I've adopted Heath Bell as my first sentimental favorite of 2005. Part
of it's reading about him rollerblading with his daughter in the
driveway, which I thought was a sweet story. More than that, though, is
the fact that he's straight out of the Moneyball template.
One of my favorite parts of Moneyball
is the chapter on Chad Bradford, the reliever with the delivery so
strange that smug scouts dubbed him “the Creature” and ignored him
despite success on every level, until Billy Beane looked at the numbers
and grabbed him. I can only imagine Bell would also qualify for
Creaturehood from those who evaluate baseball players as if they were
selling jeans, as Moneyball puts it. Heck, as you know, I've made fun of poor Heath myself in that vein.
“What is that on the mound? Look at
that big rear and that belly. And what size are his shoes, a 4? I bet
he can't even see those tiny little feet under that big belly of his.
Wait, he's going into his motion. What is he doing? What kind of motion
is that? Is he mincing? I think ya gotta call whatever it is he's doing mincing. That body, that motion … I tell ya, it's unnatural.”
So here's a link to what was probably my favorite baseball story from last summer: Alan Schwarz's Aug. 15 New York Times article on judging relievers by inherited runs prevented — a measure thought up, as I understand it, by Baseball Prospectus.
Schwarz's overview is a great primer, and Mike Stanton is one of its
key figures. And it reveals just how sucky he'd been to that point: a
3.75 ERA, but third-worst in baseball in preventing inherited runners
That led me to dig up Baseball Prospectus' stats for reliever performance
in 2004. The sabermetrical waters get deep here, but the important
column is INR — inherited runners prevented. Stanton got better after
being outed in the Times, finishing with a -4.2 INR, good for only 14th
worst in baseball. Way to go, Mike. (Felix Heredia's stats with the
Yankees? -2.6. Bad, but not Stantonesque in their horror.) Rick
Peterson can lay claim to having helped Mike DeJean — DeJean's Orioles
INR was a putrid -7.9, but with the Mets he recorded a -0.2. Bartolome
Fortunato recorded a 0.5 — while the less-celebrated Orber Moreno had
a pretty decent 3.1 and the now-vanished Ricky Bottalico had a 3.5,
second-best on the team. But the best INR? 3.6. And it belonged to …
(I swear I didn't know that when I started this entry. But I'm smiling nonetheless.)
But how much do you want to bet some retread like Roberto Hernandez
(2004 INR -3.8) or Scott Stewart (-4.5) makes the team instead? We'll
be told they've thrown the ball really well and have experience.
Experience at what? Being sucky?
Heresy alert: I don't think Gil Hodges belongs in the Hall of Fame. I
know, I should be rubbed in shoe polish, set afire and wreathed in blue
and orange flames, and I've tried to change my own mind, but I don't. Here are the stats
– scroll down and look at the “similar batters.” Sure, you remember
all these guys, but are they Cooperstown material? Would we let in Gil
if we knew Tino Martinez would follow?
But he was the Gary Cooper of the Miracle Mets!
I know he was, and while I was just four months old when Cleon dropped to one knee
(Mom and Dad assure me I did see it), I grew up reading every
account of '69 I could find, until it became Holy Writ, which is as it
should be. Had Hodges lived, I firmly believe he would have entered
Cooperstown as a manager. (And our 1970s might look a whole lot better,
Seaver would never have become a Red, Koosman a Twin…no, stop, that
way lies madness.) But he didn't live. He died young, tragically young,
and so the doors are closed there too.
A Met Hall of Famer, sure — he's on the outfield wall where he
belongs, and it's right and proper that all managers who have followed
him or will do so will be measured against him. But I can't see
Cooperstown. I've tried. But I just can't.