Wednesday, September 27, 2006

T.O. tries to commit suicide!

Just fucking with you. Go watch ESPN, I have nothing to add to this circus. Actually, neither do they. In fact, why are you still watching ESPN? Yeah okay, because you're hoping that one day Chris Berman will simply melt into a shapeless pile of goo in his chair. Me too. I bet it'll smell like rancid ranch dressing. Berman on one side, Michael Irvin on the other. Tom Jackson must have raped nuns in his former life.

Quick apology, directed at anyone who was on the road with me on Monday night, around 11:15PM. I was listening to Monday Night Football on the radio, and one of the announcers was talking about some football pick-'em league he was in and how he was doing really poorly in it. I think he was a former player, I'm not positive. Maybe a coach. Anyway, he said something like this (this is, obviously, a major paraphrase): "Now that I'm away from the game, I'm having a hard time picking the winners. If I was down in the locker room (like, presumably, he was on a regular basis before he was a "broadcaster") I could pick all the games easily, but up here it's a lot more difficult."

So, to all those people on the road, I wasn't yelling at you. Nor having a nervous breakdown. Mostly. I was simply yelling at my radio. I may have punched it too - I blacked out, so I can't really remember. If he.....was in the locker room......he could pick the games easily. You know what, let's just move on. My eye's starting to twitch again.'s almost the end of the baseball season. Half of the races are still in play - the AL Central (a watered-down race, since both teams are in the playoffs anyway), the NL West, NL Wild Card and NL Central (where the Cardinals are pulling a '64 Phillies right before our eyes. Or, in the vernacular of Bill Simmons, if you happen to be him, a "Mischa Barton right before she left 'The O.C.'"). But what this time of year is really about, assuming of course you're an Orioles fan and the races stopped having much meaning around May 15, is taking stock of individual seasons - MVP and Cy Young debates, interesting counting stats acheived by players on crappy teams, things of that nature. Yes, that was a lazy fucking segue.

Alfonso Soriano, playing for the other terrible Washington-area team, has posted a .281/.355/.569 this year. He also became a part of the 40-40 club, and is the first in that group to throw in 40 doubles. It's the best season of his career, and reverses a downward slide he had been in since his previous high-point of 2002. It's also come in the hitter-unfriendly environment of RFK Stadium, which is an important point that will be mostly overlooked.

(In my best comic book tone): Meanwhile, on the other side of the country.....

D'Angelo Jimenez is now playing for the Oakland A's, having been dumped midseason by the Texas Rangers. He signed a minor league contract with them, and looks to fill Bobby Crosby's roster spot at least through the ALDS. Jimenez has hit .203/.329/.305 in 59 at-bats this year, and his career hangs by a thread. He is at least 28 (and he's Dominican, so there is at least some chance that he's older) and he'll probably never see another job as a starter in the major leagues.

In 1999, the two prospects in the Yankee farm system that were talked about most by outside teams in terms of trades were Alfonso Soriano and D'Angelo Jimenez. Both were middle infielders and were considered, at the time, to be potential major league shortstops who were blocked at that position at the major league level by Derek Jeter. On January 24, 2000, Jimenez was driving a car in the Dominican Republic that collided with a bus. He suffered a broken neck and missed the entire 2000 season. He came back in 2001 but was traded midseason to the Padres for Jay Witasick, and became a nomad. Meanwhile, Soriano became the Yankees' regular 2nd baseman in 2001, supplanting human t-shirt cannon Chuck Knoblauch, finished 3rd in the ROY voting and has been a starter for one team or another ever since. He was nothing short of a sensation in 2002, missing 40-40 that year by one single home run, and was considered good enough in 2004 to be traded, essentially straight up, for Alex Rodriguez.

The thing though, is that between about 1999 and 2001, when both players' careers were still very much a matter of speculation, just about any prognosticator you would talk to believed that Jimenez would have the better career. Soriano's plate discipline was fairly terrible, whereas Jimenez's was good. Soriano had slightly more power, but his fielding was worse and he's almost two years older than Jimenez. It was thought that Jimenez would grow into his power, as players his age often do, and that Soriano would find the going a lot tougher at the major league level once pitchers realized he'd swing at anything they offered. Even today, Soriano remains something of a hacker (although he nearly doubled his walk rate this year, which may be a cause of his career year or merely a side-effect), and Jimenez's plate discipline never abandoned him. But Soriano can rake, and Jimenez can't, and that is the difference between being on the verge of cashing a huge free agent contract and being picked up off waivers by the A's.

It would be silly to discount the effect of the crash in the divergent careers of these two players. Something like that is no doubt traumatic, and forces a player to readjust to playing professional baseball. Lingering effects of the injury may manifest themselves in ways that directly affect a player's performance. Perhaps if Jimenez hadn't hit that bus he'd now be the guy with the 40-40 season. But the fact remains that people, sabermetric nerds primarily but also mainstream writers, thought Soriano would wash out, or at best be a Brian Jordan type player, someone with the ability to put up a good year or two but who would mostly be mediocre. Obviously, he's been a lot better than that. And Jimenez was supposed to be Miguel Tejada, and he's turned into Tony Graffanino.

I can only speculate, but I suspect there is something beyond the car accident in play here. Something fundamental to the way players improve with experience, and why projecting players who have yet to play in the majors is far from an exact science. Maybe Soriano is smarter and is able to process information better, which allows him to take more information away from each at-bat. Or maybe he received better instruction than Jimenez did, or more of it. Maybe Soriano has a better work ethic. Gary Templeton had all the talent in the world, but apparently he was lazy to the point that it hindered his ability to improve - something that's rare in the world of pro athletes, who generally have to work incredibly hard to get to the point they're at. I don't know, but the point is this - numbers are a fine indicator of what a player will be. They're certainly better than "he's a natural leader" or "he's got the red ass" or "he looks hot in his pants". But they only tell part of the story, and projecting from them into the future will always be an inexact science, no matter how finely they can be parsed. People who read Moneyball, and are smart, and who don't think it was written by a computer named Billy Beane always say this - numbers are an important tool that an organization would be foolish to ignore. But they aren't meant to supplant scouting, despite what the luddites like Little Joe think. They are meant to be used side by side, because numbers can't tell you things like how hard a guy works, or whether he cares more about chasing girls than learning how to recognize a change-up. And those things can cause a player to sink or swim, just like a lack of plate discipline.


Blogger David Bowie said...

Jay Witasick was terrible.

The other heralded Yankee prospect from this time was Nick Johnson, and he has turned out very well, though often injured (as in just the other day). I can see Angelos signing Soriano, by the way, and it won't be pretty.

Wed Sep 27, 09:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Craig said...

I'm way more optimistic about Soriano's future right now than I ever was at any point in the past, but I'm positive that he will be overpaid by some club, and the O's can nary afford to throw their money at someone like him. The fit that would seem to make a lot of sense is the Mets.

Wed Sep 27, 11:06:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Major Kong said...

The only question is: what position will he play in the future? I figure he probably will stick in the outfield, but if he ever moves back to second that would let some team run a really special lineup out, albeit with poor defense.

Thu Sep 28, 10:59:00 AM EDT  

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