No More Jimmy Rollins, No More Dontrelle Willis

In an age when African-American interest and participation in baseball has been steadily waning, my alma mater, Encinal High School in Alameda, CA, has been remained perhaps the best pipeline of African-American talent in the country. Encinal has produced a Hall of Famer in Willie Stargell, an MVP in Jimmy Rollins, and a Rookie of the Year in Dontrelle Willis, all of whom have not only been great players, but also great ambassadors of the game, as well.

Unfortunately, the pipeline may soon be shut off. The state of California is facing a massive budget deficit, and Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget cuts hits the Alameda Unified School District particularly hard. AUSD receives less money per student from than any other city in its county. That’s because AUSD used to get subsidized with federal money back when the Alameda Naval Air Station was operational. The Naval Air Station closed in 1997, but the historical funding rates from the state have remained intact. And for some complicated political reasons I can never quite understand, those low funding rates are extremely unlikely to change.

AUSD has already slashed $7 million from its budget over the last seven years, has already increased revenue by passing a parcel tax on Alameda properties, and is now operating about as leanly as anyone could expect from a government agency. But with this new budget, it has to somehow find another $4-$5 million. These new cuts will really be painful.

The proposed new budget eliminates funding for all high school athletics in Alameda. If there’s going to be another Jimmy Rollins or Dontrelle Willis coming out of Alameda, charity will be required.

You’d hope that perhaps AUSD could find a way around this, but I can’t see how. High school sports seems like a luxury compared to impact of closing two or three schools, firing music and art teachers, and increasing class sizes by 50% in kindergarten through third grades. The only way out I can see is if somehow people can be convinced that sometimes–sometimes–there’s a right time to raise taxes instead of lowering them.

I’m not optimistic, but I’ll be heading to Sacramento tomorrow to join a PTA Advocacy Day gathering to see what we can do.

Adjusting PECOTA to Make the A’s Win

There was a little buzz in the blogosphere recently when Derek Zumsteg at USS Mariner ran the ZiPS 2008 projections through the Diamond Mind simulator, and ended up with the A’s winning the division more than any other team. Obviously, something was screwy there, right? Yes, ZiPS doesn’t really try very hard to accurately predict playing time, and Diamond Mind has a mind of its own with regards to playing time, as well, so that outcome alone is nothing for A’s fans to excited about.

BP’s PECOTA, on the other hand, does try to predict playing time, and they just came out with their projected standings. They have the A’s in second place, with a 78-84 record, eleven games behind the Angels. That’s closer to what I had mentally been preparing myself for, a year without hope. But I thought I’d try a little thought experiment to see if I could come up with a reasonable scenario, based on the PECOTA numbers, that gives the A’s a division title.

So I’m going to make some reasonable adjustments to PECOTA’s assumptions. By reasonable, I mean, I’m not going to turn Bobby Crosby into Alex Rodriguez. The adjustments have to have some logic to it.

Here’s what we need to accomplish: find a reasonable scenario whereby the A’s can make up the gap in the projected run differentials between the A’s and Angels. Here’s what we’re starting with:

Team runs: score-allowed
Angels:      810-728     = +82
Athletics:   732-758     = -26
Run differential to make up:      108.0 runs (based on VORP)

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Another Moneyballer Gone: Jeremy Brown Retires

Jeremy Brown, made famous by Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball, has decided to retire. He ended up playing a total of five major league games, hitting .300/.364/.500 in eleven plate appearances. We should all be so fortunate. In the minors, he hit .269/.370/.439 in 539 games. Catfish Stew has a slideshow of his first major league game.

To replace Brown in the spring training role as the catcher-we’d-rather-see-bat-than-catch, the Oakland Athletics announced they have signed Matt LeCroy.

Of the seven first- and supplemental-round picks that the A’s had in the 2002 Moneyball draft, only Joe Blanton now remains in the organization. And who knows how long that will last?

Update:  It seems Brown had some family issues that led to his decision to retire.

It Begins Today

The Oakland Athletics report to camp today for a season of rebuilding, but the trials of the 2008 baseball squad are nothing compared to the other A’s-owned sports franchise. Tonight, the MLS expansion San Jose Earthquakes come back to life and play their first exhibition game since the old Earthquakes moved to Houston a couple years ago. Which A’s franchise will rebuild faster? Well, it’s still a plausible, if unlikely, scenario, that the A’s could win this year. Meanwhile, the Quakes’ roster for tonight’s game only lists twelve players. The lone substitute is a backup goalie.

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This blog entry is pretty thin, too. Let me add this piece of frivolity to fatten things up:

Buffalo Kemp Buffalo Kemp bison bison Buffalo Kemp.

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I’m too lazy to do the math, but I think the Quakes’ roster is older, on average, than the A’s roster.

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And while we’re on the topic of expansion franchises that replaced one that moved away, BP’s Rany Jazayerli has started a new Royals blog.

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The new Quakes will play mostly in Santa Clara, but they will play their first regular season home game in the Oakland Coliseum on April 12. Later in the season, there will be two other games in Oakland, both against David Beckham and the LA Galaxy. I certainly hope the field doesn’t get chewed up like it does after Raider games. Will they put the football seats in? There’s no chart on the Quakes web site yet. I remember going to an Oakland Stompers game at the Coliseum once, but I can’t remember which direction the field went. Wow, that was 30 years ago. Man, I’m getting old.

Mike Sweeney Signs With A’s

Having resolved all of their potential arbitration cases earlier this month, the A’s have now moved into full-scale Geezer Acquisition Mode. Today, Oakland signed the formerly awesome 1B-DH Mike Sweeney to a minor league contract, a couple days after reeling in the formerly awesome reliever Keith Foulke.

Sweeney has been plagued by injuries (a perfect fit, then?) for years. He was a great player from 1999-2002, and a good one from 2003-2005, but hasn’t done much in the last two years, playing a combined 124 games. He’s probably best known to A’s fans for hitting a three-run homer the A’s 20th consecutive victory in 2002, setting up Scott Hatteberg’s dramatics.

Is there room for Sweeney on the roster? Perhaps it’s a sign that someone like Dan Johnson will soon be packing his bags for another team, to make room for Sweeney. You’d think that between Johnson, Daric Barton, and Jack Cust that most of the 1B-DH at-bats have been spoken for. But the incumbents are all left-handed batters, so perhaps adding a right-handed bat on the bench like Sweeney would have its uses, in the same vein as adding Emil Brown’s right-handed bat to the outfield mix. The sad part about all the A’s free agent dabblings this winter is that the A’s were so hurting for right-handed bats, that they took to signing discards from the Kansas City Royals for help.

Foulke Returning to Oakland

OK, here’s a curious move: the A’s are bringing back Keith Foulke, who had retired last year. It’s an eyebrow-raiser in that it’s a major league deal, and the A’s 40-man roster is full. So unless they cut Alan Embree, someone younger than Foulke will have to be cut to make room for him. I suppose they think they can sneak someone like Wes Bankston, who has been waiver wire fodder twice this year already, through on waivers to the minors without losing him. Still, Foulke isn’t going to be around for the next good A’s team, so what’s the motivation? Is this a prelude to a trade of Embree or Huston Street?

It’s also curious in that when asked at the FanFest if the A’s had any interest in Barry Bonds, Billy Beane said he wouldn’t comment on free agents, but pointed towards the new direction of the club for a hint. But isn’t signing Foulke just as contrary to the new direction of the club as signing Bonds would be? It’s a move strictly for 2008; you can’t expect any payoff beyond that.

On another note, Beane also said during the FanFest that he always roots for the other teams in the AL West to trade away their young players. He must be happy today as the Mariners sent off four youngsters (including Adam Jones) plus George Sherrill for two years of Eric Bedard. Since the A’s are punting the next two years anyway, the deal is nothing but good news for A’s fans.

Beer Run: How to Defeat a Sabermetrician in an Argument

I greatly enjoyed the recent smackdown between Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts and Buster Olney of ESPN regarding the Hall of Fame merits of Jim Rice. If I had to score the fight, I’d say Rich won the argument in a blowout. But I say this not because I think Lederer is necessarily right, but because Olney played the game poorly. Olney was like a fast-break basketball team that let itself get caught in a half-court battle. Lederer was able to dictate the terms, and Olney fell right into his trap.

When one competitor prefers a particular style of play, you can beat them in one of two ways: (1) you can play their style of play better than they do, or (2) you can change the game you play. *

*Permit me a brief Posnanskian aside here, on the eve of Super Tuesday: the current Democratic primary is an interesting contrast of these two choices. Remember back in the 80s how the Republicans changed the meaning of the word "liberal" so that it became a bad thing? How Carter, Mondale and Dukakis got labeled as wimpy and economically incompetent "tax-and-spenders", and just got their butts kicked? And then along came Bill Clinton, who figured out how to play the Republicans’ game better than the Republicans? Look, it’s a Democrat who can manipulate the meaning of words better than a Republican! A Democrat who blames the Republican for being economically incompetent! A Democrat with a mean streak! It’s like the Red Sox and the Yankees: neither one would ever admit it to themselves, but the reason they hate each other so much is that they’re so damn similar. So here’s Hillary Clinton now, playing that same old game, and like her husband, she’s really good at it. But along comes Barack Obama, who says, we’re tired of all this boring, low-post, half-court crap, we’re tired of Red Sox vs. Yankees all the time, we’re tired of the Bush vs. Clinton dynasties, there’s more to this game than just the two dominant teams, we’re playing a completely different game with a completely different point of view and we’re going to take the ball and just run and run and run up and down the court. And of course, Bill Clinton goes out and spouts off and tries to drag Obama into the half-court game of parsing words and defending the low post, and Obama tries his best to avoid it, but he can’t, completely, because if the other team is posting you up you still have to defend it. And so last week, after all this time trying to avoid the dynasty game, goes and makes a mid-season trade for a dynasty-type player (Ted Kennedy), to help him defend the low post. Anyway, this is all a big mixed metaphor that’s about to jump the shark off the deep end, but like the recent Super Bowl, I find the game to be surprisingly fascinating, and probably should be until the end.

Anyway, back to Lederer vs. Olney. The trap that Olney fell into was to let Lederer dictate that the argument must be based on statistical evidence. So Olney tries to say that OPS+ is misleading, RBIs were important at the time, blah blah blah, and deliberately avoided using "fear" in his argument. To all that, I say, phooey. If you’re not immersed and invested in statistical analysis, you’re not going to win a statistical argument against someone who is. You’re like that guy in that movie who pulls out a sword and proudly swishes it around, and Indiana Jones pulls out a gun and blows you away.

If you want to avoid falling into that trap, if you want to avoid becoming fodder for BTF and FJM mockery, you need to learn how to avoid the Sabermetrician’s weapons, and where to hit him where he is weakest. Welcome to your first lesson in Defense Against Deductive Arts.

To begin your study, consider this: what is the most important element of the following photograph: Elijah Dukes’ home run, or the beer?

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The Fierce Bullet Points of Now

I recently attended a presentation for a middle school my daughter may attend. They bragged about how much they use technology in the school. They told us they use Powerpoint for all their presentations! I thought, "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" Upon which, they launched an incomprehensible Powerpoint presentation, whose bullet points served little purpose other than fodder for buzzword bingo, and even that was useless due to the practically invisible light-purple-on-blue color scheme.

There is a time and a place and a way to use bullet points, and a time and a place and a way not to. There is a time and a place and a way to grab a copy of any book by Edward Tufte and throw it at people presenting useless bullet points. And there is a time and a place and a way to duck.

Quack:

  • Over at BTF, philly does the math, and backs up my claim that the A’s have gotten better than average returns from their draft picks since 2002, given their draft positions.
     
  • Two Top 100 Prospect lists came out this week. The A’s had seven players on Kevin Goldstein’s list, and four on Keith Law’s list. Daric Barton, Carlos Gonzalez, Fautino de los Santos and Trevor Cahill were on both lists. Goldstein added Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, and Chris Carter.
     
  • BP’s new PECOTA projections love Huston Street. PECOTA gives Street by far the highest future UPSIDE of any relief pitcher in baseball. (Street: 108.1, Papelbon: 84.3.) Maybe Billy Beane should try to keep him around.
     
  • On the other hand, PECOTA thinks Eric Chavez’ career is almost done. It not only projects Jack Hannahan with a much higher upside than Chavez, it gives Keith Ginter a higher upside than Chavez.
     
  • PECOTA also likes Hannahan as one win better than Chavez for 2008 alone: a projected WARP of 4.4, versus 3.4 for Chavez.
     
  • PECOTA digs Daric Barton. He has the 13th best 2008 WARP, and 5th best UPSIDE among first basemen.
     
  • Mark Ellis: WARP: 6.1; UPSIDE: 116.2. Derek Jeter? 6.0 and 127.4. Roughly equal players still.