With the Padres now beginning to shut the toilet on 2014 and A.J. “Heaven-sent” Preller beginning his tenure, the usual nuggets of filth about how we should “trade for a proven bat” have begun sloshing around as the garbage truck drives off with them. And another seasonal favorite returns as the familiar refrain emanates from a chorus of worms: “sign a free agent hitter.”
I want to know something. How is grabbing a solid major leaguer or two supposed offset the fact that the Padres only have two position player roles that might qualify as “solidified” for a playoff caliber team? And by roles, I mean just that, we’re talking about…
1) Platoon left fielder: Seth Smith
2) Backup catcher: Rene Rivera
The primary candidates to fill the rest of the positions in the field are almost all entering the stage in their careers where they either prove they’re Major Leaguers or they’re gone. Nearly all of them also have to prove they can stay healthy.
First Base: Yonder Alonso – a 92 wRC+ in 288PA, 0.7 WAR
Second Base: Jedd Gyorko – a 63 wRC+ in 339PA, -1 WAR
Third Base: Yangervis Solarte – a 104 wRC+ in 447PA, 1.6 WAR
Shortstop: Everth Cabrera – a 64 wRC+ in 391PA, -0.4 WAR
Center field: Cameron Maybin – a 81 wRC+ in 220PA, 0.9 WAR
Right field: Rymer Liriano – a totally unproven, raw rookie with a lot of tools, who missed all of 2013.
Primary Catcher: Yasmani Grandal – a 94 wRC+ in 345 PA, 0.3 WAR
Small half of the Smith platoon: Will Venable – a 73 in 386PA, 0.3 WAR
The problem with the “sign a bat” strategy (besides the fact that it’s more of a move than a strategy) is that even if the Padres signed two of the top free agents in the class, it won’t be enough to offset the problems everywhere else on the diamond. Though cheaper, it’s a similar waste of time to sign lesser free agents to “rent-a-bat” deals. Bear in mind this would also prevent someone in a “prove it” year from playing.
And all that feeds into the argument against the cries to “trade for a proven bat.”
Of course, most of the specific trade proposals offered by members of the general public are mainly of the “trade depth for quality” variety. The reality is that trades like this don’t exist. As the intelligent among us will point out: if you give from depth you will receive from depth.
Now, sometimes those deals work out, as in the Gregerson for Smith swap, or the trade for Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn. In fact, those are the kinds of trades the Padres should make this offseason.
But the club has no earthly reason to trade prospects to get proven talent, because just as with the “free agent approach” they’d only be adding talent to a loser, at the cost of their future core, which would ultimately only prolong their tenure as the team that gets the 13th pick in the draft.
It’s not a path to a World Series.
The time to sign free agents and trade prospects for proven Major Leaguers is when your team needs a nudge over the hump. The Pirates are a team in this position.
The Padres are nowhere near the hump.
The hump would be Yonder Alonso hitting .280 with 15 home runs and 40 doubles, while Jedd Gyorko socks 25 bombs and gets on base 35% of the time. It would be Cameron Maybin perpetually repeating 2011, and Rymer Liriano having a rookie season you could describe as “2013 Starling Marte with more walks.”
You will know the hump when you see the hump.
For now, Preller’s task is to build a team that can get to that precipice. So what do we do this offseason?
Trade from positions of depth for undervalued commodities – as mentioned above, sometimes you can steal an impact guy if you know they’re just a small adjustment away.With Seth Smith, it happened to be the fact that he just needed a Lasik tuneup. With others, you can diagnose a mechanical tweak that allows a player to tap into his full natural ability (a la Tyson Ross).
Similar to last season, the Padres have a glut of utility infielders. With Chris Nelson, Alexi Amarista, Jace Peterson and Yangervis Solarte all having roughly the same value as Logan Forsythe did last season. There are also a handful of fourth outfielders hanging around. This brings us to Will Venable.
Trade Will Venable – After parts of 7 seasons in the Majors, it’s obvious the results will never materialize. Right field should be Rymer Liriano’s to lose. While raw, he’s much less so than Venable was as a rookie, he’s excellent defensively and has the highest ceiling of any Padres position player prospect.
Disturbingly, Bud Black is still playing Venable a lot. Preller would do well to look to Cardinals GM John Mozeliak trading Allen Craig so that manager Mike Matheny would be forced to play Oscar Taveras as an example of how to remedy this. Now, I’m not comparing Liriano to Taveras, just the situation.
Venable’s value to other clubs is as a fourth outfielder or platoon guy with a solid glove, so expect an appropriately modest return. Abraham Almonte and Jake Goebbert have less trade value and should be able to fill in fine when Venable leaves. Alex Dickerson is also an option.
Get rid of Eric Stults… somehow – Despite the fact that Stults is 34, he is still arb eligible until 2017, so if you can get anything for him, that will be why. If not, he’s a prime non-tender candidate given the depth the Padres have here. Jesse Hahn seems a lock for next year’s rotation and Cory Luebke’s return to the Big Leagues, while far from certain, should take place in 2015. The same theoretically goes for Joe Weiland, Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin. Keyvius Sampson and Matt Wisler are also options next year, if additional depth is required.
Let Josh Johnson walk – Johnson is a perpetual DL spot where there is plenty of depth… don’t you dare touch that option!
Ditch Carlos Quentin – I struggle to imagine a scenario where a team would be willing to part with anything other than a PTBN for Carlos Quentin. That’s fine. The Padres should eat as much of this contract as they have to, even if that means all of it. Of course, it’s possible there will be no willing trade partners. In that case, releasing him means the roster can be constructed without the possibility of Carlos Quentin built into it, which has more value than retaining him.
Blow up the staff– I won’t bore anyone with another recap of the DL disaster the Padres have become as a result of bad player acquisition policies and a totally incompetent medical staff. The fact that we all know that story so well means heads must roll and the organization’s philosophy must change.
The Padres also need to drastically alter a player development staff and philosophy that have consistently produced scared hitters.
The Major League hitting coaches also need to go. There is no excuse for a full squad of players that either watch or foul off fastballs down the pipe with shocking frequency. The number of obvious mechanical flaws (see: Cameron Maybin’s swing path), and approach deficiencies (see: Gyorko trying to pull everything) allowed to persist on the club is absurd.
Commit to crushing the International Market – This is the fun part.
I know it’s sad for some that the Padres won’t be spending a ton of cash on the free agent market, despite having the funds to do so. But that means A.J. Preller should have no problem convincing ownership to allocate a large chunk of change toward acquiring the best Caribbean talent available on July 2nd. Spending limits be damned, nab four or five of the top 25 guys. In this era of baseball, spending $20-30MM in the dominican is a much better investment for a mid-market team than spending that same amount on the Major League roster.
2015 won’t be the year of the Winner, no matter what Preller & Co do this offseason. But the guys on the roster will either prove it or lose it. The front office will begin to show us if they’re serious about giving Preller the levers he needs to build the core we’ve never had. It can be the year of the Answer, the year of a meaningful turning point.
When I go to a baseball game I like to get there right as the gates open so I can beat the lines for the parking, the gate, the concessions and maybe the bathroom. Then I get to enjoy the king of all nostalgic, meditative novelties: batting practice. This part of the baseball day is peaceful and sunny and joyous.
The problems start when all the other people show up.
In general, other people are some of my least favorite people, no matter the setting. But from the moment they invade my temperate baseball zone with their awful garbage to the minute I get into my car, where I can freely talk shit about them, I can imagine no being worse.
I have long despaired about this, but then I realized: there is simply no literature available regarding how to comport oneself in my presence at a baseball game. I am here today to solve that problem.
A Guide to Sitting Next to Me at a Baseball Game
Lesson 1: Sitting Next to, or In Front of Me
Don’t be huge vertically. Don’t be huge horizontally. That’s basic.
But also don’t do anything to make yourself effectively larger than you are. That means stop shifting side to side. I want to watch the flight of the ball from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s glove without having to bob and weave with a human slalom goal. I’ll gladly lance your hemorrhoid with a peanut shell between innings if it helps you sit still like a big boy.
Also, if you’re sitting next to me, under no circumstance should you ever touch me. There is a buffer! The buffer is the only thing that separates us from the animals. Respect the buffer or move down a species.
And don’t take advantage of the fact that I am a decent human being and will actually attempt to honor the buffer, regardless of how unreasonable your behavior becomes. Stop thinking of claiming the arm rest and a third of my leg room as a victory for your comfort and realize it’s an act of terrorism, you insane pig.
Most importantly, unless there is an exciting play on the field, or you have to let someone by, don’t stand up during play. Since it’s clear you have no idea where you are, let me remind you. It’s called a stadium. One definition of the word “stadium” is:
A place where there are a bunch of people trying to see something.
You’re blocking someone who is intensely passionate about how exciting and beautiful and infinite this game is and in so doing, your are robbing them of a moment of unusually pure joy, just so you can see if the churro guy is coming this way.
Standing up during play is the pinnacle of being self unaware. How did you even survive to the age of 36 if you’re this oblivious. How did you convince someone to marry you? How do you have kids? How have they survived under your supervision? Evolution is drunk.
Lesson 2: If You Decide to Talk Baseball
In other words: “do not.”
I know more about baseball than you know about your own life. You know how I estimated that? Because you chose to wear sandals to a baseball game and then spilled someone else’s beer on your bare feet. Yeah… that’s where you are.
I know that being at a baseball game makes you excited about baseball, and that’s good. But let’s clear some things up.
No, they shouldn’t try to bunt him from second to third. You know why (besides the fact that bunting is for old people)… because there’s one out already. That means they’d have to get a two out base hit to score him. But he’d score on a base hit from where he is already, and two shots at a base hit is twice as good as one. Plus the pitcher is up next.
And no, Huston Street didn’t get traded because the owner is cheap. He’s the best reliever in baseball by WPA (see how you don’t even know what that is?) and the Padres have no chance of competing for a playoff spot while he’s under contract. That means he is useless to them, so they got a package of prospects that one day could be a part of a winner. I know, having more than a one step plan for winning the World Series makes your boner soften.
And no, ticket prices aren’t higher because they have to pay the players more. In fact, player salaries represented a much larger share of total revenue in 2002 than they do now. Down to 40% from 56%.
No, they shouldn’t trade for Ryan Howard! He is not a good hitter. He is not a good fielder. He is not a good baserunner. That’s… all of the things, and yeah he’s bad at them. How is it possible that you can still even speak intelligibly after being in the coma for four years?
In the even that you just can’t keep your sewer janitor mouth away from your baseball thoughts, admit that you don’t know what you’re talking about and try asking questions. That I would support. In fact, I would love to provide some answers.
Lesson 3: If A Ball is Hit in the Air
It happens multiple times every game. Someone on the home team loops a pop-up to short and half the stadium shoots up to their feet screaming “go, ball! Get out!”
I know you’re all freaked out on Bud Light and nitrites, and I know that your hope for a homer has a massive upper hand against your minimal grasp on reality in this situation so I’m not baffled. Let’s face it, if there is one thing I understand, it’s your failures. But the thing that gets me so incensed about this phenomena is the total lack of accountability afterward.
Let’s try something new. After you embarrass yourself, acknowledge how stupid what you just did was. And by all means, feel free to estimate the distance between the fence and where the ball landed. Something like this should suffice:
“God, I am a moron. Look where that landed. How could I have possibly thought that would be a homerun? I mean, I should be able to tell when a ball is about to travel 300 feet shorter than the fence shouldn’t I? I’m gonna try to figure out how to improve myself in this respect.”
Lesson 4: If You’re Not Into Baseball
You paid to be here. You bought a hat. You left work a little early. You rushed here through traffic on a week night. There are people performing nearly impossible feats in front of you. All of that adds up to me assuming you’re interested in baseball. And yet, you’re clearly not.
The loudest you cheered was during the condiment races. Then you booed a guy for knocking the beach ball down to the level below ours while, during the 7th inning of a one run game, the visiting team walked the bases loaded.
Is Major League Baseball just the stuff that happens between scoreboard games and your turn to do the wave? Is the hat shuffle so entertaining to you that you are willing to put up with an extraordinary amount of peripheral bullshit just to experience it? If so, tell me more about your head trauma while I escort you out of the stadium.
(For an extended diatribe about the rise of distractions at baseball stadiums, go here.)
Lesson 5: If You Are Somehow Decent
If you are a piece of rat shit, I will forget you in 48 hours, but if you somehow emerged from this miserable world a courteous human being that can manage to make my experience at the ballpark feel more communal, you will earn a plaque in my emotional hall of fame.
I once sat behind 5 guys who were really knowledgable and clear thinking about the Padres. They were making references to Archi Cianfrocco and having informed discussions about the trajectory of the club. It was so refreshing. They sat down the whole game, too. That was 4 years ago and I still think of them all the time.
I know you’re out there, unicorns. I hope I see you soon.
When Yasiel Puig came into the league, his energy, talent and high level of performance made me and many others fall instantly in love with him. He also frustrated many, by making a good dose of boneheaded mistakes; often trying to do too much. “He’s immature,” they said, “he’s reckless.” “He’s going to hurt himself or someone else.” This negative storyline within his rapid rise was covered with a stupendous fervor across the internet and it stampeded across television and talk radio because it was a point of view people could understand and because we love to trash our stars.
Baseball broadcasters heard so much of this take on Puig that they became indoctrinated as well. They began to default to using “Puig being Puig” as a fallback explanation for all of his errors large or small, mental or physical. Eventually, they got so lazy they just started talking about it to fill airtime, even when he began making many fewer mistakes. More unfortunate still, they threw their candy bar wrappers and bags of rotting leftovers on him even as he played a huge role in lifting the Dodgers into first place in the NL West while effortlessly switching to a more challenging defensive position.
As of today, his maturity is not an issue that warrants discussion (it barely did to begin with). Yet his progress in this area has received only minor attention. The real story of Puig, which is that he is one of the best and most exciting players baseball has to offer, has been under-publicized as a result. Instead, airtime is still filled by announcers shaking their heads and groaning about stuff they wouldn’t even notice about other players.
And then, yesterday, Dick Enberg said something that showed us just how divorced from reality the perception of the Wild Horse has become and just how much that has contributed to a warped Yasiel Puig viewing experience.
A game that had been 8-4 in favor of the Dodgers entering the 8th inning was now hanging in the balance with two out in the 9th, the score now 8-6. Abraham Almonte was on second after a throwing error by Kenley Jansen. Jedd Gyorko stepped up to the plate and fired a line drive single to center fielder Yasiel Puig, and you’d never know it based on Enberg’s description of the play, but what actually happened is that Puig charged the base hit, came up and made a great throw that would have surely nailed Almonte at the plate if it had been allowed to continue its flight. This surprised Almonte and caused him to scramble back to third. But the throw was hard and low (right out of the textbook), enabling Adrian Gonzalez to cut it off and fire the ball to third base where he nailed Almonte to end the game.
But that was not what was relayed by the broadcast team, operating seemingly with it’s eyes closed. While recapping the action during a replay Dick Enberg, like so many before him, pretended Puig was disgracing the game instead of winning it.
“And it’s one of those mistakes Puig makes. He shouldn’t be trying to throw out the runner at the plate, because that would move Gyorko into scoring position. But because Puig is Puig…”
Ludacris. This has nothing to do with the action on the field. It is just a regurgitation of what Enberg has heard others brainlessly repeating for a year. The reality is, Yasiel Puig made a great play to stop the bleeding for a Dodger bullpen that had seen Jansen and Brandon League allow two runs on four hits in just one and two-thirds innings between the eighth and ninth frames. Puig provided a special moment, sealing what was becoming a very uncertain victory.
Continuing to dispense pure bullshit about “Puig being Puig,” while completely ignoring fact that the guy is saving his club’s ass in spectacular fashion isn’t just dishonest, it is robbing us of the ability to enjoy Puig’s star.
But for all the negative things on-air personalities have done to distort the common man’s view of Puig, they can do just as much to dissolve our dated, cliché collective thinking about him as well. If we focus on his prowess, as opposed to dwelling on an exaggerated version of his past, we can enjoy Yasiel Puig for what he is: one of the hungriest and most gifted players in the game.
Please, Broadcasters: Let’s properly revere Yasiel Puig’s unique ability and style of play. Let us acknowledge the fact that we are lucky to watch a player building his legend, just like we do when Mike Trout steps into the box.
About 50% of all words spoken between my father and I are about baseball. About 85% of that is Padres baseball. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Many good nuggets come out of those conversations. My day and my Padres baseball experience at large have benefitted tremendously. The past couple weeks have produced some fruit, which should certainly be digitally preserved forever.
Ghostwriting Tommy Medica’s Memoir
My dad and I went to the Arizona Fall League last year where you can sit right behind the on-deck circle for seven dollars and watch some of the game’s best prospects zero in on future stardom. You may also find you have the opportunity to overhear Tommy Medica shooting the shit with his shady ass friend. We did both.
Medica came off as a 30-pack-a-night kind of guy. In case you’ve never seen Tommy Medica interviewed, he sounds like any other athlete, but he has this look in his eyes like a dehydrated gorilla on the brink of death. There just doesn’t appear to be a lot going on up there. But then again, you can’t have a ton on your mind if you want to hit a 98 mile an hour fastball, so he’s just uniquely prepared to do his job. We speculate he is a genius but that the 30-pack is employed to suppress his complex theories on the meaning of life and keep his mind whisper-quiet at all times.
During a recent Medica hot streak I expressed the hope that he has a long and storied career, not just because I root for the Padres, but because I want to ghostwrite his memoir “Dumber Than My Bat.”
Will Venable’s New Nickname
Will Venable is a favorite topic in frustrated times. His swing mechanics are like the Middle East. His hands are Israel and his lower half is Palestine. They are never in agreement, they have never gone the same direction for long. There are moments of progress followed by long, disturbing patches of the wretched, monotonous turmoil we are accustomed to.
This year my dad pointed out something interesting about Venable.
He was touted as being “raw” coming up, back when it was viewed as a plus that he hadn’t played much baseball coming out of Princeton. And for the first few years, this seemed to properly explain his on-field flailing. But Venable has been in the league for parts of seven seasons now and every year he goes through a long, awful stretch where he looks like he’s just getting used to the big leagues for the first time.
Will Venable, you are “The Eternal Rookie,” and we are “The Really Fucking Sick of it.”
I’ve said for a number of years that I wish Billy Beane was the Padres GM. This is hardly a breakthrough, I think most people who understand the game inside the business of the game feel the same way. Most people think he’s just smarter than everybody else, but that’s not the whole story.
Being smart is great, but for your smarts to consistently win out over hard-working, intelligent competition, you can’t just cast in any direction, you have to have a core methodology. But in baseball, everyone copies your core methodology in short order, once it’s proven to work. That means the core methodology has to be to create an environment where trends begin, and where you always pivot in order to find the next trend by the time the league catches up. Beane’s greatest skill is keeping this environment charged.
Meanwhile, the Padres have been clueless about the reality of their own situation, grasping at straws (the kind of straws with soggy knees who are better suited as a DH). They have failed to develop any kind of method for themselves to target talent. This is why they’ve failed to sustain the brief glimpses of success they’ve had. Essentially, when you’re not trying out a theory and seeing if it works or fails, you can’t know what part of what you are doing is working or failing.
But the sequence of events leading up to the A.J. Preller era show that maybe that the Padres’ days of spinning their wheels are over. And Preller seems to be exactly the guy to get things moving. For me, it all started with an email from Ron Fowler:
“We are terribly disappointed in the team’s offense this year and staying the course (waiting for a turnaround) is becoming less appealing as the ugly losses continue.”
After ten years of virtually unwatchable offense, I had rarely heard anything but excuses. But when Fowler’s chubby fingers graced our internet with that digital caning of the club’s position players, I was finally hearing someone with the power to change things actually convince me they hated that and wanted much better.
More importantly this quote reflects an understanding of how bad things really are. This is new for the Padres and incredibly significant.
Josh Byrnes got canned and on the hunt for a new GM we went. The self-aware candor from the Padres continued as Mike Dee gave an interview about why the decision to send Byrnes packing was made (interview recapped here). He said great General Managers have a vision and that the Padres need to have a blueprint for success.
This reinforces that the original Fowler email might not just have been an angry swipe of the claws, but a considered and lasting understanding that building an organization that can achieve sustained success requires efforts to be guided by a thesis statement.
The hiring process for the new GM highlights another aspect of how the Padres have begun to establish they may have made a material change for the better.
In the final week of the hunt the field had essentially been narrowed to two names. Billy Eppler and A.J. Preller. As I anxiously gnawed on the backgrounds of each candidate I began to view the decision as a fork in the road. With Eppler, I became horrified at the possibility that this break in the clouds might just be a brief interlude of sanity before a comic thrust back into business as usual.
Any hope that things might have changed could have been drowned in the toilet if they had chosen Eppler, a man who has family ties to the Padres organization and is buddy-buddy with evil slug, Kevin Towers. Eppler’s most notable experience is as an Assistant GM with the New York Yankees, an organization that has spent the last 10 years masking spectacular failure in drafting and development by burning small continents of money.
This means Eppler has no experience achieving results of any kind, and could not possibly understand how to create the kind of ecosystem of ideas Billy Beane has cultivated and sustained all these years. Choosing Eppler would have been like playing the same track we’ve been blaring for decades on a different radio. I feared this most of all, because it would be “so Padres” to cluelessly pull the trigger on more of the same full-spectrum misery to which we have been captive, basically forever. The two candidates represented such different possible futures to me, I even started to become almost paranoid about how the name “Eppler” was like some taunting, demonic anagram of “Preller.”
But they did not choose Eppler. When I heard this news, I truly felt like I had been freed from something horrible I thought would never end. All the perceived change of the past few weeks gained more traction and I felt the deep, core tingling, hot juice blast of a better tomorrow. I, a man of 27, learned what if feels like for a girl.
Interviews with A.J. Preller produced quotes, which fueled my beautiful little ember of hope into a small flame. I don’t want to get bogged down in the particular quotes, as the interviews can be readily digested around the internet by you, dear reader, but the Padres Social Hour interview and the press conference to announce the hiring in particular, provided the kindling.
The most obvious thing about Preller is that he is not a groomed, TV-ready lozenge of bullshit, he’s a baseball guy. Obsessed with talking and watching the game, he acknowledged that advanced stats are to be considered equal building blocks as tools and approach in “talking about the game.” He strongly emphasized high ROI methods of player acquisition as the only means for an organization to create sustained success. The Padres’ market and current state of disarray both happen to demand this approach.
He spoke about the importance of knowing your own players. This is crucial to making sure you trade overvalued assets and hold onto those, which have more value than others perceive, as well as making better decisions about who you extend (like probably not Cameron Maybin, whose bat path resembles a very steep sided parabola).
He did something almost no people are good at, inside or outside of baseball, inside or outside of the Padres front office: he admitted a time when he was wrong. He explained that in Texas he had originally written off “make up” entirely, before realizing that guys with certain make up are much more likely to make the strides in development needed to become impact Major Leaguers. This shows he is testing a hypothesis and objectively analyzing whether it fails or not, and then reevaluating his position based on real life. There will be no hand-wavy strategies crapped out of a late night drinking session with an old frat buddy.
But the most important thing he did was talk about how you always have to find new ways to win talent and ballgames. He acknowledged that creating the dynamic I have so loved in Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics, is a vital aspect of running an organization. He explained that you have to be the club generating innovative strategies, but that you also have to understand that the rest of baseball is going to swarm to that idea if it works. This means that you have to move on to the next idea by the time they get there. I call this the “head of the snake” mentality. By the time the body gets to where the head was, the head is farther along.
By revealing that his staff will be working hard to understand itself and the game better than anyone else, he made me feel, for the first time since 1998, that I can entertain the possibility of the Padres winning a World Series before I am bones in the dirt.
The ownership group gets it. They get it so well that they actually chose the right guy and hopefully, they give him the power to be that guy. If that is what is about to happen with the Padres, then welcome to the Enlightenment. Things are going to be different.
If you’ve heard this part or if you just don’t feel like engaging in foreplay, skip ahead. I won’t be upset.
Over the offseason the Padres traded Logan Forsythe, infielder Maxx Tissenbaum and pitchers Matt Andriese, Brad Boxberger and Matt Lollis to Tampa Bay for Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn. Basically, a bunch of spare parts for a good lefty reliever and somewhat of an unknown.
Hahn’s “question mark” status stems from his needing Tommy John surgery in 2010, very shortly after being drafted out of high school, then recovering in 2011, and then not really logging a ton of innings since then. But he started to look pretty sharp last year in limited action.
Now, Torres wears the big funny hat, but since making his MLB Debut on June 3 against the Pirates, Hahn has made the deal look a lot sweeter for the Padres. But more importantly, Jesse Hahn has exposed something interesting about the way the game changes and how going against the current of change can be incredibly useful.
Hahn spots the fastball, sitting at 91, but his curveball stands out when you watch him. It’s an old-school, slow twelve-to-sixer, and it certainly passes the eyeball test as being utterly filthy, inducing a lot of bad looking swings… and misses.
But that’s not all. His change-up, which sits at 83mph, has been extremely effective as well. In order to quantify this, I’ll turn to Fangraphs. They keep track of a metric called wCH/C. In basic terms, this is a park, luck and league adjusted measure of the value of a given change-up expressed in runs above average, per 100 times thrown.
Hahn’s wCH/C of 4.16 would put him well ahead of any qualified starter (if he were one himself), dancing past Felix Hernandez’s 2.83 mark this season. (R.A. Dickey actually leads the league per Fangraphs, but I have my suspicions about how mis-categorization of his pitches might be influencing that result, so I skipped down to Hernandez.)
This extraordinary compliment of off-speed stuff has Hahn striking out 8.6 batters per nine, and has propelled him to a 2.28 ERA, which is slightly outperforming his xFIP (3.39), largely due to a low BABIP (.233) and a high strand rate (80%). But that curveball though!
Watching Jesse Hahn’s curveball is fun, and it sent my mind racing one night. It was as if suddenly all the dots connected.
There is a trend in MLB toward pitches which involve maximum arm speed. That basic package is a 93mph fastball, a hard breaking ball and a change-up. The key to throwing a good slider or changeup? Max arm speed. The split finger is thrown this way as well. I believe this could be giving Jesse Hahn’s curveball an added advantage in two ways.
First, hitters may be less concerned with arm speed. If everything a hitter sees features max arm speed, a hitter can no longer use the speed of the arm to judge what pitch is being thrown, so why should he pay attention to it? If it is increasingly unnecessary for hitters to judge arm speed, this would mean the slower arm Hahn uses to throw his curveball is not being noticed as a dead giveaway like it might have been to hitters in previous eras.
Second, batters are used to a harder breaking ball with a more side-to-side break, as compared with the top-to-bottom shape of Hahn’s offering. The data backs this up:
We can see here that the use of the curve has curtailed since PITCHf/x data started being collected in 2007. We can also see that the curve that is being thrown, is coming in faster, and that the shape of Hahn’s curve is not only markedly more pronounced than the average curveball, it’s even further removed from the shape of the slider, which is the predominant breaker around the league today. Another differentiating factor is that Hahn’s curve averages 74.3mph, as compared with the 77.3mph curveball of the league at large.
The Take Away
All this is to say that Jesse Hahn has a freakish hook, a dandy Charlie, and he locates it well too, but the fact that it’s also different probably contributes to why it’s so effective. Hahn’s curve helps to illustrate the fact that running the opposite direction of a trend can lead to great things. After that thought occurred to me, I watched a start by Odrisamer Despaigne, who is really a complete throwback to the starters I watched as a kid in 1992. I watched him in a different light and I really enjoyed it. Jesse Hahn’s curveball bent the lens through which I watch baseball and I am richer for it.
If you don’t really like music, or care about the possibility of it’s function as a cultural document, and you just want to get midnight-gutter-nap drunk and shake that ass, then pop music is your answer. If you’d rather watch millions of dollars worth of shitty advertisements, a pop star who’s past their prime jumping around in a spray of fireworks, while a bunch of backup dancers in black-light makeup grind against a sea of invisible dongs, while you eat ground meat and fried potatoes, but you want to pretend all of that is somehow about football, then tune in to the Super Bowl this Sunday.
The average Super Bowl party attendee has more interest in cheese sauce than the outcome of the game. Most people watching the Super Bowl (or any football game really) don’t care about strategy, or a psychological showdown between men, or a game’s place in the history of a city, or Peyton Manning as an example of how perfectionism does not necessarily have to equate to self-destructive obsession (as in the case of a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods). They just want to scream for a color.
American Football fandom is about pageantry, just like International Football (Soccer) is. Just replace singing songs, rioting and scarves with chanting “D-fense,” eating and hats that look like cheese. Yes, there are some people who actually engage with football’s unique brand of incredibly complex strategy, the subtle chess match deep within the game which is the closest football has to it’s own special virtue. But, unless crudely paraphrasing what little they have heard commentators explain over the sound made by crunching nachos resonating through their skulls, most fans don’t engage with strategy. They are solely consumed with the barbaric thrombo of testosterone and ego that are the game’s poisonous byproducts, which leave our culture mutilated in it’s cock wake.
This mania reaches it’s height at the annual Championship of American Football, the Super Bowl. And how fitting they call it “super” as I haven’t heard the word used in a non-sarcastic way since circa 1992. Just keep in mind that this game is not about people or sport, it’s just a lot of dopes taking a break from watching reality shows to feast on garbage while pretending they are part of some basic approximation of a thing they heard about. It’s a commercial for a diversion. It’s about creating such a quantity of hype and build-up and ritual that the game is just a part of the static that fills our lives. It is the cultural equivalent of packing popcorn. It’s the day before Monday.
Keeping score is somewhere between a rite of passage and a badge of honor for any serious baseball fan. There is a secret code involved that all scorekeepers learn. Once one progresses to the level of veteran, a scorekeeper generally expands upon this basic code with symbols and notations of their own. The act of charting the game is somewhat meditative. There is a singularity of focus, which makes one a conduit for the game for the span of each half inning.
Conjoined with the act of scorekeeping is the scorebook. The scorebook is a memory bank. It is a chart of the game’s actions, but it’s great strength is to recall the game’s stillness as well. Looking back at old games recalls the people and the time that the game lived alongside.
But almost all scorebooks are ugly as shit. First off, for something that’s supposed to be portable the things are honkin’. Some have 15 batters, some have only 9 innings. Many have a ton of unnecessary columns and rows for keeping stats like caught stealing and sacrifice flies. And they all feature a tragically hideous cover, bound by a plastic spiral. Well, all but one.
The scorebooks from Eephus League are attractive. Bethany Heck ( @EephusLeague ), their creator, did a phenomenal job. They are actually portable, as they cut out all the extra batters and moved some stats summaries out of the game section. They even managed to squeeze in a 10th and 11th inning. Plus, for the tactile aware, the paper feels terrific to write on.
They also feature a page which precedes each game, wherein the scorekeeper fills in who sang the national anthem, or denotes the weather and their seat number for the day. This adds a lot to the value of the scorebook as a document, since you are drinking in these details of your surroundings and building a memory. So later, as you flip through the old scorebook, that memory is richly and easily evoked.
Eephus League also includes both a detailed fold out and a quick reference card, for teaching the beginner how to score. As someone who has been keeping score since around age 5, I can’t tell how effective these are, but they seem extremely clear, and are certainly attractive and well organized.
It’s nice to look forward to carrying something attractive to the yard or having something of quality to keep score on at home, as I wait for the season to start. It’s even nicer to know that other people out there are deeply in love with this little corner of the game.
It goes without saying that I want the season to start. But I actually enjoy the offseason portion of baseball’s annual cycle. In past years it was a time for getting antsy to again watch for the familiar things that are the standard currency of a baseball season: a great rookie, an aging veteran delivering one final elite season, a milestone statistic on the horizon, or cooking up strategies for fantasy baseball. But as I have grown older and more thoughtful (and have quit fantasy sports) I enjoy reassessing what is left of the game (and of life) that I have not yet fully explored. This year, I hope to place a heavier focus on minor league and college baseball.
Last year I took trip to my alma mater, Cal State Fullerton and then attended games at Lake Elsinore and Inland Empire, Class-A Advanced California League affiliates of the Padres and Angels, respectively. I had been to college and minor league games before, but something had changed for me.
I like how weird minor league fans and towns are, and how easy and cheap it is to sit in the first row behind the plate. Watching elite talents like Austin Hedges in a developmental stage provides an exciting glimpse of the player a prospect might become, and it enables a richer appreciation for the quality of play in the Major Leagues. But the minors are also an experience in their own right. The towns, parks and names are smaller, but the character of each minor league yard is truly unique and usually a little bizarre.
As of today, I have decided to attempt to attend a game at every minor league park in California this year. That means 12 parks spanning nearly 500 miles.
San Jose Giants (SF/A+)
Sacramento River Cats (OAK/AAA)
Stockton Ports (OAK/A+)
Modesto Nuts (COL/A+)
Bakersfield Blaze (CIN/A+)
Visalia Rawhide (AZ/A+)
Fresno Grizzlies (SF/AAA)
High Desert Mavericks (SEA/A+) – Adelanto, CA
Inland Empire 66ers (LAA/A+) – San Bernardino, CA
Lake Elsinore Storm (SD/A+)
Lancaster Jethawks (HOU/A+)
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAD/A+)
The reason I mention this here, besides being consumed with it at the moment, is that I hope to create profiles on each park and provide a glimpse into what it’s like to watch a game at each one. I will try to bring the flavor of each city and stadium into the mix to help give those of you who can’t make it to a game an idea of what is out here in California. And for those of you that would like to go to these parks, I will try to make it easier for you to decide where to head first.
Having been to Inland Empire, I can tell you that unlike relatively charming towns, like nearby Riverside, San Bernardino is depressing and ugly, owing mainly I imagine to the imploded housing market. The stadium is featureless except for the vaguely-Spanish-mission style facade, the 66ers have one of the ugliest mascots in the world, and I saw some people who I am almost certain have been exposed to high levels of heretofore unknown radioactive elements. Clear some room on the periodic table, Dr. Scientist.
Lake Elsinore is a different story. Yes it’s a rectangular, manmade lake. But there is a place where you can get a sandwich and killer pasta salad at the top of a mountain with a panoramic view of the valley and lake below. There is a solid, friendly craft brewery in town and the stadium includes a view of a range of hills so rolling it looks like the background of a cartoon.
And the difference between those two places and experiences is the same as the difference between any two minor league destinations. This tempts me to wager that there is more in the way of surprise and variety among minor league towns than you might experience in your travels to different big league parks.
And I think that points toward something in our culture. I think we tend to look at strange things, little experiences and wonky places and think less of them, in favor of an aesthetically coherent and consistent “normal.” It’s a facet of mall-centrism maybe. I am not necessarily concerned with finding out if it’s better to be the way we are or some other way, at least not for the purposes of this blog. But I am interested in finding out what the other way is like and I want to see Carlos Correa in the process.