Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

For many, Friday represents the end of a long work week that’s filled with heavy doses of drudging, sludging and other words that don’t actually exist but rhyme with “udging” and connote menial and tedious tasks that are ultimately distasteful. It’s my hope that at the end of such misery, at that moment in time 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 read some random observations about baseball and contribute your own thoughts on the subjects that are broached.

So, without further ado, I present this week’s Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday:

Drugs, Drugs, Drugs

Following the revelations of Miami New Times News’s investigative report into Biogenesis, the anti-aging clinic alleged to have provided performance enhancing drugs to several baseball players, it’s grown increasingly difficult to offer an opinion on the use of banned substances without coming across as either a dismissive elitist or a moral grandstanding ignoramus. It’s unfortunate, because the topic deserves more consideration on a higher level than what it’s currently receiving.

It’s frightening to consider that it took a three month investigation into such a horribly run outfit to reveal the information to which we’re now privy. Just imagine how many properly run clinics that could be out there, actually practicing a measure of discretion for its clients and properly compensating its employees. To those imagining that Biogenesis represents a unique enterprise, I’d suggest that its unmatched status has more to do with its lack of organization and professionalism than its involvement with baseball players in supplying banned substances.

The Motivation

If drugs in sports are to be properly tackled, the first question we need to ask is why we’re so concerned with performance enhancers being used. The answer to this isn’t complicated. It’s worried that by taking drugs, certain players will receive an unnaturally increased ability to perform above their own standards. Such an exhibition, achieved through artificial means, is largely believed to call the integrity of a game into question.

The integrity of the game protects its legitimacy. When that facade is cracked, sports becomes a fiction, and it’s worried that the appeal of viewing and tracking unorchestrated results will be fractured. Such a crack would theoretically suck money out of the revenue streams that professional sports have fauceted into their bank basins.

What’s so maddening about MLB attempting to protect its legitimacy is the seemingly arbitrary way in which it chooses what’s a banned substance and what’s not. The list of substances that it deems illegal are a random smattering of both harmful and harmless substances, the performance enhancing properties of which are largely up for debate. All the while, the sport has no thoughts toward banning caffeine or cortisone or a myriad of other substances that players use on a daily basis to stay healthy through a gruelling 162 game schedule. The league, without sufficient research on its own, selects Human Growth Hormone as a scape goat, despite mountains of papers suggesting that its performance enhancing properties, as they pertain to baseball, would be limited.

It all comes back to maintaining the optics of legitimacy which seems more important to the Commissioner’s Office than the actual legitimacy. HGH is a drug du jour. We know about its use. We know that Barry Bonds used it as part of his cycle. Therefore, it becomes a target for which Major League Baseball to claim its sights are set.


Contrary to hysteria, I doubt A-Rod is going to do anything other than return from his injury sometime in the middle of the summer, and proceed to finish out the year with an OPS around .800. He’ll have a few good games in a row that will inspire headlines suggesting he’s back to his old self. Then he’ll have a few bad games in a row that will inspire newspaper columnists to suggest that he’s washed up.

And so it goes.

Earlier this week, when Ken Rosenthal suggested that A-Rod might seek out a doctor who would claim he could no longer play, thus ensuring that the New York Yankees receive a good measure of insurance on the $113 million that the team owes him, Craig Calcaterra correctly pointed out that this would be insurance fraud. What both failed to realize is that with a claim of that size, Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees wouldn’t even have the opportunity to commit insurance fraud, as the insurance provider would certainly have a doctor of their own examine the player, who remains one of the greatest of all-time.

The Lyle Overbay Story

With news that former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay had signed with the Boston Red Sox to compete for a job in Spring Training, I alluded to a story on Twitter, involving the former fan favorite. I believed the story, which was originally found on the website of a bar attached to a hostel in downtown Toronto, to be lost, but thanks to Mr. Dave Burrows, whose Go Jays Go Tumblr, it shall live on in infamy.

Last weekend… a guest of a guest visited our patio for a quiet drink. And a few quiet drinks were exactly what he had!

Had this young man had drinks in any of the local pubs or clubs in the entertainment district, he might have attracted a lot of unwanted attention. He’s a local athlete; he’s the first baseman with the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team who just recently signed a four-year contract worth $24,000,000!

Since most our our guests are foreigners, and hence know little of the game of baseball, Lyle Overbay went largely unnoticed among those enjoying a summer evening on our patio. That’s just the way he likes it!

So Lyle is among the most famous guest to grace our hostel although he went largely unrecognized by the Soccer, Rugby and Cricket fans who make up the majority of our residents.

As well as being among the most famous guests, he’s definitely the wealthiest!

Of course, what makes this story so remarkable is the accompanying photograph:

That is not Lyle Overbay. Right?

I mean, those are different dudes, right? Oh man, I was far more certain before actually looking at that photo again. It could be Lyle’s uncle or merely his own haggard appearance after partying for three days straight at an underground Russian disco with the hostle’s guest. Play “Ra-Ra-Rasputin” one more time.

On A Whimsical Note

In preparing a piece for Fanatico, which you should check out immediately, I came across something of interest. Only two qualified hitters in all of baseball last season had a wRC+ below 85, while also somehow managing to maintain a positive Win Probability Added.  That means that two of the worst MLB regulars whose moments of success at the plate came when their teams needed it the most.

The players are Darwin Barney and Drew Stubbs.

To contrast this, only three qualified hitters in 2012 had a wRC+ above 115, while also somehow managing to maintain a negative Win Probability Added. These players were three of the best MLB regulars whose moments of success at the plate came when their teams needed it the least: A.J. Ellis, A.J. Pierzynski and Alex Gordon.

30 HR Club

There were 23 hitters in 2012 who hit at least 30 home runs. Here’s my list of them from most expected to least expected:

  • Albert Pujols
  • Prince Fielder
  • Miguel Cabrera
  • Josh Hamilton
  • Robinson Cano
  • Ryan Braun
  • Giancarlo Stanton
  • Curtis Granderson
  • Adrian Beltre
  • Chase Headley
  • Jay Bruce
  • Corey Hart
  • Carlos Beltran
  • Chris Davis
  • Josh Willingham
  • Adam LaRoche
  • Adam Jones
  • Andrew McCutchen
  • Mark Trumbo
  • Alfonso Soriano
  • Edwin Encarnacion
  • Jason Kubel
  • Mike Trout

Of note is that Giancarlo Stanton didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title, but still hit more than 30 home runs. A different question: What players are you most surprised to see on this list?

Best Players By Age Group

If you had no other information but a position player’s age, in what order would you think the most preferable age range to be?

  • 25-years-old and under;
  • 26 – 30-years-old;
  • 31- 35-years-old; and
  • 36-years-old and over.

According to WAR, these age ranges are ranked like this (via Beyond The Box Score):

  • Age 26 – 30;
  • Age 25 and under;
  • Age 31 – 35; and
  • Age 36 and over.

The same holds true for pitchers. Amazingly, most players don’t reach free agency until their late twenties and early thirties. So, the best players are often the cheapest. However, before we begin to wonder how this might affect teams and the future salary structure of Major League Baseball, it should be mentioned that historically, the age 25 and under range and the age 31 – 35 range have switched rankings multiple times from year to year, and remain the closest and most comparable of any age range.

Step Back

These kind of petty squabbles, this time ignited by Jim Caple of ESPN, are the very least interesting part of being a fan of baseball:

I don’t like the increasing over-use of (and over-reliance on) WAR as THE definitive evaluation of a player’s worth.

Well, Jim. No one is putting a gun to your head and forcing you to use it. If you don’t like how people are using it in arguments over Player A being better than Player B, I’d like to welcome you to the last several decades of baseball conversation that suggested Player B was better than Player A because Player B had more RBIs.

Just get over it. Seriously, this is the type of bickering nonsense that makes baseball fans come across to the general public like World of Warcraft aficionados. It’s a sport that we’re discussing. People are going to reference WAR as a definitive evaluation, just as people are going to reference pitching wins or reliever saves. They’re all faulty. If anything WAR is the least offensive as a definitive evaluation, because it at least sets out to be complete.

Your Not Talked About Enough Link Of The Week

This research seems to suggest that “bad” calls have the opposite effect from what we might imagine:

The data shows that there is an overall “opposite effect”: “bad” calls help the parties they were called against; for example, a ball called a strike will- on average- help the batter get on base at a higher rate than an at-bat in which the correct call was made, and a strike called a ball will- on average- lessen the likelihood that a batter reaches base, favoring the pitcher. This supports previous research that umpires may utilize “make-up” calls, whether consciously or unconsciously. Data for this “opposite effect” wanes, or reverses, as the count grows long, as umpires have less chance to provide a “make-up” call.

So, basically, a bad call is more likely to result in a player getting on base than if that call was on a pitch was actually in the strike zone. This is fascinating to anyone who’s thought that umpires sometimes make up for known gaffes with further erroneous calls.

I’m also curious about the reverse. What happens when a pitch in the strike zone is called a ball?

My most favorite example of this is from last year was when Roy Halladay did this to home plate umpire Marty Foster:

And then this happened to the very next batter:

Great Scott, Pronk

According to several reports, Travis Hafner turned down a contract offer from the Tampa Bay Rays to sign a $2 million incentive laden deal with the New York Yankees. It’s expected that the Rays will announce early next week that they’ve signed Luke Scott.

How big of a blow to your ego would it be to find out that your employer would prefer someone who has shown up to work about half as much as you over the last five years to fill your position? Since 2008, Hafner has played an average of 85.8 games a season. I know we typically imagine old guys who get signed by the Yankees to magically come alive, but I’ve got my doubts that the spell can be successfully cast over Pronk.