Thursday, March 31, 2005

Position by Position for Opening Night

You'll see a lot of people running stats over the next couple of days in an attempt to assess how the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry will look in the first year AP (After Papi). Me, I'm not big on long-range forecasting. I'm offering instead an inside look at the intangibles that will loom large for the most immediate business at hand: one game, in the Bronx, April 3.

Starting pitcher

Randy Johnson's paid endorsement: "I Can't Believe It's Not Cartilage!"

David Wells's paid endorsement: ""

EDGE: Yankees, though narrower than you might think.


Jorge Posada's uniform alteration: Kevlar cup for those Randy Johnson sliders in the dirt. (Somehow this sounds way more obscene than I intended.)

Jason Varitek's uniform alteration: "C" sewn onto left shoulder.

EDGE: Red Sox

First Base

Tino Martinez, looking forward to: Using four-year-old punch card to get a free sub at that place down the street from the Stadium.

Kevin Millar, looking forward to: Hair of the dog, baby, hair of the dog.

EDGE: Yankees.

Second Base

Tony Womack's off-season: Renewing Rogaine prescription for his eyebrows.

Mark Bellhorn's off-season: Going to the batting cage to work on watching pitches go by.

EDGE: Red Sox


Blanche DuBois's off-season: Repertory production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," of course.

Edgar Renteria's off-season: Playing Double Elimination Rock-Paper-Scissors with Orlando Cabrera and David Eckstein.

EDGE: Red Sox

Third Base

Judo Chop!'s off-season: Developing moisturizer to conceal the dermatological ravages of 6 AM workouts.

Bill Mueller's off-season: Beating the crap out of Mariano Rivera's mailbox.

EDGE: Red Sox

Left Field

Hideki Matsui's favorite "Simpsons" quote: "No hustle, either, skip!"

Manny Ramirez's favorite "Simpsons" quote: "That dog has a puffy tail!"
EDGE: Red Sox

Center Field

Bernie Williams' media blitz: classical guitar cover of Perry Como's Anvilania anthem from Animaniacs.

Johnny Damon's media blitz: tell-all book, breakfast cereal, and lobbying to get himself digitally inserted into remastered Good Will Hunting.

EDGE: Yankees

Right Field

Gary Sheffield, thoughts in the batter's box: "I better get a hit or Paul O'Neill will chew me out."

Jay Payton, thoughts in the batter's box: "I better get a hit or Trot Nixon will chew me out."

EDGE: Red Sox

Designated Hitter:

Jason Giambi, batting for: Jaret from Subway

David Ortiz, batting for: Roy Hobbs

EDGE: Red Sox

Final Score: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4, on Nixon's pinch-hit home run off Tom Gordon.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Gleeman's Challenge

I came a bit late to this party and it's a bit similar to something I had done before, but here's an unedited shuffle of all the stuff on my iTunes. I make no apologies for the showtunes. So there.

Name Artist
1 Midnight Rambler [Live] The Rolling Stones
2 Last Ride In Green Day
3 Devils Haircut Beck
4 I Will Follow U2
5 Get Ur Freak On Missy Elliot
6 Take Me Or Leave Me Rent: Broadway Cast
7 King of Pain The Police
8 Where The Streets Have No Name U2
9 Time Is On My Side The Rolling Stones
10 Freedom 90 George Michael
11 Come Downstairs And Say Hello Guster
12 Reset Big Boi
13 Long Ago and Far Away James Taylor
14 Flaming Moe's The Simpsons
15 Get Gone Fiona Apple
16 Short Skirt/Long Jacket Cake
17 A Man I'll Never Be Boston
18 Hitchin' A Ride Green Day
19 Mosh Eminem
20 Behind Blue Eyes The Who
21 Apocalypse Please Muse
22 Why Don't You Get a Job? The Offspring
23 Swords Crossed Pirates Of The Caribbean
24 Live With Me The Rolling Stones
25 Modern Woman Billy Joel
26 Overture / And All That Jazz Chicago: Soundtrack
27 Self-Esteem The Offspring
28 Keep Yourself Alive Queen
29 The Waiting Tom Petty
30 Mr.Cab Driver Lenny Kravitz
31 You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) Dead Or Alive
32 Battle Without Honor or Humanity Kill Bill: Vol. 1
33 Feelin Good Nina Simone
34 Walkin' On The Sun Smash Mouth
35 I Hate the TV Violent Femmes
36 Space and Time The Verve
37 You're A Big Girl Bob Dylan
38 Hitchin' A Ride Green Day
39 Move Over Janis Joplin
40 Somebody Told Me The Killers

Enter The MetsGeek

In case, you haven't seen it yet over at AA, I made a little announcement. Woohoo!

Today I'm proud to announce the arrival of MetsGeek, a great new Mets analysis and information site formed through the collaborative efforts of myself and several members of the Mets blogging community, including:

Matt Gelb of Gogs is the Greek God of Geeks
Ricardo Gonzalez (OFF) of Negative Seconds
Damien Heath of Shea Daily
Andrew Hintz of Chuck 'n' Duck
Jeremy Heit of Jeremy Heit's Blog
Michael Oliver of The Metropolitans
Eric Simon of SaberMets and Amazin' Avenue

To start you off today, Andrew has a fantastic interview with Bob Klapisch and the first part of a blogger roundtable on the Mets terrific offseason. There will be plenty of material and banter on a daily basis. I'll continue to blog here as always but I'll have extra content up on Metsgeek every week. Hope you come to enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed talkin' baseball with all these guys.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Sometimes A Fantasy

[Note: Matt and I would like to extend a big round of applause to our good friend Missie, the newest member of this blog, a die-hard Red Sox fan now living in Virginia. Her passion for the Sox is only exceeded by her passion for David Duchovny. -Jay]

Jay: Two years ago, I ran a free Yahoo fantasy league with a group of friends. It was my first real foray in running a league and, due to my choice of league (point style, weekly transactions) it wasn't quite the success I hoped it would be. [Translation: Matt took the pennant, and it's still chafing me two years later. Matt] After playing in a rotisserie league last year (and loving it), I decided to give it another go. Keep in mind this league is NOT serious at all--it's more of a medium for trash-talking than anything else--but I thought it might be fun to follow the league as it progresses this summer, tag-team journal style. The league stats can be found here.

First off, a couple notes about who we're dealing with here:

Hillcats NorthMatt
The Wright WayJay
LawsuitBen, brother to Jay and Evan
JosAsian SensationStephen, Boston friend of all
No NameAnthony, Jay's roommate
Concrete DonkeysCraig, Ben's buddy
Little OrangeKate, Ben's girlfriend, Yankee fan
BombersMark, fellow Sinai student
ILDJ55NYYFumiko, Jay's co-worker, Yankee fan
shmetsEvan, brother to Jay and Ben
SheadreamingDana, fellow Sinai student
Lost in C-Ville Missie, Boston friend of all, now in Virginia
A motley crew, to be sure -- two things to point out here. Stephen's team, the Josasian Sensation, is almost entirely composed of Asian players and guys named "Jose." There aren't quite enough of them to fill the entire roster at every position, thus the inclusion of Jason Varitek. Fumiko is a huuuuuuuuuge Godzilla and Yankee fan, thus her selctions are somewhat skewed as well. It's also worth pointing out that the number "55" means "go-go" in Japan. Thus, Godzilla (who wears #55) is actually called "Go-Go Matsui" and her team name means "I Love Derek Jeter, Go-Go New York Yankees."

Yes, I know.

Anyway, we had the draft last Thursday and since Matt had the first pick, I'll let him have the first shot at it.

Round 1Round 2
Hillcats NorthA. PujolsM. Cabrera
The Wright WayV. GuerreroH. Blalock
LawsuitC. BeltranC. Delgado
JosAsian SensationI. SuzukiJ. Reyes
No NameA. RodriguezC. Crawford
Concrete DonkeysM. TejadaB. Abreu
Little OrangeA. SorianoJ. Posada
BombersR. JohnsonB. Bonds
ILDJ55NYYH. MatsuiD. Jeter
shmetsM. RamirezS. Rolen
SheadreamingT. HeltonJ. Schmidt
Lost in C-Ville J. SantanaD. Ortiz

Matt: The first rule of Matt's roto-team: No Yankees. The second rule of Matt's roto-team? No Yankees. With the first pick, and the statistically attractive but supremely unconscionable Judo Chop! not an option, it boiled down to Pujols or Guerrero. The third rule of Matt's roto-team: as far as possible, avoid karmic entanglements with your real-world rooting interests. Vladi's a great player, and his steals make him slightly more versatile than the Neckless Wonder in St. Louis. Even so, I reserve the right to get angry if Vladi has another nine-RBI game against the Sox. No treasonous sliver of "at least that boosts my OPS" for me. I'll take the monstrous talent in the other league, thanks.

The downside of picking first: I don't get another choice until the end of the second round, where the fourth rule of Matt's roto-team comes into play. Where appropriate, pick the player whose exploits will most annoy the co-blogger. How about the burgeoning talent, still young enough to improve, on a key division rival? Miguel Cabrera, come on down!

Those Bombers! They don't look a day over forty, do they?

Jay: Don't worry, I get revenge on the irksome poet later on in the draft. As for my #2 pick, I have similar handicaps in my selection style as well: No Yankees OR Braves. None. Zip. Nada. Thus my rules also eliminated Slappy as a possibility and it came down to The Impaler or Beltran. Normally, Beltran would be the obvious choice being on my home towne team. But for some strange mystical reason, I find that Mets players I select tend to suck it up big time while they're on my active roster (see Phillips, Jason as Exhibit A). There are exceptions to this, which I'll come to later on, but here Guerrero seemed to be the safer choice.

Coming back around, I wanted a third baseman and Rolen was off the board. In retrospect, I probably should have taken a 2B or SS since they were much more scarce. I had my choice of Eric Chavez, Aramis Ramirez, Adrian Beltre, and Hank Blalock. I almost took Beltre but I honestly feel he was playing a bit over his head last year so I decided to go with Blalock. Foolish, eh? Perhaps. But he's still only 24 and could certainly be primed for a breakout year, especially in that lineup. Anyway, I made up for my foolishness with my next two picks (which were complete steals).

Missie: You will find very little in the way of strategy with my picks for 2 reasons. Reason 1, I did not participate in the live draft because my computer is older than Matt, that is to say, dirt. So I pre-ranked my players, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. I ended up with last picks. So much for hope. Reason 2: I'm a working mother of 2, 3 if you count the 100 lb puppy, and lack the time and energy to wax strategic on a fantasy baseball team. If there's justice in this world, I'll beat out Matt and Jay anyway.
That being said, I did still have the rule of No Yankees. Small and Petty I know, but that is the future title of my memoirs, despite what Matt says. Having done this league 2 years ago with Jay, I had great bats, not-so-great pitching. This landed me dead center at the end of the season. So I went after pitching first. Because as we all know, pitching wins championships. Of course this is fantasy and ordinary rules and steroid use need not apply. However the take home message here is that the Red Sox won the World Series last year.

Round 3
Round 4
Hillcats NorthA. BeltreV. Martinez
The Wright WayB. SheetsP. Martinez
LawsuitA. RamirezM. Prior
JosAsian SensationJ. VaritekJ. Vidro
No NameJ. ThomeM. Mora
Concrete DonkeysM. TeixeiraE. Chavez
Little OrangeM. RiveraJ. Smoltz
BombersG. SheffieldJ. Pierre
ILDJ55NYYM. MussinaR. Clemens
shmetsE. GagneM. Piazza
SheadreamingJ. KentI. Rodriguez
Lost in C-Ville C. SchillingN. Garciaparra

Matt: The fifth rule of Matt's roto-league is a little baffling, though it's derived from the endless font of wisdom that is The Simpsons: "Always do the opposite of what Matt says." In my pre-draft rankings, I'd shared Jay's sense that Beltre had played over his head last year, and had opted for Chavez as my first choice for third base. Faced with the actual moment in a live draft, however, I opted for the high-end gamble over the proven commodity. Safeco isn't very hitter friendly, but if he could hit forty-eight homers playing half his games in Dodger Stadium, he can probably handle Safeco just fine. I'm just hoping that he hasn't already bought sixty-four million dollars' worth of KFC Honey Barbecue Wings with his newly lucrative contract. 'Cause that, unfortunately, is exactly what I would do in his shoes.

During the long wait for my fourth pick, I decided I ought to snag some pitching. I was hoping that Pedro would fall to me. Everybody's concerned about his health, and I figured the Mets fans in the league wouldn't want to put the roto-jinx on him. Here he comes...three more picks...two more picks...curse you, Mastaitis. Now I have two picks in a row and I need an arm. First, though one of the strongest players at one of the more shallow positions: Victor, the other Martinez, even though he lit up the Sox even worse than Vladi did last year. Rule five, kids, rule five.

Jay: Bwah, hah, hah, hah! I really got kinda greedy these two rounds. I knew I wanted a top-flight starter before they all disappeared and I settled on Ben Sheets rather than Pedro in the third round, largely because 1) as Matt stated, I really didn't want to jinx Pedro and 2) I knew Dana would likely take Sheets if I let him fall. As I was watching the draft come back around, I had decided to take Victor Martinez if he wasn't already gone. When the queue came back to me, he indeed was still on the board but, inexplicably, so was Pedro. Thus I was torn.

On one hand, if I let Pedro slide, the greedy lemur would have snatched him up.

On the other hand, I really wanted Victor Martinez, who was far and away the best catcher on the board.

Now at the time, I wasn't sure if Matt would have taken Victor with one of his two picks before the queue came back to me and Pedro was just too good to pass up. So I snatched him away. And Matt quickly scooped up Victor. Having Matt fume was just icing on the cake. Mmmm...icing.

Having a 1-2 punch of Sheets and Pedro at the top of my rotation should win me several pitching categories, if not most of them. Especially when you see who I scooped up in Round 6.

Missie: Nomar, I will admit, is a sentimental favorite. However, I also have found through personal exprience that revenge is a fantastic motivator, (again, see Small and Petty), so I expect great things from Nomah this year. Especially if he cuts all pork products from his diet.
Schilling, again, trying to beef up pitching after my weak roster two years ago. Franken-ankle better hold, baby. ( I suppose if I really wanted to "beef up" pitching I would've gotten Wells and Clemens. Alas, there aren't enough pork rinds in all of cyberspace to support those two on one team.) You may have noticed the sacrifice this has caused in the bats. I'm hoping weekly urine tests will work to my advantage there. The rest of you can take your Bonds and Sheffields and shove them up your Pujols.

Round 5Round 6Round 7Round 8
Hillcats NorthOl. PerezB. WagnerO. CabreraC. Patterson
The Wright WayJ. KendallB. LidgeT. HafnerS. Sosa
LawsuitJ. EdmondsM. YoungR. OswaltT. Hoffman
JosAsian SensationS. TakatsuD. RobertsJ. MesaJ. Guillen
No NameJ. RollinsC. JonesJ. LopezO. Dotel
Concrete DonkeysR. FurcalM. GilesJ. PeavyA. Benitez
Little OrangeC. PavanoD. WrightC. GuillenB. Boone
BombersE. RenteriaA. HuffM. LorettaF. Cordero
ILDJ55NYYT. GordonT. HudsonP. Lo DucaJ. Beckett
shmetsJ. DamonD. WellsJ. DrewK. Wood
SheadreamingFr. RodriguezS. PodsednikC. ZambranoJ. Nathan
Lost in C-Ville K. FoulkeT. WakefieldM. MulderE. Guardado

Matt: I tend to wait to draft pitching. It's tougher to predict from year to year, so that once you get past the premium arms it's more of a crapshoot than most of us would care to admit. Taking a Pirates pitcher is a little unsound, in that he's not likely to get a ton of run support. Perez, though, is young and left-handed, with great strikeout numbers. Plus, his home park can be tough on right-handed hitters (expansive alley in left-center), so I decided to snap him up.

At this point, my draft connection cut out, and while I got it back in time before I missed a pick, it made me a little panicky. Wagner's a plausible snag, especially in light of the run on relief pitching between my fifth and sixth picks, but there was no reason to take Cabrera so high. He'll probably turn out a little better than his season last year demonstrated--a few more steals, steadier defense--but his lack of plate discipline will no doubt add to my already exquisite collection of gray hairs. Corey Patterson brings a little bit of everything, and as a primarily AL fan I was a little paranoid about neglecting steals. Incidentally, steals is the one category where I can see JosAsian Sensation (Ichiro, Reyes, Roberts) rating highly.

Other items of note: Missie saved me from myself by grabbing Mulder. The warning lights are flashing, but I kept saying to myself, "League switch! Run support! Complete games!" I may be a roiling cauldron of regret and envy by June, but for now I'm sleeping more easily.

Missie: Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. What the hell was I smoking when I was pre-ranking? Hopefully it will all pay off come June when my pals Regret and Envy set up house in Matt's apartment, but honestly, had I been drafting live, I doubt this would've happened. Of course, had I been drafting live, a lot more of my life would look different besides my roto-team.
As an aside, I can't believe anybody picked up that sissy slapping ARod. Has Anthony not seen that he is instant death to any team he touches? Can he not learn from the mistakes of the Mariners, Rangers and Yankees? I was one of the few Boston fans not offering up my first born to get him to Beantown in the offseason of 2003-2004, and that was from the benefit of only two teams. I realize grudges will probably not serve me well in fantasy baseball, but a girl's gotta have her principles.

Jay: Did Missie just say that she had principles? Your powers have grown weak, woman.

With Matt snatching up Victor, I plucked Jason Kendall with my next pick and then watched as the queue came back around to me with Brad Lidge still out there. I thought I was dreaming -- I needed a relief pitcher at that point but never in my wildest dreams did I think Lidge would still be on the board. Between Lidge, Pedro, and Sheets I should take the strikeout category easily. Sammy Sosa was just too tempting not to take in the eighth round. While he has been declining the last few years, he seems like he has something to prove this year and hitting half of his games in Cadmen Yards hopefully will equal a bounce back season (not to mention another ten in Fenway Park. Bwah, hah, hah, hah!). So here are our complete teams:

V. GuerreroA. PujolsJ. Santana
H. BlalockM. CabreraD. Ortiz
B. SheetsA. BeltreC. Schilling
P. MartinezV. MartinezN. Garciaparra
J. KendallOl. PerezK. Foulke
B. LidgeB. WagnerT. Wakefield
T. HafnerO. CabreraM. Mulder
S. SosaC. PattersonE. Guardado
R. HalladayJ. BondermanB. Mueller
L. CastilloL. HernandezR. Sexson
B. LooperJ. UribeT. Percival
B. CrosbyB. WilkersonD. Graves
R. HidalgoJ. RinconB. Radke
L. WalkerB. RobertsC. Sabathia
B. WebbM. BarrettM. Bradley
M. OlivoB. ArroyoR. Hernandez
K. CaleroP. BurrellJ. Lane
D. WillisA. KearnsLu. Gonzalez
C. FloydJ. CruzR. Durham
Y. BrazobanM. ManteiC. Crisp
M. Adams
A. EatonB. Schneider
G. CarraraD. HarenS. Casey
K. GreeneC. SilvaJ. Lugo
M. CameronT. NixonW. Williams
M. Cuddyer
J. SuppanS. Hillenbrand

Jay: I was fairly happy with my team in the end. It got kinda messy later on and it's worth noting here that I picked up both Mike Adams (Milwaukee's potential closer) and Mike Cuddyer (Minnesota's starting 3B -- I completely forgot they traded Koskie -- who is eligible for 1B, 2B, 3B, and OF) off the waiver wire after the draft! My team is pretty slow -- steals will likely be needed later on -- but otherwise I'm ready to bring everyone down. Yeah, I'm lookin' at you, VanWinkle.

Matt: That's super, Jay! It's good to have goals.

The steal of my draft as I see it is Juan Uribe, who's valuable for many of the reasons Jay went looking for Cuddyer (qualified at three infield positions). Plus, Uribe's twenty-seven years old and should be peaking.

If Bronson Arroyo flames out this year, he has grounds for a good civil suit against me. In the past six months I have A) attempted to coin a nickname (The Paper Airplane) for him, B) argued vociferously that he should be a part of the Sox rotation even if Wade Miller becomes an option and C) placed the dread "Roto-league plus real-life rooting interest equals epic karmic backlash" whammy on him. I might as well have picked him for the NCAA Final Four and set him up with Mia Hamm's closest available female relative just to finish him off.

I wonder if, on the night of the draft, a chill ran up the spine of Ramon Hernandez because, in some alternate reality engineered by Missie, he has to catch Tim Wakefield.

The last two rounds I got knocked off the draft connection, and Trot Nixon was the only remaining player on my list of pre-selections. This was a pleasant surprise. Jeff Suppan, whom I emphatically did not pre-select, rapidly became acquainted with the waiver wire. I think this was the shrewdest move I've made since that dream I had in 2001 where I traded Jose Offerman to a Siberian baseball team for a polar bear and a bottle of vodka. I wish I were making that last bit up, and I wonder why everyone asks me "what kind of vodka?" whenever I mention the dream. The vodka's just a throw-in; the bear's the centerpiece. The bear, dammit!

Missie: Final thoughts on my team? We'll need a whole lotta serendipity to get through the season. And vodka. However I feel Jay is a tad overconfident in his pitching roster. I can't really say why other than a gut feeling and a phone call I made to some friends. I also anticiapte Arroyo's arm falling off as he throws his first starting pitch- thank you very much VanWinkle. You killed Giambi the Lesser and you've come back for Arroyo! [Note: If I hadn't killed Jeremy Giambi, David Ortiz might well have asked for and received a trade in May 2003. But where's my medal? Matt] Really my only goal is to come ahead of JosAsian Sensation. Such lofty goals I have set for myself this season. Rumor has it that is also the top priority of Steinbrenner's for his Yanks.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

"Professor Jenkins, my old nemesis..."

Matt: On November 13, 1985, the Red Sox and the Mets made an apparently innocuous trade. Boston gave up (among other things) a journeyman lefty named Bob Ojeda in exchange for (among other things) a young arm named Calvin Schiraldi. Who could have known that the distant repercussions of this deal would jar two hemispheres? It was like the Red Sox gave away the gun that would kill them in exchange for the acid that would eat through the bulletproof vest.

Now, Ben Jacobs has rated the offseason moves of all thirty major league teams , and has the Mets and Red Sox first and second atop the list. I'm less sanguine about Boston's dealings than Jacobs (a Sox fan himself), and I'm sure Jay will be gushing to the point of dehydration about the incomparable machinations of the dread and puissant Omar. As well he should. But what if karma is the opposite of March? What if it is coming in like a lamb, to later become a lion? What if Pedro and Mientkiewicz are carrying with them imperceptible seeds waiting to ripen in a "time far and dissociate"? Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! Errm, I mean, Jay's gonna talk about the Mets' offseason, and I'll break down the Sox transactions.

Jay: Whoa, Matt. A poet you may be, but I hadn't realized you had started down the long road to Xanadu so soon. Back in reality, we do indeed have a tale of two offseasons to tell and, frankly, I have to say that I do think the good Mr. Jacobs wrote his review of the Red Sox with some rose-colored reading glasses. The Mets, however, have had undisputably the best offseason this year and quite possibly the best offseason in their entire history.

For the last few years, the Mets have conducted their offseasons like they were browsing at a flea market; only look, never buy, and never, ever pay full price. Lowball was the game and the Mets hed perfected it. Granted because they had some terrible contracts to deal with (Roger Cedeno, Mo Vaughn, Rey Ordonez) and their surrounding talent just wasn't that good, it could be argued that they never were really in a good position to spend money. And furthermore, their network deal wasn't really finalized until last spring either so they also didn't have the promise of a new, boundless source of cash. But excuses aside, they never really even tried.

What Omar Minaya has done these past few months is breathe new life into a franchise that was sucking the fans' hope dry. He hired a popular, deserving rookie manager, signed the best position player available, the best starting pitcher available, and traded for arguably the best defensive first baseman out there. He filled an important hole at first, upgraded the rotation, and added Carlos Beltran to the young duo of Jose Reyes and David Wright to build around. So how much does this improve the Mets? Based on projections I alluded to before, these guys add about 69.3 in VORP over those they replaced, roughly the equivalent of seven wins. It was the best offseason in baseball by far. I think Matt is coming back to us now, so I'll give ya' back to him. Just watch out for his glittering eye...

Matt: I'd agree that the Red Sox ranking on Jacobs' list is a trifle overconfident. Matt Mantei "could end up as Boston's second option in the bullpen" and Wade Miller "could really help the rotation when he returns." I'm not saying these deals are bad, because they represent relatively little financial risk. Nevertheless, it sounds more and more like the Red Sox are relying on Wade Miller making a key contribution, and that is by no means guaranteed.

In fairness to Theo and co., they didn't get to go with Plan A this off-season. Plan A, no matter how disrespected the man in question may have felt, involved keeping Pedro Martinez. The back-up plan seems to me half-right; I like the Matt Clement pick-up. As I've said before, I'm not at all convinced that the David Wells signing will work out. I seem to be the last person in Boston to have reservations about this signing, but there you have it. Edgar Renteria they overpaid for, even if he's not a bad talent to have around.

Jacobs correctly notices that the Sox haven't really given away anything they'll regret, and that they managed to stockpile some draft choices. Even so, the question marks around this team's pitching remain considerable.

Speaking of, that's the one thing Omar rely didn't address this offseason: the bullpen crew at Shea. I only mention this because Byung-Hyun Kim is still available, and he in no way resembles Calvin Schiraldi. Plus, it might be nice to have some Trachsel insurance.

One final thought: most World Series match-ups, due to lack of familiarity between the two teams, can't really count as grudge matches. What if, though, Pedro and Mientkiewicz came back to Fenway in October wearing blue and orange? I'm not saying this is likely to happen, but could there be a bigger story than this in any possible 2005 postseason?

Jay: Will you please stop trying to ply BK on the Mets? Despite my penchant for crispy chicken sandwiches, the whole prospect of him coming out in the eighth inning for my team is incredibly unappetizing. I don't think there's any way Omar could stomach such a deal. (OK - I'm done now).

The Mets being in the World Series is a nice thought, but it ain't gonna happen this year. The Mets have far too many holes and question marks to win the wild card. Last year, the Mets won 71 games -- 76 if you go by their pythagorean record. Adding seven wins to 76 is still only 83 wins. The Mets certainly could win more if their bullpen comes together, if Jose Reyes stays healthy, if Kaz Matsui improves, if Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano drink Rick Peterson's kool-aid. If if if. Just too many if's for them all to pan out.

But the best part of this offseason is that the Mets will continue to feel its effects for the next decade. Carlos Beltran was a move for the future. Minky was a move to help the future infield adjust. Signing Pedro will only help the next year or two but the fans he'll bring into the park this year will keep coming back as the team gets better and better.

My only quibble with this offseason is the one piece of the future that the Mets sent the Red Sox' way: Ian Bladergroen. Minky is certainly not the Mets long term answer at first and Blade was the only 1B prospect in the Mets system that could be projected to replace him. I think the Sox are going to be very happy with this deal in a few years.

Matt: Bladergroen raises an interesting point about the potential discrepancy between the short and long term goals at Yawkey Way. I say "potential" because they are indeed loading up on draft picks and Hanley Ramirez indicates that the Sox seem to be back in the business of developing talent and not just purchasing it at some huge mark-up as they were during the Duquette regime. You can buy a title, but you have to build a dynasty from within; that's the big difference between the 1996-2000 Yankees and the 21st century version of the Bombers.

The Red Sox spent some money this offseason in an attempt to buy a title defense; here's hoping that Jacobs is right and Theo is keeping an eye on the future between the splashier outlays as well.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Of Blue-light specials, Big-Ticket Items, and Buyer's Remorse

In our last post, you'll recall, the Fan Satisfaction Survey had the Red Sox rated as the fifth least efficient major league franchise when it comes to turning dollars into wins. Ben Murphy's year-end efficiency report for 2004 at Baseball Prospectus essentially confirms this finding, rating the Red Sox the seventh least efficient team in terms of its spending, "trailing" only the Diamondbacks, Mariners, Mets, Royals, Yankees, and Rockies. This has my curiosity piqued; where (if anywhere) is the leak in the Red Sox system, and why should we care as we nurse the vestiges of championship afterglow?

I'll get to that second question eventually, but to try to address the first I've set up a little statistical thought experiment. This is my first greased-elbow foray into combining sabermetrics (which I understand a little) and economics (which I understand even less). Consequently the tools I'm using are crude when compared to a sophisticated study like Harper's. All of which is to say a) I'd appreciate any suggestions on how to refine this experiment and b) allow the knowledge that you're dealing with a neophyte to temper your phrasing of any such suggestions.

First, I've taken the average payroll of the eight playoff teams ($98,666,863, using figures drawn from Murphy's study) and their average number of wins, 96. I realize this is a small sample size and that that average payroll probably exceeds what two-thirds of the major league teams are paying. But it didn't make sense to me to figure in teams that drastically overpaid for wretched teams (Arizona) or teams whose relative efficiency didn't really translate into notable success (Cleveland). Next, I switched those 96 wins to 288 win shares, and used that figure to determine how much, on average, a 2004 playoff team spent on each win share. Rounded off, this comes to $342,583 dollars per win share. If it makes a difference, I ran the numbers for the eight 2003 playoff teams as well, when more lower payroll teams participated, and the average amount spent per win share was remarkably similar ($330,000, give or take). Using the 2004 figure as a rough-and-tumble benchmark, then, we can figure which players were, relatively speaking, overpaid for their contributions and which were underpaid.

I've figured dollars spent per win share for every player on one of last year's eight playoff teams who earned ten win shares or more, using the win shares provided by the good folks at the Hardball Times and salary figures provided by Here are the ten best bargains from last year's post-season participants.

Player (Team) Win Shares $ per win share

Lew Ford(MIN)2213,636

Cesar Izturis(LA)2514,340

Justin Morneau(MIN)1015,000

Chone Figgins(ANA)2016,000

Johnny Estrada(ATL)1916,447

Brad Lidge(HOU)1721,176

Mark Bellhorn(BOS)2123,333

Marcus Giles(ATL)1823,889

Carlos Silva(MIN)1424,286

Joe Nathan(MIN)1627,500

Juan Rincon(MIN)1227,500

No surprise that Minnesota dominates the list, but it is a little unexpected to see two Atlanta Braves here. Perhaps their continued stranglehold on the NL East is less mysterious than it first appears. You'll notice, too, that most of these guys, while more than mere role players, are not the marquee names on their respective teams. With the exception of Izturis, we're looking at "fringe all-stars" at best, and it stands to reason that you'd have to shell out more for the big names since part of their salary is a surcharge for previous achievements. Here's another list, the dollars per win share for every player producing more than 25 win shares for a playoff team.

Player (Team) Win Shares $ per win share

Cesar Izturis(LA)2514,340

Johan Santana(MIN)2759,259

J.D. Drew(ATL)34123,529

Adrian Beltre(LA)37135,135

Albert Pujols(STL)40175,000

David Ortiz(BOS)25183,500

Lance Berkman(HOU)32203,125

Scott Rolen(STL)38226,974

Hideki Matsui(NYY)30233,333

Jim Edmonds(STL)36259,259

Johnny Damon(BOS)27296,296

Vladi Guerrero(ANA)29379,310

Gary Sheffield(NYY)31419,355

Derek Jeter(NYY)26715,384

JUDO CHOP!(NYY)30733,333

Manny Ramirez(BOS)27833,333

Bear in mind that the eight playoff teams spent, on average, $342,583 per win share. Here again, Minnesota looks shrewd; the Twins only had one bona fide all-star, and their return on him from a financial perspective was twice as good as the next most efficient all-star, J. D. Drew. The three MVP candidates in St. Louis weren't merely astoundingly productive; they provided better than average bang for the buck as well. The same can be said of Johnny Damon and David Ortiz for the Sox, and Hideki Matsui for the Yankees.

Of course the Yankees also overpaid, relatively speaking, for Sheffield, A-Rod, and Jeter. Scratch a little deeper, beneath the ten win share threshold, and it gets worse. Jason Giambi was paid 1.5 million dollars per win share, and this wasn't even the Yankees' grossest inefficiency. Kevin Brown earned $1,746,031 per win share, and that wasn't the Yankees' grossest inefficiency either. Mike Mussina earned $1,777,778 per win share. We're all aware of how stifling the former two contracts proved last year, but Mussina seems to have received a free pass when he was every bit as disappointing as Brown, dollar for dollar.

I began, though, by asking about the leaks in the Red Sox salary structure. Manny is clearly one, and this explains Theo Epstein's otherwise baffling desire to trade one of the best right-handed bats in the American League. It's not that Manny isn't productive; it's that his contract renders it nearly impossible for his production to make budgetary sense. To bring his contract into line with the going rate for win shares, he needed to post 66 win shares last year. To put this in perspective, the most productive season on record in terms of win shares is Honus Wagner's 59 in 1908.

Other leaks? Curt Schilling made $545,455 per win share, somewhat inefficient but not extravagantly so. Varitek was slightly inefficient, receiving $405,882 per win share, although it could be argued that his intangibles make up the $60,000 per share difference. The primary culprit? The now departed Pedro Martinez received just over a million dollars a win share, and Derek Lowe received $750,000 per win share, another substantial waste in relative terms.

So, again, why should we care? Consider the contracts of Jason Varitek and Edgar Renteria, each making roughly 10 million bucks this year. To "break even" in terms of efficiency, 'Tek and Renteria would need to post 29 win shares each. Last year they eached earned 17. Ten million dollars a year only makes financial sense if you're getting an MVP candidate. I like both these guys, but they'd have to drastically and improbably improve to earn what they're going to be paid next year. When you give out those kind of contracts, you need to find a lot of 2004 Mark Bellhorns to bring your budget back into line.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Is The Corn Well Pleased?

Matt: Today ESPN released the results of this year's fan satisfaction survey, ranking all 92 franchises in the three major professional sports. The results were intriguing; my hometown team, fresh off one of the most inspiring runs in postseason history, rated a mere fourteenth out of thirty teams. Apparently Diamondbacks Nation gets more out of its baseball experience than Sox fans, as do the staunch devotees of the Milwaukee Brewers. My co-blogger will speak to this more in a moment, but the New York Mets finished a distant, call-a-hearse last. The Anaheim Angels finished first, which leads me to the conclusion that it must be considerably less difficult to please seven people than it is to minister to the needs of several million, conservatively estimated.

Satisfaction, as the poll defines it, consists of eight categories: Bang for the Buck (basically the efficiency with which an organization turns fan dollars into wins), Fan Relations, Ownership, Affordability, Stadium Experience, Players (effort and off-field likability), Coaching/Managing, and Championship Expectations. The breakdown ESPN provides shows each team's ranking with respect to all professional teams. Here's how the Red Sox rank with respect to other baseball teams, i. e. out of 30 rather than out of 92.

Red Sox Fan Rankings

Bang for the Buck26thStadium Experience13th
Fan Relations12thPlayers9th
Affordability30th (last)Championships Won/Expected3rd

The Red Sox rate well in what I'll call competition factors; Boston fans like their players and they like their chances. Leadership factors are more ambiguous; we like our owners but aren't crazy about our coaches. A little unfair to Terry Francona, in my opinion, but only a little. Economic factors, predictably, are what really drag the organization down. The cost of the cheap seats at Fenway has tripled in fifteen years. I know that ticket prices are up all over baseball, but I'd wager that this increase far exceeds the industry standard rate of inflation. What is a little more surprising, perhaps, is that despite all the lip service paid to Moneyball theory on Yawkey Way, the Sox have not been particularly efficient with their revenues, although I doubt many fans would complain at this point. (Keep in mind that bang for the buck, according to the survey's methodology, is computed objectively rather than left to the fans to ascertain.)

The real surprise here is what I'll call outreach factors. Since the new ownership grabbed the reins in 2003, it has made a concerted effort to make Fenway more friendly. Even so, fans are finding the accessibility of the players and the ambience of the lyric little bandbox only middling. I'll have more to say about this in a minute, but I'll let Jay jump in here with his take on how the Mets rated.

Jay: Not surprisingly, after seasons in which the Mets scraped together 75, 66, and 71 wins while the payroll was 6th, 4th, and 3rd overall respectively, the Mets finished dead last in the fan rankings. And, as you can see, they stunk it up across the board:

Mets Fan Rankings
Mets Bang for the Buck28th
Mets Fan Relations28thPlayers29th
Affordability29thChampionships Won/Expected13th

The only two categories that the Mets fared halfway decent in were ownership and championships. The Mets ownership, which has actually been fairly brutalized the past few years by the NY media, may have gotten a bump in this survey by the hiring of Omar Minaya (which was back in late September). It's not very likely that the signings of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez factored in since they came much, much later.

As for the championships, I think I speak for all Met fans when I say that as long as we have a talented, hard-working team, we're fairly happy. 1986 is still pretty fresh in the minds of most people my age and older and, since it was such a spectacular postseason (sorry Matt), I think that itch has still been scratched fairly well.

The Mets were pretty awful in everything else and, looking back at the last three years, I can't say I disagree with them. The teams were old and injured, Art Howe became a punch line, the Mets raised ticket prices and instituted that silly 'tiered' pricing plan, and Shea, as lovable as it is to us, really hasn't aged very well and honestly repels fans of any other team. As for Fan Relations, they've been non-existent.

That is, of course, until this offseason. I'll say a bit more about that in a sec but my co-blogger is hopping up and down faster than Homer waiting to go to the chili cookoff. OK! OK! Here's the blog again!

Matt: I just want to unpack, quick-like, the lukewarm figures the Sox posted in the outreach categories, and speculate a little on the methodology of the survey. The Red Sox have improved in these categories over the past couple of years, and I must admit that on the increasingly rare occasions that I make it to Fenway it does seem to be a more fan-friendly place. Note that "increasingly rare occasions," though. It is something of a vexation to me (and, I suspect, to other fans as well) that it has become so difficult to swing tickets, and an additional trial that the Red Sox are so rarely on free television. I know, I know, the isolated rantings of a quasi-indigent coot, except that they might partially account for the relatively low "accessibility" score the organization posted this time around. (I don't envy Mets fans much, but I'll frankly admit to being jealous of the fact that they don't have to plan a trip to the ballpark six months in advance.) It should be noted that these rankings don't register the massive trophy-sharing initiative undertaken by the Hair Club for Men this winter, so it might be the case that this problem is, in some sense, already solved.

Which brings me to the question of the study's methodology. What got me musing on this whole thing in the first place was the fact that my team's middling ranking seemed to confirm a popular misconception about Red Sox fans. We're whiny, insatiable, and utterly incapable of appreciating just how good we have it. This isn't true of most Sox fans my age, I don't think, and a closer look at how the survey was conducted will bear this out. The eight categories outlined above were weighted in accordance with fan priorities. "For example," the methodology explanation informs us, "fans rated Affordability about 20 percent more important than Stadium Experience, so that's the weight we assigned it." The methodology never makes this explicit, but my hunch is that this weighting is based on national results, rather than adjusted for the preferences of individual markets. Of the eight categories, Championships Expected or Won rated dead last in terms of importance. This simply isn't reflective of the priorities in Red Sox Nation. I don't know too many Sox fans who would rate "Stadium Experience" above Championships, especially when "Stadium Experience" is tied to "quality of game-day promotions." Bottom line: that fourteenth ranking aside, I suspect that most Sox fans are considerably more content than some of its more prominent "representatives" would have you believe, and that future rankings will likely bear this out. Here endeth the rant: back to the sane guy.

Jay: I think Matt may be using "sane" a bit too liberally. But he does bring up some good points on the methodology. My nitpick, however, doesn't concern any particular category but I do wonder about the time period of the survey. If you polled Mets fans today on those same eight categories, I'm willing to bet you would see substantial gains in virually all categories except Bang For Buck and Stadium.

We signed the top two free agents in the offseason. We have a new manager who's running a tightly controlled, discipline laden spring training and expectations for this team couldn't be higher. We have Jose Reyes healthy, happy, and running around like crazy. We have an owner who has stepped out of the spotlight and let the GM do his job. We finally have a team that seems to have a plan, a direction, and if you look closely you can see the backbone of a young talented team that will be able to contend for a very long time.

The last three years can't be erased and they won't be forgotten. They even may come back to haunt us, ala Scott Kazmir. But the Mets have eased the pain of the fan base, and totally changed their psyche, with all of the changes they've made in this spectacular offseason.

Next year, when this survey comes out, it will certainly be interesting to see how high the Mets rise.

(Note: The cryptic title of this piece comes from this creepy little story and is frequently quoted by our good friend Missie. As a Red Sox fan, she is currently very well pleased.)