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THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN


I remember seeing an ESPN report during spring
training on Joe Kerrigan’s disdain for the slide step. Instead, the
Red Sox use an unusual amount of pitch-outs. How much of a factor do
you think this is in Hatteberg’s case? A quick answer might come from
looking at the other Sox catchers over the past couple of years.

Regardless, I wouldn’t want Hatteberg as my starting first baseman.

–Dave Glandorf


Here’s what I have for Boston catchers the past few years:

Year  Catcher      SB   CS    CS%
2001  Hatteberg   115   10     8%
2001  Mirabelli    51   19    27%
2001  Varitek      51   16    24%

2000  Hatteberg    55    9    14%
2000  Varitek     103   24    19%

1999  Hatteberg    23    4    15%
1999  Varitek     124   41    25%

1998  Hatteberg    81   30    27%
1998  Varitek      49   16    25%


There doesn’t appear to be a Kerrigan effect that was new
in 2001, since Varitek and Mirabelli put up numbers
that were both respectable and consistent with their
previous years.

That doesn’t rule out the possibility that Kerrigan has had
a longer-term effect on Boston CS numbers. But the evidence
I’ve seen indicates that in general, catcher CS% numbers are
measuring catchers, without too much interference from the
pitching staff. I think the primary explanation for
Hatteberg’s 2001 disaster is Hatteberg (and his arm injury).

–Michael Wolverton


I was wondering if you’ve ever evaluated the old adage
"don’t make the first or third out at third." Although
you note that outs are precious–and this is is a situation
where you give up an out if you’re not successful–what are
the actual percentages which define whether it’s a good play to
attempt to advance to third?

–GG


The question of evaluating that adage will depend on what
specific situation you’re talking about. For example, what
if there are two outs, and a runner on second is considering
whether to attempt to steal third?

For it to be a good play, his run potential after trying
the steal has to be higher than his run potential if he
stays on second:


P*ER(third, two outs) + (1-P)*ER(three outs) > ER(second, two outs)


Here, ER stands for expected runs in a given situation,
and P is the probability that he steals third successfully.
Plugging in the ER values,
we get


P*0.39 + (1-P)*0 > 0.34
P > 0.87


So 87% is the break-even point — if he thinks he has a
better than 87% chance of being safe at third, it’s worth
the gamble. There are very few situations where a runner
can expect to steal third safely 87% of the time, so in this
case the old adage is sound.

Of course, real life is more complicated than this simple
model. The actual ER in a situation will depend on who’s
pitching, who’s at bat and the next few scheduled hitters,
and a bunch of other things. But this gives you an easy
way to get a first approximation on the wisdom of various
strategies.

If this is interesting to you, I recommend you take a look
at “The Hidden Game of Baseball” by John Thorn and Pete
Palmer. It’s out of print, but you can probably find a copy
at your local library or used. They have a whole chapter
devoted to evaluating strategies this way.

–Michael Wolverton


TRANSACTION ANALYSIS


I’m a fairly sophisticated baseball fan, but I didn’t understand
your comment about the Yankees
delaying the signing of Giambi to
avoid losing a player in the Rule 5 draft
, as they did last year with Henry
Rodriguez. What does that mean?

–JW


The point of my comment was that the Yankees could afford to drag their
heels a bit, to protect bodies they might have lost in the Rule 5 draft.
That said, I was 100% wrong. Unlike last year,
when the Yankees added
Rodriguez subsequent to the Rule 5 draft
despite apparently coming to an
agreement with him before it, this year’s situation with Jason Giambi was
different in that the Yankees kept roster space on the 40-man open for
everybody they planned to add, while protecting their prospects of value.
This is not what teams have to do–they simply run the risk of subsequently
losing a player on waivers if they add somebody to the 40-man and then try
to outright him off of it to make room for someone who accepts arbitration
and thus has to be re-added. So, when Sterling Hitchcock agreed to terms to
stick around, they had the space.

The complication is when they add Jumbo Wells as a free agent, because the
Yankees appear to be at 40 right now. They’re already carrying four catchers
(and why Alberto Castillo is one of them is anyone’s guess), and carrying
Wells, Hitchcock, El Duque and Ted Lilly to man the last two slots in the
rotation clearly means somebody–almost certainly the Cuban–will get
bounced to another ballpark.

–Chris Kahrl


You’re absolutely right about the Braves’ signing of Castilla.
Schuerholz has some fascination with over 30 players past their prime, who have been
released or non-tendered by another organization. What’s worse beyond what
you wrote is that his two year contract locks someone from the group of
Furcal/Betemit/Giles into bench time or more minor league time. And it
looks like Lockhart will be back for another .225 season off the bench.

That’s what I thought
when I read about Cordova’s signing.
Don’t the O’s have two players exactly like him who are younger and cheaper?

I have a question: Why do guys like Gene Kingsale and Julio Ramirez agree
to sign a major league contract with their teams knowing that they will be
outrighted an hour after signing?

–DG


Well, "absolute" and "right" are terrible words to use
together, especially in the context of my admittedly biased point of view,
but I appreciate the compliment.

To try to answer your question, the best case scenario for why a player
would agree to a contract and then be outrighted is that both parties know
this is coming, and just want to place the player in an organization where
he’ll get a legitimate shot to make the team in spring training. Invariably,
somebody else on the 40-man is going to hit the 60-day DL, there might be a
trade, or the organization can calculate that a kid will pass through
waivers if outrighted because everyone’s running full and trying to make
similar moves at the end of March. In most cases, the player won’t get
snagged on waivers when he’s outrighted, because why offend his club by
snagging him when you could have signed him yourself?

The worst case scenario is that the player was misled, and is stuck with an
organization he shouldn’t trust.

–Chris Kahrl


I respectfully disagree with your Braves’ Castilla/Lopez evaluations.
Lopez is a waste at $13M for two years. 31 year old catchers don’t get
better, they get worse. He’s had two bad seasons already and will continue
to slide down the slope PAST mediocrity. That money could be well spent on
a first-baseman. Besides, as your BP colleague Rany Jazayerli mentioned,
Gregg Zaun was available, and much more affordable.

Castilla essentially replaces Surhoff in the line-up. After a lackluster
’00 campaign Castilla rebounded. His .260/.308/.467 with 25 HR will be an
improvement over Surhoff’s .271/.321/.416 with 10 HR. And his glove at third
will improve Atlanta’s overall defense.

–Peter F. Friberg


While I’m generally inclined to agree with your sentiment, it’s a one-year
deal, and the market in catching was pretty slender. Lopez isn’t the worst
risk to take on–after all,
the Giants are paying Benito Santiago a lot of
money to continue to suck
–and while I’m not about to make excuses for John
Schuerholz, he isn’t the only GM to have missed the boat on Gregg Zaun. He’s
also one of 29 GMs who blew it
when he could have claimed Ramon Castro,
and one of 29 who blew it
when he had a shot to put Bobby Estalella in his Triple-A affiliate.

Meanwhile, I refuse to get excited about Vinny Castilla. A lackluster 2000?
What about his lackluster 1999? It pains me to say Tampa Bay is a
major league team, but that godawful month or so he put in there counts too.
So I would not argue that a decent partial season in Enron is a career
renaissance. To his credit, he’s an adequate glove, like Surhoff, but at a
more important defensive position. The question is whether or not Chipper
Jones will go from being a near-adequate third baseman to being a good or
awful or indifferent left fielder; I wouldn’t be surprised one way or another, because
we’ve seen players go in all sorts of directions when moved to easier
positions, not always good ones. Lastly, I would not rate Castilla as an
offensive improvement by the standard that he’s supposed to be better than
Surhoff. That isn’t improvement, that’s reshuffling bums instead of solving
the team’s offensive problem.

–Chris Kahrl


You wrote regarding Scott Brosius
"there was a time when nobody was
better charging a bunt and fielding it bare-handed, a memory that made this
year’s World Series painful to watch at times."

Sorry, Brosius was good at that play, but during the time you’re referring
to, Robin Ventura was better. Ventura was also brilliant on the closely
related play of charging and barehanding the slow chopper and/or swinging
bunt. As a Chicago resident during this period, you should know this. Just
because Hawk Harrelson said it doesn’t necessarily make it untrue.

–KH


Ah, well we both play the epicure, because I saw a lot of Robin Ventura
living in Chicago during his entire White Sox career, and I beg to differ.
Ventura was good, arguably the second-best in all of baseball, but that’s me
being subjective versus you being subjective. Where I always felt Ventura
was better was starting a 5-4-3 double play, and also better moving to his
left. In contrast, I thought Brosius at his best might have been better
going to his right, but they were both so good that we’re well into
hair-splitting territory.

Hawk Harrelson? You mean you don’t listen to the radio guys with the
television’s sound turned down?

–Chris Kahrl

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