Continuing from Part I of the discussion with Paths To Glory authors Mark Armour and Levitt…
BP: Reading about certain teams–the ’97 Marlins immediately come to mind–there seems to be a strong preference among some people for teams that build from within instead of buying a pennant. Having covered both kinds of teams in the book, is there a way that strikes you as more effective? Is one way somehow more noble than the other? Levitt: My take is that the aim of the game is to win. As long as you don’t cheat, however you do it is fine. Building through the farm system is a good way to do it because it’s cheaper. But when (Charles) Comiskey bought Eddie Collins and Joe Jackson in 1914 and 1915, he was taking advantage of the economics of the time; other teams could have done the same, and didn’t. I don’t feel that one way is the noble way and one way is the evil way. Good organizations will use any and all methods to build a winner. Armour: One reason we chose to write about the Marlins was that history has mistreated them. Some of that is because they went on a spending spree, then won. Then the team was torn apart. They deserved to be criticized for being torn apart. But the way they were built was brilliant. They were an expansion team, and they had the right approach. They built a strong farm system. Then they identified what they needed. They decided they needed a cleanup hitter and third baseman, a left fielder and a starting pitcher. So they got the best player available for each job, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, and Alex Fernandez. It’s not that it’s not noble to spend and win, just that it’s hard. A lot of teams have gone out and tried to spend a lot of money. But it’s hard to find three good players to fill three holes, or five to fill five. The Marlins did this really well. Levitt: The problem with modern free agency and buying players that way is that great players often only become available when they’re in their 30s. People don’t realize that Bonds and Maddux are the best of the free agent signings, and that it’s hard to get a real impact player that way, let alone someone like Bonds or Maddux. There’s also a lot of thought that buying a bunch of players is a new idea, but it’s not. Tom Yawkey in the 30s did it with the Red Sox, and the Yankees also did it in the 30s. Comiskey did it, and so did the Boston Braves in the 40s. The great teams have almost always acquired a bunch of their players through purchases. If you look at a team like the Pirates in the late 40s though, after Bing Crosby bought the team, they spent a lot of money on a bunch of old players, including Hank Greenberg, and that didn’t help them at all–they still finished last every year.
Mark Armour and Dan Levitt turned a series of debates between friends into Paths To Glory, the stories of the building of several interesting baseball teams, published this spring by Brasseys, Inc. Paths looks at some of the greatest dynasties in baseball history, including the A’s of the early 1970s, as well as some of the most dramatic missed opportunities, including the Black Sox of the 1910s and early 20s. Armour and Levitt recently chatted with Baseball Prospectus about some of those teams, the men who built them, and the team-building strategies they used to make it happen.
Baseball Prospectus: What first inspired you to write this book?
Dan Levitt: Mark and I had become friends through SABR. Pretty soon we came to realize we were interested in the same thing: What made baseball teams win, and what didn’t? We started corresponding by telephone and e-mail, and started doing research as well. We came to realize that not there weren’t a whole lot of printed materials on the subject. There were a lot of books on great teams out there. But those books would rank them, or give day-to-day on seasons, stars, and the not-so-great players. But you’d have a really tough time finding a book on say, the 1915 Phillies, and how they won the pennant. We realized there was a void of this type of book. So we set out to put a book together that’d be interesting, about some great teams and some not-so-great ones. It’s really a different perspective: not the day-by-day heroics, but rather what were the decisions that went into assembling these teams.
Baseball Prospectus: Obviously by the time you left the Expos to broadcast Marlins games for the 2001 season the off-field situation had deteriorated in Montreal. But the Marlins seem to have faced many of the same problems. How does the Marlins’ situation differ from the Expos’? Dave Van Horne: There are huge question marks in Miami–really a lot of the same signs we saw in Montreal. There is a level of support in spirit if not financially though; local government wants all sports to succeed in Florida, including the Marlins and the Devil Rays. But the political climate here is that public money can’t be used to prop up professional sports franchises. The question then becomes: Does Jeffrey Loria have the wherewithal–both the money and influence–to pull this off? He’ll be tested.
Dave Van Horne broadcasted baseball games for the Montreal Expos for 32 years, from the club’s inception in 1969 through to the Jeffrey Loria era. Since then he’s moved on to become play-by-play man for the Florida Marlins, where a new generation of fans have heard him use his trademark “Up, Up, and Away” home run call. In Part I of BP’s chat with Van Horne, we discussed breaking into baseball, calling the game, and a few pages of Expos history.
Part II of Jonah Keri’s interview with Tendu founder Ron Antinoja discusses the rigors of being a Tendu scorer, some of the firm’s clients, and future improvements in the company’s database and software.
Ron Antinoja founded and runs a service called Tendu. The firm–so named for teams’ desire to understand player and coaching tendencies to do certain things in certain situations–expects to track the velocity, location and result of about 90% of all major league pitches this season. Tendu tracks those pitches and their outcomes and stores that information in an Internet database that allows users to discover pitcher and hitter tendencies in any given situation. Jonah Keri recently chatted with Antinoja about teams’ neverending quest to get the upper hand on the opponent.
In his second major-league season and first year as a rotation regular for the Montreal Expos, Zach Day has emerged as one of baseball’s biggest early-season surprises. The right-hander, who turns 25 next month, has posted a 2.63 ERA so far this year, eighth-best in the National League. Day’s bread-and-butter pitch, the sinker, has helped him put up the highest groundball-to-flyball ratio in the majors at 3.74 (well ahead of second-place Derek Lowe’s 3.16). Day recently made headlines after getting ejected Saturday in Colorado for putting superglue on his fingers in an attempt to cover a blister. Day recently chatted with BP about Gluegate, the challenges of being a sinkerballer, and the keys to keeping hitters off balance.
Craig Counsell has played on two World Championship teams, for the Florida Marlins as a rookie in 1997, and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. After getting off to one of the best starts of his career with a .387 OBP this season while playing everyday at shortstop and third base, Counsell dislocated his right thumb and suffered a torn ligament. He was pronounced out for 10 weeks. After surgery to repair his thumb, Counsell hopes to begin rehab in three weeks, while spending time with his wife Michelle and their first child, born May 3. Counsell recently chatted with BP about coming back from injuries, the virtue of plate discipline, and his approach to hitting.
It doesn’t matter whether your game is roto, Strat, Scoresheet, or fantasy NASCAR: Drafting for value is the right way to go. Cute little strategies might help to break a tie, and a mastery of bidding psychology can matter at the margins, but sound player evaluation is the name of the game. Between the PECOTA projections and the Will Carroll Walking Injury Database, we felt that Team BP was in an in ideal situation to leverage our edge in information into success in Tout Wars. The results so far have been affirming: in spite of some disappointing individual performances, we’re in first place by a healthy margin.
It’s too soon, of course, to come to any conclusions about how the standings will end up–hell, it’s early enough in the season that Carl Everett hasn’t even been suspended yet. Still, there are a few take-home lessons from the season thus far, as embodied by some of our more successful acquisitions and strategies.
Mark Verstegen founded Athletes’ Performance in Tempe, Az. in 1999. Previously a coach at Washington State University, Verstegen also worked as Assistant Director of Player Development at Georgia Tech, where he built and implemented performance programs for football, men’s basketball and golf. He started the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, Fla. before moving to Arizona. Athletes’ Performance’s clients include numerous NFL players, professional golf, tennis, and basketball players, multiple amateur athletes, and an array of Major League Baseball players, including Nomar Garciaparra, Pat Burrell, and Adam Dunn. Verstegen recently chatted with BP about training methods for baseball players, the importance of injury prevention for athletes, and the challenges facing young athletes.
What happens when Nate Silver’s PECOTA system joins forces with Jonah Keri’s boundless energy and Will Carroll’s injury encyclopedia? You get a killer roto team…maybe. Read on to see how BP fared at this year’s Tout Wars National League draft.
In Part II of the discussion, Brad Kullman discusses the Reds’ proprietary defensive rating system, how the club uses brain typing to evaluate talent, and the Reds’ evolution from the Branch Rickey model of team-building.
Brad Kullman enters his 14th season in baseball and his first as Assistant General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds after an off-season promotion. While the Reds stand to dramatically boost their revenue stream with the opening of Great American Ballpark, Kullman hopes to boost his stock as a future GM candidate working alongside General Manager Jim Bowden. Kullman recently chatted with BP about his love for the four-man rotation, the Reds’ proprietary defensive rating system, and the challenges of outsmarting the competition.
Mark Shapiro enters his second season as General Manager of the Cleveland Indians, and 12th with the organization, in full rebuilding mode.
Mark Shapiro enters his second season as General Manager of the Cleveland Indians, and 12th with the organization, in full rebuilding mode. Since winning six NL Central division titles in seven years, the Indians have said goodbye to stars Roberto Alomar, Jim Thome and Bartolo Colon and rebuilt the farm system through drafting, development and a series of opportune trades. He recently chatted with BP about the dangers of multi-year contracts, breaking prospects into the lineup, and the pressure of meeting fans’ expectations.
Rick Peterson: The goal is for every pitcher to master the delivery. We have a comprehensive program based on drills and throwing programs to teach that. The core of efficient delivery theory comes from the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) lab of Dr. James Andrews. Last year, we had Tim Hudson and Barry Zito down to work with Dr. Andrews.