Friday, July 23, 2010

Potpourritic Smorgasboard

I remember my mom used to keep a glass jar labelled 'potpourri,' replete with various rose petals and cinnamon sticks and other fragrant items, in the downstairs bathroom when I was a kid. It was one of the house's best objects. Not only did it smell nice and provide tiny objects to crush, but I liked the word. Of course, never having heard it spoken, I pronounced it in my head like "pot-PORE-ee." An awkward-sounding word, but I liked it anyway.

It was a huge revelation to hear it pronounced correctly. I'm sure I heard it first on 'Jeopardy.' "Pote-purr-EE." Yikes! Life-changing! There have been a variety of words like this, where I've been totally ignorant of the correct pronunciation for years. I didn't know how to say 'caricature' until an embarrasingly late age...22, I think. Before that, it was 'ca-RICK-a-cher." I'm pretty sure it was embarrassing when someone finally corrected me.

Oh, another weird one: a couple of times in books I read 'helluva' in dialogue. I had no idea it was just a weird way of spelling 'hell of a,' and was convinced it was some arcane adjective that nobody ever used anymore. And it was pronounced "ha-loo-va." That word held some magic. But that was back in the day, when we were all innocent.

So. This post will veer wildly back and forth more than most, because there are a few disparate things I want to cover. First, two stories from last night. Only one of them is harrowing.

Not harrowing:

My girlfriend can sleep anywhere, anytime, at the drop of a hat. It's impressive and aggravating. When 10pm rolls around, there's no keeping her awake. I, on the other hand, am a terrible sleeper. If someone rubs two blades of grass together in the next building in the middle of the night, I'm up like a shot. I don't drink coffee, because I have no need of caffeine; the minute the alarm goess off, I'm wide awake. This is good and bad, but at night it's mostly bad. The girlfriend is out like a light while I toss and turn, and because of that, she'll sometimes talk in her sleep. This is something I could never do, because I'd just wake myself up. But whenever she starts to mumble, I immediately try to engage her in conversation. It's rarely effective, but I'm convinced I can get her to say something bizarre one day.

Last night at around eleven, she rolled over toward me, eyes closed, and said "We'll have to find out if he gets it."

I was on the case. "Who?" I asked.

Then she rolled into me, and was silent.

"Who's going to get it?" I asked.

"Hmmm?" she mumbled.

"Is it Ted Williams?" (I have no idea why I said Ted Williams, for the record.)

She paused for about three seconds, then nodded. "Mm-hmm."

That was all I could get out of her. But one day I will unravel the mysteries of the night time mutterings. I'm convinced that it's more than just the random, disconnected outputs of a sleepy subconscious. I think there's a large, crucial story underneath it all, and I have to listen like a detective for clues. Someday I'll put it all together. It could be about a murder!


At 3am, the locals had their first big fight of the summer. July 22nd is actually pretty late for this kind of thing, which I guess is progress. But of course I woke up while they shouted outside the building. Someone kept yelling about 'respect,' and girls were egging them on, and then there was the scuffling sound of combat. It ended quickly, and the 'respect' guy had clearly won. He started shouting 'get up!' He shouted it for so long that I could deduce that the loser was not getting up. Then, sickeningly, the fight continued. It seems the 'respect' guy attacked again, his anger unsated. Finally it ended, and I was out of my trance enough to get up and watch the aftermath from my living room. Two cop cars came by and asked my neighbor (on the stoop) if there had been any shouting.

"No," she said. "If there was, I would have called you guys." Then the cops sped away. It should be noted that my neighbor is a very nice woman, but apparently talking with the cops is not on her agenda.

Then a crying girl went into the alley to check on something. Then the neighbor walked over to peek into the alley. Then a shirtless teenager walked across the street to get his friend, and they left the scene. Then the cops zoomed by again, and more people went to look into the alley. I solved the mystery for myself pretty quickly: the guy who had his ass kicked was in the alley, possibly in bad condition. This played in my mind, and I realized I should probably call 911. My brain has a way of jumping to worst case scenarios, and all I could think was "holy shit this guy is gonna die and it'll be my fault."

The operator connected me to EMS, and I gave them the info so they could send an ambulance. I waited 10 minutes, but nobody came. Also, the action died outside. I eventually went back to bed, and I have no idea what happened. This was my second 911 call ever. The first happened in the spring, when I heard the sound of crying coming from the alley. My first thought was that someone had left an infant there, so again, I called. (You might be wondering why I didn't simply leave the apartment in either case and just check...and that would be a legitimate question, if the alley wasn't the scariest fucking place in the universe.) The police came, and I met them outside. After some investigation, we discovered that the mewling had come from a pregnant cat.

So basically, if 911 keeps a dossier on everyone who calls, I'm probably known as a reactionary idiot. If something really awful ever happens, I'll call up and they'll be like "oh, great, it's the cat guy!" They'll hang up, and then I'll get cut to pieces by the guy wearing a Mickey Mouse costume who broke into my apartment with a chainsaw.

Now that you're up to date on my night, let's get to some sports. Yesterday, I briefly mentioned that Jeter had a shot at Pete Rose's record. After the post, I had a conversation in the comments, and ran some numbers. I got even deeper into the calculations in the afternoon, so I'd like to share them.

Why Jeter is Ahead of Pete Rose's Pace, and Why it Probably Won't Matter


The whole thing started with Robinson Cano, when I figured out his hit %. That's simply the number of hits divided by the number of total plate appearances. I use PA instead of at-bats since at-bats discount walks and hit-by-pitch incidents. If we want to know how many hits a player gets per at-bat, we need to factor in how many times they reach base on something other than a hit; a player who walks more will have fewer opportunities for a hit.

The other factor to consider, besides hit %, is age. If we can figure out which player had more hits, and a higher hit %, at the same age, we'll be able to understand who's "winning" the race for the all-time record.

Pete Rose ended with 4,256 career hits. It's a number that sounds insurmountable. But let's see where he stacks up with Jeter.

First, I made it tough on myself. Jeter turned 36 on July 26, one month ago. I wanted to figure out how many hits he would be projected to have when he turned 37. As of last night, he has 2,855 hits in 10,242 plate appearances. That's a hit percentage of 27.87.

Jeter has averaged 697 plate appearances per year (742 per 162 games, but we'll go by the other average to play it conservative). That means that in one year, he'll have roughly 10,939 plate appearances. But we want to figure out how many he'll have when he turns exactly 37. So we'll take that yearly calculation, and subtract one month. Baseball is essentially a 6-month season (April is not a full month, but it's filled out by the handful of October regular season games). 697 divided by 6 is 116, so we can subtract that and deduce that by his birthday next June 26th, a healthy Jeter should have 581 more plate appearances. That gives him 10,283 total.

Now, to figure out how many hits. The easy way is just to figure 27.87 percent (Jeter's career hit average) of 581. But we should allow for some decline, as a ballplayers' productivity naturally decreases with age. As we'll see in a second, Rose's hit % dropped a full point between age 37 and the end of his career. On the other hand, Jeter's hit % between 2006 and 2009 was 28.8, actually above his career average. So I'll allow for a very small decline over the next year...let's say 27.6 percent. That gives him 160 more hits. When we add that to his current total of 2,855, we get a grand total of:

3,015 career hits for Derek Jeter on his 37th birthday.

Let's see how that compares to Rose. His birthday is on April 14th. When he finished his age 36 season, he had 2,966 hits. By his birthday the next year, when he turned 36, he had 2,977.

Conclusion: Derek Jeter should be leading the all-time hit race by 38 hits when he turns 37.

That was the hard way. Also the fun way. The easier and more boring way would just be to compare the two at age 36. Here are the numbers:

Derek Jeter, 36th birthday: 2,835 hits, 10,153 PAs, 27.9% hitting.

Pete Rose, 36th birthday: 2,769 hits, 10,017 PAs, 27.6% hitting.

And we can even do current stats:

Derek Jeter, 36 years, 27 days: 2,855 hits, 10,242 PAs, 27.9% hitting

Pete Rose, 36 years, 27 days: 2,796 hits, 10,105 PAs, 27.7% hitting

So in all three categories (36th birthday, current age, and projected 37th birthday), Jeter has more plate appearances, more hits, and a higher hitting percentage. He's the better man. By all accounts, you can expect him to break the all-time hit record, right?

Well, no. There are two main reasons why Rose is still the favorite.

1) He played until he was 45. Longevity was his biggest strength. As we've seen, Jeter is a slightly better pure hitter, but Rose lasted a long, long time. And his production only suffered mildly with age; by the stats, he managed over 600 plate appearances every year until his 40th birthday, and he only seriously declined after age 43. Will Jeter even have the desire to play that long? If so, will he stay healthy?

2) Circumstance. Jeter is an iconic Yankee, and it would be strange if he ever played in a different uniform. Unfortunately, the Yankee standard of excellence dictates that he probably can't play with the club until he's 45. Sentiment only goes so far. In order to duplicate Rose's longevity, Jeter would probably have to play third base for a lower tier club. I don't see that happening.

All things considered, the smart money is on Rose. But then again, Jeter could surprise us. He's known for keeping in great shape, and his focus is fairly singular among the current generation. If anybody can last into his mid-40s, it's the Captain. As a Yankee fan and a fan of baseball, it would certainly be fantastic to see the crown transferred from one of the game's biggest cretins to the classiest guy in sports.

Time will tell.

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