Set Up to Succeed: the Left-handed Specialist

It's pretty much compulsory knowledge for baseball fans that relievers' ERAs aren't on the same scale as starters' ERAs. A good reliever, while usually a worse pitcher than a good starter, will generally have a better ERA. There are a number of reasons for this, but the primary ones are that hitters fare substantially better each subsequent time they face a pitcher in a game, so facing a hitter only once a game suppresses overall production off a pitcher, and that relievers can concentrate all their strength and focus into a single inning in most cases without having to worry about pacing or setting hitters up for later at bats. It is also true, however, that not all relievers' ERAs are on the same scale either. There are some cases when a pitcher has additional factors depressing his ERA, the most consistent and extreme such example being the situational lefty.

One advantage in the situational lefty's favor is the platoon advantage. He faces a disproportionate number of favourable match-ups. In 2008, left-handed hitters OPSed .077 points lower off of left-handed pitchers than right-handed pitchers, so that's a pretty significant advantage to have. This advantage is pretty well-known, as it's basically the entire reason for having situational lefties in the first place.

A less obvious but potentially just as important advantage, however, is that one/two-out pitchers often find themselves coming into games more often with one or two outs and less often with no one out. Every hit or walk allowed is less harmful the more outs there are at the time: for example, in 2007, a runner was likely to score from 1st base 40% of the time with no outs, but only 13% of the time with 2 outs. Since a pitcher's ERA only covers what happens to the baserunners he allows, coming into the game with 2 outs is like pitching an inning in which the opposition only gets 1 out as far as his ERA is concerned: the batters he faces only get 1 out to cross the plate before his slate is wiped clean instead of 3.

To see just how big a difference this makes, let's look at two case studies: one of a good left-handed specialist, and one of a bad one, and see how their ERAs would look adjusted for these factors. To do this, I looked at the baserunners given up by each pitcher distributed over the number of BF with each number of outs and with each platoon situation and then looked at how much the expected runs allowed would change with those baserunners redistributed over an average number of BF with each number of outs and an average platoon split.

Joe Beimel:

214 BF, 50 H, 8 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 21 BB, 3 HBP

0 out: 63 BF

1 out: 80 BF

2 out: 71 BF

vLHB: 100 BF

vRHB: 114 BF

As you can see, Beimel actually faced more righties than lefties, though still a higher percentage of lefties than average, and had a moderate advantage in pitching late in innings. Based on these numbers, Beimel gets a modest drop in ERA. His ERA, assuming he allowed hitters the same rates of production, would have been about 5.0% higher had he been a standard 1-inning reliever, with about a 60% of that difference due to pitching mostly later in innings and 40% due to the platoon advantage.

Randy Flores:

131 BF, 34 H, 8 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 20 BB, 1 HBP

0 out: 36 BF

1 out: 44 BF

2 out: 51 BF

vLHB: 64 BF

vRHB: 67 BF

Like Beimel, Flores faced more righties than lefties, but still more lefties than average. He had a slightly better platoon advantage than Beimel as well as a bigger advantage in appearing later in innings. Converting him to a 1-inning pitcher bumps his ERA 9.4%, with about two-thirds of the difference coming from the number of outs when he pitched and one-third from the platoon advantage.

As one would expect, the bad reliever was used in more situations that reduced the effects of his poor pitching, namely later in innings where his baserunners had a smaller chance of scoring. This is one measurable area of the elusive managerial value-managing the bullpen to reduce the negative effects of your worst pitchers. In Flores' case, Tony LaRussa saved his team 1.5-2 runs by how he distributed Flores' innings compared to an average distribution, which sounds like nothing, but that's just from redistributing 25.2 innings. Without context, it's not clear how substantial this type of bullpen management is, but with enough legwork, it would be possible to compute these kind of numbers for entire staffs and start to get an idea of which managers are best at it. For now, we can use these numbers instead to better consider how relievers compare to each other when we look at their ERAs.
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Selig: Revenue Sharing helps Rays field second cheapest team in baseball

Predictably, Bud Selig took this dead time of the offseason after the biggest-name free agents have signed and with no deal for Manny imminent to blow his competitive balance horn again, citing the success of the Rays as evidence that his measures for competitive balance are working:

When you think back to where we were in the '90s, how small-market clubs never won and the few playoff games they won were like 4 percent or 5 percent, there was all this despair about disparity. On Jan. 19 of 2000, the owners gave me unprecedented power to solve the competitive balance problem. The vote was 30-0. There was genuine, deep and abiding concern. There's no question that it existed. Competitive balance was a real problem. The sport felt it in every way. So Tampa Bay winning was a manifestation of all the changes. ( interview)
These changes, namely revenue-sharing (which was in place for a few years by 2000 and peaked around then at less than half of what George Mitchell recommended was necessary for competitive balance before settling at its current level) and luxury taxes, were designed (allegedly) to increase competitive balance indirectly by closing the payroll gap, not just by giving wins to the small market teams.  Mr. Selig does not seem to care that the Rays' success has nothing to do with these measures (they did have the second lowest payroll in baseball, after all, and were competing with teams in their division with 5 times their payroll).  Of course, the truth is that the Rays could compete as a small market because of the salary controls in the CBA over the first 6 years of a player's career, a measure that existed long before Selig took over, but Bud doesn't think baseball fans are smart enough to realize this.

I am not sure what Mr. Selig considers a small market, but his statement on the 90s makes absolutely no sense.  Teams from Atlanta, Cleveland, Toronto, and Oakland had dominating runs, and they did so with competitive payrolls.   Kansas City, Oakland, and Toronto all led MLB in payroll at some point in the 90s, and other small market teams were consistently in the top 5-10.  Even the Marlins were in the top 5 in payroll when they won the Series in '97.  It would seem that what Mr. Selig is talking about as small market is really low-payroll, which is counter-intuitive to his arguments on competitive balance.  The whole point is to give the small market teams a chance to compete financially with the bigger teams so that they can compete more consistently on the field, so what kind of sense does it make to not count these teams as small market when they do spend competitively and only point to their success when they don't spend?  That's like saying we're only going to count teams' successes when our measures don't actually work.

It's ironic that Selig cites the Rays as the poster team of the results of his revenue sharing measures, because, until this season, they really were.  They consistently refused to even attempt to field a competitive team or try to spend money to bring in talent, choosing instead to turn their profits by collecting revenue sharing payments.  They couldn't win games, they couldn't fill the lower deck of their stadium, and they couldn't care less.  They were, more or less, everything that was wrong with the competitive balance in the game.

Essentially, what Bud is saying is that fans are too stupid to tell the difference between payroll and wins, and that he can use them interchangeably for whatever suits his position whether it makes sense or not and no one will notice.  Or maybe Bud himself is too stupid to tell the difference.  I don't know.  Either way, I'm not going to fall for it.
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Film and Baseball: Character Development

Let me introduce myself: I'm John Dorhauer - not that this should mean anything to anyone outside of the Dorhauer clan.

I don't tell you who I am hoping that you will say, "Oh, THAT John Dorhauer." I tell you because I’m hoping you will say, “Oh, NOT that John Dorhauer. I am, in fact, the elder son of John Dorhauer, John Dorhauer. If that confused you at all, then you have somewhat of an idea what it was like to grow up sharing a first name with your father but not a middle name (I’m not Jr. because of it).

Anyway, I thought it would be appropriate for me to begin my writing for our site by talking a little about why I love baseball so much. One of the great things about the pastime is that it can be appreciated on so many different levels. Who wouldn’t be left in awe by something like a towering 450-foot blast or witnessing your favorite team claim a World Series championship (and believe me, I know)? The game can also be appreciated on a deeper, more intellectual level, and this is where I get the greatest enjoyment from watching.

To put this aspect of the game into perspective, I’m going to use one of my other great passions: film. And no, I’m not talking about the likes of Four Christmases. I refer only to filmmaking that is guided by an artistic conscience and the boldness to make a unique statement. One of my favorite traits to watch for in these films is character development, which is a cinematic element that permits the film’s characters the time and space they need to naturally reveal themselves to the viewer rather than bludgeoning you over the head with impractical dialogue and an unnaturally dense plot.

A director who is particularly adept at incorporating character development is Paul Thomas Anderson. His three most recent features – Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood – are all master classes on this. Love and Blood both follow their main characters (even thought they are the antithesis of the other) as they progress as individuals, often using extended stretches of limited-to-no dialogue to do so. Magnolia, while using a wide array of characters across multiple story lines, is propelled by the development of its characters through their daily interactions rather than its plot to reach its stunning yet moving climax. A couple other polarizing examples to further illustrate my point: Elephant, a Gus Van Sant film, is an extreme yet fabulous example of character development, as its protagonists are portrayed in a purely naturalist perspective with virtually no dialogue, which makes their demise all the more heart-breaking and tragic. Wall-E, on the other hand, is a beautifully animated film disguised as a family flick that spends its first 45 minutes doing nothing but developing its protagonist with zero conversational dialogue. With the possible exceptions of There Will Be Blood and Wall-E, none of these films are all that appealing at a surface level. All of these films, however, blow you away when you allow yourself to be immersed in the simplistic, natural beauty that is blended with a dash of magic realism – while you can definitely tell that you’re watching a fictional film, you feel that these characters are real people to whom you can relate.

So what in the world does this have to do with baseball? To me, baseball is like a good arty flick – it gives its “characters” and their various situations the time and space they need to fully flourish, and only the conditioned and alert eye can pick up on these things. And while you don’t have the same emotional connection with Albert Pujols as you do with Wall-E, the parallel between these two exists in the way that they stimulate you intellectually.

This angle can be interpreted in a couple different ways. For example, it can describe how you can follow the development of players throughout the game as they learn from and correct their mistakes. It’s like when a pitcher picks up on how a given batter has a tendency of chasing sliders and uses that to strike him out, or how a hitter goes opposite field on a pitcher who continually pitches him away. Character development in baseball also occurs when you get the chance to experience the greats live out their careers. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to see two of the game’s greatest pitchers – Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson – throughout the bulk of their careers, and witnessing this has had a profound impact on my appreciation of the game.

Perhaps my favorite intellectual stimulation in regard to baseball is simply by watching each inning unfold and trying to decipher every little thing that happens. Maybe the centerfielder shades a little to one side because of the hitter or because of the pitch about to be thrown. Maybe the runner on first takes a slightly wider lead to try to get inside the pitcher’s head. Everything in baseball happens for a reason, and sometimes I feel like I could watch one inning for hours and still not absorb everything there is to know about what just happened.

Anyone who knows me knows that I could talk your ear off about either film or baseball, which is largely because both appeal to the satisfaction of my intellectual curiosity. When both are done well, they allot you the chance to see something subtle and beautiful unfold at just the perfect pace. Most importantly, however, both provide you with something to relate to, something to love, and something to cheer for. Continue Reading...

The Value of Baserunning

In evaluating players' talent and impact, we have always had biases. Certain areas of the game receive disproportionate attention while others tend to get overlooked or dismissed. It's how a player can finish second in the MVP voting with as ordinary a season as Ryan Howard's, and even get a significant chunk of first-place votes over such a standout candidate as Albert Pujols. It's how much better players like Chase Utley and Hanley Ramirez can finish far behind in the voting. And I'm assuming, though I'm not certain because the formula has been carefully guarded from the public eye for decades now, that this is how the Elias Sports Bureau can submit their official annual player rankings to MLB naming Mark Teixeira as the best player in baseball.

Perhaps the most overlooked area of the game (the anti-RBI, if you will) is baserunning. I've lost count of the number of well-meaning but ultimately misguided fans have regurgitated the supposedly sabermetric idea that baserunning holds no value. As far as I can tell, this sentiment comes from two separate tenets of sabermetrics-

1. that stolen base totals are a very poor indication of baserunning value, and that it is very possible for high stolen base totals to be completely negated by a reasonable number of caught stealings, and
2. that, in the absence of a solid objective understanding of the value of some part of the game, it is incredibly difficult to accurately assess the value subjectively. In other words, how many runs or wins is Derek Jeter's leadership worth? Since we can't answer that question with any certainty, we can't really consider it in an objective estimate of his overall value.

Since it is nearly impossible for the average fan to find any decent objective valuation of baserunning skills besides SB, CS, and SB%, it is often assumed that the second of these comes into play here, which, of course, it does. However, the extension of this principle to assume that baserunning actually holds no value because you have no measure of it steps beyond the realm of sabermetrically-minded claims. The real issue here is that sabermetrics is a constantly moving field, and so fans who accept what they have read (and sometimes misinterpreted, as with inappropriately extending the second tenet above) as unchanging fact are not, in fact, thinking sabermetrically, even to the point where they will vehemently argue with actual sabermetricians who they feel don't get the new wave of statistics. Even for someone who enjoys irony as much as myself, these conversations can often be the most frustrating.

And so it goes with the topic of baserunning. As daunting as the task may seem given the lack of resources available, it is actually possible to measure baserunning ability in terms of runs contributed, and that means we can consider it with hitting ability with appropriate weight in considering a player's offensive value. The first issue to overcome in undertaking such an assessment is that stolen bases are, in fact, a very poor measure of baserunning value, and that more value actually presents itself in how well a runner does on the base paths on balls put into play by his teammates. There are a few difficult-to-find metrics that attempt to measure non-SB baserunning value, such as first-to-third percentage and +/- rating for baserunners, but these lack both a proper consideration of context and a usable translation to run value. By looking at comprehensive play-by-play data, we can do better than these and come closer to assigning a true baserunning value. This value is largely concentrated into the following four situations:

-going from first to third on an outfield single
-scoring from second on an outfield single
-scoring from first on a double
-scoring from third on and outfield fly ball out with fewer than 2 outs

There are, of course, other places where baserunning affects a play, but they are either too uncommon or too fluky to be reliably judged from just play-by-play data, so I focused only on these situations. By compiling a database of every time one of these situations occurred in 2007, I was able to apply a linear weights formula to arrive at a run-value for baserunning. Basically, this means I calculated the run value of each base taken based on how frequently a runner scored from that base with that number of outs, and then calculated the difference in value of the bases a given player took on the base paths to what an average runner would have taken.

Beyond just looking at those 4 situations, I had to further break each situation into the number of outs on the play to get an appropriate linear weight value because their is a significant difference in the value of the same play on the bases with a different number of outs. Unlike with hitting, this difference can't be ignored for baserunning for 2 main reasons:

1. there are not enough occurrences of each situation throughout the year for the numbers to reliably even out across the possible number of outs, and
2. the difference in value of taking the extra base and of possibly running into an out in different situations affects the decision-making of a baserunner in ways it does not affect a hitter.

Furthermore, the first situation had to be broken down by which outfielder fielded the ball since it is much easier to go first to third on a single to right field than on one to left.

Once the methodology is established, all that remains is the long, tedious process of actually carrying it out. Fun stuff. The findings-

-Baserunning on batted balls is more important than stolen bases. Good baserunners can more reliably advance beyond the closest safe base without getting thrown out on balls in play than on balls not in play. The result is that the extra bases they take are much less dampened by the risk of getting thrown out.
-Stolen bases do not necessarily correlate well with baserunning value. I ran separate calculations for SB and non-SB components of baserunning value using the same methodology. The good baserunners were generally better than the bad baserunners in both, but among the good and bad baserunners, a number of them had their value distributed significantly differently among the SB and non-SB components.
-The difference between a very good baserunner and a very bad baserunner can be at least 12 runs. I only computed values for 15 players because of the time-consuming nature, but the sample included both good and bad baserunners, all of whom were very good hitters and on base a lot. The top baserunners in my sample from 2007 (Sizemore and Rollins) were about 12.2 runs ahead of the worst (Helton and Fielder). This may sound insignificant, but it's not. Ten runs are generally considered about 1 win, and anything over a win from 1 player is a significant contribution. For comparison, that is a greater difference than the difference in VORP between Adam Dunn and Aaron Rowand this season.
-The subjective consensus of a player's baserunning value is generally good at separating good from bad baserunners, but there are some exceptions. For example, David Wright gets more credit as a good baserunner than Alex Rodriguez, but they were pretty much dead even in value in 2007. As an even bigger surprise, Matt Holliday ranked ahead of Hanley Ramirez (as did Wright and A-Rod). David Ortiz, who would probably be a lot of fans' pick for worst of the bunch, ranked ahead of 4 players in the sample. This also weighs in on controversial baserunners, such as Pujols, for whom exist staunch proponents of both his great value and his great detriment on the base paths due to his aggressiveness. Turns out, he's pretty much average (shocking, huh?).

There are still some issues with this measure. It's not comprehensive. It suffers from sample size issues, and would require a few years of data to really be reliable. It does, however, show how baserunning is a skill that can be measured just like any other area of the game, and that the value in good baserunning is too significant to simply be ignored.
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Enduring winter

This article is about getting through the winter.

I'm not talking about the weather here. This isn't about snow, or ice, or freezing temperatures. None of which I have, by the way, now that I live in Phoenix - but that is beside the point.

This is about that gnawing sense you have in your gut when, just seconds after the last out is made in the World Series, you realize you have witnessed your last pitch and for the 3 1/2 months between that moment and the day pitchers and catchers report you have to fill the long nights with something.

We all find some way to cope. We have to. And here is my list of things I do to endure:


Be careful here, because not just any reading will do. No War and Peace here. No Moby Dick or Dylan Thomas or John Grisham.

I'm thinking JP Kiensella instead. Or David James Duncan. Or Roger Kahn. So far this off season I have read A Well Paid Slave, the story of Curt Flood; On the Black, John Feinstein's hard core look inside a year of pitching on the corner executed by Tom Glavine and Mark Mussina; and Head Games, a look inside the thinking pitcher's approach to the game. I think my next book will be the gem that almost no baseball fan has ever heard of, and yet no fan's library is complete without: David James Duncan's book The Brothers K. I'm telling you, find this book, buy it, read it. You can thank me later, as I did my brother Jay for turning me on to it.

My library now includes a few hundred books about baseball, its players, its history, its analysts. On long winter nights, its hard to do much better.


I also have a growing collection of movies. "Bang the Drum Slowly," "Eight Men Out," "Field of Dreams," and one of my all-time favorites - the much underrated first "Bad News Bears." Throw the remake in the crapper. My children sort of know at Christmas, any baseball movie I don't have is a pretty standard gift. But of all the films out there to watch, nothing beats taking all nine episodes in successive nights of Ken Burn's baseball documentary and watching them nine nights in a row. Save that for when the depression hits the hardest. And I dare you not to cry at least once an episode.


Baseball Cards, that is. I started when my son was born 24 years ago collecting every Topps card - their standard set, that is. These are not investment pieces for me - they are totems. They are to be taken out and used. About once a winter, I decide to shift my cataloguing system from alphabetical order to numerical order, or numerical order to team and position, or - well, you get the idea. And when you take the full set out and reshuffle the deck, so to speak, you spend the time over the long night reading again the back of the card. Something almost always surprises and delights.


Holy Cow, this may the most precious part of all. Just as the pauses in the actual game contested on the field give fans a chance to anticipate the next pitch or argue about the last (one of the truly unique parts of the game), so too does the pause that is winter give us all time to carry on the arguments that have endured through generations and make the fan's experience all the richer. I call my brothers or my sons and we make our case, over and over again. Instead of pissing each other off by arguing whether or not Tony LaRussa should have pinch hit for Aaron Miles in the 8th inning of last night's game, we argue instead about whether or not Derek Jeter is the worst fielding shortstop of his generation (I argue he is, though I had myself to be persuaded).

As of this writing, there are only 48 days left till pitchers and catchers report. Some of you are barely hanging on. Once the holidays pass, it is a long time till opening day. I hope that my prescription for maintaining sanity and health till life begins again helps you get through another long winter. Continue Reading...

All in the family

Let me introduce myself: I'm John Dorhauer - not that this should mean anything to anyone outside of the Dorhauer clan.
I don't tell you who I am hoping that you will say, "Oh, THAT John Dorhauer." I tell you because for me my love of baseball is all about family.

I'm the son of a man from whom my greatest pleasures came with a baseball glove attached to my arm. That would be true whether we were playing catch in the backyard, whether he was watching me wear the same tools of ignorance that he wore as a young man, or whether I was sitting next to him in the last few rows at Busch Stadium waiting for Lou Brock or Ted Simmons to hit one to me.

And I'm the proud father of two boys whose own childhood includes the kinds of rituals that produce a deep and abiding love and appreciation for this greatest of games. From the time the two were photographed on their first birthday in a Cardinal jersey that my uncle gave to me when I was a year old, (here is my picture wearing that beloved uniform, dreaming every child's dream)

to the time I would begin again in earnest my collection of baseball cards on the day of John's birth, (here we are in a recent picture before his graduation from college - egads, how the years roll by)

to the time John would catch his first baseball in the playpen, to the time Adam, at two years of age, rifled a wiffleball back at my head, (here we are, his birthday present this year being one final trip to Yankee Stadium)

to the trip the three of us would take with their uncle that would see us in 14 cities in two weeks watching a baseball game in a different city every night (including Cooperstown - our first of three such trips so far) - baseball would be at the core of our relationships.

Out story is not unlike that of many, if not most, fathers and sons in America. We love the game, and we have studied it and discussed it from every possible angle. My father and my two sons are active in a Fantasy league that has been running now for the last 12 years, and there is nothing more meaningful in the Dorhauer clan than to carry home in March the three foot trophy given to the league champ. I have 5 brothers, and we are all a part of the league and we are all very competitive and we all want that trophy very badly.

We are fans, and we are analysts, and we are amateur historians. We read The Hardball Times religiously. We are constant consumers of the information put out by the Baseball Reference Website. John is already contributing to a website his own fantasy ruminations ( I am a subscriber to SABR. I don't have a conversation with my son, my brothers, my father without baseball being a part of it. I have ten editions of the Baseball Encyclopedia, which I use to get me through the long nights of winter. I'm counting the hours both to Jan. 1 - when the MLB channel graces the airwaves and to B=Feb. 12 when pitchers and catchers report - many of them right here in Phoenix where I now reside.

3-D baseball is our effort to contribute. While '3-D' refers to the three Dorhauer men who will be contributing, it also signifies our desire to cover baseball from every possible dimension. We will write about anything and everything baseball. Some of it will be analysis for fantasy fans. Some of it will be stories told about baseball in and from the Dorhauer repertoire. Some of it will be commentary on games played during the coming season. Some of it will be sharing with you pieces of history that have captured our hearts. Some of it will be the art of argument - defending our positions on the arguments that are the bread and butter of every fan of baseball: Ted Williams is the best pure hitter the game has ever seen; Walter Johnson was a better pitcher than Roger Clemens; Bud Selig is the worst commish the game has ever seen - you get the idea.

We hope you enjoy this.

I know we will. Continue Reading...

How the Cardinals won 86 games

Going into 2008, the Cards appeared to be in for a long season.  Their lineup looked thin after Pujols, and no one know when his elbow might blow out.  The rotation was patched together with converted relievers and cast-offs from other teams.  Then, the one area that looked like it might carry over as a bright spot from 2007, the bullpen, turned out to be a disaster.  Yet somehow, at season's end, there stood the Cardinals, 10 games over .500.

Fans in St. Louis pointed at the failings of the bullpen (30 blown saves!) and decided they should have won the division with even an average bullpen.  In focusing on the one area that went wrong, however, they missed the overwhelming number of things that went right for their team.  Yes, Izzy was a mess at closer.  Yes, the bullpen was among the worst in baseball.  But that lineup that struck fear into nobody scored the 4th most runs in the NL and the rotation wound up being more than serviceable.

The most obvious thing that went right was that Albert stayed healthy, and he absolutely mashed the ball en route to his second MVP.  The best player in baseball turning in one of the best years of his career is bound to bode well for whatever offense he happens to be in.  Then, on top of that, former minor-league journeyman Ryan Ludwick all of a sudden hit the ceiling projected for him before he became an injury-plagued ex-prospect, turning in a line of .299/.375/.591.

New GM John Mozeliak bided his time in shopping Scott Rolen in the offseason and waited out offers until Troy Glaus hit the table.  What initially looked like a swap of aging, injury-prone third-basemen past their primes ended up being a clear win for the Cardinals.  The deal not only essentially took a year off a large third base contract, it provided a steady on-base threat that came on after a slow start with resurgent power.  The team that was supposed to be punchless now had a 1-2-3 punch to rival just about anyone's.

The weakness at second base, by some mechanism understood by sabermetricians only as divine intervention, turned somehow into a moderate strength.  Aaron Miles' typically hollow BA spiked to .317 in over 400 PAs, leading to career highs in OBP and SLG by .026 points and .030 points respectively (both of his old highs came when he played in Coors).  Felipe Lopez, freshly cut from the low-hanging branches of the Washington Nationals (International League membership pending), signed on and caught fire, actually outhitting Ludwick in 43 games (.385/.426/.538).  Adam Kennedy bounced back from his disastrous 2007 and returned to his career norm as a decent-hitting, albeit lackluster, second baseman (.280/.321/.372).  All in all, the second base position ended up 15 runs above average according to Chris Dial's Offense Plus Defense, ranking behind only the Phillies, Marlins, and Cubs at the position in the NL.

From there, the rest of the role-players followed suit in turning in seasons on the high end of their projections.  Skip Schumaker and Yadier Molina both hit .300, and Skip turned into a passable lead-off hitter (.302/.359/.406).  Ankiel hit for the power he showed early in his 2007 call-up, and his plate discipline, while still poor, showed modest improvements.  Even Izturis was less anemic than usual in his best season since 2004, when he looked like an emerging potential All Star.

Then there was the rotation.  Wainwright emerged as a legitimate ace in Carp's absence.  Wellemeyer threw 190 innings and walked fewer than 3 batters per 9 for the first time in his career (previous low:  4.54) a year after being cut from the Royals' bullpen.  Lohse temporarily stopped allowing home runs for the first couple months of the season.  Looper threw 200 innings as an average pitcher in his second year removed from a waning bullpen career.  The rotation far out-pitched all expectations and ended up 6th in the NL in both ERA and IP.

The infield defense was outstanding as well.  Pujols played his usual GG defense at first, and he an Yadi were the only 2 repeat winners of Fielding Bible Awards this year.  Izturis and Adam Kennedy were among the best middle infielders in the field this year, each ranking in the top 5 at his position in baseball in UZR, +/- rating, and RZR (accompanied by very good OOZ totals), with Kennedy doing so despite limited playing time.  Glaus, while certainly no Scott Rolen, didn't provide the drop-off most anticipated at the hot corner.  Combined, only the Phillies had a better team infield UZR than the Cardinals in all of baseball this season.  A below-average outfield defense didn't keep the Cards' overall team defense from being among the best in the game last year.

Compared to all these positives, the bullpen problems were actually fairly minor.  The defensive value of the team alone (an estimated 30.8 runs according to UZR) was enough to cover the bullpen woes.  Thirty-one blown saves is certainly an alarming number, but it's not exactly the whole story in evaluating a bullpen.  For one, while it did lead the Majors, there were still 5 teams with fewer save opportunities that blew a higher percentage of their save chances.  Another thing is that blown saves tell you very little of value in translating to wins or losses contributed by a bullpen.

A common assumption among the St. Louis faithful is that if they could cut the blown saves in half, or even just have a league average total, they would have added the difference in wins and run away with a playoff spot.  Dealing with blown saves is not that simple, however.  Blown saves simply do not equate to losses.  The Cardinals ended up winning the game anyway after some of those blown saves, and there were a few games with multiple blown saves, so that cuts about a third of those blown saves off the total number of losses in those games.  The bullpen also lost games that weren't blown saves, though, so when you add those back in, the total is back up (by pure coincidence) to 31.  The average NL team lost 27 games in its bullpen.  So, by this crude measurement, the Cardinals only lost 4 more games in their bullpen than the average NL team; their losses were just disproportionately distributed into blown saves rather than other bullpen losses.

There are still better ways to consider how much of an effect the bullpen had on wins and losses that help eliminate a lot of the noise associated with pure loss totals.  Looking at Win Probability Added is one such method.  The Cardinals' bullpen subtracted 1.92 wins according to WPA.  WPA is biased toward late-game situations (whether or not that is appropriate is debatable), so it enhances problems in the bullpen by a fair margin; if you look at WPA/LI (leverage index), which looks only at the inherent value of performance and removes it from game context, that total drops to .42 wins lost by the bullpen.  Whichever methodology you put more stock in, that is still over a win short of the significance of the defense alone.  Despite the disproportionate amount of attention the bullpen problems got in bringing down the team, it is pretty clear that the unexpected positives far outweighed anything the bullpen did, and the result, predictably, was a team that far outpaced expectations coming into the year.
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Salary Cap in MLB?

In a world so divided between the haves and the have nots, is there a more glaring issue in MLB than tenfold payroll discrepancy between the top and bottom of the spectrum? Talk long enough with any group of serious fans about what has to be done to fix the game, and you'll find some form of salary cap comes up as often as such debacles as the designated hitter, HFA riding on the ASG (as well as 3-letter acronyms in general), allowing Manny Ramirez to use eBay, and trough-style urinals in ballpark restrooms. They'll toss around a number of points, but invariably, the crux of the argument hinges on the issue of competitive balance. How are teams with $20 million payrolls supposed to compete with teams with $200 million payrolls?

Excellent question (I'll give you the benefit of the doubt in assuming you would have asked it). How indeed? The owners would have us believe that that answer is to cap spending so that no $200 million dollar payrolls, nor anything like them, ever exist again. Ever since the strike of 1994, when the owners pushed hard for a cap, the term "competitive balance" has been strongly associated with the owners' proposals in collective bargaining thanks to an aggressive PR campaign to create such associations, so it's no surprise that so many fans think salary cap when they think of increasing parity. Are their proposals, including a salary cap, really in the best interest of competitive balance, though?

Enter Sen. George Mitchell, baseball's go-to man when it comes to the tough questions. In 2000, he published a report commissioned by MLB examining financial disparity in the game and its effects on competitive balance. His 87 page report detailed the issues and outlined several proposals to improve parity. The report does not mention any form of salary cap once.

He does, however, propose that teams be encouraged to bring spending to a minimum level. No one is spending $20 million because they have to. David Sampson could easily double or probably even triple the Marlins' payroll without any changes in the CBA whatsoever. In fact, when the Marlins won it all back in 1997, they did so with the 5th highest payroll in baseball. In 2008, while revenues and overall payrolls universally rose and with the team now collecting additional funds from the new revenue sharing system, the Marlins sat a full $30 million below what they could afford 11 years ago. Heck, they've even stopped the age-old tradition of dumping stars when they hit free agency--now arbitration-eligibility is enough to send a player out of baseball purgatory in Miami. The discrepancy is not entirely about who has what: it is just as much about who is willing to spend what. Somehow, the focus has shifted from dealing with that part of the issue and increasing spending to just cutting spending of the top teams.

A major issue with a cap in today's MLB (and a key difference between MLB and other leagues for which caps do work) is that MLB is simply not set up to equate spending with success. The remnants of the reserve clause allow for teams that build around young, emerging talent to get equivalent or superior production for significantly lower cost than a team built on established veterans. Players with less than 3 years Major League experience may be resigned by their clubs for minimal cost without any recourse to seek higher salaries or contracts from other teams. Players with 3-6 years experience can't seek contracts from other teams, though they can seek arbitration, which provides production based salaries for the first time in a player's career, but still generally pay well below market value. Or, alternatively, these players can sign long-term deals several times below market value. In other words, the cost of production is not based on the amount of production as a general rule, so spending more money does not necessarily equate to buying more production. This alone makes a salary cap impractical in terms of competitive balance and would have to change before a cap could even begin to enter the discussion of improving competitive balance.

Of course, a cap is not the only thing the owners proposed under the guise of competitive balance, so let's have a look at what their other provisions for the sake of have done to level the playing field. Selig's crown jewel of parity, revenue sharing, was supposed to tear down the walls between the haves and the have nots. It was supposed to let the small market teams spend money like anyone else. So why, Mr. Selig, are the Marlins spending well under half of what they were in 1997, before your godsend of revenue sharing hit full stride? Why is the gap in spending still as high as it's ever been? Why are the same teams still at the top and the same teams still at the bottom for the most part? And why did Sen. Mitchell's report state that "The limited revenue sharing enacted in recent years has failed to promote competitive balance, as intended" and "Some low-revenue clubs, believing the amount of their proceeds from revenue sharing insufficient to enable them to become competitive, used those proceeds to become modestly profitable"?

Okay, we might have to back up. Apparently Bud isn't aware of these minor things called facts, even the ones he commissioned himself. A short year ago, he claimed baseball had more parity than any other sport, saying of his contributions "This is one time I can say that this is exactly what we tried to do." So these questions might be a bit out of left field for the commish. So let's establish what revenue sharing has done. Essentially, it redistributes revenues pooled into a central fund to the teams bringing in less than the league average in their own revenue, with the teams receiving a share inversely proportional to their local revenue. In other words, the less money you bring in on your own, the more you get handed in revenue sharing. Not a bad idea. Except that in effect, it has flipped the economics of small market baseball on their head. Before, they operated on the same principle as any other team: to increase revenue, they had to improve their on-field product and draw in money with the quality of their team. Now, it is actually possible for them to make more money by sucking and tanking their own revenue so they can collect as much as possible from the central fund in revenue sharing. There is no incentive in the revenue sharing plan for them to improve (hey, that was one of Mitchell's proposals!), because if they do, they lose funds from the system.

So why doesn't the plan include incentives for teams receiving revenue sharing payments to actually use those funds to improve the team (as opposed to pocketing them)? The simple fact is, the owners don't want that. The small market owners don't want limits on what they can do with their new money, and the large market owners, while they may not like revenue sharing itself, don't mind the teams getting payments not using that money to compete with them. The former make more money by pocketing revenue sharing funds, and the latter make more money by having fewer teams to compete with for free agents and by winning more games over the weaker competition (which translates into more revenue). Meanwhile, less money ends up being spent on players, essentially reducing salaries as a side effect, and disparity continues. Which is, as Selig so brashly noted, exactly what they were trying to do.

There have been other measures proposed under the guise of competitive balance. Compensation draft picks for free agents are one notable example. They are supposed to protect teams who can't afford to keep free agents from losing their best players and being left with nothing. Like, say, when Johan Santana leaves Minnesota as a free agent, the Twins get a couple first round draft picks back for him. Or when Miguel Cabrera leaves Florida, or CC Sabathia Cleveland, or Carlos Beltran Kansas City. See the pattern yet? The teams who get those draft picks are the ones who can afford to bring them in when they hit free agency. A lot has been written on who compensation picks are helping (Joba Chamberlain, anyone?), so I won't go into the details, but more often than not, it's not the teams who need them to rebuild in order to become competitive. So no competitive balance improvements here either. It does, coincidentally (ahem), happen to keep the teams who do need those draft picks out of the bidding for top free agents, because signing them would take their top pick away. Fewer teams in the bidding (as well as the non-monetary cost associated with signing free agents), once again, leads to lower player salaries in free agency. In fact, getting rid of compensation draft picks was another proposal in Sen. Mitchell's report (you may be starting to wonder why MLB commissioned the report in the first place if they weren't going to try to implement anything in it-if not, you probably should be).

Sen. Mitchell also notes that disparity grew significantly following the 1994 strike, which also happens to mark the point when the owners began getting their measures for competitive balance added to the CBA (those damn acronyms again!). So now we are to expect, after all the owners have done to supposedly increase the competitive balance that also just happens to decrease what they have to pay players, while ignoring the suggestions of their own commission on increasing parity, that they need more measures that weren't suggested as possible solutions in their commissioned report on the matter? Didn't Selig just say they had already accomplished what they wanted without the cap, and that baseball now had more parity than any other sport? Do they really expect us to fall for this again? Apparently so. And judging from what I've heard from fans, we really are.

I get the frustration. I remember going to the Kauffman on free general admission as a kid. Now you can't even park your car or get an order of nachos and a drink for the price most of us remember bleacher seats going for. People look at exorbitant player salaries and think, I'm paying for that. It's easy to think that way. Player salaries are plastered all over local papers, national media outlets, and Cot's Baseball Contracts. A lot of fans can recite their team's payroll figures, and the ones who can't can look them up with a few clicks online. The owners, on the other hand, closely guard information on their profits. As far as Forbes can tell, the Yankees are losing money every year yet still worth over $1 billion. No one seems to think about their ticket prices paying the owners' salaries. But they do. And after the owners have told us for years how much we needed revenue sharing, etc., ticket prices, and pretty much all costs associated with going to a game, continue to rise long after the owners got what they wanted. A salary cap isn't going to change that. Ticket prices aren't set to cover player salaries. They're set to maximize revenue. Regardless of what teams are spending on players, you're going to be paying however much the owners think they can get out of you. When the cap was first proposed in 1994, The Congressional Research Service analyzed the owners' proposal and estimated it would have reduced 1994 salaries by about $200 million. They estimated that about 80% of that would have gone right into the owners' pockets as additional profit. That is where the money saved would go. Not to the fans.

A salary cap may keep the Yankees from spending $200 million a year. It won't keep the Red Sox, or other teams with strong farm systems, from dominating the game. When one team can sign their MVP to a long-term deal in the $40 million range while another has to spend 4 times that, how is making them work on the same total payroll supposed to lead to competitive balance? It doesn't. Of course, there's nothing wrong with teams dominating because they are run better, but part of having better player development involves investing greater resources outside of the payroll on those operations. There is still a matter of financial disparity.

A cap won't keep teams from tanking payrolls either. Teams refusing to spend is as much a problem for parity as the extravagant spending on the other end of the spectrum. Proponents of the cap suggest a league minimum as well. Say you set a minimum at $95 million and a cap at $105 million, just to keep everyone in the same ballpark (which is the idea-setting the minimum at half the cap is still going leave a lot of disparity). What happens when teams that refuse to spend what they have now on payroll have to get up to the minimum? They'll cut costs in other baseball operations, namely player development, scouting, and signing bonus money for draft picks and international signings. Since there is a huge advantage under a cap system to cheap young talent, teams cutting off their development of that talent will still fall far behind the teams investing extra money into those non-payroll expenditures. A new type of competitive imbalance would simply rise to replace the financial disparity in the game now as long as MLB suppresses player salaries for the first several years of a players career.

Maybe a salary cap can help baseball someday. But not right now. There is way too much to be fixed before a cap can even begin doing any good. MLB has still not incorporated most of the recommendations from the Mitchell Report Vol. I. It still hasn't tried to make the proposals they've pushed through work for copetitive balance, despite claims to the contrary by the commissioner (for the record, Mr. Selig, more teams making the playoffs after you doubled the number of teams that make the playoffs from 4 to 8 doesn't mean there is more parity, it just means you lowered the standards of success). As Mitchell says in his report, "any reform of MLB should protect and balance the interests of players, clubs, and fans." So why is everyone pushing for something that only benefits one of those three groups?
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