Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Another Implosion?

Well, it was certainly an implosion. But, I cringe a bit at the tone usually applied to the word “another.”

Yes, of course, the Sox starters have imploded before. And, Kelly has even imploded before. But, everyone seems to be treating it like a “Here we go again” sort of feel. “We need an ace because these guys keep getting lit up!”

But, that’s not really the case.

Let’s do a little comparison…just for fun. The Houston Astros currently lead the AL with 29 wins. The Red Sox have 21. In the month of May, the Astros have played 23 games, and have given up 104 runs. The Red Sox have played 23 games in May, and given up…104 runs. In the Month of May, the Astros have played 10 games where they’ve given up three or fewer runs. The Sox? 11.

Huh.

But, wait. It’s not the good games…it’s the bad games. When the Sox are bad, after all, they’re very very bad. Ok. In the month of May the Astros have one game where they have given up at least ten runs. Aha. See? That’s where the difference is. The Astros can control the damage better to keep games within reach.  That one game is nothing compared to the Red Sox who have allowed ten runs or more onetime in the month of May.

Wait…once? Just like the Astros?

Really, the numbers of times the two teams have given up a certain number of runs is eerily similar. What does that mean? Probably two things. That the Red Sox woes are really just a matter of timely hitting, and perception.

The timely hitting will come around. It always does. That’s a definite “water finds its level” sort of thing.

The perception we may need to work on. The people calling for an ace need that comfort. People are complaining that the Sox will never go on a run, because one of the starters will blow up at least once every turn of the rotation. That might be true. But, it’s also true of other teams. It’s just usually the #5 starter.

Which is really the problem. People like to think they can count on things. We could count on Pedro winning his starts. The 2015 Sox don’t have that. But, they can probably count on one starter putting up a great start every time through. (No, not a Pedro start…but a great start.) Which is what they’ve had. But, it’s not always the same guy. Conversely, people seem to be willing to accept one guy blowing up every time through…as long as it’s the same guy. “Oh well, Dempster got hammered again.”

But, the Sox are really getting the same thing. 1/5 great starts, 1/5 awful starts.  Sure, you never know who’s going to pitch a gem, and you never know who will fall apart. But, in the grand scheme of things, does it matter? Once the Sox find their offense, does it matter who’s pitching the gems and who isn’t? Shouldn’t the Sox be able to handle whichever pitcher it throwing whichever game?

Shouldn’t we be able to live without knowing?



Sunday, May 24, 2015

Facing Ted Williams, edited by Dave Heller

The greatest hitter that ever lived. Ted Williams is a legend among legends. What a privilege people who got the chance to watch him play had.  Unfortunately, since Ted retired over fifty years ago, there aren’t many of those privileged few left. Which is what made this book so intriguing. Even better than talking about people who got to see Williams play, this book focus on people who actually played against him. What was it like trying to get him out? Did you just assume you had no chance and hope to limit the damage? Did you actually think you could strike him out? How about fielders, did they play any differently with Ted at the plate? I couldn’t wait to dive into the book.

Then, I hit a problem. This book relied on fresh interviews, as opposed to historical accounts. As I mentioned, Ted last played fifty years ago. Do the math, and even a 20 year old breaking in during Ted’s last season is pushing 75 years old. There aren’t a lot of players left who faced Ted personally. There also weren’t a lot of players who faced Ted very often. Again, if your career overlapped Ted’s by ten years, you’re at least 85 years old. So, the book had a high percentage of people I had never heard of. Bob Feller is the only name that sticks out as a name I knew, and as a player who had faced Ted quite often. It also meant that those players had faced Ted only once or twice. It didn’t make their stores less valid, but it did make them a bit less original. Every one of them, it seemed, was a wide-eyed rookie when Ted came to the plate. Their memories were all similar. Then came the second problem. Usually, their memories were all wrong. Whether it was the passage of time, or an exaggeration that crept in over the years, many of the stories were inaccurate. That left Heller with two choices. To ignore it, and let everyone tell about how they stuck Williams out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, or to point out the errors. I’m not sure which I would have done, but Heller chose the latter. In footnotes, he would correct the misremembering. That would have been fine, if it didn’t happen so often. Almost every time someone remembered something, there was a footnote correcting it. Made me wonder what I was reading…since it certainly didn’t seem to be anything like a story about facing Ted Williams. I wonder if Heller himself was a bit disappointed by what he ended up with when he saw the inaccuracies.

I know I was.


Rating: 1 base.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Everything at Once

Why can’t the Red Sox do everything at once?

We’ve all had stretches like this, right? Maybe your car breaks down, once that gets fixed your TV goes on the fritz. Finally have that under control and the washing machine starts leaking all over the basement.

Why can’t everything just all work at once!?!

That’s what the Red Sox are going through at the moment. They had a stretch at the beginning of the year where things seemed to be going well. Then, the pitching disappeared. Sure, they could still hit but the pitchers were giving up too many runs. Then, suddenly the pitching came back. This last swing through the rotation has been exactly what you’d want. But, just as suddenly, the hitting disappeared. They just can’t score runs. So, instead of losing 8-7, they’re losing 2-1.

When are they going to start hitting and pitching at the same time?

Argh!

Wouldn’t it have to be soon? I’ve always been a “back of the baseball card” type. Or, a “water finds its level” if you will. Just like I had to assume that every pitcher on the staff didn’t suddenly start sucking all at once, I have to assume that neither did the batters.

And, really, they haven’t forgotten. They’re just slumping a bit. After all, people have been complaining and complaining about leaving runners on base. But, they ignore the fact that, clearly they’re getting runners on base. So, if you have an inning that ends with a two out single, followed by a double, followed by a walk, followed by a flyout…do you get angry about not getting that last hit or are you please with the small two-out rally? The answer, frankly, depends on whether or not you win the game.

Hitting with runners in scoring position isn’t really anything special. Alan Craig didn’t have some secret formula when he was hitting almost .500 with RISP a few years ago. If he did, he should have written it down. Similarly, Pedroia’s not doing anything differently when he strikes out with the bases loaded than he is when he homers leading off an inning. It’s just a matter of when the hits fall. They’re getting their hits. The rest will work itself out.

Maybe they’re pressing a bit at the moment. What they need is one good game. Get a few of those .150 batting averages with men on base to go away. Let them just play. Maybe the pitching will help with that. If they don’t need to score 15 runs to win, maybe they can all just relax.

Whatever it is, it’ll work itself out. If nothing else, at least the Sox don’t have both things going wrong. I’d rather lost 2-1 than 12-1. So, until it all comes back to normal, at least the Sox aren’t dropping away to nowhere in the standings. Sure, they may be below .500. But, even with nothing going right all season, the Sox are only 2.5 games out of first. If the Sox were 21-19 instead of 19-21, those 2.5 game out would seem like they were right in the hunt. They’ve held their own.


Can’t wait to see what happens when it all clicks.

Monday, May 18, 2015

From the Pedro Binder



2000 Fleer Focus

Focus. What exactly is focus? Something that’s clearer? Something that’s more important? Both?

If the point of Focus is to highlight a player, isn’t that the point of every card? To focus on the subject player? If you’re not focusing on a player I don’t think you’re doing a very good job with the card.

This one does do a decent job of that. The clean white of the border spills into the design of the card as well. That really makes the rest of the card pop. Pedro has a while divine glow about him as he gets ready to fool another hitter. The blue on Pedro’s cap and sleeves carry a theme with the blue cap on the bottom and the Fleer logo. Pedro’s name is in that annoying foil, but at least it’s tucked out of the way. Sort of an odd font choice for something that’s supposed to be in focus. I would have expected something easier to read.

So there’s nothing special here, even though Fleer tries to convince us otherwise. It’s not the worst set Fleer put out in 2000, but it’s certainly not anything that would make me anxiously away the release of 2001 Focus.


It’s just another card.

Friday, May 15, 2015

I Scored!



June 8, 2000

I love Pedro games. I know. I’m not even close to being alone in this one. But, there’s a little bit of excitement in me every time I look at a scorecard and see his name on it. I know automatically that this game is going to be something special.

Of course it was.

The best part is, it wasn’t even anything extraordinary as far as Pedro games go. Take a look at his line. Eight innings. Of course. Zero runs, as expected. Another ten strikeout game. Boring! But, that was Pedro Martinez.

Since the Sox won the games, there must have been some runs scored. And, there were. Just enough. Plus, you’ll see that the first one wasn’t until the seventh inning. Pedro kept the Indians off the board when he really needed to. After all, the Sox were facing Bartolo Colon that day. Throwing up goose eggs was essential.

The hero of the game? Easily Carl Everett. His solo shot in the seventh was all the runs the Sox would need. For good measure, he scored another run the following inning. We’ll forgive the two strikeouts. Remember, it was Colon on the mound.

The goat? I hate to do it, but it has to be Nomar. 0-4 from your #3 hitter is not what you’re looking for.

But, thanks to Pedro, that didn’t matter. The Sox scored all the runs they would need, and Pedro showed why he was destined to be in the Hall of Fame.

Just like he did every game.


And the scorecard shows how it happened.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Balls were Never at 12.5 PSI. Why Did the Wells Report Ignore its Own Findings?

First, I know. This isn’t a Red Sox related post. But, I assume that most of my readers also follow the Patriots. Besides, if David Ortiz and John Farrell can comment on things, why can’t I?

Let’s start off like this is an opening statement, which it is. Let me lay out a story for you, and then show you where that can be backed up.

Walt Anderson never set the balls to 12.5 psi. No, I don’t think he acted in some super-secret plan to catch the Pats. I just think that halftime of the AFC Championship game is the first time that the NFL really cared about the psi in the footballs. They certainly didn’t seem to care when the Colts alerted them to their concerns. They definitely never cared before that. So, Walt Anderson didn’t really care when the balls were a bit low. 12.25. Even 12.0. It just wasn’t worth the time to go inflate them again. Besides, Brady told him he liked the balls as low as he can get them. So, he won’t mind if they’re only 12.0 psi. Then, when everything went crazy at halftime, he had to tell everyone that they were at 12.5 psi. Otherwise, his job and the credibility of the NFL would be at stake.

Why don’t I think the NFL cared about the psi? Well, first because they did nothing with the Colts letter. They didn’t set up a sting, apparently. They just let things go. They simply told Anderson to be more aware about the psi, since there was the complaint. Anderson himself said he didn’t even really listen to the instructions. Since he knew he would be testing the balls, he was just going to go on doing what he always did. Then there are the gauges. Walt Anderson supplied his own gauges. Two of them. They were all beat up, bent, and broken. But, he used those to test the inflation. One of them was actually reading the wrong psi. He didn’t know. If he knew, he would have known which gauge he used, because he would have to know what he was reading. He didn’t. So, they were beaten, busted, and not calibrated! These are the gauges that the NFL used to ensure the integrity of the game that they suddenly care so much about. Ones that weren’t even reading the correct values. Then, he didn’t record the values. Then, when he lost track of the footballs before game time, he didn’t care. He found them, and just put them into play. No retesting. No using the back-up balls. Simply a “Whatever, The balls are here, let’s go.” The NFL didn’t care. It was only when the Colts complained during the game that a bunch of people on their own decided to test the balls. It never occurred to them that the cold weather would make those test invalid since all the balls would test low. They never thought about it before. Never cared.

Which is why, I assume, that the story was leaked to Bob Kravitz saying that an investigation was underway. Looking at the timeline, when he tweeted out that “scoop” there was no formal investigation. Even if you use the time of the tweet as after the game instead of during the second half as the Wells report states. (Wait, a mistake in the report?) So, the investigation started only after the public thought there was an investigation.

But, Anderson said they were at 12.5 psi. Why shouldn’t we just trust him?

Lots of reasons. Lots and lots of reasons.

First, the Wells report actually proved only two things. Only two things in the report were backed up by actual honest to goodness evidence. Everything else in the report is open to interpretation. One, the Colts tampered with game footballs when they stuck a needle into a Patriots ball after it had been marked by the official. Second, Walt Anderson doesn’t know what he’s talking about. When the process of bringing the balls to the field came up, he stated that the balls would never go to the field without an escort from an official. However eyewitness accounts and video evidence showed that this was not true. Yup. The only time video evidence contradicted a story, and it contradicted Anderson.

What else make Anderson look less than trustworthy? He admitted that he may have let one of the kicking balls into the game without checking the psi on it. Said right in the report. It’s possible that a ball went to the field for use without him checking and marking it first. So, possible for a kicking ball…why not possible for a game ball?

The next reason is my favorite. At halftime, the balls were tested and the reading recorded. There were several people in the room, including two NFL officials. When the Patriots game balls were found to be under 12.5 psi, they inflated them. One official was told to inflate the balls to 13 psi. The second one was told to check that the pressure was at the proper level. Then, after the game the balls were tested. But the Wells Report ignores these test results. Why? Because of uncertainty as to what the psi of the balls was at the start of the half. Yup. One official inflates, the second official checks with at least one witness, while the league is checking the inflation levels of footballs…and the Wells Report admits that it can’t be sure what the psi of the balls was at halftime. So, two officials and a witness are inconclusive. One official is rock solid undisputable evidence. Huh?

So, it looks pretty clear to me that it is highly likely that the balls were never at 12.5 psi. In fact, it’s the only explanation that actually fits within all the evidence that the Wells Report collected.

Now that I’ve shown you the conclusion that the Wells Report should have come to, at the risk of making this post longer than the report itself, let me explain why the report should not have come to the conclusions it did.

Most obvious, this was not an impartial investigation. Sure lots of people are calling it a witch hunt. And, unlike Goodell, I’m not going to put a lot of weight in the mumblings. But, I will put weight to the fact that the Wells Report itself calls it a witch hunt. When they hired Exponent, they told them that there was no reason to suspect that the Colts balls were tampered with. They made no such statement regarding the Patriots balls. So, they started the scientific research into whether the balls had been tampered with by assuming that the Patriots balls had been tampered with. Not quite so independent. That would have been bad enough. They went further. Exponent then went on to use the Colts balls as the control set for the experiment. What did that mean? It means that the way they decided if an experiment was valid was to set it to the Colts measurements. So, take the wet ball experiment. They needed to simulate rain inside a lab. How do you do that? Put it in the shower? Soak it in a tub? They settled on spraying the balls every 15 minutes, and then toweling them off. Why did they decide this? Because that gave them results that matched the Cots, and not the Patriots. They specifically looked for a simulation that wouldn’t match the Patriots results. Then, they had the gall to point this out as evidence! After running the tests, the Colts balls fell within the expected rage, while the Patriots balls did not. Of course not! The entire test was literally created so that this would be the case. They didn’t take a “control” simulation and see how it applied to each set of balls. They altered the control to get the result they wanted. Said so right in the report. Several times.

That would almost (A very long shot almost) be OK if each set of balls was exposed to the same elements during the game. But, as the tests showed, one of the HUGE factors in determining pressure loss during the half was how wet the balls got. The experiment assumed that the Pats balls were as wet as the Colts balls. So, when they skewed the experiment to the Colts, they pretended that the Pats should have come along for the ride. But, that wouldn’t be the case if the Pats spent more time with their balls in the cold rain. I’m trying to remember…which team spent more time on offense during the first half? So, even if we pretend that skewing an experiment to match one set of data is ok, they still shouldn’t have concluded what they concluded because the variables weren’t the same. Which, of course, is exactly what Exponent said. They couldn’t conclude that any tampering had even take place.

That’s before the report went around equating signing an autograph with giving a bribe, or twisting the meaning of random text messages to suit their needs.

So, the Wells Report decided that Brady probably knew about a probable tampering that science couldn’t confirm actually happened.

The fact that the Patriots and Brady were punished because of that should absolutely terrify every player, coach, owner, or anyone else in the NFL. If that’s all it takes to ruin you, it could happen to any of them.


After all Eli Manning, there’s as much evidence in the report that you knew about a plan to deflate footballs as there is that Tom Brady did.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Apparently it was Nieves

Remember when I asked who was calling the shots on the Red Sox? John Farrell said on the radio that the Sox needed to change their approach. Then, they had a special meeting with the pitchers and catchers to discuss that very thing. I wondered who the hold-up was. If Farrell wanted to make a change, why didn’t he just tell the pitchers to throw inside more? Or tell the catchers to call more inside pitches? Who needed convincing?

Was it Nieves?

Now I sometimes think that a coach/manager gets too much blame when things are going wrong. The last place finish in 2012 was much much much more to do with the talent level left on that team the second half of the year than anything Bobby Valentine could mismanage. I also hate the idea that a coach should be fired to light a fire under the players, or any other cliché you prefer.

But, if they’re not following the game plan, and not getting results, that seems like a pretty reasonable reason to make a change. Grady Little didn’t listen to the advice of the numbers people. He bucked organizational philosophy. And, he didn’t win. So, it’s a reasonable time to make a change.

Is this what happened with Nieves? Was he resisting Farrell’s preferred approach?

Because, say what you want about the quality of the pitching staff, they did all have proven records. You can say they were proven to be #3 starters, but they were there. But, this year every single one of them is pitching terribly. I asked before, did everyone forget how to pitch all at once? Or, was it the approach.

Now, I have no idea what Nieves is doing differently than he was in, say, 2013 when the Sox won the World Series. Maybe Lester, Lackey, and Peavy didn’t need a pitching coach? I don’t know why Clay Buchholz was the best pitcher in baseball the first half season under Nieves, and the worst pitcher the next year.

But, whatever it is, its sounds like more than just picking a fall guy. It doesn’t look like they’re just making a statement to the team. When you consider past conversations and events, it looks like there’s something there. Something that wasn’t working.


Maybe now it’s fixed.