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Brief chronicles of our sporting times.

Joe Maddon Opts Out of His Rays Contract



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Via Mike Axisa of CBS Sports’ Eye on Baseball:

Manager Joe Maddon has exercised an opt-out clause in his contract with the Rays and is leaving the organization effective immediately, the team announced. . . . 

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports Maddon is not considering the Dodgers at this time. He was able to opt-out of his deal as soon as [former Rays general manager] Friedman left [for Los Angeles] and Heyman says there were some “contentious” days between the Rays and Maddon since that happened.

During his introductory press conference last week, Friedman told reporters Don Mattingly will “definitely” return as manager of the Dodgers in 2015. Mattingly’s contract runs through the 2016 season.

The Rays went 754-705 (.517) under Maddon from 2006–14. He led the team to two division titles, four postseason appearances and the 2008 AL pennant.

Well, that was unexpected. Sorry, Rays fans.

More here.

Tags: MLB

No One Is Safe From Peyton Manning’s Ire



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Peyton Manning made clear after last night’s 35–21 victory over the Chargers that even the Invesco Field scoreboard operator will be held accountable for his sins.

Via Yahoo Sports’ Shutdown Corner:

The Broncos, stealing the University of Wisconsin’s bit, started playing the House of Pain song “Jump Around” in the stadium. Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, on the sideline, got into it and started dancing. They showed Talib on the big screen, the crowd got even more fired up. It was fairly typical stuff at the end of a big Broncos win.

And quarterback Peyton Manning was not happy about it.

Manning wants the crowd to be quiet when the offense has the ball. He likes calling out audibles at the line, and every once in a while he’ll theatrically motion for the crowd to quiet down. After the two-minute warning the Broncos got a false-start penalty, although it didn’t seem that was due to the crowd noise. He wasn’t mad at the fans this time; he was mad at the Broncos scoreboard operator.

“I have no problem wih our fans, our fans are great,” Manning said. “I’ve got a problem with our scoreboard operator. I’ve got to have a little talk with him.”

Some reporters in his press conference laughed. Manning did not. Manning often has a very dry delivery on his jokes, but it certainly appeared he was dead serious about not being pleased with the scoreboard operator.

More here.

Tags: NFL

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‘Marlins Man’ Has the Best Seat in the House



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Via the Miami Herald: America, meet Laurence Leavy, who for the past two nights at Kauffman Stadium has been occupying a primo front-row seat, behind home plate, that is clearly visible from the Fox Sports center-field camera:

In a sea of blue, Laurence Leavy’s orange “Marlins” shirt stands out in the crowd, especially in the pricey seats behind home plate where the TV cameras focus.

Leavy, a 58-year-old Miami lawyer known as “Marlins Man,” said he just loves being part of the game.

But the sight of Leavy in Miami orange rattled the home team enough that he said stadium officials asked him to move — or at least cover up with a Kansas City Royals shirt.

Marlins Man would have none of that Tuesday night. And he was back at it again Wednesday in Game 2 of the World Series in the same seat.

“The owner of the Royals was extremely upset that I was there,” Leavy said Wednesday.

They offered him a private suite if he would move. They tried enticing him with free World Series goodies if he would get rid of the jersey.

No way, Marlins Man said.

Leavy paid $8,000 for that prime seat to see Royals vs. Giants, and he wasn’t about to give it up.

A Royals spokesman said no one asked him to leave his seat or to take off the jersey.

He sure gets around:

Marlins Man has been buying the best seats to major sporting events for years. By his count, he’s gone to 27 Super Bowls, more than 200 NBA playoff games, and at least 85 World Series games, and many Triple Crown horse races.

He’s been a Marlins season-ticket holder since the team’s first year in 1993, is a rabid Florida State fan (he was on hand for the FSU-Notre Dame showdown in Tallahassee on Saturday before heading off to Kansas City), owns more than 100 thoroughbreds, and rarely misses a Miami Heat or Dolphins game.

“I never had any kids, nor have any wife,” Leavy said. “You don’t have to pay for a wife and kids, so you have money in the bank.”

​More here.

Tags: MLB

The Royals Are No Blueprint for Success



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While congratulating the Royals in securing a World Series berth for the success-starved Kansas City fan base, Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus, writing at Fox Sports’ Just a Bit Outside, makes the important point that the team’s three months of winning isn’t a blueprint for other teams to rush out and follow:

Point 2: The Royals hit the fewest home runs and struck out the fewest times in MLB.

Again, both are true, although I somehow doubt that was by design. I’m assuming that the Royals were hoping that Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas would all be hitting 30 home runs a season by now, rather than the 33 total that they combined for (9, 9, and 15, respectively) this year. While it’€™s perfectly reasonable that the Royals would look for hidden value, it would seem silly for a team to not pursue value if it’s available, and — I can’t believe I’m saying this — home runs are valuable. The fact that the Royals struck out the fewest times was certainly nice, but the Royals were merely a league-average team when it came to getting on base, suggesting that they simply made outs in other ways.

Some have pointed to the fact that the Royals lack of power as a rejection of “big ball” in favor of “small ball” even though the Royals had only 33 sacrifice bunts all year, just above the American League average. For what it’s worth, contrary to earlier research, bunting is actually something of a break-even strategy and if you do it right (and don’t fall in love with it) it can provide value.

Verdict: The Royals seem to have won in spite of their power outage. I gather that there’s a small faction of baseball fans who see the Royals’€™ lack of home runs as something morally noble. While the Royals have shown that a team can get to the World Series without a big bopper, a big power hitter can still provide value, too, and teams would be silly to get rid of one to try to follow some sort of Royal Line of Success-ion. You work with what you have.

Perhaps the real lesson from the Royals’ recent success is to keep the young ones on the 25-man roster staying clear of Clash of Clans and other attention-grabbing video games. Here’s Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star:

The sight unnerved Rusty Kuntz as he entered the visitors’ clubhouse at Fenway Park on July 20. The Royals had just dropped their third game in a row, silenced by Boston ace Jon Lester, and had fallen below .500 for the first time in a month. They had tumbled from first place in their division and appeared content with floundering through the season’s second half.

When Kuntz walked inside the room, he saw a scene that had become all too familiar in recent weeks: a collection of Royals with their heads down, eyes locked on their iPads. The game was called “Clash of Clans,” and for a period of time this summer, its excessive usage by members of this club exasperated the coaching staff.

“At that time, in that situation, it’s really disappointing,” said Kuntz, the team’s first-base coach. He added, “You just got to a point where you go, ‘What’s the priority here? Is this just three hours out of your time, spent away from what you’re actually being interested in?

’We’ve got to find a way to get this changed, so that the priority is the game, and all this other stuff is secondary.’”

Over the next three months, the Royals evolved into a well-oiled machine built for October, a club undefeated in these playoffs and the hosts of game one of the World Series on Tuesday against San Francisco.

Hmmm, who knew that a video game featuring a wizard with Michael Lonsdale looks and Comic Book Guy voice could be as harmful to a clubhouse as beer and fried chicken?

After another suboptimal postseason performance on the mound, James Shields has demonstrated that he’s unworthy of the “Big Game” moniker. (David Schoenfield, ESPN SweetSpot: “Before his World Series Game 1 start, he had a career postseason ERA of 5.19 in nine starts. He’s now allowed 28 hits and 15 runs in 19 innings this postseason, after his early exit Tuesday.”) A healthy measure of sympathy is requested, however, since according to McCullough, the front-line starter recently revealed that he passed a kidney stone (shifts uncomfortably in chair) sometime during the American League Championship Series.

More here, here, and here.

Tags: MLB

Reveille 10/20/14



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Good morning.

Before we hit the links, I need to get something off my chest:

It’s important to differentiate between exciting postseason games and an exciting postseason. There’s no doubt that most of the contests played to date have been must-see TV. When not one of the six postseason series played so far have lasted more than one game above the minimum length, however, it’s clear that fans have been denied the latter. Four nights will have passed in between the national anthems being played, cracks of the bat, and strikes three getting called.

There’s no one to blame, of course, but this is the obvious downside when the NLCS lasts a mere five games and ALCS features a sweep. /rant

Anyway, here are several links from the past week that will make your Monday at the office a bit more bearable:​

4. Craig. Craig. Craig. Craig. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG. CRAIG.​ 

How to attack Herrera? He almost always throws a fastball on the first pitch — 89 percent of the time, saving his changeup and occasional curveball after he gets ahead in the count. Batters have hit .387 when putting the first pitch in play. Trouble is, opponents know to be aggressive against Herrera, as he has the highest first-pitch swing percentage of any pitcher on the Kansas City staff. It’s easy to say “swing at the first pitch,” but harder to execute when it’s a 99 mph fastball up and in or up and away.

Herrera had a gopherball problem last year when he allowed nine home runs through July. It looks like that was primarily an issue of location: more fastballs down the middle. Compared to 2013, his fastball location has gone to the upper corner of the zone.

So the best bet is to be aggressive early in the count and hope Herrera leaves one of those heaters down in the zone. Lefties did fare a little better against him, which could help the Giants as six of their eight position players hit from the left side (or switch-hit). 

The good news is that they don’t need to add much of anything that’s both new and expensive, and they can always designate a reliever for assignment or decline an option if they think they have enough depth but need a couple of million to work with. They won 96 games without a half-decent Chris Davis, with half-a-season of Machado, with a month of Matt Wieters, and with Ubaldo Jimenez making 22 starts. The 2015 Orioles need less Ubaldo and more of the other three, and things should work themselves out from there.

The rest of the AL East is in a similar state, to a degree. The Yankees need the hundreds of millions they spent on free agents a year ago to mean something, and they could also use a little more of the old Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia in their lives. The Blue Jays need to fill holes both from within and externally, but that’s been the story with them for decades: they’re a real, honest-to-goodness divisional threat once they manage that feat, if they manage it. The Red Sox and Rays were both teams with loads of talent that produced losing seasons for a variety of reasons, but if the Sox fill their rotation holes and the Rays find some hitters, both will be worthwhile opponents for the Orioles. The Orioles have their own questions going forward, but Baltimore is the most complete of all the AL East teams at the moment in spite of that.

  • While “D.R.,” writing in the Economist, admits that analytics-driven, front-office executives like Billy Beane of the A’s and Andrew Friedman, now with the Dodgers, have “impressively managed to stay a few steps ahead of their rivals,” he still believes they are being overvalued on balance

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Tags: MLB

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Mike Matheny Deserves No Sympathy



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Regarding the Cardinals’ elimination from the postseason last night, courtesy of a walk-off, three-run blast courtesy of Travis Ishikawa, Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk cuts right to the chase.

When Mike Matheny was asked after the game about his decision, with the season on the line in the ninth inning of a tie game, to forgo closer Trevor Rosenthal in favor of starter Michael Wacha, who had not seen any action since September 23, the St. Louis skipper replied, “We can’t bring him in, in a tie-game situation. We’re on the road.”

In response, Craig blurts out, “The save stat dictated what the manager of a team facing elimination did with his bullpen. That’s just . . . amazing.”

And by “amazing,” he means “brain dead.”

More here.

Tags: MLB

A Wildcard World Series: Wait, What?



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Back in 2007, Joel Sherman of the New York Post advocated for MLB to add a second wildcard to postseason play.

His reasoning?

Under this plan, you get the best of all worlds. By making the October road harder for wild cards, you amplify the importance of winning the division and also building the best record in the league. In addition, you expand the chances for more teams to compete for a playoff spot and, thus, potentially expand interest in the game.

Commissioner Bud Selig implemented such a proposal for the 2012 playoffs.

And wouldn’t you know? Travis Ishikawa wants you to know that winning the division in 2014 was way overrated.

In just the third season under the new format, both participants in this year’s World Series, Kansas City sporting a .549 winning percentage and San Francisco at .543, will be wildcard teams. Moreover, the National League’s entrant, the Giants, wouldn’t have even qualified under the old system.

Just . . . wow.

The Fall Classic gets underway on Tuesday at 8:07 p.m. EDT on FOX.

Tags: MLB

Twelve Inches: The Worst Pitch Call of 2014



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Tom Hallion isn’t working either this year’s ALCS or NLCS, but, having just tooled around with Bloomberg LP’s pitch-tracking data, I thought now would be as good a time as any to have a little fun at the veteran umpire’s expense.

As you will see in this video, back in mid August Elvis Andrus was the victim of a strike-one call on a pitch precisely 12.01 inches off of the plate, the most egregious call of the year. 

To be fair, Hallion, who has been a big-league ump for 25 seasons (1985–99, 2005–), is, overall, correct 85.86 percent of the time, an average that rests comfortably in the meaty portion of the curve.

More here, which as of the time of this posting, features the worst call of last night’s NLCS contest, 8.80 inches, courtesy of Bill Welke.

Tags: MLB

Reveille 10/13/14



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Good morning.

Here are several links from the past week that will make your Columbus Day at the office a bit more bearable:

  • Lorenzo Cain showed off both his speed and leather on Saturday with a great grab off the bat of J. J. Hardy.
  • Why should Royals and their fans worry about 2015 when they can enjoy watching Mike Moustakas rake in the postseason, asks Marc Normandin of SB Nation?

The reality of the situation is that Moose probably still is the same guy. It’s hard to believe that a switch flipped for him once the calendar turned to October — remember that Moustakas batted .247/.287/.296 in September, with the only real difference between that and his other bad months being that he failed to go deep at all instead of just a few times. You don’t want to read about that, though, not right now. Whether Moustakas is going to be a key piece of the Royals going forward or not is irrelevant in this moment, where he’s been a huge piece for a team that can use all the offensive help it can get as it attempts to make it to its first World Series since 1985. Thanks to Moustakas’ first two games in the ALCS, as well as his previous postseason play which helped bring them here to begin with, they just might pull it off.

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Tags: MLB

And Now for Something Completely Different



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Are you a fan of sabermetrics? 

Did you enjoy, during the NCAA title game, ESPN’s BCS Film Room featuring additional camera angles and studio analysts breaking down the Xs and Os?

Or are you just unnerved by the sound of Joe Buck’s voice?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, Fox Sports 1 has a treat for you this evening.

Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight elaborates:

Although sabermetrics has substantially reshaped baseball’s on-field product over the past few decades, its progress in the broadcast booth has been slower. It’s not hard to see why the two trends haven’t moved in lockstep: While teams adopted the analytics model out of the need to win games, the same market pressures didn’t apply to commentators. For teams, integrating sabermetrics meant they were more likely to win; for commentators, it meant they were more likely to confuse. But now a younger generation is steeped in analytics, and statistically minded fans obsessively check sites such as Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference and Brooks Baseball to get what broadcasts and talk radio aren’t providing.

Broadcasters have taken note. In the past few years, we’ve seen some geeky milestones: Sun Sports produced a special sabermetric broadcast of a Tampa Bay Rays game, and WGN flashed a run expectancy matrix on screen during a Cubs broadcast. And Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver, not exactly standard-bearers for the analytics movement, are off the air.

On Saturday, Fox Sports 1 is hoping to facilitate the next breakthrough for on-air stat-geekery. During Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, the channel, working in conjunction with its Just A Bit Outside blog, is mounting a broadcast that promises to focus on “statistics, sabermetrics, and graphics, with plenty of debate and conversation while the action plays out on the field.” The show will feature a split-screen, with the game in one window and in the other a panel that includes longtime sabermetric proselytizer Rob Neyer and ex-players turned stat-friendly broadcasters Gabe Kapler and C. J. Nitkowski, not to mention current San Diego Padres manager Bud Black. It’s an experiment in whether mainstream America — or at least the America that watches Fox Sports 1 on a Saturday night — is finally ready for metrics to invade Morgan and McCarver’s former province.

Kapler certainly seems to think it is, noting that plenty of numbers now widely used on TV (like WHIP and OPS) were once just as foreign to viewers as xFIP and Ultimate Zone Rating. “Baseball fans are ready to absorb metrics they can use to predict what’s coming,” he said.

Along similar lines, Neyer hopes the JABO broadcast can put numbers to the baseball fundamentals that fans are used to. “We’ll be talking about the same things that everybody else talks about, just on a somewhat different — and ideally, higher — level,” he said.

Neyer’s pet example is pitch framing. While most serious fans know that Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is an expert in what Neyer calls “stealing” strikes on borderline pitches, the NLCS coverage will highlight the fact that Molina’s counterpart on the Giants, Buster Posey, is just as good at that dark art according to the numbers.

More here.

Tags: MLB

ALCS, NLCS Previews



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Before switching on the TV this evening to catch the Kansas City–Baltimore American League Championship Series and tomorrow night for the National League Championship Series featuring San Francisco and St. Louis, you may wish to check out a couple of previews, courtesy of Grantland:

Ben Lindbergh has the scoop on the ALCS. For example, the Orioles don’t have a particularly strong starting rotation but look capable of neutralizing the Royals’ biggest offensive threat: speed:

Game 1 starter [Chris] Tillman, who came up through Baltimore’s system after arriving in the Erik Bedard trade, is the best example. Among pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched over the past two seasons, only Nathan Eovaldi has allowed as few steals as Tillman — and Tillman topped Eovaldi’s innings total by more than 100. Baserunners have tested Tillman, but they’ve almost always regretted it, going 2-for-13 in their attempts. However, Bud Norris, whom the O’s didn’t get to groom from his baseball infancy, has been one of the most frequent stolen-base victims, allowing 31 swipes in 45 attempts from 2013 to 2014. Overall, the Orioles have allowed the 10th-fewest attempts and eighth-fewest steals this season, and they limited their opponents to -7.7 Baserunning Runs, the AL’s second-lowest total.

Meanwhile, Jonah Keri believes that two of the youngest players in the Cardinals lineup may be key to offensive success against the Giants’ pitchers:

Twenty-three-year-old rookie second baseman Kolten Wong batted a lousy .228/.282/.304 before hitting the disabled list with a shoulder injury in late June. Since his return, he’s struggled to get on base, but has cranked up the power, belting 11 homers in his final 60 starts of the season, and launching the game-winning blast in Game 3 of the NLDS. Meanwhile, 26-year-old Matt Adams hit .325 but with just three long balls in 52 games before hitting the DL with a calf injury at the end of May. After his June 13 return, Big City batted .267 but with 12 homers and 18 doubles in 333 at-bats, and he boasts the signature moment of the playoffs so far: a series-clinching three-run bomb off Clayton Kershaw. Normally we try not to make too much of selective endpoints like these. But in Wong you’ve got a rookie who might now just be coming into his own as he’s gained experience and recovered from a bum shoulder; Adams’s minor league and early major league résumés (and colossal size) suggest he’s more of a power threat than he showed for a good chunk of this season.

For whatever they’re worth, Lindbergh picks Baltimore to triumph in six games, while Keri has San Francisco prevailing, also in six.


More here and here.

Tags: MLB

When Matt Williams Looked in the Mirror



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When Matt Williams looked at himself in his San Francisco hotel room’s bathroom mirror, a few hours following NLDS Game 4, undoubtedly he thought how fortunate he was to have had Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Stephen Strasburg in the bullpen in case the game, like the one on Saturday, went 18 innings.

Never mind that the season’s now over for the Nationals while the Giants head to St. Louis to (once again) face the Cardinals in the NLCS.

Using Aaron Barrett and Rafael Soriano in lieu of Storen, Clippard, or even Strasburg in high-leverage situations within a supposedly all-hands-on-deck game was beyond puzzling, even for a skipper whose in-game tactics throughout the series had been under fire. 

In a must-read piece for Fox Sports subtly entitled “Matt Williams and How Not to Run a Bullpen,” Dave Cameron describes the seventh inning, a frame that will live in infamy for Nats fans:

Tyler Clippard never even warmed up that inning. Neither did Stephen Strasburg, the team’s dominant starter who was available out of the bullpen, and who could have bridged the gap to get to the eighth inning if Williams was completely insistent on maintaining his regular season roles. After the game, Williams said Strasburg was available only in an emergency, but he didn’t clarify why pulling his starter after four innings in an elimination game didn’t qualify as an emergency.

But I can at least see an argument for why Storen or Strasburg wasn’t ready to go in the seventh inning. Clippard, though, is on the roster for these exact situations: getting big outs with men on base in extremely high-leverage at-bats. It doesn’t get any more high-leverage than if-this-guy-at-second-scores-our-season-is-probably-over, but Clippard simply sat and watched his less-talented teammates give up the run that would eventually decide the game.

Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post agrees:

In the seventh, Williams proved in [sic] inflexible. He arrived at his bullpen usage because he stuck with orthodoxy in a moment that demanded urgency. He never considered using Clippard and Storen earlier than usual because he wanted to save them for the eighth and ninth, like he would have in any game in the summer.

“Because those are our seventh-inning guys,” Williams said. “That’s how we set this up. We had two lefties at the top of the inning, and if we got to the righties, we were going to Barrett. That’s what he’s done for us all year long. We’re certainly not going to use our closer in the seventh inning.” 

Oof. Natitude deserved way better than this.

(And yes, the same is true for those who bleed Dodger Blue. No one decision made by Williams was nearly as egregious as skipper Don Mattingly earlier in the day electing to sit Yasiel Puig in a nail biter of a game at Busch Stadium that would extinguish LA’s hopes for a championship.) 

More here and here.

Tags: MLB

A Few Postseason Observations



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Royals catcher Salvdor Perez felt “dizzy” and “foggy” after taking a foul ball off his facemask in the second game of the division series against the Angels last Friday evening but remained behind the plate:

Speaking before Game 3 on Sunday night, Perez said Royals manager Ned Yost and trainer Nick Kenney asked him a series of questions and made sure he was OK before letting him to continue. The Royals won 4–1 in 11 innings, putting them on the brink of sweeping the Los Angeles Angels in their best-of-five series.

“A little headache. After I get hit, I just feel like . . . dizzy, a little foggy a little bit,” Perez said. “I talked to Ned about that and after 30 seconds, I think everything is gone. But now I feel good, no more headache and ready to go.”

Head injuries have generated widespread debate in professional sports, primarily in the NFL. But many baseball players also have been sidelined by concussions, including Perez, who spent time on the seven-day concussion list late last year.

That happened after Perez took a foul ball off his mask in a game against the New York Yankees. The latest blow came when Angels slugger Josh Hamilton was following through on his swing, and his bat made hard contact with the side of Perez’s helmet.

Kenney administered an on-field concussion exam, checking his vision and going through a series of other tests. Perez insisted he was fine. If he was found to have had a concussion, Perez could have missed Game 3.

It’s difficult to ascertain what’s more troubling here — that a player’s long-term health, particularly someone who was sidelined with a concussion a year ago, is deemed secondary to winning, or that a manager who deems winning more important than one’s long-term health believes that the player who admits to being wobbly after a ball smacks him in the mask is someone he wants behind the plate for the rest of the game.

Meanwhile, Fangraphs’ Tony Blengino offers up insights about putting postseason bullpen construction, cautioning that an effective bullpen can only take a team so far:

[B]ullpens are important, but let’s not get carried away here. The Orioles’ bullpen advantage certainly helped them defeat the Tigers, but their clear advantages in defense, athleticism and position player depth were also huge. The Tigers apparently do not have a center fielder. The Royals’ pen was great, but their defense was greater, and their starting pitching depth superior. C.J. Wilson says hi – and bye. The Nats pen basically matched the Giants pitch for pitch in the first two games, and the vast majority of the Cards’ damage in Game 1 was done against Clayton Kershaw, which can’t be held against the Dodger pen.

It does appear clear, however, that unless you have a chance to get one of the game’s premier closers at the very apex of his career, you should not sink big money or assets into the free agent and trade markets when assembling your bullpen. Acquire accomplished starting pitchers or potential conversion candidates in the late rounds of the draft or the international amateur market, and do it each and every year to create organizational depth. Scour the minor league free agent lists and waiver wire for sleeper candidates. Convert “failed” starters into relievers, narrow their repertoires, and let them pin their ears back and fire away. Major and minor league pitching coaches are key — sometimes the slightest tweak can turn an underachiever into the latest John Holdzkom-esque success story. The Mariners had the best relief ERA in baseball this year, with many of the members of its pen pitching at the upper end of their projections — pitching coach Rick Waits likely had a great deal to do with this.

Finally, Tony Bennett sang “God Bless America” at AT&T Park yesterday but managed to alter a few choice words.

 

 

“Ocean bright with gold?”

Where has Bennett been swimming? Wait, I take that back. Maybe it’s best that we don’t know.

Anyway, isn’t the “Star-Spangled Banner” supposed to be the one whose lyrics everyone mangles? Oh, and if GBA isn’t our national anthem, why are some of you giving me dirty looks when I don’t remove my cap?

More here, herehere, and here.

Tags: MLB

Reveille 10/6/14



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Good morning.

Here are several links from the past week that will make your Monday at the office a bit more bearable: 

  • In the wake of a three-game sweep of the Angels, Kansas City crowned a king last night. First baseman Eric Hosmer made mincemeat of Angels pitching in the ALDS. Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo’s Big League Stew points out how fortunate it is for the Royals that his bat, which was less than stellar during the regular season (.278/.318/.398), has come alive in the postseason

If we’ve been able to identify something, you’d better believe Major League Baseball has been able to identify that something, so Trout in the second half saw more high fastballs than anybody else, by a few percentage points. And what happened? Well, Trout remained pretty great, but after leading baseball in the first half with a 186 wRC+, second-half Trout dropped to 141, even with Jose Altuve. His walks went down and his strikeouts went up, and while he was seeing about 41% high fastballs, that means he was seeing 59% non-high-fastballs. That’s where Trout feasted. He’s going to win the league MVP, and he deserves it.

  • In his new blog, DK on Pittsburgh Sports, Dejan Kovacevic looks back at the Pirates’ decision to gun for the NL Central crown, despite the odds’ not being in the club’s favor, at the expense of having their best starter available for a wild-card game.
  • In “King of Three True Outcomes, Adam Dunn, calls it a career,” Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated looks back at the Big Donkey’s impact on the game, which helped shape an era in which fewer balls are being put in play.
  • Tom Tango notes that TBS/SNY announcer Ron Darling recently expressed distaste for the quality-start statistic — Tango agrees that it has limited value — but wonders if the former Mets and A’s pitcher will acknowledge the uselessness of the pitcher win. (Darling racked up 136 victories during a 13-year career.)
  • Jackie Robinson debuted for the Dodgers on Opening Day in 1947, and Larry Doby made his first appearance for the Indians later that summer, but the Hardball Times’ Joe Distelheim maintains that the true integration didn’t take place for four more years. For example, he points out that the 1950 World Series featured two teams, the Phillies and the Yankees, that had yet to field a single African-American player.

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Tags: MLB

In (Partial) Defense of Tom Watson



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Rarely has a revered figure in sports, especially in gentlemanly golf, been so widely eviscerated (absent a major scandal, as with the fall of Tiger Woods) as legendary champion Tom Watson in the wake of his captaincy of last week’s failed U.S. Ryder Cup team. Younger legend Phil Mickelson already blasted Watson by implication in an awkward press conference right after the competition ended last Sunday, and columnists already were pronouncing Watson a “terrible captain” (and expressing similar judgments) even before the news broke in the past day or so that Watson had treated his players roughly and even rudely during the three days of competition and especially the night before the final day’s singles matches. In the past 24 hours, the critics have piled on, and it seems as if there is not a soul taking Watson’s side.

Well, as they say, let’s ride into the breach. But first, some background.

Probably nobody has ever accused Watson of being warm and cuddly. He’s a tough guy. And he always has been a bit of a know-it-all (or more than a bit), and a bit too full of his own sense of righteousness. One remembers a scene years ago in which, quite unpleasantly, he publicly accused the great Gary Player of cheating. Watson could have quietly pointed out to Player that he thought Player had improved his lie and give Player a chance to make up for it himself (as golfers often do, such is the code of honor of the sport). If Player did improve his lie (which nobody but Player really knows), it could have been a minor, absent-minded thing, rather than a deliberate attempt to cheat. But no: Watson was definitive, accusatory, even nasty.

Watson also has treated Jack Nicklaus, at least in public, quite oddly. For nearly four decades now, Nicklaus has waxed almost poetic about his high regard for Watson, as both a golfer and a man — and, so devoted is Nicklaus as a friend that he several times in public has sounded almost choked up when talking about Watson, and . . . well, enough stories. The odd thing is that Watson really hasn’t reciprocated, at least not in public. I can’t remember ever seeing or hearing Watson speak really fondly — respectfully, yes, but not fondly – of his older competitor and erstwhile friend. I’ve seen occasions where interviewers all but asked Watson to say something really nice about Nicklaus, to which Watson responded with praise . . . for Nicklaus’s wonderful wife Barbara, instead.

On the other hand, Watson is known, rightly, as a man of deep personal integrity. He is punctilious about the rules of the game. He has taken stands, at some cost to himself, against religious bigotry and intolerance. And he has gone out of his way to help younger golfers overcome serious problems with the bottle (a problem he himself reportedly suffered for a while, but willed himself out of). Aside from the incident with Player, he almost always has been publicly gracious in both victory and defeat.

Still, the reason he was chosen to be captain this year, breaking the mold by serving at age 65 (usually Ryder Cup captains are in their 40s), is that, with his fierce competitiveness and persona as a no-nonsense tough guy with a record so commanding of respect, the PGA obviously thought he might be able to instill some of his toughness into a U.S. team that was the inheritor of a growing record of late collapses.

Here’s what 2012 captain Davis Love said back in January about Watson’s impending captaincy:

“He’s going to shock a lot of people,” said Love, the 2012 U. S. captain. “He’s going to captain this team. It’ll be a good change. He’ll shake it up a little bit. He’ll be tough and fun. He’s very intense. He’s not a laid-back Fred Couples. It’s a perfect time to have somebody like Tom. As my mom says, it’s time to buckle down. Tom Watson is a good one to get them to do it.”

Hence, it should have been expected, when the U.S. golfers played horribly on Saturday afternoon to fall behind by a daunting 10–6 tally heading into Sunday’s twelve singles matches, that Watson wasn’t going to go the gentle route. None of this Stuart Smalley happy talk about how great each team member is; nothing “new age,” nothing rah-rah. The truth is that the players weren’t getting the job done, and Watson told them so.

Keep reading this post . . .

Seriously, Who Bunts on a 3–1 Pitch?



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Never mind the larger issue about the value of the sacrifice bunt and when it should be employed versus when it should be eschewed. Most sane adults should agree on this:

When it’s the bottom of the eighth inning of a tie game, the count is 3 and 1, and the batter in question, Kole Calhoun, has had a grand total of two sacrifices in a big-league career spanning 784 plate appearances, why on earth don’t you allow him to try to work a walk — thereby pushing the runner on first base into scoring position without having to give away a precious out? (Alternatively, why not allow Calhoun, owner of a quite handsome .450 slugging percentage in 2014, swing away on a hitter’s favorite count?)

Oh, and some fella named Mike Trout is due up next? (In other words, with runners on first and second, it would have been near-impossible for Royals fireballer Wade Davis to pitch around him.)

But that’s what Angels skipper Mike Scioscia wanted.

Calhoun did his best to square up the incoming fastball from Davis and . . . popped it up to third. Instead, Trout received an unintentional intentional walk, and ultimately the Halos didn’t score.

When you come up with an in-game tactic that’s even less coherent than the goodies Royals manager Ned Yost employed in the wild-card game, that’s really saying something.

And, yup, Scioscia’s squad lost in the end.

Tags: MLB

Cleanup on Aisle Monday



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In preparing this week’s Reveille, I inexplicably neglected to include two stories of interest:

Derek Jeter and Paul Konerko weren’t the only players of note to ride off into the sunset yesterday. After 18 seasons in the big leagues, Bobby Abreu called it a career. Does the Venezuelan native have a legitimate shot at the Hall of Fame?

Well, he had an amazing seven-year peak during his tenure with the Phillies. From 1998 through 2004, he posted more than 5 fWAR per season, reaching a pinnacle of 6.9 in 2000. (Because fielding metrics consistently rated him as a below-average outfielder, his career fWAR is only 58. By comparison, Jim Rice racked up a 50.8 fWAR while Andre Dawson posted 59.5, and both are in the Hall.) As for the rate stats, his final slash line after 10,081 plate appearances also says borderline Cooperstown: .291/.395/.475.  

Meanwhile, the fans at Citizens Bank Ballpark were up to their old tricks on Saturday night. Here they are mocking Braves closer Greg Kimbrel’s unusual crouch while looking for his catcher’s sign. Ultimately, their histrionics were for naught, as he fought out of a jam and the Phillies lost, 4–2.

Still, this tomfoolery can’t hold a candle to this infamous Brotherly Love moment from the Braves’ first visit of the season to Philadelphia . . . 

 

Tags: MLB

Reveille 9/29/14



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Good morning.

Here are several links from the past week that will make your Monday at the office a bit more bearable:

  • The division series matchups are set: In the American League, the Angels, who have the No. 1 seed, will play the victor of the wild-card game featuring the A’s and the Royals, while the Orioles (2) and Tigers (3) will hook up. In the Senior Circuit, the top-seeded Nationals will play the winner of the Giants–Pirates wild-card game, while the Dodgers (2) and Cardinals (3) will duke it out. The ALDS begins play on Thursday and the NLDS commences on Friday.
  • On his blog, former Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski toasts the Royals, who have earned their first postseason berth in 29 years:

The drought wasn’t the thing. Yes, it had been 29 years since the Royals last reached the postseason — and baseball has completely turned upside down in those 29 years. The game has made the divisions smaller, added wildcards, rearranged the schedule, made it all but impossible for a team to NOT go to the postseason at least every now and again. The Royals would not go. But the drought wasn’t the thing — it was the hopelessness surrounding the drought. The Royals did not come close to the postseason. The Royals did things so mind boggling that the postseason seemed as far away as flying cars and trips to another galaxy. …

I think a player named Ken Harvey, a 6-foot-2, 240 pound bopper from Beverly Hills (via the University of Nebraska) who went to high school, at least briefly, with Angelina Jolie. Harvey had this odd batting style where he would slide his right hand over his left during the swing and then employ a massive upper cut, but he hit well enough one year to be the Royals lone All Star representative. Still, it was his penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time that marked his career. He was hit in the back with an outfield throw. He threw the ball into a pitcher’s face from point-blank range. He got tangled up in the tarp trying to do something or other. Harvey was not a comic figure, though, he was a proud young man who just kept having bad things happen to him, not unlike Royals fans themselves.

The Royals, those Royals, are going to the playoffs.

I think of a time when the Royals decided to buy Johnny Damon a house in order, I suppose, to instill loyalty and make him want to stay in Kansas City when he became too expensive. Damon ran kicking and screaming from Kansas City at first opportunity anyway, probably when he realized that for a few million dollars extra he could buy his own house.

The Royals, those Royals, are going to the playoffs. 

Nothing was easy about this season. These Royals are not a great team. They are often not a good team. They will not hit even 100 home runs this season — the first American League team in 20 years to fail to reach triple digits. They are ninth in the league in runs scored, just thirty or so runs ahead of last place. The calling card is pitching but they don’t have one starter who you could yet call a great pitcher. 

But, dammit, that team never stopped plodding, never stopped toiling — run scoring for them is like manual labor, but they dribbled their singles and yanked their doubles and stole some bases and found a way to dig enough runs out of the dirt. Their starters, young and old, pitched to contact and relied on a frisky defense and somehow managed to give the bullpen enough leads. And that bullpen, that amazing three-man bullpen of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, shut the games down.

  • Do you need further evidence that Mike Trout could leap tall buildings in a single bound . . . provided the FAA first gave him flight clearance? On Friday evening, the 23-year-old superstar showed off to Safeco Park attendees a no-look, leaping catch:

 

 

  • Now let me know what’s more fun to watch in this video: Brandon Barnes’ running leap above the Petco Park fence to rob Rene Rivera of a home run or his reaction afterward, taunting Padres fans who had been razzing him moments earlier:
  • For those who didn’t excel in their high-school physics course, imagine if your teacher had been considerate enough to incorporate baseball into the learning process? Here’s an example from the Hardball Times’ David Kagan:

A spinning baseball does amazing things, as every good pitcher and frustrated hitter knows. The force exerted on the ball when it spins through the air is called the Magnus force. The topspin on a curveball creates a downward Magnus force, causing the ball to drop compared to the trajectory of a non-spinning ball. Similarly, the backspin on a fastball creates an upward Magnus force, causing the ball to drop less than a non-spinning ball.

  • Via the Chicago Tribune’s Colleen Kane: The White Sox honored its longtime first baseman and fan favorite Paul “Paulie” Konerko in a ceremony at U.S. Cellular Field on Saturday evening that included the unveiling of a statue featuring the 16-year veteran in a fist-pumping pose copied from his reaction after hitting a grand slam in the 2005 World Series.

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Tags: MLB

Jeter Leaves the Game the Right Way



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There’s really not much to say.

It’s no secret that I have long considered Derek Jeter an overrated player (Cooperstown-worthy, of course, but hardly inner-circle) and been mortified by the season-long Kool-Aid show tributes that would have embarrassed even Eva Peron, but it would have been impossible not to crack a smile for the 20-year veteran last night.

Every future Hall of Famer deserves to say good-bye on a high note and Jeter, who endured a very un-Captain-like season at the plate, is no exception. So just as a 42-year-old Teddy Ballgame fittingly hit a big-fly in his final plate appearance at Fenway Park in 1960, a 40-year-old Jeter used his patented inside-out swing one last time at a packed Yankee Stadium in the ninth inning of a tie game, and swatted a walk-off single.

And while the final score means little in the standings to either the Yankees or the Orioles – the Yankees won’t experience the postseason for the second consecutive year while the division-winning Orioles are October-bound – to the fans who came to watch their hero it was Game Four of the 2001 World Series all over again.

With one swing of the bat, Jeter leaves the game the right way. 

Tags: MLB

How Sabermetrics Continues to Define the Bucs



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Ben Lindbergh of Grantland just published a wonderful, insider’s read on a key method in which the Pirates under general manager Neal Huntington are utilizing sabermetric principles. Not only does the resurgent franchise embrace analytics, it is a pioneer in how information gets communicated to and from the manager and his coaches:

Meet 26-year-old Mike Fitzgerald, an MIT graduate who’s not only fluent in R and SQL but an excellent communicator:

[T]he Pirates have built a unique bridge between backgrounds. Most quants spend much of the season sequestered in the equivalent of what the Astros call their “nerd cave” — an office from which analysts periodically emerge to interact with coaches but rarely to travel with the team. Fitzgerald, meanwhile, makes most road trips: If the Pirates are playing, he’s almost always at the park. I surveyed several analysts from other front offices, and none of them knew — or would admit to knowing — of another employee with Fitzgerald’s statistical expertise who travels close to full-time with a team.

While Fitzgerald offers input on player evaluation and roster construction — prior to last season, he stumped hard for free agent Russell Martin, who now rivals Andrew McCutchen for the title of Most Valuable Pirate — his role has gradually evolved to incorporate more direct, in-season interaction with coaches. In 2012, Fitzgerald’s first season in Pittsburgh, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle requested that Fitzgerald and Fox start sitting in on some meetings before home games with Hurdle, his coaching staff, and the Pirates’ video and in-person advance scouts. All parties felt that they benefited from that trial run. “By the time last season came around,” Fitzgerald recalls, “Clint had reached out to Dan and said, ‘I want to get you guys in on every meeting.’” En route to the Pirates’ 2013 playoff berth, Fitzgerald and/or Fox attended every home meeting in person and called in when the team was away.

Last offseason, Fox and Huntington floated the idea of Fitzgerald becoming a fixture on the road. Some managers might have resented the suggestion, regarding Fitzgerald’s presence as an intrusion into the field staff’s traditional domain. Hurdle, however, was happy to have the help. “If you think you have an idea that he could do better or that we could do better, he’s not territorial,” Fox says.

“The big thing for us was speeding up the feedback loop,” Fitzgerald explains. Even in an ultra-connected world, calls, texts, and emails go unanswered, unreturned, or worse, unmade, eating up time that could be better applied in other ways or depriving both coaches and analysts of important information. …

In theory, any team could copy the Pirates’ communication methods. In practice, those methods require the right personnel. While some analysts with other teams lament the close-mindedness of coaches who ignore the information they provide, Pittsburgh’s old-school staffers accept that their positions require continuing education. “Clint reads everything,” Fitzgerald says. “It’s unbelievable.”

Fitzgerald’s interpersonal skills are an equally important part of the puzzle. “For a guy who is so sharp analytically, he has tremendous feel for situations and what to say and when to say it, and rapport with people,” Fox says. “That’s not easy to find.” Nor do the relationships that Pittsburgh’s brain trust has built develop overnight, even with the right people in place. “It’s taken a long time to be at the place where we’re at now, where the relationships are there, and they trust what we give them and we trust what they’re saying,” Fox adds. “Everything has jelled a little better over time. So maybe the competitive advantage is that it takes time to build it and once it’s there, you need to be able to sustain it.”

Fitzgerald wouldn’t want to do without either one of what he calls the “sabermetric world” or “the old-school coaching world.” “They kind of get played up like they’re two polarizing ideas, but in reality I think they’re a lot closer than that,” he says. “The cool thing for us … is that we’ve found the middle ground in there. From case to case, it’s an ebb and flow in terms of which side it may lean on, but both sides have stretched each other. We now think about things and look at things a lot differently than we did three years ago. I think Clint and those guys would agree that they do the same.”

More here.

Tags: MLB

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