Thursday, January 31, 2008

The San Diego SABR meeting - Part 3

If you missed the first two parts, they are here and here. This entry will wrap up the question/answer period with Paul DePodesta.

Question (Q): We haven't talked about the elephant in the room - steriods. What's the Padres corporate opinion?
Paul DePodesta (PD): We wish we had full knowledge.
Q (interrupts): Would full knowledge change your evaluation standards?
PD: There is no proof steroids helps players. If it does help, that makes the job of evaluating players much more difficult. You have a projection of what a player is expected to do. If his performance goes way, way up or way, way down you have to ask why? Is he working hard or is there something else? Steroid use does screw up the models we're using, which is why it's so much more difficult to evaluate. Paul said he's all for getting Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) out of the game.

Q: Why are minor league penalties for steroid use heaver than at the major league level?
PD: MLB was able to impose stricter penalties and testing on the minor leagues. At the major league level, they have to negotiate with the union, which makes the process much slower.

Q: Are the Padres pursuing player development in the Dominician Republic and China?
PD: Sandy (Alderson) is a big believer in development. The Padres now have 2 complexes in the Dominican, oustide the capital city; these facilities are as good or better than MLB spring training complexes.

Q: What process are you following to find an heir to Hoffman?
PD: Right now we think Heath Bell is a good candidate to be Trevor's successor at the back of the game. We're not overly concerned about finding the next closer, because middle relievers are a little bit easier to find on the open market - they're more available. As we find candidates that we think can do the job, we'll give them a chance at the end of ball games to see how they hold up in pressure situations (7th and 8th innings), and evaluate from there.

Q: Heard a lot about the salary cap. What are the repercussions for going over?
PD: There is no hard salary cap in baseball, there's a target amount that clubs should try and stay under. If your payroll goes over, you pay a tax which goes to MLB for distribution to all other teams. So far only the Yankees and Boston have gone over, and they don't seem to care what they have to pay as a tax. Basically if they pay a guy $10 million, and have a 30% luxury tax imposed, they're signing him for $13 million.

Q: How do you determine what salary to pay a foreign player?
PD: We have lots of information now on how Japanese players will perform in the majors, and that information has really expanded over the past 5-6 years. We also have more data on how they played over in Japan (statistically speaking) then we used to. So we can use that data to come to a determination on what the player's value is.

Q: How many scouts do you employ? Is the number driven by cost, and how does it compare with other teams?
PD: Most teams are consistent on how many scouts they employ. (He then went into a description of the organizational structure of the scouting department of the Padres that I didn't write down). It's also important to cultivate relationships with college coaches, and each scout does do that in his particular area of responsibility. Some coaches are very good about giving honest evaluations of their players, some not so much. But remember - they're trying to win to and run a successful program, so their evaluations may be driven by their own selfish needs, which is understandable.

Q: What is the Padres minor league philosophy - win now, or develop players?
PD: Obviously the minors develop players who can contribute at the major league level. But we don't just focus on player development. Its also important to win, and to teach players how to win. Its not the only thing, but it's important. We've had success recently in the minor leagues with successful teams (division winners, champions, and the like).

Q: One of the things that the Padres struggled with last year was holding on runners and throwing out baserunners. Has the team considered teaching all their pitchers a slide-step to speed things up to the plate?
PD: We're looking at that. And we evaluate whether to teach that to pitchers based on their capability to hold runners. Greg Maddux, for example - he's not very good holding a guy on, and never will be at this point. But he believes it's more important to concentrate on the hitter, because the hitter can hurt him much more than the baserunner. That guy on base doesn't hurt him until he touches home plate. That's his philosophy and he's been successful with it. A guy like Chris Young, well, he's 6' 10" - he's not going to be very fast to the plate in any situation, and the thing we worry about is the effect on his stuff if we try to speed up his motion with a guy on. So we decided, during the season we're not going to try and change him, let him focus on what's made him successful. There's no doubt our struggles last year with baserunners was more based on our pitchers than our catchers. Our two guys aren't Pudge Rodriguez, but they certainly are both capable.

Q: How is the luxury tax distributed, and are there requirements for the teams to actually spend them on their payroll?
PD: Not 100% sure, but believe it goes to a central fund at MLB and is distributed from there. It's not part of revenue sharing right now. Its actually a relatively small number in the grand scheme of things. I doubt it would make a large difference. There are no guidelines on how teams have to spend that money. Some teams hoard it - we don't; but they may keep it for some later time when they are more competitive.

Q: MLB publishes a suggested bonus to pay players drafted in the first round based on what slot they are taken. Some teams follow it, some don't. If you had a player you wanted, would you violate the pay scale to sign him? (Angry Rant question)
PD: We're willing to do that if its needed, but depends on the individual, and if we thought it was the right thing for the Padres. Those are really recommendations - you don't have to follow them. Typically we try to remain within the structure given by MLB, and I think we've done a great job of doing that. Part of the reason those recommendations are in place, about fifteen years ago there was a team that blew the structure out of the water. One player was asking for a lot of money, much more than most clubs thought he deserved based on his ability. He had been forecast as a very high first round draft pick, but his asking price scared team after team away and he fell in the first round. Then one team stepped up, drafted him, and paid him what he wanted - which angered a lot of other teams. The player was Todd Van Poppel, the team was the Oakland A's, and the GM was Sandy Alderson. So yes, we're willing to break the scale if needed. But not to that extent again.

Q: If you have a player you're considering drafting, who has the tools, but his personal life has some issues, does it count when considering who to draft?
PD: Significantly for us. We use various tests over the years to measure their 'mental make-up', and I think we've had decent success with hit. The minor leagues are a real grind, even for the really talented; so we strive to draft players who are capable of thriving in that environment. We think players like Chad Hutchins and Mark Antonelli, they're high character guys, and we think they're having success not only because of their physical skills but also their mental toughness. Obviously the tests aren't fool proof, but we think we've been successful using them.

Q: How has Scott Boras affected the draft, if at all? Has it affected the competitive balance of the league?
PD: Hasn't affected us all that much, but has affected the draft. There are certain players that Scott says, he won't sign unless he gets 'x', and that guy will slide through the draft until there's someone willing to pay 'x', and he does that with a number of players. He doesn't do it all the time, but when Scott feels he has a special player, he lets people know what that is. Competitive balance - it does work to a degree. But it certainly is a far from perfect system. And it's something that we've tried to address in the collective bargaining agreement; it's an area of concern for some of the small market teams. It hasn't affected us, but some of the big market clubs have access to some of the better players.

Q: How do I get your job? (Angry Rant Question)
PD: Start as a van driver? (laughter). Get very, very lucky, in all honesty. I was ridiculously lucky at several points in my life. Have to be willing to go anywhere and do any job just to get your foot in the door, then once your foot's in the door do as good a job as you possibly can. Because so many people want to work in sports, and once they get jobs they typically don't leave them, unless they're asked to, which also happened to me (laughter), it makes for a situation with very low turnover, so it can be a frustrating process. Sorry, I wish I had better advice.


End Session.

As you read, a lot of good information there. These are the kinds of things SABR tries to bring to what I would call the serious baseball fan (yes, this is a shameless plug for SABR). I would encourage you, if you're interested in broadening your horizons beyond just the Cardinals, to look up your local chapter and see what they've got going on. For me, over the past year, its been time well spent.

Even if the local chapter here teems with Padre and Cub fans. :)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My Personal Cardinal All-Star Team

Welcome United Cardinal Blogger patrons!

I had a bit of a tough time coming up with a personal favorite team. After all, I have many favorite Cardinals, and since the team has existed in its current form since 1892 there are a lot of Cardinals to choose from. Just sticking with HOF players would make a very formidable team.

So I had to find a way to make the choices more manageable. Here's my idea: my Dad took me to my first Cardinal game on August 28, 1977, a most memorable day. So, my All-Star team will include only those players I've actually seen play. The good news is that lets me include my favorite childhood Cardinal on the team if I so choose (Lou Brock). The bad news is it excluded the 'patron saint' of this site. In everyone's life a little rain must fall. So, here we go:

First Baseman - Not as much of a no-brainer as I thought. Jack Clark was the power anchor of the mid-80s championship Cardinals teams. Pedro Guerrero was always a dangerous hitter, even at the end of his career. Mark McGwire was the heart of the order for years and a deft touch at first. But in the end, there can be only one. Pick: Albert Pujols. Do I need to explain why? Honorable Mention: Jack Clark, Mark McGwire.

Second Baseman - Given the current rotating door of guys playing the position (Adam Kennedy, if he is the opening day starter, will be the first guy since Vina to start at second two consecutive years), the field is sparse. So I went with an old favorite - a guy who was a leader in the clubhouse, an All-Star in 1985, one of the rare birds that drove in over 100 runs while hitting less than 10 home runs. Pick: Tommy Herr. Honorable Mention: None.

Shortstop - Another position with several good candidates (Renteria, Templeton, Eckstein). But one candidate stands out - 15 time all-star, 13 time gold glove winner, author of one of the most dramatic HR's you'll ever see. Pick: Ozzie Smith. Honorable Mention: Edgar Renteria, Garry Templeton, David Eckstein.

Third Baseman - I had a lot of trouble here. Terry Pendleton or Scott Rolen? Pendleton's won an MVP, Rolen hasn't; Pendleton won 3 gold gloves, Rolen has 7; Rolen was a feared power bat in his prime, Pendleton was one of Herzog's slap hitters with occasional power. In the end, Pendleton's best years were with the Braves. So that made the selection easier. Pick: Scott Rolen. Honorable Mention: Pendleton, Ken Oberkfell, Ken Reitz.

Catcher - Do you go with the overall package, a good hitter/no glove, or a great glove/weak hitter? It turns out the Cardinals haven't had a good hitting catcher for most of the time I've watched them. Remember Todd Zeile? Unless Brian Anderson becomes the next Mike Piazza, Zeile will remain the best hitting catcher the Cardinals have had in the last 25 years. And he spent most of his career at third base. No, not much to pick from. So I defaulted to the best overall catcher the club has seen in the last half-century; and the beauty is, based on my rules he's eligible. Pick: Ted Simmons. Honorable Mention: Tom Pagnozzi, Mike Matheny, Yadier Molina.

Left Field - When going over the options in my mind, I couldn't help but shudder remembering Ron Gant, Reggie Sanders, and Chris Duncan butchering plays in the outfield. So this selection was very easy for me. I'm indulging my inner child. The fact he's in the Hall doesn't hurt, either. Pick: Lou Brock. Honorable Mention: Vince Coleman.

Center Field - We've had a bunch of good ones. In fact, I can't think of a CF that I didn't like, or that wasn't a consumate professional, or that wasn't an all-star sometime during his tenure. I went back and looked at who I'd selected so far, and noticed I had a lot of right-handed power. Need to balance the order out a little. Since we've got 2 parts of MV3, why not complete the set? Pick: Jim Edmonds. Honorable Mention: Willie McGee, Ray Lankford, Andy Van Slyke.

Right Field - Larry Walker isn't eligible for consideration, for the same reason Pendleton didn't win at third - Walker's best years were in Colorado. So that leaves the field wide open. None of the guys that played right stood out to me. We've had some good ones (Van Slyke, Jordan) and some really bad ones (Mark Whiten, for example). So I decided to reach for a long shot - another guy who was really good at what he did, and was the power bat in the lineup before Jack Clark arrived. The fact my Dad really liked him also helped his case. Pick: George Hendrick. Honorable Mention: Brian Jordan.

Starting Pitchers - For all the other positions I looked at their overall contributions as Cardinals. For pitchers, I allowed a single outstanding season to qualify for inclusion, if needed. Initially I didn't think I could come up with 5 quality starters for this rotation, and might have to incude a one season wonder like Bottenfeld; but that doesn't seem to be necessary. I also stated which season version of the pitcher I'd choose to take.
Ace: 2005 Chris Carpenter. As the only Cardinal pitcher besides Bob Gibson to win a Cy Young, a slam-dunk.
#2: 1985 John Tudor. Started 1-7, ended 20-1. An unbelieveable year, the greatest by a Cardinal pitcher that I've witnessed. How do you start 1-7 and end up with an ERA of 1.93? Ridiculous.
#3: 1982, 1984-1985 Joaquin Andujar. It's unfortunate most folks remember Andujar for his tantrum on the mound (and subsequent complete destruction of a toilet) during Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. They forget Andujar was the last Cardinal to win 20 games in consecutive seasons. In 1982 he went 10-0 down the stretch and won Game 7. 'One Tough Dominican' was just that; besides, his throws to first on comebackers were always filled with high drama.
#4: 2001 Matt Morris. Another forgotten year. Matt Morris was the best pitcher in the NL not wearing a Diamondbacks jersey. Remember the 2001 NLDS? He gave up 2 runs in two games; unfortuately for the Cardinals, he was matched against Curt Schilling at the peak of his powers in both. I will maintain the 2001 team was better than the 2000 and 2002 versions probably forever (and most likely in the face of any statistical evidence to the contrary). I won't digress into a diatribe on why they were great; suffice it to say if they could have gotten past the Diamondbacks in that NLDS (and they should have, but they gave away Game 3), they would have faced a Braves team they swept in the previous year's NLDS, and a legit chance to beat the Yankees.
#5: 1988-1989 Joe Magrane. 18-9 in 1989 for a team in the pennant race until Labor Day. The previous year, although he went 5-9, he had a 2.18 ERA. Put him in front of this lineup he wins 20 games.

Relief Pitchers. To keep it simple, I'm not picking a long man; rather, a left and right handed set up guy, and a closer.
Left-Handed Specialist: I had more options from the left side than the right. I reached back to another favorite, who was always ready to answer the call and even spot start if needed. Pick: Ken Dayley. Honorable Mention: Ricky Horton, Steve Kline.

Right-Handed Specialist: A lot less clear-cut. In fact, I had trouble remembering a good right-handed reliever out of the bullpen. But in the end, I went with a reasonable choice. Pick: Jeff Lahti. Honorable Mention: Brad Thompson, Ryan Franklin.

Closer. The Cardinals certainly have had a lot of good closers over the past 30 years. Who to pick? Bruce Sutter? Best years were with the Cubs; was great in 1982, but went to Atlanta in 1984 and was out of baseball a year later. Todd Worrell? No Friggin way. Anyone can throw hard, but when it's straight-as-a-string eventually you'll get hit (and he did). Lee Smith? Don't know much about him, to be honest. That leaves one obvious pick. Pick: Jason Isringhausen. Honorable Mention: Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Jeff Lahti.

Bench. I decided to put a bench together so as to give the team greater flexibility, and also to get a couple of guys on the roster that hadn't made it already. So, I created three positions: Power, 4th Outfielder, and Utility.
Power: Mark McGwire. I've been defending him for 2 years; how can I continue if I don't get him on my all-star team?
4th Outfielder: Willie McGee. Speed, defense, and class.
Utility: Jose Oquendo.

That leaves one slot:
Manager. Here are the Cardinals managers since 28 Aug 1977: Vern Rapp, Jack Krol (interim twice), Ken Boyer, Red Schoendienst (interim twice also), Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre, Mike Jorgensen, and Tony LaRussa. In terms of success, this is a battle between LaRussa and Herzog. But I'll leave that debate to someone else. For this collection of talent and ego, there's only one clear choice. Pick: Joe Torre. And yes, Herzog and LaRussa get honorable mention.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The San Diego SABR Meeting - Part 2

First, the answers to the trivia questions from the meeting.

1. Tony LaRussa (I got this one on an educated guess; I remember Art Howe was the manager that replaced Tony.)
2. Milt Pappas (I guessed Ferguson Jenkins; he never threw a no-no, as it turns out.)
3. John Sturm (Guessed Mel Zed; yeah, had no clue.)
4. Phil Nevin (guessed Todd Walker. He played for Chicago in 2005 and SD in 2006. Close.)
5. Mark McGwire (got this one)
6. Gene Tenance (guessed Jason Kendall)
7. Dennis Eckersley (guessed 'Davis'; again, no clue)
8. Sammy Sosa (got this one)
9. Yankees and Pirates (guessed Yankees and Cubs, so 1/2 credit)
10. Bob Welch (guessed Ron Darling)
11. Tim Hudson (got this one)
12. Ryne Sandberg (got this one)
13. Dave Stewart (got this one, although pulled the answer straight out of my ass)
14. Derreck Lee (guessed Mark Grace)
The rest of this post will be a summary of Paul DePodesta's remarks and the question/answer period. Mrs. Rant did record the entire session (1 hr 4 min long), save a couple of minutes at the beginning. I have it as a reference for this post, but I'm not going to post it.

Remarks: Started as a van driver at spring training for the Cleveland Indians (had played ball in college). Charted pitches as his first real baseball job for the Indians. Became interested in the process by which players were evaluated. Remembers quite clearly discussions about Jeff Kent - namely that one of the senior baseball men in the Indians organization referred to Kent (and he quoted) as "Jeff Kent has the weakest frigging hack I have ever seen." - which led to his trade to San Francisco (although the Indians got Matt Williams, so it wasn't a total loss). Now he didn't mean to imply the scouts had no clue - they were a very dedicated group that knew their jobs - but it was a process issue. And as he watched Kent become possibly the greatest offensive second baseman in ML history, he had an epiphany about process vs outcome. Baseball industry is focused on outcome; he would focus on process.

The Padres are finely tuned on process. He discussed process vs outcome on a good/bad scale (ex: Good process, bad outcome). The Padres constantly evaluate their process to ensure it's sound, and change it as necessary.

End Remarks.

Question (Q): Could the Padres process be compared to industry standards like ISO 9000?
Paul D (PD): Not really, although it is similar.

Q: Is Kevin Towers as old school as he projects, or does he use the process?
PD: KT is very focused on the process, although he looks at intangibles too. He's realistic. You're never going to be right on every player. Past performance is not indicative of future effort. Need to look at how a player conducts themselves during adverse times; it may be he has good process but is just suffering under bad circumstances (bad outcomes). Cited Heath Bell as an example of a guy thriving in the right circumstance because his process (how he conducted his day-to-day business) was sound.

Q: Game 163 (playoff at Colorado). The last play. WTF? (liberal paraphrase of the question there)
PD: "Umpire?" (laughter). He didn't really know either. Michael Barrett adamant that Holloway didn't touch the plate at all (although Barrett didn't tag him, either). PD did mention the HR San Diego got credit for earlier in the game that actually hit the top of the fence and bounced back, so I guess it all evens out.

Q: Have teams become more homogenous in their evaluations, or is there still a lot of scattered philosophies?
PD: There's no one good way to evaluate players. Lots of teams do it lots of different ways. He gave kudos to the Braves - whose 14 straight division championships is a feat that hasn't gotten the recognition it should based on its difficulty - for doing a great job during those years drafting high school players who eventually made it to the majors. Related an anecdote about Billy Beane, basically that Beane had over 20 years experience in baseball as a player, scout, coach, and GM, but he couldn't walk into a HS game, point to a player and say 'that guy's a future major leaguer'. Oakland found another way to draft quality talent beyond picking high schoolers.

Q: Is Boston really that good?
PD: The do a great job. They are very process oriented. The difference is they have resources most other teams don't. Epstein (who cut his teeth with the Padres) has done a great job. Also Brian Cashman with the Yankees has done superior work over the past few years.

Q: Can you take us through the anamoty of a trade?
PD: Kevin Towers' charisma, relationships with other GMs helps. Most teams are willing to deal with you based on personal relationships between GMs and if they don't feel they've been screwed in the past. For instance, Texas has basically told the Padres they won't trade with them anymore (and since the Rangers gave up Chris Young (All-Star), Adrian Gonzalez (All-Star), and Terrmel Sledge for Adam Eaton (now with Philadelphia), Akinori Otsuka (elbow surgery, out 2nd half of 2007 and now all of 2008) and a minor leaguer, I wonder why?).

PD did also say that 90% or better of trades discussed don't happen; perhaps 9 of 10 between teams, and 49 of 50 floated as ideas in the organization, are just talk. As an aside, the fellas over at U.S.S. Mariner recently alluded to this fact as why they don't post any old trade rumor on their site; there's just too much uncertainty. Based on Paul's remark, they're very wise men.

Q: Is there conflict between what the process calls for and what individuals can do? (Specific example cited was drawing walks)
PD: People have different abilities at the plate. You have to work with a players strengths, and if his strengths don't fit what your process deems important, well then you modify your process so that player can succeed. Ex: Jason Giambi was the prototypical patience/power hitter when with the A's; he'd walk 120 times a year. Miguel Tejada, however, wasn't going to walk, wasn't going to take a lot of pitches, so the organization put him in a position in the batting order to maximize his ability and potential for success. (Editorial comment: I think this is a very sound business philosophy.)

Q: What do you think about how Bud Black uses his relief pitchers?
PD: Defused the discussion by saying the following: As far as the roster makeup goes, everyone has input, but Kevin Towers makes the final decision. During the game, the coaches have input, but Bud Black makes the decisions. KT isn't going to call the dugout in the sixth and say, "hey get Cla Meredith up." Also decisions in-game are driven by the roster, and the physical abilities of the player on that day in that situation.

Q: How many minor league teams to the Padres have and how many do they own outright?
PD: Seven, which includes teams in the Dominican Republic. The Padres own 2 at the rookie level, and have working agreements with the rest (A through AAA).

Q: Of the Rule V draftees this year, how many have a realistic shot at making the team?
PD: We think 2 of the 3 we took have a shot. Probably one reliever and one other.

Q: What do you look at when evaluating a player
PD: There's so much information - on players, on the organization, on future payroll (which isn't released outside the team), as well as personal data not widely available on a particular individual. (Editorial: It seems evaluation of players goes well beyond the statistics we all use In hindsight this seems obvious.) The Padres are among the top 5 or 6 teams in MLB in spending on players, and the value assigned to a player drives his salary. For instance, they might not feel so bad paying a guy $8 million if his skill set is valued at $12 million.

Q: Stolen bases - what percentage do you use to say a guy is a successful basestealer?
PD: When he's safe (laughter). Actually, 75-80% success rate is considered successful, although he'd prefer some margin (say 85%).

Q: Contract negotiations with Khalil Greene? How's it going?
PD: Slow. It's a dialogue, and both sides are talking. Khalil has removed himself from the process, and that's fine - we're negotiating with his agent.

More questions (and answers) later in the week. Thursday is United Cardinal Blogger Project day, and I'll be a posting as a part of that effort. The rest of the Q&A will be up Friday.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The San Diego SABR meeting - Part 1

With the most exciting news out of St Louis being the signing of Todd Wellemeyer to a one-year deal, I turn to last Saturday's Society of American Baseball research meeting - at the PETCO Park Community Room.

I have a lot of information to put out, so to avoid making this an uncomfortably long post (both for you as the reader to slug through at work, and for me to type, as well as organize a coherent thought), I'm going to break the post into 3 parts: one tonight, one tomorrow, and one Wednesday. So sit back, relax, and hopefully learn something. Because I did this weekend.

The keynote speaker was, of course, Paul DePodesta. Mrs. Rant and I actually made it to the meeting 10 minutes early - no small feat, considering we have 2 small children and had to drop them off at the sitter. Amazingly we were able to get everyone up, showered, and out of the house by 0810. This feat was not without a small price: Mrs Rant didn't get breakfast, and I got to change shirts twice courtesy of my precision bombing youngest. He's a crack shot with the spit.

Anyway, despite some initial anxiety about being left at the sitter, my sons perserved - considering the sitter was their Grandparents, and they can get away with pretty much anything (as well as be stuffed with all sorts of sugary goodies). Off we go!

After listening to DePodesta speak for about 5 minutes, it's easy to see how he got the GM slot with the Dodgers. He has an easy going manner, an engaging personality, is funny without forcing it, and communicates very well with his audience. I'm going to cover the Q&A period over the next two posts; in all, he answered over two dozen questions from the audience on a wide variety of topics, from general baseball interest to specific moves the Padres have made recently. Paul started speaking about 0930 and spent almost 2 hours with us. I'm quite sure if our chapter president hadn't cut the session short, we'd have peppered him with questions all afternoon - and he'd have answered them. Well worth the price of admission (which was free, BTW).

The Community Room at PETCO faces Park Boulevard. To get to it, you would walk past the main entrance, past the ticket office, past the group ticket office, and the last sliding glass window you come to is the room. Typically it appears to be used as an employee lounge. The Padres provide free beverages to their employees, and this room serves as kind of a warehouse for that purpose. They graciously allowed us to utilize this service; let me say their coffee maker is first rate - and the coffee isn't bad, either.

After Paul spoke we had a presentation by Tammy Lechner, 'photojournalist/author', and her book Our Team, Our Dream: A Cub Fan's Journey into Baseball's Greatest Romance. How was it? Imagine your least favorite Aunt, the one who lives alone with 27 cats, inviting you over to see her latest vacation photos. It was that bad. She faced the screen and scrolled through the slides. And mumbled. Frankly the funniest moment was when the Mrs challenged her by questioning whether Cardinals/Cubs is really a rivalry, since it's so one-sided. Caught Tammy completely off guard, generated several chuckles from members, and irritated the 2 Cub fans in the room. High comedy. Never got a straight answer, either.

I should mention, at these meetings those who present on recently published books also bring copies of their book to sell. Needless to say we didn't pick up Tammy's book.

After a short break to splash some water on our collective faces, we had a trivia contest. One of the members put together a list of questions, 14 for this meeting, and we see who can answer the most. Here are the questions from Saturday:

Note: All questions involve the Cubs, A's, or Babe Dahlgren

1. Who managed the A's before Art Howe?
2. Who is the last Cub to pitch a no-hitter?
3. Who was the next regular Yankee 1B after Babe Dahlgren? (His MLB career lasted one year)
4. Who played for the Padres in 2005 and the Cubs in 2006?
5. Who is the only Athletic 1B to win a Gold Glove?
6. What pitcher was a member of both the 1984 Cubs and 1988 A's?
7. Who is the only catcher to lead both leagues in bases on balls?
8. Who was the first Cubs player to amass 425 total bases in a season?
9. Babe Dahlgren twice led the league in games played; once for an AL team and once for an NL team. Name the teams.
10. What pitcher who was denied a start in the World Series due to an earthquake won the Cy Young Award the next year?
11. Of the Barry Zito-Tim Hudson-Mark Mulder A's trio, whose major league pitching debut came the earliest?
12. What Hall of Famer retired after the 1994 and unretired in 1996?
13. What pitcher holds the record for balks in a season?
14. Who is the last Cub to win a batting title?

Take a crack at those. I will post the answers tomorrow.

Why did all the questions all involve Dahlgren, Cubs, and A's? It matched the pedigree of our 3 presenters for the meeting.

Now at the last meeting, I tied with one other guy for the most answered, but lost the prize (A DVD of World Series games, I forget for what team) on the coin flip. This time no such bad luck. My prize: Sports Illustrated from September 23, 1985. Ozzie Smith graced the cover of that issue - and signed it. Very cool.

(there would be a photo here of the cover, but my camera is on the fritz).

Lastly, we had a presentation from Matt Dahlgren, grandson of Babe Dahlgren, on his new book, Rumor in Town. This was also worth hearing about. Visit the website for more information, but suffice it to say Dahlgren was one of the better defensive first basemen of his generation. He came up with the Red Sox in 1935, was purchased by the Yankees prior to the 1937 season, and was a vital cog in the 1937-1939 World Series Champion Yankee teams. He had his best offensive year as a Yankee in 1940, but was sold outright to the Boston Braves before the 1941 season. Boston was the second worst team in the NL in 1940; only the hapless Phillies kept them out of the cellar. Odd, right?

From there an odyssey of trades, releases, and the like followed: sold to the Cubs during the 1941 season, then sold to the Browns (who returned him to Chicago) and later the Dodgers during the 1942 season, traded to the Phillies before the 1943 season (where he was an All-Star), and traded to Pittsburgh before the 1944 season. He was finally sold to the Browns again before 1946 (who kept him this time), but hurt his shoulder diving for a line drive early in the season; it would be his last at the Major League level.

Why did he go from being on a champion team to being shuttled around like a lot of baggage? Because of a rumor he smoked marijuana. How did the rumor get started? You'd need to read the book to find out.

Now I am not stumping for Matt Dahlgren to increase his book sales; he has no idea I'm writing this, and I have not and will not receive any compensation for this review. The story, however, is compelling - from describing the power a rumor has to destroy someone's reputation to the extraordinary character it takes for a man (or a woman for that matter) to fight the rumor as long as it persists. I'm looking forward to reading the full story.

The meeting broke up around 1300. We headed back to rescue Mrs Rant's parents from our two energetic boys.

If you have a chance to attend one of these meetings, I would highly encourage it - it's a great forum for folks like us, who love the game of baseball, to get together and discuss the game of baseball, as well as see what research is being done out there. Virtually every part of the country has a SABR chapter. Check out the society's home page for more details.

Tomorrow we'll post the first 14 questions posed to (and answered by) Paul DePodesta.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

And I'm Off by a Day

Case in point about what I described yesterday: I thought last night was Thursday night. Wow.

So a real short post tonight.

I now understand why the Cardinals went out and signed Josh Phelps - AP's balky elbow. His offensive numbers have always been amazing. To learn he was doing it with a right arm he can't fully extend is remarkable. Since most of us have written 2008 off as a lost year, if his arm really gives him trouble this would be the year to shut it down and do the surgery/long rehab prepping for 2009.

That said, anything can happen; so I'm glad he's going to start the year. But if he can't go because the pain's too great, at least we have a back-up with some seasoning who can hit for power. And a lot more power than Spiezio can.

The other note from today is Mike Matheny will be in camp as a roving instructor.

That's it. Told you it would be short.

[Update 1/25 0810]: And C70 had the information on his site the whole time. Apparently, mentally I'm orbiting Jupiter this week. I'd link to it, but my work settings won't allow it (that's another story altogether)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Not Much of a Post, But Anyway...

I don't have much free time these days. For the past year, my masters program has been set up such that both classes had homework due on Mondays, leaving the weekend to do all the reading/homework. I had become accustomed to doing the reading during the week and the problems on the weekend. This quarter, one class has decided to makehomework due 0900 Tuesdays, the other 1600 on Thursdays. Of course, I'm not working ahead, so I'm doing a lot more work at night during the week.

Which cuts into my blogging time.

That, coupled with the usual silliness and attempts to find/buy a new house, well, not much time is left over. So I apologize for being away. This will be a mish-mash of my thoughts on some recent happenings.

1. Ankiel signed for 1 year, $900K. Seems fair.

2. Molina signed for 4 years, $12Mil. Seems eminently fair. Most in the blog-o-sphere put greater emphasis on offensive statistics than defense, or so it seems; how else to explain some of the 'dump Molina, promote Brian Anderson' things I've read? I still firmly believe you win with pitching and defense. Molina handles the staff well and his defense is HOF-caliber. Great signing.

3. AP bans KTVI from his press conference at the Winter Warm-Up. I giggled (in a masculine way, of course) when I read that. Bill Simmons discusses Eff-You Touchdowns? This was the Eff-You press conference. Nice to see the irresponsible have to face the consequences of their actions. Unfortunate that it was taken out on a reporter/camerman who most likely had nothing to do with reporting the lie about AP being in the Mitchell Report. Pujols should sue the NY affiliate and KTVI for slander.

4. LaRussa jabs at Kennedy for missing the Winter Warm-Up. Unbelievable. Why take a guy to task publicly, especially over something stupid like missing a meeting (which, essentially, is what the Winter Warm-Up is)? This, coupled with the calling out of Rolen earlier this off-season, are two red flags for me. LaRussa isn't acting like a leader; he's acting like someone suffering from acute paranoia, lashing out at everyone. It's ironic to me that when he had his DUI the organization stood behind him publicly. I don't know what happened behind closed doors; I would expect/hope he had the Riot Act read to him, considering his position in the organization and his responsibilities to his men. Obviously he didn't learn from that example.

5. Not doing too well in the Tournament of Champions; so far, 1930 lost to 2000 (and got swept to boot). Eight series to go, so there's still time to tear it up. See C70 at the bat's website for overall status. I was hoping he'd post the game results (not the VEB writeup or box score, just the score), but he's not. Oh, well. Maybe I'll do that here.

Saturday's the SABR meeting here in SD, down at PETCO. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by (admission should be free, but don't hold me to that). Details are on the Ted Williams SABR web link in the margin. I'll be there; I'll be the guy wearing a Padres gray road jersey (camouflage, you see) with a 2004 and 2006 St Louis WS press pin on it (can't go completely native). I'll also be taking copious notes during DePodesta's presentation. As promised, I will post a summary of his talk here.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

All-Time Cardinals Simulation Tournament

I'm going to assume most (all) folks who find there way here also read Viva El Birdos on a regular basis.

They're going to try and conduct a tournament in which the best St Louis baseball teams (and I have to say St Louis; the Cardinals came into existence as we know them in 1892, and this tournament includes teams from before that) square off to see who's the best team. An interesting idea.

So I entered some picks. Mine are no doubt correct and I look forward to my many congratulatory emails as a prescient prognosticator.

Just kidding. I know next to nothing about the teams from the 1880s, which makes this interesting - especially since the game was played differently then than it is now.

However, for lack of a better topic, here is who I picked and why:

Game 1: 1887 vs 1996

I've long considered the 1996 Cardinals the greatest over-achieving team of my lifetime, narrowly edging the 1987 club. This is a team that finished 19 games under .500 in 1995 and 16 games under in 1997; they caught lightning in a bottle for one great season. Although I did enjoy the 2 NLDS games I made it to (Game 2 in St L, which is a good post topic for a later time, and Game 3 in SD) that year. The 1887 club on the 3rd of 4 consecutive American Association pennants. No brainer.
Pick: 1887

Game 2: 1888 vs 1987

This was tough because the 1987 team was fun. They won 17 of 18 before the All-Star break that season; and during a memorable September series against the hated Mets, they rallied from 3 down in the ninth to tie and scored 2 in the 10th to win the opener 6-4. In 2 innings they went from being 1/2 game up to being 2 and 1/2 up with 13 to play. When they beat Gooden 8 -1 the next day a dagger had been shoved through the heart of the Mets. That said, it was a patchwork and bailing-wire team that finally quit hitting in the post-season. I don't think they have enough to beat a good 1888 squad.
Pick: 1888

Game 3: 2005 vs 2002

Another tough one. The 2002 squad was galvanized by the death of Darryl Kile; the 2005 squad played tough, alert, aggressive baseball. Both lost a tough LCS. Both teams are very similar (and have some of the same players on them: Rolen, AP, Edmonds, etc), and it may be more of a tip-of-the-cap to the 2001 team (which I believe was better than they generally get credit for being), but I decided to vote against the 2005 team. No clear reason why.
Pick: 2002

Game 4: 1930 vs 2000

The 1930 club lost to the last of Connie Mack's great A's teams, then beat them the following year. The 2000 club avenged the 1996 LCS loss to Atlanta in the Division Series and then rolled over against the Mets. Any club from the Gasehouse Gang Period, even if they weren't technically the Gasehouse Gang yet, gets my vote.
Pick: 1930

Game 5: 1985 vs 1887

My favorite Cardinal team of my lifetime against a team I don't know anything about. Seemed fairly easy.
Pick: 1985

(You'll notice not a lot of scientific thought went into these picks.)

Game 6: 2004 vs 1888

My second-favorite Cardinal team against another team I don't know much about. The only thing that bothered me about this pick is Chris Carpenter isn't available to pitch. However, I think this Cardinals team at the zenith of their powers, and with Walker/Pujols/Rolen/Edmonds in the heart of their lineup is too tough a matchup for the 1888 squad.
Pick: 2004

Game 7: 2002 vs 1943

Aside from the 1885-1888 teams, the 1942-44 teams are the only Cardinals teams to win more than 2 consecutive pennants. The Yankees avenged their 5-game loss in 1942 in the 43 Fall Classic. 2002? Were crushed by Barry Bonds' big giant head in the NLCS. I'll take the Golden Age of Baseball toughness here. Not to mention Stan the Man.
Pick: 1943

Game 8: 1930 vs 1885

Both teams are a year away from winning the World Series. The 1885 squad is at the start of their run; the 1930 squad has won 3 pennants in 5 years, and will win 2 of the next 4, so a solid team. This was the toughest call. In the end, I almost flipped a coin, but decided to go with the wily 19th century team - figuring they'll be a lot more bunting and baserunning from them to keep the 1930 team honest.
Pick: 1885

Game 9: 1968 vs 1928

Let's see: Gibson vs Rajah. Now those would be interesting at bats to watch. But since Gibby was the best pitcher in the solar system that year (no apologies to Denny McLain), I don't see how the 1928 team will get many hits. And Gibby will probably pitch 3 times in the series. I like my chances.
Pick: 1968

Well do this again once these games have been completed and the 16-team field is filled out.

Lastly, this will be my last call for proposed questions to Paul DePodesta. So if you've got something you'd like to have asked, send it to me this weekend.

A Quick Note on Rolen and Glaus

A couple of quick notes - I plan on doing a longer post tonight for tomorrow's "extravaganza".

Scott Rolen was introduced by the Blue Jays yesterday, and declined to discuss his relationship with LaRussa. Which I think is the height of professionalism. Well Done, Scott.

Mozeliak, discussing Glaus, specifically mentioned he was gotten to provide protection for AP in the lineup, as reported in today's Post-Dispatch. Which does make a lot of sense, but isn't as elegant as my lefty-righty-lefty-righty lineup posted a couple of days ago. The other thing that lineup didn't do was find a place for Colby Rasmus. Despite all the buzz about Rasmus in the blog-o-sphere, I don't know all that much about him; some research is in order to figure out where in the lineup he'll best fit. For now I'll stick him in the eighth spot. Revised lineup:


Monday, January 14, 2008

Rolen Flees to Canada

Scott Rolen, like any American avoiding confrontation, has moved to Canada.

{Moving to avoid potential bolt of lightning}

Seriously, Rolen escaped a noxious situation in St Louis when the Cardinals and Blue Jays agreed to swap injured third sackers. Cardinals get Troy Glaus, who's younger than Rolen and packs some thunder in his bat (he's right handed).

Glaus missed most of the second half last year with a foot injury, identified recently as plantar fascitis, the same thing that afflicted Pujols in 2005/06. He did pass a physical (as did Rolen).

I saw the rumors swirling about this deal but decided to refrain from comment until it was done, which it is as of this afternoon. Also I'd been swept away by Charger mania...until they won yesterday and now get to have their asses handed to them by New England (again).

Glaus was a fantasy stud last year until he got hurt. Rolen's shoulders haven't been completely right since his collision in the 2002 NLDS. Granted, he had productive years in 2003 and 2004, and his collision with Hee Sop Choi is the one that really screwed him up; but I wonder if his shoulder would have collapsed as badly as it did if it hadn't been injured 3 years prior.

On paper this does look like a good trade for the Cardinals.

I will be interested to hear what Rolen has to say at his next press conference, if he brings up the situation with LaRussa at all. If it were me, I'd let it go publicly, but use it to motivate me to a couple of great seasons in Toronto.

As for Glaus - the man can certainly hit, and his glove is at least average (several prognosticators say it's above average). Not much of a drop off from what Rolen could do; some would argue he's an improvement. Where will he hit in the lineup? Rolen hit fourth until his production sagged. Let's assume Tony won't hit Glaus 4th until he gets some familiarity with the new league, so the order could look like this:

SS Izturis
LF Duncan
1B Pujols
RF Ankiel
3B Glaus
CF Schumaker
C Molina
2B Kennedy
Pitchers spot

Just a guess, because I'd alternate my righty/lefty power. Ankiel's a better overall hitter than Duncan, and Duncan thrived hitting in front of Pujols in 2006 (which shouldn't be a surprise; I'd thrive hitting in front of Pujols). Glaus starts in an RBI slot in the order but doesn't have to shoulder the load of being the primary RBI guy right out the chute. The rest of the order I just filled in as I thought appropriate.

So this piece of off-season drama is resolved. Thanks, Scott Rolen, for the memories and the effort. Welcome, Troy Glaus. Good Luck.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

All Star Games and the Post Season

Today the Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals completed a minor-league deal for Josh Phelps, late of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Terms were not disclosed, although the agreement did include an invitation to spring training for Phelps. He's only 29.

His best seasons were 2002-2003 with Toronto, when as a part time player (never more than 119 games), he hit about .270 with 17 HR and 62 RBI (on average). He was traded during the 2004 season to Cleveland, and has bounced around a lot since then (Tampa Bay, Detroit, Yankees, and finally Pittsburgh). He spent all of 2006 in the Detroit farm system.

The Cardinals suffer from a dearth of right-handed power, so if this kid can make the team as a bench player/pinch hitter that's a plus in my opinion.

Other than that, it's been quiet. So in searching for things to write about, I thought I'd dust off my thoughts on the All-Star game as it currently stands.

When the 2002 All-Star Game completed 9 innings tied at 7, Commissioner Bud Selig had two choices: continue playing the game to conclusion (as baseball rules require), or stop the game. Complicating matters, each manager had managed their roster to ensure all players had appeared in the game, as had become the custom; neither one had a pitcher left in reserve, meaning the one throwing the ninth inning would be back on the mound for the 10th. and 11th. and so on...

Bud chose the latter of the two options, and baseball quickly became a laughingstock. They couldn't even put on an All-Star game right.

To stop the laughter, and prevent this situation from happening again, MLB instituted the 'this time it counts' slogan and declared the league winning the All-Star game would have home field advantage during the World Series.

Fast forward to 2007. The AL has dominated the whole game, and leads 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth, but with the bases empty and 2 out a rally starts. Suddenly the NL's scored two runs, Putz and K-Rod have walked the bases loaded, and a single wins the game. NL manager Tony LaRussa has Albert Pujols available to hit. He sticks with Aaron Rowland, later citing concerns that AP needed to be available if the game went extra innings. Rowland flies out; game ends.

Although ripe for questioning (and it was heavily second-guessed at the time), I'm not going to dissect Tony's decision process for that at-bat. The real issue here is that AB had larger than it should significance because of the rules in place governing the post-season. Instead of just trying to win the game, Rowland had the weight of an entire league (not to mention 10 years of futility in these games) riding on it. All because of a poor decision made by Selig in 2002.

That wasn't fair to Rowland and it isn't a fair way to determine who hosts 4 of the potential 7 games played in the World Series. So let's fix it.

Here's how:
1. The team with the best overall record will have home field advantage for the World Series.
2. Teams making the playoffs as the wild card are never allowed to have home field advantage in the World Series, unless both teams in the Series are wild cards; then we revert to rule #1.

Now, this would marginalize the All-Star game again, right? And potentially set us up for another 2002 debacle. Possibly. So change the mentality of the All-Star game and bend the rules a little.

Here's how to avoid the 2002 debacle:
1. Manage the game like it's a regular season game. In 1955 Musial pinch hit for Del Ennis in the 4th inning - and played the rest of the game, winning it with a HR in the 12th. Current rules require the starters to play 2 innings and get an AB. If the starter is a liability (like Bonds), substitute for him as soon as you're allowed. If the starter is the best player in the league at that position (like Ichiro) leave him in there.

2. Designate one pitcher as the long man upfront. He and his team should know so they can plan for it. He then becomes the guy to work a lot of innings if the game goes into extras.

3. Remember, this is still an exhibition - so allow one player who has been taken out of the game to be eligible to return for each 2 extra innings played. Since rule #2 took care of pitching, most likely this would be a hitter who can then be used as situations demand it.

4. Players and managers mayl need incentive to take it seriously now that 'this time it counts' is removed. So set aside some of the post-season money for the All-Stars. The winning side would get paid, and slightly more than players on the losing team. It won't be much, but hell, nothing motivates like cold hard cash, right?

Leagues could even dedicate the game to a favorite charity or cause and donate the team's winnings to that charity or cause. Talk about a PR bonanza.

What do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments. And keep the questions for DePodesta coming...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Gossage Gets Call; McGwire Treads Water

First, some notes: Thanks to Larry over at Viva El Birdos for posting a plug and link to my GM question article. His note is here if you hadn't read it. I'm looking forward to reading the questions I get. Also, here's the link to the San Diego SABR site announcing the meeting, so you don't think I'm just full of shit.

Second, you may have noticed I've been posting every day of late. This is something I'm trying to do this year (call it a resolution, if you like). We'll see how long I'm able to stay with it. My intentions are to do short posts every day but Tuesday and Friday; on those days the posts should be a bit longer.

Third, the Post Dispatch article today discussed the three Cardinals going to arbitration shortly: Ankiel, Yadi, and Wellemeyer. Of the $6M the team freed up by trading Edmonds to the Cardinals, figure $1.4 was spent on Miles; how much of the remainder will be used on these 3 players? I would expect (hope) Yadi gets the lion's share of the remaining money. I don't care if he hits in the 240s (220s?) and drives in less than 50 runs a year; the fact that no one will run on him means the double play is always in order - a vital defensive piece for a team that stresses pitch to contact. He probably prevents as many runs as he drives in.

Finally, the HOF results are in: Goose Gossage gets voted in this year. A lot of observers saw his selection as a near certainty after Bruce Sutter made the cut last year. Sutter was a tremendous reliever, and brought a pitch to the ML level (the split-finger fastball) that revolutionized pitching (too strong? perhaps), but Gossage was the most feared reliever in the game in the late 70s/early 80s. Congratulations to the Goose and that most excellent mustache of his, which I hope is prominently displayed on his plaque.

Mark McGwire? Got exactly as many votes this year as last year. Obviously it means he didn't get in, and will be on next year's ballot. More ominously it means those who didn't vote for him last year (and this year) probably never will. If Roger Clemens has really thrown his last pitch, it will be veeerrry interesting to see the balloting in 5 years, since I expect McGwire to still be on the ballot.

Keep the questions coming.....

Monday, January 07, 2008

Divorce Proceedings

I watched the Clemens interview with Mike Wallace on 60 minutes. I missed his news conference this afternoon, but what I've heard reported about it doesn't change my impression of what's going on.

That interview was spin in its purest form. It included ad hominem attacks on his accuser, the advancement of another theory (Vioxx) to explain possible future debilitation, and whines about how he gets 'no respect'. My wife, who watched his body language rather intently, is convinced he lied through his teeth (head movements, paper/pencil he was holding giving the appearance it was staged, etc).

For me, this has now disintegrated into a divorce proceeding. He said/she said. Who's to blame, who's wrong. And I don't care.

I couldn't figure out why he would call a news conference the day after his "interview" aired; it certainly wasn't to make himself more accessible to the media (who he blew off for a month). No - it was to announce his suit of McNamee and to play a recorded conversation with McNamee. Clemens called him Friday so the conversation could be recorded and used against him.

Whatever. If McNamee countersues as promised this will drag on for years. That will keep Clemens' name linked to steroid use in the public eye and permanently damage Clemens' reputation, as well as probably ruin his chances of getting into the Hall.

Actually being named in the report probably ruins his chances of getting into the Hall. I'm sure the BBWAA voters will apply the same strict standards they're using on McGwire, against whom there is also no hard proof, when they consider Clemens' candidacy.

Of course, I still believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy too.

If you didn't see it, take a look at yesterday's post. Again, all reasonable questions will be accepted and posed to Mr. DePodesta.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Ever want to ask a GM a question?

No news on the Cardinals since Miles was re-signed. I'm recording 60 minutes tonight, so I haven't seen Clemens' interview; that discussion will have to wait until another time.

I wanted to pass along to everyone some info you might find interesting.

The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) is an organization for anyone who likes reading/talking about/arguing over baseball history and baseball-related topics. There are chapters across the country, including the Bob Broeg Chapter in St Louis and the Ted Williams Chapter here in San Diego, to which I belong.

Yes, it is a good fit for me.

We have 2-3 meetings a year, and our first meeting for 2008 is coming up at the end of January. Although not officially announced yet, I can say on good authority that Paul DePodesta, late the GM of the Dodgers and currently a Special Assistant for Baseball Operations for the Padres, will be a keynote speaker. Which brings me back to the title of this post.

We (the paying public) rarely get to speak directly with someone in a baseball front office. Here's your chance, loyal reader, to do so. If you have a burning question (of a general nature; remember, he works for the Padres, not the Cardinals) that you've always wanted to ask a GM, email it to me at between now and 21 January. All reasonable questions will be accepted and I will attempt to get Mr. DePodesta to answer as many as I can. I can't guarantee that he'll field all the questions, but I can guarantee I'll ask as many as I can get away with.

I will post the results of the meeting and the answers to questions I was able to ask and get answers to here after the meeting.

Once the Ted Williams website is updated with the agenda for the meeting I will post a link on this site so you can check it out for yourself, if desired.

Remember: Can't be Cardinal-specific, and must be reasonable (I would think asking him why in the Name of God he signed JD Drew falls under unreasonable).

Finally if you saw the San Diego/Tennessee game you know the recent SoCal storm wasn't the armageddon it was predicted to be. We did get quite a bit of rain, but overall it wasn't that bad.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Prevent Offense

Just finished watching the Steelers/Jaguars game. Which was eerily like the Seahawks/Redskins game at the crucial point of the game.

Remember the prevent defense? The alignment where, to prevent a team from throwing the ball downfield, the defense goes with something like 3 down lineman and 8 drop back into coverage? Usually the quarterback, given lots of time to survey the field, picks the defense apart and moves his team to a score.

Many times this prevent defense is 180 degrees out from the defense the team played to get them the lead (4 linemen rushing, blitz packages, etc).

Well tonight we saw a classic example of the prevent offense.

Let's start with the Redskins. Couldn't do a thing offensively for most of the game. Then late in the third quarter they figure out how to move the ball through the air. 85 yard drive for a touchdown. The defense picks off a Hasselback pass. Collins hits Moss for a touchdown. Suddenly it's 14-13 Washington. The ensuing kickoff takes a crazy hop, and Washington recovers it on the 15 yard line.

Now, Gibbs has his foot on Seattle's throat. Punch this ball in and the game may be over; Hasselback could make more bad decisions, no more running game, etc. Instead, he gets all conservative - tries to run the ball. Can't get a first down. Missed field goal. Momentum swung.

True, they did pick off a pass, forestalling their doom, but again, couldn't get a first down. Seattle takes the ball (following the punt) and scores a touchdown. Collins, forced to throw deeper than he'd like (due to their being less than 7 min to play), has two picked off and returned for a touchdown.

Done in by the prevent offense.

Pittsburgh does the same thing. They're getting killed, although not because Jacksonville's offensive is that good - kickoff return to the 4 and 2 picks returned for touchdowns have given J'ville a 28-10 lead. Pittsburgh can't run the ball at all. So, Big Ben starts throwing to Miller and Hines. A lot.

Next thing you know, they're up 29-28, and have the ball in their own territory with under 3 minutes to play. Two first downs and the game is over. Remember, the passing game is what got them back into the lead. What do they do? Run the ball 3 times. No first down.

They punt, Jacksonville calls a great play on 4th and 2, and kicks the winning field goal. See you next season. Pittsburgh done in by the prevent offense.

Coaches constantly do this. Why go away from something that's working just because now you've got the lead? The something got you the lead, and the other team has no answer for it. To me, you keep doing it. Why change it? They all do it, and they all lose close games, and they all wonder why. The only coach in recent memory who didn't go into a shell with the game on the line was Ron Zook and the Illini against Ohio State this season. He went for the critical first down, won the game as a result. These guys are more concerned with taking time off the clock and trying to outlast the other team instead of grabbing the win outright.

Gibbs is a HOF coach who was undermanned and whose team played its guts out. Better playcalling would have helped them advance to Dallas. Pittsburgh's coach had the presence of mind to scrap the running game down by 18 in the third quarter. Why he went back to the run at the end is a decision he can ponder between now and mini-camp.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Cardinals re-sign Miles

Figures. I pay Mozeliak a compliment yesterday, today he re-signs Miles.

It makes me wonder if the plan had been to re-sign Eckstein and then sign Izturis to fill the slot Miles had previously. When they didn't/couldn't get together with Eckstein they had no back-up plan, but knew they didn't want to pay Miles close to a million dollars for 2008 (why he was non-tendered).

I haven't been paying that much attention to the free agent pool. Is SS and 2B so thin this year bringing Miles back was the best option?

Also a small programming alert: you've probably heard there are large storms headed towards SoCal (so far 1 million Californians are without power, all flights out of the bay area were cancelled, etc). Although I haven't taken the drastic step of building an ark, there may be a 'break in service' depending on how bad this really is. Please be patient.

[Update 1/4/08 2357]: Miles signed for $1.4M. Last year's base salary was $1.0M. We signed him for MORE?!?! Yeeech.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Cardinals Sign Matt Clement

Joe Strauss reported earlier today the Cardinals signed Matt Clement to a one-year deal with a club option for 2009. I had hoped Cot's would have more data on the deal, but they don't as of the writing of this post.

Clement last toiled for the Boston Red Sox, going 13-6 in 2005 and 5-5 in 2006. He noticeably lost velocity in 2006 and was shut down in August, undergoing surgery to repair what's been called 'extensive' damage to his right shoulder.

Clement becomes the latest rehab project to join the staff. Since he spent the last 4 years in the Red Sox organization, I'm fairly confident his rehabilitation was done correctly; there was no need for Boston to rush him back to service, and they currently epitomize a first-class operation in taking care of their people, so the Cardinals get a guy on the plus side of his rehab.

Clement came up with the Padres, and I had a chance to see him pitch a couple of times. He had good velocity on his fastball, and I thought if he could ever fix his control problems (he walked an awful lot of people) he'd be pretty good. San Diego traded him to Florida and got Mark Kotsay in 2000; Florida traded him to the Cubs in the deal that sent Dontrelle Willis to Miami. I remember thinking the Cubs had done very well in landing Clement because he had lots of potential.

If he's actually available Opening Day, as the Cardinals have been reported as expecting, he will be a big up-check in their patchwork rotation. Right now I'd rate Clement as a #3 starter, with the potential to be a #2 or #1 depending on his control and how well he works with Dave Duncan.

Yep, it's safe to say I like this deal pending the contract Clement got.

Suddenly we've got 4 reasonable starters for next year in Wainwright, Looper, Piniero, and Clement. Assuming Wainwright continues to pitch like he did in the second half of the season, Looper continues to progress (and can go deeper than 6 innings), and knowing Piniero and Clement are obvious improvements over Wells, Maroth, Reyes, Thompson, Wellemeyer, a guy from section 447, a pitching machine, or whoever the team was running out there last season, our starters should keep the team afloat (preferably over .500) until reinforcements arrive after the All-Star break. And, now instead of Reyes/Thompson/Wellemeyer taking two starter slots, they will only fill one - and that's a significant improvement.

There are still a lot of if's with this club. The rotation, though improved, is still a wild card other than Wainwright and Looper. Will Rolen return to some semblance of his 2004 form. How will Rasmus and Izturis hit. And so on. But to me this group suddenly looks capable of a .500 or better campaign.

If Carpenter and Mulder are able to return around the All-Star break and pitch effectively, 2008 may not be a rebuilding year after all.

I'm thinking Mozeliak knows what he's doing.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

We take time out to discuss the Rose Bowl

It's the Grandaddy Of Them All - the Rose Bowl. Although I could plant myself in front of the TV on New Year's Day and watch football all day (and when the first game was the Florida Citrus Bowl and the last the Orange, I did), the only game I really watch from start to finish is this one.

This year the Big Ten offered up Illinois at the altar of Pac-10 dominance. USC 49, Illinois 17. Check. And it wasn't even that close.

Recently, Sports Illustrated ran an article bemoaning the state of the BCS and advocating some sort of playoff. It alleged the biggest stumbling block was the Rose Bowl, who resolutely and stubbornly stick to their Big-10/Pac-10 matchup (which they have featured since 1947, except for recently - 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006). Which got me thinking: WHY does the Rose Bowl Committee insist on inviting the Big-10? Seems to me the Big-10 gets clobbered every year.

Was that an impression, or is it really true?

My family moved to the left coast in 1977, so let's look at the results since 1978. There have been 4 games that did not involve a Big-10 and a Pac-10 team; in 3 of those games one or the other conference was represented, but we've eliminated them from consideration anyway. For the remaining 27 games, the Pac-10 leads 17-10.

Not as bad a rout as I expected.

More data:

1. The Big-1o hasn't won the game since 2000 (Wisconsin).
2. From 1978-1987 (the year I left home), the Pac-10 went 9-1. This explains why I thought the Big-10 came out here every year to get clobbered.
3. USC just won back-to-back Rose Bowls, marking the sixth time a Pac-10 school has done that. Wisconsin is the only Big-10 school to accomplish the feat (1999/2000). Even STANFORD has won this bowl in consecutive years!
4. The Big-10 won 12 of the first 13 games. Since then the Pac-10 has gone 29-16 (again, games against the two conferences). Apparently sometime in the 1960s kids figured out they'd rather go to school in the sunshine than in the snow.

I see why the Rose Bowl likes the matchup. Big-10 teams travel well, and its usually a competitive game. The series (30-28 Pac-10) is essentially even.

I guess I'm just bummed my Bruins suck and the Trojans rolled.