Brooklyn cheers for Beltran, and other assorted enthusiasmsby Carson Cistulli
September 15, 2009
Since I submitted my first game report two weeks ago, a great deal has happened: my voice has lowered, I've found hair in new and unexpected places, and—perhaps most notably—I've made the acquaintance of a great American: Ken Arneson. Arneson was owner-operator of both Humburg Journal and Catfish Stew before their host, Baseball Toaster, shuffled off this electronic coil. Both sites are excellent and should be devoured posthaste.
How it shook down was like this. First, I wrote a piece at FanGraphs asking how we might—beyond measuring player performance—also measure how happy certain baseball events make us, the spectators. By "baseball event" I meant not only discrete "plays" such as doubles and strikeouts, but also change-ups with excellent vertical movement or notable demonstrations of plate discipline.
By "we" I meant anyone who wasn't me, on account of I have no idea what I'm doing.
The commentariat was divided into roughly three categories of response. Some said things like, "Please stop. You're a giant dummy." I think it's obvious: those people aren't entirely off base. Other people sorta patted me on the back metaphorically and said, "Sure, you're a giant dummy, but at least your heart's in the right place." Totally fair analysis. Finally, like two people said, "You know, there might be something to this." One of those people was/is Ken Arneson.
In the time between that FanGraphs post and right now, I have (a) read every word Ken Arneson has ever written (with my soul if not with my actual eyes), (b) harassed him (i.e., Arneson) via email, and (c) interviewed him for a piece that is showing up on FanGraphs this very day.
There are too many things to say about Arneson, and I get to only a few of them in the FanGraphs article. Relevant to the present effort, however, is a quote he steals from Will Leitch on the purpose of baseball writing in the electronic age. At Baseball Analysts, Leitch writes:
We are no longer in the days of radio; if you have MLB.TV, or even freaking cable, you can watch every game. We do not need reporters to tell us the facts; we need people to tell us what it means. Or, more specific, to ask us what we think it means.
It should be noted, first, that the Arneson piece in which the Leitch quote appears, "Death and Parataxis," is itself a testament to what is possible in sportswriting. The best opportunity you have to realize that for yourself is by reading the frig out of it. Second is that—and this is something I'm willing to make a habit of—Leitch and Arneson both make a point I've tried to make, except that they do it shorterly and smarterly.
On the game in question
This is a report on a game that took place Sunday, Sept. 6, between Mets affiliate the Brooklyn Cyclones and Boston's Lowell Spinners of the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League. This marked the last game of each team's respective regular season.
Why I watched it
I've made some passing comments about how, for much of my short tenure here at THT, I've been on honeymoon.
What I neglected to mention was how, directly after said honeymoon, my brand new wife was scheduled to flee the country and spend a year in Provence teaching French high schoolers how to parle anglais a little bit better.
Well, Sept. 6 was not only the day of the game in question, but it was also the day that my wifey departed for France.
I will not describe the scene of her departure, or my conduct during it, as I demonstrated some of the less attractive grief-related behaviors. What I would like to celebrate, rather, is the very tonic effect of attending a minor league baseball game with an old, close friend. Which is exactly what I did after seeing my lady off.
Leo Martin and I attended Columbia University together until such a time when I was unable to cut that particular mustard and, after my sophomore year, fled westward. Since then, however, we've remained close, and baseball has been a central part of our relationship. As I've wandered around the country, Leo has stayed in New York, and he (and now his ladyfriend) have always been gracious and willing hosts. It was with him that I attended the present game and sat on the third base line.
My relationship with Leo highlights something I've idly observed about myself, and which I'm betting the reader might share: that watching and/or talking about sport is almost the only means I have to cultivating friendships with men. I mean, I'm not a one-dimensional guy, I don't think. I published a book of poems. I teach at a college. I'm married to a woman who watches 20 innings of baseball a year, tops.
The response to this that I don't accept is the charge that I'm afraid to share my feelings. I'm perfectly willing to share feelings: it's just that many of my feelings are about baseball. As for why that's the case, I don't particularly care to speculate at the moment. To say that it's fact is enough.
The lineup for Lowell was:
Batter Pos. Slash Notes Wilfredo Pichardo LF .305/.354/.395 Alex Hassan RF .326/.371/.438 Drew Hedman DH .272/.345/.401 Christopher McGuiness 1B .255/.374/.438 Michael Almanzar 3B .220/.280/.294 See player notes below Ronald Bermudez CF .258/.294/.323 Kenneth Roque 2B .310/.394/.483 See player notes below Joantoni Garcia SS .176/.281/.289
And who all pitched was:
Batter Pos. Slash (IP/K/BB) Notes Drake Britton LHP 3.0/5/3 Tom Ebert RHP 20.2/19/10 Michael Bugary LHP 19.1/26/21 Jeremiah Bayer RHP 25.0/27/7
The lineup for Brooklyn was:
Batter Pos. Slash Notes Jordany Valdespin 2B .286/.348/.413 Carlos Beltran CF .154/.267/.154 In 13 rehab ABs. Sam Honeck 1B .253/.341/.309 Honeck is a funny name. Luis Rivera RF .294/.401/.440 Plus 12/15 in SB attempts. Ralph Henriquez DH .267/.312/.366 Sam Grimes LF .204/.291/.347 Richard Lucas 3B .246/.308/.404 Dock Doyle C .256/.328/.345 Robbie Shields SS .176/.273/.268 Third round pick in June.
And who all pitched was:
Batter Pos. Slash (IP/K/BB) Notes Collin McHugh RHP 73.0/77/20 James Fuller LHP 61.1/64/13 Lance Hoge LHP 23.2/16/5 See player notes below Chris Hilliard LHP 10.0/5/2 Thomas Chism LHP 2.0/2/1
FYI, the league average rate stats for the NY-Penn league are: .245/.320/.351, 7.9 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9.
By comparison, here's the same thing for MLB: .262/.332/.419, 7.0 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9.
The 2008 park factors for the clubs' respective stadia were: 1.07 for Lowell and 1.02 for Brooklyn.
More like re-BAD
There was a great deal of excitement at Brooklyn's KeySpan park for Carlos Beltran's final rehab appearance with the team. The anticipation turned out to be entirely unfounded, however, as Beltran struck out three times and mustered only a weak pop-up to shortstop with two outs in the ninth and the winning run on first.
Beltran's fourth plate appearance was the ugliest, when he swung at—and missed by some distance—a slidery-looking pitch in the dirt from Lowell's Michael Bugary. While, according to Sox Prospects, Bugary's slider is a nice pitch, it's not one you'd expect Beltran to have so much trouble with, especially when it's bouncing in front of the plate. Strange.
There were 24 strikeouts in the game: 10 for Lowell pitchers and 14 for Brooklyn pitchers. That's nearly twice as many as in a typical New York-Penn League game.
Here's how the strikeouts broke down (TBF = Total Batters Faced):
Pitcher K TBF Britton 3 8 Ebert 3 14 Bugary 4 11 Bayer 0 5 McHugh 2 8 Fuller 3 9 Hoge 4 5 Hilliard 2 11 Chism 3 7
State of playoffs
As I say above, the game was the last of the regular season for both teams. What I don't say above is how both teams made the playoffs. Brooklyn lost, two games to zero, to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the first round. Mahoning Valley is an affiliate of Cleveland.
Lowell made it slightly more interesting versus the Staten Island Yankees by winning the middle game of their three-game series, but then lost in the first round.
Lowell 4, Brooklyn 3
Notes on a burger
During the game, Leo had a lot to say, not only about the cheeseburger he ate at the present game, but also about other times he'd eaten cheeseburgers at other games. Owing to his demonstrable enthusiasm, I asked if he might put together some brief reflections on his gastronomic experience. Lucky for all of us, he consented.
What follows is Leo's response. Believe me when I say it's not the first time he's used the phrase "unpretentious bun."
Aramark hamburgers are typically pretty grim. So last week at Brooklyn's KeySpan Park, I braced myself. Maybe, I thought, if I frantically "think about baseball" while chewing, I'll distract myself from that defrosted old-cow taste.
No such drastic measures were required, as from the open-air grill on the concourse came a burger that, to my infinite pleasure and surprise, was possibly worth close to the seven dollars it cost.
The patty was cooked through, appropriately for a thin-format burger, and not at all dry. A choice of American or Monterey Jack(!) cheese was offered, along with a tasty spicy mayo. Crisp lettuce, tomato, and onion topped it off. I felt soothed by the quiet confidence of the unpretentious bun.
They might be playing Short Season A baseball at Coney Island, but that's a Double-A sandwich.
Lance Hoge, LHP, Brooklyn
A good way to draw attention to yourself is to throw your shoes and loudly cuss at a powerful foreign leader. Another way is strike out four of the five batters you face in a minor league baseball game. Hoge did the latter of these things during the present contest, sending down Lowell's one through four hitters. There's nothing really to suggest that Hoge is this kind of pitcher. As a 22-year-old in low Single-A ball, he had 16 strikeouts in almost 23.1 innings entering the game. He was drafted in the 36th round. He wasn't even the best pitcher at Kansas State in 2009, posting 46 K and 22 BB in 71.1 IP versus fourth round pick A.J. Morris' line of 116.1 IP, 100 K and 30 BB. That said, he struck out 13 in 16 SAL innings this summer, as well.
Kenneth Roque, 2B/SS, Lowell
Roque undeniably (a) is a 2007 10-round draft pick of the Red Sox, (b) plays second base and also some third and short, (c) is 19 years old and (d) slashed .317/.400/.520 in 140 GCL PAs this year, in addition to the excellent line of .310/.394/.483 (in only 29 ABs) he brought into this game. What is deniable is Roque's status as a real prospect. Certainly, his draft pedigree doesn't suggest any great shakes. Nor do his raw tools or place in coach Gary DiSarcina's lineup (seventh). While I'm very clearly nothing like a real talent evaluator, and will therefore refrain from speculating on Roque's future, it's hard to criticize a player's batting skills until he fails, and Roque has as yet to do that.
Michael Almanzar, 3B, Lowell
Like Roque, Almanzar is 19 years old. Unlike him, Almanzar has projectability out the ears. Ranked ninth in Boston's organization in Baseball America's preseason Prospect Handbook, Almanzar has a good arm, the promise of power as his body matures and a generally sound plate approach for his age.
What I noticed about Almanzar is just that he looks different than most of the players. He's listed at 6-foot-3 but seems taller. He looks strong and like he'll get stronger. He made the hardest or second hardest contact of the evening, a long single that made the wall in left field off a couple of bounces. What Almanzar lacks as of now is actual performance. He finished the season .230/.288/.302 after slashing .207/.261/.293 in 203 PA in the SAL earlier this year and getting demoted.
Carson Cistulli contributes to FanGraphs and RotoSynthesis and teaches writing in Portland, Ore. Feel free to email him.