15 October 2003

Curse Re-Trac-Tion

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no urse Re-trac-tion.
’cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.

When I’m playin’ towards the wall
And that fan wearin’ the radio
Gets in the way of the ball
So I can’t catch it for an out
And I have to scream and shout!
I can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no Curse Re-trac-tion.
’cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.

When I’m watchin’ my TV
And that ball goes toward the short stop,
Who can always play the short-hop.
But he can’t play this one ‘cause it hits his glove
And I watch…it…to…the ground…drop!
I can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no Curse re-trac-tion.
’cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.



When I’m pitchin’ ‘gainst the team
And I’m curvin’ this and I’m slidin’ that
And I’m tryin’ some outs to glean,
But I can get no outs, ‘cause the fielders reek,
’cause you see we’re on a (95-year) losing streak.
We can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.



I can’t get no, I can’t get no,
I can’t get no satisfaction,
No satisfaction, no Curse re-trac-tion, no satisfaction….

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13 October 2003

Spineless Coward

Not long ago, an athlete with a world of talent at his beck and call, though perhaps a bit past his prime, found himself on centerstage in his sport, the place he most liked to be, against a formidable adversary. Finding that despite his best efforts, he could not beat this adversary at their game, this athlete became distraught and, perhaps not knowing how to deal with these feelings or perhaps not caring to try, he lowered himself to the basest level of human existence: Recognizing the victory he so desired slipping from his usually capable grasp, and lacking the wherewithal to stop it, he lashed out at his opponent, choosing instead to injure him physically, if he could not best him at sport.

The opponent, in justified (if not entirely righteous) anger, yelled obscenities back at our Anti-Hero, as the crowd cheered and jeered, according to their own dispositions toward both the Anti-Hero and his opponent. As the dust settled and the benefit of time and hindsight allowed fans, writers and other athletes to review the situation in all its grotesque angles, almost all agreed that the Anti-Hero was little more than a gutless, impetuous, selfish and childish punk.

But enough about the Tyson-Holyfield fight.

There was baseball played this weekend!

Sadly, last week my home computer decided that the ability to connect to the internet was not nearly as high a priority for itself as it was for me, and therefore left me without any realistic ability to comment on these happenings until now. Bronchitis hasn't exactly been helpful either.

Because I was working on the computer most of the day, I only got to listen to most of the game on the radio, rather than watch it.

Baseball is a game that lends itself to spoken description in ways that basketball, hockey and football simply do not. For example:

...The unique dimensions and character of individual ballparks, like Boston's Green Monster or Montreal's crickets (criquets?), allow the radio announcer to tell you exactly where the action is at any given moment. The uniformity and continual two-way movement along an ice rink, a basketball court or a gridiron simply cannot hope to be as interesting.

...The generally one-dimensional direction of play (mostly outward from home plate or back towards the infield), makes it easier for the listener to focus his mind's eye on whomever has the ball, where the ball is headed and what it's doing or has just done.

...Te ease with which the men who participate in the game can be seen, due to the relative lack of equipment on their persons (Barry Bonds' and Gary Sheffield's front elbows notwithstanding), allows the radio announcer to paint a much more descriptive portrait of the players's appearances than you can in say, football. Compare:

"McGuire steps in, a Hercules of a man at 6'5", 230 pounds of sheer muscle, rippling beneath the polyester double-knit uniform. He holds the bat with the ease of a flyswatter, weilding it as an ordinary man would a Wifle ball bat, as he prepares to swing. And here comes the pitcher's delivery...it's a fastball inside and McGuire's tied up, he grounds weakly to second and the inning is over. That's right folks, this Mr. Olympia of baseball was brought to his knees by the local office manager from H&R Block. Oh, wait. Sorry, folks, that was Greg Maddux."

or...

"And Steve Young is down, he appears to have a concussion, again. He was sacked by...number 68, a 360-pound lineman from Fresno State who looks like, well, a big fat guy in tight pants."

...The variation of physical stature in the players themselves makes us all feel as though it could almost be us out there. Players as varied in size and shape as Jeff Nelson (6'8" 240 lbs.), Nellie Fox (5'9" 150), Rich Garces (6'0" 250), and Darryl Strawberry (6'6" 200) have all enjoyed at least a reasonable degree of success in Major League Baseball. You don't have to be a physical freak to succeed in baseball, like you do in basketball or football. We can all relate to it better.

With that said, the Yankees announcers did a less than admirable job in understanding and describing some of the events of the melee on Saturday afternoon. When Pedro Martinez (henceforth to be known as "Punk-Ass") threw at karim Garcia's head, John Sterling and Charlie Steiner spent more time trying to discern whether the ball hit Garcia's bat than informing the rest of us that Punk-Ass was taunting the Yankee bench and threatening to bean Jorge Posada, who would have been a much greater loss to the Yankee cause than Garcia, frankly. Eventually they told us that the guys on the bench were screaming at Pedro, but I'm not sure they ever mentioned the taunting from Punk-Ass.


"If I weren't such a gutless coward, 

you'd really be in trouble!"


Later on, when Manny Ramirez ("Dumb-Ass") ducked to get away from a Roger Clemens pitch that wouldn't have hit him if he were standing a foot closer to it, and all hell broke loose, Steiner told us at first that David Wells had been knocked to the ground by Punk-Ass, when, in fact, it turned out that Don Zimmer actually did the stop, flop and roll. Wells (6'4", 250+), as we alls wells knows, knows how to handle himself in a fight, and would not likely have toppled so readily to a man (and I use the term loosley) who stands 5 inches shorter and weighs 180 pounds dripping wet and carrying a bag of Quikrete. Steiner corrected himself quickly, but still...

The Yankees were, as you may recall, pretty bummed when the Red Sox traded Carl Pavano, Tony Armas Jr. and another young pitcher (anyone remember whom?) to Montreal and then signed Pedro to that ~$15 million/year contract, but for my money (and some of it is...) I'll take a boring, composed, college boy like Mussina over a punk-ass like Punk Ass anyday. Didn't see the Moose letting loose at Trot Nixon's head when it looked like he was about to take his third defeat of the postseason, did you?

"...And now Mussina holds the ball, And now he lets it go,
And now Trot's skull is shattered! The blood from his head doth flow!"


Not exactly the classic picture of good, old-fashioned American sport Ernest Thayer imagined, is it?


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09 October 2003

Winter of Their Discontent

I mentioned yesterday how exciting most of the postseason has been, and despite the Yankees' loss to Boston last night, and the Cubs' pummeling the Marlins into submission, it's still exciting.

Thankfully, we didn't see the kinds of bone-headed plays to which we've become accustomed in this postseason in either game. ESPN's Jim Caple reviews some of the low points.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the Oakland/Boston game in which the A's played like the Nine Stooges. A friend tried to explain it to me and I almost gave up trying to listen, it was so hard to follow all the screw-ups. I did, however, catch the end of the Giants/Marlins game that ended the former's season and propelled the latter into the NLCS for the second time in their history. As exciting as it was, I couldn't believe my eyes when J.T. Snow came barrel-assing around third and tried to knock the ball out of Pudge's glove. You'd have better luck trying to knock the sword out of the Governor of California's hands.



That sounds weird.

Pudge isn't one of my favorite players. I think he's egotistical and self-absorbed and pretty over-rated in almost every category. But I know that he's good at what he does, and I don't think I'd have sent the runner in that situation.

Caple lays the blame on Snow for running late, I guess, and not making it to the plate on time, but I saw the hit, and it wasn't that deep. Most people don't score from second base on a bloop to left field, so it seems to me that the Giamts third base coach is to blame, more than Snow, at least. Unless Snow ran through the 'stop' sign. (He didn't, did he?)

Not only was it a dumbass play because the gamble of scoring one run still only ties the game vs. the chance that the game/series/season will be over if it doesn't work (high risk, low reward). It was also a dumbass play because they'd have had the bases loaded with a one-time pretty good hitter coming up next in Rich Aurilia, and another pretty good hitter behind him. You might have heard of that guy. His name is SuperMan. And of course, by the time Barry Bonds would have gotten to the plate, the game would have already been at least tied, and there'd have been no where to put him, so someone would have to pitch to him.

Of course, there are no guarantees. Aurilia might have struck out with the bases loaded. Even if he didn't, and Bonds came up with a tie game and the bases loaded, there's no guarantee that he'd have deposited the ball in the Gulf of Mexico. He might have struck out, just like Mighty Casey, and given the fans one more thing to hate about him. But either of those options would seem better in retrospect than the colossal "what if" that the Giants and their fans have to deal with over the coming winter.

Here's hoping that Willie "The Human Windmill" Randolph doesn't do anything that stupid...

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08 October 2003

Octobservations

With apologies to Rob Neyer...

A few random notes while wondering where Carl Weathers will show up in the vast, right wing conspiracy to get the entire cast of Predator elected to public office...

First of all, the fact that the games have been so competitive this far into the playoffs is simply fantastic. There have only been four games (coincidentally, one in each Division series) decided by four runs or more, and only one decided by more than four runs (the Yankees' 8-1 clincher at Minnesota...so much for home-carpet advantage.) In fact, three of the four series were decided by four runs or fewer, with the Oakland-Boston series decided by only one run. Almost all of the games have been exciting, some of them going to extra innings. Hey! Free baseball!

What's more, half (count 'em) of this year's playoff participants come from cities that have been traditionally considered non-contenders because of being in a small market. Oakland and San Francisco, with essentially the same market, the Florida Marlins, and the Minnesota Twins have all been the subjects of conversations about "competitive imbalance" and the Twins were even threatened with contraction less than two years ago. It seems that Commissioner Bud has a lot less to say about the issue now that Oakland has made the playoffs for four straight years, with two MVPs and a Cy Young Award winner along the way, and the Twins are were in the playoffs for a second straight season.

Last year, Selig was bitching and moaning that the teams who had won the recent World Series' were all in the top tier of payroll, but this year the Cubs (12th) and Marlins (20th) still have as good a shot at it as the Yanks (1st) and Red Sox (5th). And even if neither of the National League, cheapskate teams wins (please...) the playoffs are almost a crap-shoot anyway. It's getting there that's the tough part. Winning once you're there is little more than good fortune.

For the record, I still pick the Cubs to beat the Marlins in the NLCS. The Marlins didn't strike out much this year (3rd fewest in NL), but they also aren't very patient as a team (4th fewest walks in NL in 2003), and don't hit for a lot of power (11th in homers). The Cubs are among the best at preventing homers and striking out the opposition, even though they walk more than their fair share. Florida doesn't have the patience to take much advantage of that tendency, and won't be able to overcome two appearances each by Wood and Prior.

FuzzyCubbies in six.

And, as you might imagine, I will still pick the Yankees in the ALCS. They're rested, they've got their rotation set up, they've got home-field advantage, and Boston's never beaten them in the playoffs. OK, so they've only met in playoffs of any sort twice, but still...

More importantly, the Yankees have their rotation set up exactly how they like it, as well as a rested bullpen, since they only needed a total of 7 innings and change from their relief pitchers to put away the Twins. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the cowboy-upping Red Sox are trying to patch together their starters from the tatters in which Oakland's hitters left them after five games that all came down to the wire. Their bullpen, despite not giving up a run after the first game of the Division Series, has not exactly been a bullwark of out-making fortitude this season. Byun-Hyun Kim, their supposed closer, isn't even on the roster for the series. And their starting lineup will sorely miss Johnny Damon, however long he's gone.

The Yankees left Chris Hammond off their ALCS roster to make room for an extra backup infielder, Erick Almonte. If it were me, I'd probably prefer to leave one of the RF/DH types off the roster and keep Hammond. Some of Boston's key hitters (Nixon, Ortiz, Walker) struggle mightily against lefties, and Gabe White is the only one Torre's got now in that bullpen. Not the way I'd have done it, but then maybe that's why I don't have four World Series trophies to my credit.

There will be some messy games, but they'll be fun. and the Yankees will win it in Six.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a dog to watch and a game to walk. Or something.


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01 October 2003

Tradition

Error n. A defensive fielding or throwing misplay by a player when a play normally should have resulted in an out or prevented an advance by a base runner.

OK, so I was wrong.

The Yankees set out to embarass themselves right off the bat this year as well. Bernie "Can You Throw This For Me?" Williams misplayed a flyball, which led to a 2-run "triple" by Torii Hunter that should have been a single, first and third, at worst. Matt LeCroy isn't exactly a speed demon, and they might both have scored on Koskie's double anyway, but the point is that Bernie's play is an error if I ever saw one. For the record, I didn't see this one, but I heard it on MLB radio over the internet. (Free for the playoffs if you try eight free issues of Sports Illustrated, which they're hoping you'll forget to cancel in November. I won't.)

In addition, Bernie's universally acknowledged misplay led to Alfonso Soriano knoblauching a throw past Aaron Boone when he was pressed to make the play on Hunter, trying for third.

SOAPBOX TIME: Isn't it high-time that the rules were changed concerning errors? I mean, every report you hear or read tells you that Bernie Williams screwed up yesterday, and yet the box score doen't even mention the "misplay". It just says "triple". And Mike Mussina is laden with three earned runs, instead of the one or two he really deserved.

For whatever reason, the Powers That Used-to-Be decided that a player has to actually touch a batted ball for the play to be ruled an error. Now this kinda makes sense, considering that it's pretty hard to screw something up if you never get to handle it. On the other mitt, though, after 150+ years of playing this game, pretty much everybody knows how a centerfielder is supposed to play that ball: i.e., if you can't get to it, cut it off and keep the batter from running to second, or, say, all the way around to home plate.

Bernie didn't do that. He screwed up the play, allowing a single to be streched into an RBI "triple" and forced another error (actually called as such this time) that allowed another run to score. So why is that not an error? Why is Mike Mussina blamed for that run instead?

Tradition. That's why.

Tradition says that he's got to touch the ball. So if a ball is hit up the middle, and the shortstop dives to his right, everyone would acknowledge that this was a stupid thing to do, but the official scored can't actually call it an error.

Tradition says "You can't anticipate the double play." This means that with a runner on first and less than two out, the middle infielder can step on second base and then knoblauch the throw all the way to Tibet and he's not credited with an error. It simply goes down as a fielder's choice and a putout at 2B. But in the 21st century (and for most of the last one) hundreds, if not thousands, of double plays are turned every year, and we all know that if you can't get the throw off cleanly, it's better to just hold onto the ball. Everyone knows that, and yet the Rules still say it wasn't an error.

It's time to give Tradition the boot and bring in some common sense.

The Yankees still lost, which is ultimately what matters, but let's call a spade a spade here, eh? Or, you know, an error.


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29 September 2003

Prog-Nostradumbass

Not that I'm really any good at this (I picked the Angels to win the World Series over the Giants last year, and by "Angels" I mean "Yankees." Oops.) but I'm going to give you my three and a half cents on the 2003 postseason anyway. Because what the hell, you're here anyway, might as well do something productive, like read. Let's take the playoff series one at a time, because four at a time is just too messy, and I'm too lazy to clean up after myself.

Yankees vs. Twinkies

You can probably guess what I think about this one. The Yankees will certianly not allow themselves to be embarassed in the first round of the postseason for a second consecutive year. No sir, we're waiting until at least the second round before we start playing like bench-warmers from an American Legion team. Overall, it's hard not to like the Yankees' chances with Mussina & Pettitte (81-30, 3.46 ERA career at home) at The Stadium and then Clemens and Mussina (20-2 career against Twins) in the Dome.

Besides, how hard can it be to beat only two guys?!!? WITH THE SAME DNA??! They're twins!

Seriously though, kudos to the Twins for winning them when they counted, playing hard and pulling out all the stops when they needed to, but they're not getting past the Yanks. The Twins took advantage of a mostly soft schedule down the stretch, and it took them until the last week of the season and collapses by the WhiteSox (only 8-10 since Sept 10th) and Royals (13-15 in Sept) to wrap up a very weak division.

Sure, anything can happen, but it won't. Yankees in 4.

Oaklands vs. Bostons

Normally, this would probably be billed as Boston's vaunted offense against Oakland's vaunted pitching, but Mark Mulder is on the shelf, and nobody from the Athletics is really hitting like they'll need to in order to get past the RedSox starting pitching. As for the rest of you, well, if you can't be an Athletic, be an Athletic Supporter!

I'll give this one to the Wild-Card-Winning BoSawx. But I won't like it.
Red Sox in five.

Braves vs. Cubs

This should be interesting. The Braves had, uncharacteristically, the best offense in the National League, while the Cubs' pitching was among the best in the Senior Circuit, including setting a new record for team strikeouts in a season. But in the end, I'll give Atlanta's wonderful offense and decent pitching the edge over Chicago's "Team of Destiny (and Strikeouts)" and mediocre offense. Dusty Baker is great at getting whatever he can out of aging veterans during the regular season, but's he's hamstrung himself with older, slower and less on-base prone hitters in the lower lineup and bench, and he won't get what he needs out of them.

All over North Chicago, businessmen will skip out early to watch the Braves put the nail in the Cubs' coffin.
Braves in 4.


And last, but not finally...

Marlins vs. Giants

This is one of those series that would scare the crap out of me if I were a Giants fan, and if I hadn't just gone already. The marlins, frankly, are not that good a team, but they deserve credit for winning the games they had to win, and the Phillies (13-13 in Sept) don't. The Marlins were 8th out of 16 NL teams in both ERA and runs scored, decidely mediocre on both counts, but they won the close games, and with their pitching, they're usually close. Bonds and the Giants are pretty good at taking walks, but the Marlins don't give a lot of them up, so it might not matter.

Also, the Marlins' offense isn't built around walks, so the fact that SanFran is good at preventing these doesn't necessarily help them. I hate to say it, but I really think that the Marlins could ride their hot pitching and timely hits to a quick defeat of the Giants, whose offense gets extremely thin after Barry Bonds.

Marlins in 5. But I hope I'm wrong.



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23 September 2003

CYA, Wouldn't Wanna BYA...

It feels a little disingenuous writing a column about the American League Cy Young candidates now, since the front-runner for the award a month ago, Esteban Loaiza, has gone 1-3 with a 6.85 ERA in his last four starts and essentially pulled the trigger for his White Sox teammates as they shot themselves in the collective foot in the AL Central race. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Loaiza’s primary competition, Roy Halladay, rattled off four consecutive complete games, two of them shutouts (including a 10-inning gem!), and allowed only one earned run in those 37 innings. He leads the AL in starts (35), innings pitched (257), K/W ratio (6.03) and wins (21), is 2nd in the AL in complete games (8), walks/9 IP, and strikeouts (195), 3rd in baserunners/IP (1.07) and tied for 6th in ERA (3.22) with Barry Zito.

As I mentioned, it’s a little late to be writing a “debate” column about this “race” as most experts have likely made up their minds in favor of Halladay at this point. But let it be said that I was supporting Halladay three weeks ago, when he and Loaiza were both 19-6, and Loaiza’s ERA edge was 2.60 to 3.42. ERA is probably the most significant means of measuring a pitcher’s effectiveness, but it’s not the only means. When you consider that ERA titles have been won by the immortal likes of Joe Magrane, Allan Anderson and Atlee Hammaker, it doesn't seem quite so important. Hell, Steve Ontiveros once won an ERA title, but there weren’t many folks picketing outside the offices of their favorite BBWAA members when the AL Cy Young award was bestowed upon David Cone.

The major factor that Halladay has going for him is quantity. He’s got more wins (as antiquated and potentially useless a stat as it may be) than anyone else in MLB, and has almost 20 more innings than his closest AL competitor, Tim Hudson. His eight complete games trail only Mark Mulder’s nine, who sadly had his season cut short by a hip injury last month. In an age when pitchers rarely complete what they start, when Roger Clemens won the first ever Cy Young Award for a starter without a complete game to his credit (2001), it’s refreshing to see a pitcher go the distance at least a few times.

I understand, in terms of actual wins and losses, that run support has a lot to do with a starter's record. I'll be the first to tell you that Loaiza has lost or gotten no decision for six Quality Starts (6+ IP, 3- ER) this year, while Halladay has had only four such experiences. Halladay's run support, over 6 runs/game, has been very good, 6th in the AL, but Loaiza's is over 5 runs/game as well, thanks to playing in front of Chicago's (until recently) great offense.

Ironically, some people will tell you,

"For the Cy Young award, I don't factor in a team's performance, because I see it as a best pitcher or pitcher-of-the-year award."

...immediately after telling you that the first thing they consider is the number of Wins a starter has. Which is a lot like a movie critic saying that he only considers individual performances, right after he tells you that he thinks that Keanu Reeves ought to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for The Matrix Resuscitated.

So Wins can't be the only metric, nor should it even be the first. The main problem with only looking at ERA, or even Support-Neutral Wins and Losses, as Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan pointed out here, is that the pitchers don’t all face the same teams, thanks to the newly unbalanced schedule. The fact that Loaiza has won four games in six starts, with a Bob-Gibson-esque 1.21 ERA against the woeful Tigers (helps to blow up his record’s appearance. Overall, Halladay’s average opponents have hit to the tune of .265 BA/.336 OBP/.430 SLG/.766 OPS, which is in the Tino Matrinez, Wes Helms, Randy Winn, Craig Biggio, Mike Cameron, Torii Hunter Neighborhood. Loaiza’s opponents have hit only .261/.327/.411/.738, which is akin to Juan Encarnacion, Eric Young, Casey Blake, and Adam Kennedy.

Clearly a notable drop in quality. Sheehan described the difference as being worth less than ten runs over the course of a season, but then he dismisses its influence out of hand. Actually, if you look at the difference in average batter quality, it works out to about 5 runs/450 outs, which doesn't sound like much for a batter, because it's not. But Halladay’s 257 innings pitched yielded 771 outs, which extrapolates the difference between (roughly) Mike Cameron and Casey Blake to about 8.5 runs over the course of Halladay's season. If you take away eight earned runs from his season total, do you know what his ERA becomes?

2.94

Which suddenly is not so different from Loaiza’s 2.92, trailing only Hudson (2.74) and Pedro (2.25, but in only 183 innings). Heck, even if you only take off seven runs, it’s still 2.97, and I’d say that’s more than fair given the difference in the qualities of the batters these two have faced.

And now, when you’re looking at two pitchers who allow earned runs at almost exactly the same rate but one of them has forty more innings to his credit, which one do you say was better? Hallady becomes the clear winner.

Tim Hudson probably has a better case for the Award than Loaiza does, if you consider how well he's pitched and not how well the team's hitting and defense have done on his behalf. But Hudson won't get much support from the writers, with his mere 15 wins, so it comes down to Loaiza and Halladay.

I'll take Roy.



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