On Ray Rice, what were they thinking?

08/09/2014 § Leave a comment

It’s the question I thought this morning.

How did the Ravens or the NFL think they could get away with this. Ray Rice is the issue – but he’s also not really.

The bigger issue is that the league thought they could simply shove this under the rug. It was a PR problem. It wasn’t a human problem or a legal problem.

Ray Rice knocked his fiancee out because they were arguing. Ray Rice is a women-beater. Roger Goodell and the Atlantic City DA and the management of the Ravens thought that was something to hide – and that it could be hidden.

To quote Keith Olbermann, “Roger Goodell is an enabler of men who beat women.”

Ray Rice would just get back on the field, be a key player for the Baltimore football campaign.

Ray Rice just made a mistake and he wouldn’t do it again. Ray Rice was the victim of himself. He lost control. His wife provoked him. And so and so and so and so…

But we all knew already that the NFL doesn’t care about all that. It presents a golden ticket to young men across America, whether they come from good backgrounds or not, and sells a modern gladiatorial spectacle. We love it. Where the fans or the players come from doesn’t matter and aren’t due anything.

Sport is all. That’s it.

There was no need to speak out against the ills of American society. Of a disease called domestic violence. It’s easier to say ‘well, it’s a problem of the poor, we’re just a football league, we don’t do stuff like that.’

Except, it’s not true. Domestic violence happens everywhere, to rich and poor, to black and white. The NFL took a position that was the opposite of leadership. They and the team said, well, basically nothing.

We’d forget Ray Rice. We’d get back to cheering. Who cares what’s in the video.

The brand would survive.

Olberman gave a rant for the ages tonight on his ESPN show. His speech is powerful. It’s considered. And it pulls no punches. He points at everyone, the league, the team’s management and coaches, the Atlantic City authorities, even us, the fans, for abetting this coverup. The powers that be knew of the video – it’s almost as horrifying to think the alternative, that they were too incompetent to find it – and yet didn’t see anything of importance. A slap of the wrist suspension, a ridiculous press conference that was an elaborate session of victim blaming and, apparently, no need for legal action was the outcome.

Ray Rice is now on the outs, not because of what he did, but because the horrifying video made it into the public eye.

It shouldn’t have taken this. And yet here we are.

Did they really think the video wouldn’t get out, sometime. Did Roger Goodell and his crew really think that someone wouldn’t be outraged and wouldn’t find a way to share it? If this video had landed on my desk, you can count on me putting it out. (Last week, we did something similar at The Province.)

So, again, what were they thinking?

An amazing fact about Sam Fuld and Yoenis Cespedes

31/07/2014 § Leave a comment

A jaw-dropping figure from Jeff Sullivan over at Fan Graphs:

Career

Cespedes: 2.9 WAR / 600 plate appearances
Fuld: 2.5 WAR / 600 plate appearances

Cespedes, of course was moved by Oakland to Boston on Thursday at the trade deadline for ultra-primo starter Jon Lester, while Fuld was scooped by the A’s from Minnesota for Tommy Milone.

Now, Sullivan admits that these are two players who do different things and are at different points in their careers – but the fact remains in a win-now universe, this isn’t as drastic a shakeup in the outfield as you might think.

Cespedes is a power hitter, in the middle of his power peak. He’s going from a stadium that hates hitters to one that loves ‘em. But he’s also a pretty poor OBP guy – he’s getting on base at just a .303 clip this year.

Fuld goes back to Oakland, the team he started the year with. He’d been a key bench player in Tampa the last three years, coming in as a defensive replacement more often than not. He’s a slightly better threat to get on base than Cespedes and is a better base runner but he’s nothing close to the departed Cuban in the power department.

It’s that defensive value that he brings that is everything in this change. Fuld is the kind of guy you need in the enormous outfield at O.co. Tie him in with the now-white hot rotation that Oakland’s assembled, you understand what Billy Beane is doing.

These two photos of Jim Johnson are painful and amazing

24/07/2014 § Leave a comment

Jim Johnson, with all those saves over the past two seasons, became a pitcher who couldn’t get an out.

Last night, with the A’s up by 7 runs, manager Bob Melvin gave the struggling hurling an opportunity seemingly without risk.

Johnson faced four batters, and all four scored.

It was his last appearance for Oakland, who designated him for assignment this morning.

And then there’s the human element. Sport is all about success. This is the opposite.

Wanderer Sports podcast for July 21

23/07/2014 § Leave a comment

Dan Uggla and the lesson of BABIP (and other stories)

18/07/2014 § Leave a comment

Dan Uggla’s been released by the Braves.

That would be three-time all star Dan Uggla.

There’s $19 million left on a contract due to expire at the end of 2015. He signed the five year, $62 million deal with the Braves after his explosive 2010 season in Miami.

So what went wrong?

Actually, that should be ‘what went right in 2010?’

Here, kids, is a lesson on what hitters can control. They have influence over vectors of batted balls, both in terms of height (fly, line or ground balls) and direction (pulled, opposite field). Not complete, but some.

Uggla’s put up a career .285 BABIP. In other words, when he makes contact, he’s avoiding outs 28.5 per cent of the time. That’s pretty decent. The thing, of course, is how often does he swing the bat and what is he trying to do with his contact?

Well, as Grant Brisbee noted last year, Uggla is one of baseball’s most disciplined batters at the plate. He doesn’t chase pitches.

But it also seems he’s a below-average hitter on pitches in the zone. (In 2013, Brisbee notes, he made contact with 75 per cent of pitches in the zone, against a league average of 87 per cent.)

When Uggla swings, he’s swinging for the fences.

He’s shown consistent power since reaching the majors in 2006, raking 233 homers in 8+ seasons.

Let’s focus in on that 2010 season. He hit .287/.369/.508 and belted 33 homers. The home run total wasn’t far off what he’d managed to that point in his career – in fact he hit 36 his first season in Atlanta – but his BABIP in 2010 is the big, fat note here: .330, the best of his career.

He still had a solid season in 2011, getting a fair amount of power despite a below-career-average .253 BABIP.

But then it all started falling apart in 2012. He started popping up more balls (the trend actually began in 2011). Why, you ask? Brooks Baseball gives us a clue: he struggles on hitting offspeed pitches. And, surprise-surprise, he’s seen fewer fastballs since 2011.

The moral: Dan Uggla can control the ball when he sees fastballs. If he can’t, he’s done.

A’s drop their media shield for all-star players – is it dollars and cents or is it ‘why bother?’

15/07/2014 § Leave a comment

Scott Kazmir is playing tour captain to his A’s posse in Minneapolis.

A lovely little tidbit from the All Star Game: the A’s sent just the players to Minneapolis. No PR flacks. No trainers. No handlers. Nada.

From the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:

With no A’s club officials – no PR person, travel secretary, translator, etc. – going with the large All-Star traveling party, three-time All-Star Scott Kazmir is unofficially in charge. Oakland is sending Kazmir, Sean Doolittle, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Yoenis C├ęspedes, Derek Norris and nonplaying National League All-Star Jeff Samardzija.

Director of team travel Mickey Morabito gave Kazmir the phone numbers for everything, including the bus scheduled to meet their charter at the airport in Minneapolis on Sunday evening.

There’s two angles on this: 1. Billy Beane figures his players are adult enough to be able to handle a three-day trip. And he’s got some notion of how journalism works; 2. A’s owner Lew Wolff doesn’t really care about his team and pinches his pennies so tight, this is what you get.

Given the on-going brouhaha about the team’s lease at decrepit O.co Coliseum (there’s a vote on Wednesday to secure the team there for another decade), most are taking the latter tack. As a journalist who has to deal with sometimes aggravatingly tight-lipped sports teams, I’d like to believe it’s the former. That would be refreshing. We’ve landed in a world where every comment is managed for fear of spin. Of course, the spin happens anyway. That’s why I’d like to believe this is a case of Beane saying, ‘who really cares in the end, what they want to write gets written anyway.’

All glory is fleeting; or, The death of an outfielder

13/07/2014 § Leave a comment

Consider these names:

Andre Ethier

Jason Kubel

Grady Sizemore

These are all outfielders who once were useful for your fantasy league team. There wasn’t much reason to think they wouldn’t continue to be this year.

Now you see them, idling on the waiver wire of your league. It feels weird to see them there. These were guys who once had a big role – both in real life and in the lives of their fantasy obsessives.

Sport is cruel. It bestows a select few of us with immense talent. Even fewer find a way to channel those talents, taking them to the very top.

Then decline, rust, whatever you call it, sets in. The fantasy owner knows it, before the big leaguers do. Then again, when you’re the Phillies and you have the chance to take a flyer on a aged flyer like Sizemore – why not? It’s pointless for a fantasy GM, chasing a few extra roto points.

Why does the body break down? It’s hardly fair.

Andre Either is just 32. He was never blessed with power, but he hit well and played a good right field (good enough that he morphed into a centre fielder, actually). In 2013 he slashed 272/360/423, giving him an OPS+ of 121, just off his career number of 122. At the All Star break, he’s hitting 252/314/376. It’s a touch out of the ordinary. He’s actually just the guy you might want to take a flyer on, since his history suggests a strong chance of big(ish) second half. But that also depends on him getting playing time.

Jason Kubel is also 32. Last year was a disaster for him (216/293/317) but given the year before that, he hit 253/327/506 while mashing 30 home runs it was a good bet he’d bounce back to the slightly above-average performance he’d always had. His big 2012 was an OPS+ of 120; last year was a comical 69. His return to Minnesota, the site of his greatest consistency, was a good thing, you’d have thought.

But the Twins gave up on him last month. They offered him time in AAA to sort out his trouble but he said no thanks. No other MLB team was interested. It’s somewhat shocking to discover how little his exit from the majors garnered – there’s just a handful of articles noting his release. You look at his numbers and all you see is a flat-out inability to make contact.

And then there’s Grady Sizemore. Once upon a time, he was an MVP tout. Like Kubel and Ethier, he’s a 1982 birthday. He’s 32 in August. He’s a three-time all star, who, at age 25, looked like he had a good chance of being a hall of famer: he had speed, he could hit and he could hit for power. In 2008, he hit 268/374/502. That was his lowest average to date, but given everything else (33 homers 38 steals), it was alright.

He’s back up with the Phillies, seeing if he can make something work as a depth player in the National League. (Of course, some of the recall has to do with an out clause in his contract that was set to activate, but he was hitting in AAA, just as he should’ve.)

He’s battled injuries for years, undergoing seven surgeries in five years. He had hadn’t played since 2011. He’d basically broken himself by playing as hard as he did. I suppose you can credit him for that.

So, will he ever be the same? No. Can he contribute? Seems hard to see for this season – he’s got to prove that he can play at all. But don’t look away completely.

Sport, no matter the flavour, does violent things to the body. The best have to stay the best.

But it all reminds me of that great finish to Patton, with words that are claimed to him but we’re not quite sure where they come from. But they’re good words nonetheless. They’re guiding words.

For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade.
In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments.
The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses.
A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.

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