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February 29, 2004

Bronx Banter Roundtable
by Larry Mahnken

Part One, Side One
Part One, Side B

Alex Belth is wrapping up his awesome week of guest previews with a roundtable discussion over at Bronx Banter, featuring Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Historian Glen Stout, New York Post writer Joel Sherman, ESPN's Buster Olney, Tim Marchman of the New York Sun, Alan Schwarz of Baseball America, and some dope who writes a blog. ;-)

Of course, my answers go above everyone else's, proving once and for all that I am the greatest writer that ever lived. Or, you know, that my last name comes first alphabetically. Now, there's a first.

February 27, 2004

Tigers a sleeper? Not a chance
by Larry Mahnken

For those of you that didn't notice, Rob Neyer responded to one of David B.'s emails in today's column. Since David doesn't have a blog of his own (why not? They're free.), and doesn't seem likely to show up at Clutch Hits, I'll give him a forum to respond.

Knock yourself out, David.

by Larry Mahnken

This blog will become more, well, bloggish in the next few weeks. For those of you that are new here, that's pretty much how it was during the season last year, though everyone seemed to like it. This offseason I've tried to write more "column" type posts, partly because I'm looking into a possible career in journalism, but also because there wasn't very much to talk about. If I wasn't going to post every day, I might as well make big posts when I did.

Blogging is easier than writing a column, because it doesn't really have to have a point. It's a more natural, conversational style of writing, and it's something I'm more comfortable with. I'll still be writing columns, but...well, I'll get back to that in a couple of weeks.

* * *

Yesterday, Bernie Williams had an emergency appendectomy, and is expected to be out at least three weeks. Gehrig38 missed three weeks with the same surgery last season, so it's not unreasonable to expect Bernie back at the start of the season, or shortly into it.

Unfortunately, this ends the competition for the starting centerfield job before it began. That doesn't mean that Kenny Lofton wins by default: more likely, Joe Torre will hand Williams the job when he comes back in April, unless Lofton does something that wows him. With Jeter at short and Williams in center, it's simply mind-boggling how poorly the Yankees are utilizing their resources. That's probably at least a couple dozen runs the Yankees are throwing away for loyalty.

* * *

I'm very much a fan of the Travis Lee signing now. Lee is a good defensive first baseman, and I think he has a good chance to repeat or improve upon his performance of last season. If Bernie's return is delayed, we'll at least get a few chances to see the Yankees field their best lineup at the beginning of April, with Lee at first and Lofton in center.

* * *

Everybody just needs to shut the hell up about steroids. Turk Wendell is an idiot, you can't tell whether Barry Bonds is on steroids just by looking at him, unless you're looking at him with his shirt off and looking for abnormal growth in a few key areas. A human being can get very large if they work their asses off, just because they're huge doesn't mean they're juicing. It's fine to have suspicions about Bonds, but in the end, you simply don't know whether he's using or not, so just shut up and stop wasting our time.

The Gary Sheffield controversy is interesting. Sheffield was the only player named in the legal paperwork related to the BALCO trial, and the press immediately lunged on him with their accusatory questions. His responses weren't the smoothest (a vitamin designed for your body?), but there's no evidence against him other than being named in the BALCO investigation. If I recall correctly, the NFL re-tested all the urine samples of the players called to testify before the Grand Jury in that case, and all but the four Oakland Raiders who tested positive for THG passed the test. It's possible to have worked with BALCO and not have anything to do with steroids--that's not all they did.

It was somewhat naive of Sheffield to offer to submit to a public test, and it's not surprising that Jon Heyman demonized him after the MLBPA didn't let him go through with the test ("all talk and no pee"). There's a good reason for the union to not allow Sheffield to do a test: it won't do him any good. If he passed the test, all that it would prove is that he's not on steroids now. Of course, when his numbers drop from last season (as they probably will), it would open the door for reporters saying that he must have been on steroids last season, and because he's stopped, his numbers dropped off.

The media doesn't care about these players, they don't care about the fans. They care about the story, and accusing players of juicing is always the best story.

The other player with steroid questions surrounding him this spring is Jason Giambi, who reported to Tampa noticeably slimmer than he was last season. Giambi says it's because he stopped eating "In 'N Out" burgers in the offseason (he did have a gut last season), but he also said he only lost a few pounds. Well, maybe he lost a lot of fat and added lean muscle, but more likely he lost a lot more than a few pounds.

Giambi's weight loss certainly is suspicious, and to be honest, my opinion is that he did stop using steroids this offseason. But that's just my opinion, it's not backed by any actual evidence, let alone proof. I'm entitled to my opinion, and have the right to be skeptical of his reasons for losing so much weight, but when I express that opinion or that skepticism, it shouldn't be represented as common sense or fact, as too many hack sportswriters do. It's just an opinion.

February 23, 2004

Slaying the Golden Calf
by Larry Mahnken

The first time you hear it, it sounds absolutely preposterous. It goes against everything you've heard, and everything you hear. After a while, if you start to look at it critically, it makes a little more sense, and then a lot more sense. Eventually, you accept it as fact, and ultimately it becomes dogma. And then other peoples' inability to see it seems absolutely preposterous.

It is, to put it simply, the litmus test of objective analysis. What do you think of Derek Jeter's defense?

The numbers are fairly unambiguous. In the past three seasons, Derek Jeter has had three of the seven worst defensive seasons at shortstop, including the two worst. He was 31 runs below average in 2002, and 28 runs below average in 2003--but in 36 fewer games. He's so bad, that his defense completely negates his offense, making him a shortstop of average value. Last season, he was worth .016 runs per game over the average shortstop, or about 2.5 runs over an entire season. He's not in the class of Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, he's in the class of David Eckstein and Jimmy Rollins. And he's still third in that class.

Those numbers are simply staggering, especially when you follow that up by saying that Jeter was robbed of the MVP in 1999.

When Jeter signed a ten-year $190 MM contract after the 2000 season, he was coming off of a year in which he was the All-Star Game MVP and World Series MVP. He had declined from his great 1999 season, but he was still 40 runs better than the average shortstop, which wasn't in the class of A-Rod and Nomar, but still very good. He was overpaid, but it was still better to overpay him than to not have him. But he was also a player who'd had an MVP-caliber season at 25. Nobody knew then that it was a fluke. Some people still haven't accepted it, but the fact is that Derek Jeter simply wasn't as good as he played in 1999. Like Davey Johnson in 1973, he simply had the perfect season.

But you'd think that he'd have stayed at his 2000 level for a few years, at least. Instead, in 2001, he hit worse and fielded worse, and his value dropped to about 20 runs above average. In 2002 the decline continued, and he was actually four runs below the average shortstop. While his hitting returned to it's 2001 levels this past year, his glove dragged him down.

Overpaid though he is, he is still an average player overall, and a very good hitter, and if sabermetrics has taught us anything, it's that you should look at what a player can do, rather than what they can't. For his bat alone, Derek Jeter deserves to be an everyday player, and to bat near the top of the lineup. Nobody is suggesting benching him. But Nick Johnson is a great hitter, too, and nobody suggested putting him at third base during the World Series. To put such an awful defensive player at the most important defensive position on the diamond, as the Yankees do with Jeter, borders on madness.

Before last week, the Yankees did it because they lacked a better option at short. When Jeter went down last season, Erick Almonte stepped in and made Jeter look good: His UZR was 17 runs below average in 31 games!!! But now the Yankees have Alex Rodriguez, whose defense was 47 runs better over 162 games than Jeter's last season.

So, how do the Yankees look at A-Rod, look at Jeter, and say, "Hey, we'll stick with what we've got"? I really don't know.

If the Yankees were to move Jeter to third, they might find out he's a lousy third baseman. But then, they might find out he's a great third baseman (though he probably wouldn't be). A-Rod might also be a lousy third baseman. It's an unknown. But what is know is that Jeter already is a lousy shortstop, and that Rodriguez is a good shortstop. By moving A-Rod, the Yankees are risking having two bad defensive players on the left side of the diamond, and ensuring they'll have at least one, instead of possibly having two good defensive players on the left side, and ensuring that they have at least one good one.

So, why are they moving A-Rod? Well, because he was so desperate to get out of Texas, he said he'd move. Nobody in the Yankees' organization has asked Jeter to move, and Joe Torre has said that he's not going to ask Jeter to move. And the reason for that decision is simple:

The Yankees don't think Derek Jeter is a bad defensive player.

I'm sure they don't think he's as good as A-Rod, but they think that he's average at worst, and probably pretty good. They think that they're not taking much of a risk by leaving Jeter at short. To someone who has long accepted and understood the horror that is Derek Jeter's defense, it's mind-boggling that the people who are paid to determine the value of a baseball player don't realize how bad his glove is. But if there was any doubt that they didn't know he stunk, Joe Torre's comments in this article last weekend sealed it:
"It's really tough to try to measure," Torre said of Jeter's defense. "There's something special about Derek Jeter. It's something that you can't put down on paper."
See, there you go. He's magic.

Oh, maybe Joe was just bullshitting, because he knows that Jeter stinks but the people upstairs won't let him move him, but I don't think so. Talk to almost any baseball fan, and you'll quickly realize that Derek Jeter is so ensconced in myth that nobody is willing to evaluate him for what he is. He's not just a baseball player, he's the savior of the Yankees. He's good looking, he's classy, he says all the right things. He's such a good guy that nobody wants there to be anything wrong with him as a player, and so, to most people, there's nothing wrong with him as a player. You can get a few fans to admit he wasn't a good defensive player last year, but they'll say it was because he had a down year, and that he wasn't really bad, just not very good. But when you try to explain to them that he's the worst defensive shortstop in baseball, they'll scoff at you. It can't possibly be true.

There's nothing special about Derek Jeter. Yeah, he's a great guy, and a good ballplayer, but he's still just a ballplayer. He should absolutely be the captain of the team, and he should absolutely be batting in one of their first two lineup slots. But he's not clutch, and he's not a good defensive player. The sooner the Yankees accept that, the better off they'll be.

February 20, 2004

The Greatest Pennant Race That Didn't Matter (More stat stuff)
by Larry Mahnken

Okay, a couple of days ago I used Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA to compare the Yankees' current lineup to last year's lineup. Since I know that Will Carroll and Joe Sheehan read the blog--Joe in the past day, since he sent me a link to this great article he wrote two years ago comparing MLB and the NFL, and I haven't been told to cease and desist yet, I'm going to work from the assumption that my limited use of the PECOTA projections is okay for now, and I'll finish the job on that study. (The PECOTA spreadsheet is really nice, by the way, if you've got BPro Premium and haven't downloaded it, it's really worth it).

Anyway, going back to what I wrote in the previous PECOTA column, I had the numbers projecting the Yankees improving by as much as 9 games over last season, which would put them near 110 wins. Really, that's making a lot of assumptions, not the least of which being that they'll stay healthy. It would be safer to go with the direct comparison to the projections for last year's lineup, which says that the lineup is about five games better.

Which is still great, but what people really want to know is how the Yankees match up with their main competition, the Red Sox. After all, Boston's improved this season, too, so the fact that New York has improved doesn't mean that they'll win the AL East again. Especially since some analysts--and some numbers--say that the Red Sox were a better team than the Yankees last season anyway.

So, what we need to know is how the Red Sox do when looked at the same way, and also, how the pitching staffs fare.

Now, before I proceed, I'd like to comment on this commentary on the Red Sox' pitching staff as written in Baseball Prospectus a couple of days ago:
The Yankees offense will need to be good, because PECOTA's 2004 weighted-mean forecasts rank the Boston staff as first in the American League in expected VORP. Not by a little, by a lot:

BOS 383.8
NYA 284.9
TOR 217.4
OAK 292.2
CHA 195.3
Now, about ten runs is equivalent to a win, so what this implies is that the Red Sox' rotation is about ten wins better than the Yankees', which is a hell of a lot of ground for the offense to make up. The Yankees would probably have to score about 1100 runs to make up that difference, so it looks like the Yankees are in trouble.

Except the analysis is wrong. The total VORP was calculated by adding up the VORP for all the players listed as Boston pitchers on the PECOTA spreadsheet. Some of the pitchers listed aren't on the Red Sox or Yankees this season, some of them aren't going to pitch in the majors this season, and Keith Foulke isn't listed as a Red Sock. Most importantly, this same method results in the Red Sox pitchers recording 1962 IP (12 IP per game) this season, and the Yankees recording 1891 IP (11.2 IP per game), which is...kinda high.

I mentioned this to Joe, and he apologized for the poor analysis--but I'm not really one to criticize Baseball Prospectus, I make plenty of screw ups with stats, like the time I park-adjusted ERA+ (I bet most of you don't get that). It's atypical of the work of BPro, but at the same time, it's incorrect, and I won't let it go without correction.

I'll get back to the pitching later, but first here's Boston's 2003 lineup projected for 2004, and their 2004 lineup (Note: since I couldn't find UZR data for David Ortiz at first, I put Kevin Millar there):

           2003 Lineup in 2004                             2004 Lineup              
Ps Name             EqMLVR Defense Total    Ps Name             EqMLVR Defense Total

CF Johnny Damon      .001    .105   .106    CF Johnny Damon      .001    .105   .106
2B Todd Walker      -.040   -.068  -.108    3B Bill Mueller      .000   -.031  -.031
SS Nomar Garciaparra .152    .019   .171    SS Nomar Garciaparra .152    .019   .171
LF Manny Ramirez     .334   -.136   .198    LF Manny Ramirez     .334   -.136   .198
DH David Ortiz       .161     ---   .161    DH David Ortiz       .161     ---   .161
1B Kevin Millar      .111    .006   .117    1B Kevin Millar      .111    .006   .117
RF Trot Nixon        .154    .074   .228    RF Trot Nixon        .154    .074   .228
3B Bill Mueller      .000   -.031  -.031    C  Jason Varitek     .021   -.025   .004
C  Jason Varitek     .021   -.025   .004    2B Pokey Reese      -.213    .136  -.077
Total                .894   -.056   .838    Total                .721    .148   .869
162 Game Total      144.8    -9.0  135.8    162 Game Total      116.8    24.0  140.8 

The first thing that stands out (if you want to scroll down a bit) is that last year's Yankees lineup projects as being a better hitting team than last year's or this year's Red Sox lineup. As wrong as that sounds, it kind of makes sense when you figure that Bernie, Giambi, Nick and Jeter were hurt last season. I still don't necessarily agree with it, so there's an issue you can have with these numbers.

But then, this projects the Red Sox to score about 950 runs this season, so maybe they're not that off.

So, now back to the pitching. I could try and adjust VORP so that it give a more realistic result, but that has two problems: first, we haven't been working with replacement level here, we're comparing to the league average, and the second is that VORP doesn't seperate pitching and defense. Since I'd already listed UZR for each player--and both teams have improved in that aread--I wanted to value pitching without defense, especially since I think the ERA's for both teams are probably projected a little high.

This would be a great job for DIPS, but since PECOTA didn't list HBP, IBB or Park Factors, I decided to use TangoTiger's FIP instead, which is really really easy to calculate. I calculated FIP for all the pitchers in PECOTA to find the league average (though it'll probably be a little high that way), then figured out the cumulative FIP for the Yankees and Red Sox. First, the Yankees:

       2003 Rotation in 2004                      2004 Rotation           
Name                FIP  Runs Saved    Name                FIP  Runs Saved
Mike Mussina        .26       26.19    Mike Mussina        .26       26.19
Andy Pettitte       .42       18.87    Kevin Brown         .13       24.12
Roger Clemens       .35       18.98    Javier Vazquez      .15       30.31
David Wells         .80       10.99    Jose Contreras      .50        9.81
Jeff Weaver         .98        6.96    Jon Lieber         1.15        2.64
Jose Contreras      .50        9.81    Gabe White         1.46        -.42
Chris Hammond       .74        3.70    Felix Heredia      2.02       -4.18
Gabe White         1.46        -.42    Steve Karsay        .49        5.85
Felix Heredia      2.02       -4.18    Tom Gordon          .30       10.18
Jeff Nelson         .57        3.94    Paul Quantrill      .78        3.92
Mariano Rivera      .08        8.92    Mariano Rivera      .08        8.92
Total per 162g      .63      120.19    Total per 162g      .48      143.96 

What should stand out is the depth of the rotation. THe Yankees' top three starters are fantastic, and much better than Pettitte and Clemens would have been, but the bottom is a bit shakier. That's great for the postseason, not so much for the regular season. However, as we'll see at the end of the article, the Yankees probably don't have to worry so much about the postseason.

Now, for the Red Sox:

       2003 Rotation in 2004                      2004 Rotation           
Name                FIP  Runs Saved    Name                FIP  Runs Saved
Pedro Martinez     -.54       38.71    Pedro Martinez     -.54       38.71
Derek Lowe          .85        9.93    Curt Schilling      .19       24.39
Tim Wakefield       .95        7.06    Derek Lowe          .85        9.93
John Burkett       1.26        1.77    Tim Wakefield       .95        7.06
Jeff Suppan        1.34         .52    Byung-Hyun Kim      .41       14.33
Bronson Arroyo      .88        4.56    Bronson Arroyo      .88        4.56
Byung-Hyun Kim      .41       14.33    Ramiro Mendoza     1.00        2.94
Scott Sauerbeck     .80        3.96    Mike Timlin         .80        3.88
Mike Timlin         .80        3.88    Alan Embree         .49        5.26
Alan Embree         .49        5.26    Scott Williamson    .80        4.20
Scott Williamson    .80        4.20    Keith Foulke        .47        7.69
Total per 162g      .71      107.05    Total per 162g      .47      145.15 

So, PECOTA says the Red Sox rotation is better than the Yankees. Barely.

What stands out here is how crucial the Curt Schilling accquistion was for the Red Sox, how important it is for Byung-Hyun Kim to succeed as a starter, as well as the distinct advantage the Yankees have in the postseason. PECOTA probably short-changes Schilling a little because of his missed time last season (last I checked, appendicitis wasn't chronic), so he probably no worse than Brown and Vazquez, and probably a little better.

Boston's bullpen is about the same as New York's overall, but the Yankees have two pitchers that rate better than anyone in Boston's pen. But then, Boston has a lefty who's not only above-average, but considerably so.

Now, we've got the projected runs above average scored for both teams. We have the runs above average prevented for both teams. I think we've got enough data to make a projection.

202 runs scored above the AL Average is 989 runs. Adding Runs Saved and UZR together gives the Yankees 94 runs prevented above average, or 693. The Pythagorean Winning Percentage Formula projects 106 wins for the Yankees (108 if A-Rod plays shortstop).

117 runs scored above the AL Average is 904 runs. 169 runs prevented above average is 618 runs. The Pythagorean projections for Boston is.....108 wins.

Yes, that's right, if everything happened just like PECOTA projects, the Red Sox would win the AL East, despite 106 wins by the Yankees.

Maybe we should just assume that I screwed up the numbers somewhere.

February 19, 2004

A Modest Proposal
by Larry Mahnken

How can you root for the Yankees? It's like rooting for United States Steel.
-Jimmy Little

It's really easy to hate the Yankees, and it's really easy to understand why. It's not just that the Yankees win, but the fact that they consider anything short of winning the World Series a failure. It's the fact that they can spend $60 million more than any other team and still turn a profit, and they have no qualms about spending that money. Is anything ever enough for the Yankees? What do they need to stop trying to get better, the best player at every position?

I think I can safely say that the answer to that is yes. And nothing short of that will ever be "enough" for the Yankees.

But that's pretty much how every team thinks. The difference between the Yankees and every other team is that the Yankees think they can actually get the best player at every position--and if given the opportunity, it's possible that they could have the best player at every position. And that above all other reasons is why people hate the Yankees.

There is, without a doubt, an unfairness in economics of baseball. The Yankees have certainly been well-run, but they also have access to a market twice as large as the MLB average. The economic imbalance needs to be corrected; doing so is in the best interest of the teams, the players, and the fans.

But what John Henry said yesterday was totally out of line. It was classless, whiny, and self-serving.
Henry, whose team failed to obtain Rodriguez from Texas in December, said in an e-mail response to reporters Wednesday that he is changing his mind on whether the sport needs a salary cap "to deal with a team that has gone so insanely far beyond the resources of all the other teams."


"One thing is certain the status quo will not be preserved," Henry wrote.

"There must be a way to cap what a team can spend without hurting player compensation ... without taking away from the players what they have rightfully earned in the past through negotiation and in creating tremendous value. There is a simple mechanism that could right a system woefully out of whack."


"Baseball doesn't have an answer for the Yankees," Henry said. "Revenue sharing can only accomplish so much. At some point it becomes confiscation. It has not and it will not solve what is a very obvious problem."
Henry is calling for a specific rule change to greatly lessen his primary rival's means of improving itself. But he's openly opposed to increased revenue sharing, which would take money out of his pocket, and put it into the pockets of some of his other rivals. But at the same time he calls for a system that doesn't lessen player compensation, despite revenue sharing being the only way that the Yankees' spending could be lessened without negatively impacting player compensation.

Unless, of course, he's talking about taking all of the Yankees' revenues from over the cap number and distributing it evenly to the players. But, I doubt that. More likely, he's trying to make it sound like he's trying to screw the Yankees, not the players. And maybe that's the case, but regardless of his intentions, he's calling for a rule change that screws the players.

John Henry, of course, owes a great debt to Commissioner Bud Selig, who rigged the sale of the Red Sox so Henry and his partners could get it, and has acted in a manner favorable to the Red Sox on a number of occasions, perhaps to the point of impropriety. Henry's email is one of the first shots fired in the battle over the next CBA, when the owners will, once again, try to get the players to agree to a salary cap. And once again, they will try to sell it to the public under the guise of competitive balance.

I cannot make this clear enough:

Salary caps do not promote competitive balance. The purpose of a salary cap is to cap salaries, and nothing more.

The NFL's salary cap has not created parity, free agency has (as well as many structural differences from baseball that cannot be imitated). The NFL's cap has promoted roster turnover, which keeps any team from staying good for very long, even if they don't win anything in particular. It's a very frustrating type of parity for most fans.

The NBA's salary cap has not created parity--only seven franchises have won titles in the last 24 years. Quite the opposite of the NFL, it's largely inhibited player movement, though the sport's lack of parity can also be attributed to structural differences, like the ability of one player to completely dominate the sport, and carry his team all alone.

What a salary cap would do in baseball is bring the Yankees back to the pack, but it would do nothing to make the Brewers, Pirates and Tigers better, or even make it easier for them to contend for a title. It penalizes the Yankees with no other outcome that penalizing the Yankees.

And it takes money out of the pockets of the players--which in and of itself sounds good to most fans--but it puts that money into the pockets of the owners, who are less deserving of it. Which is, of course, why John Henry and the other owners want a salary cap--because they want to make more money without having to actually earn it.

A salary cap doesn't do what it's proponents claim it will do, and it results in an unfair transfer of money from players to billionaire owners who have even less need for it.

If one says they are for a salary cap, I will vehemently disagree with them. But if someone says they are for promoting competitive balance, then they are on my side. Nothing could be more American than the ideal that all teams are created equal, and that they are endowed with inalienable right to compete for a championship. Not necessarily win a championship, of course--that's taking it too far (would you like a system in which your team won once every 30 years?)--but certainly compete on a level playing field.

And how do you level that playing field? By making the incentive to win the same for every team; by rewarding every franchise on an equal scale when they run their franchise well.

Revenues shouldn't be directly linked to wins, they should be linked to a team's ability to make people spend money on them. The best way to do that is, of course, by winning ballgames, but you can also generate revenue by promoting the team agressively and intelligently, by seeking endorsements and partnerships, and innovating. The Yankees have done all those things, but they also play in New York. No matter how much or how little money they make, they should have to share some of it with others, because they have the advantage of playing in New York. Alternately, the Brewers play in Milwaukee, and no matter how much or how little they make, they should recieve revenue from the larger market teams, because they are at a disadvantage by playing in Milwaukee.

I'm not even remotely smart enough to figure out exactly how that should work, but that's the basic premise that revenue sharing should start with. The current revenue sharing plan, on the other hand, rewards failure and penalizes success. The more money you make, the more money you have to pay for revenue sharing; while making less money garners you a bigger check. The system is such a joke that during the late 90's the Indians, playing in one of baseball's smallest markets, were paying into revenue sharing, while the Phillies, playing in one of the largest markets, were taking out of it.

The incentive becomes to spend as little as possible on payroll, so that if you win, you make a huge profit from your revenues, but if you lose and don't generate very much money, you get a fat check from the Yankees to put you in the black.

It's why the Expos failed, and when they're gone, another team will exploit that system, and another, and another, and another. If nothing is ever done about it, there will always be a lower class in baseball that never tries to compete, and regardless of how competitive the upper class is, that's simply unfair.

February 18, 2004

Upon further review, Soriano is 28, not 26 (Registration Required)
by Larry Mahnken

Despite realms of databases that list him as 26 years old, the Rangers said Soriano is 28. His birthday is Jan. 7, 1976. The Rangers said they were aware of the age change. Yankees GM Brian Cashman said he made it clear to the Rangers that Soriano was older than had been listed.
This makes his slight decline last season make a whole lot more sense. And it makes the A-Rod trade that much better for the Yankees.

See The Changes
by Larry Mahnken

Since starting this blog 9½ months ago, I've suggested several times that the Yankees trade Alfonso Soriano. This isn't because he's a bad player; indeed, he's a very good player. In 2002 he was the 10th most valuable offensive player in MLB, and in 2003, he was 15th. But when you evaluate him solely as a hitter, you see that there's about 40-50 better hitters than him. That's still very good, but the perception created by Soriano's Home Run power and Batting Average is that he's one of the 15 or so best hitters in the game, though his dreadful postseason had to have damaged that perception somewhat. Still, that's a sizeable gap between perception and reality, and there is where the opportunity for a team to improve itself exists.

This past offseason, I advocated two rumored trades involving Soriano. I called for the Yankees to pursue a Soriano for A-Rod deal last autumn and throughout the Boston affair, feeling that if Texas was foolish enough to part with Rodriguez, that Soriano would probably be enough to land him. As it turns out, Soriano was just about enough to land A-Rod, though I had assumed the Yankees would have had to take all of Rodriguez's contract to make the deal work.

The other trade I advocated was a trade for Carlos Beltran, which was part of a bold plan I had conceived to refashion the Yankees as a better hitting team, a better pitching team, and a better fielding team. For this plan, I was ridiculed, and criticized by some for making proposals that involved the Yankees throwing their financial weight around and signing some of the best free agents. As it turns out, the Yankees did spend money liberally, they did act boldly, and indeed, they went further than I had advocated in assembling the 2004 squad. The 2004 Yankees will be a better hitting, better pitching, and better fielding team than the 2003 team, though the actual plan they followed was almost entirely diffent from mine.

Being sort of right on these two things isn't much of a reason to crow: I was wrong on quite a bit of it, and I'm way off base often enough to even out the times I'm very right. I didn't call for the A-Rod trade because I'm a genius, I did because I was able to put aside idealism and see the situation as it really was, more or less, and having done that, the trade was obvious. Similarly, I called for the trades of Soriano and Nick Johnson, and an agressive pursuit of free agents because I could see that the Yankees couldn't improve very much, and would still be left with glaring weaknesses if they weren't willing to spend big, and part with their young stars. As great as Nick Johnson is going to be, he's still a first baseman, and they have one of those already. In trading Johnson, the Yankees were able to (hopefully) move Bernie out of center, and accquired one of the best pitchers in baseball to fill a massive hole. Most of you guys would have come to the same conclusions as me when you put aside personal loyalties and saw the players in terms of their utility and value. They were just too obvious.

So, I won't give myself props for being sort of right, because I know I don't deserve it. But unfortunately for the rest of you, this does prove I'm not a total nitwit, so I'll keep throwing my opinions out there, and I won't care quite so much if anyone else agrees with me.

I've got to say, I'm ecstatic about this A-Rod trade. Using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system, I compared the Yankees' lineup possibilities for this season to what last season's lineup would be expected to do this season, using EqMLVR1 to measure how many runs they'd score above an average lineup, though I used UZR to measure defense. (If anyone from BPro is reading this, and this violates the request to not distribute the PECOTA spreadsheet, email me and let me know what level of information you're okay with me sharing--I'll make a change).

           2003 Lineup in 20042                            2004 Lineup3             
Ps Name             EqMLVR Defense Total    Ps Name             EqMLVR Defense Total

2B Alfonso Soriano   .161   -.025   .136    CF Kenny Lofton     -.002    .074   .072
SS Derek Jeter       .092   -.191  -.100    SS Derek Jeter       .092   -.191  -.100
1B Jason Giambi      .327   -.025   .303    3B Alex Rodriguez    .332    .062   .394
CF Bernie Williams   .111   -.198  -.087    1B Jason Giambi      .327   -.025   .303
LF Hideki Matsui     .098   -.025   .074    RF Gary Sheffield    .245   -.136   .109
C  Jorge Posada      .108   -.025   .083    DH Bernie Williams   .111     ---   .111
DH Nick Johnson      .206     ---   .206    C  Jorge Posada      .108   -.025   .083
3B Aaron Boone       .007    .031   .038    LF Hideki Matsui     .098   -.025   .074
RF Juan Rivera       .007   -.019  -.011    2B Miguel Cairo     -.064   -.043  -.107
Total               1.117   -.475   .642    Total               1.247   -.309   .939
162 Game Total      181.0   -77.0  104.0   
162 Game Total      202.1   -50.0  152.1 

It goes without saying that the Yankees' bullpen is better than it was last year, and the rotation is arguably better, too. Even if that was a wash, the new Yankees' lineup rates as being better than the old lineup would have been by 5½ wins. But the Yankees suffered injuries last season, and several players had down years. Their actual MLVR was .914--148.1 runs above average over a full season. If you assume that the Yankees will meet these projections and stay healthy, (and that their defense was 77 runs below average last season) then their new lineup is almost *9 wins better than last season*. Factor in improvements to the rotation and bullpen, and the Yankees can reasonably win 100 games even with some injuries.

And then there's the question of who's on third. Using Tango's Positional adjustments (link below), I ran the same lineup with Jeter at third and A-Rod at short instead, and the difference was about eighteen runs. That's almost 2 wins. It can't be emphasized how foolish a move it is to put A-Rod at third, but every comment from A-Rod and Torre indicates that there is pretty much no chance of it happening any other way. But at least I have something to complain about all year...

Another thing that's being said is that the A-Rod trade will stop the Yankees from signing Travis Lee. Perhaps it will: Brian Cashman has said the Yankees aren't adding another penny to payroll this offseason, but perhaps he considers Lee an almost done-deal. The motivation for making that signing remains the same, A-Rod's accquistion doesn't change it at all. Jason Giambi's knees are still a concern, and Travis Lee is a much better option to start at first when Giambi DH's. I ran the PECOTA numbers for the Yankees with Lee in the mix, and found that with Lee in the lineup instead of Bernie and at first instead of Giambi, the Yankees are 4.9 runs better overall, and 17 runs better on defense. Put Bernie in left and bench Matsui, and the Yankees are 2.9 runs worse than that, and 5 runs worse on defense. In other words, This signing of Lee makes Bernie theoretically expendable, but the difference is statistically insignifcant. However, the upgrade in defense by having Lee in the lineup over either Bernie or Matsui means that one of the latter two should sit.

The last thing I looked at when evaluating lineup possibilities is second base, particularly defense. I ran the lineup with Jose Vidro in it to see how that would be (2½ wins better), but the main thing I wanted to see what how the Yankees could improve themselves defensively. To give themselves an average defense without Travis Lee, the Yankees would need to add a player who is 22 runs above average to replace Miguel Cairo (7 runs below) at second base. No such player is available, and all of the best defensive second basemen are unavailable to the Yankees, with the exception of perhaps Craig Counsell. With Travis Lee, the Yankees' defense gets above average with Counsell. Of course, having an average defense isn't anything special in and of itself, and sacrificing 2 runs of offense for 1 run of defense is a bad idea, so the Yankees should explore all options.

Now, almost everything I just said was based on projections of numbers based on numbers, and while those projections are pretty darn accurate as far as projections go, they're still just projections, and not things that have happened. I usually don't rely on numbers this much for my analysis (at least, I don't think I do), because they shouldn't really be used as the basis of a point, but rather be used to illuminate one. The point they do illuminate is this: the Yankees are better now than they were a year ago, they're better now than they were before the A-Rod trade, they're better with A-Rod and Cairo than they were with Soriano and Boone, and they're better with A-Rod at shortstop and D.J. at third. How much better they are is debatable, but the fact that they are is indisputable.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what this trade does. One is that the Yankees gave up too much for A-Rod, that the increase in payroll is not worth the increase in value. Alternately, some have said that the Yankees are only increasing their payroll $850K to bring in A-Rod, which is wrong to the other extreme.

Drew Henson was due $4 MM before going back to football, Aaron Boone was due $5.75 MM before injuring his knee, and Alfonso Soriano is getting paid $5.4 MM in 2004. With Texas picking up a large chunk of A-Rod's salary, A-Rod will be getting paid $16 MM by the Yankees this season, only $850,000 more than the $15.15 due to Henson, Boone and Soriano.

But the release of Henson and imminent release of Boone would have happened regardless of this trade, and Boone will have to be paid about $920K when released. I suppose that if one compares the Yankees now to from before the Boone injury, you could say that the Yankees have increased their payroll $1,767,553 and improved by 1.8 wins, but the Yankees are really paying $10.6 MM for it.

Which is a bad deal, but this trade doesn't exist for just this year. Soriano's salary is going to go up in arbitration in 2005, and up again--probably over $10 MM--in 2006. Then, in 2007, Soriano is a free agent and might make as much as A-Rod, while A-Rod is with the Yankees for another four seasons. The Yankees are certainly paying millions more for A-Rod than Soriano, but A-Rod will probably be worth about 20-25 wins more than Soriano over the next seven years. It's a good deal.

Another idea going around is that Soriano is almost as good as A-Rod, could become almost as good as A-Rod, or perhaps is even better than A-Rod. If you fiddle enough with the numbers, you can find some way to show that Soriano is better than Rodriguez. Soriano has more home runs on the road than A-Rod in the past two years, and more doubles. He has a higher Batting Average on the road than A-Rod, and a higher Slugging Percentage, too! It becomes obvious that Soriano is just as good as A-Rod, maybe even better, and that the difference between them is a product of their ballparks. Put A-Rod in Yankee Stadium and Soriano in Arlington, and you'll see who's better.

Well, those splits contain a whole lot of noise. Yes, Soriano has more doubles and homers on the road than A-Rod, but that's in 105 more ABs. Yeah, his batting average is higher, but his On-Base Percentage is 32 points lower. His slugging percentage is higher, but by only 13 points. Soriano's GPA is eleven points lower than A-Rod on the road, which is fairly close, but then, there's still more noise.

A-Rod's road games don't include The Ballpark in Arlington, Soriano's do. Soriano's road games don't include Yankee Stadium, A-Rod's do. Half of Soriano's road games were in AL East Stadiums; Hitters' parks Fenway and SkyDome, pitchers' park Camden Yards, and neutral park Tropicana Field. A-Rod, on the other hand, has played a third of his road games in AL West parks, all of which are pitchers' parks.

Road stats are not neutral stats. If you want to adjust for park, you don't take away the home games, you adjust the numbers for a park factor, which tells you what the player would have done if they played an equal number of games in every park. You compare OPS+, or EqA, or MLV. You don't take road stats. And the park-adjusted stats say that A-Rod is at least 2½ games better than Soriano, perhaps as much as 4 wins.

Finally, could Alfonso Soriano become as good as A-Rod? Well, I guess maybe he could, but that would involve an extreme improvement in his plate discipline. I think it's much more likely that Soriano will collapse than become as good as Rodriguez, but more likely than either that he's reached his level. Yeah, he's only 26, but he declined last year from his 2002 performance. There is little indication in his past performance or style of play that he'll take a big step forward in the next couple of seasons.

People are jumping through hoops to make this trade look bad for the Yankees because most baseball fans are really really sick of the Yankees winning all the time, and there's nothing people would like better than to see the Yankees lose. Fans are making these arguments because it makes them feel better about the trade, sportswriters are making the arguments because that's what their audience wants to hear. But it wasn't a bad trade for the Yankees, it was a good one. There's no honest way to make it look like it wasn't.

1 EqMLVR is a context-adjusted measure of how many additional runs a lineup would score with the player added to it. I divided UZR runs, which are compared to the league average, by 162 games so they would be on an equal scale. .000 EqMLVR means a player is an average offensive player, and is not adjusted for position, so Derek Jeter's overall value of -.050 doesn't mean he's a below average shortstop, because the replacement level for shortstop is lower than at other positions. Further, since run scoring in baseball is not linear, EqMLVR is not an exact estimate of the runs a team would score, since a good hitter is worth more to a good hitting team. In other words, if all the players listed met their projections, the Yankees should outperform the overall projection.

2 I put Juan Rivera in the 2003 version of the lineup because PECOTA projected him as a better player. Not having UZR for Rivera, I used BPro's defensive value projection. Don't worry about the lineup order, it didn't factor into these calculations.

3 Alex Rodriguez's defensive value at third base was determined using TangoTiger's True Talent Fielding Level Ratings.

This post was edited due to an error when I entered UZR onto my spreadsheet. The Yankees actually improved a game more than I had originally calculated.

February 16, 2004

It's official: Yankees land A-Rod
by Larry Mahnken

Rodriguez is expected to don his No. 13 pinstriped jersey for the first time at a Yankee Stadium press conference on Tuesday.
Thus becoming the last Yankee to ever wear #13.

February 15, 2004

Shock and Awe
by Larry Mahnken

In the winter of 1919, the Red Sox had a problem. They had followed up their 4th World's Championship in 7 seasons with a dismal 6th place finish, but their star slugger, Babe Ruth, had enjoyed a season of historic proportions. Ruth smacked 29 home runs that year, breaking the record of...well, nobody was really all that sure back then, but they were pretty darn sure it was a record. More than that, Ruth was an entirely different type of player than what baseball fans had been used to. He purposefully swung for the fences, and his mighty drives drove the crowds wild. Having Ruth was a license to print money, and The Babe knew that. So, using what little leverage he had in those reserve clause days, he went off to Hollywood to act poorly in some bad movies, and threatened to quit the game forever and take up as a lousy actor unless he got the $20,000 a year he wanted--and this just a year after signing a 3-year, $30,000 deal the previous offseason, and there was no reason to believe that he wouldn't do it again in 1920. Ruth was becoming an expensive distraction for a team that had finished in the second division, and the Red Sox didn't feel he was worth it anymore.

And so, for baseball reasons (and to undermine Ban Johnson's authority, to boot), and not to finance a Broadway show, as some self-serving curly-haired pseudo-journalists in Boston would have you believe, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to his on-field rivals and off-field allies, the Yankees, for $100,000. The $300,000+ loan Yankees' owner Jacob Rupert gave to Frazee with Fenway Park as collateral was not related to the Ruth transaction at all, and occurred the next spring.

The Ruth sale was a baseball move, and the Red Sox intended to reinvest the money in the team. Unfortunately, the replacements didn't make up for the loss of Ruth, and the Red Sox finished worse in 1920 than they had in 1919. A slight rebound in 1921 brought them back near .500, but fans were no longer willing to pay to see a losing team without Babe Ruth, and attendance dropped 30%. That offseason, the fire sale began, as the Red Sox tried to get out of the red ink by selling their best players--most of them to the Yankees. One of the myths about the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry is that the sale of Babe Ruth ruined the Red Sox and made the Yankees. It's not quite true--Boston was declining with Ruth, and the Yankees were on the rise without him, but without the sale, Boston might have drawn enough fans to keep their team together in the early twenties. As it was, the trades and sales that followed Ruth were what ultimately pushed New York over the top, not Ruth himself.

But Ruth was still the key. Had the sale never happened, Boston would not have fallen so far for so long, and the Yankees would not have risen so high. You can't blame 86 years on one move, but if there was one, that would be it. Boston had sound business reasons for moving Ruth, but in the end, they should have sucked it up and kept him, because you just don't let a player like that get away, even if you have to overpay for him.

But, 84 years later, the Red Sox have once again lost out on an all-time great to the New York Yankees. No, the trade is not truly comparable to the Ruth sale, and the ramifications are nowhere near as great, but the Red Sox did pass on Rodriguez for the same reason they shipped out Ruth: it was a good business decision. The Yankees, on the other hand, saw the opportunity to get a player who could contribute things to the team that no other combination of players could do, and they appear to have taken it.

This trade does not by any means seal up another title for the Yankees. I think it makes the Yankees better than the Red Sox--I think their lineup is now better than Boston's (but not by much), their rotation is better (but not by much) and their bullpen is better (but not by much). The AL East race will almost certainly go down to the wire, and the Yankees and Red Sox will probably meet in the ALCS again, and no matter how good the Yankees' lineup is, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling are going to be tough to beat.

This trade is great for the Yankees on so many levels: they get Rodriguez at a discounted price, about $16 million per year; they only have to give up the talented by flawed Alfonso Soriano and a minor league player for A-Rod (which is a good trade, even if that player is Dioner Navarro, which I doubt). A-Rod doesn't eliminate the hole in the Yankees' infield caused by the loss of World Series hero Bret Boone, but rather shifts it to second base. But there are more options to fill the second base hole than there were at third, and it also gives the Yankees an amazing opportunity. Their defense, the worst in baseball over the past couple of seasons, could be dramatically improved. If they play A-Rod at short, moving Jeter to third, bring in a strong defensive second baseman, play Kenny Lofton in center and Travis Lee at first, their defense goes from being putrid to being--wait for it--a strength. The Yankees could score more runs than any team in baseball this season, and allow fewer. This trade opens up great possibilities, and it's something of a shame that they didn't consider it earlier, before Boone's injury necessitated something bold.

Of course, there's the possibility (probability?) that the Yankees will make the wrong decision on who to put in the field every time, but I'll talk about that later. As it stands, the Yankees have made one of the greatest trades in their history, and one of the greatest in the history of the game.

February 11, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Don't click on this link unless you have nothing left to do the rest of the...ever.

Alex Belth linked to this awesome site on Bronx Banter today. It has nothing to do with the Yankees, not really anything to do with baseball, but is so sweet I had to share it.

Click the mouse to drop the penguin, then click again to swing the bat. If you'll excuse me, I'll be busy for the rest of my life now.

More from MGL
by Larry Mahnken

MGL ran a couple more simulations with the Yankees' lineup options at Baseball Primer. I suggested three lineup constructions:
Lineup 1    Lineup 2    Lineup 3
1B Giambi   1B Lee      1B Lee
DH Williams DH Giambi   DH Giambi
CF Lofton   CF Williams CF Lofton
Lineup 1 would be the "ideal" lineup if Giambi could play every day, you'd be able to get both Giambi and Williams' bats in the lineup, and keep Bernie's glove in the clubhouse.

So, MGL ran his simulation with both Mussina (who allows about the same number of fly balls as ground balls) and Brown (who is one of the more extreme ground ball pitchers in MLB) pitching. His conclusions, as I understand them, are:

With Mussina pitching, Lineup 1 and Lineup 3 are .14 runs a game (or 2.268 wins/162 games) better than Lineup 2.
With Brown pitching, Lineup 3 is .12 runs a game (or 1.944 wins) better than Lineups 1 or 2.

In other words, under no circumstances should Bernie Williams ever play center. With Brown pitching, Williams should take the game off while Giambi DH's, and should DH every other game, except when the Yankees give Giambi a day off.

Sadly, this also means that if Giambi can't play the field every day, Bernie Williams becomes expendable, unless he's moved to left field, because it would be best for the Yankees to play Lofton instead of him every day. That's not going to happen, Bernie will probably play center when Giambi DH's. But if the Yankees miss home field advantage, the division title, or the playoffs by a couple of games, that decision will be a costly one.

Lefty third baseman
by Larry Mahnken

Tverik pointed out a flaw in my last post, when I suggested Travis Lee be tried at third base. There have only been a few left-handed throwing third basemen in MLB history, and while it's possible that Lee could pull it off, it's not a great idea. It was just a throwaway comment at the end of the post, but I'll retract it.

I do stand by the statement about Lee's ability to play the outfield, though. I believe he would in fact be the best corner outfielder the Yankees have.

Tony Clark, we hardly knew ye
by Larry Mahnken

Hey, remember when I said it looked like the Yankees' roster was set? Yeah, just forget I ever said that.

Aside from the search for a third baseman, it looks like the Yankees are going in another direction with their backup firstbaseman, with reports coming in that they're finalizing a one-year $2 million contract with Travis Lee.

My initial reaction to this move was negative, because my impression of Lee has been negative. He's an excellent defensive first baseman, good enough that he could be a corner outfielder, but he's been a disappointment over the course of his career.

That's what happens when you have high expectations at a young age. Lee was the first Arizona Diamondback, signing with them after a technicality allowed him to become a free agent in 1996. He showed great power in college, great power in the minors, had a good first season and then...foom! He was a mediocre player. He never developed any serious power on the major league level, and his plate discipline, which was a strength in his first couple of seasons, has regressed into mediocrity. But all this time, Lee has been an average major league hitter and an excellent glove man. He's been a perfectly average first baseman, but when you're expected to be a perrenial All-Star before you ever play a minor league game, being average first baseman looks sucky.

To be sure, Lee has had stretches in his career when he's been dreadful, and they've looked all the worse when the backups he was playing in lieu of were Erubiel Durazo and Jeremy Giambi. In a way, he's like Aaron Boone at first base. He doesn't suck, but you feel like he does.

Lee most certainly didn't suck last season, posting a career-best .807 OPS for the Devil Rays, which combined with his defense, put him firmly in the top half of Major League first basemen in terms of value (although, don't get me wrong, he's well behind the pack of superstar first basemen). Maybe it was just a fluke of random variation, but Lee was also only 28 last season, and a late peak is not entirely out of the question. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system shows that Lee is as likely as not to repeat last season's performance, when his EqA was .281.

But the Yankees aren't bringing him in to start, at least not for now. Lee is being brought in as insurance for Jason Giambi, allowing the Yankees to give their star slugger a break by DHing him, without taking as big a hit offensively as they probably would have with Tony Clark.

After some thought, I like this signing, though I worry that it might inspire Joe Torre to keep Bernie Williams in center field, DH Giambi every day, and make Lee the regular first baseman. MGL over at Baseball Primer ran a quick simulation to compare 1B Giambi/DH Williams/CF Lofton and 1B Lee/DH Giambi/CF Williams and concluded that the second lineup would cost the Yankees about .18 runs a game on offense and defense, or about 3 wins a year--3 wins that might make a big difference.

If Torre does decide to make Giambi the everyday DH, rather than sticking Bernie out in center, he should give the job to Lofton from the start of Spring Training, and use the time in Florida to acclamate Bernie to playing LF, where his defense won't be as damaging to the Yankees. Then the Yankees can play Lee at first every day, and when you want to DH Bernie, you can move Giambi to first, and Lee or Matsui out to left. That, of course, involves benching Matsui, something unlikely to happen (he's a cash cow for the Yankees), but it's imperative that Williams be kept out of center field.

If everything works out ideally for the Yankees, and they can play Giambi in the field often, then the signing of Lee gives them a good lefty bat off the bench, which isn't worth $2 million, but is a good thing to have. And then there's the possibility that Lee could play third base, which he's never done, but his athletic talent suggests he might be able to pull off. Giving him a look there in March couldn't hurt.

February 10, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Last season the Yankees and Red Sox had a close, thrilling race for the division title for most of the season. Neither team pulled away from the other for very long, and nearly every head-to-head matchup had first place on the line. The six-game spread in the final standings didn't do justice to how close the race was, as the season ended with both teams beating up on lousy opponents.

The Yankees won the season series and the division, but it didn't make their road to the World Series much easier, they still had to play the Red Sox in the ALCS, and all the division title got them was Home Field Advantage. Considering that the Yankees were 4-5 at home last postseason and 5-3 on the road, a one-game home field advantage in the ALCS wasn't really much of a prize for winning the division. It's not that the division title doesn't matter, rather that it's not as important was it was in the pre-Wild Card era.

My point? Well, when I read something like this, an AL East preview that doesn't bear much connection to reality, I'm inclined to go off on a rant about the idiocy of the writer. Apparently, Boston got ten games better in the offseason, the Yankees got 9 games worse, and the division race will be over by late August. Yeah, right. I can believe that Boston got better (though not THAT much better), the Yankees got worse (though not THAT much worse), and that the Red Sox might have been a better team than the Yankees last season, too. But to predict a 13-game difference in the standings is more than the most myopic fan would predict for this upcoming season.

Whatever. I'd probably pick Boston to win the division this season, but it doesn't really matter all that much. The Yankees are probably going to make the playoffs, though the second place team in the AL West and the Blue Jays will give them a run for their money, and just like last season, they'll probably face the Red Sox in the ALCS, where who won the division, and by how much, won't make much difference, and that's my point.

If you start from that premise--and I don't think anyone will say it's too far fetched to start there--the Yankees' chances of winning the World Series this year look a lot better. The Yankees don't have to stay healthy all year, they just have to stay healthy in October, and they can do that. They don't need to be a good pitcher, if he is, that's just a bonus. They don't need exceptional production off of their bench, and wasting two spots on and isn't that big of a deal. In the postseason, the only team that I think matches up well with the Yankees is the Red Sox, and I think they match up pretty evenly.

Boston's offense was the best in baseball last season, and the only change they've made in their lineup is at second base, where and will be replacing . The Sox got career years out of , , and last year, leading one to believe that they'll be less productive in 2004, but and also had down years, which might mitigate that. All things considered, it's not unreasonable to think Boston's offense will be just as good as last season, though I'm inclined to believe they'll be a little worse.

Problem for the Yankees is, not having any lefty starters, they don't get to put sluggers David Ortiz and Trot Nixon at a disadvantage, making Boston's offense even better. I think it's safe to say that Boston has a pretty good hitting team.

The Yankees have a pretty good hitting team, too, though compared to Boston's offense, it didn't look overly impressive. However, unlike Boston, it's reasonable to expect the Yankees to score more runs in 2004 than they did in 2003, even with out. The Yankees struggled with injuries to their lineup all year, and when the injured players came back, their offense had dropped off considerably. , and all missed a significant number of games, and played hurt all year. It is of course entirely possible that the Yankees will suffer from injuries again in 2004, but if they're healthy in the postseason, and Giambi and Williams' knees hold up okay, they should get much more production from those spots. And while Nick Johnson might be just as good a hitter as , he was hurt so much last season that it's pretty much a sure thing that Sheffield will bring more production to the Yankees than Johnson and his replacements did last season. and are likely to lose value in 2004, but I'd say the outlook for the Yankees offense is the opposite of Boston's: they could get better, but it's unlikely they'll get any worse.

That doesn't mean New York's offense will be as good as Boston's--it won't--but they could catch up a little bit. The Yankees do have a platoon disadvantage in the matchup, though; their only big lefty slugger is Giambi, the rest of their offensive stars are either right-handed or switch-hitters who are natural righties, making Boston's lack of a righty starter something of an advantage.

Where I think they Yankees even the odds is with their pitching. The top two starters on each team are a push, with maybe a little advantage to Boston, but not much of one. I'll take over in a heartbeat, and while the book is still out on , if he's as good as I think he'll be, I'd pick him over , too.

Still, Boston has an excellent rotation, nearly as good as New York's. So, how does this even the odds? Because I believe the great pitching will keep the games low-scoring, and make the difference between the teams' offenses much smaller. Keeping the score low means that fewer things need to go right for the Yankees to win, and while it doesn't give them the advantage, it does eliminate most or all of Boston's offensive advantage.

Now, Boston has a better defense than New York, but by moving Bernie Williams to DH, the Yankees' defense became much better than it was last season. Williams was just about the worst defensive player in baseball over the past two seasons (yes, worse than Jeter), and merely getting him out of center makes the Yankees better defensively. Replacing him with , who is rated as a good defensive player by UZR, could add a couple of wins to the Yankees by itself. More importantly, the Yankees and Red Sox' rotations are made up of strikeout pitchers (except Derek Lowe), so the defense shouldn't be a huge deciding factor in a head-to-head matchup.

The last factor is the bullpen. The Yankees had a better bullpen in the regular season last year, but in the postseason, Boston's relievers pitched to their potential and were lights-out. The Red Sox added free agent to close this year, and while I don't think he's good as , the difference is so small, and their likely usage patterns makes the difference trivial. Suffice to say, you don't want either of these guys in the game if you're the other team.

While Boston is counting on , and to repeat their postseason performances and be top setup men, the Yanks paid big money to bring in and , two of the best relievers in baseball last season. Both should be excellent again in 2004, though both should be somewhat victimized by their defense since they're ground ball pitchers. If is still pitching in October, then the Yankees' bullpen is at least as good as Boston's, and probably a little better. Who's better isn't likely to matter, both teams can keep games close, both teams hold leads. Working the count and getting the starting pitcher out of the game early is a strategy both of these teams want to use, but against each other, it will be much less effective than against other teams.

TwinsFanDan over at Will Carroll's blog commented about the conclusion to my roster breakdown last month, saying that Boston has a better team than New York on paper. Sure they do, but that advantage is much smaller in a short series when the scores are low, and the Yankees catch up when you take Boston's depth out of the equation, as the postseason does (see ). I can see Boston winning the division by three or four games, but I'm confident these teams are going to face each other in the playoffs, and I think the Yankees will win again in seven.

How boring and predictable.

February 7, 2004

By the way, this whole blog is off the record
by Larry Mahnken

A few days ago, Überblogger David Pinto responded on Baseball Musings to some comments Curt Schilling made about Rob Neyer and Sabermetrics at the Sons of Sam Horn message board a couple of weeks ago. Schilling feels that statistical analysis has gone "too far in some instances". He takes it a little personally when you say that his friend Kevin Jordan is a crappy ballplayer, because even though he's a crappy ballplayer, he's really good at helping out other players, which is value in and of itself.

Great. Make him a coach, and put someone who can actually play well on the roster.

Pinto's post was about Schilling's attitude towards Neyer (and Schilling's idea about fans booing because a player's stats), which really doesn't matter to me. Schilling is a ballplayer, not someone making actual personnel decisions, so how he evaluates players is, frankly, irrelevant. Great response by David, as always, but what happened next has gotten everyone's attention:
no comment on the topic, but gleaning quotes from SoSH deemed off-the-record is a poor display of ethics. if there was no disclaimer in that thread then i would have no issue with it.

this is yet another reason why SoSH has toyed with the idea of closing public viewing.

feel free to link/discuss the material, but please remove the direct quotes from the site or you may jeopardize further candid commentaries from a major leaguer on a topic that -- i think we all agree -- is quite engaging.

feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

best regards,
SoSH founder

I would say the appropriate response to this type of request, made in this tone would be something along the lines of "feel free to go to hell." It's not the request that's way out of line, it's the attitude that the request was made in, specifically accusing Pinto of "a poor display of ethics".

To my knowledge (and correct me if I'm wrong, and provide a link), this is the pertinent statement Schilling made about his comments being "off the record":
Got no problem with BDD posting this stuff to his site, but as I have asked before I would ask members of the media to keep this stuff here. If you are in the media and really actually care about this kinda thing then you will have 7 months to actually ask me any of these questions if you want, no problem.
So, Curt has no problem with the comments he made in a publicly viewable forum being reprinted in a specific publicly viewable weblog (Boston Dirt Dogs), and he asks the regular media to ask him during the season, and he'll answer. And I'm sure I'll ask him as soon as they send me my clubhouse pass.

Well, first of all, this doesn't say it's off the record. Maybe he said it before, but he didn't say it here. Further, regardless of whether or not he said "this is off the record", it's not off the record. It's LITERALLY "on the record". There's a record of it, right there, that you can read for free. And more than that, it was republished on Boston Dirt Dogs, which is, again, public, free, and recorded for posterity.

Baseball Musings didn't display poor ethics in quoting Schilling. Indeed, in quoting Schilling directly, rather than summarizing his statements as I did, he made sure that he wasn't twisting Schilling's words, and that the reader wouldn't have to jump through hoops to read precisely what Schilling said. That was quite fair to Schilling.

Alex Belth, Jay Jaffe, and Ed Cossette have all weighed in on the issue; Will Carroll sent out an email to some other bloggers (But not me! Where's the love, Will?), suggesting an open letter protesting SoSH's request, which Boston Dirt Dogs decided to publish on their site, because it adds so much to the debate.

The reactions of BDD and Eric since this controversy started make it clear that their interest is in preserving their relationship with Schilling, while professing their desire to keep "a good thing going" for all baseball fans. Indeed, being able to see a star baseball player candidly answer the types of questions we might want to ask is a good thing for all baseball fans. But it's an especially good thing for SoSH and it's members, who actually get to ask the questions. We don't. SoSH is a closed message board; you can read it, but you can't post there, unless you're invited. There's a good reason for this: keeping out the trolls. I'm sure Curt doesn't want to be asked 100 times if he's the biggest idiot ever.

However, while seeing other regular baseball fans talking to Curt Schilling has that initial "cool" factor, ultimately, it becomes no more interesting than reading a regular interview with a regular journalist. For me, at least, there's no especial reason to treat Schilling's comments any differently than I would any other public comments. If he stops posting because of it, it's no big deal to me, he's just another ballplayer. It's not my job to protect him.

If SoSH wants to pull down the blinds so we can't read Curt's comments without being members, that's their prerogative (although anything republished on BDD becomes public record), but they should know that doing so is an admission that their chief concern is maintaining their relationship with Curt Schilling and John Henry, rather than Red Sox fans, and before they scoff at that accusation, they should ask themselves this:

If any other "Average Joe" member of SoSH asked to not be quoted, and outside sites were quoting them, would they close off the site to public viewing?

February 4, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

The loss of Aaron Boone is significant not because of what the Yankees lost, but because of what they're left with. When Boone was injured, not only were the Yankees left without an acceptable option to play third base, they were without any players who could form an even remotely effective platoon. The Yankees have been left with options that the Tigers would pass on. They didn't go from good to bad, they went from okay to awful--but in the marginal sense, that's just as big a loss.

The Yankees have been scrambling to fill the hole ever since, and sportswriters everywhere have been scrambling to figure out how they're going to do it. For a few writers, reality didn't stop them from making outlandish suggestions:

Maybe they'll trade for Eric Chavez!

Maybe they'll trade for Troy Glaus!

Maybe they'll trade for BOTH, and platoon them! That's so unfair! Baseball needs a salary cap!

In reality, the only way the Yankees were going to get a remotely good player was if some team was looking to dump their salary, as has been rumored with Edgardo Alfonzo, but if that was going to happen, it's not going to happen right now. First the Yankees have to decide what to do with Boone--though it seems likely that they'll cut ties. All the indications are that Boone will need surgery, and that if he comes back, it won't be until much later in the season. I think it's not unlikely that they'll cut him, then re-sign him to a smaller, two-year contract. But I digress.

The Yankees have been forced to sift through the players that nobody else wants, with the hope that they'll get someone who doesn't totally suck. Homer Bush and Clay Bellinger serve no useful purpose other than to look Miguel Cairo and Enrique Wilson look good, so the move that they've made that have any promise are the signing of Tyler Houston and yesterday's trade for Mike Lamb.

Neither Houston or Lamb are particularly good players, and both are dreadful with the glove (though the Yankees seem to think that Lamb might be pretty good). Still, they both have a little bit of pop, and are better against righties than lefties, opening up the possibility of a platoon with Erick Almonte or Brian Myrow, which might give the Yankees a reasonable amount of offense out of the position, though the bad defense might negate most or all of it.

Now, the sabermetric version of the trading for Glaus or Chavez pipe dream is moving Derek Jeter to third base. The virtue of Jeter at third is debatable, some think he'd be a solid defensive third baseman, some think he'd be even worse there than at short, and still others think that even if he's worse, he'll have less of a negative impact on the Yankees than he would playing short. In the current situation, moving Jeter would give the Yankees more options, letting them seek out a shortstop intead of a third baseman.

But nobody's talking about moving Jeter; even when Alex Rodriguez's name has come up in the past, he was always the one who was supposed to move. This isn't because Jeter won't move--has Derek Jeter ever said or done anything that would indicate to anyone that he'd refuse or resist a move from shortstop? If Joe Torre sat him down and asked him to move to third, he'd say, "Okay, Mr. Torre," and do it. But he's not going to be asked, because the Yankees don't think his defense is bad. He's not moving to third.

Money can buy a lot of things, including good baseball players. But it can't buy what isn't there, and the Yankees are going to have to fill their hole with smarts, not money. They have the brains in the front office to do it, they question is whether they're going to use them.