Life is unfair

June 14th, 2006 → 12:05 am @

After a game like this, you need some sort of reaffirmation of all that’s right and true in the world. Yeah…this should do the trick. (And you sir, are a great American.)

Post Categories: Baseball & Ben Cohen & Oblique Refrences to Killed Newsweek Headlines & Videos that restore faith in humanity

Statistics, clutch hitting, and the left arm of God

June 13th, 2006 → 11:40 am @

On Sunday afternoon, David Ortiz, after being down 0-2 to Rangers closer Akinori Otsuka, hit his sixth regular-season walk-off home run since 2003; those, of course, go along with the two walk-offs he had in the 2004 playoffs and the four other walk-off hits he’s had over that same time period. (Check out this photo gallery for some great shots of those moments.) Ortiz’s monster shot into the right-field bleachers raises a couple of interesting questions. First, why in the world would managers keep pitching to Ortiz when the game is on the line? I know, I know, walking Ortiz would have loaded the bases for Manny Ramirez, with his 20 career grand slams (behind only Lou Gehrig’s 23 on the all-time list). But isn’t Ortiz recognized as the best clutch hitter of his generation, a sort of anti A-Rod?

Well, yes and no. Since the advent of sabermetrics a couple of decades ago, there’s been a good amount of debate concerning whether or not clutch hitting truly exists. Bill James, who helped pioneer the field and now works as an advisor to the Red Sox, initially said no; recently, he says he’s changed his mind. Then, in a new book published this spring, writers from Baseball Prospectus argued that Ortiz’s lifetime clutch rating is essentially zero. “[M]ost of the damage was limited to just two seasons, 2000 and 2005,” BP’s Nate Silver writes. “It isn’t a bad track record, but if clutch hitting really exists, one would expect more consistency out of the ‘greatest clutch hitter in the history of the Boston Red Sox.'”

Silver’s analysis shows how easy it can be to use statistics to prove almost anything—and how difficult it can be to figure out the best way to use data so that you’re truly learning something. Since winning a full-time job with the Red Sox a couple of months in to the 2003 season, Ortiz has become a much smarter hitter: he’s closed up his holes and has learned to foul off pitches he used to whiff at. It stands to reason that his performance in clutch situations has improved as well; indeed, his epic at bat against Esteban Loaiza in Game 5 of the 2004 American League Championship Series—an at bat Theo Epstein called one of the greatest of all time—was a gorgeous example of a hitter wasting pitches until he got one he could handle. And since October 2004, Ortiz has come up big again and again and again. (As soon as Ortiz connected with Otsuka’s pitch, Sox broadcaster Don Orsillo screamed, “How many times can he go to the well?”) The fact that over the entirety of Ortiz’s career–including the years in which the Twins wanted him “to hit like a little bitch”–Ortiz’s clutch performances come out as a wash doesn’t really tell us anything about what kind of hitter he’s been for the last several seasons.

“I’m still not sure exactly how to measure clutch hitting,” Bill James told me last year. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” Here James, generally an understated man, paused for a moment. “Watching Ortiz, it’s hard to think it doesn’t.”

There’s more–much more–about Ortiz, clutch hitting, Bill James, and what life is like inside a Major League Baseball organization in my book Feeding the Monster, due out in July.

UPDATE: In Michael Silverman’s Red Sox Notebook he writes that Ortiz’s walkoff on Sunday was the first “two-out walkoff blast by a player whose team trailed by at least two runs since Brad Wilkerson of Montreal did it July 17, 2003.” Ortiz is also the first person to have a game-ending home run in five straight seasons since the Crime Dog did it from 1993 to 1997.

Post Categories: Baseball & Bill James

Maybe it’s not just the $200 million payroll

June 9th, 2006 → 4:32 pm @

No doubt Jason Lee wouldn’t approve of a post like this—and just wait, in the next two days I’ll probably lose a winning lottery ticket and news will break that Tim Wakefield has been a drug runner since his days with the Pirates—but there’s yet more news about current or former Yankees players taking drugs now banned by MLB. On Thursday, Jim Leyritz said he began using amphetamines in 1990, his rookie year with the Yankees. This comes on the heels of the Jason Grimsley affidavit (Grimsley played with the World Series champion Yankees in 1999 and 2000). And, of course, there’s the fact that the two biggest names ensnared in the BALCO case besides Barry Bonds—Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield—both play for New York. Sheffield says he had no idea he was using steroids. The same can’t be said about Giambi, who reportedly told the BALCO grand jury he was juicing while playing for in both Oakland and New York; back in 2001, the Yankees agreed to remove language prohibiting steroid use from Giambi’s contract. I’m of the opinion that lots more names are going to come out in the not-so-distant future. But at the moment, a lot of what’s come out so far has some connection to New York.

Post Categories: Baseball & Jason Giambi & Jason Grimsley & Steroids & Yankees

In a minute it will all be coming down.

June 8th, 2006 → 11:42 pm @

Remember when Deadspin’s Will Leitch predicted that those blacked out names from the Grimsley affidavit would eventually leak out? He’s a prescient one: earlier today, Leitch posted some of those names, which he says he’s fairly confident about. Sammy Sosa’s name is apparently one of those blacked out, which comes as a surprise to approximately no one. Then there’s also this revelation: Leitch, a devoted Cardinals fan, says Grimsley named Chris Mihlfeld as the “fitness trainer to several Major League Baseball players” who directed him to a source that provided “amphetamines, anabolic steroids, and human growth hormone.” So what, right? Well, Mihlfeld–not the source who’s said to have served as Grimsley’s personal pharmacy–is not only a former strength and conditioning coordinator for the Royals, he’s also Albert Pujols’ personal trainer. Think anyone will start poking around now? (And why is it that Leitch, a hell of a blogger and apparently a decent reporter too, is the one breaking this news? As good as he is, he’s one dude being paid slave labor wages by a charming Brit. You’d think one of the thousands of accredited MLB reporters in the country might have come up with some of this…)

Post Categories: Albert Pujols & Baseball & Ben Folds Lyrics & Deadspin & Jason Grimsley & Sports Reporters & Steroids

You gotta love a man who can reference Gaetan Dugas.

June 8th, 2006 → 4:26 pm @

In an effort to figure out just whose names might be blacked out in the Grimsley affidavit, the Herald‘s John Tomase comes up with the best line yet in his column on this whole mess. Referring to former Sox reliever and former Grimsley teammate Heathcliff Slocumb, Tomase writes “If Slocumb took something, they were the worst steroids ever and he deserves a refund.” (To be fair–or unfair, as the case may be–to Slocumb, he does have a better career ERA than Grimsley. Slocumb, of course, was the bait in one of the most lopsided trades in history, when the Sox sent him to Seattle for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek on July 31, 1997. Heck, that almost–I said almost–made up for Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen.) Tomase’s guess as to which one of of Grimsley’s “better friends” he named for the feds? None other than Chuck Knoblauch, the 5-feet, 9-inch second baseman who saw a 142-point spike in his OPS between 1993 and 1994. (You remember Knoblauch. He was the short dude who had an annoying tendency to get hit by pitches and later forgot how to throw a baseball. Good times.)

Post Categories: Baseball & Jason Grimsley & Steroids

Albert Pujols, home runs, and steroids

June 5th, 2006 → 8:46 pm @

Albert Pujols, the most exciting player of the 2006 season, is out for at least two weeks and maybe much longer with an oblique strain.
As former Sports Illustrated senior writer Jeff Pearlman points out in a recent Slate article, Pujols’ power surge–after 55 games, he was on pace to hit 74 home runs and rack up 180 RBIs, both of which would be new Major League Baseball records–has gone oddly unquestioned. (Pujols says he’s already passed three drug tests this season, and by all accounts is a great guy.) Pearlman makes an excellent point. After several years in which baseball has been regularly humiliated with steroid revelations, most of the sports media seem to be accepting what many experts call a seriously flawed testing program. Clubhouses, executive suites, and newsrooms alike know that the untraceable human growth hormone (HGH) is the new performance-enhancing drug of choice…not that anyone seems to really care. Jason Giambi’s performance fell off a cliff after he all but admitted using steroids; still, he was wholeheartedly embraced even after he appeared to have gained, lost, and re-gained enormous amounts of muscle. Pearlman’s article lays the blame for the lack of old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting into the performances of people like Pujols (and Roger Clemens and Joe Mauer) at the feet of the country’s sportswriters who fear being shut out by the teams they cover. Fans, who often turn a willfully blind eye to the foibles of their local stars, share in the blame. Sports, like movies, is an escapist pastime; unlike movie fans, however, sports fans often choose to willfully ignore their heroes’ warts.

Post Categories: Albert Pujols & Baseball & Steroids