Friday, October 29, 2010

Sabermath strikes again -- Should Rangers start Borbon in center? Uh, yes, if they're playing for two tenths of a run tomorrow night...

I’m not at war with the Saber mathematicians. Really, I’m not. I have a couple of friends who would like for me to be at war with them. The fact is, I like numbers, too. And I'm not much on motivational speeches, momentum, or the value of heart. Well... the value of heart beyond a point.

So, please, I’m not at war with baseball math. In fact, I’m fascinated by it. One reason is baseball has always seemed to me to be a mathematical game. This is one of its beauties. It is so difficult and it generates so many events in a season or a career that it tends to be a perfect illustration of the natural curve.

In my math, this means a player has a certain set of skills. The game will reveal those skills. The player may play way above or way below them one year, or in one stretch, but he will eventually settle back in at his spot on the curve. When I say baseball reveals that spot, I mean it. It’s why, as a player, you can love the game and hate the game at the same time. The game leaves you no where to hide.

You can certainly get better. You can certainly try harder. But, ultimately, baseball will tell you the limits of the particular body your parents gave you. It will tell you the limits of your intellect. It will tell you the limits of your will. It will reveal you in a way nothing else can.

Baseball needs numbers and the people who generate them. The sport is too often laden with nostalgia, myth, pathos. It is too often about heart and want to. I love heart and want to, but you have to understand both only matter within the range of skills and intellect you have been given by fate. All you have to do is 'want to' hit a home run to guarantee a pop up.

Ok, before I get deeper into this, let me push a few buttons.

I like numbers, but I also distrust numbers. I have some academic experience with numbers. I know they can sometimes only tell you something silly. I love it when academics use numbers to tell you something you already know. I don’t see anything wrong with asking about numbers.

My students argue the numbers are objective. They may be MORE objective, but they are not objective. Baseball numbers are way beyond counting at bats and hits. They’re as complicated as the directions for throwing a back-door slider.

So, I ask, WAR, what is it good for?

I’m still waiting for an answer. If Tim Lincecum is only worth four more games a year to the Giants than, say Tony Pena, Jr., from Triple A Fresno, why pay him to pitch in the majors?

While we wait for those numbers, let’s look at the latest work of Sabermagician Dan Rosenheck in the New York Times this morning. His suggestion for the Rangers is to start Julio Barbon in center, move Hamilton to left and Cruz to right. When he talks about speed and arm strength he begins to make some sense. The truth is, you don’t need John Dewan’s Fielding Bible to see SOME of the logic in such a move, especially if you link it to the different tendencies of the Game 3 starting pitcher.

Then, however, he is forced to account for hitting, and here he admits the scheme has some weaknesses because right now Borbon couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.

Here, friends is the money (ball) quote: “…the Rangers would allow about 0.19 fewer runs per nine innings with an outfield of Hamilton in left, Borbon in center and Cruz in right than they would with Cruz in left, Hamilton in center and Francoeur in right.”

0.19 runs is predicated on the Ultimate Zone Rating conclusion that Borbon “saved nine runs with his glove in 1,100 innings this year.” Now that number might be meaningful across the next 1,100 innings. But, pray tell, how the hell could it have any meaning across the nine innings the Rangers will play tomorrow?

And, even if it did, what in the world difference would the tendency to prevent two-tenths of one run mean tomorrow?

I’m listening? And, for the sake of the Texas Rangers, I hope Ron Washington is not.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Giants - Rangers -- a battle of managers or a battle of players? Just how important are managers to the outcome of ballgames...

Question: How important are managers to the outcomes of Major League ballgames?

I might divide the question. 1) How important are managers during the game to the outcome? And how important are managers in the long haul to the outcome of a single game?

I say they are not very important during the game. They make decisions; some of those decisions are successful and some backfire. But they never swing a bat or throw a pitch or field a grounder. They aren't very important as cheerleaders in a game that comes down to one hitter and one pitcher locked in personal combat where being relaxed and observant are far more important than being motivated, driven or, especially, being angry.

My guess is their good and their bad decisions tend to even out.

But they do seem to be valuable in establishing a culture and a personality for a team. That begins in spring training. They set expectations in terms of work habits and the good ones know how to make players feel confident enough to silence their inner voices and just play the game as it happens. The good ones know how to get out of the way of the George Bretts and Frank Whites and the Mickey Mantles and Whitey Fords.

And, in my opinion, the good ones get out of the way of the game. The best sort of manager between the lines is a passive one. Why on earth have two managers in the Phillies - Giants series insisted on sending a starting pitcher out in relief in crucial situations? This never works. Starters are different from relievers, especially closers. You might as well bring the centerfielder in to pitch. In the Phillies' case, the cost was a ball game. The same was nearly true last night in the Giants' case.

However, here is a cogent article from the New York Times about their skipper which takes a different position on the value of managers between the lines. And it isn't very complimentary.

--Lofflin ... happy I got the World Series I was hoping for, the East Coast powerhouses are goin' fishin', and the whoever is broadcasting the series is no doubt disappointed...

Monday, October 18, 2010


I feel terrible admitting that until this week, I had never seen the Steve McQueen classic "Bullitt."

And I was blown away by the car chase scene, one of the best car chases - and probably one of the most exciting scenes - ever caught on film.

Check it out:

--Matt Kelsey

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why I love baseball

My I-70 Baseball colleague Bill Ivie recently told me about a blog called The Baseball Docent. One of the missions of that blog is to ask people a simple question: Why do you love baseball?

What a beautiful question to ask about a perfectly imperfect game.

For me, and perhaps for many others, the answer to the question is not so simple.

I love baseball because my dad and my mom took me to games, back in the days when the Royals played respectable ball and you could take a family of four to a big-league ballpark for less than twenty-five bucks - parking and food included.

I love baseball because after the games, my brother and I would go stand around next to the visiting team bus and the home team parking lot, asking for autographs. More players said no than yes, but the ones who said yes - regardless of how they performed on the field - became our favorites.

I love baseball because of my grandmother. A first-generation American, she was born and raised in the small central Missouri town of Loose Creek, and grew up in the days of Ruth and Gehrig. She became a fan of the Kansas City Royals out of spite, for the exact same reason she voted Republican: her husband, the jovial town barber, told her she ought vote Democrat and root for the St. Louis Cardinals. My grandmother did the opposite. Our family friend Ralph Lynch took my grandmother to a playoff game in 1985, and bought her a Royals jacket. The jacket, and a commemorative Dwight Eisenhower plate, were her prized possessions. She wore that jacket every spring and fall until the day she died.

I love baseball because of that jacket.

I love baseball because of Ralph Lynch. Ralph was the kind of guy who would throw away caps when they became too worn out. Once, when he was over at our house, shucking corn and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon out of the can with my father, he decided his old Royals hat was too worn out and chucked it in a garbage barrel. I dug that sucker out of the trash and wore it the rest of my childhood.

I love baseball because of Bret Saberhagen. He was the kid pitcher on the Royals in 1985, and he went on to win a Cy Young Award and the World Series MVP. He was my favorite player, and still is, even though he sprayed bleach on reporters while playing for the Mets and wore his hair in a ridiculous perm.

I love baseball because of Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. A Cardinals fan tried to tell me recently that the Royals would have lost the series if Don Denkinger, the guy who blew a call in Game 6, hadn't been behind the plate for Game 7. The Royals won Game 7 by a score of 11-0. Cardinals fans are delusional if they think a different umpire would have changed the outcome of Saberhagen's complete-game shutout or the Royals' offensive explosion. But I digress... I love baseball because I was six years old during the 1985 World Series. My family watched the game from our living room, in the house where my parents still live. Ralph Lynch was there, too. My brother and I watched from the living room carpet, laid out on our stomachs, our heads cradled in our hands. When Darryl Motley caught the ball for the final out and Saberhagen leaped into George Brett's arms, we pounded on the carpet and screamed until our fists were sore and our throats were raw.

I love baseball because I love hating the Cardinals, and I love hating the Yankees.

I love baseball because of George Brett, the greatest player I ever saw. Years after he retired I witnessed him at an exhibition game. He was joking around with the crowd, signing a few autographs, and then he took batting practice and his expression became deadly serious. He whacked the ball all over the park, with that wonderfully ridiculous back-to-the-pitcher stance of his. I'll bet money George Brett could still hit .275 in the big leagues.

I love baseball because of birthday money. On my birthday, I would get $15 from my parents to spend anyway I liked, and my brother would get $10. On his birthday, we'd reverse it. One year on my birthday, I blew my entire wad on baseball cards. My brother had always had more cards than me, and it was sort of a sore subject. That night I came home and opened all my cards (probably 30 packs - they were a lot cheaper back then), and shoved all the gum in my mouth. Then, with a mouth full of sugary sweetness, I took my cards and stacked them up in a skyscraper. My brother stacked his cards up too. My stack, for once, was taller.

I love baseball because of the gum. My brother's friend once built a small box out of baseball-card gum and stored his valuables inside, because he swore the gum was fireproof.

I love baseball because of Buck O'Neil.

I love baseball because there's an old family rumor, largely propagated by my brother, that we're distantly related to Mickey Mantle.

I love baseball because my wife lets me teach her about the game, and she's come to love it, too, in a way only a perfect wife can, the kind of wife who doesn't just suffer her husband's obsessions, but shares in them.

I love baseball because it's the only game that matters. It's the only game I'll ever truly love. It's a game that belongs to me in the same way it belongs to all fans, and I belong to it as well.

-- Matt Kelsey

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Story of career diswasher killed by hit and run driver is moving; a great example of beautiful writing and solid journalism

Back in the saddle, almost, after finally finishing (I think) the process of writing a course for delivery entirely by one and zero -- in other words -- through computer screens and on line.

Imagine someone asks you to write down how to make a left turn in your car. Problem is, the person doesn't know what a steering wheel is, what a brake pedal is, or, what left is. When you write for on-line delivery, at least at our place, you have to create not only instructions for students but instructions -- on the left turn model -- for teachers. Ugh.

I don't usually send you elsewhere, but today I am. And, I'm not sending you to I-70 baseball because I'm sure you've been there.

I'm sending you to the St. Petersburg Fla., Times. The Times is a progressive newspaper in both design and writing, and a student hepped me to an absolutely stunning piece there.

This piece is stunning in its simplicity. It is a perfect example, in my opinion, of the art of journalism. It perfectly illustrates the aesthetic of journalism, what journalists think is beautiful in writing. This is not the same, generally, as what English teachers think is beautiful. Poets may appreciate it -- I'm not sure.

The piece grows out of a controversy broiling in the profession which I have mentioned here as my secret pleasure - the comments section under stories in daily newspapers and Web pages. The controversy centers on the most outlandish, childish, racist and tasteless comments in these threads. The newspaper wants to be a forum. It seeks democracy. It seeks full First Amendment rights. But, the news stories themselves are edited for taste, style, and content in the name of decency and to fit the standards of the community.

The motto of the New York Times before "All the news that's fit to print" was "It doesn't soil the breakfast cloth."

Well, what's appearing in comment sections today does more than soil the breakfast cloth.

And the St. Pete paper recently ran a story about a 48-year-old career dishwasher, Neil Alan Smith, who was killed in a hit and run accident. The driver has not been caught. In the comments section under the story someone (oh, I'd like to add some adjectives here, but will refrain) wrote that a 48-year-old dishwasher is probably better off dead.

This is not unusual for comments sections. I guarantee you can find something of similar worth in the comments under the stories in today's Kansas City Star.

The St. Pete Times, however, decided to do a full obit on the dishwasher and Andrew Meacham's piece is brilliant. It should win an award. It should make the commentator crawl under a rock. It should be read by everyone. You can find it here.