Open Thread: Simply the Best

Just 12 more sleeps until it all starts again…

The Rangers are playing the Devils, while the Knicks, Nets, and Isles all have games of their own. Enjoy the thread.

Rival GMs praising Cashman

Having the biggest budget in baseball makes life easier for a GM, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. The Yankees have had the highest payroll in baseball from 1999 through present, but didn’t win a World Series from 2001 through 2008 — the years when the Yankees really broke from the pack in terms of team salary. What happens, though, if the Yankees start to better allocate their vast resources?

In his column today, Bob Klapisch notes that the Yankees are setting themselves up to maximally use their resources for prolonged success.

In fact, there are enough baseball executives who think the Bombers are set to run off another mini-dynasty. They have the AL’s most talented roster, they have a $200 million payroll and, most importantly, they’re being run more efficiently than at any time in the last 20 years.

“I think Brian [Cashman] has learned a lot about running a team,” said one rival executive. “He’s made some mistakes, but if you go around and ask people what they think of the Yankees, the answer you’ll get is that they’re intelligently run.”

Yankees fans would surely be happy if the Yankees entered another dynasty period, but what about fans of other teams? Phil Birnbaum opines that while there’s evidence that it won’t damage the sport — he cites soccer’s Premier League, which features a small number of teams spending far more than their competitors — that there are certain fans who would turn away from the sport if the Yankees continue to make the playoffs, while the Royals and Pirates continue to toil in mediocrity.

Bonus from the Klapisch column: “[Girardi] cleared out the anti-ARod residue he’d inherited from Torre, Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi…” Hm. I can see Mussina being an anti-A-Rod guy, but Giambi? Sounds a bit odd, considering what we always heard about the guy.

To Babe on his 115th birthday

For George Herman Ruth’s legend, the last few years have been trying ones. He lost his curse in 2004, and then he lost his home after the 2008 season. Even though few baseball fans alive today can remember watching Ruth play, he still looms large over baseball history, and his larger-than-life persona looms large over the game today.

Sitting here in 2010 when players routinely smack 40 or 50 home runs a year, it’s hard to appreciate what Ruth meant and did for the game in the 1920s. His stats, even today, are incredible. He hit .342/.474/.690. Only one player has trumped his career on-base percentage, and his career slugging record outpaces the field by nearly .060 points. Albert Pujols, the top of hitter of the modern day, has slugged .628 so far, and the Babe is far, far away.

What makes Ruth stand out, though, aren’t the impressive career numbers; it’s just how far above his peers he towered. His career adjusted OPS+ was 207. When he hit 54 home runs in 1920, no other team as a whole had more than 50. The list of accomplishments just goes on and on and on. Ruth redefined baseball. He became a superstar and an icon of the game in an era of small ball.

Ruth’s 1920 season — his .376/.533/.849 year with 54 home runs — couldn’t have come at a better time for the game. As the year unfolded, the 1919 White Sox were investigated for fixing the World Series, and the fallout rocked the baseball world. The following year’s trial was just as damaging but along came Ruth. For those two years, he single-handed wowed the baseball world, and few have approached what he’s done. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa may have helped drive fans back to baseball after the 1994 strike, but Ruth invented that game while driving a scandal from the headlines. A quick glance at The Times’ archives highlights the Ruthian love, and it’s clear how he acquired his sultanship over the land of Swat.

Beyond the hitting, though, was Ruth’s pitching. Today, we forget about Babe Ruth the left-handed pitcher, but he was a top pitcher too. From 1915-1918, he served the Red Sox primarily as a starter and went 78-40 with a 2.05 ERA. His strike out and walk rates were not impressive, but he served up 0.1 home runs per 9 innings pitched. That’s an inconceivably low number today. Even the great Mariano, the active leader in that category, has allowed 0.495 home runs per 9 IP.

And so today, we salute the Babe. One hundred fifteen years ago, George was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the best, the Great Bambino, the Sultan of Swat.

Sowing some pinstripes seeds in a far-off land

For your Saturday morning reading pleasures: The Yankees go to China. Late last month, as part of baseball’s effort to penetrate the Chinese market and the Yanks’ effort to spread their franchise globally, team officials headed across the Pacific for a trip to the Far East, and Xiyun Yang of The Times’ China bureau tagged along for some of the trip. Her article is an interesting one because it captures China’s approach toward sports in a rather intriguing light. Despite the billions of people who live in China, only four million play the game there, and to most, it remains a mystery.

Still, Randy Levin and Brian Cashman dragged the World Series trophy with them to drum up interest in the sport and for good reason. As Yang notes, baseball is looking for its Yao Ming, its big Chinese superstar who will open up a very large and lucrative market. The team that finds this player will stand to benefit for years. Most of the youngsters Yang talked to seem to be rather mystified by the game, but all it will take is one person to tip the country. If that means a trip to a nation more focused on Ping Pong, badminton and the NBA than the every move of Johnny Damon, that’s just the price to be.

How well does A-Rod hit outside pitches?

Alex Rodriguez changed the narrative of his career last fall. After a few years of playoff futility, he came back with two especially huge hits: a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2 of the ALDS, and a game-tying home run in the bottom of the 11th in Game 2 of the ALCS. The first was an outside pitch about waist high, and the second was an outside pitch up in the zone.

We know A-Rod has tremendous power to the opposite field, and it’s one of the reasons he’s succeeded at Yankee Stadium, which isn’t quite as friendly to righties as lefties. But did you know that on 132 swings on pitches in the middle-outside and middle-up zones, A-Rod created negative runs in 2009? Jeremy Greenhouse of The Baseball Analysts examines how each hitter in the league fares against pitches in certain parts of the zone, and that’s what his data suggests.

There are other factors to account for, of course. This analysis does not break down the zone by pitch, so for all we know A-Rod could have fallen victim to off-speed and breaking stuff while demolishing outside fastballs. It also doesn’t give us an idea of sequence, which is helpful because a hitter is probably more likely to swing and miss, or make poor contact, on a pitch low and away if he’s been set up inside. Thankfully, pitch sequencing appears to be the next frontier. The strategy nerd in me is excited.

You can check out the article, linked above, or you can just head to the Google Doc spreadsheet. Each location resides on a different sheet, and is in order of runs created. Just one quick observation: Generally, the hitters who fared well on down and away pitches took fewer swings at them. The ones who fared poorly took a lot of swings — in Ryan Howard’s case, over three times the number of the leader in that zone, Carlos Gonzalez. Yet Ichiro took 121 swings in that zone, far more than anyone around him. The dude is just that good.

Open Thread: Rethinking the box score

We all love box scores — or, at least, I hope everyone else does. It’s going to be strange soon, having a generation of baseball fans who didn’t grow up waiting for their dads to finish reading the sports section so they could read all the box scores from the previous day. But while the actual experience will change, the box scores will not. We’ll still see them, just in pixels on instead of on paper with dried ink.

One great thing about the internet, though, is that it doesn’t have the space limitations of a newspaper. Box scores caught on because they fit a lot of data into a relatively small space, allowing papers to print them all on one page. Today we don’t have to limit ourselves to that. We can still present the box score in its original format, because people find it familiar, but we can also experiment a bit more with new was that might take up a bit more space. FanGraphs‘s WPA chart is just one example. We can post this along with the original box score, and it really doesn’t matter because we’re not limited to a certain space.

At Baseball Analysts, Dave Allen imagines a box score of his own. It’s in a linear format, like the WPA charts, but it does it in a different way. Here’s the example, though make sure you read the post for the full gist of what he’s doing. Also, click on it for a larger version.

In 2010 we plan to add more game data to our recaps. The regular box score will likely be part of that, but we also want to think about other ways we can present information from the game. If you’re so inclined, leave the comments below, and we’ll sift through and see if there are any ideas we can use. Nothing’s off-limits now that we’re not constricted by space, so think as out of the box as possible.

If you’d rather just BS, well, that’s why this is an open thread. Toronto visits the Devils, the Nets are in Boston, and Milwaukee plays the Knicks at the Garden.

A-Rod’s 500th home run ball sells for $103,579

One day, maybe I’ll have this kind of money to spend on a baseball. Alex Rodriguez‘s 500th home run sold in an anonymous online auction last night for $103,579. I’m wondering the same thing as Big League Stew’s Kevin Kaduk: did A-Rod himself buy the ball? He earned $28.5 million that year, $27 million in salary and a $1.5 million bonus for winning his third MVP award under the old contract. The ball would have cost him four-tenths of a percent of his salary that season. At that point, why not?