Monday, June 30, 2008

Everything Dies

If I ran the world the Tigers would still be playing in a lovingly restored cathedral to baseball on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. That ship sailed long ago, however, and now the mercy killing has begun:

Wrecking crews punched a garage-door-sized hole in the north wall of the ballpark today, and at mid-afternoon a bulldozer and hard-hatted workers were visible inside the wall, pulling away railings and other parts of the structure, while a Dumpster and other equipment was parked nearby.

Outside a security fence erected over the past several days, Rich Curbelo, a freelance radio journalist from Bloomfield Hills, said he was there as a fan first.

“This is my friend,” he said, gesturing toward the stadium. “My friend is leaving me. A punch in the wall is like a punch in the heart.”
You said it, brother.

This had to happen, but it doesn't make me any less sad that it is.

Barkeep? Mike mine a double.

(thanks to Mike at The Daily Fungo for the link)

God, I Hate Official Scorers

Reader Kenny S. writes in to vent about the treatment his Jetership received from the official scorer on Saturday:
Picture it, bottom of the 4th, one out. Tatis hits the most routine ground ball to SS in the history of ground balls to SS. The SS boots it. It is scored a hit McCarver is shocked. Buck is shocked. But they shouldn't have been, given the name of the SS. Next time someone questions the value of zone rating/range factor vs. Fielding %, point to this play!

I think most folks have gotten the clue on Jeter's defense and the deference he is given by now -- and Tatis' hit was erased on an inning-ending double play one batter later so it didn't really matter -- but I wanted to give Kenny the chance to vent on this. For one thing because he's right, but more importantly so that he doesn't take his still-simmering rage over this two day-old incident out on a water cooler or up in a bell tower somewhere.

Deep breaths, Kenny. Deep breaths.

Russ Keeps You Guessing

You may disagree with Russ Smith's latest takes on the DH (adopt it NL!), interleaue play (scrap it MLB!), throwback jerseys (enough already!), Barry Bonds (sign him, Boston!), ballpark food (keep it simple, stupid!), and instant replay (pass!), but you have to give him credit for keeping you guessing. I've been reading his stuff for a few months now, and just when I think he's a radical, he lauds something traditional, and just when I think he's bordering on Luddite, he bangs the drum for something progressive.

I think most folks' opinions are scattered across baseball's ideological spectrum, but maybe not so wildly across it as Russ' are.

Good News for Angels' Fans

Apparently there is a correlation between the legalization of gay marriage and sports championships:
Spain did it a few years back, and wham, they win the Euro for the first time since 1964. Canada did it just before the 2006 Winter Olympics, and bingo, they had their best-ever medal haul. South Africa legalized gay marriage in 2006, and won the Rugby World Cup the following year. Massachusetts gave same-sex couples the right to wed a few years ago — and ask Red Sox and Celtic fans about how nicely things have gone for their teams since. For all those folks who insist that God’s punishment for gay marriage will be obvious, so far the evidence is, um, lacking. The evidence for the opposite is growing.
Anyone have any proposals for potential causal links?

(link via Sullivan)

Selling in San Diego

The Padres are obviously not going anywhere, so as Tim Sullivan notes, it's time to put up the for sale sign:
Barring a sudden burst of competence -- and that might be too much to ask from this woeful bunch -- the Home Team should be expected to start moving some of its big-ticket, short-term veterans for some high-ceiling, long-horizon prospects.

Starting pitcher Randy Wolf, a free agent at season's end, is almost certainly gone. Pitcher Greg Maddux, whose contract contains a no-trade clause, might be induced to move at age 42 for a meaningful role in one more pennant race.

Outfielder Brian Giles, whose 2009 option has yet to be exercised, could also be made available should a contending club dangle the right bait.
I'm not sure I really want to live in a world in which a team signs Brett Tomko within a week of sending Greg Maddux packing.


From Chris Jaffe's writeup of SABR at THT:

I've been coming to these things for five years now, and I can finally start to see aging take its toll. Jon Daly, a frequent poster at Baseball Think Factory, has glasses. Well, at least he had to turn 40 before needing glasses . . . Craig Calcaterra has a bigger problem. One would think that getting a buzz cut and wearing a ball cap would hide a receding hairline, but that just isn't the case with him.
I take no issue with Chris pointing out my shiny pate, but for someone whose avocation -- sabermetrics -- requires such attention to detail, he should have realized that describing my hairline as "receding" is about as inaccurate as can possibly be. In my case, "receding" left town a decade ago when the hairline broke into a full-blown retreat and then committed suicide by leaping off the back of my neck and onto the floor of my local barbershop. Now my dome is about as chrome as it comes. The ball cap was less about hiding it than it was about protecting the other SABR attendees from the glare.

But as my grandpa, who like me was bald before 30, used to say: God only made a few perfect heads. The rest he covered up with hair.

Daffy Baker

Joe Lapointe of the New York Times looks back at the 1968 season. I had never heard this one before:

As a symbolic grace note, a pitching legend from a prior era, Satchel Paige, then 62 years old, coached for the Atlanta Braves.

Paige was there mainly to accrue pension time that he never got in the Negro leagues and to throw a few pitches before games. Dusty Baker, now the Reds’ manager, was a Braves rookie. “I was his caddie,” Baker said.

People gave Paige gifts, like fishing rods, and Baker carried them for him. “He never could remember my name,” Baker said. “He called me Daffy. He would tell stories. Hank Aaron would say, ‘Half of them are lies,’ but we’d laugh anyway.”

Paige is dead now, so I think it's OK if I steal "Daffy Baker."

Manny Being Shovey

And you thought he was just a big teddy bear:

Manny Ramirez shoved Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the ground in an argument over Ramirez' ticket allotment. Several onlookers moved quickly to separate the two.

Ramirez had asked McCormick for 16 tickets for Saturday night's Red Sox-Astros game, an unusually high number for day-of-game. In addition to handling all travel details for clubs, traveling secretaries also take player ticket requests for both home and away games.

When McCormick cautioned Ramirez that he might not be able to fulfill his request, Ramirez responded by shouting: "Just do your job!"

An argument ensued and Ramirez pushed McCormick, sending him to the ground.

One would think that more than ten years after the show went off the air I would stop immediately thinking of George Costanza every time I read about a team's traveling secretary, but that is simply not the case.

Darrell Rasner Interview

Jason at IIATMS is turning into a regular Barbara Walters. Last week it was Matt Sosnick, this week he interviews Darrell Rasner:
IIATMS: Which teammate has surprised you the most (ie: being friendlier, funnier, more serious, etc.)?

: A-Rod. He is incredibly kind and friendly, and takes an active interest in his teammates. He’s been awesome to me.

: Which of your current teammates would you think is most likely going to be a manager at some point?

: Chad Moeller. Brilliant guy, and loves and respects the game.

Rasner is a well-represented young guy on a veteran team so he's not exactly out there dropping bombs, but given the New York Post's ability to make mountains out of mole hills, I wouldn't be surprised if the two above answers get spun into "Rasner: Jeter's a Meanyhead Who Has No Future!"

And That Happened

Angels 1, Dodgers 0: I imagine Jayson Stark will tell me if I'm wrong, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that this is the first time a team has had three hits over the course of two games and split 'em. Nice series for the Angles' bats by the way (1 run in three games).

Mets 3, Yankees 1: Not a bad start for Darrell Rasner (5 IP, 8 H, 3 ER) but you have to wonder if he wouldn't have be sharper over his last couple of games if he hadn't spent so much time talking to Jason at It is About the Money, Stupid.

Twins 5, Brewers 0: The Twins are 13-2 in their last 15. Yeah, I think I'll start paying more attention now. Actually, I may not have a choice, as the White Sox, Twins, and Tigers look poised to make the AL Central the race to watch in the second half. After getting shelled by the White Sox on June 8th, Kevin Slowey has given up only three earned runs on 19 hits in 29 innings.

Rays 4, Pirates 3: Quote from Rays catcher Shawn Riggans: "We've got a lot of work ahead of us. Interleague play is done now." Man, when the backup catcher for the Tampa Bay Rays is dissin' the NL like that, you know there's an imbalance between the leagues. The Rays are in first place again, by the way, and they have tons of young talent to deal if they feel like arming for bear. If you're Boston, you should be nervous. If you're New York, you should be downright terrified.

Reds 9, Indians 5: If there is still anyone out there who thinks the Indians have a chance to make a run, they probably need to take note of the fact that the Reds now have a better record than they do. They're simply not running out a Major League lineup most nights, and that's not a sustainable situation. The buzz among the SABR wiseguys at Progressive Field Friday night was that we may very well have been watching C.C. Sabathia's last start as an Indian. I don't know about that, but if I'm Mark Shapiro, I'm on the phone soliciting the best offers I can find and hoping to pull the Bartolo Colon trade redux.

Blue Jays 1, Braves 0: The Braves aren't running out much of a lineup themselves. If Chipper isn't able to go against the Phillies on Tuesday night, they have to DL him, because Bobby Cox just doesn't have enough warm bodies -- let alone decent players -- at his disposal right now.

Mariners 9, Padres 2: Ichiro goes 5-5, as the Padres lay claim to Seattle's title as "The Worst Team in Baseball." Given the weather and the fish tacos and all of that good stuff, things never get truly ugly in San Diego, but this quote from Jake Peavy is the kind of thing that leads to major shakeups: "You have to be real with yourself. I know that I can't go six innings and give up three runs and think that I'm going to win a ballgame around here. It's just not the way it's going. I knew when I gave up the home run in the sixth inning it was probably the game."

Tigers 4, Rockies 3: Speaking of futile, the Rockies have dropped seven in a row and eight of nine. Next up for the Rockies: our friends the Padres. I suppose someone has to win those games, but I can't feature either San Diego or Colorado doing it.

Marlins 4, Diamondbacks 3: Tough luck loss for Danny Haren (7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER). Eric Byrnes -- who was stinkin' up the joint before he went on the DL and has been stinkin' up the joint since he got back -- was benched today, and Bob Melvin said that he's out of the leadoff position when he comes back. It's obvious this team needs a shakeup of some kind, so that's probably a good start.

Astros 3, Red Sox 2: The Sox drop two of three to the lowly 'Stros, and now have to face a Rays team that is as tweaked as can be. Nothing is do or die before the All-Star break, and given the experience and talent of this Red Sox team, they could drop three in a row and it's not really going to matter that much. Still, you have to think that there are some unsettled stomachs in the more excitable enclaves of Red Sox Nation.

Nationals 3, Orioles 2: Since it's Ronnie Belliard we're talking about here, let's just call his game winning shot in the bottom of the 12th a "waddle off" home run. Looking at the box score reveals that the Nats used four left fielders in this game: Wily Mo Pena, Willie Harris, Kory Casto and Paul Lo Duca. That crew is known in Nats' circles as the SSDD platoon.

Cardinals 9, Royals 6: The AP game story starts off like a diary entry from Andrew Sullivan's annual trip to Provincetown: "The sun, the wind, and Jason LaRue's stocky body proved too much for Kansas City to overcome." Apparently the wind was blowing all game long, and when you're a junkballer who gives up a lot of contact like Brian Bannister does, that's going to make for a long day.

Giants 11, A's 1: What's up with Joe Blanton? He has now lost for the fifth time in six starts for a grand total of 11 pre-All-Star break losses. Yesterday he gave up seven runs in four innings, and 16 runs over his last 14 innings. Wasn't there some notion in the early going that of the A's wanted to compete this year they needed to keep Blanton, but if they wanted to tear it completely down, they'd deal him? Man, false dichotomies suck, don't they?

Rangers 5, Phillies 1: The Phillies pull a 12-14 June out of their rears yet still somehow find themselves a game up as July dawns. One wonders how ugly things would be in Philly if the Braves hadn't entered the season depending on a rotation of Methuselahs and if the Mets hadn't spent the majority of the month as a side show.

White Sox 5, Cubs 1: I was pleased to see Piniella tossed in the second inning because that allowed Alan Trammell to come out and argue the double play Ronny Cedeno hit into in the fourth. He was my boyhood idol, so anytime I get a chance to see him audition for another manager job like that, I'm happy.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

SABR38 Wrapup

After the movie yesterday, I grabbed lunch with a couple of folks at a Mexican place in the alley at East Fourth Street. Chalk it up as one of those things you simply don't expect, but my lunch companions -- both of whom live out west -- thought that their burritos were the best they'd ever had. Cleveland, Ohio. Who knew?

After lunch we booked back to the hotel to catch a roundtable with minor league executive/eccentric folk hero/disco demolisher Mike Veeck and Cleveland Indians' GM Mark Shapiro. It was entertaining and informative. Mike Veeck is everything you've read about. During the audience Q&A, someone asked him a question that required him to tell the story of Disco Demolition Night. Now you know and I know that he has told that story hundreds if not thousands of times in his life, so you might expect it to be a little rote by now. Except it wasn't. Sure, it was obviously a long-rehearsed, frequently-repeated, and sharply-polished account, but he told it with such enthusiasm and humor that you'd think it happened yesterday. I have this feeling that I wouldn't be half as enthusiastic talking about something that essentially derailed my career for a decade.

Not that he was there just to talk about the past. There were several questions about the state of the minor leagues and, not surprisingly, Veeck has some pretty interesting ideas about that. One, which Mark Shapiro agreed with more enthusiastically than I expected, was that given how the major prospects basically jump from AA to the majors anymore, it might be a good idea for AAA to revert to some form of quasi-independent system. Definitely something worth thinking about.

Shapiro was a lot of fun too. You can tell by listening to him that the man is scary-smart. The thing that struck me the most, however, was when he said that he has kids that are the same age as mine. Knowing how hard one has to work at running a Major League team, and knowing how exhausting two kids under five can be, the man must be on greenies or something to simply get through the day.

Later that afternoon I caught a presentation on clutch hitting by sabermetric legends Pete Palmer and Dick Cramer and another on game scores, what they mean, are they useful, etc. I'll be honest, though, and admit that by the time those presentations came around the carnitas plate and two Tecates I had at lunch were starting to mess with my attention span. When they were over I went upstairs to my room, caught a couple of innings of the Cubs-White Sox game on TV, and listened to a pretty hellacious thunderstorm outside my window.

Thankfully the thunderstorm passed quickly, because I was going to the Reds-Indians game. Unlike Friday night's nosebleeders, last night's were pretty amazing seats a handful of rows behind the first base dugout. The company was pretty amazing too: Rob Neyer, Don Zminda from STATS, and SABR member and all-around smart and hilarious guy Jeff Bower. Wanna feel inadequate? Watch a game with these guys. As we sat down, Jeff, Don, and Rob each took out scorebooks already full of dozens of other games. Me? I ordered a beer and made a mental note not to buy that foam finger I had my eye on. The game itself: ho-hum. The Reds won 5-0 behind 6+ uneven but obviously effective innings from Johnny Cueto, an Adam Dunn home run that cleared the fence by about three inches, and a three-run double from Paul Bako of all people. The highlight(s) of the game, however, came when Indians' catcher Sal Fasano threw out two runners in one inning to get Paul Byrd out of a jam. At least temporarily.

After the game it was back to the hotel where it seemed like all of SABR had congregated in the lobby/bar area to drink and, of course, talk baseball. The SABR trivia contest had taken place while we were at the game, and folks were rehashing some of the questions for those of us who had missed it. I actually got one right -- what NL pitcher in 1985 actually had a better strikeout and hit per-innings pitched ratio than Doc Gooden? Answer in the first comment below -- but the rest of the questions made my head hurt. Of course people had answers for almost all of them, which made me feel pretty damn inadequate for the second time in four hours. After that pizza was ordered, beer was consumed, and the end of the Angels' not-really-no-hitter was watched on somebody's laptop.

I went upstairs at around 1:30 and hit the hay, and with that, SABR was over for me. Despite the fact that I have learned exactly how little I know about baseball over the past few days, I am truly glad I came. I enjoyed finally putting faces to the names of baseball fanatics I have known only online for so long -- guys like Repoz, Jim Furtado, Sean Forman, Mike McClary, Dave Studeman, John Daly, Rob Neyer, Chris Jaffe, Steve Treder, Joe Dimino, Matt Young, Aaron Gleeman, Mark Armour, Dan Levitt, and many, many others -- and I really enjoyed getting to know some of them a bit.

SABR39 will be in Washington D.C., and I'm not going to miss it for the world.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Base Ball Discovered

This morning I had the good fortune of seeing the world premiere of the documentary Base Ball Discovered (link launches a promo video). Produced by MLB Originals, the movie examines baseball's early history -- the origin story, really -- via an exploration of baseball's relationship to cricket, rounders, bat and trap, and stool ball.

It's an excellent film, full of interesting folks, not the least of which are a bunch of bat and trap players from an English pub who correctly noted that "in America you go out to a bar on Friday night and get drunk. In England we go out to a pub on Friday night and get drunk in front of our families." I think I'd like living in England.

The film itself underscores how baseball was never really invented. Rather, it simply evolved, as did any other number of bat and ball games, from some primordial common ancestor, probably in England. The climax of the movie is the discovery of the oldest known original manuscript containing the word "base ball" anywhere in the world. It's from the mid-18th century personal journal of an English nobleman named William Bray, who noted that he was leaving one afternoon to go see some of his friends play this curious game. Does that name seem familiar to you? If you read ShysterBall much it should, because it's shared by Billy Bray, relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, and component part to the Nats-Reds trade I can't seem to stop going on about.

Fun fact #1: Billy Bray is a descendant of old William Bray. Fun fact #2: Billy Bray was in the audience for the film's premiere, sitting a couple of rows in front of me. After the movie was over I went up and talked to him for a minute. No formal interview because I wasn't prepared and didnt' have anything to write with, but I did mention to him that, Daryl Thompson getting rocked last night notwithstanding, I thought the Reds got the best of that trade. He was polite, but looked at me like I was some kind of harmless weirdo. He was probably right to do so.

Today's plan: more research presentations (I've already hit a couple) and the Reds-Indians game tonight, this time with much better tickets.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Great Moments in Narcolepsy

Tonight was the night the SABR whack jobs walked their pasty white legs over to Progressive Field for the Reds-Indians game. Baseball is fun, and most of us were excited to go. But not everyone:

No one in our section was exactly sure who that guy is or whether he is with the SABR group. He did wake up eventually -- missed a pretty cool Grady Sizemore catch -- but even then he didn't seem too focused.

Not that I can criticize him too harshly, seeing as though I, along with The Daily Fungo's Mike McClary (who has turned out to be my SABR compadre numero uno) left the game early. It made sense: Sabathia was dealing, the Reds looked like utter crap, it was as humid as Satan's crotch, and some threatening clouds loomed in the western sky. We walked back to the hotel, ordered a couple of beers in the bar, and watched the game on TV, having missed nothing of consequence. By the time we were done with our beers it was apparent that no Red was going to lay a glove on Sabathia all night.

McClary snapped the picture, by the way, and can expect to be paid the standard ShysterBall photo residual within 4-6 weeks. That's my arm and beer in the foreground.

"Whack Jobs"

The SABR Convention is not making a good impression on Rob Oller, a reporter from my hometown Columbus Dispatch:
Good thing baseball moves at the speed of a shuffle. Otherwise, the 80-year-olds in shorts and knee-high black socks who follow the game couldn't keep up.

And to think that those old-timers in their flat-brimmed Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Braves hats were no less fashionable than many of the seamheads who filled the meeting rooms of a downtown hotel yesterday for the 38th Society for American Baseball Research convention.

Is there some kind of law that says baseball stat geeks must have bone-white legs and carry their suitcase-sized spiral-bound notebooks the way a snooty maitre d' carries dinner menus? Normally one to use a pint-sized notepad, I switched to a jumbo size just to fit in. When in Rome ...

It would be easy to stereotype and make fun of the SABR attendees, very easy, and to avoid doing so would be a disservice to those who appreciate the powers of (obvious) observation. But there also is something almost endearing about these people -- "whack jobs" as one hotel employee whispered to me -- who are so passionate about baseball that they spend up to 20 hours per week researching the history of the game.

That last line is about a charitable as Oller gets. I'm not going to defend the geekiness of it all -- it is pretty extreme -- but he obviously wasn't as interested in writing a piece about SABR as he was in trafficking in the most obvious of stereotypes. There are doctors and lawyers and teachers and all manner of people here who don't fit Oller's descriptions, and it would have been nice if he had taken a moment to talk to one of us.

Wait, he actually did take a moment yesterday, when I recognized him and told him that I was a fan of his writing (which is true, though maybe not to the degree to which I made it seem when I introduced myself). He was kind enough in return. When I saw him, he was standing about 15 feet outside of the room in which the poster presentations were displayed, writing in his notebook.

Seems like that's about as close to the story as his predispositions would allow.

Checking in Again

Kind of a slow morning for me at SABR. At 10:30 I saw a presentation about the 3000 hit club. The presenter was nice, but it was pretty basic: a statistical analysis of how long it took the members of the 3000 club to hit various milestones, and some Favorite Toy analysis about who might get there yet. I am by no means a stat guy, but when the presenter insisted on measuring milestones in terms of the at bats it took to achieve them instead of plate appearances, I kind of lost whatever enthusiasm I had for it.

The presentation right after that was about PITCH f/x. I decided to give it a miss because I had some work stuff I had to do (and I had to vent about Gary Carter in the below post), but I feel kind of bad about it now. Again, not a stat guy, but I really should know more about how to use, talk, and think intelligently about PITCH f/x. I'll just treat it like I treated most of college: blow off lecture and make it up with independent study and a healthy amount of bullshit.

In a few minutes I'm going to walk over to the Cleveland Public Library for an Author's Roundtable. The panel includes (1) Charles Alexander, who has written books about Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, John McGraw and others; (2) Tom Swift, a local writer who has recently written a book about Chief Bender; and (3) Rob Neyer, who I understand writes some sort of Internet column for a major media concern.

At 1:30 there's a panel of former Cleveland Indians, including Len Barker, Dave Burba, Joe Charboneau, Vern Fuller, and Ken Rhomberg. I may go to that, but (a) my thirst for interest in any of those guys is modest at best and quenchable from other sources; and (b) McClary and I were really wanting to get some Mexican for lunch at this place we saw over on East 4th Street yesterday.

Tonight is the Reds and Indians game. I may or may not check in to update/blog between now and then. I'll definitely have something either late tonight or tomorrow about the game and other stuff.

Gary Carter's Career Trajectory

Gary Carter still wants to manage in the bigs someday:

Carter, the Hall of Famer and former Met who had always seemed impossibly upbeat as a player, is trying to view his latest career turn the same way. He is the manager of the Orange County Flyers of the independent Golden League. It is the lowest rung of professional baseball, filled with castoffs and others trying to keep alive their dreams of reaching the big leagues. Carter is no different — he is striving to make it back to the major leagues as a manager . . .

. . . But when the conversation veers toward the reasons he is here — that neither the Mets, for whom he spent two seasons as a successful minor league manager, nor anyone else will offer him a big-league job — the smiles, the enthusiasm and the word play disappear.
I have a really hard time having sympathy for Gary Carter's frustrated managerial prospects for reasons that are clearly on display in the very article that gives him a platform from which to vent them:

Carter, after spending the first decade of retirement working as an announcer and on his golf game, turned back to baseball when his three children were out of the house.
Good for him for choosing to be with his family once his playing days were over, but he has to understand that most of the guys who become major league managers don't go into a decade-long exile from the game at age 40. Even the former players work their tails off or, at the very least, stay connected in real ways that show management that they are committed to baseball for the long haul now that their glory days are over. Can you name one manager who slipped into am extended retirement -- a real retirement in which he didn't coach or at least broadcast -- and then came back to manage? I can't. But that's not all!

After guiding the Mets’ rookie league team to the best record in the Gulf Coast League in 2005 and the Class A St. Lucie team to the Florida State League title the next season, Carter balked when he was offered the manager’s job with the Mets’ Class AA club in Binghamton, N.Y. He said he had already shown the Mets he could manage and did not want to stray far from his home near Palm Beach, Fla., without assurances he was “their guy.”
Retirement aside, Carter still got a chance, and he utterly blew it off. Ask yourself: has any player been drafted, tore up rookie ball, then tore up A ball, and then refused their promotion to AA because they felt that they were somehow being slighted? By refusing the assignment to Binghamton, Carter signaled loud and clear that he was not serious about wanting to see this thing through. Assurances? What the hell kind of assurances does anyone get? How would Willie Randolph have felt in the winter of 2006 if the Mets had told Gary Carter that he was "their guy?" The last time I remember any team telling someone, implicitly or explicitly, that they were "the guy" was when Marge Schott openly groomed and promoted Ray Knight as Davey Johnson's replacement with the Reds while Johnson was still managing. That certainly worked out well.

If Carter wanted to manage in the big leagues, he should have done what another All-Star catcher did: served as an organizational solider for a few years, moved up to coaching, took a manager's job in the high minors when one becomes available, did a good job there, and then hope against hope that good fortune smiled upon him. If he had done that -- if he had gone to Binghamton in 2007 -- don't you think he'd be on the short list of permanent Mets managers now? Hell, if he were in Binghamton waiting in the wings, the Wilpons might have canned Manuel along with Randolph and just ensconced the Kid in the Shea dugout.

But Carter blew it. Twice. And he's still complaining. Cry me a river.

Not All Biases Are Irrational

I have sympathy for those who complain about the dreaded East Coast Bias, but unfortunately, there are numbers which justify it:
The baseball folks at Fox hope their ratings for major league games heat up
along with the summer weather and division races. The network is drawing
2.0% of U.S. households to MLB telecasts, down from 2.5% at this time last year
. . .

. . . "The difference is being backloaded and frontloaded," said Mike
Mulvihill, Fox's vice president of programming and research. He means that
in 2007 there were more top matchups toward the beginning of the season while in
2008, it's the opposite.

"This year, we've had just one Red Sox-Yankees
game … last year by this time, we'd had three already. Overall last year we had
the Yankees on six times … this year, three times."

I know we all claim to be sick of the Yankees and Sox, but people like to watch them.

A question the article didn't ask is whether both last year's numbers and this year's numbers wouldn't be higher if Fox made even a token attempt to make their broadcasts palatable or, at the very least, unassaulting.

And That Happened

This installment is a little SABR-centric, but that's to be expected.

Indians 4, Giants 1: I left the hotel with a group of SABR folks at around a quarter after five, with the notion of getting some dinner and then catching this game. We got the dinner part in: beer and sandwiches at a serviceable pub near the stadium. As we were eating, dark clouds rolled into downtown Cleveland. We started to calculate the odds of a game happening -- or at least starting in a timely manner -- and came out on the pessimistic side. Some of our group had tickets already and decided to solider on into the ballpark and wait it out. I and a couple of others didn't yet and decided that waiting for the rain to pass didn't sound all that appealing, especially since (1) I'd end up eating the cost of the tickets if the game got rained out; (2) I have tickets for tonight's game already; and (3) I was dead tired anyway and the thought of crawling into bed early actually sounded pretty appealing.

There's also the possibility -- and I shudder to even think it -- that after a day of baseball seminars, baseball exhibits, and casual baseball talk with other baseball fanatics, I was suffering from baseball overload. I think the good night's sleep made that go away, though, because this morning I feel refreshed and ready for a full day geeking out. As it stands, all I missed was Cliff Lee thoroughly dominating the Giants (8 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 11K), and it's not like seeing the Giants dominated isn't going to happen again this year.

White Sox 2, Dodgers 0: Can somebody please tell me why Russell Martin has been starting at third base? And speaking of the Dodgers, I remember one other silly thing from yesterday's broadcasters' panel. I can't remember which one it was, but either Russ Schneider or Tom Hamilton, in talking about how the game has changed over the years, cited all of the new stadiums that have come online. Expounding on the point he said (and I'm paraphrasing only slightly) "everyone used to talk about how Dodger Stadium was so special because it was one of the few places that was baseball-only. But I was in Dodger Stadium recently, and you know what? It's a dump. There's nothing special about it other than the fact that Sandy Koufax and Steve Garvey and those guys played there."

Hey, I like the new ballparks as much as the next guy, but that's simply an insane thing to say.

Twins 4, Padres 3: Aaron Gleeman is here in Cleveland. I should totally follow him around and ask him what he thought of the Twins game last night and pass his observations off as my own because the Twins seem to be the one team for which I just can't get it up to make insightful comments. I probably know their roster and system less than any other team's. On any given day I can probably tell you who won what game last night and why with the exception of the Twins games, which just seem to slide right out of my brain the second after I write the recap. I've tried hard to figure out why I can't get into the Twins, and the only thing I can come up with is the dome, and that's really no explanation at all. So yeah, the Twins won, swept the Padres, and now go on to Milwaukee in what looks like will be a pretty awesome series. That is, if I can bring myself to care and force myself to remember.

Tigers 3, Cardinals 2: The only thing less exciting than a bases-loaded walk to win a game: watching a game-winning bases loaded walk in cartoon form via on somebody's laptop in the Gold Room at the SABR convention. And before you ask, no, the "Gold Room" does not involve strippers in any way.

A's 5, Phillies 0: Rich Harden was something to behold: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 11K, and a big F-You to the cruel fates which have sidetracked his career to injury so many times. If you're an Oakland fan you need to be knocking on wood around now, but Harden has reported for duty for nine straight starts. Philly? If they keep losing they're going to help land Jerry Manuel a permanent job.

Rays 6, Marlins 1: Matt Garza throws a one-hitter and doesn't fight with his catcher. Probably helped that it was a different catcher. I wonder if he was doing those over-exaggerated Nuke LaLoosh nods before each pitch to show that, yes, he intended to throw the pitch that was called rather than shake everything off.

Orioles 11, Cubs 4: You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff. Aubrey Huff? 4-5 with three doubles and two RBI.

Blue Jays 7, Reds 1: I suppose it was too much to expect Edinson Volquez to dominate forever, but getting lit up for seven runs in four and a third was a bit extreme regression-wise. I'm going to see the Reds tomorrow night here in Cleveland, and despite the fact that both the Reds and the Indians are sucking eggs, I'm looking forward to it because I'll get to see Darryl Thompson -- who I'm kinda high on -- and C.C. Sabathia. -- who I've always wanted to see in person.

Astros 7, Rangers 2: Wandy Rodriguez (8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 9K) picked up the Rangers by the neck, threw them down to the ground, and jumped on them. This, by the way, was the only one of the nine games played last night in which the NL team won.

Yankees vs. Pirates: Postponed. This game will remain frozen in time and space until July 10th, when it will be resumed. This is going to work a tremendous hardship on Pittsburgh until then seeing as though I'm pretty sure Jason Bay is required by the rules to remain in the box to finish his at-bat until then.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Checking in From SABR

We are coming to you live from beautiful Cleveland, Ohio!

Well, it does have its nice points. Like the hotel that is hosting the SABR convention. It's in the building on the lower righthand side of the pic, connected to Terminal Tower.

So far it's been a nice little convention. This morning I saw a presentation about Oscar Charleston and Bullet Joe Rogan playing in a Filipino baseball league while stationed in Manila with the U.S. Army in 1914. The presenter was an English professor from Ball State University named Geri Strecker, who really knows her Negro Leagues. The only hitch was that she called home plate "fourth base" once, and I am still scratching my head over that one.

I just now got back from a broadcaster media panel. The panel consisted of Indians broadcasters Rick Manning and Tom Hamilton, and retired Plain Dealer reporter and columnist Russ Schneider. It started off pretty poorly, actually, as the first question -- how has the game changed since you first broke in as a journalist/player -- led to all three of those guys talking about how free agency is the devil's work, players aren't friendly to reporters anymore, etc. A lot of people who do what I do are accused of railing against strawmen when we rail against the traditional media, but those alleged stereotypes are still alive and well and visiting SABR in Cleveland, Ohio. To be fair, things improved as the questions improved, and all three of the panel members had their moments.

I haven't really circulated much. I had lunch with Mike McClary of the Daily Fungo, who made the trip all the way from Scottsdale, Arizona. I like Mike a lot. Partially because of his blog, but also because, like me, he kept suggesting Mystery Science Theater 3000-style zingers after every other comment by the broadcaster's panel. I've also met Rob Neyer, Aaron Gleeman, BTF's Repoz and Jim Furtado, Chris Dial, Mike Emeigh, Will Young and some other names statheads and baseball obsessives would recognize. Those guys are the exception and not the rule here, however, as most SABR attendees are, well, really really old men. Seriously, there's a group of people in their 20s and early 30s, and then it jumps up to the sixtysomethings and older. Well, Emeigh is in between, but there really is a pretty big gulf between the old schoolers and the statheads.

Fun so far. I may or may not report in again later. I may or may not go to the Indians-Giants game tonight. If anything interesting happpens, however, I will certainly let you know.

Why yes, I AM in town for the convention!

Not long after posting this I will be hopping into the Shystermobile and heading up I-71 to Cleveland for the 38th Annual SABR Convention. Here are the things I currently don't know:
(1) whether I'm going to make it up there in time for the opening ceremonies;

(2) if I do make it up there in time, whether special guest speaker Bob Feller will be alerted to my presence and have his goons tear me limb from limb for my insolence;

(3) whether I deserve the beating or not. I think I might, actually;

(4) what I will do once I settle in. There are a lot of research presentations and meetings, and I have no idea what to see. Maybe I'll just find some cool kids and follow them around;

(5) whether I'll meet any cool kids.

(6) how much I'll be blogging while I'm there.
That last one is kind of important for our purposes here. I tend to have attention span issues, so I could totally see myself checking out of convention land for a few hours here and there, going back up to my room, and banging out 250 words about, well, whatever. I could also see myself just getting lost walking around and doing nothing more than Friday's recaps. At the same time, seeing as though I won't be on family duty, I may take the unusual step of posting some stuff on Saturday and Sunday too. Really, I have no idea. Check back every so often. We'll get through this thing together.

Finally, I should note that I'm something of a wallflower in these settings, so if you're actually, you know, at the convention yourself, please come up and talk to me. I don't bite, and I promise not to write about you unless you the kind of guy who says some real dumbass thing that causes me to ignore all of your wonderful qualities.

Hank and Willie

No, sorry, the other Hank and Willie:
Willie Randolph won't have to look far if he wants another job in baseball - he just needs to call Hank Steinbrenner. "There's certainly some stuff I can think of for one of the greatest infielders I've ever seen," Steinbrenner told The Post yesterday . . .

. . . Steinbrenner made it clear that he considers Randolph a Yankee and holds no ill-will toward him for leaving the organization to manage the Mets, who fired him last week. "If he had left to take over the Red Sox maybe I would have had a problem with that," Steinbrenner said. "He's a Yankee. He'll always be a Yankee. Even the Mets never completely accepted him because they thought he was a Yankee."

Does anyone else find it disturbing that the owner of the biggest franchise in American sports sees the world in such a simple, provincial way? I mean, sure, the rivalry stuff is fun to talk about, but does he not understand that rational, grownup people don't make their professional decisions based on that kind of stuff? Did Hank argue with his Dad when Don Zimmer was hired or when Wade Boggs was signed?

Bonds in the Bush Leagues

In what will come as absolutely no shock to anyone, Barry Bonds' agent has said that his client will not plead for a minor league job Jay Gibbons-style. He will help out minor league teams with promotions, however:
"He has nothing to prove there," Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, said Wednesday. "He doesn't need to go to an independent team and hit two home runs a night hoping to get attention to prove that he still has the skills that would warrant him playing at the major league level."
I predict the first "Barry Bonds Night" at an independent league stadium will occur within the next week. Come one, come all! If the Mudville Muffins hit two home runs in tonight's game, everyone in attendance will win a coupon for protein shakes at the local GNC!

And That Happened

Rays 15, Marlins 3:'s play-by-play account of games uses a green font for run-scoring plays, and a red font for pitching changes. After their ten-run explosion, the Rays' half of the fifth inning looks like a frog in a blender.

Red Sox 5, Diamondbacks 0: Tim Wakefield on the mound brought double-dividends. For one thing, he dominated (7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER). For another thing, his presence meant the absence of Jason Varitek and his .131/.185/.197 June bat. Well, actually Kevin Cash is worse than Varitek in June, but at least he hit a three run homer in this one.

Braves 4, Brewers 2: Where would the Braves be without Jorge Campillo? Tonight he goes seven, gives up only two runs on four hits and goes 2-3 with a couple of runs at the plate. Given how poorly they've played recently, it's hard to fathom that the Braves are only 4 games behind the Phillies right now. Not that it will last. Interleague play will be over soon, so I guess someone on the NL East will have to start winning games again.

Giants 4, Indians 1: Tomorrow night I'm going to see the Reds and Indians play. This looked like a much better matchup back when the schedule came out. I mean, when you only score one run off of Barry Zito, you need to take a long look in the mirror.

Yankees 10, Pirates 0: In two games, the Yankees have outscored the Pirates 15-12. If the Pirates win 2-0 or something tonight, this series truly will be a tribute to the 1960 World Series, at least as far as run differential goes. Joba (6.2 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 7K) seems to be growing into his big boy pants quite nicely.

Nationals 5, Angels 4: Jesus Flores singles in the game winner in the ninth giving Jon Rauch -- who coughed up a lead in the eighth -- a nice little vulture win.

Mets 8, Mariners 2: Miguel Batista walked five guys and gave up eight runs in less than three innings. Given his artistic gifts, however, he will no doubt turn the experience into an epic cycle of poems meditating on love, loss, and mortality.

Reds 6, Blue Jays 5: This game was bad for the Jays for two reasons. First, because they lost in extra innings. Second because, after the game, Adam Dunn called J.P. Ricciardi and asked him if his refrigerator was running.

Royals 4, Rockies 2: The Royals playing the NL are like the old people Scatman Crothers turned young in the "Kick the Can" segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. They're having so much fun right now, but soon they will realize that they have responsibilities in the real world. The old people had families and friends they would miss if they stayed young. The Royals have beatings to accept at the hands of the Red Sox and Angels and such.

Cubs 7, Orioles 4: Jim Edmonds in June: .346/.407/.712. I suppose I need to take back those cadaver jokes I was making a few weeks ago.

Rangers 3, Astros 2: There were more hits in the Astros clubhouse yesterday afternoon than there were during the game.

Twins 9, Padres 3: That little hint of a run San Diego teased us with a couple of weeks ago was clearly an illusion. Brendan Harris gets his second more or less game-winning home run in as many games.

Phillies 4, A's 0: Kyle Kendrick (8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER) clearly doesn't have that ninth inning mindset. Maybe they should have started J.C. Romero instead.

Dodgers 5, White Sox 0: Eric Stults, on the other hand clearly does (CG, 4 H, 0 ER).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Great Moments in Assault and Battery

Shawn Chacon was suspended by the Astros after getting into a heated and eventually violent exchange with General Manager Ed Wade.

Seems Wade and Cecil Cooper wanted to talk to him in the manager's office. Chacon didn't want to, telling him that he was in no mood to listen to what they had to say in private. Words were exchanged, and then this:
“He started yelling and cussing," Chacon said of Wade. "I’m sitting there and I said to him very calmly, ‘Ed, you need to stop yelling at me. Then I stood up and said 'you better stop yelling at me.' I stood up. He continued and was basically yelling and stuff and was like, ‘You need to (expletive) look in the mirror.’ So at that point I lost my cool and I grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the ground. I jumped on top of him because at that point I wanted to beat his (butt). Words were exchanged.”
Yeah, that's the story in Chacon's own words. Forgive me for being a lawyer, but when I read that I don't think "wow, this team is in turmoil." I think "wow, Wade's lawyer could win this one on summary judgment right now!"

Chacon has made around $13M in his career. If Wade wakes up with so much as a sore neck tomorrow, he could probably dip into some of that if he were so inclined.

Buy me some pizzelles and eierpfannkuchen! No me preocupo si alguna vez regreso!

The International Baseball Federation -- the folks behind the World Cup and Olympic baseball and everything -- have announced plans to launch a European league beginning in 2010. Walt Whitman was unavailable for comment at press time.

This sounds particularly dreadful:

Schiller also mentioned a rule change being considered in an effort to save time on games that go into extra innings.

"When the game enters the 10th inning, the next players on the roster are placed on first and second base and each team starts with one out,'' he said. "We feel that this proposal will help bring the game to an end in a timely manner.''
They can't be serious, can they? This has to be a sarcastic reaction to our implementation of countdown clocks, shootouts, and golden goals, right?

Damn Europeans and their typical disdain for tradition.

Predicting the Future


Here's the scene: Alex Rodriquez is in the batter's box and the pitcher fires a fastball over home plate. It takes only about a third of second for the ball, traveling at 100 miles per hour, to travel from the pitcher's mound to home plate. Yet somehow A-Rod manages to swing his bat around and blow the cover off the ball.

But there's a problem. The human brain doesn't work fast enough for even the "best player in baseball" to recognize that it's a fastball, crossing over the outside corner of the plate, in exactly 37 milliseconds. By the time he figures out where the ball is, it will be in the catcher's mitt.

"The batter can't actually react to what he sees, because [the ball] would be past him" by the time he reacts, said Richard A. Andersen, professor of neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology. The batter's brain may not be fast enough, but Andersen's research suggests it can make up for that by predicting the future.
The article tries to describe how technical and complicated all of this is -- there are paragraphs about monkeys with electrodes stuck in their brains and everything -- but doesn't this all pretty much boil down to "well, it was 3-1, so I was sitting fastball"?

I'm Sorry

I try to run a family-friendly outfit here, but sometimes you gotta go for the Dick Pole jokes.

Good Timing

Plate ump Brian O'Nora had to leave the Royals-Rockies game last night after getting hit in the head by the pieces of a shattered bat. This occurred mere hours after baseball's safety committee met to discuss the dangers posed by maple bats.

That sound you hear is the nation's sports columnists collectively running to their typewriters, overjoyed at having a column idea handed to them on silver platter.

Mind Games

The Brewers are concerned that pitchers don't learn how to pitch into the ninth inning as they're coming up through the system, so they have decided to do something about that. No, they're not going to shred arms by getting rid of pitch counts. They're going to do something else that is foolish:
Beginning this week at Class A Brevard County, relievers will start games before turning it over to the "starters" in the third or the fourth. By starting the starter later in games, the Brewers hope their young players develop a "nine-inning mindset" by the time they reach the Majors.
It strikes me that a better way to get your pitchers to go deeper into games is to teach them to be more economical with their pitches. To stay around the strike zone more. To have a plan of attack instead of trying to strike everybody out with the heat that got them drafted but that, if history holds for most prospects, will dissipate pretty quickly.

Another problem I have with this is the use of relievers to start games. If you're a reliever in low A, it's a pretty good bet that you're not one of the better pitchers on the team. Most guys who make the majors as relievers started as starters, meaning that the bullpen on an A team is likely full of cannon fodder. How will that "ninth inning mindset" develop if "starters" are brought into games that are already lost before they throw their first pitch?

It seems to me that the plan to develop that "ninth inning mindset" will come at the expense of a first, second, and third inning mindset. Unfortunately for the Brewers, all innings count.

And That Happened

Giants 3, Indians 2: I had kind of a rough day yesterday. Things just weren't working right. Computer trouble. Client trouble. Kid trouble. By around 9:15PM or so, I had pretty much had it with the world. Before slipping into a nice cozy glass of scotch, I decided to turn on the end of this game. Though they're on every night here, the Indians do nothing for me. The Giants -- at least the current incarnation --do even less. But then, in the top of the ninth, San Francisco gets Rich Aurilia over to third with Omar Vizquel at the plate. They put the squeeze on and, Casey Blake's bobble aside, it's a thing of beauty. Good timing. Good execution. Great camera work by the STO team. It was the kind of thing that can make a pretty crummy day brighter.

Mariners 11, Mets 0: Getting pounded by the worst team in the game is bad, but letting Richie Sexson go 2-3 with 3 RBI off of you is even worse. Of course doing those things while getting shutout by a knuckleballer missing a normally essential ligament in his arm takes things to a whole new level. For what it's worth, Tim Wakefield's career ERA against the Mets is 2.43; Charlie Hough: 2.67; Phil Niekro: 3.02; Steve Sparks: 9.00, but that was only two innings.

Blue Jays 14, Reds 1: On Sunday the Daily News ran a story about trade rumors allegedly swirling around Bronson Arroyo. I wasn't buying it on Sunday, and after pinching off a one inning, ten-run, 11-hit loaf against the Jays last night, I don't think anyone else is buying it either. He's 0-for-June and is sporting 6.52 ERA overall. He's going to make over $20M between 2009-10. No one trades for a guy like that. They call in Exorcists to rid themselves of his unholy presence.

Pirates 12, Yankees 5: Bill Mazeroski threw out the first pitch. Two innings later he suited up and hit a two-run double off of Darrell Rasner because, hey, everyone else was doing it.

Astros 4, Rangers 3: Josh Hamilton left the game early with a gimpy knee. He's hitting .285 over his last ten games. As slumps go that's pretty minor, but you have to think that the heat and the fact that he doesn't get rested much could be catching up with him. While we're talking about Hamilton, I wanted to reprint a comment an anonymous commenter recently made in that "to boo or not to boo Hamilton" thread from the other day:
At Spring Training in Surprise this year, the Giants blew off my kids, age 9 & 11 when they went autograph hunting on Easter Sunday after the Giants/Rangers played. Josh Hamilton watched it happen, then ran over to where my kids were, introduced himself and signed baseballs, caps, bats and tickets until everyone left in the park had an autograph. He asked kids what positions they played, acted interested when they answered and probably saved my vacation by connecting with the kids. When we see Josh on TV now, we cheer - and you should too.
No one's life is so simple and straightforward that we can tell whether they are good guys or bad guys based on a single observation, but as single observations go, this is a pretty big one in Hamilton's favor.

Brewers 4, Braves 3: The good news: Jeff Francoeur's contact lenses may be working, as he went 2-4. The bad news: He's still killing the Braves, this time with two errors in the first inning which led to two unearned runs. Not that anything was going to stop the Brewers last night anyway, as they've won eight of nine.

Rays 6, Marlins 4: The top of the eighth was a study in mutual futility. First up were the Marlins, who gave up three rinky dink hits to the first three batters to load the bases. Then it was the Rays turn. Bases loaded and nobody out and they hit into two consecutive fielders choices in which the lead runner was forced out at home. Then the anti-momentum swung back to the Marlins, as reliever Joe Nelson walked in two guys in a row to give the Rays the lead for good.

Angels 8, Nats 3: If you Google "woeful" and "Nationals" you get 681,000 hits. That's not as bad as the Reds' 751,000, but it's far worse than the Mariners' 130,000 and the Royals' 29,500. And if you think for a second that my saying this is not about me playing the Joker to Chris Needham's Batman in an effort to lure him back onto the cruel streets to start blogging about the Nats again, well, you're just not familiar with my work.

Cardinals 8, Tigers 4: Hey, it's the 1934, 1968, and 2006 World Series! Feel the excitement! Less exciting but probably more relevant was Gary Sheffield's return after a month or so away. He went 1-4 with a homer. In other news, the National Association of Smoke Producers and Mirror Manufacturers has announced historically-low inventories among its members by virtue of an unusually large order placed by a customer from the Greater St. Louis area.

Red Sox 5, Diamondbacks 4: According to the game story, David Ortiz may hit off a tee today. My boy might too if I can get home from work before it rains.

Royals 7, Rockies 3: Until Alex Gordon's homer in the 7th, the Royals' runs all came on four singles and a fielder's choice. Not the most intimidating display of power the world has ever seen, but it was made up for quite nicely by Zach Greinke's ten strikeouts in six innings.

Orioles 7, Cubs 5: Chicago used 19 players in a game that was 7-1 at the seventh inning stretch. Yeah, it got a little closer after that, but from the box score it doesn't exactly look like the kind of game that would inspire someone to go all La Russa on us and empty the benches with double switches and all of that nonsense. Anybody see this? What was the deal? Did Piniella put in a bunch of bench warmers thinking the game was out of hand in the seventh?

A's 5, Phillies 2: Two big blasts -- by Emil Brown and Jack Cust -- put this one out of reach. Is it just me or does it seem like Emil Brown has had an inordinate number of huge, game-changing hits this year for a guy hitting .246/.288/.375? Maybe it is just me, but I feel like I've written some variation of "big hit from Emil Brown!" quite a few times this year.

Twins 3, Padres 1: Hells Bells! Hoffman gives up back-to-back homers to Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher in the ninth inning. If it makes him feel better, it wasn't a blown save because the game was tied. Probably doesn't make Jake Peavy (6 IP, 1 ER) and the rest of the Padres feel any better, though.

White Sox 6, Dodgers 1: Mark Buehrle (8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER) makes quick work ( 2:05) of the punchless Dodgers. Of course, he makes quick work out of just about anyone.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How Blogs Die

Someone let me know if I start to exhibit the warning signs.

Frenchy's Cheaters

Jeff Francoeur is having a hell of a time at the plate, and the Braves think they have a solution:

Searching for answers to his extended slump, Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur was fitted Monday for a single contact lens for his right eye.

His vision in the eye has deteriorated since Francoeur was struck in the face by a pitch while squaring to bunt in a 2004 minor league game, and he thinks it might be a cause for the wide gap between his offensive statistics in day and night games.

“It’s been tough, but I try to stay positive,” he said. “There’s so much of the season left. We can really take off. They need me to do what I’ve done the last two seasons.”
Yes, Francoeur has some pretty big day-night splits -- for his career he's about .100 points of OPS better during the day -- but the 26 day games this season notwithstanding, the difference is almost all in the slugging percentage, not the OBP. That suggests to me that he can swing harder and the ball can carry farther during the day, but that he's not much better at recognizing a good pitch from a bad one when it's light than when it's dark. Maybe the contacts will work -- they did for Matt Diaz for a while -- maybe they won't.

I think Francoeur's biggest problem is not his eyesight but his utter lack of a plan when he comes to bat. He's been up for four seasons now -- nearly 2000 plate appearances -- yet he still swings at everything regardless of context or game situation. He still chases awful pitches. He still sits dead red and swings for the fences. If I were forced at gunpoint to bet my children on a single baseball outcome, "Francoeur hits into a first-pitch 4-6-3 with one out and the bases loaded and his team down by two" would be my horse.

Francoeur's numbers show a tremendous regression in their own right, but you can get a better indication of just how lost he is by simply watching him hit. At least when he came up -- before people realized they didn't have to throw him strikes -- he looked confident and balanced. Now he's all over the place.

I hope it's just eye trouble, but I fear that he's just a victim of arrested development, a discipline deficiency, poor coaching, and too much success too soon.

(thanks to themarksmith for the heads up)

Santo May Finally Make It

I don't follow this sort of thing very closely so this may be old news for a lot of you, but apparently the Veterans' Committee voting has changed in such a way that, for the first time in seven years, they may elect someone to the Hall of Fame. And that someone may very well be Ron Santo:
In recent years, the veterans committee -- essentially the living Hall of Famers -- selected from a filtered ballot of 20 to 25 players, listing as many as 10 on their individual ballots. A player was required to be listed on 75 percent to gain induction.

Santo led all vote-getters in the most recent round of the every-other-year voting but fell five votes short of induction.

This time around, that 20-to-25-man list is used in a preliminary ballot to narrow the final ballot to 10 names. Committee members then vote again, this time selecting up to four from the 10-player list, with the 75 percent criterion in effect.
Obviously Santo belongs in the Hall. If you disagree, post your argument in the comments. I have yet to see a cogent case against the man, but I'm open to anything.

Also please note from the article that Joe Morgan is perhaps Santo's biggest supporter. It's easy to lob grenades at the guy -- he makes such a big target sometimes -- but I'd be willing to sit through any amount of his color commentary in exchange for a Santo plaque on the wall of the Hall.


The Wall Street Journal has noticed something:
It's hard to watch the college-baseball World Series, under way now in Omaha, Neb., without noticing how different the college game is from the major-league version. Not in the caliber of play or the funny ping of the aluminum bats, but in the way the players look.

College players in the three main divisions are 86% white, according to the most-recent NCAA figures. That's a big difference from Major League Baseball, where one study puts the number at less than 60%. The most striking difference is in the number of Latinos on the field: They made up about 29% of all major leaguers in 2007 but only 5% of players in college.
Because it's the Wall Street Journal there's a lot of good stuff in the article about the economics of all of this including how, for example, college baseball's farkakte scholarship rules affect minority recruitment.

I think one of the reasons I can't take a shine to college baseball -- apart from the obvious pings -- is that so many of the teams seem to be stacked with Tylers and Austins and not enough Joses and Juans. It's not some overt flaw that violates some squishy equality requirement on my part. I don't look at the TV and yell about the lack of diversity on the screen. But the relative lack of Latin players is kind of disconcerting on some level, in the same way that weird lighting or the lack of crowd noise would be disconcerting. Something is missing from the game that we have come to expect -- something just wrong -- that makes you feel like you're watching something less than baseball.

World Series Flashbacks

In anticipation of the Yankees-Pirates series, the New York Times runs a remembrance of the 1960 World Series. We all know how that ended so I'll spare you, but how about this:
Since interleague games began in 1997, there have been many of these series reminding fans of World Series games contested decades before.

Two weekends ago, the Pirates visited Baltimore for the first time since they won the 1979 — “We Are Family” — World Series against the Orioles. That same weekend, the Red Sox played the Reds in Cincinnati for the first time since the Reds won the 1975 — “Carlton Fisk Foul Pole Home Run” — World Series against the Sox.

I have no idea if it's a person or a computer making the interleague matchups, but it seems like World Series rematches have been a conscious calculation this time around. I've read a lot of articles like these that force me to reflect on the past, but nostalgia can be a double edged sword. While the "historic" matchups like these are supposed to inspire fond remembrances, nothing diminishes the 1975 World Series more than seeing Norris Hopper in left field when I'm thinking about Pete Rose. Or seeing Darrell on the mound when I'm reminded of Whitey Ford.

And That Happened

If elected, I promise to pass legislation mandating a full slate of 15 games each and every weeknight between April and October. If that creates a hardship, we will re-institute the WPA, focusing on the development of innings-eating pitchers. The business of this country is baseball, and I promise that once I'm in charge, there will be no slow, sad, pathetic nights in which only a third of the teams play.

Brewers 4, Braves 1: Ben Sheets (CG, 4 H, 1 ER, 7K, 0 BB) put the Braves down quickly, quietly, and humanely. They didn't suffer. We'll tell the kids that they went to go live on a farm upstate. They'll be happier there, we'll tell them. Really, it was for the best.

Mariners 5, Mets 2: King Felix hits a grand slam off of Johan Santana. It was the first salami by an AL pitcher since before I was born, and it wouldn't have happened if David Wright hadn't made an error with two out in the second. Hernandez later had to leave the game with a sprained ankle suffered while covering home. The lesson here: sometimes it really is better to half-ass your job.

Diamondbacks 2, Red Sox 1: Danny Haren (7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, ugly neckbeard) outpaces Josh Beckett (8 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, ugly necklace). Overheard during broadcast: Steve Phillips, describing baseball's state of parity by explaining that there are two or three really good teams but the rest aren't very good at all. That, actually, would be the opposite of parity.

Angels 3, Nationals 2: Sure, the save is a somewhat overrated and often misinterpreted statistic, but K-Rod does have 31 of them through 77 games, and that's unprecedented. He plays by the same rules as every other closer, so no matter what you think of the save, you gotta give the fellow a hand.

Royals 8, Rockies 4: Brian Bannister started. He threw 113 pitches, but only 66 of them were strikes and he walked six guys. In other words, it was very un-Bannylike. The immediate implication: probably about 46 Posterisks in today's Banny Log as Joe P. vamps, trying desperately to figure out how to get out of writing 17 or 18 more of them this year.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Character Counts

Neyer posted a link to it this morning, and Sara pointed it out to me because I was too busy watching myself get yelled at, but here's a neat passage from the recap of Bill James' and Rob's presentation at the Boston Museum of Science:
[James] prefers to talk about elements of the game that he has not yet been able to measure.

For example, there is what he calls “The Dick Allen Problem.”

Dick Allen was a talented baseball player for the Phillies in the 1960s who had trouble getting along with management and many of his fellow players. Many believe Allen was a clubhouse cancer whose antics (he fought with teammates on a few different occasions and once missed a double-header because he was stuck in traffic) cost the Phillies wins.

The problem for James is how to measure the impact of a player’s personality on the team’s wins and losses. He has no idea how to go about doing that, but thinks it will have to involve practices from other scientific disciplines, such as organizational psychology. He sharply disputes the idea that off-field behavior doesn’t matter.

“There are some people who seem to think the things that happen off the field have no effect on teams whatsoever. That strikes me as idiotic,” he says.
When Sara forwarded that to me, she said "Bill James is working on scientifically measuring the "human element"? Good lord, what would the Old Guard say about that?"

I think the Old Guard will say something like "Finally that geek James has given up his cyberball and figured out what we've been saying all along! Character counts and chemistry matters!" Of course when they say that, the old guard will be ignoring that:
(a) James has never said that character doesn't count, and his comments here reaffirm a lot of what he has said in the past;

(b) Even if he did, looking at chemistry/character and looking at stats are not mutually-exclusive exercises; and

(c) Even though the Old Guard may claim that they were right all along in talking about chemistry, that talk has been much like their appreciation of stats: shallow, lazy, and resting on old canards and cliches as opposed to any objective observation.
I don't get the sense that James is actually looking at "the human element" as opposed to merely talking about it, but I'll bet that if he decides to do so he'll beat the old guard at that old game just as much as he beat them at the "new" game over twenty years ago.

The Backlash Against the Backlash

One of the central dynamics in baseball fandom over the past four years has been the backlash against Red Sox Nation. People were yelling for Sox fans -- who, pre-2004 World Series results notwithstanding, had been pretty fortunate all things considered -- to shut up with the lovable losers stuff.

While the misery of Red Sox Nation has been overplayed, Splice Today's Russ Smith -- a Sox fan living in Baltimore -- believes that the backlash has jumped the shark as well:

Winning ballgames is a balm for fans, and maybe that’s why people in Baltimore just shrug now when the bandwagon jumpers and pink-hatted ladies who comprise “Red Sox Nation” come to town. (It also helps that attendance, suddenly, is surging.) So what’s the excuse for the spate of baseball columnists—exacerbated during inter-league play—who are apparently just realizing that the Sox, finally shorn of the “lovable chokers” label that the New England intelligentsia reveled in romanticizing for so many years, are, at least temporarily, a draw in whatever city they play? A week ago, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Bob Ford ranted about the interlopers who came to see the Sox play the Phillies in a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park, lamenting that the “casual fans who [want] to glom on the gravy train” were wreaking havoc in his city . . .

. . . Enough, fellas. Although personally I’d like nothing better than for the Sox to build a dynasty to rival that of the Yanks in the 50s or late-90s—and what fan of any team wouldn’t?—it’s not likely. Odds are that Red Sox Nation will have another couple of years as a sports economic powerhouse and then another team will capture the public’s imagination. And when that happens, I’m looking forward to when the likes of Ford and Miklasz whine about the Orioles’ juggernaut called “Birdland” from coast to coast.
Not too sure about that impending Orioles dynasty, but the notion that Red Sox fandom is going to transform over time is likely correct. And I think that's true even if they keep winning (and given the organization that Theo and his buddies have built, I think that's a safe assumption). Manny and Papi will be gone one day, and the team will be full of a lot of guys with loads of talent but none of the charisma (who can match theirs?) and certainly no claim to those pre-2004 years. The fan base will still remain strong, but the novelty will have worn off for many, and you'll start to see the most marginal Sox fans drop out or at least back.

Thankfully for the rest of us, it's those marginal fans ("I spent two years of grad school in Boston, so I'm a total Sawx fan!") who are the most annoying.

Bob Feller is an Incredible Ass

The NYT's Jack Curry sits down for interviews with Lonny Frey and Bob Feller, the only two remaining players from the 1939 All-Star Game.

Frey, who is 98 and obviously not in the best of health, comes off like a humble, aw-shucks kind of player who was just happy to be there (and here). Feller, who at 89 is still incredibly sharp and active, comes off like a pompous ass:
Gehrig, another legendary Yankee, was the honorary captain for the A.L. that day, having ended his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played two months earlier. A week before the All-Star Game, the Yankees retired Gehrig’s No. 4 during an appreciation day. It was the first number retired in baseball. That day, Gehrig, who was dying from a neurological disease, called himself “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

Frey said he remembered Gehrig’s powerful words and felt sympathy for a fellow player. Feller said Gehrig’s speech grew more powerful as the years passed. Regarding Gehrig saying he was the “luckiest man,” Feller bluntly said: “He’s wrong. I am. I’m still alive.”
Wow. I have always been keenly aware of the profound irony surrounding Gehrig's death from a disease that robbed him of the very thing -- motor skills and muscle control -- that made him so formidable. The only cause of death which would inspire a comparable sense of irony with respect to Feller would be a fatal case of lockjaw.

Curry has a post at Bats this morning as well, providing some sidebar material to the Feller portion of the interview. Not surprisingly, it doesn't do much to make him seem any more humble of a fellow.

Mulder Returns

Mark Mulder's return to action is tentatively scheduled for next weekend's series against the Royals. That is assuming he does OK in what the team is describing as a "light" outing tonight with Class AAA Memphis.

I wish the Royals hadn't scored 52 runs in their last ten games, because if they hadn't I'd have my pick of "light outing" zingers.

The Disappearing Organist

There's no logical reason for organ music to be played at ballgames anymore. It's not the cheapest option for between-innings entertainment. It's not the most elegant. It certainly doesn't connect with modern fans in any important way other than nostalgia.

But I love it, and I'll miss when it's gone.

Geroge Carlin 1937-2008

I am incredibly sad about this.

The following is one of the best bits he ever did. You can watch it on YouTube if you'd like. It's funny. In pure text, however, it reads like a good, compelling argument.

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. The baseball park!

Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything's dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs - what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups - who's up?

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog...
In baseball, if it rains, we don't go out to play.

Baseball has the seventh inning stretch.
Football has the two minute warning.

Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we've got to go to sudden death.

In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there's kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there's not too much unpleasantness.
In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you're capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! - I hope I'll be safe at home!