Baseball reporting, enthusiast styleby Carson Cistulli
September 01, 2009
Note to reader: What follows occasionally reads like a manifesto. This is both (a) regrettable and (b) a fact. Je suis desole to the max.
A brief note on what is this junk
What follows represents my first attempt at writing a game report for The Hardball Times. It's a form with which I've experimented, under the name Ecstatic Truth Game Report, for the Portland (Ore.) Sportsman. Those experiments went similarly to Dr. Frankenstein's famous one, as documented in Mary Shelley's book: You couldn't say the product was a total failure, but some of the parts looked kinda funny.
The New Enthusiast Game Report is an attempt, on my part, to write about baseball in a way representative of the way a smarter fan might enjoy watching it, where "smarter" suggests not only that sort of fan who's familiar with advanced statistical analysis, but also one who prefers his humor ribald and his prose stylings sweet as candy.
THT already does this to some degree with its THT Daily service, providing the sort of info an enthusiast cares about: fantasy updates, pitching match-ups, Pythagorean standings and minor league performances. All in a tidy package. I hope to stand on the shoulders of the giant that is THT*. Moreover, I do not intend myself to become the master of this particular genre. Much like the character from the David Berman poem who only plays a bit part in his own life story, I hope merely to ask some simple, childlike questions and then get out of the way.
*Achtung: Sweet Isaac Newton reference.
One of the great joys of watching baseball with friends is the sort of running commentary that accompanies a game. The action, televised or live, serves as an entree into a variety of topics of conversation—many of them concerning farts, sure, but sometimes concerning Marcel Proust and other times the comedy jokes of Mike Birbiglia. I'd like to create a document "about" a game that roughly mirrors that sort of experience.
As of now, mostly what's available is the pyramid style of game recap, such as the AP and other news outlets provide, which is a document composed in such a way as to (1) create a more or less fictional narrative for a baseball game, (2) give undue emphasis to emotional factors and less to a combination of skill and chance, (3) become continually less important (and less interesting) as it grows in length and (4) create the impression that baseball is the most boring thing that has ever happened to the world (including the supposedly fun Playmobil-brand toys I was given occasionally as a child).
As an example of one flaw to the AP report, consider the introduction to the report by Rick Gano on Saturday's Cubs-Mets game, which begins like this:
CHICAGO (AP)—Jake Fox went to his manager before the game and offered some reassurance. Then, he followed through and did what he promised.
“He said, `I got your back today, skip.’ Exactly what he told me,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Saturday. “A couple of at-bats into it I was wondering, but he caught up in a hurry.”
Gano goes on to discuss Fox's big day at the plate (2-for-4 with a homer and five RBI), which included a grand slam.
The suggestion here, which I would describe as far-fetched at best, is that Jake Fox willed himself to play well—and not merely because he wanted to play well, which should be enough, but even moreso because he sensed that his manager, a notorious Spazzface, was kinda bummed out. From what we know about clutch hitting, we know that it's most likely rare for a player to possess the capacity to improve himself in certain situations. That a player could—beyond one or two moments—raise his level of play over the course of an entire game simply because he wanted to throw his manager a bone is even less likely. In fact, the presumption is offensive at some level. Are we to believe that Fox, sporting an excellent line of .300/.348/.556 after play Saturday, might be playing even better were he just to try just a little bit harder?!
Furthermore, while Gano mentions that Fox's contribution to the victory was important, what he doesn't mention is how important. Using Win Probability Added (WPA), courtesy of FanGraphs, we see Fox's contribution very clearly as being something like 27.7 percent of the victory. What Gano fails to note, as well, is the degree to which Aramis Ramirez and Milton Bradley contributed nearly as much to the victory, posting WPAs of .238 and .204, respectively.
Of course, the omission of such stats is not Gano's fault, per se. The public is, at best, generally unfamiliar with certain, very helpful advanced metrics and, at worst, completely hostile. (Another category that I'm not counting—what I'll call the Murray Chass-level of crazy—refuses even to acknowledge the existence of new stats and blogs.) Regardless, newspapers with wide-ish circulations need to be aware of such constraints. But merely because they need to abide by them doesn't mean everyone does.
For another of the weaknesses of the pyramid style, consider the final line of the recap from the Tampa Bay-Detroit game (which is apparently authorless):
Carl Crawford added a sacrifice fly in the ninth for the Rays.
I have two different snarky things to say about that. Let me try them out on you.
Snark the first
"Carl Crawford added a f------ sacrifice fly in the ninth."
Samuel Jackson just said that to me, and it still wasn't very interesting.
Snark the second
Wow! I mean, I've seen some good endings in my day. Like, the end of The Usual Suspects, for example, wasn't too bad. Or, The Sixth Sense was pretty decent. But Carl Crawford hitting a sacrifice fly?! In the ninth inning?! Never saw that coming!
Okay, that was annoying.
The point, of course, is that Crawford's sac fly represents the exact opposite of a dramatic conclusion. Once again, this isn't necessarily the fault of the nameless author or authors in question. Clearly, the pyramid style is a convention, one designed to allow newspaper editors some options when attempting to fit a game recap in a particular space. But now that, thanks to the interweb, space isn't really so much of a consideration, does it make sense to abide by an outdated custom?
Or consider another flaw of this article: not once did the author mention peeing his pants with joy while observing David Price's slidepiece. Which, that leads me to believe either that: 9a) the article was written by a robot, 9b) the author has a helluva strong bladder,9 c) the author lost—as the result of a horrific accident—he lost the part of the brain in which joy is registered or 9d) all of the above.
I'm going with (d).
On the game in question
This is a report on a game that took place Sunday, Aug. 30, between the New Hampshire American Defenders and the Quebec Capitales at Stade Municipal in Quebec City, Canada. If you're wondering why those names—i.e. American Defenders and Les Capitales—don't seem completely familiar, it's because the two teams are part of the independent Canadian-American League (Can-Am, for short). The Can-Am League has been around in different forms since the 1930s, but the recent iteration was formed officially in 2004. There are only six teams in the league, which features many players who, at one point or another, have been involved with affiliated baseball. More info about the Can-Am League can be found by clicking here or here.
Why I watched it
As I mentioned in a recent dispatch to THT Live, I'm currently on honeymoon. As for how my new wife feels about me going to games and writing reports during said honeymoon, I can't say for sure. I do know that, when I woke up the morning of this game, the words "Red Rum" were written in lipstick on the mirror of our room. Whatever that means.
Like I say, though, I've spent the last little bit of my life roaming the highways and byways of the Northeast. One such byway took me and my lady friend to Quebec. I figured maybe people would be interested in an event like this one.
The lineup for New Hampshire
Batter Pos. Slash Notes Rafael Cabreja LF .255/.375/.436 2008 stats, as 21-year-old with NY/Penn League's Lowell Spinners. Heath Keel RF .182/.250/.182 Zane Chavez C .282/.347/.398 Angel Molina DH .288/.362/.476 12 HR and 13/15 SB in 313 AB. Argenis Tavarez 3B .229/.313/.317 Matt Nandin SS .256/.306/.278 Morgan Brown 2B .232/.271/.282 Mike O'Malley 1B .217/.302/.261 Steve Pinto CF .000/.000/.000
And the pitchers for the same team:
Batter Pos. Slash (IP/K/BB) Notes Rob Riley LHP 46.1/25/22 Greg Ford RHP 3.1/3/6 2008 stats with Nashua, also of Can-Am League
The lineup for Quebec
Batter Pos. Slash Notes Sebastien Boucher CF .219/.341/.278 Josh Colafemina 2B .248/.331/.262 Alex Nunez RF .322/.400/.391 4th in Can-Am in batting. 4th in OBP (Presence sur Les Buts, in French). Pierre-Luc Laforest DH .276/.407/.532 You might remember him by his Anglo name: Pete. Played for TB. Patrick Deschenes 3B .280/.361/.376 Patrick Scalabrini 1B .200/.333/.300 Tony Lewis SS .314/.413/.423 Patrick D'Aoust C .252/.350/.319 Issael Gonzalez LF .000/.000/.000
And the pitchers for the same team:
Batter Pos. Slash (IP/K/BB) Notes Karl Gelinas RHP 25.1/22/5 2008 stats with Quebec Dan Sausville RHP 73.2/42/27 Brett Palanski RHP 45.2/21/20
What I have to tell you is this: On account of a rain-out on Saturday, there actually were two seven-inning games played Sunday. The lineups above are from the first game of the doubleheader. I stayed for the first four-and-a-half innings of the second game, mostly to see Eric Gagne pitch, but I had a new wife not to get hurt physically by, and so I opted to depart the Stade Municipal before the second game concluded.
Quebec won the first game 4-0, most of the scoring coming from Pete Laforest (see below), who jacked two dongers in the contest. The first was to right-center and cleared the fence by a significant distance. The Ecstatic Truth Hittracker I own suggests that it went about 1 kilometer—a "kilometer" being a unit of measurement invented by Canadians to confuse hapless visitors. The second of Laforest's home runs I know less about, on account of I was peeing during it. That said, my wife saw it and said, and I quote, "It went way out there."
As for the second game, I was happy to see Quebec's Ivan Naccarata play shortstop for it and New Hampshire's Rob Riley play designated hitter after having started the previous game as pitcher. (Quebec won this game, too, by a score of 16-1 or so the internet would have us believe).
An (incredibly brief) ode to joy
The Stade Municipal experience was joyous for two reasons. For one, it was French as a mother. For two, it was populated by a load of fringe players, which means I had an excuse to Google the crap out of my Google machine.
A brief French lesson
Man, they're not joking when they say people in Quebec City speak French. Even at baseball games!
Here are some words you're gonna need to know before you point your internet browser toward capitalesdequebec.com or read the sporting commentary of Jean Dion, who, according to my hosts Guillaume and Miriam, writes some of the smartest, funniest columns you could ever hope for.
English Francais Hit Coup sur Home run Coup de circuit Pitcher Lanceur Batter Frappeur Lineup Alignnement RBI Point produit Ball Balle Strike Prise Out Retrait Strikeout Retrait au baton
Assorted notes on some players
Pete Laforest, DH/C, Quebec
Oh man, does Laforest know how to jack a donger. Pete, or Pierre-Luc as he's known to the Quebecois, spent Game One of the doubleheader doing much the same thing he did during his career in affiliated baseball—namely, walking, striking out or jacking dongers. In fact, here's his line from said first game:
PA 1: K
PA 2: HR
PA 3: HR
And began the second game similarly:
PA 1: K
Laforest occupies a Ryan Doumit-y place in the world of baseball: He hits enough to get people's attention and plays catcher, too, if not all that well. His minor league numbers are those of a player with good power and contact issues. There are a number of guys like him in Triple-A (all of whom, it seems, have played for the Portland Beavers). Regardless, I've always liked him and have always—if somewhat irrationally—hoped he would land with a major league club. The home run I saw him hit (i.e. not the one he hit when I was peeing) was pretty decisive. The ball less jumped off his bat and more ran away from it afraid. I reallyreallyreally hope he gets back in the minor leagues.
Eric Gagne, RHP, Quebec
After performing poorly in recent stints with Milwaukee and Boston, Gagne has found his way back to the old patrie, having worked 90.2 innings across 15 starts while posting a line of 53 K, 27 BB, and 9 HR. Gagne started the second game of the doubleheader and pitched well, posting a line of 5 IP, 6 K, and 1 BB. I had the opportunity to sit behind the plate and can say with some certainty that his change-up was his best pitch, exhibiting an excellent differential in speed to along with fade and depth. In the first two innings alone, Gagne got four memorable swings-and-misses with the change against New Hampshire lefties Cabreja and Molina.
Despite the performance, a strikeout rate of only about 5 K/9 in an independent league probably doesn't bode well for Gagne's chances of getting back to the majors anytime soon. Which is good in one way. Because, were Gagne to leave Quebec, the fans here wouldn't have any reason to shout "Come on, Cy Young!" in their amazing accents.
Rafael Cabreja, OF, New Hampshire
Cabreja batted leadoff and played left field for New Hampshire in both games, entering play with only five at-bats after being acquired in a trade with New Jersey just a couple of days earlier. He had signed with New Jersey only a couple of days before that. Cabreja was drafted by Boston in the eighth round of the 2006 draft out of James Monroe High School. Sox Prospects has him as David Ortiz's cousin while Sons of Sam Horn lists him as Big Papi's nephew.
While the former of those two websites treated Cabrera's release (this past April) from the Boston organization as a foregone conclusion, the numbers don't bear that out necessarily. Cabrera posted a park- and luck-adjusted line of .283/.389/.467 at low Class A Lowell last year as a 21-year-old. His jump to high Class A Greenville was less successful (adjusted line of .220/.418/.340), but he still posted 16 BB versus only 13 strikeouts in 50 at-bats. If he could play center field (champ centre, for the French reader), which he did with Lowell, then he seems like a reasonable risk for some major league organization.
Ivan Naccarata, SS, Ouebec
Unlike Cabreja, Naccarata hasn't had much success in affiliated baseball, most recently posting a line of .267/.336/.415 as a 24-year-old for low Class A Brooklyn. The Can-Am League has been considerably more kind to him. Entering play, Naccarata—which, I invite you to say that ten times fast, America—has posted a line of .290/.366/.420. In 2007, also in Quebec, he slashed .321/.402/.465. Guys who plays passable shortstop—which, I can only assume Naccarata does—and jack dongers—which, Naccarata did that in the second game—are in short supply. Still, those weak age-adjusted numbers are difficult to look past.
Rob Riley, Everything, New Hampshire
As this article from the Nashua Telegraph can attest, Rob Riley's baseball career has been a little unorthodox. Regard: He played last year in Europe. Before that, he worked as the chief harpooner on a ship called the Pequod. Currently for New Hampshire, he pinch hits, plays DH, pitches as a starter, and pitches as a situational lefty.
Riley got knocked around a little by Quebec simply because he doesn't have enough on his fastball, which comes in at the mid-80s when it's going well. His curve is a quality pitch, one he used to get a couple of strikeouts looking through the first couple innings of his start. I'm not smart enough to know either what his role should be or if he could be of any use in affiliated ball. His age (almost 30 years old) doesn't help. He does seem to be having fun, however, and doing well in the Life Department is pretty important, too.
Remember how, about 2,000 words ago, I criticized the AP for not producing good conclusions to its articles? Well, I will be guilty of the same thing here.
But as Walt Whitman writes: "Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"
Carson Cistulli contributes to FanGraphs and RotoSynthesis and teaches writing in Portland, Ore. Feel free to email him.