Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

For many, Friday represents the end of a long work week that was filled with heavy doses of sludging and drudging. It’s my hope that at the end of every week during the baseball season, at that moment that only occurs on a Friday afternoon when it’s too far away from closing time to leave work early, but too late in the day to start anything new, you’ll join us here to check out some random observations and contribute your own opinions to ten stray thoughts on a Friday.

So, without further ado:

The Current

It’s been a tremendously shitty last few weeks in baseball. Instead of celebrating the Wild Card and Division Championship races which are beginning in earnest now, we’ve instead been saddled with two banned substance suspensions, Minor Leaguers doing meth, derisive finger-pointing in Boston, Bayless accusations from Connecticut, the cynical return of a disgraced superstar who hopes to avoid coming judgment and the hen-pecking of a general manager who dares to look out for the best interests of one of his players.

This is why we can’t have nice things, baseball.

Favourite Uniforms

I’m sure you already know this, but Paul Lukas from UniWatch and Chris Creamer from SportsLogos.Net are two must follows for those interested in uniforms and logos. Last week, UniWatch revealed its rankings of the top 30 uniforms in baseball.

I was going to list my own personal preferences, but my list was basically a chronological order of teams, with the exception of the Blue Jays being ranked near the top. As far as one-off old school uniforms go though, I think you’d be hard-pressed to beat either of these:

The 1977 Seattle Mariners.

The 1972 Texas Rangers.

The Washington Nationals Logo

In terms of logos, I also tend to be drawn more toward the more iconic ones.  However, I also kind of like the Rays and, as much as the it looks like Walgreens, the Nationals, as well.

In my mind, I always thought that the Nationals were ripping off Walgreens, but then I found this rather remarkable photo of Jim French of the Washington Senators circa 1965-1971, with tobacco slurp spilling from his mouth.

So, the Nationals are actually just using the old Senators logo. But does that mean that Wallgreens stole this one?

Here’s a picture of a Walgreens store from 1951. The Senators didn’t start using the curly W until 1961, going with a block lettering W as their logo before that.

So, the Senators actually stole the curly W look from Walgreens way back in 1961, ten years after the drug store first used it. The new incarnation from the Nationals is merely reprising an old theft.

Messing With Success

Earlier this week we talked about New York Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long’s work with first baseman Mark Teixeira on the Getting Blanked Show. I expressed my thoughts that it was kind of silly to attempt to change the mechanics of an already successful batter to adjust to a defensive approach. If Teixeira really wanted to get around defensive shifts, he could repeatedly bunt balls down the third base line, and take an essentially free base until teams stopped attempting to get in the way of his spray.

This issue came up again in a recent MLB.com piece on Washington Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein. It seems that the team’s organizational philosophy last season was against pulling the ball and instead pushed hitters to bat balls the other way, an idea that Eckstein didn’t necessarily agree with. Under manager Davey Johnson, that approach has changed so that hitters pull the ball or go the opposite way depending on where the pitch is located. The results so far have been rather good (see National League East Division standings).

It’s no surprise that inside pitches are easier to pull and outside pitches are easier to send the other way. However, all of this recent consideration reminded me of the extreme pull power hitting Jose Bautista during the Home Run Derby this year, asking the catcher to set up as if he were calling on the pitcher to jam him inside. I wonder how many opposing pitchers were taking notes.

Overall though, it just seems so archaic to have an overarching philosophy to anything in baseball. In addition to the strategical fluidity of approaches, teams are comprised of individuals who all react and respond to different situation in different manners. This also comes back to Mark Teixeira bunting, and something that’s espoused by Tom Tango et al in The Book who likens baseball strategies to poker. If you always play you hand of cards straight, opposing players will catch on just as quickly as if you always bluffed. In order to keep opponents honest, you have to set up the possibility that you could play any situation in any way.

Vin Scully And A Serious Case Of Want

This is Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully being photographed while surrounded by his family. You might notice that the little girl right in front of Mr. Scully is holding a new addition to the family. That would be a Vin Scully bobble head, and it would represent the greatest case of #WANT in the personal history of Dustin Parkes.

Here’s a closer view:

In The Zone

I got directed on Twitter to a really interesting study earlier this week that asked archers to shoot arrows at targets. The participants were blinded from the results of their shots and then asked to convey how large they thought the targets were. The result was that successful shooters often believed that their targets were larger than they actually were, despite not knowing that they were successful.

Of course, we can relate this back to baseball, and the repetition of pitchers throwing at a target, and also hitters swinging at their own moving targets. It’s interesting that what we might consider the inaccurate reliance on faulty terminology for lazy broadcasters suggesting that good hitters are “really seeing the ball well right now” to actually have some merit.

If we take this a step further, we might even come up with a justification for referring to a pitcher gaining momentum.

Popular Players

Yesterday’s five most popular player profiles at Baseball Reference were:

  1. Derek Jeter
  2. Joe Mauer
  3. Mike Trout
  4. Albert Pujols
  5. Alex Rodriguez

Over at FanGraphs, the last 24 hours have seen these player profiles visited the most:

  1. Joel Guzman
  2. Todd Frazier
  3. Mike Trout
  4. Albert Pujols
  5. Bryce Harper

Low Octane Offense

This season, batters are collecting outs at a higher rate than any previous year since 1972, with less than 32% of plate appearances ending in a batter getting on base. Another trend I noticed looking at league stats is that pitchers are striking out batters at a higher rate than ever before. 19.6% of plate appearances this season have resulted in a strike out. That’s an entire percentage point more than the next closest season which was the previous year. In fact, over the last five years, a higher and higher percentage of batters keep striking out.

Speaking of strike out percentage, a lot of attention this season has been given to Aroldis Chapman, who has struck out 46.5% of the batters he’s faced this year. His 113 strike outs over 64 innings as a reliever are more in number than the following list of pitchers have accumulated as starters.

  • Ryan Dempster
  • Bruce Chen
  • Wandy Rodriguez
  • Ricky Romero
  • Dan Haren
  • Derek Holland
  • Kyle Lohse
  • Jarrod Parker
  • Matt Harrison
  • Bronson Arroyo
  • Vlay Buccholz
  • Josh Beckett
  • Mark Buehrle
  • Rick Porcello
  • Tim Hudson

However, Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves has struck out 49.4% of the batters he’s seen this season. Both relievers are on pace to break the previous strike out rate record held by Eric Gagne when he struck out 44.8% of the batters he faced over the course of the entire 2003 season.

Shameless Self Promotion

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Carlos Villanueva’s Impending Free Agency

One of the lone bright spots for the Toronto Blue Jays’ season in the mire has been right-handed pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who due to injury was pushed into taking a spot in the starting rotation. He’s performed beyond admirably, putting up a 3.53 FIP and a 3.56 xFIP while striking out 25.1% of the batters he’s faced and walking only 6.6% over 65 innings as a starter.

Things get interesting when we stop to consider that this is Villanueva’s final year before he hits the open market as a free agent. Having never pitched an entire season of professional baseball as a starter, there’s a lot of risk involved in handing him a contract that assumes his place in a rotation, but the results have been so good to date that this risk will be seen as worthwhile. By finding success as a starter Villanueva has likely increased his next contract, not only in terms of a dollar figure, but also in terms of years.

A three year contract that guarantees something like $15 million would’ve seemed ridiculous in June, but now, almost in September, it might be conservative. Even if the starting pitching doesn’t pan out over the years of such a contract, he has proven himself to be an effective reliever at the very least. While it’s not ideal to pay $5-$7 million for a player in that role, it’s hardly an albatross.