It’s only because I’m in a pissy mood that I’m letting myself do this. (Or: the old Manny, Ortiz, and PEDs debate)

August 19th, 2006 → 8:10 pm @

There’s a wingnut hanging out over here who is trying to bait me into an argument about why Manny and Ortiz are roiding up. I know this is wrong, but when I’m in a particularly bad mood, a good beatdown always of cheers me up. Comments by said baiter (screen name: pepsicorp) are in itals.

Ahh, the old Ortiz always had power claim. Of course, it’s pure BS. Lifted this from an ESPN post:
Theory 1: Always had power, just couldn’t hit as well. One poster says he had a season where he hit a HR every 16ab in MN (it was actually closer to 17). But in Boston he’s hitting HRs every 10ab. Heck of an improvement from 25 yrs old to 30. Another said he never made good contact in MN although he hit 270+ 4/5 seasons.

Ortiz has always had power. In fact, it’s one of the reasons the Sox wanted him — because their scout in the Dominican couldn’t get over what a superstar he was down there. In 2001, he hit .234 but had a secondary average of .400 — a sign of a player who could be on the verge of a breakout. If you’re interested, check it out.

Theory 2: MN coaches don’t know how to coach Ortiz. Nice theory b/c the Twins clearly sucked but they did have competant coaching. TK won 2 WS and manager of the year (you had Williams and Little). Ortiz is the only player from that horrid era of Twins play that left and became a better hitter. Others, like Knoblauch, McCarthy, Cordova and Meares clearly had their best hitting seasons in MN. Obviously, the Sox did have him look at his swing differently but a 40HR improvement based on coaching? Not a chance.

First off, get your facts straight: Ortiz didn’t play for Jimy Williams. Second, Ron Gardenhire was Ortiz’s coach in 2002. And if you’re going to tell me you think Ron Gardenhire is a brilliant manager I have some swampland in Florida to sell you. Maybe you missed the 2004 ALDS? The current Twins regime is notorious for relying on speed, pitching, and defense as opposed to power — to the point where they’d discourage people from going yard in favor of moving the runner along. In fact, this is exactly what they did to Ortiz, telling him to hit the ball to the opposite field as opposed to swinging for the fences; that’s why Ortiz said the Twins wanted him to “hit like a little bitch.” (From an article on why the Twins have’t had a player hit 30 home runs in 19 years: “Boston’s David Ortiz has become one of the game’s most feared sluggers after never reaching his full potential with the Twins, a point that Ortiz has made many times by criticizing the organization’s conservative approach to teaching young hitters. Minnesota’s philosophy: Go to the opposite field and form sound fundamentals before letting it rip. ‘It’s not that anybody is against hitting home runs,’ Gardenhire said. ‘It’s just that first the process comes with learning to hit and be a hitter.'”) Third, while Knoblauch may have had his best years by average in MN, he had consecutive seasons of 17 and 18 home runs in New York…after topping out at 13 in MN. Two of Cordova’s top 3 HR years came after he left Minnesota. Pat Meares was a lifetime .258 hitter — he sucked when he played for the Twins and he sucked when he left. And I have no idea who McCarthy is. (If you’re talking about Dave McCarty…well, then you’re talking about Dave McCarty.) Finally, Ortiz’s batting average — which you seem to equate with being a good hitter — didn’t spike up after leaving the Twins; his power did. In 2000 and 2002, the only two years in MN in which he had more than 400 ABs, he hit .282 and .272, which isn’t hugely off line with what he’s done in Boston: .288, .301, .300, .284. And over the past three years, Ortiz has hit .271 on the road…which would seem to indicate that the Sox were right when they thought he would be the type of hitter who could take advantage of Fenway.

Theory 3: PEDs. Why is this hard to grasp? In MN Ortiz was an extremely well liked player known for being aloof and lazy with a poor work ethic and being injury prone.

I’ve never met someone who was extremely well liked and known for being aloof, lazy, and with a poor work ethic; that’s just asinine. If he was aloof and lazy with a poor work ethic, he wouldn’t have been well liked. Another reason the Sox wanted him — besides the power he showed in the DR — was the fact that he was both well liked and known for his ability to keep a clubhouse loose. And he was injury prone because he was a big guy with balky knees who was stuck playing first base on artificial turf. Since coming to Boston, he hasn’t played in the field, and he hasn’t had to play on turf.

The Twins, a playoff team now, let him go for nothing and Boston was the only team that gave him a chance.

Terry Ryan has said exactly that…just as he’s said that letting Ortiz go was the biggest mistake of his career. What’s more, the Yankees also wanted him — but they had a logjam at first/DH, with Giambi and Nick Johnson both on the roster.

27 yrs old and he hadn’t even hit 60HRs in his career. Why wouldn’t he try some PED to improve his then failing career? I would’ve, you would’ve.

Look, just because you’re a cheater — or a wanna-be cheater — doesn’t mean everyone is. Plenty of players have seen spikes in their power from 25 to 30. In fact, plenty have seen spikes at age 27, the year Ortiz arrived in Boston. There’s Stan Musial, who’d never hit more than 19 home runs before age 27; in his next eight years, he topped 30 six times and 35 three times. There’s Dave Winfield, who never topped 30 home runs before age 27. There’s Dwight Evans, who didn’t top 20 homers until he was 26 and didn’t top 30 until he was 30. And, since I know you heart the Twins, there’s Gary Gaetti, who hit 5 home runs in a full season at age 25 (sandwiched between a 20 and a 21 hr season) before hitting 34 when he turned 27.

Theory 4: Twin fans secretly hate Ortiz for sucking for them and becoming good for another team so it must be sour grapes.

This is the best theory I’ve heard so far.

Well, I can’t prove this one if you don’t believe it. Red Sox fans became more hated than Yank fans over the years so you have some ammo here but I don’t really care.

That doesn’t even begin to make sense.

Since Seth is so high and mighty on the integrity of the game, I’d like to know his thoughts on PEDs on the Sox. You have a former pitcher who said it was everywhere. Manny came from Clev, a team that should clearly raise eyebrows.

My beef with Giambi wasn’t so much that he juiced, but that he juiced and now is moralizing about the reporters who uncovered it. Anyway, you’re talking about Paxton Crawford, right? The guy who played in Boston two years before Ortiz got there? I’m sure there are players on the Red Sox who have used PEDs. There might still be; I have no idea. The only people we know were juicing are those who’ve been implicated by their grand jury testimony or tested positive.

As for Manny, this is his 12th year in a row of remarkable consistency. During that time, he’s never hit more than 45 home runs and he’s never hit less than 26. Assuming he makes it to 37 this year, it’ll be the eighth year in a row (not counting his injury-shortened ’02 campaign) in which he’s hit between 37 and 45 homers. Compare that to the odd, late-career spikes for the folks we can reasonably guess used PEDs:

* Sammy Sosa hadn’t hit more than 36 home runs in a season before he put up 4 straight seasons of 66, 63, 50, 64.

* Mark McGwire had never hit more than 50 before hitting 52, 58, 70, 65 in consecutive years.

* In his first four years in the bigs, Jason Giambi hit between 20 and 33 home runs. Then, according to his grand jury testimony, he starts juicing. Voila! 43, 38, 41, 41.

* After hitting more than 30 hrs exactly once before he turned 30, Rafael Palmeiro had consecutive years in which he hit 39, 39, 38, 43, 47, 39, 47, 43, 38.

* And, of course, there’s Barry Bonds. In his first 14 seasons, he topped 45 home runs once (and 40 three times). Starting at age 35, he hit 49, 73, 45, and 45.

Let’s hear Seth’s version.

My version? My version is that in the current environment, it’s hard to say for sure anyone’s 100 percent clean (although Manny is as close to a model of non-juicing consistency as is possible and there’s a whole boatload of reasons why Ortiz has blossomed). My version is also that if you want people to take you seriously, you should come up with something – anything – to back up what you’re trying to say. If not, you just sound like a moron. Correction: an aloof and lazy moron with a poor work ethic.

Ahhh…I feel better already.

3 AM SUNDAY MORNING EDIT: Not surprisingly, pepsicorp answered with another inane comment. Only slightly surprising is the fact that I again took the time to answer. It’s below. This time, it’s my responses to his comments that are italed.


Hey, nice. You answered me posts. I’m actually impressed. Still, we have issues. The main issue I have with you is that you don’t know anything but apparently hung around the team for a year. That seems like you’re lazy/aloof or willfully blind. Either you know some players are cheating or you don’t – and odds are very good that that someone on the team uses. What % of players use? I’ve heard as high as 75% or as low as 10%.

However, I can’t imagine someone who has the access you do doesn’t know more than what you’re speaking of. I’m really hoping we’re not going to be reading an article from you in a few years telling us how you’re another victim and can’t believe players were hiding this from you. Enough columnists already wrote that article.

Lazy, aloof, willfully blind — or not physically in people’s homes when they would be using. I’ve written that I think the media was (and is) too credulous; it’s not my fault you haven’t bothered to look that up. I’ve also written that the clubs themselves have no idea who is or isn’t using — in an age when players change teams constantly, and an age when contracts are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, why, in god’s name, would players let team officials know they’re juicing? And finally, I’ve written that without a solid testing program — and the current one most definitely is not — we’ll never truly have any idea who is or isn’t clean, and because of that, everyone will be suspect. Try using a teensy, tiny amount of the time you spend writing comments on other people’s blogs actually doing some research.

Further, your defenses of Ortiz aren’t that sound. Ortiz was coached by Gardy one year, before that it was the TK era. And it was that era (94 or so to 2001) where the Twins clearly sucked. Still, no other Twin that left became a better power hitter. Knobby hit more a few more HR (best seasons in NY were 17 and 18, in MN it was 11 and 13) but only once did he even hit higher than his career slg avg. If the Twins organization was so bad you’d expect more hitters to leave MN and improve. Ortiz is the only player from that period that did. And he improved by a lot. And maybe the Sox were able to predict his future greatness but they took thier time to sign him – he was a free agent for 5 weeks. This sounds more like a defense after the fact.

In Knoblauch’s highest HR year in Minnesota, he hit about 72 percent of what he hit in NY (13 versus 18). During Ortiz’s last year in MN, he hit about 65 percent of what he hit the next year in Boston (20 versus 31) — and in Boston he was hitting in a park that rewarded his swing, with a team that encouraged power-hitting, and with protection from the best-hitting team in the history of the game.

Wait — let me guess: now you’re going to say that Ortiz went from 20 to 31 to 41 to 47. True. In 2002 (20 home runs) he had 412 ABs. In 2004 (41) he had 582 — meaning he had 1.4 about times as many chances to hit home runs. 582 ABs in MN in 2002 would have produced about 28 home runs…which means that, once you adjust for at bats, he hit about 68 percent as many home runs in 2002 as he did in 2004. By 2005, he was hitting in front of Manny Ramirez. And you can’t get better protection than that.

Finally — and I really do not know why you can’t get this through your thick head — the Twins have said they not only badly bungled that situation but that it was a defining mistake of that era.

Further, one of the reasons Ortiz hates TK was that TK thought he was soft and wouldn’t play hurt. Hence the rep.

You also state that the Twins didn’t let hitters hit HR. Not exactly true.

I’ve never in my life come close to saying the Twins didn’t let hitters hit home runs; I said they didn’t emphasize it, and they discouraged it when it came to Ortiz. The Twins have also said this. Repeatedly.

In 2000, Jones hit 19, Ortiz 10.

In 2000, 102 players hit more than 19 home runs.

In 2001, Koskie 26, Hunter 27, Ortiz 18.

In 2001, 46 players hit more than 27.

In 2002 (Gardy’s first year), Hunter 29, Jones 22, Ortiz 20. Sure, Ortiz blames MN for his failures as a hitter but remarkably NO OTHER hitter has. Amazing that Ortiz was singled out solely by the staff.

In 2002, 38 players hit more than 29. As I — and about every other media outlet in the country — have pointed out, the Twins had gone 19 years without a player hitting 30 home runs; 478 players had seasons of 30+ in that time, or about 27 players per season. The Twins haven’t had a player with an OPS of over .900 since 1996; last year, there were 27 players who had OPS’s of .900+. The Twins have been a crappy power team for years. That could be because the front office is stupid, or it could be because they’ve de-emphasized power in favor of small-ball, defense, and pitching.

You note that Winfield, Musial et al showed spikes at these ages. However, these players certainly had different career paths. There was no question about them at age 27 (Ortiz’ 1st year in Boston). They were complete players. Ortiz was a washout. A bit of a difference.

That he wasn’t able to stay healthy in his early 20s is blamed on turf? And now that he’s a DH on grass no more injuries. I suppose that makes some sense although that’s also very convinent. The big advantage, supposedly, for PEDs is much faster recovery time.

You suppose that makes sense? How is that very convenient? Perhaps you’ve heard of Occam’s razor. (Wait a minute: of course you haven’t.) It states that the simplest answer is usually the correct answer. What makes more sense: moving Ortiz off of artificial turf and not playing him in the field made him less prone to injury? Or Ortiz decided he was going to use steroids and therefore hatched a grand scheme to switch to grass and become a DH by pissing off a manager who’d left Minnesota a year earlier and then using his Jedi mind tricks to get the Twins to ask him to slap hit singles to the opposite field? Finally, if, as you say, Ortiz was “washed up,” why wouldn’t he have decided to start juicing before — say, in 2000 or 2001 or 2002. You know — the years that are now acknowledged to be the steroid era.

You mock me for making accusations with no fact. Well, since I’m not a reporter and have no access I don’t have much to go on.

Every single thing — everything — from my post and this response was based on “reporting” I did on the this new-fangled thing called the Interweb. Using high-tech, top-secret journalist tools like Google. You don’t have much to go on because a) you don’t have much to go on and b) you’re a moron.

However, we also know that the Twins organization and the Sox org have both been tied to steroids so I believe it is fair to suspect some players. If you don’t think so fine, but it does call into question your journalistic curiosity.

I’m not sure why you think you know anything about journalism, but let me give you a some quick lesson. It’s not “journalism” to go throwing around accusations in the total and complete absence of facts. That’s recklessly irresponsible. I don’t think it’s fair to call anyone into suspect in the absence of a single shred of evidence. What you’re citing isn’t evidence; it’s not even particularly suspicious, although I do realize you’d need a combination of a tiny amount of smarts and a teensy bit of curiosity to actually sit down, dig up some stats, and crunch some numbers.

But, for the record, there are lots of things I’m curious about. I’m curious about the inner workings of the Bush White House. I’m curious about Scientology. I’m curious about global warming and astronomy and the nature vs. nurture in human developement. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or the resources to go out and write books about all of these subjects. I wasn’t writing a book about steroids, although if I’d somehow stumbled upon any evidence — say, a syringe sticking out of someone’s ass — I’d have done everything I could to figure out what was going on. Right now there’s an MLB-endorsed committee granted near-prosecutorial powers and run by the man who helped broker peace in Ireland, and thus far they haven’t come up with any bombshells. I don’t know why it’s surprising that I didn’t either…especially since that wasn’t what I was working on.

Wouldn’t you like to know if the best hitter since Ted Williams is cheating?

I actually know that — or am pretty sure I know that. Barry Bonds was cheating. David Ortiz doesn’t come close to being the best hitter since Ted Williams. He’s not close to the best hitter currently in baseball. He’s not even the best hitter currently on the Red Sox.

Manny has been remarkable consistant – so were Palmerio and Juan Gonzalez – the hitter he most closely resembles. Ortiz was a washed up player who couldn’t stay healthy – now he’s an MVP canidate.

The steroid cloud is going to stay over a lot of players until people know what happened. Part of that will be good reporting. You credit the Red Sox wining on money, smarts and nerve. Shouldn’t you also determine how much ‘roids played a part?

It’s fitting that your email handle is “brat” — you have that rare combo of zero intellectual sophistocation and a petulant belief that whatever dumb thought comes into your head is not only correct but deserves being shared. Most people move beyond that when they’re 12. I’m know I deserve part of the blame for indulging you. Don’t worry — it won’t happen again.

Post Categories: David Ortiz & Manny Ramirez & Paxton Crawford & Rampaging morons & Steroids

Michael Kay explains the secret of David Ortiz: Killing them with kindness

August 19th, 2006 → 1:50 pm @

I’m not unsympathetic to Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay. It’s easy to run out of things to say when working two games for a total of over eight hours. And Kay is one of the better local broadcasters: he’s not a complete homer and he’s fairly knowledgable. But even booth-mate Al Leiter seemed a little confused by Kay’s attempt, in the bottom of the fifth inning of last night’s game, to explain why more pitchers don’t bean David Ortiz.

AL: It’s not that you’re afraid to hit him, but the window is really small.
MK: The question is, Al, are pitchers afraid to hit him? Are they afraid to come inside because they might hit him?
AL: Oh, I don’t think so, no. They’re missing.
ML: It just seems strange that they never miss inside. They always miss, as you said, with the ball leaking out outside.
AL: What’s he gonna do? Hit him, what, he runs out, punches you once? I don’t think anyone gets on the mound and he says, ‘Boy, I’m afraid to come out on the mound because I’m afraid he’s gonna come out and punch me.’
MK: Well, everybody likes him; he seems to be friends with everybody.
AL: That’s his strategy?
MK: That’s what Michael Jordan’s strategy was.

Of course, this could also be the reason teams don’t want to risk just putting Ortiz on base.

(Also: I’m glad someone has finally explained why Michael Jordan was able to achieve as much as he did.)

Post Categories: Broadcasting & David Ortiz

Back to the future, alternate universe edition (I know I’m supposed to come up with a wrestling headline here)

August 17th, 2006 → 10:26 am @

The Red Sox have lost 12 out of 20 games. David Wells — who not long ago said he wanted to blow up Fenway — has become the team’s ace. The combined salaries of Keith Foulke and Matt Clement are higher than the Florida Marlins’ payroll. Mike Timlin discovered there are not one, but two i’s in his last name. And it’s beginning to feel like any time David Ortiz doesn’t hit a ball out of the park, the Sox lose. (For anyone wondering, that’s not technically true.) It’s been a grim stretch, and one that would depress any team — the Royals, the Devil Rays, even the Cardinals. Last night’s win over the Tigers didn’t alter the fact that the Sox have the feel of a team with the wheels coming off. Remember interleague play, when it seemed as if the Sox were incapable of beating themselves? For the last month, it’s been the opposite: time and time and time again, the Sox have handed away wins because of mental lapses or stupid moves or plain old bad execution. It hasn’t been fun, and it hasn’t been pretty.

I understand that people get testy when their team loses. I also understand that reality is starting to settle in; for the first time in four years, the Red Sox don’t particularly feel like they’re a team that deserves to make the playoffs. Could it happen? Sure: if Beckett morphs into the pitcher he’s shown glimpses of being; if the middle relief stops coughing up runs as if they were party favors; if Manny and Ortiz once again carry the team on their backs for the last month of the season. But last year, and especially the two years before that, not making the playoffs would have been a slap in the face: those were teams that were too good not to be playing ball in October. The 2006 Red Sox feel like a good team with some flaws and a lot of bad luck. Unless you’re in the National League, that’s usually not good enough.

What I don’t get is people insisting the Sox would be running away with the division if they’d only kept Pedro/Damon/OCab/Dave Roberts/Nelson de la Rosa. By this point, I know all too well that there’s no sense arguing facts when emotion is involved. (See: the Red Sox really are like world politics!) But there are a few things I want to remind people of:

1. This year Pedro was 0-2 with a 4.76 ERA versus AL teams; the Mets were 1-3 in his three AL starts. (Last year he was 1-1 (the Mets were 1-3) with a 3.21 ERA.*) He started the season with a toe injury. He was out for all of July with a strained hip. He’s back on the DL with a strained calf. Pedro Martinez would not be an all-purpose savior. If the Red Sox had Pedro Martinez circa 1999, they’d be running away with the division. They’d also be running away with the division if they had Nomar circa 1999, Yaz circa 1967, or Williams circa 1941. Those players are gone. (Not to beat a dead horse, but Pedro did not have a four-year offer from any team in baseball until the night he signed with the Mets. Fernando Cuza told the Sox what Pedro needed to return to Boston; the Sox gave it to him. Pedro used the Sox’s offer as leverage with Omar Minaya. If you want to read more about this, it’s in pps. 318 – 325 of my book. If you want to go to your grave thinking this was a Carlton Fisk-like screw up, there’s nothing I can say that’ll make you feel any differently.)

2. Ten million dollars a year for a 32-year old center fielder with a lifetime .290 average (.784 OPS) and a throwing arm that requires a daisy chain of cutoff men is not an insulting offer. Regardless, Scott Boras told the Red Sox not to bother making Damon any other offer if they couldn’t match his imaginary six-year, $72 million contract. Instead, the Sox ended up with a player with very similar career numbers who happens to be six years younger and $10 million cheaper. (If you want to read more about this, it’s in pps. 389 – 392 of my book.)

3. Over the past half-decade, the Sox have had a half-dozen superstar-type players, (and Johnny Damon makes this list more because of his cult status than anything else). If they’d held on to all of these players, this is how between half and three-quarters of the team’s 2008 payroll would be spent (players’ ages are in parentheses):

Pedro Martinez, $13 million (37)
Johnny Damon, $13 million (35) (also owed $13 mil for 2009)
Manny Ramirez, $20 million (36)
Nomar Garciaparra, $17 million (35)
Jason Varitek: $10 million, (36)
David Ortiz: $13 million, (32)
Curt Schilling (not under contract for 2008)

That’s six players with an average age of 35 and an average salary of $14 million, for a total of $86 million. The only one of those players who has a chance to be worth that kind of money that far down the line is Papi. I’d say it’s even money as to whether Nomar and Pedro will still be in the game. (And for those who want to exclude Nomar from this list, you can’t pick and choose which one-time greats you want to keep in town after you see how it all works out.)


Yesterday, Bill Simmons took an odd, passive-aggressive swipe at me in his ESPN column. To wit: “I could spend the next 3,000 words ranting and raving about the unacceptable performance of the Henry/Theo regime since they won the World Series…but I don’t want to ruin my chances of getting a key to the office next season. So let’s just say that everyone did a swell job and I fully support every moronic decision that was made. Now where’s my key?” I say odd and passive-aggressive because instead of just calling me out he threw in a coded reference that’d make sense only to people who not only knew about my book but knew a lot of the details about its writing. I have no idea what my access in 2005 has to do with what I write on a blog in 2006. I hadn’t written a word about the Sox when the team and I agreed that I’d write a book. And nothing I do (or don’t) write now is going to get me a key (or any access) in the future; that ship has sailed. (Another side note: Apparently, people only like complaining about the so-called negative Boston media until they get upset…and then they want to complain about the lack of negativity.) For the record, there’s plenty about the last few years I disagreed with, at the time and in retrospect. I didn’t like the Renteria signing when it happened, and when members of the front office told me last year that their scouting on Renteria indicated that he was a better defensive player than he ended up being, I felt like asking them what their eyes had told them: in 2004, Renteria looked like a good defensive shortstop the way Derek Jeter looks like a good defensive shortstop. A lot of the front office, and Theo in particular, thought a more mild-mannered team would make it easier for the players to deal with the media frenzy and fan adulation that comes with playing in Boston. I thought differently, although to be fair I’m not totally sure if that’s because it’s fun to cover — and watch — a bunch of Johnny Damons than a bunch of Mark Lorettas. And I’m at a loss to explain how a front office that is so smart and so hard-working have a seeming inability to put together a reliable bullpen.

But like I said, the personal swipe isn’t what really bothers me. (It’s hard not to take some perverse pride in being the only writer in America who’s disliked by both Bill Simmons and Dan Shaughnessy.) What does bother me is complaining about today while ignoring both yesterday and tomorrow. It’s that attitude that results in shortsighted moves. The Red Sox are not the Yankees. (Thank god for that — if the Yankees had made good decisions, like, say, signing Carlos Beltran instead of Randy Johnson, it’d be a hell of a lot harder to compete with a $200 million payroll. And maybe it’s just me, but I have more fun rooting for a team when it’s not so painfully apparent its m.o. is to just go out and try to buy championships; I’m into the smarts and nerve stuff, too. I love baseball because of the way it mirrors life, and sometimes life is unfair. Sometimes Matt Clement gets hit flush in the side of the head with a line drive after being named an All-Star; sometimes David Wells takes a ball off his balky knee the day he comes off a trip to the DL necessitated by his balky knee. And sometimes you break a leg just before you’re supposed to go skiing in the Alps. When that happens, you need to deal with it; you don’t get to go buy a new leg.) I wish August 2006 were more like August 2004, too. But I’m glad the Sox have made some unpopular decisions over the past few years — letting Cliff Floyd walk, signing David Ortiz, trading Nomar. I’m also glad that, come 2008, I won’t be watching a team hamstrung by a bunch of bloated contracts. Could the Sox have made a trade deadline move? Sure. Do I wish they had? Yup. When I think of Timlin, Delcarmen, and Hansen do I say to myself, as Simmons does, “ALL OF THEM SUCK!” Nope. Do I think the plan is to “go to war with a one-man bullpen for the next 10 weeks?” Nope.

Then again, when Hansen and Delcarmen are helping to nail down the playoffs in a year or two, I’ll be watching the games instead of ordering my second venti latte of the day. (How’s that for passive aggresive?)

* Edited after correction by aro13 in comment #42.

Post Categories: Bill Simmons & Dan Shaughnessy & David Ortiz & Feeding the Monster reactions & Nomar Garciaparra & Pedro Martinez & Theo Epstein

More distractions: Manny’s best year ever, the absence of “clutch” in VORP, and more fun with numbers

August 7th, 2006 → 11:28 am @

Last night, the enigma known as Eric Van wrote that Manny Ramirez was having the second-best year of his career, as measured by VORP.

(A very quick primer: VORP stands for Value Over Replacement Player, and measures the number of runs a given player produces over a replacement-level backup at his position, with replacement level being more or less defined as a scrub you can promote from AAA for minimal value, or, to put it another way, someone slightly better than Kevin Millar, circa 2006.)

So far this year, Manny’s clocking in at a 55.1 VORP, tops among batters on the Red Sox* (and fifth in all of baseball). Since VORP measures both quantity as well as quality, this figure needs to be multiplied by 1.47 (the Sox have played 110 out of 162 games; 162/110=1.47) to get the projected VORP for the season, bringing Manny to 80.0 (and David Ortiz to 77.61). The only time Manny has had a better VORP score in his remarkably consistent career was in 2000, his last year with the Cleveland Indians, when he put up a VORP of 81.3, which means that Eric’s right when he says Manny’s having the second best year of his career. And it also means that it’s Manny, and not Ortiz, who should be the team MVP…never mind the league MVP. Right?

Well, that depends. First off, there are plenty of problems with VORP. (One of the biggest ones, in my mind, is the assumption that the replacement for a player will be a scrub. There are plenty of cases — injury history, an inability to hit left-handers, etc — in which a club prepares for a player not being able to suit up for 162 games.) For the sake of this discussion — which is considering whether 2006 is actually the second-best year of Manny Ramirez’s career — let’s focus on the problems with combining quality with quantity. If you look solely at the stats Manny put up in the games he did play (and average out a full season of Mannyness to 155 games, which is exactly what he’s on pace for this year), 2006 is actually the fourth best year of his career, trailing 2000, 1999 (projected 155-game VORP of 82.5), and 2002, when Manny put up a 75.4 VORP in just 120 games, which projects out to 97.4. (Since we’ve only played about 68 percent of the season, it seems more than fair to extrapolate out past years in much the same way we’re extrapolating out the rest of this season.)

As far as MVP goes, one thing VORP does not take into account is the kind of situational hitting that David Ortiz does so well, those situations being the bottom of the ninth inning with the Red Sox either tied or trailing. I’m convinced that there is such a thing as “clutch” hitting; just because we haven’t figured out a way to precisely quantify it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered. (There’s obviously the inverse: instances where a batter presses and therefore doesn’t perform as well. Last year, when Jason Varitek hit his first career grand slam, John Henry let out an audible sigh of relief…not only because of the four runs, but because Tek had finally gotten that monkey off his back. See also Rodriguez, Alex.) Another thing VORP doesn’t take into account–and admittedly doesn’t try to take into account–is bang for the buck. Ortiz is making $6.5 million this year while Manny’s pulling in $18,279,000, which means the Red Sox are paying Manny $228,487 for every run he scores over a replacement player, while paying Ortiz $84,440. (There are some reports that indicate the four-year, $12.5-million-a-year contract extension Ortiz signed this past April also bumped his 2006 salary up to $12.5 million. If that’s true, he’s being paid $162,337 for each run he’s worth over a replacement-level DH.)

So is Eric right? Only in a world in which stats are considered more or less devoid of context. And, as Bill James told me for Feeding the Monster, “I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to understand. … It is one thing to build an analytical paradigm that leaves out leadership, hustle, focus, intensity, courage, and self-confidence. It is a very, very different thing to say that leadership, hustle, courage, and self-confidence do not exist or do not play a role in on real world baseball teams.”

* All of the links to VORP comparisons (but not VORP definitions) lead to Baseball Prospectus pages in which you’ll need a subscription.

EDIT: Brain fart of the day (thus far): there actually is a formula out there to measure how much a player is “worth”: marginal value over replacement player, or MORP, which, before the season began, showed Ortiz to be worth $8.85 million this year (and Manny to be worth about $9.5 million this year). This figure averages out all players; I’d like to see something that only took into account players who have already reached free agency. In either case, as BP’s Paul Swydan pointed out in an email, if you calculated Manny’s and Ortiz’s projected end-of-year MORPs based on what they’ve done so far, they come out almost identically, with Manny performing almost exactly as expected at $9,242,560 and Ortiz bettering his forecast at $9,526,500.

Post Categories: Baseball Prospectus & Bill James & David Ortiz & Eric Van & Manny Ramirez & sabermetrics

David Ortiz is not a clutch hitter: A primer in how to lie with statistics

August 5th, 2006 → 1:00 pm @

In a blog entry posted yesterday, Matt Sussman — columnist for the Toledo Free Press and editor of The Futon Report — attemtps to show that David Ortiz is not a clutch hitter. Sussman’s piece is for a site called Blog Critics, which, in what seemingly is not meant as irony, advertises itself as being written by “superior bloggers on music, politics, TV, film, books, sports, gaming, science, technology, and culture.”

You’d think by now I would have learned my lesson: it’s not nice to make fun of people who have fundamental misunderstandings about whatever it is they’re writing about (to say nothing of the complaint that the blogosphere is comprised of a bunch of guys sitting in their basements shouting at each other). But this blog is mainly about the Red Sox (and my book Feeding the Monster), and David Ortiz is, once again, pretty much carrying the team on his back. What’s more, Sussman garnered a linky link from Deadspin, one of the best sports site out there. So I feel obligated to point out the extent to which Sussman’s piece is simply moronic.

There are plenty of obvious examples in the piece. After characterizing the Red Sox front office as “a group of intelligent number crunchers” who “buy (a little)” into sabermetrics, Sussman seems to imply (although it’s hard to figure out exactly what it is he’s trying to say here) that Kevin Youkilis, “when measured under the criteria of sabermetrics,” is more valuable than Ortiz. This is absolutely asinine. Ortiz’s and Youkilis’s OBPs are virtually identical (.393 to .395), and Ortiz has an extra 182 points in slugging percentage. Sussman also writes that Baseball Prospectus‘s Nate Silver thinks “hardcore sabermetricians” think “clutch hitting is an illusion, and such an ability doesn’t exist.” Silver actually wrote the exact opposite, saying, “Clutch hitting exists, more than previous research would indicate.” Bill James has also acknowledged that there is such a thing as clutch hitting; as he told me last year, “I’m still not sure exactly how to measure clutch hitting. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Watching Ortiz, it’s hard to think it doesn’t.”

But let’s address the main point. Sussman’s thesis seems to be — and again, it can be a little hard to figure this out since the entire article is written as a discussion (or argument) that Sussman is having with himself — that there are those in baseball (Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, David Wright) who have higher batting averages than Ortiz does with two outs and runners in scoring position. After lauding sabermetricians, it’s odd for Sussman to rely purely on BA; OBP, slugging percentage, or OPS would all be more valuable comparison points. And it’s true: Manny and Pujols both top Ortiz in average, OBP, slugging, and OPS with runners in scoring position and with RISP and 2 outs, while David Wright tops him with RISP and 2 outs.

But if you want to try to measure something as ineffable as clutch hitting, you need to be a little more creative than just plugging in numbers from ESPN’s splits page. After all, as a certain third baseman in New York knows, there are home runs and two-out hits, and then there are home runs and two-out hits that actually mean something.

As Allan Wood recently pointed out in the excellent Joy of Sox, Ortiz has, since the end of the 2004 regular season, been at the plate in a walk-off situation 19 times. And, as Wood discovered, Ortiz reached base 16 of those times. In his 14 official at-bats, he’s had 11 hits, with seven home runs and 20 RBIs. Over the last two seasons, he’s 8-9 with five home runs and 15 RBIs.

Think about that for a second. Over the past two years, Ortiz is hitting .875 when he has a chance to end the game with one swing. His on-base percentage is .923. His slugging percentage is 2.556. And his OPS is 3.479.

To be sure, there are other ways to try and parse out Ortiz’s “clutchness.” You could look at periods during which the Sox are scuffling, like right now. You could look at stretch runs, like last September, when the Sox closed out the month going 6-2, an eight-game stretch during which Ortiz had seven home runs and nine RBIs.

With pretty much the entire world acknowledging that Ortiz has had a three-year run that will remembered for the ages, why do pieces like Sussman’s bother me so much? The main reason is that misinformation drives me nuts. And, as I learned in ninth grade when my journalism teacher made my class read Darrell Huff’s 1954 classic How To Lie With Statistics, you can use statistics to prove pretty much anything. One day, much smarter people than me will hopefully find ways to accurately measure the impact of things like baserunning ability and clutch hitting (and will come up with better ways to measure defense). Until then, we’ll need to make do with the statistics we have. And we’ll need to use them intelligently.

Post Categories: Clutch Hitting & David Ortiz & how to lie with statistics & sabermetrics

How about ‘Huge Papi’?

July 9th, 2006 → 11:03 am @

David Ortiz’s line for July, 2006
8 HRs, 16 RBIs, .387 BA, .486 OBP, 1.194 SLG, 1.680 OPS

Spead out over a season, this would lead to 185 HRs and 370 RBIs (but only 69 singles, alas).

Before you start harping about small sample sizes, I know that’s a wee bit unrealistic. But it is worth noting that from 2003-2005, Ortiz has 11 more HRs, a 14-point gain in OBP, a 41-point increase in SLG, and a 55-point gain in OPS after the All-Star Game. If Ortiz doesn’t hit another HR today — and that’s a big if — and if his 2006 stats adhere to his ’03-’05 stats, his year-end line would be:

68 HRs, 168 RBIs, .397 OBP, .641 SLG, 1.038 OPS. Oh, and 6 walk-offs.

Don’t even try to tell me that increasingly mediocre fielding is gonna top that.

Nine pm update: And then he has to go and swing at a 3-0 pitch when Contreras was losing it. Nineteen innings. Good god. That was brutal.

Post Categories: A-Rod & David Ortiz & Walkoffs

It’s kind of sad that this is so unusual

July 6th, 2006 → 10:24 pm @

Two nice moments in the NESN broadcast of tonight’s Sox-Devil Rays game.

* In the first inning, after Manny cranked a ball into the left-field stands for a two-run shot, Jerry Remy got audibly excited. But instead of just screaming, “DEEP DRIVE, HOME RUN!” (or something inane like “that two-run shot is as good as a grand slam“), Remy’s excitement stemmed from Manny’s freakish balance on a Scott Shields change-up. Two batters earlier, Shields had struck out Mark Loretta with a change; not only did Manny take note, but Remy did too. Manny’s ability to correctly forecast the offspeed offering and sit on it is impressive; just as impressive–especially in comparison to the vast majority of broadcasters working today–is that Remy, instead of simply marveling at Manny’s power or skill or whatever, used the moment to point out how smart a player Manny is and what his at-bat illustrated.

* In the top of the ninth, with Alex Gonzalez on third, nobody out, and Kevin Youkilis at bat, Youk hit a fastball sharply between first and second. It was a hit and run–Gonzalez was off with the pitch–and Devil Rays second baseman Jorge Cantu had broken towards the bag; as a result, he had to scramble to his left, turning a potential double-play ball into a bases loaded situation. Before the play was over, Remy was explaining how Cantu should have been in position to make the play; it’s the shortstop that usually covers second when there’s a hit-and-run on with the pitcher throwing a fastball to a right-handed hitter. And unlike the rote “how many times does a guy make a great defensive play to end an inning and then lead off the next inning with a big hit?” (answer: almost exactly as much as you’d expect), Remy’s observation explained what turned out to be a game deciding play: after a Mark Loretta walk loaded the bases, David Ortiz hit a grand slam for his second home run of the game. The Boston Red Sox: fun to watch and educational.

P.S. After 83 games, David Ortiz has 29 home runs and 82 RBIs. His projected totals for the season? Fifty seven home runs and 160 RBIs. He is a god among men.

Post Categories: Baseball & Broadcasting & David Ortiz & Jerry Remy & NESN