Saturday, October 27, 2007

So, here we are

To get the obvious out of the way, this is a baseball blog. Or more pointedly, a Blue Jays blog (for the most part). You see, sometimes life does not work out precisely as you thought it would. I do a lot of writing about baseball. My main outlets are the Hardball Times and Sympatico.MSN. As is typical of my breed, I have kicked around a lot. I have inflicted my negligible synaptic function on places like MLBtalk, ESPN Insider,, Replacement Level Yankee Weblog,, Bootleg Sports, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals.

This is my second blog, the first one was called Synaptic Flatulence that somebody offered to buy and I happily accepted. Anyway, the folks I write for prefer me not to monopolize bandwidth while complaining non-stop about the Jays. Sadly, that leaves me few outlets for my angst. Therefore, if I feel the need to bellyache about the Jays, and the folks who pay the bills tell me to cover something else, I’ll dump it here. It goes for my new National League rooting interest--the Philadelphia Phillies as well.

One of the hazards of writing was well summed up by Indigo Montoya who said ‘I do not think that word means what you think in means.’ In other words, just because I wrote something and I knew bloody well what I was talking about doesn’t mean the reader does.

It made for an interesting summer at any rate. I found fascinating theories online about why I was off my rocker because of something I wrote. One problem, what they thought I was writing bore little resemblance to what I actually said in the column.

Some times, I tried to set the record straight, other times not--a lot depended on my mood and time available. As a scribe, a certain amount of grief is to be expected if for no other reason that if everyone agrees with you, then you’ve taken a very neutral stand on an inconsequential subject. One should consider a career change if that’s the case.

I don’t mind the flames as a rule because not everybody sees things the same way. I feel that’s a good thing in general since if everybody agreed on everything, then conversation will become little more than an exercise in stifling yawns. What does get me ticked is folks who blast me based on what they think I said rather than where I was actually coming from.

I can see myself making entries where I generally gripe about people who do that. It’s not particularly productive admittedly, it is probably preferable to banging my head on the keyboard after somebody insists he or she knows what’s going on inside my head better than I do.

Further, I’ll probably grouse about the absolutists on both sides of baseball’s great statistical divide (old school vs. sabermetrics) since both strikes me as being off their meds.

This is a good a place as any to get my first rant out of the way. A lot of things happen on the baseball diamond that will not show up in a box score: a double play not made, missing the cut off man or throwing to the wrong base are examples of this. Also pitches in the dirt that catchers corral, a pitcher’s mindset and confidence based on the backstop’s ability to do it as well as his faith in the defense behind him. In a tough situation, does he go for the strike out or is he willing to let his defense get the out?

Here’s an example of this beast. It’s ripped off from a Hardball Times note I wrote back in August:

The Jays-Angels game on August 16 was decided in the top of the second inning. Gary Matthews Jr. hit a solo home run of Jays RHP Dustin McGowan making the score 1-0.

How so? After all, the final score of the game was 4-3 as a Jays' rally in the ninth fell short. It wasn’t the one run differential that won the game but something happened as a result of that home run that might go unnoticed in the box score.

Matthews’ blast was titanic: It went off the top of Windows Restaurant. For the rest of the night McGowan wanted nothing to do with Matthews: He walked him on four pitches in the fourth with one out and was stranded on third base.

In the sixth, it cost him. With nobody out and Matthews leading off, McGowan again threw nothing in the strike zone and he was aboard. Timely hitting coupled by fielding gaffs cost McGowan two runs (one earned) and possibly the game. Matthews isn’t a disciplined hitter and McGowan had good command; of his three walks, two were to Matthews after the blast.

McGowan will have to learn selective memory and block out things like the Matthews’ home run to become an ace. His second inning shot was off a bad pitch but McGowan couldn’t let it go. Matthews isn’t Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez, he has only 15 HR and a .449 SLG.

I hope somebody in the Jays’ organization took note of this. McGowan has filthy stuff and capable of hitting three digits on the gun. His command is improving. He showed last night that he still has to work on the mental aspect of the game.

Here’s the thing, when I write something against accepted sabermetric wisdom, the long knives come out. It irks me that folks go to the stats to prove a point about a team that they haven’t watched all year. The Blue Jays in 2007 had a significant number of games where they had three simply awful offensive players that would come up in order. These guys were barely replacement level offensively with an aggregate line of .233/.275/.325. I had the audacity to suggest (initially back in May) that instead of letting them strike out/pop up or hit into a double play with men on and nobody out that maybe the Jays would be better served with the odd sac bunt.

Man, talk about generating a fecal-based turbulent weather pattern. I had spat upon the Bill James Bible and I, the infidel, must be punished. They would prefer the strike out/pop up/GIDP if it meant not giving away an opportunity for a three run jack by a by a player slugging .250. By year’s end, they had 1305 AB with 16 home runs--11 of them from Adam Lind.

The Jays finished 10th in the AL and last (behind Baltimore and Tampa Bay) in the division in runs scored.

But they sure showed me eh?

The thing is, I generally agree that it’s a bad idea to give away outs however I feel strongly that if something isn’t working in a given situation then it’s best to address that situation. The Jays gave over 1300 AB to out-makers (enough to make up a complete seasons for two players--even after Johnny Mac's contributions are taken out). Toronto was dealing with injury-induced slumps from their first baseman, third baseman, left fielder, center fielder with McDonald as the everyday shortstop and two other 'players' in the lineup with an OPS of 600. Nevertheless, with all this, the Jays should still stick with a an OBP/3-run HR offense with a team OBP .327 and a below league average slugging percentage saith the naysayers.

When you’d rather lose while maintaining your philosophy rather than gamble (especially when you haven’t a whole lot to lose) on something different then it strikes me as being a fan of a dogma rather than a fan of your team.

Run expectancy matrixes may tell you what is optimal, but it doesn’t account for outliers nor does it fall conveniently between the end of March and end of September of every single year--you still need to deal with the situation at hand. The fact that Vernon Wells will eventually return to his career norms isn’t a helpful data point when you need something right now.

Baseball remains a team game. A club striving to win will always have an advantage over a team trying to maximize their personal stats. If it’s a tie game in the bottom of the 11th inning in game seven of the World Series and you’ve got men on first and second and nobody out and you’re looking for three RBI even though the guy behind you is hitting .350...and you end up grounding into a double play because you’re a .260 hitting catcher, I don’t think folks will receive your dissertation on Run Expectancy kindly.

Both camps have good ideas and they work best when they work together in assembling a roster and making in-game decisions. Rigid dogmatism by either side rarely serves a team well.

I think the above gives you a pretty good idea about the sort of brain dumps to expect here. At some point I hope to set up an archive of my online work (except for the stuff that I really wish I hadn’t written) just because. I’ve got a lot of favourite baseball haunts and there will be links. I’ll pass along props to those whose work I respect and enjoy. I am more than capable of respecting and enjoying the writing of people who I disagree with. I know good stuff when I read it plus I learn a lot from people whose thoughts and feelings differ from my own. Feel free to drop me a line. I’ll be adding a comments section too so you can tell me what an idiot I am for not thinking the way you do. There is no ‘master plan’ for my blog. It’s just where I’m going to vent more often than not.

Best Regards


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