Ten Things I Didn’t Know …

Spring training is in full swing, the baseball season is nigh. Time to start up the “Ten Things” column again.

Deja vu can be a welcome sensation.

I love spring training. It’s the one time of year when anything is possible, when ball players say they’ll have a great year and fans believe them.

For instance, Carlos Beltran has promised he will make up for last year. Bret Boone plans to revive his career. Julio Franco is going to use his age to his advantage. Pedro Martinez’s toe won’t bother him in the long run. And that’s just one camp.

I know a lot of these comments probably make you feel like the guy who suffered from chronic deja vu. But don’t worry, be happy. Go with the flow. It’s spring training.

You should play poker with Jim Bowden.

One of the mysteries of the offseason was why Washington GM Jim Bowden wanted more flyball hitters. He traded Brad Wilkerson for Alfonso Soriano, which only really makes sense if Wilkerson is chronically injured, and then he offered half a million dollars to an over-the-hill Sammy Sosa. The problem is that the Nationals play in the worst flyball home park in the major leagues.

The funny part is that Sosa called Bowden’s bluff, and Bowden immediately raised his offer to $1 million, which Sosa has also reportedly turned down. I can’t say I blame him; his stats will look awful at RFK. Probably not the place he wants to end his career.

Baseball book publishers think you’re stupid.

There are a ton of new baseball books this spring, which is good news but makes for difficult decisions. One of the things we’ve talked about at The Hardball Times is how the Internet seems to have spurred an increase in book publishing, rather than undermining it.

But have you noticed how insulting and condescending baseball books have become? I was reading a book published in 2000 that started with a chapter entitled “Everything you think you know about baseball is wrong.” Not your fault, the author went on to say, everyone involved in baseball is just as stupid as you. Needless to say, I didn’t read much of the book. Last year, I read a book that told me I was as dumb as a Tigers fan in a bar (why a Tigers fan?), but that when I finished their book I would be as smart as a neurosurgeon. Didn’t make it through that one either, and I don’t feel less intelligent for it.

Dayn Perry has a fine new book out called Winners: How Good Baseball Teams Become Great Ones (and It’s Not the Way You Think). Now, really, was that last bit necessary? Can you imagine the book publishers sitting around, contemplating Dayn’s book (which isn’t condescending at all; in fact, the final chapter is the most cogent review of how to build a winning team that I’ve read), looking at the title without the parentheses when it’s about to go to print and suddenly saying:

Publisher 1: “Wait a second, it’s not insulting enough!”
Publisher 2: “What do you mean?”
Publisher 1: “Everyone knows you’ve got to insult baseball fans in order to get them to buy your book!”
Publisher 2: “Ah, yes. I forgot. Too bad we didn’t tell Dayn.”
Publisher 1: “Well, too late for that. Let’s just add something to the title. How about ‘and you’re ugly, too’?”
Publisher 2: “That seems a little harsh, even for baseball fans. How about ‘you’re so stupid, you have to read this book, if you can read at all’?”
Publisher 1: “I think you’re onto something…”

And so on, until they get it right. I guess today’s writers are expected to act like Earnshaw Cook (who took baseball managers to task back in the 1960s with detailed mathematical calculations and snarky tones) instead of Bill James or John Thorn and Pete Palmer, who didn’t speak down to their readers in their revolutionary publications.

I started thinking, what if all the old classic baseball books were published today? What would their subtitles be? Think about it.

MacMillan’s Baseball Encyclopedia: Think you know Ty Cobb’s hit total? Think again!
Shoeless Joe: You mean you don’t hear voices???
The Glory of their Times: You know nothing unless you’ve been told it!
Eight Men Out: You’re not stupid enough to bet on baseball, are you?
Ball Four: You think baseball players are heroes? You hopeless, naive fool.

I’m not sure if this is part of some larger trend, or if baseball fans are being singled out for ridicule. But I’m not going to buy another baseball book that treats me like an idiot. If I miss out on something, too bad. At least I won’t feel so aggravated.

You can measure ballparks with Google Earth.

One of the new baseball books is called Baseball Hacks: Tips and Tools for Analyzing and Winning with Statistics by Joseph Adler, and it’s a great reference for those of you who would like to take advantage of baseball resources on the Internet. It includes chapters that tell you how to handle the Retrosheet game logs, install MySQL and do other geeky things.

One of the book’s neat tips is how to use Google Earth to measure ballparks, or estimate how far home runs travel. If you don’t have Google Earth, I highly recommend it. It’s a stunning piece of software. The Balls, Sticks and Stuff guy used it to measure the dimensions of Citizen’s Bank Park, as just one example.

Here’s a Google Earth picture featuring the shortest outfield fence in the majors, Fenway Park’s right field line. (See the white line? That’s 302 feet long, according to Google Earth.)

image

Larry Bigbie doesn’t hit infield flies.

I’ve stopped writing about batted-ball stats because you folks are probably sick of them. If you aren’t, you’ll be happy to know that I will continue to write about them at my Baseball Graphs site.

But I did want to mention something I uncovered while wading through the stats. Some guys just don’t seem to hit infield flies. About 13% of the average batter’s fly balls don’t leave the infield. But, over the last four years, only 0.5% of Larry Bigbie’s fly balls have been infield flies. He’s hit only one infield fly in 1,190 plate appearances. I have no idea why or how he’s done this, but it’s phenomenal.

The next lowest on the list is the ageless Julio Franco, who has hit only three infield flies in 1,232 plate appearances, or 1.7% of all flyballs off his bat. I’m not sure what, if anything, this means. But it’s wacky.

Lyle Overbay will get a bonus if he bats 645 times.

A couple of ESPN.com’s top columnists, Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark, have moved to the blog format for their columns. This is a pretty interesting development, though I have a feeling it won’t have much impact on their writing style or content. They’re both natural bloggers (and that’s a compliment!). Unfortunately, you have to have an Insider account to read them.

Stark’s first blog entry talked about some of the wacky contract incentives he’s seen, such as pitchers getting bonuses if they win Silver Slugger awards. Virtually all contracts have boilerplate language about awards and bonuses, so that sort of thing isn’t too surprising. I did see a couple of clauses that caught my eye, however.

Lyle Overbay, who will make $2.5 million this year, will be paid an extra $25,000 if he makes 645 plate appearances. That’s it; no other plate appearances will trigger a bonus payment. So, Lyle, why 645?

Similarly, Dontrelle Willis, who will be paid $4.35 million, will make an extra $50,000 if he starts 35 games this year. Nothing for 25 or 30 starts. Just 35. Why is that? Does his agent think that the $50,000 will deter the Marlins from overusing him?

In contrast, Tony Armas will make only $2.1 million as a base, but could make an extra $2 million based on a scale of games started and innings pitched. Same thing with Octavio Dotel, based on games and games finished instead. Shoot, Dotel will make an extra $250,000 if he’s on the major league roster for just one day.

You know how Kansas City signed some lower-tier free agents to upgrade the team this offseason? For several of them, the Royals agreed to not offer arbitration when their contracts expire, in order to entice them to play in KC. By not being offered arbitration, the players will have more freedom the next time they enter the free-agent market. That’s how hard it was to find players willing to play in KC.

Baseball and orange crates can inspire great artwork

Thanks to Don Malcolm at Baseball Think Factory, I became aware of the artwork of Ben Sakoguchi, which is now on display at the Los Angeles City College. After looking through the online reproductions, I settled on this as my favorite:

image

If you live in LA, this looks like it is definitely worth a visit.

Everyone’s talking about lineups.

Cyril Morong posted an interesting analysis of the relative importance of OBP and SLG for each position in the lineup, and it’s sparked some interest in the subject. The Scorebard used Cyril’s results to construct the ideal Oakland lineup.

This is pretty complex stuff, and the possibility of multicollinearity throwing off the results is real, as Cyril explains. When I took my one and only statistics class, our professor would sit back in his chair when we asked him why we were getting certain results, stroke his beard, and slowly enunciate “Multicollinearity,” as though he was telling us the meaning of life. We had no idea what he was talking about.

Thanks to SG at the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, I became aware of a much simpler lineup tool that you might enjoy. That tool is based on 2005 stats, so SG created the same tool with 2006 projections. You can also use it to project Runs Created per game for your lineup.

You might also enjoy this tool for creating online APBA cards.

Big midseason trades aren’t a new trend.

The other day, I was fooling around with historical Win Shares in a pivot table because, well, that’s what I do. And I started looking at players who were traded in midseason despite the fact that they were producing well in that season (call it the “Carlos Beltran” trade). I expected to see trades like this increase significantly in the free-agent era, but I was wrong. Big midseason trades actually spiked in the 1950s and haven’t been as high since, though the current decade is coming close.

To illustrate what I mean, here’s a table of total Win Shares in each decade, the Win Shares of each player who played on more than one team in a given year (Win Shares for that year only) and the percentage of Win Shares traded during the year.

Decade         Total   Traded     Pct.
1870-1879      2,790       14    0.50%
1880-1889     25,782      265    1.03%
1890-1899     27,837      300    1.08%
1900-1909     33,408      297    0.89%
1910-1919     39,342      339    0.86%
1920-1929     36,771      216    0.59%
1930-1939     36,657      305    0.83%
1940-1949     36,831      320    0.87%
1950-1959     36,945      539    1.46%
1960-1969     47,766      559    1.17%
1970-1979     59,385      603    1.02%
1980-1989     60,945      555    0.91%
1990-1999     64,761      831    1.28%
2000-2005     43,704      616    1.41%

Baseball historians probably have a better idea than I about why this happened, but good players who switched teams in-season in the 1950s included Red Schoendienst, Sal Maglie, Dave Philley and Ray Boone. Several of these players actually played better after being traded.

It’s Ozzie time.

Ozzie Guillen may well be the most dynamic and entertaining person in baseball today. A Tommy Lasorda for the 2000s, if you will. He says stupid things, but he’s not afraid to say them, and he just keeps on talking anyway. He also manages to sneak in some intelligent quips while just having fun and making baseball fun.

There was a big controversy here in Chicago when he didn’t attend the White House reception for the White Sox. Big deal. Then he blasted A-Rod for not playing with the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, and then he apologized about it. The fun never ends.

Keep at it, Ozzie. We’re with you.

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