Saturday, March 12, 2011

1983 Donruss #586

Buyer’s remorse can be common when you shop on ebay after you’ve had a few drinks, and while this money probably would have been better spent on paying down debt or buying food or stuffing underneath my mattress, I can’t complain too much about the deal I got on these three cards; $10.25, including shipping.
The odd thing about baseball cards these days is that they’re far cheaper than they were when I was a kid. Growing up, if I wanted a good baseball card, it would’ve taken several weeks (or months) of allowance-saving to get what I had my eye on. This Wade Boggs rookie card would’ve cost me at least $15 twenty-some years ago, but thanks to the power of internet auction sites, I got three of them for the same price. Factor in inflation, and it’s even cheaper than what it would’ve been a long time ago. 
It seems a bit silly for a full-grown man to decent money on things he wished he had when he was a kid, but this money would’ve just been spent on a queasy cab ride home after drinking whiskey three neighborhoods away anyway. Now I’m going to put these cards in top-loaders and into a shoebox and forget I even own them to begin with.
The back of this card tells us that Wade Boggs was the Red Sox’s regular 1B by the end of the 1982 season. Baseball-reference tells us that he spend exactly 2 innings at 1B for the rest of his Boston career, which is only interesting to those of us who find little else but Baseball interesting. 

Friday, March 04, 2011

1976 Topps #480

I do not remember when or where I acquired this card. All I know is that when it came into my possession, the pinhole on the north end was already there. Since it was clearly not in mint condition and there was no way of ever salvaging it, I decided to re-use the pinhole and pin it to my bedroom wall when I was a late teen. My father came into my bedroom one day, saw it tacked to my wall, and expressed something very close to disgust in seeing that I was desecrating a vintage card of a Hall of Fame player. I argued that the pinhole was already there, and I may as well have some fun displaying a card of one of my athletic idols, much like he probably did when he was a boy, back when Baseball cards were all but relatively worthless. “At least put it in a sleeve,” he said, but I declined, and he shook his head. 
You see, my father takes Baseball cards very seriously, and this, to him, was a violation of the highest order. It is rare when he expresses grave disappointment in me, like when I took his car for a joyride when I was 15, or when I overdrew my bank account by a couple hundred dollars and needed him to bail me out. But this account, judging by the tone in his voice, was just as severe as either of those incidents. This card is scuffed and creased and faded, but I love it anyway, and it’s still tacked to my shelf despite my being 32 years old. 
The back of this card tells us, “Roger Conner hit the 1st grand slam in National League history, Sept 10, 1881.” I have no idea who Roger Conner is but good for him. 

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

My Boring Fantasy Team #1

Last week I made two fantasy trades that sent a couple tremors through the rest of the league. First, I sent 2B Daniel Cooley Uggla and 1B Paul Konerko to my friend Kyle in exchange for 2B Brandon Phillips, OF Michael Bourn and Zack fucking Greinke, arguably one of the top three pitchers in the game right now. It stings to give up Uggla when I've had middle infield problems but Phillips is probably a net upgrade when you consider his stolen bases and I have not pointed out to my trading partner that Phillips doesn't have such a drop-off in the power counting stats. Kyle is sorely in need of power, and Konerko is a better CI than any of the guys he's been playing there so far. And he's frustrated enough with Greinke's winless ways that he's willing to offer him for an otherwise replaceable CI. Power is hard to come by on the wire, but I plucked Konerko off waivers and I can play Justin Smoak or Chipper Jones or Daric Barton until I find a stable solution. I'll lose a bit in power, but gain serious stolen bases and upgrade to an ace starter when I'm in the middle of the pack in ERA/WHIP. 

What I'm betting on is Kyle not realizing the damage he will do by giving me so many stolen bases. I'm next-to-last in SB, and he's third from the top, but there's only 5 stolen bases separating us in the standings. With Phillips, Bourn and Jimmy Rollins soon coming off the DL for me, I expect to race up the charts. I also expect to take Kyle down a notch in ERA/WHIP, now that he's lost a key source. Kyle is so far behind me in power that what I've given him will hurt others more than it will hurt me. Greinke got bitch-slapped for 6 runs last night, so his tenure on my team is not off to a good start.

My other trading partner was The Guy We Don't Know. I flipped C Gerald Demp "Buster" Posey for closer Brian Wilson. With Bill and Andy nipping at my heels in saves, my 2nd placing in the category is getting precarious. What better way to fix that problem by trading a surplus catcher to the only guy ahead of me in saves? In a two-catcher league, the position is at a premium and I had scooped up Buster when an extra roster spot presented itself. I was already playing Joe Mauer and Miguel Olivo (to replace Jorge Posada and his hairline-fractured foot) so I looked around for teams hurting for catchers. The Guy We Don't Know was employing Dioner Navarro, he of the putrid 46 OPS+. He was quick to pounce the chance to upgrade his catcher, even at the expense of losing ground to his biggest competition in saves. 

The season will tell who wins these trades. I'm sitting in 2nd with competition, but I think I've systematically eliminated Kyle from the five or so contenders. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Aramis Ramirez is a problem.

The Cub third baseman is slashing .160/.226/.261 in 133 plate appearances this year. The counting stats are pretty crappy, which would be tolerable in early-season fantasy baseball if the walks and doubles were there. It would mean a guy is seeing the ball well and hitting it hard; it's just a matter of time before he progresses back to the mean and the doubles start falling over the fence a bit more often and some of his slumping teammates start helping him create more runs. But Aramis Ramirez is not doing anything with the bat these days, especially with a dude who hasn't slugged less than .491 in seven years. So what's wrong with him? I don't watch a lot of Cub games so I have no idea. He's not that old; this is Age 32 season and historically speaking, his power shouldn't be disappearing this rapidly, even though he wasn't all that good the last two months of 2009. He is striking out 23% of the time, a lot higher than his usual seasons, but his walk rate has actually been a bit better. He's definitely capable of a rebound but what's going on? Is he pressing a bit too much in the early going? Is he just really really unlucky with his .176 BABIP? Is he hiding an injury?

This guy theorizes that it's possible his Dominican upbringing may affect his play, and that Aramis has trouble playing baseball in Chicago in the colder months. The linked article is outdated by several years and while Aramis's numbers in the Aprils and Mays of his earlier career back that up, it wasn't like that the last few years. Have there been unusually warm springs for Chicago recently? I really don't know.

But Aramis is simply too good to drop, and if an impatient leaguemate has released him, you should consider picking him up. In the meantime, I'll be benching him, and pick up a replacement until he starts showing some signs of life. There's a few not-unattractive options on the waiver wire for a CI if I shift the eligible Kevin Youkilis to replace Aramis at 3B and plug in Paul Konerko at 1B, a waiver wire pick-up of mine who has done no wrong for me so far.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

1974 Topps #284

Dave Duncan has a lot to be proud of these days. Son Chris has hit .294/.384/.569 for the Cardinals so far this year, and even if he is a little butchertastic in the outfield, he's certainly shut up some of the nepotism cries heard last fall when he was called up from Memphis to join the big league club with dad for good.

Shelly Duncan, however, had to wait a little while longer with the Yankees. He tore up AAA ball this year to the tune of a .957 OPS to force his way on the Yankee roster this month and has hit 3 home runs in just 17 at-bats. I was telling Will recently that I'm not worried about the Red Sox's recent .500ish record or the Yankee's recent surge but Shelly Duncan is exactly the kind of hitter Kevin Maas was in 1991 or Shane Spencer was for 27 games in 1998. It's easy to point out that those hitters starting falling off a cliff the following April because pitchers soon figured out how to get them out. But while the rest of the AL East is trying to figure out Shelly Duncan out, they'll pitch to him and when he's pitched to, he can hit a ton. It's not hard to imagine a Massesque rest-of-the-way from Shelly and bringing him up was vintage Brian Cashman, the kind of brilliantly useful filler moves he used to make all the time before George Steinbrenner started making more executive decisions. Bringing up Shelly plus giving Andy Phillips a full-time job instead of dicking around with some putrid combination of Miguel Cairo/Josh Phelps/Whatever's Left of Douggie Mientkiewxyz at first has been paying off for the Yanks, when you consider that an upgrade from a collectively shitty first baseman to a merely average one is still a pretty good upgrade in and of itself.

Me, I'm encouraged by what I'm now convinced is Dave Magadan's brilliance as a hitting coach. First, he fixed Covelli Crisp and according to this, he's fixed David Ortiz's swing as well. Has he cured Julio Lugo, too? The shortstop is finally hitting like the player the Red Sox signed, with a 14-game hitting streak as of blog time. The pitching rotation is 7 deep with Jon Lester's comeback completed, the bullpen has been stabilized with Manny Delcarmen's promotion and Prince Theo has a valuable trading chip in Wily Mo Pena to net something before next Tuesday's trading deadline.

Know who's actually a bit underrated? Daisuke Matsuzaka. There are over 75 starting pitchers in the American League but you can't name a dozen better than what Daisuke has been this year. Go on, try and name a dozen.

1976 Topps #550

It won't be much longer now, Hank. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

1989 Topps #49

In what was one of the more shameless pursuits of meaningless individual goals by a team player in recent memory, Craig Biggio finally hit his 3,000th career hit last week. If he retired 5 years ago, he would still make the Hall of Fame, considering that this was once a great player whom Bill James convincingly argued was better than Junior Griffey. But his performance over the last couple years has been borderline pathetic and if you're hip to new-fangled stats like VORP, then Biggio is ranked 31st among all Major League second basemen, which is amazing when you consider that there are only 30 starting second basemen jobs to be had in Baseball. A .400 slugging percentage is acceptable if you're playing that position in the NL, but not if you're barely OBPing .300.

I would love to see a study of how much a player in pursuit of a second-rate record or a milestone can directly impact a team's attendance. After all, if it's counter-productive to play Biggio at second when you have other (and better) internal options, then you should at least be getting a bit more coin out of it, right? But since I'm not aware of any such study, I guess I'll have to conduct one of my own.

Attendance for Games Minute Maid Park, June 2006

06/08 - 35752
06/09 - 37097
06/10 - 41808
06/11 - 39523
06/16 - 36328
06/17 - 39048
06/18 - 39867
06/20 - 32713
06/21 - 33243
06/22 - 43769

The sudden spike for the last home game of June, in case you were wondering, was for Roger Clemens's season debut. The average attendance per game comes out to 37,915. If you determine that Rocket's first start was an abberation, then it averages out to 37,264 per.

Attendance for Games at Minute Maid Park, June 2007

06/01 - 36784
06/02 - 39234
06/03 - 40483
06/12 - 33637
06/13 - 34611
06/14 - 42024
06/15 - 37322
06/16 - 41974
06/17 - 42019

At this point, the Astros went on a 9-game road trip, with Biggio stuck at 2989 hits. Biggio collected 8 more and upon their return to Minute Maid, Biggio went 5-6 to put him over 3,000. The last three games:

06/28 - 42537
06/29 - 42861
06/30 - 43071

It would be safe to assume that many fans purchased advanced tickets during the days before in anticipation of witnessing history but at any rate, there's clearly an attendance increase when Biggio was closing in on that arbitrary number that people think is so great because it's a "3" with a "0," a "0," and another "0" after it. But how much difference does it really make to the Houston's bottom line?

The average home attendance for June of this year is 39,713, a 1,798 difference from last year. The average ticket price at Minute Maid is $26.66, which translates to an extra $47,934.68 for the month of June. You can add a few dollars when you consider money spent on parking and hot dogs but we can't really add any extra revenue from fans who purchased Biggio jerseys to remember the experience by; the new Collective Bargaining Agreement declares that all money made from merchandise gets divided into 30 and shared among all teams. And I have no idea how much revenue they gained through advertising and television. But really, a measly extra 50 grand? Especially when you consider that more people showed up for Clemens's debut last year than for any of the games where Biggio was anticipated to hit his 3rd thousand.

Attendance for Games at Minute Maid in July 2007, So Far.

07/01 - 35260
07/02 - 28973
07/03 - 37993
07/04 - 39993

And now people are back to caring less about the Astros.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Different Kind of an Identity Crisis

So I was digging around the waiver wire in my fantasy league, looking for strikeout middle relievers to shore up my pitching staff when I came across Oakland's Santiago Casilla, who's struck out 14 in 12.1 innings of work this year. My first thought was, "Why the hell haven't I heard of this guy before?" But then I found out I have.

This isn't unusual in Baseball. Sometimes a guy like David Arias decides that after being traded to a new team, he wants to be henceforth known as David Ortiz. And for some reason, a guy like Ian Oquendo goes by his babymomma's last name until he reverts back to Ian Snell. And sometimes a guy like Rafael Furcal comes along and steals 40 bases in his rookie year and everyone thinks he beat Ty Cobb's record for most by a teenaged player...until they learn that Furcal was born in 1977 instead of 1980.

But it's rare that a player has both a drastic name change and a drastic birthdate change. The former Jairo Garcia stepped forward last year and revealed that he signed using false documents with a fake name and a fake birthdate, rechristening him as Santiago Casilla and adding 2 years and 10 months to his birthdate.

This cleared up a lot for me, seeing how as I have heard of Jairo Garcia and wondered whatever became of him. Of course, I promptly picked him up and he blows a save situation against the Mets Saturday.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

1987 Topps #512

I've always wondered just how much a good hitting coach can contribute to a winning team. On one hand of the spectrum, you have Charlie Lau, who wrote The Art of Hitting .300 and is often credited for turning George Brett and Harold Baines into the hitters they eventually became. On the other hand, you have guys like Jim Rice who, according to Scott Hatteberg in Moneyball, couldn't understand why no one could hit the way he did. The best hitting coaches (according to Scott again), are the ones who used to suck because they don't try to make you hit the way they did.

Will calls it "intense nerdery" and while I don't disagree, I'm finding all the before and after split screens and YouTube videos of Coco Crisp's new hitting stance on the Sons of Sam Horn message boards fascinating to no end. The changes are a bit subtle but still obvious to the naked eye; he's standing taller and his stance is less open than it was. Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan tells us that:
He's standing a little taller. A little less stride. And getting the feeling like he's above the ball instead of like landing with that front leg bent. Just trying to get him taller, both ways. If he's not going to load, at least keep him where he holds his position instead of leaning toward the baseball. You don't want to swing around your body. If you get all spread out, with your legs and the weight of your upper body, you swing around it, which slows up your bat and you hit a lot of balls weakly. It gets him in a better position where he can generate some bat speed.
Since June 15th (when the adjustment was reported in, Coco has been on a tear, going 11-20 with 3 home runs as of blog time, adding more than 80 points to his OPS. Combined with his fantastic defense in center field and cheap contract, I can't decide if all this makes Coco less expendable or more tradeable. Or maybe all of this means nothing and it's just a mirage from smacking around National League pitching for a few days.

Though Dave Magadan's lack of power prevented him from being the star the Topps oh-so-boldly predicted 20 years ago, his high on-base percentage and batting average made him one of the better bench players in the league. That may only seem like damning with faint praise but it wasn't too long ago that Kevin Youkilis was not only being compared to Magadan, but it was meant as a compliment.

Oh, hey, did you know that Dave is also Sweet Lou Pinella's cousin? I didn't.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Golden Sombrero?

So I'm watching the Mets-Yankees game and after Carlos Delgado struck out for the 4th time in the game, they announce the event as a "golden sombrero." At first, I actually thought it was some sort of vaguely racist slam that I wasn't quite getting. But it turns out that I had just never heard of it before. Wiki tells us that:
The term derives from "hat trick" and since four is bigger than three, the rationale was that a four-strikeout performance should be referred to by a bigger hat, such as a sombrero. The "Olympic Rings" or platinum sombrero applies to a player striking out five times in a game, while a horn or titanium sombrero is bestowed upon a player who strikes out six times in a single game.
Huh. I guess you learn something new every day but this just sounds like some shit that somebody made up or something. A golden sombrero? Really? God, what a stupid game. No wonder everyone hates Baseball.

1982 Topps #783

It isn't often that I've actually heard of a guy who gets selected in the 45th round of Baseball's Amateur Draft but I've been excited by Pat Venditte for quite awhile, ever since Alan Schwartz profiled the kid in The New York Times in April. Though the jaw-dropping video within the article that shows the Creighton switch-pitcher slipping his ambidextrous glove to his opposite hand has since been removed, I shat my pants when I first saw it (you, however, can check him out on YouTube). After putting on fresh underwear, I tried to dig around and find some independent scouting reports on him (other than his profile on the Creighton website) but gave up after like a page of Google searches. So then I had to go all the way the hell over to Baseball Prospectus and hang out in their chat room while I waited for prospect maven Kevin Goldstein to answer my question about him. He said:
He's going to go for sure. His numbers are good, his stuff isn't. He's in the mid-80s righthanded and drops to sidearm when he pitches lefty, and only in the upper 70s. Nobody is thrilled with him, but somebody in the teens is going to take a shot and see what happens.
Kev was way off base, but only because Venditte scared everyone off by announcing that he will return for his senior year at Creighton and develop his left side for another season. Of course, it should go without saying that he should expect to be drafted much higher next year and even if it doesn't have much of a career, he'll still be a trailblazer just for letting the rest of us know it can be done. It may take a generation or two, but your favorite team will be employing a switch-pitcher in their bullpen soon enough.

However, this isn't unprecedented. Greg A. Harris (not to be confused with Greg W. Harris), who long wanted to switch-pitch in a game, was finally allowed to do so in the next-to-last game of his career on September 28, 1995. He came in to pitch a shutout 9th against Cincinnati, grounding out Reggie Sanders with his left hand, walking Hal Morris and grounding out Eddie Taubensee with his right and finally switching back to his left to ground out Brett Boone to end the inning. If you're the sort that finds poetry in box scores, then check out the play-by-play from that night's game because you likely won't see it again for years.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

1991 Topps Traded #45

Of all the things this author has forgotten from a constitutional law class he once took at a community college years ago, ex post facto is the only thing that his memory retained, despite finding no use to apply such a term to anything (much less Baseball) until now. But it was the first thing that popped into my head when I heard the latest rumor that Jason Giambi may face suspension from Commissioner Bud Selig if he doesn't tattle on his fellow union members in Senator George Mitchell's ongoing investigation of steroids in Baseball.

It should be rather telling that all you really need is a community college education to know that there isn't a legal leg for Selig to stand on if he decides to suspend Giambi. Simply put (for those without a community college education), ex post facto means you cannot punish a person retroactively for breaking a rule that wasn't a rule before it became a rule, so I don't think Jason has anything to worry about.
It is in the best interests of baseball for everyone, including players, to cooperate with Senator Mitchell in his investigation.
So said Selig. First, why isn't Mitchell referred to as a former Senator? I wrote out this long-ass sentence about how it would be in the best interests of Mitchell's constituents to not waste taxpayer money trying to find out which grown men put what in their grown bodies back when you were actually allowed to do so and then I find out that he hasn't held a public office in over 12 years. Is this some sort of scare tactic on Buddy's part? As if he's trying to say, "Confess more than you've already have, Jason, or I will sic a former Senator on you and then you'll be sorry!"

Second, I would like to believe that former Senator Mitchell, a graduate of Georgetown Law, already knows about that whole ex post facto thing and appreciates that nothing can really happen to Giambi if he doesn't rat. But with the way our government has stuck their tentacles in Baseball since Jose Canseco's book came out, I get the feeling that Washington would much rather be playing Baseball than senatoring anyway and (mis)governing it much like they (mis)govern their own states is the closest they'll ever get, when they obviously should be investigating a million other issues a million times more pressing than What's Wrong with Baseball.

B-b-b-but what about our innocence?

Fair enough, then. Let's talk about our innocence. Remember 17 years ago, back when it was all bubble gum and lollipops and sunshine and playing catch with Jeremy in the backyard and weighing 40 pounds lighter and not getting injured all the time by intestinal parasites and Topps sponsorships? Me too.

O sun-kiss'd youth! How I yearn for thee!