Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

It’s another Friday afternoon, and you find yourself surfing the interwebs, desperately seeking something to occupy the last few hours of your work day before you leap out the doors of your office and into the warm embrace of a summer weekend. I’ve been there. I know exactly how you’re feeling: It’s too early to leave work, but far too late to start up anything new. What to do? What to do? How about checking out this week’s Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday to kill those last few minutes before the weekend?

The Red Sox Are Coming

I know I’m totally playing into a whole media created frenzy (hopefully, it won’t result in me getting hit by a pitch), but I love it when the Red Sox or Yankees come to town (my town being Toronto) for a weekend series. Obviously, there’s an element of seeing the best players in baseball, and those two teams usually have a fair share of those types on their active rosters, but whenever these Boston or New York visit, the games somehow feel more legitimate, bigger, meaningful.

As ugly as it is, I understand the root of these feelings. Visits from the two AL East rivals are the closest that Toronto has come in recent times to having a game on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball or broadcast throughout the U.S. on FOX or TBS. And as someone living in Toronto it’s my sworn duty to seek out the validation of others. Games against New York and Boston do this. It’s a time for people covering the game on a larger scale than our own piddly regional coverage, to see what we see all the time. To watch Jose Bautista hit home runs (hopefully). To fawn over the way Yunel Escobar is getting on base and to realize that the Adam Lind of 2009 is the real Adam Lind.

This weekend’s series between the Blue Jays and Red Sox is further buoyed by my friend Gabe coming to town see his beloved Red Sox.  Born in New England, now happily married with a daughter in Montreal, we became fast friends during the summer of 2006 based solely on our love of baseball. Our friendship now extends beyond this, but without long discussions and arguments about Blue Jays and Red Sox over pitchers of beer that summer, I doubt we would’ve ever become anything more than acquaintances.

So, I suppose in the end, the Boston Red Sox are good for something after all.

Don’t Look Back In Anger

Staying with the weekend Sox and Jays series for a moment, it was suggested that the Boston Red Sox might be a tad miffed over the Yankees going ahead with last night’s game despite the incredibly late 10:30 PM start time due to inclement weather.

I’m sure that Boston got over any feelings of mistreatment by not only winning the game and further cementing their status atop the AL East standings, but also by noticing that the Yankees had just as far to travel for Friday night’s game as they did. While the Red Sox come to Toronto for a 7:07 PM start, New York travels to Cleveland to begin a three game set with the Indians beginning at 7:05 PM. Both Toronto and Cleveland are roughly 500 miles, or 800 kilometres, from New York.

Lance Berkman

We were talking about Lance Berkman around the office after the right fielder (!) hit his 15th home run of the season yesterday. His OPS at this point in the season (1.080) is currently .300 points higher than it was last year (.781). The secret to his success: swinging more at fastballs and making contact on them.

Over the course of last season, Berkman only swung at 37.4% of the fastballs that he saw. This year, that number is up to almost 50%. Swinging is one thing, but what about making contact? Berkman’s contact numbers from last year to this year on four seamers has improved from 14.6% to 22.2%. And this is all while facing a lower percentage of fastballs this year compared to last.

In addition to the contact rate improvements, Berkman has also hit seven of his 15 home runs this season off of four seam fastballs. Last year, he hit four in total off four seamers.

On Grantland

Reading through a few pieces on the new Grantland website, an admittedly small sample, I get the same feeling as listening to an album of songs that all sound alike. There’s a formula to all the pieces: take something from the sports world, attempt to make it far more culturally relevant than it is, and permeate it with as much pop cultural and personal nostalgia as possible. Alliterations don’t seem to hurt either.

Feedback Wanted

We souped up our podcast (which you can subscribe to, right here) and included the audio from our live streams in Getting Blanked’s iTunes feed, and now we’re kind of wondering what you guys think about it all. We’ve always sort of run on the charm of being as unprofessional as possible, but personally, I really like the bumpers, intros and outros classing up the whole production.

Is this a shark jump or a much needed improvement?

Also, we had our 1,000th post this week. Thanks a lot guys for keeping me employed. Your support in visiting the website and the discussion in the comments section have both surpassed any expectation.

On Marc Rzepczynski

For many of us, it might have seemed strange to watch Marc Rzepczynski unravel during the series against Kansas City, but as much as I like the lefty reliever, it was bound to happen. Only three relievers in the American League hit the zone less than Rzepczynski, and only twelve relievers in the AL have a better swinging strike rate. In other words, a large portion of Rzepczynski’s early season success was based on players swinging at bad pitches. The Royals must have noticed this prior to Toronto coming to town, and boy did they exploit it. Of the seven batters he faced in the series, he walked four of them and gave up a hit after getting behind in the count 2-0.

The Highlight Game Of The Week

Last night’s San Diego Padres / Washington Nationals game was rife with incredible highlights, and of course I can’t really show you any of them (thanks MLB), at least until I learn how to capture video and make animated GIFs. So, until then, you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that these were all pretty incredible plays:

First, in the bottom of the third, Chris Denorfia hit a liner directly at Livan Hernandez that he snagged more out of survival than anything else.

Then in the fifth inning, Padres top prospect Anthony Rizzo collected his first ever Major League hit in his first ever Major League game. It was a triple that seemed to defy physics and bounce off the wall in the opposite direction of what anyone would’ve expected including Nationals center fielder Rick Ankiel.

Rizzo then paid for his luck in the seventh when Ian Desmond hit a foul ball that was just out of reach on the first base side. Unfamiliar, with the confines of Petco Park, Rizzo slammed into the barricade as seen in this blur of pain below.

Then, for the final out of the eighth inning, Danny Espinosa was absolutely robbed of a home run by Will Venable.

Not bad for a 7-3 game between the Nationals and Padres.

Shameless Self Promotion

Check out our facebook page by clicking here, and if you’re into it, try “liking” us to get updates in your facebook news feed. We’ve started to make it more than just a dumping ground for links, including exclusive videos and other tumblr style posts. And staying on the social media train, you can also follow me on Twitter here so that we can make snarky comments together during baseball games.

Popularity Contest

The most popular players to look up on Baseball Reference this week were:

  • Derek Jeter
  • Albert Pujols
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Ichiro! Suzuki
  • Jose Reyes

In the past two weeks, I’ve visited (as evidenced by the purple, not blue, colour of the link) nine of the ten most visited. My perfect record, like most things, was ruined by Chipper Jones.

At FanGraphs, the most popular players today were:

  • Ichiro! Suzuki
  • Johnny Venters
  • Jonathon Niese
  • Jose Bautista
  • Brad Halsey

Conclusion: Nerds are awesome.

Bringin’ It All Back Home

I started off today’s ten stray thoughts writing about Toronto’s (and my) need for acknowledgment and validation, even with the sports teams we choose to support. Well, this should help get you through the weekend: Major League Baseball has set up a meaningless poll to find out who you’d like to see participate in this year’s home run derby. At the moment, Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols are leading the votes.

Has there ever been a Blue Jays player more recognized than Jose Bautista? I know that Roy Halladay was probably a better player, at least over a longer time, but I’ve always felt as though he was somewhat under appreciated by everyone outside of Toronto who wasn’t the President of the United States. Carlos Delgado would probably be the most recognized Blue Jays player before Halladay, but I don’t think I was worldly enough during Delgado’s reign to recognize his status among baseball fans outside of Canada. Roberto Alomar was great too, but was he leading fan balloting for All-Star Games?

It’s an interesting question that’s probably best answered by someone outside of the Blue Jays fan circle. So, please, if you can help me out, have at it in the comments.