erik lundegaard

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Tuesday November 24, 2009

The Rigged (National) Game

Since the New York Yankees and their $208 million payroll won the 2009 World Series in six games over the Philadelphia Phillies and their $111 million payroll, there’s been renewed debate among fans and journalists about how much money matters in baseball.

One side reminds us that for all the money the Yankees spent this decade—and they spent a ton—they only have two titles to show for it. There was even one year, 2008, when they didn’t get to the post-season. So how can money matter so much? Just look at the Mets. They’ve been the biggest spenders in the National League every year since 2003 but made the post-season just once, in 2006, and didn’t even get to the World Series that year. Yankees smart, Mets not, and even money-plus-smart guarantees nothing, so everyone quit your bellyaching.

The other side, led by folks like Joe Posnanski at Sports Illustrated, reminds us that it’s less a matter that the Yankees are outspending other teams than by how much they’re outspending other teams. The Mets may have outspent the Cubs (no. 2 in the N.L.) by $15 million in 2009 but the Yankees outspent the Red Sox (no. 2 in the A.L.) by $80 million. They outspent them, in other words, by the entire Toronto Blue Jays payroll. That $80 million difference between the Yankees and the Red Sox is the difference between the Red Sox and, well, no other team in the American League, because no other team in the American League had a payroll $80 million less than the Red Sox. (The Athletics were $59 million behind.) In terms of payroll, in other words, 1st and 2nd are further apart than 2nd and 14th. That’s the new math in baseball.

Posnanski also reminds us that baseball is a game where dominance can be obscured. The best teams lose a third of their games, the worst teams win a third, so the real battle is for that final third. Add in the two tiers of playoffs, including a best-of-five division series, and almost anything can happen.

Unfortunately it usually doesn't. Yes, this decade the Yankees spent and spent and have only two World Series championships to show for it; but just one other team, the Red Sox, won as many. It’s “only” two championships if you’re the Yankees. It’s “only” four pennants if you’re the Yankees. It’s “only” eight division titles and a wild-card berth if you’re the Yankees. Eight division titles and a wild-card berth would look pretty good in Kansas City.

How much does money matter? Here’s a chart of how often American League teams, ranked by payroll, made the playoffs since 1995:

No. of A.L. Playoff Appearances By Payroll Rank, Since 1995*

*based on payroll numbers presented in USA Today

Teams that spent the most money went to the playoffs 12 of the 15 years, teams that spent the second-most went 9 times, and so on. Half of the 60 playoff slots have been filled by whatever three teams were the spendiest teams that year. The 11 remaining teams fought over the other half.

Sure, there are certain years, such as 2000, when only one team among the top seven spendiest teams made it (psst: the Yankees). Plus you have certain teams, like the “Moneyball” Athletics and the Gardenhire Twins, who, for a time, can consistently make the playoffs despite low, low payrolls. But that 2000 Yankees and their no. 1 payroll wound up winning the pennant against the upstarts, while the “Moneyball” Athletics and Gardenhire Twins, despite five post-season appearances each this decade, have yet to win even one pennant. So even here, “money” generally matters more than “ball.”

What’s particularly troublesome is how consistent—almost codified—things have gotten recently. In the last six years, the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels, have each been to the post-season five times. During those six years, they were 1-2-3 in league payroll four times (2004-2007), 1-3-5 once (2008, behind Detroit and the White Sox), and 1-2-4 once (in 2009, when the Tigers outspent the Angels by $1 million). The true wild card in the American League is thus whomever wins the Central. That other wild card? It’s ensconced in the East (11 out of 15 times), and, in recent years, it’s almost always the Boston Red Sox.

By the way, if you’re curious about how payrolls and post-season appearance correlate for National League teams, here you go:

No. of N.L. Playoff Appearances By Payroll Rank, Since 1995*


*based on payroll numbers presented in USA Today

The discrepancy between the haves and have-nots of the N.L. post-season isn’t as dramatic—because the discrepancy between N.L. payroll isn’t as dramatic. Yes, it helps that the wealthiest N.L. teams (Mets, Cubs, Dodgers) have sometimes mismanaged their wealth; but it helps more than there's not one team willing or able to outspend every other team by an embarrassing amount in order to cover these mistakes.

All in all, the National League looks like the kind of system that people could defend as “fair enough.” But that’s the system without the Yankees in it. The one with the Yankees is decidedly more skewed.

These are just stats, of course, but they confirm what most of us feel: that baseball, particularly as it’s played in the American League, is a rigged game. In his post-World Series column in The New York Times, William Rhoden wrote the following:

The Yankees are widely despised because they buy players, but as Jeter pointed out, their cornerstones are homegrown: Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and himself. “We’ve played together for 17 years, including the minor leagues coming up,” Jeter said... “You don’t see that too often, especially with free agency and then guys staying together.”

This argument is often used by supporters of the current system to refute the Yankees’ financial domination. It actually demonstrates it. Four All-Stars, two sure Hall-of-Famers, on the same team for all (or most) of this time? Jeter’s right: You don’t see that too often. And why don’t you see it too often? Because for most teams, there’s always another, bigger team hanging around, checking out its best, young players, and declaring, after a moment or two, and maybe with a nod of appreciation, “He’d look good in pinstripes.” The Yankees kept Jeter and Rivera and Posada, in other words, because it didn’t have to worry about the Yankees.

Every fan of every small- or medium-market team knows this. We develop even one good player—a Joe Mauer, a Zack Greinke, a Felix Hernandez—and the question is always: How long do we get to keep this guy? The answer is usually: Not long. In this way, 20-25 teams feel like farm systems for the other 5-10. For fans, it’s a feeling of increasing helplessness and hopelessness, and it’s destroying the game.

Rhoden ended his post-World Series column in The New York Times this way. It's kind of tongue-in-cheek but mostly cheek:

If Matsui or Johnny Damon do not return, the Yankees may go after St. Louis outfielder Matt Holliday. Need one more starting pitcher? Why not go after the Los Angeles Angels’ John Lackey? Posada has two years left on his contract. Who is to say that as Posada winds down, the Yankees won’t go after Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer? The franchise has its shopping cart out.

Beware. With checkbook in hand, the Yankees may be coming to a neighborhood near you.

That’s so New York. As if he had to tell us to beware. As if we didn’t already know.

Posted at 09:29 AM on Nov 24, 2009 in category Baseball, Yankees Suck
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Wednesday October 28, 2009

The Series Freezes, Neyer Nitpicks

From Rob Neyer's Wednesday Wangdoodles:

OK, so Scioscia doesn't like the postseason schedule. Calls it "ridiculous," and I'm basically on his side. I would like the postseason to perfectly reflect the regular season, where you need four starters and sometimes even five. I have to mention, though, that since the modern World Series was invented in 1903, many managers have gotten by with three starters. In 1905, Christy Mathewson or Joe McGinnity started all five games for the Giants. Sixty years later, Mudcat Grant and Jim Kaat combined for six starts in the Twins' seven-game Series loss against the Dodgers. Scioscia's right: there are too many off days. But managers have always been able to lean heavily on their best starters in October.

OK, so Neyer thinks this one point doesn't apply to the whole of baseball history. Says "I have to mention, though." Brings up 1905 and 1965. Brings up Big Six and Kitty Kaat. And he's right: managers have leaned on their best starters in October. It doesn't change the fact that SCIOSCIA'S RIGHT and HE'S THE ONLY GUY IN BASEBALL SAYING THIS STUFF about THE GREAT TRAVESTY THAT IS BASEBALL'S POST-SEASON SCHEDULE. Save your nitpicking, Neyer, for who's the tenth-best second baseman of the 1930s. This is time to get on board, use what power you have, and fix what needs fixing.

"Basically on his side"? Damn, Neyer.

Oh, and happy first game of the World Series! We're finally here. October 28th. Predicted game-time temps? Below 50. Probability of precipitation? 100 percent.

Fun.

Posted at 08:49 AM on Oct 28, 2009 in category Baseball
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Sunday October 25, 2009

Scioscia on October Days Off: "Ridiculous"

My man Tyler Kepner! Here's an excerpt from his column in today's New York Times about all those freakin' days off in October:

Partly because they each swept their division series, the Yankees and the Angels have played just eight games in 20 days since the end of the regular season. In a session with Los Angeles-area writers on Saturday, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia made his feelings clear.

“Ridiculous,” Scioscia said. “I don’t know. Can I say it any clearer than that? We should have never had a day off last Wednesday. We should never have three days off after the season. You shouldn’t even have two days off after the season.

“It just takes an advantage away for a deep team, which everybody feels very strongly is an asset. It takes that advantage away and I think that’s something that Major League Baseball hopefully will consider looking at.”

Mark Teixeira has played so little he says he has newfound respect for utility players. And why so many days off?

The reason for the elongated schedule is the recent change in the start of the World Series. From 1985 through 2006, the World Series was scheduled to start on a Saturday. Then baseball and the networks concluded that Saturday was a dead night for ratings. They built a few extra days into the schedule, which pushed Game 1 to a Wednesday.

I wrote about this back then. I've been bitching about it all month. Here and here and here, too. It's time for Major League Baseball to get smart. It's time to stop being ridiculous. Bud Selig and the networks are ruining the most important baseball games of the year, and for what? It's not even helping ratings. They're ruining baseball for nothing. Does Bud want that to be his legacy?

Baseball is supposed to be played every day in fair weather. Its most important games are now played every other day in horrendous weather. And that's not baseball.

Posted at 09:49 AM on Oct 25, 2009 in category Baseball
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Thursday October 22, 2009

Live-Blogging Game 5 of the ALCS

5:12: The Yankees begin the game with two hits and Joe Buck begins the game by saying, ominously, "And here comes New York!" And then there went New York. Out out out. Question: Is Mark Teixeira going to be the new Alex Rodriguez? The guy the press says folds in the clutch on a small sample size? A-Rod was the new Randy Johnson (remember before 2001?) who was the new... Willie Mays? Ted Williams? Take your pick. It's a tired storyline. I'm actually glad A-Rod's doing well this post-season so I don't have to hear that crap anymore. By the way: Nice to see sun. But what's with the empty seats down the right-field line before gametime? C'mon southern Cal: Represent!

5:17:  Walk and double and now my man Torii Hunter comes through for two! Off his bat I thought Jeter had it, but I guess Jeter had him played wrong. Wow, and now Vlad with a double in the gap! 3-0. Was Torii limping around the bases? Did I see that? Hope not. This is fun! Yanks get the first two guys on and 10 minutes later, it's 3-0, Angels.

5:18:  4-0, Angels. One wonders when New York is going to warm somebody up.

5:25: The Spanish for "liner" is ligne? Thanks, Tim McCarver. And the Angels have been waiting for an inning like this, Joe Buck? I've been waiting for an inning like this. Doesn't matter, though. The Angels could be up 10-0 and I'd still be worried. The Yankees are Freddy Kreuger to me. They're Michael Myers. Just when you think they're dead, they rise up. They're their own horror movie.

5: 35: Cano not doing well in the post-season. Swisher. Teixeira. One wonders how the Yankees have won anything. And now they're giving us the John Hancock question of the day: Who are the only three LCS MVPs to come from losing teams? Wasn't one of them George Brett back in the '70s? And doesn't this go against the usual nomenclatural argument against the regular-season MVP? That you can't be "valuable" on a team that doesn't win? Surprised McCarver doesn't mention that. I never buy that argument, by the way. You can be valuable, even most valuable, on a team that doesn't go to the post-season. Three definitions of valuable: 1) Having considerable monetary or material value for use or exchange; 2) Of great importance, use, or service; 3) Having admirable or esteemed qualities or characteristics. Nothing in there about winning.

5:47: Uck, that tomato alfredo in the Olive Garden commercial looks awful. And what's with the Chris Farley Direct-TV ad? Isn't that a little creepy? He's been dead for 12 years now and they're trotting him out to... What? Are they saying you should get Direct TV so you don't have to watch Chris Farley? That would be pretty gross. On the other hand, at least it's not that damn Viagra ad with the guy talking to himself or the Black Eyed Peas commercial where the girl is remaking "A Midsummer Night's Dream" while the dude is walking on the moon with a camel.

6:00: Torii Hunter's stolen base in the bottom of the third was pretty funny. Don't know if I've ever seen that before—where a baserunner was halfway down to second before the pitcher even threw the ball to homeplate. And now he's at third with only one down. Ah, but then nabbed in a rundown. McCarver: "That's why you bring the infield in." No shit, Sherlock. You could almost see Torii calculating, to see how long he could run back-and-forth before Vlad got to second base. And he almost got back to third anyway. But the Angels gotta get some more runs here. Freddy Krueger ain't gonna play dead forever. Those eyes are gonna pop open.

6:19: Here's the answer to that John Hancock question: Fred Lynn in '83, Mike Scott in '86 (of course!) and Jeff Leonard n '87. All within a five-year period. Wonder why? Also: John Hancock signs his name big and over 230 years later we're asking trivia questions in his name. Cue Yakov Smirnoff.

6:27: Melky Cabrera gets on base with one out in the top of the 5th. There goes Molina back in the dugout and here comes Posada out of the dugout...and he goes down on strikes. Does this mean A.J. Burnett is gone, too, since Molina catches Burnett? Angels need runs. They haven't scored since the 1st. BTW: I like how Mathis, the Angels catcher, pounces after that ball when he's behind the plate. He really moves. C'mon, Lackey, strike Jeter out already. Yes! Made him look ba-yad, too.

6:37:  "That's outside!" Gotta love an ump you can hear. I also like this guy's strike zone so far. Seems on. A solid base-knock from Torii. Let's see if he tries to steal again. And yet another throw over to first base. You embarass me and I will bore everyone to make sure you don't embarass me again. Joe Buck: "Hunter's getting worn out over there." CUT TO: Hunter, smiling.

6:48: Two-out double from A-Rod. Did he think it was a homerun? It took him awhile to get to second, but then Torii played it well off the wall, too. Again, I'm happy for A-Rod as long as it doesn't lead to any runs here. And...? A walk. Joe Buck: "And with Cano coming up, with one swing of the bat he could change the complexion of the game." Oh, shut up! Nope, force at second. Yanks have 9 outs left.

7:00: Some doofus dunks himelf in the fake pond in centerfield and for some reason FOX shows it. For a long while, too. I thought the networks weren't supposed to show this crap, so they don't encourage the doofuses of the world. Then again, FOX is used to broadcasting, and encouraging, the doofuses of the world.

7:17: It's a good feeling when a ball, that might be trouble, is hit to a guy, and you're not even worried. That's how I feel when a ball is hit to Torii Hunter. But overall I still don't like this. It's top of the 7th and the Angels are just sitting on this lead. And now a third strike to Posada is called a ball? Joe Buck: "What will that lead to?" Oh, shut up. And now Jeter walks to load the bases. The tying run, Johnny Damon, comes to the plate for the Yankees. Joe Buck: "Damon has homered in two straight games... One memorable Damon grand slam in LCS play..." Oh, shut up! But Damon flies out. So... two outs. But the tying run is still at the plate: Mark Teixeira. And there goes Lackey with 7 outs still to go. And here comes Darren Oliver. And there goes the mothercreepingfreakingflugging ball! CRAP! One pitch from Oliver, three runs score. How big is that missed called third strike by the ump? The Yankees always seem to capitalize on bad calls. Now a Matsui basehit. Tie game. This is not a good feeling.

7:20: Is there a more obnoxious commercial than that Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man in the World" ad? It's the Yankees of ads. It also feels slightly racist. "Don't worry, Punjab, I'm here."

7:25: 6-4, Yankees. I hate life. But the inning finally ends, thanks to Nick Swisher. The Angels still have nine outs, but if this is the end of their season, if we're done with the LCS, the Yankees and Phillies have to wait a whole freakin' week while the earth moves further and further away from the warmth of the sun. Nice schedule, Bud. Of course, if there's one team that deserves to play in the cold and awful of November, it's the Yankees.

7:32: McCarver's talking as if the pitching change (Oliver for Lackey) happened when there was one out. There were two outs. There, he corrects himself.

Seventh inning, Angels! This is your inning! The eighth means the only pitcher with VETO power in the Majors, Mariano Rivera, can come in, and we don't want that. Jesus, I just realized the Yankees got their half-dozen runs without a homerun. In fact, no one's hit a homerun in this game. 10 runs, no homeruns. A walk to Eybar, the man with cheekbones you can cut yourself on, and there goes Burnett. And here comes the top of the Angels order. Time for a homerun, Angels! But Chone Figgins...drops a bunt? I don't know. I'm not a fan of the sacrifice. You just gave up one of the nine outs you have left in the season.

McCarver calls Yankees reliever Damaso Marte the most "volatile" of the Yankee relievers. In terms of temperament? In terms of performance? What does he mean? Ground-out from Abreu scores a run. 6-5, Yankees. And here comes a new reliever. Phil Hughes vs. Torii Hunter. 1-0 count. Tying run at third. 2-0. Hitter's pitch. 3-0. Do you greenlight him? Why not? See if he can send it deep and put the Angels ahead. He walks anyway, so it's time for Big Bad Vlad.

Wow, after that second strike I was ready to give up on Vlad, but thankfully Jeter can't go to his left, and it's a basehit and a tie game! Now 12 runs without a homerun. Time for a homer, Kendry! 3-1 count. And the ball's ripped into right field! "And here comes Torii Hunter! And the Angels are back on top!" Izturis is up but McCarver's still questioning the 1-2 fastball to Vlad.

7:58: Top of the 8th, 7-6, Angels, and Jared Weaver's knocking 'em down. If he keeps doing it, they should let him stay in. Love the Angels' fans booing Jeter every time he comes up. Yanks got four outs left. Yes! Fastball down the pike and Jeter coudn't catch up! Three outs left. LEAVE WEAVER IN!

8:09: So nice to see Joba the Hutt. And it's a lead-off double! Hope the Yanks don't bring in VETO power. Might not matter since the Angels continue to bunt away outs. If they can get the bunts down. And now Eric Eybar sends one up the middle but Cano gets to it. Can't get Eybar at first but it prevents a run from scoring. And, uh-oh, VETO power is up and throwing. So the Yankees stall...and stall... and stall... and then bring him in. The last no. 42 in Major League Baseball. Let's see if the Angels can at least get that one big run in.

8:14: "10 earned runs in 125 1/3 innings pitched in the post-season." If Rivera isn't the real reason for the Yankees' success these past 13 years... OK, Rivera and $$$$$$$$. Hey, good move by Eybar, stealing second with the infield in. And McCarver just mentioned what I just thought: Luis Gonzalez in '01 hitting that bloop single off Rivera to win the World Series with the infield in. McCarver called it correctly then, hope he's called it correctly here. Nope, fly ball...and the guy on third doesn't even score! Crap. That was about as solid a hit as you can get off of Rivera. Pop fly ends the inning. So now it's 10 earned runs in 126 innings pitched in the post-season. And here comes Fuentes. He's going to have to face A-Rod again, isn't he?

8:34: "Johnny Damon...how I hate him.. now that he's with New York..." A rocket to first but out. And an easy fly out from Teixeira. Two gone. And now... A-Rod. Do you walk him? No. Pitch to him! But they don't. They intentionally walk him. I know it worked before but that's a little too much respect for a guy who makes an out 2 every 3 times. Poor A-Rod. First they walk him, now they pinch-run for him. Won't anyone let him play?

And now it's 3-1 to Matsui. And now it's 3-2 to Matsui. And now Matsui walks. Runners at first and second, and two out, and Robinson Cano at the plate. And Fuentes hits him. Bases juiced. Joe Buck: "And Nick Swisher, who does not have an RBI this entire series, will be the hitter." Shut up! But a quick 0-2 to Swisher. Now 1-2. Now foul. Now 2-2. Joe Buck: "It's a situation like this that makes this game great." Sure, but only if the Angels win. Otherwise it's like Goliath beating David and that's hardly news. Now it's 3-2. With the bases juiced and a one-run lead. But Swisher swings and it's a high popup!...And Eybar's got it!... And we're going to New York for Game Six.

Whew.

Interesting experiment but doubt I'll repeat it anytime soon. Too difficult to say anything interesting in the time-span allowed. It's vaguely interesting, because you get to see what you thought an inning or two or three earlier, but overall... It's typing, not writing, as Truman Capote once said of Kerouac.

Look Bronxward, Angels.

ADDENDUM: Turns out that after his 3-RBI double in the seventh, Mark Teixeira isn't the next A-Rod; Nick Swisher is. Rob Neyer sensibly asks everyone to shut up already about this crap.

Posted at 04:52 PM on Oct 22, 2009 in category Baseball, Yankees Suck
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Saturday October 17, 2009

Countdown to the World Series-III

We're still 11 days away from the start of the 2009 World Series—and y'all know how I feel about that—but today, Oct. 17, is particularly significant as a demarcation point between how we did things then and how we do things now. Except for the anomalous years of 1910 and '11, every World Series from 1903 to 1971 was finished by this date. Every one. Since the advent of the division series in 1995? Only one World Series had even begun by this date, and that one, in 1998, began on this date. Here's your chart. The gray vertical lines are the first and last days of October; the light-green vertical line is October 17:

How's the weather where you are? It turned pretty crappy here in Seattle a couple of days ago. Yesterday it dumped. Today it's damp, drizzly, gray. But at least it's not as cold as it is in New York.

The solution to this problem, as I've said, is to play through, play through, play through. No dayoffs during the playoffs. Maybe no days off during the World Series, either. This is hardly unprecedented. For your reading pleasure, a list of the 22 World Series that were played through without even one stinkin' day off or postponed game:

  • 1906: Chicago White Sox 4, Chicago Cubs 2 (Oct. 9-14)
  • 1907: Chicago Cubs 4, Detroit Tigers 0, Tie 1 (Oct. 8-12)
  • 1908: Chicago Cubs 4, Detroit Tigers 1 (Oct. 10-14)
  • 1913: Philadelphia Athletics 4, New York Giants 1 (Oct. 7-11)
  • 1922: New York Giants 4, New York Yankees 0, tie 1 (Oct. 4-8)
  • 1923: New York Yankees 4, New York Giants 2 (Oct. 10-15)
  • 1924: Washington Senators 4, New York Giants 3 (Oct. 4-10)
  • 1927: New York Yankees 4, Pittsburgh Pirates 9 (Oct. 5-8)
  • 1933: New York Giants 4, Washington Senators 1 (Oct. 3-7)
  • 1934: St. Louis Cardinals 4, Detroit Tigers 3 (Oct. 3-9)
  • 1935: Detroit Tigers 4, Chicago Cubs 2 (Oct.  2-7)
  • 1937: New York Yankees 4, New York Giants 1 (Oct. 6-10)
  • 1940: Cincinnati Reds 4, Detroit Tigers 3 (Oct. 2-8)
  • 1944: St. Louis Cardinals 4, St. Louis Browns 2 (Oct. 4-9)
  • 1947: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 3 (Sept. 30-Oct. 6)
  • 1948: Cleveland Indians 4, Boston Braves 2 (Oct 6-11)
  • 1949: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 1 (Oct. 5-9)
  • 1950: New York Yankees 4, Philadelphia Phillies 0 (Oct. 4-7)
  • 1952: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 3 (Oct. 1-7)
  • 1953: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 2 (Sept. 30-Oct.5)
  • 1954: New York Giants 4, Cleveland Indians 0 (Sept. 29-Oct. 2)
  • 1955: Brooklyn Dodgers 4, New York Yankees 3 (Sept. 18-Oct. 4)

I figure if they didn't have off-days for travel between Chicago and Detroit in 1907, players don't need them now, a century later.

Playing every day, as baseball was meant to be played, is the only way we're going to get back to some semblance of good, World Series weather. Jimmy Rollins will thank you, Robinson Cano will thank you, and I'll thank you.

Posted at 10:39 AM on Oct 17, 2009 in category Baseball
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