Monthly Archives: November 2018

Postseason awards

It’s postseason awards time again. I was going to do another version of the All-Jerk Team this year, but the jerks haven’t really shifted much from last year. I then turned my attention to creating an All-Scrappy team, but with David Eckstein and Willie Bloomquist on the team, who else do you need? Those two could pretty much singlehandedly tear apart any team in the league, so there’s really no need to flesh that concept out further.

Instead, what I decided to do was to take a look at the pre-season predictions of various “experts” (their words, not mine), to see how they did in relation to what really happened. I do this not as a gotcha, not to point out that the experts suck, but merely to demonstrate the relative folly of preseason predictions – most of these things, even with the most sophisticated analysis tools and numbers available, are a complete guess. 162 games is a long season, and anything can happen – so don’t get all upset when your favorite site picks the Yankees to win the Series. It’s not a foregone conclusion; in fact, picking the Yankees to win the Series is like being a weather forecaster in the PNW. If you say “Partly cloudy, chance of rain” in the winter and “Partly sunny, chance of rain” in the summer, you’ll be right about 30% of the time, so why bother doing, you know, actual work?

Anyway, on to the predictions.

First up, the Worldwide Leader. They put up a page which collects all their various preseason articles and analysis here, and quite handily compiled all their staff predictions here. What do we find there? That of the 16 prognosticators surveyed, not a single one had the Tigers even making the postseason, much less the World Series, and of the ten guys that picked the Cardinals to be in the World Series, only two (Alan Schwarz and John Shea) picked the Cards to win the whole thing. The Cards were, though, a near-unanimous pick to win the Centra, with only Mark Simon picking differently (the Astros).

On a rather astounding, if not world-altering, note, there was one guy that is employed by ESPN that got it right. Using what no doubt was a toolbox full of the most sophisticated analysis methodology available, numbers that would make Billy Beane salivate like a starving man at a buffet, this guy nailed it. He got the AL team wrong, but he flat out nailed the Cardinals. Ladies and gentlemen, Dick Vitale’s preseason picks. Yeah, I’m weirded out by it too.

Now, moving on to the good folks at the Hardball Times. First and foremost, I have to say this: David Gassko is a stud. The only division champ he missed was in the AL East (he had Boston over NY) and with a few exceptions, his order of finish was pretty damned accurate all the way across (at least compared to most of the other people I’ve taken a look at here…). As for postseason picks, again, nobody got the Tigers into October, and of the five guys that picked the Cards, none had them winning the Series. Honorable mention here goes to Dave Studeman, who picked the Cubs to win the Series this year. He must be that guy in the tree in the Lasorda commercial.

And, last but not least, it’s Baseball Prospectus turn. Their NL predictions are here, and the AL’s are here, here, and here. As for accuracy, at least in the NL BP (and when I say “BP”, I mean Joe Sheehan, who did all these…) did pretty good, getting all the division winners but missing the Padres, who BP had finishing third behind the Dodgers and D’Backs in the West. The AL West was pretty straightforward, but BP was off on the number of wins for the A’s by eight. the ALW preview did contain an interesting tidbit about the Mariners, though:

The Ms are an interesting team, but in the AL West , interesting isn’t enough. They could end up over .500–there’s a fairly wide range of possible outcomes for guys like Betancourt, Johjima, Jeremy Reed and Jose Lopez that makes prediction difficult–but there’s only a small chance that they’ll contend for a playoff spot.

Firefox’s new spell checker wanted me to replace Betancourt with “courtesan”, but whatever. That would be a great title for the Mariners’ season review DVD – “. Interesting just isn’t enough.”

In the Central, BP did OK – they got the Twins and the Royals right, but pegged the Tigers at 78-84. This line about the Tigers jumped out at me:

Still, the core talent here falls shy of impressive, and the surrounding parts aren’t difference makers.

While nobody predicted the Tigers’ run to the Series, this line comes as close as anyone to nailing why they didn’t actually win the thing once they got there.

Over there in the AL East, BP got the Yankees right, but missed the Jays’ second-place finish. See the above analogy re: weather forecasting for why everybody always picks Boston to finish second or first, interchangeably with the Yankees. This division rarely surprises anybody, at least at the top, and I don’t think anybody can be punished for missing the Blue Jay rise up the table.

As for October, BP doesn’t really do postseason predictions in March – Sheehan said it himself:

Picking the results of the postseason is hard enough, and silly enough, in October. Trying to guess them in March and April is six months’ moreso.

He then goes on to pick the A’s and Braves, but without much conviction, and has the A’s winning in six.

So what does this little exercise prove? Nothing, really, except what I stated earlier – the “experts” aren’t a whole lot better at the predictions game than, say, a three year old. When you read preseason predictions, remember that – season previews are interesting reading, sure, and if you read the individual team previews you can get some valuable information, but using that information to forecast what happens six months down the road is kinda nuts.

Justice delayed is still justice

I’m not going to write about how Willie Ballgame is apparently being given the second base job to lose; I prefer to be optimistic when spring training starts, and any team with a starter named Bloomquist will kill that optimism faster than anything you can imagine. So, no Willie for me today.

Which means it’s back to the Olympics, and the news that Michelle Kwan withdrew from competition after re-injuring her groin. This is the best news of the Olympics so far.

For those of you who don’t follow such things, the way US representatives to the Olympic figure skating team are chosen is via the national championships – the top three finishers at the nationals in an Olympic year get to go to the Olympics. This makes sense – you want your best skaters to represent your country, so take the medalists from your national championships, and there you go.

There was only one problem, this year – 26-year-old Michelle Kwan, two-time Olympian, previous silver and bronze medal winner, and one of the best American skaters ever, was hurt at the time of the nationals and could not compete. One would think, at the age of 26 (8 years older than the average skater), and with her record of accomplishment, Kwan would go gently into that good night, and let some other skaters go to the Olympics.

But no – Kwan petitioned the US Skating Federation to be allowed to compete in Turin anyway, even without competing at nationals, thus bumping one of the three women that earned a spot. Kwan was given a chance, at a closed skate, to show the federation that she was able to compete, and she did just that. She was subsequently given a spot, bumping Emily Hughes off the team and setting up her fairytale last Olympics and her last shot at a gold medal.

This is completely, totally, and blatantly unfair – the Olympics are, and always have been, about performance in the present, and they’re most definitely NOT a lifetime achievement award. If you can’t qualify via the normal means, you shouldn’t be allowed to go, plain and simple. It may sound harsh, but everyone else abides by the rules – why should Kwan be allowed to bump a qualifying skater, just because she’s Michelle Kwan?

Now, of course, the Media Pathos Machine is all over this story – poor heroic Michelle, denied her one last shot at a gold, as if she needed that to validate what has been a great career. It’s all crap – she never should have tried to be on this team in the first place, because SHE MISSED NATIONALS. It’s simple. You miss qualifying, you shouldn’t qualify. She’s not gutsy, she’s not brave, she’s not being denied an opportunity, she’s just another in the long line of athletes who held on too long, didn’t know when to let go, and just generally refuses to recognize that it’s time to go away.

I know very little about ice skating – like most Americans, I watch it once every four years and that’s about it – but I always liked Michelle Kwan; this episode made me lose a lot of respect for her, though.

I promise, sometime this week, there will be baseball content in this space. Pitchers and catchers report Wednesday. Thank effing goodness.

I’m big enough to admit I was wrong

The St. Louis Cardinals are your World Series champions. This is the outcome nobody expected, and the outcome nobody outside the 314 area code particularly wanted. I myself may have belittled the Cards once or twice, but for now if I were wearing a hat I’d tip it to the Cardinals.

I don’t really pay much attention to the whole stats v. scouts debate – it’s an artificial choice, both are necessary for success – but the outcome of this series is pretty much the anti-stats-guy result. The Cardinals, let’s face it, are a weak team – offensively, they’re Pujols and not much else, and pitching-wise, they’re Chris Carpenter and what’s left of Jeff “I’m not my brother, dammit” Weaver.

The Cardinals are the World Series champions not because of numerical superiority, or because they were consistently the better team than every team they faced. The Cardinals are the World Series champions almost solely because they did what they had to do when they had to do it. They realized, even as nobody else did, that the 162 games leading into October, while valuable, are utterly irrelevant once baseball narrows down to eight teams.

October baseball is mostly about things that can’t be quantified – momentum, chemistry, clutch performances, and managerial calmness/direction. Those things make a lot of people gnash their teeth in mid-summer, and rightfully so, but when it comes down to the business end of the season, they suddenly come into play. Baseball is a game played by human beings, and never is that more apparent than in late October – if you want an indication of how relevant the X factor of humanity is, look no further than Justin Verlander last night.

This is a kid who pretty much owned the regular season – 17-9, 3.63 ERA, and can hit 100mph with his pitches with seemingly no effort. This is understandable because he uses the best baseball gloves. The kind of guy, in other words, that you want pitching when your team’s facing elimination But, he’s a kid, and it showed last night – he was sitting on the bench before the game practically wetting his pants with tension. The look on his face, to me, was a look of barely contained terror – which I’m not blaming him for, that is what some would call a “high-leverage situation” and I’d be terrified too.

100mph pitches

When the game actually started, he had pretty serious control issues, bouncing several pitches in front of the plate and causing what seemed to be most of the team to come to the mound at various times, in an attempt to settle him down. Verlander didn’t singlehandedly lose the game for the Tigers, and once he settled down he pitched well. He did, however, throw away a ball that would have gotten So Taguchi out at third, instead allowing Taguchi to advance and then score on an Eckstein ground ball.

So what I’m trying to say is, in the playoffs, intangibles do matter. Here’s one of the better pitchers in the game, and he had a pretty bad game because he was nervous. That’s what makes the playoffs so interesting – the human factor matters a lot more when there’s only seven games to be played. Separating men from mice, nutting up, and all that.

So anyway, the Cardinals are the champs, and good for them. And, in an era when you see ultra-image-conscious athletes always celebrating with their kids or piously having prayer circles after a game, how refreshing is a picture like this? It’s nice to see Eckstein throw down (although I’m glad there’s no pictures of the aftermath of draining that bottle…), especially since he’ll probably have trouble seeing over the top of the MVP trophy he won.

That was a tough one

I can’t imagine what this morning must be like for Tigers fans. That game actually turned out to be pretty good, but the Tigers lost it by several plays that could be variously described as sloppy (Fernando Rodney’s bad throw to first), unlucky (Curtis Granderson slipping in pursuit of a ball) or just cruel (Craig Monroe really, really needs Ichiro’s fishnet of a glove). Games like this are excruciating in June, and in October they’re miserable – I’d almost rather see a team get blown out than to lose by a death of a thousand cuts like this.

Now it’s 3-1 to the Cardinals, and they’ve definitely got the advantage – but as any fan of the Red Sox can tell you, 3-1 is nothin’. The Tigers finally got their hitters to hit last night – at least Pudge, who went 3 for 4, and Granderson, who doubled in a run. Now, if Magglio Ordoñez would start hitting the ball, the Tigers may yet put up a fight.

I know this was just an idle discussion item on an off day, but I seriously hope this idea never gains traction. With all the bad weather in the last few days, the idea of a neutral-site world series has been floated – and this year isn’t the first time it’s been talked about. This is a bad idea for about a million reasons. It is, first and foremost, an overreaction brought on by the incessant 24/7 coverage of all things sports – there have been three rainouts so far this postseason. Prior to this season, there were three rainouts in the decade from 1995-2005. This is also the first time there have been three rainouts in a postseason since the 1975 World Series.

Does something that happens, on average, once a year every three years, and three times a year in 30, really constitute a problem? Doesn’t seem so to me.

The other problem with the neutral-site scenario is the fans. I’m not necessarily talking about the fans that go to one or two games a year, although they’re to be considered as well – I’m talking about the season-ticket and ticket-package holders, who hork up a big wad of cash every year to watch their team try to make it to the Series. If I’m that season ticket holder, I want a reward for sitting through 81 games a year, I want to know that my efforts will be paid off by sitting in the seat I’ve sat in all season, watching my team play for a nice shiny trophy, and looking at an out of town scoreboard in October and seeing no other games on the board because my team’s one of the last two playing.

What I don’t want, if I’m that guy, is to have to fly somewhere, make hotel reservations, and thus triple or quadruple my expenses – and probably not be able to stay for the entire Series, either – in order to satisfy Fox, MLB, and whoever else is responsible for such a crazy idea. So please, Bud Selig, if you were ever taking this idea seriously (which it doesn’t seem like you are), please put it out of your mind now, OK?

And, speaking of Bud Selig, when is it time to realize that, despite what we all want to believe, Selig’s reign has actually been (hold on) good for the game? I know, I know, there’s the whole head-in-the-sand-on-steroids-until-it-was-too-late thing, but even the traditionalist in me has to recognize that the wild card has been a success, interleague play didn’t cause gravity to reverse itself, and now a new labor agreement means there will be 16 consecutive years without a strike. This is a pretty amazing run of play, considering that there were more strikes from 1970 to 1995 than at any other time in baseball’s history (I think).

This new deal was done largely in secret, but it seems like both sides just looked at each other and said “hey, guys, there’s a big fat pile of money out there with both our names on it – we’re both fat, rich, and happy, let’s keep this train moving. The Cristal and hookers don’t pay for themselves!” and went ahead and did the deal. There is an obscene amount of money in professional sports, and for the first time, baseball seemed to realize that it can be shared in such a way that there’s no “loser” in negotiations any more. I mean, really, whether you accept a 20 foot tall pile of money or a 15 foot tall one is a nice dilemma to have, and it seems that both sides have finally decided to make nice so everyone gets their pile.

As a fan of what goes on between the lines, this is great news – it means I get to watch complete baseball seasons for 6 more years, at least. How can that be a bad thing?

Things that are certain in the baseball

There are many things that are certain in the world. The sun sets in the west, water flows downhill to find its level, and birds fly south for the winter. These things just are. There are also a few things that are certain in the baseball world. The teams that score more will win more, everybody will hate the Yankees, ballpark beer is way too expensive, and the A’s will always beat the Mariners.

Last night, I turned off the Mariner game when the score hit 9-3 Oakland, convinced that the world was secure in its routine, and that the M’s would drop their 600th straight game to the A’s this season. I went to bed last night and had a bizarre dream where a friend of mine was a freelance photographer and he hired me to save him seats at stadia where he was working, and in return he let me use his kitchen. Odd.

Anyway, I wake up this morning, and I seem to read that not only did the M’s come back to beat the A’s, they came back against the A’s. And not only that, but one William Paul Bloomquist broke the tie in the 10th with a single that scored Ichiro from second base, thus assuring that Willie Bloomquist’s celebrity status as Gritty Rockstar Superhero Who Just Needs A Chance To Play Every Day is assured. Sigh. Blind squirrels, broken clocks, whatever analogy you want to use, that’s Willie Bloomquist – he’s not all of a sudden some gritty clutch performer. One at bat isn’t even close to being a small sample size. But it’s one of the best USA bats 2021 and he got the win last night, and that’s a good thing.

It’s good for a couple reasons – the M’s finally broke the hoodoo against the A’s for the year, and because it prevented the A’s from celebrating a division championship at Safeco, at least for one more night. I would really like to see the Mariners prevent that entirely, but there’s two more games left against the A’s, and it’s probably too much to ask that the M’s sweep the series. But, with nothing else to play for, why not?

So the AL West is effectively set, even without the A’s officially clinching – it’s the Yankees, Twins, Tigers, and Oakland starting next week. This is a tough call for me – three of the four teams have something to recommend them, as far as postseason bona fides go. I think for me, Detroit gets the nod, solely because they were absolutely ass in 2003 – 43 wins, 119 losses. Eccccchhhhh.

Now, here we are, three short years later, and the Tigers are 94-62 as of today. They’ve struggled a bit lately, they were at one point walking away with the division but now are in a battle with the Twins for the Central title, but damned if that isn’t one of the better turnarounds in baseball, at least in the last 20 years. The Twins themselves went worst-to-first in 1990/91, finishing 7th in the AL West at 74-88 in 1990 and winning the whole thing in 1991, but (fortunately for the Mariners) it’s a loooong way from 74-88 to 43-119.

I’ve always liked the Twins, since the Kirby Puckett years, but this season the Tigers get my AL vote. I won’t be too sad if Oakland makes it to the Series, but, y’know, it’s Oakland, the Atlanta Braves of the AL. They make the first round, and that’s about it. Then there’s the Yankees. Yeah, right. So, go Tigers.

The NL, for me, is more cut and dried. Go Mets. They’re the only lock for the playoffs thus far in the NL – even given that the level of play is less in the NL, there’s something to be said for a good pennant race, and the NL has two of ‘em. After the four-straight-home-run thing, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Dodgers win, but ultimately I’d love to see the Mets get back to the Series. My dream World Series this year, then, is Tigers-Mets, with the Mets winning in seven. Which of course means it’ll be a Yankee-Cardinal world series, with a four-game NYY sweep, but it’s nice to dream.

Buy now, before it’s too late!

I was trolling MLB Auctions this morning, out of boredom while waiting to leave the house for work. I’m not much of a sports memorabilia collector – I’m not much of a collector of anything, really, I’ve never really seen the point of having piles of stuff just sitting around gathering dust – but I do like to look at what people are for some reason willing to pay good money to own.

In the “caps” section of MLB Auctions, I found this. Yes, fans, you too can own an official, game-worn Mike Hargrove Mariners cap. You too can be the proud possessor of a soon-to-be-forgotten piece of managerial mediocrity. Imagine the touching scene, years from now:

An old man, on his deathbed, calls his young grandson to his side and says “Son, there’s something that’s not mentioned in my will, that I want you to have. It’s my most treasured piece of baseball memorabilia.” “What is it, grandpa?” asks the young lad, anticipation growing as he mentally builds a shrine to his new framed Barry Bonds jersey, or his new Hank Aaron autographed baseball, or his David Wright autographed bat.

The kid recoils from his grandpa’s bedside, as if he’d been shocked by an electric fence. “But…but…I thought…treasured…Hargrove? What? I thought you loved me!”

Yes, fans, this and many other interesting/pointless/pleasegodgetalife things (get your game ticket framed with official Shea Stadium dirt! Own your own official pitching rubber, signed by Mariano Rivera! Be the person who can tell your friends “I own a locker room chair that Derek Jeter sat on!) can be yours by visiting MLB Auctions. I mean, really. Isn’t it enough that they charge $8 for a beer at the ballpark – do they really need to go all PT Barnum on us, as well?

I guess this is where I get to enter my Cranky Old Man rant phase. Back in my day (he said, as if his day has long since passed at the ripe old age of 37), going to a game with your friends was enough. You meet up beforehand, slant a few beers, talk about baseball, and head home, knowing that, in Roger Angell’s words, “for these three hours, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be”.

Nowadays, though, the powers that be have determined that that’s not enough. Now, you have to have the full going-to-the-game Experience. Not for you merely sitting in your bleacher seat with your $2 bag of peanuts, bemoaning the fact that your team actually fielded a belly itcher, rather than a pitcher; no, MLB has determined now that you need an all-enveloping Experience, that you should be bombarded with sensory inputs from the minute you walk into the ballpark until the minute you leave, at which time you should be able to buy a memory of that game – as if your own memory wouldn’t suffice, as if you haven’t had a valid experience until you have not just the souvenir cup, the hat, and the tshirt that you bought at the park, but also the replica lineup card and the framed piece of dirt from the ballpark taken on the day of the game, as well.

This is one of the main reasons I love minor league ball so much – they don’t try to package everything as an Event or an Experience. You go, you watch some ball, you watch a dizzy bat race or something, and it’s just much more simple. I’ll never give up on MLB, but the grumpy old man in me is finding more and more to dislike about the whole Baseball Stadium Experience every year.

Championship Series decision time

I rant about this every year, and I’m not the only one. At least I don’t think I am. Every baseball season, there are 4,860 baseball games, spread out over about 180 days; on any given day, there are at least ten games on (some travel days only have a couple games, but still).

Depending on the time zone of the game being played, then, it is at least theoretically possible to watch three, maybe four baseball games a day, especially if your first game is a Cubs home game. This does not require much beyond an subscription, no job, and an intense desire to be awash in baseball. MLB feeds this addiction, with and all its related archives – a really, really cool thing if ever there was one.

It is now the postseason, and it’s the “proper” postseason, to boot. The ALCS started yesterday, and the NLCS starts today, with ALCS game two being played as well. MLB, then, is down to four teams, and a maximum of 13 more games for each of those four teams.

You would think, given this finite pool of games, that MLB would schedule the games such that anybody without a natural stake in any of the four teams involved – say, me, for instance – could watch both LCS games without any undue televisual gymnastics. After all, there’s only two games on today – how hard can it be to stagger them?

Apparently it’s really hard. Both games are on tonight at 5pm, with the Tigers on Fox and the Mets on F/X. What genius is behind this decision? If you are an MLB official, you have to be secretly thrilled that the Yankees and Red Sox are out of the playoffs, because you will hopefully draw more neutral/casual fans to the LCS’s and the World Series with “new” teams involved. So you’d think that MLB would schedule the series (serieses?) so that the maximum number of eyeballs could see each game of each series.

Sure, this would mean that one of the games might start early for us West Coasters, but what would be wrong with starting one game at 4pm ET and one at 7pm ET? That way, those of us that want to can TiVo the earlier game while we’re at work, follow it on ESPN, or listen to it, whatever, and then watch the later game as it happens, thus not missing much of the action.

But no – MLB has decided that it’s not important for fans to see both games. They do this every freakin’ year, and it’s really irritating. I’ll be watching the Mets tonight, and checking the A’s score online – this is no way to run a postseason, dammit.

As much as I dislike the Yankees, I most certainly do not wish any sort of physical harm on any of them. Unfortunately, it appears that Cory Lidle perished in a plane crash today, making the whole “will Torre stay or go and what about A-Rod” thing seem a little insignificant. It’s shades of Thurman Munson, really, and it’s too bad.