Friday, January 27, 2006

Sans Stats

Welcome back, loyal readers, for another edition of Sans Stats, the only place on the Internet where you can find a guy trying to do sports in news show format. Not that I’ve searched around for another other similar material, but I think that my mere conjecture should be enough for everyone.

What better place to start today’s show than with the man mentioned just about every week in this here space: Ron Artest. Some weeks I defend him, some weeks I berate him, but all in all I like the guy. Never before have I known of a guy who can say all the right things followed by all the wrong things like Artest. The most disappointing aspect of this is that Artest didn’t have a zinger parting line for the Pacers.

"I think it's good for the Pacers (that I'm leaving). I think they will be able to focus on playing basketball. I can focus on playing basketball myself and be very happy. I'm upset that I won't be with Donnie Walsh anymore. It was an emotional meeting, but it wasn't like what was reported on TV. We had a good conversation."

Are you serious, Ron? Nothing to tickle the old funny bone? Nothing to infuriate David Stern? Most of all, Artest’s lack of colorful commentary did a great disservice to the national media. Without fuel added to this fire, what are they going to talk about for the next month? Maybe Scoop Jackson will fill the void with a column railing against the Pacers for trading Artest, a black man, for Stojakovich, a man with white skin (though I don’t know if Serbs are considered “white”). Come on, Scoop, I need to know the injustice of this world, and how the black man is treated unfairly. Only $55 million? A white man would have gotten $55.5!

ESPN’s Marc Stein had a few words about the trade, including this gem:

Yes: Stojakovic is a world-class marksman and the Pacers desperately need one after Reggie Miller's retirement. Yes: Stojakovic gives Indy undeniable length at small forward and will allow Stephen Jackson to return to his natural position of shooting guard. But remember: O'Neal might be too banged up for even a rejuvenated Peja to make a major impact in the second half.

Four hours later, ESPN reported that O’Neal will miss eight weeks with a groin injury. You couldn’t script this.

You know who always makes me crack a smile? Dan Marino. He’s been in the news this week, giving advice to second-year pro Ben Roethlisberger on his upcoming Super Bowl appearance.

“My advice would be to have fun with it," Marino said.

I have some advice of my own for Big Ben: don’t take advice regarding the Super Bowl from Dan Marino. That would be like taking advice on not sucking in the playoffs from a Manning. You’re a Hall of Famer, Dan, but a ring didn’t get you in there.

While I’m doling out advice, I might as well tough on Daunte Culpepper, who is mulling the possibility of negotiating his own contract following the firing of his agent, Mason Ashe. The only question is: what’s to negotiate? Culpepper is signed through the 2013 season, so he’ll have another eight years before he can hone those negotiation skills.

Well, after expressing this thought to my buddy Scott, he reminded me of an irrefutable fact. Contracts are only valid when both parties agree they are. As soon as one party deems a contract unfit for their current conditions, they can claim invalidity and somehow escape it. For evidence, see Owens, Terrell, or more recently, Heimerdinger, Mike. Culpepper obviously thinks he’s worth more than the $8 million signing bonus he received prior to the 2004 season, as evidenced by his awe-inspiring performance in 2005.

If one positive thing can be said about Culpepper as an agent, it’s that he’ll probably find an inkling more success than Drew Rosenhaus did with T.O.

Baseball is at a lull right now, but we here at Sans Stats couldn’t help but laugh our asses off this week at the expense of the Boston Red Sox. Okay, there’s some level of bias here, since for the most part we’re Yankees fans. But still, it’s universal hilarity when antics like this go down. In case you haven’t read the news, Boston’s play for Indians outfielder Coco Crisp fell apart this week, apparently because add-on player Guillermo Mota failed his physical.

This announcement came directly on the heels of another huge announcement: Theo Epstein is back in the saddle as the Red Sox GM. These two stories are linked in the mind of Eagle-Tribune writer Rob Bradford, who says that Theo came back too late to fix the mess. Apparently Bradford is blind, deaf, and dumb, because those of us with senses know that Theo has been calling shots for longer than anyone will let on.

The real question here isn’t whether Theo was around to fix the Crisp trade mess. We know Theo has been officially back with the Red Sox for some time now, and probably was working with the team in an unofficial capacity before that. The question the papers should be asking is: why didn’t Mota take a physical when he came over from Florida? Isn’t this enough to call the Cherington-Hoyer GM tandem incompetent? Doesn’t that make Red Sox fans a bit more uneasy about the state of Beckett’s health?

Let’s face it: the Red Sox brass wanted to make a statement on the heels of Epstein’s departure, and they got that opportunity with the Beckett trade. They had all the facts about Beckett, bum shoulder and all, and still consummated the trade. Worse yet, they neglected to have Mota undergo a physical examination. And now they’re in a bigger bind, because this negligence has led to the collapse of a trade that would have benefitted the Sox.

To top it all off, Theo stated that he wants to run the team in the same manner as the New England Patriots, since they’ve had so much success. Good luck, Theo. You have spills in Aisles 9, 10, 13, and 15 before you can even think about righting that ship.

In other baseball news: the World Baseball Classic is inane and stupid. Thank you.

This one is pretty fresh: the Toronto Raptors axed GM Rob Babcock last night. Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, issued the following statement regarding the decision: "I'm disappointed that Rob was the wrong choice for us. In hindsight, we should have gone with someone more proven."

Translation: “You suck harder than Brianna Banks.”

However, the quote of the century goes to Babcock. "I was very surprised. I had no idea this was coming," Babcock said. "They told me they want someone with more experience."

No idea this was coming? Your team is worse than the Knicks. You traded a marquee player for Aaron and Eric Williams (we’re not counting Mourning because he never played a game for Toronto), your first draft resulted in a bust – Rafael Araujo – and blew his 2006 first rounder on Charlie Villanueva.

Sorry, Babby, but they only let you screw up a team so much before they let you go. For future reference, the more dumb moves you make, the greater chance of you getting fired. Not that anyone’s going to give you another chance anyway. Then again, Isaiah could use some assistance as the Knicks GM, given his recent legal troubles.

Saddest part about that: it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if Isaiah hired Babcock.

Wrapping things up in the NBA, breaking news in Boston. The Celtics just got worse. Tough to do, but Danny Ainge succeeded. The basic trade: Mark Blount and Ricky Davis for Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi and a first rounder.

Here’s the problem for the Celtics: Ricky Davis was their second best player. What’s worse: Szczerbiak is now probably their second best player.

I realize that getting rid of Blount’s contract was a priority for the Celtics, but to take on Wally Szczerbiak’s seems to negate any benefit from Blount’d departure. In fact, though Szczerbiak’s contract is one year shorter than Blount’s, he is owed more total dollars, rendering the deal further pointless.

That about wraps up this week’s edition of Sans Stats. You may have realized the absence of a weekly cog, the Idiot of the Week. Well, we have a new line of thinking here at Sans Stats: everyone we cover is an idiot.

To paraphrase the fizzled out Andrew W.K., party till ya puke. See you next week.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Twelve Questions

For a website once dedicated solely to the Yankees, I’ve really been slacking on content covering my favorite team lately. I guess it’s just natural, since the hot stove has cooled a bit and the Yanks are seemingly ready to head into the season as is. However, this site started with Yankees coverage, and I don’t intend to stray too far from that in the upcoming season. Sure, I’ll post opinions on topics I find interesting, but they won’t cut into anything Yankees related.

It’s going to be tough to keep solid coverage on the team until mid-March or so, when we can discuss preliminary player evaluations and the like. But what to do in the interim? Well, pitchers and catchers report on February 16th, which is three weeks from today. If I do a Yankees piece four days a week (which means the return of Sans Stats on Fridays) starting Monday, that makes 12. Hence we begin a series, Twelve Questions Facing the 2006 Yankees.

This does not bode well for today, since the introduction to the series took up a whopping 175 words. So for the sake of space and something to read, here’s a schedule of upcoming posts:

1/30: Question No. 1: Will Randy’s Back Hold Up?
1/31: Question No. 2: Can Moose Find Consistency?
2/01: Question No. 3: Will Wang, Chacon, and Small Contribute?
2/02: Question No. 4: Will Villone and Farnsworth Outperform Sturtze/Quantrill and Gordon?
2/03: Sans Stats
2/06: Question No. 5: Brutananadilewski (Or: How Will Carl Pavano Factor In?)
2/07: Question No. 6: What Will J-Wright’s Role Be?
2/08: Question No. 7: Can We Expect Another MVP Season From A-Rod?
2/09: Question No. 8: Will Sheff’s Decline in 2005 Continue in 2006?
2/10: Sans Stats
2/13: Question No. 9: Is Jeter’s Defense That Bad?
2/14: Question No. 10: Valentine’s Day Special: Will The Team Love Carry Over in 2006?
2/15: Question No. 11: How Much Has the Outfield Coverage Improved?
2/16: Question No. 12: The Bench: How Deep and/or Complete?
2/17: Sans Stats, Pitchers and Catchers Edition

So…I guess I better get cracking on this, eh?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

So I Got to Thinking

I posted the previous article last night, having given it the once over and everything. It seemed reasonable enough, so I threw it up there knowing full well that Piazza won’t sign with the Yanks. But at least it was something to think about.

Then this morning rolled around, and I realized the beginning of a series of fatal errors: I left Aaron Small off the pitchers list. Oops. So that means 12 pitchers and 13 position players, which means there is no 25th spot for Piazza to fill.

Of course, this got me to thinking deeper about the scenario. While I’d still rather carry Piazza than a 12th pitcher, I’d also rather carry an extra outfielder than Piazza. Unfortunately, I’ve been over the leftover outfielders, and no one seems overly appealing.

So while the previous article isn’t the ideal scenario, it presents a favorable option. Today, however, I’ve conjured up a better scenario. Someone had mentioned how great it would be to land Austin Kearns, but also added that Cincy probably wouldn’t accept Pavano in any trade. Not so fast; that could actually be an option.

Apparently one of the reasons Dan O’Brien was relieved of his duties as Reds general manager was his mismanagement of a trade that would have netted them Matt Clement and cost them Kearns. If the new Reds brass was disappointed at O’Brien for pulling out of the Sox trade, why would they turn away from a Yanks trade involving Kearns and Pavano?

Just to keep some continuity with the first post today, that would reduce the number of pitchers to 11 and add a 14th position player, making everyone happy. Yay!

Sheffield gets more time at DH, Kearns gets time in right field, so this makes sense for the Yankees. The Reds have been looking into dishing Kearns this off-season and were nearly willing to accept Matt Clement for him, so this makes sense for the Reds.

Cashman realizes the value of pitching, though, so this is all probably moot. But it’s just another idea the Yankees should at least explore. Then again, why would they ever take advice from me?

25th Man

I’m kinda torn right now. The first bit of news I read Tuesday morning (courtesy of the sidebar here at the Sporting Brews) hinted at the possibility of Mike Piazza ending up as the Yankees DH/sometimes catcher for the 2006 season. This was reported by Newsday, and immediately debunked by The Daily News’s Bill Madden. Suffice it to say I don’t take much stock in what either has to say.

The safe road is to say it won’t happen and move on. The odds on Piazza making a return to New York in pinstripes are somewhere around 15 to 1. The Yankees already have a backup catcher and two guys slated to eat up time at DH – Bernie and Andy Phillips – so there is little roster space for Piazza. Brian Cashman’s philosophy of roster flexibility doesn’t lend itself well to Piazza’s case either, since he’d be available mainly as a DH, though he could certainly catch once or twice a week.

However, this situation may transcend the issue of roster flexibility. Phillips will likely (i.e. in my opinion) be a liability at the plate this year, negating his value as a DH. He’ll see his playing time as a backup to Jason Giambi at first, but not much more. There are issues with Bernie as well, as it’s not a given that he’ll put up adequate numbers as strictly a hitter. Adding Piazza could solve the DH problem right away.

The most likely scenario would be Bernie and Piazza splitting DH, with Jorge catching the majority of the games. He would get every fifth day off for Randy’s start, in which Stinnett would be behind the plate. But with Piazza, the Yankees would have the flexibility to give Jorge a second day off per week, meaning less wear and tear from donning the tools of ignorance.

The bottom line: catching platoons benefit all involved. Other than pitcher, catcher is the most physically taxing position on the diamond. Since a catcher is physically strained on defense, his production on offense will inevitably regress since he’s not able to focus as much on hitting as an outfielder would. Instead of being behind the plate for 130 games per year, Posada would only be needed for roughly 100, thus reducing his defensive taxation by 23 percent. The level of direct benefit to his offensive game is obviously an unknown, but a factor nonetheless.

Piazza would also provide an insurance policy should Jorge succumb to a mid-season injury. Piazza is past his prime, but he still ranked eighth among MLB catchers in Value Over Replacement Player. He ranked in the middle of the pack (15th) in OBP (.326) for a catcher, and sixth in slugging percentage (.452), so he can still provide adequacy at the position. He may not be the top option for a team, but I’d rather have him behind the plate for 120 games than John Buck.

What’s tearing at me is that Piazza does not solve the outfield problem the Yankees are currently facing. Signing Piazza eats up another spot on the roster, leaving one less for an additional green grass patroller, someone who could spell Sheffield and give him time at DH. That’s another issue in itself: with Piazza, Sheffield would be starting 150 some-odd games in right field. It’s not the worst scenario, but surely the Yanks would like to get a better glove out there from time to time.

The ideal situation, as stated several times in this here space, would be to carry 14 position players and 11 pitchers, the Yankees have a habit of carrying that 12th pitcher. Randy, Moose, Pavano, Wang, Chacon, Wright, Sturtze, Villone, Farnsworth, Myers, and Mo make 11, so we’ll go with this for now. That would leave the position player slots to Posada, Stinnett, Giambi, Phillips, Cano, Cairo, Jeter, A-Rod, Matsui, Damon, Sheffield, Bernie, and Crosby. That leaves one spot on the 25-man roster, which usually would be spent on a second utility infielder – or in the Yankees case, a 12th pitcher.

So we’ve whittled it down to a simple question: to whom would you rather fork up the 25th roster spot, Piazza or Scott Proctor?

I hate getting worked up about rumors like this because there is such a slim chance anything will evolve from it. But adding Piazza poses a scenario that Cashman and Co. can’t immediately discard. I realize Bill Madden has been doing this job for well longer than I’ve been alive, but he may have jumped the gun on this one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Surprise, You're Fired

We’re approaching the end of January, a time when news around the Major Leagues is typically at a lull. The big name free agents are in their new uniforms, and most incomplete trades are shoved into the “unfulfilled rumor” bin. The only light at the end of the tunnel for diehard baseball fans is a daily countdown for pitchers and catchers. But sometimes we get lucky and an interesting story pops up to spark the mid-January calm.

Lucky are the baseball fans that crave any kind of developments around the league. Unlucky for Dan O’Brien, who was relieved of his duties as general manager of the Cincinnati Reds on Monday. This development comes directly on the heels of MLB approving Bob Castellini’s purchase of the club.

Seeing that pink slip on your desk always sucks, but it’s quite a ball tap when your firing is number one on the new boss’s priority list. I’d even feel bad for O’Brien if he had accomplished more than nothing during his tenure in Cincy. Seriously, when your crowning achievement is blowing $25.5 million on Eric Milton (and outbidding the Yankees in the process), a new owner has every reason to show you the door.

The deeper I looked at the Reds over the past few years the lesser my opinion of O’Brien became. Two years may not be a ton of time in which to build a team, but O’Brien barely even mixed the cement. Most of his trades were miniscule and had no real bearing on the play of the team, and his lack of free agent signings just meant more of the same year in and year out.

Other than the Milton gaffe, the only move of consequence O’Brien made came earlier this off-season when he swapped Sean Casey for Pittsburgh lefty Dave Williams. Excuse me while I scratch my head on this one. Casey may have had an off-year in 2005 as far as power goes, but he still had a .371 OBP, which was .032 points higher than the team average, which ranked fourth in the National League. His .423 slugging percentage was .023 points behind the team average, which ranked first in the NL. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather shave some off the slugging percentage and hold on to a guy who gets on base more. You know, for a little balance.

Cincy was the top run-scoring offense in the National League, so surely they’re in need of pitching, right? But they were that desperate to send a bat like Casey’s to the Pirates for a nobody like Williams? The choice seems odd when you look at the Pirates staff and see names like Oliver Perez, Zach Duke, and Sean Burnett. A bold prediction: Williams has an ERA between 4.20 and 4.50 with around six strikeouts per nine and four walks, while Casey hits somewhere around .280/.370/.450.

O’Brien’s weightiest mistakes stem from moves he didn’t make. At last year’s trade deadline, surely he could have received some compensation for Junior Griffey. Players like Griff are at their peak value on July 31st, and cellar-bound teams are always smart to sell off these players to the highest bidder, especially when the player is 35 years old and hasn’t played over 120 games since 2000. But O’Brien stuck with Griffey, who ended up going out after 128 games. Surprise surprise. Now the Reds are stuck with Griffey, who will most likely befall the same fate as he has every year since moving to Cincinnati.

There have been whispers – all right, shouting matches – regarding the Reds intent to trade slugger Adam Dunn. I realize the issues involved: he strikes out a lot and is going to be owed quite a sum of money in the near future. But instead of focusing on his strikeouts, why don’t the Reds focus on what he does well, which is get on base and mash the ball? They’re not going to get adequate compensation, as evidenced by the failed dealings of Miguel Tejada and Manny Ramirez. Dunn isn’t free-agent eligible until after the 2007 season, so the Reds are better off keeping him via arbitration until trade deadline 2007, when his value will likely be its highest. Or they could actually hold on to him and make him a centerpiece for the team. But with the state of baseball now, that’s highly unlikely.

The case for O’Brien becomes harsher when we look right at the results. He took over the team following the 2003 season, when the Reds finished 69-93 and went through three managers. After making zero substantial moves in his inaugural off-season (a half if you count signing Cory Lidle), O’Brien dished Todd Jones and Cory Lidle for a pile of nothing, but managed to finish with 76 wins. The GM was well on his way to writing a best-selling book: The Sit On Your Ass GM Method.

In the winter of 2004, however, O’Brien broke his own rule. He decided it was time for a consequential move to bolster the pitching staff, so he topped the Yankees offer of 3 years, $21 million and locked up Eric Milton for 3 years and $25.5 million. Milton rewarded O’Brien’s keen sense of a good deal by going 8-15 with a 6.47 ERA. His name was brought up a sporadically in trade talks, but it seems that O’Brien’s asking price of a bag of ranch Doritos was a bit too steep for the current market.

A few days later, O’Brien broke the rule again by signing shortstop Rich Aurillia. The problem O’Brien hadn’t accounted for: what happens when this Felipe Lopez character is ready to for the big time? Oh, that’s easy, we’ll just move Aurillia to second. But little did O’Brien realize that Major Leaguers have these massive egos and don’t like changing from what they’re used to (see Bonds, Barry). This lead to Aurilia crying to the media about his desire to leave the team witch which he had just inked a deal. Hats off, O’Brien.

Even with the resurgence of Junior Griffey, the Reds finished 2005 with three less wins than in 2004. So the team was better off making no moves than making O’Brien’s moves. There’s a new owner in town you say? And he has no connection to O’Brien whatsoever? Nah, his job couldn’t be in jeopardy. Just ask him.

"I was somewhat surprised by the move. It's not something that was in my mind 24 hours ago."

One day, I want a GM to come out and say, “look at the moves I made and look at the results. I obviously failed as a general manager. This move was deserved.” Unfortunately, there are no real men running major league franchises.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Shock and Awe

Ladies and gentlemen, you may find this hard to believe, but Barry Bonds is acting like a jackass. This is uncharacteristic for Bonds, who normally woos reporters with his witty rhetoric. But in this lovable bugger’s latest statement, he hints at undermining San Francisco Giants manager Felipe Alou’s authority.

When Alou spoke with the press on Friday, he mentioned an idea he had floating around in the old noggin. Instead of batting Barry Bonds fourth, how about batting him second? He’ll see more at-bats, which means more time spent on the base paths, which translates into more chances to score runs. The switch would also allow Alou to remove Bonds two spots earlier for defensive purposes – which could mean a full defensive inning.

In the mind of Barry Bonds, however, that logic doesn’t fly. “I am going to speak with Felipe, because at this point in my career it doesn't work for me to be the second bat," Bonds told a Caribbean newspaper.

Bonds hasn’t been the only athlete in the past week to define his own role on a team. Last Sunday, Peyton Manning waived off the punt team on a fourth and short play, clearly defying the wishes of head coach Tony Dungy. So now it’s okay for certain athletes to become larger than their team?

Everyone knows that a power struggle between the sensei and the student always favors the sensei. It’s a simple storyline formula: sensei and student have a falling out, student turns evil in order to gain revenge on sensei, student may succeed initially, but ultimately is worse off in the long run. See Wars, Star for more information.

This type of behavior isn’t exactly uncommon in baseball, but that does not make it more excusable. The manager’s job is to make the lineup card every day. The player’s job is to create runs. If a manager thinks that a certain player will create more runs in a different slot, then the player moves. Manager does his job by making a personnel decision, player does his job by continuing to create runs. Should the move not work, the manager will be held accountable (diminished job security), and the player will likely move back to his normal spot.

Sure, on paper it looks simple, but when you factor in egos that are directly proportional to a heap of statistical data and number of zeros per paycheck, chaos ensues. Now we have overpaid, under performing athletes parading around making ludicrous selfish demands that not only undermine team authority, but in many cases will hurt the team.

Don’t worry about Bonds hurting the team, though. "I feel positive about next season to be able to contribute to my team's cause," he said. Of course, if he actually meant what he said he wouldn’t be bitching about batting second. Even the least apt bullshit detector has to be on 10 right now.

Call me a hothead, but placed in that situation I would metaphorically kick Bonds in the teeth by penciling him into the second slot every game. What’s he going to do, act like a spoiled brat and boycott games? I’m sure his publicists would drool over that scenario. And do you think he’d really give up pursuit of Aaron’s record over a petty issue like the batting order?

His .500-plus OBP may help his team win, but his attitude negates some of that contribution. No one can say how much, since his attitude is rather intangible, but suffice it to say that Bonds’s words and actions certainly shift the focus of the team.

Then again, placed in the Giants front office, I probably wouldn’t have brought Barry back for 2006 at all. This year was an option for the Giants, and it cost them $18 million. Bonds is one of the top players in the league, and certainly his 2006 productivity could justify the contract number. But there are some times when you need to cut your losses, realize that this isn’t the guy that’s going to win it all for you, and pull the plug on the experiment. The crew in San Fan had the ability to sever ties with Bonds and start anew, but they decided that his bat overshadows his ego and exercised the 2006 option.

Players rule the game, though, and they have made that abundantly clear. No one goes to games to see the manager, thus his authority is easily undermined. It may be commonplace, but that doesn’t make it right, dammit.