Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tom Milone to Debut Saturday!

I've discussed Washington National's prospect Tom Milone in this space a few times, and we have gotten word today that he will be recalled in order to take the space of Jordan Zimmermann in the Nat's rotation! Milone is scheduled to make his major league debut on Saturday against the Mets. We will see how his assortment of slow, slower and slowest curveballs work against a major league lineup. (Shhh, this is not the time for Mets jokes, this is a happy time).

Let's go Tom!

Mike Trout Makes Me Look S-M-R-T

Ok, so usually when I post something about how someone should play more, or is better than you think, they immediately put up a stink bomb. The most obvious case this year was Madison Bumgarner having the worst starting pitching line of the year the day I posted that he was much better than his win-loss record. I'd been right a couple times, like when I talked about Desmond Jennings, but usually I make bold pronouncements and end up with egg on my face. So yesterday, when I posted about Mike Trout deserving more playing time, my assumption was that he'd start and go 0 for 5 with 3 strikeouts and ground into two double plays.

He didn't.

Trout did get the start last night, batting 7th against the Mariners. When Trout came up with the bases empty and one out in the second inning off of fellow rookie Anthony Vazquez, he hit a solo home run to deep LF to give the Angels a 1-0 lead. When he came up in the fourth inning with two on and one out, he hit a three run homer to give the Angels a 4-0 lead.

Two plate appearances, two home runs, driving in all four Angel runs.

Trout came up again in the 5th, with the game starting to get a bit out of hand. He walked with the bases loaded off of reliever Jeff Gray to "drive" in Torii Hunter to make it a 7-2 game, and scored on a Maicer Izturis double that made the score 10-2. He grounded out in the 7th and struck out in the ninth, giving him a game line of 2 for 4 with 2 homers, 3 runs, 5 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, and a WPA of +.338.

Trout now has a season line of .246/.306/.523. He wakes up with a slugging percentage higher than Mark Teixeira or Carlos Quentin. It's a very small sample, but we don't really have any evidence that he isn't really really good. It isn't about the future. Trout gives them the best chance to sneak past the Rangers into the playoffs this year.

Keep your eye on that lineup card tonight.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mike Trout Sits Again. Angels Lose Again.

In four important division games since Friday, the Angels are 1-3. I thought I'd point out an interesting trend I noticed:

Record when Mike Trout starts: 1-0
Record when Mike Trout doesn't start: 0-3

Therefore, my incredibly oversimplified analysis of the situation is that the Angels are now incapable of winning games without Mike Trout.

Hey, we still use pitcher wins, right? Aren't Trout Wins just as legitimate? Aren't they?

No, of course not. Whether a batter is in a game that his team wins is even MORE prone to luck than the starting pitcher. The batter only gets abour 4 or 5 at bats in a game, plus however many defensive plays he may be involved in. A starting pitcher will usually be somewhere between 25-30 batters faced. A batter could go 4 for 4 with 4 home runs, and still lose 15-4 if everyone else on his team stinks. Pitcher wins are dumb. Batter wins are way, way dumber.

Still, the fact that not starting Mike Trout probably isn't the reason the Angels keep losing when they don't start him doesn't mean they shouldn't be starting him. (Did I put enough negatives in that sentence for you? Did it hurt your head? See, that's how I feel when I read about pitcher wins. Feel free to proceed).

There's a tool called "Win Probablity Added" going around the stat community. It does exactly what it says - measures each thing you do on the field and how much it changed your team's chances of winning.

I'm not a huge fan of the tool as a judge of "value" - it's kind of like RBI for us stat nerds, considering the situation and not the event. A player who hits a home run in the 8th inning of a tie game didn't do anything more valuable than the one who hits a home run to lead off the game, but it will obviously change the probability more. Because of this, it falsely inflates the "value" of closers, and devalues the value of starting pitchers who are on teams with a good offense - C.C. Sabathia giving up 1 run in 8 innings and winning 9-1 pitched just as well as Jered Weaver giving up 1 run in 8 innings and winning 2-1. FanGraphs directly states that it has no predictive value, and that there are better stats to use for raw player evaluations.

What WPA does well, on the other hand, is enhance the narrative of individual games. Joe Posnanski gives a nice post about that here, discussing the top 10 games by WPA.

(Aside. That #10 game, where Dwight Evans hit a home run to tie the game in the 8th inning, and then won it in the 10th, is my favorite non-playoff game in my Red Sox watching lifetime, and will be getting a follow-up post.)

Looking at the WPA for some of the great games in history is pretty fascinating. For example, I remember watching Game 4 of the 2001 World Series - the game where the Yankees beat the Diamondbacks with two home runs of Byung-hyn Kim, first by Tino Martinez in the 9th inning, then by Derek Jeter in the 10th. That's one of the most memorable game endings in recent history, but it's not what I remember it for. Nope, I remember that three times in that game, Tony Womack led off his inning with a hit. He hit singles in the first and third inning, and a double in the fifth. In EACH of those circumstances, Bob Brenly had Craig Counsell bunt. And, in EACH of those innings, the Diamondbacks failed to score any runs. I remember thinking how stupid it seemed that Brenly would waste all of those outs. Well, WPA confims it - those sacrifice bunts increased the Yankees chances of winning by 2%, each. WPA is not done retroactively - it doesn't recalculate based on what Martinez and Jeter did later on. It simply tells us what the consequences of a play are on the game and how they change the game at that time. What they tell us, in this situation, is that Brenly killed his team. Counsell had a .359 OBP in 2001 (from 2000-2005, it was .348, so that's not fluky). So, it stands to reason that, in three plate appearances, Counsell would get on base once. Or, in other words, NOT MAKE AN OUT once. Instead, because of Brenly's strategy, he made an out all three times. On purpose. We can't say for sure if the Diamondbacks lost because of that, but we know that their bad strategy didn't help them and that they lost by one run.

Wait, wait, I thought we were talking about Mike Trout? Where is this going, why are you writing about a playoff game from 10 years ago?!

Sorry, I got a little carried away there. I still can't think of Bob Brenly without thinking about that game.

Anyway. Mike Trout. WPA. Right.

On Friday, the Angels lost to the Rangers 11-7 and fell three games behind. They had been losing 11-0, but the back end of the Ranger bullpen apparently decided to give them a sporting chance. What did the non-Trout Angels' outfielders do?

LF Vernon Wells: 2-3, 2B, R; WPA +.002
CF Peter Borjous: 1-5, CS; WPA -.084
RF: Torii Hunter: 1-3; WPA -.061
TOTAL: .364/364/.455; WPA -.143
Recap: It's fair to use this as an example of why WPA isn't so hot sometimes. The Angels lost this game because Dan Haren stunk.
Trout Effect: Minimal. Though he got into the game late as a pinch hitter, going 1-2 with a single, the outfield wasn't the reason they lost. The end of the first inning, where Hunter struck out while Borjous was caught stealing while it was still a 0-0 game is why the WPA for the group is so bad.

On Saturday, Mike Trout started, and the Angels won 8-4. As a team, they hit 5 homers and moved back to two games behind.

LF Vernon Wells: 2-4, HR, 3B, BB, R, RBI; WPA +.127
CF Peter Borjous: 1-5, HR, SB, RBI, 2 R; WPA +.035
RF Mike Trout: 2-4, HR, R, RBI; WPA +.037
TOTAL: .385/.429/1.231; WPA +.199
Recap: Howie Kendrick and Bobby Wilson homered too. It's fair to say C.J. Wilson wasn't sharp in this one. Still, the Angel outfielders played a major role in the one.
Trout Effect: MAKES HIS TEAMMATES BETTER. KNOWS HOW TO WIN. Yeah, back to earth. He had a very good game, and was one of the reasons the Angels won.

On Sunday, Trout did not start, the Angels lost 9-5 and fell back to three games behind.

LF Vernon Wells: 1-4, RBI; WPA +.006
CF Peter Borjous: 0-4; WPA -.065
RF Torii Hunter: 0-3, BB; WPA -.060
TOTAL: .091/.167/.091; WPA -.119
Recap: The Angels were winning this one until Jered Weaver blew up in the 7th. The +.008 of Wells' two out RBI in the 3rd was largely negated by a pop out in the first with two outs and runners on first and second. Torii Hunter's strikeout in the third with a man on second and one out while leading 2-1 wasn't a highlight either.
Trout Effect: Notable. Despite the final, this was a close game for much of the way. A couple outs made by Hunter and Wells with runners in scoring position allowed Colby Lewis to stay in the game through six, which got the ball to the good part of the Ranger bullpen.

Last night, the Angels lost to the lowly Mariners, 5-3. With the Rangers off, the Angels fall to 3.5 games back. Jokes about the patheticness of the Mariner offense may now be passe. Allowing Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp to settle into the 3/4 spots in the lineup is making a big difference. Their .416 SLG as a team in August is 60 points higher than it was any other month, and their .329 OBP ranks 5th in the American League. Sleeper pick for 2012? Not quite ready to jump on that bandwagon, but with their pitching, getting an average offense can make them a serious contender.

LF Vernon Wells: 1-4, R; WPA -.074
CF Peter Borjous: 1-3; WPA -.146
RF Torii Hunter: 1-4, R; WPA -.052
TOTAL: .283/.283/.283; WPA -.272
Recap: Borjous's line drive double play when it was a 3-3 game in the 7th was a killer in the WPA department. The singles all came early in the game, limiting the WPA.
Trout Effect: Moderate. The guy DOES have a .426 SLG, doesn't he? This looks for the world like the kind of game where they needed an extra base hit to swing the balance.

So, over the last three days, Mike Trout has a WPA of +.037, while the rest of the Angel outfielders are at -.372. As we mentioned about, that has no predictive value, only narrative value. So, maybe we can't conclude that playing Mike Trout more would have helped them. What we do know is that, on the whole, the guys they did play didn't help them.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Potential Impact Callups

It's hard to believe we're already here, but in only three days, it will be September 1. Teams in contention will be racing to set up their playoff rosters, those out of contention will be checking out some of the players who could help them in the future. I just wanted to look at a few of the guys who could make an impact either in the pennant races or playoffs.

Mike Trout, Angels: I've discussed Trout a couple times, and I maintain my belief that he's the #1 "prospect" in baseball. It's possible that Trout will exhaust his rookie status in September, making him ineligible for the 2012 ROY award. If he doesn't, he is the serious favorite. That's not the Angels concern right now, though. Sitting only three games behind the Rangers, Trout may give them the best shot to close that gap.

Trout got the start in only one of the three games in the important series against the Rangers this past weekend, getting the right field nod in Saturday's game. Just by chance, it's the only game in the series the Angels won. Trout also got two at bats after coming in as a pinch hitter in Friday nights game. For the series, he went 3 for 6, with a home run and a strikeout. His impact down the stretch will depend entirely on how much Scioscia plays him.

Jesus Montero, Yankees: Let's all say this together. Jesus. Montero. Is. Not. A. Catcher.

We have that out of the way. It's ok, Yankee fans. Carlos Delgado wasn't a catcher either, no matter how much the early '90's Blue Jays wanted him to be. Delgado hit so much that nobody cared. I don't know if Montero will become the hitter Delgado was, but he'll hit enough that it won't make a difference.

The Yankees overall production at DH this year hasn't been as bad as you probably think. They've hit .247/.331/.432, good for 8th in the AL in OBP and 5th in SLG. However, that number is inflated some by the time spent DH-ing by guys who play other positions. In 21 games, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez have gone .256/.351/.512. The "regular" DH, Jorge Posada, has gone .232/.306/.390 at the position. Among the 14 regular DH's, that puts him tied for last in OBP, and 11th in SLG, a number that may be inflated by Yankee Stadium, since 7 of his 9 doubles, and 9 of his 12 home runs are there. Away from the Stadium's short porch, he's hit a paltry .187/.274/.302.

Meanwhile, much has been made of Montero's season. Is he a catcher, is he overrated because of the Yankees, is he better than Posada? Short answers - no, maybe, yes. Despite a drop in production from last year, Montero has hit .289/.348/.465 for Scranton. The lack of power from his first half has been forgotten - since the All-Star Break he's at .287/.353/.559. He's not the #3 prospect in baseball, where he was placed before the season, but he's ready for the majors. The Yankees' insistence on keeping him in the minors has cost them, but shouldn't for much longer. Expect to see him starting on Thursday at the latest.

Trevor Bauer, Diamondbacks: The #3 pick in the 2011 draft may well be the first to debut. Bauer signed early and has dominated since - in six starts and 24 innings across two levels, he has a 2.62 ERA, 30 strikeouts and only 9 walks. There has been some worry about his workload, but he may well get a chance to help the already-excellent Arizona bullpen. I doubt we'll see him start unless there is an obvious opening or the playoff race opens up.

One qualifier - I sincerely hope he doesn't pull a Jonathan Papelbon or Neftali Feliz and dominate so much out of the bullpen that he is made the "future closer." Bauer is worth more as a starter, both to his team and in consideration of his own checkbook.

Matt Moore, Rays: Are the Rays still in contention? Well, they have six games left with the Yankees, and they're 6.5 games behind. So, while it would take a pretty amazing comeback for them to get into the playoffs, it's not out of the realm of possibility. It's also very possible they'll end up with the 3rd best record in the American League and still miss the playoffs.

Moore was the darling of the future's game, and has been dominant since his promotion to Triple A Durham. In 46.2 innings, he has a 1.35 ERA, a 0.943 WHIP, 69 strikeouts, 15 walks and 3 home runs allowed, and he is a southpaw, which makes him a great matchup for the lefty-heavy opponents at the top of the division. If Trout loses rookie status, Moore becomes the front runner for the 2012 award. Unlike Bauer, I don't see Moore being used in the bullpen - he'll either get a couple starts, or be shut down. (Unless I'm wrong, of course. That's happened before.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Pair of Friday Morning Links

Some links to share this morning.

First off, I've spent so much time ripping bad sportswriting and analysis in the last couple months, I think it's important to share some from the other end of the spectrum. Joe Posnanski at Sports Illustrated is probably my favorite baseball writer right now. This week, he has made two very strong posts regarding his voting in the MVP race. The first, in an excellent post, Posnanski discusses why he is going to vote for the most productive player for the MVP award.

His follow-up, though, directed at a couple specific criticisms to this approach, is absolutely outstanding. Every writer with a vote for the postseason awards should be forced to read it, and if they disagree, actually attempt to write an intelligent response.

On a completely different, non-baseball related front, I just wanted to link to both North County Public Radio and Vermont Public Radio pages regarding the reinstallation of the Lake Champlain Bridge. A 402 foot center span left from Port Henry, NY just before 6:00 this morning and arriving at Crown Point around 8:00. Close to 9:45, the span was in place to be raised, and it is expected to take anywhere from four to eight hours to connect. Interesting stuff.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pitcher Wins Still Getting Promoted in Boston Press

If you've been watching the Red Sox vs. Rangers series this week, you may have seen what seems like a strange trend. On Monday night, after the Red Sox lost to the Rangers 4-0, the Boston Globe stated that the Rangers "rocked" Erik Bedard. After Tuesday night's 11-5 victory, the narrative was that John Lackey bravely fought through searing heat to keep the game close enough to win.

Their lines:

Lackey, 6.2 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 1 HR
Bedard, 6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR

Are the newspapers in our fair city still so far behind that they're still promoting that one pitcher did his job, while the other didn't, even though the difference was ENTIRELY the fact the Red Sox offense was held at bay on Monday by C.J. Wilson, and exploded on Tuesday against Colby Lewis and the bullpen?

Yes. Yes they are that far behind.

Check out Tony Masarotti's column in the Boston Globe. Particularly striking was this passage:

On paper, Erik Bedard (six innings, four runs) and Lackey (6.2 innings, four runs) essentially have put forth the same performance in this series. Lackey recorded two more outs and got far better run support. And yet, while Bedard was giving up a three-run homer to Mike Bapoli in a 1-0 game, Lackey ultimately stopped the bleeding during an ugly third inning in which it appeared the Red Sox’ night was unraveling.

Massarotti acknowledges that their lines were the same, but made it a point to ignore it, stating that it somehow "felt different." A couple points. I won't pick on the typo, but Mike Napoli has a .599 slugging percentage, which would be second highest in the American League if he was given enough plate appearances to qualify. He has 22 home runs in only 323 at bats. Giving up a home run to, arguably, the best home run hitter in the AL is somehow worse than John Lackey giving up a home run to the also-powerful Josh Hamilton the following night?

Of course, the difference is that, when Bedard gave up his home run, his team was losing 1-0, while when Lackey gave up his, he was winning 7-3. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would argue with me, saying that Lackey was "pitching to the score" and the Bedard "wasn't clutch" or some such fiddle-faddle. The fact is simple. In the same situation, they pitched similarly average against a very good hitting team. Does Massarotti really believe that, if Lewis had pitched as well as Wilson had the night before, that Lackey *doesn't* give up those runs? (One aside - Bedard was working astonishingly slowly on Monday. Normally I wouldn't buy an argument that a teams starting pitcher made it harder on his OWN offense, but, considering the extreme heatand how long they had to stand around in the field behind him, I would at least consider it here. But Massarotti doesn't really make that argument, and it really wouldn't have a whole lot of bearing on what he was trying to say.)

I'm not making a value judgement here on Lackey vs. Bedard regarding the #3 playoff spot. Personally, I don't think it matters all that much - the Red Sox will need Beckett and Lester to pitch as well as they can, or they're in trouble anyway. I've long been a Lackey fan, so I'm hoping he'll earn the job down the stretch. However, the only thing we can gather about starting pitching from the first two games of this series is that C.J. Lewis was better than Colby Lewis.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Joe Sheehan Gets it Wrong on AJ Burnett

Dear New York Yankees,

Please start AJ Burnett as much as you can from now until the end of the year.

Signed, Every single fan of the Red Sox, Rangers, Tigers, Phillies, Braves, Brewers, and either the Diamondbacks or Giants.

It's been discussed in depth already, but I wanted to put in my two cents regarding Joe Sheehan's article on today regarding A.J. Burnett. In the article, Sheehan argues that, despite Yankee fans frustrations with him, Burnett is one of the five best starters the Yankees have. Sheehan is normally very well-researched and in depth, so the shallowness of his article was striking. Most notably, to me, was the following passage:
There's an argument to be made that Burnett isn't one of the Yankees' five best starters, but you have to work very hard to make it, essentially evaluating Nova, Garcia and Colon based just on 2011 while giving Hughes a pass for his injury-plagued season. Hughes's work since coming off the DL in July has been acceptable, with a 4.28 ERA; he's struck out just 15% of batters. Burnett has a better strikeout rate (20%), the primary evidence that he's still the better starter.

Nah. Calling Burnett a better pitcher than Phil Hughes because of a higher strikeout rate is like calling 2011 Adam Dunn a better hitter than 2011 Vlad Guerrero because Dunn walks more. Unfortunately for Dunn there's more than walks to hitting, and unfortunately for Burnett, there's more to pitching than striking dudes out.

Strikeouts have NEVER been Burnett's problem. In his career, he has finished in the top 10 in his league in K/9 five times, and finished in the top 10 in ERA zero times. High strikeout rates are great predictors of success for young pitchers, even struggling ones. They are poor predictors of success for 34 year old pitchers who have not had success despite high strikeout rates. Also, while Burnett's strikeout rates are up a tick from last year, they would still be his second lowest rate since 2002. Most people would see that Burnett had been an average pitcher with high strikeout rates at his career rates, and ask what happens to that pitcher when those strikeouts decline, but Sheehan is missing the forest for the trees here.

No, the problem with Burnett is all of those other things pitchers are supposed to do. Specifically, not walk people and not give up home runs. Burnett is in the bottom five in the American League in both of those categories, which nobody else can say. He also has hit 7 batters and thrown 17 wild pitches. If you add up these four bad things (and forgive the crude measurement), Burnett gets to 117 on the season, 18 more than Trevor Cahill and Francisco Liriano, who are tied for second place. Per nine innings, Burnett is second (behind Liriano) at 6.75 "bad things" per nine innings. No wonder Yankee fans are frustrated. They watch the pitcher who hurts his team by himself more than anyone else in baseball. He can't blame the passed balls on Jorge Posada anymore, either.

The criticism of basing Colon, Garcia and Nova as better based "only on 2011" is a little bit silly too, since it hasn't exactly been close this year. He then seems to be accusing those who want to use 2011 as a basis for those three but not consider it for Hughes as disingenuous. However, isn't this a pretty sensible way to look at this situation? Hughes really was hurt. Now he's not and is pitching better than Burnett. He was better than Burnett last year. He's been better than Burnett the last two months. Isn't it more disingenuous to rate Burnett as better based on the fact Hughes was banged up in the first half and that Burnett's recent strikeout rate (like I said, the only thing he does well) has been higher? It really seems like Sheehan is cherry picking his arguments here.

To prove a point, the numbers of the five competing starters since the start of 2009:


Among this group, the only thing Burnett seems to do obviously better is pitch frequently, and durability seems to be one of Sheehan's arguments for keeping Burnett on rotation. Being durable is a nice trait, but lets think about this - Garcia, Colon and Hughes are healthy *right now.* The Yankees are trying to win a World Series this year. Maybe Burnett gives them a better chance to win games in 2013 than Bartolo Colon, because at some point Colon is going to blow back up, but so what? If Colon is pitching better, and has a history of pitching better when healthy, shouldn't he pitch instead of Burnett WHEN he's healthy? As far as Hughes is concerned, Sheehan seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. He's younger and proven to be better. If we're going to give Burnett credit for the higher strikeout rate over the past two months (when Hughes ERA is less than half of Burnett's), doesn't Hughes get credit for having the higher one for the last two and a half years (again, with the lower ERA)? And if Sheehan thinks Burnett should be starting over Nova, he's more foolish than I realize. Nova's low K rates might come back to haunt him, but he clearly does everything else a lot better than Burnett.

Sheehan then uses advanced metrics FIP and xFIP to continue the point in favor of Burnett. He's treading on dangerous ground here, doing something that those of us in the statistical community are often accused of - letting that statistics drive the narrative rather than be used as a part of it. With just a little more looking, Sheehan would realize that Burnett has ALWAYS underperformed his advanced statistics. If a pitcher underperforms his stat line for a year or two, it's fair to believe that it's a fluke, destined to be corrected by the law of averages. If he underperforms it for 13 years, it's fair to say that, in this specific case, the stat gets it wrong. There's no shame in that - advanced stats got Tom Glavine and Ichiro Suzuki wrong for a long time, and most recognized that it was due to specific qualities in their games that some statistics simply can't measure - for Glavine, it was his measurable ability for "situational pitching" and with Ichiro it was a heretofore unmatched combination of bat control and speed. In 13 seasons, Burnett's ERA has equaled or exceeded his xFIP exactly twice. There's a specific reason for this - more of his fly balls go out of the park than other pitchers. Approaching 2000 career innings, this isn't a fluke, or even a trend - it's the pitcher that Burnett is. Expecting that to "correct itself" at this point is silly.

We wake up this morning, and A.J. Burnett is 9-10 with a 4.96 ERA. We don't have any evidence that he's better than that. We do have evidence that the other four guys are better than he is. Burnett has gotten his chances, and needs to be pushed to the side. For the first time in my life, I think most Yankee fans will agree with me.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

R.I.P. Pennant Races

I know I'm in the minority here, but I still don't like the wild card. I know, I know, the Red Sox (probably) don't win the 2004 World Series without it, and if they don't win that, who knows if they have the financial boom that allows them to win in 2007 and assemble their 2011 roster. I don't care. The wild card has made the regular season boring. Why? Because pennant races are between mediocre teams.

The last great pennant race was in 1993. The San Francisco Giants won 103 games. They missed the playoffs though, because the Atlanta Braves won 104 games. In the days of yore, you had to win SOMETHING to be allowed to make the playoffs. With the wild card, as you know, the best second place team makes the playoffs.

The problem is, in the olden days, the best races were between the best second place team and the team in front of them. Now? The Red Sox and Yankees will both win somewhere between 98 and 102 games, unless something goes wrong for one of them. Who will win out? IT DOESN'T MATTER. Neither team really cares whether or not they win, because whoever loses will win the wild card by something in the neighborhood of 53 games. Instead of an awesome fight down to the wire between two elite teams, we're treated to the pathetic limping Cleveland vs. Detroit playoff race, where each team vies night in and night out to find new ways to lose but stay in the race because the other did the same.

I'm reminded of the end of the 2005 season, where the Red Sox and Yankees went into the final weekend, playing each other. The Yankees were one game ahead. Instead of being the most intense series of the season though, it was probably the most lax. The Red Sox were 2 games ahead of the Indians for the wild card, so, once they won Game 1 of the series, they were assured of victory. The Yankees won on Saturday, so they went into the final day of the regular season one game ahead of the team they were playing. That shouldn't be a meaningless game. But it was, as this box score will attest. We've gone from "THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT" to "it's the last day of the regular season, better get in some swings for Felix Escalona."

I know the wild card is supposed to create more interest, and maybe it has. After all, if the Indians are out, maybe they don't make that move for Ubaldo Jimenez. Maybe they do though, because maybe they can see past this season. And don't give me the tired "noone in the AL East will have anything to play for" mumbo jumbo. Despite playing with the Red Sox and Yankees, the Rays have won that division two of the last three years. The Indians won 97 games in '07, as many as Boston and two more than New York. If anything, the wild card has made it easier for Boston and New York - those two teams have won the wild card in uncompetitive races in four consecutive years.

Maybe I'm just being a cranky old purist, but I don't see how this has made baseball "better." The division series have had a few memorable moments - the A's series of collapses, the Jeter/Giambi phantom tag, the Braves/Astros marathon, the Tigers dispatching the Yankees, Halladay's no-hitter. But most years, they seem to be pretty blah. They make a ton of money though, and we're not going back. I've accepted that.

There has been talk of adding another wild card team. If we're going to keep the three division format, I'm fine with that. I have no problem with the loser of Red Sox/Yankees being forced to play a one game playoff against an inferior team, especially since, this year, that inferior team would be starting Justin Verlander, Ubaldo Jimenez or Justin Masterson. Meanwhile, the winning team would be setting their starting rotation. That, right there, will incentivize winning the division.

Why not go to a four division per league format though? Right now, we have 30 teams, and talent markets in China, Korea and even India which seem to be growing rapidly. People may wax about the golden ages, but because of internationalization, we have more talent in the major leagues than ever before. Sure, some managerial tendencies may mean the 12th best pitcher on each team faces more batters than he should, but let's not miss the big picture. There is easily enough talent to support two new expansion teams. Since the start of the expansion era, the longest stretch between new teams being introduced was 16 years. It has now been 13 since Arizona and Tampa Bay came into being. We're ready for two new American League teams?

Where, you ask? Well, I'm going to be steadfast in believing one should be in Brooklyn, as I talked about previously. Where else? What about Indianapolis? They never get talked about as a destination, but consistently are near the top in minor league attendance, and the football and basketball teams there have done well. Then, to even things out, let's move Tampa to the NL and bring Milwaukee back to the AL, where they were for 27 years until Bud Selig tried to create a pretend rivalry with the Cubs:

AL East
Baltimore (sorry guys, but you kind of brought this upon yourselves)
New York

AL Central

AL Midwest
Kansas City

AL West
Oakland/San Jose

NL East
New York

NL South
Tampa Bay

NL Central
St. Louis

NL West
Los Angeles
San Diego
San Francisco

Yes, I know that creating four division winners will likely lead to a lesser team making the playoffs. Personally, I'd prefer a mediocre team in the playoffs and a better regular season myself. An plus, with balanced divisions, the unbalanced schedule would now not be such a detriment - you wouldn't have a situation as we did this year, where the Brewers have had to play series in both Yankee Stadium and Fenway, while the Cardinals didn't have to play either team at all.

So, thoughts? Do like the six division format, with the wild card team? Does the idea of another expansion make your skin crawl? Ideas for a better spot than Indy for a new team? Charlotte? Jersey? San Juan?!? (International expansion WILL happen in the next 30-50 years, so why not now?) I'm open to suggestions here. I just know that Septembers have gotten awfully boring, and I don't like it. We shouldn't need to have less excitement in September in order to have more in October.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Heading to the New York-Penn League All Star Game in Lowell

I'm going to head up a little early to watch the pregame festivities and the home run derby. First pitch is at 7:30. Here's hoping the rain holds off.

Jumping on the Raul Alcantara Bandwagon

I was actually going to make this post on Friday, following Alcantara's fantastic Thursday night, but I was traveling, and other things came to the forefront in the meantime. I figured I'd risk waiting until after his next start, but the news today that Raul Alcantara has been promoted from the Gulf Coast League to Single A Lowell. I'll let SoxProspects sum up his performance so far:

Alcantara, 18, has been a revelation in his first season in the United States. Working off a fastball that has reportedly hit 95 miles per hour, Alcantara began the campaign with 3 scoreless starts and didn't allow an earned run until his 19th inning of work. He wasn't charged with an earned run in 6 of his 9 Gulf Coast League starts. In 48 innings of work, Alcantara had a 0.75 ERA and held opponents to a .147 batting average. He allowed no more than 5 hits in a start and picked up 11 of his 36 strikeouts in his final Gulf Coast League game on Aug. 11.

He's an 18 year old already throwing 95, and this article doesn't even mention what is reportedly an advanced power curveball. This makes me excited., a more impartial and unbiased site than you might initially think, has him rated as their #21 prospect in the Sox system as of Monday, but that was before the August 15th "signing day." It's hard to see him being rated ahead of a polished college pitcher like Matt Barnes when the new rankings come out, but I expect him to push into the top 15.

You may be asking why would promote him to Lowell now, when he'll only get three or four starts there. My thinking is that it's to see how hard they can push him next year. If he dominates in Lowell, even if it's just for a couple starts, they almost have to give him a shot in a full season league. They may end up pulling the plug on him after 120 or so innings, but they'll certainly want to see him against more advanced competition. Just as much as the physical growth, I'm sure they want to see how he handles the different culture. The Gulf Coast League is primarily international free agents, with quite a few high school players mixed in, while the New York-Penn League has quite a few more college players. There, he'll be taken a bit out of his comfort zone. That, as much as his advanced stuff, will determine his success.

For the Red Sox, this has to be a hugely satisfying development. They've spent quite a bit of money internationally, but have rarely come away with top prospects. Even Jose Iglesias, rated by many as their top prospect heading into the season, has struggled mightily in AAA Pawtucket. To have a prospect break through the way Alcantara has in the GCL is huge, and while it's a long way from Fenway Park, it will be exciting to watch him climb through the system and up prospect lists. Get on the bandwagon now.

Bill Smith Gives Up on Delmon Young

Earlier this year, I discussed Bill Smith's trading record as Twins' GM. For those of you who'd like a quick summary, I was not impressed. The crux of his badness grew out of the Johan Santana deal. The deal was bad itself, but subsequent deals, each with diminishing return, are what turned the deal into such a debacle. It was like every bad deal necessitated a worse one. In the same article, I discussed the Garza/Bartlett for Young/Harris deal, stating that, up to the time, the Twins had lost that deal. However, unsatisfied with the claim that they would likely be the losers of it, Bill Smith apparently took it upon himself to make sure of it.

Let's get this out of the way. Delmon Young is not going to be the star we thought he was going to be when he was selected #1 overall in 2003. For all of his physical tools, he just hasn't put it together. In 2794 plate appearances, he currently has a .289/.323/.427 slash line, below average for a corner outfielder, particularly a mediocre defensive one. It should be noted, though, that he posted the bulk of that line when most young players are in college and the minor leagues - most guys don't have 1851 PA through their age 23 season. After having what appeared to be a breakout .298/.333/.493 campaign in 2010, Young was alternately ineffective and hurt in 2011, and woke up yesterday morning hitting .266/.305/.357 on the year. A couple hours later he was a Detroit Tiger, traded for minor league pitcher Cole Nelson and a player to be named later.

Let's simplify this. A former #1 draft pick has his first very good season at age 24. The next year he gets hurt and slumps, and is traded after four months to a team within the division for a minor league reliever with a 4.87 ERA in Single A. Doesn't that seem like trading a guy when his value is lowest? Giving up on him because he didn't turn into the player Justin Upton did?

A quick look at Cole Nelson reveals a local product (the Twins DO love those) from Edina, MN, who was drafted from of Auburn Tigers in the 10th round of the 2010 draft by the Detroit Tigers. He was assigned to single A Lakeland to begin 2011, where he struggled as a starter, going 4-10 with a 5.55 ERA in 84.1 innings, striking out 68 and walking 47. In early July he was moved to the bullpen, where he has pitched better - in 17.1 innings, he has a 2.60 ERA, 19 strikeouts and only 4 walks. So, while it appears Nelson might have found a home in the bullpen, it's hard to see anything in his 2011 performance record that jumps out and says he's an acceptable return for a major leaguer. Time will tell, I suppose, but again, THAT'S Delmon Young's value right now? If there's so little market for him, why did Smith feel the need to pull the trigger?

Ah, but getting minimum value for players seems to be Smith's specialty. He got Jim Hoey for J.J. Hardy, who was the main player in return for Carlos Gomez, who was the main player in return for Johan Santana. Like I said in May, THAT, and not the much-discussed Mauer/Morneau struggles, is the main reason why the Twins stink.

Let's make this clear. I'm not saying they shouldn't have traded Young just because he was all they had to show for Matt Garza. That's over and done with, and you can't handicap yourself by making dumb moves. I'm also not saying they should have made Young untouchable, hoping that he would turn into a superstar that you can build a team around, because he's not going to. What I'm saying is that Smith doesn't seem to comprehend the notion of selling while the price is high and buying while the price is low. He bought when Young was coming off of a season when he finished 2nd for Rookie of the Year as a 21 year old. He held when Young had a breakout 2010 campaign where he compiled 68 extra base hits, and was second in the AL with 46 doubles. He sold when Young was in the middle of an injury plagued campaign where the team had fallen apart around him. Trading Young means that Smith is either panicky, foolish, or sees a lot more value in Cole Nelson than everyone else does.

Other GM's like Ed Wade and Jim Hendry have caught a lot more flak this year than Smith. While it's hard to defend the work of either of them (particularly Wade, who has been atrocious), the Minnesota Twins are the biggest disappointments of the 2011 season. Bill Smith's inability to get value in trades in the past is a big reason for that, and the Delmon Young deal indicates that he hasn't learned his lesson.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Syracuse Chiefs vs. Scranton Yankees Recap - Give Tom Milone a Shot

I was lucky enough to attend the Syracuse Chiefs vs. Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees game on Saturday night at Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse. The Chiefs won 4-2 in exciting fashion, and any time I can see the Yankees lose live I am thrilled, even if it is a minor league version. I root even harder against the AAA Yankees than I do against the major league team, because they use the "Yankees" nickname, dropping the awesome "Red Barons" moniker that they'd used as a Phillies affiliate from 1989 to 2006. Using the major league team name isn't inherently bad - Pawtucket has been the Red Sox since they got their team in 1970, and Indianapolis has been the Indians since 1952, even though they haven't been affiliated with the Cleveland Indians since 1956. You just can't drop your awesome nickname in favor of association with the major league team. And just so I'm being consistent, I was also against the Salem Avalanche becoming the Red Sox as well. It's just amplified when it's as great of a nickname as the Red Barons.

The game was a good time. Before the first pitch, we were treated to the Wall of Fame induction ceremony, highlighted by the induction of former Chief, Syracuse native and Fowler High School graduate Jerry Brooks, who had lots of family in attendance. The pitching matchup featured former Rockies/A's pitcher Greg Smith for the Yankees and International League strikeout leader Tom Milone for the Nationals. I discussed Milone's exceptional season in a previous post, and I will discuss him a bit more in a moment. Smith, if you recall, was traded by the Diamondbacks to the A's as part of a December 2007 blockbuster, where he Brett Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Carter, Aaron Cunningham, and Dana Eveland were traded for Dan Haren and Connor Robertson. The next offseason, Smith along with Gonzalez and Huston Street were traded to the Rockies in exchange for Matt Holliday. So at least Smith can say he was traded for two of the best players in baseball. He has had little success above AA and, at 27, has reached the organizational soldier part of his career.

Smith was solid, giving up only 1 run in 5.1 innings, leaving with a 2-1 lead. In the bottom of the 7th, still trailing 2-1, reliever Buddy Carlyle struck out Chris Marrero to end the inning - or so it appeared. The pitch skipped by Gustavo Molina, and Marrero sprinted to first. Meanwhile, Roger Bernardina, who was on second base, had taken of for third on the wild pitch. When he saw the throw toward first base, he didn't miss a beat, continuing toward home. Molina's throw pulled Yankee first baseman Terry Tiffee off first base, and his throw back home was much too late, a turn of events that tied the game and left the Yankees stunned.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Chiefs Seth Bynum and Jhonatan Solano hit back to back home runs off of Yankee reliever (and long-time Florida Marlin) Logan Kensing to take a 4-2 lead, and that's where the score would sit. Jeff Mandel got the win for Syracuse, Josh Wilkie the save, but it was Tom Milone's pitching that was the highlight of the night.

Milone is nothing like any pitcher in the majors right now. The closest comparison in recent memory would be Jamie Moyer, which would tell you something about why a lot of scouts are skeptical of Milone's ability to succeed in the majors. Moyer has long been considered an anomaly because of his ability to get excellent results out of such mediocre stuff. Despite that, Milone has a 3.47 ERA in 129.2 innings for Syracuse, striking out 131 and walking only 13.

On Saturday, his line looked a lot like that - 7 innings, 8 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts. His fastball topped out at only 87 miles an hour, but he doesn't throw it that often. He was throwing a secondary fastball that looked like a cutter or a two-seamer (it is described as a cutter on most of the sites I can find) that sat around 85. His changeup was around 78. But that curveball! Oh yes, that curveball. He seemed to throw three different types, one around 73, one around 67, and a third that was, no exaggeration, 60 miles an hour. It was that SLOW curve that made hitters look silly, swinging themselves into circles. It was fascinating to watch.

I have no idea whether Milone can sustain that success in the majors, sitting at 85 and throwing curveballs that wouldn't even get a speeding ticket. Three of his strikeouts were Jorge Vazquez, whose strikeout to walk ratio of 149 to 26 seems to allude to a complete inability to hit ANY curveballs. In reality, there are a lot of players who are in AAA, rather than the majors, because of that. Vazquez has major league level power, 27 homers in 395 at bats, but he can't, seemingly, tell a curveball is coming until after he swings and misses at it. He's good enough to play in AAA, but not the majors, where EVERYONE throws at least some kind of curveball. Maybe given 500 at bats he'd hit 30 homers, but he'd also probably hit .125, have a .200 OBP and strikeout 250 times. Major league hitters are in the majors because they can hit (or at least identify and lay off of) curve balls.

Or so the theory goes. Jamie Moyer won 267 games. In an 8 year stretch from 1996 to 2003, he had a 121 ERA+. He also had his first good season at age 30 and his second good one at 33, so it's fair to say that it didn't come easily to him. Calling Tom Milone the next Jamie Moyer is silly, because Moyer's career was so unique and unpredictable. Just because he's not Jamie Moyer doesn't mean he doesn't deserve a chance. The Nationals are far out of the playoff race, and Milone has shown at every level that he can get batters out. It's easy to get forgotten in an organization with Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg, but it's Milone's status as the polar opposite, stuff-wise, of those two that makes him so fun to watch.

So, make it happen Nationals. Look past the radar gun and give the lefty with the 60 mile per hour curveball his chance.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Angels Send Mike Trout Back to AA, Might Not Know What They're Doing

When last we discussed Mike Trout here, the Angels had recalled him due to an injury to Peter Bourjos. I admit that I may have had delusions of grandeur, but there was always the chance that he wasn't quite ready. Indeed, his .163/.213/.279 line in 14 games showed that he wasn't quite ready for The Show. If the Angels were in the same position as the Mariners or Astros, playing for 2012 and beyond, it may have made sense to see what he could do in the last two months anyway, but the Angels are not in that position. Engaged in a closer-than-expected race with the Angels in the American League West, the Angels couldn't give Trout the playing time a super prospect needs. Here's where things get a little bit silly.

On August 1, the Angels demoted Trout all the way back down to AA - the level where he'd dominated to a .324/.415/.534 clip in 341 plate appearances. All six tools were on display, and he was the youngest player in his league. The only four players with higher OBPs were between 4 and 12 years older than Trout was. Given that level of production, wouldn't a promotion to AAA have been forthcoming, even if the major league promotion wasn't there?

Apparently Tony Reagins - who, let's let it be said, should have every decision he makes about an outfielder be thoroughly questioned - didn't think so, and sent Trout to continue his apprenticeship at a level where he seemingly has nothing left to learn. What has Trout done there? Why, the same thing he did every night - try to take over the wo.... errr, make AA pitchers feel bad about themselves. In 41 post-demotion plate appearances, he is batting .343/.439/.543, with 3 doubles, 2 triples, 4 steals and 6 walks.

Let me say this definitively. Mike Trout is ready for AAA.

The Angels keeping Trout in AA doesn't just stunt his progress, it stunts theirs as an organization. Most likely, Trout will be a major league callup in September. Wouldn't a month of facing AAA pitching - a major step up from AA for a variety of reasons, most notably the ability of pitchers to throw off-speed pitches for strikes - better prepare Trout to contribute when he does? If there IS a flaw in his game that AAA pitchers could expose, isn't working it out now, rather than next season, the best bet? If he dominates at AAA as well, doesn't he have to be considered a starter next year, to heck with how much money they owe Vernon Wells (who happens to have the worst OBP in the major leagues)?

The Angels, for all the dumb things they do like not playing Mike Napoli and trading Mike Napoli, have won a lot of games the last 10 years. The biggest reason they've won is from contributions from home grown talent. They will need to continue to do so in order to keep up with the Rangers, so it it is worth watching their handling of Mike Trout going forward.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dontrelle Willis is Back

Yes, I know he's been back in the majors for a month, and generally has pitched well. Last night though, we got the first indication that Dontrelle Willis isn't just back as a major league pitcher, but might be back as an very good one. Despite not getting the win, Willis game up only 3 runs in 8 innings, striking out 10 and walking only 1. It was the first time he'd pitched 8 full innings since September 25th, 2007.

In my mind, it doesn't seem like the presence of "Dontrelle Willis, formidable major league starting pitcher" was that long ago, but the last time Willis had a sub 5.00 ERA was 2006, when he was only 24 years old. That was his fourth season, and up to that point, he has a 58-39 record, with a 3.44 ERA. A 3.44 then is even more impressive than it is now, good for an ERA+ of 121. In 817 innings, he had struck out 611 and walked 257, and allowed only 65 home runs.

Those aren't quite elite numbers, but Willis was more than the numbers. He was a charismatic guy, a great interview, and had probably the most fun delivery to watch in the game. He was also one of the best hitting pitchers in the game. All in all, he might not have been the #1 pitcher you'd pick to start your team around, but if you were buying a ticket for one night? You wanted to see Dontrelle Willis.

The common narrative seems to have become that Willis fell apart when he was traded to the American League, but that's really totally true. I mean, he was really, really terrible for the Tigers, but it was 2007, his last year with the Marlins, that he began his steep decline. His walk rate grew, his strikeout rate fell, and his home runs allowed doubled. In doing so, he posted a 5.17 ERA, leading the NL in earned runs allowed. After that season, he was dealt to the Tigers, with Miguel Cabrera, for top prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin.

In the American League, Willis was lost. In 101 innings, he posted a 6.85 ERA, walking 92 and striking out 68. It was said by many that he had "Steve Blass disease," the affliction which prevents previously good pitchers from being able to throw strikes. However, while Blass disease is a mental tic, others thought Willis's problems were more of the mechanical nature. With a windup that included so many moving parts, this certainly sounded like a possibility. It led the Tigers to hold onto Willis for two and a half years, before they finally lost their patience and traded him for journeyman starter Billy Buckner on June 1, 2010. After a successful debut with the Diamondbacks (6 shutout innings, though he walked 4), things went downhill quickly there as well. After only 22.1 innings pitched, Willis had given up 17 runs, striking out only 14 while walking 27. Only July 6th, Willis was released. He was signed to minor league deal with the Giants, but never sniffed the majors.

What made his struggles so disappointing wasn't just that he was pitching so poorly, but that he was working so hard to get through it, to no avail. Upon Willis being designated for assignment by the Tigers (before the trade was worked out), manager Jim Leyland said "I just applaud his efforts. It's been a long road back. The consistency just wasn't there. The uncertainty just ran out. He's been a great teammate. It's sad, really. I know how hard he worked. It just didn't work out.”

Knowing he would need to prove himself back in the minors, Willis signed a minor league contract with the Reds before the 2011 season. Accepting assignment to Louisville, Willis continued to work hard. This time though, for the first time in half a decade, the hard work appeared to be paying off, giving the Reds notice. The 5-2 record, 2.63 ERA, 67 strikeouts and only 5 home runs allowed in 75.1 innings pitched were nice, but what led them to believe he was ready to come back to the majors was the fact that he'd walked only 20 batters in that time.

On July 10th, Willis was recalled by Cincinnati to replace the struggling Edinson Volquez. He gave them 6 solid innings, giving up only two runs, leaving the game leading 3-2. Unfortunately, the Reds bullpen could not hold on, but the return of Willis was a great sight for any baseball fan. In his first five starts, Willis pitched fairly effectively, with a 3.41 ERA in 29 innings. His 17 strikeout to 11 walk ratio wasn't exactly setting the world afire, but it's certainly within the range of acceptability.

Last nights performance against the Rockies brought Willis's comeback to another level. As mentioned above, it was the first time he'd completed 8 innings since September 25, 2007. It was his first 10 strikeout game since August 14th of that same year. It was his highest game score since that September 25th start, and his second highest since 2006. Though it's been only 37 innings, Willis has to be encouraged that his 3.41 ERA is the second best among Reds' starters this year, and that his 118 ERA+ would put him 14th in the NL, between Hiroki Kuroda and Tim Hudson.

Of course, pitching that well for six starts is much less impressive than doing it for an entire season, but I see no reason to rain on this parade. What's important here is that Dontrelle Willis is pitching well in the major leagues again. Therefore, I call for an official moratorium on any tempered optimism regarding the success of Willis's comeback, until further notice, under the punishment of having your status as a fan of the game of baseball revoked. This is one to root for.

Monday, August 08, 2011

According to Nick Cafardo, Alex Rodriguez is More Valuable Than J.D. Drew

Seriously. This was a line written (apparently without irony) by Nick Cafardo in his column in today's Boston Globe, regarding what we "learned" from this weekend's three game series:

"It's safe to say the impact of losing Alex Rodriguez was far greater than the Red Sox' loss of J.D. Drew."
If I'm reading that correctly, Nick Cafardo learned that Alex Rodriguez is more valuable than J.D. Drew.

Wouldn't it be news if losing J.D. Drew ended up being more important than losing Alex Rodriguez? I mean, Rodriguez is a three time MVP (and he was robbed at least another two other times), and is the highest paid player in baseball by a ridiculous amount. SHOULDN'T losing him be worth more than Drew, a declining player in the fifth year of a five year contract?

I like J.D. more than most Sox fans, and I think he's generally earned the contract they gave him. He was excellent at the end of 2007 and was one of their most productive players the next two years. They likely don't make the playoffs in 2008 without the way Drew played in the first half. He's never gotten enough respect from Sox' fans, because people believe that, since he's not the helmet-slamming type, that he "doesn't care." That's sort of ridiculous, but whatever. Fan's can be unreasonable sometimes.

What was the point of what Cafardo wrote though? As a man who is paid about writing about baseball for a living, shouldn't he be a bit more objective, or at least reality-based? So did he write that to further tear down Drew? As though he should be embarrassed at being less valuable than Alex Rodriguez?

You know what's funny, though? Since Rodriguez went down, the Yankees are 18-9, while the Sox are 12-6 without Drew. Exactly the same winning percentages. Of course, this has more to do with the fact that the rest of the Yankees have done a good job, but it certainly doesn't enhance the argument that the loss of Rodriguez has significantly crippled the Yankees. Furthermore, while Josh Reddick has probably taken the right field job for the rest of the year due to his play during (and before) Drew's absence, Yankee 3B have played pretty well with Rodriguez out. Eduardo Nunez has hit a respectable .281/.328/.386 in his starts at third. Eric Chavez has mashed at a .344/.364/.438 clip - a performance good enough to convince Joe Girardi that he, rather than Jorge Posada, is the team's starting DH going forward. When Rodriguez does come back, the presence of Chavez (if he stays healthy - a HUGE if, of course) will mean they are a better team than they were before Rodriguez's injury.

All of that is digging deeper than we need to though. The fact is, either Nick Cafardo a) didn't previously realize that J.D. Drew was less valuable than Alex Rodriguez, or b) has made it a point to knock down Drew every chance he gets, as if Drew doesn't get enough grief. Either way, it should be considered as exhibit #5,923 why Cafardo is not competent or qualified to be the top Red Sox columnist for the Globe.

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Dreaded "Comments Section"

Ok folks. This post has nothing to do with any statistical analysis, and is only very loosely related to baseball. Furthermore, it's about a subject I don't really know a lot about - I might be two years behind the curve, and I may be talking out of my backside. I'm willing to accept that.

I was just at, and I noticed they have a new function for users to comment on their articles, through their Facebook account. I like this.

One of the best and worst things about the internet is the anonymity it brings. On the positive, it gives people a lot of access to guilty pleasures that might be considered socially unacceptable. Suppose you really like listening to, say, the musical stylings of Jessica Simpson. If this were still 1990, you'd have to go to Sam Goody to purchase her new single. Today we have iTunes and Youtube and heck, you can even join a fan forum for her. Completely anonymously. That's awesome, and just one of about 40 quadrillion ways our lives are better than they were 20 years ago.

On the other hand, anonymity seems to give people the right to say anything they want.. Anything. No matter how stupid, bigoted, deranged, twisted, short-sighted and just plain wrong, people could say anything they wanted. Which is ok - I'm a firm believer in free speech. So why, then, do comments sections turn into such vile cesspools? The problem doesn't come from the fact that people can say what they want - it's the fact that they can say it without repercussion.

The reason free speech works so much better than censorship is because, once a speaker has been censored, he can make yourself into a victim, a political prisoner of sorts. "Look what the man doesn't want you to hear!" This is true, no matter how awful the message. When a racist loser like Fred Phelps (and yes, I'm using an obviously extreme case) can freely be a bigot, it's fine, because in response, I'm free to call him a racist loser. More importantly, most reasonable people can see that he is a racist loser. If he were censored though? It would, in a backwards way, raise sympathy not only for him, but for his pathetic beliefs. "He is just saying what THE GOVERNMENT doesn't want you to hear."

So, it follows that the check on unbridled free speech isn't censorship - it's shame. It's that human nature dictates that people don't want their peers to consider them complete morons. So most people, when entering into an argument with someone, are going to at least try to have facts on their side, rather resort to ridiculous ad hominem attacks about the person they're arguing with.

This doesn't happen in comment sections. Go on any of the very, very large internet sites, read a column, and then try to read through the comment section. If your brain isn't hurting about 30 seconds in, you're either incredibly tolerant of the stupid, or among them. Nearly every comment is met with an outlandishly mean character attack. There is zero intelligent discussion of any issue. Ever. Why? Because there is no recourse. You can write as vicious a reply as you'd like, because there is no shame in being wrong, and no shame in being mean.

(Note. This isn't true of the smaller, better regulated forums out there, which are fundamentally different than major websites for a variety of reasons. These function more like societies, where people will take on leadership roles and call out the foolish on being foolish. Sure, a certain amount of homogenous groupthink will go on, but that's true of any society, really. And, in the better forums, well-reasoned dissent is welcomed and discussed. In my criticism of comments sections, I'm talking more about the large scale, international type sites, like, Yahoo (probably the worst),, YouTube, etc, that are essentially impossible to moderate.)

This is why Grantland's decision to have their comments section through Facebook makes so much sense. If someone is commenting on an article, he won't care what blazersgrrl144 or DetroitFan06 thinks of him. He WILL, however, care what that cute girl in his chemistry class or his potential new boss thinks. This will make the responses more measured, and the less measured responses more shamed. A random person saying "hey rotflmaoattheknicks, you're being f*&(^@ mean" doesn't mean as much as your co-worker saying "hey William Johnson, you're being f*&(^@ mean."

Not that the system is perfect. A lot of people don't use Facebook (though I'd imagine 98% of the sort of person who would comment on an ESPN article do), and the privacy concerns are real. Still, even though it's not perfect, it has to be better.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Happy Birthday Tim Wakefield!

Tim Wakefield turns 45 today. Wakefield is the oldest player in baseball, 8 months and 22 days older than Omar Vizquel. Despite not being in the starting rotation to start the season, he is fourth on the team in innings. He doesn't miss many bats anymore, and gives up more homers than ever, but could, conceivably, start a postseason game for the Sox.

I'll be at Fenway tomorrow, as Wakefield takes his second shot at his 200th win. The Indians have a good lineup, though opposing pitcher Carlos Carrasco has struggled mightily recently. That should give the Sox a good chance to slug their way to a win. That would make him the 111 pitcher in history to reach the 200 win milestone. Looking further down the road, Wakefield needs 7 wins to tie Cy Young and Roger Clemens for the most wins in Red Sox history. Looking at the schedule, Wakefield would get 10-11 starts if he were to remain in the rotation, so the chances of that are slim. Still, I will be rooting for him - I've seen Wakefield pitch live (or on TV, for that matter) more than anyone else.

So Happy Birthday #49, and good luck!