New CBA rules

October 24, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 44 Comments 

Well, the new CBA was announced today. Most importantly, we get five more years of uninterrupted baseball, a much welcome break from the 90s when labor struggles were too often the headlines. So, hooray for both sides for coming to an agreement on how to split their massive profits without complaining. Good job, fellows.

As far as the rule changes, there are some interesting and important wins. In no particular order:

  1. Free agent compensation is changing, but not going away, contrary to multiple reports from different sources. Not a big surprise, honestly. The percentages for how Type A and B free agents will be calculated differently now, and compensation for a Type B free agent will now come from the league instead of the signing team, but the system’s structure remains in tact. This means the Mariners will still get compensation for Gil Meche this winter.
  2. Perhaps getting the least attention of the important rule changes, amateur draft picks must now sign by August 15th. This will put an end to the long, protracted holdouts we’ve seen by high draftees recently, but more importantly, also puts an end to the draft-and-follow process that teams have used to evaluate a player’s development during a year at a junior college and still be able to sign the player. The DFE process, as it was known, was a boon for JC baseball, and the elimination of the DFE process isn’t a good thing, in my opinion.
  3. Also draft related, compensation for not signing a player is now given at the same slot as the pick used on the unsigned player. In other words, if the Royals had not signed Luke Hochevar this summer, under the new rules, they would get the #1 pick next summer, and everyone else would slide back a pick. This is a big deal; it gives teams all kinds of incentives to hold the line on signing bonuses and creates a massive potential for abuse.

    For instance, if the Mariners desired last summer, they could have looked at the crop of available talent, decided they weren’t big fans of the guys available at #5, and drafted a HS senior who was essentially a lock to go to college, made him an offer they knew he wouldn’t accept, and then take the #5 pick in next year’s draft as compensation for “losing” their draftee. Essentially, teams are now given the ability to “trade” one year’s draft selection for the next year’s, if they so desire. The Reds actually did something similar to this a few years ago, when they were having budget issues, and now teams will have significantly more motivation to pull the same trick. On the surface, it seems like a good idea, but it’s really relying on a lot of integrity from the teams themselves to work. I’m not sure putting these guys on the honor system is a great idea.

  4. The league minimum salary gets a significant bump, from $327,000 to $380,000 next year, $390,000 in 2008, and then $400,000 for the rest of the agreement. That’s a 22% raise in the minimum salary. Depending on how the free agent market responds to the new CBA, this could potentially serve to make mid-tier players more attractive than previous, as the cost of replacement level is going up, lowering the value of low-end talent in the process. Mid-tier players have been significantly overpriced the past few years; this may begin to shift. We’ll see.
  5. All the previous offseason deadlines are being eliminated, such as the date for players to accept an arbitration offer or the May 1st date they had to wait to re-sign with a club who failed to reach a new contract with them after a certain offseason date. This should hopefully eliminate that annoying offseason lag we had every year, where teams waited around to sign players until the non-tenders began, and essentially make everything flow a little better. I hope.

All in all, some changes I’m not so fond of, but some good ones too, and in the end, labor peace = woohoo!

World Series! Game Three!

October 24, 2006 · Filed Under Game Threads, General baseball · 81 Comments 

Detroit @ St. Louis, Nate Robertson versus Chris Carpenter. 5:33 supposedly.

Kenny Rogers cheating with pine tar

October 23, 2006 · Filed Under General baseball · 50 Comments 

Yesterday, Kenny Rogers was caught with a brown substance on his pitching hand, across the heel of the palm. After the first inning, according to Tony LaRussa, at least two of the five Cardinal hitters told him they’d seen the ball doing strange things, and LaRussa complained to the umpires, who talked to Rogers, Tigers manager Leyland, umpire supervisor Palermo, and when Rogers went back out for the second, his hand was clean.

I spent the last couple of years writing “The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball” (pre-order now! $11!), so you can imagine my glee.

After the game, Rogers claimed that it was a clump of dirt he hadn’t noticed. This is a transparent lie. We would have to believe that he’s the only pitcher not concerned and meticulous about the condition of his pitching hand, and that he also didn’t notice at any time during the inning that there was dirt getting on the ball when he turned it in his hand to grip it.

Asked how he could have not noticed it, Rogers said “”It was dirt and rosin put together. That’s what happens when you rub it up. … I just went and wiped if off. I didn’t think it was an issue. After the first inning, it was fine. I felt I was pretty comfortable after that.””

Uh huh.

It’s pine tar. You’ve seen pine tar, it’s the sticky brown stuff hitters use on their bats, which you’ve also seen smeared on their helmets, batting gloves, and uniforms. Steve Palermo, the umpire supervisor, said the umps saw dirt, but that there was no inspection.

This is not the first time pine tar use by a pitcher in a playoff game has been controversial, either. Just in 1988, Dodger pitcher Jay Howell was caught with pine tar on his glove in the 8th inning of NLCS Game 3 on October 8th, facing the Mets, and was ejected after facing only one batter. The National League suspended him for three days.

Pine tar’s illegal. This is why you can’t admit you had pine tar on your hand. So the question “was he cheating?” is clearly yes. There have been many pitchers tossed out of games for having pine tar on their person.

But use of pine tar by pitchers is more of a long-tolerated practice, as long as they’re using it to get a better grip on the ball. When Brendan Donnelly was ejected in 2005 for using pine tar, he said

“I don’t have anything to apologize for. Pine tar is used the same way resin is used. People think you’re loading up the ball, but it keeps your fingers dry. I’m not trying to cheat or doctor the ball. Just to get a grip. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Todd Jones, who is now Rogers’ teammate, wrote after Donnely’s ejection that he’d used pine tar every time he pitched at Coors Field because it the ball was so slippery there.

The hitters’ view is surprisingly lenient. In my book, Craig Counsell said in an interview that

“They’ll come up with anything if they think they can get a better grip on the baseball. You’ll see the bill of their hat is black, the rest of the hat’s red, and you’re saying to yourself ‘that’s not sweat.’ If something is done just to get a better grip on the baseball, that’s no big deal to me. But if they’re loading the ball up with saliva or whatever, and their pitches don’t do what normal pitches do, then you start to wonder.”

If Rogers was only using it to get a better grip in what were clearly difficult conditions to pitch in, this might be nit-picky. But LaRussa said his hitters complained of unusual movement. How would that have worked?

Any foreign substance on the ball affects its flight. A strategic scratch or artifically smooth surface (say, by coating the leather with Vaseline) can make the ball move a great deal. If you scuff a ball on the side and throw a normal fastball, the ball will move away from the scuffed side as it approaches the batter. This is the complaint of the Cardinal hitters: that Rogers was putting enough pine tar on the ball that it was moving more than it should have given a natural delivery.

Moreover, the word is that he’s been doing something to the pitches all year while at home. Thankfully, Nate Silver wrote a nice article analyzing the possibility at SI.

His conclusion is that Rogers has enjoyed a slight, but noticeable, advantage while at home that isn’t enough to say he’s doing anything, but is certainly enough to make you suspicious.

I’ll argue the con side: if Rogers is doctoring balls, he can do it using clear substances, and he can better conceal them, or if he’s scuffing or trying to create more air resistance on one side by loading it with tar, there are a lot better, sneakier ways to go about this (there’s a huge section on this in the book, by the way). Running around with a big smear of pine tar on his hand is just asking to be caught.

The most likely explanation here is that Rogers was using pine tar to get a better grip on the ball in the poor conditions, and went without (or went to something else) after the umpires told him to clean it off. That’s not a huge deal, and certainly not enough to make his performance less impressive.

(Also, if you find this kind of thing interesting – what the difference between minor rule-breaking and full-on cheating is, the history of ball doctoring and how to do it, you should buy the book, The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball” because it’s all about this stuff)

Evaluating Managers, Again

October 23, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 31 Comments 

For those of you interested in research in trying to quantify a manager’s effect on a team’s won-loss record, you’ll enjoy this article by Chris Jaffe, the third part in a series of extremely long articles he’s written on the subject. Building off work by Phil Birnbaum, he’s taken steps to try to evaluate managers in historical context, and today’s piece takes a shot at attempting to evaluate active managers.

His methods are a bit crude, but probably in the ballpark of being useful. Essentially, he’s taken a huge sample of statistical simulations from three different projection systems and compared expected team performance to actual team performance. Now, there’s a lot of reasons a team can underachieve or overachieve a statistical projection, with injuries and flaws in the projection systems being two of the big ones. But managerial impact is at least part of the difference, and Chris is right that the noise should begin to be filtered out when looking at a decent sample. He’s using six years of data for this piece, which may not be as much as we’d like, but is enough to avoid cries of small sample size.

Anyways, that’s enough talk about the methods. What you guys care about are the results, right? Thirty four managers worked in at least three seasons, qualifying them for the study. I won’t put the whole list here (you should read Chris’ piece anyways), but here are the parts Mariner fans care about:

#1: Lou Piniella, +49
#28: Bob Melvin, -13
#34: Mike Hargrove, -28

This data needs to be taken with a grain of salt or ten, but according to the data, the Mariners replaced the best manager over the last six years with the 7th worst, then replaced him with the worst of all. In addition to the numbers, Chris wrote a little blurb on each manager. Again, the relevant parts for Mariner fans:

Mike Hargrove.

Well, someone’s got to come in last. His only really bad year was 2005 when the Mariners were 13 games under their projection. From 2000-6, exactly 60% have scored at least a –2 in their projections. Hargrove’s been –3 or worse four times in six years. Only one of his six clubs have exceeded expectations. That was 1992 when the O’s scored a big +2. He was –12 with the Orioles, and –16 with the Mariners. I’m glad he’s not managing my favorite team. The Birnbaum database likes him through 2001 putting him around +175 runs, which was almost entirely built up by his Pythagoras W/L record.

Bob Melvin:

He actually scores well in three of his four seasons, but the 2004 Mariners were 21 games under projection. All four of their main starting pitchers fell apart. Most disturbingly, both their young studs, Gil Meche and Joel Pineiro, collapsed. I don’t know if he overworked them the year before of if there’s something else going on. Looking at it, Meche wore down considerably in the second half of 2003, and Pineiro couldn’t get anyone out that August. Now in Arizona, history’s not repeating itself with Brandon Webb. In fact, ChadBradfordWannabe thinks Webb’s mechanics have improved since 2004.

Lou Piniella:

I can’t believe he’s as good as this system claims he is if for no other reason than I have too much respect for some of the other managers to think Piniella could dominate them so much. Then again, I think enough of this system that I have to think he’s done a real wing-dinger of a job over the last couple years. As mentioned earlier, he’s the best at orchestrating immediate dramatic improvement since the death of Billy Martin. His score of +49 wins here is off the charts. How the hell did he do that good? Well, the 2001 Mariners didn’t hurt his mark. They’re the biggest overachieving team under study here, at +29 games. They’re also the biggest overachievers in the Birnbaum database. Take that away from him and he’s “only” sixth best. That’s not a fair comparison, however. Let’s take everyone’s best season away from them and see how they compare. Here’s the top five without their best season:

1. Lou Piniella +20
2. Ron Gardenhire +17
3. Mike Scioscia +13
4. Ozzie Guilen +11
5. Bobby Cox +10

He’s still the king, and only one man is within two-thirds of him. Piniella’s aided by only having one negative year, a mere –3 in 2005. Guillen has no negative years, but he’s only been around 3 years. Gardy has two. Granted, they’re only –2, and –1, but he hasn’t managed as much.
The Birnbaum database didn’t like Piniella at all. In part two I explained why I disagreed. Anyone who can capture a ring with the 1990 Reds and win 116 wins in Seattle has to have something going for him. I’m amazed how much this system likes him, though.

Piniella scores +36 with Seattle and +13 with Tampa Bay. Maybe it’s easier to exceed projections when you’re supposed to win as few games as the Rays are always calculated at, but the other Tampa managers are a combined –19 wins. Perhaps he’s not as good as he once was. The aging patterns info works against him, but he’s earned the right to show if he still has it.

Anyways, like I said, the idea is interesting, but the methods are so blunt that you can’t take the results with any kind of precision, and even the general conclusions reached have to be tempered a bit. Lou Piniella comes out looking great, but 2001 was obviously a huge part of his big positive addition, and while he certainly deserves some credit for that season, I’d imagine this system is overestimating his abilities quite a bit.

So, yea, even the projection systems think Mike Hargrove is pretty lousy.

Moyer re-signs with Philadelphia

October 23, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 37 Comments 

Well, the talk of Jamie Moyer returning to Seattle in the offseason can officially end; he signed a two year extension with the Phillies today, with the total value being $10.5 million.

Leave it to Pat Gillick to sign a guy to a two year deal that will expire after his age fourty-five season. Jamie was still an effective enough pitcher last year, but man, 2 years, $10 million for an 82 MPH fastball in that park?

Good luck, Jamie. And Philly fans, you have my sympathies. At least you know that Gillick won’t stick around very long once the team starts showing it’s not that good.

World Series Game Two, Cardinals at Tigers

October 22, 2006 · Filed Under Game Threads, General baseball · 129 Comments 

Jeff Weaver versus Kenny Rogers. What crazy lineup will Leyland run out tonight? Will the Cardinals be dominated by a left-hander, or will LaRussa find the right buttons to push?

Tony LaRussa, incidentally, makes an extended appearance in “The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball“. Pre-order now.

SS-R David Eckstein
DH-B SCOTT SPIEZIO!!! featuring Jenn Pankratz
1B-R Pujols
3B-R Rolen
RF-R Encarnacion
CF-L Edmonds
LF-R P. Wilson
C-R Y Molina
2B-B Miles

That is insane. I don’t understand that lineup at all. Why would you do that? Oh well, LaRussa’s a genius, I’m sure Miles will go 4-4 with 2 SB or something ridiculous and make us look awful.

CF-L Granderson
LF-R Monroe
2B-R Polanco
RF-R Ordonez
1B-B Guillen
C-R Rodriguez
DH-L Casey
3B-R Inge
SS-“B” Santiago

Again with that lineup. Huh.

On rumors of a new labor agreement

October 22, 2006 · Filed Under General baseball · 22 Comments 

Rumors are a-floating that a new collective bargaining agreement is all but signed. I’m going to save a longer discussion of what’s in it for later, when it’s been inked, but a couple things are interesting right now.

First, I’ll believe it when I see it. In complicated negotiations like this, the chance it could all unravel over the flavor of mustard on the roast beef sandwiches is there until there are signatures on paper. Someone’s pretty confident that it’ll get done, obviously, but as a Mariner example, take Corey Koskie – depending on who you listened to, that contract was either agreed to and signed or just agreed on, while we were saying that Koskie isn’t signed until he’s signed*. Sometimes this stuff comes out because one side wants the other to give up on the niggling details they’re still working out, and it makes things worse. Let’s assume that’s not the case.

It appears that both labor and ownership hawks have been disarmed and muzzled. This is a startling achievement, and may be the greatest thing Selig’s managed in his long reign. The players caved in the last CBA, giving up a ton, and it seemed that the next CBA negotiation would be brutal. Owners who’d been behind previous confrontations (Reisdorf in particular) saw weakness and wanted to break the union, while elements in the players’ union wanted to take back some of the ceded territory. If you were willing to stare at the tea leaves for a long time, Peter Angelos’ seeming drift from union sympathizer (within the spectrum of team owners) to Reisdorf crony made it look like even the moderates were ready to pounce. It hasn’t happened.

We can’t know the whole of how Selig did it, but we know there were massive fines threatened against teams discussing the negotiations. It certainly also appears that Selig’s used his fairly massive behind-the-scenes influence to get the ownership groups behind what must have been a reasonable stance to the point where none of them called their favorite pet reporters and leaked anything about how dangerous these new concessions were, how awful the players are, and so on. That’s impressive.

Since the last CBA, I’ve thought there was about 10-25% chance, depending on what was happening, that 2006 would see a serious work stoppage, with the playoffs lost and/or a lockout for 2007. As a baseball fan, even a Mariners fan headed into 2007 with Mike Hargrove still inexplicably managing my team, the possibility that we might see a new collective bargaining agreement reached amicably with no loss of games makes me happy.

And from a strictly personal perspective, I have a book coming out this spring (The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball, pre-order now for only $11). Books don’t sell if that sport’s fighting out a labor action, which would have meant my first book would have sold two, maybe three copies, and now at least it’ll rise on its own merits.

In any event, the two rumored changes of any impact are
– no/differently structured draft pick compensation for free agent departures
– draft picks get slotted bonuses

If or when the details of the collective bargaining agreement are announced, we’ll discuss the impacts, good and bad, of those changes at length here. These are not clearly good for the sport, despite what euphoria might spill over into coverage, but I’m not willing to do analysis without knowing more. For now, though, news that the agreement’s done – even that they’ve reached this point amicably – is good news for the sport, and for us as fans.

* oddly, despite us waving our hands and shouting about it, there are people out there who believe we were spreading the Koskie-is-signed story, which means, at least, that there are people who can’t or aren’t willing to use search

World Series Game One, Cardinals at Tigers

October 21, 2006 · Filed Under Game Threads, General baseball · 103 Comments 

As Kool-Aid Man says, “Oh yeah!”

SS-R David “The Golden Retriever” Eckstein (also: The Ignitor)
DH-L Duncan
1B-R Pujols
CF-L Edmonds
3B-R Rolen
RF-R Encarnacion
2B-R Belliard
C-R Y Molina
LF-R Taguchi TONY LA RUSSA = GENIUS!!!!oneone!!

CF-L Granderson
LF-R Monroe
2B-R Polanco
RF-R Ordonez
1B-B Guillen (1b? I wonder who’s at short)
C-R Rodriguez
DH-L Casey (Casey at DH? what?)
3B-R Inge
SS-“B” Santiago

Yes, the Tigers are playing Carlos Guillen at first, the guy we traded him for at short, and Sean Casey is their DH. Wooow.

I wonder if this is a case of Leyland trying to out-LaRussa LaRussa. “Think you’re a genius, huh, like making weird moves, huh, well I made some weird moves in the ALCS and this one… heh heh heh… you’re not going to believe what I’ll do to play a good defensive third baseman.”

I’ve got some beer, some snacks… actually, I note that my snack stockpile is clearly inadequate for a World Series game and requires reinforcements. Excuse me for a minute.

Google AdSense duplicate advertisers

October 21, 2006 · Filed Under Off-topic ranting, Site information · 13 Comments 

In our occasional forays into using Google AdSense, one of the problems that’s made it not worth using is duplicate advertisers, particularly one company that I didn’t like because they ran those “free with survey” offers that you can find all kinds of complaints about all over the internet using barely different names and URLs which are all fronts for the same company with the same offer. I, being finicky and crotchety, don’t want USSM readers to see ads from them. But when they run many, many different sites, it’s hard to block.

I’ve been tinkering around with it a little more this weekend (obviously) and it’s back.

To wit:
a, “Free All-Star Baseball” game

b, “Free Baseball Blanket” game

Read more

Why the Tigers should win

October 20, 2006 · Filed Under General baseball · 30 Comments 

I know that I should have been more interested in the NLCS than I was, and Game Seven was great watching, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get myself interested in it, and ended up watching while thinking about what I was going to do about my house’s plumbing, which is a whole other topic.

Anyway, during the playoff posts and comment threads I repeatedly said that I figured whoever came out of the NL was likely to be cannon fodder to the AL, and I’ve kept at it, writing that either the Cardinals or Mets were going to be mowed down by the Tigers.

Why, in a short series, would I be so certain about that? That’s a good point – in seven games, the chances the better team wins aren’t all that great anyway. I was being cavalier about it. But here’s my thinking.

Pitching-wise, the Tigers have a series of really good matchups. I don’t know that given the layoff I’d have run my rotation out like this, but look at this

Game 1: RHP Reyes (Cards) v RHP Verlander (Tigers)
Game 2: RHP Weaver (Cards) v LHP Rogers (Tigers)
Game 3: RHP Carpenter (Cards) v LHP Robertson (Tigers)
Game 4: RHP Suppan (Cards) v RHP Bonderman (Tigers)

Detroit hit .766 v LHP and .782 against RHP, which isn’t a huge advantage, but the Cardinals have nobody to throw at them from that side. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are .731/.784 and they’re going to see two lefties in four games.

Anthony Reyes is homer-prone, gives up walks, but did get his share of Ks (7.6/9 IP), which may mean that playing him in Game 1 in Detroit could help him a lot.

So compare him to Verlander.
Reyes: 20% line drive percentage, 35% ground ball, 46% fly ball
Verlander: 23% line driver percentage, 42% ground ball, 35% fly ball

But Reyes’ HRs come from a 14% of HRs of line drives where Verlander’s only getting like 10%. But then Verlander doesn’t walk guys nearly as often… it’s not quite the mismatch it seems initially (5.06 ERA to 3.83!!) but Verlander’s had by far a better year. For a Game 1 it’s kind of disappointing this is the matchup.

Then RHP Weaver v LHP Rogers. Weaver’s had a decent offf-season, but he’s not the pitcher Rogers has been all year.

Finally in game three, we get a decent matchup with RHP Carpenter v LHP Robertson. Carpenter’s by far the better pitcher.

But then in 4 it’s Suppan v Bonderman. Please. If Suppan’s good, Bonderman’s better.

What’s more, for all the stat-to-stat matching we can do, the Tigers put up their numbers against a much stronger division and league than those Cardinals pitchers did, just as their hitters, while not statistically that much stronger than the Cardinals, did so in a much more competitive environment.

So I look at this and the only game I’d pick the Cardinals for is #3, while I’d almost call two and four for the Tigers already.

I’m feel like the Tigers are rightly the heavy favorites to take the series, and I think there’s a good chance they’re going to make it short and ugly for the Cardinals.

That said, I don’t understand what Leyland’s doing.

October 13th – Rogers started
October 14th – Bonderman started
… then they’ve had six days off. They could have put together any rotation they wanted.

So who do you logically want to pitch as many times in the series as possible? Bonderman, right? Followed by Verlander/Robertson/Rogers depending on matchups. BONDERMAN. BON-DER-MAN

Game 1: Bonderman
Game 2: Rogers, say
Game 3: Verlander
Game 4: Robertson
Game 5: Bonderman
Game 6: Rogers
Game 7: Verlander

And in that last game, maybe you throw Bonderman in along with the kitchen sink, but likely it won’t come to that.

Maybe Leyland’s thinking he wants the fly ballers to pitch at home. Regular season FB%:
Bonderman 32%
Rogers 32%
Robertson 33%
Verlander 35%

That’s not enough of a difference to justify this. I don’t have good park factors for New Busch, so I’m not sure if there’s a huge LHP/RHP difference, but even then, the current rotation has one RHP, one LHP at home and then on the road.

So I don’t understand what Leyland’s doing if this is indeed his rotation. But I’ve now digressed too far.

My argument is that the Tigers took a much rougher road this season and I don’t see even their on-paper-comperable offenses as equal, defensively it’s about a wash (watching the talking heads today, I don’t think the Tigers are getting nearly enough credit, btw), and the pitching matchups are way, way in the Tigers’ favor.

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