Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

Toronto Blue Jays v New York YankeesFor 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:

Dickey The Worst

Over eight starts as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, R.A. Dickey has faced 204 batters, of whom 66 have gotten on base. Opposing batters have amassed a .338 wOBA and a .782 OPS against Dickey so far this season. That’s not brutal, but it’s really not very good, either. To put those numbers in perspective, the average hitter that Dickey has faced this year is hitting him like Nelson Cruz batted against every pitcher last year. Nelson Cruz is a pretty good hitter, and Dickey, we would’ve thought was a better pitcher than that.

So, why is this happening? Why is the reigning Cy Young winner struggling in the early going? I’ve thought about two Blue Jays pitchers a lot this season. The first was Josh Johnson, and the second was Ricky Romero. With both pitchers, we found a failure to throw particular pitches for strikes to be at least partially responsible for their struggles. In Johnson’s case, the declining velocity of his fastball isn’t allowing him to get away with breaking pitches that are rarely thrown for strikes. For Romero, he simply has difficulty getting ahead in the count due to a complete and utter lack of control on his fastball.

To a degree, Dickey seems to be combining the problems of both these pitchers. As David Golebiewski at BaseballAnalytics.org shows us, a more patient approach from batters combined with more knuckle balls being thrown out of the strike zone has been a recipe for disaster.

Dickey got hitters to chase 34% of his knuckle balls out of the strike zone last season. This year? Just 23%. The decline in chases is most acute on low knucklers — 31% in 2012, and 13% in 2013. Compounding matters, Dickey is throwing more out-of-the-zone knuckle balls low this season (41%) than last (32%).

Without all of those chases, Dickey is falling behind in the count nearly twice as often as he did last season (14.5% of hitters’ plate appearances last year, 27.4% in 2013). That’s a recipe for not just walks, but also extra-base knocks from so many unfavorable counts.

As the famous Canadian band says at least 35 times a day while you’re at the cottage (love you, CanCon), “Like boots or hearts, when it starts to fall apart, man, it really falls apart.” This is what we’ve seen so far. Pulling one strand out of the Dickey garment has led to fewer pitches in the strike zone, fewer swings from opposing batters, but unfortunately more contact. That seems counter-intuitive, but after falling behind in the count, which he’s done more often this year, Dickey is more likely to pitch something that a batter is able to recognize as hittable.

Welcome To The Ump Show

By now, you’ve likely heard about this. The Cleveland Indians beat the Oakland Athletics 4-3 on Wednesday night, after a game-tying home run in the ninth inning by Adam Rosales was ruled a double by umpires. Replay, which the crew eventually consulted, very clearly showed that Rosales’s fly ball hit a metal railing above the wall, and therefore, should have been called a home run. However, the video was ruled inconclusive by crew chief Angel Hernandez.

I hate making assumptions. I despise the idea of presuming to understand the motivations behind what others do when I can seldom understand my own. However, I can’t imagine a reasonable explanation for Hernandez’s ruling other than it being purposeful ignorance of what had actually occurred. Whether the motivation for this was spite for the process of video replay, I don’t know. I do know that the video available to him and members of his crew made the necessity for overruling the call on the field obvious.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:

Hernandez, the crew chief, viewed the replays in high definition with two other umpires who helped him review the call. The feeds were the same ones that fans saw, and the umpires viewed them on 19-inch full resolution HD broadcast monitors made by Panasonic and similar to those commonly used in TV production trucks.

I find it incredibly difficult to stretch my own judgment to a degree that would allow me to believe that this process could lead to anything other than a willful mistake. If baseball is legitimately concerned with the integrity of the game, a claim it often makes when fighting banned substances and gambling, I don’t understand how it can reconcile its inaction – other than the release of a mea culpa news release – with individuals outside the realm of a two team competition purposefully inserting their own agendas on the outcome of games.

This is kind of a big deal.

MOAR Mistakes

During the top of the seventh inning of Thursday night’s game between the Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros, left-handed batter J.B. Shuck was due up for the Angels with two on and two out. This prompted the Astros to bring in left-handed pitcher Wesley Wright to face Shuck. The Angels countered with right-handed hitting Luis Jimenez.

It was a typical bit of strategy familiar to anyone who has ever watched baseball.

But then the Astros halted Wright’s warm up, and brought in right-hander Hector Ambriz to face Jimenez, which is, well, not allowed. The rules didn’t stand in the way of the umpiring crew allowing it, however, which only served to enrage Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who all at once must have felt the pain of a million misunderstood teenagers to whom life is simply unfair. The game was then played under protest by Los Angeles, but the team ended up winning anyway, because ASTROS!

The two awful displays of umpiring over two days aren’t directly connected, but it does give us cause to wonder what Major League Baseball is doing to curtail these instances of abject failure form umpires. There seems to be a strange hesitancy on the part of MLB to be visibly active in supervising those who call the games. I don’t know why. They are umpires, not vampires. There’s no Vultury that will end man’s dominion of earth if their power is questioned.

There are clear and obvious mistakes on the part of umpires that are impacting and threatening to impact the outcomes of games. Once a fan’s faith in the legitimacy of a competition between two teams is consistently shaken, I’m not sure there’s an easy road back from that.

Mourning The DFA Of Converts

There is a special place in the hearts of baseball fans for converts. It’s rare for position players to eventually become pitchers or pitchers to eventually become position players, and so we celebrate their struggles more than the mediocre ranks that they typically join with their switch from one specific duty on the diamond to another.

Rick Ankiel was designated for assignment earlier this week by the Houston Astros, and he passed unclaimed through waivers. He’s unlikely to find another opportunity, at least at the Major League level, but that doesn’t stop us from appreciating a player who after spending the majority of his 25 years on earth focusing his training on becoming a pitcher, turned around and played seven seasons as a Major League position player. In addition to the great physical ability necessary to accomplish this switch, it would take an enormous amount of hard work, something that we far too often take for granted when we think of professional athletes.

The Ongoing Saga Of Brian Kenney Vs. Harold Reynolds

Confrontation is fun to watch. However, the same confrontation over and over again, gets a little bit tiresome, especially when the two parties are less concerned with building on the arguments already presented and more interested in merely repeating themselves with louder voices and cherry picking individual anecdotes to support their arguments.

In theory, the matching of Brian Kenney and Harold Reynolds is excellent because it provides one platform for two very different perspectives on baseball to confront one another. In practice, it started out great, but has since gotten kind of annoying with its repetition of one of the least interesting arguments imaginable.

Never Played The Game

There’s an argument that professional athletes often use to dismiss criticism. It consists of demeaning the opinion of others because they haven’t been in the same situation as the athlete. It’s usually expressed as, “You don’t know. You never played the game.” It’s often countered with an argument that goes something like this: “I’ve never been a politician, so am I not allowed to vote?” This is because most of us human beings tend to have difficulty giving proper context to completely different issues, when the convergence of those issues serve our needs.

I don’t really care all that much about the argument, because I’ve often found that criticism – whether its cultural, literary, cinematic or sports related – allows me to better understand things that I want to comprehend. I can take the criticisms that others offer regardless of what their background is because their knowledge on an issue is normally revealed within paragraphs of whatever it is that they’re writing.

I can be fooled from time to time. I thought Jonah Lehrer was a very good neuroscience writer, until he started to write about other topics including sports, and then I realized that he wasn’t so much informed about neuroscience as I was uninformed. Then, it was revealed that Lehrer wasn’t so much of a good writer about anything at all. So, I can understand the frustration at the root of the “you didn’t play the game” argument.

However, it’s kind of amusing that it’s almost always offered as a criticism of another person’s critique. So, if you extend the principle on which the “you didn’t play the game” argument is based – a lack of authority on a given topic – someone who gets paid to offer their criticism could claim that the athlete criticizing them for their criticism, has never criticized before at their level, so by the principles that they’re invoking, can’t criticize.

After saying that back to a professional athlete, this would be their most likely response:

I thought about this after Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie tweeted, “All u people who chirp when things don’t go good have never done anything in pro sport,” and then deleted it shortly after.

Something Fun That Will  Depress You

This is a really good time of the year, when the early results of the season are making their biggest impact, to take your favorite team’s division leader, calculate their record if they play .500 baseball for the rest of the season, and then find out the winning percentage that your favorite team will have to accumulate over the rest of the season to end up a single game ahead of that team at the end of the year.

For instance, let’s pretend your favorite team is the Toronto Blue Jays. The New York Yankees are currently in first place in the AL East with a 20-13 record. If they played .500 baseball for the rest of the season, they’d finish with a record of 85-77 (Fangraphs projects they’ll finish 87-75). In order for the 13-23 Blue Jays to win 86 games, they’d have to win 73 of their remaining 126 games, they’d have to win 58% of their remaining games.

That doesn’t sound too awful, but then you consider that a .500 record for the rest of the season from a current divisional leader isn’t necessarily the most accurate portrayal of the rest of their season. You might also remember back to last season, when the Wild Card play-in game in the American League was contested between two teams that had both won 93 games. Winning 80 of 126 games, would require a .634 winning percentage. That seems unlikely.

However, according to the Fangraphs projections, in order to reach the Wild Card play-in game this year, a team will only need to best 84 wins. That seems small compared to recent seasons, but the projections at Baseball Prospectus agree that 85 wins will be good enough for entry in the AL. So, if you’re a Blue Jays fan, the question becomes whether or not you believe that your favorite team can go 72-54 the rest of the way through the season to have a shot at the playoffs.

Fangraphs projects 64 wins the rest of the season for the Blue Jays, while Baseball Prospectus projects 67.

Protective Equipment For Pitchers

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ was hit in the head by a line drive on Tuesday, and it was scary. I wrote about how incidents like this jar us out of our vicarious relationship with sports, but on a more practical level, it’s also given us a reason to investigate the use of better protection for the heads of pitchers left vulnerable to come backers due to the mechanics and situation of their delivery to a hitter wielding a bat.

Or maybe not:

This is an idiotic response from McCarthy, who seems through his interactions with others following this tweet to be myopically suggesting that because there’s nothing available that would have properly protected Happ or himself when he was hit by a line drive, there’s no reason to wear whatever is available.

I just don’t understand how to get past an argument in which the bottom line is “this protects you better than nothing.” The “better than nothing” aspect, even if it isn’t very much at all, would be enough for me to wear it, and promote it as something for everyone to wear.

Why not? Is it restricting? Does it affect delivery? These are separate issues worthy of more investigation than the immature dismissal that McCarthy issues.

Andrelton Simmons Is Must-See

If you’ve seen any collection of baseball highlights from the season to date, it’s likely safe to assume that it included at least one bit of Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

It might have been one of these:

He’s been incredible to watch this year.

Sometimes, though, our observations don’t always match the reality. We see good plays and assume a fielder is good, when we might only be seeing a partial performance or perhaps we’re only choosing to remember the amazing plays while forgetting about the balls he didn’t bet near because of a limited range.

Fortunately for Braves supporters and fans of aesthetics, Andrelton Simmons is both beautiful to watch and incredibly effective as a defensive player.

Consider this list of the most defensive runs saved by shortstops since 2012 (as compiled by Baseball Info Solutions):

  • Brendan Ryan: 31
  • Andrelton Simmons: 30
  • J.J. Hardy: 19
  • Elvis Andrus: 15
  • Clint Barmes: 15
  • Brandon Crawford: 15
  • Mike Aviles: 15

Oh, there’s something I forgot to mention about that list. It’s that Simmons hasn’t even played in 50% as many innings as any other shortstop listed.

According to ESPN’s Mark Simon, BIS also looked at “every opportunity a fielder had to make a play on a ball in which others at his position recorded an out at least half the time. Since the start of last season, Simmons got outs on 230 of those 244 balls — a 94 percent conversion rating.” Unsurprisingly, that’s the highest percentage in the league.

Fernando Tatis Paints Pictures

I don’t know if the Twitter account we think belongs to Fernado Tatis actually belongs to Fernando Tatis, but I do know that I don’t really want to know if it doesn’t because I prefer to live comfortably blissful in the knowledge that the baseball playing Fernando Tatis paints pictures in MS Paint and posts them through his Twitter account for a world of appreciators.

Fernando Tatis, a career .265 hitter, is batting 1.000 when it comes to our hearts.