Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

DOMINICAN-BASEBALLFor 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 topics that get discussed.

So, without further ado, I present this week’s Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday:

Going International

Major League Baseball will not implement an international draft in 2014. This is exceedingly good news to some – mainly the trainers in Latin America whose livelihoods depend on brokering talent to Major League Baseball teams – but the inevitability of it remains off-putting. Even with word from Jeff Passan, that an international draft won’t occur until the current Collective Bargaining Agreement has run its course, it remains a very visible entity on the horizon.

Is it a good thing?

I really don’t know enough to formulate a strong opinion, but here’s what I’m considering:

Fighting the impulse to simply hate anything that Major League Baseball would attempt to implement, it seems to me that it would be a positive step to put international amateurs on the same level as amateurs from the United States. All of the corruption and exploitation from trainers and agents attempting to make money from lowly amateur athletes whose best prospect of success is found in sport would hopefully be done away with due to stronger central control of talent in Latin America.

Alternatively, Latin America is not the United States of America. The typical amateur in the United States has better fallback options and safety nets in place to protect them from failing than international amateurs. As it stands right now, the conversation around domestic talent isn’t taking place. This is about international players. What’s best for them? Don’t the deserve every opportunity to make as much money as possible? Wouldn’t a lower cap for signing these athletes – which is inevitable as the draft itself – hinder that?

There also exists a fear that introducing an international draft would turn Latin American countries with prodigious baseball talent into Puerto Rico, a nation that witnessed its own baseball talent go by the wayside without the appeal of large signing bonuses outside the restrictions of MLB.

A New Exploitation

The thing that bothers me most about entry drafts in professional sports is that the rules of engagement are negotiated by two sides that don’t represent the players getting drafted. It’s something of a farce to read through the newest CBA in MLB and consider that the union ceded ground on draft signing caps in order to ensure that the comfort afforded older players signing free agent contracts remains in place, and then remember that the players who have yet to be drafted have absolutely no sway the union that is negotiating their terms.

For college athletes, the exploitation through this set up is only the beginning. Before being drafted, they’ve already provided their services – through which their university earns income in merchandise sales, television contracts and video game rights – for years without earning any significant money whatsoever. While this exploitation is at its ugliest in college basketball and football, college baseball is becoming increasingly popular.

As Steven Godfrey of SB Nations points out:

ESPN is excited about the growth of the sport. Over the last three years, College World Series games broadcast on ESPN have pulled in around 1.3 million viewers per telecast, while six Super Regional telecasts on ESPN in 2011 peaked with an average of 644,000 viewers. Last season, a record 15 Super Regional games were broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2. But with 112 potential games at 16 different sites and only one network, ESPNU, scheduled to broadcast games, ESPN is relying on its streaming services as well as the launch of “Home Plate,” a whip-around coverage program similar to its “Goal Line” platform for college football.

Blame Cybermetrics

Earlier this week, Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge expressed an interesting perspective on the struggles of recently demoted second baseman Dustin Ackley.

It’s the new generation. It’s all this sabermetrics stuff, for lack of a better term, you know what I mean? People who haven’t played since they were 9 years old think they have it figured out. It gets in these kids’ heads.

He later clarified his remarks which were largely mocked out of context.

We were talking about Ackley. That’s not the reason Ackley was having issues at home plate. What I’m talking about is this recent generation of players that has come up in the sabermetrics world. It’s something that’s out there and people know how important it is. What you can’t do is play this game with fear. You have to go out there and play, and when you get your first good pitch to take a whack at, you have to take a whack at it. People stress so much getting deeper in counts and drawing walks, it’s almost a backward way of looking at it.

There is a point here. Ackley’s struggles did coincide with his swinging less, but it also coincided with a lower walk rate, a higher strike out rate, fewer line drives, fewer fly balls, and a whole lot more ground balls. It’s impossible to say for sure if this is all the result of more patient plate appearances, but there is certainly evidence to suggest that he had altered his approach.

There’s no overarching principle to good batting. If reading Drew Fairservice’s ongoing My Approach features has taught us anything, it’s that different strokes are acceptable for different folks. Where Jose Bautista is calculative of his opposition, Pablo Sandoval is anything but. Both players are excellent hitters, and their individual approaches work well for them.

What Dustin Ackley was doing at the plate wasn’t working … for him … but that doesn’t mean it’s useless for everyone. I get the impression that in our eagerness to label every manager an idiot, we probably overlooked that Wedge is aware of this. No matter the principle informing his approach, it’s up to Ackley to adjust and find an approach that does work. If he was relying on sabermetrics to make decisions at the plate, and it wasn’t working, that’s his fault, not the fault of sabermetrics.

Unruly Fans

They say that the fan bases of sports teams from city to city are ultimately the same. There are positive elements that cheer for the home team, purchase merchandise and are knowledgeable enough to understand what’s happening at the game. There are negative elements that jeer both teams, consume too much alcohol at the game and harass other members of the crowd with their drunken antics. Then, there are the idiotic elements who feel the need to participate in a spectacle that has absolutely nothing to do with them.

That may be true. It may not. I can’t think of a way to measure it. But things like this, seem to be happening more frequently in Toronto than in other ballparks:

I suppose if you really wanted to differentiate the behavior of fan bases in different cities, you could poll ticket holders – stadium by stadium – and ask them about their fan experience, but such an undertaking would likely be more valuable to customer service representatives than curious baseball writers.

As long as we’re on the topic of impossible things to measure, I would like to mention an observation that I’ve made: Fans in Toronto watch baseball in a different manner than the majority of Major League stadiums. It’s a much different experience at Rogers Centre than the typical big league park. This extends beyond the concrete coffin of the stadium structure, the horrible in-game promotions and the complete and utter lack of anything remotely creative done through the public address system.

Obviously this is a generalization based solely on observation, but there’s a quiet expectancy in a Toronto baseball crowd that isn’t present elsewhere. The crowd is hushed. They watch and wait for something to happen. I don’t really watch baseball this way. To me, the great thing about baseball – and the reason why there’s so much nostalgia attached to the sport – is that it’s about conversation. There is time between the moments to talk to the people with you at the game.

Other sports are more about the spectacle of action, and I wonder if given the city’s great love of hockey, the majority of attendees don’t watch baseball as though it’s played on ice, soaking up the fast-paced play and waiting for those moments of excitement that are delivered constantly in comparison to the pace of baseball.

To extend my generalization – that admittedly verges on stereotype – further into the dangerous realm of half-baked theory, I also wonder if throwing objects on the field, fighting with other patrons and behaving poorly isn’t the result of failed expectations for something to hold one’s attention. People attending a baseball game in Toronto are presumably more experienced watching live hockey, and have come to expect a certain level of interaction between themselves and the sport. Add alcohol to baseball’s failure to deliver this same experience and WHAM! you have idiots in the stands throwing beer at the athletes on the field.

I honestly don’t know. It’s just an idea that I would just as happily see proven wrong as proven right. However, I will tell you that the moment you find yourself considering throwing something on the field, court or rink of a sporting event is the exact same moment you should take a walk around the concourse, grab something to eat and maybe have a hydrating beverage or two.

Some Ball Player

Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia is a unique Major League Baseball player.

Most baseball fans would agree that – despite being a total rally killer (according to idiots) – a home run is the best possible outcome for which a batter can hope. Players who hit a lot of home runs are typically really great baseball players. See Bonds, Barry. J.P Arencibia hits a lot of home runs, but is actually a really bad baseball player. In fact, he hits so many home runs that it takes an astronomically terrible effort in all other areas of his game to produce as little value as Arencibia does. He’s so good at hitting home runs and so bad at everything else that it’s almost an accomplishment.

No position player hits as many home runs while returning so little value offensively and defensively. In fact, if we break down the contributions of the numbers that comprise his wins above replacement total, we learn that the only reason he even has a positive WAR over his career is because of the handicap he receives as a catcher. His greatest attribute it seems is the Blue Jays’ insistence on playing him every day.

Again, this is despite his home run prowess. I’m not looking at these numbers outside of his dinger total. This includes it.

Since 2011, 29 catchers have accumulated at least 650 plate appearances. Of those 29, Arencibia ranks fourth in home runs behind Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana and Matt Wieters. Both Napoli and Santana are part-time catchers (at best). He is, for all intents and purposes, one of the best home run hitting catchers in the league, but then …

… of those 29 catchers, he’s also accumulated the:

  • second highest strikeout rate;
  • second lowest on base percentage;
  • tenth lowest wRC+;
  • the worst fielding runs above average; and
  • the sixth lowest WAR.

Of those catchers below Arencibia in terms of wins above replacement, none have played as often over the last three seasons and none enjoy the benefit of positional adjustment and replacement baseline that he does.

This season, he’s walked three times, collected 22 singles, hit 11 doubles and gone yard 12 times. He’s also been hit by a pitch once, meaning that of his 193 plate appearances, he’s gotten on base 49 times while striking out 60 times. His strikeout rate is higher than his on base percentage. He has as many walks as ground outs into double plays. And his defense is considered decidedly below average.

And yet, the Arencibia that has collected 12 home runs this year is most assuredly the best Arencibia possible, considering that 22% of his fly balls have become home runs, a number – with fluctuations typically associated with luck – that is 6% higher than his career average and 11% above the league average. It’s going to get worse, and it’s going to be really bad.

To anyone who thinks Arencibia’s home runs make him more of a clutch player, his WPA among those 29 catchers ranks him 23rd.

Ruining It For The Rest Of Us

Part of the enjoyment I derive from watching televised baseball is based on mocking the broadcast. Whether it’s the announcers making inane comments or the strange chyron fails. This was all made a little more difficult last night when the Kansas City Royals broadcast produced this chyron:

Royals_broadcast_thjekf

Now, whenever you want to poke fun at a broadcast, you’ll have to think of this and realize that nothing compares. Bigger sin: Wrong last names or wrong logos beside players in caps with right logos?

At least fans in Toronto have little to worry about.

BKRJfx1CQAEz6IT

A Different Perspective

I really like it when commonly accepted principles are challenged to the point of realizing absurdity. Take for instance a recent email that Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh received for their Effectively Wild podcast on Baseball Prospectus asking why the ball that Miguel Cabrera hit that went off of Michael Bourn’s glove and over the wall was ruled a home run and not a four base error.

If the ball had ricocheted off Bourn’s glove and done anything else other than go over the fence in center field, it would have been ruled an error. Why shouldn’t it be ruled as much when it goes over the fence and causes significantly more damage that any other outcome?

Makes Me Mad

Baseball newsletter writer Joe Sheehan took umbrage with baseball great and new Kansas City Royals hitting coach George Brett referring to home runs as rally killers shortly after his new position was announced, and the pundit’s outrage eventually led to this tweet.

I don’t agree with Brett, and I’m hardly a jock-sniffer, but to diminish the effort of Major League Baseball players by questioning what they’d accomplish without being “blessed” by baseball talent – as though professional baseball players don’t work harder at what they do than the majority of the population – is simply myopic. The founding principle behind the type of analysis which Sheehan pretends to provide is found in thinking beyond the obvious, and providing others with insights that go beyond the brainless reactions of the mainstream.

A Note On The Unwritten

New York Mets outfielder Jordany Valdespin has been gaining a reputation for showboating, mainly after crushing a home run in the the bottom of the ninth in a game the Mets trailed 7-1 earlier this month. Valdespin flipped his bat and trotted around the baselines rather leisurely, inspiring his own comeuppance in the next game when on a pinch-hitting assignment, he received a baseball in the back.

You see, it’s an unwritten rule that you don’t admire home runs. You know what else is an unwritten rule, showing pain after something hurts you on the field.

That’s what retribution like this amounts to, is it not? You showed up our pitcher, so now, you’re going to feel some pain. You caused a teammate some mental anguish by rubbing in his own shortcomings through your less-than-stoic celebration, and so now, you’re going to get it.

It’s stupid. Celebrations are fun to watch for spectators. Bat flips, like touchdown spikes, are awesome. I’m sorry such things hurt a pitcher’s widdle feewings, but maybe next time you want to keep your dignity in tact, don’t give up a home run.

I maintain that unwritten rules are only unwritten because if they were recorded with pen to paper, everyone would be able to see how plainly stupid they are.

Ryan Zimmerman Says

Much was made of these comments from Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman on playoff predictions:

How did that [model] work out for them the last couple of years? Not very well, right? That’s why nerds shouldn’t do that stuff.

If this upset you as a fan of the game of baseball, I’d recommend taking a break from yourself for a little while. There are a lot of things in life more important than Ryan Zimmerman’s thoughts on playoff predictions – which only tell us things in terms of probability.

Just grow up.

I truly believe that the more evangelical elements of analytics-based fans have held back the acceptance of their principles far more than the fear of change that its followers love to imagine their understanding of the game causes.

Comments (38)

  1. Sure is nice to have someone FINALLY talk about Abraham Cibia

  2. Regarding the incident where a Blue Jays fan threw what appeared to be a full beer cup at Nate McLouth: you might have mentioned that this was in response to McLouth falling into the stands to catch a foul ball, which replays show he clearly did not. In fact, the TV replay show he fell into the stands, crawled around a bit to find the ball he had dropped, and then popped up proudly to show the umpire he had caught it. Many fans in the stands waved their arms frantically at the umpire to indicate he had not caught the ball; Jamie Campbell, the Jays broadcaster, was positioned in a booth above the area of the play and also confirmed McLouth didn’t catch it.
    This is not to condone such boorish behaviour. But, as you note, Toronto fans are crazy about hockey, and in hockey we have TV replays. Baseball needs to catch up. Had the umpires been able to watch a TV replay of the McLouth non-catch, the correct call would have been made.

    • And beer still would have been thrown because it was a reaction to the call. I doubt the offending fan would have waited to see if there was going to be a review and then thrown his cup onto the field when McLouth was 20 meters further away.

      Some of the attendees at the Jays’ games are simply fucking idiots and leave a bad taste in the mouth of many.

    • Yes, I’m sure the person who threw a beer on the field at a player had a clear view of the play, and sailed his cup through the air as an act of civil disobedience.

      • I can’t believe that no one has mentioned the amazing accuracy of the throw.
        That was fucking awesome.

      • The person that threw the beer DID have a view of the dropped ball in the stands. I’m not condoning the behaviour at all, under any circumstances. But leaving that part out of your piece feels negligent because ignoring it strengthens your narrative, and is a legitimate part of the context of that situation. We can feel embarrassed of these people/actions AND hold a more nuanced take on the situation. That said, I agree with the spirit of what you’re saying there.

    • McLouth had full possession of the ball before tumbling out of play, regardless of whether or not he dropped it in the seats.

    • Whether McLouth went into the stands and did or did not catch the ball, has nothing to do with it. The stupidity and moronic behaviour of some of these so called fans to throw things on the field and at players. These people have no respect for the game of baseball, the team they so call support, or the other fans trying to enjoy the game. While once again giving a black eye to Ontario and the city of Toronto

      • If the described play is actually accurate and he faked a catch and got the call I would throw a fucking beer at him too regardless of the condescending feeling of Dustin Parks being the elite person that is.

        • @ David…And then the rest of us would be complaining about you! Fact is, that is part of the game. Is that really any different than Derek Jeter faking getting hit by a pitch to get first base? Or how about Jose Molina framing a called third strike? In each case it is a ‘stolen’ call…and in each case it is part of the game. If it was a jays player (or player for your favorite team) doing that we would all be singing his praise!

        • It’s depressing to know that there are fans out there like David who really believe, in their shallow and entitled little minds, that this kind of behavior towards athletes is quite alright.

          And @ Garry, the replays that I saw did not (at all) show that he didn’t catch the ball. I’ve yet to see the replay that you speak of.

  3. My summation of a huge difference between the dome and other baseball parks is its detachment from history. There is no kindred nature between Canada and baseball. It’s not the constant that’s been there through two world wars, the Great depression etc – I think this goes a bit with your hypothesis on the hockey factor as well.

    The majority of the fans in Toronto are only there to see their team win, not for the complete love of the sport. There are also way less children who are there because they play the sport in local leagues.

    Why is this leading to unruly behaviour? Well I think that more has to do with males and alcohol and an increase in the attractiveness of the female fans fueled by the social media engagement and personability of some of the Jays “stars”.

  4. Dustin, I like your theory about patrons on the Rogers Centre waiting for things to happen … it certainly seems to jive with how I’ve seen the crows react.

    Perhaps the reason why some fans participate in unruly behaviour is because they’re tired of waiting for something to happen and take it upon themselves to create action?
    Either that, or for some reason the small subsect of fans that throw beers, paper airplanes, and run out onto the field are just really bad a holding their liquor.

  5. Toronto fans may be a bit unruly, but they seem to know the rules of baseball, unlike Giants fans: http://i.imgur.com/DQqSYML.gif

  6. I’m not so sure the hockey connection is true (although it’s certainly possible), but your description of Rogers Centre crowds couldn’t possibly be more accurate. I’ve had a range of experiences there with some being better than others (Roy vs AJ and Canada vs USA spring to mind), but on the whole, that’s exactly how it feels most of the time. Very well-said.

    The very last sentence of this article also hits the nail right on the head. There are a ton of great communicators in the sabermetric community but I also really believe that a lot of the opposition to so many of its good ideas is a direct result of some of the more snarky and/or socially inept sabermetric proponents. I’ve seen a lot of this in my work life as well; I went to school for engineering and found that a lot of the brightest people in my class ended up going nowhere after we graduated because they just didn’t know how to talk to other people without coming across as anti-social jerks. Unfortunately I think this is just a too-common personality trait of people who tend to be drawn to data-driven fields of work, so I doubt it will ever go away when it comes to advanced baseball stats, but I think things are at least getting better.

    • For the record, that WBC game in Toronto was the best baseball crowd I’ve ever been a part of. Knowledgeable and fun, all the best of us showed up that day.

      • Definitely agree with this. Such a great experience.

        I also agree with your opinion of the average Rogers Centre crowd. Adding to the “impatient, want something to happen all the time” attitude: the CONSTANT attempts to start the wave. It’s ridiculous. I went to last Saturday’s game vs Baltimore and three sections to the immediate left/right of me were individually trying to start waves as early as the THIRD INNING. Just ridiculous.

  7. “To me, the great thing about baseball – and the reason why there’s so much nostalgia attached to the sport – is that it’s about conversation. There is time between the moments to talk to the people with you at the game.”

    Nailed it.

  8. Come off it man. Hockey isn’t much different than basketball, and most MLB cities have basketball teams. Why would hockey engender such a different style of fan than avid basketball supporters?

    In the past six months, Atlanta Braves fans have thrown more beer cans onto the field than Jays fans have in 6 years. Just last game, they booed Melky Cabrera, barely even a former Brave, in every at bat he played. Remember when Yankees fans spat on Cliff Lee’s wife? Or when Dodgers fans nearly killed that Giants fan? I’ve been puked on in the 100s section of the Nat’s game (luckily just a glancing shot). Think the bleacher bums never toss a beer?

    I get that you have an instinct to criticize Toronto fans, but I haven’t seen anything to indicate that they are any different from fans elsewhere. The lack of perspective here is yours, not theirs.

    • In my mind, basketball in the United States isn’t the cultural phenomenon that hockey is in Canada.

      I’m not criticizing Toronto fans at all. I’m merely trying to understand what I perceive – and I’m not alone (read other reports of the incident from sources outside of Canada) – to be a lot of “incidents.”

      • I was with you until the second last paragraph. There’s alcohol at hockey games, you’re not allowed to throw stuff on the ice at hockey games, and the fans are MORE emotionally invested in Leafs games….so how come there aren’t these problems at the ACC? I agree the fans seem to be a bit of a problem at the Rogers Centre, but to blame it on hockey seems a little ridiculous

      • I don’t disagree, but you attribute fans’ attitude to acclimation to live hockey when, by definition, a successful NBA city will have as many live spectators for basketball as Toronto does for hockey. So basically what you’re assuming is that a baseball fan in Toronto is more likely to also be a hockey fan (and that hockey is their primary sport of interest) than a baseball fan elsewhere is to be a basketball fan. This could be true, but since you’re focused on live sports as the basis for the different attitudes it is a large assumption to make.

        I think the more interesting question is why Toronto sports fans are so intent on explaining, demonizing and apologizing for the behavior of other fans and why there is such a prevalent assumption that Toronto’s boors are worse than those in other cities. Now THAT is a tendency that probably has some interesting underlying causes.

  9. When did Parkes become one of the best writers in the baseball biz?

  10. Abraham Cibia actually got walk #3 on the 26th, and homer #12 a day later. I’d add an ‘at the time of this writing’ next time – sorry for being picky, ex-copy editor, I can’t help myself.

    I don’t get why someone can’t teach him some modicum of plate discipline. Look at this chart of his 12, he’s utterly destroyed the ones he’s got: http://www.hittrackeronline.com/detail.php?id=2013_1412&type=hitter

    If you combine that power with just league average contact/discipline, you’ve got a pretty devastating offensive presence in terms of catchers.

    • Buck and Pat said yesterday that JP identified his biggest problem so far this year as “trying too hard not to strike out”, and going forward, he’s going to be more aggressive at the plate.

      Seriously.

  11. Seriously Parkes, did you read this after you wrote it? On Arencibia:

    1. you write that he’s gone yard 11 times this year, and then the very next paragraph you write that he’s hit 12 home runs this year.
    2. you write that none of the catchers below him in WAR “enjoy the benefit of positional adjustment and replacement baseline that he does.” Well, seeing as they’re all catchers, yes they actually do enjoy that benefit.
    3. you mention that his HR/FB rate is going to regress, without mentioning that his walk rate and strikeout rate are going to regress too.
    4. you dismiss the positional adjustment that he gets as a catcher, without mentioning that the fact he’s a catcher is basically the whole reason he has a spot on a major league roster!
    5. you fail to mention that as a “really bad baseball player”, last year he posted 1.2 WAR, which puts him above replacement level, and slightly below average, and he’s on pace to reach about that level again this year.

    I agree he’s not nearly as good as the homers indicate, but he’s also not nearly as bad as you make it seem.

  12. “Celebrations are fun to watch for spectators. Bat flips, like touchdown spikes, are awesome.”

    Not all the time. Most of us seem disprove of individual celebrations in those contexts because of base psychological instincts or socialization – whatever.

    Either way, if you want drama and excitement – be honest – you want the oddballs and you want them to celebrate in 7-1 games, but you also want the frontier justice-type to whip a fastball at his back.

    Makes it more defensible to write blog posts about pro sports, in any case.

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