When I was a little boy roaming around the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn, in the age of Aquarius, it was starting to look a little run down. Some homes werent kept up and the 1968 garbageman’s strike introduced rats to the neighborhood. It was nowhere near as dangerous as Bed-Stye, but by the time the teachers union went on a contentious strike of their own that fall, many parents were looking to move out. Brooklyn’s present, and worse, its future, looked dismal.
As kids, we didnt care much. Younger siblings, like me, played imaginary games on the sidewalk while older boys played stickball right in the street. It was home and we made plenty of fun, oblivious to what academics labeled our downward trending socioeconomic status.
Until relatives from the country would pop in. The first thing their kids usually noticed was how small our yard was. It really wasnt even a yard as much as a decorative patch of grass. The parents would complain about the traffic on the Belt Parkway and try to tactfully express concern that there wasnt a suitable place for their children to play.
My father assured his reluctant sister in law that the kids would be fine as long as they stayed out of the street. Our cousins from Nashville warily followed us boys outside, when my eldest brother blurted, "My brothers arent allowed to walk that far, but five blocks that way is where Gil Hodges lives."
We watched as the Tennesseans craned their necks down our long 28th Street corridor towards a distant Avenue M. We talked some more, and all played outside, until after it was dark.
While the Veteran’s Committee appears poised to recognize the usual big market suspects (incl a deserving Ron Santo) later today, Diamondhacks peacefully counter demonstrates by highlighting three seldom discussed candidates who clearly wont get in – but who should.
If a pitcher had five twenty win seasons and a career 2.92 ERA, would you believe he’s not in the Hall of Fame? What if his 207-126 lifetime mark was more games over .500 (81) than Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax? Or more than Nolan Ryan and Bert Blyleven combined, and he still wasnt in Cooperstown? You might say I’m nuts, but I’d say his name is Carl Mays.
The submarining Mays, infamous for fatally beaning Ray Chapman in 1920, was not as spectacular as those initial stats suggest. He pitched on several marvelous teams when ERAs in the threes and twos wasn’t unusual – and when four man rotations facilitated 20 win seasons. So he wasnt Christy Mathewson or Roger Clemens – but that’s not the standard with which the Veteran’s Committee is tasked. Their job is to determine second rung Hall of Famers, a station that Carl Mays comfortably occupies, alongside deserving HOFers like Jim Bunning, Bob Lemon and Bruce Sutter.
When a pitcher wins 200 games and finishes 81 games above .500, there oughtta be a law he gets in regardless. It’s somewhat analogous to a batter who accumulates 2000 hits and hits .350 lifetime – at some point the context slips away and you’re left with a heckuva player who shouldn’t be denied recognition.
Another statistically deserving but unpopular candidate is **** Allen. It seemed Allen was always at odds with fans or teammates or managers or the press, but he could really, really hit. A few months ago, BoSox partisans regaled us with tales of and how universally feared Jim Rice was. I remember. I was there.
I’m also old enough to know he wasnt nearly as scary as **** Allen was over the span of their respective careers. Allen’s career park adjusted OPS+ was 156 – the same as Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. He obviously wasnt the all around players they were, nor was his career as long, but he was an MVP caliber player in six separate seasons, winning just once. Allen finished in the league’s top ten in OPS+ in ten different seasons, and on that basis was likely one of the fifty or so greatest hitters of all time.
It must be hard for Allen, who’s been snubbed by the writers and the Veteran’s Committee, to listen to fans of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson caterwaul about the injustices of the BBWAA system. The truth is that Rice and Dawson, good as they were, couldn’t launder Richie Allen’s jock. He was as far above them, as hitters, as they were above Khalil Greene and Orlando Hudson.
The third underrated oldtimer deserving a shout is Cuban Minnie Minoso. Best known for playing in five different decades, the speedy White Sox leftfielder was a remarkable Hall of Fame caliber player. Minoso (pictured, far right) actually wasnt a very good base stealer(61%), but here’s what else he did. Three gold gloves. Seven all star teams. He led the AL in HBP ten of eleven years and was Top 10 in AL OPS+ eight times, which is as often as Jim Rice and Andre Dawson combined. A Top 10 performance was easier when the league had fewer teams, but bear in mind that, due to his race, this unusually well rounded, efficient player didnt play regularly in the bigs til age 28.
In 1955, Ted Williams said of all the sluggers, Minoso had the best shot to hit .400 and Bill James rates Minnie as the tenth best left fielder ever, between enshrinees Stargell and Billy Williams. What is the Veteran’s Committee thinking, warming up to Bill Mazeroski and Tommy LaSorda, while leaving giants like Minnie out in the cold?
This is our fourth in a series pontificating our optimal 2007 Diamondbacks batting order. This post covers the cleanup and five spots – and the final installment will cover the back of the order. Earlier posts set out our choices for the leadoff , #2 and third positions.
To review, so far we have:
Of the remaining cleanup candidates, Conor Jackson has most firmly established the ability to reach base, but is slow and GIDP; Chris Young hasnt established anything in the majors but is blessed with plus power and speed; Stephen Drew hit MLB pitching with authority for a couple months and rarely hits into double plays. (We’re assuming the platoons at catcher and Tracy/Byrnes are not viable here.) So that leaves Jackson, Young and Drew.
Of the three, Let me say upfront that I think it’s a mistake to bat Chris Young anywhere in the top half of the order to start the season. With all due respect to his considerable potential, the major leagues are not the place to bestow critical batting spots to players based on MLB potential and minor league performance, especially so for a team harboring playoff ambitions. Chris Young needs to earn his front half spot the old fashioned way: by demonstrated performance in the major leagues – not just in AAA and spring training. After he proves his mettle versus MLB pitchers in MLB games – and that might take as little as a month or two – the sky’s the limit, but to give him a prime spot now undermines the delicate meritocracy upon which most successful teams are based, and sets him up for a potential initial failure that is neither conducive to winning nor to Mr Young’s personal progress.
The cleanup spot comes down to Drew and Jackson and while I’m tempted to pencil in Drew’s dynamic XBH package here ( much like I was tempted at #2), I’m taking the slower but steadier Jackson. It’s easy to feel like Drew’s .316 coming out party was a bit flukey – by contrast, it’s hard to find prognosticators who feel Jackson will dip much, if at all, from last year’s .291/.368 OBP with the hot latter half.
Jackson may not develop blockbuster power, but he feels like a steadily improving, known quantity compared to some other options (heck, he even looks a bit like Steve Garvey). Compare last year’s Top 4 with my 2007 projection:
The new foursome (sans Byrnes 1/3 of the time) will make pitchers throw strikes as much as last year’s version. Nobody’s confusing these guys with the Yankees, but stack Byrnes and Drew back to back and it might undermine that collective effort. By essentially replacing Counsell and Gonzo with Quentin and CoJack, the new Fab Four should A) maintain or improve upon last year’s OBP, B) maintain or improve speed with Quentin and Byrnes and C) dramatically improve SLG%.
And here’s where we like Stephen Drew best – at five. At least for now. Not dependable enough yet to break into the ‘Fab Four’, but too dynamic to push further down the order, Drew’s very low GIDP rate makes him well suited to hit behind Jackson, who often reaches first but doesnt run well. Groundball forceouts, essentially "trading" Jackson for Drew on the basepaths, have some value. Drew will whiff plenty, but he’ll also spray extra base hits with men on base. Despite his speed, I basically see Drew as more of a finisher than a dependable tablesetter at this point: iffy OBP, but a solid SLG%.
More surprises to come
The green retro scoreboard asserts the score:
DBacks Game 1
Chick Flicks 0
This cheeky result appeared in my Sunday paper, within yet another season ticket ad, further clarifying Diamondbacks’ two pronged marketing strategy: misrepresent the product and shame people into buying it.
We previously chronicled a similar home mailing targeted at fathers‘ insecurites; today’s 14 inch ad shows a couple, their features dramatically darkened just shy of silhouette, overlooking a distant Chase Field. The ad’s shading is a masterful device, clearly projecting the body language and facial expressions of a man and a woman, while obscuring their race and ethnicity. In other words, whether you are Anglo, Hispanic, African or Asian, this could be you!
The young woman in the ad is smiling, looking up adoringly at her "guy" a la Nancy Reagan. She is leaning into him, her chin almost on his shoulder. Season Ticket Man is smiling back. A kiss seems imminent. Perhaps even a condom.
And with good reason. He has jettisoned "chick flicks" and imposed his manly will upon her – and the little woman is positively dewy about it. Why, how could a gal ever sit through another Hugh Grant or Brad Pitt blockbuster when Randy Johnson and Chris Snyder are this close?
The ad further instructs:
Put away the tissues and come out to the ballgame.
Seems like alot to ask of those who’ve actually sat through a summer in Chase’s top deck, where this fictional couple is also, apparently, in heat. After trekking to the stadium in 110 degrees, braving the steep climb up to allegedly air conditioned seats, any dripping fan can identify the true source of this young lady’s moisture.
Perhaps the most misleading aspect of the ad, however, is here:
DBacks Game 1
Chick Flicks 0
Oh, the exploitation of young men’s sexual insecurities is clear enough, and we’re not even referring to the subtle but false promise of old time charm suggested by the Fenwayesque, manual scoreboard. What caught our eye was how the allegedly good thing, the Dbacks game, is singular and that which is to be avoided is plural. The authentic, real world choice between "a" ballgame and "a" movie has been distorted here into a false challenge: assert one’s manhood with "1 game" or eternally wallow, fettered and emasculated, in a perfumed sea of "chick flicks".
What’s misleading further – and borderline fraudulent – is that this isnt an ad for a ballgame, but rather for season ticket packages – where "Dbacks Games" makes perfect sense and "Dbacks Game 1" perfectly does not. This is another purposeful contrivance. Ballsy Diamondbacks’ brass apparently lack sufficient cajones to openly market a boatload of ballgames versus a bunch of movies. Instead, under the guise of singularity, they’re selling quite a long term committment – without honesty, courage or even the appropriate moisture to seal the deal.
MLB announced their 2007 rule changes, the most alarming of which is a reduction in time allotted pitchers between throws with no runners on base. The previous standard of 20 seconds has been slashed to …twelve seconds. Failure to prematurely discharge will result in a ball, which sounds like a just reward and, frankly, old news.
Is it just me, or does this sound like a really significant change? I wonder if the standard might actually be enforced, given Alderson’s group bent over backwards to change it.
Just completed an experiment in my underwear, or more accurately, was in my underwear when I did it. I tossed an imaginary pitch in the bedroom, caught the return throw from a squatting Jennie Finch, started counting to twelve as I took a couple deep breaths, briefly admired my tan (pictured, right) and peered in to Jen for one finger or two. No Al Hrabosky antics, just a quick rub of my ball and head for the rubber.
Oooooooops! Time’s up!
Twelve seconds is nothing. That second pitch? I couldn’t even get it off.
The article goes on quite a bit about some rather arcane changes, like the resolution of tie games, but says next to nada about the 12 second rule, as if it’s incidental.
Which is weird, frankly, because this is, potentially, a drastic change. I just cant see how they’ll possibly enforce this, unless they start counting very late in the sequence, well after the pitcher catches the return throw – or stop counting once he toes the rubber instead of actually delivering the ball. I mean, some guys take ten seconds just to rub their balls.
Curious as to others’ thoughts.
Here’s your opportunity to purchase tickets to the most popular games before they go on sale to the public!
Before the public? Gosh, maybe now I can be one of those ‘insiders’
It goes on:
Pick any six of the 20 Premier games, including Opening Day and the Boston Red Sox games, and get access to the Baseline Reserve sections (110-114 and 130-134). Tickets purchased through the D-backs Premier Six Pack will be offered at the discounted price of $37.00 per ticket — a savings of $18 over buying each game separately.
First, let’s be clear that this fuzzily worded $18 "savings" is not a savings per ticket, but a total savings across a six ticket minimum purchase. So a theoretical $480 cost for two seats, when paid game by game, drops to $444 for the package. Sounds like reasonable compensation for the inflexibility of committing to half a dozen ballgames – until the fees up the bill to 465.48, so one’s barely saving a dollar per ticket over individually listed, premier game prices.
And what of the "discounted price of $37.00 per ticket"? The savings are only contrived from the recently hiked, pie in the sky $40 single game asking price in the baseline reserve section. For some perspective, these same seats actually sold for $16.50 when the Dbacks first drew 4 million fans per season. Gee – I wonder how that happened?
I also love how you "get access" to the Baseline Reserve. Hee hee. For those who dont know, Baseline Reserve is Sedona Red corpspeak for lower bowl outfield seats near the foul poles. Typically, I’d "get access" to these seats with nothing more than a $1 gameday ticket, often in one of the nearly vacant first eight rows from the field.
Just for fun, I clicked on the Six Pack’s Buy Tickets Now button, to see what seat locations MLB’s software was meting out upon their "preferred" customers. I was bestowed with Row 24 for a Braves game – the other five were in Rows 31-38.
There’s no denying the Red Sox are an excellent draw, but do I really want to spend $40 a pop to watch the Dodgers or Braves from less than inspiring seats, all for the privilege of squinting at Red Sox in the middle of June, from below the overhang in Row 38, the back of my head practically rubbing against this guy’s mustard wand?
Again, I say no thanks.
If past years are any indication, numerous attractive options will present themselves via word of mouth and secondary ticket markets, and I’ll continue to exploit those at my leisure.
Having had more than one occasion this off season to suspect club President Derrick Hall might be the antichrist, it comes as something of a shock that The Prince of Redness and I are more or less in synch regarding broadcaster Greg Schulte’s four year extension:
"Greg is the voice of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The passion he has for the game and for this team comes through in every broadcast. We are very excited he will continue to be a major part of it for years to come."
Schulte may not be the most dynamic radio man around, but his interest in baseball is authentic in the same way Thom Brennaman’s is towards college football and careerism. Every ball burg benefits from a familiar voice to pleasantly mark the lazy summers and matter of factly guide its denizens home from darkened interstates far, far away. Up around Oatman and Hyder, crackly Greg Schulte breaks through the static to share the simple treat of a ballgame and convey the promise that a distant Phoenician remembered to leave the light on.
Now playing on the ipod: …good Lord, I dont even have an ipod. Talk about dinosaurs! – I just finished reading One Man’s Meat by E.B. White, however, a collection of essays he wrote before and during the war, from his farm on the Maine coast. Never got around to reading Charlotte’s Web, but I’ll make a point to do so after reading the crisply delivered insights in "Meat". White’s wicked observations on dogs alone justify the cost of the book. Oh, and I stole my title (and, alas, nothing else) for "Once More To The Diamond" from his classic on progress and mortality, "Once More To The Lake".
It’s no secret the 2006 Diamondbacks lacked a consistent, productive hitter in the middle of the lineup, but it’s important not to gloss over just how glaring this deficiency was. How bad were the the Diamondbacks best hitters, relative to the best hitters on MLB’s thirty teams? Based on park adjusted OPS(OPS+), they were the worst in baseball. Dead last. Everyone, by this measure, even the Cubs and Pirates, the Devil Rays and Royals had at least two hitters superior to the Diamondbacks’ best. There were at least fifty hitters(park adjusted) in the National League last year who were better than Arizona’s best hitter. Fifty! Even the 2004 Dbacks had three hitters better than last year’s best – and they lost 111 games! Melvin’s best (Jackson and Hudson at .809 OPS) were just historically woeful. Imagine gearing up to play an opponent whose best hitter is Orlando Hudson – and let that sink in for a minute.
Now, the 2007 Diamondbacks have made many changes, by addition and subtraction, and are certainly not resigned to repeat those shortcomings. But who’s it gonna be? Who is Bob’s best hitter, who will lead this team offensively, day in and day out? Is it a young gun, and if so, which one? Is it the 2005 Chad Tracy, or was that season merely a fluke? At least one Dback will almost certainly break out from the .800 OPS ceiling, but Diamondhacks doesnt have a particularly good feel for who that might be. CoJack? Quentin, perhaps, but he’s otherwise engaged.
Sadly, the Diamondbacks dont have an established, reliable #3 hitter by major league standards, so they need to find one – fast. Barring a trade for a legitimate bat, and considering their balance (or mediocrity if you will), the best solution is not to prematurely annoint a number three so much as creatively construct one.
This is a fairly radical idea, in that threes are very rarely platooned. Every team, it seems, has a star hitter and that’s simply where you stick him. He’s your cornerstone, your day to day anchor – but the Dbacks clearly dont have that kind of player – so why pretend otherwise? What they do have is a pair of veteran players who have clearly established throughout their careers a terrific ability to hit either right or left handed pitching.
Chad Tracy and Eric Byrnes.
You can pretty much book that this composite player, "Chic" Tryrnes, will hit for .850 OPS minimum – and 30 HRs/ 900 OPS is within "his" established range. Still not as good as the NL’s best, but better than the consensus expection for any Dback alternative – and better than the lifetime marks of HOF wannabes Jim Rice and Andre Dawson. I mean, you could do worse.
Tracy, who gets the nod two thirds of the time, should give our upper third(Quentin, Hudson, Chad) a respectable 1-2-3 in terms of OBP/patience and power. The insertion of Byrnes abruptly ends that critical chain of patience we value, however he mimics Tracy’s power as well as the speed of his tablesetters – indeed, he may exceed those peers in both respects. And Eric’s lifetime OBP vs lefties is a respectable .357, so you can indulge some aggressiveness.
Moreover, Chad Tracy has never hit into double plays much, and Byrnes’ GIDP rate is 50% lower against LHP – which is nice, because they’ll hit with men on and keep rallies going, even when they’re making outs.
It’s important to also recognize that as good as Chad and Eric are in this composite role, they’re equally bad trying to hit from their weak sides – and you obviously dont want that at #3. Here’s another radical idea: pinch hit for them! Pinch hit for your #3 batter. When the late inning LOOGY comes in for Tracy, pich hit Hairston. Versus LH starters, start Callaspo and sit Tracy, so that Chad can pinch hit for Byrnes against a dominant RH reliever. Or later in the year, give Davanon some starts, and bring in Eric to battle Chad Tracy’s LOOGY. Managers hate this, because they want to save pinch hitters for traditionally weaker spots in the order – but this is where the Diamondbacks balanced offense comes to the rescue. Compared to most teams, Arizona doesnt appear to have gaping 1-8 holes crying out for bench assistance. Use your bench to plug actual gaps, not perceived gaps dictated by historical norms.
To review, here’s what we have so far:
"Chic" Tryrnes –
This is the second in a series examining the 2007 Diamondbacks batting order. Unlike most teams, the unusually balanced Arizona roster doesnt shout out obvious lineup choices. There’s no high OBP speed demon to leadoff, or proverbial #3 or #4 slugger, leading some to conclude that placement decisions are relatively unimportant. Our earlier installment, on leadoff batters, is here.
If one word defines the traditional role of a #2 hitter that word might be ‘sacrificial’ or ‘complementary’, tablesetting for the sluggers, taking strikes for basestealers, bunting and hitting the other way to move runners along. He is, primarily, a conduit between the specialized skills of the leadoff man and the general excellence of the team’s best hitter. Traditionally, footspeed is not an absolute requisite for the job, but is valued more than it is later in the order.
My personal criteria for a #2 are fairly similar to the ones above, valuing power and complimentary aspects(apart from sacrificial ones) somewhat more than does conventional wisdom. That is to say, an optimal #2 hitter on one team wouldn’t always be an optimal #2 on another.
For example, if Ricky Henderson led off for the Dbacks, I might bat Chad Tracy second, because he’s left handed and reasonably patient (affording Henderson SB opportunities), Tracy can utilize the hole created by holding Ricky at first, doesnt hit into many double plays, and reaches base reasonably well himself. Chad doesnt run that well, but with Ricky who really cares – Henderson alone has enough disruptive speed for an entire lineup. But Chad would be a less wise #2 choice on our favored Dbacks order, the one led off by Carlos Quentin. Quentin’s relative lack of basestealing nullifies some of Chad’s advantages, and it probably doesnt make sense to frontload Carlos and Chad, forcing all your basestealing to the back of the order.
Assuming Quentin first, we prefer that the #2 man will bat left handed to maintain the R/L/R/L batting sequence. Having eliminated Tracy above, that leaves Drew, Hudson and conceivably Miguel Montero. Let’s drop Montero. Some think Conor Jackson and his nice OBP belong at #2, but remember that he led the team in GIDP, also doesnt run that well and bats righthanded. IOW, his OBP is very important, but he’s kind of a one-dimensional, and not very good overall, fit here.
The debate is really between Drew and Hudson – and the wonderful thing about starting with Quentin is that his broad based skills(OBP/SLG/running) make him very easy to complement. It’s not as if you’re desperate for power at #2, like you would be batting behind Craig Counsell – or in need of a big OBP to compensate for Juan Pierre.
Hudson fizzled at 2, early last year, before rebounding to a career .809 OPS – and Drew was even better in limited time. I expect them both to decline some. Neither steals much, but both run very well; Drew, in particular, flies down the line to first. In 81 PAs with a runner on first, he GIDP once. In 174 similar PAs, Orlando hit into seventeen DPs. Not a sustainable difference, but I’m comfortable projecting Hudson with at least twice as many GIDP as Drew in similar time. Uncharacteristically, both guys actually hit better against lefties last year, but I wouldnt expect that to continue. Hudson switch hits, Drew’s a lefty. Hudson‘s established a better BB/K rate, whereas Drew quite clearly has a larger offensive upside.
So, who is #2. As much as this surprises me to say, I’m going with a guy I shuddered when he hit behind Counsell last year. Orlando Hudson. He may not match last year’s OPS, but, frankly, I’m more concerned with Drew’s discouraging K/BB carrying over. Why is Hudson ok at 2 this year but not last? It’s not him – it’s Quentin vs Counsell. Quentin’s unusual leadoff package gives Arizona the luxury of following up with a steady, safe, speedy switch hitter who lacks HR power. A goal in constructing the front end is to link together players who will a) make pitchers work , b) not su*k and c) complement each other’s strengths. The value of Orlando’s switch hitting will become even more clear when we unveil our surprising #3 hitter in the next installment.
Commissioner Alan "Bud" Selig is unsure if he will witness Barry Bonds’ 756th career home run in person, insisting that he will treat it "just like any other record".
By threatening to phone this one in, the Commissioner is effectively downgrading the all time career HR record to the status of any other record. On one level, this is reasonable, as it reflects what most of us have already done in our personal mental notebooks. Fans, by and large, dont look upon the career HR mark with the same credulity, and indeed awe, that we did a generation ago. It’s too bad, of course, but a rational, appropriate response given current circumstances.
On another level, however, Commissioner Selig’s lowering of expectations here doesnt sit particularly well. After all, it was Mr Selig’s not so subtle alteration of his own job description which further enabled a relatively contained and arguably managable PED problem to spiral out of control for more than a decade. The Commissioner’s office was established in 1920, ostensibly anyway, for one reason: to ensure the integrity of the game. Unfortunately, the single minded pursuit of ensuring baseball’s financial integrity, at least short term, has rendered the original charter, at best, secondary.
Mr Selig is not without his successes. The Wild Card he championed has earned widespread acclaim, as well as windfall profits for MLB. But Mr Selig created another, more troublesome Wild Card during his tenure – and its name is Barry Bonds. Bonds, by virtue of his singular talent, will to succeed and – how can I put this diplomatically – chutzpah, became the worst case resulting embodiment of a decade’s worth of self serving, greedy policies at the highest levels. That’s not to say Mr Selig is responsible for the personal decisions of Barry Bonds or anyone else – but as the owner’s representative, the commissioner was largely culpable for crafting the laissez faire atmosphere in which thousands of those player decisions were made. Mr Selig, along with the player’s union, fashioned a series of mutually lucrative contracts that made it exceedingly attractive for players to consider, and in too many cases start using, PEDs.
It seems to Diamondhacks that Mr Selig should eschew the vagueries of popular opinion and, for consistency’s sake, attend these less attractive "Wild Card" games put on by Mr Bonds. We encourage the Commissioner to put his arm around the new home run champion and once again rip us off a big toothy grin for the cameras.
Just like he did in 1998.
Hat tip: Prince of New York