Month: April 2014

The Terrible Tigers Bullpen

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The Detroit Tigers bullpen is a flaming wet turd. You may ask, how can something be both wet and on fire at the same time? Such is the seeming impossibility of this craptitude. The Tigers bullpen has a 5.65 ERA, ranked 29th in the majors. The only team that is worse so far is Houston at 6.05, but the Astros are not a real team. Well, they are real in the sense that they are physical objects and not illusions, but, according to reliable sources, the entire Astros roster is actually a barnstorming team from the 1890’s (people were generally smaller back then, so this explains the existence of Jose Altuve) that has been resurrected via Edo Tensei, which best translates as Impure Reincarnation Summoning Technique. In other words, the Astros are literally the walking dead. But…the Tigers’ aggregate bullpen numbers include 6 innings of scoreless “relief” thrown by Drew Smyly, a starting pitcher. Subtract Smyly’s innings from the total and the bullpen ERA rises to a spectacular 6.22. As mentioned in my season preview, the Tigers will likely struggle to create any space in the division all year, because the bullpen is the terriblest in the league. They are even terribler than a bunch of zombies.

Other thoughts this week:

  • Hitter of the year, to date: Who the hell is Charlie Blackmon? And what the hell is he on? He’s the #1 hitter in fantasy at the moment, hitting .402 with 5 HR and 6 SB. I’ve heard him mentioned in the same sentence as Mike Trout, and that sentence is usually “Let’s not get carried away and compare Blackmon to Trout.” But Trout hasn’t been running this year and has 31 strikeouts. Blackmon has struck out six times. SIX. I’ve always said that Trout, with his square head, blocky frame and red garb, looks like an Autobot, specifically Hot Rod (I’m talking about Transformers the Movie from 1986, not any of this Michael Bay garbage. If you have not seen it, you need to go see it immediately. I just made it a requirement for league membership). Blackmon, swathed in black and purple, may be Trout’s perfect Decepticon counterpart. Charlie Blackmon is Cyclonus




 Hm…looks like Mike Trout could use some more courage. 



So what is Charlie Blackmon on? A little energon and a lot of luck. Or maybe it’s a little luck and a hell of a lot of energon. And steroids. And HGH. I don’t know. But we know now, thanks to my connecting the dots, that he is definitely a bad guy. Because all Decepticons are bad guys. So nothing would surprise me. 

  • Pitcher of the year, to date: Adam Wainwright is the #1 pitcher in fantasy, and right now looks like he can do whatever he wants. He has not been scored on in 25 straight innings, and has only given up 9 hits in that span. Waino had two starts last week; he left the first start after 79 pitches and 7 innings because he tweaked his knee and left the second start after 99 pitches and 8 innings probably because of lingering concerns about that knee.  It looks like the knee will be a non-issue, but in normal circumstances, that should have been two shutouts. We are inundated these days with good starting pitching performances (ESPN reports that Sunday produced a record 10 pitchers throwing 7 innings with 3 hits or less allowed), but Wainwright still stands apart from the crowd. Despite my well-documented loathing of the Cardinals (I found a new reason this weekend, as I discovered their Hawk-Harrelson-esque announcers are audio vomit), this is not an attempt to jinx Adam Wainwright. I can be objective (sometimes), and I think Wainwright finishes the year as the #1 pitcher in fantasy baseball. It won’t even be close. 
  • Pitching line of the week #1: On Saturday: Danny Duffy, 0.0 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO, LOSS, 3 batters faced. The mystery is in the line; if he faced three batters, how come his line is all zeros? This was a disaster for Duffy. Hit batter, then the next batter bunted and Duffy threw it away. Then the following batter bunted and Duffy threw it away AGAIN as the winning run scored. You’ve really got to watch it, it’s spectacular. For all that, Duffy still gets to have an ERA of 0.00 for the season. Sometimes stats make no sense. 
  • Pitching line of the week #2: Again on Saturday, Brandon Morrow: 2.2 IP, 0 H, 4 ER, 8 BB, 1 K. This is how you get pulled from a no-hitter in the 3rd inning. Thing is, he almost got away with it. Despite walking four batters in the first two innings, two double plays helped Morrow to enter the third inning unscathed. He then walked four batters to allow one run to score, got pulled, then the reliever came in and gave up a grand slam. I blame the manager for this. Only one run had scored at this point. Leave Morrow in and either let him work it out or go for the all-time walks record (16). No-lose scenario. 

Baseball Card Lessons

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Life lessons that baseball cards taught me as a kid:

  • When I was a kid, I managed to accumulate several thousand baseball cards.  Obviously, I had no money back then, so I would try to persuade my mom to buy me cards by telling her that they were a good investment.  This was boom-time for the sports card industry, and I think the whole cards-as-investment thing was a lie that the card manufacturers foisted on children to sell more cards.  I mean, they knew that these cards were going to end up being worthless.  If you’re printing millions of cards at a time, I don’t care how many years go by, how are any of these cards going to be worth anything?  (I encourage everyone in the world to throw their baseball card collections away.  Only then could my cards possibly be worth anything.)  Lesson learned: the basic economic principles of supply and demand.
  • Baseball cards were the original form of fantasy baseball.  I still remember the first trade I ever made:  Eric Davis for Don Mattingly.  Davis was a rising star for the Reds, and I had his rookie card.  But I really thought Don Mattingly had a cool sounding baseball name, and he was really good and he looked sweet with that eye black.  But it wasn’t his rookie card I was getting back, so it wasn’t worth as much.  I didn’t care; I just really wanted a Don Mattingly card, so I got one.  In hindsight, this was a fair trade, since both cards are now worth exactly zero dollars.  Lesson learned: that Don Mattingly was once awesome and that the dude currently managing the Dodgers is some sad impostor.
  • I was also a huge fan of Jose Canseco.  I thought he would be the greatest baseball player of all time, especially after his 40 homer / 40 steal season in 1988.  So I decided to go all-in on Jose.  I traded a Dwight Gooden rookie card (plus other cards) for nine various Jose Canseco non-rookie cards.  I really liked Jose, and I figured that when he eventually broke every record and went to the Hall of Fame, I would be rich. Lesson learned: the perils of not diversifying one’s portfolio. (I was kind of obsessed with Jose Canseco.  When I was bored I would just randomly call the operator and ask for Jose Canseco’s number.  Then I would hang up giggling.  I don’t know why, but I thought this was great fun and the pinnacle of daredevilry.  Yeah, I was a weird kid.)
  • One of the most valuable cards I owned wasn’t a baseball card, but this Wayne Gretzky card (as further described below, I didn’t have many valuable cards).   This was worth something like $15 according to the Beckett price guide, which seemed like a ton of money to me at the time.  So I went to a local card shop to try to sell it, but failed because my negotiation skills were even worse than they are now.  I then forgot that the card was in my coat pocket, and of course my mom then washed my coat and ruined the card.  Lesson learned: that doing laundry is bad.

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Despite having so many cards,  my cards all sucked.  Everyone else had all the hot cards.  The rookie cards of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Bo Jackson.  The cool Mark McGwire Team USA Card.  Older cards from the 70’s that my friends had gotten from their dads or older siblings. Cards from Canada.  Autographed cards.  I had none of these.  Every pack of cards I got brought new promise and turned out to be crap.  Topps used to have these stupid checklist cards, those were the worst.  I had hundreds of those.

It was embarrassing how terrible my collection was.  I would meet with my friends to trade baseball cards and I would just sit there while they ignored my sad cards and traded with each other while I sat there alphabetizing my cards by team name and deeply pondering whether “A’s” goes before “Astros”.  I was sick and tired of it.   So I told my friend Mark that I owned a Mickey Mantle baseball card.  I was smart about it (or so I thought); I didn’t claim that I owned THIS Mickey Mantle card, I just said I owned a Mickey Mantle card.

Mark was impressed but he wouldn’t let it alone.  He asked to see it over and over again until I realized he wasn’t going to stop asking.  So I told him I would bring the card over to his house and then biked over there.  When I arrived I pretended to check all of my pockets and said, “Oh no…it  must have fallen out of my pocket when I rode over here!”   Mark freaked out and insisted that we go look for it.  Now, if I really wanted to commit to this lie, I should have gone outside during the middle of a Michigan winter to scour the streets for a few hours.  I should have shed a few tears.  But that all seemed like too much work to me.  So I just said, “No, it’s okay.”  Yes, this is the best method I could conceive to resolve this situation.  Lesson learned: don’t lie; not because lying is bad, but because I suck at it.  (Once, I didn’t feel like doing my work at school so I just threw my worksheet away and then went to the corner to read Curious George.  My teacher came over to ask me where my worksheet was.  I went to the turn-in basket, did a poor job of pretending to look everywhere, and said “I don’t know.”  She then proceeded to pick my crumpled worksheet out of the wastebasket.  She asked me, “Is this yours?”  I said, “No.”  She then uncrumpled the paper to reveal a blank worksheet.  Blank except for my name fastidiously scrawled at the top of the paper.  Thus, this lesson was reinforced; I suck.)

Ryan Braun Hate Monster

I hate Ryan Braun. 

A-Rod is gone. Maybe forever. And thus my hate became a wizened specter, starving in the shadows. For a while, I thought that wretched wraith would die and I would be free of my hate and my mind could be filled with rainbows and puppy paws. But then along came Ryan Braun. I don’t mind that much that he got suspended for the PEDs. I don’t even mind that much that he lied about it. But what really pissed me off was that he went out of his way to vilify the poor guy who screwed up his urine sample (even perhaps calling him an anti-Semite). Then, despite all that, the morons in Milwaukee gave him a standing ovation on Opening Day? Grrrrr…my hate…just…won’t…die. 

So when Ryan Braun ruined my fantasy team last weekend by destroying Jason Grilli (who’s on my team) on Saturday AND Sunday with 9th inning homers to blow saves, my hate monster roared back to life. Like, literally. Like my hate is sitting on my couch right now roaring and eating Cheetos. He has a name. He says his name is Chet. I asked him if Chet was short for Chester and if he was named for Chester Cheetah because he liked Cheetos or maybe it was the other way around and he likes Cheetos because his name is Chester. But he says his name is just Chet and that it’s not short for anything. 

So yeah, Chet tells me that I now hate Ryan Braun forever. I will obey.

spirit 

You can believe one of two things: 1) I actually have a hate monster sitting on my couch or 2) I actually think I do. Either way, I’m probably not okay. 

You Can’t Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t If You Don’t Know Where They Are

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“You never hold still when the enemy knows exactly where you are.” – Ender’s Game

More than ever before, baseball teams are employing the shift on defense.  I tried to look up stats to show how this is true, but it’s completely unnecessary.  Just watch any game.  Against righties, against lefties, with men on base, with no one on; teams are shifting like crazy.  I don’t think this is just a fad.  If anything, we may see even more extreme use of the shift in the near future.  But in the evolution of defensive positioning, is the shift the end of all things?

There’s an old baseball aphorism that says “hit ’em where they ain’t.”  But shifting, no matter how extremely you do it, still allows a hitter to assess the fielding landscape prior to each pitch (i.e. figure out “where they ain’t”) because the fielders, despite having shifted, become static prior to the time of the pitch.  So what about putting the fielders in motion prior to each pitch?  The Amazing Coco Crisp (yes, he is a superhero now) has said that he doesn’t like to attempt steals in certain situations because he doesn’t want to distract the hitter.  Can you imagine how distracting it would be to a hitter if every fielder just started sprinting in a random direction as the pitch was thrown?  Even if hitters eventually adjusted to this, wouldn’t this be highly entertaining to watch?  Wouldn’t you pay to watch Yasiel Puig running random spirals in right field?

Moreover, couldn’t being in motion be a wise strategic choice for outfielders in certain situations?  This is like putting a player in motion prior to the snap in football (I’m thinking Canadian football for a better example, where the receiver can actually start running forward pre-snap).  Standing still, an outfielder needs to accelerate from zero; but if the outfielder were running at the time of the pitch (and in the generally correct direction), the amount of distance he could cover would be drastically increased.  Obviously, this would also increase the amount of time it would take for him to stop and turn around if he’s running in the completely opposite direction of the ball.  But if all three outfielders are in motion, could there possibly be an arrangement of their starting vectors that provides superior field coverage?  I’m thinking something like the right and left fielders both start in the center fielder’s normal position and the center fielder starts at the center field wall.  While the pitcher is in his windup, the left and right fielders sprint towards the left and right field lines respectively, while the centerfielder runs straight in towards the infield.  This could create a lot of field coverage, while also creating the most chaos right in the hitter’s field of vision.

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I’ve attempted to test my theory using this Web Gems game on ESPN by starting my fielder at the wall and then running towards the batter before the pitch is thrown.  I think this was an extremely scientific way to test this, but yet my results were somewhat inconclusive (though I did rack up almost 4000 points, which is a pretty good score, I think.  I get lots of girls).

This one time, I was playing centerfield during a softball game, and the other team had this guy who was just hitting lasers wherever he wanted.  He was hitting them where we weren’t; if I shaded over to left-center he would hit it to right-center and vice-versa.  Finally, I deliberately shaded far over to left, tantalizing him with a huge gaping hole in right-center field.  But as the pitch was in the air, I started to run over to right-center.  Sure enough, he laced a rocket to right-center, but I was perfectly positioned to easily catch it.  From center field, I could see the look of confusion on his face.  Wasn’t there a gap there?  Wasn’t that guy just in left-center?  Yeah.  I just destroyed you with my mind.  I am a softball ninja.  You can’t hit ’em where they ain’t if you don’t know where they are.  That’s the title of this article!

But seriously, I’m serious.  This idea isn’t as nuts as it sounds. Baseball already has fielders in motion in certain situations, specifically bunts (where the 1st/3rd basemen charge) and stolen base attempts (where the 2B/SS is running towards second base).  All I’m saying is that I think it’s highly likely that we can identify significantly more situations where putting fielders in motion is beneficial.  Now is that so crazy?

Boners and Dragons and Bears…OH BABY!

A few days ago, a friend of mine referred to Josh Hamilton as “JHam”.  At first, I had no idea who he was talking about, but I am a smart guy, so I used context clues to figure it out.  Once I realized he was indeed referring to Hamilton, I got angry.  This trend of mashing together a player’s first initial (or first part of his first name) and the first syllable of his last name (e.g. A-Rod, CarGo, HanRam) has gotten way out of hand.  In this age of tweets and text messages, I understand the need for brevity.  Long gone are the days of florid nicknames like “The Splendid Splinter”.  That’s fine.  But can’t we come up with short and sweet monikers that reflect at least a little bit of creativity?  I love referring to Josh Hamilton as “The Great Hambino”, which of course is a nod to The Sandlot.  But it’s too long.  I think Josh has “Hambone” tattooed on his arm, so we should just go with that.  If even that’s too long, we should just call him “Bone” or, even better, “Boner”.  I mean, Boner works on so many levels: it can either mean a huge mistake or a huge erection.  And for some reason, I just see Boner as the kind of guy that thinks more with his dick than with his brain.  So it’s perfect.  Boner it is.

Quite often, nicknames arise out of necessity.  When I was in college, there were like ten different Brians in my circle of friends.  So, Brian from Texas became “Texas Brian” and fat Brian became “Fat Brian”.  Okay, I realize now that these were not terribly imaginative names, but I disclaim all responsibility for their creation.  The point is that the players that need nicknames the most are the ones with the most common names.  A-Rod would never have become A-Rod in the first place if his last name wasn’t the relatively common “Rodriguez”.

So there are players out there who desperately need a nickname, and all I’m saying is that let’s all get together and try and give them an interesting one.  Like Adrian Gonzalez.  I’ve heard people call him “Gonzo”, but come on, that nickname is for anyone named Gonzalez.  And “A-Gon” isn’t distinctive enough, since there are other players (like Alex Gonzalez) who this could apply to.  Should we just call him “Adrian”?  Is that distinctive enough?  My idea is to anagram the first three letters of his first name and combine it with the first syllable of his last name.  DraGon.  Yes, I know you are blown away and you are welcome.

The stumper for me is Miguel Cabrera.  There are many Cabreras and there are many Miguels.  Yet all we can come up with is “Miggy” or “Cabby” or “MCab” for the greatest hitter in the game?  Really?  We can’t come up with something better than that?  Alas, I don’t really have a better idea at this point.  My fiancee likes to call him “CaBEARa” because he looks like a cuddly teddy bear.  I would be fine if this caught on.

My final suggestion is that we all must band together to make sure that Omar Infante is only referred to from this day forth as “O-Baby”.  Seriously, how has this not happened yet?

Fantasy Memories: Ryan Klesko

In late April 2001, I had just graduated from college and was planning to go backpacking through Europe for most of the month of May.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to check my fantasy baseball team very much while I was traveling (no smartphones in 2001), so the night before I left, I set my roster one last time.  I think my first baseman was hurt or something, so I just picked up the highest ranked first baseman available on the waiver wire, who happened to be Ryan Klesko.  Despite a solid 2000 season, Klesko had started 2001 slowly, hitting only .247 in April, so someone had dropped him.  I didn’t know much about the dude at all, so I was just hoping that he would stay relatively healthy and at least not hurt my team too much while I was gone.

When I returned to the U.S. at the end of May, I finally logged back on to a computer and took a look at the numbers next to Klesko’s name.  My jaw fell off my face.  Ryan Klesko had gone insane.  In May 2001, Klesko hit .354/.464/.788 with 11 homers, 40 RBI and 10 stolen bases.  That’s double digit steals and homers in a single month.  I have no idea whether anyone else has managed this feat, but it seems like it would be extremely rare.  I checked all of the 40/40 seasons in history (Canseco, Bonds, A-Rod, Soriano) and none of them did it.  And Klesko was primarily a first baseman!  While I was off traipsing across Europe, Klesko was doing work, carrying my fantasy team on his back for an entire month.

Fantasy baseball managers tend to develop irrational attachments to certain players, or at least I do.  Very often, it’s a guy you feel like you “discovered”, someone you bought into and believed in before anyone else did.  In those cases, a large portion of that ongoing attachment comes from personal pride in your own fantasy baseball skills.  You identified a star before he became a star, therefore, you are also a star and every time you see his name in your lineup, you feel good about you.  I definitely feel that way about some of the guys I’ve had on my team over the years, like James Shields or R.A. Dickey. But this wasn’t the case with Klesko.  I was just plain lucky that I happened to have added him right before he exploded; I can take no credit in this.  But I continued to roster him on many of my teams up until he retired in 2007, and this was a different kind of attachment.  Call it eternal gratitude.

The 2001 MLB season was perhaps the most memorable of my lifetime.  Seattle won 116 games.  Barry Bonds hit a billion homers.  Ichiro won rookie of the year and MVP honors.  Albert Pujols’ ridiculous rookie year as the oldest-looking 20 year old in history.   9/11.  The Jeter Flip.  All of this culminated in the greatest World Series I have ever seen.  So it’s not surprising that Klesko’s amazing May has been virtually forgotten.  But not by me.  My gratitude continues until this day.  For that amazing month, thank you Ryan Klesko.  Thank you until the end of time.

For The WIN: Defending the ‘W’

On Opening Day, Cliff Lee got the win in an ugly 14-10 victory over the Rangers, despite giving up EIGHT earned runs in five innings.  Obviously, he did not pitch well, and statheads like to point to results like these when criticizing the win as a statistic that accurately measures pitching performance.  Some go even further, suggesting that baseball should do away with the win altogether.  I think that’s too far.  Everybody already knows that the number of wins a pitcher racks up is largely dependent on team performance and luck, so the win is already de-emphasized in most people’s minds.  How else can you explain Felix Hernandez winning the 2010 Cy Young with a 13-12 record?  But the win has its merits, particularly in a historical context.  300 wins has long been an automatic ticket to the Hall of Fame and it still should be; even if you think wins are a bit lucky, a high career win total is, at the very least, a testament to a starting pitcher’s longevity.  There’s also the continuity argument: Denny McLain was the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season, back in 1968, and this was a big deal.  Baseball, more than any other sport, is all about tradition and history.  By eradicating the win, we’d basically be saying to future generations, “Grandson, there was this guy who won 30 games back in the day.  Wait, what do you mean you don’t know what a win is?”  And MLB is all about continuity, so they’ll never get rid of the win.  People need to stop shouting at the rain.  The win, flawed as it may be, will always be around.  Deal with it.

Some hardcore fantasy baseball leagues, frustrated with the arbitrary nature of the win, have moved away from the ‘W’ as a scoring category, replacing it with quality starts or some other category.  At the same time, however, more and more fantasy leagues are moving from traditional season-long scoring formats to weekly head-to-head formats.  Head-to-head, by breaking up the season into discrete scoring blocks, keeps more people engaged throughout the season, but at the same time, also introduces a greater element of luck.  You might have the best fantasy team in the league over the course of a season, but in any given week, any team can beat any other since the sample size is so much smaller.  The best team very often doesn’t win, and it seems that more and more fantasy baseball managers are willing to sacrifice accuracy for fun.  That’s why the win is still a perfect statistic for fantasy baseball; it’s the funnest stat out there (yes, I realize that “funnest” is not a word.  But it just looks funner than “most fun”.  And I’m all about fun).  I mean, sure, we could only credit a starting pitcher for what he does during the game.  But starters only go like six or seven innings these days.  What’s the incentive to watch the rest of the game once they leave?  That’s why the win is so great; even if your pitcher throws great and leaves with the lead, you can still enjoy the roller coaster ride of seeing if the bullpen can hold the lead.  There’s no more agonizing feeling than seeing a closer blow a lead for your starting pitcher (even more so if you own the closer as well.  Ouch).  On the other side, it’s just as uplifting to see your pitcher leave the game in line for a loss, only to see the offense rally after he’s left the game to give him credit for a win.  You get to root for or against everybody, not just the players on your roster, and that’s just fun.  And isn’t that what fantasy baseball is about?  Fun for the win.