Lies, damned lies, and Statcast

Baseball is my sport.

I enjoy watching or listening to it every chance I get. I also write about it a lot. Like here and here and here. Oh, yeah, and here and here. You get the point.

This year was particularly gratifying for me because I’m a diehard, lifelong Red Sox fan. Having grown up with Sox teams that couldn’t get out of their own way much of the time, I’ve reveled in the past 15 years of teams that often can’t lose. Especially this year. I’ve never seen a team like the 2018 Red Sox and I may never again.

The fact that I saw most of these guys when they were just kids playing pro ball for the first time with the Lowell Spinners in short season single-A ball (including all the killer B’s: Betts, Bradley, Benintendi, and Bogaerts) makes it that much sweeter.

Having said all that, this wouldn’t be a proper blog post if it weren’t full of griping. 🙂

My latest beef is with this goofy marketing tool disguised as meaningful data known as Statcast. It used to be we had to somehow manage baseball discussions with trivial stats: wins and losses, RBIs, average, ERA, triples, and the like. Thanks to Amazon Web Services, we can discuss crucial data such as exit velocity, launch angle, hard hit, and barrel, the last of which is a stat that takes an entire page of text to describe and is still as confusing as a knuckleball.

You’ll note one common thread connecting all these new statistics: None of them has anything to do with winning baseball games. Last time I checked, a home run is worth one run, regardless of its distance, launch angle, or exit velocity.

There are plenty of other more recently developed crazy stats like WAR and WHIP and OPS. I can live with these because, as convoluted as some of these numbers can be, at least they have something to do with scoring runs and winning and losing, which is what the game is all about, after all. Exit velocity is a stat for losers who need something tangible to back up their obscene contract demands. Sadly, this crap works.

Another one: Catch probability is just so much hooey. If a ball is caught, the probability is 100%, if not, it drops down to about, oh, zilch. I expect the probability of catching a ball depends mostly on the fielder. If it’s Jackie Bradley Jr. the catch probability is pretty darn high no matter where the ball goes. If Aaron Judge is plodding after it, not so much.

One final example: I read an article talking about how desirable a commodity Manny Machado will be as a free agent during this offseason’s hot stove league. Most of the argument was based on Manny’s Statcast “hard hit” data. Not surprisingly, there was no mention that this guy is likely to be poison to any baseball team. When a player doesn’t run out ground balls and stands to admire his “home run” that was actually a double but which he turned into a single through his arrogance, it doesn’t matter a rat’s turd how hard he hits the ball! That kind of player is an albatross on any team he plays for. Anyone who pays this prima donna big bucks deserves to be dragged down into the loser-gutter with him.

Which brings me to what might be the most tantalizing aspect of baseball. In spite of all the stats and data and computer models, it’s largely a game of hunches and gut feelings. That’s what makes it great. That’s how a journeyman like Steve Pearce ends up being World Series MVP. It’s how the ’67 Impossible Dream Red Sox won the pennant and almost the Series. It explains how a bunch of idiots won it all in 2004 and a band of bearded overachievers did the same in ’13.

I love this game. Let’s not ruin it in the name of Amazon corporate profits.

 


Note: For those in Eastern MA, I’ll be doing two “author appearances” at local venues. The first is at Chelmsford Public Library. The event is Saturday 11/3 from 1-3 PM, although I will only be there until about 2 PM. All the details can be found here.

The other is at a great little shop in Chelmsford center called Artisans Exchange. I’ll be hanging out there on Friday night, 11/16 from 7-8.

I hope some of you can come out to say hello and do some early local (author) holiday shopping.

YABD

Yet Another Brain Dump.

Since I don’t have much time to write this week and since I did an extra post last week and since I haven’t popped the idea stack for more than three months, I’m going to do it now. Here’s another brain dump of thoughts that have piled up lately. Nothing life-changing or earth-shaking. Maybe Head-shaking, though.

Here’s a little news item you might have missed:

The [Boston Red Sox] officially released minor league lefthander Cody Kukuk, who was arrested in November on a robbery charge in his native Kansas. Kukuk was given an $800,000 bonus after being selected in the seventh round of the 2011 draft.

The kid got an 800K signing bonus and was on his way to a big league career and he commits robbery. Huh? Reminds me of the even more amazing story a couple years ago, involving a football player making half a million bucks a year who was arrested for shoplifting a cologne sample and two pair of underwear worth a total of $123.50.

Wow.

I hope we hurry up development of the driverless car, cuz from what I’m seeing on the road, no one’s paying attention when they drive anyway.

From the “Who Invented This Language Anyway?” department:  The words overlook and oversee are opposites yet flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.

True confession: Wonder no longer. I wrote the book of love

Why do people record messages on their cell phones that say, “I can’t come to the phone right now”? Isn’t the whole point of a cell phone that you don’t have to come to the phone? What did I miss?

I thought it was a short-lived fad, but it seems books and movies about zombies and vampires simply refuse to die. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Have you seen the movie about the guy who used to be a criminal who tried to go straight but was forced by some bad guys to do one last job? Which movie was that you ask? Just about all of them.

It’s about 10 degrees outside. I heat my house to 70. And I have a big box I store food in that cools down to below freezing. Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

??????????A business in Santa Barbara: Ye Olde Deli and Thai Food. That’s covering all your bases. Oh yeah, and as you can see in the photo to the right, you can also get Boba Bubbles in your Olde Thai Deli drink.

That’s all I have time for. I have to go to my cell phone.

Yanks to Fete Steinbrenner Next

[This important sports item has just been released.]

The venerable New York Yankees, after the ultra-successful whirlwind retirement tours of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, have decided to follow up with a round-the-horn circuit by “The Boss”, the late George Steinbrenner.

We want to maintain the momentum established in 2013 and 2014,” explained Yankee Director of Chutzpah, Steuben Lowe. “When we looked at our roster, however, we found a serious dearth in expected retirements for the next few years.” Mr. Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010, was the next logical choice.

He’s a legend,” claimed Lowe. “He singlehandedly transformed baseball from an athletic competition to a virtual meat market. To top off his regime, he transformed ‘The House that Ruth Built’ into ‘The House that George Demolished’. No other owner in baseball history can claim achievements of that significance.”

As the Yankees visit each ballpark during the 2015 season, honorary local volunteer pall-bearers will carry Steinbrenner’s coffin to home plate where he will receive the accolades due his reputation as fierce competitor and ruthless executive.

Of course, he’ll have no use for the vehicles, artwork, and memorabilia of the type showered on Mariano and Derek,” Lowe told reporters. “But all those goods can be converted into cash to sign future retirees.” eBay has been contracted and is already gearing up to handle the expected bonanza. Donations to Mr. Steinbrenner’s favorite cause, the Yankee Free Agent Fund, will be accepted and welcome.

Being honored in all those ballparks would have brought a genuine thrill to Mr. Steinbrenner, especially Fenway Park, which held a special place in his heart. I only wish Shea Stadium was still around for The Boss to occupy. It will be a bittersweet time, that’s for sure,” the Yankee executive said with a well-placed tear in his eye.

Lowe further explained that, what with the Yankees recently losing such stars as Robinson Cano and Andy Pettitte, the pipeline for “quality retirees” is dry. “The storied history of the Yankees demands higher profile pensioners than those currently available. Gone are the days when we could have filled an entire decade with Hall of Fame caliber players to drain the pockets of kowtowing competitors. Lou Gehrig in particular was a missed opportunity of exceptional proportions.” Lowe later added that the level of available plundering has not always been as rich as it is today. “With the advent of interleague play, the stakes are much higher. The amount we could have extorted before the interleague era pales in comparison to today’s potential take.

Depending on the outcome of his suspension and various appeals, Alex Rodriguez is generally regarded as the next viable tour candidate. Unfortunately, his availability will be in doubt for some time. A traveling Congressional inquiry with Rodriguez as the key witness has been discussed but the legalities involved could make such a tour prohibitive.

If A-Rod falls through, rumor has it that Jacoby Ellsbury, speedster centerfielder signed away from the rival Red Sox, will be asked to take early retirement after the 2016 season to fill the gap. “We signed Ellsbury not only for his baseball skills but for his estimable marketing potential,” declared the Yankee’s General Manager, the ironically named Brian Cashman. “He has nothing to lose taking early retirement. The Yankees’ severance package is, as you might imagine, generous to a fault. Additionally, Jacoby will be allowed to keep the cars, shoes, bling, and other offerings that are de rigueur for these tributes.”

Reaction to the announcement from around the league was mixed.

This is not only good for the Yankees and for baseball, frankly, it’s good for the Tampa Bay Rays,” declared Rays Senior Vice President of Overachievement. Merry Chase. “We don’t draw flies here at the Trop unless one of the big money teams comes to town. These tributes boost our attendance tremendously as retired New Yorkers flock to the stadium to pay their respects to their returning heroes. That’s fine with us, as long as they put out for the proverbial peanuts and Cracker Jacks.”

Orioles brass were less enthusiastic. A source who wished to remain anonymous summed up their feelings, saying, “What a bunch of greedy bastards.”