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July 7, 2000

From The Mailbag

Orthodoxy, All-Stars, Mariners and Rockies

by Baseball Prospectus

Orthodoxy

I enjoyed your idea about a weekly schedule for pitchers, although I'm not convinced. I just don't see it becoming a norm because it would be hard to groom youngsters in this fashion and I think limiting pitch counts would just be an effective way of keeping your starters healthy, though the all-closer staff is very exciting!

--GC

One important thing to take away from my article is that I'm not advocating that type of innings plan. It would take a ton of research to determine if that type of usage made any sense. I'm just suggesting that it might be one practice where clubs can do research, and take some risks in terms of innovation.

My suspicion is that the best way to run a pitching staff hasn't been found yet--and if it has, it certainly hasn't been by me.

--Gary Huckabay

As a fan of the Red Sox, it seems like they are closest to working out what Gary was proposing (and what I have been thinking about lately as well). For teams without "enough" starters, I don't know why they don't have a bunch of guys who throw 3-4 innings instead of a traditional starter. Last year, especially during the playoffs, Jimy Williams didn't stay with a starter if he wasn't throwing strikes--some guys were yanked during the third inning.

The other "advantage" the Red Sox had was that they had relievers who could throw multiple innings frequently--Derek Lowe had a "rubber" arm, Tim Wakefield's knuckler allowed him to pitch nearly every day, and John Wasdin's former role as a starter allowed the Red Sox to let him pitch innings in bunches.

--PM

Well, I think a large part of it is the reason I outline in the article--risk aversion. If Jimy does it and it works, he's a genius. If it doesn't work, he's dead where he stands. If he fails with the current pitchers using them traditionally, the blame won't hit him as hard.

The Red Sox might have a staff well suited to this particular idea, with Wasdin, Wakefield, and, I suspect, Tomokazu Ohka.

--Gary Huckabay

All-Stars

I had an idea for curbing the effect of All-Star ballot stuffing (a-la Cleveland) without taking the vote out of the hands of the fans. My idea is to adjust the weight of each ballot submitted based on the average attendance of the park in question. So, for example, if the average attendance at Jacobs Field is 40,000, and Manny Ramirez is listed on 75% of Jacobs Field ballots, then Manny Ramirez gets 30,000 votes from Jacob's field, whether there were 200,000 ballots cast there or 5 million. This takes the incentive of ballot stuffing away.

--AT

We were sent several emails in this vein after the All-Star rosters were announced. I've taken a look at some of the players who got the shaft in the process recently.

The important thing to remember is that this is an exhibition game, and who makes it or doesn't make it is really meaningless. Picking apart the fan voting--which is usually on-point, at least for starters--strikes us as overanalysis, and while I'd like to see the leagues do a better job of filling out the rosters, as I said in Thursday's column, no one will care in 48 hours.

Creating a complex system for determining All-Stars is overkill. The system we have now works for just about everyone involved.

--Joe Sheehan

The Mariners

I have a few issues with your recent AL West Notebook. The staff has been handled amazingly well this year--especially in the last six weeks. Tell me another team in the league who could hold up this well to losing pitchers like Jamie Moyer and Freddy Garcia at the start of the season. Nobody in the game has depth to do this. Jose Mesa was terrible right through the point where Lou left him to the wolves against Tampa Bay for the 9 run 9th inning. Since, he has been untouchable. Since the loss of Moyer, Lou has been very careful about pitch counts. I have rarely seen a pitcher go past 105 pitches, and this has usually been reserved for guys like Moyer and Aaron Sele. Gil Meche and John Halama have been handled very gently.

Watch the games and you will see that this is working... I am not a Piniella fan, and will be glad to see him go... but he seems to be driving the ship pretty well right now... I think a lot of it has to do with letting Bryan Price call the shots with the staff..

--SW

Respectfully, I totally disagree with you. Perhaps if Piniella hadn't racked up so much mileage on Moyer and Garcia last year they wouldn't have been injured this year in the first place. Garcia threw 114 pitches in his second start of the year, and while he's been spared the amazing abuse of last year, it's not as if Lou's suddenly returned to sanity. See my pitch counts on Meche, who has not, as you said, been handled very gently. Halama has been handled well, and they deserve to be lauded for that, but how long will that patience hold out?

I watch tons of M's games, being in Seattle myself, and I don't think Piniella is doing a good job at all: his constant, predictable running game with Mark McLemore at the start of the season, for instance, was the sort of Piniella fixation that chases a team out of games. And if Price was really running the pitching staff, I think we'd see a rational bullpen strategy, instead of the 'use Arthur Rhodes to put out all fires all week' thing Piniella was doing the other week.

But here's another question, then: there have been other pitching coaches that have seemed to be successful. None have lasted working alongside Piniella (here and in New York and with the Reds), and many have gone on to later success with different staffs. What makes Price different, that he of all of these should be able to contain Piniella over the course of a season, and not get fired for interfering? Piniella had great things to say about Stan Williams last season. Being the pitching coach for the Mariners is like drumming for Spinäl Tap, only without the groupies.

--Derek Zumsteg

The Rockies

This is in regards to your latest NL West Notebook, when you mention the perfect Rockies lineup. I don't think I've ever heard anyone suggest this before, and maybe this is just too obvious to be worth saying; but since playing in Denver helps all balls in play (balls don't just go farther, they also go faster, helping batting average as much as power), it seems to me that the Rockies would probably benefit from focusing more than other teams on the strikeout, both by batters and pitchers. In Denver, putting the ball in play can only help you on offense and can only hurt you on defense. So it stands to reason that the Rockies could optimize their roster for their home park by getting as many high-strikeout pitchers and as many low-strikeout hitters as possible. Of course high-strikeout pitchers are always a good thing, but modern sabermetrics has tended to downplay the importance of avoiding the strikeout on offense. This might be a lot more important in Denver than elsewhere.

--TB

In my quest to both understand how the park effects in Colorado work and to explain the continuing gainful employment of Dante Bichette, I've got some points I want to bring up about this.

Offensively, the strikeout needs to be avoided, but it is nearly as important to avoid the base on balls, since you get less value added in thin air for a walk than you do a batted ball.

Of course, everybody hits better in Coors, but I'm guessing the guy who takes most advantage of the field relative to his performance at sea level is the warning track commando who hits nothing but fly balls, but doesn't have enough raw power to hit bombs in a normal stadium. Both this and the walks/strikeouts thing work against hitters like Mark McGwire and in favor of inferior, overrated hitters like ... you guessed it, Bichette.

You've got to discount home runs in a normal park from your analysis, because those are legit and you don't want to pay for legit production in Colorado. In order to get the most out of your free agent dollar, you want to go for guys who make lots of contact, don't walk or strike out much, and hit a bunch of fly balls that aren't home runs. Again, if that isn't a description of Bichette, I don't know what is.

I don't have easy access to this info for everyone in MLB, but we can take a look at a few test cases. For Rockies, I'm doubling road home runs instead of taking total home runs to remove Coors from the equation as much as possible.

                      (FB - HR) /  PA
Carlos Lee           (167 - 16) / 518 = .291
Dante Bichette       (200 - 28) / 659 = .261
Ken Griffey          (232 - 48) / 706 = .261
Vinny Castilla       (194 - 26) / 674 = .249
Tony Gwynn           (120 - 10) / 446 = .246
Raul Mondesi         (186 - 33) / 680 = .225
Rondell White        (150 - 22) / 588 = .218
Larry Walker         (129 - 22) / 513 = .209
Jeff Hammonds        (78  - 17) / 293 = .208
Mark McGwire         (202 - 65) / 661 = .207
Sammy Sosa           (192 - 63) / 712 = .181
Quilvio Veras        (94  -  4) / 545 = .165

In all of the above lines, FB is fly balls and PA is plate appearances. All stats are from the 1999 season. Look at Carlos Lee go!

This is all strictly off the cuff, and I would like to hear from anyone who has an opinion (or fly ball data in database format that could be used to run this equation for everyone in baseball) on this. Obviously, playing at altitude doesn't just help the cheap home run, but intuitively that seems like it would be a huge component of a successful Colorado player acquisition strategy to me.

As far as pitching goes, it may matter how a pitcher gets his strikeouts, especially if he relies on a curve that flattens out at altitude, as conventional wisdom dictates.

--Dave Pease

The Rest

Mike Redmond and Paul Bako are both managing sub-.700 OPS's. Ramon Castro is crushing the ball in AAA. What are the chances Castro will get called up to start--does Florida need to be clearly eliminated from the playoff hunt?

--TA

That's a very good question, and one to which I received no definitive answer when I posed it to some folks in the Calgary Cannons front office a while back.

I think you hit the nail on the head--as long as the Marlins continue to linger in the periphery of the wild card race, the organization won't promote him for fear of screwing with the chemistry of the team (yeah, there's our favorite intangible again). An injury could change that, but recently Redmond was out for over a week with a sprained ligament in his right knee and the Marlins didn't take advantage of the opportunity to promote a scorching-hot Castro.

As you may recall, Castro went into spring training with the backstop job as his to lose, which he promptly did. I'm curious to see if his recent stretch with the bat indicates a real improvement at the plate or if it's just a few weeks of good mojo.

Castro is still viewed as the team's catcher of the future, but the future probably won't come until August, when the Fish are double-digits out of the playoff chase.

--Jeff Bower

Any idea where I can find definitions for more obscure stats? A columnist in Seattle was recently saying that Edgar Martinez is "way up there" in OPS, but didn't define what that was.

--JB

OPS is a quick-and-dirty measure of a player's offensive performance. It is calculated by adding a player's on-base percentage and slugging percentage together, and generally expressed without the decimal:

If Chris Kahrl's line is .123/.129/.354, his OPS would be 483. Remember, this is just an example; Chris has never managed to slug .300 in any league we know of, but don't let this throw you.

In general for everyday players, a 700 OPS is mediocre, 800 is average, 900 is very good and 1000 is excellent. It's important to account for positional differences, as a shortstop with an 800 OPS can be as valuable as a first baseman with a 900 OPS.

OPS is not the be-all, end-all of performance metrics. It doesn't account for park effects, base stealing or defense. More importantly, it really isn't sufficient for serious comparison of different types of hitters: a .400/.400 OBP/SLG and a .300/.500 OBP/SLG will both produce an 800 OPS, but very different players. But as a starting point for determining how good a hitter a player is, it's a significant improvement over the more traditional batting average.

--Joe Sheehan

Could you please tell me where I can look for sports related jobs? I have been working in the computer field my whole adult life and am an avid sports nut with a special interest in baseball. I would like to combine the two somehow so that when I go to work I am enjoying what I am working on. There are so many stats services and other sports related businesses that I think I should be able to find something.

--RR

We think you should be able to find something too. Try stopping by the websites of the stats services and other sports related businesses that you know of and check the "Employment Opportunities" sections for openings. You ought to be able to find quite a few listings.

That's what we know about getting a job in the wild world of Internet baseball coverage.

--Dave Pease

We'd love to hear your thoughts on anything baseball-related at info@baseballprospectus.com. We'll publish the best of what we get weekly at www.baseballprospectus.com.

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