As we hit the unofficial halfway point of the season, and a large number of BP Staff hit Denver this weekend, I wanted to take this opportunity to say thanks to all of you who come to visit Baseball Prospectus on a regular basis, and have supported us through your purchase of the Baseball Prospectus Annual, and your subscriptions to Baseball Prospectus Premium. We had very high goals for this year, and thanks to you, we’ve not only met our goals, we’ve dramatically exceeded any reasonable or unreasonable expectations we may have had. Thank you very much.
We’ve added a number of new team members who we hope you’ll enjoy reading, and over the next few weeks and months, we’ll be rolling out a number of new features and functionality that we hope you’ll enjoy, as well as taking steps to deal with the technical and operational challenges that inevitably come from rapid growth. We know that you have high expectations when you come to Baseball Prospectus, and we’re working very hard to earn your repeat patronage.
From organization to organization, the debate rages on: tools or performance? Tools are easy to figure out. You can look at a player on the field, watch the game, and figure out the tools a guy has. Does he have a plus arm? Prolific power? Blazing speed? Scouts regularly grade those traits and send the results back to the home office. Performance on the other hand isn’t something that can be taken in during one sitting at a game. As such, some players who may lack specific tools may find it difficult to garner attention–it’s much easier to impress with say, a dash around the bases than it is with a walk.
Thanks partly to the hiring of Theo Epstein as General Manager, the Boson Red Sox now lean heavily toward the performance side of the debate. Toiling for the Sox is a flashpoint player in the tools vs. performance debate–Kevin Youkilis. While lacking in several of the tools that scouts covet, Youkilis was an offensive machine in college, hitting .405 his senior year, with 18 home runs, 61 RBI, 22 stolen bases, and a .549 on-base percentage. Still, it was not until his summer in the Cape Cod League, where he continued to rake the ball, that he finally began grabbing attention on a larger scale. Youkilis was recently chosen to represent America in the Futures Game at All-Star Weekend. BP Correspondent Mark Haverty sat down with Youkilis to discuss tools vs. performance, the Red Sox, and the Cape Cod League.
With the All-Star break just around the corner, it’s getting kind of late to dismiss disappointing performance as “just a slump.” A number of hitters counted on to put up numbers in the middle of their teams’ lineups haven’t come close to expected performance. Is the problem with the players or the expectations of them, and which guys can be expected to bounce back in the second half?
There is nothing worse in my world than what happened yesterday morning. On the road back from a meeting, I was ready for a couple of calls from radio stations. I always like going on the radio to talk baseball, whether it’s local, my own show, or anything from a major market to a college station. Instead of getting the calls and making the trip seem a bit shorter, though, I received no calls. All of this was a bit confusing until I realized my phone was dead. For those that know me, the idea of me without a cell phone is like me without a goatee or a latte; it just doesn’t seem like Will. After four hours without service and nearly an hour on the phone with a service provider that will remain nameless (but uses a hot Welsh woman in their ads), I have service and a bunch of messages. I missed calls from sources, both stations, UPS, and a former client. You can bet I’m changing my cell phone service in a hurry. Luckily, I got service back in time to make most of my calls, apologize to those I missed, and get what I need for today’s UTK.
Another upside to the day was collecting almost all of the money from the All-Star Fan Fest tickets charity auction. We’ll have $280 to donate to the American Cancer Society soon. I’d like to thank everyone that bid and the Indianapolis Indians for donating the tickets to us. Our donation will be made in honor of Alyssa Lewandowski and our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.
Milton Bradley is turning into a legitimate superstar for the Indians; Eric Gagne is on pace to have perhaps the greatest season ever for a reliever; and the Mariners’ bench is made up of a number of soon-to-be Tigers. All this and much more news from Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Seattle in your Friday edition of Prospectus Triple Play.
The Diamondbacks lead the wild card chase–how do their chances at an NL West crown look? The Royals have opened up a 4.5-game lead in the AL Central, despite multiple setbacks. Larry Bowa, Greg Gross or both may be to blame for some of the Phillies’ offensive deficiencies. These and other news and notes out of Arizona, Kansas City, and Philadelphia in today’s Prospectus Triple Play.
One of the criticisms of the various formulae used to evaluate baseball players is that they don’t take into account everything that happens on a ballfield. Runs Created, Equivalent Average, VORP, et al rely on a player’s stat line to measure his performance, and there are elements of the game that escape the statistics. (It should be noted that with the increased availability of play-by-play information, more rigorous methods which use this data are being developed.)
The issue is a minor one. As Bill James put it nearly 20 years ago, an elephant walking through the snow leaves tracks. If baserunning, or clutch performance, or leadership, or any of the things often cited as critical omissions were that important, things like Runs Created or EqA wouldn’t correlate with actual runs as well as they do. In the big picture, what we can measure dwarfs the what we cannot, and allows us to use our analytical tools with confidence.
I bring this up somewhat tangentially because I’ve been seeing a lot of ridiculous baserunning the last couple of weeks
Vin Scully broke the news that Brian Jordan has elected to have season ending surgery to re-repair his patellar tendon. Jordan has indicated that surgery likely means the end of his career, but this hasn’t been made official yet. Jordan’s loss will further cripple an already limping Dodger offense. The question of insurance may decide how Dan Evans moves forward, but the opacity of these transactions means we’ll likely never know the effect.
While there’s no hard data, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to implicate the hard turf at Stade Olympique. Jim Thome is the latest to have problems with his back there, and the Phillies aren’t taking any chances. Thome was lifted during Tuesday’s game and was out of the lineup for Wednesday. Team sources say he’ll be back at first when the team moves on to New York.
Transaction talk isn’t my beat, but some moves say more about a team than anything else off the field. With Kevin Mench down for eight weeks while his fractured hand heals, the Rangers called up Laynce Nix. I’m sure Jamey Newberg (of the phenomenal Newberg Report) is excited to see the future in Arlington, but one problem with seeing the future is that it usually means the present sucks. Mench should return in the normal timeframe with no serious effects. There were some rumors that Mench was headed to Cleveland, but a source on both sides of that deal denied anything was close.
What I really want is a “put up or shut up” game in which a team of random players–no stars, this would be a great place to play an all-rookie game, for instance, or give some exposure to the best bench players in the league–face off against fans who say that pro players are overpaid and pampered, and if the fans win, they get a Wily Mo Pena contract and $1 million in a giant novelty check, but if they lose, they have to stop acting stupid for a year.
I love this idea, but it should be even more humiliating. When you start out, the players will score a zillion runs, as the fans go hitless, unable to hit a breaking pitch. So then you offer to reset the score and spot them a pitcher: someone decent from Triple-A, maybe, but it’s double the stakes: the fans have to shut up for two years or, if they win, get $2 million and a spot on a 25-man roster as a pinch-runner. Now it’s interesting: against major league pitching, a replacement-level pitcher’s going to give up five, six runs…with an ordinary defense, and the fans aren’t ordinary. The players bunt down the lines mercilessly and score over and over. Offer to reset the score again, and stop bunting, even spot the fans 20 runs in a four-inning game, but it’s for four times the money and if the fans lose, they can’t say a bad word about player salaries, lifestyles, or anything related for the rest of their lives.
Dayn Perry debuts his Can Of Corn column with a look at some of the greatest pitchers of this generation and how they fared in the minor leagues. Hint: not as well as you’d think.
Nate Silver plays cartographer in this edition of Lies, Damned Lies, in search of untapped sources of amateur talent in the U.S.
The White Sox begin the summer trading season with a bang; the Reds make a great acquisition in D’Angelo Jimenez; Josh Beckett is unleashed from the DL in Florida; and the Royals take a flyer on a man named Gookie (remember him?). All this and much more news from around the league in your Wednesday edition of Transaction Analysis.