Archive for July, 2009

The Twins Know Casilla Sucks Too

July 20, 2009

Hey, I guessed one right! Just took 2 1/2 months longer than I had hoped.

Apparently the team decisionmakers watched Casilla flailing around second base and had the same reaction I did (tastes a lot like what you had for dinner the night before), because today they signed 39 year old Mark Grudzielanek to a minor-league deal.

I expect story-breaker Seth’s reaction will be echoed by most Twins fans: essentially, “ew.” He’s old; he hasn’t played in nine or ten months; he’s old; he’s not Freddy Sanchez; and he’s old.

But. It’s clear that the Pirates want a lot for Sanchez. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be making the big show of making extension offers to him and Jack Wilson (offers both of them rejected, but still). A year ago, Sanchez was a terrible player. At 31, he’s reaching the age where most middle infielders start to break down. For all we know, that could happen in August.

Grudzielanek, meanwhile, made it through that barrier age and then some. In every year from 2003 to 2008, Grudzie hit between .290 and .314 and posted an OBP between .331 and .347 (with an outlier .366 in ’03) with a SLG between .399 and .432. Combined with surprisingly good defense for his age (saving 3.1 runs over average in 2008 per UZR), that’s a damn fine second baseman. Not an All Star or anything, but the kind of solid everyday player that playoff teams have filling all their non-All-Star positions. Not as valuable as Sanchez was in 2006 or has been so far in 2009, but a whole lot better than Sanchez ca. 2008.

Now, some assumptions need to be made. One needs to assume that (a) the Twins did their homework and determined that Grudzie has been working out and is still in playing shape, and (b) if he reports to the complex at Ft. Myers and proves otherwise, the Twins are ready to make another move. Because if one thing on this earth is clear, it’s that nothing is happening this year as long as Tolbert or Casilla stays at second base.

But my hopes are relatively high. Grudzielanek has certainly wanted to play, and would’ve been signed in February or March had it been any other offseason–it would be profoundly stupid of him not to stay in playing shape. I don’t think it’s crazy to hope that he’ll take a week or two in Florida and be ready to be the same .300 hitter with doubles power that he’s been for forever. And if that’s the case, you’ve got a player who, over the remainder of the season, is probably about half a win worse than Sanchez, and who in the context of baseball economics has cost virtually nothing. Whatever small piece of the Twins’ future that would’ve been mortgaged to obtain Sanchez, it’s a good bet that that piece is worth more than a half-win in 2009.

So, for maybe the first time in his tenure, I’m going to provisionally approve of something Billy Smith has done.

Then again, it’s feasible that this is just a tactic for use against the Pirates–if Huntington thinks the Twins are desperate and he has them over a barrel, it would be really, really smart to show him that they have another option besides the two subreplacement stiffs they’ve been throwing out there. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Either way, I’m liking this move…and that’s a really weird thing for me to say.

Casilla sent down, called back up, still sucks

July 18, 2009

Please don’t make me watch this dude anymore.

Alexi Casilla came into Friday “hitting” .180/.242/.225 in 31 Major League games this season. That’s good for a 28 OPS+. 28% of an average major league hitter. For comparison’s sake, the first no-name National League pitcher who popped into my head (and I’ll never even be able to guess why) is the Pads’ Kevin Correia. Correia, this season, has a 32 OPS+.

Which would be fine if he were the best defensive second baseman in the history of the world (that’s a total lie — there’s nothing that can make a 28 OPS+ okay). But the sad truth is, he’s also a terrible second baseman. UZR thinks that he’s cost them 5 runs out there in his limited work this season, and from watching him, that seems low to me. All in all, FanGraphs has him at just over one win below replacement, which is something like saying if you had put pictures of random AAA second baseman on a board and threw a dart at it, then played the guy that dart hit for 31 games instead of Casilla, the Twins could expect to be a game closer to the Tigers right now. Just gross, all the way around.

Unfortunately, Matt Tolbert isn’t noticeably better, with a 37 OPS+ (and -0.9 wins below replacement, meaning that if you’d played Random AAA Guy at 2B every day, they could be two whole games better), and Casilla was tearing it up, relatively speaking, in the minors ( .340/.379/.449). So, contrary to my hopes and expectations, the Alexi Casilla Era began anew last night.

Ian Kinsler reached leading off the Rangers’ first, and then attempted to steal second. Mauer uncorks an absolutely perfect throw, coming right up to Casilla on the short hop, and Kinsler’s out by a good six feet. Except Casilla doesn’t even touch the ball. Just skips on past him; Kinsler ends up on third, and somehow Mauer gets stuck with the error. Later in the game, the Rangers double steal, and Mauer has the guy at second dead to rights…except Casilla doesn’t even cover the base.

And that’s the thing that gets me. I have a certain tolerance for terrible players, especially if they’re 24 years old and were considered decent prospects not so long ago. I also have patience for good players who sometimes make mental mistakes. But if you’re a terrible player and you have no idea how to play the game or where you’re supposed to be in a given situation? GTHO.

The Twins would be doing both themselves and the Pirates a big favor to go out and make a really solid offer for Freddy Sanchez before the deadline. The Twins get an automatic 3-win-or-so expected improvement over the last 70 games, while the Pirates are spared from their GM’s apparent inexplicable desire to sign two 30-something middle infielders to multi-year deals. C’mon Freddy!

Because I have to post something today

July 17, 2009

Yesterday, there were two different and, I think, kind of crazy, posts on the Hall of Fame and steroids made by two very different people. (If it hasn’t come through yet, I’m in the stop-moralizing-and-put-them-all-in camp, and I’m sure there will be a day to discuss that, but today is not that day.)

First: Jeff Pearlman puts out this one. It’s almost a caricature of the typical indignant whine: “But they cheated! What’s happening to this country? Think of the children! Integrity! Sportsmanship! Character!” Which is certainly not surprising coming from him, but nonetheless disappointing, since I’ve been reading his blog for a couple months now and find that I really enjoy almost everything he writes about any topic other than baseball. People just have blind spots, I guess.

Consider this, though: “As soon as they chose to cheat—to violate the law of the United States in an effort to enhance their careers—they deemed themselves ineligible.”

One day earlier: Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Come on, man. At least be consistent with the reasons behind your crazy.

Second: Meanwhile, Bill James comes out with his thoughts on the topic, which would be a big deal except that link is subscription-only (though it’s only a very-worth-it three bucks a month) and has been read by a grand total of 200 people so far.

It should come as no surprise that I like Bill James. A lot. “Revere” probably isn’t too strong of a word. “Worship”? Debatable. I’ve read unauthorized biographies (okay, biography) of Bill James. I have friends that call me Bill James. There are, finally, a few really extreme numbers people who are starting to resist this notion, since he’s kind of softened his stances in the last few years, but I maintain that everything good that happens in baseball these days goes back to Bill James at some level.

But this article? Kind of crazy.

Okay, only one part of it. The first part, where he says that all the steroid users will go into the Hall eventually because “steroids keep you young” and eventually “every citizen will routinely take” steroids (which he then calls “anti-aging pills”) “every day.” Now, I’m fully prepared to accept that Bill knows a lot more than I do about everything there is to know in the world (the law, my own personal life, you name it), but that seems really out there to me. I’m hoping it’s satire and I’m just missing the joke…but I don’t get that sense from reading it at all.

Most of the rest of the article is great, actually. James argues that (2) the moral high ground will vanish once someone who used PEDs gets in (and they will, even if it takes someone about whom the news doesn’t leak until they’re already in); (3) “History is forgiving[, and] statistics endure,” something I’ve been saying since this whole mess started; and (4) old teammates advocating for their PED-using brethren will help get them in (not sure how I feel about this, but it’s not crazy).

And fifth, James puts forward the best pro-inclusion argument I know of in the most eloquent way I’ve ever seen it put. Just trying to take the very best bits while hopefully still respecting Bill’s proprietary rights:

It seems to me that, at some point, this becomes an impossible argument to sustain—that all of these players were “cheating”, in a climate in which most everybody was doing the same things, and in which there was either no rule against doing these things or zero enforcement of those rules. If one player is using a corked bat, like Babe Ruth, clearly, he’s cheating. But if 80% of the players are using corked bats and no one is enforcing any rules against it, are they all cheating?

It seems to me that, with the passage of time, more people will come to understand that the commissioner’s periodic spasms of self-righteousness do not constitute baseball law. It seems to me that the argument that it is cheating must ultimately collapse under the weight of carrying this great contradiction—that 80% of the players are cheating against the other 20% by violating some “rule” to which they never consented, which was never included in the rule books, and which for which there was no enforcement procedure. History is simply NOT going to see it that way.

I would encourage you to subscribe, to read the whole article, and to soak up everything else on his site as thoroughly as you can. But anyway, I’d have to say that fifth argument absolves him of all the crazy of his first argument. Pretty solid stuff there.

Feel free to discuss/berate/question in the comments.

Oh, Pedro

July 16, 2009

The week from hell continues (I have about one of those a month). I’m working on a more interesting post, but it’s not happening today.

So how about this?

What is it with great players at the end of their careers having to jump from one unmemorable stint with a wrong-seeming team to another rather than just leaving well enough alone?

Now, when I first heard this, I figured the Phillies must’ve looked at him really closely and determined that he was 100% healed from whatever was ailing him last year, when he was, um, horrible. So then what’s the next thing that happens? They put him on the DL.

Incidentally, does that ever happen? I’ve never heard of anyone going from free agency straight to the DL before.

Anyway. It’s not a big deal in the end; they’re paying him $1 million (up to $2.5 with incentives). He might not even make an appearance with the big-league club. But here’s the thing: you have to figure that however many appearances he does make with the Phillies, he’ll hurt the team approximately that many times. He hasn’t been a good pitcher since 2005, and he was awful when healthy last year.

Consider this: he gave up 19 HR (tied for the fourth-highest total in his career) in just 110 innings in 2008. Shea was a bad home run park; Citizens Bank is a good one. In 10 innings in the Phillies’ home park last year, Pedro surrendered 4 home runs. Terribly small sample size and all that, but Pedro is 38, hasn’t pitched competitively in nearly ten months, and obviously isn’t healthy. Say he goes down to AAA for a couple starts and uses guile and the awe of facing Pedro freaking Martinez to go 12 innings and give up 3 runs and strike out 10. If you’re a Phillies fan, do you really want him up and facing the Mets at CBP in August? Or do you kind of have to secretly hope he never makes it out of the minors? I know they’re feeling pretty desperate, but it would almost be hard to find somebody that wouldn’t figure to be better than Pedro right now.

Links of the Week or So

July 15, 2009

I had big plans for today’s post, but paying work gets in the way again. I did sort of try to watch the big non-exhibition exhibition game while I was doing said work. And I’m told it was a good game, but without being invested in it, I kind of missed all the interesting stuff, I think. I came away from it with the feeling that it was terribly boring. I didn’t think at the time that the ball Crawford caught was going to clear the fence, but even if it was, it didn’t strike me as that great a catch. A very nice one to be sure, but Crawford, phenomenal outfielder that he is, makes a better catch than that just about every day of the season. MVP material, really? Maybe that’s why I came away disappointed–no real standout performances. I would’ve loved to see Pujols go all hey-I’m-the-best-right-handed-hitter-you’ve-ever-seen on everybody in his home park. But anyway.

  • Topical and timely! It’s a transcript of what the Sotomayor hearings would be like if they were conducted by the 1977 Royals instead of the SJC. It’s…funny. Not terribly coherent, but funny. I can’t decide if it would help one’s appreciation of it to know more or less about the players involved. And it took me a while to realize he meant “the members of the 1977 Kansas City Royals, but in the present day, armed with their personal experiences of the past 32 years,” not just the team straight out of ’77 from like a time warp or something. Anyway, it’s an experience.
  • Also timely, at least as of yesterday! wezen-ball’s look at best players never to be All-Stars. I’d still say Tim Salmon or Kirk Gibson has to top the list; it depends on where you come down on the whole peak vs. career thing. Shouldn’t we weigh peak even more than usual when you’re considering stuff like this, since if a guy’s had some really big years, it’s that much more of a surprise that he wasn’t an All-Star? That said, though, Tony Phillips was a really solid player too, and I’m sure he deserved at least a couple nods. One of the few utility players who could really play any of the five or six positions you could put him in, and an ideal leadoff hitter (for what I’m looking for, anyway).
  • I might’ve failed in my quest to complete Minerva’s poetry challenge last week, but look! This week’s? Already done, baby! Funny thing is, we didn’t plan that. She was planning to do that type of poem anyway.
  • More interesting stuff from Tango: Jamie Moyer = Jack Morris. Almost exactly, as of today. And yet, one of those guys is kind of a running “old guy” joke while the other will probably end up in the Hall three or four years from now. I was kind of proud of my snarky comment to that post, I have to admit.
  • This Dayton Moore quote has finally convinced me that the Royals are trying to be tragically, snobbily, pathetically hilarious. The haughty ineptitude is too perfectly executed to be real. In other news, I don’t really understand the pleading rules of our court system, and as an attorney, I don’t see why I should have to. Next time I’m asked to file an answer to a complaint, I’m going to scrawl “DINT DO IT” in crayon on the back of an old receipt with my right (non-dominant) hand and mail it to the judge. My bosses would be cool with that, right?

I wish that this were a Royals shirt. Or Dayton Moore himself. But anyway, it’s what I think of whenever people are being both incredibly stupid and incredibly self-aggrandizing or condescending:

Baseball Is Poetry, Vol. II

July 14, 2009

A favorite college professor of mine posted this wonderful baseball poem of his yesterday, and it put me in the mood to do another one of these.

The Cliff’s Notes:
First: on Monday, posted a 2009-All-Star-rosters tribute to Ogden Nash’s delightful 1949 poem, “Line-up for Yesterday”. That was fine and all, but I decided to do my own tribute to Nash, comprised mostly of players from post-’49. I’m sure it’s been done before, but I don’t care. Loyal readers may detect one slightly satirical entry.
Second: last night’s Home Run Derby recapped in Haiku form. I was really hoping to do an entry for Minerva’s latest poetry challenge, but I’m afraid I’ve run out of hours in the day (and night, and most of the next morning). I tried–sonnets are freaking hard. Anyway, away we go:

A Lineup for Nearer Yesterdays
A is for Aaron,
who topped seven-fourteen;
his passion and pride
before and since, unseen.

B is for Barry
and Bonds too, of course;
an unparalleled talent
from sense quite divorced.

C is for Calvin
Edwin Ripken, Jr.;
when it came time to play
he’d never defer.

D is for Doby,
the AL’s pioneer;
the stats show he did
more than just persevere.

E is for Eckersley,
mulleted closer sublime;
he’d enter and the other guys’
death knell would chime.

F is for Ford,
Casey Stengel’s top gun:
save him for the big games,
consider them won.

G is for Griffey,
or Junior, to you.
Played just the way
we’d all like to do.

H is for Henderson,
base-stealing’s top name–
Rickey played ’til they kicked
Rickey out of the game.

I is for Ian Kinsler
’cause there just ain’t no I’s;
the fine slugger of Texas
defaults into this prize.

J is for Jackie,
bigger than any game.
The world got a little better
because Jackie came.

K is for Koufax,
the ace of L.A.,
turning visiting lineups
into a fine-cut fillet.

L is for Larry
(but you know him as Chipper);
sixteen Hall of Fame years for
one Hall of Fame skipper.

is for Maddux and Musial,
Mantle and Mays;
as great as great gets,
each worthy of praise.

N is for Niekro,
the lord of the flutter,
winning 20 for teams
often found in the gutter.

O is for Ortiz,
the much-feared Big Papi;
his bat is a force,
tho’ his defense is sloppy.

P is for Pujols
and his incomparable power–
he keeps getting better,
almost by the hour.

Q is for Quiz,
the wisecracking sidewinder;
to catch sight of his sinker
you’d need a depth finder.

R is for Ryan,
of the seven no-hitters;
his uncontrolled heater
still gives batters jitters.

S is for Spahn
the tireless lefty,
who’d face fearsome lineups
and butcher them deftly.

T is for Torre:
at the bat and the helm,
Joe had the stuff of
the Hall of Fame’s realm.

U is for Utley,
the king of sack two.
Don’t try to dissuade him:
he says “boo? Eff you!”

V is for Valenzuela,
enigmatic Fernando;
he killed in ’81–
sustain he could not, though.

W is for Williams,
the Thumper, the Kid;
if a hitter on God’s Earth
can do it, Ted did.

X is for Eckstein,
the X Factor to you;
hustles into your heart
and onto this list, too.

Y is for Yaz,
the basher of Beantown,
and still last to wear
the three-titled Crown.

Z is for zenith,
the apex, the best;
these stars all stand there–
so the records attest.

Home Run Derby Haiku Recap
Inge comes up empty–
that’s just eleven less than
he hit all last year.

Mauer, Al, Pena
in a three-way-tie swing-off.
Yeah, Joe’s got no chance.

“Ball Track” trails ball’s flight
with a goofy yellow line;
worse than Berman’s jokes.

Fielder wins it all,
hits the night’s four longest shots;
Big Man Hit Ball Far.

How to Make the Derby Watchable

July 13, 2009

Happy second-worst day of the summer, everybody. I don’t think there’s any question that the Wednesday after the All-Star Game, with no baseball of any kind at all, is worse, but the Home Run Derby and the celebrity softball nonsense don’t do a whole lot to save the Monday prior, either.

That said, and despite the title of this post, I will actually watch the Home Run Derby. I’ll watch it live or DVR it and flip through it late tonight. But I won’t really care, and I won’t really pay attention; unless somebody goes all Josh Hamilton on the thing, it’ll just be something to have on in the background.

It still seems like a relatively popular thing, by cable TV standards, so I’m sure ESPN is in no hurry to change anything at all. But here are some things that would make me care about it, anyway, in descending order of importance:

1. Just Make Chris Berman Go Away. I don’t care how this is done or who replaces him, and I really mean that. This is the one night a year where I think I could deal with the brain-exploding inanity of Joe Morgan or Steve Phillips (and by the way, is it in Morgan’s contract that he has to be smugly wrong about every single thing ever? And was Phillips hired only to agree with Morgan’s wrongness in an even more smug way? Watching the Cubs/Cards game last night was like being continuously kicked in the teeth for three hours. The only tolerable part was the two or three minutes where the sound went out).

But that’s the point–anybody could do the HR Derby job, even Phillips. You give little factoids between swings, and you get a little excited when somebody hits it a really long way. Jon Miller would be fantastic. Just–anybody but Berman. I remember thinking his little nicknames and (then-)30 year old rock music references were funny when I was twelve or so, but to hear them now, I’m pretty well convinced that I was a slower-than-normal twelve year old. I caught parts of a few classic HR Derbies over the weekend, and I think they’d be a lot of fun to re-watch if not for Berman’s incessant distracting, unfunny bleating.

2. Get rid of at least one, and preferably two, rounds. The first round is always great fun. Everything worth remembering that has ever happened in the Derby has happened in the first round (may not actually be true, but it seems that way to me). You see all eight guys get to take their swings, and they’re all fresh and trying to kill everything. Then you get to the second and third round, and everything kind of dies…some of which I blame on Berman, but it also just seems to run out of steam all around. And it goes on forever.

Everybody thinks, or at least acts like, Hamilton won the Derby in 2008, and I think even real-winner Morneau probably knows Hamilton should have won. He put on an incredible show that was certainly the most entertaining the Derby has ever been, and then he was punished for that by having to go out for two more rounds when he had nothing left because he’d taken something like twenty more swings than anybody else. I’d keep it an eight-man contest, but give everybody ten outs and get out of there. The Derby is supposed to be about power, not endurance. Seems to me the award should go to the guy who can hit a whole bunch of batting-practice home runs rather than the guy who can continue hitting some batting-practice home runs for the longest time.

3. Bring back the Classic Derby Format. As an alternative to #2, I’d like to see them bring back the old 50’s TV show format for the second (and final) round. The eight guys compete in the first round in the current, ten-out format, and then the top two slug it out for nine innings. I’d like to see it at least tried, anyway. They might get even more tired, but they do get to take breaks while the other guy swings…so I don’t know.

4. Keep sprinkling in “pure hitter” types. I’m very interested to see how Joe Mauer does tonight, and I’m disappointed that Ichiro! reportedly turned their offer down. The most (someone like me might say “only”) interesting thing about the NBA Slam Dunk Contest is when the little guy — Spud Webb, Nate Robinson — gets up there and does something no one his height should be able to think about doing. Wouldn’t it be similarly fascinating to see someone like Ichiro beat the big boys at their own game?

You always hear people say that guys like Cobb, Boggs and Ichiro are/were such great hitters that they could hit for power if they really wanted to, but that they decided to focus on batting average instead. That’s always struck me as ridiculous, and if it is true, Ichiro should be fined or something for intentionally choosing not to do everything he can to help his team. But that’s a little different from saying that, in a batting practice situation where all they have to try to do is hit 60-MPH fastballs out, Mauer or Ichiro could be really good at it. No doubt some of the time, or most of the time, they’d come up with 0 or 1. I’m half-expecting Mauer to turn in a performance like that tonight. But then what if he hits 12 or 15 in the first round and beats out the likes of Howard and Pujols? That would keep me interested, and I think they ought to try to get one guy like that in there just about every year.

Just a Day: June 10, 2002

July 10, 2009

The ol’ randomizer came up with a fairly recent one this time. Which is good, because it’s already pretty late at night, and maybe I can get away with saying less than I would if I got myself absorbed in 1957 or something. (If you missed the first one of these, here’s how it works.)

It’s also another day with more than one very long game, which is kind of fun. It’s interleague play, which is less fun (to me). In any case, onward!

  • Jamie Moyer throws a complete-game, 123-pitch shutout, the Mariners thumping the Cardinals 10-0. It’s Moyer’s second consecutive game allowing no runs (he’d gone 8 in a win over the A’s on the 5th), and runs his record to 6-2, 3.52. He had looked done as a 38 year old in 2000, then exploded back to win 20 for the first time in his career in 2001. He’d go on to have another fine season (128 ERA+, though with only 13 wins), then win 21 in 2003 at age 40. He’s won 68 games (and counting) since. I know I just talked about him a little while ago, but it’s always worth remembering what a wonderfully weird career he’s had. Ichiro! has three of his 212 hits, and inexplicable fan favorite Charles Gipson singles, triples, walks and drives in two.
  • In the same game, 32 year old So Taguchi makes his Major League debut and goes 0-for-3 for the Cards. I believe that Taguchi was the second Japanese position player to hit the Majors after Ichiro!, so it was fitting that he debuted opposite the first. Didn’t turn out quite as well.
  • The Twins beat the Braves, 6-5, in 15 innings. I’ve just remembered for some reason, as I’m looking this over, that The Common Man was at this game and told me about it at the time; here’s hoping he hops on and tells what he remembers (if anything). It was a historic opportunity to watch the great Greg Maddux at the Dome…and he’s very much off his game, giving up 5 runs in 7 innings. Luckily, Eric Milton matches him run for run, and the bullpens take over and make quite a show of it. Eventually, in the bottom of the 15th, 37 year old backup catcher Tom Prince singles, then somehow lumbers all the way around on a Cristian Guzman double to win it. That must’ve been quite a sight (or quite a double). Journeyman reliever Tony “the Vulture” Fiore goes three scoreless for maybe his most honest “win” of the year; that puts him at 4-1, and he ends the season 10-3.
    [Edit: here’s the recap. Apparently Prince was running on the pitch, but it still seems like an awful lot to ask of the slowest runner on the team. Guzman: “I thought, ‘hey, he can make it!'”]
  • Game of the Day: The Marlins blow out the Royals in 14 innings. Yes, you read that right. The Royals score in the bottom of the 9th to tie it at 6. Florida scores two in the 12th, but so do the Royals. So it’s 8-8 in the top of the 14th, and the Royals suddenly go all Royalsy: walk, wild pitch, fielder’s choice, wild pitch, double, intentional walk, single, walk, walk, single, fielder’s choice, popout. Seven runs come home in all that, and the Marlins waltz away with the 15-8 win. Pitcher Mac Suzuki was out there for better or worse, and thus responsible for all that ugly: four walks (five in his two IP) and two wild pitches. They actually let him into three more games after this one, the last three he’d ever get into (in the Majors, that is–seven years later, his career is still alive and kicking in one of professional baseball’s little out-of-the-way places).
    [EDIT: recap. Amazingly, not a word about Suzuki’s implosion. Derrek Lee homered twice for the second straight game, then hit 4 homers in his next 47 games.]
  • There was apparently a partial solar eclipse visible in parts of the Pacific side of the world.
  • According to Wikipedia (and uncredited), “the first direct electronic communication experiment between the nervous systems of two humans is carried out by Kevin Warwick in the United Kingdom.”
  • I was attempting to sell cars at a crummy dealership in Washington state. This lasted less than a month. Probably the worst idea ever. What were you doing?

Link of the Week or So: Navel-Gazing Division

July 9, 2009

Not much to say today.

But I’ve finally stumbled upon the single most appropriate (and appropriately inexpensive) BBREF player page to be the first one sponsored by this blog! (I mean, who else but me has ever put him on the all-time anything team?)

I haven’t been much of a self-promoter re. this blog, especially lately. Part of that is just who I am, and part is that I’m not convinced I’m doing anything worth promoting. As much as I love and appreciate all my current readers, I’m really just sitting here once a day and jotting down whatever pops into my head. I think it’s the knowledge that I could definitely do a lot better if I put in (or had) the time to really polish it and think about exactly what it is I want to say. I don’t know that I need hundreds of people to read my second-best.

On the other hand, maybe seeking more traffic will inspire me to actually do better somehow. And in either case, I’ll definitely do more of these; not only is it about the most targeted marketing possible, but it’s a way to support the best website in the world (not that they seem to need all that much support anymore). Let me know if you happen to stumble across any more particularly appropriate, unsponsored pages…

I have no title for this post about hustling and pretentiousness

July 8, 2009

This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m pretty unabashedly a stats guy. Stat geek. Stathead. Sabermetrician (though the “-trician” makes it sound like I know something; I prefer “sabermetrically-inclined,” which is clunky enough to permit me to sound like the dufus I am). Whatever. It might be a stretch to say I’m “proud” of it, but I certainly don’t try to hide it. I enjoy it, a lot.

But there’s one problem with stat geeks, and always has been. One annoying tendency that gives us a bad name, that sometimes makes it hard to take us seriously, that gets people angry with cause (as opposed to the kneejerk angry-because-I-don’t-want-to-bother-to-understand-what-you’re-saying reaction that we get so much more often). I’ve fallen victim to this tendency as often as just about anybody else, though I’ve been fighting it pretty hard of late.

That thing is this: someone establishes that some traditional concept or statistic is overrated or overvalued, and we go around beating people over the head with that fact, and eventually we treat the thing as though it has no value. That may be justified in some limited circumstances (I can’t actually think of any, not even “saves,” really), but usually all it does is distort our view of things and eventually come around to bite us in the rear.

The most obvious example of this, of course, is how about ten or fifteen years ago we started noticing that guys like Neifi Perez and Walt Weiss, while they might for all we knew be great defensive players, were killing their teams’ offenses. We noted that the “pitching and defense beats offense” idea was, all else being equal, utter crap. We noted that offense was rather easily measured, quantified and even projected, and defense was not. These are true things and worth noting. But all of that led to the decision, at some point, that defense just wasn’t important, at all. At some point I remember Rob Neyer writing that baseball was probably 55% offense, 40% pitching and 5% defense (or something very similar). I don’t mean to rip on Rob, then and now my favorite baseball writer, and we were all thinking that…I just happen to remember that he said it in so many words. You’d almost think–and I think some people really did think–that you’d be better with seven slugging 1B-types in the field and lineup than with a squad built to cover the traditional positions.

Well…whoops. Now we can measure defense (pretty well), and we know that it’s really important. That a guy can have enormous offensive value, but kill it all with his glove. That Franklin Gutierrez (aptly but unoriginally named “Death to Flying Things” by the guys over at USS Mariner) can be a below-average-hitting outfielder and still be one of the best outfielders in the league, all because of defense. Now we value defense even more than the rest of the world does. But the thing is, it was ridiculous to write off defense in the first place–just an absurdly overblown extension of the seed of a pretty sound idea.

There are lots of other examples, too. We knew that Jim Rice is a terrible choice for the Hall of Fame, and the argument after a while starts to sound like we think Rice was a terrible player; likewise, we knew Bert Blyleven belongs in the Hall, and after a while we’re essentially arguing that Blyleven was Walter friggin’ Johnson. We knew that stolen bases were being overvalued and that the out given away by a caught stealing or sac bunt was undervalued, so we eventually decide that stealing or bunting is never a good idea.

We’re getting better at most of these things. A lot better. But the guys at the Inside the Book blog seem to have found another one that nobody’s really talking about: the value of “hustle”.

The problem here, I think, is this. We know that scores of players are wildly overrated because they “hustle” (are grinders or gritty or gutty or have heart or whatever), and others are wildly underrated because, in the eyes of most, they don’t. Eckstein, Erstad, Podsednik good (dated examples, but you know what I mean); Dunn, Manny and Barry Bonds bad. We know that the good things the latter group does and the bad things the former group does far outweigh whatever value you might reasonably put on hustle and grit. So we’ve ultimately decided that hustle just doesn’t matter.

Well, in the blog post linked above, MGL mentions a couple of plays in an inning where Adam Dunn was, like, militantly non-hustling, and it cost his team. The title of the post is “I’m not one to complain about players not hustling, but…,” and I can understand why he puts it that way: most fans or reporters who complain about players not hustling are rooting around for ways to find fault with their team’s best player. So and so may hit 50 homers a year, but he didn’t run out that one routine grounder to second base, so he sucks.

But when a guy really isn’t hustling, at all–I mean, not even trying–I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting on him for that. Tom Tango (also of Inside The Book) put it best in a comment to MGL’s post:

Ken Dryden, in The Game . . . was talking about how important practice is. That you keep practicing over and over and over at a high tempo so that your body is simply conditioned to do things that way all the time. . . .
To then decide in an actual game to put the brakes on is inexcusable as far as I’m concerned. At the very least, what the heck is wrong with considering these “routine” plays in an actual game identical to the “routine” plays in practice where you must run all out?
And . . . [i]t’s not like in hockey where you are skating up and down and side-to-side in 45 second shifts and you are panting by the time you get back to the bench. It’s a four second anerobic exercise. Adam Dunn gets paid 10MM to come to swing (or consider swinging) the bat 3000 times, to run 500 times, and to field (or back up a play) 500 times. That’s $2500 for every “effort” he puts out on the field. If he thinks that one time he doesn’t want to put [in] the effort, then he should give back the 2500$.

Maybe it sounds like I’m letting TangoTiger make my point for me here, and maybe I sort of am, to the extent that the point is “hustle matters.” But the larger point here, I think, is that this is just one example of an endemic problem with sabermetric folk (one that was a lot worse 10 years ago, but still persists). Just like “Jim Rice does not belong in the Hall” ≠ “Jim Rice sucks,” “hustle doesn’t make David Eckstein a good player” ≠ “hustle doesn’t matter.”

I’m quite sure that we (and by that I totally mean “I”) would jump all over Bill Conlin or Mike Celizic if we caught them engaging in that kind of phony logic. But we seem to think it’s okay for us…and I think it all comes from pretentiousness. We start with some little thing we’re very sure is right (something that is, in fact, right), and it leads to this thinking like we’re perfectly right about everything on this topic, while the other side is perfectly wrong. I guess that’s sort of a fact of life — isn’t politics more or less the same thing? — but it’s been getting better among the sabermetric community lately, and it’ll be really nice if that trend continues.