Category Archives: baseball

Poem for the ALDS

These are the names that are freaking me out,
Verlander, Scherzer, and Price,
Plaguing my Oriole fandom with doubt,
Verlander, Scherzer and Price.
A trio of felines, bringing the heat,
Verlander, Scherzer, and Price,
Are these guys that a team writing “Ryan Flaherty” and “Jonathan Schoop” on the lineup card every day actually has a chance to beat??
Verlander, Scherzer, and Price.

 

Update:  I should make clear that this is meant to be apres “Tinkers to Evers to Chance,” by Franklin Pierce Adams.

Squeeze! Squeeze!

I hope the world never runs out of awesome Earl Weaver stories.

I saw Earl Weaver put on a suicide squeeze bunt, in Milwaukee. It worked. Everybody asked him, ‘Wait, we thought you told us you didn’t even have a sign for a suicide squeeze, because you hated it so much.’ Earl said, ‘I still don’t.’ I asked him, ‘How did you put it on then?’ He said, ‘I whistled at Cal Ripken, Sr., my third base coach. Then I shouted at him, ‘Squeeze! Squeeze! Then I motioned a bunt.’ I said, ‘Paul Molitor was playing third. Didn’t he hear you?’ Earl said, ‘If he did, I’m sure he thought there was no way we were putting it on, or I wouldn’t have been yelling for it.’

This is from the Fangraphs interview with the greatest announcer of our time, Jon Miller. His memoir, Confessions of a Baseball Purist, is full of great stuff like this. I didn’t know until just this second that it had been reissued by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Tagged ,

The 1979 Houston Astros hit only 49 home runs

49 home runs! That’s nuts. They hit more triples than home runs. Their home run leader was Jose Cruz, who hit 9. In September they went 20 straight games without hitting a home run, the longest such streak in modern baseball. And that was after they went 15 games without hitting a rome run in July!

Must have been a pretty bad team, right? But no! They won 89 games and finished second, just a game and a half behind the Reds. That 15 game homerless streak in July? They went 11-4 in those games.

Tagged ,

August linkdump

  • The company that makes OldReader, the RSS reader I fled to after the sad demise of Google Reader, is from Madison!  OK, Middleton.  Still part of Silicon Isthmus.
  • I never new that Mark Alan Stamaty, one of my favorite cartoonists, did the cover of the first They Might Be Giants album.
  • Hey I keep saying this and now Allison Schrager has written an article about it for Bloomberg.  Tenure is a form of compensation.  If you think tenure is a bad way to pay teachers, and that compensation is best in the form of dollars, that’s fine; but if California pretends that the elimination of tenure isn’t a massive pay cut for teachers, they’re making a basic economic mistake.
  • New “hot hand” paper by Brett Green and Jeffrey Zweibel, about the hot hand for batters in baseball.  They say it’s there!  And they echo a point I make in the book (which I learned from Bob Wardrop) — some of the “no such thing as the hot hand” studies are way too low-power to detect a hot hand of any realistic size.
  • Matt Baker goes outside the circle of number theory and blogs about real numbers, axioms, and games.  Daring!  Matt also has a very cool new paper with Yao Wang about spanning trees as torsors for the sandpile group; but I want that to have its own blog entry once I’ve actually read it!
  • Lyndon Hardy wrote a fantasy series I adored as a kid, Master of the Five Magics.  I didn’t know that, as an undergrad, he was the mastermind of the Great Caltech Rose Bowl Hoax.  Now that is a life well spent.
  • Do you know how many players with at least 20 hits in a season have had more than half their hits be home runs?  Just two:  Mark McGwire in 2001 and Frank Thomas in 2005.
Tagged , , , ,

“Like a girl”

I wrote a New York Times op/ed last week about the relationship between teaching math and coaching Little League.  Several people wrote me to say that I shouldn’t have written the following passage:

My level of skill at baseball — actually, with every kind of ball — is pretty much the opposite of my mastery of math. I’ve reached 40 and I still throw in the way that we used to call, before they started showing college softball on TV, “like a girl.”

So obviously my goal here is to undercut the stereotype and present it as obsolete.  But the people who wrote me argued that to use the force of a sexist phrase to give my sentence a little oomph is a problem, even if (as I once heard J. P. Serre say about a piece of notation) “I mention it only in order to object to it.”

So I asked about this on Facebook, and maybe 60% of people thought it was fine, and 40% said that they winced when they read it.

Which means it’s not fine.  Because why write something that makes 40% of readers wince in annoyance?  Especially when a) it’s in no way intrinsic to the piece, which is otherwise not about gender roles, and b) the piece itself ties math to baseball, a boy-coded activity, and has much more material about my son than it does about my daughter.

I think “like a girl” can be an OK place to go if you need to.  But I didn’t need to.  So I think I shouldn’t have.

One of my friends suggested I should have said instead that I throw “like a mathematician.”  Better!

 

Tagged ,

Orioles 7, Brewers 6

CJ, AB and I spent Memorial Day at Miller Park, watching the Orioles outlast the Brewers 7-6 in an exciting 10-inning contest; it was Baltimore’s first visit to Milwaukee since 2008, which CJ and I also attended. Some details (CJ is helping me write this):

  • Lots of production from the bottom of the Brewers order, including back-to-back homers by Khris Davis and Lyle Overbay.  At that point Chris Tillman looked so overmatched that Kyle Lohse, in his last AB of the day, was apparently given permission to swing for the fences and hope for the best.  (He struck out.)
  • There’s nothing like watching AL pitchers try to bat.  Tillman made three tries at making contact on a bunt attempt, missed all three, and walked back to the dugout looking glum.
  • As an Oriole, Mark Reynolds was the worst third baseman I’ve ever seen, but somebody on Milwaukee’s staff has turned him around; he’s been notably good in both games we’ve seen this year, today making a diving stop and then firing a perfect throw to first from his knees.
  • Play of the game:  bottom of the ninth, Brewers with runners on second and third with one out, Reynolds up.  Ron Roenicke calls the “contact play” — pinch runner Elian Herrera takes off from third on contact, the idea being that he can probably score even on a soft groundout.  Unfortunately for Milwaukee, Reynolds hit a hard line shot directly to J.J. Hardy, who caught it and nonchalantly flipped to Manny Machado for the double play before Herrera even realized he wasn’t about to score the game-winning run.
  • Barbecue brisket sandwich from the Smokehouse unexpectedly good.  CJ ate four pieces of pizza.  Correction, CJ wishes me to say he “devoured” four pieces of pizza.  AB ate a hotdog.
  • Surprisingly high density of O’s fans in the seats behind the visiting dugout — I’d say 10-20%.
  • Former Brewer Hardy gets big cheers here when when announced.
  • I never get tired of watching Darren O’Day and his weirdo delivery.  He’s now been an extremely good pitcher for two full years and 2014 so far, and I don’t think people outside Baltimore have heard of him yet.

Here’s my Brewer-loving friend Laura Hemming, right before Roenicke called the contact play:

Sorry, Laura!

Tagged , , ,

Why is Tommy Hunter so freaking hard to watch?

Tommy Hunter is on the DL and it’s made me a calmer person. He’s been lousy this year, and not just when he blows a save, which he’s done four times; he’s been pretty terrible in the games he does save, seemingly always letting guys on and coming within a hair of blowing the game.  My heart can’t take much more.  Is it just my imagination?  Or does Tommy Hunter really have more near-misses than other pitchers?  Well, here’s one thing you could check; if Hunter is constantly letting a few guys on but then buckling down and getting the big out when he needs it, you’d expect him to be a much better pitcher with runners in scoring position than he is in general.  (In general, batters gain about 10 points of OPS when batting with RISP.)  Here’s where baseball-reference’s amazing Play Index comes in.  You can rank all pitchers in MLB history by “OPS against with runners in scoring position – OPS against overall.”  You can restrict to people who’ve faced at least 400 batters with RISP in order to get rid of small samples.  And you know who baseball’s all-time leader is in this stat?  Yep — Tommy Hunter.  Here’s the top 21.

 

Rk I Player Split G OPS OPStot Diff
1 Tommy Hunter RISP 133 .683 .777 -.094
2 Pedro Feliciano RISP 268 .604 .696 -.092
3 Hideki Irabu RISP 106 .707 .797 -.090
4 Julio Santana RISP 169 .730 .820 -.090
5 Steve Parris RISP 136 .740 .829 -.089
6 J.A. Happ RISP 131 .669 .756 -.087
7 Doug Rau RISP 209 .612 .698 -.086
8 John Grabow RISP 294 .665 .751 -.086
9 Bob Sebra RISP 86 .689 .775 -.086
10 Victor Zambrano RISP 165 .679 .764 -.085
11 Jordan Zimmermann RISP 118 .615 .695 -.080
12 Scott Proctor RISP 194 .704 .782 -.078
13 Scott Baker RISP 159 .661 .737 -.076
14 Cecilio Guante RISP 267 .612 .685 -.073
15 Frank Francisco RISP 239 .624 .697 -.073
16 Dennis Bennett RISP 163 .659 .732 -.073
17 Kevin Slowey RISP 125 .726 .798 -.072
18 Buzz Capra RISP 127 .644 .712 -.068
19 Erik Bedard RISP 222 .632 .699 -.067
20 Scott Linebrink RISP 338 .662 .729 -.067
21 John Frascatore RISP 203 .714 .781 -.067
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/23/2014.

Do any of these other pitchers have the same reputation as guys who destroy your nerves by constantly getting into jams and somehow wriggling out?

Tagged , ,

True love and baseball

Happy World Series Day, my favorite secular yontif!  In the spirit of the season I have a piece in Slate about CJ’s love for baseball, and mine.  I was extremely pleased that Rob Neyer liked it.

Here’s the finish:

I tried to make my son into an Orioles fan, like me. But the day at Miller Park he saw Carlos Gomez steal second, then third, then break for home, scoring on a wild pitch, like he was playing Atari baseball against a team of hapless 8-bit defenders, he became a Brewers fan for life. (To be precise, he describes himself as 70 percent Brewers, 30 percent Orioles.) We get along fine, in our mixed household. The inconsistency of our rooting interests doesn’t bother him. If there is a lesson baseball can offer us, it’s one about our deepest commitments; that they’re arbitrary, and contingent, but we’re no less committed to them for that. If I’d been born in New York, I might have been a Yankees fan, but luckily for me, I was born in Maryland, so I’m not. Jerry Seinfeld once remarked that baseball fandom, in the age of free agency, amounted to rooting for laundry. That’s not an insult to the game, as Seinfeld, a giant Mets fan, surely understood; it’s a testament to its deepest strength. My son’s love for the Brewers, like mine for the Orioles, is a love with no reason and no justification. True love, in other words.

Seriously, non-Wisconsin people, if you haven’t been paying attention to Carlos Gomez you are missing out on some joyous baseball.

The other Cal

Calvin Pickering was a big strong guy who came up with the Orioles and hit the ball really, really hard whenever he hit it, which unfortunately was not often enough for him to hold down a steady job in the major leagues.  CJ and I saw him a few years ago in Tucson, where he was playing for the visiting Calgary team from an unaffiliated league I think no longer exists.  Here’s an e-mail interview with Pickering, featuring this great reminiscence:

Who was the toughest pitcher that you ever faced?: PEDRO MARTINEZ MOST DEFINITELY. I remember when we was playing them in Boston and they told me that I was in the lineup and Pedro was pitching. I was like cool so the first AB I think I walk then the second AB I hit a home run off him but the funny part about that AB is that he threw all fastball and I hit a home run so the 3 AB he threw me all CHANGEUPS and I flew out so when I was heading back to the dugout he told he pick you showed me that you can hit my fastball so I wanted to see if you could of hit my change up… I just started laughing on the way back in … ever since that day we been cool.

Pickering is the kind of player who’d probably get a longer look in 2013 than he did when he played.  Terrible batting average, but walked so much that his OBP was a hundred points higher, and he had the power.

Tagged

Novel World Series matchups

Next to the Yankees, the Cardinals, Dodgers, A’s, Tigers, and Red Sox are the teams with the most pennants, and all are still in the playoffs.  So you might think we’re very likely to see a World Series matchup we’ve seen before.  If the Cardinals win the pennant, that’s true:  they went up against the A’s in 1930 and 1931, the Tigers in 1934, 1968, and 2006, and the Red Sox in 1946, 1967, 2004.

But the Dodgers have never faced the Tigers or the Red Sox in the World Series.  Basically, they won lots of pennants but just played the Yankees again and again.

I’m still holding out hope for the Pirates to take the National League pennant.  If they do, they’ve got a chance to get revenge for their loss in the very first World Series, in 1903, 5 games to 3 to the team then known as the Boston Americans, now called the Red Sox.

 

Tagged , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 560 other followers

%d bloggers like this: