Larry Mahnken and SG's

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The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog has moved!  Our new home is:

Larry Mahnken
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This is an awesome FREE site, where you can win money and gift certificates with no skill involved! If you're bored, I HIGHLY recommend checking it out!


Disclaimer: If you think this is the official website of the New York Yankees, you're an idiot. Go away.

March 30, 2004

Baseball in Bed
by Larry Mahnken

They lost, but it felt great to see baseball being played in earnest again. Even if it was 5am. I tried to pull an all-nighter, but I didn't have it in me, and I dozed off about 2:30, before being woken up by my alarm 2 hours later.

It was great to finally see the team we've been speculating about for the past few months finally take the field. We know that the improvement of Rodriguez over Soriano isn't that huge, but just seeing Alex Freaking Rodriguez in pinstripes was awesome. Seeing him cut in front of Jeter on the slow roller to short was even more awesome: there's the solution, have A-Rod play both third AND shortstop!

It certainly was a game worth watching, even if the outcome wasn't what we wanted. Jason Giambi pretty much erased any of my doubts about his power with an opposite field Home Run in the first and a long double off the center field wall later on, and even though he looks much slimmer, it really does seem that a lot of that weight was in his belly. If he stopped taking steroids this offseason, he must have compenstated pretty well for it.

The bottom of the lineup looked pretty pathetic, mostly because it is. Ruben Sierra and Enrique Wilson is a huge dropoff from Jorge Posada. Gary Sheffield looked lost in the outfield, and had about the weakest hard-hit double you'll ever see, and has done nothing to erase the impression that the Yankees should have gone after Guerrero. But they still did okay for themselves.

It was a loss, but it was worth waking up at 4:30am to see it. Baseball's back.

* * *

I, on the other hand, am not. I've recently had a problem with my bank, stemming from the fact that they charged me $300 in fees. And no, I can't get it back. So, my internet has been turned off, my cable is on basic, and my kitchen is on "Ramen". Until I'm back on my feet, I won't be online very much, since my only access point is the library, and I'm usually working during their hours. No blog, no THT, no Game Chatter.

You probably won't notice any difference: I ran out of things to talk about during the offseason, so going a couple of weeks into the season without any writing probably isn't going to be any different. I'm sorry, you've all been very supportive of me, but in my financial circumstances, you'll always have to come second. But I do thank you for the support.

Sign up for the mailing list, or add the RSS feed to your reader, and you'll know when I'm back. For now, updates will be, at best, sporadic, but you can rest assured, as long as the Yankees are wasting scoring opportunities and losing games to the Devil Rays, no chair in Western New York is safe.

March 24, 2004

Gettin' excited
by Larry Mahnken

Are you getting excited? It's less than a week from Opening Day, and I can't wait!

I've got to say, writing for someone else's publication is a lot tougher than writing a blog. I've got my first solo column for The Hardball Times up today, and I'm working on an article for another publication as well (more on that when it's published). Throw in my actual job, a visit last weekend from my Dad, and I'm a fairly exhausted man. You'd think watching baseball would be the last thing that I'd want to do, being exhausted and all, but it actually energizes me.

I can't wait to see A-Rod playing regular season games for the Yanks, or see this rotation going out there every day. The bullpen looks solid, too. It's going to be a great season.

Speaking of the bullpen, the Yanks resigned Mariano Rivera yesterday to a 2-year deal with a vesting option for a third year. I was a bit on the fence about the Rivera situation before, because while you don't want to lose a great reliever like Rivera now, signing him to a three-year deal for big money carries the risk that you'll be stuck with a mediocre or bad reliever at the end of the contract, and paying him big money. I'm keener on this contract, because if he loses it, they can move on after only two seasons.

As for Rivera, he's pretty much a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Sure, his value is diminished by the role he's been placed in, and there are a few relievers who deserve to be in more than him, but hopefully by the time Rivera's name is called, they'll have gotten in, but if they're not, it's not going to stop him. Rivera's numbers might not ultimately be Hall-worthy, but the enduring perception of him as the most dominant relief pitcher in the game for the better part of the last decade makes him a virtual lock, and the fact that he's constantly in the postseason spotlight (four consecutive World Series' ended with Rivera on the mound) helps too.

I'd like to see Joe Torre use Rivera a little better this season. In the regular season, he seems to always bring Rivera in for a "save situation", no matter how unnecessary his presence is, and doesn't bring him into tied games on the road. In the postseason, he's a little better about using Rivera for multiple innings, but he always trys to get him the "save", and he still never uses him in tied road games, which cost the Yankees dearly in Game Four last year. Having Gordon, Quantrill and hopefully a healthy Karsay in the second half will help.

I'm getting really excited.

* * *

I've added an RSS feed to my blog, and a link so you can read it through your My Yahoo! page. Also, I've sent out invites to the fantasy league, so check your mailbox. If you didn't get one, it's because I hate you, everyone you know, and everything you stand for. Or maybe because your availability didn't fit the rest of the invitees very well. Sorry. If there were about 10 more teams wanting in, I would have set up a second league.

March 16, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

I don't know if they'll change this, but I saw this on the front page of Yahoo!'s baseball page:
Jack McDowell predicts a trio of new division winners in the American League. If Yahoo! Sports' baseball analyst is right, it would mark the end of the Yankees' six-year reign as AL East champion but the continuation of another streak - no division titles in nine full seasons for new Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
I'm sure the '97 Mariners will be crushed to hear that.

by Larry Mahnken

On behalf of myself and the rest of the writers at THT, I'd like to thank everyone who stopped by for making our first day far better than anything we expected, as about 50 bazillion people stopped by. And I'd like to extend a special thanks to everyone who linked to us on their sites, or in a message board. We really appreciate the support.

Pressure's on...

As I was telling people yesterday, this blog ain't going nowhere, especially because a lot of my personality is...unprofessional. Over at THT, I'm speaking for everyone, over here, it's just me. For instance, I can swear here. Fuck!

And, of course, I can just talk about the Yankees here.

The Yanks have been having injury problems this spring, but none of the nature that people were expecting. Bernie Williams had appendicitis, but it's unlikely to be chronic. Gary Sheffield tore a ligament in his hand, but he didn't rupture it, and since he played with the same injury last season (as did Derek Jeter), and he put up INSANE numbers, he'll be fine (phew!). John Flaherty dislocated his thumb, but unfortunately, the Yankees aren't going to use that as an excuse to get a useful backup catcher. And Jon Lieber is out, but surprisingly, with a groin injury, nothing to do with his arm.

According to Will Carroll at Prospectus (see, if we were trying to compete with Prospectus over at THT, we'd have an injury guy), Lieber was actually ready to go last season, and should be 100% this season. Tommy John Surgery ain't what it used to be, and Brandon Claussen's quick recovery last season will probably be the standard in the future.

But Lieber's groin is keeping him out just as much as a sore arm would, and it seems likely he'll miss a regular season start. Fortunately, the schedule works out so that the Yanks probably won't need to use the fill-in for more than one start, and it won't make or break the season. Unfortunately, that's important, because they don't have any rotation depth. Jorge DePaula had a great start against Baltimore last year, but wasn't anything special in AAA, and may not have enough stuff to fool major league hitters. Octogenarian Orlando Hernandez won't be ready to go until mid-season, and Donovan Osbourne hasn't been a viable option since Derek Jeter was a rookie. I'd go with DePaula--better to take the unknown than the certain crap--but I'm inclined to think that Torre will go with the veteran, particularly considering that he was with Torre in St. Louis. Joe seems to have a bit of a blind eye for guys who were with him previously.

The Red Sox, surprisingly, are having more serious injury problems than the Yankees so far this spring. Trot Nixon's back is sore, Byung-Hyun Kim is out with a sore arm, and Johnny Damon seems to have hit puberty or something. All kidding aside, those are the kinds of injuries that could pull the team down more than what's happened with the Yankees so far.

March 15, 2004

The Hardball Times
by Larry Mahnken

A couple of months ago, I got an instant message from Aaron Gleeman, asking me if I was interested in joining a project with him and Matthew Namee (Bill James' research assistant), as well as a few other writers. At first I was going to think about it for a couple of days, but when Aaron started listing some of the names, I couldn't refuse.

And so, today, I'm proud to announce that I am a writer for the new website "The Hardball Times". Aaron and Matthew are the co-editors of the site (now think of the irony of Aaron Gleeman being an editor...), and the rest of the team is:

Alex Belth from Bronx Banter
Craig Burley and Robert Dudek from Batter's Box
Joe Dimino from Baseball Primer's Hall of Merit
Ben Jacobs from the Universal Baseball Blog, Inc.
Bryan Smith of Wait 'Til Next Year
"Studes" and Pete Simpson from
Vinay Kumar and Steve Treder, two of the best posters at Baseball Primer (and Steve's the most prolific poster ever--I'm 7th).

We'll have all sorts of fantastic stuff there, including Win Shares for all of baseball history, but that's not up yet. What is up is some fantastic baseball writing, including the first of what will be a regular column I'll be writing with Ben Jacobs, who coincidentally lives in Rochester, just like me, working for the local newspaper, and is also a huge Red Sox fan.

Rivals In Exile will be a back-and-forth column about the Yankees and Red Sox, and if it seems like I'm acting a bit of a jackass in my part, it's because I am acting like one. I think it makes for a more entertaining read.

That's not all I'll be doing, of course. I'll be contributing a weekly column, and my preview of the Yankees will be posted late this month. I'm not quitting the blog, though, but it might stay sporadic, it might be more of a quick-hit type thing--I don't know. There's certainly going to be a lot to write about that won't fit THT, and that'll go here. My writing style is more of an inspiration based thing, rather than reporting, so I tend to go in spurts.

But I digress. I want to stress that we're not trying to compete with Baseball Primer or Baseball Prospectus, both of which are great sites which I recommend you all visit regularly (and again, I say that subscribing to Baseball Prospectus is a GREAT deal). I'll still be posting at Clutch Hits, I'll still be reading the columns at Primer (I love Dan Werr's stuff). NOTHING has stopped for me, I'm just writing somewhere else, too.

I really hope you enjoy The Hardball Times, and if you have a blog or a website, we'd really appreciate a link. I'd like to thank Fabian McNally at Minor Yankee Blog for the plug this morning, and I thank you all in advance for your continuing support.

March 14, 2004

Larry the Sell-Out
by Larry Mahnken

First things first: You may have noticed that where there once was a wholly pointless "logo" for my site on the sidebar, there's now this:

Why is this up there? Well, 'cause my sister is a big fan of the show (I've never seen it), and it's getting cancelled. So, she's asked me to put up this link on my site to add a little exposure to the "cause". I'll let her take over here:
in a world over filled with horrid so-called "reality" shows and unfunny sitcoms, Angel shines. It is imaginative, well thought-out and written, and more intelligent then many may think. I think the reason many may not take it seriously is because of it's premise, a vampire with a soul battling evil. I know, because at one time that's exactly what I thought. Then my best friend asked me to tape the show for her when she lost her cable connection two years ago. That's when I started watching, and by the second week, I was hooked. I then had to go back and start watching previous seasons.

I also think they may have lost some previously loyal viewers because last season was not up to par and led to killing off a popular character, angering many viewers. These viewers didn't return to see how much the writing has gotten back on track and improved this season, which I think resulted in the drop in ratings. WB's lack of support in advertising
didn't help either. If they advertised this show even half as much as they advertise "Smallville" and "Gilmore Girls" those ratings would most likely go up.

In short, if I had the money to do it, I'd pay to produce this show myself. In fact, if this show got moved to a pay station, like HBO, I'd subscribe to the station. That's just how great it is!! PLEASE HELP US SAVE IT!!! The world needs less unrealistic reality shows, and more imaginative, creative shows like Angel.
So, if you're a fan of Angel, on behalf of my sister, visit, and make a donation. This has been a paid advertisement.

Since I'm pimping for my sister, I've decided to also pimp for a friend. My buddy Cægn has a blog with a friend of his, Arcægnic Design. It's pretty random, but the Thought of the Day is usually pretty funny, IMO. Check it out.

Another friend of mine, Kosko, was running a blog Violetdrink. He hasn't updated in a long while, but if you like what he's been saying, leave a comment here and I'll direct him to them, and maybe he'll start up again. He's really a very good writer, and I'm hoping that he can use his blog to get some exposure.

As for those of you asking to be added to my blogroll, I'll get around to it this week: sorry for the delay. I've set up a new list for "Buddies", which will include the two above blogs. If you're a regular around here, and have a homepage, I'll add that, too.

A couple of weeks back, SG suggested we start a fantasy league, so I've done so. It's a 20-team league, 10-category standard roto rules with 2 catchers, 1 of each IF position, a CI, MI, one of each OF position and an OF, Util, 2 SP, 2 RP, 3 other pitchers, 5-man bench and 5-man DL. We will draft from both leagues, which will keep the rosters somewhat deep, but not too deep.

Rather than post the league ID and password, I'll just ask you to express interest in the comments, that way I have some control over who's in the league. If there's enough interest, I'll start another league. But I want to make sure that a few people who I want in the league will be in it if they're interested.

Some rules if you want to join:
- You HAVE to be serious. If you're in last place in July, it's okay if you stop messing with your team, but if you're getting offered trades, don't let them just sit there: accept them or reject them. And DON'T MAKE DUMP TRADES. I'll reject them.
- This isn't a democracy, I'm the czar. Trades don't go up for vote, I approve or reject them (which has the bonus of speeding up the process). If there's a trade involving me, I'll ask if there's any objections, and I won't exploit my power. But when things go democratic in these leagues, it usually creates more problems than it solves.
- This will be a live draft. It will be at a time that's convenient for me, which means anytime between 10pm EST Sunday to Wednesday night. I've scheduled the draft for 3:30pm on Monday the 29th, so it's before the season, but more or less after Spring Training. THIS ALMOST CERTAINLY WILL BE RESCHEDULED, but it will be in those times that I have said are convenient for me. In expressing interest, let us know what times you will be available for a draft, so that we can have a league with all 20 people drafting live.

So, tell us if you're interested, and I'll email you an invite if I pick you. Don't worry how many people are interested, I can always set up more leagues.

Oh yeah, one last thing: there will be a MAJOR announcement here tomorrow. Stay tuned.

March 11, 2004

Daily Herald - Cubs not big on statistical analysis
by Larry Mahnken

"'Who's been the champions the last seven, eight years?' he asked 'Have you ever heard the Yankees talk about on-base percentage and walks?'"

Yes. Maybe you should actually, oh, say, listen to what the Yankees have been talking about before you comment on them, rather than what the idiotic sportswriters who hate walks say about them, you moron.

Blind Faith
by Larry Mahnken

I was flipping through some magazines at work, and I noticed the Sporting News Ultimate Baseball Scouting Guide, which gives reports on every Major League player by Major League Scout. Flipping through it, I came to this:
Derek Jeter, Yankees

Defense: Is one of the most underrated defensive players in the game. Plays hitters and has better range than most, if not all shortstops, especially to his right. Won't have to worry about covering the hole as much with Aaron Boone at third. Has a good, accurate arm, pretty good hands and excellent defensive instincts. A lot of his errors are "range" errors.
Apparently, a lot of Jeter's errors are because he gets to balls that other shortstops don't. And apparently, his range is so great that he actually overruns the ball, and so it goes into the outfield.

He positions himself great, he has better range than almost every shortstop in the game, has great instincts, a good arm, and good hands. So explain to me how 21% of the balls hit to him last season became hits? Even if one accepts that you can't appreciate a defensive player by looking at the numbers, I've never seen anyone explain why Jeter lets a higher percentage of balls past him every single year. This isn't stathead mumbo-jumbo, anyone can do it. You could sit there and count the number of singles through the shortstop area of the field, and divide it by itself plus the number of balls that he does field, and you'll find that every shortstop in baseball gets to the ball more often than he does. It's not voodoo sabermetrics, it's fact. Someone please explain why, if Jeter's so good, or just not bad, WHY?

Frankly, the only way that Derek Jeter could be underrated was if someone was saying that he has slightly less range than the pitchers' mound. If the mainstream is actually underrating Derek Jeter, he must be the greatest defensive player that there ever was, and that includes the guys you've created in your video games with the ratings maxed out.

Michael Kay had some pretty stupid comments about Jeter earlier this week in his Q & A at the YES Network site:
I've noticed a lot of anti-Jeter columns lately. There's one in referring to him as a "terrible defensive shortstop." We can all admit that A-Rod is a better defensive shortstop, but lately people have been implying that the Yankees have won the World Series despite Jeter, not because of him. The only real weakness I've noticed is that he doesn't rob that many hits up the middle. But he's great at the over-the-shoulder catches in short left field. He also robs hits on his right side and throws to first from the grass. What do you make of all this Jeter bashing?
Ryan - New Jersey

Kay: Ryan,
It's been prevalent the past couple of years and I don't quite get it. I think it stems from sabrematricians who have a fielding/range formula they work with that shows Jeter does not get to as many balls as other shortstops. I think those stats are nonsense because the best way to judge a player is to watch his play everyday and at no time since 1996 have I thought Jeter was a bad shortstop. In fact, I always felt he was above average. Is he Ozzie Smith? No, but he is more than adequate and people simply want to find something to criticize about Jeter, so they go for Jeter on D. Rely on your own eyes and not some fielding stats that don't incorporate pressure and game situation into their numbers.
As was pointed out on the Baseball Primer thread, there's a fatal flaw in Kay's logic, being that if you can only evaluate a player by watching him play everyday, then it's impossible to compare players. Is Derek Jeter a better shortstop than A-Rod? How can you know? A-Rod played in Texas, so you only saw him a few times every year. Maybe you taped all of Texas' games, and watched them after the Yankees game, but what about all the other shortstops? Good and bad is a comparative thing. Of course Derek Jeter's a good defensive shortstop, it's just that there's about 29 starting shortstops in the Majors who are better than him with the glove, and probably a few on the bench and a few in the minors. But in the whole scheme of things, sure, he's great. My Zone Rating would probably be about .050. But compared to the rest of the majors, he sucks.

Watching a player every day to judge their defense also has another flaw: selective memory. That's not a personal shortcoming, it's a natural tendency. The brain tends to remember the spectacular and ignore the mundane, and unfortunately, what makes good defense is mundane. Say two shortstops field a ball hit at the same speed to the same spot by the same batter. The first shortstop dives for the ball, throws from his knees and retires the runner by half a step, while the second shortstop gets behind the ball, fields it effortlessly, sets and throws the runner out by five feet. Both plays have exactly the same value, but the play of the first shortstop is what you're going to remember. But the ordinary, unexciting play by the second shortstop is indicative of far more skill. The second shortstop is more likely to field the ball, is more likely to throw accurately to first, and is more likely to retire the runner. By watching every day and evaluating without notes of where the balls were hit, how hard they were hit, or how many times the ball was fielded, you might ultimately rate the first, inferior shortstop as being the superior defensive player, because his limited range makes it more likely that he'll have to make spectacular plays to convert outs. And that's a large part of why Jeter is considered good: because he makes just as many, if not more spectacular looking plays than anyone else.

The last comment Kay makes--about fielding stats that don't incorporate pressure and game situations is simply idiotic. Clutch performance is just about the most controversial area of sabermetrics. Clutch situations exist of course, and there are clutch plays, but whether certain players actually get better in clutch situations is arguable, at best.

One theory about clutch performance is not that players get better in the clutch, but that they simply don't get worse. For example, if the average player's performance can be rated as a 1, but in clutch situations the average player's performance drops to, say, .7, and Player X's performance drops to .9, then in comparative terms, Player X is a clutch performer, because his relative performance is about 1.3. So while a Clutch Hitter doesn't get better, his stats get better in the clutch, because the pitcher he's hitting against gets worse.

But if that theory was true, then it couldn't apply to fielding. Fielding isn't batter vs. pitcher, it's fielder vs. ball. The ball is an inanimate object, it's performance is incapable of changing due to the situation. A ball hit up the middle in the ninth inning is exactly the same as a ball hit up the middle in the third. The only variable is the fielder.

So, to get better in the clutch, a player actually has to perform better in the clutch than in non-clutch situations. Conversely, that means he's worse in normal situations than he is in the clutch. If he can perform at a certain level in clutch situations, when the only variable is himself, then he has to be be capable of performing at that level at all times. So why doesn't he? If Jeter is truly much better in the clutch, why doesn't he play as well regularly? Doesn't his poor play in regular situations end up creating more clutch situations? Considering how bad his numbers are, and how relatively rare a clutch fielding situation is for an individual player, one has to believe that he must then be starting more fires for others to put out than putting out other peoples' fires. So, if he's a Clutch Fielder, then he's slacking off at other times, and making it tougher on the rest of the team. That doesn't sound like the Derek Jeter everyone writes about to me.

Sure, that's just Michael Kay being Michael Kay, but the first comments on defense were from an actual Major League Scout. His evaluation of Jeter's defense was just as accurate as an evaluation of his hitting would be if it read:
Truly the most dangerous power hitter in the game today. Jeter pulls almost everything, and his pregame batting practice routine is a sight to behold. When possible, it's best to put Jeter on first, where he's not a threat to steal.
Then again, maybe that wasn't a real scout. After all, he didn't say that Jeter has "the good face".

Or maybe these guys are reporting from Bizzaro World, where Jeter's defense is actually good.

March 8, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

The Yanks beat the Red Sox yesterday in a wholly meaningless exhibition game where most of the stars didn't play, and none of them were around at the end. But the game was a sellout, and many fans paid hundreds of dollars to get a seat--I suspect that if the game was played in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, it still would have been a sellout. The first regular season matchup between the Yankees and Sox is going to be broadcast on FOX. It's a Friday game, in April, in prime time.

But baseball is in trouble, and the Yankees are killing the game.

Total dominance by one team is unquestionably bad for a sport, but baseball isn't in anywhere near that bad a fix yet. When people complain about competitive imbalance, they're not really complaining about hope and faith for all teams, they're talking about making the Yankees suck. It's not bad enough for them not to win the World Series, and it probably wouldn't be good enough for them to not make the playoffs. People want them to just plain suck.

But what people want and what people are willing to pay for is not always the same thing. And when the Yankees are good, people will pay to see them--even if it's just to boo them. The fact is, the Yankees being good is good for baseball, it's just that nobody wants to admit it.

* * *

The report indicating that Bonds, Giambi, Sheffield and others had recieved steroids from Greg Anderson has been written about in the media as if it was a smoking gun, when what it really was is an unidentified person saying that someone says they saw someone give someone a gun. It's a fairly credible report, but I think that we had firmer intelligence about Iraq's WMD programs.

But I do now think that it's more likely than not that Barry Bonds took steroids, and mostly based on the comments of Johnny Damon, I'm pretty sure that Jason Giambi did, too.

But if the steroid in question was THG, then they didn't break the law. If Bonds took HGH, he didn't break the law. Nor did any of them break the rules. The records shouldn't be expunged, there shouldn't be any asterisks, all that this changes is the dicussion of Bonds' place in history. He's still one of the greatest that ever played the game, but if he was using performance enhancing drugs in the past three seasons while others weren't, then you can probably safely remove him from the discussion about the "Greatest Player of All Time".

Baseball players have always cheated. Pitchers threw curveballs when the rules explicity forbid a pitcher from bending his wrist as he threw. King Kelly used to cut across the infield and go directly from first to third when the umpire wasn't looking. Jack Chesbro was one of the first pitchers to throw a spitball, and he won 41 games with it. Whitey Ford scuffed the baseball with his wedding ring, and when he was caught doing that, he had Ellie Howard cut it with his shinguard buckles. Players have been corking their bats for decades, even if the benefits of it are questionable. If there's some way to get an advantage, baseball players have always tried it. Babe Ruth didn't use steroids, but if they had been available to him when he played, you can bet your ass he would have used them.

Still, steroids are different than other methods of cheating because they involve the manipulation of the player's body. Even if the negative effects are overblown, there are still more than enough questions that a player should at least take pause before using them. For that reason, and that reason alone, steroids should be banned from all sports. If they were safe--if there was a performance enhancing drug that was 100% safe--then they should be entirely legal.

People are too quick to bash baseball's penalties for steroid abuse. I certainly agree that "treatment" for a first offense is a slap on the wrist--okay, it's less than that. But a fifteen-day suspension is a forfeiture of nearly $30K for a player making the minimum, and nearly $1.5 million for Barry Bonds. An Olympic athlete banned for life forfeits no money, because he's not getting paid. And suggesting that players be banned for life ignore the interest of the team. In the Olympics, the competition is what matters, the specific athletes are an afterthough, but in baseball, especially in a franchise, the specific players are crucial. Suspending a player does not only punish the player, but the team, and if you were to ban for life all of the best players, they'd form their own league to compete with you, and probably do quite well. Could the penalties for getting caught be made more effective in dissuading players from using? Absolutely, but the penalties for getting caught aren't meaningless.

March 2, 2004

The problem with Kenny Lofton?
by Larry Mahnken

I was reading Baseball Prospectus' "Triple Play" feature yesterday, discussing the problem with playing Kenny Lofton in center field every day:
Typical scenario: a righty starts against the Yankees at the Stadium. Lofton is in center field. Williams is the DH. We go to the bottom of the seventh inning tied 1-1. There are two outs and a runner on second. Lofton is at bat. Damaso Marte comes into the game. Joe Torre calls for...well, there's really no one on the roster he can call. Ruben Sierra isn't much against lefties either. Tony Clark is decent against lefties, but who knows if he's going to make the roster? Mike Lamb is a righty batter, but his platoon splits are backwards. Here we have problem number one: in case of lefty, Joe Torre can call for his momma, he can call for his pipe, call for his bowl, and call for his fiddlers three, but he can't call for a good lefty-killer.

Let's say he calls on Travis Lee, who is a lefty but hangs in pretty well against his own kind. Lee pops out to Ozzie Guillen, who has activated himself so he can show Frank Thomas was a real percentage ballplayer looks like. Inning over. During the commercial break, Torre confers with new consigliere Willie Randolph. A defensive replacement is needed in center field. First choice is Bernie Williams, but he's the DH and the game is tied, so if we put Bernie in the field and go to extra innings, the pitcher's spot could come up five times and kill us. Besides, he's really involved in a National Geographic special on the clubhouse HDTV. He stays put. Clearly, Hideki Matsui must slide over to center. Okay, that's easy. Now who plays left? We could keep Lee in the game and stick him in left field. That's pretty scary. Sierra? Still scary. It's a 1-1 game, man. Left field in this park is the size of Kenya. You want a gapper to a misplaced first baseman to lose us the game?

Then who? Whaddya mean we're already out of outfielders? Didn't we remember to put a defensive outfielder on this cockeyed ball club?

...Nope. They didn't. They haven't for years. This year it's going to lead to lots of Lofton vs. LOOGYs, IE freebie outs for the opposition.
Well, first of all, Mike Lamb is a lefty, explaining his platoon split.

The point about Kenny Lofton's platoon splits is valid: Kenny Lofton has a .280 career GPA vs. righties, and a .261 GPA vs. lefties, and a more pronounced .270/.222 split in the past three seasons. Lofton is basically useless against lefties, so if he's up in a tight spot against a lefty, the Yankees will do well to pinch-hit for him.

Of the choices given, here are their 3-year GPA's vs. lefties:
Ruben Sierra - .246
Tony Clark - .259
Mike Lamb - .239
Travis Lee - .257

The choice not given is Miguel Cairo, whose career GPA vs. lefties is .261. Cairo's played a whopping 47 games in left field in his career, but he has played out there--and even if he didn't, he's still a pinch-hitting option in this situation. Since the AL had a .255 GPA vs. lefties last year, the Yankees have three or four league-average hitting options to replace Lofton in this situation.

So, who goes into left, since moving Matsui over is a no-brainer? Sierra, Lamb, Cairo and Clark are not very good options, but I think BP blows off the option of putting Travis Lee in left far too easily. Lee has spent most of his career as a first baseman, but in 2000, he played 54 games in right for the Diamondbacks, and ten games in left. Prospectus rates Lee as 4 RAA overall in the outfield that season, and UZR rates him as 7 runs above average. But that's not all. In the past, Prospectus' comments on Lee in their annual publication include comments about him in the outfield:
1998: I've watched Lee play, and I think he's wasted at first base. He's very good with the glove, so good that I think he could probably play a corner outfield spot very well.

2000: The organization plans to move him to right field, which will give them a dandy player once Lee figures out whatever is troubling him; he's always been too good defensively to be stuck at first base, anyway.

2002: Lee really belongs in left field.
So, when did Lee go from being a misplaced left fielder at first to a misplaced first baseman in left? I don't know, maybe when he joined the Yankees.

Lee's a viable option in left, but much more importantly, how often is this situation going to come up? Not this specific situation, but a situation in which Kenny Lofton comes up against a left-handed pitcher late in a tight game, where his at-bat is so important that the Yankees have to pinch-hit for him. I'm quite sure that it will happen a lot less often than a ball being hit into the outfield gaps that Lofton will catch and Bernie will not. The Yankees are better off playing Lofton every day and having to make a tough decision every now and then than living with Bernie Williams in center every day, and having to make extra outs. It's a trade-off, and the Yankees aren't as poorly situated to deal with it as BP makes it seem.