February 2009

“Odd Man Out”: OC Weekly Interview

OC Weekly, an alternative weekly magazine here in Orange County, has posted a review of Odd Man Out. Click Here to read the review, written by reporter Matt Coker.

A warning — OC Weekly has no problem with publishing R-rated language, so if you’re sensitive to such things you may not want to read it. The review does excerpt some of the more explicit passages I’ve written about.

Click Here to read all blog articles about Odd Man Out.

Splitting Kendry Morales

Kendry Morales
Kendry Morales

 

First base is Kendry Morales’ job to lose this year, so sabermetricians are spinning their statistical heads trying to prove he’s the next big bust.

Sam Miller at the Orange County Register, who’s doing quite a nice job breathing fresh air into the paper’s Angels coverage, posted a blog entry on February 25 reporting that a formula concocted by Baseball Prospectus writer Nate Silver called PECOTA predicts that in 2009 Morales will post an AVG/OBP/SLG of .253/.295/.389.

Part of the denigration, Sam writes, is due to PECOTA trying to adjust for Triple-A Salt Lake’s hitting friendly environment.

What PECOTA knows is that Morales has spent most of his minor league career in extreme hitting environments. It adjusts his minor league numbers to Major League Equivalent numbers. Going from Salt Lake City (elevation: 4226), in the Pacific Coast League, to the majors strips Morales’ numbers of most of their shine.

For instance, his .341/.376/.543 Salt Lake line of 2008 translates to .262/.297/.422 in the majors. The first line looks like a star; the second line doesn’t deserve a starting job in the majors. Giving credibility to PECOTA’s translations, Morales has hit a very similar .249/.302/.408 in 307 real major league at bats, which gives us more reason to be suspicious.

To quote Shakespeare, “Ay, there’s the rub.”

If you’re a regular reader of my blogs, you know I’m hard on statheads, and this is one reason why. They look for macro-trends and then apply them in individual examples, which is the lazy way out. What they should be doing is analysis of the individual player.

I’ve written many articles in the last couple years about how to properly analyze Salt Lake players. You don’t just look at home/road split, or the nonsensical Major League Equivalent formula.

In the PCL, there are five hitter-friendly parks — Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, and Tucson. So what you do is look at a player’s performance in those five parks versus the rest of the league.

It requires a little bit of effort, namely collecting the game-by-game data in a year for a player, then sorting them into “hitter-friendly” versus the rest.

I spent a half-hour last night looking at Kendry’s splits for 2007 and 2008. Here’s what I found (AVG/OBP/SLG):

2007 (Age 24):
OVERALL: .341/.385/.486 (255 AB)
HITTER-FRIENDLY: .359/.406/.503 (181 AB)
THE REST: .297/.342/.446 (74 AB)

2008 (Age 25):
OVERALL: .341/.376/.543 (317 AB)
HITTER-FRIENDLY: .323/.362/.494 (164 AB)
THE REST: .359/.404/.595 (153 AB)

2007 is what you’d expect, better numbers in the hitter-friendly parks. But in 2008, Morales had much better numbers in the neutral/pitcher-friendly parks!

I checked those 2008 numbers looking for any mistake I may have made, but it looks legitimate. And the sample size is about the same for both groups (164 vs. 153 AB).

So does this mean that Morales is a future Hall of Famer?

Of course not.

But what it does show is that off-the-shelf statistical formulas designed for fantasy leagues are no substitute for context.

If Morales had posted that .359/.404/.595 line in a neutral park instead of Salt Lake, he might not have been dismissed so easily by the calculator crowd.

The Register‘s Angels blog is becoming quite the place to be. Sam and the paper’s other sports writers participate all day long, interacting with readers. Click Here to read the blog and join in the fun.

“Odd Man Out”: New Haven Advocate Review

The New Haven Advocate has posted a review of Odd Man Out. Click Here to read the review.

New Haven is where McCarthy’s college baseball career played out at Yale.

Reviewer Craig Fehrman makes this interesting observation:

(“I lied” seems to be the most common phrase in Odd Man Out as McCarthy feigns everything from bad report cards to a love of Chris Rock.)

Given the mounting allegations that parts of the book are untrue, that observation should be given some weight.

Bobby Jenks Minor League Jerseys on eBay

Bobby Jenks Arkansas Photo Bobby Jenks Rancho Cucamonga Photo

 

Because I’m unemployed, I’m putting out to bid some items from my collection.

Now on eBay are two jerseys worn by Bobby Jenks during the 2002 season. He split the year between Arkansas and Rancho Cucamonga. Both jerseys were autographed by Bobby after the 2002 season, when I caught up with him at Arizona Fall League.

Click Here to view the auction.

How to Write a Memoir Without Trashing Your Teammates

Rex Hudler
Rex Hudler

 

Angels broadcaster and former major league infielder Rex Hudler has written a memoir called Splinters. You can read more about Rex and his book at www.rexhudler.com.

The Orange County Register has a review by columnist Jeff Miller. Unlike some recently published player memoirs, Hudler chose not to go the low road. Miller writes:

His recently released memoir “Splinters” isn’t a tell-all, only a tell-some, and all the tales center on Hudler, who, as a player, liked to describe himself as being “bootleg” and, as a writer, says his favorite author is Dr. Seuss.

Some people would prefer to read trash about successful players because they think it makes that player no more successful than they are. Personally, I’d rather read a book by someone whose positive attitude made him a success, rather than dwelling on others’ inadequacies.

Bees Owner Larry H. Miller Dies at 64

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Salt Lake Bees owner Larry H. Miller died today at age 64. He was better known as the owner of the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

“Odd Man Out”: BronxBanterBlog.com Interview

BronxBanterBlog.com has an extensive interview with Matt McCarthy, author of Odd Man Out.

Click Here to read the interview.

A couple Q&A’s of interest:

BB: Can you talk about the arrested development of the clubhouse culture. How do boys become men in that world?

MM: See: Kotchman, Tom. The Angels are very fortunate to have Kotchman. He could easily be a big league manager but instead he’s chosen to coach a rookie ball team. He’s able to influence players who’ve just signed very large (and very small) contracts and instill in them a culture of winning and for that the franchise owes him a large debt of gratitude. I don’t know if there are many guys like him still around, but I hope there are. That lucky charm of his — a large black ***** with two baseballs glued to the base — is something I’ll never forget. And the same is true of his Andrew Dice Clay impression. I’ve been out of baseball for six years and I still think about the Dice Man. He’s mentioned in recent interviews that he’s planning to retire from coaching sometime soon to become a full time scout. As I say in the book, I hope he reconsiders.

BB: Can you explain your relationship with your pitching coaches. How much input did they give you? How much were you left to figure things out on your own? And were players in your position in a much different spot than say a top prospect?

MM: Minor league pitching coaches have a difficult job. They’re working with players who have been very successful doing things their own way, and many are hesitant to make major changes to their mechanics. I had a funky delivery and wasn’t particularly interested in trying out new deliveries against the best hitters I had ever faced. But I was fortunate to have an excellent pitching coach, Kernan Ronan, who went to great lengths to explain his pitching philosophy and I think it’s why he was able to connect with so many of his players. He was also wise enough to append any suggestion with the disclaimer that “ultimately this is your career, and you have to decide what’s right for you.”

BB: You are out of the game now. Are you worried at all about the responses the book might get from some of the players?

MM: I’m in touch with a handful of guys from the organization and several have said they are disappointed that they’re not featured more prominently in the book. I’m sure others won’t feel that way.

BB: Who do you think might be upset?

MM: It’s no secret that I’m most critical of other pitchers in the book- particularly the left-handed pitchers. If a position player hit a home run, my first thought was, “Hey, good for him,” but if a left-handed pitcher struck out the side, my first thought was, “what does this mean for my career?” We used to joke about the half-hearted high-fives that guys competing for the same position would give each other.

Click here to see other FutureAngels.com Blog posts about Odd Man Out.

Two Men in Blue

Gil Stratton and Cece Carlucci
Former Pacific Coast League umpires Gil Stratton and Cece Carlucci attended the 2008 APBPA banquet.

 

Dick Beverage of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America gave me the above photo of Gil Stratton and Cece Carlucci, two members who passed away within the last year.

Gil Stratton was known to generations of Los Angeles television viewers as the sports reporter for The Big News on KNXT (now KCBS Channel 2). But his career was so much more than that. He also umpired in the old Pacific Coast League, and had a career as an actor. Stratton played Cookie in the 1953 movie Stalag 17; his character narrated the story.

Stratton passed away last October in Toluca Lake at age 86 from congestive heart failure.

Cece Carlucci was one of the more prominent umpires in the long history of the old PCL. He was one of the umpires during perhaps the most infamous brawl in PCL history. On August 2, 1953, the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels went at it for a full 30 minutes before the LAPD restored control. Click Here to read about the brawl, including photos of that event.

Carlucci was inducted in the PCL Hall of Fame in 2003. He passed away last September at age 90 from cancer.

The 2009 APBPA banquet was February 7. Click Here to watch video of the event. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required.

The New FutureAngels.com Banner

The 2009 FutureAngels.com home page banner

 

The new banner is up on the FutureAngels.com web site for the 2009 season.

Who are the depicted players?

The 2008 banner had Angels minor leaguers who were now with the parent club. This year, I wanted to do something a little different. Most minor leaguers will never make the big leagues, players you’ve never heard of and will never hear about again.

At the same time, I wanted to honor Angels’ minor league history. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been writing about the history of the Statesville Owls, one of only two minor league teams the Angels had in their inaugural 1961 season.

The photo on the left is of George Conrad, who was an Owls pitcher that year. Conrad was 11-7 that year for Statesville with a 3.21 ERA. He struck out 172 in 168 innings — but also walked 116.

The next photo is of catcher Angel Diaz with the Butte Copper Kings in 1998. Signed by Tom Kotchman, Diaz was an organizational catcher who worked at every level in the system, including Triple-A Salt Lake in 2001. Organizational catchers lead a nomadic life, but they’re invaluable because they provide depth at a critical position.

Joe Urso is second from the right, holding the bat. He’s depicted with the Boise Hawks in 1992, his first professional season. Urso was in the organization as a player through 1997, when he became a coach and later a manager. Joe was listed at 5’7″ but there are those who will allege that’s a stretch, pun intended … He was the endless butt of “short” jokes but incredibly popular. The Lake Elsinore Storm fans loved him so much that he was nicknamed “The Mayor.” Urso’s #7 was retired by the Storm a few years back. He’s currently the head coach at University of Tampa, his alma mater.

Mark McLemore is the player on the right. He’s wearing the uniform of the 1983 Peoria Suns in the Midwest League. Mark was only 18 at the time; his AVG/OBP/SLG that year were .240/.346/.280. Despite that total absence of power, he managed to play his way to the majors, starting full-time for the Angels at second base in 1987. His career ended in 2004 at age 39 with the Oakland A’s, having notched nineteen seasons in the big leagues.

I’ve been collecting card sets for Angels minor league teams when and where I can find them. Some are incredibly expensive, not necessarily because of the players in the set but just that they’re rare. They’re a reminder of just how hideous minor league uniforms can be (e.g. Peoria). Sometimes you find cards for mascots, club executives, local personalities, sponsors, etc. Many of them are in black-and-white until the mid-1980s or so.

When I started doing photography for the minor league teams in 1998, one complaint I heard over and over again from the players was that they wanted action shots on their trading cards, not the posed photos. Every once in a while, I’ll find a card where the player posed irreverently for his picture. Pitcher Jarrod Washburn posed as a batter. Right-handed hitting Tim Salmon posed as a left-handed batter. Ron “Papa Jack” Jackson posed with an unknown beverage in his hand.

Hmmm, maybe next year’s banner should be all gag shots …

“Odd Man Out”: USA Today Interview

USA Today has an interview with Matt McCarthy, author of Odd Man Out, the controversial book about the 2002 Provo Angels. Click Here to read the article.

Two Q&A’s from the article:

Are you anticipating getting a phone call from any of these guys who you call out in the book — from Tom Kotchman to Erick Aybar?

I don’t know how they’re going to respond to the book. I just don’t know. I look forward to seeing how they’re going to respond. But I haven’t heard anything.

Are you anxious about how some of the incidents you recount are going to be received? From the lurid incident with Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo with the hot dogs or Tom Kotchman’s replacement of the rally monkey with something a little more X-rated?

You know, I just wanted to provide an unvarnished account of what it was really like. This was going on. I don’t have an axe to grind. I loved my time playing with the Provo Angels and the Angels organization. I thought it was an interesting time in baseball where you had this infusion of talent from Latin America and these guys were struggling with their new lot in life, just as I was.

Click here to see other FutureAngels.com Blog posts about Odd Man Out.

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