Bernie Williams burned it up with the Yankees during his career, but did the Puerto Rican do enough to blaze a trail to the Hall?
Before Derek Jeter, there was Bernie Williams. As the Yankees emerged from a barren stretch of 13 seasons without a trip to the playoffs from 1982-1994, and a particularly abysmal stretch of four straight losing seasons from 1989-1992, their young switch-hitting center fielder stood as a symbol for the franchise's resurgence. For too long, the Yankees had drafted poorly, traded away what homegrown talent they produced for veterans, and signed pricey free agents to fill the gaps as part of George Steinbrenner's eternal win-now directive. But with Steinbrennerbanned by commissioner Fay Vincent and the Yankees' day-to-day baseball operations in the hands of Gene Michael, promising youngsters were allowed to develop unimpeded.
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A conversation about analysis and the game with the former skipper and present-day talking head.
Buck Showalter is in many ways an old-school baseball man, but that doesn’t mean the former Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Rangers skipper doesn‘t value data -- or that he hasn’t for more than three decades. He unmistakably understands the mechanics of the game. Currently an analyst for ESPN, Showalter offered his thoughts on a variety of subjects, including how the game has (and hasn’t) changed, why Paul O’Neill could hit southpaws, why switch-sliders make good switch-hitters, and what makes the Twins the Twins.
Time for the Bill James-style test now that the Joe Torre era is over in New York.
In 1984, looking to find a way to characterize managers beyond the then-meager statistical record, Bill James introduced the "manager in a box" questionnaire. Assuming one answers the questions accurately, James's list of questions remains a good way of making visible those aspects of a manager's background and habits that he may not carry on his sleeve, but nonetheless influence the way games in his charge play out.
There are very good baseball reasons for Bernie Williams to be on the 2007 Yankees.
This is not an easy situation to analyze, especially for anyone with an attachment to the Yankees of the 1990s. The championship teams that will likely go down in history as the "Derek Jeter" Yankees were much more Williams' squads-the center fielder was the best player on those teams in most years. Williams was arguably the best center fielder in baseball during the period of time in which his and Ken Griffey Jr.'s careers overlapped. He's a marginal Hall of Fame candidate based on the stats, with a host of non-statistical markers in his favor.
While he might be seeking forgiveness in the Independent League, John Rocker is still John Rocker. Also, Jeff Kent doesn't like baseball, Danny Graves wants some love, and Geraldo Rivera is just like Randy Johnson.
"I've taken a lot of crap from a lot of people. Probably more than anybody in the history of this sport. I know Hank [Aaron] and Jackie [Robinson] took a good deal of crap, but I guarantee it wasn't for six years. I just keep thinking: How much am I supposed to take?" --former Braves pitcher John Rocker, currently playing for the Long Island Ducks, on how in his mind it’s perfectly logical to compare the heckling he gets from fans to the racist and sometimes violent abuse that Aaron and Robinson had to endure. (ESPN.com)
The one that sticks in my head three weeks later? "Beltran or Bernie Williams at his peak?" I haven't wanted to call a time out on television too often, but if I could have paused the segment there to do some research, I would have. I ended up choosing Beltran at the time, for his defensive edge and the runs he creates on the bases, but it was a weak call. I just wasn't sure, and I guess that makes it a great question.
I could talk about roster/lineup/role optimization all day, which is just one of the many reasons it's a wonder I'm married. Back in the nascent days of baseballprospectus.com, I wrote a column called Lineupectomy (a couple of which actually show up in the archives), which got its name from something we used to do at Strat tournaments--taking people's teams and creating optimal lineups. It's a geek thing, and as has been pointed out, not remotely the right name for the process, but it's something I spend a lot of time doing.
There's a question as to how much the effort matters. It's something of a stathead truth that the difference between the optimal lineup and a reasonably constructed one is small, less than a win per year. I don't necessarily buy that; as Chris Kahrl pointed out in BP2K1, the simulations on which that idea is based are fairly old, done on ancient technology, and it's possible that we just haven't been able to model it properly yet. I find it hard to believe that doing simple things like getting your OBP guys in front of your SLG guys, making the lineup less vulnerable to attack relievers, and minimizing double plays aren't worthwhile endeavors that can add not just a few runs, but a few wins a year.
My thought process on the Yankees goes something like this: they have seven good hitters, so one of those seven ends up at the back of the line. Ideally, you'd like that to be the worst of the seven, but that's complicated by the fact that players don't change roles as easily as Strat cards, and the collective media and fan base is poised to make a very big deal over any radical changes. Ask Theo Epstein.
Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia get rewarded for 2002. The Indians and Rangers swap pitching prospect for hitting prospect. The Yankees grab Armando Benitez in a non-Sierran move. The Jays get a steal in Stewart-for-Kielty. These and other tidbits, plus a full array of Kahrlisms, in this edition of Transaction Analysis.