Author: Craig Calcaterra

Bruce Bochy

HBT Daily: In which I waffle on my World Series pick


In my preview this morning I picked the Royals in seven. I taped this right after I wrote it and literally during the taping of it I talked myself into the Giants in seven.

If you haven’t guessed, I haven’t a clue, but I do have some stuff to say about the World Series anyway.

The World Series will likely be Lorde-free

george brett and lorde

It’s not just the radio stations playing silly radio station games. Major League Baseball and Royals are not flying Lorde in from New Zealand or wherever she is now to sing her little ditty. From the L.A. Times:

. . . when the Royals provided Major League Baseball with their list of proposed World Series entertainers, Lorde was not among them, said Kevin Uhlich, the Royals’ senior vice president of business operations . . . An MLB spokesman said Monday the league had “no plans at the moment for Lorde to be here at any point.”

I feel like having no plans for Lorde to be at any given place at any given point is the default status for most of us. Maybe let us know if there are such plans, ya know?

Whatever. Everyone quoted in the article is right to note that, apart from the title of the song and the backstory of how she wrote the song, it has absolutely nothing to do with baseball or even with broad themes and emotions even marginally applicable to baseball.

I actually saw Lorde in concert last month and she was surprisingly good, but I feel like baseball and it’s interests would be better served with some pop act that lends itself to a bit more fist-pumping and mup-lighting.

Must-click link: surviving spring training on $0 a day


We’ve talked in the past about the pending lawsuit filed by former minor leaguers against Major League Baseball alleging violation of fair labor practices. Specifically, that minor leaguers are paid way, way less than minimum wage and, at various points in the year, are expected to do things for no pay. Conditioning regimens, personal appearances and all of spring training for that matter.

Today Tony Dokoupil of NBC News has a story about one of the plaintiffs in that suit. His name is Witer Jimenez and he played in the Phillies organization. He came here from the Dominican Republic thinking he actually had a job that would pay him a living wage. Nope. When he got to the Phillies camp in Clearwater he was impressed by the training facilities and the team hotel, but was surprised by the fact that his salary was exactly zero dollars for the month and a half he’d be there:

“This is crazy,” he remembers telling his Latino teammates, gathered one night in the hotel. “Un lio,” they agreed. “A mess.”

Finally, late one night a team official knocked on the door, and took out a roll of money. He peeled off a $20 bill and handed it to Jimenez. “With that we washed our clothes,” he recalled. “If there was any left, we had to eat with that.”

He said lost nearly 20 pounds off an already slim frame. Resentments festered and boiled. His mind returned to the scene at the airport when he left the island. His mother cried and his father embraced him.

“Don’t forget,” the older man warned. “You gave up your education for this.”

Whether the practices major league teams employ regarding minor leaguers are illegal is for the courts to decide. There are some arguments on the other side, of course. For example, MLB may argue that there are all manner of in-kind benefits paid to players that make up for the low and in some cases no salary. Stuff like those free hotel rooms. Or they may convince a judge that players are seasonal employees, even if the requirements of minor leaguers are a more or less year-round proposition. The lawyers will hash all that out in the coming months and years.

But the legalities aside, I remain dumbfounded that teams continue to treat minor leaguers like this simply from a competitive perspective. We’ve long heard stories about how the lack of money in the pockets of minor leaguers forces them to subsist on peanut butter and jelly or, in some cases, five-for-$5 Rally Burgers and the like. Or, as is the case with Jimenez here, to subsist on little if anything. When you’re in the business of developing professional athletes you’d think you’d not create incentives which force them to utterly disregard basic nutrition.

In an age when teams look for every possible edge, however small — that Extra 2%, if you will — how they can’t spend a tiny fraction more on the quality of existence of their baseball players is an utter mystery to me.

Your Official HardballTalk World Series Preview

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 9.28.35 AM

Just as we all predicted back in March, the Royals and the Giants will face off in the World Series. Or maybe some of us didn’t predict that. Heck, maybe some of us all but wrote off these teams in July. It’s been a crazy up and down season for both of them, and now here they are, back up again and ready to square off in the Fall Classic.

Try to remember how this all works next March when the experts are, once again, predicting things.

But just as no one can predict what’s going to happen before the season begins, no one can really predict what’s going to happen here. Basically every favorite in a postseason series has lost and neither the Giants nor the Royals have some monster, dominating player which makes them a clear-cut favorite here. Not that that matters either. Baseball’s best hitter, Mike Trout, and best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw are watching this on TV like you are. Because October refuses to follow scripts.

But we’re not flying totally blind here, obviously. And we can at least attempt to break this down somehow. If, for no other reason, than the games don’t start of nearly 11 hours.

The Matchups:

Game 1 Tonight in Kansas City: Madison Bumgarner vs. James Shields
Game 2 Wednesday in Kansas City: Jake Peavy vs. Yordano Ventura
Game 3 Friday in San Francisco: TBA vs. Tim Hudson
Game 4 Saturday in San Francisco: TBA vs. Ryan Vogelsong
Game 5 (if necessary) Sunday in San Francisco: TBA vs. TBA
Game 6 (if necessary) next Tuesday in Kansas City: TBA vs. TBA
Game 7 (if necessary) next Wednesday in Kansas City: TBA vs. TBA

“Big Game James” Shields has the better nickname, but he also has a career playoff ERA of 5.19 and hasn’t distinguished himself this October. Worth noting, though, that his best start of the season came in a four-hit shutout of the Giants back in August. Madison Bumgarner is clearly the best pitcher on either team. After that, a mixed bag for both teams. Jake Peavy has been a revelation since being traded to San Francisco from Boston and now stands to win a World Series with a second team in two seasons. Ryan Vogelsong has been a poor pitcher for a couple of years now but, somehow, has managed to turn it on in the postseason. Behind Shields the Royals have the hard-throwing Ventura and then a couple of guys in Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas who are just as capable of putting up zeros each night as they are of getting shelled. It’s not a insanely large advantage, but as far as the rotation goes, San Francisco is better. ADVANTAGE GIANTS

The Lineups:

Again, the Giants have the best player on either team in Buster Posey, but see the stuff about Mike Trout above when it comes to weighing star power in October. Neither of these teams will hit you with an offensive blitzkrieg, but the Giants had, surprisingly, one of the better offenses in the National League this season and the Royals have been scoring runs in bunches this October. One factor to all of this is that both teams do a great job of putting the ball in play. We live in the age of the strikeout, so simply putting wood on the ball is a plus. As far as the head-to-head of it all, the Royals will miss Billy Butler in the games in San Francisco, but the same goes for every AL team in the World Series. Overall, I like what the Royals have been doing lately than what the Giants did all year, when a lot of the team’s big offensive numbers were posted early in the year. Yes, I know recency bias is a fallacy of some kind, but we are in seven-game crapshoot territory here. ADVANTAGE ROYALS

The Bullpens:

What the Royals have done with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland has been near-historic this season. Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes, but right after that comes “the 2014 will beat you if they have a lead by the seventh inning.” What’s more, Ned Yost seems to be willing to stretch Herrera and Davis more as the postseason wears on, so maybe we can adjust that to the sixth inning. The Giants’ pen is not bad at all, of course, with Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, and Javier Lopez putting in outstanding performances this year, even if they don’t throw as hard as the Royals’ relievers. Plus: Affeldt and Lopez match up really well with the Royals’ lefty batters, and there is none better at playing the situational matchups than Bruce Bochy. ADVANTAGE ROYALS

The Managers:

Ned Yost was the butt of a lot of jokes in September and the early part of the playoffs due to his small ball tendencies and a lot of curious choices when it came to late inning matchups. But he has done quite well in the ALDS and ALCS, taking counsel from his coaches and, one may guess, listening to his critics. He’s still not John McGraw out there, but he has not screwed up massively in a few weeks right now, and that’s something. On the other side of the field, well, Bruce Bochy has been there, done that, won the trophy and is probably on his way to the Hall of Fame. If you can recall an instance when Bochy has made a tactical blunder, well, you’re a better man than I am. ADVANTAGE GIANTS

The Magic:

I don’t believe in voodoo, momentum or teams of destiny, but I know a lot of people do, so let’s talk about that. The Royals have not lost a playoff game yet, and haven’t lost any games since September 27. Everything is clicking for them, they’re a great story and they play in a city absolutely starving for a championship. The world is an absurd place, and my love of that absurdity can’t help but smile at the notion of Ned Yost, who was probably close to being fired back in May, hoisting a trophy. The Giants, meanwhile, have all of the playoff experience anyone could want and seem to excel at winning it all when everyone favors the other guys. Edgar Renteria hitting bombs in 2010? Beating the tar out of Justin Verlander in 2012? That stuff doesn’t happen unless you made a pact with some supernatural force in exchange for temporary, mortal greatness. It’s a hard call, but with the caveat that the universe is a random, uncaring place which has no time whatsoever for your mortal beliefs about fate, destiny and magic, let’s give the nod here to the better, more uplifting story. ADVANTAGE ROYALS

The Prediction:

This is a fun matchup but an even matchup and anyone telling you that they know what’s going to happen is selling you snake oil. So I’m jus going to give a guess, partially informed by my fascination with shut-down bullpens and partially based on my wishes and desires. ROYALS WIN IN SEVEN, in what I hope to be an exciting, seesaw battle.

Erroneous Narrative Alert: no, the Giants are not a “gritty,” anti-stats organization

Brian Sabean phone

Some narratives never die.

For instance, take the one about how the Giants are some gritty, old-school anti-sabermetric organization. That one was debunked long ago, when a Bay Area columnist decided to cast the 2012 Giants as some luddite team, forgetting about or being ignorant of the fact that the Giants employ a dedicated statistical analyst whom Brian Sabean has praised publicly. Indeed, it has been the case for a long, long time that the Giants blend advanced analytics with traditional scouting as well as and possibly better than anyone.

Still, there are people who choose to view the Giants as some anti-Moneyball kind of club. People like Carl Steward of the Mercury-News:

The Giants, who are about to begin play in their third World Series in five years, obviously have that heart, and they’re definitely grinning as they confound an army of naysayers who study the stats and sabermetric charts and say there’s no way they should be here.

But there’s something more to what makes that heart tick. There’s a grit factor, a toughness, a collective spirit of spit and spite that not only courses through the veins of the team’s 25 players, but the organization’s architects as well. If you want to know how the Giants do it, you first need to bring a ruler to measure the thickness of their skin.

After you choke that intro down, you’re treated to a lot of talk about the character and toughness of the Giants players. And that much may be true, at least insofar as Steward observes that Brian Sabean makes a point to look at character of the players he acquires in addition to baseball skill. Based on what he and Bruce Bochy say in the article, it’s clear that’s part of their approach. But they’ll also likely be the first to tell you that it’s not the only part. Even if one of those players they acquired — Tim Hudson — sees the world much like Steward seems to:

“Too many people nowadays are getting wrapped up in the sabermetrics and the stats,” Hudson continued. “I’m willing to bet almost every one of those people never stepped in a locker room, put on a jock and took the field, and understands those intangibles that help you win.”

Maybe someone should tell Hudson that Sabean never played baseball past Eckerd College while sabermetric poster boy Billy Beane strapped his jock on for over 1,000 professional baseball games between the minors and the majors. Hudson’s own GM “never played the game,” at least not at a high level, and yet he amazingly has his team poised to win its third World Series in five seasons. Playing has nothing to do with it.

What does have something to do with it? Well, everything. Stats, which the Giants most certainly use. Scouting, which is Sabean’s primary background and which the Giants continue to do well. Drafting well. Having a great manager. Luck helps, of course, even if no one ever wants to admit that their achievements have an element of luck to them.

But that sort of thing doesn’t make for a pointed article in which some columnist can ascribe a team’s success to some factor that is both contrary to conventional wisdom and which can be explained by him and only him. Which is terribly, terribly convenient when you have column inches to fill.