It’s still possible

Back in April, I wrote two words to describe the Yankees’ 2015 season: it’s possible. It’s possible they stay healthy. It’s possible they play well. It’s possible they win the division. It’s possible. It’s not a bad thing to have optimism as a default setting.

This was right when when articles like this were floating around the Internet. And this. And this. It was just a massive display of groupthink between Yankee lovers and Yankee haters alike. They are going to be bad this season, and there’s nothing you can do but prepare for it. And all the while I’m thinking: hey, wait a minute, let’s not all jump on the train to Stinktown just yet. This team can be good. Let’s at least keep our minds open.

And now here we are in late July, and the Yankees are in first place and have a 5 and a half game lead in the AL East. They are a good team! And, no, I’m not writing this post to say I told you so, even though … well … I told you so. No, I’m writing this post because we need to remember that conformity in a group without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints can often result in an irrational and dysfunctional thought process.

Lest we forget the two cardinal rules of baseball:

1) Nothing makes sense

and

2) Anything can happen

Why are the Twins contending? Why are the Red Sox not hitting? What’s going on with the Astros? Why is Albert Pujols leading the league in home runs? Why is Alex Rodriguez good again? Why? Why? Why?

Because it’s baseball, that’s why!

Back in my high school debate years, the nerds I debated would try to end arguments by saying end of story.

Restrictions on the rights of non-citizens are consistent with democratic ideals. End of story.

Judicial activism is necessary to protect the rights of American citizens. End of story.

The use of the state’s power of eminent domain to promote private enterprise is unjust. End of story.

And whenever someone said end of story, I immediately had two thoughts:

Wow, you’re a real jerk.

and

The story is never over.

I notice the same thing now when people debate sports. The Yankees will be bad, end of story. MJ is the best ever, end of story. That was a terrible draft pick, end of story. And it’s not that I necessarily disagree with them, but we need to remember that in sport (and in life) there is no end of story until the games are played and the lights are shut and we all go home. What is it that Yogi Berra said?

The Rick Camp game

Happy July 4th everyone!

I am quite certain that my favorite baseball game of all time was a game I didn’t watch live. It happened six years before I was born. Mets, Braves, July 4th, 1985. 30 years ago.

It was the greatest game ever. Let us set the stage.

JULY 4TH, 1985

30 years ago – Ronald Regan had just begun his second term, a gallon of gas was $1.09, Back to the Future premiered, and the top song was George Michael’s Careless Whisper. If you invested $10,000 in Apple in 1985, you would now have $5.1 million.*

*I triple checked, showed my work, carried the one, and can confirm this is accurate.

THE FIRST NINE INNINGS

In baseball, the Braves welcomed the Mets to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to start a four-game, holiday weekend series. It was an ugly day. Rain pushed back the first pitch and made the outfield almost unplayable.

Dwight Gooden started for the Mets. This was in the middle of his epic 1985 season, one of the best ever for a pitcher. He would finish the year with a 24-4 record, a 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts, 8 shutouts, a WAR over 12, and the Cy Young. He completed five or more innings in every start … except this one. He leaves the game in the third.

With the Braves up 3-1, the Mets score four in the fourth on RBI hits by Wally Backman, Keith Hernandez, and Gary Carter.

In the bottom of the 8th, with the Mets leading 7-4 now, the Braves score four runs to take an 8-7 lead. The clock strikes midnight.

Bruce Sutter, the future Hall of Famer, comes in to close the ninth. Three straight singles by Howard Johnson, Danny Heep, and Lenny Dykstra make it an 8-8 game. Blown save. The Braves can’t score in the bottom half, and the game goes to extra innings.

The first nine innings were crazy by normal standards. But not by the standards outlined above, which I’ve set high by saying it’s the greatest baseball game ever. So let us proceed to…

THE THIRTEENTH INNING

After three scoreless frames, Howard Johnson hits a two-run home run in the top of the thirteenth. The Mets are up 10-8. The game seems over. It isn’t.

In the bottom of the thirteenth, the Mets bring in Tom Gorman to close it out. Gorman wasn’t a great pitcher in 1985, but the Mets didn’t have anyone else at this point. He allows a leadoff single, then strikes out the next two guys. With two outs, Terry Harper comes up, and he hits a home run. Tie game. 10-10. We go to the fourteenth.

Crazy? Yawn. We still haven’t gotten there. Let us proceed to…

THE SEVENTEENTH INNING

It’s still notted at 10-10. Rick Camp enters the game to pitch for the Braves. He will play an important role, but we’ll get to that later.

It is now 3am on July 5th.

Darryl Strawberry and manager Davey Johnson are ejected for arguing balls and strikes. After the game, home plate umpire Terry Tata* gives an all time quote: There aren’t any bad calls at 3 am.

*Say that 5 times fast.

Alright. Let’s take a deep breath, everyone. Let’s move on to….

THE EIGHTEENTH INNING

It’s now past 3am. The game is still going on. And … and … and THE METS SCORE!

11-10.

In the bottom of the 18th, our old friend Tom Gorman is still in there, trying to close it out for the Metsies. He gets two groundouts, and up steps Rick Camp, the pitcher. The Braves are out of players, so they’re forced to bat Camp. He’s their last hope.

Camp was a notoriously bad hitter. Coming into that season, he was a career .062 hitter (10-for-162) with 80 strikeouts. He had never hit a home run. I mean, it’s hard to get worse than that.

Camp takes a nice hack at the first pitch and fouls it off. 0-1.

The next pitch is on the outside corner. 0-2.

And then, he hits a home run.

He hits a home run.

RICK CAMP HITS A HOME RUN AND THE GAME IS TIED AND IT IS 3:20 IN THE MORNING AND EVERYTHING IS GREAT AND NOTHING MAKES SENSE.

Thank God it is 2015 and we have video evidence. Put down your phone, take a few minutes off, and watch the video of the at bat, which starts around 1:20:

Here are 9 observations I have:

– If you can’t tell, that’s JOHN STERLING doing the game for the Braves. Yes, he was the Braves announcer before he came over to the Yankees in 1989.

– At the 1:10 mark, the other announcer mentions that they’ve had four rain delays in this game. Ridiculous.

– Look at 1:33! The catcher is visibly waving in the outfield!

– At 1:51: Ernie, if he hits a home run to tie this game, this game will be certified as absolutely the nuttiest in the history of baseball.

– 2:24. The moment.

– Look at Danny Heep at 2:30. Sheer disbelief.

– The way he says ‘I DON’T BELIEVE IT’ at the 2:34 mark sounds exactly like his call for Scott Brosius’s home run in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series. The fact that I could make this connection is a bit concerning.

– That wild cackle at 2:58 is why I watch baseball.

– 3:46: I mean, if you told me that John Sterling’s gonna run for President and win, that wouldn’t be any more improbable. And I gotta tell you, that’s improbable. Please, make this happen.

OK, guys, let’s review what’s happened here. In an already crazy game, the pitcher Rick Camp steps to the plate at 3:20am in the 18th inning. The catcher waves in the outfield. Camp falls behind 0-2. He hits a home run. Chaos ensues.

Alright, phew, we’re done, right? NO. Take ANOTHER deep breath. The game isn’t over! Let us proceed to…

THE NINETEENTH FRIKKIN INNING

The Mets break out for five runs. Ray Knight hits a double, Danny Heep drives in three with a single, due to an error by the right fielder that ostensibly happened because it’s 3:30 in the morning and they’ve been playing this game for six hours. Wally Backman drives in Heep. 16-11, Mets.

In the bottom of the nineteenth, the Mets bring in starter Ron Darling to close it out. He gets the first out on a ground ball to second. Then, Claudell Washington reaches on an error. Then, he gets out number two on a fly ball.

OK, finally, there’s two outs and the Mets are up by five and this game is just … about … over.

Except … Darling walks the next two batters. And then Terry Harper hits a two-run single to make it 16-13 (Harper is now 5-for-10 in this game). All of a sudden, the tying run is at the plate.

It’s Rick Camp, again.

Could he do it again??!? Could a career .062 somehow find the strength to hit a second game-tying home run in extra innings???

Uh, no, he cannot. He takes a few wild hacks and strikes out. The game is over.

THE GREATEST QUOTE EVER

“I saw things,” Keith Hernandez later said, “that I’ve never seen in my major league career.”

THE CLOCK STRIKES 4

The greatest game of all time is now over, and it is 4am, and we can all go home, right?

No! Since it was the 4th of July, the Braves had promised fireworks after the game. And, well, it is now after the game. A promise is a promise. The show must go on. And so the fans that stayed – and to those fans, I bow to you with great reverence – were treated to a loud, wild, sleep-deprived fireworks display at 4:30 in the morning.

Local residents woke up and panicked, thinking Atlanta was under attack.

“I thought it was the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse,” said a woman who lived near the stadium.

AND THEN THE SUN ROSE

Our old friend Tom Gorman, who pitched six innings in the game, said he saw the sunrise on the bus ride back to the hotel. It was – and still is – the latest ending to a game in baseball history.

Tommy Holmes

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I’ve had this picture for 15 years now.

You probably know the guy on the right – that’s Stan Musial. 24-time All Star,* 3-time MVP, 3,000 hits, 400 home runs, first ballot Hall of Famer.

*Musial only played for 22 seasons, but from 1959-1962 baseball played two All Star games each year. As Richard Sandomir once wrote: “there was a simple and obvious reason to play two games: money.”

The guy on the left is Tommy Holmes. I met him in the summer of 2000, my first year at the wonderful Summer Trails Baseball Camp. Every year, they’d get a few former baseball players to come in, talk to the kids, give a demo, and sign autographs.

Holmes was signed by the Yankees in 1937 and played on the 1939 Kansas City Blues, which also featured Phil Rizzuto and Vince DiMaggio. Joe Posnanski recently called that the greatest minor league team in baseball history. On December 9th, 1941 – just two days after Pearl Harbor – he was traded to the Boston Braves, where he would play for the rest of his career.

He was one of the finest baseball players of his generation. In 1945, he led the league in hits, doubles, home runs, and slugging percentage. He finished second in the MVP voting behind Phil Cavarretta.* My favorite stat about that year: Holmes struck out nine times. Nine! He was one of the greatest contact hitters in baseball history – in almost 6,000 plate appearances, he struck out a grand total of 122 times. In 2014 alone, 58 players did that.

*Cavarretta shouldn’t have won. It’s an all-time snub. Sure, he hit three points higher (.355 to .352) and had a higher on-base percentage. But he also had 25% fewer plate appearances, hit with no power, and was one of the worst defensive first basemen in the game. I don’t care that it was 70 years ago, it’s wrong.

Holmes’s 1945 season might best be remembered for his 37 game hitting streak, a record that stood in the National League until Pete Rose broke it 33 years later.

Of course, meeting Tommy Holmes and getting his autograph was a great thrill, but here’s what I remember most: he was old. He was in his eighties, but he looked even older. He was frail, he had spots all over his skin, he had trouble walking. He had a noticeable hump.

He talked in a quiet and high-pitched voice and it seemed like he ended every sentence with the word boom.

Always keep your eye on the ball, boom.

Make sure to keep your hands in, boom.

Remember to bend those knees. Boom.

He came back again in 2001 and 2002, and each year he looked even older, to the point that Alex and I would check the internet (daily) to see if he had died. We’re weird people. Holmes, of course, did eventually pass away in 2008 at the age of 91.

SABR has an excellent bio on Holmes. I’ll leave you with this story:

I remember when I was on the 28th game of my streak. It was a beautiful day; the sun was all over the place. And this gentleman comes into the Jury Box under the influence of liquor, and starts in on me: ‘So you’re the great Holmes! You couldn’t carry Ted Williams’ jock!’ Then of course I get up and hit into a double play. Holy geez. So now I go back out to right, and he yells, ‘If I wanted to go to the circus, I would have gone to the GAAAH-DEN!’ Finally, Marty Marion hits a line drive to me with the bases loaded: ‘I have it, I have it, I have it.… I can’t find it.’ It hits the fence behind me, and the guy yells, ‘Now I KNOW I’m going to go to the GAAH-DEN, because I have never seen anything like this!’

Just then, a little fellow in the front row behind me says, ‘Tommy, I’m going to take care of this.’ He goes and gets Big Dan, the Irish cop. Now you can’t arrest a fan for yelling or cursing, but remember, he was needling me about Williams and so on and so forth. I come out the next inning, and the loudmouth is gone. I say ‘What happened?’ And the little guy says, ‘We had Big Dan throw him out of the ballpark!’

That’s the way it was out there. They would do practically anything for me, and I never forgot it.

June 12th

Every June 12th, I can’t help but think of the craziest, wildest, awesome-ist baseball game I’ve ever been to.

6 years ago today. Friday night. Yankees/Mets. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, down by a run, A Rod* at the plate. Take it away, Michael:

*I’m convinced that A Rod’s hip problems can be traced back to the 37 second mark.

The Yips

A few weeks ago, I was talking with my friend Drew.

Me: What should I write my next blog post about?

Drew: The Yips.

Me: OK … that’s actually a really great …

Drew: What should I do for dinner?

Me: … idea because The Yips is a really interesting thing.

Drew: OK but seriously what should I do for dinner.

And now here we are.

The Yips is this ambiguous, hard to explain thing that we generally talk about in the context of sports. It’s a psychological phenomenon that makes it almost impossible to do something that is supposed to be mundane, like throwing a baseball or shooting a basketball. Every throw is wild. Every shot is off. It’s a mental block. And there are so many examples of this throughout the history of professional sports. In most cases it’s incredibly sad and depressing, but it’s also fascinating.

The interaction between the brain and the body and the psychology of it all is just really interesting. It’s not just the Yips – I’m talking ’bout optical and auditory illusions, the autonomic nervous system, the placebo effect, the frikkin’ McGurk Effect!* Things are not always as they seem. Our brain is a jerk sometimes.

*Take a three minute time-out and watch that video! Watch it!

The Yips goes by a number of different names – freezingwhiskey fingersthe jerks, and my favorite, the waggles. Athletes also call it by different names. In darts, it’s dartitis. In gun shooting, it’s flinching. In archery, target panic.

Let’s look at four examples in baseball because that’s what I know best.

Steve Blass. Blass pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 60s and early 70s, and for much of his career he was a very effective starter and even a World Series hero. In 1971, he pitched a complete game and earned the win for the Pirates in Game 7.  Everything was going swell.

And then 1973 happened. Blass suddenly and inexplicably lost control. In 88 innings, he walked 84, struck out 27, and had a ridiculous 9.85 ERA. His WAR that year was negative 4, which still stands as the worst single-season WAR for a pitcher. He retired in 1974.

Blass’s condition was so public and so scrutinized that from there on, any inexplicable loss of control was known as Steve Blass Disease. In 1974, Roger Angell wrote a long essay in The New Yorker about Blass’s condition. In a wonderful example of hyperbole, it is called by some “the best piece that anyone has ever written about baseball or any other sport.”

Blass is still alive and to this day talks openly about it.

“I had no control over it, nor did I understand it. I would sit in my backyard 2…3…4 o’clock in the morning thinking, ‘My God, what’s happened to me? What is this? Has someone put a curse on me or something?” – Steve Blass, 2012 on This American Life

**

Rick Ankiel. In Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS, Rick Ankiel threw five – five! – wild pitches in one inning against the Atlanta Braves. This doesn’t happen to major league pitchers. And it wasn’t just normal wildness. It was all mental. The video is still tough to watch.

You’d think this was enough to shut Ankiel down for awhile … except manager Tony La Russa threw him out there a few days later in the NLCS. He threw twenty pitches. Five of them sailed to the wall behind home plate. Two were wild pitches.

You’d think that was enough to shut Ankiel down for awhile … but then in a last-ditch effort to fix Ankiel, La Russa brought him in to pitch the seventh inning of Game Five. He faced four batters, walked two, and threw two more wild pitches.

In that postseason, on the biggest stage, he pitched four innings and threw nine wild pitches. And that was the end of Ankiel’s pitching career.

Of course, this story has a happy ending. Ankiel spent some time in the minors, re-made himself as a hitter and an excellent outfielder, and went on to have a productive career in the later half of the 2000s.

Here’s how Will Leitch described Ankiel: It was a great baseball life, well lived. We should all be honored we got to watch it. It’s a reminder of just how unpredictable this game is, and how wonderful it is for it.

**

Chuck Knoblauch. Let’s break down Chuck Knoblauch’s life into three stages.

STAGE ONE: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR, WORLD SERIES CHAMPION, EVERYTHING IS AWESOME

Knoblauch debuted in 1991 – a great year to debut, if you ask me – and he was excellent. He won Rookie of the Year and hit over .300 in the playoffs and helped the Minnesota Twins win the World Series.

His 1996 season was one of the best ever for a second baseman. He hit .341 with a 143 OPS+, 45 stolen bases, and an 8.6 WAR.

Then he came to the Yankees in 1998, played on one of the greatest teams ever, and won the World Series again.

STAGE TWO: THE YIPS

At some point in 1999, Knoblauch forgot how to throw a baseball. His throws to first base became more and more erratic, and it was painful to watch because they were coming from second base, which is the shortest throw of any position.

One throw hilariously nailed Keith Olbermann’s mom in the head.

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Olbermann: Her face is a little puffy and she expects a shiner. Her eyeglasses were broken, as was her confidence in Knoblauch.

And then this happened on June 15, 2000:

Top 3rd: Ray Durham reaches on E4 (throw to 1B)
Top 5th: Carlos Lee reaches on E4 (throw to 1B)
Top 6th: Frank Thomas advances to second on E4 (throw to 1B)
Top 7th: Wilson Delgado replaces Chuck Knoblauch playing 2B

Knoblauch never played second base again following that season.

STAGE THREE: A HORRIBLE PERSON

Knoblauch retired in 2002 and went on to lead a terrible life.

In 2007, he was named in the Mitchell Report for taking extensive performance enhancing drugs throughout his career. This was the least of his problems.

In 2010, he pled guilty to misdemeanor assault after choking a family member.

Last August, he was arrested again for domestic violence.

And, from time to time, he’ll go on long, odd Twitter rants.

Chuck Knoblauch is a guy that does not seem happy with the world.

**

Mackey Sasser. Of all the weird, unexplainable, yippiness we’ve seen throughout the history of baseball, I think this is the most interesting.

Sasser was a catcher on the Mets. He was a pretty good player – he hit .307 one year, he hit with some power, he played good defense. And then, some time around 1990, he started hesitating when throwing the ball back to the pitcher. He would double clutch, or triple clutch, or quadruple clutch, until he was finally able to throw the ball back.

It was such an obvious thing. Announcers discussed it at length. Pitchers got frustrated. Opposing fans started harassing him. Earlier this year, ESPN made a short 30-for-30 on Sasser, and it’s one of the most interesting videos I’ve ever watched.

How does that happen? How does a professional major league catcher forget how to throw the ball back to the pitcher? This is the essence of the Yips – it is so mental, so psychological, so wild that it can happen to anyone, at any level.

Of course, the Yips are still around in 2015 – look at Ryan Zimmerman or Jon Lester – and they will always be around until we meld machine with man and reach the singularity.

I don’t think I have a point to make here. I guess, just don’t be a professional athlete if you think you’ll have the Yips. And maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. And meditate. Just don’t think about stuff.

Baseball in April

A few thoughts on this last Saturday of April.

**

Ben Lindbergh wrote an excellent piece for Grantland about the state of baseball in this first month of 2015. Among other things, he notes that games this year are, on average, seven minutes shorter than they were last year. Baseball’s attempts to quicken the pace of the game – by penalizing batters who step out of the box and by enforcing a strict time limit between innings – are working. And so now we have seven more minutes of free time every day.

Except you know what I would like to do with those seven minutes? Watch baseball. I’ve never been annoyed by the pace of a baseball game, but I am not a normal baseball fan. I think that’s pretty obvious.

Objectively, the pace-of-play measures are good for baseball. They’re trimming the excesses, which have certainly become worse over the last few years. But, come on, seven minutes per game is not that big of a deal. If you’re a baseball fan, you’re going to watch a game if it’s three hours or if it’s three hours and twenty minutes or if it’s two hours and fifty minutes. And also, most people don’t watch the entire game. They’ll watch for an inning or two here, then maybe go to the gym or go out to eat or live their life, and then check back in the sixth or seventh, and then watch an episode of Game of Thrones, and then tune back in for the ninth.

Baseball is the game without a clock, and I hope it stays that way. I don’t want to see a mandatory pitch clock between pitches. It’s too regimented and invasive and weird and it goes against the natural ebbs and flows of the game.

**

The Yankees have won seven of their last eight. They’re 10-7. I think they might be good this year! It’s certainly possible.

The pitching has been great. Their team ERA is 3.21, which is 29% better than the league average. After a rough two starts, Masahiro Tanaka has rebounded and is looking like the ace he is supposed to be. Michael Pineda continues to throw strikes at a ridiculous pace – in 25 innings, he has 2 walks and 27 strikeouts. CC looked great in his last outing in Detroit. And Nathan Eovaldi actually has the lowest ERA of the bunch.

The bullpen has been dominant. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have combined to throw 16 innings with 27 strikeouts. Neither has allowed a run. I really like Chasen Shreve – he’s a lefty who can get guys out from both sides. David Carpenter seems like he can handle the seventh inning well. Esmil Rogers is a solid long-man.

Also, the pitching staff is really young. Other than CC, every starter is 27 or younger. Andrew Miller is the oldest guy in the bullpen at 30.

The offense has been much better than I thought. Mark Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter, but he’s among the league leaders with seven home runs. Chris Young is hitting .357/.426/.762 which is awesome and totally unsustainable. Ellsbury and Gardner are both causing havoc at the top of the lineup. McCann and Beltran continue to struggle, but on the whole the Yankees have hit well and have a team 113 OPS+.

And then of course there’s A-Rod. The four home runs are nice, but the best part about his season is that he’s seeing pitches really well and getting on base at a very high clip. He leads the league with 14 walks and has a .424 on base percentage. That would actually be the highest of his career.

**

I don’t know how this is legal, or how it’s possible to throw 98 mph like this, but check out Carter Capps’ windup:

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**

Last year I wrote about Koji Uehara’s dominance. The Royals’ Wade Davis has something to say about that.

Since September 2013, Davis has thrown 97 innings. He has struck out 140 and allowed just 9 runs. That’s a 0.84 ERA over nearly 100 innings.

Davis was a failed starter who had some pretty awful years with Tampa Bay and Kansas City. He joins a long list of failed starters who went on to become dominant in the bullpen – Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Dellin Betances, and probably a dozen others that I can’t think of right now.

He might be the most important Wade-Davis since 1864.

The Adrian Beltre experience

I finally discovered how to embed gifs on the blog. So here’s a gif-tastic post on one of my favorite players, Adrian Beltre.

Beltre is a good baseball hitter. He’s actually gotten better with age and is close to Hall of Fame territory. I wrote a long apology to him last year that, I’m guessing, fell on deaf ears.

He has one of the best home run swings in the game. Look at it! He falls to one leg.

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The guy plays elite defense. He’s won 4 Gold Gloves and has a 23.2 career dWAR.

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He also does this weird thing where he appeals to first base on check swings. It makes no sense! He’s the only player I’ve ever seen do this.

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One time he ran into left field to avoid a tag.

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But my favorite thing about Beltre isn’t his swing, or his fielding, or his weird appeal to first. No, the best part is that he is afraid of anyone touching his head.

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Like, he really doesn’t like it.

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He will get violent.

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Stop it, Dustin.

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Now all of his teammates do it.

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Elvis Andrus is the main culprit. He messes with Beltre any chance he gets. Even in the middle of plays!

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Here is Elvis wearing Beltre’s hat.

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Beltre is always watching. Don’t get too close.

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He will throw equipment at you.

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Opposing players do it too.

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And mascots.

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Here’s what happened when Beltre recorded his 2,500th career hit.

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Not every attempt works, though.

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This was Beltre last week. Batters now have to keep one foot in the box between pitches. He forgot.

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Adrian Beltre is the best.

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It’s possible.

It’s getting warmer, the sun is peaking out, and people are talking baseball.

Some people have asked me how I think the Yankees will do this year. For the most part, I give a fairly optimistic answer. I think the Yankees will be better in 2015. I think it’s possible that they’ll win 85+ games and make the playoffs. I really believe they are an improved team. The division isn’t great. They have a great manager. This tends to go against the views of every single person on the internet, where the consensus is:

The Yankees will be bad, really bad, they’ll probably win 75 games at most, and they’ll continue to be stuck with a bloated salary and aging players, and OMG LOOK AT THIS CAT GIF.

Look, there’s a good chance that the Yankees will be bad. I hear what you’re saying. And cat GIFs are great.

Here’s the thing about baseball – you can’t predict it. You can’t! John Sterling says this all the time to Suzyn Waldman, and you know what? He’s absolutely right. The Royals made the World Series last year. The Red Sox finished in last place. Corey Kluber won the Cy Young. It’s a long season and weird stuff happens and nothing makes sense and you just cannot predict this game.

There’s a great quote from 12 Angry Men where Henry Fonda’s character is trying to explain his thought process to his fellow jurors. You may remember that Fonda’s character is the only one that believes the defendant is innocent. He calls into question the accuracy and reliability of the only two witnesses to the murder. His fellow jurors don’t understand it.

“Aren’t you trying to make us accept a pretty incredible coincidence?”

“I’m not trying to make anyone accept it. I’m just saying it’s POSSIBLE.”

I’m not here proclaiming I know how the season will go for the Yankees, or the Red Sox, or the Dodgers, or anyone.* I’m just saying: it’s POSSIBLE that the Yankees will be good.

*That said, I proclaim that the Angels will beat the Nationals in the World Series.

It’s possible Masahiro Tanaka stays healthy for the entire year. It’s possible Michael Pineda continues to dominate and becomes one of the better pitchers in the league. It’s possible CC Sabathia can be league-average or better. It’s possible Nathan Eovaldi continues to develop his split-finger and has a breakout year. It’s possible Beltran and McCann and Teixeira and Ellsbury are better than they were last year. These things could happen. It’s possible.

That’s all I’m saying. It’s possible.

Hope springs eternal. Opening Day is in four days.

My 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot

This is a great time of year for a bunch of things. Egg nog. Pie. Presents. Egg nog. Resolutions. Snow. Egg nog. Sitting alone in my chamber of solitude and churning out thousands of words on the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Welcome to my 2015 Hall of Fame post, a yearly tradition that is probably going to continue until I am very old and no one cares anymore.

I don’t have a vote for the Hall of Fame, but I still think about the Hall of Fame, I don’t know, more than a reasonable person should. So consider this my fake ballot. I’ve tried to put some thought into this.

I’m a “big hall” guy. I don’t think an additional one or two guys a year takes anything away from the sanctity of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I think a bigger Hall will only make it better. I want a guy like Craig Biggio in the Hall of Fame (look, dad, he is the all time leader in hit by pitches!). I want a guy like Gary Sheffield in there (look at him wiggle his bat, dad!). I want a guy like Mike Mussina in there (look, dad, he does crossword puzzles!).  These were special players.

Some people say that the Hall should only be reserved for the most special of players. The one’s that transcended their generation. The one’s that are no-doubters.  And, sure, you want the Hall of Fame to be special. You want to limit it to the greatest players. I just draw the line in a different spot.

I would vote for 14 players on this year’s ballot. Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, and John Smoltz.

Since the BBWAA inexplicably limits the voting to ten, I’d be forced to – regretfully – remove four. Sorry Edgar, Moose, Sheff, and Jeff Kent.

I’ve already shared some of my thoughts on many of the players on the ballot. Here are some random thoughts on everyone else.

I’m pretty sure that Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000 was the best pitcher ever.

In 1999, he had a sparkling 23-4 record with a 2.07 ERA, a 243 ERA+, 313 strikeouts, and just 9 home runs allowed and 37 walks in 213 innings. If you like FIP – which only factors in non-defensive stats like walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed – then Pedro’s 1999 season was the best of the last century. His FIP was an unfathomable 1.39.

The odd thing about his 1999 season is that he allowed a .325 BABIP, which was well above the league average. That’s why his FIP was so historic – he put up these amazing numbers despite allowing nearly a third of all batted balls to turn into base hits.

In 2000, Pedro was even better. 18-6 record, 217 innings, 128 hits allowed, 32 walks, 284 strikeouts, and a 1.74 ERA. The league ERA in 2000 was a ridiculous 4.91.* That gives Pedro a 291 ERA+, the best of all time.

*In 2014, the league ERA was 3.81.

Pedro allowed a .236 BABIP in 2000. Funny thing, it was the lowest among qualified starters that year. In 1999, it was the 5th highest. There is no explanation for this other than that baseball is random and doesn’t make sense sometimes.

Anyway, Pedro should sail into the Hall of Fame this year. Sure, he didn’t have the longevity of some of his contemporaries, and he only won 219 games, but his career was still among the best ever. Three Cy Youngs (and two runner-ups). Five ERA titles. Lowest career WHIP and highest ERA+ among starting pitchers. He was awesome.

It must have been scary to face Randy Johnson. Like, the guy is almost seven feet tall and by the time he releases the ball he’s about 45 feet from home plate and it’s coming at 98 miles per hour and dear God please don’t let it hit me.

Randy Johnson checks all the boxes. 300 wins? Check. Postseason dominance? Check. Lots of strikeouts? Check. Sabermetric approval? Check. Success with the Yankees? Ch…well, uh, no.

I’ll visit Randy’s Baseball Reference page every day or two just to marvel at the amount of bold italics on there. He led the league in lots and lots of categories. Also, his run from 1999 to 2002 was ridiculous.

1999: 17-9, 2.48 ERA, 271 IP, 207 H, 70 BB, 364 K, Cy Young
2000: 19-7, 2.64 ERA, 248 IP, 202 H, 76 BB, 347 K, Cy Young
2001: 21-6, 2.49 ERA, 249 IP, 181 H, 71 BB, 372 K, Cy Young
2002: 24-5, 2.32 ERA, 260 IP, 197 H, 71 BB, 334 K, Cy Young

No one has struck out 300 since Johnson in 2002. No one has even struck out 280 since then except for, well, Randy Johnson, who struck out 290 in 2004 when he was forty frikkin years old. And even as the league strikeout rate continues to climb, I’m not sure anyone will strike out 300 again.

Everyone talks about 3,000 hits as being an automatic qualifier for the Hall of Fame. But rarely do we discuss 3,000 strikeouts, which is actually harder to do. Only 16 pitchers have ever done it. John Smoltz is one of them, with 3,084 career strikeouts.

I don’t think Smoltz will make it to Cooperstown this year. He’ll likely fall a few percentage points short. Many of his lost votes will go to Mike Mussina. I wrote about both of them last month, but I still give Smoltz the nod.

Smoltz: 213-155, 3.33 ERA, 3473 IP, 3074 H, 1010 BB, 3084 SO, 125 ERA+, 66.5 WAR
Mussina: 270-153, 3.68 ERA, 3562 IP, 3460 H, 785 BB, 2813 SO, 123 ERA+, 82,7 WAR

I don’t put too much stock into playoff performance, but if that’s your thing, then Smoltz wins there too. He was historically great in October – 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA in 209 innings. Mussina wasn’t quite that good – 7-8 with a 3.42 ERA in 139 innings.

This is another reason why the 10-player limit is unfair. You’re forced to pick between great and great. And, inevitably, one will be diminished for it. Both of them are Hall of Famers.

Every pitcher (except Roger Clemens) with 100 more wins than losses is in the Hall of Fame. Mussina finished 270-153. And, sure, wins and losses are not a great way to evaluate pitching, but I do think they tell a story over 20 years.

Look, if Mussina finished his career with 300 wins, then he sails into the Hall of Fame. And, if he sticks around for a bit longer, he probably gets to 300. He retired in 2008 when he was 39 years old, but he was coming off a remarkable season where he won 20 games. If he sticks around for three more years, and puts up three mediocre seasons, then he gets to 300. And I don’t think three mediocre seasons should be the difference between the Hall of Fame and borderline.

My favorite Mike Mussina moment was back in 2006 when he was working on a complete game gem against the Detroit Tigers. He’s one out away when Joe Torre begins to walk up the dugout steps to take him out. Mussina looks at Torre, shakes his finger, and says NO STAY THERE. And Torre’s reaction is just priceless, like a little kid being disciplined. Torre walks back down the steps, and Mussina finishes the game.

**checks YouTube**

Here it is.

A lot of the Tim Raines nay-sayers will shout: HE WASN’T RICKEY HENDERSON! To which I reply: why are you shouting? We’re the only one’s here.

No one was Rickey Henderson. But Raines was awfully good, probably the best player in the National League from 1983 to 1987 and one of the most efficient base stealers of all time.

Raines: 808 SB, 146 CS
Henderson: 1406 SB, 335 CS
Lou Brock: 938 SB, 307 CS

Raines didn’t have 3,000 hits, but he reached base more times than Tony Gwynn:

Raines: 10,359 plate apperances, 3,977 reached on base
Gwynn: 10,232 plate appearances, 3,955 reached on base

He also finished with a higher WAR than Gwynn: 69.1 to 68.8.

Edgar Martinez finished his career with a .312 average, a .418 OBP, and a .515 SLG. Even though he played in a massive offensive environment, his OPS+ was 147, higher than:

Harmon Killebrew
Mike Piazza
Alex Rodriguez
Chipper Jones
David Ortiz
George Brett
Al Kaline
Tony Gwynn

…and many others.

Fred McGriff had one of the best nicknames of all time. The Crime Dog.

No player was ever better in his home ballpark than Larry Walker. The only one that comes close is Chuck Klein.

Walker, career at Coors Field: .381/.462/.710
Walker, career elsewhere: .282/.372/.501

Klein, career at the Baker Bowl: .395/.448/.705
Klein, career elsewhere: .277/.336/.451

In 1999 Larry Walker hit .461/.531/.879 in 66 games at Coors Field. DEAR GOD.

The first year I started following baseball seriously was 2000. And for much of that year, the best player wasn’t Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa or Derek Jeter … it was Darin Erstad. He finished that season with 240 hits and a .355 average. He never hit .300 again.

In February 2001, I went to the Red Sox Spring Training facility with my family. I got some pretty cool autographs that day – Tim Wakefield and Dante Bichette and Carl Everett and Jimy Williams. But the best was Nomar Garciaparra. Sure, I was a Yankee fan, but getting Nomar’s autograph was one of the biggest thrills of my childhood. He signed about five balls that day, and I was one of the lucky one’s.

If Carlos Delgado played in another era, he’d likely be a Hall of Famer. 473 homers, .383 OBP, .546 SLG. But he was overshadowed by so many great sluggers of his time.

Also, this home run in 2008 was one of the most important catalysts for instant replay.

They called him “Everyday Eddie,” which didn’t really make sense then and it certainly doesn’t make sense now as I look at his Baseball Reference page. He appeared in 70+ games three times. I guess you could call him 40% Eddie.

The first year I played fantasy baseball was 2004 and Jason Schmidt was my ace. He was a really good pitcher for about three years and then he struggled and that was it.

Rich Aurilia’s 2001 season was such an outlier: .324 average, 206 hits, 37 home runs, 146 OPS+. He never had a season close to that again.

Aaron Boone. I was not awake when he hit the home run. I’m not sure why. I was a big fan in 2003. I try to retrace my steps and my thought process but I can’t remember why I was sleepi…zzzz…

This catch by Brian Giles is one of the best I have ever seen.

Giles had a fine career. He had a career .400 OBP and .500 SLG. Not many players have done that.

Jermaine Dye was a terrific hitter but a historically bad fielder. In 2007, he hit 28 homers with a 105 OPS+ and he had a -1.6 WAR because of his play in right field.

I put a lot of stock in how pitchers celebrate winning the World Series. Papelbon in 2007 – awful. Brian Wilson in 2010 – terrible. Sergio Romo in 2012 – hideous.

I always liked Troy Percival’s reaction.

A failed starter, Tom Gordon ended up having a nice career out of the bullpen. He was also nicknamed “Flash” because that is required for anyone with the last name of Gordon.

I think he was one of the more underrated Yankees of the last 15 or so years. He had two great years in 2004 and 2005 setting up for Mariano Rivera.

I always liked Cliff Floyd’s batting stance. Closed, leg kick, and then a loooooong swing through the zone.

I’m certain that if Tony Clark’s ground rule double in Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS stays in the park, Ruben Sierra scores from third and the Yankees win the game and the series. The curse remains in tact. And life would be just a bit better.

A quick Hall of Fame thought

I suppose you can consider this my Hall of Fame preamble, because, inevitably, I will have a lot to say on this toward the end of December. It is a yearly tradition, after all.

So, yes, this is my warmup before I go into robot-mode and churn out 10,000 words.

Let’s start with this. Here are the 10 players I voted for last year:

Jeff Bagwell
Craig Biggio
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Tom Glavine
Greg Maddux
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Curt Schilling
Frank Thomas

Glavine, Maddux, and Thomas were all elected. Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and John Smoltz are first-timers this year. So, I can say with confidence that those three will each take a vacant spot, and that will be that.

I was talking with a friend about this, and we agreed on the ballot except for one player. He had Mike Mussina instead of John Smoltz. I didn’t consider this at first. I initially thought that, well, of course Smoltz would get elected on his first ballot. He’s had the “future Hall of Famer” tagline ever since he retired. But the more people I talk to, the more I sense that he won’t get in this year, especially with an overcrowded ballot.

Now, if I could, I would totally vote for Mussina too, but I can’t justify putting him over Schilling or Smoltz. But the Mussina/Smoltz comparison is closer than I thought.

Mussina: 270-153, 3.68 ERA, 3562 IP, 785 BB, 2813 SO, 3.57 FIP, 1.192 WHIP, 82.7 WAR, 123 ERA+

Smoltz: 213-155, 3.33 ERA, 3473 IP, 1010 BB, 3084 SO, 3.24 FIP, 1.176 WHIP, 66.5 WAR, 125 ERA+

Smoltz had the benefit of pitching his entire career in the National League (minus eight starts he made with the Red Sox in 2009). Mussina spent eighteen years pitching in the American League East at the height of the steroid era. That’s why Smoltz and Mussina have a similar ERA+, despite a third of a run difference in their career ERA’s. This is why sabermetrics is important, because context matters.

I just think Smoltz was a better pitcher. His peripherals show that – lower FIP, lower WHIP, higher K/9, higher ERA+. He also spent a few years as a closer and was absolutely dominant. And he had an awesome postseason career.

Smoltz (playoffs): 15-4, 41 G, 27 GS, 209 IP, 2.67 ERA, 1.144 WHIP
Mussina (playoffs):  7-8, 23 G, 21 GS, 139 IP, 3.42 ERA, 1.103 WHIP.

I might be wrong on this. Here’s an interesting fact: Smoltz faced a pitcher 928 times, about 6.5% of all batters he ever faced. They hit .101/.130/.117 with 383 strikeouts. Mussina faced a pitcher just 45 times.

If you look at how non-pitchers did against Smoltz and Mussina, it’s very close:

Smoltz: .246/.303/.377
Mussina: .256/.298/.400

I don’t know, man. I give the nod to Smoltz. Much more to come in the dead of winter.