December 6, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
And here's the full roster.
THT's latest e-bookThird Base: The Crossroads is THT's new e-book, available for $3.99 from the Kindle store. The good news is that anyone can read a Kindle book, even on a PC. So enjoy the best from THT in a new format.
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Let’s discuss the THT Annual (7)
10th anniversary: the A.J. Pierzynski trade (15)
It’s The Hardball Times Annual 2014 (8)
25th anniversary: Rob Neyer writes a letter (4)
Putting the knock on pitching changes (2)
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Friday, April 19, 2013
Orioles 10, Rays 6: Time to re-bookmark Matt Wieters Facts. The Chosen One's grand slam in the 10th gives the O's their 17th straight extra innings win.
Diamondbacks 6, Yankees 2: Frankie Cervelli hit a homer to tie it in the ninth. He also had two -- not one, but two -- catcher's interference calls. Don't see that every day. Oh, and the AP game story spends a lot of time talking about how a guy named Zack Hample caught two homers in the game. It's the same Zack Hample who has written a book and filmed videos about snagging baseballs at ballparks. He's a professional ball hound or whatever. Which makes this passage funny:
Even though he lives in Manhattan, Hample was wearing a Diamondbacks cap because he's been a fan of Bell's since 2004.
If you've seen his videos and things you actually know that he wears the cap of whatever team he happens to be visiting because he believes players on the field and in bullpens are more likely to give him a ball if he's a local fan. But whatever.
Mariners 2, Tigers 0: Of course a Mariners offense that is struggling to score runs gets two off Justin Verlander, who otherwise struck out 12. Meanwhile, Hisashi Iwakuma and two Mariners relievers handcuffed the Tigers on getaway day.
Brewers 7, Giants 2: Yovani Gallardo hit a homer and gave up only one run over six innings. I'm guessing some Brewers blog somewhere will call this "redemption" or something. If they do, I highly suggest you not read that Brewers blog anymore.
Cubs 6, Rangers 2: Everyone I know who lives in Chicago said it was biblical-level rain there yesterday so I have no idea how they got this one in. Anthony Rizzo hit one 475 feet. Alfonso Soriano notched his first homer and RBI of the year.
Red Sox 6, Indians 3: Six in a row for Boston. More great pitching too: John Lester gave up two runs on four hits in seven.
Rockies 11, Mets 3: The Mets finally get the hell out of Colorado, and not a moment too soon. It was 28 degrees in Denver yesterday. Snow outs in Minnesota then a couple snow outs in Denver along with cold games. I don't think anyone has ever been as happy to see Queens as the Mets likely were when they got home last night.
Cardinals 4, Phillies 3: Carlos Beltran with the go-ahead homer in the eighth. Yadier Molina was 3 for 4 with two RBI. Adam Wainwright has now pitched 29 innings without walking a batter. Cole Hamels, meanwhile, hasn't won a game yet this year. I guess you want him to emulate Cliff Lee in some ways, but maybe not in this way.
Blue Jays 3, White Sox 1: R.A. Dickey had to leave early with neck and back tightness but he pitched well while he was in and got the win anyway. Dickey is around my age and I get neck and back tightness for no reason sometimes. I wonder if he makes big, exaggerated noises when he stands up and sits down and if he gets unexplained ear hair and stuff like I do too.
Braves 6, Pirates 4: Evan Gattis had a two-run pinch hit homer in the eighth. Both Uptons and Chris Johnson homered too. If the Braves were in New York columnists would be wringing their hands and wondering if the Braves hit too many homers as if that were actually a thing someone should ever worry about. For my part, I get blacked out of Pirates games here in Ohio so I couldn't watch it. Thankfully, though, there's a useful Twitter feed to follow in such situations.
Reds 11, Marlins 1: Shin-Soo Choo singled, doubled and scored twice, helping Tony Cingrani win his first big league start. Here's hoping he keeps up the momentum for next time so he can get his first win over a big league opponent.
There are two seemingly unrelated stories that I'd like to take a moment to compare in order to make a point.
In the world of economics, public policy, and how not to format a spreadsheet, word has come out that a seminal paper arguing that high debt-to-GDP rates are bad for economic growth was based on bad data after the two professors who ran the study made an error in Excel.
Meanwhile, in the world of amusing-but-not-important baseball news, MLB Network's Brian Kenny ripped into White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson for blaspheming sabermetrics.
The way in which we interpret data is important. For years prior to the Moneyball revolution (which has definitely been related to the success of Nate Silver and Big Data's popularity), people within the sports stats community were begging for somebody to pay attention to their numbers, and they had a darn good point. Good hypotheses based on solid evidence were ignored for traditional theory in a way that seemed fraternal and anti-scientific.
Since then, statistical analysis certainly has gained ground in front offices and with the greater fan base, but too often it's presented, much like a lot of modern economic theory, as science.
A lot of blame here is on the media, which like to create false dichotomies to masquerade conversation as conflict. No example of this is better than MLB Network's over-the-top commercial featuring Kenny and Harold Reynolds, with the former serving as the God of Logic and the latter as the God of Wisdom in an eternal battle to decide who should bat fifth for the Mariners.
The commercial begins with Kenny doing his best Will Hunting impression. (And if we're gonna get all super nerdy, the best he can mutter is something about OPS? C'mon.) He then looks squarely into the camera and states resolutely, "Stats tell the truth," which befuddles me. The truth ... about what? Reynolds plays opposite as the old-timey baseball coach who learned the game on the diamond, not from a textbook.
This all really started with Michael Lewis' over-dramatization of the front office divide between scouts and stats guys in Oakland, but it's been taken to a whole other, dare I say, religious level. On one side is Sabermetrics, represented as a branch of science grounded in Enlightenment values and unyielding objectivity. On the other side is Scouting/Feeling/Traditionalism, represented as dealing with strategy, keen observation, and insightful instinct as a result of experience.
I talked to a random guy about baseball before this season started, and when I attempted to rebut his argument that the Mets would have the worst outfield in the history of baseball, he shook his head, looked at me solemnly and said, "Sabermetrics says so." I guess I had two options: I could agree with him and trust the numbers or reject the numbers and trust faith. Sabermetrics said so, so I really had no other choice.
In the big data revolution, it's always important to remember that there are no panaceas. Statistical analysis is a social science, not a physical one. The best anyone can do with a spreadsheet is test some thoughts and get results that mean the thoughts may be true after all. Nerdy 20s-something-looking kids with glasses are not the modern oracles. They're just using a different tool.
*Note: for another good take that overlaps with this topic, check out Jack Moore's article
Twenty-five years ago today, one of baseball’s oldest players had one of his ugliest outings ever. April 19, 1988 was a day Joe Niekro probably wanted to forget about as soon as it was over.
It wasn’t just that he pitched poorly and allowed a slew of runs. It’s that he also kept getting called for balks. He had nearly as many balks as outs. He had nearly as many balks in one day as in the previous decade combined.
Though overshadowed by his Hall of Fame big brother Phil Niekro, Joe had a nice career for himself. Using the same pitch as Phil – the knuckleball – Joe Niekro won over 200 games in 22 seasons.
However, 1988 was the last of those 22 seasons. Joe Niekro was on fumes. In fact, his last outing was less than two weeks away – and today’s game helped hasten it.
Getting the start for the defending world champion Minnesota Twins, Joe Niekro had to face off against a dangerous Yankees lineup. The most dangerous part was its leadoff hitter, the all-time great base stealer Rickey Henderson. The future 3,000 hit club member greeted Niekro by lacing a single to center.
All pitchers had to keep a close eye on Henderson at first. He was just five years removed from his 130 stolen base season and would swipe 93 this year. But few pitchers had such a need to monitor Henderson as Niekro. After all, thought the knuckler is tough to hit, it travels slower than just about any other pitch – and every millisecond counted with Henderson at first.
So Niekro paid at least as much attention to first base as he did to the lowly reputed Bobby Meacham at the plate. Niekro wanted that son of a gun off first base. And, on a 2-1 count to Meacham, Nierko moved a little too swiftly to first.
Yeah, the umps called Niekro on it. They’d call plenty of balks that year. The major league front office decreed that umpires should crack down on balks that year, and so this shouldn’t be too unexpected. It wasn’t Niekro’s first balk. He’d had one a year from 1983-86, but before that just one in his first 16 season.
Now Niekro had career balk No. 6. Eh, these things, they happen. But hey – maybe there’s an upside to this. Maybe Henderson will think Niekro will lay off now that an umpire nailed Niekro for a balk. Well, Niekro will show him. He ain’t going to back down.
But neither were the umpires. Balk!
Just one pitch after the first balk call, Niekro had another. Not only was it the first time he gave up two balks in one inning, it was the first time he’d balked twice in one season. A few minutes later Don Mattingly doubled Henderson home, so it was all moot. Henderson would likely score from first on a double, after all.
But in the second inning, Niekro ran into trouble, allowing Henderson to come to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Wouldn’t you know it – he singled to score tw runs. Well, at least second base was occupied by shortstop Rafael Santana, the No. 9 hitter for the Yankees.
Still, better keep on eye on things. Niekro went back to his pickoff move once more.
Niekro couldn’t have been a happy camper. He had just committed his third balk of the game – after just five previous balks in 3,500-plus innings. Sure it was the year of the balk, but maybe the umpires were being a little to quick on the call today. Surely Niekro had to be thinking that.
The rest of Niekro’s game was off that day as well. A few batters later and the Yankees had scored seven runs. Niekro didn’t get out of the seventh, with one of the worst Game Scores of his life: 12. Minnesota put him in the bullpen after this. He made one more start at the end of the month, but when that was a disaster, they pulled the plug on his big league career.
As bad as his last season was, nothing quite compared with the utter frustration of committing nearly half of his lifetime balks in under two innings – and that happened to him 25 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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