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News and Notes

A bunch of things went down while I was traveling:

-P- Ian Snell is headed to the DL, mostly, I gather, as a move to grab some roster space and allow Snell a couple days off. T.J. Beam went back to the minors, and Jimmy Barthmaier and Ty Taubenheim have been promoted. Those two guys will start the next two days. Neither had fantastic numbers in the minors, so don't expect much.

-P- I'll probably get in trouble for saying this, but isn't it funny how "chemistry" works? A year ago, Shawn Chacon was a team leader in Pittsburgh; this year, he's getting in a fight with GM Ed Wade, ignoring manager Cecil Cooper, and being released by the Astros.

I don't doubt that Chacon really was a leader for the Bucs. That he could be a leader one year and then be released for having a physical altercation with his GM the next illustrates some big problems with chemistry: personalities are volatile, it's hard to tell how a player will react when his situation is changed, and it's hard to tell which changes in "chemistry" would help a team and which would hurt it. On top of that, there are often two ways of looking at things: one year, Ian Snell is a hothead with an attitude problem; the next, he's a fighter who brings a jolt of much-needed energy to a moribund team.

Short of an Elijah Dukes situation where you have a player who's clearly insane, I'll stick to judging players by their performance. The effect of chemistry seems too complex to really predict, to the degree that it even matters anyway.

-P- The Pirates also dealt minor league pitcher Kyle Pearson to the Tigers for reliever Denny Bautista. The article mentions Bautista's similarities to Tyler Yates, which is funny because, before I read it, I was already planning to write that this move is copied straight from the playbook the Bucs got the Yates trade from. In each case, the Pirates dealt a relatively unknown minor league pitcher for a major league reliever with a great arm and control problems. As I've said before, I'm generally not too keen on the Pirates trading minor leaguers for older players at this point, but I think this is a worthy experiment. Pearson doesn't seem to have much upside at all and it looks unlikely he'll even get to the majors. I doubt the Pirates will be the team to finally get Bautista to throw strikes, but I'm happy to see them take some chances on players like him.

-P Finally, yesterday I had a chance to visit an enormous collection of Roberto Clemente memorabilia that's being housed in an old firehouse on Penn Avenue. (Jorge Posada also visited it recently.) From what I gather, it's not open to the public yet, but it will be soon, which is great, because there's some amazing stuff there. Specifically, there's a fantastic series of letters back and forth between Clemente and Branch Rickey regarding Clemente's contract for the 1956 season, the year after Clemente was a rookie. Rickey offers $7,000 and Clemente declines the contract and suggests $10,000 instead, based on his batting average, fielding percentage, and outfield assists. (You can look at that letter here.) A clearly angry Rickey then sends a massive letter threatening to send Clemente to the minors and suggesting that he fire his agent for giving him terrible advice.

Throughout the letter (which, again, was written in February 1956), Rickey raises questions about Clemente's walk rate and his strikeout-to-walk ratio, and proposes that instead of measuring Clemente's value by his batting average, he use a statistic that is something like this:


By this measure, Rickey says, Clemente fared poorly. You'll note that this stat is very much like OPS, except Rickey actually values walks more highly than OPS does. Obviously, Rickey's reputation as an outside-the-box thinker and sabermetric godfather is well-established, but it was still pretty fascinating to see this colorfully-written letter and read it from beginning to end. Anyway, you can take a peek at the collection here.