Is the news that we won't have a new commissioner at the end of the year unwelcome, or are we better off with Bud?
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
Before diving into his prognostications, our resident prospect guru begins an open dialogue about prospect evaluation.
As November ages into December, the baseball season continues its transition from full throttle to dead air before thrusting forward again with the push of free agency, the Winter Meetings, and the countdown to report dates for pitchers and catchers. As many in the industry work to contextualize the previous campaign (while simultaneously setting up sales pitches for the eventualities of tomorrow), I find myself already bored with the conjecture and rumor of the winter. What shall I do until my eyes can once again open and focus on live play? Oh, how I already long for thee.
In the coming months, I plan on revisiting a series I started last offseason, where I take the top five prospects in each system and explore the weaknesses in their skill set that could lead to setbacks or stumbles in the 2012 season. We in the prospect prognostication field tend to paint pretty pictures of young talent, choosing to package the dream instead of the reality. Not that hope requires a big marketing push, but focusing on the conceptual world of peak potential is so much easier and palatable than focusing on the negatives.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
Despite the barkers, the colored balloons, and Mariano Rivera, there is no Closer Mountain.
As Mariano Rivera tied and then broke Trevor Hoffman’s record for career saves, the YES Network’s Michael Kay kept referring to Rivera being “alone atop the mountain of closers.” Sometimes he said “alone atop the mountain of closers with Trevor Hoffman,” which doesn’t make much sense, because how can you be alone with somebody except in literary depictions of alienated romance, presumably not what Kay was talking about? In any case, Closer Mountain is more aptly described as a pimple, because most closers last about as long as the typical skin blemish and are about as memorable no matter how many saves they have. Compared to Rivera (and Hoffman as well), they are no more than transients traveling between obscurity and obscurity.
Rivera has been the Yankees’ closer since 1997. In that time, he has had eight seasons of 40 or more saves. You well know that saves are a vastly overrated statistic due to the way they seem to indicate leverage but really don’t, so don’t take that as a measure of quality, but rather of the fact that someone felt he was worth running out there with a lead—with the exception of the occasional Joe Borowski ’07, you don’t get a chance to pile up that many saves while pitching poorly.
The saves are the secondary by-product of the two elements of Rivera’s game that make him so valuable: First, he’s simply an exceptionally good pitcher. His current 2.22 ERA ranks ninth all time, 1,200 innings and up division. Literally everyone above him pitched in the Deadball era. The closest pitcher who was primarily a reliever is the Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, who had a 2.52 ERA overall and 2.49 in 1872 1/3 innings as a reliever, just about all of which was compiled in a less challenging run environment than the steroidal 1990s and 2000s.
A trip to see the Staten Island Yankees turns into an odyssey of self-discovery... with a scouting report thrown in for good measure.
I have already convinced myself that Angelo Gumbs is a better prospect than Cito Culver, and it’s only the third inning. Neither player has produced a remarkable result thus far, but the overwhelming feeling brewing in my gut tells me that Gumbs is the player to watch on the field. I shouldn’t listen to my gut; I should focus on the shortstop. Shortstops with true defensive skills are valuable commodities. But Gumbs could be a very good center fielder. He’s currently playing second base, but he could be playing center field. At present, the position is occupied by Mason Williams, who is equally promising (if not more so), but Gumbs could handle the defensive assignment, given his plus-plus athleticism, a strong arm, and instincts. My gut seems more loquacious than normal. My journey to the park might also be playing a role in the stomach discussion. A German tourist might have poisoned me.
I’m in the “scout section” of the park, which is really just another social clique that some happen upon based on their seating assignment, while others only recognize the section from afar. I don’t always want to be in a specific section; I like to bounce around the park, frequently looking for different angles and perspectives. But sitting with the players tasked with charting the game and with your contemporaries in the industry can have its advantages, especially when your gut is chatty and perhaps poisoned.
With Derek Jeter in the midst of one of his worst seasons, what can be expected of his next contract?
With the Yankees in the midst of an exciting pennant race, albeit one that’s almost certain to admit them to October, the time might not seem ripe to look ahead to their offseason. Still, given the potential for one particular issue to dominate their between-season planning, perhaps we can be excused for fast forwarding through their title defense for now, if we’re kind enough to rewind when the article is over.
After 16 pinstriped seasons, it’s difficult to conceive of Derek Jeter in another team’s uniform, but the possibility exists that the 36-year-old will resign his commission as Captain (or be honorably discharged) at the conclusion of this season, when the shortstop becomes eligible for free agency. Stories concerning the Yankees’ impending decision about the active face of their franchise have been cropping up for years, but they slowed to a trickle once Jeter decreed that he would no longer discuss his contract status during spring training. Still, despite Jeter’s expressed wish to retire as a Yankee (though not in the Jeff Nelsonsense), and the Yankees’ expressed desire to accommodate him, an avalanche of contract-related articles will follow the final out of the Yankees’ season, whenever it might be recorded.
Rob McQuown covers more potential draftees for the Scoresheet supplemental draft, which begins in a few hours for most leagues.
One of the best aspects of playing Scoresheet baseball is the accessibility of the people who run the game. Jeff Barton, whose comment to Part 1 helped level-set expectations for what the best teams might have, is an active participant on the game forums and blog, where veteran owners also weigh in with their hard-earned experience. Since this is the time of the year when Scoresheet has a few “abandoned” teams looking for friendly homes, it is good to keep in mind that while good teams are indeed quite good, the bar isn't usually set unbelievably high, and while there's a pride of accomplishment in turning a franchise around in Scoresheet baseball, the task isn't nearly as daunting as that faced by real-life GM's who take over for predecessors who may have set the team back for many years.
For example, as noted yesterday, the team in the “300” league is charmed, and was fortunate enough to receive a trade offer of Jason Heyward for Javier Vazquez last year, which helped another team win a championship but became an even better deal for Team McQuown with Vazquez becoming a “crossover” in the offseason and Heyward being, well, Heyward. Long story short, without any other trades which could be called “great”, the team was in such a bad situation that one expert forum respondee noted, “I see only three definite keepers, trade all the slots you can. Definites: Votto, CarGo, Ethier.” [keeper slots can be traded for players or picks]. The team has had 2 straight awful weeks, and still remains in first place this year, however. “Results may vary”, as they say, and even yours truly and the team's co-manager didn't see the turnaround happening so quickly. (kudos need to go to co-manager Brian Joseph - Baseball Daily Digest Editor and he who was smart enough to see a great year coming from Barry Zito, not to mention Mike Leake's immediate impact).
A trip to the second-ever PITCHf/x summit provided a peek at the most exciting frontier of sabermetrics.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to sunny San Francisco to take part in the second annual PITCHf/x Summit, a gathering of analysts, team executives, and the brains behind the operation itself. The ultimate goal of these congregations involves discussing interesting ways to utilize currently available information while simultaneously looking at future innovations and ways to enhance the entire system. The biggest takeaway of the whole trip has to be that, regardless of the multitude of data currently offered by Sportvision and MLB Advanced Media, enough revolutionary information is in the works to the extent that the analysts (myself included) who have been working with cutting-edge data for almost two years now nevertheless had to pick our jaws up off of the floor at times.
Returning to a subject from this past winter, Dan digs in to discuss the all-time greats.
"It is the best game because the players look like us. They are not seven feet tall, they don’t weigh 350 pounds, and they don’t bench-press 650. We can relate to them. We can see them—they’re not obscured by some hideous face mask, and they don’t play behind a wall of Plexiglas—we can touch them and we can feel them. I see Greg Maddux with his shirt off, with his concave chest and no discernible muscles, and I marvel: This is one of the six greatest pitchers in the history of the game? I see Tony Gwynn with his shirt off and I see a short, fat guy with the smallest hands I've ever seen on an athlete, and I wonder: 'This is the best hitter since Ted Williams?'...They are regular guys, at least most of them, who just happen to be really, really good at something that everyone else is not."
--Tim Kurkjian, from chapter one of Is This a Great Game, or What?: From A-Rod's Heart to Zim's Head--My 25 Years in Baseball
Jonah sits down with Lee MacPhail, the Director, Baseball Administration/Special Assignment Scout for the Washington Nationals. Among the items they discuss: old-school scouting, the situation of the Expos/Nationals, and the team's recent draft strategy.
Lee IV has worked in the Orioles, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos organizations. He now holds the title of Director, Baseball Administration/Special Assignment Scout for the Washington Nationals. MacPhail recently chatted with Baseball Prospectus about his family legacy, the challenges of working under uncertain conditions with the Expos and Nats and other topics.
Once again, I spent my day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Due to rain and wind, we weren't able to go out on the track, but we did discover that I will be the one in the car tomorrow morning. We'll go out at around 200 mph and I'm as scared as I am excited. I've seen major league fastballs before, and standing in the pits watching Tora Takagi fly by me at 229 mph was every bit as awe-inspiring. The car rushes down the long straight, sucking up air, whooshes by with 800 horsepower screaming, and then vanishes into a tunnel they call a turn. They're going to strap me into one of those tomorrow. I'm not sure if I wouldn't rather face Roger Clemens when he's cross-eyed and angry.
Still, my mind wanders during my 12-hour days at the racetrack. I wonder what there is that I can learn there that would apply to baseball. The emergency care and sports medicine is certainly applicable. The technology is amazing, and their attention to instant telemetry and the ability to make both short-term and long-term adjustments is amazing. The teamwork of pitstops, engine changes, and suspension work probably would work on any team.