December 4, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Let’s discuss the THT Annual (7)
It’s The Hardball Times Annual 2014 (8)
10th anniversary: the A.J. Pierzynski trade (15)
25th anniversary: Rob Neyer writes a letter (4)
Putting the knock on pitching changes (2)
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Saturday, March 31, 2012
The real key to forecasting performance in any year is getting a player's playing time right. Sure, averages and percentages rise and fall, but they remain outside our best efforts to make them more predictable. Playing time is tough to predict too, but something can be done here. This is where you come in.
People who follow teams have real insight into who is most likely to play where. So Tangotiger has started his annual Playing Time Survey to get your input. Just head on over to his site, pick your favorite team, and enter your best guess as to who is going to play how often during the season. This is a community project; the results are available to all. So please help by contributing. It will just take a couple of minutes.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Thirty years ago today was one of the biggest crosstown trades in Chicago history. In involved two MVPs—one who had previously won one and one who in the future would win one.
On March 30, 1992, the Cubs sent left fielder George Bell&mdashwho’d won the 1987 AL MVP while a member of the Blue Jays—to the White Sox for right fielder Sammy Sosa, who would win the 1998 NL MVP with the Cubs.
Suffice it to say, the North Side got more value in this deal.
It was a frankly bizarre deal for the Sox to make. Bell’s (undeserved) MVP was propelled by a league leading 47 homers, but since then he’d hit 88 homers in four full seasons. His batting average was nothing special, he didn’t draw walks, he couldn’t play defense, and he had a reputation as a jerk.
The Sox weren’t happy with the way Sosa was developing (more on that in a second), but they sold low on Sosa to buy high on Bell. In two years with the White Sox, Bell hit .240 with 38 homers. When the team didn’t use Bell in the 1993 ALCS, he publicly declared that he didn’t respect team skipper Gene Lamont as a manager or a man. On that note, the Sox cut Bell and his career came to an end.
As for Sosa, well, we all know what he did. And we’ve all heard the accusations of PEDs against him. For right now, I’ll look at Sosa the player and prospect at the time of the Bell trade.
Sosa hadn’t performed well on the field on the South Side. In 1991, his first full year in the majors, Sosa batted .233 with 15 homers. The next year he declined to .203 and 10 homers. So you can see why the Sox were looking to dump him.
Sometimes people point to his ugly start as evidence that he’s just a chemical creation. But there’s more to it than that. Upon arrival, Sosa was a big prospect with immense—if extremely raw—talent.
The Sox had gotten him in a trade a few years earlier from Texas. Larry Himes, then the Sox GM, gave up his biggest star, Harold Baines, to get Sosa. There were other players involved (the Sox also got a young Wilson Alvarez in the deal), but Himes’ big love was Sosa. He told everyone that Sosa was a rare, raw talent who had all five tools.
Sure enough, I remember a lot of excitement in Chicago when Sosa first arrived. The first thing that grabbed people’s attention was his arm. The guy could throw the ball hard. His aim wasn’t the best—in fact, it would always suck—but he threw that thing hard.
He wasn’t performing well, but he did seem to have lots of potential. I have one memory. It must be the late summer 1990 at Comiskey Park. Sosa comes to the plate and there’s a big cheer from the crowd. They liked the youngest with all this talent. Then I looked at the Diamondvision in center—Sosa had 10 homers and a .230 average. It’s weird how someone who looked so good out there had such bad results. Even on defense, he made a bunch of errors.
But Sosa regressed instead of impressing the longer he was there and the Sox pulled the plug. Big mistake. Sure he was terrible in 1991, but he also was only 22 years old. A lot of really good players are still in Double-A at that age. Sosa had played 327 games in the big leagues by then.
Sure enough, in an injury-plagued 1992, Sosa improved to a .260 average with the Cubs. The next year he swatted 33 homers. You know the rest. For all the talk about Sosa and PEDs and all that, you don’t hit as many homers as he did without plenty of natural talent. He’s the only guy to homer 60 times in a year four times in a row. He’s not the only guy widely considered to be on special substances.
Ultimately the Sosa-Bell trade worked out a lot better for the Cubs. That said, March 30, 1992 wasn’t all happiness and good moves for the North Siders. On that very same day they released a young pitcher they’d developed, traded away, and just recently picked up as a free agent. That pitcher’s name was? Jamie Moyer. And the Cubs cut him the same day they traded for Sosa.
Yeah, that one didn’t work out too well for them.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate an anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim.
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When the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed and announced most people were concerned with the new budgets for spending in the amateur draft and international free agency, and rightfully so. These new regulations will make it harder for teams to get a lot of young, quality talent, but, advocates hope, even things out a little bit.
However, one thing from the new agreement has been a bit overlooked: If a player with at least six years of service time is signed in the offseason to a minor league deal and doesn’t make the team out of spring training, he must be offered a $100,000 retention bonus to go down to the minors.
This being said, the nature of minor league contracts has now changed. Sure, the players signing these types of pacts usually have a chance to make the big league team they have signed with, but if they don’t, things could get interesting. That is why more teams are putting opt-out clauses in contracts for players near the end of spring training. If they are going to make the team, the team doesn't have to pay them anything, but if they aren’t, the player can just opt out and the team won’t have to pay him the bonus.
So now, players are going to start using the month of March as a tryout, so to speak. If they have a good spring, maybe another team can find a useful spot for them on their big league roster and everyone wins. A perfect example of this is Bill Hall. He signed a minor league deal with the Yankees over the winter and doesn’t really stand a chance of making the team with Eduardo Nunez and Eric Chavez ahead of him on the depth chart. He is hoping a team will like what it saw in this stint and sign him.
The reason this is a big deal now is because retention bonuses are due tomorrow. Teams will have to decide whether to invite non-roster invitees north to start the season or pay them to go to the minors. Starting this year, cheap depth will a little bit harder to come by.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Yes, there was a major league player by the name of Garth Iorg. He is one of only two “Garths” in major league history, the other being Garth Mann, who appeared in one game for the Cubs as a pinch-runner in 1944.
Not only did Iorg (pronounced ORJ) have an odd name, but he was also an odd player. He was principally a third baseman, but he had absolutely no power; he hit a mere 20 home runs in nearly 1000 major league games.
He also wasn’t good at reaching base, with a lifetime average of .258 and an on-base percentage of under .300. And as a right-handed hitter, he wasn’t exactly a hammer against left-handed pitching. His lifetime OPS of .677 against southpaws hardly stood out as a major strength in his game.
Yet, the Blue Jays liked Iorg, who was originally signed by the Yankees before being taken in the expansion draft. The Jays felt that he was good enough to be an important part of a third-base platoon with Rance Mulliniks for much of the 1980s. They must have considered him a reliable defender at the hot corner.
Toronto also liked Iorg’s willingness to play other positions, particularly second base. He also could man shortstop in an absolute emergency and occasionally put in appearances at first base and the outfield. A team-oriented player, Iorg played every fielding position except for right field and catcher.
With all of that in mind, we present the most interesting card of Iorg’s career. It’s part of Fleer’s inaugural set in 1981, which came out just a few months after a court decision declared that Topps could no longer have a monopoly on a complete baseball card set featuring major league players.
A Fleer photographer presumably took this photo during the 1980 season, with the site being old Exhibition Stadium, the former ballpark for the Blue Jays. Iorg is running between second and third base while being observed by the shortstop for the Rangers.
I’m 99 percent sure the Rangers’ shortstop is the wonderfully named Pepe Frias, one of the many shortstops produced by the town of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.
(I’ll leave myself a one percent safety net because there is a possibility the shortstop is Nelson Norman, who was Frias’ backup in 1980.)
Growing up in a household where Spanish was spoken, we used to laugh at the mention of Pepe Frias because his name sounded like “Papas Fritas,” which is Spanish for “French Fries.“
Frias was originally signed by the Giants before coming up with the Expos in the mid-1970s. He managed to play in 116 games for the 1980 Rangers despite an OPS of .530. Not exactly a dangerous batsman, Frias was at least a good defensive shortstop.
Given this information, can we pin down the exact game and inning when this photograph of Iorg was taken? If it is indeed Frias in the background, we know he appeared in all six games that the Rangers played at Exhibition Stadium that season. Out of those six games, which is the correct one?
Today, one of the most well-known and controversial GMs in sports history celebrates his 50th birthday: Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s.
How many sports GMs have ever become the lead character in a major Hollywood movie? Off the top of my head, I can only think of one, Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Beane in last year’s Academy Award nominated Moneyball.
Let’s take a little bit of time to review his career in Oakland. He’s run the A’s for 14 straight seasons, making him currently the second longest tenured GM in the game. As it happens, he’s also the second longest tenured GM in the Bay Area, as San Francisco’s Brian Sabean is the only one whose been around longer. Beane narrowly edged Brian Cashman for second place.
In that time, Oakland has posted a 1,206-1,060 win-loss record for a .532 winning percentage. Not bad. Overall, it’s the seventh best record by any team in that span. He’s done it while spending “only” $691 million in that period. As huge as that number would look in my bank account, it’s still just the 25th most spent by any team. He’s outspent the Royals, Expos/Nationals, Rays, Pirates, and Marlins. That’s it.
The Bay Area is anything but a small sample size, but the A’s despite their success just can’t draw fans. In Beane’s tenure, they rank 25th overall in attendance. They only teams below them are the ones Oakland outspends.
For perspective, here are how all the records, attendance, and payroll for all teams in the Beane Era, ordered by winning percentage:
Tm W L Pct Attendance Payroll New York Yankees 1369 895 0.605 51,322,316 $2,250,097,312 Boston Red Sox 1285 982 0.567 39,145,041 $1,612,223,731 Atlanta Braves 1281 985 0.565 37,642,146 $1,235,520,754 St. Louis Cardinals 1247 1019 0.550 45,507,278 $1,146,887,994 Anaheim Angels 1221 1047 0.538 40,753,998 $1,223,135,021 San Francisco Giants 1208 1058 0.533 42,094,720 $1,096,661,143 Oakland Athletics 1206 1060 0.532 24,968,705 $691,682,891 Philadelphia Phillies 1201 1066 0.530 37,021,149 $1,178,338,229 Los Angeles Dodgers 1184 1083 0.522 47,049,011 $1,329,229,120 Chicago White Sox 1179 1089 0.520 28,955,888 $1,073,519,832 Houston Astros 1163 1104 0.513 37,731,351 $1,038,700,351 New York Mets 1156 1111 0.510 39,943,233 $1,465,690,348 Minnesota Twins 1153 1114 0.509 28,660,536 $765,234,204 Cleveland Indians 1151 1117 0.507 33,185,050 $897,281,014 Texas Rangers 1145 1123 0.505 34,900,419 $1,038,996,922 Toronto Blue Jays 1143 1124 0.504 27,843,667 $900,066,297 Arizona Diamondbacks 1129 1139 0.498 36,109,901 $948,176,895 Seattle Mariners 1120 1147 0.494 38,128,018 $1,164,266,790 Chicago Cubs 1110 1157 0.490 41,857,571 $1,290,494,258 San Diego Padres 1102 1167 0.486 34,018,968 $724,830,642 Cincinnati Reds 1094 1175 0.482 29,027,251 $790,854,221 Florida Marlins 1081 1185 0.477 19,650,689 $530,838,679 Colorado Rockies 1074 1195 0.473 38,641,011 $893,893,457 Milwaukee Brewers 1062 1204 0.469 32,999,563 $773,368,076 Detroit Tigers 1039 1228 0.458 31,125,219 $1,052,904,735 Tampa Bay Rays 1013 1252 0.447 21,195,863 $579,093,003 Montreal Expos 993 1273 0.438 20,579,468 $616,918,761 Baltimore Orioles 990 1276 0.437 35,679,071 $1,040,841,965 Pittsburgh Pirates 957 1307 0.423 24,583,214 $559,327,156 Kansas City Royals 946 1320 0.417 21,943,846 $647,640,543
The A’s stick out there a bit, don’t they? They’re the only club in the top dozen to spend under a billion, and they’re under $700 million.
But, of course, the Beane era can arguably be cut into two parts. As everyone who read or saw Moneyball knows, Beane succeeded in creating a team that won a ton of games with a meager payroll at the turn of the century. In 2001, they won 102 games with baseball’s second-lowest payroll. A year later, they won 103 with the third-lowest salaried squad.
This was the glory days for Beane and if you were active on the internet back then you can remember all sorts of people who were convinced he was and would always be the smartest GM of them all. You don’t here too much of that talk these days.
The A’s had a great run but that came to an abrupt end after 2006. The A’s enjoyed their eighth straight winning season that year, and finally advanced to the ALCS—only to be swept by the Tigers. Since then, the A’s haven’t had a single winning season. They usually aren’t too bad, and in fact haven’t lost 90 games in a season under Beane, but they keep losing 80-some games a year. Overall, they’ve gone 381-428 (.471) since their last October hurrah.
OK, so the A’s are that good, but let’s compare their win-loss record to their payroll. Here’s the same chart as above, only now restricted to 2007-2011. Again, we’ll organize it by winning percentage:
Tm W L Pct Attendance Payroll New York Yankees 478 332 0.590 19,708,583 $1,024,613,440 Philadelphia Phillies 473 337 0.581 17,589,641 $615,216,897 Boston Red Sox 465 345 0.574 15,182,15 $721,972,056 Anaheim Angels 457 353 0.564 16,359,900 $585,683,698 Tampa Bay Rays 434 376 0.536 8,468,738 $244,234,173 St. Louis Cardinals 431 379 0.532 16,723,521 $477,414,004 Texas Rangers 427 383 0.527 11,907,675 $357,759,607 Milwaukee Brewers 426 384 0.526 14,822,957 $398,712,112 Detroit Tigers 424 387 0.523 13,920,225 $576,135,869 Los Angeles Dodgers 423 386 0.523 17,846,703 $527,004,667 Atlanta Braves 422 388 0.521 12,534,731 $457,809,040 Chicago Cubs 411 397 0.509 15,802,460 $624,481,494 Colorado Rockies 412 399 0.508 13,476,570 $370,272,571 Minnesota Twins 411 401 0.506 13,406,807 $403,967,698 Toronto Blue Jays 410 400 0.506 9,950,144 $385,076,800 San Francisco Giants 409 401 0.505 15,373,908 $466,679,672 Chicago White Sox 407 404 0.502 11,664,701 $559,248,665 New York Mets 403 407 0.498 15,976,905 $655,669,277 Arizona Diamondbacks 401 409 0.495 11,126,067 $305,743,923 Florida Marlins 394 415 0.487 7,215,152 $203,126,219 Cincinnati Reds 394 416 0.486 10,139,282 $363,909,851 Cleveland Indians 391 419 0.483 9,444,393 $332,203,031 San Diego Padres 388 423 0.478 11,412,004 $258,790,323 Oakland Athletics 381 428 0.471 7,891,065 $311,035,466 Houston Astros 365 444 0.451 12,719,474 $441,751,721 Seattle Mariners 362 448 0.447 11,179,409 $495,652,081 Kansas City Royals 347 463 0.428 8,333,457 $302,998,543 Washington Nationals 340 468 0.421 9,849,982 $276,679,428 Baltimore Orioles 336 473 0.415 9,510,540 $394,389,258 Pittsburgh Pirates 326 483 0.403 8,489,899 $215,910,616
The A’s winning percentage ranks 24th overall. If you want to be nice, you can note that their .471 clip is closer to 20th place than 25th, but the point is they’ve done rather poor.
Also, if you look at the payroll, the A’s don’t really stick out like a sore thumb. The team just above them in winning percentage, the Padres, won more despite spending less. Over $50 million less. And north of them the Marlins have spent over $100 less than Beane and won 113 more games. And Arizona has won more than the Marlins despite spending less than Oakland. And if you look way up there, you can see the current sabermetric darling franchise, Tampa, with a lower payroll than Oakland.
Overall, the A’s earned their 24th best record with the game’s 23rd highest payroll over the last five years. Yeah, that’s bad. You should rank lower in record than in payroll. While it’s tough to be the GM of a team that draws poorly, the A’s are still less than what they should based solely on economics.
Yet he’s still around. In fact, in February the team extended his contract through 2019.
To be fair, the 2007-2011 numbers are a bit distorted by the big disappointment of 2007. That year, the A’s raised their payroll to a mid-range level of $79 million, only to fall flat with 86 losses. They immediately slashed payroll after that year.
Right now, Beane is a guy who helped remake baseball by aggressively using and promoting sabermetrics a decade ago to build a consistent winner. But since the league adapted, he’s had trouble finding his footing. Maybe he’ll turn it around again. Only time will tell. For now, it’s a big round number of a birthday for him to celebrate.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim things.
Click for more...