More Mail

It’s been one of those weeks, so I apologize for the lack of posts. I thought I’d do a mailbox before things get backed up again. A few thoughts before I begin answering questions.

– The Braves aren’t doing so hot as of late. The Braves have allowed more runs than they have scored pushing their Pythagorean record to 32-34; even with the Marlins and behind the Phillies. If it wasn’t for their hot start this team would be in big trouble. But, as long as you hang around, good things can happen. If the pitching can stabilize just a little and the offense gets a kick from Chipper, old-Andruw, and old-McCann, they can turn it around quickly.

– The O’s pitching staff is much improved so far this year. Might Leo Mazzone deserve a little credit for this? (see The Baseball Economist, Chapter 5). It’s still far too early in the season to say the O’s have turned the corner, but the staff has improved by more than a run over 2006 and about 0.36 better than 2005.

Season    BAL    AL    ERA+
2007    4.21    4.40    104
2006    5.35    4.56    84
2005    4.57    4.35    91

(Numbers from Baseball-Reference.com)

Yes, there are different pitchers involved, but this is just quick and dirty look.

– I’ve received plenty of feedback from my comments on Jayson Stark’s claim that Andruw Jones is overrated. Well, some more support for AJ just came in. Revised BIS zone ratings will soon be published at The Hardball Times, and David Gassko provides a list of the top and bottom three at each position. Andruw comes in second. I can’t vouch for these ratings, because I know very little about the new ZR metric, but the ranking is consistent with the Plus/Minus ranking.

Now to your questions. :-)

I guess no one has noticed except for maybe some stat “geeks” but Andruw’s BABiP is .244 (through Sunday), compared to his career average of .288. I would think those batted balls will eventually start to find the where-they-ain’t.
– Shaun

Yes, Andruw has been unlucky this year, and his BABIP is below his career average of .282. Also, his PrOPS is about 100 points higher than his OPS. I am certainly anticipating some improvement. Whether he’ll recover this season, I have no idea. I don’t think he’s diminishing as a player, he is just having some bad luck. The team that signs him for next year will be getting the same old Andruw.

Do you have an opinion on Gary Sheffield’s comments. Have you studied the effects of race, nationality, ethnicity, etc. on a player’s ability to either hold a roster spot or cash in with a huge contract? Thanks.
– Dave

Sheffield has a big mouth and a habit of wearing out his welcome wherever he plays. Only in Atlanta did he not have any problems, which speaks to Bobby Cox’s managerial skills.

I am very curious about the decline of African-Americans in baseball, and it is something that I would like to study. I don’t think it’s purely a demand-side problem as Sheffield suggests. The problem in studying race in baseball is that race data is not easy to find. I did one study on race and the price of baseball cards. Assigning a race to players based on baseball card photos is even more difficult than it sounds. There is no way I am going to do that over a period of decades. When I get my hands on some good race data, I will most definitely look into the issue.

One thing I do wonder about is why so many athletes of all races choose to play football or basketball over baseball. The financial rewards of baseball are higher and much more certain. In baseball, you can get paid out of high school to play in the minor leagues rather than playing for free in college. And if you are good, the player salaries are much better in MLB. Take Michael Vick for example, a left-handed quarterback and an amazing athlete. I suspect his arm is good enough that he could pitch in the big leagues—he was drafted by the Rockies in the 30th round in 2000. And top starting left-handed pitchers make more than what Vick makes as a QB in the NFL. Now, I’m not saying that Vick is a guaranteed big-league player, but I wonder why young athletes don’t put more emphasis on the returns to the sport they chose to play.

What do you make of arguments that Chipper should be shifted over to 1B? It seems there are two parts to the argument: first, that he’s not a great defensive third baseman (which seems less true after returning from LF), and second, that Chipper would stay healthier at a less defensively demanding position. What are your thoughts? I can’t discuss it rationally because Chipper has been the Braves’ 3B since I was about 9 years old.
– Tom O.

When I was nine, Bob Horner played third (I just felt like saying that). I have been advocating a move to first for Chipper for a long time. Putting him in the outfield was a huge mistake, and while I can’t prove it, I think it did some damage to his legs. As the injuries continue, getting him to a position that is a little easier might keep him in the lineup, but that is really just speculation. With Thorman playing poorly and Yunel Escobar playing so well, now seems like a good time to make the move. But the wrinkle is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. If the Braves lose Andruw Jones, Salty may be able to soften the loss of offense if he plays first while the Braves pick up a cheap defensive center fielder. So, I think a move to first in unlikely this year unless Salty is traded, which would surprise me.

One thing we have to remember is that some of Chipper’s injury problems have been flukey. For example, his current injury is a hand problem that resulted from a base running collision. The knee injury last year in Boston was the result of horrible field conditions. His legs have been good so far. I would not be surprised to see Chipper play 150 games next year at third. I also think that Chipper has a hand-shake agreement with management that he will play third. As a third baseman he has a better case for the Hall of Fame. He is an under-appreciated player and I wish he would get more credit. He hasn’t made the All-Star team since 2001, which is a shame.

9 Responses “More Mail”

  1. Ron says:

    Interesting that the Os are pitching much better this year. I’m curious what the Braves’ numbers would look like in that chart. Do we have enough evidence yet to at least partially blame the failures of pitchers like Kyle Davies or Tim Hudson on Roger McDowell?

  2. JC says:

    For the Braves

    Season	ERA+
    2007	95
    2006	96
    2005	110
    

    It’s way too early to make judgements about McDowell as a pitching coach. You need a large sample of pitchers over time who play for several teams.

  3. pawnking says:

    I think most teams would like to have Chipper at third. 3B is a black hole for most, and he’s produced for so long there maybe Braves fans take him a little bit for granted?

    I’m not certain of his HOF credentials. I see him pretty boarderline right now. With luck, he’ll play long enough to reach some kind of milestone.

  4. Andrew says:

    I just did a quick check at baseball-reference of Chipper’s first and second half splits since 2001. I’ve typically remembered Chipper playing better in the second half. The BR stats appear to back this up. Maybe that could explain his lack of All-Star appearances (although it looks like last year he should have made it anyway).

  5. Frank says:

    Re Andruw Jones–While I think he is having a run of bad luck, I’m a bit more pessimistic. His strikeout rate is up a bit–more than one K per 4 AB–and his Iso-Power is his lowest since 1999.

    Quick quiz–what year other than this one (and maybe excludind his first year or two) is Andruw’s worst? 2001. What did that year have in common with this one? It was his contract year before signing his 6 year deal for 2002-07. Coincidence? Maybe. The literature on contract year effects is mixed, but I don’t know of any paper finding players perform worse during contract years. Perhaps Andruw is an outlier.

  6. jon says:

    I think the biggest reasons for playing basketball or football are three fold. First is the cost of equipment issue. The only equipment one needs to play basketball is a ball shared amongst ten people and a pair of sneakers. In baseball, everyother player needs a glove, that needs to be replaced every couple of years, at least four helmets/team for organized ball, catchers gear for one, and bats taht need to be replaced every few years(metal) as one gets larger, or at elast every year(wood) as they break.
    Second, the skills required to be a great baseball player aren’t ones that for the most part can be learned at 18. Hakeem went from never having seen a baseketball to being a top draft pick in 4 years. Look at Tim Duncan. The same thing goes for most positions in football.

    The other reason for people picking basketball and football over baseball is college. There are just more scholarships for football and basketball than there are for baseball. Just about every two bit college has a basketball team with at least partial scholarships, and football has huge numbers of players on every team.

    As for Sheffields statements, he is a bigmouth, but I haven’t heard anything over the years from ex-teammates about hating him, except maybe from Milwaukee, but he was just an immature jerk. How many of us were that at 20, just imagine if we had been rich and told we were the next great thing.
    I know I would love to have him on my team as a ballplayer. You know he would have your back no matter what happened.
    What he said has some rationality too it. Not the “control” issues, but the financial side. You can sign a latin ballplayer at 16 for peanuts. He belongs to your club. You don’t have to worry about dealing with a Scott Boras, until he gets to the majors, but by that point he is an asset to your club, both financially, and on the field.

  7. Aaron says:

    I would imagine choosing football over baseball has to do with opportunities. First, the labor pool is smaller. You’re only competing with Americans as opposed to Americans, Dominicans, Japanese, Koreans, Puerto Ricans, Venezualans, etc. Also, there are more players per team. While that might not work in football’s favor in the QB/SP example, it does for more versatile athletes who can play WR/DB or LB/DL or whatever. (Fittingly, people like Samardzija and Henson chose baseball over football.)

    I don’t get the basketball thing, though. You’re competing in a global market for limited roster space, and the overseas opportunities, while more plentiful than baseball, don’t include any situation as lucrative as Japan. I imagine it’s partially a social issue and partially, in cities, a resource issue. (Basketball courts are cheaper to maintain and take up less real estate than baseball fields.) I’d agree that, in HS, I would expect more demand for baseball roster slots than basketball, though.

  8. Brent says:

    Chipper’s HOF case. I think 4 or 5 more decent seasons, or 3 more decent seasons including a big year, should cement his case for the Hall. He has many intangibles in his favor that voters love – he isn’t linked to steroids, he’s played for only one team, and he has made sacrifices for the good of the team. Also, his biggest weakness is defense and while voters certainly reward good defense, they don’t really punish poor defenders that much.

  9. Marc Schneider says:

    Baseball is a slower game (especially the way it’s played these days) that requires a lot of patience and time to enjoy. Inner-city kids aren’t likely to have that patience given their circumstances. In general, baseball developed in a much slower-paced society where there was less demand for constant stimuli and immediate gratification. Let’s face it, you can take all the attendence figures you want, but football (especially the NFL) is far and away the most popular sport today in America because it is faster (and more violent), ie, it seems more suited to today’s society. And while this is a circular argument to some extent, I think baseball is increasingly considered a white, suburban sport which makes it even harder for a kid in the inner city to embrace it.

    I dearly love baseball, but I’m not sure there is much you can do to make it more popular in the inner city–which is really what Sheffield is talking about.