Archive for the 'Satire' Category

The Power Ranking Power Rankings

Note: It’s one of the long-held traditions of Power Rankings that they begin with some sort of preamble. This is not that preamble; that’s why it’s in italics. But if you’re here for the ordinal analysis and want to skip past the metacognition, you can jump ahead by clicking here.

Yesterday, FanGraphs raised the vuvuzela that is Sports Illustrated to broadcast a set of Power Rankings that found the 3-13 Kansas City Royals at #7. Reactions to this decision ranged from indignation and derision to grim mirth. Dave Cameron, naturally, responded in straight-faced kind, having been through this sort of civilized discourse before. The conversation tumbled into a familiar jumble of complaints about timely hitting and defensive statistics. What the debate had in velocity it lacked in command. In this case, it begged the question: what’s the “power” in a power ranking? There’s at least four different ways to look at it.

  • Past accomplishments. Some power rankings start off with the previous year’s champions #1 because “it’s there until someone knocks them off.” Easy alternative: buy an Athlon magazine at the grocery store.
  • Momentum. Some prefer the barometric method, examining the game from the scope of the media cycle. There’s nothing wrong with this, except that momentum doesn’t mean much in baseball, and the teams fly up and down the list like a teeter-totter, killing the ranking’s reputation.
  • True talent. This angle seems to most closely align with FanGraphs’ philosophy at SI, using fWAR to calculate which teams are powerful. This is fine, but the trouble with ignoring the results is that, predictive quality or no, they do count; the Royals are already 7 games back in the division, a significant hole.
  • Championship odds. Nothing wrong with this either, although already does this admirably and teams in weak divisions are treated as being more “powerful” than they really are.

Confusing the picture further is the obligatory flavor text that accompanies each team’s ranking, which varies in direction with whatever the author finds interesting to say about the team in question. Teams who languish at the bottom are treated as hopeless, in spite of the state of their farm team or the process behind their management. Snark is prevalent.

Of course, the primary problem with power rankings is the knowledge that you are arguing about power rankings. They have all the subjectivity of a Hall of Fame argument with none of the permanence or significance. They don’t get your team into a tournament, or give you home field advantage. They’re essentially just words from pundits, which is fine because reading words from pundits is fun. Rob Neyer, as usual, summarizes adeptly: “Really, the only way to make Power Rankings interesting is to throw some crazy shit in there.” It’s all part of the nationwide narrative woven through the season, the glittery veneer that imbues expectations and “respect”.

The concept of respect amongst the media is its own psychological quagmire, deserving of several thousand words. What we have now has spawned from the national media, as the power to write the story of our teams has been wrested from our local beat writers and eleven o’clock sports anchors. But the fact remains: just as much as it’s ridiculous that people care how others see their team, it’s also equally true. The feral popular lust for the power ranking is undeniable. And the numerical ranking isn’t enough; Hollinger’s statistical rankings for the NBA are excellent, but they’re not as satisfying as the traditional rank-and-comment that has proliferated the web.

Why we want power rankings goes, in part, with why we want analysis in general: it’s sports when there are no sports, something to chew on in the morning over a cup of coffee. It’s just another element that sports holds in common with politics, where there’s a second “contest” taking place beyond the primary one, the battle of words. And if this is true, the best power rankings are not the ones that are the most accurate or the most scientific, they’re the ones that give us the most to think or laugh about. They’re power rankings, after all; even though we take them too seriously, we know they shouldn’t be taken so seriously.

With that said, here are the Official Pitchers & Poets Power Ranking Power Rankings for April 25, 2012:

1. Baseball Prospectus: These are the cream of the crop, so elite that they don’t even call them power rankings. Arcane, unexplained statistics to lend credence? Check. Daily updates? Check. Short, two sentence pithy comments? Check. And it’s not even behind the paywall!

2. Grantland: It’s Grantland, so it’s nowhere near succinct. Instead, Jonah Keri devotes quality analysis to each team. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t expect a ranking that takes fifteen minutes to read would rank so high, but it’s not as if people read the parts for other teams.

3. SI/FanGraphs: What it lacks in flavor it makes up for in substance. Their willingness to lean on their statistics in the face of intuition is a plus: if nothing else, it creates conversation, and that’s exactly what rankings are supposed to do.

4. ESPN: The choice to let the SweetSpot writers add their own insight leads to authenticity and inconsistency. As much as a festering pit as the ESPN comment section is, it’s good from a theoretical standpoint that there is one. Probably.

5. CBS: Your baseline, no-nonsense rankings: easy to read and follow. The comments are occasionally thoughtful, sometimes unnecessary, but Matt Snyder’s voice comes through without being overbearing.

6. FOX: Similar to CBS, except without the same vitality in the analysis.

7. It just seems strange for the official website of MLB to have unofficial power rankings; it seems as though if you were going to have a major ranking based solely on popular vote, this would be the place to do it. The fact that the rankings lack an author only adds to the discomfort.

8. Pitchers & Poets: Recursion!

9. Yahoo!: Hasn’t updated since April 5, as far as I can tell. Feels rushed. Aesthetically, the layout could use some polish; it looks like something you’d make using GeoCities.

10. Bleacher Report: Somehow manages to capture the length of Grantland, the informality of Baseball Prospectus, the humor of SI/FanGraphs and the expertise of Tim McCarver. It’s like the Pirates offense of writing.

This completes your inaugural Pitchers & Poets Power Ranking Power Rankings.

The Chains of Victory: Stephen P. King Calls It Quits by Clam Simmons

Clam Simmons is a librarian living in New England. You can find his ongoing investigation of the 1994 Kansas City Royals at the Royals Review. Clam also heads up the Twitter division of the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute at 826 Boston. You can follow his crypto-tweets @bostonbigfoot and regular tweets @orangehunchback.

stephen kingNew England’s favorite gargoyle was cloistered in a lighthouse. His beacon was a hundred miles from the nearest anything. The smell of glue was everywhere. I could not tell for sure but it seemed that the sea tower was the barren womb of a sea god. It was a poor sanctuary from the water, mist covering my glasses and the wave’s salty plates constantly breaking in my ears. There was no electricity and the bully clouds outside turned the inside of the lighthouse into a whitewashed moonscape. Using my cell phone for light I discovered a typewriter sitting on top of a girthy manuscript. The typewriter sat on top of a pleather office chair. It was chained to the ground with irons. Stephen P. King was silently stationed on a Victorian ottoman facing the manacled office chair, a Franklin stove weakly dithered behind him. It must have been casual Friday in the lighthouse because King wasn’t wearing any pants. He wore a yellow smiley face t-shirt and five months of beard.

The master of horrors apologized for forgetting his khakis and scurried out of the lighthouse in his flip-flops. Left alone I climbed the observation deck. The outlook was dim and the lens was shattered. Glass covered the ground like ice. Maybe the lord of darkness had destroyed it in a fit of inspiration. Maybe it was done to spite the modern pirates and lobstermongers. Either way Stephen King would never had made it as a 19th century lighthouse attendant. When I found a bullet casing on the windowsill I decided it was time to leave. As I made for the exit I made note that the sullen tin cup sitting on the stone floor was the only tangible evidence that King had a human’s traditional concern for sustenance. I had to escape before the host of this literary séance returned.

New England’s favorite gargoyle was cloistered in a lighthouse.

Of course Stephen King came back before I could reach the door. He was carrying a couple of green twigs. He was wearing khakis. They were completely soaked but King seemed chipper.

SK: I usually try to dry them before the company shows up but you’ve caught me at high tide. Say that three times fast! Try, dry, high, tide… hey! You’re not trying to leave are you? Ha!

The unshaven lord of terrible genius offered me his ottoman while he placed the moist twigs on top of the stove’s vaguely orange coals. I have always been a sucker for hospitality. It is my weakness and will be my downfall.

SK: Clam, do you have any dry receipts?

I handed my ferry receipt to the King and he examined it before putting it in the stove.

SK: I’m going to have to cut our time short. When those fresh logs are charred I am going to reclaim my stool and get back to my project.

With the sensitivity and respect due for a writer’s in-utero project I asked him if he could possibly describe the project or at least reveal its basic design.

SK: It’s called Alien Sex Planet. It’s 1300 pages long but it feels like an 1800-page story and I think I’m going to have to cut out a 700-page scene. It involves an exile from the original colony of ancient aliens who in a fit of Onanis releases his seed into the atmosphere only to have it evolve into the planets of an alternative solar system. Of course the exile turns out to be the heir to the throne of the ancient alien kingdom, typical fodder.

As King described the power of ancient alien sperm I begin to feel my soul choke. Somehow Stephen King could sense it. He was not without tender psychology.

SK: By the way, thank you for responding to my inquiry on craigslist…you wouldn’t believe the sort of nut-brains out there pretending to be legitimate ghost-writers just to squeeze me of my greenbacks. But seriously Clam, I was very impressed with Elvis Horse Man. You have talent, if you prove yourself you might be able to go places.

I thanked Stephen King for the compliments on Elvis Horse Man. I was very proud of that work. I also stated that I would be very pleased to help with the memoir. Not only was I excited at the prospects of working alongside the definitive master of paranormal barbarism, I was desperate to take a bite out of the debt I had accrued in my five years in the MFA program at Butterman College. Stephen King laughed. He was either unfamiliar with Butterman College and its fabulous faculty to student ratio or the cost of a quality education at the best liberal arts college in the Ozarks. As Mr. King revealed his autobiographical “morsel” he busied himself by plucking hairs out of his beard and watching them smolder in the cinders of the stove.

SK: In 1986 I fell in love with Boston’s baseball team. When that white orb snuck past the gates of Buckner’s legs and the baseball team lost the great contest, it was a big deal. My eyes were opened and I saw horror on the faces of the baseball men and the sadness on the faces of the fans of the Boston baseball men. It was like witnessing one of the cataclysms in my work. It became my duty to commiserate with the despairing horde and to cheer for Boston’s great baseball club, the Red Beans. For several years I found the comfort of familiarity with the puritanical denial of the whole thing. It was great fun. I shared the baseball fan’s curses and roots for the changing field of heroes. I was a big Mo Greenwell fan. I loved Mike Vaughn. I cheered for Nomar Offerman and Jose Valentin. These were my favorite baseball men. I had sympathy for them. They were like the doomed characters in my books, the characters I make likeable only so that when they die on page 940 it will be a horrible experience for all my readers. The Boston Beans had no chance. But then about eight years ago the Red Sox team won the big contest and everything had changed. I felt as if the prisoner I had created to suffer had escaped from the jail with turds in his mouth. Yes, I was joyful for the success of my Red Beans for an hour or two but all the narrative tension was gone. I knew that my cheerings for the Boston baseball men must end. But by that point everyone assumed that I was unconditionally passionate for the Boston baseball team. Everyone gave me free tickets to the game. The seats were great, how could I waste them? I’d take a newspaper, a rough draft anything to distract me fm the winnings on the field. Sometimes, in the pennant chase I would hide inside the belly of the Green Monster with my friend, Manny Man.

Then the baseball club wins the big contest again. Clam, I am tired of triumph! Release me from the chains of victory! Tell the world Clam Simmons. Tell the world properly and I will not only let you ghostwrite my memoir, but I will give you all my pictures with me and the Boston baseball men!

Release Me From The Chains of Victory!

Bud Selig Paid Me A Million Dollars To Stalk J.D. Salinger by Bob Costuz

Bud Selig paid me a million dollars to hand-deliver an All-Century Team ballot to J.D. Salinger.

It sounds incredible, but remember, those were strange times: it was the baroque period of the Steroid Era and Bud Selig was the most powerful man in America. He had reduced the strike zone to the size of a Chiclet. With a single sheet of MLB stationary he made Brady Anderson a home run hitter and Moises Alou a sex symbol. It has been said that in that era Bud Selig was so powerful, when he called the Minnesota Twins, Tom Kelly reached for two things: a 9 mm and a roll of toilet paper.

After sealing the deal with Selig, I called Jim McCarver to see if he was interested in the mission. Thirty minutes later, Jim McCarver and I parachuted out of an F-16. Me and the Vermont turf had a smooth first date. Not so for Timmy: he impaled his leg on a weather vane on his way down. It was gnarly, ruining McCarver’s best pair of Wranglers and compromising his ability to carry out the mission. I dragged him into a nearby barn, gave him a Vicodin and a flare gun. That night as I crossed into New Hampshire on foot, something came over me. It was an indescribable feeling, but the last time I felt it I was covering the Summer Games in Atlanta. That was July 27, 1996.

For the first three weeks of my mission, I perched in an Eastern White Pine across the street from the Salinger compound. I was dressed as a mailman. My plan was to spot Salinger’s Toyota Land Cruiser coming down the driveway, confirm my visual sans binocs, hop down from the tree and head towards the compound mailbox. It is a dogged state for a broadcast journalist to be reliant upon the whims of the fortuitous.

The first time I saw Salinger, it was about eight days in and the Land Cruiser was already halfway down the driveway. I was so busy scraping a melted Snicker bar out of the bottom of my fanny pack that by the time I hopped out of the tree I realized that I had left my ballots wedged in the nook of a sturdy branch. I dove into the ditch for cover. I don’t think he saw me.

Four days later, I had just closed my eyes for a tree nap when I thought I heard the sound of an SUV. It was then that my entire body spasmed and I fell out of the tree. I had kicked my shoes off while I was asleep and my socked left foot landed on a very sharp pile of rocks. The rocks cut into the soft part of my foot. I had to seal the wound with super glue. I never determined the source of the noise. I think it was a bird or maybe one of Salinger’s neighbor’s piglets.

In the wake of those two incidents, I began to feel like Chico Lind in a twelve pitch at-bat with Tim Wakefield. I drank six red bulls a day. I didn’t sleep. A few days later, Selig called me. He told me I had two days to get results or he would cancel the check and bring in Jose Lima.

Message received, commissioner.

That night I took a room in Cornish. I stayed in my room, got drunk, and watched Forrest Gump. It triggered a memory of a story Tony LaRussa told me after the 1988 World Series. It concerned David and the Bible. There was a time when David lived on the run from King Saul. In those days, when his very survival was threatened, David pretended to be mucho loco while eating at King Ashish’s palace. When I woke up I saw that I had written a note above the bathtub ring in sharpie: “It takes leprechaun mask to get the unicorn man.”

The next morning, I bought a riding lawn mower and saddled up with copious amounts of Mr. Pibb. I drove the mower back and forth on the road in front of Salinger’s house. This did not summon Salinger.

The next day I got braver and mowed a series of symmetrical curlicues from the beginning of the gravel driveway to the koi ponds next to the tennis courts. This did not summon Salinger.

The next day I spotted smoke pouring out of the top of the big house and two sedans parked in between the trampoline and the pool. I thought to myself, the stage is set, Costuz, you have an audience and five horses under the hood. It’s time.

I raced past the stone lions near the gates and towards the mandarin grove adjacent to Salinger’s concrete bunker. I must’ve been going fifteen MPHes when I ran over those mandarin saplings. This did not summon Salinger.

The next day I boarded my mower and headed straight past the rock garden and into the flowerbed. I left a few of the more Monet-looking flowers for love’s sake but cut down the rest. This did not summon Salinger.

I couldn’t take it anymore. Salinger was a god without ears. I turned off my mower and looked behind me. In the last week, I had decimated the landscape of the Salinger compound and had nothing to show for it. Drunk on the wine of conquest, like so many conquistadors before me, I climbed Salinger’s porch steps and rapped on the door three times. Several hours later, an old man, skinny and tall like an industrial broom, opened the door. He had a navy revolver tucked into his pants.

“Who the hell are you?”

This message was delivered via Dylan Little whom you can follow on Twitter, where his tag is @orangehunchback. Dylan says, “please remember Joplin. To make a ten dollar donation to the Salvation Army text the word “Joplin” to 80888.”