Feliz Cumpleaños, Jose Luis de Jesus.
I don’t hate the Marlon Byrd deal (two years/$16M) but I hate the Marlon Byrd deal.
Why I don’t hate it: it’s typical Amaro as far as buying high and early– Byrd’s OPS+ by season since he turned 30 in 2008 (remember, 100 is average, above 100 is better, below 100 is worse): 122, 106, 105, 96, 33 (in 143 AB), 138 (his highest ever)–but the term and dollars aren’t bad, he’s an upgrade over 2013′s Mayberry/Delmon Young/Ruf as a regular outfielder both offensively and defensively (Byrd’s career dWAR according to Baseball Reference: 1.3; Delmon Young’s career dWAR: -9.7), and he’s worth a few B-/C+ prospects at the deadline if the Phils are hopelessly out of contention. Plus the other free agent outfielders (Cruz, Granderson, Ellsbury, Choo) are either overrated, health risks, age-related decline risks, the object of potential nine-figure contract bidding wars, or all of the above. (The best free agent Amaro signed last offseason was Not Josh Hamilton.)
Why I hate it: what’s the upside to this signing? Raúl Ibañez’s 2009 (when he was only a year older than Byrd will be next season) for a team missing the 2009 versions of Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley (whose 2013 version was still pretty good)?
Marlon Byrd was a 5 WAR player between the Mets and Pirates last season. He was never even a 3.5 WAR player in any single season before 2013 (the worth of WAR as a single-season statistic, or a statistic at all, is a separate discussion). Even if he has the same exact season in 2014– which he won’t–how much will he help the Phillies? Would the 2014 Phillies maybe be better off investing in someone who might actually help the 2017 or 2018 Phillies? (Note: whoever this someone may be is likely not within their system at the moment, though he may be in someone else’s. Odds are also better than even that some other GM will find him before Amaro will.)
The other downside? Marlon Byrd’s five most similar batters by Similarity Scores: Jay Payton (done at 35), Aaron Rowand (done at 33), Wil Cordero (go Expos! and done at 31), Disco Dan Ford (done at 31), and Bernard Gilkey (done as a platoon player at 34). Shane Victorino is 8th and he’ll be 34 next season. We’ll give him a few more years.
I’m a card-carrying SABR member and the annual meeting was in Philadelphia this year, so I ended up spending $79 on a single-day pass for the Saturday sessions. A few notes from the two panels and three lectures I attended:
MLB.com was once the website of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius (where one of my former legal writing professors now works).
Media panel moderator Alan Schwarz introduced ex-Phillies beat writer, current MLB.com columnist Paul Hagen as “the only recent Hall of Fame honoree to actually be alive.”
Hagen and Jayson Stark discussed the recent trade deadline (or as Joe Sheehan recently called it, the Dead Tradeline). Hagen noted that with more players who would have been free agents being signed to long-term deals (e.g. Cole Hamels 2012), and with the second wild card making more teams think they’re contenders (e.g. Phillies 2013), and with $25M in revenue sharing making salary dumps unnecessary (Stark: MLB is an $8B industry with half a billion in revenue sharing), there’s no movement. An unnamed GM recently told Stark, “There are no players anymore.” As Stark explained, “There’s lots of players– what he meant is, there just aren’t players who are available.”
Stark also discussed how the knowledge base required to cover baseball has expanded, referring to the meme that labor reporters should have been covering the 1994 strike and noting that among other sources he needed to contact the ACLU for information during the strike. “I forgot to graduate from law school this week.”
Leo Landino of ESPN Deportes discussed how his network covers baseball differently than English-language ESPN. “Baseball teams are not covered like a neighborhood. A baseball team is a world-class organization.” In other words, there are plenty of Tigers fans in Venezuela (Miguel Cabrera) but also plenty of Yankees fans in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America (“it’s the Yankees”). Ozzie Guillen now works for ESPN Deportes.
Philadelphia Tribune columnist Donald Hunt discussed why there are fewer blacks in baseball (football and basketball are perceived as better options, not as much effort being made to organize, etc.). Schwarz also noted the one black SABR attendee in the entire room (~100+ total).
Schwarz once proposed taking then-Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays first baseman Carlos Peña, known for being “well-read” (i.e. bookish), to the Strand for a New York Times story during a Rays-Yankees series but the Rays wouldn’t let him.
During the breakout sessions I attended, Steven Glassman discussed the tenure of former Phillies GM Bob Carpenter, Jr. (1948-1954), which included the pennant-winning 1950 “Whiz Kids” (not to be confused with the 1983 “Wheeze Kids”) who went 73-81 for an encore. As Phillies president (1943-1972), Carpenter, who was born in Delaware and whose mother was a DuPont, oversaw the signing of the Phillies’ first female scout (Edith Houghton) and first black player (Ted Washington from Camden, who was drafted and sent to Korea and never played for the Phillies). Glassman also noted the increase in how much the Phillies were willing to pay to sign players during the 1940s: from $7,500 for Richie Ashburn in 1945 to $60,000 for Curt Simmons in 1947. John Burbridge (who grew up a New York Giants fan, who wore a San Francisco Giants shirt, and who explained that “as a Giants fan, I rooted for the Phillies because if the Phillies won, it meant the Dodgers didn’t”) discussed the Phillies’ near-collapse during the final week of the 1950 season. The Phillies were 88-56 with a 6.5 game lead over Brooklyn; the Phillies had three doubleheaders left on the schedule vs. four doubleheaders remaining for the Dodgers (“there was no union”). They then went 2-7, dropping their lead to a single game (Burbridge noted the Philadelphia Bulletin headline “Stalin to Blame for Phillies Slump,” referring to the fact that Curt Simmons had been sent to Korea in September) before avoiding a three-game playoff by defeating the Dodgers at Ebbets Field 4-1 on the final day of the season on Dick Sisler’s three-run 10th inning home run off Don Newcombe, also becoming in the process the last all-white team to win the NL pennant. A third session featured a screening of ESPN’s “Johnny Callison’s Hard-Knock Life” hosted by Steve Wulf, who discussed the 1964 Phillies, who notoriously blew a 6.5 game lead with 12 games remaining (utility infielder Cookie Rojas described the season as “like swimming in a long, long lake, and then you drown”), as well as his own experiences interviewing Callison, Gene Mauch, and Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy.
I ended the afternoon attending the statistical analysis panel hosted by Clubhouse Confidential’s Brian Kenny. Steve Mann, a former Astros statistician, explained how his interest in sabermetrics began with fantasy baseball and the question, how many runs is a player worth, as runs determine wins. Dick Cramer, who has worked with the Brewers and Dodgers organizations as well as on Retrosheet, noted the importance of separating the signal from the noise– some outcomes are simply random– and observed that a result of 90 heads out of 162 coin flips wouldn’t be surprising, but 90 wins out of 162 games gets you in the playoffs most times. FanGraphs’ Bill Petti discussed the use of PITCHf/x to track pitches, HITf/x to track batted balls, and FIELDf/x to track baserunning and defense (currently only used at five ballparks: Tampa Bay, Kansas City (!), Boston, San Francisco, and Milwaukee). SABR president Vince Gennaro criticized FIP (Fielding Independing Pitching) for not capturing quality of opponent– he noted that Matt Harvey has faced the weakest opponents by OPS out of 143 qualifying pitchers– or durability (IP per starter). The panelists also discussed WAR (the terrible name, the fact that it’s now appearing on baseball cards, Steve Mann’s hatred of it for its seemingly arbitrary definition of what a replacement player is), the mechanics of pitching (“pitches don’t get people out per se, pitches in sequence get people out”), and of course Karl Popper (as critiqued by Gabriel Almond).
Best audience question: “Is Harold Reynolds really that obtuse?” Brian Kenny: “We are what we say we are. I’m actually that aggravated. I’m aggravated right now.”