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Archive for February 16th, 2011

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts).

For 16 years, Tampa has been the Yankees’ spring training home, but it still seems like just yesterday when the team’s camp was located down the coast in Ft. Lauderdale. I am sure most fans who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s still reflexively hearken back to those days of yore, while the real old timers’ memories probably take them all the way back to St. Petersburg, where Yankees’ legends from Ruth to Mantle toiled under the Florida sun.

Over the years, spring training has evolved significantly. Once upon a time, it was a pre-season retreat designed to help out-of-shape ballplayers shed the pounds added over the winter. In the early part of the last century, before even reporting to camp, players would often attend spas in places like Hot Springs, where they would purge their bodies of the inequities from the offseason. Then, games would either be played among split squads (in the old days, the camps would be split into teams of veterans and hopeful rookies, the latter often called Yannigans) or against local minor league and college ballclubs. Finally, the teams would barnstorm their way back up north before finally kicking off the regular season.

Today, spring training is more big business than quaint tradition. Thanks to the growing competition between cities in Arizona and Florida (each state now hosts 15 major league clubs), teams have been able to extract sweetheart stadium deals, allowing them to turn the exhibition season into a significant profit center. Still, at the heart of spring training is hope and renewal, as teams begin the long journey that is the baseball season.

The Yankees’ spring history has been a journey all its own. Below is an outline of some significant mileposts along the way.

Yankees’ Spring Training Homes Since 1901

1901-1902: The Orioles of the brand new American League began preparations for their inaugural season in Baltimore, the same city in which they would play their regular season games. Unfortunately, the rainy weather in Baltimore would make for a less than efficient camp and lead to excessive “loafing” by the ball players. In 1902, manager John McGraw took his ball club down to Savannah, GA, where the franchise trained while a member of the National League (before folding at the end of the 1899 season). In the Baltimore Sun, McGraw vowed to have a more productive preseason and proclaimed that there would be “no loafing” this time around.

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I am sure many readers, upon seeing the headline above, expected another post about Baseball Prospectus’ mindless Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm projection system, also known as PECOTA. In particular, many Yankees’ fans have become addicted to this new fan dangled mathematical formula that seeks to predict the future performance of teams and players alike. I guess I can’t blame them. Any calculation that can get AJ Burnett back down to a 4.50 ERA can’t really be all bad.

Bill Pecota played for three organizations, but was best known as a Royal.

Still, the sabermetric geeks have spent way too much time sucking the life out of baseball…putting statistics ahead of stories in a vain attempt to gain knowledge. After all, what purpose does knowledge serve when watching baseball?

No sir. February 16 will not be sullied with talk of WARP and UZR and all the other fancy statistics that no one can pronounce. You see, today is Bill Pecota’s birthday, and even though the projection system that co-opted his name doesn’t think much of this former Royal, Met and Brave, he still has an interesting story to tell.

Most people will tell you that Bill Pecota’s only two meaningful seasons in the majors were 1990 and 1991, when he had a WAR of 2.2 and 2.8, respectively, while playing for the Kansas City Royals. That’s nonsense, however. What everyone seems to ignore is that Pecota could play everywhere, literally. Over his underappreciated nine-year career, the utility man played at least one game at all nine positions. People make such a big fuss over Babe Ruth because he could pitch and play outfield, but did you ever see the Babe play 2B or SS? Pecota did!, making him one of only 17 players to accomplish this amazing feat of versatility.

Still not impressed? Well, while most other players were padding their stats in the regular season, Pecota was preparing for the month when it really counts: October. Although Reggie Jackson is more commonly known as Mr. October, his .278 batting average and .358 on-base percentage during the postseason pale in comparison to Pecota’s rates of .333 and .500. In fact, in the entire history of the game, only Bobby Brown was able to match Pecota’s outstanding ability to reach base in the clutch. The skeptics will undoubtedly mention that our hero only came to the plate four times in October, but what difference does that make? Small sample sizes are for sissies.

Despite all of the overwhelming evidence, Pecota has still been relegated to a footnote all because he shares the name of a computer program. It’s too bad more people don’t value him like the Mets did in 1991, when they traded two former All Stars, Gregg Jefferies and Kevin McReynolds, for Pecota and a throw-in named Brett Saberhagen.

So, the next time you feel the urge to confer with a projection system, do yourself a favor and read a good story instead. Who needs PECOTA when you have Pecota? Besides, if you are really desperate for predictions, just keep reading The Captain’s Blog. It has a much better track record divining the future (a dart board beats math any day).

Super Utility Men: Players Spending at Least One Game at Every Position, Since 1901

Player From To G PA BA OBP SLG
Bert Campaneris 1964 1983 2328 9625 0.259 0.311 0.342
Cookie Rojas 1962 1977 1822 6871 0.263 0.306 0.337
Cesar Tovar 1965 1976 1488 6177 0.278 0.335 0.368
Roger Bresnahan 1901 1915 1438 5355 0.279 0.386 0.377
Bernie Friberg 1919 1933 1299 4795 0.281 0.356 0.373
Jose Oquendo 1983 1995 1190 3737 0.256 0.346 0.317
Frank Isbell 1901 1909 1074 4483 0.251 0.291 0.329
Jack Rothrock 1925 1937 1014 3719 0.276 0.336 0.370
Steve Lyons 1985 1993 853 2388 0.252 0.301 0.340
Sam Mertes 1901 1906 826 3504 0.273 0.343 0.391
Bill Pecota 1986 1994 698 1729 0.249 0.323 0.354
Shane Halter 1997 2004 690 2109 0.246 0.303 0.385
Jimmy Walsh 1910 1915 502 1736 0.285 0.332 0.404
Art Hoelskoetter 1905 1908 299 1024 0.236 0.271 0.282
Bill Friel 1901 1903 283 1088 0.245 0.292 0.331
Bobby Reis 1931 1938 175 330 0.233 0.291 0.279
Scott Sheldon 1997 2001 141 310 0.235 0.275 0.375

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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