Archive for October, 2005

Deja Vu, All Over Again

Feeling sympathy for Charlie Brown

If the success of the Braves over the past 15 years bothers you, you can take comfort in knowing that the failures in the playoffs make the run much less enjoyable for Braves fans. On my way back in town I lost the radio signal of yesterday’s game with the Braves up 6-1 and Fransworth entering the game. I felt good. It was in the bag. When I found the game on when I got home, I knew it was over. The bullpen teased me for a while, the the result was bound to happen. When you blow a 5-run lead, you don’t deserve to win.

Back in July, I expressed my concerns about the pen that had been more lucky than good, and thankfully Schuerholz did go out and get Farnsworth, who was the real goat in Game 4. But that was it. The Braves really only had one dependable pitcher in the pen, and he had a very bad day. If the pen had held up in games one and three, this might not have been so bad.

How appropriate it was that Joey Devine was on the mound to give up a game-winning homer. It’s not his fault. Devine represents the state of panic that the Braves have not shown about their pitching in some time. No matter what anyone says, the drafting of Devine in the first round of this year’s draft was completely out of character for this organization. It may have been a good pick, and I like him, but that doesn’t mean we can’t read something into this. The situation was desperate. A little more than $5 million dollars paid Dan Kolb to be totally worthless and Tom Martin to pitch a week. Jim Brower and Jay Payton Powell (thanks James), both of whom were rebuffed by other major league teams, were legitimate options (shiver). Look, Leo’s good for half a point of ERA; he can’t do the pitching equivalent of feeding 5,000 people with some bread and fish. Even some of the good work the Braves got from Boyer, McBride, and Davies during the season is a negative, not a positive, in my mind. These guys were not ready. Sure, they had some success, but they struggled at times as well. They were up as desperate measures. I doubt this was the backup plan, but I don’t see what the other options were. This must have been it. And to their credit, these kids did do some very good things and deserve a lot of credit. But, I don’t know what to expect in the future. Relief pitching is hard to evaluate in small samples. I expect there will be some more minor league ball for all of these guys.

The point is, the Braves took pitching for granted, and they shouldn’t have. No one could have predicted Kolb’s collapse, although he never should have been a closer, but you knew something would go wrong. What was the plan? And even though Bernero, who went through a little bad luck, pitched well, he was demoted and DFA’ed with plenty of room on the September roster. Why wasn’t he given a chance? A few dink hits at bad times were why he was gone. And he pitched well in AAA. And why wasn’t Chuck James given a chance to pitch down the stretch? When he finally got some garbage time he looked pretty darn good. The rumored departure of Leo, really scares me now. He can’t work miracles, but he’s done quite a bit with what he’s been given. He was clearly pissed with a few guys in the pen, and was not afraid to say so.

The good thing for the Braves is that next year looks bright on the offensive side. Every position has a quality major league player in place. Look for several off-season trades for decent veteran relief. LaRoche, Langerhans, Johnson, and possibly Marte could be moved. I want the Braves to keep Marte because few players hold such potential at such a low price. The Braves must get something good if they give him up. Estrada should not be moved, because he’s better and cheaper than any other catching options as a backup or starter. Plus, McCann is still young and may need breaks at times, he could even struggle mightily, with no one in the minors ready for 2006. Estrada holds too much value for the Braves to unload. On the pitching side, Horacio and Sosa both may be moved. Sosa’s performed worse than his ERA, and Horacio is not good enough to keep with so many options coming out of AAA. Smoltz’s health has to be a concern as well. I don’t think he would have pitched again this year. All of these moves should be made to construct a bullpen with an abundance of options. I’d like to see Reitsma (whom I think is hurt) in more of a Mike Remlinger role in the middle of the game. Some of the kids may step up, but we just don’t know. The Braves need to be more prepared.

I’ll admit that my current analysis is tainted with bitterness. In a month, I may be able to look at the situation more objectively. But, I don’t think I’ll change my mind on much. It’s frustrating that the bullpen, which scared so many of us coming out of spring training, was the Braves downfall. I will also add that there were a lot of positives this season: the Jones had fantastic years, many rookies really played well, and the team rebounded when the bullpen let them down time after time. Hopefully, the positives will overtake the negatives in my mind until pitchers and catchers report.

Another Reason to Major in Economics


Texas Rangers owner Thomas O. Hicks announced on Tuesday that John Hart has resigned as executive vice president/general manager to become senior advisor/baseball operations and that assistant general manager Jon Daniels has been promoted to general manager.

Daniels, who becomes the youngest general manager in Major League Baseball history at 28 years, 41 days, becomes the eighth general manager in club history. He joined the Texas organization in 2002 as a baseball operations assistant before being promoted to director of baseball operations in October of 2003 and then again to assistant general manager in July of 2004.

A 1999 graduate of Cornell University in upstate New York, he earned his degree in applied economics and management. He is a native of New York City.

I get about one e-mail a week from high school and college students wanting advice on what to study in order to work in baseball. First, I plead ignorance, since I’ve never worked for a sports team. However, I did work for The Charlotte Observer sports pages in high school…recording high school football scores. Yes, I should plead ignorance. But then I offer some course suggestions such as statistics, logic and critical thinking (philosophy), and a few economics courses.

From now on, I’m going to be less timid: If you want to work in baseball, major in economics. Here’s a list of people working in baseball whom I know studied economics: Bill James, Paul DePodesta, Farhan Zaidi (PhD), Voros McCracken, and now Jon Daniels. The trend is quite clear. Economics certainly isn’t necessary, but it’s clear that people familiar with the economic way of thinking—maybe because they think that way naturally—are getting good jobs in baseball. Of course, there’s no substitute for making contacts within baseball, but I’m just offering course advice here.

As to the question about Mr. Daniels’s young age, it really isn’t all that surprising. Good thinkers are intelligent both young and old. All else being equal, I’d prefer the experience that comes with age; however, in this case, I suspect all is not equal. It’s quite common for successful people to begin their success at an early age. See Bill Gates, for example. I expect big things from Daniels, and I wish him the best of luck. Don’t let the nattering nabobs of negativism in “The Club” get to you.

Addendum: An alternative to majoring in economics: Thanks to David Pinto.

Sabernomics: In Book Form

So what’s the big news? Just last week, I reached a deal with Dutton— an imprint of Penguin—to publish a book that I have been writing for the past year. It should come out spring training of 2007, and we haven’t settled on a title yet.

The book is a series of short chapters on many topics that I might blog about here. Think Freakonomics meets Moneyball. And some of the chapters are extensions of ideas that I have presented here. The blog has been a great place to develop some of my raw ideas. I’ve received a lot of good feedback from you guys, which has clarified my thinking on many issues. The folks at Dutton tell me that Sabernomics was one of the reasons they wanted to sign the book, so I want to thank all of you for reading and commenting.

I’m very excited about finishing up the book over the next few months. Though blogging may continue to be lighter that I would like, it will be better that it has been. As the summer was winding down, I devoted all of my energy to getting the book into presentable shape for publishers, and then I did the shopping. Now that this part is done, I should have more time to devote to blogging, which I don’t get to do as much as I would like.

I want to thank all of you out there for helping to make this possible. I will keep you updated on the book’s progress. I’m looking forward to working with the fantastic folks at Dutton on bringing the book to the shelves.

**The Big News**

If you’re a regular reader of Sabernomics, you’ve probably noticed the slowdown in my posts over the past two months. I have an explanation, and I’m going to share it with you tomorrow. Be sure to check in to find out. The news is good. :-)

The Jeff Francoeur Game: The Winner is…

Well, we still have to wait, don’t we? As it stands with one game to play, Francoeur has 76 hits in 252 ABs, which translates to .301587…302. I suspect Jeff will sit today, but if he bats more than once today, he’ll need at least 1 hit. Even if he gets 5 ABs, with 1 hit, he’ll be above .300.

The result isn’t really all that important. In fact, I’ll tell you a little secret: I picked .300 because it was a good focal point. When I first posted the contest, I estimated that if Jeff would hit .250 he would end up at around .309. That’s such an ugly number, so I fudged it and went with .300. And then I went with the “under,” even though I should have gone with the over. But it’s interesting to see how Jeff has done since August 11. He’s had 40 hits (22 singles, 11 doubles, 1 triple, 6 HRs) in 166 ABs putting up .241/.297/.428/.724 (thanks to David Pinto for his Day-by-Day Database).

What is important about his last 180 PAs is that Jeff regressed in a manner consistent with a .275/.322/.487 AA hitter. I expect Jeff to do good things in the future, but the expectations we have for him next season ought to be tempered. Time in AAA is a very real possibility, but certainly not a guarantee. And this is not to take anything away from the kid. He has played very well, and certainly deserves a TON of credit for the .419/.425/.802 he put up to start his big league career. You have to be good to do that, no matter what. And let’s not forget that he is a good baserunner and fielder who is blessed with athletic talent and intelligence. But, he’s going to have to adjust to the adjustments pitchers have made to him. I think he can and will do it. The kid is only 21! I will say that plate discipline must be part of his adjustment. While the league has had its share of free swingers, none have been sub-.300 hitters in the minors or majors. Without it, he won’t be able to show us that power.

Another interesting aspect of Francoeur’s early success is that it shows we need to better understand advance scouting. I still can’t understand how AA pitchers knew Jeff’s weaknesses, but it took major league teams 100 PAs to figure it out. Why did he get thrown strikes? Did pitchers ignore advance scout advice out or was the scouting just bad? In any event, someone should have dropped a quarter down to Southern League managers for pitching tips. There’s just no excuse to throw Jeff fastballs down the middle with 2 strikes, which is something I observed on several occasions.

Good luck, Jeff! I look forward to watching your future unfold.

Update: Frenchy goes 1-5, which takes his batting average for the season to .29961. Technically, I could call it “under,” but I don’t want to do that. It’s a push. How about that? An even .300. All of your reputations are returned intact.