Monday, July 28, 2008

Nobody’s Perfect

Nobody can be everything to everyone. Albert Einstein wasn’t a great husband. Michael Jordan wouldn’t get involved politically. Manny Ramirez doesn’t play hard. It’s just the way it is. So, when I need someone to do something for me, I have to decide if the qualities they do have are the ones I need for the task I need done. If I need a scientist, I’d probably prefer his home life wasn’t great. That gives him more time to work on my research. If I need a basketball player, I want him practicing, not making speeches. And, if I need a clean-up hitter, I need home runs and RBI. I could care less if he runs hard to first on a ground out.

What exactly is the fascination with hustle anyway? Why is effort rewarded so much more than results? If a guy produces, do I really care how he does it? Do I really want my star player risking injury or wearing himself out just to hustle? Wasn’t that the big question with Kevin Garnett? People questioned whether he was wearing himself out by playing 82 super intense regular season games. He was spent by the time playoffs came along. Manny always seems to have plenty in the tank come the postseason. Maybe that’s why he has more playoff home runs than anybody else?

Does Manny fall into the same category as the Ortiz shift? People don’t want Papi changing his swing to go the other way against the shift because that’s not what he’s paid for. Nobody wants him to rack up singles. But, wouldn’t slapping the ball the other way be putting the most effort into getting on base? I submit that Manny isn’t paid to hustle. He’s paid to hit 300 and drive in 100 guys. As long as he does that, he’s fulfilled his obligation. Just like Ortiz does his job if he hits 35 homeruns no matter how many infield singles he doesn’t get.

One thing I think Manny does that hurts his image is make quick assumptions about the amount of effort required. I’ve seen him hustle. I’ve seen him motor around third, or beat out a double play. When he thinks it can help, he’ll turn on the jets with the best of them. It’s the other times he decides not to bother. Say Manny hits a ground ball to the second baseman. Somebody like Jacoby Ellsbury better bust it out of the box and run his butt off to first. A step here or there, or a slight bobble, and Jacoby could beat it out. Manny on the other hand sees the ground ball and knows that no matter how hard he runs, unless the fielder drops it, boots it, and throws wide to the first baseman, Manny’s going to be out. And, no matter how slow Manny loafs it, he’s still going to be out. So, loafing saves wear and tear. Can you imagine if Manny ripped a hamstring busting it trying in vain to beat out a grounder to second? So, he saves himself. Same thing in the field. Manny sees a flyball and decides if he can make a play. He may instantly decide it’s over his head off the wall. He knows that no matter how hard he runs after it, it’s a double. And, no matter how slow he runs, the guy can’t get all the way to third. So, he takes it easy. Now, every once in a while the fielder does drop it, boot it, and throw it wide. And, every once in a while the guy gets a double he shouldn’t have. In those cases, Manny looks bad and everyone gets on his case about a lack of hustle. But, really, how often does this happen? Does it really happen enough to hurt the Sox? Does it hurt them enough to discount Manny’s production late in the season? Absolutely not. Run the numbers sometime. Say Manny gets caught not hustling to first once a week. Obviously, it doesn’t happen nearly that much. But, just for a number… that gives us about 30 times a season Manny should be on first, but isn’t. Now, last season Manny had 143 hits, walked 71 times, and scored 84 runs. So, roughly, he was on base 214 times, and scored 84 times or about 40%. If you take out the home runs from each side, Manny was driven in by another teammate about 33% of the time he was on base. So, those 30 times Manny didn’t hustle would cost him 30 times on base, which would cost the Red Sox 10 runs. So, in this ridiculously exaggerated example, Manny’s lack of effort would cost the Red Sox ten runs over a season. What’s that, about .08 runs for every game Manny played last year? I’d bet Manny produces at least that much. It’s an easy trade to make.

Which brings us to the latest distractions. Last week, Manny asked out of a couple games due to a sore knee. Now, I’ve said before I don’t question the degree of a player’s injuries. I don’t know their pain threshold. But, let’s pretend he wasn’t really all that hurt. Would he be the first player to ask out of a game against Felix Hernandez or Joba Chamberlain? Wasn’t it the running joke that injuries used to pop up on the other team all the time when Pedro was scheduled to pitch? The Pedro Flu I think I saw it referred to. The Red Sox won the game against King Felix. So, hard to say that Manny hurt the team there. Against Joba, the Sox lost 1-0. So, maybe Manny could have helped. But, how much really? Was he going to hit three home runs? Was anyone going to drive him in if he got three singles? What did the Sox get, 2 hits? I bet Manny would have been stranded anyway. So, skipping a couple games really didn’t affect the Sox. How about a clubhouse distraction? Well, the Sox sit 1 game out of first after missing Ortiz for a month or so. I’d say the team looks pretty undistracted to me. So Manny said that if the Sox made a trade that helped him and helped the team, he’d approve it. Big deal. I’d like to think anyone would approve a trade if it helped both him and the team. Didn’t Schilling approve a trade that helped him and the D-Backs a few years ago?

It’s such a non-issue, I can’t believe it’s such an issue.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Pedro

...according to Total Baseball anyway. (And, I didn't know what else to write.)

I remember the first time I heard that the Sox were getting Pedro Martinez. My dad told me that he heard that the Sox had traded for a pitcher…Martinez. When I asked which one, he wasn’t sure. He thought maybe a “Pedro”. I knew that couldn’t be true. My Sox did not trade for Cy Young award winners in their prime. The Sox I knew traded for washed up players who used to be good. If the Red Sox acquired a Martinez, clearly it was Ramon. He used to be good, but was battling injuries and hadn’t been effective in years. That’s the kind of player the Sox traded for. The radio report must have just mentioned that he was Pedro’s brother. That’s obviously where Pedro fit in. But, after confirming the details of the trade, it was true. The Sox had just acquired the best pitcher in the NL. That was amazing. Then, they went ahead and signed him long-term. The Pedro Martinez Era had begun. Nobody could have guessed what a ride it would be.

Pedro delivered right out of the gate with a fantastic 1998 season. He was in the Cy Young hunt all season, and could easily have won the award. His best Sox season was the next one. In 1999 Pedro had what is probably the best season any pitcher on any team has ever had. A couple of my favorite memories of that year:

The 1999 All-Star Game. Pedro came out and showed exactly how great he was. Sure, it’s an exhibition. But, even in an exhibition, I bet the NL wanted to at least put the ball in play a couple times. Pedro struck out 5 of the 6 batters he faced and made all five of them look silly. He had all his pitches dancing, and it was a joy to work. Being in the park to witness that might be the baseball highlight of my life.

The Yankee Game. Pitchers rack up strikeouts in games sometimes. Pedro once struck out 17 Devil Rays. Roger Clemens struck out 20 Mariners and Tigers. Kerry Wood struck out 20 Astros once. Pitchers throw no-hitters and one-hitters. Derek Lowe no-hit the Devil Rays, Clay Buchholz no-hit the Orioles. This was different though. Pedro Martinez struck out 17 batters in a one-hit effort against the New York Yankees. In the Bronx. This wasn’t a cellar dweller with a nothing line-up. This was the defending World Series Champs. This was the team that would win the 1999 World Series. This was the utmost sports dynasty of the decade, and Pedro made them look absolutely foolish. Made them look foolish wearing their pinstriped pajamas. Incredible.

The Player’s Choice. At the end of the 1999 season, they had the Player’s Choice Awards. These were awards, voted on by the players themselves. It’s like many award shows, with nominees leading to the eventual winner. In the category for “Best AL pitcher” the nominees were Pedro Martinez and….that’s it. Just Pedro. He was so clearly the best, they didn’t even bother with the exercise. It wasn’t even worth having someone else in the conversation for the benefit of the show. It was Pedro, and there was everyone else. Unbelievable.

And, we all know what happened from there. Pedro won a couple Cy Young awards with the Sox, and should have won a third. His last start for Boston was a convincing victory in Game 3 of the 2004 World Series as he finally brought a title to Boston. He’s currently finishing out his hall-of-Fame career in NY. (The good NY) In his wake, he changed the way I look at Red Sox pitchers. Schilling…Beckett…Dice-K…they’ll never measure up. I’ll never fully appreciate their accomplishments in my mind because, well, they’re not Pedro.

Anyone else have a favorite Pedro story to share?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wild West

I’ve said it before. Road losses don’t bother me too much. I still only ask for a .500 record on the road. I’m aware that the Sox are currently well below that, but I expect that to even out eventually. There are still several series against the likes of KC and Chicago to come. My only issue with the weekend sweep is the team it was against. It’s possible that the Sox could be facing the Angels in the playoffs. We saw last year that head-to-head victories can be important. If the Sox hadn’t won the season series against the Indians, who knows what would have happened. I don’t imagine they would have advanced to the Series, let alone win it. So, it’s discouraging to see them drop three in LA that they should/could have won. It certainly exposed a glaring weakness the Sox have in the middle relief. I can’t think of anyone that I’m comfortable with entering the game every time. I know that everyone can’t be a Papelbon. But, it’d be nice to have some arms that I at least expect to hold leads. At this point, I’m hoping the bullpen can hold leads. I assume this is something that Theo will address before the deadline. I don’t know what is out there, and I imagine they’ll have to overpay for any of it. There are certainly the prospects in the system to get something done. It could be an interesting week or so.

I could discuss concerns with the offense, but I’m hoping that all that will be fixed when Papi returns at the end of the week. I certainly hope that Theo’s not thinking about any major acquisitions of a bat (aka Teixeira). The line-up will be just fine. The struggles of Ellsbury as of late concern me a bit, but that’s really a minor issue. It’s not like he was ever expected to provide the meat of the production. Pedroia and Youkilis at the top should get on base plenty in front of the fully recharged middle. Hopefully Ellsbury hasn’t lost confidence in his running game. That was a nice weapon to pull out in key times. I’m guessing though, that now teams know they have to pick up the pace a bit when he’s around. He’ll have to adjust to account for that.
Hopefully the Sox stay focused in Seattle. It must be hard to stop looking forward to a big weekend with NY and LA coming to Fenway.

Those are a couple big series, at home, that could shift the power in the AL. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

All Star Action

I thought I'd toss a few comments about the All-Star game, now that I've had a chance to catch up on my sleep...

Wouldn't you think that, by now, MLB would have a Plan B in case they run out of pitchers? How about pulling a pitching machine to the mound, and calling off bunting? At least have an idea in mind in case this happens again.

The game also points to the problem of getting everybody into the game. The subs played more than most of the starters. How nice would it have been to still have Kinsler available to pinch run when a catcher is the winning run at second? It would be nice to actually be able to use strategy.

I touched on this earlier in my letter to Bid Selig. If my choice is to see Varitek play a couple innings, not even bat, and then Navarro for hours and hours, or just see Mauer play all game, I'll take Mauer. The token Tek appearance doesn't outweigh having to actually watch Navarro. Let the people elected to start actually play. Except for ARod, naturally. He has other things to do.

Didn't I hear somewhere that this is the last year for Yankee Stadium? I thought they'd mention that during the game or something.

At some point as we're falling all over Josh Hamilton, and his amazing comeback do we need to mention that he brought it all on himself? You can spout all you want that addiction is a disease, and I give him all the credit in the world for the comeback. But, I have never heard that the first needle or smoke, or snort or whatever wasn't completely voluntary. Shouldn't we save the "greatest human interest story of the year" award for someone who didn't do it to himself? Maybe someone who got cancer through no fault of their own, and came back to throw a no-hitter? Rather than spend all game (and derby) building him a gold statue, shouldn't he be a cautionary tale? Using drugs apparently caused him to throw a Hall-of-Fame career away. (not to mention the money that would go with it.) It's really a shame.

Is the goal of every All-Star game now to copy the pregame ceremony from the '99 game at Fenway? Legends on the field? check. All-Stars on the field? check. Senior citizen being carted in along the first base line? check. Nicely done.

Gotta love the Red Sox player getting the MVP at the last All-Star game in the stadium. I'm still shocked they didn't figure out a way to get it to Jeter. That single he had was a huge confidence boost for the team.

I was kind of hoping the NL would pull it out. It'd be nice for the Sox to sweep at home one of these years.

Monday, July 14, 2008

At The Break

Here we are at the All-Star break, and everything is how it should be. After 100 games, or so, the Red Sox find themselves in first place in the AL East. I think the last week shows us all we need to know about the team formerly known as the Devil Rays. I don't think it's a coincidence that they started to fade around the time every sports magazine in the country was putting them on the cover. The team isn't deep or talented enough to hang in first place. Once the "nobody believes in us" chip was removed from their shoulder, things started to fall apart. That's not to say they won't hang close. I can easily see them as a top two or three team in the division this year. Next year, I think we need to watch out for them. If this core group gets a taste of what a race feels like, and raises expectations a little, it could be a force. I wonder if the Rays will go after a big free agent to try for a Marlins-like push. This Rays team shouldn't have a problem setting a franchise record for wins. Next year, fans are going to expect them to contend. Then, we'll see what they can do.

Also, yesterday allowed Dice-K to end up with his 10th win befroe the break. A quick look at his stats puts him at 10-1 record with a 2.65 ERA and 77K's in 88.1 innings. Wow, I wouldn't have guessed that. Not too shabby. His 88 innings over 16 starts works out to about 5.5 innings a start. Not ggreat. So, what is Dice? 10-1 and 2.65 scream Ace. 5.5 innings suggests #4 starter. Are we as Red Sox fans still spoiled by Pedro-Beckett type dominance? Or, does an ace need to go 6+ every start? Do I need to worry about him getting into so much trouble, if he apparently gets himself out of trouble so often? It looks like I worry about him too much as a Sox fan. I think I need to believe in him a little more. He's pitching great. He just needs to do it a little deeper into games. Trust the Dice, he can do it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

One Day at Fenway: A Day in the Life of Baseball in America.- By: Steve Kettmann

This is a fabulous example of the “story behind the game” genre.
But, instead of dwelling on the pasts of the people involved, it stayed in the present. Through interviews and first hand observations, Kettmann is able to walk you through the game through the eyes of people involved. The range of people discussed was also diverse. Instead of focusing on the players, Kettmann discussed owners, managers, fans, and celebrities. The book is able to paint a complete picture of what people at the game were thinking as the game was going on. Think of it as a collection of game blogs kept by a dozen people.

This book is a must read. The detail included in the stories is mind boggling. It tells you just what Joe Torre was thinking during a pitching change, or John Henry during breakfast, or random fan as he’s driving to the game. It was like watching golf on television, but fun. As the round goes on, the coverage jumps from golfer to golfer in such a way that you can see the whole round with several golfers. In the same way, you can read the same game while jumping from subject to subject. In the end, the total is so much more than the sum of the parts. The fact that the game happened to be one that I was lucky enough to attend was a nice little bonus in my case. In any event, this book comes highly recommended. It easily earns an S36 listing...

Rating: 4 bases.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Letter to Bud Selig

I wrote a letter to Bud Selig a few years ago with some ideas on how to fix the all-star game. In his letter back to me, he said he'd discuss it with his baseball people. Since, the changes haven't been made, I thought it would be time to post the letter, almost in its entirety. I updated a couple lines to bring it up to date from the 2005 I sent it (I didn't know about win shares back then, if they existed). But, most of it is the same.

Dear Mr. Selig,

I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss some of my opinions about what is happening with the great game of baseball. Specifically, I’d like to discuss the All-Star Game. This seemed especially prudent since the last two have been some of the best since the great game of 1999. (The standard to which all other games will be compared) However, there were several problems that I feel detracted from the enjoyment of the game. So, I just had a couple comments about the game, and the events that led up to the game, that I wanted you to hear.

I’d like to mention some of the things that went right with the last couple All-Star Games, starting with the “This time it counts” change that was made. Personally, I like the idea of making the game count. I see no problem with deciding home field advantage in this manner. Some people think it’s unfair to award such an important thing to the winner of an exhibition game, but is it really less fair than the previous method? I like the idea, and I hope it stays. I also like the way the last couple managers managed the game. They left the starters in the game for a good chunk of the game, which is a lot more fun to watch. They didn’t feel the need to play everybody on the team. It’s about time. I hated watching the game knowing that by the 5th inning, anybody I wanted to see would be out of the game. I think these games showed how much more fun and exciting it can be if the true stars play as much as they can.

That being said, there are a few things I would change concerning the game. Right off the bat, I have a problem with the whole “every team needs a representative” idea. Why? As a Red Sox fan, I’ve been through both sides of the arguments. I remember the last couple years when the Sox had as many as 7 players on the team. I also remember when they had just the one required player. Obviously, I’d prefer a Red Sox player be on the team and play all nine innings. But, I know that’s not always possible. So, if my choice is to have the best players play three innings so Scott Cooper can bat once, or see the stars play 9 innings, I’ll take the latter. Plus, adding one player from every team means you have to leave off much more deserving players from other teams. Is it really fair that someone gets to be an All-Star just because he’s the best player on a horrible team? Where’s the entertainment in that?

I also have a problem with the fan voting. I think it’s a silly exercise that results in poorly assembled teams. The way it’s presented is that the fans pick who they really want to be in the game. But, in reality, most of the fans that vote at games haven’t a clue what they’re doing. I, as a Red Sox fan, have less exposure to what goes on in the National League. When I vote for the NL teams, I pick the name I know best, or maybe an ex-Red Sox player. It’s not because I really want them on the team, it’s just that I need a name. Sitting in the stands, you realize that that is what most people are doing. They ask each other, “Who’s good?” or, “Who’s your pick?” Obviously, using another selection method wouldn’t deprive anyone of what they really wanted. Also, with the fan vote, you get a lot of “popular” votes. Lots of Yankees get voted for because people know them. That’s hardly fair. If we really want the team to be of deserving stars, we can’t let the fans do the voting.

I was always told that you shouldn’t complain about something unless you have a better idea. Luckily, I do know how to fix the game. Taking a cue from how the Ryder Cup chooses its teams, a vast majority of the team should be selected using raw numbers. Here’s my plan:

1. Leave the Rosters at 30 players per team. I know it’s more than a regular roster, but it’s an exhibition. You will need an extra pitcher or two to account for innings limitations.

2. Get rid of the need for one player from each team. It weakens the roster, and doesn’t add any enjoyment to the game.

3. Use the DH in both parks. There’s no need to see an American League pitcher stand there in a exhibition game and watch three strikes go by. The DH spot can be used to get some of the bench players into the game.

4. Allow for a selection of a starter and a back-up at every offensive position, including the AL DH. That makes 16 roster spots in the NL, and 18 in the AL. Add the selection of 10 pitchers from each league. That fills 26 NL spots, and 28 AL slots.

5. Use a statistic to select the team. Something along the lines of Bill James’s “Win Shares” or Total Baseball’s “Total Player Rating”. That statistic should rate the best players using the numbers from a two-year period. For instance, for the 2005 game, use stats from June 2, 2003 to June 1, 2005. This statistic would be used to select starters and back-ups at each position, including pitchers, as well as select 2 NL DHs. Using the two year period does two things. It requires players to be true All-Stars before they make the team. It also limits the veterans who are good for so long, but have really struggled. If Cal Ripken has two off years, he doesn’t deserve to still make the team. That creates the need for step 6.

6. With the two remaining spots on the rosters, we allow some fan voting. Call this the “Cal Ripken Spot”. Starting after June 1st, when the stats are locked, fans are allowed to vote on two people in each league they just have to see on the team. So, if fans want Cal Ripken to be on one last All-Star team in his last year, this is their chance. If the fans really want to see hotshot rookie Dontrelle Willis, this is their spot to vote him in. This way you really do get the best of both worlds. You get a team of players who actually deserve to be there, but the fans can still have the joy of voting and a chance to see undeserving players they want to see.

As you can see, this system solves all kinds of problems. It takes the selections out of the hands of the managers and fans. That way, only deserving players make the team. The fans don’t vote in the players on their hometown teams. Joe Torre can’t “reward” the Yankees for winning the World Series. (I always thought the shiny ring was the reward) This system makes the game better. It makes the selections more of an honor, and makes performance more important than pinstripes. It also allows hidden stars to join in the spotlight. Just because a player plays in a smaller market, and doesn’t get the same exposure as a Brave, doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to start an All-Star team. This system would allow anyone good enough the chance to start, whether they play for Boston or Kansas City.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to use your “best interests of baseball” powers to implement this plan in time for next season. If not, I can’t wait for the first use next summer.

Thank you so much for your time. Thanks for everything you’ve done to help this game.

Section 36

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Live Stars

Here’s a little exercise that I had hinted at doing a while ago. Being able to see Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun in person made me wonder. What’s the best team I could make of players I had seen live, in non-exhibition games? I think I came up with a pretty good team. As a rule, I used awards as a tiebreaker over numbers. I also decided to ignore the steroid issue. Even if Barry Bonds cheated his way to a couple MVP’s, he’s still a noteworthy player to have seen. So, I included him. I also didn’t care when I saw them. I went on career accomplishments even if I only saw them when they were washed up. With that in mind, here is my first and second team of stars.

First Team
C-Ivan Rodriguez. He’ll be in the Hall-of-Fame soon enough.
1B-Frank Thomas. Double MVP and 500 HR guy.
2B-Alfonso Soriano. Couldn’t play second very well, but a weak position.
3B-Alex Rodriguez. Maybe the best ever, as much as I hate it.
SS-Cal Ripken. He’s in the Hall.
LF-Barry Bonds. As I said, he has to make a list like this.
CF-Ken Griffey. MVP. 600 HR
RF-Vladimir Guerrero. MVP.
DH-David Ortiz. As a DH, he’s on top.
SP-Roger Clemens. See Barry Bonds. 7 Cy Youngs.
SP-Pedro Martinez. 3 Cy Youngs. Most Dominant pitcher in years
SP-Randy Johnson. 5 Cys? Kazillion K’s
SP-Greg Maddux. 5 Cy’s? 300 wins
SP-Roy Halliday. At least 1 Cy.
CL-Dennis Eckersley. MVP, Cy Young. Hall of Fame.

Not a bad team, especially that rotation. Just to show you the choices I had to make, here’s my second team.

C-Mike Piazza. Obviously Varitek could be here. Mike’s more likely in Cooperstown.
1B-Jason Giambi. Unfortunately, he has that MVP
2B-Dustin Pedroia. His ROY gives him the nod.
3B-Wade Boggs. Sure, he was in Tampa. But, he’s a Hall of Famer
SS-Nomar Garciaparra. His two batting titles over Tejada’s MVP
LF-Manny Ramirez. 500 HR
CF-Carlos Beltran. Amazingly, not a lot of quality CF on my list
RF-Ichiro Suzuki. Personally, I don’t like his game. But, a MVP and ROY
DH-Edgar Martinez. The first HOF DH?
SP-Tom Glavine. Cy Young
SP-Bartolo Colon. Cy Young
SP-Bret Saberhagen. 2 Cy Youngs
SP-John Smoltz. Cy Young?
SP-Josh Beckett. Mr Postseason
CL-Eric Gagne. Yes, with the Sox, but the CY let me put him ahead of Rivera.

Those are the best I could do. A couple weak positions surprised me. Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone. Does anyone else have a team they’d like to share?

What people are reading this week