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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-Michael Scott

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