The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

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I should be in bed

But I really can’t resist this low-hanging fruit, this tantalising meatball, this perfectly ripe little nugget of hilariously bad baseball analysis tarted up in the guise of intelligence.

By which I mean, hey, it’s not that bad. It’s by this Eric Adelson dude, and he’s talking about how the Rays can beat Cliff Lee tomorrow, and he’s not suggesting they need more swagger or voodoo or maybe they need to annoy the kitchen staff where they’re having breakfast. He has a not-indefensible piece of advice, which is: swing at the first pitch more often. But then he proceeds to indefend it. Let’s watch!

Over the course of human endeavor, man has struggled with many unanswerable questions.

Oh, shit, my bad. I have the wrong article. I was supposed to be making fun of some dude’s baseball analysis, and it seems like I got some new-agey bullshit about how we all need to take herbal supplements and balance our chi and listen to Yanni and enhance our calm. Hang on, let me get the right article.

Oh. Oh, shit. This is the right article. This is not going to end well.

They include: What is the meaning of life? Can there be peace in the Middle East? We can Skype and text message, and we can’t improve the umbrella? Seriously?

Oh, what the fuck. Seriously? This is really the way you want to start your article? And what exactly the fuck is wrong with the umbrella, of all things? You had to pick one thing for the punchline of this awful hacky joke, and you picked the umbrella?

I’m going to find this psycho Adelson and enhance his calm.

Now another dilemma has surfaced: How can the Rays beat Cliff Lee in the postseason?

I’m really trying to type something other than "by scoring more runs than the Rangers," but, really, that’s it. That’s how you win at baseball, Eric. With the runs.

Clifton Phifer Lee is 6-0 in the playoffs with two complete games, 43 strikeouts, 32 hits allowed and six walks in 47 1/3 innings. His ERA is 1.52 and his WHIP is 0.80.

Hey, now, that’s my joke. That thing where you write out an athlete’s full name so people can laugh at how stupid it is? My joke. Back the eff off, Adelson.

Oh, and, yeah, Lee’s been pretty good. But it’s only 47.1 innings over six games, which is about as small a sample size as you’re like to find.

Currently he pitches for the Texas Rangers.

We know that, dummy. If you don’t have enough to say to fill up a whole article, don’t just pad it out with bullshit.

And Tuesday night, in order to save their season, the Tampa Bay Rays must find a way to, as Carl Crawford says, "get Cliff Lee out the game."

Maybe once Carl Crawford hits free agency and signs a huge contract, he’ll be able to afford enough prepositions to make his sentences read correctly. But I’m being too picky. I should just be happy he didn’t talk about the need to get Cliff Lee off.

"It’s going to be tough," said Crawford. "It’s going to be a battle. Cliff’s tough against us, and we’ve just got to find a way."

This quote doesn’t add anything to this article. You should cut it. Or Yahoo should hire an editor to cut it for you. Or maybe a manager to cut you.

There is a way. And with the help of Dave Allen at FanGraphs and Kenny Kendrena of Inside Edge, we’ve discovered it.

Well, not really. But we have a suggestion:

Swing at the first pitch.

Okay, great. We’re like three hundred words into this article, and finally you’ve written something about your topic. Good start. Now, why should the Rays do a thing like that?

The typical strategy against a superstar pitcher is to take pitches, get deep in the count, wear him down and make him earn every out. That’s also how the Rays have traditionally succeeded: small-ball and smart-ball.

Yes, plate discipline works very well. Not only does it run down opposing pitchers, it also earns you many "walks," which help you get "on base" so you can score "runs," a thing which is somewhat important in the game of "baseball." This is not, however, what the term "smallball" means — that particular piece of dumbness is generally about having a team full of lousy slap hitters who never ever walk, bunt a lot, have OBPs around .320, try to steal all the goddamn time and get thrown out so often it negates any value they could be generating, and get dirt like all over their uniforms so dummy sportswriters fall in love with them and write fawning articles in which they declare it "inexplicable" that the team is like 66-96.

And "smartball" is a term invented by Ozzie Guillen in 2005 which no human mouth has uttered since then. It is mainly about scoring very very few runs and getting bailed out by a pitching staff playing way over its collective head.

The Rays have succeeded "traditionally" in no way whatsoever, since they were uniformly awful until two years ago. This year, they’ve succeeded through pretty good offense (above league average in OBP, SLG, HR, BB, you name it) and pretty good pitching (again, above league average in WHIP, ERA, K/9, BB/9, what-have-you). It’s not "smallball" or "smartball" or "Maddonball" or anything else; it’s regular old normal baseball. The Rays are just above-average in all facets of the game, so they did well. Do you see?

"We scored a lot of runs," said Rocco Baldelli of this year’s regular season, "and we didn’t do it mashing the ball around the park every day. We did it drawing out at-bats and walks and stealing bases, kind of like how we did in 2008."

Oh. You don’t see. You did score a lot of runs — 802, in fact, which is more than anybody else except Boston and New York. And, yes, you walked a lot — 672 times, most in baseball. But you also hit 160 home runs, which is actually very nearly one per game, and sure did help bring those 672 free baserunners home.

In 2008, you scored 774 runs, which was good for 13th place. Your pitching was otherworldly in 2008, and that’s why you won games. So, no, the two years really aren’t that similar.

But "drawing out at-bats" doesn’t work against Lee. His career walks-per-nine-innings is 2.2, but in the playoffs it’s 1.1. Waiting for a mistake is like waiting for the Rays to build a new stadium. Not gonna happen.

His postseason career is 47.1 innings long. If Cliff Lee has anything in common with every other baseball player in all of recorded history, his postseason stats will move toward his regular-season stats as the sample size increases. Is this really difficult to grasp?

Also, the Rays will get a new ballpark. I guess you haven’t noticed, but there’s no shortage of politicians willing to redistribute money to billionaires for the good of society.

Hitters who swing at the first pitch and put the ball in play have a .500 slugging percentage against Lee, compared to .456 for those who hit the ball between the foul lines on the second offering or later. That’s not an enormous difference, but come on – it’s Cliff Lee.

Unless you’re using a nontraditional definition of "putting the ball in play," you’ve excluded home runs from your slugging percentages. Which is: a very weird thing to do.

Actually, the more I think about this, the weirder it gets. You’re hanging your hat on a difference of .044 SLG, but only when the swing makes contact, and only when it doesn’t result in an out, or a foul, or a home run? What a weird, ridiculous cherry-pick. One that totally ignores the fact that, with two strikes (which obviously never occurs on the first pitch), your results may be skewed by "defensive" swings designed to foul off a pitch and stay alive, but which fail and put the ball weakly in play. But even if they aren’t: seriously? Your whole argument hinges on that weird cherry-pick?

The Rays swing at the first pitch 28 percent of the time, compared to the league average of 26 percent.

Very close to the same.

But when the Rays beat Lee in August, they swung at his first pitch a whopping 50 percent of the time.

Cliff Lee faced 34 batters in that game. Which means he threw 34 first pitches. Which means the Rays swung 17 times. As opposed to ten times if they’d swung at their average 28% rate.

Seven whole swings. You’re convinced that’s the difference? Oh, and, the Rangers led until the eighth, when Lee gave up four earnies. Here’s what I see for that inning:

Kelly Shoppach swings at the first pitch, flies out to right.
B.J. Upton swings 1-0, doubles to right.
Jason Bartlett swings 1-1, singles weakly to short.
Carl Crawford swings 1-2 after fouling off three pitches, hits FC to second, Upton scores.
Evan Longoria swings 0-1, singles to centre, Bartlett scores.
Carlos Peña swings at the first pitch, singles to centre, Crawford scores.
Sean Rodriguez strikes out on three pitches.
Ben Zobrist swings 2-2, singles to left, Longoria scores.

That’s it for Lee. Two batters hit the first pitch, one of them made a routine out, and one of them singled. That’s it? That’s your airtight Cliff Lee-killin’ plan? I’m not so sure about this, Charles.

Then, in Game 1 of this series, only 11 of 27 Rays batters (roughly 40 percent) swung at Lee’s first pitch.

Two. Two, asshole. The difference is two batters. 13 would be "roughly 50%," and this whole article would be obsolete. The Rays lost that game 5-1. Those two batters would have made the difference? Four runs? I’m beginning to think you haven’t thought this out very well.

In the postseason, every team has tried to wait Lee out. Of the five teams that faced him coming into this series – Rockies twice, Dodgers and Yankees twice – no team has swung at the first pitch more than 26.7 percent of the time. That strategy has clearly failed.

It’s 47.1 innings! That’s not enough to declare any strategy a surefire loser. Plate discipline is a good thing. You win more baseball games that way. And Cliff Lee’s excellent 47.1 innings hasn’t proven that he’s magical and unique and that the way to beat him is with less disciplined hitting, you crazypants.

Lee is healthy and throwing on five days of rest Tuesday. It’s time for the Rays to try a new tack. Doubters can ask Rays pitcher David Price of all people, who never got a rhythm in Game 1, in part because the Rangers swung right away. Texas took a rip at 14 of 30 first pitches from Price, and they made a Cy Young contender look beatable.

14/30 = 47%
11/27 = 41%
You = fuck right off

Man may never understand the great mysteries of life, but when it comes to the Cliff Conundrum, one thing is pretty clear:

He who hesitates has lost.

God damn, dude. You’re going to reinvoke the same tired old trope you started the article with, and then you’re going to misquote your final pithy comment? Perhaps you should have hesitated a bit more before you published this mess. Perhaps you’d have been crushed under a falling grand piano and then you wouldn’t have embarrassed yourself.

Yahoo! Sports national baseball writer Jeff Passan contributed to this column.

I’m going to guess that Jeff provided this dingbat with the tidbit about how Cliff Lee plays for the Rangers these days. And maybe the catchy "Cliff Notes" title. If Jeff provided the actual misleading analysis, then he should be ashamed of himself.


October 11th, 2010 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

What up

Hey, haven’t been around much lately, have I? Sorry about that. It’s been a hell of a week, what with the work and all. Haven’t had as much time to write as I’d have liked.

As regards the epic story, updates are going to be sporadic probably until the World Series is over (since I’m spending a lot of my free time on baseball right now), after which I’ll settle back in to two updates per week, though the days may change. Or they may not. It’s a scary mystery adventure!

As regards the promised baseball awards articles, I’ll get to ’em in a few days, once things have settled down a bit. But if I can make a quick observation here: it’s funny to me that my predicted World Series teams were both swept in the LDS.


October 11th, 2010 Posted by | Meta-meta | no comments