I spent a lot of time trying to come up with a rationale for the Phillies' decision to commit $125 million to Ryan Howard's ages 32 through 36 seasons 20 months before a decision point on doing so. The ones I see fall into two categories: soft factors, such as keeping a perceived key player happy, fending off two years of stories about Howard's impending free agency and showing the fan base that the team will keep its most popular players in Philadelphia; and poor player-evaluation skills: using runs batted in as a primary measure of player value, not taking into account the career path of players with Howard's skill set and badly misreading the replaceability of players like him.
No combination of these factors can justify the contract. Howard is a good, not great, player, a mix of obvious skills — his ability to hit for power and against right-handed pitching — and obvious flaws — a contact rate that limits his ability to reach base, middling defensive skills, terrible problems against left-handed pitching. The package makes him an asset as he moves through his prime, and he has been a key contributor to the Phillies' success since 2006. He has never been the best player on his team, and now, he is no better than the third-best Phillie, and could be rated lower depending on what kind of years Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth have. The Phillies have missed badly on Howard, committing maybe 20% of their payroll down the line to a player who will be contributing, at best, 70% of the time at the plate and not at all in the field.
The epic Mets/Cardinals game Saturday provided more than just memories. It gave me the first concrete new-content idea for the upcoming book.
I've mentioned the struggle to decide exactly what the book will look like, what material it will include, what percentage of it will be original versus new. The process is a bit like taking four or five jigsaw puzzles and tossing all the pieces together in a single pile on the table. You know there's a good picture in there, maybe even more than one, but to get to the end you're going to have to not only make the correct pieces fit, but you're going to have to throw out three-quarters of the ones you start with.
I ran my 2010 season preview at Rotowire, including a series of fantasy-leaning divisional previews followed by my traditional breakdown of all 30 teams, including runs allowed and runs scored projections. With their permission, I'm running my predicted standings here in the book blog as well.
For those who have asked, work on the book came to something of a halt during March, as college basketball, season-preview work, fantasy drafts and other things took precedence. I still find myself thinking about the question of what the book will be, and to that end have read or re-read books that to one extent or another touch on aspects of what I'm trying to do. I banged through Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball, Josh Wilker's Cardboard Gods, Paul Krugman's The Great Awakening (a re-read) and parts of various Baseball Abstracts by Bill James. I need to close ranks on this question soon, because while I'm comfortable with the writing volume ahead of me, for my sanity I'd like to end the discussion in my head.
One of the best days of the year, no matter what my team looks like.
This is why there won't be a section of the book entitled, "Why I Kick Ass at Fantasy Baseball."
I play fantasy because it's fun. Or rather, I play fantasy baseball when it's fun. To me, that means playing in leagues with friends. I don't play NFBC or online leagues or anything where there isn't some connection to the people involved. The fantasy and Strat leagues that I am in because of the people.
Figuring out what the book is is the current challenge.
I knew that when I made a call for suggestions for articles to include in my upcoming book, it would probably complicate the decision process. I thought I'd been fairly thorough in looking through the last decade of writing, thought I'd narrowed down the list to something manageable, thought there was little chance I'd missed anything of note. I was wrong. There were a number of pieces suggested to me by e-mail and in the comments section that I hadn't considered. Some had already been tossed-by and large pieces to specifically tied to events, that I think won't play well in a book-but some had simply made less an impression on me, in the re-reading, than they had on the readers. It is interesting, as a writer, to not realize what of your output has actually made a lasting impression.
When I talked out this book with Dave Pease over the winter, it started out in my mind as a collection, then developed into something that included more original material than that. The longer I live with this concept, the more I see that the decision between those two categories isn't just a matter of finding sufficient material to make it the former, or writing enough of the latter. It's actually a battle for the identity of the book. Is this going to be a "greatest hits" collection, a means of having all of my best work in one place as both a retrospective of and an introduction to Joe Sheehan, or will I create more of the book from whole cloth?
Welcome to the blog for "The Untitled Joe Sheehan Book," which will presumably have a catchier title at some point. In this space I’ll chronicle the process of writing my first solo book, which should be out just in time for you to enjoy on an off-day during the World Series. The idea for a blog like this is, to some extent, stolen from the great Joe Posnanski, who started The Soul of Baseball blog while he was working on his wonderful biography, with the same name, of Buck O’Neil.
Since we announced "The Untitled Joe Sheehan Book" a month ago, I’ve spent most of my time reading what I’ve written over the past decade for Baseball Prospectus, trying to pare about 1,500 pieces down to a couple dozen for inclusion in the book. Those pieces are going to form the framework of the book, serving as both a "best of" for longtime readers and an introduction for new ones. Make no mistake about it; as much as I want the people who have read BP for years to buy the book, I want to be able to reach beyond that group as well. I want all baseball fans to be able to pick up the book and enjoy it even if they’ve never heard of BP.
Evaluating predictions for the season past, and closing the book on it.
Every year I try to project every team's record and runs scored and allowed, using as much information as is available to me in the waning days of March. I do it because it's fun, and because the process of making those predictions is very educational for me in the ramp-up to the season. The process, rather than the end results, is what is important, because the chance of getting many teams' overall records or run differentials correct is fairly slim. The value of the pieces I write at that time is in the analysis, the words; the numbers are for information purposes only.
Sorting through who belongs in Cooperstown on the new ballot, plus the Mets' splash.
I hadn't realized it until I went looking, but I've been pretty good about doing a Hall of Fame ballot each year. Mock, of course-I'm at least 11 years from having one, probably more, barring eligibility changes-but a fun exercise nonetheless. It can be a challenge to keep it fresh, as there are only so many ways to point out that Bert Blyleven is one of the 50 best starting pitchers in history, would raise the Hall standards for the position, and should therefore be elected.
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After a season of injuries and disappointment, the Mets have been uncharacteristically quiet on trades and signings.
A few weeks back, near the end of the Winter Meetings, I got a panicked text message from a friend of mine: "Are the Mets going to do ANYTHING?" It was a fair question, as even now the Mets have been almost completely silent this offseason, but as I pointed out then, doing nothing is better than signing Bengie Molina.
Corporate management making corporate decisions handicaps one franchise in particular and the industry as a whole
I miss Ted Turner. Turner was controversial, brash, difficult, prone to mistakes of commission, prone to getting himself suspended, prone to making people really, really dislike him. Turner, however, had one trait that you had to respect: he wanted to win. Perhaps I value that too highly-I'm hypercompetitive myself, perhaps my worst trait-but I can forgive a lot of things if they're done in a sincere effort to succeed.
It's possible that for all the coverage of the Phillies' wheeling and dealing, the biggest story has been lost.
Roy Halladay signed a contract extension today that will guarantee him $60 million over three years, with a vesting option that would pay him another $20 million if he pitches enough innings in the first three years of the deal.
Bud Selig's latest blue ribbon committee is doomed to fail, but maybe that is its objective.
As I write this, it's becoming just a little bit suspicious that nearly two days after they presumably "happened," neither of the two huge trades the Phillies made have actually come to fruition. The Phillies have apparently negotiated an extension with Roy Halladay, and physicals are being taken, but there have been no actual announcements, and as I write this on Wednesday afternoon, with a piece on the trade burning a hole in my hard drive, it's just starting to feel a little weird. The deal has been "imminent" for about 48 hours now, but there's been no movement since yesterday afternoon, when word that Halladay and the Phillies had agreed on a contract leaked out.