March 7, 2008
Stocks, Cactus, Grapefruit & Jones
Doesn't "Stocks, Cactus, Grapefruit & Jones" sound like the name of a band that released one semi-well-received album in 1968 and then faded into the vast desert of obscurity? It's not, though; it's just a roundup of the various topics I'll be covering today.
Do you ever get an idea in your head and not be able to shake it, even if it might seem like it would fall apart under closer scrutiny? For years, I've wondered how managers can properly evaluate talent during spring games in Arizona. With the inflated scoring that has been a feature of Cactus League ball, I've often thought that it must be tough to get a read on how players are actually progressing. There must be a tendency to underestimate what pitchers are achieving, and also to get too high on hitters who are simply taking advantage of a run-rich environment.
If this were the case, though, wouldn't it manifest itself in some way once the regular season started? I'm not talking about a correlation between spring performance and regular season performance, a ridiculous notion that has been dashed many times on the rocks of hard facts. I'm talking about a correlation between spring locale and regular-season performance; specifically, early regular-season performance. If my notion that the Cactus League is disconcerting, might not the teams that play there be at a disadvantage in the early going of the regular season?
To get the idea out of my head once and for all, I checked the records of Grapefruit and Cactus League teams from Opening Day through April 16 for the years 1998 through 2007. For the first half of the study, there were 10 teams playing in Arizona and 20 in Florida. Beginning in 2003, the split went to 12/18 when Kansas City and Texas went west for their pre-season regimen. The Grapefruit teams have enjoyed a very slight advantage in the early going:
Over the same period of time, the Cactus League teams are 20 games better over the course of the regular season. So, the better group of teams plays worse out of the gate, proving my assumption that playing in the Cactus League can be discombobulating at first. Well, at least that's what I'd say if this discussion were taking place in a bar. The standards are higher in this forum, however, and the margins are just too small to make any sort of grand statement about which spring training locale provides the upper hand, if one, in fact, does. Still, it's nice to see my assumption come out on the winning end, even if it's not by a margin significant enough to second the notion.
Now I have to wonder: What would happen if we took the time to investigate all such notions running through our heads, baseball or otherwise? At two or three hours worth of research each, we'd probably run out of lifetime before we ran out of notions.
The Adam Jones Oversight Committee
Regarding last week's Transient All-Star Team, I always hold my breath after generating something like that, certain that I left somebody off. Sure enough, reader Dan King pointed out that I didn't mention Adam Jones. He came to Baltimore from Seattle in the Erik Bedard trade and has been installed in center field. As I mentioned in the All-Star piece, center field is the most crowded position among transient players this year. While it would be going out on a limb to name Jones as the Transient All-Star at the position, he most certainly belonged in the discussion along with the other transient youngster center fielders Lastings Milledge and Cameron Maybin.
At 5.3, Jones does have the sixth-highest projected WARP among all center fielders, transient or otherwise. He certainly deserves to be mentioned in any American League Rookie of the Year Award forum. Jones can even look to breaking into the ranks of the best Oriole rookie seasons ever, going all the way back to the team's transfer from St. Louis in 1954. Here are the top 15, by WARP3 (pitchers are asterisked):
7.7: Cal Ripken, Jr., 1977 7.1: Nick Markakis, 2006 6.9: Mike Boddicker,* 1983 6.7: Curt Blefary, 1965 6.6: Randy Milligan, 1989 6.5: Ron Hansen, 1960 6.5: Rodrigo Lopez,* 2002 6.3: Gregg Olson,* 1989 6.2: Jerry Walker,* 1959 6.0: Rich Coggins, 1973 6.0: Chuck Estrada,* 1960 5.3: Al Bumbry, 1973 5.3: Jim Gentile, 1960 5.3: Jeremy Guthrie,* 2007 5.1: Eddie Murray, 1977
The Shame of it All
New York Congressman Anthony Weiner believes the FBI should drop its investigation of Roger Clemens' questionable testimony to Congress regarding his use of performance-enhancing substances. Weiner has two main contentions. The first is that, as he wrote, "Whether or not Roger Clemens may have committed perjury should not compete with real national security threats for the FBI's time, attention, and resources."
The second is that Clemens has already been punished. "Roger Clemens has been shamed. I think the public record is replete with examples of how he did not likely tell the truth. What is the public benefit of continuing with an FBI investigation?" Weiner said. This was one of the arguments once used for not going after Richard M. Nixon with hammer and tongs in the wake of the Watergate break-in coverup; that the loss of the Presidency was the worst possible punishment a man like Nixon could bear. It's an interesting argument, although as a legal precedent-setter, the "already suffered enough" argument might be a little dangerous. One can certainly picture a sentencing hearing wherein a defense lawyer argues that the mere act of being put on trial and found guilty was shaming enough for his client.
Do we really agree with Weiner's contention has been shamed enough? At one time in history, shame was a much greater commodity in society. Not so anymore. In fact, you could argue that we are currently experiencing the "No Shame Era." I think that reality television, tabloid journalism, and talk shows that exploit personal foibles have nearly stripped away the very concept of feeling ashamed.
Back when shame was something to be avoided, punishments were sometimes very public in nature. We've all seen stocks and pillories depicted in art, movies, and the occasional restored historic village. The purpose of these devices was to compound punishment with a good dose of shame by displaying the criminal in front of his friends, family and neighbors.
I'm certainly not suggesting pillorying a perjurer, but if you disagree with Weiner's contention that Clemens has been shamed enough, yet agree with his feeling that a massive investigation is a waste of the government's time and resources, then perhaps there's a compromise solution. Maybe Clemens should be forced to sit outside of baseball stadiums as fans enter for games and be made an object of ridicule.
Come to think of it, though, that wouldn't work; most fans would simply ask him for his autograph.