Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

It’s Friday . . . again. You know the routine. This is the opening paragraph to my Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday column where I tell you it’s all going to be okay, and that you’ve only got a little bit more time to put in before you can enjoy the weekend.

Then, I go on to list nine actual thoughts about baseball and one piece of shameless self promotion where I tell you all the ways you can further my career by “liking” my work on facebook, following me on Twitter and reading my column at Baseball Prospectus. Nothing in this world is free, man.

The formula may be a little played, but you know what, it’s kind of fun to write, so hopefully it’s as much fun to read. If not, check out Jeff Sullivan’s classification of closers to get your fill of laughs this week.

Oh Canada!

I’m trying to understand how I feel about all of the gratuitous celebrations from Canadians over the early success of Brett Lawrie.

On one hand, I’m sort of put off by having to care about where a player was born. Being so aware of a player’s birthplace to the point of celebrating it because you’re on the same side of an artificial border line agreed to by people from several generations ago speaks more to one’s insecurity and pathetic need to belong to something bigger than themselves than anything else.

On the other hand, if that’s what does it for you, who am I to stand in its way?

What I don’t have difficulty deciphering my feelings over is the constant fluffing of maple boners by the Toronto Blue Jays television broadcast. We get it. Brett Lawrie is Canadian. We’re Canadian. Let’s all roll around naked together in some red maple leaves until they start playing baseball on ice.

Lawrie, of course, is the perfect storm for popularity in Toronto. First of all, he’s Canadian. Secondly, he’s got the whole White, Anglo Saxon thing going for him. And finally, he appears to try hard. The insecure, inherently racist, casual baseball fan in Toronto didn’t stand a chance.

Classy Curtis

My love for New York Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson is no secret. He’s awesome at both baseball and life.

The latest bit of reasoning for making Granderson your favourite baseball player occurred during yesterday’s blow out, come from behind, three grand slam win over the Oakland Athletics. After hitting the third four run homer of the game, watch Granderson round the bases and attempt to get off the field as quickly as he can as his teammates offer their high five hands.

It’s a subtle thing, but with the game that out of reach, Granderson made a conscious effort not to rub anyone’s nose in the scoreline, all despite setting a new Major League record. He would always have a place on my time.

Verlander For MVP

I probably wouldn’t vote for Justin Verlander to be the American League MVP because I think Jose Bautista has been both the best player in baseball and more valuable to his team this season. It has nothing to do with the position that either player plays.

If you don’t believe that a pitcher should be eligible for the MVP award, it can’t be about a position player taking the field every day and a starting pitcher only taking the mound between four days of rest. Over the course of a season a starting pitcher can face more than 1,000 batters, a position player will typically be involved in less than 700 plate appearances. A starting pitcher is more involved in one game’s outcome than any one position player is involved in five games.

Having said that, I could agree with someone who suggests that the Cy Young Award is specifically for pitchers while the MVP is for position players. As of right now though, that distinction isn’t anywhere official and so it’s up to the inclinations of the individual voter.

Shameless Self Promotion

As always, you can check out our facebook page by clicking here, and if you’re into it, try “liking” us to get updates on new videos and funny pictures in your facebook news feed, as well as the occasional link back to the blog. Staying on the social media train, you can also follow me on Twitter so that we can make snarky comments together during baseball games and learn all of my keen insights into such things as the worst place on your face to get a prepimple.

Also feel free to subscribe to our iTunes feed which will bring all the audio goodness of our podcasts and live streams and other things featuring our ugly mugs to your computer free of charge.

For more long(ish) form content, check out some of the work I’ve been doing for Baseball Prospectus. My latest column takes a look at Felix Pie, and his tragic fall from promising prospect to unmitigated failure, and he’s only 26 years old.

An Underwhelming Signing

I saw a few outlets reporting that the Toronto Blue Jays had signed undrafted free agent Luke Wilson to a contract yesterday and assumed that it was only deemed newsworthy because the Rice tight end grew up in La Salle, Ontario.

While the 6’5″ 250 lbs first baseman or corner outfielder definitely has some pop, the most interesting aspect of his signing with the Blue Jays is that he’ll still be allowed to play NCAA football despite being a professional athlete. Apparently, these circumstances aren’t that rare, with notable names like John Elway and Ricky Williams playing both Minor League Baseball and college football.

Arguments Against Statistics

I’m really getting sick of these arguments that keep popping up by the anti-logical reasoning set claiming that using statistics eliminates the romance of the game. I’ve been over it before, but it’s a stupid and ignorant perspective that fails to account for the possibility that gleaning an intellectual pleasure from sports increases, doesn’t deplete, the so called romance.

Worse than this though is that an actual argument against solely relying on statistics exists. Too often stats based analysis forgets or under appreciates that it’s dealing with human beings with varying motives for doing the things that they do. Anyone who has worked a day in their life knows that some days they are sharper than others, and presumably that holds true for professional athletes.

I’d be very interested to participate or read or listen to a discussion about this that doesn’t rely on pop psychology cliches and the stuff with which lazy sports writers typically rely on.

Playoff Races

As we turn the corner on August and dash toward the final month of the season, there’s an underwhelming amount of drama when it comes to division races. There are really only two meaningful dog fights for first place in baseball right now, but fortunately we’ll be treated to a weekend series between two teams involved in one of them.

As I mentioned earlier this week, the Texas Rangers will host the Los Angeles Angles tonight, tomorrow and Sunday, with the lead in the AL West on the line. Looking ahead, the next important series will take place over Labour Day weekend and could go a long ways toward crowning an NL West champion with the Arizona Diamondbacks playing a three game set against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. The two teams meet up again next month, this time in Arizona for the respective teams’ second last series of the season.

Meanwhile, the Rangers and Angels meet up one more time after this weekend series for the last set of the year. Texas will travel to Anaheim to close out the regular season.

Pretty Boy

Cole Hamels just makes it too easy.

For more Cole Hamels.

Wrong Impression

Jeff Passan wrote a column titled 25 things you didn’t know about baseball, in which he relies on the runs above average of particular pitches to make several points. At first glance, it seems important to know what pitcher has the best/worst pitch in baseball. However, it becomes clear that the measurement is ultimately meaningless when Passan writes about R.A. Dickey.

The best knuckleball this season is that of New York Mets starter R.A. Dickey, and it’s minus-5.4 runs saved. Dickey’s fastball, that 84.4-mph zoomer, actually has saved 10.3 runs.

What exactly do you think makes Dickey’s fastball the least bit effective? Ignoring pitch sequence in these instances is the equivalent of feeding the masses poisoned loaves of information.

On BABIP

In the same piece, Passan also writes about batting average on balls in play, once again missing the point of the statistic as it pertains to batters.

BABIP (batting average on balls in play) historically hovers around .300. Anything above connotes good luck. Anything below means an unfair spell. BABIPs of .229 (Longoria) and .231 (Teixeira) are simply unfair, the sort of misfortune that can ruin a great player’s season.

The metric xBABIP (expected BABIP) takes into account other peripherals and guesstimates what a player’s BABIP should be. Longoria’s xBABIP this season: .308. Teixeira’s: .302.

And perhaps an explanation for why Teixeira is choking: crummy luck and nothing more.

BABIP actually varies quite a lot from batter to batter. The .300 reference pertains to most pitchers. Expected BABIP uses several variables including a player’s speed score, his line drive rate and contact to come up with a more predictive number. However, any conversation involving Mark Teixeira’s batting average whether only counting balls in play or not, has to start with the amount of times that opposing teams have used the shift against him this year.

Again, not looking deeper into the numbers that Passan is providing here leaves a rather incomplete story. It’s a disappointingly short sighted approach from a normally good writer.