Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hot off the presses...

Roger Clemens discovered to have used performance-enhancing soap in late 1980s.

A letter from representatives of former Clemens personal trainer Brian McNamee implicated three-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens of involvement in a number of efforts to secure performance-enhancing substance.

The letter stated "Roger Clemens has used steroids and human growth hormone for a number of years. However, perhaps of even greater concern to baseball is the revelation that Clemens has been using performance-enhancing consumer products since his meteoric rise into the big leagues in the second half of the 1980s." McNamee offered as proof this recently-revealed video of Roger Clemens using performance-enhancing soap.

"While other major league players have played with various levels of soap film limiting their movement and performance, Mr. Clemens has effectively washed his body clean of residue and film, giving him an unfair advantage over the 99% of major leaguers who are left to cope with Lifebuoy, Irish Spring, and whatever soaps they scavenge from road hotels."

"Perhaps more alarming is the fact that Mr. Clemens was aware of the implications of using performance-enhancing soap and took care to dub another person's singing voice in over his own into the inexplicable video," the letter continued.

Congress has not announced whether they will pursue charges against Clemens or P&G Labs, the purported creator of the performance-enhancing soap known as "Zest" (believed to be short for Zinc Ethyl Steroidal Tetrazone). Upon advice from ousted New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, the IRS is attempting to contact the nude women appearing in the video to confirm whether Clemens is, in fact, the man known as "Client 9".

Clemens declined the opportunity to respond to reports that he was "Zestfully clean".

Saturday, March 08, 2008

14 going on 50

So I've now read 14 books this year, after a serious diversion last month for work-related reasons.

January (7):
Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz
Nothing's Sacred by Lewis Black
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Liars' Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage On Wall Street by Michael Lewis

February (2)
The Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz
The Body Artist by Don DeLillo

March (5)
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Supreme Conflict by Jan Crawford-Greenburg
A Practical Guide to Racism by C.H. Dalton
Mere Anarchy by Woody Allen
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Fiction: 4
Non-fiction: 10

I'll be brief with my discussions of the new books to the list, since a lot of time has passed.

In summary,
The Dogs of Bedlam Farm - Average, but underwhelming, Katz is pretty judgmental and pretentious, he loves dogs, but he criticizes others for loving them too much and treating them like children, because whatever love they show that exceeds what he shows his dogs is wrong. All while he abandoned his family and moved to a farm to herd sheep because of his dogs. Yeah, that's not contradictory. It's occasionally endearing, but he's too distant to be writing about emotional bonds with animals. Not recommended, particularly if you love dogs.

The Body Artist - Well, one of these years I had to finish a DeLillo book, given that I have almost all of them. I chose the wrong one, because this is self-consciously abstract and obscure, albeit mercifully brief -- which is why I chose to read it when the deployment to NYC was impending, I thought I could actually finish it, and I did, just barely. Not recommended.

A Confederacy of Dunces - This won a Pulitzer? It's a farcical collection of off-the-wall characters that is relatively innocuous and doesn't add up to something until its conclusion, which goes on for sixty pages, but still seems brisk. I'm still puzzled by the critical acclaim, but it's a generally innocuous book, albeit one that's relatively dense (my work schedule may have had something to do with the month it took to read this, but it wasn't the sole factor). Recommended

Supreme Conflict - Did you know that Clarence Thomas was confirmed and is currently on the Supreme Court? That's about all you'll learn from Jan Crawford-Greenburg, who puts a lot more focus on the other justices who have been nominated in recent years. It'd be puzzling if it didn't fit in so closely with her moderate right-wing approach to the Supreme Court appointment process. She's fairly even-handed, but it's not hard to tell where her sympathies lie, which can get tiresome. You will learn more about Bush's approach to appointing Supreme Court appointments here than you would from The Nine, and there's less fawning over Justice O'Connor, who ranks among my top 10 worst justices in the history of the Court (let's be honest, this blog got its title from her mastery of callousness), but she also dodges issues of interest, like the Thomas confirmation hearings, which are basically skipped so that she can deride the appointment of David Souter as executive ineptitude first because it didn't accomplish the goal H.W. Bush had, later because it's clear she has affirmative contempt for Souter. Recommended, but not if you have access to other Supreme Court writings, because frankly, aside from Rehnquist's history of the Supreme Court, I've yet to find anything that's not worth reading on a largely under-covered topic.

A Practical Guide to Racism - It's funny. Mission accomplished. It has plenty of highlights, I knew I had to buy the book after reading the discussion of Mormons. It's a premise that's executed very well for 160 pages, but the glossary at the end is tiresome. That said, if you're not on some ill-advised quest to read 50 books wouldn't sit and read every relentless word of it. So, because you're not psychotic, this is highly recommended.

Mere Anarchy - Well, most of these were published in the New Yorker, so it's no surprise that the only link the stories have is that they are all pretentious. The verbiage is annoying at times and his character names are an exercise in reader's tolerance for complete absurdity, but most of the stories are whimsical or amusing enough to justify the twenty minutes it will take to read the entire book. Harmless fluff, recommended if you think you could possibly like it, definitely not recommended to anyone who has any doubts.

Into Thin Air - It's certainly not the page turned that Into the Wild is, because that book was gripping from start to finish and took no effort at all to get into. Into Thin Air is a far more gradual book, which teaches you about the tedium that is involved in preparing for a mountain climb, but once they start to ascend the mountain, it is hard to put down. It's certainly hard to gauge how objective the account is, but it's a readable one in any event, and almost certainly the best book I've read this year. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Dusty Trails

I'm hoping that Dusty Baker realizes that his name would be apt for an entertainer in what must be an ever-growing industry -- videographed adult entertainment. Because his true calling is apparently far from his current occupation of baseball soothsayer.

Today, in no small part because of Dusty's fetish for elder players (again, he's got himself a niche -- mature porn it is), the franchise for which he now festers acquired two of the least efficient and least impressive specimens in the game of baseball today. One who can't walk (hm...figuratively, there has to be some sort of paralysis fetish/handicapped porn -- but at the very least, Corey Patterson's inability means he certainly should have glasses, which probably puts him into his own niche) and who is utterly lacking of talent (hm...amateur?).

If only he had a thing for barely legal center fielders, the Reds would have a shot. Instead, like many participants in the adult entertainment industry, they're just f***ed.

(The editor offers his thanks to the Adult Entertainment Association of America for their gracious assistance in this blog post).

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Oh yeah, well, you're a beet farmer...

So a co-worker of mine alerted me to the existence of six months ago, and I suspect 2 of the six months since have been spent reading it and re-reading it. It merges my interest in baseball and scorn for David Eckstein into one concise package.

For that matter, the next few months will continue to be spent reading it, which obligates me to vent to no one about how it has wronged me with its calm reminder that there are people in the world who love Moneyball, namely my fiancee, who does not like baseball, everyone else who does not like baseball, and people who read the book the way you're supposed to read LSAT reading comprehension sections -- delightfully ignoring each and every word while attempting to impose your own meaning on it. Some of us it shuttles to lowly Cornell Law School where we wonder how anyone who is regarded as brilliant signs Lou Merloni to anything but a suicide pact, others it allows to enjoy reading Michael Lewis' work and mistaking it for an accurate and true syllogism of of baseball genius.

Ken Tremendous is also a television writer who has written episodes of The Office and plays Cousin Mose. So I'm going to refer to him as Cousin Mose out of respect.

1) You'll note that cousin Mose decays into using wins and losses to defend Esteban Loaiza, which is a fair indicator that there wasn't much that could be said to defend the Loaiza signing, because wins and losses are hardly the ultimate measure -- as Cousin Mose, among others on the site, point out on a near-daily basis while attempting to refute baseball's biggest cretins.

2) The injuries in 2007 nearly all happened to Mr. Glass. It's one thing to decry an onslaught of injuries when it happens to players who don't have a history. But when your injured list starts out with Milton Bradley, Rich Harden, Bobby Crosby, and Eric Chavez, it's about 3% more surprising than Kerry Wood and Mark Prior being injured at the same time. Chavez had suffered significant injuries in two of the last three seasons. Harden has had just one season where he made it through an entire season on the mound, and his closest after that, he made 22 appearances and 17 starts. Bobby Crosby has been injured three of his four major league seasons, and has been limited to an average of about 90 games in those three seasons. And is not good. Not even close to good. A .255 EqA, a 7.1 VORP, which pales in comparison to BP's projections for Alex Gonzalez's mighty 11.3, Asdrubal Cabrera's 11.5, and even Marco Scutaro's 6.5. So, thus far, we have three players from whom you automatically discount at least 1/5 of a 162 game schedule and that fantasy players won't even touch because of their fragility. Then add Milton Bradley, who's never finished a season without injury. So, thus far, you have four players who all had to be figured for a 66-100% of missing significant time with injuries. They are all injured. It doesn't take me Paul DePodesta to regard this as statistically insignificant. In fact, it was more probable than not. (Forgive me for the crude calculations, it's relatively silly to say that if you've been injured in three of the past four years, you have a 75% likelihood of injury -- but it's considerably less silly than ignoring the player's injury history entirely.

3) I'm being generous to exclude Mark Kotsay and his bad back that showed up after he arrived in Oakland. Then you add Kotsay, who was coming into the season as Mike Sweeney and lo and behold, did not experience a miraculous recovery from back problems. Maybe go to Lourdes? Then add Dan Johnson. Wait. Well, if you want to be specious, you can say that the injuries to Dan Johnson held back the A's his 108 OPS+ must have been truly coveted, since it'd have taken a herculean performance from a slightly better than average, but still worse than Aaron Boone (113 OPS+) player to replace him. You know, like Daric Barton, an actually promising player (186 OPS+ in extremely limited time -- limited primarily by Beane's refusal to call him up, so that he could keep Todd "OPS Deadweight" Walker on the roster filling in at 1B along with moving Nick Swisher into the infield to make room for Kielty, who would be released in June.

4) How about mentioning that for some reason Billy Beane saw it fit to acquire Jason Kendall, a man whose immense talent for things other than baseball are rivaled only for by his immense lack of talent for baseball after his gruesome ankle injury (read: Jason Kendall's going to get hall of fame votes, his ankle may come to rival Andre Dawson's ravaged knees if he can fall ass-backwards into a World Series). And after seasons of 79 and 88 OPS+ (well below average), he still did nothing to bring in a rival catcher or ... huh ... he didn't want Jeremy Brown playing instead. In fact, Jeremy Brown, who retired for "personal-non-talent-related" reasons couldn't even carry Kendall's jockstrap, because Adam Melhuse got that job. Billy Beane, when given a big sack of money, can't even help himself from throwing it at players who make 3 years of Derek Bell for $9 million look like a clearance sale at Dollar General. He signs and re-signs only dead weight, so while he may draft well and he still makes some impressive swindles on the trade market, he also makes his share of awful trades, like giving away future All-Star Mark Redman and a fine pair of earrings in Arthur Rhodes for Jason Kendall. The sad thing is that those are the best things I can say about those players, and yet I would still much rather have them than Jason Kendall.

5) When you sign players like Mike Sweeney, you expect Mike Sweeney-like production, which means "Ow, I hurt my back. See you in September." They have gotten that from the players that fall into the Mike Sweeney category. The few aberrant injuries came to Huston Street (who will be leaving as an overpaid closer very shortly), Justin Duchscherer, and Kiki Calero. These are significant injuries to three very solid pitchers. Injuries that, if they had never happened, could theoretically have led to the A's many more games? And if we resurrect the broken-down bat of Eric Chavez, whose last season of .800+ OPS was 2004, so he could contribute at his 2006're right. The A's still miss the playoffs, and not by a particularly close margin, even in the worst division in the AL.

6) The chapter on the major league draft is really quite significant. You really need to go read it again before you tell me how amazing Moneyball is. What you really learn is that Billy Beane thinks he's smarter than everyone else, and in doing so, he mocks picks that have turned out considerably better than his own. Beane had a great first round that year, three of his four picks hit (Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Mark Teahen), one of them missed (Jeremy Brown). Swisher and Blanton were coveted by other teams, and Beane was surprised either of them fell to the slots they were in. Jeremy Brown was not regarded highly by anyone, for the most part it sounds like no one knew of him. And for their ignorance, those teams had less talented AA players those three years Jeremy Brown spent in Midland. But time has also taught us that Billy Beane was wrong. Prince Fielder, mocked as much as he was in that chapter by Beane himself, is a significantly better player than Nick Swisher. Fielder last season had a 156 OPS+, VORP of 69.1. Swisher? OPS+ of 127, VORP of 31.5. Not a bad player, by any means, and better defensively than Fielder. But eat your words, Beane. Basically, aside from 4 of the top 5 picks, who have been largely sidelined by injury (thanks a lot, Chris Gruler) or were picked way above their talent level (Bryan Bullington), there were a lot of hits in that first round. Zack Greinke, Jeremy Hermida, Jeff Francis, Scott Kazmir (who Beane derides), Cole Hamels, James Loney, Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Francouer (if you ignore the fact that he can't draw walks and that he's not a good player -- most do), Mark Teahen.

7) Jeremy Brown's career OPS is barely above .800. It's like saying you go to one of the top 7 rated schools...when you say top 7, you mean that you go to #7, and next year, you may be going to #8 or 9. His OPS is .809 in the minor leagues. Thus, he's a supremely talented player who is more than capable of beating up on minor league pitching Crash Davis style and someday will meet a philosophical woman named Annie and a fireballer named Nuke who looks vastly inappropriate while attempting to throw pitches, clearly proving that Ron Shelton can't write scripts that teach Tim Robbins to pitch or Kevin Costner to act. Breathe. Fact: Jeremy Brown had two really good seasons in the minors, three that were less impressive. He had gotten leaped over by another college catcher who was more highly regarded coming out of college who put together a pedestrian .799 career OPS in the minors (for shame, Kurt Suzuki), but was apparently seen as more likely to contribute in the major leagues, since Jeremy Brown's been spending the last two years really familiar with the RiverCats after three years at Midland. He had spent six years in the minors after being drafted as a college senior. You can call it what you want, but he was too old to be a prospect (and was not regarded as one by Baseball America for the last four years, failing to crack the top 30 prospects in any of those seasons, unlike players as unknown as the A's Minor league player of the year Andre Ethier). Russ Morman had an OPS exceeding 800 in a much lengthier career in the minors, you can ask him why he retired (answer: hanging around AAA for ten years gets tiresome). So it was for personal reasons, but one can easily suspect that the personal reasons involved being unable to live up to the unwanted expectations that came with being in Moneyball and his inability to crack the major league roster and see any playing time. And Landon Powell had just passed him up on the likelihood of being in the majors list, the A's had traded to get Rob Bowen and kept him on the 40-man roster, so he was a 28-year-old 4A catcher who wasn't on the 40-man roster (and had been dumped from the 40-man roster without getting any interest on the waiver wire), hadn't gotten picked in the Rule 5 draft, and wasn't probably going to catch a lot of interest from anyone else on the market. Those are very personal reasons, but there's a lot of baseball involved in them too. If he has a dying relative or something of that sort, then that might have been the biggest catalyst for him to make a decision rather than postpone the inevitable, but there's not too many people lining up to say it wasn't inevitable.

Once again, Baseball Prospectus is telling. "When it comes to Jeremy Brown, the A's might not be selling jeans, but nobody's buying the idea that he's much of a ballplayer anymore, either."

Lastly, that begins to refute this defense of Moneyball, which is emphatically harder than refuting Moneyball itself, which can be summed up in about three words, but I will, with my lawyer-like sensibility, take considerably more.

8) Moneyball glorifies two players above all others on the roster -- Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford. They typify the underlying Beane theory -- don't overpay for players because you can find production in castaways. This is fine and good. The teams that the A's were taking to the playoffs when Moneyball came out involved a couple of other players that you may have heard of if you were a Cy Young voter. Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, and Tim Hudson. They are barely mentioned in Moneyball. Nearly all the time is devoted to discussions of how important on-base percentage is, Zito, Mulder and Hudson warrant about a paragraph of mention, while Chad Bradford gets a chapter. As much as OBP and OPS are important statistics that are overlooked even now in an era where Juan Pierre finds work in a baseball-related job, they don't have much to do with the A's success. Even in their halcyon days of reaching the playoffs, the team OBP is not at the pinnacle of the AL (3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, and 10th, I'm told in a correction to my earlier hyperbole). Their ERA, on the other hand, is near the top of the AL every year they made the playoffs. So if you want to prove the importance of OBP, find a team that found success because they could hit and reach base safely through walks. Don't find a team that had a couple flashes from young players who went on to bleed money from other GMs and then have their steroid-backed bodies break down into nothingness. Beane's supplemental parts might have had value, but they weren't the driving force behind success.

9) Listen, I hate bunting too, but in the most thrilling (read: I'm being as specious as Michael Lewis, it's the only A's playoff game I remember) game in which the A's found playoff success, how did they do it? They bunted. Didn't Billy Beane read Moneyball? What a moron. (I'm referring to game 1 of the 2003 ALDS against the Red Sox, where the A's won on a bunt single from Ramon Hernandez). While I hate people who think Asdrubal Cabrera is the Indians' savior because he knows how to generate bunt outs, it's clear that abandoning the bunt entirely isn't really a part of Beane's plan either.

10) The glorified assistants -- Moneyball also details how crafty Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi were using computers to make great teams. Paul DePodesta then went on to suck with the Dodgers, J.P. Ricciardi took everything he learned from Beane, then spent all his money on a closer anyway and now has a dynamite closer named Jeremy Accardo that he discovered only through Tommy John surgery for B.J. Ryan. And while Moneyball lauded Ricciardi for turning around the Blue Jays with a modest payroll, when the book was published, it was a lie because they had one of the ten highest payrolls in the major leagues (Carlos Delgado was a factor) and they had not, and still have not, turned anything around. DePodesta was present for the destruction of the Cleveland Indians (the wacky John Hart years where the Indians landed such dynamite talents as John Smiley, Ricardo Rincon and Kevin Seitzer in exchange for actual major league players, although the healing has begun, I can no longer say the Indians miss Jeromy Burnitz or Danny Graves) and lasted about the length of a Will Ferrell film in Los Angeles.

11) OBP is not Beane's revelation, not even for the A's. Sandy Alderson started this process. If you don't believe me, read The Numbers Game. Beane is a genius because he drafted Tim Hudson in the 6th round in 1997 (editor's note: whoops, no he didn't. That was Sandy Alderson -- Beane's efforts were far more middling.), Mark Mulder in the 1998 draft (2nd overall pick), and Barry Zito in the first round in 1999 (ninth overall pick). Two of those three were in the top 10 picks in the draft, where it's at least harder to miss. Still, they were off the charts successes and Beane deserves credit for them and for at least starting to shy away from high school players (though he's abandoned this in recent years) in favor of quicker turnaround players from college.

You can hate Moneyball and still like numbers that are relevant. It's not even difficult, you just have to be willing to accept that about 90% (or even all) of the premises can be true without the conclusion (performing sexual favors for Billy Beane is a necessary and Opus Deian act of self-abasement) following from them.

12) Bobby Crosby is not a good baseball player. He had one good season. Period. I cannot mention this enough.