In which last year's Rookie of the Year runner-up adjusts to his opponents' adjustment in his sophomore season.
Was going to watch Yoenis Cespedes for a week because he was hitting so poorly. Was going to start watching on Tuesday, June 4. He entered the day hitting .229/.302/.447. Yes, you can spot the hole where a better BABIP would provide a convenient fill, but there were plenty of signs that Cespedes was stalled: two steals in seven tries, for instance, after swiping 16 in 20 attempts last year; a .203/.241/.414 line against right-handers, whom he had handled well in 2012.
So that’s where Cespedes was when I sat down to watch a week of him. That was in the past. Now we’re in the future! Isn’t it marvelous? Look at my cellular phone, it has a camera! Also, Yoenis Cespedes is having a good year. Just like that, Cespedes went from having a bad sophomore season for me to write about to having a pretty good season (118 OPS+) for me to write about. What happened in those seven days, you might wonder. Mostly:
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And why a few suspensions won't stop an ugly scene from occurring again.
I’m a scaredy-cat, and a pacifist, so I come to these sorts of discussions from a place that won’t appeal to everybody. When I see a pitch going toward Zack Greinke’s face, for instance, I think of it as the culmination of a violent series of events that could have easily killed a man; that it didn’t kill a man makes me only marginally less queasy about the whole thing. At the risk of going into unnecessarily macabre territory, I want to imagine that it did kill a man; the difference between that universe and ours is perhaps mere inches. Had it killed a man, there would be reckoning, soul-searching, panels to study the issue. There would be vigorous discussion about whether the criminal justice system should be brought in. There would be, mostly, an attempt to figure out how this happened, and what went wrong, and where we could have prevented it.
So how did the beanball that touched off a brawl between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks on Tuesday night happen? What went wrong? Where could somebody have prevented it?
The time a team had nothing to show for its selections.
If you were trying to find the worst draft ever, where would you start? “Bad” we could probably agree on, but “worst” would certainly lead to an argument. You might, for instance, argue that the 1968 Washington Senators (later Texas Rangers) had the worst draft ever. This is a sterling position to have. The Senators that year managed to draft -6.9 WARP, which is not only the worst draft class ever by cumulative career WARP, but it’s a) two wins worse than the second-worst class, a giant margin in an otherwise tightly packed trailerboard; and b) it came in 1968, the same year that the Los Angeles Dodgers managed a draft class that put together an incredible 192 career WARP, the most ever by any team in any single year (though it took both June and January drafts for the Dodgers to reach such peaks, just as it took Washington both June and January drafts to dig some deficits).
But those Senators were only two or six wins worse than a whole slew of other teams that were below replacement level. Why not make the case that the Giants had the worst draft ever in 1982, because their failure cost them dozens of WARP? That year, their first-round pick (11th overall) was a college first baseman who would manage to bat just .188 in 16 career at-bats. And their second-round pick (39th overall) was a high school outfielder, a local kid, who would go on to hit 762 home runs in the majors—but who, because of a failed post-draft negotiation, hit 176 of them with the Pirates, who drafted and signed him three years later. Plenty of great players get drafted, don’t sign, and end up on in another team’s history—but the Giants were sooooo close. According to columnist Glenn Dickey,
Reggie Willits, J.B. Shuck, and how lightning might be striking again in Anaheim.
Jack Burdett Shuck III was named for his father, Jack Burdett Shuck II, but has always gone by the initials J.B.. Similarly, Reggie Gene Willits was named for his father, Gene Willits, but has always gone by the initials R.G. That’s how I pronounce it, at least. I assume that’s how everybody pronounces it: R.G. Willits, written out (for aesthetic reasons, but strictly by coincidence) as “Reggie.” Pretty sure I’m right about this.
R.G. (Reggie) and J.B. have a lot in common. Both were born in smallish, Midwestern cities—Chickasha, OK (pop: 16,000) for Willits, and Westerville, OH (pop: 36,000) for Shuck. Willits’ favorite player was Kenny Lofton—he wore no. 77 in the majors in honor of Lofton, who wore no. 7. Shuck’s favorite player was Kenny Lofton, and he says the dozens of Lofton cards he owns are his most prized. Both would grow up to be large by human standards but small by baseball standards, each standing 5’ 11”. Their birthdays are separated by just two and a half weeks on the calendar, so when they were going through Little League and high school sports, they would have both been about the same age at each level. Shuck hit .576 in his senior year of high school, playing outfield and pitching; Willits hit .598 his senior year of high school, playing outfield and catching. Each went to college, and each stayed in his home state to do so. Willits was drafted in the seventh round. Shuck was drafted in the sixth.
Are we starting to see the optimization of lineups?
When you write for a team-specific blog, eventually you get to the point where you realize all those amazing and radical lineup ideas you have are wasting everybody’s time. It’s not that lineup changes have only small impacts—they do, but so what? Small margins are what team-specific blogging is all about—but that they’re usually non-starters. No manager is going to use that lineup-optimization tool; no manager is interested in hearing your The Book-inspired prescriptions. We’re not there yet. Baseball changes plenty from year to year, and has changed plenty over the past 100, but the basics of lineup constructions haven’t changed at all:
Like Mike Scioscia Face, but for managers not named Mike Scioscia.
On every major-league team, in every major-league dugout, you will find the same thing: A manager, with a face. This is important to remember if you ever find yourself filming a baseball game for a regional sports network, because the manager's face is the spine of your narrative. Every manager's face is different, but every manager's face is important, and every manager's face can be counted on to do some sort of Manager Face thingy when the manager's team screws up.
We now embark on a tour of the Manager's Faces in Major League Baseball today. The exact context of these faces isn't terribly important, but know that every face is motivated by chagrin, caused by either a team miscue (usually a bases-loaded walk, a fielding error, or bad baserunning), an umpire's call, or some sort of bad luck. We will start with our first set of 10. Others to follow at some point soon.
Is the Royals' first baseman coming out of his slump, or still struggling?
On Sunday, a baseball broadcaster informed me (and you and everyone we know) that a player on the Kansas City Royals entered the game 10 for his previous 28. “That’s a .357 average, so he’s coming,” I was told.
Eric Hosmer hasn’t done much this year, and his inability to take the great leap forward is a big reason why Kansas City’s go-for-it plan has disappointed thus far. But a .357 average, that’s pretty high, and if he’s coming, maybe the Royals would have something. It’s easy to buy into Eric Hosmer’s .357 average. It’s just easy to buy into Eric Hosmer, all the time, despite how long it’s been since he was good. He used to be so good, after all. And .357! Maybe that .357 means something.
You’ll notice that Tim Lincecum isn’t very good these days. He’s actually quite bad. It’s hard to watch him sometimes, especially when he’s matched up against a good opponent, knowing he’s become so likely to lose the battle. That’s what happens, I suppose: pitchers get older, they get worse.
Not his pitching, though. I’m talking about his hitting. Lincecum has one measly hit this season, a little groundball single through the hole between shortstop and third base. He has struck out 12 times in 16 official at-bats. Just six players—five pitchers, and Khris Davis, who R.J. brilliantly describes as “Chris Davis with more K”—have a lower contact rate on pitches in the strike zone.
Now, whenever I go to the ballpark just to watch a game and the maniac next to me in the upper deck is screaming bloody murder at the home plate ump, I think: This is someone who has never umpired; this is someone who has never come upon the sudden understanding that the strike zone is malleable by the mind, that every pitch is a puzzle, that just about every ball has strikelike qualities and almost every strike is ballish. —Bruce Weber, As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels In The Land Of Umpires
Over the years, I’ve read a lot of proofs Rob Neyer has written that I could never find again, that were tucked into longer pieces or chapters, that elude search engines or scans of his online archives, but that I have gone back to so many times in conversation and thought that they stay with me. One of these proofs was about the flimsiness of the Human Element argument, the case against instant replay that praises umpire error as a loveable quirk of the game, like Tal’s Hill or pitchers batting. Fine, Neyer said, it’s a quirk. But who’s to say that we have exactly the right amount of human element? Why not more? Why not hire only umpires with bad vision, and refuse them glasses, if the human element is so good?