Saturday, December 20, 2014


We are too busy with other things to push much of the usual "new content" out at this time (and for some time to come), so we will "go topical" for awhile, as circumstances permit.

We won't be trying to do much with the Great Off-Season Upheaval, at least not at this point, since all signals are that we are still in the midst of it and anything more than a single-team spotlight (as was the case in our most previous post) would be woefully premature.

Which leads to the topic of this post--which is also woefully premature. But it's an interesting snapshot in time that we can return to later, so here goes.

Thus far, in the voting reported by Darren "Repoz" Viola (Baseball Think Factory's long-time punmeister), who has of late been joined by young Ryan Thibs (actually, we have no idea how old Mr. Thibs may be, but his tone is so earnest and eager to please that one wants him to be young if only to bolster a lingering--if endangered--set of received stereotypes), the early Hall of Fame results contain one exceptionally astonishing result.

What's that? "That" is John Smoltz. Earlier we'd written that Smoltz deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, but that his career as a whole doesn't create a compelling case for him to rise above other already-on-the-ballot pitchers who are working their way through the player logjam. Our specific comparison was Curt Schilling, whose career parallels Smoltz's in many ways--including a stellar post-season record.

But, in the early going, Smoltz is exceeding 85% of the vote. (Schilling, who received 29% of the vote in 2014, is also polling much better in the early going, and it is looking like we might have a "year of the pitcher" in the immediate ruckus surrounding last year's reprehensible change in ballot eligibility length.)

So what is the reason for this unexpected ballot strength? All "objective" measures don't account for it. Our guess is that Smoltz is receiving a big boost for having been with one of baseball's most historically successful franchises (the Braves, who appeared in every non-canceled post-season from 1991-2004).

Even more than Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Smoltz is identified with the Braves due to his longevity with the franchise. His stint in the bullpen from 2001-04, after recovering from an arm injury that cost him the entire 2000 season, seems to have added lustre to his resumé, as did his late-career success once returned to the rotation (44-24, 135 ERA+ from 2005-07).

All of that, as impressive as it is, does not translate into a first-ballot induction. At least not in our book. That is why we are astonished by what we're seeing thus far. (We suspect that Smoltz will ultimately fall short of enshrinement this time round--but, then again...) It is a reminder that other factors beyond the individual achievements (however those may be measured) will occasionally take charge in a voting process that is, at best, only semi-rational.

Friday, December 12, 2014


After their "Latin land grab" (Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval), the Boston Red Sox have moved from the world of elite free agents into the demimonde of tontons flingueurs--a phrase that an inebriated Frenchman might hurl at the parade of slightly shopworn pitchers who will now apparently populate the Boston starting rotation.

Now pitching for the Red Sox....Lino Ventura???
(The English translation of tontons flingueurs, by the way, is "crooks in clover" and refers to a team of semi-inept heist artists who stumble into a job that literally materializes at their feet...and that's just about what's happened in terms of the Sox rotation, which looks like a random laundry list come to life.)

It's going to be a "blue collar" staff (instead of "blue chip," which would have been a good description of the Phillies "Phour Aces" awhile back, before the two Roys--Halladay and Oswalt--turned into pumpkins) and that is, in fact, a lot more refreshing than loading up on the type of heavy, four-course meal that often just grinds away at your digestive system, leaving you more bloated than a beached whale.

The Sox ace is still Clay Buchholz, the man of many on-mound mood swings, but we're sure that Bill James (in his wise but crotchety counsel) is convinced that Clay will morph back into form now that he's turning 30. (There are so many conflicting reports about how to assess and project starting pitchers that one's head could spin right off one's head, but Bill is probably right, at least in this case.)

Behind him now are Joe Kelly, coughed up by the Cardinals in the John Lackey trade; Rick Porcello, on hand from the Tigers in exchange for the sullen (or so they say...) Yoenis Cespedes; Dixie-fried southpaw Wade Miley, acquired from the Diamondbacks; and Justin Masterson, another enigmatic righthander who will try to disprove Thomas Wolfe's infamous maxim.

All in all, this doesn't look to be any better or worse than what the Royals trotted out last year on their way to that improbable trip to the World Series, but they had a bullpen that was beyond "blue chip." The Sox don't have that component in place--at least not yet--and that's something they'll need to address if they expect to contend with these guys as the basis of their starting rotation.

But we do love the "blue collar" move here, as it signals some intriguing combination of creativity and desperation, and we prefer our Red Sox experience (both with the team and with its uniquely obnoxious fan base) to be one based on roiling anxiety and inchoate currents of dread. So...onward into that uncertain dawn...and remember that you can always bleach the snot out of those blue collars if need be.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Some of our absence here of late is due to an incredibly hectic schedule in other phases of life--yes, folks, there is more to existence than the vagaries of horsehide...

...and some of it stems from the rhythms of baseball's off-season timing as it has morphed over the past couple of decades, with its less predictable (in fact, downright lumpy) event patterns. Much of our commentary in this time frame would be dangerously indistinguishable from the pseudo-speculative drivel passing for analysis in the four billion corners of the blogosphere--and while we would unquestionably be more cunning and prescient than 95% of the bandwidth-clog available to plague your synapses, it's just not worth the effort when so many other, more effective ways of amusing yourselves to death are so readily accessible...

Of course, we've still got plenty up our sleeve, and we promise to get back to unraveling it soon enough...but, for now, let's check in with a quick rejoinder to the silly sub-faction of what used to be called the "Veterans Committee" in the (ahem...) Hall of Fame voting process.

Yes, they're b-a-a-ck. Tomorrow (about twelve hours from now, in fact) the results of the "Golden Era Committee" (sounds like they should all be dipped in something, now, doesn't it?) voting process will splurt itself out into public view, much like the sound of a 99.99% empty toothpaste tube excreting its final effluvium onto an unsuspecting toothbrush.

Ten men have been propped up for disappointment, dismay, or deafening silence (for those candidates who are already dead and gone...) at the hands of sixteen guys in search of an easy way out. The names of those ten men, in alphabetical order:

Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant, Maury Wills.

(The four names in bold, BTW, are those folk who've been honored already by our friends at the Baseball Reliquary, whose membership inducted Messrs. Allen, Minoso, Tiant and Wills into their Shrine of the Eternals.)

Now, our view, remaining consistent with the notion that "fame" is equal parts excellence and notoriety, thus demanding the widest of all reasonably possible nets to ensnare players and other forms of baseball ligan, is that five of the folk listed above have claims for Cooperstown.

Those five: Allen, Boyer, Hodges, Minoso, Tiant.

Why not the other five?


(Howsam) No GMs should be on this ballot--apples/oranges. There should be a separate process for them.
(Kaat) Fits the definition of a "compiler," and is without any other compelling narrative.
(Oliva) Peak is not high enough or long enough.
(Pierce) Not enough peak, overly unbalanced home/road performance.
(Wills) Too much of a one-trick pony.

Of this group, Hodges and Minoso received the most votes from the "Golden Boys" previously.

How many votes will each of these guys get this time? Include us out of that particular masturbatory manifestation. All we'll say is that it will be close for Minnie and Gil, but it will be no cigar for Tiant (a damned shame, too, since no one looked more jaunty with a stogy than ol' Looie, and we'd love to see him light one up on the dais...).

We will hope that Allen will get seven or eight votes this time, signaling that at least some of the silly, sanctimonious hypocrisy and "received lugnut-ism" that so many have inherited from the single most reprehensible set of sentences ever written by Bill James will at last dissipate into the ether...but we won't hold our breath--or yours, either. [EDIT: In fact, we harbor suspicions that Howsam is on the candidate list primarily as a means to insure that this voting body will have a "safe" choice, one that bypasses any controversy concerning the merits of those who actually played on the field.]

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Yes. We did.

Um, no. We didn't.

What we said (back in late July, when the craven folks who run the HOF changed their voting procedures) was that me, you and ten-plus million dogs named Boo (the perfect appellation in this instance, n'est-ce pas?) should boycott these mofos until they rescind this rule.

Just as folks today want to send a message to the cloistered world of uber-wealthy white greedocrats that the justice system actually pay lip service to its own procedures (cough-Ferguson-cough), those of us who want to protect the principles of fairness should make sure that we give these holier-than-thou, pompous pariahs a battering at the cash register.

That said, we did not say that we would cease and desist with respect to the results of Hall of Fame balloting--effed up as it now is.

Sorry to dash any hopes out there. (Or, alternatively, sorry to interrupt your sleep...)

We'll keep this brief. We dodged Whisky Jack, at least for now. There is nothing egregious on the ballot in that way, at least not for awhile (we'll let you figure out who the next Whisky Jack might be on your own).

There are too many worthy players to put on a 10-man ballot (wonder if the HOF chimps would be brazen enough to decrease that as well? Don't put anything past these guys...), which forces us (and you, and Boo, and the journalistic demimonde who actually get to vote on all this) to create a tactical ballot.

That means, as noted previously, leaving off Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who will probably have to wait into their late sixties before they finally get the call.

With that doubly reluctant double omission, we get down to the folks that go on the ballot:

New eligibles: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez.

No-brainers here.

The other guys that should go in this year (but only one will): Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell.

That's right: just Biggio, who barely missed (two votes) last year. Clearing the decks here with two worthy guys somehow still caught up in the 'roids rage idiocy--Piazza and Bagwell--would be the way to go, but as Mike O'Hara (Orson Welles) says in The Lady From Shanghai: "It's a bright, guilty world." (Actually, he could have left off the first adjective in that assertion...)

The "movie star...and the rest!" (figure out that reference without Google, and win a free used cigar!): Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling.

Folks will want Alan Trammell here. He's worthy, but no amount of effort will get him elected (14th year, 20% of the vote last time). Sammy Sosa is tainted, Gary Sheffield has a strong enough case of "Dick Allen Disease" that he will struggle to stay on the ballot.

Some folks think John Smoltz will rise up the ballot in short order and join his Atlanta amigos in 2016/17. We would like some of what they are smoking. Smoltz has 95% of the case that Schilling has, but--just like birth order in family dynamics--he's coming on board behind a candidate who is a better (and older, more established) version of what he is. Figure on 15-20% for him at this point, and no real traction until Schilling rises up the ballot (which will take a few more years). He belongs, but given the new reprehensible rule, he (like many others) may have to go in via the side entrance.

Folks will think we are stubborn about Edgar Martinez, and they're half-right. Somewhere, somehow, there has to be leeway for non-numeric considerations in this type of voting. Not that Edgar isn't qualified numerically. He's just the victim of a lot of overthinking by bright folks who should know better. Even in a jammed ballot, room must be made for players who bring an inestimable aesthetic dimension to the baseball diamond. Edgar managed to do that as well or better than anyone despite rarely taking the field. He did so as the most interesting batter of his generation to watch while at the plate (and if you don't think so, you aren't watching enough baseball).

Only a few players make the batting process into something intensely cerebral, and do so in a way that radiates across an entire stadium. Edgar is one of those select few. There will a spot for him on our HOF ballot until the bitter end.

There it is. Nothing more needs to be said until the votes have been counted. Of course, that won't stop anyone, now, will it?

Thursday, November 20, 2014


We wrap up the Zodiac League previews with a stinging proviso--that the Scorpio "A" team is sitting on a starting rotation that is as deadly as the scorpion's tale itself.

Sometime soon--when we are not editing a movie, planning a film festival, or putting the finishing touches on our new office space--we will consolidate all of the info regarding the Zodiac League, and get ready to actually play it. Will our off-the-cuff predictions be worth a pitcher of John Nance Garner joy juice?

(Oddly enough, John Nance Garner--FDR's first vice president--was born on November 22.)

The Scorpio "A's" (that's "A-team," not Athletics, in case you're arriving here for the first time...) aren't sitting especially high in hitting. Here is their projected batting order:

Bid McPhee, 2b; Bill Terry, 1b; Stan Musial, lf; Ken Griffey Jr., cf; Ed Delahanty, rf'; Roy Campanella, c; Pie Traynor, 3b; Rabbit Maranville or Bobby Wallace, ss

Lineup slots 2-6 are pretty solid (Bill Terry is a bit better than most people think, and Campy should drive in a lot of runs), but the edges are a bit fuzzy.

But the pitching--particularly the starting rotation--will give you goose bumps.

Walter Johnson, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling

Willie Hernandez, Bob Stanley, Al Holland, Joe Page, Jim Brewer, Mark Eichhorn

In the immortal words of Hughie Jennings (not on this team...): "Ee-yah!"

The "B" team is more "balanced" in that its pitchers are just about as spotty as its projected batting order:

Toby Harrah, 2b; Rick Monday, cf; Gary Sheffield, rf; David Ortiz, 1b; Ralph Kiner, lf; Vern Stephens, ss; Ned Williamson, 3b; Deacon McGuire, c

The "A" team could use Stephens, but the rules are that we go with the Hall of Famer on the "A" team (unless there are none for any particular defensive position). The "B" team, which doesn't have to follow that rule, thus gets a badly needed break.

Here's the pitching:

Jim Bunning, Carl Mays, Dwight Gooden, Jim Kaat, Dave McNally, John Candelaria

Rawly Eastwick, Armando Benitez, Pete Richert, Gene Garber, Jeff Nelson, Joe Hoerner

There is a lot of pitching depth in Scorpio-land, certainly more than any other astrological sign. The "A" team is seriously loaded, and it will be very interesting to see how they do.

All we need do now is set the controls for the heart of the sun...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


The irony of the 2014 World Series? That the two teams slogging it out at the end both had offenses that eschewed (one of our favorite words...) a key aspect of offense--the base on balls--that's been a hallmark of sabermetric theory since its earliest days.

An even bigger irony--that the "midwestern angster" component of sabe discourse is yoked to a team--the Kansas City Royals--who are the leading exponent of "anti-sabermetric" offense. Yes, it is grimly amusing and, like so many things in America, reveals the terminally schizoid nature of the so-called "land of the free."

We'll see all this in the charts below. What they measure is the number of games in which a team (any and all of the thirty franchises from 2000-14) draws zero, one, or two walks (≤ 2 BB).

The first chart (above) is a simple frequency distribution. The average team has had a little under a thousand such games over the past fifteen years (993 to be exact). As the chart shows, the Royals, with 1235 such games, have more than a hundred-game lead over the next highest team (the Baltimore Orioles, with 1122).

By all accounts, Carlos Santana was a free swinger...
Now this is a not inconsiderable handicap to winning, as teams have an overall .391 WPCT when they draw two or fewer walks in a game. Being a free-swinging team, as the Royals have consistently been over the past fifteen years, is one of the major reasons why they have mostly been a losing team.

As the chart shows, the Royals did not change their evil ways (baby...) over the past two years, when they chugged up to semi-respectability and charged their way into the ball as a bull in a china shop disguised as Cinderella. They remained defiantly themselves--and benefitted from the fact that, as offense has tanked over the past 4-5 years, it has retrenched away from the base on balls to such an extent that the impact of free-swinging has been nullified.

You can see that in the overall team average, which has crept upward over the past five years until it is at its highest total since the late 1960s.

We have another way of measuring that change, by taking this data and turning it into league-relative averages. When we do that, and when we identify the teams who've made the post-season over the past fifteen years, we can see the pattern in the data relative to "sabermetric" offenses and team success.

And when we do that, as we have in the above chart, we can see that there is a strong pattern (post-season teams are 10% better at avoiding low-walk games--the lower number is better in this case) that has begun to decay in recent years.

When we look at the data this way, we see that the Royals had the most "anti-sabermetric" offense to reach the World Series (winner in orange, loser in yellow) in the past fifteen years.

The 2014 World Series pitted two teams that had little interest in the base on balls. The Giants and the Royals were the two free-swingingest teams to square off relative to the league in the past fifteen years--and, quite probably, in the history of the World Series. (We'll check on that, one of these days, just to make sure.)

Measuring from the league-relative standpoint, we can see that the most "sabermetric" offenses (using just this one index point...) over the past fifteen years are the Yankees and the Red Sox, with the A's and Phillies right on their heels. (Though the Phils have backslid a good bit in the past few seasons.)

By this measure, the Royals again leap out as the most "anti-sabermetic" offense by a wide margin--twelve percentage points over the next most free-swingingest team (the O's).

Of course, in the current environment, it doesn't seem to matter. 2014 nearly neutralized the base on balls as an indicator of team quality; it remains to be seen if that trend will continue. But one thing is for sure--you can take it to the bank that the Royals will be swinging with abandon, win or lose.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


We were curious, so we went to Forman et fils and found out who has hit the best (and worst) in the post-season for the past ten years.

First, the leaders (by OPS):

We've put boxes around players who appeared in the 2014 World Series. People have been proclaiming Lorenzo Cain as the "breakout star" of the post-season, but the member of the Royals who hit the best (and by a wide margin) in the post-season was Eric Hosmer.

And then there's the Panda...

Next, the players with the statistical lead in all the other counting stats not captured in the leaders list:

You'll not be surprised to notice that leading in a number of these categories is highly correlated with the number of post-season games one gets to play.

Notice, though, that triples (our old and continually endangered pal) are particularly scarce in the post-season.

Finally, the trailers--the guys who, for one reason or another, just can't get it going in the post-season:

So, in the post-season, the difference between Angel Pagan (who missed the 2014 post-season with a back injury) and his caddy Gregor Blanco is minuscule.

And the folks who thought that Salvador Perez (who was actually OK in the World Series, but ice-cold in the balance of the 2014 post-season) should have been hit for in the final at-bat of Game 7 have a little something with which to put their barstools into second gear.

Finally--if your last name is Cabrera, you definitely want to change it before you enter the post-season. [ADD: Unless your first name is Miguel, that is...]

Saturday, November 1, 2014


We used the word "hubris" the other day (actually, in the post immediately preceding this one). That was unwitting (as opposed to half-witting...) prescience on our part, for we could not know at the time that another egregious example of overweening arrogance would crop up so soon after the conclusion of the World Series.

And it's not exactly a surprise that it involves Theo Epstein. Theo, of course, is the Most Overrated Baseball Executive In Baseball History, having been far less responsible for the Greatest Cultural Awakening to occur during the Shrub administration (the "advent" of the Red Sox") than virtually anyone believes.

Theo has a theatrical legacy in his family, so he (along with many other master manipulators) has some heightened skill with fake symbolism, flim-flam, and what's semi-affectionately known in the parallel world of the Beltway Bandits (and don't think baseball insiderism isn't all about that same sh*t...) as "weasel words." (And let's stop for a moment to thank our fabulous sponsor, Fright Quotes R Us, currently in negotiations for a merger with "the whole enchilada" of urban dictionary web sites in order to deliver irreverence directly to your email address for a very nice price...)

Now, "weasel words" and "hubris" are not completely synonymous...though they often keep the same company. The former is usually an outgrowth of the latter, though Theo was probably incredibly precocious when it came to this and was already highly accomplished in the practice prior to secondary school.

So it should not raise any eyebrows that he is currently trying to weasel his way out of the type of grasping behavior that overly-entitled insiders with an overly-practiced, baked-in look of searing intensity employ in order to create the requisite amount of psychological distance from the all-too-willing-to-be-callow media.
Rick (Rich) Renteria wasn't much of a hitter in
his baseball career, but no one could blame him
if he was tempted to take the bat to the noggins
of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer

It's the type of behavior that believes inherently (in a manner parallel with the less fortunate who are endowed with such traits, who are merely sociopaths...) that they should be able to get away with anything and everything they want.

Hence the exceptional shadiness involving Joe Maddon, a late-blooming egotist in search of a legacy, and Rick (Rich) Renteria, a garden-variety, anonymous foot-soldier with a upside managerial profile like Terry Francona. The former has an outsized reputation--though not as outsized as Theo, who always looks as though he was just broken out of his own plaster-saint replica (there's rumored to be just such an artifact in the Cubs' executive washroom...). The latter is just some guy to stand there and get pissed on when the time and occasion call for it, no matter if he might have demonstrated a good bit more affinity for the job than anyone initially suspected.

Theo's "weasel words," of course, as he brazenly attempts to deflect attention from what at the least is breach of faith (and the worst? Don't stop short of the "T" word...), are front and center in his disingenuous obloquy.

We'll take this "Uncle Joe" over
the other one (left): less ego, more
comic timing...
What we suspect is that the outgoing, puddle-headed pooh-bah (aka Budzilla) will soon be knee-deep in what should be called "the Rick Renteria Affair" but will instead have the sh*t (for once...) flow upstream to "Uncle Joe," who might decide that he should have been "movin' kinda slow"--or at least, slower--when it came to giving the middle finger to the Rays.

So, to wind down the wind machine (you may cheer as you see fit...), we won't be surprised to discover that there will have to be some compensation made to the Rays once all the slime boils over. We think that shortstop prospect Addison Russell is just about the right cost for Theo and Jed (and Granny and Jethro, too).

Anything less, in fact, would be--a scandal? In baseball, where insider sh*t is more sanctioned than in the Washington world of lobbyists?? No, just another example of "rugged individualist" hubris trumping ethics--again.

Of course, what would also be a kick in the head would be if the Rays turned around, hired Rick Renteria--and won the World Series in 2015.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Two-sevenths of the 2014 World Series was nail-biting one-run stuff--and for the sake of aesthetics and  those in need of medicinal remedies, the Giants and the Royals managed to save the best for last, providing all manner and form of baseball fans a reminder of the game's illimitable range. It probably won't stop the interminable whining about the game's so-called "lagging pace," but a riveting Game Seven (and we still wish it could be Eleven...) will do a lot to dampen such criticism for some time to come.

"Midwester angsters" can now save up for the next rainy day (something that folks in the Bay Area and parts south are doubtful will ever come...) and cling to the "might have been" mythos that seems to make the region into such a battleground between progressive and reactionary forces, often embodied in the same individual ("the pure products of America go crazy" indeed).

In the end, though, a courtly, no-nonsense southpaw from North Carolina stood as tall as just about anyone in baseball history. Madison Bumgarner turned back the baseball clock at least fifty years in several ways at once during the World Series, and it will become one of the game's greatest legacies.

It wasn't just the incredible level of performance throughout the post-season that peaked in the Fall Classic. It was the "stuff of legend" emergence from the bullpen in Game Seven to earn a five-inning save on two days' rest that put things over the top.

Sure, there were pitchers who threw complete games on two days' rest. In fact, there was Deacon Phillippe, who did it on one days' rest. But there's an extra component of drama when the ace who's an "ace in the hole" gets brought in to the middle of a game, as was the case with Bumgarner. It pitches the drama to an even higher level: it adds desperation to the recipe.

It turns out that no one has ever thrown a five-inning save in the post-season before last night. (Which is why it was so terrific that the official scorer decided to reverse his original decision to give Bumgarner the win; his singular moment deserves a similarly singular categorization.) The last four-inning save in a World Series occurred fifty years ago (1964), when Ron Taylor did it for the the Cardinals in Game 4.

We don't have the complete data, but it appears that there have been only about 150 saves in which the reliever went five or more innings (we're talking regular season now). The longest possible save is, of course, eight innings--and there is one of those in baseball history, turned in by the Orioles' Dick Hall, on June 18, 1961, in the second game of a doubleheader--remember them??--against the Cleveland Indians. Jack Fisher was knocked out with five runs scored and only one man retired in the bottom of the first; Wes Stock relieved him and got out of the inning.

Whereupon the O's scored eight in the top of the second (including a walk by pinch-hitter Whitey Herzog and a home run from soon-to-be "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry) to take an 8-5 lead. Hall replaced Stock (for whom Herzog had batted...) and tossed eight shutout innings of relief for The Longest Save In History.

--Yes, yes, the title of this post is rather misleading. But here is a revised, revamped and updated five-year post-season performance chart. It shows just how remarkable the Giants' post-season run has been over the time frame. (World Series winners in orange, World Series losers in "heightened" yellow.) The Royals will probably hold the record for the best post-season record associated with a non-World Series winner for a long, long time. We can't really say that this is an appropriate legacy (we do try to stop short of hubris--at least at this time of year, anyway...), but it is most certainly an interesting one.