The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

Manufacturing runs

Cubs-Phillies, top 3, two outs. Ryan Theriot singles and then steals second on a super-late throw. Starlin Castro then proceeds to hit a forty-hopper right to third baseman Placido Polanco, who slaps it into the outfield for an error, and allows Theriot to score.

According to Len Kasper, that’s what manufacturing a run is: getting on base and then coming home on an error. Fucking work on that, guys.

May 19th, 2010 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

So I wrote this thing

It’s pretty political, so it’s not the sort of thing I’d normally feature here, but I worked on it all fucking day and it’s pretty funny. So I’m linking it anyhow. Don’t click here if you hate America.

Also it features a few modified (and greatly enlarged, to my ceaseless amusement) images from my upcoming video game. So, hey, sneak preview!

May 18th, 2010 Posted by | Bullshit | no comments

New York is Very Pressure-y

I know this because sportswriters won’t ever stop telling me about it. Today’s entry in the "Javier Vazquez just can’t handle the pressure-y-ness of New York" category comes courtesy of Jeff Passan.

Yo slick, blow:

It was supposed to be different because he was supposed to be different. Ed Whitson and Kenny Rogers and Carl Pavano never could come back to New York again. They hated the city and the city hated them, a relationship of mutual revulsion. Javier Vazquez, though? Well, Yankees fans slaughtered their figurative fatted calves upon his return this offseason.

Alternative theory: Ed Whitson wasn’t very good to the tune of only 20 career WAR (more than half of them earned in two highly peculiar years in San Diego). Carl Pavano wasn’t — and isn’t — very good, to the tune of 9.9 career WAR (more than half of them in one career year with Florida), and the Yankees paid him $40M to pitch 145 innings once already. Kenny Rogers was considerably better, but notoriously inconsistent — probably because his pitching ability varied according to how much cheating he was getting away with at any given time.

Javier Vazquez, however, has been legitimately good. In his ten-year career, he’s amassed more WAR than Pavano and Whitson combined, and he’s had several 5+ WAR seasons spread throughout, including last year, when he finished fourth in Cy Young balloting. So, I mean, those are also ways in which Vazquez’s situation is different.

But you’re probably right. I’m sure it’s voodoo hexes the city put on him because it hates him. Or whatever it is you said.

Prodigal, unfortunately, he ain’t. The same Vazquez who toiled in mediocrity six years ago for the Yankees is back, and so as the biggest week of their season yet dawned, Yankees manager Joe Girardi for the second time this season said he was skipping Vazquez in the rotation.

Well, yeah, because he’s inconsistent. That’s what inconsistent pitchers do: they’re good one year and crap the next. Here are Vazquez’s last six years, in order, by ERA+: 92, 101, 98, 126, 98, 143. Up, down, up, down, up. This seems to indicate that a "down" was in order.

No Javy in the two games against Boston. He will park his 8.10 earned-run average on the bench for the team’s first two games against its biggest threat, first-place Tampa Bay, too. Girardi will call upon him for the first game of the Yankees’ interleague series against the New York Mets. Perhaps a different borough – and a National League opponent – will treat him better.

It probably will, since the Mets are awful and the Rays are the best team in baseball. Or maybe you’re right — it’ll be, you know, that some part of New York doesn’t hate him, I guess.

Because until he proves otherwise, the prevailing thought – the Pinstripes are a pox on Vazquez – is as apropos as it was for the handful of other pitchers allergic to New York.

Yeah, I’ll agree with that: it’s exactly as likely that Vazquez’s troubles are the result of a New York hoodoo hex as it was for Pavano, Whitson, and Rogers. And, what, no love for Randy Johnson? Another pitcher who couldn’t take the hot hot heat of the New York heatness!

The psychological often manifests itself physically, and for every time Vazquez pronounces his arm fine, the question arises: What, then, is causing the 2-mph dip in fastball velocity?

Well, he’s 34 years old. That’s something, innit? Pitchers don’t usually start throwing harder in their mid-thirties. Also, maybe his arm isn’t really fine and he’s lying. Pitchers do that.

Pitching takes brain and body working in concert, and Vazquez’s are working like a ukulele and didgeridoo.

That’s the worst metaphor I’ve ever heard.

Vazquez’s hallmark, dynamite command, has disappeared. In 30 innings, he has walked 17. Last season, in 219 1/3 innings with Atlanta, he walked 44.

Aha! So it’s not ghosts and curses and ukeleles and Carl Pavano after all. It’s just… walks. Yeah, walks will kick your ass, and his 5.1 BB/9 is really really bad. But the key you have expressed yourself: it’s only 30 IP. That ain’t much.

Vazquez has allowed 37 hits, eight of them home runs.

Pitchers have almost no control over how many hits they give up on balls in play. It’s true. That’s mainly a function of defense — and the Yankees are bad at that, whereas last year’s Braves were pretty good. As for the homers, well, I see here that Vazquez’ HR/FB% is about twice his career average, which may be luck, or also may be that short porch in New Yankee Stadium kicking his ass. I also see that he’s allowing more fly balls, though, which is definitely cause for concern.

What I don’t see in that chart is: an increase in his Black Magick Over Replacement Player stat.

Among current starters, not one has a worse opponent OPS than Vazquez’s .962, and that’s after his most recent start, a seven-inning, two-run step in the right direction.

Jeff Francis pitches seven and gives up one run, and it’s heartwarming and worthy of a standing ovation. Javier Vazquez pitches seven and gives up two runs, and it’s a "step in the right direction." I dunno, Jeff; seems like 7 IP and 2 ER is pretty fucking good to me. That gives you an ERA of, what, 2.6 or so? I’d take that.

Girardi is giving Vazquez nine days to think about how he can turn his last start into something sustained.

Does this make sense? Does this make sense to anyone ever? I’d say that the best way to turn his last start into something sustained would be by not benching him for nine days. What the fuck is that?

So what else is going on around the league, Jeff? Anything besides the Big Curse of Apples fucking with Vazquez’s walk rate?

Ichiro is 36, and perhaps because he’s buried in the Pacific Northwest, or perhaps because his team has devolved into stories about Milton Bradley’s mental issues and Ken Griffey Jr.’s narcolepsy, we do not properly appreciate him.

We don’t properly appreciate Ichiro? What? This man has been an All-Star every single year of his career, won a Rookie of the Year, won an MVP, and has received MVP votes every year but one. This is a man who has led the league in IBB three times despite a career XBH% of only 5.8%. He broke George Sisler’s hits-in-a-season record, and, unlike when several American players have tied Sadaharu Oh’s home run record, our pitchers didn’t just stop fucking pitching to him. Ichiro Suzuki is probably the single biggest international star in baseball (unless it’s Derek Jeter, who may be 100% American, but is still Derek Jeter), and the Mariners pay him $18 million every single year.

Ichiro Suzuki’s career OPS+? 118.

If there is a player more insanely overappreciated than Ichiro Suzuki, I do not know offhand who that player is. Unless, again, it’s Derek Jeter.

[Nick] Johnson needs to retire from baseball, commiserate with M. Night Shyamalan and star in a new movie: "Breakable."

I do not think that word means what you think it means. Also, joke: 2/10

He landed on the disabled list this week for the 10th time in his career.

Ten times? That’s kind of a lot. So, yeah, he should probably — oh, hold on, Jeff, I have to get the phone.

(Huh? Hey. Whoa, really? Wow. Yeah, thanks for letting me know!)

I’m back. Sorry about that. That was Kerry Wood — he wanted me to remind you that he’s made fourteen appearances on the disabled list, and so all this crying over Nick Johnson doesn’t impress him one bit.

In December, when the Yankees signed Johnson, GM Brian Cashman told the Daily News: "We’re going to go into the laboratory and experiment with the ability to provide him with most of his playing time in the DH slot and see if that provides a higher degree of health."

Brian Cashman speaks like the Babelfish translation of himself. Also, Nick Johnson was a designated hitter once before, when he played for the… huh, look at that, the Yankees. But you wouldn’t know that, because the general manager back then was… oh. Right. You. Good plan, Brian!

The lab blew up this week. Johnson received a cortisone shot in hopes that his season isn’t over. If it is, he’ll have banked $5.5 million for 12 hits, 24 walks and a .694 OPS. Though he is the biggest Yankees disappointment this season… time remains for Javier Vazquez to catch him.

Mark Teixeira: .224 / .343 / .420 / .763. 0.6 WAR. Cost: $22.5M.

But, sure, it could be the $5M part-time player. Or it could be the pitcher who just threw seven innings and gave up 2 ER and then got fucking benched for his troubles.

Which makes not just Friday’s start at Citi Field but the next few so imperative for Vazquez. He can play things the way he did in 2004, his lone season in the Bronx: get worse as the year wanes, finish with a thud and skulk along to another team. Or he can do what Sabathia and Burnett did and what Hughes is doing: embrace New York, love it, live it and learn that an arm as gifted as his can only go so far when the brain is playing Ke$ha instead of Mozart.

Ladies and gentlemen: the new worst metaphor I’ve ever heard. Seriously, what does that even mean? I honestly can’t figure it out. Good pitchers have brains that play Mozart?

A.J. Burnett’s only full year in New York so far saw him boast a stellar ERA+ of 106 and a WAR of 2.6. For $16.5M. That’s what you want from Vazquez? Embrace that shit, Javier!

Here’s a better plan. Fuck "embracing" New York and teaching your brain to stop playing shitty dance-pop all the time — which I expect is a pretty big distraction — and start not walking dudes. What do I know, I suppose, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that less focus on bullshit mysticism and more focus on baseball is a better path to success for you, Javier.

May 17th, 2010 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

More games as art

Another one to consider: this, despite being a Flash browser applet, is certainly art of some variety. The actual game-ness isn’t particularly compelling; it’s a very rudimentary platformer. What makes it interesting is its art-ness. It uses the fundamentally interactive tools of the video game medium to create a literary experience that other media cannot.

May 16th, 2010 Posted by | Games | no comments

Art fag city

Roger Ebert’s at it again, apparently, with his steadfast insistence that, whatever video games are, they absolutely are not art and don’t you forget it. Robert Brockway over at Cracked has written a big sweary deconstruction of Ebert’s piece that I’m pretty much totally on board with. But I’d like to add a few things.

First off, hey Rog, see that bit where you say you know for a fact that no video games anywhere ever have ever been art, even though you’ve never played one? Come on. I know for a fact that you’re smarter than that. If I were to peruse your work on great movies and — to take the very first film on the page — tell you that I’d never seen Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana but that I know without question that it’s not the least little bit artistic, what would you think? A guess: you’d think that I’m some crank talking a mountain of shit about stuff he doesn’t understand. Hmm.

Also, you want me to cite games that are worthy of comparison to great poets, filmmakers, and novelists? Fine. Let’s do this. I’ll start the bidding at Super Mario Galaxy, which had top-notch presentation and was absolute sheer joy to play, but which, moreover, required us to rethink our understanding of how objects in space relate to one another in a way that no non-interactive medium could. By taking concepts that we’re already intellectually familiar with — such as gravity, and the fact that the world is, contrary to the evidence of our senses, round — and reducing them to absurd limit cases, Mario Galaxy not only allows us but requires us to consider these things in a much more immediate fashion than the real world ever does.

Or if you don’t like that, what about Mass Effect? Mass Effect contains a very powerful scene in which (spoiler alert!) a soldier under the player’s command is killed in the line of duty. But, making things more complicated, there are two soldiers in danger in this scene, and the player has the ability to save one and only one of them. These are both characters who are developed and significant — not Star Trek-style red shirts — and with whom the player may or may not be romantically involved. And the player must choose which one of them will die. This is some pretty heavy stuff, and it’s not something that can be easily duplicated in other media — the element of choice is what lends it its power.

I mean, seriously, Roger, yes, there is Halo, and there is Borderlands, and there is Guitar Hero, and those games are not particularly "art" by your definition. But there are other games also — games which can in fact cause the players to rethink their views of things, or gain a greater understanding of the world, or broadly "improve" in some other fashion. I gotta say, man, I think I can speak with greater authority on this one than you can, since I’ve played a whole damn lot of games, and you, by your own admission, haven’t ever played a single one.

May 16th, 2010 Posted by | Games | no comments

Outrage ahoy!

Phillies-with-binoculars-gate is one of the lamest scandals in recent memory, but there it is, and here we are. Here’s the deal, for those who don’t know: the Phillies were caught stealing signs against the Rockies the other night. They had their bullpen coach armed with a pair of binoculars, and he was relaying signs back to the team so they’d know what pitch was coming. All of that allegedly, of course, and the Phillies deny it, but come on: the dude had a pair of binoculars, and the video of the game clearly shows him watching the action with them. That’s what he was doing.

I don’t really care much. I mean, the Phillies should get a slap on the wrist, and everybody should be watching for more of the same bush-league shit from them, so they’ll have to endure some extra scrutiny. But some people are calling for some pretty harsh punishments, which makes no sense at all, and not least because the Phillies didn’t break any actual, you know, rules. And here I’m talking about the written kind, and not the special fruit-scented intangible kind that says that you can’t try to bunt during a no-hitter and that everything A-Rod does is wrong.

But let’s face it: people would much rather dole out ridiculous punishments for everything than follow the actual stated rules. This is exactly the same as how people believe Mark McGwire should get a lifetime ban for steroid usage, which had a maximum penalty of something like a five-game suspension at the time. It’s also not very different from assaulting a dude with a potentially-lethal electric torture device for the dubious crime of "being on the field."

Alex Remington has some words on the subject at Fangraphs, and I pretty much agree with everything he says, including his conclusion: people are right to be pissed that the Phillies would do something so lame, but, since they didn’t actually break any actual rules, no punishment should be imposed.

Besides, it’s not like anybody thought there were too many not-assholes in Philadelphia. This is the city that booed Santa Claus, for fuck’s sake.

May 15th, 2010 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

Game Flow

So I’ve been thinking an awful lot about flow in video game design, and how to reduce the sense of endless traveling. The two Borderlands expansions I’ve played are excellent subjects for this, since one of them does a great job and the other does a terrible job.

But first let’s define our terms. When I say "flow," what I mean is the sense that you’re following a path and not just going off somewhere, doing a mission, returning to base, and then going somewhere else for another mission. This is important for two reasons. First off, it adds to the immersiveness of the experience; it makes it seem like the adventure is happening all around you, rather than like it’s taking place according to a script and you need to go out and track it down. The other — and more important — reason is that endless back-and-forth travel is boring.

That said, let’s take a look at my cheap-ass flow map for Zombie Island of Dr. Ned. Those of you who are familiar with my previous work — such as my award-winning diagrams of Karazhan boss fights — will be familiar with the style. The circles represent all the areas in the game, the lines are zone connections, and the numbers are the order you travel through the zones in along the main quest line. You can consider this to contain minor spoilers if you don’t want to know the names of the zones or like what order they’re in.

Zombie Island flow chart

As we can see, this expansion uses a very efficient flow. It does have a bit of back-and-forth to Jakobs Cove, but it doesn’t become as galling as it could, since the sections of Jakobs Cove you’ll be travelling to are different each time. And you never need to visit any other area a second time.

The side missions — which I don’t reflect on the chart, since they don’t have a coherent flow to them — also pretty much follow this course; most side missions are discovered in the zones they take place in, and the few that come from Jakobs Cove go to the place you’re headed next when you pick them up.

Now let’s take a look at Secret Armory of General Knoxx.

General Knoxx flow chart

Sorry that’s so huge, but the game’s laid out in a big line like that. If you can follow the flow numbers, you see that the game plays out basically in four long excursions from T-Bone Junction. But you’re going through the exact same zones each time, which means that you’ve done all this before. Making it even worse, the Ridgeway and the Crimson Tollway may as well be the same zone — they’re both just long roads. And the side quests don’t unlock in any sensible way — it’s quite frequent that you’ll finally get out to the zone you’re headed to, and then a new mission that goes to that same zone unlocks back in T-Bone Junction. Missions also unlock at Moxxi’s Red Light, which is in the exact centre of fucking noplace.

The worst part of this design, though, is that, with no fast travel, you really need to do an entire "arm" of the main quest in one go or you’ll have to repeat a substantial amount of travel (this is especially true of the second arm, since the Ridgeway has a big barricade on it at that time that necessitates a half-hour on-foot detour through a fortified area). This is totally counter to the way Borderlands has always been designed — it’s a very casual-friendly game, since you can log in for half an hour, knock out a quest or two, and actually make some progress. In General Knoxx, you really can’t do that. Half an hour generally gets you more or less to the zone you need to be in.

So, to sum up: Proper game flow does not involve traveling through the exact same areas over and over again, and requiring big lumps of the game to be completed all at once is very unfriendly to those of us who have full-time jobs and can’t necessarily devote multiple-hour-long chunks of time to playing. So cut it out, Gearbox. The end.

May 10th, 2010 Posted by | Games | no comments

More hot review action

I’ve done up another of my award-winning internet video game reviews, this time of the Borderlands expansion The Secret Armory of General Knoxx. And because I’m really super, I won’t even make you spend ten minutes driving to get to it. All you have to do is click any word in this sentence except for that one.

May 10th, 2010 Posted by | Games, Meta-meta | no comments

Life is stupid sometimes

So I’m watching Freedom Watch — as you do — and Judge Napolitano is talking about immigration, and the new Arizona law. And then, about a minute into that segment, who suddenly pops up on my screen? The Clown Prince of Stupid, Ozzie goddamn Guillen. Why can’t I quit you, Ozzie? Why are you everywhere in my life? It worries me.

May 8th, 2010 Posted by | Bullshit | no comments

This is exactly what I’m talking about

Back when I said this, this was the exact sort of thing I had in mind. See, I’m playing this word association game on the ‘tubes, and the word it throws is "vi." Which isn’t a word, but never mind that. So I checked the stats on that word, and this is what I see:

4 == VI

You see how the second-most-popular association to VI is "4?" That’s IV, assholes. VI is 6. This is why I’m declaring the end of roman numerals.

Oh, added comedy. Here’s the "associated from" list:

From VI

Good job, nerds. I mean, yeah, that’s what I said, too. Once it told me that "pico" isn’t a word.

May 6th, 2010 Posted by | Bullshit | no comments