If you’re not familiar with Baseball Prospectus, here’s what we’re all about: understanding the game better, and innovating in order to do it. Everyone at BP loves the game of baseball with a passion that most people just don’t understand. We feel that this greatest of games is so compelling that we want to know everything about it. We always want to improve our understanding of the game–each player, each play, each pitch, each throw, each hit–what does it really mean? Those arguments that take place in bars about the relative merits of different players? We really want to know the definitive answer to those questions. But we don’t want to kill the joy of the game while we’re looking.
To help better understand what we’re all about, we’re launching a series of articles, entitled “Baseball Analysis Basics.” The series seeks to make our work more accessible to new readers, and to remind those familiar with our work of the underlying concepts. As Keith Woolner’s recently published “Hilbert Questions” article noted, there is much work still to be done.
Alex Rodriguez is a Yankee, and his timing is awful. It wasn’t two weeks ago the Rangers had a little song-and-dance routine that named him their captain after the botched attempt to get a trade done that would have sent him to Boston. Alex said the right things: “This is kind of like a double crowning for myself and my family. I feel very, very excited and very honored; one, at being recognized as the MVP of the American League and representing the Texas Rangers team, and almost equally important, if not more important, to be named the captain of the Texas Rangers and Mr. Hicks’ team and Buck Showalter’s team and John Hart’s team.” And he started to break out the lines the lines we’d heard in Seattle: “I definitely hope I’ll be here for at least seven years and hopefully I’ll be knocking on Mr. Hicks’ door and asking to do a little renegotiation to play here into my 40s.” In accepting a trade to the Yankees, Rodriguez makes a liar out of himself. Back when he was a free agent, he said this: “I would like to sign with another team and help dethrone the Yankees–they’ve won too much already.”
After the introductory edition of this column appeared last week, I received a couple of messages from–if Star Trek fans are “Trekkies,” what are BP fans? Beepies? Beppies?–readers asking why we were bothering to take notice of the 20th anniversary of the 1984 baseball season, with a week-long series no less. Nothing special happened that year, they said. Actually, 1984 was a case study in baseball problem solving, as executives were faced with difficult decisions, like, “If my entire starting rotation retires at once, what do I do?” “How do you react to an aggressively restructuring team who happens to be leading you in a close pennant race?” “If one-10th of my 40-man roster is arrested for attempting to obtain illegal drugs, how many of them should I retain?” and many more. Call the year a Choose Your Own Adventure book for managers and GMs, not to mention little pubescent proto-sabermetricians and performance analysts nationwide.
John Burkett says goodbye. The Twins win their arbitration case against Johan Santana. The A’s sign Chad Bradford for another year. Oh, yeah…and apparently the Yankees and Rangers traded infielders or something.
We’re back in the saddle again with a double-barrelled edition of Prospectus Triple Play. The Red Sox are engaging in an arms race for the ages. The Reds are looking two years down the road. The Marlins have the potential to burn up on re-entry. The Yankees have quietly made a deal or two. The Pirates continue running in place. And the Padres are gearing up for a brand new season in a brand new stadium, with a number of fresh faces in the lineup.
Much of what I have to say about the Alex Rodriguez trade shows up in an e-mail exchange between Gary Huckabay and I that was posted here yesterday. We kicked around a few of the issues the trade brought up, and I encourage all of you to check out that piece.
One issue we didn’t really cover was defense. I’m coming around to the idea, which a number of people inside BP have proffered, that the initial announcement of Rodriguez’s shift to third base will be forgotten by Opening Day, and that he’ll soon take over shortstop from Derek Jeter. I think the announcement was a necessary subterfuge to keep the controversy of “who plays short?” from overwhelming the trade talks. As I said on the radio yesterday, I don’t think there’s much chance that Rodriguez plays 160 games at third base for the Yankees this year.
This isn’t a matter that requires a lot of study. It’s not one of those, “six of one, half-dozen of the other” debates that gets stirred up sometimes. This is a no-brainer, complicated only by Jeter’s popularity and the mythology that surrounds him. Rodriguez should be the Yankees’ shortstop, and Jeter should be offered his choice among second base, third base or center field. (If you’re willing to move Alex Rodriguez to third base, then you should be willing to make Kenny Lofton a fourth outfielder and Bernie Williams a full-time DH. For that matter, you should be willing to move Mariano Rivera to left field.)