Yesterday a guy saw my Orioles hat and said, “Wow, you’re a real diehard.”
He was wearing a Hartford Whalers hat.
Yesterday a guy saw my Orioles hat and said, “Wow, you’re a real diehard.”
He was wearing a Hartford Whalers hat.
Pete Alonso of the New York Mets is the NL Rookie of the Year and the all-time home run king among both rookies and Mets. I’m proud to say I saw him hit a 407-foot three-run moonshot in June 2014, when he was a 19-year-old playing for the Madison Mallards in the summer-collegiate Northwoods League. Go Mallards!
Jose Altuve has done what Jose Altuve does and so it’s World Series time again, the Astros back for the second time in three years, the Nationals there for their first time in infinity years, so we return to our annual exercise: who was the greatest Astro/National? (Last year: the greatest Red Sox / Dodger.) By which, just to have a good pool of players to work from, we mean Astro/National/Expo? This time the answer’s uncontroversial: it’s Rusty Staub. I think of Staub as a Met, because that’s what he was when I was a kid, and that’s who he played the most seasons for, but Staub came up with Houston and spent three years of his prime (and, much later, 38 games of his non-prime) in Montreal. I never knew this guy was so good! In 1969 he had a .426 on-base percentage and hit 29 home runs, a lot back then, and got one measly MVP vote.
Anyway, Staub put together 17.4 WAR in his three seasons in Montreal and 13.1 more in 6 years with the Astros. Good satisfyingly balanced answer this year.
If you restrict to players who played for the Nationals, not their Quebecois predecessors, the pickings are a lot slimmer. Looks like Justin Maxwell and Mark Melancon are the best bets. I guess I give the edge to Maxwell just because he played multiple seasons for each team.
My Orioles optimism from the end of April hasn’t held up too well. When I wrote that, the team was 10-18. Since then, they’ve won 16 more games, and lost — it kind of hurts to type this — 43.
Why so bad? The team ERA has dropped almost half a run since I wrote that post, from 6.15 to 5.75. Their RS and RA for June were about the same as they were for May, but they went 6-20 instead of 8-19.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but — maybe the Orioles aren’t really that bad? Their Pythagorean record is 28-59, which is terrible, but not even worst in MLB right now. (That honor belongs to the Tigers.) John Means continues to be great and Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy have now been pretty consistently turning in utterly acceptable starts.
The thing about baseball is, things happen suddenly. On Tuesday, September 5, 2017, less than two years ago, Manny Machado hit a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 9th to give the Orioles a 7-6 win against the Yankees. The Orioles were 71-68.
The next game after that, they lost 9-1. And then went 4-18 the rest of the way. They haven’t had a full month since then with a record better than .360. The Orioles became terrible in an instant. I don’t see why it can’t go the other way.
I’ve said all along it was wrong to imagine the Orioles being as bad as they were last year. And so far my optimism has been borne out. Don’t get me wrong; they’re bad. But they’re not excruciatingly, world-historically bad. The Orioles, on April 24, are 10-16; last year it took them until May 10 to win their 10th game, at which point they were 10-27. Chris Davis, after starting 0-for-everything, has hit .360 and slugged .720 since the middle of April. Nothing makes me happier than to see this poor guy hit after his long winter, even if it’s only for awhile. And Trey Mancini, who’s just about the right age to have a sudden career renaissance if he’s going to have one, is maybe… having one?
The pitching is terrible. 6.15 ERA in the early going, a half-run worse than anyone else in the league; flashes of goodness from Hess, Cashner, and Means, all of whom could be OK, but there’s no real reason for confidence any of them will be. And of course the team could make the choice, as they did last year, to flip Mancini, Means, and anybody else who’s producing for prospects at midsummer and lose their last 70 games; who knows? But for now; why not?
Mariano Rivera was elected to the Hall of Fame, the first player ever to appear on every single ballot. Why has this never happened? Because there are a lot of ballots and thus a lot of opportunities for glitchy idiosyncrasy. In 2007, eight voters left Cal Ripken, Jr. off. What possible justification could there be? Paul Ladewski of Chicago’s Daily Southtown was one of the eight. He turned in a blank ballot that year. He said he wouldn’t vote for anyone tainted by playing during the “Steroids Era.” In 2010, he voted for Roberto Alomar.
This all started when CJ asked which three baseball stadiums formed the smallest triangle. And we agreed it had to be the Brewers, the White Sox, and the Cubs, because Milwaukee and Chicago are really close together.
But it seems like cheating to use two teams in the same city. The most elegant way to forbid that is to ask the question one league at a time. Which three American League parks form the smallest triangle? And what about the National League?
First of all, what does “smallest” mean? There are lots of choices, but (perhaps inspired by the summer we played a lot of Ingress) we asked for the triangle with the smallest area. Which means you don’t just want the parks to be close together, you want them to be almost collinear!
I asked on Twitter and got lots of proposed answers. But it wasn’t obvious to me which, if any, were right, so I worked it out myself! Seamheads has the longitude and latitude of every major league ballpark past and present in a nice .csv file. How do you compute the area of a spherical triangle given longitudes and latitudes? You probably already know that the area is given by the excess over pi of the sum of the angles. But then you gotta look up a formula for the angles. Or another way: Distance on the sphere is standard, and then it turns out that there’s a spherical Heron formula for the area of a spherical triangle given its edgelengths! I guess it’s clear there’s some formula like that, but it’s cool how Heron-like it looks. Fifteen lines of Python and you’re ready to go!
So what are the answers?
We were right that Brewers-White Sox-Cubs form the smallest major league triangle. And the smallest American League triangle is not so surprising: Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, forming a shortish line up the Eastern Seaboard. But for the National League, the smallest triangle isn’t what you might expect! A good guess, following what happened in the AL, is Mets-Phillies-Nationals. And that’s actually the second-smallest. But the smallest National League triangle is formed by the Phillies, the Nationals, and the Atlanta Braves! Here’s a piece the geodesic path from SunTrust Park in Atlanta to Citizen’s Bank Park in Philly, courtesy of GPSVisualizer:
Not only does it go right through DC, it passes about a mile and a half from Nationals Park!
Another fun surprise is the second-smallest major league triangle: you’d think it would be another triangle with two teams in the same city, but no! It’s Baltimore-Cincinnati-St. Louis. Here’s the geodesic path from Oriole Park at Camden Yards to Busch Stadium:
And here’s a closeup:
The geodesic path runs through the Ohio River, about 300m from the uppermost bleachers at Great American Ball Park. Wow!
Now here’s a question: should we find it surprising that the smallest triangles involve teams that are pretty far from each other? If points are placed at random in a circle (which baseball teams are definitely not) do we expect the smallest-area triangles to have small diameter, or do we expect them to be long and skinny? It’s the latter! See this paper: “On Smallest Triangles,” by Grimmet and Janson. Put down n points at random in the unit circle; the smallest-area triangle will typically have area on order 1/n^3, but will have diameter on order 1. Should that have been what I expected?
PS: the largest-area major league triangle is Boston-Miami-SF. Until MLB expands to Mexico City, that is!
After game 2 it was already clear this was an NLCS so great it had to go seven, and it did. But game seven wasn’t a great game seven. After six hard-fought games, the Brewers never really mounted a threat, and went down 5-1. Keenest pain of all was that I got what I’d been waiting for the whole series; a chance for my beloved Jonathan Schoop to be the hero. He came in to pinch hit for starter Joulys Chacin in the bottom of the second, with two on and two out and the Brewers down by 1. Schoop grounded out. He was 0 for the postseason in 6 plate appearances.
So here we have it, a Red Sox / Dodgers series, and so it’s time for my annual post about what player had the best combined career for both teams. (Last year: Jimmy Wynn was the greatest Astro/Dodger.)
The greatest Red Sox / Dodger? A player I’d never heard of, even though he was just a little before my time: Reggie Smith. Played in one World Series for the Red Sox (1967) and three for the Dodgers (1977,1978,1981). Went to the All-Star Game with both teams. Hit 300 home runs, cannon of an arm in the outfield, got 0.7% of the vote the one and only time he was up for the Hall of Fame. Well, here’s his all time distinction; with 34.2 WAR for the Red Sox and 19.4 for the Dodgers, he’s the greatest Red Sox / Dodger of all time.
Surprisingly, given how old these teams are, the top Red Sox / Dodgers of all time are mostly recent players. Derek Lowe is the top pitcher (19.4 WAR for Boston, 13.3 for LA.) Adrian Gonzalez, Manny Ramirez, and Adrian Beltre are also worthy of mention. The only old-time player who was a contender was Dutch Leonard, who actually pitched for Boston in the last Red Sox – Dodgers World Series in 1916, notching a complete game win. But that guy never actually pitched for the Dodgers! My search got confused because it turns out there were two Dutch Leonards, the second of whom was a Dodger to start his career. Doesn’t count!
In 35 years of watching baseball I had never been to a postseason game, until this Saturday, when I was able to get two tickets to Game 2 of the National League Championship Series through a wonderful terrific beautiful friend with connections.
First of all, I salute whoever the free spirit was who slammed a Zima right before entering Miller Park.
The game started at 3pm; in late afternoon with the roof shut at Miller Park there’s a slant-line of sunlight across the field which is lovely to look at and probably terrible to hit in.
And indeed there wasn’t a lot of hitting to start with. Wade Miley, once a bad Oriole, now a good Brewer, never looked dominant, giving up lots of hard-hit balls including a shot by Jeremy Freese in the first that Lorenzo Cain hauled back in from over the wall, but somehow pitched 5 2/3 only allowing 2 hits (and collecting a single himself.) Hyun-jin Ryu matched him zero for zero. Every seat in Miller Park full, everyone attentive to the game, a level of attention I’ve never seen there. The guy behind us kept saying “NASTY, throw something NASTY.” CJ believes he sees Marlins Man in the front row — he’s right! Brewers get runners on second and third with one out, Dodgers intentionally walk Yelich to load the bases, (wave of boos), Braun delivers the RBI groundout but can’t score any more. Travis Shaw hits a solo shot to deepest center, the Brewers go up 3-0, and people start to smell win, but the Dodgers lineup has good hitters all the way down to #8 and the usually reliable Milwaukee bullpen starts to crack. Jeremy Jeffress comes in with runners on first and second and nobody out, immediately gives up a single to Joc Pederson, now they’re loaded, still nobody out, Brewers up 3-1. Manny Machado, on third base, keeps jumping off the bag, trying to distract Jeffress. But Jeffress strikes out Yasiel Puig, who’s so angry he smashes his bat over his knee. Crowd exults. Then he walks light-hitting catcher Austin Barnes to force in a run. Nobody’s up in the bullpen. Crowd panics. Yasmini Grandal comes in to hit in the pitcher’s spot and Jeffress somehow gets the double play ball and is out of it. But the next inning, Jeffress stays in a little too long; Chris Taylor leads off with a lucky little dink of an infield single and then Turner muscles a ball out to the short corner in left field; 4-3 Dodgers and it stays that way.
But the Brewers do threaten. 43,000 Brewers fans want to see Yelich get one more chance to be the hero. Hernan Perez draws a walk in the bottom of the ninth, steals while Cain strikes out. So Yelich gets to bat with 2 outs and a runner in scoring position. He grounds out. Crowd deflates. But that’s all you can ask of a baseball game, right? The hitter you want in the situation you want with the game on the line and whatever happens happens. Great baseball. Great team. I hope they win it all. Maybe I’ll try to be there when they do.
This is meant for fans, not players. The idea is that if a foul ball comes towards you, you may not have time to grab a glove you’ve stashed at your feet. Rather, you quickly slip your hand into the cap-mounted glove and snag the foul with your hat still attached to the back of your hand.