Archive for April, 2007

Thoughts on the Langerhans Deal

I haven’t been blogging much about the Braves lately, so I’ll take this opportunity to do so. The Braves traded Ryan Langerhans to the Oakland A’s for a player to be named later and cash.

— Langerhans is not a bad player. He started the year off in an awful slump, but he’s put up OPS+ of 99 and 90 the past two seasons, and he is an excellent defender. For a center fielder who will spend some time on the bench, he’s not a bad guy to have on your team.

— The Braves did not “sell low” with Ryan because he started off the year batting below .100. Major league GMs are not stupid. Even the intern to the bat boy understands that a player’s performance in late-April is not a good indicator of how good that player is. Remember Derek Jeter’s start in 2004? He was batting .189 on May 25, but ended the year at .292. The A’s know what they are getting and the Braves know what they are giving up.

— The Braves don’t need Ryan with Matt Diaz on the team. They need pitching, which is what I suspect the PTBNL will be.

— Well, actually the Braves to need Ryan if Andruw Jones leaves via free agency. There is no one in the organization ready to take over in center, and I doubt the Braves want to go the free agent route to sign someone other than Andruw.

— John Schuerholz has been busy signing contracts—first with Brian McCann, then with John Smoltz. This deal may indicate that he is very close to locking up Andruw. With Andruw in the fold, Langerhans is completely expendable. We’ll see. :-)

How Big Is This Story?

From The NY Times.

Kirk Radomski, 37, who worked as a bat boy, equipment manager and clubhouse assistant for the Mets from 1985-95, admitted to selling banned drugs, including anabolic steroids, amphetamines and human growth hormone, from 1995 through 2005, according to a plea agreement filed in the United States District Court in the Northern District of California.

The search warrant affidavit in Mr. Radomski’s case described how his drug distribution worked. Although the names of his clients were blackened out in the affidavit, it said that Mr. Radomski had been distributing performance-enhancing drugs to professional baseball players, including at least one major league player “who was publicly identified as being associated with Balco Laboratories.”

The affidavit listed 23 check transactions with names of current and former Major League Baseball players and their affiliates. Those checks ranged from $200 to $3,500. Mr. Novitzky wrote that Mr. Radomski was running a cash business, for the most part. Mr. Radomski’s financial records from 2003 to 2005 were analyzed. Major League Baseball did not have a steroid testing policy until 2003 and did not suspend any players for a positive test until 2005. Since then, 15 major leaguers have been suspended for violating the drug policy.

I’m thinking, not so big. At least, it’s nothing to get excited about yet. A former NY Mets bat boy—though he is not accused of dealing drugs while working for the team as a teenager—admits to selling PEDs to a few players. So what? We know that some players have used steroids, because a few players have failed tests. They had to get their stuff from somewhere. The number of players, dollar figures, and the stature of the figure involved are all small. This isn’t the Pablo Escobar of PEDs. Until we see more, this guy is a small-time pusher.

Yes, there is a chance that this list includes a dozen All-Stars who recently signed free agent contracts, but until I see some bigger fish this is a minor story.

Oh yeah, and Tom Boswell still thinks HGH is a real story.

What the game needs is for everyone — from players, union leaders and agents to owners and executives — to rediscover their collective conscience. It’s not lost, just misplaced. If they need help in that task, perhaps they should focus on the image of a 15-year-old boy who came into a culture they created and controlled and who, after 10 years of intimate contact with their game, chose to become a criminal who enabled their wealthy cheaters.

Hold that thought as you decide what forms of drug testing — including blood tests to detect HGH — are appropriate. Think of this Batboy Bust as you decide whether baseball should transform itself from the most lax of American team sports into the most stringent. (emphasis added)

I guess he doesn’t read his own newspaper.

Smoltz Is Worth It

Yesterday, the Atlanta Braves signed John Smoltz to one-year, $14 million extension. The deal includes two years of options. The first is a $12 million player option for 2009 that vests if Smoltz reaches 200 innings in 2008. The second is a club option for 2010 that is worth $13 or $12 million, depending on whether or not Smoltz pitches 200 innings in 2008. It should be noted that he has pitched about 230 innings in each of the two previous seasons.

According to my estimates from The Baseball Economist, Smoltz’s 2006 season was worth about $16.6 million, so this deal seems about right. Yes, there is a chance of injury, but Smoltz has been very durable since his return to the rotation. He is hardly more risky than any replacement the Braves could have found on the free agent market. Indeed, Smoltz probably would have commanded a larger deal as a free agent, and certainly would not have given the injury out-clauses—this is essentially what the option years are—to another club. It was a good move by Schuerholz to take advantage of Smoltz’s desire to pitch for the Braves. Even it Smoltz goes down tomorrow, it was a good gamble.

I have read some comments from fans that even if Smoltz is worth this contract, that’s a lot of payroll to tie up in one player, especially on a team with some holes. The biggest hole on the Braves organization—not just the big club—is pitching. There are very few arms to wait for from the farm. If Smoltz left, the Braves were going to have to go to the free agent market for a replacement. So, why not pick up one of the best pitchers in the game and pay him what he’s worth?

What does this mean for Andruw Jones, who is hitting the free agent market this offseason? Well, I actually think this is good news. It shows that the Braves are able to spend some money again. And even if the new owner is going to put some restrictions on payroll, the Braves need a center fielder. And like Smoltz, Andruw wants to play in Atlanta for Bobby Cox. That is something that no other team can offer, and I think that Schuerholz may be able to get him for less than any other team. The McCann deal signed during Spring Training frees up some payroll that can be used on other players.

As a fan, I am happy to see Smoltz back. I thought that he would leave after this season like Glavine and Maddux. It’s been hard to cheer against the Mets when Glavine is on the mound. I’m glad I won’t have to go through that with another pitcher.

ESPN: Lineup Protection

Here’s a sample from my Fantasy Insider column the latest issue of ESPN Magazine.

IT WON’T BE LONG BEFORE THIS season’s bum teams concede that they’re out of the playoff hunt and try to move a proven vet hitter to a contender for prospects. And that’s got you thinking deep thoughts, fantasy vulture thoughts. As in: An unsuspecting rival might let a guy like Royals DH Mike Sweeney go for a bargain price, not realizing that if he’s traded to a more formidable lineup, he’ll see more fat pitches, which will result in an offensive surge.

Oh yes, you’re playing the lineup-protection card.

There’s just one problem with your sneaky machinations: They’re totally misguided.

April 26

Read JC’s “Trick Deck: Yes, Lineup Protection Matters—Just Not the Way You Think” in the latest issue of ESPN Magazine. On newsstands now!

Guest Blogging at Wages of Wins Journal

I’m guest blogging over at Wages of Wins today. On what? More HGH!

Earlier this month, wrote a post about how human growth hormone (HGH) does not improve athletic performance. The response I received was overwhelming. Links came from everywhere: message boards, blog posts, and personal e-mails. What was surprising was not that people found the topic interesting, but the number of people who openly continued to believe HGH enhances performance with ZERO evidentiary backing. I have no problem with disagreements, but to choose to believe that HGH has performance-enhancing qualities based on what we know is silly. I’d like to go through some common objections to my post and then offer from general thoughts on deferring to experts.

Aging in Baseball

Fellow economist Steve Walters pinch hits for Dave Berri at Wages of Wins Journal, where he discusses aging in baseball. You may remember Steve from his Statscape column in Sporting News.

Steve discusses how our perceptions about aging in baseball may be incorrect. In the early-1980s, Bill James found that players peak around age 27. But statistician Jim Albert, co-author of the excellent Curve Ball, finds that players tend to peak closer to 29. This reminded me of some work I have done.

A few years back, I ran a series of posts to measuring aging in baseball for hitters (part 1, part 2 , part 3) and pitchers using slightly different methods. What did I find? Like Albert, I find players peaking at around age 29—worse players tend to peak earlier, and better players peak later.

Now, this was three years ago, and I need to follow up on my findings (and I plan to this summer), but I think it is interesting that both Albert and I reach similar conclusions.

I’m not sure if Steve will be writing more for WoW this week, but I will. Look for a post from me there tomorrow or Wednesday.

On the Radio in Atlantic City Today

I’ll be on “The Mike Gill Show” on 1450-AM in Atlantic City today at 5:50pm 5:40pm.

Listen live.

April 20

Atlantic City 1450-AM “The Mike Gill Show” 5:40pm

April 19

TV: CNBC’s Street Signs, 2:45 pm (EDT)

Radio: Bloomberg News Radio, 6:30pm (EDT)