Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

romerodownFor 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:

The Difference Between Command And Control

You’ve likely heard the two terms used interchangeably, but there is a difference between “command” and “control.”

A pitcher with control is one who consistently and purposefully throws pitches for strikes. He doesn’t often fall behind on a hitter, and his walk rate is typically lower than average. He is able to not only control where his pitches end up crossing the plate, but also the opposing batter’s ability to take charge of a plate appearance. This is a vital aspect of the pitcher-hitter confrontation.

A pitcher with command is my favorite thing in baseball. He’s basically Cliff Lee (and Madison Bumgarner on good days). He’s the rare type of pitcher for which it’s equally pleasing to watch the catcher receiving him, as it is the guy throwing. That’s because wherever the catcher puts his glove is where the pitch is most likely to end up. He’s even less likely to fall behind in the count than a pitcher with control, and he almost never leaves a pitch hanging in the strike zone. He’s the best human being alive.

Watch this highlight reel of Cliff Lee’s nine strike outs against the Cincinnati Reds from last summer, but instead of watching Lee, watch where his catcher sets up, and where the ball ends up:

This is an important distinction, because …

Ricky Romer-woe or Ricky RomerLOL

On Thursday, Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Ricky Romero  faced 18 Class-A batters and only managed to get seven of them out. He gave up five hits, five walks and four runs. Of the 64 pitches he threw, only 29 were strikes. It was disastrous.

By now, you’re likely familiar with the story. Romero emerged as the ace of the Blue Jays’ staff after the 2011 season, and even looking past the numbers we see on television broadcasts – a career high 15 wins coupled with an ERA below three - there were encouraging signs for the development of the former first round draft pick. Romero was trending the right way in terms of a decreasing walk rate, an above average strike out rate and a ground ball rate consistently over 55%. However, there were signs that the success he attained in 2011 benefited from randomness outside of the left-hander’s control.

For instance, his .242 BABIP was almost 50 points below the league average, suggesting that balls in play were getting scooped up for him that weren’t necessarily being eaten by fielders for other pitchers. A 79.2% strand rate compared to the 72.5% league average meant that he found some luck in the timing of when batters collected hits off of him. And finally, no starter in baseball had a lower line drive rate at 14.2%, which ties into his incredibly low BABIP, and because line drive rates, unlike their ground ball and fly ball cousins, appear to be random in correlation studies when it comes to pitchers, we can say that Romero would’ve found a good portion of luck with such a low number.

So, there was evidence to support the idea that Romero’s TV numbers in 2011 were maybe a little bit misleading as to his true talent. Because of this, the realistic among us might have expected a little bit of regression to occur in 2012. However, what we ended up seeing last year from Romero wasn’t a mere matter of regression. Put plainly and simply, he was terrible. And that terribleness has continued during the preseason.

So, while the actual results of Romero’s outings don’t really matter, the things that we’re seeing do. And what we’re seeing is a pitcher who once had good control, and appeared headed toward increasing his command, descending into a pitcher with no semblance of command and a rapidly diminished control.

The most notable difference between pretty good Ricky Romero and terrible Ricky RomerLOL is that he isn’t getting ahead in the count … ever. He’s not throwing first pitch strikes. He’s barely throwing strikes at all. While it’s good that the Blue Jays are working with him now to try different things, like position on the rubber and arm angle, this is stuff that could have been started last season. I also have questions as to why the team would wait until the end of the season for him to have elbow surgery, when it was fairly clear by mid-summer that in addition to the team going nowhere, Romero was pitching terribly.

About the only good thing to come out of all this is the greatest DJF photoshop of all time:


Things I’m Looking Forward To

Cliff Lee brings me up, but Ricky Romero drags me down. Baseball: The emotional roller coaster. Enough of the misery. Here are a random list of baseball things I’m looking forward to in addition to seeing Cliff Lee and Carlos Ruiz work together.

  • Madison Bumgarner snot-rockets;
  • Josh Reddick throwing out runners at third base from right field;
  • Clint Hurdle turning more and more purple;
  • Pablo Sandoval running;
  • Bryce Harper saying things;
  • Giancarlo Stanton hitting home runs;
  • David Ortiz being David Ortiz;
  • Jason Giambi making plate appearances; and
  • Jon Heyman continuing to troll us all so efficiently.

Baseball. The best.

MLB’s Dogged Pursuit

The most distasteful thing about Major League Baseball’s policy regarding banned substance users isn’t that they want to find out and suspend cheaters. It’s the questionable motivation behind their actions. The arbitrariness with which they define performance enhancers combined with their past willful ignorance to drug use makes it appear as though the integrity of the game is much less important than the optics of the game.

Having said that, I kind of admire MLB’s strategy in suing Biogenesis for providing Major League Baseball players with drugs. Their motivation behind the suit isn’t quite as ulterior as is typically the case when it comes to PEDs. It seems fairly obvious that they don’t care about receiving monetary compensation from the outlaw clinic as much as they want access to evidence that will link players to illegal substances.

The crazy part of it all is that baseball is essentially using the justice system – where one would think the burden of proof to be higher than it is in the actual league – as a means of gathering evidence to then pursue what it originally set out to do in revealing and suspending cheaters. It seems a little bit backwards, but if this is the road that baseball wants to go down, at least they’re going in all the way.

Personal Favorite

I have an irrational love of a Major League Baseball player. His name is John McDonald. He played in Toronto as a member of the Blue Jays for parts of seven seasons. The most important in my mind was 2007, when he was the sole reason to go down to the ballpark and watch a game. He provided something spectacular in the field every single time he played. At a time when baseball seemed barely tolerable, he made it worthwhile, and I don’t think I’m overstating things when I imagine that I, personally, might have lost interest if not for him, and have never ended up having the opportunity to write about sports for a living.

It’s strange to consider this, but an athlete may have actually contributed to the life I now lead.

I bring this all up because he was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates this week, and at the age 38, it’s unlikely that the defensive expert will spend much more time in the big leagues. If there was ever reason to create a coaching position for infield defense, McDonald is probably the guy.

A fond memory:

The Dominican Republic Is The Best Baseball Country In The World

On Friday, I got into a bit of a Twitter argument with Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Throughout the World Baseball Classic, Morosi emphasized the importance of the tournament in terms of finding out whether or not baseball was still America’s game.

First of all, I’m not really sure that anyone truly cares if baseball’s ownership is defined in terms of one nation or not. I know I don’t care even a little bit. Secondly, if one’s heart was set on determining such things, a tournament held in the middle of March is probably not the best way of doing it. In fact, a tournament at any time is unlikely to determine anything in terms of true talent.

I appreciate that in order to justify and promote coverage of an event, a writer might imagine that he or she has to construct a narrative around something like the WBC, and make it something that it isn’t. Unfortunately, such illusions fall apart in front of anyone exhibiting the least bit of critical thinking. The truth is that it’s fun to root for your country’s representatives regardless of significance to their winning or losing. Nothing more and nothing less. Suggesting otherwise isn’t just wrong, it’s insulting and contemptible of one’s readership.

Just enjoy the games.

Fantasy Baseball Advice

I don’t really play fantasy baseball anymore. I used to, and it was fun, but since writing about baseball exclusively, fantasy has become as appealing as a Big Mac to someone who works at McDonalds for a year. However, if I was to play, I’d take a very simple approach.

I’d look at the stats being used by the league in which I was playing, and find the best predictive advanced metrics for those stats, search for discrepancies and then exploit them. For instance,  if I needed cheap power, I’d compare HR/FB numbers from last year with a player’s career norms, and find a player with a lower than typical amount of home runs whose output can be explained through bad luck. If I needed a cheap innings eater, I’d search for starting pitchers whose FIP is considerably lower than their ERA.

This all sounds obvious to anyone who has a serious interest in fantasy, but the important thing is to not stop there. Just because you find a guy whose HRs appear to be explained by an unlucky HR/FB rate, or you find a pitcher with a low FIP and high ERA, it doesn’t necessarily mean what you first assume.

This is only your first step. Look deeper into those players, and attempt to disprove yourself. Look at where they played last season, think about park effects, consider splits, and seek out abnormalities in their approach. It’s time consuming, but just like in real life, the guy who works harder – assuming the hard work is in the right direction – usually comes out ahead.

Prop Bets

I’m not much of a gambler, but I enjoy looking at prop bets from time to time, more as a conversation starter than anything else. My favorites tend to be the odds associated with individual players winning year end awards. Here are some of the more amusing ones available at Bodog:

2013 AL MVP

  • Mike Trout 6/1;
  • Miguel Cabrera 7/1;
  • Jose Bautista 10/1;
  • Jose Reyes 20/1;
  • Edwin Encarnacion 25/1; and
  • Derek Jeter 100/1.

2013 NL MVP

  • Ryan Braun 9/1;
  • Bryce Harper 10/1;
  • Matt Kemp 10/1;
  • Buster Posey 12/1;
  • Andrew McCutchen 15/1; and
  • Michael Young 50/1.

2013 AL Cy Young Award

  • Justin Verlander 6/1;
  • Jered Weaver 6/1;
  • R.A. Dickey 10/1;
  • Josh Johnson 18/1;
  • Mark Buehrle 50/1; and
  • Joe Nathan 50/1.

2013 NL Cy Young Award

  • Stephen Strasburg 11/2;
  • Clayton Kershaw 6/1;
  • Cliff Lee 12/1;
  • Madison Bumgarner 33/1; and
  • A.J. Burnett 50/1.

Starting To Close

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman will be a closer and not a starter, and any conversation on which of the rules he should assume were rendered useless by him stating that he’d rather be a reliever than be in the rotation. Sure, a mediocre starter is more valuable than a very good reliever, but Chapman is most likely an elite reliever, worth more than three wins last year coming out of the bullpen. In fact, his WAR, which admittedly isn’t likely the best measurement of a reliever’s talent would’ve made him the 30th best starter in the league last season.

He’s good at what he does. He wants to do what he has been doing. Presuming that the marginal value that would be gained from changing roles is worthwhile is to presume that Chapman and the Reds live in a vacuum, when we know that they do not. Getting in a tizzy over Chapman the closer as opposed to Chapman the starter is assuming too much of numbers, without putting them in context outside of themselves. It gives ammunition to the anti-analytics crowd.

The Yankees Are Doomed

Every year we say that age will catch up to the New York Yankees, and every year we’re wrong. And every year we mention that every year we say that age will catch up to the New York Yankees, and every year we’re wrong. And every year we mention that every year we mention that every year we say that age will catch up to the New York Yankees, and every year we’re wrong.

This time, though. This time it’s the year. Look at their depth chart, subtract Derek Jeter and Phil Hughes for some time, and laugh and laugh, and laugh some more.