Baseball is back!

It’s April, and baseball season is back. So far, it has been a mediocre season for the Blue Jays, but it takes more than 1 season of success for me to get too comfortable with high expectations. As such, I remain pessimistic and await a hot streak to become unrealistically optimistic before having my hopes dashed again.

Baseball season comes and goes every year in roughly the same fashion. However, I as a fan will be experiencing this season in a very different way. Thanks to a winning project at the Baseball Hack Day, I got a free subscription to mlb.tv premium, so I can watch or listen to any tv or radio broadcast for any out-of-market games. As such, it is actually beneficial that my favorite team is located across the country because the games are never blacked out.

So far, I have watched parts of maybe half of the Jays games this season, and I think that might already put me above the total I have watched in any past season. When I was growing up, I mostly followed baseball in the newspapers and listened to Astros games on the radio. When I moved to college, I picked up the Baseball Today podcast. After I stopped listening to the podcast, I caught clips and read online. However, never through any of that was I consistently watching games. Now, I come home and can watch the games on my iPad or Apple TV.

Continuing my shameless plug, the At Bat app is quite good. The UI is easy to use, and the streaming works reliably. Past that, there are lots of fancy features like stats and split-screen, but really the important part is being able to carry the game around with me into the kitchen to have on in the background while cooking. Even if the Jays game is done, I have been watching other games as well. Particularly, I have found myself following a lot of Mets and Cubs games as I try to follow the favorites. So far, I coincidentally have caught every Jake Arrieta game. He’s having a great season.

I’m glad to be able to share baseball with Julie as well. Most of my passion for baseball has been expressed indirectly through memories of plays that happened years ago. Instead, it’s much easier to sit down, watch a game, and discuss the in-game decisions and see the different types of pitches one after another. Baseball is often criticized for being a very slow game, but it has actually been quite nice because we can watch the game passively and tune in every once in awhile between whatever else we’re doing.

Over the years, I have wondered how my life would be different if I actually lived in Toronto, went to a lot of games, spent the time watching games, and actually followed the team. It turns out that it didn’t take nearly that much effort to get engaged with the team again. Baseball is a long season, and hopefully I make good use of my subscription all throughout.

GIFs of Baseball Pitches (or Why I Love Baseball)

I love baseball. You would have to ask my mom why I love baseball so much, but it started when I was 6-ish and hasn’t really let up. Some baseball fans love it for the statistics, and you might think that the geeky numbers part is what attracted me. Well, I honestly don’t watch as much baseball as I would like and have mostly followed baseball through box scores and statistics, but I really think I enjoy baseball mostly for watching it.

Let me make things even more confusing. If you go to a baseball game with me, you will likely end up listening to me joke about how boring it is to watch, and how ridiculous the rules are. I also won’t get too excited about big comebacks or my team winning. These things are all nice, but they aren’t the most exciting parts about baseball.

The best part of baseball is the amazing skills the players have honed. It turns out some baseball players are quite out of shape but still effective because they have particularly quick reflexes or can swing a bat well. The topic of this post, however, is going to be pitching, which I will explain in words and GIFs as best as I can having never pitched in my life. Continue reading “GIFs of Baseball Pitches (or Why I Love Baseball)”

What to do about perfection

This season has already been historic for baseball. Rarely can we say that something has never happened before, but before Roy Halladay and Dallas Braden, there have never been more than 2 perfect games in a season. I imagine that in the 9th inning, people were astounded to think it might happen again, until Jim Joyce missed a call at first base and called a runner safe to blow Armando Galarraga’s perfect game.

Everyone is talking about this. Other than the specific events, I’ve purposely avoided my usual baseball news to hopefully write something not entirely stolen from other writers. And so, let me begin to explain my strong opinions about something I don’t know very much about.

For me, there are 2 main issues that come out of this situation. First, should Commissioner Bud Selig reverse the call and grant Galarraga the perfect game? It’s within his power to make decisions for the best of the game, and many have said that he should. I believe that he is not obligated to reverse the call and probably shouldn’t. Second, what role should instant replay have in baseball? I believe that instant replay shouldn’t be a part of baseball.

Jim Joyce clearly made the wrong call. Galarraga clearly had his foot on the bag a full half-step before Jason Donald. Not only was this an incorrect call, it’s a badly incorrect call. Baseball is a game of inches, but when you can see on TV in real-time that a call was wrong, the play wasn’t that close. People aren’t calling for Bud’s intervention and a change in baseball policy because an umpire missed a call: that happens often enough that you’ll notice that baseball commentators will sometimes gloss the call when they show instant replays on TV (in comparison, I feel like basketball or football commentators will always point out when a foul is incorrectly called or missed). People are calling for Bud’s intervention because it was a dramatically significant moment, and all parties feel sorry about it, and I don’t think that’s good enough.

The most important point, though, is that reversing the call won’t make things right. In the history books, Armando Galarraga’s perfect game will always have an asterisk next to it, and that’ll diminish the significance of it. Who knows how many other significant achievements have or haven’t happened because of a call, whether balls or strikes, counting an infield hit as an error, or a play on an out. And if we’re just looking for getting things for the books, I actually think this game might be more notable if the call stands and is marked as one of the many oddities in baseball history.

It’s far too late, though. In fact, as soon as Joyce called him safe, it was too late. Watching old footage, perfect games end in the bench clearing and the whole team mobbing the pitcher, either jumping up and down or hoisting him up to the cheers of the entire stadium and radio announcers reading off the scoreboard. Galarraga will never have that moment (unless he pitches another perfect game), but it’s okay, because he as well as everyone else knows what he accomplished.

To be honest, though, I’m not really that interested in that story. I’m heartless and am not particularly interested in the human side of the story and am more interested in what happens with policy change in baseball. Here’s a case where instant replay would have helped to make the correct call. From an objective perspective, the video footage can’t lie. The argument against the use of instant replay tends to romanticize traditional aspects of the game. I am totally in favor of that. In a discussion over Facebook, a friend questioned whether it was truly right that we should be valuing human fallibility in judging. Well, when you put it that way, I guess not. But sort of yes.

The NHL, NFL, and NBA have all embraced instant replays as a part of the game. I actually think it’s ridiculous how much the NFL values instant replay when spotting the ball is very arbitrary, but I don’t often hear people complain about referees making more accurate calls. Instant replay has even become a part of baseball in ruling home run balls. Baseball is built upon a system of judgments calls. The strike zone will change over the course of the game, and that sort of interaction with the home plate umpire’s calls makes baseball interesting for me. Extending instant replays onto the field brings about a greater scrutiny that I’m not certain will benefit the game.

I know my perspective is absurdly conservative and naive, but I kind of like the game the way it is. Baseball is a slow sport, but it can’t be that slow. Compare, say, a Roy Halladay game to a Red Sox-Yankees game. In the former, the game is still slow, but Halladay works fast, and two hours later, you just watched a pitcher go after batters for 9 innings and craftily duel and retire the other side. In the latter, the game is still slow, and the rivalry is fun, but when Derek Jeter steps out of the batter’s box again, you wonder where the last 4 hours of your life went. Now, the introduction of instant replay can slow down the game even more. I know first-hand how much of a downer a play under review can be at a football game. In the middle of a usually close moment when you want to see things play out, the referees instead huddle, put on the headphones, and go into the tank while the crowd loses energy and maybe even sits down. What a drag.

I won’t stop watching if baseball does introduce instant replay more generally; it’ll still be a good game. I might, however, complain loudly unless instant replay remains solely in the judgment of the head umpire. Specifically, I don’t think it’s a right of the managers to challenge a play like in football. They can certainly discuss a call and ask why like they do now, but again, you just have to accept the calls as they come. If an umpire legitimately misses a call on the spot and wants more information, it’s not unreasonable to get help from the instant replay, but that’s the umpire’s call.

Observations from a Jays-A’s game

(Yesterday, I went to the Jays-A’s game in Oakland, and this is exactly what I wrote right after. Another lame-out post; sorry)

On the BART after a Jays-A’s game. So much fun. Details:

  • got stadium food. Awful hot dog where the only thing that matches the price was the sodium content
  • sat was literally right in line with the home plate, 15 rows back. Not quite as good as TV, but I could mostly call balls & strikes. Saw a couple very dirty curveballs
  • empty on either side with a British man (in a sweater vest) alone 2 seats down who I talk to from about the 3rd to the 7th inning. Details include:
    • on vacation for 2 weeks, so went to 7ish baseball games up the west coast
    • actually a Boston fan, so not sure how I feel about that
    • also into horse racing
    • sports reporter back in England for (a little privacy), covering greyhounds
    • very very knowledgeable about baseball. One of the most delightful conversations I’ve had in a long, long time. I need more friends who watch baseball
    • talked a lot just about the differences in sports
  • game itself was disappointing
    • Jays lost Rolen (traded to Cinci just before the trade deadline), but McDonald at 3rd should’ve been a killer infield anyways
    • didn’t really matter since Scott Richmond got maybe 1 groundout in 4 inning (officially got 2 groundouts)
    • 3 errors (1 ball lost in sun), 1 broken double play, 1 poorly handled ball in the corner, and 1 boneheaded throw
    • No one was hitting except Hill and Lind (I guess Scutaro was hitting, too, to get on base for Hill and Lind to drive him in). 2 run HR by Lind makes the game look a lot closer and Braden’s start only so-so for great work
    • Richmond’s control was awful. Couldn’t find the plate in the first inning, and was just throwing meatballs after that
    • Tallet came in & was bad for his first inning as well, walking 2 batters
    • Jesse Carlson looked great. I realize it was because he actually got 2 groundouts & a strikeout. Nice work
    • Richmond is very tall. Rios is very tall
    • Scutaro is pretty short
  • kid in the row in front of me about 5 seats to my right was hilarious
    • every foul ball backwars he yelled “I got it!”
    • on close calls, “Do you have dust in your eyes?”
    • was actually sharp on the game, with “A walk’s as good as a hit”
    • I wish I was that much into baseball when I was a kid
  • Coliseum is a pretty non-exciting stadium. 12,000 fans, nothing special in design. AT&T Park is much better
  • Just a great feeling. Seeing the highlight is good. Watching the game in person is better. For a change. Takes a damn long time & can’t really get pitcher-batter faceoffs, but still fun
  • camaraderie is good. Would’ve enjoyeed the game on my own, but the British guy made it better. The guy right in front, a Math professor at a local community college, also chirped in, so strangers prove to be just as good as normal people. Even better than on an airplane, because you have something to talk about
  • fans go(ing) after foul balls are hilarious
  • the game is a lot better when you’re invested and know the organization. Astros games were good, but just kind of meh sometimes since I didn’t care
  • I’m a much smarter fan than I was even a year ago. I know when location is good, recognize baserunning, know how much better groundouts are than flyouts. I appreciate the game so much more now
  • that still doesn’t help the pain of your team losing
  • weird to think that this happens 162 times over a couple months For some fans, a game is just something they do daily, but I’m still awestruck by it all. I have to wander the stadium and just suck in baseball culture. Because being at the stadium is all about stupid traditions and the trashy stadium feel. It’s like kraft mac & cheese
  • hearing and singing along to the recorded O Canada was just kind of a good feeling. I think it was more nostalgia than patriotism
  • I’m really glad I got the seat I did. Most of the baseball sates I’ve gotten have either been high or in the outfield. The game looks a lot different when a pop fly goes sky high away from you instead of coming up to eye-level
  • I wish I could justify sitting around & watching baseball more

Maybe I Should Major in Stats and Journalism?

(I guess I just throw my favorite posts from my main blog here, now. I really like this one; I think it really touches on my passions, for I do love baseball)

I was looking at the very trusty MLB.com when I saw that The Cardinals had a 16-4 rout of the Pirates. Impressive, but not the most notable part of it.

Flashback: in 2000, Rick Ankiel was a young pitcher, very promising. Everyone had big expectations after a great regular season. Suddenly, one day, he loses it. Couldn’t hit a side of a barn with a pitch. One of those things psychological things. From time to time, you’ll hear about players that just lose it. A 2nd baseman, with his eyes open, can’t hit the 1st baseman maybe 60 feet from him. With his eyes closed, right into the glove. Anyways, he tries to tough it till the next season, but no good. Rick is out of the news, probably doomed to a minor league career, if even that good.

August 9th, 2007. Rick Ankiel is back, now playing outfield. It happens. Fun fact: Babe Ruth was actually a devastating pitcher before deciding he liked swinging the bat more, becoming perhaps the greatest slugger of all time. Anyways, first game back, Rick swings for the fences to please the crowd. Impressive.

Today, Rick goes 3 for 4, with a double, two home runs, and 7 runs batted in. Wow. I look at his season numbers. I knew I had to blog. Let’s take a look at how he’s done over 23 games, 81 at bats:

Batting average: .358. You’re a good contact hitter if you’re over .300. You’re setting history if you’re over .400, last done by Ted Williams in 1941. The MLB leaders (Rick doesn’t have enough at bats to count) , Magglio Ordonez and Ichiro Suzuki, have averages of .352 today.

Runs: 22. Well, in a full season, there are 162 games, and a regular hitter will get just about 600 at bats. In those, getting over 100 is a notable season. Let’s do some math on Rick’s numbers to project if he kept this up all season:
22 runs * 162 games / 23 games = 155 runs
OR
22 runs * 600 at bats / 81 at bats = 163 runs

That’s pretty good. How does that stack up against the best?
Alex Rodriguez, MLB leader: 127 runs, 138 games, 507 at bats
127 runs * 162 games / 138 games = 149 runs
OR
127 runs * 600 at bats / 507 at bats = 150 runs

Ouch. The record for modern day baseball was set by the Great Bambino at 177 runs in 1921. Rick’s doing okay in runs, which is helped by having Albert Pujols, batting behind him. But let’s keep going.

RBIs: This is the most common measure of a slugger. Just like runs, having over 100 is notable. Rick has 29. Thank goodness I have my calculator, right?
29 RBIs * 162 games / 23 games = 204 RBIs
OR
29 RBIs * 600 at bats / 81 at bats = 215 RBIs

Holy crap. That’s freaking amazing. I had to double-check on that one. Let’s compare, again, to the very impressive MLB leading A-Rod, who himself is almost an assured Hall of Famer and probably on track to beat Barry Bond’s all-time home run record.
A-Rod, MLB leader: 134 RBIs, 138 games, 507 at bats
134 RBIs * 162 games / 138 games = 157 RBIs
OR
134 RBIs * 600 at bats / 507 at bats = 158 RBIs

Not even close. I mean, 157.5 (uh, he only swung half the bat, and only got half the credit?) RBIs is very admirable in itself, and isn’t reached every season.
The record is from Hack Wilson, 1930, 191 RBIs. Yup. No one has even gotten over 200. Let’s keep the ball rolling.

Home runs: the most glamorous of stats. It’s hard to get the same joy when you see a ball dribble into the outfield as a guy runs back to the pentagon as when a ball makes a beautiful arc, over the fences, and (hopefully) into a fan’s hands. Over 30 home runs is good news. Rick has 9. Once more…
9 HR * 162 games / 23 games = 63 HR
OR
9 HR * 600 at bats / 81 at bats = 67 HR

He doubles a very admirable number again. Very nice. And who else than A-Rod to represent the rest of baseball, today?
A-Rod, MLB leader: 48 HR, 138 games, 507 at bats
48 HR * 162 games / 138 games = 56 HR
OR
48 HR * 600 at bats / 507 at bats = 57 HR

That’s the closest of all of them, but yet, Rick is still ahead. Let’s look at the progression of history, though. Babe Ruth, in 1927, hit 60 home runs. That’s amazing. It stood for 34 years until Roger Maris hit 61 (Rick’s still ahead). That stood for another 37 years when in 1998, Mark McGwire (okay, maybe it was his ‘roids, not the man himself) hit 70, and I think we all remember what a hectic, crazy race that was. Then, in 2001, Barry Bonds hits 73. In history, only 5 players have ever hit over 60 home runs in a season (Ruth once, Maris once, McGwire twice, Bonds twice, and Sammy Sosa thrice).

Yes, this is probably unrealistic. Baseball players are notorious for hot and cold streaks, and it’s unlikely that Rick could keep up his performance for a full season. He came up hot, he’s backed by one of the best hitters today (Pujols), the fans love him, and his team is in the playoff chase. Injuries happen, slumps are hard to get out of, and players get tired. And some of them develop psychological problems.
But wow. I thought the extrapolation would turn out pretty for Rick, but I’m still blown away, especially by the RBIs. He hasn’t proven himself to be a reliable hitter, and who knows if he’ll have a similar problem as before. Regardless, I’m keeping my eye on him.

(All extrapolated stats were rounded to the nearest whole number. All stats for Rick and A-Rod are from www.mlb.com today, and almost all of the historical facts are from my head. Double-checked on wikipedia.)

Maybe I Should Major Stats and Journalism?

I was looking at the very trusty MLB.com when I saw that The Cardinals had a 16-4 rout of the Pirates. Impressive, but not the most notable part of it.

Flashback: in 2000, Rick Ankiel was a young pitcher, very promising. Everyone had big expectations after a great regular season. Suddenly, one day, he loses it. Couldn’t hit a side of a barn with a pitch. One of those things psychological things. From time to time, you’ll hear about players that just lose it. A 2nd baseman, with his eyes open, can’t hit the 1st baseman maybe 60 feet from him. With his eyes closed, right into the glove. Anyways, he tries to tough it till the next season, but no good. Rick is out of the news, probably doomed to a minor league career, if even that good.

August 9th, 2007. Rick Ankiel is back, now playing outfield. It happens. Fun fact: Babe Ruth was actually a devastating pitcher before deciding he liked swinging the bat more, becoming perhaps the greatest slugger of all time. Anyways, first game back, Rick swings for the fences to please the crowd. Impressive.

Today, Rick goes 3 for 4, with a double, two home runs, and 7 runs batted in. Wow. I look at his season numbers. I knew I had to blog. Let’s take a look at how he’s done over 23 games, 81 at bats:

Batting average: .358. You’re a good contact hitter if you’re over .300. You’re setting history if you’re over .400, last done by Ted Williams in 1941. The MLB leaders (Rick doesn’t have enough at bats to count) , Magglio Ordonez and Ichiro Suzuki, have averages of .352 today.

Runs: 22. Well, in a full season, there are 162 games, and a regular hitter will get just about 600 at bats. In those, getting over 100 is a notable season. Let’s do some math on Rick’s numbers to project if he kept this up all season:
22 runs * 162 games / 23 games = 155 runs
OR
22 runs * 600 at bats / 81 at bats = 163 runs

That’s pretty good. How does that stack up against the best?
Alex Rodriguez, MLB leader: 127 runs, 138 games, 507 at bats
127 runs * 162 games / 138 games = 149 runs
OR
127 runs * 600 at bats / 507 at bats = 150 runs

Ouch. The record for modern day baseball was set by the Great Bambino at 177 runs in 1921. Rick’s doing okay in runs, which is helped by having Albert Pujols, batting behind him. But let’s keep going.

RBIs: This is the most common measure of a slugger. Just like runs, having over 100 is notable. Rick has 29. Thank goodness I have my calculator, right?
29 RBIs * 162 games / 23 games = 204 RBIs
OR
29 RBIs * 600 at bats / 81 at bats = 215 RBIs

Holy crap. That’s freaking amazing. I had to double-check on that one. Let’s compare, again, to the very impressive MLB leading A-Rod, who himself is almost an assured Hall of Famer and probably on track to beat Barry Bond’s all-time home run record.
A-Rod, MLB leader: 134 RBIs, 138 games, 507 at bats
134 RBIs * 162 games / 138 games = 157 RBIs
OR
134 RBIs * 600 at bats / 507 at bats = 158 RBIs

Not even close. I mean, 157.5 (uh, he only swung half the bat, and only got half the credit?) RBIs is very admirable in itself, and isn’t reached every season.
The record is from Hack Wilson, 1930, 191 RBIs. Yup. No one has even gotten over 200. Let’s keep the ball rolling.

Home runs: the most glamorous of stats. It’s hard to get the same joy when you see a ball dribble into the outfield as a guy runs back to the pentagon as when a ball makes a beautiful arc, over the fences, and (hopefully) into a fan’s hands. Over 30 home runs is good news. Rick has 9. Once more…
9 HR * 162 games / 23 games = 63 HR
OR
9 HR * 600 at bats / 81 at bats = 67 HR

He doubles a very admirable number again. Very nice. And who else than A-Rod to represent the rest of baseball, today?
A-Rod, MLB leader: 48 HR, 138 games, 507 at bats
48 HR * 162 games / 138 games = 56 HR
OR
48 HR * 600 at bats / 507 at bats = 57 HR

That’s the closest of all of them, but yet, Rick is still ahead. Let’s look at the progression of history, though. Babe Ruth, in 1927, hit 60 home runs. That’s amazing. It stood for 34 years until Roger Maris hit 61 (Rick’s still ahead). That stood for another 37 years when in 1998, Mark McGwire (okay, maybe it was his ‘roids, not the man himself) hit 70, and I think we all remember what a hectic, crazy race that was. Then, in 2001, Barry Bonds hits 73. In history, only 5 players have ever hit over 60 home runs in a season (Ruth once, Maris once, McGwire twice, Bonds twice, and Sammy Sosa thrice).

Yes, this is probably unrealistic. Baseball players are notorious for hot and cold streaks, and it’s unlikely that Rick could keep up his performance for a full season. He came up hot, he’s backed by one of the best hitters today (Pujols), the fans love him, and his team is in the playoff chase. Injuries happen, slumps are hard to get out of, and players get tired. And some of them develop psychological problems.
But wow. I thought the extrapolation would turn out pretty for Rick, but I’m still blown away, especially by the RBIs. He hasn’t proven himself to be a reliable hitter, and who knows if he’ll have a similar problem as before. Regardless, I’m keeping my eye on him.

(All extrapolated stats were rounded to the nearest whole number. All stats for Rick and A-Rod are from www.mlb.com today, and almost all of the historical facts are from my head. Double-checked on wikipedia.)