It is always better to try and evaluate performance than to do nothing. This is true in almost everything. If you work for a huge telecom company (for instance) and there’s no tracking of any kind of project success or failure, that’s a major problem–ideas are floated off, no one knows whether they fail or succeed, and when they go over budget and don’t work, no one learns a valuable lesson from that failure. Instead of remaining ignorant and believing that things are going well, spend the money and see what’s up.
Along these lines, all we’ve had to evaluate umpiring are raw stats. If an umpire tends to yield fewer walks and more strikeouts, it’s a good bet that he’s being generous with his personal strike zone. When that happens, players are forced to swing at bad pitches or get rung up on called third strikes. There are obvious issues with looking at umpires this way: if one ump happens to work a lot of good starters by luck, he’ll look like more of a pitcher’s umpire.
Computerized ball and strike calling even in its most primitive forms is potentially a great tool for evaluation and a step toward finally getting the strike zone settled.
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.
Jamie Moyer is an acquired taste. His fastball couldn’t catch a Ford Festiva at top speed; his curve is good, but it doesn’t have jaw-droppingly sharp movement; he has a unremarkable mound presence, generally stoic and composed; and is listed–ever-so-generously–at six feet, 175 pounds. Watching Moyer face one batter, you’re probably not going to be impressed at all. After two, though, you start to notice exactly how slow he’s throwing, how the change-up hangs up for what seems like entire seconds. Through a game, you’ll see him work location and speeds and most likely come out of the game having pitched well, and probably not notice that he racked up five, six, or maybe even eight strikeouts–each of them on a pitch that you’d expect to see hit in the minors.
The Rainiers announced on June 27th that “Fun Entertainment LLC” (formerly Unsmiling Consolidated Industries AG, incorporated in Dusseldorf, Germany) signed a letter of intent to buy the team from owner George Foster, who’s been trying to get rid of them for years. While the team is tied to a lease through 2005, Cheney stadium is pretty run-down and the owner has been fighting for years for wide-ranging improvements. If the new ownership doesn’t get a sweet deal, they’ll start looking for places to move. Tacoma’s a beautiful industrial town, as much as any city has personality in modern times, where strip malls with the same stores and the vast parking lots of Wal Mart determine as much local geography as the character of the region a hundred years ago. Tacoma’s also poorer than Seattle, and with the whole northwest economy in shambles and Boeing self-destructing, it’s going to be hard for the city to come up with a couple million dollars to support minor-league baseball, and it’s even more unlikely the state would help.
I love new managers. Each one is a chance for a new approach to rotation and bullpen management, in-game strategy, and roster handling. This off-season, Bob Melvin was called the dark horse candidate by local media. To the surprise of many, he interviewed so well that the Mariners hired him over others who had more managerial experience. Since his hire, Melvin has the best record in baseball at 52-28. And yet…the dark horse has shown himself to be a dim bulb.
Melvin has two big, predictable flaws that have emerged in the first half of the season, both ripe for post-season exploitation: He uses his best relievers to protect a lead, any lead, and is prone to punt the game when the team is behind by even a run, putting his worst relievers in. He’s also inordinately fixated on “playing the percentages,” frequently pinch-hitting to his disadvantage in order to get a lefty/righty matchup or play a guy who’s 5-15 lifetime against a particular pitcher–the same is true with his use of the relievers.
In both cases, it appears that Melvin is operating out of fear, or at best, a fixation on being conservative. If a team’s behind by one run and Joe Mopup gives up six runs, the fans aren’t going to be as mad about that as they would if the team blew a six-run lead and lost the game. There’s a psychological impact of a bad bullpen that can drive teams to spend a lot of money to patch holes. Fans expect to see a lead protected, and they get more angry with every collapse. By protecting any lead, Melvin assures the paying crowds that almost any lead will be a win. The flip side, that the team may never come back from a deficit, is ignored.
Similarly, Melvin’s matchup games are easily defensible in the press. A manager can’t be faulted if he pushes what are perceived as the right buttons and it doesn’t work out; there’s not a lot of second-guessing about that kind of old-school thinking.
Not satisfied with the questions of his loyal readers, Derek Zumsteg tears into his fake mailbag and finds some superb reader queries. Plus the debut of Derek’s Team of the Damned Annoying.
Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame candidacy remains controversial, judging by my e-mail, which baffles me.
There is a historical precedent for electing a Designated Hitter to the Hall of Fame. As baseball has evolved, the players who have evolved with it have been recognized for their accomplishments in the new roles they’ve filled. Shortstop, for instance, hasn’t always existed in its present role, but would anyone argue that no shortstop should ever have been elected to the Hall of Fame because they would be the first? For most of baseball’s history, the relief corps has been random swing starters, position players, the rotation on their off-days, and passers-by. Would anyone argue that true relief aces like Goose Gossage and Dennis Eckersley shouldn’t even be considered because their contributions in relief came in a role that didn’t exist, or wasn’t important, throughout baseball history? The DH is a position in the rules, and the DH contributes to a team’s success or failures.
Despite years of Kids’ Inning mishaps, the Mariners announce they’re bringing the kids again this year to run the show. Derek Zumsteg recounts a few kids’ horror stories, including the real reason Lou Piniella left town.
Derek Zumsteg reaches into his bag of useful ideas to bring you this handy-dandy guide to marketing the game of baseball. Not to be taken internally.
Derek Zumsteg’s latest Breaking Balls takes a closer look at Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame candidacy, sparked by an onslaught of e-mail.
Does Edgar Martinez belong in the Hall of Fame?
Edgar, in conventional terms, is a weird case. His career is outstanding, but limited by organizational incompetence at the early end, and his own desire to hang out with his family on the late end. He’s fragile, earlier injured badly too often in the field, dogged as he aged with hamstring injuries that slowed him. Because of this, his counting stats fall short, while his rate stats remain amazing (Edgar could easily finish this season in the top-10 hitters all time for his career on-base percentage, and top-20 all-time for his career slugging percentage).
A friend of mine who is smart and frequently argues for the intangibles, momentum, and chemistry aspects of baseball says that his ultimate Hall of Fame standard is that a player must transcend the sport for a period of time, to almost rise above the game, and that no player should even be considered unless they have dominated and changed the game around them. I like that standard, because it means Will Clark gets in while Rafael Palmeiro doesn’t.
If you’ve followed any of the media coverage surrounding Sammy Sosa’s corked bat, you’re probably already tired of it. If you’ve seen Rick Reilly on ESPN, looking as if his head might explode with anger at any moment, while implying that it’s a short step from corking a bat to being hopped up on steroids, you’re probably dog tired of it.
So I’m going to leave Sosa out of this for a while.
Derek Zumsteg sits down to watch yesterday’s Yankees-Tigers contest expecting to write a column on Roger Clemens’ 300th win. Here’s his diary of yesterday’s game.
Relocation’s gotten a lot more complicated lately.
Some time ago, baseball narrowed all the potential sites for an Expos move to Portland, Oregon, and two Washington, D.C. bidders: the District of Columbia itself, and a Northern Virginia group. These three groups have traveled to make presentations to MLB about their sites and funding packages. In short, Portland’s got no economy but a funding mechanism and sites, Northern Virginia has some money and bad sites, and D.C. has sites but is still working on money. All of them have expended a lot of effort, and have jumped through MLB’s hoops like cute, obedient doggies. So Selig decided to try and prod another bidder into the process, taking an open opportunity to say that he’d be delighted if San Juan, Puerto Rico would make a bid. This is another reason city governments shouldn’t trust MLB.
I looked at the standings page of my local sports section for the first time this weekend, having watched games with only a general sense of team success. I was looking to see the Cubs under Baker, the reloaded Phillies, and a couple of other easy stories. My how things have changed.
One of the stathead tenets is that there’s a ton of freely available talent floating arouns out there: guys you can pick up for minimal cost who will do a servicable job. Granted, these aren’t All-Stars or anything–they’re replacement level, or just good enough to be on a major-league roster. This fact is expressed in all the good player valuation stats, and it’s generally applied as “If you can field the Tigers for $5 million, any money spent over that should make you better than the Tigers.”
That said, the Pirates this season are providing an interesting study in stathead application. Faced with a bad team and declining attendance at PNC Park, the Pirates front office decided to make playing .500 ball an organizational priority to try and attract fans. They brought in free agents on one-year deals fix their worst problems–like Kenny Lofton to play center field–but in the process they’ve pushing back their best young hitter, Craig Wilson, to the point where he’s now fighting for playing time.
In my first Breaking Balls column, I wrote about how to run a team to avoid revenue sharing (and in the process, make your team a net drain on the system, rather than pay in). It didn’t take long for a team to find a way to do this that I hadn’t thought of.
The Chicago Cubs, who already do the undervaluing-your-media-rights thing for their superstation, have opened up a whole new avenue I hadn’t even considered.
The Cubs sell tickets at cost to “Wrigley Field Premium,” a ticket broker down the street. Premium sells these tickets for an outrageous mark-up. Greg Couch, of the Chicago Sun-Times, has written some great columns on this I’d recommend if you’re interested. He reported that while a Cubs-Yankees game was sold out (“Obstructed view only”) from the Cubs, Wrigley Field Premium was selling them for insane markups–$1,500 for a primo $45 seat.
The Cubs and WFP are the same company: A Cubs VP is the President of WFP. The Cubs are contracted to do the books for WFP. And WFP gets to return tickets they don’t sell.