Saturday, February 21, 2009

This Week's Transaction Wire is Closed Capspunned

The transaction wire is slowing down a bit. Teams have their rosters close to being set and the next slew of transaction won't arrive until teams start making their cuts. But there were still a few and enough to at least take a look:

- The former Brooklyn Dogders went back to the Hudson and signed Orlando. Having Orlando in California should make it a lot easier for the Disney accountants to keep their books straight.

- The home blogs for Mets' fans Livaned up a bit after their team signed Hernandez to a minor league contract.

- Santana can afford a few to make a few more CDs after Erwin signed a four year contract with the Angels.

- Though no longer the Hart of the Brewers' lineup, Corey signed for another stint with the team.

- No longer making Emillion dollars a year, Brown had to settle for a minor league contract.

- The Nationals kept a good media guy in Josh who is aways a Willingham in team commercials.

- The Nationals and Milledge didn't want to grind through the arbitration process and the team is hoping not to be Lastings again in the standings (two puns for the price of one!).

- The Indians found Andy to be too much like K-Marte and designated him, probably leading to his release and a possible Blue Light Special.

- Isaias the Indians have been busy! The team traded Velasquez for pitcher, Juan, in what looks to the Fan like a fire Salas.

- Mr. Roberts almost went to Washington, but settled close by in Baltimore, where Brian will remain for another four years.

And that's a skinny dip through the transaction wires for the past seven days. There aren't any more, so the Fan hasn't denuded you of anything.

Who Was Buddy Myer?

Curiosity is a blessing and a curse. The Fan told you about Josh Borenstein's list the other day. A prominent name on that list was Buddy Myer. Who?? The Fan had never heard of Buddy Myer and according to Josh's list, the guy was a pretty darn good ballplayer. Then how come the guy's name has never come up?

Well, curiosity is an overwhelming thing sometimes. So the Fan went to the good old stat sources for this very good player from the late 1920s through the 1930s. We'll get to some of those nuggets later. All the sources list Charles Solomon "Buddy" Myer as having been born in 1906 in Ellisberg, Mississippi. And they list his death in 1974. But that information wasn't good enough for the Fan. Who was he? Where did he come from?

So the Fan did some digging. It's what the Fan does. If you have ever checked out the links to the right of these posts, the Fan makes a living of sorts tracking down ghosts of the past. Almost as much of the Fan's time is spent on as on What was found for old Buddy Myer is interesting.

Okay, we know that his full name was Charles Solomon Myer and we have his birth date. And of course, a census search came up empty for Charles Myer in Mississippi. Such is the life of a genealogist. After much fiddling around, a hit was finally found on a "Charlie" Myer that fits our description perfectly in Ellisberg. Bingo. But the Fan had found one web article that mentioned that Buddy's parents had sent him to college at Mississippi State. But the 1910 census only shows his mom, Maud, and his siblings. Where was dad?

Of course, Buddy wasn't alive in the 1900, so using a search for Maud Myer turns her up with her husband, Charles Solomon (!) who was born in 1867 in Mississippi to a German father and a Mississippi mother. So what happened to Charles Solomon Myer, Senior? And, yes, our Buddy Myer was a Junior. Then it struck the Fan that in his original 1910 census search for "Charles Myer," a few hits had occurred but they were all too old to be Buddy. So the Fan retraced his steps.

And that's when thunder struck. There he was, Charles Solomon Myer (who had been a salesman in the 1900 census by the way), born 1867, is listed in the 1910 Mississippi the state insane asylum as a patient in Jackson, Mississippi. He was still there in in 1920 and 1930. How tragic!

So not only was Buddy Myer overlooked as one of the best second basemen of the 20th Century, but his life was tragic.

Charles, the elder, was the son of Solomon and Amanda Myer. His father was a German immigrant and a merchant once he had come to this country. And his father was quite old when Charles was born (in Solomon's late 40s).

Of course, there isn't time to complete the big dig on what happened to Buddy's father and follow up on the particulars. But, probably with the help of either a scholarship or perhaps with merchant Solomon's money, Buddy did go to college and finished there before starting his major league career.

And it was a very good career, all played with Washington except for a short stint with the Red Sox. He piled up over 2100 hits and a .303 Batting Average. More impressively, his lifetime OBP was .389. He had no power, but second basemen of that era weren't supposed to. His best year was 1935 when he had 215 hits good for a league leading .349 average. He also had 96 Walks that year and scored 115 runs while driving in 100 (with only 5 homers!). He was fourth in MVP voting that year.

Myer came to the big leagues as a shortstop, but he made too many errors there and was moved to second base. There he excelled and ended his career with an above league average fielding percentage and Range Factor.

After looking at all this information, the Fan has become smitten with Myer's story and firmly believes Myer should have gotten some serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. He overcame a lot and was a really good player for a long time in the majors.

This one was for you, Josh.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Howard Versus Fielder

Two players that have seemed on similar paths are Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder. The question for today is: Which of these players will have the most impact in the next five years?

The current statistics seem to favor Ryan Howard and he just signed for a ton of money. Prince Fielder just signed an extension too, for good money, but less than Howard. Let's put them head to head on some categories for the last three years and go from there:

Ryan Howard - 153 homers, 431 RBI (a traditionalist's bonanza!), 579 strikeouts, 296 Walks, .277 Batting Average, .383 OBP, .594 SP, .977 OPS, 145 OPS+, 118.5 Adjusted Batting Runs, 45 errors, .990 FP, 9.30 RF, 82 total Win Shares (all stats from except Win Shares which is from

Prince Fielder - 112 homers, 303 RBI, 380 strikeouts, 233 Walks, .278 Batting Average, .364 OBP, .535 SP, .899 OPS, 131 OPS+, 84.6 Adjusted Batting Runs, 42 Errors, .989 FP, 9.05 RF, 68 total Win Shares.

As you can see from the last three years, which were very easy to compare since both stayed healthy and both played first base, Howard comes out on top on almost every category in both batting and fielding. So that clearly means that Howard will be the better player the next five years right?

There is one major caveat here. Ryan Howard is 29 years old. Prince Fielder is only 24. Howard, when he was Fielder's age, was just going into his first real taste of the majors where he hit 22 homers in 312 at bats. If you put Fielder on the same time line as Howard, there is no way (if he stays healthy) that Fielder isn't going to beat 23 homers.

So Fielder has all those three years ahead of him where Howard really blossomed. After five years, Fielder will be 29, Howard, 34. Which would you rather have? It's a good question that only time will answer. Baseball Prospectus tries to predict such things with their PECOTA projections. Here is their breakdown for the next five years:

OPS: .929, .913, .919, .893, .871
WARP: 4.4, 3.9, 3.7, 2.9, 2.1

OPS: .920, .911, .897, .912, .924
WARP: 4.1, 4.3, 3.7, 3.8, 3.7

So if the PECOTA projections are anywhere in the ballpark, Howard will be more valuable than Fielder for one more year and then the two will reverse in value. Interesting. It will be fun to watch.

Trads Versus Stat Heads

The traditional way of looking at statistics has indubitably taken a huge hit in recent years due to the new statistical tools generally called Sabermetrics. The old school of whom the Fan was a card carrying member, looked at homers, batting average, wins, losses, RBIs and stuff like that. Sabermetrics looks at OPS+, Win Shares, FIP and others. As mentioned before in the FanDome, the Fan is slowly poking around with all this wonderful data and is slowly coming to the present. No doubt it's a case of a dinosaur suddenly rising from the LaBrea Tar Pits.

What is surprising is the venom that these two points of view seem to generate. The Fan was a little shell-shocked from being called stupid on too many occasions to be able to tolerate further hits on his self-esteem. So, slowly and surely, the Fan is becoming educated and the more these numbers are delved into, the more the Fan likes them. However, statistical points of views are kind of like politics. There is room for middle ground and for lucid conversations. But that rarely happens. Instead, insults are thrown across the room (or chat room) and one side's followers are called "dullwits" and the other, "stat-heads," which apparently is the new term for nerds.

And just when old "Trads" like the Fan are venturing into the cool and deep waters of the Saber world, guys like Keith Law spout something so inherently unwarranted, it just fans the flames further. Today was a good example. In Law's post on (which is now unavailable for some reason), he calls the Griffey signing in Seattle, "short-sighted" and "cynical." Those are strong words. His point was that Seattle is ignoring statistical data and hindering development of its younger players for a cynical play at gaining attendance.

Whoa, dude! The Fan concedes that sabermetrics are cool. You've won at least this battle. But they aren't the end all to every single situation (which is also Joe Torre's point in his now famous new book). Does the Griffey signing have to be "cynical"? Can it also be a feel good story that doesn't make any statistical sense and wasn't meant to? Is that possible in this new world we live in?

The Griffey signing should be viewed for what it is--a sentimental tug from his former team and a sentimental farewell journey for "The Kid." It doesn't have much to do with stats, or sense, or anything else for that matter. For sure, the Mariners are probably considering that Griffey will sell a few more tickets. So what? Why shouldn't they look to sell more tickets? This is a tough economy. Every little thing will help. The fans in Seattle are thrilled and most true baseball fans feel good about this story. Leave it at that.

The point of all this is that when two sides disagree, it is polite to listen to the other point of view with at least a shred of an open mind there might be a nugget of truth in there somewhere. The day when the Fan thinks he has it all figured out is probably the day after the obituary is written. So whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a Christian or an Agnostic or a traditionalist or a sabermatrician, there is no cause for outbursts and personal attacks. That's just not cool.

It's better to agree to disagree than to be disagreeable as a person. Welcome home, Junior.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

25 Players Remembered Fondly

This post is Rob Neyer's fault and Josh Borenstein's fault. First, Mr. Neyer mentioned in his Wednesday Wangdoodles a facebook fad where kids (or people) were making lists of 25 things about themselves. His link list includes two bloggers who have taken the plunge themselves (linked here and here).

So that was percolating a while inside the Fan and then went and read Josh's new post about Jews who have finished a year over .400 OBP by rank. It's a cool list, if he hadn't of mentioned an "honorable mention" section which lists Ron Bloomberg. Ah! Ron Bloomberg! One of the Fan's all time favorite players! A real goof who was the odd combination of Hebrew with a southern accent. If you read the Fan's comment on Josh's post, then you'll have an idea how much old Bloomberg meant to a childhood.

So, with thanks to the two gentlemen above (you may not thank them after reading this), the Fan gives you his list of 25 Players Remembered Fondly. Though the Fan tries to show impartiality and keeps the FanDome about all teams and all of baseball, the list is a bit top heavy with Yankees. That was the hometown team and that just the way it is. Here they are:

1. Got to start with Ron Bloomberg. First of all, the man was fashioned in appearance like Dudley Dooright. He was tall and strong and handsome. He swung harder than any player before or since. And more often than not (when he was on), he crushed line drives all over the place. He was the very first DH and rightly so. His glove was made of iron. Who else in baseball would have dropped a throw to first (where he was playing) that ruined a triple play and later explained that he was so excited because he had never seen a triple play. He could bang, but he made 13 errors at first base in only 95 games. What fun memories! See his statistics here and he has a book out, so see that here.

2. Juan Marichal. Marichal captured the imaginations of kids everywhere from the Fan's generation with his high leg kick, his natural smile and his fearless knack of winning and winning and winning. He won 20 games six times in seven seasons and bookended that run with two 18 win seasons. That meant he was in the All Star game every year so we got a good look at him many times. The man's stats are amazing.

3. Mike Schmidt. When the Fan was a kid, the most magical times of the year were three glorious weeks when the Fan's mom would take her three kids to Wildwood, NJ. She would rent the top floor of this wonderful, old Italian couple named the Tropeas. We saved our money all year long for the boardwalk and no family member loved the beach more than the Fan. After getting up around 7:00 A.M. to get to the beach at 8:00, the Fan would wait for a half hour for that sing-song: "New York Daily News, Daily News Here," and thus would get the morning box scores. The same sing-song would apply to the later paper, the Philadelphia Daily News, which would also be purchased because it had the later box scores. It was because of this affiliation that the Fan became enamored with Michael Jack Schmidt, from his first really poor year right up until he retired a Hall of Famer.

4. Ron Guidry. Ron Guidry was the everyman for Yankee fans. He was scrawny, yet threw smoke and learned a wicked slider from Sparky Lyle and had one of the greatest pitching years of all time in 1978. He had some injury trouble which affected his stuff, but he still gutted it out to win 20 or more games two other times, which made us appreciate him even more.

5. Greg Nettles. Nettles came to the Yankees when they were pretty bad and stayed through the glory years of the late 70s. He hit a lot of meaningful homers but it was his defense and sharp wit which made him a Yankee legend. No one will ever forget his diving stops in the World Series, but he also coined some great lines. His most famous was for Sparky Lyle when the Yankees signed Goose Gossage. Lyle had just completed a fantastic year when Gossage came on board which prompted this Nettles classic: "He went from Cy Young to Syonara."

6. Sparky Lyle. Okay, we've mentioned his name twice already, so he's got to get in here. One of the few relief pitchers ever to win the Cy Young, the man was a monster coming out of the bullpen. And the Fan isn't talking the closers of today who average around 70 innings a season. Lyle would come in for 137 innings a season and just end the game. It was over. He never struck a lot of guys out, but he got the job done time and time again. And he was so much fun to watch with his beard and black mane of hair. It was a buzz like no other at the time.

7. Johnny Bench. The guy was bigger than life. With his Big Red Machine strapped on his shoulders, he became the matinee idol of fans all over the country. Okay, so the Reds had a lot of good players (Rose, Perez, Morgan), but Bench was the king. And man was he big!

8. Rickey Henderson. The Fan has already waxed poetic on the man, so there is no sense going through it again. The man was one of the ten best players of all time and was just as exciting to watch as he was to hate if you were an opposing fan. He was excitement.

9. Bo Jackson. Bo Jackson probably had as much of a physical gift as any man who ever lived. He could run like a deer, he was as strong as an ox and he excelled in both MLB and the NFL. And for a while, he was the most talked about, most jazzed up athlete in the world. Who can forget the Nike "Bo Knows" commercials. He had it all until he needed a hip replacement and he still came back and played baseball fairly well with a bionic hip! He was superman.

10. Mel Stottlemyer. When the Yankees of the Fan's youth were as terrible as they were, Stottlemyer was the anchor or the light in a sea of darkness. He was such a great pitcher and very much overlooked as a hurler in his career. He won 20 or more games three times on teams that came in fifth, fifth and fourth respectively. He also hit 7 homers and was one of the better fielding pitchers of his time. He was our hero.

11. Willie Mays Aikens. Aikens had a World Series to remember in 1980 when he captured our imaginations. That World Series, he became the only man to hit two homers in a game twice during the same series. It was tragic when his career was derailed by drugs. But he was fun to watch.

12. George Brett. You can't mention the Royals without mentioning George Brett. He was another everyman that seemed like a great guy you'd want to have a beer with. He never seemed like that great an athlete, but boy could he hit. And his run ins with the Yankees were never to be forgotten. And we'll also never forget the year he flirted with .400 and batted .390 with a 1.180 OPS! And if you go to the link, check the bottom of that page for his post season batting stats. He was a killer.

13. Nolan Ryan. You had to love Nolan Ryan. He was this good old country boy who threw harder than anyone ever threw. Before there was Roger Clemens, there was Ryan and he had crazy stuff for the longest time ever. He just pitched and pitched and pitched for decades. Some of his records may never be broken. Boy was he fun to watch. And that one time when a batter didn't like being hit with a pitch went to the mound and found himself in a headlock by Ryan and got pounded. Yup, Ryan was our kind of guy.

14. Satchel Paige. Paige was a legend that never left us as kids. His best years left behind in the Negro Leagues, Paige made his major league debut at the age of 42. Four years later, at the age of 46, he went 12-10 with an ERA of 3.08. And then to finish the legend forever, he pitched in a game in 1965 at the age of 61 with Kansas City and pitched three scoreless innings, giving up only one hit. What an amazing story.

15. Ed Kranepool. His homer was the first the Fan had ever seen and thus he holds a special place as the bond that passes from father to son that exemplifies baseball. Kranepool was never that great a player, but he joined the franchise Mets full time in 1963 and became their first matinee idol. And he remained a fixture for fifteen years and right through their miracle World Series win when the phrase, "You gotta believe!" was born.

16. Rick Dempsey. Dempsey was the perennial catcher for the great pitching staff of the Orioles' glory years. He was a terrible hitter, but he apparently handled the pitching staff perfectly. But what made Dempsey a Fan favorite was the way he used to make fun of his manager, Earl Weaver, and the special memories he provided for fans of all teams when he "performed" during rain delays by running the bases in his stockinged feet on top of the tarp. It was hysterical and a real crowd pleaser. He appeared in major league games for 23 seasons, remarkable for a catcher who couldn't hit his way out of a paper bag.

17. Don Mattingly. Mattingly was the best player in baseball for four years until his back problems derailed his career. But for that four years, it sure was a fun ride. One of the best fielding first basemen ever, he was a hero to every New York fan and tragically ended his career the year before the Yankees started their run of four World Series titles in five years.

18. Joe Pepitone. Before there was a Joe Namath, there was another Broadway Joe and he was Joe Pepitone. One of the first men to ever use a blow drier to style his hair, he was a New York legend that never lived up to his skills as a baseball player. He was all style and a real ladies man and larger than life in a city that made him that way. He wasted his career until a couple of decent years in Chicago saved him somewhat. Wasted career or not, we kids loved him. And so did the Fan's sister.

19. Fernando Venezuala. How did this pudgy guy from Mexico ever steal so many hearts in the game of baseball? Fernando Mania was bigger than life and hard to explain to young fans that didn't live through it. We never quite believed his age and the Fan still doesn't believe he was 20 when he first came to the Dodgers in 1980. But for a string of five years, we found the guy was no fluke. He really could pitch.

20. Oil Can Boyd. Dennis Ray Boyd was about the goofiest pitcher that ever put on a Red Sox uniform. He could really pitch (before he got hurt), but he could also spark controversy and fits of laughter at what he would say from time to time. How about this classic after a game in Cleveland was troubled by a thick fog: "That's what they get for building a park on the ocean." A recent story was published that he wants to make a comeback at the age of 49. In his reasoning, "If Satchell Paige could do it, so can I."

21. Mark Fidrych. You'll have to read the Fan's recent post on Fidrych if you have no idea who this is talking about. The Fan wishes you could have all seen it.

22. Mickey Mantle. Mickey was the Elvis of baseball. He was the Fan's first hero and the last. He was everything to this kid from New Jersey. The Fan wore #7 in his P.A.L. baseball days and switch hit to be like the Mick. The most special memory? It was Mother's Day and we went to our favorite restaurant (The Emerson) to celebrate the event. The Fan wasn't allowed near the bar, but had to go to the bathroom. The Yankee game was on television above the bar and the Fan stopped just long enough to watch the legend, Mickey Mantle hit is 500th home run.

23. Phil Neikro. The Fan has a special place for knuckleball pitchers. From Hoyt Wilhelm to Wilber Wood, they just capture the imagination. For one, you don't have to be a special athlete to throw one, so you can look like the garbage man down the street to be successful and Neikro certainly looked like that. He was just an average Joe (no, that was his brother) who had a special pitch and he transformed that into a 24 year career that lasted until he was 48 years old. And he waffled his way into the Hall of Fame with 318 career wins. Plus, as a man who won 20 games in a season and lost twenty games in the same season, you can't get much better than that!

24. Tony Conigliaro. Tony had two things going for him. First, he was a stud Italian who could really mash the ball. He was dashing and handsome and we couldn't help love the guy. Secondly, his career was crushed with one pitch that mangled his eye and his career. We loved him before and we loved him more after. And he almost made it back. He was a Shakespearean Tragedy if ever baseball had one.

25. Derek Jeter. The Fan has to admit to his man crush here. Jeter has been the man to the Fan for as long as he's been in the big leagues. For his amazing moments during the World Series run to the way he carries himself to the respect he garners from his peers around the league. He just is the kind of player the Fan would have dreamed about being. It hurts when his fielding is bashed and the Fan guesses that it is deserved. But he is today's hero and will always be so.

If you made it this far and finished this book of a post, thank you for your patience and for your indulgence. It certainly was kind of you to take this long trip with the Fan.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

John Henry is Blowing Smoke

Since John Henry purchased the Boston Red Sox, a lot has gone right there. He has set up an organization that has delivered two World Series titles after not winning any since 1918. But when it comes to his comments about a salary cap in major league baseball, he looks like a dope.

MLB has the next best thing to a salary cap and that is a revenue sharing system that "fines" teams like the Yankees when they go over a certain limit. It also shares revenue equally to all teams from revenue derived by and MLB.TV. That share equals roughly $26 million to each team.

Because of such a system, MLB's parity is unrivaled by even the NFL. If you don't believe the Fan, listen to Jayson Stark's argument. Do we need to say more about the Bay Rays? Diamondbacks? Twins? The system is working. The revenue sharing has allowed lower to middle market teams to lock up young players. Let's look at a few:

  • Twins: Joe Mauer ($6.25 million), Justin Morneau ($8.4 million), Michael Cuddyer ($5.9 million).
  • Royals: Gil(ga) Meche ($11.4 million), Zack Greinke
  • Reds: Aaron Harang ($6.7 million), Bronson Arroyo ($4.6 million)
  • Indians: Travis Hafner ($8 million), Casey Blake ($ 6.1 million)
The one area that needs to be fixed is the draft. You have a supposed limit and some teams stick to it and others don't. It needs to be fixed so that the playing field is level. But other than that, the MLB system is working just fine.

Of course, Henry, who seems fixated on what the Yankees spend, didn't seem to put out a salary cap story after the Red Sox outbid everyone on Dice-K.

A salary cap is a bad idea and the players' union won't go for it anyway. As much as everyone hates the Yankees to spend like they do, they build interest in the game and put people in the stands at visiting parks. And that's what pays teams to be able to stockpile their young talent like Morneau and Mauer to name a couple.

You've done a great job, Mr. Henry. Now cork it. Okay?

Vladimir Guerrero Say Knee is Healthy

Last year, Vladimir Guerrero looked more like an old Tony Oliva rather than the Montreal stud who stole 40 bases just seven years ago. In a story reported today by Lyle Spencer of, Vladimir Guerrero took batting practice today, hit a bunch of line drives and pronounced himself as healthy. If so, that would be good news for the Angels.

It's hard to say if Guerrero is more a victim of years on Montreal's artificial turf or just a modern victim of generic arthritic knees. The one difference between Guerrero's plight and that of Tony Oliva's and Rico Carty's decades earlier is the level of surgery available to today's players. Injuries that would have ended careers just two decades ago can now be handled with modern medicine and new understandings of physical therapy.

The Angels certainly hope so as the Vlad of 2008 was just a shell of the player he was in years past. Though Guerrero still hit .303 with 27 homers, it was his lowest average since 1997 and his rookie year. His OBP was down .20 points from his career average, his Slugging Percentage was off 50 points from his career average and he was only able to play 99 games in the field due to his problems.

Don't get the Fan wrong. A down year for Guerrero is light years ahead of a good year for most other players. What we don't know though, is whether 2008 was the start of a downhill slide or just an off year. Neyer and others like to point out that players regress after the age of 32 and Guerrero is now 33. Time will tell how fast the slide goes or if his surgery will slow down the regression for a few more years.

Guerrero was very positive in the piece and was happy about the acquisition of Bobby Abreu. If Abreu comes close to being on base 40% of the time like usual, then Guerrero will have many more opportunities to drive in runs. That kind of patience has been lacking on the Angels and should benefit the lineup and Guerrero in particular.

Guerrero has been a hidden star for many years and to this point in his career, has slowly built what is heading to be a Hall of Fame career. Whether he reverts back a bit to the crusher he was before 2008 or even with reduced but still positive numbers like last year, Guerrero will be regarded as one of the best players of his time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Alex Rodriguez at His News Conference

The Fan was multi-Taskering this afternoon. Kept an eye on A-Rod's news conference, while keeping an eye on Rob Neyer's chat while also working on the family's 2008 taxes. What an emotional roller coaster that was!

The bottom line on all three: The Fan is going to owe the IRS big time, A-Rod owes me nothing more and Mr. Neyer runs fun chats but never answers the Fan's questions. Well, one out of three is better than nothing.

A-Rod did the best he could do under the circumstance. He took the blame. He said as much as the spin doctors would let him. He thanked his teammates. He didn't defend his stats and said their historical relevance would be up to others and not him. And he wants to be judged from this day forward. He dodged quite a few questions, which is the right PR move at the moment. He admitted to a form of amphetamine while with Seattle.

He handled himself about as good as can be asked for by the Yankees. Even Buster Olney seemed to be satisfied (Egads! Let's hope so). This Fan knows the reality that we won't hear the last of this story or others. But can we focus on baseball now? Let's hope so.

Rooting for Micah Owings

During the regular season, one of the regular features here at the FanDome is what the Fan calls box score favorites. Box score favorites are players that the Fan finds interesting and can't wait to check out the day's box scores to see how those players did. Last year, Josh Hamilton was one of those favorites. Micah Owings has been a two year favorite and it was a sad day last year when the Diamondbacks gave up on him.

The Fan has to make an admission here. For years, the Fan has exclaimed the stupidity of having a DH rule in one league and not the other. It just doesn't seem to make sense and it messes with and complicates things like the World Series, inter league baseball and the All Star game. Since it is infinitely more fun to watch David Ortiz hit than it is to watch your average National League pitcher hit, the Fan has crusaded to have the DH in both leagues. How many sacrifice bunts can a Fan watch in a season?

There is one problem with the Fan's position and Micah Owings is its focal point. There are a handful of pitchers out there that are worth the price of admission to watch them hit. And so, despite the hypocritical stance the Fan takes on the DH, it certainly sucks that Sabathia is now in the American League and won't bat. Micah Owings is a pitcher worth watching at the plate.

Owings owns a .900+ lifetime OPS as a pitcher. Heck, if he could play shortstop, the Red Sox would love that kind of OPS. In 2007, Owings had twenty hits as a pitcher and eleven of them went for extra bases including four home runs. After the Diamondbacks gave up on him last year and traded him to the Reds, his only appearances for the Reds...was as a batter. And he had two hits in four at bats. He is a better pinch hitter than a "professional pinch hitter" like Daryle Ward.

The Fan is slowly coming around to sabermetrics. It's hard for a dinosaur to lift his head out of the tar pits. So forgive the Fan if he is a bit confused at times about his new found stats. But if the Fan is reading things correctly, Owings wasn't much worse of a pitcher last year when he had an ERA of 5.93 than the year before when his ERA was 4.30. Let's see if we can untangle the numbers.

First, the traditional statistics: Owings walked slightly more batters last year than he did the year before (3.4 per nine innings compared to 3.0). He also had a higher WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched). In 2008 his WHIP was 1.39 and the year before 1.28. For some reason, his rate of hitting batters with the pitch was up from 1.00 to 1.03 per nine innings, which is really high. His home runs allowed per nine innings were slightly up, but the slugging percentage of batters he faced was down from the year before. He always struck out more per nine innings than the year before.

Okay, now the sabermetrics. (God help the Fan here). There is a statistic called a FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) that was invented by some dudes at TangoTiger. The statistic gives an ERA value that is not dependent on how the fielders behind him fared. The 2007 Diamondbacks were a much better fielding team than last year's version apparently. Owings' FIP was the exact same as the year before: 4.80. This statistic seems to be verified by another sabermetric called a DER (Defense Efficiency Ratio) which measures "percent of times a batted ball is turned into an out by the teams’ fielders, not including home runs. " In 2007, Owings' DER was .727. Last year it was .712. That seems to back up the FIP and show that his fielders didn't do him any favors last year. This statistic is tempered a bit by another metric called LD% or Line Drive Percentage. Owings gave up more line drives per batted ball last year than the year before.

Okay, all of that hoop jumping seems to show that Owings is around a 4.80 pitcher. Not very good, but not bad by today's standards. Add to that fact that as a pitcher, he adds value as a batter (he had 4 Win Shares as a batter in 2007. Hardly ANY pitchers had positive Win Shares in that category), and he can't be much worse than any other fourth or fifth starter the Reds throw out there. A 4.80 ERA is better than ANY starter the Rangers or Orioles throw out there.

Let's hope Owings gets that opportunity. At least so the Fan can have fun looking for his box score.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How Shea Looks Now

For a sad look at how Shea looks right now, click here for a very good post from Marty Noble. Noble has seen it all and was writing down thataways when the Fan grew up in New Jersey.

Memories of Shea and Yankee Stadiums

It's hard to believe that in one year, both New York landmark stadiums will be replaced, and in Shea's case, demolished. The Fan spent many happy days at both places and they will be sorely missed.

The first live baseball game the Fan ever went to was at Shea at the tender age of eight. The father who took the little Fan would be dead of an auto accident just two years later. As such, it's a special memory even though the details may be sketchy.

It is somewhat clear that the Mets played the Pirates and Bob Veale pitched for the Pittsburgh club and it can't be remembered who the Met's pitcher was. Dad had seats right behind home plate and everything was right there. Veale was rather menacing looking and intimidating to a little kid behind the backstop. The batter must have been even more scared. The Mets won the game with an Ed Kranepool homer.

To a little kid who barely remembered the World's Fair, near where the present Shea grounds stood, two things are remembered from that great event. The first was a General Electric exhibit about the future and the gadgets that would be available by the time we were grown up. Wonder how many of those came to pass? The second was the giant sphere of the world that still stands near Shea. That sphere is featured in the movie, "Men in Black."

Shea was a pretty little thing of a stadium to a kid. It was perfectly round and had this pastel blue color that was very appealing and attractive to the eye. The scoreboard was enormous in right field and there was a lot of space behind the fence there. There was also a lot of space before the fence. Bobby Murcer's Yankee career ended on those warning tracks. That memory of going to Shea with Dad will be remembered always. But the Fan didn't get back to Shea until a decade later.

Growing up in New Jersey, the Fan was as rabid a Yankee fanatic as can be humanly possible. Please remember that this was the dark years when nobody went to Yankee Stadium and the team was terrible. We're talking about the years from 1966 to 1974. You had to be a Fan to like those teams with Horace Clarke, Roy White, Mike Kekich, Fritz Peterson, Mel Stottlemyer, Steve Hamilton, Dooley Womack, Thad Tillotson, Gene Michael and the rest of the gang. It may have been the worst collection of hitters in the history of baseball.

Being as bad as they were, Yankee seats were easy to obtain. And relative to today, they were cheap. After Dad died, the Fan's mom had to work full time and that often included weekends. She "babysat" the Fan and his brother by giving them five dollars each and putting them on the bus headed to New York. Imagine now that the Fan was all of eleven and little brother was nine. If a mom were to do that nowadays, she would be arrested for negligence. The Fan thinks Mom was the very coolest on earth.

A quarter would get us on the bus. Another quarter would get us on the right subway. $1.75 would get us into the bleachers and we still had enough for popcorn and a coke. After getting into the bleachers, we would wait until the fourth inning. That inning is when the ushers would give up their posts and us kids could filter down and sit in the many empty box seats. We would head straight for the Yankee dugout.

There are no words to describe Yankee Stadium, especially the old and original version. It was simply majestic. Unless, of course, your seat was behind one of the thousands of pillars that held each deck up. But those only came into play one day a year when we weren't in the upper bleachers and not down by the dugout, and that was Bat Day.

Bat Day was an annual event when the Yankees would give out a Louisville Slugger to the first 20,000 kids who came to the Stadium. That day was always packed to the rafters. Three or four times a game, all the kids would raise their bats in the air and there was a sea of them everywhere you looked. And when the Yankees were having a rally (which was rare in those days), the kids would pound their bats on the floor making a thundering echo all through the stadium.

The second most awesome event was double-headers when you could watch two games for the price of one. Of course, you needed an extra dollar or two for soda when that happened. We always got there early enough to watch the team play pepper and take batting practice. We loved to watch the pitchers and outfielders shag the flies in the outfield. And we always had our gloves in case of a foul ball, but it was never to be.

One real early memory was a trip to Yankee Stadium given to us by the Police Athletic League. The coach of the Fan's team took the entire team on a bus. The Fan asked if little brother could come along. Since little brother was also our team mascot, he was allowed. But the Fan was given a stern warning to make sure the little guy didn't get lost.

Well, you guessed it. The game ends and the team is filing out to the bus. The coach makes the count and one is missing: little brother. The Fan is given a stern look and sent after him. After looking everywhere, little brother is finally found having a nice conversation with a policeman. He just decided to make a new friend. Great!

Many memories of Yankee Stadium are so relished all these years later:

  • - Looking up at the TV and radio booths and seeing Phil Rizzuto, our favorite "uncle."

  • - Bob Sheppard's amazing and imperious voice.

  • - The organist that made it sound so festive (there were no rock songs then).

  • - The buzz of the live crowd. You can't imagine what that buzz feels like watching the game on television. But live, it's palpable.

  • - The collective intake of breath when thousands of people stand at once to a fly ball to the outfield.

  • - The collective groan when that fly ball falls short of the track.

  • - The instantaneous cheering when something good happens. The excitement of the living crowd organism when a runner is legging out a double or triple.

  • - Buying a scorecard from the vendor in the stadium entrance.

  • - The patient and slow exit when thousands of people are leaving the stadium at the same time. The Fan doesn't ever remember someone being rude or pushy.

  • - The chants that weren't provoked by the organ player that just happened naturally.

  • - An outfielder responding to cheers or taunts by the fans.

  • - The seventh inning stretch when everyone would stand and watch the grounds crew going over the infield.
They were all magical and humbling and thrilling memories. For a lower, middle class kid, the Fan was very privileged.

Another memory just popped up...this one of Shea. The Yankees were exiled there for a couple of years when Yankee Stadium was being rebuilt (and no, the improvements weren't an improvement on the original). The Fan is now seventeen and had a best friend named, Tom Cairoli, who would go on to be an accountant. He was a great guy and a few years older. He had an early mustang and it was a beautiful convertible with plush seats and even an eight track player!

The Orioles were in town for a double-header and the first game got in with no problem. After the first game ended, the skies opened up and it was just a deluge. It poured! In no time at all the field was flooded and the second game was called. Well the entire stadium had to empty at the same time because of the announcement. By the time we got outside Shea, it had stopped raining. But we were stuck in a sea of humanity on the wide sidewalk leading to the parking lot.

What looked like puddles on the sides of the sidewalk had no traffic at all. So the Fan pulled his friend's arm and said, "Let's go this way." We stepped off the sidewalk and the puddles ended up being oceans and we sank up to our thighs. Mr. Cairoli wasn't amused and gave his friend a look to kill.

We finally made it to his car and he was upset about having to sit on those custom seat covers with our wet pants, but it couldn't be helped. We started driving and came to discover that the major bridge we had to go over was closed (don't know if by rain or what). So we were diverted through one of the, umm...scarier parts of New York. We stopped at a stop light and if you can remember, even the Fords that were automatic had the shifter on the floor in between the seats.

While Mr. Cairoli was waiting for the light to turn green, the Fan put the car in neutral. The light turns green and Mr. Cairoli hits the gas and the engine revs but goes nowhere. By now, due to our surroundings, Mr. Cairoli is starting to have a panic attack. "Oh no! Not here! I can't break down here!!"

After suppressing a laugh for five seconds, the Fan told him to put the car in gear. For the second time in an hour, the Fan got a look that could kill.

There is always a saying that says you can never go home again. At the Fan's age, he can state for certain that this is true. The things of our youth are gone and replaced by condos. This is the case more literally as a big part of our childhood, Yankee and Shea Stadiums are history and new ball parks will take their place. But though you can't go home again, memories are ours and no one can take them away. Those memories provided by those two wonderful, but very different parks will be treasured always.

P.S. Those pictures are from Microsoft's Terranova satellite images. The Fan hopes they don't mind.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Some Records May Never Be Broken

Baseball Almanac may be the coolest website on earth. One of the most fun things to do while drinking a morning coffee is to search through their databases of all time leaders. While doing so, some of the lists show that some records will probably never be broken. Here is a sampling:

  • At Bat/RBI Ratio - Babe Ruth: 26.35%. Nobody else comes close.
  • At Bats - Pete Rose: 14,053. No one is within 1700. Omar Vizquel is the only active player in the top 30.
  • Walks - Barry Bonds: 2558
  • Batting Average - Ty Cobb: .366
  • Grounding Into Double Plays - Cal Ripken, Jr.: 350. A dubious honor
  • Home Run Percentage - Mark McGwire: 9.42%
  • Isolated Power - Babe Ruth: .348. The active leader is Albert Pujols at .289
  • Career On Base Percentage - Ted Williams: .482. One of the most incredible stats of all! Williams was on base nearly 50% of the time for his entire career.
  • Outs - Pete Rose: 10,328. That's a lot of times making an out! To put into perspective, that's more times making an out than all but 18 players in history have ever had for At Bats for a career!
  • Runs Produced - Ty Cobb: 4066. Runs produced is runs scored plus RBIs minus home runs.
  • Strikeout Percentage - Joe Sewell: 1.6%. Amazing statistic!
  • Triples - Sam Crawford: 309. No active player is even in the top 100.
  • Doubles - Tris Speaker: 792. All the active players in the top 100 are in the twilight of their careers.

  • Walks Allowed - Nolan Ryan: 2795. No one is within 900 of him. Two ancient active pitchers are 1500 behind him.
  • Complete Games - Cy Young: 749. One of the safest records in sports. Young also owns the record for innings pitched, wins, losses, runs allowed and games started. All will never be broken.
  • Hit by Pitch - Chick Fraser: 219. Randy Johnson is the active leader with 188.
  • Shutouts - Walter Johnson: 110. Another of the safest of all records.
  • Winning Percentage - Spud Chandler: .717