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November 19, 2004

Prospectus Matchups

Friday Fun

by Jim Baker

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You know how you and your friends are always talking about how you could run a major league team if you just had the chance? You know how you think it would be cool to be the general manager of a big league team and make important phone calls and have a cell phone number that only Peter Gammons and Scott Boras know? You know how easy it looks when you're reading about it on the Internet?

Well, it's not. It's a hard job with a lot of pressure. It's not easy being Billy Beane or Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman or John Schuerholz. I mean no offense by this, but you couldn't do it.

Well, at least, that's what I used to think. Now I'm not so sure. In light of developments coming out of our nation's capital this week, I'm having to rethink my hard-line stance on the elite nature of the GM position. I think you could pull just about anyone out of the top three of any fantasy or roto league in the country and put them in charge of the Expos and they wouldn't do something as colossally misguided as the stunt Jim Bowden pulled this week. Joe Sheehan has already detailed the folly of this move for you, so I won't belabor the point except to ask: to whom is Bowden accountable? Whose money is he pissing away on Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman? If you were one of the owners of the four National League East teams not owned by the league, would you be upset with Bowden that he's wasting the league's dough on these proven mediocrities or would you be glad that--if these signings are any indication of things to come--the Expos will be a non-factor in the pennant race next year? Man, are these inkings right out of the Chuck LaMar playbook or what?

Other things on my mind this Friday...

  • I have a question. You can call it trivia if you like, but I don't know the answer to it, so it's more like a research topic I'm throwing out there. What pitcher appeared in the most games in a single season as a non-starter? My guess is an obvious one: Mike Marshall's 106 relief appearances in 1974. What about among position players? Has anybody ever topped that? Lenny Harris had 99 mid- or late-game appearances for the 2001 Mets. Rusty Staub was in that neighborhood for the '83 Mets. Has a position player/pinch hitter ever topped Marshall? Has one ever topped 100 games?

  • Here's another question I'd like to know the answer to: what non-pitcher appeared in the most games in a season without starting? My guess would be Herb Washington with the '74 A's with 92. As most of you know, Washington did nothing but pinch-run for the World Champion A's as owner Charlie O. Finley tried to push his eccentric agenda on the game, one that included having an offensive and defensive team like those employed in football. What I didn't know until recently was that the Swingin' A's were not the first team to do this. Sixty years prior, John McGraw had employed a young man named Sandy Piez. He appeared in 37 games for the Giants that year, but totaled just five games in the field and eight at-bats. Clearly, he was used as a pinch-runner in the majority of the games in which he appeared. It was when I was looking at Piez's record that I got to wondering about the record for replacement appearances. So, let's see what you can come up with in this category.

  • In my last effort, I discussed the down-ballot voting for the American League MVP. One of my comments was on the seemingly strange absence of Curt Schilling from every single ballot. On the same topic, Bill Deane of the Society for American Baseball Research pointed out the numerous mistakes in the voting list released by Major League Baseball. Most significantly, five votes were not present: two sevenths, two eighths and a ninth. Deane surmised correctly that it was Curt Schilling who had been deprived of some or all of these votes. The Schill actually got the two sevenths and the two eighths, giving him a total of 14 points, good enough for 11th place. So, ignore my incredulity. The voting tallies on MLB.com are still not accurate in that there are now 30 tenth-place votes on there instead of 28. At least Schilling is included now.

  • Before we leave the AL MVP balloting, here's a note I got from reader Scott Pianowski: "I'd like to understand the difference between Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui in the MVP voting. I can't figure it out. Their final numbers looked very similar to me." It is interesting that Sheffield finished second with some very decent support and Matsui was mentioned on just one ballot--and with a ninth-place vote at that.

    Mr. Pianowski is right: there isn't a lot separating the two Yanke outfielders. Sheffield's VORP was 63.8, somewhat better than Matsui's 58.1, but not excessively so. (Their EQAs are nearly identical, with Sheffield boasting a slim .318 to .317 margin of supremacy.) Their traditional stats are also very, very similar. Let's assume that Sheffield having five more homers and 13 more RBI was enough to sway voters hooked on the old metrics. Still, though, is that enough of a gap to warrant one man being on every ballot and the other being on just one?

  • As for the National League voting, there can only be one conclusion we can draw about Bobby Abreu: he must have let loose a live skunk at a BBWA banquet early in his career. What else could possibly explain his dismissal by the voters year after year? Once again, Abreu took it sideways from those deigned worthy of deciding men's fates. To paraphrase the old Peter & Jeremy (or was it Chad N. Gordon?) song:

    "I don't care what they say, I can't stay in a world without love for Bobby Abreu."

    Yet again, Abreu finished below Juan Pierre in the MVP voting. I'll let you digest that while you consider this: Abreu's VORP--the sixth-best in the league, by the way--was nearly twice as high as Pierre's. Yet, and this will really strangle your weasel, Abreu got the exact same vote count as the aforementioned Vinny Castilla: one ninth-place vote and one for tenth. (Castilla's EQA was 56 points lower.)

    I'd like to tear a page from the embarrassing section of the American history book and take something evil and turn it into something good. Back when those in power (read that "whites") wanted to keep a certain segment of the population from voting (read that "blacks"), they created a long and arduous process that came to be known as a "literacy test," although it was much more involved than a simple proof of reading comprehension. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 got rid of that piece of chicanery, but why can't we borrow and amend the idea for good instead of evil?

    I propose that the men who vote for the MVP must pass certain tests that prove they know more about the game of baseball than they are letting on in their balloting. Seriously, if a voter thinks that Jeff Kent, Moises Alou, Johnny Estrada, Miguel Cabrera, Jeromy Burnitz or Steve Finley belongs higher up on a ballot than does Abreu, then it's time to weed the garden. If the rationale is to take out the Phillies' failure to make the postseason on their best player, then more's the pity.

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