Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The End-of-August Awards: AL and NL Cy Young and MVP

In our new place in Carolina, we have a giant picture window in the bedroom that looks out on the rest of our complex. You can see a few other buildings, the entrance road, and a parking lot. I absolutely love it. I stand in front, arms on my hips, surveying the whole scene like I'm a Roman Emperor gazing at the splendors of his land. I know what you're thinking: am I naked when I do this? Yes.

I also love the window when I'm sleeping. There are a few lights coming from the pool area about a hundred yards away, and a few street lamps closer. I don't mind this at all. I can't sleep well anyway, and the openness makes me feel connected to the world at large. Plus, I hate blinds. My girlfriend, on the other hand, can't stand it. She's normally an extremely deep sleeper, but all the ambient light throws her off her game. I woke up in the middle of the night a couple weeks ago and found her lying face down, with a pillow pulled violently over her head. She looked like an angry teenager. "What are you doing?" I asked. "This light is killing me," she said. It was probably the most dramatic performance of her life. She really poured it on, and for a moment I almost felt guilty.

But if she expected me to close the blinds, she vastly underestimated my selfishness. The dissatisfaction raged on until yesterday, when she came home with a sleeping mask. It wasn't one of the soothing gel ones, with a solid color and a streamline look. Instead, it's thin and bulbous, with a green floral pattern. She put it on, and all I could think of was a terrifying giant fly like the kind you see in B-movies. She looked like a pretty girl who had been infected with a rare disease called "insect eyes."

Right away, I understood that my future now includes a terrifying middle-of-the-night incident where I mistake her for a giant buzzing intruder who has decided to take a rest in my bed. I survived unscathed yesterday, but I guarantee that some night soon I'll wake up, look over, and shit my pants. The Insect Girlfriend will get us all!


Okey Doke. August is almost done, and I thought it'd be fun to take a look at where we stand in the MLB awards race. Here are my picks, with the usual caveat that a lot can change in a month. I'll only be doing MVP and Cy Young today, but I'll try to get to the Gold Gloves tomorrows.


THE END-OF-AUGUST AWARDS


National League


MVP:
Albert Pujols, St. Louis


On the face of it, this looks like a no-brainer. He has a great chance to become the first triple crown winner since Yastrzemski in '67, which almost says it all. He has 35 home runs, 95 RBI, and a .318 average. Those first two numbers are best in the league, and the last is a close third. For a power hitter, his strike-out rate is incredibly low at 12%, and his walk rate doesn't suffer (14%). He leads the league in slugging, and is second in OBP, OPS and wOBA, my favorite stat.

But as good as those numbers are, this race is almost a dead heat. The reason? Joey Votto. The Cincinnati Red is batting .325, only one point off the league lead. He leads the league in wOBA (.438), OPS (1.021), and On-base percentage (.421). Those are three incredibly important measures of offensive ability, and he's beating Pujols in every one. His slugging % is an excellent .600, just two points behind King Albert. Even looking at more traditional stats, he's damn close. Besides leading in average, he trails Pujols by only 3 home runs and 1 RBI. He actually has a fantastic chance to win the triple crown himself.

This race is the most exciting one on the docket. Pujols has won the last two MVP awards, so it's entirely possible that the writers will be looking for an excuse to unseat him. To be honest, I would have an incredibly difficult time voting if I were part of the process. At this point in the season, you might as well flip a coin. Things will probably shake out in the next month, and unless Carlos Gonzalez from Colorado plays spoiler, we'll probably be looking at a triple crown winner.

(Quickly, since it should be mentioned, here's the defensive breakdown: Votto is rated fourth among NL first basemen in UZR, while Pujols is sixth. Looking at fielding percentage, Pujols is at .998 while Votto stands at .996. Not enough, either way, to sway the argument.)


Cy Young Award: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia


I heard two commentators on the MLB network discussing this award the other day, and the debate was entirely between Adam Wainwright and Ubaldo Jimenez. This made no sense to me. Sure, Ubaldo was lights-out to start the season, but his ERA has slipped to 8th in the league. There's a cluster of 5 guys with ERAs between 2.20 and 2.30, and in my mind Ubaldo's 2.71 takes him out of the running. Among the top 5, Wainwright has the most wins with 17. Hudson has the best ERA at 2.24. And Mat Latos, from San Diego, has the lowest WHIP at 0.98.

But Halladay is second in every one of those categories. With 16 wins, a 2.24 ERA, and a 1.04 WHIP, he's the best candidate even if you just consider those stats. But when you throw in his league-leading 190 strikeouts, his absurdly low rate of 1.09 walks per nine innings (best in the NL), and the fact that he goes deeper into games than any of his competitors (214 innings in 28 outings, an average of 7 2/3 innings per start), Halladay is the obvious choice. He also leads in expected Fielder Independent Pitching, a sabermetric stat I haven't really studied, but which I imagine is a pretty great indicator of ability.

As of now, Roy is the clear winner. I don't expect he'll get the award, since it's a bit of a boring choice, but he certainly deserves it.


American League


MVP:
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit


Here's what this one comes down to: is Josh Hamilton's amazing .359 average, 17 points higher than Cabrera, his nearest competition, good enough to overcome Cabrera's superiority in every other stat?

Absolutely not. First off, here are the categories in which Cabrera leads the AL: RBI, OBP, OPS, Slugging. He's second to Jose Bautista in home runs and walks, second to Evan Longoria in doubles, and second to Joe Mauer in BB/K ratio. He's slightly behind Hamiltion in wOBA, but he leads him in another fun sabermetric category, runs created.

Also, let's take a look at Hamilton's average. .359. Amazing, right? Yes, but it's also worth looking at his average on balls in play. Since 2001, 5 players have managed to go through an entire season and end up with a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) over .390. It's incredibly rare, and even for great players, it requires a lucky season with a lot of infield singles. Right now, Hamilton's BABIP is .395. That's incredible. And it could absolutely stay right where it is, or even improve, for the rest of the season. But smart money says it's going to come down. To give a comparison, his rate of ground balls, line drives, and pop flies was almost identical in 2009, and that year his BABIP was .319. And he actually has fewer infield hits this season!

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that in the final month, Hamilton should regress to the mean. He's had a very lucky season, and when luck combines with skill, it makes for some gaudy numbers. But Miguel Cabrera has been better, and will likely continue to be better. While there's some ambiguity in the MVP race at this stage, I think it'll be a lot more obvious at the end of September.

(Again, token defensive analysis: Hamilton has had a competent, but not great season in center, while Cabrera is generally considered below average at first. He also cost Galarraga a perfect game, in combination with the ump, by chasing a grounder into the second baseman's turf. Still, I don't think we see anything here to tip the balance.)


Cy Young Award: CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

Just kidding. It goes to:

Clay Buchholz, Boston.


This wasn't real easy, but ERA stole the day. In baseball's best division, Clay is rocking a 2.21 ERA, best in the league by quite a bit. The only one in shouting distance is Felix Hernandez. He's had a great year for Seattle, with a 2.47 ERA and 192 strikeouts, second in the league. But his record is a paltry 10-10, which is not his fault but which is also not good enough, at the moment, to earn him consideration for a major award.

Clay missed part of the season, so he has about 5 starts fewer than most other contenders. His strikeout totals are a bit diminished, his IP is low at 146, and he only has 15 wins to CC's 18, but along with Lester he leads the league in opponent batting average (.222), and his WHIP is in the top 10.

This is the least clear-cut award of them all, and the one where we really need more time and more numbers to judge. It's worth watching CC and Felix's win total, Cliff Lee's ERA and wins, and Price and Cahill's ERA over the last month. The strange thing about the AL Cy Young is that although I'd give it to Buchholz if I had to decide today, my guess is that when the season ends, he won't be the deserving winner.

That's it for today, Gold Gloves on the schedule for tomorrow.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Weekend of Hope

Despite standing in a tie with Tampa Bay for the best record in baseball, August has provided ample opportunity for skepticism about the 2010 Yankees. Our starting pitching is in tatters, we don't have a reliable right-handed arm for the 6th and 7th innings, and the offense is prone to multi-game slumps that infect each batter, one through nine. On the surface, this team looks a lot more like the playoff duds of 2005-2008 than last year's championship squad.

But what marked the 2009 champs was their ability to win close games, often at the last possible moment. A team character was fashioned, and it oozed with self-belief. In the same way that Yankee fans never thought they'd lose to Boston pre-2004, even in the direst circumstances, it seemed impossible that Girardi's Yanks could succumb under pressure. They'd find a way to win, no matter how dicey the situation appeared.

That hasn't quite happened to the 2010 team, but the weekend wins over the White Sox was a huge step in the right direction. After dropping 2 of 3 to Toronto and losing Friday's opener on the south side, the Yanks stood at 12-13 for the month of August. But on Saturday, the bats came alive, staking big CC to a huge lead that he and the bullpen maintained. The next day, two early runs were enough in a pressure cooker of a game that resembled something you might see in October. Ozzie Guillen's late ejection showed just how much this rubber game meant to the Sox, and it was no less important to the visitors. A surprising competent turn by Joba made the win possible, and the Yanks have practically cemented their place in the postseason.

That last accomplishment is due in large part to the Rays, who took their series against Boston with a 5-3 win on Sunday night baseball. The Sox are now 6.5 games back of both teams, which is exactly where they were on August 1st. Despite sub-par month-long performances from the Rays and Yanks, Boston could not capitalize. As we've learned before, it just won't do to tread water in the AL East. If the current leaders both finish 16-16 (which is on the extreme low end of sensible predicting), Boston would need to finish 22-9, a ridiculous win percentage of .709. The bells are tolling in Faneuil Hall.

Other news:

-The European Ryder Cup team is set in stone. Captain Colin Montgomerie, one of the more contentious and hateable Euros around, chose Padraig Harrington, Edoardo Molinari, and Luke Donald with his extra picks. The U.S. squad won't be firm for another week, but they certainly won't look quite as nice on paper. It's an absurdly strong European side this year, and Wales will be an uphill battle for the good guys.

-Apparently becoming a fan of UNC football was enough to curse the entire institution. To add injury to the ongoing NCAA probe, the school has now begun investigating academic infractions. Apparently, a tutor wrote several class papers for some of the players without their intellectual input. Some folks on the Scout forums are raising the good question of whether this would be a big deal at an SEC school. It also makes you wonder this: is it possible to build an elite Division 1 college football team without opening your program up to various improprieties? Are the characters of elite athletes (broadly speaking) too corrupted? It's certainly enough to make you cynical.

-The US Open begins today! ESPN has a nice story on the possibility of Rafa and Roger meeting in the final. It's never happened in Flushing before, and it could only happen this year if both make it to the final. The article even produces a bit of humor from Rafa:

Nadal shared Federer's sentiments.

"I would like to play against him in this year, because I can only play against him in the final," Nadal said.

"[If] we play in five years, maybe we can play in third round."

There's nothing quite as exciting in tennis as the night-time matches in New York, and it will make the next couple weeks very interesting.

-Japan took down Hawaii for the Little League World Series championship. The Japanese team was a lot of fun to watch, and they had to fight for their lives against Mexico and Taipei earlier in the tournament, but the championship was a bit ruined by a ridiculous strike zone. Hawaii's biggest rally was killed when the Japanese pitcher exploited the possibilities by throwing "strikes" that crossed beyond the opposite batter's box. Each time, Musberger and Hersheiser made sly comments about how the strike zone is different, but they stopped short of openly criticizing the umps. But I shall not! It ruins the game when balls that the batter couldn't even reach are considered strikes. And some of the wacky commenters at YahooSports agree with me. That said, it was still a fun tournament, and I'm ridiculously impressed at how good these kids are, particularly on the defensive side.

-Coach K and the US are out to a 2-0 start at the World Basketball Championships. As you might expect, the play is pretty lackadaisical, and there's a lot of griping and moaning from Team USA. It's interesting to watch Coach K on the sideline being sort of passive about it all; he definitely takes a calmer approach to the pro game. If Duke players acted like that, they'd be benched, but obviously that kind of discipline is impossible with professionals. It will be interesting to see whether pure talent can take the US to the title.

That's it for Monday, enjoy yourselves.

Friday, August 27, 2010

10 Opinion Pieces on the Little League World Series

By 10 guest authors. I started asking around pretty late in the day, so the selection was a little limited. But I think they all have some interesting ideas.

#1 - The Old Curmudgeon


"Every time I turn on the tv, these damn kids with their yelling and their carrying on are polluting my sports network. Whether it's those socialist Euros or the west-coast Seattle liberals, all I see is a bunch of snot-nosed little bastards hot-dogging it for the camera. The only part I like is when they cry. Good! They deserve to cry! They went out there begging for attention, and they got it, boy. They got it good. Life isn't all fun and games. It's the summer- these kids should be working."



#2 - The Serene Yoga Instructor


"It's wonderful. I think it's just wonderful. I see these kids out there, playing with pure joy, and I think 'yes, yes, yes.' These are children at peace. This is the opposite of war. This how life looks, uncorrupted. They are wild like deer, ashimmer like the moon. I would like to ride with them all on the back of a giant dove, straight into a violet sunset. Namaste."



#3 - The Serial Killer


"It was not that he died, but rather how he died. Perhaps I expected him to be stoic, like a pitcher from Taiwan who has just failed his team. Because that's what happened, you understand- he failed. And what a failure! I didn't stop laughing for days. But no, he blubbered. He blubbered like a child from Hamilton, Ohio, who has just understood his own weakness but cannot control it. The American championship game? Oh no, not for that town. Not on this calendar. The man did not earn my respect as he acted out his own death, and therefore my bitter take on this life remains unchanged. I feel I cannot trust a single person."



#4 - Kevin's older brother Wayne from 'The Wonder Years'


"These kids are all buttheads!"



#5 - A Group of Fried Crickets on Sticks in China


"We don't have any fucking opinion, man!"



#6 - A Taco Truck Guy


"Little League World Series, huh? Well, I'd love to help you out, but I have to admit I haven't caught much of it. Summer's pretty busy here, at the taco truck. By the way, I don't want to pressure you too much, but you still owe me for those three burritos from July...yeah, absolutely, that's cool. No rush on that one."



#7 - The Concept of Silence


(Internal struggling...you can tell it wants to say something, and maybe it almost does. But in the end, it can't. It's silence.)



#8 - Ole Three Shoes Billy


"Don't look now, mister, but I'll tell ye a secret: I GOT THREE SHOES ON! Wooo-eeee! You looked, didn't ya! I saw it! And I wasn't lying! They don't call me Ole Three Shoes Billy for nothing! Two just ain't enough! Good golly, what a world! I pick Japan to win it all."



#9 - A Timberwolf


"I'm probably playing into a stereotype here, but I prefer dogsled racing."



#10 - Jose Bautista


"Man, let me tell you something. If I was the coach of that league, I would be juicing those little motherfuckers up from day one. No kidding, man, needles and everything. Roids, HGH, Andro, maybe some of that shit weightlifters use that makes them sterile. I don't even give a shit. These little shits would be hitting home runs in their sleep. Every game would be mercy rule, baby. Every fucking one. Then we'd go home and juice up and beat our wives until the anger passes. I don't care if they don't have wives, homes, I'll get them some no problem. That's how I live, pendejo. Get used to it."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rough August, Rougher September, and Bautista is on Los Steroids

With last night's loss to the Blue Jays, the Yanks are now 12-12 in August. It's their worst month of the season, and Boston has now gained two games since the 1st. We can pinpoint a few reasons for the stretch of .500 ball:

1) Tough schedule: 6 against the Jays, 3 against the Sox, 1 against the Rays, 3 against the Rangers. That's 13 of 24 games against top-5 AL opponents.

2) Injuries: Losing Pettitte has hurt. Strangely enough, the Yanks have still outscored every team in the American League in August (116 runs). But the starters have come up wanting, and Andy's absence from the rotation has aggravated the problem.

3) Bad Luck: Our run differential in August is +23, meaning we've scored 23 more runs than we've allowed. Boston's is -1. Yet they're 14-10, we're 12-12. With that kind of healthy run differential (again, the best in the American League), we can reasonably expect to fare better than .500. It hasn't happened, and that's a shame, but the odds dictate that we'll soon be back to our winning ways. The Royals series was a great example of this 'bad luck.' The series was a split, and the two losses were both by a run. It's not that the Yanks aren't scoring; they're just not always scoring when they need to.

In this post, I showed that it's not crucial for a team to be world-beaters in August. It doesn't have huge predictive value on how they'll fare in the playoffs or the World Series. But let's see about September. Here are the records of every World Series team in the final month of regular season baseball (excluding the 2 or 3 games that happen in October):

2009

Yankees: 19-9*^
Philadelphia: 17-13*

2008

Tampa Bay: 13-14
Philadelphia: 17-8*^

2007

Boston: 16-11
Colorado: 20-8*^

2006

Detroit: 12-15
St. Louis: 12-16

2005:

Chicago: 17-12
Houston: 17-11*^

2004

Boston: 18-10*
St. Louis: 16-12

2003

New York: 18-9*
Florida: 18-8*

2002

Anaheim: 18-9*
San Francisco: 18-8*

* - Win % was better than their overall season win %
^ - Best record in their league

So let's do a comparison between the August and September records of world Series teams since 2002.

Future World Series teams with a record .500 or worse:

August: 5
September: 3


Future World Series teams who underperformed by their season standard:

August: 9
September: 5


Future World Series teams that had 'exceptional' month-long runs (4 games or more over .500):

August: 8
September: 13


Future World Series champions with a record .500 or worse:

August: 3
September: 1


Total combined record of World Series-bound teams:

August: 265-187 (.586)
September: 266-173 (.605)


So it's evident that September is far more predictive of post-season success than August. That's to be expected, since it's important to peak late, and teams that excel in September are likely to carry that success over into October. Conversely, teams with a poor August are more likely to recover momentum in time for the playoffs than teams who have a poor September. An interesting anomaly is 2006, when both St. Louis and Detroit had losing records in August and September. That's the year, you might remember, when everyone thought the Yankees would kill Detroit in the divisional round, but Kenny Rogers started throwing spitballs and ruined our season.

Regardless, the good news is that the Yanks shouldn't fret too much about a 12-12 August record. The bad news is that September gets really, really tough. Check out the schedule, italics are road games:

2 Oakland, 3 Toronto, 3 Orioles, 3 Rangers, 3 Rays, 3 Orioles, 4 Rays, 3 Red Sox, 3 Blue Jays

27 games, and 18 of them (67%) are against good-to-great teams. 12 are on the road, including a rough 9-day trip. Now check out Tampa's September:

1 Toronto, 3 Orioles, 3 Red Sox, 3 Blue Jays, 3 Yankees, 3 Angels, 4 Yankees, 3 Seattle, 3 Orioles, 1 Royals

27 games, but only 14 against good-to-great teams, and 15 are on the road. Overall, their schedule is much easier, and with the AL East currently tied, the Yanks need to create some cushion in the next 6 days. Because if we're still tied when September 1st rolls around, smart money is on Tampa to take the division.

Last thing: two days ago, I got some crap in the comments for implying that Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays sluggers, was using PEDs. Of course I have no concrete evidence for this, but after looking at the stats, the evidence is pretty compelling. I'm actually more convinced than I was while writing that post, where the accusation was offhand and half-joking, that something's amiss.


Why Jose Bautista is a PED-Using Cheater



Don't worry, this will be quick. As of September 5th, 2009, here were Jose Bautista's career home-run numbers:

1,656 at-bats, 49 home runs. That's one home run every 34 at-bats.

At the time, he was 29 years old. Here's how he's fared in the year since that day:

540 at-bats, 50 home runs. That's one home run every 11 at-bats, and an average just shy 60 home runs for a full season.

You'll notice he's more than doubled his career home run total in just 6 months of baseball. And these are just his home run numbers. The rest of the power numbers, including OPS, are similarly out of proportion.

In other words, the guy was a mediocre journeyman his entire career, and suddenly, at age 30, he put together one of the greatest stretches of home run hitting in baseball history. And he did it in what everyone is calling the "year of the pitcher."

Yeah, nothing suspicious here. I'm sure Cito Gaston just gave him some good advice in the batting cage.

I give it less than a year before we know the truth.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The 2010 CC Sabathia Cy Young Campaign

Hey Yankee fans! It's that time of the year again. With the season winding down, and CC Sabathia among the league's best pitchers, we need to buckle down and really figure out how we're going to sell our ace. Last year's efforts fell just short, with CC finishing fourth at 13 votes. Lord knows that was a hard pill to swallow. We knocked on a lot of doors, placed a lot of optimistic phone calls, and milked a lot of connections. But at the end of the day, the voters chose Zack Greinke. Was it a bad choice?

Of course. Of course it was. As we tried to point out, he was a punk with possible mental health issues. He was unreliable. The whole thing was a shame, and I think a lot of people out there regret it. Still, that was last year, and we have to think positive. Unlike '09, Sabathia has given us a bit more to work with this season. There's no doubt in my mind that he's the best candidate this season. So consider this your primer, as you hit the streets and hand out buttons and post flyers, for how to speak to the voters.


THE CC SABATHIA CY YOUNG TALKING POINTS



1. Wins

Wins, wins, and more wins. This should be the first and last word out of your mouth. America loves a winner. And who leads the American League in wins? CC Sabathia, gang. 17 wins. Two more than the nearest competitor. He'll probably finish with more than 20 wins, and there's a solid chance he'll be the only one to pass that milestone. And really, why would you look at any other statistic? Isn't it kind of odd that they don't just give the Cy Young to the wins leader? Isn't that what's most important in baseball? Seems pretty cut and dry, right?

2. Innings pitched

If you have to talk about a second stat, go with innings pitched. Again, CC Sabathia is near the top of the league. This stat shows dependability. I mean, look at the man. He's big, strong, and reliable. Just like a western hero. Just like John Wayne. He's the kind of player America needs in these tough times. He goes deep into every game. I'm no economist, but I'd be willing to bet that if CC wins the Cy Young, it would create jobs. At the very least, it would make America feel good about itself. If you vote against CC, you're voting against the American ideal.

3. Strikeouts

Here's a stat that every American can understand. A strikeout is a basic part of the game. It's one man, all alone on a hill, asserting his will on another man 60 feet away. Among all viable Cy Young candidates, CC has the second-most strikeouts. Not bad, right? When you combine that with wins and total innings, he's clearly the best pitcher in the world.

4. Name, Origins

I've already touched on this, but it's important to emphasize CC's 'Americanness.' His last name, Sabathia, can be off-putting and even frightening for the heartland types, and those are the people we're really trying to persuade. So try to refer to him as just 'CC' whenever possible, and 'Chuck' in lighter moments (his middle name is Charles...avoid his first name, 'Carsten,' which sounds foreign and aggressive). When you talk about where he's from, say 'Oakland.' 'Yeah, CC's just an all-American boy from Oakland,' you might say. Don't use 'California,' which is known for liberalism and open homosexuality, or his real home town, 'Vallejo,' which is Spanish-sounding and therefore threatening.

To re-cap: CC is a born and bred American, an Oakland boy through and through, who loves apple pie and proms.


With most of the voters, you shouldn't have to go beyond these four main points. However, that's not always the case. Sometimes, you'll run up against reactionary types who want to expand the argument into areas that make the rest of us uncomfortable. These people are called "eggheads."


HOW TO DEAL WITH THE EGGHEADS



Last year, the eggheads got their way, and Zach Greinke won the Cy Young award. It didn't matter that he had like 12 wins, or played for a team that's basically in the minor leagues. The eggheads spouted their statistical nonsense, and he won.

But where is Greinke this year? He's 8-11, with a 3.73 ERA. I think it's fair to say that America has learned its lesson. Enough with the egghead Cy Young winners, they're saying. We've been on the streets, we've heard their voices. They want someone they can count on. Not some trendy nerd choice who will let them down the next year. This isn't France.

Remember when Eisenhower beat Adlai Stevenson in '52? Me either, but apparently while Stevenson was giving 'thoughtful' speeches around the nation (translation: he was nerding it up and thinking he was better than everyone else), the Eisenhower people won with the slogan "I Like Ike." Simple, honest, beautiful. And it really puts the eggheads in their place, because when something is simple enough, you can't really argue with it. Why? Because there's nothing to dispute. I Like Ike. The sky is blue. CC Wins.

Folks, I'm going to repeat it, and I suggest you memorize it: CC Wins.

And what do the other candidates have? Let's go through the various 'stats' that Marvin Nerdbottom and his cronies will try to throw out to derail our candidate.

ERA - Earned Run Average

You say: Hmmm, sounds complicated. Are we even sure what it means? Hey, I'm a football fan- who isn't these days, it's something all good Americans love- and this reminds me a lot of quarterback rating. It's interesting, but it's also pretty complicated. And at the end of the day, they don't hand the super bowl trophy out to the guy with the highest quarterback rating, right? Look, we admire the stats guys. We think they're trying really hard, and that's great. But ERA? Sorry, America's just not ready for that.

(Caveat: CC is top 5 in ERA, and is nearly under the 3.0 threshold. If you can manage it, mention this much later in the argument when you think the voter won't remember how you disparaged the stat earlier.)

WHIP - Walks Plus Hits per Inning Pitched

You say: Sounds like something you'd get arrested for where I'm from!

(This kind of folksy language should be employed often as a deflection technique.)

FIP - Field Independent Pitching

This is a sabermetric stat, and one you don't really have to worry about. If anyone brings it up, just ask them to explain how it's calculated. They won't know, and you'll both share a good laugh when they fail. If they do know, wait until they begin their explanation, throw both hands up in the air, and go "hey Einstein, you got me! I submit!" You may not win that person over, but everyone watching will have a good laugh and realize that the other guy is being unreasonable.

Okay, you're thinking, but what about when the voters bring up individual pitchers? Great point. Let's take a peek at the potential challengers to CC's Award.

1) Felix Hernandez

The Problem: Remember when we said that CC was second in innings pitched and strikeouts among viable Cy Young candidates? Well, Felix is first in both categories.

Your Response: Am I crazy, or was Cy Young himself an American? And isn't major league baseball played in America (nobody will care about Toronto, you're on safe ground here)? So why on earth would we give the award to someone who's not even American? Doesn't make sense to me. Also, Felix is 9-10 on the year. We're not saying he doesn't have talent. On the contrary, he seems to have great talent. But someone with that much ability who can't even go .500 must have serious work ethic issues. Felix Hernandez is un-American, and he's lazy.

2) Clay Buchholz

The Problem: Clay is close behind in wins at 15, and he has the league's lowest ERA at 2.26.

Your Response: Buchholz, huh? I don't mean to talk behind someone's back, but that name sounds awfully Polish. Did you know that William McKinley, our 25th president, was assassinated by an anarchist from Poland? 'Anarchist,' by the way, is what they used to call Muslim extremists. Sorry, what were we talking about? Oh right, ERA. Unfortunately I don't have a giant super-computer, so I can't really tell you what that means, but did you know CC Sabathia saved a drowning child in the Pacific Ocean?

3) Cliff Lee

The Problem: He's only walked 11 people on the year. He might be the first pitcher to have more wins than walks. Also, he's the classic American boy, Arkansas-raised, gruff, and manly.

Your Response: I think we can all recognize the good qualities in Cliff Lee. Absolutely. Hey, did you notice he's with Texas now? Crazy, right? And before that he was with Seattle, and just last year he played for Philadelphia and Cleveland. He must be a hard guy to like, right? I'm kidding, of course, because surely Cliff Lee is all-American and we should praise him. But why don't American fans like him? I'm not sure. Maybe you can tell me. But he was rejected by Cleveland and Seattle and Philadelphia, and word has it that he'll be turned away by Texas when this season is over. Can you really trust someone who can't stay in one place for more than a few months? I mean...can you really?


Okay, gang, thanks for coming. I think you're armed with smart tactics and good information, and I know you're ready to pound the pavement. Take some buttons on your way out. Ten per person, please. This is our year, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise. CC Sabathia is America's choice.

While the rest of the world flounders, and the eggheads with their desperate numbers sputter and flail...


CC WINS.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Public Enemies: Jose Bautista and the Chicago Cubs

In the bottom of the third inning last night, Jose Bautista hit a 453-foot home run to deep center off Yankee pitcher Ivan Nova. The 23 year-old Nova was making his first big league start after a stellar season in the minors. At AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, he compiled a 12-3 record with a 2.86 ERA, including 115 strikeouts in 145 innings. The next time Bautista came up, in the bottom of the 6th, Nova threw a high fastball that escaped the glove of his catcher Cervelli. The pitch was maybe three or four inches inside, and Bautista bailed out, falling to the ground.

You can see the ensuing reaction here. Bautista took exception, and began walking out toward the mound. Nova, a skinny Dominican from San Cristobal, stood his ground. He held out both hands, as if to say "what are you gonna do about it?" The umpire warned Nova, and then warned the benches of each team. Soon, those benches cleared. Cervelli, Girardi, and Jose Molina held Bautista back, and other Yankee players gathered around Nova. The two continued to jaw at each other, with Bautista looking genuinely angry while Nova seemed surprised, rattled, and a little defiant.

"Instinctively, I was kind of upset," Bautista said. "I was just trying to see what kind of reaction I was going to get from him. I was surprised to see he was pretty defiant. He was walking up towards me and flashing his hands up and started yelling. That's when I felt that the pitch was intentional."

And Nova:

"Nothing happened," Nova said. "It wasn't on purpose or anything."

I tend to believe Nova in this case; I don't know his personality, and I don't know his style, but it seems really unlikely that he would go after Bautista in his first big league start. Still, I can understand the reaction. Bautista leads the league in home runs, and the pitch was high. But if you look at the replay, it really wasn't very far inside, and it looks to me like a fastball that just got away. I also disagree with Bautista's opinion that Nova's reaction indicated guilt. If you accuse somebody of wrongdoing in an aggressive fashion, sometimes they'll respond aggressively, even (or especially) if they're innocent. That's particularly true of athletes, who exist in a culture ingrained with at least a little machismo.

But as Girardi said, the situation was handled fine. Until Bautista came up again, in the 8th, against David Robertson. With the score tied 2-2, he drilled his 40th home run into the left field stands. And then he flipped his bat, and spat out toward the mound. And then he took 30 seconds to round the bases. (It might be #2 on the tater trot tracker, when it's updated.) And then he pumped his fist repeatedly as he crossed the plate. And then he took a curtain call.

All of which is pretty ridiculous. He was angry about a pitch that may or may not have been a statement, and which didn't hit him, so he chose to show up a different pitcher in a different inning? Classless. Also, it's worth pointing out that he's currently hitting home runs at a rate more than double what he's ever managed before. Hmmm...bizarre increase in power numbers, and a random display of unwarranted anger? There can't be an obvious explanation for that, right?

I don't know if Robertson will get to face him again this season, but if it happens, I'd expect a high, inside fastball. And this one won't just be for effect.

Girardi was the first man off the bench to protect his pitcher last night, and he's also the first name mentioned now that the Cubs have a vacancy at manager. As this article reminds us, he has a lot of ties to the Chicago area and the Cubs specifically. He's an obvious choice for the north siders, and it's not surprising that his name appears near the top of prospective lists.

But here's the thing: it's not an obvious choice for Girardi. Why would he leave the most storied franchise in sports- a place where he's won a world championship and is well-respected, mind you- for a mismanaged team that hasn't seen a World Series in years? The article linked above tries to make something of the fact that the Yanks aren't re-negotiating his deal yet. But that's not some kind of vindictive choice; it's Yankee policy. They don't make deals until the offseason, and they're just going by the book here.

At most, Girardi could use the Cubs as leverage for his next Yankee contract. But I'm not even sure that would be effective. I'm sure his family doesn't want to be uprooted, and Girardi has already proved that he's a family man. This is the guy who made a deal with his daughter that if she got braces, he'd get them too. And he followed through! If his family wants to stay in New York (and really, what family ever wants to move?), that will be a huge factor in his decision.

The doomsday scenario for Yankee fans is that the team fails in the playoffs (or earlier, God forbid) this season, and Girardi feels unappreciated enough to bolt. But that, frankly, is ridiculous. Fans love to complain, Yankee fans more than most, but we know a good thing when we see it. Girardi has a proclivity to over-manage, and will occasionally bow before the match-up altar, moving his pitchers around like chess pieces rather than trusting their ability. But every manager has a weakness. His strengths, which include bullpen management, attention to statistics, dealing with erratic personalities, and media relations, far outweigh his weak points. It wasn't too long ago that Joe Torre was sitting at the back of the dugout, in the shadows, barely awake while his team floundered through October. Girardi is far more passionate, and that youthful attitude is reflected in the energy of the players. Plus, he's got a great hitting coach and a beleaguered but competent pitching coach in tow. If he goes, would they go too?

Girardi is smart, steady, and enthusiastic. He gets along with the players, he can be tough when it's necessary, and he led us to a championship. He's our man, period. If I realize it, Cashman does too. Both sides have nothing but positive words for each other. I don't care if the Yanks have an epic collapse and miss the playoffs by a half game on the last day of the season- Joe Girardi isn't going anywhere.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Seth Curry!

Sometime late Saturday afternoon, I took a look at my statcounter page and realized I was getting a ton of hits for a weekend. When that happens, it either means the blog was linked somewhere, or a bunch of weirdos in Finland simultaneously googled Dolph Lundgren or something. But this was not a case of Helsinki Madness. It turns out the fellas at Crazie-Talk- four Duke undergrads, if the 'about us' section is to be believed- asked Seth Curry on twitter if he ever read this blog. Seth didn't respond (too busy saving Duke), but I did find out that today is his 20th birthday.

With that in mind, I'd like to dedicate a Weekend Awesomeness Scale to Our Savior Mr. Curry. The following recent events are rated from worst to best, with an analogous and hypothetical incident from the life of Seth Curry.


WEEKEND AWESOMENESS SCALE: SETH CURRY EDITION


1 - As Awesome as Seth Curry Taking Off His Mask and Revealing That He's Really Steve Blake

This one goes out to the fans of Team Japan in the Little League World Series. Disclaimer: I like Team Japan itself. I like their peaked caps, I like their passion, I like their style, and I like the fact that they basically kick everyone's ass. But the fans...good God. Their cheers are way too organized, and way too robotic. They sit there with nearly blank expressions, going through their routines, with none of the spontaneous energy you associate with fandom. "Oh, my son hit a triple? Time for the triple cheer- Triple Triple Triple. You made it to three bases. Triple Triple Triple. Surely we will win." That last bit was translated by me, so I can't vouch for the accuracy, but you get the idea. Anyway, the whole thing reminds me of being in church as a kid, and watching all the old ladies sing the Catholic hymnal. You don't deny their passion, but you wish there was a less creepy expression for it.

I don't know Seth Curry personally, but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't stand for this shit. If he was in Williamsport, he'd whip them into shape. By the end of the game they'd be hopping up and down like Cameron Crazies.


2 - As Awesome as Seth Curry Transferring Back to Liberty Just Before the Final Four

We'll throw this one out to the Tom's River Little League team. We all remember that town's '98 squad, with their exciting run to the title. But this year's version is already done after two quick losses to Ohio and Hawaii. Also, their coach was one of those fast-talking guys who spouts cliches and never let his players get a word in edgewise. Every time he went to the mound, it looked like this.

Coach: Alright, how ya feeling? It's rough out here, but you're doing great and I'm proud of you. You feeling good? You feeling alright? You ready to give it your all?

Player: Coach, I-

Coach: That's it, that's it. Keep it humming in here. Keep it smooth. You're having a little trouble, but I believe in you. Can you do this? Can we count on you?

Player: Well-

Coach: Great, great. We're taking you out. You've had enough. Are you okay with that? Are you good? You did us proud, kid.

Player: But-

Coach: Vinnie! Come in! Great job, bub, great work. But you're out of gas, you're done. Great work. You're a credit to the game.


3 - As Awesome As Seth Curry Attacking Nolan Smith For No Reason in the Middle of a Game

This unfortunate-but-interesting category goes out to Lou Piniella's retirement. It's been a long and illustrious career, but he called it quits after yesterday's game so he could attend to his mother's illness. Piniella is a guy who every Yankee fan claims to want any time the team looks lackadaisical. Because he's fiery and passionate, people think he can whip a team into shape. Piniella won two World Series titles as a player, and one as a manager, and finishes with the 14th most wins in MLB history. Even if I tend to like my managers more calm and measured, you can't argue with that track record.


Due to time constraints, we now skip to #s 8-10...


8 - As Awesome As Seth Curry Dunking So Hard On Harrison Barnes That Barnes Starts Weeping and Finds Religion

We'll give this one to Team USA's win against Spain in the warm-up to the World Championships in Turkey. I couldn't watch this online, which was annoying, and the win was pretty narrow considering we have the best team in the world. But Kevin Durant was awesome, and had two huge blocks at the end of the game when Coach K and Boeheim switched everyone to the Syracuse 2-3 zone.


9 - As Awesome As Seth Curry Becoming The First Duke Player To Fly In A Game

Impossible? Not nearly, my friends. He has it in him, I'm convinced. Just like the Holy Crow, Robinson Cano, has it in him to hit four home runs in six games, and to compile a career-high 6 RBI in yesterday's win against Seattle. The dude is on an absolute power tear, and he's keeping the Yankees atop the AL East. MVP.


10 - As Awesome As Seth Curry Shooting Foul Shots That Are So Perfect The Ref Awards Him Six Points

Again, it doesn't seem possible. But if the Yankees can go 12-0 on the year without A-Rod in the lineup, Seth Curry can hit an uncontested six pointer from the foul line. It's the year of magic, my friends. It's the sporting Annus Mirabilis.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why I Love the Little League World Series

Before I get started here, let me mention two things. First, I didn't realize how early I have to be at this orientation thing today, so this post has to be pretty quick. Second, I have a trivia story

Trivia Story

Last night, a few of the other incoming Journalist folk and I took part in this grad school trivia contest. I'd say there were about 150 people there, and a lot of teams. Long story short, we're all know-it-alls and we did pretty well. My friend Nick was a stand-out, but we all acquitted ourselves well (I enjoyed his "5 Favres" from yesterday). Anyway, whenever I went to turn in the answers, I would check the scores. Before the "final question" I confirmed that we were in first place by 9 points.

HOWEVER.

The activities in these "Grad Games," of which this was the conclusion, had been a wee bit mismanaged all week. The folks in charge were trying their damndest, but it wasn't a smooth operation. Trivia had been no different. Check out the first question (going from memory here):

"Custer's Last Stand" took place in which battle of the American Civil War?

Those trivia hounds among you will of course be jumping out of your seats saying "IT WASN'T IN THE CIVIL WAR! IT WAS LATER!" Exactly. And then there was another question about the last elected president not to be affiliated with the Republican or Democratic party. The answer they gave was Andrew Johnson, but of course Andrew Johnson was never elected; he took over after Lincoln was assassinated. So that kind of thing happened all night.

Now, going into the 'final round,' I figured out that we only had to wager 7 points. If we got it right, nobody could catch us. However, my friend Andrew, putting it all together, tried to insist on wagering all 15. "He's gonna screw it up," he said, speaking of the organizer. "I know he will." He had zero confidence that the numbers wouldn't be totally screwed, and he didn't want to leave anything to chance.

Well, we got the question right (Salvador Dali was the artist inspired by a snail on a bicycle upon meeting Sigmund Freud), and the as the top 3 were being announced, we leaned back, arrogant and reassured, waiting for our name to be called as the winner. All except Andrew, who seemed nervous and unconvinced. The moment came, the room waited in anticipation...and we weren't called.

We weren't even called in the top 3. I checked with the organizer, and he immediately got a horrified look on his face while he checked his numbers. He apologized, gave us a gift certificate, and a bunch of tote bags with t-shirts and an umbrella. He told us we should have finished second, and later sent an e-mail to that effect. But we never got our moment in the sun. And Andrew, that paranoid bastard, was right.

And that, my friends, is a classic trivia punch in the nuts.

Okay so time is really limited here, so let's get to this list quick.


TEN REASONS WHY THE LLWS IS AWESOME



1. The "Purity."

Let's be honest: these kids travel around all year playing baseball, they're the best of the best in their age group, and they're 12. They probably walk around like kings in their hometown. They probably think they're awesome. Their parents are probably hard-charging and sort of intolerable. On the average, they aren't the world's most likable kids. A lot of them will become douchebags in like 2 years. They sort of have an innocent look about them, but that's deceptive. Little kids are bastards. Most of us were either bastards, or had to deal with bastards at that age. Both, in my case. You're not gonna have the same fun personalities as you do at the spelling bee. But when ESPN does the specials about the purity of the game, over music montages and pictures of wheat fields, I'm on board.

2. Instant Replay

Well done, Little League!

3. The Joy

It's fun to see little kids having a great time.

4. The Tears

It's fun to see little kids crying. (Oh don't act like you're so superior, Mr. Morals.)

5. The Trivia Factoids

My favorite was when every single player from Staten Island said their favorite major leaguer was Jason Marquis, since he came from their area. I also like trying to guess where they got their nicknames, like "Donuts." (I bet it had something to do with donuts, but then again, that could be a classic red herring.)

6. Rooting Against the International Teams

As a kid, Chinese Taipei was like the most evil team in the world for me. They often beat the US team in the title game, and I couldn't stand it. I didn't realize at the time that 'Chinese Taipei' is commie code word for Taiwan, which is the good China. I still hold some of that lingering resentment.

7. Japan's Peaked Caps

On the other hand, I love Team Japan and the way they crease their hats.


That's the kind of cultural oddity I can really get into. Obviously, they have a huge advantage when it rains.

8. No More Bully Pitchers

There were a couple of years there where some big post-pubescent goon would just throw 70mph and strike everyone out. Now, the players have gotten better, and a pitcher has to have a full arsenal. It's not good enough to just have a killer fastball anymore; these kids will tee off. You need a change, and a decent curve. It's more like real baseball now.

9. Momentum's Huge Role

When kids are this young, momentum is just gigantic. It doesn't matter if a team is down 10-0. If the crowd gets going, and a comeback is in the works, the pressure can mount to an enormous degree. You can see the other team getting deflated as the pitcher looks closer and closer to crying, and the comeback team is totally pumped and energetic. This doesn't happen in professional sports as much since the players have been their before and are better emotionally equipped to handle adversity. It still happens a little in college, but not to this degree. For kids on national tv for the first time, dealing with enormous pressure, momentum can change a game in a heartbeat.

10. The Asshole Coach

Most of the coaches are nice and encouraging, or at least pretend to be since they know the ESPN cameras are on them at all times. But there's always one guy, usually from somewhere in the south, who is so much of an asshole that he just doesn't give a shit about being on live tv. He wants to win, and his aggressive, domineering personality will not be curbed by potential hatred from a large viewing audience. It's always a blast to see him berating a kid on the mound. Who is that guy?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Google Searches!

This morning I'll be returning to an old feature where I share some of the google searches that led unsuspecting souls to my blog. These are all true and verbatim, taken from my statcounter page. Most of the google searches are either people searching for information about Seth Curry, or just googling my blog title to get here. But occasionally there are some random dandies. I'm only doing the oddballs. Here we go!

August 17-19

"What School has the most 1,000 yard rushers USC UNC" led to this post. I don't have a joke for this one, I just wanted to point out that it was the first time in history anyone actually had their question answered via google search at Seth Curry Saves Duke! He had to read all the way to the bottom of a long post to get it, but typically this blog likes to lure people in, promise them big things, and then deliver a weird poem or a rant about horses or something. I feel really, really proud right now.

"Judi Dench" led to this post. On the other hand, I get at least 20 hits a month from people searching for Judi Dench. Interestingly enough, my family did a time capsule fifteen years ago, made predictions for each other, and buried it. When we opened it last month, both my mom and my dad predicted that I'd have a blog about Judi Dench. And there weren't even blogs back then!

"Great Moments or with the vuvuzela" led to this post. The searcher was from South Africa, and we can only conclude that he was so traumatized by a month of droning horns that he has now separated existence into two spheres: great moments, and 'with the vuvuzela.' I bet when his friends call him to come out for a picnic, he's like "oh cool...just a quick question. Will there be vuvuzelas there?" And his friend is like "what? I don't know." And then he goes "WELL THEN I DON'T KNOW IF I'LL BE COMING TO YOUR PICNIC!" and slams the phone. And then he just weeps and weeps and weeps.

"Miles Plumlee's Girlfriend" led to this post. Yup, these hits are still coming. But just so that content doesn't get buried too far back, let's make sure google still recognizes SCSD! as the #1 source for info on Plumlee girlfriends. As usual, I apologize to my normal readers...I just gotta do certain things for the money:

MASON PLUMLEE MILES PLUMLEE GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS! GIRLFRIENDS GALORE PLUMLEE SEX HUGE DONGS GIRLS LOVE 'EM PLUMLEE GIRLS XXX OMG SEX ALL THE TIME NOBODY AT DUKE ACTUALLY HAS SEX WHAT WHO SAID THAT PLUMLEE PLUMLEE PLUMEE MASON AND MILES GIRLFRIEND TRUST ME HOTTEST GIRL EVER XXX OMG PLUMLEE GIRLFRIEND 69!



"DukeGrads@gmail.com" led to this post.

UNC Freshman #1: Yo, you know what would be awesome?
UNC Freshman #2:: What?
UNC Freshman #1:: To punk every single Duke grad at once.
UNC Freshman #2:: It can't be done! You know that, man. Millions have tried.
UNC Freshman #1:: Yeah, but those millions are missing an angle, man.
UNC Freshman #2:: What?
UNC Freshman #1:: What if they all have a single e-mail address? You know those fuckers do. You know it man. That's how they take care of each other. That's how they run the world, man.
UNC Freshman #2:: Holy shit. You're right.
Both:: GOOGLE!

4 hours later

UNC Freshman #1: I'm starting to hate this fucking blog, man.


"LSU North Carolina football tailgate" led to this post. (Nerd voice) Well, my friend, if you are interested in that section of the parking lot which includes a friendly game of checkers and perhaps a tarot card reading if we hit it off, then you have come to the right place. If, however, you are seeking alcoholic beverages, I suggest you find one of the many neanderthal sporting blogs polluting the world wide web. (Pushes his glasses firmly and emphatically up nose)

"Duke Player at UCLA" led to this post. YOU IDIOT! HE'S SUPPOSED TO BE UNDERCOVER!

"Concrete jungle where dreams are made of grammatically incorrect" led to this post. (Nervous nerd voice) Are you...are you...female? Do you...do you like...tarot cards?

"Opening up for my first cavities" led to this post. Yo, that's a creepy-ass way to search about teeth, dude. You took a painful and unpleasant experience and made it eight times worse by writing a sentence that sounds weirdly sexual. Thanks for skeeving me out. Please don't read my blog. This isn't a fetish site for people who like to be ordered around by old man dentists. GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE YOU PERVERT, YOU'RE GIVING ME THE HEEBIE JEEBIES. I DON'T LIKE THIS FEELING!

"I say hey, I'll be gone today, I'll be back around the way, not quite, hey, I'm going to Zimbabwe" led to this post. Well that's a weird one. I wonder what it could mean...my own google searches turn up nothing...what could it be? Hey, wait a second...cavity guy? Is that you again?! I TOLD YOU TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE, MAN! NOBODY LIKES YOU! I'M SERIOUSLY GONNA CALL THE COPS! THEY WATCH THE INTERNET NOW, TOO. THIS ISN'T YOUR CREEPY SAFE HAVEN ANYMORE!

"Coach K has the chance to stack recruiting in 2011" led to this post. I edited this one down. The full search was "Diabolical genius Mike Krzyzewski, using mind control devices he invented in the late 80s and only perfected last summer, has a chance to achieve true college basketball domination beginning in 2011 when his evil plan comes to fruition and he lures unsuspecting recruits in from all over the country."

"Enthusiastic coach blogs" led to this post. "Look, I'm a man who knows what he wants. I don't care what sport we're talking about, I don't care about the players, the money, the stadiums, or the wins and losses. Championships are meaningless to me. I care about the coaches, and I care about their enthusiasm. I want to see pictures and video of coaches going apeshit. Show me where to go, google, and don't beat around the bush. I'm a busy man."

"How is Seth Curry doing at Duke" led to the main blog.

Googler: How is Seth Curry doing at Duke?
Internet: Saving it.
Googler: Seriously?
Internet: Read the blog title, man.
Googler: Wow. Thanks.

That's it for today, Little League World Series post tomorrow. I guarantee Cavity Guy shows up for that one, the creep.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Scattershot Post for the Dog Days

Every year, there comes a point in mid-August when I'm just bone tired. It doesn't slow me down physically, but I can just feel my northern European body begging for an end to summer. Every time I step out into the heat, it's like discovering a piece of moderately bad news. There are only two ways to deal with it. First, you can stay inside the whole time. Second, you can just go out, immerse yourself, and get drenched. I've tried both, and I honestly prefer the second option at this point. At least then you feel a slight sense of accomplishment afterward, even if your skin feels like it's being Indian-rubbed by a lion. If I'm indoors too long, I find myself doing things like lying on the carpet and seeing how many times I can roll between one wall and the other.

The end date to this madness depends on what kind of year it's been, but I typically set the line at September 15. Sometimes mother nature will grant a reprieve on September 1st, but you can't count on it. So here on August 18, we're about 1/3 of the way through the 45 days of hell. With that in mind, let's hit the bullets and let this post reflect our frayed yet hopeful mental states.


-First: the Little League World Series starts on Saturday. When I was a kid, I loved the Little League World Series. I dreamed of playing in it, I rooted hard for the American teams, and I was glued to the television. Now that I'm older...I love the Little League World Series. I dream of playing in it. I root even harder for the Americans. I'll scream at anyone who comes between me and the tv.

Seriously, it's an awesome event. These kids just keep getting better and better at baseball, but their emotions are still completely raw. I would argue that a kid playing in the LLWS cares more about his team's fortunes than a major leaguer playing in the actual World Series. In fact, I just decided I'm going to write a post on Friday about the top 10 reasons I love the LLWS.

I read this morning that Tom's River, New Jersey won their regional last night. The only reason this caught my eye is because I still remember the 1998 Tom's River team that won the whole thing. I was 15 at that point, but for two weeks I definitely idolized the 12 year-old (and younger) players on that team. Todd Frazier- who wore his hat tilted up and had sort of a toothy smile- was my favorite, and when I googled the team just now, it turns out he's a top prospect in the Reds organization, currently playing for AAA Louisville. So there ya go.

-The Yanks had a nice rebound win last night, beating Detroit 6-2 on CC's 7 strong innings. Ursa Major notched his 16th win of the season, and Robbie hit his 22nd home run. The game was on the MLB Network, meaning I didn't have to jump through hoops to hook up my computer to the tv and pray for the crappy video feed not to skip. What a great channel, by the way. At some point I'll have to write a homage.

-Speaking of Robbie, he's in a bit of a slide this month. Since August 1st, he's batting .232 with only two multi-hit games all month. His overall average has dropped 16 points, and he's now fifth in the American League at .322. Meanwhile, Josh Hamilton keeps getting hotter up in Texas, and is currently at .359. Robbie's shot at the batting title, which seemed so strong in the first half of the season, is getting longer all the time. It would now take an extraordinary hot streak, along with a prolonged slump by Hamilton, to make it happen.

-The World Basketball Championships start next Saturday. This event only concerns me insofar as Coach K is at the helm. From a selfish standpoint, I wish he wasn't. He's not getting any younger, and there was a lot of talk that the Olympics wore him out in '08. I'm not sure how substantial any of it was, but still, dedicating months of your energy to a team that has to win a 2-week tournament overseas has to be taxing. This year's Duke team will be incredibly exciting and young, and they need the full benefit of Coach K's leadership and wisdom to transition from raw talent to tournament contenders. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but if the WBC detracts from that in any way, it'd be a shame.

-Don't you hate waking up with a song stuck in your head? At first it seems kinda cool, but it quickly becomes really grating. In the first moment, you're like 'oh sweet, I'm still singing 'Hang on Sloopy' up in the old brain.' But when you've brushed your teeth and are eating your cereal, it starts getting pretty old. And then I always have that moment where I'm like "oh God, what if I can never stop singing 'Hang On Sloopy' in my head??? What then? Will I go crazy? Will I be the first person to go crazy because of that song??" And then you spiral into a panic, and the next thing you know you're running naked through the parking lot of your building, and then you're on the ground, and you think about your circumstances, and you start singing "I'm cold and I'm ashamed, lying naked on the floor," and then you go into a full rendition of "Torn" by Natalia Imbruglia, and you're like 'sweet, a new song.' Always happens.

-I played in a dodgeball tournament last night, and my team finished third. I won't bore you with the details, but holy shit, dodgeball is just as fun as I remember from middle school. I highly recommend playing dodgeball if you ever have a chance. The game gets a bad rap because it's the typical bad memory go-to for sports-haters who later become writers or comedians or whatever. They moan about the bullies and the fear and the brutality and etc. But here's the truth: it doesn't hurt to get hit by a kickball. It might hurt for a second, but in the grand scheme of things, it's pretty tame. Also, hitting another person with a dodgeball is a thrill. If you can't enjoy it, something's wrong with you. It's pretty much the closest you can come to hunting another human without joining the army. Last night, my friend Nick and I did a two-person charge on this guy from the other team, and you could see the terror in his eyes. He back-pedaled, we pegged, and we both missed. The terror became relief, and just as we saw the change in his eyes, my friend Josh came from the blind side and absolutely obliterated him. It was glorious and primal.

-At what point is it okay to wish for Brett Favre to be seriously injured? I don't think I'm there yet, but the fact that the whole back-and-forth about his retirement is happening again is pulling me ever closer. I logged on to ESPN the other day, and before I could navigate to the MLB page, I had to see streaming video of John Clayton discussing Favre like it was life or death news. John Clayton creeps me out anyway, and to hear him talking about Favre like some kind of rapt lackey makes me want to take a long shower.


Weird trivia: Clayton actually played football for Duquesne University. And now that I'm reading more about him, I feel kinda bad for saying he creeps me out.

-Last, I hope this is real:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Theme Songs for Every Yankee

(I've always thought it was a shame that American fans don't sing like their European counterparts. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that our sports are way less boring, but anyway, it'd still be fun to hear everyone in Yankee stadium in full throat. With that in mind, here are theme songs for all 5 Yankee starting pitchers and the regular lineup.




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Fat-Bottomed Girls" by Queen

Ohhhh! You're gonna get a win tonight!
Ohhhh! You're gonna set the place alight!
Ohhhh! It's gonna be a lovely sight!
Sabathia, you make the Yankee world go round!




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Time of the Season" by The Zombies

What's your name? (What's your name?)
Hughes your daddy? (Hughes your daddy?)
Can he pitch like me?
Can he make (can he make)
Uncle Charlie (Uncle Charlie)
Go diving from...twelve to six?
The swings will come up wanting
Can you dig?
The papers call me haunting
It's the time of the season
for Phil Hughes!




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Sugar Sugar" by The Archies

Ohhhh Andy!
(do do dooo doo do do)
Come on Mister Pettitte!
(do do dooo doo do do)
It's almost October now
and we know you're on the case
Pettitte
(do do dooo doo do do)
Come on Dandy Andy!
(do do dooo doo do do)
You are our lefty ace
And we're going to win it all!




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Song for Myla Goldberg" by The Decemberists

Javy Vazquez sets a steady hand inside his glove!
Javy Vazquez hurls a heater, and laces it with love
It spins around
It spins around
It spins around
It spins around
Still waiting down at the plate-
The patient batttt-er
It's only eighty-seven...
Swing and a miss-
a strikeout for Javy!




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Dueling Banjos"

(Instrumental)




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z

Je-ter!
Yankee shortstop that dreams are made of!
There's nothing he can't do!
Je-ter!
The sweetest swing we remember-
He's Mr. November!




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night

Nick Swisher is a Bomber!
Owns a World Series ring
He's a hero in the bleachers out in deep right field
And he makes the lumber sing!

Oh what a lovely swing!

And we all say...

Joy to the Yanks!
Everyone give thanks!
Joy to the Creatures out in 2-0-3!
Joy to you and me!




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Tomorrow" from Annie

Another one out-
Teixeira!
Bet your bottom dollar that Teixeira
hits home runsssss...

From right or from left
Teixeira!
He's the switch-hit slugger
and gold gloverrrr....

Teixeira!
Teixeira!
We love you! Teixeira!
You're simply the best around.




Theme sung song to the tune of: "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" from Wizard of Oz

A-Rod
He might go yard!
He hits so hard!
Be on your guard!
A-Rod
He might go yard again!

A-Rod
He might go deep!
It's never cheap!
The pitchers weep!
A-Rod
He might go deep again!




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Hang on Sloopy" by The McCoys

Robbie is a man who hails from the Do-min-i-can (oooo-ooo-ooo)
and everyone we know wants to see our Robbie win (oooo-ooo-ooo)
Robbie all the old men say you play like Carew (oooo-ooo-ooo)
So come on Robbie now, hit it sweetly like you do... (oooo-ooo-ooo)

And so we sing out!

Swing on, Robbie!
Robbie Cano!
(with hand signals:) C-A-N-O!
Swing on, Robbie!
Robbie Cano!
(with hand signals:) C-A-N-O!




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Angel of the Morning" by Juice Newton

We see no need to hold our tongues...
He's far too old to go unsung!

Just call him Jorge, of the Yankeeees! (Jorge)
Touch every base along the way, baby
Just call him Jorge, of the Yankeeees! (Jorge)
Then slowly...trot away




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Rock You Like a Hurricane" by The Scorpions

More hits to come
More bags to steal
He's gotta run
He knows the deal!

Grand-er-son!
Rock us like a hurricane!
Grand-er-son!
Rock us like a hurricane!




Theme song sung to the tune of: "La Cucaracha"

Senor Cervelli!
Senor Cervelli!
Looks just like a ten year-old
And when he hits it
You'd never know that
he is really twenty-four!

(He'll get a better theme song when he earns it, okay?)




Theme song sung to the tune of: "Born to Run" by Springsteen

Baby first base is a thorn in his side!
It's a death trap! It's a suicide ride!
He's got the fastest trigger on the speediest gun!
He's Brett the Jet! Baby he was bornnnnn to run!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Stasis: How the Yankees are Surviving August

No Yankee fan can be happy with how this month has played out. It started with series losses to Tampa and Toronto, an unsatisfying 4-game split with Boston, a very lucky 2-game split with Texas, and a mortifying split this weekend with Kansas. The latter 'failure' is particularly upsetting on paper, since KC is one of the four worst teams in the American League. Also, yesterday's defeat came at the hands of yet another untested young pitcher, Brian Bullington, who has never had success on the big league level. In fact, he didn't even have a win prior to yesterday's start. But as always, a new face utterly mystified the Yanks, who managed 2 hits in 8 innings and wasted a rare gem by AJ Burnett.

The dissatisfaction is real, but is it warranted? As awesome as it would be to play professional sports for a living, the month of August seems like a rough time to be a major leaguer. The excitement of the early season has worn off, and the all-star break is in the rearview mirror, but it's too soon to think about the playoffs. The heat can be intolerable, injuries start to stack up, and it must be a struggle to avoid mental and physical fatigue. For a team like the Yankees, with a good shot at the postseason, maybe stasis isn't so bad. Pettitte is out, the bats are hibernating, and they've had to play in some truly hot locations, particularly Arlington, Texas. Is it reasonable to be happy with what appears to be a muted effort? Can a Yankee fan be satisfied by an approach that looks an awful lot like treading water?

Let's peek at the numbers. First, the standings. The Yanks are 6-8 in August. When the month began, here's how the AL East looked, with standings and games back (apologies for the crap formatting):

August 1

NYY -
TBR 1
BOS 6.5
TOR 12.5
BAL 34.5


And here's how they stand today:

August 16

NYY -
TBR 1
BOS 6
TOR 10
BAL 31.5


In other words, nothing significant has changed. Toronto gained some ground, but Tampa and Boston were treading water, too. And when you look at those teams, you realize that they've been dealing with a lot of the same issues facing the Yanks. Niemann is out for Tampa, Boston's entire staff and bullpen have been struggling, and neither team could take advantage of the Yankee lapse. In August, nobody has it easy.

I sorted the standings by month, and it turns out Boston has allowed 67 runs this month, the most of any AL team besides Detroit. Like the Yanks, their run differential is only +1. The Rays are faring slightly better at +6, but a poor road record has consigned them to 7-7 on the month.

In fact, only three teams in the league have managed a record more than one game over .500 thus far in August. They are: Baltimore (9-5), Toronto (8-5), and Minnesota (10-4). Only the Twins really had anything to gain.

Then I got to wondering...is it possibly smart to take it easy in August? Not that any team is sandbagging, but could limited energy output (signified by losses, in this hypothesis) benefit a team in October? Is it unwise to peak in the dog days of summer? Here are the August records of every World Series team for the past few years:

2009

Yankees: 21-7*^
Philadelphia: 16-11*

2008

Tampa Bay: 21-7*^
Philadelphia: 16-13

2007

Boston: 16-13
Colorado: 15-14

2006

Detroit: 13-16
St. Louis: 13-15

2005

Chicago White Sox: 12-16
Houston Astros: 13-14

2004

Boston: 21-7*^
St. Louis: 21-7*^

2003

New York: 17-12
Florida: 14-14

2002

Los Angeles: 18-11*
San Francisco: 18-10*

That's as far back as ESPN will let me go. Unfortunately, these numbers don't show very much. Of the 16 teams listed, the ones with asterisks are those whose August records surpassed their season winning percentage. In other words, 9 out of 16 teams (56%) underperformed in August, based on their own season standards. But obviously, underperforming is fairly subjective. In 2003, the Yankees went 17-12, which is by no means a bad month. It just happened to pale in comparison to the rest of their season. Seven of the 16 teams had what we'll call 'exceptional' August runs, even if it fell below their season standard. Six teams were mediocre to poor- either one game over .500 or below. The last three were modestly successful.

You'll also notice the carrots next to certain teams. That ^ signifies that they had their league's best record in the month of August. It's only happened with four of the last 16 World Series teams, and only twice for the eventual champion. Conversely, there have been 3 World Series champions whose August record was below .500.

Dishonest but Statistically True Conclusion*: You're 150% more likely to win the World Series if your August record is below .500 than if you have the best record in your league!

*Since 2002

In truth, it seems you can't predict a team's future based on August, either positively or negatively (unless you want to say that the team with the best August record in their league has a 25% chance of making the Fall Classic). And this post has been a long, convoluted way of saying that even though current conditions and results haven't been favorable to the Yanks, I'm not worried.

And either is Yogi Berra.