Ichiro facts and Western legends

liberty valanceA 1962 movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, was made by a trio of Hollywood legends, John Ford, John Wayne and James Stewart. The film is most often referenced because at its dramatic conclusion, came one of the greatest lines in movie history:

Ransom Stoddard [Stewart]: You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

At some point, the facts about Ichiro Suzuki may be zig-zaging into legend territory, but its hard to tell from my vantage point here in the deep South, aka Miami. I get to say that since I grew up around folks who pronounced it ‘My-Ama’ and had a neighbor who played a mean banjo.

A sampling of recent articles about Ichiro and the facts, or legends-to-be, they report:

Joe Trezza – Miami Herald – Unique training and preparation:

Like all players, Ichiro will stretch. But he starts earlier than most players and won’t really ever stop … one of the few major-leaguers who doesn’t lift weights. Instead he prefers a rigorous flexibility routine that requires specialized machines, targets often-overlooked joints and promotes improved blood circulation….

Ichiro has been placed on the disabled list just once in 14 seasons. He does the routine up to four times per day — when he wakes up, before team stretches at the ballpark, before the game and again at home after the game.

What separates Ichiro from other players isn’t his work ethic. Instead it’s a meticulousness that touches every aspect of his preparation.

“He’s the most interesting man in the world,” Marlins hitting coach Frank Menechino said.

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The at bats Ichiro needs for 4,257

IchiroSuzuki-620x400Two major milestones are on the horizon for Ichiro Suzuki. An additional 134 hits would tie him with Pete Rose at 4,256 professional base hits. If he gets 22 hits beyond that, he would then reach the 3,000 hit threshold in MLB. An incredible accomplishment given that he spent his first 9 seasons in Japan before coming to the Major Leagues in 2001.

As fans, when we think of hitting, we are used to thinking about at bats [AB’s], but plate appearances [PA’s] is the more precise way to measure, since it includes walks and sacrifices which don’t count as AB’s. Barry Jackson has reported that while Ichiro’s base contract with the Marlins is for $2 million, it could increase up to $4.8 million based on additional PA’s. The bonuses start kicking in at 300 PA’s in increments of 50 up to 600.

So barring a major injury, which Ichiro has avoided throughout his 23-year professional career, getting enough PA’s is all that stands between him and international professional baseball history happening in Little Havana. In my informal review of how local bloggers have weighed-in on the subject, Joe Frisaro and Michael Jong’s article as of March 2015, both estimated 340 PA’s. Interestingly, in a Jan 2015 article before the Ichiro signing, Jong was much more pessimistic about Ichiro’s expected PA’s.

Here is a rundown on my starting point to estimate Ichiro’s 2015 PA’s:

  • 385 – Ichiro’s 2014 PA’s with Yankees
  • 340 – Estimated PA’s for Ichiro by Joe Frisaro & Michael Jong [March]
  • 300 – PA’s at which contract bonus begins to kick in
  • 201 – Reed Johnson 2014 PA’s with Marlins / Jong [January]

But how did they get to 340 PA’s? While Jong is very detailed in his use of analytics, he did not not specify his assumptions on getting to 340. Frisaro added up the PA’s by the 6 Marlins bench players used as pinch-hitters or reserved outfielders last year. As such, Frisaro’s 340 strikes me as too generous, whereas January Jong too stingy in allowing that Ichiro might only match Reed Johnson.

There is a consensus that Ichiro will not be platooned and will not play first base. So his role will be as the first pinch-hitter off the bench and a typical 4th outfielder, playing in case of injury or spotting starters a day off. Further, given that Yelich is a Gold Glove winner and Ozuna and Stanton are considered above-average defensively, it is unlikely that Ichiro will be used extensively as a defensive replacement.

Based on those factors, my search criteria for determining which MLB outfielders during 2014 best approximated Ichiro’s role in 2015, are as follows:

  • National League player – due to reprehensible DH
  • Started ≤50% games played – to avoid platoon players
  • Min 250 PA’s – below that level there is no chance for reaching records

Here are the 2014 National League outfielders who met that criteria:

That’s it. Even Snider’s 359 PA’s are a bit of an outlier, since he began the year as a starting outfielder.

Ichiro is on a 2-year plan to get 156 hits, or 78 hits per year. Unless the Marlins outfielders have a major injury, Mike Redmond will be hard pressed to get Ichiro more than 300 PA’s. Here are the number of hits 300 PA’s would translate to:

  • 74 – based on .264 batting average [Ichiro’s average last year]
  • 78 – based on .280 batting average
  • 84 – based on .300 batting average

It will be that close. While Ichiro is a famously classy guy, I wouldn’t blame Christian, Marcell & Giancarlo for always walking behind him. As a sign of respect of course.

Ichiro reminds us why we are fans

The only embargo being lifted in Miami in 2015 relates to an islands nation with a proud baseball tradition dating back to the 19th century, Japan. As such;

I, generic Marlins fan of Hispanic background, being of some mind and impeccable Miami ethnicity — to wit, privileged to have stepped on or into the following; Orange Bowl, Miami Senior High, St John Bosco Catholic Church, Miami-Dade College, FIU, UM, McDonalds, Cuba, Bon-Bon Bakery, 5th Street YMCA, and the Aquarius Lounge — hereby declare the games of the MMXV Miami Marlins to be open and free of resentful fan embargoes, at least until the next treacherous personnel move.

Why now you ask? Is it because of the Stanton signing? Sure that helps, but that signing’s most significant value to angry fans is the realistic timetable it provides as to the end of Loria’s ownership. No the main reason to move past our resentments is the arrival of the great Ichiro Suzuki to play on hallowed Orange Bowl grounds within our Little Havana neighborhood.

ichirobanner2
To go from being represented by Ozzie Guillen to Ichiro Suzuki, is to go from the relentlessly profane to the height of professionalism. Ichiro is a worthy successor to Mariano Rivera as the best combination of sustained excellence and class MLB has to offer. Baseball royalty resides in Little Havana for 2015.

A bridge too bizarre. Such journeys can’t happen all at once. You need a Mike Redmond buffer. Unlike the Corleone’s, the attention-starved Marlins management only lately have recognized their need of buffers or class.

The profaneness about the Miami Marlins was not limited to their manager in 2012. The team owner, playing the proverbial geek desperately trying to curry favor with the cool kid, happily informed Guillen of how many F-bombs he had used in his initial address to the team in front of Showtime cameras. Never wanting to be left out, the team president also dropped an F-bomb in a choreographed pep talk to Marlins office personnel. If loving Ozzie was wrong, these jock-sniffers didn’t wanna be right.

Marlins managment were committed to Ozzie all the way through Spring Training. Then came April 2012, then came the long con, as Jeff Passan might say. But our sports hatred of Loria is no long-term reason not to follow and support Miami’s MLB team based in Little Havana.

My next Marlins blog post will discuss a possible target date for Ichiro reaching 4,257 career hits. He is 134 away and we need to explore how Redmond can find the needed AB’s over the next, hopefully, 2 years.

Sorry Garcia, Ichiro’s coming for your boy.

The God Particle to Miami Marlins fans

Up with Carl Loria

Up with Carl Loria

Gary Nelson’s question to Jeffrey Loria properly identified what truly binds [aka ¹God Particle] Miami Marlins fans, he asked:

Your organization and you are, quite frankly, much despised among many in this community…. Can a deal like this wash that much bad blood away?

Nelson’s point was deliciously undeniable. Jeffrey Loria is [sports] despised by an overwhelming majority of Miami Marlins fans. It is an enmity earned by repeated lies and obfuscation. It will not go away until he goes away. It binds us.

Two great things have happened for us Miami Marlins fans as a result of the Stanton signing. First, given the way the contract is structured, heavily back-loaded after the first 3 years, we can now see the light at the end of the Loria ownership tunnel. Second, we get to have Giancarlo Stanton on our team for the next 6 years. In that order.

So for us Marlins fans, Nelson’s question during the televised press conference carried the emotional equivalent of D’Angelo Barksdale asking Stringer Bell, “where Wallace at?”

Like Stringer, who must have assumed he could con D’Angelo one more time, so too Loria must have thought that the Stanton signing would at least provide a temporary respite from the enmity. While listening to the question, and no doubt noting the mortified straight-ahead gazes of his employees, the unlikelihood of any PR rehabilitation must have registered deep in an area other humans refer to as a soul.

Yo Jeffrey, where Miggy at?


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How not to grow MLB in Miami – part 305

espn screenDo the laws of supply and demand apply to MLB ticket sales? See the nearby screenshot of a portion of the Miami Marlins 2014 schedule. The last column reflects the tickets available for purchase through a MLB approved ticket broker. At first glance, it would seem to indicate that the Dodgers, Giants and Nationals have many more tickets to sell than the Miami Marlins. They don’t. Well, not really.

Welcome the world of MLB finances. A world in which if regular fans were more aware of its realities, they would feel like more like Alice in Wonderland than Costner in Field of Dreams.

A recent Forbes article by Jesse Lawrence does a good job of explaining the logic behind the attendance figures shown in the screenshot above:
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Fully Baked Zito

barry-zito-giantsBarry Zito has hit on a clever tactic to be left alone. In a GQ interview, he acknowledged that he was a Christian who enjoyed reading C.S. Lewis. His interviewer, Nathaniel Penn, gives what I think is an accurate recap of the public perception [certainly was mine] of Zito prior to the interview:

During his prime years with the Oakland Athletics, Barry Zito won the Cy Young, dated Alyssa Milano, surfed, played guitar, meditated, and generally personified that beloved baseball archetype: the flaky lefty. In 2006 he signed a massive, history-making deal with the Giants, only to lose control, inexplicably, of his celebrated 12-to-6 curveball. Since then he has been great only in short bursts: a month here, six games there. Now he personified something else in baseball: the mega-contract bust. But last fall, with the Giants facing elimination in the playoffs, he saved their season and led them to their second World Series title in three years.

No more half-baked image or ideas for this guy. The 34 year-old MLB pitcher didn’t just shake off the flaky label in the interview, he beaned it on the first pitch and then rushed home plate and clubbed it as Flaky oozed its last vial of quirkiness across home plate. I mean jeez, Barry. Being married, owning and enjoying firearms would have been plenty. No, you had to go C.S. Lewis on them. Here are some of the gruesome details:

To what degree are you a different person than the person you were in Oakland?

I think I’m a little bit less of a seeker these days. I’ve found something that I just really love, which is the Christian faith, and it’s new to me. I grew up being a seeker and being completely out of the box and testing and reading and trying all different religious things and kind of philosophical approaches and such, and it’s kind of a backwards route. Most people are raised very rigidly in an organized religion and then they try to fight their way out of that. I needed structure [laughs]. A lot of these kind of spiritual things are all based on the self and that was just too—I couldn’t handle that anymore. I don’t know. I think it led to a form of—it can lead to narcissism, I think.

Even now I can hear the rumbling from secular humanists grabbing their broken-cross-I-mean-peace-sign pitchforks, ‘Narcissist? Whoa, is he saying…’ Perhaps I exaggerate Zito’s expected fall from celebrity grace [actual Grace being what he appears to have embraced]. One of my favorite MLB bloggers, Craig Calcaterra from Hardball Talk, a proud non-reactionary type, weighs in:

The bigger takeaway, I think, is that while it’s often tempting and easy to pigeonhole hippie/playboy/zen/surfer types on the one hand, and it’s tempting and easy to pigeonhole Christian gun owner types on the other, there are a lot of people — probably most people — who fit neither of those easy caricatures. Zito is his own dude, comes off as a pretty thoughtful dude, and there’s something cool about that.

By the way, in the specific Lewis book Zito cited, The Problem of Pain, he might have come across something like the following–Lewis on the issue which I’ll characterize as why bad things happen to good people:

Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for a moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover. The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.

Highly questionable or in the tank?

Graphics by G. Costales

Dan Le Batard’s recent column makes various assertions about the finances of the Miami Marlins which echoes what Jeffrey Loria would have us believe. I don’t know when Le Batard would ever reach the point of skepticism about his Marlins sources, but his patience is impressive. While he is critical of Marlins management on non-financial issues, what he accepts as fact about their finances just doesn’t add up. He wrote:

The team overspent assuming we’d fill the ballpark [#1], which we didn’t, and that meant losing about $40 million [#2] in that calamity of a season…. Unlike Micky Arison, who lost money every year he owned the Heat except last year, Jeffrey Loria doesn’t have enough money [#3] to keep losing $40 million a year even as the ballpark appreciates his and the franchise’s value [#4].

  • #1 – Depends on the meaning of the word ‘fill.’ Marlins stadium capacity is 37,442. To have sold it out, or filled it, would have meant drawing 3 million fans. David Samson is on record with ESPN’s business reporter Kristi Dosh noting that they expected attendance of 2.7 million [89% capacity], or about 500,000 higher than the 2.2 million [73% capacity] it turned out to be. Noting 89% vs 73% capacity may not be sexy, but it sure is more useful for the purposes of determining expected revenues.
  • #2 – The lower than anticipated attendance would not even come close to accounting for a $40 million loss. It is misleading to imply that the 1st year attendance is to blame for dramatically altering the Marlins business model in year 2 of the stadium. Here’s why.

Marlins revenues from gate receipts, as per Forbes, averaged between $15.1 & $16.3 per fan [gate receipts divided by attendance] between 2007 and 2011 [click on spreadsheet within blog post]. Assuming a healthy 25% increase in per fan revenue to $20 per fan in the new ballpark, multiplied times the missing 500,000 fans, equals a nice round $10 million in missing revenue. A more accurate description of what had to occur to make up for the missing fans was to dump Heath Bell’s contract.

On the positive side, its good to know the Marlins are back to discussing the results of their yearly operations. Let’s hope it’s not a 1 year thing, given that 2013 is looking a lot like 2006 through 2009.

  • #3 – Sloppy and misleading. Does Le Batard know how much money Loria has? Does ‘money’ refer to cash flow as opposed to assets? When exactly would Loria run out of ‘money,’ given the assumed losses? Answering any of those questions would be useful information. Or is Le Batard suggesting that 1, 2, or even 3 lean years would affect the net profitability of Loria’s MLB investment, given the Revenue Sharing fat years which preceded it and the new ballpark which came after? Here’s what is known:

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Marlins fan pesadilla draws to an end?

Graphics by Gabriela Costales

Graphics by G. Costales

Pesadilla is the Spanish word for nightmare and a feminine noun. For Miami Marlins fans, pesadilla is a particularly accurate description for having our MLB team owned by a Manhattan bred arts dealer who made his bones running Expos out of Montreal. But this nightmare is likely coming to an end soon, since selling the team now constitutes Jeffrey Loria’s best option.

While I believe selling the team makes business sense, personal factors also point to a sale. Being the Marlins owner in 2013 appears to be a miserable use of septuagenarian millionaire’s time. This without even considering potential health issues and whether his spouse–on whom he appears to have about a quarter-century of life head start on–has an opinion about being married to a locally despised figure.

In addition, the Non-Relocation agreement’s penalty for early sale is not significant enough to deter the sale. The additional amount due the County if the team is sold between now and the next operational phase [April 2014], would be around $2 million — assuming a sale price of $450 million — or roughly the equivalent of what a typical Babalao would earn for not managing your team for one season.

Business reasons to sell sooner rather than later:

  1. No factors which would increase that the value of the franchise over the next few years. The ballpark was a great success, with potential parking and traffic issues proving to be manageable in the 1st year. The expected significant increase in national broadcast contracts would already be factored into any sale negotiation.
  2. No long-term, heck, no commitments period on the team’s payroll. A team paring down salary for profit, would still have keep at least one of their free agent signings for appearances sake if nothing else. When they all were shipped out, that’s how ‘dead’ owners roll.
  3. Attendance – The Marlins drew 2.2 million in the new ballpark and that figure is widely described as both inflated and disappointing for a 1st year stadium. However, Guillen’s Castro comments stifled enthusiasm that the Marlins should have enjoyed at the beginning of the season. Despite that, the Marlins averaged 28,988 during the 1st half of the year [thru July 1st] when their record was at 38-40 — average attendance ended up at 27,400 for the year. Soon afterwards, the trades of Ramirez, Sanchez and Infante signaled that ownership had given up on the season. The point is that a case can still be made that MLB in this market is *viable, in comparison with overall MLB attendance. Owning the team past the coming season, could begin to undermine that argument.
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John Grisham’s mini-brain fart

Listening to the audiobook of John Grisham’s new novel, Calico Joe, I heard something which made me pause, not unlike how Jaguar Paw might have reacted to coming across a Chili’s outside a Mayan city.

What I heard was that Joe Castle was coming to bat for the 4th time — in a game tied at 6 — with 2 outs in the top of the 9th inning. Any MLB fan fan worth his Bill James Baseball Abstract collection would feel cognitive dissonance rippling through their DNA at the notion that a hitter in that scenario would only have 4 plate appearances, if he had been in the lineup for the entire game.

Here are the limited facts that Grisham provides about Castle’s plate appearances and the game scenario:

  • Castle was in the starting lineup and hit 7th.
  • Came to bat for the 1st time in the top of the 2nd inning. Home run.
  • 2nd at-bat came in the 5th inning. Home run.
  • His team had scored 4 runs before his 3rd at-bat.
  • 3rd at-bat came in the 7th inning. Home run [HR].
  • Before Castle’s next at-bat in the 9th inning, Grisham notes that he had hit 3 home runs in “consecutive” at-bats. This rules out that Castle could have had a non-HR at-bat [i.e., walk, error, HBP]. If that had been the case, Grisham could not have accurately described his HR at-bats as “consecutive.”
  • 4th at-bat comes in the 9th inning with Don Kessinger on 3rd base and 2 outs with the score tied at 6. Castle bunts for a base hit and Kessinger scores. That 7th run is described as the “eventual winning run.”

Here’s the problem. In order for Castle’s 9th inning at-bat to match Grisham’s game scenario [Castle is the Cubs 34th batter], he unrealistically limits the runners left on base [LOB] by the Cubs during a game in which they had scored 6 and eventually would end up with at least 7 runs — “eventual winning run” means the Cubs could have gone on to score more than the 7 runs, but the opponent was held to 6. Here are the results of the previous 33 at bats:

  • 26 – outs made – with 2 outs in the 9th inning
  • 06 – runs scored
  • 01 – runner [Kessinger] on base in the 9th
  • 00 – zero runners left on base [LOB] during first 8 innings

How unusual is it for a team which, after Castle’s bunt, had scored 7 runs and left only 1 runner [Castle in the 9th] on base to that point in the game? Let’s look at the actual team which was the basis for the story, the 1973 Chicago Cubs. The Cubs scored 7 runs in 8 games that season. They averaged 8 runners LOB in those 8 games. The lowest total was 6, the highest was 9.

This might be the last MLB trivia question which cannot be answered online: What is the most runs scored by a MLB team with zero runners left on base? I’d love to know. Even the great Baseball Almanac, does not provide records of Team LOB records based on the number of runs scored.

But Grisham has another problem. During 1973, Don Kessinger’s place in the batting order was 1st, 2nd or 8th. Since Kessinger was the runner on 3rd base during Castle’s 9th inning at-bat with 2 outs, this would mean that Kessinger was hitting anywhere from the 4th to the 6th [since Castle was hitting 7th] spot in Grisham’s lineup.

So the question is why Grisham lays out a baseball scenario which is so unrealistic? I get why homering in consecutive at bats makes a better story than squeezing a walk in between. I get why his last at-bat comes in the 9th inning. What I don’t get is why he sacrificed the plausibility of his game scenario by giving Castle’s team 6 runs and putting Kessinger on 3rd base, instead of 3 runs and Ron Santo or Billy Williams on 3rd base when Castle batted in the 9th?

I don’t object to a major leaguer’s storybook first game. But Grisham draws readers into the story with a number of baseball insights which indicate that a degree of authenticity was important to the story. Hell there was even Willie Montañez reference. One of the main characters even describes himself as obsessed with baseball statistics in his youth. And yet he fails the authenticity test in the most basic way.

The most logical conclusion must be that Grisham never even considered that there might be an issue given Castle’s at-bats and the score. All of which just makes Grisham [and a few well-paid editors and one fact checker] more normal than those of us who love the statistical aspect of the game. So it may not even a case of the author not doing his homework, perhaps he didn’t even realize there should have been an assignment.

Good teams don’t blow this many saves right?

Geez, can’t a fan’s gut instincts ever be right?

Here are the thoughts of Marlins fans [OK me] after Heath Bell’s blown save on Tuesday:

Good teams don’t lose games when they rally from 7 runs down. Good teams don’t blow these many save opportunities. I mean it’s probably happened before, in the way that everything has probably happened before in MLB, but you probably gotta go way back.

So I set out to find a National League [the DH league is dead to me] playoff team who were at the bottom of the league in terms of blown saves. I had to go all the way back to the 2011 World Champion St Louis Cardinals.

  • 2011 Cardinals blown saves – 26
  • 2011 NL average blown saves – 20
  • 2011 Marlins blown saves – 19
  • 2012 Marlins blown saves – 12
  • 2012 NL average – 10

But surely those Cardinals didn’t have a game were they were down 7, came back and blew the game in extra innings? No they had one where they were down 8, came back and blew the game in extra innings. It happened against the Reds, it happened at home and it happened almost one year to the date of the Marlins loss, on July 6th 2011.

Alright, alright, but before those Cardinals, what other playoff teams …

  • 2010 – Cincinnati & Philadelphia were above the league average in blown saves, but not significantly
  • 2009 – LA Dodgers made the playoffs and led the league in blown saves

I could go on, but its a sunny day. Turns out that blown saves may be a better indicator of a team that has a lot of late leads, more than it is an indicator of whether a team can make the playoffs. So ask not for whom the Bell trolls, Oviedo and Bonifacio will soon be back.

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