Saturday, January 29, 2005

My Nemesis

I think I have been shocked into hiding by the signing of one David Eckstein. Once that happened, my view of the Cardinals deteriorated rapidly. I thought it was shrewd not to sign Mike Matheny - there was a capable backup and that money can go to pitching. I thought it was shrewd not to sign Edgar Renteria - a great player, but due to the overvaluing of SS, way too expensive @ $10 mil per. I thought it was fantastic to resign Matt Morris for $2.5 million - because he is still relatively young, and if he is healthy he can have a huge upside. Morris signed for one million less than Woody Williams - and is eight years younger. I have definitely come around to the Mark Grudzielanek signing, even though as a part-time Dodgers fan, I still don't trust him. But, for only $1 million dollars, he is a capable bat and decent fielder - possibly even an upgrade over Womack.

I also like the Mark Mulder deal. Now we can have X-Files commercials to promote the Cardinals. I think that Billy Beane got a lot of talent for Mulder, but for a true ace like him (if healthy) it is a very small price, both in terms of the talent traded and the amount of money he makes for the next two years. Then again, when it comes to pitching there are no guarantees. Mulder could be injured and Haren and Calero could be the next Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera. I think it was a good calculated chance, though if I had my druthers, I think I would have preferred keeping the young talent. However, I won't complain about that trade.

What I will complain about, and complain from the top of the rooftops and the shores of Tripoli, is that the David Eckstein signing has to be the WORST EVER. No ma'am, I am not prone to hyperbole. WORST EVER. Where is the comic book guy when you need him? WORST EVER. Given a choice between a seasick crocodile and Eckstein, I'll take the seasick crocodile. WORST EVER. Simeon and Sammie Haley have nothing on David Eckstein. WORST EVER. Oh my gosh, I just stepped on a rusty nail in the middle of Antarctica, a storm is moving in, threatening several feet of snow, the wind is hurricane force, I have no more water and I had to eat my childhood pet to survive two days ago. THE ECKSTEIN SIGNING IS WORSE.

Ok, let's look at a couple of things. Where does David Eckstein rank defensively in terms of Win Shares? 24th out of all the shortstops. Where does he rank offensively? 26th. Total? 25th. WOW, that's a peach, hon! All this for only $3.4 million a year? Oh my gosh, where can I get one? You know, as successful as Elmer J. Fudd was, he owned a mansion and a yacht, he never had a bright new shiny Eckstein.

Am I being hard on the little hustler? He works so hard and positions himself so well, maybe I should respect him? This has nothing to do with respect. I am sure the little fellow is nice and able to take care of himself. I bet he even goes to the store on his own to buy his groceries. But, let's look at the money. THE FREAKISHLY large amount of money spent to get this man with the size and mobility of a garden gnome. He is paid just under Mike Matheny - at least Matheny is EXCELLENT at something - he is just about the best glove man behind the plate right now.

I can't go on. You can look for yourself at the players signed for less than Eckstein here. Highlights are Pokey Reese and Craig Counsell who signed for less than half of Eckstein. I think this was a panic signing. Yes, I am sure it will be fine with the rest of the team, but the first bad move always seems to lead to more. I mean, look at the Royals.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Where'd everybody go?

Regular readers of this site (of which there are none) may have been wondering what happened. It's been about three weeks since anything has been posted. Where's the baseball insight? Where's the controversial opinions? Where's the waste of space that the internet has opened in abundance to anyone who wants?

I don't know about other folks' waste, but us here at Dexy's Midnight Maas have been busy with a Diamond Mind baseball league. Well, that's the Can's excuse. He runs the website and has been doing a terrific job at it. Jason lets his job prevent him from using the internet during the week which leaves his Sunday cafe jaunts as his time to write. Me? I've been working on offline baseball projects which I'll share someday.

Nonetheless, the league has been a lot of fun and very interesting so far. The Can simulates three days of games every weeknight and posts the results on the website. The twelve owners in the league are scattered across the countryside so we communicate via e-mail and keep abreast of the season through The Can's work.

Being as we are all scattered and many of us have families and all of us have about two billion other things going on in our lives, we found it difficult to establish a time to hold a draft or auction. We decided we wanted to do an auction to bring in the extra element of putting a value on talent.

An aside....we ran a league last winter which The Can completely dominated. We had a vast number of players from which to select and we all sort of lost interest rather quickly into the season. We limited the talent pool this time to 45 historic teams which made player selection a bit more challenging.

Having a more limited pool, we turned to determining how to distribute said players. We wanted an auction but we couldn't meet to do it. We decided on everyone submitting a player for auction each day and then maximum bids being made by everyone on each player that the owner desired. For example, maybe I suggested Roberto Clemente as a player. Maybe five owners had an interest in him. Each submitted how much they were willing to pay based on desire for the player, positional needs, players remaining, money remaining and value (and maybe some other criteria). Since no one knew how much anyone else was bidding, it made the process much more challenging, especially early on. You didn't know whether you were bidding too high, too low, or right in line.

Thirty games into the season, we still don't know. One of the fun parts of this league is that it pits players from different eras against each other. Since we're using a higher caliber of opposition than a player would normally encounter, performances are modified in that manner as well as era. We also have different stadiums than what were used by each player in real life. That creates variability as well.

Thirty games in and all three of us have winning records. More notably, in terms of run differential, The Can leads the league, I am second, and Jason is 4th (of 12).

I had a strategy going in that I fouled up. I went with an all lefthanded lineup, batters and pitchers, with an intent on playing in a home stadium that favored lefties, thereby improving my chances at home while diminishing my opponents. Only I didn't research the stadium factors well enough and chose a really poor season of Yankee Stadium. Fortunately, I drafted a fairly talented team and we've overcome my error. It has been very interesting seeing how a team can do that completely throws the idea of lefty-righty platoon advantage out the window. If a right-handed batter is up, I cannot bring a righty specialist in from the bullpen to pitch to him.

The one exception is one of my starting pitchers, Jim Rooker. He bats right-handed and batted very well for the season of his I am using. I have him set up as the pinch-hitter against lefties. He is 0-3 this season in that spot so it is too hard to tell if there is any benefit/loss to doing this.

It seems like everyone is enjoying this season more than last and hopefully that continues.

GOTT Baseball

Friday, January 07, 2005

The rotation that time forgot

With the Yankees recent potential trade that has almost gone through for Randy Johnson, many folk, including, have been proclaiming the Yankees as having one of the best rotations ever. Johnson will be joining Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown, Catfish Hunter, a robot clone of Whitey Ford and Tommy John, who in an effort to revive his career, had Curt Schilling surgery performed on his ankle.

ESPN went so far as to list some of the all-time great pitching rotations ever. While actually touting a White Sox rotation (the 1964 staff of Gary Peters, Juan Pizarro, Joel Horlen and John Buzhardt) one of the more historic staffs garnered nary a mention.

The 1920 White Sox were a talented team. After dominating the American League in 1919 they lost the World Series in what soon became known as the Black Sox scandal. The Sox would continue their dominance in 1920 but late in the season, owner Charles Comiskey benched several players involved in the scandal which led to the White Sox finishing two games behind the Cleveland Indians in the standings.

The rotation that season set a mark that has only been equalled once in history. The four members of the rotation each won twenty games apiece. The 1971 Baltimore Orioles would also match that mark. Furthermore, the staff was poised for even greater success if not for the suspensions of the eight members of the team accused of being involved in fixing the World Series.

The 1920 staff was led by Urban "Red" Faber. Faber had established himself as one of the top pitchers in the league but was limited in role during the 1919 season because of injuries. In 1920, he started more games than any pitcher in the league and was one of the top pitchers, going 23-13 with an ERA of 2.99. Faber continued on as a successful pitcher, spending twenty seasons in all with the White Sox, winning twenty games four times before being elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.

The number two man was young southpaw Claude "Lefty" Williams. Despite an ERA near the league average, Williams posted a 22-14 record at the age of 27. The diminutive pitcher (a listed 5'9", 165 pounds) had established himself as one of the premiere control pitchers in baseball, throwing a difficult curve that was able to drop in at the batter's knees. After his suspension from baseball, Williams operated a bar in Chicago where he played semi-pro baseball for many years. His 82-48 record is the highest winning percentage of any White Sox pitcher in history.

Whereas the career of Lefty Williams was shortened and the potential greatness unrealized, the same can not be said of Eddie "Knuckles" Cicotte. In 1920, at the age of 36, Cicotte went 21-10, winning 20 games for the third time in four seasons. He also three 300 innings for the third time in four years. With his advanced age (he would have been the second oldest pitcher in the league in 1921), there is a question of how much longer the chronically sore-armed pitcher would continue. Cicotte's success was as much psychological as physical, though. Cicotte was one of the last pitchers who legally threw a "shineball", a pitch where the application of shoeshine to the ball would cause the ball to move with an unexpected trajectory. Like the legendary Hall of Famer and spitballer Gaylord Perry, Cicotte was as successful not throwing the pitch as he was doctoring the ball. With feints and gestures Cicotte would keep opposing batters guessing as to whether or not the shineball was being thrown. Add in the knuckleball which earned him his nickname and Cicotte had a reperotire that did not involve taxing his arm. He may have been able to post several more years which may have made him a candidate for the Hall.

The fourth and final member of the rotation was Dickie Kerr. Kerr is known mostly for winning the third and sixth games of the 1919 Series and wreaking financial havoc amongst those involved in the fixing of the Series. Kerr, 26, went 21-9 in 1920. In 1921, with Williams and Cicotte gone as well as star players Buck Weaver, Joe Jackson and Hap Felsch, Kerr was thrust into the role of the number two starter behind Faber. With a decimated defense and a lack of offensive punch, the Sox finished seventh in the league with a 62-92 record. In the offseason, Comiskey offered Kerr a new contract with a five hundred dollar paycut (in a time when a pitcher of Kerr's service likely earned about $2000 annually). Kerr refused to sign and sat out the season. Despite not being involved in the Black Sox scandal, Kerr still found himself blacklisted for his refusal to sign. He played semi-professional baseball for several years before negotiating a return to the White Sox in 1925. Kerr appeared in twelve games before retiring.

It's difficult not to wonder the what-ifs of this group. Faber, one of the Clean Sox, followed the management line and found himself in the Hall of Fame (although his lack of involvement in the scandal may have aided in his selection. It's not unreasonable to think that Cicotte could have won 92 games over the next four or five seasons which would have given him three hundred career victories and guaranteed a spot in Cooperstown. Williams, given his young age and track record to that point, seems as if he, too, could have had a Hall-worthy career. And Kerr, if able to pitch in the fourth position on the team, could surely have been successful for years to come.

What-ifs aren't what happened and the group without Faber had one full season in the major leagues after 1920. Still, the 1920 season was a great one for the White Sox, and provided baseball with one of the best rotations ever.

Monday, January 03, 2005

New Year, Old Players

I had been meaning for some time to contribute my thoughts on the upcoming (read: tomorrow) Hall of Fame election results. If I had all the time and nothing to do, I probably would have done it sooner. As it stands, I'm doing it hours before the official announcement.

Part of the delay was my continued struggle to write about the 1984 Tigers. If I had a HOF ballot, two of the four names on it would be members of that team; Jack Morris and Alan Trammell. Because I do intend to write more about them later, I will write nary a word about them now other than they should be in the Hall of Fame.

The third name on my list will likely be the only player elected tomorrow. Wade Boggs. Boggs and Tony Gwynn were the premier hitters of the 1980's. Every season it was a given that both would be among the leaders in batting average. Rather, it was expected they would win the batting title and a surprise when they would not.

One of the things I enjoyed about Boggs was his willingness to put himself in a hole to the pitcher to get a look at what the pitcher had. Boggs rarely swung at the first pitch he saw. He waited for a pitch he could stroke for a hit.

There was also the chicken consumption eccentricity. His steadiness in eating poultry, taking pitches, and knocking hits was impressive. There was the Marla Hooch Penthouse thing but I have no recollection of it other than being in Boston, calling my high school friend in Pennsylvania and asking him what he wanted me to bring him back from Boston, being asked to bring this nationally circulated publication, and doing so. Go figure.

The final name on my ballot and the one of which I am least certain is Bert Blyleven. Over the years, as my understanding and appreciation of the game of baseball has increased, I've come to think of Blyleven as an underappreciated talent. He was successful for some bad teams but had a nasty habit of serving up home runs. I don't ever remember watching him pitch and feeling like I was seeing a great pitcher (something I certainly felt with Morris) but that may have had to do with not getting to see him because he was toiling for teams that weren't weekend Game of the Week candidates (or opponents of the locally televised Phillies (ah, the days of pre-cable television)). Also, by the time my interest in baseball was engaged to the point of appreciation, Blyleven was already in his thirties.

He never won a Cy Young, made the All-Star team just twice in 22 seasons.

I'm starting to second guess myself. I have always felt that Pete Rose should not be in the Hall of Fame, not because of his alleged gambling and subsequent lying, but rather because he was a good player who played an extraordinarily long time as a good player. The more I look at Blyleven, the more I see a similar situation.

I never would have voted Tommy John or Don Sutton or Jim Kaat in (and only Sutton is in) for similar reasons. So why Blyleven?

I can't think of a reason why. Make my ballot three.