Break out the torches and pitchforksby John Brattain
June 29, 2007
It’s been an interesting week. A single random comment in my Blue Jays therapy section became a full blown scandal.
(For the record, Ken Tremendous and I exchanged several good-natured e-mails over it and admittedly, it made for a fun weekend.)
Anyway, I felt I had to clarify my remarks and devoted a fair number of words on the subject (almost 1,500) on BallHype. I considered it my penance for committing the folly of casually tossing around clichés. For those who missed the fun, I’ll reiterate some of the points made there.
Regardless, it highlighted something unique about me and The Hardball Times.
I am not a sabermetrician. Ergo, you will find me making comments that are out of line with sabermetric principles. Not that I’m opposed to the philosophy or anything, it’s just that I’m too dense at math to get an in-depth grasp of the subject. Trust me, when my high school math teacher was on "Jeopardy" he got the answer: “One of the truly great examples of Canadian humor” and he replied: “What is John Brattain’s grade 11 mid-term math exam?”
To this day he claims I owe him $1,600. Hey, don’t blame me that you bid too much on Double Jeopardy. Next time bid $600 instead of $900.
I probably aged Lee Sinins a few years when he tried to educate me on the subject—poor guy.
My colleagues at THT often get into pretty deep discussions about certain sabermetric topics and I try to follow along, but I think I have a better chance at figuring out women.
Having said that, there’s a lot about sabermetrics (the stuff that I understand at any rate) that I agree with, but I feel that it’s like any philosophy/thought process … it’s good as long as it doesn’t become a dogmatic, rigid, by-the-book way of doing things. Oddly, the 2007 Blue Jays have been a prime example of where some new millennium baseball almost-truisms sometimes don’t apply.
When we look at general manager J.P. Ricciardi’s famous comment, “Give up outs to score runs? We don’t do that here” we see how this might have hindered maximizing Toronto’s offense. For awhile, the bottom of the Blue Jays’ lineup consisted of players like Sal Fasano, Jason Phillips, Royce Clayton, Adam Lind, Jason Smith and John McDonald. These players had an aggregate OBP of less than .300 and had a SLG south of .350.
When the bottom of the Jays lineup came up, the chances were excellent (more than 70%) that outs were going to be made and if it involved the less speedy Fasano and Phillips, quite possibly two. A number of times there were men on first and second and nobody out when this part of the lineup came around.
Since outs were almost inevitable at this point, a choice had to be made: Do we defy the odds and let them try to hit/walk to move and score runners, or do we make sure that if an out is made, something positive comes of it? Generally, manager John Gibbons decided not to “give up” free outs and the Jays came away with an out, and sometimes two, so they were left with man on third, two out, or man on second and first with one out. Now all the pitcher had to do was get a ground ball or retire the next .210/.240/.301 hitter to be out of the inning.
Had Gibbons decided to go for the dreaded, heretical “productive out,” he may have had more situations with runners at second and third with one out. Then, if the next hitter also went with the odds and produced an out, a run may have come along with it. The productive out would’ve cost the other team two bases but the "We don’t give up outs" philosophy gave the other team an out at absolutely no cost and sometimes with a bonus out to boot.
That’s why certain “rules” are helpful only if they're used as guidelines rather than gospel. That dogmatic rule doesn’t take into account the situation where an out is almost automatic anyway.
It’s a simple variation of the axiom, "when life gives you lemons, then make lemonade." If the bottom of the lineup gives you outs, then how can you squeeze runs from it?
A good manager maximizes the talent at hand. It would’ve been foolish for the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals to play the power game. Conversely, it would’ve been ridiculous for the 1927 Yankees to play like the '85 Cards. One team was built on speed, the other power. Well, for a good chunk of 2007 the Blue Jays were a team that made a lot of outs and it would’ve behooved Gibbons to take that into consideration with his in-game decisions.
Which brings me to last week’s Frank Thomas base-clogging remark (congrats to the "Big Hurt" on HR No. 500).
Remember this tidbit from 1997? "That ain't Chuckie's game, Chuckie's hacking on 2-0." Some took the comment as meaning that Thomas should take a page from Chuckie Carr and go up there hacking at anything and everything.
I made the classic "assume" mistake: When you assume, you make an ass (of) u (and) me. I assumed that everybody had been watching Frank Thomas in 2007. Non-Jays fans saw Thomas’ bases-on-balls and OBP and thought “How can that saponification-in-the-skull uber retard be complaining about a guy getting on base? Would he prefer Juan Pierre or something?”
My actual comment was: “Thomas’ OBP is blunted by the fact he clogs the bases.” We see that I’m complaining not about his OBP, but rather that his lack of speed blunts its effectiveness. With Troy Glaus needing time off in 2007, many times Thomas was followed in the lineup by Aaron Hill, then by our combination of Fasano, Phillips, Clayton, Lind, Smith and John McDonald.
Hill is having a nice year, but he’s not the kind of guy who keeps pitchers up at night.
Thomas, "The Big Hurt," has all the speed of a loaded oil truck going uphill after being stopped by a red light. Also, Thomas had complained (about himself) that he was taking too many hittable pitches early in the count because he was looking to get on base and not hit. He admitted that his mindset was off.
Now let’s take two scenarios: one, Thomas with the bases empty, and two, Thomas with men on base.
Thomas with the bases empty: Due to his lack of speed, he generally can’t get from first to third on a base hit, or tag up from second and go to third. This means the Jays need a combination of three hits/walks to score him. Depending on the situation, they had to accomplish that with as few as one out to work with. Once Thomas walked, he had to count on Hill and some combination of Fasano, Phillips, Clayton, Lind, Smith and McDonald to get him around the bases. In 2007, the odds of Thomas being moved three bases by them was almost slim to none. If Thomas were quicker, they’d have more options, but since he isn't, he has to rely on well-below (save Hill) league average hitters to get him around to score.
Hence, under this scenario, Thomas’ OBP isn’t doing the Jays the good that it otherwise could.
Thomas with men on base: Thomas has, of this writing, had 114 PA with men on base (but not loaded). When Thomas was passing on hittable pitches early in the count, that made his option of reaching base via the base on balls an attractive one. What that does as well is put the onus on the men behind him to drive the runners in. If Hill failed to do so, then it fell to a succession of below league average batters who strike out almost as often as they hit. And if Hill represented the first out of the inning, then with Thomas still at first base, his lack of speed makes it easier for the pitcher to get a double play ball.
Thomas was in an odd situation. The men batting in front of him had decent on-base abilities, but most of the hitters behind him had little, and less power, decreasing the odds of moving Thomas two bases with a double. When Thomas was passing on hittable pitches early in the count, thereby increasing the odds of a walk, he was doing the opposition a huge favor. Due to Thomas’ position in the batting order, the offense was much better served by his BA/SLG skills than his OBP prowess.
Therefore, the opposition, given a choice between having Thomas’ OBP and his BA/SLG. would pick the OBP for several reasons. One, it costs them only a single base. Two, if there were nobody on base the Jays would need a combination of three hits/walks to score him—unlikely due to who was coming up. Three, if there were a man on third but the bases weren’t loaded, Thomas’ BB wouldn’t produce a run and potentially set up a double play. Even if there were a runner on second, a Thomas single probably scores him but a walk doesn’t.
In short, with the 2007 Jays, the opposition’s best case scenario with regard to Thomas is an out. The second best is a walk. Hence, his OBP is blunted because of his lack of speed and the lineup. A walk to a vintage Rickey Henderson wouldn’t be the second best scenario because he can turn it into a de facto double with a steal with the added bonuses of tiring the pitcher with throws to first and distracting the man on the mound from dealing with the man at the plate. Against a rag-arm catcher, a pitcher might be better off with a Henderson double, since it doesn’t cost the pitcher multiple throws to first and is less of a distraction since the catcher has a better shot at nailing him trying to take third base.
In summation: While walks/OBP are generally a good thing, with Frank Thomas on the 2007 Jays, other than an out, walking him is the best way to neutralize his offensive abilities and the ability of the Jays to score runs.
When I wrote the column last week, Thomas had drawn 46 walks. He came around to score on those walks six times and had two RBI due to bases-loaded base on balls. Thomas looking to walk, rather than looking for hittable pitches early in the count, has cost the Jays runs.
Now you know why I wrote that Thomas’ OBP was being blunted by his lack of speed, or as I infamously put it "clogs the bases."
It wasn't about whether a Frank Thomas walk was a good thing or a bad thing. It was about Frank Thomas' approach; whether taking hittable pitches early in the count looking to walk rather than swinging at them and looking to hit optimized the 2007 Blue Jays' ability to score runs.
What About Bob?
Generally, I'm loath to criticize another writer's work. Taking the thoughts and ideas in your head and presenting them in a manner that will actually convey what you're trying to get across is challenging at the best of times (see: Bases, Clogs the). However, Bob Klapisch’s recent remarks regarding Sammy Sosa's membership in the 600 club struck me as truly bizarre. In commenting on tater No. 600 he states:
In fact, it was only a matter of time and perseverance (and performance-enhancing drugs).
Here Klapisch comes right out and states that Sosa's PED usage is an established fact. Every bit as factual as needing time and perseverance to hit 600 major league HR.
All true, but any critical thinker would doubt a slugger who was caught corking his bat in 2003. Sosa is not above cheating; he's proven that. So how do we know where he drew the line?
Here Klapisch uses the "cool kids" defense with “any critical thinker would doubt a slugger…,” meaning unless you agree with him, you’re not a critical thinker. By this line of reasoning, Graig Nettles, Wilton Guerrero, Albert Belle, Billy Hatcher or for that matter Hernan Iribarren are/were juicers too. Flip his logic around and you have to state that if every position player testing positive for steroids had his bats examined that they would contain cork and every pitcher found juicing is automatically guilty of doctoring/loading up the baseball.
Is Klapisch asserting that? No. However if he wanted to be consistent, he should insist that every bat used by Alex Sanchez should be seized and given an X-ray since, if he was willing to use steroids, then certainly he'd be willing to cork his bat.
Sosa does deserve credit for coming back to the game and joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays as the only players to hit at least 600 homers. Sosa knew he would be dismissed by many observers; obviously, it didn't stop him.
Stop him from doing what? If you have proof, stand and deliver. If not, you're no better than what you accuse Sosa of doing: "His answer was properly nuanced to avoid confessing to steroid usage" Those comments are nuanced to get the reader to believe he's guilty without presenting any sort of evidence that would stand up in court under cross-examination. He acknowledges extremely legitimate points regarding Sosa: “…never named in the BALCO investigation, never mentioned in Jose Canseco's tell-all book, and never failed a drug test,” but rather than dealing with the points in any substantial way, he dismisses them as “bleating.”
Bleating, as you all know, is the sound a sheep makes; it's the "cool kids defense" used a second time. Either you're a "critical thinker" like him, or you're a pathetic lost sheep.
But sooner or later, we'll get to the who-did-what stage of this steroids investigation, whether it's from the Mitchell committee or former Met clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski's squealing to the feds. Our hunch is that Sosa will end up on the X-list.
Having convicted Sosa, Klapisch admits he bases his verdict on a "hunch.” However this hunch is all the proof he needs since in the very next line, he renders a guilty-as-charged verdict again:
Until then, he won't get this Cooperstown vote, not unless he becomes the first Hall of Fame candidate to tell the truth about those HRs.
Some have called these steroid investigations "witch hunts." Klapisch takes a page out of old Salem of legend: Toss somebody into the water. If they float they’re a witch, if they drown, they’re innocent. It’s not unlike the old Inquisition as well: The verdict is already in. We’ll just do what's needed to extract the confession, and then we know we’re justified for what we’re putting you through.
Then he comes out with this dilly:
But even if you give Sosa a full pardon—cork, steroids, HGH—there's no guarantee he deserves to be in the Hall solely on those home runs. Sosa was an elite-caliber player for only five years (1998-2002)
Actually, you could make a good case for six or more…although not consecutively.
It was good enough for Sandy Koufax (1963-68) who excelled for four, ditto Dizzy Dean's (1932-36) and Ralph Kiner's (1947-51) five seasons. Hank Greenberg had about as many superb seasons as Sosa when you take into consideration that Sosa was an outfielder, Greenberg a first baseman.
Why not Sosa? Take out Klapisch’s five-year elite-caliber level years and the former MVP tallied 309 HR (and counting) and enjoyed a pair of 30-30 seasons. That’s a pretty good career right there. It's as many home runs as Edgar Martinez has, and some feel he might have had a Hall-worthy career as a DH. Nine more homers put his non-peak years in the top 100 all time.
Sammy Sosa may have used anabolic steroids (I, for one, feels he has) and in the eyes of some, that’s enough to disqualify him from Hall of Fame consideration, but to use Klapisch’s reasons for doing so is just plain wrong.
The Queen of Hearts from "Alice in Wonderland" would make more sense. Bob, a "critical thinker" requires evidence that can be both examined and cross-examined and hold up under that test. You've given us neither. All you've proven is that you think "critical thinker" and people who agree with you are one and the same thing. Then you use a technique that's used in middle school by popular kids to get their peers to unquestioningly go along with them. To agree with you based on what you've presented in this column would require the mentality of, well, a sheep. You've told us to follow your line of reasoning without offering any concrete reason why your line of thought is correct.
You've done some fine work in the past, Bob (e.g., "The Worst Team Money Can Buy") and I hope you can do better than this in the future. Truly an unfortunate piece of writing from Mr. Klapisch.
The Whine Cellar
Not much to add to the first section save this: Although you can never have enough pitching, the Jays have the arms in both the bullpen and rotation to contend. Both Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum now believe in their stuff. They realize they can get major league hitters out on a consistent basis. On May 11, the Jays' non-Roy Halladay starters had an ERA of 5.83. About six weeks later, they’ve managed to knock almost a full run off that, to 4.85. Even the bullpen, which has suffered the losses of its closer and main setup man (B.J. Ryan and Brandon League), is second in the AL to the Red Sox in ERA (2.93 to 3.40), and has a superior BB/9 (3.56 to 3.78), K/9 (8.12 to 6.99) and BAA (.222 to .232).
Of note: In June, the Jays are fourth in AL ERA behind Oakland, New York and Boston, but…
Team ERA BB/9 K/9 BAA Oakland 3.66 3.66 5.84 .254 New York 3.91 3.51 6.19 .269 Boston 4.00 3.27 6.63 .252 Toronto 4.05 3.23 7.68 .249
Bottom line, if there are no more injuries, the rotation of Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Josh Towers(?) and the bullpen is as good as any in the league. The Jays need another bat. The return of Reed Johnson and Lyle Overbay will help, but unless Vernon Wells finds his 2006 stroke, it won't be enough.
As of June 28...
Players who are on (or close to*) pace to top Earl Webb’s record of 67 doubles (assuming 600 AB):
Player 2B Team Pace Magglio Ordonez 34 DET 73 David Ortiz 27 BOS 64 Chase Utley 30 PHI 61
*on pace for at least 60
We’ll be following their progress on this page as the season goes on.
Congratulations To An Honor Student
I just got back from attending my oldest daughter's high school graduation. Truly a shared milestone. I pleased to report that being in possession of my DNA was not a hinderance in her academic pursuits. Belinda, I'm proud of you and I'm confident that you'll continue to do me prouder than I did my parents. In the words of old King Lemuel: "Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all." Both you and your sister Kataryna make being a father the greatest privilege a man could possibly enjoy. I know you both can accomplish great things simply by being yourselves.
Rod Stewart's song "Forever Young" was high on the charts when your mother was pregnant with you and after she gave birth. Whenever I hear it, my mind would drift back to those earnest, innocent and trusting young eyes and wondering if I would be up to the enormous task of giving you the wings to fly, and those words seem appropriate right now:
Whatever road you choose, I'm right behind you, win or lose. Forever young.
Clear horizons on your future.
Our good friend, and THT stalwart, John Brattain passed away on March 24, 2009. John was a prolific writer, whose work can also be read at Sympatico/MSN Sports and Baseball Digest Daily. John's work was also featured at USA Today, MLBtalk, ESPN Insider, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals. Never afraid to express himself in any medium, he was also a frequent radio speaker.