Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, and the Junior Circuit

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In response to my article earlier this afternoon comparing Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, several commenters focused on the fact that Bay out-performed Holliday in their respective time as American Leaguers. In fact, one commenter went so far as to say that Holliday “stunk” during his brief AL stint.
For several years now there’s been a clear talent gap between the two leagues, but it’s still important to put things in some context rather than just latching onto whatever theory seems to fit the conventional wisdom.
In this case Holliday has played a grand total of 93 games in the American League, which is hardly a large enough sample to form any sort of meaningful, wide-ranging conclusions. After all, how many mediocre players make All-Star teams based on one great half-season, only to fall right back into mediocrity? Beyond that, Holliday hit .286/.378/.454 in those 93 games with the A’s, which is an .831 OPS in a pitcher’s ballpark.
That works out to an adjusted OPS+ of 120, which a) isn’t that far off from Holliday’s career mark of 133, b) would rank 40th among all active players sandwiched in between Derek Jeter and Victor Martinez, and c) is nowhere near the performance of someone who “stunk.” Or put another way, guys with a career OPS+ of 133 have an OPS+ of 120 over 93-game stretches all the time without it meaning anything whatsoever.
Bay has played 200 games in the AL while hitting .274/.380/.534 in a much better ballpark for hitters, which is good for a 132 OPS+. So yes, based solely on their performances in the AL–which represents only a small fraction of their careers–Bay was better than Holliday. But is a 132 OPS+ in 200 games so superior to a 120 OPS+ in 93 games to conclude that one guy is great in the AL and one guy stinks in the AL? Of course not.
Both guys have played a lot of games in the majors and have plenty of data from which to evaluate their ability, so focusing on 93 games seems kind of silly. While general manager Omar Minaya and the Mets may disagree, Holliday is simply a better player than Bay. It’ll be interesting to see if he rightfully ends up with a bigger contract.

Hunter Strickland says he doesn’t have an anger problem

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Giants closer Hunter Strickland struggled in the ninth inning Monday against the Marlins, surrendering three runs en route to a 5-4 loss. Strickland took issue with Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson, who tied the game with a single and celebrated as he rounded first base. When Strickland was yanked from the game, Brinson was on third base, so Strickland had some parting words on his way to the dugout. Then, in the clubhouse, Strickland punched a door in anger, breaking his pitching hand. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result.

Strickland posted to his Instagram on Tuesday, taking responsibility for his actions. He wrote, “To my family, my teammates, my coaches, this organization, and our fan base, I am truly sorry that one split second, stupid decision has caused so much harm and now set me back from being out there with my team to pursue our goal.”

Speaking to the media for the first time since breaking his hand, Strickland said (via Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports), “I don’t think I have an anger problem, but sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me.”

Well, if that emotion is anger, and you let it get the best of you, then you have an anger problem. This isn’t an isolated incident.

In the 2014 NLDS against the Nationals, Bryce Harper had Strickland’s number. In Game 1, Harper hit a solo home run ioff of Strickland, putting the Nationals on the board trailing 3-1. Strickland gave up another home run to Harper in Game 4 which tied the game at 2-2. Though the distance made it a no-doubt home run, the ball went down the right field line, so Harper was watching the ball in the air and didn’t immediately run the bases, which irked Strickland. The Giants still went on to win the game and advance to the NLCS, but Strickland carried the grudge with him into the 2017 season. The 2017 season! It just so happened that Strickland never faced Harper at all in the 2015-16 seasons, which makes sense because the two clubs only meet for two series per season and Strickland only pitches one inning per game if he gets into one.

The Nationals and Giants met in San Francisco at the end of May last year. In the first game of the series, Strickland entered with the Giants trailing 2-0 in the eighth inning. He got two quick outs, bringing up Harper for their first meeting since Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. With his first pitch, Strickland nailed harper on the hip with a 98 MPH fastball. Harper didn’t like it, so he charged the mound and the two threw punches at each other as the benches and bullpens spilled onto the field.

In the 2014 World Series, Strickland had a beef with Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Strickland gave up a double to Perez, then a two-run home run to Omar Infante. As Perez crossed home plate, Strickland started yelling at Perez. He appeared to yell, “Get in the dugout, boy.” The term “boy” carries a racist connotation when used by white people towards men of color. It’s unclear why Strickland was upset with Perez, but Perez said Strickland started jawing at him when he was on second base after hitting his double.

So here’s what we know about Strickland:

  • He gets angry when players look at their home run balls in the air, even if that player is unsure if it will stay fair
  • He gets angry if you get a double off of him in an important game
  • He gets angry when players pump their fists and yell in celebration after getting a big hit in the regular season
  • He gets angry a lot
  • He sometimes gets violent when he’s angry

Short of hitters not showing any emotion at all and not getting hits off of him, it’s not clear what kind of behavior satisfies Strickland and won’t make him angry. So, essentially, anything a batter does could potentially set Strickland off. I’d call that an anger problem. If this weren’t in the context of sports, Strickland’s behavior would be problematic.

Strickland’s behavior doesn’t come off as particularly unique because he’s far from the only player to injure himself punching something in anger. He’s far from the only player to get ticked off when batters get a hit off him and celebrate. This anger is part of baseball culture, part of sports culture at large, and embedded in masculinity — what it means to be a man. We teach men, particularly athletes, to repress a wide range of emotions. As a result, many men resort first to anger — one of the few emotions we allow men to express openly — when dealing with any type of adversity.

If Strickland were a well-adjusted person with high emotional intelligence, he would realize that throwing a baseball close to 100 at someone with the intent to injure them is not a good way to resolve a conflict. Strickland could have gone to the Marlins’ clubhouse after the game and had a level-headed chat with Brinson, saying, “I felt embarrassed and emasculated when you got a hit off of me and celebrated the way you did. Perhaps in the future, you could tone it down.” But we don’t teach men and allow them to discuss and express their emotions in healthy ways, so Strickland lashes out at Harper and Perez and Brinson instead.