Thursday, October 28, 2004

Hot Stove Burning

Now that the major league baseball season is over, my attention turns to the Arizona Fall League, where six Pirates prospects are playing for the Peoria Seguaros.

House, J.R., C .304/.407/.524, 1 HR
McLouth, Nathan, OF .278/.344/.426, 1 HR
Sanchez, Freddy, 2B .326/.418/.478, 1 HR

These numbers don't look bad, and they're not at all, but teams have become reluctant to send their best pitching prospects to the AFL for fear they'll get hurt. The result is that hitting numbers across the board are much more superficially impressive than they are in the minors. McLouth's performance is below the league average (although his age probably is too), and Sanchez's and House's performances are about average for the league, or slightly better.

Former Pirate prospect Chris Shelton, by the way, is hitting an absurd .429/.469/.804 with four homers in 56 at bats. This guy would probably be one of the best hitting prospects in baseball if he hadn't missed most of his last season of development due to the Rule 5 process.

Here are the pitchers:
Bradley, Bobby 6.07 ERA 13.1 IP 13 K 3 BB
Johnston, Mike 5.73 ERA 11.0 IP 9 K 5 BB
Miller, Jeff 0.00 ERA 8.2 IP 9 K 0 BB

Bradley and Johnston aren't looking so great, especially since Bradley has long been viewed as a top prospect (though he's never lived up to the hype) and Johnston is older and has pitched in the big leagues. But Jeff Miller, a reliever, is making a strong case to be added to the 40 man roster this year. If he's exposed to the Rule 5 draft, he'll probably be taken - and I'd also bet he'd stick with a new team and thrive.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Correction

Paul Meyer reports today that Bronson Arroyo was dropped to make way for Jeff Suppan, not Jim Mann, as I stated the other day. I checked Retrosheet, and Meyer's right. Oops.

Mann was acquired a couple months earlier, and the Pirates cut Adrian Brown to get him. He apparently was still on the roster when Suppan was acquired, so the Pirates still effectively chose Mann over Arroyo.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

On the Red Sox Offense

I criticized Bob Smizik's column yesterday on former Pirates now in the World Series, so to be fair I'd like to point out that his column today on the Red Sox is very good. Smizik rightly points out that the Red Sox scored nearly 100 runs more than the Cardinals' this year, and he also identifies the reason why (well, besides the DH rule): Boston's lineup is strong from top to bottom, whereas St. Louis' has huge holes. St. Louis has started Tony Womack, Mike Matheny and So Taguchi in the Series. The fact that those guys were legitimately Tony LaRussa's best options indicates that Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty didn't finish his job last winter. The Cardinals clearly have a formidable core of offensive talent, and they've gotten far more out of their pitching than I ever expected, but the Cards should have acquired better hitters to play catcher and second, especially since Womack can't play defense and there were good, cheap options available. Mark Bellhorn cost the Sox around a million bucks, for example.

Lots of sportswriters would do well to learn from something else Smizik does in his column. He uses the traditional statistics fans like, such as RBIs and wins, as evidence to prove his case, but he doesn't draw erroneous conclusions from them. He even notes that although the Red Sox have made eight errors so far this series, "Their defense... is not as bad as those errors might indicate." Nicely done, Mr. Smizik.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Ex-Pirates in the Series

Bob Smizik has a new column on former Pirates who are playing for the Red Sox and Cardinals.

Amazingly, there are eight of them:

Tony Womack
Reggie Sanders
Julian Tavarez
Al Reyes
Jeff Suppan
Pokey Reese
Tim Wakefield
Bronson Arroyo

Smizik concludes that the Pirates screwed up by not keeping Reyes and Arroyo. I'm not so worried about Reyes - he wasn't young when he and the Pirates parted ways, and while he put up good numbers this year, he pitched so few innings that those numbers probably don't mean much.

Arroyo is a different story. Dave Littlefield messed that one up badly - he let go of Arroyo in order to put Jim Mann on the 40 man roster. That was a bad move at the time, and it's looking much worse now. Arroyo was at the end of his age 25 season when the Pirates let him go, and while it's true, as Smizik notes, that the Pirates "gave him plenty of chances," it's also worth noting that Arroyo's performance improved each year. In 2002, Arroyo posted a 4.00 ERA in nine games with the Pirates, and he struck out 116 and walked 28 in 143 innings with Triple A Nashville, with a 2.96 ERA. Given that Arroyo was a 25 year old pitcher with good stuff, it was silly of the Pirates to let him go, particularly in order to acquire a generic Triple A reliever like Mann. Littlefield is rarely held accountable for this terrible move, which is strange, since it was almost as stupid as some other disastrous Littlefield transactions that are criticized all the time.

According to Smizik, Wakefield was released by the Pirates in 1995. It does appear that his pitching was a complete mess then, but Pirates coaches get a demerit for not figuring out what his problem was.

Smizik has a bizarre obsession with Tony Womack, and he says the Pirates were "dead wrong" about Womack and that "It's true his on-base percentage could be better, but it has been good enough for the Diamondbacks and Cardinals."

Sure - he was good enough for a team that had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling as its top starters and Luis Gonzalez hitting fifty-plus home runs. I'll concede that Womack was decent in 2004 for the Cardinals - until you consider his atrocious defense. Womack hasn't helped these teams succeed; they have succeeded in spite of him. He would make the Pirates worse now. Of all the decisions the Pirates have made in the last ten years, losing Womack was one of the few good ones, so it's strange for Smizik to repeatedly claim that the loss of Womack was a mistake.

Smizik says that the Pirates lost the other four players - Sanders, Tavarez, Suppan and Reese - for financial reasons. This is at least partly true, but let's not get carried away here. The Pirates could have afforded any of those guys, but they chose to do other things with their money - spend it on other players, and put it in their pockets. All clubs must consider finances when making personnel decisions; the Pirates are not unique in that regard.

Would the addition of these players to the 2004 Pirates have improved the team much? Well, Suppan and Tavarez would have certainly helped. But Reese is nothing more than a defensive sub at this point, and Sanders would have kept Craig Wilson glued to the bench. Suppan and Tavarez might have netted the Pirates and extra two or three wins, which wouldn't have been nearly enough to get the Pirates to the playoffs.

My point is that the losses of these players should not be used as excuses for the Pirates' poor play. Sanders, Suppan and Tavarez are all fun players to have around, but they're supporting players. Those guys help the Cardinals, but St. Louis be nothing without their core of Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds.

The Pirates are a small-market team, and their owners are cheapskates. That's not good. But the Pirates' recent failures have much more to do with their inability to (and apparent disinterest in) develop(ing) Pujols-type talents than with money. Until they develop a real core of excellent players (the Perez/Bay/Wilsons core they have now is okay, but it's not enough), we shouldn't hear excuses about how little money they have. And we shouldn't hear such excuses when the Pirates spend what little money they do have on buckets of Grade C free agents who block prospects who might become part of the Pirates' core if given the chance.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

More on Baseball on TV

Did anyone see the part of the game last night in which FOX did a montage of shots of Manny Ramirez hugging his teammates? Dionne Warwick's "That's What Friends are For" accompanied the montage, and then continued for a while after the montage ended and the game continued. It was very disturbing. Manny must have found it disturbing, too, judging from the loss of concentration he apparently suffered after it happened.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Baseball on TV

The Washington Post wants FOX to tone down the graphics and commercials (registration required).

I agree. I'm not sure whether baseball broadcasts have gotten more commercial and ostentatious in the last five years or whether it's me, but it's too much. There are too many unnecessary graphics, too much overheated announcing, too many loud commercials, and way too many instant replays.

Thanks, Ryan.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Way to Go, Sox!

Hello? Is anyone paying attention?

I just finished watching the most exciting postseason series since... well, last year's Red Sox - Yankees ALCS matchup. I'm very excited for the Red Sox who, along with the A's, have become the teams I root for after the Pirates' season reaches its inevitable early ending.

But this isn't a post about the Red Sox so much as it's about my sadness that Pirates' fans can't feel what Boston fans are now feeling, and that the pathetic Pirates organization has a press corps with surface-level analysis and boring defeatist attitudes to match. To be sure, there are a few smart Pirates fans who write like they actually care and want things to improve. The most visible is the Post-Gazette's excellent Stats Geek, but there's also the superb WTM, Honest Wagner, and a number of folks at Baseball Primer. I'm sure there are some others, and I don't intend to diss anyone by omission, but most discussion of the Pirates, especially in the mainstream press, is unbearably unintelligent and sad.

Of course, mainstream sports analysis in general isn't known for being penetrating and brilliant. But geez, the Pirates have had a dozen losing seasons in a row. The management is horrible. It sure seems like the Pirates' ownership isn't being honest with the fans. If Pirates reporters and columnists can't be smart, they should at least be angry. As a group, Boston sports writers have more than their share of problems, but at least they appear passionate and attempt to hold the Red Sox accountable when things go wrong.

Value Over Replacement Blog is often what some people would describe as a third-order publication. I don't actually do the stuff that gets written about; the players do that. Then there's a group of writers, mostly for mainstream publications, that reports things that the players do. Then there's me. When the Pirates are playing or making transactions, I can sometimes report those things and analyze them, making VORB a second-order publication. But since the Pirates aren't doing much of anything right now, I can often only report things that other people say and comment on them. So it's:

actual baseball -> reporting -> reporting on reporting

Sadly, there aren't even many articles being written about the Pirates right now, and most of the ones that are being written are dreary as can be. Let's take, for example, this week's Q+A by Paul Meyer. Now, I've held back a bit on Meyer in the past, in part because he's published my comments, even comments that were critical of his analysis. He gets my compliments for that. But forget it, I'm not holding back anymore. Here's a Meyer paragraph about Josh Fogg:

Something to remember about Fogg, Dan, is that his 11-10 record and 4.64 earned run average look really good as a fifth starter. Put those numbers in the third spot, particularly, and they begin to pale. Fogg at this point is more valuable to the Pirates as a fifth starter - how many teams' fifth starter finished over .500? - so it would behoove the Pirates to leave him there and fill in above him. One could certainly argue that Fogg would look solid in the fourth spot and a young starter could take over the fifth spot, which is likely. Fogg did pitch much better in the second half of the 2004 season (5-3, 3.32 in 15 starts). If he continues to improve, Fogg could work his way up in the rotation, which would be fine and dandy. And he'll probably have to do that if he's to stay with the Pirates. They won't want to pay a fifth starter, say, $2.5 or $3.5 million a year in the near future. Fogg could command that kind of money if he's in the third spot.

I feel like the AFLAC duck walking out of the barber shop after reading that! Somewhere in Meyer's mind is the notion that "third starter" and "fifth starter" are markedly different positions with markedly different functions. Whether Fogg is the third or fifth starter is irrelevant; what matters is whether he's the third-best starter or the fifth best. The reason why a 4.64 ERA looks good for a fifth starter is because we presume that the first through fourth starters are all doing better than that.

Meyer then reviews a ficticious team consisting of former Pirates now on playoff teams. That team has the following bullpen:

Julian Tavarez
Dan Miceli
Elmer Dessens
Duaner Sanchez

Meyer says the Pirates 'pen is superior, in part because "There isn't a real closer" on the fictional team. What, and Jose Mesa is a "real closer"? And aren't there any bigger questions to consider than this one?

Meyer's analysis is often loopy, but the bigger problem is that it's frivolous. Sure, it's mildly amusing to compare Jose Mesa to Duaner Sanchez, or to speculate about whether Ty Wigginton would be better if he tried to hit the ball to the opposite field. But these things miss the forest for the trees. It would be much more accurate to simply say that Mesa stinks, Wigginton stinks and the Pirates gave up on Sanchez for no good reason. Meyer can only answer the questions he's sent, but do we really need to know whether he thinks Wigginton will hit twelve homers next year, or fifteen? The correct answer to that question is, "Who cares? Our third baseman is Ty Wigginton. He can't hit very well, he can't field at all, and we traded our best trading chit last year to get him."

Not to pick on Wigginton specifically, but as I said when we got him, he is the status quo. He's cheap and just good enough for casual fans to fail to realize he's part of the problem. The same goes for Tike Redman, and Josh Fogg, and Jose Mesa, and Daryle Ward and any number of other players who've passed through the Pirates' ranks over the past few years. (Then there are the disasters, like Chris Stynes and Randall Simon.) Amazingly, Meyer actually thinks that Redman's performance was a highlight of the Pirates' 2004 season.

Does Meyer have any idea why the Pirates keep losing? I don't think he does, and that's a big problem. But if he does, he needs to dismiss the frivolous questions:

"Dear so and so, I could write about whether Josh Fogg will be the third starter or the fifth starter next year, but that would be boring. The fact is, Josh Fogg is boring and he's not very good, and the Pirates have much bigger problems to worry about than what position Fogg should occupy in the rotation, if he's even taken to arbitration this year. In fact, rather than spending millions on mediocrities like Fogg and Ward, the Pirates should give their spots to players who might conceivably help the Pirates get to the World Series in the future, and pool the money saved and sign Carlos Beltran or Adrian Beltre. Sure, they'll be expensive, but Kevin McClatchy and company should have plenty of money left over from the last couple of years of salary dumping and revenue-sharing. It sure seems like the Pirates' ownership is lying to all of us! Thanks for writing, so and so!"

Again, Meyer's not the only problem. Many other the other Pirates writers also often seem like apologists for the team who would rather deal with little questions than big ones. Pirates writers should take stock and try to figure out why the Pirates keep losing. Is it the Pirates' small-market status? (Hint: Nope!) Or is it the management? Is it the ownership? Is it all the semi-okay players these writers seem to tolerate?

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Baseball and Sweatshops

It's good that someone is writing about this.

Part of the reason I like baseball so much is that it creates a self-contained world. The world of players, coaches and umpires is basically circumscribed, and the relationships between individuals are clear and, for the most part, measurable. To some degree, I am able to separate baseball from the real world.

It is easy to forget that baseball is actually just a part of the real world, a big business that can be just as nasty as many other big businesses.

So I can understand why fans think this way:

For Miller's efforts on the sidewalks outside PNC Park, there is no evidence Pirates fans have rallied to the workers' cause.

He conceded that when he tells fans that, for instance, Chuck Tanner figurine dolls were made by Chinese workers forced to work 20-plus hour shifts, fans say, "Why are you trying to interrupt our nice day at the ballpark?"


...Even though they probably know in their hearts they should want to know about the conditions of workers who make the MLB products they buy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

More On McClendon

There's a discussion of Lloyd McClendon's managerial tendencies over at Honest Wagner. My position, as I stated over there, is this:

I see him make moves every day that reduce the Pirates' odds of winning - bizarre sacrificing decisions, strange uses of pinch hitters, strange lineups. Abe Nunez is his favorite pinch hitter, for pete's sake, and it seems like the Pirates kill rallies every day with sacrifices, even though their attempts at sacrifices often don't work in advancing the runners they're supposed to advance.

It's kind of like watching a poker player who constantly puts in his money when the odds are against him - and loses. Yes, there are some factors that we don't know about in both situations - both guys might be thinking about things I'm not aware of when making their decisions. But they still both bet against the odds, and they both lose, which makes me think they don't know what they're doing.


McClendon ignores the odds when his players sacrifice. The sacrifice is almost never a good percentage play unless a pitcher is doing it, and yet McClendon orders it constantly. As the Stats Geek shows, the sacrifice is rarely a good play even when it's successful, and the Pirates also often attempt to sacrifice and fail.

McClendon has used Abraham Nunez as a pinch hitter nearly 150 times in the past three years, even though there were better options available (read: anyone). During that time, Nunez has posted an incredible .429 OPS as a pinch hitter, as well as a meager .637 OPS overall.

McClendon constantly embraces righty-lefty platoon matchups on both sides of the ball, even when the resulting talent matchups have placed his team at a disadvantage.

McClendon has kept promising young talents like Craig Wilson on the bench in favor of mediocre veterans who haven't helped the team win in the short term or the long term.

McClendon's decisions have directly hurt the Pirates' chances of winning games. Here's one example. Here's another. And another. And another.

There are more: there's this game that the Pirates somehow actually won, in which McClendon ordered sacrifices with no outs in the tops of the 9th, 10th and 11th innings in a tie game... at Coors Field. The Pirates didn't score in any of those innings, and Jason Bay and Rob Mackowiak laid down two of the sacrifices. And then there's this game, in which McClendon ordered Kris Benson to sacrifice in the sixth inning of a game they were losing 4-0 (why not just pinch hit for Benson?). McClendon then (justifiably) removed Benson from the game in the bottom of the inning.

McClendon is not the only reason why the Pirates lose. They simply don't have the talent to win 90 games. But he's not helping them win all the games they can, either, and is probably just as responsible for the Pirates' poor performance as any single player. He constantly stacks the deck against himself, and has no track record of winning to reassure us that there's something about the game that he sees and we don't. And if some miracle happens and the Pirates are able to cobble together a good team in McClendon's tenure, my guess is that fans are going to start noticing what an awful tactician he is.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Keep Kendall

This article should scare the pants off any Pirates fan.

I don't think the Pirates have any players they should consider untouchable, including Kendall. But once money is out of the picture, Kendall is a very, very valuable commodity - a catcher who puts up .400 OBPs and is one of the two or three best leadoff hitters in baseball.

Why am I taking money out of the picture? Well, because as a fan, it doesn't matter to me that Kendall is overpaid. If the Pirates are able to trade him and get his salary off the books, that money probably won't be used to improve the team. Given the recent patterns of Pirates management, the payroll will probably just shrink that much more if Kendall leaves.

This would be a different matter if the Pirates were getting great talent - especially great young talent - in return for Kendall. But they're not.

The Pirates wanted a promising pitcher, Yhency Brazoban, in return, but the Dodgers balked. Speculation is that another player -- Craig Wilson, for example, if he gets re-signed -- could be included with the Pirates receiving a catcher, Brent Mayne, perhaps, along with the pitcher they want.

Yhency Brazoban? Brent Mayne? From a baseball perspective, that's suicide, especially if they throw in Craig Wilson to make the deal. If anything resembling that deal occurs, I'll probably be able to stop rooting for the Pirates for good, and so will most of the rest of the fans that are still around. Here's the explanation:

That way, Humberto Cota could get more playing time and the Pirates would have a veteran backup to share the load. But then they'd have to make up Wilson's production somewhere else.

More playing time for Humberto Cota is not going to help the Pirates now or in the future. I hope that Robert Dvorchak didn't get that from a Pirates official.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Fire McClendon

Chris Kucharski has some suggestions for the 2005 Pirates. His ideas about free agents are, well, terrible. He suggests the Pirates sign Tino Martinez or Brad Fullmer to a two year contract if necessary. Martinez was fairly good this season, but I wouldn't touch him with a ten foot pole - he's old, and he was mediocre in 2003. I like Fullmer more than most people probably do at this point, but he's injury-prone, and a two year contract would be absurd. Also, the Pirates have lots of guys they could try at first or whatever corner position Craig Wilson doesn't occupy. For example, J.R. House is out of options in the spring, and he's not even on Kucharski's projected 25 man roster. Why not? Let him play first, or let J.J. Davis play right. Both players have significant upside, and neither can be sent to Indianapolis next year except on rehab/"rehab" assignments. Both guys - yep, even Davis, and please don't tell me you only need 30 at bats to determine he's a bust - would have a good chance to play as well as Fullmer or Martinez next year anyway.

Kucharski also lists some free agent pitchers the Bucs might sign, including Esteban Loaiza, Aaron Sele, and Glendon Rusch. Ugh. These guys stink, and the Pirates can easily do better by handing that rotation spot to any of a number of the Pirates' young arms.

Kucharski's comments about Loaiza are kind of funny:

He had a terrible 2004 but maybe playing the second half in New York had something to do with it.

The fact that Loaiza is mediocre might also have something to do with it! He had one good season in 2003. In every other season he's played, his ERA has been near or above the league average. Let it go.

The Pirates don't need a new first baseman or starting pitcher next year. If they're going to sign a free agent or two, it should be at a position where the free agent won't block a promising youngster or a good player. For the Pirates, that position is third base.

Kucharski does get one thing right: he suggests the Pirates fire Lloyd McClendon. Kucharski points out that McClendon is a slave to lefty-righty matchups, that he's obsessed with Abraham Nunez, and that he's a poor tactical manager. He also points out that the Pirates have been consistent losers under McClendon.

While McClendon obviously isn't responsible for all that losing, the Pirates would be better with a manager who knew what he was doing. A general manager should always try to figure out where his team's weaknesses are and to replace them with strengths. McClendon isn't the only reason the Pirates are bad, but he's part of the reason. He should go.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Pirate Scouting Report

Wilbur Miller's outstanding Pirate Scouting Report has updated player bios for every, or nearly every, player in the Pirates system. Many of the bios, especially at the majors and higher levels of the minors, are extensive, and Miller's analyses are wise and fun to read. Go there now - you'll learn some things no matter how closely you follow the Pirates.

From Paul Meyer's Q+A today:

One thing the Pirates could do, Brian, is move Jason Bay from left field to center field. Manager Lloyd McClendon has said often that center field is Bay's best position. He can run. He has a good arm. I could see that happening if the Pirates determine that Redman isn't a regular. The Pirates have a lot of "nice" players, but they need more good players. Putting Bay in center field probably would make the Pirates stronger up the middle, where they're already pretty decent -- Jason Kendall at catcher, Jack Wilson at shortstop and Jose Castillo at second base. Thing is, if the Pirates move Bay to center field, who will play left field?

Uh, not Tike Redman? But let's back up a second:

Putting Bay in center field probably would make the Pirates stronger up the middle...

If that's the case, it is mind-boggling that the Pirates didn't just move Bay there earlier this year and let J.J. Davis or Tony Alvarez play left.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Bay Vs. Greene, with Geoff Young of Ducksnorts

Now that the regular season's over, it's time to decide who should win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, Jason Bay of the Pirates or Khalil Greene of the San Diego Padres. Rather than conduct an analysis on my own, I contacted Geoff Young of the excellent Padres blog Ducksnorts, and we talked about both players.

Geoff Young, Ducksnorts: I like the idea of an e-mail conversation about Jason Bay versus Khalil Greene. I'll begin by pointing out that Greene (as you've mentioned in your blog) has had the best offensive season of all NL shortstops in a tough park for hitters. He plays a demanding position and has been spectacular on defense. But I honestly think a real compelling case could be made for either of our guys.

Charlie Wilmoth, VORB: I agree that the race for the Rookie of the Year is a close one, and that this isn’t a Pirates fan arguing for Bay versus a Padres fan backing Greene. I want to give readers a clear picture of what the issues in this debate should be, and you certainly know more than I do about Greene and the factors that might affect his performance, whereas maybe I know some things about Bay and the Pirates that you might not. I agree that a compelling case can be made for either player.

Here are the raw numbers:
Bay 116/410 41 BB 24 2B 4 3B 26 HR 4 SB 6 CS .283/.355/.551/.910
Greene 132/484 53 BB 31 2B 4 3B 15 HR 4 SB 2 CS .273/.349/.446/.795

These numbers, especially the power numbers, seem to favor Bay. But Greene plays shortstop, which is much more demanding than Bay’s position, left field (even though left field is huge at PNC Park). Also, Petco is a tough park for hitters. It seems to have been especially tough on Greene: he has posted a .683 OPS at home versus an impressive .895 OPS on the road. (It should also be noted that PNC is reputed to be a tough park for right-handed power hitters, although Bay has hit 15 homers and had a .952 OPS there this year.)

What can you tell me about the hitting environment at Petco? Are you aware of any reason why Greene seems to be affected more by Petco than most other Padres, or do you think it’s just a sample size issue? Also, can you comment more specifically on Greene’s defense? His Zone Rating is impressive but his Range Factor is rather low; I think we can agree, however, that he looks very good out there and that those stats don’t always tell the whole story.

Ducksnorts: A few thoughts... First, in addition the raw numbers you cited, I'll add Win Shares. Thanks to this great site that I found via David Pinto's Baseball Musings.

We can see the following:

Greene - Bat: 15.0 Fld: 5.5 WS: 20
Bay - Bat: 14.3 Fld: 1.8 WS: 16

This is through 9/23, and Bay probably has bumped up his hitting portion a bit, but Win Shares gives Greene pretty significant extra credit for his defense. Win Shares also gives Jay Payton more credit for his defense than Steve Finley, so who knows how reliable that measure is. I'm pretty comfortable in saying that Greene's defense has been more important to the Padres than Bay's has been to the Pirates, but I'm not at all comfortable in attempting to quantify the difference.

As for park factors, ESPN has Petco as the second most difficult place in the big leagues to score runs (just ahead of Safeco). Here are ESPN's numbers for Petco and PNC (where 1.000 represents average, above is more favorable to hitters, below more favorable to pitchers):

Petco - Runs: 0.834 (29) HR: 0.694 (30) H: 0.892 (29)
PNC - Runs: 0.898 (26) HR: 0.883 (23) H: 0.977 (20)

Numbers in parentheses are MLB rank.

Obviously neither park benefits hitters, but Petco Park was arguably the most pitcher-friendly park in MLB this year. Anecdotally, I can tell you that Greene hit a lot of balls to the warning track in the power alleys that probably would have been homers in most parks. By the way, this is the first time I've really looked at PNC's factors, and they certainly do make Bay's already impressive numbers look that much better.

As for Greene's home/road splits, wow! I hadn't realized they were so extreme. I'm not sure why this is the case. The best I can do is the anectodal evidence above. Only Brian Giles and Phil Nevin hit more homers than Greene on the road this year, and if you double Greene's road output he ends up with 24 bombs. Again, going back to my own observations, I think he would have hit 20-25 homers in a neutral park this year. We're dealing in pretty speculative areas here, I realize, but there you go.

Regarding Greene's defense, I touched on range factor a little bit in the last month at Ducksnorts.

In a nutshell, I suspect there are park effects at work here as well. Anyone who has watched the Padres for any appreciable stretch of time this season will tell you that their strength on defense has been the infield. Or they might tell you that the outfield defense has stunk. Both are true, at least to the human eye. But if you check range factors at ESPN, the Padres have the best CF range factor in the NL and fourth best overall OF range factor. Conversely, only the Astros and Cubs have lower team range factors on the infield. I know we're talking about Greene and Bay here, but just to use Payton again as an example, his range factor in CF is 3.01, tops in the NL. The difference between him and the #2 guy (Mike Cameron at 2.77) is greater than that between Cameron and the #6 guy (Tike Redman at 2.56). Steve Finley, Jim Edmonds? Not even on the map. Again, without having done any real research on the subject, my guess is that Payton's range factor is more a reflection of (a) the hugeness of Petco's outfield, (b) the fact that he is flanked by Giles and Ryan Klesko out there, and (c) the fact that many of the Padres pitchers serve up a fair amount of fly balls. And to bring this back (finally) to Greene, I suspect the opposite is true with infielders and that their range numbers are abnormally skewed in the other direction due to those same reasons.

Bottom line: Range factor will tell you that Payton is one of the best CFers in all of baseball and Greene one of the worst shortstops. My own eyes tell me the opposite is true, which leads my mind to believe that maybe range factor isn't the best determinant of defensive value. And my answer to the inevitable follow-up question is, I don't know what is.

To conclude (for now), although it's tough to say for sure based on one season's worth of data, I believe that Greene's offensive and defensive numbers are both negatively impacted by his home park.

What about Bay? Other than how he managed to stay in a Lloyd McClendon lineup despite the high strikeout totals, what can you tell me about one of the guys we gave up to get Brian Giles? As an outsider, one of the things that jumps out at me is his remarkable consistency. His OPS ranged from 866 to 1000 in any given month. That tells me he's making the adjustments, a very good quality in a young player. Also, regardless of whether or not it is a "skill", you've got to respect his numbers with RISP: .323/.415/.677. Very nice. Okay, those are some numbers. What more can you tell me about the guy?

VORB: It seems like we agree that it’s difficult to evaluate defense with confidence. It takes more than a good Range Factor, or even Zone Rating, to convince me that someone is a good defender. The fact that Tike Redman, who is as hard to watch on defense as any Pirate in recent memory, is ranked in the middle of the pack in range factor among NL center fielders tells me there’s something weird going on there. UZR is the defensive statistic I trust the most, but 2004 UZRs have not been published, so we can't see how Bay or Greene rates there.

As far as defense is concerned, then, the best we can do is agree that they’re both good at their positions but that we don’t know how good, and that Greene deserves pretty substantial extra credit for playing shortstop. One interesting thing about Bay, though, is that left field is tough to play in PNC because it’s so large, so defensive statistics probably don’t do Bay any favors. I can say for sure that Bay looks very good in the field – he runs well, gets good reads on balls and catches most of the ones he gets to.

Also, I’m not sure anyone should give Bay credit for this as far as the ROY debate is concerned, but the Pirates' organization is apparently very confident in Bay’s abilities in center field – in fact, Lloyd McClendon has said that center may be Bay’s best position! If he really can play there and the Pirates had let him play there, his case would be even stronger (and the Pirates might have had another ROY candidate in J.J. Davis), but instead they let Redman play there the entire season.

In any case, I suspect that Bay’s defense is more valuable than his Win Shares totals gives him credit for, but I doubt it would be enough to make up the rest of the difference.

I looked at the ESPN park factors you linked and was amazed at how low PNC was ranked. The number listed there (a Park Factor of .898, which would make it the fifth-most pitcher-friendly park in baseball) is way out of line with what I see with my eyes and with previous park factors I’ve seen for PNC. (Baseball Prospectus 2004, for example, rates PNC as a neutral park, although I believe BP’s park factors are based on the total hitting environment the Pirates play in, whereas ESPN’s numbers are just based on games at PNC.) There may be some weather-related reason so few runs have been scored at PNC this year, but I suspect this is just a sample-size issue, and PNC is actually just a neutral park.

I’ve watched ten or so games played at Petco this year, though, and it’s very obviously an extreme pitchers park: very hard-hit balls frequently turn into flyouts there. Park factors are subject to so many variations in weather and sample-size problems that it’s impossible to rate them precisely. Still, there is a class of hitting environments that are obviously extreme in one direction or another – Colorado, Los Angeles, Texas, Seattle – and Petco is one of those. I think it’s very likely that Greene would have hit twenty jacks or more in a more normal hitting environment.

One other problem with park factors is that parks aren’t one-size-fits-all – they may affect different types of players differently, particularly players of different handedness. The conventional wisdom regarding PNC is that it’s much harder on right-handed power hitters than on lefties, since the wall in left is much deeper than the wall in right (although the wall in left is much lower). So I checked the home-road splits of every Pirate power hitter for each full year played since 2002. There haven’t been many, so it didn’t take long. In short, though, the lefties I checked (Brian Giles, Matt Stairs, Rob Mackowiak and Daryle Ward) did tend to get a bigger boost from PNC than the righties (Craig Wilson, Reggie Sanders, and Bay). That isn’t a lot of players, but the numbers do suggest that the conventional wisdom is right. So I think that while PNC is basically a neutral park, it’s harder on righty power hitters. I’m not sure whether Bay deserves some extra credit for that or not.

Whew! What was I talking about? Ah yes: Jason Bay and Khalil Greene. I do think, again, that this is a case where Bay’s play has been a bit better than his Win Shares totals suggest, since I’m sure Win Shares applies a one-size-fits-all park factor rather than one that’s tailored more specifically to the tendencies of the park.

So where does that leave us? I really have no idea, and I think Greene and Bay are so close in value and such different kinds of players that we’re not going to get a definitive answer here. It is fun to try, though.

While I’ve got your attention, though, I would be remiss not to ask for your opinions about Aki Otsuka, another very good Padres rookie who might deserve some consideration. You seem to like him, too. He lags far behind Bay and Greene in cumulative stats like Value Over Replacement Player, but as some folks at Baseball Primer have pointed out, he usually pitches very high-leverage innings, which makes him much more valuable than such statistics suggest. Do you think he should be a real contender here?

Ducksnorts: Regarding Bay's ability to play center field, that's where he was playing for the Padres before he broke his wrist last year. My recollection of him in his brief stint in San Diego is that he looked like a pretty good athlete.

I agree that this is going to be a very close call. In most years, either of those guys would win easily. Bay's production despite missing the a good chunk of the season has been amazing. And Greene has been the best offensive shortstop, qualitatively, in the National League despite playing in the toughest park for hitters.

One other thing we haven't mentioned is that Bay and Greene were actually roommates at Triple-A. This doesn't mean anything in terms of analysis but it's kind of cool. And whoever ends up winning the award, it's pretty clear that both clubs have a special player on their hands. This isn't a case of Todd Hollandsworth vs Edgar Renteria, or Pat Listach vs Kenny Lofton. These guys are legit and should be around for a long time to come.

As for Otsuka, I wrote about his chances the other day. Basically, Kaz Sasaki won the AL ROY in 2000 pitching fewer innings than Otsuka has this year and posting inferior qualitative numbers. I'm convinced that the only thing keeping Otsuka from being a serious contender in the race is the presence of Trevor Hoffman. There's also no doubt in my mind that Otsuka could close games on this side of the Pacific. But he works the eighth rather than the ninth, and nobody really cares if a guy finishes with 34 holds. So I guess my answer is that if Sasaki deserved consideration in 2000, then Otsuka deserves it now. But I seriously doubt he'll get more than a token vote.

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