Thursday, January 05, 2012

Some Good Baseball Reading from ESPN The Magazine

Just read two interesting baseball articles from the latest ESPN the Magazine (1/9/2012 issue; Cam Newton cover), neither of which are about the Dodgers outright, but involve Dodgers players (past and present), and even ownership if you squint your eyes.

The first was a great piece by Peter Keating ("Hall of Justice") in which Keating introduces an upgraded measurement derived from WAR to measure All-Star candidacy (link insider only). Wins Above All-Star Level (WAAS) seems pretty good on face value:

Even better, over the past five years sabermetric types have gravitated toward Wins Above Replacement. WAR is an uberstat that measures how many wins a player contributed to his team above a replacement-level player -- a benchwarmer or a Triple-A guy. Mike Aviles and Conor Jackson were replacement-level players last year, according to; WAR league leader Matt Kemp was 10.0 wins better than they were.

WAR is useful for evaluating trades and debating MVP candidates and has now made its way into Hall of Fame discussions. Problem is, it's quite possible to pile up WAR without having superstar seasons. Bob Boone, for instance, finished with only 10.1 fewer WAR (26.1) than Roy Campanella by virtue of playing nine more years. Campanella exceeded 5.0 WAR in each of the three MVP seasons of his 10-year career, while Boone's best single mark was 3.5 WAR; he was decent for a long time but rarely elite. That's not a Hall of Famer by anyone's standards. Wins Above All-Star Level is my way of rewarding greatness, rather than mere longevity. Players having marginal All-Star years average about 2.5 WAR. WAAS simply looks at a player's WAR, year by year, subtracts 2.5 from each season and adds up the total. Any season whose adjusted WAR is negative is thrown out, since WAAS measures a player's peak performance. The results speak for themselves. Sandy Koufax has 54.5 WAR, fewer than Frank Tanana (55.1), who pitched 1,800 more innings. But Koufax has far more WAAS: 32.6 versus 19.7.

Four players in MLB history are over 100 WAAS: Babe Ruth (123.9), Barry Bonds (118.9), Willie Mays (104.3) and Ty Cobb (103.4). The lower level at which players should make Cooperstown depends on how big a Hall you want. At its current size of roughly 200 former major leaguers, 20 WAAS is a reasonable cutoff point for consideration.

Among players on Hall ballots in 2012, Ron Santo, just selected by the veterans committee, was an obvious choice. The Cubs great had more WAAS (38.4) than 60 percent of the third basemen already in the Hall. The group of players eligible for the first time this January, however, is a weak lot. The best among them, Bernie Williams, carries only a 21.1 WAAS.

But several returning candidates are worthy, including Jeff Bagwell (45.2) and Edgar Martinez (34.8), truly great hitters, and Alan Trammell (32.1), Barry Larkin (31.7) and Tim Raines (27.0), whose all-around play produced many high-WAAS seasons. WAAS reveals that Mark McGwire (28.3) and Rafael Palmeiro (26.8) would belong in the Hall absent their off-field transgressions but that their careers weren't as impressive as their raw numbers. It rejects Fred McGriff (18.1), Jack Morris (13.7) and Juan Gonzalez (10.5) -- not enough dominant seasons.

The final-page essay from Chris Jones ("Fish Story") also reminded me that as bad as the McCourt ownership tenure has been, at least we are (hopefully) close to its merciful end. Miami-formerly-known-as-Florida, on the other hand, is just getting started in its on fleecing:

BEFORE JEFFREY LORIA went on his free agent signing spree this off-season, I'd happily forgotten that the weasel owner of the Miami Marlins even existed. Now, during this Winter of Our Great Deception, I've been haunted again by memories of his tiny feet scuttling over the artificial turf of Montreal's cursed Olympic Stadium. (I had the misfortune of covering his murder of the Expos; I'll never forget the sound Youppi! made, begging for his giant orange life.)

When Loria first bought a stake in the team in 1999, he tried to play the glad-handing savior, acquiring a trio of semi-stars (Hideki Irabu!) and boasting of baseball's bright future in Montreal. Within months, he'd strong-armed majority ownership from a Canadian consortium, yanked the team off English-language TV and radio and threatened to move if the city didn't build him a new ballpark. By the time the sorry tale had reached its inevitable conclusion, the Expos were headed to DC and Loria to Miami to buy the Marlins, helped along by a $38.5 million no-interest loan from Major League Baseball. The only bigger creep involved was Loria's smarmy, entitled stepson, David Samson, who has twice been installed as a top team executive, because nothing says qualified like "son of the second woman to marry the guy who made his money dealing art."

Baseball has a higher tolerance for lousy owners than most professional associations -- there are strip clubs with more stringent application standards -- but even with guys like Frank McCourt, Peter Angelos and Fred Wilpon kicking around, the firm of Jeffrey Loria & Stepson might be the worst of them, because the awfulness is squared. Oh Miami, how did you not do the math?

The grass is always more parched and barren on the other side.