Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Cinco de Mayo, and Alex Rodriguez

Today is seems that people everywhere are celebrating Cinco de Mayo. This is the holiday that, of course, celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over the mighty French forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. More than any tactical advantage, the victory gave a morale boost to the Mexican Army. So, it is celebrated to this day.

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia at least (so it must be true), Cinco de Mayo isn’t such a big deal in Mexico. It’s almost to the point of being ignored. Sure, it’s officially observed, but there isn’t quite the fanfare that people might expect there to be.

Doesn’t that seem weird? America makes a much bigger deal out of a Mexican holiday than Mexico does. Some of that might be Mexican-Americans taking hold of an excuse to celebrate their homeland. Some of it might be beer companies and Mexican restaurants taking hold of an excuse to sell alcohol. But, whatever the reasons people come up with, it seems a little disjointed to celebrate someone else’s holiday more than they do.

Which brings us to Alex Rodriguez.

As you may have heard, or as some people tell it might not have heard, ARod hit his 660th home run at Fenway Friday night, tying Willie Mays. There was speculation entering the weekend as to how the Red Sox would celebrate the home run if it came during the series. When it did, the Red Sox made the logical choice to celebrate it with…crickets. (Actually, they celebrated it by doing nothing. But, how awesome would it have been if after the home run they actually played crickets chirping over the loudspeaker.)

Some people were surprised, and even angered by this. They couldn’t imagine that the Red Sox didn’t make a big deal about it. About a visiting player. Tying someone for fourth.

What makes this even weirder is the Yankees themselves. They aren’t celebrating it. In fact, they made a point of saying it wasn’t a moment to celebrate so that they don’t have to pay ARod his bonus money. So, his own team is going out of their way to say it’s not a big deal, but the Red Sox are supposed to set off fireworks?

Like Cinco de Mayo?

Now, I can understand some of the con fusion. Remember when Derek Jeter tied and passed Lou Gehrig on the all-time hits list? He was treated like a conquering hero when he moved into, like, 50th all-time in hits. But, at least that was setting a team  record. Sure it was a team record lower than the team records for the Padres…and Reds…and Red Sox…and Royals…and Brewers. But, at least it was a team record. No, it didn’t deserve to lead SportsCenter…but it was a record. ARod didn’t set a team record. He’s still a couple handfuls away from Babe Ruth for that honor. He tied someone for fourth place. It’s not even like Willie Mays ever held the record. I could maybe see celebrating a former record holder. But, Mays isn’t one of those. So, why on earth would there be any sort of celebration from an opposing team? Every player who ever hits a home run ties someone on the career list. Are they supposed to celebrate those too? Are teams supposed to celebrate all accomplishments of other players? Even if the player’s own team doesn’t think it’s all that important?

Like Cinco de Mayo.

Monday, May 4, 2015

From the Pedro Binder

2000 UD All UD Team

All-star teams can be interesting animals. Take a look at some past rosters. Every team has a bunch of players that probably have no business being called All-stars. By the same token, every year plenty of players are left off the team that fully deserved to be there. So, what’s a card company to do?

If you want to get more cards of star players into your set, the easiest way is to just make an extra card of all the all-stars each year. But, then you’re going to make a card for a lot of players you don’t want a card of, and miss a lot of players that you do. How do you fix it? Just make your own team.

The “All UD” team. Whatever that means. I assume it means, “We wanted to make more cards of all these players, but couldn’t think of anything catchier to call them, like ‘Fireballers’ ‘Super Sluggers’.” So, the UD team was born. Sorry, the “All-UD” team. So, if an “All-Star” team gets its name because the players a “all” “stars” wouldn’t that mean this team us made up of players who are “UD”? Huh.

Moving past all that, this is a nice card. Amazingly, I don’t find all the crazy graphics all that distracting. The positions on the right would suggest that the All UD team consists of a player from every position, and Pedro is the pitcher for the team. I’d have to look to see if that’s the case, or if there were several pitchers that year who were UDs. The little foil box that is around Pedro is a little odd…sort of like looking through a camera, but the set has nothing to do with a camera. Maybe if the team was the “All In Focus” team that would make more sense. I do like the bold blue background on the card. It makes Pedro’s white uniform really pop. Maybe that’s why all the foil garbage is OK. Pedro still manages to rise above it all and become the main element of the card. It still makes the player the most important thing you’re looking at. Which is important, because Pedro is absolutely a true star of the game.

And, apparently, a true UD.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Who’s Calling the Shots?

Or, at least the pitches.

Interesting series of events the last couple days. Maybe it’s just interesting to me, on the outside. But, anyway…

I usually follow Red Sox games using MLB Gameday. It’s just what usually works for me. So, I see the pitch locations pretty easily on the graphics, assuming they’re accurate. During Clay Buchholz’s outing, I noticed something. All the pitches looked pretty good. I actually tweeted that maybe it was just all bad luck. All his pitches seemed to be on the outside corner at the knees. Pitcher’s pitches. The batters just happened to be smacking them for hits. Not sure I could blame him as much as I might have. Maybe they got too much of the plate than they should have, but it wasn’t that bad.

Then John Farrell was on with the EEIdiots yesterday. He said that one of the problems with the pitching staff was that they were pitching away too much. That they needed to use both sides of the plate more. Other teams knew that they Sox were always away, so they were hanging over the plate and driving those balls. Which then made Buchholz’s struggles more sensible. He was throwing beautiful pitches on the corner. The Jays just knew he was going to do that. So, I wondered…if Farrell knew that, why not just tell their catchers to call the pitches inside more often?

What was the hold up?

Was it the pitchers who were resisting? After all, the fools on the Hub were blasting Kelly for not coming inside more with his fastball. And everyone always got on Dice-K’s case for nibbling so much. Was the pitcher in control? Was he shaking the catcher off? Or was he so hesitant to pitch inside that the pitches were drifting outside?

Then I hear that before the game yesterday there was a big pitcher-catcher meeting where they were all told to pitch inside more. Why was the meeting needed? Who needed to be convinced? Or, was it something that Farrell and the coaching staff JUST picked up on yesterday and wanted to get to the whole staff as quickly as possible?

Whatever the reason, Porcello went out following the meeting, and pitched seven innings while only giving up one run. He even manages to limit or eliminate damage when things started to get away from him.  Tazawa and Koji were scoreless.

Is everything now fixed? If so, why wasn’t it fixed before?

Is it Hanigan? Was he used to calling pitches low and away for all the fireballers in Tampa? Is that why Kelly and his 99 mph fastball was doing better than the sinkerballers? Did someone need to smack Hanigan and remind him to call some of them inside every once in a while? Did they need the meeting in order to convince him of that?

Who sets up the gameplan? Isn’t that a group effort between the pitchers, catchers, and coaching staff?

If everything is fixed now, what was broken?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mama Said There’d be Days Like This

On the bright side, things have to go up from here, right?

Let’s be honest. The rotation isn’t this bad. Oh, sure, they’re pitching like garbage at the moment. But, this isn’t who they are.

When the Red Sox set up their pitching staff, we all joked about the lack of an ace. There were endless discussions about the lack of an ace. Either you were OK with going into the seasons with five #3 pitchers, or not. But, most everyone agreed it was a staff of #3s. Maybe #3/#4s. Right now, they’re pitching like #12s.

But, we have to assume that will change, right? Can we really assume that all five of the Red Sox starters all suddenly forgot how to pitch at once, and will continue to be terrible all season? Does that ever happen?

Right now, the Sox starter’s ERAs are an average of 2.26 runs higher than their career ERA. On average, they’re more than a run higher than their previous worst single season ERA. That can’t continue.

Just like I don’t think Hanley Ramirez will keep up his 70-HR pace all season. I expect him to hit for a lot of power, but not be historically good.  Just like I don’t think David Ortiz will hit .230 all season. I expect a decline, but not for him to be epically bad. Likewise I don’t expect Wade Miley to have an 8.62 ERA all season. I don’t expect Pedro numbers, but he should be at least mediocre.

So, what’s going on? Not sure. It could be a collective slump. Although, I think all the pitchers have had at least one good performance. Even Miley had a scoreless outing. Maybe it’s a curse of small sample size. Joe Kelly gave up three runs in the first inning the other night after a delay disrupted his pregame routine. These things happen over the course of a season. After that, he settled down. But, in a small sample size, it killed him. Without that inning, his ERA drops by almost a run. Porcello had a four run inning. Take that away, and his ERA drops by a run too.

Which, I know, you can’t do. Both those pitchers threw those innings. But, if you’re going to go on and on about the terrible pitching staff, it’s worth noting that the numbers have been skewed. What’s your seeing isn’t really representing their whole body of work.

It also means that there’s reason to believe there’s hope. Kelly and Porcello aren’t as bad as their numbers might indicate. Buchholz has always been a question wrapped in an enigma. But, he’s never been god awful. This is worse than he’s ever been. So, there’s reason to believe there’s some improvement on the way. Sure, he’s might throw eight innings of one run ball one game, and one inning of eight run ball the next game. But, history tells us that he’ll throw more games closer to the former than the latter. As frustrating as that might be at times…like last night. Wade Miley might be a question mark coming to the AL. But, the AL isn’t three times as hard as the NL. A 200 inning guy doesn’t become a 100 inning guy. Again, one of his three starts was masterful. It’s the other two that are the exceptions. Masterson might be the one guy about where he’ll be. He’s working out some things. He was always going to be a project full of questions. But, isn’t a 2-0 record with a 5+ ERA about what we expected? Frankly, isn’t that what we assumed everyone on the staff would be? If everyone just pitched to the level Masterson is currently at, the offense should take it from there.

Based on past performance and sample sizes… is that so far-fetched?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Alex Rodriguez Live

With Alex Rodrigues in the news lately as he chases down Willie Mays and his 660 career home runs, I wondered. How did ARod do in games I’ve attended? Well, actually, I guess it would be games I’ve attended so far. After all, I might get to see him play again at some point.

I figured his career would be an interesting one. He’s been playing for a while, and I’ve had the chance to see him play for three different teams. It should make for an interesting cross section.

So, how did he do?

About as well as you’d expect a player who regularly took PEDs to do.

I got to see ARod play in twelve games. (Again, I scored twelve games he played in. I might have seen him in a couple I didn’t score for one reason or another.) Those games led to 40 at-bats.

In those 40 at-bats, he had thirteen hits, leading to a robust 0.325 batting average. Of those thirteen hits, three of them cleared the wall. That gives him a 0.650 slugging percentage. Yikes. He reached base at a 0.460 clip while I was in the stands. Do the math, and you have a guy with a 1.110 OPS. Yup. He did well while I was around.

In fact, extrapolate those numbers out for a full season of 660 AB, and you’re looking at an MVP caliber season. And then some. His slash line would be .325/50/116. He would have scored 231 runs in this mythical season. I suppose on the plus side, he would strike out 264 times while “only” walking 165 times.

Maybe he should pay to have me travel with him. I seem to bring him good luck.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Honestly, What do You Expect?

Because, it sure seems to be a lot.

Maybe we should just all calm down, just a bit.

Or, maybe a whole bunch!

What’s amazing to me as I watch the Sox this year, and read all the twitter reaction, is that people aren’t usually very happy. It’s almost like everyone expects everything to go perfect all the time every time. Why is that? Is it the football mentality that’s taken over the region? People have started to think that every game in baseball is as important as in football? Newsflash, it’s not. In fact, try considering ten games in baseball the same as a football game. That make you feel better?

Or, is it the Bill Belichick “execution” manta that has everyone all confused? Do we think that just because you practice execution, you should execute every chance you get? It doesn’t work like that either.

Because, that’s what I’m hearing. One night, the Sox lose 2-1, and I hear constant complaining about when this great offense is going to show up. Of course, they seem to forget that they scored five runs the night before. Or, after Panda grounds out…when is he going to get a hit? Ignoring the double he got in the previous at bat. Hanley doesn’t hustle! Except, apparently, when he scores from first on a single to the pitcher.

They’re not advancing the runner! Until there’s a groundout, and then it’s They can’t get a hit with RISP! Then they get a hit, and it’s They only scored one!

Do people just enjoy complaining?

Because, otherwise, I have to wonder what they expect. IT’s the way the numbers work. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. At best, about 30% of the time you’re up with runners on, you’ll get a hit. The other 70% is an out, just as you’d expect. Put together a string of 30% and you score lots of runs. Break them out a bit, and you score fewer.  You just have to hope that those times you score fewer are combined with games where the pitching allows fewer. That happened in the first couple weeks. Not so much this last week.

Which is what it comes down to. Some of it is luck. You allowed runs matching up well with your scored runs game by game. You just have to have those comparisons end up with your favor. Which should happen a lot for the Sox this year. Like it already has.

After all, they’re still in first place.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

From the Pedro Binder

2001 Fleer Platinum

Once again, Fleer is using the Platinum brand to remind us of days gone by. In this case, just in case you missed the reference, they tell you that they’re celebrating a 20th Anniversary. That’s the give-away clue that the design is honoring the 1981 Fleer effort.

And, actually, they do a pretty good job of it.

I like the design. Maybe it’s because it is so much simpler than most anything else Fleer had going on. Maybe it’s the slight campy feel to it. Like a nice comfort food.

Or, maybe, it’s because in its simplicity, it managed to give me everything I look for in a card design. Other companies take note. The color scheme is matched to the Red Sox colors. That’s a nice improvement over the 1981 originals. Pedro’s name is written right there on the bottom, easy to read without any sort of foil coating. Just the name. Imagine. Below that is Pedro’s position. Again, easy to read. The team name is there, with the baseball adding just enough whimsy. All of that information is tucked out of the way on the bottom of the card, allowing plenty of space for the picture. Just like they were doing 20 years before. Wonder why they decided to mess it all up in between.

No idea if the posed action shot is supposed to be homage, or not. But, it’s fine. What’s not fine? Can you guess?

Look at the size of the Fleer logo! It’s almost as big as Pedro’s name. Even though they tried to stick it in the corner, like Baby, it wasn’t having any of that. It forced its way out and right into the way. Thank goodness it was just over blue sky. If it actually covered any of the Pedro image, I might have lost it.

But, even that can’t detract from the overall feel of the card. Some might think that 1981 Fleer isn’t the type of set you keep bringing back. But, in this case Fleer improved upon the design, while keeping true to the original.

Well done.