Archive for January, 2006

Angels, Anaheim square off over team name chage

For nearly a year, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have borne the brunt of many baseball jokes. Why don’t they add a few more cities to their name? Or why don’t other teams adopt some more cities? The Brooklyn Dodgers of Los Angeles, anyone?

For the last year, while everyone else has laughed at the utter ridiculously of this marketing gimmick, the City of Anaheim hasn’t been in on the joke. In fact, the City of Anaheim – a distinct municipality with Orange County in California – has been so incensed by this slight that they took Moreno to court.

This week the lawsuit between the Angels and Anaheim got underway, and so far, it’s been an lesson on how not to make friends conducted by Moreno.

Last year, when Moreno announced the name change, his intentions were clear. The Angels had long played second fiddle to Dodgers, their neighbors 30 miles to the north. While Los Angeles and Anaheim are two distinct entities in one giant urban sprawl, Moreno played upon the sprawl perception and adopted the Los Angeles moniker in front of the Angels.

But Moreno couldn’t completely omit Anaheim from the name. According to the lease signed by Disney, the then-owners of the Angels, and the City of Anaheim a few years ago, the city agreed to kick in $20 million for stadium renovations as long as Anaheim appeared somewhere in the team’s name.

The question at issue now is whether or not the current name with its convoluted structure adheres to that deal. Based on recent testimony in the case, this is one contest the Angels probably won’t win.

Over the last few days, the Angels have relied on a strategy designed to show that they have not broken the contract stipulating that the team name “include the name Anaheim therein.” The official team name is still the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

However, the official name and the actions of the team’s owner seem to be at odds. Nearly every mention of Anaheim is absent from team merchandise, and earlier this year, Moreno sent a memo to the other Major League Baseball teams asking them to refer to the team as being from Los Angeles instead of from Anaheim.

During his testimony this week, Moreno put on an exhibition of how not to win over friends in Anaheim. At one point, he noted that the name changed was focused around drawing fans from the “L.A. media market.” In doing so, he compared the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to the New York Yankees and Mets. Those two teams don’t pay homage to the Bronx and Queens respectively; why should he pay homage to Anaheim?

Of course, what Moreno failed to mention contains a little lesson in geography. The Bronx and Queens are part of New York City while Anaheim is part of the O.C. It’s not a borough in Los Angeles; it’s not a suburb of Los Angeles; and in fact, it’s a good 30 miles away from Los Angeles. The New York Jets and Giants of New Jersey are closer to their namesake than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are to theirs.

While Moreno stands by his decision that keeping Anaheim in the name, albeit on a second-tier basis, is within the letter of the lease, the City of Anaheim is relying on testimony from the original framers of the lease to show that Moreno is in fact breaking the terms of the lease. Last week, the city called upon Tony Tavares, the president of the Angels in 1996 who negotiated the lease with the city officials.

During his testimony, Tavares said that team officials promised city officials that Anaheim would appear prominently in marketing and print coverage around the country. The spirit of the phrase “include the name Anaheim therein” was supposed to be an all-encompassing term covering the team and its relationship to the city. It was not meant to be the literal phrase Moreno has interpreted it to be.

This argument may or may not be enough to convince jurors. Moreno, in rebutting Tavares’ testimony, wondered why the city couldn’t get a guarantee of the name Anaheim Angels built into the lease. The response focused around Michael Eisner’s original intent to call the team the Mighty Angels of Anaheim, a worse name than the one they have now.

So far, it’s unclear whose reasoning will hold up in court. But it is clear that Moreno’s antagonism isn’t going to win him many converts in a City that has tried to distance itself from Los Angeles in an effort to establish an identity outside of Disneyland.

In the end, at the heart of this matter is whether or not the name change hurts tourism in Anaheim. While the Angels have benefited from a closer association with Los Angeles, what has this negligence done to Anaheim? A jury could end up awarding the city nearly $100 million in damages.

As this saga plays out, it will be interesting to see the response of the city if the Angels win. One thing is clear: Cities, already wary of public financing for stadiums, will be driving harder bargains to maintain geographic ties with teams receiving their welfare.

Of course, one way out of this sticky mess could just be for the Angels to adopt a Spanish name. If they called themselves Los Angeles de Anaheim, everyone would win.

Padres shouldn’t expect much from Piazza

The Padres filled one of their big holes this weekend, signing former Mets poster boy Mike Piazza to a one-year deal with options.

Piazza will have the opportunity to catch as much as he wants, and according to the Associated Press, the 12-time All Star hopes to catch 100 games while DHing during interleague play and getting a few innings in at first base.

The Padres, meanwhile, are constructing their lineup around Piazza next season. According to FoxSport’s Ken Rosenthal, Piazza will clean up in San Diego. But will he be any good?

Last season, for the Mets, Piazza was fairly good. In the weak field of NL catchers, Piazza had a 25.1 VORP, good for third highest. In 442 plate appearances, Piazza 19 home runs for the Mets but with a career-low OBP of .326 and a career-low slugging percentage of .452. Behind the plate, Piazza was abysmal, throwing out just 13 of 95 would-be base stealers for a Major League-worst caught stealing percentage of 13.7.

In San Diego, however, Piazza doesn’t stand to be any better, and in fact, he should be noticeably worse. PETCO Park, the Padres’ home field, is infamous for being a pitcher’s park. In fact, PETCO is a killer on right-handed batters. Last season, its home run index was 51 for right-handed batters. In other words, it was 49 percent harder to hit home runs in PETCO than in the rest of the parks in the National League.

Last year, playing in Shea Stadium, with an RHB-HR index of 86, Piazza hit 10 home runs at home in 202 at-bats. If he gets the same 202 at-bats in PETCO, it’s reasonable to estimate that Piazza would hit about 5 or 6 home runs. His doubles will decrease too. Additionally, PETCO’s Batting Average index is a 91, compared with 101 for Shea. Piazza, a lifetime .311/.382/.555 hitter, may very well hit .240 next year with an OBP under .320. Vinny Castilla hitting behind Piazza is no David Wright. Pitchers will challenge Piazza in San Diego knowing that the ballpark favors the guy on the mound and not the aging slugger at the plate.

Right now, the Padres are relying to Piazza to return them to the postseason, but their faith may be misplaced. Piazza, an old 37 with a weak arm, won’t have much luck throwing out base runners next year, and in PETCO, his offense will be largely neutralized. While the Padres and their fans may finally have the star they want to boost their lineup in Mike Piazza, this future Hall of Famer’s glow won’t be too bright in San Diego.

WBC now resembles Little League

First came the pitch counts. Major League pitchers throwing in the WBC would be tethered to strict pitch counts to protect their valuable arms.

Then came the opt-outs. Barry Bonds pulled out of the tournament; Randy Johnson and John Smoltz declined invitations to pitch for Team USA; and Alex Rodriguez nearly single-handedly turned the WBC into a mockery of a tournament (or did the WBC turn A-Rod into a mockery of himself?).

But the latest rule transcends the other two. The World Baseball Classic will feature a mercy rule. Now, this grand tournament is no better off than a Little League game.

According to the latest from the WBC, the mercy rule is similar in spirit to the one in place during Little League games:

Games will be stopped after five innings when a team is ahead by 15 or more runs and after seven innings when a team is ahead by at least 10 runs. A game can be stopped in the middle of an inning if a team reaches the threshold.

As far as I can tell, WBC organizers felt it necessary to issue this rule so as to avoid potentially embarrassing outcomes. A quick glance at the tournament bracket reveals a few match-ups that could turn ugly fast. In fact, nearly every grouping in the first round features a mismatch.

Let’s take the Dominican Republic’s bracket. The DR team, favored to win the tournament, features numerous All Stars including Miguel Tejada, Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero and David Ortiz.

In the first round, the DR team squares off against Italy. While featuring 25 Major Leaguers, the preliminary Italian roster hardly strikes fear into the hearts of its opponents. The biggest star on the team is 37-year-old Mike Piazza who is still unemployed. He is joined by the likes of Matt Mantei, Mike Gallo, and, uh, Dan Miceli. Their team name is actually the Italian Journeyman.

In team USA’s bracket, USA, Mexico, and Canada all play South Africa. The most experienced player on South Africa’s team hasn’t played above AA ball and most of the guys on the team haven’t advanced beyond Rookie level. Is the South African club going to show up? Might they be mercy ruled out of existence?

In my opinion, chalk this one as just another flaw. The organizers of the World Baseball Classic couldn’t find 16 competitive teams. They’ve managed to field around 12 or 14 teams that are on a fairly even field. (I honestly cannot assess the all-Chinese, non-MLB China team and the few-MLB Chinese Taipei and Japan teams.) But at least two teams are filler, and the Netherlands make it only the strength of colonial ties to Caribbean islands.

Baseball has never been about the mercy rule. Teams must find ways to use pitchers to end the game without giving up innings to valuable arms. Managers in blow outs must find ways to keep their players from getting too discouraged.

But in the WBC the mercy rule now eliminates that. What’s from stopping the South African players from throwing in the towel before too long? And how demoralizing will the first national-televised mercy rule loss be the nation on the wrong end of the 15-run loss? When AA and Rookie Level teenagers are facing the best of the Majors, the kids will lose badly.

In the future, hopefully, WBC organizers can find teams that all have a shot at winning a game or two along the way. Getting beat up is no fun. Just ask the Devil Rays.

Silent Night

Nothing tonight. Sorry folks. If you want to blame someone for my lack of comments on baseball, point your finger at the Law School Admissions Council.

Meanwhile, check out Three True Outcomes for your oft-updated baseball fix plus commentary on other relevant issues throughout the day.

Fans think American players don’t care about WBC…

…and you know what? They’re probably right.

Barry Bonds’ withdrawl from the WBC late Monday night was just another in a long line of prominent All Stars who have pulled out of the WBC. While some top players weren’t invited, others have opted out of the tournament, and rumors abound that even more will choose to sit out the tournament in lieu of Spring Training.

With players pulling out of Team USA (a notable point), ESPN.com posed the question to SportsNation: Do you think players will take the World Baseball Classic seriously? The answer is discouraging for the tournament’s supporters.

According to the poll, only 37 percent of voters think players will take the tournament seriously while 63 percent feel the opposte. (Hurray for polls that do not have “I don’t know” as an answer choice!)

Meanwhile, as a tie-in to the poll, the ever-prolific Jayson Stark offers his take on the players’ views of the upcoming WBC.

We want to love this little tournament. We want it to be a goose bump kind of spectacle on the field. We want it to be a raging success off the field. We want life around the baseball-playing earth to be paralyzed in its grip as it heads for its dramatic climax.

But how come, with not even six weeks left until the first pitch, that isn’t the vibe the WBC is giving off at the moment?

We find ourselves focusing more on the players who aren’t playing than the players who are. And that’s not good.

We find ourselves listening to one baseball person after another gripe about the timing of this event. And that’s not good.

We find ourselves wondering why so many questions haven’t been answered, why ticket sales have been so lukewarm, why Danny Haren qualifies for the team from the Netherlands, why the semifinal games have been scheduled on a March Madness Saturday during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament — and several thousand other things.

Stark goes on to blame the timing of the tournament. American players, at least, aren’t enthusiastic because of the nature of Spring Training. They would rather have the tournament after the World Series and not during the six weeks they have to prepare for a grueling season.

As one of the louder anti-WBC voices on the Internet, I have been saying this for weeks. Spring Training is not the time to have a tournament with serious intentions. Players aren’t ready for it, and the interest in it is lukewarm to say the least. Major League Baseball and the international baseball community want this to become a tradition like soccer’s World Cup or the Olympics. To do so, they need the support of the game’s stars. If they don’t get that support soon, this tournament may be more of a farce than an international exposition.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to note that those pulling out of the tournament seem to be representing Team USA. I have yet to see top Latino and top Asian players (other than Hideki Matsui) decline an invitation to play. If this is a question of patriotism, the Americans seem to be losing that battle. While most nations would love to see their team take home the championship, would Americans even care if their team captured the tournament title? I doubt it.

Bonds’ WBC decision raises eyebrows

Barry Bonds’ devotion to the San Francisco Giants is so touching.

Today, citing concern for his health and the competitiveness of the San Francisco Giants, Bonds opted out of the World Baseball Classic. Here’s what Barry had to say:

The timing is just not right. I have too many other responsibilities, too many things I have to take care of that are important to me. I owe it to the city (of San Francisco), my knee, my team, the fans and my family. I have to put my greatest effort right now into all of that.

On his unintentionally comedic Web site, BarryBonds.com, Bonds was even more eloquent:

After the announcement I received a lot of criticism as well as concern from fans and my family and friends. The obvious objections were about my health and whether or not I would be ready to play. In the end, I decided that I can’t take any chances that might jeopardize my season. I don’t want to give the impression that the WBC is not important. I know this means a lot to showcasing our sport worldwide, and the patriotism of playing for Team USA would have been a great honor. I feel what is best for me, my family, the Giants, and our fans is that I sit the WBC out.

Since when did Barry Bonds care about the Giants? For years, Barry has focused on what’s right for him. He wants to break Hank Aaron’s record (or at least the Babe’s mark). Any benefits to the Giants have always seemed tangential.

But now, Bonds is supposedly concerned about his health AND its impact on the Giants. He has other responsibilities. He has concerns about his health. He can’t risk injury by playing in the World Baseball Classic. But he still has to play during Spring Training. Couldn’t he get injured then?

And there is the first red flag: Bonds cites the weak injury excuse. So then is Bonds really being a team player? Not exactly.

Yesterday, Bonds announced to the world that he refuses to bat second in the Giants lineup. This remark came just a short while after manager Felipe Alou pondered using his feared slugger in the second. At this point in his career, Bonds said, it doesn’t work for him.

Why not, I say. Bonds, with his monster OBP and monster bat, would enjoy a greater level of protection batting second than fourth. Pitchers would have to face him because they wouldn’t be able to pitch around the 2-3-4 guys in the lineup. Bonds would still get his cuts and still get on base. He just wouldn’t get all of the RBIs. No stat-padding for you, Barry.

It’s hard to deny that his batting second would help the team. Just like it’s hard to believe that Barry Bonds is opting out of the WBC over concerns about its potential impact on the Giants’ season.

So as Bonds brushes aside questions about the WBC better than A-Rod ever could, baseball fans will be left wondering about his motivation. Is Bonds concerned with the Olympic-style drug tests or is it something more basic? Barry just doesn’t want to do something that Barry doesn’t want to do. Either way, it’s the same old song and dance from one of the game’s greatest who has never embraced his fans.

Benson trade won’t net much for O’s

Sorry, folks. I have to do a cross-posting tonight. I’m too tired to write more! This post was originally written for and posted in its entirety at Statistically Speaking at the Most Valuable Network.

The lost Orioles are at it again.

This time, the Team With No Plan has landed New York outcast Anna Benson and her husband pitcher Kris Benson in exchange for reliever Jorge Julio and prospect hurler Chris Maine. Unless new pitching coach Leo Mazzone can work some magic, this trade won’t bring much to Baltimore.

For the Mets last year, Benson seemed perfectly average but had exceedingly poor peripherals. He made 28 starts and threw to an ERA of 4.13. His ERA+, a park-adjusted number, was 101. You can’t get much more average than that. In 174.1 innings, he gave up 171 hits while walking 49 and striking out just 95. His 4.90 K/9 IP was the lowest of his career and his 1.94 K/BB rate is fairly awful. Additionally, Benson gave up 24 home runs last year.

All of these numbers raise red flags in my mind for one reason: Park Effects. Kris Benson, making 16 of 28 starts in a pitcher’s park, enjoyed the deadening effects of Shea Stadium. Let’s look at his splits: In those 16 starts, Benson threw to an ERA of 3.66 while giving up just 8 home runs in 98.1 innings. On the road, Benson threw to an ERA of 4.74 while surrendering an astounding 16 home runs in 76 innings.

According to the Bill James 2006 Handbook, Shea Stadium was a good place to pitch when it came to home runs. The park effect for home runs in Shea Stadium was 90. It was 10 percent harder to hit a home run in Shea Stadium than in the rest of the parks, on average, in the National League.

So what happens to Benson when he moves to Baltimore?

To continue reading “Benson trade won’t net much for O’s” please click here. Be sure to check out the rest of the Most Valuable Network while you’re there.


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