Archive for People

More on Boras

Like week I suggested that Scott Boras’s reputation is partly a function of his ability to attract clients, and that his success begets more success in attracting the best players. Today, Tyler Cowen offers his own reasons why Boras may be exceptional.

Here is a summary of his hypotheses.

1. The super-agent manages an otherwise incompetent or unruly player.
2. A super-agent, especially if he has repeat business with teams, may credibly certify the unobservable qualities of players, even star players.
3. Boras may be very good at marketing his players to management and getting owners to open up their pocketbooks.
4. If Boras represents multiple stars, clubs will be reluctant to cross him.
5. Robert suggests that some (non-super) agents may in fact be in league with the owners, not the players.

He also asks for other suggestions in the comments.

Cool Happenings

– Congrats to Sean Forman, creator of Baseball-Reference. For his work on the greatest baseball site on the web, Sean was named one the top 65 most influential people in baseball by USA Today. To be more exact, he was listed as one of 15 others who didn’t make the top 50, so I guess that puts him in the top 65.

On a related note, B-R.com is now updating current season stats daily.

Alan Schwarz has a new book out, Once Upon a Game: Baseball’s Greatest Memories. It’s described as “a delightful collection of personal memories about baseball from some of the game’s all-time legends and its most famous fans.” Alan is a fantastic writer who has both a strong love and understanding of the game. Purchase it with The Baseball Economist to get a break on shipping. :-)

Addendum: Congratulations to Alan on his move to The New York Times to be a sports feature writer.

— Dave Studeman points me to a new website, Ballhype.

Ballhype tracks more than 1,600 sports blogs, analyzes each post for relevance and influence (it’s from the creators of lowpost.net, striketwo.net, and faircatch.net). Users can then hype up stories and videos pulled in by Ballhype or submit their own, find fans with similar interests, create or join groups, and make game picks. Bloggers, especially newer ones, have a chance to get their stories in front of new readers, and can also interact with users to build up their fan base.

Leo Mazzone and the Attack of the Grasshoppers

For you baseball history buffs out there, the spring issue of 108 Magazine is about to be released. Jeff Merron offers a sample from the upcoming issue at The Southpaw, discussing the day Leo Mazzone was foiled by swarm of grasshoppers.

The attack would have been a surprise in any situation, but baseball has rules, and none of them say anything about grasshoppers. Faced with an unprecedented situation, the players, coaches, and umpires tried to keep on keepin’ on. Current Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone was one of the Texas League’s top hurlers that year, making his way up through the Giants organization. He took the mound for the visitors from Amarillo in the bottom of the first.

“I started that game. It got so bad the ball was hitting grasshoppers 60 feet, 6 inches to home plate. You couldn’t see. We had to change balls every pitch.” Mazzone, clearly distracted, surrendered two free passes. “I didn’t walk anybody that year, [but] you just couldn’t concentrate on your target. You couldn’t see it, and you had all these damn things flying in your face and up your ass.”

Yuck! There is no pitch like the old grasshopper guts ball.

The Cheater’s Guide and The Soul of Baseball

I just received a copy of The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball by USS Mariner blogger Derek Zumsteg. Derek also runs a blog just for the book here. I’ve only had time to flip through it, but I like what I see so far.

As a Braves fan, I first checked to make sure he devoted some time to the evil 1991 Minnesota Twins. This team won the World Series by cranking up the AC to give Kirby Puckett a tainted home run off of Charlie Leibrandt. Zumsteg covers this, but misses the most egregious incident of that series: Kent Hrbek pushing Ron Gant off the bag to get an out. The play was so obvious that Hrbek couldn’t even keep a straight face when later describing the play. I remember one of my good friends was a Twins fan who had a Wheaties box with the Twins celebrating their “victory.” Wheaties?…more like Cheaties. Ok, maybe I’m not that mad about it. :-)

As for Braves cheating, Zumsteg reminds us of the team’s manipulation of the catcher’s box to make the strike zone seem larger than it was. The fact was actually pointed out by the TBS television crew. There is no doubt that those guys root for the Braves, but they are not partisan when it comes to commenting on the game. The organization then classlessly booted the broadcast team off of the team charter. One unnamed source was also quoted as saying “Mazzone sucks” three times.

I look forward to sitting down with the book for a full read very soon. It looks to be an enjoyable read.

This book also makes me want to play one of those weird connection games. Every time I see the name Derek I think of my high school job recording high school sports scores for The Charlotte Observer. One thing I learned from fielding calls from all over the Carolinas is that there are more ways to spell Derek than any other name. My time at The Observer brings me to another connection to an author with a baseball book out right now. Joe Posnanski, Kansas City Star writer and current author of The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America also worked for The Observer at the same time I was there, though I did not learn this until recently. I bet few in that newsroom would have pegged us as future authors…well, maybe Joe, but certainly not me. Although, I was very good at spelling Derek, Derick, Darek, Daryc….

Buy either, or both, of these books with The Baseball Economist and get free shipping from Amazon. :-)

Shapiro Rewarded

I’ve nearly finished my first day of radio interviews. It’s tough to answer multiple open-ended questions in a 3-5 minute time span. Every host I have talked to has been great, though.

One topic that keeps coming up is my finding that the Cleveland Indians are the best managed organization in the American League—the Marlins hold the title in the National League (see Chapter 7, “The Marlins and the Indians? C’mon.”). Therefore, it is fitting that Indians GM Mark Shapiro was rewarded today with a five-year extension. Under Shapiro, the Indians have not only spent efficiently, but have put good teams on the field.

Congratulations, Mark! You’ve earned it.

Baseball Musings Pledge Drive and The Baseball Economist

David Pinto at Baseball Musings is having his annual pledge drive this March. This is my third year contributing a small amount to help out the full-time blogger that we all love to read. It’s one of the first things I read everyday.

If you would like to contribute to Baseball Musings and own a copy of The Baseball Economist, you are in luck. David is offering a signed copy of the book for pledges of $75. He had three but one is already gone.

Update: The books have been snatched up. But, don’t worry, the official release is on Thursday (I saw copies of the book at my local Borders today), and David will still take donations. :-)

Prospect Interview with Brent Carter

A few months ago, I started a Facebook profile. I soon realized the magnitude of this social network when I began to “befriend” a lot of Sabernomics readers. It’s been a really fun to get in touch with so many new people.

One of my new friends turns out to be someone with a lot of knowledge about baseball, San Diego Padres prospect Brent Carter. I am curious about the player perspective, so I asked Brent if he would be willing to do an interview on the blog. He was kind enough to say yes. So, here is the interview.

JC: How are you feeling? Has your Achilles healed or is there more rehab in your future? (Brent blew out his Achilles last season.) How have you worked through the mental anguish of having a good year cut short?

BC: My Achilles is feeling really good. I worked really hard in my rehab to be where I am at, which is about a month and a half or so ahead of schedule. Dealing with the injury was tough at first, especially when you are going through a very good stretch of about 4 very good starts in a row. But, it’s one of those things where you ask yourself if the glass is half empty or half full. I was determined to not let this hamper my development and so far everything is going good.

JC: Where do you plan to start the year? Finish the year?

BC: I have been told by a number of people in the organization that they put my name in to start in San Antonio (AA). But I would not be surprised to start back out in Lake Elsinore. I think it will be based on my performance in spring training. As far as finishing the year goes….of course PETCO Park, but realistically it would be San Antonio with around 175-180 innings.

JC: Tell me what it’s like to be a minor league ballplayer. Is it fun, or does it get old?

BC: Being a minor leaguer is not what it’s made out to be. You hear stories about the long bus rides, crappy hotels, etc. But it’s really a blast. The friendships you make, playing against the stars of tomorrow, being only a couple of levels away from your childhood dreams unfolding in front of you. I would not trade this for anything.

JC: What is the best thing about the Padres organization?

BC: There are a lot things I would put here. The coaches, players, front office people, trainers. Their approach to evaluating players.

JC: You are from Georgia. Did you grow up a Braves fan, possibly idolizing future HOF lefty Tom Glavine? If not, whom did you follow?

BC: Big Braves fan. I still follow them as much as I can. And I pattern my game after Tom Glavine. I throw the same pitches he does—mid 80s fastball, low to mid 70s change (best pitch), and upper 70s, low 80s cutter. Big Glavine fan—wish he would have signed back with the Braves this year.

JC: You list Moneyball as one of your favorite books. Is it because of some familiarity with sabermetrics or for some other reason?

BC: If you’re a baseball fan, it’s hard not to like Moneyball. It’s been a few years since I have read it, but I remember the Chad Bradford story, and Giambi’s Hole pretty well. When it was first published it seemed the “Moneyball” concept was cutting edge stuff, so that’s what I really liked about it

JC: If you have some familiarity with sabermetrics, did you learn about sabermetrics from the book or have you always been interested in this type of thing?

BC: I have been interested in it since I first heard about it. I have a brief understanding about it. There is a lot more that I have yet to learn about it all.

JC: Do you keep up with sabermetric websites? If so, which ones? What do most players think of stat-heads?

BC: I think your website and the links you have are the only sabermetric websites I know about. Stat-heads are looked at differently. Some people think it’s a waste of time, but others, like me, try to use it as a tool I can use to help me get better. Perfect example—my batting average against (BAA) lefties last year was .377. That really hit home with me and told me that as soon as my Achilles got well enough for me to throw, then I have got to start working on a pitch that runs away from lefties. But I know some guys that only know what the scoreboard posts.

JC: Did you know Jeremy Brown when you played at Alabama?

BC: I played with Jeremy my freshman year (his Senior year). Unbelievable eye at the plate and very good to throw to. But I have not talked to him since then.

JC: I consider SD to be a stat-savvy organization—there are two major characters from Moneyball in the Padres front office (Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta). Do you get much stat-driven advice? Do you talk to anyone in SD, or is all of your contact through minor league officials?

BC: We don’t get too much stat-driven advice. The main thing they try to get across to pitchers is force contact in 3 pitches or less. They want strike throwers. My personal goal is innings. Look at Ted Lilly, Gil Meche, Jason Marquis. They are paid $10 million a year just because they will give you 6 innings of 3 run baseball most every time out. Teams nowadays want their guys to be innings-eaters to conserve the pen. It’s amazing how the game is evolving away from CG’s.

JC: As a pitcher, what do you think of DIPS? From looking at your stats, you seem to be doing well in all of the DIPS categories. Is this something you do on purpose or something that just happens? Do you pay attention to the stats during the season?

BC: I honestly had to google DIPS to see what it meant. That is something that is important for guys like me who aren’t going to win the league in K’s year in and year out. I pay attention to stats in the season, but I mainly focus on walks. There is nothing worse that a “pitch to contact” pitcher can do than give free passes. And for me, the stats act as a motivation. I look at them, but am not consumed by them.

JC: Can you hit? I can’t find any hitting stats for you. Also, do you bat righty or lefty? I’ve seen it both ways. If you bat right, how did this happen?

BC: Haha, I have not hit since high school. I do bat RH because my older brother was a lefty thrower and righty hitter, so I got it from him.

I’d like to thank Brent for taking the time to talk with me and for being so candid. This was informative. If you have a question for Brent, feel free to leave one in the comments. He may or may not respond, but it’s fine with me if it happens. I’ll be rooting hard for Brent this year. I can’t wait to post “Brent Carter Called Up!”

An Interview with The Southpaw

Earlier this week, Jeff Merron interviewed me for his blog The Southpaw, of 108 magazine. Jeff is an excellent writer, and you may remember him for his in-depth article on Leo Mazzone and his interview of Malcolm Gladwell.

Jeff posts the full interview here, and here is a brief sample.

JM: To me the most important finding in your book is the lack of influence of the on-deck hitter. It’s such a well-worn and consistent strategy that you’d think that someone would have changed it if it didn’t work. What were your thoughts about that particular study?

JCB: I was convinced before we started the study that there had to be protection. There’s no way the on-deck hitter does not influence the pitcher.

But the more I thought about it and saw the results were in the opposite direction, and it fit with what I later thought and talked about, which is that pitchers frequently alter their effort.

There are two things to think about. One is that a manager may do better to think more about lefty-righty matchups more than protection. And I think as a general manager it could make a huge difference in what players you sign.

Jeff also offers a brief review of The Baseball Economist.

The range of topics Bradbury covers is impressive. The first chapter is on hit batsmen and how differences between rates in the AL and NL can be explained by the “price” of hitting a batter (which has changed over the years). The second chapter presents a surprising finding about how much “protection” on-deck batters really provide. The topics then expand in scope, to scouts vs. stat-heads, player salaries, steroids, the issue of whether or not MLB is a monopoly, and finally expansion. This is a book you can dip into at random: each chapter stands alone. And you’ll find plenty of variety.

Although Bradbury is an academic, his writing style is fluid and accessible. He doesn’t use many technical terms, but when he does, he explains them clearly and briefly, in a fashion that makes the material more easily understood. This is a book that’s worth your buck. Let’s hope we’ll see another collection from Bradbury in a couple of years.

I very much enjoyed chatting with Jeff, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get to catch a game together one day. If you’re a fan of baseball history and you’re not reading The Southpaw, you are missing out. I highly recommend it. Thanks to Jeff for giving me the opportunity. :-)

My First Scouting Lesson

Last night, I received my first lesson in scouting from an unlikely source: Keith Law of ESPN’s Scouts, Inc. I say unlikely, because Keith is generally regarded to be a stat-head. But, from the lesson I got, Keith didn’t seem to be doing much different than the scouts surrounding us.

When I arrived at the game, I saw the stands were full, which is not surprising for a Georgia high school baseball game. As I waited for the half-inning to pass before I found Keith, I saw two guys behind home plate pointing radar guns. I thought, “a few scouts are here to see this kid.” But, after he proceeded to walk the bases loaded, I realized he must not be the main target.

At the break, I located Keith and sat down. I soon found out that there were way more scouts than I had thought—they filled the stands behind the plate. The fans were sitting down the first and third base lines. As the opposing pitcher took the mound, I saw two-dozen radar guns go up, including Keith’s. “This is the kid everyone is here to see,” Keith informed me. The pitch, the mitt pops, the guns go down and tilt up so they can be read—89, 90, and 91 are on the guns I can see—then everyone starts scratching away in their notebooks.

Also, all of the scouts had stop-watches around their wrists to time the stretch and measure the speed of the batter from home to first. Note to prospects: even if you hit into an obvious out, run as hard as you can to first so that you can be timed. If you’ve never seen a gathering like this before, it’s a pretty cool experience.

Keith explained to me what he looks for in prospects and discussed a few minor prospects on the field—I won’t repeat his opinions here. Then we went over to the Mellow Mushroom for some pizza. We talked baseball, sabermetric gossip, jobs, family, and other odds and ends—we’re both 33-year-old libertarians who like Harry Potter.

If was a fun experience, and I have to say that Keith is a great guy. I want to thank him for inviting me to tag along. :-) If you ever spot him at a game, I’m sure he’d be willing to chat with you if you approached him. I look forward to seeing his body of work grow at Scouts, Inc.

S.I. Interview with Sean Forman

John Donovan writes a nice article about Baseball-Reference and the man behind it, Sean Forman. There have been many articles on the greatness of B-R, but this piece is especially nice because it includes a long interview with Sean. What is great about Baseball-Reference is that it’s not just a pile of useful statistics, it’s a well-organized pile. Sean has a good vision for what he is doing, and he really has succeeded at putting a friendly face on publicly available data.

Sean has been so successful with B-R, and his related Sports Reference ventures, that it has become his full-time job. Giving up a tenured job at a good university is a difficult thing to do. One thing that many people may not know is that Sean’s business sense and entrepreneurial spirit are his greatest strengths. Yes, his computing and intellectual abilities are high—not to mention his vast love and knowledge of baseball—but even with these strengths, few people are able to turn a hobby into a career. And it’s not like Sean just cashed in on a good idea; his mini-empire (maybe it’s a fiefdom) is the product of several years of consistent work according to a plan. I can imagine this project going wrong in so many ways in hind-sight. How he avoided all of the pitfalls along the way is testament to his abilities.