Monthly Archive for November, 2009

Who’s Our Daddy? A Roger Angell Appreciation

Roger Angell is 89 years old. He was born in 1920. To put that in perspective, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were born in 1931. Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were born in 1924. What I’m saying is that Roger Angell is an old man. That fact, of which there is no hiding, is what makes his latest in the New Yorker, Daddies Win, so magnificent.

He takes a few cheap shots at the blogs. He bemoans statistics. But the man still writes like he is living in 1957, in a world where baseball players are made not by television, but by the words floating through the air via radio, and the ones printed on newspaper and magazine pages. He writes like baseball still has the power to capture the imagination of an entire nation. His essay on the Yankees’ latest World Series victory is plucky and poetic. Without being sappy, the piece emits a sort of sepia-tinged nostalgia. What struck me most as I read this was Angell’s knack for magnificent little descriptions. He writes about baseball like the game is still new.

Here are some of my favorite descriptions:

On Alex Rodriguez:

“This year – well, this year he he’s been somebody else.”

“I’ve had the impression that I’m within touching distance of a new species.”

Cliff Lee:

“He throws with an elegant flail, hiding the ball behind his hip or knee and producint it from behind his left shoulder, already in full delivery. His finish brings his left leg up astern like a semaphore, while his arm swings across his waist. This columnar closing posture . . . is classic and reminded me strongly of some fabled pitcher from my boyhood.”

Chase Utley:

“Utley, who has slicked-backed, Jake Gittes hair, possesses a quick back and a very short home-run stroke; he looks like a man in an ATM reaching for his cash.”

AJ Burnett:

“a Tom Joad with beads.”

CC Sabathia

“Sunny looks and pavilion-sized pants and weird, white-toed spikes.”

“his fastball-cutter-changeup assortment . .  arrives like a loaded tea tray coming down an airshaft.”

cc: turtlemom4bacon

cc: turtlemom4bacon

On the New Yankee Stadium:

“I enjoy the wild, Ginza-esque light shows – the “lightage” I mean – but I’d trade them for the steeply vertical stands of the vacant, now shrouded original and the walls of noise they produced on big nights.”

On Nick Swisher:

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

On Hideki Matsui:

“His silence kept him old-fashioned: a ballplayer from the black-and-white newspaper-photograph days, before our heroes talked.”

I’d venture to say the same thing about Angell.

Situational Essay: Babermetrics

When we recruited Epilogue Magazine editor Corban Goble to contribute a term to the Rogue’s Baseball Index, we didn’t know it would lead to this.  That term, Babermetrics, has become a full-blown science. Here’s Corban’s overview.

In 2003, the innovations outlined in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball brought deep statistical analysis to Major League Baseball’s front offices and to the mainstream. However, baseball’s statistical awakening strangely hasn’t trickled down to the world of hooking up, a world still framed in the antiquated slang of base-counting.

I propose a new science, Babermetrics (from baseball’s “sabermetrics”) that can more truly capture the multifaceted and complex experience of hooking up.

Some sample Babermetrics statistics:

BRI—Babes Reeled In, a rather conventional measurement that tallies the number of sexual encounters, quite similar to baseball’s RBI (Runs Batted In) statistic. BRI is a statistic that doesn’t truly account for consistency or performance, but should be noted for its raw counting value.
Hypothetical Example: Wilt Chamberlain has the highest-known career BRI total, claiming over 10,000 sexual encounters over his lifetime.

Used in a Sentence: “Last year, Sal’s BRI was the lowest total of his career. Leaving college is a likely factor as well as the accumulation of a gratuitous beer gut and residence in his parent’s basement.”

Bar Factor—like sabermetrics’ “park factor,” a statistical device use to measure the impact of a particular stadium’s characteristics on performance, Bar Factor is an effective statistic that measures performance at a certain venue relative to another.
Hypothetical Example: College is the ultimate example of the Bar Factor; it’s a realm maintaining a distinct set of characteristics uniquely tailored to hooking up.
Used in a Sentence: “Janet, I don’t think I’m going to go to library fundraiser tonight. The Bar Factor simply isn’t high enough; I’m going to O’Halligans!”

VORB—Value Over Replacement-level Barfly. Akin to Kevin Woolner’s VORP (Value Over Replacement-level player), VORB measures the relative value of a particular mate in relationship to the value of an average (or replacement-level) hook up.
Hypothetical Example: The majority of the student population at any Northeastern-region private college will likely hover right around replacement level, where the average VORB in NYC’s Meatpacking District remains very high due to the high concentration of patrons who work as models.
Used in a Sentence: “Winslow, the VORB at this nightclub is way too high for me to even talk to anybody without getting a drink splashed in my face. I’m going to O’Halligans!”

OPS—Opportunities Plus Sexual encounters, a clean interpretation of sabermetrics’ OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging), a statistic used to evaluate the overall effectiveness of a given player’s offensive production. In Babermetrics, a tool used to provide an accurate approximation of sexual effectiveness, combining both “opportunities” (first base and above, as defined in the Babermetrics Almanac) with total number of sexual encounters.
Hypothetical Example: As in baseball, the man or woman with the highest OPS is likely the most productive performer.
Used in a Sentence: “Tucker Max, due to your sizeable dip in OPS, our publishing company no longer sees you as a credible literary voice, despite the preposterous embellishment of your stories.”

Though I’ve decided to pull out some statistics that best illustrate the need for a revolution in the statistical analysis of hooking up, it should be mentioned that there are numerous other structural similarities between baseball and sex that have long gone unrecognized.

For instance, in college baseball, the NCAA allows the hitters to use aluminum bats; it’s hard not to get a hit, and it’s an unrealistic representation of baseball’s professional world, where MLB mandates that hitters use the heavier, power-dampening wooden bats. Such an analogy is rather pliant to the departure from the unrealistic bubble of college and joining the population at large.

However, there’s a notable difference between the world of baseball and the world of hooking up—hooking up doesn’t have an offseason.

As the calendar crawls toward another baseball season’s conclusion, America’s singles will still be wearing slutty bee costumes for Halloween, sidling up to the previously unapproachable co-ed from the Creative Department at the office Christmas Party, still playing “empty the Solo cup” at football tailgates for respective alma maters.

It’s time to fill a void. Welcome to the playground of new science.

Explorations in Baseball Nerdiness

Nerdiness and baseball are frequent bedfellows. Bloggers in their mother’s basements, Steve Bartman, Excel spreadsheets, hyper-focused statistical analysis, George Will…the list really does go on and on. Another bastion of the super nerdy, a practice so odd and pointless that it makes listeners uncomfortable in conversation, is the animated .gif. Peewee Herman eating a cartoon ice cream cone, Pokemon characters doing strange things to Mad Men actors; whatever you’ve got, chances are good that someone has created a .gif that animates them doing strange things.

Recently, when I should have been doing something productive, I joined these two stalwarts of the socially questionable. I created a baseball-themed animated .gif. Without further ado, and with no point or purpose whatsoever other than the work one can do with Photoshop and a web tutorial, I present:

ichiro-animation

An Argument for the Current MLB Awards Schedule, with Rafting Metaphors

killing time

Right now, the MLB is slowly, slowly revealing the names of the 2009 award winners. The results trickle out to the media like grains of sand through a poorly maintained hourglass, presumably extending the shelf-life of the now-finished season to grab a few brain cells away from Lebron James and the NFL.

There are numerous arguments, and plenty of good reason to just go ahead and announce the award winners when they’re tabulated, just before the playoffs. However, I am, however, about to argue that there is some legitimate pleasure to be had from the awards announcement process at this quiet time in the baseball life cycle. The free agent frenzy will soon begin, with the corresponding sense of urgency. This time, however, right now, is appropriate for reflection, with a contemplative look back at what is already, jarringly, “last year.”

During the baseball season, I often feel like I’m traveling down a turbulent river in a rickety canoe. Just ahead of me, bobbing in the rapids, is the piece of flotsam that represents the team I choose to follow, the Astros (they’ve been far far ahead of late from another coast, kept afloat only by an enthusiastic blog community. Also, does that make the Yankees a super-tanker?). It’s all I can do to keep my gaze trained on that elusive target, tracking its progress as it dips and swirls, disappears from view and reemerges.

The rest of baseball–the other teams, individual performances, slumps and streaks, scandals, standings, highlights, records–line the shore. Tracking the piece of drift downstream, the shoreline flickers past in my peripheral vision as little more than a blur of color and light.

rafting

The first respite on this journey (it’s a fun ride, despite my somewhat harrowing metaphor) comes in the calm eddy just before the playoffs, when most slots are sealed up, bad seasons come to an end and, and the new second season promises a more concentrated pursuit. That’s the first time I try and take stock of all that has just happened, particularly by catching up on the teams that are still in the race. How did they get there, what do they bring to the table?

That quick breather is soon over, and the class 6 rapids that are the playoffs begin. And as abruptly as they begin, they are through. All falls silent, birds chirp, the woodfire crackles in the evening light.

The twilight fades to the depressing yellow glow of the indoor NBA arena. In the conjoined exhilaration and melancholy of the season’s end, it turns to reflection time. For me, that’s means checking the detailed leader boards on sites like The Hardball Times or Fangraphs.

It’s a marvel to me how much I miss in the course of a season. You can read all of the blogs that you want, and watch as much Baseball Tonight as your eyeballs can take, but small bits and bytes of information still continuously emerge depending on the lens that you put on your camera. Train your viewfinder on the A’s or the Blue Jays or whatever team is furthest from your typical focus, and you’ll find out that Andrew Bailey had a dominant year out of the bullpen, or Adam Lind just crushed it all year. And those are the obvious ones. Aaron Hill can slug, but he doesn’t take many walks. And Vernon Wells…yikes.

For every team, there’s a minimum of 25 things to learn, and truly many more than that. Every player tells an eight month story.

And so, to the awards season. As lengthy as the process is (Joe Posnanski tweeted “As a member of the Baseball Writers, I wonder: Can’t we stretch out these awards more? I understand MVP comes out July 2013.”), there is a core understanding going on that this is indeed the time to discuss the awards. They are individual in nature, and the darkest depths of the offseason are better suited for debates about player prowess than just before the post season, when team play is paramount. Individual award conversation pales in comparison to the playoff vibe, the intensity of each pitch of each game.

sittin around talking

Now, however, the hot lamps have cooled, the champagne has dried sticky to the floor, and we’re by the campfire again. It’s the time to contemplate the individual achievements, the gems buried in the rock of a long, arduous season. What sparkles now can be placed under the microscope and tested for purity. Purity, in this sense, is gauged under the jeweler’s eye of conversation, of debate, with a calm dose of perspective.

Enter the awards, which offer the institutionalized version of one side of a conversation. The general body says, “This is the answer to this question,” vis a vis the best rookie in each league, the best pitcher, the best player, the best coach. A definitive proclamation is the best way to start any conversation, as it’s the ultimate launching point for conversation. And so, in a manner, the awards are not a finisher but a starter, the flint and tinder that set the baseball scene to talking up a fire. The hot stove, yes, is what that is, if it sounds familiar. It’s calm water. It keeps us warm.

The awards season mirrors the times, by which I mean the offseason itself: it’s a slow tedious march, marked by the odd flourish of pretty great stuff to talk about.

Ellis, D. Watch This Right Now.

I don’t normally just post random stuff here, but this is more than worth it. It’s a rendering of the famed Dock Ellis LSD-no hitter, with narration by Dock himself.  The killer animation is by James Blagden. Thanks to RBI artist Mark Penxa for passing this along:

PnP Postseason Quiz Greatest Hits

A few weeks ago, we asked readers to answer some silly postseason/Halloween themed questions. Their answers are pretty fun to read now that the postseason has ended and Halloween is long gone.  Our favorite responses are below:

1. The 2009 Playoff Yankees: same old overpriced trick, or sparkling new, glorybound treat?

Dave: Can it be both? Still a corporate behemoth that kills the dreams of small-market-team children everywhere, they DO have pitching this time around…

Stretch: Sparkling new glorybound treat, thanks largely to the class and intelligence of their respectful-of-the-game skipper. Expect to see more titles in the next half-dozen years. (Note: this coming from a guy who has never liked the Yankees.)

Kenneth: Step 1: Compile team of superstars. Step 2: ???. Step 3: Profit(make the playoffs). Well those assholes have made it to the playoffs in 14 of the past 15 years. That sounds like an extremely old overpriced trick to me.

2. The postseason always seems to be prone to fluke performances and freak accidents. Closers blow saves. Left fielders drop routine line drives. Journeymen pitch like ancient heroes. Is this just statistical randomness at play, or do supernatural, paranormal forces bewitch the arms of hurlers and jinx the mitts of Gold Glovers?

BL: I find it rather distasteful to call Grover Cleveland Alexander’s battle with epilepsy during the 1926 World Series a “supernatural, paranormal force”

Ember Nickel:

There’s many a freakish, odd play
That would be forgotten in May.
But done in November
You’ll surely remember
It after the year goes away.

Akshay: Anabolic Steroids are known to only last exactly 162 games based on current research. No wonder Matt Holliday messed up and Joe Nathan forgot how to pitch.

3. Scariest Halloween nickname: Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky, Vlad “the Impaler” Guerrero, or Jack “the Ripper” Clark?

Consensus winner: Vlad “the Implaer” Guerrero

4. If you could put your own postseason curse on a team, which team would it be? What would the backstory be? Get creative.

Dave: I would curse the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series every season. At first they’d be thrilled, but soon they would come to lose their sob-story identity entirely, and everyone in the league would hate them for their constant success. This insane shift of fate would be so dramatic that Cub fans would start complaining that it isn’t fair that they never lose, just to get back to complaining again.

BL: The worse curse possible: I would have die-hard fans of a iconic glory starved team, say the Indians or Cubs, lose a heartbreaking 7-game World Series or NLCS to an expansion team that doesn’t try 4 out of every 5 years, prominently features teal in its uniform and plays in a football stadium where good seats are generally VERY available oh and Kevin Brown should be on one of the teams – that would be really fucked up

Paul: I would curse the Dodgers to watch an endless loop or “I don’t believe what I just saw” and Kirk Gibson doing his limp-ass fist-pump. Over and over, for all time.

5. Which overused historical postseason baseball highlight have you seen so often that you want to  dump a bucket of blood a la Carrie on its head? Which underused moment in history should be prom king?

Alex: Sorry Eric, but Gibson’s homerun, great play, but lets give it a rest. And now for my homerism Endy Chavez’s catch in the NLCS.

Reeves: Kirk Gibson’s home run. I mean, Game 1? Really? Give me more Joe Carter

Paul: I would curse the Dodgers to watch an endless loop or “I don’t believe what I just saw” and Kirk Gibson doing his limp-ass fist-pump. Over and over, for all time.

Akshay: Kirk Gibson. Easy Answer. I would use 1995 Edgar Martinez double down the line ending with dogpile on Junior and that pretty smile of his.

Kenneth (edited version): The Gibson HR gets a disproportionate amount of airtime. Yes, yes FOX we understand that he could barely walk when he hit that HR. But really him swinging a bat pales in comparison to Willis Reed running up and down a basketball court for 40+ minutes.

Fine guys, I get it.

Ember:

Though it’s but my bias, I am
Partial to Ventura’s “grand slam”,
A ghostly home run.
Yes, the game was won,
But single, salami, or sham?

6. More effective Cardinals postseason disguise: Brendan Ryan as The Rogue or Albert Pujols as a banjo hitter?

Consensus: Banjo Hitter with bad mustache.

7. Hypothetical situation: a new rule requires admitted and convicted PED users to wear a scarlet letter of shame on their uniform during the playoffs. Do you support or oppose this rule? Why or why not?

Akshay: They should all be tattooed with a big asterisk on their forehead.

Steve: Consider where most of the Scarlet Letters of Shame would be needed. Do you really think they’ll show up well on the Red Sox uniforms? Oh, SNAP!

Ember:

Throughout the decades, baseball’s seen
Cheaters, racists, those just plain mean,
And various jerks.
I don’t think it works
To make this decade’s drama a scene.

You can’t choose one era’s bent laws
And claim they’re the ones to give pause.
Though the game’s been hurt,
Red thread on a shirt
Won’t do a lot to help the cause.

8. Name the horror movie villain who best corresponds to the postseason’s remaining closers: Mariano Rivera, Jonathon Broxton, Brad Lidge, and Brian Fuentes.

Rivera: Mike Myers, T-1000 from Terminator 2, that little bunny from Monty Python’s  Holy Grail, the Chupacabra (inexplicable), Hannibal Lector (winner!)

Broxton: Frankenstein, Biff from Back to the Future, David Wells, Swamp Thing,

Brad Lidge: Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde, Jack Torrance (Nicholson’s character  in The Shining), The alien guy from Men In Black. He may be scary, but never succeeds.

Fuentes: Pennywise the Clown, Cartman, Brian Fuentes of the ‘07 Rockies (scared the dickens out of Denver, beginning about September 15th), Freddy Kreuger

Five Things

I.

I had the chance to wander around outside of Yankee Stadium for an hour or so before Game Six. I’ll use clichés to describe the atmosphere: you could cut the tension with a knife, the air was electric (the crowd was buzzing), hearts were aflutter, and a lot of people were drunk.

II.

Here’s what pisses my friend Steve off: “For the past ten years, people have been saying that the Yankees have proven how money can’t buy a World Series. Today they say that the Yankees’ winning just proves you can buy a World Series.”

III.

There were a lot of solitary men around River Ave. looking for individual tickets to last night’s game. They had signs, mostly, and stood apart from the usual scalper crowd. From the desperation in their middle-aged eyes, you might have guessed that the Yankees had never ever won a World Series before.

IV.

Here’s what Ted thinks about the Yankees’ winning: “In the end, the Yankees’ winning again signals a sort of return to normalcy, for better or worse. It’s like John Wayne regaining control of the ranch away from the raggedy outsiders.” Or a white, Protestant, male regaining the White House. Zing.

V.

Not enough people have taken the time to mock the whole “Win one for the Boss” theme. They were even selling officially licensed tee shirts outside the stadium with said motto. Has George Steinbrenner really had it so bad? Did he recently become – somehow – a sympathetic figure? Will this 27th ring be the one that finally allows the old codger to take a deep, satisfied puff on his cigar, tell himself “my life’s work is now complete” and then go gently into the Tampa night?

Offday Reading: The Longest Day

Edit: Stop reading this post right now! Instead, read Ted and I’s “etherview” with FanGraphs destroyer Carson Cistulli. If you are here  for the first time via said interview, then welcome, please make yourself comfortable.

In order to help you through these frozen hours before the World Series does or doesn’t end tomorrow, we bring you some rare weekday reading. And this awesome John Wayne clip from The Longest Day that I hope both managers are showing their teams. “We came here to take something. We’re gonna take it and hold it!”

  • Google Reader maven Tommy Bennett is taking over the reigns at Beyond the Box Score. Check out his insightful baseball analysis manifesto.
  • Josh Wilker is at his best this morning with a reflection covering World Series records both glorious and inglourious, Chase Utley’s hair, and the decline and fall of the triple.
  • Patrick Brown has put together an extended essay on baseball’s place in the sports media industrial landscape for The Millions . His ideas about baseball and the internet are both sweeping and a pleasure to read. (tip of the cap to Reeves W.)
  • Jonah Keri is at his best when writing about the Expos, including Pedro Martinez.

PnP Conversations: Of Men and Supermen

Ted: The best part about making predictions is praising the ones you got right and pretending the ones you got wrong never existed. That said, what hasn’t surprised you about the World Series so far?

Eric:You mean besides the fact that the Yankees are up 3-1? What hasn’t surprised me is the way these teams have won and lost, and the sheer randomness when it comes to which players have driven those results. Sure, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher were having lousy postseasons. But is it really a shock that they have hit for power in the World Series? Sure, Brad Lidge has walked that tightrope successfully so far in the playoffs, but wasn’t he doomed to fall off eventually? If anything, the World Series has been kind of a regression to the mean. Cliff Lee’s performance in Game One withstanding, the Yankees have just flat outplayed the Phillies. But speaking of pitching performances, I want your opinion on what Cole Hamels said after his start:

“I can’t wait for it to end,” Hamels said, referring to his wildly inconsistent 2009 season. “It’s been mentally draining … It’s one of those things, a year in, you just can’t wait for a fresh start.

Sons of Steve Garvey wonder if if Hamels is the anti-MSB. Is that the case? Or did a frustrated dude just misspeak a little?

Ted: It seems like less than coincidence that a fellow who has appeared in more creepy ads than the Burger King king has also spoken out against wanting to play any more this year. And it’s an odd time to say that you want the year to be over, in the midst of a World Series in which the end is in plain sight. What does he gain by saying such a thing, when he won’t even be pitching again this year as his mates battle it out on the field? Anyone capable of such a statement at such a time is clearly a bit self-centered. No MSB would find satisfaction in but a single World Series ring.

As I watched Nick Swisher swish his way out of a slump during the game from two nights ago (it was a simpler time, before the Phils had to win three in a row), my buddy Dan turned to me and said, “He told everyone he was gonna end his slump tonight and he did it!” I don’t know if that’s true, but assuming it is, then you can see the difference between a Swisher and a Hamels. Swish’s clubhouse presence has been hammed up all year, but when it comes down to it, I’ll take a guy who’s constantly talking about how tomorrow is a new day over a guy who sulks it out in the showers. Every team has to have that positivity freak who, even if he’s annoying, rubs off on the more stoic ones in the group. I think Rollins has been that for the Phillies in the past, and Swisher’s on it this year. He’s the guy who skews up the median optimism up past mid-range through sheer force of will.

It’s always easy to cite this mojo-type thing after the fact. But is it more a case of what Dan said later in that game, about Swisher bringing the team closer?: “Winning brings a team closer.” Cliff Lee’s game would suggest that a great starting pitcher is more valuable than a bragadocious, faux-hawked right fielder, but you’d have to check the numbers on that one. Though given one mediocre player vs. another, I’ll take your Swish any day. Is it too late to bother with these questions, since the Phillies seem doomed anyhow? Are they doomed?

Eric: I like how our answers in these conversations are by themselves double the length of the average post on many other baseball blogs. I’ll just skip all the stuff about optimism because well, I’m not really optimistic. As to your questions about the nature of this exercise, no I don’t think it’s too late. The Phillies may have been doomed from the start, but if they were/are then that’s beyond our control. We have discussed the role of fate/religion/aliens/robots in determining the outcome of this postseason. But all along we’ve had to just accept the fact that if these things actually do matter, actually do have an impact, we don’t know what that impact is. We speculate because we’re ignorant as to exactly what factors will affect the outcome. Is it sheer force of personality a la Swisher, or is it sheer force of hitting the ball really hard a la A-Rod? Or, once again, is it aliens?

From a purely baseball perspective, I think the Phillies are done. We’ve seen teams come back from 3-1 deficits. But The Yankees. Are. Just. So. Damn. Good. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. I still want the Phillies to lose, but the sheer awesomeness of the Yankee lineup is starting to annoy me. Looking at a Yankee box score is like standing at the bottom of Mount Kilimanjaro and staring straight up. You feel so insignificant. Any inkling of affection I had a few days ago for the Yankees has now been replaced by nerves and fear. They scare me a little. They are not of this planet. So I ask you — bearing in mind that to disrespect them is to risk your life — how can anybody actually like the Yankees? Is there anything sympathetic about them at all?

Ted: Every superhero has his weakness, and his/her endurance as a compelling figure hinges on the audience’s capacity to fear their falling, or their failing. It may be that the Yankees flashed their vulnerability in the first game of the World Series, and games two through whatever are merely this plot’s symphonic crescendo. Maybe A-Rod’s early whiffs were like the Incredible Hulk taking that blast from the sound cannons before stepping up and hurling a Hummer into the fray, and Brad Lidge is General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Then again, Cliff Lee’s up again. Perhaps the Phillies have got themselves an Abomination-in-the-hole.