Results tagged ‘ Derek Jeter ’

Why Am I Whatting The Who Now?

One of the Baseball Prospectus authors was doing one of the group’s astonishingly pervasive and well-coordinated publicity-generating interviews yesterday (they show up as guests everywhere but the Olympics and Entertainment Tonight) and was asked “why is Keith Olbermann killing your book?” 

I just re-read my entry (below) and I don’t see where anybody might get that impression. But just to be clear, to me “BP” is to the sum total of all forecasting knowledge and its statistical and actuarial bases are impeccable. Years ago, preparing a piece on Tony Gwynn for Sports Illustrated, I discovered by accident that there was a plateau – an exact range of at bats (7,500 to 9,000) at which really terrific .340-.375 lifetime hitters started to plummet back towards the .340-.350 range (Cobb was at .373 through 8,762 AB; Gwynn .340 through 8,187; Keeler .355 through 7,475; Jesse Burkett .350 through 7,273 AB, Lajoie .350 through 8,254. Among them, and Rogers Hornsby, Paul Waner, and Honus Wagner at similar peaks, these eight guys lost an average of eight points from their career averages). 
So I believe fervently in this decline-and-full stuff and BP (and the Jeter prediction, too).
Now if somebody thinks I killed “The First Fall Classic” by Mike Vaccaro… yeah, pretty much (see below).

Swinging At The Future; Whiffing At The Past

Two books to address today, one brand new, one kinda.

BASEBALL PROSPECTUS 2010
Edited by Steven Goldman and Christina Kahrl
John Wiley, $25.95
Two caveats: the publisher is putting out my next book, and this really isn’t a review, because by now if you’re a baseball fan and you don’t know what BP is, you’re working in a mine without one of those helmets with the lights on it.
This is more about the headlines from the annual phone-book-sized tub of prophecies these figure filberts put out, than it is any kind of assessment of the publication as a hole, because we don’t really know how good each year’s edition is until after the season is over. But for once, there shouldn’t be much argument about what is the Statistical Reduction crowd’s biggest forecast for the season ahead: The collapse of Derek Jeter.
OK, “collapse” is a little strong. The actuarial tables of the game again prompt the editors to call Jeter’s team “still the class of MLB,” but they pummel the Captain personally. He finished 2009 at 18-66-.334-.406-.465 with 107 runs and 30 steals. BP sees 2010 as 11-58-.286-.359-.401 with 67 runs and 10 steals. 
As I understand the formulas with which the BP numbers are calculated, there is room for a dollop of common sense and/or extenuating circumstances. But mostly the stats-to-come are generated, in Jeter’s case, by comparing him to what happened to every 14-year veteran going into his 15th season, and what happened to every 35-year-old shortstop as he turned 36, and employing every other demographic comparison in baseball history. And the loss of 48 points of batting average and 40 runs and 64 points of slugging percentage, is the evident result.
It actually gets worse. The one BP number that gives you the best overall sense of a player’s total worth to his team is VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). In short, it measures in net runs (how many more do you score, how many fewer does the other team score) what were to happen if the player in question was suddenly reduced by the average bench guy. Last year, Derek Jeter’s VORP was 71.2 (Albert Pujols’ was 100.1), meaning if he had quit on Opening Day 2009 to be replaced full-time by Ramiro Pena, the number of fewer runs the Yankees would’ve scored, plus the number of more runs they would have allowed, would’ve been 71.
Jeter’s predicted 2010 VORP is just 20 – a loss of 51.2 when nobody else in the majors is predicted to lose more than 37.2 (and that’s Joe Mauer, by the way. The BP folks readily admit that their formulae tend to punish spectacular seasons). Merging the topics of catching and the Yankees, BP sees Jorge Posada dropping from 22-81-.285-.522 to 12-49-.263-.445 (and losing 21 VORP points in the process).
If BP is right, there are similar harrowing declines ahead for Ryan Howard (to hit .249 this year), and Michael Young (.297), and Kevin Youkilis (22-86-.283), and David Aardsma (15 saves). On the other hand, it sees Nick Johnson emerging to lead the AL in On Base Pecentage, Kelly Johnson to rebound in Arizona, Jeremy Hermida to blossom in Boston, and Geovany Soto to comeback in Chicago. Certainly two of the stranger computer-generated forecasts: Chris Davis with 33 homers, and your 2010 Major League Saves leader: Joakim Soria with 43 in Kansas City.
There’s also something in here about Rickie Weeks blossoming, but I think that may have been accidentally left over from the 2009 edition. Or the 2008. Or the 2007. Or the 2006…
THE FIRST FALL CLASSIC
THE RED SOX, THE GIANTS, AND THE CAST OF PLAYERS, PUGS, AND POLITICOS WHO REINVENTED THE WORLD SERIES IN 1912
By Mike Vaccaro
Doubleday, $26.95

More than 30 years ago I made an enemy for life of a baseball writer named Maury Allen. I panned his biography of Casey Stengel because I felt he had forfeited the credibility of the book’s essence – exclusive, heretofore unpublished anecdotes and quotes – because he had made so many simple historical mistakes. Allen had the Polo Grounds in which Stengel played and managed off-and-on for 50 years overlooking the Hudson River, when it in fact overlooked the Harlem River, a no-brainer mistake that nobody who had lived in New York for more than three weeks would make.
My point was not that it was fatal to make a few dozen such flubs, but that if I as the presumably less-expert reader could spot such obvious mistakes, how many more of them were in there that I wasn’t smart enough to catch? And why would I trust the accuracy of the quotes and the stories as offered by a writer who couldn’t keep his basic geography straight? If you could switch the Hudson for the Harlem, you could – I don’t know – switch Hugh Casey for Casey Stengel.

Sadly, this dynamic is reproduced in Vaccaro’s book about the epic eight-game World Series of 1912 between the Giants and Red Sox. The Series – and the topic – had everything: a dubious tie game, the first year of Fenway Park, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, President John F. Kennedy’s grandfather, and the year Smoky Joe Wood won 37 of the 120 games (regular season and World Series) he would win in his lifetime. 
For an obsessive historian with a gift for composition, like my friend Josh Prager of The Echoing Green fame, the 1912 Series would basically sing itself and he would write down the notes as quickly as he could. I truly hoped this book would be like this (I went out and bought it retail – the ultimate sign of respect by somebody in the same business) and given the volume of startling stories and the in-the-clubhouse quotes from men dead half a century and more, Mike Vaccaro certainly seems to have tried to make it like that.

But I can’t trust him. The book is riddled with historical mistakes, most of them seemingly trivial, some of them hilarious. One of them is particularly embarrassing. Vaccaro writes of the Giants’ second year in their gigantic stadium, the Polo Grounds:

…to left field, the official measurement was 277 feet, but the second deck extended about twenty feet over the lower grandstand, meaning if you could get a little air under the ball you could get yourself a tidy 250-foot home run…

Unfortunately this wasn’t true until 1923. Any photograph of the 1912 World Series showing left field, indeed any photo of the new Polo Grounds in its first twelve years of use, clearly

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shows that the second deck ends thirty or forty feet to the left of the foul pole, and the seats in fair territory are the bleachers. 
There are, in fact, actually at least two photos showing Joe Wood, with the Red Sox in the Polo Grounds, which show, in the background behind him, either the left field foul line leading directly to the bleachers, not a double deck, or, the left field foul pole standing like a lone tree with no “extended” deck even close to it.
One of him, warming up, is included in Vaccaro’s book, right after page 146.

That’s it, on the right. The white stripe next to
his glove, is the left field foul line.
The other photograph – the background largely washed out but with the undecked left field corner still vaguely visible – shows him shaking hands with the Giants’ Jeff Tesreau, and it was chosen for publication on the cover of Vaccaro’s book, below.

Sigh.
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The most often-repeated of the mess-ups, and thus both the most annoying and the most damaging, is Vaccaro’s insistence about Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, arch Sox fan and grandfather of the future president, around whom Vaccaro tries to develop a political thread to the book and who gets nearly as much attention from him as Tris Speaker or Mathewson. Four times in the book, Vaccaro notes that Fitzgerald liked to sing, or was singing, or was about to sing, his theme song “Sweet Adelaide.” There may have been such a song, but it wasn’t a favorite of Honey Fitz (or presumably of anybody else). The Mayor, as any political historian, or adult over 65, or anyone who’s ever encountered a Barbershop Quartet, or any Marx Brothers buff, could tell you, sang “Sweet Adeline,” an incredibly popular song published in 1903 that Groucho and company later performed in “Monkey Business.”
Of the remaining twenty or so that I caught, most have clearer connections to the sport itself. Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey becomes Rixley, 1912 Red Sox infielder Steve Yerkes becomes Sam, Redland Field in Cincinnati becomes “brand-new Crosley Field” (it wasn’t renamed Crosley Field until 1934 and the radio baron who did it was still a 20-something developing automobiles in Muncie, Indiana, when Redland Field was brand-new in 1912). 

There is a lot of historical tone-deafness – particularly distressing considering Mr. Vaccaro often covers the Yankees. He recounts a conversation among McGraw and New York sportswriters about the Giants taking in the American League New York Highlanders as tenants at the Polo Grounds for the 1913 season. Vaccaro quotes the famed Damon Runyon telling McGraw that his paper’s headline writers have a new name intended for the team: The Yankees. McGraw is quoted as wondering if it will catch on in 1913. Even if the mistake originates elsewhere, it should’ve rung untrue to Vaccaro: The name “Yankees” had been used on the baseball cards as earlyYankees1912.jpg as 1911, and on a team picture issued by one of the New York papers in 1907. If McGraw and Runyon hadn’t heard the name “Yankees” by the time of the 1912 World Series, they’d both had undiagnosed hearing problems for five years.

Vaccaro also has a lot of trouble with geography. He indicates that Giants’ owner John Brush had a mansion in “upstate Pelham Manor” even though the town is essentially parallel to 241st Street in Northern Manhattan. He mocks the nickname “Swede” for Danish-born Boston outfielder Olaf Henriksen as an indication that baseball didn’t worry about geography in assigning monickers. But until 1905 Denmark was part of a union with Norway, and as late as the early 1800’s, those two countries were trying to reestablish a medieval tripartite union with Sweden. For all we know, Henriksen might have considered himself Swedish.
There are also mistakes so convoluted as to be baffling. Vaccaro writes of the fabulous game-saving catch by the Giants’ Josh Devore in Game Three:

“I took it over my left shoulder and with my bare hand although I clapped my glove on it right away and hung on like a bulldog in a tramp,” Evans would soon tell the mountain of reporters…

Evans? The catch was by Josh Devore. Evans – Billy Evans – was the umpire who confirmed the out. Later, there is the inexplicable observation that during the tense eighth game, so much of Manhattan was at the then-popular newspaper scoreboards that “Schoolrooms were scarce.” While this was doubtless as true in the New York of 1912 as it is in the city of 2010, it wouldn’t seem to have anything to do with baseball. Students in schoolrooms, yes. The rooms themselves?
The mistakes – and there are probably a dozen more – matter only in this context. When I read Vaccaro’s account of a supposed conversation, after the Red Sox took a 3-1 lead in games, between Boston’s owner and manager that clearly implies that the owner ordered the manager to hold back his ace pitcher in hopes Boston might lose the next game and thus gain the income from one more game in Fenway, I’m not inclined to take Vaccaro’s word for it. Because, lastly and most damningly, this may be how he researched the book. Years after retirement, Boston’s Hall of Fame centerfielder Tris Speaker went back to the minors as an executive. Vaccaro writes he would:

…become a part owner of the American Association, a top Triple-A-level minor league…”

In fact, Speaker would become a part owner not of the league, but of one of the teams in the league, the Kansas City Blues.
You know where else this mistake turns up?

Post professional career
In 1929 Speaker replaced Walter Johnson as the manager of the Newark Bears of the International League, a post he held for two years. He became a part owner of the American Association. The announcement of Speaker’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame was made in January, 1937

Yep. Tris Speaker’s Wikipedia page.

How sad.

CC Yawns

The view from the not-so-cheap-seats:

If attitude foretells outcome, Game One might have been over when CC Sabathia yawned while completing his warm-ups before facing the Phillies in the bottom of the first. Not that Sabathia pitched poorly nor was expecting the Phils to roll over, but for symbolic contrast you can’t beat Sabathia’s yawn compared to Carlos Ruiz calling time, up 6-1, two out, bottom of the 9th, 0-2 on Jorge Posada – and running out to talk to Cliff Lee when Lee was an out away from one of the modern Workd Series pitching masterpieces. Turned out he was reminding him there was a runner on. 
Also disturbing, and far more visible on the tv replay than in the ballpark, was Hideki Matsui’s vapor lock on the bizarre Jimmy Rollins trap-catch of Robinson Cano’s dying liner in the 5th. Matsui’s obligation, in the absence of conclusive guidance from the umpires, is to get his butt back to first base as soon as Cano has passed it. As it proved, Matsui was entitled to return to the base and Cano was out. But even if it was the other way around, Matsui, forced at second, then standing at first does not in any way endanger a Cano who is safe at first. The umpires also did a mediocre job making clear that Rollins had caught the ball and not trapped it, but it’s Matsui’s responsibility to not let himself get tagged out for a deflating double play.
I don’t think any Yankee other than Derek Jeter hit one of Lee’s pitches squarely, and there by itself is another decisive contrast: those two homers by Chase Utley were, as you’ve doubtless heard, the first surrenderred by Sabathia to a lefthanded hitter at Yankee Stadium this year. One good team played above expectations, the other, well below them.

Yankees-Red Sox 5: The Seventh Steal

To my knowledge, no team since the 1985 Cardinals of Vince Coleman ever made a statement with a stolen base, but here in the Bronx tonight the Yankees came close. As noted in the first post, New York stole three bases – basically uncontested – off Jon Lester and Jason Varitek in the first. The game count is now seven (including one from Alex Rodriguez that shouldve been called a bak on Hunter Jones). Rodrigue has three, Jeter two, and Cano and Damon one each. The message may be less about Boston having to watch out for the Runnin Yanks and more about putting some doubt in the minds of Terry Francona and John Farrell that their pitchers – even southpaws like Lester and Jones – are doing enough to keep runners close. That, in turn, could mean more throws to first, and that could lead to the length of the average Sox-Yanks game increasing from eight hours to a week-and-a-half.

A Quick Asterisk

This is not a knock against Derek Jeter, who has been a credit to his franchise and the game since 1995, and who has never been anything but courteous and professional in his dealings with me (and everybody else I knew). This is not, in fact, about Jeter.

But I wish there would be a little more emphasis of the caveat in all of the discussion of Jeter’s having reached within four hits of breaking Lou Gehrig’s Yankees franchise record of 2,721, that Gehrig stopped accumulating them when he was 35 years old, because he contracted a fatal disease that would claim his life.
I made this point years ago, as Cal Ripken approached Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak. It needs to be said again that Gehrig didn’t stop because of loss of talent, or retirement, or failure. And most remarkably of all, it should be emphasized that at least the last 174 of Gehrig’s hits (just as was the case for at least the last 165 of his games played), certainly came after Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis had already begun to kill him. 
Again, nothing to take away from Jeter’s accomplishments. Just a reminder of the remarkable quality of Gehrig’s, and that as time guarantees that his name will become harder and harder to find in the record books, he should never be forgotten.

Sacrifice Fly Double Play?

The McCarver Theorem was just validated again here at Yankee Stadium (go to a game, you’ll always see something, or a combination of things, you’ve never seen before), when Brian Buscher of the Twins hit into a sacrifice fly double play.

The Twins were threatening, first and third, in the second inning of a scoreless game, with one out. Buscher skied to center and Brett Gardner’s weak throw dribbled towards the plate, far behind runner Justin Morneau. But as Morneau scored, the real thrills were going on in the background. The other runner, Michael Cuddyer, not only was deked into slidinginto second base, but when he got up, he decided to turn towards third.
Yet still as Cuddyer raced back towards first, another level of misdirection played out. The Yankees didn’t bother throwing to first; catcher Francisco Cervelli instead tossed to Derek Jeter, standing at second.
Lost amid his befuddled slide, flinch towards third, and scramble back to his base of safety, Cuddyer had somehow failed to touch second on the way back. He was declared out for missing the base, while the television cameras and most in the press box thought that lead runner Morneau might have been called out for leaving too early from third.
Scoring: sacrifice fly, double play (8-2-6), RBI for Buscher.
The sage of the official scorer’s desk, Bill Shannon, claimed never to have seen it before in his umpteen years covering games. Same too for Bob Ryan and Gordon Edes of The Boston Globe. Add me to the list and you’ve got about 150 years of professional watching.
Incidentally, Mark Teixeira has just provided Empty Stadium’s mandatory explosive homer to right – a blast deep into the bleachers in right-center. 3-1 Yankees, as they still bat, bottom third.
.

Johnny Damon, Baseball Historian

Damon.jpg

Do not undervalue the historical import of Spring Training games in big league parks – especially brand new ones. Johnny Damon, videographer, records part of the Yankees’ christening of the second (third?) Yankee Stadium while coach Tony Pena apparently spots a guy who borrowed money from him in 1989.
For your record-keeping pleasure, Aaron Miles got the first exhibition hit in the place, Derek Jeter the first Yankee safety, Robinson Cano the first home run. The first celebrity in the stands was Paul Simon – and parenthetically he sat through the whole rainy magilla. And, yes, as suggested Thursday, the ball rockets to right field. Cano, Matsui, and Cody Ransom hit bullet home runs off Ted Lilly (notice: two lefties going to the shortened-by-wind short-porch in right off a lefty) and Miles and Reed Johnson both rattled extra-base hits into the corner. It’s going to be a take-it-to-RF ballpark.
Fly on the wall time – as caught by the stadium cameraman just before the man in the suit threw out the first pitch, and as the man in the Cubs’ cap was telling me that the new place was magnificent, and that the Yankees had managed both to “recreate the history of the old place, and capture the splendor of a brand new place.” Me? I just listened and learned.
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By the way, Lilly looked like crap, Wang didn’t look much better, Brett Gardner forgot to mosey down to the infield to cover second on a rundown play as they were running back Miles to second, and the Yankee bullpen (Rivera, Veras, Ramirez, and Albaladejo, pitched four hitless – oh, and the place looks pretty at night from the visitors’ dugout:
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The Palace, Or: The Grand Canyon of Stadiums

The phrase – well, the “palace” part – is Derek Jeter’s. It’s unoriginal, cornball, and entirely accurate. In managing to transplant the history of Yankee Stadium, and amplify the grandeur of the old place, andwrap the whole thing up in state-of-the-art hi-tech bells-and-whistles, the Yankees have created a landmark.

I’m a traditionalist, as pro-past as anybody watching the game. Since my first tour of the shell of the ballpark a year ago this month, I have been waiting to be disappointed. At every turn, I have instead been overwhelmed.
The ballpark is deliberately outsized, to recreate for an adult the awestruck feeling of walking into the old place, for the first time, as a kid, when you might’ve gotten the impression that the people who built Yankee Stadium were the same ones who had done The Grand Canyon.
A few quick snapshots to try to convey the dimensions, starting with the view from the press box (note the giant HD screen to the right of the picture):

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And from a totally different perspective, actually below the level of the field, in the runway between the bottom of the two-story restaurant, and the suite seating behind home plate:
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And now out to the bleachers, and the view from the bar. This isn’t an exclusive place – it’s literally dead center in the bleachers and accessible from them. The other side of the window you’re looking through is covered with the batter’s eye:
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This next one is from deep behind third base, illustrating perhaps the most welcome improvement from the old stadium to the new one. From almost everywhere “in the back” you can see the field – even from many of the turnstile locations. This one will also give you a sense of the height and width of the walkways, which in some spots are about ten times as wide as in the old one:
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The open-air quality of the rest of the Stadium is more than just an aesthetic consideration. If batting practice on one breezy April is any indicator, the sporadic openings from the seats to the street – and a full ring of them in the upper deck – are going to produce wind conditions entirely different from the old Stadium.
In fact, balls were rocketing over the right field fence, even from righty batters. There seemed to be a swirling effect, bringing wind in towards the plate from Left and then directing it out towards Right, aided by another breeze coming in from the gaps in the upper deck behind the plate. Xavier Nady mentioned it, Joe Girardi told me there might be less of a chance of judging the wind here than in the old one, and Nick Swisher (below) delighted in it:
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Attendance might have pushed 30,000 but the Yankees cleverly gave out about half of the tickets to local Bronx groups none too pleased by the slow move towards fulfilling the team’s promises of contributions to the community to replace Macomb’s Dam Park.
I take back one thing I wrote above. There is a slight flaw: I don’t think the auxiliary scoreboards on the fences in LCF and RF really “work” – possibly because they seem to shiver under the weight of advertising billboards sitting directly above them. And here is the early leader for Everybody’s Pet Peeve – there may be too many televisions in the place, several thousand, in fact.
And they are, indeed, everywhere:
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That is indeed, a pair of small flat-screens embedded in the mirror in one of the men’s room in the restaurant. There is a third one to the right.
And the big HD job may be a real issue, especially if you suddenly look up to find yourself on it:
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On the far right is my friend Richard Roth, who was at CNN when I broke in at 1981, and is still there. And the jacket is a facsimile 1942 New York Giants, which confused everybody.
One last image – the early favorite for weirdest sign in a ballpark:
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