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March 16, 2017

Short Relief

Disputing Crash, Remembering Bonderman, and Forgetting Pham

by Zack Moser, David Temple and James Fegan


Controlling the Means of On-Field Production

By: Zack Moser

Crash Davis was wrong. Strikeouts aren’t fascist, and groundballs aren’t democratic. It’s a dichotomy that breaks down at the slightest of prodding, a cute aphorism more fit for the maudlin pastures of Field of Dreams than the caustic battlegrounds of Bull Durham. But to understand why Crash is so wrong, we need to talk about the means of production. Our humble proletarian hurls the ball toward home plate a (seemingly) countless number of times, and we have the tools to assign blame to that pitcher when considering the consequential event.

So, strikeouts are not fascist. We know this because a pitcher produces strikeouts more or less by their own hand, receiving the credit for it not only in the box score, but in the more analytic realms of defense-independent pitching stats and DRA. The pitcher is not alienated from the labor of their pitching when the result is a strikeout; no one seeks to take control over this result, to maximize its potential profit, for the pitcher is the only one who can produce it. It’s perhaps the only non-alienating result for the pitcher, along with the walk and the home run.

Groundballs, then, are hardly democratic, at least in the sense that we understand Crash to mean. Yes, they involve multiple people, but a neat division of labor does not necessarily preclude the possibility of exploitation. The workers are forced to convert the chopper, the worm-killer, the bunt, into an out, but not of their own volition; no, they are compelled to do so to maximize the efficiency, and therefore profit, of their baseball field-cum-factory. In the box score we see “6-3.” In FIP, we see nothing. The pitcher has a modicum of control over contact that we’re now only beginning to understand, but the actions of the fielders are governed by the iron fist of outs.

Flyouts, singles, bloop doubles: these are all various forms of alienation that our pitcher experiences, the end result of a process over which they’ve relinquished control. Maybe we should have some more sympathy for Nuke Laloosh? Maybe Crash was just peddling false consciousness, designed to obscure from Nuke the true relations of production on the baseball field? Or, maybe Crash and Nuke are workers pitted against each other by the draconian game, designed to extract from them maximum outs, their livelihood dependent on making apparent their singular contributions?

There’s one thing everyone can agree on, though. Long fly balls to the warning track—now those are fascist.



What I’m Pretty Sure I Remember About Jeremy Bonderman

By: David Temple

Jeremy Bonderman balked in a run at some point. This I am sure of. I’m fairly certain that I was in attendance to witness this. At the very least, I was watching on TV. There’s no way I was only listening to this on the radio. I have a visual in my head. I’m certain that my eyes experienced this in some form.

This is the inherent problem with memories -- there is no room for the in-between. We use our phones to make lists of things we need to do in the next immediate future. We use our calendars of choice to make note of static things in the future -- a relative’s birthday, the morning a concert ticket goes on sale, the day we need to email the DMV. But there are all these things in the middle. Things that don’t require a reminder on either side.

This must be why all of our favorite historical thinkers kept journals. It wasn’t for a grand idea of history, but just so they could reminisce about the goingson in their day-to-day.

Golfers have this kind of mind -- one that can recall anything about their game at a moment’s notice. It always seems that the best golfers can tell anyone about their approach shot on the seventh hole of any round of any tournament. They can recall the ball location, the pin placement, their club selection. Having been to a fair amount of SABR conferences, I can say that certain baseball fans have this capability as well. Curlers are like this, too. Trust me, I’ve heard more stories (who knows if they’re true) of wonderful shots from yesteryear than I care to admit.

My brain is porridge. It sloshes around in my skull, trying its best. There are short-term reminders -- buy avocados, pay the cell phone bill, etc. I have birthdays and anniversaries logged somewhere. But the rest is fuzzy -- a memory of a dream. Does this happen to people? Is this an affliction?

I know Jeremy Bonderman played baseball. I know he pitched. I’m almost certain he balked in a run at some point. Did the Twins go ahead or was it a walkoff? Was this in a playoff race? A postseason series? I tried to check Baseball Reference, but my subscription has lapsed. I’ve forgotten to renew. Another casualty of the in-between.

I don’t need it. I know this happened. I was there and I probably bought a hot dog. It was in the Metrodome. I remember those days -- even as if in a fog. I bought an 81-game season ticket package for $250 that year. It was in the cheap seats, but it was tremendous. I saw so many games during that time and in one of them Jeremy Bonderman balked in a run.

Is this it? Am I destined to repeat the name of Jeremy Bonderman long after I’ve been committed? Have I been already? Did Jeremy Bonderman ever really exist? Is he the only way I know that I do?



Silent Springs

By: James Fegan

We are all cautioned against buying into or fretting over spring training results. Personally, I set an alarm that goes off every hour through the night, and blares warnings about reading into small samples of true wretchedness in the month of March. My personal relations have not suffered during this time, because my loved ones have intoned the message of the alarm.

But a month of uninterrupted stimuli that is only failure, misery and professional woe, where every day is spent in dutiful effort to perfect your chosen craft, and yet every day is still sucky and bad and a damnable disaster from conception to end, each swing a half-second late, each pitch a little wrong off the fingertips. It’s with this in mind that I glance at the bottom of the spring training statistical leaders. Out of qualified hitters -- having a qualified hitter cutoff for spring stats seems... ill-advised -- Jorge Soler is sitting second-to-last at a .417 OPS. Wednesday found him celebrating his first extra-base hit of Cactus League play, so now he can simply rationalize everything as being in the past.

That was probably the best I've felt in the box since the beginning of Spring Training,” Soler told MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan, using 2010 first round pick Christian Colon as his interpreter for some reason.

As annoying as small sample spring troubles can be, Soler knows you can just dismiss them with even smaller samples: ‘I was lost in an impenetrable fog and forgot which end of the bat to hold, but then I hit a double. Because everything is fixed now.’ This is veteran ‘by your own logic’ work from the 25-year-old.

But Soler was the star of a major offseason trade, he has been designated as a focal point of the Royals offense. He has far more implicit reason to ignore even a full month and a half than say, Tommy Pham, 29-year-old spare St. Louis Cardinals outfielder.

A surprising story of success in 2015, and a less surprising story of adequacy in 2016, Pham has history in the organization. Cards Twitter bequeathed him a catchphrase (“Phammer Time!”), which may or may not be hastening his demise, but now he has a .495 OPS and no extra-base hits for the spring.

On March 10, Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said Pham “seems to be competing” with Jose Martinez for a roster spot. On Tuesday, Hummel asked “will Jose Martinez ever get out again?” and made specific mention that Pham has a minor league option left. On Wednesday Derrick Goold made note of a double that snuck by Pham’s glove in center.

Last week Pham bruised his finger during a bunting drill, and the night after that he was alone walking when he came to the top of a steep, black metal staircase. The wind gained a great fury as he leaned his face out over its top edge and glimpsed down its menacing slope and peered at the bottom. He heard a deep moan of the metal contracting in the icy breeze, and felt a warm push at the back of his neck, like a familiar voice whispering to him, beckoning him.

If you’re worrying about other people and you lose the focus on yourself, you’re going to gradually fade away,” Pham told Hummel last Monday. But fading insinuates time. A call into the manager’s office is the smallest sample there is.




Zack Moser is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zack's other articles. You can contact Zack by clicking here
David Temple is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see David's other articles. You can contact David by clicking here
James Fegan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see James's other articles. You can contact James by clicking here

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