Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

clay-buchholz-forearmFor 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:

Weird White Substance Gate

I desperately want to express my opinion on accusations that Clay Buchholz was using a foreign substance to give his pitches more break during Wednesday’s start against the Blue Jays. Sadly, I don’t have one.

Well, I suppose I do, but it’s not very polarized.

I don’t think he’s a horrible cheat who should have his early season success dismissed or even diminished by screenshots revealing white cream on his forearm. I don’t think he’s  merely an innocent who just happened to consistently run his index and middle fingers across water and rosin on his forearm, and is now being abused by a disappointed Toronto fan base searching for an outlet through which they might express their lack of hope – blighted by a disastrous first month of baseball.

It’s not difficult for me to assume that Buchholz – just as I assume the majority of pitchers in Major League Baseball – might have had some substance on his person to give him an advantage. It’s also not difficult for me to accept that the “evidence” being presented against the pitcher is easily explained away by it merely being a mixture of water and rosin.

I think that the media coverage of the incident far exceeds what such an incident deserves. If he didn’t do it, a big deal is being made of nothing. If he did it, a big deal is being made of nothing important. With or without an illegal substance, Clay Buchholz is a really good pitcher.

For the record, Buchholz has actually had less horizontal movement on his pitches this season compared to last, and very similar vertical movement between years. If we can point to a single key aspect for his marked improvement between the early going of this season and the entirety of last, it’s been his command of the strike zone, something for which a little bit of finger juice is unlikely to enhance.

Jack Morris Vs. Dennis Eckersley

While the reactions have been overblown, that hasn’t meant that they weren’t entertaining.

My favorite is Blue Jays broadcaster Jack Morris explaining how he questioned David Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia about what Buchholz might have been using.

I went up to Salty and I told him. He said, “It’s dry in Boston, and I’ve seen him put water all over his pants.” I said, “Salty this isn’t my first fucking rodeo.” He didn’t know what to say to that, so we ended the conversation right there.

A close second was Dennis Eckersley, who was incensed at the accusations, first dismissing Dirk Hayhurst as a career Minor Leaguer, then suggesting that Jack Morris was making a publicity ploy for the sake of his Hall of Fame candidacy. This is amusing because it presents a new critical hierarchy for the believeability of baseball opinions.

Upon hearing any opinion you should ask the following questions in sequence if your aim is to dismiss it:

  1. Did the opinion come from someone who played the game?
  2. Did they play at a high level?
  3. Did they play in the Major Leagues?
  4. Did they play regularly at the Major League level?
  5. Did they have a Hall of Fame career?
  6. Did they become inducted into the Hall of Fame?

If the answer is yes to all these questions, their argument is airtight, and you’re out of luck if you’d like to prove the person to be wrong. However, if the answer to any of these questions is no, then whatever they say is unlikely to be true.

The Colorado Royckies

Roy Oswalt will be joining the Colorado Rockies for the remainder of the season – assuming all goes well – after signing a Minor League deal with the organization. Obviously, pitching in Denver poses a problem for any pitcher, but I’m especially skeptical of Oswalt pitching in conditions with thin air because of this:

battedballoswalt

The trends of the last four seasons are not what we in the industry refer to as encouraging in any climate. However, a high and rising line drive rate in Colorado seems like the worst idea ever, until you see how high Oswalt’s fly ball rate has been since 2008. Coupled together, it seems that the veteran pitcher might have trouble adapting to his new surroundings.

The Most Replacement Players Ever

At the end of March, Fangraphs announced that they, along with Baseball Reference, were unifying what they believed to constitute a replacement level performance. It essentially means that both websites would set the same baseline by which we can measure wins above replacement.

Our model used a lower baseline than Baseball-Reference did, so the same performance would result in a higher WAR in our model than in theirs. Over very long careers — like Morris’, for instance, or many of the old time pitchers who threw forever — this could really begin to add up, and give the appearance of large disagreements when the two systems didn’t actually see things all that differently. In the case of guys with substantial careers, many of the large discrepancies were simply driven by the fact that the two sites had a different definition of replacement level.

I was thinking about this recently when I began to wonder which players have proven to be the most replacement players. What players throughout baseball history have made the most appearances in Major League Baseball while producing a rounded zero in terms of wins above replacement? In other words, who are the most replacement level players of all-time.

It’s an almost backhanded accomplishment to be so replaceable, and yet not replaced. So, here they are:

  • According to Baseball Reference’s WAR metric, Yuniesky Betancourt, the Milwaukee Brewers shortstop who has appeared in 1045 Major League games, has a wins above replacement of zero.
  • According to the Fangraphs version of wins above replacement, Marty Perez, a middle infielder in the seventies for the Atlanta Braves among others, played in 943 games while maintaining a zero WAR.

As for pitchers:

  • According to Baseball Reference’s WAR metric, Jose Bautista, not the Toronto Blue Jays slugger, but rather the journeyman starter/reliever who accumulated 685+ innings pitched over 312 Major League appearances had a record of zero wins above replacement.
  • According to the Fangraphs version of wins above replacement, Turk Lown, a starter/reliever for the Cubs and White Sox, made 504 appearances, accumulating 1,032 innings pitched, all while maintaining a zero WAR.

Against The Intentional Walk

Your quote of the week is from Jason Brannon of SB Nation:

Barry Bonds was intentionally walked 688 times in his career. That is, an entire Barry Bonds season was wiped out, stolen from baseball fans, because of a selfish strategy that obviously would have been outlawed a century and a half ago if anyone had imagined some jackass might actually employ it.

Brannon goes on to denigrate the intentional walk as a rule loophole that allows defensive sides to transition something meant as a penalty into a reward. I hadn’t really thought of it like that, but aside from despising the idea of missing an entire season of Bonds swinging at a baseball, I do kind of like the idea of Russian roulette strategics that preside over a decision to intentionally walk another batter. So, while taking the bat out of the hands of what is typically a good hitter is less entertaining, considering the thought behind this decision is equally pleasurable. When it backfires, it’s all the better.

Mike Trout Done No Favors

With two out in the bottom of the first inning of Thursday night’s Los Angeles Angels game against the Baltimore Orioles, Josh Hamilton missed out on an RBI single when Mike Trout, coming from second, was thrown out at the plate by Nick Markakis. As plays at the plate go, it’s about as routine as imaginable. Only, not so much after a deeper look.

First of all, watch how Matt Wieters almost goads Trout into a relaxed approach to the plate by standing upright instead of crouched to hold on to the ball or apply a swipe tag. This strategy only works because Howie Kendrick who bats after Hamilton in the lineup is nowhere in sight to guide the incoming Trout. With no Kendrick telling Trout to get down, and Wieters standing in front of the plate seemingly without concern, the Angels left fielder assumed that home plate was safely his.

That’s probably not the best judgment call to make considering Nick Markakis’s arm, but he was done absolutely no favors by the scene that was painted around him.

Hall Of Fame Study

Thanks to SB Nation’s Rob Neyer bringing it to our attention, baseball fans are probably aware of a certain study funded in part by the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum called “The American Public’s Perception of Illegal Steroid Use: A National Survey.” The analysis of the survey boasts the following findings:

Strikingly, the public perceives steroid use as the lowest-rated problem among adolescents relative to other problems that adolescents may face in the form of all other prevalent risk behaviors and conditions; it is ranked even lower than eating disorders.

No shit, Sherlock. The only thing “striking” about this is that steroids would be considered a problem among adolescents at all. In fact, here are the percentages of worrisome problems according to those who were questioned:

55% Alcohol
52% Bullying
50% Obesity
46% Marijuana
35% STD’s
27% Eating Disorders
25% Cocaine
19% Steroids

Nonetheless, the Hall of Fame goes on to suggest that the low ranking of steroids is a matter of perception showing us that a greater education is necessary to teach the public that steroids are a bigger problem than eating disorders.​

No. No. No. No. No.

Steroids are not a prevalent problem. They aren’t easily attainable, and they numbers of abusers don’t even begin to compare with the numbers for eating disorders, drug use or alcohol consumption. It’s so patently ridiculous. Even more so when you consider the complete and utter absence of tobacco, the smokeless variety of which has been incidentally promoted by baseball for years.

I would very much like to get my hands on the data that was collected by this study and inquire as to the methods of that collection. I would do this all while asking about the motivation behind the Hall of Fame’s participation.

Overusing Bailey

Andrew Bailey of the Boston Red Sox made a grand total of 19 appearances at the Major League level last season thanks to ligament problems with his thumb. Already this year, after a single month, he’s made 13 appearances, his most in any month since May of 2010. Maybe you might want to take it a little bit easier with him because already Bailey is experiencing biceps soreness and wasn’t available to pitch in games against the Blue Jays this past series.

Readjusting A Previously Held Perspective

This might annoy some of you. It would’ve annoyed me a year or two ago.

However, a year or two ago, I hadn’t seen this:

If endorsing the wave is the opposite of what’s happening in the GIF above, then consider me signed, sealed and delivered to supporting the standing up and waving of my arms in unison for no apparent purpose. Actually, the more I think of it, the action is almost fascist in its unified delivery. I’m surprised those two aren’t bigger fans.

A Personal Note

I live in Toronto. That means that when I want to see Major League Baseball without traveling much in the way of distance, I go to Rogers Centre to watch the Blue Jays. Their stadium is an unbearable cavernous concrete warehouse when the roof is closed. When the Rogers Centre’s roof is opened, it’s still a cavernous concrete warehouse, but it’s made bearable by sunshine and a breeze.

Yesterday, for the first time this year, the roof was opened. This might not sound like much to those not living in Toronto, but for local baseball fans it’s a world of difference, with the idea of going to a baseball game suddenly turning from a threat to a not-bad way to spend an afternoon or evening in the big city.

Bonus: Shameless Self-Promotion

I spoke with Tony Rasmus this week over at Fanatico about the upbringing his sons Colby and Cory experienced as part of an essay about our dissonance between how we celebrate athletes but ignore or disparage what made them who they are. It’s a lengthy piece that I spent a lot of time on, and I’m proud of the results, so as always, I’d appreciate you checking it out and participating in the conversation in the comments section.

Comments (14)

  1. Typo:
    If the answer is yes to all these questions, they’re argument is airtight

    • Well, actually the first point begins with “someone”. Using “they” in each of the following statements is really the typo. It should be “he or she” because the reference appears to be to a single person.

  2. Re the Roof

    What we have is a closed stadium that they only open when it is fabulous outside. What we should have is an open stadium that is only closed when it is raining, snowing of less than 9C.

    I HATE the fucking place when the roof is closed. Dark, dank, dreary. Shit hole

  3. I am going tonight it is 22 and sunny but THE ROOF IS CLOSED! WTF IS THIS SHIT

  4. I believe you buried the lead in the “Mike Trout done no favors” section… Josh Hamilton got a hit!

  5. I thought Buckholtz touched his hair a lot during the game in Toronto.

  6. Not so sure about your argument. How do we know Buckholz didn’t grease up last year or the year before?

  7. awesome Eckersley critical heirarchy!

  8. I don’t understand Brannon’s argument and how you could impose a penalty for intentionally walking someone. In MLB the pitcher actually has to throw 4 balls for someone to get an intentional walk. Even if Brannon foolishly got his way it would be easy for a pitcher to non-intentionally intentionally walk someone. Suck it up buttercup! Quit pissing and moaning.

    In softball, if i remember correctly, I think you can just tell the ump you want to intentionally walk someone and it is done. Been a while since I played softball….

  9. damn I wish JPA had some baseball IQ similar to what Matt Wieters shows in that play at the plate. very nice!

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