February 2009

Too hard on Tejada?

Eleven reactions to the A-Rod/steroids story

arod_250_020909.jpg1. Not steroids again. Not A-Rod again. I have seen both of these movies before, and wasn’t clamoring for a re-release or a sequel. This is how I imagine most people feel about Steve Martin’s “Pink Panther” films.

2. I’m still not certain what we’re upset about. We don’t know how performance-enhancing drugs affect a hitter’s performance. We intuitively feel that it should, but actual evidence is nonexistent. I have had acquaintances and fellow writers tell me, “They help you hit the ball farther,” or, “They help you see the ball better.” Unfortunately, none of them could cite a legitimate source for these effects. Indeed, any attempts to tease out the evidence of PED use in baseball statistics tend to come up with few persuasive results (for one effort, see Nate Silver’s chapter on PEDs in Baseball Between the Numbers — in the interest of full disclosure, I contributed a chapter to said book). The key fact is this: steroids help one build muscle. They do not necessarily help one hit a baseball. Indeed, there is no evidence for the latter.

3. Most of the players caught taking steroids have been of the most fringe-y types. These fellows did not turn into Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez. It’s hard to see that they received any benefit at all. When we turn to a Bonds or an A-Rod and say that they received a great benefit from using, not only are we automatically in the realm of conjecture about the basic effects, we’re also positing that they received a benefit beyond what other users received. While it is known that certain medications will affect various individuals differently (the impact of side effects varies, for example), it is something of a stretch to say that one guy gets nothing and the next guy gets 50 home runs, or even 10 extra home runs. If you’ve had radiation administered to your eyes, as I have, you will find out that some people have their vision reduced, and some go completely blind (as I have). One guy in a hundred does not turn into Cyclops of the X-Men and go about shooting bad guys with his optic force beams. That kind of result just isn’t on the menu of possibilities.

4. Given the chimerical benefits of PED usage and the fact that Rodriguez lacked the monetary incentives to use that seem to inspire most of the aforementioned fringe-type users, I am forced to fall back on one of the great explanations for everything, vanity. We already knew, or suspected, that Rodriguez was something of a narcissist. This is the confirmation.

5. Rodriguez had the best offensive season of his career in 2007. His 2008 offensive output wasn’t too different, when adjusted for context, than his now-tainted 2003 performance. How do we reconcile these things, assuming Rodriguez was clean after 2003 or 2004? Wouldn’t it be nave of us to believe that 2003 was the only time A-Rod was using?

6. Clearly, using PEDs does not help you come up with the big hit in a postseason game.

7. Rodriguez could play for another eight or 10 years. He won’t be eligible for the Hall of Fame for another five years after that. Get ready to become intimately familiar with this topic, because we’re going to be kicking it around for something like a decade and a half.

8. The bigger story here is not that A-Rod might have used, but that what should have been a confidential testing record was picked up by the government for no particular reason, and further that the government, as custodian of those records, were sloppy enough in their handling of them that we and Rodriguez have come to this reckoning. Whatever one thinks of what Rodriguez did, whatever one thinks of about Rodriguez, he does not deserve to be a victim of drive-by assassination in a legal proceeding against somebody else, and it seems like the 4th Amendment would give him (and you, and me) the right not to be. Of course, the 4th Amendment ain’t what it used to be.

9. The second-biggest story is the Gene Orza of the Players Union might have been tipping players to upcoming tests. That would throw the whole testing regime into question.

10. The “good” part of the Bonds story was that A-Rod was likely going to erase his home run record anyway, so we would have a “clean” all-time home run leader. Now, not so much — despite the complete and total lack of evidence that what Rodriguez might have done has had any impact on his home run totals anyway. This is yet another aspect of the story that will never, never go away. Thanks, A-Rod. Thanks, Feds.

11. The ‘net is teeming with unqualified advice for A-Rod and how he should handle these disclosures, and I’m not even tempted to join the parade. Despite the points cited above about the lack of evidence for the impact of PEDs on hitting performance, that doesn’t mean that Rodriguez should be perceived as being any less corrupt for having failed a test. The records may be safe but our estimation of this already unpopular player is not, and I imagine it will never be restored.

Keeping up with the Joneses

jones_250.jpgA COUPLE OF VERY QUICK NOTES AS WE HEAD INTO THE WEEKEND
?    Too bad that Andruw Jones turned down the Yankees’ non-roster invite. The Yankees had nothing to lose by making said offer, and Jones everything to gain. I’d like to have an actual Andruw sighting, preferably of him in fighting trim, before I would be inspired to offer him anything more substantial than that.

?    Despite rumblings of “collusion” in the land, I prefer to look at many of the free agents still without deals as evidence of the financial crisis putting pressure on general managers to be smarter. Every one of the remaining players has serious flaws, whether it be Manny’s character issues or Adam Dunn’s defense or the general downward trend of Bobby Abreu’s game or the potential that Orlando Hudson won’t hit outside of Arizona. Those players could help their ultimate teams, and probably will, but it’s not unreasonable for clubs to try to drive a hard bargain with them. That should have been true in any economic environment, but it’s particularly valid now.

?    It’s fascinating how the Joe Torre book is going to boomerang on Torre. Anyone (apparently, including my YES classmate Michael Kay) with a negative story on Joe is now going to feel free to retail it, with the knowledge that he gave them implicit permission to do so. In the coming years, his reputation is going to be almost continually assailed, to the point that the very nature of his impact on his best teams is going to be called into question. I said last week that this book, on its own merits, was a great example of a man destroying his own reputation, but let us go a step further and say that the aftermath of this book will lead to an even greater savaging of the man. He put everything on the table, seemingly without restriction (whatever his protestations to the contrary), and it will be open season on him as well. And here’s the thing, Joe, and this is something I know very well from studying the life of Casey Stengel: the players are going to outlive you by a long, long time and will be commenting on you long after you’re gone. You’re not going to get the last word in, so you might as well mend fences if you want history to paint a fair picture.

?    A transcript of today’s chat can be found here.

?    With the conclusion of the Yankees Hot Stove show’s run for this season, I’d like to thank the entire cast and crew for having me on. Enjoy Florida, guys. 

Pinstriped Bible on Yankees Hot Stove

Thank you to everybody who contributed to PinstripedBible.com’s conversation during this week’s Yankees Hot Stove on the YES Network. Here is video from my appearance:

Jan. 29 appearance on Yankees Hot Stove:

Jan. 8 appearance on Yankees Hot Stove:

Dec. 18 appearance on Yankees Hot Stove::

 

Dec. 4 appearance on Yankees Hot Stove:

What did you think? Leave a comment below.

Hot Stove show thread

bonds_250_020509.jpgI’ll be making my final appearance of the season on the YES Hot Stove show tonight at 6:30 EST. After this installment, the show travels to Florida but they won’t take me with them — they couldn’t figure out how to transport the bunker short of hiring a cargo plane. I’m fine with this as long as Bob Lorenz’s library set is staying behind too. I’m thinking that while they’re gone I might sneak into the studio and sit in the plush chairs. I might even sit in Murray Chass’ chair.

You know, the other day I was having dinner with two male friends, and they began discussing thread count in men’s dress shirts. Until that moment, the concept of thread count in dress shirts had not entered my mind in all of my 38 years on this planet. Thread count for sheets, sure, I’ve heard of that, though I’ve never given it all that much thought either. But for shirts? And here’s what I want to know: does Bob think about thread count in dress shirts?

I don’t yet know what topics are on tap for today — I have a sinking feeling the guys might be getting into Barry Bonds and steroids again — but if you have any topics you want to see covered during my glorious one minute of air time, I’d be happy to hear them. I’ll be checking in throughout the day and even during the program — I don’t just keep the laptop open so I can send IMs during the show.

CLARIFIED FRYER OIL
My BP colleague Jay Jaffe, one of those famous Brewers fans from Utah, checked in with some additional notes on yesterday’s Yankees acquisition Eric Fryer. Specifically, the reason that Fryer played in the outfield during the first part of the season was because the Brewers are stacked with catchers, and they had a better prospect than Fryer, Jonathan Lucroy, at the same level to begin last season. When Lucroy moved up a level, Fryer went back behind the plate. He seemed to be a bit raw there, not throwing out many runners and making a ton of errors, but perhaps he was rusty.

To my way of thinking, it’s just as well, because (as I wrote yesterday) the Yankees are in a good place with minor league catching just now, but they could use a corner outfielder in a bad way. As Jay said, if Fryer keeps hitting, he could make Double-A by the end of the year. The Wright trade represents a nice roll of the dice by Brian Cashman.

TWO OTHER BITS AND PIECES

? A final reminder that I’ll be doing a live chat at BP this Friday, February 6, at 1 p.m. EST. If you can’t make it, you can still get your questions in ahead of time at the URL above.

? My pal Allen Barra has a good bit in the New York Observer today as to why Roger Clemens isn’t Barry Bonds.

Taking a flyer on Fryer

wright_250.jpg

CHASE
CHASED, YANKEES INTO FRYER

Today the Yankees consummated a minor deal, in at least two
senses of the word minor, swapping lefty Chase Wright, who had been designated
in the aftermath of Andy Pettitte’s re-signing, in return for
catcher-outfielder Eric Fryer, formerly of the Brewers.

Initially this might look kind of exciting because Wright
was a low-strikeout type who was unlikely to live down the historic 2007 game
against the Red Sox in which he allowed consecutive home runs to Jim Rice,
Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Felix Mantilla and Don Buddin,
whereas Fryer batted .355/.407/.506 in the Sally League last season. Steal,
right? Wrong. You don’t get a major prospect for Chase Wright unless the
general manager on the other side of the table has a serious drinking problem
and no oversight. Fryer was 22 last year and had spent three years in college,
so he was a bit experienced for Low-A ball. He had a great year, but we should
expect the pitching to catch up to him in a big way as he moves up. According
to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, Fryer’s swing is also very
complicated, which makes scouts skeptical about his future.

The other problem with Fryer, and it’s odd to call it a
problem, is that when we say catcher-outfielder, we really mean “former
outfielder.” That, at least, is how the Brewers viewed him, increasingly
playing him behind the dish as the season wore on. If the Yankees also view him
as a catcher, it’s difficult to see how he’s going to get any playing time in, as
he’s at the same level as the two best prospects in the Yankees organization,
Austin Romine and Jesus Montero, both of whom happen to be catchers. They can’t
all go up to Tampa
this year, be rotating catchers and sing in three-part harmony. The assumption
here is that Fryer gets pushed back to an outfield corner, which puts pressure
on him to keep hitting — assuming he showed decent defensive abilities
as a catcher, he wouldn’t have to post another 900 OPS to make it. A much
greater level of skepticism greets an outfielder’s bat.

All of that said, given that the Yankees had no plans for
Wright, a fringe part, getting someone for him that at least looks good isn’t a
bad thing, particularly since said someone is a position player. The Yankees’
system needs more bats. Adding prospects through trades is something that Brian
Cashman will need to prioritize to the best of his ability in the near future,
as last year’s draft, which eschewed a number-one or number-two pick, was a
disaster, and this year’s draft, which has been stripped of picks by all the
free agent action, promises to be thin as well. You can’t feed the farm system
scraps for two seasons and not have it hurt you, regardless of how many free
agents you sign.

It should be noted that one of the reasons that Mark
Teixeira is such a great signing for the Yankees is that next year’s free-agent
class is largely devoid of Teixeira types, twentysomethings at the top of their
games. Top position players likely to hit the market include Carlos Delgado,
Aubrey Huff, Mark DeRosa, Brian Roberts, Chipper Jones, Jason Bay
(bet on the Red Sox tying him up before then), Vlad Guerrero, Matt Holliday…
and Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. The Yankees offense looks like a light
offensive unit now. With little help coming from the farm (Austin Jackson
doesn’t look like an impact player at this stage), little on the free agent
market beyond declining vets and re-signing Damon and Matsui, probably an
multimillion-dollar act of wishful thinking, the unit could achieve a helium-like
quality by 2010…

…Which is to say that Mr. Cashman should keep trading those
extra pitchers for bodies with bats, as many as he possibly can.

THE PLACE
WHERE MY FEET ARE

I neglected to mention yesterday that I have a new edition
of my history
column up
at Baseball Prospectus, this one talking about the current
free-agent crop and the decline in attendance during the Great Depression.  At the same site, my colleague Christina
Kahrl revives  the
Jeter-to-center debate
. If you’re not a BP subscriber but are an ESPN
insider, then the same piece on Jeter can
be read here
.

Finally, for those that would like to ask me a question or
ten, I’ll be doing a live chat at BP this Friday, February 6, at 1 p.m., EST. I hope to see you
then, but if you can’t make it, you can still get your questions in ahead of
time at the URL above.

Quick bits and comments from my mind

manny_350_020309.jpg? The Manny Ramirez situation is one of the most fascinating offseason dramas in years, the latest development being that Ramirez rejected a one-year, $25 million deal from the Dodgers.

One wonders how much money it would take to get Ramirez to sign a one-year deal. I am reminded of a $50 million offer to the Beatles to reunite for a single concert in the mid-1970s. Even John Lennon was up for it at that price. A long-term contract can bring a player security, but if you make enough money in a single season, that IS security. Such an arrangement might be best for Ramirez and for the teams, as he can continue to demand a higher premium for playing a year at a time, while his teams will have some assurance that he will actually come to work.

? The Orlando Hudson in center field idea resurfaced yesterday both in the comments and (by implication) from this interview on the MLB network with Hudson himself, and in this bit from Ken Rosenthal, who says, “[N]either the Mets nor Yankees currently has an opening at second base, but [Hudson] seems to be banking on one of those clubs pursuing a creative solution.” Swell. Let’s hope the Yankees don’t do anything unconventional. First, it’s always novel when you have a center fielder play center field, as opposed to a second baseman, a dancing bear, or a giant eggplant. Actually, if they go with the dancing bear, put me down for season tickets. Second point, one I’ve raised before: Hudson is a career .277/.336/.411 hitter on the road. This is a break-even performance at either second base or center field, but at least if Hudson is at the keystone a team has the benefit of his good defense. In center field you might get good defense or you might not, but my guess, based on a lifetime of seeing this midcareer moves largely blow up (call it the Juan Samuel Observation) would be “no.” Thus: average bat at best, defense questionable… Melky or Gardner is a better bet, and cheaper, too.

?   Those that suggested moving Robinson Cano to center field: I again invoke the Juan Samuel Observation. I then also note that Samuel was really fast and Cano is slow enough that around the time he hits 30 I expect us to be discussing how he’s now too sluggish to play second.

? Melky Cabrera’s late and close numbers don’t impress me at all. That he hits a powerless .296 in tight games is nice, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s not been very useful in the other 85 percent of his career plate appearances. Jim Edmonds has a lower batting average in such situations, but has also hit 33 career home runs. Which do you suppose led to more victories? Melky’s odd single or Edmonds’ odd homer? Also, re projections: if a projection system says that Melky is going to reach base 33 percent of the time, and Edmonds is going to reach base 33 percent of the time, but that the former will slug .380 and the latter .420, there isn’t much of an argument as to who that system thinks will be more productive. Now, other Edmonds critics have pointed out his declining range, and I buy that. However, that’s why you keep Gardner or Cabrera on the roster, to caddy for the guy. The only problem with the Edmonds plan is that he also needs a platoon partner, and the Yankees don’t have one on hand.

? Of all the commercials on the Super Bowl, the one that has really stayed with me was one of the first. It basically said, “If you’ve been shafted by the economy, try selling cosmetics.” It frightened me in that I could hear ghosts of 1932 saying, “If you’ve been shafted by the economy, try selling apples.” Brrr. 

Gardner, Cabrera might not cut it for Yanks

bgardner360pb.jpgGARDNER-ING AT NIGHT

My associates at Baseball Prospectus have released the weighted-mean PECOTA
projections, which means I can talk a bit about some of the forecasts
therein.

PECOTA sees Brett Gardner batting .253/.339/.351 and sees
something like a full season of playing time coming down the pike. Many
of the other projection systems (Fangraphs does
us the service of gathering those in one place)  are of like mind — if
you average their forecasts, you get .262/.343/.361. PECOTA figures
Melky the C at .267/.326/.376, while the other systems compiled at
Fangraphs average out to .274/.334/.390.  Last year, the average Major League center fielder batted .268/.334/.420, which means that both of
these fellows would have to exceed their median projection for the
Yankees to break even, putting aside the possibility of crazy-good
defense. It should be noted that the Gardner projections are a good
deal more speculative than the Cabrera projection given that the former
has just filtered up to the bigs. The Cabrera projections are
speculative in their own way, assuming that he’s going to go back to
what he was doing after a year of misery.

My conclusion: Jim Edmonds
would make a nice one-year rental, playing four days a week. Edmonds,
being neither a Type A nor type B free agent, is still available to the
Yankees.

SMALL BITS

The Cubs made two deals today with minor ramifications for the American League, as both of the pitchers they detached are heading to the Junior Circuit. The A’s acquired reliever Michael Wuertz and the Orioles picked up starter Rich Hill.

Wuertz heads to Oakland in return for two Minor Leaguers, outfielder Richie Robnett and infielder Justin Sellers, both of whom are so talented that you are unlikely to ever hear their names again. The former has a .257 career batting average and the latter .256, and neither has the other tools to make up for their general inability to hit with consistency. As such, the A’s get to decorate the back of their bullpen with Wuertz, a slider specialist who tends to be harder on lefties than on righties. Wuertz always seemed like the first guy that the Cubs would bounce back to Triple-A if they experienced a roster crunch, but as he was out of options that source of amusement was closed to them, hence the trade.

Hill is a depressing case, a pitcher who seemed like he’d be a five-year fixture after strong work in 2006 and 2007, but he sailed over the edge of the world in 2008, completely losing his control. He walked 18 in 19.2 innings at the major league level and 44 in 47.2 innings in the minors. The Orioles agreed to give up only a player to be named, the identity of which is no doubt contingent on their ability to bring Hill back to his senses. Here’s hoping they have to give up a good prospect. Yeah, I know they’re division rivals of the Yankees, but come on — it’s the human thing to do.