How to get Congress NOT to subpoena you

I loved a quote from this article from the Merc today on Congress subpoening a number of prominent figures in baseball, from players - former and current, users, suspected users, and steroid opposers - to officials, from MLB to team management to Players Union.

However, someone whom the media has pinpointed for a prominent role, Barry Bonds, was on the list. As the Merc wrote, "Why wasn't the Giants star ordered to testify?" "We want this hearing to be focused on the issues of steroids in baseball, not on Barry Bonds,'' said David Marin, an aide to U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican and the chairman of the committee. "He tends to ramble and get off-point.'' (my emphasis)

Is that all you have to do to get off? :^)

But seriously, why didn't they? I think because Barry's grand jury testimony is out and he has answered, ad infinitem, steroid questions with the media so much that he called them reruns (he should have quoted "What's Happening" instead of "Stanford and Son"), Congress probably figured that they will just get a re-run of the "Barry Answering Steroid Questions" show, plus he can't say anything different from what he has already testified anyway, plus everyone in the nation has probably seen his rant from when he arrived, so there would probably be nothing new if he testified, other than him calling the politicians liars and cheaters, and that would hurt them since he would be hitting close to the mark. :^)

While I'm on the subject, this whole thing smells like a publicity stunt. The stated goal that I read was "... trying to educate our youth by letting them know the dangers of steroids." If that is so, then why are they calling all these MLB people up to testify? Only one has admitted to steroids usage. The other players are known objectors and suspected users. What do these Congressmen expect to hear besides, "Uh, your honor, steroids is, you know, bad for you, B-A-D, , hello, is this mike working?..."

And if they asked if they have used before, that may force some confessions (though, as most media has speculated, they will probably take the 5th Amendment and not say anything), but what would that do for the youths of America? What would it accomplish? Put a red scarlet "S" on these players, but will that stop young people from using? If anything, they will see that these players were very successful using steroids, if only I can find some that will do the same for me but is undetectible. It would be much better to bring in medical experts who has some sort of medical studies that show what steroids actually does do to the body. Or admitted users who now regret it.


Doing the Math(eny)

The more I read about Matheny, the more I like, maybe love, getting him. The linked Merc story and last week's Chron talks glowingly about how the pitchers love working with Matheny and how he acts like he is one of them, going as far as learning Spanish in college so that he would be able to communicate with the Latino pitchers. He lives and breathes catching and sees himself as an extension of the pitcher, from the article, "He approaches his craft with a methodical attention to detail." He is a value add-on, psyche advisor/psychiatrist to the pitcher, learning his style, his strengths and weaknesses, analyzing how that matches up against each batter, helping them to just do it and be the best they can be. And that's good because his offense sucks greatly especially relative to his predecessor, Pierzynski, so he better provide a lot of value defensively.

But how does his defense compared statistically, though we all know that defensive stats are still in the 19th century?

Using Fielding Win Shares, Matheny got 8.1 in 2004 while Pierzynski got 4.9. However, A.J. had a poor year for the Giants (no surprise there), as he was basically equal to (and technically higher than) Matheny in 2003: 6.84 vs. 6.76. And in terms of total W.S., A.J. was still higher than Matheny in 2004, despite his drop in defense and offense, and was significantly higher than Matheny in 2003, doubling his offense.

Using Baseball Prospectus' fielding stats, depending on which of their exotic stats you want to use, Matheny's defense was around 10-15 runs better than Pierzynski, which works out to around 1 to 1.5 wins (based on 10 runs/win) for his defense.

From Bill James's Handbook, they both played about the same amount (977.2 IP/110 games started for Matheny vs. 1022.0 IP/117 games started for A.J.), but Matheny had 45 more putouts (742 vs. 697), 2 more assists (58 vs. 56), 4 more doubleplays (10 vs. 6), 7 less passed balls (2 vs. 9), basically same fielding percentage (.999, 1 errror each), better caught stealing (16/54 with 1 due to pitcher for 28% caught by Matheny vs. 15/66 with 4 due to pitcher for 18% caught by A.J.), and pitcher's ERA (3.88 vs. 4.30, though that is not comparable between teams).

And, FYI, Torrealba's stats here was not close to Matheny's except for putouts and doubleplays, else it was much worse, from a rough guess comparing on a per inning basis where appropriate. Another interesting note is that Matheny played less than A.J. so Torrealba will probably see more playing time in 2005 than he did in 2004 (hopefully he will get all the LHP starts as he kills LHP).

So, overall and from a number of different angles, Matheny appears to be much better than Pierzynski defensively - no surprise there - but I don't get the sense from all the above stats that he is THAT much better defensively, at least enough to overcome A.J.'s offensive achievements, especially since A.J. greatly improved the Giants offense against RHP.

Thus Giants fans are left thinking: do we drink the Kool-Aid or don't we? Is Matheny's intangibles that valuable to the pitching staff to overcome the drop in offense from Pierzynski? Is Matheny's consistently high quality defense better than the varying quality we might get from A.J.?

Count me among the Kool-Aid drinkers. To me, pitching is such a mental game that anything a catcher can do to help put the pitcher at ease is a big plus. In addition, with the Giants staff going on a youth movement that started with Williams' and Foppert's ascension to the starting rotation in 2003, continued with Lowry's and Hennessey's contributions in 2004, and will probably see most of the pitching staff become home grown/developed by as early as 2007 (Williams, Lowry, Foppert, Cain, Valdez, Misch, Hennessey, Correia, Simon, Aardsma, Bateman, Munter could all be up by then and contributing), a starting catcher who can help them smooth out their performances, put them more at ease in dealing with the jitters and pitching blowouts, teach them the ropes of being a MLB pitcher, would be very valuable.

Is it $4M/year valuable? It might seem high to some but Damian Miller got $3M/year this year and it is acknowledged in the press that Matheny is considered a better catcher than Miller defensively though Miller is no slouch either. Looking at Miller's stats in the Bill James handbook, his stats looked more like Pierzynski's than Matheny's. In BP, he rates out at 9-11 runs above average or 1 win, so he was slightly behind Matheny there. From W.S. perspective, he again was a little behind Matheny with 7.8 defensive Win Shares, but in total was ahead with 15 Win Shares vs. Matheny's 10 Win Shares. Miller is one year older as well and has only 5 seasons with over 100 games while Matheny has 8 seasons. So it seems the Giants overpaid a little vs. Miller but not a lot.

Historically, Matheny has been good enough for others to recognize his abilities. Matheny has won three Gold Gloves (neither Pierzynski or Miller has one). In addition, he owns the major-league records for most consecutive errorless games (252) and chances without an error (1,565). Last year, he helped the Cardinals pitching staff to the second-lowest ERA in the National League (3.75) and the staff was a bunch of no-names and youngsters.

Interesting enough, the two pitchers who have been praising Matheny the most in the press - Tomko and Herges - are the same pitchers who "outed" Pierzynski last year by going to the press. Herges said, "You can feel him care." Brett Tomko said, "Mike's the best, man. He's probably thinking more than you are out there." He also said, "... I think Mike is going to take more time to get to know the pitchers, every one of them, who they are, what makes them tick, how they throw. In addition, Schmidt said, "Last year was tough. I was used to having Benito. But this is going to be a smooth transition." Jason Christiansen said that he expects the pitching staff to jell much more quickly than it did last year, when the team got off to a slow start.

And here's a good one from Tomko on Pierzynski's $100 offer: "Consider the source," Tomko said. "Once an ass, always an ass."


Fine whine at its sourest

Boy, it didn't take long for ex-Giants to play the violins, extra sour. In accounts in the Chron and the Merc, A.J. Pierzynski and, surprisingly, Dustin Hermanson, complained openly over their treatment and experience with the Giants.

I'll start with Hermanson because that was the biggest surprise. He complained about not getting the extra $200K in bonuses he might have earned starting if he wasn't converted into the closer. First off, he wouldn't have gotten a $5.5M contract this off-season if it wasn't for the Giants; as Sabean retorted, they picked him up off the scrap heap. Without the opportunity the Giants gave him, he probably would still be struggling somewhere, semi-starting, semi-relieving, doing neither very well. Second, as reported in the article, he probably wouldn't even have earned as much of a bonus as he did if the Giants didn't award him three points per start when the industry norm is to award two points per start. So already, he was getting a bigger bonus than a regular contract would have given him. Third, if he didn't notice, he was the worst starter for most of the season and Lowry most probably would have pushed him out of the rotation at some point or another, so he would have not made his incentives in any case, getting released possibly.

The Giants, if anything, gave him the opportunity to make the money he did this off-season by giving him the chance to close rather than just being released like Hammonds earlier in the season or pushing Franklin out of the bullpen and taking the long relief role. Not bad for a pitcher who less than two seasons ago was released by the Cardinal's, who was DYING to find semi-useful pitchers, with consecutive seasons of less than 30 IP, low K/9, ERA of 7.77 and 5.46, for the Cardinals before he was released by them.

A.J. is understandably upset, going from an All-Star catcher to in-house cancer in the space of a month or so, to "only" getting $2.25M when few teams would touch him. Then again, if the Giants braintrust in charge of salary negotiations (*cough* Ned Colleti) was more market savvy about A.J.'s expected salary - all the articles noted he should get around $2.5-$3.0M and he low balls arbitration at $2.25M; no wonder they don't like to go into arbitration - A.J. probably would have "only" gotten $2.75M, say. And he did not play at an All-Star level last year, he only really had one good month, so $2.25M is about what he should have gotten. But it wasn't like he was unprovokingly kneed in the 'nads undeservedly either, he made a lot of money playing for the Giants, up to a $1M more than he really deserved, and was given wider exposure playing in one of the larger population centers of the U.S., a plus for his obvious ambitions to move into broadcasting after his career is over.

Based on the news that has come out from the media - including Ralph Barbieri today, talking about how A.J. was complaining all the time off the mike, acting very immature - the Giants obviously did not do enough due diligence in investigating A.J. Pierzynski temperment and maturity level. This is an odd lapse given that they promote the image that they seek out mature thinking players - given how they describe a lot of their top prospects as mature for their years. Whoever fell down in this area should be severely reprimanded.

This trade now has to go down as the worse trade in Sabean's career - odd given how good it looked initially for the orange and black - and will only get worse as Nathan and Pierzynski play out their careers. I supported the trade when it was made but given all this background stuff, it only goes to show how important it is to know the inside stuff as well, something I should have learned when it turned out that Sudden Sam McDowell was a total drunk and we traded away Gaylord Perry's HOF career for that. The Twins totally snookered Sabean, not only getting Nathan but also a couple of good prospects as well.

But that makes it, what, 11 gazillion for Sabean now vs. the odd handful of trades that didn't work out really well. Most Sabean-haters like to mention a common set of players that shows how bad Sabean is - Dunston, Tucker, Ponson, Alfonzo, etc. - but really, what's the goal? To win and to make the playoffs and to hopefully win the World Series. He has the third best record in baseball since he took over, we regularly make the playoffs and came close to winning it all in 2002.

Most naysayers point at Bonds and say how easy he makes it for Sabean. No, it isn't, that's a fallacy, the Giants were a below .500 for the three seasons prior to Sabean taking over. In fact, the team he inherited lost 94 games, more games lost than only 3 other teams in the 46 year history of the SF Giants, 4 other teams in the 123 year history of the Giants franchise. Teams with a great player like him don't automatically win, history is filled with great players who nonetheless were playing on losers for a number of years, from Walter "Big Train" Johnson to Ernie Banks to Steve Carlton to Nolan Ryan to Tony Gwynn. Plus A-Rod didn't do anything for Texas either.

And he has made a number of great finds that worked out great for the Giants, from Rueter, Kent, J.T. Snow, Nen, Felix Rodriguez, Burks, Worrell, Schmidt, to Bell. You don't just tick these off as one good, one bad, some of these were really great trades that he made, that would make up for a multitude of bad trades, it would be like treating a homerun as just a hit when comparing it to a strikeout. And he had two grandslams in Kent and Schmidt. To me, to denigrate Sabean overall is to complain about having the third best record in baseball since 1997.


Followup on Feliz

I was reading on other sites comments about why Feliz is hyped so much as a starter, why he was given a two-year contract at such a high salary and especially when there are other corner infielders who can hit like he does, low OBP, high SLG. Then I realized that I didn't give any comments on whether it was good or not so I swiped my comments from there and put it here.

Personally, I think Sabean is hyping Feliz as a starter for one reason: to get Snow and Alfonzo to perform better, to work that much harder for each AB. Also, possibly, this could be for Feliz' benefit, stroking his ego that he's not starting but knowing that if Snow and Alfonzo performs adequately enough, Feliz is not going to be playing that much, at least at 1B or 3B, he's really only here to be a good backup and strong bench player.

Also, if corner infielders who have a decent amount of pop in their bat but never walk are easy to get, then why don't the Giants just sign one of those players and be done with Feliz? I like Feliz but if we can get someone cheaper who hits like him, then I'm for saving the bucks.

Who profiled like that this off-season that we could have gotten cheaper than Feliz? I don't recall anyone like that but I don't recall what I did last week either. Plus, don't forget that whoever they sign need to be able to play 1B and the corner OF adequately defensively and 3B pretty well. Are those types of players a dime-a-dozen? I would think not but I didn't follow the free agent market that closely at reserve players.

I was wondering why the two year deal as well. Either they are thinking of going with Feliz as 1B in 2006 or they think that having someone who would be able to perform at almost a starting role performance at LF, RF, 1B, and 3B, is a nice form of insurance for injury and/or lack of performance (especially due to age) rather than paying an insurance company such a high rate of premium that self-insurance is preferable. Or both, depending on how Snow does this year, he's no spring chicken either. That also shuts Feliz up about starting if he is getting a two year contract.