Thursday, September 30, 2004
Last year I remembered watching the Phillies implosion with stunned amazement. This year I’ve been watching these last two weeks (and months since their late July swoon) with quiet derision. Around the Phillies blogosphere you can just hear the cynical grumbling of contempt … another season of promise lost amid a swirl of finger-pointing and anger. At least the Phillies have one thing to fight for this weekend: finishing second over the fish. Small victory.
Team GPA (NL):
1. San Francisco: .270
2. Colorado: .270
3. St. Louis: .270
4. Philadelphia: .265
5. Houston: .262
6. Atlanta: .262
7. Chicago: .262
8. San Diego: .259
9. Los Angeles: .257
10. Cincinnati: .255
11. Florida: .250
12. Pittsburgh: .246
13. New York: .245
14. Milwaukee: .240
15. Montreal: .239
16. Arizona: .237
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA
The Phils are third in OBP, fourth in slugging, fourth in ISO, fourth in RC27, second in walks per plate appearance, fourth in extra-base hits, second in stolen base percentage, fourth in total bases, third in home runs, and fourth in runs scored. They struggled at inopportune moments, but the ’04 Phillies were a good-to-great offensive team.
As annoyed as everyone is with the Phils, at least they are finishing ’04 with a winning record, which the Pirates won’t have. The twelfth consecutive losing season for the Bucs … Supposedly they are turning the corner because they have talent on the mound and at the plate (Jason Bay, Rookie of the Year?), but I’ll believe it when I see it.
So with the Phillies out of it, the question becomes who should we root for? I suggest:
2. Red Sox
(On our honeymoon I stunned a retired couple from the Bay area when I told them I was an A’s fan and that I disliked Barry Bonds: the guy immediately shook my hand and seemed stunned that there were A’s fans in Pennsylvania.)
For the A’s there are a multitude of reasons for Phillies fans to root for them: the fact that they used to be Philly’s other baseball team, for Billy Beane’s embrace of stats and sabremetrics-inspired theories in managing a baseball team, and for the fact that a small-market team with a marginal payroll has been able to make the playoffs for four (and hopefully five) consecutive seasons.
For the Red Sox, Phillies fans can feel their pain of anguish and disappointment (side note on something I’ve noticed: despite their equally futile history of anguish and disappointment, there isn’t the same sympathy for the Cubs out there as there is for the Red Sox. I have to wonder if Cubs fans treatment of that guy who “caught” the ball in the 2003 NLCS has something to do with that …) But more than that, the Red Sox are the third team (after the A’s and Blue Jays) to be sabremetrics into play in MLB. Seeing Theo Epstein’s wheeling-and-dealing, we all just have to tip our hats at his cunning and resourcefulness as a GM. The Nomar deal, so widely panned by even stat-heads, now looks like a shrewd move that vaulted the Red Sox into the playoffs.
Cardinals: I think it is impossible to dislike certain people / things. No sane human being could have disliked Fred Rodgers. And who doesn’t think that kittens are cute? Similarly, no sane baseball fan can dislike the Cardinals, this team of tough, blue-collar sluggers and fans who are unfailingly intelligent and polite Midwesterners. If it can’t be the A’s and cannot be the Red Sox, then let the Cards win it all.
Other thoughts … I don’t know how many people got to read Bill James piece on Ichiro at Hardball Times, but I thought that it was pretty interesting. It was classic Bill James stuff in the way that he used numbers in ways that many of us probably wouldn’t have to look at something in a new way. After reading the article I have renewed respect for Roger Maris: we all know how difficult it was mentally on Maris to deal with New York’s voracious media sharks thanks to movies like Billy Crystal’s HBO film 61* , but it was interesting to see how difficult it was statistically for someone to break Ruth’s record. (It is a shame, and it has sullied Maris and McGwire’s achievements in some respects, that someone with so little respect … or outright contempt … for the fans and the game like Barry Bonds holds the record these days.)
James’ closing thoughts on the probability of someone hitting .400 again got me thinking: will anyone hit .400 again? Along with DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Ted Williams .406 in ‘41 stands as one of the most durable records in sports. I suppose Ichiro is the best modern threat to hit .400, but I have to be skeptical we’ll see another assault on .400 like Tony Gwynn’s .394 in ’94: the attention paid to slugging percentage and OBP these days detracts from BA. Guys who hit lots of home runs swing at too many bad pitches to hit for a high average and guys who walk a lot are apt to be too choosey to put enough balls in play.
I’m stunned by the Astros rise to the top of the wildcard standings. I thought these guys were finished. I’d give them the edge too: the Cubs have to play the Braves and the Giants finish up in LA, while the Astros get the Rockies.
The Expos move to Washington D.C. … probably something that should have been done 3-4 years ago, humiliating as it was to see games that drew fewer fans than minor league games … Personally I like the move because it will put another baseball team in the general vicinity of Philly and Pittsburgh (hmm, day trip to D.C. next spring?). What name for the team? Ideally, the Senators, although I understand that the Rangers technically own the name … I’ve heard one name they are considering is the Grays, after the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues. I’d be in favor of that, nice to see baseball acknowledge the Negro Leagues. Maybe change the Kansas City Royals to the Monarchs too?
I’m glad to see the MLB give Milton Bradley a suspension for his outburst. (listening to Bradley on ESPN News I was struck by how athlete apologies always sound so fake. They sound bored as they read them. My all-time favorite was Ryan Leaf apologizing in a monotone while reading from a prepared statement and then tossing it into his locker when done.) Sometimes the fans act like jerks, but these are the guys who are paying your salary by bothering to shell about $40 and show up at the ballpark. Attacking and threatening the fans is ridiculous because without them, the players would be bumming for quarters or something. You guys make a small (or big) fortune: sign some autographs and don’t threaten the people who pay your salary. (This is something Barry Bonds forgets.)
Mundane thoughts … My wife and I were given Outkast’s double CD The Love Below / Speakerboxxx by her sister and we’ve been filling out thank-you notes for people who attended our wedding while listening to it. My wife’s favorite song is “Hey Ya”, while I’m partial to “Roses”. I love how different Outkast is from pretty much every other musical act I’ve heard: no song sounds the same and they’ve culled musical influences from everywhere … We went to see the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow the other day: I was really disappointed because I had heard how visually stunning the movie was and was intrigued by the faux 1930’s cinematography. The story and acting were really flat. It reminded me a lot of seeing the last Star Wars movie: visually it was pretty impressive but it seemed like the actors were out of sync. This raises an interesting question about the movie industry’s use of the blue-screen technology: is movie quality going to suffer? Sky Captain had some decent acting talent (Paltrow and Jolie have Oscars and Jude Law has been nominated) but everyone seemed painfully stiff. Were the actors uncomfortable because of the blue-screen? George Lucas thinks it is the wave of the future, but after watching this movie I hope not. Special effects eye candy is over-whelming the plot. It is the rare movie like Spiderman that can weave good special effects into an entertaining story … Anyone gotten to see The Real World: Philadelphia? I’ve been too busy to watch … I’ve been reading Killing Pablo, by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Mark Bowden (author of Blackhawk Down). I started on the flight back from Honolulu to Atlanta and I’m hoping to finish soon (it is the story of the rise and fall of the Columbia cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar). Terrific book: a very penetrating profile of Escobar himself, but the most interesting thing about the story is just how involved the U.S. military was in tracking Escobar and helping the Columbia police. I’m hoping to finish it soon, because I have a few more books on my shelf. Chief amongst them is Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, a book she wrote about her travels through Yugoslavia in the 1930’s. I badly want to read it, but it is about 1,000 pages long and I have to start working here soon.
Better get running.