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:

Edwin Encarnacion Hits 40 Home Runs

We were sitting around blog jail yesterday, thinking of good questions to ask Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos that wouldn’t elicit the typical verbose, but often meaningless answers of a media-trained executive, and I wondered how he’d speak to the following inquiry: What positives can you draw from this season for the Major League roster?

There was a stunned silence among us before one of the brighter minds brought up Edwin Encarnacion.

Encarnacion hit his 40th home run of the season last night. A quick glance at his batted ball data suggests his increased dinger tally can at least be partially explained by his career highs for fly ball rate and home run per fly ball ratio. However, as is often the case, there’s more to the story than mere numbers.

Encarnacion’s bat speed has always been impressive. So impressive, in fact, that throughout his career, we can see a visible difference in how long Encarnacion waits on pitches before swinging compared to the typical batter. Last night’s home run is the perfect example. Look at where the ball is (above the right knee of the catcher), and look at how Encarnacion is only beginning to transfer his weight.

This, in and of itself isn’t a new thing (see a home run swing from 2010). What is new is that Encarnacion is now playing to his strength by using a shortened swing to match the incredible bat speed. With the addition of more loft created by a slightly tighter angle of his swing, the adjustment has allowed Encarnacion to get around and even pull outside pitches that in previous seasons he was unable to drive for power.

The shortened swing has also presumably led to more confidence at the plate which in turn has led to increased patience. Despite seeing more pitches in the strike zone than his career average this season, Encarnacion is putting up a lower swing rate than any previous year, and drawing a higher walk rate than he ever has before. Again, he’s using his strengths in bat speed and now, a shortened swing, to properly read the pitches coming at him, and react as he best sees fit.

He may not be an entirely new man, but he’s a much improved version over what we’ve seen in the past.

The Difference A Wild Card Makes

The win/loss record of the Washington Nationals is currently 35 games above .500. The win/loss record of the Pittsburgh Pirates is two games above .500. If the Pirates win four more games than the St. Louis Cardinals, and two more games than the Los Angeles Dodgers over their remaining 20 games (not easy, but not impossible), plus a one-off game (most likely against the Atlanta Braves), they will be on relatively equal footing with those very same Nationals.

On Tiredness

During the last month of the season, we can expect to hear a lot about tiredness and how players are feeling the grind of a 162 game schedule. While Major League Baseball has a long season, and there certainly is something to remaining healthy throughout it, the excuse of tiredness is too often used in the same vein as intangibles.

Last week, I wrote about intangibles not being a magical method for explaining poor outcomes, and the same is true for tiredness. We should be able to see what role a supposed amount of fatigue plays by more closely examining the mechanics of the player in question.

San Francisco Giants starter Ryan Voglesong has had his recent run of poor results explained away by supposed tiredness. However, the evidence, as presented by both FanGraphs and McCovey Chronicles, might lead us in a different direction.

If we witnessed a struggling pitcher with a drop in velocity or an altered release point, we couldn’t  say definitively that tiredness is the cause of the poor performance, but we might be able to discern that his lower velocity and poor arm angle as the reason that he’s suddenly a terrible pitcher. And once again, just as is the case for intangibles, the cause of the struggles is far more interesting than the cause of the cause of the struggles.

By the way, this is what a tired pitcher looks like:

Big Carp

I’d really like to see Chris Carpenter return to the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation after sitting out the entirety of the year to this point because of thoracic outlet syndrome. He has a really mean slider and he yells at opposing players. In other words, Big Carp is a lot of fun to watch.

What won’t be fun to watch will be playoff television broadcasts enamored with Carpenter’s return and attaching far more importance to it in terms of team “momentum” and other nonsense like that. If the Cardinals make the playoffs and have an extended run that’s in any way related to Carpenter’s success on the mound, the 6’6″, 37-year-old right-hander would do well to have taken out restraining orders against TBS, ESPN and FOX. And be sure to throw in the creeps from the MLB Network as well.

People In Baseball Are Probably All Republicans

New York Yankees fan Jay Destro used the OpenSecrets.org website to reveal the political campaign contributions of some of baseball’s biggest personalities.

For instance, did you know that a Vin Scully from Los Angeles donated $2,500 to the Mit Romney campaign, and $1,000 to John Boehner? Or, how about an Alex Rodriguez from Miami donating $250 to Newt Gingrich?

Hearts were just broken across the country, weren’t they?

The Hardest Working Man In The Show Business

When Cleveland Indians MLB.com beat writer Jordan Bastian worked in Toronto, he used to be referred to as The Hardest Working Man In The Show Business for the astounding amount of content he created for MLB’s website. He was a favourite among Blue Jays fans of all levels for his ability to write in a manner that was neither condescending to the more intense supporters or too difficult to grasp for the more casual fans. That’s an incredibly difficult balance to maintain, but Mr. Bastian made it appear effortless.

I assume that all of these virtues remain the same not that he’s reporting on the Cleveland Indians. However, that won’t stop me from poking a little bit of fun in his direction after being reminded earlier this week that Mr. Bastian predicted a 2012 Cy Young Award for Ricky Romero of the Toronto Blue Jays.

This GIF does well to represent Romero’s season as a whole.

But in case you need a slightly more substantive case:

Ricky Romero in 2012: 167 IP; 5.87 ERA; 5.15 FIP; 4.85 xFIP; 15.0 K%; 12.4 BB%.

Batters have a .351 wOBA against him this season. Against Romero, the aver hitter looks like Carlos Beltran or Dustin Pedroia this season.

The Two-Pitch Inning

On Sunday afternoon, Texas Rangers reliever Yoshinori Tateyama recorded a two-pitch inning. Let that sink in for a little while. After Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena singled to first in the eighth inning, Martin Perez was replaced by Tateyama, whose very next pitch was hit by Jose Molina into a double play. The next batter, B.J. Upton, grounded out to the third baseman on his next pitch. Two pitches, three out, inning done.

A Nation Divided

The United States of America is a divided nation. One side believes that Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter deserves to be named the American League Manager of the Year, while the other supports Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin for the honor.

I tend to think of the Manager of the Year Award as even less meaningful than the other awards that Major League Baseball hands out at the end of the season. Typically, the honor goes to the manager of the best team that baseball writers suggested was the worst before the season began. There’s no point in arguing for one manager over another, because as we suggested in today’s podcast, the role of the manager is impossible to judge.

Even if you want to discuss his duties in terms of in-game play, which is really the only one area that we can use metrics, we have to admit that this is likely low down his list of job priorities, far below intangible things that outsiders couldn’t hope to measure.

Not that it means anything, but over their careers in the role, both men have a better than .500 record, although barely so in the case of Melvin. In the other league, you’d be hard pressed not to give the award to Davey Johnson whose Washington Nationals are the best team in baseball. Johnson has managed for five different organizations, and never left a single one without a better than .500 record.

For the record, Jordan Bastian predicted that Johnson would win the National League award.

Bo Porter

Washington Nationals third base coach Bo Porter was the first to interview for the open managerial position in Houston this week. His name was attached to both the Florida Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates back in 2010 for their manager jobs, but instead, he ended up with the Nationals.

Because of Major League Baseball’s policy of ensuring that visible minorities are interviewed for manager and general manager positions, questions are often asked of the motivation behind teams requesting to speak with an African American managerial candidate who has been passed over for opportunities in the past. I remember reading an interview with Cito Gaston, the former Toronto Blue Jays manager, where he confessed that he stopped going to interviews all together after being discouraged into believe that teams were only contacting him to meet their quota.

I genuinely hope that in the case of Porter, the team is legitimately interested. I know nothing of his managerial style or philosophy, but I do know this: He’s not likely to tolerate much in the way of bullshit. Awesome.

The Lesson Of The Week

It is impossible to have your voice heard on a YouTube video and not sound like a complete and utter jerk face.

The story behind this is that an opinionated fan in Detroit had a “Fire Leyland” sign that Miguel Cabrera took away from him during batting practice. If only he could’ve taken away a whole lot more.