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May 23, 2003

6-4-3: Looking for Advantages on the Ground

by Gary Huckabay and Nate Silver

There's an awful lot of stuff in baseball analysis that's just a complete waste of time. Some people love doing studies that take a look at something either esoteric, rare, or with no potential practical application when it comes to the actual game of baseball. That's great; there's nothing wrong with those kinds of diversions. We've all got those kinds of activities in our lives. But in terms of practical application on a real life baseball team, a "sabermetric" biography of the 1952 Yankees isn't particularly useful. That sort of stuff has never spun my wheels, and it's one reason I tend to yell and scream at BP writers who mention ballplayers from before Kristy Swanson was born. Historians and fans of sepia tones will undoubtedly pipe in with: "Of course you can learn something from history!" (Derisively insert sound of adults in Charlie Brown cartoons here.) No one's saying that's not the case. But we prefer to focus on ideas that actually have practical applications on the field, and can directly and visibly translate into more wins, which means more championships, more money, etc. We've taken a fair amount of flak over the years for not making more things public, and not fully embracing an academic model for the serious study of baseball. Some of the criticism is well-deserved, some of it's simply a disagreement over what people in the field are really doing. We like the idea of innovating to gain a competitive advantage and beat the snot out of opponents, rather than having the material published in some peer-reviewed journal. When Rany Jazayerli came back from a Pizza Feed a few weeks back and mentioned that he had talked to a couple of front office guys about a different kind of platoon, my chin hit the virtual floor. The idea he had mentioned, and which was apparently perceived as novel, was at least 20 years old, and Gary Huckabay had been approached about studying the idea by a major league club back in 1998. (Even more surprising is that the club that wanted this issue studied is not largely perceived as a progressive organization.) This supposedly novel idea had also been mentioned in one of the old Elias Analysts, but was never really fleshed out in those pages. What kind of platoon are we talking about? Using the groundball/flyball tendencies of pitchers and hitters to determine and acquire the most favorable possible matchups.

May 16, 2003

Premium Article 6-4-3: Always Hangin' 'Round

by Gary Huckabay

On Wednesday evening, approximately 40 people gathered at Rocco's Pizzeria in Walnut Creek for a BP Pizza Feed. Unlike most of the NorCal Pizza Feeds, the evening didn't consist primarily of me, Wolverton, Wilkins, and Cleary answering a bunch of questions and listening to a rather malicious version of Les Nessman's Death Watch, usually focused on Steve Phillips. We were fortunate enough to be joined by Mark Wolfson, the Director of the Oakland A's Broadcasts on KICU 36 in the Bay Area. Mark knows more about broadcasting and that side of baseball than anyone really should, and has a facility and feel for the business that most people wish they had about any business. If you missed it, you missed an informative and entertaining evening, and a gathering of a bunch of very nice, very dedicated and jovial baseball fans. I hope you can make the next one. (Houston and Fresno--we haven't forgotten about you.) One of the topics that always comes up when conversation turns to baseball broadcasting is the length of games. There's a common perception among people on the broadcasting side that games are too long. You're probably familiar with the line of thinking; kids today are used to more stimulation, instant gratification, and the long "slow spells" in baseball make it difficult to sell the game to people, particularly young kids. The powers that be in MLB's front office have responded to this perceived challenge by forming a task force with the goal of speeding up games. Personally, I like a lot of the simple, quick hits that have been implemented. It makes sense to have a batboy ready with an identical bat in case one breaks. There's a lot of little things along those lines that make sense for MLB and the fans, and it's good to see those steps being taken.

May 2, 2003

Premium Article 6-4-3: The American Way

by Gary Huckabay

On Tuesday, Florida Marlins' starter A.J. Burnett underwent Tommy John surgery, after exploration of the elbow revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament. The surgery went well, and Burnett's expected to return fully healthy down the road. Previously, pitchers who have had this surgery take about a year, maybe a year and a half, to get back on the mound and eventually return to form. The procedure and rehab have become something of a commonplace miracle, despite the fact that the rehabilitation regimen's about as appealing as a porta-potty at the Stockton Asparagus Festival. The real issue here isn't Burnett, however unfortunate his injury is. We wish him the best, and I have no doubts that he'll push the rehab envelope and get back as soon as he can. The real issue here is painfully obvious--was this avoidable? You've already seen a number of perspectives about pitcher abuse, injury likelihood, and the very nature of pitching itself, so I won't go into too much detail here. I think the real interesting issue here is a long-underlying one that's been talked about, but never really addressed. That issue is the balance between performance, overwork, responsibility, and accountability when it comes to handling pitchers. So let's put aside the specific case of Burnett, and examine the issue.

April 11, 2003

Premium Article 6-4-3: Fun with Eddie Tufte

by Gary Huckabay

There are lots of ways to present numeric information. In addition to just handing someone a big stack of numbers, you can create charts or graphs until the cows come home or the Tigers score five runs in a game--whichever comes first. In many circumstances, there will be some sort of an industry standard, and if you choose to diverge from that standard, you can bet that some of your very valuable time is going to be spent justifying your deviation from the norm. That's what's been going on in the baseball media and front offices for nearly a quarter century now--trying to change the norms of what information is used to evaluate players.

March 28, 2003

Premium Article 6-4-3: What Can You Spell With Four Ps?

by Gary Huckabay

For a long time, I've been trying to find someone who's at or near the top of the ladder in an MLB marketing department to talk to me about some of the unique challenges, opportunities, and practices in marketing an MLB club, and to give a spin-free answer to some of the tougher questions that readers have asked about MLB's policies over the years. On Thursday, I was fortunate enough to talk with the lead executive of an MLB club's marketing department, and they agreed to answer any questions I threw out, so long as I didn't give out their name.

March 19, 2003

Premium Article 6-4-3: The Sin of the Politician

by Gary Huckabay

There are certain occupations where mentioning the elephant in the room that everyone knows about but no one acknowledges can be hazardous to your continued livelihood. You can't find a single politician, for example, who thinks that Social Security is viable long term without significant benefit cuts or tax increases. And yet, because Joe Sheehan's assessment of Americans is, by and large, too charitable--and because we've all embraced the tragedy of the commons with such zeal--no elected official in their right mind will come out in favor of cutting Social Security benefits or dramatically raising taxes. So, instead of trying to solve the problem in advance, we'll wait until there's a crisis and do a half-assed job of fixing it down the road, when the problem's particularly acute, and the group that will take it in the shorts when that happens will be the group that's either demographically or electorally challenged. It's the way we do things. We don't often mention the elephant in the room, even though its presence is patently obvious. Last Saturday, Oakland A's owner Steve Schott flashed a spotlight on the elephant in the room.

March 14, 2003

Premium Article 6-4-3: Draft Pickin', Grinnin', and Tradin'

by Gary Huckabay

Under current MLB rules, teams are not allowed to trade draft choices. It's not a new idea, but it is under consideration, and we spoke with an AL Central executive about the potential impact of a change in the rules that would allow clubs to trade draft choices.

March 7, 2003

6-4-3: Enhancing Performance

by Gary Huckabay

Gary Huckabay goes head-to-head with a reader on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs, sets home improvement back a century, and looks forward to hazing BP's three new interns.

February 14, 2003

Premium Article 6-4-3: Ratcheting

by Gary Huckabay

Answering questions, overview of the league before spring training.

February 7, 2003

Premium Article 6-4-3: 6-4-3: Accountability Corner: Part One

by Gary Huckabay

Yes, we've missed a lot of stuff over the past eight years, and we'll miss a lot of stuff in the future. That's a large part of what makes the game so addictive and entertaining. You can make well-educated and reasoned assessments of a circumstance, and things can still end up completely surprising. It's more fun to be wrong about forecasting a player's collapse than it is to be right about it. Doesn't change the fact that we may have missed that one, but it is more fun.

January 31, 2003

6-4-3: Anonymous Friday

by Gary Huckabay


January 22, 2003

Premium Article 6-4-3: Maddux vs. Atlanta - Son of Big Exciting Contest

by Gary Huckabay

Most people have never been involved in any sort of arbitration procedure. Arbitration is a process that falls under the umbrella of ADR, or Alternative Dispute Resolution. When people have a dispute over a contract, payment, or other agreement that they can't or won't come to a settlement on, arbitration is one of the avenues, short of a civil court, that people use to resolve the dispute.

November 15, 2002

Premium Article 6-4-3: A Chat with Dave

by Gary Huckabay

Since the reader response was copious and positive last time I published a rambling conversation with "Dave", I thought you all might enjoy this. Sorry about the infrequent updates, but it is the offseason, and more importantly, the BP staff is up to their collective neck in writing Baseball Prospectus 2003. Thanks for your patience. Below is an encapsulated conversation between myself and a close friend who's an insightful guy and dedicated baseball fan. Since I've mentioned him before in this space, and he's fond of his privacy, we'll call him "Dave" for purposes of this column. Dave is not affiliated with BP. Obviously, this is paraphrased, but has been run by Dave to make sure everything's on the up and up as far as he's concerned. I hope you enjoy this edited transcript as much I as enjoyed the conversation. It's long, and it's rambling, so perhaps you should check it out in small bites.

November 8, 2002

6-4-3: Starvation Through Force Feeding

by Gary Huckabay

Despite what you may have heard or read over the past several years, the information age has yet to actually arrive in business. Not a single company in the Wilshire 2000 has done anything near optimize how their organizations acquire, process, generate, and use information. Hundreds of billions of dollars have gone into investments in information technology in enterprises of every shape and size throughout the world, but overall productivity gains have been marginal.

October 24, 2002

Premium Article 6-4-3: Whack a Mole

by Gary Huckabay

If you truly believe that Pete Rose does not belong in The Hall of Fame, then why don't you disassociate yourself from the game completely. Baseball's ultimate honor belongs to Rose whether you believe he gambled on baseball or not. To say otherwise is to live in a world of fantasy! -- JK This guy went back to a column I wrote in June, 2001 in which I discussed the Pete Rose situation, so clearly, what he lacks in logic and a moral compass, he makes up for in tenacity.

October 16, 2002

Premium Article 6-4-3: Versteckte Begeisterung

by Gary Huckabay

So the team I hate the most in MLB is in the World Series. The Giants, who give me a few moments of joy with every error, and a sustained grin for upwards of 30 seconds with each loss, have earned the right to battle Disney's Hustlin' White Guys� in the World Series. I should be beside myself with either disdain or apathy.

October 14, 2002

The Winner's Curse: The Winner's Curse

by Gary Huckabay

The Winner's Curse is a term borrowed from the oil industry. It stems from the system of auctions of oil rights to parcels of land. (It may have earlier origins than that, but if so, I'm not aware of them.)

October 1, 2002

Playoff Prospectus: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. St. Louis Cardinals

by Gary Huckabay

There are some obvious storylines specific to the Arizona/St. Louis matchup, as derived from the generic list above. Let's lay those out, and address them one by one: The Diamondbacks would really prefer to have a healthy Luis Gonzalez. The Diamondbacks are backing into the playoffs. The Cardinals are peaking at exactly the right time.

September 20, 2002

The Daily Prospectus: Wait For It

by Gary Huckabay

Baseball as a whole grossly underestimates the kind of serious threat that unhinged nutbags like this represent. Something needs to be done to prevent this sort of horrible incident from happening in the future. It isn't possible to stop any and all potential acts of the truly determined and unbalanced. The occasional deranged crank is always going to be able to slip through any mechanism or process designed to keep them out. Still, all possible and feasible efforts should be made to ensure the safety of the innocent and unsuspecting. I speak, of course, of the extension of Jeff Torborg's managerial contract.

September 18, 2002

The Daily Prospectus: Bud and Carl: Visionaries?

by Gary Huckabay

Bud and Carl: Visionaries?

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