than just range statistics. Most of their chances come on thrown balls, not batted ones, so it stands to reason that more of their defensive value comes from their handling of throws.

    We don't have that data; we have anecdotal information and the assessments of skills analysts, but very little hard information on who does and does not have this skill. Worse, because of the subjective element here--we're essentially choosing between the first baseman and the infielder making the throw for assigning blame or credit--it's a difficult area for objective evaluation.

    Klesko's bat makes him a worthy All-Star from a team with few candidates, but if you're going to evaluate him as a player, you have to consider the whole package. Klesko has a deficiency that sharply reduces his overall value, and it's hidden in an area we really can't see well from the outside.

  • I've received e-mails asking if I'll be at the Society for American Baseball Research convention in Denver next month. I attended last year's event in Boston and had a great time.

    Sad to say, I will not be able to make it to Denver, although it means passing up a chance to meet a whole bunch of friends old and new, as well as take in any number of interesting and entertaining presentations, including what should be a fantastic discussion of baseball at altitude with Rany Jazayerli.


My good friend Jeff Erickson (of Rotowire fame) is a Reds fan, the second one I've ever known. You don't run into many of those living in New York and L.A., the places I've spent my 30-odd years.

The first Reds fan I ever knew, though, was my Uncle Jimmy. Married to my mother's sister, Uncle Jimmy was about the only person I knew growing up who wasn't a Yankee or Met fan; in fact, he disliked the Yankees pretty intensely. I never did know how he came to root for Cincinnati--he favored the Bengals as well--but it was as much a part of him as his inability to sit still (he rocked to and fro when in a sitting position).

I saw Uncle Jimmy just about every day from when I was six until I left for college. He, my aunt and my cousins lived in the same building as my family, and to hear him tell it, I had a knack for showing up just around dinner time. (He was right.) He worked for the Transit Authority for many years, retiring in the mid-1990s at an age young enough to enjoy it. He and my aunt separated in 1993, but he was always part of the family; I was thrilled when he traveled to California for my wedding in 1996. The last time I saw him was the summer of 2002, when Sophia and I made our way back east for a family vacation in the Catskills. We even got to play some golf together that week, which was fun for us, if a bit hard on the course.

On Friday, James McPartland Sr. succumbed to complications brought on by lung cancer. The funny thing is, it's like the Reds knew. I was watching them play the Diamondbacks when I got the call, and at the time, they were up 3-0. I made some phone calls, and by the time I got back, they were tied 3-3. They ended up blowing a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning and losing 6-5.

Today, my family is honoring Uncle Jimmy's life in the way he wanted: a brief ceremony, a cremation, and then a get-together that's less a mourning and more a celebration. He lived; he didn't exist, he lived, and that's what he wants us to do in his absence.

I won't be there, so I'll just add two words that I know would make him happy:

Go Reds!

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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