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May 8, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

To the Inbox

by Joe Sheehan

One of the best things about writing this column is the feedback I get from its readers. Since Baseball Prospectus debuted in 1996, it's been lucky to have a loyal and knowledgeable following. It's no stretch to say that the e-mail I receive on any one day contains more salient points than an entire year of my local paper's reader feedback, and I enjoy and encourage the responses. Even the ones that point out my stupidity, illiteracy and complete lack of pectoral muscles.

That said, I confess that the volume of mail has increased in the past two months and I'm having some difficulty responding to it all. To those of you who have written and haven't heard from me, know that I've read your mail and still hope to get back to you.

Since I haven't been personally responding to the mail, I wanted to address some of it in the column. First Aaron Schatz points out something silly Jimy Williams has been doing:

"Why do the Red Sox continue to DH people like Andy Sheets and
Manny Alexander against left-handers, rather than promoting
Morgan Burkhart to platoon with Brian Daubach? If Manny
Alexander at DH isn't a reason to chuck the rule, I don't know what is."

I appreciate the feedback, Aaron. The retirement of Gary Gaetti seemed to catch the Sox off-guard, and I'll admit to being disappointed in Sox manager Williams. Back in the first week of the season, I pointed out that he'd let Daubach hit against a left-handed reliever in one game, and Daubach responded with a home run. I thought, when Gaetti retired, that Daubach would inherit his PAs.

It really hasn't happened that way. As Aaron points out, Alexander and Sheets have each been the DH against left-handers, while Daubach has gotten one start. Alexander and Sheets are marginal utility infielders, so using them at DH is silly. Burkhart is a switch-hitter with power, but there's limited evidence that he would be a credible platoon option.

I'll go back to my original premise: in the absence of a real platoon partner, Daubach deserves a chance to be an everyday player. In a very limited sample this year--17 at-bats--he's hit .294/.350/.529 against left-handed pitchers. It's an open question whether Manny Alexander could post an 879 OPS against me.

This all applies to Trot Nixon as well, who shares time with Darren Lewis. Nixon had a 437 OPS against left-handers in 43 at-bats last year. In 2000, he has hit .231/.375/.538 against them in 13 at-bats. Let him play every day and find out if the improvement is real. Play Daubach and Nixon, reduce Lewis to a defensive replacement and Alexander and Sheets to...to...I don't know...pine tar coordinators or something.

Craig Rolling wrote in about a different American League East team:

"I am writing in regard to your Top 5 rankings, specifically the
omission of the World Champions as one of the top teams. I know, the
Yankees have been outscored this season.  My argument is that it's not just
luck that causes them to win more close games than other teams. Torre and
Rivera have a lot to do with it.

To suggest that the Mariners or the Mets are better than the Yankees at this point is somewhat silly. I would bet on the Yankees to win more games than either of those teams this year. Age may indeed catch up to the champs this year, but after two titles and a 12-7 start, they are still one of the top teams in baseball and therefore deserve to make your rankings."

Thanks for the note, Craig. First off, I should explain that the rankings are not supposed to be predictive: they're a measure of performance, not expectation. They also don't go back past April 3 (Cubs/Mets in Japan notwithstanding), so the Yankees 1999 World Championship carries as much weight as their 1937 title.

Good teams score and prevent runs. Really good teams score a lot of runs and allow few. They blow teams out and don't lose games by being blown out, and at the end of the season they have large run differentials and good won/lost records. It is possible to have a good record with a lousy run differential, and it's even possible to make the postseason and win a World Series (Minnesota Twins, 1987) while allowing more runs than you score.

Nevertheless, the best teams in baseball don't do this. There are landfills full of writing claiming that good teams win the close games because they have chemistry or a good bullpen or a quality manager or Cherry Bazooka and barbecue sunflower seeds in the dugout. Ignore it all: close games are determined, by and large, by luck. A hit here. An error there. Jeffrey Maier. Don Denkinger.

The Yankees are an above-average team, but they have problems scoring runs, an aging rotation with health questions and all the depth of Daddio. I'm quite comfortable with the idea that they're not one of the best teams in baseball. They're 20-9 with a run differential of +14. They're 13th in the American League in runs scored, 10th in EqA. That's the better evidence in this case.

I'll close with this, only in part to deflect criticism that I have some kind of anti-Yankee bias. On Sunday, the Yankees dedicated another plaque in Monument Park behind the left-center field wall. The honoree never played a game, made a trade or called a hit-and-run for the team, and yet is still inextricably linked with the Yankees.

Of the many voices of my youth, his is one that I would recognize at any hour in any place, with or without the famous echo. Congratulations, Robert Merrill.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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