Week of December 20, 2019

Tap the brakes, Max. 


The Hole

℅ Jamie Morganstern. Rob Krar is one of the best ultra runners on the planet. Krar also suffers from depression. This is the story of how he thrives in one area of his life, and how he manages the other. There are parallels between ultra races (Krar does a bunch of crazy-difficult 100-miler type races), but those parallels are not exclusively focused on pain and the struggle. The parallels also are about the importance of a supportive community around you. About acceptance. There’s a willingness needed in both. 

Krar’s bio is pretty interesting. Good runner in high school in Canada. Gets a scholarship to Butler. Enters a challenging pharmacy school. Rigors of school collide with the realization that running is no longer a pursuit of joy but a requirement. Moves to Phoenix. Hates the heat, stops running, depression really starts to simmer. Doesn’t help that, as a pharmacist, mistakes can carry pretty grave consequences. Moves to Flagstaff. Mountain climate leads to running again. Starts winning races out of nowhere. Although he hadn’t articulated it at the time,  “the hold” the depression persists. 

Most important, he meets Christina Bauer. She’s the love of his life, a counselor, and – on what sounds like a first date – the first person he tells about his depression. 

Krar’s story, beautifully written by Christine Fennesey, is about the courage it takes to embrace something like depression. In talking openly about it, Krar makes it easier for others to discuss it. He’s also started a camp for endurance runners that has attracted other runners struggling with mental illness. But this isn’t some after-school special piece on depression. For as head-on as he’s tried to address his mental health, Krar admits that it’s getting worse for him. He admits that there’s a magic to the darkness he feels in the final miles of a race, and the relation it has to the darkness he feels from his depression. He’s willing to take medication, but for reasons left unspoken, he will not attend therapy. 

The irony is Krar’s story isn’t about overcoming obstacles; it’s about accepting them. That is the key to how he approaches his depressions, and that’s what sets him apart as a runner. 

“He’s obviously very talented, but there are a lot of very talented people who don’t win Western States,” [Dylan] Bowman says [a fellow top-tier runner]. “You have to have the willingness to go to the deepest, darkest places in order to pull out victories in the most competitive races. Rob has been really open about his depression, so it could be that he’s just not afraid to put himself in a dark place. And when you pair that with a unique talent, you’ve got an absolute world-class athlete.”

Well worth your time. – PAL 

Source:Rob Krar’s Never-Ending Race”, Christine Fennessy, Outside (12/16/19)


You Won The Heisman, But It’s Not Yours

File this under dumb. Since 1999, winners of the Heisman are not allowed to sell their trophy. So let me get this straight: dudes who are generating millions of dollars for their conferences and schools can’t sell something they won, even after they’ve left the NCAA and the world of amateurism? This is so absurd. 

I’m with Tim Brown (1987 winner): “When I own it and it’s mine, I can do whatever I want with it. If the Heisman Trust wants to sue me for doing whatever, then sue me. I don’t think anybody’s going to worry about that.”

I mean, what the hell; they won’t allow the students to make money off of their names while in college. The folks in charge of the Heisman (not the NCAA) think they need to dictate how an adult manages his assets? Get out of here. 

For what it’s worth, Ricky Williams Heisman just sold for over $500K. – PAL 

Source: Congrats on the Heisman Trophy. Now Sign Here and Promise to Not Sell It.”, Billy Witz, The New York Times (12/14/19)


How the Dodgers Lost out on Clemente

Here’s a pretty cool read for older readers or fans of baseball history. It’s hard to imagine Roberto Clemente in anything other than the honey mustard yellow the Pittsburgh Pirates sported in the 60s. Before he became, as actor David Conrad describes him in short MLB bio video, “the gracenote of Pittsburgh”, Clemente was on track to be a Dodger. 

Many folks know that, but it’s during his minor league season in Montreal when the legend and truth about Clemente start to diverge. The legend goes that the Dodgers discovered him in Puerto Rico and essentially tried to hide him in Montreal until the Rule 5 draft. Why did they need to stash him up there? Because he was a bonus baby. 

Stephen Nesbitt explains the rule: 

On Feb. 19, 1954, Melchor Clemente, a foreman on a sugarcane plantation in Santurce, P.R., sent a telegram to the Brooklyn Baseball Club offices in New York informing the Dodgers that his 19-year-old son Roberto had agreed to sign with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ International League affiliate, for a salary of $5,000 and a $10,000 bonus. That sum made Clemente a bona fide Brooklyn Dodger farmhand and — more importantly — a bonus baby.

A bonus rule in place at the time stipulated that teams were required to keep any player who had signed for more than $4,000 on their 25-man active rosters for two full seasons, or risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft. The Dodgers were gunning for a third consecutive National League pennant after losing the previous two World Series. Brooklyn was, as we might say today, in win-now mode. They had already added one bonus baby to the roster — Sandy Koufax — so instead of sticking Clemente on their bench, the Dodgers gambled.

Koufax and Clemente on the same team? These are the little factoids of history that never, ever get old.

So up to Montreal Clemente went, and, if the Dodgers had it their way, soon he would be forgotten. The story goes Clemente was benched, pitch hit for in early innings, and used as the most overqualified pinch runner in history. Anything to keep him off the radar of other scouts. That’s the legend, anyway. 

Funny thing about baseball – the record-keeping has been pretty consistent for quite a long time. So when children’s author Stew Thornley started a bit of research after deciding to write a book about Clemente, it didn’t take long before the montreal legend started to fray.  

Thornley pulled box scores. Yes, Clemente did sit a bunch of games, but he was also hitting around .200 halfway through the year. Not exactly tearing it up. In fact, as to be expected, he was a teenager playing professional baseball, and he was swinging at everything. 

And while some of the legends hold up, many others simply aren’t true. Clemente never hit three triples in a game. He didn’t hit a homer in the first week of the season, only to be benched. He wasn’t benched for the last 25 games of the season. All of these claims are pretty easy to confirm or deny. 

More interesting is the truth: Clemente was a platoon player. He started 37 games that year, and all 37 of them had one thing in common. Give the story a read to find out. – PAL

Source: Hide and seek: The true story of how the Dodgers lost Roberto Clemente”, Stephen Nesbitt, The Athletic (12/17/19)


Video of the Week:


Song of the Week: Booker T. & the M.G.’s – ‘Sunday Sermon’


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Can’t see the line, can you, Russ? 

-Clark Griswold

Week of December 13, 2019

Yankee Gerrit Cole. For $324 million, you can dictate my facial and head hair choices, too


Taking the Temperature of the Gabe Kapler Hire: Snip, Snap! Snip, Snap! Snip!

The Giants’ hire of Gabe Kapler to replace Bruce Bochy as manager was a polarizing choice. No, polarizing isn’t quite right. Some were outraged about his response, when in the Dodgers system, to two incidents involving Dodger minor leaguers and women. Some of those people, and others, were upset that a guy with a 161-163 record in two seasons as manager of a fairly talented Phillies squad was the pick. Others were in the middle…let’s wait and see. I have been one of those people. But no one that I can find was enthusiastic about the hire, which is why I took back my “polarizing” comment.

So, that’s where we are. Now, Kapler seems like a weird dude (google “Gabe Kapler tan” if you’re feeling adventurous). But, like, who is Gabe Kapler? The Athletic’s Daniel Brown tries to answer that question. And, buddy, this article was giving me some wild swings. Let’s walk through it.

The article opens in Kapler’s office, Bochy’s old office. It’s not yet decorated. But Kapler tells Brown decor is on the way! What has Kapler ordered? 

“So, so glad you asked that question,’’ Kapler replied. “You and I are going to feel much different once (it’s decorated). Environment-building is really important. And I think that design touches make all the difference in conversations like this one. This office needs some life and some plants and some art. I don’t want this to feel like a jail cell.”

Kapler said he was awaiting a shipment of black-and-white photos he’s collected over the years. The images are carefully curated, as are most things with Kapler. There are no frivolities with him, no wasted energy. The photos — like his diet, like what he reads, like the stats he embraces, like the words he chooses, like his umpire-mandated ejections — are selected with a specific purpose in mind.

The pictures, upon arrival, will have an immediate job to do. They will send a message to visitors about what Gabe Kapler believes in.

“So, there are some political figures there. There are some sports figures there,’’ he said. “Muhammad Ali is one, Jackie Robinson is one of them.

“Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. They will all have space somewhere in this office. And I’ll find my way to probably choosing a few more.”

I LAUGHED. I CRIED. This guy! What a weird guy! As my buddy Rowe said, “He basically described the ‘smart guy things for meathead jocks’ starter kit.” Black and white photos! Of super famous people! How daring. 

Current Temperature:

Kapler will happily wax on about his about childhood because, at heart, it still defines him. “Everything I am today,’’ he said, “is a result of that upbringing.” His bedroom walls had photos, too. Kapler’s personal décor in those days included images of Ty Cobb, Pete Rose and Charles Barkley.

Beyond the checkered resume, Kapler also comes equipped with a persona that would fit on a poster next to Barkley, Cobb and Rose. One source, who worked with Kapler at a previous stop, declined to comment when reached for this story. “On the record or off?” the source asked. “Because if it’s on the record, I’d have to lie.”

Another former Kapler co-worker also had his reservations: “Kapler is a high-energy guy. And he means well. I think he means well. But he’s not for everybody. The personality isn’t for everybody. He is kind of a my-way-or-the-highway type of guy.”

OHHH NOOOOOOO. This is bad. This is VERY bad. This is SUCH a poor quality for a manager, of any type. A manager should not be polarizing! A manager should adapt to his subordinates to bring out the best in all of them. 

Current temperature:

During the Giants’ interview process, both Bochy and Buster Posey met with Kapler as the team whittled down its finalist list. Both of those mainstays — no-nonsense types with finely honed B.S. detectors — strongly recommended Kapler, according to team sources, which helped solidify the official decision.

Is someone blowing smoke up my ass? Who are your sources, Daniel!? A Bochy endorsement would go a long way with me. It wouldn’t mean Kapler will be great. And it wouldn’t mean Kapler is not weird as hell because he’s definitely weird as hell. But it would mean he’s not a complete asshole, and that’s a start. So I am off panic mode and at very cautiously optimistic.

Current temperature:

“I’m drawn to colorful people,” he said during this interview in his office. “I’m interested in people who are different than me. I loved biographies as a kid. I wasn’t interested in novels. I wasn’t nearly as interested in reading stories. But I loved biographies. I loved digging into people’s psychology — what makes them tick and how they’re motivated.

At first blush, this is cheezy. But I read it a second time and I gotta say – this is a GOOD managerial quality. Assuming this weirdo we have for a manager who is *allegedly* endorsed by Boch and Posey can actually, you know, dig into people’s psychology, this is a really good thing. 

Current temperature: 

Kapler was never more argument-averse than in his first managing gig, for Class-A Greenville (an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox) in 2007, when his team went 58-81.

“I brought a stoicism to the dugout that I don’t think worked very well,’’ he said, looking back. “And it was by design. I would have minor-league players come to me and complain about umpire calls. And I tried to help them put that aside.

“So I’d say something like, ‘How much value is there in you arguing balls and strikes? Like, do you think that there’s ever a strike or ball call changed?’ And I tried to rationalize with our players instead of getting with them on an emotional level.”

Kapler discovered over time that a raw young player who just struck out looking at a borderline slider was rarely of the mind to intellectualize the experience.

When Kapler became a big-league manager with the Phillies in 2018, he figured that his all-calm-and-reasonable act would play better with a mature roster. So he returned to his old ways and went the entirety of his rookie managerial season without getting the heave-ho.

“It was like, ‘I think I can help these players be stronger mentally and not get so spun,’’’ Kapler said. “But it just doesn’t work. They need to see you get upset.”

“I never really lost my cool. I was upset, but I was also under control. I never felt like I couldn’t maintain control of my emotions during that time period,’’ Kapler said.

“But it doesn’t matter, me rationalizing my way through it. What matters is how the players feel and how the staff feels and how the ballpark feels and how the city feels and how the fans feel. And to some degree being responsive to that.”

I don’t exactly agree with his instinct – I think being a jerk about it rarely helps, but pointing out to an umpire that a call was wrong can help your team. However, I really like that Kapler was able  to adjust to his players’ needs. 

Current temperature: 

“And the lesson in all of that is: Sometimes the best strategic advantage — the one that you’ve been thinking about for a really long time — isn’t worth the confidence being stripped away from the dugout, the clubhouse or the player.”

Assuming he can put this into practice: My guy!

Current temperature: 

Mom ran an early childhood center. She is the bulldog of the family, the one who can make life difficult for the airline customer service agent on the wrong end of a disputed charge.

Ugh, his mom is an asshole. Not a good sign!

Current temperature: 

Still, there was a line Gabe and his older brother, Jeremy, could not cross.

“What was a problem was anything derogatory,’’ Kapler said. “And my dad took major issue with it, so much so that if one us brought a joke home from school that was, like, racially charged in any way, homophobic in any way, my dad was like: No.

“And then he would explain why even telling the joke was problematic in society, why even listening to somebody else tell those jokes and not saying ‘That’s not OK with me’ is problematic in society.”

Ooooh. What a good dad! 

Current temperature: 

“[Little League] is the memory of baseball that I cherish the most,’’ he said from his office. “It was the most important part of my upbringing. It’s where I spent my entire day. Saturday mornings were me walking to the park and spending the entire day — no matter what time my game was — at the park, playing over-the-line between the fields and just being a kid.”

Same, buddy!

Current temperature: 

Neander, now the Rays vice president of baseball operations, informed the longtime big-leaguer that he was much more successful against pitches in the bottom of the strike zone. And then Neander handed him all the game-day data that proved it. For the remainder of his career, Kapler took a new approach at the plate, hunting and attacking pitches at the bottom of the strike zone.

“So how analytical is that?” Kapler said. “It’s just reframing my focus as a player. ‘Here’s what you think you did well. It’s not actually true. Here’s what you actually do well. How can we put you in position to attack that pitch going forward?’

“That was the kind of information that I wanted to have.”

This story is representative of Kapler’s belief when it comes to metrics: They are tools that can make a player better. It’s a concept that can be far simpler than some make it out to be. He rejects the notion that there’s been any kind of analytics “revolution” led by nerds with calculators.

“That’s kind of bullshit, right? Analytics are every kids’ baseball card that they grew up with,’’ he said. “If you looked at batting average and home runs and doubles and triples and stolen bases and caught-stealings and all the things that we have on baseball cards as kids, that’s analytics.”

Sure, but baseball cards never had BABIP, FIP or DRC+ on the back.

“It’s only being labeled as different. It’s not different,’’ Kapler said. “We have different numbers, that’s true, but it’s not an ‘analytics revolution’ like we’ve made it out to be. … We just have better tools. We have more information. We have more numbers to use that predict future success.”

Current temperature: 

Though Kapler said he has learned to be better about balancing the stats with feel, his lingering reputation is why one skeptic thinks that Kapler is the perfect cover for a front office that will be a metrics-run operation from the field on up.

“He’s not going to manage the Giants. He’s just going to be the manager. You see what I’m saying?’’ an industry source familiar with Kapler said. “It’s part of the new era. The manager doesn’t make decisions anymore. He is there, really, to keep the personalities together.”

Current temperature:

Not so good, Al.

A woman rose and fearlessly questioned the handling alleged 2015 assaults. She was upset with Kapler, and with Zaidi for hiring him.

“You’re saying character counts, which we’ve always felt has been the heart of this organization. So I need to address this to you: What were you thinking? In the Bay Area, what made you think that this was going to work?” she said. “Because all I’ve heard is PR sound bites. I haven’t heard anything that spoke to character and all the reasons people — women especially — are concerned about the role you’re taking on.”

The room went the kind of silent that’s actually loud.

Zaidi, as he had several times already that evening, talked about the thorough vetting process in hiring Kapler and the personal lessons both of them have learned through the process. Zaidi said he understood the backlash, welcomed the microscope, said the industry needed to be better about this important issue. He pledged that the organization was committed to speaking with actions, not words.

The question was answered, the tension defused. It looked as if the evening had come to a close.

Then Kapler raised his hand asked for a chance to respond, too.

“Can I ask your name please?” he said.

“My name is Pam.”

“Pam, I’m Gabe. Nice to meet you.”

There was some awkward laughter in the crowd.

“Any questions that you want to know about me, if you would give me a chance to prove that I have high character, I would love that opportunity,’’ he continued. “It doesn’t have to happen right now. It can happen whenever you want. But I’d also be more than happy to answer any of your questions without any sound bites — directly from my heart. Give me an opportunity to get to know me a little better.

“And I’ll make that commitment to anybody in this room: You can stay tonight and we’ll have that conversation. Or, if it makes you feel better, another time, I’m totally cool with that. I just want to ask that you give me a chance to prove my character to you before you decide my character.”

The ensuing applause was as loud as it had been all night.

Nailed it.

Current temperature:

(Actually, I’m still really nervous) -TOB

Source: Who is Gabe Kapler, Really? The New Giants Manager Just Wants Everybody to Get to Know Him,” Daniel Brown, The Athletic (12/07/2019)

PAL: In a word, yikes. 

It all comes off like an act. I don’t buy what Gabe’s selling…not at all. Rowe has it right: “smart guy things for meathead jocks”. 

The Giants are going through a transition, and this is the guy they want for this phase (the lose a lot phase) – someone that gets in line with management. Maybe that works, but I’d think young guys developing need as much emotional support from a leader than cold, sterile, logic. Someone who gets ejected – not because his analysis leads him to decide to get tossed – because he wants to win that game, and that moment matters. Be human, dude, and not just on Thanksgiving. 

Most telling nugget from the entire piece: “It’s worth noting here that Kapler, who was born in Hollywood, won a local Shakespeare Festival award for his performance in “The Taming of the Shrew” while in high school.”

On the plus side: coconut oil. 


Her Time

Here are the first three paragraphs of one of the most moving stories I’ve read since we’ve been doing 1-2-3 Sports!: 

DIEST, Belgium — Champagne flutes were hastily unpacked from boxes, filled to their brims and passed around the room. Dozens of people stood around inside Marieke Vervoort’s cramped apartment, unsure of what to say or do. This was a celebration, Vervoort had assured her guests. But it did not feel like one.

Eleven years earlier, Vervoort had obtained the paperwork required to undergo doctor-assisted euthanasia. Since her teenage years she had been battling a degenerative muscle disease that stole away the use of her legs, stripped her of her independence, and caused her agonizing, unrelenting pain. The paperwork had returned some sense of control. Under Belgian law, she was free to end her life anytime she chose.

But instead, she just went on with it — seized it with new vigor, even. Within a few years she reached uncharted heights in her career as a wheelchair sprinter, winning a gold medal at the Paralympics. She became a celebrity at home and abroad, appearing in the pages of international magazines and newspapers, sitting for interviews on television shows. She traveled the world telling her life story, unspooling it as an inspirational narrative.

You must experience this story in full. It’s much more than just Keh’s writing, which is beautiful in its precision. Lynsey Addario’s photography has depth that makes you linger. Again, it’s not just the heavy in the pictures; the everyday photos are just as striking. There are also places in the story where they’ve embedded audio recordings of Vervoort’s interviews. 

Key and Addario met Vervoort after the Rio Paralympics in 2016. For over three years, they recorded her journey to euthenasia, and how that right “allowed her to wrest back some control of her life.” It wasn’t until after she was approved for euthenasia that she became a gold medalist.  

The piece is divided into four sections: The Pain, Taking Control, The Descent, and The End. Every word is worth your time, but there were a couple moments in this story that are looping in my head like a melody. 

The first moment comes in Rio. Her story – that she would someday end her life through euthenasia – got out. The story that funneled down to the tabloids, and soon this incredibly personal contemplation had become bent into headlines like “‘I’ll Go for Gold, Then Kill Myself,’ Says Paralympian Hopeful,”. A moment that should’ve been a triumph of life became about her impending death.

This was her response. Talk about courage and grace: 

 

The next moment comes when Vervoort asks Keh when she can see the finished article. After “more than one attempt” he explained the plan was to see this through to the end of her life. “She would never read what I would write about her life, never see all the photographs Lynsey was taking of her.”

The last moment is when, at the goodbye party with friends and family, the doctor arrives at her apartment for the final time. He’s there to administer the drugs that will end Vervoort’s suffering. 

“When Dr. Distelmans arrived two hours later, most of the guests were gone. Vervoort was sipping cava and munching on Maltesers chocolates, a guilty pleasure. She offered him one.”

There are beautiful, light moments, too. The weight of the story doesn’t crush those, and what resonates most is Vervoort’s passion for life, for the little things like champagne, sophomoric jokes, and chocolates. 

You must read the full story. – PAL 

Source: The Champion Who Picked a Date to Die”, story by Andrew Keh, photographs and additional reporting by Lynsey Addario, The New York Times (12/09/2019)


WAR? What is it good for? Actually, Something.

How’s this for a lede:

Bryce Harper charged a soft line drive on Sept. 5, fielded it cleanly and fired a strong throw home. The baserunner, Michael Lorenzen, who had started the play on second base, held at third. The trailing baserunner, Jose Peraza, who had started on first base, rounded second and went halfway to third, then backtracked. The catcher, J.T. Realmuto, fielded Harper’s throw and snapped a throw to second, where shortstop Jean Segura caught it and dropped a tag on Peraza. Peraza got back to the base before the tag, but his slide took him off the bag. He initially was called safe, but upon video review, the call was overturned, and Peraza was out.

It all took slightly more than nine seconds, at the end of which one thing had changed — two outs had become three, ending the rally. It can be, like every baseball play, recorded as a simple text description:

Single to RF (Line Drive to Short CF-RF); Lorenzen to 3B; Peraza out at 2B

But those nine seconds, like in many baseball plays, comprise a very complicated story, and converting that complicated story into units of credit is one of the permanent challenges of baseball statistics.

Whose WAR (wins above replacement) goes up on the play? Is it Harper’s, because his strong throw home set everything up? Or Realmuto’s, because his throw to second led to the assist? Or Segura’s, because his acrobatic tag finished the out? Or is it even more nuanced than that?

We’re going to break down this play, which is ordinary enough to pass unmentioned but extraordinary enough to watch 30 or 40 times without wringing it all the way dry. And we’re going to eventually try to answer the central question: Who gets credit for what happened and how much?

Buddy, I am IN on this article. It only gets better from there.

First, there is a second by second account of what almost every player (and even the third base coach and home plate umpire) are doing. Then, it dissects how each players’ actions are treated.

On your traditional stats, this play is treated simply: a hit by the batter, an out for the pitcher, and an outfield assist for Harper (which is odd given what occurred here). But so much went into this play that is not recorded, even in calculating a player’s WAR, both good and bad, including:

  • The Phillies base coach who positioned Harper shallower than normal. Had Harper been at normal depth, the runner from second likely scores and the runner from first likely goes to third.
  • The pitcher for holding the runners and making a quick delivery.
  • The catcher, for simply having a strong-arm reputation, thus helping to hold the runners.
  • The first baseman, who didn’t cut off Harper’s throw, even though he should have, when he would have gotten the runner rounding second out easily. Instead, a close play, originally called safe but overturned on replay, occurred.
  • The pitcher for inducing a swing out of the strike zone.
  • The hitter for swinging out of the zone (bad), but also for making contact (good).

Then there are the ways value stats screw this play up. For example:

Peraza made the out at second, but it is the batter, Blandino, whose win probability added takes the hit, because WPA credits the entire play to the hitter. In that recording of events, Blandino cost the Reds 4% of a win by hitting his single and ending the inning. Irvin gets the corresponding credit to his WPA, 4% of a win he earned the Phillies by allowing the single.

That’s…pretty dumb! The batter hit a single but lowered his team’s odds of winning because of it, so his WPA (WIn Probability Added) goes down, while the runner who screwed up a bases loaded situation by overunning second base takes no hit.

So how does WAR calculate this play? In a variety of ways. First, Lorenzen, the runner who held at third, takes a baserunning knock, because 88% of runners score from second on a hit, even though he would almost for have been out here and thus made the right play, despite being exceptionally fast. Sam Miller then breaks down how the different WAR websites calculated this play, and it illustrates how these things vary and why:

At FanGraphs, Harper gets some credit for Lorenzen holding at third base. Keep in mind, Lorenzen had the stop sign before Harper ever threw the ball. It was Harper’s positioning, his fielding of the ball and the threat of his arm that held Lorenzen. It was his reputation, more than the act itself, that altered the play, and for that he gets credit. Harper could have made a limp throw home that bounced six times and carried 30 feet up the third-base line, but if Lorenzen didn’t try to score — on a play where, in the aggregate, nearly 90% of baserunners do — it goes to the right fielder’s credit.

At Baseball Prospectus, Harper gets some credit for the assist, but most of the play escapes the measures of the site’s defensive metric, fielding runs above average, because the out was so unorthodox. The Phillies’ team baserunning defense is credited with 0.6 runs prevented — about the same as Lorenzen is docked — but not all of that gets distributed to the individual fielders involved.

And at Baseball Reference, where human observers (employed by Sports Info Solutions) credit the defenders on each play, Realmuto gets credit for what SIS labels a good fielding play. That’s worth 0.2 runs to his WAR. Harper gets some credit for Lorenzen holding at third, and some for the outfield assist. It’s worth about 0.33 runs to his WAR.

Segura, across the board, doesn’t get credited by anybody. One could argue he made the most important play in the sequence and the most difficult. One could also argue he stood watching the play for far too long, and his late awareness that he was supposed to be covering second base is what ultimately made the play so difficult for him. Maybe he doesn’t deserve any credit!

Irvin’s WAR improved very slightly at FanGraphs (for the out), improved by a little more at Baseball-Reference (for the runs not scoring) and probably took a slight hit at Baseball Prospectus (for the single). Blandino’s WAR improved everywhere but probably least at Baseball Prospectus, because landing singles on weak flares is one of the least stable skills a hitter can have. Harper’s WAR, among the defenders, improved at all three sites.

Miller closes with an excellent summary of the incredible achievement even creating a stat like WAR really is:

There were more than 100,000 batted-ball plays in major league baseball this year, many of them involving half the players on the field in direct or indirect roles. There were, furthermore, three-quarters of a million pitches, scores of thousands of stolen base opportunities, thousands of pitches in the dirt. To give credit on all of them means building statistical systems that can make assumptions that hold true in as many cases as possible — and that don’t require hours (and that don’t rely on personal opinions) for each of them. The act of assigning value for all these possible plays is a titanic act of research and coding that took years of work, trial and error and ever-more-specific tweaks by generations of analysts — all to be reasonably prepared for an oddity like this play.

Man, what a cool article. -TOB

Source: How is WAR Calculated, Really? Breaking Down a Single Play to Find Out”, Sam Miller, ESPN (12/5/2019)

PAL: This is baseball heaven. The moment-by-moment breakdown of a single play showing the choreography of a play, all which can change when a trailing baserunner watches a throw from right field for a step too long. As Miller describes it, “every actor’s role in the play”. A must read for coaches. 

Some observations: 

  • I have to say, I’ve never noticed how far a third base coach can get down the line in order to read a developing play in the outfield and maximize the amount of time he has to make a decision whether to send a runner home or hold him up at third. 
  • I agree, TOB; the outfield assist to Harper makes no sense in this scenario
  • The credit game is a tough one (as Miller points out); in one sense, we can credit the pitcher for holding the runners on and deliver a psuedo slide step, but maybe he makes a better pitch with a full leg kick than leads to the third out, rendering the baserunners’ secondary leads meaningless
  • This article makes me wonder about qualitative stats. While the centerfielder not backing up the catcher’s throw to second didn’t matter here, we know what would happen if the ball gets past the shortstop: at least one run scores. If the play had gone that way – if the catcher overthrow the shortstop and the centerfielder isn’t there, would that impact the center fielder’s WAR? 
  • Let this stat be written under the bill of every third base coach in youth baseball: “88% of lead baserunners scored from second base on two-out singles to the outfield in 2019.” If that’s the case in MLB, then the answer at lower levers is to just send the runner home on a two-out hit. 
  • Miller says near the end of the article that the trickiest part of this play is deciding who gets credit. I think that answer, on a larger scale, is pretty simple: the team gets credit. This is a team play. Good team plays lead to wins. Yes, baseball is a lot of one-on-one battles within a team games, but plays like this are the moments when the team works in concert with one another. As he mentions later in the story, “There were more than 100,000 batted-ball plays in major league baseball this year, many of them involving half the players on the field in direct or indirect roles.” Those are team plays. A good deal of wins are in those plays.

The NFL Has Always Tried to Get In Its Own Way

There are a lot of bad things about being a football fan. But one of the fun things is attending a game and going absolutely bonkers at a big moment in the game, especially when your team’s defense needs a stop. How less fun would football be if you couldn’t do that? If the referees in fact called delay of game penalties, and charged the home team a timeout, if the fans got louder than the referees thought appropriate? Guess, what. The football powers that be did that in 1970s and 1980s.

 This is a story about the time the people in charge of the league — and those in charge of college football, for that matter — lost their minds and decided fans should not yell, cheer, clap, stomp, roar or do anything else that could make it hard for a visiting team to hear. Basically, the powers that be wanted to turn a football game into a golf tournament.

Or, as 49ers coach George Seifert put it, “Let’s have a football game that doesn’t turn into a rock concert.”

Seifert, you dork!

The NFL adopted the rule, originally started in college in the 70s, in 1989. It did not go well!

With the new rule in place, the NFL tested it out in the preseason. In August of ’89, the Bengals played in New Orleans. When the Bengals had the ball at the Saints’ 2-yard line, the New Orleans crowd went bananas. The refs threw not one, not two, not three but four flags, and the Saints lost all three of their timeouts and were assessed a half-the-distance-to-the-goal penalty. Later, in the third quarter, Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason antagonized the crowd on the sideline by waving his arms. The referee told Bengals coach Sam Wyche to make Esiason stop. Esiason knelt, hid behind a teammate … and still waved his hand behind his back.

Fans, to their credit, did not abide this crap, and just got rowdier.

After the preseason debacle, the NFL realized its mistake and quietly made the rule go away. But, this is a funny, emblematic article about the NFL, and how it has always tried to suck the fun out of its game. -TOB

Source: Remembering the Time the NFL Tried to Silence Its Fans,” Jayson Jenks, The Athletic (12/11/2019)

PAL: I need a name. I need a photo. What old duff in a pinstripe suit the NFL league office thought this was a good idea and had enough juice to get this into a pre-season game. I bet his name was Glen, or Walter, or Jerry. The commish must’ve owed him big for something, and Glen/Walter/Jerry cashed in on this favor for quiet football stadiums.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Vanilla Fudge – “You Keep My Hangin’ On”


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“I want you to rub butter on my foot. I have Country Crock.”

-Michael Scott

Week of December 6, 2019

After a two-week hiatus, we’re back to spike on y’alls’ heads.


What The Hell Happened On Everest? 

This is the story behind a photo that we all saw earlier this year. You know the one: 

We are aware of the general idea: Mount Everest as become a clogged tourist attraction for folks with the funds, ignorance, and arrogance to think they can summit it because the idea is intriguing to them. This idea is nothing new, especially to anyone who read John Krakaur’s Into Thin Air in the last 20+ years. 

What makes this specific story worth your time is the explanation – all of its variables – that led to that photograph. Joshua Hammer describes the image of a snaking line of climbers at 27K+ feet as resembling throngs of folks “queued up for a ski lift in Vail”. It’s not just the blind ambition of inexperienced climbers. It’s the market for guides, especially at a lower rate. It’s complex weather patterns. It’s a real ethical dilemma playing out with the heaviest of consequence. 

Hammer also writes and reports the hell out of this story. What a fantastic opener: 

It was morning and bright, and Reinhard Grubhofer, depleted and dehydrated, hoisted his body over a crest and rose uneasily. There, from the summit of Mount Everest, he could see everything. How the earth curved gorgeously in all direction; how wisps of clouds sailed beneath his boots. The view—out beyond his worries—was beautiful. But closer at hand, he could see trouble taking shape.

It’s obvious, but I have to say it: it continues to shock me how completely inexperienced climbers are allowed on Everest. It’s life and death, and a slew of climbers are held up because a lady is too scared to get on the ladder. As Hammer points out, the same holds true that Krakauer detailed in his book Into Thin Air. This lady on the ladder was yet another “scathing portrait of irresponsible guides catering to wealthy, out-of-their-depth dilettantes…”.

He swiftly identified the problem: a woman in a red climbing suit adorned with the emblems of a Chinese mountaineering group perched just before the drop-off, unwilling to go forward. The woman’s two Sherpa guides were firmly encouraging her to descend the ladder, but she remained paralyzed in apparent fear. For those in the logjam behind her, there was no going around. Everybody was stuck, freezing in the storm. Nearly six miles high in the Himalayas, Grubhofer knew, conditions were unforgiving: Standing still for long periods in the so-called death zone above 26,000 feet dramatically increased the risk of frostbite, heart attack, stroke, pulmonary or cerebral edema—and death. Grubhofer knew that Ernst Landgraf, the member of his climbing party whom he had seen on Everest’s summit, had been exhausted at the top. He could just make out Landgraf—obscured by snowfall, clouds, fog, and people—a few climbers behind him, but Grubhofer didn’t know how the 64-year-old was holding up.

“Move it!” shouted a climber behind Grubhofer.

Oh, shit, Grubhofer thought, this is getting serious.

This Chinese woman, he was sure, had no business being on the mountain. Why hadn’t her guides screened her ahead of time? Thirty minutes crawled by. Forty-five passed. Still she wouldn’t go down the ladder.

That was far from the only example of this. It reads like the mountain is littered with the corpses of nearly 200 bodies left frozen – some are of the most experienced and qualified, and some are folks with no business being on a mountain half the size and danger of Everest –  being stepped over by dozens of people who have no idea what they’re doing, increasing the risk of adding to the growing number of frozen corpses. 

Reading this story, I have the urge to say the very spirit of summiting Everest is gone, replaced by a backdrop for social media posts. Hammer describes it as a “circus-like pageant of stunts and self-promotion” outlining what sounds like a nightmare scene: “In April 2017, DJ Paul Oakenfold outraged mountaineering purists by hosting an EDM concert at the base camp in Nepal”

But the mountaineers are far from the only issue leading to four deaths over 24 hours last May. Year after year, more permits are sold by the Nepalese and Chinese governments. But this past spring, there was also a category 4 cyclone hundreds of miles away that continued to send bad weather up against Everest. This shortened an already tiny window of good weather for summiting down to two days. Everyone had been waiting for weeks for the weather to clear, and when it finally did, well – everyone – all of those customers paying tens of thousands of dollars to stand on top of the world – went for the summit at the same time. 

Hammer writes, “Experienced sherpas knew the mountain had never seen anything like those two days.”

This story is also a good reminder that it’s not as cut-and-dry for the Sherpas either: 

The Sherpa faced a dilemma confronted by many guides on Everest: how to respond to the determination of an apparently ailing or unfit climber. Only rarely, many experts say, will a Sherpa demonstrate the force of will to override a client’s decision to summit; for new recruits trying to make a mark in a competitive business, getting a client to the top often becomes the priority.

More guide agencies are now catering to clients with less money. Less money means less spent on quality sherpas. More people on the mountain, less quality control and less experience – both climbers and guides – and an unwillingness to tell a client no – you can see how disaster can arise as quickly as bad weather. 

In this new adventure theme park, governments need to limit the amount of permits and add some qualifications in order to receive a permit. It will save lives of climbers and guides. It will restore the prestige of Mount Everest. Great read. – PAL 

Source: Chaos at the Top of the World”, Joshua Hammer, GQ (12/04/2019)

TOB: This is an incredible story; so well written. Two points I’d like to make about the main subject, Reinhard Grubhofer.

First, every time I read about Everest I am dumbfounded that anyone takes credit for climbing this thing when they have hired a Sherpa to carry all their gear, including oxygen. Grubhofer’s Sherpa carried three oxygen takes while they climbed, two for himself and one for Grubhofer, while Grubhofer carried only the one he was using.

Second, regarding this passage at the end:

New rules have to be implemented, he says, to weed out the incompetent and the inexperienced, to reduce the crowds, to remove the Disneyland illusion and bring Everest back to something approximating its pristine state. Too many people, he says, have died needlessly because of sliding standards. “Let’s not make it a tourist mountain,” he says. “Let’s not spoil it even more [and] reduce it to dead people and tourists.”

Grubhofer has an incredible amount of nerve to say those things considering the fact (1) a Sherpa saved his life twice, and (2) his experienced climbing partner DID die that day. My man, YOU did not belong up there, either. You want a rule for who can go up there? A Sherpa can be your guide, but if you cannot carry your own gear, including oxygen, you cannot go. This friggin’ guy!


And the Sign Said “Long-Haired Freaky People Need Not Apply”

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign, huh? It’s Hot Effin Stove Season, but if you’re a baseball fan, you’ve probably been reading about signs and how teams steal them for the last few weeks. In particular, the Houston Astros, and how they are pretty obviously using video cameras to steal signs in real-time. Folks, I have a take!

Now, sign stealing in baseball is damn near as old as sign making. Teams have long been accused of trying to steal signs with a runner on second base signaling the pitch selection or location to the hitter. But while that ruffles some feathers, it’s also one of those things that everyone does and no one is sure what benefit it provides, and so it never makes much more than a small ripple.

But over the last few years, the Astros have been accused repeatedly of stealing signs in a much more high tech manner. At one point during the 2019 ALCS, the Yankees accused the Astros of using cameras and a whistle system to signal the pitch to the hitter. At the time, MLB “investigated’ and claimed to find no such evidence. *More on that in a bit.

But last month The Athletic reported that in 2017 the Astros set up an elaborate system with a secret centerfield camera providing a feed to a TV in the private tunnel behind the dugout and leading to the clubhouse. The article said that someone watching that feed would see the sign and immediately signal the pitch selection to the hitter by banging loudly on a trash can. The story was produced largely in part to pitcher Mike Fiers, who was on that Astros team, deciding to speak up about what his former team was up to. 

Now, when I first read this story, it seemed a little preposterous. Would a hitter even hear that? How could they make the signal fast enough to prepare the hitter? So I yawned. It just seemed overblown. And then I saw a series of tweets from our old lip-reading friend Jomboy…and it completely changed my mind. Here’s one, where he shows the whole system at work:

Here’s another, with the Twins facing the Astros. When it’s a fastball, there’s no bang. When it’s an offspeed pitch, there’s a bang.

Once I saw the system at work, I was swayed. As Jomboy says, it’s upsetting. It’s not gamesmanship – it’s cheating. Using technology to steal signs has also been against the rules since at least 2001. And the directive to do so came from the highest levels of the Astros’ front office, as reported by the Athletic.

I thought the Patriots Spygate scandal was overblown because I was skeptical that a team could decode signs and signal them to the team on the field in time in a football game. But watching these videos of the Astros, it’s clear they did have a system, and in hindsight it was stupidly obvious. I would say they deserve to be punished severely, but they beat the Dodgers in the World Series in 2017, and for that I can never be angry at them. Alas. 

One thing I’d like to know, Phil – as a guy who played baseball at a much higher level than I did, how much do you think being told the type of pitch a split second before it arrives actually helps. I’ll take my question off the air, thanks. -TOB

Source: The Astros Stole Signs Electronically in 2017 — Part of a Much Broader Issue For Major League Baseball,” Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, The Athletic (11/12/2019)

PAL: Thanks, Tommy from San Francisco. And a happy holidays to you and yours. Knowing an off-speed or a fastball is coming makes a huge difference. Timing is everything. A batter can adjust to location while the ball is in flight, but knowing there’s a little more time (or less) changes everything. 

TOB: Ok, I lied. Sorta. I’m not gonna take my answer off the air. But this wasn’t a *gotcha* moment. After reading your response, I read this article and want to add it to the conversation.

Sleuthing uncovered that the Astros “bang bang” system seems to have started on May 27, 2017. But after that date, as The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh reports, the team only got marginally better, and well within a normal in-season variation. More importantly, the Astros hit worse at home, both over the full season and after May 27, than they did on the road, which doesn’t make much sense because the system was only in place at home.

Of course, it seems that the Astros didn’t use the system on every at bat. So Lindbergh isolated “high leverage” at bats. He shows the Astros performed worse in high-leverage situations than they did in low leverage situations. That’s normal. But as the table show, the Astros performed more worse (sorry, but it works here; would you have preferred worser?) than in high vs. low leverage situations relative to the rest of the league. So, we are left wondering – did the cheating help?

Well, the playoffs are an interesting comparison. A smaller sample size, yes. But there is evidence the Astros switched the system – they couldn’t be sure the banging would be heard in a noisy playoff game, and also might have been worried about getting caught with the greater scrutiny the playoffs bring. Here’s what former Minnesota Twin Trevor Plouffe claims they did instead:

 

So, did it help in the playoffs? Boy, did it. The Astros hit 230 OPS points higher at home than on the road in the 2017 postseason. 

Still, Lindbergh notes that many great hitters over the years have said they don’t want to know the pitch, and he makes a compelling argument:

Major league hitters don’t have superhuman reflexes. What they have is learned perceptual skills, honed through picking up patterns over thousands and thousands of pitches. Simply telling them which pitch is coming, instead of making their brains work for it, sounds like it would simply allow them to skip a step and be even better. But disrupting their regular process might make them worse.

Thad Meeks, an associate professor of cognitive psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, says, “If a behavior is well-learned, to the point that it is almost automatic, it is very possible that imposing additional thought processes into working memory may interfere with those behaviors. … Thus, it is possible that batters may have more automatized reactions to pitches without knowing what is coming over decades of learning. And it is certainly possible for some that overriding that automatic response with a different approach, even if that approach is on the surface advantageous, may interfere with [their] natural approach.”

Anyways. I’m just glad they beat the Dodgers.


College Football Fans Haven’t Changed, College Football Has

College football attendance continues to drop, and the people in charge do not understand why. Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey 

“I think we have a changing consumer,” Mullens said. “Getting folks to commit to seven college football Saturdays with a season ticket is hard.”

Sankey believes the issue reaches beyond college football. He’s studied professional sports leagues in America and abroad and knows they’re all struggling to attract fans to the stadiums.

When asked why it was becoming harder to sell tickets to college football games Sankey offered, “A sociologist may be a better contributor than me.”

They’re wrong. They are flat out wrong. I spent a little time on a Cal football message board, and I don’t think fans are changing at all. It is college football that is changing.

The issue has many causes but there’s one that comes up again and a again: The conferences gave up control of kickoff times in exchange for more money from the networks. Period. ESPN and FOX in particular control kickoff times for nearly every team in the country. They not only control the kickoff times for the games they air, but they control the kickoff times for the games they don’t select because they want exclusive windows to drive up ratings. This has meant late night games, beginning as late as 8pm. With games that routinely last 4 hours, many fans can’t get home until 1 or 2am. 

To make those late night games worse, they don’t have to announce kick times for until 12 days, and a few times a year until 6 days, before the game. Six days! I have been a college football season ticket holder for 15 years now, and the last few years have been a nightmare trying to plan my Fall Saturdays. My wife will ask if we can go to an event and I have to say, “Uhhh, maybe? There’s a game.” “When will you know?” “Either two weeks or one week before the game.” It’s awful – and I’m local. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people traveling.

Lest you think this is an issue for the the liberal elite coasts, I assure you it is not. The Big Ten posted its lowest average attendance in 25 years (65,376) last season, and this season is going to be lower. Even the SEC was down more than 100,000 in total attendance last year, its third straight season of declining attendance. That picture up top was a ⅓ full Alabama game from 2018. Alabama!

What’s especially galling about all this is that these idiots decided TV money was greater than ticket-buying money, took the big network payday and are now blaming their fans for saying, “I’m fed up with this.” Worse yet, they are killing an entire generation of young fans, jeopardizing the long-term health of the sport for the short-term boost. 

The solution is simple: set game times before the season. If the NFL can do it, so can the NCAA. Maybe late in the season a small number of “flex options” could be made available in order to ensure an unexpectedly blockbuster game gets into primetime. But that’s it. Give gamedays back to the ticket buying fan. -TOB

Source: College Football’s Troubles Will Be Punctuated With More Empty Seats in Pac-12 Title Game,John Canzano, Oregon Live (12/05/2019)


Why NFL Film Analysis Should Be Left to the Pros

As football fans and members of the media, there is so much the average football viewer does not understand about the modern game. We see a long TD on busted coverage, but the vast majority of us have no idea whose responsibility it was to cover the received on that play. We see a QB throw an interception when there’s no receiver in the area, but almost all routes these days have options, wherein the receiver and the QB read the coverage and break differently. As an average fan, we have no idea if it was the receiver or the quarterback who read the defense wrong way. We see a running back get blown up and assume a lineman missed the block, but maybe the running back went the wrong direction. You get the idea.

On Twitter last week I saw the perfect illustration of this from Eliot Shorr-Parks, an Eagles reporter for a Philadelphia radio station. In his Twitter bio, Shorr-Parks states, “A bad take is better than no take at all,” which should give you an idea of what you’re about to read. Shorr-Parks tweeted the following:

When you watch the video, you might think, hm yeah, good point. Wentz missed the receiver completely and that led to the interception. But remember, we don’t know jack. To prove that point, former Cal Bear and Eagle wide receiver Bryce Treggs weighed in:

Boom, roasted. Shorr-Parks is not alone, of course. Plenty of sports “reporters” now consider themselves “experts” or “film-junkies.” But they have no idea what they’re watching. If you’re going to spend any time trying to learn football from a reporter, be sure he knows what the heck he’s talking about first. -TOB


The Mind PED

Interesting topic, albeit terribly written. TOB said it a few weeks ago, and I’ll say it again: we really need to widen our search for good shit with Deadspin gone. I can’t imagine an editor gave this the once over. There’s just no way. 

However, the idea of a PED for the mind is fascinating. I always think of PEDs in terms of the physical – increase in strength, speed, recovery; Anderson’s account underscores the real challenge in baseball – the battle between the ears. With all that time of waiting in a baseball game, punctuated by milliseconds of action, the ability to get out of your own head and think clearly is survival. Former Giant and current loony Aubrey Huff described playing on adderall and feeling “metally invincible”.

Consider the circumstances in which he first tried adderall, and I’ll have a hard time believing more than a few of us wouldn’t have given it a shot, too:

Maybe it was the exhaustion, or the fact that I was 29, five years removed from my last major league appearance, and playing less for the $1,500 a month in a faraway land, but my inner moral reservations about cheating dissolved. It felt more like an experiment.

And then there’s the testing that comes with a player getting a TUE (therapeutic use exemption). For one, these diagnoses are done on an annual basis with an MLB-approved psychiatrist. Once that TUE is given, Anderson describes it as MLB expecting the player to take the medication daily, regardless of how he might be feeling. In order to continue to receive the TUE, then players actually are better off testing positive for adderall whenever they are tested. 

The idea that health professionals employed by teams or the league are making assessments and diagnosis on players is insane. 

As for the terrible writing, here are some examples: 

  • In his hands, the miracle I needed in the form of a little white pill. In his mouth, a question: “You want an Adderall?”
  • Once the first game started, the effects were immediate. Forget the “Miracle on Ice,” it was time for the “Miracle-on-All-Dirt-Japanese-Infields.”
  • When I stood in the on-deck circle, my old friend Performance Anxiety was conspicuously absent, and I marveled at what it felt like to walk to the plate without giving his bloated ass a piggyback ride, too. He managed to stay on vacation for each at-bat. It was just me and the ball. The fielders didn’t exist, and the pitcher had turned from rottweiler to pug.
  • For real – this guy references WebMD in this story to outline the side effects of adderall

These are from the first ⅓ of the story. You get the point. 

Source: Lars Anderson: To Play ‘Mortal,’ or Not? My Experience Trying Adderall as a PED”, Lars Anderson, The Athletic (12/03/19)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Ikebe Shakedown – “Pepper”


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“I like how guys just know stuff. All the time.”

– Erin Hannon