Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Worst Managed Game I've Ever Seen

Jim Riggleman should feel honored. Despite having literally no clue
about what happens during a game of baseball, he's managed to get what
should be an awful team to a semi-respectable record. And he will keep
his job despite offering unquestionable proof he doesn't have any
business possessing it. Two moves he made both constituted the dumbest
things I'd ever seen, both of which were dictated "by the book" only
if one read the title of said book and disregarded every shred of
common sense.

As a thought experiment, consider the circumstances in which you would
walk Eli Whiteside to pitch to Aubrey Huff.

If you said "if there's a left-handed pitcher pitching," you are Jim Riggleman.

If you said "only if there are being runners on first and second in
the bottom of the ninth and either no outs or one out and Aubrey Huff
suffering from late-stage Lou Gehrig's disease," you aren't even a
baseball genius or an intelligent baseball observer, you have merely
reached the status of "sentient being."

Were this the only example of being governed by abstract percentages
that don't make sense in reality, it'd be one thing. But the next
inning, with the game on the line because the move that couldn't
possibly work out didn't work out, he did the same thing. Mike Morse
is coming to the plate. While Mike Morse playing left field would lead
you to excuse most managers for having a losing record, that's not the
point here. So Morse is on deck, Sergio Romo, a right-handed pitcher,
is on the mound. But there's a left hander ready in the bullpen.

The move -- by the book and by the numbers -- is to pinch hit Laynce
Nix. Riggleman's good so far. The Giants, predictably, counter by
bringing in a left-handed pitcher.

Jim Riggleman goes back to the book of baseball in the abstract (not
Bill James' historical abstract, obviously) and sends a right-handed
batter to the plate in the form of ... Brian Bixler.

Let's just stop and say "wow" for a minute. There are precisely zero
circumstances where replacing Laynce Nix with Brian Bixler make sense.
(That includes late-stage Lou Gehrig's disease for Nix.) You're down
one. You pinch hit Nix (a mediocre hitter prone to occasional spurts
of prodigious power) for a mediocre hitter prone to occasional spurts
of prodigious power. Morse and Nix are basically the same, Nix just
has demonstrated his power this year and hits right-handed pitching
better. So. By the book, obvious, bush league stuff. And you know what
happens -- they'll substitute their LOOGY because they've seen the
book too.

Nope. Not if you're Riggleman. If you're Riggleman, you twirl your
fiendish handlebar moutache and say "aha! But I have a secret weapon!"
and pinch hit someone who's only in the major leagues because he can
field and the Nationals suffered an injury to the one player they
didn't anticipate getting hurt, rendering their utility man an
everyday player. But some weapons are a secret because they pose no
threat to anyone, and one of those is a light-hitting slap-hitter who
could only maximize his potential by getting hit with a pitch (an
outcome rarely governed by platoon splits).

Just comparing Nix and Bixler by itself makes the move stupid, but it
also eliminates (1) versatility -- presumably, when one of your bench
players is Matt Stairs, you will be needing someone who can pinch run
and play the position of the player for whomever Stairs (with
apologies to Jonny Gomes, the only DH in the NL) pinch hits. Now, the
bench is Alex Cora and Matt Stairs. (2) the possibility of the only
useful outcome, given that the team has mustered two hits, one of
which should have been scored an error, and you're at the WORST part
of the astonishingly bad lineup. Even if Bixler gets a hold of one
(and gets hit with a pitch), you have a runner on first for guys who
are all woeful hitters (Desmond has, despite a 3-for-3 day on Friday,
an OBP under .300, Hairston was recently spotted batting under . 100,
and then it's the pitcher's spot for whom your options, if you let Nix
bat, are Stairs, Cora, and Bixler. In other words, if the guy batting
in Morse's spot with one out doesn't hit a home run, it won't make a
damn bit of difference. A single just means another man left on base.

So Bixler bats, manages to use the candy cane that he uses for a bat
to hit it to shallow center, and ends the belief that the Nationals
could possibly win the game for themselves.

Brian Wilson nearly remedied this, but instead, the Nationals leave
the bases loaded for the third time in a game in which they had TWO
hits (again, one of which was a hit in the same sense that miniature
golf is golf).

And that's why Jim Riggleman should be replaced by the computer that
wrote Moneyball, Grady Little, or whatever actor played the
kid-manager in Little Big League. Or his hitting coach (Rick Eckstein,
brother of 5-time MLB grit leader/top Grit salesman David Eckstein)
should, despite the fact that by all accounts he is an incredibly nice
and decent human being who donated a kidney to save a family member's
life) have one kidney more than he has jobs.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This week's stupidest thing I've ever read

This week, it comes from Roger Goodell. This should come as no surprise. I have despised his tenure with the NFL, and, unlike Bud Selig, whom I disagree with vehemently and dislike immensely, I don't see that Goodell has done anything positive for his sport. Selig's all-star game chicanery, wild cards and interleague play all offend me, but most people like them. Most people will probably like his attempt to further dilute the playoffs, but I'll probably discuss that later.  Goodell has issued an inexplicable series of suspensions for off field conduct that brought MORE attention to the conduct under the pretense that the conduct was hurting the league, when the NFL is, in my experience, completely immune from righteous indignation.

To wit, how many people are buzzing about these off-field incidents:
-Leonard Little killed a person in a traffic accident when he was driving drunk. Then, six years later, he got another DUI.
-Rae Carruth attempted to murder someone while in the NFL -- he was a first round pick, not some practice squad scrub.
-Ray Lewis was arrested for murder, but ultimately acquitted.
-Lawrence Taylor was arrested for pretty much everything involving drugs and sex at some point.

These are all serious issues. But they weren't major stories that rivaled the games themselves. Goodell put the spotlight on guys like Pacman Jones and Chris Henry.

Anyway, as to the actual retardery, Here's Goodell's parade of horribles:
No draft. "Why should there even be a draft?" said player agent Brian Ayrault. -- That's great. You are quoting an agent. You're not quoting a player or anyone tied to the NFLPA, but you're identifying an agent.  You can quote me on this "Why should there even be an NFL commissioner?"  I think that if you consulted the NFLPA, there'd be nearly unanimous support for the draft, because the draft 1) means money (just broadcast revenue for the draft is substantial), 2) hasn't prevented teams from going nuts in paying players even with a salary cap, but 3) does ensure that the money doesn't all go to players upon entry into the league, so there is money spread around to the guys getting drafts in the third and fourth rounds. VERDICT: Not the players.

No minimum team payroll.  This, Roger, is an OWNERSHIP problem. Some teams will have lousy owners. But you know how fans can solve that? Not go to Bengals games. They did it even during the salary cap era.  The players may be doing a lot of things, but they aren't crusading to eliminate the minimum team payroll. And your point that there will be substantial salary disparity between teams? You know, baseball's gotten worse over the last decade with this disparity, but their revenues are better than ever. You know why? Because they're more years removed from a stupid work stoppage that killed interest in the sport and fans don't really care that much about parity, because most sports fans are fair-weather fans. VERDICT: Not the players and complete red herring.

No minimum player salary. Again, Roger, this isn't what the players are going for. This is what they're willing to accept given that you won't even continue the ludicrously unfair CBA that your owners opted out of to try and add a second deck to the sedan chairs in which they commute to and from games. VERDICT: Not the players.

No standard guarantee to compensate players who suffer season- or career-ending injuries. Who exactly are you trying to convince? The players? This is, again, something that 1) could be negotiated, and 2) is a concern primarily because you subject players to unsafe working conditions and you're trying to make them even more unsafe.  Given that contracts aren't guaranteed, players have virtually no protection on this to begin with. If you're going to suffer a career ending injury, you'd be much happier in MLB.  VERDICT: Not the players and not of concern to fans.

No league-wide agreements on benefits. Yes, I'm familiar with what it means to not operate under a CBA. Your benefits are pretty lousy to begin with. Just ask Dave Duerson or Mike Webster. VERDICT: Not the players and not of concern to fans. it only took six of these and you finally got to one.

No limits on free agency. It only took six of these and you finally got to one that was both relevant and of some interest to fans.  Alas, it's not even sort of realistic. The players' association isn't likely to seek free agency after one year in the league. They have to recognize that it would create even more instability in the league. And your expressed concern that non-elite teams would serve as farm teams for superior teams...well, that's hilarious, because 1) that already happens, it's just that every team is a "farm team" for the Redskins, who will overpay broken down players that have big names and 2) it's the goddamned NFL, there's no farm teams because there's a ludicrously small percentage of players in the league who play long enough to reach free agency.  Even those who do are usually priced well beyond their actual ability to contribute -- Albert Haynesworth is really the poster child of the Goodell-era NFL. I honestly can't think of a game-changing free agent that's changed teams since Deion Sanders in about 1995. Teams find contributors in free agency, they don't build teams that way.  VERDICT: not a realistic interpretation of the players' demands or likely outcomes.

No league-wide rule limiting the length of training camp or required off-season workout obligations. Yep, that's what not having a CBA means. This doesn't mean anything to fans. And, under your jeremiad scenario, all the players are free to sign wherever they want, and I doubt that Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson, Steve Smith, DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen are all going to sign with the New York Giants when they find out that they have an 8 month offseason training camp with 2-a-days all year. So owners would have to be reasonable or else they'd be shooting themselves in the foot anyway. That tends to lead to equilibrium and agreement. VERDICT: not of relevance to fans, not realistic.

No league-wide testing program for drugs of abuse or performance enhancing substances. This matters to baseball fans. This means absolutely nothing to NFL fans. Your league is roided to high heaven to begin with, your testing program has caught about two players in history (I can recall two that actually stayed suspended-- Todd Sauerbrun's steroid-laden punting foot and Shawne Merriman), both of whom have suffered the backlash not giving a damn. Pat and Kevin Williams got suspended, I don't think they've served their suspensions and it's been years.) VERDICT: not of relevance to fans.

So, do I want the NFL you predict? You know what? I'd be just fine with it. If your owners had any sense, they wouldn't pay what they do for free agents, so having a free-for-all whereby everyone bids $200 million for Albert Haynesworth and actually guarantees $2 million of it would be awesome. Operating outside a CBA (which is not going to happen) will potentially hurt marginal players, but they're basically unprotected under the current ludicrously owner-fellating regime, so it wouldn't make much difference. And, at the end of the day, all of the predictions you summon are entirely of your own creation. The players have never taken a hard bargain with you on anything except the 18 game schedule and occasionally the franchise tag. You could have easily gotten a salary cap that increased incrementally and not had to cough up more revenue. You chose to blow up the contract. I hope to heaven that it destroys your league's stranglehold on the United States, but at the very minimum, it ought to result in the players in your league ending its at-will employment policy. Employers who hire and fire at will don't usually add the insult of putting it in a contract that makes it look like you have a job.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


So I'm listening to Joe Posnanski's Poscast (with Michael Schur -- Cousin Mose/creator of the ludicrously overrated Parks and Recreation), this week they're doing a Baseball Book Fantasy Draft. I'd been holding off on listening to it, because it seemed like a really fun idea. I'm pretty disappointed thus far, but the thing that was most annoying is familiar to people who know me.

With the first pick, unsurprisingly, Michael Schur picks Moneyball -- the single most overrated book in the history of hyperbolous statements. While I understand the many reasons why Moneyball is wrongly criticized by baseball purists, it's a ludicrously overrated book that has become more overrated as Billy Beane's career arc has continued. People still read it as genius and laud praise on Billy Beane.

Posnanski is now guilty as an accomplice of dismissing the best criticism -- which is that the A's success was really about Hudson, Mulder, and Zito more than it ever was about on-base percentage or Billy Beane's "genius". But the numbers don't lie. The A's on-base percentage was never near the top of the league when they were good, and stripping it to "seeking undervalued commodities in a market" is effectively stripping the book to an idea that is absurd. Every GM is seeking undervalued commodities, some of them are just really dumb.

Anyway, I'd put together a much longer screed on this subject in response to Schur's paean to Jeremy Brown "retiring for personal reasons" on fire joe morgan.

It even elicited a response from him, which was "Well, I dish it out, so I can take it.  I would add that (1) surprise-bunting for a GW single is a lot different from the kind of 1st-inning sac bunting that Beane eschews, and (2) DePo was run out of L.A. by idiot beat writers who didn't like his personality.  Dodger fans sure like Brad Penny, though, and they sure don't miss Adrian Beltre, and they like Derek Lowe, and they sure don't miss Paul Lo Duca or Juan Encarnacion...and they sure as hell hate Ned Colletti and Grady Little.  DePo was a douchey guy, apparently, but he made some great moves for that team.


So I stand by my criticisms. Moneyball is an interesting book, but if you really tried to run a team by the principles it presents, you would have a team that bears literally no resemblance to any of Billy Beane's teams, which were driven by steroids (Giambi, Tejada) consensus high-value pitching (Zito (9th overall pick) and Mulder (2nd overall pick), and players drafted by (surprise) someone else -- Giambi (drafted by Alderson in 1992), Tim Hudson (6th round pick drafted by Alderson in 1997), and Eric Chavez (1st round pick drafted by Alderson in 1996 - 10th overall). Other than the consensus high picks, Beane's drafts resulted in...five players with greater than 10 WAR: Joe Blanton, Eric Byrnes, Rich Harden, Nick Swisher, and Andre Ethier (who he gave away for Milton Bradley). Lest that still sound adequate (it sure beats Mark Shapiro's drafting in that span), keep in mind that at the time Moneyball was published in 2003, only Harden and Byrnes had made the majors, let alone achieved "greatness".

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thought from Nationals Park #2

Rick Ankiel is one of the most underappreciated stories in baseball.
He was a phenom, a dynamite pitcher who looked like he'd win 20 for
years, but then became worthless and couldn't hit the broad side of a

And then, relying on a skill he'd barely had to use and had no reason
to rely on, he still was good enough to make it as a hitter.

He's not great, far from it, he's a player whose reputation outstrips
his actual talent, but in the absence of a complete meltdown, the
guy's a pitcher. HGH or not, that's pretty remarkable.

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Thought from Nationals Park

If there's a sadder phrase than "pinch hitter Alex Cora", I've
certainly never heard it.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Welcome back, FJM!

Rather than start a blog called Fire Howard Bryant, I'm going to point out some of the myriad problems with this article. It is only that I feel comfortable that my blog will not generate more than three or four hits on this piece of garbage that I can do so in good conscience. (In true FJM style, his words are in italics, mine are not.)

Barry Bonds, baseball's all-time home run leader and from 2000 to 2004 easily the most dominant player since Babe Ruth, will wake up Thursday as a convicted felon.

Or a cockroach, if Kafka was onto something. Maybe even a porpoise. That'd be totally cool.

A San Franciso [sic] jury convicted him of obstruction of justice.

If only they'd been given rice-a-roni.  It was not a San Francisco jury.  He was tried in the Northern District of California, so that means there were people in the jury panel from Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Salinas, Oakland, Eureka, San Jose.  But, obviously, the jury's potential residence in a large city makes it very different. If this were one of those god-forsaken Petaluma juries, they'd just be off their rocker and Bonds would be an untainted legend of the game.

Roger Clemens, arguably the game's greatest pitcher, faces the possibility of a similar fate.

I think if you argue that Clemens is the game's greatest pitcher, you are arguably an idiot, but fine, he was a great pitcher. 

Seven times a Cy Young Award winner, Clemens will go on trial this summer for lying to Congress.

Once, twice, three times a Cy Young winner...uh...this sentence has been brought to you by the Commodores.

Monday, April 04, 2011

I've missed this season.

It's kind of remarkable how out of the loop actually going to games
has left me. I've managed to see two total, when if I'd gone to no
games (and had been at home), I'd probably be up to at least six.

In the meantime, the Orioles are 3-0, the Rays (who the O's swept) are
0-3, the Red Sox are 0-3. I'm now waiting for the light rail at BWI,
so I'll surely be witnessing the end of this streak against the

The Reds managed to sweep the team that was supposed to surpass them,
even though the Reds started someone with mono in game 3 and trailed
by 3 in the ninth in Game 1.

Chicago was interesting enough, we covered a lot of ground, saw some
friends, and managed to not blow through much money -- which is of
some significance at the moment. I got back this morning and began
this circuitous journey. Since the game is during the day and during
the week in Baltimore, parking would be a nightmare (my standby garage
that's normally $10 is $26, I think?). Plus, I've already had my car
parked at BWI for over 72 hours, so I'm paying for four days anyway.
So I had to take a 4:40 am train to Midway, fly to Baltimore, take the
shuttle bus to the daily parking garage to drop off my luggage, take
the next shuttle bus back to the terminal, then walk the length of the
terminal to the light rail (since I've never taken it before and had
no idea where it was -- and was about take the other regional rail).
After the game ends (at rush hour, conveniently enough), I'll have to
take the train back and then drive to DC.

Let's just say I'm really committed to seeing a game I'm marginally
interested in seeing.

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Friday, April 01, 2011

Live from the Friendly Confines...

Wrigley Field is no Fenway Park. It's a wonderful place, mind you, but
it doesn't generate the sheer stadium envy that Fenway did.

Admittedly, the 50-55 degree temperature difference between when I was
at Fenway (last July 3-4, both days checked in north of 90, but were
comfortable at Fenway) may have made part of the difference, but
there's a lot that's lost by having the bleachers separate from the

It's somehow even colder than yesterday's foray to Nationals Park and
the rain seems to pose more of a threat to the game (though for a
second day in a row, I'm inadvertently under cover).

We'll see how the game goes. It's about as dull an affair as you can
muster with Dempster going against Kevin Correia. It's the kind of
game that makes you grateful to have the legendary Fausto Carmona on
your club.

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