Thursday, October 31, 2013

Excerpt: "Our New Overlords"

"I don't believe the differences between 2011 and 2012 and 2013 were about soft factors. I believe it was those five guys being more healthy and effective this year, collectively, than they were in the previous season and the last month of '11. Those five were among the Sox' top nine players in the regular season, and four were among the team's top five. The Red Sox' three best players in the postseason were Ortiz, Lester and Ellsbury. Remember that 2011 collapse? Lester had a 5.40 ERA and Buchholz didn't pitch. In 2012, Ortiz played 90 games and Ellsbury played 74. In 2013, those numbers were 137 and 134. Pedroia played 19 more games than he did last year. Lester and Buchholz combined to be high-ERA innings munchers in 2012; this year, they had a 2.98 ERA in 49 starts. (Farrell may deserve some credit here, as the two pitchers show a with-Farrell/without-Farrell split.) Heck, John Lackey was ineffective for Francona, unavailable to Valentine and had a 3.52 ERA in 29 starts under Farrell."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Excerpt: "World Series, Games Five and Six"

"Game Seven is a dinner and a movie with your new bride. It's fun, it's exciting, there's no place you'd rather be, and you know exactly how the night is going to end. Game Six…Game Six is buying a drink for the cute girl on the other side of the bar, all upside and anticipation."

Monday, October 28, 2013

Excerpt: "World Series, Game Four"

"Finally, there's the play that ended the game. There's no excusing Kolten Wong getting picked off first as the meaningless third run with two outs in the ninth. I think it's worth laying out how it happened, though. This wasn't 1926, with Babe Ruth getting caught stealing to end the game. Wong wanted to go first to third on a single, first to home on a double -- at that, not the way he should have been thinking -- but he didn't get picked off because of aggression. He wasn't taking a huge lead. What happened was that Uehara timed his throw to first perfectly, sending the ball over early, as Wong was stepping towards second to establish his lead. Wong, not expecting a throw at that point, had no hope of getting back, with all his momentum headed towards second. The timing of the throw is why it caught Fox's producer by surprise -- it was a baseball play during what usually is a lull between pitches, a time Fox feels the need to fill with faces, eternally, rather than anything about baseball. "


MLB does nothing as well as it does its work for Stand Up To Cancer, promoting the fundraising, research and collaboration organization throughout the year and spotlighting it during the World Series. The moment at the Series when everyone in the park stands up is emotional. I've been there. I was at the first one, in 2009, and it's incredible to realize that everyone, I mean everyone, has been touched in some way by this evil disease.

The moment was personal this year.

A friend of mine at the game sent me that picture last night. He'd written my mother's name on a placard and held it up. I couldn't do it myself, because I'm here in New York, where my mother is recovering from surgery last week that we hope moved her from cancer patient to cancer survivor. She's down a lung, but she's also down a rather large tumor, a trade you make every time.

If you've read me much, you know that I get my love of baseball from my mother and my late grandfather. He taught me how to bat left-handed, she taught me how to throw. She was a tomboy growing up, and I still can remember her occasionally playing stickball when I was a kid. She loves sports, just recently got a 60-inch TV to better watch them. Even at sixtymumble, she's an avid golfer with a regular game at Mosholu Park on Saturdays, one she had to put aside last summer as she endured first pneumonia related to the cancer, then the diagnosis, a regimen of chemotherapy and now the surgery. One of her golf buddies came by to see her last Wednesday after the surgery, and they were already talking about next spring, talking about their games.

That's my mother. Her mental game throughout this has been fantastic -- a hell of a lot better than mine, I'll tell you. When she was diagnosed in July, her only question was, "What do we do?" When the initial plan of surgery gave way to chemo -- and the associated effects -- she handled them without complaint. Eight weeks into chemo, mom was doing well enough to be at Yankee Stadium the night of Mariano Rivera's final appearance, standing and cheering, no outward sign at all that she was two months into the process. She was particularly happy with her outfit.

That's not the look of someone getting beaten by cancer. That's the look of someone kicking cancer's ass.

Today, mom is working on her breathing, working on getting her strength back, working on getting her endurance back, working on getting home so she can do all these things while watching golf in its flat-screen, HD glory. She's working. She was never a victim of cancer, not for a second. I've seen my mother do a lot of things, and I knew she was strong, but what she's done over the past four months has left me without words.

As the cameras scanned the crowd last night, as I thought about Mike holding up that sign, I didn't come close to keeping my composure. (No pics, sorry.) I thought about July 9. We were sitting in the office of her primary doctor, a pulmonary specialist, and hearing that her life was about to change. I was staring at the floor, holding her hand, shaking like a leaf. After the doc was done explaining his diagnosis, you know what mom did?

She stood up.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Excerpt: "World Series, Game Three"

"It means nothing that Kelly had a shutout going; those four innings are not predictive, a point that was made forcefully when Xander Bogaerts tripled two pitches into the fifth. Kelly was never going to pitch deeply into this game. At absolute best, Matheny was going to get two more innings from Kelly, and if Matheny doesn't think he can get two extra shutout innings from his relief corps, he's done a staggeringly bad job of assembling his roster. The value of a real hitter up in that spot, with a chance to stretch to a four-run lead or more, is huge -- and Matheny had Allen Craig in his back pocket! It wasn't the perfect spot for Craig, given that there weren't two outs, but it would have sufficed. Events would overtake Matheny's choice, but there is no question that batting Kelly there, rather than hitting Craig for him, was a huge mistake. Kelly would get just four more outs; I've lost count of the number of times Matheny has let Kelly bat in a leveraged spot and then removed him less than two innings later."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Excerpt: "World Series, Game One"

"I haven't understood much about Matheny's pitcher management this October. The decision to flip through four relievers, including two of his top three, late in last night's game was curious. I feel like you'd rather not let the Red Sox see Kevin Siegrist or Carlos Martinez or Seth Maness in a low-leverage spot. I understand the counterargument; Matheny used Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal in Game One of the NLDS in a similar context, and the idea is that you let these young pitchers get their feet wet in postseason baseball, in the World Series. The problem is, I don't think the argument is that good. I think it reflects a generation gap, stemming from a time when the World Series had more cultural cachet and wasn't the fourth round of the MLB playoffs. I think Carlos Martinez has figured out how to pitch when there's bunting in the room."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Excerpt: "World Series Preview"

"This series, that flips. Even with a true #1 starter in Adam Wainwright, it's hard to argue that the Cardinals' rotation is stronger than their bullpen. The Cardinals' bullpen has been just this side of untouchable, from Trevor Rosenthal in the back up through Carlos Martinez, the set-up man, the Cardinals overpower you in the late innings with high-90s fastballs. They've barely had to use Kevin Siegrist, who allowed two runs in 39 2/3 innings this year. They have a groundball machine in Seth Maness, a LOOGY in Randy Choate, and a leftover power arm in John Axford. This is the worst rotation and the best bullpen the Red Sox have seen this postseason, which means that forcing out the starters won't be nearly the game-shifting benefit it was in the first two postseason series."

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Excerpt: "LCS Wraps"

"Puig is 22 years old and he straight trucked the National League in his second professional season. Not second MLB season -- second professional season. It would be a shock if he did hit the cutoff man all the time, if he did always make the right choice on the bases, if he never misjudged how hard he hit a ball, if he sometimes overestimated his abilities to the detriment of his team. That he can be an above-average major-league player with those deficiencies isn't an indictment of the man, it's a tribute to him. A very small handful of players from the 2012 draft are in the major leagues; Puig is an age comp for many of them, and yet he hit .319/.391/.534 with acceptable plate discipline. He makes mistakes because he hasn't learned how to play baseball yet.

"Some people really don't like Yasiel Puig's style, so they trump up the legitimate charges and hope no one will notice how flimsy they really are. If the little things meant as much as Puig's detractors say they do, Miguel Cabrera would be a full-time DH who was pinch-run for 110 times a year, with MVP results to match. Also, Ben Zobrist would have a couple of MVP awards. Puig's baseball mistakes matter, and he should work to correct them, and if he doesn't in his whopping third year as a professional, then take him to task for it. But let's stop acting as if missing a cutoff man or overrunning a baseball are what we're really talking about when we talk about Puig."

Friday, October 18, 2013

Excerpt: "The Key Matchup"

"The Red Sox have a 3-2 lead in the ALCS because this rather anonymous, lightly-paid, injury-case reliever put down the greatest batter alive twice in massive-leverage situations on the road with the crowd going nuts. Last night, the matchup came in the seventh inning with the Sox holding a 4-2 lead, runners on first and third, no one out. Torii Hunter had just lined a single to right that launched the cold, damp crowd into a frenzy. Tazawa, following the Sox' plan, threw a four-seam fastball at 94 for ball one, then came back with the same pitch; Cabrera topped the ball weakly to Dustin Pedroia, who turned an easy double play, Jose Iglesias scoring from third. The rally was over, and in effect, the game; the Tigers would not get another baserunner."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Excerpt: "Matheny's Blind Spot"

"In this postseason, however, Matheny has shown a consistent blind spot in one area: when to remove a starting pitcher. Matheny has not adjusted to the differences between the regular season and the postseason, which include the greater significance of any one game, the increase in the number of available pitchers for any one game, the greater number of off days and the greater importance of seemingly low-leverage at-bats. In the regular season, you're committed to your starting pitcher; in the postseason, you're hooking up with him."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Excerpt: "Tuesday's Action"

"Like Hanley Ramirez, Cabrera is playing through injury, although in Cabrera's case, there's plural -- both groin and abdominal concerns that have turned a player already not blessed with speed into a stationary one. Facing almost all fastballs in the postseason, Cabrera is batting .226/.273/.419, and while his two homers have been critical -- one helped win Game Five of the ALDS, the other gave the Tigers a two-run lead in the fateful game on Sunday -- he's a shell of his MVP-caliber self. He's hurting the team at third base, he's unable to use his lower half at the plate, and when on base he's just in the way."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Excerpt: "Jim Leyland's Bad Night"

"The very first decision Leyland made, to take Scherzer out, isn't controversial. Scherzer had thrown 108 pitches, including 14 in the seventh, and while the velocity was fine -- 94 to 96, per Gameday -- Leyland's bullpen has been an asset for five months now. The opportunity to save Scherzer one inning deep in Game One of this series when you want him in Game Six and then twice in the World Series is one worth taking. Forget the individual decisions that followed and come back to one question: why did Jim Leyland decide to play matchup ball with a four-run lead and six outs to go when he has two very good complete-inning relievers at his disposal?"

Friday, October 11, 2013

Excerpt: "NLCS Preview"

"The absence of Paco Rodriguez helps swing the bullpen advantage to the Cards. In addition to the three power arms at the back who pitched frequently in the Division Series, there's a groundball machine in Seth Maness, a very good LOOGY in Randy Choate, a fourth power arm in John Axford. It's not that unreasonable to suggest that the Cards are starting their 11th man tonight. With the Dodgers having so many dead spots in their bullpen now, games in which the starter doesn't get deep and any extra-inning games are going to favor the Cardinals."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Excerpt: "Then There Were Six"

"So far in this postseason, the team that hits more homers in a game is 10-4. The team that gets more extra-base hits is 11-4. We have more instances of failed sacrifice bunting being a key moment in a game -- Josh Reddick, Matt Joyce, Juan Uribe -- than we do of successful bunts being turning points. We have many more instances of a hitter squaring up a ball and making the difference. It's time to let go of a model of winning baseball that no longer fits. Ball go far, team go far."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Excerpt: "Love"

"That love can get lost in the work. You spend so much time bemoaning the business, the media, the things about the baseball industry that are necessary topics but which are far from that field and those upper-deck seats and the voices of Phil Rizzuto and Bill White. You watch the games you're supposed to watch, and at that, pieces of them while taking notes or catching up on news or other peoples' opinions. The game becomes work -- great work, fun work, to be sure, but work -- and the distance between you and the game grows. The marriage grows stale. You love, but maybe you're not in love.

"Then October 7 happens, and you fall all over again."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Excerpt: "A Classic"

"Were 'postseason baseball' a dictionary entry, the illustration next to it would be a shot from the Coliseum taken last night: a crowd in full throat, a pitcher commanding the scene, the basepaths clear, the batters befuddled, fingernails chewed, the scoreboard devoid of integers. The A's 1-0, walkoff win over the Tigers was three hours of edge-of-your-seat tension as Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander hung zeroes, pitched out of jams and gave us the first great game of the 2013 playoffs."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Excerpt: "Spork Fight in Atlanta"

"When you let platoon considerations move you from Chris Withrow vs. Jose Constanza with a base open to Paco Rodriguez vs. Jason Heyward with the bases loaded, you've lost your mind. Player ability matters. Game state matters. With Constanza walking to the plate, Mattingly had three options for getting through the inning, and he chose by far the worst one. It was reminiscent, for lower stakes, of Ron Washington's work in the tenth inning of Game Six of the 2011 World Series, where he manipulated his way into the worst possible matchup despite having a number of other choices. Heyward underlined this point by driving a single that plated two very important runs."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Excerpt: "AL Division Series Previews"

"The A's have the best player by 2013 bWAR in Josh Donaldson. As you work through the rosters, though, you find that the Tigers have most of the better players in the series: they have three players with at least six bWAR; the A's have one. The Tigers have seven with at least three bWAR; the A's have three. Set the line at two wins, and the Tigers have a 12-8 edge. Postseason series are won with frontline talent, not depth; the Tigers' frontline talent dwarfs that of the A's."

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Excerpt: "NL Division Series Previews"

"To answer this, I checked all postseason series -- actual series, not the Coin Flip Round -- dating to 2009, when league K/PA jumped above 18% for the first time. (All stats from Fangraphs; I did not tease out intentional walks from PAs.) Here is the series record of the team with the better offensive contact rate during the regular season:

2012: 7-0
2011: 5-2
2010: 4-3
2009: 6-1"

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Excerpt: "2013 Award Ballots"

"AL Cy Young Award

1. Max Scherzer
2. Chris Sale
3. Yu Darvish
4. Hisashi Iwakuma
5. Anibal Sanchez

"The top four pitchers had roughly equivalent value in wildly divergent pitching environments. Figuring out how to order them gave me a headache. Scherzer, though, did win 21 games, and that's an indication that he knew how to…no, I'm kidding. He had the second-best strikeout rate of the group, threw the second-most innings, pitched in front of a poor defense, didn't give up the longball. Even as I'm writing this, I'm looking at the four pitchers' stats and questioning myself. I think you can justify any order. Scherzer will win because of "21-3", but it's a much more interesting discussion than that."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Excerpt: "Pre- and Post-"

"Maybe that's Daniels' plan. Maybe he figures the Rangers can spend that sweet Fox Sports Southwest money on Shin-Soo Choo and Brian McCann, and trade one of the three infielders for another big bat, and give Washington what he had in 2010 and 2011: a team so good that it could overcome, almost all the way to a championship, Washington's faults. I mean, this did nearly work twice. Nearly. But spending money and talent to build up the team is going to fall short again if, 12 months and three weeks from now, Ron Washington is making the same mistakes all over again. The Rangers have the cover to solve a problem that's been weighing them down for a while, and their refusal to take advantage of that cover is both surprising and debilitating."