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Posts Tagged ‘Mark McGwire’

One week and three signings later, Theo Epstein is still arbitration-free! Do you know how hard a streak that is to maintain in this day and age? I’m telling you, that’s truly impressive.  On Tuesday, we agreed to terms with Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, and none other than the notable quotable himself: Jonathan Papelbon.

Paps got his raise, alright.  For the second straight season, we signed him to a one-year deal.  Except this one is worth $9.35 million.  You read right.  $9.35 million.  That’s a $3.1 million raise.  I don’t even want to imagine what his raise would’ve been had he not completely bombed Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS.  With this raise, he’s a relief pitcher being paid the salary of a position player.  The question is, does he deserve it?

Last season, K-Rod made about $9.2 million and posted an ERA of 3.71.  Joe Nathan made about $11.3 million and posted an ERA of 2.10.  Jonathan Papelbon made $6.25 million and posted an ERA of 1.85.  That’s lower than K-Rod’s and lower than Nathan’s who both made more than he did.  So what if Paps is younger? He’s better.  So, at least on paper, that’s a point in favor of the raise.

Now, it was painfully obvious to us that, even with that low ERA, Paps had an off-year last year.  Why? He walked more batters than usual.  More walks means more pitches means fatigue means less sharp means more blown saves.  But this is not a situation where we have a closer who has a meltdown for no apparent reason.  We know exactly what the problem was, which means we can fix it, which means that Paps’s inferior performance last year wasn’t permanent.  That’s another point in favor of the raise.

Short-term deals are better for the team and worse for the player, so it’s interesting that Paps hasn’t wanted a big contract.  I suspect that’s because he wants to keep Theo on his toes.  If every year is a contract year and Paps continually proves himself, he puts the onus on Theo to make the next movie.  Presumably, Theo would have no choice but to give him a raise every year, thus allowing him to earn more than he might have if he just agreed to one static figure.  From Theo’s perspective, this isn’t going to last long; he can only appease Paps for so many years until he’s eligible for free agency, and then all bets are off.  Meanwhile, Theo very neatly avoided arbitration; in Paps’s case, that was more crucial than ever, and no doubt the fat raise had something to do with it.  I would rather have given Paps a substantial raise and avoided arbitration than have gone through that ordeal with him.  Here’s why.

We also know that Paps is, as I said, a notable quotable.  The man isn’t quiet.  When there’s an opportunity to voice an opinion, you can bet he’ll be first in line, and you can bet that whatever he says will turn heads.  Putting him in a situation where he has to prove he’s worthy of the raise while Theo tries to prove that he isn’t is a horrible, horrible idea.  Given who Paps is, it would severely damage his relationship with the organization and the club.  As someone who relies so much on excited energy and jolts of adrenaline to get his job done, that could significantly impact his performance on the field, not to mention the performance of the whole club.  Case in point: Manny Ramirez.  That’s yet another point in favor of the raise.

But like I said, this won’t last forever, another point in favor.  Word on the street is that, when Paps hits free agency, he’ll take the first train out of Boston to wherever he finds the most green.  But there are some things that would provide serious and humbling deterrents to that course of action.  First of all, because he’s a notable quotable, he’s not a closer who can fit in anywhere.  Here, he came up through the system and the fans love the guy.  Elsewhere, with the possible exception of L.A., his antics might alienate him from his teammates and fan base.  Troubles off the field yield troubles on the field; again, I refer you to Manny Ramirez.  Point being, he might not be as successful elsewhere.

Also, we can expect that before Paps hits the market, he and Theo will have a talk, man to man.  During that talk Theo will say something like, “You and I both know you’re an elite closer.  You’ve had your fun throwing your weight around and making us jack up your paychecks by living on a year-to-year basis.  But now we’re not going to pay you more than you’re worth.  If you want to pull a Jason Bay and make a demand, chase it at all costs, and end up in a situation that’s not as sweet as you thought, go ahead.  But good luck winning a ring and being tolerated elsewhere.” And during this conversation, a very promising closer of the future named Daniel Bard will undoubtedly be on hand, just so that Papelbon knows that Theo isn’t playing games.  Because Papelbon needs to acknowledge, once and for all, that we’ve got another closer waiting in the wings, if necessary.  Papelbon may be good, and he may be great, but he’s not the only great.

I guess what I’m saying is that the raise was a sort of necessary annoyance.  It was exorbitant, to be sure, but there was no getting around it, given the circumstances.  In the future, the circumstances will change and permit us to avoid it.  All we have to do is hold out until then and see if Papelbon has learned anything along the way.  And if he hasn’t, no one would be able to say we didn’t try our hardest to keep him on board.  I for one am not too thrilled about the raise; he’s going to have to do a lot to earn it.  But the fact that I think he will earn it with flying colors makes it easier to bear.

Jeremy Hermida has yet to reach agreement; he wants $3.85 million, but we’re offering 2.95.  I have to say, I’m a big fan of the 2.95.  It would be just sad if Theo avoided arbitration with the likes of Paps only to have to enter into it with Hermida.

Jose Offerman, manager of the Dominican Winter League Licey Tigers, was banned from the league for life after punching umpire Daniel Rayburn.  He came onto the field to argue about an ejection made by Jayson Bradley, the plate umpire, and things got out of hand pretty quickly.  Now, I understand that sometimes the game can get dicey; you see something you don’t like, your temper flares up, and whatnot.  Fine.  But you do not, and when I say “ do not” I mean “do not,” punch an umpire.  I just reread that and it sounds so ridiculous, but it’s true.  You just don’t.  Rayburn, Bradley, and fellow crew members Justin Vogel and Barry Larson all resigned from the league and left the country within hours of reporting the incident.  Offerman could see battery charges if Rayburn pursues this further.

We’ve all heard Mark McGwire’s long-overdue confession.  And we’ve all heard reactions from pretty much everybody.  But I like Carlton Fisk’s the best, and not just because he’s Carlton Fisk.  This is what said to the Chicago Tribune in response to McGwire’s claim that steroids didn’t help him hit those seventy homers in ’98:

“That’s a crock.  There’s a reason they call it performance-enhancing drugs. That’s what it does – performance enhancement. You can be good, but it’s going to make you better…Some guys who went that route got their five-year, $35 million contracts and now are off into the sunset somewhere. Because once they can’t use [steroids] anymore, they can’t play anymore.  And steroids, during that time, probably did as much to escalate players’ salaries as did free agency, as did arbitration, and all of that stuff. It did more than just put home runs up on the board or money in the guys’ pocket.”

Not only is the man well-spoken and to-the-point, but he’s also one hundred percent correct.  Ultimately, McGwire’s claim can be shattered by sheer science, by the physics of the impact that steroids have on home runs.

Roger Tobin, a professor of physics and the chairman of the physics department at Tufts University, wrote a paper called, “On the potential of a chemical Bonds: Possible effects of steroids on home run production in baseball.” The long and short of this paper is the following.  Anabolic androgenic steroids increase lean muscle mass, which increases the hitter’s force on the bat, which increases the work that the bat performs on the ball, which results in a three percent increase in bat speed.  That doesn’t seem like much, but consider the fact that home runs are infrequent and determined by a defined either/or threshold: it’s a home run if it goes over the fence; if it doesn’t, it isn’t.  Requiring a ten percent home run rate, that is, a rate of one out of every ten balls hit going over the fence (derived as a baseline from the pre-steroid era), using the bound that less than five percent of home runs are longer than 460 feet, and combining those two things with physical analysis, Tobin proves that, for an elite slugger like Mark McGwire, that small increase in bat speed would in fact lead to a thirty to seventy percent increase in home run rate.  Bang.

Point being that, no matter what he claims, Mark McGwire’s performance was enhanced significantly.  And I personally would never, under any circumstances, offer a user a standing ovation for a confession more than ten years late.  But that’s just me.  If St. Louis wants to give their new coach a standing ovation and maybe even get him to suit up and play, that’s their business.

The Bruins lost to the Sens and Blue Jackets, and we lost our must-win against the Sens yesterday.  We don’t play the Sens anymore this season, and we drop to fourth place in the division and ninth in the conference, which means that, if it stays like that, we’re not going to the playoffs.  And to add insult to injury, guess who we’re playing this evening: the Canes.  Great.

Dinosaurs Never Existed
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Isn’t that a convenient theme for the week.

With all this focus on defense, it’s worth explaining four new fielding stats that helped Theo and other proponents of sabermetrics make decisions this offseason.  Baseball is a numbers-heavy game, so anytime new stats come to the fore, it’s pretty exciting stuff.

First we have a fielder’s ultimate zone rating.  It’s a fielder’s number of runs above or below average.  It’s calculated by adding range runs to error runs.  According to Mitchel Lichtman, the statistic’s developer, range runs are “the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity,” and error runs are “the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by the number of errors he makes as compared to an average fielder at that position given the same distribution of balls in play.”

Next is the plus/minus.  This is more straight-forward.  It awards for converting plays that others in the position in question failed to convert and demerits for failing to convert plays that others would’ve made.  Developed by John Dewan, this stat is compiled through extensive research of video footage that maps the location and speed of each ball in play as well as the type of hit that put it into play as well as every other property of a ball in play that you could possibly imagine.

Third is the defensive runs saved.  It’s a complete quantity of runs saved.  Also developed by John Dewan, it’s calculated using plus/minus in conjunction with “double play abilities, outfielder arms, bunt defense by corner infielders, pitcher stolen base defense, catcher stolen base defense and the catcher’s ability to handle pitchers.” Dewan explains it thus in his book The Fielding Bible Volume II, “Let’s say there’s a man on first with one out. The expected runs at that point are .528. The next play is a ground ball to the shortstop. He boots it for an error and we now have men on first and second with one out. The expected runs went from .528 to .919. That’s an increase of .391 (.919 minus .528) runs. The play itself, the error, cost the team .391 runs. We don’t have to follow it through and count the rest of the inning. We know what the value of the ending state is and can use it.”

Fourthly, we’ve got the probabilistic model of range.  This one is my personal favorite of the four.  It’s kind of like the ultimate zone rating but accounts for some additional and very important variables.  This program, developed by David Pinto, calculates “the probability of a ball being turned into an out based on six parameters: direction of hit (a vector), the type of hit (fly, ground, line drive, bunt), how hard the ball was hit (slow, medium, hard), the park, the handedness of the pitcher, the handedness of the batter.” Here’s how it works.  It finds the probability of a ball put in play being converted into an out; this is the number of expected outs.  It divides that by the number of balls put in play; this is the expected defensive efficiency rating.  Compare that to the whole team’s actual defensive efficiency rating, and you’ve got the probabilistic model of range, the idea being that a team has a good defense if it’s actual defensive efficiency rating is better than its expected rating.  I’ll be interested to see how the 2010 Red Sox fare by this metric.

Leaving the world of defensive stats and mathematical innovation to itself for moment, we’re going to take a trip back to your high school hallway.

You’ll never believe the latest news on the Dice-K front.  Apparently, the Boston Globe found out from a Japanese magazine that talked to Dice-K that Dice-K injured his right inner thigh while preparing for last year’s World Baseball Classic.  But he didn’t withdraw from the World Baseball Classic because the rest of him felt fine.  He actually concealed the injury from Team Japan’s trainers.  But the guilt and the physical taxation of his work took their toll, and the rest is history.

Honestly, the whole situation resembles teenage gossip way too closely.  It’s extremely frustrating.  The way I see it, the team shouldn’t have had to find out about an injury that directly affected, its long-term performance from a newspaper that found out from a magazine that found out from the player.  At the bottom of this whole thing is cultural differences.  In Japan, honor is of paramount importance.  So Dice-K felt that his injury was something to hide; he didn’t want to become the center of attention, didn’t want people to worry on his behalf, and didn’t want to make excuses for himself.  But we expect someone like Dice-K to be public about legitimate injuries so he can get help.  Bottom line? Team Japan got a championship, Team Boston got nothing, and Team Dice-K has some work to do.

Theo Epstein deserves a hearty congratulations on never having gone to arbitration with a player.  He signed Okajima to a one-year deal worth a bit less than three million dollars, plus four bonus clauses.  But he’s got four more filings to deal with: Hermida, Ramon Ramirez, Delcarmen, and none other than Jonathan Papelbon, who of course expects a raise.  I think if anyone on that list is going to finally get Theo into an arbitration, it’s going to be Paps.  I mean, he’s still the best closer in the game, but after our untimely exit from the ’09 playoffs, I’m not sure that raise is going to be served on a silver platter.

Mark McGwire finally declared his use of steroids and HGH.  Wow.  I could try to field some sarcasm here, but honestly when I read that, I was so bored that I forgot to yawn.  Next thing you know, Barry Bonds is going to admit using, too.  Oh, wait.  But in all seriousness, I think Major League Baseball needed that admission, even though all of us knew it before Tom Davis chaired that interrogation on March 17, 2005.  But I think Michael Cuddyer said it best when he expressed sorrow for the clean guys who couldn’t hold a candle to all the loaded teams that swiped the championship rings from their fingers.  As far as Joe Morgan’s statement on the matter is concerned, it’s just another reason not to watch baseball on ESPN:

[Steroid users] took performance-enhancing drugs to enhance their numbers and make more money.  And they did it and made more money and enhanced their numbers.

Profound.  Although his main point that we should pay more constructive attention to the clean guys of the era who earned their stats than pay all this sensational attention to the juiced guys who didn’t is spot-on.

Equally profound was Bud Selig’s proclamation that changes would come to baseball this season.  Did he say what sort of changes? No.  Apparently that’s not nearly as important as the fact that changes will take place, period.  The postseason schedule is likely to be addressed first.  Mike Scoscia wants less days off, and Joe Torre wants the division series to be best-of-seven.  Fantastic.  The GMs who, between them, want more baseball played in less time after a 162-game season are on the panel that’s essentially the brain behind the changes.  And last but not least, Major League Baseball has pledged one million dollars in aid to Haiti.  That just makes you feel great about being a baseball fan.

In other news, the B’s lost to the Ducks in regulation, beat the Sharks in a shootout, and lost to the Kings in a shootout.  But that’s not even the sad part.  The sad part is that we have fifty-four points, which is good for second place in the Northeast.  That’s two above the Senators and ten below the Sabres.  Guess how many points the Kings have.  Fifty-seven.  I’m sorry to have to say this, but we’re actually playing worse puck than the Los Angeles Kings.  Of course, life doesn’t look much better from a Patriots perspective.  The Ravens absolutely slaughtered us on Sunday, and that’s the end of that.  I don’t really feel a need to dwell on the subject.

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I’m going to cut to the chase.  Manny Ramirez was suspended for fifty games today because he failed a performance-enhancing drug test.  He’ll lose a third of his twenty-five-million-dollar salary.  He claims that this drug was not a steroid but rather a medication given to him by his doctor for a “personal health issue” and that he was unaware that this particular medication was banned by Major League Baseball.  He’s the third player to be suspended this year (the first two were Phillies pitcher JC Romero and Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre).  Last year, Giants catcher Elizier Alfonzo and Rockies catcher Humberto Coto were suspended.  Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and A-Rod weren’t suspended because their use came before 2004, when Major League Baseball started the suspensions.

Let’s think about this rationally for a second, shall we? What do Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Alex Rodriguez all have in common? The prolonged use of steroids for a not-so-brief period during their careers.  Now, I know what Yankee fans are thinking; they’re thinking this invalidates our World Series wins, but that’s just not true.  Manny Ramirez was tested during those seasons.  He said himself that he’d passed about fifteen tests over the course of the past five season.  That includes 2004 and 2007.  And I believe him because there are records confirming it.  If he were suspended for a drug violation today, it’s because of something that happened recently.  And let’s be logical.  What possible reason did he have to use drugs before he was traded? He was a god in Boston, a perennial All-Star and Silver Slugger, and one of the best hitters of his era.  Then, after the trade, a red flag went up in his head that maybe he was coming to the end of the line in terms of how many teams would be willing to put up with him.  This past offseason was the last straw; he saw that his hitting alone wouldn’t carry him through a contract year anymore, and he realized that he wouldn’t have that hitting for much longer.  Then where would he be? On the golf course.  So he panicked.

So I don’t want to start hearing about ’04 and ’07, because that would just be grasping and trying to disprove reality.  Everyone saw the Mitchell Report.  Everyone saw the names that were on it, most of which were already known to have been associated with substance use.  And everyone saw that Manny Ramirez’s name was not one of them.  Now, he says that he didn’t know it was banned and that it was ingested under the supervision of a doctor for a very specific medical reason.  Until that’s proven wrong, we technically have to believe it.  So we don’t even know what substance it is or (technically) whether it was taken for that intent, but supposing it was, it’s most a definitely new incident.  He wasn’t doing that with us.  We have a  clean clubhouse, one we can be proud of, and we have a  team in this city that, let’s just say, wouldn’t be very happy if he’d been doing that, especially on top of all the other stunts he was pulling.  He wouldn’t have been able to get away with it in Boston.  He wouldn’t have lasted as long as he did here.  So 2004 and 2007 are still clean and legitimate, and Bonds, McGwire, and A-Rod are still not.  I hate to burst New York’s bubble, but not even a Yankee fan can twist  this one around.

Under circumstances like these, it is very easy to attribute a realistic outcome, like a player putting on weight or declining in ability because of age or mediocrity, with an anomalous behavior, like using performance-enhancing drugs.  It’s so easy in hindsight to say, “Come to think of it, so-and-so was looking a little paunchy or played a lot better at just about the time a handful of the hundreds of Major League Baseball players were using, so therefore so-and-so must have been using, too.” But to do that would be unfair and detrimental to the teammates of that one misguided man.  Like I said, there’s no proof that Manny was using in 2004 or 2007, and there’s definitely no proof that anyone else was, and backsliding like that in a situation like this would be unreasonable.  We won those because we were superior, because we were the better team.  The curse was broken, our years of misfortune after misfortune have concluded.  We don’t have to feel guilty about winning cleanly and honorably.  So the way I see it, we have two options: we can let masochism get the better of us and write off an entire team’s accomplishments because we’re scared of being labeled as naive, or we can dare to believe in the magic of that team’s capabilities and feel good about them.  Why should we erase our glory and achievement? I mean, it’s true that we don’t know for sure whether Manny was using in 2004 or 2007, and it’s true that we don’t know for sure whether his teammates were using as well.  But we do know that others who were using at that time and even before that were discovered with ease long before today.  And we do know what does and does not go on in our clubhouse and what the guys are and are not willing to tolerate.  And based on all of this, nothing has changed; we can still look at ’04 and ’07 without asterisks or question marks.  Finally, something that always comes to mind in times like these is what these ballplayers are teaching the kids.  But how are we setting a good example for kids if we arbitrarily smear the good names of guys who weren’t involved with drugs? We’re setting an example of cynicism, bitterness, and doubt.  That’s not how we grew up as fans.  And that’s now how the next generation should grow up, either.

As for Manny Ramriez, we don’t have that many details yet, and I hope for his sake that he’s telling the truth.  I hope for his sake that, immature and self-centerd as he is, deep down he knew better than that.  And if it comes to pass that he didn’t, if it’s shown that he’s just like the rest, then all I have to say is that it’s a new and altogether dismally pathetic chapter in the saga of Manny being Manny.  I always said Los Angeles and Manny Ramirez deserved each other; Manny puts on a show, and Los Angeles loves to watch.  Well, they’ve got one interesting show on their hands now.  I emphasize that, no matter what, all signs point to him ingesting this substance only recently, after 2004 and 2007.  And I also emphasize that, no matter what, there’s really no excuse.  If this is the new Manny being Manny, I don’t want to know about it, and I congratulate Theo again on a very successful trade.

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