According to Google Maps, my work commute takes 14 minutes. In reality, where the freeway is unusable when I need it, the trip takes more like 40 minutes. It’s a stimulating drive, though, as I pass a municipal airport and MCAS Miramar along the way.
Sometimes I’ll see jets landing or giant helicopters hovering overhead, which is kind of cool. I also get to visit parts of San Diego county that most people don’t know exist, which helps offset the fact that I spend my days in Sorrento Valley — the “smooth jazz” portion of our fine city.
Smooth jazz is a funny term. Neither smooth nor jazz, it is really just a euphemism for “boring crap.”
(<voice tone=”ArtGood”>Next up… Keiko Matsui, Spyro Gyra, Jonathan Butler, The Rippingtons</voice>. Don’t play dumb with me; you totally used to rock Basia in your Mercedes with the top down on the way to Epazote. I believe your exact words were, “Dude, when she sings, ‘It’s gonna be a new day for you’, I feel like she really gets me.)
When my old band was looking for a bass player, we interviewed a guy who used to play that stuff because it paid well. Apparently rich folks with no taste love it. (Speaking of which, I recently heard that a certain multimillionaire baseball player drinks Keystone. On the one hand, I applaud him for “keeping it real.” On the other, that is just disgusting.)
So, we were chatting with this bassist over sandwiches (we always interviewed before auditioning — any jackass can play an instrument, but you want to make sure you’re not stuck with a jackass) and he was telling us about the smooth jazz scene. As he confessed, “We don’t really play songs, we just kind of noodle around while people in suits drink cocktails.”
He was a Zen Buddhist who had a regular paying gig playing at a Christian church. Interesting cat, although we didn’t end up hiring him.
Anyway, the point is that when I’m driving to work, my mind sometimes wanders. That is what minds do, you see.
This week, it flashed on a couple of things. First, I have been thinking about history a lot. Maybe it’s because I find the present unbearable, or maybe it’s because I spent too much time sitting around the house with nothing to do while recovering from knee surgery, but I’ve been re-reading my old Bill James books and loving them.
Then I was thinking about my road trip to Cooperstown in 2007 for Tony Gwynn’s Hall of Fame induction. I remembered how because the skies threatened rain, the organizers pushed Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. to the front of the day’s proceedings, which meant that everyone else being honored on the day would follow.
Let me digress here for a moment: Say you went to see Iron Maiden play at the Long Beach Arena in, oh, February 1987 or so. Now suppose that the Vinnie Vincent Invasion were opening for them, only due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, Iron Maiden were forced to play first. How many people do you suppose would have stuck around to watch Vinnie Vincent make a bunch of noise in front of his wall of hot pink Marshall stacks?
Not many. In the scenario just described, it would have been a blessing (trust me), but the point holds. If you follow Gwynn and Ripken at Cooperstown, most people will not see you.
One gentleman who had the misfortune of coming on after the main event was Bobby Doerr. While people left by the thousands, I sat and listened.
Doerr was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, and it’s not like my leaving a few minutes early was going to help get me anywhere sooner in that overfilled neck of the woods (it took our bus more than two hours to get from Cooperstown to Oneonta — 40 minutes according to Google Maps; puts my daily commute in perspective). The least I could do, having driven 3000+ miles to witness history, was stick around and pay a little respect to one of the game’s legends.
Doerr played for the Boston Red Sox from 1937 to 1951. He hit .288/.362/.461 (115 OPS+), knocking 2042 hits and 223 homers during his career. Doerr was was sort of like Alan Trammell, but with more power, less speed, and 438 fewer games to his credit. (Remind me why Trammell isn’t in the Hall of Fame?)
Getting back to Doerr, he is ranked in The New Bill James Historical Abstract (published in 2001) as the 18th best second baseman in big-league history. One wonders how much higher Doerr would have rated had he not retired at age 33. It’s not as if he were slowing down — he hit .289/.378/.448 (115 OPS+), with 13 homers in his final season and was named to his ninth American League All-Star team.
Doerr also has a significant San Diego connection, of which I was unaware while I watched him at Cooperstown. In 1936, at age 18, Doerr played second base for the original PCL Padres. He hit .342 and led the known universe with 238 hits (finishing comfortably ahead of the Cleveland Indians’ Earl Averill).
While with the Padres, Doerr played alongside Vince DiMaggio and Ted Williams. In fact, according to James, Doerr is indirectly responsible for the Red Sox signing of Williams:
When Eddie Collins, GM of the Red Sox, flew out to look Doerr over and decide whether to pick up the option, he happened to see a seventeen-year-old the San Diego team had just signed, Ted Williams.
Well. If you didn’t know that already, now you do.
Modified Box Scores
The second thing I dreamed about as I drove along back roads to the day gig was how to make the final two months of the current season more pleasant. If you know me at all, you know that I find losing intolerable. But this is what we’re stuck with, so I have been seeking different ways to evaluate games.
Given that the rest of 2009 is an audition for next year, maybe it makes more sense to judge success on the progress of individuals rather than on team record. When you have the worst Pythagorean record in baseball, does it matter how far out of fourth place you are?
I’m watching the Padres the way I would watch a minor-league team (insert obvious joke here), with an eye toward the future. Which guys can contribute down the line, and how are they progressing toward that goal?
With this in mind, I’ve created Modified Box Scores. The method is crude, but basically we’re attempting to answer two fundamental questions:
- Is Bud Black playing the right guys?
- Are these guys performing?
Here are the players I’m tracking as potential useful parts of next year’s team:
- Nick Hundley
- Chase Headley
- Everth Cabrera
- Kyle Blanks
- Drew Macias
- Will Venable
- Mat Latos
I’m not worried about Adrian Gonzalez, Jake Peavy, or Heath Bell. Those guys are established, and the Padres deserve no credit for their performing well. My focus is on players that are still being developed and that can contribute going forward.
The system works like this:
- Award 1 point if he gets at least 4 plate appearances (playing time component)
- Award 1 point if he reaches base 2 or more times (on-base component)
- Award 1 point if he records 4 or more total bases (slugging component)
For example, on July 21, Blanks went 1-for-4 with a homer. He is awarded 1 point for 4 plate appearances and 1 point for 4 total bases.
- Award 1 point if he works at least 5 innings (endurance component)
- Award 1 point if his pitches per innings pitched is less than 15 (efficiency component)
- Award 1 point if his strikeouts are equal to or greater than his innings pitched (power component)
For example, on July 24, Latos went 5 2/3 innings and struck out 5, using 94 pitches. He is awarded 1 point for endurance.
You could tweak these parameters in any number of ways, but this makes sense to me, so it’s what I’m watching and recording.
For your dining and dancing pleasure, here are the Padres’ Modified Box Scores since the All-Star break (click on the date if you think you can stomach the real box score):
Headley hits pinch-homer.
Latos makes big-league debut.
Blanks hits first big-league homer; left-center field, upper tank.
Blanks hits second big-league homer.
Latos records first big-league win.
Cabrera knocks two singles and a double, steals a base.
Blanks homers again.
Again, these are crude measurements. For the hitters, we’re answering the following questions:
- Did he play?
- Did he reach base?
- Did he drive the ball?
The totals include another number: B% is the percentage of points accumulated as a result of actually doing something (as opposed to merely collecting the requisite number of plate appearances).
Benchmarks? I have no idea; I just concocted this to amuse myself. The minimum requirement to score 50% is 2-for-4, and if you go 2-for-4 — even if it’s “only” two singles — that’s a 1000 OPS (to say nothing of the .500 BA), which is spectacular.
Of course, it’s also possible to accumulate “achievement” points without getting credit for “being there” (e.g., Headley’s July 18 pinch-homer), although that probably won’t happen often. Without taking the time to work it out (because, really, this is nothing more than a toy), I’m guessing that anything above 35-40% will be good. We’ll see.
For the pitchers, we’re answering the following questions:
- Did he pitch?
- Was he efficient?
- Did he put the ball past hitters?
For the team, I’m hoping for a score of 10 or more in a game. And I’d like to see the numbers improve over time.
Anywho, best not to take this too seriously; we’re just trying to make the rest of the year more fun. I’ll run these Modified Box Scores and update individual totals each week for grins. If nothing else, it gives us a reason to keep paying attention.
Fixing the Future
Tom Krasovic slammed the Padres right good earlier in the week. I can’t speak to the incidents involving unnamed young players appearing “overly comfortable” in the clubhouse because I don’t have the type of access Krasovic has earned, but assuming they are true (and Kras has proven to be a very reliable source over the years), this is disturbing.
Krasovic makes some other interesting observations as well:
Performance is taking a back seat to dollar imperatives. Like when Brian Giles flat-lined well below .200 for more than two months, yet the Padres refused to bench him. The front office was desperate to unload Giles’ $9 million salary and believed the only way to do it was to play Giles and hope he got hot. He never did.
Yep. And it wasn’t a bad idea, except for the part where Giles never caught fire. Assuming there are no takers when he returns from the disabled list, the Padres would do well to release him. Giles is this year’s Jim Edmonds: old, expensive, hurt, and potentially useful to a team that isn’t gunning for 100 losses.
I believe Giles has some production left in him yet, although based on his performance so far this season, who in their right mind would pay the Padres anything for the right to discover this for themselves? I’ve enjoyed watching Giles play over the years, and the guy gets unfairly criticized for not being Jason Bay (never mind that Jason Bay wasn’t Jason Bay back then), but it’s time for him to go regardless of whether the front office can work a trade with some other team. At this point, being able to stick guys like Kyle Blanks, Drew Macias, and Will Venable in the lineup every day is return enough.
Speaking of which, I wonder how much longer the Padres can hold onto Kevin Kouzmanoff? I’ve been floating the idea of trading him for the better part of the past two seasons, but with his offensive game continuing to spiral downard (.278 OBP?), it’s hard to imagine that he’ll fetch much. He’s Khalil Greene with a more desirable contract and less defensive utility.
The idea of trying to land a guy like Kevin Slowey and change, which made some sense 14 months ago, now seems downright laughable. I would be happy with what the Padres got for Khalil, a couple of minor-league relievers.
I’ve long been a fan of Kouz, but his continued presence is keeping Headley in left field. Even if Kouz re-establishes himself offensively (more likely to happen somewhere other than Petco Park, where he is a career .239/.286/.394 hitter), he isn’t young or good enough to be a player around whom a team builds.
Headley probably isn’t either, but he’s got a better chance of becoming that guy than Kouz does. And Headley has an even better chance of becoming that guy if the Padres stop monkeying around with this outfield experiment that isn’t working.
Put Headley back at third base now, before he forgets how to play the position. The Padres have stuck him there a few times this year and the results haven’t been pretty. He’s made a few mental errors because he’s not not playing the position often enough to let his instincts guide him. The only way to remedy the situation is by getting him more reps.
Getting back to Krasovic’s article, he also is critical of Sandy Alderson’s efforts to help rebuild the farm system. Kras identifies one point of contention that I’ve long had with the Padres draft strategy, which is the infatuation with pitchers who have more command than stuff. Josh Geer and Cesar Ramos were never the answer to any questions other than, “How do we keep from producing useful big-league pitchers?”
That being said, it’s not Alderson’s fault that Cesar Carrillo — who did have stuff — got hurt. (And let us not forget Latos.)
Where Krasovic’s otherwise solid critique falters is in its omission of the two most important aspects of Alderson’s tenure as it relates to the farm system:
- Under Alderson, the Padres took steps to ensure that there would not be another Matt Bush situation. I’m not referring to the fact that Bush was a total bust — that happens. I’m talking about the collapse in process that led the Padres to abandon their stated intent of selecting Stephen Drew, Jeff Niemann, or Jered Weaver (whom they had been targeting for months) with the first pick overall in 2004 and settling on Bush mere days before the draft (and apparently without conducting due diligence) to save a few bucks. Although technically the Padres did save money, at least Drew or Weaver would have given them return on investment beyond making apologies to a judge. Alderson was asked to fix a broken process, which he did. We can debate the efficacy of the process he instilled, but at least there is one — and it appears to be on the verge of bearing fruit.
- Alderson also oversaw estabishment of the Padres Dominican facility, which immediately made them players on the international market. The kids they have signed so far are light-years away (and one has been suspended for testing positive), but isn’t it nice to see the team finally competing on this front? Would the academy have been built under someone else’s leadership? Maybe, but it wasn’t. That is part of Alderson’s legacy, and although it’s way too early to judge whether (and to what degree) that initiative has been successful, the man deserves credit for putting the Padres back on the map in Latin America.
Still, Krasovic nails the big picture. Despite some bright spots — Blanks, Cabrera, Headley, maybe Tim Stauffer — this team is in bad shape. I don’t think it’s as bleak as some folks suggest (Kevin Towers has lost his touch because he swapped spare parts with his counterpart in Baltimore?), but this is not going to be quick or easy.
It won’t be smooth or jazz either, but that’s not your problem unless you’re rich and have no taste. Oh, and if you are, do us all a favor and roll up the top on your Mercedes because nobody else wants to hear that.