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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Comments

I raise my champagne glass and may the upcoming year bring great success!

Congratulations on a great year and here's to your continued success!

Well deserved, Jason.

Two things I've learned on Beerleaguer this past year: Walks are irrelevant to an offense. And today from unikruk I learned that IP and strikeouts are meaningless when comparing pitchers. Presumably because strikeouts have such little value and having an ace that throws 200 IP is the same as having one that throws 300 IP.

Beerleaguer is always fascinating.

****And today from unikruk I learned that IP and strikeouts are meaningless when comparing pitchers. Presumably because strikeouts have such little value and having an ace that throws 200 IP is the same as having one that throws 300 IP.****

Its as unfair to judge Pedro on IPs as it is to judge Koufax on his career length as had the situations been reversed, Pedro very well could have thrown 300 innings had he been in a 4 man rotation and Koufax could very well have pitched past the age of 30 had he had modern sports medicine.

Both were the dominant hurler of their generation...lets leave it at that.

Happy New Year, one and all.

See that Charles Barkley got a head start on not being a role model in 09 by getting stopped on a DUI.

clout, let us not forget, strikeouts are fascist, too!

Alby: Anyone who denies that steroids have affected the outcome of games is living in a dream world. Steroids doesn't make you a better baseball player so I'm not surprised that David Segui continued to be David Segui.

Steroids do, however, enable players to recover from daily wear-and-tear and even some injuries much faster. It's why, for example, Andy Petitte says he used.

Steroids help keep a player at the top of his game when he otherwise wouldn't. If you can't look at Barry Bonds' performance and recognize it... then I don't know what else to tell you.

I am absolutely amazed about the vast amount of differing opinions and levels of knowledge present on this board. The one constant being that we are all (well almost all) Phillie fans.

Here's to more great tête-à-tête, witty banter and colorful exchanges in 2009.

CJ: You are repeating a lot of conventional wisdom, but all of it is speculation. I'm trying to draw a distinction between what we consider "common knowledge" and actual knowledge. Please remember, there have been NO studies, anywhere, of what exactly steroids can do relating to athletic performance -- nor will there be any, as it would amount to human experimentation.

I can just as easily say, based on David Segui, Jason Grimsley et al, "steroids do nothing to increase a baseball player's ability. If you can't look at Jason Grimsley's performance and recognize it, then I don't know what else to tell you." That statement would be exactly as true as yours -- that is, we don't know whether either is true.

I guess I'm not explaining this very well, but I'm trying to illustrate that what we "know" is based on cherry-picked observation -- that is, we look at McGwire, Sosa and Bonds and assume steroids make players (some, anyway) better than they were before. But we don't know how many used steroids and saw no increase in performance. They didn't turn Andy Pettitte into Roger Clemens, but they did turn an aging Roger Clemens into a more youthful version of himself. Do you have to be a very good player for steroids to make a difference? Maybe. But then there's Brady Anderson, widely suspected of juicing in his 50-HR year. But why didn't he hit 50 repeatedly, as Sosa did? We don't know.

Do you see my point? You can't say what steroids do unless you know how many players took them and how many improved. It's not a simple, straightforward case of "take steroids, perform better." If they were, David Segui might still be playing.

MPN: And grounders are democratic, but it helps if your fielders are monarchs at their positions.

alby: Have there been studies on the relationship between, say, good eyesight and hitting a baseball? Steroids increase muscle mass. You don't need a study to prove that with increased muscle mass, you will swing the bat faster. And you don't need a study to know that, if you swing the bat faster, you will make better and harder contact -- resulting in soaring offensive stats.

Just use your common sense. We know Barry Bonds took steroids and we know he went from being a very good offensive player to one of the 2 best offensive players of all time, and all at an age when 99.99% of the athletic community is already in serious decline. Same goes for Clemens.

Of course, not everyone who takes steroids improves -- let alone turning into Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. Why do some players dramatically improve on steroids while others don't? I have no idea. Why does one person's cancer go into remission after treatment, while another's doesn't? Different bodies work differently. But it is undeniable that steroids played a huge role in the offensive explosion of the mid and late 90s.

Alby: We agree. There is no evidence that steroids make a player a better baseball player. There is no evidence that steroids improve a player's ability. None at all. I've never argued that and I never will.

However, there have been many studies done on the effect of anabolic steroids on the body. Steroids can help develop lean muscle mass and help grow muscle fibers which can help the muscles recover from injury or wear and tear. The idea that we don't know what anabolic steroids do to a body is crazy!!!

Barry Bonds took steroids which increased his size and strength as well as decreasing his recovery time. This combination clearly made Barry Bonds better at baseball than he was before the age of 36. He was a great player before steroids, but a greater player after because of the physical benefits of anabolic steroids. I find it hard to believe that anyone could deny this.

To be clear: My point is that steroids do not improve your baseball skills. They can't help you learn how to hit a slider. They can't help you learn how to turn a double play better.

But steroids can make a huge difference in your performance. It doesn't mean everyone will see an improvement. But it's impossible to say that steroids haven't affected the performances of many players.

For that matter, who’s to say that David Segui and Jason Grimsley didn’t improve on steroids? They didn't turn into Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, but it looks to me like they both improved dramatically.

Segui admitted taking steroids while with the Mets. Lo and behold, that was exactly the same time that he turned from a .257 lifetime hitter into a guy who hit .286 or better 8 years in a row -- including 5 seasons above .300.

Grimsley claims he started using steroids in 1998. At that time, he had been out of baseball for the last 2 years. The next year, he was not only back in the game but had his best season ever. For the next 6 seasons, this previously below average pitcher posted ERA+ figures of 131, 96, 160, 127, 95, and 121. In 2003, he tested positive for steroids and, lo and behold, by 2005, he was back to being a below average pitcher again.

word em up Jason

happy new year !

Congrats to JW and to Beerleaguer for a very interesting 2008. Hopefully 2009 brings a repeat of angst and jubilation rolled into one again.

BTY - It always amazes me when an a huge athlete gets pulled over for DUI for the simple facts regarding blood alcohol content levels.

Barkley has got to be pushing at least 300 pounds and to get to say a BAC of 0.8 you have to consume about 7-8 beers in 1 hour.
Easier to get drunk on hard liquor but you really have to be consuming some large amounts of alcohol regardless.

On that note, drive safe tonight!

You are the greatest. You made this year even more memorable than it otherwise would have been. Keep up the phabulous work!! Can't wait for '09!

Happy New Year to every Beerleaguer!
I'm wishing for an exciting 2009 with an ending just like 2008.
Now excuse me while I go back to watching my Phillies WFC DVD again...

Minor league transactions: RHP Charles Vartanian, 1B Doug Morales, 3B Welinson Baez were all released. Baez signed out of the DR for a cool $250,000 in 2002 at age 18 and never panned out. He once rated as the fifth-best prospect in the organization by BA. He never made it out of Single A.

Yeah, I remember when everyone in the Phillies' organization was really high on Baez. Another toolsy prospect with no clue about the strike zone.

"My point is that steroids do not improve your baseball skills. They can't help you learn how to hit a slider. "

No, but could it help the hitter swing the bat faster? If so, that could, in theory, give the batter the ability to wait on a pitch for an extra split second so that he doesn't swing at that slider.

Also, as a side note, has Sosa ever been associated with steroids, or other PEDs? I believe he wasn't mentioned in the Mitchell Report, but he's often mentioned when the talk turns to steroids.

Just curious. Can anyone give an example of an above average major league player who started out as a toolsy prospect with horrible strike zone judgment? I'm not talking about a Phillies player. I'm talking about ANY player. Just one. I don't doubt that it has happened but, until I see at least one real-life example, I'm a little skeptical that it is even possible.

I likely would have never heard of those guys if it weren't for Beerleaguer. Thanks and Happy New Year.

stjoehawk: Never formally, but it has often been implied. He is kind of a double asterisk guy in my book... PED suspect and the corked bat ("that's for batting practice!") incident against the Devil Rays

Mark DeRosa just shipped to the Indians for three minor leaguers. Between this and the Jason Marquis trade, I would not be surprised to see Peavy traded to Chicago in short order.

Taking what's mine in 2009....

Here's to a great New Years - beerleaguer style. Keep up the great insights JW.

Congrats Weitzel, you're a pioneer in the phlogsphere. I dislike champagne, so I raise a talk frothy bottle of High Life to you my brother (it's the champagne of beers).

According to ESPN's Buster Olney:

Keep hearing this: Players like Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu might be forced, by circumstance, to settle for one-year offers.

*If Bobby Abreu goes for only 1 year, Ruben Amaro should be fired immediately. His haste to give 3 years 30+MM to Ibanez looms retarded!

Some of these free agents out there are going to come "cheap".

"And today from unikruk I learned that IP and strikeouts are meaningless when comparing pitchers. Presumably because strikeouts have such little value and having an ace that throws 200 IP is the same as having one that throws 300 IP."

When compared to some chosen measure of runs allowed, strikeouts do have relatively little value. I'm not tied to ERA+ per se, but it's one of our more useful metrics and a serviceable stand-in until something better comes along.

I understand the value of strikeouts in lessening the impact of defense on an ERA, and that Kendrick-like luck (or, for some, "the bulldog mentality") can contribute to a lower ERA than secondary stats would suggest. But in the end, especially over the course of seasons, it does all come down to some measure of runs, as best as we can normalize and isolate the pitcher's role in allowing them; was Hideo Nomo, who had higher strikeout figures and pitching in the Ravine, really better than Greg Maddux in the mid-90s?

Where do you draw the line with IP? Is an ace throwing 230 innings more desirable than one throwing 200? Even if the latter has a better ERA+?

Also, in your rush to condescend, you forgot to address my criticism of your inclusion of Wins as a comparative tool.

Thanks all for making this a highly enjoyable year. Watching the games and then recapturing the excitment from reading the threads on BL doubled my pleasure.

Looks like Mets are going to get Lowe for a song. Would much rather have Lowe for 3 years / $12 per than Moyer for 2 years / $8 per. Hopefully Jamie proves me wrong.

Again, Jason, thanks for a great year of a great blog. Thanks, as well, to all the regulars, irregulars, and non-regulars who contribute in diverse detail to the astounding array of (often misguided, but still entertaining) opinion.

As to b-a-p's quest for the holy grail of the Phillies' draft philosophy, while I await Sophist's statistical reply, I will cogitate on possible answers. In the meantime, the Phils might want to stock up on peg-board hooks for when more of their tools get hung up on the wall, like Baez's.

Free agents are going to start falling into team's laps. Amaro should have waited it out a bit and let the prices/years for Ibanez and Moyer come down. Hell, it looks like Lowe is going to go on the "cheap" side. Burrell might have to beg for that 2 year 22MM deal. Amaro shot is load early, and we'll all pay for it. I may not hurt this season, but it will down the road.

Happy New Year one and all.

WFC.

Interesting that DeRosa got shipped the way he did... I guess they wanted to wait until they got Miles on the squad before dealing their utility player. I would have liked him in red pinstripes. (DeRosa... not Miles)

"Can anyone give an example of an above average major league player who started out as a toolsy prospect with horrible strike zone judgment?"

I originally had a reply with links, but it was blocked as spam, so you'll have to search for the write ups on your own. Sorry.

Anyway, this is all from John Sickels' site, www.minorleaguebaseball.com, where he occasionally does a prospect retrospective, looking back at an established player's history.

Matt Kemp: "He was considered very toolsy and athletic, but rather raw, best-known as a basketball player in high school.... His strike zone judgment was quite poor in the early going."

There's also Carlos Beltran, although the strikezone judgment isn't clear: "He was considered quite toolsy but somewhat raw, and it was an open question how quickly he would develop... Beltran moved up to Spokane in the Northwest League in 1996, hitting .270/.359/.433 with 10 steals. His strike zone judgment improved substantially, as he more than doubled his walk rate compared to rookie ball."

And Sammy Sosa: "Scouts loved his tools; many felt he had superstar potential, but of course it remained to be seen how he would develop... He had major problems with the strike zone"

Two others that seem to fit (although again, I'm not sure on how they'd rate in comparison to 'horrible' on the strike zone judgement):
Mike Cameron: "He is a good example of a tools player made good, a raw athlete who turned his tools into usable skills."

Torii Hunter: "Hunter is the prototype for why traditional scouts like taking chances on raw tools players. Through good coaching and hard work, he's taken his natural talent and turned it into on-the-field performance. Of course, for every Torii Hunter there are ten tools guys who don't make it."

Angels just got Fuentes for 2 years, $17.5M with a third year vesting at $9M. Does that make the Mets idiots for committing so much more to K-Rod?

b-a-p: How about, as a starting point, Mookie Wilson? I cannot access baseball cube where I am to look at his minors, but his strike zone judgment was never very good. He relied on swinging at the first pitch about 40% of the time. He might not be your Holy Tools Grail, but he's getting close.

Carson - In re: Lowe
I wonder how "cheap" he'd have to get before the Phils FO got an idea about him. (Not holding my breath, of course.)

Well, the hawk's guys are better.

So I guess we're hoping that Hewitt turns into Sosa.

Congrats on a successful year! Happy New Year!

re: free agents coming cheaply

My first reaction to the criticism of Amaro signing Ibanez early is: better safe than sorry

The Phils surely evaluated their options and concluded that overall, Ibanez was the best outfielder availible.

One thing is for certain in free agency, players dont always go for a fair market price. So if you dont overpay, someone else will.

I find it hard to believe that after all the talk of how cheap the Phils are, that people arenow going to call them dumb for spending money on Ibanez because they could have waited it out and got someone else cheaper?

If you like Ibanez, you agree with signing, if you dont, you'll find a way to prove it as 'wrong' - simple as that.

And, of course, one of the reasons the FA OF market is depressed is because one less buyer (Phils) is in the game.

I think it's pretty clear that if we weren't bringing back Burrell that we didn't have any interest in Dunn (same player, but a lefty), and we weren't brining back Abreu (no reason for the discussion to go down that road) and there was no way in hell we were signing Manny.

Cheers, Jason. I only read, not comment, but congrats to you and your great year - as well as the Phillies! This blog has been a lifesaver for me and my husband who are Phillies fans living in Texas. You deserve every award you get for the hard work you put into this site. Best to you in 2009.

Great Job JW, your work has easily deserved its praise. Your mix of pure facts and a touch of your own true phillie fan opinion has appealed to such a wide array of readers - not to mention the site's display, helpful links, and exceptional graphics.

Cheers to 2009, let the WFC Defense begin!

Hawk: Thanks. Good examples -- except for Beltran. A quick look at Beltran's early minor league numbers shows that, while he wasn't a great player by any means, he did have pretty good strike zone management right from the get-go. The other guys like Kemp and Hunter still have terrible strike zone management today but are nonetheless good players. Pre-steroids Sammy fell into the same category. His walk totals didn't start sky-rocketing until he got on the juice and pitchers started pitching around him. Cameron is the most interesting of the lot because, while he never really improved his hitting skills very much, he eventually turned into a guy who draws a lot of walks.

It's interesting to note, though, that none of your examples is anything remotely resembling a star. That's not a knock on any of them because they are all good players. But it is a knock on the conventional wisdom that the Anthony Hewitts and Greg Golsons of the world have "tremendous upside." If the upside is Torii Hunter and Matt Kemp, that is a nice upside, but hardly tremendous and hardly enough to justify the use of a first round draft pick.

Unikruk: I sort of think wins are an important stat. With regard to ERA+ being the be-all, end-all, alby made this excellent point in the prior thread:

It's a lot easier to post plus-200 ERA+s in a league with a 5.00 ERA than a league with a 3.20 ERA.

Going to be interesting as it appears that the price on the second-tier FAs has begun to fall.

Going to be very interesting to see what they do but it looks like Amaro might just have "bought high" which is one thing you never want to do in a market.

Any insight on the pitchers the Cubs got in the DeRosa deal? Seems like alot more quantity than quality at first glance.

Leads to believe that Kendrick and another minor arm at Clearwater/Lakewood (not a Carrasco) could have possibility gotten a deal done.

stjoehawk beat me to the punch on toolsy players who became stars. Sammy Sosa is the classic case. Mike Cameron is always the first one I think of among today's players. And Hunter, of course, in the AL. Wily Mo Pena also fits this bill, although you can argue he's not above average. I wouldn't put Beltran on that list, though.

MG: None of the pitchers are Top 10 prospects according to Rotoworld. But they may be enough to sweeten the pot for San Diego in a potential Peavy deal. Dealing Peavy makes sense for SD.

MG: I don't have access to my scouting reports at my current location but from what I read the 3 young pitchers the Cubs got for DeRosa are not among the Indians Top 10 BA prospects. They appear to be of the good stuff/bad command variety, which is the most common variety of all.

"It's a lot easier to post plus-200 ERA+s in a league with a 5.00 ERA than a league with a 3.20 ERA."

Although that's a valid point, I would argue that it was also a lot easier for Koufax to post microscopic ERAs in a day of large ball parks and hitters who weren't on steroids.

JW, WELL DONE. GREAT 2008. LOVE TO HEAR MORE OF YOU ON WIP. LETS ALL PUSH FOR IT IF WE CALL.

Yeah, I looked at their numbers on Baseball Cube. "Good stuff, bad command" seems to nail it. They all have very high strikeout totals and ungodly walk totals. With 3 of them, I guess you increase the odds of striking pay-dirt. Still it doesn't seem like enough return for a solid player like DeRosa. And, while I like Aaron Miles as a utility guy, he's a big downgrade from DeRosa.

bap: A higher pitching mound and a non-juiced ball, too. Old school vs. New school on this topic can never win. You can only make cross case comparisons of the eras subjectively. Too many variables at play to make exactly valid side-by-side comparisons.

MPN: And another fact to ponder. When Koufax pitched, baseball was THE national sport. It paid the best and attracted the best athletes. Today, that's just not true.

And this point as well: In the 1960s, just under 20% of MLB players were African American. In 2006 (the latest number I could find) the pct. of black players was 8.4%.

MPN: Yeah, the higher mound could well be a big factor too. I've never much bought into the juiced ball theory. There have been several lab tests done and I'm not aware of any that has ever detected a difference in the balls used from one season to another.

clout: What was the percentages of Latino players in the 60s, as compared to today? How about Asian players?

It is true that the best black athletes of today are more likely to gravitate toward football & basketball than they were in the 60s. But that talent loss is more than offset by the fact that today's game draws from additional population bases totaling literally in the billions.

Clout: Thank you for softening your tone. I look forward to reading your posts, they almost always contain good insight or utility.

I tend to throw Wins out the window as an evaluative pitching stat, but that's a heated discussion better saved for Cy Young voting season. :)

The criticism of ERA+ is a big one, and one of the reasons I'm not married to it. Would love to have some sort of higher-order stat, maybe ERA++?

Jason-
Love the site, frequent (almost daily) reader and infrequent poster.

BTW, I love the quote from Buzz Bissinger and the placement up top, but is it time to find a new, great quote about Beerleaguer? Are we really "America's Most Hearbreaking Franchise" anymore? Damn glad to shed that moniker! If there is any doubt, let's win another WFC in 2009!

BAP: Hispanics were 29.4% in 2006 up from about 15% in the 1960s, but my point is that those who say that baseball attracts the best athletes today are wrong.

Ronny Paulino appears to have also wrapped it up in the winter leagues. Like Carlos Carrasco in Venezuela, he had a very good showing.

Not sure if I missed this, but... Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein is ranking the top 11 prospects in each organization. Here's how he ranked the Phils:

Five-Star Prospects
1. Carlos Carrasco, RHP
Four-Star Prospects
2. Michael Taylor, RF
3. Kyle Drabek, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
4. Travis D'Arnaud, C
5. Lou Marson, C
6. Jason Donald, SS
7. Dominic Brown, OF
8. J.A. Happ, RHP
9. Zach Collier, RF
10. Jason Knapp, RHP
11. Anthony Hewitt, 3B

Just Missed: Travis Mattair, 3B; Drew Naylor, RHP; Joe Savery, LHP

Ranking Challenges: There were many. How real was Michael Taylor's season? How do you rank so many unproven talents with so much raw ability? How to balance the two Double-A stars who have scouting reports that fall below the kind of numbers they put up?

----------

It looks like the rest of the article is available to subscribers. I'm not a subscriber, however.

Jason: I lost power for several hours, so I'm just getting around to saying that I can't think of anyone who deserves his success more than you. I doubt you started this site with the idea of becoming nationally recognized. You did it for love, and the success grew out of that. A lesson in that for us all.

Everyone here might disagree about things large and small, but I'm pretty sure this is a unanimous feeling: You da man. Continued success in the New Year.

On the steroids question: I can't stress enough that I share the "common knowledge" beliefs that so many are voicing. I'm not blind, and regular readers know I'm more than a little bit suspicious about most things.

My position is more like a devil's advocate, and it grew out of discussions with a biochemistry professor friend of mine who's also a huge baseball fan (Dave Smith of Retrosheet). After many hours of debate over many months, I was forced to concede that, without knowledge of which players juiced when, all we have are our suspicions. Of course, that's applying a court-of-law standard, and that's not really necessary when we're talking Hall of Fame, which operates in the court of public opinion -- in which, most of us have made clear, the guys who defied the natural decline phase of their careers would have to somehow prove their innocence before they get the benefit of the doubt.

Unfortunately, I doubt we'll ever know the full scale of steroid experimentation by players, because the McGwire and Palmiero cases have shown them that confessing anything will be highly detrimental to their reputations and post-baseball careers. At this point, do you think any team would ever hire Palmiero for its announcing crew?

CJ: That was discussed several days ago.

To continue my point from the post above: Does anybody really buy the notion, peddled by many of the players named in the Mitchell report, that they only used steroids once or twice? Anyone who understands their use in track and field or bodybuilding (and I seriously doubt these guys took stuff without doing any research) knows they don't work that way -- you take a program of them, and you only stop so you'll test clean. In baseball, where there was no testing, there was no reason to back off them until your hair fell out, your balls shrank and your back looked like a pepperoni pizza.

In short, there's no way I believe that "once or twice" crap. That's what your kids tell you when you find their rolling papers.

clout: Yeah... I feared I missed that while I was on vacation. No need to rehash it just for me :-)

Hold on a minute on this "best athletes don't play baseball" idea.

I understand the argument if you're saying that, based on pure numbers, there are kids who never give baseball a try, or don't get started young enough to become any good at it.

But can anyone think of a multi-sport athlete who didn't give baseball a try and, if he was good at it, stick with it?

Just like to add my voice to the chorus congratulating you, Jason, and hoping that your success continues to grow.

In regards to athlete quality in MLB, well.. it doesn't much matter. Baseball is not a game where raw athletic talent is the primary indicator of potential success, unlike football and basketball. Baseball is a game of skills, many of them far more difficult to learn than in almost any sport. Perhaps baseball gets far less than an equal share of fantastic athletic specimens, I'd certainly agree, but irrelevant considering the nature of the game.

****BAP: Hispanics were 29.4% in 2006 up from about 15% in the 1960s, but my point is that those who say that baseball attracts the best athletes today are wrong.****

That is utter and complete BS. Baseball might not attract the best athletes in the USA (debatable) but in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is usually one of the only ways out of the village...for every Brett Favre in America who chooses a different sport there's probably 5 potential Vlad Guererro's who play baseball with a stick in an alley their entire childhood on the slim hope of being seen by an MLB scout.

Also, look at the pure population increase in the USA from the 1960's to now. In the 60's the country's population was around 180 million while its well over 300 million today. If nothing else, the national pool is much bigger. Throw in Latin America, the Caribbean and Japan/East Asia and the talent pool is large enough to dilute any loss from other sports and expansion teams.

Alby: I see your point on multi-sport professional athletes more often than not being baseball players (Bo Jackson, Danny Ainge, Deion, etc.).

But to answer your question there's plenty of basketball-football athletes who played both at Division I schools who I never heard of dabbling in baseball. To name a few:

Donovan McNabb
Tony Gonzalez
Antonio Gates
Charlie Ward

There's also plenty of NFL players who were fairly succesful collegiate track stars.

SJ: I phrased my question incorrectly. I meant multi-sport in which one of the sports was baseball, my point being that athletes who excel at both baseball and another sport tend to migrate to baseball because careers are longer and paychecks bigger.

I was thinking of guys like Drew Hensen and Delino DeShields (who turned down a Villanova basketball scholarship to play baseball), former Pirate catching prospect J.R. House -- anybody with demonstrated baseball ability as well as football or basketball skill seems more than willing to give baseball a shot.

It may be that many American kids don't get exposure to baseball anymore, which is the presumption behind the inner-city initiative that baseball undertook several years ago. But the principal problem, IMO, is that few kids play baseball outside of organized leagues, so they don't develop the eye-hand coordination involved at an early age.

I have been to the Dominican Republic several times, to a dirt-poor batay north of San Pedro de Macoris. The village has no running water, the dwellings have no indoor kitchens and the only electricity is pirated (except for the mayor's son's house/bodega, which is where the Lotto machine is located). But they have a baseball diamond, complete with homemade backstop.

So I take it that I was weird in that my brother and I grew up playing baseball from a very young age? And we played it all the time outside of organized leagues as long as there wasn't snow on the ground. At worst we would play with tennis balls if we didn't have a field available free of houses? Of course we played tons of pickup football, basketball and hockey too.

Kids today suck.

****Alby: I have been to the Dominican Republic several times****

Cool! Did you go down to watch Dominican league games?

Happy new year to you and your family. I have really enjoyed reading the blog. Keep up the great work.

Jason: Congrats on the banner year at Beerleaguer. As another Philly transplant currently living in CA, this site helps me feel like I'm right in the middle of all the action. Your posts are insightful and the commentary is always entertaining.

All the best in 2009!

J.

Jason: Congrats on the banner year at Beerleaguer. As another Philly transplant currently living in CA, this site helps me feel like I'm right in the middle of all the action. Your posts are insightful and the commentary is always entertaining.

All the best in 2009!

J.

NEPP: No, unfortunately I've never been able to take in a game, except for the pickup games I've played with some of the young men in the village, Jalonga. I pitched against them once, and felt like Charlie Brown -- the balls came back at me so fast they nearly knocked my clothes off.

I've been there four times over the past eight years (but not for the past three because of other commitments) as part of an ongoing church mission to help bring some accouterments of civilization to this village, which began as a workers' camp on a sugar cane plantation and evolved into pretty much a squatters' shantytown. It took us three years just to get the government to give these folks title to the land. It's populated mostly by the descendants of Haitian immigrants who, in the grandest human tradition, are looked down upon by Dominicans because of their darker skin.

The closest I've come to organized ball is the Hiroshima Carp training camp, which is on the road from San Pedro, where we stay, to Jalonga, about 20 miles north. What I really want to see but haven't yet is George Bell's "house" in San Pedro. Apparently it's modeled on a castle, complete with moat. I guess his surly disposition during his playing days was no act.

Honestly, the missionary work is cooler than Dominican baseball.

George Brett owns a castle?!?


Traderumors has the Cubs interested in Roberts again...somehow I doubt that's the case as they just got Aaron Miles to cover Derosa's production and they've been openly salivating for Jake Peavy for the past 3 months.

nice to see alot of the fellow "lurkers" coming out of the woodwork to wish everyone a happy new year and pass along their congratulations to JW...

in what was easily the greatest baseball season I've ever experienced (I was 4 in 1980), it would simply have not been the same without the daily checking-in to Beerleaguer.

JW, you've crafted easily the greatest blog in the blogosphere, IMHO. Your wordsmithing coupled with the astute, researched, and sometimes cranky arguments of your loyal legion has given birth to one of the most enjoyable creations on the web.

I don't think you have to be a Phils fan to enjoy this site either, noted by the frequent visits from mets fans.

And happy new year all, including clout. Safe and enjoyable revelling to all.....

NEPP: If baseball players today are better than ever, as you say, that suggests African-Americans aren't good ballplayers, no? How else to explain the huge decrease? Or is it possible that because baseball is losing out on a huge number of African American athletes that perhaps this isn't the golden age of baseball excellence?

clout: That's an oversimplification. There's no doubt that more blacks are gravitating toward basketball and football today. But there are literally billions of people living in Latin America, where baseball and soccer are the only sports in town. Yet the baseball talent in this part of the world was largely untapped until about 20 years ago. And the idea that a Japanese or Asian player might be good enough to play in the majors was totally foreign to most major league scouts until Ichiro came along (actually, it still seems foreign to Phillies scouts, even today). Overall, the talent pool from which baseball is drawing today is far greater than it has been at any other time.

Moreover, how many total blacks are we talking about, and how good are these would-be black players? As Alby points out, baseball offers longer careers than any other sport and considerably higher pay than football. For this reason, the black baseball players who are legitimate blue chip prospects -- the Ryan Howards & Jimmy Rollins & CC Sabathias -- still have every incentive to go into baseball. The ones that are being lost to other sports are mostly the fringe prospects -- the guys who are borderline baseball prospects but blue chip prospects in basketball or football. While these fringe black prospects have mostly gravitated to other sports, their spots have been taken by players who come from a population base in the billions -- and a population base that was almost totally ignored until about 15 or 20 years ago, despite the fact that baseball is the most popular sport in their part of the world.

In short, for every black player who has been lost to basketball and football -- most of them marginal prosepcts to begin with -- there have been probably 100,000 new Latino prospects, many of them blue chip prospects like Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez and Magglio Ordonez, who would never have had the opportunity to play in the major leagues back in 1965.

Last point: I know this discussion arose in the context of comparing Koufax's level of competition to Pedro's. But it's worth pointing out that many of the players who are generally held up as being the greatest players of all time -- i.e., Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson -- played in an era when there were NEITHER black nor Latino players in major league baseball.

I don't doubt that there were great players in the early 20th Century. Why wouldn't there have been? But to say, for instance, that Babe Ruth is the greatest hitter of all time is simply ridiculous. He may have been -- but hitting .350 with 60 homeruns against extremely limited competitition does not remotely prove the point. It's like arguing that Michael Taylor is one of the game's best left fielders because he hit .346 with 19 homers last year at Single A.

Comparing players across eras is an entertaining exercise but it's ultimately impossible because inter-generational statistical comparisons are basically meaningless.

Babe Ruth would be the best hitter regardless of when he played. He beat out entire teams in homeruns handily.

Íó òåìà âîîáùå ðóëüíàÿ, äàâíî âîëíóþùàÿ ìàññû òàê ñêàçàòü!

First, being a great athlete doesn't make you a great or even a good player, in any professional sport. It also takes dedication, competitive spirit, some level of intelligence, and discipline. The sports world is littered with Heisman Trophy winners, All-Americans and Olympic medal winners who never went anywhere in pro sports. (This reminds me of those old arguments about black superstars being 'naturals' while white superstars somehow worked hard for their achievement). I remember watching a TV show where pro athletes from various sports used to compete against one another in a range of events. The sport that seemed to produce the most skilled athletes overall was actually ice hockey, a sport never mentioned as attracting the greatest athletes.

Some commenters have already listed some reasons they believe black athletes gravitate toward basketball or football before baseball these days. All are pretty much on the mark.
I would add the factor of immediate financial reward vs delayed financial reward. If you come from a lower income background, you cannot afford to play baseball up through the system in hopes of a big payday 5-8 years down the road (if you make it). In pro football and basketball, you get paid right away, as soon as you're drafted. There's little or no 'minor league' road to travel. You're a millionaire before you've played a game in many cases.
On the other hand, athletes, both black and white, who come from middle class households, and/or have some genuine higher education, can afford the longer development time of baseball. If they never make the show, they more than likely still have a career plan to fall back on. Even if the best athlete in the country wanted to play pro baseball, they might not be able to do it if they needed financial security early on.
Overall I think baseball's got the right idea there. They might lose a few superior athletes to the NFL and NBA, but those they do get are usually dedicated and earn their stripes. Many superior athletes blow their careers in the NBA and NFL before the ink's even dry on their initial monster paychecks. Given the number of players involved, and the fact that they have minor league systems, the NHL and MLB do a better job of weeding out the problem players before they reach the major league level (and the big $$). The NFL and NBA have to take their PR hits with their new stars (college bball and football do not serve to weed out the bad apples. Top athletes are pampered and protected there).

If MLB paid big money upfront (compared to the NFL and NBA), they would attract more black athletes. It's simple economics.

Here's what shows up on the TIVO "wishlist" for the Phils on the new MLB channel:

1/3 10 AM NLCS game 5

1/3 4 PM WS game 1

1/3 8 PM WS game 2 (rare Phillies postseason loss)

1/4 1230 PM WS game 3

1/4 4 PM WS game 4

1/4 8 PM WS game 5

1/6 130 AM "Citizens Bank Park-Cathedrals of the Game"

Happy New Year. May 2009 be as awesome as 2008.

The Phaithful- "I find it hard to believe that after all the talk of how cheap the Phils are, that people are now going to call them dumb for spending money on Ibanez because they could have waited it out and got someone else cheaper?" I never really viewed the Phillies as cheap, nor do I hate the Ibanez signing. I do think Amaro is going to look foolish in the coming months after some of these free agents start signing for lesser years and fewer million. He signed a 46 year old pitcher to a 2 year guaranteed $13MM and a 36 year old outfielder to a 3 year guaranteed $31.5MM. Similar players are going to go on the "cheap" compared to that. Abreu, Burrell, Bradley can probably be had for less years and less money. Derek Lowe for $12MM? C'mon, Amaro made waste (money) with his haste.

I'm a big fan of Jayson Stark's column's and he delivered a masterpiece on ESPN today.

One of the hilights- "• SCOUT'S WORST NIGHTMARE DEPT.: In his first start of the postseason, sweet-swinging Phillies pitcher Brett Myers had back-to-back at-bats against CC Sabathia in which he saw nine and 10 pitches, respectively. In his next start of the postseason, Myers swung at EVERY pitch thrown (all four of them). And got three hits. Which, of course, was almost as many as he got all season (while going 4-for-58)."

Regarding the DeRosa trade...BA's 2008 Prospect Handbook lists Jeff Stevens as the Indians #19 prospect.The other "prospects" didn't rate in the top 30. Amazing that there was discussion about the Phillies giving up Carrasco AND Donald for him. "WHEW"

"Babe Ruth would be the best hitter regardless of when he played. He beat out entire teams in homeruns handily."

How does that prove that he would be the best hitter in any era?

BAP: "The ones that are being lost to other sports are mostly the fringe prospects -- the guys who are borderline baseball prospects but blue chip prospects in basketball or football."

I'd love to see you back that up with facts. If blacks aren't playing baseball you have no clue whether or not they're fringe prospects.

Carson: Ibanez has been this off-season's #1 controversy so far, but it will be pretty easy to judge whether Amaro made the right move:

If the Phillies record vs. RHP improves enough to offset a worse record vs. LHP (should there be one) and a reduction in come from behind late-inning wins (should there be one) because of LOOGYs, then Amaro made the right move for 2009.

GM: Let me know when Derek Lowe signs a contract for $12M a year. I think I'll be waiting awhile...

clout: I can't give you anything more than anecdotal evidence, as we are dealing in theory, not proven fact. But it is a fairly reasonable theory that, if you are a superstar prospect in baseball & some other sport, you are more likely to go into baseball because of the higher pay, the lower risk of injury, and the much longer career. The anecdotal evidence comes in the form of the examples given by Alby -- i.e., Bo Jackson, Drew Henson, Deion Sanders, John Elway, etc.

But, even if my theory is false, it would not change my central point. My central point is that, in terms of the overall talent pool from which MLB is currently drawing, the loss of a small number of American black players to other sports is offset many times over by the additional inclusion of previously excluded players from Latin America and, more recently, Asia.

For every would-be major league baseball player who has been lost to football and basketball, there are probably 10 new players who never would have been in the league at all back in the 1960s.

clout: a Division 1A football team (120 or so total) has 85 scholarships to extend to "student"-athletes, a Division 1 basketball team (327 teams) offer 13 scholarships, a Division 1 baseball team (~200) 12... So that might be a factor in drawing some talent, too.

Clout, I think your argument is flawed. In past eras, blacks were barred from playing in MLB, so they played in their own leagues. It's quite a different thing for blacks to choose not to play baseball at all because the prefer other sports, or are after the quicker economic payoff George mentioned.

He's right about that, and that payoff begins a lot earlier than you might think. My friend's very talented kid was on a traveling basketball team when he was in the 5th grade (and now, in 10th grade, has backed away from the sport -- an option for him because he's a middle-class, suburban black kid with other options for his future).

We have no way of knowing how many great players will never develop baseball skills because they never played the game as kids, but that's true of every ethnic group today. How many kids play bat-and-ball games pick-up style? Not many that I see.

Consider soccer. At 300 million, this country should have one of the world's elite national teams -- especially these days, when nearly every suburban kid is exposed to the game. But we don't, because kids don't play soccer for fun; they play it only in organized leagues.

The raw numbers make your case, in that blacks make up a smaller percentage of players today. But the difference has been made up not in Caucasians but Hispanics, who represent the majority of the poor in this hemisphere. I don't think that's a coincidence, and I don't think it's because Hispanics are innately better at baseball than other ethnic groups, any more than Irish-Americans -- who made up the majority of the players in the 1890s -- were intrinsically better than their contemporaries. It's because sports are one of the clearest avenues out of poverty for those talented at them.

Alby: I agree absolutely, although this was also true of Hispanics in the 1960s and they were playing just as much baseball then. It is possible that the number of Hispanics has risen because the number of African Americans who play baseball or aspire to a baseball career has declined (i.e. the competition isn't as stiff as it was in the 1960s).

My argument is with the contention of NEPP and BAP that this is the golden age of baseball, that there's never been more talent or the game played as well as it is today.

clout: I don't know what the "Golden age of baseball" means. But i do know that, if School A has 100 kids from whom to assemble a baseball team, and School B has 1,000 kids, chances are pretty strong that School B is going to have the better team. Baseball in the 2000s is akin to School B, whereas baseball in the 1960s was akin to School A.

100-Happy New Year

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