Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

melkyjaysFor 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:

Melky-a Culpa

Melky Cabrera released a statement today through the Toronto Blue Jays in which the left fielder said he’s working with Major League Baseball and federal officials in their investigation into Biogenesis, the Florida anti-ageing clinic that allegedly sold banned substances to baseball players. The timing of the statement coincided with Cabrera’s arrival at Spring Training in Florida, and was meant to deflect questions about the investigation, which he said he wouldn’t answer.

I’d like to invite all baseball fans to look deep within themselves, past the chewed-up remnants of baseball card bubble gum, to ask themselves why. Why do you care so much about the substances that an athlete takes to compete at an elite level? Where did this concern begin with you?

If it’s about cheating, about going against the rules of the game, do you feel as strongly about scuffed baseballs, trapped catches, feigned hit by pitches as you do banned substances? Do you ever stop to wonder why certain substances are perfectly acceptable, like Cortisone or Toradol, and others are absolutely not welcome despite having no tangible links to performance enhancing? I don’t put fault on anyone who considers banned substance use to be a larger indiscretion than any of the other acts of cheating. I’m just curious as to why.

Is it that some of these substances, when taken to excess, have properties that will negatively affect the health of the user? If so, would you describe the pursuit of banned substance users by Major League Baseball as something that’s in the best interest of the players using? If the motivation is to protect the health of ballplayers and to avoid their own exploitation, why are those suspended for drug use marked as cheaters and instantaneous pariahs?

Something doesn’t add up. Something seems fishy. I’m not entirely sure I understand what drives anyone involved in baseball’s supposed drug war, but it seems to me that there is some sort of disconnect between motivation and practice, and it makes what might be a form of protection come across as the zealous pursuit of a proxy Guy Montag. In place of a problem that may or may not exist, Major League Baseball names certain substances and pursues punishment against those  who use this substance, seemingly for the sake of optics, given the arbitrariness with which what’s banned and what isn’t is decided.

After having done this, they release news of suspensions and investigations with great fanfare, never mentioning what the purpose behind such practices are. It’s done to make it appear as though the reasoning and justification are inherent, so obvious that only the most morally reprehensible wouldn’t understand, but it’s really not, which brings us back to the original question of why. Why do we care so much about the substances that a baseball players uses?

Rosie DiMannostrative Show Of Affection

Josh Johnson is tall, dark and absolutely gorgeous.

He has great hair, sweetheart curls framing a broad forehead. Apollo, a (male) colleague has already dubbed him.

At six-foot-seven, he towers. He’s got presence.

Sadly, Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno, was lacking in presence, at least as it pertains to the variety that’s referred to as “in mind,” to avoid the objectification of a baseball player. Her column on Johnson reduces attendance at a ballpark to the lustful ogling that takes place at a strip club.

These are not, of course, the qualities that made this right-handed moundsman attractive to the Blue Jays. But it can’t hurt, such a fetching package, in the repackaging of baseball in Toronto.

While the temptation exists to think of all the poor male columnists who would love to write such descriptions of attractive female athletes, such a roll is best slowed, pilgrim. The real victim of insult that her writing creates is other females. It ultimately reinforces a heteronormative ideal centered around women being unable to understand and appreciate what’s considered to be a male pursuit  In order to find motivation to attend a baseball game, they’re interest must be reduced to the sexuality of the participants.

It’s absolute garbage, and incredibly unfortunate that such a restricting viewpoint would be preached like this from Canada’s most circulated newspaper.

Misplaced Schadenfreude

Occasionally, sports fans can go overboard in their fandom, and sometimes they can go so overboard as to leave the large body of water in which their boat is floating. Such is the case with Gaslamp Ball’s Sean Dreusike, who used the platform of his San Diego Padres blog on SB Nation to express a certain amount of pleasure in the misfortune of Karsten Whitson.

The post was eventually taken down.

Poking fun at a professional baseball player often comes with the unexpressed element of respect. Most fans understand that baseball players work incredibly hard – likely harder than the majority of us – at what they do. Yes, baseball is a game, and yes, they’re certainly lucky to have the opportunity to make large amounts of money by playing a game. However, their efforts in getting to that position and maintaining their status are more than the average person is willing to do. And even though fans may suggest harsh things from time to time, professional baseball players are well-compensated for tolerating brutish behavior from those earning far less.

However, Karsten Whitson is not a professional baseball player. He’s a 21-year-old student at the University of Florida whose 2013 season in the NCAA is over before it began due to a shoulder injury. In 2010, Whitson was drafted by the Padres, but turned the team down to pursue an education, and yes, perhaps a more sizable bonus through his performances at a higher level. Unfortunately, that second aspect of his intentions wasn’t going so well.

It already looked like he was going to go much later than the 9th overall pick the Padres used on him and would likely be getting less of a signing bonus than what the Padres offered a few years ago. However, news came out today that a shoulder injury will sideline him for the entire 2013 collegiate season.

That leaves us Padres fans with some nice schadenfreude. Whitson will sit out this season and either enter the draft as damaged goods (unlikely), enter next year after returning from injury (more likely) or redshirt this year in order to play 2 more seasons and enter the 2015 draft.

As a fan we can smugly think that the Padres dodged a bullet or we can smirk at Whitson and say, “Look what happens when you mess with the Padres.” Something like that. Normal schadenfreude stuff.

That’s not the behavior of a fan. That’s the behavior of an especially unfeeling misanthrope.

The Arizona Diamondbacks

I don’t think I’m alone in imagining that the Arizona Diamondbacks had the most curious off-season of any Major League Baseball team. There’s very little obvious sense to anything that they’ve added to their roster (or lost) since the end of the 2012 season. And yet, the team is projected by Pecota to have less than a single loss more than the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

This team:

dbacksdepth

Will be just as good as this team:

giantsdepth

Adam Eaton is going to rake, isn’t he?

Bourn Vs. Upton

Earlier this week, Michael Bourn signed a four-year contract with the Cleveland Indians worth $48 million, with a vesting option for 2017 that could make it a five-year deal worth $60 million. At the end of November, B.J. Upton signed a five-year contract with the Atlanta Braves worth $75.25 million. Upton is two years younger than Bourn, but has played in 95 more games. They’re both center fielders, and they both entered free agency for the first time this off-season.

Despite not getting on base as much as Bourn, Upton is a vastly superior hitter, based largely on the newest member of the Cleveland Indians having very little power. However, Bourn has been far and away the more consistently good fielder. So, in terms of batting numbers, Upton is superior. In terms of defensive numbers, Bourn is superior. Overall, according to WAR over the last three seasons, the difference looks like this:

Michael Bourn:

  • FanGraphs: 15.2 fWAR
  • Baseball Reference: 8.5 rWAR
  • Baseball Prospectus: 8.9 WARP

B.J. Upton:

  • FanGraphs: 11.5 fWAR
  • Baseball Reference: 6.4 rWAR
  • Baseball Prospectus: 8.8 WARP

In terms of real money, Upton was judged by team owners to be worth more than $3 million extra per season, despite every metric available considering Bourn to be the superior player.

Too Many Centerfielders In The Outfield

With the addition of Bourn, it’s expected that the Indians will play Michael Brantley in left field, Bourn in center, move the recently acquired Drew Stubbs into right field, and have Nick Swisher man first base. There’s a lot of miscast value there that would easily be solved by ridding themselves of Stubbs and picking up just about any league average batter to play first base.

Over the last three seasons, Stubbs has appeared in 444 games. Over that time, no center fielder with as many plate appearances (1,808) has been a less productive batter than Stubbs. In fact, by the same criteria, Juan Pierre is the only baseball player at any position to have a lower wRC+ than the former center fielder for the Cincinnati Reds. Stubbs is good defensively as a center fielder, but that’s about it. Playing him in right field is like casting Lindsay Lohan to play Mother Teresa.

You might point out that he’s got 51 home runs over the last three years, which isn’t the worst of sums, but I’ll remind you that Joey Votto is capable of bunting baseball out of Great American Ballpark.  Of the 59 home runs that Stubbs has hit over his career, 35 have come at his home ballpark in Cincinnati, where his HR/FB rate is a staggering 18.5%, compared to a far more normal 10.3% on the road.

Who Does Michael Brantley Give A Card To On Father’s Day?

It seems so obvious, now, but I never realized that Michael Brantley’s dad is Mickey Brantley.

The Sad Story Of Jose Valverde

The way in which mainstream commentators frequently refer to free agent dollars being won and lost during the smallest of samples of postseason baseball has become something of a joke among baseball nerds. There aren’t very many team runners in today’s game who would let a few bad outings inform their decision-making, whether they happen to occur in October or in April.

However, Jose Valverde had a truly awful playoffs, breaking down in his final appearance of 2012 like a Dominican Richie Tennenbaum. It’s much sadder to see a grown person cry than a child. That’s strange, but it’s the truth. With a child, there’s a level of recognized ignorance suggesting that as bad as it might be in the kid’s mind right now, it’s not nearly as bad in comparison to life’s other tragedies. When a grown person cries out of sadness, it’s assumed that they are aware of all of life’s traumas, and their body considers whatever they’re dealing with at the time to be worth of tears.

When these tears are from the eyes of a once proud person whose point of pride has been quashed, no matter how obnoxious they might have been prior to their down fall, it seems ever sadder than the typical adult tears.

That’s what I was thinking when Valverde was removed from Game One of the World Series after facing five batters and only getting one of them out. After he was removed from the game, the broadcast showed him in the dugout with red, swollen and wet eyes, pointing with his arms and configuring a sight that said, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but the one thing from which I felt good about myself is no longer.”

And it’s also what I’m thinking now as the reliever remains unsigned even as players begin reporting to their Spring Training facilities. Would you offer him anything more than a Minor League contract at this point in the 34-year-old’s career?

He Said. He Said.

According to Mike Piazza, in reference to his contract negotiations with the Dodgers prior to the 1998 season and questions that Vin Scully asked him at the beginning of spring training:

He wasn’t happy about it. And Scully’s voice carried a great deal of authority in Los Angeles … Vin Scully was crushing me.

According to Vin Scully:

I have no idea where he is coming from. I really have no idea. I can’t imagine saying something about a player and his contract. I just don’t do that, ever. I’m really flabbergasted by that reference.

Since then, KTLA dug through their archives to find video of the alleged incident. It’s hardly the stinging indictment that Piazza imagines, but what’s being overlooked in this entire fiasco is that Vin Scully now has a story to tell that he hasn’t told thirty times previously, and for that we should all be grateful.

In all seriousness, I don’t know why everyone is getting so bent out of shape about this, it’s not like Piazza said anything bad about Jon Miller.

Know Your Limits

Never, ever, bet on Notre Dame.

I’m ready for baseball to start.