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Old 07-08-2004, 05:08 PM   #1
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Default [Sports Central Newsletter] #114 - Change on the Horizon

The Sports Central Newsletter
July 2004 - Issue #114

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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|

- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "Statistically Significant"
- What's New at Sports Central?
- Shots From the Lip: "Trading Veterans For Prospects is Asking For Trouble"



Hello folks,

It's funny how time flies. This was supposed to reach you on Sunday the 4th, but I got caught up in something much more important. It's been three years, if memory serves, that Sports Central has held the same design. It's like a trusty old car that has served you well and you are reluctant to get rid of, but know you must.

We recognized that it was time for a change and much of yesterday was spent working on fine-tuning the site's future design. We're now in the process of obtaining an amazing Content Management System that will allow us to serve you better: more stories and less time required on our part. New features like the ability to rate articles, stay up-to-date with RSS newsfeeds, and find archives of older articles sorted by author, date, type, etc. will be abundant.

There is still a lot of work ahead, and if all goes well, the new site should be live by the next issue. In the meantime, check out a preview of the new design, which we feel is hip, modern, super fast and clean, and lively: http://www.adampolselli.com/SC

Send all feedback, praise, complaints, and problems so we can get them ironed out on the test site: mailto:[email protected] We hope you like it as much as we do!

Until next time,

- Marc James
mailto:[email protected]


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|-- THE O-FILES -- |

"Statistically Significant"

By Brad Oremland

As Major League Baseball's All-Star Game approaches, fans often turn their eyes to changes the league ought to make. This year, however, the time has come to give the league a year off from our complaints and instead go after the sports media.

The change I propose is a major one, but easily implemented: the media should stop focusing on the Triple Crown statistics, especially for hitters. When baseball took its place as the national pastime of the United States, it made sense to focus on obvious numbers like batting average, homeruns, and runs batted in. It still makes sense to appreciate those statistics -- RBIs, in particular -- but we also know now that on-base percentage and slugging percentage tell us far more about a batter than his number of homeruns and his batting average do.

On-base percentage, or OBP, is just what's its name implies: how often the batter gets on base when he makes a plate appearance. To calculate it, take the numbers of hits and walks and divide it by the number of at-bats and walks. Players with high on-base percentages make fewer outs and score more runs. Slugging percentage measures how often a player puts the ball into play and what happens when he does. It is calculated by dividing the batter's total bases by his number of at-bats.

If John and Joe are both batting .300, but John slugs .400 and Joe slugs .550, John is mostly a singles hitter; Joe probably puts most of his shots in the outfield, producing homeruns and doubles. Numerous studies have shown that OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) or SLOP (Slugging percentage times On-base Percentage) is the most accurate and effective way to measure hitters.

For instance, if you read that Barry Bonds is hitting .350, you know that he's doing very well at the plate, but if you see that his on-base percentage is over .600, you realize that nearly two-thirds of the time he makes a plate appearance, he puts himself in position to score and his team doesn't get an out.

When you see that Bonds has 20 homers, it's clear that he's not just hitting for average, either. But looking at batting average and homeruns doesn't differentiate Barry very strongly from, say, Manny Ramirez. The Boston slugger is batting .340 and has 20 HRs -- almost the same as Bonds. In fact, Ramirez has 60 RBIs to Barry's 40, so going on the Triple Crown statistics, you'd say that Ramirez is the more dangerous hitter. You'd be very wrong.

When I was young, my father told me about a Yankees game he'd seen many years before. Mickey Mantle was at the plate, and the pitcher was being cautious not to leave anything up for him to hit. In fact, one of his pitches bounced off the dirt before it even hit the plate. Mick, my dad told me, caught the pitch on the bounce and knocked it over the wall. I don't know if the story's true, but that's the way pitchers play Bonds, too. That he has a batting average at all is remarkable.

Bonds, as of June 29, had 165 at-bats and 109 walks, 57 of them intentional. Ramirez had 268 at-bats and 48 walks, including 10 intentional passes. Bonds had 16 strikeouts -- three fewer than his 19 homeruns -- and Ramirez had 56. Barry had grounded into three double plays; Ramirez, into 10. Bonds, with 126 total bases, 109 walks, two hit-by-pitch and three stolen bases, had made his way over 240 bases less than halfway through the season. Ramirez, in the same time, had 177 total bases, 48 walks, 2 HBP, and a stolen base, for a total of 228.

240-228 isn't a big difference, but Bonds only had 276 total plate appearances; Ramirez had 321. That's a long way of saying that Bonds was slugging .764 and had an OBP of .612; Ramirez was slugging .660 and had a .442 OBP. If you give Bonds pitches to hit, he's more likely to knock one into McCovey Cove -- more than 11.5% of his at-bats produce homeruns -- than he is to strike out. Bonds, with 58 hits and 109 walks, had gotten on base more often than Ramirez -- in fewer plate appearances -- and had scored 59 runs, third-best in the major leagues (Ramirez, with 46 runs, was tied for 37th).

Ramirez is an extremely good hitter and my purpose here isn't to insult him or imply that he's overrated. If you look at the Triple Crown statistics, Ramirez seems to be having a better season than Bonds, but if you examine more meaningful statistics -- OBP, slugging percentage, runs, and RBIs -- then it becomes clear that Bonds is having another legendary season while Ramirez is "only" having an excellent one.

Casual fans have gotten used to the Triple Crown numbers -- 100 years of tradition will do that -- but emphasizing OBP and slugging percentage instead of batting average and homeruns will give fans a deeper appreciation of the game. That isn't to say the other statistics should go away, but if the newspaper or television report is only going to give me one or two statistics, I'd rather see slugging percentage than batting average.

The pitching Triple Crown -- wins, ERA, and strikeouts -- receives far less attention, but I wouldn't be the first to suggest that wins have more to do with what team you play for than how good you are. Just ask Freddy Garcia. WHIP -- Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched -- on the other hand, is arguably the best tool we have for measuring a pitcher's effectiveness.

With the rise of fantasy sports, we pay more attention to statistics than ever before. Doesn't it make sense to focus on the ones that matter?


Brad welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:[email protected]?subject=O-Files
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)



A look back at the new articles from the week of 06/28/04 - 07/04/04:


COLUMN: Jester's Quart: The naked truth on women's hoops
By Greg Wyshynski

The WNBA's Lauren Jackson went topless in a magazine spread, and the league supported her. SC's Greg Wyshynski says desperate times call for desperate measures for professional women's basketball, which is being mismanaged to the brink of extinction.



TENNIS: Federer is one of a kind
By Mert Ertunga

Roger Federer is the real deal. SC's Mert Ertunga cites his opinions on how Federer is unique in many ways and can be a part of tennis history by being the first to win all four Grand Slams in the same calendar year.



COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Georgia's fate rests on the biggest Dawgs
By Michael Beshara

Preseason publications around the country are trumpeting the Georgia Bulldogs as legitimate national title contenders. SC's Michael Beshara, however, thinks a major question has to be answered before the Dawgs set such goals.



MLB: The Beltran sweepstakes' unlikely winner
By Piet Van Leer

Houston is certainly proud of themselves for executing the trade that brings superstar outfielder Carlos Beltran to the cozy confines of Minute Maid Park. What really changes the balance of power, though, is not what the Astros took, but what they gave up.



NFL: Rams/49ers rivalry different since move
By Adam Russell

The Rams begin their 10th season in St. Louis this September and their biggest rival continues to be the San Francisco 49ers. However, SC's Adam Russell laments that the rivalry just isn't the same since the Rams left L.A.




"Trading Veterans For Prospects is Asking For Trouble"

By Mike Rund

If you're a fan of the Seattle Mariners or the Kansas City Royals, then close the book on this baseball year. It's officially over. Both teams ran up the white flag but sending marquee players in the final year of their contracts to contenders in exchange for prospects. Fiscal prudence and sound planning for the future or profit taking at the expense of the fans?


I've never been a fan of the idea of trading away prospects for short-term veteran help. It always seems to smell a bit panicky. Emptying the farm system of major league ready talent for a dubious veteran rarely reaps reward -- even in the short term. Last year, the Giants, desperate for starting pitching, sent two major league pitchers and a highly-regarded prospect to Baltimore for Sidney Ponson. The Giants failed to reach the World Series and Ponson promptly re-signed with the Orioles at the end of his contract.

Likewise the Houston Astros won the Randy Johnson sweepstake in 1998, emptying their farm system of starting pitching in the process. Johnson, in the final year of his contract, was way out of Houston's league in payroll terms and the team knew it. Johnson pitched well and did everything he could to help the team, as is his way, but he didn't make the crucial difference. The Yankees won the World Series.

Last July, Jeff Conine moved to the Marlins, also from Baltimore, in exchange for hard-throwing prospects Denny Bautista and Don Levinski. Was it Conine that put the Marlins over the top and won them a ring? He certainly contributed, batting .367 during the playoffs, but it was the Marlins' young pitching and some clutch hitting that beat the Yankees, not Conine.

I recognize that there's a place for trading prospects away for veteran help. If your farm system is stocked with young, live arms or power sluggers and you're in a pennant race then, sure, make the move that gives you the short term edge. The Yankees' trade for Aaron Boone last year was a perfect case in point, though it turned out to be disastrous, bar one homer off Tim Wakefield. The team had a weakness at third base and addressed it at, admittedly, a high price, in the form of premier lefty prospect Brandon Claussen, the only major league ready minor leaguer left in the farm system.

The losers in all of this financial juggling and prospect speculation are the fans of the teams watching their best players walk away midway through a season. The Seattle Mariners' ownership can hardly complain if nobody turns up at Safeco for the rest of the season. The management has hung out the white flag for 2004, so why should the hard-pressed fans hand over their dollars to watch Ichiro hit singles?

Ditto in Kansas City, though it's understandable why the team would ship out Carlos Beltran for prospects. Beltran is a free agent in 2005 and is going to command around $15 million a year, way out of GM Allard Baird's budget. The team got what they could for a former Rookie of the Year, but, for me, the question is why wait until late June?

If the Royals had been heading the AL Central from April until July, Beltran would still have been on the trading block, as he's unsignable. So why not be honest with the fans from day one and trade him before spring training? Instead, the Royals pump up the fans on the back of a decent 2003 then, when things go pear shaped early in April, start touting Beltran, Mike Sweeney and any other veteran that commands over a million a year to the highest bidder.

The sad thing for Houston fans is that in order to rent Beltran for the pennant race, they've had to give up another solid closer, Octavio Dotel, having already given up one of the NL's leading closers, flame-thrower Billy Wagner, in an offseason cost-cutting move. GM Gerry Hunsicker seems to have faith that young strikeout machine Brad Lidge, almost unhittable in a setup role, can handle the ninth. The ninth is a mentally tougher inning than the eighth, by some margin, as Lidge is about to discover.

If the team were reluctant to pay $8 million a year for Wagner, it's unlikely they'll feel comfortable shelling out $15 million a year for Beltran, especially given their financial commitment to Lance Berkman, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Roy Oswalt. So Beltran ends up in Boston or New York next April and the Astros' closer is now in Oakland. At six games off the pace in the NL Central, Houston might be a seller come late July. Just as the Expos traded for then moved Cliff Floyd in 2002, this trade may be only temporary.

The Freddy Garcia situation in Seattle is a different kettle of fish. The Mariners could afford to re-sign Freddy Garcia, just as they could have kept Randy Johnson, Tino Martinez, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Carlos Guillen, had the commitment been there. The franchise is well supported at the gate, has a lucrative television revenue stream and is owned by one of the country's richest men. On top of that, the team is historically successful, at least in recent years. Yet, not only does the team fail to re-sign their existing marquee players, it continually refuses to bolster the roster for the playoffs, a situation that frustrated Lou Pinella enough to send him to Tampa.

GM Bill Bavasi can put whatever spin he likes on the Garcia trade, but it won't alter the facts. A well-supported, historically successful team has traded away a young, talented pitcher (admittedly one with a dubious attitude) for some mediocre talent. If Bavasi wasn't sold on Garcia in spring training, he should have moved him for some immediate help, not waited until the season was in the toilet. The Mariners were pre-season contenders, not re-builders, with a young roster hoping for a .500 season.

Ludicrously, the Atlanta Braves are said to be actively shopping outfielder Andruw Jones and pitcher Russ Ortiz. Jones is an expensive underachiever and Ortiz is in the final year of his contract, yet it is an absurdity if the Braves trade either of these two for anything less than quality major league talent. The Braves are a mere 3.5 games out of first place in the weak NL East. To call time on the season in that position is a complete insult to the Atlanta baseball public and would be a pure balance sheet move that undermines Bobby Cox's fine efforts in the dugout.

Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski has overseen a fire sale or two in his time, notably in Florida after the 1997 World Series win. He recognizes the dilemma facing a team that's out the pennant race, particularly a small market team.

"If you're not going to win this year, you have to acquire talent you like and start the building process for next season," Dombrowski says.

The problem is selling it to the fans, especially the ones that have brought tickets in advance on the strength of gung-ho predictions from the front office.

"Just tell them what you're doing," Dombrowski says. "Even though they don't like it, I think they respect that you're in a position where you're facing reality. The tough one is when you're in those in-between stages -- not completely out of the race, but not really in it."

Dombrowski is flat-out wrong. The fans don't respect trading away your best players, as was proven in South Florida after 1997. The fans deserted the Marlins in droves, and only returned cautiously last season, fearful of another post-title fire sale.

It wasn't so long ago that Montreal had one of the best-supported franchises in baseball. Check the record books if you think 7,000 in Olympic Stadium was the norm pre-1994. Once the ownership retreated into its fiscal shell and let a host of premier talent walk away, the fans followed, never to return.

Allard Baird and Bill Bavasi may have got the best of their respective trades -- only time will tell. But both are playing a dangerous game. By shutting down the season before even the All-Star Game is in the record books they are testing their loyal fans' patience. Once people walk away from a sports team, you have to do something pretty special to bring them back.


Mike welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:[email protected]?subject=SFTL
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)


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(Thanks for reading! Next issue is set to come out on 08/01/04.)

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