10 March 2009


You know what? I think I really like the Marlins.

Everyone who knows me knows where my never-ending MLB loyalty lies, but there are still quite a few other organizations that I admire from afar. One of them has got to be the Florida Marlins. To use a rock music analogy, the way the Marlins are run is sort of like the ethos behind the DIY movement in rock in that you don't necessarily have to be a "big star" to be able to play interesting music. The sounds come from all over; you just need the dedication & a touch of aptitude to see it through to the ear. That's the Marlins... I guess.

Two recent web posting have brought me to write this: one was made yesterday over at Fangraphs putting the Marlins next to last in their organizational rankings; the other made today over at Baseball Prospectus (have to pay to play, sorry).

The author over at Fangraphs summarized his Grade D rating for the Marlins by saying:

"Ownership screws the whole situation up here, as the rest of the franchise actually performs pretty well. With a better owner committed to winning baseball and developing some positive revenue streams, the Marlins could be a force in the NL East. Instead, the good work of their baseball people is wasted as the team acts as a conduit to shift talent to other major league clubs. The Marlins are getting a lot of stuff right, but the overriding direction of the organization is not towards winning, and that cripples the overall health of the organization."

The ownership being pilloried here is one Jeffery Loria. The first thing that stands out to me is Loria's occupation. An art dealer? Doesn't that sound a little exotic for a baseball owner? Most of those guys got their money in boring old ways like supermarkets, billboards, real estate tax cheating, parking lots, Wal-Mart & the most boring & larcenous of them all, finance. Being an art dealer is an extremely up-scale version of what I do for a living, so in essence, I probably have more in common with Jeffery Loria than I do with any of baseball's other owners. We both sell things made by narcissistic wackos that have basically no empirical value at all to people who want to "beautify the lives". I can relate.

Loria's ownership of the Montreal Expos will hopefully be the final chapter of a beautiful yet-to-be-written book on that strange baseball experience, so I won't really delve into it now other than to say that Loria became the owner of the Florida Marlins under very contrived circumstances. Since Loria became owner in 2002, the Marlins record is 569 W - 564 L. That's um... over .500. Add to that a World Series championship in 2003 & you have a pretty competitive franchise, wouldn't you say? Is it possible to say that the owner of this franchise isn't one who "isn't committed to winning baseball"? Sounds like that's exactly what he's done there.

Anyway, there are two things that come to mind amongst the baseball folks rambling about on the internet that have gained Loria's tenure in South Florida the horrible reputation that it now has: the very public wrangling for a new stadium & the "fire sales" of players from their team.

Last year, the Marlins ranked last in MLB in attendance with an average attendance for home games of 16,668, just under 46% of the stadium's capacity. The Marlin's average ticket price was $18.69, so using my gorilla math, that means the Marlins reeled in (sorry..) just under $25 million dollars at the gate last year. Sounds ok, right? Well, the team with the next lowest attendance in their division, the Washington Nationals, cleared $58 million from their ticket sales.... Also consider that the Marlins get hardly any money from concessions or parking, the french fries of the stadium business, because of their existing lease with former owner Wayne Huizenga. Go on the web some more & you'll find that a lot of people think that Dolphins Stadium is the worst place to see a major league baseball game. One of my friends, who is a total Marlins fan, has told me that when you sit in your seat on the 3rd base side of the field, you are not facing home plate like in most parks. Instead, you are facing the left field wall. Not very conducive to baseball watching. He also tells me that Dolphins Stadium is not in the best location demographically... meaning it resides in a dump. And while some teams, like my beloved Cardinals, got new stadiums when they really didn't need them where it seems like the Marlins actually kinda need a new place to play if they want to stay in the 9th largest media market in the country & can't seem to make it happen?

Since no one seems to think the place that they play is at fault, it must be that whole "the team acts as a conduit to shift talent to other major league clubs" thing. The Marlins have been getting hammered for years for selling off their best players while thinking only of their pocketbooks & not the good of the franchise. Maybe that's why people don't show up to watch them? Well... not quite.

Loria participated in his own "firesale" after the 2005 season, when the Marlins were attempting to repeat as World Champs in 2003. They didn't. In a two week span about a month after the 2004 World Series ended, the Marlins traded off or let walk through free agency 7 of their "established stars" for prospects. Loria's tanking on purpose to save money! Here are the seven players that were traded & their "marginal win value" since being traded from the Marlins:
  1. Carlos Delgado - Salary = $44 million / Earned = $30.3 million
  2. Josh Beckett - Salary = $21.2 million / Earned = $57.2 million
  3. Mike Lowell - Salary = $30.5 million / Earned = $48.2 million
  4. Luis Castillo - Salary = $17.2 million / Earned = $19.2 million
  5. Paul LoDuca - Salary = $17.9 million / Earned = $17.4 million
  6. Juan Pierre - Salary = $21.3 million / Earned = $18 million
  7. AJ Burnett - Salary = $28.6 million / Earned = $48.7 million
All right. Add those up & you get $239 million worth of production at a cost of $180.7 million. Now, look at the same figures for some of the players the Marlins got back:
  1. Mike Jacobs - Salary = $1.1 million / Earned = $5.2 million
  2. Hanley Ramirez - Salary = $1.1 million / Earned = $75.3 million
  3. Anibal Sanchez - Salary = $1.1 million Earned = $6.9 million
  4. Sergio Mitre - Salary = $1.1 million / Earned = $9.4 million
  5. Ricky Nolasco - Salary = $1.1 million / Earned = $20.3 million
The Marlins only got $117.1 million for their troubles, roughly 1/2 of what they let go, but paid just $5.5 million for the trouble. Oh, and they got HANLEY RAMIREZ. Now consider that Luis Castillo was replaced by Dan Uggla (Salary = $1.1 million / Earned = $49 million) and it looks like maybe the Marlins did the right thing here? And they did it in a way that MLB internetters have been clamoring for for years: not overpaying for performance when you don't have to. Isn't that what all of us want to see: an organization being fiscally responsible? But where are the Beanesque plaudits for the Marlins front office? Where's the love from the stat boys all over the internet? Well, this is how Prospectus, possibly the #1 site on the net for accountant baseball fans, summed up the Marlins complete dominance in their payroll efficiency rankings:

"Perhaps, though, the most efficient team in baseball last year was the Rays, with their $43.8 million opening-day player payroll, lowest in the AL, their 97 wins, and a World Series appearance. (The Marlins were even more efficient than the Rays, posting a .522 winning percentage with a payroll of just under $22 million, but this was more a fluke event than an item for future study.)"

What? Why isn't the fact that the Marlins over the last three years have paid LESS than the minimum MLB salary per marginal win "an item for future study"? (They paid $302,845 per marginal win according to the BPro study) Why is this a fluke? My guess is that Hanley Ramirez skewed the numbers way down due to his prodigious production but isn't the point of trading more established/expensive players to receive someone like Hanley Ramirez back?

This isn't a fluke to me. It seems to be exactly what the Marlins wanted to do & judging from their attendance figures & current stadium situation, what the Marlins have to do.

03 March 2009


While waiting for Shandler to post his projection updates so I could update my MASTER PROJECTION SPREADSHEET, I headed over to Fangraphs tonight after eating a ground beef Chimichunga from El Cid in world record time & found a discussion there dealing with one of those occurrences that baseball fans love to discuss: the lopsided trade.

In my life, whenever things have been exchanged between me & another person, there's always lots of room for interpretation & discussing "winners" & "losers" to those sorts of things lends an air of morality to these decisions that I find pretty sanctimonious. It truly is in the eye of the beholder.

There was a time when I was down at the baseball diamonds; must've have been 14; when I traded my "Life Is Too Short" cassette tape to Chad Heister for his "Straight Outta Compton" (Careful with that link... naughty words...). Of the 6,136 people who lived in Maquoketa at the time, approximately 4 of them listened to rap music. I was one of them.

The decision to purchase that Too Short tape was made in the same way that I'm sure a lot of kids who grew up in similar rural seclution made their decisions about "outsider art": I saw that Public Enemy thanked Too Short in the liner notes for Nation of Millions. I'd seen the video for the single "Life Is Too Short" on Yo!MTV Raps, so I wasn't completely naive about what I was getting. And at the time, I felt what was good enough for Chuck D was good enough for me. Who was I to say that Too Short wasn't an important figure in the still-blossoming rap game?

So, I bought the tape, listened to it once..... and didn't like it. It sounded dated & it hadn't even been out for more than a year. I may have been living in a small town in Iowa but even I could tell you then that Too Short was a mediocrity at best. To me, he sounded worse than if I had just picked up a mic & started blathering on about detassling corn. I had heard Rakim; I had heard Big Daddy Kane; I had heard LL Cool J; guys who sounded like they were trying to do it better, you know? Too Short? Please....

So you can sense my glee when Chad said he wanted that new Too Short tape... I told him I had it. If he wanted to trade something for it, he could keep it. So he tells me that he just got this new N.W.A. tape that he didn't really like & a deal was struck.

And let's just say that, to me, the difference between the two recordings was akin to the difference between reading an unmotivated high schooler's written interpretation of Leaves of Grass & reading Moneyball. Ice Cube and Too Short were not even on the same planet.

Thing is, Chad actually liked that Too Short tape. In fact, the next time I saw him, he laughed & said how totally ripped off I got in our exchange. Really? Well, all transactions are made for both people to "improve" themselves in some way, so who am I to say that I got the better end of the deal?

You would think that baseball, with it's winners & losers, would provide a sense of order to these sorts of transactions. There has to be winners & losers in baseball, right?

Well, in the Fangraphs post, the folks there are using mathmatics, the new gospel of the game, to try and decode what is actually the most lopsided trade of the last decade. And that's fine. The baseball math always helps to clear up misguided recollections of the past.

Baseball trades come in two flavors: trades where there is logical thought behind what both teams want from the trade & trades that were ill-conceived from the get-go for one of the teams involved.

One of the trades being argued about is the 2002 deadline deal that sent Barolo Colon from the Indians to the Expos for Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore & Cliff Lee. This obviously turned out great by any measure for the Tribe. And even though Phillips didn't do anything for them, he's turned into a wonderful player for the Reds. So, what? Was Expos GM Omar Minaya "smoking crack", in the parlance of our times?

Well, did you notice in the Times' write-up of the deal, the principal player going back to the Indians wasn't Sizemore, Phillips or Lee? They were mentioned later on. The "guy" going to Cleveland was Lee Stevens. Here's another interesting analysis from SI. Does this sound like a terrible trade idea to you? It doesn't to me. How about Baseball America?

Put yourself in Omar Minaya's shoes. You've been hired by MLB to stewart an organization that is waiting to die. You have one last chance to bring a winner to a beautiful & strange Canadian city that had never had a team win a postseason series & this other team wants to send you one of the best pitchers in baseball at the time when you are trying to out-pitch the vaunted Braves of Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz & Milwood fame. Why not? It wasn't that Colon flopped after the trade; he pitched extremely well. The Expos just ran outta gas down the stretch.

And the Indians were just begining their "Lost Weekend" stretch after the boom years of Manny & Thome & the lot who needed to drastically cut payroll to minimize the financial crunch that was inevitable for a soon-to-be losing organization. Even though baseball history will tell you that the odds were stacked against the Tribe, maybe, just maybe, one of these kids will pan out.

Sizemore is the gem here, right? But at the time, he could have developed any number of ways. The guy was 19 for Christ's sake. What about Cliff Lee? The guy looked like he was finished to me after 2007, right? From '04 to '06, he was essentially a mediocre pitcher who gave up too many home runs. Then he went disasterville in '07 & looked to me like he was entering the "Journeyman Quad-A non-roster invitee" phase of his career. And Phillips disappointed the Indians so much that in '06, they left him off the 40-man roster. So, sure the results were lopsided, but at least the decision by both clubs to make the deal was sound.

Of course, now it's time to enter my "most lopsided trade of the last decade" into the mix because... I didn't write all that other stuff up there for nothing! So here it is:

3/23/2000 Angels trade CF Jim Edmonds to the Cardinals for Kent Bottenfield & Adam Kennedy.

Using Wins Above Replacement
Edmonds - 51.1 WAR from 2000 - 2007
Bottenfield - 0.1 (pitched 127 2/3 IP for Angels in 2000 with an ERA+ of 89 before being traded AT MID-SEASON!)
Kennedy - 17.2

The arrival of Edmonds in St. Louis was the reason the Cardinals won an average of 94 games per season & made the playoffs 6 out of those 7 years. He was also my favorite Cardinal.


26 February 2009

The Importance of Aesthetics.

I get the same visceral response to pitching motions as I do to the sound of drums on records.

To stretch the metaphor even further, I can't tell you how many times friends & acquaintances of mine have questioned my sanity for not liking bands like My Bloody Valentine or New Order or wondered why in the hell am I listening to that gawd-awful Power Station record. It's all in the drums. If they don't sound the way I need them to sound, then I can't like the band.

Take Interpol, for example. It took awhile for me to like that first record since it is in my nature to dislike things that are surrounded by hype but after about a year of avoiding that thing like the plague, I've grown to absolutely love that record. The reason? The sound of the rhythm section & the drums in particular. The other two records they've released haven't been as sharp to me, even though I will readily admit that the singing & songwriting is actually better on the two follow-up records. I just don't like how they've mixed the drums on those two records. They're not as big. They're not as harsh. They're just not the same.

I mention this because I caught my first-ever glimpse of Tommy Hanson pitching today. As I stated along time ago, I've been a big believer in Tommy Hanson's numbers as a minor league pitcher. He's strikes a ton of guys out; he doesn't give up a lot of hits (underrated virtue in my book) & he, for the most part, keeps the ball in the yard. My affection for him only grew with the beyond-glowing reports streaming out of the Arizona Fall League this year, where Hanson would become the first pitcher in AFL history to win the MVP award. My main reason for liking him still though is the fact that up until last year, he was the sort of unsung maestro that was being overlooked, in my opinion. This points to a fundamental change in my approach to appreciating baseball.

As a kid, in fact up until I really started playing fantasy baseball, the wonderment of watching the game was far more important to me than the numbers associated with the game. Sure, I knew batting averages & home run totals from memorizing the backs of baseball cards, but the arithmetic was secondary to watching Vince Coleman taunt a pitcher or Tommy Herr shaking his ass for the ladies.

If you really want to know what kind of person I am, look no further than the guy whom I chose to be my favorite pitcher from those glorious Cardinal teams of the 80's, a man whose photo is featured just over to the right there, Danny Cox.

Taken as a whole, Danny Cox's career was that of a total mediocrity. It didn't start out that way though & I vividly remember him taking the mound against the hated Cubs for his second big league start. I remember loving the fact that he was a big big dude. I loved that he was born in England, lending an air of aristocracy to his bulk. And I loved his wind-up. He stood on the mound with his feet spread far apart & stood out in the same way that the small "COX" seemed to puncuate the #34 on the back of his jersey; sort of like the top of a pyramid. After getting the sign from Daryl Porter, he would calmly raise his hand up over & behind his head while taking a small, leisurely step back. Then, as if shocked into the realization that he was actually preparing to throw a ball instead of engaging in a Tibetan relaxation technique, he would quickly raise his front leg barely up to his waist, extend his arm back while flexing his wrist & launch the ball towards home. Most importantly to me, he had that lovely exaggerated fall-off to the left that just seems to make me smile every time I see it. The Cubs totally bombed him that day but I didn't care. It was love at first sight.

Flash forward 25 years to one Thomas Hanson. His performance today wasn't outstanding but it wasn't terrible either. He walked Carlos Lee to open the 3rd & then hit Miggy Tejada in the ass with a 98 MPH fastball. He ended up going 2 innings, giving up 2 runs while striking out....2. All in all, it was what you would expect out of a tremendously hyped kid getting his first look at real big league hitters. That's all fine.

But something just didn't sit right with me. It wasn't the types of pitches that he throws; the giant curveball & the consistentant 95 MPH fastball; those were just fine... It was the way they were delivered that didn't sit well with me. He just.. I don't know.. He didn't look like I wanted him to look. If I were to compare him to other pitchers, I would say that his motion looked sort of like a cross between Darryl Kile & Eric Gagne, two pitchers who always looked like they were throwing darts more than engaging in an elegant movement of limbs. They both had a way of holding the ball almost directly in line with their right ear just before gunning it home which has always seemed too practical a way of pitching in my view. It wasn't brute force like Nolan Ryan; it wasn't leisurley precision like Greg Maddux or John Tudor; it was the delightful bizarreness of the Japanese pitchers. It was throwing darts like Joe Wroblewski. And even though I mentioned Gagne as a comp, it still didn't have Gagne's wonderful finish where he literally jumps into the air & pulls his pants back up, you know? Nothing like that. And that' not sitting well with me. It's not that he wasn't in some ways unique, since most young pitchers today have had most of the individuality completely removed through MLB's "re-education" in what they feel are "effective mechanics" (again with the math). It's just that the exentricity that he's chosen to show is not one that I'm at all attracted to, thereby limiting the amount of affection I can have towards him.

So, what do I do?

As an accountant, I would absolutely love to see Tommy Hanson succeed in every way. But as an appreciator of art, I can't quite get with what he's sellin'.

Random HPRL News Photoshop.

Random HPRL News Photoshop.

25 February 2009


Just some links of baseball things to get back in the flow:
CStB links to a great article about the Dominican, baseball's no-so-secret..um.. secret.
The incomparable Royals Review is brilliant again.
The Thin White Dukes hope he rebounds...
Should I keep this guy? Gave up a HR to Brett Gardner on the first pitch today...
I always liked GIDP as a stat.

Ok. That's enough.