Breaking down the debate about sabermetrics between Brian Kenny and Hawk Harrelson.
I don’t know how we got to this point, but the long-awaited grudge match between White Sox color commentator Hawk Harrelson and MLB Network broadcaster Brian Kenny (with occasional contributions from Harold Reynolds) took place last night. Everyone was polite, nobody got sent to the hospital, and Hawk launched a thousand indignant tweets. You can see the whole thing through the miracle of YouTube, if you have ten minutes to spare for Hawk to say five minutes’ worth of sentences twice:
Does public criticism of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo help the Cubs?
Robert W. Chambers was one of the more successful authors in what may well have been the heyday of written fiction in America at the turn of the previous century, and he’s an interesting example of how writers were far less constrained to a single genre back then. During his lifetime, Chambers was mostly known (and read) for his romantic fiction, which produced several bestsellers. He also wrote war stories and historical fiction, as well as a handful of illustrated children’s books.
Nowadays, to the extent he’s remembered at all, it’s for his contributions to the field of horror. His best-remembered work is a collection of short stories called “The King In Yellow,” which contains several stories about a play titled (yes) “The King In Yellow.” Chambers only ever quotes from the first act, which characters describe as banal and innocent. The second act, however, is so terrifying and horrible (and so filled with awful truths) that it drives those who read its text or see it performed utterly insane. Chambers never reveals the contents of the second act in full, only hinting at its contents obliquely:
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Writers didn't want to induct anybody into the Hall of Fame this year, a decision with no small consequences.
The writers struck out looking. They were lobbed a fat pitch over the heart of the plate and they failed to even take a swing at it. Defenders will note, correctly, that it isn’t the ninth inning. But it was the last at-bat of the eighth, and they face an exceedingly difficult challenge in coming back to win this thing.
The biggest takeaway is that there is a sizable contingent of voters who will refuse to vote for any player, no matter how qualified, if there’s the barest taint of steroids on him, up to and including “playing the majority of his career after 1993.” Many will cast this as a referendum on Bonds and Clemens, two of the sports’ greatest stars who ended up in legal hot water over the use of performance-enhancing drugs. But a litany of deserving players, including Biggio, Bagwell, Piazza, and others, have been punished too, with little more than hearsay to incriminate them. This was a well stocked ballot, filled with newcomers with impressive resumes and a handful of players (like Raines and Trammell) who have been sadly overlooked. It’s easy for even a seasoned analyst to find himself having to trim his list to meet the 10-player limit established by the voting process.
The Rockies and Marlins recently hired managers without any prior major-league managerial experience, and they're not the only teams to do it. Colin explains it all.
The Colorado Rockieshave announced the hiring of new manager Walt Weiss, and it’s an interesting case study in what might be a new trend in managerial hiring. Weiss had a long and fine career as a player, split mainly between Oakland and Colorado. After that, he turned to coaching… at the high school level. Weiss is making the jump straight to the majors from Regis Jesuit High School (although notably he has been a minor-league instructor and scout in the Rockies’ system until now.)
Weiss wasn’t even the most inexperienced manager under consideration by the Rockies; they were seriously considering Jason Giambi, who actually played for the team in 2012. Such a thing would not have been entirely unprecedented—through much of baseball history it wasn’t unheard of to have players themselves managing—but it’s certainly not very common these days.
When I was younger, I was (you’ll be shocked by this, I’m sure) fascinated by space. I learned about the planets and their orbits and their names and their colors (and I learned that there were nine of them—oops). Among my prized collection of space-themed t-shirts was one from the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, which depicted the planets in their orbit around the sun. I loved looking at that shirt and picturing the planets as they moved throughout their orbits. And I learned about distant stars and how they worked and what the constellations were.
Now. Learning about the gasses that make up the atmosphere of Venus (hint: if you are ever on Venus, BRING AIR) is pretty cut and dried; it is objective. Learning that it’s called Venus and that it’s a planet is somewhat less so (especially now that there is now some actual controversy over what, exactly, is and isn’t a planet). But it’s a discussion grounded in fact, where the disputes are largely about how we express the reality, not the underlying reality.
Has the Division Series format for 2012 put some teams at a home field disadvantage?
Today, the Oakland A’s and Detroit Tigers face off in an elimination game for both teams, with the winner advancing to the League Championship Series round. The A’s looked almost certain to be eliminated last night until they mustered some late-inning heroics, scraping together a three-run ninth against Tigers closer Jose Valverde.
On paper, the A’s were the higher seed coming into this series and thus were entitled to the greater home field advantage. But without last night’s miraculous win, the A’s were never going to see the benefit of their better record, due to the format of the five-game series. In order to cut down on travel days, MLB has switched to a 2-3 format—two games at home for the lower seed, then three games at home for the higher seed. In the 2-2-1 format it replaced, the team with the better record gets to take, well, advantage of their home field advantage if the series runs to three games or five games, with only a four-game series depriving them of that benefit. In the current setup, the series has to run five games for them to see the benefit of their higher seeding.
A look at Seattle's plans to move in the fences of their ballpark to boost offense.
Over time, baseball teams develop identities, and even if the players change, the identities stay the same. The Yankees (and the Red Sox, for that matter) have cultivated a slow, plodding, methodical style of three-true-outcomes baseball that scores lots of runs and takes its time doing it. The Cubs, until recently, were the team who struck out the world when pitching and wouldn’t take a walk to save their lives. The Twins were all about manufactured runs and control pitchers.
The Mariners have an identity, based largely around 1-0 losses and the brutal, crushing inevitability of death. And some of this can be attributed to the players—this is the team that has tried Adam Kennedy as a designated hitter in recent years. But as Egon Spengler put it, “It's not the girl, Peter, it's the building!” Safeco Park has been absolutely brutal on offense. This has probably not had much of an effect on wins and losses—what Safeco takes way from offense it gives back to pitching and defense. So Safeco isn’t causing the Mariners to lose, it’s just subtracting from the sum total of joy and happiness in the universe.
It would be an exaggeration, but not TOO great of one, to say that everything I’ve learned in life I’ve learned from the Christian Bible, The Book, Babylon 5 and the British sitcom Yes, Minister. In the last of those, cabinet minister Jim Hacker has to deal with the difficulty of balancing the demands of politics with the machinations of the civil servants supposedly serving him (and occasionally, with the notion of actually doing the right thing).
In one episode, the new leader of the fictional country of Buranda is visiting the UK in hopes of purchasing some oil rigs that the government is very keen to sell to them. Hacker has set up a visit between Buranda’s president and the queen as a way to deliver a state visit to some “marginal constituencies” (the equivalent of swing districts) immediately before an election. His brilliant plan seems to backfire, though, after the leader of Buranda gives them an advance copy of the speech he plans to make, where he urges the Scots and Irish to fight British oppression. A panicked Hacker sounds out his chief source of advice, Sir Humphrey Appleby:
Does a look at Stephen Strasburg's PITCHf/x data reveal what might have caused the Nationals to shut him down early?
Tonight in New York is the “not” heard round the world: the game Stephen Strasburg would have been pitching if the Nationals hadn’t shut him down ahead of schedule, due to problems “mentally concentrating” that the Nationals blame on the level of media attention to the team’s plans to shut him down.
The Nationals have a strong lead in the NL East, so they are unlikely to miss his performance in one game, or for the rest of the regular season, very much. The larger issue surrounding Strasburg is the impact of losing him for the postseason. When the Nationals instituted their plan for Strasburg at the beginning of the season, it made a lot of sense for a young team with slim hopes of making the playoffs to protect one of their most valuable (and most fragile) players from injury. With the Nationals heavily favored to make the playoffs, though, some Nationals fans are likely to be disappointed if their team’s ace isn’t available for a single game of the postseason.
How much should the age of a team's present roster affect our forecasts for its future success?
Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man—
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem'd
To his great heart none other than a God!
I ask'd thee, "Give me immortality."
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
Like wealthy men who care not how they give.
But thy strong Hours indignant work'd their wills,
And beat me down and marr'd and wasted me,
And tho' they could not end me left me maim'd
To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
Immortal age beside immortal youth,
And all I was in ashes.
- “Tithonus,” by Alfred Tennyson
There is an uneasy overlap between sabermetric analysis and forecasting things to come. To be sure, not all prognostication (not even most of it, I would say) comes from sabermetricians, people who would call themselves sabermetricians, or even people who are well versed in the work of sabermetricians. At the same time, the sort of skillset and temperament required to do sabermetrics frequently leads one to the conclusion that predicting baseball is hard and that the sum of what we don’t know about the future often exceeds the sum of what we do know.