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Monthly Archives: May 2011

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Won't Be Televised

Gil Scott Heron is dead at 62. He was an influential musician, especially in the Hip Hop world. He was also a junkie. Alec Wilkinson did a long piece on Heron in the New Yorker last year.

Saturday Soul

Seems like summer…



On a night where the Yanks had a 3-0 lead against a hot young pitcher, A.J. Burnett could not give the team any length. Burnett gave up two runs but went only five innings. The Mariners scored two more in the sixth against Luis Ayala and that was enough. Eduardo Nunez was picked off of second base in the eighth inning, the Yankees’ best chance to tie the game.

A dispiriting late night loss, 4-3. What’s worse is that Felix Hernandez goes for the Mariner’s tonight.


[Photo Credit: Ted S Warren/AP, drawing by Rich Lee]

Friday Night Fun

Yanks out in Seattle tonight to face Ichiro and the M’s.

Cliff has the preview; we stay up late and root:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo by Manny Pencils via Flip Flop Fly Ball]

I'm Only Sleeping

There’s a fun gallery of sports fans sleeping over at SI.com. Check it out.

Police and Theives

So it looks as if Howard Byrant was messed with, after all.

From Glenn Stout:

Earlier this morning my friend and colleague Howard Bryant was exonerated of criminal charges stemming from an incident in late February in Buckland, Massachusetts that resulted in his arrest and being charged with domestic assault and battery, assault and battery on a police officer and resisting arrest. To be absolutely clear, the statement released earlier today and signed by both Bryant’s attorney and Jeremy C. Bucci, Chief Trial Counsel of the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office in Greenfield, Massachusetts, reads in part:

“A careful review of all of the statements of percipient witnesses that have been collected do not support allegations that Mr. Bryant struck, choked, pinned against a car or committed any other act of violence against Mrs. Bryant. [emphasis mine] ”

In other words, the prosecutor’s office admits that there is no evidence that Bryant committed a crime, a level of vindication far stronger than a trial finding of “not guilty.” Similarly, neither is the district attorney prosecuting Bryant for either assault and battery on a police officer or resisting arrest. While the negotiated statement contains the usual pap that allows the district attorney’s office to save face politically, Bryant’s vindication is complete and undeniable. He has not “plea bargained” his way to a lesser charge; he is innocent.

Bryant has agreed to serve six months probation for “pretrail probation”, according to Masslive.com:

An agreement signed by Eisenberg and prosecutor Jeremy C. Bucci states that a review of the evidence does not support the witness allegations that Bryant struck and choked his wife or inflicted violence on her, although Bryant admits police had probable cause to arrest him. The agreement also expressed Bryant’s regrets that a private matter became public and offired his support for measures to combat domestic violence.

“Furthermore, Mr. Bryant recognizes and respects the importance of encouraging citizens to call the police when they witness conduct they feel is violent and continues to encourage such community participation as a vital part of a free and just society,” the agreement states.

Bryant also apologized for giving the impression that race played a part in the actions of police, although the agreement states that he “believes that racism in any form diminishes all members of a community.”

Bryant is cleared of the spousal abuse charges by the authorities but he also is slapped on the wrist. Sounds a lot like a D.A. trying to save face.

I am pleased for Bryant, who is a friend, but can’t shake my anger that this happened in first place. In some ways, Bryant has benefited professionally because of his race. He is a good writer and fine reporter who is also black and I’m sure ESPN and SI bid against each other because of that. But as this incident is a reminds us, being black in America still means walking around with a target on your back.

Well Informed and Open Minded

Over at New York Magazine, Joe DeLessio talks to David Cone:

One of the things I appreciate about your work on YES is that you seem comfortable talking about advanced statistics. Is that something you were into during your playing days, or is that something you got into once you stopped playing?

You know, it’s something I got into more when I stopped playing. I’m a little jealous that I didn’t have this sort of data when I was playing. We just kind of relied on written scouting reports through the eighties and even the early nineties. I’ve really been amazed by some of the data that’s out there, especially with regards to tendencies of hitters, and certainly tendencies of pitchers as well. I would have loved to have gotten that data when I played.

Are there certain sites or columnists that you particularly like?

Yeah, I’m a big fan of Fangraphs.com and Dave Cameron. I love reading some of his stuff. Baseball-Reference.com is a tremendous resource, as well. There’s several out there, but my go-to is probably Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.com. I love Fangraphs and the mountains of data you can get there, especially with hitters’ tendencies and what percentage of pitches they chase outside the strike zone. Across the board, when balls are put in play — you know exactly which guys are groundball hitters, certain tendencies. Some of the defensive metrics are pretty interesting, too, although it’s probably a little bit controversial still. But interesting nonetheless.

Excellent stuff from Cone who is the best color guy in town.

Taster's Cherce

The good people at Food 52 have some Memorial Day cookout ideas…one time for your mind (two times for your face).

The New Englandah Burgah

Dig it!

Morning Art

“For Juan Gris #7” By Joseph Cornell (1954)

Beat of the Day

Brother From Another Planet

From Jeffrey Toobin’s excellent Fred Wilpon profile in the current issue of The New Yorker:

Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz were in their conference room, in Rockefeller Center, talking baseball, continuing a conversation that has gone on for about fifty years. The subject was Mariano Rivera, the Yankees’ great closer, who owes his success to a single pitch, the cut fastball.

“One pitch,” Wilpon said.

“I don’t get that,” Katz replied.

“What do you mean?” Wilpon answered. “You can’t hit that pitch.”

“But they know it’s coming.”

“Still can’t hit it.”

“I don’t get it.”

Wilpon took out a baseball—there is often one within reach—and demonstrated how Rivera grips the ball. (“I don’t claim to know everything about baseball,” Wilpon said to me at one point. “But I do know pitching.”) Wilpon demonstrated how the ball rolled off Rivera’s fingers. “It can break either way,” he said.

“Still don’t get it,” Katz replied.

The beauty part is that it doesn’t make any practical sense. It’s a beautiful mystery, another reminder that sports are closer to art than science.

Thanks to RI Yank, we were hipped to a piece of analysis by David Pinto the other day:

Mariano uses one pitch, a cut fastball thrown between 90 and 94 miles per hour. There’s nothing soft, no off speed pitch to fool the batters. The cutter does it well all by itself.

Rivera induces swings. Batters swung at 49.4 percent of his pitches, which puts him in the 94th percentile among all pitchers in the majors in that time. Look at what they are swinging at, however. Batters swing at 38% of the pitches that should be called balls. That is the 100th percentile, the best in the majors. Rivera gets batters to see balls as strikes, and swing at them. In general, batters tend to get worse results when they swing at balls.

That’s not the only effect of the cutter, however. Of the pitches batters take, 36.1% of them are strikes. That may not seem like much, but the major league average is 31.8%, and Rivera’s number ranks in the 95th percentile. Not only is Mariano great at getting batters to swing at balls, he’s almost as good at getting them to take strikes.

And he does it all with one pitch.

Rivera’s one pitch is a daydream fantasy about sustained pleasure. There will never be another one like him. Not only because of the results but because how he gets them.

Boys Will Be Creeps

Over at SI.com, here’s Richard Deitsch on the new ESPN book:

Over the past 36 months, as he immersed himself in the nation-state otherwise known as ESPN, James Andrew Miller became admittedly obsessed with his subject. Charged with writing a book on one of the great media success stories of all time, Miller found himself struggling to condense a tale of empire building, fierce rivalries, sex and drugs, and self-reverence. He had enough information for multiple books after interviews with more than 550 subjects. The hardest part, he knew, was letting some of it go.

Ultimately, his tome, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, clocked in at a robust 763 pages, an oral history of how the network morphed from a muddy landfill in Bristol, Conn., to a broadcasting behemoth that airs roughly 70,000 hours of programming annually, can be seen in 200 countries and employs more than 6,000 staffers.

“They are very good at controlling the message,” Miller said of ESPN. “But at the same time, nobody has covered them the way they cover the Cowboys.”

Be sure to check out Deitsch’s podcast with Miller, embedded in the article.

Also, for more on the book, here’s a review in the L.A. Times.

Shall We Dance?

Heat v Bulls, Game 5. The Heat are one win away from a date with Dirk and company in the Finals.

Paul Splittorff Passes Away

Here is Joe Pos on Paul Splittorff who died yesterday:

Paul Splittorff, more than anybody I have ever known, refused to live in the past. He had a wonderful past to live in. He won 166 games as a pitcher in the big leagues — he still holds the Royals record for most pitching victories and will own it for years to come. He twice beat the Yankees in the playoffs, enough to be called a “Yankee Killer” for a time (though, as he would say, he had a losing record against the Yankees). He pitched in the World Series. He struck out Reggie Jackson 23 times in his life. Carl Yastrzemski, Al Kaline, Henry Aaron, Billy Williams and Frank Robinson hit a combined .146 against him. He never said much about any of that. He did mention, now and again, that Dick Allen owned him. But only if you asked.

The point is that he had a full life to relive. If that was my life, I would bore people to tears with the stories. Here’s what Paul Splittorff did in the second part of his life: He broadcast sports. He called high school sports. He called college sports. And he called the Kansas City Royals. He worked on his rhythms. He worked on the silences too. He eliminated the stutters, the hesitations, the ums and ers that pepper talk for the rest of us. He became exactly what he was as a pitcher: A professional. That was important to him. Splitt never wanted anything given to him. He could not tolerate the thought that he was an ex-ballplayer in the booth. That word, “ex,” was an abomination to him. He never wanted to be seen as an “ex” anything. If you were living as an ex, you were not living in real time.

Sad news, indeed. Sounds like Splittorff was a good man.

Beat of the Day

The Teacher in his Prime.

Say Hey


From Ali to Xena: 5


By John Schulian

My parents were devoted newspaper readers. They subscribed to two newspapers everywhere we went. In L.A., it was the Times in the morning and Hearst’s Herald Express in the afternoon. When I was 11, I started delivering the Herald: 77 copies Monday through Saturday from, if I recall correctly, 75th Street and Florence Avenue, between Crenshaw Boulevard and 8th Avenue, in Inglewood. I can’t tell how many stories about pachuco gang fights in East L.A. I hurled onto lawns with my trusty right arm. It was the same stuff I read about when I was home. I was a monkey-see, monkey-do kid, so, following my parents’ lead in my own particular way, I’d spread the paper on the living room floor and scan everything that was in it, right down to Sam Balter’s sports column and the ads for a downtown burlesque house that booked big-time strippers like Lili St. Cyr. I was aware of the bald-headed row long before I knew about “Macbeth.”

Although I mentioned Sam Balter, I’m not sure any of the L.A. sportswriters really registered on me when I was a kid. I remember Balter mainly because he was an ex-USC basketball player who played in the Hitler Olympics and broadcast the Trojans’ games. He certainly wasn’t a great prose stylist. In the Fifties, the brightest lights in L.A. sportswriting were Maxwell Stiles at the liberal Mirror and Morton Moss at the Examiner, Hearst’s morning paper. When I’ve had reason to go back and look at the Times from that era, it had a truly dreadful sports section. Jim Murray didn’t start writing for it until after we moved to Salt Lake. Bad timing on our part, because he took the sportswriting world by storm.

There were books in our house, too, of course, even though neither of my parents had made it past the eighth grade. They were from families where work came before education, and yet they made it perfectly clear that I was going to get the kind of education they never had a chance for. I have a hazy memory of my mother reading me “Treasure Island” and “Robinson Crusoe” and “Swiss Family Robinson,” and then handing me the books to see how well I could read from them. That’s probably why all these years later, I never go anywhere without a book. It probably helped, too, that I walked past a small public library to and from my way to Lutheran school. When I started going nuts about baseball, I would check out player biographies and histories of the game. One day I marched up to the checkout desk with “The Hank Sauer Story”–he presumably merited hard-cover immortalization because he was the National League’s 1952 MVP–and the librarian gave me the thrill of my young life. She said Hank lived on the same block she did. How great was that? But I never asked if she would introduce me or get me an autograph. I never hopped on my bike and tried to track old Hank down. I was going to get the kind of education that had eluded them.

It becomes more and more clear to me how much I lived in a world of my own design when I was a kid. The one year I was in junior high in L.A., I read 100 books in addition to whatever I had to read for class. Lots of Hardy Boys mysteries, lots of John R. Tunis, which was predictable for that time, but also lots of Duane Decker, who wrote about a fictional team called the Blue Sox, with Marty (Beef Trust) Blake at first base and the octopus-armed Patsy Bates (a guy, definitely a guy) at shortstop. I’m sure I read a pile of sports bios, too, you know, so I’d know the right thing to say when I was a big-league star who had his own biographer. I did a lot of dreaming like that, particularly when I was out on my paper route, riding my bike up and down those streets.

The first serious author I read-–Updike doesn’t count because “Rabbit, Run” was so far over my head-–was J.D. Salinger. No surprise there unless you consider the fact that I fancied myself more jock than anything else when I discovered him in my junior year of high school. Some seniors on the football team turned me on to “Catcher in the Rye” and I became a fan for life. The guys who told me I should read Salinger were an interesting group: one was the son of one of my future professors at Utah, another was the son of a sports columnist at the afternoon paper in Salt Lake, and I’ll be damned if I can tell you what the third kid’s father did, although he may have been an academic, too. What these guys were telling me and another friend who fell under their spell was that it was okay to nurture an intellectual streak and play sports, too. It was certainly a message no high school coach I played for was ever going to deliver.

As far as finding newspaper writers in Salt Lake who inspired me, fat chance. There were two editors from the Salt Lake Tribune who moved on to have splendid careers, Bob Ottum as a very stylish writer of skiing and auto racing at Sports Illustrated and Hays Gorey as a Washington correspondent for Time. (I went to high school with Gorey’s son, who always seemed incredibly grounded and preternaturally mature.) But I don’t think I ever saw their bylines in the Trib. And the sportswriters at the Trib and the Mormon Church-owned Deseret News were primarily living, breathing examples of how not to practice your craft. Once in a while, the Trib ran a Jim Murray column, but more often it relied on Arthur Daley, the New York Times snoremonger, for an out-of-town voice. That should tell you all you need to know about local tastes.

Jim Murray

When I was in college, I interviewed with the editor of the Tribune, a sallow, pinch-faced gentleman who looked like a good laugh might kill him. He asked me what I wanted to do in the business and I told him I wanted to be a syndicated sports columnist. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, I knew that I was a dead man in his eyes. In Salt Lake’s newspapers, you dreamed of life beyond the city limits at your own peril.

Click here for the full “From Ali to Xena” archive.

Color by Numbers: Too Much of a Good Thing?

How many times when you were growing up did your parents tell you not to eat too much ice cream? You’ll spoil your appetite, or maybe even get sick, they warned. After all, too much of even a good thing can be bad, they reasoned. Did you believe them? Neither did I.

Apparently, home runs are baseball’s version of ice cream because the conventional wisdom of late has suggested that hitting too many is a bad thing. From broadcasters to beat writers to even the players who knock them out of the park, a common lament about the Yankees’ offense has been it relies too heavily upon the home run. According to those “in the know”, more runs would be scored in the Bronx if the Yankees did less bombing and more bunting, or something along those lines. Although such a philosophy seems inherently illogical, many around the game still espouse it, so let examine the main arguments more closely.

The easiest way to test whether too many home runs can be a drag on run production is to determine the correlation between the two statistics. Over the last decade, the Yankees have exhibited a mild, but meaningful positive link between homers and runs, while all of baseball has experienced an even stronger relationship between balls leaving the park and runners crossing the plate. Of course, every statistician will tell you that correlation doesn’t mean causation, but at the very least, there is good reason to suspect that home runs inflate, not depress, the amount of runs scored.

Correlation Between Runs and HRs, Yankees and MLB, 2001-2010

Yankees R/G HRs MLB R/G HRs
2010 5.302 201 2010 4.380 4613
2009 5.648 244 2009 4.610 5042
2008 4.870 180 2008 4.650 4878
2007 5.975 201 2007 4.800 4957
2006 5.741 210 2006 4.860 5386
2005 5.469 229 2005 4.590 5017
2004 5.537 242 2004 4.810 5451
2003 5.380 230 2003 4.730 5207
2002 5.571 223 2002 4.620 5059
2001 4.990 203 2001 4.780 5458
R= 0.4434 R= 0.8244

Note: R is the correlation coefficient, which ranges from -1 to +1. A score of 0 implies no relationship, while scores approaching each parameter imply an increasingly meaningful direct (positive) or inverse (negative) relationship.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

To be fair, most people who would prefer to see the Yankees score via small ball or timely base hits fret more about the percentage of runs scored via the homer than the actual number of home runs. According to the theory, scoring a disproportionate number of runs with muscle leads to an overreliance on the home run, which furthers results in an unsustainable offensive approach. Once again, we can test this argument by determining the relationship between total runs scored and the percentage of tallies plated by the homer.

Percentage of Runs Scored Via the HR, Yankees and MLB, 2001-2011

Source: Baseball-reference.com

As you can see from the chart above, the percentage of runs scoring on a home run in baseball has steadily decreased over the past decade. However, the Yankees’ rate has seemed to fluctuate without any noticeable relationship to runs scored. In fact, the year the Yankees scored their highest run total in this span was also when they recorded the lowest percentage of runs scored via the home run. Because of this randomness, we can’t definitively determine a link between total runs scored and those coming on homer, at least not for the Yankees. Using aggregate team data for all of baseball, however, reveals a strong positive correlation between total runs scored and the number crossing the plate via the homerun. Why doesn’t this relationship hold for the Bronx Bombers? Perhaps that’s a post for another day.

Correlation Between Total Runs and Runs via the HR, MLB, 2001-2011

Year R/G %R from HR
2011 4.17 32.3%
2010 4.38 34.4%
2009 4.61 35.5%
2008 4.65 34.5%
2007 4.8 34.2%
2006 4.86 36.1%
2005 4.59 36.2%
2004 4.81 37.0%
2003 4.73 35.9%
2002 4.62 35.8%
2001 4.78 36.8%
R= 0.7507

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Correlation Between Yankees’ Run Total Relative to MLB and Runs Scored via the HR, 2001-2011

Year vs. MLB R/G %R from HR
2011 130.7% 49.4%
2010 127.2% 38.2%
2009 128.9% 41.0%
2008 108.9% 35.7%
2007 131.3% 34.3%
2006 124.1% 39.0%
2005 125.0% 44.0%
2004 120.5% 43.4%
2003 119.1% 41.8%
2002 127.0% 41.2%
2001 108.6% 40.2%
R= 0.2397

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Based on the data presented above, there really is no reason to believe that too many home runs are hampering the Yankees’ offense. But, what about the often repeated argument that even if an overabundance of homers doesn’t limit run production in the regular season, it will eventually catch up to the Yankees when they face better pitching in the playoffs? Is it really more difficult to score runs with a home run when facing an elite pitcher? If so, the Yankees might be better off trying to manufacturing runs so they’ll be better prepared to win in October.

Percentage of Runs Allowed on Homers by Ace Pitchers, 2010

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The list above is composed of each league’s 10 best pitchers in 2010 (based on WAR) along with the percentage of runs they allowed via the home run. From Josh Johnson at 17.6% to Johan Santana at 46.3%, there is a wide range of rates, suggesting that ace pitchers are not unanimously averse to being touched up by a long ball. In fact, the accumulated totals of the top-10 in each league are pretty much in line with each respective league average.

We’ve shown that home runs and runs scored via homers have a positive correlation to total offensive production. In addition, evidence from 2010 suggests that ace pitchers are not immune to being scored upon via the long ball. In other words, there really is no such thing as too much of a good thing, at least when it comes to home runs. Nonetheless, no analysis, regardless of how thorough, is likely to dispel what has become a very popular misconception. So, instead of trying to convert the remaining holdouts, I say let them eat cake…and save the ice cream for the rest of us.

Morning Art

Check out this collection of pictures by Mona Kuhn:

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver