Friday, July 31, 2009

Trade Deadline Day!

I originally planned on writing an Historic Hot Stove piece today about the big four-team trade in 2004 that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs for Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera. It was supposed to focus on just how big the trade was to the Red Sox and to their mentality and then mention how they went on win the World Series that year. But that was before the big news came out yesterday about Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Now, all of sudden, talking about the 2003-2004 Red Sox just doesn't sound all that interesting.

Instead, I figured I'd just put up a quick post here looking at the actual Trade Deadline Day from recent years. After all, every year we spend all of July talking about trades and watching the wire hoping to see a big trade go down, preferably for our favorite team. And never more so than on July 31st, when we spend all day hoping that the big trades we expected to go down all month actually find themselves going through in those last few hours.

But how exciting does July 31st end up actually being? It seems that it always disappoints, but is that true? Using a transactions database I found online, I counted all the trades that went down on July 31 since 1996 (I'd include earlier years, but I'm not sure how accurate the database is going back that far). The numbers are below, but the busiest years were, by far, between 1998 and 2000, when 35 trades were finalized on those three Deadline Days. Since then, Trade Deadline Day has been kind of slow, with the exception 0f 2006 (when 12 transactions were made). Last year, for example, saw only 4 deals get made - though the three-team Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles trade was huge.

Here are the Deadline Day stats for every year since 1996:

Transactions Made on 7/31, Since 1996
YearNumber of TransactionsNo. of Players TradedNotable Trades
  • Randy Johnson (SEA) for minor leaguers (HOU)
  • Ellis Burks (COL) for Felix Heredia (SF)
  • Mark Grudzielanek + 2 (MON) for Wilton Guerrero, Ted Lilly + 2 (LAD)
  • Todd Hollandsworth (LAD) for Tom Goodwin (COL)
  • Steve Trachsel, Mark Guthrie (TB) for Brent Abernathy (TOR)
  • Greg Maddux (CHC) for Cesar Izturis (LAD)
  • Xavier Nady (NYM) for Oliver Perez (PIT)
  • Kevin Appier (KC) for minor leaguers (OAK)
  • Shawon Dunston (StL) for Craig Paquette (NYM)
  • Mark Teixeira (TEX) for Jarrod Saltalamacchia + others (ATL)
  • Eric Gagne (TEX) for David Murphy + 1 (BOS)
  • Milton Bradley (MON) for Zach Day (CLE)
  • Tomo Ohka (BOS) for Ugueth Urbina (MON)
  • Pedro Astacio (COL) for Scott Elarton (HOU)
  • Nomar Garciaparra (BOS) for Doug Mientkiewicz, Orlando Cabrera (3 other teams)
  • Esteban Loaiza (CHW) for Jose Contreras (NYY)
  • Greg Vaughn (MIL) for Ron Villone + 2 (SD)
  • Ruben Sierra (NYY) for Cecil Fielder (DET)
  • Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez, Danny Darwin (CHW) for Keith Foulke + 5 (SF)
  • Mark McGwire (OAK) for minor leaguers (StL)
  • Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe (SEA) for Heathcliff Slocumb (BOS)
  • Todd Hollandsworth (COL) for Gabe Kapler (TEX)
  • Kyle Farnsworth (DET) for Roman Colon (ATL)
  • Jody Gerut (CHC) for Matt Lawton (PIT)
  • Sidney Ponson (BAL) for minor leaguers (SF)
  • Robin Ventura (NYY) for Bubba Crosby + 1 (LAD)
  • Jeff Suppan + 2 (PIT) for Freddy Sanchez + 2 (PIT)
  • Aaron Boone (CIN) for minor leaguers (NYY)
  • Manny Ramirez (BOS) for Jason Bay (2 teams)
  • Ken Griffey Jr. (CIN) for minor leaguers (CHW)

There you have it. For all the hoopla that we surround the July 31 trade deadline with, it rarely delivers. Certainly there are the occassional Randy Johnson deals or Manny Ramirez deals, but, for the most part, you're actually stuck with the Sidney Ponson deals or the Xavier Nady deals. In less than 24 hours, we'll know how today's deadline turned out. Maybe we'll see the last second Roy Halladay-to-Atlanta-via-Kansas-City-for-Zack-Grienke deal, and maybe we won't. But the hours until we find out will definitely be filled with tension and excitement. And I think that's why we really care about Trade Deadline Day...

Here's hoping for something to spend all weekend talking about. But, even if that doesn't happen, at least we'll have a fun day considering the possibilities.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Historic Hot Stove: Curt Schilling

Cliff Lee was traded from Cleveland to Philadelphia yesterday afternoon for an array of pitching prospects. The Phillies, who already enjoy a comfortable lead in the NL East, acquired Lee as an added bit of security for the division race as they attempt to defend their World Series crown. And though the Phillies have been involved with some significant deadline deals in the last few years (Bobby Abreu, Scott Rolen), the Lee acquisition is easily the biggest pitching name they've been linked to since Curt Schilling was traded to the Diamondbacks in the summer of 2000.

At the time, Schilling was in his ninth year as a Phillie. After being traded to Philadelphia from Houston in 1992, when he was still a reliever, Schilling played a key role in the Phillies 1993 World Series run. The next couple of years saw him dealing with injuries, and barely eking by with 15 or 20 starts. Finally healthy in 1997, Schilling put up his first 300 strikeout season, and even duplicated the feat the next year. By this time, though, Schilling's prickly personality started taking over, and the annual trade-deadline Schilling-shopping rumors started showing up. Nothing came of it, though, until 2000.

It was then that his demands for a trade became serious, giving Philly GM Ed Wade no choice but to trade the ace.
Schilling had let it be known he wanted to be traded, and if the Phillies hadn't done it by Monday's deadline he'd have made them live with him - and he would have made it an uncomfortable experience - through the end of next season, when he will be eligible for free agency.

And that's not all.
When he demanded a deal, Schilling initially gave the Phillies a list of six teams he would approve - the New York Yankees and Mets, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cleveland and Arizona.
The six teams slowly dwindled to two as each either made other moves or decided that they couldn't or wouldn't meet the Phillies' price. In Cleveland's case, Schilling actually removed them from his list when word came that they were nearing a deal.
That left Arizona and the Mets as the principle players in the Schilling Sweepstakes.

The Mets offer featured phenom outfielder Alex Escobar, pitcher Grant Roberts and two more 21-year-old Class AA pitchers. Wade felt he needed players ready to make an impact on the major-league level rather than prospects to dream on for a few years.

All along, Wade said he wouldn't deal Schilling unless 'overwhelmed.'

Arizona's package met both criteria.
On July 26, 2000, the Phillies agreed to trade Curt Schilling to the Diamondbacks for Travis Lee, Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, and Vicente Padilla. The combination of major league-level batting talent in Lee and major league-level pitching talent in Daal was enough for Wade, and the destination more than suited Schilling.
"I made up 12, 13 games in the standings in one day," Schilling said.
"I'm in a pennant race, it's time for me to pony up," said Schilling (6-6, 3.91 ERA in 16 starts -- 5-2, 2.00 in the last eight outings). "This is what I wanted. I did not have a need to leave. I had a desire to contend right now. This is a win-win situation for both parties."
Of course, the main reason that this trade energized so many people was because it paired two of the best pitchers in baseball on the same staff - Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. The comparisons to all-time greats came almost immediately ("'Koufax and Drysdale come to mind,' Arizona General Manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said. 'I'll take these two guys.'" or "Big Unit and Schilling and three days of chillin."). The magnitude of that one-two punch wasn't lost on Schilling either. From Sports Illustrated:
"For years people would say, or managers would tell me, 'Can't wait till you get out there and throw, because we need a win,' " [Schilling] says. "I realized that when I get the ball, [my team] is expected to win. Now when Randy took the mound and we lost, I was crushed. I haven't been able to watch somebody and feel that way in a long time."
The trade did not pay immediate dividends for the Diamondbacks. On the day of the trade, they were sitting alone in first place, one game ahead of the Giants. From that point on, though, they played sub-.500 baseball, and had actually dropped into third place by the end of the season. Schilling's contribution was solid, but not spectacular. He posted a 5-6 record with a 3.69 ERA in 13 starts for Arizona that year.

The next year would be better, though. In his first full season with the club, Schilling went 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA (157 ERA+) while striking out 293 batters in 256 innings pitched (he finished second in the Cy Young voting). Combined with Johnson's third consecutive Cy Young year, in which he posted a line of 21-6, 2.49 ERA, 188 ERA+, and 372 strikeouts, the D-Backs won the West with a 92-70 record and then went on to win the World Series over the New York Yankees. Johnson and Schilling again carried them through the postseason, combining to earn the win in all four World Series victories and sharing the World Series MVP honors. It's pretty fair to assume that, without this trade, that would never have happened.

So will the Phillies be on the right end of a similar story in three months when talking about their acquisition of Cliff Lee? It's impossible to know for sure, though you can bet that this Schilling trade was running through everyone's minds as they made their pursuit. I have to say, though, that with Cole Hamels in the rotation alongside Lee and their offensive cast, it's looking pretty good for Philadelphia fans. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Historic Hot Stove: Randy Johnson

Last year, the baseball world shook when the Brewers traded one of their top prospects (and change) to the Indians for free-agent-to-be CC Sabathia. CC took the city by storm, carrying the Brewers into the playoffs almost by himself before they finally bowed out in the first round. It was almost the perfect midseason acquisition.

Clubs are hoping to make a similar move this year, by trading for a marquee pitcher like Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee. Both pitchers are apparently on the market but, at this late date, have not yet been picked up. The asking prices are just too steep and don't seem to be dropping. I guess we might have to wait until the trade deadline before we see if either of them get traded.

Whatever moves that do happen, though, are unlikely to match the impact of the CC Sabathia trade of last year. No matter how good of a pitcher you get, it's just asking too much to expect them to dominate the league like he did. After all, it's a rare pitcher who can meet that challenge. The best example of this in recent years happened in 1998, when the Mariners traded Randy Johnson to the Astros at the literal last minute for three minor league pitchers.

The saga began a year before that, when Johnson and his agent asked the club not to pick up his option for the 1998 season. The Mariners went ahead and picked up the option anyway, irking Johnson to no end.
[In 1997], the Mariners talked to Johnson and his agent about the team's 1998 option for the pitcher - and the Mariners insist Johnson made it clear he didn't want them to exercise it.

The Mariners did, however, and the relationship quickly soured. In November, Armstrong announced Johnson would not be offered a contract extension beyond 1998, and the "Big Unit" began sniping and stopped only when he ceased speaking to the press in June.

"They haven't treated me as well as they should have considering what I've done for the team," he said in one spring training interview. "The only option is for them to trade me."

Five frustrating months later, the Mariners did.
As July wore on, it seemed increasingly clear that the Mariners had to trade Johnson. He wasn't talking to the media and his starts never seemed to match the vintage Johnson that everyone knew was there. Teams lined up to take their crack at winning the lefty, but Seattle's GM kept them all at bay. At different times, "marquee teams" like the Dodgers, Padres, Indians, and Yankees were all supposedly front-runners in the sweepstakes.

Nothing ever materialized, though, and as midnight approached on July 31st, Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker started talking to Woody Woodward, Seattle's GM. From this great piece in the August 10, 1998, issue of Sports Illustrated:
At 11:10 p.m. Hunsicker called Woodward "just to satisfy my curiosity and make a last-ditch effort." Woodward said he would call back. The Mariners had spent eight months putting Johnson on and off the trading block. They had turned down deals that would have brought them Mariano Rivera from the Yankees, Chad Ogea from the Indians and Ismael Valdes from the Dodgers. But at 11:20 p.m. last Friday—40 minutes before the trading deadline—it had come to this: Woodward telephoned Hunsicker and indicated he was willing to talk about the Astros' second-tier prospects. Hunsicker offered him three minor leaguers, none of whom satisfied Seattle's demand for a big league pitcher.

Woodward again said he would call back. "I got nervous," Hunsicker says, "because at 11:45, I was still waiting around for him to call." Between calls to Hunsicker, Woodward was making one last fishing trip to the Yankees' talent pool. But New York refused to give up righthander Hideki Irabu and third base prospect Mike Lowell.

At 11:50 p.m. the phone rang in Hunsicker's house. "We have a deal," Woodward said. The Mariners agreed to take Carlos Guillen, a switch-hitting infielder with power; Freddy Garcia, a righthanded power pitcher; and a minor leaguer to be announced later.
The player to be named later turned out to be southpaw John Halama. It wasn't a bad haul, considering the lack of leverage Woodward had with his disgruntled pitcher, and, when compared to the Hideki Irabu-Ricky Ledee-Homer Bush-Mike Lowell package that was the Yankees final offer, it seems the wise choice. Still, the David Wells & Mariano Rivera offer that the M's turned down earlier in the year (as mentioned in this Seattle PI article) does seem to hang over all of this.

On Houston's end, though, it was all roses. Johnson, who had spent a year feuding with Seattle management (and who, up until the last minute, was told that he would be staying with the club), was more than happy to show his best to his new squad. He may have had an ulterior motive for that, though:
Nine months after telling the Seattle Mariners he wanted to be traded, Randy Johnson got his wish last night, but not to an American League powerhouse.

Not even to an American League team.
Johnson reluctantly will join the National League Central Division-leading Astros, who play in Pittsburgh this weekend.

But he won't be an Astro for long.

"We consider this a 60-day job," said Alan Nero, one of Johnson's agents. "We don't want to be in the National League. We would have rather (the trade) been with an American League team, preferably the Yankees."

Nero said Johnson definitely will file for free agency after the season, and wasn't happy with how the trade was handled.
Whatever his motivation was, Johnson really pulled things together in Houston. In eleven starts as an Astro, Johnson was 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and 116 strikeouts in only 84 innings. He also had four complete game shutouts in that span. On the day of the trade, the Astros were in first place in the Central by 3.5 games. From that day forward, they had the best record in the majors and finished the season 12.5 games ahead of the second-place Cubs. Johnson more than earned the $2 million that the Astros paid him that year.

In the postseason, the Astros hosted the Padres in the Division Series. In his two starts, Johnson pitched 14 innings, striking out 17 batters and giving up a total of three earned runs. His offense failed him in each game, though, supporting him with a total of one run in the innings he pitched. The Astros lost both games he pitched in, and went on to lose the series 3-1.

Once the winter came, Johnson became a free agent and went on to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason, agreeing to a 5-year, $65 million contract. And, despite signing with a one-year old franchise, he would only have to wait three years before he got his World Series ring. His two months with the Houston Astros, though, as they marched towards the playoffs, is certainly a stretch to remember.

Will Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee provide that same kind of heart-stopping performance to whatever club they might get traded to? I have no idea. I do know, though, that every GM who is considering giving up his top-tier prospects for these guys, is hoping for a Randy Johnson-level performance from them in return. It probably won't happen, but there's no doubt that the dream is there (and if they can Halladay or Lee for the 2009 equivalent of Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen, all the better!). It should be a fun last couple of days.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Historic Hot Stove: Mark McGwire

It's been pretty clear over the last few weeks that this year's hot stove is going to be remembered for its focus on pitching. From the Roy Halladay auction up there in Toronto to Cliff Lee in Cleveland to all the other pitchers supposedly up for grabs - Jarrod Washburn, Eric Bedard, Justin Duchsherer, George Sherrill, Scott Kazmir, among others - teams are definitely looking for pitching above all else. There are some bats on the market, yes, but nothing really that inspires much excitement.

Well, maybe that's premature: Oakland did send slugger Matt Holliday to St. Louis in exchange for a couple of prospects, but that doesn't exactly match the magnitude of the last deadline-deal that the A's and Cardinals paired up on, when Mark McGwire was sent to the Cardinals for three less-than-stellar relief pitchers (of whom T.J. Mathews was the most successful).

Heading into that July in the summer of '97, the A's were sitting dead last in the AL West, 14 games behind the Mariners. As the month continued, they played worse and worse baseball, going 7-19 on the month, and McGwire's impending free agency suddenly became that much more important to Oakalnd's front office. The speculation that it brought on was hardly covert. From the late-July 1997 Sports Illustrated:
Mark McGwire. Only in the 1990s could a player be chasing Roger Maris's home run record and still be on the trading block. But McGwire is scheduled to be a free agent next season, and Oakland can't afford to re-sign him. But trading him won't be easy, despite his major-league-leading 34 home runs at the end of last week. As a veteran with at least 10 years of experience and at least five seasons with one team, McGwire can veto any trade, which could limit Oakland's options. The Cardinals and the Marlins, to cite two examples, have both expressed interest in McGwire, but he is reluctant to switch leagues in midseason. He also wishes to finish his career in Southern California, so that he can be close to his son, Matthew, who lives with his ex-wife in Orange County. That leaves the Angels as the best fit. Oakland rejected Anaheim's recent offer of centerfielder Jim Edmonds for McGwire, asking instead for outfielder Garret Anderson and a pitching prospect. According to A's general manager Sandy Alderson, the chance that McGwire will be dealt is 50-50.
It's almost funny how naive these trade preview pieces sound after the fact, though I guess that's what happens when you're trying to be a responsible journalist and all. Still, it's obvious that Mac was hot commodity.

By July 31st, the A's were down to only two suitors - the Angels and the Cards. Anaheim was fighting the Mariners for the division lead, sitting only a half game back, while St. Louis was struggling to stay in the race, 7.5 games behind the Astros. Logic would seem to say that Anaheim was the frontrunner at the time and, in fact, many thought the Cardinals had played themselves out of the race. Writers in St. Louis were even questioning the wisdom of making the trade.
One could make a case that the Cardinals will play unquestionably their most significant game of the season tonight.

For starters, it will be their last against the first-place Houston Astros, who are six games ahead of them in the National League Central after a 5-4 win at the Astrodome on Tuesday night.

If the Cardinals win tonight, they will cut the deficit to five games and feel good about making a last run at Oakland slugger Mark McGwire.

If they lose, they will be seven games behind with no games left against Houston. And there really would be little reason to go after McGwire. His potential two-month stay probably wouldn't be enough to lift the Cardinals past the Astros. It also might be risky business, considering the prospects and the money (some $2 million) the Cardinals would have to pay McGwire for the remainder of the season before he became a free agent.

General manager Walt Jocketty said the outcome of the game could affect what he did "a little bit. The performance of the team has some bearing, but not all the bearing," he said.
And it didn't. The Cardinals ended up losing their "most significant game of the season" that night but still managed to swing the deal with the A's. The desperation the Cards felt of being on the cusp of the playoff race must have been stronger than any desire the Angels had to improve their already competitive squad.

The trade made for an emotional moment in Oakland when it was announced:
"This is personally a very difficult day for me," Sandy Alderson, the A's president and general manager, said this evening at an Oakland Coliseum news conference. "When I came into baseball, Mark was the first college player I ever scouted. . . . {But} I think this was right for the organization, and I hope it's right for Mark."

McGwire, as a player with at least 10 years in the major leagues and at least five seasons with his current team, had the right to veto the deal but didn't. He seemed to fight back tears at times as he sat alongside Alderson and he said: "I grew up with this organization. It's not an easy decision to make. But you come to a crossroads in life where you think change will be good for you. . . . I think this deal is good for myself and good for the Oakland A's. . . . The last few seasons haven't been the greatest team-wise. How many years I have left, I don't know. I think I can still help a team to a championship."

With the Cardinals, he'll be reunited with former A's manager Tony La Russa. McGwire, 33, had spent all 11 of his major league seasons in Oakland. He led the majors with 52 home runs last year and has 34 homers this season. He called the prospect of a midseason switch to the National League challenging, but said he was happy to have all the trade speculation behind him.
The St. Louis writers were able to be a little more objective about the deal:
IN NEED OF MORE firepower and just more fire, the Cardinals took the risk of giving up part of their future for one of the game's top sluggers when they acquired first baseman Mark McGwire from the Oakland Athletics Thursday night.

In a deal that took the last four days to complete, the Cardinals, who have lapsed to the outer fringes of contention in the National League Central Division, dealt righthanded pitcher T.J. Mathews and minor-league righthanders Eric Ludwck and Blake Stein for the 33-year-old McGwire. McGwire has 34 homers and 81 runs batted in this season for Oakland but can be a free agent at the end of the season, thus involving another risk for the Cardinals.

The deal was completed just a few hours before the midnight trading deadline without waivers. McGwire, as a 10-year veteran - five with the same team - had to approve the trade.
Mac did not help the Cardinals reach the postseason that year, though it's hard to blame the guy: in his first two months in St. Louis, he hit 24 home runs with 42 RBIs while walking 58 times for an OPS+ of 182. In fact, the Cardinals were only 22-33 after McGwire joined the team. That didn't stop him from signing a contract extension in mid-September, though, making him a Cardinal through 2001. Which was, of course, a brilliant signing by St. Louis. Over the next 4 years, McGwire would hit 196 home runs, including the magical 70 he hit in 1998, and walk 427 times for an OPS+ of 182, all in Cardinal red. He was even able to help the team reach the postseason in each of his last two years in the bigs. It was a remarkable stretch, and one that made him one of the most enjoyable stars of the decade. (Of course, the steroids issue has since clouded our perception of this time - as well it should - but it was hard to argue with the results as they were happening.)

In Oakland, on the other hand, none of the three pitchers ever worked out. There were no Rookie of the Year winners or even All-Stars in the bunch. But, with the utter lack of leverage that Sandy Aldersen was working with, you can't really blame him. Plus, that's the risk that you run when dealing with prospects. McGwire would have left the team anyway, so the A's had to get something in return. It's only bad luck that that "something" never panned out.

With hindsight, it's easy to say that Oakland should have figured out some other way to move McGwire before the deadline, but I don't think that was at all possible. The Angels were competing well enough in the division that they didn't feel like they had to make any additional moves and the only other team that wanted to deal for McGwire refused to offer their best prospects. When you're in a position like Alderson was that July - being pressured to get something, anything for your star player before he leaves (and when he's at his peak) - trades like this happen. Sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don't. The McGwire trade may be not have worked, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have happened. It'll be interesting to see if any GMs back themselves into the same corner this year *cough*Toronto*cough*.

[One other note... I came across this quote from one of the newspapers of the day. I couldn't really fit it into the piece above, but I thought it was too good to leave out:
McGwire, clearly, no longer is threatening Roger Maris' home run record. (It is also clear, by the way, after his cranky performance in New York, that extensive media attention will make him one grumpy guy if he ever does make a run at it.)...
Yeah, McGwire was a real grump as he chased down Maris. Real grump. We all hated the guy...]

Monday, July 27, 2009

Historic Hot Stove: Sammy Sosa & Harold Baines

In his years in the White House, President George W. Bush would often joke that the biggest mistake of his adult life was signing off on the trade that sent Sammy Sosa from the Texas Rangers to the Chicago White Sox. It's a good laugh-line, especially for someone whose position affords such little room for humor, but it really makes you wonder: was trading a young and unproven Sammy Sosa really a big mistake?

I know that I'm not the first one to take a look at this question, but it still seems like a great way to kick off Hot Stove week. Plus, I don't think too many people have taken the time to go back and see what people were saying when the trade actually took place.

The trade took place on July 29, 1989, when the Chicago White Sox sent All-Star designated hitter Harold Baines and reserve middle-infielder Fred Manrique to the Texas Rangers for aging but expensive shortstop Scott Fletcher and two top-tier prospects - rightfielder Sammy Sosa and pitcher Wilson Alvarez. At the time, the Rangers were 55-47, sitting in 4th place, 8 games behind the California Angels. The White Sox were in the cellar of the AL West, with a 43-60 record, 20.5 games behind the Angels.

The Rangers were looking to add a power bat while also dropping the unweildy three-year, $3.9 million contract they had given to shortstop Scott Fletcher only the year before.
The Texas Rangers got the big bat they were seeking Saturday when they acquired designated hitter-outfielder Harold Baines from the Chicago White Sox for shortstop Scott Fletcher and two top prospects.

The Rangers also sent outfielder Sammy Sosa and pitcher Wilson Alvarez to the White Sox. Sosa was playing for Texas' Class AAA Oklahoma City farm club, while Alvarez was on the Rangers' Class AA Tulsa roster.
"For the past several years, we've been trying to acquire a designated hitter specialist,'' Rangers General Manager Tom Grieve said. "We feel we now have the best designated hitter in baseball.''
On the White Sox end, the trade wasn't so much about who they were getting as it was who they were giving up. Baines was a ten-year Chicago veteran, and was thought of by many as "Mr. White Sox". When the trade was announced, despite having been discussed in the weeks before (' "You keep hearing, `Baines is going to be traded, Baines is going to be traded,' " said Greg Walker, who will fill Baines' designated-hitter spot...'), it did not go over well.
Carlton Fisk, who always chooses his words carefully, chose these more carefully than ever.

"I don't have much good to say about that," said Fisk, still sweating after a pregame workout with hitting instructor Walt Hriniak. The subject was Saturday's Harold Baines trade. The mood was barely-restrained anger-and this was before the White Sox offense showed little in Saturday night's 2-1 loss to the California Angels.
"The No. 3 man right out of our lineup," Fisk said. "Take the No. 3 hitter out of any lineup throughout the major leagues and see what happens. From Alvin Davis to Don Mattingly . . . "

Fisk turned his head away and spit something into a sandbox near his cubicle. Even the spitting was angry.

"Harold and Freddy (Manrique) for one major-league player," said Fisk. "Two major-leaguers for one. And not just a major leaguer. Harold Baines. Harold Baines. You know what I mean? Harold Baines . . ."

No, spirits in the White Sox clubhouse were not soaring.
Despite Carlton Fisk's complaints, Sosa and Alvarez were definitely considered top notch prospects.
Sosa and Alvarez were two of the shining stars in the Rangers' minor-league system. Both saw brief service with the Rangers in recent weeks, Alvarez for one start and Sosa for five weeks. Both had been returned to the minor leagues.

Depth in their minor-league system allowed the Rangers to deal two of their top prospects for a proven hitter.

"We're not thrilled about dealing two of our best prospects,'' [Rangers manager] Grieve said. "But to get a player of Harold Baines' caliber, you have to trade quality.''

For the White Sox, mired in last place in the American League West, the trade was made with an eye toward the future.
In the end, the trade didn't really work out for anyone. Baines lasted only one year on the Rangers before getting traded to the A's at the end of August. Fletcher played out the rest of his contract with the White Sox, but not very well, barely squeezing out a .240 batting average over that time. Alvarez had a solid seven-year career with the White Sox before being traded to the Giants at the 1997 trade deadline, winning 67 games with a 118 ERA+ over that time. He also pitched a no-hitter in his first start as a member of the White Sox.

Sosa played only two full seasons for the White Sox before they traded him to the Cubs in 1992 for George Bell. In that time, Sosa was only a .227 hitter with 28 home runs and an 84 OPS+. He started putting his act together in '93, when he belted 33 home runs, but it wasn't until '94 that he was able to post an OPS+ better than 120. And then of course there was the completely unpredicatable 1998 season...

The point, though, is that, at the time of the trade, moving Sammy Sosa to the White Sox for Harold Baines was not a ridiculous move. Yes, he was a key prospect for the Rangers, but they were dealing from a position of strength in that regard. They were fighting for a spot in the postseason (8 games out is about when clubs are at their most desperate) and needed a good bat at the DH-spot, and there was no bat better than Baines'. Even on Chicago's side, they didn't see the inclusion of Sosa as a coup. They made certain to acquire a couple of top prospects, but no one saw Sosa as a Rookie of the Year candidate. Sosa certainly ended up blossoming in Chicago, but it wasn't in a White Sox uniform and it wasn't for another five years or so. It's hard to say, then, that trading Sammy Sosa in the summer of 1989 was all that big of a mistake for our former president.

Hot Stove Week

Today marks the beginning of what some call the most exciting season in baseball: Hot Stove Week. With Friday being the 31st of July - and, thus, the last day of the season that a trade can be made without having to deal with waivers - we can expect an inordinate amount of updates and speculation about who will be traded to whom and all of that fun stuff that makes MLB Trade Rumors go crazy.

As a tribute to the week - and in keeping with the tradition here at wezen-ball of looking at contemporary accounts whenever we can - I thought it might be fun to spend the next few days looking back at some of the most interesting and exciting trades of the past 20 years to see how well they worked out and how they were viewed at the time. Was the Harold Baines-for-Sammy Sosa-and-others trade really the terrible trade that President Bush made it out to be? Can we learn any lessons from the Randy Johnson-to-the-Astros trade of 1998? What about the Mark McGwire trade of 1997 or the Curt Schilling trade of 2000? With all the attention paid to the Roy Halladays of the world this year, or the Mark Teixeiras of the world from last year, the lookbacks should offer some helpful insight.

It should make for an interesting week. I'll be back later this morning with the first one.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hall of Fame Day: Looking Back at the Careers of Rickey and Rice

Later on this afternoon, the Hall of Fame will induct Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice (and Veteran's Committee pick Joe Gordon) into its hallowed walls.

Rickey, of course, was elected in on his first attempt. His election actually generated some consternation around the internet when he wasn't a unanimous selection (or, in fact, even that close - he was named on 94.8% of the ballots). Rice, on the other hand, was elected in on his 15th and final year on the ballot, and barely squeaked in with a 76.4% of the vote. In contrast to Rickey, the controversy around Rice was that he was even elected at all. The so-called "old guard" is convinced that his power, average, and RBIs make him more than Hall-worthy, while the more stats-heavy "new generation" see glaring weaknesses in his candidacy.

The arguments are all moot now, as both Rickey and Rice will soon have their plaques unveiled. Back in December, when the Hall of Fame voting was still in doubt, I did a Through the Years piece on both Rickey and Rice. It seems like today is a perfect day, then, to revisit those.

In Through the Years: Rickey Henderson, we see that it didn't take Rickey very long to prove just how great he was. What I found most interesting about him, though (besides all the interesting stuff that we already know about Rickey), was how every improvement in his game, from more stolen bases to his increase in power, was due to a conscious effort on his part. I think that's pretty spectacular.

With Through the Years: Jim Rice, I thought it was worth trying to see if there was any evidence from his playing days that Rice was indeed the "most feared hitter of his time." I did find an example or two that some people may have thought that, but it was hardly overwhelming (and, in fact, it seems that Reggie Jackson was the one more likely to have been given that title, if at all). There's no doubt, though, that, when Rice was at his best (like in his MVP season of 1978), he was really, really good. We can continue the discussion of whether it was enough to deserve enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, but, with his induction today, it doesn't much matter anymore.

(For those of you who don't know what a Through the Years piece is - and how can I blame you since I've done a terrible job of continuing the series? - it's a look back at a player's career through the eyes of the annual preview magazines that come out at the start of every season. I think it's both fun and informative to see how great players were viewed as they were working their way towards stardom. I really need to get back to doing these - I do find them pretty fascinating.)

Oh, and as an added Hall of Fame bonus - and since I'm already linking to "classic" content - here's one more: a look back at a poll from 1992, where Sporting News writers were asked what they thought the Hall of Fame chances were of contemporary players. Rickey and Rice (and a whole lot more) are included on the list. It's a pretty interesting read: Past Future Hall of Famers. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

More on the Intentional Walk

It seems like the post I wrote last week about the intentional walk got a few people talking. Over at Baseball Think Factory, a very lively discussion broke out about the merits of the intentional walk and what, if any, other options could be deployed. The debate mostly split into two camps: those who saw no compelling reason to alter the rules and those who felt that the excitement that the intentional walk robbed from the game was worth retaining. The suggested rule change that seemed to have the most legs was the "double intentional walk" that Bill James introduced a while ago (basically, after a four-pitch walk, the batter has the option to decline the free base and reset his at-bat; if a second four-pitch walk was thrown, the batter would get two free bases).

Rob Neyer also commented on the post. In one of his own postings yesterday, Rob aired his own opinion. Let's just say, he didn't particularly agree with me:
Today we have a lot of intentional walks, which seem to be within "the nature of the sport." But it was not always so. When the game's rules were first codified in the 19th century, the pitcher's job was essentially to serve the ball to the batter, and the batter's job was to put the ball in play and then run like hell until somebody put him out. Later, when the pitchers were actually trying to get batters out, for a while it took a lot of balls to walk a batter. Eight or nine of them. Why? Because nobody believed that walks should be an integral part of the nature of the game.
Well, I must beg to differ. It seems to me that if you've got something that clearly contradicts the real nature of the game -- pitchers throwing baseballs and hitters trying to hit them -- and the fans actively despise it, then you should seriously consider doing something about it.
There's nothing wrong with these opinions. They are opinions, after all. But, every time I read them, I feel like I missed something. Of course, I don't fancy myself important enough to have any bearing on a major discussion, but I still feel like I have to comment.

First off, I think I need to say that I am not a fan of the intentional walk. I find it frustrating and boring when a team walks a batter like Albert Pujols, especially in lesser-leverage situations. I boo when an opposing team does it to one of my own guys like Prince Fielder. It's just not fun to watch. But, like I said in the original piece, I don't think that's enough.

The original pieces that I read, and that inspired me to comment on the topic to begin with, seemed to dance around this point. They would admit to disliking the intentional walk at the start of their argument but would then try to justify their stance with other reasons, like gameplay issues. Basically, they tried to house their true objections - their objections as a fan - with offensive and defensive excuses. It seemed disingenuous to me, and that's why I had to say something.

At least now the debate is a little more clear: are the drawbacks of the intentional walk - the way it can kill the excitement of a game by completely removing the bat from some of the best sluggers in baseball - enough to justify a new rule? (Though Tango would probably phrase that a little differently: is there a way to handle intentional walks that improves the game?)

After all, changes have been made to the game of baseball for decades. Rob points out the advent of the infield fly rule and the evolution of the base on balls. In the BBTF thread, Tango mentions the changes in strike-zone enforcement and the make-up of the ball and mitt. If these rules and essential pieces of equipment can evolve and change, then why can't the intentional walk rule?

It's a good point, and one that I'm happy to concede. But it's still not enough to convince me. As Rob points out, most of these changes (the rules changes, at least) were made long ago, when the game was still growing and learning. Of course changes would be made then: it's impossible to anticipate every weakness a game might have, so changing the rules to accomodate them as they were discovered is only sensible. By now, 140 years after the game was invented, these weaknesses have been ironed out. The strike zone and pitching-count rules have had decades to prove their worth (though the strike zone's exact boundaries have proven to be a little too susceptible to the whims of the umpires and the commissioner's office), as have all the other esoteric rules of the game. They are where they should be.

So, should a recent uptick in intentional walks be enough to make us rethink the rule? Is this a serious and irrevocable exploitation of a flawed rule, or just evidence of managers choosing to make strategic use of a risky tool at their disposal? Does our natural dislike for the move matter? That's a decision that everyone needs to make individually. The game is not perfect, but is this one of the problems that need addressing? I don't think it is, but that's obviously not a universal opinion. If someone can give me a better reason than "it's boring" and give me a better suggestion for how to handle it (I do kind of like the "pitched-ball balk" rule I suggested last week), I might reconsider. So far, though, that hasn't happened, no matter how much I respect Rob or Tango.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Leading Off and Walking Off

A very interesting event happened Sunday night (and, no, it has nothing to do with the Apollo 11 moonlanding ;-). I'll let David Pinto explain:
Ian Kinsler started off the Rangers night with a home run in the bottom of the first, then ended the Rangers night with a home run in the bottom of the twelfth, a two-run shot that gave Texas a 5-3 victory over the Twins. He was able to get the game winner due to the Texas bullpen, which held the Twins to two hits over eight innings, walking two and striking out nine.
Leading off a game with a home run and then ending that very same game with another home run? That has to be remarkably rare, right? Both the leadoff home run and walkoff home run are uncommon enough that finding two in the same game and by the same player just seems incredibly improbable.

So, how uncommon is it? I did a quick query of the Retrosheet database and came up with only three other instances. Remember, this is only in the Retrosheet era, so there may be some from before 1954. The other three leadoff/walkoff home run pairs are:

Vic Power - Kansas City Athletics vs. Baltimore Orioles, May 7, 1957 (10 innings)
Power led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run off Hal Brown. The rest of the game was very low scoring, with each team scoring a single run in a couple of innings. By the time the ninth inning ended, it was 2-2 with 14 runners stranded. Power got one more hit in the game, a single in the fifth, but it wasn't until he came up in the 10th, still facing Hal Brown, that he would make history. His one-out, bases empty home run in the bottom of the 10th sent the A's home winners, and made Power's night one to remember.

Darin Erstad - Anaheim Angels vs. Minnesota Twins, June 25, 2000 (11 innings)
Facing the Twins' Mark Redman, Erstad wasted no time getting things started, hitting his 15th home run of the season. The Angels took a 4-1 lead in the fourth when Garrett Anderson hit a 3-run bomb, but the Twins got it all back and more when they scored five runs in the sixth off of two errors and four hits. The Angels tied it up again with two runs in the seventh, and the scoring stayed there until the 11th. Facing Eddie Guardado, who had only four saves at the time, Erstad took the 2-out, 1-0 pitch out of the park to win the game for the Halos. He was the first man in 43 years to do such a thing.

Reed Johnson - Toronto Blue Jays vs. Chicago Cubs, June 15, 2003 (10 innings)
Only three years later, Toronto's Reed Johnson became the last player to achieve the feat before Kinsler's big Sunday. Leading off the bottom of the first, Johnson worked Chicago's Shawn Estes enough to sock the eighth pitch of the at-bat out of the park, putting the Jays on top. After Corey Lidle gave up a grand slam in the top of the sixth to Troy O'Leary, the Jays scored two more in the bottom of the inning to tie it up at 4. That was the end of the scoring until Reed Johnson stepped up to the plate to leadoff the bottom of the 10th. On a 2-0 pitch from Mark Guthrie, Johnson ended the game, to the delight of all Toronto fans. It was only his second hit of the game, but the third and final time someone had both started and ended a game with a home run.

That is, of course, until Kinsler did it this week. I can only imagine how exciting that must've been for both Kinsler and Rangers' fans. I've seen some exciting walk-off hits in my times (most notably Raul Mondesi's eleventh-inning game-winning home run after having already tied the game with another home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on Opening Day 1999), but nothing quite like this. And the fact that he was only the fourth man ever to do it makes it that much more special.

(On the SABR-L mailing list, David Vincent points out that HOFer Billy Hamilton achieved the feat on May 17, 1893. That's easily verified on his home run log. I wonder if there's any others that can be found using the HR Log, though, I suppose David would've pointed them out if there were. Thanks for that, David.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Eagle Has Landed

At 4:17 PM Eastern Daylight Time on Sunday, July 20, 1969 - forty years ago today - one of the most remarkable feats in the history of mankind occurred: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed their Lunar Module, named "Eagle", on the surface of the moon. Apollo 11's mission to land on the moon captivated the world in such a way that the landing was watched back on Earth by hundreds of millions of people, easily the largest television audience ever at the time.

But not everyone was watching television at the time. In ten cities across the country, major league baseball games were scheduled, including five double-headers. The games did not all start at the same time, though, so the moon landing hit them all differently. In Seattle, for example:
"...pregame ceremonies before an American League baseball game between the hometown Pilots and the Minnesota Twins were interrupted by an announcement of the moon landing. The fans cheered, stood up and sang 'America the Beautiful.'"
The Twins-Pilots game wasn't the only one interrupted, though. The Cubs and Phillies were in the third inning of the second game of their doubleheader in Philadelphia when the announcement was made. The game was stopped for five minutes while players lined up on the foul lines and offered a silent prayer. A recording of Kate Smith's "God Bless America" was then played in the stadium before play finally resumed. There's a great image of the moment in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star:

Members of the Chicago Cubs (third base line) and Philadelphia Phillies join umpires and 12,393 paying customers in a moment of silent prayer for safe completion of the Apollo 11 mission. The scene occurred during the second game of a doubleheader at Connie Mack Stadium.
But the live games weren't the only ones getting interrupted. For anyone watching the games at home on television, they were subject to the whims of the stations' producers, and those whims, more often than not, were going to go with the excitement on the lunar surface. Of course, this probably didn't bother the vast majority of people at home that day, but that doesn't mean everyone was excited about it:
"In the Kansas City home of L.L. Moore, the activity of the Apollo team on the surface of the moon ranked second to the battle for third place between the Kansas City Royals and the Chicago White Sox in the Western Division of the American League.

'My husband tried to watch the ball game and it was really pretty hard,' said Mrs. Moore. 'The television station kept switching back and forth between the space program and the ball game. Of course we watched the moon walk when it happened but we also wanted to see the Royals.'"
It's in New York, though, where we have the best account of what happened during the moon landing. It was Bat Day that Sunday afternoon, and the Yankees were playing the Senators. The score was tied 2-2 in the top of the eighth. With runners on the corners and no one out, Jack Aker faced Ken McMullen. The count was 1-2 when the 32,933 paying fans heard Bob Shepard's voice interrupt the game:
'Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please,' came the voice of Bob Shepard, the public address announcer.

The umpires, according to prior arrangements, waved their arms and stopped play.

Announcement Cut Short

'You will be happy to know,' Shepard continued, 'that the Apollo 11 has landed safely...'

And a tremendous cheer drowned the words 'on the moon.'

The cheering continued for about 45 seconds. On the scoreboard, the message section read 'They're on the moon.' People stood. They waved the bats back and forth. Shepard kept talking, but his words could not be made out through the din.

On the field, the players seemed confused, or impatient. Most did not turn toward the scoreboard. Finally, the announcer could be understood and he asked the crowd for a moment of silent prayer for the safe return of the astronauts.

The crowd stilled. After a few seconds of silence, a recording of 'America the Beautiful,' sung by a chorus, blared through the loudspeakers. At the end of the song, another mighty cheer arose, just like the one that usually greets the completion of the National Anthem before a game.

The game resumed at 4:21 pm. McMullen bounced into an out at the plate, and exactly one hour later the Yankees scored the winning run.
I can't think of a better place to be to hear such incredible news than in the company of 33,000 other excited people (well, other than at home watching it live, I mean). I can only imagine the feeling of awe and wonder that everyone in attendance that day must have felt when Bob Shepard made that announcement. I suspect no one remembers the 11th inning Gene Michaels basehit that won the game for the Yankees that afternoon, and I doubt that it was even much of a topic of discussion as people exited the ballpark. The two astronauts on the moon must've been much too intriguing.

On a personal note, I've lived my whole life in the post-moon landing world. To me, the impossible has always seemed achievable because of the outrageous success of Project Apollo and the immense effort that went into making it. I only wish I had been able to experience it first hand, instead of having to learn about it through books and movies. I mean, I was excited when two robots landed on Mars - I have no idea what I'd be thinking if men were landing on the moon.

I am glad that the 40th Anniversary is being handled so well, and that it seems to be inspiring people anew. It gives me hope that I'll be able to witness something similar in my lifetime. In the meantime, I guess I'll just have to settle for the awesome We Choose the Moon website. But if anyone wants to put up a couple (dozen) billion dollars to send me to the moon, I'm game!

(Oh, and don't forget to check out this post from yesterday: Walking on the Lunar Diamond)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Walking on the Lunar Diamond

If you're following along on Twitter, you'd have seen that I'm pretty excited about the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing that's going on right now. NASA is rightfully making a big deal about this, releasing some amazing new videos and pictures of the event. There's also a fantastic effort going on over at the We Choose the Moon website, where they are re-living the entire mission in real time, including audio and some fancy graphics.

Well, as of right now, we are now less than 24 hours away from the moon landing, and I'm too excited not to post something really cool. So, even though the astronauts were on the moon for over six-and-a-half hours before they actually opened the doors and stepped onto the surface (meaning we're still 30 hours away from that happening), I thought the image below was more than appropriate:
What you're seeing there is a map of the lunar excursion of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, superimposed on a baseball diamond. Click on the image for a much higher resolution. Their spacecraft - the famous Eagle in "The Eagle has landed" - is shown on the pitcher's mound. The yellow lines show just how far Buzz and Neil actually walked in their two-and-a-half hours on the surface.

Seeing it on top of a baseball diamond really gives you a good sense of just how limited their activity really was. And look towards the third base line, about where a too-hard bunt might be fielded by the pitcher or third baseman: that's where they planted the American flag. It's no wonder the flag fell over when they blasted off again. That excursion by Armstrong into shallow centerfield must have felt like he was going out into no-man's land, even though he was barely 150 feet from the lander.

Of course, later Apollo missions went much, much farther away from the lunar lander (with the "moon buggy" driving the astronauts miles on the moon). Apollo 11's job, though, was just to show that landing and walking on the moon was even possible. There was no need to complicate it further with excessive time on the surface. Still, there's no doubt that Armstrong and Aldrin's walk on the moon has captivated our imaginations for decades. I love, then, how this image gives us a new view on that famous stroll.

I'll be back early tomorrow with more on the moon landing and baseball. In the meantime, I think everyone should be following along with the We Choose the Moon project. It's fascinating stuff.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Social Media Steamroller

I just thought I'd take the moment here to say that I started a Twitter account for the blog here. I'm not sure how often I'll use it, or exactly what I'll be saying with it, but it seemed like an experiment worth trying. So, if any of you use Twitter, why don't you go follow wezen-ball on Twitter.

I also set something up over on Facebook. Again, I don't yet know the best way to use all of these fancy new tools - the future is a crazy place - but they're worth checking out. For all of you who use Facebook (and I'm sure there are plenty of you), please head on over here to follow wezen-ball on Facebook.

Thanks, everyone. Hope to see you on the social media steamroller.

The Intentional Walk Has to Stay

There's a sentiment going around the baseball blogosphere that, every time I encounter it, I can't quite seem to understand: intentional walks are anathema to the game and should be removed from the game. Oh, I read and follow and understand the arguments that are provided, but I just can't shake the feeling that what I'm reading are justifications for getting rid of something that the blogger doesn't like on a personal level instead of legitimate reasons for outlawing a true flaw of the game of baseball. The fact that these arguments are raised by some of the writers that I admire the most - Joe Posnanski and Tom Tango to name two - just serves to confuse me even more. The intentional walk of Victor Martinez in this week's All Star Game seems to have re-sparked the fire, at least a little.

The Argument (and why it's wrong)

The gist of the argument is that a) it gives too much power to the defensive team by allowing them to completely remove the offense's only weapon (their bats) and b) it's unsporting and goes against the very nature of the batter-pitcher matchup, which is the heart of the sport. Here's one very clear denouncing of the IBB from Pos (also echoed by Tango):
Now, I need to say up front that I hate the intentional walk. Hate it. Loathe it. Despise it. I appreciate that there are times for it, and I expect that it ”works“ more often than it fails because pitchers get outs more often than they allow hits and walks. Runners on second and third, one out, tie score, ninth inning, I get the intentional walk there. When managers were walking Barry Bonds every day, it was infuriating to watch, sickening to watch, pathetic to watch, but I at least understood — Bonds had, for any number of reasons, crossed some line where he was officially too good. And so on.

Still. I abhor the strategy in almost every instance except the most obvious ones. It goes counter to every single thing I believe about baseball. The game is about challenging people. The game is about pitcher vs. hitter. The game is also about entertaining millions of fans — let’s not get away from that.
So we get it. The intentional walk is no good for the game of baseball because it's an unsportsmanlike way of avoiding the challenges that are inherent to the game. Thus, Pos and Tango would argue, it should be done away with completely and anything resembling an intentional pass must be penalized in some way.

But I just don't see where that leap in logic came from. Walks are a powerful weapon. It's been well-established in the sabermetric community, and accepted throughout much of baseball in general these days, that walks, while not as powerful or impactful as a line drive basehit to the outfield, are still incredibly useful and should be viewed as a positive result of any at-bat. So how can anyone feel that the pitching team is taking away the offense's weapons when they freely and intentionally put the batter on base? A walk is a penalty to the pitching team and a boon to the offense. Why then are we complaining about it?

Maybe it's because the IBB forces the offense into only one move and removes their option of doing anything further. If that is the case, then it should be noted that the complaints have shifted from the defensive to the offensive perspective. Still, though, the offense has every chance to take advantage of the new situation in the ensuing at-bats. It's no different than if the batter had walked in an unintentional way except that it was a conscious decision by the defense to face this new batter in this newly disadvantageous situation. I don't see how it's either unsportsmanlike or against the nature of the game to give the defense the ability to make that choice.

It is boring, though, and it does remove some of the excitement of the moment. This is neither an offensive nor defensive argument, though - it's a fan's argument. Which gets me to what I said earlier: I can't shake the feeling that these reasoned, impassioned pleas for the abolishment of the intentional walk aren't anything more than mere "I don't like it, so get rid of it" arguments. When the main pieces of your argument are "this is how I feel" and "this is boring to the fans", I think you're treading on thin ice. Rule changes should be made only to strengthen the play on the field, but only if they do not conflict with the nature of the sport and do not add undue complications to the basic gameplay. To outright disallow a legal play, the evidence of its negative impact on the game must be indisputable. I don't think that's true for the intentional walk.

A Suggested "Solution"

That's not to say rule changes are impossible, or that I don't have at least a little suggestion to improve the situation. Earlier this week, Tango wrote another piece on his distaste for the intentional walk. In the comments (which are a very good read, by the way), he asks for any possible alternatives to the current setup, no matter your position on the issue:
Once again, I will ask the bright folks here to act like a paid consultant who has been charged to finding a better way out of problem that your customer has noted: he does not want to see Albert Pujols being walked on 4 pitches any more than other top hitters. Your personal feeling on this issue as a consultant on this issue is irrelevant.

PLEASE, do not take the politicians way out and say that the current structure is the best. You are a paid consultant. Your job is to find a solution.
I gave a suggestion later on in the comments:
One thing to note, even though I’m not particularly in favor of any rule changes regarding the intentional walk: there is some precedent for a slight rule change that both altered the standard batter-pitcher matchup and was done to increase its sportsmanship - the two-strike foul bunt.

It’s a special rule that everyone knows comes into play only when the batter has two strikes on him, but no one seems to have a problem with that. And the rule was obviously put in place to prevent perpetual at-bats. What it has going for it (and this is the reason I don’t think anybody has much issue with it) is that it doesn’t introduce any kind of complications to the matchup and it resolves itself immediately. You have two strikes and you bunt the ball foul, you’re out. Pure and simple. (Of course, if the rule was suggested today, then people would complain about the fine points and how umpires would have trouble distinguishing some bunts from swings, etc...)

If I were in favor of any kind of rule change, it would have to affect only the 3-0 count and be resolved immediately. Here’s my suggestion (and I know that other people have mentioned it, but I think I provide some good justifications for it here):

Classify any “ball” thrown on a 3-0 count as a “pitched-ball balk” (or something along those lines). The runner would get his base on balls, ending up at first, but all other runners would advance a base as well. Each runner would only be given one base. The ball would still be live. If the bases were loaded, the runners would still only advance one base unless they wanted to test the defense. A wild pitch would still give the batter-runner and the base-runner their one base, but they would be free to try for another one.

I think this rule would work really well because it does not deviate from any established rules whatsoever. A bases empty walk wouldn’t incur any further penalty to the pitching team, but neither does a bases empty balk. The situation is immediately resolved, so there’s no “bleeding” into extra or ensuing at-bats. And, most importantly, the pitcher is already used to being penalized for miscues on the mound by way of balk, and this would not do anything different.

The only thing I’d like to add to that rule would be to give the home plate umpire discretion in deciding whether the pitcher tried to throw a strike and failed or if he was just throwing ball-4 away. This would be similar to the umpire deciding whether a batter hit by a pitch attempted to get out of the way of the pitch or not. This isn’t a discretion given to umpires about balks, though, so it might not be a good idea unless the general balk rule is re-examined.
I'm not convinced that this is a better solution than just leaving the rules as they are but, if the rule had to be changed, I think this is the best possible solution. The fact that it introduces no new concepts to the sport and is not executed any differently from other established rules in the sport is a big plus in my book. As it stands, though, I don't see any need to change this rule just because we don't like to watch the best players in the game get walked. It may be annoying, but it does not go against the nature of the sport in any way. It's up to each team to use their roster in such a way that they can take advantage of these free passes. If you want to get upset at anybody, it should be the manager (or general manager). The intentional walk is not to blame.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Midseason Update - Preseason Predictions

At the end of spring training, I joined the throngs of bloggers, baseball personalities, and other baseball fans in offering my predictions for the season. As I said then, I'm absolutely terrible in making preseason predictions (I predicted the Royals to make the World Series in 2004 - they lost 104 games instead), so this was meant more in fun. It's just what you do before the season starts, right?

If you click through to that prediction piece from early April, you'll see that I did try to do something a little different:
But to make it even more exciting, I've decided to invite some others to give their predictions too. My brother was ingenious enough to set-up a spreadsheet using Google Docs that can record a bunch of predictions, and I've invited all my friends and fellow bloggers (that I could remember at the time) to use that spreadsheet to record their predictions. Hopefully, a few of them will, and we'll be able to compare the various predictions side-by-side. Feel free to view the predictions here...
I thought it was a great idea, and was glad to see that a few others did as well. In the end, seven other bloggers, along with myself and a few friends, participated in the group prediction. It was a better result than I could have expected, and I hope everyone had fun doing it.

So now that we're at the All Star break, how are we all doing? Is there any kind of knowledge in our collective wisdom, or has this baseball season just been too strange for everyone? Looking at the group as a whole, there were a couple of predictions that just about everyone made that have proven to be dead wrong. Most of these can be blamed on the Cubs, who seemed to be the consensus runaway NL Central winner, and the Tigers, who I don't think anyone picked above third place (and who a few picked to finish last). Along those same lines, the Dodgers' dominant season wasn't predicted by anybody, including the Dodgers fans, and both the Giants and Indians seem to have surprised everybody, though for different reasons.

My predictions had the Mets, Cubs and Twins all leading their divisions, while the Tigers were in the cellar. I also had very high hope for the A's, putting them at second in the West. At least I was able to correctly predict Boston, Anaheim, and Los Angeles. As I said, I'm just not good at this. I'm even doing poorly in the postseason awards, with Francisco Liriano and Manny Ramirez prominently involved.

I'd like to say that one of my fellow bloggers towered above the rest, but I'm not sure I can. If I had to pick one, it would probably be Josh Wilker of the excellent Cardboard Gods. While he was only able to predict 3 of the 6 division leaders, he did predict the best season out of Detroit (2nd place with 83 wins) and his 87-win prediction for the Giants is higher than most. He did predict a runaway division win for the Mets, though, and while that's technically possible, it's definitely not the case here at the break. Albert Pujols is looking like a pretty good MVP choice, though.

Besides Josh, I would probably have to go with Dave Pinto over at Baseball Musings. His best picks have the Angels, Phillies, and Dodgers in first with the Giants finishing second in the West. He also puts the Cardinals in second with 85 wins, which is pretty close to reality. Like Josh, though, his Yankees and Indians picks look really out of place (not to mention his last place prediction for the Tigers).

After those two, it's kind of a mix-and-match of good and bad predictions. Not that we can really blame anyone for that, though - this season truly has been a weird one. Josh from Jorge Says No! has the best Dodgers prediction (97 wins), but the 99 wins he predicted for the Cubs and the Twins-Indians duo in the AL Central seem a little out of whack.

Mark from Way Back and Gone showed his Braves bias a little, plugging them in for 91 wins and a 2nd place finish. He did make up for it some with his Anaheim, Philadelphia, and Boston picks. His pick of Pablo Sandoval as Rookie of the Year would be quite prescient too, except that the Kung Fu Panda had too many ABs last year to qualify. You have to give Mark points for predicting the big season, though.

Jay from Fack Youk nailed the two Southern California teams, but he let his New York bias show through when he put the Mets and Yankees both in first place. Normally, I could say the same thing about my brother Paul and my buddy Ryan, who let their Dodgers and Giants biases show through, but, the way those two teams are playing, they probably look like the smartest guys in the crowd. Ryan's also doing pretty well with the postseason awards, naming Halladay and Lincecum as Cy Young winners and Pujols as the NL MVP. Paul joined Mark in giving the ROY to Pablo Sandoval while Jay also had Pujols as the MVO.

Ron from Baseball Over Here is looking pretty smart with his Cardinals (1st place) and Rangers (2nd place) predictions. He was the only one to predict such high finishes for those two teams, but he did also place the Giants and Tigers in the cellar. It's definitely been a funny year.

My old buddy Joe went off a little on his own, predicting a first place finish for the Giants and a second place finish for the Reds (his favorite team, of course). The Reds pick may not be panning out as he would hope, but at least he's getting something out of his Boston and Anaheim choices.

Finally, The Common Man made the bold prediction of the A's winning the AL West. And while that may not have been a huge shock in April, it probably looks the worst out of all the picks today (sorry, TCM!). Like I said, it's been a funny year. At least he was able to correctly predict the Red Sox, Rays, and Dodgers. His choice of Halladay as AL Cy Young is also worth mentioning.

In the end, I think this tells us more about the way this season is going than anything else. Sure, preseason predictions are hard and ultimately pointless, but I have to guess that, in a pool of 12 predictions, you can usually find one or two that are nearly spot-on. That doesn't seem to be the case here, and I'm choosing to blame the MLB season rather than the baseball intelligence of my friends/fellow bloggers. Even knowing that, I still hold out hope that, come October, my prediction sheet will come out closest to reality. It must be some weird aspect of human nature, to never give up on something as silly as this. I'm not holding out any hope though - I might as well add the Mets to my list of failed preseason predictions. Gotta keep the streak going, you know?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Best Player to Never Make an All-Star Team

In a post talking about the players who hit the most home runs in their career without ever being selected to an All-Star team - well, that and how Eric Karros might want to stop whining about never going to the Midsummer Classic - Rob Neyer added this:
Let's not shed too many tears for Eric Karros. The best part of his game was his power, and for a player of his era he didn't have all that much power. You may, on the other hand, fell just a little bit sorry for Tim Salmon. Karros's career OPS+ was 107; Salmon's was 128, and he twice finished seventh in MVP balloting. I don't know if he's the best player who was never an All-Star, but he's gotta be close.
"I don't know if he's the best player who was never an All-Star, but he's gotta be close." It's almost a throwaway line, but it's a question just begging to be answered: who is the best player to never be an All-Star? I've seen the question before in relation the the MVP award (where Wade Boggs and Mike Piazza usually make the top of the list), but never with the All-Star Game. And, considering the large number of All-Stars every year, the list has to be much smaller (though a little less glamorous).

As I've done a few times before, I decided to use Win Shares, which is the best all-around stat that I have available, to find the answer. I had to restrict the list to players who retired after 1940. Since the All Star Game didn't begin until 1933, it seems unfair to count someone like Rogers Hornsby, who retired in 1937 and never really got a chance to play in an All-Star Game during his prime. I struggled a little trying to decide what the best cut-off date was, but, with 7 All-Star Games having been played by 1940, it seemed fair. Plus, the 1940 cut-off date doesn't skew the numbers much in anyway, so it should work well.
Top 15 Players Who Were Never an All-Star, by Win Shares

1. Tony Phillips, '82-'99 (268 WS)
2. Joe Kuhel, '30-'47 (243 WS)
3. Tim Salmon, '92-'06 (233 WS)
4. Babe Herman, '26-'45 (232 WS)
5. Charley Root, '23-'41 (223 WS)
6. Freddie Fitzsimmons, '25-'43 (222 WS)
7. Todd Zeile, '89-'04 (221 WS)
8. Richie Hebner, '68-'85 (219 WS)
9. Kirk Gibson, '79-'95 (218 WS)
10. Jose Cardenal, '63-'80 (212 WS)
11. Garry Maddox, '72-'86 (203 WS)
12. Kevin McReynolds, '83-'94 (202 WS)
13. Hal Trosky, '33-'46 (195 WS)
14. Bill Doran, '82-'93 (193 WS)
15. Bill Bruton, '53-'64 (190 WS)
Rob was pretty close to right when he said that Tim Salmon may be the best player to never have made an All-Star team, but he wasn't right on. Somehow, though, it's infielder extraordinaire Tony Phillips, from the late-'80s A's and early-'90s Tigers, to make it atop the list. From there, we find former Washington Senator and Chicago White Sox Joe Kuhel, who spent the bulk of his career in the All-Star era, but could never quite cut it. Salmon comes third, followed by a couple of 1930s-era players in Babe Herman and Charley Root.

I have to admit, I'm much more surprised at seeing Tony Phillips at the top of the list than I am at seeing Salmon at number three. Maybe it's because I was a little older when Salmon was playing than when Phillips was, I don't know. I actually had trouble remembering who Phillips was at first until I saw a couple of his baseball cards from 1988 and '89. He had a strong career though, with a 118 OPS+ or better five separate times and a career 109 OPS+ playing mostly at second base.

One last thing: when I initially looked at this list, I thought for sure that looking at the Black Ink and Gray Ink numbers for these non-All Stars would give us a good list of the best players never to make an All Star team, but it doesn't seem to work that way. Using the weighted Gray Ink Test I discussed here, we actually find two things: the best non-All Stars on the list are disproportionally from the 1930s and 1940s, when there were much fewer teams (a standard problem with Black and Gray Ink Tests), and the players listed above who didn't play in the 1940s actually score kind of poorly on the weighted Gray Ink Test. Which might make sense, if you think about it: if those players were routinely in the top 10 in major offensive categories, then they'd likely have been an All-Star at some point. Here are the top 10 non-All Star players, by weighted Gray Ink score, followed by the Gray Ink scores of the 15 players listed above.
Top 10 Players Who Were Never an All-Star, by Weighted Gray Ink Score

1. Charley Root, '23-'41 (100.9 pts, 223 WS)
2. Babe Herman, '26-'45 (66 pts, 232 WS)
3. Dennis Leonard, '74-'86 (62.5 pts, 133 WS)
4. Hal Trosky, '33-'46 (60.2 pts, 195 WS)
5. Freddie Fitzsimmons, '25-'43 (59.1 pts, 222 WS)
6. Bump Hadley, '26-'41 (57.6 pts, 175 WS)
7. Guy Bush, '23-'45 (56.8 pts, 167 WS)
8. Cesar Tovar, '65-'76 (48.1 pts, 178 WS)
9. Juan Pierre, 2000-?? (45.2 pts, 131 WS)
10. Ellis Kinder, '46-'57 (39.6 pts, 145 WS)
I might be tempted to say Charley Root or Babe Herman are the best non-All Stars ever, but I don't think I can bring myself to say that since a) they didn't have an All Star game for a good portion of their career and b) the Gray Ink tests are always skewed towards their era. It's hard to know exactly how to account for all of that. Among the others, Dennis Leonard was a workhorse for the Kansas City Royals during the '70s, but it's still pretty surprising to see someone like him so close to the top. Current Los Angeles Dodger Juan Pierre also finds himself pretty high on the list. Looking at his BR page, the black ink jumps out in the games played, at-bats, hits, and stolen base categories.
Weighted Grey Ink Scores of Top Non-All Stars (by Win Shares)

1. Tony Phillips - 268 WS, 29.2 pts
2. Joe Kuhel - 243 WS, 32.2 pts
3. Tim Salmon - 233 WS, 23.6 pts
4. Babe Herman - 232 WS, 66 pts
5. Charley Root - 223 WS, 100.9 pts
6. Freddie Fitzsimmons - 222 WS, 59.1 pts
7. Todd Zeile - 221 WS, 7.5 pts
8. Richie Hebner - 219 WS, 1.5 pts
9. Kirk Gibson - 218 WS, 15.3 pts
10. Jose Cardenal - 212 WS, 17.7 pts
11. Garry Maddox - 203 WS, 14.6 pts
12. Kevin McReynolds - 202 WS, 14.3 pts
13. Hal Trosky - 195 WS, 60.2 pts
14. Bill Doran - 193 WS, 9.5 pts
15. Bill Bruton - 190 WS, 28.5 pts

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pitchers in the Outfield

For those of you watching the Cubs-Cardinals game on ESPN last night - and I was definitely *not* one of you; I don't exactly need to hear Joe Morgan and Jon Miller talk about the Cubs or the rivalry with the Cards - you saw a pretty interesting maneuver by Chicago's Lou Piniella:
The second game featured some unusual maneuvering by Cubs manager Lou Piniella in the ninth inning. With no outs and the bases loaded, Piniella moved left-handed reliever Sean Marshall to left for one batter and moved him back to the mound to face left-handed hitter Skip Schumaker.

"We did what we had to do to try to keep the game in check and it worked," said Piniella.
Must've been fun to watch, aside from the hemming-and-hawing that I'm sure Joe, Jon, and Steve went into.

As fascinating as this was last night, though, it wasn't the first time this has happened. And it definitely wasn't the longest parade of position switches for pitchers. Actually, I wrote about this same thing only two months ago. The best story is a 1986 game between the Mets and Reds, when Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell shuttled between the outfield and the mound (and between the two outfield corners) for a couple of innings. There's also a couple of good stories about Fernando Valenzuela playing in both the outfield and at first base in separate games. Check it out: Forget About Non-Pitchers Pitching, How About Pitchers Playing the Field?.