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 mlb.com), 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!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

1989 Topps #343

This is the most punk rock Baseball card ever, and a bit of a reminder of why people hate Gary Sheffield to begin with. Here, the then-19 year old shortstop's arrogance is already apparent; he shows up for his first Topps card portrait with bling around his neck and enough of a smile to show off the "G" and the "S" inscribed in his two front teeth. A Future Star, indeed. Of course, dressing like an extra from an N.W.A. video probably doesn't endear yourself to the white Baseball-watching public, especially if you've already gained enough notoriety just by existing as Dwight Gooden's nephew. It would be sufficient to say that Gary Antonian Sheffield has not had the best relationship with media and the fans, and the latest thing that he has to say certainly hasn't helped.

It's really too bad that everyone is a little too busy responding by calling Gary Sheffield a "raving racist" or recounting the ways they hate him instead of acknowledging that his opinion about an issue that should be taken seriously should be taken seriously. There was nothing racist about what Sheffield said. He was asked his opinion on an issue and gave it. Instead of thinking about the reasons behind his response and contribute our own thoughts to the discussion like a good little roundtable should, we all decide to just yell HAY U RAAVING RACIST STOP SPEAKING OUT OF TURN THAT'S WHY YOU GOT TRADED TO SEVEN DIFFERENT TEAMS BC NO ONE LIKES U U RAVVING RASICT.

So I guess I'll just be alone in all this and add my own three cents.

Why American Black Kids Don't Play Baseball by Phenomenal Smith

There are precious few spaces in urban areas where kids can play a respectable game of Baseball. If there are, there's very little chance that there's even any kind of consistent groundskeeping, like cutting the grass once a summer or something, because many cities can't (or won't) put (much) money into them. In addition to the community's lack of funds, many individual urban black kids (and their friends) don't have money for the gloves, bats and balls, leaving very little Baseball in the streets and alleys of urban areas. Furthermore, they usually don't have the money to play organized Baseball if their neighborhood Little League requires a registration fee, which brings us to:

Many middle-class white kids growing up in the suburbs have been playing some kind of organized Baseball from a very young age, from t-ball to that one league where everybody bats .689 because the only thing the pitching machine spits out is 65 mph fastballs to Little League. If they never gain any athletic maturity and learn nothing else, middle-class white kids at least know the fundamentals of the game because every spring, there's a new coach to scream at them until they learn. By the time they reach high school, they've already have up to 10 more years of polished experience than most black kids who decide to try out for Baseball for the first time. If they decide to try out, which brings us to:

In what could very well be the most successful advertisement campaign in media history, Nike spent untold millions of dollars telling untold millions of kids to Be Like Mike. And untold thousands of kids earned college scholarships doing their best imitation of Mike. American black kids in urban areas were drawn to the instant gratification of Basketball and many young black urban males (perhaps in part without elder male figures in their lives to romanticize it for them) didn't really play all that much Baseball. Tying back to money, Basketball is also inexpensive; all you need is a basketball. It's also a lot more accessible in urban areas; hoops and pick-up games can be found everywhere. It isn't hard to imagine that perhaps a generation ago, Allen Iverson would've turned out to be a shortstop instead, or Dwayne Wade a centerfielder, but they're not and neither are their contemporaries. As evidenced by the 8.4% of Black Americans playing Baseball today, black kids just aren't growing up playing Baseball. While it's certainly a shame and there are things that can be done about it, it is what it is. The individuals that make up the system may not exactly all be racists but many of the factors that created the system has resulted in a certain socio-economical demographic's exclusion from Baseball. It isn't anybody's fault, really. It's just what happened.

But what the hell do I know, right? I'm just talking out of my ass like Sheffield did and writing it out on an anonymous blog, as if Jon Heyman is going to write in and be all, HAY PEHNOMENAL U SHOULD SHUTUP U RAVING RACISST THATS WHY NO ONE READS JOOR BLOG BC NO ONE LIKES TO TALK TO U BC UR NOT WHATS PURE ABOUT BASEBALL.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Fanasty Player's Best Trade.

For the 3rd time this season, after spending most of a weekend with my girlfriend and away from my 6 fantasy teams, I arrive home to discover that I had benched Johan Santana again out of neglect. Each time, my first reaction is to literally slap myself in the forehead. My second reaction, however, is to remind myself that as a manager of 6 fantasy teams, I should consider myself very lucky to even be getting laid on a consistent basis to begin with. So then my forehead-slap turns into a shoulder-shrug and I go about the rest of my day and never think of it again.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

1987 Topps #227

On April 12, 2007, Jamie Moyer dueled Tommy Glavine as the two elder statesmen combined to be the oldest left-handed starters to face each other in Baseball's history, totaling 85 years and 163 days between the two. Several weeks later, on May 9, Moyer would break that record again facing the Arizona Diamondbacks and Randy Johnson. The two lefties combined were 88 years and 48 days old. Two starts later, Moyer beat the Atlanta Braves for the first time in exactly 20 years and 2 days, leading to a heightened appreciation of the crafty southpaw's distinguished career, which spans 21 years and 7 franchises.

In what has turned out to be a rare astute move of the Pat Gillick regime in Philadelphia, he traded a couple of minor-league warm bodies to employ Moyer's services to shore up the rotation for a run at the playoffs. As with most Philadelphian runs at the playoffs, it was, of course, ill-fated, but not without Jamie doing exactly what was expected of him, going 5-2 with a 4.03 ERA the rest of the way. Gillick, already having convinced Moyer to waive his no-trade clause to switch to the National League, promptly signed the 43 year-old to a $10.5 million two-year extension after the season. So far, Jamie has been reliable, if not exciting, posting an 4.18 ERA in a hitter's park and making a contract issued to a pitcher through his Age 45 season an unusual bargain.

I'd like to think that Jamie approved the move to Philadelphia because after 122 career starts and nearly 10 years of owning Safeco Field, he had long mastered the confines of his home park, how American League hitters hit there and grew a bit bored of it. Though it may be a bit insulting to call Jamie Moyer a poor man's Greg Maddux, the comparison is certainly apt. Both spend countless hours studying the flaws of opposing hitters and keep copious notes on their tendencies and weaknesses, using their intelligence, outstanding control and secondary pitches, rather than blazing fastballs, to exploit those flaws. Although Maddux will retire with 5 Cy Young awards and a first-ballot invitation to Cooperstown, Moyer will have to settle for just one All Star appearance, and an invitation to the Baseball Hall of the Pretty Good, if such a shrine should ever be built. Which, if you've ever seen Jamie Moyer pitch, should be just fine for a man who has survived in the big leagues for 21 seasons almost by sheer virtue of being the second-smartest pitcher to ever play Baseball.

Above is a portrait of the control artist as a young man, probably looking off to the distance to then-teammate Greg Maddux and almost (almost) biting his bottom lip, as if in anticipation of how he'll measure up to the first-smartest pitcher to ever play Baseball.

Monday, May 14, 2007

1989 Topps #291

Darryl Strawberry: Here you go, rook.

Kevin McReynolds: Hey, Darryl, look, man, I appreciate your being discreet about this, what with you incorporating hand-offs after three-run home runs and all, but I don't want any drugs. Also, I'm not a rookie.

Keith Hernandez: Cut the crap, rook and shut up and take the drugs.

Kevin McReynolds: But I already told you a million times, no. I mean, I don't care if you guys do but please, man, just leave me out of it. I just want to play ball. And for the last time, I'm not a rookie. I've been in the league since '83.

Keith Hernandez: Bullshit. We have The Baseball Encyclopedia in the dugout and you're not in it yet.

Kevin McReynolds: Yeah, but that's from 1982. Neither is Darryl.

Darryl Strawberry: ssh! don't say my name, man. c'mon, take it! 48,000 people are watching, rook.

Kevin McReynolds: I'm not a rookie! I led the team in hits and doubles last year!

Keith Hernandez: Bullshit, rook. Darryl lead the team in everything last year.

Darryl Strawberry: What he said.

Kevin McReynolds: Look on the back of this card if you don't believe me!

Keith Hernandez: I'm not going to let facts get in the way of this, rook. Now fill me and Dwight and Darryl's vials and put them in our back pants pockets for tomorrow's game. And Lenny Dykstra wants a fistful of beer and a six-pack of amphetamines.

Kevin McReynolds: W...?

Keith Hernandez: And wash out my moustache comb; it's too coked up with cake to brush my moustache with. And Roger McDowell needs matches to set Kevin Mitchell's jheri curl on fire. And Davey Johnson wants the new The New Yorker.

Kevin McReynolds: This is crap.

Keith Hernandez: Let's go, rook!

Kevin McReynolds: Goddammit, I'm not a rookie! I set a record last year stealing 21 bases without getting caught! I led the league in outfield assists! I was 3rd in the MVP voting last year!

Darryl Strawberry: F'real, rook? I was 2nd! Let's do drugs together!

Kevin McReynolds: sigh. No.

Keith Hernandez: Fuck'm Darryl. Let's go back to the dugout. Rookies can't come because they don't belong there.

Darryl Strawberry: ?

Keith Hernandez: I mean women.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

1982 Topps #527

I told you already, Horshack, I can't skip the math test with you and Epstein to egg Mr. Kotter's car cuz if I don't pass, Coach says I can't pitch against the Orioles tonight.