Archive for June, 2007

Braves on the Block

With the Braves in the midst of another June swoon, it’s time to think about what the Braves might do if they fall out of the race. It’s too early to give up on the season, but I think the Braves are more likely to be sellers than buyers down the stretch. Here are a list of guys and my reasons for thinking these players may or may not be gone if the Braves decide to become sellers.

Andruw Jones: He’s got 10-5 rights and says he’s not going anywhere. I believe him. He’ll come out of his slump and finish the year strong. It won’t be a year he’ll look back on fondly, but it won’t dampen his free agent value much. Chance of being traded: 10%.

Chipper Jones: You don’t hear Chipper’s name come up in trade discussions much, but I think he is the Braves biggest bargaining chip (no pun intended). When he is on the field he is still one of the top hitters in the game. I can see many teams who would like to add his bat, and his salary is reasonable given his production. The Braves would prefer not to pay him if the team isn’t going to the post-season. The marketing focus of the team is on Francoeur, McCann, and Smoltz, so the team doesn’t think he’s much of a draw. He will accept a trade to the right team, and given the latest dust-up with Smoltz (which was entirely Smoltz’s fault) I would not be surprised if he is itching to get into a winning environment. The Braves still have Willy Aybar, and the Braves have been willing to give chances to guys with substance abuse problems. Chance of being traded: 60%.

John Smoltz: He recently signed an extension that keeps him with the club through 2009 and possibly 2010. I thought his divorce might give him the itch to move, but the extension indicates that he wants to stay near his kids. He has 10-5 rights, and I don’t seem him waving them. He’s a competitive guy and might consider moving if the circumstances were just right, but I doubt this will occur. Chance of being traded: 10%.

Tim Hudson: Everybody needs pitching, and just because he’s not the Huddy of old, doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable. His contract is reasonable even when the big money kicks in over the next two seasons. Ff the Braves aren’t going to win it this year, I don’t see them wanting to go with virtually the same team next year. I think the Braves would rather have the money than the pitcher so that they can be more competitive down the road. Chance of being traded: 60%.

Edgar Renteria: Like Hudson, he’s a guy who is a good MLB player and has a salary to match it. These are the types of players that contending teams don’t mind acquiring and the Braves don’t mind losing. He’s having a good year—playing above his head a bit in my opinion—which might draw a little more interest. Couple this with the fact that the Braves are high on Escobar’s defensive capabilities at short. Bobby Cox seemed to really want a legitimate shortstop after Rafael Furcal left, so that may be enough to keep him on the team even if some teams really want him. Chance of being traded: 40%.

Bob Wickman: He’s on a one-year deal and would fit into many bullpens. He’s as good as gone. Chance of being traded: 90%.

Rafael Soriano: He’s pitched well, and I know the Braves like him. He’s the best pitcher in the pen and he maybe should be converted to a starter. The Braves seem to like him as a reliever, and I don’t think any team should keep a player heading into his final arbitration years in it’s pen. Because he’s better than Wickman and locked up for two more years, I think he could bring a lot more. Chance of being traded: 50%.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: I think Salty is for real, and he’s the type of guy you find a place for because he is good and cheap. Though the Braves could get a lot for him in a trade, I don’t think the Braves want him to get away. Chance of being traded: 20%.

Scott Thorman: If the team keeps Salty, there is no place for him to start. I’m not convinced that he’s ready to be an everyday player, but he definitely has some value. Chance of being traded: 60%.

Yunel Escobar: I think people are a little too excited about this guy. He’s supposed to be 24, but we really don’t know how old he is, and he hasn’t been all that spectacular in the minors or majors. Still, he’s not a bad shortstop prospect and if the Braves part ways with Chipper or Renteria he could step right in. Chance of being traded: 20%

McCann, Francoeur, Johnson, James, and Davies: Young, cheap, and part of the Braves marketing strategy. These guys are staying put. Davies is the only one I could see the Braves moving if another team really thinks a change of scenery is what he needs. Chance of being traded: 10% (15% for Davies).

Yates, Diaz, Harris, Moylan, and Villarreal: Need one more player for that playoff roster? These guys might be a fit. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these guys are involved in a minor trade. Chance of being traded: 50%.

Addendum: Alright folks, things are getting a bit out of hand with the comments. I’ve rejected approval of half-a-dozen rude remarks. Feel free to state your opinion but please do not resort to insults. Look, this is a post that was inspired by an e-mail from my cousin on my thoughts about whom the Braves might trade. I decided to turn it into a post and thought as I wrote. Please, don’t take the “probabilities” seriously. I should have just said high, low, etc. And I certainly don’t think the Braves will dump all of these people. For those of you who are mad at me for suggesting the Braves might be sellers, note that I suggested what the Braves might do IF they fall out of contention. It’s speculation based on financial realities and little tidbits that get passed my way.

JC on Baseball Prospectus Radio

Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus has posted an interview with me regarding (mostly) the Orioles managerial change and Leo Mazzone. If you didn’t know I was from the South, you will after you hear my accent.

Mp3 of the interview

Thanks to Will for doing the interview. I enjoyed it.

Stark Responds to Me

Jayson Stark was kind enough to send a rebuttal to my comments on the Andruw is overrated debate. Here is the post he is responding to, and here is my original post on the subject.

Hi J.C.
I was referred to your latest blog by a friend. And I found it reasonable and insightful. I appreciate the way you framed the debate, as opposed to the way some people have been interpreting it.

I’ve never claimed Andruw was now an inferior centerfielder, or a below-average centerfielder. And I certainly have never said he’s some broken-down stumblebum, as Scott (Boras) has been insinuating. But it seems to me that we both agree with the premise that he has regressed somewhat since his peak — at least until this year, when he happened to get back in tremendous shape in what was (coincidentally, I’m sure) a major contract year. Even if he has regressed 52 putouts a year, that’s still two balls a week he’s no longer getting to that he used to. And the fact was, I didn’t only use his best year as a comparison. Even his second-best year, in 2001, represented nearly 100 more putouts than last year, in only two more games played.

Did I break this down as closely as you did? Obviously, I didn’t. But there HAD been a definite decline no matter how you break it down. Basically, we’re only debating how much of a decline. Am I correct?

And I didn’t just use stats as my guide here. As I said in the email I sent Dave O’Brien, Scott would be shocked by what scouts and GMs and other club executives have been saying about Andruw over the last few years. THEY think he has declined. I know that. And I still hear that. In fact, after I wrote in that email that I would still take Andruw over Torii Hunter, one scout who read it called me and said, “You’re wrong. In that series in Minnesota last week, Andruw was the second-best centerfielder on the field – by far.”

It would be tempting to pass along some of the even more harsh assessments i’ve heard. But I have no desire to do that because I’ve been consciously trying NOT to bash Andruw, who I still think (and say repeatedly) is a tremendous player in many respects, and highly employable, obviously.

I also wanted to make the point that when I first started talking about Andruw, this was not all about defense. Andruw’s offensive issues are readily apparent. And as I wrote in the book, even his 50-homer season was misleading in some ways, because all the Sabermetric indicators rate it as the least productive 50-homer season of all time. But I’ve found that the conversations and interviews have evolved away from the offensive part of the topic and gotten us stuck in a debate over Andruw’s defense. That was never my original intent. But especially in these interviews, there’s limited time to get into everything.

So all I really attempted to say in that chapter was that here we have a guy who burst onto the scene in the ’96 World Series, was so good so young he had his GM invoking Hank Aaron as a comparison, and he hasn’t really been all that we expected. Now maybe we expected too much. But that’s a separate debate.

The other part of this argument is that we have this impression now of Andruw as this 50-home-run-hitting, nine-0time Gold Glove winner — and when you hear that, you’d think he was Willie Mays reincarnate. In fact, Scott loves to drop Willie Mays into all the Andruw conversations. But the fact is, THAT impression is misleading and over-inflated. And THAT’S where Andruw is overrated.

This book is about perception, and performance relative to that perception. And what’s been lost in this is that THAT’S what I wrote. People have been focusing way too much on defense, and this chapter was really more about the big picture. So I want you to know that your blog has helped remind me to readjust the focus of this conversation, so that future discussions ARE about the big picture and not just on how we interpret defensive numbers.

I’m a reasonable guy, just trying to raise reasonable issues. But people’s emotions have caused this debate to veer into a whole different sphere. So if you could do your part to help redirect us back into an arena where normal people can agree to disagree and debate in a more relaxed, this-is-what-baseball-fans do kind of climate, I’d be greatly appreciative.

Thanks for hearing me out.

After discussing this a bit further with Jayson, it seems that we agree on what type of player Andruw is, but we differ on how the general public perceives him. And Stark may have the edge in gaging this perception, because most of what I hear from Braves fans is how he is responsible for all Braves losses…and possibly the Iraq War. Thus, Stark thinks he is overrated, and I don’t.

So, when you are ordering your copy of The Baseball Economist, save on shipping and pick up The Stark Truth while you are at it. 🙂

How Not to Run a Baseball Franchise

The Baltimore Orioles have just fired their manager, Sam Perlozzo, after holding the position for a little more than one full season. Perlozzo took over the team on an interim basis in August 2005, and was awarded the permanent position after the season.

Perlozzo took over a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 1997 and didn’t appear to be close to getting its act back together. In 2006 the team won only 70 games, four fewer than the previous season. This season the Orioles are on pace to win 68 games. However, the team’s run differential indicates the Orioles are playing better than their record: their Pythagorean record has them on pace for 77 wins. 77 wins isn’t a good team, but I’m not sure much of this is Perlozzo’s fault. (I want to acknowledge that some people have argued that deviations in wins from Pythagorean projections measure some level of managerial skill. I am not convinced of this.)

Perlozzo took over a pretty poor club and has not had much time to right the ship. Furthermore, Perlozzo’s good buddy Leo Mazzone seems to have improved the pitching staff after a tough first season. I suspect Mazzone will not stick around, because the main reason he came to Baltimore was to work with his good friend Perlozzo. I don’t understand the need for such a hasty decision. Unless the manager is actively doing damage, managerial stability has some value.

Perlozzo might be a rotten manager, I really don’t know, but considering Joe Girardi as a replacement shows that the O’s lack decision-makers who understand the game. Speaking of actively doing damage, Girardi was fired by the Marlins, despite the fact that he won the manager of the year award, because he couldn’t get along with the owner and GM. Girardi won the award is that the Marlins were not expected to win many games, yet the team was competitive most of the season. The voters surmised Girardi must be the reason, but the voters missed that the Marlins success had much more to do with the front office than its manager. Without Girardi, the Marlins are on a pace to win about the same number of games they won last year. In my book, I find Florida to be the best managed organization in baseball before Girardi even showed up. The Marlins were happy to let Girardi go because they knew he had little to do with the team’s success. Looks like the O’s are going after the next hot thing without really thinking about it.

I actually have some personal experience with this which I will share. Soon after the Orioles hired Mazzone, I received many media inquiries. A few of the journalists who contacted me said that the Orioles had mentioned my study to them as evidence of what a great pitching coach Mazzone is. Now, I’m happy that the O’s felt this way, but I thought it was odd that they were basing their decisions off of a study I posted on the internet without even contacting me. Wouldn’t you want to talk to me first if you were thinking of making this move because of brief study I posted? I didn’t even get an e-mail. My consulting fees are far less than what it costs to buy out a coach. I don’t mean to suggest that my study was the main reason they made their decision—I have no doubt that Perlozzo’s influence was much stronger than mine, and it’s not like it was a secret that Mazzone was good at his job—but I found the mention a bit odd.

So, when the O’s decided to can a manager in the midst of a losing streak, I was not surprised. Another short-sighted decision by an franchise that continues to blunder it’s way to the bottom of the division. I wonder if they would be willing to take Willie Harris for Daniel Cabrera.

Happy Father’s Day

I’m spending today with my dad. We’ll probably do something simple like go to Krystal and watch the Braves game on TV, while my daughters do their best to interrupt. Although, my three-year-old will always watch the TV when Chipper Jones is mentioned—“Dad, is he still hurt?”—and do do the “chaw-ma-tawk chop.”

My dad fostered my love of baseball from a very young age. I used to fall aspleep as he told me stories of his Little League games. And though my dad spent most of his youth in the south, he lived a few years in New York, where his father took him to Yankee Stadium to see Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle, and (his favorite player) Yogi Berra. What a time to become a baseball fan! And most importantly, as a ten-year-old who couldn’t hit a lick, I was about ready to give up on baseball. My dad took me in the backyard and taught me how to hit (as opposed to some coaches who thought yelling at me when I missed the ball was some sort of advice). Once I got the hang of it, I lived for those trips to the plate. I loved to hit, and I’d curse in frustration when the opposing pitcher walked me. The only feeling that rivals a ball hit cleanly off the bat is the gentle vibration of fish on your line—oh yeah, my dad taught me how to fish, too.

About two years ago, I was explaining the origins of my love for baseball to the parents of one of my students. The father responded, “well, now you know who you are going to dedicate your book to.” And so I did. I just want to say thanks to my dad, and I hope I can be as good of a father to my own children as he has been to my sister and me.

Stark Responds about Andruw

Well, not to me but to Scott Boras on David O’Brien’s AJC blog. Boras’s initial comments were posted by DOB on Tuesday.

But was he exactly the same player over the last few years that we perceived him to be? No. And Scott can manipulate his own numbers and “indexes” all he wants. But he can’t explain away those 100 balls a year that Andruw used to catch that he wasn’t catching anymore – until, by some remarkable stroke of fate, he got himself back in A-1 shape this year in a contract year (and now is magically catching them again). Do the math. If the guy was down 100 putouts a season, that’s four balls a week he used to catch that he wasn’t catching anymore.

I said in the book that I was surprised to see those numbers myself. But I didn’t make them up or manipulate them. They’re real. And Scott’s trashing of Zone Rating is purely his way of discrediting research he doesn’t agree with.

I only looked at Zone Rating because my initial inclination, as I wrote in the book, was NOT to believe the raw numbers. I wanted to factor out variables like whether the Braves’ staff had more ground-ball pitchers than it used to, etc. The defensive stat that does that best, in my opinion, is Zone Rating.

I’ve asked plenty of sabermatricians about Zone Rating. And they sure characterize it differently than Scott does. It doesn’t assign wider zones to players like Andruw because he’s so good. All centerfielders are assigned the same zone. So how does it penalize players with more range?

Andruw’s Zone Rating dipped in exactly the way his other numbers dipped. He used to lead the league. Last year, he finished at the bottom of the league. Any attempt to explain that away is an attempt to make the conclusion differ from the facts – which was the opposite of the way I went about it.

First, let’s talk about those 100 balls a year that Andruw is no longer getting to. Well, that is a bit of an exaggeration. From Andruw’s “The Guy” period from 1998–2002 (as defined by Stark in his book), the difference from 1998–2002 to 2003–2006 is 62 raw putouts, not 100. From his best year to his worst year the difference is 128, but it’s a little unfair to compare peaks and valleys, especially because some of this is a function of playing time.

Andruw averaged 449 put-outs per 162 games played from 1998–2002. From 2003–2006, he averaged 397 put-outs per 162 games played. Comparing his best years to his worst years in raw put-outs is deceiving. After you control for games played, the difference is down to 52 putouts a year. If you normalize it by innings played in CF, and assume he played as many innings as he did in his best year (1999) the difference is down to 43. In fact if you include his 2007 campaign, Andruw is on a pace to put out 494 batters in 1447 innings (his 1999 playing time), which is about equal to his career high. The difference from “The Guy” to the present averages is only 26 put-outs.

Year    Games   Innings PO     PO     PO
           		(Raw)  (162G) (1447 Inn)
1998    159    	1373    413    421    435
1999    162    	1447    493    493    493
2000    161    	1430    439    442    444
2001    161    	1435    461    464    465
2002    154    	1357    404    425    431
2003    155    	1329    390    408    425
2004    154    	1347    389    409    418
2005    159    	1366    365    372    387
2006    153    	1317    378    400    415
2007    63	557    	190    489    494
Mean    1998-2002       442 	449    454
Mean    2003-2006       381	397    411
Mean    2003-2007        	416    428

Now, this is not an insubstantial difference, but it is much smaller that what Stark claims it to be. I don’t think Stark is trying to manipulate the numbers, I just think he’s not looking at the big picture.

Now, let’s move on to Zone Rating, which is a rate statistic. The problem is that the traditional Zone Rating reported by ESPN is deeply flawed. Players are at a disadvantage if they are making plays outside of their zone, because an out-of-zone play is treated as a part of the player’s zone for that play. The out-of-zone put-out goes into both the numerator and denominator of ZR. If a player is making shifts from a standard zone, this can actually hurt a player, and he is not awarded extra credit for making an out-of-zone play (see here for a full explanation). I don’t know of any stat-head who considers zone rating useful, nor would I care if anyone did. Zone Rating is flawed in its design for punishing players who make plays outside of their zone.

While Stark responds specifically to Boras, he has yet to respond to what the superior defensive metrics indicate about Andruw: he is still one of the best in the game. If you want to find a metric that treats all fielders the same, why not go with the Plus/Minus system created by the man to founded Stats, Inc. and invented Zone Rating? It’s a system that employs several video scouts to plot the speed, trajectory, and location of all balls hit to all fielders over several seasons. If you are worried about the influence of the pitching staff, this is the metric that you need to use.

I would like to add that I like Jayson Stark, and I think he is a good writer. I just disagree with him on this. It’s not like he’s an idiot for using ZR. In fact, I applaud Stark for objectively evaluating Andruw. If ZR didn’t measure Jones as declining, Jones wouldn’t have made the list. He has no reason to bash Andruw just for the sake of doing so. It’s not widely known that ZR has serious problems and that a superior defensive metric exists. And it just so happens that it makes a big difference in Andruw’s case.

More Mail

It’s been one of those weeks, so I apologize for the lack of posts. I thought I’d do a mailbox before things get backed up again. A few thoughts before I begin answering questions.

— The Braves aren’t doing so hot as of late. The Braves have allowed more runs than they have scored pushing their Pythagorean record to 32-34; even with the Marlins and behind the Phillies. If it wasn’t for their hot start this team would be in big trouble. But, as long as you hang around, good things can happen. If the pitching can stabilize just a little and the offense gets a kick from Chipper, old-Andruw, and old-McCann, they can turn it around quickly.

— The O’s pitching staff is much improved so far this year. Might Leo Mazzone deserve a little credit for this? (see The Baseball Economist, Chapter 5). It’s still far too early in the season to say the O’s have turned the corner, but the staff has improved by more than a run over 2006 and about 0.36 better than 2005.

Season    BAL    AL    ERA+
2007    4.21    4.40    104
2006    5.35    4.56    84
2005    4.57    4.35    91

(Numbers from

Yes, there are different pitchers involved, but this is just quick and dirty look.

— I’ve received plenty of feedback from my comments on Jayson Stark’s claim that Andruw Jones is overrated. Well, some more support for AJ just came in. Revised BIS zone ratings will soon be published at The Hardball Times, and David Gassko provides a list of the top and bottom three at each position. Andruw comes in second. I can’t vouch for these ratings, because I know very little about the new ZR metric, but the ranking is consistent with the Plus/Minus ranking.

Now to your questions. 🙂

I guess no one has noticed except for maybe some stat “geeks” but Andruw’s BABiP is .244 (through Sunday), compared to his career average of .288. I would think those batted balls will eventually start to find the where-they-ain’t.
— Shaun

Yes, Andruw has been unlucky this year, and his BABIP is below his career average of .282. Also, his PrOPS is about 100 points higher than his OPS. I am certainly anticipating some improvement. Whether he’ll recover this season, I have no idea. I don’t think he’s diminishing as a player, he is just having some bad luck. The team that signs him for next year will be getting the same old Andruw.

Do you have an opinion on Gary Sheffield’s comments. Have you studied the effects of race, nationality, ethnicity, etc. on a player’s ability to either hold a roster spot or cash in with a huge contract? Thanks.
— Dave

Sheffield has a big mouth and a habit of wearing out his welcome wherever he plays. Only in Atlanta did he not have any problems, which speaks to Bobby Cox’s managerial skills.

I am very curious about the decline of African-Americans in baseball, and it is something that I would like to study. I don’t think it’s purely a demand-side problem as Sheffield suggests. The problem in studying race in baseball is that race data is not easy to find. I did one study on race and the price of baseball cards. Assigning a race to players based on baseball card photos is even more difficult than it sounds. There is no way I am going to do that over a period of decades. When I get my hands on some good race data, I will most definitely look into the issue.

One thing I do wonder about is why so many athletes of all races choose to play football or basketball over baseball. The financial rewards of baseball are higher and much more certain. In baseball, you can get paid out of high school to play in the minor leagues rather than playing for free in college. And if you are good, the player salaries are much better in MLB. Take Michael Vick for example, a left-handed quarterback and an amazing athlete. I suspect his arm is good enough that he could pitch in the big leagues—he was drafted by the Rockies in the 30th round in 2000. And top starting left-handed pitchers make more than what Vick makes as a QB in the NFL. Now, I’m not saying that Vick is a guaranteed big-league player, but I wonder why young athletes don’t put more emphasis on the returns to the sport they chose to play.

What do you make of arguments that Chipper should be shifted over to 1B? It seems there are two parts to the argument: first, that he’s not a great defensive third baseman (which seems less true after returning from LF), and second, that Chipper would stay healthier at a less defensively demanding position. What are your thoughts? I can’t discuss it rationally because Chipper has been the Braves’ 3B since I was about 9 years old.
— Tom O.

When I was nine, Bob Horner played third (I just felt like saying that). I have been advocating a move to first for Chipper for a long time. Putting him in the outfield was a huge mistake, and while I can’t prove it, I think it did some damage to his legs. As the injuries continue, getting him to a position that is a little easier might keep him in the lineup, but that is really just speculation. With Thorman playing poorly and Yunel Escobar playing so well, now seems like a good time to make the move. But the wrinkle is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. If the Braves lose Andruw Jones, Salty may be able to soften the loss of offense if he plays first while the Braves pick up a cheap defensive center fielder. So, I think a move to first in unlikely this year unless Salty is traded, which would surprise me.

One thing we have to remember is that some of Chipper’s injury problems have been flukey. For example, his current injury is a hand problem that resulted from a base running collision. The knee injury last year in Boston was the result of horrible field conditions. His legs have been good so far. I would not be surprised to see Chipper play 150 games next year at third. I also think that Chipper has a hand-shake agreement with management that he will play third. As a third baseman he has a better case for the Hall of Fame. He is an under-appreciated player and I wish he would get more credit. He hasn’t made the All-Star team since 2001, which is a shame.

Park Effects

Dirk Hayhurst of the Lake Elsinore Storm demonstrates the importance of park effects in Lancaster, California.

Reader Mail

After the first round of mail I got a flood of follow-ups. I’ll go ahead and answer them.

First, I was trying to do a search to see if you commented on Liberty Media and the sale of the Braves and the search engine on the site was not working for me. I tried google and came up with nothing so I wanted to know what your thoughts were about the Liberty Media sale? Is it a good economic decision? Do you like it for the future of the Braves? Also, purely as a fan, what do you think about the increased role Hank Aaron will have with the team? Sorry, I know that was lengthy but hopefully not too bad.
— Andrew T.

Is it a good economic decision? Well, the parties involved both think it’s mutually beneficial so on one level it is. However, because the sale was triggered by taxes, the distortion inefficiency of this transaction is probably large. I doubt Liberty would have been a buyer otherwise.

How will this affect the Braves? In the short run, it creates some flexibility for the front office. Though upper management told the media that it had no effect on the team, it is obvious it did. My sources were reporting to me that that many in the organization were so frustrated they were looking to join Stan Kasten in Washington (that’s just what I have heard). I still wouldn’t be surprised to see some turnover. In the long run it will have almost no effect. Time-Warner and Liberty are both publicly traded companies whose managers seek to maximize profits for shareholders. Liberty might be a better organization, but I doubt it. I thought TW was an excellent owner, and I don’t expect much different now.

On Hank Aaron, I really don’t know what he has been doing or will be doing. He does have great seats though.

Follow-up to the question you took on what happens in CF next year: Is there any
chance Francoeur could move over? While I’m guessing he won’t be Andruw out there, could he be a decent stop-gap until Brandon Jones is ready? Surely it’s easier to find someone to fill RF than CF.
— Tom O.

What do you project Andruw Jones next contract to be worth?
— Andrew T.

I wonder about Francoeur in center, too. My guess is that he is not being considered there. I don’t believe he played much CF in the minors. Plus, he’s had some defensive lapses lately. He might fill in occasionally, but I think the Braves want a serious defender in center. If Andruw leaves, the Braves may try and go get an all-defense kind of a guy for cheap (think Charles Thomas) and use Saltalamacchia at first to replace the offense. I think Thorman will develop into a major league hitter, but I don’t think he will be good enough to earn consistent play at first base.

What kind of contract will Andruw get? I’d say he’ll get between 17-19 million per year from 5-7 years. I’ll say 6-years, $112 million. If he signs with the Braves, he might cut them a deal. He wants to play for Cox, and I suspect he is willing to take a discount as long as it is not insulting.

The Braves have played quite a few games against LHP (23)- more than any other
team in the NL East (the Mets have played 15). Their record against lefties (11-13) is in stark contrast to their record against righties (19-10).

Could this explain their recent losing streak? Could their record improve once they start seeing more righties? Does this form an effective argument against the platoon (the Braves use platoons heavily, but have a poor record against LHP. The Mets don’t use any platoons, as far as I know, and have an 11-4 record against them)?
— Erik

I like platoons, because it increases the production of weaker players by giving them mostly opposite-handed at-bats. In the long run, it’s possible that left-handers may suffer some in their development, but I don’t know this. Now, it may be that the Braves right-handed hitters aren’t as good as their left-side hitters, but I don’t see it. Both Thorman and Diaz performed better than Wilson and Langerhans, but I think that had more to do with chance than ability. I think we are seeing is a sample-size issue. I expect it will even out over the year.

It seems like a lot of teams that are successful in the playoffs make late season deals to bring in some help. I was wondering if there was any statistical evidence to the point that there is a correlation between late season additions and success in the postseason. Maybe, maybe not.
— Brian

I don’t know of any evidence of this, but it shouldn’t hurt to bring in additional good players.

Are there any objective statistical measurements for managers? If so, how does
Bobby Cox rank both compared to other active managers and all time?
— Ron

I have seen many studies of managers over the years, but I can’t recall a single one off the top of my head. Managerial influence is difficult to quantify. I actually had planned a chapter on this in The Baseball Economist, but it didn’t make the cut. The preliminary results did show some managers helping their players, and I recall that Bobby Cox did have a positive influence. I expect to finish the study in my next book. No title or date yet—I’m just gearing up to search for an agent and publisher.

What A Waste!

One of the parts of baseball that I really do not enjoy is arguing with umpires. I understand that in the heat of the moment disagreements take place and that players and managers will naturally express their displeasure with incorrect (or perceived-to-be incorrect) calls on the field. This happens in all sports. But no other sport tolerates the level of disagreement that baseball does. This past weekend, two ugly incidents occurred. And sadly you can easily view both of them via YouTube.

The first is Cubs manager Lou Pinella making a total ass of himself by berating an umpire who probably got the call right. And even if he didn’t, it’s not like he was clearly wrong. Pinella kicks dirt, his hat, and the umpire (inadvertently). For the last of these he was suspended by the the league. Later Pinella would admit that the call didn’t matter. He was just blowing off steam.

Here is Mississippi Braves manager Phil Wellman demonstrating to his players that “make up” includes acting like child and attempting to publicly humiliate the umpires by mocking them.

That Wellman is still employed by the Braves is an embarrassment to the organization. He should be fired immediately. Now, you may wonder if firing a minor league manager for a tirade is consistent when their major league skipper Bobby Cox is on the verge of breaking the league ejection record. Well, I’m not going to defend Cox—however, I do believe his ejections are product of the system that encourages arguing—but, what he does is very different. Cox does not kick dirt or dismantle bases. He makes his point, defends his players, and gets off the field. Wellman, like Pinella, is putting on a show for the crowd: “look at me, and let’s all laugh at the umps together!” Can we get back to the baseball game, please!

I will admit this is somewhat amusing, but there are many substitutes for this type of behavior that don’t interrupt a baseball game: America’s Funniest Home Videos, Cops, and home movies of my three-year-old when she doesn’t get her way. I would prefer not to witness this, and especially not have to explain it to my children. Most kids get “don’t do crack”, tantrums they can identify with.

But isn’t there a strategic element to all of this? Maybe the umpires will know that if they call the game against you they will get an earful; therefore, they are partial to a particular team. That managers think this is a possibility is part of the problem. Managers know that they have to complain or risk being out-complained by the other manager. The end result is that we get a lot of arguing but it doesn’t affect the outcome of the game. In The Baseball Economist I look at how managers may influence ball-strike calls on the field in Questec and non-Questec monitored ballparks and find that managers have very little effect on swaying umpires. In order to gain an advantage, or prevent the opposing manager from gaining an advantage, managers expend energy that will gain them nothing in the end. This is what economists call rent-seeking behavior.

The solution to all of this bad behavior is a low-tolerance policy and increased punishments. Umpires should give immediate warnings and quickly toss an offending party. Once a manager or player is tossed, he is escorted from the field by security immediately. Tantrums or refusing to leave the field will result in multiple-game suspensions and hefty fines. This type of behavior is not tolerated in basketball or football, why should it be any different in baseball.

Complaints about bad umpiring should be handled off the field. Umpires should be heavily-monitored and graded by Questec systems in every ballpark. If mangers and players feel that an umpire is acting wrongly—and many umpires are in need of some discipline—the league should take action off the field. All of this on-field posturing is wasted effort. The league wants to shorten games, so let’s get rid of this aspect of the game.