Week of October 26, 2018

There might be nothing better in sports than a hot Steph Curry.

Don’t Forget To Leave A Tip

Rich Hill’s reaction to tipping pitches

One thing that’s struck me while watching the baseball playoffs over the past few years is how many guys are throwing upper 90s regularly. You’ve no doubt noticed this year: teams pulling starting pitching after less than five innings to get to the bullpen, which is a stable of flame-throwers.

But velocity is only one factor at play. Hitting is about timing. Pitching is about upsetting that timing. So it’s a big deal when word gets out about a pitcher tipping pitches, especially in the playoffs (smaller sample size), because hitters have a better chance to lock into the timing when they know whether a 97 M.P.H fastball is coming or a 83 M.P.H. curveball is coming.

Danny Knobler’s story was posted before the World Series started, but is still a great read. He details pitchers in recent history who had been tipping pitches in huge moments (Andy Petitte in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, Craig Kimbrel in the ALCS this year), and wily vets who are the masters of finding a pitcher’s tip (Chase Utley, Alex Cora, Pete Rose, Eduardo Perez, Carlos Beltran).


Before he was managing the Red Sox, Cora was the resident pitch-tipping wizard as a bench coach for the World Champ Astros.

The story isn’t just about recognizing a pitcher’s pattern that associates with a type of pitch, e.g. the hands come set at the chest for a curveball and they come set at the waist for a fastball, but the surprising challenge pitchers face when they realize they are tipping pitches. Muscle memory can be hard to break in front of 45,000 fans in a tight ball game.

Knobler harvests a bunch of grin-worthy anecdotes from recent history, so go read the full story, but I’ll leave you with my favorite: this little Will Clark nugget from Texas Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail:

Brocail speaks from experience. In September 1992, the San Diego Padres called him up from Triple-A. His first start would be against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park, and before the game he saw Giants first baseman Will Clark in a tunnel outside the clubhouse.

“You the kid pitching tonight?” Clark asked.

“Yes, I am,” Brocail said.

“Hey, just so you know, you tip all your pitches,” Clark told him.

“I thought he was messing with me,” Brocail said. But he wasn’t. The Giants knocked Brocail out in the fourth inning. Clark walked and doubled.

“We got looking at the video,” Brocail said. “Sure enough, I was coming to a set by my chest when I threw a fastball and by the waist when I threw the curve. I’d been doing it all year in Triple-A and no one picked up on it.”

Of course there are some pitchers that are so dominant that it didn’t matter if the hitter knew what was coming, which is absolutely mind-blowing. Randy Johnson tipped his pitches all the time. Hitters knew when Johan Santana was going to throw his devastating change-up and still couldn’t hit it.

Santana’s change-up got him two Cy Young awards. Big leaguers couldn’t hit it, and they knew it was coming.

Great read. – PAL

Source: How Do You Win a World Series? It Helps If the Pitcher Tells You What’s Coming”, Danny Knobler, Bleacher Report (10/22/18)

TOB: Any time I hear a pitcher is tipping pitches, I’m shocked it doesn’t happen more. Pitching is so hard, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to make a slider look like a fastball look like a curveball look like a changeup. And, as we wrote about here a few months back, now pitchers are tunneling pitches (trying to get their fastball and their breaking ball to stay on the exact same flight path until just before it gets to the plate)? Crazy.

Basketball: The Original Cage Fighting

I’ve been watching ESPN’s 10-part documentary on hoops, entitled, “Basketball: A Love Story”. It’s been at times very good, at others a little boring (they really didn’t need nearly 20 hours). I’ve learned a lot, had my memory refreshed on a lot, and been annoyed at a glaring historical inaccuracy on another (more on that later).

But one thing kept piquing my curiosity. The series’ first few episodes focuses largely on the 1950s and 1960s, and utilized a lot of contemporaneous newspaper clippings to help illustrate the story being told. And, on countless occasions, the newspaper used the term “cage” to refer to the sport of basketball or “cagers” to refer to the players. As in, “Five Cagers Implicated in Point Shaving Scandal.” I can’t say I’ve never heard this term for basketball before, but I don’t think I realized how ubiquitous it once was. The term kept appearing – over and over and over.

I remarked to my wife about this historical tidbit and she suggested I investigate and report my findings on this here blog. I thought that was a fine idea. And then it took me 0.5 seconds to find the answer, in this 1991 article from Sports Illustrated. Entitled, “When the Court Was a Cage”, it explores the origins of the term:

A scant five years [after basketball was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith], in 1896, the first acknowledged professionals took the floor in Trenton, N.J. Their court, in a social hall, was enclosed, literally, in a cage, a 12-foot-high wire-mesh fence set along the endlines and sidelines.

At the time, the cage made good sense. Front-row spectators sat even closer to the court than they do today, and Naismith’s original rules said that when the ball went out of bounds, the first player who got to it could throw it back in. Obviously, it would have been disastrous to allow players to wrestle in the laps of paying customers for possession of the ball. With the cage the rule was moot—the ball never went out of bounds.

The out-of-bounds rule was changed in 1902 to eliminate sideline scrimmages, but by that time the early pros were wedded to the cage. The thinking was that the game was faster and more entertaining in a cage because there were no delays to return the ball to play, and because the ball and the players could bounce off the wire mesh.

That is kinda wild. Cages were used into the 1930s in some areas, and then the use died out. But the term stuck. For a while, anyways. I’m still surprised how literal the term was. -TOB

Source: When the Court Was a Cage”, Sports Illustrated (11/11/1991)

PAL: SI is having some financial issues recently, but they should still employ a copywriter. There’s a crucial typo in the first line of the damn story!

Here’s a pop quiz for today. A eager is:…

The story is about cage basketball. A “Cager” not “a eager” is a basketball player. Come on, Sports Illustrated!

TOB: It occurs at least one more time in the article. I’m pretty sure it was some sort of autocorrect/scanning error when they digitized the article.

Ok so now I’d like to discuss my historical error that really dug in my craw. As many readers know, I am a big Cal sports fan. As many readers likely don’t know, there was a time when Cal basketball was a powerhouse. In 1959 and 1960, Cal won the national title and finished runner-up, respectively. In 1959, the Bears beat Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati squad in the Final Four, and then beat Jerry West’s West Virginia team in the finals. In 1960, the Bears again beat Oscar Robertson in the Final Four, and then lost to Jerry Lucas and Ohio State in the championship.

The Bears’ coach in those days was Pete Newell. Basketball: A Love Story begins their segment on the 1960s/1970s UCLA dynasty under John Wooden by accurately discussing how Pete Newell and the Cal Bears had beaten the pants off of Wooden’s UCLA squad for much of the 1950s. Wooden arrived at UCLA in 1948 and immediately started winning conference titles.

Newell arrived at Cal in 1954, and by 1956 had turned the Cal program around, winning the conference four straight years by the end of that 1960 season. In doing so, Cal beat UCLA 9 straight times dating back to the 1956-57 season.

For the most part, Basketball: A Love Story covered all of that fairly. But then the series strongly suggested that, after the 1960 season, Wooden and his staff invented the 2-2-1 defensive press to beat Newell and the Bears, did so, and never looked back as their dynasty blossomed. It makes for quite the story.

Except it’s not at all true. After losing the 1960 title game, Newell coached the 1960 Olympic team to the gold medal and then retired, apparently believing the stress of coaching was going to kill him. He was only 44 years old, and he never coached a competitive game again. Instead, he spent the next five decades tutoring NBA and college big men, including hosting his annual Coach Newell Big Man Camp. NBA greats like Bill Walton, Shaq, and even Hakeem attended that camp.

What’s worse, this LA Times Article from 2008 says that Wooden didn’t introduce the 2-2-1 zone press until 1964, the year he won his first national title, and that he stole it from Newell.

This inaccuracy shouldn’t bug me so much. I’m sure Phil rolled his eyes at least once while reading this. But the Wooden stuff grates on me. He looked the other way while boosters paid his players. Most people know about it now, and he’s still deified anyways. And now you’re going to pretend like Wooden invented a single defensive scheme and suddenly started beating the pants off the man many old-time basketball people consider the greatest coach of all-time? No, dang it. I won’t take that silently. Wooden sucks, and he’s lucky Newell retired, or he’d have coached circles around him for the next two decades.

PAL: You and Bobby Knight should start a Wooden fan club.

How Golden State’s Team Ended Up In Oakland

Anyone who’s been around San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood recently has seen it, and anyone that lives in Oakland can feel it: the Warriors new arena getting closer and closer to being finished, and so is the team’s time in Oakland. Next year, the team will head over to the fancier side of the Bay. In a couple years, Oakland will have lost the Raiders to Vegas and the Warriors to San Francisco. The A’s might not be too far behind.

Rather than wade into the politics and business reasons for the teams leaving town, Part I of Bruce Jenkins’ Warriors history deep dive focuses on how the team ended up in Oakland in the first place. The story is an enjoyable reminder of days when professional sports franchises represented startups playing it fast and loose more than the stodgy billion dollar companies they’ve become today.

Get this: the mid-60s San Francisco Warriors played most of the team’s ‘home’ games away from their home courts in San Francisco. Bakersfield, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Jose, Richmond. In fact, the team’s name changed from ‘San Francisco Warriors’ to ‘Golden State Warriors’ because owner Franklin Mieuli had the idea that the team would alternate home games in cities throughout the state. Obviously that never panned out, and it was too late to change the name again by the time the lease was signed in Oakland. The idea of a rover team splitting home games across a state or region is still an interesting concept, but that’s just me. 

All of this took place while the team saw a collection of all-time NBA greats put on the Warriors jersey. Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond. The team won it all in 1975.

I understand this story is more appealing to Bay Area folks, but it’s likely that your favorite team has some wild and interesting stories from the early years, too. Pro sports were pretty funky in the early days. – PAL

Source: Crossing the Bridge: When the Warriors took root in Oakland”, Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle (October, 2018)

A Baseball Stadium Is a Series of Microclimates

This is really interesting. The writer, an atmospheric scientist, interviewed John Farley, the Chief Technology Officer for Weather Applied Metrics (WAM). WAM “quantifies weather impacts on baseball (and sports in general) using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modeling, standard trajectory physics, and other meteorological analysis.”

So, what the hell does that mean? For one, it means WAM analyzes how a batted ball is affected by the very unique wind patterns within a baseball stadium. As Farley notes, fans and announcers often look at the flags that fly atop the stadium in an attempt to know which way the wind is blowing, but those flags tell us very little about how wind impacts a fly ball. As Farley puts it:

[T]here is a lot of vertical wind inside stadiums, which has a significant impact on the flight of the ball over its entire trajectory. Prevailing winds (see graphic below) blowing over a stadium in one direction, but the winds at field level doing the exact opposite, and there’s a lot going on in between. We model the wind field down to each square foot over the entire area where a ball could fly. Then we use those winds for our 3D-Trajectory model with increments of 0.001 seconds.

I’ve always understood that weather can affect a fly ball, but Farley helps put it into perspective:

A headwind, combined with a downdraft, can shorten a fly ball hit to the wall by as much as 60 feet. A tail wind, combined with an updraft can lengthen it by as much as 45 feet. Since baseballs absorb moisture from the air (they are hygroscopic), the difference in distance between very dry air and very wet air is roughly 50 feet. That’s because a wet ball is slightly heavier and spongier, so it doesn’t come off the bat as fast. On a hotter day the air is less dense and so a ball can travel as much as 30 feet farther, compared to a cold day. Air pressure affects density directly. So balls hit at high altitude travel considerably farther.

Farley provides this graphic for a specific example of how wind direction on the field affects a ball.

Farley reports that they installed their real-time analysis system at one major league stadium this June, and I’d fall over in shock if it wasn’t the Giants. Given their tricky weather and stadium, they need every bit of information they can get. Plus, they’re local, as WAM is based out of Silicon Valley. And if it’s not the Giants, get it together, Larry! -TOB

Source: “Understanding The Meteorology Of A Fly Ball May Help Baseball Teams“, Marshall Shepherd, Forbes (10/23/2018)

PAL: So interesting. Brother-in-law Jay Rabeni, who’s currently cuddled up with a Red Sox 2-0 lead in the series, will love this, as he’s a weather dork. It really is a significant amount of distance we’re talking here. Great pull, TOB.

This One Goes Out To Mr. & Ms. 5K (You Know Who You Are) 

Rowe & Suze, I just read an article about why the 5K is better than the marathon. I have found your people.

Danielle Zickl starts out her article capturing an exchange we’re all familiar with: “Anytime I tell someone I’m a runner, they never fail to ask the same question: Have you run a marathon? In the past, I’ve answered this with some variation of ‘Not yet, but probably soon.’ The truth is that I’m a bald-faced liar.”

The assumption that longer = greater challenge is simply untrue. In order to run a sub 20:00 5K requires similar training, speed work, tempo runs as would be required for someone to run a 3:10:00 marathon. And while the marathon distance allows for time to find your race pace and – if needed – make up some time, the 5K requires all-out effort from the start.

Interesting read and a good opportunity to remind folks that no one cares about the marathon your training for (even if they ask). Everyone’s just being polite. – PAL

Source: “Why the 5K Is Better Than the Marathon” (print title), Danielle Zickl, Runner’s World (November/December issue)

Video of the Week:

Tweet of the Week:

PAL’s Song of the Week: Seu Jorge – “Life On Mars?” (David Bowie)

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Sometimes when I blow my nose I get a boner. I don’t know why. It just happens. 

– Andy Dwyer


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