Author: Craig Calcaterra

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Quit making a big deal out of anomalies. Most of what happens is meaningless.


This comes from an article that is more about the JFK assassination and attendant conspiracy theories than anything else, and no, there isn’t anything about sports in it at all. But it’s still really, really useful for sports fans because it reminds us of something really important: weird things happen sometimes, but they don’t usually mean anything.

The author, Steven Novella, is talking about anomalies, which is a more scientific term for “weird things,” but you know what I mean. And the point he makes, via examples like the dude with the umbrella at Dealey Plaza when Kennedy was shot and people who win the lottery twice, is that it’s a bad idea to try to assign meaning to stuff that is probably just random and ultimately meaningless, statistical noise.

He boils it down to a pithy quote that I am considering putting on a motivational poster, perhaps featuring a breaching whale or a guy climbing a rock in Yosemite or something:

The assumption that anomalies must be significant rather than random is an error in the understanding of statistics, a form of innumeracy.

This relates to baseball quite a bit, especially during the playoffs.

We have this habit — among some it’s practically a need — to assign significance to random or anomalous events. Ned Yost has a few ill-advised bunts work out for him? SMALL BALL IS THE NEW HOTNESS! Dominant players like Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout struggle in the space of 2-3 games? THEY DON’T HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN IN OCTOBER! A scrappy middle infielder hits an improbable home run? EVERYONE UNDERESTIMATES SCRAPPY McSCRAPPERSTEIN, and HOW DARE YOU DISMISS HIM! We’ve seen this stuff time and time again.

Which isn’t to say that the anomalies aren’t worth talking about. Man, they are! They’re fun! When Ryan Vogelsong turns into Orel Hershiser in the playoffs or when Scrapy McScrapperstein turns into a one man wrecking crew it’s exciting. We should talk about that a lot because it shows you how amazing and cool sports can be and that no matter how much you read and consume, you’re never really going to be able to predict what happens. At least not everything.

But what we shouldn’t do is assign some deeper meaning to these anomalies. To not be content to say that the squeeze play was exciting, but that everyone who ever criticized such strategies is wrong. To not just marvel at how cool Scrappy McScrapperstein’s surprising homer was, but to claim it evidence that he’s way, way better than eight years worth of performance suggests. To not just shake our heads when a beast like Clayton Kershaw gets lit up, but to suggest that it’s some defect in his guts or character than led to it.

That kind of thing is baloney. That’s a function of that innumeracy Novella is talking about. Of our brains trying to find meaning when there really isn’t any. Sometimes — most of the time, I’d argue — the meaningless of it all is what makes baseball so great.

It’s unclear if Kenta Maeda will be posted this year

kenta maeda getty

Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda is considered a top candidate to be posted by his team, the Hiroshima Carp, this winter. At the moment, however, Hiroshima’s owner is going back and forth on the idea, telling the Japan Times that “We would like to let him go, but based on his production this year it will be difficult.”

Maeda, 26, had a 2.56 ERA and a 154/40 K/BB ratio in 179 innings this season for the Hiroshima Carp. He is not the hardest thrower around — low 90s is where he tops out — but he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter at the moment.


Must-click Link: Fay Vincent, the wisest failure you’ll ever meet

Texas Rangers

Fox’ Erik Malinowski sat down with former commissioner Fay Vincent recently, and the result is probably the best profile of Vincent ever done. And one which says way more about baseball and how it’s run than it may say about Vincent. It’s absolute must-read material.

The first half is about the 1989 World Series and the earthquake which interrupted it. Vincent’s response and what went into the immediate aftermath (evacuating Candlestick Park and getting to a hotel with no water and no power). The highlight of that part is a positively fabulous George Steinbrenner anecdote which pretty much captures everything you ever needed to know about what Steinbrenner was like before the Yankees started winning in the late 90s and his persona and reputation began to undergo something of a rehabilitation.

The second half is about his tenure as commissioner in general and his ultimate downfall after being pushed aside by Bud Selig and the other owners. This stuff is highly illuminating as to how baseball ownership works and how, in reality, the commissioner never really was the leader of baseball as much as he was the water-carrier for the owners. Vincent either didn’t realize that or forgot it, and his description of how he met his professional end makes you realize just how silly it is for people to demand a strong commissioner who dictates anything to anyone. Selig’s strength came from being an owner and knowing where his power came from. Rob Manfred’s tenure will be dictated by either realizing, or failing to realize, the same thing.

Ultimately, though, what makes this all so intriguing is how frank and honest Vincent is about his legacy. Unlike so many deposed leaders, Vincent admits that he failed and knows why he did. He says so in frank terms multiple times. Maybe it’s taken him over 20 years to realize all of this, maybe it’s something he even knew while it was happening. But the clarity that the now-76-year-old Vincent has about his tenure as commissioner is pretty striking.

Beyond all of that, great anecdotes about George W. Bush — who seems way too reasonable a guy to ever have been a baseball owner — and Bart Giamatti, Vincent’s friend and predecessor. People often talk about what may have happened had Giamatti lived and whether he could’ve prevented the 1994 strike. Vincent, with love, points out that it would’ve ended no differently and, possibly, it may have ended worse.

Clear your schedule and check this piece out.

Torey Lovullo and Alex Cora reportedly out as Rangers manager candidates

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Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo and former White Sox coach Alex Cora were reportedly candidates to become the next manager of the Texas Rangers. Now they’re reportedly out:

This jibes with reports last week that Tim Bogar, Rangers interim manager, is the favorite to get the job on a permanent basis. In addition to Bogar, Kevin Cash, Joe McEwing, Jeff Banister, Mike Maddux and Steve Buechele are all rumored to be in the running.

Nope, the postseason umpires were not picked based on their umpiring skills

Joe West

Last week, when we learned that Joe West, one of baseball’s worst umpires, was named crew chief for the ALCS, I suspected that postseason assignments were based on seniority rather than quality of work. I cited one study that bore this out, showing that West was near the bottom of all umps in his balls-and-strikes skills, and of course, we all know that he has his issues when it comes to temperament and game management.

Today Ben Lindbergh of Grantland presents much, much more comprehensive data about all of that, expanding things to cover all of the postseason umps and comparing their accuracy with that of younger umpires who were not chosen, one assumes, due to their lack of seniority. The results are pretty clear: younger umps are more accurate, generally speaking, and the guys chosen for the playoffs over the past few years have been less accurate.

Lindbergh examines the differences more deeply in an attempt to figure out why, exactly, this is. Those results are a lot more mixed — no, the old umps aren’t calling a wide 1990s zone and the creep of the zone down is something to which all umps apparently contribute — but it’s nonetheless illuminating.