ASK ROTOMAN: Does Sizemore Matter?

Dear Rotoman,

What are your thoughts on Grady Sizemore?

“Thinking Along”

Dear Thinking,

In the Fantasy Baseball Guide 2013 we ran profiles of both Grady and Scott Sizemore. With Grady we noted his three microfracture surgeries, his possible timetable of a midseason return, and said it was best to have no expectations. Scott Sizemore was expected to be healthy after surgery to repair his ACL, which he tore in 2012. $3 I said, for the As third baseman. But Scott Sizemore again tore his ACL in the second game, thus ending his 2013 season. Meanwhile, there was no sign of Grady. Which is why I decided to scratch both of them from the 2014 Guide. Oops.

Now they’re back. Scott Sizemore is competing with the equally back-from-the-dead second baseman Brian Roberts for the Yankees job at second base. And Grady is trying out with the Red Sox, ostensibly to serve as their fourth outfielder.

Here are the knocks on Grady. He hasn’t played a full season since 2008. He was passably productive (.788 OPS) in 503 plate appearances in 2009, and has been ineffectual when not not playing since. That’s a lot of down time. But Grady was a finely conditioned athlete (see illustration), and presumably hasn’t shirked on the upper body while rehabbing his knees.

Screenshot 2014-03-14 09.34.43Still, keeping muscle tone (and this isn’t a recent selfie, this is from 2009) is easier when you’re 31 (turns 32 in August) than it is to keep your bat speed and timing. Especially after years of not facing real pitching. Which isn’t to say he can’t do it.

I was skeptical last year of Victor Martinez coming back effectively after a year off. I could find little evidence of other hitters at his age missing a full year and becoming effective regulars again. Martinez, of course, did just fine. History is a guide, not a destiny.

So, Sizemore has age on his side, but has essentially missed his entire prime to injury. He lands on the post-prime part of his career with a history that offers only caution and hope. It would be nice if he regained some of his career, wouldn’t it?

The nice thing for fantasy players is that he’s a late-round low-cost flyer at this point. Skepticism is damping down his price, while there is a real chance for playing time if Jackie Bradley Jr. doesn’t grab hold of the starting job or someone gets hurt. That could mean real value if Sizemore can actually play.

The problem, of course, is that he’s a low contact high-walk-and-strikeout type of player, which means in a BA league he’s likely to hurt you in that category. He’s had a little power, and maybe will add to that, as guys often do as they move into their 30s. What made him specially valuable back in his glory days were his legs, but since they’ve been the motor of his downfalling, don’t count on big steals numbers. Still, you have to think that if he’s going to make the team as a backup centerfielder that the legs will be healed.

I haven’t put a projection in the software at this point because really? If you made me I’d say 300 AB, .235 BA, .350 OBP, 10 HR and 5 SB. I’d pay a buck for the chance that works out. I’d use a 23rd round pick in AL only. I wouldn’t assume any mixed league value.

I would also wonder why I thought an obvious bad pun was a good idea for a headline?

Seismically,
Rotoman

MLBPA Is Threatened By A-Rod Case

Ken Rosenthal has an excellent piece out today at Fox Sports.

He alludes to something I have long thought had gotten lost in the long history of baseball and PEDs: The union’s opposition to drug testing back in the 90s. The story is usually told that the union looked the other way, or resisted baseball’s efforts (especially in the early part of the decade) to get or stay clean. But this  simply isn’t true.

Peter_Ueberroth
Peter Ueberroth

The union’s resistance to drug testing and other enforcement procedures was based on its obligation to protect player rights, as well as a profound lack of trust in the owners. Remember that this period coincides with the massive triple-damages award in the collusion ruling against MLB and Peter Ueberroth (based on their 1985-1987 efforts stifle the free agent market).

This was also the time of the run up to the owner’s massive (and failed) attempt to crack the union by shutting down baseball in midseason in 1994.

Oh, and this was also when George Steinbrenner accepted a “lifetime” ban from the game because he had hired a whole lot of shadiness to try to extract himself from his obligations to Dave Winfield by tarnishing Winfield’s reputation.

The union’s position that ownership could not be trusted was well earned.

In the A-Rod case, as Rosenthal points out, MLB sued Biogenesis owner Tony Bosch in order to pressure him to testify against A-Rod. Whether they could have won that case is doubtful, but there is no doubt that Bosch was in no position to pay for a defense. This is the place where the player’s union could have stepped in to protect not only A-Rod but all players’ rights, but declined. Rosenthal writes:

“Rodriguez’s legal team could have made its case without attacking Weiner, who died of brain cancer on Nov. 21. But one of the team’s central points – that the union should have acted to stop baseball from its “sham” lawsuit against Biogenesis – is a fair criticism, particularly in hindsight.”

But Rosenthal also points out the bind that the union was in. On first blush, a countersuit would certainly have looked like they were defending drug use, just as history says they were defending it back in the 90s when they were trying to protect against just such a situation with MLB running over player rights.

The silver lining for A-Rod (and could the union have had the foresight to defend him by going at it this way?) is that perhaps his only chance of winning his lawsuit against MLB is to show that his union failed to represent him competently.

Recommended: The Steroid Hunt by Bryan Curtis

Writing in Grantland, Curtis presents a long but very readable survey of the press coverage of baseball’s steroid era, starting in 1988 (with Jose Canseco, of course, defended by Tony La Russa), through accusations against Mark McGwire in 2002, defended by Tony La Russa), and up to McGwire’s confession in 2010.

You can read it here.

There is something of a who knew and when did they know it aspect to this whole thing. After writing about Murray Chass the other day I spent some time looking into when Chass started writing about steroids in the Times. On March 31, 2002 Chass wrote:

“Finally, some people in baseball suggest an unspoken factor has fueled the home run generation — the use of steroids and other supplements, such as the androstenedione that McGwire used during his record-setting year. No one has accused any particular player, and one person who felt certain of the contribution of steroids acknowledged that he had no proof.

But this person said, ”You don’t get bigger overnight pumping iron.”

But Chass also wrote quite a bit about androstenedione, which McGwire was taking during his record-setting home run battle with Sammy Sosa in 1998. After that revelation by a reporter who saw the legal supplement (that was already banned then by the NFL and the Olympics) in McGwire’s locker, baseball launched an investigation into the steroids precursor.

The Sweeny Plan, Spelled Correctly

Bruce Buschel sings the ballad of Hugh Sweeny, the legendary roto player whose spot I slithered into in the American Dream League, many moons ago.

Rob Neyer on McGwire

Here’s Rob’s piece.

My opinion about PEDs has changed over the last five years or so. Some of that has been because I learned more about the PEDs, and in large part it is because I saw the way the athletes accused and convicted of PEDs use reacted. Badly, of course. The trials and investigations and testimony all helped show that the players knew where the guilt was, even when naifs like me were defending them.

So, we had our villain. Finally.

Of course, when I put it that way I start to get all wishy washy again. This really isn’t a story of villains and, presumably, heroes, but rather a story of lots of similar but not identical people undergoing pressures that are similar but not identical. Talk about the despicable union protecting the drug takers ignores the many actions over the years by the owners to control the players and limit their compensation. In this context the slow to emerge drug rules reflect ownership’s desire to get an upper hand on the players, and the players (union) protecting their privacy and civil rights.

In any case, I don’t think McGwire is the hard Hall of Fame case. Even with his spectacular power accomplishments, he’s not a clear cut Hall of Famer. Discount him for PED usage and it’s easy to keep him off any HOF list. Bonds and Clemens are the real deal, on the other hand, Hall of Famers before they took the drugs. The big question is whether their induction will open the door to the boderline cases like McGwire.

Dock Ellis’s No Hitter on Acid Cartoon

Ellis tells the story, James Blagden and Chris Isenberg animate it. There is fun, and there are drugs.

What Happens to a Lifetime Ban When the Guy is Dead?

Most Valuable Network

I like this argument about punishment and forgiveness when it comes to the Hall of Fame. It helps me frame the argument in a different way.

How to Win at Rotisserie Baseball author Les Leopold’s book on Fantasy Finance

I’ve mentioned my friend Les Leopold’s book, The Looting of America, here before. But a review at toomuchonline.com, does a better job than I can recommending the book and explaining what it has to do with fantasy baseball. I copy the whole thing here because the website doesn’t seem to offer permalinks to individual pages. Forgive me:

Can a Book on Derivatives Be Delightful?

Les Leopold, The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009. 220 pp.

Great teachers love metaphors. To help learners grasp the unfamiliar, great teachers — like Les Leopold, the founder of the respected Labor Institute in New York — latch on to realities students already understand. Leopold has been using metaphors, for decades, to help working men and women understand how our economy really works.

But two years ago, amid the gathering Wall Street storms, Leopold suddenly realized that, as a teacher, he really didn’t understand the high-finance “innovations” just then beginning to crash into the headlines, the CDOs and the swaps, the tranches and the quants.

So Leopold set about to educate himself on Wall Street’s innards, and now he’s sharing what he has learned — in an energizing and remarkably entertaining new book,The Looting of America.

The book’s core, perhaps not surprisingly, revolves around a delightfully insightful metaphor. If you really want to comprehend how Wall Street has melted down our economy, Leopold suggests, give a look to fantasy baseball.

In fantasy baseball, groups of baseball fans create their own “teams” and stock them with players they pick from lists of real-life baseball players. If the players you pick for your fantasy team do well on the real-life baseball diamond — if they hit lots of homers, for instance — your fantasy team will do well.

Your fantasy team, in effect, “derives” value from real baseball. You have no actual relationship to this real baseball. But you can still make money, playing fantasy baseball, if the real-life players you pick for your fantasy team put up better numbers than the players your fantasy league competitors pick.

“In effect,” explains Leopold, “you are speculating on the stats derived from real major league players, but those players don’t know they’re playing on your team.”

This same sort of speculation, over recent years, has been driving Wall Street. We have “fantasy finance.” Bankers and traders have created a sticky global web of “derivatives” — collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, and more — that bear the same relationship to the “real” economy as fantasy baseball bears to real balls and strikes.

In the “old” days, bankers and traders bought and sold claims to real things. Owning a stock entitled you to a stake in a real enterprise. Holding a mortgage gave you a claim to an actual home. In fantasy finance, bankers and traders don’t have to hold a claim on anything real. They buy and sell financial products that only “derive” their value from real economic activity.

Bankers, for instance, can sell you a “derivative” that will rise in value if the price of oil goes up. They don’t have to own any oil to sell you this derivative. They can create derivatives based on anything.

But the fantasy baseball metaphor, Leopold notes, only takes us so far. Fantasy baseball players don’t claim they’re “improving” baseball. And they can’t cause any great damage either. If baseball players go out on strike, fantasy baseball leagues simply grind to a halt. No big deal.

Fantasy finance, by contrast, involves trillions of dollars. And the players of fantasy finance have spent decades insisting that these trillions help our economy by “spreading economic risk.” In fact, their derivatives ended up concentrating risk — and wrecking the economy.

At the root of all this fantasy: the concentration of America’s income and wealth that began in the 1970s. With so much money in so few pockets, our real economy couldn’t offer enough lucrative opportunities for the investor class. Wealthy investors would find those opportunities in fantasy finance.

The Looting of America traces how all this unfolded with clarity, wit, and patience. And hope. The bank bailouts and partial federal takeovers we’ve so far seen, Leopold points out, do help clarify the “fateful choices” we now face.

“We can hold onto and supervise the semi-socialized financial sector,” he notes, “or we can return the entire banking system to private investors. We can enact policies that allow workers’ real wages to rise. Or we can keep the wealth flowing upward to the super rich. We can put limits on financial engineering, or we can wait and see what the next orgy of fantasy finance does to our economy.”

Crucial choices. Thanks to Les Leopold, many more of us will understand them.

–The Council on Public and International Affairs

Evil and Boras

Joe Posnanski

The always excellent Posnanski looks at an incident in the A-Rod book having to do with Scott Boras, and shows how the way our mindsets predispose us to play Boras as the villain, even though author Selena Roberts (maybe inadvertantly) sprinkles the stories with clues that suggest the Mariners were behaving the way Boras claimed they were. That is badly.

At the start of the piece Posnanski says he isn’t commenting on the main aspects of the book because he’s friends with Roberts, and anyway there is plenty of discussion out there, which stirs up a hornet nest in the comments that is interesting in its own right.

And, among other things, there is also a discussion about whether rising ticket prices are the result of higher salaries. One poster suggests, though he admits he can’t prove it, that if all salaries were cut in half, surely ticket prices would be cut, too. Why?

If prices are set by supply (x number of tickets) and demand (how much people are willing to pay), you would have to prove that cutting salaries would either increase the supply of tickets or decrease the demand. I don’t see how either happens.

One factor, if the players make less maybe the owners would make so much that they would be shamed into reducing prices. Except we only know how much the players make. We don’t know how much the owners make, so how can they be shamed?