Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Devil's Advocate

I mean, just look at that cover, the cover of an issue of what once considered itself (and was considered by many others) to be sports journalism's paragon. I'll be the first to admit that A-Rod always seemed a little flaky for a star of his diameter, but I have trouble believing there's an even remotely sane human being who could have handled the press he received in N.Y. without turning into a whiny bitch. I mean, even Sports Illustrated got involved with the True Yankee shit! Good lord.

It was surprising to see a majority of writers I actually respect opine in the past few weeks that A-Rod was a safe bet to stay in N.Y. I was strongly in the camp that opting-out was a no-brainer, regardless any threats by the Yanks that they weren't going to chase if he did so. In addition to the fact that he'll likely do better over the next eight years signing a free agent contract than he would have by taking the Yankees' extension offer, I think Boras really wanted A-Rod to reset the market, since he'll have some extremely valuable free agents coming up the next couple of years (no, I'm not suggesting Boras "controls" A-Rod, just has his ear) and the last time we saw a noticeable spike in salaries was right after A-Rod's first free agent deal.

But, more than anything, I think A-Rod just wanted the out of New York, and I can't blame him. As a bonus, he'll get the opportunity to tell a lot of people that they can go fuck themselves; you've got to believe, by this point, that Rodriguez has got to have that irrational, pregnant-woman anger at the Yankees, if not everyone in baseball. Why, you ask? Peep Exhibit No. 657,266,282:

"It's clear he didn't want to be a Yankee," Hank Steinbrenner, a son of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and now the figurehead of the club's baseball operations, told the New York Daily News. "He doesn't understand the privilege of being a Yankee on a team where the owners are willing to pay $200 million to put a winning product on the field.

"I don't want anybody on my team that doesn't want to be a Yankee."

First of all, it's impressive that Hank already appears to be less capable of shutting his fucking mouth than his father. Looking past that, I find it incredible that A-Rod has constantly been accused of not appreciating the "privilege" to be the best player on the Yankees. Here is a short list of things that prove A-Rod appreciated it just fine:

  • Constantly said to everyone who would listen that he loved being a Yankee;
  • Did not murder Jason Giambi when the steroid-addled, .275 EqA-ing asshole called him out in the media for not being "clutch" enough;
  • Sacrificed the opportunity to be known as the single-greatest shortstop in the history of the game (by a wider margin than one that's seen at any other position, with the possible exception of center field) so a lesser, more egotistical yet mysteriously more beloved player could continue costing the team 1 to 2 games by way of abhorrent defense;
  • Has hit 1,700 gazillion home runs for the Yankees in a very short period of time;
  • Did not murder Joe Torre when the manager attempted to humiliate him in the playoffs by batting him eighth;
  • Did not murder George Steinbrenner for not immediately firing Torre after the latter tried to humiliate the team's best player in the playoffs by batting him eighth;
  • Did not murder random dog for being batted eighth by manager in playoffs;
  • Did not have building of New York Post bombed.
It's evident that to whatever degree a player should show his appreciation for being a Yankee, A-Rod has far surpassed it if only in terms of patience. If Paul O'Neill took 1/10th of the shit in the media that A-Rod has, there wouldn't be a single functioning toilet in the clubhouse to this day. Probably the only player in recent memory to get savaged in the New York press like A-Rod was Chuck Knoblauch, and — while this is admittedly a cruel way to look at it — at least Knoblauch did something so incredibly and blatantly scorn-worthy that the coverage was to be expected. I mean, he couldn't make a throw to first base from 50 feet away. A-Rod's biggest crime is that he doesn't hit titanic home runs at exactly the moment everyone wants him to. Because, you know, he's selfish.

But here's the real problem: Why is it that the Yankees still think players should be grateful for the opportunity to be Yankees? I get the history and shit, but really that's for fans. And, even if playing in front of a bunch of plaques for dead crackers Monument Park is a big deal for players, is it a big enough deal to put up with the rest of the shit (Steinbrenner, Steinbrenner's kids, the New York media, Joe Girardi's teeth, New York fans, the homosexuals and minorities on the subway, Derek Jeter's cockblocking, etc.) that goes with it? Maybe when the Yankees were the clear favorite every season (relative to the rest of the field) to win a World Series title. But that ain't the case anymore; believe it or not, folks, there are places you can go these days to win a World Series while growing a beard at the same time.

The Yankees should be kissing Alex Rodriguez's Turtlewaxed ass right now, or at least show a little tact regarding his departure. That franchise has just received four seasons of the best player in baseball for, per annum, approximately what the Angels paid Bartolo Colon this season for the pleasure of watching him get fatter. At that price, the least they could have done was was protect him a little bit, and let the guys who were getting paid more by the team — namely Jason Giambi and Derek Jeter — take a little more of the heat. Instead, they treat him like a piece of shit for four years, let him take the fall for every series loss, and then tell him when he decides to hit the open market that he's an ungrateful asshole who doesn't appreciate the opportunity to be employed by such a classy and storied franchise. Like they did him a favor by letting him don the most overrated uniforms in baseball.

I, for one, am thinking this is the first few dots of a forming pattern. The Yankees' approach to dealing with the end of this season is downright Oedipean so far. Regardless of any particular critic's view of Torre's ability as a manager, he deserved better than that embarrassing outburst by the senile Steinbrenner — that interview should never have been granted by the Yankees — and the insulting contract offer. And say what you want about A-Rod and Boras, the younger Steinbrenner's classless comments as his best player (a player they've paid well below market value for) opts out of his contract will not only likely affect negotiations with Rivera and Posada negatively, but also send out a clear signal to top free agents that they'll have to give up more than long hair if they wish to play for the Yankees. I suspect that Hank Steinbrenner is going to be told, perhaps not politely, to shut the fuck up and let the non-amateurs handle media relations, but the damage might already be done. If I was an agent, the only way a top-line free agent of mine would be advised to sign with the Yankees is if they are offering well beyond what the competition is. I suspect real agents feel the same way.

Whether Yankees fans are willing to accept it or not, this is not the same franchise that became the official landing spot of every premier veteran free agent who wanted to win a ring before calling it a career. The "mystique" went out the door when the Red Sox mounted the most improbable comeback in the sport's history, and the fa├žade of professionalism evaporated when players in the clubhouse started sniping to the media like a gaggle of drunk sorority girls when the subject of the team's best player came up. That A-Rod can probably get more money on the open market is only a part of his reasoning, I imagine. In terms of accomplishing his secondary goals — winning a World Series title and being adored by his fan base for his superlative talent — it's entirely likely that he and Boras have determined there are better settings out there. Make no mistake, teams like the Giants, Cubs and Angels will make sure he's commensurately compensated for his play, but almost as importantly, the fans in those cities won't stupidly claim the team's better off without him.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ah, yes, momentum!

I know what you're going to say already: "Eight days! You can't keep momentum for eight days!"

OK, sure. However vague the concept of athletic momentum might be, it certainly seems to go against form for a "hot" team to sit through eight days and about 50 hours of Fox broadcasts to finally play again. But no one would have said that if the Rockies had won, as inconceivable a concept as that might seem now (see footnote No. 1 ... yes, I've been reading DFW again). Had the Rockies won, we would have been hearing enough Mo talk to fill up the agenda of an LDS Conference.

That, ultimately, is why concepts like "momentum" and "choking" bug me so much; they're always predictive until they're not. Barry Bonds was a notorious playoff "choker" until he pretty much single-handedly took the Giants to the World Series. Derek Jeter was "clutch" until he grounded into three fatal double plays in the final two games of the Yankees season, v. 2007 (though, I suppose, the Cap'n hasn't quite lost his bona fides in the minds of most Yankee fans). And the Rockies had "momentum" until they got one of the worst teste-smashings in recent WS memory. As I said, it's there until it's not.

So what's the point, you ask? At the risk of continuing my Sisophysian trend of late (actually, my entire life), one just has to wonder how much longer we're going to discuss this kind of stuff like it's real, not to mention relevant to the outcome of events. Yeah, I know it's just sports, but I've never quite understood why bullshit is any less fetid in the context of "unimportant" events (see footnote No. 2).

My prediction? We still don't know what's going to happen in the series' remaining six available contests. And, when what will happen does, we will have a choice: We can either accept the fact that the game is free of any imaginary forces, or you can disagree. And since it works for the PUSA, I'll go ahead and say anyone who disagrees with me is no different that the terrorists.
____________________

1: I think it's fast becoming time to wonder exactly where Josh Beckett stands in contrast to his pitching contemporaries. While I'll be the first to say that the playoffs shouldn't be weighted differently per se, it's not lost on me that Beckett's track record in the playoffs, albeit in a small sample, is incredible. It's not hyperbole to say he was the chief reason the Fish won the shebang in 2003, and his performance thus far in the 2007 playoffs is certainly as good, if not better, than it was four seasons ago. Clearly, Josh Beckett is no reverse-shrinking-violet; the worst he's ever been in the regular season is very good if not oft-injured, and this season he certainly qualified as great while plying his trade in one of the most difficult pitching environments in the AL. But he's yet to approach the level in the regular season he reaches in the playoffs, which falls in line with the concept of a "big-game" pitcher. Bill James once said in an interview I can't find at this moment that "clutch," while conceptually dubious w/r/t hitters, is both intuitive and statistically provable when it comes to pitchers. I won't bother elaborating on his point, as I'll try and find the interview to link here. But, anyway, what I'm wondering is exactly how much Beckett's talents are worth, if we're to conclude that he can be counted on only to be very good in the regular season, but arguably the best playoff pitcher available, if we're willing to accept both premises as being true. Is he worth more than Johan, even though the latter can be counted on to be one (sometimes two) wins better over the course of the regular season? If you're the Yankees, and both are available as free agents, which one do you prefer in an either/or proposition? I sense that in New York, the answer is Beckett, but I'd be interested to figure out exactly how this would be discussed in a pure economic sense. Right now, I wish I had Nate Silver's brain.

2: This past weekend, I made one of my infrequent trips back to the Old Pueblo, and a certain sports writer friend of mine who will remain nameless renewed his long-standing and vocal objection to the American flag patch on sports uniforms during one of our meandering patio symposiums. To distill his point, he feels that it's become a purely political consideration (flag patches, not patio symposiums), and he would consider himself to be at odds with the political view that stresses nationalism above other all other considerations. I actually think this very topic would make for a great TGWNA debate topic (flag patches, not nationalism) once the baseball material dries up, but we'll leave that for another day. What the entire discussion brought to mind for me, however, was just how wrong the entire rationalization of sports viz. society and life is every time something really bad happens. See, sports so totally aren't unimportant, if for no other reasons than it's such a visible outgrowth of American society. James Caan's character in The Program, still the best sports movie (non-comedy division) out there for this particular writer's taste, defended his position within the school by stating, "When was the last time 80,000 people showed up to watch a kid do a damn chemistry experiment?" There's a reason people who really dig on "important" things are called "wonks," yet people who devote much of their time to thinking about games are most commonly referred to as "normal dudes." Sport is not just diversion, it is a vital aspect of life, and not only for those who actively participate. During an epoch in which we see a rapidly declining birth rate among Americans, in fact, sport may be vital in terms of population growth, as it's been proven that cities that experience a championship in one of the major sports usually have very busy maternity wards nine months later (though, it's troublesome to think the next spike will likely be in the Greater Boston Area, as such an event will likely coincide with fewer English-speaking Americans [I kid]). But, more importantly, I think sports can serve as great educational tools, both in terms of lessons about sportsmanship and the such, and also drawing the otherwise disinterested into stuff like statistics and economics. Needless to say, this particular author had no use for terms like standard deviation until Baseball Prospectus 2004 changed the way he looked at his favorite sport. Also, I really wasn't interested in writing until it became clear I could do so about sports, for pay (however meager that pay might have ended up being). I guess the point is, it really bothers me when Sportscenter rushes to marginalize itself in the aftermath of a disaster, when in truth it should only ever marginalize itself for its role in making us all aware of Stuart Scott's lazy eye.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Computers can't teach me about the vagaries of playoff baseball, Pt. 2

Devoted reader and relative master of all things grilling Big C has re-assumed his role as TGWNA contrarian, posting a couple of challenges to The Baseball Preachings of Diesel. I feel compelled to defend/clarify some of my positions, as it's apparent that not all of my parishioners are as comfortable falling into step as others.

In re: Luck and the Playoffs

When I, or any other gambler, uses the term "roll of the dice" (or "crapshoot") it's not meant to imply a 50/50 proposition. There's a reason the house owns the seven roll in craps once a point has been established; it's the most common outcome when rolling two six-sided die. However, there's a wide gulf between saying a certain outcome is the odds-on favorite and saying that outcome is preordained; if the two terms were the same, craps would be a boring (and much more costly) game. Instead, despite knowing that seven is the most common roll, it can still be profitable (in the short term) to bet that another roll will come before a seven does, which is the essence of a craps "Pass" bet (or a "Come," which is just an offset "Pass" bet ... but I digress).

When I use the term "rolling the dice" w/r/t seven-game serieseses, what I mean is that the difference between the "favorite" (let's say they're the seven) and the "underdog" (a "Pass" bet on six) is not great enough for anyone to say what's going to happen on the next roll with any great amount of confidence. Yes, betting on rolling a six makes you a 6-to-5 underdog against a seven, but all that means is that for every five rolls of six, you should roll a seven six times. That still means you roll the six five times, though. This is the essence of a gamble, and provided you're paid according to the true odds you're facing — that is, on a $5 bet, you're paid $6 for rolling a six — you should break even.

The playoffs, ostensibly, are contended between the four best teams in each league. We know that's not always the case, as not all pennant winners are created equally, but for the sake of argument we'll leave it at that. By that definition, the gap between any two combatants in a playoff series isn't that wide; in this offseason's biggest mismatch so far, the D'Backs and the Rockies, the underdog (Arizona) was no worse than a 6.5-5 underdog in any game.

As someone who has spent way too many hours at the craps table in his life, I can attest to the fact that you can go through 30 minutes worth of rolls without ever seeing a seven-out; crazy shit happens when you roll dice. You can also go 30 minutes without ever seeing a "Pass" bet pay off. Neither happens all that often, but those things do happen.

The sweeps we've seen so far in the playoffs are indicative of nothing more magical than the fact that, in short series, it's entirely possible for a team to get on a hot roll and defy odds. And while I think all the series so far have held to form — all the "favorites" have won — the fact that the Sox, D'Backs and Rockies (twice) swept is not an accurate representation of the qualities of the teams involved. If the Rockies and the D'Backs played 100 times, it's probably safe to say the Rockies would have won somewhere between 55 and 60 of those games. However, within those 55 to 60 wins, there would likely be multiple streaks of losses that, if broken down into seven-game segments, would lead one to conclude the D'Backs were the better team if that's the only data allowed through the filter.

Furthermore, "momentum" is great until it's gone. I'm not stubborn enough to think that hot streaks can't build up an individual's confidence, but not enough for it to be a proper predictive force. The Rockies' run in the playoffs is a testament to the fact that crazy shit happens every so often, nothing more. It's also a testament to the fact that baseball officiating has absolutely tanked this season, but that's a rant better delivered by others.

One final point: The Cardinals were, without question, the worst team in the eight-team playoff field last season. They limped into the playoffs, almost blowing a prohibitive division lead down the stretch. Everything that you've mentioned as factors in favor of the Rockies was working against the Birds. And they went ahead and won the World Series anyway. Crazy shit just happens in short serieseses, man.

In re: "Clutch"

About the only argument more exasperating to me than the "clutch hitting" one is the existence of god, and for the same reason. Thirty different people will give you 30 different definitions of god, based on the differences found in various religions and personal credos. This makes it difficult to be an efficient atheist; you often feel like you're shadowboxing, since you're never quite sure what kind of being it is you're arguing against. To top it off, in the midst of an argument, the believer can change his/her belief structure to conveniently invalidate whatever it is you're arguing. This can be enraging.

It's the same with clutch hitting: Ask 30 people what defines a clutch situation, and you're likely to get 30 different sets of conditions. It creates a situation in which a non-believer (me) has difficulty disproving anything, ultimately leading to me resorting to snarky comments about unicorns. It's not really good for anyone.

About the only area in which I'll budge is the idea of a "choke," because it makes enough sense; some players might see a consistent drop in performance in high-pressure situations due to various reasons. I will also say that I think this is a much rarer situation that most make it out to be, if it exists at all. I really can't imagine that scores of major league baseball players have gotten this far without a supreme amount of confidence in their ability, if not an out-and-out desire to take at-bats in those pressure situations. There are so many prospective major league baseball players out there that I can't imagine that personality trait isn't almost completely selected out of the pool. And, I fucking promise, A-Rod is not a choke. He is the best player in baseball who has happened to go through less than a handful of short-term slumps when there was 100+ credentialed media members in attendance.

A strong belief in "clutch hitting," however, sounds a lot to me like believing in an intercessionary deity. People will always remember the dude who prayed for five days straight and woke up cured of cancer, but conveniently forget about the dozens of New Orleans residents who drowned in their attics, praying their doomed asses off. All evidence of clutch hitting is anecdotal, and never put into context. Yes, David Ortiz has hit many game-winning hits, but he's also struck out in those situations plenty of times. In fact, he probably does both at almost exactly the same rates as he does in "non-clutch" situations, whatever the fuck those might be. Isn't it enough to say David Ortiz is awesome all of the time? Do you really need the "clutch" qualifier to buttress his greatness? I think not.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Computers can't teach me about the vagaries of playoff baseball

But Eric Byrnes can! (courtesy of eriz from the excellent [and not as derivative as the name would suggest] Fire Jay Mariotti).

Brynes has decided to thrust himself in front of the cameras repeatedly during this year's postseason, and almost every time has managed to infuriate someone with the relentless stream of bullshit that spews forth from his douchbaggy yap. Yes, I realize that he's actively sought out by reporters, since he's the de facto "clubhouse leader" of the Baby Snakes, and because he's always game for some self-promotional banter. But that doesn't mean he has to oblige every time.

The funny thing is that Byrnes' latest comments are distinctly "new school," and defended by the same "computer geeks" he's mocked on multiple occasions w/r/t run differential and Pythagorean records. We know the playoffs are a total crapshoot, and that a few lucky bounces/breaks will often be the determining factor when two relatively evenly matched teams play a seven-game series. It's not the stat geeks who cite the D'Backs' lack of "clutch hitting," or whatever; that's the announcers and beat writers, who are generally Byrnes' best friends.

As suggested by Big C in an earlier comment, Byrnes probably isn't any different in terms of his perspective on baseball than the vast majority of his colleagues. I get it. Baseball players, taken as a whole, aren't going to win many episodes of Jeopardy! Additionally, the World of Baseball is an extremely insular one, and for the most part completely divorced from reality. Can you imagine another industry that could suffer a 100-plus-person company publicly (and proudly) stating that it has a hiring bias toward Christians? About the only thing Rockies' GM Dan O'Dowd should be thanking god for is the sport's anti-trust exemption.

Anyway ...

If I'm not allowed to be all that indignant over Byrnes' willingness to continue propagating the false nerd-jock dichotomy, then I should at least be able to get in some yelling about the Reds' hiring of Dusty Baker, the mental giant who has managed to destroy more promising baseball careers than the inability to hit a curve ball. I'm not sure that Cincy was "going places," but whatever potential there was for a better-than-marginal improvement over the next couple of seasons has been shot by this incredibly senseless hiring. If you've got Homer Bailey in a keeper league, try and trade him this offseason. And if you're Adam Dunn, go ahead and pack your bags now; there's no way Mr. Clogging the Basepaths is going to have anything to do with your Three True Outcomes ass come next season. (By the way, you might want to suggest to your agent that you've OPSed .990 in PETCO Park the last three years, albeit in a small sample size. Just sayin')

Coupled with the recent hiring of Ed Wade by the Astros and the retention of Brian Sabean by the Giants, it appears that there's still a good number of teams that have no real desire to compete. If Byrnes' comments represent a kind of general antipathy toward critical baseball though on the part of the players — which is understandable — the hiring of Baker represents how institutionalized this kind of prejudice remains.

It can seem, at times, that the statistical analysis community is just tilting at windmills, especially to those who aren't so inclined toward silly-sounding metrics like VORP. But that's really not the case, and I think this year's League Championship Series are proof of that. All four of the teams still playing (I'm writing this before Game 4 of the Rox-D'Backs series) are blessed with front offices that, to varying degrees, use statistical analysis to inform baseball decisions. It's also worth mentioning that, after the Red Sox, none of the three World Series hopefuls are above the median when it comes to total team payroll, which I believe is further proof that the rending of garments over the lack of a salary cap is much ado about nothing. The message is clear: these numbers do mean something, and smart people who like winning baseball games are at least bringing statistical analysis to the table, if not letting it cut the turkey.

Ultimately, though, the success of the intelligent few will only amplify the pain felt by fans of those teams, like the Reds, who appear addicted to failure and the taunting of the fanbase that goes along with it. I can't imagine how I'd feel about baseball if I grew up in Pittsburgh, Cincy or Kansas City. Maybe, after a lifetime's worth of warbling about revenue inequities, I'd buy into the "salary cap as panacea" line. More likely, I would have simply lost interest in baseball at some point, and by this point in my life would be spending a lot more time blogging about soccer. Needless to say, I'm happy I grew up in the heyday of the Blue Jays, and have found in my adopted team an outlook on the sport that lines up well with mine. It's an easy life when the worst manager you've had to deal with on a fan level is Tim Johnson.

For a slightly more optimistic outlook on the Dusty Baker hiring, check out Shyster's take.

Also, Dinosaur Comics is there to remind me that it's not really possible for anything I say to ever actually be "factual" in any meaningful way. *Sigh*

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Speechless


I'm planning on posting more substantive something later tonight, or maybe tomorrow morning, but I just had to put this up, courtesy of Deadspin.

Friday, October 05, 2007

If it weren't for bad things to say, I'd have nothing to say at all

OK, this usually isn't my shtick, but after close to seven hours of execrable baseball tonight, I just have to vent about some things:

• Listen here, former-MVP-and-Subway-flack Ryan Howard: It's 2-2 in the ninth inning of an elimination game, and your team is down one. While I appreciate your patience at the plate, you cannot strike out looking on a pitch like that. It might have been low, and it might have been outside. Probably not on either count. But even if either were the case, you have to protect the plate. I realize that you can't do much with that pitch, but anything's better that taking it and then bitching at the ump about the call (which was correct). Good Lord.

• I realize the blogosphere is already chock-full of this particular line of complaint, but I can't keep it inside anymore: If I ever see Frank Caliendo or Dane Cook in the street, they're going to the hospital. And they're probably losing the use of one or both testes in the process.

• I wrote yesterday that Charlie Manuel should be let go, and I think this series highlights many of the reasons I would offer for justification. He started off the series by starting Shane Victorino over Jason Werth against a lefty (Werth has a +1.000 OPS against southpaws this season). Then, in addition to pulling Kendrick a little too early last night, he brought in Kyle Lohse, who could presumably eat at least a couple of innings in what was promising to be a long game. The only problem, of course, is that the pitcher's spot was coming up in the home half of the inning, and Manuel obviously had no intention of letting the pitcher hit there. That started off a parade of shitty short relievers, when Manuel could have, with a hair of foresight, saved the better and more durable pitcher by sitting tight. Then, finally, he left JC Romero out there tonight to face a righty with runners on first and third in a no-margin-for-error situation with Brett Myers ready to pitch. I'm not saying that Myers wouldn't have given up the game-winning hit, but if Myers is their bullpen ace (and still right-handed), then not going to him there is incomprehensible.

During the game, the broadcasters started rapping about Manuel's job status, and opined that it was crazy that a guy who leads his team to the playoffs (especially with a clutch finish!) could end up not being welcomed back. One of the justifications they offered for a Manuel contract extension, in addition to his single-handedly carrying the Phillies into the playoffs within his generous maw, is that the players liked his laid-back attitude. This is proof both that broadcasters are incapable of divining causality and that players are horrible judges of managerial quality. My favorite teachers as a child were the ones who never assigned homework, took a decidedly post-modern view of the veracity of answers on tests, and in retrospect probably smoked enough pot during lunch breaks to cure glaucoma. However, these were not the teachers that fostered the MENSA-level genius you see on display right now. Believe it or not, it's possible to be well-liked and adequate at your job at the same time.

• Someone give me one good reason Pinella started Jason Kendall in an elimination game. Or any game at all.

• It is no secret, within my group of friends, that I hate Eric Byrnes. Not all of it is justified; I always end up hating overrated players, even though I know it's not really their fault. But the mere presence of Byrnes on my TV screen makes me want to commit seppuku. He's a douche. And he's also an idiot:

Asked what he thinks when people start spouting terms like "run differential," Byrnes chuckled: "I laugh. I just laugh. Because it doesn't really apply to what this team is. It doesn't apply to winning baseball.

"I mean, I don't blame the number-crunchers, the computer geeks, for not being able to come up with a formula for how we got here. But there's a lot more that goes into sports than numbers."


Byrnes, a former Athletic, should know better than to say stupid shit like that. He could have just left it at, "Sometimes things happen," or, "Sometimes the numbers don't tell the whole story." Instead, he decides to give everyone a lecture on "winning baseball," and uses the term "computer geeks" with all the glee of a Los Angeles Times sports columnist.

Eric, exactly seven teams in the modern history of the motherfucking sport have made the playoffs with negative run differentials. Seven! The 2007 D'Backs are a statistical outlier of the first order. It's possible to lose weight on a 4,000-calorie diet, but the vast majority of the time, eating that much is going to make you look like Ralph Mangino. Likewise, not scoring more runs than the opposition over the course of the season means that you're almost certainly going to lose more games than you win. So, take satisfaction in the fact that you've now had champagne poured on your douchebaggy, luck-bucket head twice, and leave the thinking to people who consider it abnormal to dress in tights on a daily basis.

And, if you really think you can pull off this feat — winning the division with a negative run differential — again next season, then I will be willing to bet you your entire, undeserved salary. I am positive that I can get backers.

• Bob Melvin is one of two current managers — the other being Manny Acta — that I would consider to manage my team if I were a GM. He's the best in the game at handling a pitching staff (particularly when it comes to understanding leverage), he obviously communicates well with his players, and he gave his young guys enough rope this year when it was probably tempting to give at-bats to veterans. But I just can't, for the life of me, understand why it is that he insists on shoehorning guys like Chris Young and Stephen Drew into the top of the lineup. I know it's "working," and that lineup construction ultimately isn't all that important to run production. But the playoffs have a way of magnifying managerial decisions that aren't all that important in the regular season, and it would be a shame for Melvin to jeopardize his team's shot at a title by giving a guy with a sub-.300 and a 25-percent strikeout rate the most plate appearances on the team in the post-season. As for Drew, I guess if he keeps hitting like this, he can bat wherever the fuck he wants. But I wouldn't bet on him keeping this up.

• Delightful nugget for former (or current) Star staffers: Nothing has changed with our old buddy Terrence Moore. From aarongleeman.com:

I've always been under the impression that most major newspapers have editors and fact-checkers, but perhaps that's no longer the case. In a column that ran in the Atlanta Journal Constitution earlier this week, Terence Moore criticized the Braves for letting Andruw Jones leave via free agency and wrote the following:
He is the hidden reason the Braves produced Cy Glavine, Cy Smoltz and Cy Maddux, along with all of those consecutive years of team ERAs that ranked first or second in baseball. He caught everything. He threw out everybody. He made the spectacular routine. He did so through an 11th year with the Braves that will produce a 10th Gold Glove, but management will shove Jones out the door by allowing him to become a free agent while yawning.
Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Greg Maddux combined to win six Cy Youngs with the Braves, but only one came with Jones in center field. In fact, when Glavine won the first of those six awards in 1991, Jones was 14 years old. Moore calls Jones "the hidden reason" behind the Cy Youngs, but he was at Single-A when Maddux won the award in 1993, 1994, and 1995. Also, Jones' MLB debut came 120 games into the 1996 season, yet the Braves led the NL in ERA in 1992, 1993, 1995, and 1996.

Occam at the bat

In retrospect, I can't believe that I planned a week-long trip to Montreal — Je me souviens, my brothers! — so as it would completely occlude the last week of the baseball season. At least the food made it worthwhile.

Now that I'm back, I'm catching up on the flood of baseball writing that springs forth from the outsized loins of our nation's scribes, and I have to say that it's not disappointing in the least. For every well-informed commentary piece, there are five that make my brain hurt. And while most people gravitate toward the non-stop deluge of half-witted prediction assemblages that rarely do more than regurgitate the same meaningless "September stats," tales of debuting veterans and discussions of the importance of "grit" and "postseason experience," I find myself more attracted to the postmortem pieces.

Folks, these gems are early Christmas presents.

I won't bother singling any out, as all of them are eligible for a full FJM-ing. They speak to absurdities and imaginary variables and use words like "complacency" and "apathy." (and those are just the ones about the Mets!) They lord over dumb statistics, revisit unfortunate circumstances as if there were some kind of twisted providence at play, and second-guess even the most mundane decisions made by managers and G.M.s. They use the words "choke" and "clutch" more than a Car and Driver feature from the 70s. And, worst of all, they fall back on fifth-grade metaphors that serve only to further convince people that baseball writers don't realize that we're in the era of free agency. Quoth Buster Onley, on the penultimate day of the season:

And now the NL races could be completely settled today, in just under 24 hours, unless the Mets can somehow exorcise the demons of failure that seem to possess them.

I mean, good fucking lord!

It's a product of human nature to grasp for patterns within chaos, to search for logic in apparent randomness. To that extent, one must provide some allowance for the kind of hyperbole we're bound to be drowned in at the conclusion of a baseball season. But the problem doesn't lie in talking heads grasping for explanations, it's only in the explanations they choose to put forth.

Baseball seems to be an especially rich breeding ground for bullshit explanations. It's got curses and ghosts in stadiums. It's got the nonexistent wars between small-ball and Weaver-ball, and scouts vs. statheads. It's got crafty veterans and hustling (and always white) hustlers of hustily hustle. It's a game that supposedly participates in active ageism, until a young team like the Marlins come along and win the World Series, and writers talk about the power of "energy in the clubhouse."

I realize that some people think this kind of stuff supplies the yarn for the wonderful tapestry of the game's oral history, or something, but it's all bullshit. Almost always, you can break things down neatly if you're willing to simply willing to accept one essential maxim: Unpredictable things happen in events governed by human beings, the most unpredictable creatures on the planet.

William of Occam would have a field day with the New York Post's fetid stream of hyperbole recently, not to mention The Godfather's confused and confusing kneejerk postmortem on the Padres. Most certainly, he would have guffawed at bombastic moron TJ Simers' absolutely inane explanation as to how the Dodgers' best players — who happen to be the team's youngest players — are the real problem in the clubhouse, as opposed to the overpaid and whiny veterans who gorged themselves on at-bats they didn't deserve.

In all of these cases, the real answers are self-evident and self-evidently boring. The Mets, a team with a dearth of good pitchers and a lot of old (and, thusly, prone to rapid decline) bats, ended up winning 88 games, which is about right for a team with that profile. That the Amazins suffered a 5-12 skid to conclude the season is simply a matter of timing, not of some lack of clutchiness or presence of a sinister vapor. If the Mets went 5-12 in July, they certainly would not have been accused of a "collapse," but of a second-place finish that is disappointing only to those who believe that Carlos Delgado is still 27. The Padres, simply, were an 89-win team, which was good enough for a Wild Card tie. Unfortunately for the Friars, one-game playoffs without the contributions of 2/3 of your starting outfield are a harsh way to sum up a entire season. And the Dodgers simply mismanaged assets, wasting at-bats on washed-up veterans while one of the most talented groups of young players in the NL sat on the bench or in the minors wondering exactly who they needed to blow to get a full-time shot in the bigs.

I realize that I could be wrong, and that the Mets' finish could be attributed to some kind of clubhouse "complacency." But I would bet dollars to donuts that if the Mets had managed to reduce the impact of the slide, or if the Phillies hadn't finished as they did, sports writers would have feted the team (and the almost-fired Willie Randolph) for "not panicking." I guess the people within baseball are comfortable with the knowledge that this is how things are, but it's still disappointing to me that most people actually believe the only-in-hindsight "analysis." Listen, if you think Ned Yost should be fired because he's, tactically speaking, one of the dumbest skippers in the game, then fine. But if you think he should be fired because his team "choked," then you're nothing more than a reactive idiot. To take it a step further, Charlie Manuel should still be fired after this season, because he too is an idiot (quick: have you ever seen George W. Bush and Charlie Manuel in the same room at the same time? Didn't think so!). But one man could very well lose his job, while the other will probably get a contract extension, purely because of the vagaries of a baseball season and bad luck. And that just make me, and my boy William, die a little inside.

Briefly ...

Philly sports picked a bad time to get interesting. I'm currently mired in new-grad-program work and cocktail parties, just started a new volunteer gig, and have been writing until 4 a.m. on the regular, so I haven't had time to write a couple of posts I would really like to. So instead, I'll give you the briefest possible gists of those theoretical posts:

1. Rumors are swirling that Andy Reid might step down as soon as tomorrow. The generally in-the-know A.J. Daulerio wrote that, and Mike and the Mad Dog supposedly mentioned it on WFAN today. The bye week is here, his team is bad, and his family is imploding. I would not be surprised.

I don't want to gravedance on the man, because he did resurrect this franchise, and for the simple fact that they've been relevant under him I am eternally grateful. But the writing is on the wall, and has been for a while. The 2004 team was the ultimate Andy Reid/Jim Johnson squad, and even it couldn't win a title. His philosophy has begun to tarnish. The league has figured him out. And, really, it's not hard. If Sunday's debacle in the Meadowlands winds up being Reid's last game, these stats are fitting:

Running plays called: 19. Buckhalter had 103 yards on 17 carries.
Passing plays called: 35. That includes 12 sacks, four scrambles (for a total of 4 yards), one fumble returned for a TD, and 15 completed passes. After calling 65% passes for the entire game, they had 76 net passing yards and zero touchdowns. And they lost to their division rivals to fall to 1-3.

For those of you who would argue that I'm letting McNabb off the hook, Donovan McNabb didn't decide not to move a tight end over to help Winston Justice, despite the fact that he gave up six sacks and innumerable hurries, and was obviously overmatched. McNabb didn't have a second all game. And yet they kept on throwing. I've never seen anything like it. Actually, yes I have -- two dozen times in the last three years. Enough.

2. The Phillies are facing a sweep. So much to say here. Jimmy Rollins is doing as much as one man can to carry this team. Chase Utley has done exactly the opposite, in one of the bigger postseason choke jobs I can remember. Manuel should not have pulled Kendrick. Now even if they manage a win Saturday, they have to start someone on short rest for the next game.

All of that said, I still believe the Phillies can win this series. I'm not saying they will, and I admit I'm a homer. But they don't hit lefties well, and now they don't have to face one unless there's a fifth game. Jamie Moyer is exactly the kind of pitcher who can stymie young teams like the Rockies. And it wasn't long ago these Phils won seven straight against a much better team than the Rockies -- the Mets -- to make it where they are.

Only one team -- the '01 Yankees -- out of 21 has ever come back from 0-2 to win an LDS. (Before some chowd blows his stack, the Red Sox did it in a seven-game series.) So I'm saying there's a chance.