World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

Which ending was weirder: Game 3 or Game 4?

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We sports fans will argue about anything. ANYTHING. Everyone knows that. We will not only argue about who the American League MVP should be, we will argue about the Dolphins’ new helmet (old one better), we will argue about Frank Caliendo’s best impression (Morgan Freeman), we will argue about the strongest arm in the NFL (Joe Flacco usually wins the day, but after Sunday night I’m more convinced that it’s actually Aaron Rodgers), we will argue about what horrible thing should happen to the Jeremy family in the T-Mobile commercials (stranded on desert island without power).

In many ways, we sports fans are like the parents in Woody Allen’s classic “Radio Days.”

Narrator: And then there were my father and mother … two people who could find an argument in any subject.
Father: Wait a minute. Are you telling me you think the Atlantic is a greater ocean than the Pacific?
Mother: No, have it your way. The Pacific is great.

When Sunday’s World Series Game 4 ended, I reflexively tweeted* that, in a way, the finish was even weirder than the already classic obstruction call that ended Game 3.

*New JoeWord: Twex, verb, to tweet something instantly, emotionally and with almost instant regret. Can also be used as a noun.

Several people almost instantly responded with a simple response: No way. And also: You are crazy. And I got a few emails that said: No way. And also: You are crazy. And then a friend of mine wanted to argue that there is NO WAY that Kolen Wong getting picked off to end Game 4 could be weirder than the whole Allen-Craig-Will-Middlebrooks-Jim-Joyce obstruction party that ended Game 3. He too mentioned that I was crazy.

Wait a minute. Are you telling me you think the Atlantic is a greater ocean than the Pacific?

Of course, it doesn’t matter — they’re both weird. They’re both unprecedented (no World Series had ever ended either way). They’re both keyed around colossal blunders that you would not expect Major League Baseball players to make. There’s a bit of controversy in the obstruction, I suppose, while I have not heard anyone say the umpire missed the call on Wong. It doesn’t really seem a subject worth arguing about.

So let’s argue about it anyway.

The thing about the obstruction call is that the only weird part WAS the obstruction. The rest of it was just good and bad baseball. St. Louis’ Jon Jay hit a ground ball that Boston’s Dustin Pedroia stabbed and threw home in time to get the runner. Good baseball. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia then launched the ball somewhere toward third base in an utterly misguided effort to get a runner that was already there. Bad baseball. If third baseman Will Middlebrooks and runner Allen Craig don’t get tied up, Craig scores, the game’s over and nothing especially crazy happened. But they did get tied up, then the outfield throw beat Craig to the plate, and Jim Joyce called obstruction. Weird. No doubt.

But think now about Sunday night’s game. In the ninth inning, the Red Sox led the game by two runs. With one out, that man Allen Craig singleed off closer Koji Uehara and limped to first base. It would have been a double for just about anyone with two functional legs. Uehara is almost unhittable, except by Allen Craig — he must have some Kojinite or something. Anyway, Craig was replaced a pinch runner by Kolen Wong, a 23-year old rookie who was born in Hawaii. Wong had been in the big leagues long enough to get 62 plate appearances — he hit .153/.194/.169, so that wasn’t why he was on the World Series roster. He was there to pinch-run and play some late-inning defense.

Wong did not represent the tying run, of course, so he did not figure to be an important part of the story. The Cardinals were sending up two of their best hitters — Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran — so the focus was on home plate. Uehara had the lowest WHIP in baseball history (for pitchers with 50-plus innings pitched). Carpenter had a legitimate MVP season. Beltran has an amazing postseason history. This was going to be good.

But something really weird was happening in the background. The Red Sox were holding Wong on at first. This was hard to figure. It might have made just a little bit of sense when Matt Carpenter was hitting because there was only one out and pinning Wong at first base kept the double play in order. But let’s be real here: In that situation, almost any other team would concede the double play rather than give up the giant hole on the left side of the infield with a talented left-handed hitter like Matt Carpenter up there. Red Sox manager John Farrell has proven that he dances to his own tune. Anyway, when Carpenter hit an infield pop-up for the second out of the inning that double-play reason was gone.

And still the Red Sox held on Kolten Wong at first base — even with dead-pull hitter Carlos Beltran up next.

Everyone, these days, seems to be talking a lot about the difference between process and results. The discussion is based around the superficially simple idea that you really want to focus on how you do things rather than how they turn out. This can be frustrating, though. Sometimes, a thing done well ends up badly. You might leave an hour early for an important meeting, buy your client’s favorite coffee on the way, then have someone carelessly sideswipe your car, delaying you so long that you show up late with the coffee cold enough to make the client spit it out. You lose the contract. You get demoted. The process was right — leaving an hour early, buying the coffee. But the result was bad.

And, just as frustrating, you might do things COMPLETELY wrong and have them turn out well. You might leave 20 minutes late for that same meeting, catch every light, have the client and your boss stuck in traffic, and have a friendly co-worker give you the client’s favorite coffee at the last possible second, which wins you the contract.

The temptation, of course, is to judge things by the results — and we usually do. The boss in the first scenario might be angry enough to demote you and to give you a giant raise in the second. In reality, the first process is much better than the second and should work much more often. But it’s hard to judge things that way. You wouldn’t give the first guy a raise for losing the client. You would demote the second guy for winning the contract. This is luck. This is randomness. This is life.

The process of holding on Kolen Wong on first base seems to me hopelessly flawed. It seems exponentially more likely that Carlos Beltran would whack a hit through the gaping hole in the infield than anything good happening because you held the runner.

But … the result was shockingly good for Boston. Wong blundered in a way that, sadly, will always attach itself to his name. He learned a bit and Uehara unexpectedly threw to first. Wong’s right foot slipped a bit as he tried to dive back to the bag, and he was out. You can give a million reasons why Wong should not have been picked off. His run wasn’t the important one. There was no need for him to get to second base. His sole purpose out there was to make sure Carlos Beltran got his chance at the plate.

But reasons don’t matter here — nobody was more aware of the situation than Wong. He made a combo physical/mental mistake — a mesical mistake — and he was out.

And I would put that whole series of events — the fact that the Red Sox held on Wong in the first place, the fact that Uehara actually threw over there, the fact that Wong would do the one thing he was out there not to do — as being an even weirder series of events than the Saturday night craziness.

In percentage form, I would put it like this:

Game 3 ending:

Percent chance that Salty would throw the ball (and throw it away): 2%
Percent chance that Middlebrooks and Craig would tangle up: 1%
Percent chance that umpire would call interference: 60%

Total percentage: .012% (1 in 8,333)

Game 4 ending:
Percent chance that the Red Sox would hold on Wong: 5%
Percent chance that Uehara would throw over: 20%
Percent chance that Wong would get picked off: 1%

Total percentage: .01% (1 in 10,000).

So the Game 4 ending was inarguably weirder.*

*These percentages have been verified by the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers or someone like them and therefore cannot be argued with, rescinded, not even questioned. Also, the Pacific Ocean is better than the Atlantic.

Reds hire Lou Pinella as a senior advisor to baseball operations

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The Reds announced on Twitter that the club has hired former manager Lou Pinella in a consultant capacity as a senior advisor to baseball operations. John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer adds that Pinella will also spend time with the team at spring training.

Pinella, 72, was last seen with the Giants in 2011, also in a consultant capacity, but he spent only the one season there. He has 23 seasons of experience as a manager, with his most recent four coming with the Cubs between 2007-10.

Stick to Sports? NEVER! The Intersectionalist Manifesto

Fans wait for autographs from Atlanta Braves players during a spring training baseball workout Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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At Baseball Prospectus on Friday, Rian Watt wrote something which opened my eyes. The article was entitled “What Comes After Sabermetrics.” It was not really about sabermetrics as such. It was about what we do here at HardballTalk and have done for a few years now. And what some others writers I admire have been doing as well. I had no idea until reading Watt’s article, however, that that’s what we were all doing, but we are and I think it’s worth talking explicitly about what that is and why it’s important.

But let me start at the beginning.

Watt starts off talking about what a lot of people have said in the past few years: sabermetrics has gotten stale. Or, since so many great analysts have been hired by teams and since most of the bleeding-edge stuff has moved in-house with clubs, maybe it’s just that sabermetric writing has gotten stale. There’s a sense that all of the big discoveries and insights have been made and that most of what happens in that realm now is niggling around the edges in ways that don’t lend themselves to big, broad engaging writing like Bill James used to do. Or, maybe, to written eviscerations of non-believers like Fire Joe Morgan or Joe Sheehan specialized in back in the day. Which, no matter what you thought of them on the substance, were entertaining reads.

I can’t really opine on the “all the big insights have been made” part. I’m no stathead. I also know well enough about how science and analysis works that to say that there won’t be something groundbreaking tomorrow or next year with any sort of certainty is a fool’s game. Someone with a database may very well revolutionize statistical analysis of baseball tomorrow. No one saw DIPS coming, for example. Voros McCracken is sneaky like that. There might be a major breakthrough on defensive metrics. There probably will be. But it is safe to say, I think, that sabermetrics is now a mature area of study and mature areas of study are in a lot of ways less exciting to lay people. When that big breakthrough on defense happens it will be great, but when people are merely refining established areas of any science, it’s mostly of interest only to the scientists.

So Watt asks: what’s next? What’s the next area of baseball writing that might be vital and might give us new insights or different things to talk about that haven’t been talked about at length — or with serious depth — before? The answer:

I think that a second major paradigm shift is already well underway. It’s being missed, however, and taken for something other than it is, because it’s not about sabermetrics, and it’s not about statistics at all. (How could it be, if those things form the bedrock of the existing paradigm?) It is, instead, about sports within the context of the broader society, and about the renewed humanity of the game.

The best baseball writing I’ve read this year has been about more than baseball. It’s been about politics, and race, and gender, and sexuality, and money, and power, and how they all come together in this game we love. It’s placed the game in its social context, and used it as a lens to talk about ideas that are bigger than the nuts and bolts of a box score or a daily recap. It’s engaged with difficult questions about how to be a fan when players you love are disappointingly flawed and human, and how to be a human being living in an often unjust world.

Watt calls those who do this sort of writing “Intersectionalists.” People who write and talk about the places where the sport and the lives of its participants, its fans and society at large intersect. About the business of baseball, labor relations, the culture of fandom and allegiance, the enjoyment of sports as entertainment and the prioritization of sports in people’s lives. Off-the-field things too.

This is exactly the sort of thing I have found the most interesting and about which I have written most passionately in the past several years. I had no inkling that it was part of any kind of paradigm shift — I have always simply written about what interests me — but having thought about it for the past 24 hours or so, and having thought about all of the baseball writing that I read and the writers I most admire, I think it’s safe to say that it is.

Since Friday, there has been a lot of discussion, some of it angry discussion, about Watt’s article. He has taken to social media to try to clarify what he meant and make clear what he was not saying. I and others have likewise had conversations about it and, not surprisingly, some of them have turned into arguments. That’s sort of inevitable with Big Insights like Watt’s, I suppose.

It’s the sort of thing that calls for some sort of declaration of principles. A manifesto or three. Some carrying on of the conversation beyond its introduction. So let’s do that, shall we? I think Q&A format is the best way to handle it.

Major League Baseball Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre, center, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014, before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on domestic violence in professional sports. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the panel, says he called for Tuesday's hearing because "until very recently, the leagues' records have not been very good" on the issue. Torre is flanked by Deputy Managing Director for the?National Football League Players' Association Teri Patterson, left, and Counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association Virginia Seitz. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Q: So, is this some sort of repudiation of sabermetrics? Do the statheads and the intersectionalists have to fight now?

A: NO! As Watt notes, intersectionalist writing is not a rejection of sabermetrics, it’s an evolution that builds on what came before. Sabermetrics was a total game-changer that made people fundamentally reevaluate how we look at baseball. To reject old orthodoxy and take a fresh look at what was really going on in the game. Without that splash of cold water snapping us out of a century of baseball cliche and often-faulty conventional wisdom, intersectionalists would never even be able to ask the questions or to discuss the topics we discuss. Instead of taking a fresh look at, say, hitting, intersectionalism takes a fresh look at the athlete as role model. Or the allegedly hard and fast pillars of the culture of the game. Bill James asked “why are RBI so important?” An intersectionalist might ask “why should I care if the batter flipped his bat?” or “why should fans root for a guy just because he plays for their favorite team?” or “should the fact that a player committed a crime change the way we or his team look at him?”

Maybe the best way to think about it is through a somewhat old term: “The Liberal Arts Wing” of sabermetrics.” Former Baseball Prospectus editors Steve Goldman and Christina Kahrl coined that term to talk about the writers at BP as opposed to the number crunchers. I think it has wider applicability to describe people, like me, whose baseball fandom was energized or reenergized by sabermetrics and whose brains are wired that way but who aim our brains at other questions instead of analytics. I’ve often used the phrase “fellow traveller” of sabermetrics. Liberal arts works too.

 

Q: STICK TO SPORTS!

A: NO! That’s exactly what we will not do. And what we have never done here at HBT. The entire point of it is to understand and appreciate that sports are part of the real world, impact the real world and that the real world impacts sports as well. Why not talk about how they do so and what it means, both for sports and the real world? If you really want to be that dude who keeps their sports fandom hermetically sealed and, within their world of sports fandom, sports are everything, go ahead and be that dude. Just know that you’re boring. You’re David Puddy from “Seinfeld,” unironically painting your face at the game and making your friends uncomfortable. You’re the guy who calls in to talk radio and angrily rants about how some player is “stealing money” because he didn’t hit as well as you had hoped. You’re that guy Fox catches on the camera crying at the ballpark when your boys lose. Don’t be that guy. Even if you follow sports for escapism, understand that sports don’t take place in a vacuum. Understand that it is just a ballgame, that you can LOVE the ballgame with every ounce of your being and that we do too, but that the ballgame is not your entire life nor should it really be and that the players are themselves human beings with human failings. Understand that, once you make that realization, it’s interesting to talk about what sports means for life and what life means for sports.

 

Q: But I don’t want politics in my sports writing!

A: First of all, it’s not just politics. It’s sports culture.  It’s players’ lives off the field. It’s uniform upgrades and new ballparks. It’s TV deals and the business of the game. It’s drugs and addiction and punishment. It’s a team’s role in the community and a player’s status as a role model. It’s Billy Bean’s outreach for diversity in the game, Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities initiatives and the treatment of women as fans by teams in promotions and marketing. Politics comes up sometimes too, but intersectionalism relates to any conceivable aspect of the game, as it in turn relates to the real world in which its participants and its fans actually live.

But you also have to face facts: politics impact sports and sports impact politics. I write about that stuff sometimes. But with all of these issues, it’s still baseball that is the starting point. Baseball and what’s going on with the game that may invoke some political or cultural discussion is the driver, not the shoehorning of politics and culture into a baseball context or using baseball as a pretext for our political hobby horses. But the fact remains: baseball has a labor union and labor politics are relevant. Major League Baseball has a lobbying apparatus with direct contact with Capitol Hill. Major League Baseball is, by its own admission, concerned and interested with expanding outreach to minorities and women. Sometimes, quite often actually, legal and political stuff touches on the game too. The people who run the game contend with that on a daily basis and it directly impacts the product with which you the fan are presented. It’d be foolish for us not to talk about that.

 

Q: Great. So the future of sports writing is political rants, political correctness and Social Justice Warriors telling me that I can’t enjoy anything?

A: Of course not. I’m a liberal dude so you usually know what to expect from me, but there is nothing stopping someone from writing about, say, the value of conservatism in baseball. Indeed, baseball is one of the most conservative institutions there is in many ways and, to the extent it has changed or evolved over the years culturally, that change has been led by commissioners, owners and players, the VAST majority of whom are conservative people. Oh, and they’ve made these changes,  in almost all cases, without intervention of the government. For example, there’s a great case to be made that, for all of Bud Selig’s detractors, he perfectly balanced tradition with “progress” however one wishes to define it and presided over the game as it slowly and deliberately evolved pursuant to a consensus which was built up in the community. That’s kind of the textbook definition of small-c conservatism. There’s also a good argument that, if he had done what more progressive types had demanded of him and made changes just to make changes, it would’ve been a bad thing. Anyone writing about that? Oh wait, this pinko liberal did, but others can too.

Yes, I will grant that many of the most prominent voices in intersectionalist baseball writing are liberal. But they don’t have to be. Social and political issues within the sport, as long as they present themselves organically and aren’t shoehorned in, are open for discussion by everyone. At the moment, yes, there is a good bit of writing out there which comes off as “Freshman social science student has SOMETHING TO SAY!” That discourse is improved and liberal doofuses like me will become less complacent if met with reasoned and respectful pushback from people who don’t share our assumptions. That’s how ALL good discourse works. Indeed, it seems to me that there is a great need for dissenting voices to weigh in NOW lest a certain sort of homogeneousness of opinion sets in and calcifies as the only acceptable form of discourse. In short: if I’m wrong, tell me why! Or, better yet, write a response of your own to it and explain why I’m full of crap. I really am full of crap sometimes.

 

Q: So it’s just now gonna be hot takes and opinion writing? Is actual baseball reporting going to continue to be denigrated the way it has been by some sabermetric types?

A: Not at all. Indeed, there is probably a greater need for good reporting than ever before. Reporting, like opinion, is undergoing its own evolution, after all. Off-the-field stories about players used to be used to explain baseball stuff (i.e. he’s a good guy, so he’s a good player). Such reporting was marginalized or denigrated by some after the rise of sabermetrics, thought of as irrelevant or as mere source-greasing (“The analytics can explain baseball. Why are we talking to Shlabotnik? He doesn’t know what makes him good!”). And to some extent there is some legitimate criticism to be made along those lines. There has also been a well-deserved backlash to it.

If anything, intersectionalism needs more reporting. Maybe fewer game stories and scoops — we’ve gone on at length about the diminished value of such things — but more off-the-field stuff about the athletes as people as opposed to gladiators. Maybe more about the business of the game and things like that. There’s a lot of that in existence already, of course. For starters, good traditional baseball reporters — and off the top of my head I’ll cite Tyler Kepner, Derrick Goold, Andy McCullough, Nick Piecoro, Bill Shaikin, Geoff Baker and many, many others — have always made a point to write stories that go beyond just the Xs and Os. They’re not just checking in with baseball bits, dashed off. Good baseball writing like theirs places baseball in context, describes players as human beings and makes the readers care about the game as it fits in their lives. It’s probably also worth noting that The Players Tribune is doing a lot of this too, delivering to us fresh looks at athletes as human beings. It’s probably the case — and you’ll be shocked to hear me say it — that Murray Chass was doing exactly the sort of reporting I’m talking about here with respect to the business of baseball before most of you were born. Yes, dammit, Murray Chass was an intersectionalist. A lot of old school baseball writers were, even if they were often considered oddballs for being so.

So yes, there have always been people doing this work and doing it well. But we could certainly do with more of it. And, perhaps, from some different sorts of reporters and commentators than those who have done it in the past. More reporters and commentators who question the assumptions of fans, owners, players and league officials rather than defer to them as much as they tend to. More reporters and commentators whose background isn’t necessarily just sports, whose work doesn’t just appear on the sports page and who aren’t necessarily beholden, implicitly or otherwise, to Major League Baseball and the clubs via their access or merely their familiarity and subconscious biases.

Also — and perhaps most importantly — reporters who aren’t so heavily members of the same demographic. There’s no escaping it: there are a lot of white men between the ages of 40 and 60 covering baseball. People with different backgrounds have different perspectives and the entire purpose of intersectionalism in baseball writing is to give us new perspectives. A lot of the sabermetric people were from business and math backgrounds, after all. It took that new look to bring us fresh content. We should strive for greater diversity in baseball writing, not for its own sake, but for the sake of new, interesting work that asks questions which haven’t been asked before and which challenge the assumptions people who look like me or people who see the game only from a press box don’t even realize that they harbor. And, of course, us old white guys can stick around too as long as we appreciate that we do not have anything close to a monopoly on the cultural experience and realize that there is a lot which we try to talk about that, really, we know jack crap about and probably should leave to others who know better.

Children reach to high-five Seattle Mariners' Felix Hernandez after the pitcher participated an instructional clinic that included a game of wiffle ball at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, in Seattle. Earlier at the club, Hernandez presented $100,000 in total grants to five Seattle area nonprofits as part of the Major League Baseball Players Association/Major League Baseball Joint Youth Initiative Players Going Home program. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

While I didn’t know it had a name before the other day, baseball intersectionalism is very much the sort of thing which has interested me and animated my writing for many years now. Indeed, I find that the topics which truly inspire me are exactly the things Rian Watt spoke about on Friday and constitute the subject matter of the baseball writing I most admire. Likewise, the negative reaction Watt refers too — the “stick to sports” refrains — are exactly the sort of response I have received from detractors when I write about these topics, a response I’ve never truly understood and which constitutes a request I will not honor. Ever.

We need more of this sort of writing. We need more people asking the questions about sports that only a few of us have been asking and we need different sorts of people from different backgrounds and with different worldviews asking them.

More baseball fans and readers of baseball writing should ask why things are the way they are and whether or not the way things are are the way they should be.

We should be asking what we expect from baseball players and why we expect it in the first place.

We should be asking what role sports should play in our lives and in society as a whole.

We should look at sports through the lens of our real world experiences and real world realities and see if, through the lens of sports, we can’t make some insights about the real world in return.

I love baseball. My life always has been and always will be better for its presence. We must realize, however, that it’s a strong, strong institution that isn’t going anywhere. Our questioning it and its foundations and assumptions will not damage it too greatly. We should not be afraid to challenge it and its leaders and its participants and its fans to examine what, exactly, we talk about when we talk about baseball and what it is we enjoy about it and why. And perhaps, if enough people ask enough questions about the world baseball inhabits, it can even be improved a bit. Even if it’s just around the edges.

Fernando Rodney left a Caribbean Series game with leg tightness

Seattle Mariners closer Fernando Rodney celebrates after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays in AL baseball action in Toronto on Saturday May 23, 2015.  (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, new Padres reliever Fernando Rodney was taken out of a Caribbean Series game on Thursday due to tightness in his leg. It’s unfortunate timing, as the club’s one-year, $1.6 million contract with the right-hander was also finalized on Thursday.

According to MLB.com, Rodney has logged 2 2/3 innings for the Dominican Republic, allowing three runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Rodney, who turns 39 in March, posted a combined 4.74 ERA with 58 strikeouts and 29 walks across 62 2/3 innings with the Mariners and Cubs this past season. Most of his struggles came with the Mariners, as he compiled a minuscule 0.75 ERA in 12 innings with the Cubs, but pitched in mostly lower-leverage situations.

Diamondbacks have been in touch with Tyler Clippard

New York Mets pitcher Tyler Clippard throws during the eighth inning of Game 2 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
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Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart said on Thursday that while he hadn’t spoken with the representatives for free agent reliever Tyler Clippard, he would likely check in. It didn’t take long for him to act, as Jack Magruder of Fanragsports.com reports that the two sides have been in touch.

Despite his long track record of success as a late-inning reliever, Clippard’s market has been rather quiet this offseason. The soon-to-be 31-year-old posted a 2.92 ERA over 69 appearances last season between the Athletics and Mets, but he was shaky as the year moved along and saw his strikeout percentage fall by over eight percent from 2014. His velocity also continues to decline. Considering those warning signs and the late stage of the offseason, a multi-year deal is likely a stretch.

It was reported on Friday that the Rays are considering Clippard among other free agent relievers.