Ryan Howard, Ryan Hanigan, Bruce Dreckman

Ryan Howard’s ability to hit lefties is not a matter of opinion


I was just reading this profile on Ryan Howard over at Philly.com. It’s your standard spring optimism piece. Howard feels way better now than last year and is ready to return to form. Nothing all that notable in the story.

But midway down the story, a poll appears:


Internet polls are all pretty meaningless, especially the actual results. But this one is particularly astounding to me inasmuch as it treats something which is wholly empirical — whether or not Ryan Howard can hit lefties — as though it were a matter of opinion or belief. Which may not seem like a big deal, but when you think about it this is the exact reason why so much sports conversation is stupid.

For better or worse, people have been conditioned to think that their opinions and beliefs, no matter how loony they are, are just as valid as anyone’s else’s. So when one challenges a given opinion or belief, one understandably gets an extreme amount of pushback and intransigence. That’s well and good when we’re talking about a lot of opinions or beliefs. I believe that “Tonight’s the Night” is the best Neil Young album. I don’t care how many of you ninnies think “After the Gold Rush” is better, I’m simply not going to buy it and if you insist on it I’m ultimately gonna think poor things of you and ignore you. For your part, I hope you feel the same way about me in this respect.

But when someone treats something that is purely empirical as thought it were belief, that’s the road to lunacy and ignorance.  No matter how big a Phillies fan you are and no matter how badly you want to see Ryan Howard take Clayton Kershaw downtown the next time they meet, it is inescapable — it is a matter of pure, immutable fact — that Ryan Howard has struggled mightily against lefties for his career and that he has gotten worse, not better, at hitting them as time has gone on. This is true whether he has been healthy or injured. With few, long ago exceptions, he has always been a liability against lefthanders.

Sports fans — and even a lot of sports writers — treat empirical things as though they were matters of belief. They believe Howard can hit lefties. They believe Jack Morris was the best pitcher of the 1980s. They believe that Michael Young’s leadership and professionalism make him an MVP-caliber player. They believe that Derek Jeter is a good defensive shortstop.  And if someone says “he can’t,” “he wasn’t,” “it doesn’t” and “he isn’t,” you’re not just wrong, you’re assailing one’s belief system, and that makes you an awful person.

Empiricism vs. Belief. It’s the core of a lot of political arguments. It’s also the core of a lot of baseball arguments. If only we could all agree which things are matters of which, imagine how much better everyone would get along.

The Yankees were booed last night. Did they deserve it?

Masahiro Tanaka

The boos came raining down from the Yankee Stadium faithful last night. They started when Brett Gardner grounded out in the eighth inning. More came later. A lot of it was, no doubt, based on Gardner’s disappointing performance late in the season. A lot of it was because, around that time, it seemed like the Yankees had zero shot whatsoever to mount a comeback. Which, in fact, they didn’t. A lot of it was pent-up frustration, I assume, from a late season skid which saw the Yankees lose their lead in the AL East and wind up in the Wild Card Game in the first place.

Anyone who buys a ticket has a right to boo. Especially when they buy a ticket as expensive as Yankees tickets are. It’s obviously understandable to be disappointed when your team loses. Especially when your team is eliminated like the Yankees were. And last night’s game was particularly deflating, with that 3-0 Astros lead feeling more like 10-0 given how things were going.

But isn’t booing something more than a mere manifestation of disappointment? Isn’t a step beyond? Booing isn’t saying “I’m sad.” It’s saying “you suck!” It’s not saying “I’m disappointed,” it’s saying “you should be ashamed of yourselves!” And with all respect to Yankees fans, the 2015 Yankees have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

This was a club expected to miss the playoffs, full stop. Maybe some people allowed for an if-everything-breaks-right flight of fancy, but hardly anyone expected them to play meaningful games late in the year, let alone a playoff game. They were too old. Too injured. There weren’t enough young reinforcements to fill the gaps. Some even went so far as to claim that they were about to spend years in the wilderness.

But then A-Rod broke out of the gate strong. And Michael Pineda had a really nice first couple of months. And Mark Teixeira put up numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place for him several years ago. The bullpen did what it was supposed to do and more, Masahiro Tanaka held together somehow and, eventually, a couple of young players like Greg Bird and Luis Severino came in to reinforce things. The not-going-anywhere Yankees were contenders. And they led the division for a good while. Of course they stumbled late. And of course they lost last night, but by just about any reasonable measure, this was a good team — better than expected — and, unlike a lot of Yankees teams in the past, was pretty darn enjoyable to watch.

Then the boos. I just can’t see how this Yankees team deserved that.

I realize a lot of people in the media have duped a lot of people into thinking that a team with a high payroll is supposed to be dominant. And I realize George Steinbrenner duped a whole lot of people into thinking that anything less than a World Series championship for the New York Yankees is failure. But that’s rhetoric and branding, not reason. In the real world where baseball players play baseball games World Series titles are rare, even for the Yankees. At the end of the season all but one of 30 teams are either at home for the playoffs or went home after suffering a gut-wrenching playoff loss. The Yankees are the most dominant franchise in the history of American professional sports yet they still have finished their year without a title over 75% of the time.

With that as a given, fans are left to judge their team’s performance based on its talent, its health, its heart, its entertainment value and the strength of the opposition which ultimately vanquished it. The Yankees weren’t nearly as talented as many, yet made the playoffs anyway. They were a walking hospital ward, let limped on. They never quit and never got pulled down into the sort of muck a lot of New York teams find themselves in when things start to go sideways. And, ultimately, they were simply beat by a better team. By any reasonable measure the 2015 Yankees were a good story, a successful enterprise, a resilient bunch and no small amount of fun.

It’s OK to be sad that it ended as it did. But that doesn’t deserve to be booed. Not by a long shot.

Collin McHugh will start Game 1 of the ALDS for the Astros

Collin McHugh Astros
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After using ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel to get past the Yankees in the Wild Card game the Astros will turn to right-hander Collin McHugh in Game 1 of the ALDS versus the Royals.

McHugh had an up-and-down year, posting a 3.89 ERA compared to his 2.73 mark last season, but thanks to good teammate support he had a 19-7 record and his 171/53 K/BB ratio in 204 innings was solid. He was particularly good down the stretch, posting a 2.89 ERA and 69/20 K/BB ratio in 72 innings after August 1.

McHugh will match up against Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura in Game 1. Houston hasn’t named a starter for Game 2 yet, while Kansas City is going with Johnny Cueto. And then the Game 3 matchup figures to be Dallas Keuchel versus Edinson Volquez.