Thursday, June 30, 2005

On luck

There's a lot of fuss circulating in Nats Nation about "luck" these days. You might have heard of it.

The general contention, asserted by those in the Baseball Prospectus writers group, among others, is that the Washington Nationals are an extraordinarily lucky team. Their standard is the so-called Pythagorean theorem of baseball, and they proffer into evidence the Nats' run differential, which is currently minus-four. (The Nats have scored 315 runs and yielded 319.) According to Pythagorus, the Nats "should" (or, rather, "would"---since I'm pretty sure the old guy doesn't much care) be 38-39, instead of 46-31; seven games behind Atlanta, instead of 3.5 games ahead; and in third place, instead of atop the National League East.

There are many ways to approach the issue, several of them quite valid (in my view, at least). You could critique a substandard analysis on the subject, as friend of this blog Yuda has done. You could cite teams from past seasons who experienced success to various degrees, despite substantial disconnects between their actual and Pythagorean (or estimated) records. You could argue that the team is lucky and good, as Harper from Oleanders and Morning Glories did to great effect a week or two ago.*

You could also take offense at the evaluation.You might even burn the people who cite Pythagorean records in rhetorical effigy and lash out with ad hominem name-calling. That's fine, too, I suppose. It's a sincere reaction.

I want to back the truck up a bit and approach the issue from a broader perspective. Let's just assume that the Nats are lucky; let's further assume, consistent with everything we know about luck, that the luck is a warehouse of potential energy ready to burst back in the team's face at an indeterminate time in the future.

Who cares? What's so ignoble about being lucky?

I am most definitely not qualified to speak from a sociological perspective, but I find a strange cognitive dissonance envelops America on the topic of luck: perhaps out of a sense of duty or honor or pride or craftsmanship, we are supposed to be embarrassed to ascribe success to it, yet many of our popular heroes prevail with little more than it. Watch for it the next time the good guys prevail in an action movie, or Tiger Woods somehow coaxes one last rotation from the golf ball on a miraculous chip in, or Derek Jeter gets to any ground ball to his left. That's all luck, folks.

And it's nothing of which to be ashamed. Why, this is what conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote about Ronald Reagan---the "Gipper" himself, a man Kruthammer greatly admired, and of whom many believe embodied an American spirit of hard work:

"What made Ronald Reagan the greatest president of the second half of the 20th century? Well, he certainly had the one quality Napoleon always sought in a general: luck. Luck in his looks, luck in his voice, luck in his smile, luck in his choice of mate . . . and the greatest luck that any president can have: to find a nation in trouble."

There's nothing disgraceful about being lucky, right?

Well, what did Shakespeare think about luck? The guy could write pretty well, don't you think, so maybe he had something interesting to say about it:

Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered.

Hey, cool. Just for the heck of it, here's a whole page (or four) on the virtue of being lucky. Emerson didn't seem so fond of the concept, granted; however, Roy Kroc, the McDonalds dude ("Luck is a dividend of sweat.") was down, and so was another hale and hearty American, football coach Darrel Royal ("Luck is what happens when preparation meet opportunity.").

Still uncomfortable with "luck"? Fine. Call it "ingenuity" (a bit of the Royal take, I suspect) or "miraculous." I'll take two of those any day, come to think of it.

But whatever you do, don't forget to take tremendous satisfaction in the first 77 games and extract exceeding joy for however long this run lasts. And embrace the "luck" (or "ingenuity" or "miraculous" result), wherever it pops up. You don't think a team wins consecutive games with Wil Cordero as its starting first baseman just by being good, do you?

* The more I think about it, the more this post parallels Harper's in a sense. I read Harper's post a week or two ago, but I can't find it at the OMG blog. I'll try to find it again, and when I do, I'll link to it; it's worth the read.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Making friends and playing well with others

This morning over breakfast, I strolled by Baseball Direct, in order to get a lay of the National League land and where the Nationals fit in that topography, so to speak. The following observations are not necessarily significant or even newsworthy, but they are noteworthy.

Today, offense:

---> RFK: where pelotas go to muerte.

Big surprise, I know.

To begin, let's note that, compared to the league average, slugging percentage is the only way in which the Nats are unique (or, in an unadjusted sense, inferior):

NL . . .263/.332/.416
Nats. . 262/.332/.403

The Nats are, as you might expect, less potent than the league average at home; it has not been as widely published, though, that the Nats are more potent than the league average on the road. It's true. But it's also interesting how the team's offensive shape shifts at home and on the road (at least so far).

In home games, the average NL team has the following "Isolated Patience" (OBP-AVG) and "Isolated Power" (SLG-AVG) numbers:

IsoPat . . . IsoPow
.072 . . . . . . .162

And here's the corresponding figures for the average NL team in away games:

IsoPat . . . IsoPow
.065 . . . . . . .143

And now let's take a look at Washington's numbers, with home figures followed by away:

IsoPat . . . IsoPow
.081 . . . . . . .141
.060 . . . . . . .141

And, for one more comparison, let's take a sneak peak at the pitching numbers and see what the opposition is doing, on the average, at RFK Stadium:

IsoPat . . . IsoPow
.074 . . . . . . .091

So, to bring it all back home (no pun intended, I swear), let's make some tentative conclusions:

1. The Nats are a high-average, fairly impatient team offensively on the road, where their .012 better-than-league-average slugging average is entirely the product of the high average.

2. Their offensive profile changes drastically at home, to more of a beer-swillin', take-'n-rake, '99 A's kind of club. (Okay, maybe not that far!) RFK is suppressing everyone's batting average, and it certainly suppresses extra base hits, too. (See next point for more.) But the Nats compensate for those factors to a great extent by exhibiting better-than-average patience (unlike on the road) and squeezing what power they can out of the ballpark.

3. So far, the Nats' opponents haven't really adapted to RFK, and as a result, every home game is a feast day for the Good Guys. Opponents are slightly less patient than the Nats at RFK, but their batting average is way down and their isolated power is half-a-man short.

To reinforce the point one last time, let's see the side-by-side comparison of RFK-based figures, with Washington's listed first:

IsoPat . . . IsoPow
.081 . . . . . . .141
.074 . . . . . . .091

In short, this is a tremendous home field advantage for the Nats; thus, it of course comes as no surprise that Washington's 27-10 at home with a 2.86 staff ERA.


A couple of other observations of a more situationally-based nature:

---> Thus far, the Nats are substandard in "scoring position, two out" situations: .210/.334/.329 versus a league average of .236/.344/.379. These figures are both approximately 300 at-bat samples.

---> On the other hand, despite having no grand slams, the Nats are reaping a harvest with the bases loaded: .355/.385/.516 versus a league average of .266/.288/.406. Both figures are of approximately 60 at-bats, so the normal caveats apply.

---> Finally, the Nats are still world-beater from the seventh inning onward, though likely not to the extent they were early in the season: .272/.356/.428 versus .259/.336/.402.

Suffice it to say, the figures above represent both the Nats' home and away games.

Tomorrow: the pitching.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Trade for Eric Milton

No, not really

Sometimes you hit a lull as a blogger, where boredom and duldrums set in; where you can't think of any novel way to say, "Gee, I really hope Nick Johnson's not hurt too badly"; where you have absolutely nothing novel to note about the team's roster or strategy or statistics; where even genuflecting in front of your hallowed and beatified Washington Post beat writer seems hollow.

It's at this point that you just start saying idiotic things, hoping that the idiocy will be the catalyst of a purging of the tired insignificance and stagnation that hinder your ability to think creativity. And, out of that idiocy, a new blogging day eventually dawns.

I was going to try it tonight, especially after reading this portion of
Ken Rosenthal's Monday Sporting News column:

Here's how the Reds can trade beleaguered lefthander Eric Milton: By offering to pay half of his remaining salary to a team that plays in a pitcher-friendly park. The Nationals, Giants or Tigers might be willing to take a chance on Milton if they were paying him $4.25 million per season instead of $8.5 million.

Trade for
Eric Milton? Hey, this is just crazy enough to work! I can advocate this!

No, I can't.

Back when I was in the eighth grade, there was this guy---I think his name was "Cam"---who would do anything for money. (Hey, get yer mind out of the gutter!) One time we were in science class, fooling around---as Professor Frink might say---with the Bunsen burner and the chemicals and the beakers and the smoke that smells. Someone offered Cam a dollar if Cam would, instead of "wafting" the smoke, actually duck his head next to the beaker full of the smelly stuff and "snort" in the smell for one whole minute.

Cam drove a tough bargain, and wouldn't assent to the challenge until all of us agreed to throw a buck into the pot. Having agreed to the bargained-for exchange, Cam performed as instructed (who knows what the teacher was doing in all this?), and after one minute . . .

. . . well, all this stuff flowed out of his nose. It was sort of cool at the time, but in retrospect seems a bit disgusting. Cam was certainly disgusted, that's for sure.

Even if the Reds were to subsidize half of the salary, Eric Milton's acquisition would likely lead to a similarly disgusting result. It just isn't worth it. The guy was decent pitcher in 2001-02, probably not much better than that. And he's done now---shot, spooked, kaput.

When Milton pitches, Major League Baseball issues special balls with Yuri Gagarin's profile on the MLB logo.

But don't trust my cursory analysis here; let's itemize some positives and negatives concerning Milton, from the Nats' perspective.


---> His strikeout-to-walk ratio (basically 2-to-1) is still pretty good.
---> His adjusted cost of $4.25 million is, well, it's not a fortune---as long as I remember it's not my money we're talking about.
---> Presumably, we need to acquire somebody as an extra pitcher and Milton, as a hominid who breathes oxygen, ostensibly qualifies as a somebody.


---> Every other possible consideration.


---> His record is 3-9.
---> But, if won-lost record is not your thing, consider that his ERA is 7.70.
---> But, if you think he could just be extraordinarily unlucky on balls in play, consider he's surrendered 27 homers in 87.2 innings pitched.
---> But, if you think his problem is a band-box home park, consider his home/road splits:

LOCATION . . W/L . . ERA . . HR/9IP
HOME . . . . . . .3-4 . . . 5.71 . . . 2.60
AWAY . . . . . . .0-5 . . . 10.60 .. 3.03

That's right, gang: his ERA on the road would be above 3.00, even if you threw everything out but the home runs.

Last year, many media types rationalized the disconnect between Milton's 14-6 record for the Phillies with his 4.75 ERA by announcing that Milton knew "how to win" and that Philly's new park hurt him, anyway. I can't say much about the first point, except to point out that Milton's forgotten "how to win" awfully quickly; the second point, however, I can announce (as have hundreds of bloggers before me) that it's complete bunk.

Here's the 2004 splits:

LOCATION . . W/L . . ERA . . HR/9IP
HOME . . . . . . .6-3 . . . 4.40 . . 1.73
AWAY . . . . . . .8-3 . . . 5.12 . . .2.14

Milton's done for, if you didn't know if already.

Maybe he'll regroup in a couple of years and be able to contribute to a winning team on a limited, spot-starting basis, but the guy's days as an impact (i.e., expensive) pitcher should have ended prior to this season. Milton's contract was ridiculous from the day he signed it, and making it only half as ridiculous in no way makes it virtuous for the Nats.

A few years back, there was another guy who, despite respectable K/BB numbers, became a human solid rocket booster upon moving to a homerific park. When traded to a better park for pitchers, his fortunes did not change---not for a few years, anyway, and he's not worth much money even today.

I wonder if Eric Milton's wife is, uh, a good singer, too.

Now THAT's an open competition

From a mailbag session at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website:

Q: Michael Cardwell asks: "Since the Washington Nationals are owned by all major league teams, can we trade with ourselves to better our individual parent teams after July (month of the trading deadline)?"
AG: You mean claim an owner rebate in the form of a desired player? Sort of the baseball equivalent of a cooperative like REI? Afraid that is not how the joint ownership of the Nationals is supposed to work. And just so you know, the joint ownership is expected to end in late summer or early fall with the selection of a new ownership group for the team from 79 bidders. A new ballpark to replace the stopgap RFK Stadium is not expected to open for Nationals' play until at least 2008.

I know MLB has wrought an ugly mess every step of the way, but 79 bidders? That's like total anarchy, man.

(PS: Cute question.)

Someone call Matlock!

The WaPo has an extraordinarily long article outlining the MASN v. Comcast television rights mess. Read it at your leisure---or, ideally, on the trans-Siberian railroad.

I could be wrong, but I think I remember a MASN attorney say awhile back that a hearing concerning MASN's motion to dismiss Comcast's complaint would be held in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County on, well, yesterday: June 27. I'm operating on the assumption that it was, at any rate.

I'm also assuming---though I don't know---that MASN moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim: Comcast's complaint, MASN would argue, was one upon which relief could not be granted. In essence, based on the pleadings, Comcast could not possibly win.

Well, lunch is almost over; I haven't much time for this, and I'm no authority on Maryland law, even if it appears to mirror the federal rules. So, just as a cursory matter, here's the standard for motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim:

In reviewing the complaint, we must "presume the truth of all
well-pleaded facts in the complaint, along with any reasonable inferences derived therefrom." Id. at 72; see also Bennett Hearing & Air Conditioning,Inc. v. Nationsbank of Md., 342 Md. 169, 174 (1996); Faya v. Almarez,329 Md. 435, 443 (1993); Berman v. Karvounis, 308 Md. 259, 264-65(1987). "Dismissal is proper only if the facts and allegations, so viewed, would nevertheless fail to afford plaintiff relief if proven." Faya, 329 Md. at 443; see also Bobo v. State, 346 Md. 706, 709 (1997).

MASN could have moved for dismissal as well as, in the alternative, for summary judgment---which is essentially the next stage in the process. In that analysis, there must not be any material facts in dispute and, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party (here, Comcast), the trial judge must determine whether the moving party (here, MASN) would be entitled to judgment as a matter of law (i.e., before it even reaches a jury or a bench trial).

I know no more about this litigation than you out there do, but it seems to me like MASN would probably have a hard time prevailing on a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, a motion for summary judgment. At the very least, it appears the question (a very material question, considering the nature of the dispute) of whether MASN was "in existence" way back in 1994 or '96 (just under a different name) is still in doubt.

At any rate, the Silken Scoop himself, Jim Williams, predicted a settlement way down the road, and that seems like a fairly likely result.

(Note: I'm not sure how MASN's complaint to the FCC plays into this mess, either. It might mean that Comcast's lawsuit is not ripe for disposition.)


McPaper published a nice profile of Chad Cordero today, noting---among other things---his unfashionably dorky style of cap-wearing, his easy-going nature, the good deeds he does, and his exceptional (and somewhat surprising) pitching that will no doubt carry him to the all-star game. This snippet rather sums up the gist of the profile:

Cordero is 23 going on 13: During games, he sits in the bullpen popping Starburst candy and drinking Coke or Pepsi. But when the call comes from the dugout, Cordero comes in and goes right after batters.

[Aside: I wonder if Cordero has constructed a statute of Frank Robinson out of Starburst candies, like that freak on the television commercial. "It's made out of the cherry ones, Frank, because your lips smell like cherries." Eh, never mind . . . ]

Yesterday, I revealed myself a skeptic on Gary Majewski and Luis Ayala, the two main bridges (so far) to Cordero, the bullpen ace. Today, I intended to turn my attention to Cordero; however, while it's unrealistic to expect the 0.94 ERA and 0.99 WHIP to continue the balance of the season, I can't get similarly depressive about Cordero, simply because:

1) you try to find something foreboding about this stat line; and,
2) how am I going to express extreme caution about the track record of a guy who's been nothing but successful since day one and, in fact, is only improving his control record right now?

Still, as a team, the Nats are getting by on . . . I don't know, call it what you want: Scrap. Chemistry. Moxie. Frank. Luck.

But if it is luck---and here's where citations to the team's record in one-run games potentially become more than just nitpicks at success---then the Nats are walking an extreme tightrope; the stellar performances of Majewski and Ayala and Carrasco and even Cordero, if aided by luck, must at some point operate without such a benefit. Put it another way: when your closer has a 0.94 ERA and you're just getting by, he could still be a quality pitcher and you might not still get by.

In short, Cordero is the real deal, but he's not this real. Very few are.


Nonsense quote of the day, culled from a WashTimes story about Frank Robinson polling unfavorably among Major League players:

Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, among others, questioned the validity of polling athletes who carry their own agendas. "If you're gonna buy a car, do you talk to players?" he asked. "They're gonna tell you to buy a car that you can't afford."

Huh. I'm not exactly sure that's what Hurdle meant, but then again, I'm not exactly sure what Hurdle was saying at all. And I'm not at all sure it has any bearing on Frank Robinson's status in the game, except to say that lots of players would prefer a (perceived) better or more attractive (professionally-speaking, of course, because no one holds a candle to Frank's looks) manager.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Don't think twice, it's all right (I hope)

I guess I took yesterday's series-ending loss to the Toronto Blue Jays a bit hard---and not just because the defeat ended a long home winning streak---because I'm feeling all kinds of apprehensive today.

Tony Armas the Younger was face-planted for the second straight start, failing to escape the fifth inning. There exist two overriding concerns relating to Armas' contributions to the team:

1) can he pitch well?
2) even if he pitches well, can he ease the stress on the top half of the bullpen?

At the risk of overgeneralizing, I surmise that the Nationals must receive affirmatives on both questions in order to remain a contender (heck, a division leader) two months from now. Take his last good start, the one I saw in person on June 12. Armas held the Seattle Mariners scoreless over five innings; on the other hand, they were five of the more torturous innings of scoreless ball I've yet seen, and at the end of the day here was our pitching ledger:

Name . . . .IP . .H . R . ER .BB .SO
Armas . . . . 5 . . 5 . 0 . 0 . . 3 . .6
Majewski . 1.2 . 4 . 2 . 2 . .0 . .1
Ayala . . . . 1.1 . 1. .0 . 0 . .0 . .1
Cordero . . .1 . . 0 . 0. . 0 . 0 . . 0

So? We won the game; what's the problem?

The problem, of course, is that Frank Robinson had to use his top-end relievers (Cameron Poe, Ayala, and the Chief) to finish out a game in which his starter was throwing shut-out ball---in extended outings, worse yet, for Majewski and Ayala. (Armas's previous start, also a win, required five relievers---including the Big Three.)

Cordero is still uniquely impervious (he even makes perfect innings thrilling----and, if you're Ryan Church, painful), but Majewski and Ayala have both shown signs of stress.

Majewski scares me more than a bit, I confess. He was rock and stock from the get-go, and---if you rule out a disasterous June 21 outing---he's been pretty steady ever since his struggles relieving Armas on June 12. Still, looking at the statistical record, the guy is not overpowering hitters (opposition batting average of .269, more than a hit per inning pitched), his control is not fastidious (nearly a walk issued every two innings), and his strikeouts are almost even with his walks. Majewski's saving grace has been keeping the ball in the park---literally and without exception: zero homers in 34.1 innings pitched. That stat likely---well, let's not hedge it: almost certainly; nope, I'm still hedging it . . .

It can't continue. Majewski's going to blow up at some point; I predict that, if the Nats are still thick in the race by mid-August, Robinson will have relegated Majewski to the back end of the bullpen.

Ayala concerns me, too---see Chris for why. To update the numbers, Ayala is now on pace for 93 appearances and 99 innings pitched. The innings are not really of historical value (in the recent past, Scott Sullivan hurled over 100 relief innings in four straight season, and in the season directly preceding the streak, he threw 97.1 innings), but the appearance would rank third all-time. (His 81 appearances last season rank fiftieth all-time.)

Ayala's statistical profile is perhaps not as alarming as Majewski's; plus, Ayala has a track record of success. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that Ayala is down to 4.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, the same as Majewski. I don't want to be dour, but it seems exceedingly difficult to remain in "bullpen lock-down mode" when your two main bridges to the bullpen ace leave the ball in play (and leave things up to chance) so much.

There are other options, including Hector Carrasco, as Rocket Bill notes.Carrasco is on fire, of course; he hasn't allowed a run in his last ten appearances, and only a bombing on June 1 deprives him of a perfect month so far. How do you evaluate this guy? He was pitching in Asia last season, and he's been strickly non-roster invitee material the entire millenium (yes, the entirety of it!). On the other hand, he's in better shape than, if you believe the article, he has been since Doggie Perez managed the Reds.

There's also decent swing man-type material like Sunny Kim and perhaps Travis Hughes, but what I'm getting at is why need another bullpen arm---someone reliable and durable and able, should we need it, to fill much of the Ayala/Majewski/Carrasco for a solid month, should it come to it.

Alternatively, we need an innings-eating fourth starter who can keep us in most games and chew the game into the seventh inning on a regular basis.

Preferably, we'd get both.

Chris, who beat me on this angle by a good forty-eight hours, has already provided us a list of possible acquirees. Unfortunately, I can't say I'm particularly inspired.

Every year, a team or two will cobble together an incredible bullpen out of spare parts, and it sustains success over the entire season. Let's hope Frank Robinson continues to manage such a team, and Ryan Drese (or a rejuvenated Zach Day) provides us with what TA2 apparently cannot.
Otherwise, we might really rue Tomo Ohka's exile.
On a related note, I hesitate to mention this, but evil lurks---and only grows stronger.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Help, please


Confused Blogger

Tangentially yours

Stuff not directly related to the field of play? Some of it a week old? Perfect!

Thanks to the Sports Economist, we know that Garry Thorne, a B-Team baseball announcer for the Four Letter Network, doesn't regard publicly-funded stadia with particular fondness:

As with all moneyed people, the first rule is to use someone else's bucks to finance the business of your desires. Nothing wrong with that until the till one seeks to tap is the public coffers. The evidence continues to mount with independent study after study that public
investment in sports stadiums for pro teams is at best a financial wash, and usually a negative return on investment.

Regarding the DC ballpark initiative (a/k/a "Operation: Mayoral Race"), Thorne doesn't mince words, mixing in a bit of "Why won't they think of the children?" with a spice of "David Pinto loves RFK-ism":

The case of the new stadium being financed by the District of Columbia for the Nationals is a real disgrace. The District is desperate for funds for schools and other services that tax dollars support. [. . . ]
Besides, RFK is not such a bad place to play. It's just that the owners want those luxury boxes and the money they bring. That being the case, let them live by the system they love to tout when it comes to everybody else's business-free enterprise.

I don't post this to be critical of Mr. Thorne. These are important concerns, and even if they lack merit in certain respect, they're easier to brush off when your team is the topic of the discussion. Thorne, of course, seems to have no dog in the fight, and I think his opinion is at least unusual for a member of the mainstream baseball media.


Ron Rappaport's column in the Chicago Sun-Times last week demonstrates how headline writers potentially endanger the lives of columnists. Here's the headline:

Cubs a Nationals disgrace if Washington wins it all

Oh, lord. It's going to be an utter piss-n-moan session, isn't it? Nope; Rappaport says RFK attendance leaves room for improvement, but it's still a significant accomplishment for DC baseball. Plus, he cites the Nats' record in one-run games as a sign of a good team, not a lucky one.

I'm not saying Rappaport's right or wrong on that last point (as Harper sagely points out, it could be both); I'm just observing that the headline writer, in invoking Rappaport's lead paragraph, could get the poor guy killed if enough message board types get wind of the piece.


Finally, John Brittain of the Hardball Times breaks down the National League Cy Young Award candidates. Brittain lists our enthusiatically-punctuated ace as an "honorable mention."

Rueckel Report, June 24

Last week's report was the toughest one yet. I bore exceedingly bad news: a horrific June 14 outing for Baby Ruckles. At the time, I reached something of a precipice, but I strengthened my resolve: I would not back down from my touting of Danny Rueckel, and buoyed by the steadfast conviction of "Anonymous" (see the comments below the post), I certainly will not now.

Plus, I've got some interesting mitigating evidence to present.

It seems that several members of the Harrisburg drew short straws and, as such, were subjected to dismal outings. It wasn't just Rueckel, not by a long shot:

---> Saul Rivera, June 13: 1.2 IP, 8 H, 4 ER
---> Danny Rueckel, June 14: 2.2 IP, 7 H, 6 ER
---> Jason Norderum, June 16: 2 IP, 4 H (4 BB), 8 R (6 ER)
---> Jacobo Sequea, June 17: 1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER

So, you see, obviously there were other forces at play than just Rueckel's abject ineffectiveness over a one-game span. Nope, aside from intractable cosmic forces, I'd guess some of it revolves around the June 14 doubleheader; it looks like Rueckel was fed to the wolves to save the other relievers.

Speaking of other relievers, congratulations are in order to Jason Bergmann,
of whom I was complimentary earlier this month. Bergmann had been extraordinarily effective at Harrisburg and was called up to New Orleans recently. While there is a reason why this feature is called "The Rueckel Report," I should note that---based on the stats, at least---Bergmann certainly earned the promotion. I wish him the best of luck, and so far he's been getting by on more than that for the Zephyrs: 3.1 innings of perfect ball.

Okay, all that aside, let's get to the week that was for Danny Rueckel. And it was a very good week---I'd even call it a redemptive week, if I were being dramatic:

---> June 19: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 SO (no decision in 2-1 Harrisburg loss to Reading).
---> June 23: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO (credited with save in 6-3 win over Norwich).

SEASON TO DATE: 26 G, 39 IP, 45 H, 24 R, 20 ER, 4 HR, 11 BB, 39 SO; 2-4, 4.62 ERA, 5 SV.

[At the risk of being cast as an unreasonable shill here, I'd like to point out that, if one were to toss the June 14 disaster, Rueckel's ERA would be 3.47 ERA right now. At the risk of subjecting myself to embarrassment later, I'd like to throw down a stone-cold, lead-pipe lock of a guarantee that Rueckel's final ERA will be less than this 3.47 figure. And then we'll all look back at the June 14 game and say, "Except for that one game, man, what an exceptional season!"]


I would be remiss if I did not note that
Bill Bray, the first-rounder last year, is now a member of the Harrisburg bullpen. In his first appearance, Bray allowed two runs on three hits in 2.2 innings pitched, but he also struck out five batters. I will, of course, track Bray's progress in future Rueckel Reports.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Good ol' Gill, Part II

As I mentioned yesterday, Gill Alexander and I conversed last night. The link to last night's show is here, though that might not convert, so I'll provide it at the bottom of this post, too. Also, a link to Gill's podcast page is found on my sidebar, under "Misc."

Thanks again to Gill for the time (and for being a really good host, too!), and I hope you enjoy the discussion on the Nats' run differential and the Nats' attendance (and, I should further note, how the Baseball Prospectus people and the Rand Corporation are in league with the Reverse Vampires in a diabolical plot to eliminate the meal of dinner).

The link:

Hippocratic oaf

Did you know that Vinny Castilla is afflicted with "a tired bat"?

Do you even know what a "tired bat" is? Nor do I, though it does sort of remind me of Bill James' old line about the "tired arm" diagnosis: There's something wrong with it, but we don't know what the hell it is.

Fortunately, Frank Robinson knows what has made Vinny's bat so tired---or unfortunately, as we shall see:

"He's naturally going down the other side of the hill," Robinson said. "He's not going up the hill. We all know that. That's not a knock at him. It's just a matter of how fast he goes and how productive he can be in the years that's left."

It's a good thing the Nats signed the guy for a second year, eh?!

In fairness, seeing as St. Barry refers to a "recent slump" (2-for-24), I should add that just about anyone can do anything in tiny samples of playing time; rip two games from last week's headlines, and Cristian Guzman is "on pace for" 162 homers! On the other hand, Svrluga also mentions that Castilla's slugging average has now dipped below .400, and "recent slumps" don't really do that, unless it's the first week in April.

Speaking of St. Barry, he performs an uncharacteristic gloss-job in this article:

When the Nationals signed Castilla, 37, to a two-year, $6.2 million contract in the offseason, they were clear about their expectations. They wanted production similar to his years in Atlanta and Houston, about a .270 average with 70 or 80 RBI, as opposed to the National
League-leading 131 RBI he had with Colorado last season.

Castilla has played for three teams other than Colorado. I can understand Svrluga's omission of the Tampa Bay year-and-a-month, because why would the Nats' expectation for Castilla be .221/.254/.308? More importantly, though, Svrluga selectively lists the Houston/Atlanta years, notably leaving off the 2002 season, when Castilla hit .232/.268/.348.

So, in review, Svrluga is talking about a three-year period, and he declines to include one of those seasons. That's more convenient than an EZ Pass.


Because of the "tired bat," Castilla sat during yesterday's series-ending triumph over the Buccos. Jamey Carroll started in Castilla's stead.

In today's WashTimes, Mark Zuckerman assures us that Carroll's roster spot is secure when Jose Vidro comes back from his injury. This was ever in doubt?

Apparently it was, or at least speculation surfaced that Carroll might be the odd man out. Why? Ostensibly, because Junior Spivey's acquisition and Vidro's return would create a logjam of infielders, and one of them (Carroll) would have to go.

That's lunacy, man. All season, the Nats have lacked infield depth; this is the team that recalled Broken Wing Mateo for the purpose of . . . I don't know, non-partisan electoral observation? Carlos Baerga, of all people, was playing second base. In 2005!

Cristian Guzman has shown some signs of life recently, and that's a good thing. If he were two-thirds competent offensively (as opposed to, say, one-quarter), maybe we could discuss gang-planking Carroll. But Guzman's not, and we'll need a double-switchable infielder at the ready. We've received no assurance Spivey can do the trick at shortstop. Plus, what if Castilla's "tired bat" acts up again (or, worse yet, proves to be chronic)? Bottom line: we need Jamey Carroll.

And, even if we truly didn't need Carroll, here's why the discussion is a non-starter. I'll give you two words:

Wil Cordero.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Star treatment

In his new piece at the Hardball Times, inner-circle Hall of Fame blogger Aaron Gleeman takes a mildly probative look at the correlation between playing skill and managing skill---if one exists, of course. Obviously, Frank Robinson is a natural subject of Gleeman's study, as he is the one Hall of Fame player who is currently a big league manager.

Gleeman groups the remaining managers (plus recently-dismissed Cincinnati skipper Dave Miley, at no extra cost!) into several other groups, ranging from All-Stars to Minor Leaguers, with a couple of classifications in between. He also throws in some nifty graphs, courtesy of Studes.

Fast-forwarding to the pay-off, I'll excerpt Gleeman's findings:

Not only is there no real correlation between playing success and managerial success, there might actually be a negative correlation. In other words, a number of the best winning percentages among today's managers belong to guys who didn't do much as players. Gardenhire, Cox, LaRussa, Showalter, McKeon, Jim Tracy and Charlie Manuel are in the top dozen for winning percentage, yet they have a total of 39 Win Shares among them.
Meanwhile, outstanding players like Trammell and Buddy Bell have two of the three worst winning percentages, and even Robinson has won fewer than half of his games as manager.

This paragraph does not exactly shake us on a "Luke, I am your father" level, I know. It's a common opinion that inferior players make better managers. If I had to guess wildly at the reason(s), I'd say:

1. reflective of conventional wisdom, I would surmise "bench players" get to observe the game from the bench, thus learning its ins-and-outs from a different perspective than that of star players, who are on the field most of the time (and this is even more advantageous for back-up catchers, who learn the fundamentals of managing the pitching game, too); and, perhaps even more importantly,

2. obviously, it's a natural consequence of a star player's career that it will stretch well into the player's thirties or even early forties---whereas during this time, a scrub's playing career is over, and he's receiving a managerial apprenticeship in the minor leagues.

Thus, it is possible that a star player (and especially a Hall of Famer) is hurt by being too good as a player and thus learning the managerial role on the fly. This could be one reason (in addition to selection bias, I suppose) why near-Hall of Famer Joe Torre experienced little success early in his managerial career and tremendous success later: he had to learn the ropes of managing.

Manichean dilemma

Bad Comments + Good Performance = Cosmic Struggle

Last week, I called Jose Guillen "a little, little man" and rather strongly inferred that he too is---as he characterized Angels' manager Mike Scioscia---a "piece of garbage." I'm not about to back down from those words, in case you're wondering. Guillen strikes me as a troubled jerk; the "troubled" part engenders some empathy from me, but it's quickly run through the garbage disposal by the "jerk" part. As a consequence, my opinion of Guillen is slightly less offensive than the odor of a squished, rotting cucumber.

One cannot please everybody, of course, and Guillen's got enough fans among Nats Nation anyway.

In large measure, though, all that stuff is inconsequential, for the simple reason that decorum don't win ball games. Clean-up hitters going yard twice generally do, though, and it is in light of this truism that I readily give Jose Guillen tremendous credit and appreciation for his recent performance.

After going 17 games without a home run, Guillen has now whomped five in his past seven games. He also extracted a significant measure of revenge (though he insisted none was necessary) against the Pittsburgh Pirates, his original team (and who can keep up?), during the series. Guillen performed a veritable colonoscopy on the guys, going 8-for-14 with four homers (two multi-homer games) and six ribbies, in the three-game series. Yeah, that'll play.

So, congratulations on your on-field outburst, Jose. I do appreciate it.

Now tape the guy's mouth shut, Frank.


Podcast time!

I'll be chatting with Gill Alexander of tonight. I'll throw up the archived link when I get it. The topic of discussion: Joe Sheehan's much-maligned take on DC baseball.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Review: The ULTIMATE Washington Baseball Trivia Book

The Ultimate Washington Baseball Trivia (2004), by David Elfin. Published by 21st Century Online Publishing; 112 pages; $9.95 (but can be purchased for $7.46 here)

When I was a kid, two of my favorite books were entitled Baseball Brain Teasers and Baseball's Best: The MVPs. I suppose the titles are so self-explantory I needn't elaborate too much concerning the contents; suffice it to say that the first book provided obscure baseball trivia (and assorted, well, brain-teasers) and the other provided biographical information.

I'm not a kid anymore, but the two subjects still fascinate me. Every so often, I pull out the old Bill James Baseball Book series---not really because I care about how much Monopoly money James would have spent on Jerry Don Gleaton in 1990, but because it contains interesting historical information, mainly in Rob Neyer's "Chasers" sidebars and James' entries in his (lamentably, not completed) "Alphabetical Biography Register."

And so it was, with an almost child-like gleefulness, that I enjoyed David Elfin's Ultimate Washington Baseball Trivia Book. (I do want to know what makes it ultimate, though, as opposed to "comprehensive" or "really good.")

Elfin's book has three main virtues.

First, it is no mere trivia book; though Elfin proudly points to "279 trivia questions" in his Foreward, the appreciative reader will find that Elfin sneaks a tremendous bit of evaluation and biographical information into just over 100 pages. He provides an all-time Washington all-star team ("Washington's Best")---as well as all-decade teams, beginning in the "pre-1911" period and progressing onward to the decade preceding and including the doleful 1971 season. Further, Elfin picks a few players from each decade and provides corresponding two-page biographical spreads, one page for a photo and the other for the copy.

The second virtue naturally follows from the first, and that is the book's exceptional organization. Each decade is presented, in essence, as a discrete era. Let's say you want to bone up on your 1931-40 era knowledge; well, look no further than pages 46-73, which give the reader 1) a picture of outfielder George Case, 2) the all-decade team (including Negro League stars, by the way), 3) a picture/bio spread of Joe Cronin (including the background on how Cronin married Clark Griffith's niece/adopted daughter, only to be traded away), 4) some concentrated questions about first baseman from around that era ("The First Sackers") with corresponding answers, 5) similar questions and answers regarding shortstops ("In the Hole"), 6) a picture/bio spread on second baseman Buddy Myer, 7) a full-page picture of Griffith Stadium from the era, 8) a picture/bio spread on Josh Gibson, 9) more trivia and answers on Washington opponents of the era, 10) a picture/bio spread on Buck Leonard, and 11) trivia questions and answers concerning "The Presidents" and DC baseball (Republicans held a 2 1/2 game edge in terms of "better presidential Opening Day record," and I guess they've stretched it to three now).

That's a remarkable amount of information, and it's presented in a swift manner.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the book possesses a certain earnest pride in DC baseball that makes it a pleasure to read. Elfin, a Washington Times sportswriter, identifies himself in the Foreward as a Washington-area native. He grew up on the Senators II and still loves them: "[they] weren't a great team, . . . but they were ours." He still marvels at Frank Howard's "jaw-dropping" moon shots, just as he did when he was nine years old. For good measure, the final page identifies him as a member of the "Eddie Brinkman Fan Club" and contains a photograph of Elfin and a buddy posing with Denny McLain in, fittingly, 1971.

I'm not sure if this is really the expectation, since Elfin was born in 1960, well before the old-timers featured in the book; however, I get the sense that the book is fun not because of the facts and trivia and all-decade lists, but because Elfin allows the reader to revel vicariously in his love and appreciation for DC baseball.

At any rate, the tone is a welcomed change. Personally, I've grown tired already of a strident tone that is talking hold regarding our new Nats. At the sake of sounding utterly cliched, it resembles one of those "if you're not with us, then you're against us" scenarios. That might work in foreign policy, perhaps, or maybe in space opera; it's not becoming for a discussion, though. Thus, I find Elfin's book a respite from the belabored topics of the day, topics with which readers of this blog and others no doubt are familiar.

The book is not perfect, of course. As evidenced by the date of David Pinto's review (early December), this book was written and published on a warp speed schedule. As such, there are several editing errors, including an inelegant misspelling of pastime ("pasttime") on the back flap. Furthermore, if you are looking for SABR-quality depth in the biographical material or the statistics cited, don't bother. That's not the purpose of this book.

However, that lack of depth also serves to the reader's benefit. When I was nine, all I cared about were batting average, homers, ribbies, wins, and ERA, too. And, sometimes, it's fun to be nine again.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


I think there's a way to insult someone that falls short of actually calling the person "a piece of garbage." It is good to see Frank Robinson agrees:

[Travis Hughes], [a] 6-foot-5, 27-year-old[,] was chosen [to be called up from New Orleans] over lefties Joe Horgan (3-1, 4.18 ERA) and C.J. Nitkowski (1-0, 0.00 ERA), who have both spent time with the Nationals.
"I want someone who can get hitters out," Manager Frank Robinson said.

Third baseman Vinny Castilla, who entered Saturday's game 10 for his last 53 -- dropping his average from .287 to .265 -- dropped to seventh in the lineup. Robinson believes Castilla is trying to pull the ball too much and has lost patience.
"He's swinging at so many first pitches, it's unbelievable," Robinson said. "And they're not good pitches."



Speaking of getting smacked, say hello to the Washington Nationals, who were drubbed by the former Washington Senators II for a second straight night. And speaking of sequels, Tony Armas, Jr.---lovingly referred to as "TA2" by the Natosphere---bore the brunt of the drub, surrending seven runs, including four homers, in the first two frames. (Armas did settle down thereafter, not allowing a run over his last three innings.)

Cristian Guzman slugged a Boz-inspired long ball for the second consecutive game. Ryan Church homered twice, but didn't think much of it, since the team lost. And then there was Wil Cordero, who provided the evening's unintentional (and/or self-deprecating) humor:

"[Ricardo Rodriguez, the Rangers' starter,] really kept us off-balance," Cordero said.

Cordero, of course, is hitting .042/.042/.083 on the season, so that's like saying a couple of Cub Scouts were kept off-balance by the Red Army.

(I should provide the pro forma "sample size" alert, seeing as Cordero only has 24 at-bats on the ledger so far. That would be well-advised, since Cordero has to be at least a .175 or .212 hitter these days.]


In today's WashTimes, Eric Fisher suggests that the tide is turning for the Angelosians, noting that 1) MASN's FCC petition to force Comcast cable into a de facto carriage deal, while still a long-shot, might not be frivolous at all; and 2) public outrage over the lack of extensive Nats' television coverage in the DC area might funnel itself into general outrage and not necessarily directed toward Angelos himself (or if it is directed at Angelos, the anger might fall on Comcast equally).

Concerning the first point:

But a closer look at the petition, which is being branded as everything from clever to desperate by the Washington legal community, suggests there may be compelling reasons for the commission to act upon the Orioles' request and compel Comcast to start carrying MASN. FCC rules prohibit cable and satellite operators from deciding which channels to carry based on their corporate affiliation. And beyond Comcast's well-documented frustration with the Orioles and its opposition of a second regional sports network for Washington and Baltimore, the company has yet to explain fully why it will not cut a short-term deal with MASN to show the Nationals while it litigates the CSN lawsuit.

And concerning the second point:

If nothing else, the Orioles have gone to extraordinary lengths to show skeptical Nationals fans that they, too, want to see both teams' TV games distributed as broadly as possible. To be certain, Angelos is not acting out of altruism but rather financial self interest because
he needs to recoup the $20?million annual rights fee MASN has guaranteed the Nationals. But the FCC filing still shows action to back up three months of pro-Nationals talk from MASN executives.

In the meantime, however, the public outcry is not directed foremost at Angelos but rather at simply seeing the Nationals on TV. That furor hit another peak last week when an ESPN regional telecast of Washington's series finale at Anaheim was blacked out because of MLB's existing broadcasting rules protecting local telecasts. The local fan frustration will only increase should the Nationals continue their impressive and improbable run atop the National League East. "Don't underestimate public pressure to bring about some type of resolution here," [a local communications lawyer] said. "We've seen many times before examples of these bitter cable disputes coming to a solution very quickly. I think the FCC will first try to knock their heads together and get it done through a settlement. There's a
business solution out there definitely waiting to be found."

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Administrative procedure, in one act

Monday, June 20, 12:00 pm

Mr. McHale: Dottie, do you have Mr. Robinson on the line?

Dottie: Mr. Robinson is on the line, Mr. McHale.

Mr. McHale: Good, Dottie. And make sure he stays there. I hate these teleconferences.

Dottie: Yes sir.

Mr. McHale: You know, it's funny. Back when my pop was president of the Expos, he had to personally deliver a contract offer to Dave McNally, straight to McNally's home.

Dottie: Yes sir.

Mr. McHale: Yep, didn't even have a fax machine, much less this teleconferencing stuff. You know that?

Dottie: Yes sir. I was your father's secretary, too.

Mr. McHale: Sure. And I bet the old man sure wished he could have faxed that contract off instead . . .

Dottie: Yes sir.

Mr. McHale: . . . because that s.o.b. McNally wouldn't sign!

Dottie: Yes sir.

Mr. McHale: Anyway, where were we?

Dottie: Mr. Robinson, sir. He's waiting.

Mr. McHale: Well, we can't make Mr. Robinson wait too long, can we?

Dottie: No sir.

Mr. McHale: Okay, well punch him through.

Dottie: Yes sir.

Mr. McHale: And Dottie?

Dottie: Yes sir?

Mr. McHale: Get me one of those coffee rolls DuPuy raves about. I don't care if it's noon.

Dottie: Yes sir.


Mr. McHale: Frank, how the hell are you?

Frank: Fine, John. And how are the Devil Rays doing?

John: Ah, you know the drill. Pocket the revenue sharing, wear out the manager.

Frank: Yep.

John: Well, you're a cut above that Piniella, you know? Well, you don't have to respond to that. Anyway, the guy's crazy, you know? . . . Well, at least the play-by-play guy on tee-vee is top-notch.

Frank: That's nice. Most of our fans can't see ours.

John: Right, right. Good point. Well, let's get down to business. What is it you received again?

Frank: One game and one thousand dollars.

John: One game and one thousand dollars, right. And you're appealing?

Frank: Well, this isn't a social call, John . . .

John: Sure enough. Well . . . whaddya got?

Frank: I'm sure you already know what I'll say, but . . .

John: Bob Watson says he's heard it, yes.

Frank: . . . I think the whole thing's mule crap.

John: Mule crap?

Frank: Use your imagination.

John: Okay, but Bud discourages us to do that. {ha ha}

Frank: Don't remind me.

John: Anyway, give me all you got.

Frank: I want to be clear it's all Scioscia's fault.

John: Because his guy had the pine tar on his glove?

Frank: That's that dumbass Donnelly's fault. I'm talking about instigating the whole thing.

John: Instigating it. Looked to me like the pine tar thing instigated it.

Frank: Call it what you want. But just because your guy's guilty doesn't mean you have to threaten "undressing" my guys.

John: What did you want him to do, then?

Frank: I don't know; not be a dick, I guess.

John: That would rule out about half of us in the game, Frank! {ha ha}

Frank: Look at it this way: remember when Joe Niekro was caught with the nail file?

John: Sure. Who wouldn't? The damned thing fell right out of his pants pocket. {ha ha}

Frank: Right out of the pocket, right. Let me ask you this: before it fell out, what did Tom Kelly do?

John: I don't remember, Frank. I don't know; tell me.

Frank: I don't remember, either.

John: So, what's your point?

Frank: My point is, I don't remember. No one does. That's my point.

John: Great point. What is it, again?

Frank: It's that, sure, Kelly probably defended his guy. Maybe he even postured some. But he didn't go insane. I can't even remember what team it was against, but I remember no managers got suspended for it.

John: I'll have to look it up . . . Hold on a second, Frank. . . . Dottie? Dottie?! . . . That's one hell of a coffee roll, Dottie! . . . Anyway, Frank. I don't care about Tom Kelly.

Frank: Look, John, I didn't instigate the situation. I didn't bring it up. I didn't start it. All I was doing was replying to what he had said to me. And it was all words.

John: Looked like more than words . . .

Frank: Look again. Nothing else happened even though the players came out onto the field. Nothing happened.

John: It sure looked like something happened . . .

Frank: Nothing happened. I'll cut to the chase, John. I'll take the fine, but this is going overboard with it. If there were punches thrown, I could understand that. But there were no punches thrown. I think under the circumstances, a one thousand dollar fine is pretty significant. So I think that would be enough. But a fine on top of a game suspension? I just think that's a little much.

John: We gotta give you something, Frank.

Frank: I understand that, John. Make it a fine, then, and that's it. The fact that I'm being suspended also? I think it's overkill. And the person that initiated the whole thing is penalized the same as I am. I totally disagree with that, in this situation, because of him being the aggressor. He threw flames on the fire.

John: And Scioscia's not appealing.

Frank: If he appealed, I'd hop on a plane and kick his ass.

John: I'm not sure that'll motivate me to reconsider, Frank.

Frank: I'm speaking freely and figuratively, John. I believe I've earned that right.

John: Sure you have, Frank. We're speaking freely here. Alright, Naimoli's calling in a few minutes. Let's wrap up.

Frank: Look, you and I both know what it comes down to. Baseball officials are hesitant to fine one party in an altercation and not the other. So they just nail both sides---which, to me, is not fair.

John: You're right; it's not fair. Your appeal is denied.

Frank: . . .

John: Come on, Frank. You know the fine is bogus. And it's just one game. Tell the guy replacing you tonight to have fun. Sit in the clubhouse and fill up on Yoo-hoos.

Frank: Okay, John.

John: Kindof weird being on this end of it, eh?

Frank: The grass is greener . . .

John: I'm sure it is. Good luck to you guys. Pump up that sale price for us. Oh, and Frank?

Frank: I know what you're gonna say, and I'm way ahead of you . . .

John: Guillen's really got to shut up.

Frank: Like I said, I'm way ahead of you. He knows who his daddy is, and this daddy's into tough love.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Building a woefully imperfect beast

I don't have my best stuff today. Considering I'm sort of the Rheal Cormier of the Natosphere, that's no good. I tossed out some ideas, such as Ryan Drese's amazing Nats debut or MLB's desperate conspiracy to get the Yankees back to .500 or Boz's new part-time job as Cristian Guzman's hired goon, but the QWERTY just wasn't feeling it in the bullpen during warm-ups.

So, I'm going back to one of those tired topics that's a sufficient indicator of a mind lacking creativity, like when a sports radio host takes calls on "Pete Rose: Hall of Fame?" or "College football: playoff system?" Today, I'm falling back on the same kind of thing: how can we improve MLB's playoff system?

[Excuse me, sir? Yes, you. I heard the groaning.]

Okay, let's lay some ground rules, or at least basic assumptions:

1. Baseball will never go back to the "good old days" when one team per league made the playoffs---which, of course, only existed at the "World Series."

2. Baseball will never go back to the "pretty acceptable more recent days" when two teams per league, one per division, made the playoffs---which the winners of a "League Championship Series" meeting in the World Series.

3. Although not as assured as the first two, we're all pretty freakin' sure MLB will never admit fewer than the current four teams per league into the postseason.

4. So-called "radical realignment" will not occur, though cosmetic realignment, similar to that of 1994 or 1998, might.

5. Interleague play will probably continue to exist, and it might continue to be administered in "blocks" that tend to inflate its perceived interest and effect, though that's not a certainty.

6. Expansion will likely not occur in the next decade, at least.

7. FOX Sports will hold the national television rights for generations to come, meaning our descendants must suffer Tim McCarver as much as we do currently.


Last time, I kicked around a lot of models. I spent a lot of time doing this, and it was frustrating because none of them was satisfactory. I mean, I'm one of those guys who really, really prefers seeing a team win something tangible before being admitted to the postseason. I'd love for it to be the league regular season pennant, but if not it can be a divisional flag in a two-division format, and if we have to do this it can be a divisional crown in an expanded divisional format. All of those are discrete titles.

The wild card? That's crap. It's an abstraction, a fiction, no more meaningful than if I were to crown myself the Duke of Rueckel.

At the same time, I'm a realist. The only way we're getting back to a straight divisional champion format is in a 4 x 4 x 2 format (four-team divisions, with four divisions per league). That probably wouldn't happen for awhile, since we've been told expansion is a ways off, and even if it did, would it be desirable? To me, not necessarily. More teams in a division, to my intuition at least, create more opportunities for a close race. Is that faulty logic (or statistics)? Perhaps, or probably. Nevertheless, four-team divisions seem sort of slight.

So we've got to have wild cards. Great, we'll stay with what we've got. It's not perfect, and it's not even desirable, but we can't think of anything better.

Not so fast, my friend. I want a better system. I want to get revise the ugly-duckling four-team division sitting out there in the AL West, and I want to hurt the wild card teams a bit for their imposition on baseball tradition.

It can be done; we have the technology.

Step One: Move over, Houston

Hey, Houston Astros---welcome to the American League West!

Oh no! You can't move the Astros! I mean they've got so much tradition in the National League. It wouldn't be fair to just mov . . . {dissenter cut down by chain saw}.

I'll show you tradition: look at all those National League championship pennants.

Sorry, last year was the final hope. Clemens couldn't finish the job in Game Seven, though. Better have Bob Irsay handy on the Rolodex, guys, because he's got an in with the movers. It's not the worst thing in the world, anyway. Imagine eighteen (or whatever) games a year with the Rangers; you don't think that would fill up The Juicer a little better than the Pirates? Lloyd McLendon doesn't do the zany stuff on the road, right? Plus, you'd be helping out MLB, which is big on time zone-matching these days, but still somehow has a team play two time zones away against its divisional foes. Now the Rangers won't be alone in that regard.

I'll admit it: I thought about moving the Colorado Rockies. But I don't want the designated hitter anywhere near the Rocky Mountains, and moving you guys required only one move. So, if you don't mind, it's kind of elegant.

But what . . . about . . . {dissenter, fighting for life, clutching for words} . . . the unequal . . . amount of teams . . . in both . . . leagu . . . {hello, Mr. Samurai Sword}.

Oh, that. That's simple; just do the whole interleague play thing throughout the season, not in these phony blocks. If our friend the dissenter were still kicking, he'd raise the questions of Opening Day and, heaven forbid, the final weekend of the season. I'm glad he's dead, because the easy answer is "Yankees-Mets" or "Cubs-White Sox" to keep the interest and importance. And how do we schedule all those games in between? I have no idea, but computers do.

Step Two: Tough love wild cardism

Last time, reader/chatter extraordinaire J. Yuda related the best plan we've got under the circumstances, and I've redacted some of it to fit Step One above:

My favorite playoff reform -- aside from cutting down on the number of playoff teams -- is something I saw, I think, Rob Neyer suggest a few years back. [. . .]The three division winners make the playoffs as per normal. But instead of one wildcard team, you have two -- and they play a one-game "play-in" game, before proceeding with the playoffs as we now have them.This way, there's value in winning your division: you're guaranteed to get to the best-of-five series and you're guaranteed an off day to help set your rotation up. This livens up the pennant races again without cutting down on playoff teams -- since
Bud Selig isn't interested on cutting down on playoff teams.

I like this. It's not perfect, but it seems to fit the conditions set forth way above and doesn't really affect my desire to change the four-team AL West. (I should note that I'm not alone here; reader/chatter Brian O. really despises the four-team division.)

So, here's how it goes:

---> Sunday: end of regular season.
---> Monday: wild card games, back-to-back; FOX televises both.
---> Tuesday: playoffs begin, and both wild card winners start tonight.

I thought about best-of-three somehow, but it doesn't work; the conventional wisdom is that too many days off would leave the divisional champs rusty. I won't argue with that. One "wild card game" per league is enough; it works for the NFL, and everyone knows that those guys are perfect. So, in many cases, a team per league will play a high-leverage game on Sunday, an elimination game on Monday, and the playoff opener on Tuesday. Think of it the challenge those teams' managers face in devising the pitching rotation and bullpen usage.

That's punishment enough, I think.

But what if . . . {gasp} . . . there's a tiiiie . . . ? {This guy just won't quit. Where's the flamethrower?}

A tie between divisional opponents or wild card contenders? I'll handle both, or all, scenarios:

---> Divisional tie: one game "play-in" game (actually, 163rd game) on Monday afternoon, to be broadcast on ESPN. If it's a West Coast division, it's broadcast opposite the late afternoon (ET) game on FOX. Sure, it competes with another network's broadcast, but more baseball = good thing, FOX's playoff arrangement often has it competing with itself (the FX network), and Rupert Murdoch's a greedy chub who deserves to be knocked down a peg or two anyway. So, winner in, loser out. Same as it ever was.

---> Wild card tie: no playoff game, use the NFL's tiebreaker formula, right down to point (run) differential. Why? Because these guys don't deserve another game to prove who's best; these are the free-loading wild card teams, remember! Oh, and because the NFL does it this way, and those guys are perfect. Seriously, a wild card playoff game messes up my schedule---and, in my world at least---isn't a "play-off game" anyway. The game above is a regular season game, just an extra one; these guys here don't deserve even that.

---> Divisional tie + wild card tie: use a 163rd game to decide the division, and the wild card contender tied after 162 games gets in. Sorry, it's not fair, but I'm deciding it based on the rationale above. Plus, a game with divisional foes has more meaning.

But, really, the third scenario won't happen often, if at all. It hasn't yet, right?

One other superficial change: in order to ease Monday travel, there is no Sunday night game on the last day of the season. Instead, ESPN agrees to a Saturday night game during the final weekend.

So, this is what we get:

* National League: three divisions, five teams each.
* American League: three divisions, five teams each.
* Three division champs per league.
* Two wildcard teams per league.
* One-game wild card playoff per league.
* Proceed thereafter as now, except wild card survivors have to start the next day.

One final point of clarification: both wild card game entrants for leagues, all four teams, all get "Wild Card" banners to hang in their ballparks. They are all "playoff teams," and "flags fly forever," you know.


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