Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

Chicago White Sox v Toronto Blue JaysFor 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:

Casey Janssen And Home Plate Umpires

Toronto Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen has made six appearances this season, over which he’s faced 21 batters. He’s given up a single run on three hits and no walks, while striking out eight. By all accounts, it’s a successful start to the season from a reliever coming off of off-season shoulder surgery.

However, one could be forgiven for wondering if Janssen isn’t benefiting from the enticement of post-game foot-massages for hard-working home plate umpires. After all, here is his called strike zone so far this season:

janssenstrikezone

The first inclination when we see pitchers getting calls is to credit the catcher’s ability to frame the strike zone. Blue Jays starting catcher J.P. Arencibia, despite some early season evidence that suggests he’s improved, has been listed among the worst framers in the league over the last two years. It’s worth noting here that it’s incredibly inaccurate to look at a small sample of games and suggest that a catcher’s framing ability is the sole reason for borderline locations being called strikes. There’s a reason that Mike Fast’s original study used five years of data. So, merely looking at this and suggesting that Arencibia is improved doesn’t quite cut it.

So, let’s break this up a little bit. Here’s Janssen’s called strike zone vs. right handed batters:

janssenvsrhb

And here’s his called strike zone vs. left handed batters:

janssenvslhb

Now, let’s consider something else for which Fast, now working for the Houston Astros, was a proponent: altered strike zone considerations for right-handed and left-handed hitters.

You see, umpires don’t call a definitive strike zone for both handed hitters. For righties, it’s a bit larger horizontally and smaller vertically than it should be. For lefties, the strike zone is shifted more toward the outside. Look at the umpire cards of any big league umpire, and this is exactly what you’ll find.

With all of the credit for borderline calls being given to the catcher, I think we might be short-changing the ability of a pitcher to locate his pitches and exploit an umpire’s inherent fallibility. In my mind, this is what we’re seeing with Janssen, a pitcher who doesn’t overpower anyone with a very hard fastball. It’s obviously not uncommon for pitchers to consistently throw outside to batters, but Janssen – so far this season – has shown an ability to consistently locate pitches in the perfect spot: difficult for a batter to make solid contact, and still generally accepted as a strike. It’s not by accident either, as he typically uses his four-seamer on the outside of the plate to left-handers and his cut-fastball on the outside of the plate to right-handers, pitches with right/left movement that fulfill their purpose in location and appearance.

Derek Jeter’s Brittle Bones

I suppose it should have been expected, but I was still surprised to learn that Derek Jeter won’t be back until around the All-Star Break due to complications during his recovery from a broken ankle. I say I shouldn’t have been surprised because only 15 players in baseball history that were Derek Jeter’s age or older have ever played 140 or more games as a shortstop. This also make me wonder what his role will be with the New York Yankees when he finally does return.

I made fun of the Seattle Mariners before the season began for having more players who should be designated hitter than actually filling out a defensive spot in the lineup. The Yankees are going to be or maybe already are just as bad, if not worse.

The Most Saintly Player In Baseball

Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds is the most likely player in baseball history to be named a saint. No, it’s not because of his excellent start to the 2013 season saving the Reds for losses. Instead it’s because the sophomore player has already performed three miracles during his short MLB career.

First, there was the no-hands home run last season.

Then, Frazier saved another man’s life who was choking on food before the third baseman performed the Heimlich Maneuver to dislodge a piece of steak.

Frazier’s latest miracle occurred last night when he hit a home run for Ted Kremer, after the batboy asked him to go yard.

 
Saint Todd Fraizer.

I wonder if more at bats were given to Frazier, and less at bats were given to Scott Rolen during the Cincinatti Reds’ NLDS series loss to the San Francisco Giants last year, we might have a different World Series winner.

Stephen Strasbrug Vs. Matt Harvey

Remember in What About Bob? when Bill Murray’s character explains the divorce with his ex-wife by suggesting that there are two types of people in this world: Those who love Neil Diamond; and those who don’t? I think I feel the same way about there being two types of baseball fans: Those who like a lot of runs, and those who don’t.

Count me among the group that prefers a tense pitching battle to a run extravaganza. In addition to this, I tend to appreciate young talent more than proven talent. As such, I’m tremendously excited to watch 24-year-old Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals play against 24-year-old Matt Harvey and the New York Mets tonight. Both pitchers can hit the upper 90s with their four-seamer, and possess the capability to throw change ups  at velocities that match other pitchers’ fastballs.

I can’t imagine a more appealing pitching match up.

Brian Kenny Vs. Harold Reynolds


The Evisceration Of Harold Reynolds is my new favorite program on MLB Network.

“42″

I saw “42″ last weekend. It was awful. I hated it. I hated it more than any movie I’ve seen so far this year, and that includes Spring Breakers which was awful. I think what I hated most about the movie is that there was such a real and inspiring story in there, but it was glossed over by a cookie-cutter score, writing that stunk of cliches, and the cleanest costuming of all time. It was as though the entire story was washed over by Disney, and it wasn’t even a Disney movie. I was really disappointed.

You can read more about what I thought about it, along with the more measured responses of Alison Broverman and Andrew Stoeten in this week’s edition of the National Post’s Popcorn Panel.

The Ten Best

These are the ten best baseball movies. It’s not subjective. It’s fact:

  1. Battlefield Baseball
  2. Major League
  3. Moneyball
  4. Eight Men Out
  5. Sugar
  6. Field Of Dreams
  7. The Rookie
  8. Mr. Baseball
  9. For The Love Of The Game
  10. Bang The Drum Slowly

HM: Angels In The Outfield and Tiger Town.

The Ten Worst

These are the ten worst baseball movies. It’s not subjective. It’s fact:

  1. Bull Durham
  2. The Bad News Bears
  3. The Fan
  4. A League Of Their Own
  5. Rookie Of The Year
  6. Little Big League
  7. Fever Pitch
  8. Mr. 3000
  9. The Sandlot
  10. The Natural

HM: Stealing Home and The Scout. Oh, and Summer Catch too.

In Praise Of R.J. Anderson

You know how that guy in Philadelphia wants to go to the zoo with Roy Halladay, I’d very much like to go to a baseball game with R.J. Anderson of Baseball Prospectus. Anderson, who used to write for Fangraphs and DRaysBay, as well as the exceptional Process Report, watches a game differently. He’s an excellent follow on Twitter for his curiosity about the inner workings of baseball. While you and I might be curious as to why Player A does this, or why Team B does that, Anderson consistently looks into these things and examines the process that leads to each outcome.

A recent post at Baseball Prospectus is the perfect example of what I’m writing about. Houston Astros manager Bo Porter pulled J.D. Martinez in the fourth inning of a game without explanation. Anderson looked through the team’s history this season to realize that the most likely reason for the benching was due to Martinez getting a one-pitch out after the previous batter did it.

I love these investigative-through-research pieces, and Anderson is the very best at them.

Versatility Naming

Tom Tango brings up a great question pertaining to the naming of a type of baseball player. It doesn’t quite seem right to call a regular in the lineup who plays multiple positions like Ben Zobrist a utility player, because “utility player” connotes something closer to replacement than what Zobrist offers the Tampa Bay Rays. So, what should we call a player of Zobrist’s ilk who is capable of playing everyday at a number of positions?

Personally, I like “Rounder” because it’s a shortened form of “all-around” and also refers to the origin of baseball when such a multi-positioned player was more likely to be utilized. Any other ideas?